The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you stay inspired to run a business?” is written by Don Smithmier, cofounder and CEO of GoKart Labs.
Like anything worth doing, running a business requires a massive amount of energy. With so many things outside of one’s control—macro-economic trends, unanticipated competitive moves, sudden changes to client budgets—CEOs and founders need to have enough gas in the tank not just to execute their own plan, but to deal with unexpected events as well. (Spoiler alert: The world is not done surprising us.)
So where does one get this kind of fuel? Since it can’t come from a pump or a port, a large portion must come from within. The old-fashioned traits we’ve heard espoused since childhood still matter, of course: determination, work ethic, discipline, and stick-to-itiveness. No matter what, you have to show up every day and do the work.
However, a phenomenal, renewable source exists as well: inspiration. It’s free, infinitely available, and way more fun. Here are five tips for keeping your inspiration gauge pointing toward “full” from the beginning of the journey to the end:
Forget about loving your job—love the problem you’re solving
Too many people take a job for the title or the compensation package without really taking the time to think about the problem they’ll be solving. And I don’t mean just the problem the CEO will solve (finding operating leverage, restoring culture, or executing a turnaround). I mean the problem the business is solving, and whether that problem inspires you. Purpose is an essential ingredient in the human condition. And CEOs who find purpose in their work live with—and create—inspiration.
Surround yourself with balance
Too many people talk about work-life balance, but miss the broader theme and the key to staying inspired. If, as a founder or CEO, you manage to maintain personal balance, it won’t mean anything if you are surrounded by people who are imbalanced. At GoKart Labs, balance is a core value we hire for and require of every employee. It isn’t about schedule or hours. It’s about mindset. People who are balanced travel more, have interesting hobbies and passions, and are healthier, happier, more enjoyable people to work with. They inspire those around them, including the boss.
Stay interesting by staying interested
Some of the best advice I ever received was this: “If you want to be interesting, be interested.” And being interested is a habit. Whether it’s culture, baseball, or your relationship with your spouse or partner, we all know it’s essential to remain interested in what’s happening. And the very expression of interest in other things is what makes us more interesting to others.
Day to day, then, it’s important for all leaders to carve time to express and exercise their interests—meeting with employees to truly understand their roles and perspective, meeting with clients to learn about them, and meeting with other industry players for their insights and ideas. But more than that, we need to allow time for our interests outside of work. Many of my best ideas have come while fishing or playing piano. In other words, keep all of your mental plants watered.
This advice is perhaps the most important and most difficult to follow. Just as balance is essential, so is space. We all know the human attention span peters out at about 45 minutes, and yet we still submit ourselves to three-hour meetings and eight-hour seminars. Why? Similarly, we fool ourselves into believing we can attack the same problems without respite for years at a time. It’s a fallacy. I’m not saying to take a six-month sabbatical, but take breaks longer than five business days. The difference between a one-week and a two-week vacation will be relatively minor for your business and your team, but potentially massive for you. That second Monday morning off feels a whole lot different than the first. And that’s when the good ideas and inspiration can really start flowing.
Know when to take a bow
This is addressed to my entrepreneur friends. Too many of us make the mistake of staying with our businesses so long that we become bored with them. Entrepreneurs are builders by nature, not optimizers—so much so that when things really start running smoothly, entrepreneurs can grow fidgety and start to mess with the machine just to give themselves something interesting to do.
The best thing to do at this moment is to seek inspiration somewhere else. Step in front of the curtain, take a bow, and move on to the next inspiring journey.
Don Smithmier is founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based innovation company GoKartLabs, which was named one of Inc.’s fastest growing private companies in the U.S. this year. Don’s career is distinguished by an uncanny knack for being the first to the next big thing, turning personal passions into business ventures through an overlapping mix of creativity, technology and farsighted strategy.