Working smart is one of the keys to creating a good living, and so is working hard. One pitfall to look out for is thinking that working harder will help you solve everything thrown at you in the course of running your business. For your own sake, don’t try so hard at trying that you get in your own way (advice that relies on the Taoist concept of wu wei — more on that in a little bit.)
A ‘Renaissance man’, as we understand the term, is someone who’s good at whatever they turn their hand to, and that basically encompasses everything, if you go by the definition given by the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Seeing as the phrase was coined in the 1400‘s, however, six hundred years has still not been enough to take this ideal to its logical conclusion. See, the times have very much changed.
Look at how much the sciences, arts, and humanities have expanded and deepened in all that time. Leonardo Da Vinci is a popular example of genius, and honestly, people with creative brains like his are statistical outliers.
Given today’s demands for specialization, it is very rare to find actual ‘experts-in-everything’. The bulk of people with notable successes can come from backgrounds out of the norm, or have been relentlessly putting in the work over a long time — and then were discovered as ‘overnight sensations’.
And whoa, but isn’t that image exciting? Isn’t it seductive ? To think, with just a little more push, you could be a sensation yourself.
The phenomenon of ‘overnight successes’ can often overlook years of work, or the set of circumstances that made these people successful (luck, family background, wealth, opportunities, etc). But true renaissance men (in a non-gendered blanket term) today? Still statistical outliers.
The image lingers because it’s so compelling — think of John Wayne and the “Lone Cowboy’ hero image , and throw in the Lone Ranger too. And oh, hey, bootstrappers. The people who built empires out of their garages.
Stories like that are inspiring. We can dream big while we’re plugging away at our projects.
And sometimes trying to fulfill our dreams by following the old scripts can make us sick. “Going it alone,” and “doing all the things!1!1”, and putting letting rest, re-connection and recreation down by the wayside is like pouring out your energy on barren ground, and leaving no reserves.
Working smart is hard. Even smart people can make very unwise decisions under pressure — and running a business is a sure source of pressure. You want to get things right, get things done. Are you getting the right things done, though?
The temptation to do it all is nigh irresistible when you fall into the script of The Lone Ranger— pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, doing what you love…These paradigms of lone-wolfing it and ‘being The Man’ puts the pressure unnecessarily on business owners. When you feel the imaginary spotlight’s on you, you tend to tense up because you want to do it perfectly .
Even when the critical audience is only in your head.
Doing it alone can work in some instances, but to succeed and still stay healthy, to build without breaking yourself down, to have a living and a life, takes the sacrifice of cherished images, letting go of unrealistic standards, and the work of saying no.
You need a support system, you need clarity, you need a set-up that helps you do what you’re good at and offloads the rest to people who are good at doing what you’re not good at.
See, the problem with working under pressure is that it can distort your thinking and your judgement. Small things get overlooked. In the rush, you can cut corners, which can come bite you on the ass later. You don’t pay now – in terms of attention, time, etcetera, you can pay later with added tax.
You can’t handle everything — there’s just one of you, and so many things asking for your attention. So have help, have support, have an environment where you can think clearly. And here’s where wu wei comes in.
Wu wei is a Taoist concept, and translates to something like “none-doing” in English. Bruce Lee has some advice which reflects this in the video clip, “Bruce Lee: Be As Water My Friend “
Here’s the thing: Just because you could doesn’t mean you can, or that you should— and certainly not all the time. You have only so much decision-making energy, focus, and willpower to allot among the things asking for your attention, so you need to pay attention as to how you parcel that out.
For example, let’s go into imagery and metaphor : “Losing sight of…” or “Losing track…” or “Out of sight, out of mind…”
When you act to stay in your own lane, focusing on what you deem a priority means you put what’s important to you first. There are some things only you can do for your business, and others, you can entrust to professionals (your accountant, your lawyer, etc) and entrust to reliable support operators (your virtual assistant, perhaps, or your designer, etc.)
Otherwise, you can lose sight and go very far off track before you can reign yourself in. The business can become your life. It can take over, and is that what you want? There is still a difference between making money, and making a life.
Whatever title you call yourself in your business, you are the CEO, and as the CEO, ahem-hem, Chief Executive Officer, it is your chief function to execute as part of your office. Your job is to get things done right– that does not mean that you’ have to be the the one to do everything.
Who says it has to be you that does everything?
“Well, if this is my business, at the very least I have to know all the processes that go into it.”
Yes, absolutely. The more you know about your business, the more you can develop a gut feel about its health. That’s an important skill to have. The dark side is micromanagement — putting your time, attention, and energy on top of the people assigned to the work — which can also spawn irritation and feelings of being questioned at every turn on their end. Let people contribute, and show your appreciation.
“How will I know if they’re doing a good job if I don’t know the job?”
How much do you trust these people to do their best at the job? Quality control is important, relationships are important, and you would be able to see by the results of their work whether they did a good job or not. Find good people, and work on making sure that trust goes both ways. Being honest on whether you thing something is or isn’t working can help clear out issues and correct iffy situations. Still, you need to help people refine their skills by trusting them to do their jobs.
“I don’t feel comfortable doing this.”
Everyone feels pain when they’re faced with change — imagine what happens down the line if you don’t. The difference in hurting now and hurting later can be enormous. There’s the tax of bitter hindsight and regret, plus wasted time and neglected opportunities.
Opening is being vulnerable. Relying on others does lie with it the possibility of being let down — relate anyway. learn anyway. Keep going anyway. Pay attention, relax into the moment , and you can have an easier time of things.
- Bill Murray’s Advice on Relaxing Your Way to High Performance (Lifehacker)
- Don’t Try Too Hard: The Art of Wu-Wei (Utne)
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