The No. 1 choice small-business owners make every day

When the clocks fell back last month, I was finally able to take a step back and start really processing my first summer of running two, very different businesses — Metis Communications, a Boston-based strategic marketing firm I co-founded more than 11 years ago, and Mojo’s, a Cape Cod restaurant and decades-long institution serving tourists and locals, which I bought last year.

We’re racing toward winter now, but my mindset is still on fall, a season that has always symbolized a fresh start for me and a time to reflect on the previous year and plan for the next. Maybe it’s because, as much as I loved my rituals of summer, I loved equally the routines of the school year; I loved the transition. Or maybe I love fall so much because, having grown up in a seasonal, seaside community at the tip of Cape Cod, that time of year to us locals was precious – we got our beaches and streets back to ourselves after the swarms of summer visitors went home. Whatever the reason(s), it has always been a time to reassess where I am and where I need to go.

During this process, I find it’s helpful to play good cop/bad cop with myself. In my internal narrative, the good cop praises me for all the things I did well, and, as you can imagine, the bad cop points out my flaws and failures. It’s up to me to process it all and then figure out how to maintain and/or elevate what worked and how to eradicate and/or overcome what didn’t. This particular year, both cops have had a lot say.   

To keep the internal dialogue as productive as possible, I remind myself that, when I took on a second business, I promised myself that, no matter what was thrown at me each day, I’d stay focused and not sweat the small things; I’d be even-keeled no matter what. I considered Mojo’s six-month season as an unknown marathon course versus a straight, flat sprint. Since I didn’t know when the hills were coming or where the shade would be, I needed to remain diligent and steady each and every day. I’d think in terms of problem/solution only. 




Early into the season, I realized I was on the right track. By committing to not sweating the small stuff, and by taking a problem/solution approach, I didn’t get overwhelmed. Not once. I had moments in the new business when I felt myself starting to spin, starting to think of every problem on a macro level and getting completely overwhelmed by the bigger picture and all the problems that needed fixing, but I disciplined myself to stop the spinning after a second and remain loyal to the problem/solution approach. (Worth noting: This approach only works if you commit to also taking the time/energy/focus/space to focus on the macro issues. Hence, the good cop/bad cop exercise. You can’t be successful if you never stop long enough and look hard enough at what needs to be fixed at a macro level.)

When my cook called on July 3rd to tell me the potato slicer wasn’t working, one day before our busiest weekend of the season, I started to spin.

Shit, what will we do?! The BUSIEST weekend. Of course! Agh. This means the entire season will be off. What will everyone say? We’re KNOWN for our sliced-daily, perfectly fried fries. This could blow my whole first season and Mojo’s reputation. And on and on and on… for a few seconds. And then I reeled myself in and recommitted to my strategy. For right now, for this minute, what is the problem I need to solve? I need to make sure there are fries for tomorrow.

So, I identified three action items:

  1. Call the vendor about scheduling a repair ASAP.
  2. Make sure we have extra knives.
  3. Call my husband, Frank, a Provincetown-based fisherman; tell him to grab a case of beer and whatever guys weren’t at sea; and head over to start slicing taters.

Identifying the action items reset my focus, and you know what? In the end, it didn’t come to any of that. When I arrived, fully prepared to slice potatoes for hours, I noticed that a screw was loose on the machine. With a quick tighten by hand, it was all set. I was glad in the moment that I hadn’t let myself continue to spin for too long about all the ways the broken slicer could break the holiday weekend. What a lot of wasted angst and energy that would’ve been. Problem/solution. And it all worked out with minimal stress. In fact, I think both Frank and I were a little disappointed we didn’t have to have a slicing party; that could’ve been fun.

Even at the helm of two busy companies, I learned I can keep everything cranking while appreciating and enjoying each day, even the challenging ones. Being positive is a choice. Sometimes it's a minute-by-minute choice -- and not an easy one -- but it's possible. And it's powerful.

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