Business purpose

Can you stay true to your personal values in business?

- March 3, 2015 2 MIN READ

I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place through my work. But what happens when making a living takes priority over personal values?

When I first started out in my solo venture my hope was that I could make some kind of difference and right some kind of worldly wrong.

It’s ok. You’re allowed to roll your eyes!

I know I’m not the first person who’s entered business with these dreams and I certainly won’t be the last.

Passionate beginnings

My particular brand of idealism started when I was studying design. I recall staring at an advertisement I’d created and thinking “why?”

Why am I choosing to make my living by helping to promote things that aren’t always good for the world? Isn’t advertising responsible for repeatedly tricking us into a destructive pattern of consumption?

Ah that wonderful time in one’s life where passions are able to run unchecked by the realities of the world. In a ‘moment of awakening’ I decided I’d simply use my new powers of visual communication to send better messages. If commercial design can sell bad things, it could have just as much power to sell good and help facilitate a sustainable future right?

Wisdom through experience

10 years later it feels like time and again I’ve had to let my personal values and desire for sustainability in particular to slip.

Nobody is to blame. It’s simply that I work with a lot of small businesses who are in start-up phase. It’s unreasonable to expect that new business owners would have the time or budget to work through a sustainable design strategy or consider alternative possibilities.

And as a small business owner myself, I can empathise. When you’re caught up in the day-to-day running of a business, it’s hard to prioritise things you don’t particularly care about, or that don’t provide immediate gains.

So have I failed?

Not quite.

Gentle is better

Passion, promotion and transparency in your personal values in business is a good thing, no matter what. In micro-businesses in particular, personal values often cross over to brand values because there are fewer individuals involved in driving the brand.

But it’s also important to know where to draw the line. Nobody wants to works with someone who is constantly pushing their ideals on to them. We humans like to feel like we’ve discovered things ourselves. If we’re to take on new ideas and ideologies, we want time to come to these things slowly.

So I’ve had to soften my stance in favour of gentle education and planting seeds.

Finding like-minded clients

There is however a fine line between not pushing at all, and pushing your values and ideas too hard. I’m looking forward to the day I find the perfect balance between the two. I know that will be the time I start to attract more customers and clients that share the same values as me.

In the meantime …

Even though sometimes I feel like I’m swimming upstream, I know I’m at least making a small difference by planting one tiny seed at a time. A new client may only glance at the sustainable design strategy I meticulously arrange, but even that glance is enough to remind them that sustainability matters.

So while my current efforts have certainly fallen short of those ten-years-ago ideals of changing the world, I still go to bed each night comfortable in the knowledge that each day brings me closer to that dream.

Have you ever had to make any compromises when it comes to staying true to your personal values at work?