Earlier in August my family and I went to the Iowa State Fair and saw the Extreme Canines stunt dog show, with a team of talented dogs catching frisbees and jumping over hurdles in rapid succession. The dogs were really quite impressive – they loved to perform, they’d been expertly trained, and they showed a high degree of determination to complete every trick. Sometimes a dog would drop a Frisbee or fail to clear a hurdle, but they never let it keep them down – they just kept leaping back into action, ready for the next game.

Small business owners can learn a lot from those determined stunt dogs. Here are some of the key lessons I took away from that afternoon at the Fair:

  • Live in the moment. Dogs have no concept of time in the way that people understand it; a dog’s day is not subdivided into minutes and hours, with one to-do list after another. Instead, dogs live in the moment. The past is gone, the future is unimaginable. Perhaps this is one reason why the Extreme Canines are so good at what they do – they’re not worried about “what’s happening next,” they’re not re-examining that last Frisbee toss that didn’t go so well. Instead, they’re constantly alert and looking to earn the next round of applause.
  • Forgive yourself. Stunt dogs don’t beat themselves up if they make a mistake or drop a Frisbee. They just keep going. I watched one dog catch a rapid-fire succession of Frisbees, one after another – it must have been 12 or more Frisbees that the trainer fired up into the air. The dog didn’t catch them all – in fact, he missed a few – but his eagerness never waned. Wouldn’t it be great if every entrepreneur could bounce back from failure so quickly? Many people would like to start a business, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to make it happen. Many established entrepreneurs are their own worst critics. They’re constantly reminding themselves of their mistakes, shortcomings and missed opportunities. They’re constantly rehashing the things they could have done differently. Their inner monologue is set on “negative.” This is no way to live! A dog’s life is better than living in constant self-doubt and self-castigation. Learn to be gentle with yourself. You need to be your biggest fan and best advocate in good times and bad. As the classic poem, the Desiderata, says: “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune, but do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.” Wouldn’t it be great if every entrepreneur could be as carefree and energetic as a stunt dog?
  • Embrace enthusiasm. For entrepreneurs, cynicism is the enemy of success. The best entrepreneurs are powered by the opposites of cynicism: enthusiasm and hope. No matter how bad the economy gets, even if you lose that big contract or get a negative e-mail from a customer, you need to roll with the punches and keep moving forward. Unfortunately, cynicism is at epidemic levels in today’s culture. Many people give up on their dreams because they feel like it’s already too late, or that it doesn’t really matter. (“I’ll just keep my head down and keep going to my job…it’s too late for me to try something else.”) Of course it matters! This is your one and only life on Earth. This is your one chance to make a living doing something you really love, and provide valuable products/services to people who need your help. What could be more important than starting your own business and charting your own path to success and fulfillment? Stunt dogs have no time for cynicism. They’re too busy chasing after the next Frisbee. Even if they drop this one, there’s sure to be another Frisbee coming soon…

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