What’s the priority?

“She was laughing at your business cards. She said they look cheap!”

“Okay. And?” I replied back to my friend.

“Well… she said a company like yours should have better ones.” My friend noted.

I looked up from my computer where I was typing an email. I smiled at him and said, “Cool.”

The year was 2009 and my business partners and I had just started our new company Clean. The company was self funded (still is) and the only employees we had were the three founders, myself, Alejandro Junger, and Albert Bitton. There was always a lot to do and, like most start-ups, not many resources at all.

When it comes to building a business the name of the game is priority. The most important question my business partners and I had to ask ourselves everyday was, “What is truly the priority today?”

Maybe having nice business cards was a priority for my friend’s friend, but it wasn’t for me.

Even if I had the best business cards in the world, it wouldn’t have made any difference when it came to the success of our new business. Nice business cards don’t make money, they cost money.

Paying rent for a fancy office. Driving a leased luxury car. Spending months on a 10 year business plan. Hiring a company to create a custom voicemails. Having an assistant to look important. Allocating way too much money on a logo. Spending a year on the most perfect website….

These things don’t matter in the beginning. They may matter later on (or maybe never), but they don’t in the beginning.

What does matter is beginning are the fundamentals. The product, the customer’s experience, the customer support to name a few.

I’m not advocating that my priorities should be your priorities. I’m simply encouraging that the question be asked.

What’s the priority? If something isn’t priority, have the courage to quit it and recommit to what is.

While my friend’s friend was focused on our business cards, my partners and I were focused on making customers happy with our product. And even though we didn’t have nice business cards, or a fancy office, or the best website, we did make our first $1,000,000 in sales that summer.

Here’s to working on what matters.

My best friends don’t know me

My best friends don’t know me.

They don’t know what my limits are and they don’t know what I’m capable of.

They don’t pigeon hold me into their version of my identity. They don’t cap my growth with their own beliefs.

One of the greatest gifts one friend can give another is the freedom to be whoever they want to be.

My best friends help me be the best version of me, but they never assume to know what that version “should” be.

My best of friends don’t have me all figured out. And I love them for that.

Focus and remembering

There’s no right or wrong way to focus. Focus just means giving love and attention to the priorities that matter.

The priorities that you set. The priorities that shape the life you want to live.

All too often though, even when we do set priorities, distractions creep in. And of course fear creeps in too.

So the act of focusing is essence remembering what those priorities are, deciding if they still matter, and if so recommitting to them.

I usually think of it this way:

Remember and recommit.

or

Remember and quit.

Naturally, sometimes something that once was a priority may not be a priority anymore. And that can be an amazing thing.

That’s why quitting priorities that don’t matter is just important as recommitting priorities that do.

Doing it all and doing it now

Everyday I meet budding entrepreneurs who want to work on it all.

They want to start a new company (maybe two), write a book, create a nonprofit, throw amazing events, have a TV show and continue live their version of a balanced life.

Believe me, I want to do all those things too. The only distinction is that I’m not worried about doing it all right now. I’m just committed to doing it *right* in general.

Creating great things (books, companies, events) takes focused love and lot of help. And the challenge is that when we’re just staring out we often don’t have a lot of help. We haven’t yet built our team.

Our ability to juggle multiple projects is largely dependent on two things:

1) The complexity of the project
2) How much help we have

The more stuff you want to work on, the more help you need.

You are not Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, or Elon Musk – yet. But maybe one day you will be.

Until then though, chances are you’ll have to pick a couple of priorities and do them well so you can get the experience, money, connections and team to graduate the the next level.

I don’t know you and what you’re capable of. Maybe you can work on it all at the same time. If so, good for you. Please teach the rest of us how you do it.

Lastly, if you feel spread too thin and you don’t feel like you’re getting the important work done, here’s a question for you that I often ask myself

Are you using the excitement of jumping from one new project to another to cover up fear you have to committing to doing the work that truly matters?

Constraints

Walls. Boundaries. Limits. Constraints. 

Some people hear these words and they cringe. I hear these words and I get excited.

Without some limits and boundaries it’s hard to remain grounded. Without constraints it can be hard to grow.

Freedom is a beautiful thing. It’s also possible to get lost in freedom too.

I read a really interesting essay yesterday on this topic. It was a by a blogger who was explaining why he decided to cut off internet access at home.

Here’s the gist:

He wasn’t happy with his productivity and he didn’t feel he was honoring his time when he was on the internet. So he killed his wifi at home and now when he wants to get work done he has to go to a coffee shop or the library. Now every hour counts. No more messing around and no more overworking.

I don’t plan on cutting of my wifi anytime soon, but I love the intension behind his reasoning. Instead of trying to do more and be more, he opted for less. Less can be a very powerful intension.

Constraints build creativity. Here are just a few constraints that I’ve played with over the last 10 years at various times.

* Not spending any money on the weekend to become more mindful about my beliefs about money
* Only watching tv or movies when I’m flying/traveling to become more mindful about time
* Not taking on new projects to practice honoring my current commitments
* Working on Sunday’s but not Monday’s to become better at planning and delegating
* Avoiding all social media, especially surfing news-feeds, unless I had something meaningful to post
* Not dating for a period of time to notice relationship patterns that I was replaying

The key words here are “played with.” I played with the constraint as long as it served me. Once it stopped serving me I let it go.

Constraints build creativity.

Being present enough to notice it

Movies (and great tv) have this ability to make even the most mundane life situations look so interesting and appealing.

Of course a big part of it is the plot and finding a character in an unexpected tale.

But there’s something else that really draws us in, something so fundamental that it’s easy to overlook.

Go to the park or a cafe and people watch for a hour and you’ll see the obvious: many of us are in our heads.

The majority of us spend our day in our mind contemplating the past or future, not present to what is happening now. The same thoughts and worries are on repeat day after day. And, worst of all, most of these thoughts aren’t ones we decided to think about on purpose.

Compare that to the characters we watch on screen, especially the ones played by great actors. Even when they’re doing the most basic of functions like drinking coffee in park, or ridding a bus, washing dishes, or having a conversation with a friend, they are present in the moment, free of mental noise.

Even when characters in movies act distracted there’s a deep intentionality to it. It’s like everything they do they are doing on purpose. There’s something really appealing about that. It’s invigorating to watch people who aren’t stuck in their head.

Some people call movies an escape. I like to think of the great ones as a reminder. A reminder that anything is possible and that our own life is so much more interesting and amazing than we give it credit for. We just have to be present enough to notice it.

Our calling and the expression of our calling

There’s our “calling”, and then there’s the “expression of our calling”. They sound similar, but they are two very different things.

A calling is your answer to the question, “Why am I here?”

This sounds like a big question, and it is, but the answer is simple.

Talk to people you look up to, read the accounts of people you admire and you’ll see a pattern. The underlying theme that drives them, their calling, isn’t some long, drawn out purpose statement. It’s often a simple sentence or two.

The other thing you’ll notice is that their calling is not a definition of what they do for a living. Their calling might be related to what they do, but a it isn’t the title on their business card.

How we put our calling to use is what I call “the expression of our calling.” The expression is where things get sophisticated. The expression is where our skill meets our passion. The expression is the outward execution of our internal calling.

Oprah’s calling is to teach, and use her passion for teaching to uplift others. The Oprah Winfrey show, her magazines, speeches, movies and overall empire are an expression of that calling. Her calling, from what I’ve read, was always there, even from a young age. The mission in her life was to get better and better at expressing and executing that calling.

When I hear smart people say “I haven’t found my calling yet” I question their statement. Is it really that they haven’t found their calling? Or is it that they’re still working on how to express their calling? It could be both, to me it more often feels like the latter.

Sometimes people think their calling is too simple. They think it needs to sound fancier or more complicated than it is. I know I used to feel this way.

Growing up my dad placed a lot of importance on family and community. He taught me the same thing his dad taught him: at the end of the day it’s the relationships around us that make life rich. From a young age the thing I looked forward to the most was spending time with my family, especially my twenty-plus cousins. It didn’t matter if we were just sitting around the house, washing dishes, or doing homework, when I was with my cousins I felt like life was full. They got me and I got them. We had our our parents and grandparents to thank for creating that culture of support.

As I grew up and realized how lucky I was to have the family I do, I also realized that I could bring the same lessons of support that I learned from my family to my larger community. I started building websites and hosting events for different groups that I was involved with. Groups like meditation clubs, people interested in wellness, and cultural groups too. The hope was that the skill of caring I learned from my family would bring these communities closer together. And it worked fantastically! When I brought groups closer together, in my unique way, people felt more supported and all sorts of deep friendships formed.

One day, at an event I was hosting, someone asked me what my calling was. Without really thinking about it I just quickly replied back, “I think it has something to do with bringing community together.” Whoa! The speed of my answer kind of shocked me. It seemed so obvious and yet, after thinking about it a little more, it also seemed way too simple. I mean… bringing people together… is that even a calling?

Bringing community together, that’s my calling. Who gives a shit if it sounds too simple. A calling isn’t something someone else picks for you. It’s something you pick for yourself. It’s your answer to the question, “Why am I here?” My answer to that question is simple, I’m here to build community.

One day a friend asked me if being the co-founder and ceo of a wellness company is my calling. I told him it wasn’t. He looked a little confused and followed up with, “When do you think you’ll start living your calling?” I told him he was confused, I was living my calling.

Being founder of a company isn’t my calling, but it does allow my calling to express itself. I love building community and through Clean I’ve had the opportunity to connect a lot of people. My business partners and I have brought a team together that really cares about each other. And that same team has helped build a world wide community of thousands of people who have similar values. Best of all, we’re having a blast doing it.

I like talking about wellness, I like helping people get healthy, I’m good at business, but these things aren’t my calling. They’re all just part of the expression. I had to get good at them to allow my calling to unfold.

Today when I talk about my love for building community it can seem obvious to others. But it’s only obvious in their minds because they think I’m successful. Translation, they see me making good money doing what I’m doing and they think I must have it figured out.

If I can claim that I have anything figured out it’s this: don’t doubt your calling.

I’ve known that building community was my calling for at least 10 years now. When I was younger, I felt it, but as I grew older I found the words to express it.

Even when I was making hardly any money and felt totally confused about what to do in life, I always knew what my calling was. I just didn’t know how it was going to express itself.

And who knows how it will express itself in the years to come. Anytime I feel anxious about the future I remind myself that it’s not my job to worry about what may or may not happen. No, that’s a waste of time.

My job, the number one most important thing for me to focus on is this: remember the answer to the question “Why am I here”, and let go of anything that doesn’t serve that higher purpose, especially my own limiting beliefs.

Integrity, raising money and coaching

Many years ago I was invited to Chicago to be a guest at a summit for nonprofit leaders. The summit was hosted at the Kellogg School of Management by the dean, a kind and smart guy.

The summit had an official theme, but the un-official theme was, “how to start running your non-profit more like a smart business so you could get real ish done.”

There were all sorts of great speakers at the event, but one speaker in particular really blew my mind. I don’t remember her name, all I remember is that she played a key roll at one of the largest non-profits in Illinois. For the sake of the story, let’s call her Ms. Amazing.

Now, one of the things that non-profits are always complaining about is money. They don’t have enough and they have a hard time raising it. This is why Ms. Amazing was here. She was the Michael Jordan of raising money, and she was here to school us right.

Her presentation had all sorts of practical gems in it, best practices and whatnot, but it was her closing argument that left us all a little speechless.

Allow me to paraphrase…

“In closing, I want to leave you with something very important to think about when it comes to donations, money and your nonprofit. How could you ever honestly ask someone for a donation if you yourself are not donating to your organization?

The same thing goes for your staff. If they aren’t donating any of their own hard-earned money to the nonprofit, do they have any right to ask others to do so? Sure, maybe un-paid volunteers get a slide because they’re donating their time, but everyone else doesn’t, especially leadership.

It’s not even about the amount of money, it’s about being invested in the idea of what you’re offering and what the nonprofit stands for. If you don’t believe in it with real dollars, why should anyone else?

Before you sit down at your next strategy meeting, before you put together your next marketing plan, ask your team how many of them have actually donated to your organization in the recent months. The answer may surprise you.”

Damn…. Ms. Amazing straight-up gave me the smack down! She didn’t know it, but I was guilty as charged.

Even though I wasn’t a paid staff member of the nonprofit I was with, I was senior leadership. And even though I was volunteering my time, that still didn’t matter. I was asking other people for their money and I wasn’t donating my own.

No wonder we were having a hard time raising money. There was a major disconnect, and my team and I were all part of the problem.

I thought about this story last night when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

My friend just launched this great coaching program for coaches, and it sounded like it was doing really well. The program not only focused on how to be a better coach, but it also focused on how to make a living as a coach.

So I asked my friend more about it and what she thought was one of the major takeaways students got from the course. To my pleasant surprise one of the top takeaways she mentioned was:

“As a coach, how can you ask someone to hire you if you yourself have never hired a coach before? To be a great coach, you need to have gone through the receiving end of the coaching experience.”

So true.

Asking people for a donation, asking people to hire you as a coach, asking people to buy your product, it’s all the same. Either you are energetically in alignment with what you are doing or you are not.

Does this mean my team was magically able to start raising money after we started donating ourselves? Nope. But I seriously doubt we would have made much progress if we didn’t at least start there.

Household name

Most people in the world don’t have an iPhone. Most people have never been to Disneyland, they’ve never seen House of Cards and they don’t know who Bryan Cranston is.

As an entrepreneur, artist or creator, it’s important to remember that even things that we think of as universal, things that we think everyone knows about or has experienced, are not always so.

Starting a new business and money

Starting a new business? Just a couple quick thoughts about business and money…

(1) Do what ever you can to minimize your expenses / lifestyle before you start your business. Cut dinning out, opt for stay cations, cut spending overall. Take the extra cash and build up your emergency fund, Dave Ramsey style.

(2) Do what ever you can to pay off as much debt as possible before you start, especially credit cards. Debt is a huge distraction and will mess with your execution abilities.

Lastly…

(3) Try to cover your base expenses while you are building your business. This one is huge.

Turning a good idea into a great and profitable business takes time.

It takes time to learn the in’s and out’s of marketing, execution, and delegating. It also takes time to learn how to deal with inner demons and the fear and self-doubt they create.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to figure things out both practically and emotionally.

I meet people all the time who had to quit their business early because they ran out of time. Which really means they ran out of money. They set aside money from their savings to start their business, but they ran out of money before the business took off.

If they only had a year or two more time, many of them would have figured things out.

Getting a side gig or part time job can really help give you the time you need to figure things out. All you need to do is make enough money that your most basic expenses are covered. If your base expenses are covered by a side gig, then you’ll have all the time you need to learn, grow and build your business.

I didn’t take this advice when I started my first business, and I paid the price. I took this advice when I started my current business, and it made a huge difference.

Good luck!