Entrepreneurs: Be careful what you wish for
Last week, I recorded a webinar highlighting a new project that I am over the moon about. I had spent literally hours of preparation with the team making sure all the talking points for the webinar were the absolute best they could be and we had a greater than average success in our email campaign promoting the webinar with open rates 20% above normal for us.
We were using new technology and had the lighting and set set up perfectly and the visual and audio tests went great.
As I was wrapping up the hour-long webinar, I was felt great about my performance and I knew the content was spot on.
That’s when I started to look at the feedback rolling in through every digital channel imaginable saying that for the entire webinar I had been playing my presenter notes instead of the camera on me and the slides and basically the webinar was a total bust.
I was sharing this first-world catastrophe with a friend of mine and she asked, “How do you deal with a setbacks like that?”
Interesting question. I think that there is a misconception that once you become “successful”, everything gets easy.
That got me thinking that there are really three big myths of success which keep most people struggling to grow their business and have the kind of impact on the world that they want.
Myth #1: Success is a finish line
The first myth is the one my friend suggested – that success is an imaginary finish line after which everything is easy.
I can see how you might develop this idea because it seems like when you are struggling, or when you have a business that is not meeting your financial needs, that you imagine everything would be fixed if you could just add more customers and bring in more money, and therefore, your problems would be gone.
Of course, the reality is as you grow your business, your financial needs also change, and what it takes from you in order to meet the growing demands of your growing customer base also changes.
You can think of it more like a competitive weightlifter. If you are always trying to lift the most weight you can, because it is your nature to be pushing against your limitations and continually growing and expanding, and even though you might get stronger and be able to lift more and more weight over time, it is still just as hard to lift to your point of failure when the amount of the weight increases.
To be sure, an Olympic weightlifter has a much easier time lifting a 110 pound weight that you or I would, so it seems like their life should be easier because they have an easier time lifting the weight.
But they also don’t get the same amount of satisfaction from lifting that weight and, therefore, strive to lift more.
So, as you learn how to solve more and more problems in your business automatically through pattern recognition and habit, the kinds of problems that you want to solve also grow and get more complex .
It is my belief that customers are attracted to brands and people that are pushing their own limits and what you are able to accomplish in relation to your current capability.
Customers respond to whether you are lifting as much as you can versus how much weight you actually lift.
Also, once you get familiar with pushing your limits by growing and expanding what you are capable of doing, it will become very odd or very uncomfortable for you to dial back, even as you get more successful.
So, the first myth of success is that it is a place to get to where everything is easy once you are there. The idea being there is some kind of finish line in which after that, everything is easy and you have to work hard now and make sacrifices now to get over that finish line – so then everything will be easy.
Myth #2: You have to work harder
The second myth of success, ironically, is the exact opposite, which is that larger and larger businesses are harder to run.
If you are already working as hard as you can imagine, then the idea of growing your business 10 times its size seems impossible because a part of you imagines that it will be 10 times as hard to achieve.
So this fear of committing to a lifetime of much more difficulty keeps a lot of people from actually taking the steps to put in place systems that grow their business.
I’ve talked to thousands of entrepreneurs with 6-figure businesses that tell me they are actually not interested in growing to 7-figures, citing reasons like they enjoy their free time and they like the business just as it is, or they don’t want to have to hire people or they don’t want to have to keep track of too many customers.
All of those reasons are encapsulated in the second myth of success, which is that business is essentially a linear effort curve with respect to effort verses success.
But the real effort curve, in my experience looks more like this:
Success usually is achieved not by increasing effort, but by altering strategy.
One way of thinking about strategy is making extraordinary results easy to achieve. By this definition, increasing “effort” is not really a strategy, its the lack of one.
So, taken together, the first and second myth of success indicates that the difficulty or challenge associated with the level of success you are generating neither increases dramatically or decreases dramatically with scale.
My observation is that an entrepreneur’s level of comfort with their own discomfort – their ease of recovery from failures like my webinar snafu this week, their willingness to make promises that contain unknown demands from them, their willingness to take responsibility for factors outside their control, and their willingness to get started on projects that they don’t know how they will finish – determines the slope of increased success over time.
On the outside, it looks like more successful people are working harder.
Perhaps, but a different interpretation of the same observation is that people who are willing to be more uncomfortable accelerate faster. However, the level of discomfort will stay the same at each level of success.
Let’s look at this idea of hard work before we get into the third myth.
Working hard actually means tolerating some kind of uncomfortable emotion.
There’s the “I’m tired and I want to quit” and “I’m exhausted and I need a break but I’m going to do it anyway” kind of hard – which from time to time you might need to do, but certainly success does not depend on it.
There’s the “I have to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved before so i can’t use any of the methods that people have already perfected” kind of hard, meaning there is a high risk of failure and you have to create spaciousness so you can really think about the problem and come up with the best solution that is going to work.
And there’s hard in terms of taking personal risk of failure, of looking bad, of making promises that you might not be able to keep, and all of the emotional fear associated with those risks, and being willing to fail and do it anyway – there’s that kind of hard.
So as you get more successful, you get set up to solve harder and harder problems, which requires more and more space and greater risk.
But it usually requires less and less of the first kind of working hard, where you are burnout and tired and you have to pull an all nighter and it’s still not done so you keep pushing, that actually erodes space, which means the kinds of problems you can solve in that space are lower level – the kinds of problems that less successful people have to face.
And that’s when success feels harder.
Myth #3: Success can be measured externally
The third myth is that success can be measured by some kind of external, tangible measurement.
We think that once we have a 7-figure business, or once we are able to buy our own home, or once we have passive income which exceeds our expenses, or once we have a successful exit, that we will then freely be able to call ourselves “successful”.
But in terms of the felt experience of a successful person, the feeling of success has to do with whether or not you can predict what you can accomplish, not what you want to do. It’s much closer to accumulating confidence in yourself as opposed to accumulating assets or wealth.
Perhaps the easiest way to build confidence in accomplishing what you want is to develop a track record for yourself of accomplishing the things you set out to do in the past.
While that might be a necessary ingredient for you to create the expectation of future success, it is likely insufficient.
The implication of the third myth of success is that in order to be successful you must also develop a sophistication of what you can expect from yourself and your team, and to learn how to highlight the ways in which you and your team meet or exceed expectations in the past.
Without these last components, no amount of accumulation will set you up for an authentic experience of success.
Based on these three myths of success, what have you learned about what you might do next to build a more successful future for yourself and your company?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credit: Berlin Winter Solstice Sunrise by Android Jones
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