“Who am I to teach and charge for it?”
This is a post that has been on my mind for many years to write.
It comes up in most workshops that I teach, this question of “Who am I to teach this? I’m no master. Besides, everything has already been said. I’ve got nothing new to add to this.” or “Who am I to be a healer? I’m not that good yet. I’m not ready. I need more education.” or “Who am I to hold circles? I don’t want to feign that I know things or that I’m some big deal.”
And it’s a weighty question that deserves more of a response than the pat, “Believe in yourself” answers given out as though the heart of the malady was a lack of self esteem and that the miracle cure could be brought about be popping the pills of “valuing yourself.”
No. This is a bigger and more important question. So, I want to try and write a response that might be worthy of everything that is inside that question.
It’s one I feel a real personal connection to as, when I was 21, I was leading personal growth, weekend long workshops for a leadership development franchises. There were people attending them who had sandals older than I was. I had no legitimate business leading those workshops. I remember one man who, seeing this overexcitable boy was going to be leading the course, politely and graciously asked for a refund. I was offended at the time but I wish I could hug him now. I knew the basics of some fancy NLP and other ‘technologies’ for personal growth and I imagined that this gave me some permission to lead groups of adults through some incredible deep waters. I thought that my having some theory I’d learned by rote (and yet hadn’t sincerely implemented into my life) meant I’d learned something worthy of sharing.
I was so young.
So, when some come to me with these questions of “Who am I to do this work?” I take that question very seriously.
Of course, sometimes they’re often secretly angling for pity or approval. You won’t find that in this blog post. If you’re here for encouragement, that’s not exactly what you’ll find here. And if you’re here for advice or ‘the answer’ you definitely won’t find that here. What you’ll find is the encouragement to keep wrestling with these worthy questions as honestly as possible.
As my colleague Mark Silver put it, “I would say that, deep down, it’s an honest and sincere question when asked as a real question, and not as a statement masquerading as a question, where ‘Who am I?’ stands in for, ‘I can’t/not supposed/not the one to do it. The integrity, the care, the humility is all needed in this inquiry.”
What I want to offer here isn’t a solution but some ideas and reflections that, like seeds, might take root and grow into an apple tree than can at least provide food to you to sustain you while you keep up the wrestling.
One reaction to this question is to collapse, shrink down and back away from opportunities. Another reaction is to posture, puff ourselves up and pretend to be a lot more together than we are. But, if we’re going to explore this meaningfully, it’s got to be a response from a place of composure. I hope that these reflections might help you get a bit closer to that.
Reflection #1 – You Deserve To Have Your Needs Met:
This is baseline. At the heart of a lot of these struggles (around being ready) is this deep feeling of discomfort that we have needs at all. There’s this big feeling of shame in a lot of people that they need the level of support they do. They feel like they should be able to help anyone who wants their help for free and be okay with that.
But you’re a human being. You have needs (e.g. food, water, shelter etc.) And, in this culture, without money, those are hard to get. So, unless you’re consciously choosing to opt out of the cash economy (a move I would applaud loudly and celebrate) then it’s something to come to terms with.
Can you be humble enough to admit that you need support to live? Can you be humble enough to receive that support in the form of money from clients who you are helping?
You have needs. You deserve to have them met.
This doesn’t mean you’re entitled to be a billionaire. It doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anyone’s business in particular.
It just means that you deserve these things as much as any other human on earth.
And it means that it’s important to be incredibly real with yourself about what it is that you need and what it will take to make that happen. This shows up particularly clearly around money.
Action: Identify these two numbers – How much money do you need to just scrape by (i.e. food, rent and paying basic bills)? How much money would it take to sustain you in a good way that would allow you to give your gifts to the community? Once you’ve identified the second number, I would suggest adding 50% more to it because you probably aren’t seeing clearly the number of unexpected things life will bring you that will cost money. Then make that number your goal.
Reflection #2 – You May Need to Appoint Yourself:
I have written a longer note about this notion here but, here’s the gist of it – most people walk around life feeling needy and unsure this world is asking anything of them. Most people are waiting for proof that the way they live matters to others. The invitation is to stop waiting and to proceed as if you are needed. This might mean you develop a bit of swagger and self appointing yourself. So be it.
“As a rule nobody asks you to do your life’s work. More often, at least in the early going, you have to do your life’s work as a self-appointed task. And in the early going you’re not very good at it. It is a learning thing, expensive, demanding, relentless. That’s how it has gone for me at least, paring down the list of reasons I was born until only a few likely candidates were left standing.” – Stephen Jenkinson
But, of course, if we’re needed, it’s the most natural thing in the world to doubt our capacity to rise to the occasion. That’s not a disempowering belief to get over, it’s a human response to explore. It’s a part of the learning and growing that helps get you ready. If you skip an active engagement with your doubts, you may find that they linger around like ghosts of the departed who, never properly grieved and yet willfully forgotten, stick around to haunt you in a world to which they no longer belong. Your doubts are like seeds and they can only give you the plant inside them if you are willing to plant them in the fertile soil of your curiousity and willingness to admit there’s something you don’t know.
Reflection #3 – Your Doubts Are Often Your Integrity In Disguise:
When people say to me, “I don’t know if I’m ready.”, I immediately trust them a bit more.
Because, in they’re asking the question, I hear a deep integrity trying to assert itself amidst a desperate need to pay the rent. I hear a deep concern for the well being of others. I hear a humility of knowing how little they know and how much they still struggle. And I hear the tension between not wanting to be a fraud and yet not wanting to pretend they don’t know anything at all. They are simultaneously lit up by the possibility of stepping into a work that they love and also terrified. They want to help people but are also scared they might hurt them. They want to fly but are terrified that they will fall.
They are aware that the bigger a job they take on, the more potential there is to screw things up and really hurt people. They’re aware the more trust that’s invested in them, the more they have to be faithful to. They know that this trust isn’t a resource we actively try to cultivate, it’s a sort of human-making burden we carry with us because we know the more of it that people pile on our back, the more damage there would be should we ever get lazy and drop it. Trust is a burden. When people court it too fast and too soon, before they’re ready, they are actually courting disaster.
On one side people never starting because they’re not perfect or ready and not wanting to hurt people. Other side people blindly charging ahead and imagining they’re ready and that people are lucky to get what they’ve got to give. Neither of these orientations are particularly helpful or sustainable.
Another possibility is to consider that your teaching what you know and offering it as a service isn’t a sign that you’re ‘done’, or ‘perfect’. It’s you signing up for your next step in your schooling without any illusions that it will be easy. And learning should give you pause. You should have second thoughts about learning. Because learning is expensive and you can only pay with the thing you can least afford to give.
Learning is what helps refine you. Sometimes I think that, when we get started, we should be paying our clients for the chance to learn. It’s a good argument for doing probono work and apprenticing (which we’ll get to soon).
When people express their doubts I want to fall on my knees and thank them for really considering it.
The people who scare me are the ones with very little experience but extreme confidence. Those are the ones most likely to hurt people.
Reflection #4 – Your Questions About Money Are Also Often Your Integrity Too:
Intimately tied into the question of “Who am I to teach?” is the often unspoken ending to that sentence, “… and get paid for it?“
It can feel very strange to many of us this notion of being paid to do something we love to do that’s bringing healing to the world. There can be a guilt associated with it and this urge to just give it away for free.
And again, when people bring up these issues, I want to worship at their feet for a while because these concerns don’t come from nowhere. They often have roots found it a concern about the direction of the larger economy – both where it came from and where it’s going. As people learn more about what’s happening in the world, it’s the most natural thing in the world to have questions around money start to emerge. What is it? Where did it come from? For what kinds of work should I accept it and for what kinds of work should I refuse it?
And if you work in the healing arts, this becomes an even more pressing question as people will start bringing many things to your door to question your making money. They’ll point out that traditional medicine people almost never take money for their ceremonies or healings so how on Earth can you? Aren’t you just participating in the commodification of something that should never be commodified?
When I see people wrestling with this, I want to hug them and thank them for being willing to engage and grapple with something for which there are no easy answers. I want to praise the deep integrity of their political and spiritual landscape. I want to urge them to keep following those threads. Nowhere in me is there an urge to ‘fix’ anything. I have no desire at all to do anything other than hold those people’s feet even closer to the fire so they can really feel the burn of anywhere they might be out of alignment. Many of my colleagues would see all of this as a set of disempowering beliefs but, frankly, I think a lot of their beliefs about money are deeply toxic – here are twelve of them. And I’m not saying there aren’t beliefs that aren’t serving you if you’re wrestling with this all, I’m just saying the wrestling with it is a noble endeavour that deserves to be applauded. It’s a rare thing in this culture to bring anything to money other than desperation and entitlement.
Those are questions people should be bringing to the topic of money. Thank God they do.
I’ve been broke before (and I didn’t care) because I’d decided to spend my time enjoying my life and doing volunteer work in my community instead. There’s nothing less spiritual about that. But there’s also nothing particularly spiritual about being broke and not being able to take care of yourself and therefore being a burden on others. If you’re tired of being broke, here are fifteen ideas and you might want to check to see if I’m running my 30 day cashflow challenge called The Meantime.
And there’s a big difference between using these questions as a shield to actually not wrestle honestly with these questions and avoid ever dealing with money vs. as a doorway to an even deeper sense of integrity and alignment with your political and spiritual values as you live in the modern world.
Having said all of that, a few thoughts do occur to me that I offer on the off chance they might have some use to someone.
We no longer live in a tribal set up. Were you to be a healer in that set up, your needs would be met. You would be taken care of by the village. That is no longer the case today and so we need to do something different.
To take indigenous rituals and profit from them without the explicit permission and blessing of traditional elders in those communities is the height of disrespect and deeply dangerous to those you ostensibly want to heal.
You do not need to make an income from healing. You could also work a job and do your healing work outside of that. That is an absolutely legitimate and beautiful model. You can be a healer without making a business out of it.
Offering your gifts to the world? Non negotiable. That’s a mandatory part of being a human being. Making it a business and charging for it? Entirely optional.
Reflection #5 – Figure Out Your Resonant Price
All praise and credit to my dear, dear friend and colleague Mark Silver for bringing this notion to the world: resonant pricing.
If you struggle in figuring out what to charge, I can’t recommend enough that you check out this simple, human, effective and liberating process.
It will help you find prices for what you charge that feel not too little or too much but ‘just right’.
Doubt is unavoidable.
It’a part of the creative process as KC Baker brilliantly lays out in her blog post What It Takes to Give Birth (To a Baby or a Dream). Although, it’s rarely self doubt anyway. It’s more often other people’s doubts we’re reacting to or imagining. We ask ourselves, ‘What would others say about this?’ But, in a world on fire, obsessing about ourselves is not what’s needed.
Self hatred and self doubt are still a form of self absorption.
Reflection #7 – Be Clear About Your Goals:
When people say they don’t feel ready, I want to ask them, “Ready for what?“
And most of the time the answers I get are fuzzy. How clear are your business goals? Less clear than you think, I promise you that. Read this to help them get more clear.
Reflection #8 – Be Real About Your Timelines:
Let me save you a trip to your therapist in which you fruitlessly explore how your lack of valuing yourself is stopping your business from growing.
It takes time to grow a business to be solid. Eighteen months to three years if you’re really focused on it. If you don’t settle on a solid niche early on? It’ll take you longer. I see so many people fail before they leave their day job too soon. They leap into their business before it has any chance of supporting them and then it collapses and some well meaning new ager tells them it may be a reflection of their lack of self worth.
It takes time to build a business.
Reflection #9 – You Might Not Be Ready, But…:
This is an important one to wrestle with.
You genuinely might not be ready for the work you’ve imagined for yourself.
Try that on for size.
Hey, we’ve all seen it. Someone is shoes way too big for them. Someone crashing and burning because they weren’t ready.
That could be you.
If you don’t seriously consider your level of readiness, you’re a fool.
You actually might not have the skill, wisdom, internal fortitude or capacity to do the work you’re so drawn to do. History is full of people who thought they were ready, thought they were invincible and then, like Icarus drawn by his desire to get closer to the sun and deaf to his father’s pleas, fell helpless to his death as his wings fell apart as a result of his hubris. There are many examples of those whose arrogance outstripped their ability and whose lack of regard for limits cost others dearly.
So you might not be ready but… it’s important to ask ourselves, “ready for what?”. Ready to be a guru to thousands? Maybe not. Ready to run some free workshops in your living room? Maybe so. Ready to quit your day job? Maybe not (but hey here are 11 celebrated artists who kept their day job so whatever…) Ready to go to part time? Maybe so.
Often what this question of “Am I ready?” boils down to is the belief that “I need to be perfect to be ready.” Ah. No wonder you never feel ready.
Healers often feel like, “I know I still have unhealed issues so who am I to heal anyone else?” and thus set themselves into this impossible to escape place and rob anyone they meet of whatever portion of healing they might have brought. You may not have healed everything in your life, but I bet you’ve healed something. If you stick to helping people with that or issues of a similar intensity and dynamic, you’ll be on solid ground.
Reflection #10 – You Have Something to Offer:
This is vital.
Can you offer everything you might want to right now? Probably not.
But do you have something to offer that could help people? There is no doubt.
Is what you are able to offer enough to sustain you in a business? How much could you charge for it? Those are very open and worthy questions.
But that you have something to give this world? That is not a question worth any time at all because it will distract you from the needed work of you giving your gift to the world. So many people shut down because they don’t want to be a burden on others, but the real burden we put on the world is one you put there by not giving your gifts and making everyone else carry your load to make up for it. You are needed.
Reflection #11 – Don’t Underestimate The Important Gift of Empathy:
You’d be surprised how much of what people are paying for is actually empathy. You’d be amazed at what a significant factor ‘feeling gotten’ is for people when they’re spending their money. Sure, they want the particular result they’re paying you for, but do not discount the impact of them feeling understood by you. Don’t underestimate the real value that has and the gift it is. Sometimes people would rather work with someone who is a little less skilled if their bed side manner if much better.
The life coach and healing arts industry is full of a lack of that. And there’s more new age bullying than you might think.
It can be an immense relief to realize that our presence is a gift to others (and nice to know it is of such help to our marketing).
“Who are you to heal people?” Maybe someone who really knows how to listen. Maybe somebody who won’t push or bully people into doing something that’s not right for them.
Reflection #12 – There’s a Difference Between Not Being Ready Out of Fear and Out of Intuition:
I’ve met a lot of healers who never feel really ready. They always need one more course or one more certification. And it’s often that they’re scared to really launch.
But not always.
Since I started my business, people have been telling me to write a book.
Practically since day one.
I didn’t feel ready. It wasn’t fear. It was just knowing that I wasn’t ready to do that yet. I knew my point of view and my ideas were still cooking. This year, about 15 years into my career, I finally feel ready. The feeling is clear and uncomplicated.
Don’t let people bully you into doing something you’re not ready to do yet. It’s your life. Do what you want to do.
Reflection #13 – You’ll Might Be Great At One Thing And Crap At A Lot Of Other Things:
I recall Stephen Jenkinson talking about a very earnest young man who wanted to learn from him and came to stay on his farm to help out. The trouble was, he wasn’t much help at all. Finally one day the young man said, “I don’t know if I’ve been much help with the farming.” and Stephen said, “Farming? You haven’t even done any! Look you’re not a farmer. You’re an academic. That’s where your gifts and passions lie. Go and pursue that!” And the young man did, was excellent at it and no more farm equipment was broken that year.
Reflection #14 – Almost Everyone is Crap When They Start:
There are a few geniuses who seemed to hit the ground running brilliantly, but, for the most of us, this isn’t the story.
The first marketing workshop I did was terrible.
The second one I did was much better.
The first youth leadership workshop I led was an abysmal and mortifying failure. They got better from there. That’s how it is. It’s not always so bad but I’ve often started things well before I was ready. It’s not a path I recommend. But it’s comforting to know that you’re in good company.
A truism I heard once was that “every master was once a disaster“. Everyone you see who is celebrated now likely struggled in the very areas they are celebrated. The legendary Casanova was terrible with women. He dedicated his life to learning the arts of courting and seduction. He was not born with that. In story after story, we learn about the masters who, in their beginnings struggled too. But they stuck in there. This is known as playing the long game. So, this truism teaches us that no matter how deep a disaster we are now – there is the promise and possibility of greater competence and skill. As we continue to teach what we most need to learn – we in turn learn.
Reflection #15 – Beware of Comparing Your Insides to Other People’s Outsides
It’s really easy to look at others doing the kind of work you want to do who are more successful than you and imagine you’re seeing the full picture.
I promise you that you are not.
It’s easy to look at people who are doing the work you want to do and imagine you’ll never be ready to do what they do, that you’ll never reach the level they have.
I’ve been behind the scenes of many organizations that seem phenomenally together and professional from the outside, the very picture of success, and yet, on the inside are an utter shambles.
I’ve been behind the scenes at many holistic expos that might seem like a money grab from the new age scene but the reality is that, despite all of their new age law of attraction philosophies, they are almost all losing money or barely squeeking by.
I’ve hung out with the big names of the personal growth scene and seen the human foibles they have that never seem to make it onto the stage. I’ve seen a new age author famous for his books about his near death experiences be hammered every time we met – a profound (although delightfully charming) alcoholic.
I’ve heard of countless yogic gurus who have taken advantage of their female followers but in a way that never makes the mainstream media.
I’ve come to know that a very prominent figure in the personal growth world cheated constantly on his wife despite speaking of how great his relationship was on stage.
It’s easy to believe the hype and to see those who are actually only a few steps ahead of you (whatever that means) as ‘perfect’. But the truth is that they’re people too.
Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Don’t compare the movie of your life to the highlights reel you get to see. It will leave you feeling inadequate and miserable. Just keep focused on creating something wonderful, beautiful and useful to the community. Create something worthy of the problems you see in the world with the gifts you have. That is more than enough.
Reflection #16 – You Know More Than You Think You Do:
It was 2002, and I got a call from the United World College in Las Vegas, New Mexico to lead a facilitation training.
Having just lived through what was an utter disaster of a facilitation training (that I led (we’re talking exorcisms, people running out of the room screaming and some deep racism coming out) I felt zero desire to go there again. I’d spent the past years leading workshops and summer camps but was feeling particularly humbled. My immediate response, upon getting the invitation, was to say to myself, “What do I know about this?“
But still, I gave myself permission to do the same thing I hope you might, I sat down and made a list of what I might teach were I to lead such a training. Four densely packed pages later I found myself stunned with how much I had to say and how lucid it felt. Yes, I’d made a lot of mistakes in the past, but, when I gave myself this chance to reflect on them, I found that the seeds of my failures had bloomed into apple trees bursting with fruit that I could offer to others. There was such a wealth of ideas that I felt selfish to keep it to myself. If what I had learned could help stop others from going through the same pain I had, I wanted to share it.
Action – You could do a similar exercise around making a list of all of your current qualifications for the work you are drawn to do. What is the formal education you’ve had? What experiences? What books have you read? Have you had a lot of conversations about this? Have you done much writing about it? etc. Most of us don’t, because we’re stuck in our fear and feelings of inadequacy, give ourselves enough credit for all that we bring to the table.
Also, great news, if you get through this all and realize, “Man, I actually don’t have much to offer.” then that’s great news too. You can let go of the urgent dream of building a business and get a job for a while so the heartache can stop.
Reflection #17 – Under Promise, Over Deliver:
If I had to just pick one of these ideas, it would be this one.
If all you did was this, your fear of not being ready would likely vanish over night.
As you go about offering whatever you have, however humble it might seem, make sure that you under promise and over deliver. Promise less than you think you can truly deliver as a result and then deliver more than that. Of course, this means that you need to get very real with yourself about what it is you are capable of delivering as a result.
Of course, if you claim to be able to heal any condition and then you don’t, people will be upset. But if you say, “I’m just beginning and I’d love to offer you a 60 minute reiki session.” and you do it, that’s wonderful. As long as you’re not promising more than you can deliver there is zero ethical issue at all. People know what they’ve signed up for.
“Gealladh gun a’choimhghealladh, is miosa sin na dhiùltadh (Promising but not fulfilling, is worse than refusing).”
– Scottish Proverb
Again, is the result you’re currently capable of offering enough to sustain a business? That’s a different question.
One of the best pieces of advice on this that I’ve ever read is to offer people the tip of the iceberg you have. They will feel how much in unseen, under the water, and trust you more. And you will feel more solid knowing that what you’ve offered them is really only 10% of your actual capacity.
If you do this consistently, your clients will be thrilled.
This idea is so simple, but its consequences are so profound.
Our culture is not big on humility.
In a day and age where you can become a reiki master in a weekend or a life coach in a year certification, the notion of meaningful, long term apprenticeship is a fugitive idea, hiding out in our better sensibilities until we wake up to the need for it or are brought to our knees by some humbling experience where we realize the impossible price we often need to pay to really learn something and the even more dear price to pay when we don’t learn properly and try to do it anyway.
In traditional highland Scottish culture, to become a story teller meant a seven year apprenticeship. To become a Druid? Twenty one years. You can find these sort of time frames the world over. Sadly, you can also see people going to a weekend workshop and then feeling qualified to lead sweat lodges and ceremonies.
One of my friends in Edmonton, Randall Benson, works in solar power. He only hires journeymen electricians and most of his jobs are based around fixing the screw ups of less qualified people.
If you want to feel totally solid in what you’re offering, find yourself a mentor. Be willing to work for free for a while. Offer free workshops in people’s living rooms for five people. Do it for free until people start to insist on paying you. Make your money in other ways.
There’s a good chance that, if you’re having these fears, you’re in the first of four stages of business. And, at that stage, your business is actually incapable of sustaining you financially. Your business is like a young tree that’s unable to bear the weight of your livelihood. So don’t crush it. Give it time to grow while you grow too.
One approach that can take a lot of the pressure off this is to consider offering a portion of what you do on a pay what you can basis. I’ve done this with most of my daylong and weekend workshops for about 15 years. It let me feel okay about leading weekend workshops even though I was just starting because I knew people wouldn’t pay me more than they wanted to. It felt amazing to never have to worry that I might be over charging or that people weren’t getting the value they paid for.
And, if you’re really apprenticing to someone, there may come a point where they kick you out of the nest because they know that you’re never going to be ‘ready’ enough to do it on your own. And, do you know what? You’ll be okay.
When you’ve finished apprenticing to a teacher or school, you’re still learning. But now you’re learning from your craft directly. You’re now learning from experience. This means giving yourself time to reflect on what you’ve gone through, developing better systems and checklists and taking time to improve your skills here and there.
It means taking a deep pride in doing the best job you can do in creating the most beautiful offerings you can. When you do this, questions of self worth fall away and are replaced with an excitement to give what you’ve made to the community.
Most entrepreneurs I see don’t do this.
Instead of creating a few programs and honing them over time, they are constantly creating new programs.
On a marketing level, this is a bit of a disaster because then people never get to know you for anything in particular. On the level of confidence, it’s a disaster. How are you supposed to feel totally confident about something you’ve never done before? Of course you feel nervous and unsettled. And on the level of craft, it’s also a disaster because you can’t do something once and expect it be be of much worth.
If you create a workshop and do that same workshop one hundred times, then you’ll have something of incredible worth. You’ll speak with some swagger and bravado when asked about it. You won’t have doubt. It will be good and you will know it’s good. You will have found all the holes, integrated so many learnings – big at first and subtle towards the end. You’ll know every inch of it and will barely be able to let it go at the high prices you charge.
When you are more in love with your craft and your clients than your business or reputation you’ll see things bloom in ways you couldn’t imagine.
Honing your craft includes seeking out candid feedback from clients and implementing it to make your offerings better.
Honing your craft means making time to reflect on what you thought went well and what didn’t in your last offering and improving it for next time.
Sometimes I’ll do a program and, by the end, I feel awful, because I see everything that I could have done differently. But, once I’ve found some meaningful solution to each of those issues, my feelings shift to excitement to offer it again.
Reflection #20 – Focus On Creating An Offer That Feels Wonderful
There are some things that, when you think about offering them, you go into a panic zone and freeze up.
Maybe it’s leading a week long retreat. Maybe it’s healing people around certain issues. You just don’t feel ready to do that at all. It wouldn’t feel right or good to offer it. It’s too scary.
And then there are other things that would feel totally fine. Maybe that’s just going for tea with someone to talk about what might be possible. It’s so important to start with something that feels good, right and comfortable to you and to go from there.
If, instead of obsessing about whether or not you’re ready, you were to pour all of your love and attention into making the best offer you could, you would find your self-concern dropping away and being replaced by a deep, authentic excitement to share.
Action: Take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the center of it. On the top left hand side right, ‘Feels Good’ and on the top right hand side write, ‘Feels Bad’. Underneath the ‘Feels Good’ side write down all the things you could offer right now that would feel free and easy for you to offer with an uncomplicated heart. Under the ‘Feels Bad’ side, write down the things you might want to offer that feel questionable for you, you’re not sure you’re ready for or could handle. Go back and forth for no more than 20 minutes.
And then get moving on the ‘Feels Good’ side. Hustle that hard. As you do it, your confidence will grow. Or you’ll learn from failing. And then you’ll feel more confident as a result of your learnings.
Action: Ask your friends what they would most trust you to do in terms of your work. What result would they most trust you could help them achieve.
If you’re scared, start with something tiny. Start with leading a small workshop in your living room. Start with writing a simple ebook. Start by making on youtube video. Offer a free hour long coaching session to ten people just so you can try. Offer it to a community that needs it most as a volunteer (e.g. immigrant population or those in prison).
You might take like a duck to water and see how many of the fears you had were just in your head. You might get hooked on it and want to do it more and more and watch as your fears fall away from you like a bird’s shadow as it takes off into the air.
But you might also realize that something didn’t feel right. And you can learn from that too.
This is also how you figure out your niche. You start small. You try things. You experiment. You notice what worked and what you liked. It’s not some linear path with three easy steps. It’s full of loops and round abouts.
“Am I ready?” is a terrible question. Ready for the big time? Likely not. Ready to help somebody? You’d better believe it.
Performers know this one all too well.
I’ve been doing improv comedy with Rapid Fire Theatre since 1992. And there have been many, many shows where I would walk off stage feeling defeated at what a terrible show I’d just done. I would head into the front of the theatre where the audience was leaving carrying the accumulated weight of every choice I wish I could take back and every choice I wish I’d made I’d stage and didn’t, only to be greeted by someone saying, “That was amazing! Thanks man!” and get a high five from a stranger who was leaving with a big smile on his face and joking with his friends about how we’d had an Octopus as a student in our scene only to have him eventually eaten.
I thought the show was sub par at best. He thought it was great.
This happens all the time.
We are often our own worst critic.
Reflection #23 – Get Candid Feedback
If you’re not sure you’ve got much to offer, why not find out the truth and put your obsessing to rest?
Why not create a google form or surveymonkey survey and invite your past and current clients to give you candid, honest, forthright and totally anonymous feedback on how you did with them? What worked and what didn’t? What would they give your work with them from a 1-10? If it wasn’t a ten what would it have taken to be a 10? What do they see as your greatest gifts and strengths? What do they see as your weaknesses.
And, if you’re unwilling to do this, I’d like to suggest that you might, indeed, not be ready after all.
Reflection #24 – To a Third Grader, a Fourth Grader is God:
You don’t have to be a PhD to help a third grader. You just need to be a fourth grader.
You don’t need to be ten thousand steps ahead of someone to help, just a few.
This is so important to let sink in. And, as long as you’re not over promising, you’ll be fine.
My colleague Jana Beeman put it this way, “I tell my students, ‘Look at your journey, look at what you’ve surpassed in your life. Look at everything you’ve learned and the power of who you are. If you find someone a few steps behind you on your path, how can you NOT be the one to help them? If you don’t, you both lose.'”
Think of the design of the nautilus shell. Imagine that the centre of it represents you as a very skilled and confident practitioner of what you do.
That first ring on the outside is the biggest. But they quickly become smaller and smaller. In this image you will see that, within five loops, you’re at the centre. And improving your craft is a lot like that too.
Let’s take leading a workshop for example:
You learn so much the first time. The lessons are big and glaringly obvious. You can’t imagine you didn’t see them. The second time you lead the same workshop (assuming you took the time to reflect and learn from the first time and implement what you learn, it will be much better. Much. But you’ll still learn things. They just won’t be as big as the first, The third time you do it, the learnings are becoming more subtle still.
The first student leadership workshop I did was in a theatre to 250 students. By the end of the day, which consisted entirely of me talking to them and almost no interactive activities, there were 20 people there. Most of them had left, it was that bad.
But I had already confirmed a second workshop the next day and unable to feign my death as school had already let out, I set to work to change everything I could to make the next day not be something for which the legal changing of my name would, afterwards, be a requirement.
Fortunately, the next day was in a dance studio with chairs that could be moved about. That changed things. And I added in as many interactive activities as I could. And I gave a powerful heart to heart at the end of the day which had students coming up with tears, telling me it had been the most powerful day of their lives. Myself and my friends were stunned at the turn around from one day to the next.
I ended up leading that workshop about 80 times. By the time I’d done my last one, the refinements I was making were so subtle that no one but myself would ever have noticed them but I knew they were making my events better.
Reflection #26 – Be Trustworthy:
Do you due diligence. Know the risks. This is why apprenticeship is so important.
If you want to trust yourself, then you need to be worthy of that trust. Don’t focus on courting trust. Focus on being trustworthy.
If you’re doing something that could put people’s lives at risk, you’d better put in the time that’s needed to make sure you’ve done everything you can to make it safe.
If you’re leading an emotional process, don’t go further than you know how to go. People are counting on you. When you act in a way that is worthy of that trust, you’ll feel so much stronger. And it’s important to distinguish between the non-action of obsessing about what might, possibly go wrong and the real world work or preparing for those things.
There is nothing that will make you feel more confident at a baseline level than having all of the bases covered.
Action: Make a list of everything that could possibly go wrong when you offer what you offer and then come up with a plan to either eliminate that risk or to deal with the worst case scenario if it should ever happen.
No matter how much you apprentice, learn and master you’re craft, you will still make mistakes.
The question of, “How can I proceed in such a way that no one ever gets hurt?” is a set up for pain. Someone will get hurt at some point. That’s life. You’re going to disappoint people. Sometimes you’ll disappoint others because you stretched too far. Other times you’ll hurt yourself because you didn’t stretch enough. And vice versa.
If your metric for success is that you never fuck up anything, then give up now because it’s going to happen. But, when it does, you have a job. And the job is to learn, to make amends and then to be faithful to that learning.
Making mistakes doesn’t make you a failure. It gives you the opportunity to be human as you work to make meaningful amends that might even be a greater gift to the other and the community than the original gift you’d intended because not only do they, perhaps, get more value than they’d imagined, but the community gets someone who’s a bit wiser and more humble. And learning from our failures gives us, ironically, an incredible sense of self trust and confidence. Learning to trust ourselves is central to the process of creation.
“Many people misunderstand the concept of safety. They think they can gain it by protecting themselves from other people or choosing safe people. Safety actually occurs when we learn to trust our ability to take care of ourselves.” ~ Mary MacKenzie
And, in fact, the fact that you have failed in the past might be the most trustworthy thing about you.
When you fuck up use it as a chance to learn what you need to learn so you’re less likely to make that mistake again.
Whenever someone asks me for a refund on something, I get excited. I’m excited because I know something. I know that they are asking for a refund because what they got from me wasn’t what they wanted. More accurately, what they got from me didn’t match their expectation of it. They imagined it would be a better fit than it was. And this was created by my marketing. Something in the way I described it gave them a false impression. So, to me, these moments are golden. I always promptly refund the money and then ask them what I could change in my marketing that would have ensured they never would have bought it in the first place. And they always give me gems. That means a higher integrity in my marketing, a clearer understanding of what my product is and isn’t and less wasted time for everyone in the future.
But if you fuck up in a larger way that causes genuine harm, then you’ll need to do more than simply ask a question to learn. If you’re going to really make amends, that might take a lot of effort. But that effort you put into making things right is your education. It’s what ensures that you ‘get it’ at a level you never could have if you’d simply said, “Oops. Sorry.” and walked away. When you genuinely make things right, often at great cost to yourself, you walk away with a deeper inner strength, sense of integrity and feeling of readiness to carry yourself well in the future. If you really handle it, you will learn the true cost of laziness and selfishness. You’ll learn how cutting corners costs you more than you want to pay. It will make you a better craftsman of what you do.
Extra benefit, you get more permission to become cranky and curmudgeonly whenever you want at all the young whippersnappers who think they know it all. Bam!
“Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure.” —Baruch Spinoza
There are no two ways about it.
Stepping up is vulnerable.
When you’re putting yourself into the world you can bet that all of your internal demons of ‘who does she think she is?’ are going to show up. You can bet that that’s going to come from the outside too. Luckily, you don’t need to please everyone.
“Have you ever thought about how hard and humbling it is to actually show up like you do have something give (being full aware of your faults, lacks, needs, struggles, etc. and showing up anyways)? When will/would/could you ever be ready (beware those ever-elusive criteria)? To own your value and worth by sharing your creative output, your knowledge, your skills, your passions, your love -yup, that’s the other side of humility. Showing up and sharing yourself fully, to the degree it’s done in loving service, takes courage, humility, VULNERABILITY and love —for others AND for yourself. You are 10,000 stories of fears overcome, of suffering endured (and not, we need those just as much), of miracles & doubts, of life-lessons; you are full of dreams, solutions & brilliant ideas; you have creative works -poems, songs, dances, art, projects —that would bless many people. If they only got to experience them. “But they’re not ‘ready’? not ‘perfected’? Consider them, as my father-in-law of late would say, as ‘perfect enough’. Sure, don’t be ‘more’ than you are…but also don’t be ‘less’. You’re a hell of a lot ‘more’ than you probably think you are. Consider the ‘more’ side, if you’re open to seeing/feeling/being/knowing that ‘more’ in yourself and others (Namaste), you might discover that it doesn’t even have a limit.” – Leif Hansen
Also, consider this possibility, the bigger the fear is for you, the more likely it is that you are aimed in the right direction.
Reflection #29 – When You’re Starting, Give Yourself More Space Than You Think You Need:
This is huge.
I remember a facilitation truism that I learned years ago. If you spend an hour on an experiential exercise, then give yourself an hour to debrief it too because that’s where most of the value will be harvested. If you are taking people on a ropes course and they have a fun time but you never talk about it, much of the benefit is lost. If you simply have a conversation about fear and trust, but don’t pair it with an experience, it will likely stay as theory and simply be an interesting conversation. It’s the combination of experience and reflection that gives these things their full measure of power.
And so it is with this learning you call being in business. When you first begin, consider giving yourself one hour to reflect on every hour you work with someone. If you lead a weekend long workshop, consider that you may need a weekend to reflect on what you learned from leading it.
If you really take this on (meaning if you really take seriously the proposition that your work is actually just the continuing education in which you’re engaged) then you’ll realize that it may ask more of you than you’d initially bargained for. If you plan to really be responsible about your work and to master your craft, you’ll see what the actual demands are. And it might be a price that’s too high to pay. Good to know. Let yourself walk away in good conscience.
It will also lift up that your life may be, currently, too full for you to really learn well.
It may not always be a 1:1 ratio, but when you’re starting off, you could do worse than to take this into consideration and put it into practice.
Reflection #30 – Your Failures Are Your Credentials:
It’s easy to get lost in, “But I can’t teach this. My life has been such a wreck. I’ve made so many mistakes.“
But those mistakes are actually what make you trustworthy to the people you want to help.
The fact that you’ve overcome some of your own struggles in, perhaps the deepest source of credibility you have.
Our deepest wounds are often not only the doorway to our trust niche but what make us trust worthy.
It’s the genius of Alcoholics Anonymous, partnering those just coming in with those who’ve been there too but are a bit further down the path.
Looked at another way: I’ve often heard it said that “we teach what we most need to learn (and needed) to learn.”. This reminds us that we never stop learning. That because of the wounds we’ve received in our life and because of the nature of who we we are when we’re born – we find ourselves, in this world, curious about certain things. Drawn to things. Needing to know about things.
We try things and they don’t work. And we wonder why. We try to be healthy – but we get sick. We want to be happy but find ourselves depressed. We want to make a good living – but find ourselves broke.
And in our struggle to figure out how it all works, we learn things.
Things we quickly take for granted as if everyone knew them.
That’s the assumption that has us feel as though we’ve got nothing much of value to offer.
We look at what we know and think to ourselves, “Sure, but everyone knows that.” I encourage you to ask yourself if that’s really true.
We all struggle with things (e.g. dating) and so we try to learn about them. And this learning gives us things to share (e.g. becoming a dating coach).
And this truism reminds us that the best way to learn anything is to teach it – to sit back, reflect and ask ourselves, ‘how could i express this so that others would understand it?‘ And in our efforts to articulate and express the thing we know from our own experience – we come to understand our own experiences better. And understanding our experience helps us hone our own particular point of view and map on the best way to make it from point a to point b. The clearer our map is, the more trusted we are. But, if we’d had no first hand experience of struggling on the terrain, we’d never make such a fine and helpful map in the first place.
Your failures aren’t a reason for you to opt out, they’re the prime reason potential clients want to opt in.
To make this one even better, your past failures and current foibles are actually also what make you human and relatable. My colleague Meredith Broome put it brilliantly when she said, “I like to remind people (and myself) that we are humans working with humans, and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. Nobody actually wants to work with a know-it-all. I know that for me, the second I think I have the answers to someone else’s life is the second I have stopped listening to them. In the coaching profession, I think that’s a kind of violence we risk doing to our clients, to stop listening. The second you have it all figured out is the second you stop learning and growing. And that’s usually when clients stop showing up, or its hard to sustain your practice, right?”
Your failures are your credentials because they were your most important education.
Reflection #31 – This is Not About Self Worth:
At least not entirely. And, again, this idea might just save you years of therapy.
When talking about ‘not feeling ready’, I think it’s useful to remove ‘self worth’ from the conversation because it can be a terribly seductive red herring. It’s something I’ve written about extensively in my post Charging what you’re worth is bullshit.
In fact, the way we make it about ourselves and take it so personally is telling.
There can be a kind of narcissism here where we obsess about how we’ll be seen by others. The story of Narcissus, in brief, is thus: there’s a guy. He has a fling with a goddess. He’s a cad of a man. She’s upset. She curses him to fall asleep and fall impossibly in love with the first thing he sees when he wakes up. When he wakes up he looks into the body of water he’s sleeping by and sees his own reflection. He falls in love with it so much that he falls into the water. Many take the message of this to me, ‘don’t fall too in love with yourself’ but the message is actually, don’t fall in love with your reflection. Don’t fall in love with how others see you and base your self worth on that. If you base your self worth on what others are willing to pay you or whether they think you’re ready or not, you’re in for one hell of a roller coaster ride.
This constant focus on ourselves can be a slippery, spiralling slide into neuroses.
What does a reflection need to survive? Your presence. When you withdraw it, the reflection goes away.
So I commend, withdrawing your attention from yourself and pouring it into creating beautiful things. When you do that you might just find that the self doubt goes away because you’re no longer paying attention to your self. Stop obsessing, start creating. Stop journalling and start making your art.
I’ve seen so many people spend years trying to get their thoughts perfect, their sales letter exactly right, their website perfect before starting when they should have been getting out there and giving talks and learning as they went.
Reflection #32 – Remember Why You’re Drawn to do it in The First Place:
It can be easy, in the midst of our fears that we’re not enough, to lose track of why we are drawn to do this work in the first place.
My colleague Curt Rosengren shared these words when I asked about this topic, “I would be inclined to ask questions that expand the focus beyond their limited-self focus. For example. 1. Why do you feel called to do it? (Put the focus on what inspires them about the idea, rather than their own sense of insufficiency). 2. What difference does this have the potential to make? How could doing this work change the world for the better? 3. If doing this work wasn’t about you (if it was solely about the impact it makes), would you do it? 4. If you have the gift to do this work, and the world needs this work, who are you *not* to do it?“
You can read more blog posts on this notion of discovering your why here.
Action: Journal about why you felt drawn to this work in the beginning.
Reflection #33 – Make Your Case As To Why You Can’t Do It, And Then Debunk It:
My colleague Curt Rosengren shared these words, “I might also be inclined to have them make a case for why they can’t do it, and then have them refute that case, point by point. Maybe even have them make a counter-case for why they can. The more clarity people have about the stories they’re making up (and it’s all made up – some of the stories are just more productive than others), the more potential they have to shift into a more supportive story.”
Action: Do that thing described above.
Reflection #34 – Give Your Clients Some Credit:
This isn’t an excuse to be careless or to feign greater expertise than you have, but give people some credit in making their own choices. If someone gets hoodwinked by a charlatan, yes, there’s a lesson around integrity for the charlatan, but there’s also some lessons there for the one who got conned. If people fall for a fake guru, there are lessons for them in how they fell for it. All you can do is do the best you can. I’ve had people sign up for workshops and, because they hadn’t read the sales letter, demand a refund. Not my fault. Did I learn from that and make systems to make sure it didn’t happen again? Sure. But the people spending money have their responsibility too.
Reflection #35 – Your Story and Point of View Has Value:
It’s easy to feel like ‘it’s all been done’.
It’s easy to look at the market place and think, “Oh man. There’s nothing I could possibly add here.”
And maybe you don’t have anything to add yet.
But it doesn’t mean you never will. And, just because the market seems flooded doesn’t mean that other voices aren’t needed desperately.
Consider this: have you ever gone to a seminar or class on a topic and found yourself totally confused only to have another teacher explain it in such a way that you totally got it? Something about the examples they used or the way they broke it down had it land inside of you with a solid ‘thunk’. Imagine if they’d decided, ‘There are already so many people teaching this. I’m not needed.’
Imagine if a musician listened to Bob Dylan and thought, “I’ll never be better than that” and decided to quit music and thus selfishly robbed the world of what he had to give.
I teach marketing. You might have noticed that there are quite a lot of other people out there doing it. And yet it never occurred to me not to do it because of that. And here I am with over 10,000 people on my email list years (and an appalling lack of effort and strategy) later. There are a lot of people who seem to like what I say and how I say it.
Because of your life story, you bring a unique perspective and point of view to any issue with which you’re grappling. Don’t discount that. That doesn’t honour all of the investment that people and this world have poured into you just to get you here.
And this video by Marie Forleo says it so well…
Reflection #36 – You Can’t Charge For Your Gifts
I leave you with this final thought from Mark Silver to meditate on.
“Here’s the truth that I’ve seen: we can’t charge for our gifts. The Divine gives always to the human. We can be humble enough to receive from others, and we can be plugged in enough to let the love come through us to others. Like this image below...”
Check out Seth Godin’s new book Your Turn.
My ebook, The 22 Myths of Building Your Practice
To help you uncover your niche (the place you’re most likely to do well in business) go to www.NichingSpiral.com