Like you, I get tons of e-mails every day. When I’m paying attention, those e-mails provide writing material like this: “OK, I need to think on this and get back to you. My desire is an unstoppable force and my butbutbuts are an immovable object.”
We ALL face excuses in our lives, and we’re all privy to our own inner dialogues that make those excuses seem 100% legit. Only most of the time, excuses are a bunch of horseshit. They’re little lies our minds tells us to keep us stuck, scared, trapped, immobile, paralyzed, or comfortable. I’m not immune to a single one of these, so if it seems like I’m speaking from experience, I am. ::cough::
I’m going to use a specific thing as the catalyst for all these excuses, since that’s easier than coming up with ten examples for each of the ten excuses we’re talking about. I’m going to use the catalyst of a new education experience as the catalyst.
So, there’s this class you really want to take. (It’s called Introverts at Work.) Your heart finds it and goes PINGPINGPINGPINGPING like you’re on a spaceship and you’ve just found your home planet — your whole body lights up with “YES!” — and the dashboard goes apeshit. You want to work one-on-one with me AND overhaul your website copy AND let yourself stop hiding and start showing who you really are to your clients.
You’ve learned to override those feelings — amazing though they are — because your brain is an asshole.
Your brain is designed to keep you safe, which generally means staying in one place for as long as possible, and stable — which means doing the same thing day after day, because your brain LOVES predictability. From an evolutionary standpoint, this means you’ll be able to spot lions prowling the plain at further and further distances. This means you’ll keep your place in the tribal standing without rocking the boat. This means you’ll keep a nice, steady income for your people as you work a job for decades.
Stability is important, and safety is a totally legit concern. Only your brain is ALSO an asshole. It regularly overrides the callings of your heart because of its ancient instincts.
Let’s talk about the excuses your brain is throwing at you to keep you not only safe and stable, but possibly stagnant.
Big excuse #1: Business is sloooow. Maybe later.
You know what you want to do next, and your brain is going to kick this one up right away. Taking a business class or being held accountable for achieving business goals could actually help you out when you’re having a slump, but your brain is going to say “maybe next month” or “maybe next year.”
A new class or workshop or program or audio set or spirited dance — whatever it is you want to conquer — could mean you try new stuff, kung-fu the daily drudge work that you know has to be done to keep orders coming in, and you even resume showering daily because you’re feeling a little better about your life.
But your brain will throw “maybe later” at you because it’s a perfectly logical thing to say. We’ve all had diets that were going to start tomorrow, and resolutions that were going to happen next week, and relationships that were going to be fixed next month.
In other words, later. Only later isn’t a definite time frame, and so it never comes.
What have you been putting off until “later”? What are you currently pushing to “later” that needs to happen soon?
If you’ve been all, “I’ll stop hiding and put my REAL self into my business later,” get yourself into Introverts at Work now.
Big excuse #2: I feel all alone and I don’t know what to do.
If you truly don’t know what to do — if you’re at your wit’s end — then it’s time for a nap and a break. If you’re at that point, you’re tired. Let yourself be tired.
There’s power in having not a clue about what to do and not fighting it. Let your brain stop trying to come up with solutions.
Feel what you’re feeling and give yourself a break.
Once you’ve had a rest, know this: the being-in-business game isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s easy to slip into feeling absolutely alone. Don’t let yourself do that.
Whether you have to make community, join community, or just plain buy into community (some of my favorite groups are those I’ve paid to be a part of) — do it.
Also: perhaps business is slow because you’re at a loss. You’re spinning your wheels, you don’t know what to do next, and so you avoid business tasks altogether. Then business gets slower. And slower. And…you guessed it, slower, because you’re putting less and less effort into doing the work you’re meant to do through your business.
So ask yourself: would my business grow as a result of doing this thing that sings to my heart? Would being healthier, more productive, or more knowledgeable help to grow my business, despite the short-term issues standing in my way?
If the answer is yes, find a freaking way.
My guess is that you aren’t lazy or useless or slow, you’re just a bit scared. You’ve been putting that thing off for a while now. So long as you’re scared, your brain is happy to keep you in a cage of fear and worry instead of letting you out to figure out just how NOT scary that thing is…it will keep poking you with perfectly reasonable excuses for years and years. You’ve got to choose to do the thing.
If you’re ready to work REALLY fucking hard to match your insides with your business’ outsides instead of censoring the crap out of who you and what you like, it’s time to get yourself a seat in Introverts at Work.
And then, do the worst thing you’ll ever have to do: ask for help. You’re not alone, but you do have to ask for help from those nearest and dearest to you.
It’s your job to make sure you’ve got the support you need, so ask.
Ask your mom to babysit the kids. Ask your significant other to vacuum because you’re exhausted. Ask a friend to take the dog overnight so you don’t have to pick up poop and take seven walks around the block in the next 24 hours. Ask a delivery man to bring you pizza. Pay these people as necessary — but ask.
Learning to get the support you need is absolutely crucial to your success as an entrepreneur, and the sooner you do it — the better.
Yes, you’ll fall down. Yes, you’ll try to do everything yourself. Yes, you’ll absolutely loathe having to ask for help from THAT person. But you’ll survive. And you’ll be better off for it. (Once my partner and I figured out that he’s actually a better cook, and I let him be the cook instead of clinging to gender stereotypes — meals got seven times better.)
Whether you want to sell more of your portrait photography or learn to do business as an introvert, do it.
Don’t let anyone or anything — including your brain — tell you that you can’t, that you don’t have enough time or energy or willpower or capacity to get it done.
GO AND DO THE THING.
Registration for Introverts at Work: marketing and selling alternatives for Quiet entrepreneurs closes SOON. If that’s the thing you want to do, CHECK IT OUT NOW, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. (Grab a sample here if you haven’t already.)
If you want to take ballet or learn to play cello or code apps or design website interfaces — go and do it. Go and do the thing. I’m rooting for you.
When you think of absolutely crucial sales tools for your business, you probably think of technology. Apps, credit card swipes, merchant processing accounts, and the ol’ Paypal. But in truth, your ultimate sales tool is an attitude. It’s the art of not-reacting to whatever is coming up with your clients, no matter how awkward, and is known as…wait for it…non-reactive presence.
Non-reactive presence is the most important skill you’ll need to master for long-term success in keeping your peeps happy. (Where non-reactive presence means not losing your shit when you’d like to completely and utterly go berserk.)
Cultivating your non-reactive presence means maximizing your ability to keep yourself calm and centered at all times. Even while receiving criticism or negative feedback. Even when people are being unreasonable or a little bit crazy. Further, it’s being able to find the useful nuggets hidden within the words a person is saying. You’re building your ability to actively postpone reacting or matching the person’s energy.
Growing your non-reactive presence skills means having happier, more fulfilled customers for the lifetime of your business.
How? Because you’re growing your ability to see the thing behind the thing. A person is screaming about the photos being delivered ten minutes after their due date, but really he’s screaming because his wife has just been diagnosed with cancer and his kids have been in trouble at school lately and he’s frustrated with everything and everyone, ever.
Non-reactive presence doesn’t take things personally. You can handle what you’re responsible for, but you let the anger, rage, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, sadness, or melodrama that’s being aimed at you fly right by. You breathe deeply, you ask the right questions, you take notes, and you take action. You don’t let yourself get swept up in the drama.
Because humans are humans. Even after all this time.
Although you are a stunning human being who always does impeccable work, you are still dealing with other human beings. At some point, they will be less than thrilled with what they bought from you, even if you delivered exactly as promised.
Often, people are polite enough not to point out the one tiny little thing that bothered them because it was overshadowed by the other things they did enjoy. These people won’t give you constructive criticism unless you solicit it, and even then they might not say anything negative.
Some people, however, seem to enjoy critiquing things. They enjoy finding faults and pointing out a better way to do things because they feel they’re so much smarter and more experienced than you. Or they did have a dissatisfying experience, but their reaction seems disproportionate.
Regardless of why a customer is upset, it’s your job to stay calm.
Remember that the way a person reacts has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how he or she chooses to handle life. You’re dealing with a human being who has both free will and self control, and his or her reaction doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.
Sometimes you can fix the problem, sometimes you can’t.
When you’re in a sticky or awkward situation, breathe. Deeply.
You’ll think, “Oh, you’re one of THOSE people. I know where this is going. A long rant with some purposefully mean things mixed in with the point you’re actually upset about.”
Keep breathing deeply. Yup, it feels hokey to write, but it really can be that simple.
When you’re ready, read that long email and skip past the parts that are vague or intentionally hurtful and demeaning. Are there any valid points? Is there any constructive criticism hidden in there? Could you have communicated better, done better? How could you improve?
This is often the only criticism you’ll receive. Constructive criticism, given gently and with love, is rare. If you try to ignore this other type of criticism completely, you’ll have lost an opportunity to hear feedback on how you can improve. You will always have something to learn, a method to streamline, a product to enhance, or communication skills to hone.
But that’s hard to see. If you’re dealing with internet communication, take a break. Step away from the issue for at least an hour, if not 24 hours, to give yourself space to respond as a non-reactive presence. We both know firing off that “Fuck you, too!” e-mail will do no one any good.
When you can stay calm, get to the root of the other person’s upset. You do that by asking specific questions to help understand the problem more clearly. Possible questions that might help: how long have you had this concern? Where did the company fail to meet your expectations? What helped you form those expectations? What might we have done differently to have prevented this from happening? How can we make it better? What can we do about this?
Take notes and listen carefully. If you only react to the anger coming at you, you’ll be really angry and unable to help. If you have a lady screaming at you because she expected pink cupcakes and is getting blue ones, well — you can whip up a new batch in no time and send her on her merry way without ever losing your cool. If you scream back, throw her cupcakes at the wall, and order her to leave the premises, you’ve ruined the day for both of you.
Ask the customer what he or she would happen in a perfect world to fix this issue. When the issue doesn’t have an obvious solution, and it often doesn’t, asking your client for suggestions about fixing the issue can help tremendously. A coupon, a discount, or a free bonus will often be the answer. And then the situation is resolved.
Take action. Do what you’ve agreed to do in a timely fashion. If you’re going to edit the project within 24 hours, do it. Fix it. Handle it. And keep your cool.
Also, considering having a beer. This shit isn’t easy.
This is an excerpt from my latest offering, Introverts at Work: marketing and selling alternatives for Quiet entrepreneurs, which is open for registration until June 7th, 2015.
Get yourself a sample.
You’re going to fail. Hard.
You’re going to fall flat on your face, like the 13-month-old kid who’s learning to walk and then WHAM! catches a lip on the coffee table and screams for the next 40 minutes.
You’re going to wish you had never, ever started a business.
You’re going to compare yourself to others’ highlight reels. The victorious tales. The entrepreneur who started with a peanut, a paper clip and thirty cents and then sold the company for $1.2 billion. The woman who made cookie treats in her basement and then started the world’s largest cookie franchise. Tale after tale, like stark-raving success porn, lavished upon you via the interwebs and in all the business magazines available at your local bookstore.
Only sometimes, the tales aren’t victorious. Sometimes you biff really hard, like that time you were trying to do a wheelie on your bike to impress your friends but instead you ran into the ditch and you still have the scars.
Last year, I held a real-life summer camp for entrepreneurs called Brand Camp. I anticipated sold-out crowds of peeps swarming the place. I hired the best speakers money can buy. I lined up treats and delights galore.
I went all in.
I got the ice cream truck and the Ferris wheel and the yoga teacher I love best. I put my whole heart into the event, every last bit of what I had to give. My best friend quit her six-figure corporate job to help me pull it all off. (She was all in, too.)
Some attendees called it the best days of their lives — people who are married, who have kids, who have hit those milestones that you’re supposed to give the “best days” titles.
The event was pure magic. From a monetary standpoint, though, things didn’t go exactly as planned. I sold less than 25 percent of the seats available.
I could buy a house in my hometown with what I owe. (Not even exaggerating, friend.)
Following camp, I crumpled. I cried in bed, on the couch, driving around, at the grocery store and right in the middle of Target. Then I started eating my feelings and gained ten pounds. Oh, pizza and beers. Why do you taste so good!?
It took me a month to leave the five miles surrounding my house. I ordered in, I freaked out about money, I sat on the couch and couldn’t face any numbers. The number of attendees, the debts, the invoices. The FAILURE of it all.
It took me a few more weeks to love even my most trusted business clients. I spent much of a retreat I led in Costa Rica waiting for my lovely peeps to turn on me or tell me how disappointed they were in me or demand their investment in my services back because WHATDIDIKNOWANYWAYI’DJUSTLOSTABUNCHOFMONEY.
It took me a few months to start showering regularly (Because depression). I had separated from my husband a few weeks before the event, and untangling my heartstrings from my purse strings was nearly impossible. I made my very best effort to sink into the couch cushions and disappear.
It took me ten months to be able to look at the photos from camp without crying because a few people didn’t have the best days of their lives. In fact, they wanted refunds and were vocal about it, and I never did quite figure out how to make them happy. The thought of even ONE UNHAPPY CUSTOMER still looms over me.
Nearly one year later, I’m coming up with ways to dip my toes in the waters of risk.
How can I give you everything I’ve got without holding some back, because 10 percent of income goes to paying the venue, 5 percent to speakers, 8 percent to debts accrued during planning?
How can I try again, this time in ways that guarantee success? (HA! Guaranteed success!)
It’s murky water at best.
I should probably give up, right? I should be ashamed of myself, hang up my hat and never set foot into the world as an entrepreneur again.
Only, if you shame me for losing money, you would have to argue that I shouldn’t take the big risks in life — and by extension, you shouldn’t, either.
I gave some people their best days on this planet — and in the process, I got some bruised knees and a banged-up lip, metaphorically speaking.
That’s what happens when you go all in: you risk losing pretty much everything.
Your money, your reputation, your confidence. Your sense of well being and purpose.
You put who you are and what you stand for on the line when you introduce something new to the world through your business.
You’ll naturally want to back down, to halve the costs, to double the odds of succeeding by watering down your work to appeal to the most people possible.
People will say you should give up.
You should play it safe.
You should round your edges, soften your corners or refuse to put the f-word three inches high in your website’s header.
Don’t, don’t, and … well, I did, but you probably shouldn’t.
Even if it’s strategic or makes the most sense or is guaranteed to take your business to the next level.
They’ll tell you to hightail it out of there, to minimize your risks, to open up channels of revenue that don’t feel quite right. They’ll paralyze you with stories of credit card debt, invoices owed, and all the times it didn’t work for them, or their brother-in-law, or that one kid from your graduating class who lost everything and now lives in a box under the bridge.
Only they’re not you, bringing your distinctive blend of gifts and weirdo talents and loves and hates and knowledge and products and services to the world. They can’t know which lessons life has in store on the other side of that dance you’re doing with your purpose this lifetime.
Go all in.
Maybe you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Maybe it will end up better than you ever imagined.
Maybe you’ll be able to buy a small house in your hometown, or maybe you’ll just owe that much money.
Maybe you’ll give people some of the best moments of their lives.
Maybe you’ll do all these things and more, all at once, in a life-jumble that you can’t clearly define as good or bad.
Who knows what will happen? I can’t tell you how it will go.
I can only tell you to follow the bits that make you more alive, that make you feel like you’re somewhere between on fire and holding onto an electric fence. Even with knowing how it went, and how it played out and how swiftly it struck me down, I’ve never felt more in tune with my sense of why I’m on this planet than I did during those days.
You should probably give up the questions, forgo the advice…
and go all in.
That’s the art of it, when the numbers are put away, the debts are paid, the e-mails are answered, and the event is long gone.
The art of going all in is the art of getting more alive.
Success, failure, BIG LOOMING TERRIBLE THOUGHTS and magical minutes all lead to being more alive as a business owner, as a human, as a citizen of the planet.
Now go, get more alive.
For a while, it was all about the food. We didn’t want to cook breakfast and we needed some eating establishment close by to remedy the problem. That’s how we ended up at Rich’s.
The first few times we went, we wondered how the place stays in business: paper plates, really? Ads on the tables, really? Color-coded booths and Good Morning America on the TV, really? We judged the crap out of the place, but as we still found ourselves hungry for breakfast each morning, we kept going.
The waitresses learned our daily order. They started bringing our drinks without asking. The hostess learned about what we do. The twin sisters who work there asked if we wanted to hang out sometime. The owner learned our faces and started making inappropriate jokes when he saw us.
At some point, the shift from ‘this is the place where we eat breakfast’ to ‘this is the place where we see people’ took place. As we found out, the restaurant stays in business because people feel as if they belong when they walk through the doors. It isn’t about the home fries or the toast. It’s about gathering together at the start of another day to say, simply by being present, that we are all in this together.
‘Community’ is the latest buzzword in business. Whether it’s called a tribe or a sisterhood; whether it’s a Facebook group or a breakfast club; whether it’s a one-time thing or an ongoing commitment — it’s cool to be a part of community at the moment.
I am ALL FOR community that’s built of mutual trust and love and respect and people coming together in amazing new ways.
I am, however, staunchly opposed to throwing thousands of people into a Facebook group and calling it a community. That’s…a clusterfuck.
Likewise, gathering everyone who has taken a class into a space — whether virtually or in person — doesn’t make a community. It takes a masterful teacher to create a space where everyone feels seen, loved, and safe. Keeping that space open, loving, and safe requires sustained energy. Online, it often takes more energy than in person, even though it’s easy to add ‘online community’ as a line item in your latest product offering.
Community takes time. It takes cultivation. And it takes trust.
I have to trust that you’re going to show up. I have to trust that you’ll contribute. I’ll wonder about you when you’re gone. I’ll think about you when you’re not around. That takes energy, and I have to trust that you’re worth it.
We don’t forge communities by virtue of simply being in the same place, whether in person or online. There’s a customer that the staff at Rich’s calls The Crypt Keeper. She speaks to no one, except to complain about the temperature of her food. She stares straight ahead and she doesn’t engage with another living soul. She couldn’t give two shits about all the other humans present.
That’s fine. Community is also consensual. It’s a contract we enter into: I’ll participate if you will. I’ll show up if you will. I’ll take care of you if you take care of me. We’ll make each other laugh. We’ll tell our stories. We’ll remind each other that we’re here for another day, even if this day happens to suck. We’ll spend our energies on one another.
That’s not at all the same as heaving people into a Facebook group and walking away. It’s not as simple as opening up a forum or a chat and letting people have at it.
Making community is a process, and often a sacred freaking journey.
Community isn’t a line item in a product’s list of features and benefits. It’s a sustained way of being with your fellow humans. Whether you facilitate community or simply participate in it, I urge you to quit those groups in which you can’t be fully present.
Take note of the places where you’re participating and the places where you’re leaning back to be sure you don’t miss anything, finger on the ‘Leave group’ button. If you can’t give yourself completely to the group, get out. You’ll do everyone a favor, and you’ll have more energy for the people you actually want to support as they do their work in the world.
So, does the summer version of Introverts at Work come with a community? Nope. That’s up to the participants. It comes with a completely optional gathering place for those who want to share their homework, their ideas, and their thoughts. It’s a place where you can participate as much or as little as you’d like, and we’ll see what happens. (Join, and you’re welcome to come to breakfast with me anytime.)
If you’d like to unleash your business flavor on the world — fully expressing your voice through all the ways you share your work on your website and in your business — take a closer look at Introverts at Work by grabbing a sample.
Over the course of a few years, I’ve watched a colleague make wildly successful stuff from a distance.
She’s reworked and reworked the same material until it shines. EVERYTHING is more beautiful than ever.
The website is glamorous and cutting-edge. The downloads are speedy, the content is precise, the user experience from start to finish is clean and has been absolutely perfected.
But it just doesn’t feel like it used to. It feels a little cold, a little sterile. A little too shiny.
A little too ‘YAY ISN’T LIFE SO GREAT NOTHING BAD EVER HAPPENS TO ME EVER, SORRY FOR YOU MOTHERFUCKERS WHO AREN’T LIVING A PERFECT LIFE. I’VE NEVER HAD AN EVEN MODERATELY BAD HAIR DAY, AND ALL RED LIGHTS NATURALLY TURN GREEN IN MY PRESENCE, SUCKAH.’
I was clicking around, wondering how making something better and better could actually HURT an endeavor, when it struck me:
You can polish the life right out of a thing.
When you’re striving for perfection, you can erode the fundamental spirit of a thing.
You lose an edge here, a corner there. You keep chipping away, and suddenly the life is gone.
Sometimes the spirit is in the flaws.
Sometimes the charm is in letting us see your humanity.
Sometimes the most sacred bits are the parts your detractors might call mistakes.
Sometimes the best parts of a program are found in the outtakes.
When you find yourself in the ‘make it perfect, make it perfect, make it perfect’ loop…ask yourself whether what you’re making hums with life.
Ask a friend who loves you where it sings and where it falls flat. Ask if the whole thing reflects who you are and where you are in the world, or if you’ve accidentally picked up someone’s else’s voice. (Or worse, someone else’s aspirations.) Ask them if it feels like you.
Does it feel like kids covered in mud, or dogs digging in the sand, or those moments when you first picked up the instruments of your profession and thought ‘This is what I want to do with my life…’? If it does, no further polishing is required.
Let us see the work. Let your slightly-wibbly bits sing out to ours and make new off-key-but-lovely music together.
We’d rather have a spirited something than a lifeless lump of perfection.