Early in 2020 before COVID fully unfolded many were ruminating on their career and business directions. Remaining employed, leaving or going out on their own was a topic on the minds of both men and women of all ages. Flying Solo’s editor Lucy Kippist invited me to talk about this on a podcast. The show ‘Should I stay or should I go? Is now the time to start your own business?’ was ranked as the number 1 most listened to Flying Solo podcast of 2020. Wow!
Fast forward to January 2021 and the topic is more relevant now than ever after the reflections and self-awareness of purpose, happiness and meaning from the year that changed so much.
So I felt it would be useful to transcribe that podcast for those whose enjoy written content and to inspire again broadly. Listen to the podcast here and read the transcript below.
Lucy: Sue Parker is a regular columnist for Flying Solo and always manages to put her quirky sense of humor to great use. Her recent column, Should you become self employed in 2020, touched a nerve in our community.
Sue wrote that “self-protection, fear, and delusion are some of the biggest causes of career and business misery and indecision. So in your quietest moments, be reflective and listen to the competing voices by being honest with yourself and check into your why.”
Why do you do what you do? Why do you make the decisions at the core of yourself? Dig down hard and have a hearty review of brand you.”
Welcome Sue again to Flying Solo’s podcasts.
Sue: Good morning Lucy. Great to be here again.
Lucy: I really enjoyed your latest column which we ran in January as it is a very common issue for good reason. The advice from the article I just read out is terrific. The advice sounds simple as advice can do, but I don’t think it’s so easy to apply in practice. What you think? Why do you think that is?
Sue: Words are cheap and actions are harder. I think it’s because as humans we want to protect ourselves and our humanity is to minimise risk and increase pleasure.
When we have to think deeply and really start to peel back the layers to get inside ourselves it’s hard work and not and not an easy thing to do. It’s not always pleasurable and a bit like no pain no gain.
And as humans, we want to feel confident about who we are but many people will just not do that peeling work. Or when they do it, they sabotage it by constantly rationalising, justifying, and reassuring themselves and others on their situations. And that keeps people stuck whether they are in business, a soloist or work in a paid job.
Lucy: Sometimes it’s easier to speak about this idea of self-awareness in the context of not relating to work. It’s not easy for anyone to look at themselves with honesty. But for some reason, I think when you are applying that self-reflection to your sphere of work, it’s perhaps even more complex because we absolutely need to work. Well, most of us do.
So do you think the way that we feel about our work reflects something more about how we are feeling about ourselves generally? Is there a bigger lesson in that?
Sue: There is a wonderful book The Courage to be Disliked, by authors Koga and Kishimi which share the precept that we all want to feel that we have contributed and made an impact in creating something bigger around us. This is all very individual isn’t it as we reflect if we did an okay job and made a difference in life and work.
At the core of humanity is contribution but it’s layered with so many fears, concerns, the imposter syndrome and expectations from other people. I think one of the big issues for others when looking to start a business or change careers is listening to their gut and what that is drawing them towards.
Other people will chip in with their expectations, fears, and biases and transfer their feelings of lack onto you. You might be sitting there doing quite well in retrospection and peeling back the why layers when others start dumping their own stuff on you.
I come back to the The Courage to be Disliked book and learning to filter out that noise. You need to graciously accept that some people are not going to support or like what you do and your choices.
.And that’s a really big issue which stops people making decisions with the fear of people pleasing and the angst of having to justify decisions..
Lucy: I totally agree with that as it takes a lot of courage to work out what you want to do and pursue that.
I’m curious, where does all your insight come from as I know you work with brand awareness and had owned a recruitment agency? What did those experiences in the recruitment agency give in understanding more about human nature and work?
Sue: After 11 years running my recruitment agency I learnt so much and saw how different everybody really is. As mentioned about expectations, there is so much society pressure to conform to what is expected.
When I interviewed candidates I would never ask ‘what do you want to do in five years’ time?’ as I knew I would just hear what they thought I wanted to hear. I asked questions to give permission to share what they really wanted to do and what was on their heart for the right reasons.
This plays out in many ways in the workplace. Not everyone wants to be a manager and climb the corporate ladder and smash it. If we combine that with what we want to contribute broadly, we make better decisions. And that was one of the biggest takeaways as I saw how many people feel so trapped in expectations.
Another insight was asking about the ‘why of the why’. For example why did you enjoy being a manager? I could ask 10 candidates that and would get 10 different responses. That was gold as we can then tap into taking that why across to the next career, board appointment or new business even. It’s the ‘why of the why’ that leads to self-respect and impact and the direction of the contributions desired.
When I align my recruitment agency experiences into the small business world there is so much to reflect and peel back below the iceberg.
Lucy: You say one of the ways to uncover your why is to check in with your heart, head and gut. Can you explain how that works?
Sue: The head is about the financials and hard data such as what you think you need to earn.
The heart is the connection of purpose and what gives you joy. And what gives you joys is generally going to be a good revenue earner as you will be very good at it. Few people earn a lot doing something they loathe and rather tear their hair out from. Your heart is that joy centre of what fuels and energises.
The gut says ‘yes I’m in the right place, this feels right. You can’t quantify it or put a spreadsheet on it. It’s just that knowing you feel in your gut. Is it instinct, perhaps. A bit when you meet somebody you get a gut feeling.
The problem is that many are allowing their head to overrule ignoring their gut, and so continue to be trapped.
People rationalise and justify and reassure themselves that they need to do xyz or earn a certain amount of money but that can be false. You have to combine the head, heart and gut with discernment and courage. This is the key to good decisions as you cannot operate from just one dimension.
The well-known Venn diagram of passion and purpose is great for this as it looks at what you are good at what you love to do, what the world needs and what the world will pay you for.
Lucy: One of my favourite topics is instincts. But there can be times in your life where you think “No, my gut instinct doesn’t apply to something because that situation is too rational and practical. But once you know the true power of your instincts and experienced them you see how it can manifests for others differently too.
And in meeting people can you ever go back from those gut instincts. As you say it’s about allowing yourself the freedom and permission to go with those feelings regardless of other things going on.
Sue: True and that old saying of we deal with people we ‘know, like and trust’ needs to be recalibrated. When we like someone we may make decisions to work with them. When liking someone we automatically want to trust them and don’t question anything and ignore any gut niggles. But trust can be unfounded and that’s where people get stuck and end up not moving forward.
I hear many employed people comment that they love where they work and the people but don’t trust management. So they remain stuck and I think the whole like and trust thing needs a lot more rational thinking.
Lucy: At the end of the article you had 13 fantastic questions to ask if we are stuck and should I stay or go. Can you walk us quickly through those?
Sue: Sure, and I come back to the The Courage to be Disliked ethos of making a difference Fundamentally we want to end each day thinking that I’ve done something good and contributed well.
The next questions are around have I been challenged, respected and valued. Do I feel that people are listening and encouraging me? Am I enjoying what I do? Do my clients or the business I’m working for align with my values?
Whilst it can be subjective, in the quietest of your inner moments, listen to how you answer those questions and if there at caveats of ‘buts’. Notice when you think and say ‘but’ as that can signal that you are rationalising and justifying what doesn’t really fit well.
The biggest question is ‘am I getting joy from what I am doing?’ If we focus on the dollar only that’s the worst place to start. Focus on joy, contribution and your individual differences.
Be aware of the comparison and imposter monsters also as listening to negative chatter in your head is going to keep you stuck. Remember people in fear love to keep others down so remove the noise. Their opinions are their reality, not yours.
Lucy: ‘Other people’s opinions of you is their reality’. We could put that on a wall to remind us of our power as it’s a very important lesson, particularly if you are trying to cultivate a business.
Sue: Yes and often when a person announces they are going out on their own or changing direction they can hear the noise of fear from family and friends. Your courage is actually confronting their reality and fears. It breaks my heart when I hear and see people remain stuck via the negative feedback and attitudes from others.
Lucy: So true. We did a survey not long ago and many in our community said when they first made the brave decision to go out on their own they were not supported and backed by the person/s who they thought they could rely on the most.
Sue: My own husband is my biggest supporter, but he is also a business owner so he gets it. A lot of people and I do also can struggle with people who have no concept of what it’s like to run a business. They’ve got no idea, and therefore, they just can’t relate. And they are people you just don’t want advice from. If you are planning to run your own business, don’t listen to people who’ve not taken that path because they come from a different lens.
Lucy: These are such an important things for us to think about and I know that this podcast will find its way to the people who need to hear it most.
Reflection note: I have been self-employed now for close to 17 years and was employed for decades prior. Both worlds have positives and negatives and there is no right or wrong. But we all know what we are best suited to and what will light our own path. And after the year of 2020 and ongoing changes, connecting with joy and contributing are fine goals to pursue with discernment in 2021 and beyond.
This is the passion purpose wheel I referred to in the interview which is a great north star.