If you're like most creative entrepreneurs, you started your career wearing all the hats. Along with that came a sense of responsibility for all the parts and pieces of your growing enterprise. That's logical. After all, if the business isn't making money, you're not making money, and that's a problem!
But a bigger problem I've found in my years of working with creatives across the spectrum, is that as the business grows, you're still trying to do too much. You're trying to hold yourself accountable to things that are just too hard to handle on your own.
There's a time and a place for self-accountability. There's also a time to know when to let go and get help. (Tweet this)
Creatives want to be independent. Chaotics see themselves as free-thinkers and free spirits. Fusions almost always have a better way to do something, and Linears don't want to be hampered by too many cooks in the kitchen. Holding yourself accountable is efficient and effective.
Until it's not.
Simply put, you can't manage it all, and you shouldn't try to do it for long. Humans just aren't wired that way. Okay, maybe SOME humans are, but they are the exception, not the rule, and even they need help from someone else at some point.
So why do we hold out so long when it comes to self-accountability?
According to Mark Samuel & Sophie Chiche, authors of the book "The Power of Personal Accountability", there are three fears that come into play when you try to hold yourself accountable for everything.
When I was a kid, it was my job to dust the living room. I hated dusting. We had a coffee table that frequently had rings because people wouldn't use a coaster. It was tough to keep clean. There were several instances where I got in trouble because someone else came along and left a ring after I had cleaned, but before Mom had inspected. No matter how spotless the rest of the room was, she would often point out how I "missed a spot" on the coffee table.
One time I got so mad I yelled at my Mom. "Don't blame me. I did my job!"
According to Mark & Sophie, "We associate accountability with blame. We fear that if we're accountable for something, we'll be the one to get blamed if it goes wrong."
Sometimes, we do get blamed - like with that infernal coffee table. But more times than not, we don't. And, as I learned with the coffee table, sometimes there are smarter ways to do things. One of my siblings finally suggested I do the coffee table last - just before Mom got home. That way, she'd see me working on it, and nobody would have time to put anything on it before she inspected.
It was a simple solution that I couldn't see for myself. I just wanted to be DONE with it, so I could check it off the list. I was afraid that I wouldn't get it done if I waited, and I let fear drive the bus. I've talked before about unconscious self-sabotage, driven by fear. We get triggered by feelings of inadequacy and decide to do nothing instead. It takes that outside eye to help us see things differently.
I have a friend who really struggles with this one. Simple requests get rejected, for fear of letting someone down. I remember asking him if he would remind me to do something later in the day - something we both needed complete. He said "I'll try to remember". He never texted, and the thing didn't get done. When I asked why he didn't text me, he said "I never promised I would."
This was a recurring theme in our friendship. When I finally confronted him about it, he confessed that he didn't want to make a promise he wasn't absolutely sure he could keep, because he'd feel like a failure if he let me down and didn't follow through.
I told him, "It's a text message, not a kidney transplant!"
This fear of failure stems from not wanting to feel incompetent or look bad in the eyes of others. "To avoid feeling that way," the authors state, "we play it small. We stay in what is familiar. We don't challenge ourselves with bigger choices, so we don't have to ever feel inadequate."
We worked together to "game the system" in his brain. We looked for what Teresa Ambile calls a "small win", and re-trained his brain to focus there. I reminded him that "trying to remember" was also a commitment. That he couldn't just blow it off without even trying to remember to text me... that he would be lying to me. Integrity is a HUGE deal to him, and he recognized how he's be letting us both down (double trouble!). It was a small change in his thinking, but it opened his eyes to a new way of honoring the commitments he was making and gave him a chance to build his confidence with small wins first.
Taking risks can lead to mistakes, or even (GASP!) failure in the short term. But is also leads to learning. Learning means we might not get it right the first time. But knowing you've got a safe space to take those risks takes the edge off a bit. It's hard to create that safe space by yourself. Instead, you stay stuck in the echo chamber in your mind.
It's time for me to resurrect that Marianne Williamson quote. You know the one. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. "
To some, this may sound like a cop out. I know it did for me the first time I said it. All kinds of worthiness issues cropped up that kept me from moving forward on things I knew were important to me. I had to ask for help... sometimes from people I barely knew! That's hard, but certainly not any harder than staying stuck. Our authors give us more insights:
"If we increase accountability, we will accomplish more, and we know it. We will gain more responsibility. We will be expected to achieve at a higher level of performance. We will have to maintain excellence. We will have to deal with people's jealousy and our own guilty feelings for outperforming others. That is a lot of pressure. It is strangely easier to dream of success than to actually achieve it."
So yeah, I can see how that might feel like a cop out to some people (myself included). The reality, though, is that if you're feeling pressure, the last thing you want to do is create more pressure for yourself. You'll do anything to take the pressure off, if you can, which means doing less, or doing nothing, so that you're not feeling that pressure anymore. And there you are, right back at ground zero on those things you said were important to you.
Get others to help hold you accountable. If you're a technophile, maybe you'll use an app like MyFitnessPal. I struggle with apps because they require me to be attached to my device in order to stay consistent. That's not me. If it's not you either, you might try a more personal approach.
I've had an accountability partner for years now. Winnie has seen me through more ups and downs than all the roller coasters at Cedar Point. We meet once a week and debrief what happened since our last meeting, what we're working on, and where we're needing help. If you don't know who you could turn to, consider a group accountability program, where you've got the "hive mind" and power of the group behind you to celebrate your wins and help you navigate the rough spots.
Fear's not going away any time soon, so anyone who promises to eliminate fear should set off all kinds of red flags. You may not be able to eliminate it, but you can mitigate it. Here are a few ways that external accountability can help.
Eliminate blame - you'll have a safe space to practice. Members of Accountability Club (A-Club) will often ask how to handle a tricky situation before they try to handle it publicly. And if they do have a "facepalm moment" they know they're not alone, and can come to the group to talk it through, be encouraged, and regroup. It's a judgement free zone that safe for everyone to practice.
Focus on progress, not perfection - This takes the sting out of so-called "failure". By dropping the judgement and celebrating what DID get accomplished or what you learned, you've got a chance to make every opportunity into a teachable moment. Are you further along than you were before? That's progress. Celebrate it! By looking for and celebrating the small wins, you're re-programming your brain to train it for success.
Take the pressure off - Take your focus off just the "strike zone" and celebrate the tiny steps along the way. Focus more on the actions you can take and less on what other people might think. Put your attention firmly on the actionable steps on your to-do list that lead to your goal. That way, others lose their power over you. Guilt drops away because you can point to exactly what you did (and how they could do the same thing to get comparable results).
It isn't about you being "magical" or feeling guilty about your hard-won progress. You did the work, dangit! This also keeps you clear on what's really possible for you. If your plate is full of action steps, you simply CAN'T take on more. There's no room! You can start learning new skills - like delegation, and team building.
Can you do these things for yourself? Sure. And sometimes you have to. I've been there. But even as a self-starter that loneliness and isolation can be tough. Not to mention the echo chamber of thoughts that start rattling in your head. That's when trying to hold yourself accountable can start holding you back. You simply can't manage it all by yourself all the time. It's just too hard.
If you're ready to take the pressure off and get the support and accountability you need to move forward, the doors are open to Accountability Club. Enrollment is only open a few times a year, so now's the time to get on board! Not sure if you're ready? Join us for our free monthly training call this weekend. We're talking with Becky Mollenkamp about how to use LinkedIn to grow your audience of Raving Fans. You can listen live at no cost, but the recording is only available to members of A-Club. As long as you're on my mailing list, you'll get an email with all the details.
I've been wanting to write a post for a very long time about a concept I dubbed "the two I's". Inasmuch as we have two eyes through which we see the world, there are two "I's" through which we see the world: our divine self and our human self.
You can try to dodge them, but no matter how hard you try, you will experience the agony and ecstasy of both "selves" in your lifetime. I've talked about our Shadow self before. How the Coward and the Pretender protect ourselves from the world, and the world from us. How they are all part and parcel to our being. But I thought an incredibly personal example from my own upbringing might drive the point a little deeper.
It's probably a good thing my family doesn't read my writing much. Especially this week. I've written about my Dad before, but I don't usually talk about my Mom. That's because ours wasn't the greatest of relationships. While my Dad and I weren't exactly buddies, he wasn't around much as a kid, so he and I didn't develop the strong animosities that Mom and I did.
Dad was a Vet from WWII. He fought in the Asia Pacific Campaign on the island of Hawaii. I never knew much about what he did or who he was, since that was 30+ years before I was even born.
This past week, his replacement Army medals arrived. He earned a bronze star for his campaign medal, and I'm still not entirely sure what that means. In addition to the victory medal, also earned a Good Conduct Medal and a marksman badge for rifle (which explains the gun he kept in the closet when I was growing up). He also earned an honorable service pin. To look at all that regalia, you'd think Dad was some kind of war hero deserving of a halo and a front row seat in Heaven.
This was the same man who, in his 60's no less, took my mom to abandoned houses to pull out and strip the copper wiring to sell at the junkyard for cash. Granted, that cash was used to feed his family and keep a roof over our heads, but breaking the law is breaking the law, no matter what the intention.
Lest you think Mom was some kind of victim in all this, she is the prostitute in the subheading above. Did you ever wonder what happens to prostitutes after they clean up their act and get off the street? I did, until I learned about Mom's "torrid past".
Back in the early 1970's, Dad was a cab driver. He was in his early 50's, married to a drug addict with two kids - one whom he'd sired and she another she brought to the marriage. To hear Dad tell it, he loved her, but she couldn't kick her habit, so he was looking for another "option". That's when he met my mom. She was this 20-something vixen - one of the few white chicks that hung out at an all-black bar in town where he liked to go between calls.
I never knew mom or dad to be much in the way of drinkers, so that story took me by surprise.
He knew she was earning money the "old fashioned" way, and decided he wanted to get her off the streets and clean her up. So he moved her into his house - with his wife and kids - under the guise of being a live-in nanny and part-time cabbie.
My mom, the undercover live-in lover of my dad, a married man with kids. The wife was too high to care, I presume. Then one day Dad was in the kitchen making wifey a sandwich. She OD'd right in front of the kids and died.
There was nothing to stop them from getting married, so they did. Mom & Dad eventually adopted both boys and went on to have both me and my sister - all before the end of Gerald Ford's presidency.
By the 1980's we were one big family - the kind that put the "fun" in dysfunctional (this picture is from one of the few family camping trips we all took together). My oldest brother (on the right) started stealing from the family. My heroic war vet dad would bind his hands and hang him from the wrists in the garage and whip him with a belt to get him to 'fess up. That put fear into the rest of us to not steal.
My other brother (on the left) decided that it was okay to force himself upon his much younger sister (me) instead. I didn't understand then why my Mother defended him. For years it was easy for me to see the darkness of Mom and the light in my Dad. Dad, the Angel, had left my mom because, well, she was the Devil. Nothing was ever good enough for her demanding ways. It was stressful, painful, and downright horrible.
After Dad and mom split up the first time, Mom took to the belt like a natural. It was an abusive, yet loving home - something you'd only expect to hear from a child of an abusive home. I'm pretty sure my extended family was somewhat aware, but nothing was ever done to my knowledge; no visits from child protective services as far as I know.
Then, in an effort to "make it work for the kids' sake" they got back together. That didn't last long. It was a painful mess of a relationship that colored so much of what my view on men, marriage, and family became for many many years.
It wasn't until I was an adult, with a child of my own, that I could really own that they were both a tangled web of shadows and light - like we all are.
As I approach my fortieth birthday, I look back and do my best to temper both the light and dark in my family. Fitting, since I'm biracial, right?
Amid all that darkness, I remember how my Dad would sit with me every week when my oldest son was still a toddler, and instruct and encourage me to be a better parent. How Mom attended and supported my sister's softball team in high school. The vacations and road trips we took to various parts of Michigan and the Eastern U.S. How they were both compassionate grandparents for as long as they were alive.
Those were good, glorious times: when Mom and Dad were letting their Divine selves shine through.
No one is perfect, in the zone, or "on" all the time. We see it played out when celebrities get caught doing something stupid, or a politician admits to some "corrupt" act. When I yell at my kids, swear at the driver that cut me off, or give credence to the "not enough" voices in my head.
On the other hand, our Divine nature calls us to live beyond our humanity. Wallowing in the "bad" things we do and resigning ourselves to our imperfection is a cop out. Saying "I told you I was trouble. You know that I'm no good." - with apologies to Amy Winehouse - is a cop out. We owe it to ourselves - to our highest good and to the people who need us to share our divine gifts - to keep showing up, warts and all.
When I meet someone for the first time that's previously watched my videos or read my blog, invariably, they say something about how inspiring I am because I have the courage to just show up as I am. That me "being vulnerable" is some kind of salve for them that gives them hope and courage to show up for themselves, too.
I used to think it was a back-handed way of saying "you could at least put on some makeup in those videos!" See how I couldn't even receive the compliment that was being handed to me? I was stealing from myself and robbing them of the gift of true gratitude.
Recently, though, I've noticed more and more people saying the same thing - as if my vulnerability is a gift I get to shine into the world for those who need it.
I'll be the first person to tell you I'm not perfect (my kids would probably be the second). It's part of why I don't show up with flashy videos and perfectly coiffed hair. My dishes are regularly undone, my house it quite often in disarray, and don't even think about looking at my desk right now - I'm not sure you could find it.
I've lied. I cheated. I've been "the other woman" - on more than one occasion. I've been mean, cruel, and just a downright "bad" person. And, as my favorite poet likes to remind us, still I rise.
Because my Divinity refuses to let my Humanity own me. Each day is another chance to stand up to the shadows of all my yesterdays, shine a light and say "screw you yesterday, I'm going to show up and keep trying to do better."
Not "do perfect." Do better.
My Humanity also refuses to let my Divinity own me. Because each day is another day for me to experience joy, emotion, respect, fear, lightness, darkness, faith, courage, happiness, anger, rage, and all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.
It's difficult to see the world through one eye. You're constantly craning your neck to see what you're missing. If you have two eyes, it seems senseless to cover one of them and pretend it doesn't exist. Why not put it to good use and see the rest of the world around you?
Why indeed. It's much harder to live life pretending you're perfect (or evil). You're constantly shift around to keep people from seeing the side you wish to ignore. If you have two sides, it seems senseless to cover one of them up and pretend it doesn't exist. Why not put it to good use and let us (and yourself) experience you showing up fully in the world around you?