LGBT SUCCESS :: Conscious: Aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake / Entrepreneur: A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
When artists / photographers Sonja Scharf and life and business partner Kelly Kyle opened Toronto’s Akasha Art Projects they chose the Sanskrit word ‘akasha’ – meaning to radiate, to shine – with which to christen their enterprise. Scharf says when she and partner Kyle opened their business they wanted to have an important word that summed up their personal guiding life principals. But their commitment to inserting personal principals into their business didn’t just stop at the naming of their operation. Each day ever since has brought forward a dedication to consistently being “conscious entrepreneurs”. Scharf spoke with GGN publisher Shaun Proulx about the way in which more and more business owners are choosing to stand tall on a playing field that for so long has been about playing small.
SP: Being a conscious entrepreneur obviously means more than just choosing a meaningful name.
Sonja Scharf: Yeah, business is business. There’s the nitty gritty, the making money side, the getting ahead, and trying to create a successful business. But for Kelly and I conscious entrepreneurship means making sure that our footprint – whatever we do – radiates outwards in a good way, not in a stepping-on-people-to-get-ahead way.
SP: So more than just ‘hey, we’re treating our customer a certain way’, which should be an obvious thing to any business, even though it often is not.
Sonja Scharf: It’s about the moment a customer walks in the door but it’s also about treating all people with respect, regardless. Also it’s about paying it forward. Kelly and I are very big about paying it forward – we often sponsor events, a lot of framing for big events that are fund-raisers, for example.
SP: Which is easier said then done, the care and treatment of those around you, and I can speak from my own experience. Because we are all competitive, we all want to succeed, not everyone knows there is enough pie to go around, and people do come in and piss you off, and something isn’t fair, and sometimes it’s easier to react negatively and impact people in a way that negates who you really are as a person.
Sonja Scharf: In business you’re walking along a path, you have directed yourself on that path, you feel like you’re all ready to go, and you have your map, and you know where you’re going – but then every few weeks a new obstacle comes in your way and you have to climb another mountain.
SP: What’s been the most challenging mountain?
Sonja Scharf: To be always aware of how you impact everyone around you. That is from employees to clients to suppliers. To take a moment to always be aware of them. I never wanted to have a business where we were hard.
SP: There are a lot of hard people in business, who pretend a person isn’t really a person. It took me years to shake that off after leaving finance, which is very cut-throat.
Sonja Scharf: People have an impact on every person they meet, and too often they don’t take a moment to think about their next action, and how it is going to impact them. So that’s what our biggest thing is; we’re very big on that.
SP: Taking a moment is probably the Big Saving Grace in all of this. We are all so reactive – especially with social media at our finger tips and computer courage – and it is easy to just move from situation to situation and not stop and think about what you are about to delve into, why you are delving into it, and what your intention and goals are in each new moment. The other day I made someone in my office pull back because they were diving into a new phone call straight from a very frustrating one and I could tell they were still holding onto the energy of a call that was now over. I made them stop and take a moment so the could give the next person on the phone the energy they deserved.
Sonja Scharf: I’d say being reactive is my personal biggest challenge.
SP: I actually believe what you just said is why people choose conscious entrepreneurship. They want even their work lives to to teach them lessons, they want to know what their biggest challenges are as people. And when you commit to being aware of what your output is on all levels including your work life, it opens up new information about yourself to discover.
Sonja Scharf: It’s so true.
SP: You see every day where the work needs to be done on a personal level. I am probably one of the more impatient people you’ll meet, and so for example I might be at SiriusXM and my producer’s having a technical nightmare of a day and an interview is going to hell in a hand-basket and every part of me wants to implode. But you don’t implode, you can’t – where as I might have once upon a time – you just sit there calmly and try and add to ‘solution’ with your calm presence rather than to ‘problem’ with your angst energy. Because you’ve made this decision to run your whole business consciously, even the crap moments.
Sonja Scharf: That’s right, it’s so true. There’s no turning back once you get on the path and it’s a great path to be on.
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