Interior designers will tell you to live in a house for a year before making
any big decisions or investments in things like furniture or art.
You need to see how you live in and move through the space before filling the space.
I, of course, did not follow that advice.
When we moved into our new house last August I was ready to start fresh. I could finally get rid of the hand-me-down furniture that filled our home for the first ten years. My kids were grown enough that we could have some nice things without worrying about marker stains.
So I drove around the DC area, sourcing furniture and filling my mom’s garage while we waited for our move-in date. I picked out light fixtures and an assortment of knick knacks that were too cute to pass up. I scooped up every vintage rug I could find, unsure what rooms they would occupy.
And then I scheduled a photoshoot for one week after we moved in.
I couldn’t wait to get to the lived-in stage, even if it meant forcing it.
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
URGENCY VS. IMPORTANCE
You don’t have to twist my arm to invest in my business. I’ve always believed that you have to invest in yourself the way you’re asking clients to invest in you. Plus, I LOVE working with experts.
In my 9 years as a business owner I’ve always invested. And at the top of that list was my digital presence.
I’ve had more than one person tell me that your website doesn’t matter — you can have a successful business with no website at all. But I never agreed with this sentiment.
I mean really, what’s your impression of someone who has the “created by GoDaddy” footer on their site? What about a business address ending in gmail.com? Do you take them seriously? Would you hand over thousands of dollars to them?
We’re an online culture.
People are brands, products are brands. And with templates so easily available, there’s no reason not to show up well in a search.
If it takes less than a second for someone to make a snap judgment about you when visiting your website, profile, or account, shouldn’t we prioritize how we’re presenting ourselves?
I invested early and heavily. Working my 9-5 and running my business meant I wasn’t reliant on my business income to pay my mortgage. I realize not everyone has this privilege. I also think it felt too much like a slush fund, never making me charge what I needed to make the work financially secure.
I also realized that making smart investments early could help me communicate the level of service someone could expect when hiring me. The year I went full-time in my business I met someone who thought, based on how I showed up, my business was bringing in at least $300k.
That’s the power of branding.
Unfortunately I became too reliant on this outward expression and image.
When I’d reach an evolution point I’d always book a web refresh or photoshoot to align with my next level.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing and rewriting copy.
Creating self-imposed deadlines that took up all of my time in an effort to be 100% aligned.
I see it all the time. Us creatives get caught up in the feeling that our brand should always represent where we are and what we want to be known for. That’s why when things start to feel off, the most common thing I see people reach for is a rebrand.
The idea is that if I can change our outward appearance, everything else will fall into place — as if somehow a design project can obliterate any question marks in our mind about what we want to do, how we want to show up, and what we want to be known for.
And it’s not just that we reach for these projects. It’s that we reach for them with urgency.
If we can just can show up differently, we’ll feel differently. We’ll project differently.
I need to get my website live and then I’ll be able to sell my new program.
I’m doing this course so that I’ll be more qualified to do the work I want to do.
My LinkedIn profile is so outdated. I need to clear my schedule to work on it because I know I’m missing opportunities over there.
These are the excuses that we give for hiding in the shadows.
There are a number of problems with this, both for creatives as individuals and creatives as service providers.
Lack of clarity is rarely solved by hiring a talented person.
And hiring the best isn’t worth anything if you don’t have a solid foundation.
I can think of too many examples when someone hired “the best” only to be disappointed with the outcome. Shoot, sometimes this even was me.
We can’t look to other creatives as magicians. Other people can only execute when we’re clear enough ourselves.
This might feel familiar to you.
You invested in a coach or a strategist or a designer. And it feels great. You launch something new and with that there’s some built in publicity – an initial hit of interest.
But it feels off. Something wasn’t fully captured.
Six months later you’re back where you were — feeling like the investment you made was a quick fix but not a holistic one.
We do this. We rush our timelines when we’re feeling stuck.
We become obsessed with the process of changing, poring over our ideas, questioning everything possible.
This tweaking happens at all stages, but especially in the middle.
I was talking to a friend and past client several months ago about this. The inherent pull to change things up, to micromanage the direction. And she reflected something so poignant.
She said, “Kim, I think we do this because we can control our businesses. It’s a distraction. We can’t outwork things like cancer or infertility.”
We sure can’t.
SLOWING DOWN TO GET AHEAD
One of the best books I picked up in the midst of the great unraveling of 2021 was Wintering by Katherine May.
I was drawn to it for the same reason I’m drawn to all things slow business and slow living. Because I’ve never defaulted to slow.
The focus of her book is, not surprisingly, the winter season.
You may be familiar with incorporating seasonality in your life. Seasonal eating. Seasonal energy.
If we’re honest, none of us reach for winter. We reach for summer – when the berries are ripe and the weather is warm. But we can’t have summer without winter.
May defines winter as a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment.
We can’t produce year long. We all need winter. And yet we fight it.
May says, “Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. Winter is asking me to be more careful with my energies and rest a while until spring.”
Some seasons are abundant with recognition. In others, everything is happening beneath the surface. And when we don’t see the constant growth we start to get itchy.
I talked to some who feel like the pandemic has put us in an endless winter – a groundhog day of sorts. I can’t help but wonder if that’s because we’ve put pressure on ourselves to perform as we were pre-pandemic – requiring ourselves to be unchanged when everything around us has changed.
Let me tell you a bit about my winter, which actually happened in the summer.
In March I found myself with ten active projects. As a solo business owner this was as overwhelming as you might imagine. Aside from doing the work I was also eating up my time scheduling calls, requesting feedback, and sending reminders about timelines.
My first thought was – Wow, if I keep up this pace I’ll 3x what I made last year.
Not long after I changed that thought track to – This is just the busy season. Once summer rolls around I’ll take more time off.
The problem was that every time an opportunity came along I was seduced by how much I could handle. Until I couldn’t.
I wanted everything to change and I wanted it to change right then.
Within a month I booked two photographers, a web redesign, a personal brand site, and a 6-month coaching program.
When I’m in, I’m IN.
Looking back it’s clear. I was making bad money decisions.
They were made quickly. And they were made out of desperation.
I was undergoing such fast transformation and I felt like everything that the public saw about me and Pattern of Purpose was wildly outdated.
I thought that the quicker I could share the unfolding that was happening internally, the quicker I’d get the affirmations I was looking for. Even as someone who’s benefitted from having a professional brand, there are limits to what your message and platform can do for you.
I was reaching for these things as a solution — to speed up the process.
When we get here — when we so badly want to get to where we’re going — the only way to avoid decisions we’ll come to regret later is to ask: Is this coming from a place of expansiveness or a place of panic?
For me, the ground was separating underneath me. And the only way to find my footing was to pretend I could control the outcome.
UNDERSTANDING URGENCY CULTURE
Urgency isn’t just self imposed. We feel it from clients and colleagues too.
You can fit me in, right?
I need this like YESTERDAY.
My favorite is when clients beg to change the schedule — to speed up just to slow down. You get them what they need and then SILENCE.
I used to get upset about these situations. But it was mostly because I felt pressure to say yes every time.
Dr. Nicole LePera, also known online as the holistic psychologist shares common signs of urgency culture this way:
- Texting back immediately or expecting texts back immediately
- Expecting immediate results or quick fixes
- A belief that you’re running out of time or it’s too late to start or do something
- Expecting yourself or others to have an opinion, emotion, or statement on something immediately
Understanding the patterns of urgency culture allows us to EXPECT IT and say no with kindness instead of yes with resentment.
When we give ourselves time for wayfinding we can more easily recommend it to others.
And we have a responsibility to recommend it to others. Even when the money would be good. Even when you’d love to have this project in your portfolio.
If someone isn’t clear the project is gonna go off the rails, you need to be the one to anticipate that and to feel confident knowing that giving your honest opinion on their readiness is not insulting — it’s the highest form of service you can give.
Unfortunately I’ve been an advisor on multiple projects in the past year that hired firms who had no business in taking on the business. My clients didn’t have the clarity they needed to expect a result that the firms were promising.
At some point we’ve all done this, but these are never the easiest projects. They’re the ones that take double the amount of time — the ones where the client is never pleased, no matter how hard you worked on it.
Just because you want to be ready doesn’t mean you are.
As my good friend told me, “You can’t see something when you’re sitting on top of it.”
How can we affirm when we’re heading in the right direction when slowness is required for change?
Can we force ourselves out of a creative slump?
In my experience, no.
The only way I ever got to a breakthrough was by taking off the pressure to find it. That takes self trust and an appreciation for a little thing called liminal space.
The first time I heard about liminal space was from Rebecca Ching, a psychotherapy-trained leadership coach.
She describes liminal space as the in-between phase.
Even the most well developed leaders lose confidence here. She says it feels like we’re past something and then it shows up again, testing us and causing uncertainty.
My mentor poignantly refers to this as the caterpillar goo stage. You’ve outgrown the caterpillar phase but you’re not yet a beautiful butterfly.
It’s when you awaken to your potential. You realize where you want to head. You unfold the old layers and set them aside. You’re no longer your old self but you’re not yet who you want to become.
And that can be an unsettling place to live.
I was once working with a client who was in this space. She hired me because she wanted to become a thought leader but she had no idea how to show up. In her inquiry form she said, “It feels wrong to talk about the things we’ve outgrown but I’m not sure what the right thing is yet.”
So her team went dark.
I don’t have data on this but I expect this is true of most high-performing creatives. As fast iterators we’re always seeking to unlock the next level as we work towards our vision. But if we’re not careful the process can wreak havoc on our lives.
Knowing that there’s more to explore also means knowing this process will be cyclical. As we unearth new potential we have to let go of who we once were before knowing who we will become.
And no place is this more evident than when introducing ourselves to others.
ANSWERING “WHAT DO YOU DO?”
I’ve been obsessed with my job title for approximately FOREVER. Maybe it’s being a born and bred Washingtonian, but the first question I always expect when meeting someone new is: What do you do?
As I’ve veered away from a more traditional career path I’ve had to become comfortable with others not understanding what I do. I’ve come to expect people to half smile and say something like, “That’s cool,” when I tell them I’m a business owner.
I’ve learned the formulas for a great elevator pitch. I’ve seen the examples of sales pitches. But they never felt right to me.
If you’re struggling with the same thing, here are a few fill in the blanks that work:
In my first act I worked in ______, now I ______.
I run my own ______ business.
I help people ______.
I know these aren’t the most high-level descriptions. In fact, they don’t say much at all. But they feel comfortable and true AND allow for people to engage if they want to.
No longer do I try to over explain my career change or zone of genius. Because honestly, most people asking this don’t really care what the response is, so why feel pressure to perform?
In the past few weeks I’ve seen several colleagues announce new jobs they’ve taken, going from entrepreneurship back to corporate.
In the business community, this is a dirty topic.
It means you’ve failed — you couldn’t cut it.
But to me, I think this is one of the bravest things you can do.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to figure it out and be wildly successful in 90 days or less. I’ve heard stories of “7-figure business owners” who aren’t taking home any money at all.
And for what?
To keep up the illusion of success?
Sometimes it’s the right time to shift our focus off of work and onto something else. Sometimes it’s the right time to let our creativity breathe out of the public eye.
So do what you need to do to make work work for you in this season.
Maybe that’s working for someone else. Maybe it’s taking a bridge job. Maybe it’s taking time off just to follow your curiosities.
The only constant is change.
Nothing is forever.
The goal isn’t to get there the fastest, it’s to outlast. And to do that means staying in the discomfort long enough without distraction, knowing that good stuff is always on the other side of caterpillar goo.