Most entrepreneurs have faced setbacks. The successful ones identified and grew past them with little to no drama. Sometimes we have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Sometimes we get broken down but we’re able to build back stronger.
A global pandemic strikes a business. The adaptable owner assesses the situation, predicts the future, and starts their pivot. They can turn a bad situation around spectacularly without a hint of grumble or an ounce of blame. They return stronger and they will withstand the next one.
A team situation escalates and causes short-term business turmoil. The level-headed owner is confident it doesn’t mean the end. They know what they need to do, they execute expertly, and they avoid making the same mistake again. They regroup, reassess, and get straight back to work, and they’re soon grateful it happened.
Going backwards is painfully obvious
Humans are hypersensitive to their situation changing for the worse. If your business is receding, you notice and you make a plan. Maybe you see it coming, maybe it catches you off guard, but it’s impossible to do nothing in response. You might lose everything. The pain of failure is too imminent. Going backwards is fine because it’s temporary. Going backwards is fine because it sparks change.
Coasting, however, is dangerous.
I recently approached an amazing illustrator I have worked with before about producing some more illustrations. He turned the work down. He works in animation now and he’s making a name for himself in the field. Although he was grateful for the approach, and sorry to say no, he intends to advance that specialism and doesn’t want to retrace his steps, moving sideways.
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Given the same opportunity, how many professionals would have said yes? Said yes to work they that was familiar and comfy, in favour of the potential that may lay ahead but held no guarantees? I expect it’s more than you think.
A networking group I used to regularly attend had some members who had been there for decades. Not only that, but they had been running the same businesses for decades too. The businesses had hardly changed. They had grown by inflation and added a new product or two, but their owners were working from the same place, solving the same problems, and would probably be doing so forever.
They were capable people. Smart, friendly, and easy to get along with. But they had hit upon something good, ramped up their living costs to match, and then stayed there. They had lost all sense of ambition or convinced themselves this was all there was. They had gotten too comfortable and they were coasting.
Are you doing approximately nothing?
As humans, we act to move away from pain and towards pleasure; a notion first made popular by Sigmund Freud in 1895. But what about those in the middle? What about those that are too settled to feel any pain, and too comfortable to need more pleasure? According to Freud, and other thinkers including Tony Robbins, who has explored the pleasure/pain principle in his self-development teachings; they will do approximately nothing. If making a change is an “I probably should” rather than an “I absolutely must”, people simply won’t take action.
So what’s the problem?
Dreaming big, making ambitious plans and putting in the hourly, daily and weekly actions to make progress towards them can lead to incredible achievements and huge levels of success. But to do this requires motivation and inspiration. Banking on yourself and your ability and going for it. Putting yourself out there because of what might be possible.
Alternatively, it requires a shock to the system that leaves you with no choice other than to act. A bad breakup or running out of money. A stark realisation of what might happen if you don’t do something. Without motivation, you are relying on the risk of real pain to inspire progress.
Coasting is nestled in the confused middle of inspiration and desperation. It requires the minimum amount of energy so it’s easy to do. The outlay might be low but the costs could soon be huge. Plodding along means being overtaken, again and again. It means becoming irrelevant, uninspired and uninteresting to those around you. Whilst you were once young for your ability you are now just about average. You were once approached with opportunities and now they are dished out elsewhere. You were once ahead of the curve, now you’re in the crowd. Your loyal clients stay, but it’s harder to win new ones because you’re not adapting with market demands or shifting your approach.
If you’ve been going sideways for years, doing largely the same things, you’re coasting. If this is you, make a change. If your days all merge into one and you’re doing uninspired work you’ve outgrown; change your role, change your scenery or just make bigger plans. Find inspiration. Find new, ambitious people to surround yourself with.
What would you do if you had to start from scratch? What would you do with a million-dollar investment? What could you achieve in five years if you looked at your life and your business and your talents with fresh and bright eyes and looked into the future of where you could take it?
One day you’ll release how easy you played it. You’ll regret those chances you didn’t take or the questions you didn’t ask. If your backing is a solid company, use it as your foundation from which to diversify, scale or evolve. Stop staying still. Make coasting your worst-case scenario, not your plan A.