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!

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

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011-2012!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Guide to Going Where There is No Path and Leaving a Trail

I know who you are.

You’ve chosen to follow an uncommon road.
You’ve elected to pursue a perilous and uncertain course.
You’ve decided to go where there is no path and leave a trail.

Let me be the first person to say: Hell to the yes.

You are going to grow geometrically.
You are going to evolve exponentially.
You are going to learn comprehensively.

Pshht. Paths. Overrated.


HERE’S WHAT SUCKS: You can’t navigate what isn’t there.

And after your initial excitement dies down, the nagging question will become, “Oh crap. If I’m the only person who’s ever gone this way before, how the hell will I get directions?”

ANSWER: You won’t.

Fortunately, I’ve accumulated a body of experience in this area. And I have some ideas I’d like to share with you that will be useful to your journey.

Emerson suggested we do not go where the path may lead, but instead go where there is no path and leave a trail. Here’s how to do it: 1. Success never comes unassisted. I’m not saying you need your hand held through life. But reaching out doesn’t make you a weakling or a failure.

If your world comes crashing down and you need to fly to Iowa for the weekend to have a good cry with your parents, do it.

If you feel like an abject failure, and you need a friend to sit with you for two hours of venting, do it.

Your peeps. Your crew. Your network of healing. Your expectation-free support structure. These are the people who help clear the trees along your untraveled path.

Let them. That’s why they’re there. The people who love you most want nothing more than the opportunity to come through and show you so.

Save islands for vacations. Ask for help early and often. Who do you know that would help you take the first steps down your path?

2. Mental torture isn’t worth it. The reality us: No matter how successful you become, you’ll always find ways to feel bad about yourself. You need to be okay with that. You need to not to be so hard on yourself.

Instead, change the way you attend to those feelings. Try greeting them with a welcoming, non-judgmental heart. And express gratitude for the opportunity to feel what you feel. It means you’re human and alive, and that’s a good thing.

Ultimately, you’ll find that if you experience these feelings without acting on them – and if you sit with these emotions and let yourself fully experience them – they can’t hurt you. They have no power over you. And that will make your walk down the uncertain path significantly less stressful.

Remember: When you go it alone, you mind is your basic means of survival. Attend to it compassionately and creatively. How do you mentally handicap yourself?

3. Go pro or go home. Going where there is no path requires commitment with both feet. And if you haven’t reached that point yet, allow me to describe it:

It’s that moment when you notice a deficit in yourself. When every minute that goes by, you feel more and more robbed of your true talent. When your spirit kneels bare handed. And when it becomes so existentially agonizing that you can’t take it anymore, you stop what you’re doing one day and say, “What the hell am I doing here?”

That’s when you jump.

That’s when you push all your chips to the middle of the table and say, “Screw it. I’m all in.”

Make no mistake: This will be the most liberating – and most terrifying – moment of your career. But it’s all part of the path. You have to go pro. You have to start showing up every day, no matter what, and risk exposing yourself to the judgment of the world.

Otherwise your amateurism will block your progress. You always sin when you deny yourself a purpose below your responsibilities. What’s preventing the world from taking you seriously?

4. Acquaint yourself with delayed gratification. The fewer footprints on your path, the more patience will be required to travel it. Fortunately, while hard work pays off – hard waiting pays millions.

And besides, it’s not like you’re idle. There’s a difference between sitting on your ass, playing video games, hoping your ship will come in – and hustling while you wait to extend the reach of your dock.

The first secret is to be patient with your mistakes. And you have to remember that a mistake ceases to be a mistake the moment you choose to learn from it. As Joseph Campbell reminds us, “Our treasures lie where we stumble.”

The second secret is to be patient with your profits. Personally, my company didn’t make money for the first three years. Knowing this would be the case; I worked nights and weekends parking cars at a local hotel to make ends meet. Hey: You do what you have to do. Even if that means crashing a few Beamers. Woops.

The final secret is to be patient with your progress. Look: I know you’re worried that you won’t be able to build on your current situation. But be careful not to get addicted to the sweet nectar of progress. You can’t start on next if you suck at now.

The good news is: While going where there is no path takes longer, at least the scenery is better. Remember to enjoy it. How patient are you willing to be, and how productively are you willing to work in the meantime?

5. You can’t aim one arrow at two targets. Focus is the mobilizing force. More than goals. More than plans. More than anything. Almost every client in my mentoring program – most of which have gone where there is no path – have experienced some kind of focusing challenge. And I tell them all the same thing:

“Focus is a function of punching yourself in the face.”

It’s true. For almost a decade I’ve had a sticky note on my desk that asks, “Is what you’re doing right now consistent with your number one goal?” And if it’s not, I don’t do it. Period. End of story. It’s confrontational but constructive. And I urge you to try this exercise in your own workspace to reinforce focus.

Also, keep one more thing in mind: Your focus will undoubtedly change over time. Especially since you’re traveling where there is no path. As such, what matters most is not the thing you’re focused on – but the unquestionable, laser-like focus you maintain on that thing until it’s time to pivot.

Remember: The dog who chases two rabbits doesn’t just go hungry – he looks stupid while starving. Are you a victim of your own lack of disorganization?

6. Enlist your rational faculty. “Sanity is highly overrated.” I believe that with all my heart. The challenge is striking a healthy balance between being out of your mind and being out of money.

This happens a lot to people who go where there is no path. Because the bottom line is: You can’t remove the teeth from the cruel bite of reality. When you’re broke, you’re broke.

A helpful mantra my family likes to say is, “You can’t eat like an elephant and shit like a bird.”

The funny thing is, I’ve been saying that for years. But it wasn’t until my business got audited that I had to stop talking this philosophy and start living it. Damn it. I hate it when that whole integrity things comes back to bite me in the ass.

The point is: You have to use your brain – especially the left side of it. Especially if you make significant financial investments to your endeavors. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said, “You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful.” How can you spend no money next year?

REMEMBER: Going where there is no path requires courage, consistency and clarity.

Yes, it’s guaranteed to be the hardest, longest and most uncertain way to travel.

But it’s also guaranteed to have the best scenery, the deepest learning and the richest rewards.

See you out there.

What path 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!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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