The Secret to Being a Successful Entrepreneur:
Keep a Journal

How do you find your way, making decisions, coping with risk and uncertainty, muddling through, getting perspective, solving problems, and staying upbeat so you can achieve your business vision? One part of the answer—of course there isn’t just ONE secret to being a successful entrepreneur: keep a journal.

Entrepreneurs–and, yes, we are all entrepreneurs in some way–must be nimble superheroes: willing and able to accomplish a myriad of different tasks almost as superhuman as jumping tall buildings in a single bound. Entrepreneurs often are learning new skills on the fly, inventing and creating as they go, leading a group of people to new territory without a roadmap, often engaging in herculean tasks, perhaps for years without recognition and without certainty that they’ll meet success.  It’s an adventure which can be both exhausting and exhilarating–sometimes bouncing between the two from hour to hour.

superhero

You may think of being an entrepreneur as one who mostly keeps his/her eyes on the bottom line, staying strictly analytic and ignoring the non-rational, softer side. But you’d be limiting yourself. 

As writing advocate Natalie Goldberg astutely pointed out, “Writing is for everyone, like eating and sleeping.” Goldberg knows that writing is an important element for those who are committed to living a full life, and being an entrepreneur is living an extraordinarily full life.

CREATIVITY AND PROBLEM SOLVING:

We entrepreneurs daily have to think up new ways to solve problems. Brainstorming is constant and the focus changes as the business evolves from first conceiving the product and doing market research;  to creating the  product; to getting more customers; to minimizing costs and maximizing profits; to better promoting your product or service. Coming up with new and executable ideas and strategies is a constant task. 

Recently research from Texas A&M has shown that more ideas are generated when one brainstorms alone, rather than in a group.  Group interaction after the individual brainstorming may be a good idea, but individual brainstorming has been proven to be more productive than group brainstorming. 

Brainstorm in your journal where it is private, so your wilder and crazier ideas needn’t be visible to anyone else.  Journals are an oasis away from pressure.  It’s your own safe place where you can creatively play without judgment or pressure to perform. 

The ideas you generated are easy to find (if you use searchable journal software!) later.  You can add to it later when a new idea pops up. Or go back to your list if you find that your chosen idea didn’t work out as planned and you want to try a different one.

STRESS AND COPING:

There’s nothing static or routine about being an entrepreneur. Technology shifts, priorities change, and cultures are constantly adjusting. You have to constantly outsmart the competition.  We entrepreneurs are often under a lot of stress—with responsibilities to keep the income stream flowing to pay bills, juggling multiple tasks, often while climbing steep learning curves.  Not to mention balancing work responsibilities with other important relationships—family and friends. Did I just hear some anxious quick and shallow breathing? The sound of tossing and turning through a sleepless night?  Yes, stress is a simple fact of entrepreneurship.  And unfortunately, this is a double whammy—the high levels of acute or chronic stress can impair problem-solving and creativity. 

How to cope? Journal writing is proven to be a stress reliever—and a productive one. Writing about emotionally meaningful issues (including simply venting at times) improves health, boosts the immune system, and can lower blood pressure.  I have used journal writing—sometimes just 15 minutes of writing when I awake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep—to dump out my worries and then relax back into sleeping.  And at times, serendipitously, in the course of writing about a concern, an insightful solution to the problem appears.

MUDDLING THROUGH AND PERSPECTIVE:

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” –Friedrich Nietzsche.
 
Although Nietzsche was a philosopher and not an entrepreneur, he knew about the chaos of creating.

Muddling is inescapable when you are finding your way in a new environment—which is where entrepreneurs find themselves often.  Every one of us has to be comfortable with some degree of muddling through in order to move on to higher levels of clarity. Although it may feel disorienting, muddling is a good indicator that you are growing, being challenged, and moving forward. 

Journal writing is a salve for muddling. Writing about the experience can be soothing after a stressful day of muddling. You can feel better by simply expressing the frustration and confusion. You can describe, in exquisite detail if you like, all the discomfort and the twists and turns of the muddle, if that helps you feel better. 

And there are even greater benefits to expressing through the written word. You can learn from your writing. Writing slows you down, so that you can more clearly think through the issues that you are encountering. You can solve some of the problems by writing about them, because you are explicitly and maybe even rationally focusing on them. You can view the situation from different perspectives–from two giant steps back, or from the other side or the situation entirely, or from the inside of the problem, looking out—helping you clear the muddle. 

STAYING FOCUSED AND UPBEAT

Staying upbeat is key. Even while stumbling upon the bumps and barriers in the road, you have to remember that ultimately it’s your passion that is the driving force for success. In the thick of encountering difficult roadblocks you can forget what your big picture is. You can forget what your core values are and what your vision is. Use your journal to keep your focus, to write about your core values, to remind yourself about the passion that set you on this entrepreneurial road in the first place.  Re-read those journal entries when you find yourself floundering, and you’ll soon be back on course. 

Being an entrepreneur is undoubtedly challenging, and with your journal as trusty companion, you can maneuver through the inevitable rough spots with focus, creativity, and perspective, onto success!

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