Leap Before You Look Too Hard

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This morning I had the opportunity to talk with a woman who is one of the leapers – those of us who have left the security of the corporate job in pursuit of starting our own company. In her case the motivation was strong – her corporate job meant that she was only able to spend 15 minutes a day with her infant son – not quite how she and her husband had imagined family life.

She told me how the decision to venture out on her own was easier because she was blessed with a supportive partner, but how she struggled when her old employer called her up and made a job offer of her old boss’ position at a much bigger salary than she had been making.

She ended up turning the offer down and opening her own shop, which got me wondering about what drives some of us to do that while others wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the corporate carrot.

In my own case, there is a moment, which is crystal clear in my memory. I was talking with the owner of the barn where I keep my horse. I had just applied for a job, which I had not gotten and was considering taking over my husband’s struggling company. Our savings were dwindling and we were raising two daughters so pursuing a non-traditional path seemed risky – even a little crazy. I was listing out for my friend all the reasons it was a terrible idea. She listened and just said, “Yes, but I don’t understand. Why would you not want to work for yourself? Why would this fail?”

And so I leapt, terrified and unsure, but also somehow more sure than I had ever been before. There’s something about listening to the inner voice, trusting the instinct that says, “Go ahead. It’s going to be okay.”

When I talk about my experience in business it is not with the intention that anyone would ever look to me as an example of the right way to do things. In fact, it is quite the opposite, really. We really had no business plan and no real financial backing. I had never taken a single business course in college, and the only real commodity we had was around our own skills in writing, advertising and video production.

Fast forward seven years and looking back, I’ve made some enormous and expensive mistakes. I’ve also learned countless invaluable lessons, grown tremendously as a person and as a leader, have developed a strong network of business connections, friendships and mentors and have had some amazing experiences that never would have been accessible to me on a more traditional career path.

After all of this I’ve become a big proponent of making the leap if you feel called to do so. How can you put a price on living life on your own terms? How will you feel 20 years from now if you realize you let fear stop you from reaching your potential?

It really isn’t necessary to have every step of the way figured out. I’m living proof of that. In fact, I think that trying to orchestrate things too much is actually a huge mistake. You also don’t have to wait until you think you’re ready to jump in to the proverbial lake and try to swim. All the skills you don’t already have can be learned. And a lot of the practical life knowledge that you have already lived will serve you well in your new venture.

If you wait until you’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted all your i’s, your ship may have sailed. Sometimes the most powerful words you can say are, “I don’t know.” Then go and figure it out.

And you’ll probably fail. More than once. And that’s okay too. It’s the part where you pull yourself up, pick up the lessons learned and go and try again that is ultimately going to lead to your great success. So, if you’re considering making a leap, I say go ahead and do it, but do it with an attitude of curiosity and fun. Try things. If they don’t work out, try something else. Ask questions. Learn. And keep the faith that you have everything you need to make your dreams come true. Because I believe is absolutely true.

Walk Away For Profit, Happiness and Success

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“And what happens if you just leave?” I remember my business coach asking one afternoon when I felt particularly overwhelmed. “Won’t you be able to do your job better if you take some time to care for yourself?”

I looked around me at the piles of work on my desk – the emails to be answered, proposals to be written, work to be reviewed and delivered to clients, and I felt tears of frustration threatening to spill over. “I don’t think you understand,” I told her. “I have work to do.”

She paused and let me really hear my words – the same words that I had been saying in one form or another for weeks on end. Although I was working long hard days, was it really making a difference? Slowly but surely my life was being taken over by my work. I was trapped on the proverbial hamster wheel – pre-programmed to run harder, faster, better, but never realizing that there was another option. Just get off.

Wow. Even saying it felt wrong, almost like sacrilege. As Americans in particular, we are taught to value and respect hard work. Having the stamina to work 60 or 80-hour weeks is a badge of honor. Skipping vacations means that you’re a dedicated and valuable employee. Missed calling your mom on her birthday because you were in conferences all day? You must be at the pinnacle of your career, right? Perhaps, but in reality I’ve come to see that my coach was right. While we all have responsibilities, finishing every single thing on our list was never the point. Going through life in a constant state of overwhelm is more of a story that we tell ourselves than a productive and healthy way of being.

On that day in my office I realized that it was time for me to make some changes.

The reality of my situation was, like most of ours, that the work would never actually all be done. It’s like all the things you have to do are constantly being poured into a magical bucket, and there is no way you can empty this bucket faster than it’s filling. And I started realizing that maybe, just maybe, ending up with an empty bucket was never really the point.

My coach told me that to her, the constant influx of work and tasks isn’t like a bucket at all, but like a Tibetan prayer wheel. Each turn of the wheel represents a new prayer mantra, and in her analogy your to-do list is kind of like those mantras. There is no beginning and no end, just new tasks coming and going with every spin.

It’s beautiful and meditative, and when you take this perspective, it’s not so much about “getting it done”, which is impossible on a wheel anyway. Instead, it becomes about finding a rhythm, creating priorities, and allowing yourself to add fun tasks onto your list (go for a walk, play with the kids, take my wife to the movies…), because not only are work-related tasks not the only important ones, they are never the most important ones.

So, how can you heed this advice and still be a productive employee or business owner? My coach and I came up with a simple three-step process that I still use today, and the more I do this the more I’m seeing profits rise and stress fall away. It really doesn’t have to be hard:

  1. Your important list has to fit on the back of a business card – Yes, your actual to-do list may have tens or hundreds of items on it, but your “must do” list should follow the guidelines that Napoleon Hill created more than 100 years ago: you have to be able to write it on an index card (or ideally, the back of a business card). This ensures that the tasks that are really critically important are noted in a clear and concise way- boiled right down to their essence. These are the things that you truly do have to get done, or at least make significant progress on, in order to achieve your goals, and this is where you need to focus your attention.
  2. Eat your frog – Mark Twain said that if you have to eat a frog you may as well get it over with and if you have to eat two frogs you should go ahead and eat the bigger one first. If there is something you’d rather not deal with – a situation you’re avoiding or a phone call you don’t want to make – get it out of the way first thing so that you can focus on things that truly matter.
  3. Set a time limit and stick to it – As soon as you truly accept that you physically cannot finish everything on your list, you have to make a deal with yourself that you get to leave the office at a pre-determined time. Ideally you will go and do something that rewards you – a yoga class, meeting a friend for a drink, or in my case, going to ride my horse. It’s too easy to think that our “personal to-do’s” are somehow less important than “work things” but I’ve come to see that this simply isn’t so. We need to nourish that other part of ourselves in order to do our best work, so consider it an investment in tomorrow’s productivity.

In fact, as I’ve followed these simple steps I’ve found that I’m more productive, more innovative while at work, and much less likely to feel overwhelmed and out of balance. Walking away took some courage, especially the first time, but now I don’t just do it at the end of the day. Sometimes I go out and do a lunchtime Pilates class. Other times I take my daughter lunch at her school, “just because.”

As I get better and better at walking away my business has been thriving more and more and people aren’t shunning me. Instead they want to “know my secret.”

The irony of that is that it couldn’t be simpler – just step off the wheel and into the life you’re consciously designing for yourself.

Riding for Tomorrow: Relationships Over Results


By nature I’m not a patient person. I like seeing results, and my preferred timeframe is generally “now”. Give me a problem and I immediately want to start working on finding a solution. Define a goal and I will go after it with drive and focus. Set a deadline and I will do everything in my power to meet it.

Does that sound like someone you’d like to have working in your company? I hope so, but you also have to know that there is a downside to having such a strong drive. For example, when faced with a situation I want to jump right in, solve the problems and assign tasks to get it done. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I often have to actively remind myself to ask my fellow team members and employees how they’re doing, or how their weekend was.

It’s not that I don’t care. I do care deeply about the people I work with, and outside of the office I like to think that I’m a lot of fun. It’s that at work, with a limited number of hours in the day and way too much to do, I tend to go into “get ‘er done” mode. And when this happens, I am not honoring one of the most important things that my favorite horse trainer taught me – that what’s most important is not the ride that you have today that matters, it’s the relationship you’re building that will take you where you want to go tomorrow.

In the gospel according to my training guru, Pat Parelli, it is great to have a successful ride – the kind where you clear all the jumps, canter effortlessly through the field or take a blue ribbon in the horse show. But the thing that trumps all of those cases of instant gratification is building a strong foundation so that your next ride is spectacular. It’s about not just controlling the horse, but also about being present, listening and responding to whatever needs attention at the moment.

As prey animals, horses can have a lot issues and you really do have to earn their trust. Self-preservation is built into the DNA of both horses and humans, and although you can force a horse to do pretty much anything, a whole new level of magic and co-creation comes into play when you’re able to get your horse (or your employee) to be mentally engaged with you, actively bringing ideas and their A-game to the table.

Making this shift requires no money and minimal energy. It starts with being aware, asking the questions, listening – and also caring – about what the other person is saying. How well do you know your employees? Are you aware of their aspirations? What the favorite part of their job is? What gives them the most anxiety and stress?

What if we are so committed to actively supporting and coaching the people who are on our team that what we end up creating are proactive partners who feel a sense of ownership in carrying out a company’s mission? Like a horse that approaches a big jump with enthusiasm and curiosity instead of fear, employees that feel supported are much more likely to give you a great ride.

It’s such a simple thing, really. But who doesn’t want to be treated with respect, knowing that they are making a difference. In the words of Pat Parelli, “A horse doesn’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care,” and I think it’s the same with employees. Let’s not get so focused on getting things done that we forget that we’re working with other humans, not just computers and machines.

A Horse’s Guide to Leadership


One of the best business coaches I’ve ever had has four legs, a mane and a tail. I don’t mean this in any way as an insult to the numerous brilliant and insightful human coaches I’ve worked with over the years, but the truth is, some of the best business lessons I’ve received did not happen in an office or a board room, but instead in a worn leather saddle atop my mare.

See, the thing about horses is, they are extremely honest and perceptive. As prey animals they’re always on alert for danger, and they pick up on the subtlest signals. As prey animals they are also looking for leadership from their humans but if they don’t believe you are being a good leader they’ll take over as a means to self-preservation.

The other thing is, the most rewarding way to work with horses, like many things in life, is through partnership, a delicate balance of give and take. Can you be a leader and a collaborative partner at the same time? I believe so.

How does all of this relate to business management? Here is what Sunny and her friends have taught me over the years:

  1. Energy Games

Although we may not be as good at it as horses are, we still pick up on nervous, angry and negative energy. So before stepping into potentially confrontational meeting, or taking to the podium at a speaking event, pause for a moment and take stock. Breathe and set an intention for a positive outcome because your expectations matter. Instead of anticipating an unpleasant exchange taking place, close your eyes and imagine that you emit light and love, and bathe your counterpart in it. This approach can be very disarming to the other party, especially if they too were expecting an unpleasant encounter.


  1. Motivation Matters

Just like people, horses have different personalities and they have different motivations for wanting to work with you. My horse, for example, is motivated most by two things: rest and food. She will work hard for both of these things, but I have to remember to let her have them at the appropriate times. Other horses care less about food and prefer play as a reward, while others have a strong desire for safety and security. What are your employees motivated by, and how can you build those things into the culture of your company to help your team want to work with you instead of just for you?

  1. Be Flexible

The best-laid plans don’t always work that way: If there is one thing my horse has taught me, it’s flexibility. I have a very busy schedule and usually only make it to the barn two or three times a week, sometimes less than that. Because I have limited time, I will often come prepared with a clear idea of what I want to work on that day. But a horse isn’t a motorcycle or a car – she is another living, breathing being, and sometimes she has opinions or issues that have to be dealt with. I believe it’s not about having a perfect ride on any given day; it’s about building a great foundation for tomorrow’s ride. Sometimes with horses and with people you have to pause, take a moment to say, “How interesting,” and adjust your plans to fit what’s really going on at the moment, keeping in mind that taking the time to coach or teach an employee, or even to listen, is okay because it’s about building a better tomorrow.


  1. Be Receptive to Collaboration

A partnership is a two-way street, and on some level don’t we want our employees – or our horses – to be willing participants in the game? Sometimes your horse may have interesting ideas: Some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my horse is when I’ve given her the opportunity to show me what’s she is thinking. You don’t always have to feed your employees answers or make them do things your way. Remember to ask for suggestions, ideas, thoughts… and if you’re willing to be open and listen you might just be delighted to find a new way of tackling a problem, or a real diamond in the rough, one that can be polished and turned into a profit center for your business.


  1. It’s Supposed to be Fun

Don’t take yourself too seriously: You will have a much better experience, either as a competitive rider – or a successful businessperson – if you approach the task at hand with joy and curiosity. Life is short and we spend too much time at work to not have some fun with it. And it’s fun to grow, succeed, and push outside of your comfort zone… Prepare, show up, try new things, regroup as necessary and repeat.


This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Elin Barton is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10KSB program, enjoys speaking engagements and is the CEO and President of White Knight Productions, Inc. White Knight Productions is a boutique agency providing full-service video, advertising and marketing.  The firm specializes in multi-channel campaigns that tell the clients’ stories and resonate with their customers in a results-driven way.  Elin enjoys her horse and hanging out in the horse barn.  She uses the Parelli method, which is a natural method for training horses. Elin would love to hear from readers elin@whiteknightpro.com