This year, I’m doing something hugely counter-cultural with my business. Some might even say I’ve completely lost my marbles. Instead of growing my business, I’m shrinking it.
This is an absurd move – at least if you consider the standard collective wisdom in business. It’s especially ludicrous given the wave my business is currently riding. I’ve just surfed the biggest year I’ve had since I started doing this. My business is in the best shape it’s ever been. It’s on fire when it comes to almost every metric you can think of.
Nobody does this. I googled ‘why you should NOT grow your business’; I couldn’t find a single article to suggest this is even an option (unless of course it’s out of your hands to stagnate or shrink). It would appear I really am taking the road less travelled.
This move is not only counter-cultural externally, it’s also wildly counter-cultural to my inner world. It’s at odds with what I’ve told myself is the right thing to do in life and in business.
- Seek external markers of approval.
- Do more.
- Do better.
- Choose action over reflection and space.
These words and ideas have long been in the driver’s seat. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, these messages have not only served me well, they’ve brought incredible professional and personal success, a sense of achievement – and some wild rides. They have brought me to where I am and I am grateful to be here.
But over the last 8 months, I’ve noticed that – unusually – the next big mountain I want to climb hasn’t presented itself. I know what the exciting mountains I want to climb feel like. They’ve included starting my coaching business, writing Beyond Burnout and creating my emerging leaders programme, The Leader’s Map. In the last year, I started noticing instead, a quiet longing for other gifts not borne from “the world out there”. A call to my garden (up until now I would rather stick hot pokers in my eye than garden). I have a recurring urge to ‘Marie Kondo’ my home. My camera calls me to take it out of the closet, dust if off and take pictures of the people in my life. In short, I have a yearning to create more space for other parts of my life – those parts that have always taken a back seat to my professional life and the strident need to achieve something “out there”.
My decision to do less and to shrink my business isn’t forever. Rather, I see it as a metaphorical foot off the pedal. A slow down. An experiment.
It’s bloody scary. But I’ve learnt that when I don’t listen to that wise inner compass – those internal whispers – they tend to get a bit shouty. So, over the Christmas break, I decided to stop and listen. And when I did, I tuned into what I really, truly wanted. You might recognise this feeling too. For me, when I had the courage to acknowledge and listen to this calling of a different path, and then act on it, I knew I had already taken the first step off my well-trodden road.
Following your own ‘road less travelled’
You too, might feel your own pull towards the counter-cultural, the road less travelled. Maybe you’re a CEO who feels a new direction is needed in your strategy for your company, but no one in your industry has ever done this. Maybe as a leader, you’re the only person in the meeting who has a different perspective to the rest of your colleagues and you sense this is the time to have the courage to speak up. Maybe you too, like me, have a calling for taking your career path in a different direction that surprises even you.
If the journey I am embarking on resonates in any way, I’ve started a guide – a map, if you will – for those of us intrepid enough to go off the beaten path.
(Disclaimer: I have no idea what I am doing. I am a beginner in this, not an expert. I don’t know what it looks like to follow this new path. I’m wide-eyed and full of fright. But it’s what is emerging for me right now – and this list is as much advice to myself as it is to you.)
1. Expect resistance
This applies to internal resistance as well as external resistance. For me, this means preparing for judgement from people about my decision. I might get pushback, bewilderment and well-meaning advice as to why this shrinking of my business is bonkers when it’s going so well. But I suspect the biggest resistance will be of my own. Who am I if I am not my professional identity? What if this is a complete failure and I have egg on my face at the end of it?
2. Have courage and compassion for yourself as you take the road less travelled
Sigh. Yup, sorry, all good things in life take courage. The courage to risk, to be vulnerable, to fail. It’s no different when you choose to take the road less travelled. I’ll need courage to venture onto a trail that sees me seeking something different – something new. It will take courage to see what emerges when, for the first time, I don’t put professional attainment and external validation as my driving force. I’ll need a healthy dose of self-compassion when I find myself lured back to my familiar, well-worn path and courage to return again to the one I truly want to walk.
3. Pause and reflect often
This is always a good thing to do as a leader. But it’s even more important when you’re taking the road less travelled. What’s working? What isn’t? What am I learning – about myself, about the culture(s) I am part of? What do I sense is right to continue to do? What do I feel isn’t working and is leading me to be lost – and how do I course-correct?
This looks different if you’re taking the less common road as an organisation or as an individual leader. For that CEO or leadership team charting a new path with strategy, there will be current measurements you already have to check your bearings. If it’s a more personal journey, build in regular reflection through whatever modality works for you. Anything which, on a regular basis, gets you out of action and into reflection mode will do the trick.
4. Take some guides with you on this new path. You aren’t alone (even if it might feel like you are)
Guides have shown up in almost every story of journeys, and in every myth and legend, in every culture, since time began. For Dante in The Divine Comedy, it was Virgil. For Frodo it was Gandalf.
Your guides might show up as mentors, a coach, a book, or other organisations or CEOs who have dared to take their organisation or their industry a different way.
A guide will always make you think deeply, will hold a mirror up to you with your best interests at heart, will inspire creative thought and will give you courage to take the next step. Right now, I’m collecting my guides in my heart and head as I embark on my road less travelled.
5. Recognise there are no right or wrong paths, just a different journey
I’m not sure where this approach of shrinking my business for a year will take me. I have no idea what will emerge or unfold. When fear grips my belly, I say to myself that “at 51 Suzi, isn’t it time you try something different from how you have operated for all of your life?”
As we look into the second month of 2023, most businesses are working out how to grow their business, how to get bigger, to do more (and btw this is not a bad thing!).
I’m going a different way. Taking a counter-cultural, scary-as-heck path that I have never taken before. A new route for me.
I’ll still be here with my leadership insights and learnings and my current client commitments. And I’ll keep you posted on my journey as I go. I would love to hear if you are considering taking the road less travelled, whether it be at an organisational, leadership or personal level.
Related: What Do You Want?