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Are You Letting “Reality” Constrain You?

What do you do when the situation you’re in as a business owner isn’t working … but you can’t clearly see a way to create something that does work?  My former partner, friend, and business coach extraordinaire, Barbara Mencer, published a newsletter last month that got me musing on the subject.

I want to expand on what she said with a real life example I hope will give you the inspiration to move forward in the face of uncertainty.

I’ve excerpted passages from her piece below to capture her essential message:

Do our systems, and indeed our lives and businesses seem more unpredictable and fragile than, say, a year ago?

No doubt about it.  That’s because we were thrown a huge external curveball in the form of this virus, and its effect has rippled through our lives.

So, how do you make the best possible decisions in a complex, unpredictable environment?

How do you handle a world that’s gone beyond just complicated and manageable to indecipherably complex?

First, realize it’s a complex world.  Relax and understand there may not be a clear path.  We’re feeling our way in the dark.

To make things work, you have to wrap your head around living with uncertainty and adapt, adapt, adapt … and keep adapting until you squeeze all the uncertainty out of the equation and get the result you want … or fail to get it.

Many of you are familiar with the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, built by George Vanderbilt.  I live just 30 minutes from it and, as a passholder, visit often.

It’s one heck of an operation.  And it’s successful … profitable … largely due to the vision, bold actions, dedication, and genius of one man, George’s grandson, William Cecil.

Biltmore was one of those grand mansions and estates built by the super wealthy at the end of the 19th century.  Building Biltmore nearly bankrupted George, and maintaining it as a sustainable operation proved to be extremely challenging.  In fact, it looked hopeless.

One of the Rockefellers, who had similar properties, famously commiserated with Bill Cecil, asking what in the world he was going to do with his “white elephant.”

Good question.  Because it was a seriously money-losing proposition.

Sure, his parents had opened the house and grounds to the public for a fee in 1930, but that barely stemmed the bleeding.  Then, Mr. Cecil took command.

“After years of dedication and hard work … including everything from writing marketing copy to taking photographs for estate brochure … Mr. Cecil announced that Biltmore had made a profit of $16.34 in 1969.”

That was only the beginning.  He did a lot of really daring and innovative things.  But I want to focus on just one initiative.

Put yourself in his shoes.  He has this castle and estate that’s magnificent in the spring, summer, and fall.  The weather’s nice.  The flowers are in bloom and the views are stunning.

But what do you do in the winter?  Who wants to come when it’s cold, nothing’s blooming, and you can’t be outside to enjoy the views?

Do you just grin and bear it, accepting the reality of winter as a fact of life?

Not if you’re William Cecil.

He came up with the idea of “Christmas at Biltmore,” decking the place out the way they would have done it at the turn of the century.

People love it.  It’s magical.  But, as usual, they told Bill it couldn’t be done.

Here’s his response to all the naysayers:

“There was this negativism that it can’t be done. If you ever want me to do something, just say ‘It can’t be done.’ Everyone told me it couldn’t be done, so I just stuck my feet in it and I said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ And that’s what motivated me.”

So, what’s the message for you and me as business owners?

Look past the “reality” of the situation and think, “What if?”  Roll with the tide vs. getting stuck.

Too often, I’m seeing people mired in quicksand, immobilized by what they see as an uncertain, even inhospitable, business environment.  They struggle to think creatively and take action to try new things.   They’re constrained by “reality.”

But crisis, by its nature, breeds opportunity.  

We just need to be like William Cecil and seize it!

Why not use this time to re-imagine what your business could look like in 2021 and beyond?

Best Wishes,



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Meet Denise: Denise Hedges is a Business Development Coach and Speaker Coach for small business owners who want to be more comfortable, confident, and successful with their sales and marketing efforts. She specializes in helping them use speaking as a way to dramatically improve their results!