In 1977, a young, athletic, teenage Canadian boy changed the world with his heroic efforts and invincible desire to beat osteogenic sarcoma, a form of aggressive bone cancer that started with a malignant tumor in his right leg. At the age of 18, Terry Fox had his leg amputated six inches above the knee in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
Terry spent a lot of time in the hospital during this period, and his world suddenly opened to the magnitude of suffering and hopelessness of others fighting this dreaded and terrifying disease.
Fitted with a custom steel leg, Terry was compelled to help others who were suffering and decided to do the impossible – run across Canada to raise money for Cancer research.
Starting in St. John’s Newfoundland on April 12, 1980, Terry wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar. He started his journey with the goal of running 26 miles a day and would call his pledge the “Marathon of Hope”. Enthusiasm and donations began to pick up as Terry inspired a nation of people with his determination and message.
Sadly, Terry was forced to stop running in Thunder Bay, Ontario on September 1, after 143 days and more than 3,300 miles behind him. He succumbed to cancer on June 28, 1981, at the tender age of 22, but his legacy lives on.
Today, his effort has raised more than $650 million toward cancer research through the annual Terry Fox run that has touched millions of lives.
This story is more than a heroic tale of a teenage boy. It’s a lesson that every entrepreneur can learn from because of its deep seeded root in Terry’s “why” and not his “what”.
Terry was compelled by his own fearful experience, passion, and desire to help others – his “why”.
According to Forbes.com, there are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and more than 22 million are self-employed. Approximately 543,000 new businesses start each month, but more employer businesses shut down than start up in that same time frame!
With the failure rate so high, it’s important to take a look at why. Obstacles such as financing, marketing, delivery, processes, structure, customer needs, and support can all lead to frustration and insurmountable issues for small business owners. If they can’t overcome these kinds of obstacles, they will likely give up and close shop, becoming a sad, empty, government statistic.
Like Terry Fox, the successful entrepreneurs are the ones who have started their journey rooted in the why.
- Why did they start?
- Why is this important to them?
- Why is this something they just can’t let go of?
- Why do they feel compelled to push on, no matter how difficult the situation becomes?
Too many “get rich quick” ideas flood the market, and unsuspecting people think it’s too good to be true. The pursuit of fame and riches based on self-satisfaction has never been proven to sustain or grow a successful brand. That’s because the “why” is sadly missing – the fuel, the spark, the reason to get out of bed each morning and make a difference in the world.
Terry Fox got it right. “I’m not doing the run to become rich or famous. It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others. Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”
Obstacles in your career will always challenge you to press on. If what you are doing is rooted in your “why”, you will be able to face those obstacles with unshakable determination.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you get to the “why” of what you do:
- What “aha” experience or life-changing event compelled you to start your business? (If you don’t have one, you may want to evaluate your industry or career choice in case it just can’t sustain you through the tough times).
- What makes your blood boil?
- Is there a problem that you are trying to solve?
- What is causing you pain? How can you turn that pain into helping others?
The “why” of what you do is the cornerstone of your success. Once you understand your “why”, use that power to drive you forward and face those challenges and obstacles that are waiting to hold you back. You just can’t quit if your business is rooted in your “why”.
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Jan Pinnington is a Nutritional Consultant, wife, mother, and “consummate foodie.” She specializes in teaching nutrition and healthy recipe preparation to kids. In an effort to fight childhood obesity, Jan’s company, Healthy Hands Cooking, teaches other women across the U.S. to do the same. Her philosophy? Love what you do, do what you love, and share your experience with others.