Interview: Success for Artists & Creative Professionals with Dan Blank

unnamedI’ve known Dan Blank (pictured here) over a number of years and he has become my go to resource for clients who are aspiring authors. Dan brings and incredibly down to earth, brass tacks and honest approach to business building.

Recently, he hold me that he’d now branched into the broader field of helping people find and market their creative work (i.e. they’re worried that their career isn’t going anywhere; that they need to build a following; that they want to learn how to market their art) so I asked if I could interview him about it all and his new program Fearless Work for my blog. He graciously accepted. I think you’ll be glad of it.

What’s this new project you’ve got on the go?

It’s a program called Fearless Work, which is a course to help creative professionals find more time and energy to work on their art or craft. It focuses on helping people prioritize what matters most, work smarter, make creative habits stick, and manage their fear around big risks and a packed schedule.

Who would you say are the top three groups of people it’s for?

Anyone who is trying to find more time to do creative work amidst life’s many professional and personal demands.These could be artists, writers, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, illustrators, musicians, and many others.

Working creative professionals. People who are entrepreneurial around their art and craft, and have turned it into a business.

They are finding success, but also finding barriers, and looking to break through to the next level.

Those who have dabbled with turning their art & work into a career, but want to now take it seriously.

Why did you create it? What need did you see? What’s the story?

After spending my entire life surrounded by those doing meaningful creative work, I always hear about their challenges — the things that prevent them from practicing the work they care the most about. In the past five years, I have run my own company helping these people, really being in the trenches with them as they strive for their goals.

Fearless Work is my way of creating a resource to re-shift aspects of one’s life to allow for more creative work.

What are the top three aspects of life that seem to get in the way?

  1. Yourself. What is most astounding is how many of the barriers that stand between someone and their creative work is often their own internal boundaries. They refuse to give themselves permission, or they are driven by narratives that kill their work before they can create it.
  2. Reacting to the demands of others and things external to you. This could be your day job, but it can also be the everyday demands of laundry and dishes.
  3. Being a parent. While most people I meet who are any age, whether they have kids or not, are very busy, I find that becoming a parent offers unique challenges. When you have kids, many of the process you have honed for yourself go off the rails because you are now fully responsible for other human beings. It’s impossible to overstate how much work this is: you literally have to wipe their asses. And, while this is a responsibility done with the deepest levels of love, that is also why it can be taxing in ways we never quite imagined before having children.

Fearless Work is also about ways to establish habits that allow for more creative work to be done each day. It is the culmination of everything I have learned in working with hundreds of creative professionals, as well as my own company.

I hear from people every single week, about how profound their struggles are. They feel they work more hours, give more of themselves, only to feel as though they are treading water, their dreams unfulfilled. The course delves into the practical actions that one can take (both internally and externally) to not only feel more fulfilled, but focus on what matters most in their creative endeavours.

Everyone feels overwhelmed, and 99% of the time, the only thing holding you back is yourself.

Everyone has challenges, and some of them are breath taking in their complexity: the person who is coping with a debilitating illness; someone who has suffered through a traumatic event; the single parent of 5 kids; the sole caregiver for ailing parents. Yet, I always speak to people who, despite these very real responsibilities, can manage to also find room for their own identity, and their own work. That all of these things are a part of who they are, and that even serious responsibilities don’t have to sidetrack who you want to be.

There are others who do a similar type of thing, what did you see was missing in it all that had you want to create this?

I love the various resources that are out there, and how inspiring each can be in their own way.

For my own experience working with creative professionals though…

I find that the business side of creative work is overwhelming for many people. While I always put the art first, I have deep experience in turning one’s creative vision into a viable business. It’s an obsession, really.

When I look back on both my professional and personal experience, it is across a wide range of arts. When I was a kid, I went to art school, and growing up, I did illustration, photography, poetry, sculpture, pop-up books, music, writing, a newspaper cartoon, trained to be a radio DJ, published a zine, did design work, and eventually I became an entrepreneur working with writers and creative professionals.

I hear these challenges everyday because of how many people/orgs I work with. I have to address them because these are the relationships that fill my life. None of this is theory, I am in the trenches with these people every single day.

I suppose, I see the “productivity” and “inspiration” side of this focused on a lot by others, but things such as mental health are often not being address. For example, I am the last person who will ever tell you to do more creative work by giving up some sleep. The idea of robbing someone of sleep in order to gain “productivity” is offensive. It cuts away at the foundations of their physical and mental health — that is NOT progress to me!

My company is five years old and I have established processes that I think others can find value in.

Why is this such a struggle for artists to take on the business side of things?

The answers vary, but one phrase that comes up often is “permission.”

Meaning, that after the artist goes through the struggle of creating work that matters deeply to them, they are confronted with the fear of permission, “Who am I to now ask people to pay for this?” Which is why many creatives wait to be “discovered.” For others to validate their work by sheer magic — without the artist having to proactively put their work out there. I suppose core to this is a fear of judgement, but also anxiety that many artists feel around their identity. Impostor syndrome is pervasive across professions, but I see it crop up often in creative fields. All of this is part of the stew that makes the business side of the arts extraordinarily complex for creative people.

I’d be curious to hear what other terrible advice you see out there for artists and creative types.

Most of the advice I see that turns my stomach are versions of get rich quick schemes. For the arts, it may not focus on money alone as the goal, but on the validation that many creative people seek. So yes it could be, “Make a million dollars with your art!” but it can also be “The world is just waiting for your message!” As many creative professionals will tell you, when they released their work publicly, it was received to dead silence. The distinction between the amateur and the professional in this context is that they took efforts to ensure it found an audience, and that this was truly work that takes time and pushed them passed boundaries.

What are the three top blunders that you see people make in addressing these issues?

Goodness, only three? How about six:

  1. Looking for a tool that will magically fix everything. The real value comes in establishing good habits and new processes. Are tools a part of this? Sure, but they serve the habits and processes, not the other way around.
  2. Thinking it is all in or not at all. Consider how many people start and fail at diets. They are either “on” the diet or “off” the diet, and change of this caliber needs has more layers to the gradient than this. This is about tiny changes a little at a time.
  3. Seeking productivity tips that adds more stuff to their already packed life. You can’t get clarity by adding and adding to your life — you have to SUBTRACT what doesn’t matter in order to find more resources to do the work that truly matters.
  4. Focusing on only time, not energy. Energy is a renewable resource that affects all areas of your life.
  5. Seeking “balance.” To be honest, I don’t believe in balance when it comes to how people traditionally talk about “work/life balance.” Balance is a lovely concept, but if you listed out all of your personal and professional obligations, I think the idea of “balance” gets in the way. Instead, I believe in clarity and priorities. The term I tend to use is this: OBSESSIONS. Making hard choices about what matters most.
  6. Managing their work life separate from their personal needs and goals. You have a single life, and a 24 hours in a day, you have to manage it as a whole.

What are the main good habits you feel like creative folks need most? Could you share a story or example of of a habit you’ve developed that’s paid off?

The habits that most creative people need to establish is taking small actions in a consistent basis. I mean, that is what a habit is, right? Break down a larger creative vision into tiny component parts that you can control. An example would be how I wrote the first draft of the book I am working on. I reserved the first hour of the day to write, with the goal of at least 1,000 words per day.

Now, a distinction I made is that this was about quantity, not quality. I wasn’t judging if my writing was good or not, I just focused on getting words on the page. Within less than 40 days, I had hit my goal of a 65,000 word first draft. Before I put the restraints on the habit (1 hour, 1,000+ words each day), the idea of writing a book was nearly incomprehensible. All I saw where challenges.

Also, I find boundaries to be extraordinarily useful in the creative process, and that they are useful in how we work as well. For instance: I don’t fly. I won’t be shy here: it scares me. So when I created my business, I put a simple rule in place, “No flying for work.” Now, this meant I put a severe limitation on potential revenue streams. I have done a lot of speaking, and this limitation meant that I could never truly seek out a highly paid speaking career, seeking out keynotes and the like. Revenue stream #1 in the toilet. I also do come consulting for organizations, and this limitation meant that I couldn’t seek out large clients outside of those in area around New York City. Any large organization client would likely want a series of in-person meetings, and since I don’t fly, that meant I couldn’t say yes to that. Revenue stream #2 in the toilet.

And yet, 5 years in, my business is doing fine. These limitations allowed me to OBSESS over other areas I am passionate about, such as developing online courses that could reach people anywhere in the world, and be created from my home. For the Fearless

Work course, my team and I have worked on it for months, through an incredible amount of OBSESSIVE research. For much of that time, we had to ignore other potential opportunities to grow my audience or my business. We are all in on this course, and it feels extraordinary to so fully devote yourself to something.

What are the top three things people could do on their own to address these issues effectively?

When approaching the idea of Fearless Work — to do more of the creative work that matters most to you, I find these three things can help you find greater success in working through the process:

  1. Make it social. Surround yourself with like minds. Don’t struggle by yourself.
  2. Focus on clarity, especially around your goals. It is astounding to me how vague people’s goals often are when you scratch the surface. Oftentimes, you find that there is nothing there, just a vague idea. Why? Because they were too afraid of the obligation that comes with truly tackling their dreams.
  3. I would rather see you focus all of your energy on establish a single TINY positive new habit than create some complex system that fools you into thinking you have solved it all. Start small.

For more info on Dan’s program Fearless Work click on the image below.



il_340x270.675722008_7spmIf there is a missing ingredient to success in business it’s not know-how, it’s hustle. It’s the ability to get busy and make things happen.

It’s not having more resources, it’s resourcefulness.

When people are driven and committed they so often find a way to make things work while those who aren’t committed find a lot of excuses (which they will list as ‘reasons it didn’t work’).

This may not seem like a very hippy idea. It’s not a very ‘go with the flow, man’ idea. But, real talk, The Grateful Dead had hustle.

Hustle is what allowed me to start The Jams project, The Local Good, the Edmonton Secret Streetcars Shows, Indigo Drinks, Green Drinks Edmonton, The Nova Scotia Gaels Jam and other projects.

In the fall, my friends and I are launching a project in Edmonton called The Social Yogi (basically, we’ll be hosting a monthly social event for local yogis). Last year, I found a local fellow to take on organizing it. He was excited. And I gave him literally everything he needed to make it work. He had all of the resources he needed. And yet he bailed on or no showed our first three meetings. I told him it was over. But, he took that feedback so well that I decided to give him one more chance.

We had a great meeting and then, when we didn’t get an enthusiastic response from Edmonton’s busiest local, young yoga hubs, he bailed on the project entirely because he didn’t want to do it alone.

Did it cross his mind that other people might have been interested? Or that, as the local hubs told me, that they were just extraordinarily busy and had been waiting for him to actually do something? I don’t know.

But I do know that he didn’t lack a cool idea, a website, a mentor, a plan, a clear niche, a lack of money … any of that.

He just lacked hustle.

To be clear: I’m not saying he should have hustled or even wanted to. I’m not saying him walking away was wrong or an aspersion on his character. He’s a very fine fellow. But, for whatever reason, the hustle vanished. And when the capacity to hustle goes, the success of your enterprise isn’t far behind it.

When people have hustle, they make incredible things happen on a shoestring.

And I wish I knew how to teach hustle or impart it into people.

It’s not having more resources, it’s resourcefulness.


Exactly What To Say If Someone Asks for a Refund

refund (1)

Years ago, I got an email from a client that said something to the effect of, “I feel like the sales letter kind of hyped this up and it wasn’t what you said it was. I went back and read the sales letter and there was nothing inaccurate but… it just felt like it wasn’t what was promised. I need a refund.”

Those aren’t the kinds of words I’d wanted to wake up to in my email that morning for my newly launched ebook on niching. It was a slim 30 pager, nowhere near as large or comprehensive as it would eventually become in the form of my book The Niching Nest, and she just wasn’t impressed with it.

And I had to wonder if I should refund her or not.


Once you’ve been in business for a while, eventually, someone is going to ask you for a refund.

And how you respond to that moment has everything to do with the growth of your business.

On one hand, you may have been on the receiving end of a stingy refund policy and felt terrible about it or had the refund freely given and felt incredible relief and gratitude. On the other hand, does it make sense to have no boundaries on when and where refunds will be given? Probably not.

But it’s an important thing to figure out because word of mouth is the dominant force in the marketing word. And enough upset customers venting about the terrible experience they had with you because you refused to give them your money and that you’re a big, unfair meanie can do serious damage to your marketing.

But it’s also true that developing a reputation of being a push-over who they can use and then disregard once they’ve received the benefit is also unfair.

So, what you say in the moment (and I promise I will give you some words) is actually the least important part of the conversation.

The first thing is to make sure you’ve got a clear and fair refund policy spelled out and that the customer knows this policy when they buy. This is crucial.

It’s a similar dynamic to the ‘no shows’ I wrote about in my blog post Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl in that it’s crucial to have standards that protect yourself as a business.

Simply having a clear policy will handle 90% of the upset. You’ll never handle the remaining 10% because there’s no policy to handle crazy.

The second thing is to understand why they’re even asking for a refund in the first place.

It might be that they’re in crisis or sudden financial desperation. They had the money when they signed up but they don’t now.

It could be that they’ve had a change in what matters. They signed up for a workshop on dating and then met the woman of their dreams. They no longer need it. They signed up to learn how to make money from Donald Trump but then became an anarchist.

But, often, it’s that what they bought isn’t giving them the benefits they’d hoped it would (or they don’t trust that it will).

This is the one I want to focus on.


Back to the woman wanting a refund on the niching ebook.

I immediately refunded her money (as I think we should if there’s any chance that the fault was in a lack of clarity in our marketing).

I sat with her words for a while. I felt awful. Here I am, teaching authentic marketing and she felt mislead. Ugh. Worst. 

So, I went to look at the sales page to see just how wrong she was and to be able to point out that she hadn’t really read the sales letter. I mean, sure she had. But not really really. 

But, as I read it, I began to see what she was saying. It was a bit hyped up. I could see that I’d given the impression that it did more than it could actually do and was for a broader group than it actually was. It was humbling to see it. I’d put a list of “This ebook could be for you if…” but I’d not made a similar list of, “This ebook might not be for you if…” 

I realized that this ebook was actually not for people who already knew niching was crucial and the ebook was making the case for it. It also wasn’t for people who wanted a nuts and bolts how-to guide on niching. It was a primer for people who were considering niching but feeling hesitant about it. 

I took an hour, rewrote the sales page so it felt more true to what it was and sent her an email asking what she thought.

“This is great!” she replied. “I wouldn’t have bought it!”

If we see the role of marketing as being about getting people to say ‘yes’ then the result of someone saying, ‘perfect! I wouldn’t have bought!’ is a failure. This is how so many people view marketing. Even in writing emails they try to write a sexy subject line that gets people to open an email that might not even be of any use to them. 

But if we know that one of the main roles of marketing is about filtering people so that only the right people buy, it’s a huge success. We can actually tone down the hype in our sales copy and get more sales to the right people. 

But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, they’re asking for a refund because it wasn’t what they thought it would be?

But, what exactly do you say?

I suggest the first thing you say is, “I’ll absolutely refund your order.”

If there’s any chance that your marketing was to blame for them buying something that wasn’t a fit, refund the money and consider it a business expenses in market research. Because it is.

The second thing you say is something along the lines of, “Thank you for letting me know my marketing wasn’t as clear as I would like it to be.”

Honestly, when people tell us this, we should be getting down on the ground and bowing to them in gratitude. 

The second thing we should say is something like, “Would you be willing to let me know what I could change on the sales page so that you would have known for sure it wasn’t a fit for you?”

That question might seem simple, but it’s actually huge, it will, over time help you hone and refine your sales copy until no one who isn’t a fit buys at all. That’s the goal. And, often, the feedback won’t even be that big. Just a little change here and there but a small change in wording or emphasis or order can make a huge difference. 

If the refund request is for some other reason, I don’t have much advice other than to have clear policies, sit with it, do what feels right to you and always err on the side of generosity, not stinginess. And, regardless of the reason, see if there’s something you can learn, some business system that would make it less likely that it would ever happen again.

Years ago, a woman attended a pay what you can, weekend workshop I was running. She paid a $100 deposit to attend and then she paid $500 at the end of the workshop based on the value she’d received. A month or so later she sent me an email saying she’d received no value at all and demanding her money back. She was also someone I’d give two hours of free coaching to because she’d gotten locked out of the building by accident. There’s more to the story, but the whole thing felt off. I didn’t feel like I wanted to refund her money but eventually gave back half just to get her out of my hair. If I’d had more money at the time, I might have just given it all back. Who needs the drama?

Refunds can also help you hone your niche…

One of the beautiful benefits of people asking for refunds is that you start to see who is a fit for you and who isn’t. Your sense of who your ideal client is comes into clearer relief. Your sense of what you want to do and how becomes more focused. If you will choose to over-respond (vs. over-reacting) to each request for a refund and use it as a chance to narrow in on your role in the community and the niche you want to fill you might be amazed at how much faster your business becomes what it wanted to become all along.

Bonus Thought: Check Boxes

If there are certain catches and conditions of buying from you, it can also be good to list them as boxes to check in the order form. For example, for a weekend, pay what you want, marketing course I might have one for:

DEPOSIT: I understand that my space is not confirmed until I’ve paid my non-refundable $100 deposit. 

PYWY: I understand that the deposit is just to hold my space and, at the very end of the workshop, I’ll be given a chance to contribute more based on a mix of what the workshop was worth and what I can afford. 

Having these as boxes they have to check off help to ensure that important conditions are not accidentally missed by someone skimming over your sales letter (which 95% of people will). 



Give me your grossest headlines!

blog2I’ve got a theory I’m testing and I’d love to have your help.

All you need to do is post the most cringeworthy headlines of promotions that you’ve seen or received. Ideally, to keep things consistent I’d love it if they were from other business coaches (myself included). Any headline that has made you wince, cringe or feel icky inside. Maybe it was full on repulsion or maybe it was just that it felt a little ‘off’.

No need to put who it’s from.

Just post them in the comments below.

My 5th Year Anniversary Gifts to You

This month is the fifth anniversary of

Five years ago this month, I had a website at

It had a photo of me on it that nobody liked. It was hard and expensive to make changes and I grew more and more embarrassed about it. And no, I’m not showing it to you.

Then I met my dear friend and colleague Jaime Almond who, appalled by said photo and website, forced me to sit down with her over the phone and create a new website on wordpress.

And was born.

Creating this new website allowed me to move over my old blogspot blog posts and all of my youtube videos and put them in one place. It allowed me to feel proud of my business again. It has been the single best investment I’ve ever made in my business.

Up until I had my current website, my business was called Radical Business (a name I sort of liked but never really cared about) but when people would ask me what I did, I would say, “I do marketing for hippies.” And they would laugh but I didn’t think much of it. Until one day I thought, “Maybe I should call my business that.” That funny little name has been a big blessing to me.

And, somehow, it’s five years later and I wanted to express my gratitude with two gifts.

My Gift to You – #1: 50% Off
If you go to my online store, you will get 50% off of anything there from now until midnight on May 31st if you use the code MFHX5

Gift #2: Inspiring Things
I’ve been collecting a bunch of inspiring, fun and heartwarming things. You can find them below.


Three Pieces I’ve Written Recently:


Seven Business Resources: 


What Could These Be? Mystery Links You’ll Be Glad You Clicked! That’s What. 


Ten Inspiring Articles: 


13 Videos You’ll Want to Share:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Native Advertising (HBO)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Native Advertising (HBO)
The Top Ten Myths of Behaviour Change
The Top Ten Myths of Behaviour Change
The Special Proposal | World Down Syndrome Day | #SpecialProposal
The Special Proposal | World Down Syndrome Day | #SpecialProposal
Fractured Land Trailer
Fractured Land Trailer
Working to Live or Living to Work?
Working to Live or Living to Work?
Grandma's Got the Gold | Home Video Licensing
Grandma’s Got the Gold | Home Video Licensing
How to open a wine bottle with a shoe
How to open a wine bottle with a shoe
Meet The Richest Man - Visually Impaired Street Samosa Seller
Meet The Richest Man – Visually Impaired Street Samosa Seller
I am Labelled as a Terrorist I Trust You ! Do You Trust Me ? Give me a HUG (Social experiment)
I am Labelled as a Terrorist I Trust You ! Do You Trust Me ? Give me a HUG (Social experiment)
Voices from within | Dan Slepian | TEDxSingSing
Voices from within | Dan Slepian | TEDxSingSing
Cat and owl playing - Fum & Gebra - Perfect friendship!
Cat and owl playing – Fum & Gebra – Perfect friendship!
An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak | The New York Times
An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak | The New York Times


Inviting Your Stories: 5th Year Anniversary

tadDear Friend,

It would mean the world to me to hear about how my work has positively affected your business. If you have a story to share, please post it as a comment below.




Interview: Stephen Jenkinson on Right Livelihood


stephenI first heard the name Stephen Jenkinson years ago.

But, it wasn’t until I found myself lying in a bed in the King’s College Hospital in London, England with the very real possibility of death looming over me with its unwelcome finality, that I knew I had to pursue his work further.

“You’d love Stephen’s work!” people would tell me.

“Why’s that?” I’d ask.

“He’s into ancestry, history, language, celtic stuff, decolonization… all the same things you’re into.”

“What are his classes like?”

“Well. He just kind of talks for like 13 hours. It’s not really a workshop kind of thing. But it’s really good!”

“This guy sounds like an arrogant asshole.” and so I never pursued it further. And yet I was curious because of my immense respect for everyone who kept commending him. People for whom I had immense respect. I made a mental note to pursue his work further at some point in the future.

But, lying there staring at the clock on the far wall and clutching onto my friends hand I found myself facing death with no sense of how to relate to it beyond utter terror. Days later, when the fear had begun to abate like a roller coaster winding down, I recalled that I had purchased a DVD of the Canadian Film Board film which featured his work, Griefwalker and never even gotten it out of its packaging.

When I made it home, after cancelling a European Tour I’d spent months of work putting together but had no capacity to deliver on, I slipped the DVD into my computer and watched.

And then I began to get a scent of the reason why so many people had commended his work to me. So I signed up for the Orphan Wisdom School and, in October of 2014 attended, the first of four 5 day sessions at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, BC.

The experience was remarkable but hard to describe. The closest thing I can relate it to was some mix of being fed with stories but, moreso, given the scent of some delicious meal that wasn’t shared to be eaten but to awaken some hunger in me to make that meal, or something like it, inside of myself which, in turn, wasn’t a meal for me to feed people but a meal made in the clay pot of my heart whose scent might bubble over and, if lucky and winds were favourable, might waft into the nostrils of those I come into contact with, and wake up, in them the hunger for something more beautiful and delicious than the denatured, synthetic and uninspiring foods given to them by this culture.

Stephen seems to resist packaging his teachings into easy soundbites, recipes or seven easy steps and this interview is no different. In a world of Andrew Lloyd Webbers, Stephen’s teaching is more like a Stephen Sondheim – you’ve got to work for the music but, if you do, it’s complicated rhythms, odd and unpredictable progressions make it many times more satisfying in the long term.

His work is like a dye being dropped in the water so we might better see the swirling forces of this modern, North American culture and language on us that had, until seeing it, acted on us invisibly and led us to the understandable but crippling conclusion that the swaying and motion came from us rather than the way the water in this cup. A cup that had been stirred by a silver spoon grasped onto so tightly for the fear of going back to the poverty they’d run from generations ago.

And, given that money, economics, business and marketing are some of the key hallmarks of the way the world has come to work and, given that the modern innovations in this grew from my corner of the world, it struck me that he might have some things to say about this whole notion of right livelihood.

I got him on the phone to record an interview in late April of 2015. I caught him hours after having finished a five day session of the Orphan Wisdom School and minutes after having sheared some of his sheep. Sadly, the sound quality was terrible (because skype) but a transcript was made and I share it, with my comments woven in, below. As expected, the conversation took many unexpected turns.


Stephen Jenkinson is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making human culture. It is rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, working for a time ?yet to come.? You can learn more about his work at 

Tad: First of all, thanks for making time. I didn’t realize it was right after a whole five days with the Orphan Wisdom School.

Stephen: Right after.

Tad: Well, thank you. Nathalie said you were just straight in from shearing sheep and…

Stephen: Oh, yeah. We just did the last one. Finished about what…I don’t know…20 minutes ago or something.

Tad: Wow.

Stephen: Yeah, it’s quite an ordeal, you know? You’re trying to do it properly, and all the rest, and quickly, which they rarely go together, speaking of livelihood. But I think we did it, and so they’re all done, thankfully, and just as the hot weather’s coming, because that would be very hard on them, because they’re all feeding their young, and so they need a lot of moisture, right, to make that milk and such, and if they’re panting away in the heat, then it’s just too hard on them.

Tad: I guess what had me interested in talking to you about this question is that I have a business called “Marketing for Hippies,” and I travel around helping good folks with the marketing of their businesses. I see so many people wrestling with this dynamic of making money in an economy that they know is based on destroying the world, and it strikes me as, your work has come from this place of helping people find some semblance of sanity in the ending of their days, and here our culture is in the ending of its days.

As you said in one of your videos, “In this sort of terminal swoon where you can’t tell it from a dance,” and so many of the ways that we even think of, in this time that we’re in, to make money still have all these negative consequences. All of our traveling has a consequence. The Internet itself is certainly not neutral to the planet.

We want to keep our work accessible to people, and yet we need to pay our own bills. Most of us — a number of people I work with are drawn to this more traditional village setting, and yet the village is absent, and so we fend for ourselves.

There’s just this big wrestling with, “What does livelihood mean in a time where the world is burning and things are so bad, but we still need to sustain ourselves?” And so I just wanted to set the table, and see what you might have to say about it.

Stephen: Well, you’ve pretty much described what livelihood means at a time like this, but maybe it would be useful to not accept the running gag which is livelihood, as most people mean it.

First of all, wonder if it indeed is connected to any kind of living. We call it making a living. It’s kind of ironic, really, given the case that you just made. It’s certainly not what it is, so maybe take a moment just to wonder about this life, living, livelihood and so on. As you mentioned, I worked in the death trade for a long time, so I have a kind of a quickened appetite for this question of life and being alive, and so on.

I think the first thing that is worth saying out loud that you learn about life, you learn from death. You don’t learn it from things going well. If you look around at people for whom things are going well, they seem to be the last to know this. You have to say, almost in an envious fashion, “But you’re doing well,” and they look at you like either, “That’s what you think,” or, “Well that can’t last,” or, “Depends how you keep track.”

Then you realize, “Man, livelihood is basically a sense of well-being before it’s anything else.” If you think about that, well-being is a capacity. It’s not a default consequence of everything going great. That’s not where a sense of well-being comes from. Otherwise, you’d have no Nelson Mandela, because he seems to have come out of that insanity with something like sanity, and how to understand that, when his sense of well-being was in somebody else’s hands, or was it? They could steal him, but apparently they couldn’t steal from him, and that’s a very compelling example.

“livelihood is basically a sense of well-being before it’s anything else”

So then you go back to these dying people who I was with, hundreds of them, and you realize that there’s nothing inevitable about dying, no matter what anybody says. It’s a machine idea. We think that dying is inevitable, the inevitable consequence of being born. In fact, you should ask, “So who can die?”, and the answer has to be, “Whoever was alive can die.”

Just very quick, a grammar lesson on this matter, verbs in English have two voices, and they’re either passive or active, right? So then you think of the verb “to die,” and then try to use it in the passive voice, in any sentence at all that makes sense, that’s the Queen’s English, so to speak, and you quickly discover you can’t do it. You simply cannot do it, because the English language, mongrel that it is, is whispering to you and I every waking moment when the word “die” comes into it, that dying is not a passive event. It’s not what happens to you. It’s an active thing, grammatically, existentially, spiritually, ontologically, “phenomenologically,” and all those other “logicalies. “

Tad: [laughs]

Stephen: That’s what it is. It’s an active thing, so at some point, it seems like, “Okay, to distinguish it for people listening, from let’s say, cancer, which is often understood to be synonyms. Cancer is what happens to you. Clearly you don’t do cancer, at least not that I’ve heard anybody say, but you certainly do do dying. Cancer is what happens to you. Dying it’s questionable whether you’ll do it or not.

That’s the unintended or unsought consequence of this little grammar lesson, that dying, since it’s what you do, it’s possible not to do it. It’s possible to refuse to do it, to not know that it’s down to you to do it. Certainly it’s possible never to have learned what I just said, or the tremendous adroitness of spirit required to die.

If that’s true, if there’s nothing inevitable about dying, and dying is what endorses life, in the form of food, obviously, then you come to the irreducible observation that it’s not inevitable that you will live, either.

And so both of these things, if they’re not inevitabilities, what are they? Well, they’re not accidents. They’re achievements. That means they’ve got to be rooted in something other than what most of us think is the kind of machine-driven understanding of what it means to be alive and to die. They seem to be just consequences, and in fact, they’re immense human-scaled, mysterious achievements, which is why those cultures who can still call themselves cultures are very, very concerned right at puberty, in crafting personhood, or to use our word, livelihood, out of 12- and 13- year olds.

That’s what’s going on there in the form of initiation, and how does initiation happen? It is by the quixotic and meaning-driven culturally endorsed application of the truth and justice and mercy of that 12-year old’s own personal death. That’s how their personhood arises, from learning their death, you see. So, all of this is not a prelude to what you’ve asked me about. It’s fundamental to what you’ve asked me about, but I can translate a little bit, maybe, and say, “Making a livelihood, it’s the capacity of living people to make livelihoods from life, not to make money from death, from the application of darkness, from the unwillingness to know the consequences of your actions, from the grotesquely inconvenient truth that you may not pull any of this stuff off that we’re talking about right now in a time such as ours. I’ll give you another for instance, since we have the luxury of a little time together here.

“Making a livelihood, it’s the capacity of living people to make livelihoods from life, not to make money from death.”

So, there’s a couple of young men that called me up, they’ve got a little kind of underground eco-anarchist radio station going on, and I love those guys. Anybody who does that kind of thing and is willing to throw gravel in the machinery of “automaticness” has basically got my vote until they prove themselves a disaster, and even then,  I might still line up with them. Who knows?

But these guys asked me two questions in two different interviews, that are worth repeating right now. The first one was, basically, “What should I do if my culture’s dying?”, and I said, “Well, let’s recast the question and say, ‘What does this ask of you, which is a little different.”

Tad: Right.

Stephen: In other words, I’m animating this dying, not just as an impersonal force like gravity, but I’m insisting that it’s a character in our story now, so the way I said it is, judging that they were young by the sound of their voice, “Do either of you have moms that are still alive?” They both did, and I said, “Okay, now let’s say your mom’s dying. Now before I go any further with this, please, let’s say your mom’s dying. Let’s not debate whether she’s dying or not. Let’s not wait for more evidence, find out if the science is correct, not be overly impressed by the melting of the glaciers and so on. Forget all that.”

“Let’s say that she’s dying. Okay, and this is your mom we’re talking about. It’s not an idea. Now, if she’s dying, the question is, ‘What does this ask of you?’ It’s not really, ‘What should you do?’, because where’s that book? How are you going to find that one out?”

“So, how do you discern this? Well, the first order of business is you decide, is it your job to push her over the edge, to get it over with already, because it’s too hard for you, because it’s taking too long, because the signs are distressing, and incomplete, and seem to be asking something of you that shouldn’t be asked of you? Is that it? Is that the math we do?”

“You should push her over the edge so you can see that it’s finally happened, and then what? And then poke the ashes with a stick, is it? What’s the alternative? The alternative that I keep hearing over and over again is, ‘Disappear until it’s over, wait for the phone call, show up for the meeting about the will, and do your best. Live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances in the shattered remains of your family.'”

That’s a little onerous, and it’s a little serious, and it’s the most common scenario that I ever saw in that business, so I say, “All right now, take out mom, and put it culture, and nothing changes.” Exactly the same questions, exactly the same almost involuntary reflex reactivity about either, “Burn the mother fucker down,”… Or what? Or wait for somebody else to do it, or just self-destruct, and then you get to build your castle in the ashes? Or what?

So my claim is that you must be guided by the dying. You can’t be guided by some guy showing up on your Internet with the next program for how to fix all this, the next solution or how to benefit from the downward spiral. “Sorry to hear about the war, but it’s always a good business opportunity,” and so on and so on.

“Sorry to hear about the war, but it’s always a good business opportunity,”

The second question they asked me, and get a load of how good this is. This is why you want to be on the radio with kids like this. They said to me, “Now I don’t know if you know this, but they’re working on a kind of life serum.” I said, “I’m sure they are. What have you heard?”

“Well, they’re working on this thing, this serum for immortality.” I said, “Of course they are.” He said, “You know, it’s not really science fiction,” and I said, “No, no doubt.”

He said, “So here’s my question. Let’s say, within my lifetime,” his, not mine, “they’ll perfect this thing. Now, should I take it? My question to you is, ‘What would I miss?’” Isn’t that fabulous?

Tad: So good.

Stephen: It’s too fabulous, to imagine that it’s not all upside, that no solution that we come up with is principally upside. I’m getting a livelihood, don’t you worry, friends. I’m getting there, okay? But this is a big question, so it deserves a good answer that’s got a lot of wind in it.

I said to him, “You know, that is such a good question, that being a kind of intemperate rabbi, as I guess I’ve become, I can only respond with a question, because it’s the only way to do justice and honour to how much went into what you just sought out.”

“So here goes. If you take that life serum,” the irony of it life serum, “and you don’t die, I don’t think the question is, “What will you miss, though God knows, this is the principal draw on a culture like ours. I think if you don’t die, the question will be, ‘What will me miss? What will the rest of us miss by virtue of you not dying? If dying is what I said earlier, an achievement, and then people just refuse it because they have an out clause in a bottle, what’s the consequence for us all?'”

Forget more people. That’s obvious. But what’s the consequence, day by day, when we don’t get the really stout tutelage of the ending of things coming to visit us, that even that’s negotiable now, even that’s a matter of opinion, depending on how much money you’ve got, whether you’ve got connections with the serum company, and so on.”

So what does this have to do with making a living? Well, to my mind, it has to do with something like this — if you want to do work that’s guaranteed to be clean, I think you’re toast. If you want to know ahead of time that what you’re trying to do is good for fill-in-the-blank, the planet, your family, the community if you can find it, the plants, the whales, if that’s what you want to know ahead of time, you’re in the wrong business.

“If you want to do work that’s guaranteed to be clean, I think you’re toast.”

You shouldn’t be trying to make a living. It doesn’t work that way. The idea that we get clean first, and then put our hands in, is one of the most uninitiated and really untutored orientations to this troubled world that it’s possible to come up with, I think.

I wrote a book some 10 or 12 years ago called “Money and The Soul’s Desires,” and in there, I wasn’t wrestling over this question of clean, making a clean living, a living that doesn’t hurt, but what I did come up with inferentially would be something like this, to answer your question, and then I’ll turn it over to you.

If it’s dying and finally death that basically endorses the food supply, which it does, because every living thing derives its life from the death of the things that were living prior, right? As breakfast was for you this morning, and for me. A death underwrites everything.

Then you come across people who are like political vegans let’s just choose an obvious example and they’re adamant that nothing with a heartbeat or a mother or eyelashes should ever die to keep them alive, and that they imagine that they could craft an economy based on that kind of puritanism. What would it look like?

There’s no question about what it would look like, because we can do the math on a grain-based economy, because that’s largely what we have, and a grain-based economy is one of the most rapacious things imaginable, and has been since Mesopotamia and the Sumerians some 4,500 years ago, speaking for white-skinned folk. Other people got other ground-zeros for that story.

If you look over the period of that time, what had we got? We got agriculture —basically an expansionist  proposition, up, down, and sideways, and it was all grain based. It wasn’t an animal-based activity. It was a grain-based activity. Grain-based agriculture enables population explosion, flat out, because it provides cheap and quick food, you see. It’s a disaster. Cheap food is a disaster for population control.

Man, it’s getting very complicated very fast, and then you want to banish animals from the story, and the consequence is, “Well, how do you think you’re going to fertilize your ground?”, because your grain-based economy’s very hard on the ground. Corn, in particular, is what they call in the trade a very heavy feeder. You cannot recompense the land for what your grain takes out of it with some kind of grain-based, no eyelashes, no motherhood replacement.

In other words, you’re offloading the consequences of your ethical decisions on either another generation or some other sector of the economy, who’s going to make sure that it doesn’t reach you, the news doesn’t reach you that your Puritanism is a disaster for the world. For the right reasons, you did the wrong thing, you see.

I’m kind of upping the ante on the conundrum that you described, and I think properly so.

I guess, finally, on this matter I would say, you’ve got a lot of people who are going to hit, who are hitting 60s and 70s now, as we speak, and then there’s a kind of a narrowing of the waistband of the population in North America, probably in your generation. So somewhere in between, let’s imagine this. Let’s imagine somebody like me being around 70. Let’s imagine somebody 20 or 25 finds them in a mall, let’s just say, and ends up in some idle chatter.

Let’s say the idleness doesn’t suit either one of them, and let’s say they come to something very serious very quickly, and I hope it goes something like this. I hope the younger person says, “You know, when you were my age, if you can afford to remember it, if it doesn’t hurt too bad to remember it, people knew what was happening, didn’t they? They knew about the Monsanto thing, didn’t they? They knew about dirty livelihoods. “

If you’re going to be honest with them, at 70 years old, the answer has to be something like this — “Well, not everybody knew, but everyone could have known if they had turned toward it, yes.” That, I believe, is the right answer.

Then that young person should narrow their eyes, respectfully hopefully, but maybe not, and say, “Well, if you knew, what did you do?”

You see, that’s not a future tense question. That question comes from, “Well, that’s about your past.” In other words, that question’s not coming. That question’s here. The question is, “What are we doing? Not, ‘What did we do?'”, and it seems to me that as troubled as we could easily be by the moral quagmire of making a decent living based on all these decisions that we’ve made, it has to pass through the needle of, “What did you do when you knew the shit was coming down? Your way of living has to be one of the answers. It can’t be, “Well, I made as much money as I could as quickly as I could, and then I got out, and then I started living a moral life.”

“What did you do when you knew the shit was coming down? Your way of living has to be one of the answers.”

It can’t be that. It can’t be that answer. It can’t be, “Well, I kind of walked the tightrope of what was moral and legal and ethical and clean, and I came out shadowy.” I don’t think it can be that either, because it’s really not your or my retirement I’m talking about, it’s really the world that young people today, or even as we speak, are inheriting now. It’s principally already been crafted.

I’m 60 years old. Somebody my age “ongoingly” has to make this call, I think, about what do they owe the world who has sustained them all this time, and making a livelihood is not what they owe the world. Somehow, feeding that which has fed them all along, that is in the neighborhood of the obligation I’m talking about, and the enormous difficulty is that we have to translate that, that there’s no book worth publishing that tells you how to do that. If it does, it treats you like an idiot, and it’s just another program.

The act of being human is the act of translating the brief adult awareness of your time into something that you must do that could be informed by those two questions from those guys on that radio show. “What am I supposed to do if my culture’s dying”, one, and, “What would happen, what would all the rest of us miss, if I refused to die?”

Tad: The thing that struck me so much in what you’re saying, and I haven’t heard you say it this way before, is that if dying is not a given, if it’s an achievement, then therefore living is an achievement, and if there’s this connection between really being alive and livelihood, then there’s something that if we’re not really alive, are we capable, even, of livelihood?

Stephen: You know what the answer is. You’ve already done the math on it, and the answer’s no.

This is why I went to the phrase first, when you asked me about it, because it’s not a given that you will make a livelihood, no matter how much money you’ve got. We’ve got to reserve the word “livelihood” for some kind of life-affirming activity, not something that pays the bills. This is easier to say than it is to live, what I’m about to say, but oh well, here we go.

“It’s not a given that you will make a livelihood, no matter how much money you’ve got.”

This idea that we’ve got to make a living. You hear that. It’s like, “Everybody’s got to die,” and I’ve already dealt with that, to some extent. That’s not really true, that everybody’s going to die. And “everybody’s got to make a living,” how true must that be?

The truth of that is predicated on all the decisions you made, how much indebtedness you took upon yourself. What kind of deal did you make with the person you lived with as to how you’re going to live, and with what, and what would it look like? How little are you willing to live with? How are you going to calibrate what a sense of well-being is going to be?

And then here’s the big one. Those are all preliminaries. This is the big one. You and I are talking, speaking right now in North America in 2015, so here’s what we know, whether we want to know it or not. That people who look like me and you came to this continent as interlopers, as thieves. Now, desperate thieves, yes. All the signs point to the fact that those people that came over were desperate. Yes, absolutely, so they weren’t really freedom fighters, no? They weren’t really seeking a better day, and all of this thing that we’re sold in school about the root condition of white North America. None of that shit’s true. What’s true is these were desperate people running away from something more desperate than they themselves knew how to be.

There’s a lot of different words for it, but for now, let’s just say they weren’t running to anywhere. They were running from something that wasn’t even a place. It was the end of “place.” It was the end of belonging. It was the end of being a people or a community. They were running from all that, and it had been over for so long. It’s not like in the same generation. The trouble came, and the solution presented itself as in what’s called “the middle passage.” Not in the least, but here’s the point that I think we have to be true to. We came over here, desperate, and our desperation showed instantly in how we responded to the people that we found when we got here.

“They were running from something that wasn’t even a place. It was the end of ‘place.'”

The first thing we did was question whether they were people, and that was the very first reaction. The irony of people seeking some kind of freedom, let’s just call it generically, and denying that freedom to the people that they find when they get there, that’s a tragedy beyond expression almost. And still, whether we’re talking about in the 1500s or 1600s, 1700s or 18000s, wave after wave came.

The consequence, for your question, in my mind is this. None of us “stole” this land. Nobody’s alive today well, okay, I’ll back off on that. Most people who are alive today in North America didn’t do any stealing. There’s a little stealing still going on, but by and large, the stealing, the theft, had already taken place, so every time we hear this thing, and I can hear people doing it as I’m saying this. They throw up their hands, and they say, “But it wasn’t me, boss. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

You’re a little late with this thing. Don’t we have to go to what we do about it? Don’t we have to go to, “We’ve got to live with what was done?” Jeez, it sounds an awful lot like the automatic livelihood thing to me, so my answer is, “No, that’s not what we do.”

And I’m not speaking from the Native Americans point of view here. I’m speaking from a white man’s point of view in 2015 in North America, and here goes. I didn’t steal anything, but I sure as hell live off the avails of what was stolen. There’s no question about that. The reason I’m mentioning this is because when we say “got to make a living,” we’re doing it in a place that we’ve already been the beneficiary, the sole beneficiary of our way of life, you see? And we’re talking about, “How do we get some more?” Do you see what I’m saying?

Tad: Yeah.

Stephen: How did this compound fracture of taking and taking ever begin to heal itself if it’s not recognized for what it is? This thing I’m talking about didn’t happen in somebody’s psyche, principally. This thing I’m talking about happened in history, and a lot of people don’t want that history to be true, they want it to be a fact, the meaning of which can be negotiated, right?

Get the Indians to sit at the table, right, and give them they can have their own tribal police force, I guess, if they’re big enough, and they can afford it, but if we can’t have two systems of governance in one place, and you hear this all the time. Why can’t we? And you know what the answer is? Because we won, so it’s the European based, Magna Carta driven, pseudo-democratic idea of who owns what, and how that works, and this is what it’s rooted in.

I know this is a lot of stuff, but why not?

This is what it’s rooted in. We came here. The Earth wasn’t alive, no?

Tad: Right.

Stephen: No, it’s inanimate, and nobody ever uses this word, but I’m going to use it now. When the Christians and the Jews, the non-aligned peoples came over on those boats, and the found the Native American people here, eventually they referred to them as “animates,” and these crazy people thought everything was alive, and they were tormented accordingly, and unsophisticated and overly superstitious, et cetera, and devil-worshiping and all those things.

What did we bring with us that was the perfect antidote to that madness? And the answer is, “We are inanimate.” Inanimate think about what it means. It means we withhold the idea of life from certain things and ascribe it to other things, no? So maybe you make a living from it, but we don’t treat it like it’s alive.

No, the whole extractive orientation that we have to the Earth is a sign, absolutely, of one of two things. Either we never believed in freedom, no matter what we said, and so we’re happily enslaving this live Earth, or it’s impossible to enslave that which isn’t alive. So there’s no such thing as enslaving the Earth, it’s just taking what you can get.

The reason I’m saying this is most of the people listening to this, talking about “Got to make a living” are making a living off the kind of withered — “corpse” might be too strong but it’s heading that way. Let’s say, the withered being on life support, which is the natural world.

Can we really begin to talk about making a human living? For an urban based person, who has made a hundred preliminary decisions, all of which deliver them to the futility of making a living that doesn’t take.

I think all those preliminary decisions are the ones that have got to be challenged, like, “Okay, well, you’re living where you are. Who says you have to live there, and who says you have to have that much stuff to make a go of it there?” Now it starts to get mucky, you see, because you can’t make a program of redemption from a thousand unconsidered preliminary decisions that you made, that deliver you to the idea that you’ve got to make a living in the current regime.

If you decide not to knuckle under to making a living in a way the current regime grants you, then maybe what happens is the shit comes down a little faster, but definitely the travail of that refusal is going to present itself in your life, so we can’t really strike this devil’s bargain of saying, “Okay, I’m troubled, but I would really like to be only troubled from nine to five, five days a week, and I need a little break from the trouble on the weekends and the occasional holiday.” Do you see what I’m saying? It’s more trouble than either one of us wish it was.

Tad: I’m wondering if I can throw in another thread here that I feel like is related, is that in this day and age, there’s one of the songs that’s getting sung a lot is the “Do what you love, follow your bliss,” and that’s kind of like the seed that has grown and propagated itself all over. I’d be curious to hear what your understanding of the crop that’s coming in from that harvest is.

Stephen: Well, I’d like to look at the seed first, the seed idea. I understand the notion. There’s a lot worse notions in the world than that one, but since you brought it up, I’ll speak to it — see if I can.

When I hear a phrase like that, I hear, first of all, a lot of marketing. I hear a lot of ease. That’s what that principally trades on. What is it — “Follow your bliss. Do what you love”? Whatever it is, okay. The first thing that it trades on is that you know what you love. That it’s palpable and obvious to you, what you love. And apparently you can distinguish what you love from what feels good, or what works, or what seems to rescue you from despair. I could go on and on and on, and ask, “Are all of those things ‘love?” Are they? I’m not sure they are.

Seeking some kind of respite from the madness of your days, that don’t sound like love to me. That sounds like coping. That sounds like treading water, thinking that you’re swimming.

So it’s not so obvious that you would know “what you love.” I think that’s an enormous achievement, because there’s nothing inevitable about it. I would say, “You can’t love, but you weren’t on the receiving end of love in your early and formative times to give you an understanding of the dynamic of the thing.” Okay, that may be further afield than you want to go right now.

And then the second thing is, that you have the capacity. Do you? To “love” in this kind of radical no-holds barred redemptive way? Is that true, that that’s as democratic as rain from the sky? I’m not sure that’s true. I think you need a very cultured, highly-crafted humanity that can translate into what needs loving, not, “How do I benefit from loving?” But what is it that needs loving out there? It’s not the most lovable stuff. I think you’d grant that, you know?

“Whenever we do things ceremonial, generally speaking, we don’t do it at the mountaintop. We don’t do it in a beautiful meadow. We don’t do it in a lot of other Class-A ceremonial places. I look for places that are pretty plain. I know as lot of places have been withered by human larceny. Maybe they could use it a little, those places, it seems to me, and those are not easy places to love. Not at all. So you really exercise your humanity trying to do this love thing that we’re talking about, you see.”

Now you understand why. Because what? The mountaintop needs a little human redemption, does it?

And as far as the bliss, I don’t really understand bliss, I suppose, but the idea that if you just do what you love, then everything’s going to get better, sounds a lot like Adam Smith in the mid-1700s, writing about capitalism. If you remember, this idea, I think the phrase that he used was “the invisible hand of capitalism,” that somehow if we all pursue enlightened self-interest, that even though that would appear to pit us against each other in some kind of competitive arrangement, the greater good derives from everyone pursuing the personal good.

That was the basic rap in that period, and that established our understanding of economics to this very day, and that “follow your bliss” sounds an awful lot the same to me.

Tad: It’s interesting, it strikes me. This kind of lifts up this question, which is maybe a more worthy consideration of this “how do we find our role?” in the ecosystem, and I thought you might like this, the word “niche,” that people have niches in nature or whatever, comes from the old French verb “niché,” which means to make a nest. So this idea that people and I see a lot of people these days trying to find their role. They’re seeing what’s happening in the world. They’re seeing that there’s a lot of love that’s needed in a lot of places, and they’re trying to find their role in all of that. I’d just be curious to hear anything that you have to say about this wrestling with and trying to find our role in these times.

Stephen: Sure. I recently published a book called “Dying Wise,” and in there, I crafted this insane and little dark vignette that goes something like this. Let’s imagine the gods being very bored one particular day, and were trying to come up with something that would alleviate the general passage of time.

One suddenly looked up, whether he or she was craftier than the others, whatever. Who knows? But one of them said, “I got it,” and the others looked up, bored, and said, “What?”

“Well, I got it now. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to invent some humans, okay? Now don’t…just relax. I know we’ve tried that before, but this time, I think I got it. I got the design flaws worked out, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make humans, right? We’re going to put them in the world, okay? And the thing we’re going to imbue them with is this desire for meaning, for purpose. That’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be amazing. They’re going to be so busy for so long with that thing, and now here’s the great detail, you see. They’re going to be looking for it all over the world, no? They’re going to be running amok looking for it, tearing the world apart looking for it. Here’s the thing. It’s not there. It’ll be so great. Let’s watch.”

Now that’s pretty dark stuff, okay? And a lot of people could testify more or less, that that’s their personal creation story. That’s the one they’re running with these days. That’s what I see in here.

The reason I say that in response to what you’ve asked is, I’m not persuaded for a second that your niche is something waiting for you to find. It sounds like a scavenger hunt, no? If you don’t look in the right place, you blew it, and you wake up at 63 years old saying, “What am I doing to myself?”

I think it comes closer to that question that somebody one-third your age is going to ask you. Not, “Did you find your place that gave you a sense of place and achievement, and rescued you from boredom or from a sense of pointlessness and so on?”, but, “How did you proceed in the teeth, in dancing in the very dragon’s jaw of a time that seems to have all but swallowed whole the idea that humans are capable of principled, meaning-driven purposefulness that can enhance what grants them their life, whether it enhances their personal fortune or not?”

That’s the standard I think we have to hold ourselves to now, because we’re not born in a time where it’s obvious that humans have a fundamental place and purpose in the order of things. It’s simply not obvious anymore, and the irony is, what some clever person has come up with a Latin-based name for the age we find ourselves in now? I think they call it Anthropocene. This is the word I hear bouncing around, which means, basically, a human-centered era, and it’s very difficult for most of us to take two steps from wherever we are, and not cross the path of another person. That’s basically what it looks like.

“We’re not born in a time where it’s obvious that humans have a fundamental place and purpose in the order of things.”

So I’m thinking to myself, “Well, if we’re in the Anthropocene period, that’s what this is. The irony is that we’re more rootless and subject to enormous and really paralyzing bouts of pointlessness at the very time when the era of the world is named after us.”

Who would have ever thought that’s the way it would have gone? Well, I submit to you, they go together. As soon as you have a human-centered calculation about anything, you can see the end of meaning and purpose from there, because humans are not their own reasons for anything. A human-centered humanism, you know the great experiment of the West is swooning as we speak, because we were our own reason, and our humanity wasn’t tethered to anything else. We just tethered to its own kind of ‘achieve’ thing.

But humanity certainly was granted to the world in our form, not granted to us along with the world granted to us so that we could go ahead and do what we want.

So I think the principle challenge now might be for people to be willing to proceed minus a serious encouragement that all will be well if we just do the right thing. I have no idea what the right thing is, but I’m fairly sure that if we’re not willing to begin with the poverties of the time we find ourselves in now, if we don’t root any sense of what must be, in what is, then we’ll be the people that no one will want to claim as ancestors. No one. We’ll be disowned by everyone who comes from us, as the ultimate two or three generations, that we’re so self-absorbed that they believe in their own despair more than any other thing. You know, W. H. Ogden wrote a poem whose name escapes me I’m sorry, but the phrase that comes to me right now from that poem is very telling. To paraphrase it badly, he said, “I suppose now we are of a time and of a kind that we would rather be defeated than be persuaded.”Not a great epithet.

“So I think the principle challenge now might be for people to be willing to proceed minus a serious encouragement that all will be well if we just do the right thing.”

My point is, you noticed I’m not a cheerleader now. I’m just saying, I’m speaking to people as if they not only can hear this, but they must hear this. In other words, are we adults in a time that shows very little promise, or are we not? Or shall we say, “Yeah, but what about me and mine?” Shall we do that again? Or shall we be adults who are capable of knowing at least something of the exquisitely wrought poverty of the time we find ourselves in?

If we don’t begin there, we’re kids, man. We’re kids, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than a 53-year old kid, who’s got their hand out, looking for the same thing that a 23-year old’s looking for. I have a school, right? I call it Orphan Wisdom School, and I ask people to get themselves a little notebook to carry along with them every day. This notebook is to answer only one kind of item, and it’s a little arbitrary, but the list is I ask them to take notes on all the examples that manifest in front of them of the end times that we may indeed be in.

Examples of the end times, not that you make up, but that you actually observe, [laughs] and I don’t know how many of them have done it, but I hope they’re doing it. I don’t hope that it’s books and books long. I hope it’s a couple of pages at most.

But one of them surely is that you know you’re in the end times of your culture at least, when 53-year olds and 23-year olds are marauding the countryside demanding the same thing, in this case, a grief-free, clean livelihood for themselves.

“53-year olds and 23-year olds are marauding the countryside demanding the same thing, in this case, a grief-free, clean livelihood for themselves.”

Tad: That’s definitely a different song being sung than the song of “we deserve more.”

Stephen: I know it, bud. Well, I think that song’s well known, and I’ve forgotten the words, so…

Tad: [laughs]

Stephen: So I can’t sing that one for you.

Tad: Yeah, I really appreciate your sharings around this. As I expected, it went in an unexpected direction. I think that the piece that resonates the most immediately and jumped out at me, again, is that shift from, I know you often speak about the shift from being needy to being…

Stephen: Needed.

Tad: Needed, and that’s so much of the conversation, and it’s something that I witness and see in the business community is very much this, “What’s in it for me, and how do I succeed? How do I get more for myself, and how do I create a business in such a way that I free myself from limits, because limits are the enemy.”

Stephen: Right, and that’s when I’ll be able to do the real good work that the Earth needs of me.

Tad: Right.

Stephen: I got it. I got the general formula. I’ve heard it before. [laughs] I’ve seen different aspects of it before. Look, it’s really understandable. It’s completely understandable, and for all of that, it may be that the way by which we are most recognizable to other people in the world and to different generations to come. We’ll be recognizable as the people who, as the thing was absolutely beginning to spin, we kept saying, “Where’s a safe place, a clean place, for me to establish my thing so that I can get ready for what’s coming?”

That’s how we may very well be known, if we don’t stop saying that we want to be the beneficiary of the good work that we’re looking for, and I’ll tell you what, Tad, all the mail that I get from this, I’ll just forward it directly to you, because after all, these were your questions.

Tad: [laughs] I’ll take it. Well, as we’re in these dying times of this culture, my hope is that we can somehow come face to face with that dying and know it, and in the knowing of it, actually be alive, and in being alive, now, maybe give the chance for future generations to have something that might actually be more recognized as a real livelihood and something that’s feeding what’s been feeding us all along. That’s my hope.

Stephen: That’s my hope, too, man. That’s why we’re both talking about it. The fact that we don’t pretend to have every answer doesn’t mean we don’t think there are any. It just means that we’re not being pre-emptive and making sure that the sorrow doesn’t show through first. That seems to me to be the mandatory…as I said in Vancouver, when they asked me to talk about grief and climate change, which is a bit of a plunky title, but still a worthy thing to allow to collide, those two things, and people walked out, because I decided I needed to talk about grief, because that clearly, in that Vancouver audience was, of the two items in the title, the thing less understood and less lived with.

“The fact that we don’t pretend to have every answer doesn’t mean we don’t think there are any.”

They knew a lot about climate change, and people stormed out, saying, “I thought this was supposed to be about climate change.” Well, I’ll tell you what. It was about the consequences of climate change, and many of them are human. The consequences, the sorrows, are human, so I ended up standing there for the first time, and it just hit me as completely true, that if you awaken in our time now, to real enlightenment, to real awakening, it’s not accompanied by aha or hallelujah, or, “Give me more,” or any of that stuff.

Some don’t even find it, I don’t think. I think awakening today, the sound of awakening is a sob, and basically that’s the sound we’ve just made for the last 45 minutes or so, and it’s completely proper, and if it throws some people off the scent of being happy or of tracking down happiness, good. We’d better stop, I think.

Tad: [laughs]

Stephen: Stop while we’re behind.

Tad: Well, it’s such a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to coming to the second instalment of the Orphan Wisdom School at Hollyhock coming up, and hosting you in Edmonton as well.

You’ve got a bit of a tour coming up, that’s starting in…

Stephen: Nice of you to call it a bit of a tour.

Tad: [laughs]

Stephen: I’ve been taking to calling it “The Man-Killer Tour” around here.

Tad: I can imagine. Is there anything you’d like to say about the tour or things that are coming up?

Stephen: It’s basically all over Canada, all over the United States, although more in the Western part of the hemisphere, because for whatever reason, westerners seem just more amenable where I’m concerned. It’s mysterious. I don’t know exactly why, but a lot of places in the middle and the west half of the continent and then over to the UK, between now and the end of November.

It’s prompted by the appearance of this book, “Die Wise,” but it’s probably not exclusive to that. In other words, it’s not really a promotion or publicity jaunt. It’s plea-making instead of plea bargaining. That’s, I guess, what I’ll be doing. I think my self-appointed task is to be troubled aloud, and that’s probably what I’ll do. You’d be surprised, but there’s more takers than you think there’d be.

Tad: Well, you’ll be troubled aloud, and we’ll be allowed to be troubled. It will be good. So if people want to learn more, they can go to to find out more about Stephen and his work.

Stephen: These things are confirmed, the events are confirmed. They go up there. It’s mysterious to me, but there are people who are willing, and that show some signs of capacity where this all is concerned, and that’s my tribe, as it turns out now.

So let me just say to you, the fact that you’ve thought that there might be something worthy of consideration that would come out of me from you asking these things is really enormously encouraging and honoring of all the people who entrusted me with learning and stuff like that, and so on their behalf, I thank you enormously for this invite, and I’ll look forward to seeing you out there on the road, too.

Tad: All right, take care.

Stephen: And you.


For more of Stephen’s thoughts on money:

Guest Post: Marketing is Building Trust

bait-and-switchby Tamar Henry

I am in the coaching/personal development industry.

I’m a coach and I’m also a consumer of the industry via other coaches and healers. So are most of my colleagues. While we don’t have to be consumers of this industry, per se, many of us believe that in order to learn the things we want to learn and become the leaders and business owners we want to be, investing in ourselves through other coaches and programs, trainings and certifications is not just preferable, it’s necessary.

We spend thousands of dollars investing in ourselves. A lot of that money is well-spent.

But some of it isn’t.

One of the reasons that trust between practitioners and consumers gets eroded within the personal development industry is that it’s commonplace to market one thing and deliver something else, skimp on value or simply leave out important details. I wonder what the breaking point is. When will coaches, who are here to make a difference, but get burned over and over, exit the industry altogether?

Recently, I signed up for a free session with a representative of a successful coaching business. The session was described to me ahead of time. A coach would help me uncover a subconscious issue that I’m having. Even though I sometimes take issue with the entire idea of “blocks”, I resonated with the owner of the coaching company’s story and what she had to say. I asked the owner if the session would include solutions or ways to address these issues once they had been identified. She assured me that solutions would be provided during the session.

I had the session with a perfectly nice coach who worked for the company. At the top of the call, as is standard procedure, she explained to me how the session would proceed and that she’d invite me to invest in a program – if I was interested – at the end of the call. Later, the block that she identified, and the metaphors she used to illustrate it, did not resonate with me. After that portion of our call, when I asked how I might address the block, she simply invited me to listen to the pitch. In other words, there was no solution to be provided on the call. I’d have to pay for that.

There are a few things that got me quite frustrated as a result of this call:

1) When I signed up for the call, there was no indication that I would only receive a solution in the form of being invited to invest in a program. In fact, an invitation to invest was not even mentioned.

This is what marketing strategist Beth Grant calls failing to set a “covenant.” You set a covenant with someone when you are clear with them that you intend to invite them to invest with you (possibly further if they have already invested) during a portion of a call, talk, webinar, or workshop. I’ve had dozens of free calls with people in this industry and I strongly believe this is a necessary step that establishes trust.

I don’t mind if you invite me to invest with you. In fact, I expect you to invite me to your program (and in many cases I’m excited to hear about it!) but you need to tell me that you are going to invite me.

2) The coach who called me, while personable and sweet, had a method that I ended up being extremely skeptical of. She didn’t really explain whether she was channelling someone or something, using her own intuition or applying a system based on my written answers that I had supplied before the session. The insight and story she came up with just seemed like – I’ll just say it – bullshit.

It didn’t resonate with me.

It didn’t remind me of anything from my life. It just seemed arbitrary and inauthentic. I am not anti-woo, by any means. I believe in past lives. I channel my unborn baby’s spirit frequently. I trust my vedic astrologer 110%. I think the metaphysical world has lots to offer. But there is authenticity and there is fluff. And all I can say is if you subscribe to any of this stuff, you know in your bones which is which. There was a shakiness in this portion of session that I just couldn’t ignore, as much as I wanted to (because any time I am investing my time in something that I think could help me, I want it to work!)

3) Because I only had my “block” diagnosed, but literally no suggestions as to how I might address the block other than pay money to invest in a program (which I was not intending to do as a result of this call), I hung up the phone feeling like crap about myself.

Yes, I didn’t need to believe this was my block (and I don’t), and I didn’t need to subscribe to any of the things this person told me since they didn’t resonate with me. But even though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it – given my experience in this industry – for at least an hour after the call, I felt worse off than before I had the call.

What a waste of an afternoon!

Or maybe not a waste, because I certainly learned something from it and have these insights which I’m writing about right now. That said, how can this be considered responsible or ethical? How, in this industry, can it be considered standard to use a marketing strategy that, in many cases, leaves someone worse off than they were before you talked to them?

I know that many of the leaders in this field think differently or, at least, frame this issue differently. They say that you can’t solve someone’s problem on an introductory/marketing/sales call because then they won’t invest.

I disagree.

While I understand that I want to leave something to be desired so that someone will buy my product or service, I also believe that in every interaction I have with a prospective client (or even current client), it’s my responsibility to leave someone better off than they were before.

Many leaders, I’m happy to say, do subscribe to the idea that it’s not just okay, but necessary to be generous with solutions, to give away your best stuff. And I would say it’s even more necessary today to do just that because the levels of trust in this industry have reached a level akin to California’s water reserve – rapidly diminishing. It’s absolutely possible to provide value in the form of SOLUTIONS to someone, even if they have not yet paid you. You are not reducing your ability to make a sale. You are establishing trust.

Moreover, I would go a bit further: in a field where we are supposed to be helping people help themselves, helping guide people to better lives, highlighting problems to be fixed, without giving at least some airtime (and I would argue more than half the airtime) to solutions is dirty. It feels manipulative and completely out of alignment with the healing work we are trying to illuminate and get out into the world in a way that catches on with multitudes of people.

So, how do you bypass the dirt? First and foremost, I’m going to assume that mostly everyone in this industry means well and they may just not be considering how their marketing is landing with their potential clients.

With that said, if you are a practitioner offering a free session, there are a couple things that build trust and credibility right off the bat:

1) Think about your session as not just marketing, but an offering. You got into this business to help other people solve some sort of a problem, right? You want to offer a solution. So, begin by offering some sort of solution during your free session. It’s okay if your solution includes an invitation where you are able to more fully address the client’s problem, but be upfront about that. When I’m describing my consult to prospective clients, I say something to them like “After I get a sense of your situation, I’ll make some suggestions, one of which may be working with me.” Can I solve their problem in one 45 minute call? Probably not, which is why, if it turns out they are the right match to work with me, one of the most helpful suggestions I can make is the invitation to work with me. Don’t be afraid of offering up some gems during your initial consult that you know would help them immediately. If you give value, even if the person doesn’t buy from you on the spot, you are establishing your expertise and starting off a relationship by creating trust. The more value you can give in a “free call,” the more likely someone is going to buy something from you either right away, or in the future.

2) Creating a form or application for your session gives you a chance to weed out freeloaders who are never going to buy from you or aren’t the right fit AND it allows the people who are genuinely curious about what you offer to get a better sense of who you are and what you’ll cover. You can even use the form to describe the session so that it’s transparently clear how the session will proceed.

Finally, the consumer also has some responsibility in this equation. If you’re looking to take advantage of some free offers, ask yourself if the person is a good fit for you or if you have genuine curiosity about the service they provide. Your time is too precious to be taking advantage of all the free stuff that people offer. Not only is it not a good use of your time, but filling your schedule with free offers could be detrimental to your own productivity and forward movement in your life or business. Tune in to your inner guidance about who really speaks to you and only then, take advantage of a free offer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the sign-up process. If there is something you want to get from the session, ask! Treat these free offers as an investment you’re making, because the truth is, you are investing your time and energy, and maybe even possibly, the belief that there are people who truly can offer you the exact support you desire.

A Bit About the Author:

Tamar-008Tamar Henry, “The Curveball Coach,” supports women to navigate the unexpected curveballs of life in their relationships, health, career and fertility. Through neural-repatterning, somatic methods and more, she guides her clients to find peace, relief and joy. Find out more at

The Rant Experiment: Let Off Some Steam, Catalyze Social Change and Grow Your Business

rantI want to offer up the opportunity to participate in a bold experiment.

It’s going to ask you to be vulnerable and honest.

It’s going to ask you to use a tool that not many people even think of as a tool (indeed, I didn’t until a few days ago when a number of things came together).

Here’s the gist: I want you to write a rant that’s been brewing inside you for a while and share it with your list and social media. After about a week, go post your rant and the results in the comments below.

Then, in July, I will collect the best rants and make a blog post featuring them all. This is all very informal but it should be fun.

The Rules: videos rants = 3 minutes or less. Written pieces 1000 words or less.

I think it will not only feel really good for you to do but that it could also help you grow your business.


Why do I say this and where is this experiment coming from? 

I think that the world needs more people ranting.

I think that you have a rant inside you that, if you let it out, would not only free you but a lot of other people too.

I think that letting yourself rant could do wonders to get to you more clients too.

Let me back up and explain why I think this…

I’ve written 551 blogs on this site.

Most of them have gotten a few comments. Many none at all. A few of them have gotten a lot of comments and been shared widely.

You might think that the ones that were the most shared were the most tactical ones. The ones with ‘how to do something’. The ones with an immediately practical application. But when I do a search of the blog posts in the Marketing Tactics category the following are the ones I find with the most comments on them.

Note: Some of these may have a lower number of comments because they were written years ago when my list was smaller and they may never have been mailed directly to my list. But the most recent ones, in the past couple of years were.

Also: comments are not the only or most meaningful arbiter of success. I would say how much a piece is shared or how much traffic it gets is more important (and I can attest to the rant blog posts I’ll be posting below being the ones that have been shared the most on social media and drawn some of the most new people to my site). But, comment numbers are still a useful lense to look at as it demonstrates that people not only went to that page, but read the material and got enough out of it to leave some complimentary words in the course of their busy lives.


How many comments do I get on my Marketing Tactic blog posts?:

25 CommentsHow to Approach Hubs and Potential Clients Cold – This one has the most comments of any of them. But, given how packed it is with content, real life examples, I am surprised there weren’t more comments.

16 CommentsHow Do I Fill Up My Weekend Workshop or Retreat Last Minute? 21 Practical Ideas – This one is interesting. I emailed my list of 10,000 with it and then my colleagues Justin and Callan emailed their list of 30,000+ with it. And yet only 16 comments. And, holy hell is this ever one of the most practical blog posts I’ve ever written. This blog post, with some other additions, will be turned into a product I sell within the next year. And I bet it will do well. And yet… only 16 comments.

6 CommentsThe Two Secrets of an Effective Business Card – Only six comments? A blog post on the most ubiquitous of all marketing tools?

6 CommentsThe Top Ten Ways to Become a Hub – If people really applied what was in here, they’d double their business this year. But a paltry number of comments.

6 CommentsHow to Make a Welcome Video for Your Website – What the hell. Most folks should have some sort of welcome video on their website. I’m telling people exactly how to do it. Half a dozen comments. Boo.

3 CommentsFive Simple Ways to Get New Clients – This one blows my mind. Again, I would feel very good about turning this blog post into a paid product. It’s so good. It’s so clear and step by step. But only three comments.

3 Comments14 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Spread the Word About You – A distillation of a year’s worth of me reading every book on word of mouth marketing I could get my hands on and… three comments.

1 CommentMarketing for Psychotherapists – Did this explode in the psychotherapy community? No. Not sure if this one hit my email list but still. I’ve personally sent it to dozens of psychotherapists and had it met with deep gratitude. But only one comment.

0 CommentsCreating Your Hubs Database – Quite possibly the most important marketing tactic I know that very few others teach. And the crowd goes mild.

0 Comments21 Powerful Word of Mouth Intensifiers – Again, a years worth of research boiled down into 21 actionable items and met with zero comments.

To be clear, if I were to email my list with some of the ones with fewer comments, we’d see those comments go up. But what follows is very illustrative.


Those rants though…

When I look in the Tad’s Rants category I find these six blogs. All six of these were emailed to my list within the past couple of years. So there’s that. But the difference in the number of comments is orders of magnitudes higher.

And they’re all rants. None of them contain a single practical idea. None of them are tactical at all. And yet, this is a consistent pattern. When I share a rant, I get the most response. To prove it…

174 CommentsI’m Broke (And I Don’t Care)

122 CommentsWhy ‘Charging What You’re Worth’ Is Bullshit

104 CommentsIs ‘Conscious Marketing’ Bullshit? Discuss

92 CommentsSlow Marketing

86 CommentsWhy ‘Stop Playing Small’ Is Bullshit

74 Comments – Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl: Seven Business Lessons from Ten Recent Workshop No-Shows

So, that’s 652 comments in total for six blog posts vs. 120 comments for what I would consider to be my top ten, most useful tactical blog posts.

To break that down further, that means that, on average, my tactical blog posts have gotten 12 comments each, whereas my average rant blog post above got, 108 comments. So, even if we factor in a smaller email list and not each of those posts having been emailed out and tripled that number to 36, we’re still looking at rant posts performing at least four times better at worst and ten times better at best.

You might be excused for thinking that the secret is to add the world ‘bullshit’ to any blog post. And… you wouldn’t be right but you wouldn’t be entirely wrong either. However, more on that in a moment because it’s not just in comments on my blog.

I also shared my Why ‘Stop Playing Small’ Is Bullshit blog on my Facebook Page. I generally get next to no response on posts to my Facebook Page because of this.

But when I shared this one, it went crazy. Shared by 34 people. And, on a Facebook Page a share means much more than a comment. Note: I did not boost that post. I paid nothing. And yet, boom.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 4.19.41 PM


What is a rant?

Before we dive much deeper, we should really define our terms.

verb (used without object) 1. to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave: The demagogue ranted for hours. verb (used with object) 2. to utter or declaim in a ranting manner. noun 3. ranting, extravagant, or violent declamation. 4. a ranting utterance. via

rant (n.) Look up rant at “boisterous, empty declamation; fierce or high-sounding language without much meaning or dignity of thought; bombast; a ranting speech,” 1640s, from rant (v.). rant (v.) Look up rant at c.1600, “to be jovial and boisterous,” also “to talk bombastically,” from Dutch randten (earlier ranten) “talk foolishly, rave,” of unknown origin (compare German rantzen “to frolic, spring about”). A 1700 slang dictionary has rantipole “a rude wild Boy or Girl” (also as a verb and adjective) [Grose] via

In the definitions above you can see that ranting is a style of sharing views that doesn’t fit into the conventions of polite conversation.


Eleven reasons why rants get such a strong response

So, what’s up with the difference in response?

I think there are nine reasons that rants get such a strong reaction and are shared so much.

Reason #1 – They Send The Right Messages:

I wrote a blog post called Five Simple Messages That Can Have Potential Clients Melt and Fall in Love With You (41 Comments). In it, I laid out five key messages that clients need to get from you in order to feel safe.

Message #1: That you ‘get it’ (or at least will try to).

Message #2: That they’re not crazy.

Message #3: That they’re not alone.

Message #4: That there is hope.

Message #5: That there’s a bigger context.

I believe that a good rant can send all five of those messages.

Reason #2 – A Rant Comes From a Point of View:

Years ago, I wrote a blog post called Nine Reasons Point of View is the Future of Marketing. In it, I explain why having a clear, well articulated point of view, perspective, philosophy or ‘take’ on things was so vital. And a good rants comes from this. A rant comes from a way of seeing things that is being ignored and is an attempt to call attention to it, or tear down a point of view we see as doing damage.

Reason #3 – A Rant is Raw and Real:

So much of what we see in business and marketing is posturing. People pretending to be more together than they are. And a rant shatters that pretense. A rant is honest. A rant cuts through the bullshit and calls a spade a spade. A rant isn’t trying to be nice and polite. It’s not concerned about offending people. And people respond to this. People are craving honesty. This kind of genuine boiling over of emotion and frustration when things make us wanna holler is a tonic for people. A rant is done to express, not impress. They’re done primarily to get something out of you not to make an impact on others. You rant because you need to or because you see it’s needed, even if you don’t know if it will make a difference at all.

The realness you express with engender respect (even if they disagree), trust, credibility and a letting down of the guard. People will be more open to you because they see you’re not hiding anything. There’s no pretense. They know where you stand now.

I learned from Stephen Jenkinson that there were two type of marble that were used for stone carving. The first type, which is the most expensive, has a very tight crystalline structure which will take any blow and which can be carved with incredible levels of precision. The second type was harder to carve and the final results would often be covered with holes and imperfections that would need to be filled and covered with wax. So, in that way, a cheaper marble could be used but made to look more expensive than it was.

Now follow this: the Latin word for wax is ‘cera’. The Latin word for without is ‘sine’. And so marble that wasn’t covered up, where the holes could still show, were sine cera. Or sincere. And so, in this way, this common word is brought down through the ages, holding close to its chest this story about letting our holes show.

And so a rant is a tremendously sincere event. We’re not trying to posture or say it exactly right. We’re not trying to pretend we have it all together or have all of the answers. And, because it’s so sincere, people trust it.

Why don’t people rant? Because it’s vulnerable. It risks, even courts, rejection.

If you try to fake it and use a rant as a technique when it’s not something you genuinely feel, it’s going to suck hard and everyone will notice it.

If you try to control and constrain it too much, it will lose its oomph. You’ll notice that in almost all of the rants below, there is swearing. There’s a reason. When people are really ranting, their filters fall by the wayside. Things come out of their mouth that normally never would.

And, because of their rawness, a rant is big medicine. This isn’t something we want to do all of the time. They have real impact precisely because they are so rare and so raw. If all you do is rant, you will lose credibility. The less often you use this tool and the more emotion that is let loose when you do, the more impact it will have.

My colleague and friend Morgana Rae said, “I call those the ‘Dark Goddess of Morgana’s Wrath’ blasts. They’ve been surprisingly enrolling.”

And it’s important to understand that rants are only one kind of medicine. They are needed but they’re not the only thing that’s needed. We also need listening, patience, organizing, well articulated and thoughtful requests etc.

Reason #4 – A Rant is Polarizing:

Not everyone will agree with your rant – it will likely be controversial. It’s going to get a polarized response from people. And that’s good. Clients who aren’t a fit will be repelled, and the ones who are a fit will be magnetically drawn towards you hard. It gets people off the fence of how they feel about you.

Reason #5 – A Rant is Releases Pressure:

One of the highest performing headlines of all time was written by Jay Abraham:

“I’ve got to get this off my chest before I explode.”

He wrote it once as the first statement in a long, rant like sales letter. It got an incredible response. And, whenever he or others have used it after, it got a huge response too.

When people hear a good rant, if they agree with it, they often experience an immediate sensation of relief and release. A good rant gives people permission to stop pretending they see the Emperor’s new clothes when the man before them is clearly naked.

By the time a rant happens, pressure has been built up to an untenable point. When you rant, you not only release the pressure for you, but for everyone listening. The people listening have been, whether or not they’ll admit it, feeling a sense of ‘I don’t know how much longer I can take this…’. If you try to hold a rant in, it will hurt you. If you release it, it will free not only you but everyone listening who agrees with you. Rants are like a thunderstorm that come in loud and strong and, after which, the air smells fresher than it has in months, the stagnancy gone and replaced with someone more life giving.

A rant can create an incredible sense of connection between yourself and the person listening as they whisper, ‘Thank you for being willing to say it.’

Because rants are the release of pressure, they require some pressure to build up first. They have to arise from something real vs. an attempt at saying the ‘right thing’ to get a ‘particular response’ (e.g. a crafted statement from a politician that is clearly false indignation, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing).  This means we can’t manufacture them without their ringing exceeding hollow. In that way, they’re spontaneous. It’s not about making them happen perhaps, but not stopping them when they arise.

Reason #6 – A Rant is Emotional:

A rant is not an essay. It’s not an analysis or breakdown. It’s not a manifesto (though a manifesto may arise from it). A rant isn’t that well thought out yet. It’s from the heart. It’s an expression of pain, heartbreak, anger or hurt. It’s an expression of a deep love for something. It’s not abstract. It comes from a real place of real impact. It comes from a not being able to hold it in anymore more than an excitement to share some new idea or concept.

That might be why people swear so much when they rant. The gasket has blown and the filter is off and the only thing coming out of that spigot faster than you can manage it, is hot, liquid truth that is going to burn away anything that isn’t real.

A rant wants to tear apart bullshit. It wants to grab people’s masks right off their face, throw them down on the ground and step all over them. It wants to grab people by the shoulders and shake them and tell them to wake the f*ck up for god’s sake. It wants to go to a polite dinner party and turn over tables if that’s what it takes to get people’s attention.

And there’s a good chance that you won’t know it’s a rant by what you say but by how they respond.

Reason #7 – A Rant is a Call to Action:

A rant is a message. It’s a call to action to change things for the better. And that energizes (and, hopefully) enobles people. A rant is a call for people to wake up, stop being so f*cking apathetic and to do something. A rant isn’t just done to vent feelings and then move on – that’s what therapy is for. No, a rant is there to start something.

Think of the rant at the end of Trainspotting:

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself.

Reason #8 – A Rant is Unauthorized:

Rarely does anyone ask for permission to go on a big rant because rants are often deliver in the face of some oppressive authority, reality or set of assumptions. So a rant can actually be a step in reclaiming your own personal authority. Rants often happen when boundaries (real or imagined) have been crossed too many times or in egregious ways and so rants are a way of saying ‘no more’. A rant often breaks social conventions. It’s not polite. It often interrupts whatever is going on.

And in a world full of posturing, lies, injustice, pretense and deep confusion about how we’re supposed to relate to each other as humans, rants are deeply, deeply needed.

Because they are not authorized or a part of the common public discourse, when rants appear, they are like lightning. They get attention.

Reason #9 – Rants Can Be Tonic or Toxic Destructive Force:

Make no mistake. A rant is destructive.

But this destructive energy can be tonic or toxic, depending on how it’s used.

When coming from a deeply wounded place, it may seek to scapegoat groups of people. Think Hitler ranting against the Jews or Jim Crow ranting against black people or religious leaders ranting about homoosexuals. Toxic rants are the life damaging use of anger to protect unearned privileges and the punitive use of force to crush those who would question those privileges and control.

But there’s a tonic version where the rant is coming from the impulse to tear down anything that isn’t real, to expose hypocrisy, to flood light into the darkness and to call attention to injustice. They want to blow up the damns that are killing our salmon, break the shackles that are enslaving us. Tonic rants are the life affirming use of anger and the protective use of force when something precious is under threat.

A toxic rant will result is real casualties or real people being hurt.

A tonic rant will only result in lies being hurt.

The key thing to understand is the destructive power of them. But, hidden in the middle of that destructive power is something precious. It is not a new thing, but rather the yearning for something better. A good rant is a pleading with the world for something finer and fairer, a plea for beauty in the face of ugliness, kindness in the face of cruelty, fairness in the face of injustice, integrity in the face of hypocrisy, honesty in the face of deceit and duplicity.

Reason #10 – Rants Resonate:

If it’s a good rant, it will resonate with people.

As Carl Rogers said, “That which is most personal is most general.” He meant that the things you most deeply feel that you think you’re the only one who feels them? Everybody feels that. And so the more honest and vulnerable you’re willing to make yourself, the more others will resonate with you.

James Baldwin put it so well, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

This is what rants do. People hear them and say, “Me too! I thought I was the only one!” and then they want to share them. If no one comments on your rant, likes it or shares it, it might not have struck a chord in people.

Reason #11 – A Rants is a Response:

This is vital to understand about rants.

It’s why you can’t just ‘manufacture’ a rant.

A rant has to come from somewhere. It’s got to be a response to something real that you have experienced in the world that genuinely upsets and frustrates you. It’s got to be something you have been unable to find a solution to despite trying.

A rant is about something bigger than you. A rant places you somewhere. A rant is not a political speech about you and how amazing you are and why everyone should vote for you. A rant is not a speech about some neat new idea or technology or philosophy. It’s a response to something that isn’t working.


The Three Places A Rant Can Come From:

Maybe even more important than the content of the rant is where it’s coming from.

I want to suggest there are three places. You can read more about this in my blog post Collapse, Posturing & Composure.

Collapse: If you rant from a place of collapse, victimhood and ‘poor me’ your rants will sound whiny and complaining. This is not attractive. And it’s not vulnerable (even though it seems like it is). Instead of sharing the pain they feel, they use the pain as justification for their story about themselves. The former melts people’s hearts, the latter disgusts people.

Posturing: If you rant from a place of puffing up and pretending to be more together than you are, or pretending to care so much, you’ll come across as immensely disingenuous and only succeed in appealing to other people’s posturing.

Composure: This place, of comfort in your own skin, of finally coming to trust yourself over external authority, is where all good rants come from. Rants that come from a desire to get love (collapsing) or get respect (posturing) never resonate. But rants that come from a place of self love and self respect always do. You can’t be vulnerable unless you are composed. If you’re posturing or collapsing you are, inherently, basing your identity in how others see you. That means that to feel okay, you need to manage how they see you. That means you need to be in control of it. And you can’t be in control and vulnerable at the same time. Only when you feel safe in your ability to handle yourself and meet life as it is, will you every be able to be vulnerable.

But, it might be good to look at some real examples of rants so you can get a flavour for them.

So, here are…


Eight blog post rants worth checking out:

Is It Possible to Financially Harm a Client? by Mark Silver

Addicted to Breakthroughs by Mark Silver

My Prediction of the HUGE ‘Launch Bubble’ That’s Coming Fast… and How to Surpass It… – by Ali Brown

Life Coaches, Don’t Quit Your Day Job (What They Don’t Tell You in Life Coaching School) – Rebecca Tracey

Before You Quit Your Job – Morgana Rae

It’s not your abundance mentality, it’s your crappy copy (and 8 other reasons why your business is stuck) – by Makenna Johnston

Can We Quit the B-S Marketing? An Easier Way to Honest Marketing – by Tova Payne

Statement to the Court Upon My Unjust Arrest – by Leah Henderson

Is it wrong to get paid to care? – by Corrina Gordon Barnes

Authentic Networking – by Lisa Barber

Thirty-two video rants worth checking out:

Watch these all. You will feel uplifted and emboldened by them. They all have different styles which is part of what I’m wanting you to see so you can understand all of the different ways your rants could look.

Rants in Politics:

Elizabeth Warren goes off about the debt crisis and fair taxation.

Australian Prime Minister Gillard lets loose on the leader of the opposition for his blatant and long practiced mysoginy. What I love about this rant is that it’s clearly not scripted. She had some points set out to make and then just let loose.

Hillary Clinton gives an incredibly well measured response to a question on birth control where you can feel her entire life of real world experience coming to bear and all rushing to form themselves into words. You can feel the long line up of examples forming inside of her as she builds momentum in this and yet, somehow, keeps it together.

Rants in Comedy:

Bill Hicks famous rant (NSFW) about marketing and marketers. This is one of my favourite rants of all time. Eloquent. Well thought out and full of emotion.

George Carlin, much of whose career was based in rants, delivers this incredible three minute of lucid, angry brilliance.

Louis CK goes off about why he hates cell phones. But the beauty of what he’s offering here is a deeply personal and intimate look at what it means to be human and how we distract ourselves from this constantly. It’s funny, but it’s also a plea for humanity.

Louis CK’s stand up style, much like George Carlin’s, has a rant like quality. In this one, he imagines how God might rant at us if he were to come back to Earth and see what we’d done to it. This particular rant resonated so much that someone decided to animate it.

I couldn’t do this without throwing in this third Louis CK clip (which was how many people heard of him first) where he ranted about how incredibly spoiled and entitled this culture has becomes.

Lewis Black is one of my favourite ranters who channels his anger at the bullshit in the world into something well worth watching as he articulates many of our deepest held frustrations for us.

Jim Jeffries goes on a rant about gun control in his comedy show. A brilliant use of comedy to get a point across and to address a real problem of gun control by pointing out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the arguments against it.

Rants in The News:

Rachel Maddow crushes it in her post election rant. I love the rhythm and momentum that this rant builds as it goes. Like a steady drum she keeps beating as she builds her case point by point.

Nobody in Canada rants better than Rick Mercer as they make up a regular feature of his show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. What I love about Rick’s rants are the momentum they have as he’s always walking when he does them and he’ll physically stop to make a point.

Kanye West’s propensity to go off script can sometimes be seen as self serving but, in this moment, he just lets loose and starts telling the truth as he sees it. This video, as many good rants are, was shared incredibly widely. Out of all the rants I’m sharing, this one might be the most spontaneous and unscripted.

Dylan Ratigan goes off and will not be stopped. He breaks decorum of his show, interrupts everyone and can’t seem to stop himself. Agree or disagree with him there was nothing contrived about this rant. It was not a carefully calculated Ezra Levant style meltdown. It was a very real frustration boiling over.

Rants on Fake News and Talkshows:

Bill Maher has built a career on rants. The ‘New Rule’ portion of his show is a well constructed, well thought out rant on a particular topic where he punches up and skewers the wealthy for their hypocrisy on drug policy.

Jon Stewart often goes on rants on his show. This one moved me because it was so incredibly honest. The footage of the murder of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD had just come out and Stewart was beside himself with dismay at the appalling and unbelievable injustice.

Spoken Word Rants:

The following spoken word poem is scripted. Every word. And yet, it’s a rant. It drips with real emotion, swells and builds. It is a plea for something as must good rants are. You can feel the poem bursting out of her as she opens herself with incredible vulnerability.

Another example of the power of spoken word, poetry and excellent video editing to express a rant eloquently. This is a personal expression of feelings on a topic which many would share. This video was shared widely.

Through spoken word, Prince Ea expresses his despair and hope in the world but then brings something beautiful towards the end. This rants is the shroud of sadness that protects something beautiful inside it. This rant is a passionate plea.

Prince Ea goes on a poetic rant about cell phones.

Evalyn Parry, one of my favourite Canadian singer/songwriters, delivers this beautiful spoken word piece as an ode to lift up all of those she sees making the world better in the face of all the opposition she knows they experience.

Climbing Poetree is an incredible poetic duo whose spoken word pieces are some of the finest and most eloquent rants I’ve ever experienced.

This poetic, moving, surging and heartfelt rant for the hope of something better by Andrea Gibson brings tears to my eyes every time.

A powerful piece by Katie Makkai in response to a life telling her she wasn’t. beautiful. enough.

Rants on TV or in The Movies:

This is a little micro rant on bankers a game show by David Mitchell who’s a brilliant British comedian. What I love about it is that he can’t seem to stop himself. He interrupts the proceedings with it.

In the movie, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character is goaded into going on a rant that ends up with him (spoiler alert) admitting his guilt. But how much better is it with this young man in a tub doing it? Nailed it kid.

I disagree with where the following one comes from politically and the amount of history it leaves out (e.g. slavery and genocide in the United States), but it’s a great example of a rant…

Rants By My Colleagues:

My colleague Jay Fiset of Calgary went on a rant about his frustrations with the personal growth industry .

Rants by Celebrities:

Actor Tyrese Gibson goes on a rant about responsibility to the people following him about them. He expresses how tired he is of their whining and complaining. It’s a beautiful, tough love rant.

In this famous interview on BBC, Russell Brand gives some incredible well tempered, rant-like answers. What I love about Russell’s style is the incredible lucidity but also the pacing, tempo and rhythm of it.

 Jenna Marbles, who is amazing, goes on a rant about the whole ‘nice guys finish last’ idea. Extremely NSFW.

Vandana Shiva is one of the most remarkable and wonderful people I know. In this interview she goes off about Monsanto. This kind of rant is driven by a passion for exposing the lies and false causes of real troubles.

So, How Do You Participate in the Rant Experiment?

Step One: Identify Your Industry Frustration

Complete these sentences. Try coming up with ten answers per sentence stem. This is a great exercise to do with a friend. Have them interview you and record it or have them take notes and just let yourself vent. Critically, don’t try to be nice. Let yourself be petty and opinionated to start. You can clean that up later (if you want to). For the moment, just let it out.

Note: Replace the word industry with scene or community as it makes sense.

  1. I’m so sick of _______ in my industry.
  2. The elephant in the room that no one is willing to talk about in my industry is….
  3. The biggest piece of bullshit going around my community is…
  4. The emperor’s new clothes in my industry is…
  5. The thing I’m most frustrated about in my industry is…
  6. The things I’ve thought about for years but have never said out loud about my industry is…
  7. The dirty secret of my industry is…
  8. The thing I’m most sick and tired of hearing, seeing, or dealing with in my industry is…
  9. The thing I feel like I have to bite my tongue about (while I roll my eyes) the most when at industry events is…
  10. The thing they never teach you when you’re in school for our industry is…
  11. The biggest lie I see my colleagues peddling is…
  12. How the hell is ______ still a thing in my industry?
  13. I don’t give a shit about _______ anymore. What I care about is _________.

Step Two: Express it Out Eloquently

I’m not talking about word smithing something to death so it’s stripped of all inspiration. But I am talking about holding yourself to a higher standard so that even your consternation is expressed in a way that adds more beauty to the world in its realness. I’m talking about stripping the ‘uhms’ and ‘uhhhs’ and ‘like, ya know?’s from it. I’m talking about speaking right from your heart in the most beautiful, honest and real way you know how to do.

Oriah Mountain Dreamers urgent and deeply honest poem The Invitation is a gorgeously articulated rant.

I don’t think that this kind of eloquence is something you can just summon up in the moment. I think it’s the result of a lifetime of practicing eloquence in speech being brought to bear in a moment like this. The only way to practice for an eloquent and moving rant is to practice more beautiful speech right now in your day to day life.

AGAIN: For the sake of this experiment: let’s not having videos go more than 3 minutes long at the most and let’s have written things be no more than 1000 words.

Step Three: Sleep On It & Share It

It’s always a good idea to sleep on things. Even rants. Let it out and then look at it the next day with fresh eyes. Can it be improved? Polished? Made even more powerful? Almost certainly.

Step Four: Share the Results in a Comment Below

I look forward to seeing what you come up with.  But more than that, so does everyone else. Maybe the world has been waiting for you to blow off a little steam.

Also – if you can think of other rants that should be featured, please share them below as well.

Don’t Mess With Their Rice Bowl: Seven Business Lessons from Ten Recent Workshop No-Shows


rice bowl chopsticksI want to tell you a story.

I know that, on this blog, I share a lot of “how to’s” and philosophical pieces and there can be the risk of people thinking that because I generally post positive things, I must never mess up, I must have everything together and I must never get frustrated with clients.

Which is certainly not true . . .

This story has to do with something I heard Stephen Covey speak of years ago which was to never mess with someone’s rice bowl. It was an Asian proverb he’d heard. It meant, in essence, don’t mess with someone’s means of sustenance. Note that the aphorism isn’t “don’t mess with someone’s rice.” It is don’t mess with the bowl. The rice is one meal, but the bowl is the thing that carries their food and makes it possible to eat. In modern times, people’s businesses or computers are a sort of rice bowl. They are the things that make sustenance possible. If you run a workshop, it’s your rice bowl.

And recently, my rice bowl got messed with by ten people.

So I want to tell you the story of this and what I learned from it.


At the end of February, I hosted a workshop in my living room in Edmonton.

My living room isn’t very large. It can accommodate about 12 people.

This means that my Edmonton workshops tend to sell out quickly.

And that means that once it’s sold out, people don’t bother asking about spaces or if they do, I have to turn them away and hope they might make it to a future workshop.

It means that, if people no-show without telling me, I lose money. On a day-long workshop, where the price is a $25 deposit and pay-what-you-can (PWYC) by the end, I tend to make about $100/person (in addition to the deposit). Because the workshop is PWYC, my only expectation is that you show up. Not that you pay a lot. Just that you show up. That’s it.

On this day, five people no-showed. They didn’t come and they didn’t, for the most part, tell me they weren’t coming.

And then again, just a month later, it happened almost identically. Five no-shows for a workshop of twelve.

Of course, most of my blog posts are trying to help you look at your business through the eyes of your potential customers; helping people see how their marketing might come across as gross or disrespectful.

But this one is also about helping you look through the eyes of the entrepreneurs you might be doing business with. I’m hoping to lift up the impact of your own conduct as a customer.

And . . . perhaps also to commiserate with you a bit, my dear reader, about shitty behaviour you’ve had to deal with from your clients and to offer you seven lessons on how to deal with it.


Here’s the story:

Both workshops started at 10am but in both cases, only six of the 12 people registered were present so I asked everyone’s patience to wait until more folks arrived. By 10:15am we just got started anyway. And the others never arrived.

After the first workshop was done, I realized thar I had accidentally left the “pay at the door” option on Eventbrite on and a few of the registrants had chosen that option. Which means they hadn’t had to pay the $25 deposit. It’s a rookie mistake on my part, and not the first time I’ve done it. Whenever people don’t show up for my workshops, it’s almost always the people who’ve not put down a deposit because they “promised” to pay at the door.


So, that wasn’t great, but that was my bad. It’s not good behaviour on no-shows’ parts to not let me know, given how few spots there were in the workshop, but it’s predictable and I know better. I learned this lesson first in Seattle, when 36 people signed up for my PWYC weekend workshop and only 12 showed up because there had been no deposit asked of them. Since then I’ve required $100 down for the weekend workshops and no-shows have vanished. When I began doing day-long workshops, I asked for a $25 deposit, and hadn’t had an issue with no-shows . . . until these past two workshops.

Then I noticed that one of them had actually been on the waiting list and I’d forgotten to tell that person that they could now come as someone had dropped off the list. My bad again.

But, by the end of it all, there were still five people who had paid their deposits for the second workshop and simply not shown up. Ten people in total. Not even a courtesy message the night before or the morning of.


mfh-video-leftHere’s What Was Particularly Frustrating:

This was the first workshop in which I’d decided to give everyone my $80 Marketing for Hippies 101 video in advance of the workshop.

The pitch was that, before participants showed up, they’d get all of the content of the workshop and our day together could be 100% question and answer focused on applying the content to their own particular situations. It was, I knew, an experiment. It was my attempt to be generous with my people and also avoid my having to go over the exact same content again and again in my workshops. I’d hoped it might be a win/win.

And yet, it is the workshop with the highest percentage of no-shows I have ever had since instituting the deposit system.

Most generous offer = most no-shows?

What gives?

I was left with a sense of having been taken for granted at best or, at the worst, taken advantage of.

For someone who operates their business largely on trust (and is most often rewarded for that), it felt brutal. It’s the worst I’ve felt in business in years.

Looking through my email after the workshop I saw one message had come in that morning from a couple, but via Facebook and it landed in my “Other” inbox:

Morning Tad! My partner and I are registered For your workshop today. We are sorry we aren’t going to make it, our jobs at a show last night went much later than expected. We are happy for you to keep our donation of course and will keep an eye out for more of your workshops in the future. Our apologies again!

I felt grateful they’d let me know. And apologized. And . . . there was still a hint of . . . the fact that they’d not set themselves up well enough to be able to keep their word on attending the workshop. That if, let’s say, it had been a friend’s wedding, they either would have shown up, even if tired, or made sure they weren’t working so late the night before.

And so, after the workshop was done, I messaged those who had no-showed to see what had happened.

One of the responses felt 100% good. Some others felt mixed. And some, though well intentioned, felt downright awful. I will share their words here anonymously and my reactions candidly.


pain2The words that didn’t feel good:

“Unfortunately we were unable to attend. Feeling worn out and tired after to much travelling, we felt it was best for us to rest. We have been told wonderful things about your class and would love to attend in the future. Do you be having anymore classes coming up? We are located in Medicine Hat which is in the south eastern corner of Alberta. We are always open to travel to Calgary, Edmonton or Lethbridge. Would you ever consider doing this class in Medicine Hat? We look forward to hearing back from you.”

Unable to come. Because they were tired. That felt not great to read because it felt like a shirking of responsibility. It’s not that they were “unable” to come. They chose not to come because they were tired. They were tired because they arranged their travel schedule in such a way that it had led them be tired. If it had been important for them to make it, they would have made it.

Sure. Maybe it was best for them to rest. But what about me at the facilitator and host? And the other participants? What about the people who weren’t able to come because their spots had been reserved? Void in their note is any sense of the impact their behaviour had on others.

Also, the light tone that assumes I would even be excited, in that moment, to have them sign up for another workshop. Or that, having just bailed on me, I’d be so thrilled come to their corner of the world.

And most of all, why didn’t they email me the night before to let me know they wouldn’t be coming so I would, at least, have a fighting chance of filling the space. Or even the morning of. No. I had to email them to even hear that. Which feels deeply disrespectful.


I was so stoked for the workshop but sadly I have been so sick I wasn’t able to attend today. I hope everything went well and I hope to meet you one day as I loved the video and get a lot of inspiration out of it.

Ugh. Again, “wasn’t able to attend.” How about you just let a brother know as soon as you think it’s likely? So glad you enjoyed that video I put thousands into producing and that I sell for $80. Glad it entertained you. And again, this light tone of “hope to meet you someday” as if I’d be really excited to meet someone who totally bailed on my workshop and didn’t even think enough of me or the other participants to let me know.

Yet another:

Everything is ok. I was up late working and needed some sleep. It’s been a crazy work week for me

So, they chose to stay up late working and then decided the need for sleep trumped the need to keep their word,  my need for income from my work and someone else’s need to learn what was offered in the workshop. At a certain point, this is the inescapable algebra that they had to wrestle with. I understand having crazy-busy weeks. For sure. But I’m not okay with using that as an excuse to no-show. Especially with no notification.

And then this one:

Hi Tad, sorry I missed this… Two of my kids are sick and I hardly slept last night. :(

I get not sleeping. But, you can still let the workshop facilitator know you won’t be coming. You can set your alarm to wake you up to send an email. You could send me an email before going to bed. I didn’t get that message from her til 1pm. Three hours after the workshop had begun. And it was only in response to a message I’d sent out asking, “Are you coming?”


yes, I was going to come with two others. Sadly it didn’t work out. I really do appreciate your words. So passionate and inspiring. Keep up the great work Tad. (Another time I hope. )

This one might have felt the worst. Again, it only came after I had written this person. And . . . it just “didn’t work out.” Huh. Not their fault. And who knows – this is me being extraordinarily cranky. There are, of course, all manner of reasons that would be entirely justifiable to not attend to my super duper important workshop at the last minute. I get it. I know it’s pissy. But it’s also how everyone feels when you break your word to them. This is desperately important to get. You can tell me, “I really do appreciate your words,” but if that’s not backed up with some sort of action, the feeling I’m left with is, “the hell you do.” Because, no-showing for a workshop and costing the facilitator hundreds of potential income dollars and others the chance to attend . . . that’s not how you treat someone you actually appreciate. And again, the assumption that I’d be so happy to have her come another time given her behaviour.

And, finally, my personal favourite:

I can’t make it today. Please pass my ticket on forward.  Thanks :)

Yes! You’re welcome! I’ll totally pass it onto that lineup of people I asked to be waiting outside of my door this morning just in case you canceled. I wonder who the lucky person will be!

The Words That Felt Mixed:

There were some participants whose words felt better because they were willing to actually do something to make ammends and pay for their spot.

“sorry my friend, we didn’t make it today for your workshop. we live in white court (2.5 hrs away), and it was just too treacherous a drive with all the snow this morning. really i just feel sorry for myself, for having missed it! i only moved to alberta a few months ago, before that i lived in toronto and that’s where i first heard about you, through a friend. so i was pretty excited when i realized i’d be able to take a workshop with you in edmonton! maybe next round – please keep me on your mailing list for workshop announcements. in the meantime… i have two questions: of your online materials, what would you recommend as most relevant for a yoga teacher/massage practitioner?  also, is there a way that i can send you a bit more money towards these amazing downloads that you provided as part of the workshop? i can’t give a lot, but i would like to give something. thanks for being such a cool dude and doing what you do.”

What didn’t feel good here was that I didn’t get this message until 3pm and only, so I thought, in response to an email from me. Which had me feel cranky. But, it turned out that, even though the email was later than I would have liked, it was sent entirely on her own initiative which feels good to know. The road conditions were very bad that day and I am glad they stayed safe. And they could easily have emailed me three hours before the workshop began. That would have felt really good. But, one of them sent me $60, unprompted, to make up for it which was incredibly gracious. So, overall, this felt good. The only part that didn’t feel good was it coming later than I would have liked and that I’d thought they were only emailing after I’d emailed them. Knowing it was sent unprompted is touching to know. It strikes me how much of this all comes down to feeling valued by people. Which, by the end, I did.

You probably already know, but I missed your workshop today. I really loved the video series that you sent out a few ago though and I know your event was pay-what-you-can, so I’d like to send you a cheque. Where should I mail it and who should I make it out to? Hope the day went well!
What didn’t feel great was they sent this after my workshop was over. What felt great was that they offered to pay something for having no-showed and to acknowledge the material provided. That’s incredible integrity. And then they saw my Facebook post from the morning of the workshop, “No showing workshops is bad behavior. Period.” and they wrote:
Oh gosh, I just saw your fb post about no shows. I’m now feeling super embarrassed….sorry to have caused any negativity today.
And that felt good to me, to feel like they were getting it – but also not-so-great because it seemed to be news to her that no-showing might cause some negative feelings. This is often our culture – woefully unaware of the impact of our actions on others.
But then she sent me $175. Which, I admit, felt better.


The Words That Felt Good:

Of all of the messages I received, this one felt best:

I’m registered in today’s class although I’ve come down w something, I was hoping it would pass and I could still attend. Do I pay for the video w pay pal? Although I was sick I don’t want to flake out. Any idea when you will offer this again?

It felt better because they sent it at 4am. That’s incredibly considerate. As soon as they knew they wouldn’t be coming, they let me know and offered to pay for the $80 video that was provided in advance. I get that things come up. I do. Life happens. If you just let people know as soon as you can, that’s all most folks want or need. In the end, even though they’d missed my workshop due to illness, they sent me $240 for my work, which felt . . . incredibly good and honouring.

Given the fact that the average PWYC donation was $197 per person that day it also meant that nothing was lost financially for me due to that person missing the workshop. And, because of their graciousness, you can bet I’ll be available to them for questions here and there and am excited to meet this person in a workshop when they finally make it to a day-long workshop as my guest (I won’t charge them at all as in my books, they’ve already paid). I did my best to be as generous as I could in communicating and they returned the generosity to me which made me want to give her more. I did the same with the person who sent me $175. The truth is that, while those amounts feel good and fair for the work and materials provided, it’s not really about the amount. It was that they wanted to send me something. They sent what they could. If it had been $20 I would have felt wonderful too because . . . that’s why I do PWYC. So this work can be accessible to whoever needs it. If they’d come, maybe they could only have paid $10. That’s fine. What is not fine, for me, from my perspective, is no-showing and then doing nothing to make up for it.


The Email I Would Have Loved to Have Received:

In my perfect dream world, this is the kind of email I would have loved to have gotten and, therefore, the kind of email I am committed to sending should I need to cancel last minute for a workshop. Imagine you’re a workshop leader and I’m bailing from your class but you get this email from me.

“Something has come up and it looks like we won’t be able to make your workshop. We wanted to give you as much heads up as we could, and wish it was more, in hopes that you might be able to find someone to fill our space. We feel awful because we know there were so few seats and that our missing the workshop means that others were turned away and might not get the chance. Of course, we know you’ll keep our deposits but we also got this video from you and we were wondering if we might be able to pay you for that to make it right. It’s not your fault we can’t make it. If there’s anything else we can do to make things good, please let us know because we respect your work in this world so much and wouldn’t want our inability to keep our commitment to come to take away from your ability to do your work in the future.”

I would have felt so good about that.


So, What’s The Solution?

One woman from England, upon reading an early version of this post said, “This man doesn’t make what he is offering important enough for people to respect him, pay in advance and make sure they show up to his workshops. That’s what he needs to be addressing.”

So, her stance is that, I don’t value what I’m doing enough and need to command more respect.

And this is where things get tricky.

The reality is that, again, until shifting the offer to add the video, I got very few no shows. Negligible. Adding the videos was an experiment and it turned out differently than I’d imagined it might. That’s life. This is not an endemic pattern in my life or business.

And aside from the arrogant tone of her knowing what I need in my life somehow, this whole idea of making what we offer ‘important enough’ for people to respect us is fraught with peril. First of all, it’s very connected to the troubles of the notion of charging what we’re worth and the way that many people walk around trying to command respect from others by posturing.

I run my workshops on a pay what you can basis. So, I don’t get all the money upfront. There are a lot of reasons I do this (some strategic and some altruistic), but a lack of self respect isn’t among them.

I want to suggest that the way forward isn’t a one size fits all approach but about finding a way of structuring your business and offers that feels good without needing to puff yourself up so that others value what you do and it’s more subtle than simply making what you do ‘more important’. I have no idea what that actually means.


Seven Business Lessons to Pull From This:

Lesson #1 – Don’t Tolerate Bad Behaviour From Clients.

Sometimes your clients behave badly. They do things that won’t work for you. It’s ok to be upset with your clients. When your clients do things that break agreements you have or are unkind or thoughtless, it’s okay for you to speak up and address the issue directly.

Too many entrepreneurs put up with it because they think “the customer is always right.” But this is not true. This feeds the bizarre, spoiled, community destroying and toxic entitlement in which we are constantly swimming as a culture. They collapse and say, “Oh. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine. No big deal.” because they don’t feel like their needs matter at all. They’re trying to be “nice.”

It’s far worse that this though because this niceness actually robs the other person of something. It robs them of their humanity. When we refuse to let people know that their actions impact us, for better or worse, we turn them into a ghost. When we refuse to be real with them we contribute to them being less real; we contribute to their loss of understanding of what real is.

Sometimes we don’t speak up because we know we’re guilty of the same things too. We know that if we speak to their lack of integrity, we are suddenly incredibly vulnerable to have ours pointed out to us too. So, it can feel easier and safer to let it slide with them in the hopes that they’ll give us the same pass when we drop the ball and flake on them. And if they don’t? Well, then at least we get to feel morally superior about how chill we were about them bailing and how uptight they are. Soooo… that’s something.

It’s easy to tell ourselves the story that, until we get our own integrity sorted out and are 100% consistent that we have no right to expect it of others. But I want to flip that all around. Yes, work on yourself. But let’s make part of that work about having good boundaries, about letting yourself respond honestly. When we hold others to a higher standard, it also calls up and galvanizes that in us. The more we consciously do it with others, the more likely we are to do it in ourselves. The act of holding someone accountable is a more visceral and real reminder about the importance of keeping our word than a year or meditation on the subject because it makes us vulnerable.

And, if, out of laziness, fear or just low standards, we don’t hold others accountable to their word, we won’t be able to court something better from the other, and that robs not only our business but the community of a more mature person.

This isn’t about punishing clients or calling them out. It’s about courting the possibility of a more whole village in which all of us could live.

Lesson #2 – Set Up Clear Cancellation Policies.

Giving away all of the content in advance was a small experiment (which we’ll talk about later). What I learned from that experiment was that, for whatever constellation of reasons, it dramatically increased the rate of no shows. That was reality. Adding those videos was literally the only thing I changed in the arrangement. I imagine a small part of the no showing may have been the guilt of them having not watched the videos and not wanting show up and be embarrassed by this but I think a big part of it is, even if unconsciously, the sense that, “Well . . . I’ve already gotten all of the content so . . . there’s no real need for me to show up.”

I’m open to doing this same offer in the future. But, if I do, I will have an iron clad cancelation policy that says: “If you cancel within 48 hours of the event, your credit card will be charged $100 as I won’t have the possibility of filling the space. If you no-show without letting me know in advance of this workshop, your credit card will be charged $200 for being an asshole.” Or something like that.

This is a common policy. My dentist does this for missed appointments. Many therapists and massage clients do this. I think it’s wise to have a cancellation policy because, without it, you leave yourself open to being taken advantage of by those raised in a culture that only ever taught them to worship at the altar of what-works-for-them.

Someone recently shared her version of Alexandra Franzen’s brilliant cancellation/no show policy wording (students have to tick the box indicating they have read this before payments are made):

“When you register and make your first payment, that’s my cue to block out a seat — and shoo other folks away if the class will be full. I prepare your 40+ page manual. I start crafting your name tag and graduation certificate. I start brewing and meditating on your journey that’s just beginning and holding you in my mind while I’m stuck in traffic.

I invest in you — just like you invest in yourself, by investing in this class. And that’s why, with exception of tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, avalanches and unforeseeable grief-stricken situations, I do not offer refunds for cancellations —which, to my delight, are fairly infrequent.

If you are in dire straights and need to reschedule your training to a later date, please please get a hold of me (via email or phone) as soon as possible — out of respect for me and my time to re-jig the class, and most importantly out of respect for those other fine souls I may have to turn away if a seat is not available. If a rescheduling happens in advanced, I will hold your payment until you are able to join me again. Because commitment is sexy, and extra time + energy goes into the process, an additional fee of $50 is charged to reschedule to another class. If less than 48 hours (2 days) notice is given, you will forfeit the entire $225 and rescheduling will happen with another full payment. That, my friends, is my Karma-Friendly Cancellation Policy.”

Lesson #3 – “It Matters That You Come” – Get Payment in Full Before or Set Up Deposits on PWYC Events.

If you decide to run a pay what you can workshop, I beg of you, get a deposit for it when they sign up. If you let them pay at the door, they’ll likely never end up arriving at the door at all. Make sure the deposit is enough that, if they cancel, you still feel good and you’re not out too much money. I used to not require a deposit and the no show rate was huge. Ever since adding it, until this recent experiment, it’s been negligible.

A colleague, Audrey Seymour wrote these words about an earlier version of this blog,

“Tad wrote a great blog post yesterday about how no-shows increase for workshops when you don’t require prepayment. This matches my experience, and when you look at it from the perspective of parts of the psyche, you can see the part that signed up and the part that is resistant to the shift that the workshop is likely to create. Requiring prepayment supports the part of the client that wants the shift. I found this to be particularly true when teaching Speaking Circles, helping people get past stage fright. I offered a prepay discount for a package of sessions, and I remember one client saying “I’m SO GLAD you offered that prepay package, because if I hadn’t prepaid, I never would have come back the second time. My fright was still so strong, and I would have missed this incredible transformation that has happened! Thanks for doing that.”

One of my colleagues Sue makes sure new clients read this before booking with her:

Please provide payment prior to your session, via PayPal (Internationally) or Interac Online (in Canada). If you encounter an emergency that requires you to cancel a session, please just let me know and we’ll schedule another at a time that works better. If you need to change an appointment time for any reason OTHER than an emergency, again, please contact me asap and we’ll find a good time for both of us.

Lesson #4 – Overfill Your Workshops.

No matter what you do, there will always be some no-shows at your workshops because “shit happens.”

People get sick.

Blizzards happen.

People’s cars won’t start.

In my experience, unless they pay everything in advance, you’re looking at a 10-20% no show rate. You’ll learn what it is in your own situation through experience. But, if you notice that you keep having 10% of the people not show up, then make sure you consistently sell 10% spaces than you need. If your workshop has a limit of 30 people, sell 33 seats.

Doing this is an immense relief.

And if everyone shows up? You’ve got three extra people. No big deal. And if, predictably, three people no show you or cancel so last minute that you can’t fill their spaces? You’re prepared and harbour no bitterness towards them because you already filled those spaces. If I’d done this in this situation, I wouldn’t have felt half as bad. How do you fill up your workshops? Read this, son.

Lesson #5 – Take Responsibility for Your Business.

This ties into all of the other lessons but the heart of it is this . . . as much as I bitch above about people no-showing and kvetch about their overall lacklustre responses, my business is my responsibility, not theirs.

The truth is that they are doing exactly what they need to be doing.

They’re just being themselves. They’re responding perfectly to the parameters of the offer I made. In their shoes, I might behave the same way. How they act is their business. My business isn’t to change them. It’s to notice how they’re being in response to what I’m offering and adapt to that. My business is to take care of myself while loving them as they are. But if I don’t do the former, the latter will prove impossible.

I have seen clients deal with clients showing up late or not at all for years and never do anything about it beyond whining and complaining. And, the longer that goes for, the more it becomes a story like, “People are inconsiderate” or “There must be something wrong with me.” etc.

My colleague Joseph Riggio who wrote the guest post for my blog Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle” had this to say…

I do charge in full before people can attend my program and I have a very generous refund policy before the program begins, but they need to initiate it, because I don’t want to become responsible for them showing up and I make my living this way. If I want to give something away because I think someone needs it or I simply want them to have it I do that too. Currently I’m running a major certification training program (4 modules of 3 1/2 days, $9000 regular investment) and I gave away 12 spaces in it as a scholarship, and make another 6 available at a huge discount as a sponsorship. All the spaces were taken and I had zero no-shows. What I did was establish the importance of what the commitment I expected was up front and assumed responsibility for making sure my clients got it, 100% on me. IMO my clients are only able to treat me as I allow them to, and I never, ever take it personally. I work this way now because I totally get it. I been there before … i.e.: in a room “full” of no shows. I’ve also been the “no-show” in a room and while I pay for the space I haven’t occupied when I do that, I don’t feel guilty for not being present if the presenter hasn’t indicated that it’s important to the program and/or others who will attend for me to be there. When I get that, i.e.: my presence and not just my money is significant, I make a much more informed decision about what I need to do if I decide to register.

You have people no-showing you consistently? Do something about it.

You have clients who don’t treat you right? Say something.

You have clients not paying you? Change something.

This is your business and your responsibility.

Whining and blaming your clients is a dead end street that will leave you broke, bitter and full of resentment to the very clients you profess to love and want to serve. Don’t blame others for your own laziness or miscalculations in creating systems.

Lesson #6 – Reminders.

If you have a workshop, send a reminder about it 48 hours before the event. You’d be surprised how many people forget it’s coming up. Sometimes these emails will actually prompt people to email you and say, “I can’t make it.” and then you’d at least got a fighting chance of filling those spots.

Lesson #7 – Start Small.

I’m currently on tour. I’ll be leading eleven workshops. Only one of them is getting the same “here’s all the content free” deal because it was one of the first ones I set up. Thank God I didn’t plan out my whole tour like this. I decided I would test it in Edmonton and see how it went. But then I got so excited about it that I decided I would do my whole tour that way. Luckily, I led my first attempt at it at the end of February, before the whole tour was planned and noticed that half of the people no-showed. That was all I needed to decide not to do the whole tour that way until I understood the dynamic better. Then, just before going on tour, was the second workshop where the exact same thing happened. I felt annoyed and really frustrated, but also relieved that I’d been able to test small before going big.

Business and marketing are not guaranteed things. You’re always taking risks and experimenting with things. Every time you make a new offer, explore a new niche, change the name of something or try a new activity in a workshop – it’s an experiment. That’s unavoidable. The only thing you can control is the scale of the experiment. Too many people go big with every experiment.

In business this is called doing your due diligence. Any time you’re going to invest your time, money, reputation or energy in any significant amount, it’s vital that you investigate and test to make sure it’s worthy of it and will work. Too many entrepreneurs fail because they don’t.

To be clear: If I’d set up my whole tour this way, I’d be looking at half of the money for the same amount of effort. That would have been brutal.

I encourage you, whenever you’re thinking of changing something significant about your business or what you’re offering, start small.


The Community Lesson:

Everything we do and don’t do makes a wake, a legion of waves and troughs that pound the shores at the edges of what we mean, grinding away on the periphery of what we know. This goes on after the years of our private lives are long past. If we don’t learn that simple, devastating, and redeeming detail of being alive – that what we do lasts longer than we do, that the past isn’t over – then the parade of our days stands to indict much more than it bequeaths.”

–  Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul

The business lessons above are important, but the lesson in community here is even more important.

Every action you make builds the village up or tears it apart.

If there’s a most important lesson that I’m taking from this it’s not to no-show other people’s workshops. That feels most important. Because I can be out of integrity all over the place. So this blog post, while coming from a cranky place, isn’t coming from any place of moral superiority.

I just had this chat with a friend on Facebook about this:

Friend: “There’s some sort of illusion of busy = I’m a good person and you should understand …

Me: Interesting … Wow. Totally. “You should understand” gets said as this non-verbal, “awww. but you understand what it’s like, right?” with a wink as the charm pours on and the accountability rolls of their back.

Friend: Ya, like that. I’ve done it myself.

Me: It’s most of my life.

Friend: Sigh.

And I’m not being cute about it. I’ve really done that most of my life. Learned how to be charming as a way of avoiding responsibility for the consequences of my actions. If I had to sum up immaturity into six words, they would be “trying to get away with things”. That was me. Learning how to be likeable to protect myself from the impact my lack of integrity was having. If integrity is so important to me today, it’s because I’ve had times where I personally had so little of it. And when we let others off the hook for doing this, we hurt the community. This is so important to understand. When we don’t honestly share the impact that others have on us, we make them less human.

Every time you make a promise and break it, it tears at the fabric of trust in your community. This is just as true as a business or as a customer. We all have a role. When businesses overhype their products and services and ultimately let people down, trust in the marketplace is diminished. And when customers behave poorly, it is the same. When customers lie to businesses or business owners lie to customers that “everything is okay,” trust slowly drains out of a hole in the bottom of the marketplace that’s approximately the size of that lie.

At a recent workshop I had a participant ask me what was being covered in the last part of the day because, “I really want to leave early to go to satsang. What time does it end? 5? Oh I thought 3:30pm. Can I pick your brain before I go?”

It felt so gross. Like I was just a tool for her to get what she wanted with no thought that her leaving early might impact the vibe in the room, that her holding my workshop so casually might impact me and that she was entitled to get what she could out of me before she left early. I stood there feeling sort of stunning by it. In her mind, this whole day seemed to be all about her getting what she wanted and then leaving as soon as she’d gotten it. It felt awful. I nodded and told her that we needed to get started soon and I wouldn’t have time. It wasn’t the most honest answer, especially since I then went to the back of the room to answer someone else’s question from whom I felt a sincere level of respect for what was going on. If this woman had said to me, “Tad. I am loving this workshop so far and I’m going to have to leave early which I’m sad about and I was wondering if I could ask you a quick question.” I would likely have sat down and given it a shot. But she hadn’t even valued the day enough to know when it ended. She seemed to place no value on my accumulated knowledge. She just wanted to pick my brain.


At minimum, both entrepreneurs and clients are called upon to keep their promises. Keeping our word is the basis of trust. Trust comes from people being trustworthy.

Gealladh gun a’choimhghealladh, is miosa sin na dhiùltadh.Chan eil fealladh ann cho mòr ris an gealladh gun choimhlionadh. (Promising but not fulfilling, is worse than refusing. There is no deceit/fraud so great as the promise unfullfilled.)

– Scottish Gaelic Proverb

A small story: I recently created a project in Edmonton called The Social Yogi which creates monthly social events for local yogis.

But, being as overwhelmed with things as I was, I asked a friend to help me launch it. This friend then proceeded to bail on scheduled meetings fifteen minutes before because he was too busy. Each time he bailed he would use charm and good vibes to deflect the consequences. After the third time, I sent him a terse email letting him know that this could never happen again. He received the words well but then subsequently, and unsurprisingly, stepped down from the project.

You can’t build a project, a business or a community on the shattered remnants of broken promises. You can’t plant the seeds of new initiatives in depleted soil.

The hippie scene, in which I operate, is full of flakes. They bail on commitments all of the time without ever really “getting” the impact it has on others.

I think that this has a lot to do with our culture. If we have a culture of selfishness, I would submit that it’s because it’s rooted in the Cult of the Self.

We worship individualism.

An important point to notice: most of the emails people sent me were them expressing regret that they had missed the event and that this was a loss for them. While I appreciate this expression on one level (them letting me know they really wanted to go and were sad they couldn’t) what’s utterly missing is an acknowledgment that anyone else was impacted at all.

There’s no meaningful sense often that they understand the impact their actions have on the world around them as they trudge through the woods scaring all of wild nature and the spirit of goodwill away from them and anyone close to them. They proceed as if their needs are paramount rather than proceeding as if they are needed.

Author, elder and teacher Stephen Jenkinson once shared a story about his work with a therapist. Each time he would see the therapist, he would pay him the money for the session. But, on this day, things were tight and so Stephen casually told the therapist, “So, things are tight right now. I’ll pay you for this session next time.” Not thinking much of the impact this might have on his therapist in the same way that most of us don’t think of the impact of our actions on others.

“Why me?” were the words than came from his therapist’s mouth after a long and considered pause.

Those two words eviscerated the shroud of myopic complacency of Stephen’s excused. It asked something important of him. There was no blame in the words. No shame intended. Just the honest and, until then, ignored consideration of how he had come to decide that his therapist should be the one to bear the consequences of his lack of money. Why not his parents? Why not him? Why would the therapist be made to wait?

Why indeed.

I get my haircut at Barberha (best barbershop in Edmonton). Three times since starting to go there about a year ago, I’ve been too late and missed my appointment. Each time, I’ve insisted on paying for the appointment I missed. Then, one day, I was speaking with Linda the owner and she said, “You know Tad, you’re the only one that does that.”

I was incredulous. “What? What do they say? That’s ridiculous. They wasted your time and cost you money.”

“They just sort of say, ‘Oh man . . . I really can’t afford it right now . . .'”

My response was, “Fuck them.”

And if I were behind their counter when they pulled that, I would look them in the eyes, pause and ask them, “Dude. Why us?”

The Five Impacts of The No-Show:

When you no-show someone’s event you promised or committed to attend, it has an impact. Sure, you miss out on the workshop and that’s a bummer, but that’s too easy. That’s only the lense of the “self” this culture so celebrates. More profoundly and importantly, looking at it through the lense of the village, we see that there is an impact on many others.

Impact #1 – Money Lost: These five people no showing mean a loss of at least $500 of potential revenue for me. And maybe more if those who might have come in their place might also have spent money on other follow up products and services.

Impact #2 – Time Wasted: Now I need to follow up with the no-shows and deal with them individually. If they want to send me more money to make up for their absence, as generous and unlikely as that is, I will have to arrange payments for each of them. And there’s also some time wasted at the start of the workshop waiting to see if they’ll show up. Just 15 minutes of time wasted? No. That’s 15 minutes times seven for the seven people there who waited. It’s 15 real minutes of each person’s life, including my own.

One reader shared this,

“I can so relate as I worked 20 years for Canadian Blood Services, just retired a couple of months back and in the past year 2014, the no shows were at their highest ever. People commit an hour of their time to give blood to save peoples lives…we, CBS so heavily rely on those units and commit those units to the hospitals for people who are in great need in order to survive. To just blow it off as its nothing and say I will go another time and not even call in advance so that they can find a last minute donor to fill the seat, is so disheartening and also so frustrating and discouraging!! Staff spend countless hours understanding exactly what is required for the hospitals and then all the time spent to book donors all across the country. Then each day a dedicated team drives to locations all across Canada, through bad weather, and work long hours to ensure they get the necessary units needed to reach the daily goal. We go to the donors!! A lot of time and money is spent to pack up a team of health professionals on a bus to go to a town that has committed, say 100 units and only 30 show up….can’t describe the daily frustrations they all feel. The people I work with, especially out in the field, are beyond committed and do this job because they deeply care and most of the donors are deeply committed too….but I am not sure if it’s a generation thing or people are just so busy these days that they don’t even realize that by backing out and not informing in advance that they can’t make their appointment that someone’s loved one, a child, a sibling, a parent are lying in a hospital, with their only hope of survival, is by receiving those precious units of blood!! People need to be conscious of their actions when they commit to something and don’t follow through.”

Impact #3 – Someone Else Can’t Make It: If the workshop is a sell out, it means that, very likely, someone else wasn’t able to be there. Someone who really wanted to attend. And who was able and willing to be there.

Impact #4 – The Workshop is Changed: I plan my workshops for a certain number of people for a reason often. When people no-show, I have to change my plans and, sometimes, whole exercises need to be cut because there just aren’t enough people to carry them out.

Impact #5 – Impact on the Facilitator: My colleague Russell Scott said it so well, his words capturing the visceral essence of the thing I experience every time people no show me.

“At the beginning of the event I’ve been so pumped and excited anticipating the numbers and then 1/2 the people don’t show. Imagine going into a room of people with your heart totally open and then someone punches you in the stomach. That’s what it feels like right at the beginning of the workshop. The presenter has to deal with the excitement of doing the workshop and the disappointment of the no-shows at the same time. Its not a great way to begin.”

It’s so easy to forget that the facilitators are human beings too. That we’re not vending machines for wisdom that aren’t impacted by the group with which they work.

But it’s also important for us to remember that most people won’t see things this way and so, it’s good to consider how you can institutionalize and systematize the education and elucidation of this into your marketing and registration systems so the importance of their attendance is lifted up to them.

Crucially, we’re no longer talking about the importance of their attendance to them. Whether or not coming is important to them is literally none of my business or concern. I have no interest in making it important to them. I have interest in setting up the agreement, boundaries and payment structure so that it’s fair for both parties but I have no interest in trying to position what I’m doing as vital and therefore that, should they decide not to come, that they’re missing out on something important. None of my business.

Trying to get people to love or respect us in their hearts is a huge red herring; a false thread to follow. It looks like a good path to follow but it only takes us further and further away from where we need to be. In the end, it actually doesn’t matter if they love or respect you. What matters, very much, is how they behave. How they feel about you? Not so important. How they act around you? Very important. You have literally no control over how they feel, but there’s a lot you can do to create the conditions out of which good and courteous behaviour will grow.

Now, I will, of course, share what I have to offer as clearly and compellingly as I can. I want to help them see not only what I’m offering but the benefits it could have to their life. Of course. But that’s done with the offer to help them see if it’s a fit, not to convince them it is.

This is huge. If you don’t establish, with crystal clarity who your work is fit for and for whom it isn’t a fit, people will tend to see what you do as a commodity. They’ll see it as something generic and common. And that won’t engender respect. If they see that you do some things but not others, if they see that you have a scope of your work outside of which you’ll need to refer them to other people, they begin to get this sense of respect for what you do because they actually understand what you do. The clearer you are about your point of view and perspective, the more clear what you do becomes.

Respect begins with clarity and relevance. It deepens with trust and credibility and solidifies when they understand the value of it.

When I say, it’s good to lift up the importance of their attendance, I mean lifting up how and why it matters to other people besides themselves. This can show up in:

  • the contract they sign when they sign up
  • a welcome video you make
  • a box they check where they say, in essence, “I agree not to be a dick and no show because I know that impacts other people, costs you money and is a general buzz kill.”
  • a personal welcome call
  • a welcome email that they get

But it also shows up in…

  • the way you treat them with the kind of courtesy and respect you’d want from them
  • the kind of welcome they get in your programs so that they actually have the experience of knowing their presence is noticed and mattered
  • the way you carry yourself and speak about your work with the kind of respect and reverence you want from them (which has to have its roots in a real and meaningful respect you have around it – if you don’t respect the work you do, your own time and energy – they will smell that on you like a horse smells your nervousness and backs away)
  • your willingness to check in with them directly when they do something that doesn’t feel good to you

There are so many ways to do this and so many ways of wording it. Note: I’d love to read yours if you’d be willing to post it below.

You can’t build a village out of a group of people who only think about themselves and what’s in it for them. To hell with the invisible hand of self interest.

And we can’t build a village out of people who think that beautiful words are enough or that saying something is the same as doing it.

What was present in most of the words I received was the sentiment “I value you” and what was absent is any meaningful action about it. It is jarring to have someone utterly no-show a workshop and then say the words, “I really value you and your work.” To which my honest response is, “No. You don’t. If you actually valued it, you would have behaved differently. You just showed me how little you valued me. Now you’re trying to manage me and have me not be upset with you.”

During the lunch hour of the second workshop of the no-shows, I was venting my frustration with my friend Megan. She’d worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years and she related how, on big days like Valentines Day, people would often make reservations at three or four restaurants so that, on the day, they could choose whatever worked best for them. But that meant that the unchosen restaurants found themselves with too many staff and a lot of empty tables, costing restaurant thousands.

Cab drivers deal with this when people call a cab company to book a cab but end up hailing one down later and never calling to cancel their booking with the original cab company. They justify it by saying, “Everyone does it. It’s just how it is. No big deal.”

All too often, people make promises to others to do things not because they intend to do them but because they want to keep their options open and so they use their promises like a credit card that accrues the interest-based debt of resentment from others as the cost for buying more possibilities and time than were actually available to them without it. Instead of feeling the real human grief of our limitedness and all of the things we can’t say a real, solid, genuine “yes” to, we pretend that maybe we can say “yes” to everything and everyone and then, at the last minute, if things don’t work out for us, we can just bail and walk away.

Responsibility is a bigger thing than just trying our best to do what we say we will. It’s also about taking responsibility for making sure we’ll be ready and able to deliver on what it is we’ve committed to. It’s about creating the conditions we know we’ll need to succeed. If we promise to be somewhere and then choose to stay up late the night before . . . we chose to do that and, in that moment, we made our own comfort, productivity etc. more important than our promise to that person.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about that. But, at least, let’s be honest that that’s what happened.

If you need to bail, then own that that’s what you’re doing. Don’t pretend to have been a victim of something so much smaller than you.

Most of our lives are dramatically over committed (as a result of a desperately sick culture that creates this, which is a topic for another blog post). Most of us are barely scraping by as we sort out how to live a life of integrity in a larger system that utterly lacks it, how to enjoy the natural cycles of community in a culture addicted to linear growth and how to give our gifts in a culture that only values gifts if they add to the GDP. All of this can add up to overwhelm and burn out. And, unless we’re deeply committed to village mindededness, we can draw a straight line from this overly committed life to broken promises, hurt feelings and shattered rice bowls.

The task before us is immense: to tear down this failing culture, to build something new, and still –  in the midst of it all – have the space and support we need to be there for each other in a good way. Before us is a hard road to learn to balance taking care of our needs and the needs of the community. And there’s a lot for us all to learn in the process. This process is guaranteed to be messy and woven together with the threads of our own self righteousness and hypocrisy until enough thread has been stitched in that we can see its sickening colour but, instead of tearing it out, we leave it in so that we remember that even our approach to solving the issues of community was, itself, tearing the community apart. I don’t know all of the answers in this, but I do know that it’s worth the mess of being real with each other.

And I do know that, as entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity to not only sell people things but to be a part of re-educating people on the etiquette of graciousness and courtesy through our own example.

Let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before us will demand nothing less.”

– Naomi Klein, address to Occupy Wall Street

Further Reading:

There’s a Modern Affliction Ruining Our Friendships — And We’re All Guilty of It