I had a good friend who worked with me for 15 years before he passed away from cancer. He was a wise man, known for sharing his nuggets of wisdom. He once asked me, “Do you want STP or LTJ?” Confused, I asked him what that stood for. He explained that “STP” stands for “short-term pleasure,” and “LTJ” stands for “long-term joy.” What a great question to ask yourself, I thought.
I’ve found that the most worthwhile entrepreneurial desires in life are not easy to obtain. Those that appear “easy” now give me pause. The adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” comes to mind. To honor my friend and share his wisdom, I keep a large rat trap on my desk. As you can imagine, it’s a conversation starter. I am frequently asked, “What in the world are you doing with a rat trap on your desk?” My response is the same every time: “Do you want STP or LTJ?”
With a rat trap, the rat faces a dilemma: to pursue the “free” cheese or forgo the cheese altogether. And while most life and business choices are not so black and white, I still ask myself, “If I do this, what is the cost, and am I willing to pay it?” That is normally followed by the question, “Can I accept the worst-case scenario?”
I believe the price of success is hard. There are no “easy” routes available when running a business. In working for myself the past 30 years, I’ve found this to be constant and true: Success is hard, it’s rented and the landlord knocks every day.
Entrepreneurs must accept that challenges can be a good thing. I look back on some of the hardships I overcame to find success, and it brings me joy because I remember what it took to achieve that success. I experienced many sleepless nights, crack-of-dawn tasks and long, grueling days. But I believe you must pay the price every day; that’s why I say success is hard and rented.
In business, competition stays on your heels and customers always expect more. Hardships are inevitable, but they bring about growth. You either grow from the success or learn from the failure. While you won’t be immediately successful at everything you do, if you persist, you might be surprised by what you can achieve.
Along the way, celebrate your wins, no matter how small. I’ve found that success in business is comprised of many good decisions of varying size and magnitude, repeated daily. The wins that come from making consistent, good business decisions accumulate and, over time, become a matter of habit, not happenstance. Show gratitude and give recognition to people who help make your business a success. I know members of my team, for example, appreciate recognition for a job well done.
There will be days when nothing goes your way. It happens to every leader and entrepreneur. In these instances, assess your losses and be honest with yourself. Why did this happen? Did you make a bad decision? Was this something you could have controlled?
Self-deception is easy in the face of loss and failure, and I’ve found it usually happens in proportion to the size of the loss or failure. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can help see what was missed. To that end, I highly encourage having consistent reviews of your work. Keep close company with trustworthy employees and business companions to aid you in assessing failures. If what you are doing is not working, stop doing it, and keep your ego out of it.
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Why try if entrepreneurship is so hard?” The answer is simple: purpose and passion. Find what drives you, not just what’s easy, and I believe you will be surprised by how far you will go to achieve it. My passion, for example, is to help people. I love providing stable jobs for my employees; giving back to our local communities; and providing my customers with the best possible service so they, too, can grow their revenue, build their businesses and enrich the experiences of their own customers and employees. Because these are the things I’m passionate about, I work hard to ensure I can continue doing them every day.
So, what’s it going to be for you: STP or LTJ? Will you take the easy cheese from the rat trap, or will you skip it in favor of a harder path — one that might bring you more long-term joy? As an entrepreneur, you must be willing to open the door to the landlord and pay the price every day. Remember, entrepreneurship isn’t easy, but I believe it’s worth it.