Rock in river life balance

What’s your rock in the river? Prioritizing work and life the right way.

It took a long time to get my second college degree.

I looked forward to the start of every semester. The day the new term’s class schedule came out was like a high holy day. What new & interesting things would be offered?  What piece(s) of my degree puzzle could I snap into place, moving me closer to graduation?

And this is what it looked like:

First, I’d look at my work calendar, with big parts of the day blocked for “work”…mornings for people, mid afternoons for tech, etc.

Then, I’d look at the schedule of classes I wanted or needed to take, and see which ones fit into the empty spaces on my calendar.

My work calendar—with its prime daytime hours blocked out, though there were no clients assigned to them yet—was the rock in the river, immovable and sacrosanct.  My education, my growth, and the writing projects I was just wildly crazy about? They all had to flow around it.

My friend Cate was also self-employed. She had a health condition that was greatly helped by regular movement, so she looked forward to the quarterly class schedule from the local recreation center. She hoped every time that they’d offer the right kind of fitness class at a time when she felt she’d be available to take it…between her work, the kids’ soccer practice, nonprofit board meetings, etc. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.

Like mine, her established pattern of work—the thing coach Charlie Gilkey refers to as “economic work”—was the rock in the river, and even life-altering self-care had to bend and flow around it, so she could be available for everyone, convenient to THEIR schedule.

Do you do this too, as my friend and I did?

Old journals from my closet show a typical frustration with things I wished I could do, but felt I couldn’t, because of the economic work what-ifs. What if the perfect client came along, but I had to tell them their availability doesn’t match mine?  What if my friend’s family got mad at her for putting them in charge of dinner?

Spin the dial to late 2019, and the question is different: What if we all flipped this—not a little, but a lot?

What if we make Life the rock in the river, and find a way to make Work flow around it?

Our work matters. But it’s just one aspect of a much bigger picture. It’s our duty to keep it in the proper perspective, even if you love it with all your heart, even if it’s the way you keep going financially. You have to trust me on this: There are ways to do this, adjustments to make, that will let you have it all.

It’s a work in progress for me, but here are some bite-sized ways I started doing more of it, and they’re things you can try no matter what your circumstances are:

1) If you don’t have a scheduler (paper or electronic) or if you resist it, get one.

Most people I know who are lax about scheduling, not wanting to feel closed in,  are the very same ones who never quite get around to the things that really light them up. A scheduler lets you create space for everything that’s important to you, and create flexible blocks for “anything goes” as well. Try it.

2) Figure out one to three things you crave more of.

No-shit exercise dates with yourself. Regular massage or bodywork to keep your body happy. A weekly walking/coffee (or walking+coffee) date with someone who lifts you up. Put them in writing, and keep them sacred.

3) Look around at the things you do because you’ve always done them.

Maybe you’ve left big swaths of choice daily time real estate open for others. Been the sole grocery-shopper or laundry-doer? Attended a networking meeting even though you’re not finding your perfect clients there? Volunteered for various duties so you’ll feel like a good person?

Keeping in mind the craving above, compare it side-by-side to these things, and choose. Would you risk a pouty family member in order to feel like a million bucks?  Give up/change up a volunteer gig to make room for a dream you have?

4) Trying sinking one rock in the river of your life.

It might be a class you will NOT let yourself miss. A block every morning for self-maintenance. A four-hour block every week to work on your book.  An hour with your aging mom.

Make everything else flow around it. Everything. That means no client appointments no matter how much you like them, or if they say it’s the only time they can come (often, these are people who have prioritized their own lives over work, thus their time scarcity). No projects that suddenly come up. No saying “yes” to someone else’s non-critical needs.

The rock stays, the rest flows.

5) Stick with it for at least a month, no cheating.

Don’t worry about anyone’s opinion except your own. How did it go?

Add another rock, or trade it for something with an even bigger bang for your buck.


With a heart like yours, putting yourself first is the best way to serve.

You have a finite number of minutes on this planet, and if you learn to use them right, you can have both a magnificent life AND help those who need you most. Believe it.






calm marketing for introverts

Marketing for the introverted, the quiet, or the thoughtful

When folks see me on video conferences or workshops, they often assume I’m an extrovert. That’s far from the truth. Away from the public eye, I prefer to be alone, deep into a book about Pablo Neruda, in the garden harassing the weeds, or out in the woods with my cheek pressed against a ponderosa pine. (Did you know they smell like vanilla?)

I know and love many clients who are also introverted. Our way of living can be tough when it comes to marketing our businesses. For many of us, marketing feels exhausting, risky, and exposed…and most of the methods advocated today feel artificial and fake.

So let’s talk a bit about how to do this important work in an honest, introvert-friendly way:

0) Figure out how you’ll recharge from any outreach efforts you decide to do.

The wonderful business coach George Kao often pre-schedules in naps/rests between certain tasks because he knows they’ll be tiring for him. He gets a reset before moving on to something else. The first time I heard this, I saw two thoughts flash quickly through my body: 1) holy cow, who has time for naps? and 2) I should just be strong enough to do this without needing a rest afterwards.

I was so wrong on both counts. Marketing-ish tasks can be incredibly taxing for introverts. We reach out our arms and say, “Here I am, here’s how I can help,” and hold our breath to see how many walk toward us, how many walk away. Draining.

Step zero is allowing that: This is hard for people like us. It’s okay.  Give it the importance it deserves, and physically carve out time for it, just as you would for a loved one who needed you.  Find a handful of actions you can take to recharge—this is going to be very personal: Napping, meditation, cooking, running around with the dog, picking up a book for a half-hour, shoveling snow, planting crocuses…I have 15-minute recharges and 30-minute/60-minute as well.

Find yours, and schedule them in like George does. I promise you will not regret this.

1. Reach out to your people, and don’t worry as much about the others.

A lot of you reading this have worked with me to identify the people who are the best fit for you and your work. When you’ve identified the person or people you most want to serve, you’ll start to notice that some clients and readers will be closer to the mark than others. In fact, there will always be people who don’t get us, and that can create an inner nag: What if they don’t understand? What if they’re not into my work? Should I be trying to “win them over”?

The answers, in order, are “that’s okay,” “that too is okay,” and “no.”  We’re conditioned by the media to shape ourselves so we’re the right choice for everyone. In marketing, this IS important if you want to be one of those people with a gazillion casual fans you need to corral to fund your next Lamborghini…you must bend the rules of integrity to reach them all. But for most of us, that’s just not the case. We want to do solid work, make a difference, reach the people we’re uniquely suited to serve, and make a nice livelihood from it.

So write to your people. Create products and services for them. Reach out to them and make friends. Devote 90% of your energy to those who are in your perfect circle. Is it hard to leave the others to their own devices and focus on your tribe?  Sure. We’re sensitive, caring people. But it’s worth it on every level.

2. Use “scheduling by energy” as your superpower.

There’s a certain amount of public connection that has to happen to stay in touch with your proper folks and be part of their lives. Yet, if people like us spend a ton of time on social media or publishing posts or what have you, it can suck the energy out of us so fast it makes our heads spin.

I don’t know about all of you, but I pay attention to the ebb and flow of high-energy and low-energy times. In the latter, any writing or sharing or being in contact feels like a forced march, exhausting rather than energizing. Instead, I use the high-energy, high-creativity times to produce and pre-schedule things, even if I have to wipe my calendar to take advantage of a sudden crackle of energy.

For example, this article was written during a high-energy burst, along with two others, a Facebook post, and the first draft of a newsletter. I DID have to postpone a planned lunch to the next day and watch the recording of a workshop instead of being there live. But it was a more than positive trade-off.

You can schedule posts in WordPress and social media to release on the date you’d like them to publish (I know…this is a “pay no attention to that wo/man behind the curtain” moment…)  Exception: On my Sunday Coffee newsletters, I do make sure I’m with them on the Sunday they’re sent, otherwise it wouldn’t be coffee, would it? I need to make sure each one goes out with a certain number of coffee molecules or it’s doesn’t count.

In a high-energy moment right now and feeling creative? Cancel whatever’s coming up in the next couple of hours, even if it’s not socially/politically correct, and seize it for the work you love.

3. Embrace the beautiful, dangerous power of being completely yourself.

People who read me know that I’ve been doing this more and more as the years pass. I simply don’t have the time or energy any more to edit my Self to  be the pinnacle of mainstream professionalism. I am me, writing from the yellow room, the dog on my feet, and a disturbing lack of lipstick. For the wrong people, this will be uncomfortable. But for others, it gives them a sigh of relief, because they know I’m just me-the-person, not me-the-lofty-expert or me-who-all-should-aspire-to-be.

So my people and I just talk. And become more like friends (or don’t). We learn from each other, in a climate of relaxed candor. And all of our businesses grow.

Dare to share more of yourself. Not every teensy detail, and not constantly; our communications should always be more about “them” then “us.”  But do try to trust that you can be daringly you in your communications, in a genuine and unpracticed way, and the right people will be more likely to gravitate to you.

4. Know your three stories and practice sharing/writing/saying them.

In my post Do you know the three stories crucial to successfully growing your business? I talk about our three core stories: Your client’s, yours, and the story that you create together and that radiates out from your relationship with them. One of the things I do to make my internal stories external is practicing these until they flow out of my mouth as naturally as my own name.

Practicing these stories, like practicing a new language, makes it all flow more naturally. It is—I believe—a way we can more easily move through life as introverts. If we don’t have to complex over talking about ourselves, struggle to remember “the right things to say,” it’s a friction point we’ve avoided. This frees us up to be present and calm and use those brain cells for something a lot more useful.

I do this by building my personal story practice into work processes as much as I can. I have a little calendar reminder to revisit/review any public places I tell people about myself, like my bio pages on websites and social media. I write about my priorities and intentions before I have any coaching sessions or workshops. I have a close inner circle that I trust to give me feedback on it all as well. Practice makes personal.

5. Carefully choose the modes of outreach where you “extrovert,” and keep their number as small as you like.

Do you do well at writing, but cringe at public speaking?  Are you better at in-person work than work with online strangers?  Do you hate Facebook, but like the visual nature of Instagram?  Does the thought of being on video make you freak out?

News flash: You DON’T have to force yourself to do them all. It is not fatal to not be an expert at everything. Your business can be perfectly healthy if you just pick one or two ways to reach out and are very consistent with it. You can choose the one or two activities (such as writing a monthly newsletter and giving a weekly talk) that most closely match how you want to interact with the world. You can be warm and kind and helpful there, and become stronger and more confident. You may not get that Lamborghini, but you will be less stressed and likely much more effective as a result.

And, fringe benefit?  It’s likely that, as you become more adept and practiced being in those one or two areas, you will be called to push your boundaries a little bit and try another mode or channel (such as writing Medium articles, or easy Facebook outreach) just to keep your growing edge, er, growing.

In short, it doesn’t have to be hard.

You can rest when you’re tired, work with your energy, be yourself, practice your stories, and carefully focus your time online…and still feel needed, seen, and successful. Running a business as an introvert doesn’t mean we need to get used to exhaustion, risk, and icky feelings.

We just need to do things our way.