On Making Your Mark

Note: I figured this was a good place to start my journey on Medium. This is a transcript of a talk I gave to our team over in Khulna, Bangladesh in May of 2017. It tells you, dear reader, a bit about my journey thus far.

John Lyotier, Co-Founder, Left — Team-wide Address to Left Bangladesh team May 25, 2017

I am taking the unusual step of writing out my words to you today, less so that I might read them to you, but more because I want you to have a copy that you might share with your families and friends. It is my hope that the words may reverberate — echo if you will — from person-to-person-to-person, much like we hope that messages, content, and yes even currency … will move between devices on the technology that we create.

Because today’s talk is important. It is about having a sense of purpose and making your mark in the world.

On my journey over from Canada to Bangladesh, I finished a blog post that was shared on the Left company website and out through Facebook about the Importance of Storytelling. I don’t know if anyone here read that post, and I won’t take offense if nobody here did, but in that post I described why I believe in Storytelling.

As an entrepreneur, your life depends on your ability to tell a story. You need to be able to convince investors, your customers, your partners, your employees, and most importantly your wife and family that the journey you are on is one that is worthy of your time, energy, and passion. Your journey must give you purpose.

So let me tell you a story:

The Left story began, not 7 years ago as everyone assumes. It began far before that when Chris and myself, each separately, started forming our sense of self, our sense of identity. When we became friends in 1998, we both had already established who we were and what we stood for. Our very nature was crafted in childhood, in elementary school, in high school, and in university. We became who we were through the interactions and the experiences we had along the way.

So when we met, it was already pre-determined by our journey that far that we had a lot of similar values and ideals. It was what made us friends who respected and trusted each other, it has helped us weather storms, and it has helped us craft a shared vision for the future that we try to create.

Back when I was in university, I was having one of those existential, early-life crises where I questioned, “What is the point?”, “Why are we here?”, and “Where will my life take me?” … You know, typical twenty-something-year-old angst when you are uncertain of the future and about the role that you were going to play in the world.

I remember the day clearly: it was March 15th and it was a cool, somewhat misty Vancouver day. I decided to take a walk and went down to this beach near the university. I sat there for a while, contemplating life, doing not much other than … existing.

I started to watch a small, little shore bird chase small fish in the waves, running back and forth in the froth and foam… doing nothing… other than existing … and surviving.

With every wave, the small little bird would run back and forth, leaving footprints in the sand scrambling to eat, and each subsequent wave would come in and wash its footprints away, but bringing more food to discover.

I looked back at the path from where I came and I saw my footprints in the sand. And like the bird, the rising tide and waves had started to erase my path, my footprints, my proof that I existed.

At first I was dejected. There goes all meaning I thought, any evidence that I was there was being eroded one wave at a time.

But then like a crash of a really big wave, it hit me. I had made my mark. Yes, the waves had come and washed them out, but my footprints in the sand were proof that I existed. They were there, if but for a moment, there was my lasting impact on the world around me.

I picked myself up off the log on which I sat and began to walk, at a rather brisk pace I might add, back up to the campus. Along the way, I grabbed a leaf off a small tree and held it in my hands, twirling it by the stem. It was just a green leaf, but I realized that I had made my mark on my environment.

I walked further along and I smiled at a pretty girl coming towards me. She smiled back. I realized that you don’t just make your mark on the physical world, but with a simple smile, you can make your mark on others. Throughout the day, I continued to make my mark. I held a door open for someone. They said thank you. I had made my mark.

I went ice skating and there before me was a clean sheet of ice, not a single mark on it. I laced up my skates and pushed forth, my skates cutting deep grooves into the ice with each stride. Now, you probably don’t know this here, what in this 40c degree heat that we have, but after you finish skating, a machine called a Zamboni — comes along scrapes off the surface of the ice and melts a new layer. The end result is a clean sheet for the next period of hockey or the next group of skaters.

I remember watching the Zamboni erasing all of the marks that I had made, and I wondered again about the futility of it all. Yes, I had made a mark if not a hundred, but they were gone not a moment later. They were transient. Non permanent.

At that moment, I knew my life’s calling. I had to make my mark… make a mark so deep that it could change the world.

But where to start? I was not a scientist, nor an engineer. The odds of me creating the next great Canadian invention or curing cancer was few and far between. Well maybe if I had lived forever, I could create such a mark, but life and science itself prevents such a feat.

Except it also provides a way. When you go through life, your words and your actions touch people. You impact their lives. The things you do every day… they matter a lot. You have the opportunity to make a mark on those you interact with, and you can choose to make a positive mark or a negative one. It is a choice.

I spoke yesterday with Rashid and Piash about another way of making your mark, and that is through teaching others. Be it to friends, colleagues, or your children. Every one of you is a teacher. Every one of you has the skills, the knowledge, and yes … the responsibility to teach others.

It is a Canadian trait, and it appears to be in the nature of most Bangladeshis as well, to believe that there are others who are better and more qualified to teach and to inspire others. We look at the world around us and we ask for guidance from others. And while it is perfectly fine to be inspired and learn from those you come into contact with… they too are making their mark on you, after all … you have a chance to lead and make your mark in ways that you can’t even imagine.

The journey we are on at Left, together, is one in which we have an enormous challenge in front of us. We believe that we can create products and technologies that can make the world a better place. We believe that we can make our mark on this world, so we must choose to make our mark for the better.

As a company, we have to lead by example.

You may have noticed that on all of my presentations and talks that I gave here this week, that I had this icon on the first and last slide. This is the symbol of B-Corp. and I am very humbled to share with everyone here, that as of last week, Left officially became a certified B-Corp.

What is a B-Corp? B Corps are companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. To become a B-Corp, companies must adhere to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This designation was something that we worked on obtaining for over one year, and we will continue to work on to improve upon our score each and every year.

Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

I wanted to leave you with one final thought before we open things up for questions.

I spoke a few moments ago about making your mark and creating something of real and lasting value. There is another way to obtain immortality and create a mark that if done properly, could change the world… and this is through children.

Many of you are new parents yourself, so you know of which I speak. Through your children, you see yourself. You see yourself in them when they laugh, and it physically pains you when they cry. You want a better world for them, a world that builds bridges and not walls. You want a world that has unimaginable opportunities, choice, equality, and justice. You make your mark with your children every day.

We talk openly at Left that ‘Family is Important’, and this is part of the reason why. Many of you know that I have two sons: my youngest who just turned 11, his name is Alec. My oldest becomes a teenager next week as he turns 13, a great milestone in any man’s life. His name, not coincidentally… his name is Marc.

John Lyotier