How much do you pour of yourself into your business? Is it OK to cry? Is it really just business?
It was about 10 minutes before preschool pick up time when the message came in. Depending on your point of view, one could have understood it as simply a disappointing business development. But the sensation of the bottom of my stomach dropping to the top of my feet told me that this was going to be a tough one.
I responded predictably, perfunctorily, and professionally to the message, and boarded my car to pick up my kids.
During the drive to the preschool I was on auto-pilot. You know that eery numbness that settles in only a few times in your life - when something happens that is altogether shocking while simultaneously feeling like a peculiar combination of a sucker punch and a sword through the heart? Yeah- that.
I was surprised by my own reaction bubbling up. It wasn't the first disappointment in a business outcome, nor was it an inaugural disappointment in a relationship. Something was different about this one.
It wasn’t until after I hurried along a friendly conversation with a fellow parent at the preschool and my preschoolers were buckled into their carseats, that I burst into tears. There, with face in hands, slumped over the steering wheel, and two kids staring on in confusion and concern, I realized that it’s not “just business”.
What is it that conventional experts tell us are the keys to success, particularly in social media? Something about authenticity, engagement, generosity, relationships, and inspiration? Be human, we’re told. Give freely, we’re urged. Form relationships- even friendships, we’re encouraged. Meet offline, care, and invest yourself, we’re guided. ….Or did I get that wrong?
Then again we’re businesspeople. We exist in a hyper-capitalist micro-culture by definition. The name of this game is to get ahead, with no guarantees that no one’s feelings won’t get hurt along the way. Loyalty is something we try to define, instill, protect, predict, mandate, and enforce in contracts, but ultimately fail in doing as it is a human essence- not one intrinsic to business. Business is the exchange of a product or service for a mutually agreed-upon value. A successful business makes money, not necessarily friends. …Or did I get that wrong?
I think we’re being led astray as women and mom entrepreneurs. The messaging to simultaneously be authentic, generous, and form relationships is incongruent, fragmented, and antithetical to the undercurrents of the business world. We’re in an awkward sororital blender filled of love for one another, fresh maternal streaks in the “mothering” era of our lives, sprinkled with primal competitive streaks, and doused with more obligation, information, expectation, and opportunity than at any other time in our female history.
The result is that we are playing by some of the rules some of the time, and the rest of the rules when the first set of rules fails us. Internally we recognize we’re switching rulebooks – perhaps from a friend-colleague hybrid role to strictly-business-colleague/ ex-colleague role. But we rationalize the shift in expectations of ourselves by citing a plethora of yet a different set of expectations of the other party. Mom entrepreneurs especially are effectively floating unanchored in an ambience of undefined roles and expectations, with the additional complicating element of time introduced. Who is good for us now, may be replaced by someone else. What was good for us a while ago, isn’t anymore- mirroring the rapid changes in our own families as children grow from babies to teens, and in our bodies as we transform from vessels for baby-making to autonomic women in the driver’s seat of our physical being and minds.
While I wax philosophical, the tears dry. I ponder why, in a world with no guarantees, and plenty of risk, this would hurt. The answer is simple: I cared.
I cared not just for the business disappointment in question, but for the relationship with the other human. I did invest, bond, relate, share, give, trust, and lend myself to the vulnerabilities inherent in forming a hybrid relationship based on both business and personal connection. I am not ashamed that this affected me, and actually embrace that I am a feeling, emotional, and - yes- female being.
I also had passion for my business, so I did actually give a d*mn about the bad news I had just received. Sure we should try our best to detach ourselves emotionally from our business to create a healthy balance, but complete detachment contradicts what the "greats" recount as what made them successful. They cite passion as the secret sauce, and it's what we all tell newbies to "go find" if they want to start a business.
In walking through this experience I have come to realize that I reject any notion that we should detach from our humanness in business. That is what makes this niche special- that we are moms and entrepreneurs in the same breath. In fact we are these each in the same physical space, in the same armful, in the same desk space, and in the same mental real estate. And, in a crowded landscape of contradictory advice, sensibilities, and modalities in the mom entrepreneur niche in its infancy, I stand by my decision to care. I walk away from this experience wiser and more cautious to protect my interests in the future. However I will continue to operate from a paradigm of belief of the best of humankind. Really, I don’t know another way.
I stand in gratitude for the opportunities with which I continue to be blessed to share, invest, and care in other people. It’s *not* just business. And it *is* OK to cry.