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International Travel Can Help All Entrepreneurs

If you haven’t taken to the skies and traveled internationally, let 2017 be your year for exploration of different cultures, languages, customs.

International Travel for Newbies

Currently, there are over 324 million Americans and the National Travel & Tourism Office reports that U.S. travel to overseas markets in 2015 totaled 32.8 million, or just over 10 percent of the population. With numbers like that, it would certainly be appropriate to ask ourselves whether or not we're living in a bubble.

If you’re a part of the 90 percent that didn’t travel internationally in 2016, ask yourself, why not? As I have asked people why they have not traveled, I've found that one of the obstacles to international travel seems to be the lack of a passport when a perfect opportunity presents itself.

So, get your passport and start planning. But know that you don’t have to become a globetrotter overnight. You can easily immerse yourself in culture and diversity without having to travel too far from home. Cultural and business norms, cuisine and language all take wonderful turns in our own country, if you will watch for festivals and other cultural opportunities. Also, great delights await once you cross our northern border into Canada or our southern border in Mexico.

International travel, even when it’s close to home, forces you into the unknown, away from the many of the comforts we take for granted - language, food, clothing, religion, and familial customs to name a few. Successful entrepreneurs thrive under pressure and excel while outside of their comfort zone. More than a few seek this discomfort for the thrill of the unknown and the way it expands their horizons.

Here are three ways that living and traveling internationally can change your understanding of yourself, your life and your business. All entrepreneurs want this education. 

Doing More With Less

When traveling for long periods of time, you have to pack light and work with the bare essentials, buying certain items when you arrive at your destination. Living out of a few pieces of luggage requires learning to make do with what you have on hand. Many times, something you need isn’t readily available like it always is at home. Picking up too many items along the way to make up for this can easily become a burden, resulting in hefty overage fees, and a collection of too much junk at home.

This rings true in business as well. Many new entrepreneurs lack access to all the resources they could ever want or need in their startup. When this happens to you, it is essential to continuously evaluate whether you’re maximizing the output the resources you have.

Naturally, you’ll tend to grab onto any additional resources that become available, possibly skipping the time to consider their value. Not assessing what value you are placing on which items or parts of your business can cause quite the burden, as those extra items add up and slow you down.

Take a look at all the resources at your fingertips and ask yourself, “Am I squeezing every bit of potential out of what I have access to? What assets are the most essential to me and what ones are potentially holding me back?”

A key to early success for many businesses is to review the available resources, learn to keep the ones you can manage, maximize their productivity, and leave available room to utilize new resources as your business evolves. Letting go of the excess may seem hard, but it is well worth it in the long run.

Cultural Empathy

Many people happily go about their days in a state of homogeneity. But that quickly changes once you travel abroad. Dozens of languages and incredibly diverse backgrounds are the "norm" throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Feeling like an outsider in the international melting pot for the first time can be overwhelming, but well worth the discomfort.

Growing up in a small town of fewer than 500 people made my move to the United Arab Emirates to work in hotels very uncomfortable at first. My staff was made up of individuals representing 60+ nationalities and speaking dozens of languages.

I had always fancied myself a people-person. I quickly realized that it’s easy to get along with people when you grew up together, watching the same TV shows and shopping at the same grocery stores. It’s quite different when every person you meet has almost nothing in common with you, they think you are strange (and you feel that), and no one has more than a rudimentary understanding of the English language.

This forces you to adapt quickly. You listen more than you talk, use hand signals and do whatever it takes to find effective ways to communicate. This mode of communication - levels the playing field - and is a binding between cultures, in a way you will not otherwise experience.

Three years later, I transferred to a new hotel in China where my experience was the polar opposite. The property had 1,200 staff members representing just three nationalities - 1,197 Chinese, two Germans, and myself. A white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed American in Dalian, China is about as rare as finding leftover bacon on my plate after a Sunday brunch.

Putting yourself into a situation where you’re suddenly a minority requires empathy and patience from those you are working with -- and an incredible amount of humility on your part.

Suddenly you ask yourself, "Have I always given those I meet from other cultures - empathy and patience?" You know the answer is, "no," or "I don't know," and you vow to do better.

When international travel takes you to a place where common sense isn’t so common, you’re forced to find unique ways to communicate and achieve your goals. The same applies to being an entrepreneur. When building your business, you will inevitably find yourself in situations that are foreign (pun intended) to you. Acknowledging and learning from the approach different cultures bring to personal and business endeavors is a valuable experience.

As many parts of the globe continue to become more diverse, increased empathy and emotional intelligence -- and an affinity for new languages and cultures -- are quickly becoming a requirement for continued success.

Changing Your Definition Of Success

Many consider themselves successful once they’ve padded their bank accounts and accumulated expensive material possessions.

Outside of the U.S., the way success is defined is incredibly varied. The Maasai people of East Africa see lion hunting as a sign of bravery and personal achievement, while Buddhists from India say that it is better to travel well than to arrive.

It’s easy to come up with some cliché definition that fits on one of those motivational posters, but the real definition is more about your mindset than your office decor. Ultimately, success is defined by each of us individually.

Your success in business doesn't have to define your success in life. A 9-5 job doesn’t have to be the norm. Millennials, in particular, have embraced this thought process as they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy.

France has even gone so far as to ban email correspondence outside of work hours. Traveling or working abroad allows you to experience and appreciate how distinct cultures and people define and celebrate success and more importantly, how they react to failure.

The reality is that the possibility of failure is ever present. You can’t allow the fear of failure to hold you back. It is one of the top reasons that many businesses don’t succeed.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” -Henry Ford.

Never dwell on the past or spend too much time planning the future. Concentrate on the present and stop comparing yourself to others.

It may be "mind expanding" to accept that failure is not an option but a certainty, and never let it define you or your success.

“...I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”, said Charles Swindoll.

Success cannot be defined by the amount of money you’ll have in your retirement account at 65 unless you let it. As your money grows, so too will the demands for it.

Mo Money - Mo Problems, right?

If you’re looking at entrepreneurship as your ticket to easy money and a lifestyle of flashy cars and photos of the cash you see on Instagram, think again. A tornado of skill, ability, passion, hustle, perseverance, and a lot of luck go into developing a successful business long-term.

Define your own success starting today.

Bringing It All Together

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Treat failure as a stepping stone to your next achievement instead of a step backward. It won’t be easy, but treating yourself as a work in progress is the only way to grow. It’s easy to lose track of it all during the daily grind. But what you’ll find is that coming back to these lessons will make you a better entrepreneur and a better person.

Hustle harder and go get a passport.