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!

How to Take the Road Less Traveled and Still Arrive at Your Destination in One Peace

Robert Frost was right.

Taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

THE QUESTION IS: How do you navigate that road and still arrive at your destination in one piece?

And not just in one piece – in one peace, too?

My name is Scott, and I’ve been taking the road less traveled pretty much my whole life.

Especially since I graduated from college. That was the last time I ever entertained the possibility of walking the conventional path. Blech.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things. And I wanted to share them for one reason:

Because I know I’m not alone.

After all, it’s called the road less traveled – not the road never traveled. And if you’ve been encountering a few speed bumps along the way, consider these ideas for your trip:1. Get good at getting lost. I get lost almost every day of my life. Not just because I have a non-existent sense of direction – but because I love it. I demand it.

And while I’m sure it frustrates my friends and family to no end, that’s just who I am. People know: If you take a trip with me, you better bring your boots. Because there ain’t no map, there ain’t no plan and there ain’t no telling where we’ll end up.

But, that’s all part of taking the road less traveled: Not knowing. And our brightest transformations usually occur in the moments when we’ve lost our way.

The secret is making sure we haven’t lost our why. Because although it doesn’t always matter where we’re going – if we don’t know why we’re going, whatever destination we reach will be stumbled upon with an empty, lifeless heart.

It’s like Buckminster Fuller said, “Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.” The question is: How directionless can you afford to be? You need to figure that out for yourself.

Remember: A world in which you can’t get lost isn’t a world – it’s a cage. Are you leaving room for the unexpected?

2. Accept fear as an inevitable part of the equation. Taking the road less traveled is simultaneously invigorating and intimidating: On one hand, you’re thrilled by the prospect of adventure; on the other hand, there’s a stream of urine running down your leg.

And that’s the question I’m consistently asked by fellow road-less-travelers is, “Do you ever get scared doing your own thing?”

And my response is a resounding, “Are you kidding me? Dude, I’m a human being – I’m scared every day of my life. In fact, if I wasn’t scared – then I’d really be scared.”

Because if you’re not scared, you’re not stretching.
And if you’re not stretching, you’re not mattering.

The difference maker is, winners know how to convert their fear into fuel. They know how to displace the impact. Personally, whenever my body notices a fear response, I write it out.

Not just because I’m a writer – but because writing is one of the few places in my life where fear doesn’t exist. It can’t. I refuse to give it oxygen. Writing is where I call fear out on its face, watch it suffocate and then use its ashes to color my canvas.

The cool part is: These fear moments tend to produce the strongest, truest material. Kind of makes peeing your pants worth it. What successes are you missing out on because you’re not accepting, loving and leveraging your fear into fuel?

3. Walk with the wise. The road less traveled is rarely short of footprints. If you want pick up the clues to success, find the people who have gone where you want to go, make a mix tape of their greatest hits, and then play that record on repeat until you know it cold.

Here’s the process I’ve been practicing for years:

Google them. Introduce yourself. Get to know them. Ask lots of questions. Take copious notes. Learn from their mistakes. Thank them for the example they’ve set. And occasionally update them on the progress you’ve made.

That’s it. Anything more is an annoyance. Wise people tend to be busy people.

However, if you really want to double your learning, do whatever you can to get these people to look you straight in the eye and deliver the skinny on what it’s going to take to make it.

If you have to buy them lunch, fine.
If you have to fly to Charlotte for the weekend, fine.
If you have to split a cab to the airport with them, only to realize you’ve just gone to the wrong airport, fine.

I’ve pulled all three of those moves, and never regretted a single minute. And neither will you.

Remember: The road less traveled isn’t just foggy – it’s lonely. When you walk with the wise, don’t just do it for the wisdom, do it for the company. Do it for someone to walk with. How many mentors do you have?

4. Be aware of the wake you’re leaving. When you dare to descend down the unknown path, certain reverberations will always ring elsewhere in your life. For example: Have you considered the repercussions your unconventional journey will have on the people closest to you?

Definitely something to think about. After all, your relational support structure is your pillar. And while you don’t need their permission to take the road less traveled, you still need to put yourself in their shoes.

In Leslie Parrott’s inspiring book, You Matter More Than You Think, she offers solid insight on the relational response to the people who take the road less traveled:

“When you choose to be true to yourself, the people around you will struggle to make sense of how and why you are changing. Some will find inspiration in your new commitment. Some may perceive that you’re changing too much. And some may feel you’re abandoning them or holding up an uncomfortable mirror.”

Whatever happens, be more patient with them then they are with you. I know it’s not easy soliciting the support of the people who love you the most. But success never comes unassisted. Without buy-in from (most of) your loved ones, the road less traveled becomes very windy. How much longer can you pretend that what you do doesn’t have an effect on people?

5. Anticipate the bumps. After four years of taking the road less traveled, my body finally started to pump the breaks. Hard. From stomach cramps to chest pains to irritable bowels, the road sign was clear: Slow the hell down, Scott.

Too bad it took three hospital visits for my ears to get the memo. Woops. Either way, I’ll never forget what my surgeon told me the recovery room: “You’ve chosen an unusual career path, and your body needs to learn how to adjust to it.”

And it did – eventually. But only because I learned how to relax. Literally, those were my doctor’s orders: Do something deliberately relaxing, every single day.

Have you incorporated that practice into your daily schedule yet? If not, start today. It doesn’t matter how you do it – only that you do it. Humans might be hardwired to withstand struggle; but without this ritual, you’re likely to crash and burn.

Look: It’s called the road less traveled for a reason. If you don’t expect the pavement to be poor, that’s exactly how you will end up – poor.

Because it’s not that this can’t happen to you; it’s that this is happening to you – and just doesn’t make sense. Not yet, at least. What foundations are you building today to handle the speed bumps of tomorrow?

6. Convert ambiguity into ammo. The scary part about taking the road less traveled is – after a while – the world you know, disappears. Yikes. And when you look back, you suddenly discover that there’s nothing left but a big, steaming pile of ambiguity. Double yikes.

Next time this happens to you, befriend the fog. Take what’s ambiguous about your situation and listen for how you might convert that into something useful. Because there comes a point when you have to stop trying to do – and start listening for what wants to be done.

Here’s a helpful approach: Pick a simple question, i.e., “What’s next?” or “What should I do?” and ask it to yourself while exercising. I’ve been practicing this strategy for years, and have found the combination of motion, endorphins, self-inquiry and repetition to be the perfect recipe for clarity.

And more often than not, by the time I’m done working out, I’m significantly closer to my answer that I was before. Either that, or I fall off the treadmill right in front of the cutest girl in the gym.

The point is: Just when you think you’re screwed, you often find providence riding shotgun, ready to help you navigate through the uncertainty. You just have to be willing to trust the process. What are you doing with your ambiguity?

7. Declare a moratorium on what doesn’t matter. “Suspension of activity.” That’s what the word moratorium means. And if you plan to take the road less traveled – and still arrive at your destination in one peace – you’ve got to start deleting useless activities that don’t enrich your life.

For example, a few years into my career, it occurred to me that going out four nights a week probably wasn’t the best career move. So, I made a bargain with myself: While my friends were out at bars, getting wasted drinking beers; I was back at home, getting wealthy writing books.

Now, it’s not like I stopped having fun completely. I just chose to delete the word “bar” from my vocabulary. And my life, my health and my career were noticeably better for it as a result.

Your challenge is to confront your own schedule and start deleting. I suggest asking five questions:

*What are you doing that makes no sense at all?
*What consumes your time that isn’t making you any money?
*What are you doing that doesn’t need to be done by anyone?
*Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?
*Does this take up a disproportionate amount of time compared to the result?

Without all that noise, you’ll be able to create a detailed image of your ideal life. Screw balance. Do you have work/life happiness?

REMEMBER: Taking the road less traveled doesn’t just make the biggest difference in your life – it enables you to make the biggest difference in other people’s lives.

Don’t worry. I’ll see you out there.

I’ll be the one swerving into your lane while singing Journey at the top of my lungs.

What road chose you?

For the list called, “99 Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask,” 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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