When you absolutely must get out of the business sandpit

I know I have a tendency to enter into relationships, commercial or otherwise, in a state of limerence.  I can feel so excited and eager to connect and build a wonderful thing, that I often fail to do the boundary stuff necessary to make that space safe, as I worry, I will sully the shiny new relationship or idea.  Especially with dirty stuff like commercial agreements.

As entrepreneurs, ideators and thought leaders, we all like to play and push our growth boundaries, try out different sandpits and see if we can build some great new castle ideas together with some different kids.

But sometimes you stop, mid play, and notice that you have sand in your eyes.  The other kids aren’t sharing fairly, and the castle isn’t very good anyway.  You stopped feeling like you have much to add; stopped feeling your worth.  Playing stops being fun and is just bloody painful.

In this instance, I offered someone a chance to get into my sandpit and entire into a partnership with me on new client business I had won.  I assumed she knew the meaning of the word ‘partnership’, even when receiving and agreeing in writing to the email sent explaining the partnership ideal. and trusted everything would be 50/50.  She ended up directly invoicing my client behind my back and suggesting I took 20%.  This apparently was because she had written a book about brand positioning that was apparently so wonderful it justified the outrageous split. However, I felt that her process pissed all over the real craft of creating brands and put the cart before the horse, racing to branding before the brand idea was even landed. This is a process where the client, with no marketing or design background whatsoever, designs their own logo.  As the great Ricky Gervais said, “A camel is a racehorse designed by committee” and that was the output of the meeting. The night before I felt fearful and the night after I felt ashamed to have been a part of this performance. Without the important time and space to think, create and build and iterate, we had built a shite sandcastle.

This torrid experience is absolutely all my bad. Much earlier in the process, I should have been clear, in a dirty contract, about what playing in my sandpit would look like commercially.  Then later, sensing a disconnect of experience and values, I should have summoned the confidence and resilience to get out of the sandpit altogether, thank the person I was attempting to play with for their perspectives, wiped the sand from my eyes and moved on.  We simply had different ideas of what a great castle looks like.  We were working to different horizons. We were playing a completely different game.

In business, when you get out of the sandpit, it is best not to reflect on the game turning sour. Instead focus on the value of the learnings about yourself, your processes and the feeling and culture you want to create for your clients, your team and in your head. And always, when you are courageous to move on and get out of the sandpit, bigger ideas, bigger projects and opportunities to play with some kids that make you feel good about your value and potential will always arise.

Some connections work.  Some don’t.  When they don’t, it’s important to pick yourself up and realise that’s all it is, simple human difference. Then silence the noise in your head of the “if that” and “but this” that can be so loud it deafens all reason.  The three-year-old would stamp their feet and scream “it’s not fair!” and believe me, my inner child has done some of that this week.  But I have learnt so much and I will trust karma to do the rest.

As Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoings and rightdoings, there is a field.  I will meet you there”.  Hopefully, there is still some part of the playing field where one day you can cross a bridge you haven’t burnt and meet and play hopscotch…. or build some fantastical evolution of a game that only happens when great minds and creativity come together with a growth mindset.  Much like the mindset of the child entering the sandpit in the first place.