Here’s a dirty little secret about business in the digital age: people aren’t as financially successful as you think they are.

I’m not saying anyone is lying about their earnings. If someone tells you how much they’re producing, I would trust it. What I mean is that you perceive the people you admire, many of the business owners who seem to be “crushing it,” to be more financially successful than they are.

This isn’t an exposé on others lack of success; it’s an exposé on the thought patterns and assumptions that keep you struggling when you should be thriving.

When you stare at your Twitter stream or the fancy websites of your colleagues, your mind plays tricks on you. You confuse the shiny veneer with deep success. I do too. It’s an easy mistake to make.

When you see a highly organized, well-executed launch, you associate it with a small team of gifted marketers and lots of sales. What you don’t see is the one-woman show, the sleepless nights, the endless “hustle,” the working-too-hard-for-too-little routine.

When you see an ebook or a program or an affiliate campaign, you associate it with waking up every day to hundreds of dollars more in the bank. What you don’t see is the lack of sales or the constant work required to move a small amount of inventory.

When you see a business with a wait list, you associate it with a calendar full of exciting clients and a bank account full of service fees. What you don’t see is the unpaid bills, the anxiety of asking for payment, and nagging feeling that there’s a better way to be spending time. What you don’t hear is the quiet whisper of, “Who am I to want anything different than this? I should feel blessed to be this busy.”

This might even be you now. You’ve executed the launch, you’ve created an opportunity for leveraged income, or you’ve sold out your calendar. People tell you that you’re successful. And you believe them. But again, you’re left with the nagging thought, “I didn’t think that success would feel like this.”

Look, I’m not trying to be a downer. I’m an optimist – but I’m also a realist. And I woke up with a strong desire to let you in on this secret. The reality is that I know all this because these business owners – the ones you associate with big launches, profitable products, and sold out service calendars – they come to me when they’ve had enough. And I’m generally as surprised to hear from them as you’d be! They open up and tell me they want to make more money, work less, and structure the business differently.

What I’ve discovered is that the source of their frustration is the engine of their business, the thing that keeps it motoring down the road. What’s the engine? It’s them!

When you’re trying to be the engine of your own business it can manifest in many ways:

  • pushing out tons of free stuff to try to gain traction
  • doing “the work” at the expense of building the business
  • saying “yes” to every opportunity for exposure or joint venture
  • changing surface-level tactics and hoping for a different result

I recently wrote that after the sparkly follow-your-passion dreams wear off and the reality of hard work sets in, it’s easy to confuse busyness with business. When you are the engine of your business growth, busyness seems like the answer. If only you put in more hours, if only you checked more things off the list, you could get the business where you want it to be.

It’s the truly successful people who realize their business is run by something greater than their sheer effort.

The business grows because it’s built to grow. The model provides for growth through clear channels of customer acquisition, products that build on previous successes, and systems that eliminate busywork while replicating results.

It’s a mindset shift. And a drastic one, at that.

It requires you accepting that more work, harder work, or sheer will is not the key to getting ahead.

And it requires that you have faith in your ability to step back from the work far enough to see how the business could succeed without your constant interference.