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Podcast Script Below
By Dave Nelson, Founder at Milestone Mind
June 20, 2017
I can remember the scene like it was yesterday.
It was May of 2006, and we were in the backyard of my head football coach's house in Easton, PA, where he was holding a small cookout for us graduating seniors.
At the time, I was still easily 230-pounds, could bench nearly 400-pounds and squat 600-pounds.
I'm 180-pounds today, running races, so the former me would've just sat on the current me to claim his victory.
But, as we were enjoying our hamburgers and having good laughs, a wealthy alumnus, and notable football booster came my way and asked me what my plans were for after graduation.
The truth is, I didn't have any plans as up until that point, football was my life, and I had no idea what I was going to do after the fact, let alone give the question he posed any serious thought.
(I was just one week from graduation. As I reflect upon it now, there wasn't a transitional system that could help athletes, students, veterans and the like, at the time, to create clarity around their next step. A part of our mission is to provide this transitional system).
But, back to the barbecue. I always wanted to be a business owner and envisioned that I would run and operate my own company, I just didn't have an idea, yet, of the kind of company that it would be. Being an entrepreneur was just starting become the massive fad that it is today, so at the time, it was somewhat counter to exclaim you were starting your own thing. For me, it's because I had nothing else at the time, but knew I didn't want to be working in a cube - note that this was a moving away from motivation; a negative motivator. So, what happens with these types of goals? The exact thing that you don't want to have happened.
Side-bar: I still can't stand that general entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur advice of, "find a problem and solve it." Seriously, what the f*ck is that? Terrible and misguided advice, and why so many startups fail. More on this later.
Every summer in high school, I was a laborer on a construction crew, and figured, 'Hey, maybe I could have a construction company" as my new business.
Yea, that's it, I had my answer to his question: "I'm looking to start my own general contracting business."
He immediately in turn replied, "Great, I'll fund you. How much do you need?"
I was flabbergasted. My heart started pounding. Was he going to fund me? I started sweating, and blurted out, "I don't know."
'Shit, there goes my chance.' I was totally unprepared for this question. He's going to think I'm an idiot.
He replied kindly, stating, "why don't you work up a business plan and send it my way, and then we'll discuss."
Business plan? I was an Anthropology and Sociology Major. I just thought, 'what type of bastardized plan am I actually going to be able to put together for this person?'
I replied, "great, I'll have over in the next couple of weeks."
A year after Jenna and I got married, I was starting to realize my dream of being a business owner was starting to fade slowly away - at least, that's how it felt (I now amusingly look back on this time and how young I still was then, when I thought I was getting too old).
It was now 2011, and I was still trying to pay off that business loan I took from that alumni after my first failed business: the general contracting company. $75,000 to be exact. It could've been $1,000,000. I had no money to my name, and was making less than the mortgage I owed every month - yea, that was a cash flow problem.
This time of my life was extremely stressful. I couldn't move, I was stuck, imprisoned - and it was my decisions that led me there.
I was doing exactly what society was telling me to do, though. Own a house (with a mortgage of course because of the great write-off), own a car, make six-figures (although I was absolutely not there by this point), and pray really hard - God had plans.
I recalled searching and searching and searching. Trying to figure out what it was that was going to get me out of this crap, and to a less confined future. The one I thought the business I started out of school was going to do for me, but didn't.
I got books by Dale Carnegie, others by Jim Collins, and of course you can't leave out Napoleon Hill. Add on top of those, books like The Secret, and even Donald Trump's Art of the Deal (oh God, that one's tough to swallow) and I was in business.
I took all of this advice, and started writing out my goals, and what I wanted my life to become. The first goal on the list of desires was, "pay off $75,000." Second on the list? Start another company. Why? Because, of course, I'd make a ton of money, and pay off my business loan.
I would wake up every morning, and as the book, The Secret suggested, I would lust over this list of goals and desires. My eyes would be closed, and if you didn't know what I was doing, as often Jenna didn't as she entered the room, you'd assume - because of the intensity of my thought and subsequently, the facial expression I would make - that I was passing kidney stones.
I wasn't. I was trying to attract these goals to me of course. These books made it seem so easy. Think, and thou shall get.
At this same time, I was missing my tribe, my former teammates, and felt like there was nothing available to people from their athletic days to connect in an authentic and intimate way through social media with other members of these same teams, so I decided to launch a social media app that would allow people to automatically connect with former teammates.
A noble idea, though I had zero capabilities to be able to pull this off, not least of which was coding. But like so much of the business advice I read, notably, "find a problem and solve it," I thought I had just the problem to solve! And, it was going to make me the millions I needed to pay off my piddly $75,000 business loan. Let's go!
I'm now pouring the money that I was just starting to make from my sales career into this new app idea, while slowly paying back the loan I owed. This was just the app my list of desires was going to bring me. I knew my vision board, my list of goals, and my intense morning concentration sessions were going to pay off after all!
It failed, miserably.
I dropped serious coin that could've put me out of my misery more quickly with the business loan.
What these goal setting, vision creation books don't tell you, are the other things that will come along in achieving these vain-glory results.
If there is one piece of advice I'd give to my younger entrepreneurial minded self, it would be, before you invest a penny or take a penny, a bottom-up approach first is a must. It starts with you as an individual, and then with whatever outcome you are pursuing - the former is the cause, YOU, the former is the effect, IT.
NOT THE REVERSE!
I had the chance to work out of WeWork, a shared workspace company, a couple of years back, and I couldn't believe the vain-glory at play. None of these people really gave two-shits about the problem they were solving, they were just trying to solve 'a problem' with the hope that what they would create would become the next Facebook.
It was pathetic the more I witnessed this scene. You'd have people ideating, writing a list of ideas on sticky notes and as well on transparent glass walls, believing so deeply that if they just throw enough shit against the wall, it's all going to work.
There's a reason 99 out of 100 start-ups fail, and in my experience, it's because many of these founders take a top-down approach. They think at a super global scale, and could not live with themselves if they don't attain these results in record pace.
The same went for the goals I was creating, and I am sure many people are finding themselves creating today. Super big, and top-down.
I was working for a start-up at one point, and asked the founder on a ride back from a sales meeting (by the way, a founder who I knew I just didn't jibe with) how come you founded this company? And, his answer to this question solidified for me my resignation to follow.
His reply: 'money.'
It was an epiphany moment for me, as I saw this person throw out his value system, disregard his family, treat his employees like shit, and only saw you as a pawn in his game of chess.
But as I moved past the resentment of this person, and their arrogance, what really set in was how his approach was the cause of significant stress not only in his life but in the lives of the people at this company, but even more severe, the shared mindset that this was indicative of within Corporate America today.
And then I realized - as, by this point of time of this conversation, my transformation was well underway and I was at the beginning stages to taking steps to embarking upon an authentic profession of my own - was that real satisfaction only comes when your values are the cause of your activities and your pursuits, and that the reverse actually destroys people, not just figuratively, but literally.
I can't tell you how many people I was witnessing that were beyond disheveled emotionally, spiritually and psychologically, only to cope through dangerous and distasteful behaviors.
Our conversation continued, and to paraphrase what I took from this chat, was he thought, "if I just will this to happen, I would've self-actualized and become the coolest person on planet earth."
He was a little worm by the way.
If you had the chance to listen to last week's episode, you'll learn that when one pursues something for validation or ego reasons only, that their true motivation diminishes significantly, and why it becomes for many of these companies, a fight to just stay alive, despite whether or not they made or raised millions.
Again, the same goes for how we approach our lives and that the top-down approach - by creating exuberant and non-challenged goal lists and vision boards - will destroy you. These dreamed up outcomes will rob you of you last shred of passion, because you become it's bitch - but actually, you become your ego's bitch, and thus, a prisoner.
If you think that a top-down approach is going to bring you the satisfaction you seek, you will become sorely disappointed, even if you attain the results.
I understand there are bills to pay, as well as loans to relieve yourself of, however, if I could've changed how I was approaching desired outcomes, I feel confident that the loan would've still been paid back, however, my emotional and psychological health would've been much better, if I started from the ground-up. I made so much harder on myself, with the top-down approach, initially.
If the top-down approach summarizes your current plan of attack, I urge you to throw these vision boards or list of goals into the trash right now and start over.
Until you are ready to understand the cause of your actions (your core needs, your true values, not the made up ones), stating what outcomes you desire could actually be completely off the mark, no matter how cool they sound, and can cause you significant health issues, physically, emotionally and psychologically.
Yes, this requires work. It requires reflection. It needs challenging ideas, notions, and concepts, and then rechallenging them, and again, and again. In fact, the challenging never stops - and that's the real secret to satisfaction.
If happiness and fulfillment were just as easy as taking one afternoon to cut things out of a magazine, to then hanging them on your wall, or writing a quick list of goals down from your brainstorming session, and then staring at them daily, then why isn't everyone so happy and fulfilled?
We don't set goals initially at Milestone Mind - we FIRST help you to allow your core values, traits and personal knowledge about yourself to emerge to establish what it means for you to be fully alive within your life. It is from there that we set big outcomes that are in alignment with who you really are.
But we don't make love to this new information about yourself as some motivational techniques might suggest. We recognize them, but allow them to evolve, and to enable them to point us towards the right outcomes in each of our lives, but unforced.
When I finally realized that the bottom-up approach was leading me to satisfaction, not only did my goals and outcomes change (for the better), but I transformed and continued to transform as new and amazing events and activities started to and continued to present themselves to my family and me every day that exemplifies all that is me, and that through this, I become fully alive.
Isn't that what we all want at the end of the day? True happiness and satisfaction?
Of course, people that take the top-down approach by creating vision boards, or long goal lists as in 'these things will make me alive once I finally get them,' want the same thing, yet, as you will see with the material pursuit of this stuff, the mission actually brings the individual the complete paradoxical effect. Misery (unless you're a sociopath or a narcissist, which if your reading or listening to this, I highly doubt you are).
You might just get the results you wanted from your list of goals and desires, or from staring intently at the cut-outs that you glued onto your piece of cardboard that you hang above your bed only to make love to it every morning and night. But, you'll most likely attain other things that you don't want, like loneliness, no real friends, no satisfaction, or no sense of meaning through this pursuit.
Why leave this to chance? How could you possibly say an outcome is going to bring you satisfaction unless it tested against your value system, what you are willing to give up to gain, what sacrifices are required, what capabilities are needed, and ultimately, are these things similar in nature to activities that made you feel fully alive in the past? Or are you just going to disregard this information about yourself, depending on your ego, and the social mindset, not your own mindset, to know best?
I eventually paid back my loan, started my outcome list all over again, and took a bottom-up approach. Today I feel the most alive I've ever felt for the first time in my professional life. The outcomes that I am pursing I established as the effects of my causes - those being my values and core needs. An example outcome is Summiting Mount Washington, and I will actually be embarking upon that goal this weekend. I would've never established this as an outcome with the top-down approach - I would've been too busy.
Because it didn't make me rich in the material sense, and from all that I read and was told, up until that point, that is that I really needed to focus on for happiness.
Well, I can say emphatically that although I reached some of the outcomes from my vision board, they were in vain, and robbed me of my spirit.
I'm glad, though, that looking back now, I still had some spirit left inside me to fight back, evaluate my approach and take action towards a life that was authentic to me and that nothing on that vision board could've ever given me or allowed me to reach.
Throw your goal list and vision board out today, start from scratch, from the bottom-up and I am so confident that if you trust and allow yourself to pursue these true and authentic outcomes as the effects from your causes, as established from within first, you'll never look back, and never be more alive.
OWN THE DAY.