Life Experiences Drive Who We Are, How We Manage and Grow Our Business
You know me as “The Entrepreneur’s Yoda,” experienced advisor, entrepreneur, and author of multiple books, videos, and a ton of blog posts, like this one. Yet, there is another important side to me, my personal life, that I’ve rarely shared with my readers and followers. However, it has recently taught me more than almost all of my business experiences combined, and it’s something I had to share. I apologize, upfront, that this post is a lot longer than my typical ones, but I had way more to say.
I’ve spent the better part of the last three years fighting a battle with an enemy I couldn’t see, but I could surely feel. I was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor, that without treatment, would have, eventually, been terminal. However, with great doctors, various treatment regimens over that time, it has now been “neutralized.” So, while I’m not cured because there really is no cancer cure yet, the tumor is dormant. But going through that battle taught me so much about myself and the support group around me, starting with my family. It also impacted how I look at my personal life and conduct my business, which I, finally, had to share.
Cancer is a scary word.
But, like most scary situations, you deal with them, or they deal with you. Probably like you, I don’t like not being in control. Most things where you’re not in control are usually caused by outside factors. Market changes businesses never saw coming like the Great Recession of 2007-2008, or the COVID pandemic of 2020, or even something as simple as a new competitor entering your market. You can’t control them.
But you have to figure out a way to leverage what they give you (the old “if you’re given lemons, make lemonade”) or simply cave and, maybe even, go out of business. And, of course, with cancer, you are never in control. So, I had to see how I could make the most out of the moment. A real learning experience for me. Here are the five critical lessons I learned from this personal experience that I wouldn’t trade, now, for three healthy years, and that just apply so well in my business (and in yours):
- Take One Day at a Time – Always Learn from Yesterday, Just Don’t Re-live It.
Once I was diagnosed, my total focus was on what was happening today and the treatment I was going through. When today was over, good or bad, I moved on with any lesson I could learn from it. Some days were good, others, not so much.
Same with you.
Make sure your business and your team learn from today. Sure, you want to plan. But don’t be so focused on the future that you don’t live in the present. Take the lessons that today taught you. Just don’t re-live them. It’s the message I used to give players I coached and businesses I mentored, especially when the experience was a bad one. Remember the lesson; forget the experience.
- Take Nothing for Granted – Whether Markets, Employees, or Customers.
For me, that was a series of episodes that suddenly appeared and began to increase in intensity and duration. Later I found out these episodes were seizures caused by my tumor.
Same for your business.
This means you have to keep vigilant, especially to changes around you. Know why markets, employees, or customers are reacting in a particular way. What subtle (or even not so subtle) changes have been happening around you that could or are affecting your business? React to them quickly and decisively.
- Try to Leverage Whatever Market Conditions Give You.
During my treatments, I lost 40% of my hair. Those of you who know me also know that I’m pretty vain. In the Zoom era, that presents a problem…or an opportunity. I had a couple of hats made that said, “The Entrepreneur’s Yoda,” that I used (along with about 100 hundred other hats that I own) in all my Zoom calls. The hair is almost all back, but now I have a signature look. I leveraged what the cancer treatments gave me.
You can do the same.
Many small businesses learned from COVID that having their team working virtually, while initially awkward, became very comfortable. In fact, employees actually became more productive, being able to better schedule time, calls, and work assignments around their personal lives.
- Have a Support Group Both Inside and Outside of Business Who Can Give You Guidance.
I had such a great support group with my immediate family and friends that I will never forget some of the sacrifices they made to help me through this. Like my wife driving 5 days a week for 6 and half weeks, an hour and a half into and out of New York City for a 20-minute radiation therapy session. My kids were buoying me up with a call damn near every day, some days when I was not in the best of moods. I just vented, and they listened, offering encouragement.
Same for you.
Have advisors who can be sounding boards for you or just a “wise ear” to whom you can vent. Join a peer advisory group of other small business owners who can listen, relate, and provide counsel because they may have gone through what you’re going through.
- Live Your Life, Business and Personal, with Gratitude.
When I finished my last radiation therapy session, my oldest son called me and asked me how I felt. I gave him one word – “gratitude.” Of all the things I learned from this experience, this was one I live, now, every day.
For you, it means having gratitude that you were able to build a business and appreciate the employees, customers, and suppliers that keep it going. Oh sure, there are times when you aren’t so thankful when any of those constituencies aren’t going where you’d like them to, or results are less than perfect. But remember, you had and took the opportunity to do what you do. That took courage. Have gratitude for that opportunity.
Life throws curve balls at you periodically. Mine was cancer. In your business, it could be losing a long-time customer or employee or having a pandemic completely crater your business for six months or more. You have a choice like I did. You can fold like a cheap card table, or you can learn from it and move on, absolutely stronger and wiser than you ever were.
“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” learned these things. He’s been there and wants his experiences to help you. May success be with you!