Making Growth Happen When It Seems Impossible

As you may have noticed, each of us have gotten a little bit personal on this blog. Dave talked about turning pain into growth. Steve shared life lessons that apply in the business realm. And Astrid acknowledges that growth can look crazy.

Now, it’s my turn. And while I don’t especially love getting personal on the internet, the truth is, the past year has been ALL about growth for me. Not just the Growth Guild kind, either.

It’s amazing what you can discover about growth when it’s hard—when it doesn’t feel easy or natural or even possible. Here are three ways I learned to keep growing no matter what:

1. Surround Yourself with People who Push You

You may already know that the four GG partners first worked together at Astronomer—it’s what brought us together. In a nutshell: last fall, Astronomer paused on pursuing growth to focus wholly on building product. It made fantastic business sense. Unfortunately, it also meant there was no longer any reason to employ a growth team.

I knew all about these pros and cons, actually, because I’m married to one of Astronomer’s co-founders.

So basically, last fall, my husband fired me.

Okay, we’d obviously had many discussions about possible business directions as he wrestled through the best way forward—and we both have a lot at stake in the company and wanted the best for it. But it’s more fun to dramatize the situation a bit ;).

Still, losing a job I loved with a team I loved, was hard. In fact, losing work, period, was hard. Since I was 14, I’ve had a job. I’ve never had so much as a week’s lag time between one job and the next, even when that meant delivering phone books for three weeks before my summer grad school classes and nannying gig started. Being laid off—being out of work—was honestly one of my worst fears. What would I do all day?!

For the first time ever, I had NO idea what to do about work. It was like adrenaline took over my entire body. All I wanted to do was run, literally. I couldn’t sit still. I began voraciously applying for jobs I didn’t care about and scheming with now-GG team about how we could start up our own shop. But I felt immense internal conflict because starting a business has always been my husband’s MO, not mine. I was the stable one. The risk-avoider.

I was.

Then I met Steve, Astrid and Dave over beers to share candidly what we wanted and how we could get there. It became clear that everyone wanted to keep working together—to keep working on growth as a team. And everyone was willing to sacrifice, in different ways, to see if we could make it happen. I had three colleagues saying to me, let’s do this. Talk about a push.

At the same time, when my husband heard Growth Guild was on the table, he was all about it! Always the inspirer, he gave me pep talks about how I’d regret never trying, how we could make it work, how I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Sure, he probably wanted his old wife back. But he would never push me toward something he didn’t believe in wholeheartedly.

Now, six months in, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Who are the people who push you to get out of your comfort zone because they’re on your side and want to see you succeed? They’ll be the ones who spark growth.

2. Exhaust Every Option

When growth is hard, remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. What a nice platitude for times of struggle, right? Of course this is true, but it doesn’t make lack of growth less frustrating. Especially when you’re trying and failing. Is the problem with the product? The marketing tactic? The overall strategy?

I discovered that one should exhaust every option, even if that means humbly seeking the advice of experts, shelling out some serious money and downright failing along the way. At the risk of TMI, I’m taking this “get personal” thing seriously and giving you the real scoop: I’ve been married to husband for 11 years and during that time, many of our friends have had babies. The fun way, without medical assistance. That wasn’t working for us.

Eventually, we starting exploring our options. After dozens of doctors appointments, years of medications, two seemingly futile surgeries and a couple of other costly failed procedures, nothing was working. So right before Christmas last year, our doctor presented us with the last realistic option for natural children: IVF. The most expensive, scientific option, that includes weeks of shots (not the fun kind) building up to a crazy procedure with only a 50% chance of initial success.

We decided to give it a try.

And hey, remember how I lost my job in the fall and started a brand new business? We were doing IVF during all that. It really wasn’t a “smart” decision by most people’s criteria, but we were surrounded by families and friends who supported us (see #1!) and committed to trying everything we could.

Thankfully, this last effort paid off! In February, we found out IVF did work. Coincidentally, we decided to find out if it worked or not on a weekend trip to Joshua Tree, because nothing highlights growth like a desert. Every flower blossom is that much more beautiful because you know how hardy it had to be to survive. Figuring out how to grow when it seems impossible? Totally worth it.

All that said, I know all too well how miserable it is to exhaust every option. It means constantly mustering hope, constantly failing, asking people for help over and over again, and investing serious resources, all in the pursuit of the goal. 

But then, one day, something catches and growth ignites. To most people, it looks like it happened overnight.

3. Stay Hopeful (If You’re Not Pregnant, Drink A Lot of Champagne!)

This last one might require some creativity, depending on the people around you and the number of options you’ve already exhausted. At least it did for me in the throes of a challenge. But science shows that finding reasons to celebrate (ie. things to be grateful for!) actually changes you.

This too, is likely not new information. Yet I find I need the reminder, so I figured I’d throw it out there for you too. A delicious meal, a walk on my favorite street, a bar that puts actual effort into their mocktails—these were spots of joy for me in the hard parts of growth over the last year. These bits of happiness with people I loved helped me remember that growth would come, even if it looked different than I expected. It’s important to make time for them in the midst of a struggle.

Real growth is almost always hard. It often feels impossible. That’s true in life, but it’s also true in business. Figuring out how to thrive in the difficulty makes the fun part—looking back and seeing growth—that much sweeter. 

Laurel Brunk