You’re finally getting your consulting business up and running. You took a big risk leaving a corporate job, and a year into it things are going great. The maze of self-employment is starting to make sense. You have a solid base of clients who trust you. You’re the first person they call. So what’s wrong?
Most of us are in pursuit of something. Whether as entrepreneurs out on our own or as an employee within a big organization, we have something to chase after—a work project, a self-improvement plan, a relationship goal. And when we’re in pursuit, things sometimes get in the way.
We get into arguments with colleagues. We differ on our visions. The market changes and we have to adapt. Or we just burn out.
What happens when we run into challenges? Unfortunately, many of us immediately label it as a ‘problem.’ Then we sit and think about the problem all day, every day. We turn to other people and tell them all about our problem. If they’re feeling sorry for us, they might say, “Wow, you have a problem. I’ve had a problem like that, too. I know this one guy who had a problem just like that.”
Over time, the ‘problem’ becomes an actual problem, and now, instead of pursuing our passion, we’re out to solve that problem.
All this to say—we have it backward. Do we start building a house by installing the roof? When we find a crack running along the side of a house, do we run to get the paintbrush? Do we fret over which color to use to paint over the crack?
No. We must first think of our foundation.
Cornerstones of success
The same goes for business and life. Many of the challenges we face are due to imbalances or weaknesses in our foundation. The moment we face a challenge, the first thing to do is check one of our foundation’s four cornerstones: Me, We, Do and Be.
1. The ‘Me’ cornerstone
This is what we casually call “me” or “myself.” It is made up of our intellectual, philosophical and spiritual foundation. To check this cornerstone of success, we must take some time alone and contemplate what is holding us back: What do I really feel? What do I really think? Often in the chaos of professional life, we forget to look inside. There are great insights within all of us, if only we take the time to listen. Routines that strengthen and maintain the Me cornerstone include setting aside time in the morning to reflect on our mission and the mission of our business.
2. The ‘We’ cornerstone
The We cornerstone is made up of others. It is our relationships and connections to friends, family and colleagues. To check this cornerstone of success, we must think about the people around us. Do they pass through our mind undisturbed, or is there a negative reaction—anger, envy, annoyance? If there is anything that needs to be said, we must say it and move on. Internalized annoyance can spread and affect our Me cornerstone, preventing us from thinking straight. A simple chat can fix this. We can further strengthen the We cornerstone of success by smiling, calling friends to see how they’re doing and checking in with employees or colleagues.
3. The ‘Do’ cornerstone
This is the domain of action, where so many of us like to spend our time. But checking on this cornerstone is just as important as the rest. The Do cornerstone is not made up of fussing and busywork but of goal-directed, effective action aimed at improving our physical, financial and environmental conditions, which includes the space around us. Is the office tidy or cluttered? When was the last time you cleaned your car? A weak Do cornerstone shows up as bad health, debt and mess, while a strong Do cornerstone means that we are in shape, adding real value to those around us and keeping our spaces neat and pleasant.
4. The ‘Be’ cornerstone
Here is where we focus on the past and future. Some problems are a result of spending too much time in this cornerstone, daydreaming or keeping records of our achievements without achieving anything real. We check on this cornerstone of success by taking a step back and seeing where we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves and our day-to-day work. Some of the most difficult challenges come from a weak Be cornerstone—times in which we lose our passion and our work appears meaningless. Routines that strengthen the Be cornerstone are simple, such as keeping a calendar and a diary and maintaining a company or personal history.
Balancing the cornerstones of success
When we identify problems and chase them, we are really obsessing over imbalances in one cornerstone and ignoring the other three. It seems counterintuitive, but the first step is to step away from the problem and make sure our four cornerstones are all strong and aligned.
When anything seems off-balance, count off on your fingers, “1, 2, 3, 4,” by asking yourself these questions:
- How is my Me cornerstone?
- What are my thoughts and feelings on this?
- How about my connections to others?
- Is this a relationship problem that could be solved with a sincere talk?
- What about my actions?
- How about the bigger picture—am I working toward something greater than myself?
No building can stand on just one cornerstone, just as no person can succeed without a strong foundation.
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock
Randall Bell, Ph.D., is a socio-economist, keynote speaker, best-selling author and an expert in success research. He is CEO of Landmark Research Group, LLC, and author of Me We Do Be: The Four Cornerstones of Success. The strategic and problem-solving skills of Dr. Bell are well established. He consulted on the World Trade Center, the Flight 93 Crash Site, the BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, the nuclear testing on the Bikini Atoll, and several other tragedies including the JonBenét Ramsey and O.J. Simpson cases. Dr. Bell’s research has taken him to 50 states and seven continents, and his work has generated billions of dollars for his clients. As a leading expert, Dr. Bell has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, on World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, and on ABC’s 20/20, to name a few. Follow him on Twitter.