Up and to the Right

Tyler is an entrepreneur. He runs a small but growing company that recycles old computer equipment. Tyler is very frustrated right now. Marie is a stay-at-home mom. She has two small children under the age of five and produces marketing materials for three companies, working from a spare bedroom. Marie is very frustrated right now. Why are Tyler and Marie so frustrated?

Tyler’s company has been growing at a rate of 25% a year for the past three years. He’s doubled the size of his team and his margins are increasing. If you looked at a graph depicting his business, the line would be up and to the right.

Marie has two beautiful and healthy children. Her husband is a physician and the family is financially secure. Her marketing venture is flourishing. She’s landed a new client each of the last three years and the type of work has become much more substantive. By all measures, Marie’s graph looks the same as Tyler’s – up and to the right.

Why in the world would these two individuals be so frustrated? Tyler has chosen to reinvest a major portion of his profits back into his company. As a result, he hasn’t seen his personal cash flow increase in any meaningful way. Intellectually he knows he’s doing fine, but it still rankles him that his bank balance has remained fairly static.

Marie loves her marketing business and she is ecstatic over motherhood. She worries that her two primary roles may someday collide (at times they already do) and she feels guilty that she may fail to do justice with either. Marie wonders how she can possibly achieve her personal and professional goals with the juggling act that she is managing.

Here’s a simple but powerful truth. Tyler and Marie have not yet learned how to celebrate their success. To those of us looking in from the outside it would appear that these two are ideally situated. Everything seems “up and to the right” for them and yet they are frustrated. Tyler and Marie are trapped in the tunnel of limited thinking. They have set lofty expectations for themselves – both in terms of what they want to achieve and how quickly this will happen. How many entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs do you know who are suffering the same plight? What can be done to break this negative-mind cycle?

If we were coaching Tyler and Marie we would tell them to become quiet for a few minutes and clear their minds. Then we would suggest that they “go to gratitude.” That would involve creating an inventory of all that in their lives for which they are grateful. Going to gratitude helps them get out of themselves and see beyond the tunnel walls of their frustration. And it’s a way to re-set the mind in a positive manner. In fact, we would advise Tyler and Marie to use the gratitude exercise in the future whenever they feel frustration welling up.

As armchair coaches we would next encourage Tyler and Marie to discover how to celebrate their successes – no matter how large or small. Sometimes we have a tendency to singularly focus only on the BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – that we have set, and we fail to see the progress we are making along the way. Tyler and Marie need to re-pattern their thinking to be able to see the smaller achievements that occur every day and intentionally celebrate them. One of Tyler’s team members earned a difficult industry certification. Tyler celebrated this success with a pizza party and some congratulatory remarks. When his company recycled its 10,000th CPU, he walked into the middle of the warehouse and rang a big brass bell. He left the bell there to be used as future milestones are realized.

When Marie’s four year-old daughter read her first book Marie took her out for a special lunch and lavished her daughter with praise and encouragement. One of Marie’s clients entered her brochure in a regional marketing contest and it won first place. Marie celebrated her accomplishment by laminating the brochure cover onto a plaque along with her award. She hung it in her home office to remind her that she does really fine work.

We all need to learn to celebrate our successes no matter the size. And going to gratitude helps us to break out of the tunnel of limited thinking. This puts us on the path to appreciate each and every day as one filled with joy and promise.

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 34 – A Road Less Traveled.

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.


Hammer, Hammer, Hammer

Is trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole a cliché or what? Just for grins, I tried to do this once and had no problem. Of course the hole was a heck of a lot bigger than the peg. But of course that’s not the point. The more we try to force things that aren’t meant to be, the more likely we are to become frustrated and fail. This I do know from lots of experience.

Here’s an example. In the old days I might have interviewed a great candidate for a position we had open. This individual had all the right qualities, the right experience and seemed enthusiastic about joining our firm. We would extend a job offer and perhaps there would have been some back-and-forth dialogue over the terms, salary, etc. But then the candidate went dark and stopped responding. My tendency was for my sales instincts to kick into overdrive and really put the hard press on this person. More often than not the person might eventually come to work for us. But it usually wasn’t a happy marriage and ultimately ended in divorce. What did I learn? If we have to “chase” someone and “sell” them on joining our company, then they probably aren’t the right fit in the first place.

Here’s another example. I have a big decision to make. I’m trying my darnedest to find complete clarity in this situation. I list all of the pros and cons, but the answer still isn’t there for me. I talk to other people whom I trust, but no one grabs me by the hand and opens the door for me. I continue to press for a revelation, but none comes to me. The frustration mounts and I feel stress because the decision must be made immediately. The stupid peg just won’t go into the hole! What did I learn? Complete clarity is often elusive and most of the time we have to make the best decision we can after considering all of the facts. And we need to trust our gut to some extent.

Here’s the final example. A number of years ago there was an investor who owned a large apartment complex that our firm wanted to manage. I cultivated a relationship with this investor and met with him regularly. I tried everything I could think of to convince him to retain our services. He was self-managing the property and I just knew we could improve his bottom line. All of my creative marketing and sales methods were for naught. We never were able to win the business. I hammered and hammered and hammered, and the square peg never made it into the round hole. What did I learn? We’re not going to win 100% of the time. As long as we’re paying attention to the basics and fundamentals mixed with a sufficient dose of creativity, we’ve done what should be done. Sometimes we’ll succeed and sometimes we won’t. Trying to force success is a pathway to being demoralized.

When we force things and try to muscle through, we often flounder and fail. When we relax, pay attention to the details and trust our instincts, we improve the probability that things will fall into place. And if they don’t, we simply stop hammering and move on.

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.


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.

sliced bread

I’m Stuck!

Question: I feel stuck right now. It seems as though I’m on a treadmill and going nowhere. The frustration seems overwhelming. Advice?

Answer: This often is a common feeling for everyone. For entrepreneurs the frustration can seem especially acute. We tend to be Type A personalities who want things to happen . . . and right now! Sometimes this frustration can actually block the positive flow of energy on which we thrive. And then it becomes a vicious cycle – the more the energy doesn’t flow, the more we feel like we’re going to burst with frustration.  

Let me provide a flying analogy. I’ll never forget the sage advice of my flight instructor years ago when I was taking pilot training. He told me that when things go haywire the first thing to do is to simply, “fly the airplane.” Don’t worry about anything else – just keep the wings level and fly the airplane. That’s my advice here. When this frustration wells up don’t lose your head – just remember to relax. Spend some time finding a calm moment – visualize putting your frustration on the shelf – after all, it’s not going anywhere without you. 

Next, it’s important to get out of yourself. What does this mean? Entrepreneurs have the tendency to dwell on whatever issues may be causing the frustration they are feeling. Once we relax we need to understand that there are other things more important in life than we are. This is a humbling realization. Consider being of service to others in some way. Volunteer at a food pantry. Be a Big Brother or a Big Sister. Teach a Sunday school class. Some time ago when I was dealing with a lot of frustration, I volunteered at a local children’s hospital. I had a ball reading stories and playing games with sick children. Being of service helps us to channel positive energy to the benefit of others. And guess what? All of a sudden the frustration melts away and the positive energy flows again!

I can’t promise that relaxing, getting out of yourself and being of service to others will solve all of the problems that led to your frustration. But getting rid of the feeling of being stuck will help you see more clearly the way to fix what needs fixing.