Handling business when life pelts you a curveball The world of Entrepreneurship
By Judette Coward
Stabroek News
August 17, 2003

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One of my favourite columnists, Rob Levinson of the Wall Street Journal, is a consultant who lives in New York and like me chronicles his entrepreneurial journey into the world of full-time consulting. During the past year, he has not spared words or sugar-coated the realities of shaping and moulding the direction of his life as a full-time consultant. But in the last few months, his most ardent readers got the notion that things were finally beginning to look up. His cash flow looked good, he got invitations to speak at business functions, editors called him to seek his opinion and business was rolling in. Prospects, as we say in the world of consulting, looked good. Very good.

And then, out of the blue, his otherwise healthy 66-year-old father had a stroke and was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, and in a second everything changed for the hard-working entrepreneur, most particularly his attitude to work. In a frank look at how he lost his passion and drive, Levinson wrote, ďSo instead of my days revolving around scoring new business meetings, developing proposals or just networking my way into a possibility, Iím now consumed with thoughts of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and being available to my parents whenever they need me.

And while I donít want to dishearten readers who have been rooting for my consulting success, the truth is, I wish I was back in one of those cushy corporate jobs I have been scorning for the past year. I imagine that at least then, I would have the luxury of contemplating the practical and emotional implications of my fatherís situation while relying on a support staff to keep the machine in motion. I dream about downshifting to a slower pace and basically coasting until my family drama becomes more manageable, or at least knowable.Ē

Perhaps more than any one else, I understood Levinsonís predicament. We share a lot in common. Both of us are entrepreneurs as well as storytellers. Each day when we get to our desk there is a certain amount of optimism - perhaps all entrepreneurs have this - that we must bring to the table. We are carvers of own space in the world. No wonder then that his predicament got me thinking about what happens when life gets rough, and the curveball it sends you, turns into a snowball and weighs you under? The curveball may be easy enough to deal with if you work for someone else, and you can coast your way through the sticky terrain until you find firm ground again. But what do you do when you are 100% responsible for propelling your career? What happens if you lose your passion, or even interest in work? More importantly what should you do?

Cut yourself some slack

Not wanting to deal with customers, employees, cash-flow projections, proposals is all right when an unexpected tragedy occurs. No matter how much we wish, life is never one giant, orgasmic moment. Sometimes you have to find a whole new different routine to feel good about entrepreneurial life again, like going into work at mid-day instead of 7:00 am. But Levinson adopted a different approach; he found comfort in his daily routine. He showered, shaved, dressed, helped his wife get their children off to school and hit his home office by about 8:30 am each day. The routine, he says, was comforting, and gave him a sense of purpose, belonging, and a feeling of normalcy.

Get out of yourself

This piece of advice is Levinsonís but I agree completely that one of the ways to stay focused on work during a Ďcurveballí period is to ďget out of yourself.Ē For Levinson, writing a column allowed him to receive correspondence from people all over the world who related to his professional journey and wanted to share their stories. Levinson states that their tales helped him to realize he wasnít alone. So what if you donít have a monthly column, Levinson suggests that finding friends and colleagues who could benefit from your attention can make you feel connected and helps during the difficult times.

Continue to network

Even if you do not feel like it, getting out there and continuing to network ensures that new prospects or contracts may come your way. Sometimes all it takes is the scent of signing a new deal to cause the entrepreneurial juices to start flowing again. But networking with your friends and close colleagues is even more important; often it is the strength and wisdom of others whom we love and trust that can pull us out of the doldrums.

Work the heart during the bad times

Levinsonís initial response to his fatherís diagnosis was to drown his sorrows nightly in a drink but he soon realized the smarter path to his own mental health was through regular exercise. Perhaps it is the happy endorphins that are released when you engage in physical activity, or maybe it is the fact that for an hour or so you can pound the treadmill instead of pounding yourself, but committing yourself to an daily exercise routine releases stress and can help you maintain some sort of focus.

Finally, when life throws you a curveball, itís important to remember that the business of work should always be placed in perspective. When we work alone, without support it is easy to let work define who we are. But work is just that, work. And oneís life should never be defined or consumed by it.

Judette Coward is a communications, marketing & brand development consultant. E-mail her at judettecoward@hotmail.com.

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