Don’t Take the Road Less Traveled Until You Learn These Six Lessons

I never had a real job.

Started my own company the day I graduated college and never looked back.

HOWEVER: There were a lot of things I did wrong. A lot of things I overlooked. And a lot of things I wish someone would have told me when I was twenty-two.

Here’s a collection of ideas you might consider before going out on your own:1. Build recovery into your schedule. Music is my religion. There are very few things in my life that don’t involve it. But since I started my company, music has actually taken on an expanded role. In addition to being soundtrack of my life, it’s also become the place I go to disappear.

Whether I’m playing it, singing it or watching it, music isn’t just my off button – it’s my escape button. It’s where I shed all sense of self and just be. And that’s the secret: We all need a way to disappear. From ourselves, from our work and from the world. Otherwise we never recover. Otherwise we never gain any perspective.

Novelist Joseph Campbell describes it beautifully:

“You must have a place you can go in your heart, your mind, or your house, almost every day, where you do not know what you owe anyone or what anyone owes you. A place you can go to where you do not know what your work is or whom you work for.”

Make no mistake: You are the boss of your own energy. Manage it well. When was the last time you spent fifteen minutes doing nothing?

2. Myopia is underrated. Lack of focus is the single greatest determinant of failure in any endeavor. I see it with clients, I see it with colleagues, and occasionally, I see it with myself. And it kills me every time.

That’s why I’m adamant about focus. But it’s not about time management, getting things done or streamlining the quality of your process so you can maximize the efficiency of strategic productivity. Focus is about creating a filter for your life. Focus is about executing against your values.

That’s what I’ve learned in my experience as a writer, as an entrepreneur and as a leader: Total freedom comes by forcing yourself into a tight corner.

To win, you have to focus on your core, pound it home and never lose sight of it. Otherwise you’ll never hunker down to execute what that matters. Instead of swatting flies with sledgehammers and wasting time making shiny objects shinier, delete anything that isn’t aligned with your vision.

Otherwise the absurd reluctance to let go of what’s worthless will keep you from reaching greatness. Focus is function of sacrifice. What are you willing to give up to stay on point?

3. Answer the invitation to evolve. Early in my career, my mentor gave me a warning: “If you’re giving the same speech you gave six months ago, you’re doing something wrong.” Ever since that conversation, I’ve vowed never to give the same speech twice.

Partly because I’d get bored, but mostly because I believe in evolution. Not just with the planet – but with the person. And that’s the reality every leader has to confront: If you refuse to make upgrades, there will be a self-imposed ceiling on what you can accomplish. If you insist on keeping yourself encapsulated in a cocoon with people who are just like you, you’ll never take your gifts to their highest potential.

Give yourself permission to explore options for your future. Otherwise you’ll deadlock yourself on a path that might not lead where you belong.

The point is: Your followers want nothing more than to watch you evolve into something much greater than anyone could expect. May as well give them a show to remember. In the last six months, how have you upgraded yourself?

4. Get people to follow your thinking. The world puts a premium on articulateness. And if you can express yourself creatively, concisely and compellingly, you win. The catch is, you have you clarify before you testify. And the best way to do is by thinking on paper.

Not emailing. Not texting. Good old writing. Every single day. Even if you only hit the page for fifteen minutes, that’s enough. Hell, I started with fifteen minutes a day and now I’m up to three hundred.

The good news is, writing makes everything you do easier and better. What’s more, writing helps you define the way you think about the world. And if you can get the people who agree with that definition to delegate certain chunks of their thinking to you, that world will be yours.

Get it through your head: You’re a thinker. Your brain is valuable. And your point of view matters. It’s time to say what you believe and see who follows. As long as you remember: The secret to self-expression is to believe that you have something worth expressing. Do you believe you’re worth putting on paper?

5. Don’t let yourself work small. If you want to watch steam come out of my ears, just tell me that you’re an aspiring writer. Or an aspiring artist. Or an aspiring anything. God help you. That’s the kiss of death. That’s the hallmark of working small.

Aspiring is for cowards. Aspiring is for riskless amateurs. Aspiring is what you say when you don’t want to commit with both feet and accept the responsibility of going pro.

Life doesn’t have a preheat setting. You’re either on, or you’re off. You either are, or you aren’t. Stop waiting to be who you are. Stop waiting for permission. And just start being. Today.

As Seth Godin wrote in Poke the Box, “Reject the tyranny of the picked. Pick yourself.”

The cool part is, once you gather the desire to move forward – most likely without a map – people will follow you. And they will stick with you as you promise not to let yourself work small. But when you dream big and do small, you lose huge. What are you still waiting for permission to become?

6. Legacy isn’t optional. In The Little Book of Leadership, Jeffrey Gitomer explains that the pieces of your legacy are created with your every action, your every achievement and your every victory.

I completely agree. The challenge is that legacy is a neutral entity. Not unlike tofu, it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce it’s immersed in. Which means it could taste fresh – but it could also taste like feet. It all depends on your behavior.

Everyone leaves a wake. Everyone. The issue is whether the people you love will surf on it, or drown under it. Here’s a question you might consider asking yourself every morning:” “If everybody did exactly what I said, what would the world look like?”

This question builds the blueprint for your legacy. And once you’ve fleshed out your answers, all you have to do is make sure that your every action gives people the tools they need to build that world. And maybe a few instructions on how to use them.

Ultimately, at the end of life, you’re not defined by the beads, but by the string that holds them all together. Will you leave behind something that can justify your existence?

REMEMBER: Just because you take the road less traveled doesn’t mean you can’t arrive in one peace.

Good luck.

I’ll see you out there.

What road are you taking?

For the list called, “26 Ways to Practice Being Yourself,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011-2012!

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