The back-to-school period tends to evoke mixed emotions among children but the lessons of heading back to school after a prolonged absence are applicable to nearly everyone, especially entrepreneurs.
1. We crave structure. Every school year starts the same. The kids try to hold on to summer as long as they can but as soon as the Labor Day barbeque start to fizzle out, they know that nothing is going to stop “Back to School” (especially not their parents). As much as they complain about starting school, something amazing happens. Deep down, they actually enjoy it.
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Why? Because kids need structure. Sure, hanging out all day may seem more fun but having a structured day actually is. Research shows that we find more pleasure in being productive than in being passive. We actually enjoy a structured day of school more than an unstructured day at the beach.
Entrepreneurs are notoriously unstructured. For many, the lure to leave the traditional job is entrepreneurship's lack of structure but to be successful, and truly happy, you need to go “back to school.” You need to make sure there is sufficient structure in your day.
Look at your day to see when you can add structure. Are you getting to the office in a timely manner? Do you have set times to answer emails? Are the meetings in your office haphazard or is there an order? Adding structure adds efficiency, productivity and ultimate success.
2. Being comfortable in the uncomfortable. This year, my youngest took a school bus for the first time. He sat in the steps waiting for his bus to come and eagerly ran up to it. When he climbed the stairs, however, his smile dropped as he looked around to a bus full of boys who he didn’t know and back to his parents, the only safety net he had, waving behind closing doors. My wife saw his face and tried to get on the bus with him so he wouldn’t be alone but I, as his father, insisted that he would be fine. He would learn how to ride the bus like everyone else.
Related: Want to Innovate? Get Uncomfortable.
For many, “back to school” is uncomfortable. New schools, new kids and new environments. But we all know that being uncomfortable is part of the growth process. It’s totally acceptable and appropriate to get jitters and butterflies, as long as it doesn't stop us. Staying home is never an option.
Entrepreneurs sometimes stop making themselves feel uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to discuss a poor review with an employee. It’s uncomfortable to go back to an investor with poor results and ask for more money. It’s uncomfortable to attend networking events when you are naturally introverted.
Successful people have learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Only when they pushed past their comfort zone did they grow and succeed.
3. Respecting book knowledge. It’s amazing how much schooling our kids get. Every day they are bombarded with classes and subjects, essays and projects, because knowledge is important. Math, science and social studies may not feel important to the student, but as parents we understand just how critical an education is.
Many entrepreneurs do not allocate time for reading or learning. The day is too busy and they feel comfortable relying on their “street knowledge.” However, knowledge gleaned from reading is critical for your eventual leadership and success. Some of the greatest leaders have allocated time to reading and learning.
Jeff Bezos has his executives read certain books and then uses them as a framework for sketching out the future of the company. He hosts three all-day book clubs with Amazon's top executives. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon would send his interns a list of his 25 favorite books. Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, in Berkshire-Hathaway's annual report, recommends his favorite books to investors some. We can't afford to stop learning when we graduate school.
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4. The value of recovery. Entrepreneurs are notoriously obsessed with always working. We tend to see life as a marathon. Every day, we hit the grind and its day in and day out. We are rarely off, taking our work home with us and being electronically connected to the office always.
Now there is a lot of value in consistency. But greatness requires something different. It’s the ability to sprint. To focus and go at something hard and strong. To go “all in” on a project or deadline. To put all your eggs into a basket and prepare to leap, and perhaps fail, to achieve your dream.
But a sprinter needs time off in between sprints. If you would sprint for the length of a marathon you would die or, at least, feel as overwhelmed as most of us feel.
Schools have seasons. Summer is off. Holidays are off. Weekends are off. Evenings are off. Its structured to be a marathon, not a sprint. There are periods of intensity followed by periods of recovery.
Jim Loher and Tony Schwartz conducted extensive research with regards to athletic success. The concluded that the enemy of high performance is not stress. Stress is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the obstacle to success is the absence of recovery. Lack of recovery time leads to burn out and breakdown that ultimately undermines performance.
Recovery time means that you can’t always be everywhere. It reminds us that we are human, that we are here to do our best but we need time to pause and regroup. Take a page out of the back-to-school and realize that you don’t have to be in school all the time to be successful.
It's important for all of us to remember that we don't have to be a student to gain the benefits of "back to school."
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