When I started my own business several years ago, my primary goal was to surpass the five-year mark. I’d heard time and again that the majority of small businesses don’t survive past that point, and I was determined to defy the odds.
Not only did I survive, but I gained some valuable insight into who I am as an individual and learned a number of life lessons I will carry in my mental arsenal for many years to come. Never in a million years would I have thought entrepreneurship could be so enriching!
In an effort to share the wisdom, here are some lessons I’ve learned as a small business owner about how to thrive in the real world:
1. Don’t Sweep Small Accomplishments Under the Rug
In the world of entrepreneurship, you don’t always reap the rewards of your efforts overnight. That’s all the more reason to savor small victories along the way.
The same rule applies for the real world. Success takes time, and sometimes, much more than you initially envisioned.
Think about football: It takes a ton of team effort and a number of plays to actually pull off a score, much less a victory. If you’re not a football fan, that’s exactly why the crowd goes crazy for a long pass completion or interception, even if they don’t directly lead to a touchdown; they’re small things that have the power to change the entire momentum of the game.
Life often works the same way. However, we fail to acknowledge the little accomplishments that can make a world of difference.
Let’s say you set a goal to lose 30 pounds. Even if you only lose 5 pounds in the first month, it’s definitely an accomplishment worth celebrating since you’re now one step closer to reaching your goal. The same goes for college; one year in the books brings you much closer to the day when you’ll be walking across the commencement stage. And if you desire to remodel the interior of your home, knocking out the living room enables you to check a major task off the list.
So take time out of your busy schedule to celebrate the small accomplishments and you’ll reach the light at the end of the tunnel in no time.
2. Focus on Yourself, Not Others
I have a confession to make: Not following this nugget of wisdom almost ruined my business out of the gate.
There was once a time when I thought being a perfectionist was the key to success; little did I know I was sadly mistaken. I used to spend hours of my day perusing competitor websites, trying to figure out how I could make my company’s website or offerings match theirs and eventually blow them out of the water.
But after many small fits and bouts of frustration, it hit me: Each minute I spent focusing on them was wasted time that could have been used to improve my own business. (And company watching is dangerous, because while you’re working to match what they’ve done, they are already on to the next thing, leaving you in the dust every time.)
So I learned to focus on being the best I could be. And as I moved up the ranks and had the opportunity to actually reach out to some of the people I once aspired to be like, I quickly learned that many of them didn’t have it all together and often experienced the same problems as I did early on.
The same concept applies to everyday life: Everything that glitters isn’t gold, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Focus more on the things you can control, and less on those around you. If only I’d learned this valuable lesson earlier in life. Sigh.
3. We All Have a Gift
I’m not trying to shove religion or any form of spiritual guidance down your throat with this one. But I seriously believe that each of us was put here to serve a purpose.
Writing used to be a hobby, but now I use it to make a living and touch lives; the latter is what matters most. It’s always a good feeling to make money doing what you love, but what means more to me than anything are the emails I receive from readers who’ve followed my work for years that share how the guidance I’ve provided through my articles have changed their lives for the better. That, my friends, is priceless!
So I have to pose the following question: What gift do you have inside you? To help you figure it out, think about what you spend most of your downtime doing — what makes you lose track of time? What is it that makes you boil over with happiness inside?
If you’re still breathing, you have a purpose, even if you haven’t discovered it yet.
4. No Risk, No Reward
When I left my steady paycheck years ago, I was terrified. (That’s actually an understatement). And for quite some time, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. It wasn’t until I reached my breaking point and had practically determined it would be best to throw in the towel that the opportunities started to roll in.
To be honest, I wouldn’t trade those tough experiences for anything; they helped me build the muscle I’ve needed to endure the trying times I sometimes experience and survive in the entrepreneurial game.
There are times I have to reflect on those days when I didn’t know what the immediate future held for me or my business, just to stop myself from slamming the laptop down and walking away from everything I’ve worked so hard for. And I constantly have to remind myself that there is no reward without any risk.
So ride that roller coaster, apply for the job that seems far out of reach, or get that edgy haircut. You never know until you try, and once you take a shot at it, you may end up liking it.
In fact, I only landed my final job as an accountant because I took a risk. I didn’t exactly fit the bill of what the employer was looking for, but I applied anyhow. They gave me a chance and I blew their minds with my performance. And although I eventually discovered accounting wasn’t my calling, I learned a ton about myself and what it means to really appreciate life through that experience.
5. Positive Thinking Paves the Way for Big Wins
If you’re running the business with the expectation that it’ll fail, then guess what? It probably will!
I used to roll my eyes each time I heard someone say, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.” But, it’s so true! Yes, some goals may seem a bit out of reach, but would you rather put forth the effort needed to achieve them or die with regrets? I’ll let you be the judge of that. However, I can assure you many successful entrepreneurs that defied all the odds capitalized on the power of positive thinking.
And in everyday life, you should strive to do the same. Spending hours preparing for a test may not help all that much if you walk through the door thinking you’re going to fail. Think positively and speak that passing grade into existence. If you want to buy a house, think yourself through the entire process, start taking all the necessary steps to get your finances in order, and, eventually, you’ll be able to seal the deal.
I think you get the point. Simply put, get your mind right, take swift actions, and your thoughts will come to pass.
6. If You Don’t Act, Someone Else Will
The brightest ideas and inventions weren’t always unheard of before they hit the market; sometimes, someone else just benefited from another’s procrastination and capitalized on the opportunity. And the person who thought of the idea first was left to pick up all the pieces of their shattered heart from the disappointment and anger from delaying the process.
How many times have you sat around playing the wishing game? Wishing you had a beach body like your younger sister with no children, wishing you were enrolled in school, or wishing you were the CEO of a lucrative business that enabled you to live the life you’ve always dreamed of?
What’s holding you back? You don’t have to have it all figured out to get started. In the words of Nike, just do it or you may miss your window of opportunity. And yes, it may be extremely frightening but as I stated earlier, the greater the risk, the greater the reward.
I have tons of goals for my business and my personal life, and you’d better believe I’m using the little time I have remaining each day to start making moves. Yes, it’s terrifying at times but I’m confident my efforts will pay off in the long run.
7. Hard Work Trumps Luck
I really don’t believe most entrepreneurs stumbled upon success; they worked hard for what they have. Don’t wait around for a lucky break: If you want something in life, go for it, and work hard enough to make your own luck.
There will be roadblocks and plenty of uphill stretches, but there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel. If success were easy to attain, everyone would be a success. That’s why dieting fads or get-rich-quick schemes never really work — unless you’re the creator of the scheme who has figured out how to swindle folks out of their hard-earned cash.
If you really want more out of life, get up and go work hard for it.
8. Money Isn’t Everything
I know you’ve heard this time and time again, but there are problems money can’t solve and pleasures it can’t buy. You can start a business that generates millions of dollars, but what happens when life gets in the way?
- Physical and mental issues: What can money do to rectify poor health or tossing and turning at night because of a deeply rooted issue that has led to depression?
- Bad habits: If you continuously find yourself in debt as a result of poor spending habits or some other addiction, will more money solve the problem — or will it actually fuel the fire?
- Broken relationships: Coming home to a disgruntled spouse or unruly children? Buying their good behavior or attitude adjustment only makes the problem and their resentment worse.
All the money in the world can’t solve these problems.
9. You Can’t Do It All
And if you think you can, you’ll quickly become a jack of all trades, but a master of none. As Warren Buffett suggested recently, focus on a handful of your most important goals and put everything else aside until you reach them.
The same goes for your personal life; are all those little things meaningful, or are they just ways to cover up other deeply embedded problems?
I used to have the most difficult time delegating anything to others because I was a control freak. But the root of the problem was my unwillingness to let go of past hurt caused by others who didn’t make good on their promises.
In a business, you need to focus on the bigger picture to succeed. As a result, that toxic mindset had to go so I could reach the next level. If you’re a control freak in every facet of your life, you may miss out on valuable opportunities because you’re so wrapped up in little things that don’t really matter at all.
10. You Don’t Have to Be a Genius to Be an Innovator
As if you didn’t already know, there are many, many folks out there who do the same thing I do. I simply put my own twist on it.
And in life, there may be tons of individuals on the same path as you are, but don’t let the competition discourage you. keep your eyes on the prize and what’s meant to be will come to fruition in due time.