Shortly before the end of the year, I was talking to Karyn Ruth White and the subject of resolutions came up. “I don’t really make them,” she said. “But I do sit down at the end of the year and write about ten lessons I’ve learned in the previous year.” Then she added, “I’ve even had a couple of them published.” What began as a personal project, got shared with others. Great idea, isn’t it?
While it could be argued that every business is informed and influenced by our personal experiences, a great deal of opportunity goes unused by people who fail to see the potential of putting that experience to work for them.
I have written a mission statement that is a reminder to that personal experience is the crux of my business. My mission is this: “Have a great life and talk about it.” That may sound simple, but inherent in it is a constant challenge to keep growing and adding experiences that can enlarge and enliven other lives too.
In order to create a profit center that grows out of your own life, there are four essential ingredients that need to be present. They are:
- Value Your Own Experience. Very often the things that are easy and effortless for us are overlooked because we assume that what we can do, everyone can do. That’s almost never true. Our special set of talents, skills and life experiences are a one-of-a-kind package, but we have to recognize why that can be valuable to others.
- High Self-awareness. Writer Carolyn See says, “I hope I’m wrong, but I imagine about 90 percent of the human race is snoozing along, just going through the motions.” Staying awake for the journey is important if we are to find the gold in our lives.
- Generous Spirit. We must be convinced that what we have discovered will make other people’s lives richer, happier, healthier or smoother in some way. Keeping it to ourselves seems, well, selfish.
- Eager to Learn. Starting a business based on personal experience is just the entry point. It’s really an invitation to mastery if we use it to learn, grow and improve.
Personal experience lends itself to all sorts of enterprises. Here are some possibilities:
- Find a Better Way. Doris Drucker, the wife of management guru Peter Drucker, found a new opportunity for herself this way. She writes, “For years my role as the wife of a professional speaker was to sit in the last row of an auditorium and shout ‘Louder!’ whenever my husband’s voice dropped. I decided that there had to be a better feedback device and if there wasn’t, I was going to invent one. Then I decided, at the age of 80-plus, that I would start a business to sell it.”
Solving a problem or simply finding a more effective way of doing something has been the start of many a successful business. As a college student, Tony Buzan wanted to learn how to use his brain effectively. When he couldn’t find any useful information to assist him, he began a personal crusade to learn all he could. As a result, millions of people are mind mapping and learning other techniques to optimize personal intelligence.
- Tell Your Story. Benjamin Franklin said we should all write something worth reading or live something worth writing. Personal experience can be the basis for autobiography and how-to books. My bookshelves are full of personal experience stories such as Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun , Amy Stewart’s From the Ground Up, and Anita Roddick’s Body and Soul.
Workshops, seminars and consulting are other ways of making your experience pay. You need to live it first, of course. That may sound like common sense, but at least once a week I’ll get a call or letter like the one I got from a man in Idaho who went on at great length about how confused he was about what business to start, then added a p.s. to his letter saying he plans to organize a seminar on Discovering Your Purpose.
- Pay It Forward. A few years ago, Kevin Spacey was in a movie with that title. Apparently the message of passing along our good to others took root. Spacey took a year off from film making to put his energy into a website called Triggerstreet.com that is creating opportunities for the next generation of screenwriters. Spacey says he realized that his considerable success was the result of others believing in him before he believed in himself and now he wants to pass that gift along to others.
Your experience could be utilized through teaching or mentoring those coming along behind you too. “If you have knowledge,” said Margaret Fuller, “let others light their candle at it.” If it’s time to plan a new profit center, take a fresh look at your own life. You may be sit-ting on a gold mine, you know.