Everything popular is wrong. – Oscar Wilde
Adam smoothed his hand back through his young, blonde hair and looked up at Jonathan Painter who was staring straight across the lawn at nothing in particular. Adam plucked a blade of grass and held it close to his eyes to study its features. Jonathan smirked at some thought he had, held his hands behind his back and rocked forward and back on his heels.
Adam: Have you ever created something for a customer or client that you didn’t like or agree with—but did it anyway to try to make them happy?
Jonathan: Yes, when I was young.
Adam: What was it?
Jonathan: It was more than one thing. I compromised on a lot of purchase deals, customer support issues, and product development matters.
Adam: But you learned from it?
Jonathan glanced down at Adam, who was twirling the blade of grass in his fingers.
Adam: So what did you learn?
Jonathan: Never compromise on your values—and always know what you want.
Adam: What did you want? Money?
Jonathan: Sure, but only as a means to an end and never the other way around.
Adam: Why? Most of my friends who are entrepreneurs say that’s what they want—what’s wrong with that?
Jonathan: Some don’t actually want money, they say they do, but rather they enjoy the challenge of earning it, and being able to hold up a number as symbol of their achievement. On the other hand, some do want money and only money. Those types will never be happy because no number or amount will bring them personal satisfaction and self-respect; they live through the eyes of others seeking a false prestige that is unearned because it is derived from what others think of them rather than themselves.
Adam: You said you compromised though, what did you compromise on?
Jonathan: I made my mistake by blindly believing the so called wisdom of others who had more experience than I. We’re taught two things about starting a business: build your product around your customers and second, that you have suffer through work you don’t want to do and which wasn’t part of your original intentions in order to get to the next step, which is hopefully better.
Adam: Of course, work is hard. It’s tough to get rich. Everyone agrees on that.
Jonathan: Everyone is wrong. Work is hard, it is always a challenge to accomplish anything the bears significant value, but the work itself must be your end and not a means to an end. Otherwise you are wasting your life and betting that happiness and enjoyment will come later rather than right now. Right now—I thought as I rationalized to myself in the past while making soul-sucking cold calls or doing work I didn’t see any true value in—I must push through the pain, I’ll just do this one thing and then I can get back to enjoying my work. It’s easier to compromise on this point because we’re taught to be selfless, to do everything in the spirit of helping or pleasing others—our customers. We’re made to believe this is the greatest virtue. Selfless customer support. Selfless product development. If a customer wants a new feature, add it. If a feature doesn’t meet his or her needs, remove it. So you compromise further on these fronts. Eventually it’s no longer your business but one ruled by the whims of customer’s ephemeral expectations. Expectations defined and shaped but outside factors or a competitor, one whose intentions were less malleable than your’s and was willing to risk being “wrong” and standing by his own desires for what his company would and would not be.
But maybe you do get rich in the end anyway. I realized my mistake and quit before I got to this point. But if you get rich you’ll have to deal with the fact that you didn’t do it on your own terms and any sort of principles because you will have built a business that was selfless and ultimately a pawned off, amorphous version of your customers fickle desires or your competitor’s integrity, who had the fortitude that you could not earn.
You’re right when you say that getting rich is tough. You can serve and be selfless and working while you hate the work.
Earning wealth rather than getting rich is even more difficult though because it requires the fortitude to stand by your own reasoning and core beliefs and never to compromise on them because that is what’s right.