Once In A Lifetime

A series of events unfolded last week that caused me to take a step back and have a rethink about my world view and exactly what drives me to succeed in life. But to preface this story, let me explain that, for a number of reasons, this year has been one of the most challenging in my business career. It has been a year of unnecessary conflict as well as necessary but jarring changes. There have been times when (rightly or wrongly) my capability and core sense of self-worth has been questioned by others and indeed by me as well.

So it was within this tumultuous context that I found myself waiting politely with my partner in a supermarket checkout queue recently. A passing shop employee happened to notice a bank ATM card lying on the floor near to where I was standing and enquired if it was ours. It was not, so she hurried off to deposit the card safely at the supervisor’s station. Now my attention was drawn to an elderly lady ahead of me who was struggling to complete her transaction. Doubled over with an awkwardly curved spine, her skin had the awful gray pallor of someone gravely ill and possibly with limited time left.

Her adult son was trapped in the adjacent queue so, appraising the situation, I waved him across ahead of us. We had just enjoyed a pleasant walk outdoors and were in no particular hurry ourselves. It soon became evident that the poor lady had lost her credit card, so we quickly pointed the man in the direction of where it was being held. The woman was greatly relieved and completed her payment. It was a simple act of assistance towards a stranger in need that any decent person would have provided of course. But what happened next was entirely unexpected and affected me deeply.

The gentleman turned to me and grasped my hand. “Bless you sir, you are a good and kind man”, he said. At that moment I began to realise how easily we lose track of what is really important in life. As humans we strive so hard for material things. We crave money, power, sex and social recognition and yet it all means nothing in the end. The only meaningful aspect of our short lives, is how we contribute to others. As entrepreneurs we are naturally ego-driven and results oriented of course. But this is a feature, not a bug, provided we balance that energy with a healthy sense of humanity and a sense of self-worth.

This week I have also been reading a number of stories about entrepreneurs struggling with their mental health. It reminded me once again that we all must be vigilant in how we balance work and leisure and relationships. I also enjoyed Jenene Crossan’s outpouring about how entrepreneurs simply need to give the best 1% of themselves to their businesses and be surrounded by good people – rather than deplete themselves by giving 100%.

Wherever the road takes me in the future. I hope it will be a place where I can live by that credo and that it will be within an enterprise that demonstrably helps people in some way and genuinely values the contribution of every team member. We only get a limited number of iterations in life – we should make them count.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

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