Last year, I attended a conference in Sydney with my partner to see Gary Vaynerchuk speak live. We were both incredibly excited about the experience, but I left Sydney pondering some deeper questions that I wasn’t prepared to be asking myself.
Before Gary Vee came on stage, there were a series of other speakers. My favourite by far was Janine Allis, whose autobiography I own. My father bought it for me a couple of years ago, and I started reading it at the beginning of this year. Her story fascinated me, and her presentation was so Australian — down-to-earth, authentic and relatable.
Aside from her, there were a number of other speakers… or should I say salespeople. Everyone else who jumped up on stage was selling something — a program, a software, a community membership.
Everything they spoke about, I knew I could do if I set my mind to it. The biggest one was selling products on Amazon. Getting customised products from an offshore manufacturer and selling them for a significant mark-up — a somewhat passive income.
It’s totally doable. And everyone in the room was sitting up straight, paying attention, taking details, running over to the tables to buy a subscription to a learn-to-sell-on-Amazon program.
And a little piece of my soul died.
These people were all chasing money. And in a capitalist society, hats off to them. After all, that is how many people measure success. But this guy standing on stage was talking about manufacturing plastic products in a Chinese warehouse somewhere and profiting off them.
The majority of people in the room were young — mostly under the age of 30… and to see the excitement around them making a quick buck, even if it means damaging the planet and using slave labour, absolutely shattered my heart.
I can tend to spend my time in a bit of a bubble around like-minded people. And before you say the ‘Canberra-bubble’, even when I travel to Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and New York, my friends are changemakers or people who want to see a better future. They are people who care about the planet, our society and the future we will create for the coming generations. So to step outside of this bubble was an incredible shock to my system.
Then I realised just how principled I am in my work. And the thought crossed my mind… are my passions and my purpose holding me back from making money? Is my definition of success — the amount of impact I can make — a hindrance to the impact I can actually make? If I ‘sold out’ and made quick buck off something like cheaply manufactured products from China, could I use that money to create a bigger impact? It was at this point that I figured out I was at the moral conundrum that corporates such as oil companies find themselves — destroying the planet and paying millions of dollars to try to reverse their destruction through corporate sustainability plans.
I am quite lucky and incredibly unique in the sense that I discovered my purpose in life at an ridiculously young age, and I have been set on that path ever since. Everything I start has something to do with making the world a better place. And I know after this conference that if I strayed slightly from this purpose, I could make more money, which I could always invest in the planet. But I would just be trying to reverse the damage I was doing instead of making actual progress.
It upsets me to think that all these people at the conference were comfortable with the destruction of our planet for a quick personal gain. That is why continued education around sustainability is so important for the development of our economy, our society and our environment in a sustainable manner. It is important that we weigh up these pros and cons — is it worth making our planet uninhabitable for future generations just to buy a fancy car or impress our friends at the pub by shouting drinks on the weekend? For me, I cannot reconcile the two. And maybe I need to invest more time in getting out of my bubble to spend time with people who don’t think like me, so we can ensure that we make meaningful change in this world.