Writing Wisdom: Lessons on Business and Life #1

Wow…what a CapD Difficult few weeks it has been.  Every victory earned was hard fought and I’m exhausted.  Throw in a couple personal life challenges, and oy vey, I feel like I need a week in Hawaii being catered to by __________________ (insert fantasy of choice.)

I just finished editing another section of my novel to 99.99% completion (2 down; 3 to go) and I’m over-the-moon thrilled with how it turned out.  BUT (and there are some big buts here––and probably a double entredre too) it cost me big.

If I were going to sum-up these last several weeks, I would call them the “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” weeks.  (For any of my coaching clients reading this; take those words seriously to heart.)

Now, none of the lessons learned here are new lessons.  These are things I know.  These are mistakes I should be well past making––that is, if I were a perfect, flawless human.  Which sadly, I’m not.  No matter how evolved any of us likes to think we are, evolution demands constant vigilance––get a little sloppy, and we are right back where we started.

First, let me start by saying that writing this novel has been the most demanding, terrifying, lonely thing I’ve ever done.  Taking a company public and dealing with Wall Street analysts?  Easy.  Raising $100 million revolving line-of-credit when your business is missing its numbers?  Piece of cake.  Writing a novel?  Makes those Saw movies look like Disney.

But here’s the good news––writing a novel has also proven to be an extraordinary microcosm for business and life, in a way that has allowed me to get very clear on belief systems and fundamental truths.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is and I think it comes down to the solitary nature of art.  As a writer, everything is up to you.  You ARE your whole company.  You are responsible for everything good and not so good that happens.  You can’t say, “Yeah, I design great shoes, but those developers can’t figure out how to get them made.”  You are designer, developer, manufacturer.  You are also marketing and sales.  And finance.  Writing a book is like funding a start-up.  You’re doing this on spec.  Bills still need to get paid even when you’re not.  (Want to talk about scary?)

What’s great about this, is that if you show up to your process and pay attention, you learn lessons in a way that really makes them stick.  Bottom line?  You have no choice but to learn them, because there’s no one else to fall back on.

So….getting down to it… are some of the business and life lessons writing taught (strike that, reminded me of) these last few weeks:

1)  Some things are not worth saving.  (Employees, relationships, product lines, 100s of pages of story.)  And when you try and save things you shouldn’t; it always, always, ALWAYS, costs you.  Cut your losses early and quickly––as difficult as it may be.

2)  Some things are not exactly right, but may be worth saving.  That beautiful, moving paragraph that you keep trying to insert in this chapter?  (That wonderful human and dedicated employee that just isn’t right in sales?)  You may be able to ‘cut and paste’ them out of sales and try them somewhere else.  You may end up with a win, but you still have to be willing to let them go.

3)  Nobody wins if you work so hard you kill yourself.  I nearly burned down the house twice.  Got so involved in my work, I was absolutely oblivious to everything going on in the world around me.  (Like food on the stove, showering, buying groceries, getting exercise.)  I managed to forget that I was not only writing a book, but training for a half-marathon.  To achieve that goal I actually needed to get out of my pjs and show up at the track.  I have one word people, BALANCE!  And I was lousy at it.  You may like to think the work benefits when you’re being obsessive, but it doesn’t, it suffers.  Always.  (And by the way, the bad OCD gremlin inside me still doesn’t want to believe that, but I keep telling her, it’s true.  Because it is.  Really.  I mean it.)

4)  Nothing good happens without perseverance, hard work and tenacity.  The old ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’ thing.  You have to show up every day ready to play your best game, even when you’re tired, or scared, or just plain blue.  Some days the work is so hard, you feel like throwing in the towel.  But you can’t.  Not if it is good work; not if it is the work you’re meant to do.

5)  Measures of success need remeasuring. Your victories don’t have to be grand, they can be simple.  Like finishing a paragraph or a sentence that gave you fits; coaching an employee out of a bad attitude.  It’s not just about hitting the NY Times best-selling list, or taking your company public––it’s all that stuff in the middle––all those points along your journey that represent victories.  Don’t set yourself up for future devastation by creating unrealistic measures of success.  Please, don’t do that to yourself––not in life, or business or art.  Be kind.

6)  Real success only occurs in the absence of ego.  Probably the greatest benefit that I’ve experienced through writing, is the ability to take criticism non-defensively.  This is big.  Huge big.  I was never any good at this before, but I am now.  I have one clear, precise goal:  That is, to write the best novel I possibly can.  Any feedback I get that helps me do that?  Bring it on.  Don’t go easy on me and do NOT hold back.  And most of all, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.  Tell the truth.  Let there be no naked emperors in the room.  (CEOs everywhere, take heed.)

7)  Coaching matters.  One of the things I feel most blessed by, is my relationship with my editor and writing coach, Marcia Meier.  Marcia has been my champion throughout this journey––has seen me through incredible self-doubt and fear; has held my hand and encouraged me when I was ready to walk away.  There is no way––and I mean NO WAY––I would have developed into the writer I am today without her support.  The right coach––the one who can tell you the hard stuff in a way that enables you to hear it from a place of power––is invaluable.  Our relationship has grown over the last two years into something quite magical––it has reminded me of the power of community and team.  My team is smaller than it was when I was CEO-ing, but it is no less important.  Surrounding yourself with people who see your vision and are committed to helping you achieve success, is not only important, it is the cornerstone of creating exceptional product.  It makes all the difference in the world.

I’m going to stop here: There are many other things that could make the list, but I’ll hold them for later.  Right now, I’m remembering that old balance initiative and stepping away from the keyboard.  Time to get into my running clothes, and after that, I think it might be a good idea to get something other than coffee into this old house of mine.

Happy weekend to all, and special love to my Boston homies.  We Massachusetts folk are made of tough stuff, and don’t you forget it.

The ‘Yeah But’ Brigade

I’d follow my passion, but…..

I’d ask for the promotion, but…..

I’d launch a new company, but…..

Yeah, but he’s already made his money so he can afford to follow his passion.

Yeah, but she’s luckier than I am, that’s why she’s thriving.

Yeah, but it’s a really difficult time economically.

And so on, and so on, and quite boringly, so on.

We’ve got just one life….

Wouldn’t it be a shame to waste one more precious moment of it being part of “The ‘Yeah But’ Brigade?”

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?

 Scroll to top