In the early days of my business, success meant able to make rent. Then able to take random afternoons off. Then, if we’re honest, back to able to make rent. Then able to support my partner. Then, as each of those things became easily attainable, earn six figures a year.
I think that’s where a lot of us land. 2012 was meant to be my first six figure year. My second full year in business, and my first 100% self-employed (no part-time nannying, no contract coding gig). As each month ended, I found myself noting how close I was, how easy it would be to hit that milestone. On December 27th, I wept in my partner’s arms as I realized I would close my books for the year at $97,548. I had failed. Nevermind how hard I’d worked, or that that was more than twice what I’d made at the agency job I’d left to start my business, or that I’d enabled my partner to not have to work that year.
In 2013, I did it. In fact, I passed the six figure mark in early October. Mission accomplished.
Except, to be honest with you, it kind of sucked. It wasn’t the life I wanted. It was time to re-evaluate. It was time to tear it all down.
My goal for 2014 was to step back and get really clear on my intentions for my business. I began asking myself questions like:
Why am I doing this work?
Who can I most help?
How do I want people to feel during and after working together?
What makes me feel successful?
There had to be a more gentle metric than six figures.
I knew that to figure that out, I would need to work with fewer clients. Go deeper with them.
Making a website or building a brand is about more than perfectly placed pixels and a darling aesthetic. It’s about connection and conversation.
I realized how important — essential — it was for me to talk to my clients regularly. In 2014, coaching & strategy sessions were optional. I learned so much about my work from those sessions, from the clients who elected to do that hard work with me. My work became meaningful to me in a totally new way.
Being in the trenches with my clients meant that I needed to create space to be gentle with myself. Any sort of coaching work requires a really intense exchange of energy and it’s essential to fill up your own tank pretty regularly.
So, that meant self-care practices like:
- slow starts to my mornings (no guilt about not getting to my desk until 10am) or,
- mid-afternoon Netflix breaks on the sofa to let my mind rest, and
- a commitment to move my body, drink more water, make more art
That lead to working mostly 6-hour days, compared to the 12- or 14-hour days I’d been working since starting my business.
It became a cycle that fed itself – I worked less, so I had more time to rest and create, so I had the energy to do better work.
I fell so deeply in love with my business. I would have been content to earn a lot less than I had in 2013 – I didn’t care about earning six figures anymore. To my surprise (though maybe not to yours, wise one), I didn’t earn less at all. I continued to have more five-figure months than not, and closed my books for 2014 well into six figures.
I finally feel successful, and it’s not about the money. I feel successful because I’ve gotten better at treating myself well, at finding that elusive work-life balance, and at making a major difference in my clients’ lives and businesses. I feel successful because I know that the work I’m doing in the world is important, and I don’t have to run myself ragged to do it. (In fact, just the opposite. We have to put on our own oxygen masks first. Of course.)
Six figures isn’t the right metric for me. I can comfortably earn less or more than that and maintain the lifestyle that I most want to have.
In fact, as I was reflecting on success and cooking up this post for you this week, a new metric of success appeared. On Tuesday, I had the thought that I wanted to move to Portland, Oregon for awhile. On Wednesday at dinner, I mentioned this to my partner. By Thursday night, I’d rented a place in the city. I’ll be there for most of February and all of March. That’s success to me – having the freedom and resources for that sort of experience. (More on this upcoming adventure soon.)
As you dream & scheme about the year ahead for your life & business, I encourage you to define your own, more gentle metrics of success. Reject any standard that causes you stress or bores you or just doesn’t make your spirit come alive. If you’re not sure what success looks like to you, go back to the most important question: Why am I doing this work? All of the answers come from why.