Five years ago I started a business overnight.
In the middle of a tumultuous winter — and with zero entrepreneurial training — the journey began with hitting send on a single email and taking a big leap in the dark.
I am a creative, non-linear thinker. I have two trusty degrees in theatre. I am a child of artists. Building a business was NOT in my DNA nor part of my original plan, but it has been one of the wildest rides and opportunities of my life so far.
In honor of this anniversary, I’m sharing 15 nonconventional mindsets, moves, and tools that have helped me stay in the game these past five years.
Hearing others’ honest experiences — especially from those not always following the traditional advice — has been more beneficial to me than anything else, so here are some of the ideas and tools that have helped me, in hopes that they spark something for you…
1. Trust the unbearable angst
Sometimes our soul speaks to us in angst. (Especially if we are ignoring its other messages).
While our first impulse might be to run in the other direction, I’ve noticed that periods of expansive growth and opportunity for both me and my clients tend to come as a result of moving toward the angst and becoming curious about it.
Helpful tools include therapy (particularly Internal Family Systems), daily movement, rigorous coaching, and tracking and communicating with my emotions using a Jungian tool called Active Imagination.
2. Say prayers. Do magic. Trust nature and the stars.*
Prayer, astrology (I love the Chani app) the wisdom of the body, the natural world (Adrienne Maree Brown teaches us about this) and magic are extraordinary catalysts and compasses on our professional paths.
Of course, critical thinking and traditional problem-solving approaches can be useful, but as the journey of motherhood continues to crack open my feminine core, I imagine I’ll be trusting and using these practices considerably more in the years to come.
*I once would have called this trusting the woo, but I have since learned from author/teacher Sebene Selassie that the term ‘woo-woo’ can minimize the deep, extraordinary value of non-Western spiritual traditions, and is a form of white-washing that masks a colonized mindset.
3. Greenlight It
Being discovered is a lie from an outdated era of work culture that keeps our creative visions and works stuck in our throats and trapped in our computers. When we make the decision to get out of the waiting room, we become the ones who get to decide when and how we get to do the work that makes us come alive. We are the ones we have been waiting for, and we can greenlight ourselves and our projects. It’s radical.
4. Everything is a project
Even businesses, full time-jobs, and life chapters. Titles are how people connect with us, not our identities. Goals are containers for our becoming. None of them define us; all of them are projects to explore our greatest curiosities and reasons for being. You were born to give gifts that are entirely unique to you. Projects help you give them.
5. Don’t sacrifice your body on the altar of the work
It’s 2021. Did you know we are no longer doing this????
6. Tracking empowers creativity (and self-compassion)
I used to think that tracking cramped my creativity and took the fun out of work, but over time I’ve learned that referring to data (instead of my feelings) for certain business decisions actually helps me focus on the facts instead of whatever story I’ve made up in my head. It’s liberating (and necessary for growing a team).
Things I track on a weekly or monthly basis include: minutes spent doing creative work, exercise, speaking and new client inquiries, revenue, creative ideas, activist actions, money donated to philanthropy, net worth, and new followers/subscribers. I use custom journal app to plan my days and the Profit First system to manage cashflow (which has been invaluable).
I have learned to love spreadsheets when other people make them for me 🙂
7. Create Sacred Structure
I will be saying this until I die: carving out non-negotiable time for focused work is essential to making creative work we are proud of.
It can be very hard when we have families that need us, an internet that is eating us alive, and a culture that teaches many of us that our most important job is to respond, not create — which is why perceived creative blocks like imposter syndrome and procrastination are actually symptoms of the culture and do not belong to us as individuals.
Studying hundreds of creators to determine what creates the conditions for our most alive creative work, I have observed that the stronger our Sacred Structure, the less we experience the debilitating inner voice of judgment and criticism (we all have one. I call mine The Tiny Terrorist).
And slowly, bird by bird, we make our work. Even if we steal it in between nap times. Even if it’s only five minutes a day.
My Sacred Structure right now includes 15 minutes of writing and moving daily, following the rule of 3, and one meeting-free week a month.
I’m working on implementing a daily check-out which, if I can pull it off, might be a game-changer.
8. Treat every job like it is the MET
A lesson learned from my Dad, an opera stage director, who approached his career with the philosophy of treating every job — no matter its size or stature— like he was directing at The Metropolitan Opera House.
It’s especially helpful in periods of transition. When you don’t know what’s next, or when you are shifting an aspect of your work, returning to your current project can feel confusing or even stifling. But remembering that my job is to show up with excellence regardless of the context or content gives me a clear place to focus when everything else feels uncertain.
9. You can do the opposite of what everyone tells you to do
Advice often given to new entrepreneurs: Outsource everything! Clone yourself! Find your WHY! Niche down!
I didn’t follow most of this advice, especially at the beginning. When I did follow it, I failed pretty miserably. In many cases, I did the opposite.
Sometimes the fastest way isn’t the best way, especially if it is at the expense of your authenticity or intuition.
10. We are both/and
Though we may not use all of our skillsets every day (or even every season or every year if we are very multi-faceted), I’ve learned that if I don’t let myself be all of who I am in the places that I show up, I feel like I am dying a long lugubrious death.
We can be the artist and the entrepreneur. The visionary and the builder. A mom and a CEO. A conscious business owner and an activist. Break the box and embrace our multitudes — this is the new way.
11. Prepare for loneliness. Persist in finding the right community.
I used to think I was a failure because I felt lonely, but then I realized it’s an essential ingredient of my creative process. Also true: evolution happens in community. We need each other. Finding colleagues and collaborators who can offer encouragement and critical feedback is invaluable (it took me several years), but I have also come to love and embrace that loneliness is part of the job, and that doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.
12. I am not my business
Especially in the incubation stages, and especially in the digital age, it can feel like there is little separation between ourselves and our creations. Many of us become overly identified or blended with what we are making. When we are engaged in high visibility activities, or taking risks, it can help to remember that our business (or book, or film or nonprofit) is a project we have created, and separate from us as people. #boundariesarebeautiful
13. Make what you wish existed
Everything I’ve made these last five years has come out of me wanting something that I couldn’t find anywhere. I wanted a simple creativity practice, entrepreneurship training for creative undergrads, a network that brought together women’s art, entrepreneurship, and activism, a single coaching session that could allow us to work both strategically and transformationally, and I couldn’t find them — so I made them.
Market research and ideal client avatars aren’t the only ways to determine where to focus your energy. If you are feeling the tug of an unmet desire inside of you, most likely there is at least one (and usually others) who feel the same.
14. Businesses can be forces for good
Though practices are changing for the better, many of the available business trainings and philosophies I’ve experienced are rooted in a white supremacist, colonialist, patriarchal mindset. But I’ve learned from leaders like Desiree Adaway, Kelly Diels, SURJ, and Jennifer Armburst’s Proposals for the Feminine Economy that businesses can be spaces for healing and forces for good if we are willing to rigorously examine and reimagine everything — from our leadership practices to our pricing, to how we engage on social media — and are powerful incubators for building the new world we are dreaming about.
15. Try to do one brave thing a day
In the center of my heart lives a shy, introverted, fearful, hermit soul. The only way I can get this sensitive bunny to take action is by recognizing that sometimes the smallest of tasks — writing an email, going live on Instagram, hitting publish — require bravery. And what’s brave for me might not be what’s brave for someone else, and that’s okay.
The first five years have also included meltdowns, dramatic moments of near-quitting, too many late-nights and laptops on vacation to count, endless team meetings with my door, window, and whatever houseplants will listen, and several medium-sized failures.
I’m working behind the scenes on some new projects right now (while acclimating to our life in Australia!) but making this list reminded me that my intention is the same as it was when I started — to inspire us to do work that brings us alive, and to build a more just and human world through our creativity.
What about you? Do you run a business? Or are you thinking of starting one?
Running a small business is hard. Particularly in the times of right now.
In case no one else has said this to any of you leading a business, organization, or your own enterprise recently — you are mighty. And brave.
Whether you opened that email five years ago, or you are here for the first time today, I’m endlessly grateful that you’ve been along for the ride so far.
Here’s to the next five.
Image by Georgie Cobbs