Sovereign Standard, Issue 15 Every Thursday afternoon, I found myself at my kitchen island, trying not to get peanut butter and Nutella on my laptop. Mindlessly, I’d swallow spoonfuls of creamy fat as I massaged my weekly newsletter and blog post into a form I deem worthy of the creative entrepreneur.
By the time my daughter woke up from her nap in her carseat (I was writing and snacking with half an ear for the thin wail that would come through the propped door to the garage), I would have the post 85% written.
I would also feel 105% awful based on the crap in my stomach. Everything was curdled by the fear that I had wasted another perfectly good naptime on a piece of writing that was derivative or fraudulent. Though I still trust the quality and usefulness of what I produced, something was “off,” but I didn't dare name what it was.
(Yes, I was being hard on myself and yes, I would be incensed if any of my dear readers with their own business writing goals treated themselves so poorly.)
But I pushed on through indigestion and negativity and managed to click send on that email so it reached the Sovereign Standard audience by 11:35 AM ET on Friday.
I did this fourteen times. (Ok, so I published fourteen newsletters… my jeans still fit, so some weeks I must’ve satisfied myself with a cup of tea while I typed.)
I am pretty darn sure I am not going to do it anymore.
Why Entrepreneurship Is the Wrong Shaped Container
It’s spring. Our food, even if it’s imported from way too far away, seems to have a new vibrancy to it.
I want to be eating out of wide salad bowls. It’s time to start drinking from one of those smoothie cups that fall out of the cabinet every damn time I open it. I’m sick of sneaking into the pantry and stretching to reach the jar of goo that I stash behind the tarnished champagne bucket.
Yes, I’m done with palm oil and I am done with contorting myself into the shape of an entrepreneur just because it’s what I declared I would do when I quit my job five years ago.
Here’s the quick history of my entrepreneurship:
When I returned to work after my first daughter’s birth, I knew I had to get out of the windowless office where I spent my 9 - 5. Seven months later, my mom died of a totally unexpected heart attack. I gave my notice and declared I was starting my own business.
Five years on and now a mama to two, I am still straining to find the joy as a mother, a lover, a creative, AND the president Marisa Goudy Inc. (What is that, even?)
“An Entrepreneur Can Sell Anything” (Oh, Crap!)
This discomfort with “I’m an entrepreneur” has been around since the moment I took up the title, but it finally crystallized thanks to a conversation I had with Molly Morrissey, Traditional Astrologer and Vision Consultant.
As she put it, there are some people who are able to sell anything.
They’re not necessary unethical. They’re just able to see a need in the marketplace and craft the exact solution to make those people happy to pay them. (She mentioned something about a guy who sharpens pencils for a living.)
Molly inspired me to reconnect to what I already knew about myself:
I am a writer first. And a salesperson… never. At least not in a way that made me feel nourished and content.
Even as I’ve celebrated and explored creative entrepreneurship on this blog and with my clients, I’ve been haunted by my own late night kitchen breakdowns about never being enough. Most of the time, it has been impossible to be the mother, lover, and creative I wanted to be… not when my belly was full of leaden entrepreneurial dreams.
There’s so much about life that is bloody perfect, and for that I am grateful, but I just can’t keep relying on a sugar high to fuel my professional body of work.
- I’m intensely grateful that the silver lining to the worst event in my life was leaving a job I hated
- I’m intensely crazy to think that I need to stick with a decision that was made in the midst of soul shattering grief
I think entrepreneurs are the awesome engines of our economy and I love ‘em. There so much I get about them. I still want to support them and work with them.
I'm just not so sure I'm supposed to be one.
Entrepreneur Versus Freelancer (Eek, does it have to be so divisive?)
Somebody once told me that it’d take as much effort to build a $50K hours-for-money business as it would to build a $500K+ firm. Armed with that “wisdom” (though really, let’s call it BS), as an overachiever who’d declared her destiny, I was obligated to create something bigger than myself.
After five years, I finally know that I have been feeding myself from the wrong source. And I am bound to starve eventually.
Not only is entrepreneurship about building something bigger than yourself, it’s about devising ways to make money while you sleep, building something investable and scaleable and sellable, and supporting a staff.
I’m able to pull that definition straight from memory, but a good writer researches (or starts Googling stuff she already knows as an act of procrastination) and I found this seven year old blog post from Seth Godin:
The goal of a freelancer is to have a steady job with no boss, to do great work, to gradually increase demand so that the hourly wage goes up and the quality of gigs goes up too.
The goal of the entrepreneur is to sell out for a lot of money, or to build a long-term profit machine that is steady, stable and not particularly risky to run.
In my heart, all I was ever aiming for was that life of a freelancer… I wanted freedom, steadiness, greatness, and quality. “Selling out for a lot of money” sounds nice... for other people.
The Courage to “Just” Be Free to Work in the Sweet Spot
There are a million people who’ve left the soul crushing job, whether it’s rat race corporate or ho-hum non-profit, to chase that entrepreneurial dream. What’s true for me - and for you? - is that the entrepreneurial container can be just as cruelly and impractically shaped as the salaried shlep.
Another part of that powerful conversation with Molly (she does this stuff for a living by the way, so do check her out) was to sit with my assertion:
“If I stopped doing my business as it is right now, I would be a failure.”
Molly handled my feelings around this with such mastery, it was abundantly clear that I’m not the only who believes something so damaging - and so stupid.
For me, to change course after five years would be a declaration of defeat… and failure. I had planted the pole of entrepreneurship and claimed my little patch of land, dammit. Who cares if it offered a meager harvest and the only greens that sprang up came from the poison envy plant?
I threw myself into the fire of entrepreneurship so many times that I stopped feeling the burns. I convinced myself that I was a phoenix rather than a woman who had been charred to a crisp by a work life I didn’t want.
Rejecting “Entrepreneur” Isn’t Just Semantics
I have been misusing the “e” word, even though, deep down, I knew better.
Shame on me as a writer for being imprecise, but I think there’s a collective fog around the term.
“Mom entrepreneur,” for example. Surely that ubiquitous phrase contributes to the confusion since many in that club are freelancers or multi-level marketers or crafters selling their own wares.
Like so many, I started to throw that word around as if it just meant “earning a living & being your own boss” rather than “building an enterprise that can be scaled and sold.”
Everything felt true as I wrote it - I still stand by pieces like this one and this one. Apparently, as I talked about "entrepreneurship" I was thinking about the adventure of creating one’s own livelihood, not about the reality of venture capital.
But this is what I know to be true, and it goes beyond word choice:
When every day you spend as an entrepreneur is measured against some dream of growing beyond yourself when all you really want to do is be who you are, you’re poisoning yourself.
When you buy into that grand entrepreneurial mission and realize that it takes too much and still doesn’t feed your passions (or your family) but still push on anyway you are setting yourself up for failure.
Blah, Blah, Blah Personal Epiphany… Now What?
I am writing this post to explore this new self-knowledge. I am publishing it because I can’t seem to sit on this revelation because everything suddenly looks so different.
And I’m sharing it because I don't think I’m alone in this.
Right now, I am full of more questions than answers and more possibilities than anything else as I consider trading the “e” word for the “f” word.
No, Really, If Not Entrepreneurship, Then What?
If freelancing soothes the soul and fills the piggy bank (if not the corporate coffers), bring it on. I’m seeking “enough” right now. I’m seeking a way to bring in an income and exert my creativity.
Thing is, it may be time for me to stop trying so hard to tangle up the two. "Creative Entrepreneurship" sounds like such a delicious combination, but in practice, it's a dodgy mash up.
Freelancing. Finding a work-from-home J-O-B. Some other way to use my writing to pay the bills that I can’t even dare imagine yet... I’m staying open.
If I can take the money stress out of each day and if I can stop trying to leverage my creative output into something bigger than myself... that seems like how I need to nourish myself right now.
This Thursday afternoon I went straight for my emergency stash of kombucha. I knew I deserved the life enhancing nectar of that tea, something that resonated with hope and promise of self care - not nasty comfort calories.
Tell me I'm not alone in this.
I want to know if you’ve been starving parts of yourself thanks to the seductive soul crush of entrepreneurship - and whether it has been pushing you to your own unhealthy coping mechanisms, like Nutella on a spoon.
Is it time for you to feed yourself and the people you love from a just-the-right-sized container? I want to hear your stories… I think many bellies are rumbling with this truth. Is yours?