The Right Answers

We all have the right answers but do we have the right actions to use those answers?

I spoke at a Youth Leadership Summit last week and in my presentation I held up very successful people as examples and asked the attendees what traits led to these people’s wild success at various stages of their career.

The answers were all correct with terms like perseverance, creativity, passion, and motivation. I added a few such as curiosity, flexibility and a sense of adventure.

GarfieldLazyThe point is that we all know what it takes for others to achieve big things but we’re often afraid to do those things ourselves. Worse than being afraid we’re often lazy.

I don’t mean lazy like we sit on a couch watching TV, eating chips rather than working (everyone at the summit had a career and took the additional step of attending the summit). I mean lazy in comparison to the examples I held out, people like Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Gary Vaynerchuk and many more who have enough energy and drive to keep them moving toward success.

I don’t have nearly as much energy as the previous examples and yet I work a full time job (which I have progressed in over the years), own rental properties, own and operate a retail service business, write books, and blog. I want to do more but I have to work my way up to it. Just as running a marathon takes conditioning, so too does the marathon of success take conditioning. How many of us are willing to do the work to build that base of conditioning?

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Certain About Uncertainty

ConfusedUncertainty is all around us. Who knows what’s going to happen with taxes (the fiscal cliff) in the US? Who knows what stocks will do? Will you get that new job? Will you find Mr. or Ms. Right? Will the Mets ever be good again?

If only we can get some certainty on these things and much more, then our lives would be better, right? Certainty takes away the fear, the angst, the unsettled feeling we all hate. Or does it?

I think all those bad things, but mostly that knot in your stomach you think is uncertainty, is actually the result of your rejection of uncertainty. It reminds me of this quote from Eric Hoffer which begins the chapter called Money, Life, and Happiness in What Next, “the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” Replace happiness with certainty and you get “the search for certainty is one of the chief sources of uncertainty.”

Uncertainty is to certainty as failure is to success and hate is to love; there can’t be one without the other. The truly successful among us embrace uncertainty and use it to their advantage. A tweet I saw captures  this choice cleverly, “Life is like a rollercoaster, it has its ups and downs, but it’s your choice if you scream or enjoy the ride.”

I’m not saying that we can never be certain or that we shouldn’t strive for certainty but rather we should understand uncertainty. Uncertainty was the topic of the weekly #PoCchat on Twitter (a highly recommended chat Mondays at 11am ET) and CASUDI captures the embrace of uncertainty best with this tweet “a real roadmap2 success has alt routes and contingencies built into it.” That is called flexibility and being flexible is accepting uncertainty as you work to tame it.

Alt Routes

I made an observation about certainty that Greg (@StrategicMonk) astutely added to: “Certainty is boring,” I said, “and restricting,” added Greg. Certainty is stagnation and I’m not a fan of stagnation. Certainty is a well marked hiking trail but some of the best sights are found off trail.

Certainty is boring

That knot at the pit of your stomach is a good thing because it keeps you motivated. Bobby Umar (@raehanbobby the moderator of #PoCchat) seconded Angela Maiers’ tweet when she said, “if your dreams are not scaring you, they are not big enough!”

Dream Big

To be successful don’t strive for certainty, just pick a direction and get going, once you get there the certainty takes care of itself.

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Whose Deadline is it Anyway?

DeadlineThere are so many deadlines that we must meet, so many tasks that require our attention. When I was in school I’d wait till the last minute and cram more often than I ever should have. I think a lot of people did that and they continue to do that into adulthood.

As I work through the process of getting my new business started I’ve added many more deadlines, construction deadlines, ordering deadlines, hiring deadlines, a countdown to my first rent payment, and many more. Adding a level of complexity, many of these targets depend on the action of others, leaving me at their mercy (or lack of mercy). But remember that these are your deadlines not their’s and you have to take ownership of them. You have to hold them to your schedule when you can and be flexible when you can’t.

Some of these deadlines are variable, while others are rigid. The rigid deadlines aren’t surprises, however, so don’t act that way when they arrive. The important thing to know, to truly believe, is that you really do have control over these deadlines. If you plan for more than just perfection, if you plan for flexibility, then deadlines aren’t dead ends.

The opening date of our spa has moved many times and will move again before we finally open the doors but that’s ok. I’d rather get it right, make sure that the customer’s experience will be great, than open on some arbitrary date just to make myself feel good, because I soon won’t if everything is less than perfect. That might mean that I begin paying rent before I have income, if I didn’t plan for that possibility that’s my own fault. As I say in What Next, “It’s not the plan for the expected outcome that saves you, it’s the plan for the unexpected outcome that does.”

It’s easy to stress out over the many deadlines but it’s completely counterproductive. Instead, be flexible and know that a missed deadline isn’t the end of the world. But don’t let yourself off the hook either, ask why you missed the deadline and work to make sure it doesn’t happen next time.

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Implementation Validation

The test of any plan is to implement it. How do you feel about it? Is it going as you expected or are there minor (or large) obstacles along the way? Maybe the plan falls apart completely or maybe you find an even better solution.

I’m a big proponent of multiple paths to the same destination; I pick my favorite, Plan A, but then set about working on Plan B, and then Plan C, and even a Plan D and Plan E. Have as many plans as you canEach one gets more desperate, I mean creative, but the point is that each plan is an escape route, a hedge against failure.

Implementing a plan means you believe in it, that you’re confident it will lead to the place you want to be. That can be scary sometimes as you second guess yourself and doubt creeps in. Doubt is OK, however, because it keeps you honest as you must justify each decision again and reevaluate it’s effectiveness. Putting a plan into action is not a exercise in rigidity, it about fluidity and flexibility.

Starting any business takes capital in spite of the headlines like “How to start the next Google with just $100.” As I begin funding a new venture I am testing the various plans I put in place over the years. One thing I’m learning is that it’s hard, mentally, to actually implement a plan.

I began selling stock to build a base of capital but I find myself wondering if now, the moment I’m hitting the sell button, is the right time. If you have a plan and believe in it, you won’t care about that one moment or those few dollars because you’re focused on the big picture, on progress. I hit the button and moved the plan forward.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Goals

Don’t think of goals as just a few key plans for the future. There’s more to goals than that, they are more versatile than that.

DartboardThere isn’t just one kind of goal, or two, or three, there is an unlimited range of goals. Some goals are short term while others are long term, some can be modified some can’t, some may be discarded entirely, some are more wish than goal. The goals you thought were rigid sometimes turn out to be quite pliable and visa versa. You get the point.

The key is flexibility, the willingness to modify one goal to achieve another more important one. As new information is learned what you never imagined before suddenly becomes a requirement. That’s life, that’s what asking What Next is all about, the search for adventure through exploration and discovery.

Career goals intersect with life goals, without one can there be the other? I write about this in the book What Next as I chronicle my attempt to change my career from television news to financial planning. This is an example of a pliable goal. I wanted to go into financial planning but I wanted to do it on my terms, and if that wasn’t possible, then I knew I would continue in my current career.

Writing the book is similar. I didn’t write the book to make money. On the contrary, I can afford to spend money to write the book, that’s why I wrote it, to demonstrate the options success gives you. I was able to pursue a creative outlet without worrying how I would pay for it or if it could sustain itself. For me it was writing a book, for someone else it might be painting or woodwork. 

Flexibility and options are integral parts of What Next. The choices you make will either expand your options or limit them, it’s up to you.

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