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.

Live Like a Lottery Winner

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Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery? Sure, we’ve all heard the statistics – the odds of winning are less than the odds of meeting your high school sweetheart while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at precisely 2:32 p.m. on September 26. You are more likely to be struck by lightening on separate occasions, be crushed by a meteorite or even become an astronaut than you are to win the jackpot.

And the stories of all of the people who either lose their entire winnings or who are ruined by the experience are not very encouraging, either. But still, there is something enticing about the dream of choosing the winning numbers. How different and exciting your life would be… how you’d have entirely new freedom, happiness – and probably a better car – than you do now.

With one of the big jackpots creeping up towards $400 million again, it got me thinking about a conversation I had with a former neighbor of mine. We were living out in Los Angeles at the time and my friend Beth lived across the street with her husband and young son.

One day she announced that they had decided to move to Santa Cruz, on California’s Central Coast. I was surprised by this revelation, as they both had good jobs and were well established in LA, but Beth’s logic went something like this:

“If we ever actually won the lottery we’d move to Santa Cruz. The lottery thing may never happen, but we can control where we live. Even if we have to go to a smaller house and cut corners for a couple of years we’ll still feel like winners.”

Many years after this conversation happened it still sticks with me very poignantly. Some people might call what they did foolish or risky, but I think it’s just the opposite. What are the implications of not taking control of your happiness? How many people do you know who feel trapped in jobs or situations they don’t like, and who stay because they feel they “should”?

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of:

“I’ll be happy as soon as I get that promotion?”

“When our sales reach “X” dollars, then I’ll be happy?”

“When I meet Mr. – or Ms. – Right, that’s when everything will be good.”

Are you starting to see what is wrong with this picture? With a limited number of days, hours, and minutes to walk this earth, isn’t it time to make a positive change in your life, starting today?

I ask you, don’t we all have a responsibility to live like lottery winners, even if it’s just in some small way? If you won the lottery what would you want? Is it more time with your family? Would you become a philanthropist? Spend time at the beach? Go fishing?

Sure, some of these things would be easier or could be done on a different scale with millions in your pockets, but life is short and if there are things you have thought about doing it’s time to start figuring out how to turn those ideas into reality.

It’s easy to make excuses but you’re surely doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t start taking little steps towards your big goals. Here is a guide to get you started.

  1. Visualize – close your eyes and imagine that you suddenly have endless wealth. What are the top five things you’d like to do?
  2. Now look at each of those things and consider, what is the core reason you would enjoy each one? For example, you may envision yourself living in a luxurious mansion, but if you dig a little deeper you may discover that the core enjoyment is, perhaps, being surrounded by beautiful things.
  3. Once you understand where your core pleasure is rooted, take out a piece of paper and brainstorm ways that you might start achieving some of those feelings of joy right now, before you win the lottery. For example, if you’re craving being surrounded by beautiful things could you take one room in your house, or one corner of a room and start a conscientious transformation of the space?

Continue taking small steps towards all five of your top lottery winner goals and you will gradually begin to see real transformation in your life, whether or not your numbers are ever drawn. For isn’t it true that we all owe it to ourselves to live our best lives, without waiting for some external event to make everything change?

My husband and I always said we’d become patrons of the arts when our big money ship came in. Well, we’re still waiting for our millions, but we’re not waiting to live out our dream. I have joined a committee on our local arts council and now support multiple artists by donating my time and what we can financially to this organization.

And what about my friend in Santa Cruz? She still hasn’t won the actual lottery yet, but she is living in a lovely little house in a very beautiful part of the country. By living bravely and by making conscientious choices she isn’t waiting to live the life of her dreams, and neither should you.

 

 

Homesteading: 5 Steps to Making Your Dreams Come True

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I was listening to a TED Talk the other day and the presenter was speaking about amazing things she was able to accomplish in her teens and early 20’s because she was, to paraphrase, “too young and naïve to know that failure was a possibility.”

That statement struck a chord with me, because it was very much the way I was at that age. After college I moved to Europe and just expected things to work out, and so they did – beautifully. Because I didn’t even think about being scared I expected – and got – good jobs in the fields of radio, television and film. I lived in Prague, right on Václavské náměstí, one of the city’s main squares. I’d equate it to living right in Times Square in New York – it’s famous but very few people actually live there. Well, I did, in Prague, in affordable and comfortable apartments, not once, but twice, for the duration of my three and a half years in the city.

Looking back on that time and countless other fortunate “accidents” in my 46 years on this planet, I’m starting to see a real pattern, and that is, when I’m aligned with my purpose and focused on my goals, things always fall into place. And even though when times are tough and it’s not immediately obvious that it’s all working out as it should be, looking back it’s easy to see that the lessons, the connections, the foundation blocks, are all part of the plan.

This is probably an easier concept to embrace when we’re young, perhaps because we tend to not over analyze things. But then as we get older there are more things to consider – mortgages, kids, tenure, retirement, and sometimes we get stuck in our own heads and our own lives. It’s easy to move out of the realm of possibility and into more of a fear and lack-based mentality, unless we actively fan the fires of faith and hope. Although I strongly believe in the Law of Attraction – the idea that the Universe is always conspiring for our higher good –I find that I have to constantly be corralling and taming my thoughts and emotions to maintain the youthful panache that took me on a most excellent adventure to Europe, Los Angeles and then on to New York.

I frequently hear from people, many of whom are well-established in successful careers, that they feel unfulfilled because they have let go of the part of themselves that is chasing a dream. Sometimes they find that the voice inside their head that’s telling them to seize the moment simply cannot be silenced any longer. Those few who listen to this voice and ultimately take steps towards living their dream are the ones I think of as homesteaders.

Just like the pioneers who built our country, these folks are drawing a line, making a stake in what they claim as their own. No one can see every step of the way when starting on a new journey, but there is the promise of adventure, crossing paths with new people, the self-satisfaction of knowing that you went for it, and the peace that comes from not having to wonder, “what if”.

If your own little voice has been trying to be heard lately, here are some steps you can follow to move closer to living the life of your dreams.

  1. Be aware of when you feel most passionate and alive. Is it when you’re talking about becoming an actor? Does woodworking fill you with excitement? Is it working with children, or with animals? Do you love to write or do crafts? Many times people are not sure what their passion is, or what direction to go in, but if you start to tune into the way you talk about certain things, you might start to get some clues. Writing your thoughts down in a journal or developing a regular meditation practice can also help guide you in the right direction.
  2. Once you have a sense of what your life’s passion is it’s time to exercise your imagination. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine a perfect life where you’re fully living your dreams, and expressing yourself through your gifts and whatever it is that resonates most with you. Allow yourself to really let your imagination loose here, in a big way. Release any limiting beliefs you have about your abilities or the feasibility of whatever your passion is. Just imagine that your wildest dreams are coming to fruition. For many of us, getting comfortable with seeing this picture is one of the hardest parts of the process, but it’s also one of the most important.
  3. No one achieves their goals by snapping their fingers or waving a magic wand. Everyone who does great things does so by moving consistently in the direction of their dreams. You can turn baby steps into a daily ritual until it becomes a habit. I like to begin every day by writing down at least 5 things that I’m grateful for, 5 things that I’m excited about that are coming up in the near future, 5 goals I have for myself in different areas of my life, and for each goal at least one baby step that I intend to take that day to move me in the direction of my dreams.
  4. As you think about the steps to turn your goals into reality, there are going to be things that come up that are outside of your comfort zone. That is good. Go out of your way to identify what these things are, and then just do them, one by one. Stepping out of your comfort zone could include joining Toastmasters and regularly giving speeches to that group. It can also involve joining a gym, or picking up the phone and calling someone who you believe can help you move your new business forward. Try to push on the limits of what is comfortable every single day.
  5. Share your gifts. You may not be in a position to get paid with money right away when you start pursuing your dreams, but there still may be ways to share your gifts with others. Can you volunteer at a school or retirement home? What about becoming a non-traditional intern for someone you admire in the field that you’re trying to break into? There are more ways to get a return on your investment than just monetarily, and all of these actions will help move you towards living the life you’re dreaming about.

 

 

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.

 

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.