The Art of the Preposterous Proposal

(And why it’s not so preposterous after all.)

Many of us, (women especially) have a hard time acknowledging our value and establishing our self-worth.  We agonize over what a client can pay (versus what they should), or that our boss will wince when we ask for that raise.  And because we worry we’ll come across too arrogantly when we push those deal terms across the table, we sell ourselves short.  We let the fear of ‘no’ (the fear of rejection) stop us before we even begin.

How do we get past this? Well, the short answer is, “It’s really, really hard.”  In fact, the tendency to self-discount is one of the most difficult things in the world to overcome.  Why?  Because there are layers and layers of emotional, psychological and cultural complexities that underlie issues of low self-worth.  Conquering this big daddy, doesn’t happen overnight.  But it if you’re committed, and you keep working it, you will beat it.  You just gotta keep believing.

In the meantime, (as you’re working on the root causes) there are some tools you can use to help you push your way through and up; starting with an exercise I call the ‘Preposterous Proposal.’  Here’s how it works:

1) Next time you pitch a project, negotiate a raise, or put deal terms in front of investors, first write yourself a ‘Preposterous Proposal’––one that accrues so advantageously to your benefit, you can’t imagine anyone in their right mind saying yes to it. (This step should make you uncomfortable; even a wee bit embarrassed by the scope and scale of your ask.)

2) Once you’ve written your ‘Preposterous Proposal,’ SHOW yourself all the ways the essence of your shining star (your experience, your unique skill set, your commitment to the extraordinary, your company’s competitive advantage) makes what you’re asking for not so very preposterous at all. To help push yourself along, imagine you’ve hired a PR firm to put the spin on ‘you’, or an advertising agency to create your Superbowl commercial.  What would that look and sound like?  How might someone else sing your praises?  (It is important that you really give this part of the exercise an appropriate level of attention––you have to believe in what you’re asking for so make a case for it; pull out numbers and spreadsheets if you need to; look at customer testimonials; write a list of all your career successes.  Get to know yourself again––your true self––the one worth every penny she’s asking for.)

3) Take the first draft of your ‘Preposterous Proposal,’ save a version and put it aside.

4) Using the first draft as a starting point, eliminate any “I’m King of the World!” ridiculousness. (Those bits were only there to help you get over the ‘I’m not worthy’ hurdle.)  Professionalize it; put it in a form that you can pitch with a straight face.  (Selling is good; embellishments of truth are not.  Make SURE everything you infer factually is indeed a fact.)

5) Now here’s the telling part: Take your original ‘Preposterous Proposal,’ along with your revised proposal, to a trusted third-party (adviser/mentor/coach) and ask for their opinion.  Have you watered down your first ‘out of your comfort zone’ proposal too much? Are you still selling yourself short, or does your revised proposal feel like it is ‘on the money’?  (An objective opinion from a skilled professional will help insure you don’t leave money on the table.)

6) Next, a reality check.  This exercise is about helping you push the envelope so you get comfortable with making a much ‘bigger ask.’  But you simultaneously have to get comfortable with what doing so may mean.  You may indeed, hear ‘no.’  In certain instances ‘no’ will open the door to a negotiated ‘yes’ that creates a fabulous win.  In others, the first ‘no’ will be the end of it.  If that thought makes you a little nervous, I get it.  Sometimes you just can’t afford a ‘no’––especially when you’re first starting out.  But, here’s the deal: It’s better that you make a conscious decision to discount your services versus allowing your insecurities to discount you.

7) Finally, a note on civility.  Generally speaking, people don’t take issue with the fact you’ve asked; what they take issue with is how you’ve asked.  Remember this is an ask, not a demand.  Be respectful and gracious, even when you’re turned down.  And remember, don’t take any of it personally.  No person or company or ‘no’, establishes your self-worth.  You do that;  for yourself, by yourself.

Keep at this long enough and in time, it will become second nature.  And as with most things in this miraculous Universe of ours, once you get comfortable with who you are and what your value is;  doors will open and opportunities will find you.

You Got to Feel to Heal

Oh, how I wish it weren’t so.  Wish you could just push aside all those fears and hurts; regrets and false moves.  Wish you could hide them in the back of your closet alongside all that other stuff you own but would rather forget–––like camping gear and that very odd hat you bought two summers ago.  But it is doesn’t work that way and no amount of wishing will make it so.  Simply put:  You got to feel to heal.

But wait a minute.  What’s that you say?  Denial is working just fine, thank you very much!  Well, maybe it is…for now.  Maybe you can hold on and out for a little bit longer, but eventually, denial will come looking for you, wanting his due.  And if denial and his thug friends have to track you down, well, it won’t be pretty my friend.  No siree.  It will NOT be pretty.

Fine, you say, but what the heck does this have to do with my business, anyway?  Unfinished business effects your business––that’s just the way it works.  As much as we’d like to believe that we can compartmentalize, we can’t––there is interrelatedness in everything we think/feel/do.  Derail yourself; and in time, your business will follow.

So you can do this one of two ways––on your own terms, and in your own way….Or, you can fall prey to those cosmic forces that will even the score in ways that are infinitely less subtle; less gentle than if you head them off at the pass.  Either way, you’re gonna have to deal.

But you get to decide:  Are you going to make friends with your past  (heal it, purge it) or are you going to let it rob you of your future?  One of the two of you ain’t getting outta here alive.  It’s your choice.  Him or you?

Monthly Mitzvah

One good act.  A simple gesture of kindness.

Helping the elderly shopper at the drugstore find the right battery when she can’t quite see the label.  Letting the one item customer cut ahead of you in line––making his day, or so you’re told.  Smiling at the homeless man even when there is a part of you that is scared by those crazy eyes.  Giving an assist to your frazzled co-worker, knowing that none of the credit for that sparkling presentation will go to you. Choosing to not go off on the customer service rep when your flight is delayed––for the third time that day.

That’s it.  Just one little act;  just once a month.

And not like you need a reason, but know with unshakable certainty, that the joy you’re spreading will be returned to you.

Goal Reset: The Lunar New Year Reboot

Always.  Each.  Every.  Never.  What is wrong with absolutes?  They leave you with nowhere to go.

So use these words wisely; guardedly.  Reserve them for the big things––the major commitments––the times when nothing other than an absolute will do.  Fidelity; recovery; the big shifts you determine (with a capital D) to bring into your life.

But be circumspect before you attach them to the minor things––I’ll workout every day.  I’ll always answer emails within 24 hours.  I’ll never eat sweets again.  Think twice before you offer up your limited store of absolutes on items such as these because after all, there’s only so much ‘each-ing’ and ‘every-ing’ any of us has the time or gumption for.

So here’s what I’d suggest:  Take the three weeks before Lunar New Year and reflect.  Ask yourself––are the goals you set at the beginning of the year reasonable and sustainable or are you a victim of your own best intentions? Are you crossing them off your list with gusto or are you feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of another eleven months of obligation?

If you’re feeling a bit underwater, perhaps it’s time to review your goals––not necessarily the substantive ‘what’ of your commitments––but the ‘hows’.  In other words, maybe it’s time to redefine how you think about and measure success.

The way I do this is by using an approach to goal setting that involves creating progressively challenging categories of performance to measure achievement and success against. (This is similar to the ‘low to high’ forecasting techniques I used to manage my companies.)  By using this technique, you create a framework which supports and promotes achievement by acknowledging ‘degrees of success’ as described below:

Goal Setting––From Threshold to Optimal

Threshold: The baseline goal you set for yourself that represents improvement over current performance, but also feels entirely achievable.  For example, a commitment towards two minutes of meditation five days a week might seem like limited success, but when coming from a base level of zero, is an example of a small step which when consistently applied over time, will generate significant improvement.

Mid-Point:  The level of performance that represents a ‘push’ but still has ‘reasonableness attributes’ attached to it.  Using the example above, two minutes of meditation five days a week might be stretched to five minutes every day.

Optimal:  The level of performance that represents a real push.  An ‘out-of-the-park’ win.  A morning practice that includes ten minutes of meditation combined with five minutes of journaling.

During the year, you may find there are times––days, weeks, months––you operate within the flow of optimal performance, others in which meeting threshold seems like a feat in itself.  Regardless of where you are on the curve, by creating a structure based on ‘degrees of success’ you know that as long as you commit to and achieve threshold, you have generated a win.  By embracing the notion of ‘degrees of success’ you allow yourself the compassion of ‘ebb and flow’ and free yourself from the  burden of absolutes on the unrealistic road towards perfection.

I know there are those A-types among you who will think (as I used to) that this is rationalizing nonsense––a workaround against pushing yourself to really achieve.  A way out.  I understand, but no.  What I’m suggesting is a way through.

And remember, it is entirely up to you to determine the construct of your success.  Up to you to define what constitutes ‘threshold’ or how quickly you progress up the food chain to ‘optimal’.  All I’m suggesting, is that you give yourself the benefit of a framework that has every chance of working; that frees you from the clutches of frustration (or worse) by allowing you to harvest the fruits of consistency.

And if you’re off to a rocky start this year––or feeling a bit over-extended––I strongly encourage you to take full advantage of the greatest do-over opportunity ever:  The Lunar New Year reboot.  Grab some Chinese food and put that new pen of yours back to paper.  And this time, make sure you give yourself room to move and a place to grow.

And remember––Small steps…bigger victories…everlasting change.


The Miracle of Manifestation

I know; I know.  Either of those words on their own is enough to raise eyebrows; stick ’em together and the polarization quotient goes up by a level of 10.

So for the moment, let’s just take that troublesome ‘miracle’ out of the equation and focus on the concept of manifestation––the inherent power that each of us has to bring precisely what we need into our lives.  (And yes, I acknowledge that this may be an even more troublesome idea for many of you.) But for me, the concept of manifestation has been transcendent; and as a practice, it is something I believe in more strongly than just about anything else.

Well before ‘The Secret’ became the thing of talk shows and bestseller lists, I had been engaging in the practice of manifestation for years.  I’d think about what I wanted and very simply, just ‘put it out to the Universe.’  If it were something really special (and I wanted to get all fancy about it), I’d write the request down on an index card and stick it in a sealed envelope where it sat forgotten, sometimes for years.

There were times I felt a bit presumptuous about the things I was asking the Universe to bring my way.  Things that seemed downright preposterous given my current circumstances;  requests that no Universe in its right mind had any business delivering on.  I mean really.  But lo and behold; years later, when I’d take those cards out and look at them, I began to detect an uncanny pattern. More often than not––preposterous or not––I ended up getting exactly what I wanted sometimes to the letter; and even to the penny.  And over time, I began to see this cosmic generosity as nothing short of miraculous.

But I also began to detect some other patterns.  Manifestation, like any other superpower, has its quirks. Chiefly:

  –The Universe is a pretty literal guy so you have to be really careful what you ask for.  If you say you want out of your current job, well, you may want to specify that ‘being fired’ is not exactly part of your vision.

  –The Universe hates mixed messages so be really clear what you want and stop sending out all those  schizophrenic requests of yours.  Once you do, the Universe will step up to the plate in the most miraculous ways.

  –Finally, the Universe has a way bigger experience and knowledge base than you do.  In short, the Universe knows best.  So when it delivers you a ‘gift’ (and it will) and you think, “Hey I didn’t want that, take it back!”  Just hold tight––because invariably, at some point in the future you’ll look back and see that Mick and the boys had it right–––You  don’t always get what you want; but you damn near always get what you need.

So it’s up to you whether or not you want to stay in the back of the class rolling your eyes and poking elbows.  Up to you whether or not you decide to give this old manifestation thing a whirl on the dance floor.  And hey, if you’re worried about your reputation, it can be our little secret; you don’t have to tell a soul.  Just ask yourself….what do you have to lose?

Borrowed Words: Reflections on Gratitude

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e. e. cummings

Vision: The Land of Great Imaginings

Ah, Vision…..The Land of Great Imaginings where your Inner Fairy Princess waves her virtual wand and makes all your dreams come true.  A magical world where hope grows on trees and the rivers flow with the sweet elixir of the possible.  A land of illimitable yes.

The Land of Vision is a place where no desire is too fantastic, no dream too fanciful.  A place where the you of your greatest imaginings (wearing Tom Ford, of course) accepts her second Oscar with a speech that will have them talking for years–––without the wardrobe malfunction.

There are no Naysayers or Bubble Bursters in the Land of Vision.  No editorials or ‘yeah buts.’  They live in another world––a cold and scary dominion that you will eventually have to visit, but not now; not yet.

For now, you are going to let yourself dance with joy from the sheer, magnificent possibility of it all.  You are going to walk the Red Carpet; launch the next Internet powerhouse; find the cure for cancer.  Script that Ted talk; pack for your book tour.  You are going to imagine yourself exactly where and how you want to be.

So yes, reality will eventually try and strip the sparkles from your wand.  But not today.  Today, you’re rocking it.  And the stadium is sold-out.

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