SUCCESS is the only magazine that focuses on people who take full responsibility for their own development and income. It's readers understand that the world has changed and the classic employer-to-employee relationship has changed from a patriarchal to a transactional one. It is your guide for personal and professional development through inspiration, motivation and training.
It is inevitable that you will experience failure in the pursuit of success. In fact, you will probably fail more times than you will succeed. But through the lows, you’ll find the highs. You just have to keep trying. Your chance is waiting and it’s closer than you think, so don’t give up! For inspiration, read these quotes about failure:
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
“Most great people have achieved their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” —Napoleon Hill
“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” —Ellen DeGeneres
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” —John Green
“Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” —Jack Canfield
“Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” —Oprah Winfrey
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett
“You always pass failure on your way to success.” —Mickey Rooney
“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” —Zig Ziglar
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes—understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” —Arianna Huffington
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” —James Joyce
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” —Truman Capote
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” —Albert Einstein
Over the past month, I interviewed three times for a job I felt sure I would get. It felt, from the moment I heard about it, as if it were tailored specifically for my qualifications. It was the perfect match for both my skills and passion, and each step closer made me more self-assured that I was the natural fit. I (perhaps not so wisely) put aside all other work to focus exclusively on creating space for this new job. I worked hard to nail my interviews. I gave it my all. Yet in the end, I failed to get the job.
I felt both blindsided and bereft when I received the news that I was the runner-up with not so much as a ribbon to commemorate my efforts. I wished them well with their new candidate, but I secretly wanted to beg them for the answer to that ego-crushing question: Why not me?
To compound my feeling of failure, this wasn’t a new scenario for me—not in the least. A couple months earlier, I had the same experience interviewing for a slightly less perfect job. Totally qualified, vying as one of the final two and ultimately coming up short. It hurt.
As much as these failures were a blow to my pride, I’ve come to see the silver lining in each of them. The first job was good money, but I wasn’t terribly passionate about it. It would have taken up a good deal of my time and creative energy. It wasn’t quite right, and had I taken it, I never would have had the time or inclination to apply myself with such force and dedication to this second job. The other one I didn’t get. The one that smacked my ego in the face but humbled me for the next opportunity. The one that now leaves me open to a new and far better path than I had originally anticipated, just as every failure does.
The truth is, these back-to back failures have been invaluable to my future because they have shown me (firmly) the paths that are not for me. Failure can be a lesson in impermanence, or one in taming your ego or learning the art of self-improvement. Failure is a masterful teacher in ways success often isn’t.
It gives you the opportunity to analyze your experiences and improve for the next time.
But for all the virtuous lessons that can apply to any number of failures, the most consistent silver lining is that of opportunity—not the one you “missed” but the one that is inevitably on its way. Failure isn’t always about learning to be better, faster or stronger than the next guy. Sometimes it’s about learning, in hindsight, that the best was yet to come.
Even though this second job was a better fit than the first, I have come away feeling less scarred by the failure because I know that these experiences are preparing me for the next opportunity. Not only that, the failure itself leaves me open to something better, even if I am not yet certain of what that entails.
It may seem like blind hope or unwise optimism, but framing failure as a gift of opportunity isn’t without merit. In fact, there are many “famous failures” who have shown that failure is one of the key stepping stones of success:
Oprah Winfrey was famously fired from her television news job and given over to a daytime talk show as a sort of consolation prize—the opportunity that would take her to unimaginable heights in her career.
Anna Wintour was fired as a junior fashion editor from Harper’s Bazaar because her style was too “edgy”—a trait her career would depend on in her decades-long run as editor-in-chief of Vogue.
Walt Disney was fired as a cartoonist for The Kansas City Star newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”—which led him, undeterred, to strike out for Hollywood and found Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
These are extreme cases of success to be certain, but they each show the powerful opportunity that failure brings to the picture: bigger, better opportunity waiting in the eaves. It can mean toiling away at a path that doesn’t harness your best and brightest self—a learning experience, and the first step toward more than you imagined for yourself. If you ask me, that’s a silver lining well worth celebrating.
As entrepreneurs, our coaches tell us to work on our business, but work on ourselves more. That’s easier said than done when our days are spent juggling customer acquisition and retention, personnel, finance and the myriad other balls we struggle to keep aloft.
I believe there is a common energy that connects us all and that we attract people and things to us with similar intention, heart and focus. Therefore, in order to evolve and attract good people and opportunities into our life, we have to rise to their level. Our unlimited potential as human beings makes this possible. The more we concentrate our energy in this way, the closer we come to realizing our life’s purpose, or true north. We are all works in progress, and the more we work to improve ourselves, the more our entire life evolves.
Here are six steps to set you on your path:
The first step is to decide what it is you truly want, both personally and professionally. Do you want to attract good relationships into your life? Do you want to do philanthropy? Do you want to invent a product or provide a service that will impact people’s lives for the better? Do you want to help people who haven’t have the same exposure to opportunities as you? Dream big because that is the only way you will grow, and then decide.
2. Be deliberate.
Establish daily routines and rituals to help systemize your evolution. For instance, every morning, I work out, shower, meditate and read. Then I close my eyes and take 120 seconds to visualize how I want my day to turn out. This moment of mindfulness keeps me present and focused on positive outcomes. Then, at the end of each day, I close my eyes and spend another 120 seconds reflecting on what worked throughout the day. Before I go to bed, I write down effective questions (more on that below) and five things for which I am grateful. The act of writing them down releases them from my thoughts so I can go to sleep with a clear and positive frame of mind.
Individual success and achievement are primarily based on one’s sense of self-worth. The picture that you have of yourself on the inside determines how you act and react on the outside. If you see yourself as a 4 out of 10, you will act like a 4 out of 10. When your self-image is positively reinforced with deliberate intention by writing affirmations, the benefits are engrained in your subconscious mind.
Affirmations are short, positive statements written in first person in the present tense. They describe qualities you aspire to, the abundance you wish to attract into your life and so on. An app like Prompter! can help to habitualize the writing of your daily affirmations. The app provides a list of 12 affirmations for you to write out every day. After 21 days, the app provides a new list. Prompter! users span all ages and walks of life. I have been affirming for more than 30 years and firmly believe that doing so has played a key role in my personal and professional success.
4. Ask effective questions.
Whatever you are worried about likely can’t be resolved between midnight and 5 a.m., but it keeps you awake just the same. One way to put your subconscious mind to work and help you get a restful night’s sleep is to write down effective questions before you go to bed. Effective questions are open-ended and solicit a positive, constructive response. For example:
How can I help to resolve this situation so everybody wins?
With whom should I be speaking?
How can I make a positive difference?
How can put my skills to good use?
What is the root cause of our gridlock?
What other ways can I try?
What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
Are my motivations based in love or fear?
Often when I practice this, my subconscious mind works on the solution overnight, and when I awake, I recall the name of someone I should call or an action I could take that will help me grow.
5. Establish a group of advisers.
The origin of the quote, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” is murky, but it’s one of my favorites. A core group of individuals who you respect, admire and trust can be an invaluable source of feedback as you set off on your journey to evolve. Personal and/or professional mentors know you in ways you may not know yourself. Bring them into your confidence and share how you want to improve and ask for their advice.
In business, we need a 30,000-foot view of our industry so we can spot trends and seize opportunities. A way to draw on the expertise of others to help you get the perspective of that high-level view is to listen to podcasts. According to Edison Research, monthly podcast listening is increasing in every age demographic, and the typical podcast consumer is likely to earn more than $100,000 per year. There are thousands of podcasts available on virtually any topic. My favorites include those discussing meditation, self-improvement and mentorship.
6. Write a personal mission statement.
As I travel across the U.S. and Canada, more than ever people are telling me they are searching for meaning in their lives. It isn’t about the money; they want to be a difference-maker. They’re searching for a cause or a path that truly resonates with them. They want to add value and leave their mark.
What is the legacy that you want to leave? Your written, personal mission statement will become the touchstone for every decision you make. It takes into account your priorities, life goals and code of conduct. It can take weeks or months to write. The homework you do on yourself and the effective questions you ask can help to define your mission statement.
Now is the only time we have, yet in the bedlam of business, it can be a challenge to be mindful and stay present in the moment. Dreams are in the present tense. Affirmations are in the present tense. Meditation is in the present tense. Your personal mission statement should be written in the present tense. The more often you can stay present in the moment, the higher your personal energy level, the more goodness you will attract into your life and the more you will evolve as a person.
I am a big fan of the North Star. When I was a child, Jiminy Cricket promised that when I wished upon a star, my dreams would come true. I later learned about slaves who found their way to safety and freedom at night through the Underground Railroad, and their only guide—their GPS—was the North Star.
We all have a personal North Star—that feeling in our gut that tells us when we’re on the right track and when we’re not. Trust your internal GPS as you embark on your journey of personal evolution towards your true north.
By Tami Bonnell
EXIT Realty Corp. International’s CEO, Tami Bonnell, is an internationally renowned leader in the real estate industry and was instrumental in building three major brands. Among her many achievements, she was recognized by real estate trend-watcher, Stefan Swanepoel, as one of the 200 most powerful and influential people in residential real estate and among the top 10 women leaders.
Tami has been a featured speaker at the National Association of REALTORS’® convention to the Top 500 Power Brokers, The National Women’s Council of REALTORS®, Inman News Connect Conference and the RISMedia’s Leadership Conference. She was named to the Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem’s (NAWRB) Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council and was honored by STEMconnector® as one of its 100 Corporate Women Leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Tami is a 30-plus-year veteran of the real estate industry and joined EXIT Realty in 1999. She was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2012.
She is a wife, mother and grandmother. In her spare time, she is a martial artist, coach, judge and referee.
Among the many reasons I love golf is that it is the only activity about which people brag in reverse. You will never hear people say they can’t hit a softball or that they blew a key presentation at work or that their steaks are under-seasoned and overcooked. But we take great pride in being terrible at golf and will describe in detail our own ineptitude.
It’s been 30 years, and I can still hear the stifled laughter behind me after I whiffed on the first tee of a shotgun start at a scramble when I was in high school. Oh, I have hit my fair share of good shots, I suppose, but the story of any person’s golfing life is a story of failure punctuated by the occasional good shot that keeps us coming back.
It was with the pursuit of a perfect ball in mind that I sold a story last year for which I promised to spend the summer trying to get my first hole in one. The editor of The Golfers Journaland I set a three-month time limit, and starting on a brutally hot Friday, I played the same par 3 course near my house over and over. I pitched the piece as a chance to learn about perseverance. I thought that by trying for a near impossible task and failing over and over again, I would learn about the value of sticktoitiveness. I would learn to keep going despite frustration. I would learn about grit.
In 32 trips to the golf course and more than 1,500 attempts at a hole in one, I learned about all of that—frankly, maybe more than I cared to know.
But I learned something else just as important—the value of almost.
I tried to forget the bad shots and made a point to closely track the good shots. For the sake of this piece, I’m going to define “almost” scoring an ace—a hole in one—in two ways. The first is a ball that came to rest within two feet of the hole. Out of 1,589 tee shots, I had four of those. (I also hit 799 on the green, 299 within 20 feet, 26 within five.) The second “almost” definition is a shot that, while on its way, looked for even a fraction of a second like it had a chance to go in the hole, even if it ultimately didn’t wind up anywhere near it. I had a couple dozen of those, and that’s not counting the low screamer that skipped across the green and clanged off the pin, because even though it was on target, it never had a chance to go in.
On one beautiful morning, on swing No. 1,270 or so, I launched the most “that’s going in!” shot of the entire endeavor. It soared high and straight and directly at the hole. I thought I might jar the dang thing. Alas, it did not land in the hole, or roll into it for that matter. I kept a tape measure in my golf bag to catalogue my near misses, so the following measurements are precise: The ball came to a rest 15 inches behind the hole. The line in the dew showed it missed the hole by four inches.
AAARGH! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, to pump my fist or throw a fit. If the ancient golf god Titleist had offered that as a result in any other situation, I would have taken it. But my goal was not to almost get a hole in one, it was to actually get a hole in one. So that shot was just as much of a failure as if I had plunked the ball into the drink or whistled it into the woods or shanked it off the cart path.
Not that I’ve ever done any of those things. (Yes I have.) (Hundreds of times.)
I called my wife and described how close I had come. She asked if I was encouraged that I came so close or disappointed that I barely missed. I said yes.
The deeper I traveled into my quest for the perfect shot, the more times I came close, the more those two emotions—encouragement and disappointment—melded together into one propelling force. Getting a hole in one was a lofty, ridiculous, borderline unreachable goal… but I was determined to reach it. I am going to get that hole in one, I told myself, if for no other reason than to justify that encouragement and redeem that disappointment. There was more than a little bit of stubbornness, in there, too, but I like to think it was hopeful stubbornness.
Did I have reason to be hopeful? No. I caromed errant shots off of three different light towers, and none of those towers were “in play,” by any reasonable definition. I lost count of how many balls I hit into the sand traps, how many balls I hit into the water and how many balls I hit out of bounds. Even worse than the anecdotal evidence of my failure was the statistical proof of everybody else’s. The great moral philosopher Han Solo once said, “never tell me the odds.” But I looked them up anyway: The odds of an average duffer getting a hole in one are one in 12,500. Yet every time I came close, I believed a little bit more that I could overcome those odds.
There’s an old saying about how almost only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes. Baloney! Early in my freelance writing career, I viewed pitching stories as a zero-sum game, very much like tee shots in my hole in one quest. Yes was good, no was bad, and there was no in between. I now know that is completely wrong. There are good nos, which I have come to call “almosts.” (There are also bad yesses, but that’s a story for another day.) The power of almost has been a propelling force in my solopreneur career, on the golf course, in my office, and everywhere else.
I started to pay close attention to almosts and what came next because of a story in this very magazine. The first story I pitched to the editors of SUCCESS was a profile of a professional bull rider named J.B. Mauney. I didn’t propose a story on him because he was a bull rider, I proposed a story on him because of lessons we could learn about his toughness.
Before pitching the story to SUCCESS, I “almost” sold it to a couple different outlets. Editors responded favorably to the pitch, but I couldn’t convince anybody to move beyond, “we don’t do stories on bull riders.”
I kept trying to sell that story long after I would have normally given up because all of those nos were positive. From first pitch to sale was more than seven months, an eternity for me. Finally the brilliant editors here agreed to let me write it. If all I got out of the transaction was that one story, it would have been an important lesson in seeing encouraging nos a reason to keep going. But I’ve gotten far more than one story.
I have now sold five stories to this magazine, and because of connections made with SUCCESS editors who know editors elsewhere, I landed assignments that have sent me to Italy, Germany, Austria, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, Alaska, Idaho and Texas. Combined, those stories covered close to half a year’s salary, and those trips quite literally changed my life. If I had not stuck with it after “almost” selling the bull rider story, none of that would have happened.
Now I see that pattern everywhere. Time and again, the power of almost has resulted in me selling more stories, establishing new relationships and making more money.
Also: Catching more fish.
SERGII SOBOLEVSKYI / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Dark clouds rolled in as I cast into a trout stream at Dogwood Canyon in southwest Missouri. I was supposed to fish all afternoon. The looming rain promised to cut that short, so I was eager to land as many fish as possible before the deluge.
I watched my lure skim along, just under the surface of the water. I watched a fish the size of a small child chase it. I watched the fish almost bite it, and then I watched the fish swim away. Frustrated, I looked to my guide, a kind man named Jim, for an explanation. He didn’t have one, at least not one that I liked. Sometimes fish bite. Sometimes fish don’t bite. “It drives me crazy,” Jim said.
I gave up on catching that particular fish and moved to my right with the hope of finding a fish that was more gullible. Jim changed my bait. I cast some more. I felt a tug, a big one. I yanked back on the rod, set the hook and started reeling. I drew the fish near to shore. Jim appeared by my side with a net. I lifted the tip of my pole high, which pulled the fish out of the water. I spun to my right, and deposited into Jim’s net a rainbow trout so big I don’t have to lie about it being the size of a small child.
I thanked Jim for helping to turn that “almost” caught fish into a caught fish. I pulled in a few more after that, too. The rain started soon enough, and as I rushed to shelter, I was relieved that I had not been shut out. I firmly believe that only a fool thinks the point of fishing is to catch fish. But I also really like to catch fish.
As we drove back to the lodge where we were staying, I thought more about the fish I didn’t catch than the ones I did catch, because without that near miss—without that almost—I probably would not have made the changes necessary to turn the miss into a catch.
The very existence of the hole in one story shows the power of almost and how near misses can be turned into hits.
The vast majority of my work is repeat business, and most of that is for editors who are my friends. My philosophy is this: I’d rather have a decent idea and a friend to pitch it to than a great idea and a stranger to pitch it to.
I thought my hole in one idea was somewhere between decent and great. Ah heck, who am I kidding? I thought it was a great idea because it would yield compelling storytelling no matter what: If I did not get a hole in one, I’d have a story about failure, which is often more interesting than success. Life does not always turn out the way we hope. Sad endings are as memorable, as relatable, as real, as happy ones. I envisioned a story about failing well.
On the other hand, if I got a hole in one, I’d have a story about success with a happy ending and I’d have a hole in one. I envisioned a joyful story about persevering to reach a lofty goal.
I like to think my friends know I could pull off either of those stories. But I doubted I could convince a stranger to trust me with a quirky assignment like that. I pitched it first to my magazine client with the largest circulation, which happens to employ my favorite editor, who also happens to be a good friend. His response: “If I were running my own magazine? Absolutely. I know it’d be thoughtful and funny. For this one? Probably not.”
Next I tried another friend, this one at a golf magazine. He loved the idea but wouldn’t buy it for budget reasons.
Buoyed by those near misses, I kept trying to sell the story. Editors at Sporting News, my former employer, liked the idea, too, but they were too far away from being able to buy freelance stories to make pursuing a piece there worthwhile. Sports Illustrated ignored my pitch. A follow-up email a week later garnered zilch as well.
That brought me to four nos. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about how many nos I will endure on one idea before I give up on it, but four is pushing it. Still, those three almosts told me to keep going, so I stepped out of my comfort zone and cold-pitched the editor of The Golfers Journal. He responded that day with “that’s a hell of a pitch,” and a few weeks later, we cut a deal for the piece.
That story became one of 12 features I wrote in 2018 based on ideas that I pitched to editors. (I wrote others for which editors came to me.) Of those 12, six were initially turned down by other publications. But in each case, the “no” responses were encouraging. Those magazines, like that fish that ignored my lure, almost, but didn’t, bite. So I moved on and caught something else.
But it doesn’t always work that way. My unsold story idea list is a dog’s breakfast of blown-off pitches and half-baked ideas and even some almosts that never sold. Some I probably waited too long before moving on, some I probably gave up too soon. I learned about when to move on and when to keep trying when I went fishing again, this time on Table Rock Lake with Terry “Big Show” Scroggins, an outsized personality from the Bassmaster pro fishing tour.
JJMAREE / ISTOCK.COM
Early morning mist wafted off the water as we climbed into Scroggins’s boat. We zipped atop the lake. Wind sliced into my face and blew my hat clean off my head; it was almost lost forever, saved only by the string around my neck. Spray sprinkled on my skin. We stopped and I smiled from ear to ear. I asked if that ever gets old, and Scroggins surprised me by saying yes. Then I noticed his skin was as worn as boot leather. One early morning ride on a boat is fun. A thousand of them are work.
We put our lines in the water and talked about fishing, by which I mean we talked about life—desires met and missed, hopes fulfilled and dashed, dreams that landed and dreams that got away. I’d love to recount that for you, but my recording from talking with Scroggins sounds like gibberish, because fishing has its own language, most of which is onomatopoeia for fish hitting bait: Bonk, tonk, wonk, sonk, twink, blink, wahooguh and so on.
I’m no linguist, but my guess is that there are so many words for a fish hitting bait because it is the single most important event in fishing. It represents an almost caught fish turning into a caught fish. But there was very little bonking, tonking, wonking, etc. going on that day, and I wanted to know why.
It wasn’t for a lack of fish. I looked at the radar on Scroggins boat, and it reminded me of my dining room wall the time my then-infant daughter spit up sweet potato onto it. There were bright blobs everywhere. They represented fish directly below us. I thought of those fish as a whole bunch of almosts. All we had to do to turn them from almosts into caught fish was persuade them to bite. I figured if anyone could do that, it was Scroggins.
He goes beyond creative and into mad scientist as he cooks up crazy lures. He described using a bullet to punch holes in one, epoxy to add weight to another and a hypodermic needle to shoot who knows what into a third.
With that much prep work, it was just a matter of time, I thought, before the fish that were below the boat joined us in it. I started to ask Scroggins how long he waits before he gives up and goes to the next spot, and we were speeding away before I finished the question. “If you ain’t catching them, and catching them good, you better keep on going until you figure them out,” Scroggins says. “You can’t be patient.”
The power of almost? PFFT! He fishes for money. No fish, no money, so he doesn’t wait long. It’s hard to argue with his results: He has made $1.8 million, won five tournaments and is a world-renowned fisherman in large part because he knows when to fish and when to cut bait. Soon I realized I do the same thing when I’m “fishing” for assignments.
The next spot was no better, nor was the one after that, or the one after that. After an hour, I had not even had a nibble, even though the radar showed we were again sitting over a ton of fish. I was frustrated, and I think Scroggins sensed that because he stopped his own fishing and watched me reel in my line.
Two seconds later—bonk! tonk! wonk! sonk!—I had my first bite of the day, but that fish slipped away. User error, probably, but I didn’t care, because I finally had an almost, and I knew that, with Scroggins helping me, an almost would turn into a caught fish. On the next cast, I again applied what Scroggins taught me, and twink! blink! wahooguh! Soon I was smiling alongside Scroggins holding a bass so big I won’t bother bragging about it because there’s a picture of its hugeness right here on this page.
In less than a minute with Scroggins, I went from nothing to almost catching a fish to pulling in the biggest fish of my life. All it took was a little tweak to unleash the power of almost. That lined up pretty much exactly with my experience selling stories. Could the power of almost yield results on the golf course, too?
A few days after the ball rolled four inches to the left of the hole and stopped 15 inches behind it, I returned to the golf course for the 32nd time. I settled into my routine—10 or so tee shots per hole, then move on to the next one. After an hour, I had hit the green 22 times, including seven within 15 feet of the hole, but none particularly close. I stood on the tee box of hole No. 11, which the scorecard lists at 117 yards, in full automaton mode: Hit ball, put new ball on tee, hit ball, put new ball on tee. I wasn’t expecting much when I lined up the 35th shot of the day, and I didn’t get much. I duffed my 9 iron. It did not travel 50 yards in the air.
It was pathetic.
On the next swing, the 1,589th overall, I hit the 9 iron again. This time the ball jumped off of my club, high and soft and straight at the hole.
It bounced … rolled across the green … and dropped straight into the hole.
It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to get excited that it might go in.
In an instant of those almosts bore fruit. The encouragement they lifted up in me was justified and the disappointment they saddled me with was redeemed. I threw my club in the air and yelled like a crazy person. I left my club on the ground, climbed into the cart, drove to the green, ran to the hole and looked down to make sure the ball was in there. It was.
If you don’t set clear boundaries, your personal and professional lives can become entangled. Bringing your private life into the workspace or, worse yet, bringing work home with you is dangerous. You may have difficulty deciphering between work and life, and sometimes you might not see any difference whatsoever—but there should be. Making a distinction between the two helps maintain flow and better overall mental health. It also ensures that you don’t create unnecessary mental clutter.
Mental clutter is a common symptom of the busy body and mind phenomenon of modern humans. It is thinking about work at home and vice versa, it is having trouble sleeping because your mind is constantly turning, or a lack of concentration for the plethora of disorganization. Mental clutter means you rarely, if ever, rest.
Removing mental clutter is essential if we wish to be truly satisfied. Setting boundaries does not remove freedom; as a matter of fact, it does the opposite. It bolsters our ability to transition between work and play, leaving things in their respective places. It encourages healthy boundaries between the two. It gets rid of chaos, confusion and stress. Understanding and valuing boundaries sets us up for success. When we know how to leave work stuff at work and home stuff at home, we avoid distraction, which enhances our focus tenfold.
The real secret of maneuvering between work and home exists in proper time management and reduction in emotional reactivity. The mastery of time management and non-reactivity leads to focus. When we are focused, there is no longer room for mental clutter. It slips away as naturally as a cloud floating into the stratosphere or the sun behind the horizon.
The challenge exists in equilibrium. Many call it work-life balance. However we choose to name it, keeping these two worlds separate is essential if we wish to maintain a sense of balance and enhance our mental health.
Mental clarity at home and work are within our reach. With a few modifications, we grow closer to a life that’s not only balanced but also satisfying. Start removing mental clutter today for a better tomorrow. Your entire life design will become more seamless, your quality of life will begin to feel much more enjoyable, and your mind will become razor sharp.
Here are five ways you can remove mental clutter:
1. Set boundaries.
Set clear boundaries regarding conversation topics at home and work—and stick to them. Talking about deadlines, clients, colleagues and meetings should not be dinner table conversation. Nor should the canteen be used to reveal your private life. Of course, we can share stories of work with family and home life with colleagues, but there should be limitations. Don’t let these be the only conversations; open up, branch out and let other conversations be born in those spaces.
2. Cleanse through writing.
When in doubt, write it out. Have a journal for both work and home that allows you to vent frustrations in order to maintain clear boundaries. Mental exhaustion and frustration usually occurs when our brains and bodies feel overwhelmed. By removing those feelings from inside and placing them into the outside world, your mental health automatically improves. We enrich our lives when we cleanse our mental spaces. We also open space for more activity, sharper thoughts and creativity.
3. Be mindful.
Be mindful in all activities. If you are working, keep the mind there; if you are playing, don’t think about work. Mindfulness promotes a clear mind. A mind that concentrates is a healthy mind. The distracted, overcharged, highly emotional brain reacts. What we seek is serenity, for in those spaces, we really learn to let go and clear ourselves of that which no longer serves us.
4. Be unattached.
Observe thoughts and let them float away. Many times thoughts come without warning, but the best thing to do is just notice them and watch them disappear rather than give them attention. Imagine each thought form like a cloud. Watch it enter your headspace, then allow it to fade away. Let the clouds float up or down, left or right, but know that each time a cloud enters your brain, it must also leave. Reminding ourselves that all thoughts and feelings are temporary removes attachment and alleviates the pressure of a mind full of unnecessary thoughts and feelings.
5. Create compartments.
Organize for increased productivity. A space that feels and looks clean will facilitate a more balanced lifestyle. An organized house or office indicates an organized mind. Start cleaning up the clutter, ensuring the brain will soon follow suit. If nothing else, it’s easier to work in an organized place. We save time looking for things we lost. We feel more professional. And we increase focus, which in turn augments productivity.
I’m working from a coffee shop for the first time in months, and I can already feel a deep sense of energy bubbling up inside of me. I haven’t experienced this sense of motivation in ages. I’m self-employed as a freelance writer, and day after day waking up and rolling over to my home desk began growing old. By 2 p.m., my shoulders would hunch, my eyes would grow heavy, and I’d lose all motivation to keep typing.
A self-professed introvert, I don’t mind spending time alone. It’s part of the reason I became a freelance writer. But after my husband, a medical resident, began working 70-hour weeks (including many overnight shifts), I began growing lonely. Coupled with the fact that I had a falling out with my mother and my grandmother passed away, I began feeling isolated, as though I had no one to talk to when work got slow. Some days, I’d go six or seven hours without speaking to anyone, save for the occasional texting with friends.
More than 5% of Americans work from home full-time, and that’s not to mention countless others who work from home part time or have flex time at work. I’ve chatted with other work-from-homers, and the consensus is clear: The freedom is awesome, but the loneliness can be pervasive.
Below, you’ll find a guide for avoiding loneliness when you work from home, including tips from writers like myself and other professionals who’ve learned the best ways to be social without an office to visit or co-workers to chat with.
1. Grab lunch with a friend.
This has been one of the best ways for me to combat loneliness. I try to schedule lunch or coffee with a friend once a week in order to have a little socialization on my calendar. I aim for Wednesday or Thursday, when my work motivation begins to wane.
Hilary Billings, a speaker and podcast host, calls these supercharged interactions. “Set up weekly routines that involve being around other people who energize you,” she says. “Whether this is creating a standing lunch appointment with a close friend, joining an after-hours workout class or Skyping someone for a daily 15-minute power conversation, having those connection moments to look forward to releases thought patterns of loneliness.”
2. Volunteer once a week.
I know several freelance writers who get out of the house by having a part-time job. Although this can be a great way to socialize once a week, I didn’t like the idea of being beholden to an employer. (That’s why I became a freelancer in the first place.) Instead of getting a job, I began volunteering at a local Head Start preschool once a week for two hours. Playing with a group of 5-year-olds every Wednesday afternoon gives me a much-needed pick-me-up.
Jodi Womack, an author and speaker, also volunteers to shake things up. “I volunteer with a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that connects professional women writers with at-risk girls,” she says. “I’ve been a volunteer for WriteGirl for seven years. It’s a great program for the kids, and it’s a great opportunity for me to connect with other writers.”
3. Head to the library.
Many people eschew coffee shops because they can be noisy and full of distractions. If you fall into this camp, consider heading to the library instead. You’ll get out of the house for a bit, and you’ll have a quiet setting to crank out some work in. It’s a win-win.
4. Keep meaningful photographs on your desk.
Lucy Harris, CEO of Hello Baby Bump, says one way she fights the work-from-home blues is by keeping photographs of her loved ones near her workspace. “Even though I may be alone, I look at the pictures to reminisce on the memory or the people in it, and suddenly I don’t feel as lonely because I know there are others around me and in my life,” she says.
5. Foster your weak-tie connections.
In life, we have both weak-tie and strong-tie connections. People like your parents, spouse and friends are strong ties, while weak ties are people who aren’t strangers, but aren’t friends, either: the front-desk clerk at your gym, the seafood guy at your grocery store, the barista at your favorite coffee shop. It turns out these weak ties can have an immense impact on our mental health. Some research even suggests they’re as important as our strong ties.
Business coach Stacy Caprio says she always makes a point of getting out of the house once a day. “As you do, smile and say hi to everyone you see, including your building’s door manager, the janitor, any neighbor walking outside, the person taking your order at the restaurant, or anyone you happen to see,” she says. “These small social connections and conversations will go a long way toward making you feel connected and less lonely without being a huge time draw or anything you have to plan in advance.”
6. Put on a podcast.
This tip comes from Sharon Rosenblatt, director of communications at Accessibility Partners. “I listen to podcasts during work,” she says. “While not ‘real people,’ it provides a nice background that is humanizing.”
7. Join a co-working space.
Big cities across the country are now filled with co-working spaces, with thousands of people paying a fee each month to rent a desk or office in a shared workspace. Although these spaces can provide a sense of community for the work-from-home crowd, there’s one caveat: They can often be pricey, with membership running up to $500 per month depending on the space and the city you live in.
No list of ways to avoid loneliness when working from home would be complete without mention of exercise. Exercise has countless benefits we’re all well versed in, one of which is improved mental well-being and focus. If you’re not doing so already, head to the gym or join an intramural sports league to get some much-needed mental energy.
9. Consider getting a furry friend.
I spoke with countless people who work from home for this article, and more than one touted the benefits of having a pet nearby. Their advice is shrewd—research has shown having pets can combat loneliness.
Psychologist and neuroscientist Sabina Brennan can vouch for the benefits of having dogs. “I have four rescue dogs, and they help me address loneliness in so many ways,” she says. “They have to be walked every day, so that forces me out of the house, and dogs are a great ice breaker—people will often stop to say hello to you and your dog.”
Brennan also says simply smiling at her pets improves her mood. “Smiling is critical for our health: It boosts our immune function, it lowers blood pressure, and it releases hormones that make us feel good—it’s a natural stress buster. Many of us see smiling as a reaction to something funny or in response to someone else’s smile, so if we work from home, we can forget to smile, which can compound feelings of loneliness. My dogs always give me something to smile about.”
One of my responsibilities as a motivator is to show people how to acquire the attitude they need to be happy and successful on all levels of life while enjoying the process. When I write “happy and successful on all levels of life,” I mean just that. Your personal and professional lives make up the whole of you. If you put most of your time and energy on one area, you run the risk of leaving the other unfulfilled. This is especially common among high achievers—perhaps you, dear reader.
Someone once said, “Hectic minds create a hectic world.” Every now and then, we just have to stop the hectic world and get off for a while. We must never be too busy to take time out from our job and experience other valued parts of ourselves that are so often buried and yearning to be expressed. When our jobs consume us, eventually, in one form or another, there will be a price to pay. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t love what we are doing for a living. In fact, it’s important that we do. And it is essential that we devote quality time toward our job. The problem arises when what we do for a living interferes with our other precious core values.
A core value can be tangible or intangible, like health and fitness, honesty, truthfulness, freedom, courage, spirituality, beauty, goodness, playfulness, self-sufficiency, wealth, time to spend as we like and so on. These cherished values need to be experienced and expressed. They give us self-worth. Ignoring them for too long can only lead to unhappiness, regardless of how prestigious your profession is, how much money you make or how successful you think you are.
Below are some examples of cherished values that are often neglected or buried because of our jobs:
Spending more time with my family. I really enjoy spending time at home. I love quality time with my children—playing with them, helping them with their homework and getting to know them. I love my job, but it hurts that I am missing out on valuable time with my loved ones, time that I know I will never get back. I am going to have to cut down on volunteering for assignments and working late. I want to occasionally leave early so I can have more time for them. When I get home too late, I know that I missed out on something very special, and I don’t like going to bed feeling guilty.
Taking a weekend off from work, without interruption and free from emails, cell phones and text messages. I’m sick of taking my job home with me! I just want to be alone, hang out in my sweats and not care how I look. I want to be able to do what I want, read a book, watch a great movie (even a crappy one!), listen to music, and work in my garden or just sleep. I miss this part of myself, and I’m taking it back.
Doing the things that connect me to my spirit. Yes, things are going great at work. I’ve been recognized as “salesman of the year” three years in a row. I’m producing more than I ever could have imagined. I am truly blessed for the financial wealth I have accumulated over the years. But my spiritual reservoir is on empty. Taking time to commune with nature is important to me. I can’t remember the last time I went hiking or even walked through a scenic area. I barely have time to meditate or to appreciate a sunrise or sunset the way I used to. I guess I just got caught up. Yes, I’m successful, but I don’t feel fulfilled. I have to bring that valued part of myself back. There’s no reason I can’t do that and still continue my success at work. I deserve to be happy on all levels.
When we finally become aware that our jobs are interfering with valued parts of ourselves, we can then choose to find ways to shift our attention and motivate ourselves to bring our neglected values into existence. The result: We raise our self-worth, increase self-respect, and reduce the gap between aspiring for fulfillment and actually feeling fulfilled, thus reducing the risk of burnout. Now, that’s not only what I call nourishing your soul—it’s the ultimate success!
I understand that it’s far too easy to ignore these valued parts of yourself when you’re caught up in your job and struggling to succeed. Nevertheless, they could very well be the main ingredients that make up the recipe of your life. One of those ingredients could be the missing link that soothes your hectic mind and fulfills your world with the happiness you desire. The amazing thing is that most of the time it’s just a simple matter of becoming aware of what is missing and then making the appropriate choices to fix it.
Are you nurturing your artistic talents or hobbies, such as painting, photography, crafts, gardening or music, or have you lost your way on the road to success?
What about your family? She’ll understand, you may tell yourself. She knows how much I love her. We’ll spend more time together when things settle down at work. Or when your little boy or girl is saying, “Hey, look at me!” are you really paying attention, or is your mind on what needs to be done tomorrow at the office?
You will never have these moments again. Remember, sometimes it’s not what you do that causes you regret. It could very well be what you don’t do that comes back to haunt you.
Your soul is continually yearning to be fulfilled and nourished. It takes more than just driving to succeed in your profession and overcoming obstacles to feed it. We must also take time out from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives and feel the joy and simplicity that life has to offer.
Sometimes I think that if my soul had a voice it would say, “Excuse me, Steve? I understand that part of soul work is honoring your pain and grief. I know you have responsibilities. I know you have goals and dreams. I know you have bills to pay. I also know that life has thrown many challenges your way and that, for the most part, you handle them quite well. In fact, it makes me feel wonderful that you’re learning life’s lessons. But can you please stop for a while and connect with what really gives you joy? Might I suggest that you go to the child within you that used to be so close to me and rediscover what truly makes you happy and gives you peace of mind? And can you please care enough about yourself to find a place for those things in your life? In other words, my friend, what about my needs? After all, my needs and yours are one and the same.”
Forget for a moment the fact that my soul sounds like Morgan Freeman. I’m more than aware that there are many people who find great value and fulfillment in their occupations. My profession—helping people to shift their mindsets in order to find success and happiness—absolutely fulfills a special valued part of me. However, my job does not make up my whole life.
Understand that I’m not asking you to ignore your professional goals, joys and responsibilities. They, too, are crucial valued parts of you that complete you. I know all too well that our professional goals and responsibilities quite often require sacrifice, dedication and countless hours of overtime. I’m simply asking you not to ignore other valued parts of yourself that also complete you. It’s called balancing your life, and achieving it is often just a matter of shifting, adjustment and motivation.
Balancing work and life is never easy—you may find yourself struggling to know when or how to dedicate your attention to sometimes-conflicting priorities. Maybe you end up giving too much time to your personal life, causing your job to suffer, or maybe you spend so much time focused on work that you miss opportunities to connect with family and friends, work on hobbies or simply de-stress. What if, instead, you focused less on balancing and more on integrating the different needs of your daily life? To learn what that really means and how you can do it, we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council how someone might achieve work-life integration, rather than work-life balance. Here’s what they said:
1. Blend responsibilities.
Work-life integration is the new work-life balance. Rather than trying to keep things separate, it’s about finding a way to integrate the two. Do a little work from home, build in some remote work time, find ways to efficiently handle personal errands and tasks while at work if it’s easier. It’s all about seamlessly blending responsibilities to create a day that’s convenient for you.
Write down how you spend each hour of your day to gauge whether or not you’re achieving proper work-life integration. By tracking what you’re doing, you’re able to go make changes in the future so you can properly integrate work into life, and not think of it so much as a boring chore.
Balance implies that work and personal life are two completely separate entities. We’re more connected now more than ever, and technology means that areas of our lives are intertwined. Work-life integration can be achieved by keeping a goal in mind: leading a happy, fulfilling life. Ensure your actions are meaningful in all areas. Decide when to work and work with a purpose, not just to log time.
The idea that work and life are separate is really an old idea. It made sense when everyone worked the traditional 9-to-5. Now, though, in the digital age when everyone is carrying their devices, the different aspects of life tend to overlap. The best strategy is to be flexible and accept that work may intrude on your free time. (The reverse is also true!)
Try breaking up your workday by working in short bursts. For example, sit down with one achievable goal in mind and get it done in 30-45 minutes. After you finish that task, do something fun—go for a walk, hang out with your spouse, relax. Then repeat.
If you want to have a fulfilling work-life integration, you need to fully love what you do—to wake up in the morning and experience the joy of knowing you are doing what you are meant to do. That passion and purpose will properly blend work and life.
I never want to feel like I am tethered to my office. I love the feeling of being able to take my work with me wherever the day takes me. Invest in mobile technology and software that helps you be able to effectively work from anywhere and anytime.
Not everybody works the same: Some people thrive on structure and in a team environment, like an office, while others find clarity and energy by working privately somewhere else. Would working from home help you focus more? What about while traveling? Find your preference and embrace it as much as you can. People work better when they’re happy.
It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend a day working; what matters is how much you’ve accomplished by the end of it. The same can be said about time with friends and family—instead of thinking how much time you are spending on your personal life, focus on how to make that time more significant and meaningful.
Some people expect everything to be perfect: They’ll be able to get everything they need to get done in a timely manner and still have hours left in the day for their hobbies or passion projects. But if you want to achieve work-life integration, you need to adjust your expectations a bit. For example, be prepared for the days when you’ll need to spend more time on work and make up for it later.
The idea of work-life balance versus integration is a mental game you’ll want to start playing to avoid feeling stressed or overworked. Achieving true work-life integration takes practice that requires you to think about work in an entirely different way. You need to change your mindset and remember that work is a natural part of life and shouldn’t be looked down upon.
As a serial entrepreneur, I am occasionally invited to perform speaking gigs. When it’s somewhere nice, I take my family and we have a mini holiday.
At the end the MC always says, “I’m sure everybody in the audience has lots of questions, so are you happy for people to come up to you?” And I unapologetically tell them: “No problem, but I’m here with my family, so if you want to speak to me I’ll be in the pool playing with them. You’re welcome to come up and ask me anything.”
And they do. And I answer what I can, to these guys in suits hanging around the pool, getting splashed by my kids. I’m pretty sure I’m the only entrepreneur at the conference giving business advice in her bikini.
That might not be the traditional picture of work-life balance. But the traditional picture carries a whole mess of problems.
Firstly, “balance” is usually discussed as a female problem, not a male problem. It feels normal for a man to work and have a family and a social life. Nobody praises that guy for somehow managing it all. So we have to shut down the B.S. about women needing to acquire some special skill that apparently comes natural to men.
Secondly, the concept of work-life balance is designed to make us feel bad about work. It implies that work isn’t really part of life, just a thing you have to get through to enjoy the rest of your time. Excuse me, but I love my work. I love my husband, my kids and my home, too, but it’s not one over the other.
The experts expect us to switch our phones off during family time, take regular vacations and refuse to look at work emails after hours. But what’s waiting for us when we get back? The emails and task list don’t go away, so the work piles up. Just the thought of returning from a trip to hundreds of emails is anxiety inducing.
That old idiom that you should keep business and pleasure separate is dead, I say.
You’re human. Your colleagues know that. If I weren’t friends with the people I work with, I’d never have any friends. (My friends joke that the best way to get me to spend time with them is to go into business with me.)
It doesn’t make you unprofessional to admit that you’re answering a work call from home, or during the school pickup run. You don’t have to find a quiet corner and pretend to be in an office when somebody “important” calls. And you don’t have to feel guilty for taking that call on the weekend. You love your work, don’t you? Sometimes it needs you, just like your family does.
In the same way, you need to give yourself permission to have some availability for personal things during work hours. There’s plenty of evidence that allowing people to be more “human” at work actually benefits the organization and increases productivity, not the other way around. So cut yourself some slack. If you duck out early some days to do the school run, you’re going to impact your day’s work about 5 percent and improve your family-related guilt about 1,000 percent. So go for it.
It’s just not realistic to manage your personal life and run your business or career well without this flexibility.
So what’s my answer to work-life balance? My friends and I call it blending.
We’ve all seen articles about “work-life balance.” They always seem to be accompanied by a photo or illustration of a woman standing with her arms stretched out on either side, work stuff balanced in one hand and personal stuff in the other. Or a set of scales with career on one side and personal on the other. Your job, we’re led to believe, is to get both sides to balance each other out.
What if you just threw away the scales and chucked all of it in a blender? And depending on your priorities and what you feel like at any moment, you’re allowed to blend in anything you want.
Depending on how I feel today, maybe I’ll blend afternoon drinks with my friends and a discussion about the business projects we’re across together. Or I’ll blend the school run with a work call (and if I call you from the car with my kids, they’ll be saying hi to you on speakerphone). It’s important to respect people’s time and ask for permission, but their having to put up with a bit of background noise and a quick hello from the kids often outweighs them having to wait until tomorrow for an answer or some direction.
It’s all about giving attention to what’s important right now, without worrying about whether you’re on the clock or not. It’s about managing your commitments so that everything you want to do gets done, without forcing yourself to conform to “work time” and “personal time.”
Here are some examples of what makes it work for me:
My executive assistant knows everything about me. Her job description is totally blended, personal and professional: She’s across everything, on top of everything in my life. Having people who can help you juggle your commitments is crucial to making it all work.
In my organizations, we don’t have any meetings before 9:15 a.m. or in the evenings. We do daytime meetings and lunches only, so that people can drop their kids at school and be home with them at night (or I have the team around for a barbecue and we talk business while the kids are playing). On the other hand, if a staff member is at their child’s soccer game and they get a work call, I’d encourage them to take it if they can. My staff know it’s fine to say, “I’m at the kids’ soccer game. I can talk for five minutes.”
If I have to go away for two weeks or more for work, the family comes with me. When I do go away by myself, I extend the break for half a day per every day that I’m away, and spend some time with the family at the beach or somewhere away from home once I return. I go back to work with my batteries recharged.
Obviously your blending choices aren’t going to be the same as mine, because your life isn’t set up exactly the same as mine. You might be reading this and thinking “good for you, but I couldn’t do those things. I don’t even have an assistant.” That’s fine—what could you do? And who could help you?
Take a second now and imagine how blending might work for you. What kind of freedom could you create if you let go of the idea of work-life balance and started blending instead?
What would change if you stopped apologizing to your spouse and kids for giving attention to your work, and instead showed them how much you love it? Or invited them to be involved?
How empowered would you feel if you started setting boundaries unapologetically around work, and managed your time according to what you know serves your productivity best, instead of what makes you look like a hard worker?
How free would you be if you stopped switching between different versions of yourself and started being the same person all the time—whether you were with your family, on a date, catching up with your friends, or talking to your colleagues?
All of that is possible. You just have to know what you value most, promise not to compromise, and live unapologetically in line with what’s most important to you. It isn’t always easy—it’s bloody hard sometimes—but that’s why you have to commit to it and become part of a new wave, a working culture committed to rising without compromising.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Balance is B.S. by Tamara Loehr. Copyright (c) 2019 by Tamara Loehr. All rights reserved. This book is available April 2019 wherever books and ebooks are sold.
Los Angeles is notorious for traffic—I live less than 5 miles from our office, but the commute can still take up to 45 minutes. I use that time to catch up on the news of the day, particularly health and scientific developments, by listening to podcasts that relate to our business.
The keys to maximizing my productivity are being conscious of how I spend my time and planning my days before they begin—what time I’ll wake up, eat, work, have meetings, work out, get my kids, have lunch with my wife. Remember, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Every morning I look at my to-do list and focus on what will add the most value, then I make time for strategic thought and spending time with my team. Having a framework to prioritize where my time is most valuable for the company gives me the right to say “no” to things that fall outside of those bounds.