Although I’ll be the first to admit that running a business can be really hard, I also believe it’s worth all the trouble. And whenever I start feeling differently, I find it helpful to return to my reason for starting my business in the first place.
Why I started
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but I haven’t always worked for myself. I held a number of jobs during my early adulthood: everything from customer service to college admissions. No matter where I worked or what I was doing, one thing seemed to follow me wherever I went: disorganization and inefficiency. And it annoyed me so much. 😅
I like a well-oiled machine and clear, streamlined processes. I found the exact opposite in corporate America, and no matter where I went and how great the people were, I always ended up feeling burnt out and frustrated. It would have been awesome to have been able to just say “Never again!” and start working for myself only, but most business owners know: it’s never that easy.
But my reasons for wanting to start my own business were strong enough to sustain me over the years when I had to do a little of both to survive. And now I’m finally working for myself full-time, and I’ve realized another of my dreams: being able to have some of my best friends work with me.
The power of the practice of regularly reflecting 🗓️
I’ve found it can be really helpful to create space in the flow of your year to reflect and make sure that you still resonate with the reasons you started. Whether you do so quarterly, biannually, or just yearly, knowing that you have time set apart to consider your motivations can be helpful. Beyond providing a chance to check in with yourself and adjust course before you go too far in the wrong direction, it can also help with anxiety and overthinking.
When I’m up late worrying about work, I can tend to start catastrophizing and, before I know it, it’s 2:30 AM and I’m ready to throw in the towel. Sound familiar? But knowing that I am going to sit down at a later date and carefully consider what I’m doing and why can give me space to say “That’s not the problem I have to solve right now.” 😌 This allows me to zoom back in to the problem at hand instead of letting it snowball into something that feels like the end of the road for my business.
Here are some of the questions I ask myself when I’m reflecting on my business and planning for the future:
What was the reason I originally started this?
At Valerian, we talk a lot about the power of story. By reflecting on the story you tell yourself about why you started your business, you can often find motivation for the road ahead. And if you notice that you don’t feel inspired by that story, there are a couple of things you can do.
First, ask yourself if there’s a more inspiring version of the story that you could tell yourself. Our words have power, and there are always more and less inspiring ways to think about our lives. Familiarity often causes us to lose sight of things, or it makes them seem duller and less exciting than they might have when we first encountered them. The same is true for your business: what may feel like day-to-day life might have once been your dream. Take a moment to see if you’ve let the normalcy of running your own business mask the joy you used to feel, and see if you can get some of that back.
If that doesn’t work or if any other story just doesn’t ring true, you might need to investigate why. Do the reasons you started not resonate with you anymore? Or have you learned something since you started that has changed the way you think about your business?
It can be really scary when you realize that something isn’t working, but I’m going to be a little cheesy here: endings often offer us a new beginning. 🌄 If you can face the fact that you’re not inspired by your reasons for starting anymore, you can either find new reasons to continue or decide that a different path is right for you.
Is what I’m doing right now aligned with my reasons for starting?
Not everything you do is going to be infused with life-changing and inspiring energy like some of the high points of your business may have been. Payroll, service agreements, and responding to emails will probably never feel thrilling, but those tasks are necessary parts of running a business. However, if you look at a list of everything you’ve done in the last week and none of it feels like it has anything to do with your reasons for starting, it might be time to ask yourself why you’re spending so much time on these tasks.
Modern business has a lot of ways of pulling us off course, and it’s easy to get caught up in playing some game you weren’t even originally interested in. I know this has happened to me, and realizing how far I was from what I’d set out to do helped me find the right path forward. 🛣️
If you’re realizing that you’re not doing the things that you want to be doing, start looking for ways to shift the balance of your day-to-day to have more activities that are aligned with your purpose and motivation. Have you delegated all your favorite activities? Is there a way to take some of those back and delegate other things? Is there a better or more efficient way to do the things that take up most of your time? Sometimes it can help to ask the people close to you—employees, business partners, friends, family—if they see ways in which you could do more of what you enjoy or if they’ve noticed something you do that seems unnecessary from the outside looking in.
What are my core values?
A deeper question in all this reflecting is about your core values and what you want to do with your life. Your core values aren’t likely to change very frequently, but they can certainly do so slowly, over time, so it can be helpful to reflect on them regularly as well. Even if you find that your core values are what they were for the last decade, it can help to be reminded of them.
Every person is out in the world writing a story with their life, but it’s often hard to see the plot for all the little chapters and detours along the way. 🚧 Your core values are a way to get a glimpse at the bigger story that you’re telling every day.
I believe in being a good human and being able to help other humans pursue their passions and dreams. This core value drove me to learn web design in the first place, to build websites for my parents’ and others’ small businesses so they could succeed in a world where big corporations were quickly getting ahead on the internet. It continues to drive me to learn new approaches, keep up to date with best practices, and connect with clients and the stories they are telling.
And if working for myself building websites means that I get to avoid the inefficiencies of corporate America, then my reasons for starting still hold true today. 😉