Previously published on Entrepreneur.com by Sujan Patel
Gene Hammett, the speaker, author, and coach, has had an entrepreneurial journey many can relate to, and which he details in his recent book, The Trap of Success. What’s the book about? On his website, Hammett says it details “stories of real people who have faced moments of choice that caused them to dig deep, find their courage, and create a life and career of meaning.”
Certainly, Hammett himself is one of those real people. As he relates in his book, he faced his own moment of choice, in 2010 — after an event he calls his “catastrophic trigger,” which steered him on to a new career path and gave him a new purpose for his life.
Some background: Hammett spent nine years building a successful sports-tour business, which at its height topped $5 million in annual revenue. Yet he still felt something was missing. “I was successful in the sense of financial freedom and time freedom, but I wasn’t fulfilled,” he told me, in November. “And I continued to follow that path, mainly because I didn’t want to let go of what I had created, to go after what I really wanted.”
Hammett got stuck in his comfort zone, he said. “As my business grew, I would make more money; and that’s really safe and really gratifying, to a certain degree. But it got to be something I played safe in. I played not to lose, instead of playing to win.”
His “2 x 4 day”
That “catastrophic trigger,” or turning point, Hammett told me during our conversation, was a several-weeks-long period that culminated in his so-called “2 x 4 day,” in January 2010. A business contract had turned bad, and Hammett ended up losing not only his savings, business and income, but also his house and his confidence, all due to that one event.
He calls that event his “2 x 4 day” because, “I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on inside me, so I got hit with a 2 x 4, and that’s kind of what it feels like to lose that much money.” In short, Hammett realized hat he wasn’t satisfied and needed to make a change. So he started reevaluating his business — and his life.
“I thought about the impact I have in the world,” he said. “And that was one thing that was missing before: I was making money but I didn’t have purpose.”
That’s when he realized he wanted to coach other entrepreneurs. “I thought about where I could really add value to the world, and I started thinking about the business approach that I had 15 years ago, back in 2002, that helped me go from a million to $5 million,” he explained. “And I wanted to be that person in someone’s life, to be their catalyst to growth, [to] help them see what they can’t see themselves.”
Focusing on significance rather than success
Many entrepreneurs focus only on growth and success, but based on his own experience, Hammett said, that’s a trap business owners fall into. “I think there’s a lot of focus on those initial markers of success, but I think you should actually be looking at the impact that you’re making and the results you’re creating,” he said. “I started to really focus on ‘significance, not success’.”
He continued: “If you go after something that does connect to your heart and soul, and you’re making an impact in the world, the contribution raises your energy level and attracts people to you. That may sound touchy-feely, but it really is about you enjoying what you’re doing and creating impact.
“The more you’re creating significance, the more that success will come, and the more people will be attracted to you, because you’re playing the game you should be playing, as opposed to living in fear, or afraid to let go of something to move forward and grow.”
What I loved about Hammett’s story was that it flies in the face of standard entrepreneurial advice, yet it’s so relatable. There are so many people today who want to be successful, and focus only on success; but that’s just an outcome. Creating significance, no matter how big or small, is the input that can lead to that output of success.
Despite how much money he was making with his first business, Hammett felt unfulfilled and empty. But today, on this new path, he said, “This is what I want to do until I die. I don’t see retirement. This is so much fun to me and so much joy, that I just want to do this forever.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs
One particular piece of advice Hammett has for other entrepreneurs is the need to be aware of the danger of stagnation. Many business owners focus on striving to have the freedom and not stretching themselves too thin, but sometimes that leads to a lack of growth and change. “You’ve got to continuously evolve, grow and learn,” he advised. “Businesses that stand still are really in danger of losing what they’ve built, even if they don’t seem like they are.”
For entrepreneurs setting business goals, Hammett emphasized that those goals shouldn’t be 100 percent about them or their business. “Again, it’s about the contributions you’re making in the world,” he said. “That’s where our best marketing comes from — when it’s about others and activating them. And, that’s where our best sales come from — when it’s about the buyer’s results and not about what we want to sell.”