Being an entrepreneur is hard. Being a successful one is a long shot. The stress makes entrepreneurs feel like they’re fighting everything at once. Regulations. Red tape. Employees, vendors, and customers. Even family and friends, sometimes.

But what about themselves?

All too often, entrepreneurs become their own worst enemies, designing systems that keep them stuck without even realizing it. When that happens, it’s easy to blame the lack of progress on other people. They’re not helping. They’re the problem.

Mike Malatesta’s new book Owner Shift is the no-holds-barred, breakthrough story of Mike’s own journey through excitement, pain, grit, and mistakes—showing readers how to take back their power, evaluate their business objectively, and claim the future they want.

I recently caught up with Mike to learn more about what inspired him to write the book, his favorite idea he shares with readers, and how that idea has impacted his own journey.

Published with permission from the author.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

I knew that I had to write this book on October 5, 2003. That was the day that my partner, friend, and biggest supporter died after being terribly burned three days earlier in a fire at one of our waste processing plants. Butch was the most special man I’d ever met. Strong as an ox and smart as a whip. He spent a lot of his life farming and he’d been the force that germinated my entrepreneurial seed. His death was a huge blow.

It knocked the sails out of so many folks on our team. It broke me and pushed me over the edge and into the Valley of Uncertainty, where I languished for years before finally figuring out how to Break Through and make my future much bigger than my past. Twelve years later, from this super low point where I wanted to quit and forever feel sorry for myself, I sold the company that Butch and I had started for a remarkable amount. That’s when I realized that the ideas and stories that made it into the book needed to get out and be told. While I knew that my stories and experiences were my own, I also knew that they weren’t unique and that many entrepreneurs end up broken and in their own Uncertainty Valley at some point in their journey.

I’d seen too many of them stay there too long and lose their sense (and hope) for what they were still capable of creating. I wrote the book to change that. To give people a roadmap that they could follow (or borrow) to help them get where I believe they deserve to be.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

My favorite, actionable idea is to get selfish to get unstuck. It sounds horrible, but it’s actually necessary. Too many books, speakers, and YouTube videos tell us that the best leaders are selfless and servant. That they put everyone’s needs ahead of their own. I bought into that for a long time myself. It’s who I wanted to be – and who I wanted to be known to be as well. Until I found myself stuck in the Valley of Uncertainty. In there, I was lost, aimless, feeling sorry for myself and wondering what I’d done to get there. I wanted someone to reach down into that Valley to pull me out and tell me what to do.

It took me a long time to realize that I was in that Valley because I’d designed my world to put me there. By putting everyone else first, I had lost sight of my real role as a leader. As a result, the Valley was exactly where I belonged. To get out of the Valley, and back to doing the job I was meant to do, I had to get clear about the future that I wanted to create and own. Clear about what I was capable of making happen. That’s what I mean about getting selfish.

Once I chose to make the time I needed to know where I wanted to go and the future that I wanted to own, I knew that I’d be able to include and lead myself and my team better. With the clarity that getting selfish gave me, I could more easily be the selfless leader I always thought I wanted to be because it gave me the chance to really lead, rather than just aimlessly wander.

Published with permission from the author.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this idea in your own life? What’s it done for you?

Say yes less. In my experience, most entrepreneurial journeys have 4 stages. I call them Dream, Grind, Break and Break Through. When I was in my Dream stage as an entrepreneur, I thought that my job was to say yes to everything. Every opportunity, every job, every meeting, every everything. I still think that was my job at the beginning. The trouble was that, for far too long, I didn’t realize that all the yeses would eventually overwhelm me and lead me into the Grind stage. There, I started to resent saying yes and being responsible for everything, but I didn’t know how to stop it. The Dream was slipping away and transforming into a nightmare, a nightmare that would drop me into the Break stage before I realized what had hit me.

Nobody wants to be broken, but it took getting there for me to realize that my “always yes” approach was wrong. It may have been lazy too. Saying yes too much made me a person I didn’t want to be. I thought that saying yes made me the hero in every story and forgot that so many of those stories didn’t need me in the first place—or at all.

A byproduct of clearly knowing the future that you want to create and own is that you know much better what you need to be doing—or saying yes to—and what you don’t.