Success Without Sacrifice?

Much has been made about “work/life balance” over the past several years. This discussion is a somewhat backhanded slap at past generations where high achievers sometimes (maybe often) spent a great deal of time and effort clawing their way to the top. Today’s meme is that there is a better and smarter way to reach the pinnacle of success. And it involves much less of something we old-timers know as “sacrifice.” I submit that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about both these notions – work/life balance and sacrifice.

Entrepreneurship is more competitive than ever. Competition pushes us to innovate and find better ways of doing things that results in winning. Believe me when I say that the entrepreneurial environment doesn’t care about work/life balance. This is a full-throttle pull-out-all-the-stops world in which we compete. Then, does this mean that we can’t achieve work/life balance AND achieve high levels of success? The answer is . . . yes and no.

The yes and no answer is actually a sliding scale. On one end of the scale we have a healthy work/life balance and some level of success. On the other end of the scale we are making considerable sacrifices and achieving some other level of success. The wild card is the level of success we really want to attain. Some entrepreneurs can operate a business that is successful enough to provide for a very comfortable lifestyle. And they can do so without giving up much to do so. There are other entrepreneurs that are driven to the point that they become single-minded in their focus to the exclusion of all else – and achieve unimaginable success. The key to understanding what we must sacrifice is to understand exactly what level of success we want and what it will take to achieve it.

Many of us who entered business in the 1970s and 1980s know what it was like to “pay our dues.” We started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, learned our business and perfected our craft. While we were always chomping at the bit to get ahead, we also knew that we were going to have to prove that we were worthy. Sometimes that meant 100-hour weeks and toiling in the salt mines for what seemed like an eternity. There was much frustration, anguish and a healthy dose of fear. We ultimately prevailed through a formula that was one-part smart enough, one-part hard work, and a secret ingredient called pure passion.

While passion drove me when I was young and still drives me today, I was able to prioritize in such a way as to never miss an event involving my daughters; never miss taking a vacation with my wife, and never endangering my health. My work and my personal life became intertwined to the point of being inseparable. I’m not sure how a big vision can be reached without this sort of work/life relationship.

There are many young entrepreneurs brimming with confidence and vowing to do things differently than their parents and grandparents. That’s fine and I wish them well. What they will need to eventually determine is what level of success they want to achieve and what will be required to achieve it. It’s an extremely rare individual who can dream a big idea, implement it and create a moonshot while coasting on a cloud and exerting minimal effort. Most of the time, moonshots require incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears. Entrepreneurs who are too impatient or are unwilling to make certain sacrifices are going to see their dream fizzle and fall into the sea. There’s no question that young entrepreneurs can and should learn from the mistakes made by previous generations. This will help smooth the path to success. But what can’t be ignored are the benefits of business experience, life experience and the notion of eating, sleeping and breathing the entrepreneurial vision. And there’s no way around it . . . there will be sacrifices.

We’ve all heard about some of the legends of enterprise. Steve Jobs worked non-stop, calling close associates late into the evening to bounce around ideas. Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years during the time he was launching his initial business venture. Marissa Mayer worked 130-hour weeks when she was at Google and sometimes slept under her desk. Elon Musk said in an interview with Vator News, “You just have to put in 80-to-100 hour weeks every week. If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Achieving extraordinary levels of success still requires sacrifice. Entrepreneurs need to decide for themselves what level of success they desire and understand what it will take to achieve it.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Confident Entrepreneur

There is at least one must-have trait for successful entrepreneurs. Without confidence the road is very steep and rocky. College basketball is one of the most interesting demonstrations of how confidence or a lack thereof, can impact outcomes. I’ve watched many a game where the players on a team are tentative. They lack energy and they are missing their shots. Often they are out of position and cannot rebound or chase down loose balls. A few days later the same team plays another game. This time there is fluidity in their motion. They are passing the ball crisply; players are getting nice elevation when they shoot, and the ball is going in the hole. The night-and-day difference between the two contests is that of confidence.

What is the secret to gaining and maintaining confidence? There are several elements that are required. The first is that of “mastery.” Mastery is achieved through constant practice and the repetitive patterning that occurs as our experience builds. This is particularly important for millennials to understand. Fair or not, many millennials are tagged with the stereotype that they have an incredibly high sense of urgency. They don’t want to wait for results and can be impatient at times. However, I’ve seen millennials and people of all ages, try something a couple of times and believe they have mastered it. Then I watch as they try it again and bomb badly. With confidence shaken they are humbled and may become afraid to jump in the water again. All of this could have been avoided had real mastery been achieved. One of the biggest fears in society today is that of public speaking. And the only way to resolve this fear once and for all, is to practice speaking over and over and over. The fear doesn’t suddenly evaporate after a handful of gigs. It took me 50 or 60 times to reach the point that I began to feel comfortable in front of a group.

The second element is that of achieving a history of desired outcomes. It’s one thing to repeat a process enough times to master something. That helps to build confidence. But achieving the results we want is the validation necessary for us to know that we’re on the right track with our mastery. Let’s use our basketball example again. A team may be executing the basics and fundamentals properly; it may be playing strong defense, and the players are running the plays as designed. But if the scoreboard isn’t showing a W for the team on a regular basis, it’s hard to build confidence. I’ve never heard anyone profess that losing all the time builds confidence . . . but winning does. As entrepreneurs we must tweak our approach until we begin to win consistently. For example, if our sales approach isn’t working and we keep doing it the same way, it’s time to start experimenting to learn what it takes to win. After all, there’s no point in “mastering” losing!

The third aspect of building confidence is to always maintain a positive attitude – no matter what. We must believe that eventually we’ll get it right; eventually we will win. I’ve said many times that what we think in mind produces in the outer after its kind. When we believe at our core that we are going to win, eventually we will win. If we have doubts or know in our bones that we’re going to lose, eventually we will lose. I have never seen anyone become more self-confident by having a negative attitude. Attitude is critical to the success of individuals and to the team. If one member of the team is positive and the rest are negative, the confidence of the team will be adversely affected. As entrepreneurial leaders it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our team is unanimous with a positive attitude.

Developing mastery, achieving success and being eternally optimistic are the rocket fuel that will propel us to a perpetual state of self-confidence. This patterning also inoculates us from having our self-confidence shaken when from time-to-time we might stumble. We’ve been there before. We know what we must do, and we are able to re-calibrate and get back on track with ease and grace. There is no panic or desperation – we simply remember to follow the formula that has worked so well in the past.

Building self-confidence is a process much like riding a bicycle. Once learned, we may fall off on rare occasion; but when we do we get up, dust ourselves off and start riding the bike again like it never happened.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Celebrate Good Times

What and when do you celebrate? An odd question you think? Here’s the backdrop. Humans and their organizations like to celebrate. It’s positive, it’s fun and it’s great for morale. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs don’t do enough of it. We are so focused on problems to solve, people to hire and products (or services) to create that there may be long periods of time where we don’t even realize that we’ve enjoyed some success along the way. And no, this isn’t a blog about stopping to smell the roses. Sure, that’s important too, but this is about something more intentional.

I’ve been with the same company for more than four decades. I can tell you that we have been pretty successful over that timeframe but we really haven’t practiced what I’m about to preach – though we are starting to do so now. We might close a big deal at some point and slap each other on the back, but we really didn’t stop and truly celebrate a major accomplishment. And it would be pretty safe to say that we never celebrated minor successes. Why? Because that’s just the go-go nature of entrepreneurial endeavors. But I’ve come to realize that we’ve been missing a golden opportunity. Maybe you’ll step back and come to the same conclusion.

When we stop to celebrate it’s more than just party time. It can also be a great time for reflection. We look for the elements that created our success which reinforces the need to continue to implement those same elements in the future. Think about it. Let’s suppose that our company just landed a major contract to sell our product to a very large buyer. Before we pop the cork on the champagne, we gather the team and map-out the steps that led to the signing of the contract. We also identify what didn’t work so well and what we might have done differently. By undertaking this exercise, everyone is reminded of what we did to win.

The accolades, praise and expressions of gratitude all help to build and strengthen our culture. Our team members – especially those who were directly linked to the success – want to feel valued and appreciated. I realize that there may be financial incentives that have helped drive the success, but there’s no question that formal recognition is almost always a strong motivator as well.

So, if we are inclined to celebrate major successes, why not do so for minor achievements too? I’m sure someone is thinking, “If we celebrate everything, doesn’t it cheapen the process and lessen the impact?” This can certainly happen if we’re not careful. But most leaders can figure out what is worthy of celebration and what is not. Perhaps a team member completed the coursework to receive a professional designation. Or maybe the accounting team had a perfect quarter in terms of accomplishing all tasks on time and with 100% accuracy – paying bills, processing receipts, producing financial statements, etc. Finally, imagine each member of the sales team making 25 new cold calls a week for a month. These may be occurrences that in the past were viewed as routine or something that was expected. “Finally, this person or that team actually did their job(s)! Why do we want to celebrate that?” But remember that the celebration process begins with analyzing what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t we want to take advantage of the opportunity to understand what we want to replicate in the future?

Finally, the “party” piece of celebration may take many forms. Certainly gathering everyone for a toast may be one of the more common methods. Trophies, medals, commendations, certificates, plaques and other memorabilia are great forms of recognition. All-company e-mails, newsletters, websites and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be effective tools for celebrating. I like to hand write notes to members of our team for large and small achievements. In one of our business units, they ring a bell and make an announcement when something happens that is worthy of a celebration.

The intentional celebration of achievements and success is an opportunity to reinforce what worked and improve on what didn’t. It’s also a chance to recognize members of the team for their commitment and ingenuity to deliver the positive results.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 81 – Who is Dan Meyer?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Few, The Proud . . .

The U.S. Marine Corps is well known for taking raw young men and women and transforming them into lean, mean fighting machines (or so goes the saying). The process they use is fascinating and very instructive. It involves breaking down an individual and then building them back up. Legendary drill instructors use a variety of physical, mental and emotional techniques to accomplish this. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming. Recruits are pushed to their limits and beyond. After weeks of training a recruit who was 45 pounds overweight can climb a thirty-foot rope with one hand or run three miles in 19 minutes.

How does any of this apply to us as entrepreneurs? There was a statement in the preceding paragraph that is the key. “Recruits are pushed to their limits and beyond.” Many of these future Marines never dreamed that they could perform some of the physical tasks required. They never knew they had the mental fortitude and emotional stamina to endure. But here’s the truth – they totally underestimated themselves.

As entrepreneurs we may also have a tendency to underestimate ourselves. We fail to see our full capabilities and understand our greatness. Sometimes this is due to a lack of confidence. But it may also be because we just don’t think big enough. And there’s a lot of societal noise that is difficult to listen through. Remember when we were children and an adult asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up? Some of us answered an astronaut, movie star or even the President of the United States! Then something happened and we didn’t become astronauts, movie stars and U.S. presidents. Certainly our interests changed, but we also felt pressure to be more “realistic” with our expectations. We were herded into more “achievable” chutes and we eventually conformed to generally understood limitations. All of this imprinted upon us as adults and we lost the desire to dream in a large way.

Almost every one of us has the potential to be more and to do more. This is evidenced every time we learn something new. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has reached his or her full capacity to achieve. And yet we sometimes sell ourselves short. We tell ourselves in different ways that we’re not smart enough or persistent enough or creative enough to do something. “Where are we going to get the money to pursue this new idea,” we ask. Then we answer, “I don’t have the right contacts to do it.” This may be a true statement at a particular moment in time. So what are we going to do about it? We can avoid underestimating ourselves when we take intentional “I can” steps.

The first step is to reject the societal noise that tries to impose limitations on us. I’ve learned to catch myself when I start to think or say, “I can’t do that.” I replace this with the thought or statement, “How can I do that?” This sets a whole new tone and puts me in a problem-solving mode from the outset.

The “How Can I” notion will be the trigger that releases a creative stream into which we can tap. By throwing off our mental shackles we are shaping a mindset that is receptive to this creative flow. We explore a multitude of ideas and begin to see a path that leads us to that which we want to achieve. We don’t worry about our ideas being judged as stupid or crazy for we’re looking at all kinds of possibilities. I find the process of discovery to be exciting and challenging, and I thrive on the mental stretch that ensues.

The final step is that of visualizing the successful outcome we are seeking. Visualization is a powerful tool and cements our objective into our conscious and subconscious minds. What started out as the question, “How can I raise money for this idea,” now is revealed as complete. The idea has been implemented and boy is it amazing!

We can avoid underestimating ourselves by asking the question, “How can I” rather than affirming “I can’t.” Then we let the creative juices flow to figure out “How I can.” Ultimately we visualize the end result in grand fashion and move decisively to make it happen.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 36 – Not My Job-itis

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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