Is Your Bottom Line at the End of the Line?

The bottom line is often said to be the ultimate goal of the individual. Organizations of individuals, whether for-profit or non-profit, are similarly focused. It’s self-evident that it takes a certain amount of money to survive and even more money to thrive in life. Money will never go away. Some form of it is the glue that holds any nation’s economy together and is the lifeblood for its continued viability and growth. But let’s not assume that the bottom line is only about dollars. It’s also about value. Therefore, the pursuit of money and its accumulation can also be seen as a metaphor for the true purpose of life.

I am not saying that the true purpose of life is to accumulate money. When business people use the phrase, “the bottom line” they’re referring to a line at the bottom right of a typical balance sheet that identifies the total amount of money that was either made or lost for a specified period of time. This is the money left over after all expenses, taxes and other liabilities are subtracted out for the period. When there is no money “left over,” usually meaning that there was a loss, then this negative amount is “brought over” to the next time period and applied to any gains during that time.

We need to understand that the number on this bottom line represents an increase (or decrease) in wealth and not merely “more (or less) money.” When there is a positive amount on the bottom line, value has been created by means of the operation of the organizational entity. Upon this line rests the representation of the efficient use of resources (both material and human) that resulted in the expansion of wealth. The organization literally created something that didn’t exist before. Even though that “something” is understood as “more money” it actually constitutes a “new creation of added value” and stands as a testament to the effective use of what the organization already possessed.

The adding of worth and usefulness to goods and services is accomplished only by serving those who will be the “end users” of those goods and services. The whole of economic activity can be summed up as being the endeavor to “find the need and fill it.” Abraham Maslow, a twentieth century American psychologist, based his famous “hierarchy of needs” on what he believed was the range of primal human drives. At the bottom of his pyramid are survival needs, like air, food and water, the obtaining of which exercise strong power over behavior. As the pyramid grows narrower as it moves toward the top, needs become less influential on behavior but nonetheless as necessary for complete personal fulfillment. At the top is the need for “self-actualization,” by which he means to have everything in one’s life working in harmony such that personal goals, not just drives and needs, are completely fulfilled.

By seeking to address specific parts of the array of universal human needs, any enterprise develops and increases not just the wealth of the marketplace but also the soul of a nation and those who comprise it. It is a soul characterized by ingenuity, determination, creativity, generosity, mutual respect and self-reliance.

This creative nature of human enterprise tells of a basic truth of human existence: by efficiently employing the resources we have in the service of meeting others’ immediate and long-term needs, we grow both our resources and the value they have for society. All human beings share the innate creative drive to grow in value and significance such that they become better able to serve. You grow to the extent that you serve others and help them grow.

We are value-creating beings whose primary source of growth is in providing service to others. You get more by giving more. You create more by serving more (more people in more ways). So, then, the question you need to ask yourself every day is, “What’s at the end of the line of my bottom line?” In other words, “Am I living my life for the creation of my own wealth or as a rich source of value for the lives of others?” Your life will be valuable to the extent that you add value to other people so that they experience more of life’s abundance.

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