10 Things that Took Me 10 Years to Learn

Birthday Cake for Ten Year-OldHappy Birthday to me! No, it’s not my birthday (although you can send me gifts if you like).  It’s thoughtLEADERS‘ birthday and the firm just turned 10.  10 years old.  Mind-boggling.

In those 10 years I’ve had ups and downs.  I’ve learned a great deal as an entrepreneur, an executive, a leader, and a person.  Good times, bad times, y’know I’ve had my share… (yes… Zeppelin).  I’d like to share some of those things I’ve learned with all of you.  My hope in sharing these things is that you’ll avoid mistakes I’ve made, be more successful than I’ve been, and enjoy your life more.

Before I launch into that top 10 list, I’d like to thank everyone around me who has helped me succeed with this business.  My wonderful clients who make it all possible.  The awesome participants in my classes (except that one guy that one time… you know who you are).  The fantastic colleagues who do such amazing work.  My friends and professional contacts who recommend me and my work.  My family members who have supported me throughout this crazy ride.  Without all of you, thoughtLEADERS is just a cool website.  Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart.

Shutting up now.  Time to drop the knowledge.  Within each of these tips is a link to another post I’ve written on that topic so if you want to learn more about that particular topic, click on through to the other side (Jim Morrison… kinda).

10. Jump in with both feet.  If you’re considering starting your own business (or you’re taking on a major new project or role), you have to go all-in if you want it to succeed.  You can’t be half-pregnant.  When I first started the business, I ran it part time while I held a full-time job.  I reasoned I would go full-time with thoughtLEADERS when I had a big, stable, predictable client base.  Hey idiot – you won’t have a big, stable, predictable client base until you do it full time.  I have another venture I ran part time while running thoughtLEADERS. It’s not doing so well.  You’d think I would learn… Commit. Dive in.  You can be an entrepreneur with zero risk.

9. Solve other people’s problems. Don’t push your solution.  People don’t care.  They won’t pay for that.  But if you solve their problem… now that’s a different story.  Find the pain point.  Ask questions.  Understand their business and their challenges.  If you can do that and then show them how your product/service solves that problem, they’ll be banging at your door looking to bring you in.

8. If you’re burned out, you’re worthless.  Even though I preach balance in life, I kinda suck at it.  I suck so bad at it that I set myself up for a heart attack last year.  Seriously.  On a gurney in an ambulance.  Don’t screw around with this stuff unless you like being dead or in a hospital.  Check yourself before you wreck yourself (Ice Cube).

7. Surround yourself with people who are much more talented than you are. Get over your insecurities and surround yourself with amazing people.  They’ll teach you a great deal and make you look awesome.  They’re more fun to work with than morons too.  Want proof?  Check out the AMAZING people I’ve surrounded myself with.  Yes, you should be impressed with their backgrounds and skills – I know I am.  That’s why I’ve chosen to work with them.  And once you’ve built that team, get out of their way and let them kick ass.

6. Create opportunities for others. Again, don’t be afraid to give others opportunities to shine.  Great things happen when you do.  For example, I invite guest bloggers to write here all the time.  Some people think that’s a dumb idea because my readers might leave me and become a fan of someone else.  I look at it as bringing my readers a valuable service and those guests send their readers my way to read their stuff.  Everyone wins.  You can get a little more perspective on this dynamic in my post on building your blog because the principle applies to everything you do.

5. Figure out your career sweet spot. The perfect career sits in the center of a three circle Venn diagram.  The circles are “things you’re good at,” “things you enjoy doing,” and “things people will pay you for.” If you can find the intersection of those three things, you’ll have a wonderful career.  Finding my sweet spot took me about 11 years after I graduated from college.  Go find your career sweet spot as soon as you can.  It’s an amazing place to wake up every day. Do a little career strategic planning to get to that wonderful place.

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Nobody else does.  Ooh!  I’m so important!  I have a big important job.  Shut up.  Have fun.  You’re a clown and you know it.  So am I.  We all are.  We’re goofy and dumb and silly and make mistakes.  In the grand scheme, we’re really not that important.  Once you accept this fact, life gets a lot less stressful.  If you can stop taking yourself so seriously for a moment, you’ll definitely enjoy your life a lot more.

3. Give people a second chance.  Have you ever screwed up?  Don’t bother answering that. Would you want a second chance?  Another shot at it?  Well then why don’t you create that opportunity for someone else?  Find those diamonds in the rough in your organization or outside of your company.  Assess them rigorously after you set aside the baggage they come with.  You might be pleasantly surprised with how those people perform when everyone else sees them as damaged goods.  Or it could be a disaster.  Even odds on that one.

2. Be nervous and hungry.  Even though thoughtLEADERS is 10 years old now, I still feel like it’s this fragile newborn.  Every day I worry about the next and worry about the business’ viability.  Some of you might derisively say I haven’t built a reliable business.  I don’t see it that way.  I see it as being aware that all businesses face constant threats to their existence and if you’re not constantly on the lookout for them, you’ll be blindsided (Blockbuster, anyone?  Or Motorola?).  Being nervous keeps you vigilant.  For example, I’m constantly aware of the risk of not diversifying my business.  Losing a big customer is the biggest threat I face so I act accordingly.  Also, staying hungry and wanting to grow helps you overcome those obstacles.  Find a healthy balance between those two.

1. (TBD)

No, there’s no number 1.  Some of you are twitching right now because the list is incomplete.  That’s the point.  Never stop learning.  Ever.  You can learn new stuff every day.  You just need to open your eyes.  There are so many lessons I’ve learned over these 10 years (go read all 600 blog posts I’ve written or posted in the last 6.5 years to see what I mean).  Live a life of learning and growth.  Look up things you don’t know on the Internet.  Be curious.  It’s fun!

So thanks again everyone for an awesome decade!  Running this business has been the most professionally rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I couldn’t do it without awesome clients, readers, friends, and colleagues.  Gotta go.  I’ve got another decade to tackle!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: Ten by Justin S. Campbell

5 Responses to “10 Things that Took Me 10 Years to Learn”

  1. I love your Venn diagram sweet spot idea. It seems obvious but I’ve never seen presented so simply before. Find the thing (or things) you enjoy, are good at that others are willing to pay you for. – a good maxim.

    I reference you maxims idea in my new book.

    • Lori Young says:

      Congratulations, Mike! I think I might know who that one guy in that one class is that you are referring to! Thanks for the inspiration!

      • Mike Figliuolo says:

        Oh my gosh! You know EXACTLY who I’m talking about! I tell that story all the time (names redacted, of course). That was so funny. I hope you’re doing well. Would love to reconnect at your convenience and hear what you’re working on. Drop me a line sometime.

  2. Matt Kruza says:

    Mike, congrats on 10 years. I often tell people that if they have know an independent consultant / advisor that has been doing it for 10 years (hell really over 2-3 years) to hire them as long as that they aren’t a complete goof… as it is extremely hard to be that talented (assuming that my opinion that you aren’t a complete goof holds!)

    Hope all is well and one of the next time I am in Columbus I will drop a line to reconnect

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