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Getting Out of Your Own Way
How the Initial Success of Leaders can Become an Achilles Heel and What to Do About it

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I enjoy being an entrepreneur because it allows me the freedom and flexibility to manage my time in ways that work best for me. Over the years, I have learned that it is not so much managing my time, as my energy, that has the biggest impact on my performance and the degree of fulfillment in my work.

Like many entrepreneurs I started my business because I wanted to do more of what I love to do. Unfortunately, in order to do enough of what I love to do to make a living, there were a great many things I had to do (a website, business cards, a business plan, an accounting system) that took me away from the passion that inspired me to start my business to begin with.

As with any entrepreneur, my intrinsic drive kicked in to power me to do whatever was necessary to reach my goals. In many ways the cultivation of this ability was essential to my success. Had I only done the things I loved to do and neglected the work needed to put my business foundations in place, my company would have languished in a start-up phase indefinitely.

But 20 years of research leads me to the conclusion that spending as much time as possible doing what you love is the key to truly sustainable success for individuals and organizations.

My business revolves around teaching people to spend more time doing what they love doing. Ironically, in my start-up years I focused much of my time on what needed to be done rather than on what I loved to do.

My initial justification for such hypocrisy came in the form of telling myself that it was necessary for the start-up phase and as soon as my business was stabilized and out of “survival” mode, I would be able to put my principles into practice once again.

It’s kind of like committing to quit eating fried chicken, but only doing so when your cholesterol levels have stabilized.

Despite having some success in spending more time doing my “love to’s” than my “have to’s,” I still find myself all too often back doing chores. Why, I wonder, is it so difficult to make this shift?

I think it has something to do with conditioning. As children, we are taught that listening to our parents is directly linked to fulfilling our basic needs for safety, survival, belonging and comfort.

We are given messages such as, “Eat your vegetables or no dessert,” and “Do your homework before you can go play.” that conditions us to believe that we must do the “have to’s” to get the “love to’s.” Doing what we have to is safe and meets with the approval of mom, boss, boyfriend, or husband.

School and work takes this one step further because doing what is expected is the key to achievement, recognition, and fortune, if not fame.

I learned to appreciate and value the satisfaction and increased confidence I experienced when I mastered new skills and achieved goals for others, regardless of whether I found it enjoyable. Doing what I was supposed to do, I grew to believe, was necessary to achieve and to succeed.

Despite the success of pushing ourselves constantly to do what has to be done, research by leading experts in the field of peak performance indicates that this ingrained habit is what is stopping most entrepreneurs and leaders from moving to the next level of success – success that is truly sustainable because it taps into our capacity to constantly energize and renew our most important resource: ourselves.

Think of it this way: if you want to get in better shape, you need to push yourself beyond your current limits. To build muscle you need to stress those muscle fibers beyond their current capacity. In doing so, you make them stronger. But as anyone who has started a fitness regime knows, there is something else that must be present in order to sustain the motivation over the long term.

You must be passionate about why you are pushing yourself or you will not be able to sustain the efforts when facing adversity or boredom. Think of Olympic-level athletes and the years of dedication they have to one specific activity. In order for them to succeed, they must love what they are doing. Passion is the fuel that keeps them going through injuries, failure, and in most cases, poverty.

Systems, habits and rituals are another way of energizing oneself. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is the freedom to make choices, but making conscious choices takes energy. Over the years, I’ve developed systems that actually remove choices from my life.

For example, it is easier to go to the gym six days a week than it is to go three. When I commit to going six days per week, it is non-negotiable. I do not think about it anymore than I would think about brushing my teeth. I simply get up and do it. When I try to commit to three days a week, every morning I need to make the choice whether to go or not. This takes time and, more importantly, energy.

Ask yourself if the habits and beliefs that have helped you reach your current level of success might not be precisely what are blocking you from reaching the levels you are aspiring to.

Take the next 30 days to play with the idea of doing more of what you love to do and removing choices to see how it impacts your energy. I would love to hear your story and will be happy to share my own.

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