I was out running with a friend/client (frient?) and chatting about some major life changes and choices ahead. One of the things that cropped up was how the creative side of her job made her happy.
There are plenty of scientific studies around the benefits of having some meaning and joy in your work but perhaps the biggest driver should be that if you run your own business and don’t find any joy in your work, then you’ve just created a job for yourself.
Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t plan to ever work another day in a job. Although I have at times found myself dangerously close to creating this situation.
My friend, like many business owners, is the founder of her business. She’s built it up from scratch and created a brand that reflects her passion, personality and what she wants to achieve. As I see her in the middle of work, I also see that when things get tough, she takes on the extra work.
Since everything falls to her, she’s not able to put all the great plans and ideas in her head into action as she gets caught up delivering the work. There are many reasons why this happens and it’s far too complex to say: “be the CEO, not the staff.” At the same time, I can see that were her time not taken up with this, her other plans would flourish.
So when looking at some of her big decisions, her friends and family all had the same advice: “make sure you do what you love and don’t lose that.”
When you lose joy in your work
It’s not the only conversation I’ve had around joy recently. In fact, this has come up for most of my clients. Some comment on how much they’re enjoying the space to do more of what they want and others feel like they’ve lost the joy along the way.
This is completely normal and often part of a transition period for us as a person and for our business.
“It’s known as a threshold,” explains Ellie Harrison, leadership coach. “When you think about wilderness rites of passage, there’s a preparation to it. Then they spend four nights out in the wilderness in survival mode before returning to finish the ritual with storytelling.
“When they are going through the change from child to adult, it’s a threshold that they pass. And this is the same in our careers. We have many thresholds that we need to experience. It’s a bit like a learning and discovery phase.”
So you first need to lose some enthusiasm or joy to force you to make the changes you need to grow.
Benefits of being the founder
The great thing about running your own business is that you can pick how you work when you work and who you work with. Although at times, it can be easy to forget this.
I got my first big self-employed contract about seven years ago. It was a bit of a left-field choice for me and not necessarily what I wanted to do but we had bills to pay.
I was also very new to freelancing and what you can and can’t do. You’ll be amazed to know that I ended up with a job disguising itself as something different.
I was expected to be at my desk 9-5 all week. If a meeting was at an inconvenient time, then I had to prioritise the meeting. At the time, I was completely ignorant of the idea that I could set my fees and not just take what they offered.
And I hated it.
Of course, with experience comes the knowledge that you don’t have to work like this. I’m so much happier for it but leaving that contract was a huge leap of faith.
“Don’t let one client be more than 20% of your income”.
This is rock-solid advice from another ex-client. She is a business coach and one of the smartest and loveliest people I’ve met.
I worked with her for around two years and towards the end, I could feel that what I once enjoyed, was no longer lighting me up. The stress and dread would creep in on our meetings. I’d put her work off until last.
My lovely friend and awesome coach, Victoria Tretis, would call this process self-sabotage. What I was inadvertently doing was screwing up because the work was no longer the kind of work I wanted to do.
So I put on my brave face, told my client, and we both felt a wave of relief. Following the joy made all the difference.
Joy and content marketing
For many dull reasons, I deleted my Instagram account with a few thousand followers. And do you know what happened? Nothing.
Well, I felt a whole lot less anxious but I also still got new clients, still worked on Instagram accounts, got great results and the world still turned.
When I shared this on LinkedIn, it got the most views than any other post over the last month. Plus, it spurned comments and DMs. I think the reason why is that we’re often told we need these platforms and follow a certain set of rules. And I was giving them permission not to do that. That post was saying you can do what you want, not what you’re told you need.
Like we all need to be jumping on TikTok. Wouldn’t want to be the last person to get on that platform, would we? Look at all that reach. That engagement.
Got to do Reels because they have good reach. Definitely need to do video.
Except, do we? If you don’t enjoy it, do you really need to do it?
Now, when you’ve lost that spark for your work it will show through in your content. How you feel each day has an impact on what you put out. I’m not talking about anything woo-woo or magic here. We don’t realise it but our body lets off little signs and signals that thread into our work, our behaviour and how we present to others.
At the same time, we’re subconsciously picking up all of the micro-signals from other people. We could put out a happy, rainbow-filled message that looks all lightness and joy but if we’re not feeling that on the inside, it will seep through to the outside.
So how do you rekindle joy again?
Sometimes a business, a direction or a plan needs to come to an end. We need to break it all down and pull out the bits that we do enjoy rather than the stuff where we’re going through the motions. A bit like those wilderness rites of passage. We create ourselves the space to learn and grow.
Although it doesn’t always need to be that dramatic. Sometimes, it might be speaking to a coach or going for a run and clearing your head. Or it might be reading back through any old journals to see if you can see patterns about the stuff that’s annoying you.
Then when you dig into it, you can put it right.
Or it might be that you need to let off some creative steam. Doing a project that’s absolutely nothing at all to do with your business but that fulfils some passion.
Not all side-projects need to earn money. Some can just be for the sheer love of it. You’ll still learn new things that can help you in your current business but having that thing to look forward to can really help.
And remember, you’re not meant to feel joy all the time, either. The thing that makes you happy right now, might not be what spurs you on in a year’s time.