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entrepreneurship

A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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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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