Do Your Best

I was preparing for two very important presentations this week.  Each one could lead to a great business opportunity for our Free Enterprise Warriors team.  I was anxious about them.  In my life, as an aspiring person, I have often had a bad case of “preparation anxiety.”  I want so badly to do well that I stress out.  Often this causes “preparation paralysis” or worse yet “preparation procrastination.”  I don’t like the feelings of fear, so I just try to ignore them and distract myself doing something else.  It doesn’t work.  I end up not enjoying the avoidance activity, even if I normally would, because my subconscious knows and keep reminding me that I should be doing something to get ready.

I have often taught people to “let fear be your compass.”  Meaning: if you have a fear about doing something it means you care about the outcome; therefore, it is a sign that you should do it.  If you didn’t care you wouldn’t have the fear.  So, doing what you fear is the right thing. But, how do you not let that fear overwhelm you, cause you distress and interfere with your preparations.

People say, “don’t worry, just do your best – if you do your best, then that’s all you can ask of yourself.”  That sounds like good advice.  But, then I’m worried about doing my best.  What does that mean?  How would I know?  Can’t I always find some way in which I might have done better?  What if I don’t really do my best – what if someone else points out what I should have done better?  Isn’t “doing your best” just another form of mental pressure?

Yes, in my experience it is.  So, I have learned not to do it.  It took me a long time to come to a very simple self-awareness: I am always doing my best.  That’s just what I do.  Actually, that’s what we all do.  If we want to sincerely have things work out, we try to do whatever we can to have it work out.  We simply do our best.  That’s how we are motivated, that’s how we are built.

How well we do is determined, not by driving ourselves with critical or fear-based self talk, but, by preparation for the task.  Then, we just act, we just do.  We give it a try.  Sometimes it works out as we intended, sometimes it doesn’t – in which case we now have a great learning experience.

I’ve learned to not be attached to the outcome, but to enjoy the preparation.  I know I want to do well, but the only difference I can make in what I do, is how I prepare.  Steven Pressfield says “Do the Work” – in fact that’s the title of his latest book.  And, I loved it.  He says that if we are artists or entrepreneurs, the most important thing we have to do is the work – the preparation, the practice, the study, the rehearsal, the building of the skills.  Then we just create, we do, we act, we show up, we ship.

For me now, having pretty much left “anticipation anxiety” and “fear of failure” behind, I simply enjoy the game.  And, I get ready to play the game – I just prepare.  I remember that the definition of worry is “stewing without doing.” I have actually returned to my childhood Mad Magazine anti-hero Alfred E. Newman who always said: “What, me worry?”  Now, I just ignore the fear, detach from the outcome and do the work.

Lighting a Fire

A few weeks ago, I happened to start a conversation with another parent at my daughter’s lacrosse game. He’d been out of work for a year and was depressed about running up against the corporate HR wall and never even receiving a response to his resume. His nest egg was running out and he had just stopped looking. I decided to start talking about positive actions that he could take to jump start a job search.

First, since I have an HR background I recommended that he go straight to the Manager of the department he wanted to be hired into. I told him to do the research and connect with that person to see if they have any openings. This is where a personal network becomes most important. If you have a good reputation in your industry you can use that network to see who knows this person and help get you in.

Our discussion evolved into “thinking outside of the box”. What directions had he not pursued? One was working as a consultant for companies in his industry. When he spoke about the industry he was energized, he was passionate about safety and loved working with architects. I asked him questions about the network of people he could tap into for potential business.

Could he consult for building owners who need his expertise while they were bidding out that part of their construction? He could be paid for his knowledge. He remembered a contact who was a safety expert but wasn’t a good salesman for his services. Could he partner to bring in business for that expert?

The ideas started to come fast, I could see a light go on and felt that a spark was lit inside him. He really understood when I was told him about Free Enterprise Warriors and our vision for entrepreneurs to “shift” away from their old mindset and see where their passions and interests might take them.

It felt great to help make a difference in the way he was feeling and thinking. A week later his wife came up to me at a game and said “thank you” for helping him to get refocused on the job search. In fact, she said, they had become accountability partners, were feeling closer together and taking positive steps toward his “shift”. Both were excited about where this was going to take them. So please remember that a sincere and caring conversation can light a spark for someone else and yourself.  Try it!

The Master Motivator

For most of my adult life I have been fascinated by the idea of motivation.  In fact, my doctoral work in educational psychology, at the University of Albany in New York, was focused on “learning and motivation.”  I wanted to know what made people want to do things and how did they learn to do them. 

Recently, I read a very pragmatic book about workplace motivation: Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  He says that research points to three big motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  I’ve memorized them by using the acronym: AMP.  These three things (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose) get us “amped” for action and achievement.

However, I think that just ONE of these three is really the key to high achievement.  Certainly all three are powerful motivators for taking action.  We all want to gain AUTONOMY: the freedom to do what we want to do, when we want to do it and in the way we chose to do it.  And, most of us look to follow a higher PURPOSE: to make a difference for and in the lives of others – friends, loved ones, colleagues, clients and the world we live in.

But, the key to high achievement, in my experience, is the middle one: MASTERY.  First, learning to master new skills, knowledge and techniques is inherently motivating. But even more important, mastery of the right things is what really leads to the highest achievements – in the arts, in athletics, in scholarship, in the professions and in business.  Those who make the greatest contributions must master the fundamental skills.  They must do it at the beginning and they must keep doing it along the way – continuing their mastery to an ever higher level.

In the end, if someone is not motivated by MASTERY, they may not fully gain AUTONOMY or fulfill their PURPOSE.  The willingness to put in the work, do the time, invest the effort and endure the failures on the path to mastery – that is what makes the biggest difference.  It’s walking the talk, putting rubber on the road, paying your dues and staying the course.

In fact, it is MASTERY that tells us what we are truly meant to do.  When we love the learning, the practice, the rehearsals and the feedback, we know we are in our “home zone,” our “sweet spot,” our “wheelhouse.”  If we’re bored with the repetition or tired of the labor – if we give up on the effort; we know that we are not doing that which is our true calling. 

We are best served when we seek those endeavors where we enjoy the work, the constant repetition and the slow but steady progress. 

That is the path to MASTERY – that is the big, sustaining motivator with big, long-term payoffs!

The War of Enterprise

We call ourselves “free enterprise warriors” for a very powerful reason.  Not because we are mercenaries or soldiers whose goal is to harm others.  Or, that we seek to gain from others losses or at their expense.  We are warriors in the classic sense of being guardians and protectors – we stand up for the values of human freedom, individual rights and common justice.

As entrepreneurs we seek to play fair and succeed based on our own skill, production and creativity.  We want to achieve our goals because we have the courage to aspire, the willingness to learn and the determination to persist.  We are willing to pay the price, make the commitment and do the work.

This is the challenge of launching, growing and sustaining a worthy venture; whether for profit or not.  In this age of social entrepreneurs and conscious capitalism, the goal is not always about money.  However, the wise uses of money and resources are always a part of the equation – do well and do good.

The reason we call it war is because, at the deepest level of heart, mind and spirit, it is.  There are a set of forces that work against the desire to create, to produce and to build.  In the natural world of science, these are the forces of entropy – anything left unattended falls apart.  Hot becomes cold, structures give way to gravity and life gives in to death.

The opposite of this entropic pressure is the life force- some philosophers call it extropy.  It is how things become organized, orderly and functional.  It is how new technologies are invented, new products are manufactured, new structures are built, new services are delivered and works of art are created.  It is that mystical, magical energy that motivates us, focuses us and empowers us.  It is LIFE in capital letters. 

As entrepreneurs, that is the battle we fight – to bring order out of chaos, to bring profit out of poverty, to bring competence out of confusion, to create and enhance life.  But, we are always challenged to take on and overcome that dark side – the forces of entropy: doubt, denial, distraction, discouragement and defeat.  We seek to be optimistic, enthusiastic and confident, but we must learn to overcome the forces of pessimism, lethargy and self-doubt.

Steven Pressfield calls this “the war of art” in his book of the same name.  And, he takes that theme even further, with solid and pragmatic strategies, in his recent book Do the Work. I highly recommend both – they are well written, concise and uplifting.  They show us how to have the courage to create that which we were meant to create; to overcome resistance; to embrace life: to be free enterprise warriors.