"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more."
-- Oprah Winfrey
"We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women."
-- General Charles Cornwallis
People are gearing up for Thanksgiving next week. It's a national holiday, celebrated for many decades by people from various eras and cultures, living in this country, enjoying its freedoms. It's a time for family gatherings at the dinner table, eating home cooked food; both becoming increasingly rare in today's fast paced, spread-out lifestyles. It's a time to hit the "pause" button and collectively reflect on the bounty we've been given; tangible and intangible. That's something also becoming more scarce in today's on-the-go mindset of busyness vs. productivity.
Thanksgiving is also a time where the retail industry has the oxymoronic privilege of satisfying our capitalist yearnings and physical cravings for material goods, and increasing our psychological dissatisfaction with what we already have. A change in thinking is long overdue, especially the idea that Thanksgiving is really all about the turkey or the shopping. That's the message some of us are getting, if we believe the media hype and plan on seeing the movie Free Birds.
As both an American, and a female entrepreneur, I am troubled by the mercenary shopping frenzy surrounding this holiday, and the messages sent to our children, and to others around the world; about us, about our values. I'm disappointed a movie like Free Birds even exists, and am doubly disappointed to read that Macy's, Target, and Toys R Us all plan on opening on Thanksgiving day.
A cultural shift is in order, about the nature of free enterprise and the global economy. Across the pond, England was already asked to gear up for a "fundamental culture change" so that entrepreneurship can flourish. Josephine Fairley, a British journalist, wrote an interesting article on how "women can kick-start an epic culture change in business". You can read it here.
We American women also need to kick-start a paradigm shift in the way business, education, and work/life balance are all viewed in this country. We need to come up with different solutions and outcomes, so that all people can flourish; not just pockets of people, scattered across this great country. There is much we can learn much from the history of the Pilgrims; about life, about entrepreneurship. Here are 3 lessons I've learned that I wanted to share:
1. On Business-Having a moral imperative facilitates one's mission statement and implementation of it. The Pilgrims crossed the ocean, braving weather and illness, to start anew in a country they were unfamiliar with, where they could live a life of religious and economic freedom. The two were intertwined. There is a moral code by which all entrepreneurs need to live by, so that there is both civic engagement and leadership, as well as profit, for others to benefit from. Philanthropy and honesty are two crucial character traits to hone. Today's global consumers are craving meaningful thought leadership that inspires, and transparency that fosters trust. It's too bad those folks at Enron forgot that!
2. On Education-Having a willingness to collaborate and barter one's services for it facilitates one's networking and creativity. The Pilgrims suffered greatly, that first winter of 1620 at Plymouth Plantation. Food was scarce, and only 50 of the 102 settlers survived the hunger and disease. Enforced isolation and a mistrust for "outsiders", especially the surrounding tribes of Native Americans, further exacerbated the situation. The Pilgrims needed to be educated on the resources and agricultural realities of their new habitat. They needed to learn creative problem solving skills, especially their negotiating skills with others, to survive. They needed to study new "primers" and work together and network, so that they wouldn't perish. Successful entrepreneurship hinges on educating oneself about problem solving to produce disruptive innovation; a game changing service/product that helps people with their quality of life. Collaboration involves education about variables and the viewpoints of others, and learning how to problem solve and barter one's skills/services in order to have opportunities to be mentored and mentor others. It's a necessary cycle that is easier than ever, thanks to our shrinking global neighborhoods and the meaningful use of social technology.
3. On Work/Life Balance-Having a "minimalist mentality" facilitates one's cash flow and longevity. The Pilgrims were notoriously frugal and even said to live rather austere lives. Part of it may have been circumstance and part of it may have been faith. But a streamlined life helps one do work that really matters. Living with less makes one more appreciate and innovative about life. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I have learned the danger of wasting company resources by outsourcing what you can really do yourself, not pacing yourself financially, and not understanding what is essential to marketing your business and what is "swag". As a human being with environmentalist tendencies, I have seen the value in promoting sustainability and recycling efforts for the greater good. I have also seen the value in cognitively harnessing time and avoiding perfectionism, so that I have a better work/life balance. So that I'm not trapped into that "just one more minute" cycle or "workaholic mode", which detracts from my ability to live in the moment. To see the Big Picture.
There is much today's entrepreneur can learn from the Pilgrims. We can learn to better balance our own humanity and inner voice with the voices of others, spread by social technology. We can better balance our needs and wants; the "stuff" clamoring to be purchased, the instinct to hoard knowledge/resources, the peer pressure to remain static, to conform. Like the Pilgrims, we need to take the first step to true autonomy. Let that first step begin now.