95% of the business advice I’ve ever encountered is built upon one assumption—all businesses need to scale. That’s just what they’re supposed to do.
In our business culture, if you’re not growing, you’re failing. If you’re not 10Xing your revenue, your followers, your impact, you’re irrelevant. If you’re not relentlessly chasing a bigger and grander vision, you get branded with pejoratives like “lifestyle business.”
This isn’t just the tech and startup worlds either. It permeates the entire culture of business, whether you’re trying to build a restaurant, or stake your claim in the creator economy.
That’s how many of us creative types, once we’ve been immersed in the business ecosystem for awhile, end up with an implicit belief that whatever we’re building, the goal is to scale it.
As mimetic beings, we intuitively and often subconsciously take on the desires and ideology of those around us. And far too often, the baggage we pick up from culture leads us to live out of accord with our values, and out of accord with what’ll make us happy.
Here’s what I believe. The default goal for creators shouldn’t be to “build and scale a business” in the traditional sense. Instead, what if we aimed at building an enjoyable, vibrant life for ourselves? What if the highest form of success was doing work we’re proud of, connecting deeply with people, making a good living, and enjoying our limited time on this planet as much as possible?
I don’t know about you, but that definition of success resonates for me. It lights me up whenever I think about it. If it vibes with you as well, I’d like to propose that endlessly scaling your business probably won’t contribute to that goal. In fact, it’ll probably take you in the opposite direction.
Scaling means hiring. It means managing people. It means becoming increasingly systems and data driven. Most of the creative types I’ve met in the last 10 years aren’t wired for these roles. Hiring and managing and systems design pull them away from what they love most. It degrades their quality of life.
The relentless pursuit of scale also fucks with your mental health, because it comes with an implicit acknowledgement that what you have isn’t enough, and where you are isn’t good enough. The constant push for more leads to unnecessary dissatisfaction and suffering in the present moment. For most of us, our business is a core part of our identity. So if the business isn’t growing, it means we’re inadequate. Our self-worth becomes inextricably linked to a business that can never be big or successful enough.
At a certain point, we all have to grapple with that simple, challenging question. How much is enough?
Most of us have had the experience of setting some number—maybe it’s 50K or 100K annually—only to feel the same underlying existential dissatisfaction once we reach it. It’s the same with business. No matter how many times you 10X your business, you will wake up the next day with a nagging sense of “now what?” And if you’re caught up in the mimetic desires of the Business Building Industrial Complex, chances are you’ll conclude that you need to keep scaling.
This is a big part of why I’m so bullish on the 1,000 True Fans model. Because it doesn’t have the assumption that you have to scale baked into it. And because it forces you to grapple with the question of how much is enough.
So all I ask is that you be intentional. Work to understand yourself, so you know what enriches your experience of life, and what degrades it. Develop a critical eye towards the cultural waters you swim in, and question the status quo desires that everyone seems to chase.
If scaling businesses lights you up, cool. If it doesn’t, equally cool. Just please, strive to be curious and courageous enough to walk your own path.