A few years ago, my oldest daughter was part of a highly ranked high school marching band program. They were invited to compete in the first national marching band competition on the ellipse lawn at the White House. Like most early stage entrepreneurs, I was up to my eyeballs in alligators. I convinced myself that I was too busy to chaperone the trip and had to stay home and work.

  • I missed my daughter’s first trip to our nation’s capital
  • I missed watching my daughter perform at the white house
  • They won, and I missed witnessing my daughter earn the title of national champion

 

As you might imagine, this was a very painful lesson. I came to the realization that I needed to keep my priorities straight. Since that time, I have consistently made family my top priority. I became an extremely active band parent. Sometimes that meant stretching the envelope, but I kept focused on what’s really important. I travelled with the band on day trips and even overnight trips. Sometimes it was exhausting, but it was always fulfilling.

Upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize that my poor prioritization was a vocabulary problem. When the trip to Washington was announced, I accepted the fact that I had to stay home and tend to business. By using the term “had to,” I was surrendering control of my life to an outside force. But surrender isn’t really necessary.

It turns out there was no irresistible force that prevented me from going on the trip. It was a choice I made based on the circumstances around me. This is a really important distinction, because having a choice gives you more options. Instead of thinking “I have to stay home to tend to business” I should have thought “I choose to stay home to tend to business.” As soon as you hear those words come out of your mouth, you realize the absurdity of that choice.

Of course, there are consequences to choosing. You need to recognize and take responsibility for the consequences of each choice. This forces you to consider the pros and cons of each option. Instead of automatically accepting a meeting invitation, consider if it is really a good use of time. Instead of automatically accepting a customer’s request for a discount, consider if it is really a good business decision. You might surprise yourself with how often the answer is no.

Now, as I proceed through life (and business) I try to correct myself every time I think I have to do something. Instead, I rephrase it as “I choose to do it” and then decide if that is really a good choice.

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