What Mentoring Failure-to-Launch Men Taught Me about Running a Business

by Matthew Arrington, an Overdrive contributor and executive director and co-founder of Forte Strong

Years ago, I co-founded a program for young men who have trouble becoming self-sufficient. While our purpose is to provide life coaching, I can honestly say that I’ve learned a lot from these men — probably just as much as they’ve learned from me.

Mentoring forced me to question whether I was exhibiting the type of character I wanted my students to embody. It actually pushed me to be better. I start asking myself questions like, “Do my actions serve the greater good?” and “Will my actions help me reach my goals and further the work of my company?”

These deeper questions tend to fall into the background of most people’s lives, but I face them on a daily basis. And as a mentor, I’ve learned a number of lessons about life, myself, and running a business:

Lead by example. There’s nothing more credible than living out my own advice. As a leader, I’m constantly under scrutiny. If I dish out advice I wouldn’t swallow, people will start questioning my motives and doubting my word.

I’m not above doing the things I advise my students to do. If we talk to them about the importance of starting the day off right, you’d better believe I ate a healthy breakfast and had a good workout that morning. We can’t expect our students to do something we aren’t willing to do ourselves. And the same can be said for the workplace. If I practice what I preach, my staff is more likely to take my direction seriously.

Come to terms with failure. It’s OK to make mistakes. We’re all human, and we’re all susceptible to folly. But our mistakes don’t define us, and we’ll always have value beyond our missteps. The important thing is that we accept responsibility and move forward.

Find balance. Living a balanced life is the least we can do for ourselves. If any area in my life is out of whack, it affects everything else. Take sleep, for example. If I don’t get an honest night’s rest, it will limit the energy I can put into daily activities and negatively affect the quality of my work.

One trend I’ve noticed among young men I work with is incessant gaming. How can we find time to invest in professional and personal development if it’s spent in a virtual reality? There needs to be focused time for work, family, recreation, and education. When we devote a good amount of time to each category in our lives, our businesses will run more smoothly. We’ll be better for it.

Never use fear as an excuse. At some point, fear will attempt to derail our plans. It’s a distraction, but it’s not an excuse. Whether we’re trying to leave our parents’ home or start a new business venture, we just have to go for it!

Running a business can be scary. But to grow as leaders, we have to tackle our fears. I’ve found that experiencing courage increases confidence, and confidence is a fear repellent. The more of it I have on, the less of a hold fear will have on me.

We tend to look to successful businesspeople for answers or advice, but sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the most unexpected places. Who would have known that by mentoring young men past a few missteps, I’d stumble upon important life lessons myself?

Matthew Arrington is the executive director and co-founder of Forte Strong, the world’s first failure-to-launch program for men who struggle to leave their parents’ home or find it difficult to become independent. Forte Strong uses a proprietary coaching model to help students find purpose and direction, guide parents and families in empowering their sons, and ultimately create a healthier family dynamic. 

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