Don't Make This Mistake as A Business Owner, Because I Did.
The one thing that will hold you back in your business might not be what you expect.
The primary thing that serves as a blocker to your success as an entrepreneur isn’t a lack of experience, strategy, or connections.
Yes, those are important considerations and the presence of each can make a massive difference in your growth, but they (or their lack) are rarely the thing getting in your way.
Still, I’d be willing to bet that the biggest obstacle to your success as an entrepreneur is probably some unresolved issue from your past. Not the issue itself, but the behavior or worldview that you learned in response.
It might be that you don’t really trust other people and so you assume you need to do everything yourself.
Or you have a lack of confidence that forces you to either doubt every decision you make or overcompensate by engaging in a game of one-upmanship, so you appear immature and abrasive.
It might also be that you are a people pleaser, saying yes to everything and everyone, so you wind up frequently overwhelmed and spread too thin.
Once this realization was too stark, too obvious for me to ignore, I started to see the signs and patterns everywhere. Like that car you decide to buy, thinking it’s a little unusual, and then suddenly you spot one on every corner.
In recent months, I have met, mentored, and coached many entrepreneurs (and, let’s be honest, business professionals and humans of all kinds), that have some behavior or mental blocker they acquired as the result of a traumatic or troubling experience from their childhood, a toxic relationship, a devastating loss.
This is even more likely if they have survived multiple of these experiences in fairly quick succession or had one that lasted for a long period of time.
Why don’t we recognize past trauma as a blocker to professional success?
Although many of the business and executive coaches I’ve spoken to recognize the pervasiveness of this issue, on a more public scale, you won’t see much conversation around trauma as something that stands in the way of entrepreneurial or professional success.
The problem is that most of us do not immediately classify many of these experiences as “trauma.”
In fact, we tend to associate the word “trauma” with more violent events -- war, assault, a car crash, -- life or death ordeals. But it turns out there are actually two kinds of trauma.
There’s Trauma (big T), which is the kind of trauma I’ve just described, the life-or-death experiences that we readily think of when we hear the word. But the more nuanced, more subtle, and likely more sustained version that I previously mentioned, is equally relevant and classified as trauma (little t). This is the impact of sustained traumatic experiences.
These painful situations often come on too gradually and are too long-lasting to be processed and dealt with as a single traumatic event. As a result, their effects become ingrained in who we are and how we view the world, without us even realizing it.
These effects serve as the blocker for most of us in our lives and, indeed, in our business as well, primarily because this version of trauma is far more common among all types of people -- regardless of their background, education, race, gender, or religion.
And I suspect that because it is so common, we are more inclined to ignore its effects. It’s another situation where we expect to be able to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and get back to working and living. We often pride ourselves on our ability to carry on despite our hardships. Many of us come from the stiff-upper-lip culture, where powering through the hard times is viewed with respect and admiration.
And so that’s what we do. But the strategies we often employ to get through the hard times -- and they are indeed survival strategies -- don’t always serve us when struggle dissipates and now we want to focus on truly thriving.
I learned this myself. I spent the early years of my business being driven, to be sure, but also being like a ship without a rudder.
I tried a million things.
I struggled to define a clear direction.
I also continuously sought and agreed to partnerships with other professionals, rushing into business with them without doing my due diligence, and every single time those people would at best disappoint me and at worst fundamentally betray me and my trust.
It was devastating. And despite making decent money, I was miserable and felt like an utter failure.
I was the human embodiment of a hamster on a wheel -- always busy, working hard, and doing so much. And yet, never making any real progress and forever feeling like the business was slipping through my fingers.
I was running a small and scattered marketing agency, which turned me into a glorified project manager and got me away from the strategy and coaching work that I loved. I hated it and I wasn’t particularly good at either. The result was classic burnout. And it took me developing a severe case of vertigo, caused by a viral ear infection before I opened my eyes and realized there had to be another way.
I started imagining a new kind of business, but still, I felt stuck. Not sure how to proceed. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Again, hiring coaches to advise me without fully evaluating them, their expertise, their values, or how they could help me realize this vision I was forming for myself.
The hamster wheel had slowed down, but I was most definitely still on it.
And then I was violently attacked by my rescue dog. (*note: this was a very rare and unusual circumstance. This dog was not a traditional rescue and I am still a tremendous advocate and believer that we should all be rescuing animals from shelters rather than purchasing them from breeders) I won’t go into all the details here, but I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t. Neighbors heard my screams and saved my life. I spent the better part of a week in the hospital and had surgery. And then began a long, painful recovery.
And I immediately contacted my therapist and began seeing him twice a week. What I couldn’t possibly have predicted was that this experience would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. When I finally had a real big T Trauma, I started to take my own trauma seriously. All of it.
My rather lonely childhood.
My incredibly toxic marriage.
The unshakeable feeling that I wasn’t good enough.
As I peeled back each successive layer of pain and grief from my past, as cliche as it sounds, I found myself. I found the strong, empowered, bold version of me. The one that I had seen flashes of, that I knew was there, but that I had always struggled to fully embrace.
While this experience is wholly mine, I also know that many parts of it are common.
If we don’t start dealing with our trauma, we cannot possibly become the entrepreneurs, the leaders, the people that we were meant to be. We will forever be a restrained, and indeed, pained version of ourselves.
And both we and the world deserve more.