The World’s Scariest Roller Coaster

I never have liked to ride on roller coasters. The feeling where my heart ends up in my stomach is not what I consider to be a pleasant experience. When I was learning to fly airplanes my flight instructor would tell me to close my eyes and put my head in my lap. He would then undertake some radical maneuvers – up and down at random – then he’d say, “You have the airplane.” It was my responsibility at that moment to figure out what was going on and take the necessary corrective action to get the airplane straight and level without crashing! This involved several hundred feet at over a hundred miles an hour. Talk about a roller coaster ride on steroids – yeow!

Entrepreneurial endeavors are much like a roller coaster ride and sometimes like my flight training. There is one difference with the flight training however – we practiced the wacky maneuvers at an altitude of 5,000 feet or more. As entrepreneurs we often fly metaphorically at 50 feet or even less providing little room for error. So, how does the roller coaster ride manifest? Here’s a typical set of scenarios.

We get up in the morning and work out at the gym then go for a run. Usually we feel pretty “up” afterwards – a great way to start the day. The roller coaster is flat and level and just picking up speed. We have breakfast with a client who tells us she is going to place a substantial order for our product. Woohoo! The roller coaster is on the first vertical climb. Then on to the office where the minute we hit the door we find out that one of our top product people has given two weeks-notice and is going to work for a competitor. Oops, the roller coaster is moving fast downhill now. A couple of hours later our breakfast client called to tell us that she has decided not to place the substantial order after all – the roller coaster now takes a couple of barrel rolls before heading into a terrifying dive. Then out-of-the-blue we get a call from our corporate counsel informing us that a class action suit for which we’ve been a part has been settled and we’ll be receiving a healthy check (after deducting legal fees, of course). Now the roller coaster is soaring up into the clear blue sky blue again. And so it goes for the rest of the day.

Does this sound familiar? If it does, welcome to the wonderful world of entrepreneurship. You are not alone. We all know this is going to be the life we live. It’s the life we’ve chosen. The challenge is how we successfully deal with the ups and downs without letting the roller coaster get the best of us. So what to do? Here’s something I learned a long time ago. We entrepreneurs can have a tendency to magnify whatever is in front of us. If it’s something positive we can see it as the greatest accomplishment for which we’ve ever been a part. And if it’s a negative experience, we can’t imagine that it could have been worse for anyone else. As a result, we can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have resolved that I’m not going to take any of this too seriously and you might take this approach too. Most of the time nothing is as good or as bad as it may seem to be at the moment. Once we realize this to be the case, we can go about our business with less emotion.

The NFL football players of today are into celebrations – big time. When they score touchdowns they “perform” in the end zone. Many of them do the same when they a part of a big play on offense or defense. I remember a player named Marcus Allen who scored a lot of touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders and later, the Kansas City Chiefs. When Allen scored, he handed the ball to the official. There was no display of emotion – no end zone antics. Instead, he showed true professionalism and acted like he had been there before (which he had, over and over and over). When we can focus on a professional approach to our entrepreneurial endeavors and avoid the emotion, we can avoid the roller coaster ride. No, this doesn’t mean we are void of emotion altogether. It’s fine to celebrate when truly major good fortune has been realized. But we don’t need to jump on the roller coaster for everything that happens during the day.

Realizing that nothing is really as great as it seems or as bad as it seems can help us moderate our emotions. We can then function like the professionals that we are and avoid the roller coaster ride.

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 121 – Moats.

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.

Stress and the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship can be a very stressful proposition. We’re trying to build our businesses and encounter countless challenges along the way. Cutthroat competition, product design issues, labor shortages, cash flow problems, slow sales, shipping snafus, government regulations, incredibly tight deadlines, lack of sleep and a host of other struggles. A lot of this is simply unavoidable and part of the growth and scaling process. How we deal with stress under duress is the name of the game.

Here are several questions we can ask ourselves. Is stress negative and draining? Do we view stress with fear and trepidation? Is stress something that we must survive? Or do we embrace stress and use it to “lean in” and thrive? You may think that thriving in stress is counterintuitive. But it is not.

It’s a fact that there are many opportunities for situations to become stressful. However, just because a situation is stressful doesn’t mean that we have to buy-in and take on the stress for ourselves. I know – this is certainly easier said than done. We start by observing how we normally react when confronted with potentially stressful circumstances. Some people withdraw and climb into a shell. Others might be combative and hypersensitive. Still others may wear their heart on their sleeve and present a woe-is-me portrait. Finally, there are those who may show panic and confusion. As entrepreneurial leaders we cannot afford to display any of these tendencies.

How we react outwardly is important to our team. If we are snippy and curt with the people around us, they will sense that something is wrong. If we show fear they will smell fear and know that something is wrong. By maintaining an optimistic and cheery demeanor at all times, we can ensure the mental health of our enterprise. I realize that this is pretty hard to do if we really aren’t feeling all that confident in the situation. It’s very difficult to fake it successfully. What to do?

On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 bound from New York to Dallas suffered a massive engine failure that resulted in the loss of cabin pressure and the life of a passenger. Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor remained calm under fire and safely landed the aircraft. They didn’t panic and followed their training to the letter. Once back on terra firma, Captain Shults personally spoke to each passenger as they deplaned. What was their secret? They eliminated the emotion and worked the problem.

When we’re overwhelmed, stress can build exponentially. This is the time to heed the old saying – eat the elephant one bite at a time. We break down whatever massive undertaking that is causing the stress into manageable tasks. I am a compulsive list-maker. When a mountain looms in front of me I try and avoid looking at it in its totality. Instead, I develop a series of individual tasks and check them off my list as I finish them. I know this may sound like a mental game but it works for me and it might work for you too.

The next idea may seem like a bit of a stretch, but actually can achieve the concept of leaning in and thriving. When faced with a sticky situation we look for the silver lining and ask the question, “How can I turn this into something positive?” Accomplishing this takes a lot of practice. It involves rising above the chaos and stress to take a clinical look at the landscape and find a way to succeed. I remember talking to a friend who had a major client that was terminating the relationship. Many entrepreneurs would have wrung their hands in despair. My friend immediately reached out to the primary competitor of the departing client and told him that he was now available to work with the competitor. This new relationship was worth twice the amount of business for my friend than before.

There are many other stress-busting techniques – and there may be times when we need to utilize all of them at our disposal. We should make certain we don’t become one-dimensional. Having other interests besides work provides outlets for our stress and frustration. This may include physical activities, hobbies, civic or charitable work to name a few. Meditation and deep-breathing exercises are excellent ways to remain centered and relaxed. It’s important to practice them continuously and not just when we are in distress. Finally, I’m a big proponent of creating and saying positive affirmations. Positive affirmations pattern our minds away from negativity and fear. For example, saying something like, “I am totally relaxed and ready to claim my good!” may be a great way to start. I know it may sound corny, but I’m living proof that it works. Saying a positive affirmation in groups of ten at least 100 times a day will lay the foundation. Doing it for a week or two adds the cement.

We all have moments where stress can build to overwhelming levels. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating if we choose to embrace it; lean into it, and thrive.

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 100 – Congratulations – You Own a Gold Mine!

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.

Staying Away From the Cliff

What is your reaction when you hear the word “debate?” Is this code for conflict? Entrepreneurs and humankind in general are inclined to try and persuade others to see their point of view. Unfortunately the art of debate has been stigmatized by what happens in the political arena. Political debate has degenerated into something far removed from the honorable tradition of true debate. Sometimes in our business and daily lives what is being termed as “debate” is also something much less noble.

I remember taking debate classes in school. We were taught to construct factual arguments to support our position on an issue. In college my favorite class of all time was Logic. It was fascinating to listen to the professor walk us through various arguments that were commonplace in society and show us where the logic broke down. To effectively persuade and convince others to make decisions that we want them to make, it is helpful to frame our argument in solid facts and logic. To clarify, I’m not using the term “argument” in the “argumentative” sense but rather in the context of a thesis.

Every time I read an article that might contain an element of controversy, I always think of my old college professor as I read the comments. There is often a lot of emotion on a particular subject which may result in ad hominem attacks, name calling and a loss of decorum. Usually when this happens, the offending party has already lost the debate because he/she can’t offer a logical opposing position supported by facts.

In my opinion, the components of a healthy debate include a willingness to lay out one’s position in logical and factual manner; the ability to listen to and understand a contrary position without interruption; the ability to politely use facts and logic to counter the contrary position, and at the end of the day, the willingness to have respect for the person making the contrary argument. In other words, smile and shake hands when it’s all said and done. We may or may not persuade the other person to see our point of view and vice versa, but we avoided falling off the emotional cliff.

The emotional cliff is a dangerous place to be for entrepreneurs. I would much rather persuade someone to agree with my position on something using facts and logic, than appealing to their emotions. Using emotional appeal is another term for manipulation. Business does this every day through marketing a myriad of products and services. But often the person being persuaded is left dissatisfied with the overall experience when he/she realizes the product or service may not meet his/her needs. The feeling of manipulation has a long shelf-life, whether in a marketing or sales sense, or when making decisions based upon the arguments made in debate.

Debate and persuasion that are fact and logic-based can build positive and lasting relationships. When we aspire to stay above the emotional fray we win every time in so many ways.

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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Sliced Bread

Question: I’ve been working for the past two years on bringing my dream idea to fruition. And it seems like it’s two steps forward and three steps backwards. When do I know it’s time to throw in the towel?

Answer: This question really resonates with me. Over the course of the past 40 years I can’t tell you how many dream ideas I’ve pushed, prodded, cajoled, coaxed and dragged, trying to get them across the finish line. Fortunately I’ve succeeded more often than I’ve failed, but there definitely have been a number that succumbed along the way.

Something I learned may surprise you. I’ve discovered that becoming emotionally invested in an idea can be dangerous. You may rightly ask, “How can we work to realize our dream without emotion and passion?” And here’s where the distinction comes for me. I am very passionate about the process of creating an idea and taking the steps necessary to implement it successfully. But I try and avoid becoming emotionally attached to the idea itself. By doing so, I can pursue an idea up to the point that it appears to be no longer viable and then discard it, moving on to the next idea.

Here’s what happens when we take a “this is my baby” approach to nurturing an idea. The process of birthing the idea takes on an emotional dimension that can blind us to things that we may not want to see. As a result we may not maintain our objectivity and might even miss some critical signals that would otherwise steer us in a different direction. We tend to have tunnel vision, believing that our idea is the best thing in the world since sliced bread. Yet others may not see what we think we see. So we start trying to sell people on our idea . . . rather than helping them buy it. When we don’t get the response we’re looking for we may begin to put pressure on ourselves to push the idea over the top. Then the frustration builds to the point that we’re ready to scream. By now our creative flow of energy has been blocked by our frustration and there is no way we’re going to succeed.

What works for me is to remove the emotion from the idea and replace it with a process. This process includes milestones and metrics that help me determine if I’m making progress in developing an idea. I’m also more receptive to pivots that may be necessary – that is, changes in direction that I need to take to ensure that the idea succeeds or is enhanced. More than anything, it’s liberating to know when an idea needs to be thrown on the scrap heap. I can now do this with ease, knowing that I did what was reasonable to make it work and recognized when it wasn’t meant to be.

Becoming emotionally invested in our dreams may actually hinder our success. Having passion for the process of realizing a dream will help us relax and maintain our creative flow.

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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Lovin’ It – Part 1

Question: You’ve written before about passion. How do I find my passion?

Answer: I’ve said previously that most people go through life and work at a job. Fewer of us pursue a career. And even fewer yet actually live a passion. To be truly successful entrepreneurs living a passion is requisite. But there are plenty of very rich entrepreneurs who are miserable, so what gives? I’m defining success to be much more than just money. A truly successful entrepreneur has success in relationships, in health, in philanthropy, in hobbies, in intellect, in spirituality and in emotion.

Passion is multi-dimensional. I submit that living a passion is more than just our chosen profession. It’s about reaching the conclusion that life is all about more . . . not less. And it’s not just more of one thing but more of many. A fundamental question to be asked is, “What are we excluding from our lives?” Kindling and sustaining passion is difficult if we’re one-dimensional and our lives are out of balance. We may experience bursts of energy and creativity, and we may have moments of euphoria when we achieve that upon which we focused. But then what happens? More often than not we crash and burn. Then we may yo-yo back and forth between the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Here’s my story. Early in my adult life I was pursuing a career. I move out of the “working a job” phase pretty quickly. Our business was growing and I threw myself into building it. There were plenty of 18-hour days plus weekends and holidays. In fact, I actually took pride in working 100-hour weeks. I read nothing but business books and thought about little else than what was happening in my company. I was the poster boy for being one-dimensional. No, I wasn’t unhappy but there was always a gnawing feeling that something was missing.

Living my passion did not come through an epiphany but was gradual over time. I loved what I did professionally but realized that burnout was unavoidable if I didn’t change my ways. Over the years my life became more balanced, and that in turn stoked the passion. What I’ve learned is that passion is much more than just loving my profession. The balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and relationships in addition to our profession has a multiplier effect. I love being creative in my businesses. I love the philanthropic endeavors that my wife and I pursue. I love mentoring and coaching others – the list of the things I love to do goes on and on. And the cumulative effect of all of these “loves” is what becomes passion for me.

Make sure to read my next installment in which I’ll add the other ingredient necessary to discover our passion.

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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What to Do?

Question: Lately I’ve been faced with some tough decisions. I struggle in this department. How can I make this easier?

Answer: Entrepreneurs by definition have to make a lot of hard decisions. Do we add a new product line or not? Should we raise our prices? Should we fire a client? Can we afford to buy a new piece of expensive equipment? All of these decisions are weighty for a reason. They could have adverse consequences if we’re wrong about what we decide.

Life is full of tough calls. Whether in our business or personal lives one factor that makes decisions hard is a little thing called emotion. The more we can eliminate emotion from our decision making process, the more likely we will be to turn the tough call into the right call. Without emotion we can then turn to a factual approach in this process.

Something that has worked for me over the years has been the use of a decision tree. When I have to make a complex or difficult decision I draw one or more lines down the page. At the top of each column I write a decision that I could make to address a particular situation. There might be two or three possibilities – maybe even more. From each decision I draw lines with boxes underneath. We all know that when decisions are made there are consequences. These boxes contain the consequences. By laying out all of the decisions and the various potential consequences I am able to assess the probability of outcomes and determine which yield the best result with the lowest risk. Doing this insures that emotion remains on the sideline.

Some people say, “Follow your gut instincts.” So you may ask, isn’t gut instinct an emotion? Actually gut instinct is the result of experience. There’s no such thing as pure gut instinct that isn’t based on some level of experience. And this experience can be developed by making decisions over and over utilizing facts and decision trees. Eventually you just know what to decide because you’ve done it so many times. But a strong factual foundation was laid early on.

We can all make the tough decisions with ease when we take the emotion out of the equation. By turning to an examination of the facts we are able to logically figure out what steps to take. And after we do this long and often enough, we develop strong instincts that enable us to act quickly and decisively.

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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