Unboss

A lesson from last year: just because you can be a leader, just because you own a business, just because you have one good idea, or a string of good ideas, and just because your title has the word “executive” in it — you do not have to enjoy being a boss. You do not have to listen to entrepreneurial podcasts, attend management retreats, wear a black blazer and tuck stacks of business cards between the pages of Girl Boss.

You can, if you’d like. There was a time when I loved a good business book read, when I would curl up on the couch in the sunniest spot and devour the words of Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey. Where I would learn a little about business and a lot about people, and a good success story would make my pace quicken, my pupils dilate.

And now, for whatever reason, I am not that way. I have learned that there is a difference between being good at what you do and being good at managing those who do what you do, and I fall swiftly in the former camp.

When I founded Clementine Daily a few years ago, the first position I hired was someone to manage the whole shebang. She is amazing, an incredible leader – and still, it was a hard for me to transition from a lone freelancer – just me in the corner coffee shop – to having the final say for a team of ten. To calling the shots. To making the plans. I just didn’t love the pressure of it all.

I am rambling.

It is hard to talk about female leadership now without entering a feminist conversation, without tiptoeing around words like empowerment or equality, without taking a stance with our feet planted firmly, lips pursed.

I don’t particularly enjoy planted feet.

And so, I will say this: being a boss didn’t work for me. I preferred something else, my priorities had shifted, and on most days, they centered around Itsy Bitsy Spider tunes, afternoons in the park, pork in the crock pot – all of which I found counter-intuitive to leading a team of writers in every major city in the U.S.

It’s just, you go through life thinking that if you can do something great, more of that would be better. Why not make it bigger, why not start something new, why not found an entire movement – think big, dream always!?

It’s true, but wasn’t true for me.

Sometimes, building an empire with you as the foundation leaves quite a lot of bricks on your back.

Today, my think big, dream always has changed, and it now calls for stillness, quiet. It’s learning how to serve with my head down, rather than lead with my shoulders high. It’s making room for grace, the kind that cannot be offered as an addendum to yesterday’s contract.

And so, ladies. You don’t have to be a boss. You don’t have to build up, expand, grow, increase. You can simply be what you are, what you know, what you enjoy. Sometimes that’s leaning in – to an empire, to a tower, to a mahogany desk.

Other times, it’s leaning against the pantry door, wondering what’s for dinner.

  • Wow! This is absolutely spot on — and exactly what I needed to hear. For me, it’s so easy to get caught up in my future self and where I hope to be in the next five years. Instead, I need to focus more on being intentional each day and finding happiness in my current self. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

    • thank you, olivia – i can absolutely understand this, yes! i think we all struggle to live in the present. ;)

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing, Erin. I’ve never heard anybody challenge the Girl Boss movement and I’m so glad you did. I’m all for it (as I know you are too), but I think it’s good to be for things and still push against them a little.

  • Yes thank you! I don’t want to be a girl boss either. And sometimes that makes me feel much less glamorous than “others.” But I am so much lighter for it :D

  • Great post! I’m a freelancer and people often assume my goal is to be a business owner, expand, get an office hire people… and it just isn’t, that’s so not me. I like what I do and where I’m at, and for now my goal is to be as successful as I can be in this position, and that’s ok for me :)

  • I really enjoyed this Erin. I, personally, would love to be a #GirlBoss. I think it’s just who I am. Go, do, decide, make. But it’s totally not everyone’s jam, and that’s ok! we can’t all be bosses. It’s just not possible. We need to be at peace with whoever we are, and stop competing with others for the sake of competing.

  • Loved this post. I’d love it if you added a “like” button to your posts, too…as I often relate your thoughts, but don’t have the eloquent words to express my gratitude! Keep up the good work.

  • love this and possibly the best advice i ever received came from a former boss who i didn’t really care for – just because someone throws you the ball doesn’t mean you have to catch it.

  • Hi Erin! I’ve admired for your blog for awhile now and never commented. But as a mother of an almost-two-year old and a freelance graphic designer, I can so relate. I certainly love running a business, but just recently was reminded that it’s necessary to take time to be still, take a breath, and just BE. Especially when there’s also family to consider. Your post was very refreshing and I’m so glad you shared it. Thank you!

    • oh nikkita – thank you for commenting! it’s lovely to hear your take – thank you for sharing! :)

  • I can relate to this. I have ten years of experience under my belt in my current career and could move up through the ranks, but I’m happy to be a worker bee and not queen. The people who understand this are rare, but being boss is just not in my DNA. I enjoy the actual hands-on work too much to give it up.

  • Wonderful! Well said! I absolutely love my freelance world and sure there was a time when I thought it would be great to build and empire, expand, have employees, but now, just like you, my days are different. Yes I’m still a freelance graphic designer and blogger, but more enjoyable than anything is that I get to be at home with my toddler enjoying making a mess, watching him learn and grow and have those moments when all he wants is to curl up with my on the sofa a cuddle. I’ve definitely reached my goal of happiness!
    Woah! sorry for the long comment, just got a roll and couldn’t stop xx

  • I think -since you have been the #GIRLBOSS reading the management books @erinloechner- that the concept of #linchpin greatly surpasses the “boss” concept, and that women should pay more attention to what we can bring to the table (the mahogany or the kitchen table) by being what we are: feminine & natural creators, artists & nurturers. Leadership is a possibility every women should be able to embrace, but it’s a choice to lead a team at a company, at home, or not at all. I think that choice should be made clear to the young ones specially, and more important: we women have to all respect each other for our choices.

    • You know, I still haven’t read Linchpin but am very excited to check it out! I love this theory. :)

  • Success doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, and that’s okay. As an art teacher, I feel the pressure to be a money-making artist outside of my job, but truthfully, crafting the minds of stubborn high schoolers is my ultimate art project. Thanks for the reminder to trust in my own path.

  • miss erin … i had never really thought about it like that … but i think i have always been unboss … i have been selfemployed for all but a couple years and have always aspired to keep it small … relating closely to my clients and for many years coupling that with being a single mom to my daughter … choosing to spend time building those closer relationships … which have great impact in the world even if my own is not so spectacular … x

  • Ever since I had my baby last year, my instincts have been screaming at me to be less for others so that I can be more for my family. This change came right on that transition every business has, the fine line between “just getting by” and “being successful.” I’ve crossed over the cusp from struggling freelancer, and now I don’t know how to pull back.

    How did you do it? I don’t know how to keep what I’ve built afloat (and it’s quite small compared to the empires many online entrepreneurs have built) without giving it up altogether. I know it’s not a question of all or nothing, so what am I missing?

    • Great question! I’m no expert, but for me, it’s just been a perspective shift. When I’m working on my to do list, the moment I feel productive (enough) and energized (enough) and filled (enough) from the work I’ve completed, I finish. I don’t try to push the limit even if I have extra time, or if the toddler is still napping, because in reality, if I push over the edge of productivity I begin to feel depleted and then there’s little left over. Enough is enough for today, I say. :)

      Does that help at all for you? There are many practical tips, but I think it’s a matter of being in the mindset enough and trusting that if your blog or business crumbles without your “all-in” presence, perhaps it will be a blessing in the long run.

  • Thank you for this post, Erin. It resonates with me so deeply, and I’m saving it as a reminder to refer back to often when I’m putting pressure on myself to do more more more, even when what I really want is quiet, stillness, solo work, and just being ME. Thank you! :)

  • Thank you! This is really timely for me as I’m also a designer at home with two little ones. You’ve put into words exactly what I’ve been feeling. I come from a background where a emphasis was placed on significance (usually meant in a big-dreams way), but I’ve come to see that a life lived in Grace is the most significant of all. It’s not the popular message, but it’s so real and freeing!

  • When reading your post, I wonder if this may just as well reach beyond the woman related talk – I hear, more and more, men saying that they cannot take the extra pressure due to the fact that they are: men, bosses, leaders, fighters etc. I have a feeling that what we are talking about here is the divide between the role that is expected of a success driven/based society and a boss and the real call and aspirations lying in each and every one of these potential bosses. Mind you, the call may be to be actually be a boss. This happens too – and thankfully so, because they are needed individuals.

    • I love this thought and I think you’re absolutely right! Men have quite a bit of pressure, and those that are fathers are still expected by many wives to be extra-involved in a busy child’s life, to help with dishes, to fold laundry, etc. They cannot do it all, either. When we follow society’s expectations, we all seem to come out like little stress balls. ;)

  • I’ve owned my own business for about 6 months now and have battled the entire time with whether to stay small or push for growth. I have two small children (3 and 1) and long to expand our family. Giving myself the permission to embrace an overwhelming desire to focus on my family has been liberating.

    As women, we’re always battling with what our heart says will bring us joy and with what society says will bring us joy.

    Thank you for this amazing reminder and affirmation.

    • What a profound thought, Corazon!: “As women, we’re always battling with what our heart says will bring us joy and with what society says will bring us joy.” I couldn’t agree more! :)

  • Erin, this is such a good word, and very much how I’m feeling, too. You nailed it with this: “It’s just, you go through life thinking that if you can do something great, more of that would be better. Why not make it bigger, why not start something new, why not found an entire movement – think big, dream always!?”

    That’s EXACTLY how I thought for many years in blogging and entrepreneurialism. I *can*, so I *should.* So glad to be headed in the direction I am these days.

    • Oh Tsh, I hear you! I think it’s a natural tendency as an entrepreneur. I mean, we build these “things” from the ground up, so we know the secret is to keep learning and trying and growing and leaping, and at some point, we just have to land on a lily pad and bask for a bit. ;)

  • Erin this resonates so much with me. To simply be what you are and what you know and what you enjoy. That is what gets lost so easily and leaves us sad and feeling trapped. Thank you for sharing as always.

  • My wife, knowing me so well, sent this to me just now. I understand I might not be the target audience, but words have a way of seeing past gender. I’ve been managing people for 12 years now. Always seeing constant growth, the next big thing: project, opportunity, task, idea, and tackling it head on. Always being great at it. But this last year my wife and I had our first son, now I’m a father. Soon, I’ll be guardian to my niece as well. It’s no longer important for me to be that leader. At least not in the ways that I once was. I’m much happier, much more content as a father, then I ever was a boss. And so, as I practice more on being who I am, and step away from this corporate leadership I hope the person that takes my place holds the same thoughts close, to be who you are. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Oh I love hearing this, Rodney! I think this is definitely a greater issue beyond gender, and the root of it is certainly what you’d said: being who you are. Love reading your perspective, and thank you for sharing it!!! Wishing you all the best on your new adventure with son and niece. :)

  • Just what I needed to hear after a long week of shoulders back, power-stancing. I feel like a whole new blog needs to be started on this topic. :-) You are always so timely with your truth bombs.

  • In a world where saying “I don’t want to be a manager” has become seemingly taboo, it’s refreshing to hear the honesty you present here. Management isn’t cut out for everyone, and not everyone is cut out for management – and that’s okay!

    A great reminder to “simply be what you are, what you know [and] what you enjoy”! ❤ ❤ ❤

  • Erin, wow…you learned this very important lesson way earlier than I did. I used to LOVE being the boss. But then life, and The Lord, changed me. Now, I LOVE just being a good follower, wife, mother, daughter. It’s amazing how we use our jobs to define us. And shortly after losing my job to a chronic illness I thought, well, now who am I? Amazingly, just being the boss of me is enough. Thanks for this piece and for the reflection it made me do.

    • Oh Julie, I hope your body is healing itself, and thank you for your kind words. Cheers to knowing ourselves and the way we were made. :)

  • Perfection, as always. Many women are looking for “permission” to do what they think is right, natural, comfortable and if we can get past that and center our lives around our values I think many of us will be happier folks. So here’s permission to be slow, and careful, and mindful at home and at work. The glorification of being busy needs to stop.

    • Oh yes, yes, yes. I sometimes think of myself as a permission giver in my own circle – permission to be what you’re supposed to be (yourself, of course, is the only measurable there!).

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