What did you learn from 2013?

We’re all full of great ideas. Sadly, we will fail to write most of them down. The majority of those that we will do end up trying will probably fail, and the ones that were successful? Well, we’ll never know why they worked, but we can always go back and find out why failures failed.

The end of any calendar year is the best opportunity to collect your notes, get yourself organized and size up your last twelve months. Did you accomplish your goals? Did you make progress on your multi-year goals? Do you feel that your time was well spent? What do you regret? What do you wish you had done?

For both your business and personal lives, this time of the year is the perfect opportunity to take stock of what you did, what you did well, and what you wish you did better.

What did you learn from 2013?

Getting Back In Control

If you’re like me, you’re burning the candle form 17 different ends. You have a professional career which eats up most of your time, family spread across the country, weekends filled with social engagements and a million things on your to-do list. Or maybe you just have too much going on and feel like you can’t get things under control.

Image Courtesy of Jutta under Creative Commons 3.0
Image Courtesy of Jutta under Creative Commons 3.0

The biggest desire for me is to keep control of my destiny and ensure that I am doing what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be filing reports that no one will read. I don’t want to be wrapped up in deadlines that don’t have any impact on my employer’s business. I want a purpose in every one of my actions.

In order to pursue what we love doing outside of our regular jobs, we have to make a lot of sacrifices. Whether it is staying up a few hours later each night, not being so lazy on our weekends or forgoing social opportunities to engage in our other business interests.

The bottom line: being a part-time entrepreneur isn’t easy.

If you neglect your e-mail for a few days, don’t return a phone call or suddenly find yourself not engaging with the people that can help make you successful it can become overwhelming very quickly.

I’ll be honest, I have been struggling with focusing on my entrepreneurial aspirations while balancing my day job, time with loved ones and just “zoning out.” The implications of changes at my day job have been draining and it has been so easy to just get home and veg out as much as possible. It almost seems like a defense mechanism of our bodies, to just let our minds release all of the tension that envelops us and to find relaxation in something that requires no thought or consideration (television is an excellent example).

However, as rewarding as that temporary distraction might be; as good as you might feel sitting and doing nothing, it will only make matters worse when you try to get everything back under control.

Last week I made a spur-of-the-moment decision which has impacted me over the last several days. Immediately after getting my mouth x-rayed to determine how invasive and costly a surgery would be to remove all four of my wisdom teeth, I decided to take the bull by the horns and have the procedure done right there.

It was something that I had been putting off for years.

I was afraid it would hurt. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to afford it and most importantly, I was afraid of the suffering I would endure afterwards.

But, in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. The procedure took all of about 35 minutes during which I was under heavy sedation. I followed the doctor’s orders and haven’t experienced any pain or swelling. To top it off, after my insurance coverage, it was a fraction of the cost that I thought it would be.

So why did I spend so many months and years worrying about having this done?

It never does us any good to put things off and worry. Sometimes things might feel like getting our teeth pulled, but sometimes getting our teeth pulled really isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s good for us.

So this weekend, as I enjoy a somewhat limited diet, I’m grabbing the bull by the horns on all fronts. I’m attaching my 1,000+ message inbox, my 22+ Google Voice voicemails and numerous unanswered comments in social media. I’m replacing Google Reader, reinventing the way I post to social media and exploring the idea of a weekly Flipboard magazine.

Keeping up with this world of constantly changing and improving technology can be a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. The longer you stay out of practice, the longer you will have to spend catching up.

Just a few weeks ago I renewed my passion for what I do online by speaking at a local SEO Meetup. I was challenged by some of the questions in the audience, but refreshed by everyone’s curiosity. I knew after that class that what I am doing is what I love and there is no reason I should be doing something else.

So now, with that renewed passion I am heading back into the sea of notifications, plowing my way through and plotting my continual course to success. No, it’s not a straight line, and it might not be the fastest way to get there, but if we stop dead in our tracks, we’ll never make it.

In order to succeed in what you love doing, you need to be relentless. You need to beg your loved ones to encourage you. You need to immerse yourself in whatever it is that you love. You need to know it, love it and breathe it. You need to exercise your passion every chance you get.

When you decide to get things back under control, start small. Evaluate what it is that you need to accomplish: write a list. Using tools like Evernote and Google Keep can help you sort out your priorities and keep focus of your goals. If you ever feel like you are drowning, get back to your list, remember why you are pursuing your passion and figure out what you need to do to start treading water again.

Once you take a deep breath and dive in, you will immediately remember why you love chasing whatever dream you’re after.

How to Find Direction

Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak used under Creative Commons 2.0
Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak used under Creative Commons 2.0

At some point or another in our lives, we lose direction.

Most of the time, though, we know where we want to go, but we don’t have any clue how to get there.

This morning while I was getting ready for work I listened to an interesting presentation given by Professor Renata Salecl which “explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice.”

In the talk, Professor Salecl talks about how being faced with a choice can make us feel. A classic example that I related to was sitting at a restaurant and ordering a bottle of wine. Salcel tells the story of a colleague that becomes anxious each time he is faced with this task. If he chooses the most expensive bottle, his friends will think he is a show-off, if he chooses the cheapest, his friends may perceive him as a cheapskate. So, as a general rule, he always chooses something in the middle and insists on paying for it.

That got me thinking. Do we always force ourselves into choosing something in the middle? Whether its our jobs, the clothes we wear, the food we eat or the level of difficulty we chose in sports and games, are we always limiting ourselves to the middle?

Clearly, we cannot all be number one at the same thing. That’s just impossible. If everyone that worked for every company was the CEO, there wouldn’t be anyone in the company to manage. It sounds silly, doesn’t it?

The way that we can override our natural tendency to be something in the middle is to dare to be something more. To make our own choices that might be off the beaten path.

Right now, more than anything, I want to quit my job and start my own business. (I am completely flattered by those of you that continue to ask me why I have not already done that.) However, quitting my job and starting my own business exposes me to a lot of risk:

  • What if I don’t make enough money?
  • How will I get health insurance?
  • What if one of my clients sues me?
  • Where will I get the money to advertise?
  • What happens when I can’t handle all of the work on my own?

If you are thinking of going off on your own, you are probably asking yourself all of these questions. They are great questions, too. The problem is, where you work, you probably have a department of people that worries about your company’s revenue, a department of people that deals with providing your insurance, a legal team that handles litigation, a marketing team that keeps consumers informed of your products and a management system to ensure the work is being accomplished.

Going off on your own, you are going to handle all of those things on your own. So how do you get the big push you need to do it?

You need to make the choice.

Most people do not start their own business because of the risks involved. They already have a steady income, a decent HMO and a corporate 401(k) match (if they are lucky). To start on their own would mean abandoning all of these things already provided for them. Not only that, but it is a lot easier to maintain a middle management job while flying low on the radar.

Why would you leave all of that? Who in their right mind would want to sacrifice healthcare, free retirement money and the ability to wear a sport coat instead of a suit on Friday?

At some point we need to make the choice to step outside of our comfort zone. To try something new. To be adventurous.

If you are like me, you have already made the choice to start something of your own. However, if you’re smart, you haven’t ditched your day job yet.

This is where the direction comes in.

If my working conditions were completely unbearable and I couldn’t stand another day in the office without harming my personal relationships, I would have left. However, things are tolerable and manageable. They are where I need them to be in order to succeed in my next venture.

In order to find direction, you need to find the people that will help you get where you are going.

Whether they are your family, your friends or your special someone, you need to find the people that will help point you in the right direction but not be afraid to tell you when you are about to do something completely stupid.

Many times I have come home and told myself I was going to quit my job and start my own business. However, I am lucky to have the people in my life to show me that I can’t just give up without an exit plan. Some of these people are mentors whom I have met online, others are former co-workers and the most important one is my lovely girlfriend, Brittani.

Each day they influence me and help me develop my strategy for success. They point out what I am passionate about and what I should work harder on. They challenge me to think about things differently and to renew my perspective. Because of them, I am constantly growing, changing and evolving my plan for success.

It’s with these people that I find direction.

Surround yourself with people that have been successful, people that care about you, and people that admire you.

Know what you want to do. Make the decision to change. Do what it takes to get there and depend on the people that enrich your life to help you find the right path to get where you’re going.

Once you get there, don’t forget to look back and offer your hand and share with those that could benefit from your wisdom.

 

What Happens When You Lose Focus

Blurry Image by Steve Snodgrass shared under Creative Commons 3.0
Image by Steve Snodgrass shared under Creative Commons 3.0

It has happened to all of us.

At one point or another, we made a promise to improve ourselves and we failed. Whether it was at work, with losing weight or spending more time on our hobbies, we can’t seem to do everything we want to accomplish all of the time.

For me, I made a promise to write a blog post every day for 30 days. Sounds simple enough, right? I did too.

It turns out, it wasn’t. In fact, it was really hard. So hard–in fact–that I actually failed.

Failure is okay though. It’s not something to be afraid of. Each time we fail we teach ourselves what we need to improve and what we need to avoid in order to be successful.

You’re never going to be able to lose 20-lbs, write Thank You notes to everyone that did something nice, make your bed every morning and start a new Yoga class every Tuesday for a month. Somewhere, something is going to have to give.

As I tackle on new projects, new responsibilities and promises to myself, I am learning to realize that we as humans can’t do everything at once.

In order to be successful, we need to try one thing at a time.

You can watch all of the “motivational speeches” you want about how you should never sleep, you should never give up and you should spend every living and breathing second focusing on being successful. You can try to replicate what worked for someone else, but in the end, you will fail. We all need to learn to be okay with that.

By failing, we learn. By learning, we become smarter.

The smarter we are, the more realistic our goals become.

Remember: every time you lose focus, pay attention to what caused you to become distracted. Steer away from the distractions and allow yourself to find the best way to accomplish your goals.

Be realistic. You can’t eat the elephant all at once. Take small bites, and chew slowly.

Life is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, it’s challenging, but take advantage of its learning moments and use them to set you up for success.

Every time you lose focus, if you pay attention, you can put yourself a step closer to getting where you want to be.

And once you get there? Well, you’ll be grateful for taking the time to pay attention along the way.

Losing focus is okay. After all, you might learn something from it.

How to Get Things Done

Everyone likes getting things done. There is a simple but rewarding sense of gratification once you can mark something off of your list.

Take for example making your bed. You might say in your head, “oh I don’t see any sense in making my bed, I’m going to move all of the pillows and get under the covers anyhow.” In the morning when you have a million things to do, you might not realize the benefit of making your bed and consider it something that doesn’t really need to be taken care of.

My brother taught me something a while ago, if you make your bed every morning, not matter how bad your day was, no matter how little you are able to accomplish, or whatever setbacks you face, when you return home to your bed to retire, you will be rewarded with one thing where everything is in its place, pleasing and relaxing. You will be rewarded for your smallest investment and it may be your day’s greatest achievement.

Making your bed serves as a good example of what you can accomplish when you commit yourself to your goals. Keeping track of them, though is another story. If all you had to do every day was make your bed, brush your teeth, shower and go to work, you wouldn’t have much trouble keeping track of it. Unless you’re playing Will Farrell’s role in Stranger Than Fiction, that’s probably not the case, though.

In order to accomplish of the millions of things that we task ourselves with, we need to keep track of them.

We know that the human brain is powerful, in fact it is the most efficient computing device in the world, capable of of processing 2.2 billion megaflops on only 20 watts of energy. However, despite its efficiency, it isn’t always the most organized means of storage.

Sometimes we need to rely on ancient technology to tackle of some the hardest tasks.

What am I proposing? Taking a drastic measure. Uninstall your apps, ditch the Task manager in Outlook, stop fretting over your Gmail tasks not syncing with your phone and leave Evernote to tracking minutes from meetings.

What I am proposing is that you get a sheet of paper and a writing utensil and write down the things that you need to get done.

Image Courtesy of Betsy Weber by Creative Commons 2.0

Nothing will give you the satisfaction of getting things done better than taking a pen and striking a line through them as you accomplish them. As more of your tasks become completed, you will see your progress by the growing number of strike-throughs on your page. Unlike software, those completed tasks that you spent your time and effort on won’t simply disappear or transfer to your recycle bin, they will remain on the page as a visual reminder of your accomplishments.

As the page grows and more and more is crossed out, give yourself a pat on the back, you’re getting things done.