Don’t worry if you don’t possess all of the above traits. Starting and running a business is an act of creation; a work in progress. You can learn as you go. To give you a head start, let’s take a closer look at some of the mental skills you might need to refine to ease your transition into self-employment.
- Ability to work without supervision: You’re the boss now–nobody scheduling your time, telling you what steps to take next, what to do when things go wrong. You need to be able to prioritize your own work by differentiating between those tasks that must be done first and those projects that can be assigned back-burner status. To help keep yourself on track, make To-Do lists of all the things you need to accomplish: today, this week, this month. Then for each list, take time to analyze the steps necessary to complete each project, writing the steps down in the order they need to be done. Let these lists be your supervisor, your guide to accomplishing your goals.
- Ability to self-motivate: Sometimes the temptation to slack off is irresistible. The sun is shining and you’d rather go to the beach; or it’s raining and you’ve got a stuffy nose and you’d rather stay in bed with a good book. It’s during these times that you must force yourself to stay on task, especially if you’re working against deadlines. To overcome this mental block, try using the reward system to motivate yourself: “When I get these invoices paid, I can go for a walk in the park” (or eat a bowl of chocolate fudge ice cream, or get a massage). Use whatever reward you need to help you get through the slump. But be sure to give yourself a reward because you don’t want to leave yourself feeling betrayed.
Another motivational tactic is setting a timer that buzzes or chimes when time’s up. Allocate a certain block of minutes to work on a project (notice I didn’t say “complete a project”–who wouldn’t cave in under that pressure?) and devote yourself to that task exclusively until the timer goes off. Then you’re free to start the next task on your list. I usually find that I’m “in the zone” when the timer goes off so I just keep working, but it’s liberating to know I don’t have to.
- Ability to make quick decisions: We don’t always have the luxury of saying, “I’ll get back to you on that,” like when the delivery van breaks down and you’ve got to get two dozen centerpieces to a wedding reception that afternoon. You have to be capable of assessing a situation and coming up with a workable solution, quickly. The key is to stay calm, run through a mental list of your options, and determine which will be the most viable for that situation. Things happen, and if you allow your brain to overflow with panic, there isn’t room left for solutions-based ideas to formulate.
- Ability to handle stress: Like in the example above, you need to stay in control of your emotions when things go wrong. Screaming at the delivery person who demands payment on the spot for a prepaid order isn’t going to get the product into your hands without paying for it twice. You need to identify the problem (in this case a misunderstanding with the supplier) and shift your mental processes toward solving the problem. It helps to look at the big picture too: a hundred years from now, will this be the catalyst that ended life on earth as we know it? If the answer is no, you probably don’t need to angst over it for more than a few minutes.
- Flexibility: This one can be challenging, especially if we’ve got a fixed idea of what we want to do or a process for doing it. Then, when things don’t go as planned, we dig in, determined to make it work even if it kills us. Unless you’re willing to die for your plan, you need to be willing to entertain different ideas. Remind yourself often that entrepreneurship offers unlimited possibilities, and the greater your options, the greater your opportunities.
- Focus: Determine what you want to do, the processes and resources required to do it, and the steps you’ll need to get it done, then set yourself to the task. Keep in mind that you’ll have to be somewhat flexible, as outlined in #5 above, including allowing for interruptions, but stay on task as much as possible. If a certain project feels overwhelming, try breaking it down into bite-sized chunks and focusing on just one chunk at a time. Your ability to complete projects on time and within budget heavily relies on your ability to focus.
- Persistence: A lot of clichés about success are based on the ability to stick with a project: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”; “Slow and easy wins the race”; “If it doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer” (okay, that last one is my dad’s favorite). The point is, the only way to guarantee failure is to give up. Conversely, the only way to ensure success is to keep trying. Understand however, that you must be willing to try different processes to achieve a goal if one or more other processes don’t work (see #5 above). Also, you may find that you have to reset your goals on occasion to keep your business moving forward.
- Patience: This character trait is not only a virtue, it’s also vital to maintaining your sanity. If your business is to succeed, you need to be patient with yourself and with the progress you’re making in achieving your goals. Every day is a chance to learn and grow, so give yourself permission to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Just trust the process. Your future is unfolding at exactly the pace it needs to in order to provide you with everything you need.