The Problem with Pedestals

Our brains make a mistake by thinking “businesses are best run by famous people.”

Think of the books, the articles, the podcast episodes you’re fed every day. What kind of pedestal are those bits of media building. A podcast guest is asked questions to draw out their expertise, rather than expose their weaknesses. We read about success stories rather than reading about current struggles.

I get it. We have our own podcast and blog and social accounts and rarely are we inviting others who have no clue what they’re doing. It’s neither interesting, nor advantageous for our business.

I developed the entrepreneurial itch at a young age. I don’t know where, but I had grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides of my family who ran/owned businesses. It was just what people did.

I’ve always looked up to business folks. Who doesn’t? Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, and Walt Disney are all celebrated for their business building skills. Pro athletes and musicians and artists and gamers are all celebrated for their business acumen.

I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man. Jay-Z

But I’ve found a problem with the pedestal the “successful” folks get put on. Over the course of The Wonder Jam’s existence, I’ve listened to the struggles and progress of hundreds of business owners (most of whom are self-funded).

The tip-top issue that people bump into is comparison. They think things should be faster or bigger or more viral because they saw some celebrity or Instagrammer or competing business.

While it’s nice to be inspired by others, a pedestal can ruin your motivation. There’s a real difference between putting somebody on a pedestal versus respecting them for their effort, skill, and accomplishments. But when we put people on a pedestal, all of a sudden, it creates this separation—like the pedestal-occupier can do something that you couldn’t possibly do. Or that you must change the type of person you are in order to accomplish some of the things that those people have accomplished.

And as I get to sit down to talk with people, what I find is that nobody’s business is actually as good as whatever their press looks like. And no one’s got it as much together as they appear.

As such, I find it best to just act like this is reality. It’s best not to act like everybody is crushing it in every area of everything. When a client first comes into The Wonder Jam, it’s customary for that neither us nor the client shares all of our worst qualities to kick off our working relationship. But the power of being candid shows itself very quickly when we explain our limitations or our client’s explain their struggles. Once we can push through the veneer of pretending, the real magic begins to happen.

Now, how do you find a replacement for putting others on a pedestal? We still need a lot of inspiration. We still need to wake up in the morning with something to chase. And we still need to find people who pull us towards something greater.  

Below are a few of my ideas for tackling the pedestal problem:

1. Learn to be Inspired by Normal People

As I was talking to a director of a mental health non-profit, I became inspired by a new way of billing and structuring our relationships with tiny business owners.

An exceedingly average conversation helped reframe my approach to serving our small business customers. I did some homework, and NOBODY was doing what we’re going to be doing (more info to come soon…). Who knows if it will work out or not, but finding inspiration for innovation doesn’t have to come from a podcast or book, it can come from very normal situations. (If you ever talk to me in person, ask about how The Wonder Jam’s business structure was inspired by a tree).

2. Build a Business for People Who Motivate & Fascinate You

The greatest benefit to our client base at The Wonder Jam is our clients are incredibly motivating to me (and our team). Working hard to help them fulfill their dreams is rewarding and something we all take with a great deal of seriousness. Whether you own a business or not, ask yourself this: who motivates and fascinates you individually, and your brand as a whole? Remember, ‘motivate + fascinate’ does not equate to ‘pedestal.’ It simply means you get positive energy from them and want to help them.

3. Get Skin in the Game

If motivation and inspiration are difficult for you to find, might I suggest you introduce some “risk” into your life? When you have an obligation or responsibility on the table, you might wake up a bit earlier, work a bit harder, and be a bit more focused.  

One of our clients was a young man saving up to start his own business. In order to do that, he had cut back his expenses, moved in with a family member, and started his businesses while living with minimal personal expenses. As his business got stuck for a minute and I advised: “the best thing you can do might be to move into your own apartment.” This new responsibility and new freedom gave him a new level of motivation and drive.

Pedestals Are A Problem

They’re inaccurate, unrealistic, and distract from the real powerful relationships and inspiration waiting all around us. Pedestals are no good for the people who are on them. It’s best not to throw others upon them, nor allowed for ourselves to be placed on them.

Be vulnerable, share the truth, and give others the courage and space to do the same.  

April 11, 2019
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