When you hear the word “time”—not in a sentence, but rather just the word alone—what do you think of? What image does it conjure?
I love asking this question, because the answers can be so predictable—and yet still so powerful. For instance, if you ask someone during the Monday morning work rush in New York City, you’d probably get brushed off and hear the person mutter “I don’t have time for this.” For someone waking up in the countryside, the answer might be “I love this time of day.”
As an entrepreneur, time always seems to be moving too quickly, and yet nothing happens quickly enough. For those attempting to build something from nothing, every second can be both an opportunity and a source of incredible anxiety and pressure. Often, time is both our greatest asset and our heaviest liability. In one sense it is the only resource that we will always have to work with, and yet there never seems to be enough of it.
Whatever our misgivings about the rate at which the world turns, though, most of us still wake up in the morning and choose how we’d like to spend our day. Entrepreneur or not, if we really hate our jobs, we can quit. If we hate how long it’s been since we saw our best friends, we can take time to see them. If we miss our families, we can go visit. And if we really want to learn or build something new — we can choose to dedicate our time accordingly. The ability to decide how we spend our days is one of the most easily overlooked advantages of living in a safe place with basic rights and people willing to support us. We can choose to pursue our dreams.
It is my hope that in recognizing this amazing gift, more entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs will make another important choice: the choice to use our time and the things we create with it to help those who are not free to pursue their dreams, or even to dream at all. Especially for those who call themselves social entrepreneurs, this is more than a choice—it is a responsibility.
For refugees, victims of human trafficking, those mired in poverty or homelessness, entire island nations, and the environment itself, time is not so much a choice as an enemy, a reminder of hunger and thirst, rising sea levels and the steady march toward a point of no return. The rest of us can help make sure that is no longer the case.
Business is the most powerful multinational, cross-cultural provider of opportunity and wealth. For entrepreneurs, this is a motivation and a challenge, but few recognize the immense responsibility that comes along with succeeding in this arena. In the past, those who have succeeded sometimes dedicated a portion of their wealth to the betterment of society and/or the preservation of the environment (think Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates). Philanthropy, we call it—and it can do a lot of good.
“The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts.” — Bertrand Russell
The question today is—why wait? We all know how meaningful time is, and we all know how quickly it slips by. When there are so many in need, suffering circumstances far out of their control, can we wait? Companies are being built every day by those who don’t believe we can. We need to act by building better businesses that help the world through their existence instead of waiting to help until we have profited off of the environment and the backs of others.
So here is the call to action: We have only one lifetime and if we have been given the choice of countless ways to spend it, let’s live it with gratitude and for those for whom time is more a curse than a blessing. We can do that by choosing to spend the time and resources we have in an effort to build a better world for everyone. As consumers, that means making mindful and intentional purchases. As citizens, it means speaking up for the voiceless and helping those in need in our communities. And as entrepreneurs and business leaders, it means thoroughly examining our companies and changing whatever we can to reduce our unintended negative impacts and build in positive impact.
For me, it feels more like a call to action today than ever before—both to use my own time more intentionally and to help those for whom it is not a choice.
About the Author
Anthony Allen is Founding Partner and Chief Impact Officer at Formata. He is a social entrepreneur, soulful leader, globetrotter for good and outdoorsman dedicated to finding real solutions to real problems around the world.
Enjoyed this post? Read another blog from Anthony Allen: 8 Questions Every Social Entrepreneur Needs to Ask