Enlightenment, Entrepreneurship and “Honoring the Spirit”

Moments of brilliance experienced by entrepreneurs often attribute their success to ‘honoring the spirit’

Recently a dear friend told me about an experience she had with her estranged father. After not speaking with him in over a year, she called him up out of the blue. Given their traumatic and dysfunctional relationship, I inquired as to what prompted the action.

“It had been on my mind incessantly, and I finally realized I had to honor the Spirit and do it.”

That begat a week or so of thinking about the phrase and concept. I’ve heard it referenced many a time, particularly when speaking with grossly successful people who in concert, relate a time when a ‘moment of brilliance’ or ‘enlightenment’ occurred. I thought of Steve Jobs, the devout atheist, who often called his ideas moments of enlightenment, a term I much prefer over the commonly-used “a-ha” moment of many-an-entrepreneur.

What faith-oriented people assign to the “the Spirit,” the “Holy Ghost,” or “divine promptings,” to name just a few, non-faith oriented people will say was a “gut impression,” “intuition,” or “circumstance,” among others. In the last year or two, even these words and phrases have been put six feet under, replaced with trendier terms like “ideation.” Even the “a-ha” moment has been retired.

Going back to my dear friend, I asked her what occurred during the conversation with her father, essentially wanting to know if the drama of the discussion was worth the effort of “honoring the spirit.”

“Absolutely,” she confided. Her father had learned he had lymphoma, it was spreading and may not have long to live. This prompting to call her father allowed her to talk and gain a level of closure and compassion she’d not had in many years.

Dispute, ignore, dishonor and suffer the consequence

Several years ago, I interviewed fifty executives from over thirty industries. Two billionaires were mixed in with millionaires, representing different races, religions and sexual orientations working in a variety of industries. I had twenty five questions and very soon, trends began surfacing.

“What made you successful?” I’d ask. The answers fell into three categories a) faith or belief in /self, b) determination/never-give-up attitude and c) gut/spirit/promptings as being key to their achievements.

When they didn’t honor their promptings, dire consequences followed.

One such example is from a self-made millionaire I’ll call Brandt who started from nothing to build a $750M manufacturing and real estate empire in the seventies. (Back when $750M was a lot of money). When I asked Brandt if he could identify any particular secret of success, he immediately said:  “listen to the Spirit.” Being the curious soul that I am, I asked if that was literal or figurative.

“Oh no, it’s literal.” Brandt described himself as a man of faith, and in his particular world (real estate and development but later in life, he ventured into manufacturing), he said that “listening”  had been one of his cornerstones of success. His most vital decisions had been based on ‘listening’ and was of primary importance when considering a new deal or hiring an employee.

“I’d always think about it, sometimes overnight, pray, and then listen to the Spirit to guide me.” He went on to relay that many times, what his advisors recommended and what he knew in the business world was in fact, correct. But it wasn’t uncommon for him to ‘have a bad feeling,’ ‘a feeling of warning’ or ‘trepidation,’ that steered him away from the candidate or opportunity. Sometimes, “it was an absolutely don’t do this,” and then a few times, it was a “very strong feeling I should do it, when the paperwork indicated otherwise.”

“Did you ever ignore this impression to your detriment?” I asked. Brandt laughed.

“Of course, and it was awful.” He described a candidate for a regional president position. “He literally was perfect on paper and in person,” Brandt emphasized. Even so, he had “an awful feeling,” but couldn’t help himself and hired the man anyway. “There was no reasonable answer for how I felt so I ignored it.”

If only moments of enlightenment were as obvious as the sun shining down

The following six months were so bad, the entire region almost went under. Brandt described the man’s management style, how he related to customers, his lack of communication and taking responsibility. So damaging was this person’s impact an entire fleet of managers left, a good many employees departing as well. Customers fled, and worse, the man didn’t want to exit the company, which led to a lawsuit. The position was poisoned for new candidates who envisioned it not as a thriving region but as a turnaround situation with unhappy customers, no staff and little confidence that ‘management’ knew how to hire good people.

“You don’t need to have many of those experiences to learn to ignore everyone else and trust your own guiding light.”

It’s rarely convenient to act

One week, I’d had the feeling to call my cousin who I’d not seen or spoken to in about six months. I was busy with kids, so was she, we both had jobs. The list of reasons why “not to bother her,” was endless. Finally, four weeks later, well after the promptings stopped, I called. In other words, when it was convenient for me. It turned out that those days when I was impressed to call, my cousin was in the hospital, alone, facing the news that her five months fetus had died inside her. Because of the size, he had to be delivered vaginally. She was in the hospital alone, her husband unavailable, her parents in another state unable to travel. The Lord was telling me to reach out to her in desperate time of need and I ignored it. Let me tell you, I’ve spent hours crying and regretting that period. The upside, if there is one, is that to this day, the experience is front and center of why I listen, and how I act even when I don’t want to or it’s not convenient.

Case in point: years later, my oldest brother called me on a Friday night. This successful yet troubled soul was a recovering addict, and even receiving his calls caused massive stress on my part, for I never knew what I was going to encounter. As the phone rang, I sat looking at it, willing it to stop ringing. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming feeling I must take the call. It triggered the event with my cousin and I immediately picked up the phone. As feared, my brother was extremely incapacitated, but I stayed with it, and after an hour, he started to normalize. He shared many heartfelt experiences from our younger days and words of gratitude for the relationship we’d once had, apologizing for hurts of the past and asking for forgiveness. The call was still hard, but as I was to discover later, it was closure, for he took his own life within a few days. Had we not had that conversation, I’d be left with a gaping hole of unresolved issues.

It’s rarely about the money

In my writing life, I can sense when I’m getting to close “to the line” I’ve set for myself or the readers. That means intimate scenes, wherein I want the readers’ blood to move a little quicker but not boil, or be embarrassed if someone else were to look at the page. As I write romantic thrillers, murders to occur, but being a fast-paced thriller doesn’t always mean gore.

Switching worlds, in the corporate realm where I still live half the time, that means I “listen” to when I should or shouldn’t call a person to pitch a new business idea or venture. It’s just a feeling that “no isn’t the right time,” or conversely, “call right now.” Just recently, I’d tracked down a reclusive billionaire’s cell phone, but sat on it for a nearly two weeks. It just hadn’t felt right to call. Then one morning (it was a Thursday), I stood in front of the fridge, pondering my next meal, when I heard this “stop everything and call him now!”

I did. He picked up. I pitched him. We spoke for nearly ninety minutes, and at the end, he invited me to lunch for the following Monday. He’s now involved in a deal I’m putting together, and better than that? He’s become a friend, like the grandfather I never had but always wanted.

It’s hard being quiet and listening about the “little things”

Another recent case was the prompting to grab the checkbook for an event. I distinctly remember thinking this is ludicrous, because I don’t use a check from one six-month period to another. Yet when I arrived at the event, the credit card system was down, I had no cash and they were only accepting checks. An associate paid my bill, so again, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was inconvenient. Worse, that so-easily-dismissed prompting could have saved me frustration.

Little things include giving credence to ideas or thought which seem so silly, random or unnecessary in the moment. Another experience in the last week included grabbing additional books before I headed out the door, thinking (once again) that it was — well, silly and unnecessary. I had no intention to stop at a retailer. Yet, I recalled the checkbook experience. Four hours later I received a call from a manager asking me to drop by because they sold out (two week ago). Taking the books saved me an additional trip and two hours. It wasn’t life changing: it was simply nice.

Perhaps these inspirational and directional moments of guidance are sometimes heart-stopping and life changing, the next new novel to hit the bestseller list or gadget to revolutionize the world. But more likely than not, they are in fact, the little things that comprise the majority of our lives. Stopping, listening and acting is when the real magic begins.