A few weeks ago, we introduced you to six barriers between creative people and success.
Afraid to fail—or look like a moron? We explain why you're probably happier taking a risk.
Under pressure from your peers—or even your family? We give some pointers for talking it out.
Not sure it's all worth it? We suggest some questions to help yourself decide.
This guidance is courtesy of our friend Dr. Lyle Sussman, former chair of the University of Louisville School of Business and author of numerous books—the latest being Breaking the Glaze Ceiling: Sweet Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Wannabes, from which we've adapted most of these two articles (with Lyle's permission).
It Gets Personal
As Lyle recounts in the book's Introduction, he has experience from the trenches of entrepreneurship—but he's primarily an academic, someone who's spent his professional tenure in a university setting.
Lyle expected to retire (in the next few years) without having to roll up his sleeves again. Then his daughter Annie came over for dinner.
Despite her Masters Degree and stable career, she wasn't happy with her work—and she knew what she was going to do about it. With a friend, she planned to start a business selling doughnuts—even though she had zero culinary training. (According to Lyle, Annie hadn't ever been much of a cook or baker—and neither had Leslie, Annie's business partner.)
Annie said she'd even picked out the name: Hi-Five Doughnuts.
To say the least, this shocked Lyle—and at first, he was hesitant to believe that this could be a good idea. But Lyle realized that Annie had showed him the true opportunity of entrepreneurship: surviving, if not fully thriving, on the work you actually want to do. Lyle got behind her and offered to help her with a formal business plan, among other things (though, in the end, she never actually needed a formal business plan and thus never developed one).
This article is two things in one: a collection of lessons for breaking through the ceilings that aspirational people face, AND a brief case-study of Hi-Five Doughnuts, which has since seen tremendous growth and success by manifesting the breakthrough lessons Lyle illuminates in Breaking the Glaze Ceiling.
Glaze Lesson No. 4
Please note: the very man whose name is synonymous with genius, rather than keep it to himself, proclaimed that "everyone is a genius." Many thinkers in history placed themselves above "common" people, but not Einstein. If you're doubting yourself, think about that.
Consider, too, the profile of the modern success story. Sure, you can still make bank by getting a ritzy J.D./M.B.A. from a prestigious school, or by being one of those turbo-smart people who answer questions no human has answered before (many of whom have Ph.D.s). As the Joker would say in The Dark Knight: "if you're [really] good at something, never do it for [anything close to] free."
But notice: nowadays, the rising titans are people who made their names by doing, not just by knowing. Consider that one definition of intelligence is the ability to adapt—book info can definitely help, but there's no replacing personal experience. If you want to get "street smarts," just start working and learn from what happens next.
Glaze Lesson No. 5
Fear is a killer. And we mean that almost literally: your fears, left unchecked and unchallenged, have the power to literally kill your dreams.
We're not just being dramatic. Think about it: how do you kill a dream? How do you remove an idea from existence? Well, in simple terms, you kill whoever holds that dream or idea.
And how do you kill a person? If nothing else, you can just wait for them to die.
This is all figurative, of course, but it still describes your life. The surest way to kill your own dreams is to wait for them to die. All things equal, YOU are likely your own biggest obstacle.
So get out of your own way. If being happy means risking unhappiness, consider that the alternative to that risk is unhappiness by default—or at least, a longing wonder for what could have been if you'd tried.
Glaze Lesson No. 6
There is nothing new under the sun. Most ideas, in the end, are recycled bits of other ideas—because, when you think about it, inspiration can't happen in a vacuum.
Having said that, the best ideas are often novel combinations, or ideas that haven't been seen in a while, or ideas that resonate in the present more than they ever have before. But standout ideas, those we can call 'the best' or 'ahead of their time,' are aberrant and unusual by nature.
Let's put this another way: no matter how smart or capable you are, no one is going to hear you if you sound like everyone else. Practically by definition, people who are impressive and/or memorable stand out from others as unique, as something distinguishable from the mass. Isn't that also practically the definition of weird?
As Lyle clarifies in Breaking the Glaze Ceiling, "weird" doesn't mean "dangerous" or "unstable" — those are their own labels, and for people whom you should avoid. Having said that, you should seek out weird people because they'll give you perspective on what you do—and they might be unusually talented once you get to know them.
Glaze Lesson No. 9
A good idea—or a good business—is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here's what we mean... and let's harken back to grunting-caveman-simple levels of business. Let's say two people agree to a trade: Grog's club for Glag's leg of lamb. The "sum of the parts" is, technically, zero; the items traded owners, but nothing was created in the process. But the trade itself was greater than that zero sum because Grog and Glag were both happier when the trade was done.
Now skip ahead to Times-Square-21st-century stuff again. Think about the best brands in the world, perhaps some of your favorites. Let's say you're really into Jordans. Is your love of Jordans (and your valuation of them) high because they're well-made shoes—or because, to you, they represent something much greater than shoes?
Everyone—including you—geeks out over something that most people don't see in that special way. You know that feeling, and you know how great it feels to have it. Air Friend with the Jordans is happier every second he's thinking about his shoes. But you also know what it's like to "not get it," as many of us don't about the shoes thing.
Here's your challenge: you have to LOVE the thing you do to the point that you win others over. Whatever you're nerdy and irrationally excited about, stop caring what other people think and invite them to join you in some experience instead. A legendary brand doesn't really care if everyone likes them; they just care that "their people" love experiencing what they do.
Glaze Lesson No. 11
Quite frankly, you can do it all alone. It's just a really, really bad idea.
If you want to burn yourself out, this is the way to do it. Even solopreneurs have people they call on for help: outsourcers and contractors, perhaps a personal assistant, even just a personal confidante for venting after a long day.
As we've written about Scrum before, what's useful about working with other people is that you can use one another's skills and ideas to solve problems. Sure, you could figure something out if you bashed your head against the wall long enough... but isn't that a waste when Jimmy over there could teach you in five minutes?
You can do a lot more with others, and through others, than you'd ever expect otherwise. Don't make life so much harder (or drearier) just by failing to say hello.
What do you do now?
In short? You apply yourself.
Whatever skills, talents, superpowers, favors, resources, ideas, leads, or avenues you have to take your next steps, take them.
Almost always, you'll have options; you'll have some way to move forward on your dream, even if it's small or slow for now. But the lamest option of all—and the one that will prove most anticlimatic to you, of all people—is to do nothing.
The biggest thoughts you have in a day are probably the things you dream about, the things you want most from your life. If they're your dreams, they've probably repeated themselves thousands of times over. But they're worth noting again and again, and when new thoughts come your way, welcome them for how they might help.
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