Episode 136: Breaking Free from the “Smoke + Mirrors” Culture

October 24, 2022


Today we’re talking about a phenomenon I’ve seen across the board in entrepreneurship that I think is preventing people from achieving their true potential in both business and in life and that is the need to keep up appearances.

This is stripping entrepreneurs from the possibility of the satisfaction that they’re craving, so they keep pushing and trying to achieve things without ever actually feeling that fulfillment. It’s used to put up whatever façade necessary to look successful, like you have this amazing life or thriving business. When in reality, you’re human, like everybody else, and there are ups and downs to the journey. And with the rise of social media, there’s this extra pressure and a stigma that comes with running a front-facing business.

Today, we’re talking about why I took a break from joining a mastermind myself and how to break free of the “smoke and mirrors” culture that is creating a lot of curated squares but very shallow businesses and vapid business owners.


[2:54] Why I Took a Break from Masterminds

A lot of entrepreneurs out there are trying to navigate to their success in business without actually putting in their real starting point. They think they’re too far behind, or that they’re going to be found out, or they’re basing their own progress on somebody else’s journey. So instead, they do what feels safer. They create this safe-looking starting place that automatically puts them off on the wrong foot but makes them feel like they’re in a good space. They say they’re making more money than they are. They say they have more freedom of time than they do. They say they have a better marriage than they have. They paint a visual of their business different than what it truly is or what their experience is.

But you can’t get to the success that you’re destined for, as the fake version of you, from the wrong starting point. If you do this, you’re only going to be discouraged and disappointed as you try to navigate your way there and keep stumbling. You’ll be too busy chasing this image that you think you have to hold up, that you can’t chase the vision that you have for your life. 

This specific issue is why I took a break from masterminds and created my own. Don’t get me wrong, I was gaining so much from masterminds and I’ve done so many of them. I’ve invested over half a million dollars at this point in participating in masterminds for myself. I see the huge value in them, but the problem is that they always came with this weird energy in the room. I wanted to come into a space where I could feel safe to let my guard down and show the truth of what I was navigating and be willing to be vulnerable and ask for help, to give guidance where I could, but also to take what I needed. But even the leaders of these groups were setting the stage for this energy, for this façade. And people who signed up to access their next level couldn’t actually find their way there because they weren’t willing to be humble or vulnerable enough to grow because it wasn’t a safe place to do it. 

This didn’t work for me. It wasn’t helping me tap into who I am called to be and who I need to be to get to my next level of success. So, that’s why I took a hiatus and that’s what inspired me to create my Incubator Program. I want to be alongside high achievers, I want to run with people who are fighting for big dreams and who have found success, but are willing to admit that life is cyclical. That sometimes they’re in a stage of success and sometimes they’re in a stage of ruin. Sometimes they’re facing big wins at the same time that they’re facing major battles. I want to talk about all of it, and I want the egos to take a backseat. You cannot grow in that state of smoke and mirrors and today we’re going to talk about why that is, what you can do instead and what’s preventing people from letting that go.

[12:43] Growth Comes from Awareness 

Growth and possibility come from a willingness to identify where your starting place really is and a willingness to admit where you have potential to grow. There’s a huge danger in “smoke and mirrors” and I’ve witnessed this time and time again, both in my peers and people I’ve coached.

I was coaching someone in one of my programs, who is an awesome guy. He came in so strong, so willing to ask questions and be coached, to serve, but also to really be vulnerable and willing to share where he is struggling. And then, as people started to see some success in the group, something was triggered in him that he had to come in as the teacher. No longer was he asking questions, it was like he was above everything. He wanted to give off this persona, like he knew it all. He didn’t need to be coached. And this closed him off to two things. First, connection and networking within the group because people saw through the façade and lost respect for him. So, he lost that opportunity to have people in his corner, willing to share their wisdom with him to help him grow. And second, he lost the growth opportunity. That pain of admitting a need for growth trumped the pain of never even having the growth.

So, let go of all of the things that you think you have to be and start to tap into who you’re called to be. Because that’s where the magic is really going to happen. When we kick off our Incubator Program, the first call is dedicated to stripping away the ego. My goal within this program is true transformation and trajectory change both in business and personally in leadership, and there is no way to access that when you are allowing your ego to drive. 

[18:23]  The Damage This Can Do 

This concept of “keeping up with the Joneses” can do some real damage to you and your business: 

  • It takes you out of creativity. When you’re not operating as your true self, you are less innovative, less inspired because you can’t be creative and innovative when you’re looking at what everybody else is doing. I don’t want to compare myself to anybody else. I don’t want to get sidetracked by anyone else’s ideas. I want to learn how to leverage my own wisdom, knowledge and thoughts on things. But when you’re in that place of comparing and putting up the façade, you are not inspired. You’re surviving, you’re doing what you have to do to look a certain way. 
  • It takes you off the path to your ultimate vision and to possibility. When you’re operating as someone inauthentic, you can’t cast or pursue the vision that’s actually for the real you. You’re working towards something from a distorted place. And if you haven’t dropped the pin, you’re not going to get the proper directions to get you there. You start valuing the wrong things. If you have to keep up appearances to make you sound successful, then you value your persona more than what’s real and what’s possible for you.  
  • It’s stripping you of opportunities. When you try to manufacture a façade, you’re operating as a fake version of you. So you’re fully out of integrity and out of congruence, and in hypocrisy. So you’ll start to attract what you deserve as you choose to operate in that state. People are here to buy into you, the real you. So if you’re not him or her, then you don’t get the glory of what’s really waiting for you. And this slows you down. 

I hope today’s episode helps you drop the pin. Remember, the discomfort of doing that is what will reveal the possibility that you’re seeking. You cannot access what you want most as a version of yourself that is not true.

And if this episode spoke to you, make sure to subscribe and leave us a review! Come connect with me on Instagram at @elizhartke! If there’s a topic, a question or a guest you want to hear on the show, just reach out and share that. We do this for you so the more you tell us, the more we can serve.


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