I was talking on the phone with my dad the other night about business, money and character. I was telling him a story about how I had worked for a public school district for a couple of years as an I.T. contractor long ago. I was making good money and had there was much opportunity to make more by building my business plan to include taking advantage of public school grants for technical solutions. I was excited at first, seeing the amount of money that goes toward this kind of thing – and it was right up my alley. I could help children get exposed to Linux and open source software at an early age by implementing computer labs with that type of software. I could also make a very decent living while doing so.
The problem was that the further I got into studying how these government grants worked, the more I realized I would have to change my ‘character’ toward being motivated by the same things higher-ups at school districts seem to be motivated by; a group that eats, sleeps and breathes the system. And by “the system” I don’t mean the education system, like learning, furthering yourself and helping kids realize their potential (which is why I got into public school contracting in the first place). While peeling back the layers I realized the system was more about “winning” grant money. It was like a contest – you dig your heels into a proposition and kneel before the almighty administrative gods, begging for their mercy, for their tightly wound up wads of cash, promising to abide by each and every rule if awarded. Unfortunately, along with this begging comes absolute compromise in your original plan, bending your blueprints to fit *their* ideas, their requirements, their method of thinking (which essentially is motivated solely by money and not creativity, or even education).
All the while of studying these multi-year grant processes, I lost interest. I lost motivation. But how? I was supposed to be helping children, giving them a taste of F/OSS and Linux, an alternative technology to the corporate conglomerates that dominate the industry, that undoubtedly have spent billions on conditioning young minds to believe their warez^Hs are the one and only, the best and what they will be expected to know for the rest of their lives. How could I lose my way? I felt weak, not up to task for pushing for *real* change in the world I so wanted. I just couldn’t get myself to be motivated primarily by money and the public school technological grant system. I thought that others were much stronger in this sense, that I just wasn’t wired to push myself for the sake of money, even if in the end I got, at least, part of the result I wanted (helping young minds experience technology built not on the grounds of money but by cooperation, sharing and hard work).
My dad responded with something I wasn’t expecting. He said he was proud of me, that I was a strong person for not giving in. ‘Proud?’ I asked. ‘Strong?’ I thanked him but said I wasn’t expecting to be thought of as strong for giving up. What he said next I’ll remember for the rest of my life..
“You’ve got to stand for *something*, right?”
He told me that many people don’t have a conscience, that they are solely motivated by their pocketbooks, their selfish mindset and that I was right to not give in to all that. My perspective instantly shifted about this whole situation so long ago and I felt much better about myself. Even though my family and I are not exactly struggling to make ends meet at the moment, I am doing what makes me feel proud of myself, I have given myself the gift of freedom with running my own business the way I see fit, by working on projects that I feel will better the world.
I know my drive for these philanthropic goals won’t cease as long as I’m alive. I’m not motivated by money, I see it as a necessary evil – merely a tool for survival and, beyond that, comfort. Though I do feel I’m beating a much longer and uphill path to financial freedom, I know that my motivation to keep clearing the brush won’t subside. I know that with that eventual success will also come true happiness in having built something that I will be able to call one of my real legacies, something that others around the world will benefit from and express their creativity with…something I am proud to have stood for.
Thanks, Papa. =}