Who gets to decide what your ‘potential’ is?

The word “potential” keeps finding its way into my email inbox and social media feeds these days. For me, it generally shows up in the sales pitches from thought leaders and mentors and counselors of various kinds. You’ll often see some variant of this: “If you’re not fully living up to your potential in your (business, work, life, knitting, etc.) I can get you there.”

It’s benevolent shorthand for any of the following:

  • You’re spending too many of your days unhappy or unhealthy.
  • You have specific goals and aspirations for your life, and you’re not there yet.
  • You’re not growing in the ways you’d like to.
  • Your business isn’t successful enough yet.
  • You’re not earning what a certain thought leader assures you are capable of.
  • The clock of your life is ticking and you have a vague sense you should have accomplished more by now.
  • …and so forth.

Googling “achieving your potential” will net you enough reading material for the rest of your natural life. The result that most amused me was titled something like this: “Ten steps to help you become who you really are.”

And by “amused,” of course, I mean “irritated.”

Who you really are

Here’s the thing: We already are who we really are. We ARE people in a constant state of growth and change and questioning and deciding. We ARE sentient beings who can choose from an infinite number of ways-to-be. We ARE humans with a long lifespan (I hope) who will steadily be acquiring information and skills throughout the decades we spend here on Earth, from birth to whenever, so we can decide. The goals of that lifelong exercise, to me, seem to be:

  • To have lots of interesting, even fascinating experiences
  • To make our time happy rather than unhappy
  • To interact with other humans in ways that create more good and less bad in the world
  • To give us a sense of purpose – a reason for having been here at all

So… What do you think about when someone wants to discuss your “potential,” and how to “live up to it?” How does it make you feel?

There’s certainly no shortage of helping professionals out there willing to point out the areas in which we are not “reaching our potential,” often using comparison to others or a special formula they’ve developed. Then, of course, they are happy to sell us the equivalent of a roadmap or guide to remedy the situation.

Please know that I hold no ill will toward most of them—I tend to love anyone who’s in the business of helping members of my self-employed tribe feel happier and more fulfilled.

But potential as a yardstick . . . as a destination . . . if it has any meaning at all, it becomes yet another thing we need to worry about achieving. Do any of us need yet another target, another binary judgment call for our life and its accomplishments?

I’m not anti-target. For example, paying attention is a target I love. Personal growth? Love it. Building compassionate relationships with as many people as possible? Perfect.

But “failing to achieve your potential” as something you can be graded on by someone else, as though your life were open for review on Yelp.com?  (“Margaret had so much going for her, especially the spring rolls, but she failed to meet her potential when I showed up with a party of 150 unannounced…”) Not my thing.

Who gets to decide?

So who gets to decide what your “potential” for a well-run life or a well-lived time on Earth should be?

You do. ONLY you.
And you do it by feel.

As self-employed folks, we all start out knowing little. But we keep pouring in new knowledge and experiences and ideas and possibilities. In between the stuck spots or the flubs, something starts to take shape. It has nothing to do with potential, and everything to do with learning to articulate for yourself what you want your ideal work to look like, and developing an ‘ear’ for things that move you closer to it on the map, or farther from it.

In particular, the best roadmaps are feelings-based.

We can pay attention to things that give us a little frisson of pleasure in our work, like finding a client so beautiful you would move mountains for, or coming up with a product/service that turns out to delight a lot of people.

We can become hyper-aware of the things that make our eyes suddenly open a little wider and give us a little jolt of joy.

We can use the tools of joyful productivity to stay happy and energized in our work, and notice all the feelings that pass through us.

All of these things can combine to form a living compass to build a business (and a life) that pleases us, connects us, and gives us a great sense of how to build a well-lived life.

Your “potential” isn’t something you sweat bullets to discover then achieve. You don’t need a famous guru or a $5000 retreat weekend to point it out to you. You just need to decide how you want to FEEL as you move through your life, and then deliberately, thoughtfully gather the tools and skills that are most likely to help you feel that way.

If that doesn’t feel like it would come naturally to you at first, find a coach or mentor that is willing to help you with exactly that kind of visioning, one-to-one, customizing it to your life and your needs, not trying to squeeze you into their one-size-fits-all formula. I know quite a few wonderful, soulful coaches—drop me a note and I may be able to refer you to someone who can help.

Once you have your own roadmap, the rest is just the joyful journey.

It’s just March…is your mental clutter already building?

Image courtesy of OpenRoadPR via Pixabay

Going into Spring from a weary mental space isn’t my idea of a good time. I want to be excited by that first warm breeze of the year, that first time I notice that there’s light coming through the windows when I wake in the morning.

But because of, well, Life, I find I’ve been guilty lately of something I also notice in my coaching clients: A crush of thought-clutter.

Like me, they fill their mental ‘house’ with as much furniture as possible, and invite over all kinds of guests at all hours of the day and night. There are the kids (or spouse, or parents) who need them, the myriad things it takes to make a life “go,” and all of the must-do and nice-to-do activities that surround their livelihood and income.

And that’s just the Present. We’re also constantly dealing with the bad actors from the Past, which reminds us all about our failings and misfires. And don’t get me started on trouble from the Future, which reminds us we might fail, and assures us we have to say “yes” to so much because, gosh, who KNOWS if this is the Big Break that will make great things happen for us (or avert bad things.)

It can get so crowded in there that we operate in a state of perpetual reorganizing and reprioritizing, burning mental calories trying to shift obligations, desires, demands, and possibilities into teetering Jenga tower that won’t come crashing down on us.

For spring, let’s do a little mental decluttering together. Here are some things I’m doing right now to get a fresh start by March 20:

1. Revisiting my 2019 priorities:

Early this year, I made some decisions about specific places I want to put my energy this year (they will be different for everyone, but I narrowed mine to a Big Six — areas I really want to move the needle on this year). I’m restructuring my computer desktop, browser bookmarks, Google calendar, and email folders around those six things, so I literally have to see my goals every day, multiple times. If I am using my brain space for things that don’t somehow fit into those six areas, I have to answer for it.

2. Re-acquainting myself with my morning routines, which I’ve become lax about.

They are critical in helping me stay on track mentally, physically, and emotionally. For me, these include simple-sounding things like water, moving my body, looking at my Big Six every morning to touch base, connecting with at least one of my beloved clients every day, etc. When those routines go out the door, a whole lot of mental clutter crowds in.

3. Breathing. No kidding.

When I feel stress starting to put me in a headlock, I almost always notice that I’m breathing shallowly and not giving my brain enough oxygen. It’s hard to believe that this matters, but you’d be amazed at how forgetting something as simple as breathing right can affect your mental state. Breathe. Set a meditation gong on your mobile phone or desktop that reminds you hourly to get up, walk around, breathe deeply, hydrate. I cannot overstate the importance of this — and this is from some who spent many years convinced this was just all new-age BS.

4. Swearing off multitasking, single-tasking as often as humanly possible.

Self-explanatory, right? It’s like an endless game of musical chairs, only with far fewer chairs to fight for. (And by the way, what cruel jerk ever thought that ‘game’ was a fun idea?)

5. Clearing my spaces.

I was a late adopter of this, as a world-class clutterer in my younger years. Getting rid of all the non-essential items, while assigning a fixed & functional place to everything that matters, is a vaccination helping prevent mental overwhelm and exhaustion. If you look up from this article and look around, and see piles and heaps and files and dusty clutter, you are not doing your mind a favor.

6. Purging my daily behavior of “I might need this someday.”

I see this with both paper and digital resources…we try to save everything that we might, someday, find useful in a future product, service, book, writing project, etc…even if we don’t know what that thing IS yet. I have a single document in the folders for each of my Big Six areas of importance, into which I jot down the links, quotes, book titles, peoples’ names, etc. that I am certain I will be using within a couple of months. Short entries, all in one (searchable!) MS Word document, one per each of the six folders. If it’s a resource that lives at the intersection of “maybe” and “someday,” let it go.

7. Limiting my media intake and eliminating negative media inputs:

I am cutting my “screen time” down to the bone, just to what I need to do my best for my clients and my business. I give myself an (optional) hour in the evening for some sort of entertaining television, usually something that helps me to either a) laugh or b) learn something fascinating. I do not watch or read the news except for a pre-determined and small piece of time several times each week. Following political arguments, bad news, reality TV, etc. is like pouring acid on all the clutter that’s already crowding my head.

How about you? Already cluttered in your brain pan, even though the first quarter of the year isn’t yet over? What are you doing to help your mental spaces stay clean, clear, and strong? Please help me – and others reading this – by sharing what you do to clear your mind and avoid overcrowding it in the first place. Thanks!

An invitation (not a sales pitch 🙂 )

If, when you were reading the above, you happened to think to yourself “I wish I could have a little help figuring out how to do this for myself,” you might be interested in reading about my bite-sized hands-on sessions on achieving joyful productivity. I’m having a lot of fun helping people with these, and lowering a lot of blood pressure numbers in the process. Bonus!

On being a ‘mission with a company’

“Be a mission with a company, not a company with a mission.”

Early this year, I stumbled over this quote and it gave me pause. As in, a loooong pause, not just a blink’s worth. What exactly did this mean?

First, it’s easy to see how, for some, the word “mission” can be touchy. I rarely use the word “mission,” as it can sometimes seem like something lofty and out of reach. I prefer the word purpose instead; it more accurately describes the hopes & dreams I have for creating positive change through my work. And I doubt I’ll ever think of myself as a “company.”

But that nitpicking aside, I feel as though my mind has been ratcheted open a little bit more by this new idea.

Here’s the thing: For many years I’ve thought of my livelihood like this: My business does more than just pay the bills. It has a purpose.

What I now see, though, is that I’ve had that backward. I carry around a strong sense of purpose all the time. There’s an outcome I want for my life. This feeling is a permanent fixture, a big part of what makes me the person I am. And my business is just one of many actions I take to help me serve that purpose.

Does that make sense?

There’s a reason why we do what we do. There’s something good we want to bring to the world with our life and work. That’s our purpose…it resides within us. Our business—the income-earning part of life—is just one of many possible tools & activities that help us fulfill that purpose, that mission.

In my case, one of my life’s purposes is to help as many people as possible become self-sufficient and free to do the work they’re called to do WHILE earning a living. It just lights me up to be able to show that we can build a livelihood that draws upon our own gifts and inspiration, not just serving someone else’s aspirations of success and profit from a gray cubicle.

If you are, for example, a life coach of some kind, you may have chosen that work because you want to be able to look back at your life and know that you helped infuse the world with a little more peace of mind, fulfillment, health, or joy.

Your business is one way you can activate that purpose. Other ways might be how you treat the grocery store cashier, the way you raise your kids, the nature of the gifts you give, and volunteerism/charitable contributions. Bundled all together, they are what make your life whole and rich.

When you put on these lenses and take a long look at the work you do—and how you tell the world about it—what do you see?

If your business is a tool to help serve your bigger purpose, is it doing the best job it can? For example, are there other offerings you could create that would help even more people, solve even more problems? Is there more you can say, write, share, teach?

Is it clear from your marketing/promotional materials that you run your business from the heart, that there’s something you’re trying to bring more of or less of to the world? Is this part of the story of your business that you’re sharing? Could it be?  (And doesn’t it make it a teensy bit easier to face the task of marketing when you look at it through this lens, even if you’re an introvert?)

Can people tell that you’re more than just the (talented) provider of a service or maker of a product? In a world becoming more impersonal and disconnected by the day, you must believe me: People love to see your depth of character, your bigger “why.”

I would love for you to show them.

Take care.

The gift of envy for the self-employed (and everyone else)

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others.
He who envies others does not achieve peace.


It’s not every day I find myself in disagreement with the Buddha. Today’s one of those days. I’m okay with it.

We’ve all felt those twinges of envy at one time or another, right?

…Envy of those who are doing better financially than we are with their businesses, despite how hard we’re working.

…Envy of those who have huge, loyal audiences but who don’t seem as genuinely kind or honest as we are.

…Envy of people for whom writing seems to come so much more easily than it does for us, or who have more time to do it.

…Envy of those who seem to have it all together with their lives, while we’re still facing a struggle.

I use the word twinge, but I know that it can range from a nagging little gnat in our ear to a full-blown can’t-get-it-out-of-my-mind obsession that follows us around all day.

Author Anne Lamott has a hilariously thoughtful examination of how she felt about—and dealt with—an experience of envy in her book Bird by Bird. It’s one of those rare passages so life-altering for me that I can almost recite it from memory. In it, she’s dealing with her feelings about a writer friend who is constantly telling Anne about her great successes, at a time when she and her young son are struggling mightily.

Sometimes I would get off the phone and cry.

After a while I started asking people for help.

One person reminded me of what Jean Rhys once wrote, that all of us writers are little rivers running into one lake, that what is good for one is good for all, that we all collectively share in one another’s success and acclaim. I said, “You are a very, very angry person.”

My therapist said that jealousy is a secondary emotion, that it is born out of feeling excluded and deprived, and that if I worked on those age-old feelings, I would probably break through the jealousy. I tried to get her to give me a prescription for Prozac, but she said that this other writer was in my life to help me heal my past.  […] She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.

It took many, many years for me to “feel the feelings” and even longer to find the startling gift that envy comes with.

Frankly, envy/jealousy has always felt terrible to me on every level, but I couldn’t seem to dodge it, especially when I was first building my business and deciding what to do with my life. I created services that people needed, did the networking, wrote like a madwoman, but still, I wasn’t getting any traction.

In particular, the exhaustion of trying to survive the move from a stable, auto-deposit paycheck to the uncertainty of self-employment was far harder than I’d thought it would be. There were many times I went to sleep knowing that the next morning I’d give up and get a job again. And the next morning I didn’t.

Envy was dreadful then (though I’d never call it a ‘deadly sin’…whose idea was that?) When I’d meet someone who’d enjoyed immediate success because a family member had bankrolled a huge marketing budget, or who’d enjoyed a burst of media exposure before they’d had to even work very hard, envy would sometimes sit in my belly like a stone.

The solution for me came from a place where lots of great solutions originate: My journal.

I don’t journal daily, but I do it regularly. I capture where I am with life, what I’m seeing and feeling and working on, and what I want to do next. Flipping back through my journals one winter’s evening, I started to notice how envy would creep into my writing. It was like one of those optical illusion posters—one minute it’s a blob, the next minute it’s Abraham Lincoln, clear as day.

I started counting the number of times I grumpily used certain words and phrases: “I wish…”Some day…” Fortunate and rich and lucky break popped up too.

Maybe it was the wine I was drinking. Or maybe my too-tired-to-argue creative brain just decided to flip on that light switch for me: I was looking at a road map to what I wanted out of my livelihood, right there in my own handwritten self-pity and jealousy.

I wanted to have more financial peace of mind.
I wanted to feel really, really good at what I did.
I wanted to be valued by more people for what I brought to their lives.

I wanted the superpower of being able to tell at a glance which actions would bring me closer to my best life, and which were taking me further away.

I didn’t want what others had. I actually didn’t give a damn what they did.

But I wanted to feel a certainty: That if I cultivated the right attention, resources, and skills, I could find my OWN way to my OWN brand of happiness. That it was in my control.

That was the year I started paying attention to the tool—the gift—of envy.

I got some help identifying what life I wanted to move toward, and then broke it down into a hundred bite-sized actions and changes. Getting smart about the financial side of my business. Becoming a better communicator. Seeing where I was wasting time, love, and tenderness. Finally embracing the “D word” (discipline).

And things started to happen. Things that made me a different person. . . a person I actually loved, trusted, and respected without reservation.

Envy—watching it unfold, feeling it in my body, understanding what it was trying to teach me—changed everything for me.


If I’d stuck with all the psychobabble tricks to ignore it, fight it, accept it, or chase it out of my mind, I never would have received that gift. And it’s a gift that I can never put a price on. There simply wasn’t any other way I could’ve flown under the radar of my own resistance.

Do I still find myself feeling envy? You bet. I have a long way to go before I’m immune to it, but nowadays I pour a cup of tea and sit with it to learn what it’s trying to tell me.

I’ll leave you with this: Are there people, things, situations that you feel a twinge of envy toward? Don’t vilify it or belittle it or try to rise above it—just be completely open and honest with yourself for a second.

What’s at the core of it? What is someone else doing/enjoying that you’re not (yet)?
Freedom to live/work anywhere?
Not being up all night worrying about money & retirement?
The respect they see reflecting in the eyes of others?
The ability make a good living by doing what they love?
Time to be with family? Time to think?

Of your list, what’s one thing that—if you already had it in your life—would have inoculated you against that twinge of envy toward someone else?

And, if you are willing to play: What are 10 or 20 (or even 100) bite-sized steps that would help you realize that in your life? Suspend your disbelief and write them down.

And schedule the very first one on your calendar. Even if it’s just a half-hour alone over a perfect cup of coffee as you write down a conversation with your own envy.

There’s power in envy. Grab it for yourself.

What do you find yourself envying?
What have you convinced yourself you can never have, because you’re not enough X or there’s just too much Y in your life? Drop me a line and let’s talk about it. I think you’d be surprised what’s possible if a) you get clear about what you want, and b) you break down the path to “there” into bite-sized, teeny-tiny steps.


*This is one of several questionable translations of a quote ascribed to the Buddha. The meaning changes slightly with each version, but in my context it doesn’t matter, because I’m not entirely there with the round man on this anyway. Envy is in no way attractive, but it’s a valuable thing to observe.



The under-appreciated ritual of avoiding improvement

This post is especially for those who are always trying to improve their business: Improve sales, improve productivity/processes, or just improve the energy you have to do it. You know the advice, right?  “Work ON your business, not IN your business.” Always have an eye on building & adjusting & improving whenever possible and as much as possible. I absolutely do agree that’s a great plan—

Until it isn’t.

I think it was the morning I was listening to a guru podcast about tips and tricks to get more done, while walking on a treadmill, while thinking to myself, “Maybe if I put some sort of calming visual on the TV monitor it would be a little like meditation.”

Cue the sound of the needle screeching across a vinyl record.

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese concept of kaizen—continuous measurable improvement—for all businesses, all the way down to the solo practitioner, author, or coach.

It’s the small adjustments we make every day, rather than the huge ones, that can most help our businesses be peaceful, purposeful and profitable. Not being a person for whom order (mental or physical) comes baked right into the DNA, I’m constantly building in bite-sized improvements.

An hour to adjust colors and categories in my Google Calendar. Coercing myself to do an end-of-the-workday ritual. Scheduling a rest period into the middle of the day, with a reminder notification (which tells me, “Rest or Die. No Kidding.”)

Continuous measurable improvement. It’s a good thing.

It’s not the “measurable” or the “improvement” I’m addressing with this post; it’s the “continuous” part. Because all of us, at one time or another, will rebel against it.

We’ll wake up one morning and think, “My brain feels like overcooked linguine.”

We’ll look at our daily plan and feel irritation rising that we can’t see any white space behind the obligations.

Our shoulder muscles will be knotted already at 8:00am.

We’ll take that magazine article “10 Ways to Crush It with Your Business Marketing” and shred it into pieces the size of a thumbnail, because running it through the paper shredder is too gentle a fate for it.

We will have a powerful, almost impossible-to-ignore desire to go back to bed and read mindless fiction. Or go to the zoo.

I have a particular warning sign that always makes me laugh at myself: It’s when I find myself obsessed with going to work out instead of starting my work day.

As in, “I can’t possibly start working yet, I simply must be on the rowing machine for an hour first.” Now that’s a clear signal.

I, and many of my people, sometimes try to over-kaizen. Are you one of them?

Look at the number of articles you’ve saved to read.
The zillion bookmarks in your web browser’s bookmarks.
The business books waiting to be read, or stacked on the shelf with a sheaf of post-it notes marking the critical places.
The online workshops you’ve signed up for in the next few weeks. The unreviewed notes from the ones you’ve taken in the past few weeks.
The notes you’ve written yourself in your planner/calendar: Fix this. Learn that. Do more. Be more.

Late in 2018, I’d reached this point myself. Going to bed feeling vaguely like a failure, grinding my teeth at night, finding myself frowning at Tim Ferriss and David Allen in my newsfeed… It was too much.

So I took a week off self-improvement. In that week, I stopped consciously trying to get better at anything in my life. For a week, I stayed right in the present moment.

For a week,
my diet was perfectly fine,
my income was perfectly fine,
my productivity level was perfectly fine,
my business was perfectly fine,
my exercise habits were perfectly fine,
everything was fine. I made the choice, and so it was.

I set no new intentions.

I didn’t even check up on any previous ones.
I just stayed in my body, took good care of whoever I was scheduled to work with already, and existed right here, right now, not ranging out into the future or mourning the past.

No business books on the nightstand. No newsletter or blog post reading. No liking, sharing, replying to social media. No online groups or coaching or classes. No Facebook except for furry animals, pictures of sunsets, and Good News Network.

I’ll write more about what happened later. It takes a little explaining and I’ve kept you long enough today.

For now, I’ll just ask: Reading the above, did you resist? Did you get the feeling that the world might stop turning on its axis if you did it yourself? That everything in your life, work, and society might go to hell in a handbasket if you take your foot off the gas?

Or did you feel relief that you might safely be able to take a little time and just be who you are today for a while?

I’ll leave you with this, if you’ve been feeling over-intentioned, over-improved, over-booked, overwhelmed:

Taking some time away from that, even a day or a week, will be a calming, surprising, and—yes—productive time indeed.

No handbasket required.

Do our clients care about us too?

How much do you genuinely care about your audience members as real, live, flesh-and-blood people? How much do they care about you?

Recently, in her delicious Friday newsletter, coach/author/friend Judith Morgan put her finger squarely on something I consider a key aspect of truly healthy, nutritious relationships with clients and customers:

I care about my clients’ dreams but here’s the important bit, they care about mine too. They care about me. It is reciprocal.

Being the obsessive ponderer that I am, I poured another cup of coffee and margaretted out for a while on this thought.

How important is this kind of reciprocity in our relationships with the people we serve? That it goes both ways, not just one way?

To me, it’s very important, but I’m open to the possibility that Judith and I may be the exceptions rather than the rule.

First, how often does it really happen, in our work lives? Do some (most?) businesspeople consider it an absurd thing to wish for? Stranger still, to expect? And, even more outlandish, how many of us dare to make it a deciding factor in whether we choose to invest our energies in serving a particular person/company?

Like most things, it can get a little complicated when you unpack it.

I picture a self-employed woman who has a startup business selling a product – a book, for example. Her income may depend on simply selling lots of them, and to many different kinds of people. Is it important to her that the people buying the product care about her as a person, or care about her business/livelihood? Is that even possible to know or intuit that, when often we have is a receipt from an online store?

What about service providers? Most of my people are in the business of offering a service, wisdom, knowledge, help. From this high-touch angle, it seems simpler on the surface. But is it? If you offer an online workshop to 100 people, is reciprocity something we can hope for? Are we allowed to hope that all of the attendees who purchase the workshop consider, “This sounds great to me, and it’s also a person/business whose work I’d love to support”?

How important is it to you? And how possible?

I feel as though mutual respect and reciprocity are possible in almost any situation, as long as we have the audacity to show our real selves to our readers and clients.

For many years in my work, I was afraid to show too much of myself, for fear someone would find something to object to. Oh, she supports that charity. Yuck, not another treehugger. She doesn’t have an MBA?

So if people read my sanitized bio, it was difficult for them to discern what sort of person I was. They’d piece it together this way: She knows websites, so she must be a techie person, who probably likes gadgets and programming and spreadsheets and stuff. She also works with people doing good things in the world, so she’s probably honest. I don’t have much in common with geeks, but it looks like she knows her stuff, so I may as well give this Margaret person a try.

Nowadays, it’s not hard for potential clients to get a clearer picture of who I am as a human. They can see me hiking at sunrise. They can read my book. They know I have a strange little dog named Gordon, that I volunteer in my small community, and that I believe self-employed people are probably the ones who are going to save humanity.

Even bigger, though, they know that I dare use “the ‘L’ word” in my business. I do a lot more coaching and teaching now, and I do it with my feet firmly rooted in love. They see me interacting with perfect strangers with respect and kindness. They can easily see how I thoroughly (and sometimes embarrassingly) geek out on helping good things come to life.

So I attract clients who are attracted to that emphasis on community and compassion.

And I repel clients who might grumble about that all as ‘namby-pamby new age BS.’ Sometimes they leave skid marks.

And that works perfectly for me.

In most cases, I end up with clients who want something more from a coach, consultant, or even a website person. They want someone that genuinely gives a damn about them as individuals, and so will offer up his or her best energy. In the face of SO many possible service providers for all of our “stuff,” these clients also prefer to support good, caring people whenever that’s possible.

With the selling of products (or causes, or companies, or politicians) we are all witnessing a shift away from blindly supporting those who are abusive, disrespectful, or simply indifferent. That shift, I believe, is trickling down into even the smallest of businesses: All other things being equal, we want to give our dollars to people we feel are likely to care—about us, and about the world.

It’s a pragmatic, empathetic kind of reciprocity that literally changes everything, from creativity to productivity to profitability.

George Kao even defines true productivity as valuable interaction with the people your business can best serve, that inspires their reciprocity. When we’re generous in providing something valuable, when we do it genuinely and directly from the heart, readers and clients feel it. They engage with us. They read, watch, “like,” share, follow/subscribe, inquire, purchase, and refer.

We each try to help the other to succeed, by whatever tape measure “success” is being measured.

Honestly, we live in a society that’s simultaneously accelerating, darkening, and increasing the emotional distance between us. I look for any and all ways to slow down, pay attention, and remember what matters.

Here in my working world, this sort of caring reciprocity is key to my happiness, and so has become pretty non-negotiable.

How about you? Does this matter to you?

My ‘Word of the Year’ for 2019? You’re not gonna like it.

“The tiny cost of failure is dwarfed by the huge cost of not trying.”
Seth Godin, www.seths.blog, The Tiny Cost of Failure

I admit that I haven’t jumped into the “Word of the Year” movement for a couple of years now, but this year I am.

You know about that thing, right? Where we’re advised by the self-help gurus to choose a special word each year to be our mantra or rallying cry or guiding principle for the coming year?

A Word of the Year always seemed a nice idea, but never seemed to stick for me, no matter how big I wrote it on my vision board or mirror, how many times it popped up in my online calendar, or how long it stayed my laptop’s screen saver.

That didn’t keep me from choosing one anyway when I was younger. Resilience was the theme one year, I recall (must have been having some challenges that year, hm?). Self-care has shown up more than once, as has Tenacity. A bit of a seesaw there. And Kindness shows up in my journal from 2002. That was back when I was stressed and crazy and actually needed a reminder to stay kind. (Imagine that…)

For 2019, my Word of the Year is . . . Failure.

Now, stop that. Hear me out.

I’ve decided this is the year when I’ll finally stop hobbling myself with the fear of failures big and small.

You didn’t know I was? Ah, that’s because I am simply masterful at hiding my fears from others. If the meme police allowed it, I’d even call it my “superpower.”

“Feel free to avoid [failure] by doing nothing, by second guessing yourself, by being your own worst critic, always ready to describe the apocalypse waiting on just the other side of shipping.
Either that or you can risk the narrative and risk the fear and make a difference.”
Seth Godin, www.seths.blog, Failure Imagined (24 Variations)

I’ve had some time & space these past two weeks to ponder the mystery of Me. Why do I do what I do? Or even more interesting: Why don’t I do what I don’t do?

All the things I don’t finish, or the offerings & services I create but never promote, or the things I do promote but never adequately follow through? That, my friends, is fear with it’s green, scaly claw reaching for my throat, one long pointy fingernail outstretched: “Don’t bother.” 

Fear of hearing only crickets, or polite silence, or full-on disinterest. Fear of failing.

I started thinking about Failure when I read Seth Godin’s newest book This Is Marketing over my winter planning retreat. I’ve never been a superfan of Seth Godin. It’s been more of a formal nod of respect, but this book offered up some great thoughts about finding the people we most want to help, deciding how we can help them, and doing it.

Typically a night reader, I’d lie awake after the lamp clicked off, and think for a long time. How much time am I wasting by hiding away—or hiding FROM—the creations and communication that might help someone in my world? Why is my list of “new business ideas” the same at the end of the year as it was at the beginning? Am I waiting for some state of perfection and perfect safety first? How much time do I think I have left to do them, anyway?

So this year, a promise, courtesy of my Word of the Year:

I will write, a LOT, knowing that 100% of it might not ‘land’ for all readers. I will write and write and write some more.

I will offer advice and counsel, knowing that some people will say ‘I already know THAT, geez’ or ‘yeah, Seth Godin said something like that last Wednesday.’

I will offer my partnership and help, risking that people won’t need or want it, and may even mistrust my reasons for offering at first. I will offer anyway.

I will create things—programs, books, services, groups—that (I feel) will truly help somebody somewhere, and I will TELL people about them through honest and transparent marketing so that the ones who need me can find me.

I will fail at some of these things. I expect there may be some humdingers that won’t fly, won’t get a positive response, won’t help pay the rent. That’s okay. 

I will get up the next morning, put on the coffee pot, and do it all again, always reflecting, always learning, finding every possible way to support the people who matter most to me.

In this way, I will learn endless things.

So, here’s fair warning, Failure: You sure you wanna mess with me? (smile)

Welcome to 2019, everybody. Nice to be here with you. What will you embrace this year that you never thought you would?

“The rule is simple: The person who fails the most will win. If I fail more than you do, I will win. Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.
So, if you fail cataclysmically and never play again, you only fail once. But if you are always there […] putting your work into the world, creating and starting things, you will learn endless things.”
Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn

The annual planning retreat deconstructed: Beautiful, painful, and absolutely necessary

By the time you read this, I will be back online, in the so-called “normal” world. This was written from a quieter space, one that I hope you’ll consider gifting yourself in the coming year in some way:

All solo small businesses and practices can benefit from taking a little time each year—measured in days, not hours—to quiet down, disconnect, and get clear.  For a big chunk of December and January of every year, if someone were looking for me, they could usually find me in one of these places:

Curled up in a big armchair at our local indy coffee shop with my notebook, working on the new book I’m writing. Stocking feet tucked under me. Absently sipping a tall Americano.

Putting Gordon’s coat on (and mine) for a mind-loosening walk through prehistoric rocks at South Valley Park, which we hope will be sunny and dry and coyote-free.

In my home office, clearing, cleaning, and polishing nearly every horizontal surface and rehoming every errant post-it note, paper clip, doodad, memento, reminder, handwritten list, manila folder, take out menu, bookmark, everything. Clutter has repeatedly been proven to take a toll on our minds and our productivity, and I confess to being a clutterer in recovery (there, I said it). So at this time of year, everything goes where it belongs, and I recommit to keeping it that way.

At the kitchen table, sifting through the evidence of my work from the previous year with my journal at the ready, in order to capture what my heart says about it all. Did I enjoy doing this/that? Did it make a difference? (For whom?) What made me absolutely insane and stressed? What kind of work relaxed me into a state of flow? What do I want to create more of and less of in the world?
At my desk with my laptop, I turn my many notes into something wonderful. I sweep most of my jots, scribbles, and Evernote notes into an annual MS Word document I call simply, “Great Ideas.” I speed-type all the insights and light bulb moments and a-ha ideas and ‘never agains’ into it, then I start to shape it into sections/chapters, organizing it into idea clusters with big bold orange headings like:

Articles I’ll Write
Better Ways to Help Each Other
New Book Ideas
Wouldn’t It Be Awesome to Learn How To…
Making Social Media Painless
I’d Love to Work With…
Let’s Never Do This Again

… And so forth. It’s a way to revisit my best ideas in a tactile way, and capture them all in one place. I insert page breaks. I give it all page numbering and nice formatting. And when I’m done, I have a book of my year that’s a sort of navigational map I can consult any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, untethered, or unsure where to go next.

Sofa-bound, with my laptop on my stomach, going through my Google and paper calendars for the coming year to block out no-shit, non-negotiable appointments with myself for:

  • Writing
  • Moving my body (the artist formerly known as “exercise”)
  • Active gratitude
  • Getting to zero inbox and zero desktop regularly
  • Self-care
  • Connection with the people I care about (er, that’s You)

(Starting with an empty calendar, these blocks go in first. All other commitments that I make must flow around those things, and not the other way around.)

Sitting next to the woodstove, staring into the fire, and thinking about my Future Self. Would she be pleased with what I’ve accomplished this year? What advice would she give? What would she want me to do more of/less of in the months ahead?


That’s what I do for nearly two weeks out of the year, for about 75% of my waking hours. Here’s what I’m not doing:

Compulsively checking social media
Compulsively checking email
Listening intently for the squawkbuzz of my mobile phone (Oooh! Somebody needs me! 🙂
Doing anything on my mobile phone except checking my grocery list or texting good jokes to my husband
Hanging around with any person who stresses me, even if I care about them
Making a list of radical, grandiose new year’s resolutions
Tracking political developments, celebrity gossip, mainstream news outlets, partisan talking heads, or reality TV
Wearing business attire

For the first few years of taking this time away at year’s end, I was wracked by guilt at leaving everyone in my working life uncared-for and abandoned. As if I were Mighty Mouse, streaking across the internet singing, “Heeeeere I come to save the dayyyyyy…” When I saw that people got along perfectly well without me, things got easier.

And a treasured, nourishing ritual was born.

When I return to my regular daily routines, I have a peaceful, joyful clarity that sets the tone for the entire year.

What about you?

Do you have a way to clear space for processing and digesting all that life throws at you, or does it move so fast that it just keeps streaming along, carrying you with it?

Are you able to find—or create—an island of sanity? A place where you can truly sink into planning what you want to do with the remaining days and hours of your life?

It is would help, feel free to borrow, copy, or steal from mine. I know I’d be lost without it.

And if you’d like any new ideas, let’s definitely talk. I think you’ll enjoy tossing around possibilities.

About Me

I’m Margaret Rode, and I’m a coach/consultant and online marketing sherpa for people who choose to work for themselves (in whole or in part) and who want to be profitable from a place of authenticity, thoughtful action, and compassion. I offer quick solve-it sessions, coaching series that gently untangle an intractable set of habits, and counsel/help for painlessly making the most of your website, social media, and other tech tools. Contact me for a free, fun, no-icky-sales-pitch conversation to talk through where you are and where you’d like to be.

More of and Less of: The strange magic in knowing exactly why you do what you do

Life tosses us around sometimes, doesn’t it? Take time, for example. Sometimes we seem to have more than enough to “get it all done” and sometimes we’re struggling for 5 minutes to get our shoes on and get out the door. News, politics, and current events stress us. Family members need our help when we can’t even find the energy to help ourselves.

It’s a universal truth in self-employment: Some days, weeks, months, it’s hard to stay on track and moving ahead with our work, because we’re zigging and zagging all over the place.

To help keep focused on my destination, I have a secret weapon, a compassionate ray-gun, that I use in these times: It’s a little game I call More of/Less of, and it’s made a huge difference in my business.

You can try it too, and see if it helps you. Here’s one of my “More of/Less of” statements:

I help thoughtful self-employed people to create, cultivate and grow the work their hearts want to do. Why? Because I want to see MORE people on this planet working from a strong sense of purpose, with their own unique vision and contribution. I think it is going to save us all. (In fact, I think it may be one of the few things that can.)

I want to see LESS of the stress, powerlessness, frustration, and wasted resources that can be part of working for someone else. Less carbon monoxide from commuting, fewer fast food lunches, less office politics and misery poker (“…you won’t believe what so-and-so is doing to me…“), less social and environmental damage by big corporations.

I do it through bite-sized teaching sessions, regular coaching dates to help untangle specific issues and blockages, and hands-on help with stressors like “how do I attract clients now?” And yes, by being a tech sherpa, so all those self-employed people can stay connected and promote their work.

The exercise is deceptively simple. Just spend a couple of minutes thinking about each of these:

  1. What do you want to see more of in the world?
  2. What do you want to see less of in the world?
  3. And how do the services, products, or knowledge you offer the world contribute to those two efforts?

These three things, when fixed firmly in your mind, can do several magical things:

  • They can help pull you through the most trying of times, because they are rock-steady inside you even when the world might be shifting under your feet
  • They help you develop a radar for—and say “no” to—work, clients, or commitments that are just not right for you
  • They are an invaluable guiding star when you’re brainstorming new products and services: Is this creating more of X?  Less of Y?
  • They can help you attract new clients, readers, donors, and peers/partners who have the same values, and kindred spirits make for wonderful long-term clients
  • They help you articulate your work to others, in a way that makes it more clear and more memorable

You don’t have to be a social activist, a great visionary, or an 80-hour-week “hustle entrepreneur.”  It doesn’t really matter what kind of business you have (I’ll show you why below). This clarity game works even if you’re just starting out, or are just wanting to earn a simple living doing useful work that you love and are good at.

Here are some responses I’ve received from clients when I asked them to play:

A small bookstore owner:

I want to see more people finding solace and joy in books, real books, and give them a place where they can meet others who do too. I want more people to remember how amazing books are. I want to see fewer people stuck on the technology addiction treadmill, addicted to beeping devices and constant “feeds” and the ten-second adrenaline rush of a “Like” on Facebook. Sinking into a story is so much better for our minds and bodies…I sell books for all those reasons.

A massage therapist

I want to see more people feel good in their bodies, unhindered by stiffness, aches, pains. I want there to be more people who know how human touch can shift our energy. I want to see fewer people suffering through chronic pain. Some people sleepwalk through life unable to really enjoy any of it. I offer all kinds of healing massage and I can help so many different kinds of people, I understand now why I went into this work.

A creativity coach

I want to see more people being able to let their creativity loose, whether it’s doing some kind of art or just going to work and doing their job. I want more people to know that creativity isn’t just a special chosen few – we all have it!! I want to see less of the mindset that tells us “I’m just not creative at all.” It’s not true. We all just need to learn a few skills to tease it out of ourselves. I teach those skills, and every day I see it changing peoples’ lives.

A furniture maker

I want to see more people proudly having handmade things in their homes, and not just jewelry or stuff like that. Real functional things we use in everyday life, made by a real human and not in a factory in Asia. I want to see less money being paid to own cheap pressboard junk that doesn’t help support an actual person, a neighbor. Just knowing that something I made in my shop is out there being loved by somebody–that’s huge for me.

What do you think? Want to try it? All you need is a few minutes.

Think about the work you do, or want to be doing.

What do YOU want to see more of? Less of? And how do the specific services/products you offer help make that happen?

Let me know what you come up with – and be sure to provide a link to your page so we can learn more about you.

Show me your process, not just your perfection

“Show us your process, not just your perfection.”
—CJ Casciotta

This mandate hitting my ears was just one of dozens of eyes-wide moments at last week’s STORY 2018 conference in Nashville—an annual conference that’s been called “TED for Creatives.”

It will take me a while to type up the pages and pages of notes I brought home from this immersive, two-day gathering for artists, creators, and storytellers. I brought colored pencils and markers with me and used them to circle, star, underline, and annotate, in a feeble attempt to somehow capture the wild energy of the event. (It was that kind of conference…the kind where the colors just fly.)

The title quote, in particular, stuck with me (it’s bright green in my journal). What does it mean?

Every day we’re assailed by images and videos and books and articles and ads that are evidence of something that’s reached perfection—or at least as close to it as is possible for the creator. Completed, polished, effective.

We’re not interested, or so they say, in seeing the path the creator had to take to get there. We’re taught in myriad ways that the only thing of real value is the finished product. I take issue with that more than I can explain.

What happens if the ONLY images we ever see in life are of things in a state of perfect completion, or perfect beauty, or perfect symmetry and balance? Is that natural? How does it make us feel?

By “us,” I’m especially referring to those of us who are neck-deep struggling with our own creations.

We’re writing our book, seeking out our ideal clients, building our business/practice, developing offerings that people may support us by buying. And all with that inner clock ticking expectantly: Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Perfection. Now. Faster.

On the days when the words just won’t fall on the paper, when new clients just seem to be deaf to what we offer, when things just won’t take shape, I sometimes feel as though if I see one more perfectly-coiffed mega-guru telling me about her latest wildly successful $5000 coaching package – that has, by the way, only 3 spots left, so hurry hurry hurry – I am going to scream.

On those days, more than anything, I want to talk to others who are still in their process too. I want to know where people are stuck, because I too might be stuck, and perhaps (like freeing each other from a mire) we can help each other get un-stuck.

I want to know that someone ELSE is frustrated that their promotional efforts aren’t hitting the mark yet, and they’re not sure what to adjust.

I want to see the rough drafts of a new article, the flawed prototype of a new product offering or even just the first notes scribbled in a frenzy on the back of a flattened-out Starbucks coffee sleeve. I want to smash the illusion that successful ideas are supposed to burst forth from our heads, fully-formed and perfect and with no effort whatsoever.

I want to see the process and the perfection, not just the airbrushed final product.

Do you?