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The Irony of Success and What We Can Do About It

Oprah, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Branson: My heroes. Ok, well that might be a little dramatic but if I listed Dominic Barton (Mckinsey), Jim Turley (EY), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Richard David (US Bank), you (like me) would probably wonder who these people were.

We’ve come to glorify and exemplify the CEOs of ‘unicorn’ start-ups to be the pinnacle of success.

What do they all have in common? They’re all founders and entrepreneurs, sparking a high interest in starting a company and setting an alternate standard of what it means to be successful.

To add to this, classes teaching entrepreneurship have gone up some 20x since 1985. We’re programmed to think that we need to work in that remote office, ‘hustle’, and be a part of that ‘start-up grind’. Why not? We all want to be successful.

If that is the case though, why is it that entrepreneurship is at a 40-year low? According to the US Census that just over 450,000 firms were founded in 2014, which is way less than the 500,000 to 600,000 new companies founded every year from the late ‘70s to the the time of the Census.

Success is hard to find in entrepreneurship. Consider being 20-something kid that wants to start a small tech shop rather than being a consultant for a major firm after spending four years, racking up an average of $37,000 student debt. The data shows that it takes just over three years to be profitable and statistically, they have a 1 in 10 shot at making a sustainable living at all. The bottom line? Making a living in entrepreneurship is tough, and being among the Zuckerbergs is, well, nearly out of the question.

And hey, it isn’t limited starting a tech company, this is entrepreneurship as a whole. Perhaps that is why the idea of a side-hustle is on the rise too. Forbes reports that more than 1/3 of Millennials are working a side job. But is it possible to fully commit? Well, given the difficulty of becoming not only profitable, but also to make a sustainable living, not likely; well not right away at least.

A fun side-hobby? Sure. Lucrative, maybe, but not likely.

But then comes a new problem: Automation, which is something widely talked about, but perhaps not enough when it comes to entrepreneurship. Time said that ‘Jobs with predictable activities in structured environments are the easiest to replicate with robots, a process known as automation. McKinsey estimates that 51% of all job-related activities in the U.S. economy fit this description, largely in manufacturing, food service and retail trade sectors.’ What does this include? Insurance underwriters, Banking clerks, Accounting technicians and bookeepers. Funny, those are among some of the jobs we in society deem to be among the ones that make us more successful.

The irony in the situation is that some of the jobs that we thought were those that were going to be safe and lucrative in the long-haul are going to be the ones to go, and entrepreneurship, though difficult to make full living off of, isn’t what gets us the most support out of the gate.

So what do we do moving forward?

Well, I predict that there will be a spike in Liberal Arts education so that we can solve problems better. The reality is that the world is moving faster than any of us can keep up with and the definition of success is changing along with it.

What we need to be doing is filtering the ‘noise’ of what society (or Instagram followers) tells us to be successful and learn to understand ourselves and what makes us happy. Try disconnecting for a weekend. See what it is you gravitate to when there isn’t the ‘busyness’ of life.

Success doesn’t look like it used to. It isn’t about the American Dream, so much as it is about the dreams of over 300 million Americans, which all look different. Defining what we need to live a sustainable, happy life is the first key step to determining what success looks like to us. Next step: chase it and don’t look back.

Sell Problems, Provide Solutions

Although I haven’t had too many mentors, I did have the opportunity to meet on numerous occasions with former Alberta Finance Minister and Chancellor of the University of Calgary for four years, Jim Dinning. Jim took interest in his the students at the institution he represented and made a point of offering a helping hand any chance he could. Being a Vice President of the Student Union certainly helped, but I suspect that with enough interest and effort, he would have helped anyone who dropped him a line or knocked on his door.

One morning in particular stood out in my mind tough. At a breakfast at a his favourite diner in downtown Calgary, we sat down for breakfast in late 2014. I wanted to know more about his experiences and learn some key bits of advice he might have for a young person trying to make his way in the business community in a city that was starting to feel the pinch of a economic crisis that became much darker than even some of the brightest people the in province could have sketched up. He told me something I’ll never forget. Sell problems, provide solutions.

Taking this advice, we were able to take a start-up company into something that provided the lives we wanted to live. I was able to travel more, relate to more people, and really speak to people without ever feel like I was selling to them. What I found is that people love credit, and they love to feel like they’re making a difference. If we address problems, and work together to provide solutions, we can all be engaged in the conversation and collaborate to find solutions. It turns out that in a typical management consulting relationship, the trade is monetary compensation for the solving of a problem. Why fix a problem that doesn’t exist though? Why provide a solution to something that isn’t wrong?

See, if I were to try to sell you a raincoat when it was 30 degrees out, you’d probably tell me I was crazy. In the same breath though, if I told you that it was going to be cold and rainy tomorrow and ask you how you were going to stay dry, the solution would likely be that you tell me you need a raincoat. I have one, and even though its raining out, you’re probably going to want it.

What I’ve found is that this key bit of advice extends much past sales though, and rings true in our daily lives too. Now, instead of trying to sell the things that I want to do on a Sunday afternoon, for example, I will sell why we shouldn’t do something that I don’t want to do, and let the people I’m with come to the conclusion that I was hoping for anyways.

Where I find this most interesting though, is how we can apply this to our daily lives, and what we want to get out of work. If we start addressing our own problems instead of trying to solve things we don’t think to be wrong, how is it that we can really ensure that we’re getting the most out of the action we’re making?

When I started Gen Y Inc. with Emerson Csorba, I often thought about the lifestyle I wanted to live, and the problems with the life I was currently living. In my life, I didn’t get the opportunity to travel as much as I would like. I learn the most when I’m in a situation I don’t understand well and so I wanted a job that could get me out of my comfort zone and learning a lot. To solve this problem, we had to create something remote and service based. This allowed me to solve a problem I addressed right away. The entrepreneurial path has simple been solving this problem by solving others first. This allowed for flexibility and the lifestyle I dreamed of.

Jim Dinning is a wise man that I look up to more and more, the better I under I understand. He asks the right questions at the right time, and always provides great advice. What he always asks first though, is ‘what’s the problem?’

Bigger Than Work

Simon Senik wrote the bestseller ‘Start with Why’. In this book he talks about companies talking more about WHY they do what they do as opposed to WHAT they are doing. This acute understanding of purpose and direction allows customers to become a part of the company on a deeper level than just the function of the product or the result of the service. Thinking carefully about this book, I started to questions more deeply about why we do what we do, and what it really means in terms of living a fulfilling life.

This book is designed to look at the work we do and understand a true appreciate of the work we do and the life we live because of it. Bigger than work looks to redefine success in a way that financial status doesn’t determine our success, but more the happiness we experience in our daily lives that measures the success of our lives.

Bigger than work also dives into education and talks about how we can educate in a way that helps young people find careers that are best for them. Too often we see people trying to work through the ‘American Dream’, and although there isn’t anything wrong with it, we can’t assume that one sized shoe fits all feet.

Finally, bigger than work talks about the changing dynamic of the world we are living in. From the integration of technology, the rise of remote and flexible work, and the ease of access to, and in transmitting information, work is changing. To look at work in the same light as we have for the past century is outdated and stale. We have to be able to utilize technology and advancements around us in order to get the most out of the world we live in.

Bigger than Work is a passion project, and thoughts that I’ve wanted to share with the world for quite some time. The book is a channel to share observations and insights not only as an entrepreneur, but a young 20-something guy trying to find his way through life like anyone else. This book is a story about how I’ve tried to never feel like I’m working a day in my life, while still clocking 40, 50, even 80 hours a week at my ‘desk’, wherever that may be.

The bottom line here is happiness. I want you to feel that regardless of where you are or where you work, that everything is going well. There are always things that prevent total happiness, but it is because of the work you are doing that you are able to live the life you lead. If happiness is the true measure of success, then I want this book to let you know that what you’re doing is paying the bills and allowing you to keep the lights of your house on, regardless of the size.

To me, it doesn’t matter if you live under a bridge and collect cans all day, or are a Managing Director of some Fortune 500 company. If we have the means to live a happy life, then it doesn’t matter WHAT we do, it matter WHY we do it. That is what truly makes work Bigger than Work.

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