There is some territory I am feeling compelled to explore these days with my readers, clients, students, and colleagues. I want to talk about the true to life business.
Those of you who, like myself, are small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, and self-employed people have a particular dilemma. We are constantly seeking the sweet spot — the place where this enterprise we are running falls into alignment with our strengths, interests, values, and higher purpose — while still earning us a decent living. I spent some time searching for just the right phrase to express my take on the kind of business I believe so many of us are seeking. I’ve settled on “true to life.”
What we want and need is a business that fits into our lives, not jamming it in with a shoehorn, but with some room left to move and grow. Our business must be true to who we are in the world and how we wish to live. It must be of a realistic design, not just pie in the sky, taking into consideration the conditions within which we exist, our needs, and our desires. And it goes beyond being true to ourselves; it trues up to a higher purpose for our lives and the lives we care about.
Running a true to life business is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Yes, it requires careful design at the outset, but then it needs monitoring and nurturing. Businesses so easily go astray. We are seduced by possibilities of income and exposure. We are misled by rascals and well-meaning people. Our egos pull us in directions our hearts wouldn’t choose. We make mistakes.
So let’s have a conversation about these topics, my friends. We all need companionship on this challenging road. Let us see what we can learn together about keeping our businesses true to life.
brilliant, and thank you for the way that for the 20 years I have known you, you keep stepping in and stepping up to help us develop businesses and lives that serve our clients, our purpose and our lives.
Thank you, Breeze! I know you are one of the dedicated entrepreneurs on this same quest.
Hi, C.J. You once said to me that my description of what I wanted in a business sounded more to you like a community. I agree with your diagnosis! I believe, too, that we were talking then about what you explore in this post. I’m very excited to hear what you and your larger circles have to say about this.
For me, finding the sweet spot depends on putting community at the center. I should define “community” for the sake of the discussion; I have a quirky construct. (Perhaps I should find my own term for this.) By “community,” I mean a group of people who voluntarily form a group because participating in that group advances their individuality (and who bond with the group as an entity as a result, not a cause, of the goal-directed efforts).
I learned relatively early that leading with my interests is a hopeless strategy: I have way, way, way too many of them ever to narrow the focus to a manageable level. Leading with strengths brought me to a lot of situations where I was appreciated by others but just didn’t care; I felt like my work had nothing to do with me. I was surprised to find that the same is true of working on “causes.” I can care about a cause and still feel empty working on it.
Only one thing has worked: pursuing something, finding a group of people whose own pursuits aligned, joining together – either outside of a formal institution or despite the institution where we found ourselves – to meet everyone’s needs.
It is then that people’s strengths find a venue! Self interest and respect for individuality meet. Example: if it is in someone’s self interest to learn what another community member has to teach, that person is not going to violate that self interest because the “right” credential is absent. Yet that kind of waste of talent happens all the time in institutional settings.
You’ve really got me thinking with this – this is enough right here for now!
Barbara, I can completely relate to the difficulty of trying to use your interests as a guide to forming the shape of your business (or career). I, too, have far too many interests for this factor — used alone — to help me much. I think the same is true for many entrepreneurs. Where getting clear about your interests can help in this situation, I think, is in DISqualifying certain endeavors. For example, I have a background in IT (among other things), and it has many times occurred to me that I should pursue certain IT-related business opportunities. They would use my strengths, produce a good income, honor many of my values, etc. But then I have to remind myself that this work wouldn’t interest me! You would think I would remember that, but no, I have to remind myself of it all the time.
I agree that focusing on strengths alone, too, can be misleading. I am good at programming computers, a skill that other people value. But I don’t care about that, just as you said.
Your description of what has worked for you — bonding with a group of people who are each pursuing something, and whose pursuits align with yours, is a factor I would put in the “values” category. You have a high value on “community” (for lack of a better word). When community is absent, nothing works. When community is present, things work that otherwise would not. I could say the same for myself about “creativity.” It’s gotta be in the mix, or nothing will be right, and when it is part of the picture, even difficult situations get better.
Values are sooo individual! What you mean by “community” and what I mean by “creativity” are not necessarily the same as what others mean by those terms. One has to grok one’s own values in order to make use of them. One approach to naming values that I learned at CTI is to attach words and phrases to them that personalize them. For example, one of mine is “persistence/commitment/resolve/determination/survival/whatever it takes.” In recalling to myself that piece of my character, I refer to it as the whatever-it-takes value. And I do have to recall it to myself. It’s so easy to be lured away from your values in the business world.
I could go on, but as you said, enough right here for now! Thanks for being part of this conversation.