I was talking recently with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose new business is failing. She was wrestling with different options for how she might save it, or whether just letting it go was the best choice. It is a horrible spot to be in, to have to consider giving up on something you believed in and very much wanted to succeed.
I am not very good at advice—I tend to think people are the experts on their own lives–so I don’t give it often. Instead, I usually just ask them questions. My hope is that my questions will help them think more clearly about their situation so they can come up with the answer on their own that feels right with both their brain and their gut. I think that when you make your own decision rather than just doing what someone told you to do, you are more likely to take responsibility for the result. There is no one else to blame.
So, when she asked me what I thought she should do, I had no sure-thing strategy or any story about the times when I have had to make a similar decision. The only thing I had was a question.
Is it something you are willing to struggle and suffer for?
In other words, is it so important that this dream succeeds that you are willing to make big sacrifices—your time, money, emotions, etc.—to see it succeed?
Let’s face it, we all want our stuff to succeed. You want your new business to flourish. You want your relationship to be healthy, happy, and lasting. You want to make more money. You want to go on vacation next year. You want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You want to be fit and healthy. You want to be self-aware. Right?
But which of those things are you ready to truly sacrifice for? The proof is almost always in the pudding.
A couple of years ago, I wanted to begin the transition out of my career coaching tennis. I knew that if I had a gun to my head, my answer for what I really wanted to do was be a writer. However, my confidence for achieving tangible success (i.e. a regular paycheck) doing that was low, so I was open to other avenues. But those avenues had to work around my kids, because giving my time and energy to them was my true top priority. I started taking classes to become a Life Coach, which sounded like a career right up my alley: fulfilling and flexible. I took a job out of tennis that wasn’t fulfilling but kept money coming in while meshing perfectly with my kids’ schedule. And I kept writing.
While in pursuit of the coaching avenue, a business opportunity doing something I wasn’t interested in was basically handed to me. I made a deal with myself to give it the minimal amount of time and effort to see if it would “magically” produce clients and dollars, crossing my fingers and hoping to strike it rich, at least until it no longer made financial sense to keep the experiment going. And I kept writing.
So, basically I had a job and three things I wanted to work out (under the condition that they let me be with my kids most of the time). That’s not asking for much, right?
What happened? Well, it was pretty straightforward. With the business that I didn’t care about, as soon as it looked like I had to work and get uncomfortable to turn a profit, I pulled the plug. Because I knew my conditions for that one going in, I was at peace. The next one to fall was the Life Coaching training. That one was much more painful to let go of, because it really would be both fulfilling and convenient as a career for me. And I loved it. But it would be a lot of work. More classes, trying to scrounge up clients from scratch, marketing, etc. Struggling, scraping, sacrificing, and suffering. If it was the only horse in the race, I would have kept at it.
But there was the writing thing. That was the longest shot of all of them, the one with the most uncertainty, most likely to fail, most difficult to gain steady employment, and generally most tormenting of all (as creative ventures are prone to be). I would have jettisoned all thoughts of a writing career, except for one small detail: my heart was set on it.
I knew with what little time I have when I am not at my regular job or busy with the kids, I simply could not attempt to press on with the Life Coach training and the writing simultaneously. Push had finally come to shove, and, as I said, the proof is in the pudding. The writing is all that remains. It is the only career-related enterprise I seem willing to struggle and suffer for.
There are bigger tests to pass with it, though, as it won’t be long before I will have to challenge myself to replace my safe day job with some form of actually being paid to write. It remains to be seen how much I will be willing to sacrifice, how much I will compromise, and how stubbornly I will take a stand for “writing or starvation,” as it is much tougher to be principled when there are other mouths to feed.
Will I truly be willing to suffer for my writing, or will time bear out that I only really like the idea of being a writer but not the actual writer’s life and work? Inevitably, the proof will be in the pudding.
The only other area of my life that I have shown the willingness to make sacrifices to make it work is mentioned above: that demand to spend my children’s childhood with them rather than consumed by work. Before my daughter was born, I was in a position of some authority and made a comfortable amount of money. But I worked a ton. If I had kept that schedule, I would have hardly seen her or her future brother. So, I stepped down, taking a lower position and a much lower paycheck. But I staked a claim to my schedule. I have hardly compromised it in the eight years since.
And yes, I have wanted to make more money in those eight years. And I have wanted to go on vacation. But I haven’t been willing to do the necessary struggle and sacrifice for the money or the vacation, because that would mean compromising the time with the kids. The proof in the pudding, see?
So, I guess I have two stories for myself. I would say I am passing the test on the kids priority, not just saying I want the time but actually struggling to protect it. But I am willing to say that the jury is still out on the writing priority. I want to think that it is a done deal, that I will make all necessary sufferings and sacrifices for it and will go down swinging rather than compromise again, but that test has not been completed. I feel it coming to a head very soon and am gathering my strength and resolve for it.
But I also have the sneaking suspicion that these tests are never completely passed, that we have to step up to them and stake our claim over and over again as we continually define who we are in this life. I think sometimes we ignore them, though, and go sleepwalking through our little worlds for a while. But other times, the battle lines are crystal clear: you know the very value of your life is on the line, how hard it will be live it the way your heart knows you should, and that this is the moment of truth. I feel one of those crystalline moments approaching in my life. It is scary yet exhilarating, this opportunity to define myself by laying claim to what I value. I go willingly into the struggles. En garde!
How about you? What in your life is so important that you are willing to suffer and struggle and sacrifice for? Open up your journal take a look at the pudding. What does the way you live your life say about the things you value most? First, it might be more helpful to begin with a rundown of the things you think you value or say you value. What are they? Now take a look at your history. What are the things, at different points in your life, that you have genuinely struggled for? As you look back now, how did those struggles shape you? Do you still value those things that you once struggled so hard for? What about now? Is there anything in your life right now that you are making the big sacrifices for, grinding so hard in the service of something you value so highly? What are the sacrifices and struggles and sufferings? How sure are you that it is worth it? Is it worth so much to you because of the struggle or in spite of the struggle? Okay, so now compare what you said you value with the things you are actually sacrificing for, if there are any? Do your mouth and your actions tell us different stories? Are you prepared to do something to correct that? Is there something in your life—a long-held dream, perhaps—that you want badly but have simply not had the courage to pursue because of all of the struggle and sacrifice involved? What small step can you take today in the direction of that desire? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you willing to struggle and suffer for?
Let your life be your message,
P.S. I hope you really climbed inside yourself on this topic, as I know that for me, that good, hard look in the mirror is so helpful, even if difficult. If it helped you, I hope you will share today’s letter with your world. Go and grow!