What are you willing to do for the rest of your life?

In many of my posts and my work with my mentees I always start from this question!

In my work with the London Business School, the very first question I ask MBAs is "what do you want from your life?" along with questions like "what sort of person are you? – sporty, couch potato", "what skills do you have", "who do you know", "what resources do you have".

What I am trying to find out is if they will be matched to their ambitions in the business they want to start. In most cases I find that their business idea will not deliver what they actually need from it…So many times I have started a business to get a few years in and find that it’s soaked up all my time and life. And to find that it’s not ‘serving’ me but is actually making life difficult and not meeting my needs at all. Dumb, very dumb.

It’s so critical to ‘do what you love’ as far as you can in life – this is doubly so in starting or running your own enterprise as it so much more challenging than ‘working for the man’ and you will need every ounce of that passion and commitment when things get tough…and they will get tough a lot, most of the time in the early days!

It’s a brave woman that actually even tries to make this happen however and it does take a lot of commitment, perseverance and focus to create a life full of the things that are ‘your’ juice of life.

One of my favourite books on the topic, especially if you are in the ‘soulless; business of technology like I am, is the MONK and the RIDDLE (the Art of Creating a Life while Making a Living) by Randy Komisar.

This parable is all about having the JUICE to make a success of your business, no B.S. but real deep down visceral drive for what you do.

This is a summary of the book’s message:

Business is tough.  Tenacity and endurance are key to business success.  But tenacity is seldom sustained simply by the drive for riches.  Endurance most often wanes in the face of persistent obstacles if money is the overwhelming objective.

No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, our financial success is ultimately dependent on circumstances outside our control.  In order to find satisfaction in our work, therefore, we should train our attention on those things that we can influence and that matter to us personally.

Marry our values and passions to the energy we invest in work, it suggests, increases the significance of each moment.  Consider your budget of time in terms of how much you are willing to allocate to acquiring things versus how much you are willing to devote to people, relationships, family, health, personal growth, and the other essential components of a high-quality life. 

Rather than working to the exclusion of everything else in order to flood our bank accounts in the hope that we can eventually buy back what we have missed along the way, we need to live life fully now with a sense of its fragility.  If money ultimately cannot buy much of life’s total package anyway, why waste precious time earning more for its own sake? 

The Monk encourages us to make work pay, not just in cash, but in experience, satisfaction, and joy.  These sources of contentment provide their own rewards and are durable in the face of adversity.  We still have an opportunity to re-tune the balance between passion and drive – to express ourselves holistically in what we do, rather than to defer what is important until it is too late.

Don’t be mistaken.  Following your passion is not the same following your bliss.  While passion is a font of expressive, creative energy, it won’t necessarily make you rich, but then again it won’t hurt your chances either, since most people are far more successful working at things they love. 

You have to engage passion realistically, with an eye toward what is achievable given your circumstances.

 Riding the highs and lows long enough, never being able to see beyond the next peak or the next valley, makes one realise there is only one element in life under our control – our own excellence.

Here’s what I tell the founders in the companies I work with about business risk and success..  If you are brilliant, 15 to 20 per cent of the risk is removed.  If you work twenty-four hours a day, another 15 to 20 per cent of risk is removed.  The remaining 60 to 70 per cent of business risk will be completely out of your control.

My father’s a gambler, I tell them, a blackjack player.  The game is always in the house’s favour.  If you play blackjack consistently, you can only lose, unless you are, like my father, a card counter.  He plays the ebbs and flows of the opportunity based on some probability he continuously calculates in his head as he watches the cards dealt.  By playing each hand to the best of his ability, he is ready to take advantage of the odds the instant they swing in his favour, wagering more when luck smiles on him, and building his winnings in those moments.  Of course, the casinos have made it harder by increasing the number of decks in the shoe and reducing the number of hands played before reshuffling.  Nevertheless, my father plugs away, his love the fame unvanquished, waiting impatiently for his chance to win.

If you are excellent at what you do and the stars are in alignment, you will win.  Of course, you may run out of time first, but, if you are excellent every day, you will have furthered your chances of beating the house as much as they ever can be.  That should be your primary measure of success – excellence – not simply the spoils that come with good fortune.  You don’t want to entrust your satisfaction and sense of fulfilment to circumstances outside your control. Instead, base them on the quality of what you do and who you are, not the success of your business per se.  Unless you understand what is truly outside your control, you are likely to make serious mistakes, misallocate resources, and waste time.

I encourage people to think about all the risks involved – personal risks as well as business risks.  When I talk to candidates as part of recruiting outside management talent to the Valley, the issue of risk often comes up.  Prospective managers usually fear that the venture won’t be a blockbuster or, worse, that it will be forced to close its doors.  Some recruits fixate on that business risk to the point of indecision.  They strain to research all the facts, but at some point no additional information or assurances will offer them any further clues into the business’s ultimate success or failure.  Uncertain, they freeze and stay with the status quo, no matter how unsatisfying it is.  After all, it is what they know.

But when I drill down, I inevitably find personal risks that need to be considered along with the business risks.  Personal risks include the risk of working with people you don’t respect, the risk of working for a company whose values are inconsistent with your own, the risk of compromising what’s important, the risk of doing something you don’t care about, and the risk of doing something that fails to express – or even contradicts – who you are.  And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.

In theory, the risk of business failure can be reduced to a number, the probability of failure multiplied by the cost of failure.  Sure, this turns out to be a subjective analysis, but in the process your own attitudes towards financial risk and reward are revealed.  By contrast, personal risk usually defies quantification.  It’s a matter of values and priorities, an expression of who you are.  "Playing it safe" may simply mean you do not weigh heavily the compromises inherent in the status quo.  The financial rewards of the moment may fully compensate you for the loss of time and fulfillment.  Or maybe you just don’t think about it.  On the other hand, if time and satisfaction are precious, truly priceless, you will find that the cost of business failure, so long as it does not put in peril the well-being of you or your family, pales in comparison with the personal risks of not trying to live the life you want today.

Considering personal risk forces us to define personal success.  We may well discover that the business failure we avoid and the business success we strive for do not lead us to personal success at all.  Most of us have inherited notions of "success" from someone else or have arrived at these notions by facing a seemingly endless line of hurdles extending from grade school through college and into our careers.  We constantly judge ourselves against criteria that others have set and rank ourselves against others in their game.  Personal goes, on the other hand, leave us on our own, without this habit of useless measurement and comparison.

On the Whole Life Plan leads to personal success.  It has the greatest chance of providing satisfaction and contentment that one can take to the grave, tomorrow.  In the Deferred Life Plan there will always be another prize to covet, another distraction, a new hunger to sate.  You will forever come up short.

Work hard, work passionately, but apply your most precious asset – time – to what is most meaningful to you. 

What are you willing to do for the rest of your life? does not mean, literally, what will you do for the rest of your life?  That question would be absurd, given the inevitability of change. 

No, what the question really asks is, if your life were to end suddenly and unexpectedly tomorrow, would you be able to say you’ve been doing what you truly care about today?  What would you be willing to do for the rest of your life? What would it take to do it right now?

I urge you to buy and read this excellent book: The MONK and the RIDDLE (the Art of Creating a Life while Making a Living by   Randy Komisar with Kent Lineback (ISBN No. 1-57851-644-7)

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