Saturday, February 4, 2012

What's Holding You Back?

I’ve spent some time recently lost in thought, pondering my future, and seeing changes in the lives of friends and family (even very simple changes). I have become a bit philosophical about change and the stresses in can bring into our lives. And I’d bet a dollar that every day everyone of us talks with a person we know that wants a better life and feels that they’ve worked hard for it but seems to be stuck in place. Stuck in place…sounds like a jail sentence, huh? I’d feel the same way if I were stuck in place.

What got me to thinking about this today (enough so to write about it) was a video that a friend and colleague emailed to me yesterday. It was a video about entrepreneurship, and what kind of person becomes an entrepreneur. For the record, I am one of those zany entrepreneurs. But I think that our own happiness comes down to a simple question. How do you define your own success?

By success, I am referring to anything that would make our lives better, not just the financial and work-related successes. Most of us may be generally happy even considering the lousy state of the economy, but do we feel successful? Even I struggle with that more than I’d care to admit. And if we’re not, then what is holding us back from changing our lives for the better? To find that answer we only need to look in the mirror.

So as I ponder this, I think what holds most of us back is either the fear of failure or the fear of success. I’d guess that for most people it is the fear of failure. The fear of failure is the reason why many people (even a lot of folks that I know) continue to sit in a cubicle and earn just enough money to keep them from looking elsewhere for employment, but not enough to give them the financial success they’ve likely earned. I was caught up in that situation a few years ago. I worked for one the largest investment firms in the country (actually, one of the larger ones globally).

But it didn’t take me long to figure out how disgusting office politics in the corporate world can be. Childish, actually. And how most of your “managers” were not qualified to do the job you were doing, and that they judged you at. And it didn’t take long to figure out that the corporate America demands loyalty from their employees, including many of your Saturdays away from your family. But when trading volumes drop (referring to where I used to work) a bit they quickly escort those that have occupied the cubicle long enough to make more than the average salary at the place and replace you with someone new that can be hired and trained for under $30,000 a year. What can I say, that business model works…keeps the owners with their expected minimum of a 12% profit margin.

So, instead of looking out for opportunities, I guess most of us just see the difficulty of changing our environment and see nothing but uncertainty ahead. It’s a lot easier to tolerate a job you’re not satisfied with, a relationship that is stale or miserable, or staying put in your daily routine instead of putting energy into setting some personal goals for yourself.

Taking risks can be painful. Failure can hurt. What if you strike out to achieve those goals or start your own business and fail? You will undoubtedly be judged by friends and family, and those are the stings that hurt the most. No one likes criticism or to be told “I told you so.” That is equal to being called an idiot. But if you listen to those words, those are the same kind of people that kill the human spirit and have you sitting in a cubicle, stuck in a bad relationship, or afraid to reach for a personal goal in the first place.

After years of working for corporations, a few years ago I decided to leave that job and strike out on my own with a few business partners. I figured “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Is it easy? Heck no! I have failed more times than I can count at the goals I have set for my professional life. There is no steady paycheck and a 401K with what I do. Sometimes it gets downright brutal, financially. But there are rewards that go beyond the financial aspect. Freedom is the best reward. I am responsible for my time, not a mid-level manager, not some guy that tells me that if I don’t put in significant overtime on weekends that it will impact the already lousy quarterly joke of a bonus paid to workers (yep, have had managers tell me that, too).

I have failed a lot of times. Failed at work related things, failed miserably at relationships, and failed with personal goals I have set for myself. But if you ask me, there is no way to find success unless you’re not afraid to fail. Things might be greener on the other side of the track. They could be worse. But do you really want to be sitting around in a couple of years wondering “what if?” Me either.

Here is the web address for the video that got me to thinking, just in case you want to check it out.

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