Early in my career, when I was a college coach, I thought the solution to my problems was these two words: “if only.” If only I had more scholarship money, we’d win more. If only I had a better budget, we’d win more. If only I had better facilities, we’d win more.
Those "if only" things were going to solve everything for me. But, then . . . I got a bigger budget and didn’t win more. I got more scholarship money and didn’t win more. I got nicer facilities and, yep, you guessed it.
I wasn’t the only coach who thought that way. The "if only" trap is a common one for coaches. We don’t like to take a long hard look in the mirror for fear of not liking what we see. It’s easier to chalk up our losses to something external that we don’t yet possess.
Thinking that that "one thing will change everything" is also a familiar trap for entrepreneurs. I see it with clients who think that one more staff member, one venture capitalist who will fund their dreams, one video that will go viral or one big client referral will make all the difference.
Yet it’s never one thing, never some magic bullet, that will help you win more. Success lies in your daily discipline. Consider this old Zen Buddhist phrase, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
The message is that consistent execution of fundamentals over time is the key to success. In ancient times you chopped wood to make fire and carried water for drinking; and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t survive, never mind thrive. What are the high-value fundamentals you yourself must execute daily to ensure prosperity?
The media tries to fool us into believing there are overnight successes: that YouTube sensation whose one video goes viral or the contestant on The Voice who gets her big break. In reality, those overnight successes were thousands of nights in the making. They each chopped a lot of wood and carried a lot of water.
Enlightenment (success) for the entrepreneur may indeed start with “arriving on the biggest stage” in that person's industry. Yet the other hidden truth in that Buddhist quote is that after enlightenment, the only thing that will sustain it is precisely what got you there to begin with: consistency in daily efforts.
I learned that lesson the hard way as a coach. In 2002 we had our best season ever, advancing to the NCAA Final Four and finishing the season ranked number three in the nation. I thought that sustaining success would be easier than achieving it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I mistakenly thought momentum would just keep us rolling. That didn't happen: Instead, we went 4-9 and had one of our worst years ever. That’s what happens when you stop chopping wood. When we recommitted ourselves to 20 recruiting contacts every day (think: sales prospecting), our fortunes finally started turning around. That was our chopping wood and carrying water. What’s yours?
One thing doesn’t change anything: What drives your results is showing up and putting in the work, day in and day out. The work and the adversity are deposits you are paying, for success in the future. Enlightenment is not a destination or end point on a map or business plan. Your success is built brick by brick, day by day. Put in the hard work, do it every day and when you succeed, wake up and do it again the day after that.
Chopping wood and carrying water is about consistency of effort. I’m what you call a grinder; I’ll win by grinding out sheer effort and doing what other people won’t do. Why? Because I know I’m not smart enough to get by on brains alone, and I’m not talented enough to get by on talent alone. Most people aren’t. I’m actually thankful for that because, through consistency of effort, you create discipline, and discipline wins. Consider adopting this approach if you too are willing to "do." Then you too will get results that others don’t.
I’m able to earn the trust of clients through my example: For one, I publish a column every Wednesday. Another "promise" I keep is sending my newsletter to my subscribers' inboxes every Monday morning, and ensuring that my podcast airs every Thursday. These are promises I make, not just to my clients and the audiences I serve, but to myself.
Why is that promise important? Because trust in business these days is at an all-time low. What’s your version of chopping wood and carrying water that will engender greater trust in your business? Examples from some of my clients include:
- Responding to all emails the same day they come in.
- Returning all phone calls by the close of business that day
- Waking up and going to bed at the same time
- Exercising daily during lunch hour
- Walking the sales floor every day at 2 p.m. and asking how I can help each employee
Delivering consistently creates a level of trust with people; and trust is the foundation upon which all healthy relationships are built. These are the small daily deposits that yield a big return down the road. I know that giving one great speech won’t cause Fortune 500 companies to beat down my door. And one article on Entrepreneur.com won’t max-out my book of coaching business.
Instead, trust is about showing up every day and carrying the water. Fall in love with the daily work; stay consistent with your process for getting it done; and you'll see the results take care of themselves.
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