I'm writing the first draft of this blog post on the morning after our first group coaching call for Empowered English Educators. In this program, I'm guiding a small group of talented English teachers from around the globe through some of the problems and thought-patterns that have them blocked.
Something came up in this call that resonated with something I'm personally grappling with in my business, and I believe it also has implications for English learners as well.
One of my members wants to start group classes but has been struggling to consistently find enough students to open it and keep it running - a very common goal for private teachers and one which another member titled "the holy grail" of teaching businesses.
While our conversation didn't follow this track, the comments got my brain travelling down a road that I'd like to take you down today: the "holy grail" goals we often aspire to and why they're not as helpful as we might think.
I would define these "holy grail" goals as ones which everyone seems to agree are a good thing. Something you *should* aspire to, and which, when achieved, will *definitely* solve a whole bunch of your problems.
Within the world of online teaching businesses, group classes are definitely one of these "holy grails". A lot of teacher-marketing-coaching is based on the message of "get out of the 1-1 cycle", or "launch your first group program and gain financial freedom!"
Another might be the elusive "passive income!" A digital product, an online video course, something you can make once and sell forever. You stop being a "slave" to the face-to-face and can finally take holidays or get sick or look after a family member without losing money.
I subscribed to this model for the first few years of running my business.
In fact, I subscribed to it up until about a month ago...when my doubts reached a tipping point and I felt the need to call bullshit.
I don't want to transition away from my 1-1 clients. I don't want to create a digital product that I make once and sell forever. Perhaps that will change one day, but I've burnt myself out trying to fit myself into the box of building a business that looks the way I've been told successful businesses should look.
I do want to run group programs, but my first attempt has "failed" - I launched Empowered English Educators this August and didn't manage to reach my minimum numbers. I was faced with a few options, including giving up and trying again next year, or running it as a free trial. I chose the latter, refunding the paying members and inviting some other teachers in for free.
What I am learning through all of this is that a) the "ideal" version of a business is not easy and the few lucky exceptions selling their formula as the perfect way of doing it are lying to their audience and b) the "ideal" version of a business is not ideal for everyone.
And we can draw parallels with the English learning journey, right? The "holy grail" goals here might be: sounding like a native speaker, not making mistakes, or using idiomatic or "advanced" language in your everyday speech.
These are a) not realistic for the vast majority of people (and those who do achieve them can sometimes end up going too far and losing comprehensibility with their overuse of fancy language) and b) not what many people actually need from their language.
Where these goals are useful for us - and this is what I want to draw your attention to today - is in what lies beneath these goals. What do they represent for us?
So, in your business, what do "group programs" and "digital products" (and high follower counts, popular podcasts and all the other things you're supposed to have) represent? What do they mean?
I think they represent two things in particular:
financial stability - a business that isn't buffeted so much by the comings and goings of individual students
work-life balance - a business that doesn't require a hundred gazillion hours of your time to turn a profit
And what do fluency, perfection and nativeness represent for you as an English learner? Maybe:
relaxation - a reduction in the feelings of anxiety you experience when using English, or an ability to manage those anxious feelings when they come up
professionalism - the sense that people will take you and your expertise seriously when you're using English
integration - a melding of your two (or more) selves, where you can jump between your first language and English and feel like you're the same person, perceived in the same way
If we can begin to explore what our "holy grail" goals mean for us - what we hope they will change in our lives - then we can ourselves open up to the possibility that there might be other routes to achieving these things (and we can also consider that maybe these "holy grail" goals won't actually get us any closer to the state we're hoping to reach.)
In business, we can explore what we want to experience in our lives. For me, it's financial stability, maybe even financial abundance, creativity, autonomy over my ideas and the freedom to follow my instincts and whims in my business.
What I'm beginning to realise is that "financial stability" and "following my whims" are perhaps not - at least in the short term - compatible. I want desperately for my business to tick every box, but I'm starting to see that I'm asking too much of my business. How can I expect it to generate a regular monthly income if I also want to do something different every month!?
So I've decided to outsource my "financial stability" in the form of finding a part-time job (not an easy task in itself but a decision that feels aligned and right at the moment.) Now, I can take that pressure off my business to produce a predictable salary and instead follow my creativity and let the money come in ebbs and flows as it naturally wants to.
Equally, someone else may have creative outlets that satisfy their curiosity and impulsiveness and decide to let go of the pressure they were putting on their business to "be the real me" or "truly express myself" and instead find a steady, repetitive business model that gets steady, repeated financial results.
Would it be lovely to get both from our businesses? Sure! And we can still work towards that if we want. But also, we can recognise that our businesses don't have to be EVERYTHING. We can find satisfaction in other parts of our lives.
For the English learner, we can draw the same mind experiment:
Perhaps we realise that what we really want from our English is to feel legitimate in our careers, and not constantly think that everyone else must be better than us because of our language.
We could try to make our English skills squeeze into the existing definition of "professional" that we have in our minds: accurate grammar, formal/business vocabulary, and native-like pronunciation. Or we could do the work of rebuilding our definition of professional.
We could train ourselves to see professionalism in our non-native colleagues, to own our industry experience and expertise, to speak up imperfectly and to focus on the results of an exchange rather than the language we used to participate.
This isn't easy, per se.
But it does have the advantage of being way more achievable than making our English "perfect!"
And can we still work towards a more accurate and wider English? Of course! But we can balance that with a deep understanding that we're professional and deserving of respect NOW, not in some fictional future.
So, the questions I'm going to leave you with are these:
What do you really want from your English?
Can you reach that in a way that makes more sense to you?
I'd love to know your thoughts on this ramble! Does it resonate with you?
P.S. If "rebuilding your definition of professional" sounds like "the most impossible task ever and actually wouldn't achieving perfection in my language be more likely???" BUT you would love it if you could make it happen... this is the work I can help you with in coaching.
We re-train your brain to see the world a little bit differently. It's not about changing your English but changing the way you understand English in relation to yourself and your life.
It's powerful, life-changing stuff - and I don't say that at all lightly.
Get in touch through the enquiry form on my website and we can talk through what coaching could achieve in your case.