A number of years ago, a very wise person recommended to me that I see a therapist. I had shown enough signs of emotional distress that this person knew he needed to act. I thought it was a ridiculous idea but since this person even provided me with a referral, coupled with a little pushing from my wife I grudgingly set an appointment to meet with him (actually, my wife set the appointment since I still felt it was unnecessary). I remember I had several meetings before the therapist mentioned the “D” word. It was a surprise to me and an embarrassment, though in hindsight it shouldn’t have been. Looking back, I can see the impact that depression has had on me from a very early age.
As a boy I used to cry myself to sleep at night, though I was never sure why I did it. I didn’t have anything to be sad about. As I got older, my siblings took to calling me “moody blues” because I would sit alone in my room, playing guitar and sulking. Like me, they had no idea what was wrong either. After I got married, my long-suffering wife would patiently wait for me (sometimes for weeks) to come out of my depressive funks. During those times, I would seldom speak to her; when I did it was in short, choppy sentences usually replying to a question of hers. More often than not the answer to those questions was “I don’t know.” I could say so much more about my own battles but I’ll save that for another time. Suffice it to say, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the diagnosis and I certainly shouldn’t have been embarrassed by it. Knowing what it was has helped me cope with “down times” better. It’s also helped me connect with others in a much deeper way.
Friends, you have value. You can connect with people. Tomorrow, the sun will rise. I encourage you to read this and other uplifting content when you’re feeling good. Gird up your loins for the inevitable down times and remember that you’re not alone. I could write so much more on this topic and I’m certain that I will in the future. Until then, if you know someone who could benefit from reading these brief words, please share.
It’s generally accepted that to get anywhere or do anything of significance requires many steps and a lot of work. However, I’ve noticed that many people tend to expect instant gratification. Unfortunately, significant change doesn’t typically work that way. It’s the proverbial journey of a thousand miles. Not only does it start with a single step, there are thousands of steps between the start and finish.
I spent 12 years trading agricultural commodities for a living. I always found it amazing how seemingly small changes in the price per bushel of a commodity resulted in tremendous dollar swings over the net cost of a contract. For example, I would routinely adjust my offer price by a mere penny or two in order to win a piece of business. On a ship-load of wheat being shipped overseas, for instance, a 1-cent change in the price per bushel multiplied over the entire quantity traded results in a change in the total value by $22,046! This is the multiplier effect. The multiplier effect can be applied to any endeavor we choose to undertake in life and it definitely applies to all of the principles in this book.
There is a theory of personal development that suggests striving to improve in a given area by 1% per day. That’s it, just 1% per day. The concept is an application of the multiplier effect in the sphere of personal growth and self-improvement. Small steps taken daily lead to big results over time.
What if you could improve by 1% per day in an area that’s truly important to you? At the end of a month you’d be 30% better. Nearly 100% better at the end of three months. Maybe 1% seems too big; perhaps a 0.5% daily improvement is more realistic. That’s still a 45% improvement at the end of a quarter!
Now, that probably sounds overly simplistic, and perhaps it is. The point, though, is that over time, big changes can be wrought when small steps are taken on a regular basis. The actual percentage is not what matters here. Heck, I can’t quantify public speaking skills. The fact that most of the skills we’re trying to improve are similar in that they’re nearly impossible to measure means that throwing out a 1% or 0.5% figure is completely arbitrary. What matters is the idea that small steps lead to big results over time.
The multiplier effect is at work when you take many steps toward the person you want to become. That’s it. But most people won’t bother to take a single step because alone, it seems inconsequential. Like a 1-cent change in the price of a bushel of wheat. But the multiplier effect changes the inconsequential to something that is ultimately of profound consequence. The thing is, we can’t even fathom how big it could really be. This is where you have to accept that to find your passion and become successful (whatever that means to you), you can’t be like most people. In this sense, you truly have to force yourself to be abnormal.
I’d even take this so far as to suggest that a single baby step is better than no steps at all. I’ve found that trying to take too big a bite out of a task often leads to procrastination. The job simply seems too big, the challenge too insurmountable. In writing a book, it’s daunting to consider all of the work that goes into it. If I tell myself, “I need 50,000 words,” it seems so big as to be discouraging. As a result, I struggle just getting started. But, telling myself “I need to write 750 words per day” is so much more manageable that it seems almost easy.
If small steps seem difficult, then take a tiny step. The key is to build momentum. Procrastination breeds self-loathing, which breeds more procrastination. Conversely, even the tiniest of steps forward breeds’ confidence which leads to bigger steps.
It’s incredible what happens as I write. Sometimes when I first sit down I’ll stare at a blank screen for an hour. Then words begin to trickle forth until I’m typing as fast as I can just to capture the thoughts that are streaming out of my consciousness. Momentum is a very real force that can propel any endeavor forward. Even if you have to take baby steps for a month before the momentum builds, do it. The alternative is stagnation.
Continuous self-improvement not only gives us purpose, it broadens our horizons, opens up new opportunities, and increases our capacity to help others. Having a growth mindset is a prerequisite, however; you must believe that you can improve, that you haven’t “maxed out.” The notion that people can’t get better is hopeless and wrong. We can develop in any area where effort and grit are applied over a long enough period of time. Small steps can lead to huge change over the long term.
The following is an excerpt from "The Way of the Harvest: 15 Lessons on Reaping a Life of Abundance"
If there were no limits placed upon what you were capable of, how would your life be different? What would you be doing? Where would you live? Most folks would admit that at least a few things would be different. It’s one of the great tragedies of humankind that we learn to place limits upon ourselves at a very young age. Well-meaning adults would tell us things like “be careful or you’ll hurt yourself” or “get down from there!” in order to keep us safe. But those warnings also had the unforeseen consequence of making us doubt ourselves; we learned to accept that there were limits. Rather than being empowered, we were stifled. We learned to believe that we’re capable of only so much, and nothing more. “Don’t climb to high or you’ll get hurt” we remind ourselves. Consequently, we learn to discount as impossible anything that stretches our abilities or resources. If it hasn’t been done, then it can’t be done, right? Wrong! Big thinking, coupled with ambition and belief in our abilities is the antidote for the unsatisfied, uninspired soul. With that in mind, here’s my top 5 reasons to dream big.
Your big dreams are achievable. So, the processes or technology to achieve your biggest dreams doesn’t exist yet? Well, they didn’t exist for Orville and Wilbur Wright either. They didn’t exist for Henry Ford, Nelson Mandela or any other pioneer in any field or any country in the world. They don’t exist for Richard Branson or Elon Musk today. All these men and women are just as fallible as you and I; they live and die just as you and I. They were equipped with big dreams and a belief in themselves. They rejected the way of thinking that puts a lid on what they could achieve. They rejected limits…and thank goodness they did. Our lives are better today because of the men and women who made the impossible possible. Advances in medicine, instantaneous communication across thousands of miles, and even the rapidly progressing technology enabling space travel and exploration are all possible because of visionary individuals who realized that in reality, there are no limits. So, what’s your dream?
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We all know that failure is part of the process of growth, but somehow knowing that doesn't seem to ease the pain it brings about. As I've gone through failures, I try and focus on what they teach rather than what they cost. In that way, I can give meaning to the pain and motivate myself to press on with greater experience.
Over the course of my entrepreneurial career, I’ve experienced a few epic failures in addition to a number of smaller ones. Though they were never easy, in hindsight I can see how each one taught me valuable lessons. Failure is tuition for advanced degrees in life. Through it, we can both collapse and give up, resolving to be less bold, or we can learn, grow and be emboldened in knowing that the same mistakes can be avoided next time. To me, it seems that if we’ve already paid the tuition, it’s silly not to use the degree.
If we choose to learn the lessons and press forward, it’s critical that we think through the failures carefully in order to understand where we went wrong. As I’ve considered some of my blunders, I’ve fleshed out many lessons. Here are 5 of the most important things I’ve learned. By reading this it’s my hope that you can avoid the same mistakes.
1. Choose Your Partners Carefully
I remember only one thing that my professor said in my first accounting class in college: “Choose your business partners more carefully than you choose your spouse.” I’ve heard the same thing stated in different ways dozens of times since, but until I experienced the fallout from a poor partnership decision I really didn’t appreciate the implications. In the aftermath of a company collapse, one of my partners not only sued a third partner, but made off with tens of thousands of dollars as well. It was a sickening and heart wrenching conclusion to a once promising enterprise. One that left me teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s only in hindsight that I can see the impetuousness in my decision to partner with one of those people.
The error was made, largely because I was blinded by the significance of the opportunity before me. There was a great deal of money to be made so I allowed myself to overlook faults that I won’t overlook in the future. I didn’t know this particular partner well; I had only done small amounts of business with him in the past. I didn’t know his strengths and weaknesses. I wasn’t personally aware of his integrity. But, he brought a major supplier to the table that allowed the business to commence operating in very short order. So, the worst case scenario of not partnering with him would be that I may not have started the company. Even if I had started it without him, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have been brought to financial collapse. Had my professor seen what happened and been given the opportunity to critique my actions he probably would have noted that I neglected to apply the level of scrutiny that one would apply when choosing a spouse. And that was my failure.
In the future, I will know my partners much better before doing business with them.
2. Choose your clients and suppliers carefully.
This is particularly important if your business hinges on just a few suppliers or buyers. When the loss of one of them could cripple your business, you’d better know they can be trusted. I experienced this by having virtually all of my inputs in one of my businesses supplied by a single producer. When their unscrupulous behavior was revealed, not only did it cripple my business, it caused massive damage to my reputation as well. After all, my supplier’s products were my products; I couldn’t run away from that fact. When the product was revealed to have problems I couldn’t fix, my clients came to me looking to be made whole. I in turn went to my supplier who quickly shirked any responsibility. My clients felt the pain and rightly looked to me for help. Yet, I could do nothing. Had I selected a main supplier with a higher level of integrity I could’ve avoided the situation altogether. But I didn’t. I wanted to move and move fast; I wanted to take the market by storm and couldn’t wait for the vetting of more suppliers. That was a mistake.
In the future, I will truly know who I’m doing business with.
3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
The problem in the second lesson could have been alleviated if I had sufficiently diversified my supplier base. Sure, pain would have been felt but the damage to the company could have been mitigated by covering the faulty product from other sources. Virtually all of my products came from a single seller. I had no other baskets.
I’ve also felt the pain of this lesson in a product marketing environment. When a software company I owned failed to get a foothold in the industry the product had been designed for, I should have been more flexible in pivoting towards other opportunities. The software was great and, had I been more creative I would have identified other markets for it. But I was completely emotionally invested in one small niche; all my eggs were in the same basket. The problem in both of these situations was a lack of flexibility; I wanted to hit a home run when I should have been going for base hits and intentional, steady growth. Again I was blinded by dollar signs and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) step back and look at the big picture.
In the future, I’ll be more aware of the risks of dealing with very small numbers and be more willing to mitigate that risk.
4. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
I’m pleased to say that I do believe I’ve always done the right thing. I’ve never lied to or cheated someone in order to make money. If I had been willing to be deceitful perhaps some of those businesses wouldn’t have failed and perhaps it would have made no difference in their demise. But I do know, I would have lost more sleep than I did. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. I struggled so much just appearing like I was acting unethically, had I actually engaged in underhanded dealings, I believe the additional turmoil would have been more than I could bear. Going through a business failure is difficult enough without adding the additional strain of corruption of your personal moral code. So, when it became clear that my supplier was in fact defrauding the industry there was no choice but to inform my clients and cease all contracted shipments. It was hard and costly. But it was the right thing to do.
In the future, I will always make choices that are consistent with my moral code, even when they cast me in a bad light.
5. Don’t avoid problems and be frank with clients.
When things began falling apart for me, my own shame and embarrassment instilled in me a deep desire to avoid clients because I simply felt that I couldn’t emotionally handle their dissatisfaction. They were rightfully angry at what had happened and needed me then more than ever. But, I lacked the courage to face them the way I should have. One of my business partners on the other hand, not only spoke with clients over the phone, he flew across the country to visit with many of them in person. His diplomacy went a long way and was critical in keeping us going as long as we did. Keeping clients abreast of major events and company decisions is playing the long game. It demonstrates that you value honesty and have their interests in mind. Delivering bad news may hurt in the short term, but over the course of a career, it’s the only policy worth having for a person of integrity.
In the future, I won’t avoid problems and I will be upfront with my clients.
These are just a few lessons, but I’m interested in what you’ve learned as well. If you have a great lesson or two of your own, please share it in the comments!
Picture Credit: <a href="https://www.freestock.com/free-photos/3d-business-man-giving-conference-growth-72379123">Image used under license from Freestock.com</a>