A few days ago, a long term client, who I have been working with for almost a year on a fairly huge project that was designed to put her on the national map, got on our coaching call and instead of her usual, “Let’s dive in ASAP,” attitude, she waffled. She wavered. She asked how the weather was in Portland. We talked about flowers. She was paying me $125 an hour to talk about flowers. Clearly, there was something important that needed some air.
I finally asked what was up.
She was terrified, she said.
She didn’t want to tell me, she said.
She thought I would be mad, she said.
And then she took a very deep, bravery-summoning breath and told me:
She wanted to change directions.
And not in a small way. In a big way. In a way that turned her expansion from national bigness into small-town intimacy.
She saw this need for shift as clearly as her face in a mirror.
Because her big expansion plan would take her away from hands-on work. It would put the responsibility of delivering her beautiful work in the world into the hands of others. And she realized she wasn’t ready to hand that over yet.
It wasn’t about control or fear. It was about seeing the light in her clients eyes, one-on-one. Seeing the results that her work provided was one of her greatest joys and the thought of missing that felt wrong in every way.
She wasn’t choosing not to grow. She was choosing to grow on her own terms.
To all of this, I responded…
“Is that all?!? You had me worried it was something bad!”
See what my sweet and brilliant client was experiencing was what I call The Great Contraction [more on that in a minute].
As new entrepreneurs, we always think big in some way.
“I want to be like [fill in your favorite leader here].”
“I want to be on Oprah.”
“I want to change the way people think about X.”
We see the great leap into entrepreneurship as this huge thing. And it is. We feel the weight of having a lot to prove. Especially when we are leaving a good job behind, or endeavoring to climb out from under a spouse’s shadow. We want everyone to KNOW how amazing we are. And early in the entrepreneurial journey, this inspires what I call The Great Expansion.
Picture yourself, for a minute, at the center of a human-sized balloon.
The balloon is your idea -your business. It’s outer shell represents the borders of your vision for it.
When you first begin to think about starting your thing, the balloon fits like skin. Barely a molecule between you and it. You are so entrenched in the logistics that the outer boundaries of your idea are limited to what feels possible right this second. But as idea turns into reality, the balloon expands. First in small bursts, then in huge, exploding-whale-type gusts [you’re welcome for the visual].
Soon, you are standing in a balloon that is so big, you can barely see the edges.
This expansion is critical.
It allows your ideas room to breathe as you bounce around in the center.
It allows you to dream… to see the possibilities… the connections… the good stuff, and the bad.
The expansion is what makes experimentation and innovation possible.
And some people [and ideas] are designed for the big balloon. They may stay in that wide open play space forever. These are the company-builders. The empire-creators. The people who relish in expansive, unconfined thought. They LIVE to see their balloon expand.
But for others, what they discover through twirling and bouncing in all the expanse for a while, is that there are core things that work and don’t work for them. That the bigness feels too big. That their ideas are stronger when they have clearer boundaries built around them. Boundaries that help them focus, help them see the tasks ahead, help them move clearly and with intention.
And this is The Great Contraction.
The moment when you take a brave inhale and your balloon shrinks to just the right size for you. Now you can see all the walls. You can see what needs to come next. You can articulate what you do and what you don’t. And you can move forward knowing that you made this choice on your own terms.
After these huge leaps, for many, the expansion/contraction process will never really be over. It will just happen in steps. Small breaths that serve to grow reach or hone focus.
And this is how it’s supposed to be.
Entrepreneurship is not a one way street. There is no starting and ending point. It’s a process of strategic wandering and educated guessing.
Sometimes, you have to find the courage to think big so that you can think small.
What feels like a good direction today can change dramatically after something as simple as a good night’s sleep or a reading a resonant blog post.
So when my client came to me wanting to change directions at what she thought was a half-a-step from the finish line, I had just one thing to say:
Congratulations. Now you’re an entrepreneur.
This post is part of The Bravery Blogging Project – an informal collection of deep ideas and challenging-to-write work from a diverse group of Makeness Insiders.
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*Images are all in the public domain and were acquired via Flickr’s The Commons project.