Leaning into the wind: Creating change that challenges the ego

In this article I explain the challenges of the past six months, and how I’ve got to the point where I’m ready to take a huge leap. One that will change my life… and has already started to.

To create any meaningful and significant change, as people we have to get out of our own way. In this miniature retrospective I’m going to give you some insight into what this has meant for me over the past weeks and months, as a person, as an entrepreneur and as a dreamer.

If you’re a regular reader here, then by now my story is old news to you. Some of the things I’ve been grappling with will be old news to you. You will have read The Entrepreneur’s Haiku, which I penned last month. You will have read about my concern about my blank mind and the re-emergence of burnout. You will have seen me reflect on being a technician, and – much earlier in the year – reflections on how to be successful you have to be able to be uncomfortable.

In reading back over these titles, the trajectory may reveal itself to you. It suggests that I’ve been facing my own difficulties; that I’ve been working in my own business flat out to try and get it to do the things it needs to do in order to get some lift. It suggests that I’ve been mired in my own little world to some extent, and dealing with my own personal issues in trying to do this.

My last seriously reflective article here was about a lightning bolt of pure inspiration. In that I talked about how I experience, albeit rarely, a compulsive inspiration that grabs me by the collarbones and won’t let me know until I write it enough to get it out.

But where did that come from? What’s going on? And what kinds of shift are going on?

Then, just three days ago, I published this tweet:

It appears I’ve reached the point in this year’s personal growth where I’ve just decided to trust whatever unfolds next. And some people have been curious about what that means. Where am I going, actually? What is going on? How have I gotten here?

The background

This year, my company turns four. In the past three years, I’ve blogged fairly consistently about that. To cut what is a very long story short, and potentially do it an injustice, this is the third business I’ve had and the first I’ve taken seriously. First, my goal was to work out what failed me previously, so that I wouldn’t repeat them. Then, my goal was to get enough money to pay a month’s rent, because my entire downside was enough to cover food and rent for four weeks. Then, to cover another month. And then, to have a consistent enough income to allow me to look up and think about what I was actually doing (and get enough business to cover the risk of losing Client #1).

Early in the piece I fell into the South Australian startup community, and gained access to ideas, thinking, people, and resources that simply hadn’t existed for me before. It got me thinking more seriously about what I wanted to achieve.

As many of us do, I set unrealistic goals that were largely wishes and dreams. But at some point in the past three years, I came to understand that it’s unlikely I’d be employed by someone else again.

Then, in the past two years – maybe less – I came to an agreement with myself to take my work seriously. That agreement was based on my glowing golden goal of being able to create a sustainable business, one that gives back to the economy, employs people who aren’t as comfortable with risk as I am, and to grow one of the next generation of stable, loved companies.

The frustrating thing for me was that I found myself growing a nice little downside, but haven’t achieved meaningful financial growth in terms of turnover. In fact, the second year of the business was, all things considered, a pretty shitful year financially. I lost a major client, fumbled and fucked around, and had to front up to my accountant to answer her disbelieving, “What happened??”

I mumbled something to her about the vision being long, and one shitty year is a blip on the horizon and I was sorting out what I was doing.

What I was doing was working out the product set, the product-market fit, trying to specialise, trying to niche-ify, and battling the age-old question: Is this worth it? Isn’t it easier just to get a job? Wouldn’t it be nice to have holiday pay?

But as I got through to acknowledge the third birthday of the business, I realised that I had it pretty good. I had an assistant for the first time ever (she sent birthday balloons, bless her heart). I realised that I was in this heart and soul. And I realised that I needed to do things differently.

In my head, that meant systems.

So I went back to the drawing board. My vision for 2017 was to create a sustainable business, one that is driven by the systems within it, and to have this in place by October. In my grandiose way, I also wanted to spend one day per month in another city, networking. I wanted to be doing more creative marketing things. I wanted to do a whole lot.

The problem was, I was looking at everything the wrong way: Back-to-front, upside-down, and through the wrong lens. All the battles I thought I had were imaginary.

I thought the challenges were financial. The challenge was actually me.

For the best part of the year, I’ve been striving to get a handle on the financials of the business. Right now, you and I are sharing an intimate space; you’re looking into my life and I’ve given you an expectation of honesty by giving you a bit of a fly-by-night insight into the last few years.

The solemn truth is, I have no idea how my company is structured. I can’t explain it to you. I have a trust, and I have a company, which is the trustee for the trust. I can’t tell you, beyond the most simplest of directions of actual cash, where the money ends up and how it gets there, and why. What I thought I had, which was a structure that would scale out to multiple businesses, was explained to me as being a glorified sole trader structure.

When I heard that, I wondered how the vision had fundamentally gotten missed by my most trusted person: My accountant. She’s an amazing accountant, it’s true, but this started to make me wonder.

The wonder started when a financial planner I had sought out asked me the question, because I’d never properly considered it before.

I went to the financial planner for a couple of reasons. One is that I desperately want income protection insurance from someone who isn’t just going to sell me something because they get a commission for it. The other is because I want to get good advice about what to do with my cash, both now and over the long-term.

After months and months of being dicked around, I was recommended to a guy. Who I was then put off after he he asked why I’d bother having a family trust if I’m not going to have kids, and seemed more intent on revealing holes in my knowledge than in helping me. Evidently my idea of ‘family’ is far larger than this dude’s idea of family, and my understanding of asset protection didn’t occur to him.

So, income protection insurance seems like the golden, imaginary goose to me. I still don’t have it; I’ve been just dicked around. And the people I talked to were just not even on the same level as me.

Granted, I’m a pretty crazy kind of thinker. But realistically, I just need my fucking income covered. I still haven’t got it so if you’re reading this and you know someone who won’t fuck around and can help, leave me a comment.

At the time, I felt that what I didn’t need was someone who doesn’t know me questioning every goddamned thing about my vision. I was pissed. And then I was grateful.

I was grateful because I hadn’t realised I couldn’t explain my setup. So now I had a mission: Work it out. So I sent what I thought was a reasonable request to my gorgeous accountant and asked for a flow chart. She responded: I don’t understand the question. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer, and her emails were single sentences, uncommunicative missives that appeared like she was trying to answer a question I hadn’t asked yet.

So when I stood back and looked at things, I felt like I was completely out of control of everything I had imagined was stable.

That’s why, in my mind, the battle was money. I felt that I needed to sort out this one little thing, and then I would understand things more completely. Then, once I had systems in place I would be in a good position to start bringing people into the business. This was at about the time that I started experiencing blank mind.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I grew some balls. I took some serious cash out of my savings, and brought in a coach for three months.

Enter, the coach

About two months ago, I negotiated my way into a coaching relationship with a coach who is on the other side of the world. I know fuck-all about him, beyond the fact that he’s a professional coach, and we clicked. People often ask who my coach is because they might know him. I sought out a coach that wasn’t local; one that was not connected to me, to my network, to my business, to my market. I wanted someone who was totally separate and could just work with me without prejudice.

In our first conversations, he helped me to see two things: The first, that I was heading straight for a nasty burn-out. The second, that I wasn’t finishing things. Then he set me some simple challenges to get back on the right path. The burn-out and all the work was directly because I wasn’t finishing things. If I finished things to 100%, the pressure would be off and I’d have space again.

So for 30 days, I set a goal to finish absolutely everything to 100%. Not just at work, but in my life. That meant everything from cleaning to doing the dishes, to all the little jobs in a day. I figured that what’s in my business is in my life and vice versa, so working on one meant also working on the other.

My coach subsequently helped me to see that, while I’m excellent at problem solving for external things, I’m not so good at doing that for myself. That I had, in fact, an almost complete blockage. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t understand it.

And then in another conversation, he said to me that what I was talking about sounded to him like I just don’t back myself. That I have dreams and don’t believe I can achieve any of them, actually. So the result is sabotage.

That stopped me in my tracks. It was like someone had turned a light on: He was completely right. It hit me so deep that a wall cracked and tears fell, and for the first time in years I was facing a truth of myself I’d tried to ignore.

That distrust of myself ran deep. It was a result of being emotionally battered over my 20s. It was a result of subconsciously listening to all of the negative bullshitters in my life. It was a result of letting other people’s attitudes about my dreams take root. I’d let them take root. I’d been pretending I was doing this great, amazing thing. And the whole time I was actually betting on failure. The net result was that I was fiddling around in things that didn’t matter; my focus was awesome, but in the small shitty things that didn’t count. But I felt like they counted. I felt like I was fighting the right battle.

What I should have been fighting was myself.

When I emerged from this daze, I chewed on a decision for four days. The decision was:

  • Do I want to keep doing this work, which I am realistically talented at doing? Or,
  • Do I let it go and change?

In chewing on the decision, I had a conversation with my beautiful husband about it. I presented it to him like, this might change how I live my life and that will impact you. He said, ‘I wouldn’t want to live a life that doesn’t change, ever. That sounds like death to me. I think you should do what you want to do. But if it was me, I’d choose the change.’

He doesn’t realise it, but somehow that was like getting permission to make significant change; one that might change how we live.

Subsequently, some amazing things happened. There is a substory that you won’t be aware of, but I’ve had my radar out looking for mentors for years. Like, four or five years. The kinds of people who can show me a bigger path, one that they’ve already trod. For an age, I’ve felt like I’m that person to other people, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I was feeling goddamned hard done by. Where are my fucking mentors? I’d whine to myself at night. Why am I giving so much of myself to every person and getting nothing in return? I’d whimper, festering on this negativity like it was warranted. So much for this ‘giving-gets-you-stuff’ idea, I’d quietly rage, while connecting people to opportunities and ideas every single day.

When I unlocked the reason for the barrier, that narrative stopped. And I found myself face to face with someone giving me real advice, for what felt like the first time.

In looking for a financial planner, and a new accountant (which I’d decided I needed) I’d reached out to a connection at BDO to ask if we could get together so I could learn more about what they offer. A person in my network had suggested that this person was the entire reason for the growth of their business, so I should go talk to him.

Over breakfast, I was asked the strategic questions. What’s the offering, what’s the price point, who are the ideal clients, how does it scale, what’s the idea, where am I going. Over the next hour, we had a conversation and I was gently asked some more questions.

And then I was given a roadmap. For the first time, someone explained to me, in terms that I understood, how my pricing needs to be established in order to enable that growth. For the first time, someone explained to me, in terms that I understood, how that revenue cycle is going to run through a growth pattern and how to prepare for that. For the first time, someone gave me an indication of how to test whether the problem of growth is the business, or me.

And then I was gifted the most amazing gift of them all: The promise of a further catch-up to talk about how I’ve enabled that shift.  Then, in conversations with my coach, who is now my accountability buddy, I told him I want to be treated like an elite athlete and for him to push me to stretch.

I’ve begun to understand that I’m a high-functioning kind of person. And I’ve started to own that as a positive thing, to own where I’m going, to be willing to stretch. It’s not often I get to play intellectual chess, and I need it in order to grow. That’s how I ended up in a conversation with my coach just last week, who advised that for the next little while he’s going to keep piling things on until I can’t do them all in a week; and I told him that I’m high-functioning so he’s going to have a challenge on his hands.

This is the kind of condition I need if I’m going to achieve the next level. Personal challenge, business challenge, and someone with even higher expectations than me.

So where did that tweet come from?

To remind you, the tweet in question is:

The tweet came from putting things in motion to get me to the next level within 90 days.

What does that next level mean? It means that I have documented my entire position description and tasks as of right now, and have a plan (one that I’ve started executing) to change it by 70% within three months. That means that my ad-hoc, occasional virtual assistant is going to start doing a significant amount more work and I have committed capital to enable that to happen. It also means that I’ve headhunted some seriously amazing writing talent, and have a plan to bring the first person in that team on board within three months.

While this takes place, I’ve been doing the hard work of financial modelling to work out not only which market is the right playground, but how I can achieve growth while also spending more on talent. I’ve achieved clarity about the right clients – and the wrong ones. I can now tell you with clarity what their minimum spend requirement is, and why; who the right clients are; and what kinds of things they say that will trigger you to refer them to us.

Within three months, my intention is to spend a significant amount more time in business development and account management than in actually doing the work.

The lesson is that there is only one choice you need to make.

That choice is: Do you want to be the amazing talent? Or do you want to give opportunities to amazing talent?

The truth is, if you want to be the shiny person deploying your mad skills, performing on the stage at conferences, talking about the great things you’re doing in your job, and growing a profession, you need to be an employee. If you want to give opportunities to amazing talent, to grow economies, to grow people, you need to be a boss.

You can’t do both.

You can’t be both.

Everybody knows it intellectually, few people know it viscerally. You can’t grow a business if you’re in it; and you can’t scale a company if you’re not willing to let it go and be handled by others.

In a sense, the greatest barrier to company growth is your own ego. I’ve learned this the hard way just in the past week. Committing to writing a plan to give my tasks to someone else meant committing to it. It’s not an idea any more. It’s not a wish any more. It’s a concrete, focused hand-over of work, visioned right through to the end. I know where my greatest value lies now. Yes, I’m a talented writer. Yes, I’m a talented strategist. But it’s not my glory to have, because my dream is bigger than that. My clear, documented vision is, in fact, 100 years long (I know it beyond that, but haven’t written it). Scoff at that if you will; I couldn’t give a fuck. I know where I’m going and why, and why it counts.

Scaling out of a solo business requires you you get the fuck out of your own way. I learned, just in working out the low-hanging fruit to give away in the first month, that the question is not can I do this? The question is, is this the right thing for me to be doing?

And so, I pause at the precipice. Trusting in The Unfolding, I can see the light at the top of that mountain over there, shining out over the valley in the dark. The parts of the path that I can actually see are only about five metres in front of me. But I know the path is there, and I know I’m capable enough to follow it. For the first time, I trust that I know where I’m going and that when I need to know it, I’ll know how to get there.

And for the first time, I have the right people in my corner when I need them. In a sense, it’s not closing your eyes and leaping. It’s trusting that in the void you know the path, when you need to know it.

If you’re interested in my vlogging the journey daily, drop a comment and let me know. I’m playing with the idea right now; if there’s enough interest, I will. 🙂


8 thoughts on “Leaning into the wind: Creating change that challenges the ego

  1. Hey Leticia. I think I glanced at this around the time you wrote it but didn’t have time to fully digest. If you’re going to vlog the daily journey I’d definitely watch.

  2. Wow, how surprising our appearances can be. I always thought that is exactly what you already do.

    I find it very courageous for you to change how you do things. Both going out of comfort zone and telling others about it requires a lot of nerve.

    I’d love to also hear your 100 year plans. It must be fascinating.

    1. Hi Alex! It’s interesting, isn’t it. Thanks for your compliments, too! Would be happy to share my 100-year plans. They’re kind of next-level crazy. Maybe we should share breakfast 😛

  3. Love this so hard, and have complete confidence in your ability to make it happen.

    Bring on Brutal Pixie 2.0 \m/

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