Obstacles on the Inside

When I started in marketing, I was lucky to work for Hugh. Simply put, Hugh was one of the best managers and mentors I could have known.

He was an old codger, impatient with fools, and fully committed to my growth. Every week, he metaphorically threw me into the middle of the Irish Sea and then helped me swim back to shore. Working for him could be daunting, but it was never dull.

One Friday, we were talking over a pint at the local pub, and he said something about business managers I've never forgotten:

"You usually refuse to look at your obstacles."

It's so true.

Over and over, I've seen salespeople shy away from new approaches. Door-to-door salespeople got knocked into irrelevance by the Internet, but every day someone knocks at my door hawking a product or service. Judging by their attire, they're not doing very well – but they stick with what doesn't work.

At the turn of the 20th century, how many coach makers went out of business instead of retooling to build car bodies? Many companies cling to shrinking, irrelevant markets instead of going after enormous markets elsewhere.

And marketers are notorious for using the same old tired words to old tired audiences instead of learning to become relevant in new ways – volumes of blah blah, a rare line of a-ha.

All too often, what used to work has become a bad habit, an obstacle to our success.

Here's an example. My oldest daughter is settling into kindergarten. Though I'm biased, she's a bright, cheery, eager-to-please child, determined to do well, and a pleasure to have in class.

But she's already gotten into trouble a few times over the same simple blind spot.

She refuses to stop kissing the boys.

Of course, that's funny … but also disruptive. In pre-school, it was fine. But in kindergarten, it's causing problems. Many of the boys don't like it (how things will change!), and she's become stubborn about giving it up. Her blind spot is creating an obstacle – it's getting in the way of her success.

Fortunately, she's changing her behavior – courtesy of a little coaching from Dad.

But most freelancers have to be their own coach. They have to find and shed old habits, tendencies, and behaviors that stand in their way.

  • How many of us chase a niche we don't know because everyone else is there or we hear the money is good?
  • How many of us do anything at all, including washing the windows and weighing the cat, instead of writing our website, or our special reports, or our thank-you notes to customers?
  • How many of us point fingers at anything external, rather than willingly point the finger at ourselves?

(I'm guilty of all three, by the way.)

I've been working on my personal obstacles for a few months, and this weekend I'm going to sit down, assess my progress, and will aim to share what I find in a post next week.

In this, I'm inspired by Benjamin Franklin's approach to self-improvement. I don't know if you know much about this, but Ben Franklin was America's first productivity guru. He crafted an approach to improving himself that's not very well-known. Visit this link if you're interested.

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Published: August 31, 2012

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