‘I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.’ -Hermann Hesse
In 2008, I was informally introduced to the business world in a Saint Paul, Minnesota café:
As a creative Artist with an extensive not-for-profit background, I was found to be an asset to a budding Social Entrepreneur with extensive financial management experience. This former international banking executive, though commercially astute, was clueless as to how to apply his expertise to a non-profit situation. I witnessed him make mistake after mistake as he desperately sought a way to use his skill set to “help kids”; however, this gentleman’s plight was much deeper…
He believed the financial world corrupted his base character; as he struggled to find ways to ‘connect’ with well-meaning locals whom he believed to be assets to his new mission. Only the very astute (myself included) saw thru his damaged exterior and domineering manner into the heart of a man desperate to (finally) do some good in our community and world.
He recruited me as his new café manager, envisioning his operation as the “Club Med” of social ventures. I couldn’t help but think he was pursuing this because of the economic downturn our nation was experiencing; yet, at the same time, I witnessed him sacrifice everything, including his marriage (“she didn’t sign up for this”), to pursue his “dream” of helping kids.
During our downtime, he reminisced over his “hippie” years, played John Lennon records & read self-help books. He would tell me I had “a different kind of Ph.D” as I shared my experiences in the not-for-profit world. Conversely, I was a literal sponge as I absorbed as much of his business expertise as possible. It was a learning opportunity I never sought for myself, yet believed to be too valuable to overlook.
I let him mentor me as he saw fit, whilst pummeling through his library of Harvard journals, management texts, and business cards. However, the most revealing part of our operation was our “whiteboard sessions”, where we would map our ideas, goals, and progress. I remember, on one occasion, struggling at the board; because I felt that if I revealed what I was truly thinking at that moment, I would compromise my sense of self. However, our “Founder” calmly looked at me and said, “go for it”. I had finally crossed the threshold from not-for-profit to for-profit.