You might think stress and overwhelm are causing you to struggle in your business, whether it’s with your employee relationships, sales, or any other aspect.

But the real source, says business therapist Nicole Lewis-Keeber, could be an experience that happened years… even decades… ago.

Nicole explains why past events can cause a pattern of self-sabotaging behavior that impacts your ability to create a successful venture.

She shares tools to recognize how these events could be affecting you in ways you’d never expect and what you must do to run a business you love so it can grow by leaps and bounds.

We also talk about…

  • The difference between selling things… and selling yourself
  • Why charging “what you’re worth” is the wrong philosophy
  • The only way modifying your mindset can create lasting change
  • How to truly trust yourself and your employees – and your clients
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in This Episode:

Episode Transcript:

Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to The Solo to CEO Podcast where we provide a mix of powerful, thought provoking and practical information to assist you in your transformation from Solo to CEO of a high impact high revenue generating business. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Nicole Lewis-Keeber CEO of Nicole Lewis-Keeber Coaching.

Nicole is a licensed therapist, turned life coach and professional speaker who now works with business owners to help them overcome trauma and create a better relationship with their business. Welcome Nicole, I’m so happy you’re here today.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here, too.

Davina Frederick: Great. So I gave you kind of just a little short introduction, but tell us more about what it means to be a therapist turned life coach, a professional speaker who works with business owners to help them overcome trauma and create a better relationship with their business. What does that mean?

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Right, so, when I left the world of being a therapist, I have a master’s degree in social work and I’m a licensed clinical social worker. And so my background has been across all levels of behavioral health. And when I left that field to start doing coaching, and I was doing a lot of money mindset coaching initially when I began to see was that a lot of people were struggling with what they thought was a mindset issue and it wasn’t. It was actually a little bit of a deeper challenge emotionally where their childhood trauma or some kind of traumatic experience in their childhood was creating some kind of impact in their business if they didn’t know how to handle.

And they didn’t even know that’s what it was. And so I began to notice this pattern with the small business owners I was working with in the entrepreneurs and even within myself and my own business about how we were building relationships with our business that were not supportive, but we’re demanding and demeaning and often replicating some kind of relationship dynamic that we had from our past. So as I began to see this, I started looking at it, studying about it, speaking about it. And it has created a niche that I have for my company right now, which is really studying the impact of small trauma on entrepreneurship, writing about it, working with the CEO who have identified those patterns in the way that they set up their business and they want to change it.

And Yeah, just having these conversations because when I first started to see this, I googled to see was anybody talking about how trauma impacts owners, entrepreneurs and the systems in ways that they set up their business and I couldn’t find anything. So I’m kind of out here running out front a little bit trying to figure out what this all is.

Davina Frederick: Right. I can really see where there’s a need for that because I’ve worked with a lot of clients and it’s one of the things that you don’t expect when you’re coaching people in… I’m a business coach, and one of the things that you don’t expect when you get into coaching, you think you’re going to be just working with people on their business plans? But when you’re working with solo entrepreneurs or CEOs and you’re working closely with them, one of the things that comes up I mean you’re working with individuals and you’ve got to deal with the individual. And so what are some of those sort of signs that you were seeing that indicated to you that maybe there was something going on here beyond the usual.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Well. I always say that we don’t drop our baggage when we start a business. And then we bring all of who we are into it, thankfully for the best and some are challenges. And that a lot of times when people decide, because I have a lot of clients who have left corporate or they’ve always been entrepreneurs or have more kind of Solo gigs. And when they ended up hiring employees in expanding their business, they bumped into some challenges. But no one really asks you how you want to feel about your business. They ask you about your business plan, your marketing plan teach you how to have sales conversations. They probably do some mindset work with you to around performance mindset and hyper high achieving. But I had not seen that anyone asked you, how do you want to feel about your business? How do you want to be supported by it?

What partnership do you want to have with it and what possible challenges from your past without it could creep up in your business and could creep up here in calls a challenge that perhaps you didn’t expect to see it there because no one expects to see the fact that they were bullied as a kid in school or the fact that they had a learning disability or their parents divorced and they had them move around a lot. Those are kind of examples of small t type traumas. No one expects that to show up in their business. You’re not expecting it to be in this arena. And so we miss it. And the next thing you know it has set up shop in your sales, it has set up shop in your money, is set up shop in your employee relationships and it can be very erosive to a business because there’s experiences really calls us to not trust ourselves and other people, and you have to learn how to trust the people that you employ and the people around you in order to expand leverage, and build a very successful business.

So there’s so many ways that it shows up when we can go into this a little bit later, but there’s so much around this and that we need to understand what small t trauma is as opposed to large T drama so that we can actually look at them and say, let’s call a thing a thing. This isn’t stress or overwhelm. This is actually a pattern that was created by a traumatic event that is showing up again in a new arena. So we have to look at it.

Davina Frederick: So there is a lot to impact there, what you just said.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: I know, right?

Davina Frederick: So let’s start with defining some things, you mentioned little t and big T trauma. Tell us what that is.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah, so when we as a society talk about trauma, typically what we’re talking about is what you would label as a big t trauma. It’s like post-traumatic stress or domestic violence, assault. There is bigger more violence type of traumatic or catastrophic illness when you are in an accident and small t traumas are more of the cumulative experiences that we have over our formative years that takes us off course from who we were meant to be.

It changes how we see ourselves and it changes what might be possible for us. So I always like to say that big T traumas explode and small t traumas erode and so they create a story that we tell ourselves about who we are and patterns of behavior that come from those experiences. So that’s kind of the difference between small t and big T when we’re talking about definition.

Davina Frederick: But one of the interesting things you said to me in a conversation that you and I had earlier was that you said that you were careful never to really define for somebody what for them is a big T versus a small t trauma. Right. It’s important for people to define for themselves what’s a big T and what’s a small t trauma. Right?

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah, it really is. My role is to educate people that there are differences in trauma and that… And what I was often seeing is that people who had big T traumas were minimizing them and saying that they were, oh, I must have that as a small t trauma because x, y, z happened. And I would say actually, if you look at the definition of big T, that’s actually, big T trauma that you’re minimizing and not giving yourself space for. But a lot of people will just say, oh, I had a bad childhood. Or things were rough when actually it’s not just a story about their childhood had actually created a way of being in the world that was different perhaps than who they would have been had they not experienced those.

And so I always like to say these are kind of the framework for how trauma shows up, but I don’t get to define it for you because your experience can be different than mine based on race, sexual orientation, gender all these things. Social, I can’t think of the word right now. Oppression, like racial oppression, all of these things that can impact-

Davina Frederick: Wherever the norm was in your community and your culture and your faith, wherever. The social economics or wherever that kind of thing.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: All of that impacts and all of that can be a form of trauma. It depends on how we took all that information and then it changed who we are, how we see ourselves.

Davina Frederick: And that’s going to vary from individual to individual because may take two people from the same family are going to be experiencing different sorts of ways. Right. But we’re looking at it in terms of our business, right? So let’s talk about ways that it can show up in our business and how it can impact and affect our business, right? Because we tend to think of things like our interpersonal relationships and how things show up in how we relate to, well, the lovers and spouses and children and things like that.

But we don’t tend to think that those kinds of things can have an impact on how we run our business and employees and employers and vendor relationships and all that kind of stuff. But, so let’s talk about some of the ways that can you give us some examples of ways that you have, do you have stories or do you have any sort of-

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Oh I do.

Davina Frederick: … how you’ve seen those sorts of traumas play out for people in business relationships?

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. So let me give you a few different ones. Let me back up and tell you how this information came to me because it is different and I think that we all experience things in life and in business to be of service to others. And so I’m going to tell you a quick story about how I realized that I was recreating my own trauma in my business so that it can give you a place to jump off and it might be helpful because someone else might recognize it. So I worked for other people most of my life as a therapist and whatever capacity I was in, I had an employer most of the time it was very small private practice was about 10 patients at once. But they came from an insurance company. I rented my office specific really require a whole lot from me.

And even at that point, I don’t think I really saw myself as a business owner. But after I started my coaching practice and started and was doing a lot of money mindset coaching with my clients, as I mentioned before, a lot of the clients who I think were attracted to me were because I had been a therapist before and they felt more comfortable sharing maybe deeper bits of their life and experiences that they were having. And I began to see pretty clearly that the money mindset coaching that they needed was actually more around how they had traumas in their past that were connected to money and connected to the security and safety. And so about two years into my own business, I realized one morning really early that I was feeling very beat up and I was feeling like a loser and a failure and that I couldn’t make them possible.

Like that invisible day that’s out there demanding and I’ll give you the long story. But the short story was that morning I realized that if I was feeling beat up and I’ll go so far as to say abused by my business, which I did that morning, I felt like nothing I did was good enough. Nothing was right, the failing miserably.

If I was feeling that way and no one else was in my business at that point, but me, I had to look at the fact that I had set up that dynamic myself, that I did this. It was my business. I was responsible for how I had set it up. And I realized in that moment that if I’m feeling beat up by this business, it’s because I have recreated a pattern of behavior from my own past trauma here and I have successfully made my business, a mean boss.

I have successfully made my business an abusive partner. Yeah, I realized I was abusing myself and my business, which is not an uncommon pattern for people who’ve had some kind of trauma or critical parent or someone as we recreate traumatic patterns. That’s how we are as human beings. That’s what we do. And we don’t look at our business as an arena to recreate that pattern of trauma. And so once I saw that, I realized, okay, so I’m in a relationship with my business. How do I stick for this? I use my background with therapist who determine the relationship I wanted to have with my business and how to feel about it, how I wanted to partner with it and be supported by it instead of be berated by it.

And then I begin to see that all my clients were in the same boat. They were creating businesses that were supposed to be loving, supportive, and like their way out into financial freedom. And they were just using it as one more tool to prove themselves and worthy and beat themselves up. And so you can see when we recreate patterns of trauma, how easily we can be triggered by an employee who we don’t trust because we have problems trusting people. And so we end up micromanaging them and doing everything that we paid them to do ourselves. And hours that builds up. And the behavior of relying on someone is the behavior of trust. And trust is such a big deal when it comes to these patterns that we don’t trust ourselves and we don’t trust the people around us. So we get a new client, we immediately go into battle with that client because we don’t trust that they really want to be there for us.

They really want to work with us. We think it’s a flute or we see something about them that we start telling ourselves stories about it or these employees that we’ve hired to try and help us build our business and to get some relief so we don’t feel so beat up and we can’t trust them to do their work. And so we end up muddying that relationship, our relationship with our money and how it impacts our business and how our internal worth impacts our outer wealth and how we command our prices and how we don’t give things away. So it’s pretty, if you’re not looking for it, it can set up shop pretty quickly and it can be very erosive.

Davina Frederick: Well and hire and I have seen it in coaching relationship. You hire coaches, so then you can hang on the coach.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah.

Davina Frederick: You create a situation where you can then say, ooh I have someone that I can now say, it was your responsibility for… You can put yourself in a victim situation or try to make someone else a bad guy or an authority figure or decision maker or whatever. so yeah.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: You start setting your coach up to be the bad guy, right. Really quickly. Yeah. It’s not just there’s a pattern. So it can be when you hire like a coach to help you immediately after something gets triggered or some kind of requests or some dynamic, next thing you know you are feeling like this person is the bad guy and that they don’t understand or whatever it is and that’s what is so important.

Davina Frederick: Coaches can really step into that if they are not aware of this kind of thing. Look out for this kind of thing. They can step into that pretty quickly and pretty easily too.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. I think it’s crucial for coaches particularly if you’re dealing with any kind of emotional transformation, you need to understand that.

Davina Frederick: Yeah. I learned that early on in doing this kind of work, the danger of triggering somebody not knowing, not knowing that you are, so.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: And they probably don’t know either. That’s part of the challenges that they may not have been a place of being aware of it and just say to themselves this thing triggered me in the story I’m telling myself as this, and it has nothing to do with my coach. This is my work to do. But not everyone’s in that space. And I’m sure you see this a lot, but one of the things I see a lot is that people who own businesses they’ll have a challenge and maybe a phone time management or something like that and they’ll hire a coach to help them. Or they’ll put business processes only emotional problems and they don’t get released. And then both of those people feel frustrated when a lot of times that we’re bumping up some kind of pattern that we’ve noticed over and over and over in our business. If an emotional challenge and it doesn’t require a business strategy you’re just going to waste your money on that.

Davina Frederick: And also not the mindset work requires something more. Let’s talk about the mindset work. Tell me how that’s different from therapy because one of the things you and I had talked about before was at what point does your work end and you refer them back to a therapist because when you’re working with people and identifying trauma in there and how it informs their business decisions, at what point do you say, okay, this is now getting back into therapeutic work and I no longer work as a therapist. There’s a line because now what you do is why coaching. So tell me about-

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: So my clients call me a business therapist for a reason, they will say my business coach can’t help me with this and my therapist doesn’t understand. And so that’s why I’m kind of this like little middle space of I totally get it. I think when you’re doing mindset work with someone particularly people who have not owned a business before or taking a small business or solo ownership to a higher, to the next level. There’s a certain amount of mindset work that’s required around that, right? It’s a new place. It’s a new platform, if not some where they’ve been before. So of course they’re going to feel a little fearful and have some anxiety perhaps about it. And the way to see if this is where you’re at, is the person that you’re working with has the usual mindset challenge of what they’re telling themselves, maybe some language around it, and you’re giving them mindset exercises and challenges around changing their behavior and having more of an open mindset instead of a constricted or closed one.

And they’re really digging into that and they’re doing well, like they’re bringing on the new language. They’re being kind to themselves because they know, hey, I’ve never been a CEO before. Of course, this is going to be hard. And of course there’s going to be challenges and I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to stay open and I’m going to learn. If you see that they’re taking on, there’s mindset tips, tricks and ways of being that are different. It’s different than if you have someone who can’t quite absorb it. If staying stuck in the inner critic, some of the deeper emotional language that they may be using, this might be someone who’s mindset’s not going to work for because mindset only works if you have a place for it to work from. And if you’ve had some kind of trauma or even if you’re depressed those types of things that you just don’t have the space for the mindset to work.

And so start to pay attention if they’re not rallying pretty quickly with some of those mindset tricks who might want to start asking different questions to see if maybe they might need to see a therapist and they can do it in conjunction with their coaching too. But you just kind of have to pay attention and see what the difference is, because mindset only works if you believe it will. And if you have trauma, sometimes it’s hard to believe those things.

Davina Frederick: Right. And it’s not about… There is difference between positive thinking versus you can’t… When you’re dealing with traumatic events, you can’t positive think your way out of it.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: No.

Davina Frederick: Right. You really have to analyze it, dig into it and see look at it, see what is this really all about and get to the source of it stuff that out. And that requires a professional to walk you through that, professional trained therapists.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Because I think that mantras and affirmations are great, and they have their place. And I think trying to attain a more positive mindset and outlook is great as long as you’re not bypassing your experience and your emotions that need to be expressed. And I did a talk in the fall in front of 300 women who are all business owners. And the topic of his health was inner Kiddo to CEO. And when I talked to them about was that these experiences that we have when we’re younger, they kind of create this little inner Kiddo at different ages, maybe seven 10 14 and they kind of come with us into our business. We don’t ask them if they want to be there, we just kind of bring them with us and they become this little inner board of directors that’s working with us sometimes and against us sometimes.

And that when we can really dig into that and look at it, we can really partner with them and their gifts to help us build our business and grow it. And so that’s where it comes down to. We’re partnering with ourselves as opposed to fighting with ourselves to grow. And that were transformational positivity, I think really lies as opposed to being a Pollyanna and ignoring your experience.

Davina Frederick: Right. So what’s are some things that we can do to… If we are looking at ourselves and saying, if we say I’m struggling in my business, is this a result of me just not, do I need to learn some practical skills or could this be that the result of trauma maybe small t trauma or something like that. Could this be, what are some things that we should be looking for to help us identify whether we need to look at something more closely beyond just going out and trying to get the right business plan or the right program or something like that. What are some things that we should look for? Like you had the insight to see it for yourself. I think that’s kind of rare that you have that insight to be able to see that. So tell us some things that we might be able to look for, pay attention to that.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Right. I think we all know what it feels like when something gets triggered. Either we have like a butterfly or maybe our heart starts racing and or maybe our brain freezes for a moment and then we start to tell ourselves some story about what just happened and so we’ve all experienced that. So start to pay attention to those feelings and sensations or trigger points that you have within your business and start to notice, wow, this is something I’m noticing a lot and it’s usually around this practice with my business or around this person. And it start to notice what your own patterns are around your business. Or if you’re feeling emotionally about something, you say, wow, I haven’t felt this way in a long time. I thought that I was over that because a lot of people will have gone to therapy and they’re not thinking that those challenges they have from their past, they’re going to come back in their business and they’re like, ah, why am I feeling this way?

It’s been 10 years since I’ve felt this way. Like they notice something old coming back up or they notice some kind of pattern or behavior in themselves that they felt they had overcome and dealt with that starts to creep back up in their business. So those are some emotional ways and triggers to kind of look at, but there are some categories that I can tell you that this shows up in the most where you can start asking yourself some questions to kind of do a little bit of a deeper dive and say, where am I actually at in this, in my business?

Davina Frederick: Okay. What are those.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah, I know we need to go from theory to practice. Right?

Davina Frederick: Before you say that let me just say this, like one of the things that I could add to could be like overreacting to something like a bigger response to something when you walk away and hear wow did I react a little bit bigger than what that called for in the work environment?

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. An overreaction, over personalization, taking ownership for something that’s not yours.

Davina Frederick: Now a little too personally for business I mean that’s like something really personal. That was a business thing. Yeah. I want to hear about these categories.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. So the ways that this shows up the most, and I’m still doing research on this and still having conversations about that, but where you can start to ask yourself, where am I at here in this category? And so the first one is trust. Where are you in the trust of yourself within your abilities to run this business or to up level this business or whatever this may be. What is your level of trust? Just kind of rate yourself there and think, yeah, I really do trust myself or I be honest, I don’t trust myself with much we have to really know where we’re working from in order to change it. So, and then look at how hard is it or easy is it for you to trust other people, employees, contractors, even clients, partners in your business? Where are you at with trust in them?

Are you not trusting at all? Are you pretending like you’re trusting them and still doing all their work at the end? Are you trusting too much and you’re giving away your power to the people around you and not taking ownership over the product or the direction of the program, whatever that may be. So look where you’re at in that trust piece is very, very important. Look where you’re at in your money. Are you connected to it? What’s your relationship with it? Do you know where it’s going? Are you in a place where you are charging for your services or whatever it is that you do in a way that is congruent with the vision of your Business? And how easy or hard is that for you? Look at that as well. People will say, charge what you’re worth. And I don’t agree with that because I think as human beings we are priceless.

And so that we have and what everybody wants to charge and feels good about, it’s going to be different. And so you have to outline what congruent for you. So where are you at with your money? How comfortable do you feel having these conversations? Do you feel guilty? Are you giving things away? Where are you at with your money category? Okay, the other one’s boundaries. Where are you? Are Your boundaries really flimsy or you have no parameters around your time. Are you just like a dust in the wind where people just get to have at you? Or are you really, really closed off and you’re losing connections with people? So boundaries around your time, boundaries around your service, boundaries around the space in which you work. One of the things I saw also with my clients as they were trying to run a company from our broken chair in their kitchen because they didn’t want to take up space and inconvenience their family.

I’m like, “Come on. Take some space.” It’s your business and you deserve to have a solid partnership here. It deserves space and so do you. So where are you at in your boundaries? And the final category is visibility. How comfortable do you feel showing up, whether it’s speaking on being on a podcast, doing content how comfortable do you feel being visible? And I have to say that this is one of the ones that shows up a lot for people who’ve had some kind of challenge around there weren’t enough in the past with small t or big T trauma is that being visible feels unsafe to them.

And here we are saying, hey, you have a business you need to sell yourself, you need to get on podcasts, you need to speak, you need to do Facebook lives, whatever it is. Stepping into that spotlight when you’ve had these challenges can feel brutal and it will hold you back. So where are you at with visibility? And those are the categories you just need to have an honest conversation with yourself about.

Davina Frederick: Yeah, it is much more, I just had this conversation on another podcast episode, I was talking with Karen Graves about sales. And we were talking about the difference between selling a thing and selling services where you’re selling you yourself, your services, and yourself as a brand, which is such a thing now. So many people who are selling you’re the brand, you’re the face of your brand and you’re selling services and there’s such a big difference.

She went from working for a large pharmaceutical company to having your own coaching company. And I asked her, I was like, well, I bet that was different because she was really good at sales obviously, but it’s very different when you’re selling or large pharmaceutical company and when you start selling your own services and it becomes much harder because then it really about putting yourself out there and that’s tough for anyone, unless you’re the most extroverted person anyway because you are opening yourself up to a lot, especially in these crazy social media, reality TV world out there where everybody’s a critic, everybody’s got a voice, everybody’s got an opinion and not everybody should have a microphone, but we’ve all got them now.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Right, I’ve worked with people who are top sales people in companies like Cisco who went out and started their own businesses. It’s different to sell a product and to move from that to putting a price tag on yourself and selling you. And this is where a lot of the money mindset coaching idea came into where I noticed that there was a trauma piece here or a fear safety piece because it’s a whole different story. In my opinion, women are amazing sales who are top sales people, we have strategies, we’re smart, we’re capable, we’re competent, we have all these things. And then we hit this wall, we start something on her own sometimes because we hit up against that worthiness piece that shows up in our money. And that’s not everybody. But I certainly saw a lot of that when I was doing strictly money mindset coaching and it was usually connected to some kind of multi trauma.

Davina Frederick: Right, right. Well, this has been just so illuminating and now of course every conversation I have had have gone mmmmh. And listening and watching and thinking about these sorts of things because nobody comes out of childhood unscathed without something. Right.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. It’s not whether if you have it, it’s what you had and how much.

Davina Frederick: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So just fascinating and I’ll definitely be continuing to watch and see what you’re doing out there with your research and what you’re going to be coming up with and because I know you’re really digging into this to see more of what you can find out on this topic and keeping us all informed about what you discover. So tell us how we can find out more about you and your coaching services.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Yeah. So you can go to my website which is And if you’re curious about what relationship you have currently with your business and perhaps if you’ve noticed this somewhere before, like is it your mean boss that you had or demanding father like my business was definitely my demanding mother when I realized what I was doing here. If you’re curious about what relationship perhaps you might have with your business and where you’ve noticed it before, there is an assessment on the front, the very first welcome page that you can download to, go through that workbook and start to explore what relationship you have with your business now. So I encourage everyone to take a peek at that. It’s pretty deep and you can get a lot of traction just by doing that, that workbook and you’ll get a lot of answers for yourself and some aha moments. So definitely go to the website. You can see that. And you can follow me on Facebook Nicole Lewis-Keeber Coaching. I announce a lot of my program there.

Davina Frederick: Thank you so much. It has been so interesting. I always love with you and I really appreciate you being here and sharing with us today. This has really been interesting and informative and I took to be able to talk to you again as you do more research and have more to share. Thanks so much.

Nicole Lewis-Keeber: Thanks.