As a species, humans started out being dependent on one another for survival. We relied on each other for food, shelter and safety in small communities that were defined by physical locality. It was a necessary arrangement and it was successful at keeping the species going.
Fast forward thousands of years to today.
We now live in boxes, surrounded by fences, drowning in stuff that we own in duplicate to our neighbors. We struggle to keep our patch of land, food on the table and ourselves safe from other humans. We fight over money, we’re unhealthy and we’re lonelier than ever.
So what went wrong?
Separation from each other in fear, running from our own shadows, distracting ourselves from our grief with consumerism, technology and busy-ness. We tricked ourselves into becoming independent and free by removing the intrinsic human need we have for true companionship, community and co-creation.
And now we have a new trend of separation in business…
Solopreneurism: Separation disguised as freedom.
The solopreneur was born from prison.
The prison of office cubicles, bosses and corporations gave rise to a new wave of ‘entrepreneurs’ who could work alone, mostly online and on their own clock. The liberation from prison can be intoxicating, addictive, and wildly successful for some. For others, it falls short. But do they know why?
We all know that working for yourself, by yourself, carries greater responsibility. But that’s not it. What is the true cost of the solo life?
Some may say loneliness.
Others might say the responsibility, the energy investment, the tough decisions, the long hours.
The solopreneur model defies our basic human nature.
It is not human nature to think of only himself, his own bottom line, his own time and energy. It’s not human nature to be selfish, to only take care of himself and his immediate family, to not think about the wellbeing of his broader community. If it appears this way, it is a lie.
Humans are wired to create together, and that includes our livelihoods, how we make money.
The solopreneur only has to think of himself, and perhaps his family. And because this is not his true nature, he will forever struggle against his natural grain to be part of something bigger, to co-create with others. His yearning may be dulled by the allure of personal profit, or the magnetic culture of solo business, but he will never be fulfilled.
I’ve questioned everything I know about business
I no longer believe what I’ve been told about the ‘6-figure dream’ and ‘soloentrepreneur freedom’ because it simply hasn’t been true for me. After two years working hard on building my business full-time, I was making enough money, but something was missing.
What I was doing didn’t make sense to me. I loved my client work, but the rest of the time I was working alone, I didn’t have solid relationships with other business owners in my industry, and I struggled to give enough time (or interest) to the array of backend tasks which were important. Though I kept the wheels turning I was essentially alone and it somehow felt wrong to me. And from that moment, my heart wasn’t in it and the way I was working was no longer sustainable.
Why so many solo businesses struggle to thrive
The stats are all over the place, differing by source, country and industry, but up to 90% of businesses fail in the first 3 years. There are plenty of reasons why it’s hard to run a solo business, but could it also be that the fundamental model is flawed?
1. Our gifts don’t mean anything without the context of a community.
We can’t truly see ourselves or the value of what we offer without reflection, without seeing our contribution to the whole. We can see our customers or clients, but we can’t truly appreciate our gifts unless we know how they interlink with the gifts of others in co-creation, understanding the role we play in the group’s creative process. Instead, we end up competing with each other which leads to more marketing, more fear, more separation. Appreciation requires context.
2. Becoming a solopreneur requires a vast skill set and personal mastery that most don’t have.
Think about what you need to be good at to sustain an online business, on top of your core skill or craft: learning new software, writing marketing copy, managing freelancers, bookkeeping etc. And that doesn’t include the entrepreneurial qualities of risk-taking, productivity, self-motivation and sheer grit, which you rarely find in one person. Without these attributes, it’s much easier to just get a job.
3. Solo business is unnecessarily complicated due to our fear of lack.
Humans have created all sorts of unnecessary products and services that are not essential to create a thriving livelihood. Yet they are sold to us as necessary, and we believe what we’re told because we’re afraid we’ll get left behind. Ever bought a piece of hardware or a new software subscription and realized it does far more than you need? That’s the power of our fear. When we’re alone, fending for ourselves in business, it’s much easier to succumb to theses fears, get caught up in our own stories and complicated practices, as we would if we were alone in a forest, awake all night on the lookout for predators. Solitude in an unsafe world makes us paranoid and fuels complexity.
4. Many of the solo businesses you see are not earning a full-time income.
They are supplemented by savings, part-time work or spousal income. Then there’s the businesses that don’t fail, but don’t pay the bills either. This gives a false impression of success to budding business owners and continues the cycle of failure. Would life be different if our financial records were published for total transparency? Think about why they’re not.
5. The group mind trumps the solo mind.
It’s well known that many minds put together can create far superior solutions than a single one. Even this article hasn’t come solely from my mind, it has been cultivated through multiple discussions and debates with my friends and colleagues. So why do we tend to create from a single mind in our businesses? Group dynamics can be hard on the ego, so best to leave that one alone.
6. Humans thrive in ecosystems, not in silos.
You could say that business, even the global economy, is one giant ecosystem. But there are ways in which the solo business model defies how ecosystems work, primarily the lack of inter-dependency. In other words, the sentiment that’s missing is ‘your success is partly dependent on my success’. Trees thrive in forests partly because they are part of a supportive network, and each tree automatically supports other trees via their root systems. If they stand alone, as some desert trees do, they often have to hoard resources (mainly water) or contract growth, just to survive. Then there’s the non-native trees that hog resources and kill biodiversity. Think solopreneurs who saturate the client landscape with their message without sharing their leads or referring onwards to other experts (I’ll stop there with the tree analogies!). There is far greater pressure on a solopreneur to survive than we may realize, do we really need to choose that path?
7. The ego is the driving force of solopreneurism.
As I’ve said, it’s the ego that must override our true nature to co-create. It is ego delusion to think that by breaking free of ‘work prison’ that we will find freedom. Even financial freedom is not true fulfilment because humans can only be truly happy when they learn to give and receive freely, rather than focusing on ‘their lot’. Then there’s the ego’s desire to be famous, and that doesn’t seem as appealing if it’s not just our own name in lights. Anything that is created from ego will eventually die, and truth will prevail. It just depends on how long you’re willing to defy your own human nature to thrive as a human family.
A simpler way of being in business is emerging.
I know what you’re thinking… does this mean I have to:
Join a networking group?
Start a joint venture?
Create my own company with employees?
Not necessarily. If we apply the tribal nature of human beings and the success of the natural ecosystem to business, all sorts of alternatives start to emerge (more on that to come). But first, I believe we need to see the truth of what we are creating as solopreneurs, become more aware of who is beside us, struggling alone, and see that we are family.
I encourage you to be honest with yourself, in your heart of hearts, is the solo road truly meant for you?
We can make money with soul together…
I would like to thank my own business family, Peter Rubin, George Kao and Tomar Levine for pulling me out of separation and into co-creation. I look forward to bringing our creations to life this year!