Profit is the outcome, not the goal.
Profit is the outcome, not the goal.

Why The Goal Should Never Be To Make Money

Start with Why

Simon Sinek became popular with his message of starting with why. A purpose or cause that inspires you to do what you do rather than focusing on what you do. Starting with why, according to Simon, is the difference between demanding action or inspiring it.

Start with why -- how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound

His message resonated with me. It just made sense. It confirmed and validated my decision to walk away from my day-job and stable income 5 years ago at an unethically run organization, so convinced that I’m doing the right thing, even though I doubted my decision many times.

Each and every friend and family member thought I’m crazy. Only a crazy person would give up a luxury apartment and the keys to a Mercedes Benz because the company’s way of working required me to sacrifice my integrity. Only a crazy person would embark on an experiment to see whether they can survive without money for five years, finding my why.

I joined the company because I believed that healthcare would be a more meaningful industry than insurance or banking where I previously worked. I thought it was about helping people and I was proud to say it when people asked me what I do.

Weathering the storm

I was wrong. It was, as most large corporations, primarily about making money. Helping people was way down the list of priorities when it came to making decisions. Decisions was driven by the single factor of how to make more money. Empathy for sick and dying patients having to undergo scary and often intrusive procedures were rarely considered when designing software. It was only about how the doctors can process more patients to make more money.

The people designing and writing the software were also not exempt from the money making drive and when I quit my job, I left a crucial empty spot in an already under-staffed department after half of the team was laid off in a cost-cutting exercise only a few months before.

They tried to convince me to stay. First my manager spoke to me. Then the Human Resource Manager. Finally I had a meeting with the head of the division. I told him they should be more customer focused, that they should care more about the patients and less about making money. I told him they should start with why.

He knew I had valid reasons for questioning the ethics of the operations. I pointed out more examples of crucial mistakes than what he would have liked to be true and even though he didn’t verbally say it, I knew he agreed. Yet, he thought I’m naive and unrealistic to have anything other than making money as the primary goal of the business. He couldn’t see how a business could be profitable without focusing on the money.

His message was clear. Their primary goal was to make money and it was not going to change. It was easy to walk away. The next five odd years, however, wasn’t that easy.

I didn’t realize that when I walked away I was challenging this belief that the only way for a business to be profitable was to have a single goal of making money. I didn’t realize that I was about to learn how to trust. How to cut money from the equation and prove everyone wrong. How to get what you really want and need without money.

The truth is that you don’t actually want the money and that’s why it shouldn’t be your primary goal. You want the freedom and other things that money buys. You want the comfort and predictability that a large savings account brings. You want the car. The massage. The branded clothes. The holiday. You want to feel in control. You want to feel powerful. You want to feel free.

Not the money.

What I wanted was to travel the world. To explore and discover new things. I wanted the freedom to go where ever I wanted whenever I wanted. That I was the owner of my life and the captain of my ship.

I wanted to feel that I can create my own career based on who I really am and what I am good at rather than trying to fit into a job description prescribed by the employer.

I wanted the luxury of healing my childhood traumas without the pressure of having to pretend to be happy and be productive at work. I wanted to be more me. Discover me. I wanted to read more. I wanted more time to listen to music and paint and do yoga and dance. I wanted time to explore, innovate, discover new trends and new things. I wanted to enjoy smoothies everyday and have time to lie on the beach when the weather was good.

I thought it was impossible to have all these things. Unless I won the lotto. I thought I had to have money to do all these things. A lot of it. And a day-job was the only way to get this money.

I was wrong. Very, very, very wrong. I got everything that I wanted and more while earning less than minimum wage in a third world country. Here is a list of some of the experiences I had with little to no money in my account:

  1. I traveled to the South of France and the rest of Europe, sometimes in first class, sometimes not, living in luxury villas and homes.

  2. I explored Belgium, my resident country, seeing and doing more than most people who have lived there their entire life.

  3. I was given the key to a beach front apartment on the Belgian coast which I could use whenever I pleased.

  4. I could go for a run every day first in the forests of Belgium, then on a beautiful golf course in Johannesburg, finally on the promenade next to the ocean in Cape Town. Something I never could do while working full-time. Something I’ve always wanted to do.

  5. I wrote a book. And a half. And hundreds of blog posts. While living in a beautiful, large, comfy home, enjoying smoothies made with fresh ingredients from the garden and walks on the beach every day in a room larger than my entire apartment while living in Europe while someone was doing my laundry for me. With a bathtub for long, leisurely baths on cold winters days.

  6. I slow traveled a year in the Cape Winelands, enjoying the best of what arts and culture had to offer. I tasted all the wines. I saw each and every art exhibition. Went into each shop and museum and walked each outdoor route I could find, getting to know the area intimately.

  7. I slow traveled more than a year in Thailand, exploring the city, the countryside, the neighboring countries and even scuba dived on the islands.

  8. I spent a month in China, setting up an entire new flat and buying an entire new cupboard of clothes. Going for a run each morning in the most magnificent park I’ve ever seen while seeing people practice Tai Chi, calligraphy, sword fighting and many more ancient arts.

  9. I got a brand new laptop, smartphone, tablet and unlimited internet access. More than once. I had time to download and evaluate more apps than I can count, something I never previously had time for.

  10. I got a larger selection of e-books and music that I could read and listen to. I got print books delivered to me in the post on multiple occasions. Gifts from friends who knew how much I loved books. Gifts from strangers who didn’t.

  11. I lived a year in Cape Town slowly exploring the design capital with its natural heritage, intimately getting to know each suburb and trying out the best that the city has to offer. The only thing left on my to-do list is learning to surf.

  12. I had art classes and painted a few oil paintings.

  13. I did yoga. On my own. In groups. At home. Outdoors. Indoors. I developed my own type of yoga, integrating chinese medicine, energy work, yoga and dance.

  14. I practiced meditation and pranayama’s daily. Still do. Finally I had time to breathe and think. I find it curious that most people take for granted that they do these things when in actual fact they don’t…

  15. I learned how to make soap and experimented with different oils, designing my own range of soaps for different moods, different conditions, different needs.

  16. I planted and nurtured a few gardens. Leaving herbs, vegetables and spices everywhere I’ve been as a reminder of me.

  17. I enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals every night and freshly made smoothies each morning.

  18. I volunteered in a township.

  19. I learned a bunch of stuff. Psychology. Game design. Teaching. Organizational development and design. Digital marketing. Graphic design. A bit of programming. Improv theatre. Soap making. Chinese medicine.

  20. I found my voice. I started blogging. Sharing my opinion to the world rather than reading what other people had to say.

Looking back, my five plus years without earning money were the most abundant and free years of my life. Also the hardest as with each gift came the opportunity to heal a past, painful trauma, which I was committed to more than anything else. I gained more than I’ve ever had in my life and felt that I’ve lost everything I deemed valuable to me. I learned to trust. I learned to detach from the outcomes. I learned to listen to my own guidance. I learned to love. I learned to say yes.

Money isn’t the only currency

The moral of the story is that money is only a tool that enables you to get what you want. It buys you the things and the feelings you really desire. But it’s not the only way to get these things and feelings, it’s just one of the many options available. Once you learn how to trust, you learn that there are countless ways to get these things without money.

Making your goal to make money is like wanting to buy an airplane when what you really want is to travel. You’re fixated on how to get there while you haven’t given thought as to where you want to go.

Rather choose where you want to go and stop forcing your efforts on the one way you think you can get there. Set your goal based on the outcome you wish to see as a result of reaching this goal. How do you want to feel? What do you want to see? What do you want to do?

Then, surrender. Let go of how you think you will get it and open yourself up to receive, knowing it will never show up the way you thought it would. But always better than you could ever imagine.

Do you want to have a business development centre? Or do you want to feel needed and meaningful empowering people to start their own business? Do you want to be a business owner or do you want to feel powerful and free and in control of your life? Do you want to go to a health spa or do you want to feel pampered, nurtured, and peaceful? Do you want the newest sports car or gadget or do you want to feel like you’ve won the jackpot?

So the primary question should not be how could you make more money, but rather how do you want to feel? Or even better, how do you want to change the world?

Originally published in Medium: