05/03/2013 01:06 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2013

Not Becoming an Oldies Act


"Retirement don't fit in my plan
You can keep your seat, I'm a gonna stand
An Eskimo needs a Frigidaire
Like I need your rockin' chair"

-George Jones

The "strategic coach" for entrepreneurs Dan Sullivan uses the expressions "past-based self" and "future-based self."

A past-based self person is like the characters in the Bruce Springsteen song "Glory Days." They keep talking about the old times instead of today.

Sullivan wants people to focus on the "future-based self" and where they are going to be three or five years from now.

The best way to focus on the "future-based self" is to do those things that improve on the skills and capabilities you have.

That can be hard when you are at the bottom. It can be harder when you are at the top.

I racked up a ton of advanced education degrees and professional designations at a young age. It took me to the top of my profession.

Then I stopped. I was still successful, but something kept bothering me and bothering me. Finally, a friend pointed it out.

I wasn't as confident as I used to be. I've never lacked for self-appreciation of my intellectual abilities, but suddenly that edge was gone.

Then another friend pointed it out. Like Rocky in the Rocky III movie, I had lost the "eye of the tiger."

I wasn't operating at that absolute cutting edge. I was doing well, but not driven to stay on that edge.

I finally realized that the quest for continuous self-improvement and staying on the cutting edge was the fuel for my confidence.

As long as I am focused intensely on my craft, I am going to have the confidence that comes from being well-prepared. That means hitting the books and racking up some more advanced education.

Continuing to educate is a simple lesson, but one that is easy to forget.

If you study the history of any successful person, you are going to see a point where they get to the top of the mountain and decide to go in a different direction. Does anyone remember when Michael Jordan quit playing basketball at the height of his incredible career and tried to make it as a minor league baseball player?

You see businesses do it all the time. Things like "the new Coke" or the "improvements" to Netflix. Someone gets to the top of the mountain and decides to go in a different direction.

If you've been successful, it's easy to want to keep doing the things that work for you.

They have a saying for that in rock and roll music: an oldies act.

I once read a quote by Steven Jobs that Bob Dylan was a hero of his. In the early part of his career, Dylan was focused on challenging conventional wisdom. He threw away his folk guitar, went electric and was booed off the stage at the Newport Folk Festival.

However, the move to rock and roll added decades to his career. Dylan was not afraid to keep improving and going into new directions.

He was also not afraid to fail.

Jobs was the same way. He is a remarkable story of someone who was thrown out of the company he founded and came back to make an incredible impact on how we communicate and think. Apple is now one of the most successful companies in the world and trying to keep away of the learning curve.

It's more than not being afraid. It's the confidence to follow your gut instincts and vision, no matter what is the prevailing or conventional wisdom.

That wisdom comes from an absolute dedication to studying your craft.

The kind that I am going to be doing today, tomorrow and from now on.

Don McNay is a settlement and mediation consultant based in Richmond Kentucky and New Orleans