If you’ve ever walked a mile in TOMS Shoes, it would no doubt be one of the most sustainable walks you’ve ever taken. Inspired by a trip to Argentina, Founder and Chief Shoe Giver Blake Mycoskie initially established TOMs Shoes with the goal of donating footwear to 250 village children. Today his company has donated over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world.
But he didn’t stop there. Motivated by his entrepreneurial spirit and fueled by his passion for creating businesses that solve social problems, Blake’s company has improved sight, delivered safe drinking water, and provided safe birth services to over 750,000 people collectively. The philanthropic impact of this New York Times best-selling author extends beyond our nation’s borders, providing countless work opportunities in developing countries as well.
As a serial entrepreneur, featured as one of Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 business leaders, Blake has transformed his Amazing Race experience into an opportunity to transform lives. Here are five steps for discovering and infusing passion into your business.
1. INNOVATE BY BREAKING THE RULES
When Blake set out to build TOMs Shoes, he had no idea it would be a success. “I never sold shoes and I never designed shoes,” Blake said. He levered his beginner’s mindset to create a strategic, competitive advantage in the footwear business. “[W]e didn’t know the rules, so we broke so many of them,” said Blake.
Blake didn’t start by writing a lofty business plan or raising capital. He believes those acts actually “decrease your chances of success.” He says all that upfront investment tends to become “such a big project” and distracts from your ability to “get into it and learn through it in those early stages.”
So don’t be afraid to break the rules, and don’t despise the day of small beginnings. “[T]hose days in the apartment…selling the shoes one at a time…are the formative moments that helped us learn what our customers wanted,” said Blake.
2. PASSION NEEDS TO BE NURTURED
Some find it easy and natural to pursue their passions, while others find it challenging to identify and ignite the fire within. “I don’t think people come out of the womb with the passion,” Blake says. He also has some practical advice that makes the discovery process a lot less complicated and intimidating. Passion is born out of the evolution of activated interest. “It’s a confluence of events,” said Blake.
Blake describes the passion evolution as follows: “I’m interested in this thing. I started doing [it]…[then] getting better at it,” said Blake. Then comes the fun part: gaining mastery. “[That’s what] really ignites the passion in me,” says Blake. So the moral of the story is learn to nurture your passion through cultivating and gaining mastery over strong areas of interest.
3. FIND WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT AND MAKE IT YOUR TRADE
It’s fine to say that you want to be an entrepreneur when you grow up. But Blake believes that the path toward entrepreneurship involves more than simply choosing it as an occupation. “[T]hat path…is very risky,” Blake says, “because then you’re just looking for something to capitalize on.”
Rather than focusing on simply becoming a successful entrepreneur, Blake suggests that the greatest success comes as a result of “being driven to change…invent …or bring something into the world.” Look around for the things that happen in your life and cause you to say “I could do that better,” Blake says. Then move past your observation and fuel your inspiration with passion. “And then if you’re passionate enough about doing it better, that becomes a business and then you become an entrepreneur,” he says.
4. EVOLVE YOUR PERSONAL BRAND TO AVOID STAGNATION
What you build as an entrepreneur is an extension of who you are, but Blake warns against it becoming “such a huge part of your identity” that you lose sight of your total legacy. While completely embracing and personifying your brand can be positive, “I also think they can be limiting,” Blake says.
From an evolutionary perspective, while he is thankful for having created TOMs, “I’m limiting my future potential if I stay just with that identity,” says Blake. He encourages entrepreneurs to push past their internal boundaries and explore their uniqueness from different perspectives. “[W]hether they’re business things…philanthropy aspects…activities or physical challenges,” says Blake, the key is to “be curious and constantly trying different things.”
5. SELF-AWARENESS IS A LEARNED BEHAVIOR
Over the course of his life and career, Blake has become increasingly more self-aware. “I would say I’m a lot more self-aware today than I was 10 years ago,” Blake says. With the mentality that self-awareness ‘is a lifelong pursuit,” He believes monitoring his energy levels, journaling and reflection, and knowing when to take time off all contribute to his wakefulness.
“Maybe some people are indexing higher in self-awareness just naturally,” says Blake. But for those who need more practice, he highly recommends journaling. “[I]n journaling I am able to not only…record the things that I’m challenged with or…happy with, but then I’m able to kind of go back …and learn from those experiences,” Blake says.
Whether you are thinking about starting a business or are knee-deep in entrepreneurship, there is always room to innovate, grow, evolve and infuse passion into your business.