“As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live, “ observed the German philosopher Goethe. Apparently,  that’s easier said than done. 

I frequently receive calls from people who have attended my seminars. The opening query often sounds like this: “I have an idea for a business and I want you to tell me if it’s really dumb.” Before I even hear what the idea is, I point out that in the past 20 years I’ve only heard one bad idea so the chance that they’ll come up with the second bad idea isn’t great. 

However, it doesn’t matter how good an idea is if you don’t believe that it’s good. And that’s the big secret to building trust. It is totally dependent on what we believe to be true. We can’t trust ourselves if our belief system says that we have little to contribute. When we find ourselves being more doubting than trusting, that’s a signal to stop and take a long look at the belief that’s behind our behavior. 

Furthermore, we can’t become trusting simply by keeping our ideas to ourselves in the hope that we’ll gather the necessary confidence to do something about them. Trust is built through doing.

If you’d like to build a bigger trust  fund, there’s a simple exercise that will help you do just that. As you go about your day, notice how often—usually without even thinking about it—you operate in a trusting mode. When you drive a car, for instance, you’d never be able to leave the driveway if you didn’t trust that other drivers were going to operate their cars by the same rules, stopping for red lights, staying on the proper side of the road, and so on. At the end of the day, think back on all the time you spent trusting that others were going to do what you expected of them. There’s the bank teller that actually put the money into your account, the cashier that gave you the correct change after charging you the proper price, the client that met you at the right time and place for lunch. 

Now consider an idea that’s been lurking in your thoughts. Do you offer yourself and your idea the same level of trust that you give to total strangers and casual acquaintances? If so, give yourself credit for that; if not, ask yourself why. It may be that you generally don’t think  highly of your own creative process. That’s a signal that some inner work is in order. 

A few years ago, Hallmark Cards had a television commercial showing a young girl getting ready to compete in a sporting event. Her mother hands her a card and says, “This is for if you win.” Then she hands her another and says, “This is for if you lose.” When the girl opens the cards we see that they’re identical and say, “I’m so proud of you.” 

We can only  trust  ourselves and our ideas if we aren’t attached to winning or fearful of losing. We build stronger trust  in the act of doing, of following our ideas to wherever they lead.

Even ideas that turn out to go nowhere have a purpose if we can use them like mental yoga letting them stretch us farther and make us stronger.

Trust it.

Before I started my first business in 1974, I went looking for all the information I could find. I haunted my local library trying to find something that could help me start the kind of business I envisioned: small, at home, creative. The scant offerings on starting a business all assumed that the reader intended to have employees, pension plans, real estate and so forth. I wanted to market ideas; the books assumed I’d be manufacturing a product for wide distribution.

I attended a Start Your Own Business seminar hosted by the SBA. That was more discouraging than illuminating. I began to wonder if I was setting myself up for a huge disappointment since my vision didn’t seem to align with anyone’s notion of what it meant to be an entrepreneur.

Eight years earlier, unbeknownst to me at the time,  Paul Hawken was opening one of the country’s first natural food stores in Boston. A dozen years later, he started Smith & Hawken, a mail order business to offer tools and garden ornamentation.

Both of those operations were more conventional than mine, but he shared my confusion.

He still feels that way. I read a recent interview with Hawken and was both surprised and relieved to see he shared my experience. He said,  “When I started the natural food business in Boston, my business knowledge was scant. I did the best I could and began reading everything I could lay my hands on. I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal. It confused me. I read the major business magazines. Their Fortune 500 world seemed irrelevant. I sneaked into classes at the Harvard Business School. Their case studies were lunar in their usefulness to my enterprise.  The more I searched, the more confused I became. The more exposure I gained to the ‘official’ world of business, the more I began to doubt that I was in business at all. I seemed to be doing something entirely different. I get that same feeling today when I read most of the standard business literature believe that most people in new businesses, and some in not-so-new businesses, have the same problem. They don’t feel connected to the conventional wisdom..as if a small business is just a flake chipped off the larger corporate world.”

 I was thinking about this the other day when someone posted a link on Twitter to a round up of marketing books. I clicked on the link and as i scrolled through the list had that old feeling. “These books don’t have much bearing on the kind of business that I run.” While the books might have been a good fit for a large, conventional business, the ideas didn’t really transfer.

Since this new breed of entrepreneur has come on the scene, it’s been obvious that our notion of building a business is noticeably different than that of a corporate empire builder. Fortunately, there’s a growing array of tools to help us out. We may have to work a little harder to discover them, however. 

Making your way through that gigantic information hardware store can be confusing. It may involve some experimenting in order to get the right tools you need to build the business of your dreams. Make an effort to connect with others who are running solo or tiny businesses. Audition organizations to see where you feel a connection before you commit. Learn to synthesize good ideas and ignore those that don’t work for you. 

When building a business or a life or a family or an adventure, you want the best tools you can find. As Abraham Maslow warned, “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, you tend to see life as a nail.” 

After all, you wouldn’t use a toothbrush to build a house. You can’t build a business with the wrong tools, either.

Great business ideas can come from anywhere—frustration and frugality, for instance. One such story began in a tiny monastery in the countryside of western Wisconsin.

Father Bernard, one of five Cistercian monks living in at the monastery, was perplexed by the high cost of printer ink. That may not be the sort of problem you’d think would concern a cloistered monk, but Father Bernard is a frugal man.

As he recalls, “All I wanted was a little bit of black dust for one of our monastery printers. In my search for a toner cartridge, I was suddenly struck with how incredibly expensive this black dust and a few squirts of ink were. ‘There must be a better way,’ I said to myself. And so began my foray into the world of imaging supplies. What I discovered was a revelation. Simply stated, the mark-up on ink supplies is sinfully high, reaching in some instances into the 1,000-2,000 % levels. I also discovered that there were many companies that manufactured either new compatible cartridges or remanufactured cartridges at a fraction of the cost of the big name brands. My thoughts starting racing.”

What started out in 2001 as a search for a better way grew into a multimillion dollar Internet success story. Not only did Father Bernard find a way to cut costs for their monastery imaging supplies, he thought that he could create some extra income for their mission by selling remanufactured cartridges. The first year, the monks brought in a whopping $2000 gross. As the media began telling their story, sales multiplied 700% in 2003. They conservatively project doubling or tripling this year. 

What did these monks know about starting a business? They  began by applying the Rule of St. Benedict, which emphasizes the concept of hospitality, kindness and charity. How could they be hospitable in dealing with their customers, their vendors and their growing staff? How could they extend themselves to the community? How could they use their profits for the greater good?  

In addition to keeping their hospitality mission at the forefront, they also insisted that their business would be about these four things:

Bring joy and meaning to our work.

Involve the customer in our mission.

Position our company as socially conscious.

Grow financially and spiritually.

Ever since learning about them, I’ve been an enthusiastic LaserMonks customer and have been the recipient of their superb service. One of the bonuses of buying my ink from them is that I also am invited to leave a prayer request. Of course, I always do. Do you know any other business that offers to pray for yours? 

That’s not all that makes LaserMonks a standout. Since five monks have modest financial needs, much of their profit is given to charities with an emphasis on helping disadvantaged children. Even though their business is global, their focus is local. As they grew, LaserMonks made an effort to employ single mothers in their area, for instance. They’re equally committed to passing along frugality to their customers, whom they estimate saved over $200,000 last year.

Everyone wins with LaserMonks,” says Father Bernard. “Isn’t that the way business should be?”

As I was running errands the other morning, I heard an author on public radio talking about how unwieldy suburban life is. He also talked about the environmental and psychic impact of long daily commutes and suggested we need to rethink how we live and work. “But owning a house in the suburbs is the American Dream, ” the interviewer argued. Surely, the author wasn’t suggesting people abandon The Dream.

We’ve been hearing a great deal about The American Dream lately, a term that always makes my stomach tense up. My understanding of the American Dream is that it involved a house, a spouse and a job. There’s nothing wrong with those things, of course, if that’s your sincere aspiration. Unfortunately, those things were never my dream, although I gave them all a try in early adulthood. It wasn’t a good fit for me, but for years I kept it to myself while trying to fit in. The American Dream felt like a tether. I wanted a bungee cord.

A couple of years ago, a talented young writer called me. I knew that she was conflicted about having a job when she really wanted to be working on a romance novel. In the course of our conversation she told me about a new job offer she’d received. She said she was undecided so was soliciting opinions from people she trusted. Should she take the job which would be more appealing than the one she had, but also more demanding on her time? She laid out the pros and cons.

I listened to her story and then asked her simply, “Whose dream do you want to build?”

Whether we have a job or are building a business, we’re also contributing to the building of someone’s dream. Always.  Perhaps having a job is a step on the road to building a dream of our own, but too often it’s a detour. If it distracts us long enough, we might forget where we were headed to begin with.

We all needs dreams, of course, but it’s high time that we stop talking about The American Dream and start considering that there are millions of different dreams, all unique to their owner.

So whose dream do you want to build? 

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s and guess what they have planned for you? Not much ~ Jim Rohn


Chris Guillebeau eloquently challenges limiting ideas about what’s possible via his Art of Non-Conformity blog. Check out his All the Things You Don’t Need  and you’ll see how he’s using his concepts to live on his own terms…and encouraging others to do the same.