I hear you: You want success on your terms … but you’re not clear on how to achieve it.
For example, you want to hit your business goals and also honor how you feel on a daily (or even hourly) basis. But from where you are today, you don’t know how to make it happen.
The question is, how do you do this? How do you go after something when you aren’t sure how to achieve it?
The answers to these questions have more depth and nuance than I can share in a single blog post, yet I’m also going to do my best to point you in the right direction right now.
But before we do that, we first need to acknowledge something important.
It’s our immense privilege that allows us to even ask this question of creating success on our terms, a question that many can’t even fathom having the opportunity to ask.
This means that on one hand, we’re wildly fortunate to even have the opportunity to create success on our terms. Yet on the other hand, it feels very frustrating to not be able to see how to achieve what we want.
We must keep in mind that the capitalist system in which we are working was designed to make us want to work harder, make more money, and see ourselves as no more than machines. It wants us to ignore our bodies, our emotions, and our souls to achieve the goal of more more more.
So we’re trying to solve a problem that, although solvable to a degree, goes against the very fabric of the society we live in.
Now I’m far from an expert on capitalist systems, but this understanding will put a bigger frame around a lot of what I’ll discuss below.
A huge thank you to Adrianne Munkacsy for talking about this with me last week when I was struggling to put words to what I felt I needed to say here.
Now, let’s get into how to both achieve our goals and honor ourselves in the process.
Step 1. Start at the beginning, then back up one (or several) steps
Both the coach and engineer in me like to make sure when I’m working with clients that we’re solving the right problem. This often means backing up one (or several) steps to get to the root of the issue.
Let’s talk through how to do that with two examples so you can apply this to your business.
Example 1: Maintaining a business revenue target without working so hard
Let’s use one of the examples someone shared with me earlier this month.
She said, “How do I keep hitting the $400-500K mark without working as much as I do, but still doing it how I love to do it.”
The first question I’d ask her would be, “Why do you want to keep hitting $400-500K?”
Let me be clear, I’m not questioning the goal. I don’t care how much money she wants to make; the dollar amount is irrelevant to me. What I care about is making sure she’s focused on the right goal for herself.
I don’t know what her answer would be, so here are three possible answers based on conversations I’ve had with others:
- If my business brings in that much, then I can pay myself $XX.
- Because I want to know that I can keep doing it.
- Continuing at this level means I have a real business.
Wherever the response, we then back that up another step.
For the first one, I’d ask her to investigate her logic. “It sounds like your actual goal is to pay yourself $XX, not to make $400-500K revenue. The problem to solve is creating the salary you want by doing the work you want, not hitting the revenue mark itself.”
Maybe she’d agree, or maybe the coaching conversation would go a different direction. The key is, we’re digging into what it is that she’s really trying to achieve and why she wants to hit that goal.
As for the second and third possible answers, my hunch would be that those are thoughts based on cultural, societal, family, or other conditioning—not her own pure desire. Depending on the person, she may see this to be true for her, or she may not.
If she can’t see this to be conditioning, then I’d ask her why she’s in business. (This question is relevant to everyone, always.)
Most of my clients would say they’re in business to make a good living doing work they love on a schedule they set for themselves. The specifics, of course, are all unique to each person, as that’s the idea behind success on your terms.
Then I’d ask her to get specific about her personal values. What are her life’s top two priorities, and how does she want her business to support those values?
A common response I get is, “I value freedom, and I want to spend time with my family. I’m the primary/sole breadwinner, so I need to make enough for our family, but beyond that, I want to spend my time doing something other than working.”
I’d then ask her to get specific about how much money she needs to make and how much time she wants to spend with her family. When she does that, she’s able to see that her primary reason for being in business has nothing to do with proving herself to herself or anyone else, and letting that belief take over her focus does not serve her or her business.
The first thing to do is to work backward to figure out why you want what you think you want and realign to what’s truest for you.
When you’re clear here, you move onto Step 2, which we’ll get to in a minute. Before that, however, let’s dive into another example on how to take steps backward to find the real problem.
Example 2: Hitting a new revenue target and still taking care of oneself
Let’s use a second example someone shared:
“How do I take care of myself AND have enough energy to post, write, design, speak, do FB lives, create landing pages, etc. I do it all by myself now.”
This person implied she hasn’t yet hit her revenue target and is still in the initial growth stage of her business.
Just like the previous example, the first place to go is inquiring about personal values. What are her life’s top two priorities, and how does she want her business to support those values?
Like with almost every business owner I speak to, they want to make a decent living without sacrificing family or health or wellbeing (or something similar).
That means, for this business owner in the growth stage (though this is also relevant to the business owner from the first example), get specific about what “taking care of myself” actually means. Get really, really specific.
When I was at the height of my struggle with Lyme disease—while also being the sole breadwinner—I needed to get very clear on what I could and couldn’t do. How much time and energy I had (and didn’t have) to work on my business and how much money I really needed to make to get by.
Deep honesty was important here, honoring both reality and my limited energy.
That’s the first step. Get clear on exactly what you need. Then move onto Step 2.
Step 2. Get the information you need to solve the real problem
Once you’re clear on your actual goals, now you get into solving the real problem. If you’d have jumped to tactics and ideas before you got clear on the real problem, you’d have been only wasting time and energy working on solving the wrong problem.
For the first example above, the business owner has a clear salary/time focus and may need strategic help restructuring her business to match her true goals.
At several points during my business journey, I’ve had to shift my business structure and model to accommodate my goals and match my values as they changed over time.
For the second example, the business owner might need some practical strategies to build her business and take effective action to reach her income goals.
Early in my business journey, I found myself working a lot of hours but making little money. I got really clear on exactly what the gap was between me and my goals. It was business and marketing knowledge. So I found a business training program to invest in.
For me, back in 2011, B-School was what closed this gap.
In both of the examples shared above, the information required to solve the real problem came only after identifying the real problem and getting crystal clear on the specifics of one’s goals.
Finally, as you get the information you need to solve the problem, you might run into something you won’t be thrilled about.
Step 3. Be open to the possibility of a null set
In math and engineering, there’s a term called a “null set.” It basically means “impossible scenario.”
It’s like me wanting to live in Oregon and also live in a place that’s sunny year-round. Just not gonna happen.
Null sets will arise as we sort through life and business and goal-setting. Sometimes what we want isn’t likely to happen. And when we reach that point, we need to acknowledge the null set and then make a new plan—which might require a compromise.
For example, my husband and I found a compromise for the “Jenny needs more sun” + “Paul and Jenny like living in Oregon” null set. For the months of January and February in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019, my husband and I rented a home in southern California to get my warm weather and sun fix during Oregon’s dreariest months.
Another example for me right now is I decided to cut my salary. As we wrapped up our final clients in Make It Work Online 2021, with some health challenges needing my time and attention, on top of a strong desire to spend more time with my son, I decided I wanted to work less and was willing to earn less to make it happen.
Would I have liked to earn more while working way less? Of course. But when faced with the reality of generating business revenue in the extremely limited hours I am willing to work, I had to make a compromise.
Here’s the thing about finding compromises to our null sets:
We can make peace with these decisions because they’re rooted in our personal values.
Can You Have It All?
Now you might not want to hear this next thing I’m going to tell you, but I’m telling you anyway because I’m far too practical and honest to not …
Yes, I believe many of us, with the privileges we have, are able to create success on our terms. And also, I believe that the “you can have it all” cultural myth is horribly damaging. It’s simply not true.
No matter who you are or what you have, you can not have it all. Especially not all at once.
I’m not saying this to be a downer but to be a reality-checker. For too long I bought into the myth that said I could have it all. I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t make it happen no matter how hard I worked or how efficient I was.
As it turns out, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but there was something deeply wrong with this messaging I had believed for so long.
Instead, I believe you can have what matters most to you.
One Final Note
Now, as you’ve digested everything above, what questions come up for you?
How does your unique situation relate to the examples above, even if the specifics are different?
What questions arise for you and your business as you think about creating success on your terms?
What questions do you have for me about this?
Comment below. Let’s have a conversation.