Personal New Year Resolutions Part I

Jim Blasingame One of the most interesting things about a small business is the relationship between it and it's creator. When you take a close look, it's often difficult to see where the business stops and the owner starts. If you want a picture of what seamless looks like, just take a photo of a small business owner standing in his or her business.

Such oneness is not only a good thing, but it's actually quite necessary, because in the early days, only those with extreme commitment will do what is required to persevere through the tough times. And extreme commitment weaves a fine seam.

But sometimes seamless creates a single-mindedness that can become unhealthy and even dangerous. Just as man does not live by bread alone, entrepreneurs should not live only through their businesses.

The irony is that, while extreme focus is necessary for survival, being a business owner can also create opportunities to expand your horizons and enrich your life. The challenge is to integrate that focus with the opportunities for enrichment. Let me say that again:

Our challenge as small business owners is to learn how to integrate the extreme focus required of us with the valuable opportunities for personal enrichment.

There are eight personal resolutions I have recommended for you in 2002. Below are four, with the remaining four coming in next week's NEWSLETTER.

Personal Resolution One: I resolve to prepare a will and look into trust options for my estate.
One of the things that define most small business owners is a desire to do things our own way. The majority of us were successful employees at one time. So it's not that we can't work and play well with others, it's just that we like the components of our lives to play out according to our plan, not someone else's.

You probably have a plan for your business. It's very likely that you have invested a great deal of thought, time and effort into what your business will be doing tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, and even 5 years from now. So, what about the day, week, month, or year after you've gone to that great marketplace in the sky? Wouldn't you like to have a little say-so about that?

I'm not an attorney; nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. But the members of my Brain Trust who are attorneys tell me that, without a will, the last component of our lives - the resolution of our estate - will in fact be played out according to an entity that, in life, most of us abhor: bureaucracy.

First, make sure you have a will, so that your estate goes to whom you choose. And don't order one of those kits. Get an attorney to do it.

Then look into some of the trust options that are available. Most small business owners like to be in control. Trusts can give you that control even after you've gone on to your reward. And don't worry about funding your trust. You'll find out how all that works as you educate yourself.

Personal Resolution Two: I resolve to acquire a mentor.
If you're like me, you have already had many mentors, past and current. But don't worry, unlike catching fish or hunting game, there's no limit.

A mentor is someone who fits two basic criteria:

1. You admire who they are and what they've accomplished personally, professionally, or both.

2. They are available to you, meaning you have the opportunity to observe, talk with, and learn from them.

Mentors can be active or passive. The former are those who have expressed an interest in you or accepted your specific request for their mentorship. The latter are people whom you learn from without there being any specific intention on their part. I have had many of these. They were bosses and friends to whose lives and professions I just paid attention.

One more thing about mentors: They're human. And like all humans, they make mistakes. Many of the best lessons I have acquired from my mentors were products of their mistakes. Some mistakes were acknowledged - taking great pains to steer me clear of those rocky shores. Some were not. But I learned from them anyway, because I paid attention.

The influence of mentors is one of those great intangibles that can make all the difference in our lives.

Personal Resolution Three: I resolve to be a mentor.
Now, with regard to being a mentor, just find someone a step or two behind you in the learning curve whom you think has promise - who is paying attention - and invest a little time and effort in them. And if you've decided you don't want to be a mentor, too bad. There's an excellent chance you already are a passive mentor to someone whose eye you have caught.

Your influence as a mentor is one of those great intangibles that can make all the difference in someone's life.

Personal Resolution Four: I resolve to learn how to define success in more ways than just money and stuff.
I could write a book on this topic, but since some of my friends have already done that, I won't. But I do have something to say about it. If you became a small business owner because you wanted to acquire money and stuff, I'm not going to rain on that parade. As a capitalist, I accept those motivations. But if those are the only things on which you are focused, get your umbrella out.

Success as a small business owner is not a gilded security blanket - it's a patchwork quilt. In addition to success in your business, you're probably a volunteer leader in your community in a number of ways: chamber of commerce, civic organization, little league, scouting, your faith life, etc. When you consider your corporate balance sheet, be sure you include off-sheet assets like being able to attend virtually all of your children's school activities, for example.

Just so I don't inadvertently begin that book I promised not to write, I'll finish with this: I know lots of rich people. Some are happy - some are not. If you aren't capable of being happy without money and stuff, you won't be happy with those things. When you learn how to define success on many levels you will also find a level of happiness that you didn't know existed.

Write this on a rock... Our challenge as small business owners is to learn how to integrate the extreme focus required of us with the opportunities for enrichment, which are by-products of that focus. Life is short. We might as well eat the whole thing, not just the business portion.

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