The (Entrepreneur’s) Artist’s Resistance: Do Business and Politics Mix?

My newsfeed has been flooded over the last few days with photos from Women’s Marches across the world.

These have given me hope – I love seeing women (and men!) standing together in peaceful defiance. Being willing to publicly stand and say – no. I do not accept this. I will not accept this. I will work towards change, I will not accept the darkness of the status quo.

I wrote an article a couple of years ago that got quite a bit of traction both in terms of virality, but also in commentary amongst readers and the press – where I discussed the concept of artist versus entrepreneur.

The general gist being that I was looking for a different title from “entrepreneur” to apply to those of us who run passion based businesses and don’t resonate with the ways in which silicon valley and the tech scene have co-opted the idea of entrepreneur.

I was listening to a Tony Robbins and Jay Abraham interview and they used the word “artist” to describe these people. As a creative, that resonated deeply with me and I’ve been using it to describe what I do as a marketer, a coach and a branded content creator, ever since.

Whether or not you agree with that, it’s important to note because it’s the foundation of this article. When I talk “artist” here, I speak in terms of that article. Artist in this context can absolutely be traditional – visual artists, musicians, performance artists – but also extends to cover business owners who struggle with the name “entrepreneur” – purpose-driven business owners whose goal isn’t money but impact.

Because my definition of art (and yes, I know it’s not the strict dictionary definition, so you can save your oxford dictionary google links, thanks) – is a medium of communication.

The creation of art goes beyond making a piece of music or creating a picture – the underlying motivation is always communication.

And in this way, those of us whose business are about reaching out to and communicating with other people, not to become wealthy but as a way of creating true and lasting impact, are artists in our own rights.

But identifying as an artist instead of an entrepreneur, also comes with a different set of responsibilities. Chief amongst them, the responsibility to create. You can’t be an artist if you’re selling someone else’s product.

And right now, there’s never been a more important time to be dedicated to creation.

Do Business and Politics Mix?

I know I live in an online bubble – I specifically curated it that way.

I often say that in our business, we only work with people who are ready – if you’re not sure you want to make sales, if you’re not ready to pick up the phone, if you’re not ready to go deep and understand who you truly are in order to face your demons and step into your Great Work, ours are not the trainings for you.

I’m not here to convince people to be other than who they are – I’m here to help the people who know that they’re ready for more.

I feel the same way about politics.

I’m not here to argue with people on the other side of the spectrum. I’m not here to convince anyone to be other than who and what they are. That’s not my calling, not my Great Work.

Perhaps it is your calling – and if so, that’s wonderful. It’s a necessary space for people to hold – I’m just definitely not the woman for that particular job.

I know many business owners and artists are afraid to discuss their political standing – they worry it will alienate some fans and clients.

And the reality is- yes, it will.

If you begin taking a stance on what you believe, then there are going to be people who get upset and who walk – whether that’s because they disagree with what you’re saying, or whether they disagree with you saying it.

Which is why it’s an intensely personal choice that only you can make – a decision that has to be 100% yours.

Here’s how I made mine.

After being very politically active in my teens and early twenties, I stayed out of politics altogether for a decade, while I was growing my business. I had my head down and focused on what I was doing, and I turned a blind eye to what was happening in the world around me.

I’ll admit, I even started to walk down the path of,

“Well, I grew up poor and now I have a successful business! People should just do more of that!”

When I look at it now, my reasons for that behaviour were simple – for all I was making really good money, I didn’t feel successful. I felt constantly overwhelmed by my life. I had no gratitude for the amazing things that were happening around me – I was too busy telling myself a victim-story about how hard things were.

And look, don’t get me wrong – it was hard. I was learning to traverse a whole new world and I felt completely out of my depth. But the real issue was my lack of gratitude.

Once I started to focus on how damn lucky I was, everything changed. Life is still hard (find me a human being for who that’s NOT the case!) – but I changed. I made different choices and it changed everything for me.

Those internal changes took place across 2012 / 2013 / 2014. By the time we hit late 2014, they’d taken such a hold of me, that I could no longer justify being involved in the Internet Marketing scene (with it’s rampant sexism, racism and homophobia). I walked away from business partnerships and a great deal of money. It was the right thing to do.

By this point, I had pretty openly identified that I was a feminist. That had drawn a bunch of fire and critical feedback and so, frankly, I stood back a bit. I made a lot of posts on my personal Facebook profile only visible to the people I was connected to.

What really shifted everything for me was going to Necker Island in April 2016 and spending a lot of time talking to people way more successful than me about this predicament.

Much as I’m saying here – no one insisted that open discussion of politics was the right thing to do. Rather, they said it was a calculated risk and therefore a decision everyone needed to make for themselves. These millionaires and billionaires shared their personal stories, and that helped.

But what helped the most was meeting Anthony Ray Higdon – a man who was imprisoned and spent 30 years sitting on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. I listened to his story of maintaining hope and optimism in the face of death. I listened to him – not a year out of prison – speak of forgiveness and kindness.

And I asked myself:

If I’m not willing to publicly stand up for people like Anthony, who am I?

What am I?

Where is my integrity?

I was born with a certain level of privilege – white, first-world, straight. On the back of that privilege, I’ve built myself new levels of privilege – middle class, financially comfortable.

That privilege includes the luxury of sticking my head in the sand when it came to politics. People of colour, people living in poverty, LGBTQ people, do not have that luxury. Their very lives have been made political by virtue of their birth.

The best possible use I can think of for that privilege is to use it to help and to speak out for, those who have less. To use my privilege to open doors and to ensure, as much as I can, that

Has it cost me clients, business partnerships and money?

I don’t doubt it.

But this was a very clear and firm wake-up call – and I simply couldn’t ignore it.

The Artist’s Resistance

Throughout history, art has been a primary tool of resistance.

Nothing drives out darkness, propaganda, misinformation and “alternative facts” like soul-driven acts of creativity.

I know a lot of people feel overwhelmed by the current state of things – they’re not sure how they can make a difference or what they can do.

One of the concerns I’ve seen spoken about post the Womens March is that this period of excitement and activity could end up like the Occupy movement, which started as a protest meant to call Wall Street to account for the sub-prime crisis, but which got lost in its outcome and meaning.

I think that’s inevitable when you’re looking at literally millions of individuals, each with their own set of values.

To me, the most important thing always is not to wait for others to tell you what to do. As a business owner, this comes naturally to you. It’s always the way things are – and this area is no exception. Strong leaders who can keep the fight for issues on track are always in short supply.

This is a list of ideas – it’s not meant to be definitive, nor arbitrary –  it’s given only as a starting point that will hopefully help you to find what your form of resistance looks like.

If you’re not ready to be public about your beliefs, that’s okay – there are a multitude of organisations that could really use your financial support. Donate anonymously, if you wish.

Just do something. Resist in your way. It doesn’t have to be public. It doesn’t need to be loud. It’s not necessarily for anyone else. There are many ways you can contribute – you need to find the way that’s best for you.

How to Resist: A Practical Action Plan

So what does resistance look like for an artist / business owner?

  1. Decide on your agenda. What are the issues you care about? What are you dedicated to doing something about? Whether it’s poverty, domestic violence, food and clothing, the homeless, women’s issues – there are million different causes that need your support. What are YOUR causes?
  2. Find other people with a similar agenda. Whether clients and partners or other organisations already doing good work – the reality is, these causes are too big for you to overcome on your own in your lifetime. The only way to make a real dent and to truly help people is to work collaboratively with others who share your passion.
  3. Get a good sense of the lay of the land. There’s a tendency, when we’re fired up and passionate about something, to rush in as the Great Saviour. There are people already working on these problems – speak with them. Find out what’s happening and where the gaps are. Ask them what they need. In my experience, they’re typically very excited to discuss and always willing to share information and accept help.
  4. Build an action plan. I always suggest starting with something small that you can achieve easily – one of my clients recently took her clients, who are hairdressers, out to give free haircuts to the homeless. Doing something small and achievable won’t solve the entire issue – but it will get you started, rather than leaving you in overwhelm about how big the issue is.
  5. Create. Whether it’s music, art, a new product for your business that contributes profits to a cause, content that promotes awareness of, and action on, an issue. It doesn’t matter. Create as if your life depends on it- because in so many ways, it does.
  6. Share. Talking with other people, sharing your creations and the outcomes of your actions are absolutely crucial to resistance. Whether it’s openly and publicly, or just within a small group you feel comfortable with – it makes no difference. We learn through shared experience.
  7. Keep taking action, creating and sharing – and don’t lose hope. We’re living in a period in time where it almost seems like we’re going backwards on victories we’ve won over the last decade. I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe we’re seeing the typical push-back that comes with change. Not everyone is ready to accept a world that isn’t divided by colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status or any other division.There has never been a more important time for us to stand beside – and sometimes behind, because we don’t’ always need to be at the front – our sisters and brothers of colour, our LGTBQ, disabled and impoverished siblings.

Most importantly – be prepared for backlash if you choose to be public about your ideas and thoughts.

I upset some pretty serious players in my marketplace when I started talking about feminism. But I decided – I don’t care how serious you are or how much money you make. If you can’t acknowledge my humanity, if you would deny me my rights based on my gender, then I’m happy to lose your business and your friendship.

I made the decision that if speaking out about what I believe and working philanthropically to make a real difference in the world cost me my entire business, it was worth it.

Because what on Earth is the point of money and success without integrity?

I think that this issue is so important right now – I hope this article gives you some ideas about what to do next and how to approach it.

If you get stuck – if you’re not sure who to talk to or where to turn, please feel free to reach out to me. I don’t have anything specifically planned around this, but if there’s the demand I’m happy to set up a call or organise something to bring people together.

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