The slow business movement: choosing health over hustle

I’m 31 weeks pregnant with my first baby – and if I’ve learned one thing about pregnancy so far, it’s that it feels like a slow process. There’s no pressing ‘fast forward’ on growing a baby. You can’t hustle your way to the finish line. You have to sit back and let nature run its course.

Obvious, right? But in a world of instant gratification, I’ve found myself impatient to meet my baby. Anxious to move quickly from one milestone to the next. Counting down the weeks like a kid waiting for Christmas.

And then there’s the physical need to slow down – the growing belly, the waddle-like walk. I’m used to moving through life at a reasonably fast pace. It’s strange to be forced to exercise slowly and be aware of my body. It’s made me realise that we spend so much of our time rushing around on autopilot.

Rush seems to be the norm – and slow the exception.

I think this is especially true for freelancers and small business owners. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of landing the next gig or client, of working from sunrise to sunset, of spending every spare second thinking about the business. We get addicted to the hustle.

Being pregnant has forced me to slow down and think critically about how I run my business – and also how I run my life.

When I first started freelancing, every motivational quote I stumbled across talked about hustle and purpose and hard work and putting in the hours and making sacrifices and being first and moving quickly and – you get my drift.

I felt energised and determined and got a kick out of working long hours. I remember feeling a twinge of pride for staying up late and putting in 14-hour days and working on weekends.

I think that initial burst of over-zealous enthusiasm was essential to get my business off the ground and prove to myself that I could survive as a freelancer. It was almost like a “sink or swim” response – I felt as though I had to work hard and fast to get ahead, and if I didn’t, I’d be forced to crawl back to a 9-5 job with a bruised ego.

Hustle has its place, but it’s unsustainable.

In July last year I ended up in hospital with a kidney infection. A day before getting intravenous antibiotics I was dictating blog posts to my mum, who was kindly acting as my typist because I felt too weak to type. That was probably a good warning sign that I needed to take a break, but I was stubborn and I didn’t want to miss a deadline.

Looking back now, I know that a simple email explaining my situation would have made that deadline disappear. But I pushed on – out of fear.

I think several fears put us into ‘hustle’ mode, even when our health is at risk.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of letting people down
  • Fear of going backwards
  • Fear of not living up to expectations
  • Fear of being judged

Sometimes these fears are healthy – when you’re staring at a blank calendar, an empty bank account, and a silent inbox. Sure, that’s a good time to hustle.

But most of the time, these fears just get in the way. And cause us heartache and anxiety – and occasionally, hospital stays.

A quote from Elizabeth Gilbert comes to mind:

“Letting go, of course, is a scary enterprise for those of us who believe that the world revolves only because it has a handle on the top of it which we personally turn, and that if we were to drop this handle for even a moment, well – that would be the end of the universe.”

Replace the word ‘world’ with ‘business’ and I think Liz Gilbert has tapped into the mind of every early-stage entrepreneur and freelancer. We hold our businesses in a vice-like grip out of fear that if we let go – even for a moment – the life we’ve created will come crashing down around us.

Liz Gilbert continues:

“Sit quietly for now and cease your relentless participation. Watch what happens. The birds do not crash dead out of the sky in mid-flight, after all. The trees do not wither and die, the rivers do not run red with blood. Life continues to go on.”

The same sage wisdom applies to business. Your work doesn’t cease to be important when you spend a weekend away from your computer. Leads don’t suddenly dry up if you get sick for a few days. Clients don’t stop calling because you went on a short holiday.

In fact, I’ve found that the more I let go, the stronger my business grows. Which brings me (finally) to the slow business movement – a movement that I’ve started to embrace as I make the transition into motherhood.

What is the slow business movement?

You’ve probably heard of slow food and slow travel – slow business is in the same basket. It’s about making a conscious choice to take the slow road, even when a faster route might be available.

For a foodie, this might mean making pastry from scratch for the sheer pleasure of it, instead of buying it frozen from the supermarket.

For a business owner, it might mean choosing to work with less clients for the joy of staying focused, instead of spreading yourself too thin across multiple projects.

I understand that not all business owners can afford to go slow. Maybe you need to be the first to bring your product or service to market. Maybe you’re up against some fierce competition. Maybe you’re developing a new app that relies on you being at the forefront of the latest technology. Maybe you’re spending money faster than you can make it, so you need to speed up to get out of debt.

I’m taking stabs in the dark, here, because I don’t run that kind of business. I’m not an ‘entrepreneur’ in the classic sense of the word. I don’t require start-up capital, I’m not looking for investors, I haven’t invested in research and development, and I’m not interested in creating an ‘exit strategy’ and selling my business.

But I keep ingesting advice aimed at the ‘classic’ entrepreneur – the person investing blood, sweat, tears, and lots of money to create an innovative new product. The Elon Musks and the Richard Bransons. The Steve Jobs and the Sara Blakelys.

The rhetoric surrounding entrepreneurialism is sexy and fast. It’s about failing forward and making your first million. It’s about taking risks and building dreams and not letting excuses get in the way of your goals.

But what if my dream is to play the long game – the slow game – with a focus on health not hustle?

I think a big part of the slow business movement is embracing what kind of entrepreneur you want to be – and then discarding the advice that’s meant for those on a different (faster) path.

Slow works for me – what works for you?

I’ve come to the slow realisation (see what I did there?) that the slow business movement is a perfect fit for me.

Writing is a slow process. It requires large doses of creativity and brainpower – and therefore high energy levels, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and lots of creative inspiration.

When I push too fast and hard, I do a disservice to myself– and also to my clients. My business flourishes when I give myself plenty of space to think and create.

I think I’ve known this for a long time, but old habits die hard. Every day is a battle to slow down and to give myself permission to take regular breaks from the computer to do all of those other things that fill me up. The things that, ultimately, make me a better writer and freelancer. Like reading, walking, cooking, learning, thinking, and spending time with friends and family. 

It's a daily battle I’ll continue to show up for – because I know it’s the good fight. Especially as I prepare to welcome new life into the world and embark on my journey as a mother and a business owner. (From what I can tell, most people don’t use the word ‘slow’ to describe either of these pursuits!)

Here’s what running a slow business means to me. I have no doubt I’ll refer to this list time and time again over the coming months. I hope it helps you on your journey, too – whatever pace you enjoy.

For me, slow business is…

  • Prioritising sustainable growth over short-term wins (avoiding burnout!)
  • Finding joy in all my client work
  • Giving each client the time and attention they deserve
  • Setting my own hours and creating boundaries that work for me
  • Trusting in my creative process (procrastination included!)
  • Being realistic about what I can achieve in a day
  • Following my curiosity
  • Trusting in my expertise
  • Looking after my mind, body, and soul
  • Building meaningful and lasting professional relationships
  • Spending time working "on" the business, not just "in" the business
  • Charging my worth (and taking pride in my work)
  • Having fun! And enjoying this wonderful, fascinating journey
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’” - Iain Thomas

About the author

 

Jess O’Connor is the founder and chief copywriter at Made of Words. She loves helping entrepreneurs find the right words to attract their dream customers.

Get in touch to discover how she can help you tell better business stories through the art of copywriting, editing, proofreading, and blogging.