By Kim Soko Schaefer
Ways + Meaning is a website dedicated to mindful entrepreneurs. But what the hell does that even mean anyway? To be totally honest, I wasn’t sure when I first started using the term, but it sounded right so I went with it.
But before launching I decided I needed to dig a bit deeper. To really understand what it was I was basing my business on. And this is what I discovered when I started breaking down the terms…
Definitions of mindfulness
Mindfulness has been around for millennium. It’s rooted in the ancient eastern practice of meditation, in particular mindful meditation, but has seen a modern resurgence across all areas of life, including business.
Below are some of my favorite definitions of mindfulness:
From HBR: “Mindfulness — the practice of watching one’s breath and noticing thoughts and sensations — is, at its core, a practice of cultivating a kind of space. It’s about becoming aware of how the diverse internal and external stimuli we face can provoke automatic, immediate, unthinking responses in our thoughts, emotions, and actions.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an early advocate and author on mindfulness, defines mindfulness simply as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”
And finally, from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (my favorite source for all things related to wellbeing), “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
In summary, there are essentially 4 characteristics to being mindful
- Paying attention and having awareness
- In the present moment
- Without judgement, with loving kindness
- Intentionally, or on purpose
We do this so that we can
- Create space for pause, reflection and awareness
- Escape the ‘default mode’ of our minds
- Expand our internal sense of calm and peacefulness (or relaxing our anxieties and negative thinking)
- Heighten our awareness of the connection between all people, resulting in more loving, empathetic and compassionate relationships with others
Now on to something a bit more familiar to everyone, entrepreneurship…
Definitions of entrepreneurship
According to Wikipedia: “Entrepreneurship is the process of designing, launching and running a new business, which is often initially a small business. The people who create these businesses are called entrepreneurs.”
An entrepreneur is, according to Meriam Webster: “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”
Both of these definitions are accurate, but neither get to the heart and soul of what entrepreneurship is really about. Because in my experience, it’s not all about profit, it’s about following your passions, being creative and overcoming fear and a lack of resources in order to unleash your potential.
Then I found Howard Stevenson’s definition which I believe is a bit more authentic. Stevenson is a professor at Harvard Business School and he claims:
“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control.”
In my world ‘opportunity’ can be replaced by ‘dreams’ and ‘beyond the resources you currently control’ includes your fears, anxieties and confidence in addition to more traditional resources such as skills, money and technology. There is still the element of risk (which is important) and opportunity (which is much more broad than profit), but this definition allows for many more versions of what entrepreneurship can be…such as mindful entrepreneurship.
Definition of mindful entrepreneurship
When we put it all together, mindful entrepreneurship is about paying attention to and having awareness of the opportunity you’re chasing and accepting your abilities and limitations towards the pursuits of your purpose and goals.
Or put more simply, mindful entrepreneurship is the act of being intentional about following your dreams.
Now that we’ve gotten past the syntax, let’s get on to the matter. What characteristics make up mindful entrepreneurs? Why do they exist and how are they different from traditional entrepreneurs?
Characteristics of mindful entrepreneurs
Mindful entrepreneurs are thinkers. They spend a LOT of time in their mind thinking, strategizing, being creative and coming up with new ideas. They are aware of their minds limitations and capabilities. They actively try to avoid unnecessary distractions, which is increasingly difficult in our ‘shiny object syndrome’ digital world. They understand the neuroscience and psychology behind how our mind works and why, and they use that science to their advantage to make better decisions and avoid mental traps.
But they also prioritize doing nothing. They leave space to let their minds rest, to breathe. They understand that the best ideas come in between thinking and they make room for that pause in their daily lives.
Mindful entrepreneurs are strategic. They do things on purpose, intentionally, with thoughtful decision making. They are able to pay attention and stay focused because they know what they want to do and why.
Although they do value reflecting on the past, they do not over ruminate on their errors. Although they understand the importance of envisioning their future, they do not over plan or over fantasize about what may come. They try to stay in the moment as best as possible, by practicing gratitude for what they have and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
Mindful entrepreneurs value relationships. They understand that we’re all connected, and that our best bet for long-term success is to invest in the people that surround us: our customers, our suppliers, our friends and family that support us. We cannot be successful without our people and so we cultivate compassion, empathy, kindness and love for everyone we encounter through our journeys.
Often the most important relationship we build is with ourself. We know we will fail and we forgive ourselves for our mistakes. We build confidence through progress and appreciate every small milestone we pass. We know that we cannot succeed if we don’t believe in ourselves, and so we do.
Mindful entrepreneurs know what matters most in their lives. For some, that may be their business or venture. For others their business may be a means to live out their best life whatever that may look like. We know that not everyone’s work is their true calling, and that’s okay, because there is so much more to living, than working.
We know ourselves because we listen to our inner voice, to our closest loved ones, to those we work with, and we’re honest about our true strengths and passions. We build our businesses and lives around finding joy and efficacy through our work, our hobbies, our relationships and the balance between all aspects of our lives.
Mindful entrepreneurs grow intentionally. Perhaps one of the greatest distinctions between traditional and mindful entrepreneurs is their motivation around growth. You don’t have to be small to be a mindful entrepreneur, but you do have to be aware of why and how you want to grow your business. As opposed to the traditional mindset which is ‘growth at all costs.’
In practice this means mindful entrepreneurs are more particular about how they market, what tactics they use, what language they use, the effects that their marketing have on those they reach, etc. They set ‘good enough’ goals and can appreciate their success to matter how big or small it may be.
In summary, mindful entrepreneurs are different because they escape the ‘default mode’ that many traditional entrepreneurs get stuck in. I developed this chart so summarize the major themes to better clarify what I’m talking about here and how this affects the content on Ways + Meaning.
How it affects this website
Thoughts and actions
Reacting, thinking fast, multi-tasking, easily distracted, busy, unaware of bad habits and biases
Intentional, thinking slow, focused, aware of your mind’s capabilities and limitations
Lots of information about neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, decision making, cognitive bias, and changing habits, etc.
Takes the obvious path or the road most travelled
Considers all the options, thinks outside of the box, aligns purpose and strategy
Focus on purpose, strategy, prioritization and intentional decision making tools and resources
We don’t prioritize our relationships and thus don’t make time, old friends fade away, values and priorities are not aligned
Build compassion, kindness and love with all the customers, suppliers and friends and family who support us
Value of being authentic, telling my honest stories and success and failure, and developing personal connections with each of you; plus authentic marketing
Grow at all costs, bigger is better; growth is the key to success; sleezy, salesy and spammy marketing works
Grow with intention, small is beautiful; there are many paths to success, success is personal; quality over quantity; ethical marketing
Less information about becoming an instant millionaire and more information and living your best life, within realistic means; practicing gratitude
Hustle culture wins and work / life balance doesn’t exist; no boundaries
Considered boundaries to leave time for what matters most
Topics such as travel, spirituality and parenting creep in; let me teach you how to organize your life to have room for more
The benefits of mindful entrepreneurship
Mindful entrepreneurship is a choice. And like all choices, there are tradeoffs. Being a mindful entrepreneur might not be the quickest path to financial success, but it should be a sustainable path to increased wellbeing, including your financial health.
Like all things, I also don’t think mindful entrepreneurship is for everyone. But it might just be what you’ve been looking for. These are the reasons I’ve chosen to be a mindful entrepreneur.
A CLEARER, MORE FOCUSED MIND
We live in the most distractible time in human history. Humans have never been more exposed to more and more information, 24/7. This is both good and bad. It’s good in that we’re leveling the playing field in terms of access to information, but it’s bad in that we’re unable to cope with the decision fatigue we face each day.
Becoming a mindful entrepreneur helps you to find your focus so that you can cultivate tools to tune out the nonessential and focus on what matters most in your business and life. This can lead to all sorts of productivity benefits down the road in terms of decision making, prioritization and staying organized. I do this not so that I have more time to work, but so that I have more time to enjoy the space between, the moments in life that are most meaningful to me and the people I share them with.
A CLAMER, LESS ANXIOUS MIND
Mental health challenges are on the rise across the world, but in particular in the Western, most developed countries like the US, UK and Australia. After a decade of trying, I finally committed to a daily meditation practice in Feb 2019 as a pill-free way to fight the depression and anxiety I’ve struggled with most of my adult life.
You’ll hear me call myself a ‘recovering control freak’ often around here. And by that I mean I am, and always will be a Type A planner, but I’m learning how to accentuate the benefits of planning and staying organized without succumbing to the fear and anxiety that can overwhelm me.
I often over plan as a means to reduce uncertainty, to reduce anxiety. I romanticize the future to avoid dealing with my current challenges. I procrastinate to avoid my fears. Being mindful of these things (among many, many others) allows me to be aware of my faults without judging myself, and proactively change my behavior and habits so that I can better manage them.
We all have weaknesses, we all have strengths. Being mindful of both allows you to focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses. The benefit of this approach is a more productive and fulfilling life. When you find your flow, your wellbeing surges.
A MANAGEABLE, PASSION-FILLED BUSINESS
Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m not running my business, my business is running me.’ Sounds awful, doesn’t it? So why do we let that happen? We don’t, it just happens. Without an intentional plan to grow your business, without boundaries, without an awareness of what you’re doing and why, your business will grow out of hand.
Mindful entrepreneurs grow with intention, and because of that they set up systems, structures and manageable goals that help them build a business they control, not the other way around. The glory of the ‘hustle culture’ is loosing its luster, thank goodness. And people are waking up to the idea that life should be lived, enjoyed, cherished.
Mindful entrepreneurs start their ventures out of an internal passion they can’t extinguish. It is part of their true self’s purpose to do the work they do. But it is not their only priority in life. Being intentional about the boundaries we create, the rules we make, the values we follow allows us to run our businesses with passion, and still leave room for for life.
MORE TIME FOR WHAT MATTERS MOST
The ultimate finite resource in this world is our time here on earth. Everyone will die and no one knows exactly how much time we all have. Most of us go through life in default mode, but mindful entrepreneurs live life on purpose. It’s about working smarter, not harder, it’s about designing your life intentionally and creating your business strategically.
Mindful entrepreneurs create space for what matters most through clarity of focus and intentional thoughts and actions. The result is a life full of meaning, full of love, full of joy and purpose. Mindful entrepreneurs benefit from a general sense of wellbeing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and amongst their most important relationships.
The ultimate benefit of being a mindful entrepreneur, is living your best life possible.
How to become a mindful entrepreneur
Does living your best life possible sound enticing? Great, you’re in the right place. Ways + Meaning is a website dedicated to curated the very best resources and articles to help mindful entrepreneurs live out their dreams.
To start, sign up to join the newsletter and as a thank you I’ll send you my purpose toolkit which has everything you need to get stared on your dreams.