How can business owners navigate the stormy seas of entrepreneurship without running off course? Social entrepreneur and marketer Lynn Serafinn shares her tips.
In my experience, the key to success in business is resilience. Unfortunately, there are many forces that can drive a business owner, especially a new one, to ‘melt down’ or even quit altogether. The ones that come to mind for me are:
- Finding yourself in a seemingly impossible financial situation
- Being overwhelmed by too many things to do
- Having too many projects going at once without adequate focus on any of them
- Being faced with an unexpected growth spurt
- Being faced with a sudden downward turn in business
- Having to respond to changes in government regulations and/or taxation
- Having to respond to changes in communications and technology
- Losing service providers or key members of your company
- Dealing with a disgruntled team or staff member (usually due to the imbalances created by a combination of the above)
Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments box below if you think I’ve missed any.
The important thing to remember is that these kinds of things happen within businesses all the time. If you analyse these forces, you can see that they all have the same impact: they create an imbalance.
How Imbalances Often Go Unnoticed
Recently I watched the 1999 film Longitude with Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon. It’s the story of a man named John Harrison who, in the 18th Century, was trying to invent a clock that would stay accurate on the turbulent open seas, so ships could pinpoint their longitude and accurately navigate their seaward journeys. At one point, his clock was losing only around a second per day. Someone remarked that this seemed very accurate, and asked him whether or not this was good enough for navigation. Harrison replied that over a long trans-Atlantic journey from Britain to the Bahamas, which typically lasted 12 weeks, this slight anomaly would eventually drive them 500 miles off course, into territories unknown. This kind of uncertainty had caused countless thousands of seamen to lose their lives on military and trading ships.
Similarly, imbalances in our businesses are not always recognisable at first. They could start as one small thing that may seem insignificant and manageable, but then balloon suddenly like a puffer-fish and sting us with a vengeance.
Of course, the key is to be mindful of these imbalances when they’re in their early stages, and to take action to restore the balance as quickly as we can, but what if we don’t?
That’s when all the overwhelm, stress and melt-down can happen. Unfortunately, many new business owners quit at this point, as evidenced by the high rate of businesses that fold in the first year or two.
To see your business fail is a heartbreaking experience. And if you’re a social entrepreneur, or other ethical business owner, who started your business not only to make a living but to create positive change in the world, it’s even more devastating. You’ve not only lost your income and your dream for your own future, but you’ve lost your vision for the future of the world as well.
Lessons from a Tightrope
Back when I did leadership training, we were given a leadership mantra: ‘Stay and Recover’. In the beginning, this mantra seemed trite and a bit patronising to me, and I really didn’t know what to do with it. But then, we did an exercise where I had to climb a 12 metre pole and walk a tight-rope across a distance of about 40 metres! I had failed miserably at all these kinds of height challenges before, and I was determined to make this one work. I started climbing the pole, and about 4 metres into the air, I could feel my heart pounding with fear. I stopped. I said to myself, ‘OK, so this is just my body reacting to fear. I’m strapped into a harness. I’m safe. Let’s wait a minute until my heart gets used to the idea.’ So I just stayed there and waited. I breathed slowly and allowed my heart to slow down. Then I took another step or two. My heart started racing again. I stopped again. I breathed again. My heart slowed down again. I repeated this until I got to the top of the pole.
Stepping onto the tight-rope and actually walking across it was yet another challenge, because now I wasn’t just dealing with a pounding heart, but with coordination and balance as well. That’s a lot to think about when you’re caught in the grips of fear. In past exercises, I had allowed the fear to cloud the way I responded to these challenges. In fact, I ‘bailed’ the first time, simply not able to deal with the panic I felt.
But this time, I finally got what ‘stay and recover’ meant, except I had added two extra steps that came before them: STOP. BREATHE.
I stopped, breathed and stayed with the situation. Eventually I recovered and found myself walking across this tightrope. As the rope rocked and swayed, I had to keep finding my recovery point to regain my balance. What’s more, I was doing it in tandem with a partner many metres away, and we were sharing a balancing pole. This meant that I also had to respond to his imbalances. After a while, it felt like I was surfing the ocean, and I actually began to enjoy the ride.
And when I came down from the tightrope, I experienced the most massive rush of ‘happy hormones’ I’d ever felt in my life.
Entrepreneurship and Resilience
The lessons I learned in my tightrope experience have proved to be fundamental to every aspect of my life, including my entrepreneurial endeavours. I look back on my life before that experience and I realise I had spent decades repeatedly bailing out whenever a situation – whether a job, a relationship, a project or a business – became too heavy for me. Now I can see that this was because I wasn’t tuned into the subtle changes in balance that were slowly taking me off course. I’d ignore and tolerate these imbalances, and eventually explode (or, more frequently, implode), melt down and quit. This got me nowhere as I was simply repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
But now, I have a personal resilience mantra:
STOP. BREATHE. STAY. RECOVER.
Like the tightrope, business is a continual balancing act. If you’re constantly running around in your business, you will NOT see what’s actually going on. You’ll miss the subtle changes in balance. And then, like ships at sea, you’ll find yourself crashing against the rocks and wonder how the heck it all happened.
To STOP means to stop trying to ‘fix’ or respond to problems before you actually understand the situation. Stop talking. Stop thinking. Just. Stop. And when you stop, you’ll notice there’s suddenly this big, wide open space where you can see, hear and feel what’s actually going on – just as I was able to feel my heart beating, and understand that this was my body’s reaction to fear. With this understanding, I had the choice to get swept away by it (and bail out) or to look at it objectively and proceed – one step at a time. In the same way, to be resilient in business you’ve got to stop and create that space where you can observe without being sucked into the situation. You’ll probably hear your mind saying, ‘But I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that. We’ve got this problem. We’ve got that problem.’ When this happens, just keep telling yourself to STOP. Stopping slows you down. When you’ve slowed down, you’ll be able to notice the space that opens up to allow you to be able to think clearly rather than rush to fire-fight the problem.
To BREATHE actually means to breathe! Breathe slowly and deeply for as long as you need until you can physically feel the dust settling around you. When you ‘stopped’ you created a space; by breathing you’ll be creating the space within yourself to be able to see the situation clearly. Stopping and breathing also brings us into the present moment, breaking the cycle of us spinning within our projections about what ‘might’ happen in the future.
To STAY means to learn how to be ‘OK’ with uncomfortable emotions. Business challenges can ignite many emotions. You might feel anger, frustration, fear or even shame. There are many ineffective ways of dealing with these emotions. Not wishing to reveal your emotions to others, you could ignore, deny, hide or repress them. You could lash out and direct your frustrations on everyone around you. Or, you could simply bail out to avoid conflict, embarrassment and overwhelm. Just like when I was on the tightrope, THIS is the turning point for an entrepreneur: how long can you STAY with discomfort until you can move just one step forward? And here’s the thing: the more you practice ‘staying’ with discomfort, the easier the whole process becomes, and the faster you learn how to resolve conflict. If you never learn to ‘stay’ you’ll never learn how to move past your business challenges. Staying is NOT the same as ‘tolerating’. Tolerating means to ignore discomfort when you know something is wrong; ‘staying’ means you are willing to experience the discomfort for the purpose of creating a solution.
To RECOVER means to restore yourself to a balance point. And when you’ve managed that, you are able to restore your business, your team, your money and everything else back to balance. Recovering does NOT mean that everything goes back to the way it was. Any kind of upset to the balance will always result in some kind of a residual effect within a business. If you hold on too rigidly to the status quo rather than allow these shifts in balance to help your company evolve organically, you’ll repeatedly find yourself in the same cycle of imbalance again and again.
Just like the sailors on the open seas, business (and life) is never going to be smooth sailing at every moment. There will always be imbalances taking us off course. The key is to have our own ‘longitude’ indicator, so we know where we are. Do not keep plunging ahead when you sense imbalances are there, or you’ll find yourself struggling to stay afloat. Make it your personal practice to STOP regularly so you can assess how you and your business are doing. If you sense an imbalance, BREATHE and explore it. STAY with it so you can understand it. And then, you’ll find you can RECOVER more and more easily. And recovery is the very definition of resilience.
And if we’re to change the world for the better, we all need that resilience.
I hope you’ll try this resilience formula and apply it in your own entrepreneurial endeavours. Let me know how it works for you.
Do leave a comment before you leave today. And please subscribe to this blog for more discussion on making a better world through social entrepreneurship.
18th October, 2013
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The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.
Brit Writers Awards Finalist
eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.
eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)