Why is it easier to see something from the outside?
No matter how great we are at what we do, we still need someone from the outside to look in and point out the bleedin’ obvious to us. Even with the best self-awareness, we cannot see ourselves and our businesses from the outside.
Every morning, when I drive home from the school run, I get to look out over a wonderful view of the Malvern Hills. Each day I think how magnificent they seem, towering over the skyline with flecks of green and grey.
On beautiful sunny days, like this morning, I think: “One day, I’m going to take the day off, stomp up that hill and then come back down, have a coffee, read my book and maybe do some writing.”
It was during lockdown that I discovered CS Lewis was so inspired by those hills that he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. The lamp post that Lucy meets Mr Tumnus is a lamp post at the foot of the hills. It’s still standing there.
But every sunny day, I continue to drive home, sit down at my desk and open my laptop. I never take a spontaneous walk up the hills on the sunniest of days. Which is a shame because working so that I can do things like that was always part of ‘the plan’.
What was your original plan?
When we’re caught up in the marketing and the selling and the delivery, we can easily lose sight of our original plan. You know, the reason you do what you do in the first place.
I rarely find that people launch their own business with the sole plan ‘to make money’. Or realistically, the people I hang out with are not those kinds of people.
Most business owners I know do it so they can spend time with their kids or have greater freedom over their lives. They do it so they can create something bigger than themselves and pass it on to the next generation.
When I worked in music, all of the bands and musicians I knew created music because they were compelled to do it. Tours would take them away from their families for months on end. Often they were holding down jobs as well. So it wasn’t for fame and fortune that they put out records. They did it because they had to.
You might not be making music or art but I’m pretty sure that if I asked you why you’re running your business right now, it would be because there’s a fire inside you that would burn if you were doing something else.
Yet, it’s so easy to forget this and lose focus on it.
Go back to that big plan.
It’s not about having a lifestyle business so you can travel the world and work from the beach. Maybe it is? That’s a great plan. Although most business owners I know have a more humble lifestyle.
Even the clients who are turning over millions are still living in their home — not a mansion with a pool. They are getting up, doing the school run, doing the work they love and taking holidays that I’d take.
So when we talk about running a business to give ourselves the lifestyle we want, it’s rarely about having that jet-set lifestyle. It’s more about spending our time with the people we love. Being able to do the things we love without having to wait for it.
Go back to that picture in your head and check in with yourself if that’s what you’re still working towards. If it’s not, now might be the time to start re-focusing on that. Future you will thank you for it.
Working to write
A few years ago, I was reading Mslexia (a women’s literary magazine), and there was a story about how people make a living from writing. One woman spoke about how she was a copywriter. She spends every morning working on her own projects, novels, short stories and the like. Then every afternoon she would do her copywriting work. This brought in the money she needed to do what she loved.
I thought that sounded brilliant.
At the time, I was freelance because my maternity pay had ended. I was living in London and my wage didn’t even begin to cover childcare so I couldn’t go back to my job. The thought of earning enough in an afternoon to spend time writing was the dream.
A few weeks ago, I looked at a photo of a friend on the top of the Malverns. They’d taken a spontaneous walk up there because it was a nice day. It was my wake up call.
I’d built that business I wanted to all those years ago on maternity. And I’d not even realised. I was so tied up in all the things I felt I had to do immediately that I forgot to look at why I was doing it.
It took seeing someone else doing what I want to do to notice that I have that lifestyle where if I want to spend a day writing my own stuff, I can. If I want to go for a spontaneous sunny walk up a hill, then why not?
For years, I’ve been in an employee mindset. Must work these hours and be available at all times. I used to feel guilty walking to the post office in the middle of the day in case someone called me and asked why I wasn’t at my desk.
How nuts is that?
I’m not an employee. I’m a business owner. I can do what I like. Sure, there is a balance. If I swanned off every day and did no work I’d soon find myself without clients. But taking some time to go for a walk or do some writing — that’s the lifestyle I’m working towards and I was so busy doing the work, I didn’t realise I’d achieved it.
The same is true for coaching and mentoring. I’m currently doing a brilliant course with Janine Coombes called Your Sizzling Hot Offer. Now, I work in marketing so why would I need a marketing coach, you ask?
I mentioned in a newsletter a few weeks ago that you will never know everything and there is always something to learn. Let’s take this a step further: there is always something new to learn about yourself.
People on the outside, like coaches and mentors, can see the things about your business that you cannot.
In this case, Janine spent an hour on the phone with me and pulled out something about my business that I couldn’t see myself. And it was bloomin’ obvious. Like neon-light-flashing-in-front-of-my-face obvious. Yet, I was too busy navel-gazing that I didn’t connect the dots.
It was a wonderful revelation and so far, her group course has been filled with even more wonderful revelations. You need someone outside to point out the obvious to you because you cannot see it yourself — no matter how self-aware you are.
We have two sides to perception. How we see ourselves and how others see us. We cannot know how others see us unless we ask them.
The fun thing about being human is that we make up lots of stories in our heads. Sometimes these stories are about what other people think of us. Often we make connections that don’t exist and believe that others think a certain thing about us.
Except, we don’t know until we ask them. That’s when we find out we’ve got something slightly wrong.
I’m telling you this because to keep your focus on your original plan, your lifestyle or the things you want from running a business that’s not about work — you need someone outside to help you see it.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to sell you coaching services. But I am going to implore you to get a friend or partner to be that outside set of eyes. If you can invest in a business coach — you should.
That outside perception of you will keep you on track.
Outside eyes on everything
When you accept that your perspective on the world is limited, you’ll start to value outside eyes on everything. I always say that in the editing process, if you have the time, get another person to read your work. Have you ever written a blog, gone back to it a year later and wondered why you’ve let it loose into the world?
I know I have.
A second set of eyes will read what you write differently. The voice in their head will be different to the voice in yours. They may even get something out of it that you didn’t intend.
And if nothing else, book yourself a day off this month to do whatever you want. Read that book, get that coffee, walk up that hill. This is why you’re running your own business, right?