1991: A man gets overlooked for an expected promotion and has a profound emotional reaction that lasts for weeks. His friend, who went through something similar, suggests he go to therapy, where the man faces some difficult truths. For starters, he realizes that in his efforts to prove himself at work, he took on too much and was often swamped — a habit that made him seem gruff and disorganized. He also — no surprise — had trouble delegating and asking for help. Furthermore, he didn’t want to toot his own horn and make his ambitions known — so they weren’t. Finally, he preferred to toil away in isolation, so he had not properly developed his relationships at work — or at home — such that even if he did get the promotion, it would have been a set up for a professional and/ or personal crisis. Therapy enabled him to to see his behaviors, explore their familial origins and forgive himself for merely doing what he was taught. He was then able to move on and move ahead effectively.
2014: A woman loses her humdrum day job and posts her situation and feelings about it on Facebook. In the comments, someone suggests she read Pam Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation, which she does in a few hours and subsequently decides to start her own business. But she quickly discovers that starting a business is going to be harder than she thought. First, she needs to improve her current personal and business relationships in order to get where she needs to go — as well as confront her fears about reaching out for help. She’s not used to talking about herself, and she needs to overcome her dread of “showing off” her skills and her ambition. Lastly, she needs to find the accurate language to describe her skills, discover what makes her unique, and define who she wants to be as a professional in the world. She begins to tackle these issues, one by one.
Different eras, different situations, different paths — revealing common work issues and inspiring serious self-reflection and behavioral change.
What I really want to do . . .
In my own personal, seemingly never-ending rebrand I have sought necessary help from marketing and business coaches. As a former psychotherapist and emerging mentor I’ve been surprised when, on more than one occasion, the coach confesses: “I love my job, but what I really want to do is therapy or counseling.”
This surprises me for several reasons, but mainly, because I’m starting to realize that today’s marketing and business coaches are the therapists of the new century. Certainly in my experience, their penetrating questions about who I am, what I have to offer, and what false beliefs are holding me back have elicited my vulnerability and stumped me as much as any insightful therapist’s inquiries.
Don’t get me wrong: Psychiatry and psychotherapy provide essential healing and clinical solutions for those who suffer from trauma and real mental illness. However, in the latter half of the last century, psychotherapy has also been the personal growth method of choice for the everyday, urban, “normal” neurotic who struggles in work or love. Due to environmental factors described below, entrepreneurism has become a valuable alternate. It could be the “new therapy” for the following reasons:
1. Economic Necessity and the Desire for Personal Freedom has Trumped Psychological Anxiety as the Driver for Growth: People used to — and clearly still do — seek therapy because they are in emotional pain. But now that pharmaceuticals are widely used to alleviate some of the general malaise and anxiety of living in the modern world, what drives functional people to self-exploration and transformation? The desire to be free of an uninspired, regimented lifestyle and the pursuit of right livelihood. Running your own business creates the possibility of a sizable income all on your own terms — although you’ll have to undergo the requisite amount of self-reflection, emotional discipline and behavioral change to make it work.
2. Time and Money: Psychotherapy is also waning as the personal growth option of choice (again, for “normal neurotics” — people with more formal diagnoses may have no choice), because a true course of psychotherapy takes YEARS, and as we move deeper into the technological age, we expect everything to come rather quickly. Many who are financially stressed literally do not have the cash or other resources to reflect and ruminate about the origin of their issues — although as entrepreneurs, they might bump into and be forced to overcome wounds of neglect, criticism and other family of origin failures if they inhibit the ability to connect, promote, succeed, or move forward with a business in any way.
3. Brand is all about identity: A central goal of psychotherapy has been to discover who you truly are. In order for you to create a clear business vision and market your skills or product, you really have to do the same. Determining your brand — a cross-pollination of your personality and your product — may sound like a rather simple thing to do, but for so many, the process of knowing who you are and packaging it for consumption can be deep and grueling, and usually requires negotiating between who you think you are, who you want to be and who you really are, not to mention how you want to be perceived vs. how you are perceived. People used to spend years on an analysts couch in pursuit of this type of knowledge, albeit without the for-profit component. A good marketing coach can help you do it in 1/8 of the time for about 3/4 of the cash — without treading too deep into personal history.
4. Brand is all about story: These days, nearly every package of shampoo, sauerkraut and sneakers from smaller companies has a story written on it — one that shares the origins of the product and reveals the values and style of the people who create it. I recently worked with a woman who felt stuck in her business as a health coach. In order to increase her visibility and establish herself as distinct from other health coaches, we reflected on her story about why she got into it in the first place. She realized that what drew her to health coaching was not her appreciation of green smoothies, but that she had been suffering from an overload of self-hatred, and mothering herself via good nutrition was her ticket out of it. Now she wanted to help other women her age move into self-love through nutrition and exercise. As in psychotherapy, a whole story of which she was only partially aware emerged, and it provided essential information about her services her brand, her audience, and moving forward.
5. You have to create successful relationships: To succeed in your own — in almost any business, really — you’re gonna have to learn how to create and sustain authentic relationships: with consultants, customers, colleagues, affiliates, vendors, employees, etc. You may still need therapy to learn how to be intimate with friends and lovers.
6. You have to confront your fears: Self-employment will force you to develop leadership and strong coping skills to manage anxiety about money, risk, exposure, etc, and still move forward. You will fail, and you will be forced to self-reflect and develop your resilience. You will learn how to persevere. You will eventually succeed, and perhaps become more overwhelmed by success than failure. You will seek help from those who have “been there” and learn how to manage the voices, beliefs, and limitations that hold you back.
And, if you are an introvert and a real or self-proclaimed expert on something (ahem, not speaking personally or anything) no therapy can prepare you for the types of visibility issues you will encounter if you really commit to putting yourself out there.
A Shift in the WHY
I’m noticing a shift in the personal growth arena. While there is still a high value placed on insight — because understanding where your behavior comes from can help you have compassion and/ or choose differently — insight is becoming less valuable than purpose. As Simon Sinek suggests, the most successful leaders and companies stay connected to their WHY — not the psychotherapeutic, cause-of-your-behavior WHY, but the entrepreneurial WHY — the essential reason that drives them to provide a specific service to the world. A great chef wants to light up the world’s taste buds with his passion for flavor; a great soldier loves his countrymen, etc., that WHY.
Are you an entrepreneur who feels the journey has been therapeutic? Have you been in therapy and believe that starting your own business might be the next step in your personal growth? What new trends in personal growth are you seeing? Would love to hear your comments below!