Why I make a crappy entrepreneur
A few years ago, as I way trying on a variety of hats work-wise and was beginning to expand beyond the horizons of my private Rolfing® practice (which I still have), I felt comforted by the label “entrepreneur”. Putting aside how pretentious it sounds, it at least felt like a good umbrella term for what I was up to. To me it basically meant “maker of stuff that can scale and help lots of people”, and I could find myself within that.
During that time I cobbled together my own real-life, non-ivory-tower MBA by launching a myriad of things: a business that supported women in their lives and careers (it began as Free Jane with my co-founder Vanessa Scotto, but it’s 100% her baby now over at Map2Self), a blog/ecommerce site that celebrated and sold American artisanal foods (oh Finders Eaters, you were so beautiful but the timing was bad! Foodzie- no connection to me- is doing what I had dreamed of for Finders Eaters and is totally rocking it), and a course and community that supports other holistic health practitioners (it’s still going strong over at Practice Abundance). Beyond those three, I mentally tried on about a thousand other ideas per day.
And so here I am with now my private practice, my course, and The 11 Project. Which seems to have materialized of its own free will. Which gets the cranky and stern entrepreneur voice in my head all riled up: “Why, would you take on a third thing without testing to see if it will pay? Shouldn’t you have researched the competition more clearly? Shouldn’t you have tested out your ROI in advance of launching? (Return On Investment for those not inclined towards business or marketing)
In my attempts to answer the stern entrepreneur voice in my head, I’ve realized that I’m more an artist than an entrepreneur (I did graduate from RISD as a painter after all. It’s about time I identified as an artist.), and my art happens to have a penchant for non-crap filled celebrations of human potential, and to come in the form of a magazine.
I’ve chosen The 11 project as my art. I do also hope for- and will work hard towards- it growing, having an impact, contributing great stuff to the world, and sustaining my son and I, but I’m not doing any hard data mining to find out if it will. Because one can’t. A painter can’t place Google ads to find out if anyone gives a shit about their painting. A writer can’t leak the first three sentences of their short story collection to decide by consensus if they should bother finishing it at all. I think the point is that an artist can’t not make their work. It spills out of them- it has to greet the world whether the world gives a shit or not.
This whole internal debate reminds me of a time several years ago when a friend of mine brought her new boyfriend, a car salesman, to my open studio event. He was adorably delighted to be hanging out with the artsy crowd for the day- he totally won points for enthusiasm- but then he asked me a question that stumped me, “How much do you need to sell today to break even?” While I do, actually, have a whole separate rant for artists that hide away in their studios and hope that the yearly open studio event is enough to bring their work to the world, and who are willing to give up on their dreams ever paying, on the other hand it’s impossible to think about break even numbers for an artist. You’re going to make your stuff. Because that’s what you do. The 11 Project is not a numbers game for me, it’s my heart and I’m delighted to be putting it out there, good ROI or not. Sometimes you just have to go where your heart is, and the rest will follow. Or not. But at least you did your art.
To appease my cranky entrepreneur voice (and maybe the voice inside of you that is stifling what you really want to be making): people who just did their art* already and that act created success: Hugh MacLeod, Jill Miller, Dan Pink, Trey Anthony, Yvon Chouinard, Steven Pressfield, Martha Graham- oh we know this list goes on and on. Who can you add?
*The word “art” is slippery and people put all kinds of limits on it. So to clarify, this is my favorite definition of the word art, courtesy of Seth Godin.