My Favorite Piece of Steve Jobs Wisdom? Trust That the Dots in Your Life Will Connect
8 minute read
Entrepreneurs come in many forms – each with different origin stories that led to the founding of their companies. Some look for white space in a category and then fill a consumer need that hasn’t been met. Others spot inefficiencies or irregularities in an industry that technology can fix.
My own path to launching a start-up was more personal. The result of a need to solve a problem in my own life. It’s a path that I’ve seen many other founders follow. You make a significant change in your daily life and see the kind of positive impact that it can have. And then you start to look outward and think, “How can others benefit from this?”
Soon, a bigger idea starts to coalesce. And once you decide to make the leap and turn that transformative idea into a business, you not only have a product to take to market, you now have a mission to fulfill.
My story is known to many at this point. I discovered that my diet soda habit was leading to all sorts of persistent health issues – weight gain, adult acne, lack of energy. The problem for me was that I found water to be boring, so I started cutting up fruit and adding it to my eight glasses of water each day. My new, healthier habit caught on – and not just with me, but with my family and friends. People would come over to our house and ask where I’d bought this flavored water, and that’s when the light bulb popped on in my head. These concoctions I’d mixed up in my kitchen could be the start of something big.
At that point in my career, I had decided to take some time off from corporate life after years of grueling travel and long work hours. I had three kids at home, and I wanted a change. I decided that my next chapter would need to be different. I thought about working at a non-profit or finding a company that genuinely wanted to make a difference in the world.
In a commencement address he gave in 2005 at Stanford, Steve Jobs famously talked about a series of random – but meaningful – experiences in his life that all came together when he was designing the first Macintosh. He offered his journey up as a lesson to those young graduates. “You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” he said.
This was my dot-connecting moment. I had solved a nagging problem in my own life, and I knew that there were others out there who could benefit from the changes I’d made. I also wanted to funnel my energy into a company with a mission to make people’s lives better. And now I had a vision for creating a product that would bring it all together. Connecting the dots. And thus, Hint was born!
I’ve talked to so many other entrepreneurs who followed the same path – experiencing revelations and changes in their personal lives that altered their professional paths.
Julie Smolyansky is the CEO of Lifeway Foods, a pioneering brand in probiotic foods founded by her father, an immigrant, in the late ’80s. But running Lifeway was not Julie’s original vision for her career; her passion was working in the field of psychotherapy, motivated by a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. “I wanted to change the world. I wanted to reduce people’s suffering,” she told me when she was a guest on my podcast, “The Kara Goldin Show.”
Her mindset shifted, however, when she started digging into the research around mental health and diet – and how probiotic foods factored into positive psychological outcomes. Julie realized, “Wow, actually, I see a usage for this… our product, our kefir, has ancient healing that changes people’s lives. It improves people’s lives.” She dropped out of graduate school and worked alongside her father for the next five years, learning the ins and outs of the family business.
When her father died unexpectedly in 2002, Julie stepped in to run Lifeway, becoming the youngest CEO of a publicly traded corporation. “Everyone around me said, ‘There’s no way a 27-year-old girl could run this company. Forget it, the company’s done, sell your stock,’” Julie recalls, “And that really fueled me, that gave me a fire in my belly, and a defiance, and I was just adamant about proving those men wrong.” Julie’s mission – to improve the lives of her customers and prove her doubters wrong – has driven the success of Lifeway over the last two decades, leading the way as probiotic foods have surged in popularity.
David Melzer is one of the most storied agents in the world of sports, but his greater passion these days, as he told me recently, “is to be of service.” David scaled the heights of his industry, and then in 2008 lost nearly everything he’d built over the course of his career. At that point, he says, “I had to take stock in who I was and what I wanted to become.” In the process of rebuilding his life, David felt that his perception of happiness had become distorted – and he saw others around him amplifying the wrong things as well.
That realization led to an entirely new thrust of his career. “My life now is about giving myself away,” he says. Sharing the lessons he has learned. He is the author of four books (one of which, “Connected to Goodness,” he offers as a free download). He’s the host of a must-listen podcast, “The Playbook.” And he leads free weekly online training sessions designed to help people reach their true potential. His goal to inspire people to find success – and be their best selves – has affected tens of thousands of people, and it has become David’s primary calling.
There’s a common thread I see in my own path and in others who have channeled a personal passion into their careers. Success becomes judged by a different standard. When your mission is driven by a greater good – and a change for the better that you yourself have experienced – your gratification comes from the people whose lives you impact. Early on with Hint, it’s what drove me to persist through the countless challenges. Seeing all the emails and hearing all the messages that Hint drinkers were sending us. Our little company was making a major difference in their lives. People with type-2 diabetes, people battling through cancer, people who just wanted to make healthier choices in their lives. Their love of Hint motivated me.
Then there’s this: Once you’ve gotten some traction and your mission-based business starts taking flight, you begin attracting like-minded people into your orbit – investors, partners, employees who share the same passion you have for your business. Some have experienced similar changes in their own lives. Others are drawn to the idea of making a difference in the world. As Hint expanded, we were able to pursue ideas beyond flavored water: sunscreen and deodorant and hand sanitizer that gave consumers easier access to healthy choices. Our mission was snowballing!
Of course, not every entrepreneur finds immediate success or success at all. Not every business catches on. Maybe the timing isn’t right. Maybe consumers aren’t quite ready for your product. But the work you do to put your idea out there and share your story through your company’s mission will enrich your own path. You’ll learn new things. You’ll challenge yourself. You’ll adapt. You’ll start connecting the dots. You might try again. You will become more resilient. You will grow. And, maybe, you’ll see how some small alteration you’ve made in your own life can spark an idea, gain momentum, grow into a thriving business, and impact the lives of millions.
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