The Pendulum Of Life And Success

Pendulum

Life is a lot like a pendulum. On the one side of the pendulum is the potential for happiness, fulfillment, excitement, variety, interest; and on the other side is the potential for failure, risk, disappointment, and criticism.

If the pendulum stands still and doesn’t swing then nothing happens. Sure you don’t have failure, you don’t have any risk, you don’t have any disappointment, and no one says anything bad about you, in fact nothing bad ever really happens to you, you are insulated from disappointment; however, nothing really good happens to you either, you miss out on all the excitement of life, the fulfillment, the variety, the interest and the happiness.

YOU CANNOT SWING A PENDULUM ONLY ONE WAY.

Think about this for all aspects of your life. In every relationship there is a risk that your heart can be broken, but that doesn’t stop you from entering the relationship.

When you raise a family there is a risk that your child will make bad choices that bring pain to themselves and others, that shouldn’t stop you from starting a family.

When you start a business there is the risk that you will fail (in business this is a very real risk).  But we can’t run from risk forever.  We can’t avoid the POTENTIAL for pain for so long that we miss out on the other side.  Whenever we take a risk it is because we want what is on the other side of the pendulum, and we are willing to deal with what comes our way.

Now think about your business and your career. On the one side is financial freedom, excitement, fulfillment, success, but on the other side is the POTENTIAL for rejection, criticism, failure and disappointment.  I know many people who stay at careers they hate for too long, or don’t embrace their true desire for (again I repeat) the “Potential” of rejection, criticism, failure and disappointment.

Unfortunately in business I see many people who let the pendulum stand still. They don’t want the failure, the rejection or the disappointment, so they don’t take massive action where risk is present (which risk is generally just emotional, such as rejection). However, what they fail to recognize is that by making this choice they are also missing out on the other side of the pendulum – financial freedom, fulfillment, variety and excitement.

My advice – swing that pendulum high!!!!

The less you are scared of the “bad side” of the pendulum and are willing to charge ahead (who cares if you fail anyway, failure is never permanent unless you accept it as such) then the pendulum will eventually swing to the good side.

I believe this to be a universal law – if you are willing to push the pendulum to the “scary side” then it will inevitably swing the other way!

Happy Birthday Bud. I Miss You. Thanks For The Lessons You Taught Me

joe puffer

[below is a re-post from an article I wrote about Joe Kincheloe on December 19th, 2013 (five years after he died).  Today (December 14th) is his birthday.  You can find the original article here]

Today I feel inspired, reflective, maybe a little sad as well.

Tomorrow is exactly five years from the time that Joe Kincheloe died.  Many people know Joe as a scholar and writer.  He was a Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. He wrote more than 45 books, numerous book-chapters, and hundreds of journal articles in diverse areas relating to education and critical studies.  He was prolific, successful, and extremely influential.

He was also my father-in-law, and a loyal and trusted friend.

I think about Joe often.  He is easily on a short list of the most influential men in my life.  He is the strongest influence on my desire to become a writer.  My first book (soon to be released) is dedicated to him.  

So tonight, as I reflect on his life, and our interactions, while listening to The Stones, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Warren Zevon, and Tony and the Hegemones (music that reminds me of Joe), I wanted to share some of the wisdom that he shared with me when he was here.

Some things were direct, things that he’d tell me when we’d go on walks through the woods near his home in Morin Heights, Quebec.  Others things I just noticed about him, and they were things that I observed in his habits and in his interactions with other people.  They are in no particular order, just powerful little tendencies exhibited by a man who really knew how to live.

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1. The taxi driver is as important as the President 

Everyone who knew Joe had some memorable anecdote that went something like this: they’d leave Joe just for a moment, perhaps to check in to a hotel room, go to the bathroom, maybe drop into a store, only to come back and find Joe interacting with someone like he was their long lost brother.  It was uncanny, and amazing.  He could, and would, make friends with everyone.  His smile was infectious.  He was the most unpretentious person I have ever met, and he had valid reasons to be pretentious.  I have been around so many people in my life who hide behind their titles and accomplishments, or even worse, shove them in my face to make them feel superior.

Joe was the opposite of this.  He would literally treat the taxi driver with the same respect and dignity that he would show to a world leader.  You’d never know that he was so successful and accomplished, because he never talked about it.  The guy wrote 45 books, he had three graduate degrees.  His intellect was off the charts, but he didn’t hide behind his titles and successes.  He was the most real person I’ve ever met. He was always focused on the person in front of him.  He is the best conversationalist, by a long shot, that I have ever encountered in my life, and his methods were actually quite simple: focus on the person in front of you, treat them like they are the most important person in the world.

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2. If you’re going to rock, then really rock

Joe epitomized living in the moment, and really “feeling” what he was doing.  He loved music.  He was a talented piano player, and he would do concerts with his band “Tony and the Hegemones”.  When he rocked he really rocked.  Sweat pouring off him rock.  Full immersion.  Like he was a real rock star (to us he was).

You couldn’t listen to him, or watch him perform, without smiling, without tapping your feet, and without moving a little.  Whether it was a Tom Petty cover, or a Joe Kincheloe original.  When he played, he was the music, and you felt it.

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3. Sit down and do your work 

This is perhaps the most practical, success related, thing that Joe ever taught me.  Interesting thing is that he never once told it to me.  I just noticed it from him. I watched him, like the young impressionable man that I was.

It isn’t by luck that the man wrote 45 books.  He was a machine.  He was relentless in his habits.  When it was time to rock he rocked. But when it was time to write, he wrote, and he rarely missed it.  His discipline and habits, his ability to put his butt in the chair was remarkable. It taught me a powerful lesson, one that I try to implement every day as well:  just sit down, shut up, and do my work.  Do my work and the results will follow.  Do my work and everything else that I want is possible.  But first I must do my work.

4. There is nothing wrong with being a crazed fan 

Joe was a wild (if perhaps not somewhat obsessed) Tennessee Volunteers football fan.  Watching college football with him was an experience unto itself, and I loved it.  I literally logged dozens and dozens of hours sitting with him just watching football.  Since I was in school for most of our relationship, and they lived in either New York or Montreal, Meg and I would often go see them during winter vacation (college football bowl time).  Those were some of my fondest memories.

You know what?  If you’re going to be a fan, then be one, and there’s nothing wrong with loving your team, no matter what team that is.  That is what Joe taught me.  He unapologetically cheered, like a little kid, for his team, and I think what he was really saying was just be who you are.  Love who you are.  Love what you do.  Embrace every moment.

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5. Pursue what you believe in, even (especially) if it is scary 

Joe was a master story teller. I can’t even pretend to do justice to his stories.  They were so unbelievable that at times I wondered if I was listening to a life akin to the movie “Big Fish”.  But every story that he told was true (at least he claimed).  Many of his stories dealt with his many adventures being a counter-cultural youth in the bible belt south.  One of my favourite stories was when he was wrongfully accused, arrested and detained as an undergraduate for “inciting a riot”.  I’m laughing just thinking about that story.

The reality is that Joe had beliefs about education, corporate power, race and gender inequality, and government corruption that sometimes placed him in opposition to the ruling majority.  Did he hide?  Did he conform?  Quite the contrary.  He lived what he believed.  He wrote what he believed.  Even if it led to circumstances that other’s would find stressful, and scary.  Best of all was that he could laugh about all of it.  Truly a remarkable man.

6. Good things take time, and that’s a good thing

When Joe graduated with his doctorate the only job that he could find was on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota at Sinte Gleska College.  I think a lot of people would be discouraged at this prospect.  Not Joe, he wasn’t wired that way.  He pretty much became an honorary member of the Sioux Nation.  I’m not kidding. He embraced that role so much that he became beloved.

That was how Joe rolled.  He wasn’t driven by instant gratification.  He knew that getting his message across, and creating social change would take time, and he was willing to go in it for the long haul.  One article at a time, one book at a time, one student at a time, one mind at a time.  Complete immersion in the moment of what he was doing.  When we had his life celebration it was packed with former students.  People who could write their own articles on the things that Joe taught them.  Even though he left us early, he did more in the time that he had than most people could ever dream of.

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7. There is beauty all around 

Joe had a gift for capturing, through poems and songs, the subtle beauties of life.  He wrote songs for all his grandkids.  I have the original copies of those songs for my daughter Maci and my son Cohen.  They are so beautiful.  It is hard to read them without getting emotional.  He had a gift of seeing the good in everything.  The good in people, and the good in situations.

My son Cohen was born with severe complications.  It was a stressful time, full of tears, worries and anxiety.  I had to take a leave of absence from work.  It was the most uncertain moment of my life.  Joe was such a support, always there to cheer us up.  We lived for many months in Montreal during this time (as Cohen was at the Montreal Children’s Hospital).  I can remember many moments where he would encourage us, cry with us, and make us laugh.  He helped us to see beauty in the very darkest moments of our life.

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8. Life is too short not to laugh, especially at yourself 

Joe had a gift of laughter, and he was especially adept at laughing at himself.  I’ll never forget the time when me and my friend Ali stayed with him for two weeks in Montreal to study for the bar exam.  He was “in the trenches” on a soon to be released book, Shirley (Meg’s mom and Joe’s wife) was away and so he wanted the company.  He’d write during the day, as we’d study for the bar, and then in the evening we’d watch sports.  It was a great time.

Well one day Joe needed a haircut, so he left to go into town (he lived in Morin Heights) a small town outside of Montreal near the Laurentian Mountains.  I think there was only one “stylist” in town and I think the only haircut they knew was the 1980’s bowl cut, Gerard Depardieu, cropped over the ears style, because that is exactly what he came home looking like.  It was hilarious, and ridiculous.  Joe walked in to the house, and immediately, as soon as me and Ali saw him, we burst out laughing.  Then he burst out laughing also.  Soon all three of us were just gut laughing.  Finally as soon as Joe could manage he said “do I look like Gerard Depardieu?”.  He never did get his hair fixed.  He maintained his Gerard Depardieu until it morphed into his customary mullet.  Good times.  I think everyone who knew Joe had a story that involved something he said or did where he had a good laugh at himself.

If the world knew how to laugh at itself, the way Joe could laugh at himself, it would be a much different (and better) place. 

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Man we miss you Joe.  You left us way to early.  But thank you for sharing your time with us.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.  Thank you for teaching us.  You’re in our hearts tonight. We love you.

The Two Most Empowering Words

Comittment

What are the two most empowering words?

Most of the time we operate from a position of:

“I’d like to”; or

“It would be nice if”; or

“I want”,

However, there is a completely different mentality, a much more empowering and powerful mindset, when you operate from the position of “I will”.

The words “I will” are the two most empowering words we can use.

The moments in my life where I felt the greatest level of personal power have been those moments where I experienced absolute certainty. They were the moments that I knew that I would accomplish something specific. I knew something was going to happen, and I was willing to do whatever it took, no matter what, to make it come about.

Something happens to a person when they pass a threshold point, where they no longer wish, desire, hope, want or even dream, but rather they move to a position of absolute certainty that they will obtain a given result. They move from desire to absolute belief.

This state, in my opinion, is the most empowered state that a person can reach – a state of absolute certainty that a particular result will occur.

It all begins with a thought that is generated in your mind – a thought about something that is desirable to you. In many cases we don’t believe that the thoughts that we have will actually come to pass. We may dream of our business being a certain way, or our life looking a certain way, but we don’t really believe it. We don’t really think that it will happen. So we let the thought go, it passes, and we continue on with our day to day life.

However, every once in while we get a thought that we embrace as a real belief. We move that thought away from a “wish” to a “certainty” as we tell ourselves that it will occur.

A perfect example is the person who, at some point, looks in the mirror and they don’t like what they see (physically) so they decide right there to change it, and they do. All of us know people who have that story.

Think about a time in your life where you made a real change, or took real action in a certain direction. There was a moment of certainty where you actually believed that a given result was in your power, and you knew that you would do whatever it took to bring it about. The thoughts of discouragement, fear, or even the time that it would take to bring about the result weren’t on your mind. You knew that you would get the result, no matter what. Absolute certainty translates into reality. There is magic in this.

The exciting thing is that you can train your mind so that you live with certainty all the time. When you start out small, and build on your belief, then you are able to take on larger goals, and know with certainty that you will achieve them.

So start with something small. What is something that you could do for yourself or your business? Something that is totally within your control?

Think about that in your mind. Then do it. Absolutely follow through. You will engage the process of turning thoughts into reality because what you follow through on began with just a thought. Once you have completed this once, do it again.

Do it again, and again, and again, so that it becomes part of you. Once this pattern is conditioned inside of you, you will find yourself thinking larger thoughts and knowing with certainty that you will achieve them because you have conditioned this pattern of belief in your mind.

It all starts with a thought, and then a pattern of action brought about by the two most empowering words

“I will”

How To Change Your Own Mood (An Entrepreneur’s Magic Weapon)

Tired

All entrepreneurs (even ones who are full of passion and engagement for their work) feel fatigue from time to time.  It is natural, and it is human.

I felt fatigue today.  I woke up and I felt “down”.  I honestly had no rational basis for feeling this way.  This past month our business made more money than we have ever earned.  All time highs in profit.  I’m just coming off several public speaking gigs (including a TEDx talk), and I have many other public speaking opportunities and workshops lining up.  Books sales of Unsuited are doing well. I’m engaged in some really interesting consulting files.  I do what I love, on my own time frame.  Really I have no reason -NONE – to feel down.

But I still felt down this morning anyway.

So what do you do when you are an entrepreneur and you feel down?  How do you deal with it?

One of the benefits of being an employee is that you have to show up for work, even when you are tired.  Otherwise you will lose your job.

What…..that doesn’t sound like a benefit.

Well it is a benefit if you are an entrepreneur because you want to show up for work each day.  That is how to make things great, and you want accountability to show up each day.

When you are an entrepreneur you don’t have someone watching over you.  So you can “not show up for work” and no one will know.  You can even rationalize it, and say “it doesn’t matter today”, “one day is no big deal”. However when you get in the habit of doing this, you run many risks.  One day turns into another day, and another, and before you know it your business is in trouble (if you even have a business left at all).

I’ve learned in my seven years of 100% self-employment, that the freedom that I get from being an entrepreneur has a real cost.  The cost is that I have to show up every day.  The cost is discipline.

The cost is that I can’t use “I feel down” as an excuse.  I can’t be a tumbleweed of emotion.  I have to change my emotion on my own.  I have to master my internal state. 

So here is a trick that I’ve learned that can be employed by any of you (who are also self-employed or commission based sales) for those days that you don’t really feel like “showing up” for work. For those days that you feel down:

Emotion is created by motion.  If I don’t feel like working, then I really, really, really need to get to work.  There is magic in work however, because as soon as I start taking action my emotions will change. It is 100% guaranteed.  Pretty soon I will feel ok, and I will have momentum, and I will be grateful that I didn’t waste the day just because I “initially” felt tired or down.

Specifically there are two strategies that I use to change my own state:

1. Move and breathe

This is magic.  Take 20 deep breaths into your stomach.  Go for a brisk 20 minute walk.  You will get the blood flowing, your brain will get that oxygen that it needs and you will start feeling good.

2. Hit a “flow state” as quickly as possible.

Immediately engage a flow state.  Start a project that requires your total energy and focus to complete it.  When you channel a flow state you lose your sense of consciousness of the self.  All of your focus and attention is directed on the accomplishment of a specific task.  When you do this you stop thinking about “the fact that you feel down”.  Within an hour or two you feel great. I personally also like to use music to channel flow.  Putting on motivating music in the background as I work.  This works for me.

Flow is a state change drug.  It is powerful

So this morning, when I was feeling down, I knew that I needed to do both of these strategies as quickly as possible.   So I did them.  I moved and breathed and I hit flow (in my case I worked on a presentation for a new workshop that I am developing).  Within two hard hours of hard work I felt great.

This general concept is also explained by Og Mandino (from the Greatest Salesman In The World):

It is one of nature’s tricks, little understood, that each day I awaken with moods that have changed from yesterday.  Yesterday’s joy will become today’s sadness; yet today’s sadness will grow into tomorrow’s joy. Inside of me is a wheel, constantly turning from sadness to joy, from exultation to depression, from happiness to melancholy….weak is he who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts…

If I feel ill I will double my labor

If I feel fear I will plunge ahead..

From this moment I am prepared to control whatever personality awakes me in a day. I will master my moods through positive action.  

So the next time you don’t feel like it, just start.  You’ll feel better shortly.

Remember – you are the master of your emotions.  You are not “what happens to you”.  Your emotional state is a factor that is 100% within your control.

A Powerful Story About Kindness

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Here is a powerful story to ponder as we start to shift our focus to a new year.

We should consider how we treat everyone in our life, and whether we could make incremental changes to perhaps be a little more kind.

More kind to those closest to us, but also to those who may be strangers, or unlikely to provide any “relationship capital” in our lives.

More kind to those that we have no potential monetary benefit by being more kind to.

I believe that kindness is a small but unbelievably powerful concept that is nothing but a benefit.  To be kind is not to be weak.  To be kind is not to lose ground. To be kind is not to be taken advantage of. To be kind is to express the best that is in us.

As told by Benjamin Zander in his great book “The Art of Possibility

A monastery has fallen on hard times. It was once part of a great order which, as a result of religious persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, lost all its branches. It was decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the mother house: the Abbot and four others, all of whom were over seventy. Clearly it was a dying order.

Deep in the woods surrounding the monastery was a little hut that the Rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. One day, it occurred to the Abbot to visit the hermitage to see if the Rabbi could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot and commiserated. “I know how it is,” he said, “the spirit has gone out of people. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old Rabbi and the old Abbot wept together, and they read parts of the Torah and spoke quietly of deep things.

The time came when the Abbot had to leave. They embraced. “It has been wonderful being with you,” said the Abbot, “but I have failed in my purpose for coming. Have you no piece of advice that might save the monastery?” “No, I am sorry,” the Rabbi responded, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.

When the other monks heard the Rabbi’s words, they wondered what possible significance they might have. “The Messiah is one of us? One of us, here, at the monastery? Do you suppose he meant the Abbot? Of course—it must be the Abbot, who has been our leader for so long. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas, who is certainly a holy man. Or could he have meant Brother Elrod, who is so crotchety? But then Elrod is very wise. Surely, he could not have meant Brother Phillip—he’s too passive. But then, magically, he’s always there when you need him. Of course he didn’t mean me—yet supposing he did? Oh Lord, not me! I couldn’t mean that much to you, could I?”

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect, on the off chance that one of them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, people occasionally came to visit the monastery, to picnic or to wander along the old paths, most of which led to the dilapidated chapel. They sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that surrounded the five old monks, permeating the atmosphere. They began to come more frequently, bringing their friends, and their friends brought friends. Some of the younger men who came to visit began to engage in conversation with the monks. After a while, one asked if he might join. Then another, and another. Within a few years, the monastery became once again a thriving order, and—thanks to the Rabbi’s gift—a vibrant, authentic community of light and love for the whole realm.

The Power of Shaking Up Your Routine

New Way

Routines are powerful. Habits control most of our life, whether we like it or not. Most of what we do is automatic. If we tracked our behaviour for a week we would realize this to be true.

As a result, one of the ways to take control of our life is to take control of our habits. This doesn’t just apply to our personal life. Habits control our business, and physical health as well.

Every once in a while however it is meaningful to break routine – to do something unexpected, unplanned, spontaneous, just because.

Take a look at your goals. It is likely (if you are actually taking action beyond just wishing and hoping that your life will change) that you have established a fairly well worn pattern of routine about what you are doing to achieve a particular goal.

This is a good thing, because as noted, habits control your life, and if you can establish good habits relating to your business or career activity, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your goal.

Here are the reasons however, that breaking routine every once in a while is a good idea:

  • It keeps you fresh, creates variety and leads to a better overall experience. Doing something new and unexpected is like an adventure. You aren’t sure what you will get (since you probably haven’t done it before). This is fun;
  • A better overall experience will lead to more engagement and fulfillment in your life (so that your life doesn’t become only results or rewards based). There are psychological studies that suggest that solely focusing on the external rewards of a behaviour can actually decrease your intrinsic motivation to pursue that behaviour long term (see Daniel Pink’s book Drive for example). By breaking routine you can enjoy the process of achievement, not just the results, this is very important; and
  • It gives you a view from 30,000 feet for a moment as to whether your routines are actually effective. Sometimes we get stuck in a hypnotic trap of thinking that what we are doing is effectively moving us closer to our goals when in reality it is just a non-effective behaviour that we have cemented into a habit. We think that we are taking effective action, but in many cases we aren’t. Breaking routine can help you to introspect and look back at your habits and see if they are effective or not.

What are some examples:

  • Do something tomorrow to market your business that you have never done before but that you have heard other people try;
  • Change up your exercise routine just for the day. Try a new exercise. See if you like it; and
  • Do something totally unexpected with your family today, or with your partner. This will engage excitement and fun and make life less of a grind.

An Entrepreneur’s Most Powerful Teacher: The Truth

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The truth can be very difficult to embrace.  We tell ourselves stories all the time to avoid the truth:

  • My job isn’t that bad (when we are really living in quiet desperation);
  • I’m doing my best (when we know that we have way more to give);
  • It’s not my fault (when we know deep down inside that we should take more self-responsibilty);
  • This is good enough (when we really yearn for more);
  • Nothing is working (when we know that we haven’t really tried “everything”, we’ve only tried a few strategies);
  • I don’t have the knowledge, money or skill set to get this venture going (when we know that other people, with less knowledge, money and skill have succeeded);
  • The job market, and economy is no good.  It’s not a good time to change careers or start this business (when we know that this is just an excuse that allows us to hide behind our fears);
  • I don’t have enough time to start a business (when we know that we waste tons of time each week watching TV or surfing the net);
  • I’m entitled to this (when we know that we are entitled to nothing)

The list goes on and on. We all lie to ourselves in some way or another. I definitely have.  You have too.

Why do we lie to ourselves? Why do we avoid the truth?  Why do we tell ourselves stories?

  • It is easier.  We don’t have to accept responsibility.  Being a victim is much easier than being responsible;
  • It allows us to avoid taking action. This is important since most of the action that we really “should” take is scary, and way outside of our comfort zone;
  • We’ve been socialized to think that if we go to school, get degrees and be “good people” that success is our right and it should come to us.  Unless we are fortunate to have “tough love” mentors in our lives, or unless we came from nothing (and feel entitled to nothing) we can live in the entitlement mindset for much of our lives;
  • You need very strong internal self-esteem, and an internal locus of control, to be able to objectively handle the truth – to objectify “failure” without becoming emotionally attached.  Many of us simply don’t have that self-esteem.  Our sense of self-esteem is not independent from our accomplishments – it is “accomplishment generated”.  When your self-esteem is “accomplishment generated” you don’t want to feel that you messed up, or took the wrong path, or failed because it impacts your sense of self-worth.  You have a motivation to pass the blame on to someone else – to avoid the truth – so that you can preserve your self-image.

Embracing the truth is one of the most powerful things that an entrepreneur can do.

When you embrace the truth you see the establishment of your business as an “objective feedback loop” unattached to your sense of self worth.

  • You take an action;
  • You get a response;
  • If it’s a response that you want, then you judge the action to be good;
  • If it’s a response that you don’t want then you just take different action.

There is no emotional attachment.  No sadness.  No failure.  You collected a data point, and used that data point to your advantage.

The truth is your data point.  In fact, it is the only data point that exists in an entrepreneur’s life. 

What you think about your business, what your friends and family think about your business, and what you hope for in your business really means nothing.

What matters is the data that you get.  Data presents the facts, and the facts are your most important asset.

  • If you’re having a hard time selling your product or service, this is just a data point telling you that either your product or service hasn’t created value to customers, or your sales process (ie. how you are going about selling it) is not sufficiently communicating that value;
  • If 20% of your actions in marketing are yielding you 80% of your results – this is a data point telling you that on the next marketing phase you need to do more of the marketing actions that yield you the results and less of the actions that don’t.
  • Even if the business fails all together (which we hope that it doesn’t).  This doesn’t mean that you should just resign yourself to your job that you hate.  It doesn’t mean that you “don’t have what it takes” to be an entrepreneur.  It just means that something didn’t work right. Either your product or service didn’t have good value, or you couldn’t connect with your target market, or you ran out of (or mismanaged) your money, or you were missing a very important skill set in your executive team.  The list could go on and on.

It is all just data.  It is all education.  If you have an empowering mindset then you can take it all in, you can learn from it, and on your next go round you can avoid those mistakes. 

That is why entrepreneurs talk so much about the “journey being so rewarding”.  When you are an entrepreneur you are in a never ending educational feedback loop.  If you intrinsically enjoy education and learning (which I think everyone does) then you are set up to enjoy your entire life.

Embrace the data.  Embrace the truth.  Don’t hide or shy from it.  Strip yourself bare.  Expose your insecurities.  Allow all your failures to be felt and seen. This honesty will allow you to get the most from the data.  The truth can be your biggest asset as an entrepreneur.

Do You Risk Failure And Live With No Regrets?

Michael Jordan on court at career finale

I just finished Roland Lazenby’s book Michael Jordan: The LifeI strongly recommend it – not just for the basketball or MJ fan (both of which I am) but for anyone who wants to gain incredible insight from one of the most remarkable successes the world has ever seen.

What impressed me most, after reading the book, was not MJ’s legendary work ethic, or competitive drive.  I was aware of both of these traits before I read the book.

What I didn’t realize however, and what became evidently clear by reading the book, was just how willing MJ was to expose himself to potential failure so that he could live with no regrets and repeatedly test himself.

I think that prior success can sometimes be one of the biggest barriers to future success. When we are successful at one thing we now have “something to lose” – at a minimum the pride associated with our prior success.  This can make us risk adverse, wanting to play it safe so that our pristine “success record” remains intact. 

When we do this however, not only do we miss out on potential opportunities but we don’t fully live.  A fulfilling life is a life that involves continual growth.  Continual growth however isn’t possible without the potential for pain, setbacks and failure.  I think that a truly remarkable person is someone who doesn’t allow prior success to define their willingness to try (and potentially fail) in the future.

MJ repeatedly displayed this character trait. 

Think about it – after winning three NBA championships – in a row – he left to pursue a lifelong dream to see if he could make it as a big league baseball player.  The best basketball player in the world was willing to ride a AA baseball bus in Birmingham Alabama just so that he could live with no regrets – knowing that he gave it a shot.

After his comeback, and second three-peat championship run with the Bulls, he retired, only to come back three years later as an aged player, without the once unmatched physical gifts, because he felt that he had more in the tank and he wanted to live without regrets.  This time – with the Wizards – the results didn’t mirror the prior success he had with the Bulls, but the larger principle (at least to me is resounding):

He was willing to fail, and get criticized in the process, despite having achieved unprecedented success, so that he could test himself and live with no regrets. 

I find that so inspiring – such a model of how I hope to live my life.

I think the only reason that we wouldn’t risk failure, in the face of prior success, is because we aren’t secure in ourselves, and we use our past success to bolster our otherwise weak emotional ecosystem and self-esteem.

But if you are secure in yourself, if you don’t need to hide behind achievements to support your lack of independent self-esteem, then you are willing to risk failure so that you can continually challenge yourself and live with no regrets. 

That is how I want to live.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A Simple Concept Powerful Enough To Change Your Entire Life

No one is coming

The most powerful concept that I’ve ever encountered is something that will scare most people.

It is something that most people will innately resist because all of our social conditioning, all of our spiritual beliefs (if we have them), all of our insecurities, fears, and anxieties desperately want this concept NOT to be true.

All of the assurances and assistance of loving and well-meaning mentors, parents, support networks, friends, partners, counsellors, suggest that this concept in fact ISN’T TRUE.

But if it were true – the way that we approached life would drastically change, and if you lived AS IF IT WERE TRUE then your life would immediately change as well.

You’d be more assertive and self-responsible, you’d have more self-esteem, you’d take greater action, you’d be more courageous, you’d be less concerned about what others thought, you’d organize your time better, you’d be more grateful, and you’d be happier.

I know – because I’ve been attempting (with my best efforts) to live this concept for several years and I have watched all of these things improve in my own life.

Here is the concept:

I am entitled to nothing, and no one is coming to help me.

Do you think you can live this concept?

I know I’ve sure had trouble with it, for all of the reasons noted above, and as a result, at one time in my adult life I thought that I was entitled to happiness. I thought I was entitled to success.  I thought I was entitled to an empowering career, and everything that went with it.

This entitlement mentality led me to be passive, and then when things didn’t initially transpire the way I wanted them to, I started to believe that I was a victim.  I started to become disempowered

Everything changed when I stopped feeling entitled.  Everything changed when I realized that if I wanted change, then I had to change.  No one could fix the circumstance but me. 

I can absolutely assure you that the closer I get to living this concept the closer I also get to living my personal best, reaching my own unique potential, and the happier I also get.

Everything we know to be true about life resists this idea – that we are alone.  We don’t want it to be true.  We’ve been brought up to believe that it isn’t true.  We’ve been continually assured that there are people there to help us, forces that will “assist us” and give us what we want.  We have been conditioned to believe that if we will just be good people, and work hard then everything will work out.

What if that’s not that case?  What if we truly aren’t entitled to anything?  What if we are truly on our own?

I don’t know the answer to that question, and personally I don’t believe that it’s the case (that we are truly on our own).

However, I know with certainty that when I LIVE as if I’m entitled to nothing, when I live as if I’m not guaranteed any form of success, I’m not guaranteed any type of handout, and no one is coming to bail me out, this is what happens:

  • I ferociously attack life with a spartan-like work ethic;
  • I’m as brave as a loving parent protecting their child from a kidnapper;
  • I’m as resourceful as I can possibly be;
  • I constantly look to add value because I know that nothing is certain, and nothing is entitled;
  • I manage my time like it’s life’s most precious gift; and
  • I am so grateful for everything good in my life, and I feel gratitude every day just for having another day to go after my dreams

Do those sound like things you want?

If you want them, you don’t have to necessarily believe that you are alone, and that you are entitled to nothing, and that no one will save you.

But you have to act like it. 

Finding Your Authentic Sphere Of Greatness

Your Authentic Sphere Of Greatness

We’re all different – that goes without saying, and because we’re all so different I’ve often thought that any “path to success” that is communicated by someone is misleading because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.

What one person defines as “successful” often has little meaning for another person.  For example, it is very possible that you could take someone who is highly content, and empowered, as a junior high teacher and insert him in the position of a CEO of a major corporation and the junior high teacher would be miserable, and immediately miss his old job empowering students.

Likewise, you could take an executive, who loves the thrill and rush that comes from making major decisions that affect thousands of people, negotiating big deals, and competing for market share, insert her in the position of a junior high teacher and she would be unhappy.  She would miss the rush that came with her former position, and want to go back.

Perspective (and experience) is in the eye of the beholder.  What is amazing for one person is miserable for another.  What is miserable for one person is super empowering for another. It makes me think about a quote from one of my all time favourite books – Walden by Henry David Thoreau:

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desparate enterprises?  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. 

Because of this – the fact that in order to be long term fulfilled we must march to the beat of our own unique drummer – the only real career advice that we should ever really want to follow is to make sure that we end up in the right position.

If we are empowered as a junior high teacher we need to make sure that we DON’T get that MBA – despite what anyone might say otherwise. Likewise if we are better suited to be an executive – we need to press on despite the daily stresses that we may feel along the way.

Long term fulfillment in our careers is about value alignment – it is about getting to actually experience the things that make us feel alive. It is not a generic path that involves making lots of money and having stuff that our neighbours envy.

Also – our ability to actually attain a level of mastery in our pursuits is going to hinge on whether or not we find an area to be intrinsically motivating.  If we are intrinsically motivated by something then we are moved to take action, independent of the external rewards that we accumulate, or the setbacks we experience.  We just keep at it because the “work is rewarding in and of itself”.

Many writers including Robert Greene in his book Mastery will concur – without a great sense of intrinsically motivating purpose in what we do we won’t stick with anything long enough.  The highly referenced “10,000 hour quota” (a la Malcolm Gladwell) will never be reached if we aren’t deeply motivated from a wellspring of internal fire.

Sometimes what we think we won’t be good at, or like, actually ends up being incredibly intrinsically motivating and rewarding.  That is why an open mind, and an willingness to experiment, and even fail, can be such an empowering mindset.

For example – when I was growing up I was shy and “uncomfortable in my skin”.  I had skipped a grade in elementary school (grade 5) so I often felt ostracized by my peers, and I felt that I didn’t fit in.  I found ways to blend it – for example sports became a refuge for me – but I never let the force of my personality free until much later in life.  By experimenting as an adult I discovered that writing and public speaking were flow channels that brought a tremendous amount of intrinsic enjoyment to me – two things that I have now built a life around as an adult.

Had I not been willing to experiment, and fail, I would have never discovered this and I would be missing out on a very empowering aspect of my life.

It is a travesty that children are conditioned to avoid failure. Failure is a meta-skill in the learning process, and a willingness to experiment and fail is one of the only portals to truly find out what brings you intrinsic fulfillment, and what you can become great in.

Have You Enrolled In “Downtime University”?

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As a society, we have some funny ideas. One of the strangest, in my opinion, is the approach that many people take towards the concept of education.

Education, for many, is that thing that happens early in life. We “become educated” (or so it is thought) so that we can positively contribute to society, and learn skills so that we can earn money (that we later put back into society through the process of consumption). Once we are “done” school, our life shifts to another phase – one that is more focused on “doing” and “consuming”

I recognize that not everyone thinks this way, but many do. It saddens me to see traditional bookstores disappear, while new reality TV shows blossom. I believe this trend is routed in the consumption based paradigm that pervades society so strongly.

Even education is seen as a “consumable” good, rather than a way of living. I consumed my fair share of traditional education – going to University for over 8 years and obtaining multiple degrees, including a graduate degree (not to mention over $100,000 of debt in the process). I enjoyed the expensive experience, however I am uncertain of the cost for value of the “good” at this point in my life – especially since I am not making in a living in the area that I went to school for (nor do I have any plans to do so).

Really however, I didn’t think that there were other options. I thought that traditional schooling was the only way to have a successful and prosperous life. Not only that, but I thought that an expensive education was the only way to learn. 

This understanding (that expensive education is the only way to learn) is a big fallacy that I’ve since come to learn just isn’t true.

It may have been the case for my father’s generation that schooling was the only place to learn – literally. Other than a major public library in an urban center you just couldn’t get the books otherwise. Clearly however this isn’t the case anymore. Name a University Course – I bet without spending much money (and far less than the cost of tuition) I could get access to all the course material online. So the only thing I’m missing out on, these days, would be the incredible quality of teaching from University Professors who are far more concerned about students learning than they are their own publications and research grants (those who’ve been to University will immediately catch my sarcasm…)

Simply put, University is not the only place to learn. It’s not even the most efficient place to learn, and it is easily the most expensive. Certain regulated industries (law, medicine, etc) require an “institutional stamp of approval” to begin a career, but for the vast majority of subjects, especially entrepreneurialism, the University experience is highly overrated. 

I remember one very positive interaction I had about the subject of learning with one of my law school professors. Truly he was an exception to my general experience with Professors, and for that I am very grateful. He taught me that “school” was not about learning – school was about school. Learning was something different, and didn’t need to happen within the walls of the school. In fact, most of the learning that truly “sinks in” is self-directed.

When he taught me this I was doing an independent research project on a subject that he had a particular interest in. I asked him if he took a lot of courses on the subject, or whether his PhD had focused on this area, when he was a student, to which he answered “no”. I was confused, and I asked him how he obtained his knowledge. His answer was simple and awesome. He smiled – pointed to books on his shelves – and said: I read books.

He reads books! I marvelled. No professor gave him permission to know a subject. He didn’t have to take a test. He simply read books, and that gave him knowledge. 

You could almost shut down University based on that concept alone.

About 4 years ago, in conjunction with my changing careers from lawyer to entrepreneur, I realized that there was so much that I wanted to learn that I hadn’t learned in school. I then made a very empowering realization that I had hours and hours of “downtime” in my life, that was either empty, or that I was filling with useless TV watching. Some of the “downtime” included simple things like doing the dishes, walking the dog, or driving. I decided that during this downtime (which would soon include any 10 minutes of space that I could squeeze in, at any time) I would create my own University:

I would call it “Downtime University”

What did I study in “Downtime University”? Mostly business and marketing (since that was what I wanted to do), but I soon took a couple courses in search engine optimization, then quite a few in philosophy, then a bunch in evolutionary biology, and religion, then quite a few in physics, then a couple more on marketing, a bunch on leadership, and then I found a niche and I’m pretty much doing a graduate degree in flow psychology and self-esteem studies right now.

My studies are ongoing. Estimated graduation time: Never

How did I do it? I read books – just like my professor said. I did it though Audible.com (and no I don’t get any $ from promoting Audible). I easily listen to 4-5 books a month by squeezing in a couple hours of downtime each day. I’ve been doing this for years. Since I’m interested in the subject matter I retain far more than I ever did as an undergraduate, or even a law student.

I have learned strategies that have paid off big time financially. I have learned about happiness (something they never teach in school anyway). I have learned how to run my brain (again something they don’t teach in school). My “Downtime University” has been so much more valuable than my traditional education, and it’s cost a hundred times less.

Enrol today. Study when you want, how you want. The returns are incredible. Join me in the graduating class of never!

What Happens On The Inside

 

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right. (Henry Ford)

More and more I believe that what happens on the “inside” is a far greater indicator of our ability to achieve a goal than anything else.

Any objective advantage that we might have by way of talent, a predisposition to action, smarts, or physical prowess can be rendered instantly useless in the presence of a weak emotional ecosystem and self-image.

Any disadvantage that we might objectively face is easily neutralized in the presence of a empowering mental self-image and emotional ecosystem.

Successful people know that they are going to be successful.  People who struggle believe that they are going to struggle. 

It is uncanny.  No matter how many biographies of successful people that I read I see the exact same pattern.  The successful person possesses a powerful internal emotional state.  They just believe that they are going to achieve what they want. It is only a matter of time.

I’ve seen it over and over again in my own life, and in my business.  The things that I pursue, that I truly believe that I will succeed in, I end up succeeding in.  The things that I pursue, where I doubt my ability to achieve, unless I can work on my inner belief system, I will inevitably struggle.

That isn’t to say that people who are successful don’t fail – no everyone fails at some point.  But successful people don’t define themselves, or alter their belief systems, because of a short term failure.

They believe that eventually, somehow, at some point the tide will turn and they will be successful.  So they keep at it. But what fuels them is their inner belief system.  The “inner” is so strong that any temporary failure is just a feedback loop that allows them to correct their behaviour and come back on the next go round much stronger. 

People with a weak “inner” ecosystem don’t react in the same way.  They allow the short term setbacks to define their reality.  But in essence their reality was defined long before they even started.  It was defined by their inner belief system.

In our business we train sales consultants to be successful, and this principle holds true 100% of the time – whether a consultant thinks they can, or thinks they can’t – they are right.  Belief always wins.  Our expectation of our potential always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

People who believe that they are going to succeed, do in fact succeed.  People who believe that they will struggle do in fact struggle. 

I think that whenever we set a new goal, before we jump into our plans on “how” we are going to achieve that goal, we check our “inner” self and make sure that we actually believe that we are capable of achieving the goal.  If we don’t believe that we can actually achieve the goal then a plan, no matter how strategic or precise that plan may be, will be useless. 

We have to fix the inner world, before we can experience what we want in the outer world.

How I Had To Change My Mindset When I Became An Entrepreneur

2008 was the last time that I received a paycheque as an employee.  Ever since that time, 100% of our family income has been business income derived from various entrepreneurial ventures.

I was reflecting on this today, and thinking about the mental shift that happened when I became an entrepreneur for the first time.  There were several “mindsets” that I had to change in order to be successful as an entrepreneur – some of which were very difficult to change because of deep routed mental conditioning.

I wanted to share five of these mindsets to those of you who may be starting new businesses, or entering into the world of entrepreneurship for the first time.

I discuss these mindsets in the “Employee To Entrepreneur Transition Workshop” that I teach.

1.  I had to stop thinking about myself as a wage earner, and instead become a “long term investor”.  

It can be pretty discouraging if you think of yourself solely as a wage earner when you are an entrepreneur, at least in the start-up phase. Until you get your business up and running your hourly wage is usually much lower than what you were making in your previous employment.  That is why you can’t think that way. I had to shift my focus to that of a long term investor.

A long term investor is patient because they know that, if their investment is sound, their long term payout will be very significant.  A long term investor mindset forces you to build a strong foundation for your business, and not cut corners just to make a quick profit.  A long term investor also understands the law of the harvest and the concept of seasons – seasons for planting, seasons for cultivating and seasons for harvesting.  A wage earner doesn’t understand these concepts.  If their wage gets impacted in the short term then they often look for new employment.  That is why very few wage earners ever generate real wealth.  Wealth comes to the long term investor.

2.  Instead of executing instructions I had to make decisions and create systems.

There are a lot of advantages in being employed.  One of them is that you generally have a set of job duties that you have to perform.  You don’t have to “guess” or “experiment” with what to do.  All you have to do is show up and execute properly and you get to keep your employment.

If only it were this easy as an entrepreneur. I had to learn to shift my thinking and embrace the fact that I had no boss, no set of instructions to execute, but rather I had to make decisions. I had to create systems.  No one would do it but me.  This, at first, for many entrepreneurs is a little unsettling, but over time it becomes a source of great pride and freedom.

3. There was no one up the line that I could pass responsibility to.  I had to become the backstop. 

This was probably the hardest lesson that I had to personally learn.  In every other employment situation I had been in there was always someone up the line.  I was never the ultimate boss, and so as long as I executed the instructions that I was given I would be ok.  If I was given bad instructions I could pass the responsibility up the line. It wasn’t my fault.  I was doing my job.

When I became an entrepreneur I had to embrace the fact that everything was my fault.  I had 100% responsibility for everything that happened, good and bad. I had no one to pass the blame to – no one to send it up the line.  I had to become the backstop. Again, at first this was somewhat unsettling, but over time this became a very empowering idea, and this idea actually became a keystone habit for me.  The more emotionally self-reliant I became in my business the more emotionally self-reliant I seemed to become in my personal life as well – and the less I wanted to criticize others or play the victim card.

4. Instead of job security for myself, I had to shift my focus to creating value for others.

My focus when I was an employee was on myself – how much was I getting paid, how many days vacation did I get, how would this job help MY career trajectory, how was MY job impacted by the economic slowdown.  MY, I, MY, I.

This shift in mindset is honestly one of the most refreshing and rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur.  Out of necessity I had to shift my thinking away from MY and I, and turn it outward to others.  I had to learn to create value for others.  If I couldn’t find a way to show others my value proposition then I wouldn’t be in business.

This shift away from me, and onto others, has been a critical factor in the enjoyment and fulfillment I feel as an entrepreneur.  If you find yourself unfulfilled and unhappy – you should consider how much time you focus on yourself, and how much time you focus on others. The correlation might surprise you.

5. Instead of avoiding criticism and failure, I had to seek out data and feedback

When I was employed criticism and failure were things to be avoided at all costs.  Severe criticism or catastrophic failure could be the end of the employment as I knew it.  As a result I’d hedge, I’d play safe, I’d execute instructions, and I could pass the blame up the line if necessary.

With this mindset what you don’t do is put yourself out there.  You don’t take massive risks.  You don’t innovate, if that innovation could cost you your job.

Everything is so much different when you are an entrepreneur.  You aren’t scared of criticism and failure doesn’t exist.  There is no such thing as failure – there is only feedback.  If you do something, and you don’t get the result that you want then you have a data point.  If it’s data that you don’t like then you just have to change your action.  This is the feedback loop.  Same thing for criticism.  It is good if it allows you to correct a process, or improve your service.  Innovation and risk taking is necessary.  You have to put yourself out there.

This point is the essence of the freedom that an entrepreneur feels – a freedom that I can’t, at this point, live without.  Even if all my business interests fail (which I don’t believe they will), and I am forced to find employment, it will only be for as long as I need to get my next entrepreneurial venture in play.  Once you have that taste of freedom you never want to go back.  You become an entrepreneur for life.

How To Reward Yourself As An Entrepreneur (And Why It Matters)

You’ve finally made the jump. You’re an entrepreneur.  You have a business of some kind, and no boss (other than yourself) to motivate you each day.  Awesome!  It is the best.

Question:  How do you reward yourself? 

Do you reward yourself materially after you’ve made those big bucks?  Perhaps you go out and buy yourself that fancy car?  Take that dream vacation?  Or purchase that home that’s been on your vision board all those years?

Perhaps. Those aren’t bad things.  But if that is the only way you reward yourself I’d throw in some caution.  

A lot of entrepreneurs give up and get discouraged long before they’ve ever earned enough in their business to get those things. 

So what are the other ways to reward yourself?  

What about emotionally?

Are emotional rewards only received when other people tell you how great your business is?  The local business pages write up a shining review of your innovation / service / or idea?  You get a profile in a business magazine?  You get glowing review after glowing review online from highly satisfied customers?

Those are all good things as well.  But if that is the only way to reward yourself emotionally I’d add caution again.

The journey that is involved in receiving any of these emotional rewards can be very difficult, and it is through the process of trial and error – trying things, seeing if they work, adjusting for what doesn’t work, taking new action, gauging feedback, adjusting again – over and over again that you eventually get your process and systems right so that you are in a position to receive these glowing reviews and testimonials.

You’ve got to reward yourself however during this feedback process.  You’ve got to learn to reward yourself before you make the big bucks, or get the glowing reviews.  If you don’t you’ll fizzle out.  You won’t have the emotional capacity to see your venture through.

So how do you do that?

How do you reward yourself in the lean months (or years)?

How do you reward yourself when you aren’t making the big bucks yet, and when you haven’t received dozens of glowing reviews….yet?

You do it by becoming a master of administering “self-rewards”, and frankly this can be one of the only things that will keep your spirit alive during those lean years.

What do I mean by “administering self-rewards”?

You’ve got to build an emotional eco-system that internally rewards action and detaches (at least in the early stages of your business) from results. 

Don’t get me wrong – results are critical.  Results are “data”.  They are what you use to adjust action, correct mistakes, and gauge the value that you are giving to society. The value that you give will directly lead to the amount of money that you receive from your venture in return.  So we need results.

But often results can take a while to come in, and we have to keep ourselves emotionally strong in the process of gathering this data.  This is why we need that “internal” emotional eco-system where we have the ability to reward ourselves for actions taken independent of the results.

How is this done?

The best way that I’ve found is through the process of “small chunking”

Small chunking involves writing down a list of vital behaviours that are needed in your business (that you are aware of) and then simply tracking how many of these you execute each day.  

After you track your “chunking” for several weeks (or months ideally) you will notice that you’ve created a powerful habit of action.  You’ll also notice that you are less focused on “results”.  Instead you are focused on process.

This methodology has a lot of positive consequences:

  • You are more present in the moment;
  • You are more emotionally stable;
  • You worry less about the future (since your focus is shifted to completing the chunks of the day);
  • You start seeing quickly which chunks drive results and which chunks don’t (and as a result you can shift your actions – remember you aren’t stuck in your initial chunks, they are only experimental based on your best knowledge at the time);
  • You start to enjoy the “process” of being an entrepreneur instead of just the “fruits of your labour”.  This is critical because every entrepreneur has to deal with setbacks and failure at some point;
  • You’ve achieved an incredible freedom – the ability to emotionally reward yourself;

Our mind is the source of great inspiration and innovation, but it can also be our biggest liability.  It can be the source of constant self-doubt, worry, fear, unmet ambition, desire, etc, etc.

For an entrepreneur these negative “worry states” can be debilitating.  Action – where we “lose ourselves” in the process – is the best remedy for this.  This is why small chunking is so effective.

Also – the road to success as a entrepreneur can be lonely, and seem to stretch for much longer than we had initially anticipated.  That is why rewarding yourself is so critical.

 

You Never Forget That First Cheque

I think that entrepreneurs, artists, writers, independent designers of any kind – basically anyone who gets paid to create something – have a potential advantage in the happiness department (in one slight way) over people who are only employees.

I don’t say this to disparage employees.  Not at all.  Nor am I implying that entrepreneurs are always happier than employees.  I have no data to support that statement.

Rather I say this because there is something very real about the intrinsic enjoyment that you get when you actually get paid for something that you created, and this is a feeling that can’t be duplicated when you are an employee.

For every business I’ve ever been involved in, I can always remember the first time I received money for my services, and it always felt great. 

It wasn’t because I was just getting money.  If you follow my writing you’ll know that I relentlessly teach teach intrinsic motivation and flow.  It wasn’t for the money alone – no it is something much greater.

To use the words of writer Bob Burg (the Go Giver) “money is just an echo of value” and when you get paid for a product or service that you have created, in the capacity of an entrepreneur, or any creator, then what you have really done is that you have created value for someone else.  Creating value for someone else feels good, plain and simple.

An employee can feel good when they serve someone in a way that creates value.  But it’s not the same.  It isn’t the same as when you create something yourself.

The act of creation alone has intrinsic value, and when you get paid for your creation, the intrinsic value you feel multiplies.

That’s why I can remember the first cheque in every business venture I’ve ever done, and they all felt great.  Yesterday I received my first royalty cheque for my book Unsuited, and I felt the same way again.

The first cheque you never forget, and the first cheque always feels great.  Sure having a much bigger cheque down the road may feel good as well but there is something unique, something very intrinsic about that first cheque.

It tells you that you made something that other people value. That feels good. 

Everyone can have that.

Everyone can be an entrepreneur in some way.

Go create something.

How To Navigate The Perilous Path of Reinvention

I know a lot about reinvention, and none of it comes from a book, or from someone else’s experience.

I know it because I’ve had to live it.  I’ve had to completely reinvent myself over the last six years from an employee to an entrepreneur, from a lawyer to a writer, from someone who was depressed and disempowered to someone who now has hope for the future and is excitedly building an authentic life.

Many (if not most) people encounter the need for “reinvention”  at some point in their life.  It is very rare to meet someone who doesn’t have to reinvent themselves in some way.

People arrive at the “need for reinvention” for many reasons:

  • Leaving a bad career fit to stake out one that feels more empowering and is more authentic
  • Shifting from being an “employee” to becoming an “entrepreneur”
  • Starting a new business after a previous business failure
  • Starting anew after a difficult (and potentially painful) relationship

There are many other reasons.  None of which are easy.  If you are in the “midst of a reinvention” I feel for you.  It is hard, but good things can come.

For what it’s worth here is some advice from my experience.  Things that I’ve learned along the way, that have helped me out.  If they can help you, that is a positive thing,

1.  Always, always, always, start with what you value, not what you want to get. 

In many circumstances we get ourselves into situations (jobs, careers, relationships) because we focus on an “object” that we want to obtain rather than on what we value.  I’ve learned that this is a mistake.  We always must start with what we value.  Each of us has unique values that we hold dear.  They are what comprise our “authentic self”.  When we deviate from these values we feel inauthentic, out of alignment, and discontent.

If you are going to go through the (difficult) act of reinvention then it is critical that you at least build a proper (and sturdy) foundation.  That foundation is what you value. Write out a list of your values, and use that as the “lens” through which you will evaluate all future opportunities.

2.  Guilt and feelings of failure are not helpful emotions, and they won’t serve you. 

I get it – this one is much easier said than done, and I sure wasn’t perfect in this regard when I was reinventing myself.  I constantly felt guilt – about getting my career wrong, about all the time and money I wasted, about the difficulty of the road ahead.  I also felt like a failure, a lot.  Maybe having these feelings are good, in a slight way, as they can serve as a catalyst for resolve and effort.  But it is a very fine line, and they can be debilitating as well.  So don’t let it go past the line.  What’s done is done.  Lots of good life ahead.

3.  Powerful habits and routines will drive results, channel flow, and keep your anxiety at bay.

Try to get out of your head, and into your feet, as much as you can.  Take action.  Action drives change, and actions are best facilitated through powerful routines.  The stronger your routines, the less you will worry, the less you will have anxiety, and the less you will question your new path, or fear failure.  Lose yourself in your new work or situation – whatever that work or situation may be.  That is the best thing you can do right now.

4.  Many people in your existing social network will reject (at least subconsciously) your attempt to reinvent. 

People know what they know.  You’ve been a certain way, or you’ve had a certain identity (at least in their eyes) for a long time, so don’t be surprised if you get a little resistance from them.  Change can be threatening to them.  They may actually prefer you to stay how you are, because if you change it causes them to have to introspect as well. They may not want to do that (at least yet).

5.  If you know what you want, and you share it with people in your existing social network, there is a decent chance that at least a couple of them will doubt your ability to pull it off. 

You will have doubters and possibly even haters. Your new business…there will for sure be someone who you know that questions its viability.  Going back to school?  I’m sure someone will tell you that isn’t “practical” at least at your age.  In my experience, the most resistance comes from people who aren’t living their dreams. So keep that in mind.  Self-actualized people are usually quite supportive of your new adventure. Try to spend as much time with them as you can.

6.  You will find friends and allies however in your existing social network that you never knew you had (but they were always there).

This was an unexpected, and much appreciated, discovery for me.  There are people, right now, in your existing social network that will enjoy much better the “reinvented you”. This new you is more authentic, less desiring to please people, and more in touch with who they are.  Are you grow into yourself, these new friends will appear. They will be a great support for you.

7.  Don’t stay in your existing social network, use this “reinvention period” to get out of your comfort zone (and house) and meet new people. 

Although you will have found new “friends” from your existing network it is very important that you get out there and meet new people.  This will help to give you emotional support, and the act of meeting new people also has a practical component to it as well. You will meet people who can open new doors for you.  Be sincere though.  Everyone can tell a fake who is just trying to “use” a relationship.  Be yourself.  Be real.  You will attract good people into your life.

8.  Yay!  You get to be yourself now. So be yourself

There is a good chance also that if you are having to now reinvent yourself, that, at some point in the past you weren’t being true to who you really were.  You were either conforming yourself, or masking your true personality because you wanted to “get” something and you thought it would be better to act (or even look) a certain way.  How did that work out for you?  Exactly.  Don’t conform. This principle is as important as #1 (your values).  You cannot reinvent on a shaky foundation.  You have to be true to who you are.

 9.  Don’t have a set timeline for everything to fall into place.  Allow yourself time to “come into” your reinvention. 

Let it happen.  Don’t give yourself a “timeline”.  Allow yourself the freedom to discover, explore.  Be curious.  Learn new things. Expose yourself to new situations and experiences.  You are reinventing yourself right now anyway, so you might as well try things that you always wanted to try, but for whatever reason didn’t go through with.  The process of discovery is fun and engaging.  Also, the more you discover the more you realize who you truly are.

10.  Be grateful.

Life isn’t bad.  I hate the term “life sucks and then you die”.  It isn’t true.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Life doesn’t have to suck.  Life can be really cool also.  Maybe life has sucked up to now for you, but it doesn’t have to suck from here on out. Don’t let it suck. You have control of whether or not it sucks.  You can build an authentic life.  You can reinvent yourself and make life not suck. So instead of complaining, be grateful. Count your blessings.  Stop and smell the flowers (literally).

He Got Rejected 1009 Times

KFC 1009

Several years ago I attended an “Unleash The Power Within” seminar by Tony Robbins.  It was great, and yes I did complete the firewalk.

During the seminar, Tony shared a story so remarkable that it permanently stuck. It was a story of perseverance and tenacity so incredible that I was shocked when I first heard it.

It was the story of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s founder, Harland Sanders. Better known as “The Colonel”. 

The story seemed so remarkable that it was almost unbelievable at first.  When I got home from the event I did additional research to see if I could substantiate, or otherwise refute, what I had heard.  The more I researched, the more I found confirming accounts.

The essence of the legend is this:

Colonel Sanders was rejected 1009 times IN A ROW before he made his first sale 

He was a simple retiree with a chicken batter recipe that he wanted to license.  That was it.  And the story goes that he received 1009 rejections, consecutively, before he got a yes.

No matter how unhealthy you think KFC is, no matter how silly you may think he looks with that bow tie, that story is impressive.  That story, if it is true, is amazing.

Even if it isn’t true, the principle still holds true: how far are you willing to go to see your dream through

I think about this concept all the time.  Whenever I get a setback, I think, that is only 1.  1008 to go.  I’ve never in my life had to battle that type of resistance…..yet.  Perhaps my goals haven’t been big enough.  Perhaps I need to set goals that will require 1010 Nos before I get a yes.  Something to think about.

How about you?  How resilient are you? Are you willing to get 100 rejections, 200, 1009? What is your number?  How far are you willing to go?

How I Met My Muse In Australia

Muse, Writing

This post is about an experience that I had with the creative process through writing.  It’s a story that happened to me this past summer while I was touring Australia with our business.

I’ve always loved writing.  The act of writing has also cemented a special place in my heart, as it was the salvation that I had six years ago when I was struggling with depression as a result of being in the wrong career.  Writing exists, in a way, as a powerful metaphor for me.  Each day as I would write I would dig myself out of an emotionally dark hole, one word at a time. Writing served not only as therapy, but also as a continual refinement of my belief system.  I can honestly say that I’ve found who I am through the act of writing.

I also love reading – particularly authors who I consider to be much more innately talented than myself.  I love how a good writer can cause me, through their descriptive method, to transport into another world within my own mind – thereby completely eliminating my consciousness of “self”.  Because I am fascinated (err, obsessed) with flow psychology I’m particularly drawn to good writers because of how easily I can induce flow in myself when I am reading their work.

Fast forward to today and writing is a daily habit that I cannot (nor do I want to) stop.  My first book, Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice And Find Empowerment is a non-fiction book that challenges some of the “common” assumptions about how to approach our careers, and looks deeply, from an intrinsic point of view, into our motivations surrounding work.

I started my second book literally the day that Unsuited was submitted for editorial review to my publishers.  I had such a strong habit of writing that I wanted to keep the momentum.  That’s also why I know that I was born to write because writing isn’t a chore for me, it is enjoyable.  It seems at times that I can’t “not write”.

I was encouraged by a successful writing mentor to stretch my comfort zone.  So I chose a format, for my second book, that I have always been intrigued by – the fable.  I love allegorical fiction, I always have.  I love books that teach philosophy through the use of a story.   Now that my first draft is complete I am happy with the results.  Hopefully you will also enjoy it should you choose to read the book.

When I started this book I had an idea in my mind about a general theme that I wanted to teach. I also could see the main characters.  I created an suitable plot and proceeded to maintain my 500 word a day habit that I had fostered during the writing of Unsuited.  Then I went to work.

I worked on the book pretty much everyday in 2014.  New characters presented themselves.  The plot clarified and crystallized.  Progress felt steady.  By August (the time of our two and a half week trip to Australia) I was – I’d estimate at the time – 85% done the book.  A few odds and ends still needed to be finished, but generally speaking, I was ahead of schedule and excited about my progress.

Our first stop in Australia was in the tropical north Cairns region.  We were staying at a little tourist spot on the ocean called Yorkeys Knob.  It was a very peaceful location.  Several of the nights that we were there, as the sun would go down, I would sit on our balcony and write.  Inspiration seemed to flow easily here.

Then my muse decided that she needed to visit me. 

One night, after I had completed a productive writing session earlier in the evening, I awoke from a deep sleep.  I checked the clock, it was just after 3:00am.

Everyone was asleep.  Our condo was black other than the light from the stars and the moon glowing off the ocean.

Immediately, as soon as I opened my eyes to check the clock, my mind was flooded with ideas about my book -

  • This part of the plot is wrong.  It needs to go;
  • This character need to be introduced;
  • This character needs to die – this is when he needs to die;
  • You need to introduce this theme at this location;
  • You need to get rid all together of this character.  They add nothing to the theme or the flow;
  • You need to set this part of the book in this location;

I typed out, at 3:00am, while my wife was sound asleep, over three pages of word document notes.

Then the muse vanished, as quickly as she had appeared.  When I wrote my last impression, there was nothing more.  I shut my computer and easily fell asleep.

When I woke up I was absolutely convinced that I had a lucid dream.  So I reached for my laptop, which was sitting on the bedside table.  Sure enough there were three typed pages of notes.

I went from 85% done my book to less than 50% done when I looked at the changes that now needed to be made. I didn’t know what to think, but when I looked over the notes again I knew that the impressions that I had made the book substantially better.

This past week I finished incorporating all the notes into the draft, and I can say, unequivocally, that the book is much better having made these substantial changes.

Since that night I have asked myself, many times, what is the nature of the muse? Where did she come from?  How do I interpret this experience?

Truth is – I have no idea.  

Anyone who ventures down a creative path will be able to relate in some way to this experience.

Sometimes ideas just come, like meteors from outer space.  I can honestly say however that I had placed my butt in the chair for hundreds of days in a row before the muse whispered in my ear.  I don’t know if that is a pattern, or a coincidence.  I don’t know if the inspiration was always in my head, and I just needed time for it to work its way out, or if the muse truly is something greater than myself.

All I know is that being part of the creative process is really cool, and easily the most intrinsically rewarding aspect of my life.  I love it.  I will create for as long as I live.

Find a way to create.

Your life will never be the same.

You will never lack for fulfillment.

As you “create” something, so will you “create” fulfillment in your life.

A “Real Cost” Paradigm For Achieving What We Want

success-479568_1920

Up until two years ago I consistently read “success” and inspirational literature for close to a decade straight.  I’ve read hundreds (literally) of books on the subject and have consistently applied the various suggestions to my life to try to achieve certain results that I want.

I think that we are all the same in many ways.  We may not all seek out books or models to learn “how to achieve” but we all consistently operate in a way that suggests that we move towards what we what, and move away from what we don’t.

This is the essence of being “goal oriented” in my opinion.  Somebody may say that they “don’t have specific goals”; however, if you analyze closely their behaviour you’ll see that they still operate in a goal oriented manner.  Their time, and actions, are organized around obtaining what they want.  This is consistently programmed into everyone.

I’ve found that most “success literature” is full of inspiring stories but over time it can feel quite repetitive, perhaps even overly marketed, and sometimes we are made to feel that we “need” it when in actuality the answers are quite innate in us.  

I can say that in all the years of reading “success literature” I’ve only really come across a few lessons that have been really, really, important.

Now that I understand these lessons I can honestly say that I’ve moved away from “success literature” and now spend my reading time in either fiction, philosophy, religion, science, and historical or biographical non-fiction.  I haven’t bought a “self-help” book now for several years.

Here are the “lessons” that really matter in my opinion.  I call it my “real cost paradigm for achieving what I want” .  I’ve created it by taking what I learned from the various books I’ve read, applying them, gauging feedback, deciphering what was most important, and then simplifying the process into an easily duplicatable model.

It is quite simple, and involves three simple steps:

1.  We must know, with clarity, exactly what we want

Clarity allows us to control psychic entropy, focus, and trigger flow in our actions.  Clarity also allows us to find the most effective plans to achieve what we want, engage the most helpful resources and mentors, and avoid distraction. Clarity truly is power.

2. Clear goals require “objective outcomes” 

We have to be able to know when we have obtained what we are seeking.  We need to know when we actually achieve the goal.  For example – if our goal is “happiness” that is a goal that is wrought with difficultly because we never “arrive” at happiness.  Happiness is always a part of the process (and in my opinion happiness is the by-product of continually achieving emotional states of flow in the pursuit of our objective outcome).

3. Each goal has “real costs” associated with it.  I have to pay these costs to achieve my goal. 

The “real costs” are both fixed and variable for each goal.  They are fixed in that certain results require a certain “quota” of action that cannot be shortcut.   But the costs are also variable in that everyone has a different skill set, and access to resources.  As a result certain people may be able learn and progress faster in (and thus “pay the cost” in a quicker time).

Allow me to illustrate this principle by using specific goals in my life. Over the last two years (among my other business and personal pursuits) I have been writing books, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).

For me – writing is easy, BJJ is hard.

Writing comes naturally.  I have an easy time sitting down each day. I hit flow naturally.  I am constantly full of ideas.

BJJ isn’t as natural. I’m not naturally flexible.  I struggle with some of the movements, and physical confrontation is a fear that hasn’t been easy to overcome (and I still struggle with it despite having attended dozens and dozens of classes at this point).

Now let’s analyze both of these activities from my “real cost paradigm”, using two specific goals.

BJJ: Get a blue belt (the first progression rank from white)

To get a blue belt I must learn and be able to apply in a real setting (BJJ enthusiasts will know this as rolling) certain techniques.  This is the real cost.

The variable component is that certain people will understand these techniques quickly, apply them easily, and not have to deal with the same fear in applying them (as BJJ is a full contact sport). They will be able to obtain the blue belt faster than someone who struggles with these. The person can who struggles can still “pay the full cost” and get the blue belt, but it will seem like the cost is much higher (hence the variable cost metaphor) because they aren’t naturally inclined to the sport.

Writing: Finish a book

To write a book you have to organize your thoughts in a coherent fashion that ends up (generally speaking) in 50,000-100,000 words around a central theme or thesis. This is the real cost.

The variable component is that some people will find it easy to write 1000 words a day.  Thoughts, organization and content will flow easily.  Other people will really struggle with this task.  The person who is inclined to write will get the book done much faster (and likely produce a much better book) than the person who struggles.  The person who isn’t naturally inclined to write can still get the book done but the cost will seem much higher (hence the variable metaphor).

Can you see how this model applies to all goals for all people? 

With me, in the last two years I’ve finished two books (one published, one in the editing phase), but I haven’t gotten my blue belt.  The variable costs for me in BJJ have been much higher than the variable costs in writing.

However, both goals are possible if I pay the appropriate real costs.  I have paid the costs in writing, but not yet in BJJ. 

All goals are theoretically possible by all people using this model.  If you pay the “real cost” for any goal, then you can achieve anything. However many people aren’t willing to pay the real cost, particularly because the “variable cost component”  for certain goals will make the cost seem much higher (since they aren’t naturally inclined for the behaviour). 

I can get a blue belt, but it will seem much harder than someone naturally inclined to BJJ.

I do write books however much easier than someone who isn’t inclined to writing.

The reason that I like this model is

1) it actually works (every time)

2) it causes me to be “honest” with myself.

This model forces accountability.  If I’m not achieving a goal it is because I haven’t (or I’m not willing) to pay the cost.  I cannot place the blame with anyone but myself.   If I pay the cost then there is nothing that I can’t achieve under this model.  This gives me hope and encouragement, while holding me accountable at the same time.

Don’t Wait To Get Picked, Pick Yourself Instead

 

pick yourself

Remember what it was like when we were kids and we had to choose teams?  There was usually two captains (often self appointed) and everyone else would line up, and one at a time, a poor kid’s self-confidence would either be validated or weakened.

I was always big for my age, and a decent athlete, so fortunately (at least I thought at the time) I was usually in the top half of the group.  But I can remember, distinctly, the look on the faces of the kids who were picked in the lower half  – particularly the kid who was picked last.  Often that kid would turn instantly into the comedian – which I believe now to be the only coping mechanism that they had at the time.

I can remember more than once however a look of sadness on the face of the boy or girl who was picked last.

The look of sadness knowing that they waited and waited, with anticipation, to be picked, but no one wanted to pick them until there was no one else to choose from. 

From an early age our socialization conditions us to gauge the quality of our experience by how our efforts, or abilities, are received, and judged by others.  This creates a habit of passivity – we take a passive approach to our experience, and our fulfillment.  Many of us come to believe (at least subconsciously) that our life is not entirely in our hands – how we feel is highly influenced by how others feel about us or our work.

We love playing baseball until we are picked last, then we aren’t sure we want to play anymore;

We loved doing that science project until our teacher gave us the C-, then we stopped loving science;

We learn to wait – wait for approval, and wait for enjoyment.

For a lot of people, this “waiting to get picked” stays with them into adulthood, perhaps even throughout their entire lives.

They wait for their company or their boss to notice how valuable they are and finally reward them for what they’re worth. 

They wait for that recruiter to find them and offer them the job of their lifetime.

They wait for that pay raise so that they can feel good about their contribution.

They wait for that vacation so that they can find peace and enjoyment.

They wait for the day that never seems to come.

We don’t have to wait anymore.  We don’t need to be picked.  We don’t need anyone’s permission to be fulfilled. 

The Internet has completely changed the game.  It has created opportunities for business, expression, publishing, learning, and relationships, beyond anything even imaginable fifty years ago. It has completely changed the way that we do business, the way that we communicate, and the way that learn.

It can also completely change the way that we view our lives. We don’t need people’s approval, validation, or acceptance to feel good about ourselves. We can feel alive and fulfilled on our own. 

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the many biographies of unique, authenticand innovative people that I’ve read reveal something that all of these people seem have in common:

They didn’t fit in the “conventional” model. 

Isn’t that telling us something?? Perhaps that the “conventional” model of life, success, what we are supposed to be, do, learn experience, is wrong – or maybe broken?  Shouldn’t we instead model those innovative people and intentionally try not to fit in the conventional model?

Many of the most successful people were picked last.

Many of the most unique and authentic people didn’t have anyone’s approval – at least at first.

Many of the most creative innovators were social outcasts, couldn’t find success in school, and didn’t fit in the box that society had created for them.

If this is the case then why would we ever want to be picked? Why would we even care one bit whether or not we had anyone’s approval.

Now is the time that we can pick ourselves.

Want to create a business?  The Internet has made it easy start.

Have an opinion you want to share?  Throw up a blog, within minutes you could have a meaningful discussion.

Do you have art to create?  Create it and share it with the world.

You don’t need fancy degrees.  You don’t need an institution’s permission, or the approval of a boss.  You don’t need anyone’s permission for that matter.  You don’t need to wait to get picked.

You just pick yourself.

 

Employee To Entrepreneur Transition Workshop

On Tuesday November  4th, from 7:00pm – 8:00pm at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, AB (1302-4th Street SW) I will be hosting a free workshop on Transitioning From “Employee” To “Entrepreneur” , including a discussion of several components of my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice And Find Empowerment

Join me for an engaging discussion about how to transition from being an employee to becoming an entrepreneur including:

  • Underlying value analysis: Is life as an entrepreneur a good fit for your personality?
  • Developing an “Entrepreneurial Mindset” and how this compares to an “Employee Mindset”
  • The different types of entrepreneurial avenues to pursue (and the differences between them)
  • Full time or part time entrepreneurialism?  Comparisons and drawbacks
  • Understanding the concept of risk
  • The “F-Word” (failure) – redefining what this means as an entrepreneur
  • What you will need to be successful?
  • From idea generation to making your first $.  The steps involved in the process.
  • Questions that every start-up entrepreneur needs to ask themselves

Refreshments will be served and attendees will be added to a draw for several free copies of my book Unsuited

15 Practical Questions For Every Start-Up Business

idea

This weekend I am participating as an entrepreneur Coach with the Startup Weekend EDU Calgary.

The great thing about this initiative is that it is designed to create business plans for young entrepreneurs that result in “implementation” not just idea incubation. This is critical for an entrepreneur to understand – especially someone who is embarking on their first start-up.

For each team that I’m working with I’ve been encouraging them to find an answer to the following questions.  This makes them look at their business as a real entity, from the beginning – not just a theoretical idea.  I want to get them in the mindset that this is real, and not just a weekend project (because if it’s not real when why do it?).

Here are questions that I believe every entrepreneur should be able to answer.  They are “practical” questions that I believe really separates a business plan that is merely “theoretical” from one that is “real” and can be implemented:

1. What problem does your business solve?

2. How do you know this is a problem?

3. How does your idea solve this problem?

4. Who else provides a similar solution?

5.  How is your solution different from theirs?

6. Why should I choose your solution over theirs?

7.  What does it cost to produce your solution?

8. Who is going to purchase your solution?

9. How will you find these customers?

10.  What will it cost to find these customers?

11.  How will this business make money?

12.  What will it cost for you to earn your first $1.

13.  What will it cost for you to run this business for a year?

14.  Where is this money going to come from?

15.  Who is responsible for getting sales?

What Are You Willing To Do To Achieve Your Dreams?

Lewis Howes, DJ Irie

This podcast (The School of Greatness Episode 94 by Lewis Howes) is well worth the hour and a half investment of time to listen.

DJ Irie (Official DJ for the Miami Heat and the FIFA World Cup) worked full time for free for seven months straight because he knew it would open the door to greater opportunities. What are we willing to do to achieve our dreams?

http://lewishowes.com/podcast/dj-irie/

Why Long Term Planning Can Limit You In Your Life

Long term planning

What is your 1 year?  Your 5 year? Or your 10 year plan?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  How do you want to spend the next 20 years of your life? What’s on your bucket list?

These are all questions that we have asked ourselves (in one form or the other), and it seems like at least having an idea of the answer to these questions is universally sought.

A person who knows what they want out of their life has their head screwed on right?  They are going places, and they will accomplish things……right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to live, and in fact you could make the case that specific long term planning is actually a very limiting way to live.

What??? How could that be?  That’s what we’ve been told by every mentor, and “guru” that we’ve ever come across. Set goals.  Have a specific objective. Clarity is power, and if we know what we want we are more likely to get it.

Well that might be the case.  But a question remains:

Will we actually enjoy it when we have it? And if we don’t enjoy it, then what was the point of making the long term plan in the first place?  Could there not be another (perhaps even better) way?

I am living proof of this concept.  In my early twenties I made a very specific long term plan involving higher education and success in the “corporate world”.  I achieved my goals only to find myself discouraged and depressed.  I realized that I valued certain things (like freedom, risk, and creativity) that I wasn’t getting to experience on a frequent basis.  I walked into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship and have been remarkably happier since.

When I left that “other world” I didn’t have a specific long term plan.  In fact I rejected the notion of one.   I just wanted to live each day what I valued.  I stopped thinking about 20 years from now and started to only focus on now.  I wanted to live entrepreneurial freedom, creativity and adventure.   I want to communicate and contribute value to others every day.  Now every day I get to do these things, and I am happy.

The last several years I have seen things come into my life that I probably couldn’t have even planned for – experiences, opportunities, business interests, speaking engagements that have been wonderfully fulfilling, but that probably wouldn’t have been in the “long term plan” had I made one 5 years ago.

By not having a long term plan I have allowed myself to experience incredible things that I wouldn’t have had the foresight to even include in the plan in the first place. 

Allow me to make the case why specific long term planning can be detrimental to our life

1. In almost all cases, we underestimate what we are capable of achieving

We make our “long term plans” from the perspective of what we believe we are capable of.  In almost all cases we underestimate ourselves.  As a result our “plans” become limiting self-fulfilling prophecies. By not having a long term plan we keep the door open for an incredible future that we wouldn’t have even otherwise imagined.

2. When we are so focused on a path, we don’t look up to see the incredible opportunities around us. 

Having very specific goals may actually keep us from noticing a variety of opportunities that will come into our path.  If we allow ourselves flexibility in our approach then we keep ourselves open.

3.  It becomes very stressful – the pursuit – and we often are so busy “fighting for success” that we don’t enjoy the process

When this happens it is a shame.  All of us know people like this (perhaps we are, or have been, like this ourselves) – so busy achieving that we never stop to “smell the roses”.  People like this are boring, and not very fun to be around.  Overly ambitious, status driven people (in my experience) are also very internally unsettled as well.

4.  Failure becomes catastrophic – and a reflection of self worth – under this model.

When life is a mystery, an adventure, a wonderful engagement of uncertainty, then the odd failure or setback is merely feedback, even education.  But when we are “do or die” on our pursuit of success then failure destroys the meaning of the journey.  All becomes lost if we can’t achieve.  This is sad.

We set specific goals because uncertainty – for many people – is not an option.  Their brains can’t handle the entropy.  Driving it into a tight little controlled plan allows for a sense of “mental control” and this feels good.  Also, it seems like the “responsible” and “prudent” way to live life – and we all want to be conscientious citizens don’t we?

So what is the alternative, and why should we consider it?

Great question – I’m glad you asked :)

1. Understand what you value.  

What makes you come alive?  What makes your heart sing? Do you love creating stuff?  Do you love helping people?  Do you want to solve complex puzzles?  Are you a communicator?  Do you want a life of adventure and risk, or safety and security?

2.  Each day do what you value

Make sure that your life (and your career) is aligned with what you value.  That way you get to actually “experience” the things that are meaningful to you and your whole life isn’t about waiting – you know waiting to achieve, waiting for the paycheque, waiting for the reward. You want to be living – not just waiting. If you are doing what you value you will hit flow daily.  You will enjoy the ride.

3.  Do the very best in everything you do

Good work gets recognized.  When you get recognized you open the door to future opportunities (maybe even opportunities that you wouldn’t have even believed you were capable of had you been making a “long term plan”)

4. Work as hard as you can every single day

Work yourself to exhaustion, every day, doing the things you value.  You will meet the right people.  You will open the right doors. You will put in the time to achieve mastery.  You will overcome your fears.  There is very little that your life can’t have if you are willing to hustle each day.

5. Put your ass where your heart wants to be

Show up in the places (literally) that you want to be.  Talk to the people in the industries that interest you.  If you dream of having a business then simply start one. If you want a book, then shut up and write every day.  Do the things that you dream of.  Go out and talk to the people you dream of talking to.

6. Embrace the mystery 

Life is fun this way. Who knows what will happen in your life. Don’t feel the need to control every aspect of it.  Let it go.  Embrace the mystery.  If you live this way (while working your ass off every single day) you’ll probably achieve far more than you even believed you were capable of when you were making your long term plan.

 

Unsuited Book Signing, Thursday October 16th, Indigo TD Square Downtown, Calgary

unsuited book

I will be at Calgary Chapters / Indigo Downtown (317-7th Ave. SW, this Thursday, October 16th from 11:00am to 2:00 pm. for a book signing for my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice And Find Empowerment

Are you unfulfilled in your career?  Are you wanting to get more out of your work? Did your experience with school leave a bad taste in your mouth  Learn how work, on it’s own, independent from anything else, can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your life. Find purpose and meaning in what you do and create a truly authentic life.

First Time Entrepreneur? Take A Step, Observe Feedback, Adjust and Repeat

Entrepreneur Take a Step

As part of our business I work with, and have coached, many, many first time entrepreneurs.  Being an entrepreneur is tough, even for the most seasoned start-up veteran.

Being a first time entrepreneur – especially if you have a long prior career as an employee – can be brutally stressful, not just financially (in terms of the uncertainty that you feel) but also emotionally, and mentally.

The constant state of anxiety – wondering what we should do, questioning if we are taking the right actions, thinking about whether or not we will be successful and what we can do differently – has the capacity to derail a first time entrepreneur’s career before they have even experienced the fruits of their labor and tasted the wonderful freedom that comes with business success.

But it doesn’t have to be this way – at least emotionally.  The process can be simplified, and demystified, in a way that will allow you to take detached (and over time effective) action.  

Effective action is the ultimate secret to entrepreneurial success.  You want to take the “right” actions, and take them often.

When you are an employee the “right” actions are clear to you – they have already been defined and they are presented to you as part of your job description.  You just have to show up, punch the clock, do your work, and collect your paycheque.

As an entrepreneur it isn’t that easy.  Sometimes you don’t know what the “right” actions are.  Other times there may not be a clear “right” action to take (for example if you are introducing a product or service to the market that has never before been introduced).

If someone (or some company) has previously found success marketing a product, or service that is similar to yours then you can model their actions.  You can do what they did that brought them success.

This may or may not bring you the same success that they had.

If no-one has ever attempted to market your product or service before you can try to implement marketing strategies that you learn elsewhere – applying them to this product.

Again – this may or may not bring you success in your venture. 

So what is a first time entrepreneur to do? How does one find success?

There is actually a fairly simple process – it is a “feedback mechanism”.  You start with the premise that you are looking to figure out the “most effective” way to run your business and market your product.  So to start you model the actions of those who have gone before (and found success).

Take an action (that you learn from them)

Then observe the results.

If you get a result that you want – this is positive feedback.  This means that you should take more of these types of actions.  If you don’t get a result that you want – this is feedback as well.  You adjust your actions accordingly, and take new actions.

Granted – you will need to try certain actions more than once to truly gauge their effectiveness.  But over time you will have data. If by modelling someone else’s actions you find success then you are on your way.

But what happens if you model someone else’s actions and you meet failure (even if you test the actions long enough to have a reasonable data set)?

Well then in that case the process still applies.  Nothing has changed in the methodology

You take an action (this time however you have to come up with the action using your own imagination).

You gauge the feedback (after you have done the action long enough to have a reasonable data set)

You adjust your actions (in light of the feedback).

Then you take more action.

This process occurs over and over and over again.  This is the ultimate discovery feedback mechanism for the entrepreneur, and it is why being an entrepreneur can be so rewarding  – you get to constantly play amateur scientist.

So are you a first time entrepreneur?  Just take action.  Then gauge the feedback.  Adjust your results.  Then take more action (based on the results that you get).

One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time. 

 

Startup Weekend EDU, October 17th-19th, 2014 in Calgary (I’ll Be A Coach and Judge)

I am excited to invite you to a fantastic hands-on event aimed at youth, educators, business developers, designers, and technologists called Startup Weekend EDU, running on Oct 17-19 in Calgary. If you or someone you know is interested in bringing big ideas to life, solving problems, and meeting people in Calgary’s entrepreneurial community, this is the event to attend! I’ll be a coach and mentor for the event, and I am looking forward to it!

You’ll find all of the details on the event site: http://bit.ly/swyycedu

Startup Weekend has held 1000+ events in 120+ countries around the world. Startup Weekend EDU is your chance to experience 54 hours of entrepreneurial innovation as you pitch ideas, form teams with complementary skills, design and build prototypes, and present to a panel of judges in a single weekend. Pitch an idea if you have one, or join a team to support an idea you like. Along the way, you’ll receive coaching from experienced technology designers, business mentors, and industry professionals, and you can win prizes that will help take your idea to the next level. No experience is necessary–just bring your enthusiasm and energy!

Tickets are on sale now, and limited to 120 spaces.

Highlights of Startup Weekend EDU:

  • Kick-off speaker Rami Ghanem, a grade 11 entrepreneur who was featured on CBC’s Dragon’s Den

  • Margaret Glover-Campbell, Director of Programs at MindFuel (formerly Science Alberta Foundation), will be one of our many coaches providing teams with insights over the weekend

  • Prizes and swag sponsored by great partners including: Google for Entrepreneurs, Chic Geek, and Startup Calgary

Choose a track that suits your interests:

  • Edu Track – bringing entrepreneurs, developers, designers and educators together to pitch and develop education-related solutions

  • Youth Track – bringing youth entrepreneurs in grades 9-12 together to develop their ideas with the support of experienced mentors

 

Why We Should Try To Finish Our 1 Year Goal in 1 Month

Speed Tunnel

Do you have a 1 year goal?  You should try to finish it in 1 month.

A 5 year goal?  Aim for six months.

Seriously.  Pretend for a moment that an evil dictator said that we only have 1/10th (or maybe the dictator is slightly altruistic and gives us 1/2) of the time that we had previously allocated to complete our goal – and our life depends on it.

Now also seriously pretend that there is at least a chance that we could actually accomplish the 1 year goal in 1 month (or the 5 year goal in 6 months).  Hold that seed of possibility in our minds for at least a moment.

If it were possible to complete that 1 year goal in 1 month………..

What would we do right now?

How would we act right now?

How would we change our habits or allocate our time differently?

What current actions would we eliminate?

What new actions would we start to take (given the new deadline)?

Is this idea unrealistic?  Maybe.  Foolish?  Not a chance. 

Hear me out.  I want to make the case for why we should attempt to seriously expedite the timeline for our accomplishing our goals.

1. What’s the risk in trying? 

It’s basically nothing, other than the slight hit to our pride in the event that we fail.  Yawn.  Our pride is overrated.  Our fear of failure is silly.  Next point.

2. What’s the upside in trying?

We get to answer the questions above.  We get to really audit our actions and methods.  We get to “be real” with ourselves and our methods.  We get to dramatically improve our effectiveness, and remember –  there is a possibility that we might actually accomplish what we otherwise thought would take a year.

3.  We generally underestimate ourselves and overestimate the amount of time needed.

This is human nature.  We all do it.  We don’t like the F word (failure that is), so it is natural to hedge.  We hedge by giving ourselves more time than we probably would otherwise need to complete a goal if our life depended on in.

4.  This method forces us to eliminate all “time wasters” 

Some time wasters are legitimate.  All work and no play makes for a dull person.  I like Sons of Anarchy as much as the rest of you, but if our life really depended on our accomplishing a goal in a dramatically shortened time frame we would get real serious about what “entertainment” we can live without.  What I’ve found is that a lot of things that we think we “need” are really just time wasters.

Case in point:  I used to think that I needed to watch the news or read the newspaper every single day to stay informed.  Not true.  That was an hour (or several) that I could eliminate and not be worse for wear with a couple simple internet news feeds, and I got an hour (or several) of my day to now apply to more useful stuff.

5.  This method forces us to eliminate our “avoidance” behaviours 

Avoidance behaviours are all activities that are associated with a goal that don’t really move us closer to the goal.  It is the “busy work” – those non-important, and non-urgent activities that strangely enough fill a good chunk of our day. If our life depended on our accomplishing a goal in a very short amount of time we would straightaway eliminate these.

6. We tap into Mega-Flow

Flow states require the control of consciousness, the elimination of distractions and the focusing of our energy and attention on a specific goal.  When we are up against a deadline we hit “mega-flow”.  Everything non-important to the goal falls to the wayside.  We grow in complexity.  This growth feels great.

 

7.  It’s fun to tackle goals this way

If you aren’t scared of failure then this method is actually really fun.  You can turn it into an experiment – a case of “what if”.  When you operate under the premise of “what if” wonderful (almost magical) things can happen in your life.  When you turn it into an experiment you really start to enjoy the ride.  If it is an experiment then there is no failure – there is only an observable result.  If you don’t get the result you wanted then you just create a new experiment.

But who knows, maybe, just maybe, you might get the result you want….

My Career Inspiration Is A Character From A 1980s Kids Show

Doozer

Who is your career inspiration?

If you could model anyone in your career – who would it be?

Do you want to be a famous innovator like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk?  Maybe a charismatic mover and shaker like Mark Cuban, Donald Trump or Sheryl Sandberg?

Nah, not me. I’m not into celebrities. 

Maybe someone rich and famous.  Like someone on the Forbes list?  Or Jay-Z?  Do you want to own companies, have millions (or billions) of dollars?

No. Money isn’t my main driver in life.

There isn’t really a “correct” answer to this question.  We all get to answer it in our own unique way. 

Me – my career hero is a six inch, green, alien looking character from a 1980s kid’s TV show.

I want to be a Doozer.

You know – that tiny, loveable, semi-naked (save for their tool belt) martian, often sporting a fashionable mustache and hot yellow boots from the show Fraggle Rock.

Ya those.  I want to be like them.

Here’s why:

Doozers Make Cool Stuff 

I want to make cool stuff too.  Mostly the “stuff” that I want to make are words (or combinations of words).  But I’ll also make ideas, and I’ll make businesses too.  I want to make stuff, and I want it to be cool and beautiful, just like the Doozers.

Doozers Build For The Sake Of Building

Have you ever noticed that there aren’t any real estate agents or developers that hang around the Doozers?  They aren’t looking to sell their wonderful “Doozer Stick” creations made of Radish Dust.  They build for the sake of building.  The act of building is its own reward.  That is what I want in my career as well.  I want to be rewarded, intrinsically, each day for the work that I do.  I want to transcend the need to get “stuff”.  I want to overcome the carrot and the stick.

Doozers Aren’t Bothered By Failure 

Have you ever noticed (if you’ve watched the show) what happens when the Fraggles smash (and eat) the Doozer’s beautiful architecture?   They don’t really get bothered.  They just go on building. They are the most resilient creatures that have ever been created (in my humble opinion).  Failure?  Set-back?  Tragedy?  What’s that.  They just pick up where they left off and get back to creating their art.  I want to be like that.

The Doozers Don’t Need To “Escape” From Life Through TV or Other Distractions

They have found their purpose, and they wholeheartedly are engaging in it.  They know why there are on this earth and their work gives them meaning.  Their work gives back to them.  Their work is fulfilling.  They don’t take jobs that they hate just to make more money or drive a better Doozer car (I think their only cars are construction cars anyway) or a better Doozer house (they all live happily in the Doozerdome)

Granted they could be a little friendlier to the Fraggles, and their communal living arrangement smells a little too much like communism for me.

But these are just small details.

They are still the best.  My career hero is a Doozer.

 

 

What Defines A Good Day?

Good Day

What defines a good day?

What defines whether or not we “get” to be happy?

These are very personal and challenging questions – questions that everyone, at some point, will address.

Humans are unique amongst the animal kingdom in that we are “meaning searching” creatures. I’m no scientist, but I often read science and evolution books. They are fascinating to me.

As far as I am aware (and I would be happy if one of my blog readers corrected me on this subject) we are the only animal that openly speculates and plans around the “meaning of life” and whether, and in what form, life has a purpose.

Everyone will answer the question of life’s purpose in their own unique way, and their answer, will for a large part determine whether or not they are happy.

For many, many years I defined my happiness in reference to the results that I was obtaining in my life. If I experienced success I felt great.  If I experienced failure I was sad.

This was a very dangerous habit.

It always seemed like there was someone better than me, someone who was achieving more than me, someone who was better in the exact pursuit that I was burning the candle at both ends trying to achieve in.

This “validation by reference” method that I was using was fundamentally flawed.

It was hopeless from the beginning because if I could only feel good about myself in the event that I was achieving, or in the event that I was the best, and many times (most of the time) I couldn’t control all the variables, particularly the actions or results of others.

I changed from a “validation by reference” paradigm to a purely “validation by self” model.

This alone, I believe, is the most critical factor in the day to day well being that I now feel.

In order to control your happiness, you have to be the architect of your well-being. To do this you have to first define what the rules are for whether or not you can define a day as a good day, and you can define yourself as a success. If you allow these rules to be set by the world you will never be happy. If you take control of them yourself you can also “validate” yourself in the process.

For example – I now use a “checklist” system that I have created to determine whether or not I should feel good about myself.

It is entirely within my control.  Here is how my checklist system works:

I define several acts (again, all of which I can control) that I want to accomplish in a given day – things like writing 1000 words a day on a new book.

Every single act on my checklist I have the power to accomplish. I judge the quality of my day (and my success) by whether or not I have completed my checks for the day. I’ve been using this model for years.

At the end of the day I get to “self-validate”. As I make my checks I feel quite good about myself, and my day, and the best point is that it was all in my power.

Success, and happiness for that matter, is 100% in my control.  

There really is no magic to this, it is just a simple little tool, that I’ve built into a habit, that allows me to define my self-worth by reference to my “self” rather than by reference to other people (and what they do or have).

I have found that this habit has paid huge compounding returns in my self-esteem, and sense of general well-being. So if you struggle at all with any of these – my advice – develop a system where you, alone, get to determine your validation. You get to “self-validate”.

How To Feel Flow, Every Single Day

Flow

I first came across the concept of flow psychology six years ago.  I was deeply depressed at the time, working in a career that I hated, and wondering how (and if) I would ever feel fulfillment again in my professional life.

I wanted to figure myself out, on my own.  I wanted to learn about my brain – how I thought, and why I thought this way.  I wanted to figure out how to run my brain in a better way so that I could find fulfillment

At first I sought out “self help” and “success” literature, but I found it to be lacking in substance and application.  Also, I found that it focused far too much on the “getting” components of life, rather than on the “being” aspects.  This didn’t resonate with me.  I had material success, so to speak.  I had a good job, a new Lexus, and I took all the vacations I wanted to take.  So more “stuff” wasn’t the answer.  In fact, I now know that focusing on stuff, was actually at the root of the problem, in that I was living a hollow existence in my career, devoid of a greater sense of professional purpose.

Since self help books weren’t working, I then turned to Eastern Philosophy and Meditation.  These gave me a great framework to work with in application.  The habit of meditating and breathing allowed me to mitigate the anxiety I was constantly feeling in my career.  Also, the concept of “detachment” taught me how to act without obsessing about what I would “get” from my actions.  This made me more brave, more willing to experiment with career and life paths.  However, I couldn’t fully embrace some of the esoteric spiritual parts of the philosophy, so there was a lingering disconnect for me.

I often wondered if Eastern Philosophy was simply a powerful “operating system” to run our brains – discovered thousands of years ago and practiced, with great benefit by millions of people.  If that was the case I wanted to know more details about this operating system so that I could fully understand it, and implement it completely in my day to day life.

This is the context that I discovered flow psychology.

Without a doubt, flow psychology has been the most powerful concept that I have ever learned in my entire life in terms of helping me to feel harmonized fulfillment in my day to day life.

Flow was first articulated by the renowned psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his ground breaking book of the same name – a book that I have read no less than 10 times, front to back.

I would strong encourage everyone to buy this book. In short summary, flow states (in my words) are:

States of “optimal experience” that we, as humans, feel when we enter into a zone of energized focus, and complete immersion around the accomplishment of a specific goal or task.  We hit these flow states when our skills match the difficulty of a task, and when we are in flow (or in the zone as it is often called) we lose our sense of consciousness of the self. Time even seems to stand still.  We are provided with a new sense of discovery, a creative feeling of being alive, of transporting into a higher sense of reality.  Therein we grow in complexity and feel that the experience is intrinsically rewarding (independent of anything that we may receive from the activity).

Flow, to me, is the psychological way of explaining the applied philosophy of detachment and presence (as taught through Eastern Philosophy). We are most fulfilled (operationally) when we are in a flow state. 

When I discovered flow psychology I realized that fulfillment in my life was based on my ability to trigger flow states, therein controlling my consciousness.  With this realization I wanted to experience more flow states, so I started to experiment.

I found that flow was easy to engage when I was doing things related to what I valued.

For me, my primary values were freedom, autonomy, creativity, contribution to others, building things and watching them grow, communicating, adventure and risk taking.

When I engaged in actions that allowed for these values to be experienced I triggered flow.  This caused me to realize that I was in the wrong career because I didn’t (as a lawyer) get to experience these values on a day to day basis.  As a result I wasn’t experiencing flow (and as a result I wasn’t fulfilled).

Moving over and making a change to be an entrepreneur and writer allowed me to experience my values daily.  As a result I also started to feel flow daily as well.  This lifted me out of depression.  I now feel flow daily and feel very fulfilled and engaged in my work.

Over the last several years of experimenting with flow states I have come across a supplemental philosophy that I use each day to ensure that flow takes place.  It is the philosophy articulated by Steven Pressfield in the War of Art .

Flow psychology is the operating system (or software) that we can use to run our brains so that we feel optimal experience daily. The power of flow in is in application not in its understanding alone.

If flow is software, then like any software, we also need hardware to run it properly.

The hardware is more than the tissue between our ears.  In essence the hardware is our behaviour, it is our habits, and whether we have created habits that allow for flow to be felt on a daily basis.

This (the concept of hardware), for me, is where the War of Art comes in.

Again – best to buy and read the book for yourself, but in my words this is what the War of Art is about:

Fulfillment (you could also say flow) is found in the work itself.  The only way to feel fulfillment is to do your work (your work being whatever you are authentically drawn to, ie. your unique values).  Resistance stands in the way of our doing our work.  Resistance is any force (fear, laziness, procrastination, distraction, etc) that prevents us from doing our work.  We overcome resistance by being a “pro”, that is, by showing up every single day and doing our work.  So if our heart calls us to be a writer then we write daily, no matter what.  If our heart calls us to be an entrepreneur then we work on our business every single day, no matter what.  

If flow is the operating system for a fulfilling life, then defeating resistance and being a “pro” is the hardware upon which it most effectively runs. 

Flow states are the most optimal states in human experience.  I believe this fully.  A person who feels flow often will feel fulfilled.  A person who never feels flow won’t be fulfilled. However, flow doesn’t “just happen” on its own.  We have to induce it. We actually have to act in a way where flow will get triggered each day.

Pressfield’s philosophy is a disciplined way to induce flow each day:

  • It breaks the day up onto chunks (doing your work, defeating resistance) and allows us to control our focus (ie. flow);
  • It promotes focus only on the work for the work’s sake (creating order in consciousness, the autotelic experience);
  • It creates a routine where flow gets induced every day;
  • It is intrinsically focused, in that you appreciate, even depend on the work for its own sake;
  • If forces you to put in the time to develop skill and mastery;
  • It teaches you how to finish a project;

Without flow you don’t feel fulfilled.  But without habits you don’t feel flow.

This has become my life philosophy – feeling flow and being a pro. 

So if you aren’t feeling the flow in your life, I bet there is a good chance that you aren’t “acting like a pro” either.

In Defence Of “Acting As If”

Act as if

When we hear the phrases,

Act as if…..

Or better yet,

Fake it until you make it….

We often silently cringe a little.  Images come to mind of the pushy salesperson, projecting unmerited success that hasn’t yet been earned.

As human beings most of us have a pretty good B.S. detector.  We can tell authentic people from those who are putting on a façade, and we generally prefer the former. 

Authenticity is compelling.  It is inspiring.  It is attractive.  Being “fake” isn’t.  Plain and simple.

Unfortunately, because of the way that the phrases “act as if” and “fake it until you make it” have been contextualized and interpreted, and our inherent disinterest in “fake” people, there is a great lesson that we often miss out on that could be gleaned from these concepts.

The lesson is this:

What we believe about ourself completely impacts our performance. 

Allow me to explain.

Say that you have been asked to give a public speech, and you aren’t a comfortable public speaker.  If you go into the speech constantly focusing on your shortcomings as an orator you are likely to execute with nervousness, anxiety and without the power and eloquence that you might have otherwise had if your belief was different.

You may not be the best public speaker in the world, that isn’t the point.  You do however have to believe that you are capable of great things.  Even if it is only to yourself, you have to “act as if” you can deliver a great public speech in order to deliver one.  You have to first believe that you are capable of greatness before greatness can manifest.

Here is where those phrases can have some positive meaning.  The next time you undertake something, act (again to yourself) in a way that expresses (again to yourself) that you are capable of greatness in the area.

In a way you are “faking it” because you haven’t experienced greatness (yet) but what you are doing is conditioning your belief system.  If you do this over and over again it will really affect how you act because we do (and we are) what we believe.

I’m not advocating that we all run out and start being fake, but I can say, with certainty, that the times in my life that I completely believed that I was capable of excellence are the times that excellence manifested in my actions, and the times that I doubted myself were the times that my performance suffered.  If I “act as if”  I grow in belief. This in turn strengthens my performance.

All greatness comes from belief, and all performance is impacted by belief.  Maybe the circumstances of our lives have been such that we haven’t experienced greatness…yet.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t still believe it, and although this belief is technically “fake” (since it isn’t backed by objective evidence substantiating our greatness), we can still adopt it.  We can still “fake it” to ourselves, until our outer world reflects the inner greatness that we feel.

Productivity, Creativity and White Tennis Shoes

White Tennis Shoes

Any creator, and by creator I mean anyone who engages in, or pursues, an enterprise that involves an intentional act of creativity (so this would include any entrepreneur, writer, artist, consultant – basically anyone whose job isn’t just to take and perform exact orders) has to confront the “blank page” of their respective enterprise:

  • The business won’t launch itself, nor will the products market themselves;
  • The book won’t write itself;
  • The music won’t compose itself;

Therefore, the “blank page” must be confronted.  A positive act of creativity must be engaged before an enterprise of any form can be launched.

When a positive act of creativity is required, an equal, if not more powerful force of “resistance” (as author Steven Pressfield calls it) presents itself.

Resistance can take many forms (self doubt, and fear, for example).  One of the most common forms of resistance is the act of substituting the more difficult (and fulfilling) work of creating something, and doing “busywork” instead.

Ayn Rand once gave a series of lectures on the Art of Writing Non-Fiction.  During one of these lectures she discussed this point using a great metaphor (the “White Tennis Shoes”)

Years ago I read an article in The New Yorker by a writer who described what she does in the morning before writing. What she describes is universal. When she sits down she knows she does not want to write. Here is what her subconscious does to “save” her from that difficulty. She thinks of everything she has to do. She needs to call a friend on business, and does so. She thinks of an aunt she has not called for months, and calls her. She thinks of what she has to order from the store, and places the order. She remembers she has not finished yesterday’s paper, so she does. She continues in this way until she runs out of excuses and has to start writing. But suddenly she remembers that last summer (it is now winter) she never cleaned her white tennis shoes. So she cleans them. That is why I refer to this syndrome as the “white tennis shoes.”….

In steelmaking, a blast furnace must be heated for weeks before it is hot enough to forge steel. A writer getting himself into the writing mood is like that furnace. Nobody likes to get into that state, though once you are in it you want no other, and would probably snap at anyone who interrupted you…. [I]n the case of the “white tennis shoes,” you must force yourself by sheer will power immediately to stop procrastinating and begin writing.

This concept can be applied in so many ways.  Its application is not limited to writing.

  • It applies to business and particularly sales (making calls);
  • It applies to building and maintaining relationships of all forms.

The problem of White Tennis Shoes (metaphorically speaking) is ubiquitous.  It really impacts all aspects of our life. There always seems to be something in the way of our doing the more important work (especially if that work is difficult), right when we should be doing it.

In my life I have realized the danger of the White Tennis Shoes and as a result I’ve built “systems” that protect against my “lesser self.”

I know that I am as susceptible to the problem of the White Tennis Shoes as the next person, that is why having a system is so important. The better my system is, and the more resolve that I have in maintaining it, the more likely it is that my important (and creative) work will get done.

Here are some of the systems that I use to guard against my lesser self:

  • I organize my day so that I set up “flow chunks” where I do the important but difficult work (this includes any creative venture, but it could equally be applied to any other type of work where the metaphor of White Tennis Shoes could be used to prevent the work from happening).  I specifically set out chunks, usually in hour or two blocks, that are going to be “creativity zones”.  These creativity zones are also “busy free zones” (ie. no busy work is allowed in these).
  • During these “creativity zones” I turn off my cell phone (so that I can’t be interrupted by the ping or buzz of a new email, or social media mention) I also turn off my business line.  The world can wait for a hour.  There is rarely an urgency (other than an immediate injury to my family) that can’t wait an hour. Also I make sure that my Internet browser is closed.
  • I embrace an internal sense of satisfaction when I accomplish something creative or “resistance filled”.  Whether it be doing a blog post, writing 500 words on a new book, taking hard but critical action in a business venture (like calling someone I need to call but don’t really want to).
  • I track the actions that I do that are susceptible to the White Tennis Shoes problem.  I write them down in a daily journal that I keep.  By writing the actions that I take I reinforce the sense of internal accomplishment and also look forward to doing it again tomorrow.

These are just a couple examples – there are many more.  The important thing is that a habit of defeating internal resistance and accomplishing meaningful work is created by guarding against the distractions that so easily keep us from doing the difficult (but meaningful and rewarding) tasks in our life.

This Is Why You Are Awesome

Meghann Clements

  • You set goals and you go after them.  You encourage me to do the same;
  • You don’t settle. You know what you want, and you don’t deviate.  You’ve inspired me to do the same;
  • You don’t need a reason to “care about others”.  You just care about others because it is who you are. Selflessness is your default position;
  • Going after your dreams, and doing what you love, isn’t a new concept for you, or something that was inspired by something you’ve read, or a video you recently watched.  It’s your normal state of mind – always has been;
  • You are the reason that I am pursuing my dreams. Without your support I don’t think I’d have the courage;
  • You are proof that having a successful career, and being a successful wife and mother aren’t mutually exclusive undertakings;
  • You cherish diversity in thought and belief.  Differences are beautiful to you;
  • You cry sometimes during O’ Canada;

Meghann Clements

  • You are really smart.  I really value your advice, especially in dealing with other people;
  • You believe that comfort zones are meant to be broken.  You practice what you believe in this regard.  That’s why you are so good in business.  You also inspire me to push past my own resistance;
  • You work like a Spartan.  It is really hard to match your work ethic;
  • You like to experiment with food, places, and experiences.  It makes life rich;
  • You are risk tolerant.  You believe that risk enhances life;
  • You “get” the concept of internal rewards. You aren’t driven by getting “stuff” or what people think about you.  You care more about relationships and experiences;
  • You like play.  You become a little girl around your puppy.  This makes me smile.

me and meg 2

  • You are so mentally tough.  You don’t feel the need to vent.  You are the strength that others look to;
  • You live flow.
  • I’m happy when I’m around you.  When I’m with you I want to be the best version of myself.

Happy Birthday!  You’re The Best.

Why TED Talks Resonate With Us

Matches

I’ve noticed something lately.  I suspect it has always been the case, and I’m only now becoming aware of it.

As human beings we constantly live at the crossroads of competing desires and emotions.

Perhaps the most pronounced of these inner conflicts is our competing desires for authenticity and security. 

Our need for security manifests itself in the tendency that we have to “follow the group”.  There is safety in the group.  This is hardwired in us.  It is always comforting to learn that other people think and believe what we believe.

We can also see our need for security – the need to be part of a group – manifest itself in our consumer patterns.

How many people lined up around the world in the last couple of weeks to get a new phone, when their old phone worked perfectly well? 

Our behaviours as consumers are easily understandable when you understand our need to be unified, our need to fit into a group, and our need to be accepted.

It doesn’t stop with phones.  Everyone one of us (me included) has felt comfort in some type of group setting.

Our group tendencies can also be manipulated by companies and individuals wanting to maximize profits.  A perfect example of this (at least in my city – Calgary, Alberta, Canada) is in the residential home development market.

You can drive a full circle around Calgary and see nothing but homogenized homes and neighbourhoods – a sprawling Legoland that lacks character and uniqueness. 

Developers will probably take umbrage to this remark – they will say that they are providing a good service and what people want.

 I don’t buy it.  I don’t think that people want a Legoland house for a half a million dollars.  But I digress…..

People go along with it.  People go along with it because they don’t have a lot of choices.  They don’t have a lot of power, and there is a sense of comfort in being in a group – a sense that all of us experience in some form or another.

This is where the competing desire for authenticity comes in.

We all want to live authentic lives, but the modern world makes it hard to do so.

It is hard to feel authentic when you can only afford a Legoland house that is almost identical to ten thousand other houses.

It is hard to feel authentic when working in a cubicle.

It is hard to feel authentic while wearing a suit surrounded by a sea of other people in suits.

It is hard to feel authentic when what we buy, what we experience, and what we do, is the same as millions of other people.

I think that this conflicted need in our lives – the need for authenticity balanced with group security – is why the TED brand is so popular.

TED offers an extreme variety of thought, and we get to control  whether we agree or disagree with what is being said.

TED, as an organization, has created a portal for diversity of ideas, and they have organized it in a way that is easy to use, and navigate.

TED, as a portal of information, provides the perfect blend of “group security” and “authenticity” to satisfy our conflicting needs.  Here is how:

There is an extreme abundance of diverse ideas (the “authenticity” part) available, and when you discover an idea that uniquely resonates with you, you also discover a tribe of other people who also believe this idea as well (the “group security”).

Brilliant.  That’s why it works.

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn By Watching Football

 

what entrepreneurs can learn by watching football

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m watching football.  I enjoy watching football, but it hasn’t always been this way.

I didn’t play the game in high school, and up until a couple of years ago I didn’t find the game all that interesting to watch.  There were several rules that I found confusing and I didn’t really understand all the positions.

A couple of years ago however, I made an observation about the game (from my vantage point as a very casual observer) that caused me to start appreciating it, and wanting to watch it more often.

The observation that I made, was that, in many ways, how the game is played is very similar to being an entrepreneur.

What struck me was the concept of “forward progress”. 

It seemed to me that this was the most important aspect of the game. As long as there was a steady supply of forward progress – enough to obtain the requisite first downs as the team marched down the field – then eventually the team would score.

That was the goal of the game. Score, and score often – as much as you can.

All scoring depended however on the team’s ability to continually progress forward.

 Once I understood this principle, the game started to make more sense to me, and I really saw a parallel to life as an entrepreneur because,

Survival as an entrepreneur absolutely depends on the ability to continually progress forward. 

Innovation, branding, new markets, domestic growth, international expansion, market share, exceptional customer service – these are all just concepts that suggest that a company, or entrepreneur is maintaining forward progress in their operations.

They are getting better at what they do, offering better products or more efficient and effective services to a greater number of people.

In the end, it’s all about forward progress. 

Even tiny progress is still progress, and in the game of football (just like the game of business)  “inches” (as Al Pacino famously said) can make the different between a win and a loss.

The parallels between entrepreneurship and football don’t stop there.  There are many others that I can see as well.  Here are a few:

The relationship between risk and reward.

A “hail mary” pass (or marketing effort) may result in a quick touchdown (or profit opportunity) but the larger the potential payout the larger the potential risk.

The importance of understanding “market feedback”

In football if the defence picks up on your pattern and strategy quickly you have to adapt.  If you keep doing the same thing, with a defence that is aware – and has successfully adapted – then your offence will sputter.

Same in business – you have to be adaptive to market feedback.  If you aren’t getting the results that you want then there is a problem that you must correct.  Perhaps your product isn’t providing the value that you hoped it would.  Perhaps your service, or operating systems, need to be tweaked to provide top value to customers.

There are likely many others – I’m sure that I will discover them.

So don’t feel guilty if you indulge a little in some Sunday afternoon football watching.  You’re working on your business :) 

 

Unsuited Book Signing Tomorrow (12pm-4pm) – Calgary Chinook Center Chapters Indigo

unsuited book

Hi everyone!  Thanks for your support in following my blog.

I will be doing a book signing tomorrow for my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice and Find Empowerment at Calgary Chinook Center Chapters / Indigo (6455 Macleod Trail) from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

If you are around, come stop in, say hi, and pick up a copy of #unsuited.

Advice To Entrepreneurs: Stay In The Box For A Little While

Entrepreneur Box

Get outside the box!

Think outside the box!

How many times have you heard this?  I’ve heard it so often that I’m not even entirely sure what it means anymore.

I get it:  be creative, think innovation, try to be unique or different, break the paradigm, bring a new set of eyes to the same old problem.

And I agree – innovation and creativity is critical – some of the best ideas ever are ideas that are new and cutting edge, and different.

Thinking outside of the box is critical for the “thinking” phase.  But we have to realize that when we “think outside of the box” all we are doing is really just creating a new box.

When we “think outside the box” we are just replacing the old paradigm with a new paradigm, but we can’t forget – it’s still a paradigm.

So we got out of the old box, and now we are in a new box, and in order to actually make our idea materialize we are going to have to stay in that box, and do some work.

In the implementation phrase of any creative venture – that phase where we take our “idea” and turn it into a “thing” that can actually add value in people’s lives, we’ve got to get comfortable in our new box.

An idea (out of the box) can come instantly – but taking that idea and making it real, that takes some time.  

One of the big problems that entrepreneurs face is that they easily think “outside the box”.  But thinking is only part of the game.  Implementing and doing is just (if not more) important. To implement we must, at least for a season, put the “thinking” on hold, and move into the doing phase.

That is why brilliant innovators often surround themselves with executors – people who can implement.   They know that the ideas are only part of the process.  The execution phase requires skill, and patience, and time.

Great innovators, great “outside the box thinkers” may or may not have great execution skills.

Do you know many people like this?  Are you like this?  Are you great with ideas but then you have a hard time actually bringing your ideas to market.

This is something that any creative person has struggled with from time to time – I know I have.

One of the best things I have learned to do is when I get an idea – to stick with the idea for at least long enough for the market to give me feedback, so that I can determine whether or not it is a good idea or not. 

The idea machine easily runs for an entrepreneur.  But generating idea after idea is useless if we can’t get it to market.  Getting it to market takes execution.  This means that we have to stay in the box – stay with the specific idea – for a while, even while other idea butterflies are fluttering around our head.

Stay inside the box. 

Conquering The Need To Conquer

Alexander The Great

There is a great story, told masterfully by author Steven Pressfield in his book The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great about an encounter that Alexander had upon entering India for the first time.

Paraphrased in my words:

Upon entering India, Alexander first encountered the Gymnosophists, or “naked wise men” descending to the river where they would bathe and chant.  These sages seemed to regard Alexander’s rough core with a sense of patience and beneficence.

An incident occurred that was a matter of discussion amongst Alexander and his Generals.  Upon entering a particular village, one of Alexander’s paiges had strided ahead to clear the road for his precession.  The paige encountered several of these sages who were occupying the road, and would not leave.  A crowd gathered, with a resulting conflict as to who had the right to occupy the road – Alexander or the gymnosophists.

One of Alexander’s generals engaged in a spirited exchange with the senior of these wise men, where he suggested,

 Alexander has conquered the world, what have you done?

To which the sage instantly replied, without a moment’s hesitation:

I have conquered the need to conquer the world

What a powerful example.  Something that I truly wish to emulate in my life.

The word conquer could easily be substituted for “success” or “achievement”.  How many of us feel that we need to be successful?  How many of us feel the constant need to achieve?

I bet all of us for the most part.

Why is this?  What is it about the human condition that makes it this way?

In my life, and my work, I have found that I am at my creative peak, and at my most courageous mindset, when I transcend the “need to achieve”.  When I do things for their own sake, without regard to the rewards that I will obtain from them, that is when I am at my best.

That is when I most acutely trigger flow in my work.

That is when my creativity shines through.

It is a habit that I am trying to cultivate daily – doing work for the sake of the work alone.  In whatever I am engaging in – an article, a chapter in a book, a business marketing campaign, a sales engagement – trying to master the engagement, for the sake of mastery, not because of what I may get from it.

Conquering the need to conquer

I am absolutely convinced that this mindset is at the heart of mastery, and that true masters in any craft (and yes business, and sales, is a craft) at some point, transcend the need for rewards as a result of their behaviour.  Their behaviour then becomes autotelic (meaning it is an end in itself).

When this happens success, or achievement, comes as a matter of course – a natural consequence arising from one’s mastery of a subject matter.  I don’t think that mastery is possible without adopting this type of mindset.  The road to excellence in anything is just too hard otherwise.

So here is a challenge – in whatever you are pursuing – ask yourself.  Would you still pursue it if no one ever found out?  Would you still do it if you never were rewarded?  Is the action its own reward?  That is a very telling analysis into our true motivation.

Why Playing Lego With My Son Helps Me As An Entrepreneur

Lego

My six year old son Seth is far more skilled at Lego than I ever was at his age (or arguably ever).

Playing lego with him is something that I’ve taken to lately.  He really is amazingly talented, not only can he build structures designed for kids much older than him (according to the instruction sheet) but he also is able to come up with his own designs (symmetrical I might add).

His abilities make me proud.  They make me think that a career in design or technology could be in order in a couple of years.  That excites me.

In playing Lego, fairly extensively, with him over the last month or so I’ve also recognized a number of principles that help me as an entrepreneur as well.

Who knew I’d find inspiration in such a simple place?

Here is how playing Lego with my son is helping me in business:

1. “As long as we have the box, it’s ok if we lose the instruction sheet.” 

Even if we lose the instruction sheet (which generally happens within a day or so of getting the new Lego set in our house – remember my son is good at Lego, but he’s still six) we are ok if we still have the box.

The box gives us a picture of the end game – the result that we want. If we lose the instruction sheet we can adapt by keeping our eyes on the final destination (the image on the box).  We may not take exactly the same road, but eventually we’ll figure out where all the pieces go, and re-create the structure that we see.

In business we try to obtain instruction sheets (a mentor, a marketing strategy, a strategic plan) designed to pave the straightest path to the result that we want.  But once we start down this path we often find that the instructions aren’t that helpful (so they might as well be lost), there are obstacles that we didn’t anticipate, and variables that we couldn’t have seen coming.

But as long as we can remember our goal, and why we are doing what we are doing – why we are in business in the first place (the “image on the box”) we’ll be ok.

We might take a different route to the final destination but that’s ok.  We’ll still arrive.

2. “This piece isn’t the right colour, but it fits, and it does the job”

Everyone who has played Lego knows exactly what I’m talking about here.  A piece goes missing (as they always do), and you end up finding a replacement, but it’s the wrong colour.  To a perfectionist Dad (like myself) this can be somewhat traumatic – but hey – life isn’t ever perfect.

This is a great lesson for an entrepreneur.

Life isn’t ever perfect, so get over it.  Sometimes you have to come up with solutions, that while not perfect, at least work, and get the job done until you can get a replacement.  A key skill as an entrepreneur is adaptability, and agility to move quickly.  So if I can get a “replacement piece” from time to time then that’s a victory.

3. “Dad, the dog just stepped on the Millennium Falcon, now we have to start all over again!” 

Such is the sad state of just about every boy or girl who has ever built a lego structure (and has an older / younger sibling or nosy pet).

Life is about uncertainty, especially in business. There isn’t a business in the world that has gotten things “perfect” without any difficulty and then maintained that “perfection” to a steady run of perpetual profits.  Just like the Lego ship, we have to rebuild from time to time.  We have to start over again. That’s life!  But we can endure.

4. “This ship is boring, I want to make a different one”

Progression is a principle of a happy life – in both Lego and business.  That is part of the intrigue, and joy, of being an entrepreneur (and Lego designer).

After you successfully complete one structure (and various derivations of it) you want to progress, you want to grow, you want to test your abilities on a more difficult set.

Such is the case in business.  Progression and innovation is necessary, not only for continuing profitability in a competitive environment, but also for the enjoyment of an entrepreneur.

So I shouldn’t look at challenges and innovations as frustrations (and longing for the “good old days”) but rather as fun opportunities to grow and challenge myself.  That is what being an entrepreneur is all about, and part of what makes it so enjoyable.

Learning To Finish

Finish

Before the end of the year I will be done the first draft of the manuscript of my second book.

Having the “finish line” on my mind, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve learned over these last couple years on the subject of “finishing.”

Starting something is easy – most people have enough ideas of their own (or access to other’s ideas) to get the inspiration to start.  After we start, perspiration becomes far more important than inspiration, and really it is just a matter of sitting down each day, turning off the never ending noise machine which is our mind, and doing our work.

But when we approach the finish line, we start to self assess.

We start to wonder whether our work is any good, and whether it will be received well by others.

This isn’t just for a writer.  It applies to the pursuit of any creative venture: a new business enterprise, an artistic or music endeavour.  Approaching the finish line causes us to pull our head up from the daily grind of “getting our work” done, and introspect.

We don’t want to introspect when we are in production mode. The best thing that we can do is just grind, each day.  But, at some point, in the process (usually around the finish line) the introspection is natural.

We start to think about finishing, and what will be the result of our investment of time.

During this process it is easy to doubt ourself and wonder if this whole endeavour was a colossal waste of time, and if so what should  we do? Do we push forward and finish, even if there is a chance that it isn’t a “run away best-seller” or the type of business that makes us a millionaire.

I cannot say that all things in life should be finished. The advice of “never quit” as much as we like to suggest this as a mantra, is actually quite misleading. We quit all the time, and in many cases, it’s a very good thing.

There are many smart times to quit. It’s smart to quit jobs where our personal creative genius will never be cultivated.

It’s smart to quit careers where we aren’t motivated to become our best self.

Sleepwalking through life – trading time for money just to buy some stupid status symbol that we think will impress people that we could care less about impressing – that is not an empowering way to live.

Quitting that life is smart.

But what about our creative work? And by creative work I mean that offering that we give to the world that is purely our own unique creation.

Whether it be a book, an article, a business, a song. What about that? Do we quit on that?

No. We can’t.

The admonition to never quit, only truly applies to those things in our life that we most emotionally identify with, and we are the only person in the world, not our parents, not our church leader, not our boss, not even the President of the country can tell us what those things are.

Only we know.

So if we find ourself staring down the completion of one of those things, we have to first determine if it’s truly “one of those things”.

Here we have to look deep within, and ask ourself – is this a must in my life?

Is my soul, the very essence of who I am as an individual, connected to this task? Do I truly identify my unique purpose in life with this act that I’m engaging in? Must I do this? Is it a want, or is it a must?

If it’s a must, then we have to finish.

No matter how difficult it may be. Even, especially, if no one ever reads our book, or buys our products, we need to complete it for us.

Because if we can finish it, then we’ll be able to finish everything else, meaningful, in our life that we attempt in the future. Therefore, it becomes of utmost importance, to our most strongly held hopes and desires, that we finish the project.

How do we do that?

Well, it is actually quite easy. We finish it the same way that we started it – we sit down, for a pre-determined time, and we make progress on it.

If we do this every single day, eventually we’ll be done. Nothing can stop us from completing it.

There is so much power in incremental progress, it is one of the most under-appreciated forces in the world.

Small steps, consistently maintained over a long period of time produce amazing results.

We see so many examples of this in nature. You can never “watch” a tree grow, it’s growth is too small to notice, but each day, it is growing, each day it is progressing, and slowly, and steadily it rises into a great structure that can out live a human.

A couple drops of rain don’t account for much, but a steady drizzle maintained day after day can lead to great floods, and incredible power as the accumulation of water grows.

This power can work in all aspects of our life as well, and it does work, whether we are aware of it or not.

Every day we are making choices, and when it’s all said and done, when our life is at its end, what we will have, in terms of memories, is nothing but the accumulation of all the small choices that we previously took.

There might be memorable acts of choices throughout our life, but they are the exception. The rule is the day to day. It is the choices that we make each day that in the end make or break us.

Do we watch an hour of TV, or do we spend this hour making progress on our book or business?

Do we walk or do we take a cab?

Do we eat the apple or the cake?

Each choice has a profound, and compounding, effect on our life, and the result is astounding.

Look at any accomplished person, in any field, and what we will see is that the person, each day, made small choices, to in some way or another work on their craft.

That is how we finish. Each day, for a pre-determined amount of time, we make forward progress. We stick to it. With this method there is nothing that we can’t finish.

My Five Favorite TED Talks

TED logo

As I prepare for my upcoming TEDx talk in Kelowna on September 26th I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks.  I love TED.  It is such a brilliant concept and collective – “ideas worth sharing”.

So in honor of my appreciation for TED, I wanted to share my top 5 all-time favorite TED talks.

In no particular order, here they are (and the reasons why I love them)

1. David Blaine – How I Held My Breath For 17 Minutes

Why I Love It: Believe it or not, this was in fact the first TED talk that I ever watched.  It made me want to find out “what was possible” in my life as well, and attempt to do things (albeit not quite as extreme) that other people didn’t think possible either.

2. Ben Zander – The Transformative Power of Classical Music

Why I Love It: The concept of “shining eyes” (watch the talk).  I love teaching and speaking.  I want to be as effective as a communicator as Ben Zander is.  This is a very powerful talk on how we learn, how we listen, and how a teacher knows if they are effective.

3. Seth Godin – How To Get Your Ideas To Spread

Why I Love It: Easily the most influential writer, in my eyes, in terms of getting results in our business.  Through Godin I’ve learned about tribal marketing, how to get ideas to spread, and how to stand out.  Critical for anyone wanting to make it in business today.

4. Diana Nyad – Extreme Swimming With The World’s Most Dangerous Jellyfish

Why I Love It: I love the concept of an “extreme dream”. I love pushing myself to the limits of my capacity.  You cannot watch this talk without being inspired to test your own limits.

5. Sting – How I Started Writing Songs Again

Why I Love It: I’m a writer.  I live in the creative space.  So learning from other creatives is important to me.  This talk isn’t just about writing.  It is really about having a dream, and not letting anything get in your way of accomplishing it.  A must watch in my opinion.

What Fear Of Success Means

Fear of Success

For a long time I was puzzled by the notion of “fearing success”.  I’d read about the concept, hear other speakers talk about it, but it never  sank in, and their definition didn’t make sense to me.

Why would anyone be afraid of success?  

It didn’t seem like this was a real issue to me.  Sure – I can understand fear of failure, fear of “being wrong”, fear of “being criticized”, but fear of success?  Who is afraid of that?

But over time, as I’ve set more and more goals –  trying and succeeding sometimes, trying and coming up short on others – I think that fear of success is a real concept, and I’ve given it my own definition.

It has everything to do with belief. 

Think for a minute about your life, and all the things that you have either attempted to accomplish, or wanted to accomplish but came up short, or haven’t yet pursued.

In every “endeavour” that we contemplate, there is a corresponding belief system, or mindset, that we bring into that endeavour.

What I mean is that even before we set out to achieve a goal, we have a certain belief that we hold as to whether or not that goal is actually achievable.

That is what fear of success is – the belief (even if it is in our subconscious) that we are not capable of achieving a particular goal. 

Compare it with the inverse: certainty.

Have you ever met someone who was absolutely certain that they were going to accomplish something (or better yet, have you ever been in a state of absolute certainty yourself).  Aren’t these types of people inspiring to be around?  They seem to emanate so much positive energy.  They are so influential.  They are so inspiring.  Certainty of belief is one of the most powerful persuasive methods.

Well here’s the thing – more often than not (in fact, most of the time) the person who is absolutely certain that they will achieve something, does in fact achieve it.  It becomes a self-fullfilling prophesy.  I’ve seen it over and over.  I’ve also experienced it many times in my life.  The times that I am certain are the times that I generally get what I want.

A person who operates with certainty in their belief system, as to their ability to achieve a goal, will likely achieve that goal.  This type of person does not fear success (at least in that particular engagement). 

So what about the person who fears success – it is obvious to me in their belief system.  If a person sets a goal, and then expresses doubt, in any way, as to their ability to achieve this goal – the person is fearing success.  This is what fear of success means.

I see it all the time.  Someone would “like” to have something, or it would be “nice” if they had something, but they are not certain about it.  There is doubt.  Sometimes the doubt is closely held, and not expressed, but you can always tell the difference between someone who is certain, and someone who doubts.

Fear of success is real.  At all times we’ve experienced it, and it affects our belief system – it affects our “certainty” about whether or not we will attain the goal.

We may not think we are ready.  We may not think that we are the type of person that gets what we want.  We may not feel like we deserve it. We may not feel like we have the resources, or the skill, or the time, or the connections, to get what we want.

That is fear of success 

How do you get rid of it.  Ah!  The magical question.  There is not an easy answer. Visualization can help.  Having small “victories” in our life (thereby increasing our confidence and also expanding our capacity to believe) can help as well.  Having a really positive social network around us, encouraging us can help.  But it’s not an easy, quick fix.

I think it is actually more difficult to correct than fear of failure.

Fear of failure is actually quite easy to overcome – just view failure as feedback.  You “objectify” the process.  You become an amateur scientist.  Bang!  Gone!  You want something.  You try to get it.  You don’t get it.  Ok – now analyze your actions (feedback), take new actions, and try again. Boom – failure isn’t such a bad thing.

But belief systems…..those aren’t easy to change.  Those have been crystallizing for years.  Those will take some effort.  But at least start, because fear of success is something that has the capacity to ransack any great dream.

Tapping Into The Power Of Pull Motivation

pull

Living an authentic life means living a life that we are proud of, one that resonates with our most strongly held values and our unique personality.

Authenticity is a very difficult thing to create, and maintain, in our society. It takes a lot of courage to be comfortable in our own skin, especially if it means that we take a position that is different from the crowd – or if we find ourselves going in a different direction than others, but still feeling good about it.

There’s something that the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that I never forget. I think about it all the time, and I’ve glanced at this quote so many times that it has become engrained in who I am, and it’s given me so much comfort in those times when I’ve begun to doubt my muse, or question whether I’m on the right path (despite the path being evidently clear to me):

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

We have to pursue our own unique course in life – and this philosophy should permeate everything that we do – it needs to come from within, and although we can definitely learn from others, only we can make decisions, so there has to be a conscious choice in everything that we do.

How do we know if we are living an authentic life?

I believe that we can tell through our motivation, and the “type” of motivation that we feel.

There are basically two types of motivation –  “push” motivation, and “pull” motivation.

Push motivation is motivation that is driven by an external condition – usually a reward or a punishment, pain or pleasure, hope or fear – but there always has to be something connected. There has to be a tangible payoff, or a consequence in order for us to act.

Push motivation is about doing things that we’d rather not do (like jobs) because we want something (like money), or we want to avoid something (like being poor).

With push motivation we have to constantly “push” ourselves. We have to “dig in” and sometimes do what we don’t want to do just to get the rewards. Push motivation is the “pay the bills” motivation, and it longs for the vacation or the weekend. Push motivation is the “I’d quit this job in 1 second if I won the lottery” motivation, but because our ticket never gets called – the job still remains.

Pull motivation is entirely different, and it comes from a mysterious place that I don’t think we truly understand. Pull motivation is much stronger than push motivation.  Pull motivation is when we feel “pulled” towards a pursuit, and we feel like the pursuit is greater than us – it is part of perhaps a life calling, or something that we just can’t put down.

 

We tap into pull motivation when what we are doing, or pursuing, is aligned with what we most deeply want and value. 

We don’t need to be immediately rewarded when we feel pull motivation, and we aren’t scared of consequences either. We do it because we love it, because it’s part of who we are, and we will bear with the consequences no matter what, we aren’t scared of them.

The best analogy of pull motivation is parenting. No parent needs to be “rewarded” for taking care of their kids, and I guarantee that any loving parent would risk their own life to safe the life of their child, without fear of what is going to happen to them. They do it because they love, they do it because that child is a part of who they are. They don’t exist without them.

So here is how you know if you are living an authentic life – do an inventory of yourself – how much of your life is pull motivation, and how much is push motivation, and in what areas are you feeling pull and in what areas are you feeling push?

I recognize that no one’s life is 100% pull. Even parents have those days where they push, but they have many, many days where they feel elation and pull, and those days easily outweigh the push.

If you are feeling a high percentage of push motivation in what you do, particularly in your job, then you are in the wrong career in my opinion. No questions about it.

I felt push effectively 100% of the time when I was a lawyer. Since I’ve left law, to become an entrepreneur and writer, the vast majority of my time is spent in pull motivation, and it feels so much better. I feel pulled towards my goals. It feels so good to transcend the need for rewards for our actions, or the fear of consequences.

If you feel nothing but push I have one question:

Why do you stay?

Your whole life shouldn’t be push. There is so much more to life. It feels so good to have pull motivation working for you, and it is so much more effective than push motivation.

If you stay, and you feel primarily push motivation, I would be willing to bet that the reason that you stay is fear (the answer is always fear). Don’t let fear run your life. Tap into pull.

Keeping Score

Keeping Score

I once had a lawyer say the following to me:

Money is the way that we keep score in life

Really?

This, quite possibly, could be one of the silliest, and most useless statements ever made by a human being. I’m sure there are others, but this one at least ranks.

Keeping score of what?

How little purpose he felt in his life?

How much he had to mask his low self-esteem with meaningless “symbols”.

I respected this individual, so his statement caught me off guard.  He was actually at the time trying to recruit me to work at his firm, and I guess he thought that statement would be an effective persuasive technique.

He guessed wrong.  I’m sure glad I didn’t accept his offer.

Ok then, if we shouldn’t keep score of money, what about keeping score of success?  Isn’t that what a resume is about?

Again, I think this is a bad idea.

In my experience, anything that I “keep score of” which in any way includes some factor that is outside of my control is a recipe for my own unhappiness.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, we just don’t get what we want when we want it.  So if our happiness, or our sense of purpose,  is based on an external condition – one that we cannot control – then we are constantly running the risk that this condition will not be satisfied, and then in turn, we will not be unhappy.

I think that keeping score is a very good idea, and I keep score all the time (every day for that matter), but it is very important to distinguish the things that I try to keep score of:

I only want to keep score of inputs, not outcomes.

Inputs are the “things that I put in”.  They are the things that I do each day – the things that are entirely within my control.  There is nothing that anyone, or anything can do to stop me from producing my inputs.

Let me explain by way of an example:

In my business – 

The amount of money that I make is an outcome.

The number of prospects that I contact in a day is an input.

Input is directly within my control – 100%. Therefore, I only want to focus on, or keep score of, inputs. The amount of money that I make isn’t 100% in my control.  It is close to 100%, but I cannot force people to buy what I sell.  I can only 100% control my own actions.

In my writing – 

The number of books that I sell is an outcome.

The number of words that I write each day is an input.

Inputs are 100% in my control.  I can ensure that I’m going to get my 500 word goal for the day done.  The number of books that I sell is outside of my control – therefore I don’t focus on it.

By keeping score of inputs only, I am happier, I am more productive, and (here is the grand secret) – I end up with better outcomes in the long run anyway.

Success Leaves Clues

magnifying-glass-277063_1280

Here is something really cool (that you may or may not realize):

It is very unlikely that you will be the first person to do anything in your life.

Does this demotivate you?  Are you uninspired now?  Are you sad that there is a very good chance that someone else will have first accomplished what you make your life purpose to achieve?

Not me – best news ever! 

Why?

Simple – I have a roadmap now.  I can find out the intelligent approach to achieving what I want to achieve.

Life isn’t a race anyway.  I could care less if someone else has already accomplished what I want to achieve.  I think it is awesome because I can retrace their steps.  I can do the things that they did to achieve what they achieved, and I can duplicate their success.

I operate under a presupposition that if someone can do something, then I can do it as well.  So when I know that someone else has achieved what I want to achieve, and I can determine the steps that they take (by talking to them, reading a book that they wrote, listening to a talk that they gave) then I am in a very good position to accomplish the same achievement.

Now it is possible that you are a once in a generation innovator – that you will indeed be the person to do something that no one else has ever done.  I think that we all strive for that in some way, and I sincerely hope that each of us can achieve this unique conquest (if it is in fact something that we care about, and something that adds value to others).

However, the vast majority of the rest of our life will be comprised of pursuing things that at least one person has in fact accomplished prior to us.

So I embrace the fact that success leaves clues, and it is exciting to me to know that all I have to do is find them, duplicate them in my own actions, and I can also experience the desired result.

The Art of Self-Validation

self validation

What defines a good day?

What defines whether or not we “get” to be happy?

These are very personal and challenging questions – questions that everyone, at some point, will address. Humans are unique amongst the animal kingdom in that we are “meaning searching” creatures.

I’m not a scientist, but I often read science and evolution books. They are fascinating to me. As far as I am aware (and I would be happy if one of my readers corrected me on this subject) we are the only animal that openly speculates and plans around the “meaning of life” and whether, and in what form, life has a purpose?

Everyone will answer the question of life’s purpose in their own unique way, and their answer, will, for a large part, determine whether or not they are happy.

For many, many years I defined my happiness in reference to the results that I was obtaining in various pursuits. This was a very dangerous method. It always seemed like there was someone better than me, someone who was achieving more than me, someone who was better than me in the exact pursuit that I was burning the candle at both ends trying to achieve in.

The “validation by reference” method that I was using was systematically flawed.

It was hopeless from the beginning, because if I could only feel good about myself, in the event that I was achieving, or in the event that I was the best, then I was 100% guaranteed to be disappointed, as I had not factored in the possibility that there were many things that were outside of my control.

At some point – I think it was because I “failed” in my first career choice (in some people’s eye’s, not my own), I changed from a “validation by reference” paradigm to a purely “validation by self” model.

This alone, I believe, is the most critical factor in the day to day well being that I now feel.

In order to control your happiness, you have to be the architect of your well-being. To do this you have to first define what the rules are for whether or not you can define a day as a good day, and you can define yourself as a success.

If you allow these rules to be set by the world you will never be happy. If you take control of them yourself you can also “validate” yourself in the process.

For example – I now use a “checklist” system that I have created to determine whether or not I should feel good about a given day. This system is entirely within my control. I’m not advocating anyone to use this model – happiness is a personal journey. However, I can share what I do because it may help someone else – and contributing value to others is one of my primary values.

Here is how my checklist system works:

I define several acts (all of which I can control) that I want to accomplish in a given day – things like writing 500 words, or working a certain number of hours on our business.

These acts are all related to the long term goals that I have. I also include certain things in line with my paramount values – such as how I want to treat my family, and physical fitness goals.

Every single act on my checklist I have the power to accomplish. I judge my worth, and the quality of my day, by whether or not I have completed my checks for the day.

I’ve been using this model for years. My wife jokes about all the “grids” she sees in my office, but she doesn’t quarrel with them because she knows that this system is at the heart of my well-being.

At the end of the day I get to “self-validate”. As I make my checks I feel quite good about myself, and my day, and the best part was that it was all in my power.

There really is no magic to this, it is just a simple little tool, that I’ve built into a habit, that allows me to define my self-worth by reference to my “self” rather than by reference to other people (and what they do), and I have found that this habit has paid huge compounding returns in my self-esteem, and sense of general well-being.

So if you struggle at all with any of these – my advice – develop a system where you, alone, get to determine your validation. You get to “self-validate”.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, my favorite books were the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.  In fact, they were really the only books that I liked to read.

I would read every book that I could get my hands on.  I took out every copy I could find from both my school library and the public library.  They were the only books that I can remember truly loving when I was a kid.

I recently came across some of these book in a second hand book store (the picture above).  For those of you unfamiliar with this series, the books are written in the second person, and the protagonist—that is, the reader—takes on a role relevant to the adventure.  The stories play out so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the reader faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings (the number of endings in each book varies depending on the book).

These books led to hours of discovery and adventure for me as a kid, and because of the way the books were written I could re-read a book several times, and still have a different ending and experience, based on the choices that I made.  I loved how my choices had consequences.  I wasn’t scared of the consequences; In fact I loved the adventure of uncertainty.  I would often daydream of having my own life adventures as well, and the bounty of choice that was in front of me.  Choice was exciting, uncertainty was adventure.

Although I stopped reading the books as I grew older, this mindset – that I could “choose my own adventure” in life stayed with me throughout college, and even into law school, and in my first job after law school.  Things were new, and exciting, and I didn’t know how the outcome was going to play out.

After a couple of years of being a lawyer I hit a very dark place in my life, and for the first time I experienced real depression and anxiety.  I wrote about my depression and anxiety attacks at length in my book Unsuited.  For me, being open about my depression has been a fundamental component of my becoming empowered, and recovering from the dark place I found myself in during those years.  I’m not ashamed of this period.  It was a sickness, that took hold me, why should I be ashamed of it?  In fact, I think about it often – not quite daily – but enough not to forget it.  I never want to feel again, in my entire life, how I felt during those dark years.

Yesterday for some reason I was thinking about the dark years, and at the same time I was thinking about the “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” (oddly enough – and there is a connection, keep reading).

I realized that the darkest moments of my life, the moments of grim depression that gripped me, were also the moments when I didn’t believe that I had the power to choose my own adventure anymore. 

I felt stuck.  I felt trapped by the demands of a career that wasn’t fulfilling.  I felt trapped by the 9-5, the bills, the mortgage, the commitments – life itself.  This is something that I think (in fact I know) that many other people share – the anxiety associated with the transition from being a child to being a responsible adult – where the excitement of the adventure is seen an immature.  We need to “grow up” we are told.  We need to “get a real job”.  We need to “buy a house”.  We need to….

What I’ve since discovered is that we don’t need to do anything.  We still get to choose.  We never lost that ability.  Perhaps for a moment the crowd hypnotized us, but we have always had the power to go a different way.

Life is most fulfilling when it is a daring adventure, and the one thing that no one – no boss, no law firm partner, and no institution – can ever take away from us is our ability to choose.  Just like in those books.  Every day presents itself to me with several choices to make.  I alone get to make them.  Now granted, I alone have to accept the responsibility of my choices, but I’m never trapped.

I’m never trapped in a job

I’m never trapped on a dead end

At any moment I can change, I am the protagonist. 

It is such an amazing feeling when you embrace this concept – that you are the hero of your story.  You are the protagonist. You get to choose every outcome.

For me, this discovery was at the heart of my coming out of depression – the idea that no one had power over me.

I can’t speak for anyone on the subject of depression.  I’m neither qualified, nor do I believe that there is a one-size-fits-all remedy.  It’s too complex.

But I can just say, that if there is anyone that reads my blog that struggles, or has struggled, with depression it helped me tremendously to take control back of my choices, and realize that forever, I am the protagonist – that I get to choose my own adventure, no matter what.

Ryan Clements, Author, Public Speaker, Performance Coach and Entrepreneur. Helping People Achieve Optimal Performance In Their Lives

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