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As I come upon 15 years of blogging – Oct 1st is the anniversary of when I started – I’ve been thinking about how the actions I’ve taken and the business models I’ve explored over the years have sculpted my character and personality.
I feel especially grateful that I didn’t over-invest in some early income streams. In my first few years, most of my income came from advertising revenue. Now none of it does. I shut down that particular source of income in 2008 because it didn’t feel aligned, even though it was off to a good start at the time ($12-13K per month).
People thought I was crazy to drop that easy passive income stream, but I don’t regret the decision. It was the right move, and I did it for intelligent reasons. If I had continued to rely upon advertising as my main source of income, it would have sculpted my future character in a direction I didn’t want to go.
If I kept generating income from ads, then my true customers would be the advertisers and ad networks. And while that model worked on a practical level and many people still use it, I didn’t like what it meant for my future path of growth as a human being. It meant that my business systems were set up to sculpt me into becoming a better ad guy. I was already seeing that play out as I spent time tweaking and improving the ad layouts on my site back then.
And I questioned the wisdom of that path:
- Do I really want to go this route? How do I honestly feel about it?
- Do I want my business to sculpt me into a better ad guy?
- Ten years from now, if I got this route, will I like the man I’ve become?
- Is this really me?
I recognized the connection between the business model I used and how it would sculpt my character. And so I declined that model largely because of the character sculpting impact.
I also didn’t like what the advertising path would mean for my relationship with my readers. I wanted to help people grow as human beings, but my income depended on their clicking on ads instead of staying on the site to read more articles. I felt conflicted about that.
Of course there were all sorts of ways to justify the old path. I could address my personal objections with semi-rational arguments. I could say that the people who clicked on ads were only a small portion of total readers, and so those people were subsidizing the work for everyone else and supporting my ability to keep writing and sharing. But I still had to accept that by relying on ad revenue, the business model would be aligned with putting more thought and energy into selling ads and serving advertisers. Even though most of the income was served up by Google ads, I’d still be paying attention to thoughts of optimizing them.
What really helped me to drop this income stream though was the understanding that I could choose plenty of other business models, and each model would sculpt my character differently. So I approached this by thinking about what kind of person I wanted my own business’ reward structure to help sculpt me into.
Switching Business Models for Character Sculpting Reasons
The following year we did our first of many 3-day live events: Conscious Growth Workshop in October 2009. That workshop unlocked so much growth and change in my life – and in the lives of many attendees as well, some of whom still tell me about ongoing ripples almost 10 years later.
What I liked about incorporating live events into my business model is that I was rewarded for efforts that aligned much better with my values. Instead of becoming a better ad guy, I found it much more rewarding to invest in getting better at public speaking, designing and delivering events, helping people connect, and creating transformational experiences.
I enjoyed this business even more during the following years, partly because the business model encouraged me to invest in an exciting and aligned path of personal growth. In some ways I see the peak of this path as being the 2015 Conscious Heart Workshop. The idea behind that workshop was to do all 3 days with no pre-decided plan, structure, or content. Everything was decided based on the flow of inspiration in the moment combined with audience suggestions. This worked amazingly well, with the attendee ratings for the overall value and the transformational effect of the workshop averaging to 4.8 out of 5.
Adopting a business model based on doing live events rewarded me to grow in a really interesting direction. I became a person who could do a 3-day live event in the flow state without having to prepare or decide specific content in advance – and have it be a worthwhile, transformational, and fun experience for attendees.
When I was younger, I used to be afraid of public speaking. Having to speak off the cuff without something memorized and well-rehearsed would have been terrifying to me, and there’s no way I could have done that without major nervousness and stress. So to reach the point where I could do 3 days of this without any nervousness or fear and to actually have it be a fun weekend of connection, laughs, and inspiration really meant a lot to me.
Now I could have worked towards such a goal on my own, simply as a personal side hobby. But I’m not sure if I ever would have made it happen that way. I think this goal was achieved much sooner because my business model encouraged me to go in that direction.
Designing my first workshop took 30 days full-time, and that event was based on my book which came out the year before. Because business rewards efficiency, there were natural business pressures to design and deliver more workshops and to do so faster. This encouraged me to refine my process to the point where I could design a new 3-day workshop in just 2-3 days. And that’s largely due to the benefit of experience. I learned how to think of an event in larger chunks of material and exercises. And I also knew where I could trust myself to think on my feet more and more instead of needing to have every little detail pre-planned.
So the business model rewarded me for being able to design workshops faster. Once I got the design process down to 2-3 days, it wasn’t as big of a leap to get it down to 0 days. I was already 90% of the way there from where I started.
But consider that while the business model surely rewards reducing the workshop planning time from 30 days down to 2-3 days, the additional reward for going from 2-3 days down to 0 days really isn’t much. I didn’t really need to save those few extra days, and the business model itself didn’t provide much pressure to take that final step. But the business model created the right pressures to get me 90% of the way there, and so I could travel that last 10% for other reasons, such as curiosity and creating an interesting growth experience for myself or others.
So consider that even if your business model doesn’t provide the encouragement and rewards to take you all the way across the finish line for certain types of goals, it could very well put you within striking distance of interesting goals that matter to you.
And of course by achieving goals that matter to you, you also sculpt your character in ways that matter to you. Locking in character attributes that you find meaningful can be highly rewarding. For instance, I’ll always have the memory of knowing I can do a 3-day workshop without needing to pre-plan the content and without needing any notes. I know from experience that there’s a lot of power in simply caring about the people who show up, engaging with them fully, and inviting them to co-create a worthwhile experience together. Going this route greatly increased the level of trust I have in myself, in other people, and in life overall.
Your Business Can Fuel Your Character Growth
A few years ago, I shifted my business model again, partly because I wanted to take my character growth in a different direction. I knew that if my business was aligned with encouraging and supporting my character journey, it would make for a smoother, faster road ahead.
In particularly, I wanted to invest time and energy in making some larger creative works – even bigger than my book. I saw that there was demand for some unique courses on different personal growth topics, and I was attracted to the idea of doing this for several years at least. The character journey was to become a person who could become skilled at creating solid transformational deep dives that people would find worthwhile. I wanted these courses to be very unique too, unlike any other courses or books I’d ever encountered elsewhere.
For me the hardest part of the character journey was to shift myself from being primarily a short-form type of content person to a long-form person. I had internalized the pattern of getting an idea in the morning and having it published on my blog before lunch. Now I wanted to transform myself into a person who could spend months (even years) creating much larger works with more depth and detail than what I’d done in the past.
I was especially curious about what skills would transfer from my blogging and speaking experience to creating larger works. How much could I leverage going with the flow of inspiration when choosing subtopics, for instance? Would I get bogged down in planning work? Could I develop the patience to hold back on publishing something till I felt it was ready? Could I get used to selling courses and pricing them intelligently?
I’d been wanting to create larger works for years, but I had a hard time getting traction in that direction because my business model didn’t support that path as well as it could have. I was generating income more easily in other ways, such as by doing joint-venture deals with various publishers. While creating larger works appealed to me personally, my business didn’t require such projects of me.
So I changed that. I decided to retool and refactor my business model, largely by letting go of the old model. That was hard to do because the old model was lucrative, but once again I had to accept that if I stuck with it, the relatively easy money would hold back my character growth.
Which would you choose? Would you prefer an easy business model that would yield plenty of income but which would reward you for not growing as much? Or would you prefer a harder model that would push you to step up and evolve your character in order to access the promised rewards? I think the answer depends on what you want. Sometimes it’s nice to coast for a while, but it does get boring after a while if you coast for too long.
I’m glad I recognized that this transition wasn’t just about changing my behaviors. I also had to make sure my business was structured in the right way to reward me for undertaking the path of growth I really wanted to pursue.
The big picture idea I want to share here is that you need to consider how the business models you work with are sculpting your behaviors and therefore your character growth. If those models aren’t aligned with the direction you’d like to develop your character, you can change them. As an entrepreneur that’s very doable because you can control how you set up the business models – you can decide how you’re going to generate income. As an employee, however, this may mean switching jobs or companies now and then. Either way it’s a choice. We can seek out the business models that align with the character journeys we desire to take.
If you don’t make such choices consciously, you may find your business or employer sculpting you into someone you don’t wish to become. I think it’s better if you consciously choose to work with business models that get you feeling excited about the person you’re evolving into – that makes the work itself more enjoyable and rewarding too. And isn’t it also better to enjoy and appreciate the work products of people who feel good about how their work is affecting them as human beings?
As I reflect back on nearly 15 years of blogging and running a personal growth business, I like how this work has further developed my character. I feel this work has affected me very positively. Today I have a lot of knowledge, skills, and capabilities that I didn’t have when I first started. Those inner gains are very precious to me, but they didn’t happen automatically. I had to keep shifting the business model to make sure the business stayed aligned with where I wanted to take my character journey. This also makes me very grateful to be an entrepreneur since I cherish having the freedom to do this.
While this particular article focuses on the personal side of character sculpting, I also want to note that at each point of transition, I gave at least as much consideration to how different business models would affect the people I serve. Fortunately I’ve found that what’s good for my own character growth is usually very good for others too. Doing live events was good for all involved. Removing advertising from the site improved usability and reduced distractions for everyone. Creating larger works has helped lots of people as well. And I think in general that if I seek to become a more capable human being, most of the time that’s going to result in positive benefits for other people as well. It’s good that personal growth isn’t a zero-sum game. We can all improve at this together.