How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur, a Revelation:
Not so long ago I had a conversation with a friend, Joe Edelman, about what it took to become a successful entrepreneur. He told me that he felt the secret de la réussite was to have a strong inner-voice of self love and self care.
When we are motivated to do a thing, not externally, but by ourselves (as all entrepreneurs must be), people tend to have two voices, train-tracks, or whatever metaphor speaks to you. There is a voice which makes demands, which fabricates deadlines, tries to meet goals, and applies pressures of “not good enough” like some frantic imaginary mob-boss always pushing you to prove yourself, to stay up late and get it done, and to make personal sacrifices. We all have it. All too often, this “do your homework” ghost is what we think will help us get shit done.
There is also a voice which cares for you, and speaks of your needs. This voice is also motivational, it also cares about deadlines, accomplishments, and success – genuinely, this is a voice that wants you to create brilliant things and bring them into the world. It is ambitious and a dedicated worker; however, this is also a voice that (different from the first) recognizes your life and livelihood as parts of the same whole, and will tell you not only to work hard, but to relax, to play, to break for lunch or have sex. The nurturing motivator is the part of you that understands what time of day you work best, and gently reminds you when it’s time to turn in. This is not the sound of laziness or self-indulgence, it is not the same as whatever difficult demons you may have to wrestle to get out of bed before noon – it is the part of you that is excited to wake up, drink a delicious cup of coffee, and start working a job you love. This is the voice you must learn to develop and listen to.
For a long time, my perspective on self-motivation didn’t include a firm concept of the second voice, the important one. Instead, I was pulled through project after project alongside my own harshest critic, who was always trying to prove something, and digging myself into a deep hole from which I lacked perspective on what it was I was actually doing. Easily, one forgets why it is they began whatever creative passions they may be starting a business to satisfy. Once you become a much more tyrannical employer than one you might meet in the outside workforce, the love of what it is you’re really doing suffers unjustly. Again and again I hear tales of those who try to professionally advance at something which was once a beloved hobby, who in time, learn rather than to succeed, only to hate that which they once so enjoyed. Money may be a killer of joy, but you can become immune to this disease if you refrain from being motivated by it.
Do not jump through uncomfortable hoops to “prove” you’re working hard enough. Do not do that thing you love because you’re getting paid to. Don’t work overtime because you think you have to. When you take care of your body, your heart, your mind, and leave yourself room to feel motivated by excitement, you will learn more, innovate more, and thrive. Let the money follow, do not allow it to lead. If you need to work two jobs – one for yourself, and one for income, do, but figure out how many hours you actually need at that for-rent job, and don’t let your energetic input surpass your actual needs because you’re trying to prove to yourself that you “work hard”. I have spent years unhappy because I afraid of being a “lazy person”.
Two years into starting a Circus and I destroyed my work-ethic by being motivated by the first voice. I destroyed my marriage, too. It took a year off (essentially – most wouldn’t know it, but I hung up the phone on “home office” two winters ago) and the intervention of some really life-changing art, experiences, and connections, but I am now getting more shit done than ever before, while feeling happy, relaxed, thinking-clearly and tending to all of my inter-personal needs. Yes, you can work two hours a day and be a responsible adult, no it’s not the same as slacking. The fewer hours I spend doing “office work”, the more hours I write, draw, sing, dance, train, and in turn, do much higher quality work overall. I don’t just mean the writing I do for the circus improves, or the ideas I have for shows get better, though that’s also true, I mean everything gets better – my customer service improves, the business connections I am able to make multiply, and with relaxation comes an influx of creativity that nurtures every aspect of how I go through life.
I might only think I’m doing two hours a day of answering Emails, web development, or whatever, but all those recreational hours I spend cultivating job-relevant skills? Oh yeah, that’s “work” too, it just doesn’t feel like it anymore. The time I’m spending off, for myself, because I want to, doing things like writing in this journal, will be the reason I succeed at running a company that’s really going places. We are getting sustainable, I am getting better at doing business, I am getting better at delegating the tasks I’m not excited about doing to people who are, who in turn, are doing higher quality work than I was when I felt like I was pulling teeth to get things done. Guilt is a lousy bedfellow, so give zer the boot. Plus? The less you take care of your own needs, the less you’re able to empathize with others who take care of their own, which makes you a lousy person to work with. If I’ve ever whined at you for not working hard enough on a project we’re sharing, let me take a moment now to say I’m sorry I was an asshole. I was working for my inner critic instead of my inner genius, and it was not a good time.
Lets do it differently from here on out; I think I’ve really learned from this mistake (about the “voices”, and who I’m really working for).
Am I ever stressed, about the Circus, about money, about “accomplishing more”? Oh, sure, but, less and less with time. And suddenly, in a way that speaks to the bottom of my brain, the soles of my feet and the very breath I’m breathing, I identify as a writer, a dancer, and an artist more profoundly and professionally than ever before. I identify as an artist with nothing to prove, and as a prolific creator of worthwhile things. One acknowledged and admired by many peers in the rich community of professional artists surrounding me, who can go into the act of creation with unabashed and unhindered excitement, curiosity, and joy. Finally.