I was listening to This American Life this weekend on the radio as is my usual Saturday morning ritual.
One segment, Mon Ami Ta-Nehisi Coates, had me reflecting about how your life and world-view changes when you are in business, and how some of your relationships can change (or even end) as you grow and perhaps make more money and become more successful in your business and life.
In the segment, producer Neil Drumming talks with his long-time friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates, about Coates’ newfound fame and their friendship in that new context.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, for those who don’t know, is a celebrated American writer and journalist who has been hailed as the next James Baldwin. With the publishing of his latest book, he found himself suddenly famous and rich, which doesn’t always set well with those who “knew you when.”
The overarching take-away I got from their conversation was Drumming’s discomfort with Coates success and improved financial circumstances.
It seemed to me he felt that Coates “newfound” tastes and interests were pretentious, that he was getting a bit uppity simply for enjoying the fruits of his success, that since he came from more modest roots, that’s exactly where his tastes and interests should stay.
But whose problem is that? Is it Coates’ or Drumming’s?
Think about that.
Whether Coates’ success was something he methodically sought to achieve or came as an unexpected surprise, why shouldn’t he be interested in and partake of experiences he now has access to?
If the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn’t Drumming (and anyone else) do the same?
Or would he deprive himself of all this life and success now afforded him just to please other people’s sensibilities of who and how he should be in the world and what status level he should keep himself at? Why should he do that?
I see this dynamic at work in our industry as well.
Those in my circle have grown a more sophisticated sense about business and our place in the business world.
As a result, we ditched the “assistant” moniker long ago because it held us back in our business dealings and earning potential by keeping us mired in employee/less-than/subservient mentality, even in ways we weren’t fully conscious of.
Business owners aren’t assistants; the word isn’t even a term of business so it has no place in our vocabulary.
It also negatively influenced clients, causing them to think of the relationship more in terms of employer/worker instead of (correctly) a business-to-business one.
So, we grew in our esteem and understanding of ourselves in relationship to our clients. We weren’t their assistants or little worker bees. We are their skilled administrative experts and trusted administrative advisors.
But there are others in the world who are threatened by that view.
They fear taking a bigger, leading role in their business and in their relationships with clients. They want to stay in comfort zones that are easy and familiar, that don’t rock any boats, that don’t challenge themselves or others too much.
They are fine with settling, for not asking for “too much.” Because, to their thinking, who are they to desire something more or better or stand any taller than anyone else? They aren’t able to imagine anything more or better or different for themselves; they daren’t. Because that would mean stepping away from the herd.
And that’s okay if that’s where they’re at and want to stay.
What’s not okay is for them to want and insist that you hold yourself back and stay at their level if you are yearning to grow, to have a happier business, to get better clients, to make more money, to have more life, to place a higher value on what you do and how you help clients, to learn how to charge more for that, and to call yourself something that better respects your role as a business owner and sets better expectations and understandings in your clients.
How about you? Can you think of a few people who are a negative, detrimental influence in your pursuit of your business dreams and growth? A friend or family member who belittles them and consciously or unconsciously sabotages your efforts?
Maybe you’re hanging around in groups and surrounding yourself with others who keep you from thinking bigger about what you do, who don’t know any better.
I’m not even saying it’s necessarily intentional or conscious on their part. That just seems to be the nature of herd mentality: keeping the status quo, nurturing mediocrity, attacking anything they don’t understand (yet). It’s instinctive.
But if you are going to grow in your business, if you are going to get better clients, if you going to ever learn how to ask for and get higher fees, to believe in and understand the higher value you offer and how to provide the context that conveys those things to your would-be clients, it’s going to require you to break away from the herd.