Are you Overpaying for Power?

A recent run-in with my utility company raised an interesting metaphorical question.

The utility company has a basic “Customer Charge” everyone pays. That charge is $14/month. I did not know this, because the statement simply said

“Customer Charge — $70.”

I had to call in and simply ask what that was for. That’s $14 x 5, for the five residential units in your building, I was told. But. There are not, nor have there ever been, five residential units in the building. Before we purchased it, there were three apartments. In 2008 we reconverted it to a single-family dwelling. And we never noticed the over-charge, because it wasn’t detailed on the bill. Until this month.

For nine years, I’ve been overpaying for my power. Now I come to a decision: will I be able to make an acceptable bargain? What do I want? Can I negotiate (with a huge company) for a repayment (they are currently resisting pretty hard) or will I need to request intervention? If so, the possibilities are 1) File a Consumer Complaint with the State Attorney General’s office and request mediation 2) Small Claims Court 3) Let it go. That perfect girl is gone… Uh. No. Number 3 is out.

Now to extrapolate principles for the metaphorical/philosophical question… how do you know if you are overpaying for power?

We all wield some sort of power. Related words include “influence” and “authority” and “control”. Even self-control is a certain sort of power. The lack of it subjects us to being ruled by other things: our own fleshly desires in the form of addiction, for example. I think it’s fair to say that the weakest human being still possesses some sort of power, as long as they are breathing. Even people we might consider dispossessed of power have a little. You can throw yourself in front of a line of tanks. You can willingly and peacefully resist oppression. You can take violence to the street (not recommended.) Your power in that case lies simply in your own willingness to die rather than to accept another day of relative powerlessness. You’re saying “I won’t overpay anymore. Give me liberty or give me death!” Over-payment — that’s when we’re giving more than we’re getting.

Some questions have to be addressed before we can get to over-payment, though. First, how much power do we need? Are we managing a building with five residential units, or one? Second, is what we’re giving up equal to what we’re getting? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis that we may not be doing. For example, I have a certain amount of power over my children. As they grow towards adulthood, I begin to lend them some of my own power, so they can get a feel for using it. The longer I attempt to hold all the power in my hands over their lives, the closer I’m going to get to having them throw their bodies in front of the line of tanks I’m driving. The longer they over-pay, the closer they’ll come to revolt.

Some politicians still want to use Machiavellian power tactics: Sly and cunning, two-faced, deceitful tactics to get what they want and give nothing in return: an example would be getting a wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it. This is an old-school approach to power. I heard someone on the radio comment the other day that the new broadly held assumption in the field economics is that the best principle is to seek a win-win. Seeking a win-win means everyone’s paying a fair rate for the power they get in a relationship. Nobody’s tricking anyone. Everybody is empowered, and therefore happy.

Look at where you have power, and where you don’t. We need to ask ourselves, am I paying too much? (Or too little, not taking responsibility?)  Am I getting tricked? Am I tricking someone else, no matter how subtly? Healthy life balance includes getting the power equation to equal up like a proper algebraic statement. Where Pw = power and Pm = Payment, we want to come up with Pw=Pm.

If you are over-paying, it’s time to respect yourself enough to ask for some restitution and equalization.

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Dream BIG Retreat coming soon!

Here’s an event I’m excited about attending. I’ll be one of the featured speakers! It’s called the Dream Big Retreat. It’s taking place in Chesterton, Indiana, from October 13-15 and is led and organized by a good friend of mine, Nancy Becher. She’s got a passion for seeing small business owners succeed.

There will be about half a dozen great business coaches there, sharing tips. Last year one guy came away with some new strategies that increased his business 83%!

This event is perfect for solopreneurs and small business owners who want to take a step back and work on the big picture. There’s a mantra (I think it’s from the E-Myth) that you should “work ON your business, not just IN your business.” Well, if you haven’t taken time to do that lately, now is the time.

There’s still space, and registration is ridiculously cheap, so get in on it now!

 

 

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.

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.