If you’re building a business, you probably started with a business plan or at least guiltily remember that you were supposed to have one. But what if the traditional way we think about a business plan is actually the thing that is holding you back from achieving lasting success?
I work with classical musicians that are building community-based businesses. Each of them seems to believe that they need to grind, sweat, and sell their souls to be successful. But as they learn pretty quickly, that just leads to a failed business and burnout.
In my work, I’ve found that there is only one real reason people quit their 9-to-5:FREEDOM.
They want financial freedom and the freedom to work where, when, with whom, and wearing whatever the heck they want.
But by the time they’ve filed all the paperwork, lost years of their lives creating a website, and find themselves surrounded by vision boards and oughta-dos, it starts to happen: money worries creep in, and friends and family cast worried looks their way.
They realize that they’re anything but free.
Learning from Lemon: How I Learned to Create True Freedom
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. It was my story too.
When I quit my job, I didn’t just seek freedom. I dove headfirst into it.
I had my escape all planned out: I bought an around-the-world ticket and a backpack, I looked like a drug addict from all the vaccinations I got, and I secretly sublet my apartment in Los Angeles.
I traveled around South East Asia and Sri Lanka on a quest to find myself. I didn’t speak to a soul for days, trying to shut down the inner voices of not-enough-Nancy. I didn’t know where the money was going to come from to keep going. But what I did know was that I’d have to slow my roll and make some serious changes before diving into anything new.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I still didn’t really understand the freedom I was supposedly seeking or what that even really meant.
Then I met Lemon.
She had experienced her own re-birth two years earlier and, naturally, had changed her name. She had quit her job, left Miami, and now served the most delicious Margaritas half a world away. And she was truly FREE.
But it wasn’t about her business or what she had done, as much as it was about her attitude. She was entirely out of sh*ts to give. She was “going with the wind” and was a badass CEO…of her life.
A (Margarita) Recipe for Freedom
Like many of us, Lemon had quit her former life in search of freedom. But unlike most, she had found it.
I wanted it too, so I made it my mission to understand her secret to accomplishing what so many others couldn’t.
It turned out to be much simpler than I had expected, even if it wasn’t easy.
She explained that she got clear with herself on what she truly desired and needed in life. And then she developed a new vision for herself based on who she wanted to BE in life — not on what she’d do in it.
This vision of who she wanted to be in life became the “business plan” of her new venture as CEO of her own life.
As you sit on your couch or in a nondescript office somewhere, you’re probably thinking, “How am I supposed to do that?”
The good news is that it doesn’t take a re-birth, and you don’t need to quit everything and move halfway around the world. It just takes some courage, time, and the right approach.
While quitting your job may sound like the hard part (and it is tough and scary), the real challenge is hiding in plain sight: you’ve got to change your relationship with “work.” And as Lemon taught me, that starts with getting honest about what you really need and creating the structures that will support those needs.
You can’t just seek freedom. You’ve got to build it.
Freedom Starts with You
If you’re ready to start building, then you need to start by digging deep and answering two foundational questions:
- Why do you (or did you) want to go off on your own in the first place? Now, STOP. No trite or vague answers allowed. Get specific.
- What beliefs do you hold about what you’ll need to do to achieve that “why”? Are they true? (Spoiler: they’re not, but you can’t address them if you don’t identify them first.)
This starting point is critical because it helps you truly understand your needs. And it naturally will lead you to wonder, “What if I could sustainably pursue success and root my business decisions in my needs?”
It did to me until I met Lemon and realized that all the burn-out, resentment, and sleep deprivation didn’t yield any creative results, prosperity, money, or happiness.
Instead, I came to understand that if I wanted my new venture to flourish, if I wanted to flourish, I needed to create solid agreements with myself and make them the foundation for every business decision I made.
In her book, It’s Nothing Personal, Lisa Husseini describes this mindset, “Healthy boundaries are systems that get our needs met. Plain and simple…Understanding what you do want for yourself is the first step to creating healthy boundaries.”
Building the Business Plan for Your Life
Building a great business MUST start with taking care of yourself, honoring your needs as the number one priority in the business, and recommitting to them every single day — with every decision you make.
Admittedly, that statement probably runs counter to much of what you might read in most business books and articles. And, because it’s not the way we’ve traditionally thought about starting or running a business, it may be tough to know how to act on it.
The simplest way to take this approach, however, is to start by pondering some specific questions about what freedom means to you.
Imagine that you’re two years in the future and your business is flourishing. Ask your future self these questions:
- How do you feel, emotionally and physically? Are you feeling healthier now than in the past?
- What are you able to DO thanks to having built this flourishing business?
- What are you able to say YES to now that you had to say no to in your former life? And what are you cheerfully saying NO to that you couldn’t say no to before?
- How much are you working? And what does that work look like on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
- Are you happy? If so, why — what are your secret ingredients to happiness?
- Now that you’ve reached this point, what are you dreaming of next?
But What’s Stopping You?
Really thinking about these questions and putting yourself into your future self’s shoes will help you understand what you actually want and need from your life and business. And from that understanding, you can start to contemplate what it’s going to take to get there with three more questions:
- What things — internally AND externally — might get in the way of that perfect vision?
- What might YOU do that will get in the way of you realizing your vision?
- What do you admire about your future self? What judgments do you carry about your future self?
Now that you have a vision of your future and understand what might stop you from achieving it, what agreements do you need to make with yourself to support the needs you’ve outlined above, and what are the benefits of doing so? Write it down in a simple narrative form. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated.
Here’s an example:
I quit so that I’d have more time for myself, specifically to start doing more physical exercise. Therefore, I will make an agreement to carve out 60 minutes every day before my third client call, and decline requests for meetings during this time, no matter what. The benefit of this is that I’ll be more confident in my body and mentally sharper during the second half of my day. I’ll get more done in less time
Now, write your own version of this statement.
Congratulations! You’ve just built your business plan!
Becoming the CEO of Your Life
What? Was that statement not what you were expecting from a “business plan”?
Well, that’s because freedom means different things for each of us. Therefore, you need to get precise about what it means to you.
Upon starting your venture, you’ll want to consciously work towards YOUR freedom, starting by eliminating whatever might get in the way of that goal.
After all, you’ve quit a former life because you wanted to change or improve things in it. For that to become possible, you’ve got to take time to get present with yourself and create new rules for your life. Remember, you’re the CEO now and your greatest asset is your ability to think critically about what you want and to make strong agreements with yourself to achieve your vision for your life.
Executing your vision might not look the way others expect. That’s ok.
Show up fully for yourself and, almost paradoxically, it will enable you to genuinely serve your clients as well. When you soar in that way, you’ll find that people are magnetically attracted to you and your business. And you will finally find the true freedom that started you on this journey in the first place.