What book would you make required reading for everyone on Earth? That’s the question posed by the July/August 2018 issue of The Atlantic, which drew on answers from a wide variety of sources including literary critics, film directors, and published authors. One author, Imbolo Mbue, recommended “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Published in 1997, Ruiz drew upon the personal conduct codes learned from his Toltec ancestors in his book that serves as a practical guide to personal freedom. There are four specific agreements that, once followed, allow us to obtain personal freedom from beliefs we make with ourselves. These agreements can resonate with anyone reading this book, but I’d like to think it would hit home for entrepreneurs especially and provide a little extra insight into how to run a small business.
1. “Be impeccable with your word.”
More often than not we are messy, not impeccable, with our words. Entrepreneurs don’t always have the luxury of treating every word with care. They must be responsive to emails, text messages, and phone calls, and meetings and attend to the needs of everyone surrounding them from employees to customers at all times. Sometimes words are too much and we are left with only consonants — replying to an employee text with “K.”
Entrepreneurs are always encouraged to be the best version of their selves and bring their A game to their small business, so why not push to be better with our words? Whether spoken aloud or written down, the key is to pause and think before you express anything. By being impeccable with your word, which should be optimistic and thoughtful, you are able to create a domino effect where your words are able to positively impact others.
2. “Don’t take anything personally.”
This is a difficult agreement to follow because everyone, entrepreneur or not, has had a moment in their life where they have taken an insult (whether direct or indirect) too personally. Maybe someone tweeted a rude comment to the company Twitter account, a customer complaint was posted on Yelp, or you overheard someone gossiping about you.
However, Ruiz argues that no matter what happens around you or seems to be about you, it really has nothing to do with you. By taking something personally, Ruiz says, we are superimposing our worlds onto others and assuming that everyone else knows what’s happening in our world. The reality is that they don’t. Nobody does! It’s hard to do, but when entrepreneurs don’t take things personally we are unable to become prey to predatory thoughts that want us to become vulnerable. We learn to trust ourselves instead and that trust developed within allows us to go the extra mile forward.
3. “Don’t make assumptions.”
When has making an assumption been a good thing for anyone? The trouble with assumptions, as Ruiz points out, is that we think they are the truth. Rather than ask for somebody to better clarify it for us, we just assume that it’s true because if someone says it is then it must be… right? Rather than make an assumption about anything, entrepreneurs should go straight to the source and clarify the answer from the beginning. The sooner this is done, the better, to avoid any confusion later on down the line.
4. “Always do your best.”
One of the most fascinating aspects to “doing our best” that Ruiz expresses is that it changes from moment to moment. Entrepreneurs tend to look at what they did when they first started their business and often wish they could go back. They might have done things a little bit better, if they knew what they know now.
Or would things really have been done “better” in the past, if you knew what you do now? Wouldn’t going back and redoing things to be perfect mean that we missed out on opportunities for trial and error? To make mistakes, take risks, and learn from those things that did not go according to plan? Truthfully speaking, sometimes all we have this is moment and our existing circumstances to work with in order to do our best. If we do great work in the here and now, we can be content with knowing later on that we did do well with what we had and where we were in our entrepreneurial journey.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.