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Anyone who follows this blog knows my love for words.  Here’s one:  Eudaimonia.  It roughly means happiness or wellness, but the more accurate meaning is “human flourishing,” according to Wikipedia.  It describes a state of centering and contentment when your life matters because it is lived meaningfully well.

One of the great unacknowledged rewards of establishing your own company is the chance to create a personal eudaimonia.  In other words, a spiritual space that combines the earning of filthy lucre and accumulating worldly goods with the ineffable, elusive coinage of meaning.


I have personally found this is emphatically not an either/or proposition.  In fact the reality is that most of the great small businessmen and women I know intuitively combine the two.  They are not immiscible.  Really selfish entrepreneurs (like me) do not live by Michael Douglas famous mantra in Wall Street, “Greed is good.”  No.  Quite the opposite.  Being good is simply the selfish thing to do.  In fact, “Good is greed.”  By your works ye will be known—and be hired and succeed.  For me, eudaimonia is partly just a matter of overcoming the inner asshole.

The evincement of business goodness is usually made clear in the simplest and smallest interactions with clients.  People like to think they are good and they want vendors that reflect this truth, this decency.  Certainly the best business folk I know see themselves as citizens of the universe and it shows most effectively in their smallest, most subtle and unthinking acts within their own business, not in big, self-aggrandizing shows of public grandiosity.  Whether they formally profess religion or not, good businessmen are people of lived faith in more than the transient and venal.

My belief, that money is as much a bi-product of goodness as it is of technical business prowess, is obviously highly subjective.  But there are many and compelling new scientific studies that increasingly support this practical philosophy.  I will not go all academic and boring by listing and quoting them encyclopedically, but there was an excellent summation of this research by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic posted recently in the Harvard Business Review online (9:50 AM, April 10, 2013) in an article titled, “Does Money Really Affect Motivation?  A Review of Research.”   And I can never not acknowledge the profound and philosophically seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University on flow and happiness.

While we are all imperfect, sinful beings, we are also viscerally creatures of our own social interconnections.  We unspokenly swim in the knowledge that we are not only our brother’s keeper but we are our brother.  (Note July 23rd’s post to the African concept of Ubuntu.)

desmond-tutuLet me close with a study noted in the NY Times on June 19, 2013 (p. C-5).  The Times reports when economists asked the citizens of a Swiss village if they would accept being designated a nuclear waste storage site, 51% said yes.  When the question was posed again, this time with the promise of a cash reward for living with the waste, the Times reports the yea votes plummeted to 25%.  The money they said, made them feel that they were being bribed to perform a civic duty.  Isn’t that encouraging?

Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Amen, Brother Desmond.

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The more I read and think about happiness and my business life, the more I find money to be irrelevant.  It’s not that money can’t or shouldn’t come out of the business life, it’s just that it is seldom the true raison d’etre for the passionate, creative entrepreneur.  More a byproduct.

Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross, Lionel Barrymore in It’s A Wonderful Life, and numerous others have etched a popular trope of the businessman as a cold-eyed darwinian killer who lives for nothing but swag—a mean-spirited, joyless Uriah Heep of lucre, a cretinous Babbitt who lives by the cynical mantra of Joel Grey as the cryptic, menacing, Nazi MC in Cabaret.

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around…”

Big government constantly reinforces these impressions with rhetoric about control of and protection from the money-centered businessman.

Most of this is, of course, a bunch of hooey.  If the entrepreneur equates money to happiness (and I believe most do not), he is certainly misguided.

The latest nail in the coffin of “money as meaning” in business come from the research of Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.  As with many other “happiness” researchers over the last decade, Dunn and Norton (NY Times, Sunday Review, July 8, 2012) have found that additional income buys us little additional happiness once we reach a livable, comfortable standard.  They quote a Princeton study using Gallup polling data from almost a half million American households that shows that money creates little beneficial effect after reaching the $75,000/year level.

So what should this say to the motivation of the entrepreneur?  (Or, as Dunn and Norton ask rhetorically, “Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy?”)

For me, personally, that answer lies in creating a mini-world I can live happily in—a private Idaho, if you will, of ethics, value, freedom, personal dignity, usefulness. and occasional laughter.  It lies in creating something that is good, salubrious, and helpful to the world.  That is the unique guerdon for the entrepreneur and of the creative, self-made risk-taker.

I’m always uncomfortable in discussions about monetizing or selling my business.  Questions that center around “What’s your number?”, or questions that focus on “Beach Money.”  (What the hell is “Beach Money” anyway?  I hate the beach!)  My one-day-at-a-time and my long-term goal is a happy, meaningful, free, well-lived, independent life.  Creating, growing, and living in my entrepreneurial company is a goal in itself.

Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, puts it like this in an interview with Mihaly Csikzentmhalyi (Good Business, Viking Penguin, 2003)

“I’ve always wanted to be successful.  My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing.  You won’t be very good if you don’t.  And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”

Thank you, Norman.

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One of the joys of fatherhood is discovering the insights and blunt wisdom of children’s books. My eight year old daughter, Truitte Rose, had a favorite book last year titled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I couldn’t read it to her enough. It chronicles a day in a boy’s life where nothing goes right.

I too had a bad day last week at my company, Corporate Rain. I hit my chair dealing with client crises, fighting a cold, losing a valued associate, dealing with a minor credit card fraud, and reading a dense legal contract. On the side of my desk there was a Mt. Everest of overdue sales calls I needed to get to. And this was before 12:00. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learned that a day like this can be dangerous—not because of the circumstantially difficult day, but because of my internal reaction to it.

On such a day I invariably feel I have to push hard—to move, move, move—to rush, rush, rush—to compensate. And when I give in to this feeling, I make poor judgments. I make mistakes. I insult people and lose my temper. My whole mien becomes frenetic, forced, faked and joyless.

The ScreamAs an owner, it’s hard to slow down while Rome is burning around you. You’re responsible. (Only you can prevent this forest fire!) I’ve had to learn the efficiency of hitting the pause button, of not trying to be more than I am, and, especially, not making crucial decisions on such days. For me, when I have a very bad day, everything sort of emanates from a dark, bleak, shrunken part where I exist only as a miasma of cosmic insufficiency; that essential place where dwells the cowed and frightened child, as well as the cornered beast. So my “professional” response is to assume the trappings of a sanguine and competent businessman and push through. But, in fact, the real good me is not present. The fact is that on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I am in reality one dark, primordial, primal scream inside: a rootless Edvard Munch template, an enraged troll.

Over the years I’ve lost money, sales, friends, and reputation on days like this. While grinding my teeth and determinedly…getting…it …all…done, I have frequently caused myself harm under the guise of mechanically doing my duty to God, country and the capitalist way. Only slowly have I learned to overcome this hubristic folly.

Many years ago, when I was a callow, arrogant, idealistic, difficult young actor (often the bane of my fellow thespians and directors), one of my first professional roles was in a play in Los Angeles called “Darkness At Noon“, based on a novel by Arthur Koestler. I played a tortured political prisoner. It was an especially intense role and my rehearsal process was unhealthily over committed to the point of almost masochism. There was an old Portuguese actor in the company named Lorenzo. He’d had a long and picaresque life and he was kind, wise and a generous acting colleague. One day in rehearsal he took me aside, sat me down, put his hands on my very tense shoulders and said simply, “You can’t push the river, Timothy. Flow with it.” That’s all he said.

I think it’s hard for any entrepreneur to follow that advice. We live to push the river. But the fact is, you can’t.

So what’s the answer to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?  Well, I guess my answer is just to stop on those days. Go to the movies. Or, as Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of a very bad day in Gone With The Wind, “Home. I’ll go home…After all, tomorrow is another day.

My special thanks to this week’s blog muse, my sweet daughter Truitte Rose.  Thanks, Truitte.

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