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Building a Business with Meaning

The problem, a friend said indelicately, is you have mistaken yourself for the pie maker. You can’t make the pies anymore. You traded that in for figuring out how to keep the lights on and the doors open. You’re the shopkeeper. Pies come second. Or do they? Roughly three years after opening my studio, it was clear to me that my business most surely had a hold of me rather than me a hold of it.

What happens when we jump from teacher - inspired, happy and excited about our work - to business owner? How do we take what’s most important to us and infuse our business with it? If you know where to look, it can be easy. If you can be honest and steadfast, it can be truly powerful.

The first question you must ask is: Does, or will, my business reflect my deepest held values and commitments? And if so, what are they?

Regardless of whether we’ve worked in the corporate world, owned a business before or have been teaching for 10 years, there is no way to know what lies in store for us. Any assurances we have come from understanding our purpose and ourselves. This requires not only reflection at the beginning, but constant self-inquiry as our business grows and changes.

Core Commitments

No doubt you have had people tell you that creating a vision and a mission for your business is crucial. True, it is - but how do you do that without clarity of your underlying beliefs? Likely you won’t create a vision that withstands the trials of a changing business. I was introduced to the term “core commitments” from yoga and mindfulness teacher Sally Kempton. These types of commitments, she writes, are different because they “can withstand any amount of chaos and remain in place even when your external commitments are dissolving around you.” They are a reflection of your values, principles and intentions. Once ferreted, they coalesce into the earthquake-proof foundation of a value-driven business. Some of my core commitments look like this:
• To build community
• To always be ethical and honest
• To be generous
• To offer assistance when others are in need
• To be creative and open to change
• To be compassionate and facilitate compassion in others

Make them real – Write them down At some point you must not only muse over these things, but also make them real and substantial. Make a list. Whether it’s at the top of your business plan, in a journal or on a piece of paper, you post in your studio - you should be able to look to them often. If these commitments are constantly in your attention, your business is more likely to reflect them – and not just in a vague way, but in all aspects of your business from your website, to your business cards, to how you hire your staff, and how you treat your landlord.

Questions to help you begin:

If you find it difficult to choose, consider some of these questions.
1. What inspires you?
2. What brings you the greatest joy in your work and in your life?
3. What things are you unwilling to compromise?
4. What qualities do you admire in others – your peers, family and mentors – or in other businesses?

You may also consider situations where you have found yourself compromised or going against what feels right. Explore the circumstances and see what you would do differently. Looking at our mistakes can be the most profound way of understanding what’s really important to us. Sometimes we don’t know until we’ve taken the wrong road.

When vision really matters
Now that you know what lies beneath, you can construct a clear and concise vision. If you own a studio with other teachers working for you, either as employees or independent contractors, creating a common vision as well as individual ones can be very powerful. It takes energy and dedication from all of you, after all, to make the endeavor truly successful.

You can create your vision from a classic business approach – future objectives and things to achieve - or from a more fluid and intuitive angle - sentiment, atmosphere and purpose. Which one you choose will depend on what feels right for you and your business. Either way, your vision should include many of the concepts you defined for yourself above and should inspire action and/or change. When someone comes into your business or experiences your services for the first time, what do you want them to take away? What impressions do you want to leave on your clients, employees and community?

Here are some examples of vision statements:

From my studio – To create a thriving, self-sustaining community of teachers and students, dedicated to excellence in the field of Pilates and mindful movement, through education and exploration.

Balanced Body - Balanced Body’s vision is to bring together the very best in movement education. A symphony of voices, a community of sharing. A place where passion lives, creativity abounds and lifelong learning is who we are and what we do. A virtual mashup of work and play where the goal is to just make something better. Whether it’s within ourselves, our community or our world.

Polestar Pilates - Impact the world through intelligent movement, which fosters awareness of self and the community.
Your vision acts not only as a guidepost for you, but for your clients and teachers as well. Make sure it’s accurate and current. I have found it helpful to have a single broad vision and also a malleable, working vision. This is where you can encourage your teachers to get involved and create visions of their own.
We’ve collected our studio vision, along with personal vision statements from each of our teachers, in a binder where every two months we can revisit and revise them. When working toward a shared goal, and supporting each other in our individual goals, we navigate bumpy waters with much more agility and greater positive outcome.

Ongoing work. Work with meaning.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one-time task. As long as you are in business or for as long as you are engaged in work for that matter, you will have to continue this process of inquiry. If you don’t, and sometimes you won’t, the impact will be obvious.

For myself, I was surprised at what I saw once I took a deep look. My core commitments and values were fully intact just obscured by the strain of keeping things spinning. My mistake was I had lost sight of them. Peeling away the layers, I could see where my original vision had a strong presence and where it was extremely murky. With honest investigation, I regained my footing, re-assessed my vision and began again with renewed dedication. This was in large part due to the people who championed me, who are my mentors and heroes. And this was not the last time I would have to take a hard look. In fact, I am doing it now.

Coming back to this process as my business grows keeps me focused, moving forward with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I can’t ask for more than that.

If the goal is for our work to be an extension of our best selves, filled with joy and meaning, then we must have awareness, presence of mind and a willingness to jump into the endeavor fully, again and again and again.

“Then, work is not solely about meeting obligations of paying the bills and getting the job done; it is much more about being free – connecting fully with our virya [joyful vigor] and expressing this inherent enthusiasm in our workplace.” Michael Carroll, “The Mindful Leader”

Chantill Lopez is the founder of SkillfulTeaching.com, an in-depth resource for emerging and veteran Pilates and yoga teachers which focuses on teaching mastery, vision creation, and advanced studies. She is also co-owner and educational director of Pilates Collective in Northern California and a Balanced Body faculty member.

For more articles, interviews, and podcasts go to skillfulteaching.com. Chantill welcomes your thoughts and comments online at www.facebook.com/skillfulteaching or www.skillfulteaching.com/blog. She can also be reached at chantill@skillfulteaching.com.

By: Chantill Lopez

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent article Chantill!
Rekindling your vision and reframing your mission awakens those energies that power our practice.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Paul

Thanks for the inspiration Chantill!
I recently signed up for my first teacher training session and one day hope to own and run my own studio. Your article fueled my passion even more and I'm glad I happened upon it at the right moment.

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline Latour

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