After I started my company, I learned something about myself: I’m an incurable over-committer. In college, I was the girl who taught the 6 a.m. cycle class, attended class, conducted a tour around campus for prospective freshmen, went to charity club, then finished off the afternoon with my intramural flag-football game. If there was a blank space on my calendar, I filled it.
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You can argue that starting a company in itself is one of the biggest commitments you’ll ever make. When I was in the early days of my business, I remember people telling me, “Don’t push yourself too much; you’ll burn out!” None of those people had their own businesses, of course. But I believed that that your only option is to push yourself, and that if you believe in your business enough, you’ll happily do that.
But admitting yourself into the world of entrepreneurship also creates many, many opportunities, making it incredibly easy to over-commit.
"Want to travel across the country and speak on campuses about college startups?" Packing my bags now!
"How about writing a book about everything you’ve learned starting a company?" Why not?
"Could you contribute a weekly article to this business blog?" Sure!
"I have a friend who wants to start a business. Do you do consulting?" I do now!
"Want to join our young entrepreneurs group?" Where do I sign?
As an entrepreneur, you’re always eager for more. And committing yourself to lots of opportunities can be viewed either as distracting from your actual business, or as part of your business. When I look at the growth of my company, a lot of our big growth factors weren’t mapped-out strategic plans. They were opportunities that came up from meeting people and from the resulting relationships that formed.
I’ve also realized that it’s truly incredible what can happen when you just make the choice to show up. Opportunities can’t happen to you if you’re not present for them. You can’t meet a potential investor if you're not at the event they attend. Your book will never be purchased by a business school if you don't write it. You’ll never be introduced to your future business partner if you don't show up to the networking group.
I’m not saying that every time you say "yes," great things will happen. But I am saying that every time you say "no," your chances for a greater opportunity go to zero. Speaking for me, I’d rather gamble on the slightest possibility of opportunity by saying "yes" than buckle into the safety of saying "no."
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Once I offered to speak at a small local business conference one Saturday. One of the other speakers was Jeff Hoffman, the co-founder of Priceline.com, who is now on my board of advisors — because we were introduced that day. I didn’t go to that conference with the intention to meet Hoffman; but by showing up, my likelihood of something good happening increased.
You could also argue that putting yourself out there can increase the likelihood of something bad happening, which is true, too. But nothing would ever be challenged or get done if we let fear deter us from having experiences. You wouldn’t have started a business if you were afraid of failure.
A common reaction to over-committing is, "Why spread yourself too thin?" But I believe that we humans have a way of weeding through opportunity subconsciously. I think you make time for the things you care about, and you make excuses for the things that you don’t.
If you hear yourself making excuse after excuse, stop yourself. And if you find yourself setting aside time, consider that an indication that you care enough to do it. I was recently asked to help create a virtual business class. I knew it would be a commitment, but my mind kept drifting to curriculum ideas and topics to include. So I decided to do it, because I was already making time for the class without consciously having set aside that time.
Sometimes, when I look at my calendar and see almost every date filled, I wonder if I do actually over-commit. I wonder if I over-commit myself to my company. I wonder if I over-commit myself to speaking. I wonder if I over-commit myself to a lot of things.
Some people would probably look at that same schedule and say I do too much. But I know that years from now I’ll never wake up now wondering if I did enough. One of the best feelings in the world (no matter how full your schedule is) is having the certainty that you haven't left a stone unturned.
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So, find comfort in the fact that you too will never wake up one day with the fear that you’ve let opportunity pass you by.