So true story…
At my first ever business networking event – after introducing myself as Cat Townsend from Not Pretty (my then business name) – a sincere older lady patted me gently on the shoulder and with a compassionate look told me:
“You could be pretty… with the right clothes… and hairstyle.”
The person beside me near wet herself laughing, and I seemingly took it in my stride. But deep down it cemented the belief that I needed to be someone else if I was going to make it in business.
Boy, was that a damaging belief!
I spent the next three years feeling completely uncomfortable and out of sync with the business I was building and the clients I was working for.
I signed up for course after course… trying to learn how other people ran their business. And filling my vocabulary with jargon and other nonsense that I thought would impress my clients.
I attended event after event studying how other business owners dressed, talked and acted; and did a horrible job of copying them.
Following the crowd worked to a degree. Sure, I secured clients, but it was dreadful on so many levels.
I hated myself. And I hated the work I was doing.
Which kind of defeats the purpose of working for yourself. If I was going to hate my work, I may as well go back to having a day job.
It was at this point in time when I was considering a return to the dreaded 9-5 that I stumbled across a group of trendsetters. People like Marie Forleo, Danielle Laporte, Ash Ambirge, Joanna Martin and Natalie Sisson.
These ladies had built highly successful businesses just by being themselves. They worked when they wanted to and where they wanted to. They swore, they laughed, they wore jeans or kaftans or whatever they liked… without apology!
I had found some better role models.
I’m ashamed to say it but my first thoughts were ‘I want to be just like them’ and ‘how do I copy this in my own business?’ And for a while I joined the millions of hopeful business owners who were hanging on every word and trying to be live, work and act like these successful women.
But it didn’t take me long to realise the flaw in this approach…
The very thing that made these people so successful – so lovable! – is that they were all so decidedly different. And themselves.
And the very thing that made the ‘groupies’ so unsuccessful is that they were spending their time trying to be someone else, instead of focusing their energy on being the best version of themselves they can be.
It’s hard to be your best, when you are hating on your self for being a ‘not quite as good’ version of someone else!
So back to the drawing board…
Maybe the problem was thinking I needed a role model?
I was still intrigued by these people. But I realised that what I needed to model was less about their actions and more about their approach.
They knew who they were. And although they were open to learning new things, their business decisions were ultimately based upon what they enjoyed or felt was right.
I had discovered what I needed to do, which was:
Wow. How obvious!
It’s hard to admit it, but sometimes we already know the right answers and we just fail to act on them.
These days I am incredibly clear about who I am.
I know what I do, what I care about, how I talk and who I want to talk to. I know what my mission is, and what my values are. I know exactly how those things need to show up in my marketing or when I’m working one-on-one with a client. I know what things I can be flexible about and which things are non-negotiable for me.
I’m not going to feed you any fantasy land nonsense about living a ‘perfect life’. But I will say that I’ve had infinitely more success turning up each day as my flawed and imperfect self, than I ever did trying to live up to someone else’s impossible standards.
I am also clear about who I am not.
On this path of self-(re)discovery I realised that staying clear about who you are also requires being very clear about what you are not. So I had a heart-to-heart with myself about what I don’t know. And what I DON’T WANT to know.
I am no longer obsessed with having to learn the ins and outs of everything and keeping up the pretense that I am an expert in ‘everything’. Because the truth is that I am obviously not.
What I do have though is heaps of curiosity and a brilliant network of people who are experts in their own field. And, let me tell you, those two things are very liberating. I’m can either be interested in something and want to find out more, or I leave it to someone who has more interest or knowledge than me. Either way, there is no pretending.
There is definitely no worrying about someone else’s “ultimate formula for building a 6 figure Instagram business” – or whatever the latest Facebook ad I see in my newsfeed is selling.
Knowing all this has made me “not the right person” to help a lot of people and sometimes it feels like I turn down a lot more work that I take on. But that’s okay with me. Because me pretending to be someone else doesn’t help them or me.
Equally though, it has also made me “right person” to help a lot of other people. What you see is now what you get, and people know the real me. And if I say I can help you, then I really can.