You’re doing it wrong!


Living Life and Growing Your Business on Your Terms

Have you ever received unsolicited advice?

You know the kind I’m talking about. One of your “friends” takes it upon themselves to tell you how you’re screwing up your life. And if you would just make one or two “minor” changes you would be so much better off.

This advice is usually sincere. Your friends are probably genuinely worried about you. When they look at your life they likely see the struggles you go through, how hard you work for seemingly little return, the heartache, the sleepless nights, you name it. Your friends see all the stress and they are genuinely worried about you.

If you’d just give up on your dream and take a job with a steady paycheque. Or maybe just slow it down a bit and relegate your business aspirations to weekends and evenings, maybe you’d be better off. You’d have more money, less stress and live longer.

Or so they think.

But make no mistake it’s never really about you.

It’s about how they feel when they are around you. Maybe they feel sorry for you – but that’s not about you, it’s about them. Maybe they feel guilty for their own success in the face of your seeming failure – but that’s not about you either, it’s still all about them. And maybe they feel envy and jealousy because they see the huge potential for your success and wish they had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But you guessed it, that’s not about you either.

The fact is, no one can give you advice on what you need to do to be successful. Sure there are some general principles but they are ultimately the same whether you work for a boss or not. At the end of the day nobody knows better than you what it will take for you to be successful. Nobody knows your business better than you. Nobody works harder than you. Nobody cares more than you.

So stop listening to everyone else. That’s what you’re doing wrong.

Entrepreneurship is lonely. And for the most part the pay sucks. Work your ass off for 5, maybe 10 years or even more and maybe, just maybe you’ll become so successful you’ll forget about the years of struggle that led up it.

Maybe not.

You have to be prepared to live like no one else, so that later you can live like no one else.

That’s my best unsolicited advice.  Take it or leave it.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Decision-Making


How to focus on the choices that matter the most…

Each and every one of us makes countless decisions every day. Some don’t matter much, like what to wear or what to eat for lunch. Others carry a little more weight. Last week I talked about the general weight of decisions in our lives, go back an re-read it here [Cast Your Burdens].  This week I want to focus a bit more on the specific and unique decision making needs of business owners. Business owners make decisions about how to manage cash flow, how to protect the company (with insurance mostly), and which benefits plan to choose so that they can attract and retain the best employees.

Have you ever found it difficult making important decisions? You’re not alone.

As I talked about last week, researchers have found that we only have limited decision-making power. So called, “decision fatigue” effects us all as the day progresses. Check out this article from the New York Times to back me up. As the day rolls along and the number of decisions we need to make pile up, our brains get tired and start to look for an easier way out. That can mean delaying decisions, paralysis by analysis or it could lead to reckless decisions made primarily just to get it over with so that we can move on.

One option some entrepreneurs have found to help manage decision fatigue is to eliminate, or create a habit around certain choices. I’m currently reading Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book “The Power of Habit”. At one point in the book he talks about what he calls the Keystone Habits that can shape entire organizations and remove a cumbersome layer of decision making, streamlining processes and leading to increased efficiencies and ultimately higher profits. Case in point, two of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs simplified some of their decisions by wearing the same clothing every day: Steve Jobs was famous for his black turtlenecks, and Mark Zuckerberg favours grey T-shirts. I have even taken on a modification of this habit myself, I line up my pants and shirts in my closet on laundry day and simply put on whatever is at the front of the line every morning. Granted, not quite a streamlined as wearing the same thing every day but it is one less decision I need to make in the morning, freeing my mind up for more important things later.

Another idea is to devote more time to important decisions earlier in the day, that way you are fresh and can devote better energy to things before the relentless piling on of minor choices makes it harder to concentrate and make the best decisions. Consider scheduling an hour or so every morning to contemplate some of the bigger choices you need to make that day.

It’s important to start by identifying which of your regular decisions are most important. Most business owners agree that decisions related to cash flow management are the highest on their list of priorities. A recent survey showed that over half (59 per cent) of small business owners were concerned about cash flow with 20 per cent saying they are seriously concerned. This would seem to point to the fact that they are likely to get the most outside advice in this area but over a third of them (38 per cent) said they were dealing with their cash flow issues alone, without any help from an external advisor.  Know to be clear, I am not an accountant but one of the biggest advantages that I can bring to the table for my clients is help with decision-making around cash flow management. For example, I can help put together an optimal mix of bank accounts, lines of credit and investments to maximize returns mitigate risks and cushion your business from cash flow crunches.

And speaking of risk, another important area is risk management. Having a clear risk management goal like, building a diversified customer base or multiple revenue streams helps you make better business planning decisions and move the business forward. But keep in mind that when it comes to insurance, any delays in decision-making actually increase your exposure. Business owners must make it a top priority to finalize insurance policies as soon as they are financially able. This includes all forms of general liability and business interruption insurance to critical illness, disability and key person insurance for the owners and employees.

Lastly, there’s another area of risk management decision-making that most business owners forget about until it’s too late. If you have employees, you know how much your business relies on the productivity and loyalty of all of your people. And you’re probably also aware of how much turnover can cost. That’s why it’s so surprising to me that according to the research cited above just 17 per cent of business owners consider group benefits including health and retirement savings plans when building a risk management strategy. Even a simple, entry-level benefits plan for as few as 2 or 3 people can do wonders for moral and help to retain and attract better employees.

Postponing important financial decisions may mean missing out on opportunities to grow, develop and protect your business. So if you’ve been mulling without deciding, consider what you need to move forward. Are you considering all of the options? Do you have enough information to make an informed choice? Can a financial advisor offer any input? What other barriers are standing in the way?

Small business owners are busy people, I get that. Anything that can help streamline your decision-making process and make it more efficient is of great value. I am here to help. I can provide clarity and give you a big-picture perspective on decisions that benefit you, your company and your employees in both the short and long term. Contact me any time.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Cast Your Burdens


Life is heavier than the weight of all things – Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve recently become aware of the sheer weight of life.

I’m not just talking about the mental “weightiness” of our lives or the existential weight of the decisions we make on a daily basis. I’m talking also about the basic physical weights and measures of the things we possess and the life that we carry with us wherever we go.

Some statistics:

  • The average North American home has tripled in size in the last 50 years while the number of people living in those homes, the average family size, has gotten smaller.

  • 1 in 4 of those homes doesn’t have enough room in their garage to park a car while 1 in 10 rents extra off-site storage.

  • Over the course of our lifetime we will spend a total of 153 days (or 3,672 hours) looking for misplaced items.

All of this “stuff” is quite literally weighing us down but that’s not all – Psychologists have identified a relatively new pathology known as decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of the decisions we make the more we make them. It is now understood to be one of the main causes of irrational decision making. Judges and other professional decision makers have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than they do early in the day. If you want to win in court, try to make sure your case is on the docket in the morning.

Decision fatigue also leads to poor choices in our personal lives, such as how we spend our money and our time. There is also a paradox inherent in decision fatigue in that people who lack choice seem to want it more while at the same time find that making too many choices can be psychologically draining.

Lastly, research is beginning to show that the single biggest factor causing decision fatigue is not the importance or consequences of the decisions being made but their sheer volume. Deciding what to wear in the morning or what to eat for breakfast contributes just as much to our daily decision fatigue as determining the case of a plaintiff in a multimillion dollar civil complaint. A decision is a decision and fatigue is fatigue.

Ask anyone what they truly want out of life and the answer will more often than not boil down to some form of peace and happiness. Still more research is beginning to show that people who report being the most peaceful and happy with their lives also seem to be the ones who are forced to make the fewest decisions throughout the day. And the decisions they do make whether in their personal or professional lives tend to be of higher quality.

I was recently challenged by a friend and spiritual mentor to embrace some of the tenants of minimalism. At the same time I’ve been reading David Allen’s definitive work on time management and productivity “Getting Things Done”. Both seek to reduce stress and increase enjoyment and productivity by reducing the weight of things in our lives and streamlining decision making.

It seems counter intuitive but by reducing the number of choices we are faced with we actually open up our minds to new possibilities and new ideas and lighten the burden of some of the bigger and more consequential decisions we are faced with. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of modern history was known to have 7 copies of the exact same set of clothing, one for each day of the week, and ate the exact same meal for breakfast and lunch every single day. That’s three fewer decisions he had to make than most other people which helped to open his mind for weightier things.

In my work as a financial advisor I see the other side of the coin every day. Lives built on a house of cards of debt, and stress. People are running faster and faster just to remain in one place. We have been sold a lie that the key to happiness is the acquisition of more. And that the truly happy and “together” people are also able to do more with their time. Carrying last year’s model smart-phone is considered a sign of poverty in some circles and simply stopping to relax with your family, without a program or agenda to follow, is somehow seen as sloth or a waste of precious time.

The truth is we need down time in order to maintain our sanity.  There is nothing wrong with staying in and doing nothing, just like there is nothing wrong with carrying and using a still functional smart-phone.

Minimalism and the type of streamlining decision making advocated by authors and consultants like Allen, are not a panacea for all that ails us. But they can be a first step in determining what truly matters, making better decisions and living a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

It’s time to lighten our lives, worry less and live more.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion for people and a desire to teach everyone to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Saturday Night Live vs Donald Trump


When Humor Isn’t Meant to be Funny

alecbaldwintrumpEver since Alec Baldwin created his Saturday Night Live caricature of Donald Trump and even a bit before that, the late night comedy shows have had a field day making satire out of the political landscape. Of course late night comedy has always gotten laughs through satirical commentary so why should things be any different now? I vaguely remember Dana Carvey’s caricatures of George Bush in the early 90s which rumor has it President Bush himself made it a point to watch so that he could take a moment to laugh at himself.

There is something honestly refreshing about our ability to look at serious issues with a bit of humour. It’s healthy too. Dr. Avner Ziv, chair of the educational sciences department at Tel Aviv University has written extensively on the psychology of humor as an aid to education. His 1984 book “Personality and a Sense of Humor” is his most cited scholarly work on the subject and contains a large section on the purpose of humor in public discourse.

Less serious and self-involved people have held that things might be changed by a less tedious approach – that is, by means of humor. Humor exposes ugly human phenomena (those that render the world almost unbearable) to mockery, in the hope of thereby eliminating them. Man makes a mockery of man. In his efforts at changing and improving mankind, man turns matters he thinks grave into absurdities. He does this sometimes with delicate casualness, sometimes with disrespect, and sometimes with ferocity. The laughter that derives from the perception of absurdity reforms the world. [Avner Ziv – Personality and a Sense of Humor]

For this type of humor to work it must be delivered as broadly as possible. Originally theatre was the means to deliver humorous political commentary today we have the late night comedy show.

thatresatireThe English playwright, Ben Jonson described comedy as an educational instrument its goal is not to make us laugh but to arouse in us a form of moral outrage that leads us to improvement. The French novelist Stendhal concluded that the main aim of comedy is to expose people to mockery. The person who is the object of ridicule may be able to accept a reasoned rebuke without making significant changes, “thanks for the input but that’s just your opinion”, they may say. But that same person may not bear to be laughed at. Just before he died Charlie Chaplin said in an interview that the function of comedy is to sharpen our sensitivities to the perversion of justice.

We are entering a time when politicians seem hyper sensitive to this type of humor. Why, in contrast to former president Bush does Donald Trump refer to Saturday Night Live as “over-rated”, “unfair” and “biased”? Why did a prominent Texas republican senator who once likened president Obama to a Nazi recently say that we need to show more respect to the new president?

Why indeed?

Mockery and satire are the final frontier of political debate. As government becomes more totalitarian descent must become more direct and mean spirited.

Comedy is generally received in a friendly spirit. Satire is not. Its victims fear it as a threat to their power and position. Thus in totalitarian countries satire directed against the ruling powers is banned, and any manifestation of satire earns harsh punishment. [Avner Ziv – Personality and a Sense of Humor]

freespeachWhile most western democracies are a long way from a curtailing freedom of speech it is clear that there is a large contingent of politicians and citizens across the political spectrum who either feel that their only recourse is mockery or that they are being unfairly attacked. As we stand on the threshold of the Trump administration we would all do well to remember that governments do themselves a disservice by prevent or complaining about humor against themselves. Laughter is a safety value for the release of tension and one that should point the ruling party toward what the masses are really thinking. When they ignore it, seek to oppress it or complain too loudly about it they do so at their own peril.

I’m not laughing at any of this political satire anymore. I don’t find it funny in that way, it is very serious and the reaction that Mr. Trump has had to it is downright horrifying. Satire is not meant to illicit laughs it is meant to spark debate in a society where reasoned discourse has been oppressed.  When president Trump consistently complains that his detractors are “over-rated” and “sad” he is doing nothing to advance his agenda or enhance his image, he is fanning the flame. By attempting to discredit his detractors in this way the feelings of hostility will likely continue to increase. As these feelings build up they will create a kind of “pressure cooker” which will explode in time. Without satire and the laughter it invokes this hostility might be demonstrated in far more violent ways.

During the Obama administration we saw the advent of the Occupy Movement, a largely peaceful protest directed at the banks and other large institutional elites. Obama met the concerns of the masses with reasoned discourse and eventually helped temper their fears through the democratic process. I fear that unless the politicians start listening to each other again and learn to laugh at the satirists rather than seek to oppress and discredit them, the next time won’t be so peaceful.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

Blessed Are Those Who Wield Soft Power


softpowerPolitical values like democracy and human rights can be powerful sources of attraction, but it is not enough just to proclaim them. Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

It is not my usual practice to write a review of a book that I have not yet finished. However; the events of the past several weeks and months leading up to the “peaceful” transition of power in the United States have compelled me to break with my self-imposed tradition.

Over the Christmas break I have been reading through Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” which was originally published in 2004 at the end of the first term of President George W. Bush. I can’t help but notice a stern warning in these pages against the type of world we may be entering into in the next few weeks. We are standing a crossroads in history in which a populist leader threatens to lead his nation, and by extension the entire world, into a dark age of intolerance, unilateralism and regression the likes of which we have never seen before.

The policies of the Trump administration could set America’s social progress back 50 years and all but destroy their international reputation as an open, welcoming, tolerant and democratic society. As a result the world’s only military superpower could find itself losing key international policy debates in such economically significant and security related decisions as environmental protectionism, nuclear proliferation and terrorist financing to the interests of Russia, China, the European Union and non-state actors like ISIL and OPEC.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

flagworldThe term “Soft Power” was coined by Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Mr. Nye is the former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs under President Bill Clinton and is currently a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. His credentials in international affairs are beyond reproach. He actually developed the concept of Soft Power over a long carrier in academics and government which began in the late 1970s but only started using the term extensively after it first appeared in the aforementioned book.

He wrote:

When one country gets other countries to want what it wants this might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.

Ever since its founding the United States has enjoyed a large proportion of what is now known as soft power. The ideals of democracy, liberty and justice that undergird the US Constitution have been beacons of hope for hundreds of millions of people world-wide for nearly 200 years. It is this soft power, more so than its military or economic might that has helped transform the world from a collection of feudal empires into a largely democratic and capitalist one. American soft power, the attractiveness of democracy and an open society, far more so than the threat of nuclear annihilation or economic isolation is what eventually ended the Cold War.

eagleBut the tide is changing and I fear that a Trump administration and other populist movements around the world are only going to serve to accelerate this change, diminish American influence and usher in an era of instability and violence similar to that which caused two World Wars during the first half of the last century.

The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frame issues; whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy); and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies… To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, America will benefit from the trends of this global information age. But there is a danger that the United States may obscure the deeper message of its values through arrogance. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

Professor Nye wrote those words in 2004, at a time when America was going it alone in an unpopular war with Iraq. At that time when the world looked at America they saw a country that, while it may have started to betray some its founding values in the name of security against religious extremists it was at least consistent in its application of those values at home. Any damage caused to America’s soft power was limited to its politicians and foreign policy. Today I am afraid that the hypocrisy of the Iraq war pales in comparison to the hypocrisy apparent in Trump’s domestic policy. These policies have the potential to betray the very founding principles of “life, liberty and justice for all.”

Just as the Cold War was won through diplomacy and the effective wielding of soft power, I fear that the next war, cold or hot, will be lost through the ignorance, arrogance and cultural ineptitude of populist movements that have no regard for the soft power of liberalism and pluralism that has served progress so well for so long.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsporject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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 Becoming a Mighty Warrior


The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” [Judges 6:11-16]

Last week, toward the end of the Global Leadership Summit I sat absolutely transfixed, with tears in my eyes while one of the last speakers of the two day event read aloud this ancient Bible story about Gideon. Maybe it was just the mental exhaustion of two full days of leadership training and Bible teaching I had just sat through.   But as author Danielle Strickland, a senior officer of The Salvation Army, explained the story of how God appeared to Gideon while he was hiding from the Midianites and the transformation that occurred in his life as a result I started to see myself in Gideon and God’s words to him somehow became His words to me. As the tears started to run down my cheeks God put a bookend on the GLS and commissioned me to go out and do ministry.

winepressGideon was the youngest in his family. So am I. He had been told all his life that he was weak, that he could never do anything of significance for God or his fellow Israelites. When God found him he was hiding out in a winepress, most likely an underground wine cellar like the one shown, where an oppressive government couldn’t find him, trying to scrape out enough flour to survive. While my upbringing wasn’t exactly poor, and the messages I received from my family and community weren’t all negative I’ve never had my biggest dreams affirmed in a way that would give me enough confidence to go out and take on the world. Like Gideon, I have always had the tape running in the back of my head that says; “Who do you think you are? Just accept your lot in life and don’t rock the boat.”

When God appeared to Gideon and opened by call him a “mighty warrior”, Gideon understandably thought he had the wrong guy. I’ve questioned God’s wisdom in calling me to ministry too. I echo Gideon when I say to Him; “Pardon me Lord, but if you really want me to lead a ministry of financial reconciliation why have you allowed me to go bankrupt and struggle with my own finances for so long?”

God’s response to Gideon’s reservations is his response to mine as well. “Use the strength I have given you, it’s enough. I am sending you.”

Last week I wrote about my first impressions from the GLS and Bill Hybels opening remarks. Leadership is about moving from here to there, and as long as there exists, staying here is just not an option. This week it’s about strength and humility.

After she opened her talk with the story of Gideon, Strickland had us image a horizontal line and called it the continuum of true humility. The degree to which you are either insecure or arrogant is the degree to which you agree with God about who you truly are. Too far to either extreme and God may need to step in and bring you back to centre. I tend to swing wildly between extremes but at the end of the day I will usually settle somewhere on the side of insecurity.

She then had us image a vertical line and called it the continuum of true dependency. Strickland went on to explain that the degree to which we strive for self-sufficiency or co-dependency is the degree to which we agree with God about who He is. Our western society has sold us the lie that we must strive for more self-sufficiency and that depending on God, or anyone for that matter for help is a sign of weakness. But the truth is that we must carve out pockets of dependency in our lives in order for God to have the space He needs to show up and move in us.

benI can’t tell you the number of times that people have quoted what they thought was a Bible verse as a way to show me, and others that it’s up to us to fix our own problems. “God helps those who help themselves,” is a popular mantra of self-sufficiency but it’s not in the Bible. The phrase is actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin. There are a few comments made by King Solomon in Proverbs that promote the idea that God rewards initiative and some of the parables of Jesus, like the parable of the talents for example, show that God definitely wants us to work at things but the notion of God waiting for us to do something before he will bestow a blessing is just flat wrong. It’s those moments when we cannot help ourselves that God is able to step and move mountains.

Gideon’s encounter with God ends with him leading an army of just 300 men who defeat the Midianites without ever firing a single arrow or drawing a single sword. Gideon the “mighty warrior” is a case study in how God fights wars but that’s a discussion for another time…

God lives at the intersection of true humility and true dependency. The effectiveness of your mission depends on the degree to which you agree with God about who you are and who He is. When you step forward, in true humility and true dependency you step into God’s will, His peace and His righteousness and the Kingdom comes…

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