So this October our business officially turned five years old. We have much to be thankful for: great clients, challenging and fulfilling projects, and wonderful employees. But I have to admit that we celebrated with mixed emotions. This year I felt the imperfection, and the anxiety of running a small business, more than ever. Of course I knew at the start-up stage that running a business isn’t a panacea of perfect. But because our ride so far has been smooth, and we’ve grown without too much pain, I just hadn’t felt the ‘downs’ until this past summer.
July and August of 2013 were wonderful in many respects. Our vivid team took holiday, and I spent two weeks with my family on the beautiful West coast of Canada. But even within the rest and celebration of summer I couldn’t shake the feeling that we just weren’t busy enough. My (negative) inner monologue was, “oh no, five years and we’re done…”
As a business owner you are both driven by and exhausted from the chase of new business, the intellectual challenge of on-going projects, the people you serve, the timelines, and the ‘not knowing’ what comes next.
Yet, if you told me that tomorrow I would know each and every day what I’d be doing, I’d hate that. I simply couldn’t do it. To be spontaneous and alive at work is what I want. Yet, it all comes at a price.
This summer was tough. We worked extremely hard on a big pitch and lost – edged out in the final round of two by a worthy opponent. Our clients pulled back on their spending, reacting to budget cuts and general belt tightening in worldwide CPG. Booked sessions and commitments were cancelled or postponed.
So who talks about this in a blog? How foolish of me to share this weakness, these fears, these moments of doubt and vulnerability?
Rationally speaking, the data would tell me that our business is doing well, that we have little to be worried about. We have impressive year-over-year growth, with many happy clients, a high percentage of repeat business, new ideas working, and zero employee turnover. Yet, the emotional strain of months of ‘down time’ was troubling. It made me feel nervous, scared, and frustrated. And in spite of my best efforts to not think about it and to be thankful that I had two weeks off, days to have lunch without rushing, lots of exercise and healthy eating, the inner flame in me became more like a roaring fire.
So why is feeling vulnerable important to success? Why is feeling anxious about a business a means to learn more, grow more, take more risks, and lean in?
I turned to one of my favourite TED speakers and author Brené Brown for some wisdom. She is a vulnerability expert and her two talks, both shown here, are well worth watching. Prepare to be moved.
Brené’s work reminded me that vulnerabilty is connection. And connection, helping brands and people to connect, is what vivid does. Brené’s work reminded me that you can’t shy away from vulnerabilty – you just have to deal with it and use it to be better.
So in fact, my feeling vulnerable about aspects of my business could mean I’m better able to empathize with what our clients deal with daily, on a much larger scale. It also means I can really listen when consumers share their stories knowing that people and brands connect through vulnerability.
It helped me think about how many times you establish rapport with someone through a shared moment of imperfection or a giggle about something that just went wrong. We obviously don’t seek to be imperfect or make mistakes, but when mistakes happen they remind us that we are human.
In the brand world, we often need brands to acknowledge their mistakes and admit their vulnerability to convey humanity. When they remind us they are real we are more forgiving.
So if you find yourself shying away from vulnerability, fear not, and find a way to connect with the consumers of your brand, or colleagues in your office, in a way that is human and honest. I can guarantee that you will be better and happier for it.
P.S. The phone started ringing again in September!