Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
It’s good to know where you’re going before you begin to go there.
My minister tells great stories. Here’s one. Supposedly true. It concerns Albert Einstein, who was notoriously absent-minded.
Einstein was taking a ride on the Metro North train out of New York. The conductor comes by to collect the tickets. Einstein pats his pockets and can’t seem to find his ticket. The conductor recognizes him and tells Einstein not to worry about it. He goes through the rest of the train collecting tickets. On his way back, he sees Einstein on his knees on the floor, frantically looking for his ticket. The conductor once again tells him not to worry. It’s all right if he can’t find his ticket. Einstein looks up from the floor and says, “But you don’t understand. I can’t remember where I’m going.”
There are many things I do poorly as an entrepreneur. I am a poor administrator. I am impatient with meetings. I’ve never been good with the quotidian details of spreadsheets and day-to-day financial analysis. I am a lousy technologist. My personal organization is frequently inchoate. And this is but a short list.
Nevertheless, I’ve successfully led the company I founded for many years. Probably the chief reason I managed to get by is that I was very clear about where I wanted to go, who I wanted to be, who I wanted to have as clients, who I wanted as employees and associates, and what I wanted my brand to represent. My goal was always to create a culture I could live in, a community that provided value beyond money, and turning a profit.
When I started my company, I typed my bills on an old Underwood typewriter. Even then (1996), that pretty much classified me as a dinosaur. I knew nothing. Harvard Business School I was not. However, I very clearly did know where I wanted to be in five years, 10 years, and 15 years. I had a clear, unalloyed personal goal. I knew where I wanted my journey to take me and what the tone of that journey needed to be for me to personally be effective, thrive, and grow.
There are lots of ways to be a successful entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial pilgrimage I prefer involves creating human value in the world and in my own life. My ambition isn’t to be a master of the universe. Though I have been successful one day at a time, money hasn’t been it for me. Profit goals are fine and essential to survive and grow. However, as naive a point as it is, it’s really necessary to know first where you personally want to go, if you are to get there.
Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way: “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” Thank you, Seneca.