Image credit: Coiled, barbed wire. j_ezlo via istockphoto
Moods, what to do about them, and how they relate to both creativity and self-employment came up recently in Shaboom County. That brought to mind an article from the January 20, 2004, issue of my e-zine. Here it is, substantially revised (sheesh, did I over-write then, or what?). I hope you find it valuable.
Two years ago I’d been struggling with and meaning of life and how it applied to it being a coach. In other words I was wrapped around the axle.
How could I play the “bigger game” I felt called to play without becoming deflated by the pressures of living up to an inflated self image?
I’d been through soul-wracking doubt enough times to have worked out a sort of diplomatic accord with my psyche. I decided that this was not depression, but what Jean Houston calls ingression, an invitation to do shadow work that can’t be done under the bright, hot lights of certainty and confidence.
In other words, I felt crummy and confused, but did not think there was a problem (most of the time).
In spite of all this acceptance, I could not help but put a time limit on the process. I was taking August off, half for study and half for play, so it seemed reasonable to assume that by September I’d be ready to rock and roll.
September found me still in suspense and some distress about life, work, and everything. Then, on September 11th, I rose at 6:00 a.m., switched on the radio, and heard the stunned tones of newscasters at the site of the World Trade Center. Minutes later, the second plane hit, and I was riveted to the television for the next several hours. Far from marking the end to confusion, September intensified the darkness.
Finally, just before the end of the year, I saw that my lifelong fascination and repulsion with respect to business made it the perfect classroom for waking up. I saw that business, especially marketing, had the potential to reveal what I did not know that I did not know.
It’s easy, I think, to see that business can be mentally and physically challenging. But the spiritual and psychological challenges, especially those more subtle than “cash register honesty,” may not be so apparent.
(At this point, the article took a hard left. The connection between what I wrote above in what follows strikes me as somewhat wobbly, now that I’ve edited out much of the highflown rhetoric. Oh well. Wobbly as the connection may be, I think the story is worth keeping in.)
Shortly after September 11, I decided to postpone two teleclasses due to low enrollment. One of the folks who had signed up sent a note saying the cancellation struck her as unprofessional.
Aargh! I hate it when someone questions my professionalism. How dare she? I get first dibs when it comes to criticizing me.
Who knows why, but defensive as I felt, I picked up the phone and called her. (Maybe I breathed accidentally or something.)
As I dialed, I vowed to let go of my story about what was happening and to listen to hers. As it turned out, I pretty much failed at that. When she answered, my mind went blank. I could not figure out how to say, “I’ve received your email. Thank you. I’d like to know what happened for you when you got the notice about the class change.”
Instead, I told her what I thought I knew about what had happened in her. I said that I knew she felt it was a shame that the class was canceled and I agreed. (Big of me, eh?) Eventually I shut up, and she had the opportunity to say a few sentences. She was very gracious, and we ended the call on good terms.
So what’s the take away?
For one thing, I learned I don’t have to be skillful before I change my behavior. If I’d waited until I was truly ready to hear my customer before I started to talk, it would have been a cold day in hell before I picked up that phone.
For another, by going outside of my comfort zone (i.e., exposing myself to possible criticism, heaven forfend), I loosened the death grip that my self-concept has on my choices.
And, while I fell short of my ideal, I did demonstrate that I was available and accountable. The next time it will be easier to act with authentic and fearless (or less fearful) regard for my customer’s well being.
This is just one example of how self-employment lands me smack in the middle of my stuff. The same opportunities exist for all of us who are in business by choice or by circumstance.
Now get out there and do it badly, so you can do it better next time.