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Everyone should be a Trep

When I say everyone should be an entrepreneur (Trep for short) I don’t mean to cheer lead or encourage you. I’m concerned that some will read the headline as  “anyone can be a Trep” or “you can do it too,” which is not what I mean.

What I mean is that the highest and best fulfillment of one’s life purpose and full potential can only be achieved through entrepreneurship, or Trepping for short. And I mean that for literally everyone, each human being, in all of time, in every place, in every circumstance.

Skeptical? Me too. Great claims require greater evidence. Let’s take this journey together and see where we end up.

I share your skepticism and I have been a skeptic my whole life. I was born with multiple life threatening heart defects, and they were repaired by skilled surgeons using cutting edge materials that had become available in the same decade I was born. I consider my entire life to be a gift, a coincidence of the era I was born in, and from the very first I’ve sought to maximize its value.

Growing up in rural poverty, there were a lot of books in my home. I was reading Ayn Rand, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Socrates, Jefferson and more early on. I was also observing everything around me, and everyone around me.

My core curiosity as a child was how to not be poor, and how to have a significant life. My search has always been for paths that work not just for me personally, with all of the hindrances I had in my life, but for something more general, something scalable to the maximum degree.

I spent a lot of time in philosophy, religion and politics, searching for a paradigm that would satisfy this deep need of virtue for humanity. Have you been looking for this too? Have you wanted to make your life count?

My challenge to you is to tell me about your skepticism, tell me how you think I’m wrong. I’m open to public or private conversation on this, because I think it’s truly important. It’s important that we consider how we can each reach the highest and best of our potential in our one, short life.

When I say that “everyone should be a Trep,” everything that goes into this statement could fill a couple volumes, so I’m going to blow by a few things quickly, and I plan to fill in the gaps with future writing. If something sticks out to you as important to flesh out, let me know, it will help me prioritize.

Here’s the outline of my path to this statement:

  • Success – What is it, how do you know when you have it, how do you keep it?
  • Options – What paths to success can be followed?
  • Best – What path offers the greatest likelihood of success?

First, success.

We have one life to live, there are no do-overs. There is no dress rehearsal. This is the big show. As Mary Oliver asks “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

The dominant cultural paradigm seems to define success as an individual, personally defined, whatever you want it to be. While I do agree that you have a role in defining your success, which I will explain shortly, our culture is getting this one wrong, in large.

Success is improving the world for others. The deep need we have is to love and contribute, and the specific expression of that love and contribution that we each choose is the part where we get to put our own mark. Success means growing, building, benefiting, and the coolest thing about this life is that every step we take to grow, build and benefit ourselves does the same for others. The universe is not an either/or, zero sum game, piece of the fixed pie system. It’s a both/and, win-win, bake a bigger pie system. Focusing on the word “benefit” which we can all agree is a measure of success, it’s interesting that the word “profit” literally means benefit.

When defining success this way, it means that hurting people, taking from them, destroying the environment we need to thrive, and any form of exploitation is are not ways we can succeed. The truth is our lives can often represent a mess of benefit and harm, but we can work towards increasing the benefit, and decreasing the harm.

The next step in success is fulfilling the greatest potential you can for your special brand of loving and contributing. I’ll borrow from utilitarianism for this one. The greatest good impact you can have on the greatest number of people for the greatest amount of time.

How can you pursue your success?

This question isn’t about the discipline or type of work, it’s about the structure and rails on which your train runs. The type of work is what you choose, science, medicine, history, art, tech, finance, mechanics, physics, math, literature, teaching, marketing, and more.

Here’s a quick list of frameworks, it’s not meant to be comprehensive:

  • Government
  • Religion
  • Non-profit / NGOs
  • Big business / corporate
  • Military
  • Academia
  • Trepping

Think about each of these institutions, and their ability to enable you to make the greatest positive impact for the greatest number of people. Government is incredibly slow to move, it’s purpose is to regulate, and is generally run by people whose qualifications for action are the most conservative, most safe, and least impactful possible. That is to say nothing of the corruption the permeates many governments.

Religion to me is now personal, rather than professional, though I spent about a decade deeply involved in religious pursuit and work. The bottom-line fact that I had to come to grips with is that there isn’t a religious movement or organization currently, or in history, that is objectively, measurably being more effective as a result of its religious tenets, than other paths. There are certainly people who are deeply religious doing beneficial work and helping others. Some of them are my good friends and I support their work. However, on the whole, the impact of religion based enterprises is at about the same scope and scale as other non-profits.

Even though I serve on a non-profit board, and spent a decade of my working years in multiple non-profits, I’ll quote Naveen Jain here. “If you want to make a small impact, start a non-profit. If you want to make a big impact, start a business.”  Non-profits have great altruistic goals, but because they are funded by generosity and not by providing value, the scale of impact they can make is always going to be limited. That isn’t to say they don’t provide value. They are not funded by providing value, which means the scaling of their impact isn’t tied to the value they provide, it’s tied to something else, which is generally fundraising.

No matter what you do in the corporate world, you’ll be serving someone else’s dream. Military can be necessary to defend the defenseless against an evil aggressor, but ultimately the work of the military is to destroy, not to build. Academics are incredibly important, scientific research is important, and the model fails in the same way that the non-profit model fails. The value they produce isn’t what sustains them.

What’s the best path to success?

Trepping, fulfills all the important criteria for a path to pursue your success.

  • You can fulfill your dream as a Trep.
  • Scale is determined by the benefit you provide.
  • Freedom

You can fulfill your dream as a Trep

No matter what your dream is, no matter how you choose to love and contribute, you CAN as a Trep. Nobody can stop you, for any reason. Demographics do not determine your destiny. It doesn’t matter if what handicaps you’re working with, what circumstances you’re in, Trepping is the path in which you can pursue your happiness.

You are a unique person and with the entrepreneurial model you can love and contribute.

Scale is determined by the value you provide.

The scale of your impact is determined by how much you help people, not by anyone’s whim. A business, in contrast to a government, must woo it’s customers. It cannot force anyone to participate, so it must entice people to participate. That means a business must provide value to others, that’s how it succeeds. If you’re a Trep, you’re thinking about how exactly you can provide value to others, not how you can steal or con others, or force them to do your will.

The bigger value you can provide, to the largest number of people, produces the most profit. Remember that profit means benefit? This is where that fact becomes relevant. When you create a profit-motive business, in order to stay in business you must provide a benefit to your customers, who then provide you with a benefit in the form of payment. You each benefit equally, which means you each profit equally, from every voluntary transaction. The more people you benefit, in the greater benefit you can provide, the greater your profit.

Let’s take a look at some current “profitable” businesses. G.E. was started by Thomas Edison, by providing the benefit of electricity to people. Consider how much of an improvement that has made to the lives of billions of people, over a very long time. It’s the only company that was on the original Dow Jones Industrial Average list that is still on the list.

Consider Apple, which couldn’t exist without G.E., creating the innovative smart-phone. They’re a record breaking profitable company because they provide the benefit of a previously non-existent device to people. They have some problems in the ways the company exploits people and the environment, but this only means there is room for improving on the Apple model.

Freedom

The ability to live your life, on your terms, by your values is enabled by being a Trep. The book that really brought this to life for me is “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. My initial reason for becoming a Trep was to not be poor. Chouinard’s purpose for the business of Patagonia was to preserve and protect the beautiful places in our environment that he liked to recreate. His business is deeply environmentalist, and therefore as a Trep he created the first Benefit Corporation in California. It’s funny, because all corporations should be called “Benefit Corporations” if they are in business for profit, right? He values people and family to the degree that they were one of the first companies to provide on-site daycare, and structure their work to promote the growing young families of their employees, not just use them for what they could do for the company. I recommend his short book, he really opened my eyes to how much a Trep could do to impact the world in the way they see fit through their startup business.

There are some other examples of the freedom being a Trep can bring. Do you want to work in radiology, but live in a beautiful town and not a big city? Nighthawk innovated a model where they perform telemedicine from beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a small market that could never sustain the level of business they’re doing alone. Do you want to drop your kids off and pick them up from school every day and never send them to a day-care? My wife and I did that by designing our first business together. Are you an introvert who doesn’t want to be forced to be around people? Thousands of introverts have found success by teaching courses online through their laptops. The examples are endless.

Everyone should become a Trep

I think no matter where you are in your life, you can become a Trep, and you should become a Trep. It will improve your life, and it will improve the lives of others. You don’t need to quit anything you’re doing now, just consider what you would do if all the shackles were off, if all the restrictions were removed. What would you build? How would you love and contribute to people?

Still skeptical? I would expect nothing less. Comment on this article, or reach out to me privately. Challenge this idea and let’s see what we learn together.

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