THE BLOG
09/23/2013 10:04 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2013

Tidbits for Social Entrepreneurship

At the Unlimited event in New Orleans I told the story of In Every Story: how I voluntarily decided to move into a halfway house for the homeless and from living there noticed the social issue of day labor and how we as a team have grown a dream into a reality -- starting in 2011 and today employing 50 - 60 workers on a daily basis. "Ultimately," I told everyone, "I believe there's an important story thats written for each of us, and by pursuing that story we better understand the author of that story and in turn ourselves."

Here were my top "tidbits" that I think every social entrepreneur needs to hear:

1. If you give up, I'll kill you (kind of joking).

The first kind of obstacle every social entrepreneur must face are mountains.

It took nearly 18 months from the moment we first dreamed of IES until the day we finally opened an office. Those were a long, difficult, straining 18 months. It wasn't that we weren't trying -- only that we had no idea what we were doing.

At roughly the halfway point, Pete and I took a cross country road trip to visit other models of what we wanted to start, and on the second day of the trip, Pete's transmission blew out just outside of Amarillo, Texas. At the age of 23, with no money and no real plan forward; we nearly bought bus tickets and went home. Instead, Pete bought a Ford Focus and we kept going, and had we not kept going, IES would have never made it this far.

The great thing about mountains and not giving up is that every time you overcome a mountain it becomes collateral for the next time you face a mountain and consider quitting. We can't quit now because if we did it would mean that we quit when Pete bought a Ford Focus so we could keep going. But we didn't quit then, and so we use those stories to keep us from quitting now.

The reality is that while there will always be sensible reasons to give up, great stories are made by people who refuse to quit. John Wooden says:

The road to achievement takes time, a long time, but you do not give up. You may have setbacks. You may have to start over. You may have to change your method. You may have to go around, or over, or under. You may have to back up and get another start. But you do not quit. You stay the course.

2. "Is it possible you'll make mistakes, face rejections and fail? No, it's certain."

When my mentor told me this, it took a huge weight off of my shoulders and allowed me to face the second major obstacle every social entrepreneur must face: paralysis.

At IES we've made more mistakes, faced more rejections and experienced more failures than I can even remember. Some have been minor, some have been major and many have been embarrassing.

There's some major advantages to making mistakes and experiencing failure and rejection though:

a. They show you if you really care about what you say you care about. If you do, you'll keep going; if you don't, you'll quit.
b. Often times they can protect you from going in the wrong direction and keep your attention focused on what it should be.
c. You learn the most through mistakes, rejections and failures.
d. They keep you humble and from getting too big of a head on your shoulders.

The reality is that once you are able to consistently overcome mistakes, rejections and failures, nothing can stop you.

3. The main thing is the main thing is the main thing is the main thing.

The third major obstacle every social entrepreneur must face is distraction.

If you were to sit down with our accountant, attorney, director of operations, director of HR and director of business development, and ask them what the most important thing IES has to accomplish, there's a chance that each of them would give you a different answer (although they would hopefully be reflections of the same goal.) What I've experienced from the growth that we've had is that the more people you add to the conversation, the more challenging it becomes to keep everybody on the same page. Countless friends, family and peers have offered the direction they would go in, and while many of them are fantastic ideas that have pointed us in the right direction, the danger of distraction always looms.

Early on we debated whether or not we should start off the company by immediately paying more to our workers through the Hope Fund. It may have made more sense to ensure our financial viability first, but I felt that it was most important to be accomplishing our mission from the beginning by paying higher wages to day laborers.

C.S. Lewis says, "If you put first things first you get first and second things. If you put second things first you get neither." The main thing is the main thing is the main thing is the main thing. Stay focused. Avoid distractions.

At the end of the day I believe that the old saying that the "journey is better than the inn," is true for social entrepreneurs. What becomes more important than the final destination are the tools that you have to develop to get there, things like love, hope, joy, perseverance and patience. These are the elements to me that make a social entrepreneur's story -- or any story for that matter -- great. And they are the things that can change the world.

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