In Business, You’ve Got to Write Your Own Story!

The night before my team departed to begin its climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, our guide Peter Mata warned us that we would soon hear tales from people coming down the mountain . As we made our ascent, we would naturally have conversations with people coming down, he explained. They would tell us stories about whether they made it all the way to the summit, or that they didn’t make it to the summit, that they got sick from the altitude, couldn’t eat the food, had a big storm come upon them, and on and on. There would even be stories of injuries and possibly rescues of people who couldn’t get back down. The sky was the limit, as to what we would hear, he said.

So our guide encouraged us to “write our own story.” He said not to be concerned with whatever we would hear as our experience would be different, unique, our own.

This all came to roost the next morning when we sat down for breakfast before we took off. Sitting at a fairly large communal table, a young woman from Great Britain sat down across from us. She appeared to be quite fit and up for the challenges of the mountain. She just returned from her expedition and told us about her harrowing adventures. She told us that her entire group had gotten sick from the altitude, so only a third of their group had made the summit. This did not include her. “It’s been the most miserable experience of my life,” she said.

Needless to say, her report on her climbing experience put a real damper on our enthusiasm. But once I reflected on Peter Mata’s advice to “write our own story,” I thought “Well that’s her story but it’s not mine. Hopefully, mine will be a lot better!”

This concept of writing your own story relates to other experiences in life, such as running or commanding a business. Millions of CEOs and entrepreneurs have been down the road of taking the helm of a business and have either succeeded or failed. In general, as one gets started in business, especially as they assume a position at the top, they seek out the advice of others. But remember, even so, you must write your own story. You cannot allow the negative experiences of others bog you down or cause you to abandon your business-building plans. Ultimately, you will write your own story.

It’s a delicate trick, balancing the running of a business against listening and learning from other’s advice, then not allowing yourself to be discouraged from the negative experiences you might hear. But rather than take such stories to heart, focus on the lessons that might be gleaned. What basic concepts can be applied to the management of your company?

For instance, should someone tell you about the sandwich shop they started which did very well in the first couple of years and then shift gears to explain that when they expanded to a second and third location: they could not manage multiple locations effectively. So ultimately the entire business failed. Expansion did them in.

Now you can take such a story as a stern warning not to try to expand your business but instead to “stick to the knitting” of what you’ve been successful with so far. Maybe this is good advice but in many cases the true income potential and opportunity of a business will only be realized through some form of expansion. So if you go back to the basics of the example, you have to ask what exactly was it that caused the sandwich shop operation to fail? It may not have been the expansion at all but rather an inability to manage two or more locations. Perhaps the personnel to manage the extra branches was poorly-chosen. Perhaps the locations themselves were poorly-chosen. There could be any number of things.

Therefore, if you were going to “write your own story” of this scenario, you might more carefully plan such an expansion, being certain that you had all the right personnel in place, the best locations, and other important systems and management capabilities ready to go.

Working on a business involves stepping back and doing some proactive planning, and thinking things through. If your business were a lump of clay, how would you mold it? What would you want it to look like? How might you change the results that you’ve been getting so far? How can you affect your results in the future in such a way that things are sure to start going in the direction you want?

As you consider how you operate on a daily basis, think as well about how much of your time you are spending working in the business versus how much is spent on it? The critical concept is for you to free up some time to work on the business. This one factor will allow you to truly “write your own story” as you mold and create your business model and operation. In order to write your own story, it’s essential to stay aware of how it’s progressing and how you’re moving things forward toward your personal vision or summit. The late McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc’s story is a case- in- point.

When Kroc bought McDonalds from two brothers in California who owned just one very successful store, he was 52 years old with diabetes and incipient arthritis. He had lost his gall bladder and most of his thyroid gland too. Had he listened to the stories of others he would have concluded he was too old or too sick to succeed at that point in his life.  But Kroc said later, “I was convinced that the best was ahead of me.” Now there’s an optimistic writer of stories!

I’m sure that Ray Kroc initially caught an earful of stories from people in the restaurant business about failing at this seven-day-a-week tough operation. Yet he ignored such stories and set his sights on his own vision for what he was trying to achieve. He had to do this so as to move it to the next level. Ultimately, he created a business that was systematized so that it could work without relying on him doing anything at all. That’s the only way he could have succeeded in growing beyond that one original restaurant into the thousands upon thousands that followed. For Ray Kroc and for all of us, writing our own story is key!