Here's an unusual piece of business advice: Set yourself on fire every day. The life of an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs. One day things are exciting; the next we have to face a new hassle. On a movie set, the actors would say "It let the air out of our day." In other words, the fire is out and the passion is gone.
But as entrepreneurs, our passion is our responsibility.
Some of us know our passion; others have yet to discover it. Just make sure it's your passion and purpose, not what your parents and teachers said you should (or shouldn't) do. Two owners of nearly identical pizza franchises may have two totally different reasons for being in business. One may be living a dream of growing a small business and giving local kids jobs, and another loves seeing families enjoying good food together. The key is to discover what motivates you--what sets you on fire.
Keys to Passion and Purpose
There are two important factors that motivate most entrepreneurs:
- We want to express our deepest desire, passion and purpose. The reason is simple: If we're going to create a business and spend so much of our time living in it, let's make it something that we love, something that expresses our purpose in life.
- We want to put passion before practicality. Yes, we want the business to succeed and make money. But first we say the words that set us on fire. Then we go into work and light the fire under our business and in our team. It's like the old steam locomotives. The engine and the tracks are the practical business structure. But if there's no fire in the boiler, we never get rolling.
Making It Real
I wrote my first mission statement in 1995. I checked it four times a year and made little improvements. I did that for two years, but it wasn't enough. Then I got some good advice: Read my vision, mission and value statements aloud each day, first thing in the morning. Here's why:
- Vocalizing. When we read something aloud, it hits both sides of the brain. The left side is logical--it rationalizes, but there's no passion and often creates negativity and resistance. The right side is the source of emotion and motivation. It isn't always practical. But when we read a purposeful, practical statement aloud, it hits both sides of the brain and unifies them.
- Daily practice. Motivation is like exercise. The more you work out, the stronger you get. The same goes for stirring the passion-pot each morning. If you miss a day, so what? That's yesterday; that's history; that's the past. Just think about this for inspiration: "Today is the most important day of your life, for today is the first day of the rest of your life." Make a fresh start any day and move in the right direction.
- First things first. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, teaches us to put "first things first." One meaning of this is to start every day with what matters most. And it's a great idea. Motivational coach Barry Gottlieb encourages us to take in only positive and nourishing ideas for the first two hours of every day. Start your day with your own vision, not with the newspaper!
Kim George, author of Coaching Into Greatness, says that mission statements framed on the wall are just awful. Instead, we need to make them alive, and make them real for ourselves. I read mine standing on a balance disk, dynamically, like I'm about to start a sprint. So read you mission aloud every day, in a dynamic, active way, to stoke your internal fire.
Feed the Fire as Often as Needed
Let's say we get ourselves truly motivated each morning. We're in the zone. We're off and running. We're making a great day.
How long is that going to last?
On a good day, about two hours.
On a bad day, 10 minutes.
Almost every day, something will let the air out of your day. It might be a complaining customer, an under-performing worker, a traffic jam that makes you late for a meeting, or a missed snack leading to low blood sugar.
It's time to refocus our vision. The moment a marathon runner stumbles, what does he do? He stops, breathes, refocuses, and starts up again, running right on track. It's not how many times we fall down. It's how quickly we recover.
So create a one-line version of your mission statement. When life throws you off, stop. Stand up straight. Balance on your toes like a basketball player under the basket, ready to receive a pass and make the shot. Breathe in and out three times. And say the one-sentence version of your mission--aloud, if you can. You can do this in 30 seconds, and it will relight the fire of your passion. You'll feel raring to go, just like you were first thing in the morning.
Don't be embarrassed. Do this subtly--you can do it in a crowded elevator--and no one will notice.
What they will notice--and what you will feel--is your renewed energy and commitment. You're burning to get to work; you're back on the road to success.
Mistakes to Avoid
Here are a bunch of things not to do:
- Let your mission be what you have to do, instead of what you dream of doing.
- Let your mission be what society says you should do, instead of what you want.
- Forget about your mission and leave it stuffed in a drawer or hanging on the wall.
- Beat yourself up, so you start to resist, then hate, doing what you love to do.
That last point is a big burnout risk for any business owner or manager. When life becomes difficult (and sometimes it will be), it is easy to start saying "I have to." That's the path to burnout, to hating to go to work. Have you ever hated to go to work in your own company? Have you ever looked in the mirror and resented your boss? I have. Better to stick with doing things because you're passionate about the end result.
Keep your fire burning clean and don't block the flow with shoulda, coulda, woulda.