From Paycheck to Purpose: Why I Stopped Growing My Business

stopped growing my business

Somebody in my community asked me, in the coming year, what are your plans to grow your business?

This question stopped me in my tracks for a moment because this year, I have no plans to grow my business. Isn’t that a strange and unexpected answer?

Might make a good story. So here it is.

A different view of success

I used to be a corporate pig-dog, climbing the corporate ladder. I was a high-flying executive being groomed for an executive position. And that meant quite a bit of stress along the way.

One time, I was in a corporate training program. We were out in a lodge in the middle of the woods, and we were supposed to talk about our feelings. But all I could think about was stress at the office. I didn’t want to talk about feelings.

The program trainer (who later became an important mentor and friend) sat beside me and said, “Mark, I can see you’re struggling with this. What would you say is the feeling you experience most of the time?”

That was easy. I answered, “Anxiety.” And I was certainly feeling it at that moment!

I decided to be a smart ass and ask him, “Well, what’s the feeling you have most of the time?” Without missing a beat, he said with twinkling eyes, “joy.” I knew he was right. He had a constant serenity about him.

This moment changed my life forever because I was ashamed to be living a life ruled by anxiety. From that moment on, I vowed to make more decisions based on joy, rather than career opportunities or money.

If you ever see me at my desk in a video or Zoom call, you’ll see big silver letters that say JOY right above my head. That’s why.

Starting my own thing

That was also the moment I started stepping down from the corporate ladder and more toward a life that would help me be a better husband and father. Eventually, I decided to go out on my own and start my own business.

I want to emphasize that I had a fantastic corporate career. I always had an entrepreneurial bent, but I was very happy in the corporate environment, where I benefited from great leaders and friendships. But I got to a point where I couldn’t keep growing down the joyful path on the corporate track.

From the start, when I went out on my own, I made choices for joy. I wanted to keep it small and focus on meaningful work instead of managing employees. I found great people to work with who became like family to me. Personal chemistry can increase joy or destroy it faster than anything.

I don’t look at the books

I did not have a master plan to grow my personal brand into what it is today. I just made smart decisions along the way, and it led to business growth. That’s a story for another day. I want to stick to the theme of joy.

I’ve now had my own business for 15 years. About seven years ago, I made another unusual decision. I stopped looking at QuickBooks, the program I use to track sales. I was becoming too obsessed with beating the numbers, and this was making me unhappy. So I stopped.

To this day, I only look at the accounting statements one time — at the end of the year — to see how we did. I know the rhythm of the business. I know how the money is flowing without obsessing over it. I make decisions to work with people I love on rewarding projects.

My keyword

Here is word I dwell on a lot, especially since the pandemic: Contentment.

When the pandemic hit, my business went to zero, as did a lot of vacation plans! I was miserable, but I still had so much to be grateful for.

I thought a lot about my grandfather, a plumber. He never had a new car or a color TV. As far as I know, he only went on one vacation in his life, to the beach — which he hated. And yet, he was one of the happiest men I’ve ever known. He loved a good bowl of soup. His rose garden. Having a beer with friends.

He never complained, even in the hard times, and always smiled. He was content. He is still my role model in that way. It’s a way to infuse joy into daily life.

The zero growth strategy

This brings us to today when I no longer care how much my business is growing.

Here is one of the worst quotes in all of business: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Man, we’re all dying. I think a lot of people are probably dying faster than the rest because they’re focused on growing a business instead of growing a life.

People come to me with new business opportunities all the time, I usually say no. While I am grateful, new levels of activity will probably also lead away from contentment. I leave a lot of money on the table. I’m not bothered. I’m OK.

Reality check

I don’t want you to think I’m some Zen Master who stares into candles all day. I work hard on my business, but I love every minute of it. I have fun every day.

There’s really no work-life balance. It’s all life. You just pick and choose your priorities.

I also want to emphasize that I am in a phase of life that might be different for you. In fact, I’m probably the oldest person in the room. I had to save for my kid’s college, I had to pay off the mortgage, and healthcare bills.

I didn’t arrive at this place all at once. Remember, I started as a corporate pig-dog. It was a trajectory based on a decision to choose joy. I’m still evolving.

If you’d like to hear more about this journey, please listen to my podcast conversation with the amazing Keith Jennings. Together, we dissect the five stages of careers and how it has applied to our lives. Every conversation with Keith is a gift and you’ll learn a lot from this!

Click here to enjoy Marketing Companion episode 279!

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