What inspires you when you're in a business rut? Maybe it's a much-needed TED talk break. Perhaps it's a walk around the block or a quick YouTube jam session to your favorite '80s tunes. No matter what lights your creative fire, we all need some external motivation every now and then to get us back in the groove.
Not so long ago, I started thinking about all those books I was forced to read in school. You know—the "classics" that were shoved down our collective throats as prime examples of stories well-told.
Could there be something buried deep within these books that would woo me out of my creative rut?
After some digging, I unearthed 15 gems, each ripe with wisdom for my business-running self. Funny—it seems that my English teachers knew what they were talking about when they said these books contained words of wisdom.
“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore.”—Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Do you spend more time in your business past than in your business present and future? Maybe you'd be better served by looking forward. There's a fair sight more in the forward direction that you can change than in the rear view mirror.
“Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”—Neil Gaiman, The Sandman
Risk, risk, risk. How will we ever know if we're capable of flight if we never step off the cliff and trust we'll fly? Spend less time in analysis paralysis and more asking if each of these small ideas you have could take flight. What's the worst that can happen? You fail. It hurts. Bandage up and move forward.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”—Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
Fail better? Words to live by, Mr. Beckett. Einstein had something snappy to say about insanity—why doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results was just plain crazy. If we want to push forward, we should endeavor to make new and glorious mistakes instead of the same ones over and over.
"Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
There's only one person who has to live with the business decisions you make each day. You also have to sleep with those decisions. Ask yourself, Will this allow me to sleep the sleep of kings each night, or will this haunt me into my deepest nightmares? It's impossible to outrun your conscience.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Need I say more?
“Just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist."—Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
We hear that everything happens for a reason. Well, sometimes, that reason eludes me. I do better when I remind myself that life's more full of questions than answers and business is no different. Our job as entrepreneurs is to answer the best questions, the ones that point us in the direction our hearts yearn to travel.
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"
Are you in search of what's next? What's better? Are you ever-evolving and avoiding the pain that comes with resting on your laurels? There's nothing wrong with being proud of what you've accomplished as long as you stop thinking that what you've accomplished is all there is.
“I still catch myself feeling blue about things that don’t matter anymore.”—Kurt Vonnegut, "Unready to Wear"
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is, What matters most to my business right now? The operative term here is "now." The other stuff? Doesn't matter.
"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you."—A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Ah, that willy, nilly, silly old bear has much to teach us. Most important: Be in business with people you love. Period. Life is too short to be surrounded by people who drain your energy and make you wish they weren't in your life to begin with.
“The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nominalist and Realist"
That's it. You've done it. Now, what's next?
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
What is your business doing right now that makes the lives of others better? This is your calling. When the "why" of your business answers your audiences' pain, you'll find a wickedly delightful symbiosis that will carry you above and beyond those who simply seek profit. Never forget that profit is a byproduct of a story well-told and relationships nurtured and maintained.
“All grown-ups were once children … but only a few of them remember it.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Has your business life lost its childlike fascination with the world? Maybe it's time to go find it.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”—William Shakespeare, Hamlet
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
We all have business dysfunction, weirdness, odd-looking ducks who dance through our hallways. But here's the thing: They're your ducks. So love them and feed them, and help create a happy work family.
“Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky.”—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
When the worst of your business catches the light of day, others will point it out and criticize it. You have two choices: Avoid the light of day, or don't build a business with practices you're afraid will ever see the light of day. My preference is the latter.
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