How to Sidestep Personal-Development Pitfalls as a New Entrepreneur
Key methods of avoiding archetypal personal-growth traps in the early days of a company.
Despite the pandemic, more people than ever in the United States want to be entrepreneurs. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 4.4 million businesses were created during 2020 — the highest yearly total on record, a 24.3% increase from 2019 and an impressive 51% higher than the previous decade’s average. That means a lot of new professionals were and are learning on the job, many yearning for skills that will set them apart and make their concepts successful. However, these dreamers can also quickly fall for the “shiny object” syndrome: a desire for the trendy new side hustle. This is often because, for some, a desire for entrepreneurship comes from a place of fear of missing out (FOMO). A person might, perhaps, hear about a colleague who has been able to retire early, or drastically cut back their day job. Though inspiring, these tales are not the norm, and should not be principal factors in trying entrepreneurship.
I’ve spoken to thousands of doctors on the power of entrepreneurship, and what seems to resonate best among them is the idea of impact — certainly everyone I know who went into the profession did so to make a difference and leave the world a better place. Unfortunately, this impact is blunted due to other responsibilities, such as negotiating with insurance companies or thumbing through electronic medical records. That’s why I helped create a physician entrepreneur accelerator that has helped hundreds of doctors create and scale their businesses; if I had access to it when starting, I could have avoided many of the personal growth traps detailed below.
Why personal development can be a trap
We professionals are used to going down a well-trodden path, one that incorporates college and graduate school, and for us doctors, ongoing and highly structured training. We expect that, in the end, the result is a considerable level of expertise. In the personal development world, however, there is no such structure. There are countless self-help books, podcasts and coaches to get you going, and while many are useful, it’s easy to simply consume and consume them. As a result, you never feel quite ready to take the leap… to actually take action.
We can also fall into “analysis paralysis”. I have seen countless doctors stuck for months trying to decide upon the best type of microphone to use for a podcast, or upon the exactly right software for coaching. But there is rarely a “best” anything, and most often, needs change as we progress. We might think that we have educated ourselves on minute differences, but in actuality, exhaustive examination of minute details costs countless hours of practical experience.
Learn new things, then apply them
So how does one avoid this honey trap of inertia? It’s done by committing to action. An object in motion will stay in motion until acted on by an outside force, so the need is to expend that initial activation energy, and that’s best done by minimizing the amount of energy needed to start.
New projects or side hustles can seem daunting at first. It’s easy to embrace the noble goal of starting a podcast, for example, only to feel immediately overwhelmed by details. An effective remedy for me came by embracing a Japanese word, kaizen, which means “continuous improvement” or “change for the better”. For me, that meant dividing that podcast journey into identifiable and achievable steps, such as writing an intro, or practicing cadence. When my task was to create a podcast cover image, I broke it down into even smaller steps. As a result, From MD to Entrepreneur was brought to life in a few short weeks rather than dragging on for months, or never seeing the light of day at all.
Give yourself deadlines
What goes hand-in-hand with kaizen is setting clear deadlines. Ever sit at home trying to pick the right images for your PowerPoint instead of actually working on the meat of the presentation? Setting a “drop dead” date or time (as they refer to it in publishing) helps avoid that black hole, wherein we feel that critical info is just one more podcast, book or conference away, and/or that the tenth iteration of a concept will produce a better product/service… something approaching perfection.
Take a break from consuming content
How much time do you actually work each day? Ten minutes? Thirty? An hour if you are lucky? Author and podcaster Cal Newport often says that many of us do no real work, but are just passengers along for the ride… answering emails, reading articles and not really moving the needle. This tragic waste is often the result of leaving such real work until the end of the day, because there’s always another article to read or email to answer. But what if you told yourself that for the next 30 minutes, you’d answer no emails and read no articles, but instead focus entirely on one task? I know the idea might make you squirm, but there’s real power in quieting the outside world. When you do this, more of the real you comes to the surface.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor