Don’t Build a Business Because You Want Freedom

It was a year ago. I had 15 people working for me, my business was losing money every month, I was stressed beyond belief, and everyone thought I was successful. “You know, Jeff,” my business coach told me, “you don’t have to do this.”

Don't Build a Business Because You Want Freedom

But I did. At least, I thought I did. When you’re good at something, you have to keep doing it even if it’s killing you, right?

After bootstrapping my company to a million dollars, I was now living in the stressful reality of running a seven-figure company.

So I did what smart entrepreneurs do in this situation. I hired a coach.

From blogger to CEO

I thought things would be easier, but now they were harder than ever. So, I reached out to my friend Casey Graham to help me make sense of this.

Casey coaches business owners on how to scale their companies, helping entrepreneurs become CEOs. Here’s what he told me when I asked to stop feeling so stressed about running a business:

First, you’ll need to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. For the next 24 months, you’re going to have act more like a CEO and less like a writer. It’s not going to be easy, you’re probably going to hate it, but in the end, you’ll be able to get out of your business and do what you really want.

This sounded like the advice from a friend who runs a software company: “Your life is going to suck for the next two years, but after that things will be great.”

Okay, great, I thought. I can do that. It’s only two years. If this is what it takes to succeed, this is what must be done.

Together, Casey and I mapped out a plan that included $600,000 in new salaries, a bigger team, lots of expenses, more work, and even more stress. And for six months, I worked the plan, pursuing this dream of freedom, updating my coach every week.

But each week, my anxiety grew. And each week, Casey told me the same thing: “You don’t have to do this.” Still, I kept going.

My love for the work decreased. I stopped writing altogether. As the company grew, expenses increased, and there were even a few months when we lost money. As someone who grew up lower middle class, I worried I was going to bankrupt myself trying to scale this thing.

I was sleeping less, eating more, and not having very much fun. In the back of my mind, I wondered: Is this what growth is supposed to feel like?

How a phone call with Seth Godin changed everything

I shared my concerns with Casey, and once again he said, “Jeff, you don’t have to do this. Why don’t you take the next few days to decide what you really want?”

I contacted a few friends and mentors, people I’d admired for years and respected how they had grown their own businesses. One person was Seth Godin, a best-selling author and successful entrepreneur. He was someone who represented my equal interests in art and business.

Within an hour, Seth responded to my short email with an even shorter reply: “Call me.” And in the email was his cell phone number.

Over the course of a twenty-minute phone call, Seth blew my mind. He asked about the business — why I started it, how it was structured, and what my goals were.

“I want to spread ideas that change culture,” I said, eagerly.

“That’s your mission,” he corrected, “not a business goal. Don’t expect to always get paid for your mission.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, we sell online courses that help writers get paid and published.”

“Good,” he said. “Now, that’s a business. Why did you start it?”

“Because, I guess, I wanted freedom.”

Then he said something I won’t ever forget:

Don’t build a business because you want freedom. Build a business because you want to run a business.

Jeff Goins

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Seth laid out two options for me:

  1. Scale my business, graduate to CEO, and acquire other businesses to help deal with the churn of my industry, eventually creating an 8- or 9-figure company and selling it.
  2. Keep the business at the same size and focus on profitability instead of growth, saving at least half the money I make every year. Then, with that free time and energy, focus on my craft.

“There will be times,” he said of the second option, “when you will get paid what you’re worth. And there will be times when you won’t.”

“What happens when I’m not paid what I’m worth?” I asked, worried.

“That’s why you put half your money in the bank.”


We concluded the phone call with my telling Seth I would consider both options. But in my mind, the decision had already been made.

How I strategically scaled back

The next day, I was making breakfast for my kids, flipping pancakes in our kitchen, thinking about my schedule for the day. I had no commitments ’til 11:30. It was 8:30.

I looked at my daughter and my son who were 6 months and four years old respectively. I thought about spending the next two years of their lives trying to scale a business, which felt like precious time to spend on something I didn’t intend to do for the rest of my life.

I don’t want to run a business, I thought.

The next day, I started making decisions that over the past six months have changed everything.

First, I right-sized my business. I decided to stop growing. Bigger wasn’t better. Smaller was better. More manageable was better. Better was better. This meant making tough decisions — letting go of key team members, canceling contracts with talented people, cutting unnecessary expenses. Basically, doing the exact opposite of what you’re told you need to do to “scale.”

Then, I focused on what only I could do. Your “highest best” as my old boss used to call it. For me, that’s writing. I knew I was in a bad place when I had outsourced everything I enjoyed doing and adopted a new set of responsibilities that I didn’t.

Finally, I decided to stay in my lane. I changed the game I was playing — how I was keeping score, what “winning” was, and so many other things.

And guess what?

I felt a lot happier. I had more time to write, more freedom, and was generally a nicer person. I kept a small but lean team of three full-time employees plus myself. We all wear a few different hats, and it’s not always easy, but it works.

Our top line hasn’t grown much, but the bottom line has soared. We’ve basically tripled our profits. We had a 70% profit margin the other month. Crazy.

More important than that, this feels right. This feels like me, not like trying to be other people and horribly failing at it.

It’s like that May Sarton poem where she says, “Now I become myself.” In that poem, she talks about trying on other people’s faces and it not working, because it never works. That was me. And now, I’m learning how to be okay with who I am and what I do.

Lessons learn on not scaling your business

Seth was right. If you start a business to buy yourself freedom, you are in it for the wrong reasons. Do it because you love it, because it’s your calling, not because you think it’s going to give you the life you want.

So, here are the lessons I learned:

  • You can’t have what other people have if you aren’t willing to do what they do. In my case, my ego wanted the prestige that came with having a big company without wanting to spend the time and money to get there.
  • Sometimes, you don’t need to grow to get what you really want. For me, the business was a means to make an income while I continue to write.
  • If you feel like you’re losing, change the game you’re playing. Hanging out with my entrepreneur friends always made me feel small and insignificant until I realized we were really playing different games.

Today, there is a lot of pressure for writers and creatives to start a business, make money doing something they’re not passionate about in hopes of finally having the time to do what they really love. On one hand, there’s wisdom here. You don’t want to be another Starving Artist, after all.

But nobody ever told me you can create your best work and thrive. For me, that meant having a business but not feeling the pressure to scale it. It meant being content with where I am and focusing on what I want, which is to be a great writer and spend time with my family.

So that’s what I did, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’ve felt the pressure to build something big to do what you really want to do, remember these words: you don’t have to do this. You can create the life you want without playing somebody else’s game.

So what is it you really want? And are you believing the same “the end justifies the means” myth that I was? Share your experiences in the comments.

105 thoughts on “Don’t Build a Business Because You Want Freedom

  1. For the last two years I have believed “the-ends-justify-the-means” myth. With my day job, I have pushed more and more to try and get ahead to give myself financial and time freedom.

    About three months ago, I realized I needed to stop pushing beyond where I am at and get good at my day job. This freedom of thinking has allowed for margin to write and think creatively for the first time since I started working for my current employer four years ago.

    It’s created more time and opportunity to be with my family than I thought possible. Thank you for this post Jeff, it gave me a great reminder to slow down again!

  2. Great read Jeff.

    “Right-sizing” is a key point here and one that many of us miss by playing the keeping up with keeping up game. If we take a step back and identify what enough looks like for us, what really matters to us, we may follow a path that makes us a lot happier and healthier.

    I have a micro-business (of one) and, although I consider myself ambitious, have no intention of taking on employees. Small, agile and profitable is more important to me and having a say in what I say yes and no to. Freedom is an output of that and a degree of risk is part of it (finding work, paying the bills etc).

    Running a business isn’t for everyone but it doesn’t have to be. We can set our own benchmarks for success and live accordingly.

    20 minutes on the phone with Seth must be like a lifetime’s worth of the best coaching you could find. Lucky you.

  3. Thanks for shaking us up, Jeff. I think a lot of us are on a path of “that’s just what you do” without taking some time to think about what we actually want to be doing on a day-to-day basis.

    It is also helpful to make the distinction between our “mission” and our “business.” Thanks.

  4. Thank you Jeff for your transparency and sharing your struggles. I for one was fooled. I thought you were doing exceptionally well. But then again, I was looking at your highlight reel and not the behind the scenes.

    Time with your kids is priceless. Enjoy those 8:30 breakfasts. Your kids will soon grow up and head to school.

    Sounds like you have decided to become your own patron.

    Wishing you the best.

  5. I’m so grateful you’re honest about your process. This is something I’ve wondered about – how to actually do great work that’s true to who I am without doing a bunch of trendy stuff to make money. It sounds like you made really good use of the wisdom shared with you, which shows a lot of wisdom yourself. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff!

  6. I agree wholeheartedly. I got caught in the trap of listening to too many marketing pitches that didn’t fit with me or my life goals and thinking I should follow that path to freedom. But I realize that it’s not freedom if you put your real life on hold to pursue something you don’t really want. Now I stick with the ones whose goals and visions align more closely with what I want for my life. And that is why your advice and your books mean so much to me. I get more out of any one of your blog posts and being in Tribe Writers than I have from a dozen other “gurus”. Thank you for being an uplifting force in my life.

  7. Exactly what I want. I want to start a business because I want tcreate an income channel. Enough so that I can take care of myself and my family while being able to do what I love: write and paint … and travel. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  8. Very timely Jeff. I’ve felt something similar lately in just reaching for the six figure mark in our work while traveling. Things are crazy busy right now and grateful for all the work, but it’s come at the sacrifice of much of our time on the road (reason why we wanted this lifestyle in the first place). Thinking through some of these at the moment and appreciated your honesty and shared tips.

  9. I love this idea of focusing on what you REALLY want. Bigger is not always better, though in our “more-more-more” culture it’s easy to forget that. Thank you for this reminder that profitability is not the same thing as scale!

  10. Really appreciate this post, Jeff. I’m at the beginning of this journey and your thoughts challenged me nail down the real ‘Why’ of this venture. Thanks for sharing your experience openly and honestly.

  11. Great post. It resonated even if I don’t have a business, or think it’s even possible. It also reminded me how important it is to keep our “why” as the main source of energy in everything we do. Right now I’m struggling to build a platform to help student in Portugal were I teach to thrive and be successful. Your post help me keep on track. Thanks!

  12. Wow, Jeff, I can so relate to this. A year and a half ago my board asked me to go through training and coaching for partnership development for the nonprofit I work with. We invested nearly $1,000 into the program that was supposed to help us become fully funded within 1 yr. I did well in the training, but when it came to the “sell,” I did horrible. We definitely saw growth in our funding, but not a lot and the process was killing me. Each week, I walked away from my coaching meetings feeling like an absolute failure. The more I reached out to people the more I realized that I’ve spent 20+ years building relationships based on what I can give. People aren’t used to me asking for anything in return. I came to feel overwhelmed, alone, and very forgettable. I was miserable. After a lot of thought and prayer, I said goodbye to my coach and went back to who I was with one difference: I’m learning to speak up and say what’s important to me. A year and a half ago, I never would have tried to crowdfund a project because I wouldn’t want to burden others or ask them to join in because, you know, everyone has bills they’re trying to pay. I would cheer everyone else on, but I would never do it for myself. For the ministry? Yes. For a friend? Yes. But not for myself or my own books. But this month, I’ve done just that. Whether it succeeds or not, it’s a personal success because it’s a step in the right direction while being able to be who I am and pursue what is BETTER. Thanks for being so open and vulnerable with your journey.

  13. Jeff, this may be your best blog post. I’m going to be rereading this many times, I suspect.

  14. I’m so glad you mentioned the mission vs. the business. Those can get very fuzzy and blurry at times–especially in the busyness of life. Boy, Seth sure is full of wisdom. Thanks for this post, Jeff!

  15. Jeff, this is a dart of a post. These are the type of tales I like to hear. You’ve hit the bullseye, good for you

  16. Such a beautiful realization.

    Have you ever read, “The Great Work of Your Life” book by Stephen Cope? It has changed the way I approach my entrepreneurial/creative journey. I can definitely relate to what you went through, Jeff. Thank you! Your thoughts were a confirmation about what I’ve been going through.

  17. Amazing and brilliant wisdom in this post. Thanks once again for being vulnerable Jeff 🙂 Really helpful advice that I needed to hear today!

  18. Very timely and great insights from you and Seth. I have been right sizing for the last few years and love it. Went from a dozen in house to 4 in house and now numerous full or part time subs and lots of small contracts for specific things.

    It is working great and I just need to start writing again after a nice break to make the shift. Not 70% profit like your killer month – wow – but amazing what you can do with a small and more focused – happier team.

  19. Awesome post! It felt good to have someone as successful as you, Jeff, voice what I’ve been feeling all along about not wanting a business–no people to hire and manage, no crazy busy schedule, no pressure to keep growing… I just want to be me, the writer. Heck, I already fight my own resistance simply getting through all the technical and social media aspects of promoting myself; I couldn’t imagine doing even more of that.

    I had a six-figure job in the pharma industry less than a decade ago. I figured I’d hang in there another five or six years, write a book on the side, and eventually get out of the field. While there were some cerebral aspects of my job I enjoyed, most of it was soul sucking, and there was constant pressure to go for promotions and make more money, more money. I kept getting raises and bigger bonuses, and yet I wasn’t happy nor was I financially secure. I was too tired and overwhelmed to write in my free time.

    So there’s another part of the growth equation, and that’s can I scale down my personal needs (and separate them from my wants) in order to have that seemingly distant freedom sooner while still doing what I love? The pharma company I worked for got bought out, I got laid off, and I wound up selling nearly everything I owned and moving to Mexico to work for myself. No TV, no car payment, no dry cleaning bills. It’s been a roller coaster, but I’d have to say that living simply and being a corporation of one has been a great decision. Every time since when I’ve veered away from it, I’ve had that icky feeling that I’m not “living in my essence.” Thanks for the inspiration to keep being myself.

  20. Wow, yes. Yes. You nailed it! I started a freelance business hoping for more freedom, only to discover this year that it’s not at all what I want to do, and I’m not willing to do the work required. People are always telling you to go farther and make more just for the sake of it, but being honest with yourself about who you are and why you’re working is so important.

    1. I understand. I did the same thing, and then realized if I am going to do something, I am going to be paid what I’m worth. I no longer write for pennies. I upped my game, and now I charge MINIMUM $0.25 USD per word. But editing is what I love best, and so I have said “no” to writing gigs and “yes” to editing gigs. 🙂

      For me, I am working to have freedom — freedom to do what I love, freedom to NOT have to work all the time, and freedom to do the things I want.

      I even cut back on blogging a few times so that I could achieve this!

      The result? Happiness!

  21. LOVE THIS! “Sometimes, you don’t need to grow to get what you really want.” Brilliant, Jeff. Congrats on being honest with yourself and doing what was best for YOU, and not what everyone else was doing. Sharing with the world…

  22. Yep. I’m quite lost right now, because I was trying to be someone else. I thought for sure my goal was to make a career out of my writing. It wasn’t working, and it’s making me unhappy to keep comparing myself to where I thought I should be by now. I’m trying to figure out my real goal, so I know how to spend my days. This post is some much-needed goodness. It reminds me that liking how I spend each day actually is my goal.

  23. Well said, Jeff! It’s a breath of fresh air in an often maddeningly-seductive business world.

  24. Thanks for this, Jeff. What a wonderful perspective that I desperately needed to hear right now. Looking forward to shaking your hand in person at Tribe Conference and thanking you for all your help this past year.

  25. This is the best and most encouraging post I have read in a very long time. Jeff…thank you so much for being willing to share your journey…it is indeed a breath of fresh air! I needed to read this post…today…right now. Thank you so much…it has done my heart a world of good.

  26. Bravo, Jeff. One, it’s always refreshing to see the real struggle of someone perceived to be enormously successful. We all experience it but too few share it. I have a $5million business and all looks rosey outside looking in, inside I know that over $1million of that work lost money last year, was catastrophic, and took me to the doctor with high blood pressure. Two, I find Seth’s response to you about the mission intriguing. This is one of the best posts of yours I’ve read. Been following since 2013.

    Yours in Success,


  27. Awwwww,,,,this is amazing and very enlightening,,,,,, Very encouraging _ like It` s up to me to decide my success not to live it as defined by others……

  28. Jeff,

    I have been following you since the beginning and I am so proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish! Four years ago I wanted to come up to you and say hello at the World Domination Summit, but never found the opportunity. I’ve signed up for all your courses and have yet to take one! In the time I’ve been watching you and piddling around, you’ve produced 2 children and a million $ business! You are putting on your own conferences now! That is so great! What hurts me about this post is that you felt inadequate talking to your entrepreneur friends. You’ve got no reason to feel that way, but it just shows how easy it is to beat ourselves up.

    Thanks for your honesty and your efforts to help us all come up higher–whether we take the opportunity or not! Congratulations on figuring out the next steps!

  29. Your situation reminds of a book I read many years ago – Beans by Leslie Yerkes. The book’s message is that it can often be more rewarding to work in the business, rather than on the business. Thanks for your post.

  30. I would like to thank you for saving me the time, effort, and, without a doubt, the same stressful journey to the realization that I don’t want to run a business. I just want to earn a living while I write. Thank you doing the kind of work that makes us all better.

  31. By the looks of your comment thread, Jeff, a host of us writers witness to the truth of what you are saying about “right-sizing,” “staying in your lane,” and “doing what you can do.” This helps me immensely because I was playing with the idea of working harder now, (though I’m pushing the max as is) to make money so I can do what I love later. You helped me realize I need to slow down and do both as I go, make the money I need, and yet be creative in my writing. Even though it doesn’t fit the current popular writing schedule. I “need to live the life God puts before me” as Jonathan Rogers wisely said in some of his fiction. God takes care of the results, and though it may look like nothing to the world, He promises that doing things the right way has great reward. Thank you, Jeff. I’m going to leave room to work on my writing.

  32. Jeff, I’m SO glad you shared this. This took guts. I am a Father of 3 who quit a high-paying job and moved south to provide the life where I could homeschool and help raise them. I am the envy of so many Fathers I know. But in my life I have allowed so many people(including my parents) to dictate policy to me as to what is a legitimate business – and with those sad folks it’s the mentality of ego and prestige to sacrifice so much to gain money. But that’s dirty money. I am very opinionated in this matter. You made the right choice because all the money in the world can’t buy back this precious time you can now spend daily with your little children. Sure there will be some busy days when they won’t see you, but then again you can at least say to yourself this business model isn’t costing their lives. Some things in life should be non-negotiable, especially life itself. You convinced me in this blog post that you are the kind of person of values I would follow.

    1. It’s a big move to homeschool – we made the move 13 years ago and have loved it. It was hard financially and we didn’t receive much in the way of encouragement but now with my oldest (19 years) studying politics at university and my middle son (18 years) travelling around America (we live in NZ) – it has been worth it. Money can’t buy the relationship that we have with our sons and the learning that they have done!

  33. Thanks for this bold and excellent post – a great remider that, often, less is more; bigger is not better; and satisfaction and reward come from resonance with onself, rather than from conformity to others’ traditional perceptions and expectations. This is true in so many businesses, not only “creative” enterprises.

  34. For years, I lived someone else’s dream. Then I woke up from that nightmare. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but now my heart is in it. And I love the term ‘right-sizing’. It means something different to everyone…and that’s ok! Rock on. :O)

  35. yes: don’t do whatever

    I want to be with my love in Thailand She has never said “I love you.” I get it. its a different culture. [Actually, as we speak, she is slowly getting around to it. ] It’s no matter , really. cuz if I’m ever in town, we get together out of mutual consent.[ back to what I was saying out of the blue. Sorry. Please forgive me. It’s my lousy look at the keys not the screen typing. I love you. Thank You. . . . Thats an Hawaiian prayer. ]

    I am not a family man. Just happens to be. I love kids. Don’t get me wrong. I love a woman in Thailand and I’m in the States. Hmmmm. Crazy Yes . She is hot but she has never said she loves me. No worries . Their style Thai style. And plus if I’m ever back in town, we get together no worries. She and I both love to meet. Maybe not as often as I prefer. But hey: nothing is perfect.

    So back on track . If you want to write. guess what? WRITE! ha. simple. do what jeff says. he ain’t no foo. and he’s on the path. You know? ha

    please please lease forgive this lousy arrangement due to stink typing skills. Thank you in advance. The POINT HERE IS: . . . IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: . . . WRITE!

  36. Brillant! Yes, yes, yes! Why do we get bogged down in performance and comparing ourselves with others. We need to discover our own lane and drive down it. I need to read this article once a month to make sure that I am doing my own thing not what others are doing. Thanks Jeff!

  37. Jeff you’re generous. I enjoy this post and your highest best. It’s a win win, I look forward to reading more of your blog and books. Real Artists Don’t Starve was great! I finally wrote my Amazon review. Thank you Jeff!

  38. It’s a simple process of prioritisation. Kids come first right now, but here’s the thing. They grow up! There is time after they have flown the nest for all that stuff (if you want to do it).
    Personally, I’d rather go fishing with my 11 year old, than pound the keys (and I’m way behind you financially Jeff). Everything comes to he who waits as they say…

  39. Oh what a relief! Thank you Jeff. You are such a breath of the freshest of air. I always get so much from your posts.
    I do wonder about those who have made big money in their ‘business’. When does one let go? Where is the ME time? Where is ‘in the moment’ living taking place?
    Also, what happens to the quality of writing when you outsource?
    As ‘Accidental Minimalists’ I can assure everyone that less truly is so much more.
    Thanks Jeff.

  40. Thank you, Jeff! Just in time! I had been wondering for a time how am I to do the whole business thing when in fact I clearly know I don’t particularly like the whole stress that comes with it. Thank you! 🙂 You’re great! 🙂

  41. Very nice, Jeff!

    Thanks a lot for the post.

    I believe I’m not where I wanted to be right now, and family has never been so important.
    I should really think about “I don’t have to do this.”

  42. Thanks, Jeff.

    I think the overlooked lesson here is that your work is insightful, that your passion is real, and that you’ve fought (danced with) the Resistance effectively for years and years.

    This gave you the platform and the privilege to scale in the first place.

    It’s one thing to be playing at this high level and then choose to focus on the art and your family, and it’s quite another to never have the opportunity.

    Thanks for the care you bring to your work, the generosity of your blog and the difference you make.

  43. Jeff, your honest and personal reflection has given me the courage to end my self-doubt
    and pursue my dream to write.
    I’ve struggled recently to justify this to myself and others: Writing makes me happy, building a writing “business” does not. Thank you for helping me to see clearly.

  44. Thank you, Jeff and Seth! I’m still learning about online businesses, and was talking with my highly successful lawyer sister about what has been happening to me while I’m still learning, still prepping. I actually feel happier than at any other point in my entire 66 years of living. All of a sudden it hit me… I love running a business and I do want to give back for all my success in two careers already. I was an award-winning Corporate Art Director in Los Angeles in my youth. I also love making art, which I’ve done for 35 years to International acclaim. Yet, I’ve been split between the two. So, I simply gave up on both. POOF. Then the real idea of HOW to give back hit me. It’s going to be through a University platform of webinars and blogs. Through them people learn to heal from their trauma by using it as a hugely powerful point of growth. As they heal through the many methods, speakers and research that I’ve come up with, they become even stronger, more stable and more productive people than they’d ever have become had they not been traumatized in the first place! They will give back by being now able to assist another’s progress into renewed life. Now, I know that’s no elevator pitch, but it’ll come. Suddenly the world is singing with me! Every little thing takes its own time. Give it its time, let go of fear and especially worry. Let go of watching other’s successes, because we are our own persons. My business is now rampantly building into something I can only call an Art form. Because never have I been so creative than in its inception. I have one more month of classes before even thinking about going live, before even getting back into your classes on blogging(!)… yet they are here and each week you teach me something else. THIS week’s lesson truly made sense to me. Bless you with my deep gratitude both Jeff and Seth!

  45. Wow, amazing insight. I’m so glad you shared this, Jeff, this is a game changer. I’ve seen brilliant small engineering companies grow and “win”, becoming the big company they hated when the started. I’ve marveled at watching them lose by winning. And I worked for them so I know first-hand. They went the best places on earth to work to the worst, systematically, as they grew, removing everything that originally made it a great place to work. So I’ve often wondered if there isn’t a way to stay the size you want, small, and still “win”. This is the first I’ve heard anyone talk about it. Brilliant, Jeff, thank you. You know, you might really be onto a big idea here…

  46. This is why I follow and admire your work, Jeff — you always share the right thing at the right time in my journey. Thank you for staying true to your work and reminding us to do the same.

  47. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. I hate the advice I see all over the internet about how creatives must become entrepreneurs in order to thrive. Most creatives I know have zero passion about the aspects of running a business and little desire to do more than it takes to make a decent living from their creative practice. In the beginning of my former career as an artist, I followed “expert” advice to create a gallery and it turned out to be a disaster. Instead of painting and marketing my artwork to potential collectors, I was making phone calls, organizing gallery openings and worse, spending money I didn’t have on refreshments for attendees. Eventually I burned out, lost all my savings and even stopped painting. I still have yet to recover financially from my attempt at entrepreneurship and wish I had heeded the cringe in the pit of my stomach upon hearing this “expert” advice.

  48. This is so spot on! I recently scaled way back too, my husband went back to work, and instead of 50 hour work weeks I spend days home with my kids and work a few at night. I am so much happier!

  49. I love this. I just want to write. I don’t want to make a business. I don’t want to run a business. I just want to write.

  50. I felt overwhelmed recently. I have been writing just for a year. I’m 45 years old. Everyone around talked about building the audience, taking part in conferences, setting up a blog, making money on writing, getting out of the comfort zone.
    This is not bad in itself, of course. But. I stopped writing and I started thinking about what I can not get. This started to crush me.
    I know what I am able to do now.I am able to write my journal, one post on facebook, 2 or 3 comments and one short poem from time to time.
    Trying to do more, I am not able to perform well my other duties. Those (after reflection) which I can not neglect.
    I was convinced that I was lost. That’s not enough. Not enough. Not enough. I suffocated.
    Your post allowed me to take a deep breath. I felt like I was getting rid of a big load. And I’m back on the road. The road of writing at my own pace. Someday maybe I will carry more. However, if I do not write now it does not matter what I could carry later.
    The most important is that what happend here and now, that what happend to me and my family and my writing.
    Thank you, Jeff.

  51. Confession: I’m a writer & blogger who doesn’t read blog posts anymore, at least not the entire blog post. Reading from start to finish rarely happens…I read a few lines, skim the bullet points and sub heads, and maybe, just maybe, make it to the bottom.

    But this post — I read completely…every single word. And it was worth every single second of my time.

    This post hits home in a big way Jeff. Like you’ve been in my kitchen or my office witnessing everything happening with me.

    I’m right smack dab in the messy middle of transitioning to building a business…not going exactly as I expected it to. I just told somebody the other day “things have changed…I used to just have to write and sometimes edit…now I have a ton of other things that I have to spend my time on.” (Another confession: I sometimes publish posts without editing).

    So, now it’s time for me to find out what I really like and stick to that. Sometimes I have to admit what I want to do is write, but many times it is building a business. At the end of the day it is about creating freedom for me (and my family). I guess that means I need to define what “freedom” is to me.

    Enough of my rambling. This post is just what I needed to read today, Jeff. Thanks for sharing!

  52. I see your point, Jeff and I agree. What do you take in the end, only by sacrificing your life and health, doing what you don’t feel like doing? That ends up ruining one’s life. I chose to be a writer some years ago but now I am struggling and working to make this dream come true in the very sense of it. Your post is an inspiration, as your course is. Thank you for being there.

  53. Wow, I had no idea you were such a big organization. Thanks for sharing this insight. We need time to develop what we do, and so much crowds into that space. I struggle with that daily. The busier I get, the busier I get. I don’t always know what drives me.

  54. Wow! I have read a lot of your stuff, but so far, this is my favorite! I just felt myself exhale a little after reading it, having pressured myself to achieve a standard of success that was based on a bank figure alone. Thank you so much for sharing this. It quite possibly just changed my whole course direction and I am thrilled! I already feel peace.

  55. This resonates with me 100%. I scaled back my business this year. As a result my anxiety has went down and my happiness has soared. It has reignited my creativity and I enjoy spending more time doing the things I love. Thanks for sharing your story, Jeff.

  56. Excellent Jeff. I never really scaled out. But I am all over the place. It is a delicious combo that feels fun to me. Since it feels fun, I keep doing it, and as I keep doing it, diving into my fears, I become more successful. All because I found my groove and stayed in that groove. Leaving my comfort zone a bunch of course, but not doing so from a fear-based space. More from a fun, loving space.

  57. Jeff- Thank you for pulling back the curtains on this business and life decision. Your willingness to be both vulnerable and transparent is appreciated and helpful. Good for you for defining success on your own terms.

  58. I’ve been having so many doubts about my business lately. I’ve been asking myself why I’m doing it, what I really want, whether I should just keep going with what I know how to do (engineering) without doing the business… I am going to sit down this weekend and figure out if I need it to get what I want. And I’m going to change the game I’m playing – I definitely feel like I’m losing at the moment. Thanks for the timely advice!!!!

  59. Thank you for sharing your story.I asked myself these question a lot recently. What is my true strength, how can I benefit from that, what do I really want. The alst question was the easiest to answer: Traveling and taking photos. Luckily I have a good eye for pictures. The hardest part is to figure out how that goes together.

  60. Jeff, I was hearing your voice as I read this. 😉 I really appreciate you sharing this here and in the mastermind. Blog posts like this can literally help us avoid burnout, bankruptcy and even prevent a stroke! Seriously, this story is powerful and really makes the reader a take hard look at what they’re doing. Thanks for sharing your personal struggle with us.

  61. Jeff, thanks for sharing this very personal decision with us. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction I want to take my business and also have young kids. Success shouldn’t be defined by business growth.

  62. @jeffgoins:disqus what a great share! Thank you. I starting making that same transition in my business about 9 months ago…trusting my intuition on what felt right as most people in my industry were pushing towards creating an “empire”. Still making more shifts. Curious what you notice as the biggest difference both from a daily and big picture view.

  63. Wonderful piece, Jeff. Loved the self-awareness. My favorite line was “If you feel like you’re losing, change the game you’re playing.” So good. Keep doing your thing!

  64. Such good words of wisdom and totally what I needed to hear! Two years ago I was in total burnout by playing the entrepreneur game–when all I really wanted to do was write and be home with my kids. Now I’m starting to feel a bit exhausted with less than 5 weeks until my book launches. But as I sit here typing with surprise baby #4 in my lap (who turns 6 months this week), I’m so thankful for this writing gig and blogging biz (that I’ve decided not to “scale” so much–like you said) that allows me to stay at home, practice my art, and be content with simply enough.

  65. Love this post! Its really important to separate your mission with the business goal. It’s important to know what you want. I’m in the same boat with you as I also want something that would help me thrive as I continue to create.

  66. So glad to read this post. I have had to ask myself quite often…comparing myself with all the “successful” online marketers…how can I monetise my talents better? Online courses, webinars, coaching groups etc.? It has all exploded since I wrote my first book in 2009 and was pioneering self publishing and doing it my way because I was passionate to share what had set me free. I’ve written 3 books based on that premise – always from my experiences of breaking free from stuck disempowering patterns – and coaching hundreds of clients to do the same. Goal success, Online Dating and You Can Break Free…Fast…EFT Tapping. When I began my “career” I was making the most money promoting OTHER SELF HELP AUTHORS and their live events (in South Africa where I was living). At the same time I learned their emotional-energy freedom techniques and set MYSELF free to meet and marry my soul mate – and do work I love online from different countries I travel to (based in UK and SA) and mainly coaching on Skype/Zoom. I love that. And it doesn’t scale unless…I expand. So two years ago I felt burned out…consolidated all my websites (yes I had one per book with blog posts I could no longer keep up) into one…my name …and took a sabbatical. Downgraded my AWEBER account to minimum; began painting in mixed media (which could turn into a business but on a small scale) and have filled a notebook with product and book ideas…which I will allow to seed and perhaps grow organically in the next 12 months.

    A key lesson I discovered is that we have different money-making personality types and mine is CREATIVE. Like Walt Disney. There is also the ACCUMULATOR (like my husband thank goodness). The STAR (OPRAH WINFREY) and the MECHANIC. Also Warren Buffet is another type (not sure of the name). Maybe there is the ENTREPRENEUR. We cannot be another type without great cost (as you discovered Jeff). What we can do is team up with those who complement us. And keep creating …because we were born to create.

  67. What a great blog post! This was such a relief to look at my life and really decide what are the most important things and do more of that. Such a good reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. Thank you for sharing!

  68. Great post Jeff. I read somewhere recently when I started to feel overwhelmed by things (and I am only at the beginning of this online journey) that you need to keep track of what your true intention is. I’d lost focus of my intention, when I sat down and honestly wrote down what it is that I wanted from my life and my online presence, like you, I enjoy most of all the writing process and sharing what I know with others, I was able to realign my priorities. I’ve been writing more and sleeping better since. Thanks for your honest post, very inspiring.

  69. Jeff, Thank you so much for sharing about your decision to scale back in your business instead of scaling up. The fact that you chose to focus on doing the work you truly love and letting the rest go is inspiring. Six years ago, I was in the midst of trying to build my own million dollar business. I attracted a landslide of national TV publicity but as time passed, I experienced a big loss, then an identity crisis and a breakdown (AKA-spiritual awakening). I learned so many life-changing lesson’s from that experience. Turns out, the root cause of my crisis was not feeling good enough and powerlessness. (core wounds) It wasn’t even conscious of this back then. But thankfully I healed it, reinvented myself and I made a strong comeback. Now I only do work I truly love and I am so much happier. My work feels like my calling now. Thanks again. April

  70. Brilliant insight that Seth Godin gave. And thanks for sharing how you made the decision for yourself about your business. Yes, it’s good to discern and decide what fits: whether to scale up a business to be bigger, run a business to be profitable and sustainable, or even not to run a business at all!

  71. thank you so much for sharing, Jeff. You really hit home on a lot of areas you shared and I am taking your advice from your experiences to heart. Appreciate this post. It was so inspiring! Lane

  72. Jeff! I have just discovered your work. I love your insights and your refreshing honesty in your writing. I am interested in read your ‘Real Artists don’t starve’ Book!

    I have been a creative all of my life. Making music for over 7 years but now i am writing. I feel i can really get what i want to express out in my writing and it feels more personal.

    Any advise on someone just starting out? I have started my website and have gone article published on Thought Catalog. Should i just focus on getting better? Do you recommend posting to my website or trying to get in a heap of publications?


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