We’ve all heard the expression “You are not your job.” It usually makes its way into conversation when we’ve had a stressful day, received criticism, or are just plain tired and afraid our work is consuming us. We feel it’s important to separate ourselves from the work, to remind ourselves that we are not it, and it is not us.
But what if it is?
What if the work is us? What if it’s a business, a book, a piece of art, or a product, that’s completely born out of our hearts and minds? The blood, sweat and tears you shed are a personal reflection of what’s inside of you, not something you can easily separate yourself from on evenings and weekends.
I felt this when I started my business. Since I deliver my coaching services and presentations, write everything myself, and am technically a solopreneur, anything that happened to my business – acceptance, rejection, abundance, scarcity, victory, defeat – happened to me.
In time, I was able to work through that and develop a healthy sense of space between me and my business. It’s been critical for me to remember that my business is about the message of “introvert pride of ownership,” not about me personally. As more people are involved in that message, whether they are clients, colleagues, social media communities, blog readers, or podcast listeners, it becomes less about me and more about the collective.
That said, the challenge of separation between self and business still pops up. Nowhere else has this been more true than around the upcoming publication of my book, “The Introvert Entrepreneur.” It took me a while to sift through the conflicting feelings that vacillated between humbling vulnerability and cautious pride. Then I realized the core conflict:
The book is me. The book is not me.
How to reconcile those two true but seemingly incompatible statements?
In true introvert fashion, I turned those thoughts around in my head for weeks. And I realized that the conflict isn’t only true for me, or for my book. It’s true if you have a business, create music, art or dance, act, or have a child. I’m not a parent, but I can imagine there being a sensation that “The child is me. The child is not me.” You share blood, but you don’t share a body.
Most of my New Year’s Eves for the last seven years have included a visit to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, spending time walking the labyrinth. Walking and meditating and being in silent communion with others always clears my mind. This year I brought a journal along to capture any a-ha! moments. And the moment came as I wrote out my intentions and old burdens to release to the burning bowl.
There really is no conflict.
The book is me. And, the book is not me.
It contains my blood, but it’s not my body. It’s a separate entity that will have a life of its own. The ideas in the book came through me, not from me. Every word was pulled from somewhere: from clients, colleagues, friends, mentors, coaches. The book doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to you and anyone else reading it. It’s part of my identity, but it’s not my identity.
In the end, we’re inviting people to look not at us, but at our message. They own their response to it. Their response is part of their journey, reflecting something about them and their needs in that moment. It’s not about me or you or what we’ve said or done.
It’s liberating to realize that we don’t own (nor do we have any control over) others’ reactions. That liberation allows us to be proud of what we’ve produced without being attached to how people will respond to it.
Here’s how I invite you to see it in your own life: there’s a phrase in fishing, “catch and release.” I’ve always thought the concept had an application to entrepreneurship – and life – but wasn’t clear on how the dots connected until New Year’s Eve. Here’s where I landed: We can gently catch what comes to us and through us, and then we can release it out into the world to let it do its thing. We can receive the ideas, the inspiration, the words, the praise, the criticism, and once we’ve gotten what we need or want from it, we can release it all back to its source.
Doesn’t that feel lighter? More spacious? More forgiving?
It sounds good in theory, but how will it feel in practice? Challenging, I’m sure. In fact, I can almost promise that a healthy “catch and release” approach will take work. But in the end, it’s worth the effort. Each time you successfully release, you’ll move closer to what author Elizabeth Gilbert calls “going home.” You’ll return to your heart home, that place where you are driven to create and share and create some more. Your introvert tendency to internalize everything will develop healthy boundaries. You’ll be able to experience more distinction between yourself and your creation.
The end result is why many of us are entrepreneurs to begin with: Freedom.
(What a reminder of “Catch and Release”? Here’s a graphic to download and print/post/share!)
Prefer to listen to this post? Here’s the audio version: