Your Business Is Not A Problem To Be Fixed

Messages urging you to fix yourself or fix your business are all around.

It’s all part of the annual ritual of improvement that is the New Year.

Most of these messages revolve around invented or exaggerated “problems” that can be easily solved if only you’d buy this product or that product.

Our consumer economy culture begs us to participate in this problem-solution buying frenzy. And the begging (often, in reality, the shaming) takes the form of seemingly helpful suggestions: Don’t you want to be more mindful? Don’t you want to move your body more? Don’t you want to read more? Don’t you want to eat more nourishing foods?

None of these impulses are bad at face value, of course. But underlying the vast majority of the marketing messages and thinly-veiled advertorial clickbait is the pretense that we’re not enough, that there’s something wrong with us for not being “more” already. That the problems we have indicate that we are a problem.

I’ve been binging the Hurry Slowly podcast with Jocelyn K. Glei over my holiday rest period. And I listened to an interview with meditation teacher Sebene Selassie, who wrote my favorite book of 2020, You Belong (if you purchase through this link, you’ll be supporting indie bookstores and What Works). In the interview, Sebene said something that’s gnawed at my attention ever since I heard it.

She said, “We don’t have to make ourselves a problem in order to aspire to transformation.”

I’ve been dancing around this idea in my own thinking on planning & goal-setting and in my yoga practice for a while now. In The Commitment Blueprint, I invite participants to feel into the creative tension between embracing their present and orienting toward desired growth for the future:

We can identify a vision for the future while also finding the value in our current experience, choices, and work.

We’re conditioned to believe that the “hard” choice is the right choice. We’ve learned that, if we don’t choose pain, there is no gain. But this conditioning forces us to negate the value of just being, embracing the present—and who we are in this moment. We can change and grow without sacrificing our satisfaction now.

But I hadn’t noticed that part of this tension is consciously saying yes to the fact that what is present isn’t a problem.

Note: not being a problem is different from not having needs. We all have needs—some of our needs are more existential than others. Further, our economic culture individualizes systemic needs and turns them into personal failings so that we seek consumer solutions to what is really a harmful limitation of the system.

We can see our businesses in the same way: satisfaction with what we’ve already created and aspiration to transformation.

Here’s the thing: your business is a triumph.

I can say that unequivocally.

The fact that you have created something designed to care for you and for others, to feed your curiosity, to make an impact on your community… it’s astounding really. There is so much you’ve had to wade through to get here, to create this thing.

Your business isn’t a problem to be fixed, it’s an achievement to be celebrated.

And, your business doesn’t have to be a problem to aspire to transform it.

Of course, there are plenty of folks who would love for you to see your business as a problem to be fixed. They want you to see that there’s something lacking in the way you post on social media or something deficient about how you’ve built your brand. They want you to believe that everything would be better if only you had an offer that sold for $19. 

Your inbox is probably full of messages pointing out all of the potential faults in your business: your pricing, your tools, your packages, your ads… And many of these messages can’t help but make you question whether your business is “good enough” or worthy of care.

The more problems you see with your business, the more they can sell you the solution to those problems.

The more conditioned you are to see your business as a problem, the more your attention stretches toward possible solutions.

At this point, you might be thinking: “But Tara, my business isn’t working the way I want it to! Surely, there must be a problem!

Let’s deconstruct that statement a bit.

If your business isn’t working the way you want it to, it actually implies that it is working (just not the way you’d like it to). Your business works. How it’s working might not be meeting your financial needs, or energizing you, or providing you with enough flexibility and ease. But it is working.

You don’t need to experience your business as a problem to aspire to change the way it works.

Okay, so what does this look like in practice? 

It starts by bringing your attention to the information you already have and noticing what’s there.

Examine the results you’re currently experiencing. Those results could include how much revenue the business is generating, how many hours you’re working, how many new clients are coming your way, how many conversations are happening in your group, etc…

Gather embodied and qualitative information, too. Notice if a particular task or relationship or idea produces sensations in your body (tight chest, shallow breathing, heightened energy, relaxation). Look at both the positive and critical feedback you’ve received. 

The way your business works today is what is producing all of that information. That information is just data. It’s neutral—neither good nor bad. 

Now, you probably have an opinion about that information.

You might think that your business should be making more money or that you should be working fewer hours. You might be ruminating on critical feedback or dissociating from your body to avoid feeling what it’s telling you.

Because we’re trained to see our negative opinions of information as an indication of a problem, we end up inadvertently using our negative opinions of information as the basis for a painful relationship to our businesses instead of a generative one.

What happens if you separate the information from your opinion of it for a bit?

What if, instead, you become curious about the information you have and grateful for what’s producing that information? How could that shift your relationship to your business?

What if, instead of seeing your business as a problem-to-be-fixed, you saw it as an opportunity to pursue true growth, deepening, or resilience?

Your business doesn’t have to be a problem to aspire to transform it.

When you start to see your business as an opportunity for transformation as opposed to a problem-to-be-fixed, all of the marketing messages hit you differently. Some might be legitimately useful for you as you pursue transformation. Others, you’ll be able to simply ignore.

And honestly, there are going to be some that you just laugh at because the problems they’re asserting you have are just ridiculous.

You’ll face all of these messages with confidence and a feeling of wholeness.

These messages, of course, aim to sell you something. But it’s not the selling that’s problematic. It’s urging you to see your business (or some aspect of it) as a problem that’s potentially, well, problematic.

This is what we get wrong about the “ick” factor of selling, by the way. We assume that we don’t like to sell or that we’re not good at selling. When, in fact, we don’t like to manipulate people into thinking they have a problem they don’t have. That’s understandable!

So let me say again: your business works. The way it functions—whether intentionally or accidentally—is producing the results you’re experiencing. You probably have feelings about these results. Some of those feelings are positive, others are… not. But having bad feelings about your results doesn’t mean your business is a problem, it means you have a desire for change.

If you’re satisfied by the way your business works and the results you’re experiencing? Fantastic!

And, if you want to transform your business (in big ways or small ways) so that it works differently? Fantastic!

When you see your business as already working, you can find satisfaction with what you’ve already built (the way you’ve put yourself out there is really amazing). And, you can also take ownership of the changes you want to make.

This is why I talk about building stronger businesses.

I want you to see your business as strong already. I want you to see the ways you’ve already designed it to do remarkable things. I want you to love the fact that it exists and is taking care of you the best way it can right now.

Your business is already strong—and if you want to make it stronger, I’m all for that, too.

No doubt, you can make your business stronger on your own. There are incredible resources at your disposal—and you are a resourceful leader who can take advantage of those resources.

And if you are looking for support as you endeavor to make your business stronger and pursue transformation? Well, that’s why we created The What Works Network

We don’t exist to fix your business (or you) or convince you that there’s something wrong with it. We’re here to guide, support, and equip you for transforming your business the way you want to transform it if that’s what you’re looking for.

We’re a collaborative, non-dogmatic community that works together to overcome challenges, seize opportunities, and build stronger businesses. The Network is also a hub for tools, templates, and experiences that support you on your journey.

We’re not a solution to your problem; we’re many helping hands along your way forward.

If you are looking for support in making your strong business even stronger, I invite you to join us.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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I've explored goal-setting and planning with small business owners, creatives, and independent workers for over 12 years now. That means I've observed many different types of goal-setters. Some confidently choose a new goal and get to work. Others rebel against...

What Works offers in-depth, well-researched content that strips away the hype of the 21st-century economy. Whether you love the podcast, the articles, or the Instagram content, we’d love your support