What I learnt at university didn’t prepare me for entrepreneurship. I studied engineering, not entrepreneurship. This meant that I was more familiar with the world of formulas, than the world of fast-moving technology. When I started an engineering degree, I certainly didn’t expect myself to be running my own marketing agency now.
But what I haven’t learnt from university has forced me to pick up many things on my own. Entrepreneurship, more than anything else, is a personal development journey. You have no employer to take charge of your development, putting you on nice courses, paying for your development, and asking you if you learnt anything.
You have to do that for yourself.
That’s why this article will share my personal development journey as an entrepreneur, so that you can get some helpful principles to look at your own journey.
Don’t follow what I do
Before we start, I will add a caveat: don’t follow what I do.
It’s important to state this – because I’ve found many entrepreneurs who ask me ‘what to do’, or ‘how to do’ certain things. I like to tell them that it’s your journey, and I’m not about to tell you what to do.
You have to discover that for yourself. But what you can learn is why I did certain things on my personal development journey, so that you can get some useful pointers to look at your own journey.
Relationships over transactions
Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely journey. You’re working in your room, all day, taking calls, fighting alone, and it can feel like you’re all on your own. The personal development journey is about enlisting networks of people who can come alongside you to be your supporters, cheerleaders, and first customers.
But don’t go into these networking groups with the intention to make sales. Go with the intention to learn. When I first started at Business Networking International (BNI), I started there because I wanted to learn how to be a better salesman. Every week, they would have a segment where people would come to share something. I gained so much from those lessons. I didn’t go there with the intention of getting name cards or to pass my name card around to get sales. I went there to learn. When you go with the intention of trying to sell something, people can smell it. People can sense that you’re there with an agenda, trying to pitch them something.
It’s like that friend you have, who’s now an insurance agent. He offers to meet you after a long time. You immediately feel suspicious. What does he want? Why is he suddenly wanting to meet you?
It’s the same in associations and networks. Going there with the desire to learn about people’s businesses, to form relationships, rather than with the intention to make transactions happen, will help you make more of your meetings.
Don’t just have a coach
Many people have spoken about how having a coach has been very helpful for their lives. But I don’t think it’s just about having a coach. It’s about acting on what the coach says.
When I first hired a coach, he was the one who introduced me to the concept of being expert enough. He was the one who convinced that I didn’t need to feel like I was a fraud, like the fake airline pilot in “Now You See Me”. He helped me see that I wasn’t only wearing a suit with a fancy label as an ‘entrepreneur’, but that I was an expert in my own right. More than anything else, he helped me by forcing me to be accountable to someone. When I said I would do something, I would be afraid of the next meeting when I met him… and ended up not taking the actions that he had told me to take.
Having a coach was not only about being coached, having someone who cared for my progress, and that of my business. Entrepreneurship is lonely. Many times, you’re taking difficult decisions on your own, wondering how you’re going to make it through. Stop. You don’t have to do this alone. The personal development journey is personal, but it doesn’t have to be done by you, the one person. You can enlist others in your journey. A coach can help you feel that you’re not fighting alone. You’re fighting alongside someone else.
The curse of knowledge
The world of the internet means that today, there’s more knowledge available to us than ever before. Yet I still think there’s something special about being in a class together with people.
Don’t be friends with knowledge. Be friends with people. At the Advanced Certificate for Learning and Performance, a 7 month training qualification, I made a group of friends that helped me get through the frustrating assignments, laugh with the instructors, and eventually work towards a common purpose.
Think of personal development as having a Batman utility belt. It’s stuffed with mental tools and knowledge that you’ve learnt. But it’s also filled with the people that support you along the way, coaches, acquaintances, friends.
Learn for fun
That’s why I always say, learn something you enjoy. You’re not in school anymore. No one is forcing you to take the boring subject you used to hate at school. No one’s asking you to memorise boring theories.
Today, in the world of entrepreneurship, learning is through action. If you don’t enjoy what you’re learning, you’re not likely to take any action.
As BJ Fogg, the professor behind some of Silicon Valley’s most famed start-ups such as Instagram, once shared, his two maxims for behavior change are:
1. Help people do more of what they already do.
2. Help people feel successful.
If you want to learn a core skill for your business, find a way to fit it into what you already do. For example, let’s say you want to learn how to sell better. You learnt that it’s best to sell to people you know. Using BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits model, you could try this.
Credit: BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Method
Looking at the above, you start to see how learning no longer becomes an abstract thing in an online course or article, but becomes played out in real life. Because that’s how change happens.
In real life. With fun. If you don’t like what you’re applying from your learning, chances are, you’ll never continue it.
Shane Melaugh, the serial entrepreneur behind the likes of WordPress plugin software like Thrive Themes, loves talking about how he learns 20% through resources, and then immediately learns the other 80% through applying it to life.
Try learning, for fun, with application.
The personal development journey isn’t about saying you don’t have enough as you are, where you are. It’s not trying to say that you’re bad and need more ‘development’ to become better. Rather, it’s about saying, that you’re great as you are and, you can be greater.
Many times, we make the assumption of thinking that we need more of X course, or Y coaching, or Z class. But approaching it as a ‘need’, is approaching it from a lens of lack, rather than a lens of love. Approaching it differently is approaching it because we ‘want to’. It’s not because society tells us it’s useful for our business, or because LinkedIn says this is the next hottest skill, but we do it because we want to.
We want to grow from what we learn.
The personal development journey of an entrepreneur, can be painful, arduous and stressful, especially when you feel that you’re persistently out of your depth. But cut yourself some slack.
You’re growing. You just don’t see it yet.