Newsletter 627 – How Fear Can Derail an Entrepreneur

entrepreneurRecently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.

That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:

  • People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
  • Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
  • Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
  • Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
  • Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
  • As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
  • Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.

This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.

Newsletter 619 – What We Can Learn from Michael Hyatt

Hyatt 2I first met Michael Hyatt when he worked for the publisher that produced many of my early books. Later he became CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, wrote successful books of his own, and continues to distribute free, online blog posts and other materials that usually are insightful and helpful for anyone interested in leadership, blogging or publishing. By following his blog and downloading some of his free ebooks and videos ( you can learn a lot about publishing, writing online posts (like this one), speaking more effectively, and leadership.

Of course Michael’s advice is not always free of charge. For example, a $30 monthly fee lets you join his Platform University and get special materials. I’m still evaluating if it’s worth the cost, at least for me. In December I purchased his video course promising the “best year ever” for those who followed its principles. The course was practical, superbly produced and impressively marketed, but it alerted me to issues that are wise to evaluate whenever we use or produce self-help materials.

  • The teacher’s values. Without doubt Michael wants to be helpful, drawing from his experiences in the publishing industry and sharing conclusions that can benefit the rest of us. He also wants to make a lot of money and show others how to do the same often through self-promotion and selling (he calls it “monetizing”) whatever we do. These values are not innately bad and to his credit Michael Hyatt effectively demonstrates what he teaches. But for me monetizing and self-promotion are not what I want to characterize my life or career.
  • The teacher’s beliefs. Geared to secular audiences, Michael demonstrates the humanistic belief that we all have the ability to set our own destinies and reach our own goals. Often these practices can be effective, but life is rarely that simple. At times unexpected illness or accidents intervene. Storms destroy our homes or layoffs disrupt our well-planned careers. Truth is, we are not the masters of our own destinies. Probably Michael agrees but these realities are noticeably absent from his materials.
  • The teacher’s theology. Without discounting Michael Hyatt’s excellent advice, Christians and other believers need to ask about the will of God and biblical values in all of this. After giving a biblical example in the “best year ever” series, Michael quickly reassures listeners that this will not become a Bible study. Why so defensive?

I continue to learn a lot from Michael Hyatt. You can too. But be cautious. Any comments?

Newsletter 597 – More on Setting and Reaching Goals

Goal setting 5This week I read an interesting blog in which the writer asked if we are drifting through life, waiting for “whatever,” or making decisions that help us take action to move toward our goals. Waiting for the winds to blow us in the right direction rarely works. But many people do something similar and drift through life, often with no particular destinations in mind.

During this past month Michael Hyatt has stimulated thousands of people, me included, to rethink their methods of setting goals for the New Year and for their lives and careers. Many of Hyatt’s teachings are practical and helpful but of equal or greater importance are goal-related principles that he downplayed or bypassed:

  • It is worthwhile to plan ahead, but none of us is in complete control of our futures. Unexpected events, including illness, can disrupt even our best intentions, shut us down or blow us off course. Goals and plans must always be held lightly.
  • It is possible for goal accomplishment to be all-consuming and for focus on goals to become potentially harmful compulsive activity. Last month, Mr. Hyatt published advice from experts who wrote about how they plan for a new year. In reading this I thought, “These people are obsessed with their goals.” Could too much focus on goals be as counter productive as no goal focus at all?
  • Since we are not in control of our futures, the setting and working toward goals should not be done alone. Wise King Solomon wrote: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (Proverbs 15:22.) Effective goal setting and planning needs input from others. It is not a solo activity.
  • God must be at the center of this process. “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps…. Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:7,3.) But as one person commented last week, “Sometimes following God’s leading will defy conventional wisdom and require sacrifice.”
  • Evaluate your goals. Ask if each goal is worth pursuing at this time in your life. Is each goal what God wants you to do? Try to keep the list manageable. Remember this old adage: “The hunter who chases more than one rabbit misses them all.”

Some research verifies that after a week or two, most New Year’s resolutions have been broken. Why? What comments would you add to the above?

Newsletter 594 – What Should we do with Advice About Success?

success1Much of what I read and write about in these blogs concerns success, efficiency, productivity, setting and achieving goals, having an impact, and making a difference. I’ve spent a lot of my life striving to live out these values. Many of my friends, colleagues and students are the same, with our life agendas built on these cultural assumptions that are universally accepted at least in developed countries. We can be grateful for people who share their experiences in these areas.

Even so, most success-focused books, articles and or seminar topics seem built on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms and promoting ourselves. There is little difference between what is produced by Christians and the success-oriented advice that comes from non-believers. In themselves none of these values is wrong. Maybe they can’t be overlooked if we want to advance our careers and have a maximum impact. But what if they dominate our thinking, actions, and relationships as they do for many among us?

I wonder what he would have said if Jesus had written a blog on success or led seminars? The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount would be a good place to start searching for our answer. Or we could look at God’s instructions to Joshua.

Remember him? Moses lead his nation until he died and Joshua took over. God gave the new leader directions, including more information about success that we read anyplace else in the Bible. Consider this when you’re looking for success guidelines:

  • “Be strong and courageous…not afraid or discouraged” because we can believe that God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:5, 6, 9)
  • Be familiar with God’s instructions and guidelines, meditating on them consistently (Joshua 1:8)
  • Determine to seek God’s leading and follow through (Joshua1:7, 8, 16, 17)
  • With divine help, trust in God fully. Don’t depend on yourself alone. “Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5).

We can benefit from the guidance of success-oriented writers. Almost always their guidance is well intentioned. But would Jesus or the God of Joshua ever advise us to “build on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms, and promoting ourselves?” Probably my career success has been limited because I resist some of the contemporary advice givers who seem unaware of biblical guidelines. Does anyone else have similar struggles? Please comment.

Newsletter 582 – The Power of Invisibles

Several years ago a friend from overseas asked if it was possible for Westerners, especially Americans, to be successful Invisiblesif they avoided self-promotion or other methods to get themselves noticed. Some of my students seem almost obsessed with building résumés and letting everyone know about their abilities and accomplishments. Without this, they wonder how anyone would get good jobs, promotions, coaching clients, or votes in elections. Jesus seemed to shun these self-promotional tactics (John 7:2-10). And the Bible lauds humility (Luke 14:11; James 5:5; Psalm 75:6, 7). Even so, this is not the way most of us operate. In this era it is difficult to move forward if we dislike publicity or shun self-promotion.

Last month I read a new book titled Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. The author, David Zweig, begins by inviting us to imagine a concert [or maybe even a worship service] where a person or group takes center stage and engages our attention. Almost nobody thinks about the individuals or teams that operate the sound-board, lighting, or images on the screens – at least not until something goes wrong like a sound failure or abrasive feedback noise.

These unnoticed people are indispensable where they work, but nobody notices unless they make a mistake. Many Invisibles are highly competent, educated, and well-trained, like the anesthesiologist in an operating room. After surgery the surgeon gets praised but patients rarely send fruit baskets or thank-you notes to the specialists who keep them alive. “These people are invisible, just expected to do their jobs.”

Nearly all of us do some work that is unappreciated and rarely noticed, but Zweig defines Invisibles as exceptionally skilled, meticulous people, often professionals, who perform critical roles. In contrast to under-employed people or laborers toiling in anonymity, Invisibles often have the qualifications to pursue prominent careers. Instead they find their greatest satisfaction in shouldering responsibility and doing their behind-the-scenes tasks exceptionally well, with little or no interest in recognition. Many even dislike acclaim or accolades. Is it surprising that these people are described as “an exceptionally satisfied lot?” They are successful and fulfilled but without seeking applause.

Do you know people like this? Does this describe you? Are you someone who takes pride in what you do, but who shuns self-promotion? Many of us would like to hear from you. Please comment.


Newsletter 580 – Taking Care of Yourself

self-care 1Here in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are planning their summer vacations. This group does not include people who are unable to take vacations or others, like me, who rarely bother to pull away from their regular work or routines. I’m not proud of this, and I shouldn’t be, according to an article by Siang Yan Tan and Melissa Castillo in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (Spring 2014).

Writing to counselors, these authors argue that self-care (including vacations) is crucial for the well-being and effectiveness of care-givers and the people we try to help. We “must not be so self-sufficient, independent, and prideful to think that we can care for others and ourselves in our own strength.” It is self-delusion to conclude that self-care is never needed or is selfish pampering. Even Jesus took regular breaks.

Tan and Castillo list a number of strategies that are basic and well known to most leaders and therapists. They include getting rest and exercise, spending time with family and people who give support, and taking periodic breaks. But listing self-care strategies is not the same as practicing them or taking them seriously. There is evidence that leaders, counselors, and pastors often ignore, explain away, or find spiritual arguments to dismiss the need for self-care. Some corporate, academic, or church cultures foster the implicit attitude that people who are genuinely dedicated to their work have no time or need to get distracted with self-care. Of course this view is unhealthy and ultimately destructive for leaders and their followers or clients. Eventually, physical, emotional, spiritual or career collapse intervenes as a wake-up call to slow down.

How do we move ourselves or others to do something about their self-care? Pressure from others, new-year’s resolutions, or intellectual arguments rarely change behavior. But regular contact with strong support systems is effective. That includes setting boundaries and connecting with people who energize rather than drain us. Also effective are activities completely disconnected from work: music, involvement with nature, spiritual reflection, hobbies, sports, and vacations without cell phones or computers. Nobody can be forced into self-care but we either take time away voluntarily or face the physical and other consequences.

How do you take care of yourself or encourage others to do the same? Please comment.

Newsletter 570 – Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life

HBR Cover Balance 1
Can anything fresh be said about balancing the challenges of work and life – and thriving in the process? Apparently the Harvard Business Review editors think this is worth the several cover stories in the March 2014 issue. Maybe the cover is a tip-off to what follows. The image of an elephant balancing on a ball is above the words “Forget about balance – you have to make choices.”This reminds me of the (easily retrieved) Balance - ElephantInternet image of an elephant balancing on a small ball above the words “Balance is the Key to Life!” Do you agree?

  • Balance is impossible if we mean consistently planned and preprogrammed time slots at work and apart from our jobs. We all know that life can be surprising and disruptive. Sometimes family crises demand attention, as do deadline-controlled periods at work. The goal is balance over weeks, months or years, not on a daily basis.
  • Home life and work life can each benefit the other. Partners at work and spouses or friends elsewhere can both bring emotional support, encouragement and fresh perspectives.
  • One large survey found that “leaders with strong family lives spoke again and again of needing a shared vision of success for everyone at home.”
  • Neither of these two domains (work and non-work activity) should be allowed to dominate the other. “Mixing these spheres too much leads to confusion and mistakes.”
  • Watch out for the destructive power of always being plugged in to communication technology including cell phones and computers. Twenty-four hour availability can hamper initiative and erode performance in individuals and in organizations.
  • The HBR articles only discuss life at work and life away. But how much of this applies to people, maybe in the millions, who have successful careers but who also are devoted to writing novels, making music, or fulfilling other avocational pursuits? How do I help a friend who has a relatively successful career but longs to spend more time working on a fulfilling hobby? Where do these fit into the balance mix?
  • Perhaps the overarching conclusion is to set realistic boundaries and keep flexible.

What do you think? How do you find balance or help others do the same? Please comment.