Why Going Away is Often the Best Way to Get Close

I had a professor in college say, “Sometimes you have to go away to get close.” I don’t even remember the context. He was Welsh, and known for being so engaged in his teaching of British and Russian history that you didn’t want to sit in the front row, because he’d surely spit on you while leaning in with his passionate intensity and highly punctuated words. I also don’t remember whether this quote actually came from someone else (such as his professor, perhaps equally prone to flying spittle). But I do remember the quote, because it meant something to me for a long time, and became one of the mantras I repeated to myself when I got so close to something I couldn’t see it clearly.

One spring day in college, I was so beaten down with writer’s block that I decided to climb a mountain. For some reason, I took my Freud Civilization and Its Discontent book with me. And when I got to the summit, the essay that I struggled to uncover came pouring out of me like the snow melting off that peak. I scribbled my notes on the inside covers as I trailed my friends descending the mountain. When I filled those blank pages, I wrote in the margins.

The other day as I cleaned out my bookshelf, I found this book, now 20 years old. While I thought about tossing it, I kept it as a reminder of this important lesson.

Somehow, on top of that mountain, when I couldn’t see my messy dorm room or overloaded to-do list–when I couldn’t worry about the boyfriend I had or didn’t have, or the job I’d gain or lose someday when I graduated–I could see everything clearly. And I wrote the essay that garnered my highest grade in that class.

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s fifth grade class took a trip to D.C. I had to sign up to be a potential chaperone nearly a year ago, since this is a very popular trip. As a business owner, one might think I’d have the freedom to go on trips like this at a moment’s notice, and that would be true–but only partially. As a business owner, I’m also personally tied to the success of my company, and because it’s a company I love, I tend to work very hard for it. Sometimes, too hard. Sometimes, I forget to notice the things that are right under my vision, and sometimes those images I’m missing are the ones that would garner my highest grade in life.

So last fall, I marked myself as a “maybe.” I told the teacher I’d get back to him when I determined my work travel schedule.

They say that as we age we get more farsighted…or at least, less able to see what’s right in front of our faces. I’d venture to say this concept holds true in more areas of our lives than merely our retina and lenses. But I don’t think it comes from aging as much as from focusing so closely on one thing that we can’t see anything else.

When the time to commit came, my schedule was not exactly open. I had more proposals to write than I could count. I had just as many contracts to fulfill. But that mantra came back up through my bloodstream like an electric eel emerging from the mud, and I decided that this would be the time I’d get away.

I spent the days beforehand packing every delicious snack I could think of for Sascha and myself (health went out the window; Pringles topped our list). I bought us little neck pillows. I thought of everything Sascha would want–not everything my business would need. I even remembered to pack hand sanitizer, something I knew she’d ask about within five minutes of being on a bus with 150 of her germy classmates (and she did, and I got a dose of self-esteem when I was able to answer that I had a bottle for her within reach).

I was prepared for this trip. Or so I thought.

Despite having learned enough life lessons at 40 that I feel like I should be at least 80, I had more to learn…

As I nodded off on my memory foam neck pillow while the bus pulled out at a god-awful 5:30am, her giggles from the seat beside me danced over my mind like the streams that trickled down that mountain 20 years ago. I opened my eyes to see her leaning across the aisle to grab the hand of Abi, her friend with the same haircut and dizzying clarity for how to find the joy in the little things. It turned out, I wasn’t as prepared as I’d thought.

I was not prepared for the way I would see my daughter on this trip.

For the next two days, I saw the paintings of Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Picasso–all artists whose paintings I’d seen many times before. I was prepared for them.

But I was unprepared for the passion I saw in Sascha to find one particular da Vinci painting amongst the hundreds of others. I don’t know what drove her, but I knew that I wanted to know more.

I was prepared for seeing the White House, Museum of Natural History, and most of the memorials.

But I was unprepared for her dedication to finding the flag that flew during the War of 1812, which later led to the designation of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” When she saw it all tattered in its dark room, she was riveted. She read every plaque, and kept asking me questions I unfortunately couldn’t answer because it had been too long since I’ve been in fifth grade.

Photo: Good morning, DCI was unprepared for her unscathed devotion to exploring every leaf, squirrel, tiny skeleton, and other oddity with her friend, Abi. Each item that caught their eyes led to giggles and some creative language that only they understood. Her father and I exclaimed that their lollygagging ways and inattention to their messy hair was more charming than any possible sighting we might get of a political dignitary.

And I venture to say that my time with her was more valuable than the Hope Diamond.

I was unprepared for the realization that until this trip, I didn’t really know my daughter. I mean, I didn’t know her right now, in her class setting, as a 10-year-old with the mind of a 30-year-old and heart of a 90-year-old. Despite editing a book this past month by a global leader in work-life balance, I wasn’t prepared for the ways in which I’d get to know a part of life that I had thought was a huge priority–but which hadn’t fallen in my line of vision in this way for some time.

If you are like me, you might think you need to do a lot of work today. And you might be right. But you also might need to get away. Here are three ways you can get away, without a lot of planning or budget:

1)Be Mindful. Some call it meditating, which is the art of letting your obsessions open  their clasp and release what holds them, so your mind can move freely again. The answer we seek might be just under those thoughts we haven’t let out the window.

2)Be Active. Do something different. If you usually sit at your desk all day, try running around the block. If you move all the time, try sitting at a coffee shop with a cup of tea. Sometimes doing the opposite of what feels routine is exactly what we need to break our stride and find a new step.

3)Be Observant. Find the beauty in a person you typically ignore. I have to admit, some of the things that annoyed me most about Sascha–such as her inability to walk in a straight line without being distracted–became the things I loved about her when granted the space to do so. What (or who) can you appreciate today?

Somehow, being able to step back and watch Sascha run, skip, or lollygag allowed my own vision to soften. When I returned, the work was still there, but it was seen through a filter of life…and of memories of being with a daughter I love and respect.

Thank you, Sascha, for pushing me to “go away” so that I could “get close”–to you, and to the things that matter.

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I’m Just Blowing Off Steam… Is That Okay?

We tend to get a little confused about anger, and how to express–or not express–it. While delivering a workshop recently for a group of healthcare leaders, a participant asked my business partner and me, “Is it ever okay to be angry in the workplace?” This led to a rather spicy conversation which led us completely off topic–but which was also brilliant, because it got people to the core of what rattles so many of us on a daily basis.

My husband comes from an Italian family where emotions aren’t just worn on one’s sleeve; they are flung at other people’s sleeves like pizza dough being hurled to a perfect circumference. Speaking loudly and passionately–about everything from who died recently and where they will be buried to whose pizza is worth dying for–seems to be both a rite of passage into human-hood and a means of proving one’s worth and existence.

I come from what he calls a “Hippie”West Coast  family where no one ever raises a voice let alone an eyebrow to anyone else. He jokes that if someone were to steal my mom’s car, she’d probably utter in her loudest whisper (because she doesn’t yell), “Be careful when shifting from second to third; it sticks a little.” An Ivy League school once studied the area where I grew up because it houses such an array of extremists from every walk of life who somehow peacefully coexist with one another. No one thinks to yell about the weirdo with the dreadlocks and braided armpit hair because right next to him is a guy streaking for the right to bear arms or holding a sign announcing his purple vow of silence. It doesn’t have to make sense, but somehow it does. One never knows what to expect, but because of that, no one is shocked enough to waste a breath.

My husband calls it “being Italian” when someone gets angry. …”But the PASTA!!! It’s TOOO COLD!!!!” such a person might yell.

…”And by the way, YOU STINK LIKE ANCHOVIES!”

To which I would cry, because I would call that a rage. From my walk of life, we tend to mill on our feelings like they are an odd herb which may or may not make us healthier or sicker after time. If it works through our system, we might benefit and learn a lesson that leaves us with a lighter step. If it doesn’t, we might end up constipated with toxins–emotions–we can’t purge.

So back to the workshop, and how we addressed the question… Is it ever okay to get angry in the workplace?

  • If anger looks like telling someone she is a stupid bandanna (my new, made-up curse word) and her fingernails are ugly too, then no.

  • If anger looks like stewing so deeply that you fail to address the needs of your patients–or customers or children–then no.

  • If anger looks like saying something that will play over and over again in someone’s head and change the relationship dynamic in an irreparable way, then absolutely not.

Here is what I’ve learned about expressing anger–in and out of the workplace:

1)When you stuff it without processing it into a “lessons learned” or “let it go” phase, it typically creates some other symptom in your relationship or lifewhether it be feeling stifled to act authentically or developing a strange health issue like insomnia or unexplained restless leg syndrome or simply lashing out at your innocent partner as if he/she were a copperhead waiting in the reeds to strike.

2)When you blow off steam anytime it boils up, you give no regard to who it might burn in the process. You create a wake around you that changes your relationships and sometimes your life. Have you ever suffered a steam burn? Yeah. It makes you never want to drink tea again…or come into that person’s frame of view. A blistering welt is not something your colleagues, peers, or loved ones will seek to experience twice. And if they do, there are probably bigger problems.

What can you do instead?

1)Ask yourself what you want from the situation or person. Is it peace? Is it for someone to start meeting deadlines? Is it to be heard for five minutes? Express what you want, even if silently. But don’t use the words “not, no, don’t, and never.” My good friend and colleague Marlene Chism states that real growth begins when we state what we DO want.

2)Manage your emotions. If you are ready to throw rattlesnakes at someone, you are not ready to talk to that warm body. Walk a few miles. Drink a Kool Aid (or Orange Tango, if you are British). Write a manifesto.An attorney once told me, “You can’t unsay something you’ve said.” It’s better to wait to make sure you really want to be on record having uttered those words. Chances are, you don’t.

3)State your truth delicately. Expressing that you are angry is okay, and maybe even a tad vogue. But if I were a futurist, I’d say that the next trend will be to speak your truth with love. Rather than say, “I’m fuming because you stink like mud,” make it behavior based; “I feel angry when you miss deadlines.” And make it solution oriented, “I would love it if you could use the checklist to ensure your deadlines are met.” Or, “I feel upset when you walk out of the room after I’ve asked a question without answering me. Could you, in the future, provide me with a one-sentence reply, even if it’s to say that you need to exit to think things over?” It’s okay to feel constipated for two seconds while crafting a response if it saves you from two hours of heartache later after blurting out a hurtful slew of slurs.

4)If the other person accepts,  walk away with gratitude. Emotions were hurt, yes, but they can be healed much more easily if you don’t get into the muck together by bringing up, “And by the way, seven years ago, you forgot to thank me for pouring your coffee.” Dirt never helps to a wound heal. And blowing off steam into someone’s direction never helps her have a good (and happy) skin tone.

How do you blow off steam, without burning someone else? I ask this question because as entrepreneurs, leaders, or humans, it’s something we face.

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Can You Hear Me Now? Branding in Your Own Voice

“Moooooommmmmyyyyyyy!” my daughter, Sierra, 6, shouts from the opposing end of our one-story rambler as she prepares for school–having already devoured her overly sweetened oatmeal (we’ll work on that habit later).

1,2,3, I count, holding my breath as I wait…No answer from Mommy, I tell myself (intentionally, because as I tell the kids, “I’m not the family dog. You can come to me rather than screaming my name.”).

“MAH-MEEEEEE!” she shouts, more insistent.

Okay, maybe this is serious, I think, since it is now a two-Mommy alarm. And even if it’s not, it doesn’t feel terrible to be needed.

Sierra breaks out of routine and requests something other than sugary cereal.

I run down the hallway in my teal microfiber socks, nearly denting my head on the corner as I round the final stretch of hardwood floor before I spy her splayed on her carpet floor, brushing her American Girl doll’s sleek auburn hair. She looks up at me with her globe eyes from behind her ringlets (which have yet to be tamed before school). “Mommy, when will you get me a hairbrush just for Saige?”

The one (but not only) Saige doll.

Not an emergency, I think. But to Sierra, it’s important. You see, her “Grandma Boppy” told her once that the oils from her own head can get on the doll’s hair and make it grimy, so she should use a different brush. She can’t find the doll’s brush her grandma had given her amidst the tangle of her rainbow loom, crayons, and candy canes left over from Christmas. In another morning’s haze, I had told her, “We’ll get you another one at the store.” Now she’s wanting me to pony up.

I just got off the phone with an author who is writing a rather riveting and tenuous life story. Like Sierra, he wants to be heard–as do all authors I interview for a ghostwriting or editing project. In fact, one of the biggest concerns I hear is, “Will you write or edit it in my voice?” which is the equivalent of asking, “Will you help me be heard?” or in Sierra-ese, “Will you buy that doll brush?”

Voice is the tone and style with which you say something. It may be the way the words fall on the page or are uttered into the auditorium. Your voice is the greatest tool you have to communicate with the masses.

Why is it so important that you tell your story–whether it be a book or the description of your brand–in your voice, and not someone else’s?

1)Writing in someone else’s voice means you will be attracting customers to a different brand–not yours. If you aim to attract customers that align to your brand, use the words–tone, inflections, imagery, dialogue–that represent your unique personality and principles as a writer, leader, or entrepreneur.

2)Writing in your voice means that when you are heard, you also will feel heard. Success in relationships is often measured by an equal exchange of power, which means that both parties feel heard. Success in business also requires being heard; but a lesser known thought is that it requires feeling heard. You will feel heard when you know that the recipient understands the true intention behind your message.

Let it be your voice that your customers hear. And then know when to pause and let your message distill in silence so that they can consider how to respond.

Sierra speaks in her own voice, which is why I will stop by Dollar General today to get Saige a hairbrush. Her words inspired me to live differently, even if just for the twelve minutes it will take to shop.

If you aren’t sure what to say or how to say it, hire a branding expert or ghostwriter to help. (That’s what we do for others.) What’s easy for you to say might be easier for us to write.

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Why I’m Not “Bossy Jossy” Anymore

Many people get flung nicknames in grade school. I was lucky that the worst I received was, “Bossy Jossy.” In around third grade, the rumor on the playground was, if you want to play a really cool game, like “Pegasuses and Unicorns,” you have to ask Jossy, or “Sally.” Apparently we were the Ones in Charge.

As I pounded the elliptical last week for part of my slow train into this year’s marathon (we’ll see if I mean that figuratively or literally), I watched my husband doing his little weights ritual down the long corridor. I saw him smiling at the other gym patrons in between sets, and I laughed. He had told me that morning:

“I really hope the Mad Cougher isn’t there this morning.”

I thought he was just being overly observant, to put it kindly. But this wasn’t the first time he’d noticed the Mad Cougher. In fact, he’d noticed–and commented on–the Mad Cougher many times. So many times, in fact, that one day as I was on the elliptical, no doubt fantasizing about running through a savannah wherein I had fields of gold flowing behind me along with my luscious hair (my dreams keep me going; don’t judge), my husband nudged me out of my trance, and gestured his elbow towards the treadmill across the way. “He’s here,” he said, his face twisted like a knotty bunch of vines in winter.

Disclaimer: This is not the real Mad Cougher.

I wanted to retort, “Couldn’t you just be nice to the poor guy?” But then I heard it: the cough. Followed by another cough, which flowed into a coughing flurry consisting of snorts–and wheezes that sounded like an engine sputtering and whining before something big fell off of it. I did feel bad for the fellow. “Maybe he has tuberculosis,” I told my husband. But at the same time, to credit my husband’s disgust, the Mad Cougher didn’t even make an effort to stop the flow of potential juices from his mouth into the air with so much as a sweaty edge of his tank top or a slight turn of his head. If he did have tuberculosis, we were all in trouble.

I should add that we are part of the early set at the gym, so our cohorts at that time are generally the retired military type who get up before dawn winks its eye and have already written a book or two and saved several villages of small children by the time they trudge into the gym. At least that is the case with “John McCain,” as my husband calls him–a man twice my husband’s age who, by my husband’s account, can lift twice as much weight. Surely, he’s survived war camps as well. And somehow this makes my husband grumpy too, because I suppose it’s more than he can get done all in one day.

This got me thinking about how I might come across at the gym, or anywhere. Sometimes I’m in my own world–like in the savannah (which sometimes becomes a rain forest). Often I’m obsessed with a plan or creative idea which I will forget as soon as the sweat dries from my middle aged legs. Rarely do I think about how others might perceive me.

They tell us in school and self esteem books to stop caring what other people think or say about us. But I’ve found this is only constructive to a degree. Yes, it’s not healthy to obsess about pleasing that insatiable or indignant or even “irrelevant” (to our life path) person who we don’t even really like or relate to that much anyway. I mean, does it really matter if Kanye West doesn’t think I’m all that? He really doesn’t have much to do with my goals or values. But if those people who we aspire to connect with perceive us to be someone who is totally opposite of our true values and intent, we are missing opportunities to grow.

A pegasus in a savannah…does it get better than that?

It’s trendy today to talk about “branding.” But I’m talking about branding at it’s most remedial core. What is the basis of your personal brand? Do you come across indignant like the Mad Cougher? Arrogant like “John McCain” (and no, I don’t mean the real guy, who seems nice enough to me)? Or “Bossy” like me? As much as we don’t like to think that how we look or talk matters, it is the only thing people have by which to assess us in new situations. Here are some quick tips I’ve learned for defining your personal brand, so that the story people tell about you is at least in the same genre as your desired goal:

1)Create Your Brand.

Decide what you value most, where you want to go in life, and what principles will guide you as you do it. How will you spend your life in order to gain the most fulfillment?

2)Cut the Clutter.

Examine your habits and see which ones don’t align with your intended “brand.” Eliminate them.

3)Add Color.

Put new behaviors in place where the outdated ones were culled. So you want to be seen as an approachable community leader? That probably means you don’t want to come across as a snobby b****. Stop hiding beneath your hipster cap or cowboy duster and start smiling and saying hello to the people you see day in and day out at the coffee shop.

I should add that on the playground, despite my nickname of Bossy Jossy, a friend once told me, “Most people know to ask you if they can play, and not ‘Sally,’ because you are nice.” So the other moral of that story is, when you listen to your critic and consider making a shift to your personal branding, only absorb within reason; make sure her voice is not ringing in your ear just because it makes a catchy tune or rhyme (like “Bossy Jossy”), but because it is actually based on truth.

And I should also add that my husband actually broke down and talked to the Mad Cougher today. Guess what? He said he’s a pretty nice guy. Final lesson of this blog: Be aware that other people may not have done their branding work yet; don’t judge too harshly.

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Start Where You Are

Two and a half years ago while high on hot dogs at a minor league baseball game with a large group of friends and our kids, a girlfriend challenged me to sign up for a half marathon. It seemed like a great idea at the time (despite the fact that I’d never run more than two miles at one time) so I quickly said, “Sure, I CAN DO THAT! I’d love to!!”

Nevermind that I would have to train in 100 degree weather.

Nevermind that I had a million other things to do.

Nevermind that I was a single mother at the time, and didn’t know who would watch my kids, and I certainly couldn’t strap a 3 and 6 year old to my back.

Nevermind that my last experience running competitively was in my junior year of high school when, during a race in 100 degree heat, I blurted out, “I hate this!!” as I passed one of my teammates before literally passing out on the finish line and being served orange slices like they were some kind of magic candy. (Apparently I still had some lessons to learn about positive psychology, teamwork, and motivating others.)

Nevermind that I don’t really like running.

I CAN’T DO THIS, I thought as I got home that evening.

I’m stubborn to a fault, so I kept my word. The question was not whether I would run the half marathon, the question was how on earth would I get past the first two miles?

It turns out, a few people had run half marathons before me. In fact, as I would learn, those numbered stickers on the back of people’s cars–13.1, 26.2–were not some secret code. They instead meant that more people than I’d ever imagined had run half marathons and even full marathons. And as I’d soon learn, those were the slackers, because the real athletes were running ironmans at 70.3 miles. WTH. I will never compete with them. I will never be good enough, I thought. But I CAN learn from them.

And so I did. It turned out that when I said I can’t do this, I was right. I couldn’t go out and run thirteen miles that day. But I also learned that when I said I can do this, I was right. I learned that I didn’t have to run thirteen miles that day, or even every day. I only had to run hellishly long distances once per week, and I only needed to add one mile per week.

So I started–at two miles–and within eleven weeks, and after many hills, hundred degree days, hellishly painful joints, and a worn out pair of hundred dollar shoes, I ran my race at 13.1 miles. I didn’t by any means win, but I did get my own sticker.

What did I learn, and how does this apply to a business blog? As entrepreneurs or leaders or humans, we often look at where we want to be. While envisioning the goal is crucial to staying focused, it can also be enough to demoralize us. Don’t stop there. Set your goal, but start where you are–not where your competitor is or even where your finale is. Learn from others, but be present to yourself one mile at a time. This is what I did, and now I have enough endurance (and foolishness?) to think I should strive for that 26.2 sticker (before I’m too old to try). What challenge will you try next, and how you will you break your goal down so that you are starting where you are?

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Avoiding headless dolls and counterfeits

Last night, my six-year-old, Sierra, and I were having “Mommy time.” Usually, we read a book about mice or foxes, but last night, she wanted to play dolls. We headed to her over-sized dollhouse (frugal me thought it could be a bookshelf later), and I picked up the first doll I could find–which was a wannabe Barbie she got at the dentist.

When we had arrived at that dentist last year, they sat us in a waiting area across from their main treatment room–the door to which was wide open. The setting was like what you’d imagine just outside Hades itself–intermittent screams mixed with gnashing of teeth against metal and a low overall moan. I started to get hot.

About forty minutes later when Sierra got seated in the treatment chair, she started wailing before they touched her. In fact, she screamed so much that they didn’t fill her tooth. The dentist and her assistant just stared at me the whole time with their eyes pitched up from over their fancy goggles as if to suggest I could stop it all if only I were a good mom. After about five minutes, they said since she couldn’t be a “good girl,” she would have to come back another day and get laughing gas. (I had to drive around thirty miles for this experience.) I politely gathered my things to leave.

On the way out, they handed Sierra’s older sister a doll for “being good” before looking at Sierra with a blank stare before tears erupted again. Thankful for Sierra, Sascha was past the stage of liking these dolls (if she ever did), so she handed the sequin-dressed figure to her baby sister in the car. (And Mama made an appointment with an entirely different dentist as soon as she got home.)

Last night, I picked up this doll to make it cook dinner on its plastic stove or something, and Sierra said, “If you want to take off her dress, you’ll have to take off her head. Last time I did that though, her arms fell off too.” She showed me how the dress was stuck on with no zipper or Velcro to undo it. She looked like a Barbie, but she definitely was not.

Lately, as I’ve been head first in the consulting world–both management consulting for organizations as well as entrepreneurial consulting–I’ve come across a lot of experiences that resemble the one with Sierra’s doll. I’ve seen eager business leaders paying way more than they have to to get something with much less value than they need. The opportunities (and their salespeople) may look really glitzy–like the real thing. They may even provide joy for a little while–or one or two really good ideas. But then when you want to change the sequin gown for something a bit more authentic to the task at hand, the doll gets dismembered.

As a leader–whether of an established organization or of your own shop–how do you know when you are holding the real thing? How do you know when you should invest in a service, consultant, or product to help your business expand–and when you should throw the fake Barbie in the bin (or at the dentist) and run for the door–asking around for referrals before ever experiencing something so harrowing again? Here is my quick “gut checklist”:

1)Surround yourself with authentic relationships with those who will give you honest feedback about the decisions you are making.

As my husband said about our relationship when we first got together, “I want you to hold a real dollar bill so you’ll know what the counterfeit feels like.” If most of the people in your life are “real,” you are more apt to know when you’ve found a real opportunity–versus someone who instead cares more about your clothes than your cause.

2)If you are being treated like a sheep, you are probably about to get sheared.

I get very passionate when I see consultants charging five figures to come have a “VIP dinner” with them and 500 of their other cult followers. No one is worth five figures for a dinner–even if they are serving you their own kidneys–and few are worth that much for a seminar. Yes, they “are successful entrepreneurs making seven figures”–off of YOU. You won’t get your return on investment, unless it is to prevent you from ever spending this kind of money on another “consultant.” If you are being herded into a room with one guru answering everyone’s questions in a way that makes people cry (and you are not getting very many bathroom breaks) this is a good sign that you are being seen as a sheep. Your newly-sheared wool may be sold down the river to spin gold–leaving you naked and cold. If you want to be a big earner, don’t invest in big takers unless you have that money laying around as kindling–or unless you really need to cry. Buy their books if you want their tips, but save the real advice seeking for those who truly want you to be so successful that people are coming to your seminars.

3)Don’t skip the basics of how to build a strong business.

Know your numbers, build real relationships, provide a true service, take care of yourself in the process. You’ve heard all of that before. No consultant can deliver you overnight success. A good one will listen to you, advise you, and help you turn a profit in a way that doesn’t require being a fake Barbie. A good one has already built one, two, or more businesses for others, and enjoys seeing you succeed more than he or she enjoys seeing you bleed. A good one won’t give you fake Barbies or have screaming sounds filtering into the waiting room–but instead will help you brand yourself and find sales channels and success that is in alignment with your mission and personality.

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Rally Racing and Entrepreneurship: 3 Survival Tips

I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost as long as I’ve been filing my own taxes. When I was 23 years old and practically forced into starting an advertising business, my friends looked at me like I was a goddess. I could work whenever the mood struck, drink pitch black coffee in my orange fleece pajamas, and write random poetry about rivers or chocolate in my off-time. (Yes, I did grow up in the Pacific Northwest, can you tell?)

To top it off, I earned more money than most of them. (Disclaimer: This isn’t saying much, since we were just out of college.)

Here’s how a typical dinner party conversation went back then (picture me holding a martini as I gazed out at the beach from the back deck, with my tan legs yearning for another body surfing session):

“Wow, Joce, you are so lucky. How do you do it?”

“Yeah, I know, and thank you.”

That sounds cocky, but bear with me; I have something to say, and it involves my weakness.

Over the years, my career and business have been a little like rally racing. My good friend Wiki says: Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. Rallies take place on all surfaces and in all conditions: asphalt (tarmac), gravel, or snow and ice, sometimes more than one in a single rally, depending on the course and event. Rallies are also run every month of the year, in every climate, bitter cold to monsoon rain. And you should know that these nutty races can last days. The naturally-anesthetized drivers pursue galactic-like snow forests or 115-degree heat with no promise of a stupid trophy, cash prize, or even life left at the end of it.

I, too, accelerate through obstacles, endure through deserts, and white knuckle down ravines at times.

Well, not really. But I’ve lost clients due to no crime, misconduct, or lack of performance on my part. Big clients. Some lost funding; others simply moved on to other projects or businesses. It’s a bit like suddenly finding out the road you were on not only disappeared, but never existed. You don’t deserve it, but it’s happening--to you.

As my husband and now business partner once said as he was getting to know my entrepreneurial mode of operation, “You have to be crazy to do this.”

To which I replied, “Crazy-good, or crazy-bad?”

This reminds me of a time I was in college, traveling through Europe on my own. I prided myself on spending as little as I could, so I would eat stale bread for days before splurging on a real meal. If I had no bag for bread, I’d tuck it in my sock (true story, but please don’t ask me). And I’d time my trains to sleep on them at night (avoiding hotel fees), arriving at my destination in the morning (not exactly fresh, I might add, but who’s sniffing?). If a train left at a god-awful hour, too early for me to enjoy my stay in a cheap hostel, I’d opt for sleeping at the station.

Well, my not-so-travel-worn friend met me in Paris that December. We spent a couple of days there, then hopped on a train to Switzerland. For some reason, we were stuck in Berne overnight while awaiting an early morning train. True to form, I made my way to the train station “waiting room,” laid out my sheet on the hard, slate floor, and matter-of-factly said, “Goodnight.” If I’d glanced at his eyes, I’m sure they would have been rolling.

A little while later, a guard came in, and told my friend, who happened to play football, “You, there… YOU are in charge of making sure that NO ONE COMES IN OR OUT.” (I think I’ve heard this line in more than one movie. And in case you didn’t know it, Swiss guards are not exactly the warm, fuzzy types.) Well, in the middle of the night, I overheard (in my dream) that same guard come in and yell at my friend. Apparently he had “let” someone in during the night. And now the entire Swiss security had been breached, or something like that. Needless to say, I slept through it, and the next morning, we made our train.

My point? Oh yeah. I’m sure my friend asked me, “Are you crazy?!” at some point in this saga.

My answer? I don’t have one. I don’t know if I’m crazy or not. I just know that I survive, get where I need to go, and help others along the way–not always in that order. Along the way, I have culled a few survival tips I’d like to share now, because this is really not about me:

1. Stop Calling Yourself Unemployed. Maybe you were laid off, but you are not unemployed. If you have started a business, even if you haven’t yet made a dime, then you have a job title. Entrepreneurs DO have jobs…and the upside is, they don’t get fired. So start basking in that detail, and share it with your new friends.

2. Say Yes First, Adapt Later. If I had stayed in my initial role of selling and buying print advertising, I probably would have been out of business long ago. In the Dot.com boom, I got to work with some pretty darned amazing people–international investors who had been knighted by the Queen of England, celebrities, and leaders with incredible visions for how they wanted to help the world. I went from working in advertising, to marketing, to publicity, to writing, to editing, to publishing, to consulting. I quickly adapted as the market changed. I always responded to my clients’ requests and needs. If I knew it was a task that could be done, I said yes, and then I figured out how to do it later.

  • Sometimes that involved subcontracting work that I knew others could do better.
  • Sometimes it involved discounting my services so I could learn a new skill.
  • Always it involved leaving my mind open to becoming better at something.

3. Hustle. If I had a soapbox, I’d use it for this topic. Only about .000001% of entrepreneurs hit it rich. Okay, that’s not a scientific statistic, but you get it, right? I’ve had clients hire me because they know they are going to sell 100,000 copies of their book just as soon as it comes out. But the ones who have actually sold 100,000 copies are those who hustled. Expect to have to work your a*% off before seeing a dime. And then expect to have to do it all over again until your model is sustainable.

As technology changed–allowing just about anyone to start a business–I was no longer the cool kid on the block. In fact, when the recession hit, those with traditional jobs felt like the cool kids, because they had security. I was just like a lot of other people trying to carve their own way–either due to increased opportunity or need.

You might think that as an entrepreneur, I know a thing or two about security–and lack of it. And you’d be right. But the truth is, I’m always adapting what I know. And besides, what is security? You don’t have to be a rally racer to face danger:

  • Even a Volvo station wagon can fly off a cliff.
  • Even an SVP who has worked in a company for 30 years can be laid off.

If you were a rally racer in the middle of a monsoon, I bet you’d have to find your own route at times–and it’s the same with being an entrepreneur. The distinct outcome lies in how you respond. When a monsoon hits, will you drown, or will you use the spare tires and raincoat you packed, and get busy with the task at hand?

 

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My Dog, “Zipper:” Thriving with Impermanence

I have this little yellow dog I got by accident back in the year 2000. I wasn’t shopping for a dog, but apparently she was shopping for me. She arrived on my doorstep–bedraggled and belittled. Her hip had been crushed in a previous accident but re-healed to the point that surgery was useless (causing me to name her Zipper for her crooked walk). Her tail was tucked so low I couldn’t see it beneath her skinny belly with nine nipples (most dogs have eight).

And that belly, it would turn out when I went to have her spayed, housed four small pups.

For years, this dog I never intended to own has slowly worked her way into the landscape of my life…first by sprinting (zipping) at ridiculous speeds in circles up a hill, through the woods, and across my lawn (reinforcing the appropriateness of her name)–often flinging mud on my face in the process. Later, by becoming best playmate to my two small girls, who would pretend she was a pull-up toy…and then a princess…and then a pony…depending upon their developmental stages.

And especially, by spending a few minutes of every morning doing her own thing: lying in the heat of the sun, usually in the most dusty spot in the yard, and looking entirely dead. More than once, I’ve had to run up to Zipper and shake her from her meditative sun-trance to ensure that she really contained life.

Now that she is 12 years old, I know that she has fewer days ahead to do her thing than she’s already cast behind her.

I’m reminded that very little stays the same:

  • Very little in life stays the same.We get married; we get divorced. We have children; they have children. We get dogs; we later get cats.
  • Very little in business stays the same. We lose old jobs; we get new ones. We create new brands; we kill old ones. We make new connections; we shed outdated ones.
  • And particularly, we think we have the answers, only to realize we are still asking the questions.

Here are 5 tips I’ve learned for handling life’s impermanent things (like mortal dogs):

  1. Celebrate the dog lying in the sun. It might vanish in a year, but today it is our story. Be willing to experience joy even as deeply as grief.
  2. Find other dogs with other quirks. No single friend, partner, job, pet, brand, client, or outcome deserves entire credit or responsibility for our fulfillment. Commit decisively, but flourish intentionally through multiple channels.
  3. Be stable. Want trustworthy-ness and consistency? Practice them first; then recognize how they feel and look. We won’t likely attract something that we don’t first invest in becoming.
  4. Spend time in the sun (or shade). We can’t be there for clients, customers, boss, friends, or family while running in circles up hills all day. Recharge routinely, without a smidgen of guilt.
  5. Befriend change. Today’s impeccable leaders adapt and innovate. Like a swimmer stuck in a rip tide, stop fighting and paddle parallel to the shore to return to a prime surfing spot. If we face the situation, cut ties, shift directions, move to a sunnier spot, we may find a good place to lie down again–or run.
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All My Worrying Paid Off

My business partner and I once experienced a “win” we weren’t sure would ever come. We had complete buy-in from our potential client, wrote a slam dunk proposal, and heard nothing but great feedback from his team. In fact, we had a pending schedule for the whole roll-out.

Then, we heard nothing. Then, we heard that our champion’s boss had left, and that the whole thing was up in the air until further notice.

So we moved on…sort of.

I say sort of because I don’t move on. I worry.

I worry about what I didn’t do:

Don’t get stuck under a sticker bush.

Maybe I should have…bid less money, bid more money, followed up more, followed up less, checked the proposal for split infinitives, eaten protein instead of a popover for breakfast, not lied as a 4-year-old when I told my mom that my friend Aisha had pushed me in the sticker bush when really I had crawled there myself because it looked like too good a hiding place to resist.

I worry about what to do next:

Maybe I should…follow up more, follow up less, forget about it, offer to fly directly to the client and do a jig (no, I definitely shouldn’t do that), go running, quit my job and take up something less risky like knitting.

The amazing thing about worriers is that we can find any reason why things might fail.

My partner is not a worrier. He is a pray-er. When he can’t control something, he gives it to God, and he goes for a walk. Some might call this letting it go to the universe.

Then seemingly out of the blue, we got a call stating that the client wanted to move forward with our proposal. All my worrying paid off. Or was it all his praying? The truth is, I’ll never know. But I do know that while I worried, I expended energy, but didn’t deliver anything new to myself or the client. An efficiency expert would say that is a rather inefficient use of energy. In fact, it’s a bit like flailing around under a sticker bush.

So, as a result, I’ve concluded this:

  • Worry is useful only when it drives us to take action. Once it becomes obsessive, it’s only useful as kindling for prayer.

What are you worrying about today? Can you pray about it instead–or let it go to a higher power or purpose?

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You’re Just Like Me, Only Exactly Opposite

Have you ever noticed how early on in a romantic relationship, your partner can do no wrong, and seems to be “just like you.” He may be a Harley-riding, hog-raising, gun activist while you reside in a vegetarian hippie commune raising soybeans and making hemp underwear, but somehow you rationalize that you’ve never met anyone who seemshog so much like “your perfect reflection.” Together, you ride off into the sunset to get to the next biker bar where you will eat the tofu burger you tucked away in your rainbow sock–all the while grateful to the goddesses for providing you with such fortune (as he chows on his three-pound alligator burger).

I don’t mean to de-romanticize the romanticism, but inevitably, the day comes when you realize your partner is not only not like you, but he or she is in fact in many ways completely opposite. This is in fact, according to many relationship psychologists, a phase in the relationship–albeit not always one as fun and lighthearted as when you first locked steely glances. (Disclaimer note: I’m not talking about my partner and husband, who is, in fact, just about completely perfect.)

What will you do on that day, and what will you do if the partner I mention is actually your business partner, client, or even friend? Before you throw in the towel in search of someone more identical, consider that this person’s differences might actually be the keys to your success. Here are some tips for analyzing whether the differences in your relationship make it fit for heaven, or destined for Hells Angels. Ask yourself:

1)Do this person’s strengths compliment yours? Meaning, if your partner is different, is he or she different in at least two or three helpful ways? Does he like doing laundry, while you’d rather fix the car? Is he gifted at cold calls, whereas you build a mean financial spreadsheet? Is he just plain the most talented piano player you have ever heard, while you are the tone-deaf owner a piano school?

2)Do this person’s weaknesses coincide with his or her strengths? David Rendall, author of The Freak Factor, says that sometimes our greatest weaknesses are the THE FREAK FACTOR: Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weaknessbest clues to our greatest strengths. In fact, he advises focusing on weaknesses long enough to help them become guiding lights to our strengths. For example, if your partner is extraordinarily creative, but horrible at taking out the waste bin, don’t worry about it… He’s not organized, but he’s gifted at being disorderly in a creative way. Make your millions off his creative idea, and you can hire a maid to do your dirty work.

Mac Anderson, founder of Successories and Simple Truths, told me in an interview that the turning point in his success came when he stopped trying to do everything himself, and instead hired people to do the things he wasn’t good at. I’ve seen some of the most successful marriages between two people who seem so different, but who act as perfect complements. Is it time for you to embrace someone’s differences?

Here’s how to know if it’s not:

If someone’s weaknesses etch at your strengths (or strength), move on. Strengths-based management is effective, but only if one’s weaknesses are not strong enough to trip him or her beyond repair. Your highly talented rockstar boyfriend destined for a mega-million dollar deal is only a benefit to you when he isn’t also beating you silly. Your business partner with the tremendous technical talent is only useful to your company  when he’s not bilking from the bottom line to feed his gambling habit. If you are so exhausted trying to get someone to be strong more often than weak, divert the energy to yourself, and get to more solid ground where you can find the next person to fill the role. You are worth more than that.

On the other hand, if your partner is good at something you aren’t, stop complaining, and listen and learn from him…

 

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