Align Then Build

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2007. I’m devouring every fitness and therapeutic certification I can find.

I stumble upon something called the Egoscue Method. It was created by a Pete Egoscue.  Most pain, says Pete, is the result of “postural dysfunction.” There are 8 major load-bearing joints in the body. Your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.

When those don’t stack on top of each other properly, they load muscles and connective tissue in a way they were never intended to be loaded. That puts a stress on them. Sometimes immediate and acute, but more often it’s a slow, chronic build.

Over time, things start to twist and torque and rise and rotate, all in an attempt to keep you upright and your head looking forward. That puts even more strain on muscles and connective tissue that have to work harder and harder in ways never intended. Eventually, this becomes pain.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A lot of people will say “oh, you’ve got lower back pain, you need to strengthen your abs to support your back and it’ll go away.” Or you need to strengthen this or that or the other muscle. It’s always strengthen this and that and the pain will go away.

Problem is, when you strengthen into dysfunction and compensation and pain, very often you end up not only doing nothing to abate the pain, you end up making it even worse. It actually deepens the dysfunction. So, Pete and his method take a different approach.

Align then strengthen.

This makes sense to me. If your body is loaded with torque, dysfunction and compensation, if everything is out of whack, the thing to do isn’t strengthen and often deepen these patterns, but to first unwind them, return the body as close to “model posture and optimal function” as possible and then begin the process of strengthening around that foundation of optimal function. Better yet, focus on postural alignment and function from the beginning so you never have to end up in pain and go back to rebuild.

Thing is, this isn’t just about your body and physical pain. It’s about your business. Your career. Your life. And it’s especially true for entrepreneurs.

An interesting this happens with entrepreneurs. They often focus entirely on “product-market fit” in the early days. Aligning what they’re making with a well-defined, tested need. This is important, really important. They get it pretty dialed in. They understand what their market needs to function optimally, to be out of pain and have “model posture,” then build and strengthen the business to accommodate the market’s demand for delight.

Things start to hum, money starts coming in, it’s all growing nicely. Until one day, the entrepreneur realized she’s in pain. The company she’s building, the job she’s created, has become a cage of her own creation. She hates going in to work every day.

What happened? She aligned, strengthened and built around what the customer wanted, but never did the same for her own needs and wants. Her own personal “pain-free, optimally-alive model posture.” The one that leads to a great, vibrant, alive, purpose-led, connected venture and life.

She learned all about what the customer wanted and needed, but she never actually asked herself the tough questions about what mattered to her, who she wanted to serve, how she wanted to serve, why she wanted to serve, what she wanted to build, who she wanted to build it with, what her desires, pain, aspirations were and so many other critical points of self-inquiry. This is really hard work. And nobody teaches it in business-school or beyond. So, most people just don’t do it.

Without doing this, though, without identifying the key elements of your own fully-expressed life, you end up aligning around what you do know, and where all the entrepreneurial literature tells you to focus: your customer. Then you start to strengthen around your customer’s “optimal posture.” Over time you build something that serves them well, but leads to “postural dysfunction, misuse and compensation patterns” in your own life and business. And that inevitably, leads to pain.

Here’s the thing…

Entrepreneurship done right is not about building a successful company, it’s about building a successful life.

I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs who’ve arrive at this place of outward success, but internal pain. They can’t complain to anyone else, because to the outside world, they’re sitting atop a successful venture. And, hell, they built it, if they didn’t like it, why’d they’d built it that way in the first place? The answer, of course, is that nobody teaches any other way.

Most entrepreneurs try to “strengthen and build” their way out of pain, only to discover the more they do this, the more they spend, the more they build structure and systems around a foundation of dysfunction and misalignment, the worse the problem gets. Because, of course…

When you strengthen into dysfunction, the pain only deepens.

Until finally, you implode, physically, emotionally, spiritually or socially. Often, all the above. You end up walking away from, selling or shutting down what’s left of a business at that point.

Those few who DO figure out how to build a venture that is deeply aligned with the fiber of their being almost always get there through a lot of painful trial and error. Most entrepreneurs just never get there.

So, what do you do about it?

How do you fix a venture that it misaligned with who you are on the level of DNA? Can you even fix it? And, if you’re at the early part of your entrepreneurial journey, how do you ensure that you are building something deeply aligned not only with what the customer wants and needs, but what YOU want and need? So when you move into the strengthen and build stage, you’re strengthening and building around something that will be far more likely to serve both your market and you.

The process is remarkably similar to my work years ago with the body.

1. Diagnose.

First step back and understand what’s really happening, what the true source of pain is. Is it that you don’t have enough sales, the right product or brand, the wrong people on the bus? Or is it that you’ve built something fundamentally misaligned with the fiber of your being and what you want and need in both the way you contribute to the world and the way you want to live your life?

2. Self-Discover.

Rediscover what matters. All those tough, deeply-personal questions you skirted in the early days, in the name of serving the customer. All the avatar exercises and profiling and experimenting and processes of research and inquiry you’ve done to get into the head of your customer…do that to yourself. If you need, find someone who can help.

This is actually the starting point of the Good Life Project Immersion and Aligned Entrepreneur Lab. I learned early on through a parade of missteps and mistakes, business is personal. Always. No matter what you’ve been told.

Know your customer, but know yourself better.

3. Align, Then Build.

If you’re just starting out, be sure that the decisions you’re making are well-aligned with not just who you want to serve but with what you need to get out of your venture as well. It’s so much easier to build upon deep alignment and optimal function from day one than it is to deconstruct and rebuild down the road.

If you’re already into a venture and you’re feeling the pain of having strengthened and built around your customer’s needs but not yours, the process is often more involved. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that how much you will have to do to get back to “optimal function” and remove the pain will be unique to your life, venture, needs, wants and the amount of pain you’re in, as well as your ability to find support for your desire to rebuild around ease, vitality, joy, connection, purpose and that deep sense of sustained aligned action.

No matter you’re path, though, remember, with rare exception, the answer is not to continue to strengthen and build around misalignment and dysfunction. Step back. Do the work. Peel open your own personal soul-onion. Find your way back to that sense of essence and ease, your model entrepreneurial posture. Then, and only then, strengthen and build.



We’re a week away from the start of the 2014 Good Life Project Immersion. Seven months of of deep-discovery, powerful alignment, business mastery and fierce support. Plus you’ll melt into 6-days in Costa Rica. #WinterUgh! #CostaRicaYay!

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33 responses

33 responses to “Align Then Build”

  1. Monica says:

    Thanks for this post. I was sitting here journaling today. Your post was just what I needed. It’s so true, alignment is everything. And even though pain can be challenging, it gives us the opportunity to see what’s not working and choose something different. It’s about truly listening, and taking inspired action.

  2. This post is a treasure, Jonathan. Physically, mentally and emotionally you have built deep truth into an amazing read on how we must get it straight to build on a strong foundation. Thank you so much! Every entrepreneur should read this post. It’s a keeper.

  3. F***, JF, are you peaking into my life right now? Dang, yes, I’m in the process of really peeling back, digging deep to become aligned and true to myself. The constant pushing, that strengthening, just didn’t work for me, and I can see clearly now that what you speak of in your post, it has to be done. Not just to have an amazing business BUT have an amazing life. Yeah, love you.

  4. Angela says:

    My business just celebrated the coveted 5-year anniversary. I’ve struggled every single year with the “how much do I grow my business?” By week 3 of 2014 I finally let go of the ego-driven need to defend my decision to keep my business small. It has allowed me to build the life I have now, preserve space for family and to create a new passion biz venture with my daughter. (born out of my experience in the inaugural GLP) I’ve learned that building businesses that align with the lifestyle and impact I want to have are a far better fit for me and my family.

  5. Jonathan, Thank you for giving me the next little wink from the universe. I’m having one of those experiences where I’m being handed everything I need, bumping into a friend with a great connection, getting an amazing piece of information, learning that an acquaintance works for a company that is a great fit for my product, your post. The synchronicity is astounding! I believe it is happening all the time and sometimes I am too stuck in fear to notice. Thanks to some focus and faith I’m now able to see the gifts all around me. I’m a Pilates teacher who helps my clients align and then strengthen to get out of pain. It works great in the studio one-on-one but I find that out in the world without a master teacher’s eye to help you it is bewildering and frustrating, especially if you are in pain. Our bodies are amazing at finding compensation and we get comfortable with our misalignment so bringing the bones into balance can be a mind blowing shift. We tend to want to stay with the familiar even if it is causing us pain (physically and emotionally). I’m creating tools and products to help a larger audience find alignment. I teach mobility first, stability next, then strength. Thanks for reminding me to apply this same principle to my process as an entrepreneur. I love what you write and this one gave me chills.

  6. Sally says:

    Brilliant! Thank you …

  7. Yes Yes Yes! This is so good. Thanks Jonathan for expressing this so eloquently. I love the physical alignment metaphor so much I may borrow it!
    So often my coaching clients come with the idea that they have to fit into someone else’s posture. It’s one of the most exciting things I know, to see them get the idea that discovering their own unique sweet spot is what will allow life to flow to them rather than them having to expend all that energy and angst fitting themselves into the wrong shape.

  8. wasim says:

    One of the most interesting posts I have read for a very long time.

  9. shawn says:

    Articles like this make me cringe with jealousy of the people joining your Good Life Project Immersion. Yes, I’m working on that part of me. So glad you wrote this!

  10. Loved this JF. First align, then build. Check and recheck the alignment along the way. I once heard Steve Farber say do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. But many of us try to love what we do because others think it’s valuable and never really stop to check if that thing we offer lights us up from the inside.
    Delight is such a good set point!

  11. And the people said, “Amen!” #somuchtruth

  12. Nancy Harte says:

    Well, now. Here I sit literally going through the pain of a misstacked back and the physical therapy needed to straighten me out and I open my email and find this very timely message from you. I am also in the beginning stages of building a business. I feel like you wrote this just for me. This business started to honor a mother passed, to occupy my mind and time, to keep from missing her and children grown and gone. I like my business, I like pretty things. I really like my customers who seem to like what I like. And I am beginning to design lamps. But… all this is not enough. What I really want is financial independence. And so I ask, is this what you mean? Defining the core motivation?

  13. Wes Roberts says:

    If ever (…which is a very long time, in the current moment), this post is more “right on time!” Jonathan than I can even find words to express. Thank you! As an international leadership mentor (also a privilege, beyond words…), this post so nurtures and encourages our whole-person mentoring model. If ever, this post will be used in meetings that begin today, here in the Denver area, to expand the impact of what we are calling the Circle of Life Mentoring Model. I’m a new fan of all you are about…maybe one of your oldest @ 72yo. You are always welcome here to sit on our couch for a long conversation like so many have done on yours. Will be hoping for great and unexpected moments of care and insight for all of you who will be in Costa Rica.

  14. Mark Kaplan says:

    Loved it. Alignment and balance. I also believe in Connection on 4 levels to self-actualize which I believe is the most rewarding process. Building a business is a subset of self-actualizing.

  15. Diane says:

    Thanks for your words of wisdom passed down from other wise folks. As storytellers we have the beautiful opportunity to align words. When we do this well others listen, learn and grow. You are a master at aligning words into a story that accurately illustrates what might very will be the “thing” that is getting in the way of our physical, emotional, spiritual and yes, business health.
    Brené Brown has taught me how to practice wholehearted living and loving through her storytelling. She too aligns words beautifully. I have grown and continue to grow…..and not without huge (no exaggeration) growing pains.
    Here’s to alignment…..and the stories that follow! Much love, Diane

  16. My fitness coach reminds me often that quality is more important than quantity. Sure, 50 leg presses sounds impressive, but if your form is all over the map, you’d be better off doing 5 (or 1) with the best form possible.

    Form (alignment) comes from knowing your body (yourself) well. No one outside you can know if something’s hurting unless you telegraph it to them. If you wince when you press, something’s out of alignment, or you’re working too hard.

    The past couple of years have been about unraveling nearly everything in my life (and work) and re-aligning to my core truth. I’ve watched clients that paid me good money fall by the wayside because they’re just not a good fit. I’ve also been humbled and blessed to witness loyal clients shore up their ranks and stick with me through the tumult. Divine Alignment is my “phrase” for the year, so how fitting this post would cross my path today!

  17. Jonathan, what a wonderful and timely post. Like others have said, this post is a gem. I’m currently going to a chiropractor who specializes in muscle release techniques, and he tells me every time how much tension is in my muscles. At home I roll on my “torture device” (the foam roller) and it just baffles me every time how much of this pain could have been avoided had I just taken the time to stretch and treat my muscles right over the years of doing physical activity.

    Your post has led me to link this to my life as well: in what ways am I too tense there? How am I just pushing forward without regard of whether the direction I’m going into is the right one for me? Granted, I’ve become infinitely better at making authentic decisions in the past, but my experience with self-sabotage has proven that I still slip up. There are still many inner muscles that need to be rested and stretched, and many knots that need to be dissolved.

  18. Lyn Bowker says:

    It’s 5am Monday here in Melbourne Australia and this post is as exciting as the prospect of a brand new week as I continue my journey through the challenges of creating my online business EXACTLY as you have described Jonathan.

    Thank you from my heart to yours with deepest gratitude and love for this powerful gift you’ve given me – the gift of connectedness you’ve made me feel in my heart. You’ve managed to express something I’ve been following intuitively as I build my business. This is why it’s been several years in the development (but will finally be born soon).

    I had to grow and find my centre and my balance and kept re-aligning my business model and plans to suit that growth. THIS lesson is going to become part of my teachings.

    Bless you on your journey this year – and who cares about your doing art “badly” lol. As with anything in it’s earliest expression from the heart through to the physical realm, the end result will become more aligned with the vision as the hand holding the brush learns the language of the heart.

  19. Elisabeth Olds says:

    Thank you so much for this post. The past year has been about unraveling everything from my personal life to my work to find a more authentic and fulfilling way to live. It’s been a challenging, scary process but well worth it. Wonderful food for thought!

  20. Marti DeMoss says:

    Jonathan, I am so excited about the 2014 Good Life Project Immersion. There is no other place for me to be right now.

    I’d just like to add to your post that it’s never too late to align.

    In my personal and professional lives, I’ve been tortuously torgueing myself into jobs and relationships, “learning the hard way” (as my Dad always said I did), how much it hurts not to be aligned with my joy, ease, essence, values.

    As for the physical aspect, surgery and physical therapy, as I’ve known it to be practiced in the U.S., focus on one body-part at a time. I think we could all age more gracefully with regular alignment checkups and proscribed alignment therapies. (Wow, Steven Tyler’s ‘Walk This Way’ just came blasting into my head.)

  21. Excellent essay, Jonathan! What you’ve said resonates on so many levels. I’ve been in the middle of a similar process of realignment for a few years now, starting over from scratch more times than I’d have liked, and it’s been both frustrating and enlightening. The analogy you used here was incredibly helpful, though. Such an obvious metaphor once I read it. Brilliant, really. Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. Marsha Novak says:

    Being in the “body” business as a Feldenkrais practitioner this post really resonates on many ideals. I came to this from a physical therapy background that was about “strengthen first” and single body part focused. I love how my current work is more in line with what you described.

    Currently in the process of fine-tuning my business so that it truly works for me. This post is super timely!

    Thank you Johnathan-

  23. Kim Watson says:

    Thank you, simply.

    In my journey to find my right path, I’m currently working in a place totally, one hundred percent out of alignment with my values. It’s a paycheck, but your post confirms that there is a higher cost to me and my family. Fortunately, they seem to be easing my stubborn fear of “instability” right out of their door without either realizing it or caring.

    Their loss, my gain.

    I’m thinking about alignment now, thanks to you.


  24. Jayne says:

    Agree!! Can pretty much be applied to anything…

  25. Venki says:

    Fabulous!!! Alignment is everything. Without alignment we are living someone else’s life. Thanks

  26. Soooo true, Jonathan. Well put and insightful as usual!

    The idea of alignment BEFORE conditioning is such a subtle and elegant concept. The fitness concept as a metaphor for our lives and businesses is perfect. When we’re out of alignment, disingenuous, inauthentic it ALWAYS puts in motion the machinations of pain. Sometimes we feel it immediately and usually just far enough down the line that we don’t make the connection!

    This is why the high-watch of brilliant minds like yours, helps us all stay vigilant.

    Thanks for covering your shift!

    CEO – Chief Enthusiasm Officer & Director of Awesome 🙂

  27. Scott Asai says:

    This is deep, especially this quote: Entrepreneurship done right is not about building a successful company, it’s about building a successful life. I’ve struggled with making money, but I will say my life is great. I love my family, I love my wife, I love my daughter and my friends. The alignment stuff really vibes with me because I want my business to be more of who I am. Let God take care of the money part. I’d rather be on point with my purpose than profit.

  28. I love this concept, and you articulate it so well, Jonathan. I work with people who are recovering from emotional eating, and so often, they strengthen into dsyfunction (restrict food even more, get meaner with their self-talk), and it makes the hole even deeper. I love the quote you have here — I wrote myself a note to use your quote and link back to this post via my blog. Well said.

  29. Nic Cornell says:

    Jonathan thanks so much for this! Incredibly timely in my life as well. This was definitely one of my favorite articles you have written.

  30. […] #4: Jonathan Fields: Align Then Build […]

  31. […] read a great article by Jonathan Fields recently. My takeaway was the notion that often times other areas of your life compensate for the […]

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  33. This is an exceptional Article! When all the dust settles I think it’s our inner intuition we need to harmonize our life with. Intuition is what speaks truth into our life with pinpoint accuracy and it’s usually never convenient or understood. When we align our life with our inner truth it opens the source to wisdom, knowledge and power to grow in every area of our life.