Is the Grass Really Greener?

The U.S. unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969. Companies are becoming more and more creative in their recruiting efforts. From an employee’s perspective, times have probably never been better. There’s certainly a temptation to job-hop the way up the compensation ladder in the belief that an employer is going to be much more generous than would have been the case during the Great Recession and for many years thereafter. But the question must be asked, is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

Everyone knows that there’s much more to a career than a paycheck. Those who blindly chase the dollars may get what they want – but there may be a whole lot more than they bargained for. I know many people who were thrilled with the amount of money they were going to make only to find out that their new boss was ridiculously difficult, the stress levels were off the charts and working conditions were abysmal. Yet, it’s very tempting to jump at the chance to make a lot more money and pick up a cool new title. So, how should we look at the “grass” on the other side of the fence?

Over the past 44 years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to make the jump. I resisted every time. Why? Long ago I realized that 1) I was working for and with honorable people; 2) I was allowed incredible freedom to be creative and experiment, and 3) I was working in an industry that I loved and had dreamt about since I was in the 8th grade. You’ll notice that nowhere did I mention money. The reason is simple. I was allowed to continually figure out how to add value to whatever I was pursuing, and my compensation increased accordingly. This approach is my suggested template for viewing the “grass is greener” dilemma.

I’ve always believed that most people work a job. A few pursue a career. And then there are those of us who are lucky enough to live our passion. I don’t think I’ve felt at any point in time (after the first three months in the mid-1970s) that I was working a job. For awhile I was pursuing a career. But for most of my adult life I’ve been able to live my passion. This is important to understand for it’s one of the three foundational elements to answering the “grass is greener” question. Each of us must find our own passion to pursue, and the sooner the better.

Let’s assume that we generally know that we are in the right industry – yes, I know – that’s a big assumption to make. But we must start somewhere. This brings us to the other two foundational elements. Am I working for and with honorable people? There’s much more to this question than it’s literal interpretation. What is the company’s culture? Is there a vision of where the organization is heading? Are there core values that are more than slogans in a fancy frame on the wall? Are employees valued and treated fairly? Do senior leaders express gratitude? Do they seek out feedback; listen to it, and act upon it? No situation is going to be perfect. But if the environment is comfortable and efforts are constantly being made to improve, that’s a good sign that we are in the midst of honorable people.

Finally, we need to measure how likely we will be to succeed over the long haul. In my case, I was pretty much allowed to make my own way. Sure, I had specific roles and responsibilities, but I always wanted to do more and be more. I saw a myriad of opportunities and developed plans to exploit them. I made plenty of mistakes – more than I can count. But I was allowed to make them and learn valuable lessons in the process. I always figured that as long as my successes exponentially outweighed my failures, I was on solid ground. And that turned out to be true. You’ve likely heard the old adage, “the cream rises to the top.” If we are working for and with honorable people, we can always know that we earn more trust and more latitude through our performance.

Ultimately there’s no need to look at the grass on the other side of the fence so long as we can grow a lush, green lawn on our side. When we do this we’ll surely reap the benefits accordingly.

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.

Is It Really a Struggle?

How many times have you heard that entrepreneurship is a struggle? Heck, we’ve all heard how life in general can be a struggle. But is it really? I think it’s worth exploring the notion of “struggling.” Various definitions of the word “struggle” reference adversaries, opposing forces, bodily effort, fight, conflict or contest. I’m just not feeling it.

Let’s paint a picture. Three years ago, Entrepreneur Ed launched his new enterprise. He has encountered many interesting issues along the way. There have been untimely resignations of key team members; nail-biting moments when it was questionable whether he would make payroll; a patent infringement lawsuit; shortages of raw materials that were critical in producing Ed’s product; brutal competition resulting in a price war; cancellation of a liability insurance policy, and the loss of a key customer. Many might say that the last three years have been a “struggle” for Entrepreneur Ed, after all, it appears that he has faced a great deal of adversity. But Ed doesn’t see it that way.

Here is Ed’s perspective. What others see as negative experiences Ed sees as puzzles to solve. Challenging – sure! But Ed believes that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger and smarter. The utopian view would have us sail along on calm seas growing our businesses from 8 to 5, then going home to play with the kids and spend weekends at the beach. Uh, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. What matters most is the mindset we have as we move through the course of each day. Do we feel like we’re on a perpetual treadmill, grinding away and being attacked from all sides? Do we wonder when the proverbial “other shoe” is going to drop? Perhaps we have become totally overwhelmed to the point of depression. It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the antidote to the “struggle.” We know we’ve signed on for an adventure – both in the entrepreneurial world and for life in general. That adventure is going to be whatever we make it. If we are fearful and expect disaster . . . we’re likely to find ourselves with a front row seat on the deck of the Titanic as it slowly sinks into the North Atlantic. However, every challenge does not need to end in catastrophe.

We have been rapidly scaling our companies for the past few years. There have been many moments when someone looking in from the outside might believe we were seconds from colliding with a massive iceberg (sorry, I can’t seem to shake out of the Titanic metaphor). I have never believed for a moment that we were on the wrong course. I’ve seen each challenge as a positive opportunity for creativity and growth. And guess what? It’s working! Every time we think we’re flirting with disaster we seem to pull a rabbit out of a hat – except there’s really nothing magical about it at all. Instead, we have a well-thought plan and we have an extremely positive mindset. We know there will be detours along the way. Sometimes we’ll have to backtrack to find the trail, but we are never lost, and we are always focused on our vision.

As I write this, it’s worth noting that I’ve been with the same company and on the same quest for 44 years. I can now look back and realize how incredible the ride has been. Did it ever seem like a struggle? There definitely were times early in my career where I wondered if we were going to survive. But the older (and maybe wiser) I’ve become, the more I’ve come to understand that success comes from within us. While there may be some external influences, it’s really all about how we see the world when we get up in the morning; how we choose to look at each experience throughout the day, and the impression with which we are left when our head hits the pillow at night. In other words, we’ll struggle if we believe we are struggling. Or, we’ll see the incredibly short time we are riding this planet as a golden opportunity for experimentation, innovation, mastery and joy.

We throw off the chains of “struggle” when we embrace a life filled with positive energy and gratitude. And then we can pursue our purposeful vision with confidence.

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.

Hard Times and Happy Times

The entrepreneurial experience produces emotions of all sorts, often extending across the positive to negative spectrum and all in the same day! Most entrepreneurs will attest to the fact that there have been hard times at different points in their careers. These hard times may be the result of personal challenges, professional challenges or both. They run the gamut from aging parent issues, marital strife, divorce, rebellious children, lawsuits, financial pressures, unfair competition, loss of market share/customers, and a multitude of other mole hills and in some cases, mountains – really big mountains. Through it all, there’s a central question that we grapple with. How do we make hard times into happy times? Is it even possible?

Let’s start with the whole notion of happiness. Are you happy overall? Where do you land on the happiness scale? Are you happy some of the time but not always? Are you moderately happy or are you ecstatically happy? When you encounter hard times, are you able to maintain your level of happiness or does it slide down (or off) the scale? Obstacles are a part of life. They’ll always be there. When we sign on to be an entrepreneur, we also understand that we’re signing up for a roller-coaster ride. Our gut check is determining if we can be happy while we’re riding the roller-coaster, the bucking bull or whatever metaphor is chosen to represent the challenges we inevitably will face.

Over the course of my 65+ years I’ve learned many things about happiness. Allow me to share them with you.

  1. Happiness is a choice. First and foremost, I’ve come to understand that my happiness is 100% my choice. Where I land on the happiness scale is totally my choice. This concept may not be easy to grasp when we’re in the throes of a crisis. But I’ll be darned if I’m going to let what is happening around me determine whether or to what degree I’m going to be happy. Some may say that this sounds like a Pollyanna type of response – after all the world is crumbling around us and we’re going to choose to be happy? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It may not be as easy to dial up happiness when we’re getting punched in the gut . . . but it definitely is a choice that we make.
  2. Go to bed with a clear conscience. My wife is constantly shaking her head. When my head hits the pillow at night, I’m fast asleep within 30 seconds or so. One of the reasons is the fact that I go to bed every night with a clear conscience. I know that my integrity is intact, and I haven’t intentionally stepped on anyone’s toes. A sure-fire way to unhappiness is breaching the trust of others. There may be other problems that crop up along life’s road, but this isn’t going to be one of them.
  3. Be grateful. Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness. I find that when I am grateful to someone and express it, I feel an endorphin rush. And because it feels so good to express gratitude, I try to do it every single day. I have found that being grateful helps to create a balance in my life that pushes up the happiness meter.
  4. Serve others. Years ago, I discovered that getting out of myself was a major factor in being a perpetually happy person. Rather than dwelling on my own inadequacies, mistakes and failures, I found that serving others produced those same endorphins I felt when I was in gratitude. When I could make others happy it became infectious and made me happy as well. I volunteered at a children’s hospital; have served as a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs; created a scholarship program for young people studying to be teachers, and many other examples.
  5. Turn the tables. Look, I said it before. Hard times are inevitable. But we can use them to learn and grow. We can use them to stimulate creativity and innovation. I have come to thrive on complexity and challenges that some might find would push them over the edge. Instead, I say, “bring on the tough stuff!” I’m not about to be defeated by hard times because they present an opportunity to excel and move to even higher levels of performance. And that’s just as applicable in my personal life as it is in my business.

Hard times and happy times can coexist. We need to recognize that happiness is a choice and it can be realized when we operate in integrity, express gratitude, serve others and use our challenges as opportunities for growth.

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.

Stacking the Deck

We entrepreneurs are winners at heart. Every day is like the Super Bowl or the World Series for us. It kills us when we lose on a last second shot. We train like we’re going into battle. We sweat and bleed and play through the hurt if there’s a chance to score a touchdown. We endure winning streaks that we are convinced will never end and losing streaks that create the lowest of lows. Whenever possible we want the deck to be stacked in our favor. Here are some ideas for doing exactly that.

  1. Admit mistakes. I’ve always said that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. But this can be a trap for entrepreneurs. Why? Because false pride and arrogance can sometimes prevent us from quickly admitting our mistakes. We simply refuse to be wrong. And when it’s painfully obvious to others, we lose our credibility. The moral of the story is this. We admit our mistakes immediately, learn whatever there is to learn and move on. Doing so also garners more respect from our team when they see us take on this mantle of vulnerability.
  2. Always do the right thing. We always do the right thing – even when it’s to our disadvantage. This is all about integrity which is doing the right thing when no one is looking or will ever notice. This is all about looking in the mirror at the end of each day and knowing that we don’t have any regrets about how we treated other people.
  3. Show appreciation for others. Here’s another trap for us entrepreneurs to avoid. There are times when we can tend to believe that we are all important and single-handedly carry the day. In the process we may be seen by others as being arrogant. Very rarely is there a situation where the Lone Ranger-effect is a reality. Instead, our success is almost always the result of a team effort. As such, it is incumbent upon us to express gratitude and appreciation for the many things that others have done to contribute to our success.
  4. Be humble. I’ve always said that the bigger we become in terms of success and personal profile, the more humble we should be. While showing appreciation for others is part of this there is much more to it. We do our best to shine the spotlight on others. We are as gracious as we can possibly be. Rather than crashing around with our Type A personalities, we try and walk as softly as we can – almost to the point that others aren’t even aware we are there. We have enough self-confidence and self-awareness to know that we don’t have to be the center-of-attention to be highly successful.
  5. Always have a positive mindset. I have never encountered a situation where negativity produced a viable solution for anything. Positivity is contagious and is ours to model. When our team members see us remaining truly positive in the face of great adversity, they may be more inclined to do the same. Positive energy propels – negative energy repels. Who among us want to be around a negative person? When we can adopt the belief that what seems like failure in the moment is actually an opportunity for something bigger and better, we are well down the road to continued success.
  6. Persevere. The entrepreneurial game is a tough one. We get knocked down a lot. There are plenty of times that nothing seems to be going our way. But we always have a choice. We can throw in the towel or we can live by Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in to convictions of honor and good sense.” Endurance becomes our ability to outlast every challenge that comes our way.
  7. Laugh and have fun. We don’t always have to be so serious . . . and we don’t have to take ourselves seriously either. Entrepreneurship is not a life sentence to drudgery and misery. We should savor every breath we take as we walk this incredible planet. Laugh, laugh and laugh some more. And when we can laugh at ourselves that’s even better. The more our entrepreneurial journey can be fun, the more likely we are to be living our passion.

When put it altogether – admitting mistakes, integrity, appreciation, gratitude, humility, positivity, perseverance and laughter – we are clearly stacking the deck in our favor. This “extra edge” then sets us up for the success that is ours to claim.

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 126 – Easy Lifting.

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.

Savor the Sandwich

On October 30, 2002, David Letterman hosted the last appearance of Warren Zevon, an American rock singer-songwriter and musician. You may remember a couple of his most notable hits – Werewolves of London and Lawyers, Guns & Money. Zevon had appeared numerous times on Letterman’s show and the two had become fast friends. Recently, Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and Letterman spent an entire hour talking openly and frankly with Zevon about his plight. I watched the YouTube video of the show and was amazed at the humor and grace that Zevon displayed. One of the most simple of things he said was so profound, “You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.” Of course he went on to talk about enjoying every minute of playing in his band and playing with his kids. But the notion of enjoying something so mundane as a sandwich struck a chord with me. Tragically Zevon died on September 7, 2003 at the age of 56.

We entrepreneurs are in a constant state of hyper-drive. We all know that we should stop and smell the roses. We also know that we need to maintain work-life balance. And yet we can often find it difficult to carve time out of a packed schedule to do these things . . . or so we think. Part of the problem is the fact that we are so passionate about what we do. We’re obsessed with building our business. And I know for a fact that any entrepreneur who doesn’t have this obsession will either fail or be only marginally successful. But the passion and obsession does not mean that we can’t “savor the sandwich.”

What if we treated every interaction we have with others as though it would be the last time we would see them? What if every activity – professional or personal – was treated in similar fashion? The thought of this may seem somewhat morbid and maybe even hard to comprehend. But, what if . . . ? We all have a terminal diagnosis. We just don’t know whether it’s far into the future or right around the corner.

While this has been a difficult subject for me to get my head around, I’ve thought about it quite a bit the older I’ve become. I find that I prioritize differently. I want to make absolutely certain that the most important things on my to-do list are always finished. And at the same time, I have become more and more thankful for the little things in life. I revel in the warm sunshine and find moments of wonder gazing at a full moon. An early morning walk is no longer just exercise, but now a time for inspiration. Dinner at a favorite restaurant with my bride has become less about checking e-mail and social media, and more about the pinch-me feeling that is the result of nearly five decades together. No longer do I quickly scan through photos of my grandkids, but instead take in the twinkle in their eyes and the look of pure joy on their faces. During a meeting, I look around the room and think about how proud I am of the team we have assembled and what they are accomplishing. Of course there are obstacles that are faced every single day – but the endorphins are going full blast with the anticipation of how we will creatively overcome them together.

Savoring the sandwich means being present in every moment of every day. It means eliminating the “taking things for granted” syndrome that plagues each one of us to some degree. I have worked hard to develop the ability to compartmentalize the challenges we face in our enterprise. In so doing, I’m able to have greater appreciation for the little things that are happening around me. I am more obsessed than ever with scaling our various business initiatives. But I’m equally obsessed with seeing all of life in color. There’s no question that both can be done at the same time. Lending a helping hand to others, and expressing appreciation and gratitude to them is also part of the equation.

We have the ability to savor each sandwich as though it will be our last. And it doesn’t have to take the diagnosis of a terminal illness to unlock this ability.

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 5 – Now What?

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.

Entrepreneurial Insomnia

How well are you sleeping? I know many entrepreneurs who aren’t. The reasons are many. One particular friend of mine has been struggling with this for a while. He has started going to bed earlier each evening because he knows he is going to wake up around 3:30 or 4:00 and won’t be able to go back to sleep. So, he has resorted to getting up at that time and working for a few hours from home before heading to his office.

My friend explains that he is awakened because his mind starts churning. The frustrating thing for him is the fact that he knows he’s obsessing over small stuff – sometimes it’s infinitesimally small stuff. Most of the time the thoughts he is having are about things going on in his business that he shouldn’t even be worrying about. I certainly understand what he’s going through – I’ve been there many times myself. So what’s the solution?

For starters, my friend knows he needs to delegate. There are others in his organization who should be handling the issues that are keeping him awake. Thus, the first step in fixing his slumber problem is to make sure that he has people on his team who are responsible for handling the nitty-gritty items so that he can focus at working on his business rather than in it.

The next step in my friend’s process is physical activity. He is used to working out but there are days where he blows it off. Physical exercise produces endorphins which help reduce stress and generate positive feelings. A brisk walk or run along with lifting weights for 30 minutes or more each day will do the trick. If I miss a day due to travel I find myself actually craving my workout regimen. Generally I find that physical activity first thing in the morning gets my day started off right. My friend has re-committed to doing the same.

In addition to daily exercise it’s critical that we spend time becoming centered through meditation. This practice enables us to clear our minds of the clutter that tends to accumulate. My friend has attested to the benefits he enjoys when he meditates for 15 minutes each day. He finds that meditation lowers his blood pressure and pulse rate. He feels calmer as his anxiety melts away.

Journaling is another technique that has been helpful for my friend. He is working to become more disciplined at recording the various aspects of his day in a journal. Notes are made about the high points and the low points – he can then look for patterns that shed light on what might be working in his subconscious to keep him from sleeping.

Each of us has much for which to be grateful. My friend acknowledges this and is working on starting and ending each day in gratitude. I like to take this a step further. Before making any phone call or entering a meeting, I try to hold a thought of gratitude in my mind. It may just be an image of one of my daughters, my wife or my grandchildren. But whatever the thought or image, it sets the tone for my encounters with others, and it keeps a smile on my face throughout the day.

I gave my friend another piece of advice that works consistently for me. One way I avoid becoming too wrapped up in daily frustrations is to “get out of myself.” What does this mean? Very simply I find that when I am doing something for someone else I forget about my own troubles. There are so many ways to do this – large and small. Turning the focus away from ourselves and onto others can be a powerful sleeping pill. We go to sleep with the satisfaction that we helped make a difference in someone else’s life.

My friend is amazing at creating trust and building relationships with others. His whole face shone as he professed that the high point of his day is when he can make a sales presentation or interact with a prospective customer. I told him that he ought to program his schedule so that he can do this at least once a day. We should all make sure that we are doing what we love and enjoy every single day.

Entrepreneurial insomnia can be cured by a cocktail of physical activity, meditation, maintaining a journal, living in gratitude, getting out of ourselves and dose of doing something we love each day. I guarantee that if you follow this recipe you’ll sleep like a baby. Sweet dreams.

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 2 – The When Affliction.

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 Modern Day Entrepreneurial Leader

Are you an entrepreneurial leader? Leadership is such a broad topic that there are scores of books and blogs that focus on nothing else. Let’s scratch the surface by focusing on what leadership means in an entrepreneurial environment.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is humble. He or she happily gives credit to others for successes realized by the enterprise. By being comfortable in his/her own skin, this entrepreneur delights in shining the spotlight on members of the team who achieve and excel. He or she is also quick to take the blame if something goes wrong. And there’s no pointing of fingers at team members who failed when this happens. This entrepreneur realizes that leadership is all about building other people up – not tearing them down.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is always aware of others with whom he or she is interacting. This entrepreneur acknowledges them and shows genuine interest in their wellbeing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is first nature for this person. Regardless of another individual’s station in life, the modern day entrepreneurial leader treats everyone in the same positive and uplifting manner. A smile, eye contact and a heartfelt “thank you” are equally extended to the barista in the coffee shop, the checker in the grocery store and the Fortune 500 CEO.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader always eats last. This may occur literally at the company’s annual picnic, or metaphorically on payday. If a venture is struggling to gain traction and is short on cash, this entrepreneur will make sure everyone else on the team gets paid first. In some instances this leader will even max out a credit card to bridge the gap until revenues from the enterprise provide the necessary cash to keep going.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is strategic. He or she understands the difference between strategy and tactics and works tirelessly to refine a winning strategy. This strategy is then communicated effectively to each team member who understands exactly how they fit in the organization and what their roles and accountabilities are. The entrepreneur spends more time working “on” his/her business than working “in” it.

While being strategic, the modern day entrepreneurial leader isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty either. If there’s a job to be done and no one to do it, this leader jumps in to fill the gap. This could mean anything from answering a phone on the switchboard, making a sales call, spending an hour on the production line (because the individual normally assigned suddenly became ill), to cleaning snow off the front entry stoop. The entrepreneur never believes that any of these tasks are “beneath” him or her.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is a visionary. He or she can clearly articulate the organization’s vision in a way that is understandable to all involved. And this leader is constantly looking at the industry, the enterprise and the customer to find new ways to innovate. The result may be the creation or refinement of products and services as well as ideas for streamlining the way those products and services are delivered.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader understands the value proposition and can differentiate his or her products/services. This can be a major problem for businesses at all stages of the lifecycle. A muddled approach to the value proposition can lead to confusion and apathy in the marketplace. This leader makes certain that the benefit of his/her products or services is very clear to the customer, and it’s easy to see that such benefits are significantly greater than with competing products or services.

Finally, the modern day entrepreneurial leader is the leading advocate of core values for the enterprise. He or she is always modeling them and high-fiving team members who do the same. These core values aren’t window dressing, but instead are foundational elements for the daily operation of the organization. This leader is also laser-focused on building a strong and positive culture. There is a realization that having the right team members on the bus is paramount and the entrepreneur works tirelessly to ensure that individuals who are not a cultural fit are excused from the enterprise. Further, each team member always knows where he or she stands from a performance perspective. This leader does not use blunt honesty that could harm morale. Instead he or she practices the approach of warm candor where a team member understands where improvement is needed without being destroyed in the process.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is the complete package. He or she is humble; easily expresses gratitude; puts his/her needs secondary to other team members; is strategic; isn’t afraid to get dirty hands; is a visionary; understands the value proposition, and is the leading advocate for core values and culture.

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 105 – The Case of the Frozen Hostage.

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.