In 2010, my freelance web development practice died. The economic downturn won. I lost. Business had been good; I had a record year in 2009. Now, I was no longer making enough money to pay the bills. Rather than working from my comfortable home office, I took a contract in a nearby city. I went weeks at a time without seeing my wife and children. It was the death of our way of life. It hurt. When I was offered a job and more time with my family, I jumped at the chance.
I am no longer a business owner. I am an employee. I am grateful for a steady paycheck, and for the bright, talented people with whom I work. Still, the perks of employment do not top the exhilaration of a sink-or-swim business.
I landed on my feet, but losing my business left me searching for a new direction, and feeling lost. Since each of us is born without experience and without wisdom, I’m guessing you have occasionally felt this way too. Now, 5 years later, I am beginning to dream again. I am taking my first steps. I hope you take your first steps more quickly.
Failures Are Inevitable
Since every significant decision we make requires some conjecture, failures are inevitable. Some of us let such failures stop us, but others, despite these setbacks, keep moving forward. With entrepreneurial zeal, they take risks and build new, even more valuable things. Failure does not devastate them. They learn from it. They improve. In the face of fear they do not freeze—they make something happen. They push past failure while others let even the hint of failure blot out their dreams.
What makes the difference? Those who persist through failure have an inner purpose that trumps their comfort. This purpose is worth the risk. You and I can also push past failure if we have a purpose that motivates us when circumstances are discouraging.
Motivation Comes from Purpose
Motivation is required for success. Fear of failure, scarce resources, and criticism lie between us and our realized dreams. Our first tentative steps often expose us to criticism or leave us feeling unnoticed and invisible. The pursuit of a dream takes time to bring results, and requires delayed gratification—few of us can stomach much of that. We can overcome obstacles with unflagging energy, dogged determination, and an unwavering belief that the result is worth the cost.
This persistence comes with a purpose larger than ourselves. As Earl Nightingale said, “Success is the gradual realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” What is your worthy ideal?
Motivation Is Not External
The only motivation we can count on is our own belief our work matters. External affirmation and support, while it is temporarily encouraging, soon loses its effect. I often become discouraged immediately following big wins and recognition by others. Such affirmation is a drug that leaves me rung out and looking for another hit. In his book, The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield says, “Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in the sphere where we have to do our work.” Counting on others to affirm our work leaves us empty and searching for validation. This is hardly an effective strategy for high achievement.
Motivation Builds with Action
Taking action toward a worthy ideal creates motivation. Recently, my wife Jodelle and I have begun to measure our progress toward becoming debt free. Jodelle has created a chart that hangs on our dining room wall. She updates it every time we make a payment. Freedom gets closer every month, but without the chart to track our progress I would only notice the drudgery of paying bills. Take action that moves you toward your dream, and let action motivate you. Build momentum.
In 2012, John Lee Dumas launched a daily podcast that would become a success. In February 2015, the podcast and the business John built around it generated $433,252.00 in gross revenue. But it didn’t start that way. John was unfamiliar with podcasting and with journalism, but he didn’t let fear hold him back. He took action. He networked and solicited interviews from entrepreneurial legends. He learned what he needed to learn and his mistakes taught him how to succeed. Before launching his podcast, John worked obsessively for several months to build up a backlog of interviews. After launch, the podcast did not make any money for 6 months (talk about delayed gratification). John believes in inspiring people to build businesses, improve their marketing, and create podcasts. That purpose motivates him to do extraordinary work. Like John, keep pushing forward. Keep searching for your worthy ideal, and be willing to pay the price. It will be worth the cost. I will be doing the same.
Discussion Question: What failures have you overcome, and how did you find motivation to continue after disappointment?