Learning to say I have enough

About a month ago an old acquaintance sat down with me and asked what I was doing.

Coaching full time, I said.

How many clients do you have?

Not enough, I replied, feeling like Eeyore again.

Five minutes later, I turned to him and apologized. I’m sorry, that’s a really negative way to look at it. God is providing what I need, when I need it.

I have enough. And I always want more!

Now, “I want more” still sounds like I’m discontented, but that’s not the attitude the statement carries in my mind.

“I want more” not because I’m greedy for the money that a fuller coaching load would bring. It’s because I have time to spare, and there are lots of people to care for. out there I want more, because I have so much more to give.

The Tao Teh Ching says “He who knows when he has enough is rich.”

Most of the people who can read this blog are rich. You have enough.

This change in attitude has been really helpful for my sense of internal peace. Coincidentally (?) within two or three weeks of that penitent moment, I landed several new clients.

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Quitting vs. Giving Up

First of all let’s address the semantics. For the sake of my argument, I have definitions I’ll refer to as I make distinctions. I suppose the distinctions could just as easily apply if you reversed the terms, but for the duration of this conversation I’m going to create my own differentiation.

If you were raised with some version of the phrase “don’t be a quitter” I think you might find that injunction to apply more to the way I define “giving up” in my following argument. When I talk about quitting, it’s strategic, it’s a battlefield retreat. When I talk about giving up, it’s the end of a long, hard emotional road, a slow death you’ve stopped caring about preventing.

They’re easy to confuse. They both come as the result of fatigue and defeat of some kind.

Quitting: a proactive move based on the information available. A business decision.

Giving up: saying “I’m done” to your gifts and calling, walking away for good.

Jason Ropp asked me on Saturday in relation to my new partnership writing fiction with Justin Fike called Cha’am Cowboys Publishing: “how do you know when it’s time to quit a series?” His question was somewhat geared around whether or not we found financial success in our upcoming Stetson Jeff Stetson series (by the way these books are hilarious, message me if you want to be added to Cha’am Cowboys’ mailing list) and how do you decide when to stop writing a series?

First I explained how Mark Daniels and I had published Michiana Art News for about 18 months before we quit. It was a fun project, and broke even but paid very little. We saw that to even with a significant increase in our time commitment to the project, it wouldn’t increase our net very much. So we quit. There’s a business principle behind this: one of the best business decisions you can make is a timely decision not to do business. Mark and I both agreed that it was time to be done. We learned what we could and moved on.

However, with the new project, the decision to quit or not quit has much less to do with the success of any one of our books, or, for that matter, any one of our series. That’s because Justin and I are equally committed not to Give Up. A major distinctive between the Art News and Cha’am’s writing is that the news got old, but Cha’am Cowboys products are fiction, and therefore will always be fresh for readers who discover it later. Ten years later, or twenty. Quitting a series, then, is more a function of feeling we’ve played a certain character out, becoming tired of creating with that character. As long as we’re enjoying the development, we don’t quit. We quit when the story arc reaches its logical conclusion.  We plow the furrow to the end of the row, not looking back to worry about what’s growing behind us.

Look, people only jump the shark when they’re trying to squeeze the last bit of money out of something that’s commercially killing it. The time to quit is before you jump the shark. It’s okay to stop producing a series, even if it’s very successful. It’s okay to end any kind of enterprise in business. It’s okay to quit. There are other things which come along based on your values that may cause you to say “I’m done with this particular enterprise”. But that doesn’t mean you’re through being an enterprising person.

What Justin and I both know is that we’re building a back catalog, plus a joint mailing list, so that when one of our books (or a solo project) takes off, it can carry the back catalog with it. This will pay some kind of dividend, some day, as long as we don’t give up.

I have another project which is a more sensitive issue for me right now so I’m reserving details. In this project, I felt I couldn’t continue investing at the moment, so I quit. The other party was very unhappy, even angry. I had given my word, and it’s never comfortable to say out loud that I can’t complete what I promised to complete right now.

This happened some years back when my wife got a painting gig which required a ton of wallpaper removal in a tall stairwell. As time went on, she was heavier and more physically awkward with a pregnancy and we realized she had to abandon the project for her own safety.

These things happen, sometimes amicably and other times with more hurt feelings. Having an exit strategy is important in small business, because your partner may not be giving up, but an illness or other mitigating circumstance may mean they have to quit for a while.

I’m about to quit spending money with a certain advertising agency, because I’m not getting the results I expect, but I’m not giving up on advertising my business. That’s a form of quitting everyone expects you to do!

In short, I’m saying that quitting is sometimes a decision you have to make, while giving up is usually more of a gradual process where you’re demoralized and it happens more passively– but when it’s done, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever come back to that thing you loved doing. You’re too bitter to try again.

So I say, don’t give up. Be a quitter if you must, and deal with the fallout, circle the wagons, gather your metaphors and cliches, then figure out a way to Try, Try again… if at first you don’t succeed.

 

A reason to live

I was asked to write an article for an online mag, and the theme was “What keeps me up at night? What gets me up in the morning?” This is such an intriguing opportunity. Often times I do a variation on the theme, but this month the theme really attracted me so I went straight after it.

What keeps me up at night: I sleep soundly, and I’m good enough at having home/work life balance that I can model that for my life coaching clients. This isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally work in the evening, but that’s usually balanced out by comp time during the day. I stay up to work on my writing projects that don’t always have an immediate financial payoff, but that feels more like hobby time even though it’s work, too. Besides the idea that something keeping you up at night is workload execution, there’s another definition for “what keeps you up at night.” Those are the things that worry you: they keep you up not because you’re working, but because you’re worrying. There are two basic categories that come to mind here: somebody’s after me, or I won’t get what I need tomorrow. These are fear-driven worry issues. The first one is an integrity issue, which could include indebtedness of a variety of kinds. The second is an issue of faith that I’ll have enough. I don’t really like the word “faith” whether you apply it to a higher power or simply to faith in yourself to go get what you need (new contracts or clients, etc.) In fact, just this week my wife and I were up a little later than usual chewing over some of these things. Business is tough, and summer is my slow season.

“I don’t need more faith,” she said, “just more work.”

I’m happy to say that I rarely have trouble sleeping because a) I don’t have too many integrity issues, enemies, or debtors, b) I work really hard so I trust that will bring results when I need them, and c) back to the top, I don’t often work late at night because I have decent work/family life balance. A few days after the hard conversation I had with my wife, things are remarkably different. I had a meeting with a major prospect who may close by the end of the month. Just in the nick of time. You have to have guts, sometimes. Faith other times. Integrity all the time.

What gets me up in the morning? That one’s easy. When the entrepreneurial journey gets tough, sometimes we talk about going back to a factory job, working for the man. The pay is steady, at least. Then we remember how miserable that makes me. I get up in the morning because I absolutely love what I do. I get to provide life coaching, lead an organization, run a business, set my own schedule, write all kinds of books, articles, blogs, and work from home. As I write this my wife is working elsewhere, and my children are home. We don’t have them in daycare. They are unfortunately being babysat by the glowing, one-eyed monster called television… But at least I know what program they’re ingesting.

I have a vision of a different world where everyone has at least one good friend. That’s why I train more coaches; a coach has many roles in terms of accountability and planning, but can also be your friend and peer when your role leaves you peerless. It’s lonely at the top. I make it less so for lots of people, and I love that. I get to deploy my creativity on a regular basis. I love that. I get up in the morning because I love my life, and my work doesn’t (usually) feel like work!

Coaching biz: build a niche, or brand?

 

Notes from my webinar hosted by CCNI on June 7. Many thanks to CCNI, and to all the folks who joined in to hear what I have to say!

I want to share a bit about my personal journey as a coach at the outset so you know who I am, where I’m coming from and what I really have to offer here (and what I don’t).

It’s been brought to my attention by a peer that I struggle with coming across as either arrogant about what I have achieved or whiny about what’s not going well. That’s a major growth edge for me, and in fact it can sometimes mean that I create stumbling blocks for others even as I promote my own coaching business. This friend noted that when people do get to know me they find that these first impressions don’t hold up, which I of course knew; however, what I’m not always aware of in the moment is how others perceive how I present myself. In fact I feel I’m a much better writer than verbal communicator and that’s because I feel like I can massage things better when I have a chance to edit my thoughts.

So by way of introducing myself I want to be clear that any discussions of where I’ve done well or where I’ve been weak in my growth as a professional coach, those things I hope will edify you, not turn you off.

 

The next thing to say about myself by way of introduction is that yes I am a CPCC with CCNI and this call is the one place where I feel that doesn’t need further explanation, you know what it means and what it takes to get there. That’s a journey I’ve been on since 2007, when I was only 33 years old, a very young age to start a coaching career. However, I do not come from a background of church work, and often feel like an outsider; I don’t have megachurches banging down my door to lead coach training classes or coach their entire staff, but I don’t quite fit in the business world either. I’m in the art world, but that leaves me with a ton of cool contacts who can’t afford coaching! I identify strongly as an artist, poet, writer, prophet in the Ephesians 4 meaning of the term, and as such I’m a pretty nonlinear thinker. That has implications for what I write and how I write it, which we’ll come back to.

What I can tell you about the niche and branding discussion is borne of experience in being honest with myself, which is a major success. It is not born of a success in building a financially successful coaching practice. I suspect being honest with yourself is the first step to fruit, in fact I believe it enough to preach it to you without the fruit yet. Also, it makes common sense. Now that you know what to expect, let’s dig into that a bit deeper.

I was always told you need to pick a niche. I will tell you that my niche is at the crossroads of faith, the arts, and entrepreneurship. My favorite clients to work with are entrepreneurial Christian artists: people who are trying to make a living and be missional with their art. In the process of trying to build websites and manage blogs, I was gradually getting more and more blogs and websites, some of them trying to put me in front of artists, and others to attempt to attract business clientele, etc. Until one day, a friend of mine said, “just focus on your personal brand.” One website, one whole person. Let your personality show in one central location online, What I came to understand, and this is a key, is that putting yourself in a niche is actually making yourself generic. The problem with going to a networking event and saying, for example, “I am a health coach,” is that people will say “so what? I know fifteen other health and fitness gurus in this city.” And the same goes for business coaching… to a lesser extent creativity coaching. And you’re back at square one, trying to show people how you’re different…. Without coming across as arrogant or whiny. At least that’s my challenge, because I know I’m one of the best in Northern Indiana and I whine about how those other coaches aren’t really coaching!

It’s been helpful for me to think in terms of how Jesus met people. I’m going to give only one example and I’m sure you can come up with others.

Jesus had a definite niche, and he knew what it was. And that was okay. He focused there. In Matthew 15:24 he was on a vacation, but started getting pestered by a Syrophoenecian woman. So he told her what his niche was. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

She said, “lord help me.”

They argue a bit, and in her persistent faithfulness, which we could talk about in coaching speak as a high degree of buy in, he decided to give her his help.

It wasn’t Jesus’ niche that preceded him and gave him a reputation in Tyre.. it was in fact what modern marketers call a personal brand.

So the point is not that we should eschew niches. We need to know where we focus. But, if we’re dedicated to helping people who have a high degree of buy in, no matter what, when they ask for it, then we can answer that call a lot more often when we’ve focused on a personal brand.

As you know the coaching skill set gives us tools to work with anyone. But one thing I learned from attending networking groups such as BNI is that saying “I can help anyone” gives your listener nothing to focus on. And that’s a niche thing. It’s a lot more effective to say “ can you think of someone who wants to publish a book” than to say “ I can help anyone who wants to work at creative ways to promote themselves.” But while we’re asking for referrals in a niche or two, our personal brand will attract people from well beyond our niche, who will come say “please help me.” Isn’t that ultimately what we want?

Now I want to share about how this impacted my authorship and how I develop my values.

Last year I put a book proposal together for a publisher. I noted that there were lots of great books about how to coach. I have not yet seen one that came from a poetic nonlinear thinker, and I wanted to write one that way. I believe there’s power in artistic treatment of any subject matter. I got the book deal and wrote The Art of Motivational Listening: Creative Ideas for Effective Leaders. I don’t know if I ever would have conceived of, proposed or written this book if I had not come to understand that my personality was something worth celebrating. And that’s all branding really is. Think about branding commercials with no call to action. Huge companies do this. McDonald’s and Coke. They spend a lot more time celebrating a lifestyle than they do with specific calls to action within a niche. The illusion, in this case, is that their products will enhance anyone’s lifestyle! Really there’s only one person whose brand truly enhances anyone’s lifestyle. That’s Jesus. So whatever we do with our personal brand it needs to reflect what Jesus has placed within us as a calling and member of his body.

For me, a second question that rocked my world last fall was “if you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” it’s a long story of loneliness and rejection, but my answer was simple and immediate: everyone in the world should have one good friend. I want my clients to experience friendship as I deploy my creativity in pursuit of their destiny. My brand is about friendship. That’s what Jesus is to me, and what I want to reflect of him. That’s why I’m not a counselor. It’s even to some extent why I’m not a pastor. I’m a Barnabas and I’m so glad that I found coaching as a channel for my life’s work. I’m discovering this prophetic and poetic element, and exploring that deeper this year, but it feels like I’m just beginning on a long journey with that, embracing the poetic/prophetic aspect of my call, and really an entertainer aspect to that, learning to speak and perform as well as I’ve learned to listen. Thanks for taking the time to come listen to me today, the best place to get my book The Art of Motivational Listening and other books I’ve written is on the bookstore. I’m happy to answer questions or comments.

ps: some great comments and questions came up. One of them was “what’s your creative definition of brand?” And my answer went back to the idea that branding is celebrating your unique personality. This might be the most important takeaway. Please do feel free to comment on the blog as well.

Coach training, Congo update

Monday I spoke with Jacques Luwaku, one of the trainees from a class I led in Kinshasa last September with Charles Buller and Jeannette Buller Slater. Jacques (pictured, in the middle of three men seated behind the table) works with Leonard Kiswangi (pictured, seated to my immediate left) at the Kinshasa office of African Enterprise, an international organization based in South Africa, and also pastors a congregation in Kinshasa.

Jacques said, “I’m going to give you a coaching testimony. Recently, I got a call from a young husband in my church (and he filled me in on their positions, the wife is in the women’s council, I missed what the husband’s position is, but these things are culturally important in Congo, everyone has some position or title) and the man said ‘No, pastor, my wife and I, it’s not working out, we are just going to get a divorce.’ (Jacques did not say what their dispute was about.) So I called the husband back, and I called the wife, too, and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any counsel to give you. But I have a question for you. If I asked you to give counsel to another young couple who was thinking about getting a divorce, what would it be? What should they do? Get divorced? Or stay together? Please reflect on that together, then you tell me.’ and they called me back later and said, ‘No, pastor, really, we’ve thought about what advice we would give; we’re going to stay together.’ They solved their own problem, they have walked away from the door of divorce. When I am coaching, I am second, and they are in charge.” Jacques went on to say that he hadn’t had to stress out about it and was glad to see the couple find their own solution.

I felt excited for him. I told him, “But Jacques, you didn’t even use the Panic Technique.”

“What? The Panic Technique? Oh, no,” he laughed, “I did not use the Panic Technique.”

It’s gratifying, and that’s an understatement, to see that the training we did in Congo last fall is bearing fruit in very real ways. Coaching saves marriages.

This story is shared with Pastor Jacques’s permission.

I continue to coach Jacques occasionally, pro bono, with your support. It seems like a good time to remind my readers that if you’d like to support our work in developing nations, training leaders like Jacques Luwaku to use coaching techniques, you can do so at Evergreen Leaders. All contributions are tax-deductible.

 

Five Options Coaching Technique

My client has been trying to get a meeting with his own boss to discuss the business’ mission so he can better understand it and his work can build into it. His tactic has been to just try to catch the boss in person, since they have offices next door to each other. But the boss is never there.

“Give me five more options for how you can get this message to your boss,” I say. “It’s okay if they are crazy, we’re not judging whether or not they’re good ideas yet.”

“Ok,” he says, and proceeds to rattle this off, “One, call his cell phone; two, text him; three, email; four, leave a note on his desk; five, carrier pigeon.”

[Ideal client!]

“Great,” I say, “that was quick. Can you give me five more?”

“Sure. Send him a letter in the mail. Put a poster on his door. Hook up a sensor so that when he walks in a recording plays ‘call M.B. for a meeting’, put a whoopee cushion on his chair with a note, put a decal on his car.”

I get the idea he could do this all day long. I ask if he minds if I write a blog about it.

People ask all the time if I give great advice. No, I don’t. I get them generating their own ideas. It’s far more effective. Last night someone asked if I just tell people to follow their hearts. I said, no, I don’t tell them anything. So the same girl asked, what is your best advice? “Follow your heart,” I said, using her words. That’s what coaching is about.

Also, if you vote for Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true.