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Entrepreneurship and Personal Growth

When people talk about the benefits of being an entrepreneur, they usually speak in terms of getting to be their own boss and the financial rewards of owning a business.  I think these aspects of entrepreneurship are great, but my favorite thing about it is actually the opportunities it offers me to grow as a person.

Over the last few years, my business has given me the chance to try things I would never even have considered when I was a salaried employee.  I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to use recording equipment, draft marketing copy, design a website, make public appearances, write a book, interview authors, network with others in the personal development field, and—you knew it was coming—much, much more.

At a deeper level, beyond just learning cool new skills, I’ve had the chance to experience emotional highs and lows I wasn’t exposed to in my previous job.  One of the emotions I’ve had the opportunity to feel a lot more often is anxiety.  The first time I did each of the things I just described, I felt at least a little afraid that I was going to embarrass myself and that I was “wasting my time.”  The fear showed up as a tension in my chest and shoulders.

Expanding My Experience

When that fear and tension arose, I used the approach that my mindfulness practices have taught me for dealing with sensations that seem intense and threatening.  I just sat there, relaxed my body, breathed, and allowed the feeling to peak and then pass away.

When I allowed the feeling to flow through me, I came to realize that my body could take it—that having the feeling couldn’t actually hurt or destroy me.  On the other side of this experience, I felt calm and relaxed about the action I was going to take, and similar issues that came up later on didn’t bother me as much.

So, entrepreneurship has given me a chance to expand the range of sensations I can be with and tolerate.  That’s what I think personal growth is really about—becoming willing to be with more and more sensation, until you have total choice in how you can live your life, and you aren’t shying away from any experiences because you’re scared of what you might feel.  Buddhists call this developing “equanimity”—freeing yourself from suffering by learning to accept any experience life gives you.

“Successful” But Stagnant

When I worked full-time as a lawyer, I mostly sat in my office and drafted briefs and letters.  This was much easier for me to do than what I’m doing now.  Writing is one of my strongest natural talents, so I could usually rest assured that the work I did would be well-received.  It was an ideal job for me in many ways, but it just didn’t offer the same growth opportunities.

Because I didn’t have to confront fear, or other intense emotions, very often, I didn’t get much chance to expand my capacity to tolerate sensation.  So, even though I was making good money and had a job others saw as prestigious, my personal growth felt stagnant.

One key reason I decided to start my own business was that I knew there were so many experiences I hadn’t explored yet, and I wanted to expand the boundaries of who I was and what I was capable of.

Process Over Product

The perspective I’m offering here is different from what many of us are used to.  In our culture, we’re accustomed to valuing only the product—the end result—of what we do in our careers.  We suffer through the work day and the tasks we have to do—hating the process—to chase the money, prestige, vacations, and so on that our careers promise us.  And if we end up losing our job or our business fails, we often think we have “nothing to show for” the time we spent working.

When we think in terms of using our work as a tool for personal growth, we start to see how valuable the moment-to-moment process of working can be.  If we do something for work that constantly pushes our edge—regularly trying new and sometimes scary things like public speaking, making affiliate deals, and so on—we constantly grow our capacity to tolerate experiences.  We learn to be at peace with more, and more intense, sensations in our lives.

So, even when we try a strategy for growing our business and it fails, we can be sure we’ve grown as human beings by trying.  And when we succeed at something, that success is just icing on the cake of the inner strength and freedom we gain by taking on a new challenge.

I’m on the Radio this Wednesday!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be appearing on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen on Wednesday, June 24, at 7:30 a.m. Pacific (U.S.) time.  Bonnie has interviewed some amazing guests in the past, including Wayne Dyer, Doreen Virtue and Guy Finley, and I’m honored to be added to that list.  I hope you can join us.

Interview With Entrepreneurship Coach John Van Dinther

I’m pleased to welcome back entrepreneurship coach John Van Dinther of 2Hats Consulting (who hosted my earlier teleseminar) to talk about the direction, productivity and marketing issues entrepreneurs commonly face, and some exercises he uses to help his clients deal with those concerns.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

* How John’s unique “online vision board” approach can help you solidify your direction in your business and other areas of your life

* How using pictures of the process of your work, not just the end product, in your online vision board can help with your motivation

* How keeping in mind “the big picture” of why you’re doing what you’re doing can empower you through tasks you normally see as mundane or boring

* How to “anchor” your vision for your business deep in your body, so you can access your inspiration at any time

* How treating yourself with compassion can benefit your productivity

* Why getting comfortable with being alone in silence is so important for the solo entrepreneur

* How to make peace with those negative inner voices telling you that you won’t succeed

* Why it’s key to focus on the benefit you’re providing clients, not the services you provide, in your marketing approach

Download the Interview (MP3 file; 25 mins.; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

Getting Comfortable With “Selling Yourself”

In literature on changing careers or starting a business, one theme you’ll often hear is that the key product you’re selling is yourself, and that you need to fully believe in yourself if you want others to be interested in what you have to offer.  If you’re not confident in your ability to run a business or market your services, the usual advice goes, stick with your current 9-to-5 job for now.  Take more courses, read more books, get more on-the-job training, and generally get more experience to build up the confidence to strike out on your own.

On the surface, this seems like sound advice.  However, it overlooks a problem I’ve often seen people confront when they’re starting, or hoping to start, a business or make a career change.  Some people can earn prestigious degrees in subjects related to their business, and spend years getting experience relevant to their field, but still feel like they can’t promote their products or services to others.  They have the nagging sense that, if they “put themselves out there,” they’d be arrogant, they’d bother people, they wouldn’t do it well enough, people would attack or ridicule them, and so on.  For people with a deep-seated fear of promoting themselves, gathering more skills and experience isn’t necessarily going to help.

For instance, I know a number of professionals in “high-powered fields” like law, banking and medicine who, despite how successful society and their colleagues consider them, are still deathly afraid of marketing themselves.  They can do the day-to-day work of their professions superbly well, but the idea of going out and finding clients and customers just doesn’t sit well with them.  In fact, some people have admitted to me that one reason they entered their professions was to have a secure, lucrative job without the anxiety of having to sell their services.

If you experience this type of fear around “selling yourself,” an important first step in removing that stumbling block is to carefully observe the thoughts and sensations that come up when the anxiety gets in your way.  When you fully understand how this anxiety feels and how it limits you, you experience a separation from the anxiety, and a sense of choice in how you respond to the world.  You become able to spot the feeling when it’s coming up, and decide to act in spite of it.  As psychologist Phil Nuernberger says in Strong And Fearless: The Quest For Personal Power, “[a]s we become more skilled in our ability to be an observer, we become more aware of the patterns and movements of the mind and we have a greater opportunity to choose the patterns and behaviors we want.”

I’ll recommend an exercise you can do to develop this sort of awareness.  Start by finding a comfortable place where you can sit alone and undistracted.  Allow any thoughts and feelings that come up to simply occur, without judging them, pushing them away, or turning to some activity to take your mind off them.

Now, ask yourself:  what thoughts arise when you consider doing something to market yourself or your products?  For instance, does asking someone to pay you for your goods or services feel sleazy or deceptive?  Would it feel like you were boasting about, or drawing too much attention to, yourself?  Does self-promotion feel like a mundane activity that it’s beneath someone of your qualifications to do?  Do you need to accomplish or learn more to “deserve” to promote yourself?

Next, notice the sensations that come up when you think about “selling yourself.”  You probably know already that you experience fear or anxiety, but what sensations tell you that you’re having those emotions?  For example, is there tension or pain in some part of your body?  Where is it?  Does your breathing become constricted?  Do you feel warmer or colder anywhere?  Does your mouth become dry?  Do you start to sweat?

Once you’ve fully experienced the thoughts and feelings that come up for you around self-promotion, allow those thoughts and feelings to gently pass away.  Let them subside into the space, the emptiness, from which they came.  Just as each breath of air into your lungs is followed by an exhale, so too do fear and other emotions enter and flow out of you.  Observe that, even though the sensations of the anxiety are gone, you are still there.  Allowing yourself to experience the anxiety didn’t destroy or change what you are.  You are still a whole and complete being.

This exercise helps you experience firsthand that sense of separation from your fears I talked about earlier.  Often, we make all kinds of efforts to avoid experiencing fear, as if just feeling it could actually hurt or destroy us.  We hold ourselves back from taking risks, lose ourselves in unfulfilling “busywork,” or numb ourselves with drugs and alcohol to avoid feeling our fear.  As with the professionals I described who chose their careers to avoid the need for self-promotion, many of us design our lives around making sure we don’t have to experience certain emotions.

However, when we allow our fear to run its course inside us, and notice we remain unharmed after it’s gone, we feel empowered to act in spite of it when it comes up.  As psychologist Barbara Miller Fishman writes in Emotional Healing Through Mindfulness Meditation, “[t]he meditative tool for probing experience allows us to watch how thoughts arise and then fade, how powerful emotions such as anger and fear emerge and then subside.  In this way we learn about the impermanence of experience.”

If you aren’t feeling fully confident in your ability to market your products and services, don’t be too quick to assume you need more education and skills to overcome your anxiety.  Acquiring more knowledge has its place, but transcending your fear isn’t usually something you can do on a purely intellectual level.  You may feel blocked because, until now, you’ve been unwilling to have the full, intense, visceral experience of being afraid.  Take a few moments to simply allow your fear to arise and pass away, and notice how much peace and focus this exercise can give you.

Would You “Survive” A Career Change?

My friend, a highly-paid financial professional, often complains about her job.  She doesn’t like the long hours, the difficult people, the office politics, and so forth.  Usually, I just sit and listen to her concerns, because it feels like she’s more interested in a sympathetic ear than anything else.  But one day, I couldn’t help but suggest that, if she really dislikes her job so much, she consider what she really wants in a career and possibly even make a change.

She looked at me incredulously.  “I’m focused on surviving right now,” she said.  “I don’t have time to think about what I ‘really want.’”

I’m surprised at how many times I’ve heard professionals with incomes well into the six figures worry about their “survival” in the event of a career change.  Generally, I suspect most of them could handle at least a few months of their current expenses even with no income at all.  Some, for various reasons, are genuinely living from paycheck to paycheck—they may have student loans they need to repay, or maybe they just racked up large expenses leading the high-powered professional life.  But even they, if they had to, could probably reduce their expenses enough to eat and have a place to live if they had to forgo income for a little while.

Why, then, do highly-paid professionals often phrase their concerns about career change in terms of their “survival”?  Actually, I think their use of that word is appropriate, because it speaks to deeper truths about the way we see our careers.  When we say “but if I change careers, I won’t survive,” we’re not actually concerned about the survival of our physical bodies.  We’re not worried that we’re going to starve or have nowhere warm to sleep.  Instead, we’re worried about the survival of the identities we’ve created for ourselves in our minds.

It’s no secret that, in our society, we tend to closely identify with our occupations.  When someone asks what you “do” or what you “are,” I’ll bet you usually respond with your job description—“I’m a lawyer,” “I’m an engineer,” and so forth.  Often, when a person loses their job or retires, you’ll hear them say they feel like they’ve “lost part of themselves,” or that they aren’t sure what they’re “good for” anymore.  The way we tend to perceive our careers, it’s as if they’re limbs or organs of our bodies, and removing them would endanger our lives.

We can also get attached to others seeing us in certain ways based on our jobs, and to the prestige and material things those jobs bestow on us.  If we have high-paying careers, for instance, we start seeing “wealthy” as part of our identities.  If we have demanding jobs, we identify with being “high-powered” and “no-nonsense.”  If we have jobs with exposure to the public, we identify with being glamorous or “high-profile.”  And so on.

This way of thinking about our careers is common, but it’s also problematic.  When we feel like our careers are who we are, we naturally become consumed with fear of losing, or performing badly in, our jobs.  We wake up in the early hours of the morning worrying that we made a mistake on a project.  We’re afraid of change and innovation in doing our jobs, because change presents a risk we can’t afford to take.  If you totally identify with your career, of course, this way of thinking is perfectly logical—if you are your career, losing or changing that career would mean your destruction.

While money isn’t everything, it’s interesting that the people who are most financially successful in our society seem to be those who are least closely identified with their careers.  These are the entrepreneurs and business owners, whose incomes are based on the profits and losses of their businesses rather than steady salaries.  Owning a business requires you to be willing to take the risk that the business will fail.  If you completely identify with the occupation you’re in, you’ll perceive yourself as a failure if your business fails, and thus you’ll probably be afraid to start one in the first place.

What, then, do you do if you want to make a career change, but your current job feels so embedded in your identity that you’re afraid to take the next step?  The answer is to understand that you are not your career, and that you don’t need to completely identify with your career to lead a fulfilling life, but I’m not going to simply tell you that.  I want you to experience that fact firsthand, on a physical level.

What I’m going to recommend may sound a little metaphysical, but bear with me a moment and see if it gets results.  Find a place where you can sit alone in silence with your eyes closed.  Once you’ve done this, focus your attention on your hands, and allow yourself to feel the sensations arising in them.  Perhaps you feel a warmth, a tingling, a prickly sensation, or something else.  When you’ve done this for a little while, gradually bring your attention up your arms, across your torso, up your neck and into your head, and then down into your legs and feet.  Notice how each part of your body feels when you place your full attention on it.

After doing this exercise a few times, you’ll likely experience feelings of peace and aliveness in your body, as if your body were suffused with an inner glow.  When you’re feeling this sensation, you’re experiencing what you are at the most basic level—what we might call “energy,” “consciousness” or “life.”  This is the energy of which you, and all other life forms in the universe, are composed.  You’ve been made of this energy for as long as you’ve existed.  No matter what happens in your life—no matter what job you do, what you accomplish, who you love, and what you own—you will always be, at the deepest level, this energy.

We start identifying with our circumstances in the world—our jobs, relationships, cars, and so forth—when we lose touch with this energy.  Life starts to seem pointless when we forget what we really are, and we grasp for things in the world to give it meaning.  Thankfully, the energy that we are is always there for us to reconnect with, and to give us peace when our lives seem busy or stressful.  When you’re truly connected with your life energy, you understand at a deep level that no career change can ever threaten your survival, and you find the fear of the unknown that restricted you fading away.

Do You Need To “Justify” Your Choices In Life?

I want to tell another story about my friend, the computer programmer who wants to be an interior designer, because my conversations with her raise so many fascinating questions about the challenges surrounding career transitions and pursuing your calling.

My friend is fully ready to start her interior design business—she’s got the ambition, the capital, and the contacts to make it happen.  But a few fears are holding her back.  One of her fears is that she won’t be able to explain to people why she went into her new field.

When she told me this, I was a little confused.  “Isn’t it because you really like decorating people’s houses?” I asked.  “That doesn’t sound hard to explain.”

“But I like to do a lot of things,” she replied.  “That doesn’t justify choosing interior design.  I like snowboarding, but that doesn’t mean I should quit my job and become a professional snowboarder.”

“Is that what people will say when you tell them you enjoy interior decorating?” I asked.

“I know my Dad will,” she said.  “He’s very logical, and he’ll come up with some argument for why I shouldn’t be a decorator that I can’t answer.”

I then realized what the problem was.  My friend believed she’d be obligated to explain to others why she made her career change, but that wasn’t all.  She also thought that, if she explained her choice, others would come up with arguments for why her choice was wrong or irrational.  If she didn’t think she could adequately answer those arguments, she believed, she had no business changing her career, even if she had a strong desire to.  It was almost as if she were a lawyer or a White House press secretary—someone whose job involves justifying their position to others and answering hostile questions.

I could identify with my friend’s perspective because I used to share it.  I not only felt I was required to “defend” my decisions in the academic and career realms—I even felt obligated to defend my choices about matters of “personal taste” like the furniture in my apartment.

For instance, I don’t have a television.  A while back, when someone was about to visit my place for the first time, I found myself wondering how I’d explain the absence of a TV.  Perhaps I’d say I thought watching TV was a waste of time.  However, I thought, someone might be dissatisfied with that explanation and push back.  They might ask questions like “what if someone else wants to watch TV?” or “well, you have a computer.  Do you look at any websites just for fun?  What’s the difference?”  I might think of logical answers to those questions, but then I would come up with a whole raft of further “counterarguments” against my “position.”  Deliberating on how I’d “defend” a decision as seemingly insignificant as my choice not to have a TV could take up hours of my time.

Doing all this rationalizing and justifying in my head was hard, unrewarding work, and eventually I got sick of it.  One day, while pondering how I’d justify the car I just bought to other people, I got so frustrated that I said, out loud, “I’m tired of having to explain everything I do!”

But as I expressed my frustration, a question occurred to me:  do I really have to explain everything I do?  There’s no law saying I have to justify the car I drive, the food I eat, the career goals I pursue, and so on.  There’s no reason I must be able to defend every action I take against every possible criticism.  When and why, I wondered, did I decide I had this obligation?

As I contemplated this issue, memories of my childhood surfaced.  I remembered that my parents, when they didn’t like something I did, would ask me why I did it.  “Why did you leave that sock on the floor?” they’d ask.  “Why didn’t you do the dishes?”  “Why did you stay out so late?”  And so on.  I wanted to please my parents and make sure they kept loving and caring for me, so I’d try to come up with a reason that satisfied them.  But they wouldn’t be satisfied, and I’d feel ashamed and ignorant.

Those memories were painful, but they held the key to understanding why I had this need to rationalize my every decision.  In spending time devising convincing reasons for everything I did, I was just repeating behaviors I’d learned in childhood.  When someone asked me why I did something, I’d try to give a reasonable explanation to protect myself against the shame I felt when I couldn’t “explain myself” as a child.  I’d even plan in advance the conversations I’d have about my life choices, to make sure I could respond to criticism and avoid getting stumped and feeling guilty.

But this strategy didn’t make sense in the context of my adult life.  For example, I didn’t need people I’d just met at cocktail parties to love and care for me—I could live without their approval.  However, just as I did as a child, I’d feel the need to make sure I could logically explain my every choice to those people.  I was following a strategy geared toward ensuring my parents loved me—even when dealing with people who weren’t my parents and whose love I didn’t need.

Further, I recognized that my strategy of explaining myself hadn’t even helped me as a kid.  My parents, when they asked why I did something, really meant that they didn’t like what I did.  It wasn’t as if they would see what I did, ask for an explanation, and then decide how they felt about it based on whether my explanation made sense.  When they asked me to “explain myself,” they’d already made up their minds that they were unhappy with what I did—they didn’t actually care about my reasons.

In sum, I realized I was following a strategy in dealing with people that had been useless all my life.  Thus, I decided to experiment with just telling people what my choices were, without any justification.  For instance, when I left the legal profession, I predictably got a bunch of questions from people about why I did it.  Some of these questions were pretty pointed.  “Aren’t you throwing your career away?” one person asked.  “Have you had some kind of breakdown?” another asked.  Instead of explaining that I hadn’t gone insane and listing all my legitimate reasons for making a transition, I simply said “no.”  Answering without backpedaling, apologizing or rationalizing felt empowering, and I was surprised at how many people respected my answer and my decision.

If you’re thinking of making a career transition, but you’re afraid you won’t be able to justify your decision to others, I have an experiment for you to do.  For a moment, take your attention off the arguments you must make to convince others that your choice is right, and place it on why you feel the need to justify your choice at all.  Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t satisfy others with your justifications.  Also, ask yourself whether you’re really accomplishing anything by convincing others that your life decisions are right.  Developing awareness around these issues may have you feel freer to make the change you want.

But You’ll Be “Unemployed”!

I have a friend who would like to start her own business as an interior designer, and leave her current 9-to-5 job as a computer programmer.  She’s convinced that she has the skills, the startup capital, the contacts and so forth to make it happen.  But she’s still too scared to make the change.  Why?  Because, she says, if she leaves her current job she’ll be “unemployed.”

At first glance, my friend’s belief seems strange.  If she makes the transition she wants, she’ll be the owner and CEO of her own company, with total control over the operation of her business.  She’s saved up enough money to pay her expenses while she builds up a client base.  And she’ll have made a career out of doing what she loves.  Why would she think of that situation as “unemployment”?

The answer is that my friend simply can’t accept the idea that it’s possible to have a career that doesn’t involve going into an office every weekday, remaining there between at least 9 and 5 o’clock, being gradually promoted through a large corporate hierarchy and drawing a steady salary.  All the jobs she’s held during her working life have had those features.  Anything else, to her, is “unemployment,” and her family and friends—having had the same type of work background—are likely to feel the same way.

When I told people in my life I was leaving the legal profession to be an author and success coach, I learned that some of them shared this attitude.  “How’s unemployment treating you?” one asked.  “So when do the unemployment checks start rolling in?” another teased.  I explained to them that I was not “unemployed”—I was simply going into business for myself.  They smiled and nodded, but it was clear what they were thinking—“yeah, make all the excuses you want—you’re still unemployed in my book.”

“Unemployment” has nasty connotations for most of us.  We often associate it with being lazy, not being good enough to “make the cut” at work, being on the government “dole,” displeasing our families and friends, being unattractive to potential mates, and so on.  Thus, for many of us, the fear that we will be perceived as “unemployed” is enough to keep us in conventional 9-to-5 jobs and prevent us from doing anything entrepreneurial, even if the latter is what we truly desire.

If you’re thinking of leaving your current job and starting your own business, I don’t want the fear of “unemployment” to stop you.  If you’re struggling with this fear, take a look at the observations I make below and see if they do anything to change your perspective.

First off, if going into business for yourself makes you “unemployed,” the “unemployed” of this world are quite a distinguished bunch.  The founders of Apple, Google and Microsoft—who, as most of us know, are now some of the wealthiest people in the world—were also “unemployed” by this definition during the startup phases of their companies.  If they’d worked conventional 9-to-5 jobs instead of striking out on their own, their ultra-successful businesses wouldn’t be around today.

My larger point is that no conventional 9-to-5 jobs would even exist if no one had been willing to start a business in the first place.  If no one had taken that initiative, there would be no companies to employ the massive legions of salaried office workers in our society.  Someone’s got to take the financial risks associated with entrepreneurship for our economy to operate at all.

I think that, on some level, most people who fear entrepreneurship because they view it as equivalent to “unemployment” are aware of this.  It’s not that they think going into business for oneself is inherently bad or impossible—they simply think it would be “arrogant” or “unrealistic” to believe they could do it successfully.  They predict that, if they started a business, they would end up in the circumstances we typically associate with unemployment—i.e., broke, “on the dole,” having nothing in particular to do, and so on.  “Bill Gates may have done it,” they think, “but I’m not Bill Gates.”

In other words, people who suggest that they’d be “unemployed” if they started a business are really just expressing feelings of inadequacy about themselves.  And if someone says the same about your entrepreneurial aspirations, they’re probably motivated—at least in part—by envy or resentment.  Because they don’t think they have what it takes to strike out on their own, they feel that you’re acting like you’re superior to them by doing what they couldn’t bring themselves to do.

But what if you recognize this feeling of inadequacy in yourself, and it’s preventing you from pursuing your business idea?  I recommend that you start by contemplating what would happen if you started your own business venture and it failed.  Suppose your company consistently failed to generate enough revenue to cover its costs.  What would be true about you, and what would happen in your life, if that worst-case scenario came to pass?

I’ve asked this question in the past to clients who were considering career transitions.  Interestingly, their fears surrounding failure don’t usually concern their survival or their financial circumstances.  They’re not afraid that they’ll starve to death, be unable to support their children, lose their homes, and so forth.  Whatever happens from a financial perspective, they’ll probably find ways to get by.  Instead, they’re afraid of others labeling them in hurtful ways.  They envision their loved ones, friends, acquaintances and others saying or thinking things like “I always knew he’d never amount to anything,” “see, she’s nothing but a bum,” “he’s like a daydreaming child with no common sense,” and so on.

However, people usually don’t examine why they are trying so hard—even to the point of stifling their career aspirations—to avoid the possibility of others’ disapproval.  When I ask them what would happen if their business failed and someone else attacked or ridiculed them for it, they typically give one of two answers.  Sometimes, they can’t quite pinpoint what bad things would happen if someone disapproved of them—they just have the gut feeling that they need everybody to like them.  At other times, they find themselves coming up with an answer that is irrational or ridiculous on its face—for instance, that they’d die if someone else disliked them.

Either way, when people seriously consider this question, they usually start to doubt that their fears of “unemployment” are a sufficient reason to avoid going off on their own.  Understanding what they’re truly afraid of gives them a feeling of freedom to explore career possibilities they hadn’t thought were open to them before.

I invite you to try this exercise.  Ask yourself what you’re really afraid will happen if you start a business venture and it fails.  I think you’ll find that your fears surrounding “unemployment” aren’t as reasonable or convincing as you’d thought.

(This article appeared in the Carnival of Success and Abundance Mindset, located at http://www.thehomebasedbusinesscenter.com/blog/success-and-abundance-mindset-042408.htm.)

Never Tell Me The Odds!

I’m not a huge Star Wars buff, but I’m very fond of one famous line from “The Empire Strikes Back.”  To escape from the Empire, Han Solo is considering flying the Millennium Falcon into a dangerous asteroid field.  The ever-anxious C-3PO informs Han that the odds of surviving in an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1.  Our hero’s classic response:  “Never tell me the odds!”  And, as most of us know, Han enters the asteroid field and makes good his escape.

I felt like I imagine Han did when my friends and former colleagues offered me their opinions on my decision to leave the legal profession and become an author and success coach.  Countless times, I heard that I was being unrealistic, that I needed to do more research or get more training, that most new businesses fail, that I had no experience being an entrepreneur, how many self-help books and coaches are already out there, and so on.

Obviously, all this advice didn’t make me change my decision.  But why?  Because statistics about how many businesses fail, how many are already doing what I’m doing, how cutthroat the competitive environment is, and so forth, leave out the most critical piece of information.  They tell me nothing about the attitudes of the people who started those businesses.  For instance, were they willing to sacrifice substantial time and money to make their business ideas work?  Were they willing to persevere despite setbacks?  Were they actually passionate about and interested in what they were doing, or simply fleeing the 9-to-5 world?  If I had statistics that answered these questions, I’d be able to make a reliable quantitative assessment of my prospects for success in my new field.  But that sort of information isn’t, and probably will never be, available.

However, I have the most important kind of information for predicting my own success—my knowledge of myself.  I know whether I have the perseverance, the courage, the passion and the willingness to make sacrifices necessary to succeed.  If I know that I have these attributes, I know that “the odds” of succeeding are in my favor.  If I feel like I’m lacking in one or more of these departments, I know where I need to make changes to ensure that I can succeed.  Thus, I made the decision to enter my current field based on my assessment of myself, not statistics regarding other people who did similar things.

It used to seem amazing to me that two people with very similar family situations, economic backgrounds, educations, test scores and so forth can take completely different paths in life and achieve completely different levels of success.  These people’s initial life circumstances don’t explain the differences between what they end up doing.  Finally, I realized that, to understand why such people behave so differently from one another, one needs to know who those people are inside—their levels of motivation, creativity, passion, self-respect, and so on.

Getting hung up on “the odds” of success in a career you’re thinking of entering—for instance, obsessing over the percentage of businesses in your chosen field that fail—is much like trying to predict people’s future paths based on their initial circumstances.  The initial circumstances of someone else who entered your field—the nature of the product they released, the amount of startup capital they had, the credentials of their people, and so on—just aren’t a reliable indicator of whether your venture is likely to turn out the same way as theirs.  Only learning the deepest truths about the people involved—and about yourself—can tell you that.

If you’re thinking of entering a new career or starting a business, don’t let other people’s anxiety about “the odds” deter you from your course.  Instead, if you want to know your likelihood of success, develop a comprehensive understanding of who you are as a human being and what drives you.  And if you don’t think some part of you is up to the task, don’t despair.  It is possible to change yourself on the inside, and in doing so change your outer circumstances.  I, and others in my field, are devoted to helping people make such changes, and want to help you realize your true greatness.