An apple tree
Due respect to Isaac Newton, a very apt analogy came to me last week – your creative business is like an apple tree.
In the beginning, you plant the seed and then work tirelessly on the (blind) hope that the seed will grow. When the sapling breaks the ground, when you land your first client, you are simultaneously relieved that all your work has not been in vain and fervent in the notion that the sapling will become a tree.
You redouble your efforts to protect and nurture the sapling. You are tireless with your clients, going far beyond what is asked of you, your art and your creative business. You are desperate for the sapling to live to be a tree.
Your efforts pay off and the sapling becomes a young tree, still not bearing fruit, but also not all that fragile either. Your creative business now has employees to help you do what you do. Clients, vendors and colleagues respect you and you can move through the inevitable FUBAR. The FUBAR will hurt, but your creative business will not die because of it. Two FUBARs, however, probably would kill it, just like a strong storm would the young tree. So you remain ever vigilant and protective. The tree could still die.
Then the apple tree starts to bear fruit. More apples than can be processed. At this stage, killing the tree would be hard, much harder than anything necessary to keep it alive. Reputation, respect, experience, wisdom and depth of relationship means your creative business can survive almost anything. So the focus shifts (or should) to what to do with all of the apples. You and all of your friends cannot eat, bake, make applesauce with or freeze dry all of the apples from the tree. And even if you could use all of them, there will be ever more next year.
This is where the analogy gets really fun. Most creative business owners get stuck in the idea that their role and that of their employees is to keep the tree alive, far past the time when the tree needs that level of vigilance. Sure, the tree needs appropriate care, but not hyper-vigilance. It is a tree after all. Stuck in vigilance mode, you really do not pay attention to the fruit and what can be done with it. You might even be incredibly frustrated when a delicious apple rots on the ground. The new business opportunity, new client, etc. falls away because you just do not have the time. Arrrggh. If only you could stop having to do the (you choose the day-to-day task), you could really go after x, y and z. Hmmm. Are you sure the tree will not die? Irony of ironies, the very thing the tree needed to survive in the first place (i.e., hyper-vigilance) is the very thing that could kill it now that the tree is a tree.
Even if the practical is that you have to do the task, attitude is everything. There is a HUGE difference to believing you have to do it and knowing that the business will survive (thrive?) if you do not. If you know the tree will not die, you will move on to other things – like seeing what is to be done with all of that fruit.
Now let’s talk about the apples. If you believe the tree might die, seeing apples on the ground will be terrifying. So you will overinvest in doing something with all of them, stretch yourself and your staff too thin, work tirelessly on every idea regardless of timing. Mouse on a wheel. Move beyond survival and you will know that some apples, even beautiful ones will go unused. Your focus will be on what you do with the apples you can use. More importantly, it will be on knowing what to do with the most beautiful apple when it falls from the tree as it inevitably will.
Nobody said it was easy to let go of what got you where you are. Then again, staying there serves no one, least of all the tree.