Note: This post is a blogcast, meaning it’s a solo podcast (Episode 140, to be exact) with the full transcript – edited for clarity, minus anything ad libbed – posted here. So it’s a hybrid blog post and podcast… a blogcast! The audio is slightly different, so if you listen and read, you’ll get the full effect.)
I started The Introvert Entrepreneur back in 2010 with two intentions:
- to spread a message of “introvert pride of ownership”: we aren’t broken, we’re not weak, and we have inherent strengths to tap into and inherent challenges to address in our own style.
- we can be who we are and be successful as business owners, even in the face of the extrovert expectations that can make us feel as if we can’t be successful. My book subtitle sums it up perfectly: this is a space for introverts to amplify their strengths and create success on their own terms.
My book also focuses on outlining how that’s possible: how we can network without totally depleting ourselves, how we can sell without feeling icky, how we can partner with others in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise who we are. There’s a chapter on business expansion, but it’s focused mostly on how to tell when it’s time to grow, how to thoughtfully add people to your venture, and how not to lose sight of what’s most important.
One thing I didn’t dive into that I wish I had was this idea of growth for growth’s sake… that we can so easily compare ourselves to others and think that we’re not growing fast or big enough. We can feel like we’re being left behind when we see social media posts, newsletters, and books all giving us easy steps to 6 figures, or how to get more customers than we can handle, or how to automate everything so we can go sit on a beach somewhere and sip margaritas.
What if we want to be successful, but we don’t want all of THAT!?
It’s a conversation I had this morning with a new acquaintance, and again in today’s final meeting of the fall Virtual Book Group, and one I’ve had with multiple clients over the years… and I’ve had it a lot with myself. It’s about growth and empire building and finding your own sweet spot. It comes back to something I did talk about in the book, and that’s defining success for yourself.
I’ve felt this resistance to empire builders as long as I can remember, including when I worked in the nonprofit sector. It didn’t matter if was someone who wanted influence over multiple departments that seemed outside their authority, or who felt they had to gobble up every conceivable opportunity and have a piece of every available pie. I felt repelled by their actions and didn’t really want to be close to them. Their motives always felt a little less than altruistic.
How do I define empire? It’s generally a far-reaching enterprise, that often goes beyond the scope of the original mission or vision for a business or organization. It’s one that sometimes sucks the air out of the room for everyone else in the space.
It’s like they’re scooping up all of the properties on the Monopoly board – which I guess is the point, right?!
Where my buttons get pushed is when I start making up a story that if I don’t want ALL of the properties on the Monopoly board, I risk being seen by others as small, or not ambitious. And there’s no reason for me to think those things, except when I fall into comparison mode.
The story also bubbles up with I fall into assumption mode: assuming that because someone advertises how to build a six-figure business, they must be making six figures, and it must make them happy… assuming that bigger is always better… assuming that if I’m not executing every. single. idea. my brain comes up with, or everything that’s possible, I’m not living up to my full potential.
It’s that last one that gets me the most sometimes. It’s that gap between desire and capacity. I realized when I was in graduate school, in a flash of insight that was wiser than my years, that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
You might have the capacity to build an empire, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
What I find is that I and my clients who express that same tension are ambitious and smart and want to change the world. We also notice that we want a life. We want flexibility. We want freedom.
After rapid growth in the first two years, The Introvert Entrepreneur has more or less stayed the same scope and scale for the past four years. I definitely reach more people, but from a bottom-line perspective, I’ve held steady. And I’m okay with that. I believe more in sustainability and living in alignment with my values than in getting bigger and adding more zeros to my balance sheet.
Even as I say that, I realize that I’m setting things up as an either/or. Either be sustainable or add more zeros. Either be aligned or get bigger. It’s not an either/or. It has the potential to be a both/and. But finding that both/and takes time and lots of discernment. And for me, it’s going to manifest not because I set out with an intention to grow, but because I lead with the intention to be aligned, to be sustainable. I lead with my own definition of success, releasing what I see others doing and letting go of the compulsion to compare and contrast my growth and progress with theirs.
I wish I could share my definition of success with you here. Because of recent shifts in the ground under my feet, it’s also shifting and feels like a work in progress. It’s not what it was six-and-a-half years ago when I started The Introvert Entrepreneur… it’s not even the same as it was a year ago.
One reason I’m glad I don’t have an empire—that I have a hotel or two, maybe a railroad, on the Monopoly board—is that I value freedom. An empire isn’t easily changed or adapted to fit the unexpected. The past few months have brought lots of unexpected developments into my life, and I feel a fresh wind blowing through that’s going to bring change. It’s not a question of if, but when. If I had an empire, I’d feel trapped.
I’m not trying to dismiss or denigrate those who choose to build large businesses. If that’s your thing, go for it! In some ways, I envy those who feel that drive.
I’m simply acknowledging and inviting us to consider that having a small business doesn’t mean you are small. You can be small in scale and scope but mighty in reach and influence.
- It’s okay if you’re not an empire builder. Followers, subscribers, likes, and dollars aren’t the only ways to define success, nor is having lots of services or products or being in lots of different markets. I’m reminded of an image I shared on Facebook a few years ago that said, “It’s okay to be happy with a calm life.” (Note! I misstated this quote in the podcast version of this post as “It’s okay to want a normal life,” so that’s what inspired the title. Oops! My memory failed me. But I think it still works! ;-)) So I share that sentiment here and remind us all, It’s okay to want a normal business. Whatever type or size of business feels good to you is going to be good for the world.
- Take the time, right now, before you set your goals for 2017, to define success for yourself. During my new coaching client Discovery process that each person goes through before beginning our work together, I ask them to define success in multiple areas. These include clients/customers, finances/resources, time, energy, lifestyle, personal development, professional development, being of service, and other. Think through what’s most important to you, then choose to act in alignment with your definition of success as you make choices.
- And finally, remember this from Theodore Roosevelt, who said “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When you engage in constant—or even sporadic—comparison, you are robbing yourself of the joy that’s already there. Joy is not to be found where the grass is greener. As another saying goes, the grass is always greener where you water it! Focus on watering your own grass, rather than feeling envy about someone else’s patch of lawn. A business with 1,000 clients and 20 employees and a million followers and a new offering every week of the year might be exactly the right fit for someone’s business. If so, more power to them! But if you don’t choose that for your business, that doesn’t make you unambitious or average or small. You don’t have to feel shame or guilt, or worried that you’re letting fear get in the way. Just because you don’t want to do work 100 hours a week doesn’t mean you’re afraid or not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Don’t let pseudo motivational statements such as “go big or go back to bed” shame you into feeling like your hard work and commitment isn’t enough.Whenever you give your best, whatever your best is in that moment in time, is enough.
I’ll close with this quote from Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t want this episode or blog post to be dinged for offensive language! (Here’s an image that captures the original.) Cheryl wrote in a subsequent book titled Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar:
“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the heck out of it.”
A friend texted me that quote earlier this week, and I was both attracted and repelled by it. I totally get the message to live life to its fullest, to give it everything you’ve got. But then the pressure of that statement threatens to suffocate me, and makes me just want to crawl back under the covers and stay there until God decides my time on this earth is done.
Maybe the best thing I can do with my life is to live it as authentically, peacefully, and lovingly as I possibly can. Maybe it’s to live it as closely aligned with my strengths and gifts as I possibly can. Maybe it’s to love others as much as I possibly can. Maybe it’s to discover my truth and speak it as often as possible.
Now that I say all of that, there’s no maybe about it.
The best thing I can possibly do with my life, without a doubt, is to live it authentically, peacefully, and truthfully, to live it aligned with my strengths and gifts, to love others, and to discover my truth and speak it.
What’s the best thing you can possibly do with your life? Think about it, then live it.
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