The 6th and final post in the “Self-Annoyed: Solopreneurship Done Write” series, where I openly battle for control over my mindset + wrestle with cultural myths about success.
A year ago, I would have labeled this experiment a failure. As per usual, I set out with grand ambitions to create a new and groundbreaking work. In one year’s time, my exploration has not led me, as I’d hoped, to a bright precipice from which I can survey those below me and laugh as I throw my stacks-on-stacks-on-stacks. I have not become an expert, a titan of industry, or a millionaire, and I am not on a first name basis with Oprah.
Still, if you look at this exercise for what it really was – an examination of how to best find your way as an entrepreneur – I maintain that it was a resounding success. And, like any experiment worth its salt, the experience left me with more questions than answers…
Which, as it turns out, is an ideal place to start. After all, the road of business-building is really just one loooong series of problem/ solution, question/ answer. The trick is to ask the right questions, the hard ones with horribly complex answers. These are the means by which you discover who you truly are, and I still believe that your degree of ability to create your dream business – the one that will bring you the most fulfillment while providing the most help to the world – depends on how well you know yourself.
Looking back on the past year, the pearls of wisdom are found not in what I have learned, but in what I have un-learned. An outsider might conclude that I progressed backward, because I am less certain of my trajectory and have no real plan for moving forward. True, all of my assumptions and guideposts for running a business have been demolished, my certainties and identity have been stripped away.
But I call that progress.
While I lack any solid idea of where I’m going or what my business will eventually look like, my confidence in the journey itself has only grown. I’m starting to believe that your path to successful business-building might just be as unique and different as you are. But that isn’t what the Internet of Everything would have us believe. Every business-building resource I’ve found is designed to get you from Point A to Point B quickly and efficiently using all the “right steps” (which are the same for everyone). Which is great for selling blanket “how to” products that make people feel safe.
Nobody likes to flounder in a seemingly endless abyss of uncertainty. It’s uncomfortable. It challenges our perceptions of ourselves as “experts” and “professionals” and “people who have our shit together,” and we think that’s what we need to be in order to achieve any level of material success.
We welcome the idea of a simplified process that makes business-building easy. We want the complex challenges of business distilled down to “5 Easy Steps” because it’s comforting, but we never stop to consider whether that really is the best plan for us (or whether we really want to go where we’re being led).
I used to think that my best chance of achieving faster success was to craft a map of the exact steps traveled by those more successful than me. But whose idea of success am I reaching for here? And what does getting there faster really accomplish, besides getting me somewhere I maybe don’t really want to be in a half-assed, burnt-out manner?
After a year of by-the-book business building, I found myself at risk of losing my initial passion for the work, more freaked out about my actual level of ability, and feeling less connected than ever to the bigger picture of my life. In a world where I’m encouraged to MAKE A PLAN, HAVE THE ANSWERS and BE THE BEST, I still felt like the only one at a complete loss about where I was going, what I was about, or what comes next.
Initially, this freaked me out and made me question everything in my entire life that led me here. But, once I stopped fighting and allowed myself to settle into the Pool of Cluelessness, I began to feel something else: an unmistakeable sense that I was finally on the right track, that everything was going to be okay. Suddenly, my soul began to speak. What it said was not anything I wanted to hear. But once I began living into these principles, my whole world began to shift. Here’s the gist of it:
Stop trying so hard.
When I started out, I was so concerned with finding a niche. I decided early on that I’d only work with THIS type of client, or only do THAT type of writing work. I limited myself before I even left the gate, because accepting gigs I wasn’t totally, completely passionate about felt like “settling.”
The problem was, I had plenty of paying work available to me; it just wasn’t the work I WANTED. At some point, I stopped fighting the flow and broadened my filter, accepting any client that valued my work and paid me on time. Were they my dream jobs? Not really. Am I settling? Yeah, maybe in some ways. But I’m paying my bills, which frees up my brain space to figure out where to go next. And we’re all settling in some area of our lives every day; whether it’s work, family, self-care, or something else, the real work is figuring out where you’re comfortable settling, and for how long.
Trust your journey.
A good friend of mine gave me a keychain with this statement on it, and apparently these three simple words harnessed all of the wisdom I needed – I just didn’t realize it at the time. As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of developing and running a freelance operation, I’ve grown increasingly aware of a rhythm outside of myself leading my journey. I call this rhythm God, but you can call it Karma, The Universe, or something else.
During times of feast and famine, I’ve always received the exact guidance I needed, exactly when I needed it. It’s buoyed my hope in a greater plan, and solidified my belief in the fact that we’re all imbued with natural talents and gifts that can give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose, if we’ll lean into them.
Which brings me to my next point…
Remember that everything is connected.
Your identity is extremely complex. You aren’t designed to find all of your inspiration, renewal and growth through any one thing. Spending all your time on nothing but business-building is probably the fastest way to kill your passion. “Balance” is a bit of a buzzword these days, but for good reason – if you imagine your life like a game of Tetris, the game is over pretty f*cking fast if you focus ALL of your stacking energies on one side of the screen.
It’s not easy (or always pretty), and sometimes it feels downright counterproductive, but looking at the full picture and keeping every part in balance actually strengthens and expands your business-building potential. Whole, balanced people build better businesses. But, once again, that balance looks different for everyone. My idea of balance involves things like not having social media apps on my phone (because I inevitably wind up comparing myself to everyone else and feeling like total sh*t), limiting my work hours every week (which also limits my income, but allows me more time with my family), and turning off my phone every night at 8pm (so I can give my partner undivided attention and remind my brain that work isn’t the most important thing in my life).
These concepts are so simple, you can start living into them today. Not sure how? You can start by not comparing your path to everyone else’s. Stop questioning whether you’re doing it right, or worrying about what others will think of your process.
By all means, seek advice from friends, colleagues and the Internet. Just take it all with a grain of salt, and learn to recognize when something that sounds right doesn’t feel right for you… even if everyone else is doing it and making money hand-over-fist.
Your journey is your own. Trust it. Create something entirely new and never-before-seen. Be the expert on YOU and your capabilities. Challenge the limits others set for you. Mark your own finish line. Ignore the peanut gallery.
You don’t have to try so hard to do something awesome. You don’t need to have the future all mapped out. If you just take each step as it comes, stay true to yourself and your values, and trust your journey, your destination is guaranteed to be amazing.
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