You may have noted the appearance of a few different topic headers at the top of this web page. They are the result of some new-found clarity that has finally come to me after more than a year of struggling to find it.
Since writing my book and launching PITH + VIGOR (the newspaper), I have been swept along in a cycle to constantly produce and promote (repeat, repeat, repeat), and generally do what you are supposed to do when you when you are in the business of content creation. For the last 3 years, I have been doing, doing, doing, but somehow I have been unable to pinpoint the bigger purpose. I have been unsure how to answer the question of ‘Where am I going with this?’ I have felt lost. My creativity has suffered, and at times my motivation has dropped, and mostly I have felt stuck in a weird place where I haven’t been entirely unhappy but I not exactly happy either. I have been troubled by a constant hunt for an elusive thing called ‘clarity’.
I’ve wondered if this is a mid-life crisis (and maybe it is!) and for many months now, I have been hyper aware of the problem and have been actively seeking answers. Have you ever had a time in your life where you know you need to make a mental shift, but you aren’t really sure what it needs to be?
Revelations often come in the weirdest package…I had a rather unexpected one come a few weeks ago while in a business meeting when I was asked a question about my business.
“Is it about me [as a brand] or about a set of media products?”
The question came from a fellow design professional whose shared that his business also struggles with this question.
For them, is it about the named designer at the helm of their design firm (as it once was when they were smaller)? Or as the firm grows, how and why and when does it become something more than that? What is the brand? Is it a person or something else?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a great answer because this strikes to the very heart of my muddle… but an interesting conversation ensued during which I mentioned an article I had recently read titled Are You an Artist or an Entrepreneur? (Apologies for the lack of a link – I tried to find it, but can’t — which is good because hopefully its stupid premise won’t send any other creative entrepreneurs into the same tailspin that it sent me). I was explaining how I struggled with the same (especially after reading the article – the gist of which was that you aren’t an entrepreneur if you aren’t some sort of Mark Cuban type who builds business for the sake of building businesses, and somehow if you care about the business, and would only build a certain type of business then you are too emotionally attached to it and then you are only an artist – and the implication was that ‘artist’ was not as desirable as ‘entrepreneur’. Stupid right?!) Nonetheless it took me a few days of trying to justify that I am, in many ways, both and neither, when finally my husband pointed out that perhaps my tailspin was needless, and I could just write the article off as being stupid and lacking any sort of insightful value, despite the provocative title – which is exactly what I have now done. But telling this story led to an interesting comment from my colleague that involved the term ‘Lifestyle Business’. There is was – thrown out in the conversation – a term I had never heard and didn’t, at-first, understand.
This term and concept held the same foreignness and revelatory nature as the idea of eating salad before dessert, or using baby powder as a quick dry shampoo – It has changed everything for me.
I wonder if perhaps I am the last person on the planet to hear this term and understand what this is but just in case you aren’t sure either – here it is:
Lifestyle Business Definition:
A lifestyle business is a business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.
See how there isn’t any part of it that mentions planning to build it and sell it, or franchise it, or flipping, or shares, or investors, or anything other that doing something to sustain your life as you want to live it? It is only living by your own standards and needs and not creating something that makes you answer to others. This is my revelation, I honestly thought being a business owner or an entrepreneur meant you had to always be at least half prepared to be on Shark Tank. If you weren’t at able to justify a valuation of your company on a moments notice, you weren’t doing it right. As if the ultimate prize is to be gobbled up by a shark who wants only to make money off your back and hard work. I like to think of myself as a smart cookie, but sometimes my blind spots can be shocking.
Realizing that my business can survive and thrive with its sole purpose being to allow me to live my life as I want and need is a massive mental shift that is freeing and hugely motivating. I know you are probably saying to yourself – ‘Duh Rochelle’ – and I admit, now that I see it, I realize that I’ve read all that 4-hour work week stuff and a million Seth Godin posts and this message has come at me a million times in a million ways…but somehow it didn’t really click until it clicked. I should run, and am running a lifestyle business – slap on the head. Clarity has arrived and answers are falling into place.
What does this mean? It means confidently doing what I do well – with the sole purpose of enjoying the work, feeling good about the work and making a sustainable income – nothing more. No more VC pitching, no more playing games that I have no interest in, no more living to someone elses standards. I define my own standards for success.
This site has always been my workspace, it motivates me and it inspires me and is the base from which I share my work and ideas but it is also the window through which others view my world. I realized, as I recently poured through some of the early archives, that over time, an exuberance I once had, has dwindled and this space has become more strained and constrained. It is a direct reflection of my lack of clarity and my struggles to find it – it is also suddenly clear to me how choked and stifled and spent and tired I have become because I haven’t been evolving like I once was.
I need to evolve. We all need to evolve.
Blogging at one time, was my way of experimenting and dipping a toe into new things like writing, and designing with my own constraints – which were different from the constraints of most of my clients. I used it to explore new ideas, meet people, and learn new things. As I got better at some of my new skills, instead of continuing to advance and try more new stuff, I sort of got distracted and stuck. I am so relieved to realize this so that I can consciously get back to dipping my toe in. These new (actually many are the revival of something old) header topics reflect my current interests, and things that I want to learn about and write about and explore deeper. I am not going to let them get stuck up there either — if they don’t keep fueling me, then they will retire – because the bottom line is that I run a lifestyle business and it is ok to let my heart and me be at the center of it.
So what is new?
Floristry – particularly those flowers grown or gathered locally and from the garden. Everyday beauty is like petting my cat – it calms me and I want to explore it more deeply.
Food – in the form of seasonal recipes that use what I grow, but also, I want to journalistically look at terrior and the science behind agricultural production techniques to gain a greater understanding of the constant controversy. Plus, good food photography is a cool challenge that I am up for exploring.
I am also deeply (as always) interested in design – but not just of gardens (which remains) – but also how it can change the way we live for the better. I am also convinced that landscape and urban designers of all sorts play a much bigger role in our earth’s future than we all might think.
I am going to continue to share my business journey – the things I learn and discover as I continue to get my head around running a ‘lifestyle business’. I hope if you are struggling with a business and trying to make it be what you need it to be that we can help each other.
If I learned one thing while writing my book, it is that amazing things happen when you connect with other people. The book gave me a reason to step out of my slightly introverted shell and now this site will be my reason. I need to collaborate and connect with people as I evolve current and new projects. People are inspiring and I want to tell their interesting and important stories.
And lastly, travel – over the last 5 years as I narrowed my client list and began to write more than I designed, I became disconnected to the hospitality and travel industries in a way that I desperately miss. While I don’t plan to start designing hotel and hospitality gardens again, I need the inspiration of travel to come back and I look forward to seeking it out and sharing it.
Don’t despair lots of the old stuff is still there and will continue to grow as well – in fact letting myself merge into new areas has helped me to find new vision for old areas – I am so excited and invigorated to share all of this with you.
I’m curious – do you run a lifestyle business? Is this a term you are familiar with? What do you think makes a lifestyle business work?
These images are from Ken Marten whose work and artistic vision was shared in issue #1 of PITH + VIGOR (fall 2014). I deeply admire Ken’s work – you can see more of these image on his flickr photostream, or follow him on instagram.