What is (business/financial) security and how do you achieve it?

One of my clients is a large corporation that contracts a lot of consultants. I had a recent conversation with an employee there who was wondering about life of a consultant. We were “comparing notes” about the difference between being a consultant and an employee. They said that even though there were drawbacks to employment (such as being at the mercy of a manager, as well as having little control over increases in pay), they mentioned that the comfort and security of employment far outweighed the uncertainty of being a consultant.

They wondered how I can sleep at night, knowing that once the project ended, I would need to find more clients. They pointed to other consultants who were contracted by the company who struggled through “boom/bust” careers and sweated the days leading up to the end of a contract.

I mentioned that I didn’t lose a wink of sleep at night. With or without this large corporate client, I’m fully booked through 2016 and have a waiting list of people who would hire me once I have some availability.

I’m not relating this conversation to you to boast. Rather, to make a point about security: Employees think they have security because they are part of a union (at least in the case of this particular company) and because there are many other people involved in the longevity of the business… and perhaps there’s some value to their tenure at the company. And entrepreneurs (and consultants and writers, etc.) seem to have less security because they are not only responsible for delivery but they’re also responsible for client acquisition. And it seems like they live from project to project.

Security is a funny thing: As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights in the very beginning of my business; those sleepless nights came from the gnawing question of “will I find enough clients to pay the bills this month?”. Today, I sleep well because my business is in a different place now.

But even more than the list of clients I’m fortunate enough to have, I recently realized that there’s something else that makes me feel secure.

SECURITY IS EVEN MORE THAN HAVING A JOB OR CLIENTS RIGHT NOW

What inspired this realization came from an old podcast I stumbled over in a forgotten folder on an external hard drive I was cleaning up. There were several podcasts — some of them too old and irrelevant to be valuable — but one of them was quite interesting, compelling, and inspiring. It was an interview with Jay Abraham. In the podcast, Abraham was describing his own journey in his career and how he got his start. He admitted that he started as a clerk and didn’t really contribute anything to the company he worked for. Deciding to change that, he immersed himself in becoming an expert in business and sales.

And then he said this about business/financial security: “I realized that security is nothing more than the faith, the confidence, and the trust you’ve got in yourself and your ability to perform.

I’ve been thinking about that statement pretty regularly ever since I heard it. I think most people believe that security comes from having a specific dollar figure in the bank and a job and a decent insurance policy.

And that might be true for some but it’s not true for me. Or for other entrepreneurs I’ve met. For me, a sense of security doesn’t come from those things. I’ve had them and I know that they can disappear.

Rather, Abraham’s statement revealed to me a reason why I feel very comfortable living the life of the self-employed: Because I know without a shadow of doubt that if everything came crashing down around me today, I could be up and running right away, serving new clients and building a profitable business from the ground up… even if I had to start with new clients and zero dollars and no website. My sense of security comes with my knowledge that I can deliver something of value to people who need it.

HOW TO GET SECURITY FOR YOURSELF

Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. Clients come and go. Technologies come and go. Strategies come and go.

So how do you get security? Regardless of whether you want to work for someone else or for yourself, you need to build up in yourself the disciplines and knowledge and skills and mindsets that will allow you to deliver.

You need to know your strengths and understand who needs whatever you bring to the table. And you need to always sharpen yourself — to become better and better so that your employer or your clients or your target market consider you indispensable.

Indispensability comes from just what I’ve described above: A combination of disciplines (focus and willpower), specialized knowledge (in whatever category you work in), related skills (sales, negotiation, and others), and mindsets (positivity and opportunity-seeking, and probably others).

Whenever you want to build an even bigger foundation of security, you need to increase those elements of indispensability — either by deepening your existing ones or broadening them to acquire others.

Willpower: The most important skill for success

When I started my business, I loved the fact that I was my own boss — I could serve clients on my own schedule. I could sleep in, eat when I wanted, work with those I chose to work with. It was basically a free-for-all.

It was fun for a while but then I noticed a few things: I wasn’t growing my business. I was becoming complacent. I was serving clients but not building for the long term. I allowed myself to procrastinate or become distracted in the middle of projects. I wasn’t as healthy as I could have been, either.

And whenever I tried to change, I would fade back toward my less-than-healthy habits.

I soon discovered that the real cause of my problems was not the choice to do these things but the lack of willpower to do something different.

Willpower is sometimes called “self-discipline” or even “focus” or “concentration”. It refers to your ability to choose a goal and then to push through the pain, discomfort, displeasure, obstacles, etc. that you face until that goal becomes a reality. I hate to admit this but I lacked willpower. If I wanted something, I bought it. My workouts were not really that challenging. I only did things if I felt like it.

… and the results showed. My business did okay (I still had year-over-year growth most years) but it wasn’t stellar. My health was so-so. I was less interested in taking risks.

I ended up like a pot-bound plant — grown into myself — and I didn’t like what I had become.

So I started making changes in how I do things (by eating better, exercising, focusing on my work, etc.), plus I also started studying willpower.

One of the changes I made was to take on a writing project at a client’s office. Although I much preferred to write in the comfort of my home, the discipline of going to a client’s office every single day helped to “reset” my clock. I did that for a year (this was a few years ago now) and enjoyed it. And I’ve willingly done it again since then, simply because it was an excellent way to inject some discipline in my life.

Another change I made was to workout in the mornings and change my diet. I’ve limited my coffee intake, I eat my bigger meals earlier in the day, I have drastically cut back my carbs.

Another change was the Finish What You Start series I blogged about last year. It was part of that whole effort to improve my willpower.

I also study willpower voraciously. I read Theron Q. Dumont’s The Power of Concentration every year, I’m reading Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (which covers the topic of willpower), I’ve read Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct (which I’ve included as one of the 10 business books that changed my life). And there’s more (which I’ll talk about in a moment).

I’ve come to the realization that willpower is the most important skill for success. Success has little to do with how good you are at something or how much money you have or whether you have a great idea. Rather, success is almost entirely wrapped up in willpower — how much pain you are willing to tolerate to achieve your goal.

Lack of willpower is why people don’t stick to their diet. It’s why they don’t quit smoking. It’s why new year resolutions are broken. It’s why people dream of quitting their job to start a business but fail to take the plunge.

But the person with willpower says: “I will adhere to my goal, no matter what, until it is achieved.” That is the person who will succeed.

With that kind of willpower, you can overcome any obstacles, achieve any goal, see results, and enjoy success (however you define it).

So if we want 2014 to be The Year of Awesome then the one thing each one of us needs is MORE willpower.

I believe willpower is a skill. It’s something we’re not really born with (have you ever seen a baby with willpower? Neither have I). It’s something we learn. It’s something we can improve. Here’s how to get more willpower in your life:

  • Start small. Willpower is like a muscle. If it’s out of shape, it doesn’t work as well. So start small and build up your willpower muscle with little successes. If you are trying to change your diet, for example, start with just cutting out the cookies. You can always grow your willpower over time. Once you’ve mastered the cookies, move on to the candy. By doing so, you’ll grow your willpower in a way that isn’t actually that hard.
  • Celebrate every success. Good habits are so easy to give up because we wait until the achieved goal before we celebrate. But what makes the Alcoholics Anonymous method so powerful is that they celebrate every success. If you are trying to quit smoking, don’t make your new year’s resolution to be “no smoking in 2014”. Rather, make an hourly resolution — “I won’t smoke this hour”… and then repeat it every single hour. And don’t stop celebrating. Someone I know just posted on Facebook that she has been sober for 20 years. That’s great. I’m sure it’s a daily battle but as long as she has enough willpower for TODAY, that’s all she needs.
  • Study willpower. There are many great resources out there that will help. I’ve listed some of my favorites above but you will also find some great books about habits — making good habits and breaking bad ones — that overlap with the willpower conversation.
  • Eliminate the temptation. This one is overlooked by so many people, I think. If you want to cut back on the candy you eat, STOP BUYING CANDY. Don’t buy it for other people just to keep in the house. Just stop altogether and ask other people to stop buying it for you. Related: When I found it really difficult to get up in the morning to workout, I analyzed the reasons and made some changes… workout equipment is set out at night, workout clothes are at the foot of my bed, and my thermostat is set to warm up the house shortly before I workout (so I’m not tempted to lay in bed where it’s warm).
  • Replace your rituals. I’m not a smoker but this one makes a lot of sense to me: Smokers have a hard time quitting because, along with the nicotine hit, they also get some sense of comfort from the ritual of smoking — putting something to their lips. So these rituals need to be replaced with other rituals. For me, I want to get lean so I’m changing my diet (what I eat and when I eat). Among those is a new ritual of eating a lot of vegetables throughout the day. My goal is not only to eat healthy but also to create a ritual where I’m gaining enjoyment and comfort in eating vegetables.
  • Decide what you really want and decide how important it is to you. This was huge for me. I was making choices because they were easy and enjoyable for the short-term. When I gave some serious thought to what I wanted in the long-term, and why those long-term goals were more important, I actually found it very easy to change my habits. I was motivated to push through the short-term discomfort because the long-term goal was inspiring to me.

There are other tips but these ones have had the biggest impact on my life.

Hey, I definitely don’t have all the answers and haven’t achieved all of the goals I want to achieve. I’m not saying that I have. This has been a journey for me and continues to be a big part of my ongoing education. But I feel like I’ve stumbled across the one key that I believe will unlock everything I’m working for. It’s willpower. If you want to make positive changes in your life, strengthen this skill in your life!