The Gifts of Imperfection Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are
by Brene Brown
This book is about living a wholehearted life. As always, I think about business. As I read this book, I was thinking about what it means to live a wholehearted business. I have already written about your mindful business. Let’s explore wholehearted business.
This post started out being a summary of the book and ended up being a mashup of Bene Brown’s book on wholehearted living and my thoughts on wholehearted business. Any mistakes or flawed logic are mine. All the good stuff is her’s. Italicized text are quotes.
How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a wholehearted life: loving ourselves
Head work is important, but heart work is just as important. Your business needs to make sense (cents) as well as feed your soul.
Courage, compassion and connection are daily practices. My favourite virtues and the ones by which I run my business are courage, truth, wisdom and beauty. Sometimes I lose sight of those as I get sucked into the day-to-day, making-the-mortgage rat race of small business. When I do, I find myself and my business spiralling into an abyss. Every time I stop myself and focus again on those virtues, my world opens up, money flows again and the anxiety melts away. The more human, courageous, compassionate and connected I am in business, the more successful I become.
Courage to do the right/compassionate/vulnerable thing. Courage to show ourselves as less than perfect. The reality is we are not perfect, so our business is not perfect. Pretending to be, means we are lying and everyone hates a liar.
Compassion involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. The heart of compassion is really acceptance
Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help.
This may be one of the hardest lessons for small business owners to learn. Part of the difficulty we have with delegation is around not being willing to let go and not being willing to receive help. I took part in a discussion the other day where one business owner talked about getting help from a number of people. Her business is a very community-minded social business. Another business owner asked about how she managed those relationships so no one felt taken advantage of. Her answer was – cookies. She makes awesome cookies. That discussion opened my eyes to how I don’t ask for help enough. I’ve looked at that first business owner and seen the amazing progress she has made. That discussion is a clue to the reason why.
Can we love others more than we love ourselves?
If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way – especially shame, fear and vulnerability.
We want the how-to and it is very alluring, yet we are still standing in the same place. We have to clear what’s in the way. It’s not that we don’t know how to be happy, it’s that we do the things that make us unhappy. Like feel shame, afraid and alone. Everyone struggles in their business. This is where comparing my insides with other people’s outsides makes me feel like I’m not doing as well as everyone else. I must be a really lousy business owner. So who am I to offer to help people with their business…. You get the picture. You’ve probably said the same things. Loving and accepting ourselves is the best thing we can do for ourselves and the people we want to help.
In the same way that we all know how to eat well, yet it’s a struggle to do it all the time; we all know how to make our businesses work. Yet, we let the opposites of courage, compassion and connection get in the way – fear and the sense that we need to do this on our own get in the way.
Shame resilience 101
Here are the first 3 things you need to know about shame:
We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.
We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
We have a tendency to judge our insides by everyone else’s outsides. That leads to feeling inadequate. We feel that our businesses reflect ourselves and if they are less than perfect, then so are we. The myth of the lone entrepreneur overcoming obstacles to reach that pinnacle of success, is just that. A myth. First of all every successful business person uses the word we, not I. They readily tell you that they did not and could not have done it on their own. They will gladly share their failure stories, too. They will tell you that their failures are what lead to their successes.
A wise and very experienced business woman told me about guiding her business through the recession of the 80’s. She said the worse thing was the loneliness and the feeling that she must have done something wrong otherwise her business would have been able to weather the storm better. After is was over, she said she heard the same things from other business people and she promised herself never to let her fear and shame keep her from connecting with other business people.
Guilt = I did something bad
Shame = I am bad
When our businesses are less than perfect – and whose business is perfect? – we don’t feel we did something wrong or made a few bad decisions and we certainly don’t feel that it’s the ecosystem we are in, no, we feel there is something wrong with us. We are bad business people.Too many business owners ask me if they should get an MBA so they can be a better business owner. We are sold the idea that we need to master marketing, operations, HR and finance. No one can do that. So we feel shame that we are not good enough.
Guideposts to Shame resilience
Cultivating Authenticity. Authenticity is a practice. We can let our business reflect who we really are. It’s what makes people want to do business with us rather than someone else. Staying true to ourselves is the hardest battle we will have.
Get Deliberate: Face into your uniqueness and practice awareness of it
Get Inspired: Look around you to other business people who are practicing their uniqueness and take courage from their example.
Get Going: recognize when you begin to slip away from your authentic self. Give yourself a little space and gently allow yourself to be yourself.
Cultivating Self-Compassion. Perfectionism is the unhealthy expectation of never making a misstep. Striving to be your best and to improve, are positive endeavours. The best businesses have a healthy doses of the unknown, messiness and letting go. We need to be able to accept in ourselves the compassion we share with others. You would never tell a friend that they were stupid for making that decision in their business, so why do we feel it’s okay for ourselves. Perfectionism is contagious and we end up infecting everyone around us creating critical and charged environments.
Get Deliberate:Listen to your self talk and if you wouldn’t say it to a friend don’t say it to yourself
Get Inspired: Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are reminders that we’re all in this together.
Get Going: Have a replacement mantra for when we feel our critical self-talk begin.
Cultivating a Resilient Spirit. Resiliency is that capacity we build so we can draw on it when needed. Recognizing and building a community around you that you can draw upon when you need help. The ability to ask for that help and receive it. So, hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them and believing in our abilities. Hope is learned. From experience, we can squash our hope, and therefore our resilience by focussing on the times we didn’t follow through with goals we set rather than applaud our courage in trying many things and focusing on the ones we did accomplish.There’s a difference between thinking we deserve something and the knowledge that we can accomplish it. One of the ways we deal with these feelings of shame is to numb. Any behaviour that has a whiff of addiction is eligible. Facebook, anyone? Email checking. Bad eating, work a holism, another podcast? all of these. when we numb the dark, we numb the light.
Get Deliberate: Food your body, mind, spirit and community every day.
Get Inspired: Hang out with people who have a resilient spirit.
Get Going: Develop a practice that nourishes you.
Cultivating Gratitude and Joy. These go hand in hand. Having feelings of gratitude gives you feelings of joy. When you are feeling grateful for your customers do you treat them differently than when you don’t. The answer for most people is yes. Don’t let this become another thing to fail at. No one feels joy and gratitude all the time. The opposite is fear and scarcity. When we are working from a place of scarcity and fear, we make decisions that are based on protecting, hoarding and saving rather than on generosity (which always ‘pays’ more in the end), openness (which invites collaboration and support) and investing (which multiplies).
Get Deliberate: Recognize when we are acting out of fear and making decisions based on fear. Replace those feelings with gratitude and feel the joy.
Get Inspired: Recognize and acknowledge the small moments of joy. Celebrate. That’s something we don’t do enough, especially in business!
Get Going: create a gratitude practice.
Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith. Intuition is not a single way of knowing – it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith and reason. What gets in the way is our need for certainty. We need the facts! the process happens without our consciously following it. Faith is also about letting go of uncertainty and trusting. You know more than you think you do. You have accomplished things that you didn’t think you could when you started them, but you did.
Get Deliberate: When you begin to feel the anxiety of uncertainty, lean into it. Give yourself some breathing room to let it wash over you and come back to a still place. Then listen to your intuition.
Get Going: Allow intuition and trust to guide you for small things and build from there.
Cultivating Creativity. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. The only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. The more you let that side of you out the richer your business will be. By that I don’t mean rich in money, although it is inevitable that money will follow. James Altucher talks about our ideas muscle. He advocates spending time every day to come up with 10 ideas for the sole purpose of exercising that muscle. I consider myself to be a very creative person, whether or not I’m doing ‘art’. I did try to avoid using the words creative and bookkeeper in the same sentence, because sometimes people would misconstrue. I was and remain a creative bookkeeper and business strategist. I think this is one of the most underrated competencies in business and one that flies out the door the more stressed we are. That’s when we need it most.
Get Deliberate: Carve out time to be creative. Bring creativity to all you do.
Get Inspired: Connect with other people practicing creativity.
Get Going: Take a class. Explore widely. Pick up magazines in things you’ve never looked into before. Bird carving? Cabinet making? Jewelry making? Pottery? Yup, there’s a magazine for that and very likely you will find a copy at your local library.
Cultivating Play and Rest. Our best ideas come when we play and rest. We are living in an epidemic of sleep deprivation. We cannot do our best work when we are tired, cranky and strung out. Play and rest are the antidotes. In these days of our self-worth being tied to our net-worth and our worshipping at the altar of productivity, we revere workaholism.When things aren’t going well, our instinct is to put our heads down and push through. The reality is that the strategy most likely to work is to step back, play, rest and come at it again with renewed energy, creativity and vigour.
Get Deliberate: Get very clear about what the ingredients are for your ideal business. We’re not talking about revenue goals here, but what it feels like for you, your staff, your customers and your community. What is the joy and meaning in your business?
Get Inspired: Watch children closely enough that you see the light bulbs go off as they play. Then go do that.
Get Going: Take something off your to do list and add in play or rest.
Cultivating Calm and Stillness. It’s not about being anxiety-free or even anxiety-averse; [but] anxiety-aware. ..bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions like fear and anger. Slow down and start by making sure you have all the info. Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question. Meditation comes to mind. We’re supposed to focus on something (an object, image or mantra) and if our minds wander, we should gently and without judgement bring our thoughts back. Holy, moly, IF my mind wanders? It felt like a failure every time. But I came across something that helped the object isn’t about emptying your mind so much as it’s about practicing controlling your thoughts. The whole object of the exercise is to practice focusing our thoughts. That I can get my head around.
Calm and stillness are contagious in the same way anxiety is. One of the paradoxes of time I have found is that the more I slow down, the more time I have. The worst thing to do when I’m up against a deadline is to rush. Invariabley I make mistakes and I can’t engage deeply enough to bring my best. When I take a breath, focus on the task and ignore time, I have enough.
Get Deliberate: Recognize when anxiety is rising and breath.
Get Inspired: Stand up and step away from your desk. Get outside for a 10 minute walk. Your whole perspective, breathing, body language and focus relaxes and engages after that.
Get Going: Take it up a notch and try meditation or regular trips into nature. Allow yourself the luxury of leaning into flow with a hobby or your work.
Cultivating Meaningful Work. Ignoring our gifts and talents eats our soul. This is where bringing your uniqueness into your business feeds you and it means you bring the best of you to play. Some people are able to align their passions with their profits. It takes a strong awareness of what your gifts and talents are, deep work on building a business model around those and then consistent and sustained effort to build that business. It may seem effortless from the outside and certainly with hindsight. In some ways I’m not sure if I will never retire because I love what I do (and I don’t have the savings) or if I have already. I have the luxury of dictating my own schedule. I don’t live a life of conventional success, but I get to choose what success means for me. And you do too.
When we define who/what we are we need to own it. I tell people all the time that I’m not a writer, and yet, I have a published book, I have blogs dating back to 2004 and I spend the majority of my time making sounds with my computer keyboard. It is how I spend most of my working time but I don’t make money that way. We are what we do. I am a writer. and a mom, friend, strategist, community builder, traveller, etc.
Get Deliberate: What does meaningful ‘work’ mean to you. I use quotes because I want to define work as how you spend your time, not how you make money. That may or may not come, but it definitely won’t if you don’t define it.
Get Inspired: I try to take the first hour of every day to work on interesting projects, you know the kind, the ones that we promise ourselves we will get to, once we’re caught up and everything is working properly. After many years of waiting for that time, I decided just to go for it. I find that I can tackle the rest of the day with more joy and creativity.
Get Going: Choose one thing that you want more of and do it. Volunteer, make it a hobby, integrate it into your offerings, write about it, study it – do what it takes to make it a part of your life.
Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance. This is a tough one for me. I used to dance – I was a disco dancer, I took modern dance as a young adult. I have a stack of vinyl records that I haven’t heard in about 2 decades. I’m not telling you this to give away my age, but to indicate how much I have shut this part of my life down. I have a hard time with multiple sources of sound, so I tend not to impose my choices on the rest of the family. I’m . I always feel noticed in public. I don’t dance when all the girls head to the dance floor, because I am 6 ‘ tall, head and shoulders taller
I think (Country)’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, So you think you can Dance and (Country) Idol have created an atmosphere of judgement around dancing and singing. It’s not about joy any more, it’s about how you compare.
I miss singing and dancing for the pure pleasure it brings. I wish I had a story about how I got brave and did it anyway. Maybe I will some day. I’m going to work on that.
The Hopi Indians have a saying, “To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak”
Get Deliberate:I did try to start a women’s modern dance class at the dance school my daughter attends. I will keep trying.
This is a book about Wholehearted Living. I’ve taken each piece and applied it to Wholehearted Business. I’ve incorporated Mindful Business and I’m adding this into my exploration of business. I am so interested in your thoughts on this.
How do you make your business wholehearted? Can you have a wholehearted business? What will it take for your business to be wholehearted?
Frances Schagen is a small business innovator, geeking out over business strategy, business models and building entrepreneurial ecosystems. She believes that’s the kind of thinking we need to save the world. Her calling is to create places where entrepreneurship can thrive within our business and within our community.