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Why the Smartest Entrepreneurs Count How Many Marbles Are Left In Their Jar (To Help Them SHIFT)

July 12, 2016 Eliza Graham


Every smart entrepreneur knows that one of the most important ingredients of a good business plan is….

Good use of time.

Time is a commodity you can’t waste. You can have a terrific product to sell, a solid strategy, and brilliant people to help execute, but if you don’t approach an opportunity with a sense of urgency, and map out milestones your plan languishes. Someone else beats you to the marketplace. And you’re left dead in the water.

You’re used to setting a goal, counting backward, and listing what you must accomplish in the time you have, up until reaching your goal.

You’ve done this many times. You could do it in your sleep. But have you ever considered looking at your own life in this way? No matter your age, it’s never too early or too late to ask yourself: how have I made an IMPACT in my life, and in the lives of others? What do I wish I had done with my time? What can I do moving forward?

We are all moving a mile a minute, rarely taking the time to ask ourselves these important questions. Who has the time, with all the responsibilities that continue to pile on us? Yet, it’s crucial we make the time.

Do you want to have a certain amount of riches in your till? (Remember, riches aren’t just what you have earned, but what you have learned and passed along to others.)

Do you want to leave a stable business, running well in the hands of others? How about your altruistic side ... would you like to do some good in the world? Make a big impact in your community?

No matter what your age now, you have an opportunity to make a SHIFT. To make a real impact. Your business can reach beyond success for its own sake, and do something for the sake of others. You can change the world, or at least a piece of it, because you have the skills, knowledge, and heart to make it so.

But where do you start?  

There are three specific ways to make this SHIFT.

SHIFT #1: The Biggest Shift: Look at Reality!

Let’s talk reality, the sad truth of it all … we all know life is short. But look at your life the way you do your business. Try estimating the number of months you have before you stop working, or see those pearly gates.

Here’s a vivid example, using marbles. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years (a little less for men, and a little longer for women). Let’s just round that number to a figure of 80. Let’s assume you work until the day you die, because you’re that kind of person. You have boundless energy, and you can’t imagine doing anything else. So get a jar and a pile of marbles, and count the number of months you have until you hit the ripe old age of 80, when your time is up to make any more impact on your business, or in your community.

If you are 30 years old, then you get to put 600 marbles in that jar … one for each month you have left to live and work. If you’re age 40, then you get 480 marbles. If you’re 50, you only get 360 marbles. If you’re older than 50 … well, you get the idea.

Take a good look at that jar. Picture yourself taking the marbles out one by one, as the months fly by. This doesn’t really look like a lot of time, does it?

So again – what do you want to accomplish before the marbles run out? And what three things must you shift to achieve your goal?

If you can picture those marbles, you’ve already shifted the first thing: your thinking in terms of reality. You want to do something meaningful, and you now have a sense of urgency.

SHIFT #2: Conversations

The second shift comes in the conversations you have. You have to start talking about your goals with like-minded people. Get others’ ideas. Test your own concepts. (Hint: Our organization, SHIFT, is the perfect place to do this with other people like you. More on that when you check out our website.)

SHIFT #3: Engaging

Now comes the third shift. You have to shift the way you engage. What will you actually DO to achieve your goal before the marbles run out?

Want to hear an example of someone who made the SHIFT, impacted others, and elevated their own business skills in the process?

Oren Penn, an international tax partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers, spent eight weeks working to improve the overall health of a poor, remote community in India named Orissa. Teaming up with other execs from Mexico and the Netherlands as part of a corporate service fellowship, he was able to ease the severe poverty in Orissa, in a way that will last into the future. Speaking of this teamwork experience, Oren said, “I’ve raised my game. This is the best way to enjoy work, enhance your performance, and elevate all parts of your life as well.”

SHIFTing the thinking, conversation, engagement, and purpose of business is where my next example comes in.

SHIFT Baltimore is a localized network of entrepreneurs who strive to create a new standard in the way people think and act about the purpose of business and our community. We encourage others to focus on impact, big and small. 


Our aim is to SHIFT the paradigm to ultimately help transform our city.

During our last SHIFT session, we met with the non-profit organization, Next One Up (NOU), whose mission is to transform the lives of young men in Baltimore City by supporting and advancing their academic, athletic and social development.

Through our conversations with Next One Up, we realized a key missing ingredient: these young men are in continuous need of healthy food. How can they be expected to thrive without it?

SHIFT Members sprung into action. Zach Fine of Holly Poultry will now provide poultry and beef to the students and families of NOU on a regular basis. SHIFT also formed a partnership with Rick Bernstein, a Brown Advisory employee who founded First Fruits Farm, a Christian ministry dedicated to providing hungry people with nutritious, fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. Each week, NOU will now receive a truckload of food, and NOU families are invited to visit the farm for cooking demonstrations.

In the end, it doesn’t matter exactly what you do, or where you act. Oren acted in a village far away, and Zach and Rick made the SHIFT in their hometown. In both cases, they didn’t let the overpowering need paralyze them. They simply gained a sense of urgency, joined in a conversation, engaged, and SHIFTed the purpose of their business to make a difference where they could.

You can do this, too. Don’t arrive safely at the end of your career, or your life, without achieving the goals that come from your bighearted side. Don’t miss the opportunity to leave a legacy in the lives of others. You can leverage your business for good … not just for its own sake, but also for the sake of others.

Join us. Make the SHIFT.

TOPICS: High Performance, Business Growth, Employee Engagement