Structures. You need ’em.

One of the really interesting things about my tribe is the myriad ways they’ve come to business ownership. Actually, you could say that the unique thing about us all is that we broke out of the pattern society provided for us and started our own businesses instead.

I don’t think people fully realize how anomolous the mid-20th-century was– even though from our perspective it seems to have been the norm.

A Brief History Lesson

Look at the context: After WWII, a ramped-up post-industrial economy, stimulated from the war effort, folded the returning troops into factories and businesses and the modern consumer culture as we knew it was born.

The G.I. Act sent millions of kids to college who otherwise would never have had the resources to do so, and they easily found life-long jobs in the powerhouse American economy. Thus, a new life template was born: Go to college, get good grades, parlay that into a steady job, work hard, get married, buy a house, retire. There are some variations on that template, but that’s pretty much it, and it’s been that way for three generations now.

Interestingly, most Millennials (30 and younger) have been in structured environments our entire lives: structured school, structured recreation, structured jobs. We’ve been trained to dot our Is and cross our Ts, and we’ve got the gold stars to prove it.

The only problem? The structure is falling apart.

It USED to be true: perform A to achieve B. That’s no longer a certainty— hell, it barely counts as a probability. But since it was true for our parents and true for our grandparents, it feels *less* risky to stick with what worked in the past (hoping you’ll be one of the few that it still works for) than to try something totally new and unproven.

We business owners are the ones who took the risk. We blew a raspberry to the formal template we were supposed to duplicate, and we did our own thing. Woohoo! Look at us, we iconoclasts!
But breaking the mold often creates a backlash– it’s a psychology thing. You see, in order to create the intestinal fortitude to ‘stick it to the man’ we had to psych ourselves up by disparaging the external markers of the template we sought to free ourselves from– hence the emphasis on travel, of being ‘free from bosses’ and most importantly, of all the structures and trappings of large organizations.

Imagine a little Shanna, picking at a balanced meal and wishing for greasy pizza…

Let me give you a little example. Growing up, my mom fed us a very healthy diet. No convenience foods. No ‘kiddy’ food. Just real food like your great-great-grandmother would recognize. Naturally, we did not appreciate that very much, and the first summer I moved out, I bought myself Cocoa Pebbles cereal for breakfast.

It was like mainlining cotton candy. In three days, I could barely look at it.

I finished the box and I never touched sugary cereal again.
While new business owners start off by appreciating that they can grocery shop on a Tuesday morning and do laundry whenever, after a while the lack of structure start to cause problems.

  • Lack of preparedness
  • Lack of planning
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Lack of clarity

Well, shit. It turns out structure’s not the fascist conspiracy we thought.

In neurological terms, structure solves a very important problem: It shows us how the information is *shaped*. In this way, we are able to see where the holes are in our knowledge. This is why instead of teaching your the alphabet, you learn the alphabet SONG. It’s why the periodic table was such an important break through. It’s why instead of building a desk out of components from Home Depot, you go to IKEA and buy a kit.

Every step of the way, structure can make things better, easier, more effective.

BUT— not if they’re bad structures.

The result of our overly structured lives is that many people have not realized that they can create and evolve their own systems and structures. We tend to get all black and white about it and think that we have two choices: the template society has set out for us, or no structure at all.

Of course this isn’t true, but it’s damn hard to tell, until you’ve seen an effective counter-example.

  • It’s hard to believe you could run your own business– until you know someone who’s started one of their own.
  • It’s hard to believe you could sell your services without a degree of some sort– until you do, and you realize no one ever asks where you went to school.
  • And it’s hard to plan your business and create a strategy for it until you realize you’re supposed to— and you find out what questions to ask.

The sneaky product advert at the end of an 800 word sociology lecture

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call my new course Your Next 6 Months (Forever) a “planning course.” It is… but it’s more like I give you a structure to use, show you how *I* would use it, and then invite you to make it your own.

Part of the reason we’re so driven to use the same structures that other people use is because it’s really hard to create your own structure whole cloth. So by giving you a starting point from which to adapt, you’re way ahead of the game.

The second reason why Your Next 6 Months (Forever) is so helpful is that it shows you how (as I call it ) to be “One with the Yo-yo.”

Without a structure, a mental picture of how to move from Master & Commander to Implementor, people really flounder, and don’t know when or how to give each role the attention it requires and deserves.

If that sounds like something you struggle with, I put to you that THAT is why YN6MF is such a valuable course. Becoming one with the yo-yo may just be the single most crucial skill you learn as a solopreneur.

Click here to check out Your Next 6 Months Forever


17 thoughts on “Structures. You need ’em.”

  1. Seeing is believing, right? That’s why case studies and “how-to” stuff is so powerful. You can mentally picture or physically see the thing you covet manifest right in front of you.
    As someone who’s already started working through Your Next 6 Months (Forever), I’ve gotten a ton from it without actually getting to the good stuff. Shanna, your yo-yo metaphor went straight into my “Sayings” spreadsheet as words to live by. Can I spoil the surprise for everyone else with a snip-it from YN6MF? It’s totally worth everyone knowing about.
    “So you’ve got to be like a yo-yo. By all means, spend time at ground level, getting things done. But if a yo-yo stalls at the bottom of its route, pretty soon it can’t come back up and look at the big picture again. The trick to really working a yo-yo for a long period of time is a controlled dive followed by an equally controlled rise.”
    Way to create something that’s going to not just rock the socks off people, but completely destroy those socks and replace them with the most badass, supportive, and pride-inducing pair of socks ever!

  2. michaelwroberts

    The whole time through this post, I was actually nodding my head in agreement. I know that the system of my parents doesn’t really work anymore, but I do have a wife and kids. I don’t actually want to spend all my time traveling the world. (Sure, I’d like to travel some, just not *all* the time.)
    I like the idea of finding structure that doesn’t make us feel trapped but makes us more effective instead.

    1. @michaelwroberts I sincerely empathize with the conundrum of having a wife and kids to support. The stakes are so much higher and the relative risks of the new and different trigger the lizard brain so much harder.  The lizard brain loves structure though, so hopefully you’re on the right track!

  3. I love the sugary breakfast cereal comparison. That’s perfect. Being a solo entrepreneur looks one way from the outside, so shiny and delicious. But once you get inside, it’s a whole different ballgame. Though thankfully it has far more redeeming qualities than a bowl full of sugar and chemicals 😉
    Like @joeyjoejoe I’ve already been working with Your Next 6 Months (Forever), and the clarity and structure it’s given me, from the day level to the big longer-term picture makes me truly gleeful. (Perhaps t-shirts with “Be the yo-yo.” on them are in your shop’s future??)

    1. @remadebyhand  @joeyjoejoe  It’s funny that I’ve hear the “gleeful” adjective a few times already. That’s always how it strikes me too, but for some reason I never thought to include that in the benefits. Maybe that would just seem too unbelievable, eh? 😀

      1. @Shanna Mann  Nothing wrong a-tall with folks applying a “new” word ~then let’s see how long it takes for all them high-powered ick-merchants to try an’ shoe-horn “gleeful” into *their* copy, eh?
        Wish I’d had the $$ last week, but I’m strictly marshalling my resources this month…

  4. Excellent post, Shanna! I really like how you addressed the ‘baby with the bathwater’ tendency that sometimes comes with wanting to choose another path besides the more traditional route of get degree, get ‘good’ job, get married, buy a house, have 2.5 kids and work till retirement. Structure is something I’m working on – occasionally in the “two steps forward, spin around a few times, try to remember which way was forward again” manner – but it’s crucial. It’s how you get where you want to go. Thank you for your ideas on that. 🙂

    1. @Megan Peterson It’s a struggle– but my attitude is “never argue with efficacy” Always take what works, even if it seems awkward or counter-intuitive, and make sure that whenever you adjust, change or upgrade, the efficacy is improved. That’s the way to get around the idea of the “right” structure, and just get working structures, period.

  5. Hahahha, where was this post when I decided to travel around the country and throw ALL THE STRUCTURES out the window? 😉  Kidding, but I have definitely come to this understanding recently and can only say a big resounding HELL YES! And having YN6MF in my possession, I can say it’s freakin’ amazing and I can’t wait to sit down and go through the worksheets… I’m holding it out as a treat for myself…

    1. @sarahemily You know that trick question where someone asks you “If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?” Honestly, it’s always like “I would never have learned these lessons so well if I hadn’t behaved so stupidly.” 5 months structure-less is as unequivocal evidence as you could wish for that structures are necessary, and now you can close ‘unstructured life’ as a possibility and carry on designing structures that work, rather than spending time agonizing about whether they’re even necessary. 
      I love that you love YN6MF. A guilt-free treat!

      1. @Shanna Mann  @sarahemily Best Beloved and I had that exact conversation a few days ago. Yeah, it’s nice to be all snug and homey here in the hinterlands, and no, our days as nomads were not all wine and roses, but was it the right choice? 100% it was. Altered our perceptions of ourselves, our abilities (far higher than we’d ever imagined) and our limitations (far, far lower.)
        Being a Really Old Guy, it’s fun seeing the pendulum swing back like this. Both of my grandfathers were born before WWI (that’s a one there, kiddies; one was born in 1880) and neither they nor their sons even considered college a possibility — or a necessity. 
        Their sons considered a job the only way to put food on the table, though, and I jumped right on that bandwagon. Should have spent all those years learning systems instead of just hating my job.’
        Ah, if only there were a way I could learn that stuff now; if only some smart young whippersnapper were teaching these hard-won lessons.

        1. @spinhead Oh, you flatterer.
          It’s really funny, actually. *I* was just thinking about how I have finally come round to the idea that I really ought not waste time on things I can’t see myself doing in five years– but how did I get so much experience in so many different fields and industries? By tackling things I knew would probably only hold my interest for 6 months. Having that kind of expiration date in mind sure motivates you to figure out the structure and fill in the holes, pdq. (You’re old, so I’m sure you’ll remember that abbreviation :P)

    2. @sarahemily Some times, you *do* have to throw the baby out, too. But, when you realise what you’ve done, and run out, horrified!, you find the baby gleefully playing in the mud-puddle that *was* bathwater! 😉

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