7 Essential Pillars of Self-Reliance

The video below is a presentation of what I’m calling the pillars of Self-Reliance.

This video is posted on the 1 year anniversary of the book’s publishing.


I’m not going to tell you how to do anything today, nothing as practical as that. Maybe I’m going to focus a little bit on, why it is, that we do what we do, as entrepreneurs? I’m John Jantsch, maybe some of you know me as the author of, Duct Tape Marketing and a number of other very practical, how to do marketing books. Today, I want to talk to you about my journey and hopefully, provide some inspiration for your entrepreneurial journey, as well.

I started my own business a little over 30 years ago. Like a lot of you probably, without any real plan, not necessarily knowing what I was going to do, other than, I knew I could hustle work. I knew I could get business and so I went out and did that. I hustled work. I got business, I got big clients, I got little clients. Anybody asked me to do something, I said, “Sure, I can do that.” Does that sound a little familiar to some of you?

Business was going great. I was growing, I was adding staff. I pretty much thought I had this thing figured out. And then one day, I got a knock on the door, this is back when people used to still go door-to-door, right, go to offices. And one of my team members came back and said, “Hey, there’s somebody here to see you.” And I was like, “Well, I’m busy, you know? I mean, what? Are they selling a copier or insurance or something?” They said, “No, I really think you ought to see this person.” “Okay.” So she handed me his business card and I looked at it and I remember, I can see it, still to this day, Chris Davis, Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

So now, all of a sudden, I’m kind of wishing it was that copier salesperson or insurance salesperson. So long story short, it turns out that one of my customers, one of my clients, was being investigated for a number of federal charges. And I was being invited to come testify before a grand jury because they were basically, bringing everyone in that showed up in this person’s books.

Now the good news is, I didn’t really have anything of interest to share with them. But I will tell you this, did I know something was fishy there? Did I know that maybe they were doing some things that I wanted to look the other way and not see? Perhaps. And it was a very scary moment, as you might imagine, sitting under those lights, being grilled about something with the potential of, maybe losing it all.

So it was a pivotal moment in my business. This was 1994. I remember asking myself like, “How did I get here? This is not me.” I mean, I had four small children at the time. It was like, “What in the world am I doing? This isn’t what I set out to do as a business.” And I think a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to this story. Maybe not the FBI part, but relate to the story that, it’s so easy in some cases, to get pushed in a direction or chase a direction, or see an opportunity and think, “Oh, I need to go there or that person’s doing this. I need to go there.”

And I think what we do sometimes is, we lose sight of why we’re even doing any of this. It’s really easy to lose sight of your values because there are so many things pushing you to do things, maybe outside of those. So it was really the moment that I decided, that in my business that, I got to choose who my clients were. You know, I think a lot of us also struggle with this idea that, we take business and we’re out there courting a customer and they decide if they’re going to hire us. Well, BS.

I think we decide if we want to work with those people. We get to choose our customers. We get to say, what’s an ideal customer. Now I know sometimes, when you’re trying to make payroll and you’re trying to get that profit margin up to a certain level, it doesn’t feel like that. But in the long run, certainly experience has taught me, over and over and over again, that if you take that point of view, not only will you attract those ideal clients, but you’ll have more joy in your business, more joy in your life, serving those folks.

So this moment in my life really set me on a path to say, “I’m going to read everything. I’m going to develop myself.” Because let’s face it, entrepreneurship is probably the greatest self-development program ever offered to anyone, if you take advantage of it. So I got all the books, I read everything, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, even Stephen Covey, right? You’ve probably read many of those same books.

I got a lot of great knowledge. I got a lot of great ideas from those. But I remember distinctly, picking up a book and reading a quote, “There is no object so foul, that intense light cannot make beautiful.” Those words were found in an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the mid 19th century. And I immediately knew that I had found a mentor. You know? I had found something that truly spoke to me, these 150-year-old words spoke to me, far, far better than anything that was written by contemporaries. So I went and studied that.

Now many of you probably studied some of those authors in school. And I really went on a deep dive into Thoreau and Emerson and Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller and Walt Whitman, all the people from that same era. And it was kind of funny, I mean, we were asked to read most of those books, the Rose Walden and Little Women and The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick, all of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, I had to read in high school. But reading it now as an entrepreneur, diving into this literature now as an entrepreneur, it just struck me, how incredibly relevant this was for the journey that I was on.

So now, some 25 years later, working on my self-development project every single day because that’s how I look at it, is that my goal to build a better business starts with building a better me. That those books, those works, really allowed me to develop what I call, the pillars of self-reliance, borrowing from Emerson’s essay, Self-Reliance. So of course, what did I do? I turned it into a book, a daily meditation journal, quite frankly, that features the writing from that period, some reflection from me and then I leave you every day, with a question.

So I want to talk a little bit about those pillars, they’re really the themes that run throughout that book because I think they can be and they do, certainly serve for me, as a guide and inspiration for troubling times, joyful times, challenging times. So I want to share those with you today. And if you think about the era, when most of that literature was written. I think the reason it speaks to me so much is that, if you think about 150 years ago, mid 19th century, we were on the cusp in America, of a civil war. Women were demanding the right to vote. We were trying to abolish the legal act of human slavery.

So the writing of that time, some of it very overt, Emerson and Thoreau, very, very much said, “Hey, rise up. You don’t have to listen to your parents. You don’t have to listen to your teachers. You don’t have to listen to the politicians. You need to think for your soul, yourself. Every single one of you is endowed with a unique soul and that soul is your guide.”

Now, a lot of the fiction from that era, you think about Moby Dick and Little Women, and even The Scarlet Letter, the protagonists in those books, it was the first time in fiction, at least in America, that you saw a protagonist who very much were saying, “I have to follow my heart. This may cost me everything, but I have to do what only I can do.” Now, if you think about it, some of the greatest advice for entrepreneurs. Quite often, we are the only ones who know the path we should take. We are the only ones who can do what we have to do.

I would like to suggest, I’ll take it even farther, every single one of us was put here to do one thing, and our job maybe, is to figure out what that is? So I want to share with you, these seven pillars. And if you want to grab a piece of paper and a pen or a notebook, or maybe you’re one of those people who does it in Evernote or something. I’m going to pose seven questions and I’d like you to consider these seven questions as really, the homework for this talk, if you will.

All right, so you ready? The first pillar is, trust. So a lot of people look at this idea of self-reliance and they think of this, go it alone, build your own house, make your own clothes, kill your own food. You don’t have to depend on anybody. Let’s face it, as entrepreneurs, we have to depend on a lot of things, a lot of people, a lot of support to get to really, any measure of success at all. And that’s really the key because what I believe, this idea of self-reliance really means, is that we have to trust ourselves so thoroughly, that we’re not swayed by the words of others. By seeing somebody else’s success, by somebody who says, “Oh, you can’t do that. You shouldn’t do that.”

Because when we trust ourselves at that level, what also happens is, we’re able to extend that same trust. We’re able to empathize with people who are on their path, even if we don’t fully understand that path. So here’s your first question. What’s one thing that you feel is holding you back and why are you letting it? What’s one thing that’s holding you back, that you feel is holding you back and why are you letting it? I didn’t say these were going to be easy questions.

All right, let’s go to number two. The second pillar of self-reliance I believe, is courage. I mean, a lot of what it is that we do every single day, takes courage. Heck, coming to the office, going to a client, telling somebody that they’re hired or fired or that something didn’t work out. I mean, every single day, we are faced with moments that require courage. Sometimes just going on, this thing gets tough, this thing gets physically tiring. And so having the courage to show up every day. Having the courage to listen for new ideas. Having the courage to make bold decisions. Now that’s not the same as risk taking. It’s having the courage to come back, every single day.

You know, a lot of entrepreneurs are successful for that single reason. They didn’t know what was going to happen next week. They didn’t care what was going to happen next month. They didn’t plan for what was going to happen next year, but they showed up tomorrow and they did it again. All right. Here’s your question for courage. Who do you need to stop trying to please? Who do you need to stop trying to please? Like I said, tough questions.

All right. Number three, curiosity. So I tell this story all the time. I don’t know if it’s actually true, but you know how in families, stories get told over and over again, and they become myths and you no longer know if they’re actually true. I have seven brothers and two sisters. That’s right, there were 10 of us. And on the rare, and I mean, rare, occasion that my parents were brave enough to take all 10 of us somewhere. The running joke was that, my mother would say to my father, his name was Bob. “Bob, I’ll take the other nine, you take John.”

Now, it’s not that I was a terror or anything, but I had and have today still, insatiable curiosity. I wanted to know why everything happened, why it worked, how it worked, how to take it apart. And so consequently, I got lost easily. They’d find me and I’d be in the bread aisle talking to the baker or something about, “Why were the loaves shaped a certain way.” I think it’s actually a superpower. Sometimes it’s terribly distracting, but to want to know how things work, to want to know how to make someone’s life better, to be able to listen to someone else’s opinion, that maybe at the moment, you don’t agree with, takes a tremendous amount of curiosity, being open to change, being open to what’s new.

I think this is a habit, some people are born with more of it. Like I said, I think I was born with a lot of it, but I think this is a habit that you can actually build. I think this is a skill, that you can actually practice. So here’s your question for this one. And maybe this is something you need to think about doing on a daily basis. So your question is, what sort of outrageous experiment could you try today? Sounds fun, huh? All right.

Number four, mindfulness. Now this is one that there are entire books about, and it’s a really, really hot topic and certainly, for entrepreneur, such a valuable, valuable pillar. So much of what we do as business owners, the thing that probably causes the greatest amount of stress and in some cases, sucks the life right out of us, is our inability to be present in what’s going on right now. We’re worried about what’s going to happen next week. How are we going to pay the bills? Have you ever laid at 3:00 in the morning, woken up and your mind is just going like, “Okay, how am I going to get this done? How am I going to get all this done? Is that new client going to come in? Am I going to be able to hire that person? Why am I getting this and this and that?”

I mean, our minds are constantly going. And generally speaking, they’re thinking about the past and they’re thinking about the future, two elements, we really have no control over. There are many, many things we can try to influence but the only thing, only thing, we can control, is what’s going on right now in front of us. Right now, while you’re watching this, you and I are having a conversation, that’s the only thing, how you respond to this, how you react to this, is the only thing that’s in your control.

Now, think about that, every time you get on a phone call, every time you send an email, are you fully present in the room? Because the other thing that I believe fully, is that, that’s where the joy in our business is. Fully being awake, fully being alive, in the present moment. There are lots of things you can do to snap yourself back, to create habits, to create rituals and that’s a lot of what I do, but this element of mindfulness is so, so important.

Find yourself today and witness how often your mind is wandering, even when you’re on a phone call, like these Zoom calls and things that we’re all doing all day. I mean, it’s so easy to not be there. And we miss the magic of what is there. Obviously, you take this to your family, to your kids, and there’s no question, how many times have we done that? Right? We are babysitting our children, as opposed to being fully present with them.

All right, enough of that, I don’t want to make you feel guilty. All right, here’s your question? What is something you know, you must change in order to realize your most adventurous life? What is something you know, you must change in order to realize your most adventurous life? It sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? All right. This is a hard one. This is probably the hardest one for me.

Number five, non-judgment. I mean, our job as entrepreneurs, is decide every single day, “Is this a good decision? This is a bad decision? Is this a good path? Is this a bad path? Is this going to make me money? Is this going to cost me money?” Right? We’re judging everything that goes on and frankly, it’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel at the end of the day, it’s like, “I have no idea what I did today, but I sure was busy.” I think that that constant hamster wheel of judging, every single thing that happens, as either good or bad, again, robs us of our joy.

There are some things that maybe, aren’t great or at the moment, don’t feel great, but here’s the key, if we don’t judge them as either good or bad, they are just what they are. They just happen. I’ve been doing this for 30 years or so and I have come to believe, when something happens that I didn’t want to happen, when something happens where I’m disappointed, I didn’t get a result, I didn’t get a sale, I didn’t get whatever, I can almost guarantee you, that something better is coming.

But if I get so focused on, “Hey, this is my goal. This is my objective. This is how I’m going to get there. This is how I’m going to win.” I miss that something better. So, by at least attempting it, and I’m not saying, I’m very good at this, but at least by attempting to stop judging everything, and boy, there are things, lots of things in the world today, that we could judge as either good or bad.

But by releasing a little bit of that, I think again, we open ourselves up to what’s possible or let’s call it, fate, what is supposed to actually happen, rather than what we think is supposed to happen. So here’s your question today for non-judgment. What is one critical view, event or statement, that you can release today? Just start witnessing, how often you judge and start releasing that.

Number six, I bet you, some of you have experienced this one, resilience. Any entrepreneur who stuck around for any amount of time, has a huge amount of resilience. Nothing goes the way we think it’s going to go. Quite often, I mean, look at what the world’s handed us right now, in this moment? Takes a little resilience to figure out what to do now, what to do next? Doesn’t it? I think, what special trait that so many entrepreneurs who have trust and who have courage and who are non-judgment, so one of the things that I think, provides us with this level of resilience, it’s not that we don’t feel pain, we can get up, hit me again, no problem. So we’re able to reframe, how we view things.

So in other words, when something happens that we didn’t want to happen or that we didn’t think was going to happen or takes us off our path that we thought was to happen, then quite often, what we’re able to do, is not say, “Oh, I failed or that was wrong. I had a dumb idea.” It’s like, “Okay, what was that here to teach me? What could I do differently? How could I reframe the result, so that I can learn from it?” Okay, your question for resilience. What is your greatest skill? How can you use it to serve? I think a lot of us have some things packed away, that we’re not using anymore, that actually, are great skills. Are we bringing those to serve the people that we’re here to serve?

All right, your last one, seven. Number seven pillar is, grace or gratitude. Now again, another really hot topic, but boy, so easy to sit there and whine about, “Oh, I don’t have it this way, or how come so-and-so has a better business than me, or how come Mike Michalowicz sells so many more books than I sell?” It’s so easy to have that point of view. And then you wake up and you’re like, “The sun is shining. I’ve got a roof over my head. I’ve got a great business. I know what I’m going to eat tonight for dinner.” I mean, it’s sort of foolish, but it’s understandable.

So practicing grace, practicing gratitude, practicing being thankful for everything that we have, is something that I think opens a lot of doors. That’s why I have it as the seventh pillar, because I think it brings so many of the other things together. All right. Your last question, what is the most wonderful thing you get to experience? Now let’s flip it around. What’s the most inconvenient thing, that you get to experience? Because those things, teach more about gratitude than anything.

So I hope you wrote these questions down. I hope that you’re giving them some thought in the context of all of these together and the context of your journey as a self-reliant entrepreneur. So I want to close today with a quote from Thoreau that I think sums up perfectly these pillars. And it’s actually, just from his letters, it’s not from a familiar work, but I think it’s appropriate today.

“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient, more beautiful than it is useful. It is more to be admired and enjoyed than used. We rejoice in it, as one more indication of the entire and universal freedom that characterized the age in which we live. As an indication that the human race is making one more advance in that infinite series of progressions, which awaited.” So thank you for your time today and thank you for your attention and your listening and a little something different. Hopefully, inspirational. Take care.

You can get your copy of The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur here and start 2021 off with a new habit.