Last fall, my son James launched his brand-new business, a comics and classic games shop in the university district of our hometown. He has been dreaming this business into being since he was in his mid-teens. And now, his dream has landed: An airy, light-filled, playfully funky space with painted wooden kitchen tables and comfy chairs for playing board games; a red couch in front of a grand old console TV where folks sit, intently playing video games; a gorgeous mural (see the image above!), painted by a local artist. And floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with comics, games, and game paraphernalia.
Eighteen months before the store opened, James decided it was time to act on his vision. I had the privilege of a front row seat over the next several months, as he clarified what he wanted to create, and why, and how. We talked, and talked, and talked. During working lunches and walks along the beach. Over dinners that grew cold as he sketched out on paper napkins the broad strokes, and then the nitty-gritty details, of what would become his new store.
James has always loved comics and games. And business. He founded his first business when he was eight years old…but that’s a story for another day. He delights in creating something that makes both him and his customers happy. He loves offering his heart, his creativity, his skill and compassion in service to others. He loves making money in a way that serves both his beloveds and his community.
His vision for his new store has always been a vision of community. A space where everyone feels welcome, feels included, feels at home.
“The gaming community can be cliquish, unfriendly. New people don’t feel welcome, so they don’t come out to tournaments and other events,” James said. “I want a place where nerds and geeks (like me!) feel just as much at home as anyone else. Where everyone who wants to play can be themselves, hang out, make friends, and have fun without worrying about whether or not they’ll fit in.”
With that central vision in mind, James went about the business of creating his store. It took hundreds of hours of focused, intentional work. Market research; hammering out and refining a functional business plan; applying for start-up funding; finding his ideal location; revising his ideal location, based on the amount of funding he was able to generate; negotiating a lease; managing the construction and remodelling of the new space; setting up accounts with distributors; learning the basics of book-keeping; learning what stock to order, and when, and in what quantities; learning how to manage cash flow, inventory, and so much more. He did all of this while continuing to work at his full-time job.
James is devoted to his vision. He created it with such heart and impeccability that within the first couple of weeks his store had become a neighbourhood gathering place. Now, five months later, people still line up outside the door each morning, waiting for the store to open.
The store is thriving. James continues to reach out to his community, finding creative ways in which he and his business can serve. After talking with teachers at neighbouring elementary schools, he’s arranged a weekly date when their kids come in to play Magic Card games, which help them learn how to read while having fun. A fundraising barbecue and silent auction netted several thousand dollars for a local women’s shelter. Community artists display their work at the store, and gain exposure and recognition as well as sales. James’s new business is a gift — to himself, his beloveds, his community, and our world. He’s exhausted, exhilarated, and happier than he’s ever been.
He’s learning so much about what it takes to succeed in business. And, because he grew up with entrepreneurial parents, he understands viscerally how to navigate the sometimes-treacherous shoals of entrepreneurship.
In a recent conversation, he said, “I’ve never worried about money, because I’ve always felt I could work more if I needed more. What’s scary is realizing that I’ve reached an upper limit – not because I’m not willing to work, but because there are no more hours in the day.”
Faced with the necessary limits of time, energy and just plain being human, he’s figuring out how to pace himself; how to hire and work collaboratively with staff; how to build time off into his schedule; how to nurture his marriage and friendships while staying focused on growing his business.
In one of our early conversations, he explained why he was choosing to locate his store in the university district, rather than in some other, more affluent area of town. “Low-income neighbourhoods have a greater need for, and openness towards community. When you don’t have much, you rely on each other for practical help, support, and encouragement. Everyone needs community, but when you don’t have a lot of money, you can’t pretend you don’t need each other.”
It delights me to see my son blossom into his genius. And to observe how he meets and makes use of the gifts and challenges of growing a successful, profitable and sustainable business.
At the heart of his success are the qualities of his being, his devotion to his vision, and his unshakeable commitment to the soul of his business.
So what are these qualities that account for the astonishingly swift success of his business, in a relatively stagnant economy?
- First and foremost, James trusts himself. He trusts his vision, his intuition, his inner discernment. He trusts his ability to make good decisions, and to revise course when necessary. He trusts his ability to learn what he doesn’t yet know. He trusts his creative spirit. He trusts his capacity for meaningful work. He trusts that what he does makes a positive difference.
- He has identified a need that goes beyond the products he sells — the universal human need to be seen, loved, celebrated, welcomed. And he meets that need with his own profound desire to create connection and community.
- He is willing to do the work to bring his vision to life. And he knows that staying true to himself, to his values and his soul, is the best way to get there.
- He views all of his experiences – even the difficult and challenging ones — as opportunities to learn, grow and discover what works and what doesn’t. When it’s necessary to correct course, he does it cleanly, without wallowing in drama, shame, or the sinkhole of self-doubt.
- He is generous and open, without abdicating the responsibilities of leadership. His customers and staff know that they are essential to the ecology of his store – they help make it a welcoming, safe, fun and loving space.In some ways, the store functions the way a traditional martial arts dojo does, with everyone pitching in. Experienced gamers mentor and teach newbies. Customers look out for, and support each other. James fosters an atmosphere of good humour, playfulness, learning and generosity. When his sole full-time staff member was called away to a family funeral, several of his customers stepped in to stock the shelves, set up the tables for a tournament, manage the till, and help out in whatever ways were needed. They feel an ownership of the space, and they respond accordingly.
- James sets clear boundaries and holds realistic expectations – for himself, his business, his staff, and his customers. This allows him to keep his heart open and his vision clear. He responds to situations as they arise, being spontaneous and flexible when it feels right to do so, and acting swiftly and decisively when the need arises.
It’s early days yet, but I’ve a feeling my son has a long and success-filled entrepreneurial life ahead of him. He’s one of the good guys. He makes the world a kinder, happier, more generous place by his presence, his actions, and through his business.
Whether you are just starting out on your own entrepreneurial journey, or have years of business experience under your belt, my guess is that you’re in business because it offers you a creative playground unlike any other. It’s an opportunity to grow into your soul’s gifts, to be a source of holy joy, to shape a world of love and prosperity, generosity and kindness, healing and transformation for everyone who wishes to participate in it.
I feel immensely grateful and blessed to have walked this soul path of conscious entrepreneurship for more than three decades. My business has helped me develop strength and compassion, wisdom and discernment. It gives me the opportunity to serve my tribe wholeheartedly, every single day. It supports me, and my clients and students, through sickness and health. It has been there for me in every kind of emotional weather, bringing me more joy and contentment than I can begin to articulate.
Sustainable success is grounded in reality, and in the willingness to shape your business and life in harmony with your true desires and deepest values. It’s predicated on self-knowledge, an understanding of the needs and desires of your customers, a heart spacious enough to serve joyfully, with love and delight. It calls for a playful, resilient spirit, curiosity, and the desire to learn, grow and evolve.
No matter what your circumstances, you can choose to bloom where you are planted. And through your business, you can create a garden in which others can flourish fully and freely too.