Learning a New Language Rejuvenated My Business
As an entrepreneur, the day you stop learning is the day your business dies.
The death spiral might be slow at first, depending on how much work you’ve put into automating your business. But if in your daily goings-on you lose the ability to adapt and ask questions, to learn, then it’s only a matter of time before one problem or another destroys you. Like when Blockbuster refused to adopt a subscription-based platform.
The best prophylactic for extinction, then, is to be constantly engaged in a new learning endeavor—one in which you have zero mastery, and preferably one that scares you a little. That way you can be prepared to face your totally unknown and slightly-scary business problems with a game attitude.
The best way I’ve learned to do this is by learning a new language.
As a small business owner, I nearly extincted (or is that ‘extunct? Editor's note: Neither) myself with a complacent, know-it-all mentality last year. I’d solved a ton of problems to get my coaching business off the ground and to establish a reliable marketing system, but once the systems were in place, I got so caught up in working and enjoying the fruits of my labor that I forgot about learning. I abandoned my daily vocab expansion; I stopped reading everything but pleasure fiction.
So when my major marketing problem occurred last year, I was like a beach-vacationer getting steam-rolled by a tidal wave. The party was over. And instead of focusing on solving the problem, I could only mewl about the end of my festivities.
But when I got sick of blaming God and other people -- and being crazy broke -- I saw that the real problem was my lack of personal growth: getting mentally lazy, not learning. Ergo, the main solution to my business problem was personal development, and the most ambitious part of my plan was to finally, finally learn French. Something I’d put off for a decade.
My business’s growth curve mirrored my language learning curve.
First thing was first: I invested in a premium language learning app so that I could have easy access to high quality lessons no matter where I was. (Pimsleur ended up being the right selection for me based on the reviews and affordability.) Then I promised myself that every time I took a drive, I’d be doing a French lesson on the fly -- “Automobile University,” as Zig Ziglar called it.
Week 1 was tough. It’d been a while since I’d ventured that far into something so unfamiliar. I felt like I was gagging every time I attempted the famous ‘guttural r’. But after the first few lessons and mastering my first few phrases -- “I’m American, and I can’t speak French very well!” -- I caught fire for the language. I caught fire for learning, period.
The more I learned, the I wanted to learn. Each small lesson was a pithy confidence boost and a reminder that I was no longer stuck. Putting that priority on learning French made me more judicious with my time generally. I started seeing where I could squeeze in a marketing podcast, or a few chapters in the business development book I was working on.
It feels really, really good to learn.
That’s when my business started taking off again.
Where I had been wont to learn anything before my business collapse, now I was ripping through everything I could on marketing and development -- Neil Patel was particularly helpful -- and regularly taking notes on the inspiring podcasts I’d saved for over a year. All that new knowledge translated into me trying new things and getting sales from new avenues that had previously been inaccessible to me, like my subscriber list. Zooming outside of my business, I noticed that all the little problems I’d been suffering through were almost resolving themselves -- health issues, fitness plateaus, financial hurdles.
My new learning attitude gave me the mindset that I could solve all of my problems with enough effort and consistency. And it started with one little French lesson.
People told me that French was kinda pointless to learn, given that China would eventually own us, and that Spanish is a thousand times more practical living in the U.S. From the surface level, they’re probably right. But in taking up my favorite language, I unlocked the learner’s attitude that ended up being so deeply important to my development as a person and entrepreneur. It’s been so useful for me that I plan on always having a language to learn.
If you’ve been struggling through entrepreneurial doldrums, or if you’ve recently endured a full-on collapse, like I did, I can’t recommend a new language strongly enough. Through acquiring new words and phrases, and testing out your knowledge in practice and in live conversations, you will regain your latent love of learning. And that learning attitude will help you solve your biggest business problems.