In Act 1, Scene III of Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet, Polonius says,
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day.
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Even if you’ve never read a word of Shakespeare, you’ve no doubt heard this expression many times. These words are pearls of wisdom, as powerful in our hyper connected 21st century as they were over 500 years ago when Shakespeare opined through Polonius on the virtues of living a balanced, authentic life.
For 21st century entrepreneurs, this idea of truth and authenticity must be the fundamental principle by which you create value in the marketplace, attract perfect collaborators, build your organizational culture, serve high value customer’s and clients, elevate your brand–and most of all, how you go about creating your entire life experience.
Shakespeare was a master at presenting characters that speak high and act low. And in the unforgiving marketplace of a digital world, there are many people and organizations that talk big promises in their marketing but behave in a low value transactional manner with customers and clients.
Value Creators have no problem saying no.
Before we go further here, I want you to know that in discussing this Principle, when I use the words “business”, “brand” and “life”, they are all one in the same thing. Truth and authenticity must reside in all, or there is no truth and authenticity in any.
To be true to your own nature and inclinations, you must say no often and mean it.
To build an awesome business, brand and life, the process is about exclusion rather than inclusion. You must stand for something deeply meaningful to you and highly valued by the marketplace. This means you will, along the way, have to say no to tempting opportunities.
Saying no is absolutely the hardest thing for startup and early stage entrepreneurs to do. And no wonder, you’re at the beginning seeking any customer or client you can get! At the beginning you’re hungry, vulnerable, eager to serve and prove your value to customers and clients.
It’s of strategic importance that you learn to assess opportunity appropriately by learning to get comfortable saying no early and often in your business development conversations. Respectfully and professionally pass on opportunity that for any reason you believe is not a good solid fit between you and the customer or client. Refuse any business opportunity that does not represent an opportunity for you and your team to add to the growth and success of all concerned in ways that are true and authentic to your desires.
This is difficult for sure. In my own business, I struggled with this in my early years. It was very difficult to refuse any business when I had a big payroll to meet every week. But I learned early on in my business growth that you could spare yourself a lot of stress and anxiety in the long run by saying no often. When you get good at it, you’ll notice very quickly how everything you’re thinking, doing and being just seems “right”.
To attract higher value customers and clients to your business, you must abide by the timeless wisdom of being true to yourself and not, for the sake of convenience, go against your natural inclinations.
Put your focus on developing relationships with only those customers and clients who see you and your team as representing a “trusted advisor / value creator” status in meeting their needs or solving their problems. You must position yourself as a facilitator of valuable outcomes for your customers, not a deliverer of stuff. All your competitors can deliver stuff. You must promise and deliver something more far more valuable.
“By doing his work he makes the need felt which only he can supply.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual Laws
Of course, you can’t be true to yourself if you do not “know thyself”.
Like Shakespeare, the ancient Greek aphorism, “know thyself” has guided humans through out the ages. If you’re a 21st entrepreneur growing a business, your success is rooted in clearly understanding who you are and what drives you forward to make a difference in the world.
Every entrepreneur I’ve worked with and advised is a highly motivated and creative individual by nature. Indeed, they’re a breed apart from the rest. The most successful entrepreneurs have an uncanny understanding of who they are, why they do things the way they do, and what attributes comprise their healthy self-image.
Creative entrepreneurs bring new value to the world. They see patterns in the marketplace that define their best opportunities and they go about the business of creating and reshaping their world based wholly on what matters to them and serves the good of their customers and clients.
They don’t worry too much about competing for the value created by others. It’s critical you have a deep understanding of who you are and what you’re about as a basis for how you create business and life success. To know thyself is to be true to yourself.
Of course this understanding is a dynamic life-long process. You might even call in a “practice” like meditation. The more you understand and trust your inner nature, the less likely you’ll be tempted to pursue opportunities that are not a good fit for you or your business. Customers know shit from shinola; you capability to serve them with authenticity and integrity is completely based on your own awareness of your strengths and your weaknesses.
To know thyself is to have an inner guidance system that is always on–leading you in a direction that is perfect for you. Like an airplane in flight, getting to your destination is mostly a series of small course corrections against the friction of forward motion. If you lose your perspective on “how you fly”, you can be in for a turbulent ride.
Introspection is necessary for growth and success. To aid you in the process of getting in touch with your truest nature, here are five key attributes for you to contemplate:
Our personalities are formed early in life. Some of us are introverts. Some of are extroverts. One is no better than the other. The activities you engage in need to align with your natural personality in order for you to feel like you’re in the right place to make your greatest contribution. If you have a deep curiosity about your personality, you might investigate Strengths Finder 2.0. If you focus on your personality strengths, chances are you’ll experience greater satisfaction and fulfillment in building your business.
How you learn.
The entrepreneurial life is one of non-stop learning. What modality of learning is best for you? Do you learn best from data or personal experience? If you are seeking new information, are you a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Having a deep understanding of how best you learn things can make the process of learning from setbacks significantly more productive and effective.
What matters to you? What will you refuse to compromise on? What guides your choices and behavior? What you value will reflect in the products and services you create, the organization you build, and the customers and clients you attract. Your values are your true north in life. Values are the part of your character that will not be compromised. Making a difference in the world is based completely on your personal values.
None of us can be all things to all people. We all have limits to our capability and what we can do effectively. For example, I’m not very good at details and process. I have a limited capacity to be effective when I get bogged down in the weeds. Knowing our limitations helps us find partners who excel in areas that we’re not so great at. If you know your limitations, you can focus on your genius and delegate everything else.
Your natural talents.
What are you effortlessly good at? What is natural and easy for you? Engaging in activities that you have a natural inclination for is the basis of flow–the state of being where you lose track of time and forget to eat. Your life and your business is a reflection of your natural talent and capability.
In our complex digitally obsessed society, it’s easy to get distracted and confused. It’s a good idea to check in with yourself on a regular basis. In my life and business, I take a step back and adjust every three months. Maintaining this highly tuned self-awareness will make sure you don’t waste valuable time and energy pursuing opportunity in the wrong business with the wrong partners, serving the wrong customers. Nothing is more debilitating to your sense of well being than toiling in a business that is not right for you-regardless of the amount of money you’re making.
Let me close this chapter by sharing this bit of timeless wisdom:
Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion.
He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.
This talent and this call depend on his organization, or the mode in which the general soul incarnates itself in him. He inclines to do something which is easy to him, and good when it is done, but which no other man can do.
He has no rival. For the more truly he consults his own powers, the more difference will his work exhibit from the work of any other. His ambition is exactly proportional to his powers.
The height of the pinnacle is determined by the breadth of the base. Every man has this call of the power to do something unique, and no man has any other call. By doing his work he makes the need felt which only he can supply.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual Laws