What These 3 Big Thoughts Taught Me About Business

As the end of summer approaches, I’ve been turning over in my mind three big thoughts (you know, along with the usual minutiae):

  • Finding stillness within movement.
  • The difference between being busy and being productive.
  • How we measure success. How we talk about achieving success.

Because I delight in finding business lessons in big (some might say flighty) ideas like this and because I think you’ll benefit from reading about these lessons too, I’m going to work through the connections between these thoughts and developing my business.

Finding Stillness

Since I quit my university teaching job, this is the first fall in 32(!) years that I’m not going back to school. So, naturally, I booked myself for a weeklong yoga retreat in the mountains (AKA summer camp for adults). It was a lovely and transformative experience.

Last year during our yoga mountain retreat, I decided I was going to leave the teaching profession. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I was going to put an end to my career as a philosophy professor.

This year, I decided to commit my time and energy to people and activities that nourish me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

It’s amazing how different the business world looks when you make this the focus of every day. Even tedious tasks take on a new purpose. You don’t spend time dwelling on stuff that makes you extremely disappointed or extremely satisfied. You roll along at a speed that makes the bumps in the road feel more like vibrations. This is what I mean when I say I’ve been thinking about finding stillness within movement.

Classical yoga is all about stilling the movements of the mind. When you lay down to go to sleep at night and you can’t sleep because you have about 40 million thoughts flying around in your head, don’t you wish you could hit the pause button and drift off to sleep? If you practice classical yoga, you can train yourself to do just that.

Before I started practicing on a regular basis, I was convinced that yoga was just another gimmick. And unfortunately, yoga IS just another gimmick as it’s taught most of the time in the US. I know that makes me sound like a yoga snob or (as some of my best friends love to say) as if I’ve joined a yoga cult. But I am only speaking from my experience.

I have found a deeper, more authentic sense of self through this practice than I have ever known. I applaud and encourage anyone, especially anyone who owns a business to do whatever it is that makes you feel the same.

Business Lessons:

  • Patience is a virtue.
  • Meditation helps with productivity.
  • Focus is the name of the game in business.
  • Even during the busiest times, taking time out to think can be beneficial.
  • It’s impossible to run a prosperous business if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Busy vs. Productive

It’s true that there’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive. I found this article useful for diagnosing myself.

When I was spending 50 or 60 hours many weeks reading, teaching, grading, writing, and thinking about philosophy, I would look at my colleagues and wonder how any of them managed to have time for families or hobbies or TV. I was busier than ever, but I felt unproductive as hell and my life was really unbalanced.

In part, being busy comes with the territory as a teacher, since most in the profession really are overburdened. But I definitely wasn’t using my time as efficiently as I could have. While I still struggle with falling into the busy trap from time to time, it helps to do a reality check. Ask yourself how much each individual task you fill your day with really contributes to the whole picture. Use the answer to set your priorities.

Business Lessons:

  • Prioritize.
  • Strategize before taking action.
  • Let the results speak for themselves.
  • Make sure every action has a purpose.
  • Take downtime, when you need it. Taking downtime is not being lazy.

Measuring and Achieving Success

Because I’ve been thinking a lot about success, I’ve been noticing a lot of articles about success (or maybe the causal arrow goes in the other direction):

Here’s what bugs me about these and similar articles: although they contain some solid advice, they make it seem like success is just a matter of doing what other successful people do.

This was more or less Aristotle’s approach to ethics too: locate an ethical person, someone with practical wisdom to serve as your role model and do what they do. I spent years defending Aristotle’s approach in writing and in the classroom. And while I do think it is important to consider what makes successful people successful (or ethical people ethical), becoming successful yourself is also about figuring out how to apply these lessons to your life and your business. This is not something you can learn through observation only.

So many people seem to be looking for a quick fix or an algorithm that will be the key to success. That’s not the way success works. Whether your goal is to do be able to do a handstand or to make $100,000, there’s not likely to be anything other than hard work, at least a little luck, and not being too attached to any one part of achieving the goal that will get you there.

During the retreat, I spent a lot of time being puzzled by the idea that we’re supposed to do our work without being attached to the results. That struck me as an odd notion. Why would I do anything without expecting to see some result? Sure, I can understand the concept of not expecting to be able to do a handstand today or next week or even by the end of the year—“It’s about the journey, not the destination,” and all that. But the notion of not expecting ANY result at all EVER just doesn’t make sense to my Type-A brain.

It’s a paradox for sure (yogis love paradoxes almost as much as philosophers). But here’s how I’m interpreting it today: the key to success is to love what you do, until it’s time to do something else you love.

Business Lessons:

  • Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes.
  • Set your goals and work until you achieve them.
  • Don’t be afraid to change course if something’s not working.
  • Look at the world’s idea of success with a healthy dose of skepticism.
  • Refuse to be defined by others, but don’t get totally wrapped up in defining yourself.

I’ll be working on putting these big thoughts and business lessons into action over the next several months. In the meantime, contact me if I can help you develop your business with blog posts, website content, or other copy.

Can’t wait to see how things unfold!

Photo credit: eevl / 123RF Stock Photo