Focusing on Profit: Why it Won’t Make You Happy

I’m guessing that there are probably very few of us now who have not been affected by rising fuel costs, either at home or in our businesses. When the rising cost of a common commodity grabs our attention, this can trigger old anxieties around money. This might be focused on making ends meet at home or watching the bottom line in our businesses. According to sustainable business principles, the key to success is to operate to a Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet and Profit. (If you’d like a reminder of the details of this, see my article on Sustainable Small Business). You might well be tempted to view the People and Planet elements as something of a luxury when times are hard and may well ask “What’s wrong with just focusing on the money when things get difficult?”

The problem with being profit orientated in any situation is that it tends to change our behaviour in the following ways:

  • We won’t let ourselves be happy in our business unless and until we make x amount of profit.
  • We won’t let ourselves be happy in our personal lives until we are out of debt/off benefits/able to afford X,Y or Z.
  • We neglect the relationships in our business and personal lives (with ourselves, our families, employees, mutual support network etc) and consequently make ourselves suffer.
  • We forget our purposes in life and so we feel unfulfilled.

We overlook our relationship with the natural world and so we feel disconnected and uninspired. In other words, we let it affect our whole attitude to our business in a way that is not going to be helpful in riding the storm. Our perceptions of the possible threats of a recession begin to outweigh our enthusiasm, inspiration and creativity – the real fuel upon which our business and our personal happiness depend.

When we encounter any form of stress, one of the risks to watch out for is a tendency we humans have to revert back to old, comfortable habits. The old comfortable habit that we’re reverting back to when we begin to focus solely on profit rather than the triple bottom line stems from our being raised in a consumer society. The economic machine that is consumerism depends on making us feel that we are not worthy in some way – not slim enough, not beautiful enough, not sweet smelling enough, don’t have the right mobile phone/car/home/clothes. We are led to believe that we can only be happy when we meet someone else’s approval and the specification for that approval is forever shifting with trends in fashion. So, we’re left chasing an arbitrarily defined set of goal posts over which we have little control. According to consumerism, you can always buy your way out of unhappiness. So yes, profit orientation is an old rat race habit that we haven’t quite managed to shed! What are we to do?

What some people who are money or profit focused say is “Well, that’s ok because I’ll make sure I get my connection with nature and my fulfilling relationships outside of work.”

The problems with that is:

  • Our business isn’t holistic;
  • We don’t feel authentic in what we do at work;
  • We don’t enjoy it nearly as much as we could;
  • We feel compelled to work really hard on a thing called “work/life balance”

So, when we’re feeling stretched financially, that is the time to revisit our business purpose and our reasons for doing what we do – our offering and contribution to the world. It is a time to “keep the faith”. How do we do that?

Keeping the faith is like gardening. First you clear the ground – declutter your work and living space, declutter your thoughts by reducing the number of projects you’re working on, have a spring clean. Then sew your seeds – continue to make new contacts, build on and nurture existing relationships, learn a new skill or cultivate a new habit, find a new way to reduce your consumption, do something kind just for yourself, be consistent in your marketing, stay in integrity. Watch as the seeds you’ve sewn start to bear fruit. Just notice synchronicities happening, act on them with gratitude and see where they lead. Remember to remain unattached to particular outcomes. We live in rapidly changing times and the opportunities that arise may not emerge in the form that you expect! Finally, have fun and be at peace during the process.

When we “keep the faith” and focus on maintaining our authenticity and sustainability in our business lives, especially when times are tough, there is no need for “work/life balance”, there’s just life.