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Are you dreaming of starting your own business?

More of us are dreaming of working for ourselves since the pandemic upended our ideas about what work looked like, as we switched our pant suits for pajamas and adapted to a world of virtual connection.

It is easy to see the appeal of loving what you do so much it doesn’t feel like work; setting your own schedule so you can get the kids from school and having enough money to get that new sofa and replace the car. But the dream won’t become your reality if you don’t know what business to create.

It’s usually easy to identify what we want to be different about our current situation, but much harder to make changes. Our survival instincts evolved to quickly identify what is wrong with a situation and we can find we spend much of our time thinking and talking about “our problems”. We also evolved to avoid discomfort and the risk of uncertainty which can keep us stuck and resistant to change. This conflict between our desire for something better and a need to feel safe can shut down creativity and prevent us from being able to identify the steps we could take to move from our current reality to the successful outcome we desire.

I don’t want you to give up on what you want because you don’t yet know how to achieve it.

So, here are some suggestions for looking both within and outside yourself to gain a different perspective that might enable you to take the next step towards achieving your dream.

A route map to success

All great expeditions require a route map, and for simplicity I love Lindsay C. Gibson’s metaphorical Map of Growth from her book Who You Were Meant to Be: A Guide to Rediscovering Your Life’s Purpose, which illustrates the stages we go through when following our dreams, such as creating a new business. It will help you identify where you are in the process and, as you move forward, will be a reminder of what to expect and how far you have come.

Starting from dissatisfaction, Gibson draws a meandering path through longing, dreaming, information gathering, planning, action, persistence and endurance, through to success.

I would add that the path is not always linear, and you may find you need to revisit stages as you learn and gather new skills and insights.

Given how many stages there are and how our ideas will be shaped by what we learn as we pass through them, it is unsurprising that at the outset we can’t always see a direct line between our dreams today and our future business success.

Are you looking in the wrong place?

To generate new business ideas you will need to shift your focus from the problems you want to resolve in your life to the problem you want to solve for others in theirs.

This is a complete 180-degree turnaround from inward needs to external needs. This may seem counterintuitive, as I am usually encouraging you to connect to your inner world and desires in order to find the creativity, energy and motivation to move forward. However, there are three good reasons for looking outwards:

  • All businesses exist to meet a need. If you are not meeting a need with a product or service, there will be no customers, no sales and no business. No one is going to buy something from you because you only want to work 20 hours a week! Therefore, understanding the need you want to address has to be your starting place.

  • Where you focus your thoughts and your energy will drive your results. If you are focused on “your problems” you will not be putting your energy into the steps necessary for change. If you focus on how to meet the need you see in the world you brain will get very creative at generating ways in which this could be achieved.

  • Bringing a business into the world is a creative act. Something that requires love, care, and intention to serve others. What will keep you going through all the stages necessary to create a successful business, including your own learning and growth, is a commitment to your future customers and the relentless pursuit of solving their problem.

Building in resilience

Although your business exists primarily to serve your customers, it must also serve you. I'm not just talking about financially here; it needs to enable you to grow personally and feel fulfilled.

Aligning your business with your sense of purpose will help you to maintain your energy, enthusiasm and sense of fulfilment as you face the many demands and challenges on your way. It will get you through the inevitable discomfort of personal growth as you push through your doubts, fears and insecurities.

Your sense of purpose is found where your deepest interests connect with a need in the world around you. It can be expressed when you have the skills and intention to meet the need in a way that is consistent with your values.

In other words, its where you truly connect with the wider world and show up as the best version of yourself. It can take many years and detours before we have the experience and skills we need and before the world is ready for what we have to share.

Developing your sense of purpose – from within

If you don’t yet have a clear sense of your purpose here are a few things to consider that may help you to develop this:

  • You get to decide your sense of purpose – you decide what your life experiences mean and what you want to do with what you have learned through these. Sometimes your life purpose is a reflection of what you need to learn or achieve, and it can change and evolve over time as you do.

  • Remember your 6-8 year old self? That time when you started to notice people had different jobs but before you understood how these were unequally valued and rewarded. What did you want to be then; did it change frequently or did it stay the same? Did you let other people’s opinions or their “reality” crush those dreams so you settled for something “safer”?

  • Your current profession may not reflect your life purpose (particularly if you chose it to seek approval) but it will help you build skills and understanding that can be put to use as your sense of purpose becomes clearer to you.

  • What do you love to learn about? What energizes you? What gives you a sense of fulfilment?

  • If you could make one change to improve someone else’s life, what would it be, how would they feel and what would they be able to do differently as a result?

Developing your sense of purpose – from outside

Developing your sense of purpose not only needs you to go within yourself and recover your dreams and passions (even if these are barely smoldering embers at this stage) it also requires you to look outside yourself and ask “What needs do I see” – this can be in your immediate community or in the wider world. What you see will reflect what you are interested in.

Pick the need that resonates with you most deeply. Without any barriers or judgement identify all the ways in which you think that need could be addressed. Allow yourself some time and space to get really creative here. Then ask yourself what skills and experience you have or could get that would enable you to address the need. When you put your brain to work in this way by asking it a question you may be surprised at how creative you can be and the ideas you generate. Don’t judge or dismiss anything, just make a note of what comes up. When you feel particularly energized by an idea this will be a strong indicator that you are on the right track to identify your purpose and the value you can bring to the world.

It may not come to you immediately, be patient and see what emerges over the coming days and weeks.

Start to have conversations with people about your ideas to learn more about the issue, the need and the potential customers. This will help you to nurture your purpose as you shape and develop your approach. Notice how you feel when you talk to people about it – if you are excited and energized you are likely to be on the right track.

Regret is an invitation to learn and re-direct your resources

If you are feeling regret because you realize your current path is not aligned with your purpose, that’s OK. Be kind to yourself; your past decisions were made with the knowledge and understanding you had at the time.

Acknowledging and accepting regret allows us to re-consider our choices and can be an important part of finding the motivation to change. Just don’t get stuck ruminating on what might have been, as you cannot change the past only learn from it.

Gently move your thoughts on to all the things you have learned over the years, the experiences that shaped you, the contacts you have, the insights you gained and the skills you gathered.

Consider too how the world moves on, technology develops and needs change, creating new opportunities for us to express ourselves and create value. Maybe, our 8-year old selves were ahead of their time, which gave us space to grow and learn until the world was ready for us to share our gifts and live out our purpose.

What are you going to create now?

What thoughts and ideas do you have now about your purpose and the value you can bring to the world through a new business? What's your next step?

If you'd like to discuss how coaching can help you move forward to create your new business or any stage of your life then I'd love to hear from you.

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