Rain drummed against the windowsill of my home office as I scribbled on a green Post-It note:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Tearing the tiny square away from the rest of its pack, I smacked it in the middle of my computer screen. If I didn’t put it in a prominent place, I knew there was a very good chance I’d chicken out.
Two hours later, on the afternoon of September 30, I made the most radical shift yet in my business: I let go of most of my team and declared the death of my business, at least as it used to be.
Let me explain.
Over the past three years I have been a diligent student of Internet marketing. Through working closely with my (amazing) business mentor, Andrea J. Lee (since January 2012), I moved from a sudden and unexpected near-bankruptcy to creating a sustainable, multiple six-figure business (here’s a talk I gave at one of Andrea’s conferences, telling the whole story of that journey).
Since 2012, I’ve built four core income streams (The Red Tent, Reversing Our “Curse,” the SHE Retreat, and The Way of the Happy Woman® Certification Training). Each stands as a strong pillar in my overall business, The Way of the Happy Woman® (WOHW). Not only do they serve other women, but they also allow me to express my soul’s gifts while supporting my team and myself financially.
With Andrea’s help I learned I could do things that I previously believed to be out of my reach: building and leading a thriving support team with “A” players, growing my global community, get interviewed by and interviewing other thought-leaders, managing and executing six-figure launches, and, above all, crafting WOHW as a spiritual lineage and global family.
But there was a dark side to this growth. I’m an incredibly sensitive woman. On the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) scale, I’m at the “most sensitive” end of the spectrum, which means I’m sensitive even by the standards of the most sensitive people!
I thrive in silence, solitude, and retreat environments. I need lots of spaciousness in order to hear the inner guidance, which I call my Inner SHE, I need to live and lead. If I had to choose between hanging out with Teresa of Avila or Oprah, it would be no choice at all. The lifelong vow of silence and devotion of a nun has often tempted me.
However, in building a successful online business, I had to sacrifice much of this introversion. The amount of stress I experienced through learning and implementing all the required technology, while managing a team, serving hundreds of students at a time, and keeping up with my own workload often left me feeling ungrounded, exhausted, unhappy, and over-stimulated. It took a tremendous amount of work not to end up feeling wrung out.
Through all of this, the amount of self-care and personal space I maintained would have seemed like a lot to most. Even amidst the increased responsibility I still went on a few retreats a year, spent a couple of hours each morning in my yoga & meditation practice, went on vacation, and took as many opportunities as I could to unplug. To do this, I said “no” a lot and was diligent in how I structured my days, and my life.
Over the entire past year (2014) I’ve more fiercely explored how to carve out the spaciousness I need to honor my constitution within my existing business model (you can read all the details how I did this here). All seemed to be going well with these shifts. I hired my dream C.O.O. to manage my team and projects, cut back my meetings to one day a week, radically simplified my systems and operations; and, with this, managed to complete the rough draft of my second book in mid-July.
Still, as the end of this year approached, I began to feel increasingly more depressed. I also started suffering from some health challenges that I simply couldn’t ignore. I love my home, my fiancé, my students, and the subject of my work. All of these feel deeply aligned with my life purpose; yet I started to dread going to work each day (even though it was a job that I had custom created for myself). It left me feeling tired and drained. I admitted to myself that I had renovated my current “house” as best I could, and yet, it still didn’t feel like my true “home.”
Instead of turning to the outside — to my therapist, teachers, community, or mentors for advice and reflection, I knew that I needed to walk my talk and turn within. I knew that the real remedy to shift this once and for all had to come from within me—anything else wouldn’t be fully effective. I knew that I had to make a radical shift. What that was was not yet clear.
On the bulletin board above my desk, two questions, scribbled on scraps of paper, call to me each day that I sit down to work:
“What would I do if I were the best in the world at what I do?”
“What would I do if I trusted myself fully?”
That morning of September 30, I looked up at those questions. A quiet voice inside of me answered them candid and succinctly.
“I would let most of my team go.”
“I would never do another launch again.”
“I would work four days a week.”
“I would take more time for myself and my relationship next year to prepare for my wedding and the journey to becoming a bride and a wife.”
“I would close The Red Tent.”
“I would contribute to a world where we can spend less time on email and more time outside, and with one another.”
“I would stop fighting my huge need for silence, privacy, and alone time.”
“I would stop being an entrepreneur and fully take my seat as a spiritual teacher.”
“I would take a stand for what I most value: silence, humility, retreat and practice time, spaciousness, and depth.”
“I would focus on serving small groups of dedicated women instead of huge groups of aspiring ones.”
“I would stop trying to base my business on external growth and instead base it on internal truths.”
“I would trust that this feminine, introverted, and deeply spiritual path could one day be as financially rewarding as list building and marketing.”
“I would listen to my body and make this shift NOW—even if it’s scary, even if I don’t have a plan in place, even if it doesn’t make any financial sense.”
That morning, the answers were all right there for me. They weren’t the ones that I expected to hear, but there they were.
I realized I had it all backwards. Real leaders are heretics. They go against the status quo, offering to the world something that it does not yet embrace. If I didn’t take a stand for what I deeply valued, I was not making the contribution I know I must make in this lifetime. With this clarity, I didn’t want to live another year, month, or even a day, distant from my truth.
The world doesn’t need more “selfies,” more narcissism, more of the “me, my, mine” show where the main value offered is someone’s face and their in-your-face opinions.
In a world that values speed and span, we need more slowness and depth. In a world that values self-proclaimed “masters”, we need to revive true discipleship, devotion, and the grace and humility that pour through us with life-long learning.
Most of us are slaves to the McDonald’s paradigm of business: “If we’re not growing, we’re dying.” However, the feminine paradigm demands that we understand: “Bigger isn’t always better!!!” Right Livelihood requires alignment with all of life’s seasons. We must plant, harvest, prune, and let die. To always be growing is to deprive our bodies and our souls of the space and time they need to be truly sustainable and fertile.
How many businesses do you know have the faith to live in harmony with nature’s cycles? Many of us tout the value of “being over doing” and “feminine embodiment,” yet I don’t see very many people actually having the guts to take the time to live this. If we truly listened to our bodies, we would not praise productivity over spaciousness. Nor would we feel compelled to relentlessly push ourselves forward, day after day, just to stay in the spotlight. There must be a better way. I’m committed to being part of the solution in finding and sharing it.
Now, instead of adding more team members and reaching for an even bigger income milestone, I’m shedding, deleting, pruning, and letting go. After I complete this year’s offerings in early December, I’m closing WOHW to enter into a deep hibernation for two months.
When I emerge, WOHW will have fully died as a “business” and will be reborn as a spiritual lineage and global sisterhood. Beyond that, I’m not sure. But I trust that I will know when I’m ready.
For now, I do know this: the freedom and joy that I feel in owning who I am, what I love, and how I’m here to serve cannot be contained or summarized here. Through reading my words, my hope that is that you too will have the courage to trust yourself and have the chance to experience and value above all else your own, unique, unorthodox, and unshakeable version of “success.”