The Path of Entrepreneurship: Learning to Pivot

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I’d worked for years, trying to get my company to the point where it didn’t need me involved in daily operations. Specifically, my aim was “how many more clients do we need, before I can afford my current lifestyle, without having to run any sessions myself?” I thought that question, and that number, were the keys to the location-independent lifestyle I longed for.

It was a slow grind. I stood in my own way a lot. Because you see, the way the company was set up, each new client we brought in directly created more work for me. Even if I wasn’t the primary personal trainer for that client myself, I’d still have to do the intake, and account management, and billing, and scheduling…. All the stuff I was trying to get out of in the first place. While saying “I need to get us more clients”, I was definitely energetically putting out to the world… “NO! I don’t want to deal with any more clients!”

And thus, I was largely stuck. Growing my business at a snail’s pace. Yes, I gradually unloaded more and more of my personal sessions, as I scaled back my idea of necessary life expenses. And in spring 2015, I took the scary risk of hiring an administrative helper, to take some of the back-end workload off my plate. But it wasn’t going great. I couldn’t rely on this person, and so only gave her menial tasks here and there. My attempts to delegate bigger tasks usually ended up in an unreasonable number of dropped balls, but I continued trying – to communicate clearer, to create clearer standards and checklists of task accomplishment, to reschedule for her convenience. It wasn’t working. I was frustrated, and working overtime to train someone who seemed sadly, largely, untrainable.

Then, in late fall 2015, the inevitable finally happened.

You see, we work with the elderly… and while our clients are incredibly steadfast and loyal, I’ve known all this time, that eventually, we’d start losing some of them – to their physical passing, or to their mental decline beyond being able to understand what we were there to help them with. Over the course of a couple months, we had both of those, and a significant injury – 3 clients out, in our tiny exclusive roster, and over 25% of my income gone.

I’d already pared back my life expenses as far as possible, in order to move closer to not having to drive all over LA anymore. I didn’t have 25% extra income cushion, to stay afloat through a hit like this.

Even more painful – the dream of being able to escape the daily grind, and have my business support me in travels, and building whatever else my heart really did want to be doing, got instantly 25% further away. I’d already put over 7 years of work to get it to where I was… and now, I was 25% further behind. Devastated.

My coach let me simmer in my self-pity party for maybe a week or two (she know’s I’m not one to hang out there too long, unless it’s actually needed), and then pushed me to look forward again.

This period of time is actually a little confusing, so I can’t say I clearly remember how it all went down. I know it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I know my emotional eating was in full rage and filling me with more fear and distress. I know I was feeling unhappy in my romantic partnership, and it basically felt like everything was falling apart. Somewhere deep inside, though, there was the sense that everything was right on track.

I have a nervous habit of revisiting my numbers. When I’m stressed and feeling uncertain, one of the best places to look for me, is back in my spreadsheets. Somehow, in this revisit, the insight arose to revisit my fundamental goal. A new question arose: Did I really NEED to grow the business, in order to be free to wander.

I did some research, cross-checked with my current financial data, and discovered that, if, in fact, my wanderings took me to South East Asia, and I was willing to give up ties (ie: our apartment) in LA, it would actually be more feasible for me to go wandering now, than to try to scrape by in LA, while continuing to push down a path that kept my dream farther than ever.

I looked repeatedly at all the variables, talked to my then partner, talked to my trusted friends, talked to my coach, talked to the checker at my local grocery store (basically everyone except my clients, whom I wasn’t ready to present with this potential “bad news” yet), and came to see that if going for an extended stay in Asia right now wasn’t the right choice, it was certainly at least worth the risk of running the experiment.

And so, I changed directions. I shifted my focus entirely to letting go of LA obligations, and getting the business to be able to continue daily operations without me.

There was a lot of work. There was a lot of fear. There were a lot of roadblocks. There was the ending of a romantic partnership. There was the dissolving of a shared home and life. There was the loss of a key trainer. There were 4 new hires on my tiny 3 person team. At one point, there was an average of 4-6 sobbing break-downs each day.

But there was also a compelling future, that I could actively work toward. There was my nomadic dream – now just an arm’s reach away, instead of the miles I’d held it at, for years. There was a promise of relief from the torture I’d become accustomed to putting myself through, in the name of “persistence” and “commitment”. There was another way.

If you’ve ready of the other posts on this blog, you probably already know, I successfully made the leap. It was only because I turned onto a side road that I hadn’t considered before.

This whole messy shift made me reconsider my understanding of dedication and perseverance. I think we have to be really careful in how we craft our goals, to be aligned with our highest values, if we’re going to use them to guide our choices for years on end.

The part of my goal that required a minimum $4,000 monthly discretionary income to be (relatively) comfortable in LA didn’t really matter to me at all… It just had always somehow seemed like the necessary means to more nomadic ends. I just wanted a life where I could explore and wander, and honor the ever-changing pull of my intuition and interest.

Since getting clear on what matters TO ME, I’ve been able to do that, so far, on less than $2,000 /month. I just had to pivot.

I used to dislike the notion of pivoting – feeling like changing course meant giving up, being a quitter, lacking staying power for anything.

Now, having successfully reached my longest-held goal only through a recent massive pivot, I realize the flaw in that view. It’s a question of scale. Yes, on the macro scale, I want to keep moving to my goal.

Here’s an example: If I’m in the San Fernando Valley, and I have a work appointment in West Los Angeles at 9am… true, I do need to overall, be going south. But if I’m on the 405 and Google Maps shows me it’s at a total standstill all the way into town (likely enough at that time of day), do I lack perseverance, if I head east for a while, to catch better traffic flow over Beverly Glen?

Ooph, I have a lot of compassion to realize there have been (not so long ago) times in my life when I would’ve honestly thought the answer to that question was some variation of “Yes, quitter. Make up your mind.” (See why driving through LA for a living doesn’t work for me?) Really though, that sort of value judgement makes no sense. There are an infinite combination of micro roads we can take, to ultimately get us to the same macro destination. Sure, we shouldn’t be too quick to turn away from our closely-held goals… but it’s also similarly foolish to become too attached to which particular road we’ll take to get there.

So now, happily sitting with my laptop at 1am, with no appointments tomorrow, free to follow the inspiration to write… I can tell you, the traffic on this road is just fine. I’m so glad I turned off the 405.

(Photo credit: Pablo Fernandez)

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2 thoughts on “The Path of Entrepreneurship: Learning to Pivot”

  1. I so acknowledge where you are in your life, and all the macro and micro decisions you’ve had to make to get yourself here. Sounds like you are really breathing into this new space. 😊

  2. What ever road you take…..Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today…….Like fun adventures!!…..Especially if the Stars align and it’s truly possible.
    Love,
    Mama XOXO

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