A lot of people think that starting a business is all about making money – and while it’s true that every business needs to make a profit, the most successful businesses are about more than money. They are labors of love. Even the richest entrepreneurs are not motivated solely by money, they’re motivated by the love of the work, a feeling of identity with the company they’ve created, and a competitive spirit and desire to make a difference in the world that keeps pushing them to excel.
One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is Oprah Winfrey. There was a recent article in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan on “The Glory of Oprah” that explains why Oprah has been so successful in her business endeavors. Oprah is one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the world, and she has become arguably the most influential woman in the broadcasting business – one of the most competitive, cutthroat businesses imaginable.
How did Oprah Winfrey get so successful and become, as Caitlin Flanagan writes, “one of the most influential figures in the private lives of millions of American women?”Not by doing things solely for the money. She did it by following her passion, and by introducing millions of women to that same passion – inspiring people, helping women find their voice, helping women create better, more beautiful lives for themselves and their families, in ways big and small.
Whether it was launching Oprah’s Book Club (which introduced formerly-obscure literary works to mass audiences, upending the bestseller lists) or Oprah’s Favorite Things (which could pick winners and create massive demand for products) or conducting uplifting interviews with authors and celebrity guests, Oprah created a business based on her own supreme passions in life. And she found a loyal audience of millions of other people who shared an interest and were receptive to hearing those stories.
Yes, Oprah’s a billionaire. But I don’t think she ever set out to be a billionaire. I think she set out to make a difference in people’s lives by sharing these powerful stories and raising the spirits of the people in her audience. Oprah’s work was a labor of love, not a cynical grab for money. When you do what you love – when you do what you love and people love you for it – the money will inevitably follow.
If you’re a fan of Oprah Winfrey, or even if you’re not very familiar with Oprah’s story, I encourage you to read Caitlin Flanagan’s article in the Atlantic. Because it’s amazing – simply amazing – that Oprah was able to rise to become as wealthy and powerful as she has become. She was born into terrible poverty in the Jim Crow South, in a house without running water or electricity. As a child, she suffered through years of terrible sexual abuse. At age 14 she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby, and the baby died a few weeks later.
And yet, even at a young age, Oprah always had a vision for herself that transcended the hardships and sorrow of those years. The article talks about a time when Oprah was young, watching her grandmother (who worked as a housekeeper) fold laundry and hang it on a clothesline, and she said to Oprah, “You’ll have to learn how to do this, too.” Oprah remembered thinking, “I don’t want to do that kind of work; that’s not the kind of life I want.” And today, Oprah probably never has to do her own laundry. She created a different reality for herself that was far beyond the horizons of what most people would have expected from her.
By starting a business, we’re not all going to become billionaires like Oprah, with millions of adoring fans. But that’s not the point. The point is, by starting a business we all have the power to shape our own reality and achieve a way of life that we might never have imagined before.
It starts, not with a search for money, but with a mission based on love. Start a business based on your passions and deepest loves in life. Pour your heart into it. Then the money will follow.