It’s very difficult to stay focused when you’re just starting out in your career or your studies if you don’t really know where you’re going. You do not want to disappoint those around you, but also don’t want to waste time going down the wrong road. I learnt very early on to make sure you’re doing what you really want to do. So I didn’t invest too much time in my first year at WITS, where I was supposed to be becoming an accountant. I did, however invest lots of time in harnessing my pool skills in Hillbrow. Somewhere towards the end of that year, I enrolled in the Institute of Marketing Management (IMM), where I remember sitting at an induction with the senior Lecturer who was chatting to us about marketing. I had found my beginning.
I have since found that in business as in life, it’s almost always a waste of time to do things that you just don’t want to do. The reason quite simply is that meaning/success requires initial momentum, and it’s really tough to generate and sustain momentum if you are not pursuing something that feels like it is worth the effort, to you especially.
With hindsight, a course I would have taken in my fledgling days would have been spending three weeks in a Buddhist retreat. Not so much about the robes, but more the art of listening and being patient. I have no patience, although with small kids that’s changing, and I didn’t know how to listen till I met my wife.
Patience allows you to see tomorrow. When you are just getting started or have a new business, it is sometimes so frenetic that you get lost. You can’t see past tomorrow, your head is so full you can’t take a breath and one more day is one day too far. Patience allows you one day more. An evening is all it takes to change a business model, see a flaw, or find a new strategy. Patience is inextricably linked to doing what you love – when the latter is present, the former seems to happen naturally.
Note that one must not confuse patience with stubbornly “sticking it out”. Getting lost in your business so passionately that you stick it out at all costs to make it work, is not always a wise financial decision. Would you work for free for someone else?
The second mantra from the School of Shmukler is to listen. It helps when you really hear what people want, and really listen to what they have to say. You solve issues quicker, deal with people in a more productive way, and deliver far more efficiently. Most people today have no idea how to listen. At your next meeting/lunch see if you can hear what the other person is really saying. (If it’s really boring then refer to the opening paragraph).
Don’t take it too personally
My last piece of advice and one that I am still working on myself is to avoid taking things too personally. Run a business like it’s a business and not your own PR company. You need to take a step back from time to time to allow you to get a healthier perspective, take constructive criticism on the chin, and learn from your mistakes.
The strange thing about a wrong road in both a business and personal context is that you normally have a sense that it’s the wrong road, and yet you go down it anyway. It’s not the end of the world because we learn most from our mistakes, but the next time you’re about to veer off try and be a bit wiser and save yourself some time. Rather find the road that may be unknown but feels right, then listen, be patient and enjoy the ride.
David Shmuckler is a skilled marketing & strategic professional, who excels at collaborating with multiple stakeholders to determine key strategies. He started his career in leading advertising agencies in South Africa, working on some of the country’s largest and most recognisable brands across a spectrum of categories. This ranged from FMCG goods through to launching brands in the SAB Miller stable.
Connect with David Shmucker on Linkedin.