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What To Do When Success Breeds Stagnation

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Two weeks ago, we hosted a massively successful meeting of my business coaching group, The RFS Mastermind. At each meeting, we have speakers come in from all over the country and share knowledge to help my clients take the next steps towards success. We also do “hot seats” where we dig into an individual member’s business and give them the guidance, coaching, and tools to go to the next level.

Through the Mastermind and hot seats, I’ve helped people double their business in a weekend.

Seriously. Sometimes it’s a small tweak: a couple of changes and all of a sudden, women like Amber Tacy and Devon Moretti are instantly converting more clients.

Others times a Big Idea hits and BOOM, just like that, Jason Phillips creates a nutrition certification program that has not only increased his revenue by nearly $500,000, but also provided a valuable service to his clients, so they can better serve their own audiences.

Having worked with people in this way and conducted dozens of hot seats over the past three years, there’s a clear pattern I see. And it was very much apparent in the most recent meeting: 

Success can breed stagnation.

That can sound counterintuitive, so let me give you some context.

When you’re first starting out, all success is a step in the right direction. Your income goes up, you help more people, and things are improving in all ways. Until, at some point, that stops. Things grind to a halt and growth is so slow you may as well be going backwards.

Part of this is a need for new ideas or to streamline things.

The REAL issue, however, is confusion. After a certain point, growth leads to CHOICE. And it is the burden of choice (and the fear of choosing poorly) that keeps people standing still.

In the Mastermind, when we put people in the hot seat and dive into their business, we see this over and over. So much of getting to the next level is honing in on the EXACT right step to take next, which doesn’t seem like it should be so hard.

Yet it’s the most important piece of the Mastermind weekend.

In his masterful commencement speech at the University of the Arts in 2012, Neil Gaiman discusses the problems of success. One of these is the inevitable crises of opportunity that can arise as a result of your success.

Gaiman likens the early stages of your career to being on an island, sending out messages in bottles and hoping for replies—later, the replies come back in droves, creating an overwhelming number of options to choose from. Knowing how and when to say no to each is one of the more important skills you need to develop if you’re going to keep progressing.

As your business grows, it doesn’t simply do so vertically: things expand in every direction, bringing back messages in bottles you never thought you’d receive. All of a sudden, you’ve got opportunities to do things completely outside your original purview.

I started out purely as a personal trainer. Currently, I’m a bestselling author who coaches people on writing, business, marketing, and all manner of success. If you looked only at those two points, it seems a tremendous jump. It’s only when you examine the particulars of my career that the stepping stones between them become clear.

Each of these stepping stones represents a specific choice: not just in which action to take, but in which direction to move. Because very often choosing one thing requires an intentional decision to go in one direction at the exclusion of another.

For anyone in the early stages of growing a business turning down opportunities—often very enticing, exciting, or lucrative opportunities—seems crazy.

But it is absolutely necessary. You simply cannot do all things.

The question becomes: how do you know which is right? Which direction should you move in?

For me, it’s always been gut instinct: if it feels right, it probably is. Put somewhat more directly, if the idea of something doesn’t get my dick hard, it’s probably okay to pass on it.

While making decisions based on erectile tumescence seems to work for ME, I recognize that it isn’t a universally effective system, so here’s another way to look at it.

A few years back, I sat in on a talk given by my friend Ryan Holiday, and he said something that really reframed the way I look at both opportunities and existing pieces of day-to-day.

Holiday talked about things being in his business being stimulating vs. fulfilling.

This makes so much sense. For me, there are things in my business I find incredibly stimulating but not overly fulfilling: speaking at conferences, writing marketing plans; creating workouts. 

There are also things that are incredibly fulfilling, but not overly stimulating—writing books, for example.

When faced with a decision about an opportunity, you need only ask yourself:

What do I need MORE of right now—stimulation or fulfillment?

Answer that, and saying yes or no to whatever crosses your desk becomes easy. The truth is this: as things grow, the decisions you make aren’t just momentary time-fillers; in a real way, each forms a stepping stone on a path leading you from where are to where you’re going.

For me, this is why I LOVE the RFS Mastermind.

Working directly with other entrepreneurs and helping them build their platforms, change their lives, and increase their income—god, that checks all the boxes for me. Despite how much time and energy it takes to run the Mastermind, there’s never been an easier decision for me.

It’s the perfect Sweet Spot: I KNOW it’s where I’m supposed to be because it’s the ONLY thing in my business that‘s simultaneously stimulating AND fulfilling.

And through it, I get to help other people find THEIR Sweet Spot. And take all the right steps on the way to finding it.

I want you to be sure you’re stepping in the right direction. Spend a few minutes this morning thinking about the different tasks and projects you’ve got coming up, and if they’re stimulating or fulfilling.

If your answer is “no” to both, that’ll tell you something important too. 

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.