In November 2018 my friend Ahsan Karim and I started a Business Mastermind group in our neighborhood. We invited friends and acquaintances who had their own businesses or were considering transitioning from employed work to entrepreneurship. This group has continued and thrived. Several attendees have come and gone, but we continue to attract new, interested individuals.
This is what I learned from my interactions with group members: the single factor that separates success from failure (no matter what the goal) is whether a person takes action or does not take action. To be brutal about it: the world is divided into the dreamers, thinkers, and wishers on the one hand, and the dreamers, thinkers, and wishers who also take action on the other hand. That’s the distinguishing feature.
The action-takers don’t necessarily succeed on their first or second try, but they have an action tendency and they just keep on moving, experimenting, assessing, tweaking, and trying again.
Of course, it’s not enough to say that some people act and others don’t. Are some of us fated to be action-takers and others not to be? No. There are contributors both to acting and avoiding acting. Here is a list and methods for overcoming the challenges that change poses.
Factors Leading to Inaction
Overwhelmed by Complexity
Doing anything that requires multiple steps, each with its own set of needed knowledge and skills, is daunting. This is especially true when a clear roadmap is missing, as is often the case when a career change is considered.
My advice when seeking change is to take that first step and do so before the goal or the plan is clear. It is the taking of action that leads, incrementally, to clarity of the goal and the gaining of the knowledge and skill to develop and carry out a plan. Good news – the first step is rather painless and almost always the same: gather more information! Yes, it seems so straight-forward but it isn’t. I regularly meet people who are stuck because they haven’t done their due diligence. There is always more information available through the internet or through trusted advisors. If you don’t have a trusted advisor, then conduct due diligence to identify one.
Lack of a stepwise plan
I just said that one does not need a plan to start on a journey of change. Eventually, however, a plan with clear achievable steps is needed. I’ve learned that many people never get down into enough detail to know which actions to take and in which order. Sometimes even after years of struggle, they are mired in an expensive and unfinished project. They take action but it remains unfocused and doesn’t build towards achieving their goal.
My advice is to start moving, learn as much as possible about your goal and ways of achieving it, take the next action step, continue to expand your knowledge and skill, and continue to do so in an iterative fashion. With each step, the goal and plan should come into greater focus. Your trajectory starts as a diffuse light and progresses into a laser-tight beam of massive focused action.
Sometime the complexity in reaching a goal is inherent to that goal and sometimes it’s not. It’s possible that the change-seeker has a fixed model of how to achieve that change and no longer considers simpler, faster alternatives. An example is someone who wants to start a business and believes they need to earn an MBA first. And that, of course, may take years and tens of thousands of dollars. But the MBA is a means to an end, and sometimes that end doesn’t require an MBA or other complex, time-consuming intervening steps.
My advice is to question your assumptions. Place constraints on yourself, even if they are pretend, such as, “If I only had 12 months to reach my goal, what would I need to do?”
Several people who attended one or more of our meetings spoke about quitting their jobs and starting a business, but they spoke without conviction and continued taking sporadic half-hearted steps towards their goal. One person admitted he wanted to have his own business because his brother had one and he envied his brother for that. Another admitted he hated his job and wanted a way out. Well, starting your own business is often like jumping out of the frying pan into a fire. It requires vision and passion. It often results in failure and loss of money. It is not a good option for those fleeing a crappy job or thinking “wouldn’t it be nice” to be an entrepreneur.
My advice is to look in your heart. Identify what you want and don’t want. Are you seeking change because of burn-out or dissatisfaction? Nothing wrong with admitting to feeling that, of course. But wanting to push away from one job doesn’t equal being pulled to another one. The first step is to identify what the source of dissatisfaction is and address those issues specifically, and not to blindly leap to some unknown that you imagine is so much better. I’m often reminded of the doctor who told me he wanted to leave medicine and get a law degree. I asked him how he imagined his days as an attorney would look. He had no idea and had done no due diligence. He wanted to leap and hoped law was his life preserver.
Lacking Time and Energy
Yes. This is a real problem and has stymied many people wanting to complete a project, including starting their own business. There is unfortunately no getting around the need for time to devote to your project, whatever it is.
Thus, my advice is to make time. Often, we have more time than we think we have. If you tracked your time closely you might find quite a lot of time spent on less-than-important activities, like consuming news, social media feeds, or shows on your streaming service. If you don’t spend time on those activities or you can’t free up enough time by eliminating them, then you may need to start cutting into the meat of your day, like, perhaps, decreasing the amount of time you spend on make-up and hair, meal preparation, or even exercise that doesn’t allow focus on a parallel activity. These may be painful choices and may lead you to the realization that you are unwilling to compromise on them. That is ok. You’ve achieved clarity.
Another source of time savings may occur at work. I don’t advocate spending less time with patients because we often already have too little time with them. But you may find ways to take notes more efficiently, to spend less time on other paperwork or on calling in prescriptions. When a patient doesn’t show, how do you spend that time? It may be hard to transition to work on your project during that time, but often it is achievable.
Perhaps the most dramatic choice to make is to work less. This may lead to less income (but you never know), to an unhappy boss (Hey, everyone has their own challenges to deal with), or to feelings of anxiety because it may seem an irrevocable decision. First, it may not be irrevocable, and your boss may be happy to again have you full time. Second, I would not take this step early in the process but only when you have a clear plan. You don’t want to have one less day of work and pay each week and end up puttering around.
Thanks for reading. Until next time.
“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
Roy T. Bennett
“The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.”
Shannon L. Adler