7 Traps That Can Tank Your Success (And How to Avoid Them)

Interview with David Covey and Stephan Mardyks

Episode Description

Running a company can sometimes feel like a treacherous journey.

A bad financial decision will cost you a ton of money. If you don’t give enough attention to your relationships, you might lose your family. And a lack of focus sucks away precious time.

It’d be so much simpler if you had a map to guide you through it. Some sort of blueprint to show you where you might fall so you can avoid the hassle of trying to dig your way out.

That’s why I’m thrilled about this Building a StoryBrand podcast with David Covey and Stephan Mardyks, co-authors of Trap Tales: Outsmarting the 7 Hidden Obstacles to Success. In this episode, they highlight the major traps business leaders slip into and show you how to steer clear of them.

Listen now so you can avoid these common pitfalls and save time, money and your relationships.


#1: The Relationship Trap

Is your marriage working well?

Unfortunately, for a lot of business owners, the answer is no.

Your marriage affects everything— your ability to learn, focus, make good financial decisions, overcome mistakes and navigate your career.

As a leader, you need a solid marriage.

That is why I love that Stephan and David start with the relationship trap as the foundation for their book. In their words, marriage is the core relationship of your life and it is in danger when partners act as ‘married singles’ rather than a unified team.

David gives three practical tools to make the paradigm shift from operating as married singles to operating as a married couple.

Tool #1: Figure out your finances. Finances cause the biggest problem in marriages. Together, decide your philosophy about money. You need to choose who manages the money and hammer out details such as when you need to ask permission from each other to spend a certain amount of money.

Tool #2: Decide how you’re going to raise the kids. Determine your child-rearing philosophy and settle how you’re going to discipline. Don’t allow the kids to play mom against dad or visa versa. You need to be a unified team.

Tool #3: Divide up the household duties. So many women work outside the home now and it’s really unfair that women still do about 80% of the household duties. Men need to take a much larger, bigger role in that. If there isn’t balance at home, resentment and frustration will likely build between you and cause a rift in your relationship.

Using these three tools will really help your marriage be unified. You won’t be acting as a married single anymore. And when things are running smoothly at home, you’ll gain traction in your business.

Assess yourself: In regard to your marriage, do you operate as a team or more like two separate individuals?

#2: The Money Trap

If you’ve already fallen into the money trap, then you’ve felt the anxiety that comes from being in debt.
You’re not alone.

David experienced the very same thing. He and his family accumulated over $90,000 in credit card debt.

At first, they tried the traditional approach of getting out of debt — budgeting.

“A lot of financial advisors and teachers and authors will teach you that you need to budget,” he says. “They teach you that you need to be disciplined, restrained, and rely on the willpower of setting up a budget and sticking to it.”

For those who have tried this method, you might have also experienced frustration like David and his wife. They got into a lot of intense discussions and criticized each other’s spending.

The upshot was it didn’t work. They didn’t get out of debt.

The Coveys decided to try a different approach, one that worked. In 18 months, they paid off all their debt and began saving for the future.

David recommends creating a highly visible scoreboard to make the process fun. His family made a “debt paper snake” to show their progress.

Then, he suggests getting your kids involved. When the Covey kids understood the goal, they stopped asking for things and joined in cutting off chunks of debt on the paper snake instead.

Once you’re out of debt, you continue on with another visual — a green tree with four branches for savings, investments, college education, and retirement. All that extra money that you were putting toward debt now starts accumulating here in the form of fruit hanging on the tree.

Getting out of the negative debt cycle is incredibly powerful.

“Are you going to be the person who pays interest most of your life? Or are you going to be the person who collects interest most of your life?”

“Are you going to be the person who pays interest most of your life?” David asks. “Or are you going to be the person who collects interest most of your life?”

Join the ranks of successful people who recognize the power of compound interest and avoid the money trap.

Assess yourself: How can you motivate yourself and your family to get out of debt and prepare for the future?

#3: The Focus Trap

Perhaps the biggest thing that can tank your business is living distractedly.

In today’s world, we have so many things taking up our time, energy and attention. Being perpetually connected to our electronic devices only worsens the problem.

David describes the focus trap as “being mired in the thick of thin things.” In other words, we get caught up in things that don’t matter.

David gives us some practical techniques to help us filter all the unimportant things vying for our attention.

Technique #1: Limit screen time. A lot of social media is a waste of time. While staying connected is important, most of us are spending excessive time keeping up on others’ lives and losing time with the real people we live with. Parents know it’s important to have rules about screen time for their kids, but they need be a good example and limit screen time for themselves too.

Technique #2: Value things that take time. In a world where things happen instantaneously and automatically, we get impatient with anything that takes longer and is more difficult. This is because our focus muscles have gone soft. Find activities that require patience, hard-work and steady attention. David and his family have a game that keeps track of how many books they can read each year.

Technique #3: Detect your mission statement. Some people end up wasting time on social media and other pointless pursuits because they still don’t know what their purpose is. For those of you who feel that’s where you are, David quotes his father, Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
You don’t write your mission statement, you detect it.

“You’ve got to find the intersection of what you’re passionate about, what you love doing, and what you can make money at,” David says. “If you can find the intersection of those three things, then you can be very successful.”
David suggests asking your family and friends to identify your strengths. Figure out what you can do to make the biggest contribution. Determine where you can differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. And then go for it.

Spend time reflecting on your mission or purpose.

David again: “We live in a world where there are so many opportunities.You don’t need to settle for anything.”
Instead, you should spend time reflecting on your mission or purpose. When you discover that, you’ll find it’s easier to avoid the focus trap.

Assess yourself: How do you get caught up in the thick of thin things? What is your biggest time waster?

#4: The Change Trap

We all know that change is difficult, uncomfortable, even painful.

So when the time comes for change, we usually put it off. We procrastinate.

Stephan and David tell us that procrastinating change is a killer of growth and transformation.

“We need to learn to change courageously when our conscience dictates it, rather than change when we’re forced to,” David says. “ A lot of times, unfortunately, people don’t change until they hit rock bottom.”

If you wait that long, you won’t have many good options to choose from.

For years, I was a memoirist. Since I started StoryBrand to help people clarify their messages and grow their businesses, people often lament they miss the guy who wrote about his personal journey.

My response is usually:
When you’ve written your eighth memoir, you’re a clinical narcissist.

Eventually, the stuff you’ve always done stops working. I’m so glad I was willing to move into something different.

Perhaps you’ve felt that nudge telling you it’s time to change, but you feel like it’s too late. David offers some hopeful advice — you can change the trajectory of your life at any time.

Listen to your conscience. It will let you know when it’s time to change. And when you hear it, embrace change and move on.

Assess yourself: Are you procrastinating change? If so, what steps can you take to move in a new direction?

#5: The Learning Trap

When you make a mistake, how do you feel?

Embarrassed? Defensive? Frantic?

You should feel human.

From your very first steps as a baby to your very first steps in a new business venture, human beings grow through the trial and error method. Mistakes are the process nature uses for our transformation.

Still, most people find it difficult to rejoice and celebrate a mistake. In today’s world, David says we’re inundated with social media and immersed in people’s filtered lives which appear perfect. We’re persuaded to keep up a near-perfect image too.

See your mistakes as learning opportunities and welcome them as a natural part of your journey.

Avoid this pitfall. It will stop your growth.

The next time you feel tempted to hide or spin your mistake, try a different approach. See your mistakes as learning opportunities and welcome them as a natural part of your journey.

Embracing your mistakes will transform you into the powerful leader you’ve always wanted to be.

Assess yourself: When you make a mistake, do you see it as a learning opportunity?

#6: The Career Trap

If you’re in a career that made sense at one time, but it doesn’t make sense anymore, then you’ve fallen into the trap of “settling.”

You’ve lost your passion and inspiration at work and the reasons why you are there no longer exist.

One of our previous guests, Stephen Mansfield called this “being out of season.” He warned that if you’re not careful, you might be on course for a leadership crash.

David and Stephan outline what you need to avoid the career trap.

There’s four aspects to a successful career:

  1. The first is money. You want to be paid fairly for what you do.
  2. The second is ideas. You want to have your ideas utilized.
  3. The third is passion. You want to enjoy yourself and feel excited about your contributions.
  4. The fourth is purpose. You want to feel like you’re making a difference.

If any one of these four aspects are missing, you’re in danger of slipping into the career trap. Take steps to influence your work environment so all four parts are activated.

If you find that the steps you’ve taken just aren’t working, consider working at a different company or starting a new profession.

You might be thinking that you hate your job, but it’s too late. You’re 42 years old. You’re making $80,000 a year. What else are you going to do?

Stephan gives this advice: It’s never too late.

He doesn’t recommend to just quit. Instead, you should prepare to quit. Shut down the excuses. Recognize the timing will always be inconvenient. Make a plan to find a new position and follow through.

Assess yourself: 1) Are you paid fairly for the work you perform? 2) At work, are your opinions heard and valued? 3) Do you enjoy working with the people at your job? 4) How would you like to be remembered in your career?

#7: The Purpose Trap

Have you ever gone to an estate sale? Perhaps you wandered around and examined a painting, tested a power tool or thumbed through some old books.

It might surprise you that one person can accumulate so much stuff.

Why is that?

David gives us three reasons.

  1. We have an accumulation mentality. We are conditioned to believe that the purpose of life is to accumulate more stuff.
  2. We are in continual pursuit of happiness. We believe that once we acquire the next thing, we’ll be happy.
  3. We get caught up in competitive consumption. We think the more we have, the more successful we must be.

Falling into the purpose trap means we’ve believed the lie that accumulating things will bring meaning to our lives.

We don’t usually discover we’ve been caught in this trap until the end of our lives.

After reading a lot of deathbed literature, Stephan and David discovered that people who are close to death don’t talk about money, awards, or accolades. And they definitely don’t talk about the things they own. Instead, they talk about relationships, service, contributions and memories.

This perspective gives us invaluable insight about what is truly important.

David and Stephan have some action steps to help you keep your higher purpose in mind.

Value experiences over possessions. The Covey family live abroad two to three months a year. Spending time with each other in interesting places creates memories that will last all their lives.

Spend a day each year going through your belongings as if you were moving somewhere far away. When you’ve donated or discarded the things that aren’t adding real value to your life, you are teaching yourself an important lesson about what really matters.

Repair a broken relationship or strengthen a weak relationship with someone you care about. By investing your time and effort in a relationship, you are keeping possessions in a supporting role where they belong.

If we’re not careful, we’ll lose ourselves in the midst of our possessions.

We live in a world of abundance. Acquiring things has become so easy and second-nature. If we’re not careful, we’ll lose ourselves in the midst of our possessions. Don’t wait until the end of your life to discover you’ve been spending it on unimportant stuff. Prize experiences over purchases and your key relationships will thrive.

Assess yourself: What are some of your most treasured memories? What can you do to create more memories like those?

Stephan and David are wanting us to become “trapologists” — people who study the traps we are likely to fall into during our lives. Not only will it help your career, it will help your life.

Learning about these traps means you can build a solid marriage. You won’t be paying interest for the rest of your life. You’ll be focused in your work, ready to learn from your mistakes and make needed changes. You’ll have what it takes to redefine your career if the time comes. And you’ll know your life is about relationships, service and contribution — not about accumulating things.

Growing our businesses is important, but it isn’t really the end game, is it? It’s about improving lives, including our own.

Growing our businesses is important, but it isn’t really the end game, is it? It’s about improving lives, including our own.

So be encouraged, wherever you are in your entrepreneurial journey, that you now have a map to guide you through. You know what to look for to stay out of trouble. If you want some more insight, listen to this podcast. David and Stephan cover so much more than I can give you here. I know you’ll find your way to greater and greater levels of growth, both for your company and yourself.

PORTLAND WORKSHOP: Get Marketing Tools that Work

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Executive producer: Tim Schurrer
Additional production and editing: Chad Snavely

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