I absolutely love small business.
I don’t know if it’s the independence of being my own boss or which particular aspect of small business it is that draws me most, but there’s something about it. Maybe the nostalgia of the mom and pop shops I grew up around. Comic book stores and arcades, diners with key lime pie and fried pork chops, even the hardware store was fun. All my earliest memories of small businesses were great.
Granted I wasn’t there for the after-hours inventory counts. Nor did I think of them as “small business”. I didn’t know what a small business was.
I know it’s more than a mom and pop shop. It’s a passion. Or madness.
It’s the entrepreneurial spirit. Hustle. Drive.
I’m weird that way, I get it. But it gives people a vehicle to get out on their own and provide a service to their community and even the world with today’s technology.
Small business is a wonderful thing.
When you love something, naturally, you want to see it grow and prosper and that drives me to get out there and teach business owners what I know.
I love serving people. I know that sounds weird, but speaking from a customer service standpoint, I get a little dopamine hit from making sure people feel great when they do business with me. Whether it’s when I was serving and bartending, or whatever job
I was doing, my main concerns were: is it right and are they happy. Everything else was secondary.
One particular sales call I was building rapport with a customer by asking about what he did at his church. He told me he was an encourager.
The look on my face was probably about the same as yours is reading this, because he proceeded to explain, “After the message, and during the invitation if I see somebody who looks like they’re down or having a hard time with something, I go put my arm around them and take my Bible and see if I can be a help to them.” He said, “You know, just love em.”
I said, “Man that’s really cool. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have an actual job like that?”
Turns out, it’s a thing. I get to do it.
I get to coach business owners and teach them all sorts of cool sciencey stuff and help them. I get to see people thrive. To the point where one restaurant, in particular, couldn’t handle the dinner rush for several weeks. #humblebrag
How did I get here?
And where is here?
Maybe answering the second question first will make answering the first more concise.
Some would say my life is a success. I do what I love, I have a wonderful relationship with my kids, I live minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Some would say my life is a failure, because I don’t own a car or have shiny things. It sounds petty, but their basis of judgement is materialism.
Here is a place where neither success nor failure are terms by which I gauge my progress. Here is a place where persistence matters more.
Here is not the mountain top of success, but from here, I can see the future.
People like the view from the mountain top, but few want to risk the climb, or continue through the cold, or power through the exhaustion. It’s necessary to get there.
When I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, I became a bit of an adrenaline junky.
Standing on the back of motorcycles and finding other interesting ways of tempting death became a weekly outing. One such addiction was climbing Garden of the Gods without any gear. Just barehanded grit.
I never fell.
There’s something about the option of plummeting to a bouncy painful death that makes you want to reach the top. When missing your goal becomes equivalent to bouncy painful death, it keeps you going. It makes you want to find another way up or around. But not down, Not yet.
Once I reached the summit of whichever formation I happened to be scaling, I would often sit and watch the sky. I might regretfully come down after an hour or so if my friends were with there too, but if not, I’d go find another peak to climb.
That is the entrepreneurial spirit. Exploring, persisting.
Here is not the valley of failure.
One of the most incredible places on earth is San Luis Potosi, Mexico. However, between June and September, the area gets over 14 inches of rain per month. It’s an unforgiving downpour. Unpleasant as that may be, the constant rains feed the streams and rivers that flow through the area and create some of the most incredible waterfalls ever seen. Not only do the rains create beautiful attractions, they also nourish the plethora of fauna. Here we have palm trees, pines and oaks, and there they have mangoes and avocados and guava. I’ve picked lemons that, because of their size and color, could easily be mistaken for oranges. Plantains just growing by the side of the road. It all just grows naturally. The soil is as black as the night sky as deep as you can dig.
One of the more interesting observations I made while in Mexico, was that the fruits and vegetables so plenteous in the valley didn’t grow on the mountains.
This observation has done so much in helping me through hard times.
We like being on the mountain top. It’s beautiful up there. The valley is muddy and hard to traverse. It’s messy down there. But that’s where the growth happens. In the messy places.
I learned another interesting fact while in Mexico. They have bamboo, very similar to the kind that grows in China. Bamboo is an amazing plant capable of astronomical growth. As much as 90 feet in one month. Here’s where the interesting (life-helping) part comes in. Bamboo doesn’t just shoot out of the ground and launch skyward in a day. Or a month, or even a year. Bamboo grows an intricate network of roots for five years before breaking through the surface. It’s the unseen underground growth that allows the stalk to grow so quickly.
People see the strong, majestic stalks reaching for the sky, not the roots below.
The entrepreneurial spirit is growth.
I didn’t get here in a day. Or a month. It’s been over a year of personal growth and changes just to get here. It’s been rejections and bootstrapping. It’s been creating and remaking. It’s been shedding preconceived notions, particularly the words “failure” and “success”.
Failure has been incorrectly defined as a person who fails. It is also incorrectly defined as an event with an unexpected or unwanted outcome. The ones who define failure as a learning tool are closer to accuracy; but I do not use the term at all. Nor do I use success. These words are too final for me. I am either where I want to be in life, or on the way. “Failure” is a course correction, whereas “success” is just a guidepost.
To put it more simply, we either learn, or know.
Redefining events in my life by these terms has drastically changed my outlook.
Suddenly all the circumstances that I thought were against me became tools or teachable moments. Even suffering the loss of my car and not being able to replace it became a catalyst for my personal fitness and endurance.
That alone has taught me the truth of the adage: strength does not come from what you can do, it comes from doing what you thought you couldn’t.
The entrepreneurial spirit is strength.
Redefining my life without those terms also taught me a valuable lesson on perspective: to look at events as learning opportunities. When these events with less than desirable outcomes occur, I change the emotional label from disappointing to teachable, thus removing any power of depression, and replacing it with an intense desire to know more. Why did it happen this way? How can I change the outcome next time? Asking these questions completely changes the meaning behind the event, and thus my response to it.
Getting “here” has been more of a marathon than a quick jog to career change land.
Just over a year ago, I left what I thought would be the last job I would ever have.
Right out of the box, they provided tools for setting goals in my life, identifying the values that drive me, and some of the best sales and management training a person can get. I loved the job and the people I worked with. And then I had an epiphany. I’m not a sales guy. I don’t like pressuring people into decisions, and certainly don’t like selling a product to someone that they don’t need and can’t afford.
I discovered something else, too. I love teaching. Prior to taking that sales job, I had learned a lot about neuroscience, influence and rapport building, particularly in the area of relationships. After leaving that sales job, I learned a lot of entrepreneurs need help in building and nurturing those relationships to improve their customer experience. This opened a whole new world of opportunity.
I began sharing the science right away. It fascinated me. With what I learned, I could ask a few simple questions and take a person from complete stranger to near intimacy within a relatively short amount of time. It was repeatable. I began experimenting with it, refining it and finally created courses. Material based in science, but works like magic.
I focused on communication and rapport building, and put material together that allows anyone to connect with anyone else on deeply personal levels, and actually understand them better. I used David Snyder’s “three magic questions” and adapted them to a relationship sales approach that focuses more on the relationship and customer values, while increasing close rates. The most fulfilling work, though, has been consolidating the course in customer service. It’s been 25 years in the making.
I remember one particular climbing expedition in Colorado that was in a bit of a horseshoe formation. One side of the horseshoe was at ground level. The other side was about forty feet high. My friend Ivan took the easy way up and walked around. I decided the straight up approach was more fun. They both led to the same place.
About ten or twelve feet from the top (where Ivan was waiting) I reached the base of a V shaped crevice that had opened at the surface. Much to my dismay, it made reaching the top rather difficult. From where I was, I could either go to the right into the crevice, or out to the left around it. The left side of the face had no place for my hand to grasp, but another foot hold about four feet up. The right side became the more logical route, so into the crevice I went.
I wasn’t going back down.
I got myself good and wedged in that crevice when I realized I had no way up there either. The crevice only offered a hand hold about two feet from the top, and no place for my feet. My option now was to reach left handed out from the crevice, find the foothold, and swing out and up, or grow taller.
I was stuck. I could go back down, that wasn’t an issue, but I was just out of arm’s reach from the top, and I wasn’t going to quit. I needed to get unstuck.
I reached out with my left hand, grabbed a rock and began to unstick myself when something hit me in the head. I looked up to see Ivan’s upper half leaning over edge with his hand stretched out for mine. He said with a chuckle, “I thought you could use some help.”
I really did need it. I didn’t want to admit it, but likely wouldn’t have made it without Ivan’s help.
It’s been said that asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve learned that I can do a lot on my own, but way more with the help of others. The entrepreneurial spirit is knowing your limitations, and finding the help to overcome them.
I tell that story because all these things that have happened have been learning experiences. Every disappointment, every setback, every obstacle. They have been catalysts. It is highly unlikely that I would have put these courses together had I not left that sales job. It is just as unlikely that I would be on my way to achieving my fitness goals had I not lost my car.
This dream would not be a reality were it not for the persistence to keep going. It would not be had I not kept exploring. I would not be the person I am today were it not for the network of friends and colleagues, mentors by proxy, nourishing me mentally; and helping me find the strength I need to push through the mess and grow. Nor would I be able to provide help to others, if I had not received it myself.