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Why Big Dreams Can Be Big Problems

Why Big Dreams Can Be Big Problems

Growing up, our parents and teachers told us we could be anything we wanted to be. Wide-eyed and excited about the endless possibilities, we began dreaming . . . big. My classroom was full of future astronauts, brain surgeons, CEOs, and several professional ballerinas. Slowly but surely, we got a hard dose of reality (or should I say hard work).

Big dreams come with big baggage — a tiny detail that our parents and teachers seem to have left out.

We all look up to successful icons like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, marveling at their triumphs. We study their successes and attempt to replicate their journeys. The cold hard fact is that it takes years and years of hard work to even get a shot at dreams like theirs. And even then, it’s not guaranteed.

That’s the problem with big dreams: there is no “guarantee” on the side of the box.

We’re told that it’s easy, it’s guaranteed, and if (insert famous person) can do it, so can we. While it may feel warm and fuzzy to only think positively about your big dreams, reality always has a way of humbling even the most optimistic among us.

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You will get beaten down, you will have disappointments, and your dreams will never be handed to you on a silver platter. Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage – littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage — littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

In Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way, he brings this to life by saying:

“Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens — at that exposing moment — the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside of you.”

It’s not the moments of success where we find out what we are made of but rather those moments when we are bloodied and beaten to a pulp. So when we inevitably get cut open or smacked in the face with something totally unexpected, what happens to our big dreams?

For most, they end up fading away. They give up when faced with an obstacle, a challenge, or a disappointment. For others, it gives them a reason to make their dreams bigger than ever.

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Despite all of the obstacles in front of your dreams, there are things you can do to mitigate their blows. There are mental shifts you can take that have been applied by some of the most successful and happy people in this world.

Unfortunately, these shifts aren’t easy to apply. They take consistency, persistence, and dedication. If you are hungry enough and driven enough to apply them, your big dreams might actually come true. Here are a few that I’ve applied in my life which have massively helped:

Reframe Your Definition of Failure

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire, has embraced failure ever since she was a little girl. Her parents taught her at a very young age to judge failure based on the effort, not the outcome. In an interview she recently had with Business Insider, she recalled her dad celebrating her failures and even giving her high-fives when she failed. She said:

“…all it did was just reframe my definition of failure.”

Even if you don’t have parents like Sara’s, it’s never too late to redefine your own definition of failure.

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When you turn your failures into times when you don’t try, failing no longer defines your success. So rather than beat yourself up for when you fail, celebrate that you tried, re-evaluate what went wrong, and change your strategy moving forward.

One of my favorite language tricks is from Ramit Sehti, who calls his failures “tests.” Just like in high school science, everything is a test. You develop a hypothesis of what will work, you apply specific tactics, and if you don’t get the outcome you hypothesized, you change your approach. A simple shift that can make a huge difference.

Only Work Towards the Next Milestone

When I first started running “for fun,” I absolutely hated it. To me, it was boring and monotonous. That was until someone gave me this tiny bit of advice: focus on just running to the next obstacle — a tree, a light post, a mailbox, etc. Once I started focusing on those short term wins, it not only became fun but it also helped me run further and faster.

If you keep looking up the mountain at your big goals and not down at your feet, you won’t go anywhere. Real progress is made in the short term wins. Simply refocus on the next thing you have to do. What is that next step? By doing this, you too will go further and faster.

Surround Yourself with People Who Challenge You

I still vividly remember an experience I had at a networking event a few years ago. I was standing in a group of people, and someone asked me what I’d been up to lately. With confidence (and a little bit of cockiness), I proudly said:

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“I’ve been trying to get more fit.”

The guy standing across from me, who was built like a brick house, interrupted me instantly:

“Trying to? Are you getting fit or not?”

Although this call out in front of a bunch of strangers was a bit embarrassing, it changed my life. He pulled me aside later and explained to me the negative effects that language can have on our mind.

The people whom you spend time with matter.  When you improve the quality of people in your life, you improve your results. Invest your time in people who are willing to challenge you and make you better. The results will follow. Just make sure they are positively challenging you and not dragging you down.

What to do Next . . .

Now that you have some ideas on how to realistically make your big dreams happen, my plea to you is that you decide to take action on at least one of these things. Just one of these mindset shifts can be profound in reaching your big goals.

More by this author

Scott Bradley

Self-Leadership Coach and Creative Writer

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Last Updated on October 18, 2018

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

Things go wrong when you run your own business.

Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

  • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
  • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
  • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

The Bottom Line

Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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