We need to stop shaming entrepreneurs for investing in themselves

09/26/2016 10:58 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016
Artwork by Orna Schneerson Pascal

When I made my first significant investment in learning from Selena Soo to grow my business, my then-partner guilt-tripped me for days. He was furious with me for not learning from him instead. I told him squarely, “You hate your clients. I want to learn from someone who likes her clients and has grown from her own story”. Over the years, I’d learn to keep silent about what I invested in learning about business and personal development. I could simply say six words, “I’m learning XYZ from Ramit Sethi” and I’d hear a litany as to why it’s a waste of money, a scam, and unnecessary. These responses came from 95% of people I spoke to; and fellow entrepreneurs told me about similar experiences. A year later, I’m past the shame. I’m standing up for a change. This is for you, if you are thinking of investing in yourself and your business, but feel drowned out by the naysayers.

1. “It’s crap. . there are no guarantees"

As I heard that line for the hundredth time, I thought, hang on a minute. Hang on a bloody minute. Let’s flip this over to how much we invest in formal education. We go into that never knowing what the outcome is.

By the time we graduate, most of us have almost zero-knowledge of how to invest money, take care of our emotional health, master our mindsets, or run a business. An individual or group program can change that at a fraction of the price— the abovementioned program was barely 8% of my annual postgraduate tuition fee.

What baffles me is how despite not demanding a guarantee for formal education, so many go on a witchhunt for coaches that don't assure success, whilst forgetting that the individual involved has to do the work.

I’ll lay it out. I’ve not applied myself to some programs— sometimes I procrastinate, sometimes life happens. And I’ll take responsibility for that. When I invest my effort and energy, things shift. And the onus is on ME to show up for calls, do my homework, talk to others, bust my limiting mindsets. There is no magic spell.

2. “If they’re doing something good, it should be cheap or free.”

Enough is enough. Let’s stop shaming people for making money.

I spoke to my friends and spiritual teachers Tay & Val who say, “As a business owner, your responsibility is to be profitable. You do the economy a huge injustice if you’re not profitable.”

Here’s another thing I’ve learned about premium prices from my mentors and coaches. They filter out those who are willing and able to do the work. I hear the other argument too often, “I make my prices accessible to all. . unlike these coaches”. We have different business models that we subscribe to, and it’s not a competition as to who’s kinder and more giving.

Truth be told, I once used the “accessible prices” as an excuse. It sounded lofty, but in truth I was too scared that no one would pay for my work. Today I simply direct clients to other lower-priced or free options. We’re not here to be a good fit for everyone— nor are we here to serve everyone in our 1-1 or group work. There are many ways to make your work accessible— pro-bono work, scholarships, charity donations. You’ll still attract motivated clients whilst working in a model aligned with what you stand for. Everybody wins.

Before the naysayers shame anyone for their price points, I’ll ask if they’ve seen the range of offerings, such as cheap e-books. Have they tried the free tools? Before I committed, I benefited from Selena Soo’s and Ramit Sethi’s guides and webinars (see here for Selena’s invaluable Ultimate Guide to Meeting People at Events). I’d stay up to attend, and busted my fears to apply what I learned. And, have you ever listened to their podcasts and read their guest posts— there’s a wealth of information that they give. Ramit famously says that he gives away 99% of his content for free.

3. “These coaches are unregulated. . and unqualified”

If I ask myself honestly, why did I choose to work with and learn from some people, I have a few answers. Because I relate to their story, they are role models, and they have wisdom I can draw from.

Yes, I’ve heard of the coaches who are charlatans, and the therapists who see their clients for decades without making changes. I also know how certain industries are unregulated. But, regulation isn’t a guarantee that you’ll grow and be successful, nor is it an assurance of quality. You can go into spiritual circles and charities— places where you expect there to be kind people— and you’ll meet charlatans and narcissists.

And I’ve come to realise that the naysayers are so caught up in their mindset that such investments are ‘crap’, that nothing will convince them otherwise. Call it confirmation bias or otherwise, but fellow entrepreneur and event planner CM echoes a sentiment I hear often:-- "When I shared the results I got with the well-researched, step-by-step, proven action plan of a course, these results were ignored.”

Eventually, I’ve learned to ask for forgiveness, not for permission.

I’ve also learned to surround myself with people who are interested in personal and business growth, and for those who are supportive. Last November, when I sheepishly told my parents about my participation in an online program, my father declared “GOOD!”. I thought, these are the kinds of people I want in my life. People who can trust me to read the reviews, sample the coach's work and decide for myself.

Contrary to what the naysayers proclaim, I’m not looking for a guru or a beacon of perfection. Nor am I looking to pump my life savings or sign my future children and pets as indentured slaves. I’m simply interested in those who teach me to become a better version of myself.

Artwork by Orna Schneerson Pascal

[I know how emotional this topic can be, so here’s a Cheat Sheet with handy affirmations and reflections that I made for you, on how to reclaim your power when someone shames you for investing in yourself. ]

4. “These coaches and their 6-figure crap”

Let’s face it, money is an emotional topic. I once sat in a personal finance conference, where we were asked to identify our money personalities. It struck me how the ‘money monks’— people who decry the evils of money— are actually the most obsessed about money. Because there is poor financial management and an attitude that money is ‘dirty’, scarcity is a pervasive threat.

We don’t wake up thinking, “I want to deal with my childhood demons”. Instead, most of us gravitate to messages of wealth and love. And there’s no shame in that. Unless we’re living off-grid like the Moneyless Man, we need some money.

The next argument I hear is “That 6-figure or 7-figure crap, it’s turnover, not profit”. It’s true that not everyone puts it out there transparently. But here’s my deal. If you’re capable of making a 6-figure turnover to begin with, I’d love to know how you got there in the first place, using your grit and guts.

We know about breakeven points and how businesses have sunk costs. This also applies to our personal development— momentum takes time to build and requires an investment to begin with. Following which, I’d love to see how you take off after you’ve broken-even.

5. “It’s just a hobby”

Tay & Val highlight a disturbing phenomenon, where male partners shame their female partners for investing in their businesses, downplaying it as a hobby. They speak about looking at what really lurks beneath— these men's fears of losing their partners, or a fundamental sense of insecurity.

In my case where I was guilt-tripped about my investment, I was adamant. I stated point-blank that I paid for it myself, and from my own savings. Even then, I’d have found other ways to fund it. If businesses borrow money to start up and keep afloat, then it isn’t a giant leap of logic that entrepreneurs can do the same.

Still, I’d like to clarify that this isn’t the case in all relationships. My colleague Jaime-Lee Fraser (Financial Entrepreneur & Strategist) reflected that sometimes there’s a sense of guilt that women have, no matter how supportive their partners are, especially since these investments may not make immediate financial returns. She suggests that we need to peer deeper— as women, are we not believing enough in ourselves?

6. “You’re so ungrateful”

My brother and I have exchanged many Whatsapp messages, on how he was chided repeatedly for his dreams, and for investing in his personal development. He was also told that having dreams made him unspiritual.

Being grateful doesn’t mean you can’t have big dreams. That argument obfuscates the issue, and is designed to shame us into playing small. Gratitude means you can be present. It doesn’t mean you have to be static.

At 30, I’ve lived a rather full life. My success stands on the shoulders of the people who came before me— my grandparents and parents who worked their way from abject poverty and ridicule to pave my path, the mentors and wise souls I’ve learned from, and the kindred spirits I’ve journeyed with. Every achievement I’ve had is built upon the foundations they’ve made for me. It’s a celebration of their efforts and their love.

Having big dreams doesn’t make you a bad person. Expecting others to operate from a place of shame and guilt, is another thing altogether.

7. “You can just read books. . and do it all on your own

On some months, I read at least 7 books a week. I apply the things that are useful, but truth be told, sometimes I’m overwhelmed and can’t keep up. For me, the beauty of hiring a coach is that they tell you what to focus on. They wade through all the information out there and give you what they deem is best for you right now, so you’re not inundated.

Like my friend Fiorella Kis-Major (Women’s Wellness Coach & Meditation Teacher) says, coaches teach practical information that is easy to implement, so we’re not stuck debating lofty theory.

My mentor Ramit Sethi says that we don’t suffer from a lack of information— if so everyone would be fit, happy and rich. Instead, what we need are systems— ways of doing and organising, and mindsets, so that our momentum keeps pumping. That is indeed what coaching has done for me. There is also a sense of accountability built in, whether it’s between the coach and myself, or within the group. This means I don’t just passively absorb. I do. I reflect. I learn. I become.

I’ve heard naysayers argue that I could figure all that on my own. Sure. In between my personal, social and business life, my time and energy to nourish myself is worth more. I could mess around for the next 7 years fumbling blindly and giving up repeatedly. But I’m here to learn quickly from my mistakes, and let them propel me.

Put it this way. We don’t drill and fill our own cavities, nor do we operate on our eyes. We hire designers, accountants and doctors. Yet, why do we value our personal growth and our businesses so much less?

Artwork by Orna Schneerson Pascal

[I know how emotional this topic can be, so here’s a Cheat Sheet with handy affirmations and reflections that I made for you, on how to reclaim your power when someone shames you for investing in yourself. ]

8. “Why are you still taking courses?’

On the first day of my undergraduate course, the Head of Psychology said this, “You realise the more you know, the more you do not know”. 11 years on, that nugget of wisdom is still tattooed in my mind.

We know that the mind doesn’t work in isolation, and that body and spirit methods work in tandem; I am skeptical of people who only advocate one modality and discount the others. Similarly, I’m always looking out of people who teach the best methods to accelerate growth and learning.

I get it that you can buy 10000 books and leave them unopened. Or you can read them and not apply them. You don’t lose weight from merely blowing your money on a diet program. You do it from continued effort. In Seth Godin’s words, “Change comes from new habits, from acting as if, from experiencing the inevitable discomfort of becoming”.

A naysayer makes the sweeping statement that people are course junkies who consume but not implement. Or, that we know enough already. To that I’ll respond with Tay & Val’s words “I will have reservations on working with myself the day I stop learning”.

9. “Stop wasting your money”

Here’s something I know to be my truth:-- if I have money to indulge in dining out, clothes and fine chocolate, then I have money to invest in myself. It’s a matter of forgoing some luxuries at most, and it isn’t as painful as it sounds.

I’ve heard the same dig over and over from naysayers, on how I’m wasting money and how they’d never have that money to do it. To these people, my politically-incorrect but blunt response is, “If you can find the money for whiskey, cocaine and parties, then you definitely have money for personal growth”.

It is a matter of choice and priority. And it’s also a matter of changing the language away from ‘cost’ to ‘investment’. When we blow our money away on things we regret, that’s a ‘cost’. Tag onto that the added emotional cost of "oh, how stupid was I?". When we have too many of such costs, then it’s time to re-evaluate.

10. “You shouldn’t have to pay for a network”

I'll admit that one of the reasons I invested in Selena's and Ramit's programs was to journey with fellow likeminded people-- introverted entrepreneurs and business owners with fire in their bellies-- I needed role models and fellow tribesmates.

Hundreds of parents in the UK have told me why they invest in a private education for their children— from £7K for a 3-year old to £45000 annually for a 17-year old-- because "it's the network and the connections they'll make". Sure, there are many ways of building success, but sometimes you’ve got pay to get into the club.

Sometimes it’s a way of showing how serious you are.

Jaime-Lee Fraser says “My pay-to-play investments have led me to a incredibly successful entrepreneurs who are now friends”, whilst Fiorella Kis-Major says “I learn from the best in my field, connecting with people in their network already doing what I want to do, and keep growing from there”.

Artwork by Orna Schneerson Pascal

Concluding thoughts

Exactly a year ago, I launched my website. Today I finally dare to call myself an entrepreneur and a SheBoss; I’m owning it. I’m an entrepreneur on her journey. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, my finish line will keep moving— and that’s a good thing because the challenge invigorates me. What I do brings me joy, and waking up knowing that I’ve made a career of something meaningful makes me grateful. But this is what I’ve gained from my investments unexpectedly:—

  1. The strength to be openly vulnerable and connect as a fellow human being, rather than to cower behind my qualifications.
  2. The ability to speak about myself and my business from a place of truth and gratitude, rather than the persistent fear that I was a fraud and never good enough.
  3. The enlightenment that I needed to detox my life— the toxic people and baggage— and the strength to carry through and stand up for myself, rather than to settle and live in fear.
  4. The courage to ask for support, rather than to feel weak, stupid and undeserving.
  5. The skill to communicate clearly and stand up for what I believe in, rather than my previously muddled and fear-driven jumble of thoughts.

It takes guts to invest in yourself. It also takes guts to trust in the process. Yet it’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done for my adult self. I wrote this post because I look back and wonder about two things. If I listened to the naysayers, where would I be today? And, I'm grateful to the people who have elevated me.

The comments of a naysayer don't invalidate my worth and work, the way it would have a year ago. They're more of an exasperation that says, "Enough. You can live your life the way you are, but please let others walk their path. . please don't shame them" .

So, please know that when a naysayer says these, it’s often about them rather than about you.

I’m toasting to your growth and success, fellow Entrepreneur.

I know how emotional this topic can be, so here’s a Cheat Sheet with handy affirmations and reflections that I made for you, on how to reclaim your power when someone shames you for investing in yourself.

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