The more I work to understand myself, and the more I trust my inner compass, the better my business gets.
It still feels weird to say that, because for years I was taught to do the opposite.
Most business advice is about working from the outside-in. It’s about venturing out into the world and “finding a profitable business idea” or “determining the most profitable market.” It’s about being objective and rational, and trusting that if you search diligently enough outside of yourself, you’ll find the correct answers.
Now, if your goal is to build a giant startup, or a self-storage business or something, this outside-in approach is great. The world is full of opportunities, and you can indeed go discover them.
But for creators and indie artists, I’ve increasingly found that outside-in business strategy does more harm than good.
It leads to creative work that doesn’t feel intuitively exciting, where you’re making what you think other people want, instead of what you actually care about. It leads to serving customers and fans you don’t vibe with. It leads towards being more like everyone else, and less like yourself.
Working from the outside-in is the surest way to end up trapped in mimetic ecosystems, where you take on other people's desires and goals as your own. That's why this strategy rarely leads to work that matters, deep relationships, and a business that’s enjoyable. Because those outcomes are individual. Instead, this approach often reinforces the practice of comparing ourselves to others, and keeps us trapped on a hamster wheel of never feeling like enough, so we’re always chasing more, more, more.
That’s the story of my first business. I looked for answers outside myself, and trusted all the best practices. That path led to a business that never felt right, and never felt successful. A business where I was always forcing it. A prison of my own making.
But like I said, my experience with Ungated over the last year has opened my eyes. Running a business doesn’t have to feel cold and mechanical. You don’t have to force yourself.
An inside-out business is one that’s built on a foundation of self-understanding
In most of my courses, I teach a set of introspective practices called Personal Archaeology. The goal is to unearth your deepest values, curiosities, desires, beliefs, and pain points. It's about understanding what makes you tick, and what drives you emotionally. And perhaps most importantly, it's about accepting and cherishing what you find in there. For these are the raw ingredients that can fuel a business that you truly love.
Journeying inward is how you discover your unique gifts and perspectives. In a content landscape where seemingly everyone is following best practices, where most work feels like a soulless copy of a copy, saying what you truly think and feel is a superpower. This is how you stand out in a world of lookalikes. By being more yourself.
Understanding yourself also gives you abundant clues for how to find the others. Business is about serving a specific group of people, and self-knowledge points you towards the right people to serve. Work created from a place of self-understanding attracts people with a similar worldview, people who will genuinely cherish your perspective, people who will enrich and deepen your experience of life as you connect with them.
And finally, charting the terrain of your inner world can help you get out of your own way. Perhaps, like me, you’re an accomplished self-sabotage artist. You procrastinate, you feel deep discomfort around putting yourself out there, around promoting and selling. You’re a perfectionist. The more you understand your psyche, and the more you act in alignment with your deepest desires and sense of self, the easier it is to get out of your own way and flow through life.
These are the headline benefits of working from the inside-out. Creative work you love. Finding the others. Getting out of your own way. But I left out perhaps the most important benefit of all—this style of business feels good. It’s intrinsically enjoyable.
Here’s a simple, but profound truth. When running your business feels good, and when it complements and enriches your emotional life, it’s easy to keep showing up for months or years on end.
The single most important factor in whether creators succeed is whether they stay in the game. If you look at the creators who are most successful today, most of them started ten or more years ago. Where most others gave up and fell off the map, they kept going.
When you build from the inside-out, and when you enjoy yourself, that long game starts to take care of itself.