meaningful work podcast

Episode 8: The stories we spin about business growth

May 25, 2023 | Podcast

In this episode we’ll be discussing the stories and self-limiting beliefs that weigh people down when it comes to self-growth and scaling their businesses. I’m going to be deconstructing the most common narratives that are holding people back from pursuing their goals, particularly, women in business.

Some of the narratives we’ll deconstruct are:

  • That working longer hours is essential for business growth, which she refutes based on her own experience.
  • That growing a business means engaging with people one dislikes or finds incompatible, especially in networking or client relationships.
  • The fear that as your business grows, you’ll become disconnected from clients and the original purpose of starting the business.
  • That taking larger risks such as financial investments, is necessary for business growth.
  • That setting modest goals will protect you from failure


Welcome to Meaningful Work for a Remarkable Life. I’m your host Brook McCarthy and I’m a business coach, trainer and speaker living and working in the United States.  I’m a trainer and speaker living and working on the unceded lands of the Cameragal people here in Sydney, Australia.  In this podcast, we explore the paradoxes inherent in working for love and money, magnifying your impact and doing work you feel born to do.  We explore the intersections of the meanings we bring to work and the meanings we derive from work.  Let’s dive in.

Today we are talking about stories of growth and this is a huge episode. If you are super keen on growing, if you want to scale and you want to earn more money, then this is the episode. Strap in, give yourself some space, because the stories that we tell ourselves about growth, I’ve heard some weird and wacky stories over the years.  This is what I want to start with.  One of the first things that I do in group coaching and one-to-one business coaching is to ask people about their goals. Pretty standard stuff for business coaching.  And what I see over and over and over again is women stopping themselves, women being overtly modest, women coming up with all kinds of strange and unusual stories to stop them from being ambitious.

Now, of course, what I want is not what you want and it is not my role as a business coach to dictate or to influence my client’s goals. That’s not the purpose or the point, but this has happened so many times and some of the goals that I’ve heard are so modest that there’s definitely something going on here.  And when I dig a little deeper, what I hear are the many and varied stories that we tell ourselves about what it takes to grow and scale and build a highly profitable business.

So some of those stories include, number one, perhaps most popular of all, if I’m going to grow and scale my business, I need to work longer hours.  Now, you might be listening to this going, well, duh, surely that’s like point number one. Of course, that’s, you know, that’s not a story. That’s fact. Well, I’m here to tell you absolutely definitely no, that is not true.  I worked far longer hours when I was earning far less than I am today. It is absolutely not the case that you need to work longer hours.  So, yeah, that is not truth with a capital T. That is a story.

Point number two is that if I grow my business, I’m going to have to do things that I don’t want to do.  And point number three related to point number two, perhaps, is that this means this includes tolerating people that I find intolerable. Now, generally speaking, this story manifests in networking. I’m going to have to make friends with people that I despise.  I’m going to have to be greasy towards them. I’m going to have to scratch their backs so they can scratch my back. Or I’m going to have to spend time with clients. I’m going to have to take on clients who I find intolerable, who have values or businesses that I find incompatible with my value set.  This is a really common story.

Point number four, if I grow my business, that means I’m going to be further away from my clients. I’m not going to be able to speak or see or interact with my clients as much.  Point number five, I’m going to be further away from the reasons why I started the business in the first place. And that includes being on the tools, so to speak, doing the thing, whatever the thing is, whatever the technical thing is that, you know, led you to start your business in the first place.  Another big story is I’m going to be feeling out of my depth. I’m going to feel uncomfortable. I’m going to be stressed. I’m going to be anxious all the time. That’s a huge story.

And next point, perhaps I’m going to have to take larger risks. And that includes money invested into the business.  I’m going to have to borrow money. I’m going to have to invest more money. It’s going to be a risk. It’s going to be an uncertainty. You know, I won’t have a return on that risk. And then a big one, a big one. In fact, I don’t even know if this is a story that is conscious.  It’s a story that I see and I see it, you know, repeated. I see this as a definite strong pattern. But I don’t know whether this is a story that other people see themselves, see in themselves, because it may well be unconscious.

But the story goes, if I don’t set a large goal, if I don’t share and declare that I do want to grow and I do want to, you know, two times or three times or four times my revenue or profit, then I don’t need to worry about failing so much because if I have a modest goal and a modest business and a modest income, then I don’t have so much to lose.  And this is not so much, this is not about risk. This is not about money risk. This is not about, you know, the risk of kind of putting substantial effort in, insofar as, you know, logos and graphic design and hiring people and subcontracting and all that stuff.  It’s more the embarrassment, it’s the risk of ego, right? If I don’t risk my ego by sharing and declaring a large goal, then I won’t risk the failure of that, the flip side of that.

I hear these stories over and over and over and over and over again and like I said, particularly for women, not solely for women, but especially I think common for women in business.  And oftentimes these stories are influenced or these stories are derived from the examples that we can see in our life. Maybe they’re people in the public arena, maybe they’re people in our personal life, but we see examples of people who are successful, who do have larger businesses, who do earn more,  but they don’t exhibit the values or the behaviors or the happiness that we are personally after in our businesses. And so therefore it forces us to conclude, well, that’s the way it is.

Yeah, if I want to grow and I want to scale, this is how it’s going to be. And, you know, I want to explore that because I think these are a load of stories and like all stories, they are not necessarily true.  And they don’t necessarily need to continue. So firstly, I want to jump into why, why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we create all these complicated stories that stop us from being more ambitious, from really owning our desires and by going full steam ahead towards them, by running full steam ahead towards them.

First one is the existing well-worn stories that we tell ourselves that are really self-limiting beliefs, limits that feel comfortable to ourselves. So things like I’m not good with money, I’m not good at sales, I’m not much of a people manager, I don’t want to manage people, I don’t want to, you know, invest heavily in tech, I don’t want to invest in blah, blah, blah.  I’m not the kind of person who anytime we hear these, I’m not the kind of person who, you know, anytime we hear these kind of strong identifying I am, I am not, it’s possibly a sign of a story and not actual truth.  And of course, why do we do this? Because our ego loves the comfort and loves the familiar and feeling uncomfortable or unfamiliar feels unsafe. And when we tell ourselves it’s not possible, it’s just, it’s not possible.

What we’re really saying is it’s not possible for me. It’s possible for you because you are different from me, but it’s not possible for me. I can see examples of other people doing it, but those people have, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, or they don’t have all the limits, limitations, constraints that I have.  Yeah. I don’t want to try too hard. This is a big one, I think, you know, it was certainly something that I kind of took out of the 90s and it took me some decades before I realized it came from the 90s.  But as somebody that came of age in the 1990s, you know, there was something about the cool girl, there was a big stereotype of the cool girl that we were all, or that I was anyway trying hard to be.

Contradictorily, perhaps, the cool girl wasn’t trying too hard. Yeah, she was cool. She was hanging back. She was easy going. In the, in the 90s in Australia, you wanted to be an easy going girl. You didn’t want to rock the boat or be high maintenance, God forbid.  You know, actually assert yourself and say I want this, I like this, I don’t want this, I don’t like this.  You didn’t want to look like you were trying too hard. And I think that is still, you know, prevalent in a lot of subcultures.  Perhaps another reason why is you’re not used to feeling good and you’re not used to feeling praised by other people. Now we’re going to talk about these two in a little bit more detail here.  I want to talk about a couple of the ways that these weird stories have, stories of growth have led me to self-sabotage.

And a lot of what I’m talking about in the second half of this podcast is from a book called The Big Leap.  Now, I found this book a little problematic. I have to be honest because the book’s by a person called Gay Hendrix and it was a book that was referenced over and over and over again in business circles that I was in for a period of about five or so years.  People used to talk, you know, jargon, they’d use the jargon from the book and they’d talk about it like everybody knew that what the hell they were talking about.  They’d say weird shit like zone of genius.

Now, this book is clearly written by somebody who says, my experience is as an executive coach at the upper echelons of, you know, people executives are earning multi, multi, you know, like shit tons of money.  And it was being referenced this book by people who are oftentimes right at the beginning of their business journey. And, you know, the thing that I found problematic, and I think this is a misinterpretation of the book rather than, you know, the intention of the book.  This misinterpretation of zone of competence and zone of genius and blah, blah, blah. And all the time I heard business owners saying, I’m not going to, you know, I’m not going to post on social media because it’s not in my zone of genius and I’m not going to, you know, do admin because it’s not in my zone of genius.  But meanwhile, they’re earning 20,000, maybe, or 40,000 or perhaps $60,000 a year and quite frankly, you cannot afford to be outsourcing all this stuff. Because, you know, you don’t want to do it’s not in your zone of genius like there’s an element of like suck it up.  You know, suck it up.

Do the thing, until which time as you can actually afford to outsource, because I think it’s a little daft and certainly short sighted to do so before you can actually afford to do so you kind of strangling your growth because you need cash.  You need cash to grow. And, you know, frankly, you can’t afford to outsource so many things when you first starting. 

It’s good for you to actually go into his own zone of competence, you know, to use phrasing from the book to move into his own of competence, you know, before you consider outsourcing something, and especially something that’s not going to directly earn you a return on your investment.  That’s by the by I want to come back to the book for a moment. There is a concept in the book which I found fascinating and again, the circles of business owners I was traveling with at the time.  I would use words like upper limiting, I’m upper limiting myself. That’s an upper limiting problem. And, and those of us who hadn’t read the book would scratch our heads and go, what the fuck are people talking about.

So what is this idea upper limiting. It’s the idea that when you’re growing and expanding and scaling, you will start to sabotage yourself when you are indeed doing that when you are expanding and growing and I’ve had this experience multiple times I’ve seen it in my clients  multiple times. One, one really really common experience from clients is that they will go through a period of immense growth, I’ll be doing something they’ve never done perhaps I’ll be launching a course launching a group program.  They’ll be delivering a piece of work that they’ve never delivered before they’ve got a great opportunity. And then they get sick, and they either get sick directly afterwards, or they get sick during it.  Or perhaps whilst they’re super super busy.  You know something some calamity happens. And you know sometimes it seems kind of random, but it’s happened so many times now. And certainly I’ve seen it happen to me during launches, you know, every time I launch anything, you know any kind of launch that’s over a certain  size.

I know I can almost expect that people will come out of the woodwork and ask me for help, and they’ll be distractions. Yeah, and it’s happened so many times now that it’s no big deal.  And it’s been normalized and I’m better at it, but it was almost like a test of boundaries it felt to me like a test of boundaries. This is a really good experience for me to practice my boundaries, and not necessarily you know knock everything  back, you know and say get lost I’m in the middle of a launch, but certainly get better at managing my stress, letting you know small things like that not kind of derail me and lose my focus, you know, and just getting better at you know pushing back when necessary  and postponing things that aren’t 100% necessary to whatever’s going on to the launch.

So, I also have had the experience personally of hitting like I remember the very first year I hit the mythical 100 K. Yeah, because in online businesses, the story about you know 100 K and really frankly 100 K.  You know it’s, it’s fabulous to hit it but I would hope that we’d keep going right because 100 K when you take out your, your cost of sales when you take out your expenses when you take out superannuation tax blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.  You know, really isn’t a huge amount of money, you know, in Australia in 2023 to be earning so hopefully you keep going beyond 100 K.

That is not like okay I’m done I’ll just sit here now.  But certainly the first time I hit it I was hugely excited and pleased and proud of myself, and then the following year I slid back under.  I had the same situation when I came close to earning what my father had earned in his business and I knew what my father had earned because I used to do the bookkeeping with the assistant of his bookkeeper accountant person like it wasn’t just me solely responsible  for his bookkeeping.

But I knew at, and I’m sure he’d also told me this but I knew at his height at the height of his career at the height of his business how much he’d earned.  And when I came close to earning that, and I’ve now exceeded that it felt really, really wrong. It felt wrong. I can’t think of a better, more apt word than that.  It was like, you know, how can I how can I how dare I, how dare I earn more and earn more in a way that I could do it without the infrastructure that he had because he had, you know, he had the office space in the city he had all the  he had stuff he had all of the additional expenses that come with that and the additional stress that comes with that.  It felt all kinds of wrong to be surpassing his salary.

Now, again, when I look at a lot of these stories of growth, and a lot of these stories of scaling, and a lot of the strange and unusual behaviors and the strange and unusual beliefs and stories that we tell ourselves about why we can’t or why we won’t.  What I see over and over again is actually a lack of support. And, you know, secondarily a lack of boundaries. Now pretty much every soloist or small business owner that I know could benefit from more support, and I’m talking about practical support, as well as everything  else support home, you know, support in the home, support in emotion support in the heavy lifting of all of the, what do they call it the invisible work, all of the kids kind of stuff all of the, you know, other random stuff that we have to do in our life that takes up a lot of headspace  right.

I say boundaries is a close second because you know support and boundaries are closely related oftentimes, you know, we, I’m thinking about, you know, a couple of different business owners that spring to mind now where they do have support they do they are very good at asking and they are  good at receiving, but there’s also a lack of boundaries in play, and perhaps a lack of discernment that comes with that of saying you know what this is not this activity or this interruption is not appropriate.

Right here and now, because you know it’s it’s oftentimes these things go hand in glove right they kind of correlate that they’re not always directly, maybe to go off on a tangent.  They may not correlate but they coexist. I think there’s some medical term when you get symptoms that are not directly relevant but they often happen at the same time they rise at the same time, yeah boundaries and lack of boundaries and lack of support.  And there’s something else going on here as well. Yeah, because oftentimes when we think about these stories that we tell ourselves of why I can’t or shouldn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t grow my business, it’s a lack of imagination as well.

It’s a reimagining that we’re needing to make the growth and the scaling work for us, work for us with support work for us with boundaries.  It’s oftentimes a problem of being fixated on your competitors stuck in your industry, and you’re looking at the way your competitors are growing, and you’re thinking that’s not what I want well of course that’s not what you want because your competitors are not you.  You do not have to do things, any particular way you get to choose. You can go your own way and you can make it your own. Yeah.  So, go back to your profit plan go back to your business model look at how you are selling and delivering value, and know that you can reinvent this at any time, and that it’s a really good thing to do.

Another thing and again this goes back to imagination is that we’re oftentimes grieving our old identity, and in the big leap, Hendrix calls this kind of feelings of disloyalty or abandoning people from your past.  I make, you know, and kind of like with my dad and exceeding his salary that I’m abandoning my dad or that I’m somehow doing something wrong I’m not being respectful or I’m, you know, I must be doing something that’s a miss.  I’m disloyal.

Think about not just grieving your old identity, how do you grieve your old identity, but how also in the process of grieving do you create your new identity change, it has this paradoxical thing about it whereby it’s both joyous and wondrous and expansive  and fabulous, as well as grief provoking in my experience changes provokes a hell of a lot of grief for what we’re leaving behind.  So, know also that you can have some fun with this reimagining with this repositioning with this realigning of your business towards growth in this new trajectory this new chapter, you can enjoy the branding process the rebranding process rather and  the restoring that goes along with that because a lot about branding in fact, you know, here is my bias.

I believe that branding is primarily about messaging, and the visuals should support that, you know, so the colors, and the images, the, you know, the photographs  and all of that stuff should come after the messaging. And I can see that in a few different businesses you know there’s a few different businesses, one of which I sent a compliment to the other day and she had miss, she had rebranded, and her new brand made so much more sense  because I remember looking at her old brand which don’t get me wrong was an attractive brand and it certainly had appeal to it.

And I remember reading her bio and checking out her business and thinking this feels like a misfit. This feels like a woman who has some serious credentials and yet her branding is making her seem really kind of, you know, young and fun and, you know, it’s, it didn’t seem to fit.  So I sent her a compliment the other day and told her how much a new brand, you know, seem to fit a better. Anyways, that’s by the by. Back to the big leap for a moment.

So when we look at the upper limit problem.  There’s a few different causes for this. The first one is worry, endless ceaseless glass is always half empty kind of worry.  Second is deflecting. So deflecting joy, deflecting support, you know I’m pretty good at that, or I have been in the past pretty good at.  I kind of know I need more support. I asked for the support, but I don’t receive the support. So I asked for help.  But then when somebody volunteers and says yes I can help you with that. I oftentimes feel really weird and you know wrong and I kind of deflect the support and you know nothing changes.

The other thing is squabbling and we see you know we see that with clients, you know, and like I was talking about with launching is a big, big time where we sabotage our success we sabotage our growth.  We create drama out of nothing or you know small things become big things unnecessarily and then getting sick or getting hurt. That’s also the sign of an upper limit problem.

So I want to talk a little bit now about you know I want to kind of tie this up with a neat bow if I can and I know this is a giant, giant topic.  And I really do hope that you listen to this episode a few times, if you know this any of this is resonating, if you do find yourself constantly getting sick or hurt, you do find yourself, you know, arguing with yourself about why you shouldn’t grow why you should be grateful why you should just  you know keep it as is, you know maybe you got people in your life who were telling you these stories it’s really really common I hear it all the time.

You should just be grateful it’s great how it works you know you get to pick up the kids from school aren’t you lucky blah blah blah blah blah you shouldn’t really want more you should just get on with things as they are keep things as they are.  But you know that there’s something bigger for you. Yeah. So my first thing to try and for science is to prioritize your own pleasure and joy and I’m not just talking about in business, I am talking about in everything.

Be selfish. Yeah, whatever gives you joy, whether it’s eating or drinking or sleeping or reading or walking or dancing or music or whatever.  Don’t judge yourself don’t censor your pleasures.  Just prioritize them. Make sure you do them every single goddamn day. We are pleasure seeking creatures. This is our animalistic, you know, foundations.  We are not computers.

The second one is to practice receiving or reveling so I give my clients, a banking confidence meditation, which I will share in a later episode in in this podcast but for now I want you to think about, you know, it’s a great thing to do throughout the day but  it’s the last thing at nighttime because often you know we forget during the day right we kind of it’s harder during the day. When you’re lying in bed at night, feel. This is a somatic exercise feel into how awesome you are relive any small thing that happened during  the day that you feel good about.

Number three be ruthless with your own automatic negative thoughts, your own, I heard an acronym ants automatic negative thoughts, if you are the glasses half empty. This is how we are wired.  This is our negativity bias and some of us have this bias a little stronger than others, but we all have it to a degree. Yeah, there’s something wrong with you. It’s just the way humans have evolved.  Be ruthless in weeding that out in noticing it firstly, and secondly in weeding it out.

Fourth thing is boundaries. Again with the boundaries, be absolutely ruthless in taking an energy taking in information, spending time with people that will not get you closer to your goals. That’s a hard piece of advice, I know, because some of those people are well meaning and you love them, but they’re, they’re affecting your energy they’re affecting what you believe is possible.

Next one is your board of advisors. Now this is people hopefully and your board of advisors I should add, they don’t need to know that you’re actually they’re actually your board of advisors, there’s, there’s a fair amount of discernment required here yeah this is not a kind of a tick box 123 affair.  It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take a lot of wisdom and discernment for you to figure out okay who are on my board of advisors, what makes them credentials qualified.

And what am I going to take their advice on because there’s no such thing as the perfect genius that knows all the things you know that would probably be a bit weird that would be like a guru sycophant affair in which case, you know, avoid it.  So, you know, an advisor will be good for one or two things not for everything, they’re not your guru, hopefully you are your own guru.

The thing is to realize that you can create your own success model. Yeah. And yes we want to cast a wide net we want to get out of our own little silo our own little industry out you know so fixating on every single goddamn thing our competitors are doing.  But also, we can model our own success.  So we can decide how success is what success is what success is not.  All right, finally, and hopefully some of you have been waiting for this going come on get to the gratitude, gratitude, there’s plenty of research and evidence that show that a gratitude practice practicing gratitude using gratitude like a verb, every single day, saying, I get to do this rather than I have to do this is a brilliant brilliant thing for our  satisfaction happiness for so many things resilience resourcefulness.

It is a privilege to work for yourself, you don’t have to work for yourself, it is a privilege to make an income from your own sweat and smarts.  Every single week on a Tuesday I’m grateful to the garbage truck people that come and take my garbage away by recycling my green waste. I’m grateful for the clean water I’m grateful for the fact I don’t have to think before I drink the water that comes out of the multiple taps in my house.  I’m grateful to the way the sun enters the house, especially in autumn when it kind of comes in low. I’m grateful for the birds that fly past my window and I always, I always look up and notice these things.  These are practical things, practical things that you can try and size to restore what it means to grow and scale your business now go forth.  Go forth and grow.

The podcast was produced by Morgan Sebastian Brown of Brown Tree Productions, and the original music was produced by Sean Windsor.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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