In full honesty, I began focusing on self-care because I couldn’t nab the URL I wanted: I initially wanted to call my business Beautiful Life Yoga and Health, but I couldn’t get a website that I liked. After puzzling over options, I decided to rename my venture. Self-care, I figured, was more relatable to those who would never get on a yoga mat and could perhaps draw in more clients. My main motivation was to start a viable business so I could avoid the health industry burnout that comes from being chronically underpaid while helping others to thrive. Now, four years later, I’m so glad I couldn’t get that original URL.
I achieved my goal of running a yearly six-figure business that helped hundreds of stressed-out women find self-care sanity. More importantly, I also discovered a deeper calling. I fell in love with the larger conversation around self-care and discovered my passion to help people realize that self-care isn’t selfish. I’ve come to believe that it’s only with dedicated individual self-care that we can work as a culture toward a more peaceful and humane way of being — and now I make my business decisions from the point of view of creating that change.
When I stop to think about how all this happened, it seems incredibly organic, almost as if it’s been guided by something bigger than me. Along the way, my path was influenced by everything from technical details (like URL availability) to client feedback and the current events of the day. Without specifically intending to, I set myself up well to become a leader for social change around self-care.
Despite my journey’s unplanned nature, there are a few trackable steps from my process that almost all service providers can apply if they are craving a deeper sense of purpose in addition to increasing their bottom line. My hope is that more of us independent-minded business people can transition our talents into a great reach with a similar sense of ease.
Step 1. Solve a specific problem for your clients.
Many entrepreneur-provided services sound nice to potential clients in an abstract way. Sure, we all want to have better relationships, work fewer hours, and enjoy good health. Yet these same clients are often unsure how the rest of their day will play out and simply don’t have the mental space to see the larger life vision we offer. They aren’t dreaming of teleworking on the beach; they just want relief from their pain, preferably as soon as possible. The more clearly you can articulate who you want to help and how you’re going to help them, the easier it will be for those clients to commit to working with you.
New England-based life coach Max Daniels is especially good at addressing specific problems. She helps her clients stop overeating and reclaim a dignified relationship with food and body image. Within the first few lines of her website, she assures her clients that she can help them solve exactly that problem. And she refers potential clients with almost every other issue to other experts who solve that particular problem. She is clear about what she does and, for this reason, has a very high success rate with lots of referrals. Her success is as simple as that.
Step 2. Form a tribe around your business.
Many potential clients are eager to make a real change — be it in their business or their personal lives — yet struggle to make that leap. Potential clients are often scared to leave the safety of the community that surrounds them, despite how much it holds them back. In these networks, personal growth can be seen as being stuck-up or self-important.
But if you can create a tribe around your business, you can offer the safety of a new community. If a client signs up to work with not just you, but a community of like-minded people, she will gain the wisdom of multiple perspectives, as well as a team of dedicated cheerleaders. Having a tribe lets people know they will still be accepted if they dare to be their most amazing selves, something that isn’t always assured in their other social networks. Working within a community will also teach your clients invaluable skills such as public speaking and giving/receiving feedback.
In my work, I offer seasonal group self-care coaching programs where more than 20 women cheer each other’s self-care progress over a three-month period. They can check in with me when they need to, but most of them rarely do because they enjoy the group interaction so much. While I get solid feedback on the self-care habits I teach, almost everyone says that being part of such an inspirational, vulnerable group was the most healing aspect of our work together.
You can create a tribe in your business by organizing a group program such as an executive mastermind that meets via video chat once a month, or by hosting an ongoing private Facebook forum. It’s easy to supplement group experiences with private check-ins to make sure everyone is getting their needs met. Working this way usually lowers the price for each client, making your services more accessible, while consolidating your work hours to let you create a maximum impact. For more on how to create community within your business model, I recommend Seth Godin’s fabulous book “Tribes.”
Step 3. Notice the bigger cultural problem you’re solving.
Working with a specific problem within a community of people will start to give you a lot of information. At this point, it’s helpful to step back and begin observing the common ways your clients are struggling with the same issue and the most effective avenues through which they achieve real breakthroughs. Instead of being wedded to your business or entrepreneurial goals, become more of a scientist; track cause and effect.
Often you’ll see that your clients are innovating on your work. When I crafted my first self-care program, I thought the best way to help my clients was to teach them strong daily habits that had worked for me, like waking up earlier and going to bed by 10 pm. However, when I organized these habits week-by-week for the group, I saw that it wasn’t as easy for them. They began to talk about resistance. Despite their best intentions to wake up early, they were still hitting snooze.
Rather than personalize it —“Was my program not really effective?” — I began to get curious. Understanding the power of common problems and solutions of my community helped me to see the larger cultural factors at work in my client’s lives. I listened to their conversations with each other and began to see how much inner rebellion was shaping their lives. These women had followed the rules their whole lives — getting good grades, landing powerhouse jobs, making partner at their firms — often at the expense of listening to themselves. In the safe space of group work, something deep inside of them was putting their foot down when it came to taking outer cues. I wondered if our self-destructive habits were really a rebellion against oppressive cultural structures.
I realized this resistance could be intelligent. We gave it a name, “the inner rebel,” and began to speak to it. Okay, so the inner rebel doesn’t want to get up early and exercise? What does she want to do? When practiced authentically, self-care seemed to connect these women to a more intuitive part of themselves that helped them finally trust their own instincts. Could self-care be the ultimate form of feminism? If so, then what did it mean for men?
The more curious I got, the more the conversation expanded to include why minorities and people with traumatic backgrounds struggle with unique self-care blocks. Eventually I began to see how even privileged white males were dealing with buried shame that could be tended with self-care.
Had I stuck to my original plans and not put on my observer hat, none of these fascinating patterns and insights about the larger cultural issues would have emerged. Shifting away from my entrepreneurial role gave me permission to observe what was necessary for the good of the group and begin speaking these questions out loud to an audience that was hungry for more understanding. Without realizing it, we were talking about changing the cultural patterns — like unrealistic expectations of overwork within the law industry — that made self-care challenging. Along the way, I saw I was becoming a leader.
Step 4. Embrace imperfect leadership.
For those of us with an entrepreneurial background, it may feel very strange to step into a leadership position. After all, we weren’t trained for this role. In fact, for many of us, our whole ethos has revolved around total independence in our businesses and lives.
Yet leaders often aren’t made by choice. As I see it, if we are authentically solving problems in a way that unites communities, people will begin to trust us. They will confide in us, listen to our ideas, and even be called to action when we suggest it. And their attention to us isn’t unwarranted. It takes a lot of creativity, skill, and resilience to run a successful business that maintains a sense of integrity. All of these characteristics are essential for being a good leader, and these days people are extra hungry to follow people they can trust. Once we are recognized in this way by others, it can be hard for them to un-see our leadership qualities.
And yet, despite the outside affirmation, it might feel hard to see ourselves that way. For me, owning my leadership meant giving myself permission to be an imperfect leader. I decided that instead of hiding my own fears of being a leader, I decided it was okay to speak openly about my struggles.
Rather than pretend I had it all figured out, I made the commitment to be honest about how I worked with my fears and imperfections. I shared my personal stories of working through my self-care blocks during my coaching sessions, and I used them as a part of my content-based marketing. Over and over, I heard that seeing me go through hard moments in a conscious way was more helpful than if I pretended I had it all figured out. Being up front about my humanness built trust, which brought in more clients, which increased the community I was leading.
Especially during these times of change, our communities need real listening and transparent honesty more than polished perfection as leaders. We can most definitely make mistakes, as long as we are willing to own them and keep rededicating ourselves to the people we lead. If our clients are willing to share their stories with us and act upon the ideas we share with them, then we have a responsibility to keep showing up to help them and, ultimately, further the common good.
We can make that commitment to keep showing up, even if sometimes that means offering a very genuine, “I don’t know, but I wonder if we can figure this out together.”
Step 5. Claim yourself as an expert.
The key to fully transitioning your role from entrepreneur to leader is your decision to allow yourself to be seen as an authority in your field of expertise. But what makes you an authority? If your orientation is within the business startup world, chances are you lack an advanced degree or title that might seem fundamental to being considered an expert on a larger world issue. In my own work, once my self-care work started to gain a wider recognition, I began fretting over my lack of a higher degree in psychology. Would people respect what I said if I didn’t have a few letters after my name?
I think that feeling of being underqualified to lead a movement is pretty normal. However, the reality is that many people with advanced degrees have absolutely no interest in leadership, nor are they able to gain the popular support needed to actually be a leader. Once again, the skills we develop as entrepreneurs — creative problem-solving, an understanding of people, and responsiveness to changing markets — make us good leaders. From there, it’s up to us to claim ourselves as authorities.
If this is hard for you, consider the alternative. If we rely only on highly-trained individuals to lead movements, we deny our world potentially workable solutions to big problems. Think about what would happen if Bill Gates refused to consider poverty alleviation because his focus was previously on technology.
Being a thriving entrepreneur means that we must have some idea of our own skill set and of our limitations. It’s perfectly fine to delegate what is outside of our expertise and rely on the counsel of other experts in the field.
Leadership is not about having all of the answers, but rather doing our best to represent people who believe in our ability to represent them.
What helped me to gain peace around my lack of formal qualifications was seeing that my passionate interest in my work was helping people. I made an internal bargain with myself that as long as I saw positive transformation in my clients and I stayed authentically interested in the overall conversation about self-care, I would keep stepping up and calling myself an authority on the subject.
So now, when reporters contact me to ask why I think self-care is so important, I openly tell them what I have learned from my clients and how I think this might apply to the rest of the world. Rarely does anyone ask if I am truly qualified to be having this conversation. Instead, they write down what I say and share it as part of the larger self-care movement. I think they can hear it in my voice that I care and I am willing to show up to do the work that will help others. Especially these days, that is expertise enough to make a real change.
Gracy Obuchowicz is a self-care mentor, workshop facilitator, and retreat leader in ever-stressed Washington, DC. She is a recovering perfectionist who has learned to live a life of real self-care and self-love. Through her self-care coaching programs, she helps overwhelmed professional women transform their lives. Get more of her essential self-care tips at selfcarewithgracy.com.