I recently had a conversation online, like you do, with someone who was fairly insistent that we are in business to serve our clients. You may be surprised, as he was, that I disagree. Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me be clear. My business is structured to provide high value to our clients and we attempt to put them first in every decision we make. That is different from my “Why” as a business owner. I think this is an important distinction.

The reason I went into business for myself and why I continue to make the sacrifices that come along with entrepreneurship is because I want to change my family story and provide a life of higher choice to my child. My business is a vehicle for achieving my life goals of being a great mother, having time and financial freedom, and teaching my son to live a life of purpose, by modeling that in my own life. That is my personal mission statement and everything I allow in my life is either contributing to that end, or detracting from it.

You will notice nowhere in that statement is the elevation of quality of life for business owners by designing lead generation machines. That is the operations mission statement for Sugar Five Design. That is the working purpose of our systems, processes, and business development. But, that is not why I’m in business. I love serving the community, both professionally and as a volunteer. However, making your client base, or community the focus or “Why” is a quick path to burnout.

I know a little about burnout. I experienced a fairly significant burnout in late Spring. I think many of us were stressed in new ways, under extraordinary conditions. I know I was not alone in hitting a wall at that time. I made the mistake of unconsciously switching my business’s operations mission with my personal “Why,” and I was depleted rather quickly. I focused on giving my business and community a greater portion of my attention. This was largely a fear-based response to uncertainty. It wasn’t until I realigned my actions to my “Why” that I began to feel some relief. Instead of being a means to an end, my business and community service became an end all unto itself.

After hitting that wall, and experiencing some pretty severe exhaustion (both physically and emotionally) I had to reevaluate what I was doing and why. We all have baggage and trauma that we bring with us everywhere, even into our businesses. We reenact scenarios from our early lives over and over. When we are hitting any kind of wall, it is my opinion that we’ve triggered one of these non-productive scenarios. For me, as a child I felt it was my responsibility as the oldest kid to take control in a crisis. It wasn’t that my mother wasn’t capable to handle things, but as a single, working mother, she was stretched really thin, and this was my way of helping, or rather not feeling helpless. I wasn’t really taking control, I was trying to manipulate my environment to feel like I was in control.

When the pandemic hit, my fear response was triggered and (I can see now) I immediately took control of my circumstances and put a lot more on my plate in an effort to manipulate my environment to feel like I was in control. I did a lot of good in the community, and a little bad in my personal life. Luckily, having been in recovery for the past 10 years, I have the tools to see destructive patterns and adjust. I went “off mission” for a few months, but was able to pull myself back on track by taking a self-assessment and seeing if my actions were aligned to my “Why.”

What does this have to do with your “Why?” Like I said before, we are all bringing some kind of baggage or bad programming into our businesses. One common scenario some people reenact is living for others. If you haven’t read up on codependence, Melody Beatty has a great book, Codependent No More I highly recommend. The way codependence can manifest in your business is living for your clients and centering them in everything you do, but with an agenda. The assumption being made is that they will in turn, provide the safety, security and relevance you crave.

As a business coach, I see this play out with my clients as rage and indignation. If you have ever felt disrespected and diminished by the way a customer failed to respond in a timely manner or didn’t read your mind in some way, codependence is probably at play. A telling sign is if you think, “after everything I’ve done for them!” or “if they would only get with the program!” If only they would change their behavior in some way, THEN you could be happy. This is the dark side of making your clients your “Why.” If your business is centered on your own personal mission in life, your clients benefit from your expertise and get a valuable service for a fair price. You get the freedom of entrepreneurship and the ability to design your life according to your own values. Centered on your clients, it can become a toxic relationship that is confusing, deflating, counter-productive, and damaging for everyone involved.

Some of us have been taught it is selfish to live for ourselves. Who do we think we are that we can make things all about us? Well, here’s the truth. We make everything all about us in one way or another. We do either out right or covertly, even if unconsciously. If you’ve ever needed permission to make your business about you and your purpose in life, consider this your liberation moment. Just like the oxygen mask on the airplane, our clients get more life from us, if we are first giving it to ourselves. Putting ourselves first is the greatest gift we can give our clients. This is the only way we can approach their problems with strength. When the work you do for them serves your highest life purpose, how could it be anything less than excellent? Now, I need to add a caveat that living for our higher purpose, is different than living for self-indulgence. Our highest purpose usually has less self and more serve, but that refines over time.

If you’ve been living for your clients, or centering them in an unhealthy way, you may need to revisit your “Why.” If you don’t have one, here are some great resources for self-reflection:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – you may not think you are an artist, but we can all think like artists when we are designing our lives.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday – if I had to choose one book about reaching potential, this is it. It reveals so much about our own resistance to our destiny, and uncovering what that actually is.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – one of the best books on writing out there, but also a treatise on living life well.

Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody – along with codependence, love addiction is something that can creep into our business relationships, as well. While this book won’t point you to your “Why” it may illuminate some toxic patterns that are holding you back from finding it. If you find you have a pattern of really intense business relationships that seem to be going really well and then end abruptly, you may be attracting the same type of customer/client over and over. Or, if you find yourself playing savior to business that don’t seem to care about their own thing as much as you do, and you are undercharging and resentful, this book could change your life.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – If you only get one book on purpose, this should be it. It is especially relevant in times of despair. This book moved me greatly and is full of hope.

What resources have you found that profoundly changed the way you look at your life and business?

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