When I started a business, I never imagined that this beautiful dream would put a microscope on my deepest weaknesses, personal flaws, and unconscious biases. Many of us self-employed creatives who work from home are already experiencing the paradox of creating a polished image for our brands while sitting hunched over a laptop on the couch amidst yesterday’s empty coffee cups. This reality is easy to laugh about and bond over at occasional gatherings with fellow entrepreneurs after we’ve showered, brushed our teeth, and unearthed a pair of classy jeans from the ever-growing pile of dirty laundry.
What is more challenging to openly discuss is that as one’s business outwardly grows, the inner journey of self-growth and reflection intensifies at an exponential rate.
And just as it’s possible to have growing pains from business getting too big too fast, sometimes expedited inner growth hurts, too.
To be fair, the purpose of my business is to further social justice principles, and this kind of activist work constantly asks us to unpeel layers of unconscious bias, to get intimate with our privilege, and to question our intentions at every turn. I’ve had many missteps. There have been moments of getting called on my blind spots—both privately and publicly—that have challenged me to be a better advocate and have deepened my humility.
The easiest criticism to deal with is the kind you can blow off; it’s the trolls hiding behind computer screens, calling you reactionary names, but they’re not your people and your brand was never for them.
It’s the critique from your audience that demands the most attention; often an action you took needs to be corrected and an apology is in order, and as you lay in bed at night, you find yourself being transported to unexplored parts of your soul. No matter how many knock-your-socks-off photos you posted on Instagram that day, you are keenly aware that a faulted human lumbers behind the social media highlight reel. I wish I could say I always handle constructive criticism with the utmost grace, but sometimes getting an up-close view into the gorge between who I am and who I want to be is painful.
But practicing the skill of humility comes handy for other moments in business: interpersonal conflict between co-founders, lapsed email correspondence, and poor time management to name just a few.
None of us is an expert at every aspect of our business; a wise CEO knows both her strengths and weaknesses equally and delegates important work to people who complement her.
I think the hardest part about this is that sometimes you think you hold a strength—either personally or in business—but patterns over time begin to erode that belief.
I’m not suggesting you better hone what’s lacking; the only craft to perfect is that of letting go, of kindness, of gentleness. To me, authenticity in business means dealing with what’s in front of you at any single moment in the most honest way you know how. There’s no time for that punitive voice in your head. You’ll never be able to sustain the work it takes to grow if you’re judging yourself the whole way because when critiques or self-doubt arise, your first thought will be “maybe I should give up.”
And might I suggest you offer this same kindness to people you work with, brands you collaborate with, and clients you serve? We can all hold each other accountable while simultaneously acknowledging each other’s humanity. Running your own business means finding the balance between strength and softness and having the courage and humility to know when you’ve strayed too far in either direction.
Our businesses are reflections of ourselves—it’s easy to point to places where we excel and where we could improve; therefore, it only serves us to be authentic and honest people, knowing our personal growth is not just a by-product of entrepreneurship, but rather a necessity for success.