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What a cross-town trip can teach you about your business.

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2 critical miles

The distance between the FDR highway – the farthest road on Manhattan’s East Side, and 11th Avenue – the farthest road on Manhattan’s West Side, when traveling along 23rd street, is a short, straight, 2 miles.

Oh, but so many things can happen between those two points.

As I made the trip from point A to point B this week, it occurred to me how it was a metaphor for running your own business. Let me explain.

I keep my car in a garage on 23rd and the FDR for a few reasons:
– The monthly rates are “reasonable” for Manhattan (aka, less than the cost of an iPad)
– You park your own car (never handing your keys to a valet)
– Easy access out of the city to the Northeast, such as Boston

The problem is whenever you need to go west, which involves crossing the entire width of Manhattan just to have the pleasure of arriving at the Lincoln Tunnel.


Venturing into this territory can test the mettle of even the best of drivers… as you try to navigate kamikaze cab drivers, enormous city buses, and rogue bike messengers, you’re bombarded by swarming hoards of tourists, thousands of Type-A business people on their phones, and dog-walking residents.

Once coming west after a 12 hour road trip, sitting in the tunnel for another 2 hours, and literally having one more left turn to make to head toward my garage, a street was shut down, a cop forced me to go straight, and I was infuriatingly directed over the Williamsburg Bridge and into Brooklyn, adding another 20 minutes to my trip and hitting a 6” deep pothole to rub it in.

The same thing happens when you start your own business. There are dozens of friends and family members giving you advice. There are blogs and podcasts and courses to learn from. Everywhere you turn, new ideas for your business surround you.

Then, I finally hit upon an epiphany.

Two rules that changed my attitude toward crossing the chasm:


1) Put on some jazz

When I’m in my car, I’m usually listening to one of two types of music. The first is hard-driving, fast rocking, driving music. When you’re trapped in the concrete jungle most of your life, when you get to escape on the open road, you want a soundtrack to match.

The second type of thing I listen to is podcasts. I hook my iPod for long road trips and by the time I get through my favorite shows on sports, comedy, or business, the hours have flown by.

But neither scenario is good for crossing Manhattan. You’re certainly not going fast, so the fast music is only going to frustrate you. Trying to listen to a podcast isn’t fun either… you can’t really concentrate on it, and the FM tuner gives off too much static. Even having no music on is frustrating, as you get up in your head and overanalyze every inch of your 2 mile trip.

The best solution is jazz. It’s relaxing, it helps you focus, and blends into the background. I’m not even a huge aficionado. I really only own 3 CDs that someone recommended as “must have,” Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and Blue Train and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.


2) Take it one avenue at a time

The best ideas are so simple that they’re obvious. Whenever I’d make this trek, I’d focus on the end goal. I need to get to the other side. In doing so, each step of the way was frustrating, as I wasn’t getting to my destination quickly enough.

Often I would speed up to the next intersection, only to have the light turn red. Sometimes the path would be clear for cars, but pedestrians crossing held you up. Here was the new and simple plan:

For every one of the 14 sets of lights or so, my expectation was to make it only a single block. If you made it a single block each time the light changed, you met your goal. Sometimes it would take 2 light cycles. No big deal. If you made it through 2 blocks in a row, that was great. But the main goal was very attainable and achievable. You saw progress.

How it relates to your business.

The reason this works for business is that it incorporates both short term and long term thinking, with adjustments in between.

Three key points:

1) Have a specific, clear, end goal in mind.
When driving I know I need to get to the dealer on 11th avenue, and in your business you have clear goals you want to attain.

2) Have a roadmap to get there.
For this trip it is easy – straight across 23rd. For you, you’ll want to draw out a series of shorter, attainable goals to reach your end goal. Looking to launch your own tax consulting business? Maybe that means you need to make sure you have the right licenses to practice, decide if you want to open a storefront, determine a marketing plan, and focus on your target customers.

3) Be open to change.
The conundrum on Manhattan’s 2 lane streets is as follows: If you stay in the left lane, you can get stuck behind someone turning left. If you stay in the right lane, you’re confronted with cabs, idling delivery trucks, and cars stopped to let pedestrians cross. Knowing that you can’t win and there’s no correct answer, you adjust your plan on the fly each and every block, going with the flow. The same goes for business, you still are achieving one goal at a time, but you must be open to many different ways that you can adjust as you go and still achieve it.

Driving in the streets of Manhattan isn’t for everyone, just like starting your own business is an enormous task. But if you put on some jazz and take it one step at a time, you’ll achieve your destination.

Wish you had a little more money in your pocket for jazz albums? Check out my free online salary negotiation course, “How to Negotiate Salary: The Negotiation Mindset.”

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