How to Raise the Bar Without Burning Out

“What habits did you pick up from working with Ira [Glass]?” asked Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and host of The Tim Ferriss show.

“There’s a certain level of ‘comfort with crisis’ that wore off on me,” replied Alex Blumberg, former producer for This American Life and co-founder of Gimlet Media.

Blumberg thought this might be a bad habit, this regular bumping into crisis motivated by high standards. I had other thoughts.

As an entrepreneur, crisis is part of my life. Even when things are well-systematized, edited into something beautiful, and leveraged, there are times when you need to push yourself harder, work longer, or expend more energy.

How to raise the bar without burning out

With a brand new book launch, a rebranded business coaching program now open for new clients, 2 keynote addresses, and a 30-day CreativeLive workshop to prepare for in the next 6 weeks, I’m in that mode right now. While there are many months of the year that my business works like a well-oiled machine during which I regularly work 25-30 hours per week, right now I’m at the brink of crisis.

Great opportunities create points of near-crisis.

 

Raising the bar takes risk.

You’re never completely ready. They never come at exactly the right time. They never exactly fit in that plan you hammered out 3 years ago.

So you push yourself. You make the tough decision and you say “yes” knowing that it’s going to push you to your edge–and a little past.

You do it in the name of service, you do it in the name of excellence, you do it for a challenge. You do it so that you know your ideas are represented in the best way possible. Whatever reason motivates you, you do it. You allow yourself to creep up to the point of crisis and you get more and more comfortable with that point.

I’m not suggesting that you enter true crisis. The brink of crisis–the point with which you get comfortable as an entrepreneur–is a place you can push yourself to in the name of [fill in your personal values here] and float for a few days, a week, maybe a month at most.

As I thought about it more, I came to believe there is a continuum of high-level creative work that leads to comfort with crisis, and ends, potentially in burnout.

The continuum begins with Boredom. We are all people who hate to be bored. The only thing we might hate more than being bored is the kind of busyness that’s more mind-numbing and less purposeful than truly having nothing to do. Then there is Busywork. It’s the stuff that you do just to get done. Hypothetically it serves a purpose, but you’re not exactly sure what that purpose is.

As you move closer to your zone of genius, you get to a stage of Productivity. This is where most of us want to be most of the time. You have a purpose, you’re doing great work, you’re getting things accomplished.

If you push further, if you challenge yourself harder, if you bump up against every edge or deadline you have, you get to the brink of Crisis. The more you get comfortable with this feeling, the more facility you have in pushing yourself there when you want to.

 

Of course, “when you want to” is key.

In my own experience, it’s when I’ve intentionally pushed myself into a “comfortable” Crisis–one bred from opportunity and high standards–that I am accessing my zone of genius, even entering a state of flow. I solve problems, find creative insights, and get stuff done.

I’m not encouraging you to constantly live in this state, so please don’t email me with your concerns about my dangerous lifestyle. What I’m saying is that we all find ourselves in this state from time to time, and, when we better understand it, we can make it a choice not a necessity.

We can become proactive about crisis instead of reactive.

 

On Tuesday, I hosted a webinar for over 900 people on how to create focus in their businesses using a technique called the Chief Initiative. One of the benefits of focusing your business on a Chief Initiative is that it creates intense drive toward a thrilling (and ideally lucrative) destination.

Maybe it’s publishing a book, landing a big fish wholesale client, or transforming your speaking career. Those things don’t happen without quite a few stars aligning. But to make your stars align, need to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit. You need to do things you haven’t done before in the name of achieving something that’s really important to you and the long-term health of your business.

Most likely, that’s going to require getting at least a little comfortable with the brink of crisis. Whether it’s the Terror Lite that comes in the run up to doing something for the very first time, or the crunch of multiple projects being birthed at the same time, it’s going to happen. Growing pains and all that. Will you risk temporary discomfort for impeccable output?

When you stay in Crisis mode for too long or when that Crisis lacks a clear purpose or isn’t motivated by your personal values, you end up in Burnout. That’s the far end of the continuum and that’s a place none of us want to be.

Of course, you can “achieve” Burnout without the benefits of edging up to Crisis. You can skip all of the middle stages and go from Boredom or Busywork right to Burnout. I fear that’s where you might be at.

If you’re working yourself to the bone but without a clear purpose and destination, you don’t know which edges need to be pushed, which bar to raise. You can’t say “yes” to opportunity and you can’t plan for growth. All you can do is try to keep all the balls in the air.

…people fixate on execution (‘doing what’s required’) instead of finishing up strategy (‘choosing the direction’) because it’s easier to see progress during execution than during strategy formation and development.”
— Nilofer Merchant, The New How

This is when you need to rely on Focus more than ever. Your strategy must be to bring attention to one achievement (your Chief Initiative) that would change the game for your business. Then, you reverse engineer—making tough decisions all the way down—the action plan so that you can immediately recognize what’s important and what’s not.

That’s how you raise the bar without burning out. That’s how you align your day-to-day actions with your vision. That’s how you actually achieve the things that move your business forward.

How to Create $10k in Unplanned Revenue: Breanne Dyck Case Study

One of the most fun parts of being an entrepreneur is the ability to generate revenue from nowhere. Of course, it’s not really coming from nowhere. You need to be able to spot an opportunity, create the right conditions for success, and make it all happen.

It’s not that it’s easier said than done but that it takes a type of perception that needs to be worked at. The good news is that anyone can learn this type of perception and learn it quickly. It’s one of the things that I teach our clients in Quiet Power Strategy™.

  1. They learn that opportunities are most often driven by their customers’ evolving needs. In other words, you’ve probably nailed one need at this point so now you need to ask, “What do they need next?”
  2. Then they learn how to create valuable experiences that require very little work to produce. Instead of trying to get everything right, they only prioritize what their ideal customer truly cares about. They also take into account what is going to make them as both a business owner and a value deliverer most effective.
  3. Finally, they create a plan to make it happen. We focus this around their Chief Initiatives so that they have the kind of focus that not only transforms the way they work on a day-to-day basis but transforms the way others perceive their businesses.

Breanne Dyck: learning strategist & coachBreanne Dyck, a brilliant learning strategist who has helped me craft my last two CreativeLive workshops, used this system to generate unplanned revenue and seriously up-level the way her business is perceived in the market. Not only that, but the way she perceives herself and her business has changed. Here’s her story:

“Create a plan to generate $8000 in un-planned for revenue during the course of the program.”

 

That was the challenge that Tara gave us in September, at the start of Quiet Power Strategy™.

 

My gut response was, “$8000? Unplanned?! In four months!?!”

 

It’s not that I didn’t want the revenue; I just didn’t see how it could be possible. My plan for the rest of the year had included no new sales cycles, offers or clients. Just taking the program.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this “plan” was really just me holding myself back. Over the next few months, the coaches helped me strip away that false complacency and lack of confidence. Nothing was sacred; everything I thought I knew went under the microscope.

 

I thought I helped online entrepreneurs who wanted to create online courses. Turns out, “my people” are business owners who want to be recognized as best-in-class, every time they show up in the world.

 

I knew they liked my experience, smarts, and ability to apply theory to the “real world.” But I learned that they love  my drive for excellence, my ability to quickly zero in on opportunities, and my dedication for making them – and their work – stand out.

 

Quiet Power Strategy™ didn’t create this knowledge. Instead, it helped me to articulate it and bring it together, so I could stand firmly and confidently in the overlap. In doing so, I found a brand new business model, a new way of talking about my work, and a set of all-new offerings.

 

Looking back now, I can hardly believe that so much could change in such a short period of time. There was a lot of unlearning to do; a lot of stepping outside of my comfort zone; a lot of trusting myself and my instincts. But every step moved me closer and closer to where I want to be.

 

And that insurmountable-feeling challenge?

 

I knocked it out of the park, with more than $10,000 in new, unplanned revenue. My January 2015 sales alone exceeded 1/3rd of my total prior-year revenues.

 

What I’m most excited about, though, is that I know the best is yet to come.

If you’re looking to develop a best-in-class workshop, program, or course, I cannot recommend Breanne more highly. She has helped me infuse incredible value into my teaching and create experiences that are grounded, measurable, and truly beneficial to my students. You can find out more about her Elevate sessions and get access to over 9 coaching videos by clicking here.

And if you’re ready to learn how to start applying these principles to your business, I invite you to check out my free training on creating your Chief Initiative and finding the focus that not only transforms the way you work but the way people perceive your business. Click here to register–FREE.

It’s Amazing What You’ll Do When You Have a Focus

We left the paved path around Mile 4 and stepped onto a leaf-covered trail that led to a wildlife viewing platform. We took about 10 paces forward and veered off onto a “nondescript” path leading into the brush and trees. I counted 18 paces and watched the little blue circle on my phone get closer to the green target.

I stopped and looked around. Sean trudged on a few paces more.

We bent down, poking at the ground, lifting branches, looking for something that seemed just a little off. Nothing. Again.

I declared the mission hopeless.

But just to be sure, I picked up a stick, turned around, and parted the brush in a few other spots. Wait! What was that?! I thought.

There, about a foot off the ground, was a small, brown, hand-carved deer figure. It had a small cap sticking out of its side. The cache!

Sean and I started geocaching last Fall. What amazes me time and time again is just what I’m willing to do in the name of locating my target. Climb over a fence? Sure. Stick my hand into cobwebs? No problem. Inspect every inch of a guardrail at rush hour? Of course.

The craziest thing I’ve done so far is leave a path and venture into a heavily wooded area about 300 feet to find a fire hydrant someone had hauled into the middle of nowhere.

While none of these things may sound too crazy to my heartier readers, I am what you call “a city girl.” I’m a city girl who’s attached to a mountain man trudging through the woods. I don’t do outdoorsy things. Not because I don’t want to or because I don’t like to but just because I generally don’t think about it!

These are my geocaching earrings.In fact, we snapped this picture of us after one find and Sean remarked, “I love how I actually look like I’m out in the woods and you look like you just stepped out of an Uber.” I told him that I would forever refer to these earrings as my “geocaching earrings.”

My point is this: the thrill of the hunt for my chosen target encourages me to step out of my comfort zone, push through my edges (and sometimes through a bush), and get me doing things I otherwise wouldn’t proactively choose to do.

What does this have to do with your business? Easy. You need a target.

You need to know where you’re headed.

When you don’t know where you’re headed—or when you have too many goals—you will struggle with prioritization, motivation, and pushing yourself. Having a target, a focus, not only transforms the way you work but the way others perceive your business.

Many entrepreneurs come to me saying they don’t know what to focus on, they don’t know how to avoid Shiny Object Syndrome, or they struggle with what to prioritize. My theory is that these problems all stem from not knowing what your target is. Your target is the most important thing. If you don’t know your target, you don’t know what’s important.

And if you don’t know what’s most important, it’s only because you haven’t chosen what’s most important. You have to choose because you’re in charge.

When you know your target, you can figure out how you’re going to get there, what you’re going to need to accomplish along the way, and what new things you’ll need to learn or experiment with. Until then, you’re going to keep flailing around.

In Quiet Power Strategy, your target is your “Chief Initiative.” It’s the one and only goal you’re focused on for the next 12 months or so. When I tell clients they can only have one goal, the first reaction is paralyzing fear. What do I pick?! Then, there’s relief.

They decide on something that’s going to keep them motivated, prioritized, and focused and suddenly they relax and start having fun with pushing themselves. Other people perceive their business differently because now it’s focused and on-target.

When you have one goal, you start to see how everything else in your business either supports that goal or is droppable. You can:

  • Understand the conditions of your success and start bringing them into your daily life now.
  • Create sub-goals that act as mile markers on your path.
  • Leverage systems to make the day-to-day journey easier.
  • And rally a team of supporters to keep your motivated, producing, and on track.

If you’d like more guidance on how to use the Chief Initiative idea to find relief from always scrambling to know what to do next to get results, I’d love to invite you to a free training I’m doing this Tuesday.

It’s a lesson straight out of my Quiet Power Strategy program (formerly 10Thousand Feet) and you won’t find me talking about it in this depth anywhere else.

Click here to learn more & register!

How to Shake That “Bound to Fail” Feeling: Dr. Michelle Mazur Case Study

Ever get the feeling that the big project you’re working on is bound to fail? Maybe it’s a big marketing campaign, a product you’ve put your heart and soul into, or a big presentation to some very important people.

It seems no matter how much work into it, you’ve got the shadow of doubt making your optimism a little darker than it ought to be. You’re certainly not alone.

Many of my Quiet Power Strategy  (formerly 10ThousandFeet) clients come into the program with high hopes but plenty of “bound to fail” feelings. They’re fully invested in turning their big idea into a business model that pays solid dividends. They’ve had success in the past but they’ve also had failure.

Of course, that’s just business. You win some and you lose some. The key, though, is finding a personal system for making the losses few and far between. In Quiet Power Strategy, we teach the art of perception and the focus of testing and experimentation.

When you train yourself to be more perceptive, you’re better able to anticipate the needs, desires, and objections of your prospective client. You create products that are easier to sell and marketing that’s more compelling.

When you test and experiment with your message, your value delivery, and your method of exchange, you focus on making sure each variable gets you the results you’re looking for. You can ease your mind through pinpointing your best opportunities.

Michelle Mazur, Communication RebelWhen Dr. Michelle Mazur, a speech coach that helps professionals, academics, and entrepreneurs craft more compelling presentations, focused on creating a new model for serving clients, she had those same “bound to fail” feelings. She’d been burned before; what could make this time any different?

Through the Quiet Power Strategy process and her keen perception, Michelle identified an opportunity, the right people to serve, and the pain points that needed to be solved. She met objections, offered an innovative solution, and closed deals. But let’s not jump the gun, here is Michelle’s story in her own words:

Doing a big launch makes me feel like the girl at a high school dance, standing in a corner, and praying that the boy that she likes will ask her to dance. It’s a lonely place. My first launch felt exactly like that but with far more tears, panic, and stress.

 

When I came up with my minimal viable product (MVP), The Speaking Collective, which is a hybrid mastermind, public speaking group coaching program, and community, I knew I had an excellent offering that wasn’t like anything else on the market. But the old feelings from that first ill-fated launched crept in. What if I throw a public speaking party for 10 and no one comes?

 

I followed Tara’s Living Room Strategy for launching. I sent short emails to people who I would love to work with and who would benefit most from my MVP. In 10-days, I sold out of all 10-spots and had people who were disappointed that they missed their chance to join the program who wanted to know about the next launch.

 

Best part is that I finally have a successful launch strategy that works, is true to who I am and how I want to connect with people, and doesn’t leave me feeling like a hot mess.

Michelle is up to great stuff. She was recently featured on Fast Company and has landed gigs with top corporate clients. Having worked with her personally on my Quiet Power Strategy keynote address, I can tell you what she offers is ready for the big time (and so am I!).

You see, starting small isn’t the same thing as playing small. You start small to focus and hone what you’ll offer, banish the “bound to fail” feeling, and create something better than your original vision. Michelle and The Speaking Collective are bound for a much bigger stage.

To find out more about Michelle and how you too can create a presentation that garners standing ovations, click here.

 

Feel overwhelmed by all the options you have for growing your business?

We have the prescription for relief. Join Tara Gentile and Brigitte Lyons for a FREE training call that helps you banish shiny object syndrome and find the focus your business needs to succeed. Click here!

Get Help: An Exclusive Excerpt from Quiet Power Strategy

When Brigitte Lyons quit her high-powered PR agency job to pursue an independent career at the intersection of entrepreneurship and media, she started out trying to teach entrepreneurs how to do their own public relations and media outreach. She blogged, developed programs, and networked with movers and shakers. Eventually, we started doing business together on my business coaching program.

In working more and more with the business owners she really wanted to reach, it became clear that they just didn’t have the time to learn how to do things for themselves. They wanted help. They were desperate for it and willing to pay.

Brigitte knew herself enough to realize she didn’t want to be developing pitches and talking on the phone with journalists all day long. She was interested in working closely with entrepreneurs but wanted to focus on strategy, not implementation. Brigitte called me one day and said, “I need a Maggie.”

An intern Brigitte had worked with in her agency days, Maggie was an expert implementer and brilliant publicist. She knew how to work with pitches and editors. She could get placements through a combination of shrewd execution and fabulous connections. A Maggie could help Brigitte do the work she loved while giving her clients what they needed.

A few months later, Maggie emailed Brigitte to catch up. Brigitte responded by immediately making a proposal: get in on the ground level of a brand-new agency and only work with clients she’d love. After some hard negotiations, Maggie was on board. Brigitte now had an agency through which she could deliver the value her clients were after and someone to do the work she really didn’t want to do.

Brigitte got help. She could have tried to do it all herself. But she took the risk to bring someone else on to her team. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have always only done it themselves and entrepreneurs in charge of sizable teams who have worked hard to maintain control over every aspect of their idea. Ultimately, the underlying problem is the same: we want responsibility for our own outcomes. On the surface, it might look like an epidemic of wanting all the praise. But dig deeper and the bigger motivator seems to be wanting to have only ourselves to point the finger at for inevitable failure.

People who leverage Quiet Power fight their natural tendency to want only themselves to blame if things go wrong. They beat back the voices that urge them to go it on their own and not get others involved. This aspect of self-leadership is really self-control. It takes self-control to not keep working another hour, to not learn a new skill you have no business learning, to not make a plan that feeds most of the decision-making back to you.

It’s also self-control, not busyness, that keeps you in business. You can work until you’re blue in the face and still not succeed. That’s not to say that hard work doesn’t or won’t pay off. But is what you’re spending your day doing really getting you one step (or better, a few steps) ahead? Are your daily actions tuned to the goal you’ve set in front of you? Your goal can’t be to work yourself to the bone. The sense of accomplishment you’ve been missing won’t come from just checking tasks off a list. What you’re missing is progress, the sense that what you’re doing matters in the larger scheme of things.

Getting help can keep you moving forward. Few dreams are realized from the blood, sweat, and tears of one visionary. Instead, they’re collective efforts. They draw on the expertise and Quiet Power of the people enlisted to get the job done. Brigitte’s dream required Maggie’s Quiet Power to be realized. And together, they’re able to create something even better. Today, they’re aiming to work with non-profit organizations that are interested in progressive, cutting-edge media and outreach strategy. This is something Brigitte would have never created on her own. But by asking for help, not only could she relax and enjoy her work a little more, she was actually able to conceive of something better than her original dream.

What’s more, Brigitte has a whole team of people around her to celebrate when she succeeds, and their collective effort means the agency’s victories are a collective win. And when those inevitable failures occur, as convenient as it would be to know it’s her fault something has gone wrong, it’s even more convenient for Brigitte to have a team to reinvent, pivot, and plow ahead with.

If your dreams always feel just a bit out of reach, it might be because you need help reaching. If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of actually bringing your vision to fruition, it might be because you need to enlist help.

This is an excerpt from my book, Quiet Power Strategy, which comes out February 10.