A documentary I saw last week followed a group of men who, in the middle of their lives and for no reason they could have predicted, felt called to the priesthood. For some, that created quite the earthquake: uprooting their career, flying to the Vatican, and training to enter the faith. Yet they felt, strongly, they had been tapped for this destiny. They simply had to do it.
It might be an odd analogy for a Jewish gal to use here, but it resonates with entrepreneurship. That's where we find our greatest success: the work we are tapped for. The most powerful, sustainable business inspiration comes more from who you are than from what you consciously choose to pursue. Often we're tapped for what we would never choose to do, by challenges in life that are beyond any personal control. Through external circumstances, through the causes you never asked to be a part of, you become driven to act as a force for change. The most disruptive business idea is the one that you didn't even realize you had.
When I started out on Wall Street, I assumed that my age and gender wouldn't matter as long as I worked hard and was willing to learn. Oh, how nave this was. I witnessed my (very few) female colleagues adopt masculine characteristics in order to fit in on the trading floor. I had gay colleagues who felt compelled to pretend to be straight at work. Quickly, I realized that Wall Street was hardly a place of acceptance. I believe a wealth management firm should be inclusive, and empowering, a place where everyone's needs are represented and recognized rather than stereotyped or dismissed. After a dozen years on the Street, I had yet to find such a firm. So I founded one.
I know a group who recently launched a non-profit called The Recollectors, dedicated to recognizing and preserving stories from those who lost a parent to AIDS. Their mission is to combat the stigma of AIDS and create a long-overdue space for bereaved children to share their place in the narrative. Did the founders ask to be a part of this cause? No. The work they choose to pursue is quite different, yet their personal experience brought them here. They were tapped.
The business power of tapping into the cause that taps you becomes abundantly clear over time. Years ago at a food show, I met the founders of two new companies that both made pasta sauce. One founder was trying sauce on for size because he had previous experience in the food product space and wanted to start a new venture. He was from New Jersey, where tomato crops were abundant, so he figured, why not pasta sauce? The other company was headed by a pair of Italian brothers who had a vibrant dream of turning their family's recipes into a lasting legacy. They had no business experience, but the death of their grandmother, the beloved matriarch of the family, pulled them in this new direction. For them, this business wasn't about tomato sauce but about family, heritage, sharing joy and creating connection.
The brothers lacked business savvy. They made mistakes. Their company took longer to get off the ground. But their devotion to the vision helped them inspire people and connect with great mentors. Years later, it's their sauce I see in grocery stores all over the city, while the other jars have long since disappeared from the shelves.
The accidental causes are the ones that can become a personal mission, a North star guiding your work and shaping your career. It takes someone with an entrepreneur's passion to seize an accidental cause as an opportunity to not just innovate, but totally disrupt the status quo. We become evangelistic, and that's what creates more than a company--it creates a movement.