Managing the most important asset in your ceramic business – YOU

Your business can only survive, let alone succeed and prosper, with you as the owner and manager.

Are you taking care yourself the right way? To answer it honestly, this calls for some self-examination and soul-searching. Let’s look at some of the most important aspects.

Here is the wise advice I got from my father-in-law, a very successful business owner: “Build your own system for ongoing recreation and abide by it”.

 I call this the biggest secret to long term success.

What follows will give you the keys to follow this advice and tips on actions that may suit you.

Who, other than yourself, gets hurt if you fail?

Running your own business seldom affects just you. You have people involved in your business, such as your family, your customers, your suppliers, your employees and – at times your investors. It they do not get hurt financially, they may get hurt emotionally.

Take an inventory and answer the above question very seriously.

Make a commitment to health and success

Taking care of yourself in such an emotionally charged environment as your own business, can too easily be overlooked. In the short run you will get away with it. But in the long run? What I will advise you here will make you nod your head and recognize its truth. Take my advice to heart.

The following builds on my experience in large and small businesses – two decades as an employed executive and three running my own ceramic business. The mistakes I made still hurt, especially those related to not taking care of myself.

Getting the health challenge into perspective

You would not own or run a business unless you have the typical traits of an owner, such as drive, ambition, competitiveness and confidence. You are not afraid to tackle problems, to stand up to challenges and pressure, to work through tough periods. To sacrifice sleep when – in your opinion - it is necessary.

Fatigue drains you physically and, equally important, mentally. You probably can tell, from your own observations, when you have met or confronted a burnt-out owner and you automatically can relate to the reason.

Let’s get this in perspective. If you are in your 20’s or 30’s, you are most likely going to manage your own ceramic business for 25-35 years into the future. How are you going to stay healthy for that length of time?

How to take necessary time off 

The basic idea behind “ongoing recreation” is to plan your daily, monthly and yearly time off, into your life.

The solution to this depends on your physical and mental make-up. It also depends on your personal and professional circumstances. How do you fit in recreation with your spouse’s needs? Your children’s, if any? How do you structure your time off in a way that takes into account your business’ cycles and seasonality? There are many factors in your life that affect your plan for ongoing recreation.

Therefore, only you can make these plans. Ongoing recreation can be anything that suits you such as:

A morning run or walk

Participate in a sport where you must show up with your team or partner

20 minutes of daily meditation (you can learn from a local teacher); it relaxes and  refreshes you. Find a quiet corner for this.

Hook on a day or two to a business trip for your own refreshment.

If you travel to a new part of the world, take extra time off to absorb a new environment. Stay in touch with your office each business day, and take the weekend off 100%

Take at least one extended business trip per year to attend a convention or business course. You are then outside your daily environment and can focus and absorb better.

Action:

Take time off at the end of each year to fill in next year’s calendar with your planned time off.

Obstacles to your plan

Psychologically, it is easy to fall prey to bad conscience about your temporarily “abandoned” business. You should not look at it this way. Think about your time off as part of building your business. .

What keeps you from taking this time off? Lack of a trained back-up person that can manage and/or run the business in your absence? Lack of full trust in your employees?

Contracts with customers for deliveries at a promised deadline?  Other commitments?

Regarding all of the above you have control over the factors. If you have problem with trusting your staff, make the hard choices and changes. Regarding commitments to customers, you can learn to plan for that and make changes in good time. Identify your hindrances and make a change.

While it’s easy to find excuses not to be away from your business, it’s harder to plan for dates that will be unbreakable. But it can be done.  This is a matter of mindset. Remember your need for ongoing recreation. You are the business, remember? Or better expressed, your brain is. Your brain needs rest inside a healthy body, re-charging like a battery.

Unless you renew yourself, where will your freshest, best ideas and decisions be generated? Answer – anywhere, but to really happen, the generator has to be your relaxed brain.

Again, in the end it boils down to planning. Your mindset has to be to plan for ongoing recreation – which is as important as any other serious challenges. You neglect that planning at your own peril.

Learn to listen to your body

When I hear someone saying proudly that “I work all the time – have not taken a vacation or even a weekend off, for years”, I get worried. Do no fall into this trap. You may not know how your body and soul are suffering. You may not notice how clouded your thinking has gotten, how small frustrations can turn in a depression. How your blood pressure can creep up on you.

Take it from a workaholic – pay attention to the above from the very beginning of your career as “your own boss”. Do not let the excitement of being free, setting your own pace, keep you from taking time off. Ongoing recreation makes rest a preventive program.

My wife has, in many cases saved me from overdoing my workload. Listen to your spouse - right there is a person with a huge investment in your wellbeing.

 Your regular medical check-ups

As a manager of my own business or as a paid executive, I learnt – sometimes too late – that some of my subordinates seldom took time for an annual check-up. So, I tried to make them understand that to get one would be considered part of their jobs. They might have been taking care of their car on a regular basis, but neglected their own bodies. Does that make any sense to you?

First of all – do you have a doctor you trust and – very importantly – like? If you don’t, select one and when you find one, follow his/her advice. If you have a doctor you do not trust or like – search for another one until you find one. Trust in your doctor is extremely important. Do not wait until you get sick or have any kind of problem. This is therefore part of your job. And – you have only one body – no spare parts – so take care of it.

 Exercise and Mental balance

Nothing keeps you as physically and mentally fit as exercise. Thinking that staying around in your business all the time is a good mental exercise, is simply wrong.

I remember the following experiment I learnt about during graduate studies in industrial psychology: An average man in his 30’s was given an endless series of simple additions to work out. There was no time limit to this job. The man worked hour after hour, without rest, sitting down, eating normally. Toward the end of the day, he complained about fatigue and the experiment was ended. It turned out, that the muscles in his body were so exhausted that he could not get up and walk. He had to be helped into a wheelchair and rest and recover there.

This proves that mental exercise comes at a physical price as well.

The body and mind have to work in tandem. Mental and physical exercise and rest go hand in hand.

We have one body and one nervous system. Straining them beyond your individual tolerance can be highly detrimental to your overall health.

Maybe, by being involved in your business of ceramics you get physical exercise from moving around in your teaching studio, or casting heavy molds, or throwing heavy clays on a wheel. Great – but do you get stronger lungs and fresh air?  Look for that at least twice a week, or better still, daily.

 Summary

In your own business there is a tendency and temptation to overdo it. After all, there is so much fun to see your ceramic business grow. Do not confuse more time working with more profits.

Remember the law of ongoing recreation.

Take care of yourself, because, if not, you might end up poorer, not richer.

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© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.