My closest friends back in the US know I aspire only to be an “entrepreneur” or “entrepreneurial” in some capacity. Both of my parents started their own businesses in two separate countries after divorcing when I was young. I had the blessing of watching them grow into successful ventures that reflect my their individual passions and fund everything that makes them happy. All I’ve wanted since is the same self-made freedom and fulfillment.
I started writing content professionally at 17 – my first attempt to turn my passion into a means of making a profit where and how I wanted. Naturally, I chose to go to a business school in Texas with an entrepreneurship program. For me, Texas was a hotspot for incredibly profitable, “dream” companies to learn from as well as a ‘business-friendly’ starting ground for myself.
I do need to say that over the last three years, I’ve learned an incredible amount through the guidance of wonderful professors and have learned even more working for some equally incredible entrepreneurs.
Now, for web of personal and external reasons, I’m in Spain.
The default family and university reason is “I came here to studying entrepreneurship from a different perspective.” And, aside from the draw of European night life and Mediterranean beaches, it was true. My game plan when I landed was to gain insight on maybe a new technology or a new niche market I had not heard of that I would write down in a notebook and carry back to the heart of American business to exploit.
Lightbulb Idea. Fund. Market. Scale. Exit Plan. Retire Young. Die Fulfilled. — so the mantra went in my mind.
Instead, I was hit with one of the most impactful realizations that pulled me back from the direction I was going for three years and held me down.
I was standing on the metro on my way to class about a month into my time here. I take the same route every day. I had rarely experienced mass public transport living in California or Texas.
There’s this thing that happens with public transport where everyone tries their hardest to look like they don’t care and or their unhappy to be in the presence of anyone else there. It’s bizarre but I go with it.
I was shifting my gaze around the metro, making eye contact every so often with everyone sharing the car with me. A man with a little girl about two years old got on. Immediately, the entire car lit up as the little girl made her way through, interacting with everyone. Kind phrases and greetings were shared and when they left the car a few stops later, everyone said goodbye in the same way you say goodbye to a friend or family member- with a casual inflection and understanding that it really means “see you later”. I’d never seen anything like it. A room full of strangers (who really aren’t, they travel with each other every morning) went from stone cold to a family gathering around this child in less than a minute.
This was the moment I realized there was something profound in the atmosphere here I had knew experienced before in passing during travel but never actually understood. It happens in moments of greatest joy and darkest distress.
Solidarity. Solidarity within a city, a community, and a society.
Everyday in the city, I am forced to stand face to face with others who share the same living space with me while we navigate our separate, but very close paths. For those 15–20 minutes on the metro, our paths are equal to each other’s. We are existing on the same plane – physically and socially. Most importantly, how your actions and decisions affect those around you becomes something you must consider.
My mind jumped to bigger implications. How would I feel if something awful happened to this city? How does this affect the way we make business decisions? Can we ride a metro car with a random sample of our community and make decisions that would hurt the lives of those we make eye contact with everyday?
Where I live in the US, it’s alarmingly easy to isolate yourself in homes, in cars, and institutions. The “profit at all costs” thinking manifests and permeates. At what point do we accept responsibility for creating positive instead of negatives externalities for those co-existing with us? I’ve noticed my mind is now more humanity oriented rather than profit and growth oriented as it had been previously programmed.
I want to see those I make eye contact with in passing thrive and live in a better world where the pursuit of individual realization is not hindered by the actions of another. But I don’t think this has to be separate from profit like many tend to think. I simply know I want to see humanity back in the business equation. How can we use creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship to create positive externalities? This is the new question for me and I’m sure many others.
Social entrepreneurship is needed now more than ever. I truly believe more success-unicorn-Forbes stories with this sort of vision within can create change beyond what we can calculate. The “happiness and fulfillment” part of the entrepreneurial profit equation lies entirely in this.