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I Just Want to Make a Difference

John Bates at IIT Bombay in Mumbai, India

This is a story which I find myself sharing with entrepreneurs I meet, all over the world, because it was such an important lesson for me.

I share it when I’m in places like India, Finland, Estonia, the US, anywhere. I share it in Ubers, at co-working spaces, or at JLABS… Anywhere entrepreneurs can be found. And, it lights me up to see it resonate with them.

The funny thing is that, for the longest time, I thought I already knew this, but clearly I did not.

As Leo Buscaglia said, “To know and not to do, is not to know.” I hope this makes a difference for you!

So… my new context is: “I just want to make a difference.” I don’t care what I’m doing. I don’t care about much else. I just want to make a difference. Chop wood, carry water, be the CEO, be the janitor. I just want to make a difference.

And inside of that context, the interesting thing to me, looking back on all of this, is that about five or six years ago, I started this company, Executive Speaking Success. And I thought, “You know, gosh, I’ve been a speaker my whole life. I’m pretty good at working with people. I’ll go be a speaker coach because I’ve been really inspired by TED and TEDx and all that.”

And I called some friends who owned PR agencies and who were HR department heads and things like that and I said, “This is what I’m thinking about doing. What do you think?” And they all said, “You don’t want to be a speaker coach. Dude, that’s terrible. They’re a dime a dozen. That’s horrible. You’ll never make any money at that.”

So for about a month or two more, I was in this dark, dark place trying to figure out what I was going to do. And then, I finally just said, “Look, this is what I’m good at, this is the value I have to provide. I’ve seen the difference I can make for people,” because I’d been doing it already.

And so, I just did it anyway. And the interesting thing is to me is that now every year I double or triple what I made last year and it was the most I’ve ever made in my life. And I think the big lesson for me is the context, I’m here to make a difference, and I notice that when I was focused on making money, I was in debt. But when I focused on bringing value and making a difference, all of a sudden, I started making money.

So, all that time I spent in the woods, and I’ve got to say, I spent a long time in the woods, it feels like, feeling like a failure, failing, trying, not succeeding, bumping into things, doing things wrong, blowing my first talk at TED… All that stuff, turns out to be super valuable when I’m working with people. Because, number one, I have a lot of compassion. Like, there’s almost nothing you can do that’s dumber than anything I did. And all those lessons I learned, I can share them so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

So, that’s one of the reasons I love going to these co-working spaces and working with entrepreneurs and catching people early in their careers, early stages in their companies… because I can just point out all the traps that I fell into. And they can avoid them.

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