The Art of Listening

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For the last two weeks I have been listening to customers talk  about Holiday plans.  While many  are excited to see friends and relatives, most are expressing significant dread over interactions they will have with their guests and relatives. One couple was actually making a list of things not to talk about at holiday  gatherings and parties.  You laugh, but they were dead serious.

As I listened I wondered how many moments, how many interactions would be made better if we really took the time to listen this week.  I don’t mean just hear what someone is saying, I mean really listen.

As entrepreneurs,  I think we have strong ideas and are in forward motion twenty three and a half hours each day.  This is the very thing that allows us to get things done but it’s also the very thing that makes us hear only selective words in conversations.  We filter and hear everything through our own grid.  The result may be that we are not really “listening” even though we are hearing what is being said.

Two weeks ago I was talking with a colleague after a meeting and he asked me a question about an idea I had presented.  When I answered the question  he asked it again.  So I answered again with the same answer.  Then he asked the question again which I answered the same way I had the other two times.  By this point I was thinking,  “what is this guy’s problem?  I am speaking perfectly good English and my explanation was crystal clear.  What is it that he’s not getting?”

Finally he stopped and looked at me and said, “You are not hearing what I am saying.  My question is……”   As I processed I realized that he was right.  I wasn’t answering his question, I was answering the question I thought he should ask me and predicating my answer on what I thought  he may have missed and what I thought should be important to him.  I was pretty caught up in my brilliant idea.  I suddenly realized I was so caught up that even though I was hearing him I wasn’t really listening to him.

As we parted I felt pretty stupid.  I began to ponder how many times I converse with people, or they converse with me, and one or both of us isn’t really listening to the conversation.  We are hearing, but we are not listening!  The current buzz word is being “present.”   But in all honesty there’s nothing new or trendy about this problem.  It’s not the result of increased screen time or the advent of new technology.  It’s the same issue that we have had for generations.  Often we are too preoccupied with our own ideas to really focus on what someone else is saying.

As I thought more about it,  I was reminded of an encounter I  witnessed over 20 years ago at an event in Dallas, Texas.  I was behind stage at a large conference with my wife.  The founder of her company, Mary Kay Ash,  was walking down the hall and had stopped to talk with someone in a crowded hallway. Even though the hallway was packed with people wanting her attention,  her focus was on the one individual she was talking to.  She was intense and focused.   I remember watching as staff were trying to get her attention and move her along.  But her focus never wavered.   She was really listening to what was being said!  I remember seeing someone tug at her  shoulder to try and get her attention.  She never flinched or reacted.  Finally everyone around got the message  – “I am listening and when I am listening I don’t want to be distracted.”   I later read that when Mary Kay talked with someone she always placed the  thought  in her mind that the person was wearing a sign around their neck that said,  “Make me feel important.”   She disciplined herself to not be distracted.  She listened with a singular focus.  I could see it right there with my own eyes.  I believe she really heard what was being said to her even though there was activity and chaos all around her.   Don’t I wish that people listened to me that way?   Better yet, don’t I wish I listened to others that way?

As for me, I can be in a conversation with one person and be hearing the words in six other conversations around me.  I am not sure whether I am a little ADD or I just don’t want to miss anything.   Or, maybe I am just looking for a better conversation to join.   Be honest –  have you ever done the same thing?

As an entrepreneur, I often find that I am intent, but often it’s on my own ideas.  I am in forward motion and if someone is not running with me I can run over or right past them.

The problem with all of this  is that when we do that, we miss so much.  We miss:

  …the wisdom someone may be sharing.

  …the real point of a conversation.

  …the power of another point of view.

  …the connection that we might share with someone else.

  …the opportunity to be a listening ear for someone else.

  …the opportunity to AVOID CONFLICT and come to mutual understanding.

  …the collaboration and great ideas that can come as a result of someone else’s input.

  …something significant that someone may contribute to your life.

So here’s a a couple of things I am going to try to do – not just this Holiday Season but routinely as I enter into the new year:

*Ask lots of questions

*Be less intent on saying “what I think.”

*Listen to the conversation from someone else’s vantage point.

*Stop patiently waiting for someone else to quit talking so I can share my thoughts.

*Refuse to be distracted or interrupted by the something urgent outside of my conversation.

Communication is an art these days.  Let’s face it, it’s really a LOST art!   There are hundreds of books and experts to help us out with communication, conflict resolution, and complicated relationships.  But maybe if we just stop and listen, take time to really enter into a conversation, we will not only listen, we will hear what someone is saying.

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Dreaming or Doing in 2020- Imperatives for TODAY!!

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Anyone who knows Susie and I know that we have totally different perceptions of  the immediacy of approaching events.  Susie begins to talk about Christmas plans in July.  We often laugh when she says in July that people are already working on their January calendars.  I on the other hand tend to think about January 1st on December 31st.  I am fine with making New Year’s goals the first week of the year.  After all we have 51 more weeks to work out  the kinks.

As I age and mellow I have come to see the wisdom in looking further down the road.  I thought I was making a lot of progress when I decided to start seriously looking at 2020 last week.  I was thinking about what I believe God wants 2020 to look like in our lives.  I am 41 days ahead of my normal schedule so I am pretty proud.  Susie on the other hand just rolled her eyes and probably thought “We are making progress… but in very small baby steps……”

So why now?  Forty-one whole days early. There are so many platitudes and wall plaque sayings that I could list.  Failure to plan is planning to fail.  Shoot at nothing and you are sure to hit it.  Instead, I’d just like to have you think about five concepts as you begin planning and dreaming about 2020.

First, the most basic thought I have today is a mixture of a quote by  Jared James and my own personal beliefs.  We have the privilege and opportunity as entrepreneurs to CREATE WHAT YOU BELIEVE GOD WANTS YOU TO SEE IN 2020!  As entrepreneurs we have the privilege of determining  where we place our efforts.  Who we work with.  What our activities will be.  How fast or how slow  we go.   Let that sink in.  So many people I watch have their careers and goals and their daily routines determined by someone else’s priorities and goals.  That makes me cringe and get depressed all at the same time.    Take advantage of the privilege and the opportunity.

Second, Acknowledge Assessing  the Components of a Dream Takes Time.  If you need to change course it takes planning. If your dream is a little foggy it takes time. Start now to put the picture together in your mind’s eye.  Paint the pictures in layers.  Add and take away until the picture of next year is crystal clear.

When I look down the road and dream I try to answer the four basic entrepreneurial questions:

1.  What do I want to see happen as a result of my endeavors in 2020? What milestones do I want to meet?  Who do I want to see most affected?  Remember – planning is not only about achievement it is about developing influence

2.  Why am I doing this?  Why do I want to see my goals become a reality?  This should be tied to what you really want to see your life be about.

3. How will my goals happen? Is there a logical way that this vision I see in my head can be brought to reality in logical steps?  I know we cannot predict how God will move and what He will bring into our lives.  We have to leave plans for Him to do the impossible.  But at the same time there has to be a basic logical plan.  You cannot say I want  to make it to goal X, and just keep doing what you did that only got you to goal B. We need a plan!

4. Who do I need to involve in my plans and dreams?  No entrepreneur works in a vacuum.  Look around and ask yourself “Who needs to be a part of my plan?”  Who needs to be a part of my  inner circle?  Who can help give me the encouragement and motivation I need? Who do I need to help keep me on track?

I keep these questions in front of me and give them thought.  I find that time and prayer allow things to come to mind.  If I try and answer  the questions in one hour, one day or even a week my vision is very limited.  Give yourself a couple of weeks of consistent thought.  It will make your focus, your resolve, and your direction so much clearer.

Third, Put a Time Frame Around Your “Dreaming and your Planning Period.”  I am all for dreaming but I know it’s possible to spend so much time dreaming that we never  spend time doing.   Dreaming is so important.  It keeps us motivated, it allows us to create a picture and work towards it.  But too much dreaming does nothing.  I remember early on in my wife’s Mary Kay career someone told us that a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking  and dreaming about their business, they just don’t spend a lot of time doing their business.  Ouch!  But so true.  We need to put constraints on our dreaming and say,  “At this time, I have to start moving, I have to start doing.”

Fourth, as you dream and plan Make Sure You Don’t Spend More Time Focusing on the Results than You Do on the Process.  I realized very early in my business life that I can have a goal but there is no way I can control whether I reach it or not.  I cannot control results.  I CAN ONLY CONTROL MY PART OF THE PROCESS!!  I think we all have things that we want but “wanting” something never gets anything accomplished.  Doing does.

Fifth, Ask Yourself  WHAT DO I HAVE TO CHANGE TO GET MYSELF TO MY GOALS?  Honesty  is the best solution here.  We really do know the answer to this question.  Sometimes we don’t want to admit it but we do know.  Now have the courage to do something about it.

Lastly, what are the realistic day to day activities you are going to need to do to get you to where you believe you should go? I am amazed at how often I try to skirt the law of averages.  In real estate there are a certain number of calls I need to make each day. At the school there are a certain number of people I must contact and teach to see the business grow.  In Susie’s business there are a certain number of faces she must “wash” each week.  But, how often do I find myself giving myself a pass and thinking “If I don’t do the dailies, it will still happen”?  If you find a planet where this happens, please let me know.

Oops, one more.  Having new goals does not get you off the hook for the next 41 days!  2020 starts now! Even if your 2019 goals and resolutions have gotten away from you, you cannot coast and think “I will start January 1st.”  The activities of today, of this week, of this month are your set up for 2020. What you accomplish today lays the foundation for weeks and months to come.

Begin the dreaming now!  Take the time and exercise the gift that entrepreneurship gives you of being able to dream and then bring your dream to life.  It’s such a privilege to live this kind of life.  That privilege comes with responsibilities.  I believe one is to plan early and give yourself time to paint the full picture in your mind.  2020 can be a masterpiece or a hurried and incomplete sketch.  Now is the time when you decide which you will create.

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Dave’s *Nine Rules for Dealing with People*…

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As an entrepreneur,  there is one thing we need to make our businesses exist – people!  There are days I love people!  The joy I experience when I see them grow, when I see one of our companies provide them with something that influences their lives and makes life better for them.  Then there are the days when I  scratch my head and wonder,  “did that encounter really just take place?”   Guess what – you can experience both those emotions,  joy and dismay,  at the hand of the same person, in the same five minute time span.

One afternoon a customer  requested a meeting with me.   I asked why and she said, ” I have a problem with one of your policies.”    I had a good relationship with the individual so I really thought it was an easy fix if I explained why we follow a specific protocol.

The  meeting began like any other.  The individual walked into my office and proceeded to tell me all the things she loved about our company. She even thanked me for what we were doing for her family.  Then she proceeded to explain my policy that wasn’t working for her.  I told her I understood but here was the reason I couldn’t honor her request for an exception to our policy.  I  thought I was logical, kind, and rationally explained  why I could not make an exception for her.  Her response was shocking.

Her voice got progressively louder as she informed me that she was the kind of customer I wanted and needed in my establishment.  My door was open and I began to realize the hallway was getting very quiet.  Her  voice continued to grow louder as she told me she was important in our town and was a respected business owner herself.   Then she threatened to write a one star review on Google.  When it was clear that I would not honor her request she left my office.  (She did make good on that Google review and  added a negative  email to 400 of her own customers).  When she reached the door at the  end of the hall which was still  filled with customers and employees she turned and shouted words which  still ring in my ears… “You should be ashamed of this business and the way you run it.”  She tried to slam the door but the air pump prohibited her final act of drama.

Then the most amazing thing happened when the door was closed.  At first there were a few seconds of silence as everyone was stunned at the outburst they had witnessed.  Then  the entire hallway broke into  laughter.  Employees and customers alike were just shaking their heads and several just smiled as they walked by.  One who knew the woman well said,  “I know who that was but I have never met that version of her.”

People,  love them or dislike them, but either way you have to learn to deal with them.   We all handle the pleasant encounters pretty well.  In fact we crave them.  Words of affirmation and praise fuel us!  But those difficult encounters.  That’s where I need help.  I know there  are thousands of books dealing with every aspect of  our relationships with our family,  friends,  customers, and employees.  My favorite is “Mary Kay on Managing People.”   But because I know you are short on time I have come up with “Dave’s Top Nine Ways of Dealing with People in a Difficult Situation.”

*Rule #1   Adhere to the Mister Rogers Principle.  Before you unleash any type of negative verbiage ask yourself  “would Fred say that.”  I never heard or read of Mr. Rogers uttering words that were harsh, destructive or retaliatory.  Maybe a lesson we all need to learn.

*Rule #2  You Can Never Take back Words Once they Have left your Mouth.  They may be forgiven but they are seldom forgotten! I can’t stress this enough.  I know we want to give others a piece of our mind.  We want to get our own way.  We want to be in charge.  We want our voices to be heard and we don’t want to be trampled.  We are RIGHT, after all!!  But the sad truth is that none of us is 100% right at any given time.  We could change so much if we remember our words can destroy or they can build up.  They are rarely neutral and  they are rarely forgotten.  II Corinthians 9:3 reminds us that words can encourage others to action.

*Rule #3.  Make a choice to Respond  not React.  In every encounter  you have a choice.  Let your emotions dictate your response,  or think and respond logically and analytically.  I know we can’t always set emotions aside, but the more we can control them the better our day. Yes, people will tromp on you and all that you stand for but don’t react, respond.

*Rule #4.  Look Below the Surface and Don’t Take Things personally – It’s Not all About You.  I have come to realize that no one lives the life we assume they do.  Take a minute to consider what might be driving someone’s behavior.  Then realize that often people’s responses are not really about you – they are about them and their situation.

*Rule #5.  Listen to what others say  for words of truth but protect your heart against personal unwarranted attacks.  People often know our most vulnerable area and they aim right for it.  Continually put who God says you are and what He has called you to do at the center of your thoughts.

*Rule#6. Realize we all have just a little bit of Crazy and Stupid in us.  Come on  –  be honest.  There is no one “normal!”

*Rule #7. Try to  treat everyone with dignity and respect.  Yep – even when they don’t deserve it.  Nothing is ever accomplished by tearing someone else down.

*Rule 8. Learn to Stand your ground.  This was a tough one for me.  In the early days I was afraid of losing customers and bringing a blemish on our reputation.  But I soon learned that I had to stand for what is right and the principles I had built our businesses upon.  I can’t compromise because standing firm is uncomfortable and compromise would be easier.

*Rule 9.  Be thankful for the people who are positive and speak life with their words and follow their example.  The Encouragers!  God bless them!  They get more accomplished because they look for ways to move us forward with words that instruct and build us up.  If you have them in your life hold on to them.  Better yet, be one yourself.

I mentioned II Corinthians 9:3 earlier.  The verse contains this thought – “your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”  I want to develop success in my businesses but I know it’s more important to develop success in life.   At the end of the day,  I hope my words are enthusiastic and positively stir others to action.   In every situation let’s think about using words that “speak life.”

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When the Unnecessary Becomes Urgent

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It’s no secret that every entrepreneur has parts of their business that they thoroughly enjoy and others that they dislike.   The activities we gravitate towards are in our wheelhouse, we excel at them, they bring us joy, and we are usually able to see results or the promise of results  in a short time.

But then, there are those activities/responsibilities that we keep pushing to the bottom of the the “To Do” list. Maybe we don’t like to do them, they bore us, our knowledge in that area may be limited, or we just hate spending our time doing them.  Strangely, they almost never make it on our list of things that I must get done today.   They are often not the critical components of our business that make it run or generate immediate revenue. (If they are, maybe we are in the wrong business).

We have three storage units that we use to store props, scenery components, and equipment for Masterworks School of the Arts.  They are piled from floor to ceiling, from corner to corner with “stuff!”   They’re my least favorite place to visit but they save us a ton of money and time not having to rebuild and recreate scenery and props that we use routinely.  I hate going there because no matter how many times we clean them out,  the units always seem like they are  a mess.  I don’t enjoy organizing them, I don’t enjoy cataloging them, and I usually come away with bumps, bruises, and nail scrapes because they are crowded and unruly.  But because they are not crucial to our daily operation I can conveniently ignore them 99% of the time.

Several years ago one of my employees told me to stop worrying about the storage units.  She said that was an insignificant area of the business for the owner to have to supervise.  She wanted to take that load off my mind after a production.  She said her gift was creating order out of chaos.  She loved it!!  Getting the three units in shape was her dream job.

Relieved,  I thanked her profusely and told her to go for it.  Whenever we had sets and props from a musical she would volunteer to take them to storage.  It was great.  I thought about it but never checked up or got actively involved in the situation.

Then it happened.  One day we had a concert and needed a piece of sound equipment from storage.  Though I was in dress clothes I said I would run and get it.  The staff told me they needed it back in the building and set up in 30 minutes.  I went to storage and popped open the door to unit 1.

As the door went up stuff came falling down and out on the street everywhere.  Scenery pieces fell.  Paint cans began rolling out of the unit as they were knocked over by the falling scenery. Two popped open and purple and lime green paint came oozing out all over the ground which I stepped in while trying to grab something that was falling towards me.   One piece of scenery lined with 3 inch light bulbs crashed to the ground outside the unit  and all the lights shattered.  For what seemed like an eternity, things kept shifting, moving, crashing, breaking and spilling. It was like a scene from Candid Camera and Poltergeist at the same time.

As best I could figure out,  for a year my employee had just stuffed everything in the unit and forced the door shut.  I was sure there had to be a camera from the show “Hoarders” filming this incredible mess.  Not only did I need to clean the mess up, and get the door closed, I had to find the piece of sound equipment I needed.  Yep, I was feeling all the emotions you are thinking.

As I processed the “event” I realized I really didn’t have the right to blame all of this on my employee and that I really needed to face areas of my business that I don’t like to do.  (Besides she had already left our company almost a month before.  I think she knew at some point I would open that door. )  I had delegated something that was in my area of responsibility because I just didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t like doing it, and it brought me no joy.  Besides,  it wasn’t something that was important in the daily running of the business.  But left unattended, left unmanaged, at some point it was inevitable that there would come a cataclysmic, ugly, messy event.   When I needed something  in a hurry, that seeming insignificant area became a huge, annoying, pain in the neck deal.

I learned a few things that day.  Begrudgingly I  have had to change  the way I structure my day and the way I handle those off-the-radar and unnecessary activities/responsibilities.

First, I had to face what really happens when I  ignore undesirable responsibilities:

   *Ignoring areas of our business that are out of sight and out of mind usually wind up creating a situation that is  out of control. (On a smaller scale think my storage unit, on a big scale think Enron when the management didn’t pay attention to those working for them.)

   *Ignored areas cause a sense of unease because somewhere  in the back of our minds we know that something is probably not the way it should be.

   *Ignored areas create insecurity in our minds about the future of our business.  We know they are there so we know we never have a full 360 degree picture of where we are.

   * Ignored responsibilities usually  surface and create a  crisis situation at the most inopportune time.

   *Because an area is ignored doesn’t  mean it is  unimportant.

   *Ignoring these areas leads to a “buildup” in the area.  Buildups lead to emergencies, emergencies lead to catastrophies.  Catastrophies cost dearly in money and time.

   *Acknowledge that there are areas of every business, parts of every process, that we don’t enjoy.

In the days past my “Hoarders” experience I did a couple of things:

   *Make a physical list of  activities you can ignore but you should still know about or accomplish.  Mine has four areas.

   *Work in one of those areas for at least an hour each week. I make sure I give them a solid hour of uninterrupted time so I get a real handle on them.  The relief you feel will be noticeable.

   *I try to be honest with myself and admit that they are there and that I don’t like them and in some cases have limited expertise in that area.

   *Even if I delegate the responsibilities out, I still actively monitor the situation.

I haven’t arrived in this area…yet!  But I am slowly making progress. I lose less sleep wondering about off-the-radar areas.  My 360 degree picture of my businesses is much clearer.  Most importantly, I don’t tend to get lime green and purple paint all over my shoes at inopportune times!

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They Expect & Plan to Succeed…

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I think it blows some people away.  It  angers others.   At the same time,  it amuses others.   Some just shake their head in  disbelief.  What am I talking about?   It’s when “they” see Hobby Lobby full of Christmas inventory in June!

Yesterday I had a powerful reminder of just how smart “they” are on so many levels.  The lesson came at my own personal expense.  Both in time and gas money.

Let me back up.  Many of you know that one of our businesses is Dave’s Christmas Workshop.  We do interior home Christmas decorating.  This year,  three of our customers needed  their homes done before November 7th for a home tour.  I have been one of those crazy people buying supplies for months.  In August I went into Hobby Lobby and noticed that there were  aisles and aisles of Christmas merchandise.  They have a cool system where as things sell they shift the remaining merchandise counter clockwise in the store until it’s all gone.  That part I am used to.  What blew me away this year was that all over the entire store there is a second supply  of merchandise on all the overhead shelves.  As I tried to comprehend the task of knowing how much to order, how much money to risk on inventory, I mentioned it to the woman at the checkout counter.  Her response showed the signs of a well organized business where planning is key.  She said, “We sell more decorations than anyone in the area and almost any other Hobby Lobby.  This year we will probably break all records.”

I’m doing good at helping her meet that goal!  But yesterday I had a problem.  I needed to purchase a small tree that had to be finished yesterday.  Unfortunately Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday.   I thought, “no problem, I’ll just grab one somewhere else.”  Well, six stores and two hours later I finally found something almost close to what I needed.   As I went from store to store employees just dismissed my request with “we’re not set up for Christmas yet –  give us maybe another  week?!?”  Yep, that really worked for me.   But I also realized I’m not the only one needing supplies.  While in the checkout line a family behind me said they were purchasing supplies, too,  because they have an early Christmas with their kids at Thanksgiving.

Hobby Lobby will beat them all hands down!  They have planne…they have invested in inventory…they are ready for all shoppers – the early birds and the late ones…they have communicated their plan to their employees…the goal is right out in front for everyone to see…I would love to get an inside view of their Christmas sales numbers.

The whole experience made me realize again the principle that “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”   It’s a universal principle that applies to every area of our lives.

In full disclosure, in all of our business efforts I often have a pretty good idea of the plan, but for years I would say that planning cramps my style and stifles my creativity.  On specific occasions I would purposefully just avoid the activity all together.  I always paid the price.

Susie, by contrast,  is the meticulous planner.  Whether it’s her business or a birthday party, every detail is important to her.  To tell you I never get annoyed with her attention to detail and timelines would be a lie.  But over 40 years I have come to see and appreciate the fact that if you’re not prepared, if you fail to plan:

     *You will never meet your full potential.

     *You will always be scrambling to catch up ( I always laugh when I see the sign “Your failure to plan is not our emergency.”)

     *Your customers or your friends and family will not view you as the “Gold Standard” and the best of the best.

   * Your customers will not be able to refer you,  your services, or your customer satisfaction with 100 % confidence.

    *There will be unnecessary moments, sometimes hours of regret for what could have been, for poor performances, for unmet expectations.

   *Life will always seem like it’s on the verge of falling apart.

 That’s what I want for all of our endeavors.  To  provide the people I am trying to serve with the best possible care and results.  Truthfully, we all have people we are trying to serve so it’s not just limited to the shop owner down the street or to Walmart.  Whether it’s my family life, my spiritual life, or my business life, there needs to be some amount of planning.  And to me planning is just taking time at regular intervals to determine not only how to get from point A to point B, but also figuring out what are point A and point B.  This is a principle of life  that applies to all of us.

When we plan, the result will be moments in our day and  moments in our life, that will affect us for days, weeks, and years to come.  I told you Susie is a planner…no…she is the planner!  In fact all of Mia’s Fab Five’s Christmas gifts are already bought and wrapped for Christmas!  Though that may seem annoying to many, the advance planning and work will allow us to enjoy every moment and event of the holidays.  We can focus on our kids and grandchildren, on the events, on the effectiveness of time together,  not wishing we “had thought of that earlier.”


     * Energizes me.

     *  It fuels me and gives momentum to my day.

     *It helps clear my head when the days get hectic.

     *It allows me to keep my priorities in order.

     *It helps me spend those 1440 minutes of each day wisely.

     *It is the surest way I know to see your full potential realized.

The writer of Proverbs put it best.

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

                                                                                                         Proverbs 21:5 NIV

So plan on planning.  Take just a few minutes each day.  Sometimes take an hour just to dream and plan.  It will effect every area of your life!

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Startled by the Scoreboard

Logo Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 3.09.59 PMWhile listening to a podcast last Monday,  I was reminded of a term I heard years ago but had purposely forgotten about.  It’s the word “Solopreneur.”   The term is not new but has not been used a great deal in the past few years.  However, it’s  having a resurgence of use as more and more people launch out on their own and shun the corporate track.  In this instance the speaker was warning against becoming a Solopreneur.  He stated that it was a path that all true entrepreneurs needed to avoid.

 A simple difference between the two terms, Entrepreneur and Solopreneur,  is that an Entrepreneur  typically builds a business with the hopes that someday that business will be able to be sold to a corporate giant like Google.  Then the Entrepreneur moves on to the next dream with huge amounts of cash in their pockets.  It’s why you see so many people trying to brand themselves on social media.  The hope is to one day sell your influence, your brand, and your business for a huge profit.

The term “Solopreneur” usually is referring to someone who is entrepreneurial but they have no desire to manage and develop a big company.  Instead, they are content to do the work of a business.

I’m not sure how you work, but I’m kind of a hybrid.  I had people tell me I should stop working in my business and work on it.   For the last 20 years I have both managed and worked in my businesses making me what I call a “Soloentrepreneur.”    I love it!  I don’t have intentions of selling my businesses and I really get great satisfaction of doing a lot of the daily work.  At the same time I manage over thirty employees.  But I have had more than one coach tell me I am limiting my profitability by running my businesses this way.

All of  the  sudden when I heard the term,  I looked up and it was as if there was this giant neon success scoreboard right in front of me.   It startled me!   Even though it was invisible to everyone else it was right there in my minds’ eye bigger than life.   It was just like all the jumbo trons  you see in the arenas.  You can’t ignore it because it has a new message flashing across the board  every three seconds.  When I stop to look at the scoreboard I have the horrible realization – I am not leading in this game.  In fact, almost everyone else seems to be ahead of me.  Worst of all the clock in the center is still steadily ticking down and time is running out.

One of my friends just sold his  business and I didn’t.   Score is 0-1.  (It doesn’t matter that I don’t plan to sell any of my businesses…).  Another friend has just begun franchising her business establishing storefronts in two other states – Score 0-2  (It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to franchise…).  I must be falling behind…then that competitive nature kicks in and I think what do I do now?  How do I catch up and get ahead?   I really do want to be at the top of the scoreboard.  I’ve got to come up with a new plan and sink a three-pointer before the buzzer.

The truth is that this random encounter startled me and now I am stalled and for this very moment all progress towards my goals stop.  For me it was the distinction between two methods of seeing a dream come to reality.  For you it may be something totally diffferent.  But at some point we run into something that distracts us and stops us in our tracks.  In that moment our dreams becomes second to what others are doing. We begin to re-evaluate, re-assess, and re-think our plans and goals.  The result is that we are momentarily paralyzed.

Worst of all in my case – yesterday I was perfectly happy and was thinking things were on track.  It was an awesome day and I felt like I was cranking on all cylinders. But then that one podcast, that one chance encounter caused me to doubt my course, my chosen direction, and my goals.

As I tried to regain my momentum I had to bring several “E! Family truths”  back into view.  Maybe today they will give you some help and hope:

*My  race is just that, MY race.  I will always come up short if I compare my progress, achievements, talents, and abilities with someone else’s.

*My goals and ideas don’t need to win a standing ovation from everyone around me.  They really don’t even need the  approval of others.

*Make my  priorities  those that I determine.  Not those dictated to me by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or even a podcast!

*Have confidence in the things that are going well.  Celebrate what is good right now.  Don’t become consumed about what you may be missing.

*Stay in your my lane.  Put blinders on and run hard.  Don’t look at those ahead and don’t stop to look at what’s going on behind me.  Keep running.

*Don’t stop too long to contemplate the scoreboard.  There are more people that sit dreaming about the scoreboard than running the bases.  They dream about what it would feel like to hit a home run.  But in truth they never even walk to the plate and take a swing.  But boy, do they sure dream about it a lot!

That last truth is particularly important because I believe it’s not the scoreboard we see in our mind’s eye that is important, it’s the one we can’t see.    The lives we touch, the people we influence, that is ultimately what counts on the scoreboard of this life. I believe that there is no way to measure our real progress this side of eternity.

On Monday I heard that podcast.  On Tuesday I had a chance encounter that left me more convinced that the E! Family truths were exactly what I needed to focus on.

I was in a meeting with a group of people I thought I had never met before.  As the meeting wound down one of the young men turned to me and said,  “I know you don’t remember me but I was at Masterworks over ten years ago.  The school had a profound influence on me.  I selected my major based on my lessons there and today I am employed full time in an arts job here at this firm that I love.”

The thought quickly flashed in my head, “he shoots and he scores.”

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The Power of “the Mob”…


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Two weeks ago our Pastor’s message was  based on the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament.   Moses  believed God wanted him to lead the people into Canaan.   Before he moved forward Moses dispatched a scouting party to evaluate the situation and give him a report.  The report was a mixed bag.  Great resources but scary people.  In spite of the risks,  Moses decided  to move forward.   He  believed it was what God wanted.  However, the scouting party participants were certain disaster was ahead if Moses lead them in this  direction.   There were two completely different thoughts about the same opportunity.

As the week went on I kept looking over my notes.  Then I saw something that startled me.  If you read on to the next chapter it turns out that these men did not keep their thought to themselves.  They made their opinions known to the entire congregation of Israel.  What do you think happened?  A fair and balanced discussion of the facts of the situation?  The naysayers were actually influenced by the “can do” thinkers?  Not.a.chance.  Here  are phrases  recorded in Chapter 14:

…That night all the members of the community wept aloud… All the Israelites grumbled against Moses….If only we had died in Egypt….

Then words that I am sure brought great sadness to Moses’ heart…

…We should choose a different leader and go back to Egypt…

Let’s be clear.  Egypt was no picnic.  It was a land of torture and sorrow.  A land where the people were crushed on a daily basis.  Yet the mob had decided it was easier to go back.

As entrepreneurs, we constantly face a common problem – having to listen to people who think it can’t be done.  The goal is too big.  You are not capable.  The idea or you, or both, will fail.  It  never is or feels like it’s just one person.  It feels like  it’s two, three, four… and before a project comes to life we often feel like we have a whole mob of people screaming with flaming torches held high – “Don’t do it fool! You will be such a humiliating failure.”  Sometimes it’s really not  a mob of thousands of people, it’s just  how the naysayers sound in our mind.  Negative voices become so loud that we feel fear, hopelessness and an impending, preordained outcome of failure.  Our minds are trapped between the sound of the mob, and that still small voice inside that says, “this is the right opportunity, the right decision, and the right path.  Stay on it and stay focused!”  The question is, do we give in to the power of the mob?  Do we retreat from our dream, or do we press forward?  How much weight, if any, do we give to “the mob.”

Now a couple of thoughts about the mob.  Sometimes a group, a mob, can become a source of inspiration.  Re-watch the movies “Cool Runnings” or “Rudy” to see the power of a group encouraging someone on to success.  We should all be so fortunate to have a chorus of  people telling us “you can do it, your idea is a sure winner… go for it and don’t look back.”

I have found that in general that’s not the norm.  People tend to be negative.  I’m not sure if it’s a mix of jealousy, mean-spiritedness, or the thought that  “I wish I had thought of it  because my plan would have been better.”  In the world in which we live people seem to always find the negative.  I could give a million examples but just consider your conversations from any given day and see what I mean.

Even worse, if there are more than one negative voice around, they seem to find each other.  Have you noticed that?  Negative people seem to bond like models in a chemistry diagram.  They get some type of weird joy in being linked with others who validate their  “can’t do” opinion.  Positive voices of possibility are usually trampled by loud negatives.  Rational thought is replaced by heated emotion.  The result is an overwhelming chorus of naysayers – sometimes real or sometimes just gathering in our head.

What happens?  We “catch the thought!”   We retreat, we cower, we allow God’s best to be replaced by a much less effective and influential plan.  We begin to believe what we hear from the “mob.”  As I look around I realize that many potential entrepreneurs I know are living lives of unfulfilled dreams because of the negative influence of the “mob.”  As entrepreneurs we are responsible for creating our future.  We are responsible for creating our own paycheck.  We don’t get paid just for  simply showing up.  We are usually in a 100% commission situation.  How many do you know that have given up on a dream, walked away from a calling, or just quit, because they allowed the mob to rule?

So here are eight E! Family thoughts that have helped me block out the sound of the mob:

*Begin your day with a solid, consistent routine that breathes life into what you believe God has called you to do. Whether you know it or not you already have a routine, it’s just a question as to whether it is purposeful and positive or haphazard and life sucking.

*  Consider this question to frame your day – Am I a victim or am I a champion?

* Figure out what matters to you and what keeps you motivated.  Associate your entrepreneurial dream to something you are passionate about.  Building this will provide for my family or give me more time with my children or allow me to travel the world…. Associate your dream with a goal that moves your heart and it will keep your head motivated.

*Avoid the mob altogether.  Look at your day.  Are there times when you will be with one or more people that will drain your mind and spirit? You know the old game – put a plus or minus next to their name(s).  People who will bury you with a list of reasons something cannot be done.   AVOID IF POSSIBLE!

*Take control over what you have heard from the mob.  Stop replaying  those comments over and over in your mind.  When the mob begins to get louder, find something that counteracts the voices.  Listen to tapes, find a good mentor or surround yourself with a different mob.  RUN!

*Get used to inching toward your goal with daily steps.  Daily small wins seem to give the “mob” voices less time to take root and slow progress.  On the flip side, when we take occasional large steps, when the victories  are few and far between, we give more time for the negative voices to grow louder.  The result is that we begin to  wonder if a victory is possible.

*Help someone else.  Who can you encourage and who can you help toward their dream?  Don’t we all wish as entrepreneurs we had people who decided to take this step in our lives?  Someone reaching out to help and tell us we can make it.  Wouldn’t it be great to have five people like this?  Many of you just thought, wouldn’t it be great to just have one?

*Keep a list of the victories on paper in front of you at all times or keep a picture on your screen saver.  Have something right in front of you that visually shows you that you are making progress.  The fear of possible future failure is often louder than the memory of past success.

I’d like to report that the mob in Moses’ situation turned around but they never did!  If you read Numbers 14 and beyond you see the results and they weren’t pretty.  But let’s learn from the past.  The mob can dishearten, destroy, or defeat.  If fact, I think secretly that may be their goal.  But that doesn’t matter.  Wondering will never advance your dream.  Giving them one second of consideration will never move you closer to your goal.  Ignore the mob.  Go forward.  Keep the dream in front of you.  The mob will always be there screaming at you.  Just make the choice to not listen.

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I Got Dunked……….

Logo Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 3.09.59 PMIMG_2069Today as I dropped my paddle board in the unseasonably warm Lake Norman water,  I was excited to get out on the lake.  It’s October and to have the water this comfortable is a treat.  Seeing  the changing color panorama of the shoreline while getting a workout is a win-win.  As I paddled close to the shoreline across the cove I saw a familiar tree stump just below the surface.  I know it’s there so I made sure to give it enough distance.  Just as I was past it I looked down and noticed I was going directly over another  tree trunk that had been left beneath the water years ago when they were creating the lake.   I had never noticed that the tree trunk I was familiar with had a twin!  I had three thoughts flash across my mind quickly – only 2  1/2  of which I had time to finish.   My first thought was “wow, this is cool, I’m able to float right over it.”   I could see all the exposed roots and the entire stump.  My second thought was I wonder how much clearance I have, this trunk looks a little bigger than the other – about  3 feet wide.   The third thought which I only partially finished was,  “I wonder if the fin on the back of the board….”   I got the answer before I could finish the question and it was  NO!   The fin caught the tree trunk and my board  came to a jarring stop.  I went flying forward into the lake while my paddle went straight up in the air.  I’m sure someone on shore got a good laugh as they watched me go in.

As I got back up I thought,  “I’ll never make  my goal now – I just lost too much time.”   Then another thought began to dawn on me.   It’s what’s right below the surface that you really have to be careful of out here.  I was right on top of a huge stump and never noticed it.  All summer I have been paddling around the lake and have only fallen once when a boat roared past.  Even windy days haven’t  toppled me.   It was a simple, submersed, old tree stump that I should have seen that threw me into the water.

As  entrepreneurs,  I think we often focus ahead.  We plan and we plot out the course.  We are anxious to get to the goal.  However, sometimes the details of our current situation, of where we are right at this moment, what’s just below the surface,  go unnoticed and unappreciated.  Today  I was on a mission.  I wanted to paddle farther in a shorter amount of time than I had before.  But in my determination to reach my goal, I was looking so hard at the distant shore that I wasn’t really looking carefully  at my current position.   I wasn’t looking right below the surface.

As I paddled back I began to think about how many areas of life need a little closer inspection as we hurry along to our goals.  Getting to the distant shore is important, but we only see a partial victory if we don’t appreciate what happens with each stroke of the paddle along the way.  As I processed the incident and tried to dry out, reasons for not ignoring the submerged tree trunks of our life quickly came to mind.

The first is that we want to do our best to avoid the “submersed tree trunk dumps man into lake” type  incidents.  If we don’t look below the surface little things often dump us overboard and slow progress or maybe stop a dream altogether.  We are not paying attention and the result is some sort of upset.  The upsets  can be financial, emotional,  or relational.  As entrepreneurs some of us are so anxious and excited to see our ideas come to life that we can be a little hasty as we go through the process of starting a new venture or maintaining an old one.  Read  the fine print? Not really enough time, besides I’ve seen these papers before.  Plan as completely as possible?  I’ll do it along the road, after all,  I have to get started – time is of the essence.  Everyone in your family doing OK?  Sure they know what this is all about, what I’m doing and why it’s important.   They’re  good!

Last week I received a bill for my real estate business.  I’ve paid the bill before so I thought I knew all about it.  For some reason I decided to open the detailed description. As I looked deeper I was surprised to see that a large portion of the bill was a voluntary contribution to the PAC that represented the organization.  I had paid the bill at least two  other times but amidst all the things I had going on I just accepted it at face value.  I assumed it was a necessary part of the business so I just paid it.  I never knew I could (and did) opt out of paying that part of the bill.  I called four other people I do business with and asked if they knew anything about it.  All had the same response – “What?  No!…Really?  I already paid it!”   Look below the surface!  It’s what you are not paying attention to that can throw you into the lake.

The second reason you want to look below the surface is you don’t want to miss the moments.  The older I get the more important this truth becomes. When my children were growing up we led a hectic life.  We always seemed to be in a “building” mode.  Now as I hear them sharing memories with their children I realize that some of the most meaningful times to them were  moments that barely registered with me.  As parents building a family on some days we just needed to get through the basics of life.  We didn’t have the time or energy to make the most of significant moments.

Much to my wife’s credit,  she has always tried to remind me to  take the time to appreciate as many “moments” as we can.  We stop, we look, we evaluate, and we look below the surface.  Those who know her know that  every birthday is important, every achievement is noticed, every good action is affirmed and now celebrated.  It hasn’t added a lot of burden to our schedules, made things more complicated, or taken tons and tons of time but it has taken more effort.  More importantly,  it HAS added incredible richness to the memories of each day.

The third reason to look closer at your  situation is because  you don’t want to miss what is important to other people.  Sometimes by just hitting the pause button for just a moment may change the trajectory of someone’s life.

Last week I was teaching a class and a young man asked me if he could add something to the production.  I hadn’t planned on it, and may not even missed it if it weren’t  there.  But I thought,  “why not.”   It would help out,  so let’s see how he does.  That evening I received an unexpected  message from his parents thanking me.  They said I had no idea how profoundly it had affected their son.  It was affecting his attitude about both the project and  other things in his life.

The truth is I ALMOST MISSED IT!  I remember that day he raised his hand in class and my initial thought was “not now – I have to get this part finished.”    However, having been dunked earlier that morning I decided to stop and see why he was persistently waving his hand.  I realized again the process isn’t all about my goals.

The E Family lessons for this one are so easy to summarize because one word says it all…STOP!

* Take time to look around you at all the details in your life.  Just look a little further below the surface.   It doesn’t take  as long as you think.

* Make what is just below the surface as important to you as your goal in front of you.

*Not looking can cost you, financially, emotionally, and relationally.  More importantly not looking may cause you to miss the “significant moments” in the journey.  Moments you may wish you could get back later.

*Stop and celebrate the moments.  They will fuel you.  Those memories will energize you and bring joy to your day.

*Look below the surface of the project that you are passionate about and see who you can take along on the journey.  Being an effective entrepreneur is never a solo act.

Today I didn’t make my goal – I never made it to that distant shore.  But I got something better.  A vivid reminder that it’s so important to take time along the way.  That  shore is still there and maybe this week I will make it over.  But the lesson I learned was more important than the goal of reaching the other side of the lake.

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The Dirty Word called Discipline…

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At this year’s  Masterworks School of the Arts  Spring Recitals,  I announced that our students had been awarded $1,620,000 in college fine arts scholarships in the last six years.  Immediately one Dad told me there was no way his son was “talented” enough to get a scholarship.  I told him that talent is really not the biggest factor.  I shared that the most talented student I have ever met, an absolute mega talent, is working a minimum wage job totally unrelated to music.  She thought that her talent was the key.  She learned talent would only take you so far.

Listen to conversations in any group and you will hear a variety of “reasons” as to why many of our life’s goals, our heart’s desires go unmet.  We make excuses for ourselves and for our children.  We feel embarrassed and often unfulfilled.   It’s not that we don’t have deep desires or huge dreams.  I believe it’s something else.

In the last 20 years I have come to believe that all of the “reasons” are really just an excuse for not mastering a simple principle I call the X Factor.  I really don’t think it’s a huge secret.  It’s just that it’s not glamorous, it’s not fun, and it’s usually not worthy of a post on Facebook or Instagram.  Are you ready to hear what it is?  Want to save thousands of dollars in coaching bills and webinars and how-to classes?  What is it?  What’s the X factor of success?

It’s really pretty simple!  I believe almost all achievement boils down to our ability to identify and accomplish…DAILY DISCIPLINES.  Daily Disciplines  are those tasks that must be accomplished each day and as you accomplish them,  they form the foundation of success in our chosen area of endeavor.

Let’s start with the second word –  discipline.  Check any dictionary and some unpleasant words and phrases pop up.  Controlled behavior, obey rules, punishment to correct behavior.  I could go on but we have the idea that discipline is not something we will necessarily like or would tend to do naturally.  Guess what?  That’s true!  Discipline implies doing something that goes against our nature.  Doing something to strengthen a weakness.  Doing something that does not come naturally.  Doing something that is just not fun! ( I just lost a whole lot of helicopter parents 🙂

In an entrepreneurial sense, discipline involves looking at the steps necessary for success.  Every endeavor has activities that are non-negotiable if a dream is to be brought to life.  Then determine which activities come naturally, and which ones you will have to work on.  The activities that come naturally will need little attention.  You will gravitate towards them.  They will fuel your creativity.  That part of the endeavor is easy for you.

But  daily disciplines are the activities that are required for you to ultimately succeed in your given area that you shy away from.  They are usually repetitive (aka boring).  Sometimes they are not part of your Enneagram.   In each entrepreneurial endeavor and for each entrepreneur they are different.  But most of us know what they are in our given areas.  You know they are non-negotiable if you are to see your dreams realized.  You DO know.

When you think about your necessary daily disciplines a thousand other things you want to be doing come to mind.  Often we just give into the pull of those ideas and ignore the daily disciplines altogether.  Those are the areas where you need to develop “discipline.”  Something that has the cumulative effect that when accomplished, will bring huge momentum in propelling you towards your goal.  Something that you, or those who you aspire to be like, have determined is the non- negotiable activity that will be necessary for you to achieve your goals.

An easy example is my wife’s business.  Over the last 29 years she has learned that the most important basic  discipline that is required of everyone is the need to put Mary Kay product on people’s faces.  After all, it’s a skincare and cosmetic company.  Customers make purchases because they feel, touch, smell and experience products.  It seems like a pretty simple concept.  Yet I cannot tell you how many people don’t do one daily discipline of finding faces and putting the product on people.  Here is the kicker – in spite of not mastering this  discipline they expect success!  They do all sorts of activity but they fail to complete the one basic discipline required to build their business.  If you don’t do the necessary  activity, the desired results will not magically appear.

Now to the second part of the phrase, DAILY!  Working an area of discipline once or twice a month will yield no results.  No skill of importance is mastered two, three, or even six days a month.  Momentum is not generated by random, inconsistent  bits of effort and activity.   Our rates of retention, the neurological pathways that have to be developed do not kick in doing any discipline at random intervals.  Doing uncomfortable yet necessary activities on a random, non purposeful schedule do not produce the desired results.  There has to be a daily plan.

Parents are often surprised when I tell my new students I only require them to practice seven minutes a day, 5 days a week,  for the first couple of months.  It’s not the AMOUNT of time, it’s the DAILY  part that brings success.  I explain that consistent activity, developing a habit, doing something each day for a short amount of time,  is better than doing 35 minutes one day a week.  Consistency generates momentum, and momentum pushes us to success!

The student I mentioned earlier is the most gifted pianist I have ever taught.  She plays beautifully and according to her parents plays for hours at home.  Her level is so outstanding she decided to apply to Julliard.  She certainly possessed the natural technical ability and she had the deep burning desire to go to school there and develop a career as a performer.  (Desire and talent are the winning formula, right?) However, there was an area where she frustrated me for years.  While she loved to play, she struggled with the daily  discipline of making  herself learn new music.  Unfortunately the Julliard audition required her to learn four new compositions over the course of six months.  (Isn’t it amazing that the area we want to achieve in usually requires us to perform in an area of weakness!)

 We figured out a simple solution – she had to learn three  new lines of music each day.   That was it, not really a big deal.  It would have taken her 15 minutes each day.  She said that she knew that would be easy enough to do.

The next week she had failed to do the daily work.  There were just so many other things she had to get done and after all her audition was not for months.  So we had to move the number to six.  The next week  we had to move the number to nine. Soon, the goal was unattainable.  The dream was lost.  All because of a lack of daily discipline.  A whole lifetime of possibilities was lost because she was unable and unwilling to do an activity for 15 minutes a day.

One idea to consider, goals and dreams do have time tables and restrictions.  There is  a point where the lack of daily disciplines comes to a point of no return either because of external restrictions or because of our own internal exhaustion.  We simply run out of time.  The realization that our dreams are not accomplished and are now out of reach is a crushing blow!

The failure rate in our society is high.   I encounter people who daily tell me they wish they had  done ___________ on a daily basis.   We could all fill in our own blank.  But usually, the answer has to do with an activity that, had you done it for a short time each day, may have changed the trajectory of your life and business.

So, stop for a minute.  Determine what is your most important goal or entrepreneurial endeavor that you deeply want to see achieved.  Is it right in front of you?  (If not, that’s another blog!)  Now…. Determine what daily activities you need to do to see the goal become reality.  Put them on a spread sheet, write them  on your mirror, place them in front of you.  Then begin to move to your goal ONE  daily discipline at a time.   It really IS the X factor of success!

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Chaos or Calm: Make it a Choice, not an Excuse

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I had 15 free minutes today to write and I decided to take full advantage of it.  If you were to see my surroundings  you might ask how could anything meaningful come out of the situation I’m sitting in.  I’m at our Davidson Masterworks School of the Arts location this afternoon.  We teach music, art, theater, and dance, and all of them are going on right now at the same time.  I hear a blend of sounds coming from every direction – Bach, Beethoven on the  pianos….Cat Stevens, Irving Berlin  from the vocal studios…. a scale from a beginning trumpet student which really sounds great for a second lesson!  I can count at least five  different musical styles wafting through the walls at once.  Then there is the visual of what I am seeing through my large glass observation window – two parents signing up their children for art classes….two students from Theater Company quickly rehearsing  a duet for this year’s production of  White Christmas ….. and students laughing and catching up after a week of activities since last week’s rehearsals.  It’s chaos at it’s best!!!  Strangely, it doesn’t shut me down.  Instead it fuels me.  I love what I see and hear because it means there is life and activity at Masterworks.  This is EXACTLY  what I pictured in my mind before the school ever began.  I work really well in the midst of chaos!  It’s my happy place!

Now, contrast that with what I saw this very early morning as I passed my wife’s office door and saw the familiar sight of her methodically working over her long yellow legal pad.  She has Mary Kay people all over the United States she likes to  communicate with on a consistent basis.  I watched her working strategically on a list of negotiable ideas she had to convey in a group communication.  Her computer was shut, her phone was in another room, and the household stereo which she loves to have on was completely silent.  She loves the serenity and calm of the early morning to have time to plan and focus and keep everything on track.  I might add – our laundry room is off to the side of her office.  She already had a load in the washer and one in the dryer by 7:00 a.m.  She already was crossing off her to-do list….one by one, methodically.

Two different people – two different styles.  I thought for years that one was more productive and effective than the other.  Confession – I thought chaos is the straight up winner (my wife is laughing as she reads that statement…) But as I look back over the years I realize neither is better than the other – Chaos or Calm – it really is not the X factor for the entrepreneur.  I have heard many entrepreneurs “blame” their situation or their lack of progress on their circumstances.   I have heard those who claim to thrive on chaos complain that their is nothing going on around them -that  they need activity  and people around them to get inspired and feel like they can work.  No chaos – no progress.  They need synergy, a team, something to be a part of.

Those who need quiet say that with the chaos of a crazy schedule they just can’t get “it” done.  They just have too much chaos in their lives to bring their dreams and plans to reality.

The truth is  each has its place and time.  While our circumstances can often affect our success, I don’t believe it is the central factor that determines our forward momentum.  Too often we make excuses and these are two of the biggest I hear – chaos or calm.   But in honesty,  I believe  neither is really the determining factor of success.  It really is a choice but it’s not the “reason” you succeed or fail, and it really can’t be your excuse either.

After several decades of dealing with entrepreneurs I believe that the magic formula, the one overriding X factor that leads to accomplishment – the determining factor in whether you are celebrating accomplishment or licking your wounds in defeat,  sits right in front of me each day on a small card.   I look at it every time I sit down.  The X factor is:  FOCUS!


FOCUS – that’s the key !  I know there are other words I have added on my card but they flow out of focus.  Ever had your eyes dilated?  When the drops go in and everything becomes out of focus.  Even the simple tasks of life are clumsy, inefficient and just a plain pain in the neck to do.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try – everything we try to do is just a little out of whack.  I hate it when my doctor does it.

I have noticed among people who are achievers and those who are not, focus is a common factor.  Ask them what is important…ask them what the next goal is….ask them why they got out of bed this morning.  The answers usually come quickly and without hesitation.  Focus is the ability to see the finish line clearly;  and order and prioritize the days events and activities.

By the same token, talk to someone who is struggling to pull it all together and what do you get.  Lots  of random thoughts that are in six different directions and each screaming for time and attention.

Just like the words on my shelf, the highest priorities of my life sit on a visual shelf in my mind. Sometimes there are two or more finish lines that I have to deal with at the same time.   I know what they are, I know how they rank and daily, sometimes hourly, I bring them to mind.  There are other things on my radar and other things that distract me, but what determines how I spend the next hour is determined by my focus.  In fact that brings up another important truth that I believe in – having clear focus will help keep momentum going and without momentum nothing gets done.

I am amazed by the people who get all excited about starting something only to see their dreams derailed.  As I look for common denominators, I usually see that  there is no consistent motion in the direction of the goal.  They stop and start, get distracted (often by someone else’s goals) …stop and start and stop and start again.  Regaining momentum after you have sat down or been distracted seems to take twice as long to restart.  And note to self:  trying to regain momentum after you have sat down is like pushing a boulder uphill. Trying to get things going again always seems to take twice as long and be twice as hard as it was the first time.

For the entrepreneur there is often no boss standing over your shoulder demanding you finish a task.  Instead your boss is your own  focus.  Let that sink in for a moment.

So what happens – two,  three days of unfocused inactivity turn into two or three weeks of inactivity which leads to unfulfilled dreams and goals.  Which in turn leads to starting over and over again.

Now  one word of caution – focus can be  the X factor but it can also be our undoing. Your focus  becomes your reality.  When you mistakenly focus on the possibility or probability of failure, you continually question if something will happen,  that’s where you will  end up.

So today, and this week,  keep the focus tight.  There are going to be periods of calm and periods of chaos – accept that fact but don’t let the situation be your excuse or reason.   Keep your vision right in front of you.  The finish line is not as far away as you think.  Let your focus encourage you to keep your priorities straight and your activity consistent.  Your FOCUS will pull you  forward towards your dream.

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