In the Land of Business, are you a Settler or an Explorer?

You may not want to start on that fort until you know if you're gonna stay!

Remember those history lessons in school, when we learned about Lewis and Clark, the team of explorers who endured unimaginable trials to travel from the Eastern side of North America all the way to the Pacific Ocean? There were hundreds of settlers who followed them, but when the settlers found a fertile valley or an abundant prairie, they stopped, built a home, and found a way to wrest a living from the land. Being first would have given Lewis and Clark an incalculable advantage, but there was something about the way they defined themselves that didn’t let them stop and put down roots.

There’s two kinds of people in Business Land

Are you a settler? Do you find it comfortable to buy a franchise or a system created by a previous adventurer in your line of business? Or are you an explorer? Do you struggle with the idea of adopting pre-packaged business systems? After several decades in the Business Land, I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of people in our world – settlers, the kind who can happily plug away within the rules and networks created by other people, and explorers, the kind who simply have to find their own path no matter how much more difficult or financially challenging that might be. Though I don’t say it with either pride or shame, I can say with certainty that I fall into the latter group.

Because my life is a whole lot happier since I accepted the fact that I can’t get passionate about a path that’s already been blazed, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how to get comfortable if being an explorer is just the way God made you!

And let me get this out of the way right at the beginning of this little soapbox speech – I don’t believe that one way is inherently better than the other. I have a bunch of friends who have bought existing businesses, franchises, or business systems, and many of them are doing very well. In fact, most of them seem to have a lot more free time than I do. The thing is, I don’t really know if that’s because they’re running systems that are designed to be run in only 50 – 60 hours a week or because I’m running or helping to run seven businesses* and my average work week is about 90 hours. But, as my accountant likes to say, I have “entrepreneurial ADD.”

* Just for the record, the businesses I’m involved in are as follows: the Japanese Martial Arts Center, the Law Office of Nicklaus Suino, the South Side Business Association, SEO Ann Arbor, the Shudokan Martial Arts Association, Ivanhoe Apartments, and Master and Fool, LLC, the company that owns this blog,

Everybody explores, but not everybody’s an explorer

By the way, one way NOT to tell if you’re an explorer in the land of business rather than a settler is by how much business education you consume. The most successful business people I know, regardless of their “Biz-O-Type,” are rabid consumers of books, seminars, videos, and classes. They are constant students of the game. But the settlers, the folks who can find a program, adopt it, and make it work, seem a lot better at simply digging in and getting to work using the information they’ve found.

Those of us who are doomed to be explorers, try as we might, seem unable to accept the idea that somebody has already explored the region we’re in and mapped out the best way to get around. We simply have to explore it for ourselves. If there’s a fort built on the highest hill in area, we’ll look for another hill. If there’s a road from one valley to another, we’ll take a detour through the woods.

The thing is, most explorers I know have experienced a lot of angst about the fact that so many of the settlers are making a better living than they are and seeming to have an easier time doing so. I’ve experienced this same angst, but at 50 years old, I’ve gotten past that, and along the way I figured out a couple things about it. One is that though you CAN change who you are, it’s usually a lot better for you to live a life in accord with your true nature. The other is that, once you embrace who you are, you’ll waste a lot less energy trying to act like a settler, and that energy can be put to good use in exploration.

You might be an explorer if …

Regardless of which type you are, if you’re entrepreneurial you’ve certainly experienced the intense feelings of hopelessness and boredom when you worked as an employee. However well paid you might have been, you’ve no doubt had to practically stab yourself in the tenderloins with your breakfast fork to get yourself to go to work. I recall thinking at those times something along the lines of “this is really stupid and I just can’t get myself to do it.”

If you then quit working for others, as many of us have, you may have found some really well written business systems and tried to adopt them. Most settlers I know have successfully adopted all or part of many pre-existing systems. Besides being incredibly generous with their knowledge, they are happy to tell you “this is really smart and you should do it, too!”

But the explorer, who has not only quit working for others but has seen many of the same business systems as the settler, and often many, many more, just can’t seem to get excited about those systems long enough to put them fully into practice. Their response to some really terrific pre-existing opportunities, even when they completely understand the benefits, is something like “this is really smart and I just can’t get myself to do it.”

Hey, some of my best friends are settlers!

If you’ve had that experience several times, or many, many times, as I have, I’m here to tell you to stop agonizing about it, and recognize that you are probably hard-wired to be an explorer rather than a settler. It does NOT mean that you can’t be successful or that other people are inherently better business people than you are. What it probably does mean, however, is that you are going to have to find your own way in the world of business, so you might as well buckle down and start doing stuff. If you’re an explorer who’s not exploring, you’re acting like a settler, and the only thing you’re going to find on the road more traveled is hopelessness and boredom. You don’t have to abandon common sense, but you do need to see the possibility of new discoveries before you to keep you engaged and motivated.

And when you stop worrying about how the settlers are doing in the settlements, you can focus on your exploration. After all, if they were explorers, they’d be finding unexplored new territories instead of building ramparts around the forts in which they live. You need to keep your eyes on the horizon to see what’s ahead of you, and be able to recognize the beauty in the sunset beyond the next mountain range. And remember that sometimes being the first person to find a new valley can give you an incalculable advantage. Nobody says explorers can’t spend a little time figuring out how to help the first wave of settlers find their way to the valley. If the valley is beautiful enough, those settlers will be willing to pay handsomely for an accurate map!

About Nicklaus

Nick has studied the martial arts and philosophies of Asia for 44 years, and has used their principles to start five successful businesses, including SEO Ann Arbor. He's an attorney, entrepreneur, consultant, and author of four books on martial arts, including Budo Mind and Body, which was featured in Black Belt Magazine. He advises a wide variety of businesses and individuals on marketing, motivation, mastery, success, and kicking your ass into gear.