“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” 

This is Brene Brown’s definition of belonging I found in her book ‘Dare to Lead’ (which I’ll be blogging about later, because it’s a f*cking gem).

 Anyway, given the fact there is no place we spend as much time as we do at work, it’s not surprising we want work that fills us with a sense of belonging. We want to feel like we can be ourselves. But we also want to be part of something bigger, something that matters. No matter how cynical our hard exteriors, at heart we’re idealists.

Some of us are lucky enough to find great leaders with a vision we want to follow and contribute to. For me, things were different. While I had the privilege to work with several absolutely amazing managers and leaders, I’ve only seldom worked for companies I could truly endorse. That’s why at the age of 27 I stopped looking and launched my own business, which enabled me to do projects I enjoyed and truly believed in. But it’s not all been fun and games. I quite often felt like feeling my way through the darkness. And I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. Still, If I look behind me, there’s some lessons learned I want to share with you if you want to launch your own hero business: a business contributing to a better world. 

Lesson 1: ANYTHING can be a hero business

For the longest time I felt like I don’t belong anywhere. A part of me is a total hippy, living in a van, practicing free love and exploring psychedelics. But then there’s a different part of me that is super organized, very much a thinker over a feeler. That part of me has a very deep-rooted passion for marketing and advertising. Yes, I’m the girl who’ll watch ‘Mad Men’ and think ‘THEIR JOB LOOKS LIKE SO MUCH FUN!’ 

These days, I can admit this almost unapologetically. Almost drown out the voice in the back of my head telling me a good person has no business doing marketing. The voice that got there as a result of the responses I’ve gotten over and over from people thinking marketing is the root of all evil. 

I see it differently. Marketing is a combination of techniques serving a specific purpose and the way we use these techniques is entirely upto us. It doesn’t matter what field we’re in, we can use our skills to make the world a better place or a worse place. It’s the difference between permaculture farming and Monsanto (both very much food production). It’s the difference between working on healthcare robots or weapons (both technology). And between enabling deformations in people with self-esteem surgery or helping people regain a part of their looks after serious health issues or accidents (plastical surgery).

Marketing does not equal a lack of ethics. Pretty much no field does. So whatever it is that fills you with energy, I’m pretty sure it can be turned into a hero business. Not just medicine, social sciences and environmental studies, but also finance, tech and… well, anything. 

Lesson 2: It’s okay to make money!

Something else I’ve learned the hard way: having a hero business is NOT the same thing as having a not-for-profit. 

When it comes to money, we have lots of subconscious beliefs that hold us back and I wish I could tell you they’re easy to get rid off but they’re not. Some beliefs I’ve encountered over the years:

  • Rich people are unethical (or plain evil).
  • If you love your job, this should be enough reward in itself.
  • If your cause matters, you shouldn’t care about money.
  • Art doesn’t offer enough value to justify a high price. Artists who ask for a lot are sell-outs. Artists who do commercial work are sell-outs. 
  • If you value money, you’re shallow.
  • If you spend a lot of money, you’re uncaring and/or shallow.  

Here’s what I’ve learned about money:

  1. The more money I have, the more I can invest it in causes I care about. If I don’t have money, I can’t afford biological food. I can’t afford buying sustainable clothing. I can’t afford investing in amazing artists. Contributing to charities I believe in. I’m focused on making a living and it’s hard to accept pro bono projects. If I have the money… I can buy the painting that will help my amazing artist friend create his work. I can invest in sustainable brands that work towards food that’s good for our environment and fellow humans. I can spend time helping causes I truly believe in.
  2. Psychology is a bit crazy, but here’s the thing: once we pay for something, we actually feel it has more worth. Imagine giving someone amazing value, but they are not able to see that value because you give it away for free and something in their brains is triggered to think that if you’re not asking money for it it’s not worth much. Asking for money can actually make the perceived value that much greater. I didn’t come up with this (and god knows I wish my friends would heed my awesome advice even if I don’t charge them for it by the hour ;-)) but it’s the way human minds work.
  3. It’s not ALL about the money. At times we’re so focussed on making a living we forget not everyone can afford us. It’s an example I’ve seen a lot when I was dabbling in photography: professional photographers getting angry about friends asking to help them out for a low fee or for free. Sometimes, it’s okay to just help people out. I’ve been doing a lot of work for free, in exchange for other services or based on donations, just because I feel it’s work worth doing. And here’s one other amazing thing I’ve seen happening: it’s gotten me a lot of payments as well. I’ve offered casual advice over dinner resulting in people asking to hire me for paid gigs. I’ve helped out friends who’d refer me to their clients. And donations sometimes turn out higher than what I’d be comfortable paying.
  4. This one is the hardest for me, but here goes: It’s okay to treat yourself! You don’t have to justify buying that shirt that looks amazing on you. Yes, you can have dinner at home for a tenth of the price, but spending a night at that restaurant just puts a smile on your face so DO IT. And yes, I know you can clean your own house, but if cleaning drains you of all your energy and you can afford it, for the love of god hire someone to help you. These days, I have ‘treating myself’ as a monthly goal (this month, I got myself an adorable teddy bear, just because it made me smile). I’ve also heard of people setting a monthly ‘treating myself’ budget and requiring themselves to spend it. If this goal is as hard for you as it is for me, consider practicing it consciously. I don’t care you work hard, as long as you don’t forget to play hard.

Lesson 3: trust your truth and keep an open mind

Look back at the definition of belonging: “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are”. I’d say every successful and happy business owner relates to this. Just think about all the amazing businesses you know. They are who they are and that’s where the magic happens. That’s because when you speak your truth, you attract people who believe in your truth. Those are the people you need to actually make change. Whether it’s changing the housing market, investing in better health or making sustainable clothing affordable for everyone – there are people out there who believe that your cause and your vision are worth fighting for. They are your tribe: your partners, your team, your clients.

The other thing that happens when you stick to your truth is that you’ll discover it’s not everyone’s truth. There will be people saying you are wrong. They have their own truth and sometimes theirs will not resonate with yours, even if on the surface it seems like both of you want the same thing. To give you an example from my personal experience, I’m a big believer in using psychedelics to help people with psychological healing. I’ve met a lot of people who are on the exact same page I am. I’ve also met people who are against psychedelics. But then there’s also people I’ve met who agree on the psychedelics part, but go about it in a very different way. Here’s what I’ve learned: we can agree to disagree. I don’t have to please them and it’s impossible to please everyone, for one simple reason: people want different things. The surest way to a burn-out is trying to achieve two mutually exclusive things at the same time (or, as I call it: denying the laws of nature). If you’ll let others determine your path, you’ll just end up exhausted and confused. Instead, keep your vision clear before your eyes and follow your own course.

And with all of that said… sometimes, especially when we are insecure about our own vision, we stick to it as if it’s the one thing that keeps us from drowning. When we get feedback, we get defensive. It’s simply too frightening to imagine we might actually be (partly) wrong. I’ve recently learned this stems from a feeling of shame and once more I refer you to Brene – she’ll describe it much better than I’ll ever can. The only lesson I’d like to share is: don’t let shame and fear deter you from keeping an open mind. You can have a solid vision, but maybe others’ feedback can make it even better. Here’s a simple trick I use to decide what you want to do with feedback: if you feel like listening to your feedback will bring you closer to your mission and goals, adopt or adapt it. If you feel like the feedback does not help you with your mission, acknowledge it and feel free to stick to your own ways.  

Overall, whether you’re launching a hero business or a ‘I need to survive this winter by any means’ business, no matter how much you’ll read and prepare, there will be challenges that catch you off guard. There will be lessons you’ll learn the hard way and maybe you’ll even discover your truth is different than mine. When that happens, I just hope you remember we’re all part of the same round table called Earth and no matter what everyone else (including me) says: your unique contribution to its future matters.