The Best Way to Start a Business that Reflects your Beliefs and Passions

Socrates instructed us to know thyself.

One of the best ways to come up with a business idea that really reflects who you are – or to make sure that your current business idea lines up with what you really want to do – is to spend some time writing and reflecting on yourself. This article will guide you through some exercises and questions we believe will help you through this process.

Author’s Note: If you have already started a business, you may think that you are too far along for this article to help you. But I encourage you to stick around and read the rest of this article anyway – because as Socrates (and many others) taught us – it is always wise to learn more about ourselves. And in addition, if you follow the steps I outline below, you may uncover some new and insightful ways to think about your business – such as arriving at an improved and refocused mission statement. Or you may find that the process I describe will help you gain some additional insight into the one most important thing that sets your business apart from all the other similar businesses – YOU! (And here is a free marketing hint: Before doing business with you or your company, customers will nearly ALWAYS want to get an understanding of what makes your business special and/or unique, and one of the best ways to do this is by helping them relate to the “story” of your business.)

Step One: Know Thyself and Tell Your Story

One of Socrates’ most well-known expressions is “know thyself.” In the spirit of this sentiment, I believe that no matter where you are in the early stages of Reflective Entrepreneurship, some of the most important steps you can take to help you along the path of finding your true calling is to focus on understanding who you are and to figure out what your most important beliefs, strengths, and passions are.

One of the best ways to start cataloging your beliefs and passions is to think about your life in terms of a story. Think about how you would write a five-minute summary of the things that impacted your life the most. While you are thinking about the “story of your life,” you should be able to find the answers to these and similar questions:

  • What were the most important events and stepping stones that brought you to where you are right now?
  • How did you gain (or discover) your unique and particular set of skills and talents?
  • Who or what events were influential in shaping your perspective, viewpoints, and career path?

After you spend some time reflecting on the story of your life (I’d suggest writing it down), I also encourage you to look to see if you can find what the common themes are that may have guided you along the way throughout your story. For example, in my own life, I found that I have often gravitated toward roles and opportunities where I can teach and help others learn. This theme of my life has led me on the path (in sequential order) of being a camp counselor, a Physics tutor for Engineering majors, a math tutor for underprivileged and delinquent youth, a college Philosophy instructor, and a corporate trainer – to name a few. So when I reflect on my unique path and story, it is pretty clear to me that I am passionate about education and helping others to learn in pretty much any way, shape, or form I can find it. If you are able to find your common theme through this exercise, you will thank yourself for allowing yourself to focus on it later.

Step Two: Reveal Your Core “I Believe” Statements

After you have taken the time to outline your summarized life story, the next thing you should do is reflect on the questions I’ve listed below. Write down as many answers to them as you can (taking your story, and your common theme(s) into close consideration):

  • In what areas of my life do I find my strongest beliefs? What are those beliefs?
  • What am I truly passionate about?
  • What do I feel truly called to say or do that will make the most of my unique set of skills, viewpoints, and talents?

After you list out as many answers to these questions as you can think of, the next step I recommend is to review all of your answers and take note of whether you notice any patterns amongst them. For example, perhaps you may find your list contains several statements related to improving the environment or sustainability. Or perhaps you feel very strongly about organic foods, natural medicines, or fixing up cars. Or maybe you just have a particular skill or artistic talent, and you simply wish to share that talent with others. The number of possibilities here will equal the number of people who read this article. And of course, the reason your list will be so different from anyone else’s is because of your unique story.

Step Three: Reflect on Who/What Benefits?

After you spend some time with your list of beliefs, the next step is to home in on one or two of those beliefs that not only summarize who you are best, and capture your true passions, – but also help you focus on a particular service you can provide or problem that you are capable or willing to find ways of solving for others.

You will know that you have arrived at an idea that meets this criterion if you can easily answer this type of question: Who benefits, or what problem is being solved when I act on my beliefs and follow my passion project? If you cannot arrive at an answer to this question for some of the beliefs in your list, that may just mean that those particular beliefs or passions are not something that can be easily translated into a business idea. Don’t get hung up if this happens. In this case, I suggest that you simply move on to your other beliefs and continue brainstorming and reflecting.  

The “Aha” Moment when Your Life Story, Beliefs, and Passions All Match Your Business Plan

If you perform the above steps correctly, this may lead you to have an “aha moment” – because suddenly you may see how so many parts of your life could become in sync by pursuing your passions. You may even wonder why you didn’t start focusing on that belief and passion earlier! Why wouldn’t you want to pursue a project where you get to solve a problem or offer a service to people while you are following your natural passions and beliefs? Imagine the level of fulfillment and authenticity this type of daily activity would bring you.

If the above exercises and questions evoked this type of experience for you, I encourage you to now use this vision to guide your next steps: Your most important and central “I believe” statements should be like your North Star, your driver, and your focus for everything you do in next as you prepare to bring your ideas and talents into the world in the form of your business idea.

On the other hand, if you were not able to experience that “aha moment” right now, that’s okay too. The process of pruning your list and finding one or two core beliefs and passions on which to focus is an extremely challenging exercise – and whether you succeed or not may also depend heavily on where you are in your life right now. If you didn’t unearth a passion project through this exercise today, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying. In this case, I encourage you to revisit this exercise again in a few weeks or a few months from now and keep on reflecting. In a few months or a year from now, you may find that your story and your experiences have led you to a place where an aha moment emerges more easily.

And for those of you who may have had your aha moment regarding your business idea prior to reading this article – especially if this is something that happened long ago – I encourage you to revisit this exercise from time to time as well. You should check in with yourself and your beliefs often to make sure that your current story, and your current “I believe” statements still line up with the business or the activities you are currently doing.

My Personal Example, and Aha Moment

A few years ago, I went through the same exercises I just outlined above: I took the time to think about and write down my story (most of which can be read here), and I made a long list of “I believe” statements. As I examined my “I believe” statements for patterns or common themes I noticed that, in addition to finding many beliefs that focused on my background in teaching (based on what I already told you about my history with teaching above, this should come as no surprise), I also found that many of my beliefs were centering around the area of Philosophy.

This made sense to me, but it might seem rather random if you haven’t read my story using the link in the last paragraph. For those of you who may only want the cliff note version of that story, here it is: I have a Master’s degree in this field of Philosophy, and I have not found as many ways to use my experience and skills as a philosopher in the “real world” as I would like (again, this should come as no surprise to most of you as well).

So after going through the above exercises and discovering my own themes, I decided to think about who I might be able to help or benefit with my particular skills and background. I was able to discover the answer by focusing on several beliefs that I found within myself that seemed particularly interconnected:

  1. I believe everyone can be a philosopher – or at least what I consider a “real-world philosopher.” (This belief stems from the several years I spent as a Philosophy instructor at several different community colleges.)
  2. Just as they were throughout history, I believe that the discipline of philosophy and philosophers themselves are not only USEFUL, they are invaluable drivers of human progress – and still can be. (Of course, this notion often runs counter to what a lot of people believe about the discipline – but to quote the great Philosopher Taylor Swift: “The haters gonna hate.”)
  3. In the modern world, I believe that philosophers can/would make the best kind of entrepreneurs. (In fact, I think that entrepreneurship is THE place for modern-day philosophers to be most valuable and impactful – and if more people who were philosophically inclined chose to get involved with the business world, they could help the world become a better place.)

Now consider these beliefs along with my background in philosophy, my background in teaching/training, and combine all of that with my “real-world” experiences with building websites and doing digital marketing… are you able to connect these dots with me here? In sum, the beliefs I listed above, combined with my unique story and background are the genesis of my idea for Reflective Equilibrium Marketing. AHA!

As for the final part of the process, where one should reflect on the question of who benefits, or what problem is being solved when I act on my beliefs and follow my passion project – what is my answer? In my humble opinion: Everyone. Or at least, everyone who is willing to learn and listen – because, as I mentioned in my first core belief: I believe everyone has an inner philosopher in them (for some people it is just hidden deeply within).

What’s the upshot on this? Stick with me if you are ready to unleash your inner philosopher on the world to make a positive impact while all the while following your true and authentic self!

Who’s with me? Philosopreneurs unite!

The Business Mission Statement Format

One last note on this exercise: In the spirit of sharing and learning, I’d like to go over one more detail about what you should be able to walk away with if you’ve been going through the exercises that I suggested above. If you happen to be someone who arrived at an Aha moment, I’d like to offer you a way to piece all the parts of what you just accomplished by putting it into a Business Mission Statement. Your goal should be to take what you learned about yourself and your ideas, and who/what you wish to benefit and describe your business or your business idea in the following format:

_______ is who I am (or who we are).

_______ is what I/we do.

Try to really connect all the dots of the above exercises in one concise statement, and if done properly you should end up with something like what I say/believe about my own project of Reflective Equilibrium Marketing:

  • Helping philosophers and critical thinkers become entrepreneurs, and helping entrepreneurs find their inner philosopher is who we are.
  • Helping startups and small businesses find and connect deeply with the right customer through their common principles and values is what we do.

If you can arrive at some statements like this for your business idea, you have just found your North Star. Good luck to all of you with this exercise, and I’d be thrilled to hear from any of you who arrived at an Aha moment!

If you’ve made it this far, you may be ready to move to the next step in your endeavor. Here’s our recommendation of what you should do next.

And as always, Happy Reflecting!

P.S. (Added 3/12/24)

Now, for any of you who did NOT reveal an “aha moment” after reading through this article and performing all the activities, we have recently added a new article just for you! In this article, we describe four business ideas that are relatively simple and have low startup costs. We hope this article gives you just the nudge you need (let us know if it does)!

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