You probably have heard about the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence in business. What about adding spirituality into the mix? In today's talk with Erik Smithuis, we speak about just how important this can be for your personal success and the success of your business.
On a warm and summerly August day, I met the Dutch entrepreneur Erik Smithuis in the Simply Keto Café in Berlin, sitting outside and drinking smooth Bulletproof coffees. The meeting came about because Erik's book "The Spiritual Millionaire" had touched me and changed my life in a very positive way.
Erik, you are an author, speaker, coach and a serial entrepreneur. Those have one thing in common. You take people on a journey. You help people to develop themselves.
Yes, that's a main source of inspiration, my own growth and to help other people grow.
And you've found ways of inspiring people, for example with your book. Change is not easy. How do you change people? What is your secret?
I think that it is impossible to change other people although you can inspire people by living as an example and by influencing with your words. And I already had the dream of writing a book 20 years ago. I wanted to share my philosophy of life in which I believe in, so one day I started and I wrote it all down in a story.
We all need a dream and motivation to do something in which we believe in and we want to contribute to. We have enormous power and influence on all those elements, from making choices to being in silence, being alone , being grateful and also just really "being" you.
Congruence with what you are, what you want and what you seek?
Yes, and growing into an environment where you can be yourself. This is difficult because as kids people are themselves, until they are four or five years old. Then they go to school and there they have to adapt. And then some people live adapted their whole life.
These people live their life on auto pilot, right? How can we break out of this prison?
Now, I believe that there is a way to un-adapt! I think waking up is about seeing patterns. Nobody has to be Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, but we all can recognise the patterns in life and we can find more and more patterns which serve us and we can stay clear of the patterns which do not serve us. And, if you do this in a business environment as well, then your business partners will notice a change and you will notice a change yourself.
"Most people in the business world don't question what they want their life to be about."
I wanted to be a medical doctor. In Holland we have a "numerus clausus" qualification system, and I could not enter medical school even after two attempts. Finally, I said "Okay, I am going to study business economics" because a friend studied it too. I had a great time at university and I lived in the US and France for a while. When I graduated and started to work in a business environment, in the grown-up world, I thought people would be wise and grown-up. But most people in the business world are just nicely dressed just like children but they behave like children. They don't question what they want their life to be about. That is what I started to do when I was 25 and I am still doing this today. I am following my dreams.
Do you think you could change people by calling to their dreams?
Yes, I think you can do it when you invite people to write down what they want their life to be about and what they are really up to in the five important areas of life: Professional, relational, physical, financial and spiritual. It is a great feeling!
"I also believe that when you have a purpose, then the Universe takes care of you."
We don't have to work as hard as we think and things tend to move their ways. I'm always around a lot of other people but I love to be alone too. Very soon my new book will be published. It is about my trip to Santiago de Compostela. Did I tell you that I walked 800 kilometres of the pilgrims walk?
I have seen the Dutch publication on your website. I am very curious about it!
The English copy will be available in early 2018. So, one of the keys is silence and for 6 weeks and 800 kilometres, I was all by myself. I started at the French border in the Pyrenees to Santiago Compostela in the north west of Spain. 800 kilometres, 500 miles. And for six weeks I had no computer, no email. I had no phone. I had no news. And also for six weeks I had no appointments. This was a very interesting feeling: when you have no appointments, you have all the time of the world. We all are so conditioned to hurry from one appointment to the next. These six weeks were one of the most happiest periods of my life, just to be with myself.
"I truly believe that personal growth is business growth."
If you spend time in developing yourself as a human being, it will result in all kinds of things. We tend to have the illusion that things have to be big. But I don't think so. And that's what my new book is about. It is not about how much you have. But it's about how much you give or how much you contribute or how happy & congruent you are with yourself.
When we started our company I was working for Pepsi and my business partner was working for IBM. All we wanted was to make a good salary and have a nice car. We said, "Okay. We can do that." And we only had one boss: that is the universe. Instead of a corporate boss who sometimes is a nice guy and sometimes not. Then shortly after April 2003, when we started, our company really took off at a fast pace. After 1 year we were with a total of 10 employees, after 2 years 20, after 3 years 50 and we currently have more than 100 employees, 200 professional trainers and one of the largest and most beautiful training institutes in The Netherlands.
You seem to create a great corporate culture. What about the corporate setting in a normal and average company? Is it more difficult for people to follow their dreams in a corporate setting?
Life is also about making choices, and if you tried everything in a corporate setting and you feel like it is taking your energy away, it is not feeding you, it is taking your soul, then it is time to let go. And this is hard and painful and difficult because we tend to run away from difficult choices. And in corporate environment, we might also be attached to the money or to the job security. But on the other hand, imagine it is your last day in life and tomorrow will be gone. Then you would contemplate:
"On my last day, do I invest my time in having the courage to go after what I feel inside?"
Some people grow old and cynical. But when it is my time to die then I will say, "I gave it my all." And, yes, I think that is inspiration. Inspiration is about leading by example and also faith is very important in that. If you can do it on your last day, then you can do it every day of your life!
Do you help executives or managing directors improve their corporate culture?
More and more. Besides writing, I also do a lot of public speaking. And then it's about cooperation and working together. What people don't realize is, when you meet another person, if you first see them as a human being instead of someone who could help you or do something for you, then you have a different connection. So, if you have an open mind in being together, there is a lot of safety and a lot of fun. Most people are way too serious.
"If we don't laugh at ourselves, then we lose connection with life"
I think a great culture in an organisation is when there is safety, when there is laughter, when people use their talents, and when people get a lot of validation and appreciation. That is important. Appreciation is what we crave for the most. We remember for a while afterwards when we have received a compliment or when we have given one.
So actually, these are very simple things we miss, but which somehow are neglected in the corporate world?
Yes. Everything is already written in the Bible, the New Testament. I am a great fan of Jesus Christ as a spiritual and universal teacher. There is a beautiful book about Jesus that also changed my life. It is called "The Disappearance of the Universe" by Gary Renard. It's amazing. It tells even more about Jesus Christ and what he really stood for and his message to the world.
"And if you use Jesus as a source of inspiration in daily life and in business life, it's impossible not to have a positive effect."
I believe spirituality is also something which is more common nowadays than it used to be. But also, because most people don't go to church anymore. And I love going to church especially when they're empty. Then that's my favourite time and I can be there in silence. Most people are quite depressed because they have a lack of connection with their soul. If you have no connection with life or with a higher meaning or a higher force or the universe or even with nature then what are people living for then? Just to make money??
It's all connected.
Yes, it's all connected. And a lack of soul connection is nowadays a huge problem for young people and for all people in business life.
"For great music, we want soul. But in business life, we have the illusion that people can work like robots."
We need to look at the whole system and its professional, relational, physical, financial and spiritual aspects. We need to follow our heart and use our mind. We need something that we can believe in, a healthy setting that is fun and inspiring and where we can grow.
When you read a spiritual book like this it is most important how much you really live congruent with the essence of the book, the essence of it's philosophy? Yesterday, somebody asked me "how congruent do you live with what you truly believe?" I said "Maybe 90%." And of course, I also have areas where I can improve and do more. However, I think few people will be more than 60...70% congruent with what they truly believe in.
They might not even know what they actually believe.
No, that is true. We haven’t been taught how to do that.
Living congruent to your values and your dream is a good start. How easy was it in the next step for you to scale your business?
It is sometimes difficult and sometimes it is easy. How do you measure this? My mother has Alzheimer but she told me last year "Do your best and God will take care of the rest." We just had a dream to build a beautiful company in the personal growth and business education sector. We didn't have a dream that would grow to 200 people. So what can I say? For scaling up or anything else the part of luck is huge. You know what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have in common? They were both born in 1955 and they were 16 when the first computer came out.
"You also need luck. If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were born five years earlier or five years later, they wouldn't have been as successful."
One day I was sitting in a Starbucks Café in San Francisco. I was a nice day like today. I saw a long haired guy working on a laptop. He said: "I was almost the third one." And I said, "Oh. What do you mean?"- "I was almost the third one after Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I also had my own software system. But they were before me." There were probably 20, 30, 40 or 50 companies who tried to be like Facebook. But only Mark Zuckerberg managed to be successful!
Is it business wisdom or is it luck? I think it is both. So, we need a lot of luck. And so what happened to us? We fortunately had a business model which was possible to scale up. A lot of people become professional trainers. We said "No, we want to build a training company instead". We had seen some companies who had done that and decided we could do the same and scale up. It was tough! Oh my god, all the training!
"That training is the fun part though, the party. We had to organise the training, we had to organise the party."
In those first five years we were exhausted and I also our children were young then. We went to the sauna and massage saloon to stay healthy. We did a lot of sports and ate healthy. But it was exhausting. I did five or six hundred job interviews with all kinds of people. The company grew so fast that it became a different experience. It is like diving headfirst into a new thing. You know, up scaling can also fail. My brother-in-law had a beautiful and profitable store for household products in Holland. He opened a second and a third. And you know what happened? He worked twice as hard and made less money. So always be wise and be happy with what you have.
And try things. And learn instead of fail.
Yes. That's a beautiful thing. It is something I truly believe. I learned this lesson from another entrepreneur to whom it was passed on from his father. He said:
"It's not winning or losing. It's winning or learning."
It is powerful to take that mind-set into business. Business is all about your mind-set. I use your quote now and then: “ I met a wise business man from Germany and he said, 'Business is all about emotions.' " It really is true if you look at it.
It is. And many business decisions are made on an emotional level. When deals or candidates are qualified by due diligence, then soft factors and emotions like trust and sympathy are sealing the business.
Maybe it depends on the definition. Is it emotion or is it intuition? Because I truly believe it is intuition. Three years ago, I did a beautiful course on "How to develop your intuition" with the American coach Caroline Myss. She is awesome and her course was amazing. I was there in the course, in England, with 50 people and 47 of them were women!
Because men don't seem to believe in intuition?
Men no, men like watching football and drinking beer (I am joking, of course). The seminar was not only about business. It was about personal growth and business growth. So I was there for four days and when I took the flight back from Bristol to Amsterdam, I was sitting next to an overweight guy. We said "Hello" as we were fighting for the armrest between us and then I said "What do you do for living?". "I am an entrepreneur" he said. I said "Oh me too. What is your field of business ?".
He had just come back from closing a deal with an entertainment park for setting up machines that take pictures at the various attractions which you then can buy for 10 pounds or so. So, he was happy and he also asked me what I do. I said I have a business education company. He then was surprised about my motivation to attend a course about developing intuition. He looked at me and said "So, how was the course?" And I said that 47 of the 50 people there were women. Of course he was interested in that. “But remember”, I said, “Intuition is also business intuition”.
"When you are 30 years in business, you have a lot of business intuition."
Then this guy said "Oh, yes that's so true. Two years ago, my business partner started to act a little strange. We had just separated with a big business divorce”. “So, intuition is very important. We have a lot of emotions when we strive for our business targets”. This is natural. If you lack those emotions, you have to go to the "doctor". Business is all about emotions! For business decisions, it is important to have a balance between your rational mind and your emotions. We need both. This is what I call business intuition.
How do you choose your mentors? You seem to have a good strategy for continuous personal development?
You know what my strategy is? My secret is to be open for new things. I take a lot of things in and then when something resonates with me, I will explore it on a deeper level. I tell myself "Hey, this is kind of a message for me. This has meaning to me."
"When something resonates with you deep inside, there is a message meant for you in one way or the other."
And it is a two-way relationship. You need mentors and the mentors need you. My mentors are experts in their field and located all around the world. I meet them and I spend some time with them at a course or on a business trip. With Caroline Myss I first spent 4 days and recently I was 2 weeks with her. This time we were 40 people and 35 women. And a good friend of mine joined me and we had a beautiful trip together.
And you are telling people about business intuition?
Yes, I do. And it is also important that we realise that
"As we grow older and develop, we become a source of inspiration for other people, for younger people."
To stay in that position, we also need to be inspired ourselves, we need to learn and grow ourselves. Most people's mentors seem to always be a bit older because they have walked the path before you have or because they have a special kind of expertise.
Caroline Myss has shown me something interesting. It has a lot to do with business and with life. It's about our Chakras. We all have 7 Chakras. And you can group them in three groups: The two bottom Chakras are for survival, food and procreation. The next three are about self-esteem, love and connecting with others. And the Chakras located in the head and in the aura, are about your calling and intuition and about your spirituality.
"Most of the people live most of the time in survival mode."
This is what news stories are about. War. Accidents, Survival. Also in business, so many people live daily in survival mode. So many people are stuck in business life. Working until all hours at night is crazy. Also in business, it is important to go one or two steps further.
"Do you have a job, a career or a calling? "
Martin, you also do that with your interviews. You don't do that for the money, you want to inspire other people. And you use your large network to connect with your audience. So, as most people live in survival mode, when they start to live more towards connection and their true calling, they will notice things start to change. Even in the most difficult situations.
This is so true. We benefit so much from inspiration and working towards our calling. Erik, I just noticed that you have a manual moleskin notebook?
Yeah, this is for my new book which takes place in Japan. I just love writing and I started writing it two weeks ago. I feel different when I write by hand than when I type my text into a computer. It's totally different, it's another body-brain connection. The creativity is definitely higher when I write by hand.
"It is strange that when I do something like handwriting and then my ideas start flowing."
Erik, thank you very much for coming to Berlin! This was a great conversation with so many take-aways for our readers!
How about soulfulness in your business?
How do you live up to your professional calling?
Please leave us your thoughts as a comment below the article!
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