“Work on your business, not just in it,” says Michael Gerber in his seminal book, The E-Myth.
His point is this: if your business is going to grow into all it can be, you must step outside of it, and work on it.
I believe we must take the same approach with our lives—we must work on them, rather than just in them all the time.
For example, if you’re not seeing your boyfriend or wife enough, rather than picking a fight, sit down with him or her, deconstruct the problem, and find a new pattern that works
(That’s why Jenna and I have a Wednesday date night every week. Or why we cook all our lunches and dinners for the week in one 2-3 hour cooking session.)
A huge part of working on your life is about stepping back, and learning from it. I did just that while on holiday vacation last month, and here are three of the most important things I learned about myself and my life from the past year.
1. The art of self-compassion. In early 2017, a mentor recommended I read Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I picked it up. In the first exercise, she has you think of something you don’t like about yourself, then write yourself a letter from the perspective of a friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting and compassionate. They see your strengths and weaknesses and accept you just as you are. It broke me wide open.
As I worked through the book, I began to see just how hard on myself I am. At some point, I assumed that if I wasn’t hard on myself, then I would start to slack. I believed that I would get further faster if I was always pushing myself like a pissed off football coach. Whenever I’d slip up, angry coach would storm in a rip me a new one. Since then I’ve become a lot kinder to myself. I’ve stopped burning up precious time berating myself. It’s marvelous.
2. Meditating habitually. I’ve long since known about the value of meditation. I’ve lost count of the number of studies I’ve read about its benefits. Every time I stumble upon another I’m think to myself, “Yes, I know, mindfulness increases wellbeing, happiness, decreases stress hormones, yada yada yada.” But I never did anything about it. Until someone asked me: “What is one behavior, that, if you changed it would dramatically improve your work, and the rest of your life life?” The second she asked the question, I knew the answer: Meditation.
Since starting the habit last September, I’ve noticed a couple changes. I can think more clearly—my mind isn’t the endless echo chamber it once was. I fall asleep faster. (And I wake up in the middle of the night, mind racing, a lot less.) I’m more attuned to my senses—the smell of the outside air, the taste of my coffee, the sound of the fan in the stairwell. And I’m a better husband, dog-dad, coach, and friend because of it.
3. This isn’t it. In fall 2014, I went to a three-day coach training called Mastering Life’s Energies. A crucial part of the training was identifying your basic assumption—a belief about yourself, others, and the world that stems from a fight/flight/freeze response. They range from “Life is hard” to “I’m stupid” to “People are assholes.” This basic assumption arises when you’re on the verge of doing something important, new, or risky.
The whole basic assumption thing never made sense to me until some powerful coaching from Flame Schoeder (thanks, Flame!) unearthed it. My basic assumption is “This isn’t it.” The effect to which this assumption has affected my life continues to astound me.
For example, when I first hired a book editor, I expected him to be my sounding board, beta reader, second brain, co-creator, and thinking partner. And when he turned out to be just an editor, I didn’t want to have any of it. I was wanting him to be it.
I went into the coaching profession because I was looking for the one profession that would be intrinsically fulfilling, help me craft my future, be financially viable, and be something I could enjoy for the rest of my life. I was searching for it. Growing up, I loved science because it’s the final authority on many matters—it is unequivocal, unarguable, final. It was it. I’m on a never-ending search for it.
Since then, this assumption is getting in my way a lot less because I can now see it. I’ve begun to notice when I’m this isn’t it-ing, and I can the shift my approach to something much more productive. I’ve still got a long way to go before I master this, but the door to mastery has at least been opened.
What were the most powerful things you learned last year?
What impact have they had on you, your life, your loved ones, and your work?
What is one behavior, that if you changed it, would make an outsize impact on your whole life?
“If you want to work in a business, get a job in somebody else’s business! But don’t go to work on your own. Because while you’re working, while you’re answering the telephone, while you’re baking pies, while you’re cleaning the windows and the floors, while you’re doing it, doing it, doing it, there’s something much more important that isn’t getting done. And it’s the work you’re not doing, the strategic work, the entrepreneurial work, that will lead your business forward, that will give you the life you’ve not yet known.” – Michael Gerber