One conundrum that every entrepreneur faces, sooner or later, is the constant battle between doing what we have to do, and doing what we want to do. It is important to do both every day, though not necessarily in equal amounts. We’re all artists. We have raw undeveloped talent inside of us. The development of that talent is ultimately our key to being successful in our chosen endeavors, but it’s usually not a short path to financial success. Most often, the work that pays the most readily is the least fulfilling, at least in the beginning.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. We all have bills to pay, and we all have a fundamental need to do what we were made to do. The challenge is finding a way to integrate both into one life. In ten years since I left my traditional job, I’ve gained a healthy respect for just how difficult it can be to stay in the game for the long haul. I’ve also experienced how this single factor separates success from failure. While it’s fine and good to say “just don’t quit,” this is much easier said than done. If you don’t know the key to warding off burnout, it’s only a matter of time before you will quit. You won’t have a choice, because your tank will run out of gas.
If your day job is a necessary evil that you tolerate just because it pays the bills, it’s important to integrate a daily practice of some sort of art form, whether it pays or not. On the other hand, you might be brand new to business, struggling to figure out how and where to find clients. If this is the case, you may find your work fulfilling, but not lucrative. In this case, it’s important to integrate a daily practice of asking for monetary payment for any kind of service, whether you enjoy it or not. If you’re retired or financially independent, that’s different in some ways, but not as different as you might think. Even if you don’t need to make money, we all have a fundamental need to marry our skills to something that provides value for others.
Here is what I’ve found to be the fundamental habits for staying motivated when burnout and discouragement threaten to take us out of the game.
Create personal rituals that reaffirm your commitments.
Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, says that when he sits down to write, he says a prayer to invoke the Muse. Personally, I’ve found that writing itself is a ritual; I think of it as my personal offering to Heaven. A ritual does not have to be fancy, complicated or elaborate. It doesn’t have to be something that takes a long time. You don’t have to buy anything or designate a space in your house, though you can if you choose to. The critical aspect of a ritual is that it has meaning: it reminds you of your commitment. To what higher purpose are you willing to commit the remainder of your mortal existence? Is it the end of world hunger? Eradicating sexaul assault? Providing education to impoverished youth? Whatever your declared purpose might be, the more often you remind yourself of it, the easier it will be to stay motivated.
Personally, my life’s purpose as I have declared it, is to put an end to discrimination against introverts. To name one example of a ritual, I look at my expired passport every day, and I sometimes thumb through the visa stamps (the one here is from my 2006 trip to Cruz Alta, Brazil). I think about the places I will return to, and how many more places I will go to do my life’s work. It is a reminder that everyone everywhere in every language is affected by personality bias. It reminds me of the enormity of the problem I am up against and how there is no time to waste.
Engage in one-on-one dialogue with live people.
We can’t stay motivated in a vacuum. One of the ways that we keep our commitment alive is to share it, and there are two types of conversations that accomplish this purpose.
One method is to simply “catch up” and say hi. When someone says “how was your day?” or “what’s new?”, the way you answer these questions is important. It’s worth putting some effort into thinking of what you will share before you see an old friend. The stories you bring back from your travels can make a real impact on them. They may realize a new solution to their own dilemmas, just from hearing what you’ve been doing. It’s important to speak from the heart, and talk about the things that make you come alive. It’s equally important to ask them the same questions, and listen with your full presence. If someone has honored you with the gift of listening, you can give them the same gift in return. However, not everyone wants to talk about themselves, especially if they are going through something difficult, so it may be more of a gift just to tell them about your life and allow them to vicariously experience your joys.
The second type of conversation is an offer of an opportunity to participate, such as inviting someone to join a fundraiser you are doing. There’s an art to this. You don’t want to become the stereotypical used-car salesman who promotes everything to everyone, but it’s just as detrimental to never ask anyone to join you. The key begins with creating as many opportunities as possible. For instance, creating a Facebook page for your business and inviting people to follow it is a simple way of allowing people to participate to a limited degree. When it comes to higher levels of commitment, it begins with mastering the first conversation and simply sharing. If you do this well, people will begin to show signs of active interest in what you are doing. They might ask how they can be part of it. The signals might be less obvious, and the key to identifying them is listening. Finally, it’s important to make it easy for people to say “no” or give them an easy way out if they do not wish to participate. That starts with making a decision never to take “no” personally.
Participate in small groups based on shared interests.
Small groups are powerful, because they help to really hone in your purpose. People share their struggles in small groups, once any level of trust develops. They also create easy opportunities to stay connected with people you may meet. I often run into people at events, and I’ll sometimes email them a list of all the groups I belong to. Sometimes, they surprise me by showing up at one. It is especially fulfilling when someone becomes part of a group or community and consequently finds resources that help them. The groups that I belong to can give people access to greater resources than I can provide directly. I might not have what someone needs at any moment, but there is a much greater chance that someone in one of my small groups can help that person more than I can. Meetup.com is a great tool for finding small groups. It can be a book club, an exercise group, civic club or anything else. Personally, I have been a part of Toastmasters for ten years and have recently been working on building my own Toastmasters club. Both of these clubs help me to stay motivated every week, especially because they align perfectly with my core commitment.
Look for “your” people.
For most of my life, I didn’t realize the importance of connecting to my culture. I grew up American, and the United States is a diverse place. There are an ocean of different subcultures that have completely different values here. In 2007, when I hit my turning point and uncovered something that deeply bothered me, I realized that I wanted to help people who were left out of the American Dream. America is known as the Land of Opportunity, but many do not have any idea how to access that opportunity. For most of my twenties, I accepted the idea that I just did not have the personality to be successful. I ultimately came to realize that this was a limiting belief, and that millions of people walk around believing this about themselves and others every day.
My people are the quiet ones, the ones who don’t speak up in meetings. They are often overlooked for their talents and denied opportunity. They are paid less than others who are less skilled and less qualified, if only because they don’t know how to put on a show. These hidden gems are everywhere. Their talents are not put to use. They are often working in menial jobs with great ideas in their heads that they can’t sell, because no one can understand them. Our American culture celebrates extraversion and the ability to appear confident. We systematically punish anyone who does not exhibit this quality. I know my people when I see them. They’re usually downcast, but they’re straining hard to look happy. Sometimes, they’re paid well to do unfulfilling work, wishing they were doing something else. Sometimes, they’re frustrated because their bosses perpetually ignore their ideas. Other times, they’re just grossly underpaid. I see them in all walks of life, in every age group, every race, gender and nationality.
When I meet one of my people, the only thing I do is try to get to know them, and gain a bit of insight into how they are experiencing the problem I’ve seen. Sometimes, I can help directly. Other times, I try to help them find somebody who can. That’s where my small groups play a major role.
Look for opportunities to re-negotiate contracts.
Some people are born with a knack for negotiation. Then, there’s the rest of us. I personally believe that this skill can be learned, as can any skill, and that it’s the first skill every school should be teaching. Our level of success in life is dictated by our ability to to negotiate contracts, both express and implied, written and verbal, binding and non-binding. Sometimes, we’re bound by contracts and don’t have a choice. For instance, children are bound by implicit contracts when their parents are raising them. They can’t leave, they don’t own property and they have to live under their parents’ rules to a degree. However, regardless of how little freedom we appear to have in any situation, there is always wiggle room to be found. We have to learn to identify and use our leverage; otherwise, we are doomed to a life of obeying orders.
Stephen Covey advocates for “win-win” negotiation. I partly agree with him, but sometimes it’s not possible. There are bad people who seek to exploit and think only of their own self-interest. There’s no such thing as a win-win deal with these people. They only think in win-lose terms. They will lie to you and double-cross you at every opportunity, because in their warped view, that’s the only way to succeed in life. When you find that you’re bound in a contract with a narcissist or a thief (or worse), the goal is to exit from the agreement as quickly and as completely as possible. It’s not always easy. See my earlier post about identifying and avoiding the wrong clients. This also applies to employers, spouses and friends. You can’t fix a dishonest person; the best thing you can do is not deal with them at all.
Most of the time, we meet people that we don’t know much about. People are great at putting on false pretenses, so it’s not easy to determine who can be trusted and who cannot. That prospective employee who talked a great game during their 45-minute interview might turn out to be your worst nightmare. The partner who charmed you on a first date might do a Jekyll-and-Hyde 180 and fly into a murderous rage. On the other hand, someone who appears untrustworthy at first might turn out to be the most valuable ally you’ve ever met. In the deceptive game of life, we can only solve this problem through practicing the skill of negotiation. The most common mistake that we make is moving too fast, or trusting people too quickly, before they’ve had the chance to show their true colors.
Negotiation consists of two fundamental components: asking and offering. When you ask someone to do something, they can say “yes,” “no” or “maybe,” and they might counter-offer with something else. For my people, the quiet ones on the introverted side of the fence, the tendency is to not ask for anything, or to only ask for things that are absolutely needed. When introverts do ask for things, their asks tend to be very modest in nature, and this can work against you in more ways than one. If we never practice the important skill of asking for a lot, we never learn how. On the flip side, if we never offer assistance or resources to anyone else, we put ourselves in a weak position because people don’t think of us when opportunities arise.
Part of the negotiation process lies with defining your personal commitment, and exercising the daily rituals to keep that commitment in front of you. When you know your commitment, you know what’s negotiable and what’s not. By sharing those aspects of yourself with others and within your small groups, you empower yourself to leverage resources beyond what you directly control. This creates new motivation, because power and authority give you a new perspective on what you can accomplish. By practicing negotiation, you begin to experience your ability to make things happen with your words, not just your hands.
Motivation is not easy, but I invite you to try out what I’ve suggested here. It will change your life if you apply it.