Heart and Soul

To many people owning your own business is a microcosm of life.

I think that’s true.

If you get it wrong.

Most people do.

In the early stages the analogy is exact. Romantic. Beguiling. You start with nothing. You create life. You nurture, teach, feed and protect. It grows. It becomes unruly. You rein it in. Teach it good from bad. Right from wrong. It continues to grow. It becomes self-sustaining.

You keep your hand in by making sure the critical decisions go through you. After all, it was built from your DNA. Who else really understands it the way you do. But instinctively you start to sit back a little.

And ignore the ticking clock.

Businesses are like dogs. They get old in a hurry. One day they’re ten, bounding upstairs like a puppy. The next, they have a hard time getting down off the couch. When that happens you know the time they have left is less than the time they have had. And though you can ease the discomfort and slow the aging process, the end is inevitable. And coming like a freight train.

But businesses don’t have to get old. They should outlive us. After all, why build a business that can not, when it takes the same effort to build one that can?

What it requires is less. Less ego for one. Less hubris for two.

Most business owners define themselves by their companies. They describe themselves as its heart and soul. It radiates from them and through them. Which is fine for a while.

Business owners talk about heart and soul a lot. As though they were inextricably linked. Which, of course, they are not.

The soul is one of the great mysteries of existence. It is purported by some to weigh 21 grams. Maybe. But unquestionably, it is the essence that makes us who we are.

The heart is perhaps the most studied organ in medicine. No surprise given that it is the epicenter of our life force. The fulcrum around which every action is taken. But over time, we have learned that it is replaceable. That we can use someone else’s without losing the uniqueness of who we are.

Our heart is transplantable. Our soul is not.

If you want to create a business that lasts, it will require your heart and your soul.

But only to begin with.

Eventually, as your enthusiasm wanes (and it will), your business will need to get its energy from somewhere else. It will need a new life force. It will need a heart transplant.

If you see this as the natural progression of things, you will prepare for it and embrace it. It hurts. But only a little. And the rewards are extraordinary.

And if you get it right, your business retains your soul. Indelibly imprinted long after you have left the building.

As Chris and I walked out the door of the Whitehouse for the last time on that Friday night in 2005, two things were certain.

Part of who we are was forever infused into the soul of that company.

Someone else would turn on the lights on Monday morning.