How chocolate saved Shawn Askinosie

After a particularly dizzying murder trial, Shawn Askinosie thought he was fine.

He continued to practice law as a defense attorney for the murders five years after that moment, all the while wondering why he was facing panic attacks, mental fog, and even heart attack symptoms after nearly 15 years of love for his career.

Eventually something broke in him: he loved being a lawyer, but he just couldn’t anymore.

Reluctantly trying to find his place in the world, he stumbled upon making chocolate. Now, 15 years later, Askinosie Chocolate produces one of the highest quality chocolates in the world. On the journey, he also found a renewed sense of purpose in life that helped him get back from the edge.

With insights from Buffer’s Small Business, the first episodes of the Big Lessons podcast, and an unpublished interview, Shawn explained how chocolate saved his life – and how he uses his chocolate business to help others thrive.

Shawn Askinosie

From defenders to chocolate makers

The trial began fairly routinely: he represented a woman accused of murder.

Just before the trial was due to go before a jury to pronounce the verdict, the judge withdrew him and the prosecutor to his chambers.

The judge said he was terminating the jury’s mandate. Instead of a jury verdict on imprisonment in relation to the death penalty, the judge would sentence the woman to probation. Sean wanted to continue to fight – he wanted his client to be completely excluded, not accepting a suspended sentence – but the woman told Sean that he had done enough, and she accepted the parole agreement.

Five years after that trial, Sean tried to forget about it and move on, but he couldn’t. He even started getting physical symptoms.

“I started having these little panic attacks in the courtroom,” Shawn said. At the time, I didn’t even know what a panic attack was, I hadn’t even heard of anything like that … my doctor thought it might be a heart attack. “

Although fortunately it was not a heart attack, Sean’s doctor was deeply concerned about his mental health and told him to visit a psychologist. Eventually he started taking antidepressants, trying to stay afloat so he could pursue a career he increasingly disliked.

“I loved what I did so much, and then I didn’t – it really thrilled me,” Shawn said.

In the end, he simply could not continue the law and resigned.

He spent a lot of time figuring out what would happen next and fell for food. He cooked a lot of barbecues for his friends. Then he tried to bake. He enjoyed but nothing provoked the truth passion.

Then the thought came to him: what about chocolate?

He learned the basics of making chocolate on some blogs and was immediately drawn to the process. Realizing the sparks of passion, he traveled to Ecuador to meet cocoa growers and get to know the entire production chain from grain to finished product.

On that journey, Sean realized that his new passion would be to make the best chocolate in the world.

Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie inspect cocoa beans with their agricultural partners in Mababu, Tanzania (2019)

Honoring the family, supporting farmers and building community

Sean decided to turn his passion for chocolate into a company so he could support himself and his family. But unlike his legal career, fueled by the excitement for the game and the mountains of money he could earn, Shawn approached making chocolate as a tribute to grandparents.

“My grandparents were farmers and an inspiration to me, just very kind people who lived a simple life … and I wanted to honor them,” Sean said.

With his grandparents in mind, he thought about what he wanted the business to do besides economic profit.

He came up with three keys: caring for the farmers he worked with, providing great jobs for his future employees, and providing care and resources to the communities he worked with.

In his mind, profit gave him the opportunity to focus on these other, bigger things. It is a belief that he believes all companies should adopt while thinking about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

“While it’s messy, we need to expand our socially responsible business efforts across all aspects of the company,” Shawn said. “… [It should] not just being an elite within a company that has the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and really serve others. ”

Keeping in mind his three keys, Shawn made Askinosie Chocolate. It now has a profit-sharing agreement with farmers in its supply chain, sets revenue growth targets with an explicit amount set to increase employee salaries and benefits, and has launched a nonprofit called Chocolate University to teach citizenship, entrepreneurship and the civic mind through teaching kids work with chocolate.

Shawn Askinosie inspects cocoa beans with farming partners in Mababu, Tanzania (2019)

Service-driven company building

During his journey of more than a decade so far, Sean has thought a lot about growth. But that is far from his top priority.

“Everyone tells us we have to grow, grow, grow,” Shawn said. “Why?”

Sean knows that people who ask about growth always come with good intentions: your friends and family want you to be rich, while your local chamber of commerce wants you to secure a job. But he also wants to back down against the idea and ask how companies can stay small while still making an impact.

“Scaling is a strategy that is not without sacrifice,” he said.

One quote that Shawn regularly refers to when there is pressure to grow for growth is that “more is not enough.” And he wants entrepreneurs to focus on “enough,” not just “more.”

“We’ve lived a life of mass consumerism, over-consumption, and the younger generations are fighting it … because that’s the truth they want to live by,” Shawn said.

The revolt against mass consumerism is part of a larger movement that Shawn calls “corporatocracy,” when several large corporations control most of the economic means of production.

Beneath the corporatocracy, however, is the future that Shawn sees: responsibility for the social good.

“There are a lot of really small companies that [you] I don’t know, I haven’t even heard of the phrase ‘social entrepreneurship’, but they have rolled up their sleeves and are doing well on their street, in their neighborhood. “

For new entrepreneurs trying to fight corporatocracy, Shawn has a simple rule: ask yourself how much is enough, don’t just ask for more. While “enough” will change throughout your life, it is crucial to understand what is enough for you at the moment, and then direct your actions toward that purpose.

This, Shawn said, will help create “companies of the future that are not entirely profit-driven, but are guided by this notion of serving their brothers and sisters in need”.

Building a business, rebuilding life

There is a saying that you should always start as you intend to continue. But the problem Shawn sees is not starting with good intentions; most entrepreneurs do that. Instead, keep those intentions at the forefront when growth comes.

You can still – and should – strive for profit. The key is to balance profits and stay true to your intention and your “enough.”

For Sean, this profit ratio with “enough” proved to be his salvation. Instead of wondering why things don’t look good even though he’s “successful,” Askinosie Chocolate has meaning behind every action and every dollar of earnings, which has helped restore Shawn’s mental health and restored his sense of purpose in the world.

“I admit that my company is less valuable than it would otherwise be,” Shawn said. “I am just fine with that. Why? Because it would be out of balance to end the company in a way that is not in line with the way I started it. ”

Listen to Shawn’s episode and interviews with other small business owners on Buffer’s latest podcast, Small Business, Big Lessons and come

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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