Learn the norm and then push the boundaries

Some time ago I mentioned if we all were the same, the world would be a boring place. This remains a favorite saying of mine. In relation to work, there always are “in” jobs and professions, or the new better way to do your job. In reality, there are many ways to do the same job. Certain tasks may have specific steps, but otherwise, creativity and differences reign.

No matter your business or where you work, it is your individuality that makes you stand out to others. It also is your creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. Do you do that, or is the same old same old? It’s hard to come up with or do something new or different. Ideas that seem so obvious weren’t to most of us. If you are an entrepreneur, whether in a startup or any other type of business, what makes you and your business stand out?

Colleges should teach creativity along with entrepreneurship, business, etc. Tapping into other parts of the brain is important and can be life altering. It is good to think outside of the box and differently than others in your space. Of course, in all businesses and professions, you need to learn the ropes and rules before trying to push any boundaries.

Doing what others have done is safe and where learning begins. We need people to do many jobs that are decidedly not hip or “in”. In fact, being safe or working as others have or in an unhip job may make you a success. Once you have learned the basics, being creative, unique and different has the possibility to make you a trailblazer or visionary in your field.

It’s up to you to determine whether you are okay with the status quo or not. It sure seems more interesting to blaze your own trail within whatever path you choose.

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Follow your dream?

Dreams are great. They can sustain us through hard times or hard work. They can lift us up and let us down. We can learn from them no matter whether they are realized.

Have you followed any dreams in your life? Most dreams die. When this happens to you, what is your reaction? Does it drag you down or paralyze you? If so, you need to rethink how to look at failure; you just need to find another dream.

I know I’m making it sound so easy. For you it may or may not be. But if you don’t try you won’t like where you find yourself. Many times it’s not giving up on the dream, but tweaking it because of what you’ve learned and what negative things have happened. It’s like the story of most successful entrepreneurs, many of who suffered through many failures before the dream that made it big.

Clichés are clichés for a reason; they’re true. In this case the appropriate cliché is “you learn more from failure than success.” I think this is true for many reasons. This includes people generally investigate, dwell on, and think through failure more than success. Even though continued success can be dependent on thinking through success and how to maintain or tweak it, people tend to do less of this.

Always analyze your successes and failures. It will help you keep the dream going, retool the dream, or change to a new course, all of which are good paths to be on.

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Make mistakes and move on

We all make mistakes. Regularly. Do you think about what happened and try to learn from them, or do you beat yourself up? Or does it depend on the mistake and what and who it affected? Next time you make a mistake, take a step back and think how you prevent such a mistake from happening again.

The cycle of beating yourself up does no good. It wastes time, which is a precious commodity. It also can be a vicious cycle dragging you down and affecting all aspects of your professional and personal lives. This will compound your issues and likely result in more mistakes being made. If you beat yourself up and continue thought processes of how dumb your were, etc., it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And others will view you from a similar lens, which only will further bring you down.

Instead, get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. This doesn’t mean to simply move forward and ignore what happened. It means to think about in an effort to not have something similar happen again, but not to dwell on it and drag down your own self-image. Always take responsibility for your mistakes, but do so constructively and with an eye for moving forward.

Learn from your mistakes, but don’t define yourself by them, or others will too.

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Read

I mean this in two ways. First, read news and know what’s going on in the world. Second, read books. Doing both is important in all facets of life.

As for news, read whatever you like, such as the Wall Street Journal, the New Your Times, the Washington Post or other papers. Better yet, read or skim two, preferably with different takes, such as being left or right leaning. Reading different points of view allow you to process issues, ideas and positions. It also will help you craft your own point of view own coming from a well-read place because you’ve educated yourself on issues. You can create the time to do this by calendaring time with your morning coffee or for a mid-morning break. Knowing what is happening locally, nationally, and globally is part of being a citizen of all, and therefore of the world.

Reading books matters too. Reading the types of books you enjoy matters more. I rotate between fiction and non-fiction, and, with the non-fiction books, I rotate between biographies and business related books. I usually use my time reading books as an escape from work and thoughts piled up from my day, but sometimes I hear about a business book I find intriguing and am willing to read something likely to make me think. You should read whatever motivates you to read. It’s not a contest to read the classics, or more business books than someone else you know. It’s your time, so choose what you read based on your interests.

The best part of doing this is taking time for yourself, but it has other benefits. It will help you be generalist on the current news and other topics you read about. It also will allow you to be a specialists in specific areas in which you have real interest. Both combine to make you more interesting to speak with at a networking event or in conversation with friends and family. You will be able to have a conversation with anyone, which will provide you with opportunities.

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Work Smarter

Efficiency and organization are important. We all work hard, but, if you’re going to put in the effort and time, are you reaching your goals? This could be the calls you planned to make in a given day, or tasks or projects on your to do list, assuming you use one – it’s one way to try to be efficient and organized. Many ideas exist to help with this and most are right in front of us, but can be easily missed.

For example, are you a morning person or a night owl? Either way, do you schedule your days to take advantage of when you have energy and alertness, or do you slog through your day based on other’s schedules or because of perceived “normal” work hours? Fighting this makes no sense, when most people can work remotely from anywhere at any time of day or night. Sometimes you may have to show up at an hour of the day not optimal to your internal clock, but scheduling work when you are more likely to be in the zone just makes sense.

Another area we all can work on is organization. It doesn’t matter if you hand-write a to do list, calendar items, use tasks in Outlook, or an app meant to help with organization. You have to find what works for you and it may not be the first thing you try, or even the second. Whatever you try, make it as simple as possible because your system shouldn’t be so time consuming it actually is inefficient unless you find no other way to stay organized or on task.

I encourage you to speak with others on how they work. It’s kind of like diets these day in that everyone seems to have their own way of doing things. Something someone you know is doing may be your answer to efficiency and organization. Or maybe part of what they’re doing can work in the system you already have, but make it a little better.

Between trying new things and being honest with yourself about how you work best is the opportunity to improve your efficiency and organization. Done right, it can free up more time. Then you have to decide whether to work more or take some well earned time for yourself. It sure seems like a good problem to have.

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Follow your bliss

Do you have a passion? I specifically am talking to a passion outside of your work. Maybe you like to play golf, or paint, or play an instrument alone or with others. If you don’t, can you pinpoint where you lost yourself into work or the interests or control of others? Feeling good about your work is important, as is enjoying what you do, because it takes up a lot of your time. Your passions outside of work provide texture to your life.

I’m an attorney who prides himself on doing the best I can for my clients to manage their risks with their given issues. That is one way to define me. On the other hand, those who know me will tell you I am passionate about music and live music, travel, and hiking. Sometimes when I am partaking in these activities, I specifically trying to take a break from my work and thinking about it. Other times, my passions and my work intersect.

I try to decide and control where the intersection is, but there is no way to fully control this. I may dictate a rough take of a blog post into my phone while hiking, or attend live music with co-workers, clients or other attorneys. In those instances, I may be looking for an opportunity to speak with a certain person outside the confines of my office or the business day, or have to be open to business and law being a topic of conversation raised by someone else. Other times I just want to lose myself in the music.

If you don’t have activities in which you find bliss, I encourage you to take time to consider this and try to find something. You can work hard and support your career while still taking time to do things you enjoy. If you disagree, this is a mental block. I am not telling you to take a month off to find yourself (unless you can afford to take that time and need to find yourself). I can hike for 45 minutes or an hour and get the break I need. Other times it may involve a longer vacation or leaving work early to meet up with people for food and drink before a concert. The time you choose to invest in yourself is up to you, but it’s an important investment.

If you have passions, but find yourself not taking or making time for them, put them on your calendar. Like most things, writing things down makes it more likely they will happen, or at least you will try. There are days where we don’t have the hour to give because of work and life related commitments, but most days you can find the time if you try. Are you willing to do so?

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Negative people have a problem for every solution

The title is a quote from Einstein, and it’s true. In addition to thinking it’s better to approach matters from a positive perspective, I think he is getting at being open to ideas. When someone has an idea, some people jump on the bandwagon too fast and others pick the idea apart until nothing is left. Neither of these actions or reactions is helpful. Instead, new ideas should be approached with an equal amount of positive skepticism and thoughts on how to make the idea a success.

By positive skepticism, I mean you bring negative thoughts in a constructive manner to try to work through what you see as issues. The possible results are you can or can’t work through the issues, which may or may not put the idea to rest. There is another possible result, which is the idea is tweaked based on constructive dialogue and these changes can be small to large, but the idea or its original spirit remains viable.

Each of us has the ability to control whether we approach an idea in a positive or negative manner. Sometimes how we approach an idea has nothing to do with the idea itself. Our approach may be based on the messenger, how the idea was communicated, or some other issue that shades our consideration of the idea.

After many of my own failures in providing constructive feedback over time, I feel I am usually able to discern whether my initial thoughts on an idea are how I honestly feel or because of some other external factor. This is a work in progress, and is an example of why thinking before speaking is important. When I have an immediately negative internal response to an idea, I try to determine why and whether how I feel is based on the idea or something else. The point is being first to respond doesn’t win you an award, so thinking through a new idea provides the opportunity for a more thoughtful and honest response.

Don’t be the person with a problem for every solution. Be thoughtful and constructive. This can mean leaving your ego to the side and supporting the success of others. It also can be the difference of you receiving thoughtful and constructive feedback next time you put yourself out there to others with a new idea.

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Spontaneity

Routines and patterns are important to the thread of many of our daily lives. Things such as getting up at the same time, eating the same breakfast, and driving the same route to work are extremely common. If one of these types of tasks changes, how do you react? If an ingredient you need for your usual breakfast isn’t available, is it easy for you to change course? What if there is an accident on your usual route to your office?

The ability to change mid-course during any action or activity is important. For many people, changing course is very difficult and results either wasted time or squandered opportunities. For those who can adapt quickly, their day is easier or whatever they are involved in at the time has better results.

An example for me is an oral argument before a court. I always prepare an outline, practice, and go in with a plan. Sometimes I go through my outline, finish what I planned to say, and sit down. Most times, I am taken off course from my outline either through positions or arguments taken by the opposing party or questions from the judge. In those situations, you have to adapt quickly. It’s not okay for me to ignore an opposing party’s argument or a judge’s question, and potentially worse for my client. Instead, I have figured out how to include responding to a new argument or answering a judge’s question and returning to where I was on my outline. This type of in the moment situation certainly keeps me focused and ready to change what I’m addressing on a dime.

In every day life, is more likely that an accident or traffic will cause you to want to change your route to work. Today many apps make it easier and will tell you the next best route to take. Sometimes you have to make those decisions.

My family and I were recently on a road trip. On a particular day we had a long drive planned. Of course, we got a late start and various things along the way caused us to be well behind schedule. We could’ve gotten mad. We could’ve pushed through to our destination making it an even longer day than planned. Instead, because we had the ability to be flexible, we changed routes and ended up in a different city than planned that night. We were lucky that our overall plan allowed this and our original destination wasn’t somewhere we had to be that evening. At the same time, this decision wasn’t stressful because both my wife and I are able to adapt to circumstances, make decisions, and then follow them.

Another way to look at the need for immediate change is opportunity. When an ingredient you need for your breakfast is missing, it’s an opportunity to make a change and try something else, if only for a day. I am a big user of Waze. This has taken me through many beautiful neighborhoods between my home and office I never would’ve seen even though they are not that far from my home. The point is the need to change course can bring opportunity, some entertainment, and maybe some enjoyment.

Next time you’re presented with the need to deviate from your usual routine, try to have an open mind and find the good or beauty in the difference from what you usually do.

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How is your year going?

Today is the end of the second quarter 2021. We are halfway through the year. You should constantly be assessing and reassessing where you are in relation to your business and goals. If you haven’t done so this year, it’s better late than never.

If you have written goals, you should review them and assess whether the end goal and the steps to get there still make sense. If so, do any of the steps need adjustment. If a goal is too easy or too difficult, can you adjust to make it more realistic? Note this should not be used to move a goal closer with the idea that it’s the only way you can reach it.

If you don’t have written goals, there is no time like the present to change that. I challenge you to come up with a few goals. Don’t come up with too many. Instead, come up with important goals that will challenge you. Once you do that, turn them into SMART goals. It is easy to search my blog website (https://businesslawguy.com/2016/10/06/challenge-yourself/) or the Internet to learn how to turn a goal into a SMART goal.

If, in reviewing your goals, you believe you are not going to be able to meet one or more of them, you need to spend time analyzing why. The answers may include the goal was just to aggressive, something in your business or the marketplace changed or some other reason you will easily see. Through analyzation you will be able to determine whether there is a realistic chance to still reach the goal or whether you need to rewrite the goal into something challenging, yet realistic. If your review tells you something related to your goal and business have changed so significantly the goal no longer makes sense or needs to be substantially altered, pivot and do so.

On the other hand, if you have reached one or more annual goals by this point in the year or are going to easily do so well before the end of the year, you also need to adjust. The challenge will be to come up with a more aggressive goal and outline the steps to achieve it. Of course, this is the better problem to have. If you have reached a goal and don’t think it makes sense to make the goal larger, you should challenge yourself and come up with one of two new goals because you were further ahead than you thought you would be. Or, it may be that you are good exceeding your original goal, but can come up with a complementary goal for new opportunities you see.

As I started with, review of your status on reaching goals should be assessed on a regular basis. For instance, my firm’s new fiscal year starts tomorrow. All of the attorneys have new personal plans they have drafted containing new or continuing goals, which have been reviewed by others. In some ways it feels like starting from ground zero and in other ways it feels like (hopefully) continuing positive trends and trying to improve from past success.

Most of you know the axiom about writing your goals providing you a better chance for reaching them. I have found that to be true with myself and others I know or work with. I challenge you to do a mid-year assessment or get going now. A good step is to come up with SMART goals and let others review them. Discussing goals and the steps to reach them will help you reach your goals. It’s also good if the same person will serve as an accountability partner and check in with you on a regular basis on how you are doing.

When you finish reading this paragraph, pull out or up your plan or goals so you can assess your status now or sometime today. If you don’t have goals, block out time on your calendar today or even tonight to do so. I know many people just want to relax at night, but it’s an investment in yourself. The point is no matter where you are to take actions to help you reach your goals.

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Be present

I know you think you can multitask. We all do at least with certain tasks or situations. In reality, none of us really do it well. Ever.

The obvious one is when you’re on a call or a Zoom meeting. We hear you clicking on your keyboard either opening and responding to email or surfing the Internet. On Zoom, we see where you’re looking, and it’s down at your phone. Yes, we all do it, but it is a good idea to try and stop.

Active listening and participation is important. If you disagree, you should think about why you are on the call or in the meeting. Even if the answer is you’re required to be there because of your job, either suck it up and focus, or think about whether you’re in the right job or role.

I understand focusing on something you don’t think is important or find uninteresting is difficult. It’s no more difficult than when your boss follows up with you about the call or meeting and you didn’t pay attention enough to answer their questions.

Try to change your focus and presence one day at a time. It’s a challenge for all of us, and it’s made more difficult by the speed at which we all are moving, let alone if you’re tired or have other stresses in your life, which we all do. Make it a goal to start being present and focused on your next call or meeting because there is no time like the present to try.

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We all need a break

It’s been a long 15 months. Many people continue to work remotely, with some never to return to an office. Others never stopped going in. One thing most of us didn’t do was take real and meaningful breaks.

I don’t mean going for a walk or a family barbeque. I am speaking to vacation, to time away, where you can relax. Based on the numbers of people flying and travelling this summer, our country is waking from the long slumber of the pandemic. Are you getting away and really taking a long needed break?

Maybe you’re still not comfortable traveling because you don’t want to fly or stay in hotels. Then go camping where you can control the narrative (other than Mother Nature). There always is way to figure things out, especially something like this, which you need for your mental health.

I encourage you to find a way to take a real break in whatever way you are comfortable. The benefits are innumerable, and your work and life will be better for it.

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