How to Know If Your Business is Successful

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(This post was originally published at The Mogul Mom in 2015)

I crawled from a low rooftop in the jungle to board her, sitting just behind her head, her huge ears hugged my thighs in place. I began to feel her incredibly powerful body move confidently beneath me. I was on a retreat I led in Thailand and was privileged to ride on an elephant. The situation for elephants in Thailand is as complicated as my feelings were about riding on her. The heavy chains around her neck bothered me. I longed for her to be free, even though freedom could mean her being in an even more vulnerable position. Then, just as I was thinking this, something amazing occurred. A huge message was delivered silently from her heart to mine. It was this:

 

Each of us is chained in some way and we’re all continuously moving towards greater freedom.
Where in my life was I burdened by heavy chains? A few months later, I got a hint from my Mom.
I was sitting at a dinner party when I saw her lean over to another woman and gesture towards me saying, “That’s my daughter Sarah; she’s a charismatic and very successful life coach.” Hearing her say that to another person, I smiled inside. It felt good to hear my Mom say I was a success. Then a few seconds later, I suddenly choked a little on my arugula as a voice inside me nagged.

Is that really true? Are you successful?

It depends on how you define success. I used to be a big success as popularly defined by how much income I generated. As a full time practicing physician, I earned a small boatload of money. Back then, meeting people for the first time and discovering I was a doctor (or in my Northern Minnesota city -a “lady doctor!!), they always seem wowed.

My status was an instant “in”. I was legit.Their reactions seemed to say, “yes- you are a success!”. Was it the years of toiling away and dedication they admired? Perhaps. However, I had the hunch that it was also tied up with the cash. I was living the American dream: big paycheck = happy life.

I enjoyed medicine for a long time. But, after nearly two decades practicing, I left in search of more heart-centered work. I’d become less interested in diagnosing disease and more curious about what created health.

After a six month sabbatical and much soul searching, I slowly found my groove. Now, I do a mixture of writing (I’ve written two books and have a third on the way), coaching, and shamanic healing. These new activities are challenging and deeply satisfying. I frequently leave my office in the early afternoon with such a lovely sense of being useful — it’s my version of heaven on earth. I am doing healing and creative work I love and I’m in charge of my destiny and schedule. It feels very good.

And that’s just the icing.

My new vocation has given me another gift – to be present with my four kids, ages 10 to 18. After a dozen years of feeling pulled/pushed between parenthood and work, I feel whole again. I’m being the mom I longed to be… more present in their lives both literally and metaphorically.

Since I left my medical practice, I’ve served hundreds of shamanic healing and coaching clients, co-hosted a dozen retreats and created group adventures in Thailand and Hawaii, taught dozens of teleclasses, stood on stage a few times, and sold a couple thousand books. I’ve also created hundreds of inspirational posts plus co-created an app to help humans discover the wisdom of wild animals that has users in 62 countries.

A slam-dunk success—- right?

The thing that nagged me about my Mom’s comment- and made me feel like a fraud is this, dear reader. I have a confession: in the four years since I left medicine, I’ve generated close to $100,000.00 for sales and services, yet I’ve failed to make a profit.

Does that make me a failed entrepreneur?
A poor money manager?
Uncommitted?
Unsuccessful?

It is what that voice in my head wants me to believe, but it’s far from the truth.

In addition to experiencing a sweet sense of purpose, I’ve have been able to pay my office rent, hire fascinating people with whom to collaborate, invest in continuing education, support other creative people in their work and, travel to many beautiful places.

Lately, the blessings bestowed on me are frequently non-monetary and ineffable: peace of mind, satisfaction, frequent experiences of wonder and connection.

I feel like I’m doing exactly what I am meant to do. I feel blessed.

Despite the success I know deep in my bones, that sketchy voice in my head is still LOUD (mostly when I do my accounting, ☺) saying “you should be making more money by now!” Or “if you’re not paying yourself by now then you’re doing it wrong!” or “you need to work harder…do more”. Or “successful businesses show profits”. That voice causes me to feel awful… to shrink.

Please understand, dear reader, it’s not that money doesn’t matter- it clearly does. Each of us has to figure out how we are going to support ourselves and our families. Before I left medicine for good, I moonlighted, we downsized and I began spending money differently so we could live on one salary. Each of us will have a different path when it comes to work and money. And, let me be clear, it’s not that I renounce money- I don’t. I know the freedom it affords. And, I have more than enough.

What I want all of you to know is that real success cannot simply be measured by how much income you generate. The gift and talents you have to share with the world are beautiful and important. These must be quantified at the level of the heart:

  • By the way you feel each night when you lay your head on your pillow and when you rise each morning.
  • By the thrill you experience by helping a client discover solutions.
  • By the way your relationships sing with honesty.
  • By the feedback you get about the effect your company/work has on others.
  • By the joy you feel inside.
  • By how much your work serves.
  • By the quality of your experiences.

Thinking back to that beautiful elephant who shared her wisdom with me, I was able to cast off a few heavy chains of my own when I decided to define my business’s success in a holistic way…not looking at numbers alone.

Success, def.: the sweet feeling of usefulness I experience when I use my talents and abilities to serve others.

So, no matter what your accounting software is showing you this month, I invite you to ask yourself these questions:


Metrics of the Heart: How Successful is My Business?

  1. Have I used my talents to help another person or group of people?
  2. How did my business (services or products) make others feel?
  3. How has my business allowed me to manifest dreams, both big and small?

I’m extremely grateful for the abundance that continues to flow in and out of my business, enabling me to share my work and collaborate with others. But, money isn’t my business’s sum and substance. Ultimately, my currency is that delicious feeling of usefulness I get when I share my gifts. And seeing how the experiences, products, and services I create help others feel good. In short, my legal tender is love. And knowing that, I’m pleased to roll up my sleeves and get to work being a former lady doctor turned VERY successful (and occasionally charismatic) life coach.

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