Madeleine Shaw is an author and social entrepreneur of over 25 years based in British Columbia, Canada. She’s started and run both nonprofit and for-profit business ventures alike.
Not only is she a social entrepreneur herself, she’s also written an excellent book on the topic. This post is an excerpt from The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World, a collection of lessons and experiences along her social entrepreneurship journey.
The Greater Good presents an inspiring look at how a new generation of non-traditional entrepreneurs can use their personal values and vision to launch and grow world-changing ventures. It dispels the myth that you need a business degree or a blockbuster tech idea to start a successful enterprise, arguing that passion, a willingness to step into one’s personal power, and strong relationships are what propel social entrepreneurs forward.
Finding Your Why
Without knowing where you are in your journey to social entrepreneurship, I am going to assume that it may be as vague as a feeling of uneasiness or longing, or a sense of unmet potential in the world or aspect of your life. Perhaps you are already in a time of transition, in the liminal space between career or life phases.
Rather than look externally for direction, this chapter is about taking stock of our own lived experience as a way to access inspiration for your Why. Drawing from the term popularized by Simon Sinek in his classic TED talk and subsequent book Start With Why, I am inviting you to consider your past as a potential pattern rather than a series of random incidents.
Personal Story Discovery Suggestions
The types of insights that we are looking for can show up at any time, not just when we are being intentionally seeking them. I have had major inspiration come when I was in the middle of other things and couldn’t understand why this other idea kept showing up. As you start considering what your project or venture might be, pay particular attention to the stories that you are drawn to in the news, events you get invited to but don’t normally attend, or certain people’s names that keep showing up. These types of things are easy to dismiss as random or distracting. Stay a bit more open and alert than usual, a bit more curious and less dismissive.
Focus is great, however sometimes letting go of expectations and ‘results’ can make space for whatever it is that wants to show up.
Here is a fun introductory activity, a sortof self-reflection “warm up”:
- Assemble a collection of personally resonant objects, photographs and mementos that you have on hand in your home or that you collect in nature. For those of you who already have an altar, this is a good place to look. Scrapbooks, pieces of art or knick knacks that you find meaningful: it could look like literally anything, as long as it means something to you.
- It’s a good idea to document your thoughts during this process; personally I am a big fan of large sticky notes and brightly colored markers. There are also some online virtual whiteboard tools such as Miro if you prefer to work that way. You may even want to listen to music or journal as you gather to help the flow of ideas.
- Next, arrange these items on a table or comfortable floor space, considering each one. Where did it come from? Why is it significant to you? Did someone give it to you, or did you choose it? What is its story and why does that story mean enough to you that you keep this object in your home? Sit with the ideas and memories that come out of this, and write them down. Are there any themes or patterns that arise? Any particular memories or feelings that surface? Pay close attention and write them down as well.
Personal Story Mapping Exercise
Here are some ideas for looking more closely at your personal history:
- Do a bullet point inventory or map of your life’s journey. What have the most impactful experiences been? In the past I have used a wall-sized ‘sticky note’ and done this in a spiral pattern with small illustrations. Don’t feel like you have to simply stick with words; pictures or drawings may work better for you, or a combination.
- Create a personal biography of yourself with no particular audience in mind: this is just for you.
- How have you defined yourself in the past? Who do you see yourself as now? And how do you see yourself in an ideal future?
- What are things you love? Hate? Feel deeply curious about?
- What are your resources? This can include social in addition to financial capital—groups or particular relationships that can support you. Your skills and professional background are also relevant here.
- What are your constraints?
Looking at your values is another good way to point the compass toward a kernel of an idea that may be meaningful. When we think of “values” as they apply to ourselves, I think we can often take them for granted, in the sense that we think, Of course I know what they are. But do we? Have you given them a good thinking-through lately? It’s definitely worth doing, especially if you have not articulated them recently. Some unexpected things may come up.
Values are a set of principles or beliefs that consciously or unconsciously guide your life choices and pursuits. They are the bare-bones, bottom-line things that matter to you the most and the deepest expression of how you live your life.
I suggest setting aside a couple of undisturbed, meeting-free hours where you can focus without distraction. Start by meditating, doodling, flipping through magazines or photo albums and/or journaling. One way or another, clear your mind enough to be able to be receptive to the feelings that arise when you see certain words or images. Ultimately you want a list of words or phrases; however I am a big believer in noticing physical or emotional responses to images as well—these are all cues. Looking back at the timeline exercise, what particular words, feelings or themes emerged?
As an example, in a recent values exploration I did, I came up with the following principles that are most meaningful to me:
- Step up. This is about leadership and being willing to be the first one to put myself out there. This speaks to my archetype, the Instigator (we’ll explore personal avatars and archetypes in chapter 4).
- Stay open. This means being with what is, as opposed to making things happen. Being receptive to other voices and experiences as I craft my initiatives.
- Let it flow. It may have started with menstrual periods, but I see this as a metaphor for many of life’s other processes. When I feel stuck or boxed-in, I look to this value to find the way to move forward the way that water navigates a stream bed.
- Do the thing. This one has two meanings. First, to do what you say that you’re going to do; then, to take action as opposed to sitting on an idea or impulse.
- Make space. This is about being mindful of my social privilege: how and where it shows up and how I can use it to support others. Or just get out of the way and be grateful for the opportunity to learn from others.
- Feel everything. I am—to use V (formerly Eve Ensler)’s term—an emotional creature. Emotions are a form of very real intelligence. Be with your emotions, even when they are hard or scary. They have so much to teach us, and bad things happen when we try to make them go away by ignoring them.
- Nurture. How I love growing things! This can look like relationships, companies and plants, among others. I try to apply this value to everything that I do.
- Be strong. I recently read Glennon Doyle’s Untamed (which I highly recommend). One of her expressions that has stayed with me is “We Can Do Hard Things.” Another source I take inspiration from on this front comes from A.A Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh: “Always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and loved more than you know.”
- Be awesome. You don’t need to be the best to be wonderful. Do your best and love your imperfect self without apology.
The Greater Good book is a call to action for ‘everyday people’—particularly women, or others who may feel excluded from the traditional entrepreneurial stereotype—to build businesses and initiatives that make a difference.
Author & Social Entrepreneur
Madeleine Shaw is an award-winning social entrepreneur, author, speaker, and mentor.
She is best known as the founder of Aisle (formerly Lunapads) one of the first ventures in the world to commercialize reusable menstrual products, Nestworks, a family-friendly co-working community in Vancouver, Brittish Columbia, and authoring The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World.
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