Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Last year, I suffered a repetitive strain injury of my wrist and arm, and it so completely incapacitated me that I overhauled my entire work space, hired a VA, and even forced myself to work on a crappy Kindle tablet in order to get anything done whatsoever.

The sticker shock associated with ergonomic tools was substantial, but coming off a healthy Q4, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

Until I bought the chair.

The Ridiculous Reason I Wouldn’t Buy Myself an Office Chair (and How I Changed My Mind)

I bought, without a blink, a wall mounted table in order to get the keyboard at the right height, and articulating arm to mount the monitor, a riser cushion, two foot stools, several keyboards, a drawing tablet and a mouse. Several of these items were found wanting and subsequently returned but $300 was not too much, I felt, in order to solve this problem once and for all.

But the riser cushion negated any support from the chair back — I might as well have been on a stool. Over a week I noticed my endurance steadily deteriorate, and finally I realized, I was going to have to get a new chair.

For ONE chair?!!

I love The Wirecutter. They test exactly how I would test stuff if I had unlimited time and resources. So naturally I looked at their article on office chairs. $800 for a chair! I put the idea aside.

Another three days in the office. I was starting to dread work.

Certain things are red flags to me, and dreading work is definitely one of them. I lack the moral fiber to work when I hate it. So I looked at the chairs again. Wirecutter recommended an IKEA chair, and there’s an Ikea in DC, where I was headed in two days. I would look at it there.

It probably it wouldn’t work.

The Times That Try Men’s Souls

I had never been to an IKEA before. I’m convinced IKEA is owned by the Rats of NIMH, who use it as a means for experiments on humans. It’s set up like a maze, a literal maze. And it was absolutely swarming with people. The expression on my husband’s face was that of a man grimly determined to do his duty without cowardice or complaint.

We wound our way through the chaos and tested the chair. It worked beautifully. Well, shit. Now what? I had not come emotionally prepared to spend $200 on one chair! But I also knew that there was zero chance my husband would ever set foot in the store again if I decided to come again in a month.

I bought the chair.

I bought the chair, I got it home, and it was even more perfect in my office than it had been on the showroom floor. Where have you been all my life?

The Justification

Now, whether it’s a ad hoc rationalization or not, I quickly realized that $200 is only a dollar a day of use in a year. Technically less since I work more than that and it will almost certainly last longer than a year.

But I still feel weird about it. Not bad per se, but a bit defensive. Let me count the ways:

  1. It costs more than my husband’s office chair and his back is worse than mine
  2. We already spent $300 ‘on me’ in the last month
  3. Sure, we have the money, right now. But what if we didn’t? What would I have done?

And that’s the crux of the issue. I have some kind of mindset that if I could have ‘made do’ when I was broke then I could have and should have made do now.

Except that when I’m not broke I:

  • Hire service providers who provide an ROI for my business
  • Invest in courses and resources
  • Subscribe to things like Canva and Buffer which make it easier to scale my business and save me time

So what’s the difference about a chair?

You know what it is? When the answer came to me, I felt really dumb. It’s one of those reasons that, once you’re forced to admit it, you think, I sound like an idiot.

The difference is comfort. At some level I don’t feel secure about the legitimacy of my need for comfort. I mean, you can see me here, making the case for its legitimacy, but it’s a logical argument to backstop an emotional objection. I’m confident I could debate the point and win but:

  • But, that’s money we could have saved. Or invested.
  • I worked on a wooden kitchen chair for the first two years of my business. Why such a wuss now?

I share this not to cement my argument somehow, but because I feel pretty certain that you’ve got some kind of emotional objection to something in your business too.

Maybe it’s spending money ‘on yourself’ (which is technically an investment btw — see how much easier it is for me to tell you that than myself?) Or maybe it’s selling yourself as the expert and demanding expert prices.

Whatever it is, you’ve got to learn when your emotional objections don’t get to have a say. It’s possible you will overcome them with time. It’s possible you will come to believe in your expert status or that you will come to a conviction that your need for comfort is a practical necessity.

But in the meantime it’s enough if you just know it logically and allow logic to carry the day.

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I’ve been in the whole ‘build a business’ racket for most of my life at this point. It’s not hard to build a business. The real trick is to build a business that doesn’t make you want to step in front of a bus, doesn’t make you feel bored out of your mind at the same time as you’re screaming frustration, and ideally, maybe makes you feel like you get more out of the business than you put in. The ‘money for services rendered’ thing? That’s the easy part.

To avoid building a business you hate, you’ve got to be strategic.

How to Avoid Building a Business You Hate

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Love What You Do

It’s no surprise to anyone at this point that the foundation of a business that you love is loving what you do. And loving who you serve. And getting paid decently for it. We’ll take that part as read, since there are millions of books and blog posts that all say exactly this.

Learn To Identify Permanent and Temporary Trade-offs

The most important thing when you’re growing your business is to be able to tell the difference between the things you need to do in the short-term “in order to” vs. the things that are baked into the business model.

It’s one thing to hand-sell and ludicrously over-deliver to your first 20 clients. But if you can’t get to the point where you’re dialing that back and doing less hand-holding, well, you’d better be getting $20k per client or so, because otherwise you’re going to spend far more time walking people up to the deal than you are to actually serving them, which is no recipe for repeat customers.

Be Honest About What You Will and Won’t Do

Hey, if you’re not going to travel for business, that probably means that you’re not going to be a professional speaker. So don’t try to be.

Be honest about what you can’t bring yourself to do. If that dooms the business, so be it. Find another one. Plenty of fish in the sea. But, with that being said…

Find The Options for What’s Not Optional

If you hate social media (as I do, and as all right-thinking people do) then figure out another way to market. Yes, it will feel weird. Yes, people will tell you you’re wrong. Yeah, you’ll have to bear the weight of the decision to turn your back on what EVERYONE is telling you you have to do to build your business, and if you don’t you’re doomed to be a big, fat, failure. C’est la vie. At least you won’t wind up hating every second you spend clicking through Pinterest.

Don’t Set Any Of This In Stone

Check in with yourself on a regular basis. We all change, and the business landscape changes faster than that. Could be that the stuff you thought you hated is tolerable after all. Or that the benefits outweigh the irritations. You might also find that the stuff you used to like is now grating and it’s time to find another challenge. You, after all, are reading this post because you saw a link on social media, proving that I found a way to overcome my own prejudices in the matter.

None of this is a guarantee that you won’t want to burn down your business in a fit of pique. But it should help your chances, because what’s the point of winning a game where you don’t like the prizes?

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Recently I’ve been listening to podcasts. While I am listening, I like to argue as if they can hear me. Hey, it passes the time.

So I was listening to Pat Flynn’s interview with Michael Hyatt. I don’t know who Michael Hyatt is exactly, but I’m sure he’s some kind of a bigwig because that’s the type of person Pat Flynn has on his show.

They’re talking about building out their organizations. How productive this makes them. Their “miracle mornings.”

The Myth of Miracle Mornings

Have you heard about these miracle mornings?

Miracle mornings are high-powered routines that people do to get all their ducks in a row. For instance, you’d get up, hit the gym, do some meditation, then some writing, then have breakfast. Then you’d do some other high impact activity before you allow yourself to be dragged into email and meetings. Or whatever. The point is, you’re highly conscious to do only the most important stuff before you put your attention onto the urgent stuff.

Do I think miracle mornings are a great idea? I sure do. Do I think they are critical to success? I sure do not.

‘Miracle’ is a pretty high standard

For one thing, miracle mornings are kind of a high bar. Do you need any more high bars in your life? Because I don’t. You and I both know that shit needs to get done. Miracle mornings are a way to arrange to get shit done, but they’re far from the only way.

Plus, I want to just take a minute to imagine this in your life. Who’s taking the kids to school? Who’s getting breakfast? Your idea of a “miracle morning” probably one you get to sleep though. For me, I don’t mind so much getting up, but to me the pinnacle of my morning is just sitting drinking coffee with my husband, reading each other the absurd headlines of the day. I could meditate, do yoga, carpe diem some project or another, but I just want to have some quiet time with my husband without thinking about chores. To be fair, some people do mention time with family in their morning routines. But not many.

The takeaway here is, for god’s sake, don’t waste a second’s agony on whether your morning is miraculous or not. Just do what you gotta do. There may come a time when “what you gotta do” encompasses an overhaul of your routine, but until that point, just do yo’ thang.

Getting things in place

Back2Work, another podcast which seems to be Merlin Mann talking about whatever he feels like, has rediscovered the term mise en place, which he apparently learned from Ratatouille. Anyway, he’s fascinated by this word. (He keeps calling it a word. It’s a phrase. Obviously.) And one of the things he was about, back in the day, was learning your software shortcuts and basically just taking the time to learn things that would make your job easier. You’ll notice I leaned rather heavily on this technique in the 1% Challenge.

(Merlin Mann was a big time blogger, ran 43 Folders, a massive community of GTDers, in the Aughts. No relation of mine.)

This, to me, works better as a talking point if you want to talk about ‘miracle mornings.’ I guess I get annoyed by people talking about routines as if the routine itself would make you productive.

Of course it doesn’t. The routine is an opportunity, perhaps the best opportunity you’ll get, to be productive, but it does not, in itself, make you productive. For instance, if I decided to work out at 6am because then I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day, then that’s me, getting things into place (mise en place) to solve a problem for myself.

And then, when I’m already up, and completely awake, I might think, this is a perfect opportunity to write. I might even lock myself out of my email in order to reduce the temptation to do something other than write.

I could make a point of staring out the window as I wait for my coffee to brew, noticing the way the light is different in the early morning. I might even call that meditation, but really it’s more like being present. And when you’re present, you notice the stuff that’s going on in your brain and realize that you want to write about it. So that’s something else that prepares the way for something else. Mise en place.

So it isn’t fair of me to get grumpy at a trendy shorthand for something I actually do think is a good idea, but I just can’t help but think that the aspects of a ‘miracle morning’ that they emphasize makes it harder, not easier, to do it in a way that’s going to genuinely be useful. And not just another “good habit” you can’t get into.

Don’t ignore a leaky boat

Getting back to the Michael Hyatt thing. Well, he’s a corporate dude, he’s got that mindset that organizations>people. Which they are, for his purposes (measured as global impact.) He spends about 10 minutes talking about how you “can’t be an entrepreneur until you have a team. Until then you’re just a solopreneur.” Gosh, I had no idea a solopreneur was an inferior form of entrepreneur. But Hyatt also thinks that anybody can be a leader, so basically, we have quite a few points of fundamental disagreement.

So he’s talking about how you should work on your strengths not your weaknesses. Which I don’t disagree with, actually, but I do want to point out one often overlooked point: If your weaknesses can sink you, you’ve got to deal with them. You have to at least get them to where they are neutralized.

For instance; if you are never punctual, either fix that, or somehow arrange your life in such a way that punctuality is not so important. If you have anger management problems, you need to work on those, or you have to be so incredibly brilliant that people overlook it. (Hello, Steve Jobs!) It’s probably just easier to take the classes. If you’re dyslexic and you read at a 3rd grade level, well, I’m sure you have some mad coping skills but remedial lessons are probably still in order. Especially as a solopreneur you don’t get to just hire someone to make up for your weaknesses. I mean if you’re not the best manager then that’s one thing. But if your follow-through is completely lacking, well, that’s something you need to deal with. It doesn’t ever have to make to be one of your strengths, it just has to stop holding you back.

And if you take the time to structure your routines in such a way that they support you through your weaknesses (like executive function a 5am is anyone’s strong suit) then it stops mattering whether, for example “you’re an organized person.” Because your mise en place makes you an organized person. It’s not a friggin’ miracle.

Why ‘Miracle Mornings’ Focus On The Wrong Thing

In Zen Buddhist thought, there’s a concept called ‘finger pointing at the moon’

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger” ~ Zen Parable

What irritates me about miracle mornings isn’t that the practices of, for example, meditation, gratitude, journaling, exercise, reading are at all bad. It’s that they are the finger, not the moon.

You could argue that if people focus on the finger, at least they’re aiming in the general direction of the moon, and that’s a good start. But in my opinion, people already focussed on the finger are unlikely to spontaneously have a shift in perspective and suddenly ‘see’ the moon. It’s not a Rubin vase.

Look at it this way: When you do something because it’s deeply meaningful to you, you bring a different part of yourself to it than when you’re simply killing it and checking things off your to-do list like a machine.

The Miracle Morning set up risks being too checklist-like. Whereas, for example mise en place is more internally focussed. It requires you to check in with yourself, ask yourself what you need, and then mindfully construct a setting where what you need and want unfolds in a supportive way.

Meaning Is Not Found In A Ticky-Box

It’s easy to feel good about a metric-driven life. I love my systems and checklists, and I’m the biggest cheerleader of concrete, measureable efforts focused in a precise manner.

And yet.

Without that inward-facing shift on a regular basis, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the fierce surge of winning and forget that all you’re doing is checking off boxes.

You’ve got to make sure the moon is in your sights.

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