Photo Credit: Thomas Roberts via Unsplash

Growth for its own sake is cancer.

Awhile back, I had the chance to connect with Todd Henry, who is an author and speaker. We chatted about the emphasis we place on growth.

A thought hit me like a lightning bolt. “You know what we call growth for its own sake?” I exclaimed to Todd. “Cancer!”

Our personal metrics go up and down. When you plot out your growth trajectory, a new trough on your graph might be higher than a peak from five years ago. Yet, despite the proof right there on the page, despite your historical perspective, those troughs still look like atrophy, not growth.

The curve up and right is the reality, but your attention keeps snapping back to that trough.

What went wrong?

Maybe nothing. Maybe unrestricted growth should never have been the goal.

Aggressive growth that inhibits natural, healthy function is cancer.

I’m not talking about self-improvement. I see the value in becoming a loving, kind, joyful person. The world needs as many of those as we can get.

I’m talking about the relentless pursuit of something called “growth” in a business context. Growth isn’t always a sign of health.

Growth may, in fact, signal deeper disease.

Back in 1991, Patagonia had a crisis, which Yvon Chouinard describes in Let My People Go Surfing:

“I was still wondering why I was really in business when, in 1991, after all those years of 30 to 50 percent compound annual growth and trying to have it all, Patagonia hit the wall. The country had entered a recession, and the growth we had always planned on, and bought inventory for, stopped. Our sales crunch came not from a decline from the previous year but from a mere 20 percent increase. Nevertheless, the 20 percent shortfall nearly did us in.” (60)

“Our own company had exceeded its resources and limitations; we had become dependent, like the world economy, on growth we could not sustain. But as a small company we couldn’t ignore the problem and wish it away. We were forced to rethink our priorities and institute new practices. We had to start breaking the rules.” (61)

“We knew that uncontrolled growth put at risk the values that had made the company succeed so far.” (61)

That year, 1991, was the genesis of Patagonia’s anti-growth strategy. Patgaonia now grows at a rate of about 5% per year.

Earlier in the book, Chouinard recounts a conversation with a Yoda-like figure named Dr. Kami, who wanted to know why Patagonia was in business.

That question — “Why are you in business?” — sent a jolt through Chouinard. He had no cogent answer.

Why are you in business?

You can grow your freelancing business or startup to the point where you’re always exhausted, always discontent, always on the verge of burnout.

More is fine as long as you know what more is for. But chronic discontentment is the Achilles heel of entrepreneurs.

Hustling gets us into trouble when we move so fast that the scenery becomes a blur and we can’t enjoy the ride.

You double your income from $50,000 to $100,000. What then?

You double again: $100,000 to $250,000. What then?

You 10x your income to $2.5 million per year. What then?

You pay off debt.

Adopt a child.

Travel.

Finish recording your album.

Go on a three-month road trip with your family.

Volunteer.

Save for your children’s education.

Save for a rainy day.

Save to be independently wealthy.

Save to retire early.

Go on a pilgrimage to the world’s great monasteries.

You pick up painting like Jim Carrey.

What then?

Why do you want to grow your business? Take some time today to ask why at least five times.

In his book Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, Taiichi Ohno describes the 5 Whys approach to problem-solving as “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach . . . by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

Why?

Why?

Why?

Why?

Why?

I’m in business because I want to participate in other people’s transformation. But who knows… maybe I still have some digging to do.

Why are you in business?

What is the more for?

When will more finally become enough?

I hope you’ll take the time today to pull out your 5 Whys shovel and dig into those questions.

What is holding your freelance business back?

Click on this link, share some basic information about yourself, and let’s figure out how to get you where you want to be.

Husband & Father. Writer & Freelance Coach @ AustinLChurch.com. Brand Strategist @ Balernum.com. Love Jesus, Megan, Salem, Theo, Ellis & you. You’re ready. Go!