I started my first business thirty years ago, and I like to think that my businesses and myself are works in progress; we always are learning and then shifting, adapting, and growing. But lessons come from the most unexpected places, like the 23-year-old corn snake named Moe that came with my husband when we married four years ago.
1. Be Authentic
Now before you dismiss this blog with “I hate snakes!”, just hear me out. The first lesson I’ve been reminded of by watching Moe is to be authentically myself. Moe never tries to act like a lizard or stalk prey like a leopard. He always acts like a snake, flicking his forked tongue to pick up chemical particles in the air so he can process scents and make sense of his environment. He slithers on his belly and coils himself on driftwood to bask in the sun’s rays.
For years, I read a plethora of women’s business books that told me in order to succeed, I had to act like man, think like a man, play like a man. But the fact is, I am not a man and have never wanted to be one. We are in the roles we are in, in the fields we are in, and in the businesses we are in because we have unique and powerful gifts. And we are at our most empowered when we are true to our authentic selves.
Back when I was a professor in my first year of teaching, my boss handed me her syllabus and all of the materials and assignments, and I tried to use that. The whole experience was uncomfortable for me and ineffective for the students as the material wasn’t presented in a way that was natural for me. After a few weeks of struggle, I realized I had to make the entire course mine and teach the material as it was intuitively coming from me. Doing this caused a shift in the connection with my students and they learned what they needed to and the experience became positive for all of us.
Coco Chanel said, “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity,” but wouldn’t it be great if being ourselves was what we chose from the get-go instead of having to learn to be true to ourselves the hard way?
2. Shed Your Skin
Tied to being authentic is the idea that shedding (what isn’t authentic or serving us anymore) is essential for growth. Every few months, Moe’s eyes start to look a bit cloudy and his skin not so vibrant. He becomes a bit lethargic, like his skin is ill-fitting and constrictive. And then, when the timing is right, he wiggles and wriggles and literally crawls out of his outer layer of skin; he sheds.
So many times in my business life I’ve grown, expanded in mind, body, and spirit, so that jobs, titles, and clients feel like they no longer fit … that they are hindering instead of helping me. Maybe you have a client who’s been with you from almost the beginning, and you haven’t increased that client’s prices to be compatible with what you charge everyone else. Each month when you invoice, does that client’s invoice feel freeing or constrictive to you? Or maybe you’re on a board of a company or a nonprofit that started out as a good idea, but now feels more like a time-suck with little benefit.
Circumstances change. We change. Sloughing off those things that we no longer feel good about or that seem like bad business decisions helps us in our continued path of growth, and makes room in our lives for other (and often better) things.
And when those opportunities do come along, we need to be ready to strike.
3. Be Ready to Strike
Moe’s meals are thawed mice. Since he’s a senior citizen in snake years, we make getting sustenance easy. We defrost a mouse in a cup of very hot water, and then dangle the dead mouse by its tail and wait for Moe to grab it.
Moe approaches us and the mouse with caution as he flicks his tongue a few times to smell the air. It isn’t until he’s certain where everything is and that it is safe for him that he lengthens and strikes towards the mouse—but all of this happens rather quickly.
Sometimes an opportunity pops up and it triggers an excuse mindset. We think we aren’t ready, that we don’t know enough or have enough skill, or that the timing isn’t perfect. But the fact is if we stay in those thoughts, we will never be ready, know enough, or have perfect timing. When a real opportunity presents itself, we need to be like Moe and strike it, having faith that it will all work out and be exactly what we need for sustenance and growth.
4. Take Breaks and Get Some Sunshine
Lastly, I’ve learned the importance of taking a break from business and getting some sunshine. Moe’s favorite place to rest is under on the driftwood as the sun’s rays shine through the window on him. The sun warms his body, and he produces vitamin D from its ultraviolet light. Like in humans, vitamin D helps a snake’s metabolism and helps him process calcium effectively to keep his bones strong.
When I was writing Creating a Freelance Career and the publisher gave me a deadline of only six weeks, I spent long hours researching and writing. But I knew if I spent too much time indoors and in front of my computer screen, I would feel sluggish. So I took a cue from Moe and made sure I, and our dog, got some sunlight every day so we could feel our best.
The National Institutes of Health attribute a boosting of the immune system, serotonin, melatonin, and endorphins to receiving a moderate, daily dose of sunshine. And Harvard Health says sunshine is important for mental health and mental acuity and clarity, which means that taking time out for fresh air and sunshine may actually boost your business effectiveness.
While I still prefer pets with fur to scales, I’m glad Moe lives with us and has taught me things applicable to business and life.
About the Author
Former professor Jill L. Ferguson is the author of eight books, most recently Creating A Freelance Career, a business consultant, entrepreneur, artist and the founder of Women’s Wellness Weekends.