I ran my first marathon in Paris in 2009. Based on the training I had been doing, I planned to run it in 3hrs 30mins. I had no experience, I’m a natural optimist and I ended up doing it in 3hrs 52mins. I was disappointed. Then I found out I was in the top 13,000 out of 39,000. That put 26,000 people behind me. Maybe 26,000 people who were elated. From then on I have enjoyed every marathon and I manged to get my time down to 3hrs 27mins. I thought about trying to get down to 3 hours – which would put me in the top 2%/3% of marathon runners but I have only ever trained three times a week for Marathons and I know I would need to elevate my training to six days a week and possibly twice some days to do that. Even if I managed to achieve that, which would be significant, I have to accept that times beyond that are unlikely.
Why is this relevant on a blog for entrepreneurs with an interest in improving their finance capabilities? It’s January and for most of us this is a time for us to do some more planning. You may just be refining your plan but somewhere in that plan you have goals. There is one thing we all experienced in 2020 and that was having our plans turned on there head. Maybe for the better but upside down none the less.
It is often said that life isn’t a sprint it’s a Marathon but in fact, it’s nothing like a Marathon. I found out you can plan an outcome in a marathon and once you get the effort right within reason you’ll achieve it. Life on the other hand is guaranteed to throw up circumstances we can’t plan for and in business this no different.
I have found that practicing acceptance is essential for my survival in business and life in general. I started to learn about acceptance after that first marathon in 2009 and since then I have developed a practice.
Most importantly, acceptance is not defeatist. From my school years I would have associated acceptance as my failure, me not being capable or me being required to tow the line. I have come to understand acceptance to mean quite the opposite; nothing to do with me. I have learnt that the world does not revolve around me, I have learnt to accept that I’m not in control. Yes, I get to make lots of decisions every day and some of these are ‘big’ decisions that may affect other people but in reality the world and even the people very close to me will survive without me.
We are not in control because we cannot guarantee the outcome. If we are not accepting then we think we can control the outcome and this leads to difficulty for us and those around us when the outcome isn’t as we planned. If you’re thinking you can control the outcome then you’re thinking too small. Who or what is in control is beyond the scope of this blog but you’ll have made a great start if you accept it’s not you. I’m a slow learner, it took me quite awhile to work that out.
If you grasp this concept, how do you practice it? Firstly, I start with myself. I have to accept my own shortcomings or to put it in a nicer way; the way I am. There is considerable debate on how we rear our children. We tell them they can do anything in life, ‘the world is their oyster’. This isn’t true; I was never going to be an elite runner, ever. Thankfully, this wasn’t my dream. As my siblings all joke; we didn’t get fast legs. Of course, what you ‘can be’ is never defined for you nor should it be. Your job is to work out what you enjoy, what motivates you, your purpose and maybe what you excel at. If you’re lucky this happened for you as a teenager; on the sports field, on stage, in the studio or cutting lawns for the neighbours. For most of us it takes a lot longer and it is a continuous work in progress. The average age for a successful startup founder is 45 (HBR July 2018). Accept the way you are, including your shortcomings and get on with it. Work hard on continuous improvement but don’t expect miracles.
Once you accept yourself, then you need to think about others and this is where the fun really starts. Throughout my career I have surrounded myself with compliant, analytical, steady & amiable people. Accounting is favoured by this more introverted personality type. I am expressive, influential and dominant, more extroverted in nature. The different types can work well together but to be part of this I must accept that others will not have the same world view as I have.
I recently attended a Timoney Leadership Institute course and Professor Anneloes Raes presented on Daniel Ofman’s Core Quality Model. In summary; we all have core qualities but too much of a good thing can trap us in situations which we are challenged to manage, particularly with others who have an allergy to that personality type. In my case, I can have a lot of new ideas (visionary type) but it can be distracting for me so I have to work on being focused. I will have an allergy to pedantic people who may just be analytical types who are challenged to control it and it is likely that my visionary approach, if not checked, will set off an allergy in them. I must accept that others are fundamentally different than me and see the world differently.
This is easier said than done. It is said that entrepreneurs create value from unknown resources. This is difficult. The way I want it done may not be possible unless I do it myself and this is the sword many an entrepreneur dies on. Accepting others for who they are is crucial to my own piece of mind and this has taken many years to cultivate. Thankfully it is a long time since I tried to change somebody but I had to go through that ditch backwards to work it out. If you have somebody close to you who you are trying to change then give it up or continue to live a life of torment. Lead by example, they’ll work it out for themselves and move on if it doesn’t suit.
This way of thinking can be difficult to reconcile in the mind of an entrepreneur. By definition an entrepreneur doesn’t accept the way things are and most often they drive through change that isn’t accepted as the norm. Acceptance doesn’t require compromise on ideals but crucially when plans don’t work out you must evaluate and then move on positively.
Non-acceptance is a close cousin of resentment. As we leave 2020 behind we are surrounded by people dealing with circumstances outside their control. People are mostly motivated by self-interest and we are seeing decisions being made which effect people very differently. This is certainly leading to toxic discussion in the media at large and an unnatural level of resentment in the community. I was surprised many years ago when I noticed resentment in my own thinking. If you’re trying to build a business that is space in your head that you can ill afford to give up to toxic thinking.
This is the approach I take to business and while I’m well aware that there is a more dominant and aggressive approach, this is the one that works for me. To quote may last employer, ‘it’s a long time since someone got in the way of my nights sleep’ and long may it last.
There are rewards of a much greater level that will come to you if you can practice acceptance at home. I met a friend recently who is married 35 years and he told me how they had just realised that swapping opinions was a foolish endeavour and instead they had started to swap feelings and it was working out wonderfully. And he finished with this:
“When I focus on what is good today, I have a good day, and when I focus on what’s bad, I have a bad day. If I focus on a problem, the problem increases; if I focus on the answer, the answer increases”
As you plan for 2021, accept the way the world is and focus on what is good today, accept the problem and focus on the answer.
(Photo Greg Rosenke)