What are the benchmarks for success in business?
How do you determine your success benchmarks? If you look around you, the obvious success benchmarks are usually money first, and then, at least a huge dollop of fame. But are our benchmarks of success skewed by Fortune Magazine or Inc or Fast Company?
Are those blogs we read driving us down a path we didn't originally set for ourselves. We had to muddle around a fair bit because we too were confused. However, here are our benchmarks for success. Maybe it will get you to set your own, as well.
There was a point when we hit a profit of $10,000 a month—and I was very rattled.
Back when we started Psychotactics, we had few expectations.
We'd bought a house, then bought another (as a rental) and our goal was entered around paying off those mortgages, and paying the bills. About $3000 was enough to cover most of our needs, and yet the income was steadily rising to the point where we crossed the $10,000 mark for the first time ever.
It was exhilarating, but also quite unnerving. The first thought that crossed my head was: How can we reach this figure again? The second thought was: Will we ever reach this figure again?
I was naïve, of course.
I was benchmarking my life like most magazines and blogs do. All around us, the signals are about increasing sales, doubling or trebling the income and rising to the top of some crazy ladder. The fact that the 10,000 figure was so disturbing, caused us to sit down and evaluate what we really wanted from life.
It didn't take long. The list was simple.
- Unadulterated free time.
- Treat money like oxygen
- Reclaim hobbies
1. What is unadulterated free time?
Most days, I tend to head to the cafe shortly after lunch. It's just one of the cafes I frequent, and this one is closer to home. I have a book, my iPad and between 2-3 hours of free time. On weekends, I avoid e-mail or any assignments, preferring instead to do whatever I please. And then, there are those three months where we tend to travel and are completely disconnected from any sort of work.
When you add up those hours, it's a heck of a lot of free time
The weekends total about 80 days in a year, the three month break totes up about 90 days. And then there are all of those cafe sessions and Fridays that make up at least another 10-20 days. The total amount makes for a luxurious 170-190 days in a year.
It doesn't take very long to figure out that's more than half the year.
But why are breaks such an important barometer of success?
At least for me, people who are busy all the time, aren't productive. It's a personal view of course, but I don't believe that productivity and “busyness” are related. To be able to take such an enormous time off every year, we have to be able to do the same, or even more more work, without compromising on our standards.
When we sit down at the start of the year to do our planning, the breaks become our real measurement device. If we can't take those breaks, it means we're are inefficient in many areas. When we can take those breaks—and we have done so, consistently since 2004—then we know we are doing just fine.
The breaks are more than a mere boast
It might sound a bit obnoxious to say, “we take more than half the year off”, but the reason we got into business was to have more control over our lives. If we are always at work, that doesn't sound like a lot of control at all. Plus, as you're likely to have figured out, breaks do more than get you away from work.
They get you away from home
The moment most of us tend to wake up, we have a barrage of responsibilities. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, garbage, dishes, billing, and then there's work on top of it all. When you're away from home, all of those responsibilities are transferred to someone else.
The brain not only gets a change in scene, but the sheer lack of needing to plan or do anything at all, is heavenly. You can sleep in, wake up, run around or do jolly well what you please. It gives the mind much needed rest and the body a catch up on sleep. Which makes you eager to take on the work when you get back.
But even in the day itself, it's important to have time to do absolutely nothing
And that was not always the case for us. When we took on the mentoring of my niece, Marsha, it was a lot of work and responsibilities. If there was a live course like the Article Writing Course, we'd need to be around a lot of the time answering posts, correcting work etc. Carving out the free time becomes quite a task.
There are times when a family member may be ill, or a child needs help, or your business is struggling. And there's no way to have the luxury of free time. The “success plan” suddenly goes off track.
However, eventually we have to bring it back on track
I realise that not everyone can do what we do and that we're all different. We all have different situations, realities and responsibilities. Even so, long before we thought about the money, we thought about the time. How can we make more time for this life we have? That was the first question and hence the first benchmark of success.
2. Treat money like oxygen
There are three kinds of people when it comes to money.
- The first kind of person doesn't have enough and thinks about it a lot.
- The second kind of person has more than enough and is happy with their situation
- The third is a super-rich, super “successful” person, has exorbitant amounts and thinks about money all the time.
Our benchmark of success is to be in the second box, because it feels just like we treat oxygen
Most of us aren't gasping for air. There's more than enough in the atmosphere, so that if we were to breathe naturally, we don't notice oxygen at all. But if you were somehow underwater and starved of oxygen, you'd be gasping for air all the time. And similarly, if money was one of the biggest benchmarks of your ego, then once again, you'd be gasping and grasping at it all the time.
But we didn't know what was “more than enough” and hence couldn't set it as a benchmark for success.
However, around the year 2007, we hit a figure that was three times as much as we could spend. Hence, one third of our money went into our business, travel and other expenses. One third went into taxes (which we are delighted to pay). The final third went into investments or savings.
This component of a third each gave us a framework of success
When we first moved to New Zealand, we'd converted our life's savings into New Zealand dollars. The entire amount we received in hand was a mere $70,000. That may sound like a lot, and it is a decent amount, but it represented about 20 years of cumulative savings being converted from one currency to another.
Anyway, by the time we bought a car, and started to buy stuff for our new house, that figure quickly whittled down to not a lot. We had to be careful with our money in a way we'd not done before.
We set ourselves a ridiculous “fun budget” of $150 a month
We'd spend what was needed, but if we wanted to eat out, or spend on stuff we liked, we'd have an upper limit of $150. A lot of our money went into buying courses and workshops on marketing and business. At one point, I'd signed up to three workshops back to back and spent well over $10,000 on those workshops alone.
Then there were the books and courses we'd bought. I don't think Renuka was ever concerned that we'd make it, but I'm a sort of worrier. I didn't want to worry about money, but I did think about it a lot.
It took a lot of systems, education and work to get to that first 10,000 dollars
But it's at that point that we knew we were well on our way. By about the year 2007, we had figured out our own principle of the “three part” system. Unless our expenses increased dramatically, we didn't need to earn a lot more and we could have more free time. Our expenses did increase a bit.
We stopped flying economy and chose business class, instead. Our choice of hotels and restaurants became slightly snooty. Even so, it wasn't a dramatic rise, and we were able to do just fine by keeping to that income principle of 3x.
The key was not to become greedy
When you start a business, it's a lot like a flywheel. It starts off being slow and cumbersome. In time, however, it's not hard to get a ton of momentum. You soon get to the stage where you can earn many times the income you've earned in the past. Things like fame and popularity become more prominent.
Our benchmarks didn't include a stage where money became the predominant driving factor. Where being rich meant you had to become even richer. And then to double. treble or quadruple that.
There's a point beyond where your money can increase but you can't get richer
You can only scale from that point onwards. You can buy more cars, bigger houses, bigger yachts. You aren't getting richer in any way—it's just a greater scale. In that desire to get even more oxygen, you're always gasping for the next big thing. Nothing seems enough and you're always scrambling for air.
It's not a place we wanted to be in. Hence, we chose the middle option. And once we were done with the free time and the money, there was one important factor that could not be ignored. We needed to reclaim our hobbies—and find new ones.
3. Reclaiming hobbies
“Your cartoons are so good. You should sell them. You could easily make a book”.
Usually people are trying to be kind when they see you're good at something. They appreciate your work, and they see a point where you could easily command some level of respect, if not an income.
Which means that if you're good at cooking, they tend to think you need a restaurant to shine. Or if you're good at making coffee, you need a cafe. And to be fair, they're not entirely wrong, but everything in life doesn't need to be turned into fame or cash.
A hobby doesn't need any external validation
A hobby is something personal that brings you great satisfaction, if not joy. Take for example my Moleskine diaries. Around the year 2010, I decided I liked to paint but I was pretty hopeless at any sort of painting. Watercolours seemed like the most portable painting system, especially since we travelled quite a bit.
Hence, I went for classes nearby, then did a week long course in Cadaques, Spain. At no point did I think of selling my work. Now, almost 3000 paintings later, I'm still not sure it's important to sell any of the work, though it's much improved. It is a hobby and doesn't need monetisation or even anyone's approval.
And yet, hobbies are also a measure of success simply because we lose ourselves along the way
We are racing around so much that we lose sight of the fact that we liked to dance. Or maybe gardening is what makes you whistle and sing aloud. And that's the kind of thing that we need to reclaim.
Of all the measures of success, this one seems to be the most frivolous of all. With all the things we have to do, and all the responsibilities that crowd our calendar, surely a hobby is too much of a luxury.
Yes it most certainly is a bit ostentatious
To go back in time and pick up where you left off, is easily one of the hardest things to do. When I moved from cartooning to marketing, my friends thought I'd gone stark raving mad. I was hopeless at marketing and extremely skilled at cartoons (at least that is what I thought at the time). But in the move over to a new profession, I stopped drawing for a while.
If I did any cartoons it was solely for business. I'd draw cartoons for the website, for the blog, and for the books and courses we produced. However, not one shred of it was for my own happiness. And I knew I wasn't happy because I would wander into art galleries and promise Renuka that I'd want to do something similar one day.
Except that day kept getting pushed further all the time
In a world where monetisation and likes are worshipped, it's hard to do anything for the sake of it. Plus, there's we still have to earn a living. But this particular measure of success couldn't be put off forever. Once the business started to take its own wobbly steps, I started going to watercolour classes.
I threw myself madly into games of badminton several times a week. I dipped my toes a bit more into photography, especially since digital cameras were finally out. I couldn't wait for things to get better or different. I had to carve out what I could, right at the moment things were slightly stable.
And I know we said we shouldn't talk about validation, but here's a story
We'd just been speaking at a podcast conference and we were away for a break. The “we” I'm referring to, were the speakers and their partners. A stretch limo had been ordered and was whisking us away. Somewhere along the hour long trip, one of the speakers turned to me and said, “I envy you”. This speaker is very well known in the podcasting world and earns millions of dollars per year.
“I envy you, because you do so much, and I'm just one dimensional”, he continued
“All I do are the podcasts. That's all I know.” While his story may well be a bit on the drastic side, most of us know we used to have hobbies. Or we would like to learn a new skill. You may not be able to work on that hobby right this very moment, but it's a good idea to pencil in a date.
Reclaim your hobbies and you reclaim your joy.
I started this piece saying I have a formula that needs fixing. These are the three things, namely, “free time”, “controlling the desire to want even more money,” and finally “reclaiming hobbies”. All of these are hard to achieve and constantly try to break away.
In other words, they need constant fixing.
We keep working on them.