This Sunday (April 14th) marks two years since I decided to take Ember & Co full-time.
Quitting my previous full-time job wasn’t entirely premeditated. In fact, the decision had only been made two weeks prior. I wasn’t someone who yearned to build my own empire. I didn’t have “CEO” dreams or a desire to start an agency. I wasn’t even entirely convinced that I’d enjoy full-time business ownership.
I’ve always struggled with the term “entrepreneur.” For the fellow personality typing nerds out there, I am a resounding ISFJ (Myers Briggs) / Enneagram 9 (with a 1 wing). In layman’s terms, I’m introverted, practical, heart-led, and thrive within structure and tradition. As a lifelong peacemaker who loves stability, harmony, and a laid-back sense of predictability — conflict, risk, and uncertainty make me break out in a cold sweat.
Sure doesn’t scream “entrepreneurial spirit,” does it?
Unsurprisingly, I don’t know too many business owners who share my personality “cocktail.” On the harder days, that’s been a quiet source of shame for me.
As I mentioned in my last post, I started 2019 with a pretty heavy case of burnout.
From an outside perspective, my business has thrived since day one. I’ve always paid my bills and I’ve never had to dip into savings. In fact, I had my first five-figure month this March and I was in shock. Because inwardly, it was another story. I was not thriving. I was exhausted. I was depressed. I wanted to run away and go into hibernation for three months.
I was trying to live up to what I perceived to be the expectation — that ever-elusive entrepreneurial spirit — and it was killing me.
In the middle of all of this, a friend who was full of life and potential and promise was unexpectedly killed in a helicopter crash, leaving behind his pregnant wife and four-year-old son. He was gaining popularity in local politics and ran an immensely successful PR firm — but none of that was talked about at his memorial service. Because, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, does it? What mattered most about his life was that he was a wonderful father, a passionate advocate for foster kids, a loving husband who took time away from work to spend time “at his favorite place on earth” (home, with his wife).
He was my age; not even 30 yet. Needless to say, it made me think a lot about the legacy I desired to leave. Did I want to be known for my design skill, or how hard I worked? Or the fact that I was so burned out that I was a shell of a human and neglected my relationships because I was so dang tired all of the time?
Of course not.
That humbling realization led me into a season of deep introspection. I had to take a hard look at how I was running my business and how I could dig myself out of this black hole of burnout.
I started making changes to my business, but I still sat in secret shame about those changes for a long time.
I felt terribly guilty for refusing to schedule more than six hours of client work per day. I kept quiet about the fact that I started taking Wednesdays off of client work entirely so that I could finally dedicate time to my own business. I started saying no to big projects that would provide good money but bankrupt my energy and self-care. I felt like a monster when I (politely) demanded that a client pay a severely overdue invoice and refused to negotiate the price down — despite the fact that I was having a record revenue month. I raised the prices of all of my main design packages so that they reflected the amount of time and effort I put into them.
I had a knot in my stomach through many of these decisions and I feared my clients would abandon me when I started standing up for my own joy and personal needs, but I did it anyway. I owned my experience (and shame) and shared it with others. I braced myself for impact.
And you know what I discovered?
No one (who mattered) batted an eye. Life went on and I finally felt like I was running a business that served my life, rather than the other way around.
In fact, the people I most respected thanked me for showing up for them because it gave them a safe place to take off their mask, too.
Mag·net·ic /maɡˈnedik/ adjective: magnetic –– very attractive or alluring
Sin·cer·i·ty /sinˈserədē/ noun: sincerity — the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy
There are a million different voices out there that will tell you a million different things. You’ll find yourself pulled in a thousand different directions, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time feeling like you have to show up in a certain way in order to be taken seriously.
I’ve wasted a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me and if I was naive to think that I could thrive in this world of online business simply because I didn’t fit the mold.
It’s hard not to feel like there’s something wrong with you when those around you seem to thrive in the very environment you’re wilting in.
Fear and shame will tell us that we have to hide our real needs/desires and chase what everyone else was chasing in order to survive. But living in a world of pretense is exhausting and will leave you depleted and empty, no matter who you are.
When we find the courage to truly show up, as ourselves, we discover that the parts of us that make us feel the most “unfit” for this life are the parts “our people” fall the most in love with.
Will everyone love everything about you? Of course not. But those who you are meant to serve will fall head over heels for you — and you do them a disservice when you mask who you are and play a role you weren’t meant to play.
I probably use too many smilies in my emails and I won’t commit to a project that I’m not 110% confident I can deliver on — and I refuse to oversell my skillset and “figure it out later.” I don’t like to network or schmooze, but I’ll happily have a deep conversation over coffee. I will not use an authoritative or “bossy” leadership style, even if it looks good on paper. I’m happy “playing small” and keeping my business sustainable and simple. I may never hit six-figures, but I’ll have the time and space to leave a legacy that matters to me.
Every time I’ve shared something that felt big or vulnerable, I’ve been met with empathy and gratitude. Oftentimes I’m taken aback by those who reach out and thank me for sharing, because they thought they were the only one who felt that way. Sometimes, these people are my clients and we end up building deep bonds thanks to those little moments of sincerity.
The last few months have been hard and humbling in a lot of ways, but life has taught me that beauty is born from ashes — and this case is no different.
I am a firm believer that you don’t have to perform to survive. Modern culture has taught us to curate ourselves for our audience, but what we’re all really craving, deep down, is authenticity. When you let down your guard and commit to showing up as yourself, your people (the people who need you) sigh in relief — because they’ve been looking for you this whole time.
It feels a bit like magic, the way sincerity draws dream customers (and friendships) right to us.
In a world of pretense, sincerity shines like a diamond.
“Magnetic Sincerity” was born out of the realization that it’s our divine responsibility to show up as we truly are.
Our gifts shine the brightest when we have the courage to bring authenticity to the table and embrace what makes us feel different and weird and set apart.
May we learn to move forward — in love, life, business, and everything in-between — with magnetic sincerity. May we worry less about “measuring up,” and concern ourselves more with rising to the occasion.
May we find the courage to show up for our people so that they know when they’re finally home.
Who’s with me?