meaningful work podcast

Episode 15: Building your personal sustainability as an owner

Sep 1, 2023 | Podcast

Burnout is real, it’s common, and it’s not talked about nearly enough. In this episode, Brook shares having two babies under two, while running a business, working from home, with her partner who is also self-employed. Losing her business mojo for about 18 months was an experience that Brook is keen to share, to help normalise burnout, and to stop other owners falling into it.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Brook’s juggling managing babies, a busy digital marketing agency, and teaching yoga
  • Why self-care isn’t enough How to spot symptoms of burnout
  • Cultivating the critical skills needed to ensure you’re looking after yourself when life inevitably gets busy and stressful or when unexpected or tragic things happen
  • Life skills are entrepreneurial skills
  • Why anti-fragility is more useful than resilience
  • Powerful reframes that we ALL need, if we’re to scale our business WITHOUT burning out
  • The paradox of hustle and heart.

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Welcome to Meaningful Work Remarkable Life. I’m your host Brook McCarthy and I’m a business coach, trainer and speaker living and working on the unceded lands of the Camaragal 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.

I had two babies in pretty quick succession and my business was about a year and a half old when my first baby was born, just under a year and a half and then the second baby came along when the first baby was still a toddler, so two babies under two and for a period of a few months things seemed to go okay and then the wheels fell off and I got into a really bad attitude. I knew it was my problem, I knew there was, you know, I knew I had a stinky attitude, people could smell it and it did not smell good. I was really easily triggered so small molehills became giant mountains.

I would ruminate on things. If something went wrong or I made a mistake or a client, you know, looked at me sideways, I would ruminate and I would be in a bad mood for way longer than, you know, is justified for days or weeks. I couldn’t assert myself without getting angry or obnoxious and I, you know, that’s again with the bad attitude. I kind of knew I wasn’t being sincere and I also knew that I couldn’t really keep my emotions under wrap, I couldn’t control my emotions. I had some, you know, self-insight but I couldn’t really, you know, I didn’t feel like I could actually change it. I couldn’t do anything to feel differently. I couldn’t be clear and direct with clients, especially in complex situations.

As Brene Brown says, you know, to be clear is kind, clear is kind and I really at the end of the day wasn’t prioritizing myself. I thought I was and I was, you know, I was practicing yoga quite a lot. I was teaching yoga at the time as well as doing digital marketing, website design, copywriting, social media, all kinds of stuff. It was a long extended period of hauling myself out of the funk. I lost my mojo for about a year and a half. I didn’t close the doors of my business. I kept trading, I kept making money but I was in a holding pattern. I wasn’t doing anything creative. I wasn’t making big changes or plans. I couldn’t really muster the enthusiasm to do much apart from, you know, servicing my clients and doing minimum viable marketing.

I’d love to say that this is an isolated incidence. It’s not, I think is really, really common and when I spoke about this in a blog post some years ago, you know, a couple of years after the funk had lifted when I was, you know, feeling much, much better and able to regain my perspective and to see things as they were rather than be in the depths of it. I published this blog post and every time I’d push it on social media or email, I’d always get a big response. People would always email me and say, oh, thank you for saying that because clearly there’s not enough discussion about this topic of personal growth. I mean, personal sustainability. Clearly we all have, you know, funks in our business.

We all have funks in our life. You know, I’ve had lots of 15 years, a lot happens in 15 years. My sister-in-law died unexpectedly. My cousin died unexpectedly about a year and a half ago, love yourself. You know, I had a nephew that had a pretty major operation when he was only two or three months old. We all have things that ruckus in our lives, in our businesses, you know, clients that go rogue, you know, all kinds of situations. And this is one of the things that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough. And one of the reasons why I am such a geek when it comes to entrepreneurship and, you know, small business is that entrepreneurial skills are life skills.

The skills that we learn on the job that we must learn on the job, you really can’t learn these skills, you know, at university or TAFE. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t go to a college, I think, and, you know, learn these skills. They have to be forged in the fire. And one of the things that I’m very, very grateful for, and if you’ve been following me for a while now, you would have heard this already, for two years, I was a tour leader. I was 22, 23, 24 in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam and Cambodia specifically. And it was such a steep learning curve. And yes, we had training. And yes, we had some on the job training as well, but you couldn’t train for these things. And the skills that I learned in those two years are skills that I continue to draw upon today and no doubt many decades in the future. And these skills are, you know, this resilience and resourcefulness that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And almost, there’s almost an expectation, like when I go into a launch period, even when I’m planned in advance, even when I’m feeling more organised and normal, even when I’ve decided it’s going to be a low stress launch and I’m not going to, you know, put on the bells and whistles, even when I’m taking it relatively easy, I just know from past experience that there will be some curve balls. And almost always it will at least involve a client that I haven’t heard from for months or years who will suddenly emerge from the woodwork requesting my attention. There will always be a curve ball or three.

So I’ve come to expect it. It’s almost like, oh yes, of course. Well, of course this would happen now. So resourcefulness, this ability to kind of take what you’ve got, to take the constraints, to take the shortcomings and to make something out of it. The agility required for that, the creativity required for that, the open-mindedness of, you know, keeping a very broad perspective on possibilities, keeping a broad perspective on what could happen.

You know, I often see business owners who have a very rigid idea of what success looks like. They’ve got a very rigid idea of how their goals should play out, how their expectations should play out. They think it has to look exactly like this. And they have opportunities that just, you know, are knocking them on the head and they can’t recognise them as such because they’re not strictly looking like they expected them to look. So open-mindedness is absolutely critical.

And there’s a lack of ego with these things. Yeah, there’s a lack of ego with resilience and open-mindedness and resourcefulness and creativity and agility. There has to be a lack of ego, right? Because it kind of gets knocked out of you. It doesn’t survive when you’re, you know, shuffling around trying to make something happen. Like the thing, the amount of things that went wrong as a tour leader. Bridges would get washed away. Roads would literally get washed away into the paddy fields. Drivers wouldn’t turn up. Bookings would be dropped. The train’s not running. The bus is not running. The boat’s not running. The flight’s been dropped. And then aeroplanes, the aeroplane, oh my goodness, the amount of decommissioned Chinese and Russian aeroplanes that we rode on, you know, you could see people sweating bullets when we’re coming into land and all of the seats that aren’t occupied fly forward.

But, you know, the problem solving and the solutions focus, because you can’t solve an issue. You can’t be solutions focused if you’ve got this rigid frame of mind. If you are only focused on problem, problem, problem. These are all my problems. Oh my goodness, I’ve got all of these problems. There’s all these hindrances and constrictions and I can’t do this and I can’t do that and I don’t have access to this and I don’t have enough money and da-da-da-da-da-da-da. If you are so wedded to your problems, to your current situation, you cannot see the solutions that might be right in front of you.

There’s an anti-fragile. Look, I think anti-fragile is a better word sometimes perhaps. And how I’m going to define this is that we accept our weaknesses or things that we’re not awesome at and we create strategies to deal with these. And this is critical as well for that personal sustainability.

How do we create personal sustainability? Well, we have to recognise our shortcomings, our weaknesses, our blind spots. And it’s really tricky to recognise our blind spots. That’s one of the main values I think of business coaching. One of the two main reasons why you would have a business coach, shortcuts and blind spots. It’s hard to see your own blind spots, but we can’t fight that, right? We can’t fight our weaknesses. It’s not efficient to be constantly focusing on our weaknesses and thinking, right, I’ve got to get better at this. I’ve got to get better at this. It makes way more sense to say, okay, well, this is what I’m not great at. This is where my triggers are. These are my weaknesses. And now I need to create some strategies to deal with these. I’m going to outsource for these particular things. I’m going to find a thought leader, find a thought partner, rather, somebody who can work with me to help me see things I can’t see. I’m going to employ somebody who can work with me to regulate my emotions or regulate my excitements when I want to burn everything down and create 25,000 new things.

That’s a really great marriage, business marriage to have the entrepreneur who’s the visionary who wants to create all the things all the time and gets really excited about starting stuff to have somebody who works in the business, normally a second in charge, a manager type person who says, whoa, Nellie, let’s, yep, that might be a great idea, but we’re not going to do that now. Let’s put that on the list. Let’s think about doing that later. Let’s look at that in more depth and detail before we decide to jump.

So the other thing that I want to talk about in relation to personal sustainability is we are often taught this propaganda lie that the only point of business is that there’s a very kind of rigid trajectory of what business success looks like, that you’re either building it to sell or you’re raising capital and ultimately building it to sell. Yeah. I don’t think that’s actually useful, and I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think that growth at all costs makes a lot of sense.

There’s plenty of businesses that are absolutely thriving until the investor comes in, a huge influx of cash comes in and ruins the business. And I’m thinking about Sophia Amoruso and her business. And you know, it was the influx of cash, the massive influx of cash that destroyed what was otherwise a very profitable, very successful business. And that is not uncommon. That is not uncommon. So, you know, that’s obviously not sustainable and it’s not actually useful for our nervous system as well. And oftentimes, you know, I see this a lot, is businesses that have this massive growth trajectory, this huge rapid growth, and then the business owner burns out and makes a rash decision to close the business, sell the business, you know, or do something drastic. Yeah. Not, again, useful from a personal sustainability perspective, nor, of course, a business sustainability perspective.

So, it was Edward Abbey, an ecological philosopher, who said, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. So, yes, by all means, I’m not discouraging growth. Sure. If you have a period of rapid growth, great, wonderful, but make sure it’s followed by a period of calibration. Make sure it’s followed by a period of bedding down that growth so that you’re not making rash decisions. You’re not handing over too much power to investors. You’re not making hasty decisions or reactive decisions that aren’t in your best interest. Growth, recalibrate growth, recalibrate growth. And if you don’t want to grow and you don’t want to sell, well, that’s a possibility too. If you do want to sell, you have options. Please know that if you’ve decided, if, you know, it’s clear that you’ve reached the end of the line with the current business and you want to exit the business, you have more possibilities. You have more possibilities than just closing the doors. I think oftentimes micro businesses, small businesses, we think that they’re not sellable when in fact they are.

So finally, when it comes to sustainability, I want to, maybe I should have started with this point. I want to make this point that you don’t earn rest. You don’t earn joy or reward. You don’t earn the right to, you know, recalibrate, recuperate, have a proper weekend, have a proper holiday. We can bake these into our lives and work. And this is one of the key changes of approach that’s necessary for that personal sustainability because so many of us are still operating under the constraints of the industrial revolution where it’s like, I need to work hard and then I earn a rest. I need to work hard and then I earn a break. I only really earn a proper break when I’m burnt out, when I’m a shell of a person. Yeah. And this is not smart and it’s not true. If we can bake in buffer, if we can bake in joy, if we can prioritise joy, if we can rest as we go, if we can help these periods of intense growth and intense work and promotion and launching, and then rest, not because we’ve earned it, but because this is baked into our schedule. It’s baked into the rhythm of our work.

So my business hustle and heart is a paradox. Hustle and heart, ambition and gratitude, purpose, passion, mission, and profit. Sustainability is not about forever resting and forever letting our feelings dictate and being spontaneous and thinking that spontaneity is what authenticity or life is all about. That’s not it. This is not what I’m talking about. Yeah. We want to work. We need to work. It makes us, not only does it pay our bills, but it makes us relevant. We are marching in proud submission towards the infinite. Halil Gibran said that by the way, not me. We work because it is a collective endeavour. It connects us with our sense of purpose. It gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s not that we can only feel rest and rejuvenation and feel good when we’re on holidays. Yeah. If that’s the case, there’s something wrong, right?

There’s a disconnect between our purpose, our goal, our values, our work, what we’re supposed to be doing. But when we can bake these things in, when we can recognise that actually we need a break, not just on a Saturday, we need a break on the hour every hour, then we’re building personal sustainability, one breath, one moment, one hour at a time. I’ve made so many mistakes in my business.

I hope that by sharing some of these mistakes that you can avoid it, that you can enjoy reimagining what your days, your days are going to be, what your days, your weeks, your months, your years could look like when you prioritise joy, when you prioritise rest, when you recognise that growth requires collaboration, that hustle requires rest, that these things go hand in glove, that one is not better or worse than the other, but they are mutually sustaining, mutually flourishing.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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Acknowledgment of Country

We acknowledge the Cammeraygal people, the traditional and ongoing custodians of the lands that Hustle & Heart creates and works on. This lush land is just north of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We also acknowledge the traditional and ongoing custodians of the land, skies and seas where you are, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that these lands were never ceded.

Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

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