“I want to work so hard that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I deserve my success.” —Stephen A. Smith
I’m a big sports fan and eagerly listened to Bill Simmons’ recent interview with Stephen A.
But when I heard this, I thought, “What a prison to build for yourself.”
Then I started hearing my clients saying versions of this.
“I have to be the first one in and the last one out.”
“I want to be there enough for my team to know I’ve got their back.”
“I need to be there so I can provide for my family.”
What do all these things have in common?
They start with the idea that we are not enough. That we have to always do more to prove ourselves. To others, and more importantly, to ourselves.
The Nagging Sense of Not Being Enough
In almost every high achiever that I have come across, there is a sense that there is no amount of work that they could ever do that would be enough. Often this comes from a childhood in which they were only seen for what they did, rather than who they were. Sometimes there is abuse or addiction involved. And it can go back generations.
I have struggled with this for years. As a recovering overachiever, constantly trying to prove myself to emotionally absent parents, I have to constantly remind myself of my inherent self worth.
Recently this came up for me as I was thinking about what I wanted to work on at the end of the summer, a typically slow time for me.
Rather than accept the rhythms of the business and the downtime, I stressed out. I had to bring in some clients, and I had to do it now. It felt like my life and livelihood depended on it.
Did it change things? No. But I did get the “satisfaction” of trying some things before I saw what I was doing.
What You Get From Working Too Hard
A Harvard professor in human development, Robert Keegan, writes about what he calls “competing commitments.”
A competing commitment is often invisible to us but keeps us from doing what we know we should be doing.
“I have to work hard” is ingrained in many successful people I know, this “grind it out” philosophy of success based on rules that we do not see we have written.
That “success” (itself only a concept) only comes to people who work hard.
That our sense of self worth comes from working hard.
That we can feel like we are enough, that we deserve success, if only we work hard enough.
That working hard is based on output and efficiency and productivity. We must constantly be thinking about how to get MORE things done.
However hard we work, though, it never seems like it is enough or could ever BE enough.
And notice how much working hard gets in the way of what you really want in your business.
What You Actually Want From Your Business
To maximize your income and net worth, you want a business that runs itself. You might set the strategy, at least for now, but eventually you must give up even that.
If you are essential, you can never sell the business.
You have only maximized the value of your business when you are completely unnecessary to it.
Turning your knowledge into systems and culture and teams. (Or better yet, hiring someone who can do that for you.)
Getting out of the way.
The very things that your “I have to work hard” self would call lazy.
This is the paradox of scaling your business. The very reason you got into business, to prove yourself, constantly gets in the way of everything you need to create a sound business.
But that ignores an even bigger paradox—the relationship paradox.
The Biggest Cost—The Relationship Risk
The biggest cost of hard work may be something even more tragic than exhaustion.
One of the main upsides to having a successful business is the security that it provides for your family.
But you can feel like you have to neglect your family to get there.
And then you feel unappreciated for neglecting your family. That they don’t understand your sacrifice for them. That they complain about your absence without understanding WHY you are absent.
I am working with multiple clients right now who are dealing with different aspects of this.
One has been incredibly financially successful, yet realized in a quiet moment that what he most wanted was a close relationship with his wife.
Everything he has built from the outside looks like success. Yet he is still afraid to be vulnerable, to show any signs of weakness, of humanity, even with his wife.
The work of the business, which he is quite good at, is taking him away from what he most wanted, not helping him move toward it.
Because there is no dollar amount that can give him what he most wants—the sense that he is worthy of love, even from himself.
Freedom Can Only Be An Inner Game
Seeing these strategies—both how they have worked for us on the outside and what they have taken away from us on the inside—is the first step to true freedom.
Seeing the thought-created reality that you have been living in. Seeing that the stories you have created to protect yourself in that reality are no longer serving you. Seeing that you have the power to create something new—not on top of your old reality, but in place of it.
Seeing that freedom is a state of being, not something that you will ever create outside of you.
Having a partner or a coach who will keep pointing you back to you to this inner freedom is critical, because like any habit, it usually takes some effort to change it.
How to Start
If you are a founder wanting to scale and sell your company, there are three shifts in identity (thought) that can help you do so with twice the impact and half the stress. Take a look at this video.
If a building a sustainable coaching business that will replace your corporate income is calling you, here’s a video where I share the the top three mistakes I see coaches make when trying to build a sustainable business—
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