Perfect Place, Perfect Time?

At times running a business can be scary. You could lose a big client, make a costly mistake or have issues with an employee. Your office space could flood as we’ve seen happen recently down in Texas, or you could get sick and have to step back from the company for a while.

I recently spoke with business owners who have experienced all of the above, and one of the similarities that I found among them was this.  While no one enjoyed actually going through the unpleasantness of a major setback, every one of the people I spoke to was convinced that their lives and their businesses are better off now than before they experienced their life-changing event.

One friend, for example, had extreme challenges in her business when she lost a major client. She was forced to dramatically cut back on her staff, and then shortly after that she became seriously ill, which meant that working 70 or 80 hour weeks was no longer an option for her.

What ended up transpiring was that she cut her work hours back dramatically and actually found that without her previous overhead, that her profit was actually significantly higher, even with the shorter hours. She also started working on a book that she had been meaning to write for years but which she had to keep putting off due to other obligations.

It’s not hard to see how this friend’s life and business were better after the unwelcome shake-up happened, and interestingly, I found the same thing to be the case with everyone I talked to about this. Each of the business owners had had a significant setback that turned out to be a blessing. And that’s the part that I started getting very, very interested in.

So often we resist change, especially when it’s something that is perceived as negative, but in the cases of the people that I spoke to, the changes they had endured all had incredible blessings attached to them.

There is a school of thought that says the Universe is always conspiring for our highest good, for our best interest – even when it’s difficult or impossible to see it at the moment you’re going through something challenging. I for one am going to work on actively remembering this the next time things don’t go my way in life and in business. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to relax and allow, and lean into our faith in happy endings and positive outcomes.

Tribe it Up

The other day I had lunch with my friend and fellow entrepreneur. We spoke candidly about some of the challenges in our respective businesses, and as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant she said to me, “I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one who goes through this stuff.”

That statement struck a cord with me because so often as entrepreneurs and small business owners we do feel like we have to figure everything out on our own, and that can be a very lonely position to take. The truth of the matter is, we have more in common than we realize. Even though we may be running businesses in different industries with our own very specific challenges, on a slightly higher level we are all the same.

We face issues and questions around cash flow, sales, employee recruitment and retention. We have to pay attention to marketing, advertising, culture and reputation. As our companies grow we most likely have a team in place to assist with many of these items, but ultimately, as a small business owner, the buck does stop with us.

But that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.

Taking the time to intentionally seek out and build a support network for yourself is, I believe, key for the success of a business. At a minimum you may want to consider hiring a business coach or a mentor, but beyond that setting up a “mastermind” group of trusted peers will help you to keep challenges – and successes – in perspective.

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: How to Turn Your Daydream Into a Phenomenal Success, will be released in the Fall of 2017.

An Independence Play

We’re fast approaching Independence Day here in the States and it’s got me thinking about business and why we start companies in the first place. In the beginning everyone imagines that their business is going to give them freedom – financial freedom, but also the ability to choose how to spend your time, both at and away from the office.

The reality, however, is often far from this utopia. Many of us business owners get through the start-up phase doing anything and everything that needs to be done, from answering the phones to taking out the trash. And, truthfully, some of us never stop being that person – that “start up hero”.

But at some point we have to consciously make a shift away from the place where we are the core of all that happens in our business. This can be difficult for some people to do (after all, the business is our baby). But, if we don’t grow these businesses in a smart way, putting systems for our business in place, AND empowering our employees to make decisions, we’ll never achieve that freedom that we so badly want.

In fact, we’ll end up with the opposite effect – our business will start to feel like a prison. Even worse, when a business relies so strongly on a single person to function properly, this means that systems are not properly in place. And, in many cases, it also means that the business has little cash value if the owner should ever wish to step away.

Creating a business without systems, and without a way for your team to make key decisions, means that you’re designing a hamster wheel that you can never step off of. Company founders and CEO’s feel important when they’re required to sign off on everyday tasks, and oversee operations. But, isn’t it a better testament to a company’s health and value when nobody even notices when the CEO is out of the office for a week? When things run smoothly and established policies and systems do what they’re supposed to do?

When that happens you know that you’ve built something good. Something of value that will not only provide freedom to those on the top, but which will be a sustainable and scalable company that’s in it for the long haul. And that, my friends, is when you get to experience true independence.

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: How to Turn Your Daydream Into a Phenomenal Success, will be released in the Fall of 2017.

Turning the Impossible Upside Down

I have a confession to make. My husband and I are not athletes. Not even close, actually. We enjoy light activity – yard work, walking, sailing – but you probably won’t catch us running marathons or entering Ironman competitions anytime soon. Yet, in recent months we have been paying more attention to our health. We changed our diet, taking out sugar and carbs, and started walking. As we began to feel better we wanted to do a little something more to improve our health, and when I came across a Facebook post for a 30-day plank challenge, we thought, “Yes! This is it!”

If any of you have done the plank challenge before you know that you start out planking for just 20 seconds, and in the course of the 30 days you work up to more than four minutes. Well, on day one planking for 20 seconds was hard (but not that hard), but thinking about doing 60 seconds (or – gasp – four minutes!) seemed impossible.

We’ve now been doing the challenge for several weeks and are approaching the four minute mark. We got here by practicing consistently (almost every day, with some resting days planned in the schedule) and by pushing ourselves just a little harder and longer each day. There is no way we could have done a four-minute plank during our first week, but now we’re no longer scared of this goal and we know that we’ll be achieving it within the coming days.

The other day I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast and the topic was building a business by pushing yourself just a little farther out of your comfort zone, day after day. On the show they talked about building up and learning to flex your entrepreneurial muscles and it got me thinking how similar that concept is to what we have experienced this past month.

  1. Dig deep and find your grit: there are no shortcuts. Whether you’re building your muscles or building a business you have to show up and do the work day after day. No one can do this for you and there is no faking it.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up: some days are just better than others. Some days we would go to do our planks and we’d feel like we were on top of the world. Sometimes we’d improve our time by 20, 30 or 40 seconds from the day before. Then other days we just couldn’t hold it very long at all.
  3. Don’t psyche yourself out: it’s mind over matter. You really have to go into every challenge with a belief that you will prevail. If you tell yourself that you can’t possibly hold the plank for more than a minute, guess what? You’ve lost before you’ve even begun.
  4. Seemingly impossible obstacles become easy. When we started planking it was just like when we started the business in that it was easy to get lost in the overwhelm of the enormity of the situation. If you focus on the obstacles you will never progress as quickly as if you break your challenge down into manageable steps. When we’re planking it comes down to focusing on our breathing; one breath at a time. With the business we consider our goals and build a strategy around them. Then we figure out specific tactics – small steps – that we can take to help us achieve our goals.
  5. Teamwork makes everything a little easier. We could do our planks at the same time, I suppose, but so far we’ve been taking turns so that the one not planking acts as timekeeper and cheerleader for the other. It’s a small thing, but taking on the challenge together has made us more likely to show up to do our part, and I’m sure that we’re both trying a little harder than if we were just doing this on our own. Plus it’s more fun to work on something like this together. I think the same is true in a business. If you don’t have a business partner, then getting your employees on board as part of the team that is working together towards a common goal is key for long-term success.

You Ain’t No Superman

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Don’t be Superman… delegate.

We work with a lot of small and medium size businesses that are run by founders and management that cares deeply about what’s going to happen with their company. These are frequently type-A perfectionists, but by structuring the company so that they have to sign off on every detail they are not doing their employees, shareholders or themselves any kind of service in the long term.

It’s true that the intentions are good and they want to do what’s best for the company, but without learning how to delegate – and trust – other staff and team members, the company can only ever grow so far. Projects inevitably become stalled, and the prospect of the founder or CEO ever exiting is impossible and the company ends up enduring the ramifications of your classic dysfunctional relationship.

The truth is, if you are running a business where the whole structure will collapse without leadership being hands-on with every detail it is time to build a new system. You know you have a well-oiled machine and a healthy business when no one notices when upper management is out of the picture for a day, a week or a month. And when you have strong systems in place that’s when your business begins to have more market value and when you’re likely to identify tasks that can be automated and outsourced, thereby driving up profits.

The need for systemization applies to start ups as well as to established, multi-million dollar companies. The more quickly you’re able to get those systems in place the better you’ll be in the long run.

Successful AND Purposeful? Why, Yes, You Can.

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I’m writing this post in early February which means spring is less than six weeks away, and there are only 46 more weekends before you’ll be opening Christmas presents again (just 44 weeks until the first day of Hanukkah!)

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? But I hope that instead of causing you to have a mild anxiety attack I can convince you of the importance of living in the moment and enjoying today for the miracle that it is. I recently read something that said if we only had seven more days on earth that we would surely make the effort to see all seven of those sunrises AND sunsets. We’d take the time to sit with loved ones, holding hands, hugging, talking… We’d eat ice cream, laugh and cry. The moments would be meaningful and our senses intensified to notice every detail, every nuance and bit of beauty.

The “small stuff” (i.e. most of what takes our attention on a daily basis) would seem insignificant as we got back in tune with that which really matters. I like to think that we would be kinder, more loving, more intentional with our thoughts and actions. In our “normal” every-day life, however, we tend to live with the illusion that we have all the time in the world. So often you hear about someone who gets a terminal diagnosis only to go on to say that in fact, that news was the best thing that could have happened to them because of the way it changed their entire outlook and life experience.

Without getting too esoteric, I would like to suggest that we don’t need the knowledge of a diagnosis or the threat of having just a week left on earth to decide to be more conscientious, mindful, and committed to finding in our work a real alignment with our true purpose.  I believe that business and the higher sense of purpose/ spirituality/ mindfulness are all intertwined and actually lead to better business decisions and a stronger brand and culture overall.

If you’re of the same mindset or if you’re curious about this way of thinking, there are some things you might be interested in. I’ve got a weekly podcast where I’m interviewing thought leaders, authors, trainers and coaches on these topics. The episodes are each around a half hour long and you can find them (and the show notes) on my personal brand website, and you can also find links there to subscribe to the series in iTunes, Google Play and other platforms.

I’ve also got an active Facebook and Twitter page under that brand where an active community is forming and where your voice would be welcome. We provide daily inspiration, ask thought-provoking questions and run regular contests where you can win prizes (the next one starts Feb 13 – please join us!)

My book on this topic is coming out in October, so I’ll be posting more about that process in the coming months.  If you have stories about how you’ve embraced mindfulness in business please share them below or reach out to me directly. You could be the perfect guest for one of our podcasts!

We Don’t Talk Anymore

 

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I used to be a news junkie with a constant stream of NPR, daily dose of the New York Times and frequent check ins with CNN and other news sources. In recent years, however, I’ve cut so far back on my news habit that I barely get the joke references on the rare occasion I tune into late night TV. My media fast has been intentional, and as I’ve cut the constant buzz of what is mostly bad news out of my life, my whole outlook and energy has shifted.

I am not, however, completely shut off from the world of current affairs. I still get news notifications which I look at from time to time, but what I’ve started to notice is that because my smart phone is good at guessing what I want to see, I almost always get stories that support my beliefs and my political leanings. It has taken me a while to realize this, at least partly because I’m not paying super close attention, but now that I realize what’s going on I really can’t be quiet any longer.

We have the capability to control exactly what we see on social media, online news and even on television to the extent that we are risking the loss of one of the best parts of living in a free society – the ability to not only voice our own opinion but also to be exposed to the opinions of others.

Take the presidential election, for example. Even with my limited media exposure I do feel that I am fairly well-informed about the core issues. I also have strong concerns about one of the candidates in particular, and every time I look at my newsfeed these concerns are being supported by the stories I’m seeing.  Interestingly, the stories come from credible sources like the New York Times and Washington Post and are all completely in line with my thinking. What I’ve only just realized, however, is that these stories, which at first appear to be news stories, are really op-ed pieces, but I’m only being shown the ones that I already agree with.

It’s a classic case of preaching to the choir: it’s comfortable but it is wise? Think back to your days in your college dorm room, drinking bad beer and debating philosophy with the guys down the hall. You might not have solved the world’s problems or changed your beliefs, but hopefully you did listen and maybe you even learned something you didn’t know before.

We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s my story, your story, and then somewhere in between there is the real story.”

Nothing fuels the fires of fear more than the unknown, and I’m concerned that as our society becomes increasingly polarized and fragmented, that our technology and selective listening is going to make things worse, not better.

What if we purposely start a movement of crossing over – of taking the time to read or listen to someone else’s point of view? If we’re so sure we are right all the time we will never have the opportunity to engage in dialogue that solves problems in a meaningful and satisfactory way. I’m taking the first step today and am clicking on the campaign website of the candidate I don’t like. I’m not expecting to change my views or my vote but I do want to start listening and figuring out how we got to such a divisive place, and to start figuring out how we can make sure people feel heard as we work to build a new world together.

 

 

 

Protecting Your Peace

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There is a thief that has robbed me repeatedly over the past 20 years, both in my personal and professional lives. I have never recovered anything that this thief has taken from me, but I have found ways to protect myself against being violated again in the future.

This thief has a name, and its name is Worry, and it’s taken from me two of the most precious things we have on this earth – peace of mind and the sweet gift of time.

And Worry is a practiced burglar. It sneaks in, quietly at first, innocuous and small, like a speck of dust or a tiny seed. And then the seed sprouts, grows and takes over, like a cancer. Before you know it, that thing – whatever it is that’s causing you worry and stress – becomes the only thing you can think about, making it impossible to do anything else. Your mind becomes polluted, and you get to the point where you can’t even function. You lose any joy in the present moment, sleeping is out of the question, and your entire personality can be changed.

The funny thing is, the thief isn’t even real. All of this happens in your own mind as it spins a fictional tale of what might happen “if” or “when”. For it turns out when Worry comes in we become extremely skilled at telling dark and twisted stories about our impending doom.

I remember one time when Worry blindsided me on what should have been a fun night out. My future husband and I had moved to Los Angeles with a handful of possessions and little money. Although we were both working, paychecks were sporadic at best, and they never came in as fast as the bills did. We were working hard to build a life for ourselves but at that time all of the unknowns felt like a mountain that was exhausting to look at, let alone climb.

Somehow in the midst of all of that we had managed to scrape together enough money to go and see a Joan Baez concert at the Greek Theater, but unfortunately, Worry followed us there too. No sooner had we sat down than it hit me full force. I felt the panic taking over, uncontrollable. “Oh, my goodness,” I said, wringing my hands. “What are we going to do? We don’t have any money. We are never going to be able to figure this out. We have no backup plan!”

My tirade went on and on, as John tried to talk me down and back into the present moment. It helped a little but the feeling of panic never really went away, and the night that should have been so pleasant was absolutely stolen away by my soon familiar companion, Worry.

Worry became a regular visitor during the ensuing years and took from me many beautiful days, and countless nights that could have been spent in rejuvenating slumber. I recognized that Worry never served me well. It never helped to solve any actual problems, or do anything constructive, but it wasn’t until years later that I finally figured out how to protect myself from its unwanted presence.

After living with this thief for too many years, I highly recommend the following techniques to protect your inner peace:

  1. Be very protective of the messages you allow into your consciousness. Newscasts, violent or disturbing TV shows and films, and negative “scare-mongering” people have no place in your life. If you can’t eliminate them completely, you at least need to tune them out.
  2. Worry is a form of fear, and fear and love cannot cohabitate. It’s either one or the other, so when you feel Worry seeping in, consciously choose love. One helpful technique is to practice writing down a list of things you’re grateful for, right here, right now. No matter how bad things seem, everyone has good things to acknowledge, and the more you do this the easier it gets.
  3. Really come to understand that Worry is all about a future myth that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen. Focus instead on the present, taking one second, one minute at a time. You’re okay right now in this moment, so accept that, breathe, and practice being present. Practices like meditation can help to center you if you find this difficult.
  4. First, accept that you need to let go of any outcome of your situation, and trust that whatever happens is for your higher good. Once you fully accept that, try taking baby steps towards making a positive impact on whatever Worry is trying to taunt you with. If it’s a money issue, figure out what tiny step you can take to begin to move your finances in the right direction. If it’s a relationship issue try making a little effort to improve things. Then let go of having to control how the whole thing turns out. It is exactly as it should be.
  5. Help someone else. One of the quickest way to inner peace, and one of the fastest way to squash Worry is to get the focus off of yourself. Volunteer, call a friend and offer to help around their home or business, begin performing random acts of kindness with total strangers, always expecting nothing in return. Worry can’t handle this kind of altruism and will soon be a distant memory.

I have found that Worry still shows up from time to time, and even occasionally gets a temporary foothold, but it doesn’t stay long. I am deeply protective of my inner peace and the more I stand my ground on the matter the easier it gets. In fact, these days I can even fight it off in my sleep.

Elin Barton is the CEO and President of White Knight Productions, Inc, and is the co-founder of Ready, Set, Grit, a place for business-minded individuals with a spiritual consciousness to join forces for real, honest and supportive conversations around the issues that matter. Elin would love to hear from readers who have questions, comments, or who are interested in finding our more about Ready, Set, Grit: elin@whiteknightpro.com.

 

Riding for Tomorrow: Relationships Over Results

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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.