On being a ‘mission with a company’

“Be a mission with a company, not a company with a mission.”

Early this year, I stumbled over this quote and it gave me pause. As in, a loooong pause, not just a blink’s worth. What exactly did this mean?

First, it’s easy to see how, for some, the word “mission” can be touchy. I rarely use the word “mission,” as it can sometimes seem like something lofty and out of reach. I prefer the word purpose instead; it more accurately describes the hopes & dreams I have for creating positive change through my work. And I doubt I’ll ever think of myself as a “company.”

But that nitpicking aside, I feel as though my mind has been ratcheted open a little bit more by this new idea.

Here’s the thing: For many years I’ve thought of my livelihood like this: My business does more than just pay the bills. It has a purpose.

What I now see, though, is that I’ve had that backward. I carry around a strong sense of purpose all the time. There’s an outcome I want for my life. This feeling is a permanent fixture, a big part of what makes me the person I am. And my business is just one of many actions I take to help me serve that purpose.

Does that make sense?

There’s a reason why we do what we do. There’s something good we want to bring to the world with our life and work. That’s our purpose…it resides within us. Our business—the income-earning part of life—is just one of many possible tools & activities that help us fulfill that purpose, that mission.

In my case, one of my life’s purposes is to help as many people as possible become self-sufficient and free to do the work they’re called to do WHILE earning a living. It just lights me up to be able to show that we can build a livelihood that draws upon our own gifts and inspiration, not just serving someone else’s aspirations of success and profit from a gray cubicle.

If you are, for example, a life coach of some kind, you may have chosen that work because you want to be able to look back at your life and know that you helped infuse the world with a little more peace of mind, fulfillment, health, or joy.

Your business is one way you can activate that purpose. Other ways might be how you treat the grocery store cashier, the way you raise your kids, the nature of the gifts you give, and volunteerism/charitable contributions. Bundled all together, they are what make your life whole and rich.

When you put on these lenses and take a long look at the work you do—and how you tell the world about it—what do you see?

If your business is a tool to help serve your bigger purpose, is it doing the best job it can? For example, are there other offerings you could create that would help even more people, solve even more problems? Is there more you can say, write, share, teach?

Is it clear from your marketing/promotional materials that you run your business from the heart, that there’s something you’re trying to bring more of or less of to the world? Is this part of the story of your business that you’re sharing? Could it be?  (And doesn’t it make it a teensy bit easier to face the task of marketing when you look at it through this lens, even if you’re an introvert?)

Can people tell that you’re more than just the (talented) provider of a service or maker of a product? In a world becoming more impersonal and disconnected by the day, you must believe me: People love to see your depth of character, your bigger “why.”

I would love for you to show them.

Take care.

The gift of envy for the self-employed (and everyone else)

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others.
He who envies others does not achieve peace.


It’s not every day I find myself in disagreement with the Buddha. Today’s one of those days. I’m okay with it.

We’ve all felt those twinges of envy at one time or another, right?

…Envy of those who are doing better financially than we are with their businesses, despite how hard we’re working.

…Envy of those who have huge, loyal audiences but who don’t seem as genuinely kind or honest as we are.

…Envy of people for whom writing seems to come so much more easily than it does for us, or who have more time to do it.

…Envy of those who seem to have it all together with their lives, while we’re still facing a struggle.

I use the word twinge, but I know that it can range from a nagging little gnat in our ear to a full-blown can’t-get-it-out-of-my-mind obsession that follows us around all day.

Author Anne Lamott has a hilariously thoughtful examination of how she felt about—and dealt with—an experience of envy in her book Bird by Bird. It’s one of those rare passages so life-altering for me that I can almost recite it from memory. In it, she’s dealing with her feelings about a writer friend who is constantly telling Anne about her great successes, at a time when she and her young son are struggling mightily.

Sometimes I would get off the phone and cry.

After a while I started asking people for help.

One person reminded me of what Jean Rhys once wrote, that all of us writers are little rivers running into one lake, that what is good for one is good for all, that we all collectively share in one another’s success and acclaim. I said, “You are a very, very angry person.”

My therapist said that jealousy is a secondary emotion, that it is born out of feeling excluded and deprived, and that if I worked on those age-old feelings, I would probably break through the jealousy. I tried to get her to give me a prescription for Prozac, but she said that this other writer was in my life to help me heal my past.  […] She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.

It took many, many years for me to “feel the feelings” and even longer to find the startling gift that envy comes with.

Frankly, envy/jealousy has always felt terrible to me on every level, but I couldn’t seem to dodge it, especially when I was first building my business and deciding what to do with my life. I created services that people needed, did the networking, wrote like a madwoman, but still, I wasn’t getting any traction.

In particular, the exhaustion of trying to survive the move from a stable, auto-deposit paycheck to the uncertainty of self-employment was far harder than I’d thought it would be. There were many times I went to sleep knowing that the next morning I’d give up and get a job again. And the next morning I didn’t.

Envy was dreadful then (though I’d never call it a ‘deadly sin’…whose idea was that?) When I’d meet someone who’d enjoyed immediate success because a family member had bankrolled a huge marketing budget, or who’d enjoyed a burst of media exposure before they’d had to even work very hard, envy would sometimes sit in my belly like a stone.

The solution for me came from a place where lots of great solutions originate: My journal.

I don’t journal daily, but I do it regularly. I capture where I am with life, what I’m seeing and feeling and working on, and what I want to do next. Flipping back through my journals one winter’s evening, I started to notice how envy would creep into my writing. It was like one of those optical illusion posters—one minute it’s a blob, the next minute it’s Abraham Lincoln, clear as day.

I started counting the number of times I grumpily used certain words and phrases: “I wish…”Some day…” Fortunate and rich and lucky break popped up too.

Maybe it was the wine I was drinking. Or maybe my too-tired-to-argue creative brain just decided to flip on that light switch for me: I was looking at a road map to what I wanted out of my livelihood, right there in my own handwritten self-pity and jealousy.

I wanted to have more financial peace of mind.
I wanted to feel really, really good at what I did.
I wanted to be valued by more people for what I brought to their lives.

I wanted the superpower of being able to tell at a glance which actions would bring me closer to my best life, and which were taking me further away.

I didn’t want what others had. I actually didn’t give a damn what they did.

But I wanted to feel a certainty: That if I cultivated the right attention, resources, and skills, I could find my OWN way to my OWN brand of happiness. That it was in my control.

That was the year I started paying attention to the tool—the gift—of envy.

I got some help identifying what life I wanted to move toward, and then broke it down into a hundred bite-sized actions and changes. Getting smart about the financial side of my business. Becoming a better communicator. Seeing where I was wasting time, love, and tenderness. Finally embracing the “D word” (discipline).

And things started to happen. Things that made me a different person. . . a person I actually loved, trusted, and respected without reservation.

Envy—watching it unfold, feeling it in my body, understanding what it was trying to teach me—changed everything for me.


If I’d stuck with all the psychobabble tricks to ignore it, fight it, accept it, or chase it out of my mind, I never would have received that gift. And it’s a gift that I can never put a price on. There simply wasn’t any other way I could’ve flown under the radar of my own resistance.

Do I still find myself feeling envy? You bet. I have a long way to go before I’m immune to it, but nowadays I pour a cup of tea and sit with it to learn what it’s trying to tell me.

I’ll leave you with this: Are there people, things, situations that you feel a twinge of envy toward? Don’t vilify it or belittle it or try to rise above it—just be completely open and honest with yourself for a second.

What’s at the core of it? What is someone else doing/enjoying that you’re not (yet)?
Freedom to live/work anywhere?
Not being up all night worrying about money & retirement?
The respect they see reflecting in the eyes of others?
The ability make a good living by doing what they love?
Time to be with family? Time to think?

Of your list, what’s one thing that—if you already had it in your life—would have inoculated you against that twinge of envy toward someone else?

And, if you are willing to play: What are 10 or 20 (or even 100) bite-sized steps that would help you realize that in your life? Suspend your disbelief and write them down.

And schedule the very first one on your calendar. Even if it’s just a half-hour alone over a perfect cup of coffee as you write down a conversation with your own envy.

There’s power in envy. Grab it for yourself.

What do you find yourself envying?
What have you convinced yourself you can never have, because you’re not enough X or there’s just too much Y in your life? Drop me a line and let’s talk about it. I think you’d be surprised what’s possible if a) you get clear about what you want, and b) you break down the path to “there” into bite-sized, teeny-tiny steps.


*This is one of several questionable translations of a quote ascribed to the Buddha. The meaning changes slightly with each version, but in my context it doesn’t matter, because I’m not entirely there with the round man on this anyway. Envy is in no way attractive, but it’s a valuable thing to observe.



The under-appreciated ritual of avoiding improvement

This post is especially for those who are always trying to improve their business: Improve sales, improve productivity/processes, or just improve the energy you have to do it. You know the advice, right?  “Work ON your business, not IN your business.” Always have an eye on building & adjusting & improving whenever possible and as much as possible. I absolutely do agree that’s a great plan—

Until it isn’t.

I think it was the morning I was listening to a guru podcast about tips and tricks to get more done, while walking on a treadmill, while thinking to myself, “Maybe if I put some sort of calming visual on the TV monitor it would be a little like meditation.”

Cue the sound of the needle screeching across a vinyl record.

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese concept of kaizen—continuous measurable improvement—for all businesses, all the way down to the solo practitioner, author, or coach.

It’s the small adjustments we make every day, rather than the huge ones, that can most help our businesses be peaceful, purposeful and profitable. Not being a person for whom order (mental or physical) comes baked right into the DNA, I’m constantly building in bite-sized improvements.

An hour to adjust colors and categories in my Google Calendar. Coercing myself to do an end-of-the-workday ritual. Scheduling a rest period into the middle of the day, with a reminder notification (which tells me, “Rest or Die. No Kidding.”)

Continuous measurable improvement. It’s a good thing.

It’s not the “measurable” or the “improvement” I’m addressing with this post; it’s the “continuous” part. Because all of us, at one time or another, will rebel against it.

We’ll wake up one morning and think, “My brain feels like overcooked linguine.”

We’ll look at our daily plan and feel irritation rising that we can’t see any white space behind the obligations.

Our shoulder muscles will be knotted already at 8:00am.

We’ll take that magazine article “10 Ways to Crush It with Your Business Marketing” and shred it into pieces the size of a thumbnail, because running it through the paper shredder is too gentle a fate for it.

We will have a powerful, almost impossible-to-ignore desire to go back to bed and read mindless fiction. Or go to the zoo.

I have a particular warning sign that always makes me laugh at myself: It’s when I find myself obsessed with going to work out instead of starting my work day.

As in, “I can’t possibly start working yet, I simply must be on the rowing machine for an hour first.” Now that’s a clear signal.

I, and many of my people, sometimes try to over-kaizen. Are you one of them?

Look at the number of articles you’ve saved to read.
The zillion bookmarks in your web browser’s bookmarks.
The business books waiting to be read, or stacked on the shelf with a sheaf of post-it notes marking the critical places.
The online workshops you’ve signed up for in the next few weeks. The unreviewed notes from the ones you’ve taken in the past few weeks.
The notes you’ve written yourself in your planner/calendar: Fix this. Learn that. Do more. Be more.

Late in 2018, I’d reached this point myself. Going to bed feeling vaguely like a failure, grinding my teeth at night, finding myself frowning at Tim Ferriss and David Allen in my newsfeed… It was too much.

So I took a week off self-improvement. In that week, I stopped consciously trying to get better at anything in my life. For a week, I stayed right in the present moment.

For a week,
my diet was perfectly fine,
my income was perfectly fine,
my productivity level was perfectly fine,
my business was perfectly fine,
my exercise habits were perfectly fine,
everything was fine. I made the choice, and so it was.

I set no new intentions.

I didn’t even check up on any previous ones.
I just stayed in my body, took good care of whoever I was scheduled to work with already, and existed right here, right now, not ranging out into the future or mourning the past.

No business books on the nightstand. No newsletter or blog post reading. No liking, sharing, replying to social media. No online groups or coaching or classes. No Facebook except for furry animals, pictures of sunsets, and Good News Network.

I’ll write more about what happened later. It takes a little explaining and I’ve kept you long enough today.

For now, I’ll just ask: Reading the above, did you resist? Did you get the feeling that the world might stop turning on its axis if you did it yourself? That everything in your life, work, and society might go to hell in a handbasket if you take your foot off the gas?

Or did you feel relief that you might safely be able to take a little time and just be who you are today for a while?

I’ll leave you with this, if you’ve been feeling over-intentioned, over-improved, over-booked, overwhelmed:

Taking some time away from that, even a day or a week, will be a calming, surprising, and—yes—productive time indeed.

No handbasket required.