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What motivates me every day

Published: 
Thursday, August 25, 2016

What keeps you waking up every day with the same energy level? And what helped you most in becoming the successful businessman you are today? Was it your mother’s advice, or simple stubbornness and a strong belief in yourself? 

Leon Clavijo, Colombia 

Leon, I’ve always believed that life is not a dress rehearsal, and I feel that you should embrace each day with enthusiasm, curiosity and—as you mentioned—energy. This spirit has not only driven Virgin’s business successes, but has inspired us to do some wonderful work through our nonprofit foundation, Virgin Unite.

You’re right; this goes back to childhood for me. My family has always been very loving and close, and my parents instilled in my sisters and me a few core principles that have guided us well. They taught us that life is a gift, and to aim to live our lives without regret. And though my mother encouraged my sisters and I not to limit ourselves, she and my father taught us that we always had to treat people with respect and fairness.

I took their advice to heart as I grew up to become an entrepreneur, a father and a philanthropist, trying to take full advantage of my days and make the world a better place for our generation and generations to come, and that gives me more energy. Today I’m known as “Dr Yes” at Virgin because I thrive on new challenges. 

I’m always excited about offering innovative solutions to common problems, even when it means that we’ll be breaking into new industries, and I’m deeply committed to initiatives that tackle global issues: from climate change, to the failed war on drugs, to abolishing the death penalty.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I respect the most about my mother, Eve, is the fact that she has always lived her life to the fullest. In fact, Mum was a bit of a pioneer in air travel herself, having worked as a stewardess in commercial aviation’s early, adventurous days. Later, when we were growing up, she encouraged us to push ourselves, and insisted that we not allow others to limit our ambitions.

Her ambitions for herself and for us (which she still has in abundance, even in her 90s), combined with her mischievous streak (which I inherited), have been great sources of inspiration for me. She has always encouraged me, whether I was embarking on my schoolboy business ventures or trying to find the courage to cross oceans in a hot-air balloon. 

Notably, when I was struggling at school, she gave me the confidence to try other things and, ultimately, to leave school to set up my first business, Student magazine. (She even helped us find our first headquarters, which were in a basement flat in West London, then backed us when we got in trouble for running a business out of it!)

But having a lot of energy and an unbridled sense of confidence can take you only so far. You have to be wary of believing in yourself too much. There is a fine line across which confidence can become arrogance, and can ultimately lead to your undoing. If I stepped out of line or was mouthy, my parents would make me stand in front of a mirror and stare at myself, as if to say “Would you say that to yourself? Look how badly it reflects on you.” And, if I ever got too proud or boastful, they would bring me back down to earth with a swift retort. I can still hear them call out “Ricky!” in my mind today.

Over time, they helped me to find a delicate balance of confidence and humility, ambition and care for others, which has served me well and allowed me to find my place in the world, and to develop a strong social conscience. I’m truly grateful to them for this guidance.

As the US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said in her moving acceptance speech at the recent Democratic National Convention: “Do all the good you can, for as many as you can, for as long as you can.” That sentiment is a great guide for anyone.

(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. 

He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)

(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com

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