bjwun-job-fairIt’s National Boss’s Day, a day that I celebrate heartily since I have the perfect boss. It took her awhile to figure things out, of course, but lifelong learning is one of the gifts of self-employment.

When I started my first business, I didn’t know another self-employed person who was creating something unique. There was no internet and not many books that were written for someone wanting to start a one-person operation. It was all trial and error…lots of error.

Today there are abundant resources, but some of the most important things I learned still aren’t being acknowledged. Here are eight things I wish I had known sooner.

° The business you start out with is not the business you end up with. By its’ very nature, business is an evolutionary process. As you change and grow—and as the marketplace changes and grows—you’ll make adjustments.

The good news is that you can get started wherever and whenever you want without having to know every detail. Be willing for your business to deliver pleasant surprises and lessons.

° Refuse to take advice from uninformed sources. It’s easy when you’re filled with self-doubt to listen to dream bashers. Don’t do it. And don’t solicit advice from those who have failed.

It’s amazing to me how often I talk to people who have abandoned a great idea because someone who knew nothing about their business (and probably wasn’t even an entrepreneur themselves) talked them out of it.

As the Persian poet Rumi wisely advised, “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

° Know the difference between an expense and an investment. Many new self-bossers see any outlay of money as an expense. While your business will have costs associated with running it, spending money now to produce a greater good in the future is an investment.

Your money needs to go to both. Some of the biggest return on investment comes when you invest in yourself.

° What you don’t know can be learned. Learn how to research your ideas and connect with informed sources. If you operate on the assumption that you can acquire the information and skills you need at every stage of development, you’ll always have the pleasure of being a voluntary student.

Equally important is determining which parts of doing business make your heart sing and which make your heart sink. Once you know that, you can farm out the parts you’re not good at. Know what you want to know and know what you don’t care about knowing.

° Personal growth is a daily activity. Paul Hawken says, “Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are.” I became an entrepreneur because I was curious about what I could become. Self-employment continues to be my best teacher.

In order for your enterprise to reach its’ fullest potential, you have to reach yours. An occasional seminar or personal growth book or CD isn’t going to have the impact that daily work does, even though those tools are also important.

° Don’t confuse a project with a dream. Your dreams are your ultimate destination. A project is a step along the way. Too many people use a project failure as an excuse to abandon their dreams.

Know the difference and don’t make that mistake.

° Patience is your best friend. There’s a fine line between being patient and being a procrastinator. It seems to me that what many people call failure is simply running out of patience, giving up before their idea had a chance to blossom.

Remind yourself that you can’t possibly know how long it will take to accomplish something you’ve never done before. Be willing to be impatiently patient.

° Know the difference between taking a risk and taking a calculated risk. Timid people who are not self-bossers think that you’re a wild person jeopardizing your family and your finances. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Studies have shown that successful entrepreneurs take risks, but they’re cautious, calculated ones based on research and intuition. Do your homework. Take a step.

Of course, part of the appeal and adventure of being joyfully jobless is not always knowing exactly how things will turn out. Be willing to let things turn out better than you imagined.

Nick Ortner, author of the wildly successful The Tapping Solution, recently wrote about encountering a powerful bit of advice. The words that got his attention were “who you spend time with…is who you become.”

He says, “I first heard this quote and concept over 15 years ago at a Tony Robbins weekend event. I was there by myself, having seen an advertisement for it while walking the streets of New York where I lived, and knowing I needed to do something different with my life.”

Of course, if you look at his life today as a bestselling author and sought after expert, it’s obvious that he took that advice to heart and found ways to spend time with people who had a positive influence on him.

Tony Robbins isn’t the only one to encourage positive connections. Centuries earlier, the Persian poet Rumi  urged, “Be with those who help your being.”

It’s wonderful, of course, if our lives are filled with friends and allies who serve that purpose. Most of us begin the journey of personal discovery in a different way.

We go looking for a teacher. We may do so without letting our current friends or family members know that such an exploration has begun.

Even more accessible than live events such as the one Ortner mentions, are books.

Although self-help is a huge industry today, not everyone gets the great results that he has. This is somewhat perplexing considering how easy it is to create our own program.

When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development, there were few titles to choose from.

Today there are thousands.

I always have a self-help book or two in my current reading pile because there’s so much to learn.

However, the self-help movement has spawned plenty of dropouts. Why don’t all readers find this genre helpful? Here are a few thoughts on that.

° Refuse to abandon skepticism. Hanging on to cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth. “I tried that positive thinking stuff once,” they scoff. “Didn’t work.”

° Expecting instant results. Big mistake.

Simply reading a single book is not going to produce visible change. It’s more a process of chipping away at limiting thoughts and behaviors that have taken hold over years.

° Exercises are too much trouble. Most of us think of reading as zooming from the beginning to the end of a book.

Self-help books invite us to slow down and take a slower journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° Right book at the wrong time. Personal growth is an evolutionary process and we expand our receptiveness one concept at a time.

Sometimes a book arrive ahead of our readiness. When that happens, don’t abandon self-help. Try a different book.

I recall my first encounter with Napoleon Hill’s classic, Think and Grow Rich. It could have been written in Swahili for all the sense it made to me. When I revisited it a year later, I was ready to start learning the lessons.

° Miss the point. A woman I know who never quite gets her business running, often dismisses advice and suggestions by saying, “I’ve heard that before.”

Hearing is only part of the process. As Henry David Thoreau said, “A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hints. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

 

Thanks to an ominous noise coming from my front left wheel of my trusty Saturn, I spent my holiday weekend close to home. Although I had no idea what was causing the noise, I kept thinking of a recent caller to Car Talk who had a problem with a front axle. I believe she was warned not to push her luck.

My daughter had recommended Big John’s, a family-owned local shop, so I called them ten minutes after they opened at 7:30 AM. They suggested I come in as soon as possible for a diagnosis, which was exactly what I hoped they’d say.

The men behind the counter at Big John’s were all enormous and enormously tattooed. Most of them sported scraggly beards and jolly smiles.

In the customer seating area there was a sixty-inch tv sporting a duck hunting reality show. I was sorry I’d left in such a hurry that I forgot to grab a book, but noticed a stack of magazines on the coffee table in front of the leather sofa. I was not optimistic that I’d be able to amuse myself.

About ninety percent of the magazines were back issues of Men’s Health or Sports Illustrated. Then I spied Departures, an American Express publication featuring luxury travel.

I decided it was more promising than the other choices, so I began halfheartedly browsing through it. In amongst the ads for expensive watches and hotels, I came across a fascinating story by a writer who had paid a visit to Rumi’s adopted hometown in the south of Turkey.

Yes, that Rumi. The beloved poet, I learned, had been born in what is now Afghanistan, but for most of his adult life lived and wrote in Konya. By the time I finished the piece, I wanted to join the 5,000 pilgrims who visit his tomb every day.

By this time, my car problem was diagnosed and it was, indeed, an axle and bearing causing the racket. I was told it would take about 2 1/2 hours to repair. The jolly man at the counter said, “We’ll let you have the remote for the tv.”

I was feeling pretty jolly myself when he told me my repair was going to come in under $500, about $1000 less than I’d anticipated. I laughed and said I’d call my daughter to come and rescue me.

While I waited for my ride, I decided to browse through another magazine, a thick marketing piece for an MLM company disguised as an issue of Success magazine. It was mostly filled with stories extolling tales of financial freedom distributors of the company had found through their businesses.

I kept turning pages and there at the end was a non-marketing article about the late speaker Jim Rohn. Much of the story was familiar, but at the end of the piece was a glorious tip sheet called something like Jim Rohn’s Seven Steps for Living a Great Life.

One of the tips that got my attention was a call to action.

Rohn said, “Don’t miss the game. Don’t miss the performance, don’t miss the movie, don’t miss the show, don’t miss the dance. Go to everything you possibly can. Buy a ticket to everything you possibly can.”

After my solitary weekend, that was music to my ears (or, literally, eyes). I smiled thinking how inspiration really is every where when you’re open to it, but Rohn wasn’t done with me yet.

“Live a vital life,” Rohn advised. “If you live well, it will show in your face. There will be something unique and magical about you if you live well.”

So I’m happy to report that my car is once again running quietly. And I promised Big John’s I would write a rave review about them on the Car Talk Website so I need to see if I can do so without gushing.

After all, public gratitude for great service is another aspect of living a vital life.

Of course, Rumi knew that, too. “The rule that covers everything is: How you are with others, expect that back.”

I’m guessing the guys at Big John’s demonstrate that everyday. What could be more inspiring than that?

As anyone who’s started a business knows, doing so invites an avalanche of unsolicited advice. Obviously, we need advice from those who have experience and information that can help us.

How can you sort the wheat from the chaff?

Rule #1: Consider the Source

The most important thing about receiving advice is that you know your source and trust them.. We’ve all probably allowed false advice to influence us. Sometimes it happens because the advice-giver sounds authoritative and so we look no further.

At other times, maybe out of laziness, we accept negative or discouraging words as an excuse for not giving something a try.

And sometimes we just don’t know if the advice is accurate. (This is a particularly new and thorny problem caused by the Internet where advice is posted but not edited or verified.)

Keep in mind this advice from the Persian poet Rumi: “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

Rule #2 : Get a Second Opinion

While too many opinions or too much advice can serve to confuse, if you’re exploring unknown territory,  serious research is in order before setting out.

Get advice from people who know what they’re talking about—and then get a back-up opinion or two.

Rule #3: Make the Most of It

When you ask advice of another person, your initial role is to be a quiet listener or to ask clarifying questions. Whether or not you act upon the advice is a matter for a later time.

When you’re trying to make a decision or need information so you can proceed with a decision you’ve already made, seeking outside input is just part of the information-gathering process. Sifting comes after you’ve got all the information collected.

The world is full of teachers, experts and amateur advisors—with varying qualifications. Finding the right ones to help you learn what you need to know so you can move forward in your own life is not to be taken lightly.

The experience of others can save us time, add deeper insights, prevent us from making costly mistakes. Ask only those who can help, not hinder, your success.

Rule #4 Look for the Lessons

Pay attention and notice what others are doing.  Or just remember this advice from C.S. Lewis:

Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire; if you want to get wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into the thing that has them…They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you; if you are not, you will remain dry.

 

“Be with those who help your being,” advised Rumi. For me, that means spending time in the company of inspired entrepreneurs. If I can’t be in the same room with one, I will visit a Web site (Innocent Drinks is a good choice) or have a long distance chat with one every day. 

 

I am not at all certain, however, that genuinely inspired entrepreneurs would call themselves that. (In fact, I’d be suspicious if someone put that as a title on their business card.) It’s more about thinking and acting in a way that let’s us know that inspiration is a guiding force in their lives. 

 

Here are some ways to spot one when you find them in the wild:

 

They love innovation and ideas

They ask “what if” alot

They drop names, giving credit and recognition to others

They may dress creatively

They are relentlessly curious

They spread encouragement

They laugh frequently

They are enthusiastic problem-solvers

They take good care of themselves

They are genuine optimists

They find change exciting

They are committed to leaving things better than they found them

They are genuises at mobilizing whatever resources they have

They notice opportunities all over the place

 

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So excited about the Get Inspired! Project being launched October 1 by Toni Reece. Her goal is to interview 365 people about what inspiration means to them and then post the audio at http://getinspiredproject.com. Since inspiration means different things to different people, this should be fascinating. The idea is to speak with people from all walks of life. If you’d like to participate send a message to toni@thepeopleacademyinc.com.