On Wednesday, November 17th, I along with one rad social entrepreneur named Anfernee Chansamooth co-facilitated a session as part of InitiativeTO – a 12 hour multi-venue event featuring entrepreneurs and their unique journeys. It was cold and gray day but Anf and I managed to paint colourful pictures of our paths to entrepreneurship. At the heart of our stories, was a focus on the detours in life that allowed us to discover the importance of aligning our values, dreams and actions.
My journey to entrepreneurship was not a straight line. Rather it was and is a crooked path.
In my time on this planet I have tried my hand at many things – not all with great success but I have tried. At the age of 24, I discovered that my lifelong dream of becoming an environmental lawyer wasn’t such a fairytale after all. So I said sayonara to my life plan – 20 years in the making (yep, decided at 4 years of age) – and set out to find a dare-to-be-great situation. And I found it. Or rather it found me. The concept of iNSPiRED PRACTiCE came to me years earlier but got pushed back into the corners of my mind while I was pursuing a different path – more of a straight line. But it was there all along – just waiting for me to grow up and become who I really am.
I started my first social venture when I was 19. It was called the University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network (UTERN) and today it stands as the first student-led and funded grant making body at a Canadian university.
It was a lunatic idea. Not at all part of my straight line of a life. And it was also a huge success.
Years later, I started my company iNSPiRED PRACTiCE out of the belief that ambition coupled with compassion could evolve us toward an economy that promotes quality of life for all and enriches our natural environment. In 2007, without the limitations imposed by the almighty dollar, I financed my own start-up with the money in my pocket. I started small and built a foundation of offerings and clients. I learned that “small” can be a beautiful thing.
In my first 2 years, I struggled with expectations. I thought I was supposed to do what everyone else was doing in my field. Then I got the inside perspective.
I learned that in a world in which there is such a desire to standardize everything, I wanted to individualize.
Cookie cutter and formulaic solutions were totally at odds with my values and even what I had learned in the real world. I wanted to create individualized road maps for my clients. So I stopped defining myself and my company according to this false dichotomy of environmental values versus economic values. Instead, I focused on PEOPLE. Because I already knew that any sustainability initiative, any long-term impact I could create through my company, could only be achieved with people. It is people who have values and dreams and vision.
Hugging trees was not going to help me build a better world. So I became a people hugger.
And in doing so, I developed an open door policy of sorts for iNSPiRED PRACTiCE. I decided to keep my door open to every opportunity that came my way and to pursue it based on how it ignited my interests and how closely it reflected my values. Today, some of my greatest professional accomplishments did not inevitably fall into the category of what I had originally designed as my area of focus. (Hmmm….funny how that works.)
That meant that I had to define success for myself and allow it to evolve as I did. Part of being an entrepreneur is the solo pursuit of success. But by whose definition? Personally, I really dig what the late great Anita Roddick had to say about success…
I have always found that my view of success has been iconoclastic: success to me is not about money or status or fame, its about finding a livelihood that brings me joy and self-sufficiency and a sense of contributing to the world.
Ultimately, I came to a point on my path in which I realized I was the driver and the navigator. And the borders and road blocks – well, those were welcome challenges. My crooked path is about dancing with adversity not overcoming it.
I have become more fulfilled, more evolved, more successful with every bit of adversity I encountered and tangoed with.
In many cases this adversity represents those detours in life – some are scenic and some are most definitely not – but in choosing to be challenged, I can bust through barriers (rather than bypassing them on some straight line) and be better for having done so.
Thanks to all who participated, supported and attended InitiativeTO!