You're finally getting your consulting business running. You took a big risk leaving a corporate job, and a year into it things are going great. The maze of self-employment is starting to make sense. You have a solid base of clients who trust you. You're the first person they call.
So what's wrong? Most of us are in pursuit of something. Whether as entrepreneurs out on our own or within a big organization, we're up to something-a work project, a self-improvement plan, a relationship goal. And when we're in pursuit, things sometimes get in the way. We get into arguments with colleagues. We differ on our visions. The market changes and we have to adapt.
Or we just burn out. What happens when we run into challenges? Unfortunately, many of us immediately label it as a "problem." Then we sit and think about the problem all day, every day. We turn to other people and tell them all about our "problem." If they're feeling sorry for us, they might say, "Wow, you have a problem. I've had a problem like that, too. I know this one guy who had a problem just like that."
Over time, the problem becomes an actual problem. Now instead of pursuing our passion, we're out to solve our problem. We have it backward. Do we start building a house by installing the roof? When we find a crack running along the side of a house, do we run to get the paintbrush? Do we fret over which color to use to paint over the crack? We immediately think of our foundation.
The same goes for business and life. The challenges we face are nearly always due to imbalances or weaknesses in our foundation. The moment we face a challenge, the first thing to do is a check one of the four cornerstones of our foundation. The four cornerstones of all our great pursuits are Me, We, Do and Be.
The me cornerstone: This is what we casually call me, or myself. It is made up of our intellectual, philosophical and spiritual foundation. To check this cornerstone, we take some time alone and contemplate in solitude about what is holding us back.
What do I really feel? What do I really think? Often in the chaos of professional life, we forget to look inside. There are great insights inside all of us, if only we take the time to listen. Routines that strengthen and maintain the 'Me' cornerstone include setting aside time in the morning to reflect on our mission and the mission of our business.
The we cornerstone: The 'We' cornerstone is made up of others. It is our relationships and our connection to friends, family and colleagues. To check this cornerstone, we think about the people around us. Do they pass through your mind undisturbed, or is there a reaction-anger, envy or annoyance? If there is anything that needs to be said, we say it and move on. Internalized annoyance can often spread and affect our 'Me' cornerstone. We just can't think straight. A simple chat can fix this. We can strengthen the 'We' cornerstone by smiling, calling friends to see how they're doing and checking in with employees or colleagues.
The do cornerstone: This is the domain of action, where so many of us like to spend all of our time. But checking on this cornerstone is just as important as the rest. The Do cornerstone is not made up of fussing and busywork but of goal-directed, effective action aimed at improving our physical, financial and environmental condition. Our environmental condition includes the space around us.
Is the office clean or cluttered? When was the last time you cleaned your car? A weak Do cornerstone shows up as bad health, debt and clutter. A strong Do cornerstone means that we are in shape, adding real value and keeping our spaces clean and pleasant.
The be cornerstone: Here is where we focus on the past and the future. Some problems are a result of spending too much time in this cornerstone, daydreaming or keeping records of our achievements without really achieving anything real.
We check on this cornerstone by taking a step back and seeing where we are contributing to something bigger than our day-to-day work and ourselves. Some of the most difficult challenges come from a weak Be cornerstone. We lose our passion and our work appears meaningless. Routines that strengthen the Be cornerstone are simple and include keeping a calendar and a diary and maintaining a company or personal history.
It's about balance: When we identify "problems" and chase them, we are really obsessing over imbalances in one cornerstone and ignoring the other three. It seems counterintuitive, but the first step is to step away from the problem and make sure our four cornerstones are all strong and aligned.
When anything seems off-balance, count off on your fingers, "1, 2, 3, 4."
* How is my 'Me' cornerstone?
* What are my thoughts and feelings on this?
* How about my connections to others?
* Is this just a relationship problem that could be solved with a sincere talk?
* How about my actions?
* How about the bigger picture-am I working toward something greater than myself?
No building can stand on just one cornerstone. No person can succeed without a strong foundation.
The writer is a socio-economist,
keynote speaker & contributor at
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