“Wake up before everybody else and work into the night. Hustle.”
We’ve grown up watching men like Gary Vee talk this kind of nonsense. The Wolf of Wall Street. Dragons Den, Shark Tank, you get the money, you don’t get the money, he was to blame, she was to blame, I made the most sales, you’re fired, no YOU’RE FIRED.
This is the world of business, as we currently know it. And quite frankly, I’m fucking over it.
We’re taught that we must hustle, outwork everyone else, squash the competition, play the game and have an agenda. That we need an exit strategy, and investors waiting to snap our business up, because growth is everything. Even if it comes over your own happiness.
We’re conditioned to believe that a lifestyle business is small and silly, not a ‘proper business’. Because who would want a business that gives you a great life when you could have an empire!
For so long, I saw the world through this lens. I’ve been sitting there, dishing out advice on scaling businesses and going for growth. I have been so conditioned by this patriarchal version of what I considered to be business that I actually believed it to be my own.
But in the last few days that has changed.
I realised I have been building my business for someone else’s approval. Each time I looked at my P&L I saw it through the eyes of a man. I can only describe it as like writing a journal entry not for yourself, but for someone to find and read aloud, and you write it so that it sounds cool and sexy and never vulnerable or messy or chaotic. I saw someone who would look at my business and see fast growth, improving profit margins and reduced costs. Growth, growth, growth! Growth at any cost! Clap clap! Well done Sarah! Please praise me oh wondrous businessman, for what would I be without you?
At the same time as all this I had the praise and recognition of so many women.
Women who had achieved much bigger successes than me, even. Yet, I wanted those heady highs of having a big businessman recognise my efforts. Someone like a Gary Vee, or a Mark Cuban. But what if someone equally powerful and successful, who was a woman, what if she recognised me? What about Sara Blakely, for instance?
Nahh, I didn’t visualise the same high.
Hmm. ‘That’s strange’ I thought when I pondered this.
Something had been feeling off for a while, out of alignment in my soul perhaps, and through a variety of inner work I have been doing, including seeing a psychotherapist, having long conversations with friends, consulting tarot cards (yes really, more on that in a minute) and leadership retreats, it has slowly and subtly bubbled up to the surface. I was building a business based on an outdated, patriarchal construct of what makes ‘good business’. And I was doing it for their recognition.
You see, I don’t believe most women have these desires. It seems to me most women (I’m not saying all) want different things. We want things that feel good to us. We want a business that provides a better life for us and our family. We want freedom. We want to work around school pick-ups, home workouts, our dogs or getting a manicure. I mean, yeah, you can roll your eyes at this part and go ‘what a fucking cliché’ but let’s be real… it’s true. We want a business that allows us to work in bed during our period because it’s a fucking shit time. We want a business that allows us to visit our elderly grandparents during their last days. We want to take our girls on an all expenses paid holiday, and a business that feels kind and cosy and peaceful, not watch-your-back aggressive.
I’m sure there are now many men who want those things too.
Of all of the female founders I have met and had conversations with, in my entire lifetime, I’ve only ever had 2-3 tell me they have an exit plan. Even then, they didn’t sound super sure.
You see, this patriarchal notion of business has infiltrated us so deeply that I wonder if we just innately believe that’s what ‘good business’ is. But it’s not. It’s just it’s the only version of business we’ve ever known. And it doesn’t benefit women at all.
Because building a business that works for you and only you, that doesn’t have aims of being the next VC backed Unicorn is ok.
You know what else is OK?
Letting your emotions come into your business. Yep.
You know what else?
Crying over your work, because it shows you’re a human who cares.
Taking ten mins to walk around the park and breathe in some fresh air before making a big decision.
Knowing that people’s kids and families come before their love for your company.
Walking out of a big meeting because you found out your kid hurt herself at school. It doesn’t mean your priorities aren’t in the business. It means You’re a great parent AND a great business owner.
Trusting your gut on something, even if it makes no fucking sense on paper.
None of these things are ‘bad business’.
But we’ve been told they are. We’ve been told the very things that make us women, the power of our feminine energy, intuition and emotions… well that’s just all silly and it has no place in business!
What if women determined all those years back what business was – what it looked like and how it would feel.
Would it be less aggressive?
Would we help each other up instead of trying to push each other down?
It’s interesting to take your mind there for a moment isn’t it?
In the past 5 years I’ve worked with female founders and I’ve seen the number of women starting businesses BOOM. I mean, seriously boom. So, I have faith that the face of business as we know it will change. The things we think of as good and bad business will change, drastically, because there is no good or bad way to run a business. There are just different ways to run a business, each of them nuanced and in context of the individual founder’s aims and vision.
I believe we are on the cusp of a new frontier. One where what was once seen as the ‘touchy-feely’, girly parts of business are not only included but recognised and even applauded.
A new frontier where businesses help each other out and lift each other up instead of spending an eternity constantly trying to push each other down for the sake of winning. Where instead of being laughed at for making a decision based on a tarot card reading, you’ll instead ask me what deck I used, and could I pull a card for you too?
I’m here for it.
Fuck the exit strategy.