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entrepreneurship

In graduate school I chose to pursue three concurrent degrees: a doctorate in clinical psychology, an MBA, and a master in criminal justice.

I wanted to do forensic work (I fantasized about working with Agent Mulder from the X files) and organizational psychology.

Those of my fellow psychology grad students who knew about my family history loved to psychoanalyze me – it’s what psych grad students do.

Everyone insisted I was pursuing three concurrent degrees – not because I was driven – because I was running away from my problems, keeping my emotions at bay. They were sure my ambition was largely due to the fact that I didn’t want to deal with the emotional trauma of my past…

…When I was nineteen, my mother died. I was a sophomore in college and it was devastating. My brother and I – now orphans – had to sell the house I grew up in, settle my parents’ estate, deal with meddling relatives, and learn how to navigate life without parents.

Though my parents were teachers in the South Bronx they managed to raise us in an affluent community outside of New York City. After my mother’s death I experienced a lifestyle 180, having to adjust from my prior privileged lifestyle to working three jobs. As a 19-year old I felt lost and unsure of where my next meal would come.

This life experience spawned the following two pieces of unsolicited advice when I was in graduate school:

You need to balance your life

You shouldn’t work so hard

I didn’t heed either piece of advice. It simply didn’t resonate with me.

Shouldn’t work so hard? If I wasn’t going to work hard now, when would I?

I was twenty-five, eager to start my professional life, learning tons of interesting stuff, and getting two degrees at half price.

I like to work. I am extremely driven. I also like to play. In fact, work and play were comingled for me at an early age.

When I was five years old my parents informed my older brother and I that we were going to start our own business, so what did we want that business to be?

“Toys” we said unanimously.

So they took us to the wholesale district in Manhattan to purchase our inventory. My dad, a math teacher, taught my brother and I how to keep records of our inventory and finances; my mother, an English teacher, taught us how to market ourselves.

My grandfather, the consummate salesman, taught us how to sell. Our mini board of directors taught us how to maintain our business. This early business tutorial was the impetus I needed to reveal my inner entrepreneur.

Cut to the beginning of my career:

I started out doing forensic work, which I found extremely interesting. Unfortunately the company I worked for was less than desirable.

So I left.

And soon after I opened up a group therapy practice. Soon after that I opened up Equilibria Leadership Consulting, a leadership development and consulting firm.

If I were someone who took the advice of not working too hard I would never have had the courage to embark on my own and start my own business.

Looking back I realize “You shouldn’t work so hard” and “You need to balance your life” were probably projections my fellow grad students (and people throughout my life) had cast on me. They didn’t have to do with me, they had to do with them.

I can’t imagine in my leadership consulting and coaching work telling executives and managers, “You shouldn’t work so hard.” That would never fly.

On the contrary, I urge them all to work harder at being better, more self-aware leaders. How is an OK leader ever to evolve into a great one if they don’t work hard?

I do believe in R&R when my brain and body need it, but if you are an otherwise healthy person and are simply growing a business or a career you are going to need to work hard. Hard work is good.

In Gary Keller’s book “The One Thing,” he talks about how some aspects of your life are going to fall by the wayside as you focus on the one thing that is most important to you.

In some cases this could mean your social life, this could mean TV shows, this could mean anything you once enjoyed immensely but is not imperative to your one thing, which in this article is one’s career.

My romantic relationships were often second to my career aspirations. Mark Cuban has said many times on Shark Tank that if the girlfriend he had while he was growing his first business got needy he would respond with, “And your name is…?”

I wonder if Mark Cuban also heard, “You need a more balanced life” while he grew his business, or is that a comment reserved for female entrepreneurs?

The structure of my current life looks a bit different than it did in my twenties. I work just as hard, if not harder, but I do it within the time I allot for work because I have One Things in other areas of my life that I dedicate time to, by choice.

Coincidentally, the name of both my companies start with Equilibria. This means multiple equilibriums or if I have to use the word “balance” I would coin it “integrated balance.”

The concept of balancing work and life means they fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. For me, work/life are one in the same and part of my identity.

I am a woman. I am a friend. I am a wife. I am a sister. I am an athlete. I am an entrepreneur. I am a business owner. I am an author. I am a yogi. I am a hard worker. These are the things that make me and no one thing defines me more or less. As long as I commit to honoring all aspects of my identity, balance will fall into place.

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I am an avid crossfitter and I am a leadership development coach. As of two weeks ago these were two separate aspects of my personality that did not cross over, until…

…I arrived at my crossfit gym one morning to see a “Goals & Gainz” list on the board outlining 10 traits that required zero talent, all of which are proven leadership traits.

10 factors for success copy

It’s common for new and established leaders to have moments of self-doubt and engage in social and professional comparisons. We live in a time when geniuses abound, but we have to remind ourselves that success often comes down to perseverance, not genius. It’s about consistency and follow through. That’s where the genius lies.

The skills to succeed aren’t God-given; they aren’t based on IQ or circumstance. They are skills anyone can acquire with practice. If you want to be rise to the stature of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg then research their professional success and emulate them if need be.

Aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs can easily emulate the greats to develop their own leadership style that will push them to the top.

  1. Being on Time – You can be as good at arriving on time as Richard Branson. This is a character trait that is so easy to accomplish and promotes respect for all parties involved. Chronic lateness does exactly the opposite.
  2. Work Ethic – You can have the same work ethic as Marc Cuban. In fact most business icons have written books about their work ethic. Pick one up and research their routines. You will need to believe in the virtue of hard work. Even an early windfall or premature success will not sustain without the backbone of hard work to keep it going.
  3. Effort – You can exert just as much effort as Bill Gates. The key is to be willing, and also to exert the right kind of effort so you don’t waste your time. Effort separates most successful leaders from the rest of the pack. They do not stop and they work at their goals like there are 1,000 rumpelstiltskins trying to beat them at their own game.
  4. Body Language – You can convey the same body language as Sheryl Sandberg. Study the greats and see how they communicate nonverbally. Get a coach if need be to see where you might need work on your communication. Nonverbal cues may not be the secret to propel you to the top but they can definitely hinder you from getting there. Some traditions take body language very seriously.
  5. Energy – You can harness the same energy as Oprah. While some of us might be born with a natural zest, it’s easily attainable and just takes the right medicine: sleep, proper diet, meditation, exercise, and some fun. It’s not rocket science; it’s the natural consequence of living healthy.
  6. Attitude – You can have the same attitude as Franklin Roosevelt. It may have to be cultivated if you don’t have the leadership attitude to begin with, but you can get it if you want it. You can learn from a mentor and by emulating the greats. The more you emulate the more it becomes who you are.
  7. Passion – You can have as much passion as Arianna Huffington. If you’re doing what you love and aligned with your goals the passion will come if you want it. You have to want it though, or the passion lays dormant inside of you. Once you begin and keep going, the passion will grow.
  8. Being Prepared – You can be as prepared as Roger Federer. Tennis players are a great example of preparation as they practice hitting drills for most of their lives so that when they are in a match they have the muscle memory to hit the shot the way they need to. They can then concentrate on where they want to hit the ball without worrying if they have the skill to execute it. Similarly, prepare yourself so you have the ingrained skills to execute your ideas.
  9. Doing Extra – You can go the extra mile just like Barbara Corcoran grew Corcoran Realty into the empire it is. It’s just a matter of doing it and not stopping. You always have a choice of doing or not doing. Choose doing and you’ll see the fruits of your labor if you do a little more. Even when you’re burnt out you probably have at least 20% more in you to give, if you’re willing.
  10. Being Coachable – This is where you make it or break it. Recognize there is no leader that has done it alone. Most leaders had someone – be it a mentor, a coach, a book, a role model – from whom they learned. Being Coachable is about cultivating curiosity and resisting the status quo bias, which urges you to keep things as they are. Read, learn, grow, evolve, keep an open mind, frame challenges as opportunities.

***

When jazz musicians are learning their craft they first learn – note for note – the solos of their idols. Once they have those solos under their belt they develop their own style, but they don’t develop their own style until they’ve first emulated the greats. Likewise, aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs can easily emulate the greats to develop their own leadership style that will push them to the top.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton.

The only talent required for any of these skills is the humility to accept that we all learn from those that came before us.

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