I remember when I first started interacting with really successful business owners.
I was new, and they were inspiring. They had all worked their way up from zero, building thriving client bases and writing for some seriously impressive brands.
I wanted to be like them. To have that lifestyle. To make that kind of money.
So I started doing whatever they did or said to do. I took the courses, read the blogs, and analyzed the ways they all structured their businesses.
It worked. I started building my thing. I got the clients. I made the income.
And then I burned out.
If I’ve learned anything important in my years of business so far, it’s this:
You have to follow the work that makes you excited.
But notice I said the work. Not the results.
Because we’re all excited about the money, right? Or we get excited about the freedom someone has, or the fame. If someone does something that gets them the results we want for ourselves, it’s easy to jump on board and eagerly ask them how they did it.
But if their methods don’t jive with who you are, they’re going to wear you into the ground. And then you’ll either make the money while hating your work, or you’ll stop making money altogether.
I was chatting with my friend Mariana Norton (the business strategist behind The Purposeful Entrepreneur), and she put it this way:
“The money thing, even subconsciously, sometimes drives a bunch of movement and choices that don’t feel good,” she said.
“You’re not invested energetically with it. Whereas when you’re in alignment with something that feels right and you want to do, it doesn’t feel as hard.“
You can’t just follow the money that lights you up. You have to follow the work that lights you up.
How do you know what lights you up?
Let’s make this more tangible.
Say you’re faced with a big business decision like “Should I specialize in social media graphics, or website design?” or “Am I ready to quit my full-time job?”
You can look to others for inspiration, and to help you see blind spots you might have missed…
But let the final decision come from within.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ve maybe thrown around words like “gut” and “intuition” for years without ever stopping to think about what they mean. What does intuition feel like? How do you know how to actually follow it?
What I’ve learned is that intuition is in your body. (Shoutout to Jackie Johnstone for filling in this missing link for me!) You can think your way through things, and rationalize your path forward. But it’ll be an uphill battle.
Instead, take a moment to check in. How does this decision feel? Does option A make you feel lighter? More open? Excited? Or is there an automatic feeling of closing off, shutting down, and shriveling up?
Your intuition knows what’s right for you.
Do you find yourself justifying that such-and-such is the rational choice, even when there’s a little voice nagging at you, saying that something’s not quite right?
Listen to it.
4 Questions to help you follow your intuition
When faced with a big decision or whenever you’re planning out your next steps, here are four questions to ask yourself:
1. What’s the feeling behind the decision or goal?
Take a moment to get quiet with yourself. When you ponder your path forward, what feelings come up? Do you feel light and open? Or is it more desperation and fear?
2. What stories are you telling yourself about this decision or goal?
The stories we tell ourselves shape our path. What do you believe about your work, or about this direction?
Oftentimes when I’m afraid of a certain option (especially one that’s exciting!), it’s because I have some weird beliefs around it. There are stories I picked up somewhere along the way, but now they’re holding me back.
So identify your beliefs. Then ask: Are those stories accurate, or are they protection mechanisms that just make you feel safe?
A belief I’ve had to actively fight against is that work is supposed to be exhausting. My belief is that if I’m exhausted, then I must have made great progress toward my goal. But that just isn’t true. Because you could spend all day on non-essential work and be exhausted, right? And this belief hurts me in the long run! Even if I work on essential tasks all day, I’m liable to burn out. (Because, no surprise, lots of breaks are key to actually doing good work.)
3. What would this look like if it were easy?
If you tend to be an over-thinker, you’re likely used to living inside your head instead of trusting in your body.
So if your options are feeling bleak, it’s time to ask: What would make you excited to do the work?
Oftentimes, we load ourselves up with tasks and plans that aren’t right for us, or that distract us from more important efforts.
A great 3-part question will help you dive deeper into this:
Does this need to be done?
Does this need to be done by me?
Does this need to be done by me now?
4. How can you make your work feel more like YOU?
This one’s my favorite.
It’s easy to get caught up in what someone else says is the right way to do things. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
I recently met Kendrick Shope at the Make It Work Live conference (an extension of Jenny Shih’s Make It Work Online program, which I was a coach in this year). Kendrick is a sales expert and the creator of the wildly popular Sales School. And I don’t say “wildly popular” lightly—so many other conference attendees were raving about it!
Anyway, she revealed that as part of her big course launch, she does a 24-hour live coaching marathon on Facebook.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve NEVER seen anyone recommend that! But guess what? It totally works for her. She came up with it, and it’s fun for her. It’s light. She’s doing what she loves. And her people love her for it.
So go ahead and listen to the experts. Understand the principles. Then go do it in the way that feels right to you.
You have permission to take the easy route
So here it is. You have the permission slip. You CAN follow what lights you up and make things fun.
Because here’s the truth: At the end of the day, if you want to have a business your clients get excited about, you need to be excited about it first.