What No One Tells You About Business Success

My article "What No One Tells You About Business Success" originally appeared in Forbes.

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As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, I barely noticed the sea of orange, pink and purple coloring the sky as I drove home from my office. Another day drawing to a close and yet my mind was still at work -- trying to solve yet another business problem.

My business was doing well. Revenue was growing every month. We had amazing team that was making progress on the goals that we’d set. Our customers were ravingly happy, yet I still felt empty inside.

Long hours at the office during the day turned into half-present family dinners at night. Once the kids were in bed, I’d head straight back to my computer to push just a bit further. Nearly every bit of energy that I had was being channeled into making my business succeed, but all “succeed” really meant was growth: more revenue, more employees. And with that came more problems to solve; more work to be done.

 

I wasn’t enjoying the ride. I was just hoping the ride would end somewhere amazing and hopefully soon. As it turns out, I’m not alone in what I refer to as "the entrepreneur’s deferred life plan."

The Entrepreneur’s Deferred Life Plan

Many entrepreneurs I talk to have fallen victim to the hustle. Their business has completely taken over their life because they (like me) never defined their own success. Failing to define it ourselves, we end up settling for the world’s definition. And the world is quite clear on what a successful business is: Money. And lots of it.

Your business becomes not much more than a vehicle for making money: It becomes how we keep score. Having never been clear on what we truly want, it’s unclear how much is enough. And so the chase begins. We’re left hoping that someday we’ll arrive at a place where we’ve “succeeded” enough to finally live the life that we’ve always wanted. We lose track of who we are and what we want in the hunt. For some, it becomes an addiction. For others, (like myself) it leads to burnout.

It’s Never Too Late to Redefine Success

 

Your own business can be a profoundly powerful way to create meaning, impact and the lifestyle of your dreams. But if you never define your dreams, you'll never know how to achieve them. Start big-picture: Define success in terms of your life, not just your business.

Step outside of your hustle for a moment. Put all of the to-dos, goals, meetings, emails -- all of it -- off to the side on an imaginary shelf. I promise, they’ll still be waiting for you in a few minutes. Once they're on the shelf, answer these questions:

  • What does it mean to you to live a meaningful life?
  • What is the impact that you want to have?
  • What does your ideal day look like?

Give yourself space and time to dive into the questions. Sit with them and see what comes up: You'll be surprised to find how near and yet how far you are from living the way that you want to live.

Start to nurture new ways of thinking and acting in alignment with your success. You may need to start setting goals in new ways, start talking to employees in a new manner, and/or start scheduling your calendar with the activities that you were previously deferring to the future. Continue to do the things that serve your success and pursue the things that fuel your energy. Stop doing the things that move you away from the meaning, impact and lifestyle that you want to create. You may need to delegate. You may need some time off. Or, like me, you may need to step away.

Not long after that drive along the Pacific, I made the difficult decision to leave the day-to-day at my business. In my personal reflection on the impact that I wanted to have, I saw quite clearly that what mattered to me was being a present husband and father, and supporting other people around the world in finding deeper meaning in their work. In order to do both, I needed to leave behind something that I had spent years trying to make succeed.

The decision was difficult, but redefining success and reorienting often is. However, I've been pleasantly surprised how much easier it's been to "succeed" once I knew what that meant for me. We all get to define our success. Don’t settle for anything less.

Todd Emaus