Goals

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

What Is Missing In Your Life? Your Skills, Values, And Ambition Assessment

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What do you care about? 

I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it. 

I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change. 

A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.

Now back to you. Answer me this:

- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?

- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?

Let us break it down into common sense: 

1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.

2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.

3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress. 

Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.

No ambition = progress will be like molasses.

No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.

No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.

Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories. 

Values

Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.

  • what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
  • what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
  • what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
  • what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?

Skills

Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.

  • what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
  • what is something you love doing?
  • what are your responsibilities at work? 
  • what do you do in your free time?
  • if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?

Ambition

Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.

  • what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
  • what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
  • what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
  • what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?

The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect. 

If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point. 

Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.

If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work. 

If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?

If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like?  Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?

Whichever one is most relevant for you is that on which your career satisfaction or your personal fulfillment depends. 

How To Win Olympic Gold Every Day In Life And At Work

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Here is a fun fact about me: I cry every time I watch the Olympics. Yup, that is right. Huuuuuuuuuge sap right here. With a foundation of pride the athletes have in representing their country to how impressive they are in their individual skillsets, the Olympics get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Watching the competition can be so stressful, too, though (#Womensicehockey last night, anyone?) even though I am not competing and I have no personal stake in the outcome. I cry because no matter what the result, it is such a cool achievement to simply be there and compete in the sports about which they are all so clearly passionate. I am always fascinated, though, by the athletes' focus on winning medals as the ultimate emblem of their achievement when any athlete who has ever participated in the Olympics that did not earn a medal can still call him/herself an olympian and garner almost as much recognition for their athletic prowess than the medaling superstars. Obviously not the exposure and press conferences and sponsorships and book deals that come from winning medals and world cup championships all the time, but exposure nonetheless for the foundational reason that they are at the olympics: to compete in an athletic sport.

I have always had an odd relationship with competition and achievement. I have become more comfortable as an adult with certain forms of confrontation and in fact have become strong at conflict mediation in professional settings. My engagement in competition, however, ended after college. The subject of competition relates so much to narrative, both on the individual and cultural levels, that I will dedicate a whole post to it soon, but for now the Olympics has made me think a whole lot about the idea of achievement. 

When I watch Alpine Skiing in the Olympics (my favorite sport to watch), the cameras never stay on the competitors after the last run is skied for me to see how the athletes who did not make the podium or better yet who were pushed off the podium in the last run react to not getting a medal but still acknowledge that they did pretty darn well. Some athletes who get interviewed have trained themselves in the mindset that their effort is only worth it if they get a medal at the end. Some even focus only on gold and nothing else is acceptable. I am just an objective spectator who used to ski race (which means I know what the competitive aspect feels like even though I do not know what it is like to ski at 90mph down an ice rink in South Korea) but my personal mindset is if I ended up, say, in the top ten in an Olympic event, I would think that that is pretty darn cool! I would blast that all over social media. As a matter of fact, I may lose a medal somewhere or stress every night when I go to bed that it would get stolen. 

I have trophies from athletic exploits growing up but they are simply that: trophies. I would be disappointed if they were lost or stolen because I am an extremely sentimental person, but I would soon understand that they are simply representations of something I experienced and I do not need to hold on to the object in order to remember the achievement. Similarly, I gave away some shirts and sweaters a few days ago that I remember loving when I wore them and guess what? I am already over it. They are just fabric. 

I have thought in the past and currently think a lot about my sense of achievement with regard to starting and owning businesses like I have. I started wanting to own my own company way back in high school without a clue in the world a) how to start anything and b) what the heck it would be about. But that did not matter. I knew that was a goal. And the seed only grew.

So when I started The Tailored Quill in 2015 and I had multiple clients paying me for services before I even had a name, logo, or website, I of course saw it as an achievement. I had finally done it. I had created a business that I could call my own and I was immediately making profit. But what happened next? The same thing that happens after Shaun White wins a gold medal at the Olympics. New work begins. I had to provide what the clients asked for. I cannot rest on my laurels because then my enterprises will not survive. I can learn form my achievements just as I can learn from my failures and keep going. When I officially launched a crowdfunding campaign and blasted out announcement emails, I said "Okay, that is cool" because I achieved the learning experience of building those two campaigns, which I had never previously needed to know how to do. And that is the extent of that achievement because I then had to build the rest of the business. It is not like that automatically garnered me a hundred paying clients or meant that I could retire. On the contrary, that hardly caused a ripple. My brain made the mental note of the achievement but I knew I could not spend the rest of the day drinking champagne saying "that email campaign was so sexy. I have earned the day off."

Definitions of success have to be subjective but so many people and entrepreneurs listen to the objective societal definitions of it. You know, millions of dollars, big house, nice car, the latest clothes. 'merican Dream! I sort of fell prey to those ideals for a while until I realized that I have absolutely zero interest in living in a ginormous mansion. As soon as I was able to ground my goals and interests in contrast to those of society, new goals for myself and my companies were dramatically different. Achievement is no longer assigned to a monumental accomplishment but instead takes the form of teeny tiny things. 

For example, I bought a cardboard box and packaging tape at the post office this morning. There was no line (which is a miracle in itself), the box is the perfect size, and the tape does not get all bunched up and stuck on itself. The post office should get a gold medal for that because it started my day off so nicely and smoothly and it even got me stoked to tackle the other tedious items on my to-do list today. 

I have learned that achievement of the tiniest things make the biggest difference to me. I do not need to have a multi-billion dollar business on my own and I also do not want to deal with all of the staff members that a multi-billion dollar business would require. Instead, testing out a new social media strategy yesterday for the fun of it was a win. Feeling confident and comfortable expressing myself over this platform every week is a victory. Maintaining two businesses that have been profitable since both of their inceptions is my gold medal.

In reality, achievement is recognizing that for which you are grateful. I am grateful that my businesses are profitable but I am not bragging about it as though it means I have attained enlightenment over all other business people in the world. I am thankful that I was taught the new social media strategy and that it is something I can comfortably sit down and put into action. Gratitude moves you forward. 

There is an awesome scene in the military film Jarhead in which a couple soldiers are talking animatedly about the video game level that one of them is about to beat and another soldier flatly chimes in "You know what happens when you beat that game? Nothing. You start over." Humorous buzzkill but he has a point. I can be excited when I beat a level in Candy Crush but all that means is that I move on to the next level, the next challenge. I am grateful for the skills, knowledge, and strategy I used to beat that level, though. 

Achievement is what you make it, so here is your homework:

  1. Rewrite your to-do list, but this time double check to see if any tasks could be broken down to even smaller chunks that are more easily achieved. Make sure your goals are realistic for the time and resources you have available. 
  2. Define success for yourself. Whether a casual brainstorm or a formal statement, getting something down on paper that does not appease society or your mom or your overzealous business partner will feel oh so good. What is success to YOU? A bulleted list of long term goals is just as acceptable as a fantasy paragraph about where you want to live. You will not be graded.

Start thinking about what achievement looks like in your daily lives. That way, you can be like me and say "huh, that was cool" when you learn something new and cross your unique personally realistic goals off of your list every day. I am grateful to you for reading this post and I count that as an achievement. No medal necessary.