Entrepreneurs should tackle the new year with new priorities

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Remember good stress is as draining as bad stress. January can be a time to recoup and restore your energy and peace of mind.

January is also a time to build a foundation for the goals you want to accomplish this year. It’s a long cold spell until our spring arrives in the Northwest. Use this time to rest, reflect and plan, but don’t be too busy. Time enough for that come April.

However, entrepreneurs are usually not ones to take this advice.

With the distraction of the holidays behind them, they quickly launch into new projects come January first. Entrepreneurs are good at accomplishing goals, but not all that good at establishing healthy goals.

Before you launch into your typical January behavior, however, I’d like you to finish reading this column and gain a better understanding of how to make New Year’s Resolutions that actually stick this year.

Many people walk around with feelings of fear and unworthiness. They are afraid to ask for what they want and therefore continue lives of failure, loneliness and desperation. Entrepreneurs fall victim to this mentality too.

You may think that entrepreneurs represent the epitome of going for what they want. However, often what drives an entrepreneur to success is a deep-seated fear of inadequacy, or a desire to impress others.

With many entrepreneurs, the focus is on what they don’t have, not on what they do have. I have had many a self-made millionaire tell me they wished they could do their life over and have different priorities.

Those different priorities would include true understanding of the self and planning a life to maximize deeply held values and beliefs.

Let the New Year bring self-acceptance.

Because January first brings us the opportunity to make New Year’s Resolutions, I think it is about time to start a new tradition, that of appreciating ourselves for who we are. As one bumper sticker proclaims, “God doesn’t make junk.” Let your New Year’s Resolution this year be “I will accept myself totally and unconditionally and be the best I can be this year.”

If you can appreciate who you are, that each and every day you are making a valuable contribution to your community by just doing your everyday thing (not overachieving), then you will have a much more prosperous new year.

You will notice your talents more and strengthen them. You will notice your flaws more too, but you can build a plan to correct them.

Those opportunities that always come to others, will finally come to you. The opportunities have always been there, but your tendency to focus on losses and inadequacies prevents you from seeing the obvious and taking advantage of it to make your life work even better.

If you have been successful accomplishing other people’s goals, think how much you can really accomplish if you lead your own life.

Change your paradigm.

OK so it is hard to shake off years of self-imposed negativity or a belief that if you are not perfect or the best, you have failed. And you have failed at all previous New Year’s Resolutions, so why should this time be any different? This time, however, you have a new paradigm to work with. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong in your life, you are going to pay attention to what is right. These tips will help you get started.

100% of the people in the world have problems, serious problems at some time in their lives and usually regularly. You are not alone in this.

  1. You are not broken just because you are hurt (or angry, or ignorant, or misinformed, or make a mistake). Remember that being hurt is a symptom of something that needs changing.
  2. Bad things do happen to good people. Being good is not the goal. Maturing is.
  3. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. If you continue to brood over the past, maybe it’s because you haven’t learned from it what you need. Search for the lesson.
  4. Not everything in life can be changed, nor should it be. Accept the things you cannot change.
  5. Trust that you have the resources within yourself to make the changes you need and want to make. You may not know what those resources are, but trust that they will come to you one way or another.

Self-acceptance turns crisis into opportunity.

OK, so now that your paradigm has shifted, do you notice anything different?

Are the colors a little brighter? Is there a bounce in your walk? Are you making more money?

Do you feel love all around? No? Well that’s because, you still have work to do. Just because you think differently doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. Now the hard work of change is necessary. But at least you have the right attitude to get you to your goals.

If you recognize that life is a complex and problem-filled arena designed to assist you on your quest toward wisdom and maturity (just as it is for everyone else), then when you have a problem you’ll face it squarely with full self-acceptance. You’ll dig in, assess, diagnose and search out the meaning. You will use all the strengths at your disposal to create workable solutions. At the end you’ll be a little smarter, a little wiser, a little stronger, a little saner.

Long ago I learned that the Kanji for “crisis” is made of two figures. The first is “danger” and the second is “opportunity.” With self-acceptance securely under your belt, you will be able to wrest the opportunity out of any danger.

Although not all problems can be solved necessarily, all problems can produce learning in preparation for the next step in life. Use your New Year’s Resolution of self acceptance to help you live the life you were meant to have and to take you where “no one has gone before” to paraphrase Start Trek.

In other words, instead of just accomplishing things, instead of impressing others, instead of striving to be perfect, make your New Year’s Resolution to accomplish those things that really have value to you.

Happy New Year!

Spiritual component essential to healthy entrepreneurial life

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Not only do entrepreneurs have the normal stressors that plague all career-minded Americans, such as the competing demands of love and work, but they have the added stress of having these domains of life overlap considerably.

Working long hours, working out of your homes, or working and living with your spouse/business partner twenty-four hours a day leaves little time to recuperate inner strength. As the stress increases and the opportunity for recuperation diminishes, many entrepreneurs fall victim to stress related illnesses, mental or emotional problems, chemical dependency, and spiritual despair.

The process of losing your health (physical, psychological, interpersonal or otherwise) begins long before symptoms develop. The stress process begins the moment you allow any part of your life to be out of alignment. If one system (such as your body, your marriage, your work, etc.) is unattended or allowed to stay out of healthy alignment for too long, it affects the other systems which in turn produce stress and deterioration.

In order to keep your dynamic systems in healthy productive alignment, entrepreneurs need to attend to and take care of the whole person, in relationship to other whole people, in relationship to the whole business entity. In other words, you cannot really separate the mind, body and spirit. These are not separate distinct parts of yourself, but interacting developing progressions, just as the other systems (i.e., family, friends, coworkers, employees, customers) of which you are a part.

Mind, body, spirit

The basic components that makes us human are the mind, the body and the life force or essence that some call spirit. Unresolved stress in any one of these areas will affect the other areas, leading to a breakdown in your functioning as an entrepreneur, a spouse, a parent, a colleague and so on. If you are going to manage the excessive stresses of entrepreneurial life you actually need more stamina than the average person.

To combat the pressures caused by the competing demands of love and work and to build the necessary stamina for this complex lifestyle, you must build a power plan to maintain and enhance your health not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

This article will focus on the development of your spiritual power plan, taking for granted for the moment that your mind and body are well cared for. Even if this last assumption is not true, too little attention is paid to the spiritual component of entrepreneurial life and I want to correct that error.

Spirit or spirituality are not synonymous with religion or religious. Church has nothing to do with spirituality directly. Rather the spirit is that part of each human that makes us a distinctive personality. It is the part of us that defines us and yet connects us to others. It has long been known that a strong healthy spirit will guide us successfully through adversity, whereas a conquered spirit will succumb to illness and death. It was Mother Theresa’s strong spirit that transcended her small stature and seemingly insignificant role as a nun to profoundly affect thousands of people for the better.

Conversely, It is the conquered spirit that explains the powerful effects of subtle forms of brain washing in prisoner-of-war camps. In other words, spirit is that singular life force that directs and shapes our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, keeping spirit or life force healthy is essential to the process of achieving healthy balance in any life. For entrepreneurs especially, the key to effective stress management is the proper alignment and interaction of a healthy mind, a healthy body, and a healthy spirit.

90 percent believe in God

Remember that spirit is not bound by religion. Many successful entrepreneurs do not belong to a church nor any religion, but they do have a strong sense of spirit and they do believe in God. According to Gallup Polls as recent as 1997, 90% of Americans believe in God.

The spirit connection is not just a belief in God but the ability to relate to God, often through communities such as churches provide. The healthiest Americans are among those religious groups who have a strong identity with their church. For example Matthews and Koenig reported in 1997 that even if you control for dietary practices, Mormons, Jews and Seventh Day Adventists are healthier than other Americans. These three religious groups are known for their strong sense of religious community.

Therefore, it is not the religion, per se, that contributes to overall health, but the intensity of the commitment to spirit whether by being a member of a religious community or by maintaining a spiritual connection in some other way.

Religion without science is blind

Einstein once said, “Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame.” As we move into the twenty first century we are realizing the truth of this statement more and more. Entrepreneurs are not different from other people on the planet. We are part of something much more than the sum of the parts. Those who embrace their spirit connection are finding greater health and prosperity and science is starting to prove it.

For example, in a Duke University study by Herb Koenig, elderly patients who are regular church attenders stayed in the hospital a shorter length of time (ten days on average) than those patients who did not attend church (twenty-five days.) In another study (Graham, Kaplan, Coroni-Huntley, James, Becker, Hames, and Heyden, 1978) researchers compared smokers’ blood pressure among participants who were two-pack-a-day smokers. Those who attended church had lower blood pressure than those who did not; indeed the church attenders had blood pressure that was no different than those who did not smoke. In a third study (Desmond and Maddox, 1981), this on of heroin addicts, researchers reported that 45 percent of participants in a religiously oriented treatment program were still abstinent at the time of a one year follow-up, compared to only 5 percent who participated in a non-religious program.

It is true that you cannot always prevent pain. Although change is constant, you cannot always predict accurately what those changes will be and pain may be a natural by product of the interaction of your dynamically interacting systems. Yet if you have a healthy spiritual connection your suffering may be minimized, as the previous few studies indicate. For Viktor Frankl, a Jew confined in a Nazi concentration camp: “Man is not diminished by suffering, but by suffering without meaning.”

Research shows power of prayer

Many methods of relaxation have been studied, including prayer. While prayer does not achieve any greater relaxation than for example, transcendental meditation (TM), other research has indeed shown the healing (not just relaxing) power of prayer. In fact, those who are prayed for, even though they do not pray for themselves, heal faster.

It is time to make not just new years resolutions but resolutions for a lifetime. If working hard to make an entrepreneurial business successful and profitable results in workaholism, drug addiction, financial problems, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs and divorce, what’s the point? Even if your life has led you in one of these stressful directions, don’t despair. Make meaning of the experience and put the disaster into the context of your life. Then reorient that life to meet your values.

If one of those values is a belief in God (as is true for 90% of Americans), yet you are not attending to that spiritual relationship, the balance in your life is compromised and will inevitably lead you to some form of personal or interpersonal dysfunction.

On the other hand, if you develop a stronger sense of self, a sense of self as belonging to something larger than just this earthly existence, and you make a commitment to that higher self (i.e. through prayer or inner contemplation), even when you have suffering, you will have a meaningful and prosperous life to share with the ones you love and work with.

Survive the shock, fear, anger of a lay-off by reaching out

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

“This isn’t paradise,” are the words I heard spoken by a nationally recognized cleric just after the September 11th bombings. These words have stuck with me for weeks as I have reassessed my life and purpose and helped others do the same. This reassessment has taken several forms for people as we realize how fragile our lives and our dreams are. Some of us are rededicating ourselves to our relationships or starting new ones because we realize that we can’t have too many friends. Some are seeking out a stronger spiritual commitment. Others are picking up long lost career and volunteer goals. Whatever is missing in your life, no doubt you feel a strong pull to correct the lack.

With the national economy and world economy stretched to the breaking point, some people are facing layoffs in record numbers. This is yet another way that individuals and families are being forced to reevaluate their priorities. If you are a recently laid off employee, it may not feel like a layoff is your choice, but it certainly is an opportunity to reevaluate your life direction. Once you get past the shock, fear and anger of a layoff, you can begin to think through what you are going to do next.

But getting past the shock, fear and anger are not easy. Your safety is being challenged, as are your illusions that you are in control of your destiny. The first step in dealing with the crisis of a layoff is to get busy. Engage in activities that you do have control over and mastery of. If you don’t have a job create one for yourself. There are always long neglected house projects that you can get into. Perhaps this is the time to spend more time with the kids such as extra help with homework or coaching them on a sport or musical skill. If you have been lagging behind in your community service, roll up your sleeves and make yourself available to your favorite charity. This is also a time to catch up on much needed time to yourself. Catch up on your reading, sewing, crafts and hobbies. Teach yourself to play the piano. Build a Zen garden. In other words use your creativity to prove to yourself that you do have value.

It is not best to search for a new job while in the emotional throes of shock, fear and anger. You will come across in job interviews as neurotic. Better to give yourself a chance to cool down and come to terms with this life change. The idea of getting busy with projects is to prove to yourself that you do have value. The layoff is an economic fact, not a demonstration of your value as a worker or a human being. Rarely are people laid off during these times because they are incompetent. Hard working, competent employees are hard to find, train and keep. Just ask any employer. So the layoff is a result of economic hardship or perhaps your employer’s miscalculation, but it is unlikely that it is a result of your innate value. So give yourself a couple of weeks to a month to come to grips with this change in your life.

Once the sting of being rejected wears off, you can get down to the serious work of re-evaluating your priorities and finding the job that best uses your talents. Even if you took a voluntary layoff, you need time to adjust to the change in your life. Maybe you don’t feel as rejected as the surprise layoff, but you are still out of a job. If you jump into a new job too quickly you may find that you wish you would get laid off again. Use this time to ask yourself some important questions about where you want to go next in your life. Here are some sample questions to get you going:

  1. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Could you still pursue this goal realistically?
  2. What aspect of your childhood dream could you pursue? If it’s not realistic financially or geographically could you still pursue some of it on a volunteer basis to give you a sense of following your destiny?
  3. What have people always told you, you were good at? How could this be fashioned into a new career?
  4. If you really loved the job you lost, where else could you work that has a similar position? Don’t be too quick to move geographically. There may actually be another employer who is hiring.

One mistake that recently laid-off people make is to hide away from others. This isn’t the time to do that. In fact this is the time to ask others for help. Tell them what you are looking for. Ask them for feedback about your goals. Ask them to tell you what your strengths are. Always ask them for names of people who might be in a position to help you. When you reach out to others like this you are sending the message that you are of value and expect to be appreciated and hired. An added bonus is that people like to help. Helping you makes others feels as if they are doing their part. It’s nice to feel needed, especially by a competent individual has courage enough to ask for advice.

Entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses in everyday lives

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

At one of our Entrepreneurial Couple Networking Breakfasts, Steven was trying to describe to a new member what it means to be an entrepreneur. “It’s like when you’re buying orange juice at the grocery store. I think twice about buying the more expensive brand, because I realize that every penny saved makes a difference for our business.”

There’s more here than saving a few cents. Steven is demonstrating the basic philosophy of successful entrepreneurs. It’s not really how much money he saves on orange juice that will make his business successful. The significance of his statement is that to be an entrepreneur, you must think like an entrepreneur. By considering the cost of orange juice, Steven is aware that he has made the success of the business a top priority. He thinks about the business needs even in the simple act of picking up orange juice for his family.

If you want to be an entrepreneur you must think like an entrepreneur. In other words you must have a vision that is bigger even than your business idea. Your business is a part of your life, just like your marriage and your children. It’s not a job you check in and out of. An entrepreneurial venture is a reflection of you, your values, your beliefs, your strengths and your faults. Even if you have another job to pay the bills while your business is getting going, the true entrepreneur does not think of his or her venture as a part-time business or a hobby. They live and breathe the business, day and night, week in and week out.

Yes it’s true that this kind of commitment can cause problems for the entrepreneur. They sometimes make no time for their personal relationships or their own health. But if kept in perspective the entrepreneur can find tremendous satisfaction in working at something he or she has created. Watching this creation grow, seeing it benefit his or her family, achieving a long dreamed of goal . . . all of this can be quite thrilling.

Interestingly Steven is not even the founder of the business. He is what I call a supportive spouse, the one who works at a job to provide the income and insurance benefits for the family, while his wife pursues the business venture. But Steven is thinking like an entrepreneur too. He realizes that as a spouse his attention needs to be focused on the welfare of the business every bit as much as his wife. Successful entrepreneurs frequently have glowing praise for their spouses, the people without whom they could never have succeeded. So not only do you have to think like an entrepreneur, but your spouse needs to think like one too, or at least be open to supporting your vision.

Entrepreneurship is not for the feint of heart. It is a tremendous responsibility to recognize that every action you take is related to the business and to the people who depend upon that business, such as you, your family, your employees and customers. When Steven considers which orange juice to buy, he is weighing all of these considerations. It may surprise you but entrepreneurs are not really risk takers. In fact they weigh all of their decisions very carefully. While they may be willing to go where the average person is fearful of going, they analyze every move to reduce the risk as much as possible. Because their venture is a top priority, and because they think in terms of the big picture, the entrepreneur buys the orange juice that is good for his family and good for his business.

If you believe you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, ask yourself if you can do the tedious work of integrating your every move and decision into the template of a business venture. True entrepreneurs don’t even realize that they think this way. It is just natural for them to be whole-brained thinkers, with their heads in the future, but their feet firmly planted in the present. When they buy orange juice, they may not really think about the cost, but they are aware that time and money are precious, and that they want to use them wisely to accomplish their dreams.

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