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Recently, I watched a TED Talk from a critical care EMT that put a lot into perspective about how we live our lives (and consequently, run our businesses).

This EMT gave some incredibly honest first-person insight into regrets people expressed when they knew they were at the end of their lives (and he gave them the gift of knowing it).

Those regrets broke down into three basic areas:

  • I wish I had made different choices. People facing death would invariably regret certain choices such as “I wish I’d spent more time with my children.” Interestingly, these regrets were not about getting more stuff or prestige, but centered around the fact that they had allowed “life” to get into the way of what was truly important to them.
  • I wish I mattered more. “There was so much more that I wanted to do with my life.” Life is so fleeting and the end invariably had people assessing how they made a difference. Having and pursuing a purpose was clearly at the heart of what mattered to them.
  • I want to be remembered. Think about the first two. We don’t want to exist in a vacuum; we want to leave a positive impact and to live on through those that we’ve touched. It’s that simple.

Why do I share this? Because I believe it’s incredibly important that as you build your business, you do it in a way that you don’t end up with these same regrets.

When you go into business for yourself, you have a unique opportunity to make a living fulfilling your purpose, making an impact, and designing exactly how you want to spend your time.

But, you already knew that because this is the reason most entrepreneurs start their businesses.

You begin with all the right motives – getting control of your purpose, your time, and your life. Yet, in the day to day of growing your business it can be easy to lose sight of your vision and end up with the same regrets.

So what happens to all of that freedom you hope for when you start your business?

As it turns out, building a business takes a lot of time. I tell my clients that nothing is free, either you’re going to spend time, or you’re going to spend money in order to accomplish what you want in your business. When you’re starting out, all you have is time and that’s fine, but as you grow your business you need to be careful you don’t fall into the DIY habit and never learn to outsource.

It helps to periodically reassess your business, the time you’re spending and what you’re spending it on to make sure you’re consistently moving toward your vision and not away from it.

To keep yourself aligned with your business and avoid regrets, you must do these three things:

1. Know what your non-negotiable are.

This takes sitting down and making decisions about what you truly want in your life. This isn’t about simple “FOMO” but if you were to continue the way you are, and look back 20 years from now, would you be happy with the choices you made?

For me, this means that I only work 25 hours a week. Periodically I may extend those hours for a week or two if I’m working on a big project, but as a rule I go against the advice of everyone that tells me to put my kids in daycare longer so I can free up more time because the time I spend with them is precious and non-negotiable to me.

If you don’t protect your priorities, they will evaporate in the “tyranny of the urgent.” Don’t let that happen.

2. Connect with your purpose.

In business it’s easy to go for the “low hanging fruit” that you perceive (or your mentor perceives) to be an easier sell instead of what truly called you into starting your business in the first place. I know because for 7 years I offered a service that was all wrong for me because I was afraid I couldn’t sell the service I truly enjoyed delivering. Once I rebranded, not only did the clients come, I also cut my workload in half (which has made my restrictive 25 hour schedule MUCH easier).

When you are serving your purpose you will feel more fulfilled, you’ll make a bigger impact, and you won’t look back years from now and wonder why you wasted so much energy doing something else.

3. Define your destination.

Bringing your vision to life doesn’t happen overnight, you need to keep your eye on the prize, and to do that you need to know what the prize is! Once you know where you’re headed, you can create the habits and systems necessary to sustaining forward momentum.

This requires making time to work ON your business and not just IN it. So many business owners make the mistake of creating their vision based around how many clients they want, and what programs they want to offer and forget to leave time for actual execution. This is a sure-fire recipe for frustration, so set aside the time to put the pieces in place that will continuously move you toward your vision.

Whether your time comes tomorrow, or 20, 30, 40 years from now, I want you to say “I did it ALL.” The only way for you to do that is to know what is important to you, and not allow your business to swallow you whole.