The Answer is You

When we were kids, one word described the majority of our childhood daydreams: adventure. We’d spend hours hunting treasure and fighting baddies like Indiana Jones or solving neighborhood mysteries like Nancy Drew. We’d let our imaginations run wild and free as we satisfied that inexplicable craving for excitement.

As we grew older, our fantasies tempered a bit and began to align with reality as we sought our thrills elsewhere. Some of us swam with sharks or dove from planes. Some of us traveled the world or bought Harleys. Some of us signed up for Tinder. In most instances, we didn’t necessarily need to do something dangerous or risky; we just needed to do something that quickened our pulses—something that made us feel alive.

Starting your own business was probably one of your most captivating adventures.

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Think back, for a moment, about your company’s birth. Think of how you stoked that fire within until the blaze burned so brightly that it couldn’t be extinguished. Remember waking in the middle of the night, heart a-flutter about what the next day would hold, creeping from your bed, and frantically scribbling down notes underneath the bathroom night light.

The fervor didn’t end there. Oh, no. As you built your business, step-by-step, the endeavor rarely left your mind—and you loved that. You were connected to it; you were united to it; you were passionate about it; you nurtured it.

You thought to yourself, “There’s no way that I could ever be happier than I am right now!”

But…you were wrong. Life got even better when your business started to succeed. Sales rolled in and you received confirmation that what you were doing was right and true. Months turned into years, and, seemingly, without even realizing it, you hired more people, and your company was doing better than you had actually ever envisioned.

As time progressed, however, something bizarre occurred. The dreaded “Paradox of Progress” arrived: Although you were experiencing more “success,” you found yourself entangled with more responsibility and more work. For the first time, unease, instead of adrenaline, started to pulse through your veins….

You began making decisions that didn’t quite align with what you really wanted to do and what you thought was best for your business. But, you justified the choices because you wanted your employees to be happy. After all, you now had people depending on you to feed their families—and you’re fiercely loyal when it comes to helping others. Maybe this was why you became more involved with the day-to-day workload and operations.

You convinced yourself that this was just part of the baggage that comes with owning a successful business and that your spouse and children appreciated your sacrifice—even though you were no longer seeing them as often as you wanted.

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A few more weeks passed, and, for the first time, embarrassment haunted your private thoughts: “I’m working over 60 hours each week. I wasn’t doing this back when I was working at ________. Did I make a mistake?” You’re ashamed that you’re even entertaining such ideas. “Pff. I own my own company. I make lots of money. Of course I’m happy,” you repeated, over and over, hoping the words would provide some type of salve. But, you can’t ignore the fear that your business has become more of a burden than blessing.

The following afternoon, as you sat in your office, you started to daydream. You had this little thought out there…an idea about the “next big thing” for your business. Your heart started to beat faster and your lips pursed into a smile…until your phone rang with an employee complaint about something you don’t even remember.

All you can recall is the phrase you uttered before trudging out of your office: “I don’t even have time to dream.”

And, here you are: Your 3 a.m. wake-ups are no longer instigated by joy but dread. You know, deep down, that you need to make a change, but, you don’t even know where to begin because you don’t want to upset anybody and you’re worried about what might happen to the company. So, you forge ahead, ever-dutiful, on a journey toward your new destination: mediocrity.

This narrative might seem a little melodramatic to some, but, believe it or not, many successful business owners feel this way during some point of the organization’s life cycle. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize it happening until we’re right in the middle of our descent.

Thankfully, this challenge doesn’t need to cripple our movements, and the solution is actually found in one word: you. 

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If you want to reclaim (or increase) joy in your business endeavor, you need to realize that your business is all about you. No, it’s not selfish, hubristic, or narcissistic to acknowledge that truth. YOU deserve to get what YOU want out of YOUR business. Perhaps this following analogy will help illustrate what I mean.

I used to be a high-school English teacher. (I loved the job and I spent seven incredible years serving at my alma mater, Parma Senior High. Feel free to ask me about it sometime!) Anywho, when I was going through my student teaching experience at Lincoln West High School, let’s just say that the environment provided a cornucopia of growth opportunities for a young teacher.

I was really struggling with certain aspects of the classroom (and school at-large) and I found myself trying to cater to the individual needs of a hundred-plus people across all different ages. After all, I wanted to serve, and I thought that true service meant sacrificing what I truly wanted to accomplish. That ideology carried a hefty price tag…most notably throwing up every morning before school because of stress and a misguided notion that I just wasn’t doing enough.

At just the right time, I had a conversation with my university supervisor that proved to be my deliverance. She could tell that I was in the middle of a tailspin, and, she asked me this question: “Chris, who’s the most important person in that room?” I remember the boyish arrogance dripping from my voice as I retorted, “Come on, how can you even ask me that? Everybody’s equally important.”

She smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “You’re wrong. YOU are number one. I don’t care what you hear in any educational philosophy classroom—you are the most important person in that room.”

I scrunched my face in disgust as she continued: “Think about it. Yes, while all the lives are valuable, your role is, by far, the most important. You’re like an airline pilot or a ship captain. This classroom is your vehicle. You know where you want to go. You know how to get there. You know what needs to be done. Get there. Students will follow you. People will align with you and will feed off of your vision. Just make it clear, and go. You cannot compromise with what you want to do. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, and your students will suffer, too.”

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I remember shedding instant tears of gratitude for her priceless insight and advice.

To this day, those words constitute some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever received, and they’re absolutely applicable to your role as a business owner. Your ship is your ship. You just have to be brave enough to guide it where you want to go….

The sooner you can identify and clarify what it is you truly want from your business on a personal and professional level, the faster you’ll be able to escape the swamp of stagnation and move forward with your adventure. And today is as good a day as any to embark on that journey….