On Elderhood

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“Elders are the axis mundi of our mutual life”

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That is a quote from Stephen Jenkinson’s new book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. I’ve interviewed Stephen twice before, the first on the issue of ‘right livelihood‘ and the second around the question, ‘Am I ready to teach?‘. As his new book, quotes above, just came out and he is about to hit the road with a North American tour, I thought that the time might be ripe for another interview on this topic of elders.

Because, after all, if elders are so important, then where are they?

This seems to be the central question Stephen is asking and wondering about in his book and it’s a question I see many of my clients wondering about too. Most of them, on their healing journeys, were without the kind of ongoing, deep, sustained, cultural guidance that they now do their best to offer. Most of them did not grow up with any real elders in their lives. Almost all of them have met trainers, workshop leaders, healers, self proclaimed gurus and the like, but that’s different than what Stephen is describing above: the axis mundi of our mutual life.

“An elder Abkhasian woman who was famous for knowing many curses was asked what was the most terrifying curse than can be placed on a human being. Her answer, ‘Let there be no old folks in your house to give you wise counsel, and no young people to heed their advice.” – John Robbins, Healthy at 100

So, what happened? Stephen explores this in his new book, but for this interview I wanted to explore the relationship between the lack of elders we see and the growth of the personal development movement.

The absence of elders from the scene feels important precisely because it is not registering as important for most of us in this dominant civilization. That’s the most compelling evidence there might be that the curse this old Abkhasian woman describes is in full effect. The spell and been cast like a net and we are all caught in it unawares.

Stephen often says that ‘food makes hunger’. You forget you’re hungry until the scent of food being cooked in the kitchen reaches your nostrils.

And then it all comes at once.

You’d gotten so caught up in whatever you were doing that you’d forgotten to eat. Or, you’d been eating the cotton candy, fast food diet of this culture and, while you forgot what real food was, your body did not. It remembered the moment it smelled it.

I think many of us in this modern, dominant culture of North America, walk around with a deep ‘elder hunger’ but we don’t recognize it as such until we meet someone willing to elder. And so, I believe that this book, a visitation of eldership itself, will make hunger.

Stephen makes the case that waking up to this hunger and learning how to contend with it well might be one of the most needed things in this time and place we live in.

Stephen offers no easy answers but instead, urges us to wonder: What is an elder? What is it that crafts an elder? Can one simply pronounce one’s self to be an elder? What does an elder do? Is elder a noun (something you are) or a verb (something you do)? Where have the elders gone? Why did they go? Why aren’t they appearing now at the time when the world needs them most? Why do we have more old people now than we’ve ever had and yet so few elders? How could it be that we’ve had a hundred years of books on personal growth, personal empowerment and leadership, a rapidly growing industry of therapists, ‘shamans’, healers and life coaches, more seminars and retreats than you could shake a stick at, and yet so few elders? What do we do with our hunger for them once it appears? How is it that the elder has become an archetype and no longer a part of the architecture? How has it come to pass that we are instructed to find our inner elder but there is no real-world, institution of elderhood? And, perhaps most importantly, what might it take to conjure the practice of eldership into this world again?

I look around me and I see an immense amount of resentment of young people towards old people today.

I see old people seeking for elders themselves or for someone to recognize them as an elder.

I look around me and see the hunger for convenience, efficiency, ease, freedom and ‘more’ but perhaps we might be better served to open the pages of this book and see if a certain relationship to this old, human hunger might help us conjure the food that the soul of our culture so desperately needs.

I’ll sign off here with another quote from Come of Age. It’s a question, “What will hold the young people in good stead?” I believe that Stephen’s book and his life has been his answer to this question and the invitation to craft our days so that it might be the same.

Note: I wrote this as if you’ve read Come of Age. If you haven’t, buy the book and reread this interview. You’ll see new things you missed the first time.

To Listen to the Recording of This Interview Click Here

And before you dive into the interview, I invite you to listen to the opening track of a CD recorded from their last tour – Nights of Grief and Mystery by clicking on the album below…

Tad Hargrave: Welcome everyone. This is Tad Hargrave from www.MarketingForHippies.com and I am here today with Stephen Jenkinson who is the author of the book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen Jenkinson: Tad, thank you.

Tad: You write so beautifully in your book about elderhood and the function it plays in the lives of many cultures, some still and in our own cultures in times past, the consequences of its absence, and how it might have come to be that we are where we are. When I think about these cultures, where that function of elder is still intact, it seems that we’re a long way from Kansas – at least in North America these days. We seem to live – first of all, if you’re listening and you haven’t gotten a copy of Stephen’s book Come of Age, I urge you to get a copy, and if you go to get it. If you get it in a bookstore, you’re going to find that book in or near a section called personal growth. It seems that there’s some relationship of … when there aren’t elders in our midst, we seem to have this swelling raft of life coaches, therapists, semi-qualified gurus, YouTube personalities, and workshop leaders. I’m curious for you, what do you see when you look out and see that? When you see the size of half the book store in a lot of bookstores, I’m curious what your read on that is?

Stephen: First of all, that might be the only kind of bookstore there is anymore, with a fiction section tacked on the back side of it as if you can distinguish the fiction section from the self help section which I’m not persuaded that a distinction should be made between those two enterprises. There’s a lot of fiction involved in both of them.

First of all, I don’t see the characterization that you made, that there is a conscious awareness and something approaching mournfulness or a lament about “no elders in our midst.” I don’t think that’s a shared take, largely because I don’t think people have looked at it and decided otherwise. I think there’s absolutely no attention given to that question, that possibility, that rupture, that lacuna in the cultural life or whatever we have instead of a cultural life.

“So, there’s the first dilemma is that the absence of elders doesn’t detonate, doesn’t register.”

So, there’s the first dilemma is that the absence of elders doesn’t detonate, doesn’t register. It metastasizes, and you’ve described one of the tumours that people will pay for tutelage, if you will, but the understanding of what the actual qualities of the tutor might be is do they have a website or is your friend going, or do people testify to having appeared at these things with a deeply enhanced sense of purpose and reason, and give a shit, and some clarity about how to giddy-up because that’s obviously what sells, right?

Nobody goes to an event to have the world changed in a way that changes them, in a way they didn’t count on, not from what I see. All of this is to say, when I look out on this thing, I have kind of a second order malaise over and above the one that you described which is I wonder when and if, or even should the dominant culture of North America actually long after elders.

I don’t think that’s operative but it has a lot of consequences. The failure to identify that and to legitimately long for something that you’re not going to get, in all likelihood, is something I deeply recommend but I don’t see it practiced very much. I have to stand up there night after night, day after day, and week after week at these events and actually make the case for a kind of catatonia about this thing, a functional coping catatonia, which is what I think all the self help thing is.

Particularly, I don’t know what to call it. Let’s just call it a dangerous emphasis on growth. It is after all called the personal growth or the human potential, or the humanist tradition, whatever you want to call it, but all of those imply that you’re probably not good enough as you are, which, okay, that’s not an unreasonable take, depending on what the criteria are.

But, then the prescription is ‘more’. The prescription is never ‘less’. I don’t think, not that I’ve ever heard – I was talking to a guy whose kids were coming, let’s say eight, nine, ten years old, somewhere in there. We were talking about parenting and the slings and arrows of it all.

He was deeply motivated in the conversation by misgivings about whether or not he would be able to provide for them, the standard provider-gene dilemma that was coming up in the conversation. I don’t know what possessed me but I dropped this in to the midst of his lament.

I said, “Do you know, if you really want to love your kids in a way that’s contemporary and responsible both, you might consider a strange truism. Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age.” There was absolute silence on the other side of the phone. It just didn’t go anywhere at first.

“Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age.”

Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age. Of course, when you start working on it, I think quietly it begins to move inside you but it sort of categorically, it’s apostasy frankly. Then you just tie a couple of things together, and it’s not. It’s a well wrought necklace, and it goes like this.

Well, the world that we have, the corner of the world that I live in is a direct consequence of several generations feeling the obligation as young parents to provide their children with more than what they had. The more is the devastation of the world. That’s where the more comes from. Period.

There’s not a lot to negotiate about that. That’s the mania and that’s the consequence. At the very least, your children – and I use the word deserve deliberately – they deserve less, not in a sense of deprivation less but in the sense of less bloating, less swelling, less walking in your own footsteps.

This is what the growth mania predicts for us all is we become more of ourselves. No matter that if people veer away from the material increment of that, still in all, the notion of growth does not imply reduction, diminishment, thinning out, winnowing away, being reduced in place and time. None of that is included.

If it does include it at all, it’s a preliminary stage from which you enter into ever deeper swaths of more, of growth and ‘if you’re not busy growing, you’re busy dying’ apparently to paraphrase Dylan. I guess my case on the whole matter is I take my cue from wine in this regard.

I wrote about it in that book. Thank you, by the way, for the acknowledgement of the quality of writing. I don’t know if that’s a boon or a challenge, or even some way that makes the reading and entering into the sorrow of it perhaps more difficult. I don’t know. In that, I wondered about wine.

I should say that I’m not a wine guy. I can’t talk about all those adjectives about wine but I’ve come to appreciate it in the second half of my allotment. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought it was either red or white, or black or white for that matter.

I’ve learned that there’s a subtlety and there’s a universe in there, and I’ve come to appreciate it, and the devotees and the rest. For all of that, we could be really deeply educated in this fashion. Let’s say you start out ten years ago with 100 gallons of grape juice, and whatever else gets added.

You’re ten years down the road, if you can afford to keep it in a bottle for ten years as a vintner. Let’s imagine that you’ve come up with some extraordinary wine over that ten year period because the vintage was kind to you, and the barrels were kind, and whatever else the reasons are.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the only way you got good wine from grape juice is that you ended up with less wine, and that’s how you got it, less wine. In other words, the only way to get something that good is to give up in volume what you gain in depth. In other words, the recipe there is clearly for diminishment in wine and perhaps in life too.

There’s something about depth that requires diminishment because failing that, you opt for growth. You become more capable as you go along, and I don’t know where this more is supposed to come from but like all acquisitive projects, there are holes left in the ground by virtue of your insistence on becoming all you could be.

There are holes left in the ground, and the basic humanist orientation simply is not having that, but any other program for growth, be it economic or recreational, look around and in five seconds, you’ll see a direct consequence somewhere in the world for your ability to have a recreational weekend, or whatever it might be.

There’s no program for more that doesn’t take from somewhere to contribute to the more-ness, it seems to me.

Tad: This is something I’m curious about because the orientation of so much of the new age or personal growth scene we’re talking about says, “Okay, we’ll acknowledge that there are holes in the ground and that there are troubles in the world, and the best way that we can contend with that is to put on your own oxygen mask first and to heal yourself, and that will inevitably lead to the healing of others and the world.” You don’t seem particularly convinced of that approach is my sense. I’m curious what your understanding of that is.

Stephen: First of all, the notion of healing yourself is hilarious frankly. I mean, that’s like changing your mind. It’s easy to say, and it’s not a matter of changing attitude. Changing mind is fundamental. It’s an architectural alteration that requires building permits when we’re talking about the psyche.

“the notion of healing yourself is hilarious frankly.”

Very simply put, if the enterprise is to change your mind, the question becomes who is doing the changing. The answer is you but okay, is that different from your mind? The mind that you propose to change, is that the one that’s doing the calculation for the change, that’s itemizing what kind of change and what kind of increment, and how far, and how long, and why?

Does the unchanged mind register the need for a change to the mind? Does it? How could it? It may identify itself as unhappy but this is something else. Changing mind is not changing the weather. It’s changing the architecture, it seems to me.

That’s the first dilemma is that there’s an unchanged mind simply generates from the kind of inner architectural digest magazine, the favorite kitchen and the favorite entrance way of one’s psyche and one’s soul. That’s where the notion of change comes from.

There’s a paradigm program. The problem is that the perception of the change needed comes from the unchanged. Then every prescription, every recipe for the change carries this germ of the unchanged in it, and you’re not five seconds away from what I’ve come to call junky wisdom in this regard.

Every junky knows that he or she should stop using, and they all have a solution for how to do that, at least on their better days. Every one of the solutions includes the junk. I can’t escape the parallel between that and the self help movement, or the self improvement brigade. I can’t.

The parallel is so exact and so broad that it’s inescapable. That’s not to say that your mind can’t be changed but you can’t do it yourself. It’s one of the reasons there are other humans in the world at a given time is that your world and your life is changed as a consequence of the presence of other people in it, not fundamentally as a consequence of your withdrawal into the pristine event that you have yet to become.

At least after 64 years of looking around, that’s the way it occurs to me. I think it’s fundamentally irresponsible to enter into a deal, a kind of Faustian deal that you make with yourself that says, “I know the world is in rough shape. I know my corner of the world has benefitted fiercely and unfairly, and we’re beginning to bear the signs now. That’s all true, and I feel the personal increment of that fiercely. So, what I’m going to do is withdraw from the fray and leave it to the rest of you, and I will self improve. And once I’ve done that to my apparently to my own satisfaction, you can count on me and I’ll be in for the duration,” although I don’t really hear those kinds of vows.

I’m imagining that that’s the imagining of why one works on oneself, and we ask the world to wait, or we ask the workers that are left to keep working, and apparently they’ve worked on themselves, and that’s why they’re continuing to work whereas I wouldn’t assume that for a second. At some point, there’s a choice that has to be made in a time like the one we’re in.

“There’s no retirement from the siren song of a troubled time.”  excerpt from Come of Age

We have, as the book title so gorgeously has observed, we’ve had over 100 years of psychotherapy in the west, and the world is by every measure in worse shape than it was, during the same period of time in which we’ve relished in self discovery. Now, I’m not saying it’s a simple cause and effect because it’s a complicated thing to observe but I’m saying this… that the willingness of western people to disappear or to retreat for considerable periods of time because the news is too bad, because there’s too much information – whatever the motivations are – leaves the field cleared for the convicted, for those utterly and absolutely convinced. These are the ones that Yeats was talking about in The Second Coming, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Alas, I have from time to time, and I don’t brag about it a bit. I’ve wrestled with myself about teaching at sort of retreat centers and things like this, and I haven’t felt that it’s a good thing to do. On occasion, I’ve done it because I wanted to find out how wrong I could be about that estimation.

Alas, I found that I wasn’t wrong about it, in principle at least. I offer this little exercise up to you, and I’ve been tempted to do it. I’ve never done it. Someday I think I will, to take the season’s offerings from a given retreat center or self help emporium and simply clip out the names of the seminars or the sessions – just the names, no other identifying information at all – and put them in a hat, walk out into the street somewhere, and shake up the hat, and ask people to reach in and choose three of these things.

Then they read them and you ask them, “What are these? Where do they come from? What are they about?” Anyway, I want to do it because I want to hear what the person on the road is likely to say about them. My guess is that there would be very little inclination to guess that these were recipes for becoming a better you.

Tad: You’d referenced James Hillman and Michael Venture’s book, and I’m curious what you see as the difference in functions, I know you worked as a counselor for awhile, and now I see you experience you, and I know many others do as well, playing this elder function very beautifully in the world. I know you’ve been on the receiving end of that as well. I’m curious how you would articulate the difference in the functions between therapist or counselor, or things in that vein and this function of eldering.

Stephen: That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about it by answering. First thing is I wouldn’t want to drive a hard and fast wedge between those two functions. I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about it and not be able to imagine the people whose business card says counselor or something are not capable of the elder function, or vice versa.

Maybe we could talk in a general way about what tends to characterize counseling in a general sort of way. It seems to me that you’re unlikely to make much of a living as a counselor if you do not engage, pretty thoroughly, in an act of clear and consistent corroboration. I just can’t imagine it working out for you.

What would the word-of-mouth be on you if you were not engaged in corroborating people’s basic take on life and what’s necessary, and how to get there, and things of that order? I don’t think the word would be very kind about you.

I learned this, frankly, in the death trade. This is where it occurred to me, where I realized that the basic counseling dynamics and paradigms were grotesque parodies of what dying people deserve from us, largely because dying people aren’t customers, so they aren’t to be satisfied whereas in the counseling game, there is a degree of customer so there’s a degree of customer satisfaction.

Even if you try to do it an end run around it, you’re going to recraft it so that you’re secretly satisfying the secret customer by overtly subverting the overt customer. Do you see what I mean? By prescribing things like ‘becoming comfortable with your discomfort’ as one of the classics, whereas you’re still trafficking comfort but you’ve introduced discomfort as one of the ways to become comfortable.

“It’s an utter shell game.”

It’s an utter shell game. All of this is to say two things. I had a gig on the weekend in Toronto, and I was introduced – it was a very kind introduction, and rather lengthy, so very hard to live up to, at least for the following two hours because you need a few years to live up to a lively introduction. It puts you in a bit of a hole.

One of the words she used to describe me was ‘visionary’. I don’t know why but I took that one on when I stood up, and I thanked her very much. I said, “As to the visionary thing, I’m just not persuaded about it. It’s rather lofty but divisionary maybe. It seems to me that that’s what I’ve become, not a visionary so much as a divisionary, and trying to live up to that.”

I took my cue from the death trade wherein I began to understand that people deserve things from us that they would never ask for. They deserve to die well when their intention was not to die at all. Okay, so how do you possibly get return business, generate return business, leaving aside the dying aspect of things?

How do you get return business when your fundamental obligation is to subvert people’s root conviction about what they deserve, about what life is for, about what this time of life asks of you, your fundamental obligations as a citizen, your obligations to the generations to come? How are you going to get anybody to come back if you take these things in hand when they’re not asking you to do it, because of course they come to you as a counselor with some degree of personal torment that’s brought them there?

“How do you get return business when your fundamental obligation is to subvert people’s root conviction about what they deserve?”

Then over and above all of that, you have this frankly terrible dilemma – at least to me it is – where you are about to send the person, whatever changes you were able to engineer in their psyche, out into the world, an unchanged world, the very world and its unchangedness that drove them to your door in the first place. You’re about to cast them loose into the same unchanged place. There’s just something about that conceit that I can’t abide. That’s all. I’m not saying nobody else should but I can’t. I can’t practice that way. I can’t see the world that way.

Now let me bring in the world elder here and imagine that it is in the function of elderhood, that it’s not activated by personal unhappiness, that it’s not geared to personal satisfaction because fundamentally elder is not a personality. It’s not a character type. It’s not a particular wrinkle of personality.

It’s not in that sense in any way unique. In living cultures, it’s a position if you will. It’s a kind of status. Minus that, you can still talk about it. I talk about it as a function instead of as an identify. In a world of ‘identify politics’, this is an extraordinarily radical proposition.

The function among others of elderhood is to subvert identity mania because elderhood itself is not an identity. It is when things are going well, the end of fixed identity. How does that happen? It happens because elderhood is, first of all and lastly, a child of its time.

The particular responsibilities that befall elderhood all are derived from the particular dilemmas of the time that the elder is born into. As such, the elder’s own personal life is simply a cipher or kind of a temporary surrogate until the elder catches wind of the prevailing currents of the time.

That’s where the elder’s jobs and responsibilities are derived from, from what prevails, not from personal needs, longings, hurts, slights, sacrifices, or diminishments. If I put all that together, that’s why I said I’m not saying the two functions couldn’t find their way towards one person’s work.

I’d love to believe that that’s possible. The fact that I haven’t seen it very much doesn’t mean that it’s not out there but I would say that there’s something about counseling in its way that does remain mired in the idea that you have to gain the confidence, trust, and so on of the client whereas in the circumstance of elderhood, one of the elder’s jobs is to subvert the usually occurring understanding of what constitutes trust, just for starters.

Elders are not trustworthy by an unexamined understanding of what trust is.

Tad: I’ve heard you speak about older people appearing at your events and wanting some sort of stamp of approval or certification that they are indeed elders, and wanting to be recognized in some way, validated, and yet this doesn’t seem like any manner of eldering to be obsessed with, “What about me?” and at such a late stage in life. I find myself thinking about that question that Parzival asks the Fisher King, or one of the versions of it when he asks finally, “Whom does the grail serve?” I find myself wondering whom or what does eldering serve? What is it that eldering sustains? What flourishes, if all goes well, in the presence of eldering if it’s not ‘me feeling comfortable’?

Stephen: If eldering is prevailing, there’s not much eldering going on. Why? Because it’s the elder’s principal responsibility to work themselves out of a position. If they’re doing their job well, there’s no job to do. Why? Because the fundamental understandings of the time have been democratized, that’s why, not that they’re evenly distributed across the culture but if the elder function is in full effect, it becomes so sublime as to it’s kind of hard to register, and it’s indistinguishable from old people sitting there leaning on something, appearing not to do very much. Let me take about two minutes to elaborate a kind of envisionable story. There’s the idea out there that elders are somehow inherently strong and capable but you could easily imagine elderhood or elders as being exemplars of failure and ruination.

“If eldering is prevailing, there’s not much eldering going on.”

They actually provide active and mandatory instruction in the nuances of failure, the understanding being that wherever humans are wildly successful at what they want to be successful in, the world almost inevitably suffers as a consequence. At the end of the day, to answer your question way back when, an elders principle job is that they’re anointed by the world and by their times.

That anointment is recognized by the culture but not initiated by it. The culture employs the anointed status that the world confers upon the capable elder. This is how the world continues to appear in the elder function, the nurturing after the world, the concern after the natural order of things.

One way you could understand this is probably like you, I’ve been in more than a few dentists’ offices, looking at old copies of National Geographic. In these copies, sooner or later you will find yet another “lost civilization” as they’re typically called where they’ve been digging around and they just can’t figure out what happened to these people. Of course, climate change or degradation of the soil are the usual culprits.

There’s no thought apparently lent to the considerably likely possibility that deeply cultured people cottoned onto the idea that enough of them were in the same place for a fixed period of time, that had a degrading consequence upon the place they claimed as their home, and they were claimed by.

In other words, their love of the place that they called their home eventually turns into a willingness not to be there. That’s sort of the more radical expression of a love of a place is to leave it alone and not to occupy it. This never comes up in the writings about it. It never comes up as an aspect of philosophical enquiry. Why not?

Generally speaking, it’s because our understanding of growth is incremental and acquisitive. Our understanding of love is attachment and increase, a spooky parallel to growth. There’s no notion whatsoever that an act of love could include parting from that which you love for the sake of that which you love.

That I would submit to you is an elder function, to see that necessity rising on the horizon and to deeply advocate for it. That’s what happened to some of those people in some of those places, that they looked up one day and realized that it wasn’t working, because it was, and because of that, “For God so loved the world,” I think that’s somewhere in the New Testament.

How about this? Cultured people so loved the world that they’re hard to find, they don’t stay in one place for untold generations. It’s a very strange and sort of mournful proposition but I’m suggesting to you that it is in the realm of the elder function to be willing to see the deeply unwelcome proposition that our well-intended presence has a kind of deleterious consequence that we simply don’t calculate.

It asks us to see it and to respond accordingly, lovingly, not self-hatred wise, not misanthropicly but lovingly. Misanthropy is a human’s response to our excesses and the irony about misanthropy is it’s another human excess. It’s so wretchedly unnecessary and so apparently called for but if you look around, you don’t see much of a world affirming things that comes out of misanthropy.

“Misanthropy is a human’s response to our excesses and the irony about misanthropy is it’s another human excess.”

As it happens, humans are only incidentally the victims of our excesses, only incidentally, the world considerably so. Yet it would not appear that there’s any life form in the world that has generated misanthropy as a response or as a solution to our excesses. The only life form on the planet that seems to have come up with that solution is guess who – those who are occupying the anthropy scene.

You could say self hatred is another aspect of our excess and another form of our self absorption continuing to make us a clown of creation inadvertently.

Tad: It’s interesting when you speak about the need to see this and see it lovingly. I was reflecting a few weeks ago about this theme that I see in all of your books. There’s a thread that seems to go through all of them. The first, there was How it All Could Be but then there’s the book about money, and then there’s the book about dying, and now this book about elderhoodI know you have a book coming up around matrimony. The theme that I see is that all of these are artifacts of culture. There’s a way, and I’ve heard you speak about this. It’s such a compelling approach, this way of looking at things prismatically. I remember you speaking about dying and how you could see the dominant culture of North America there at the bedside, and often in the school I hear you speak about, “It’s all here in the room. We don’t need to go anywhere,”. I think of the Dark Side of the Moon album cover where the light is going in the one side of the prism and comes out refracted on this other side. We can see the constituent elements of the light just like your books help us see the constituent elements of the artifacts of this culture (i.e. in money, dying and elderhood). This to me has been one of the more profound pieces I’ve had the pleasure of being on the receiving end for you, this capacity you have to see things prismatically; to see the culture in things. That’s the theme I see in your books, the capacity to look at ordinary things in a prismatic way and thus to really see them for the first time. I find myself wondering because this is the type of thing that people could be doing with any part of this culture, any work that they are engaged in. There’s the capacity, the possibility of seeing that thing, be it massage, woodwork, life-coaching, crafting, permaculture or more, in a prismatic way. I find myself curious how you came to that way of seeing and if there’s any wisdom you would share with people about how to see things in that way or what questions might be asked. How does one learn to do this?

Stephen: Well, it’s probably extremely expensive which is one of the reasons that it’s rare, if you say that it is. It’s extremely expensive in the sense that it’s relentlessly revealing of what would rather stay in the shadow. It’s a very costly enterprise to wonder, and then again to wonder about your wondering.

It’s not uncertainty, nor is it its opposite. It’s a kind of, I don’t know, devotion I suppose. We’re not in the most devout of times. We’re in a time that’s riddled by certainties of conviction and prejudice, but that’s not what I mean by devotion.

I think the way it probably came to me, certainly I didn’t pursue it because I never would have known anything about it and I certainly was not “instructed” in it because this is the undoing of it. If you’re not exposed to the practice of it, there’s no way for you to come to it.

Minus the practitioners, you have only teachers. I guess I would put it this way. What I was lucky enough to be in on from probably a very early age is stories of all things, and stories are not just ‘one thing after another’. Stories have a very particular arc or you could say only stories have arc.

Arguments don’t. Diatribes don’t. They have intentions. They have sometimes diabolical strategies but there’s nothing strategic about a story. A story has a kind of arc that’s somewhat user friendly but absolutely world friendly. There’s something about the arc of a story that is as naturally occurring as snowfall or the rain that’s falling just outside the door as I’m talking to you now.

“A story has a kind of arc that’s somewhat user friendly but absolutely world friendly”

Naturally occurring doesn’t mean without consequence, by the way. It doesn’t mean benign but it certainly means that it’s in the order of things, that stories virtually seem to tell themselves although God knows they need a good teller, and they need a good hearer to appear as a story. I was exposed to the arc and the lilt of storyness or storydom, or something from a very early age.

Of this I’m fairly certain because I’ve never not heard that way. It’s in my ear, not a particular story, but storyness is in my ear and everything is available to me that way. I’ve found that people credit me with a certain capacity for memory but it’s not a factual memory.

The memory that I have is a kind of nuanced Geiger counter of ‘story movement’. That’s how I remember things, because the story suggests in almost a serpentine fashion what preceded the moment that you’re enquiring after right now, and with enough attention to that, the story begins to suggest to you something about the moment that you have not quite arrived at yet.

There’s at least three increments ongoing at any given moment that are available to you, not quite past, present, future, what we normally mean by those terms but certainly they’re in there. I did an interview years ago on a little radio station. I came in and sat down.

The first thing the guy asked me was, “So it seems you’re capable of slowing down time,” which wasn’t really a question. It rather stymies what the proper answer should be but I think this is what he was talking about. I think he meant something like this.

When you’re talking about a given thing, certainly not all the time but if I’m on my game, let’s say, then there’s something in this storyness that, if we enter into it together, you can feel the thickness or the thinness of different kinds of time. You can feel the current and the currency of those different kinds.

They’re not all the same. They don’t move all the same way. They don’t have the same consequence for you. Maybe that’s what he was talking about. Certainly, that’s the way it appears to me. There’s clusters of times, and then sometimes they thin out to the point where they’re almost negligible.

If anybody is interested, though I wouldn’t know why after that description but if they are in pursuing this particular way of coming to things, prismatic sort of attention span as you’ve described it, then they could do worse and probably have done than to attend to stories, not for their own sake, not as decorative things but as a kind of an alchemy.

In that sense, it seems to me that maybe elders have a similar consequence simply by their elder function. They have a kind of alchemical consequence that ensues from them, that’s beyond inspiring or dispiriting. It’s simply beyond the realm of whether you welcome it or not.

It kind of mobilizes you in ways that would never have occurred to you, either to approve of or disapprove of. Stories and elders in that way, they’re kind of one recognizes the other. It’s no surprise that elders are fundamentally storytellers.

If you just take the Jesus example, he was a little young so he probably doesn’t qualify for the elder status but in the formulations that you read in the New Testament, he’s asked a question. It’s usually a question that’s designed to back him into a corner or get him some sort of logical impossibility to ponder.

“Who is my neighbor? Who am I supposed to pay this money to in taxes?”, or half a dozen other things, and he responds as, “You’ve heard the one about…” like that. Who knows if that actually went the way it went but the fact that that passed through God knows how many iterations before it was approved of as the canonical declaration of what Jesus actually said, and so many of them remain stories, palpably stories.

They call them teaching stories but there’s no such thing. That’s not what stories are. If they’re teaching, then they’re kind of finger wagging, and that’s not a story because a story doesn’t need a finger to wag. A story just says, “Well, there’s this guy walking down the road. Some strangers came upon him and beat him up, left him there for dead,” and you’re thinking, “My God, this is the answer to my question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’”

The point is, you’re still not told who is your neighbour because the story simply steps outside of the terms and conditions that your little question dictated. It simply steps around them and proceeds to tell the story, and invites you reinhabit the narrow confines of your question once the story is over, if you insist.

Otherwise, it gives you another kind of universe to inhabit where cause and effect are not really the story’s servants. They’re its executioners.

Tad: So many colourful threads there to weave together. It’s interesting, when I read your writing, it feels like you’re doing something very different than I see many authors doing. I see many authors essentially, at least in this personal growth scene I’ll say, there’s a lot of regurgitating the culture’s unquestioned back to the question. What is written is perhaps more acceptable because it neatly fits within, what you write about as “the spells of the west” in Come of Age. The book feels very affirming at a certain level. There’s a sense of, “Yes, that fits with what I’ve been told and I already know,” and yet you seem to be doing a very similar thing of handing people’s assumptions back to them, or their habits of thinking on them as back to them, and dropping the dye in the swirling water so they can actually see the swirl. Your focus in these four books seems to be about helping people learn the constituent elements of that which you’re discussing – using the topics of the books as a sort of prism with which to refract the light of the culture. You help make the culture apparent in it rather than reiterating the culture. So much of the work I’ve seen out there seems to facilitate and encourage, and deepen introspection, and your work seems to call for a kind of outrospection, not that there’s a binary between the two. I see this call to the see the world. One of the things I was curious to ask you about, because you brought up Jesus and parables, and storytelling… it seems like a central approach that many people use in these days in teaching all things, all matters spiritual and personal growth is that of a metaphor and similes and such. I think the way it’s rendered is, “Well yes, you see Jesus, he was using a simile. He was saying, ‘This is like this, and you already know this thing. Here is the unknown thing. This simile will be a bridge between the two,’” piercing our modern language a lot. On the ride home from the Apprentice Program, there were a few of us in the car and we played a game with it because we noticed how often we were saying “like” and it was horrifying us. “You know, like, it’s like.”

Stephen: It horrifies me too.

Tad: There’s a simile in the language because we’re not saying, “This is this.” We’re saying, “It’s like, it’s sort of, it’s as if.” We were calling each other on it. It seems very wrought in our language.

Stephen: What did you come up with as to why you have so much recourse to that word?

Tad: One is approval of each other, that to speak eloquently requires a certain slowing down and a tension, a formality in a way. One passenger in the car speaks English as a second or third language. She was sharing how of course, there’s a wanting to fit in, wanting to have the slang and wanting to be a part of the group and not speak so formally. There was that, and it also occurred to me that it’s very tied to this way of seeing the world where things are like things, so we don’t have to say the thing we think. We can hedge it. The habit was so deep. We would say it and then someone would look at us and we’d reply, “Did I just say it again?” I guess I found myself wondering what are the unintended consequences of trafficking in metaphor and simile because it’s recommended, it’s encouraged. This seems to be the way of teaching but what does it do to us, to the world, to our capacity to learn, to be trafficking in this?

Stephen: I think one of the things that it continues to do is mitigate against any possibility of seeing things otherwise. When you traffic in all the proximals, “like, such as, sort of, sort of like, kind of like,” these are more than reflexes now. These are surrogates for speaking, and not just in idle conversation either, in un-idle conversation too.

One of the consequences of doing that is you’re forever likening, literally, the thing that you’re trying to approach linguistically with the things that you’ve already approached linguistically. Now, you might think that works well when you’re trafficking in information because there’s information that people don’t know, that’s new to them.

If you find some way to compare it to something they already know, then this is some kind of entree of the new into the existing. That’s called going mainstream. A lot of people are hankering after mainstream attention and notoriety, and all the rest. How do you get it?

By resembling so faithfully something that’s already there with the particular kind of glow that all the other knowns don’t quite have because it’s been worn away. My point I guess is this, that when you do this kind of thing, you blunt pretty much permanently the ability to be wrong.

This is the first casualty. You could never be wrong if you’re trafficking in vague associative ways of speaking. If you say it’s “kind of like,” how could you be possibly be busted for that? If somebody says, “It’s not really like that.” You can reply “Well, it’s kind of like that.” It doesn’t mean anything either way anymore.

What if there are some things that are so without precedent that they’re not like anything at all? Can they even appear on your radar? My answer is not on your radar, no, but they can appear in your conscience. How can they do that? By not being obliged to lose their ramshackling power by having to fit into the scheme that you’ve already established for understanding

Many’s the time I get a response in school or otherwise that claims that the thing I’m talking about is hard to understand. Now, I use pretty simple language I think, and so it’s not a vocabulary problem. It’s not even really a conceptual vocabulary problem.

The problem that people are running into, and not really alerting themselves to, is the unwillingness to consider it, and there’s an active unwillingness to consider. Why? Because it’s too expensive to consider, because if you really consider some fundamental alternative to the current regime, there’s something about your ability to get out of bed that’s going to be compromised.

Somewhere in there, you kind of know that or you know it enough to know not to go any further. One of the classic ways of defending yourself is by “not understanding”. Isn’t that a bizarre strategy? I’ve seen it many times. One of the ways you maintain your “not understanding” is by trafficking in a language that says that you have to approach my normal way of talking with what you’re saying for me to understand you, never mind the fact that my normal way of talking precludes anything fundamentally new and challenging, and undoing, and unhinging from coming in.

That’s an awful lot to lay on a word with four letters, “like,” but there’s a reason that, to my mind, the most skillful storytellers are not people who traffic in similes or metaphor, or allegory. Why? Because all of these words point back to the known, the familiar; they’re the touchstone.

“the most skillful storytellers are not people who traffic in similes or metaphor, or allegory”

Like – I just said it myself. You see children in the mall absolutely enthralled by that shit on the shelves at Toys R Us for a little while, and depending on their age, they’ll suddenly look up from their kind of hypoglycemic exposure to these toys, and look for you know who, and if they can’t see her – more often her than him – then the whole attraction to what’s going on is suspended, and they go on a mad search for the mother-ship.

Do you see what I’m saying? People do this linguistically all the time, and that’s what “like” is. It’s groping for the mother-ship in this dark when you’re in Toys R Us and you’ve decided that the toys aren’t enough to head off the fact that you’re not quite at home after all.

“Like” is the attempt to make everything into an effigy of your home, what you’re familiar with. It’s essentially like a Best Western hotel everywhere in the world. They’re all the same. That’s what they’re selling you. When you’re in the Best Western in Dubai, you’re not in Dubai anymore, and you never were because you could just be in Dubuque, Iowa instead. It’s exactly the same.

I think that’s what “like” does for starters. I could get excited about this and really launch on the thing but that’s my misgiving. When we’re in school and this stuff starts coming up, one of the things I try to point people’s attention to is “you didn’t come here to exercise what you already know how to do. Just tell me you didn’t”.

People happily acknowledge that no, indeed, they didn’t come here to be habitually themselves. Okay, then the cost of being otherwise is in your speech (see pages 235-241 in Come of Age). If you don’t speak otherwise, you cannot think otherwise. That is a stone in the shoe because it sounds absolutely counterintuitive.

We really do imagine that our thinking leads our speech, but nothing could be further from the truth. All the habits of your speech guide your thinking, guide your perception, guide your hypotheses. All of them do. If you really want to make a revolution in this world, one of the ways to begin is to hold your speech to a degree of sustained discipline whereby the intricacies and the realities of the world begin to show up in how you formulate sentences so that your language is onomatopoeia, the way it once was many eons ago.

I think we can do this even with a kind of ornate syntax the contemporary language gives us. I’m not talking about grunting here. I’m not talking about making a sound that sounds like a sound “in the wild.” I’m saying that the wild has a syntax and can easily be understood as having its languages which are stories.

The degree to which you start saying “like” and “as” are the degree to which you’re not longer trusting the story you’re trying to tell, and you’re trying to compare it to a story that everybody “already knows” and fit it into that. That’s the mainstream thing I was telling you about earlier.

Tad: If we turn tourism into a verb, ‘touristing’ or something of that mind of wanting to turn the places we find, or the teachers we find, or whatever it is we come across into something more familiar, until it’s more and more familiar.

Stephen: Sorry Tad, until they become another thing that we know. There’s a reason for it. We don’t just do it because we don’t know what else to do. The reason that the unknown is constantly pressed into a mold that looks more and more familiar is because it’s unnerving to not know, as a “grownup”, to proceed, isn’t it?

Or worse than unnerving, it’s humiliating and it’s innervating. Nobody bargains for that. Revolutions are made this way. They deeply and truly are made this way, but I interrupted your question. Sorry. 

Tad: I think I may actually go in a different direction due to time, because this is such a rich topic that we could go on for a long time. I heard one person describe the Orphan Wisdom School – I’m always curious when people go to describe it, how they say it. He said, “It’s something about learning to be a more cultured human,” and that resonated with my experience at the school. We seem to have so little culture in this dominant civilization of North America. I’m curious about your understanding of what is culture, and what is the role of elders or eldering in the fashioning of culture?

Stephen: I wouldn’t use the characterization fashioning of culture largely because of that unchanged mind thing that we began with. If you have an idea of what culture should be and you set about creating it, which are basically what intentionally communities set out to do, what you have, what you will end up with is an expression of the unchanged part of the change you were seeking.

In other words, you will inadvertently create the thing that you were fleeing because by virtue of fleeing it, it remains preserved. You see? There’s the dilemma in a nutshell. You cannot flee what you’ve learned. You have to work it. You won’t leave it behind.

So then, rather than imagining culture as something that we fashion and take apparently some considerable pride and credit for doing, we could imagine as I’ve tried to do, that culture is an inadvertent consequence of a certain number of people proceeding in a kind of simpatico fashion when they’re held to a certain kind of standard of fundamental responsiveness or responsibility, which is actually what the word means whereby the understand that their wellbeing is derived from the wellbeing of the world.

We are on the receiving end of every good intent and every noble action that we undertake. We’re on the receiving end of it. This breeds in you a capacity for a kind of radical humility that pretty much takes care of your humiliation. This is the dilemma with learning in a place that’s hopelessly addicted to competence is that most learning is humiliation or seems to require humiliation, but it doesn’t.

“To a cultured person, learning requires humility.”

To a cultured person, learning requires humility. It requires simply ‘not knowing that’. It’s not a bad way to have a school. If I have enough time, maybe I’ll try to make a school that’s based on that idea. I think I’ve done that actually. I would say to you that culture you could understand to be born fundamentally of a grieved people’s willingness to engage their grief and recognize that the limits imposed upon them by their biology, their anatomy, and their imagination, and their home place, that all of these limits are not there to be thwarted by ever cresting levels of accomplishment.

Every one of these limits have been granted to us in order to find our capacity for a culturedness within. In other words, the real midwives of culture are limits, frailties, and failures. The real odious alternative to that is a limitless, growth addicted, competence addled, be all you can be, and if you can, you should.

Limits are there to be thwarted, and limits are only in your imagination, and so on. This is idolatry. It’s idolatry of the imagination by the imagination. Culture is an antidote to idolatry. It’s a willingness to be limited so that the world can continue, whether our iteration of what we’ve come up with continues or not.

In other words, cultured people are cultured as a consequence of being citizens of a particular place and time, and civilized people – if I could use the distinction – are people who are on the road towards being civilized. They, of course, never get there but they’re ever greater arcs of capacity and willingness to leave the path behind, and learn from “our mistakes.”

There’s no learning from mistakes in civilization. Civilization’s job is to not make mistakes. If it does, it isolates the particular evildoers, leaves them behind or exorcises them and carries on. This is why the egregious examples in human history are so useful to civilizations because we can locate the darkness in us in particular places and times, historical individuals and so on.

If we’re not “like them,” then we are free from whatever bedeviled them. Then sometimes you do that to whole races of people, don’t you? Or whole city states of people and ethnic cleansing becomes an inevitable consequence, and before you know it, you have entire non-races  of people, “white folks,” which is not a race of course.

Their young are looking desperately to find a kind of racial homeland and racial purity to offset their sense of being nobody, from nothing worth being from. They actually invent a background, invent a racial identity which is of course what we’re in the throes of now.

I’ll never forget being at a small island in the Gulf Islands off Western Canada, and an alternative community in every sense of the term. I was with maybe two dozen of the island’s young folks from about 14 to about 17. I was talking about ancestry and elderhood, so on like this.

Two aching comments will never leave my memory. One was a young girl said, “I’m beginning to see how initiation is so important. I’ve read about it but I had no idea how important it was. It makes me so sad to learn how important it is.”

I said, “Why is that?” She said, “Because it will never happen for me.” She was 14. She had it figured out, sadly. The other thing was actually more mournful but with less grief in it. It went like this.

A young guy said, “Oh, I don’t worry about this ancestry thing. I just make my own ancestry.” He was very flippant about it. Apparently ancestors, there’s an aisle in Wal-Mart where you can go shop for them. Of course that’s what a lot of comparative religion classes prompt us to, and comparative literature class, doesn’t it, who you identify with, all of that.

Oh, I don’t worry about this ancestry thing. I just make my own ancestry.

Literature of the oppressed, who do you identify with, and before you know it, you’re cherry-picking again. Nobody wants – I shouldn’t say nobody – there’s an awful lot of people on the move, adrift, trying to be from somewhere, and their option is to be from anywhere except where they’re from.

You could say culture is an antidote to that kind of aimlessness, by being willing to be from a particular somewhere and forgo all the other hypothetical possibilities of being from anywhere.

Tad: I find myself baffled by how it can be that there are so many young people these days that are starving for the sustenance that can only come from older people or this elder function in action, and yet so resistant to eating it when it appears, and I guess a lot of older people too. I suppose my final question is when this elder function appears in our midst, what might we do in response to its arrival? What might hospitality of that function look like because there’s such inhospitable environment right now to it, even though it’s so important?

Stephen: Stop trying to eat it. Okay, enquire after its appetite instead. Stop trying to consume it. Stop trying to have it. Get it inside yourself. Be it. Improve on it. Take it in. Turn it to take-aways. Digest it.

You see, it’s the same language for learning that’s used so often. Our understanding of learning basically is consumption but there’s no learning in consumption because it’s all gone. I’ll leave you with this story. You’ve probably heard me tell some version of it. This is the short version of it.

I’m appearing at an event called a prayer festival. We’re in the back room. I’m sitting beside a Tibetan priest or monk. He was in his robes and so on. He’s going to lead the Tibetan prayers I suppose, and God only knew what I was supposed to lead. I was sitting beside him, and in the vain attempt to make small talk, not knowing even if we had a language we could speak together because I don’t have much Tibetan at all.

He turned to me and said, “Why do you teach?” That’s what he asked me. That was his opening gambit, “Why do you teach?” I said to him, “Why do you ask?” He said, “They eat teachers here,” meaning North America.

My answer to him was, “That’s why I teach.” It was a devastating encounter for us both I think at some level. If you can picture a Tibetan monk being devastated, it’s not an easy picture to conjure but I was there, and I promise you, it was there too.

“They eat teachers here,”

He didn’t have a lot of equanimity that his years of training granted him at a moment like that. He was genuinely distressed at the extraordinary willingness of Western people claiming to want to learn things from elders, to trying to be elders instead, fast track everything, inhale everything, and mainline everything.

As far as I can tell, elderhood, to the degree it becomes sexy, and it may never but I think it will become a sexy beast shortly after death is removed from the front pages. It may be geezerdom instea; the new sexy thing. Somewhere in there, I think what will happen, and it will go into another degree of eclipse is that elderhood will be the next thing to inhale like ayahuasca.

It will be the next thing to do eco-tourism trips to. What am I saying? Of course it’s already in the works, right? I’ll go out in a limb here and I’ll close off by saying something like this. I was in a room full of people the other night in Toronto.

Maybe I went too far, but I said something like, “You know, there’s one guaranteed way to get a room full of white folks to use the word elder, and that’s to put someone who is older and not white up in front of them.” That’s how but you try to get a room full of white folks to use the word elder when there’s only white folks in the room, and you’re going uphill.

There’s a lot to be observed from that. I don’t say that out of any particular grievance. I’m saying that because the unwillingness to confer that word upon anyone but an exotic outsider is part of the poverty. That is not a solution.

There is a lot of shame in that, and trafficking and shame as well, and a lot of extolling the exotic and idolizing and fetishizing it, and all the rest that’s kind of obvious. The sad sort of scorpion’s tale of the thing is that you will, at least engender, another two generations of elder free existence while you hold up somebody from another continent as your template.

After all, elders are specific to times and places. There’s no generic identity to my mind. There can’t be. You can’t fetishize it. You can’t standardize it. If a time changes subtlely, then the function of elderhood changes as subtlely because it’s a servant.

“Seeing that, you can see the function of the elder in a living community. The elder is the amanuensis of the unseen, its onomato-poeia. The eclipse of early family allegiance, the concentrated frailties, the utter extinction of potential, and the wisdom that can ensue from that—in this we have elderhood, and elderhood when it is honoured in the midst of a living culture and employed in its ceremonial, political, and economic life is that culture taking dictation from the unseen, from the Great Beyond. Elders do not take their guidance from their Ancestors and their Gods nearly as much as they in their tempered, archaic, implacable ways are the mutterings of the Old Ones that the rest of us, with respect and a learned ear, get to overhear. Not the weavers, no— they are the weaving.” – excerpt from Come of Age

It’s proper that you can’t generalize. You can’t identify a particular people or a particular person and say, “That’s what that is.” The closest you can come is to say “for awhile, our times granted us that”. I certainly have understood Leonard Cohen for example in exactly those terms. I still find it not that easy to walk around with him not breathing the same air as me but, for awhile, I did, and for awhile, he was something, man.

Tad: Stephen, thank you so much for your time. I know you’re hitting the road tomorrow off to B.C., and in the blog post that accompanies this, I’ll be putting all the info about the tour that’s coming up, the Nights of Grief and Mystery Tour, and hopefully see many people there. Thank you for your time and hopefully we’ll see you down there sometime.

Stephen: Amen, thank you for your thoughtful questions. You made me work, the kind of work I appreciate. Thank you.

Tad: You’re welcome, take care.

Stephen: Okay, you too.

*

2018 Nights of Grief & Mystery Tour – North America

Deacon, Guelph, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, SSI, Duncan, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, Tucson, Nevada City, Mill Valley, Los Angeles, Boulder, Ithaca, New York , Turners Falls, Ypsilanti, Minneapolis, Ottawa, Toronto

For more information on Stephen’s upcoming tour with Gregory Hoskins and band click the poster below…

90 Min Video – The Art of eCourse Creation

If you’ve been thinking about creating an eCourse I think you’ll love this.

A well thought out eCourse can be a perfect addition to your business model and bring in hundreds if not thousands more dollars per month.

And there is no one I recommend more strongly to lead people in the creation of this than Brad Morris at The Great eCourse Adventure.

This entertaining and content rich, 90-minute video will give you a solid foundation to get started in creating your own.

Enjoy!

You can learn more about their work at www.GreenScreenMagic.com and www.TheGreateCourseAdventure.com

And here is the workbook mentioned in the video:

 

On Firing Bad Clients: Seven Questions Worth Asking Yourself

The other day, I got the following email from someone:

“I have been following you for a long time and really enjoy the newsletter. I have your books, I watch your youtube videos, the whole thing. I have a question, though. I am a property manager, I make decent money with just a few homes because my goal is to finish University and finally get my Masters in Ecology. So, I can pay the bills, but I have a client who is not very nice to me and he wants for me to be his on call everything. Honestly, I don’t need it. Is not a lot of money and is a pain. How can I politely tell him that I don’t want his business anymore?”

And it reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a client a few weeks ago.

She is an energy healer and has one client who would consistently pay her lower than the bottom of her sliding scale, and often late and for whom the sessions would always run over time. She hadn’t seen her for a while and then she put out a special offer online for a free service she was testing and this former client signed up. She immediately felt a deep anger and revulsion inside as her body gave her a very clear, “No!” to working with this woman. And she came to me with a similar question, “How do I let her go?”

And that made me think of a woman I knew who owned an independent, organic grocery store. She had a client, an older woman, who would spend hours in her shop looking at the supplements and asking her staff a dozen questions. Her staff spent hours with her. But she never bought anything there. Never spent a time. It became apparent she was using the staff for education and going and buying them somewhere else. What to do?

I’d like to suggest ______ questions you can ask yourself in situations like this to help yourself navigate through.

Question #1: What exactly is it that they are doing that is upsetting to you?

It’s important to get crystal clear on the behaviour (or lack of behaviour) that isn’t working for you. It’s easy to make it personal and imagine it’s just ‘that person’ and ‘who they are’. But it’s never that. It’s always something more particular. If you can’t identify what it is, then you will lack any power to make the particular changes needed to protect yourself from it in the future.

Question #2: How did I contribute to this happening?

I’m not suggesting you ‘manifested’ this or that it’s all your responsibility but responsibility doesn’t seem to be a binary proposition of it’s either their fault or yours. It seems, often, to be a shared thing. And even if you only carry 1% of the responsibility, it is a very empowering feeling to find that and own it. Identifying this gives you the foundation for making any needed changes that could prevent it from happening in the future.

I recall author Marianne Williamson sharing something she’d often say to women who kept attracting bad guys. “The problem,” she say. “Isn’t that you keep meeting bad guys. It’s that you keep giving them your phone number.”

In the case of my energy healing client, there was plenty she had done and not done to contribute to it. The first was that she didn’t ask for payment upfront from her clients (and this client in particular) even though she had a pattern of late payment. The second was that she never checked in with her client to let her know that wasn’t working for her. She let it continue with no consequence to the client. Third was she let the sessions with that client run late. When she told me about it, she phrased it as ‘the sessions always run late’ but this frames her as powerless and, in reality, she is 100%  in control of when sessions begin and end. And, again, she never expressed to her client that this didn’t work or make any changes. This left her boiling over with resentment by the time her client signed up for her special offer.

The first step I had to do was to help her see her role in this situation and how she was contributing to it happening.

Once it began to land, it was sobering for her. But also empowering.

My friend who ran the organic grocery store realized that she was complicit in this by not saying anything to the woman.

This can be a very humbling question to ask because you may realize that it’s mostly on you.

Question #4: What changes, if any, can I make to my marketing and client agreements so that this kind of person would be filtered out in the process?

This isn’t always possible. I don’t know if there’s anything my friend who ran the organic grocery store might have done so that this woman would never have entered the store. But I know that in the future, she trusted her gut more about when clients were using her for information with no intention of spending money there.

In terms of the energy healer client, she realized there was a lot she could do. She realized there were certain kinds of clients that just weren’t her people and she could be more explicit about that in her sessions.

She realized that she could ask that all of her clients pay upfront for the sessions. This would mean there was no chance of late or accruing payments. She realized that she could be clear about the timing of sessions with clients and set an alarm to go off 5-10 minutes before the end of the session and let clients know they were needing to wrap up soon and that, if clients kept talking, she could tell them, “I have to get going now,” and hang up. I also affirmed that she could bring all of these issues to her client as healing work to delve into, “I have noticed you consistently pay me late and less than the minimum I ask for and this seems to be okay with you and I’d like to explore why. I also notice that you speak in such a way that it’s impossible to interrupt you. You breath in the middle of your sentences and never slow down. I think this might be a defence mechanism. I’d like to explore why you do that.”

Situations where you need to fire clients are gold. They are immensely valuable because they help you learn how to improve your systems so that you are filtering better for clients who you can actually help and filtering out the clients who won’t be as good a fit.

Keith Johnstone, the founder of Theatresports and author of Impro had an approach to working with beginning improvisors. He’d tell them that there was no way for them to fail. That, “if this scene doesn’t work it’s because of me. It’s my fault. Give me a chance and I’ll fix it.” He took responsibility for their scenes and thus took away the fear of experimenting.

Question #5: Might there be somewhere where I owe them an apology? (e.g. for letting it continue for so long)

This is a humbling one.

Could it be that, as much as you feel used by your client, that you used your client?

Could it be that you knew they weren’t really a fit but that you ignored that because you needed the money?

Ouch.

It’s good to let this one sting for a while and use that pain to drive you to create the clarity and systems you need to attract more of the kinds of clients you really want to work with and who you are best suited to help.

In the case of my energy healing client, I suggested that an apology might be in order. “I’m sorry,” she might say. “That I went so long without telling you the truth or making adjustments on my end. I let things that didn’t feel good keep going because I was too scared to speak up and now I feel this resentment and it’s not your fault. That was me having poor boundaries. I am so sorry for the distance this has created between us and my need to take space. I will be reflecting on my part in this.”

This doesn’t mean she can’t also give feedback to her client. It doesn’t mean she ever needs to work with them again.

But it’s worth asking yourself if, as much as you want them to apologize to you, you might owe them an apology too.

Question #6: How can I communicate my realizations, where I’m at and the new arrangement I’m needing without making them wrong?

This is the nub of it: as long as you are seeing them as wrong, as bullies, perpetrators or predators who took advantage of you, you won’t be able say anything, to go back to the question that started this blog post, politely (not that I think politeness is necessarily always an admirable goal).

If you see them as wrong, no matter what you say, no matter how ‘nicely’ you try to say it, it will land as an attack of sorts; as a shaming. And that’s not always needed.

Question #7: After thinking all of this through, am I willing to give it another go with the new boundaries or do I need to let them go as a client?

Sometimes you can keep them on as a client.

Sometimes the damage is too much.

But it’s good to sit with this instead of having the knee-jerk reflex to want to punt them. That knee-jerk reaction is what keeps us from learning anything and improving our systems.

My friend who ran the organic grocery store ended up speaking to the woman and asking her to leave and not come back. She explained that she had seen how much time the woman was taking and that she’d never spent any money there and suspected she was buying somewhere else and told her, “We’re not your store.”

For my energy healer client, she might say something like, “I’ve been reflecting on it and realizing that I’m not the best person to help you right now. I’d be happy to refer you to someone else.” Or she might say something like, “I’ve been realizing that certain dynamics in our relationship aren’t working for me. If we are to move forward I will need you to pay, in full, before each session and I’ll be ending them all on time. And I would need to explore your end of the dynamics with you as a part of the healing process. If you’re okay with all of that, I’d be happy to continue working with you.”

Additional Resources:

The Secret Purpose of Your Sales Funnel – To Help Clients Become Ideal Clients

On Healthy Boundaries (a collection of memes, articles and videos)

Introducing the Are You Sure? Page

Dealing with Bad Reviews Online

Last year sometime, I was on a call with a client, Jamie Wallace, who told me about a terrible review someone had left him on Google. He’d made some mistakes in a past business and now they were coming back to haunt him. I gave him some suggestions during an hour of online, google doc coaching with him on what he might write in response. I knew where I wanted to take it and, within an hour of my time, we’d gotten there. He ended up running with the ideas and turned his lemon into lemonade.

Recently, I followed up with a few questions.

How did it feel when you saw the review?

I had an instant pit in my stomach…anxiety rose up and a bit of disbelief, how could this rear it’s head a decade after the fact? I found it very hard to suppress the bad feelings, shame, guilt, feeling of failing.

When I gave you the idea of responding to it, how did that feel?

I realized that I had to take some action in the form of a reply but I was a bit hesitant at the time, I tend to avoid conflict and had no idea of how to pull this off.

How did it feel as we worked through the crafting of it?

Once we started working on the reply I started to see that this bad review was actually creating a platform for me/my company to tell our story, a feeling of relief was present and I could see this whole series of events being beneficial.

How did it feel to read the final version and see what we came up with?

I was quite amazed at how you crafted this reply gradually with some small touches along the way. It was really in my words but with some light touches on your end, a much better approach than having someone just write the reply in my name. The final product was brilliant and also yielded a small bonus document that I now offer visitors to our website as a free gift, Eight Questions To Ask Your Next Landscaping Company To Protect Yourself From An Unpleasant Experience (And Make Sure You Don’t Need To Leave a Bad Google Review Of Your Own) + The Only Answers You Should Accept

We ended up with something much different than your initial draft – did you see it coming?

No, I had no idea that the process would unfold as it did.

How did it feel to publish this?

Total relief. When our previous company went bankrupt 10+ years ago I felt a lot of shame. I continued to work the landscape industry and this history seemed to pop up on occasion and cause me some pain. I dealt with it my putting it away, pushing this aside in my mind (head in the sand). To have this part of my working life documented and posted for all to see is very liberating and to this day that blog post is very well read.

What’s the response been?

The biggest concern for me was checking in on how I felt. This whole process resonated. The response was mixed from people I know, two clients who are lawyers thought this was not a good direction to take. As I gave it some more thought I realized that their work is quite secretive and to be so open and transparent is probably totally counter to their approach. I had other clients who thought this was great and really liked the vulnerable part of the post. The most important part of this process for me is the transparency it has created.

To read what Jamie and I came up with click here.

How To Get Great Testimonials (Without Pressuring or Badgering)

I’m often asked, “How do you get good testimonials?”

Of course, the truest answer is, “Do good work.”

Without that, nothing I am about to say holds much water.

But, if we don’t acknowledge that it’s possible to do wonderful work and not be furnished with written testimonials from the very people you served, well… then my advice wouldn’t hold much water either.

There is a fear that underwrites this question: a deep concern about not wanting to burden, pressure or bother people with the request.

It’s a noble, if misguided sentiment.

The assumption that underwrites these concerns is that ‘we have to ask everyone’.

And so, having said all of that, I’d like to offer an approach to getting testimonials that I have used over the years, that feels good to me and that seems to result in the appearance of fine words of endorsement on my site.

Step 1) Deliver your product or service. There are four levels at which this can happen.

Step 2) Ask for feedback. This is the main secret. After most programs or after offering any new service for which testimonials would be useful, I ask people these two questions:

Question 1: How would you rate this from 1-10? (1 being low and 10 being high).

Question 2: If this wasn’t a 10, what would it have needed to be a 10?

Those two questions tell you a great deal.

Question 1 will give you a realistic sense of the value people are receiving from your product or service.

Question 2 will give you incredibly useful feedback on what was missing that should have been there or what was absent that should have been.

But… Question 1 also does something very important you might not have considered: it tells you from whom you should asking for testimonials.

My rule: If I get an 8/10 or above I ask for a testimonial. A 7/10 or below and I don’t.

If I get a seven or below, I will focus on getting more feedback if it seems there’s feedback to be had and use that feedback to make my products or services better.

If it’s an eight or above I’ll ask for a testimonial. If they gave it an eight or above they’re almost universally happy to be asked. If you ask someone to write you some kind words for your website and they rated your offerings a four out of ten, they may resent your asking.

Five Questions That Can Get You Good Testimonials?

So often people, even though they love your work, will report feeling stymied on exactly what words to write. Someone can love your work and feel too daunted to write you a testimonial or write a well-intentioned but piss poor testimonial.

The key is to ask good questions.

What follows are my favourite questions to ask (of course these can and should be modified from ‘buying’ to ‘signing up’, ‘attending’ or whatever word fits for your scenario).

1) What did I honestly think of this before buying?

I love this question because it makes whatever testimonial they write more credible and relatable. There’s a heavy chance that whoever might read their words in the future will have the same prejudices about your product or service before signing up.

When I used to run workshops for high schools I’d ask them this question and they’d tell me, “Before I came to this workshop I thought it was going to be lame with some old white guy standing at the front of the room giving motivational speeches all day…” I must have read basically those same words a dozen times.

So, when I put those testimonials in the sales letter for the program and teachers and students would read it, they’d think, “Wow. Those people had the same fears about it as me but it turned out okay. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.”

But also, when you see the same patterns of perception over and over, the same fears and concerns, this can actually become incredible content for your sales copy.

It can be turned into headlines, subheadlines, taglines etc.

You can speak to the risks, fears and doubts you know that folks are likely to have about your work immediately and directly. That builds an immense amount of trust and credibility. It tells people that you ‘get it’. It meets them with empathy.

2) What was holding me back from buying?

This might give the same answer as above but it also might yield new information. Their answer to this will both help you see your offers through the eyes of the client but also make the testimonials read as more grounded and realistic. Someone newer to your work will read them and think, “Ah! I’m not the only one who had the same concern about buying.”

And, of course, the feedback might help you actually structurally change your offer. For example, if they say, “I was scared to sign up because I wasn’t sure it would make me money” you might offer an iron clad money-back guarantee or a ‘double your money back’ guarantee. You might offer more free content up front to assuage their fear.

You might offer it on a pay what you want basis. You might gather more case studies of clients you’ve helped and the money you made them. You might double down on making your process better so that people are more likely to make money (or get whatever the relevant result or benefit is).

3) What turned your decision around?

Their answer to this question can help walk a potential client through the logic they need to sign up. It might highlight a part of your offer or sales letter that they hadn’t noticed before. But it also tells you what’s working in your sales copy that you can expand on, develop further and make more prominent.

4) What was the most important positive outcome you experienced as a result of buying?

This is huge. This is what I call Island B. Their answer to this question tells you what you are actually selling. I recall a financial advisor who mostly worked with couples being shocked to realize that his work was, for many of his clients, actually marriage counselling. Couples were waiting to have their financial conversations until he was in the room.

It took me a while to realize that the core of my Marketing for Hippies 101 daylong workshop was that it helped people find a way to market themselves that felt good. It seemed too simple but I heard it over and over and it helped me actually structure my day around this central theme that ‘marketing can feel good’.

Again, the answer to this makes the testimonial more compelling because it tells people that they might be able to get that result they’re craving by working with you but it also gives you great information for your headlines and subheadlines in your sales copy.

5) What do you think of this product/service now?

This is the bookend. The testimonial began with their likely not entirely flattering set of fears and assumptions about your work and now it ends with this new appraisal. This is immensely comforting to those who are on the fence. And it lets you know how your business is seen by those you have helped.

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Testimonials are a powerful way to build trust. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into my thoughts on building trust, you might want to check out my “Deep Trust” package.

Facebook Marketing with George Kao

To get your Facebook posts seen by your ideal audience — reliably — it’s become increasingly necessary to use Facebook Ads to spread your message or offerings. You don’t have to spend a lot. Just $30 per month on targeted FB ads will go a long way.

In this video, we discuss the 3 steps for doing Facebook Marketing and Ads effectively.

For those who want to go deeper than this free conversation, and access a comprehensive online course that offers step-by-step training, check out the Facebook Marketing course. Only $45: www.GeorgeKao.com/TadHargrave

Lifestyle Design: A Conversation Between Alex Baisley and Allegra Stein

Alex Baisley is a dear old colleague who’s been featured on my blog and emails many times.

He’s the one who gave me this gem: design the lifestyle you want first and then back your business into that, not the other way around.

Watch here as he’s interviewed by my colleague Allegra Stein.

Interview with Mark Silver re: Business Model

So excited to share this.

If you want a profitable business that is safe for people to approach but also sustainable for you, then business model is the thing you need to focus on.

At my last weekend workshop in Edmonton this was what I spoke about with everyone in their hotseats.

“How are you planning to make money.”

I’ve known this for years but not had a resource to send people to that I trusted. The other week I realized that this is something that my dear colleague Mark Silver of Heart of Business focuses on.

So we sat down for this 75 minute interview. In it, you’ll hear the best definition I’ve ever heard of what a business model is, where it can can wrong, why it matters, the four key principles of business model building and more.

It starts off slow and foundation setting but picks up the pace as it goes. I urge you to check this out. Mark has a day long training on this coming up on April 30th. There are only about 20 spaces left but, he might do more of them in the future. You can learn more here (this is not a affiliate arrangement – I get nothing if you sign up).

Interview with Kundan Chhabra: How to Make it Easier to Get Business by Creating a Context of Good Will, Nurturance, Trust and Alignment

A few months ago, my Facebook friend Kundan Chhabra posted something that caught my eye. It was about creating a context of good will in your business. I messaged him asking if he would be willing to write a guest post for my blog about it. It took a few months of conversation but what you see below is the result of those back and forths.

Kundan is someone I met online with whom I’ve been consistently impressed. His ethics on business and marketing and his commitment to social justice are values I wish I saw in more entrepreneurs.

The approach Kundan outlines is true in my experience.

I hope you enjoy.

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Tad: We were connecting recently about an ‘aha’ you’d had about the connection between one’s dating and romantic life and marketing. I was wondering if you’d be willing to share it.

Kundan: I’ve been thinking of my love life recently and how it’s starting to have parallels with my business as I go through the soft launch of my new site. And I’ve been pondering a new model of dating that I like to call “contextual dating” or “communal dating”.

I once asked a client: “When you go to a party or an event, do you talk to everyone or only to the women you’re attracted to?”

“Only the women,” he said.

“Talk to everyone. And be a Source of Stability for everyone in the room. And be fully your True Self.” I suggested.

This is the lifestyle I live and teach.

As a result, I’ve had some great experiences.

The number one thing I have noticed is that by the time I talk to a woman, they have already seen me, felt me, known me and become attracted to me (or not). Often, they saw me before I saw them. For example, one time I was dancing on my own during blues dancing (I often dance on my own in between dancing with partners to rejuvenate and recharge myself. Sounds strange but I am also doing energy-work on myself and the room as I dance. That’s why it actually recharges me).

Through the mirror, I could see a woman sitting by the wall and looking at me with complete admiration on her face. It just so happened that I was also attracted to her. So I eventually went up to talk to her as I sat next to her. At some point, she said, “I like the way you dance.” That, I already knew. So eventually I asked her to dance with me. And it was enjoyable.

Another time, I was dancing at another event, and I heard a voice from behind me say, “Thank you.” I turned around and saw this beautiful woman. I’ve had a wonderful intimate connection with her for 2 years since that day.

I’ve been noticing a Parallel with my business as well.

How so?

Lately, as I dive deep into the deepest depths of what I call my Heart Virtue and Super Power, and create content from that, I’ve been noticing a similar effect.

(Your “Super Power” is your most powerful strength, your greatest gift to the world and simultaneously the number one way you desire to be loved. Your “Heart Virtue” is your deepest Why, your most meaningful “virtue” you were born to embody, experience and express).

Clients and prospects reach out to me first.

By the time they are on a Discovery Call with me, they tell me, within the first 5 minutes of the call, “You don’t need to sell me anything. I already know I want to work with you.”

So, there’s no fight, no war, and no “overcoming objections”.

There’s also no “being a stand for them”.

What’s your take on what ‘being a stand for them’ is all about? Why is this taught so often?

“Being a stand for them” is a popular tactic these days that supposedly replaces NLP manipulation in the teaching lore about enrollment conversations. I think this still comes from a Warrior mindset of seeing it as a fight (Supposedly a fight between the client’s Ego defenses/fears and what they really desire which is apparently your program or offer).

It sounds compelling. Is it that it frames you as the hero and them the victim?

Yes. It does.

But it is not necessary if you set a proper context long before the enrollment conversation. In some  cases, the enrollment conversation is not even needed if there is a proper context: people sometimes go directly to the sales page and buy. In fact, for all sales below $200, I am able to completely eliminate the enrollment conversation altogether.

How do you do that? And why?

How? By having a crystal clear point of view, problem, solution, story and offer are so that they create deep empathy in the client: that it, they feel fully seen, gotten and understood. In other words: through the social context itself that we’ve been talking about.

Why do I do this? Because I’d rather not give away an hour of my time for free just to make a $200 sale (or below) when my rates are at $1000 an hour.. Plus, it’s unnecessary when it’s clear to the client that either this is all the money they want to spend or that particular session/offer is what they want. My enrollment conversations are not to convince people to buy from me. They are already convinced when they contact me. So, it’s just a question of helping them decide which offer is right for them.

“My enrollment conversations are not to convince people to buy from me.” Amen.

This is why I ask the following pre-enrollment question when they fill out the enrollment form when they schedule the enrollment call with me on Calendly: “Do you have capital or a budget to invest in your education? “Yes I do. I have: 1. $1000 to $5000 2. $5000+” Choose one. (Minimum Investment of $1000 required to work 1-1 long-term with me. Are you prepared for this?).”

If they say, “No” to this, I message them and re-direct them to an offer that’s below $200.. (Although I may raise this to $333 soon. No reason in particular for this. Just my Intuition).

I have absolutely no desire to convince a client to get a loan or credit card or some other way of ‘making it happen’ if they are already convinced that anything above $1000 is too much. I used to do the convincing in the past. Not any more. This is why I’ve created this “social context system” of getting business in the first place.

That sounds like a lot less work. How are you defining ‘context’?

I see context as the entire container for why we are having the enrollment conversation. It’s the Facebook groups we are both a part of, the Facebook Live videos they have watched before and/or other content, prior comment threads and PM messages, and the larger conversation about our deeper reasons for doing the work we do.

And I am learning that Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence”, says pretty much the same thing in his book “Pre-suasion” – that most of the ‘sale’ occurs long before the sales conversation even takes place as a result of the context you set or don’t set.

So, how do you create a social context of goodwill in your business?

You become a source of stability, nurturance and transformation for your industry.

You be fully your true self.

And, tactically, how does this show up in your business?

You share relevant content that authentically expresses your unique point of view about how your people can best address their issues. You share your own stories of transformation or those of your clients.

Do you have a different take on this than others who talk about ‘content marketing’?

I think of this as being a ‘key holder’.

Let me expand upon this. Imagine your clients have a treasure box. In this treasure box lies the solutions to their problems and the specific thing they desire in this specific area of their life that you have expertise in.

But that treasure box has a lock. Your expertise (especially your Super Power) is the key that unlocks this box for them. I can’t emphasize this enough. When it comes to business, your content actually has to be relevant to your audience. Not just relevant. It has to exactly fit what they are searching for: like a key to their lock. This is how you create the good will that specifically inspires your audience’s Deep Intuition to be activated so that they go: “Wow! This person is my Keyholder for this specific problem.”

And it’s all from the content I create which sets up the context for the enrollment conversation.

But, it can’t be just random good will. It can’t be like Santa Claus shouting “Ho Ho Ho” and spreading good cheer. It’s more like Being a Yoda to the Luke Skywalker in them or being a Morpheus to the “Neo” in them.

Frank Kern calls this creating Good Will by providing “Results in Advance”. If they want to go from A to Z, you create content that takes them from A to C. My model is more about providing a way for them to do it all themselves (for most of the stuff I teach anyways) but if they want to go deeper and be even more effective, they can hire me as their coach.

This is where prior work around Niching and Point of View Marketing is vitally important (which Tad Hargrave can help you with).

What’s your take on niching?

Your niche is the group of people for whom your Super Power is the key to unlocking their treasure, and because your Super Power is completely unique (no one else in the world has it), you magnetise a very specific audience that is specifically attuned to you: your Super Power can’t solve any other problems: only their problems. So it’s also important to know the number one problem you’re born to solve. So this is where deep Inner Self-Connection is critical: a lot of this is based on deep Self-Discovery work.

So, just to recap: it sounds like most people put most of their effort in sales towards the actual sales conversation and you’re suggesting that the focus be moved to much earlier in the process in the creating of a context of good will. Is that right?

Yes, that’s right.

What are the three biggest factors that contribute to this?

The three biggest factors that contribute to this are:

Self-Connection (whether through the meditation I recommend here or the deeper work I do regarding “Heart Virtues” and “Super Power“).

Relevant Content to your “1000 True Fans” AKA “Brand Heroes” which brings up:

Niching (Again, I have a slightly different take on this. My definition today is that your niche is the group of people for whom your Super Power is the key to solving their biggest problem. So it’s an inside-out approach rather than outside-in).
And regarding niching: if you really got your niche right, there is also less struggle and manipulation or even “taking a stand for you” conversations.

Can you give more real life examples of this that you’ve witnessed in others? I’d love to hear times you saw people destroy the social context of goodwill too and how it hurt them and others.

Yes. I was once on a Discovery Call with a woman who claimed she could help me find exactly what my niche is: she apparently had a magical power to immediately tell exactly what my niche is. I was told (by the person who recommended me who it turned out was her coach) that clients cried in their sessions with her because it was apparently so powerful and eye-opening.

That’s why I reached out.

She immediately asked me to be on a Discovery Call with her – even though I didn’t know her at all, which itself felt odd to me. So there was no prior social context of Good Will, Nurturance and Good Will at all.

During the call, she wouldn’t let me off the phone. She wanted a $1000 sale right on that phone call.

And she kept saying, “This may be uncomfortable for you. But I am putting a fire on your butt so that you take action. I am taking a stand for you.” I ended up not hiring her even when I eventually did have the money.

And it sounds like, the way you see creating this context of good will has a lot to do with you being very attuned to yourself, being stable inside, so that you’re coming from a place of generosity rather than being a vampire?

Bingo!

I’m also hearing that your sense of it is that when you figure out your Super Power which, by its nature, solves a very particular problem for people, and you share that with the world more freely, you’ll be coming not only from a place of strength but your ideal clients will recognize that and be drawn to it?

Exactly!

So, is your Super Power related to your take on things? Your point of view? Is it connected to your diagnosis of their issues or is it some other thing?

Yes. It’s part of my Point of View when it comes to helping other coaches and healers make a sale.

It’s how I create content when it comes to my own business. When I write a post or, especially, when I make a Facebook Live or Live series, I tune in to who I want to communicate to. And I do that by tuning in to who best my Super Power can serve, what Purpose I serve, and what treasure I am unlocking. And so, I am not particularly worried about Facebook algorithms or visibility.

For me, it’s not about how many people I reach but exactly whom I reach: I set the intention to reach exactly the right people for whom I am either their Keyholder, OR their audience includes people for whom I am their Keyholder.

So it’s a mixture of Inner Alchemy with outer Business Strategy. So there’s a certainly a certain level of “Co-Creation Magic” – what some people might call “manifestation” but I prefer calling it “co-creation”.

And it’s not always about attracting a client.

For example, one time I posted my poem called “A Love Letter to Anger”. Within 2 minutes of that post, someone with a large mailing list immediately messaged me and asked if she can mail it to her mailing list with complete credit and links of course. Another great example is you yourself reaching out to me to write this article for Marketing for Hippies, Tad. Right? You did that as a result of my post in Awarepreneurs.

So it may not always directly attract a client yet but it certainly increases credibility, visibility and good will with our target audience or “brand hero”, which creates a cumulative context of Good Will, Nurturance and sense of Alignment with me.

Anyways, I just wanted to offer this up an alternative path because this is a topic that has come up often in the Conscious Business community regarding manipulation in sales, marketing, sales calls and selling from the stage, etc.

To summarize: it’s about setting up a Social Context of Good Will, Nurturance and Specifically Relevant Alignment with our “Brand Hero” and sets us up as their Mentor in the Epic Story of their Lives long before they even get to the sales page or the enrollment conversation, whatever the case may be.

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About Kundan: Kundan helps you simplify your business as a vehicle for creating that more beautiful free world that you had a glimpse of in your Awakening, mystical, psychedelic and flow experiences.

He does this by helping you discover your Greatest Gift (your Unique Super Power) and Deepest Why that had been created out of your Greatest Longing. Your Greatest Longing that had been born and grown out of your Greatest Struggle the way diamonds and pearls are created.

He then helps you embody your Remarkable Legacy in communion with exactly and only the people with whom you can create the optimum collaboration. Out of this service to the exact people whom you were born to serve, you experience the Deepest Spacious Fulfilling Intimacy with yourself, others and the world. You can learn more about his work at: kundanchhabra.com.

Note: If you sign up for his email list you’ll get the pre-enrolment and enrolment questions he refers to above.

Guest Post: Ten Basic Pieces of Tech Worth Tackling by Molly Mandelberg

Coming from a long line of teachers, preachers, artists and writers, the tech world never sang to me. At least not until I started my own business and realized what was available, if I were to master a few key ingredients.

This is where my nerdy researching took flight. I dove head first into studying all the tools I could find to make running my business (hypnotherapy at the time) easier in any way I could. I started launching online courses, building out elaborate sales funnels and futzing around with email sequences until I finally found my calling. Turns out my writer background and engineering brain LOVES to build and connect these valuable strategic business systems laced with boatloads of content.

I’m talking about automation: for some it’s passive income, for others it’s a lighter load in their email inbox. Whatever it looks like, the point is that technology can make life a heck of a lot easier, if we just take the time to set it up.

“We are the Jetson’s!” We are living in a time where it couldn’t be easier to share your message on a large scale.

But Where the F do we start?

NOTE: These are useful tools to implement, but by NO means necessary to the growth of your business. You can always go without, it just gets easier when you have some systems to support you.

# 1 Online Scheduler – (and a digital personal Calendar to sync with)

This one can be the biggest immediate game-changer. Imagine how things are to begin with: Someone makes it to your website, they realize they want to learn more, and you have them ‘contact’ you in a simple form which leads to an email correspondence. That leads to three or four more emails to find a mutually good time to meet and after a good 30-45 minutes of your life has been spent organizing, you eventually have the appointment.

What if instead, a person made it to your website, and decided they wanted to talk to you and (with or without the filtration step of an application or survey of some kind) they book themselves directly onto your calendar for a consultation. !!!! Time saved. Potential client relationship starting off with a bang.

My favorite tool for this is Acuity Scheduling as it does custom appointments, allows for automated email reminders, syncs with your personal calendar, takes payment, and even allows you to host classes and sell packages. Here’s my affiliate link: bit.ly/wildheartsacuity or a direct link: https://acuityscheduling.com/

Online scheduler’s can be a hassle so I made a quick checklist to help people set Acuity up, if you’d like a copy of that you can find it here: https://wildheartsriseup.mykajabi.com/p/acuity-checklist

The added step of syncing this calendar with your personal appointments depends on your use of a digital calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook or the like. Not necessary, but really nice for avoiding the dreaded ’double-booking’.

Look for: Payment processing, calendar syncing, email reminders and a nice user interface. Free is not always better in this case.

#2 Autoresponder –

I LOOOOOVE this tool. This might be my nerdiest love affair of them all. This is what people refer to when they ask about your ‘list’. Basically, an autoresponder allows you to automatically, or manually, email your entire following of subscribers (I hate that term too) anytime you like.

I’ll set the scene again: (Although this has likely happened to you on the receiving end, many times.)

Imagine you invite someone to a workshop, or to partake in your free gift, or someone makes it to your website and wants to receive updates from your blog or something… They plug their email into a little box, click submit, and KAPOW! They get a message right away! That immediate delivery happens from an autoresponder. Again, lots of amazing tools out there, but in my nerdy poking around on the inter-webs, and after trying out at least 3 for myself, my hands-down favorite is Active Campaign.

I get a little heart flutter excited every time I share about it.

Affiliate link: bit.ly/wildactive or direct link: https://www.activecampaign.com

Here’s what you want to look for: (and what Active Campaign of course excels at)

  • Does it include automation for the introductory price?” Mailchimp is a great introductory tool, but won’t take you as far as other programs that allow for tagging and better organization of your list.
  • Is it easy to segment the list? This may not come into play for you at first, but at some point you are going to want to send a message to your whole following except for your current clients and your moon circle friends (maybe that’s just me?) and that is NOT simple, segmentation I mean, on some of the platforms out there. Active Campaign uses tags and it may sound fancy but you get the hang of it pretty quick. i.e. Send to everyone except ‘x’ tag, and… done.
  • Can the user experience be catered to their interactions with your emails? In AC, you can actually tag someone when they click a link, or become a client and they will immediately stop receiving a series of emails encouraging them to schedule with you or ‘check out this thing’. I find that when we only send messages to people based on their interests, we not only hit the nail on the head for them offering-wise, but we can feel a whole lot better about what we’re sending because we know it actually applies to who it’s going out to.

PRO TIP: Always, always, ALWAYS write emails in a document first and copy them into your autoresponder later. This is to minimize loss and frustration in the writing and sending phase as well as the migration to a new system phase. Keep that stuff organized for extra brownie points. You will thank you later.

#3 A Business Building Website –

WTF is that? There are two kinds of small biz sites out there:

1. A Brochure Website: Gives information, talks a lot about your services, links to a bunch of things, maybe has a contact form.

2. A Business Building Website: Builds a relationship with your people, speaks directly to their heart, offers value up front and allows the visitor many ways to get in touch or receive more from you. Free gifts, opt in forms, scheduling links etc. Brings them down the path from viewer to friend.

My favorite tool for this: WordPress.org

PRO TIP: This process begins with purchasing a ‘hosting’ package through one of the many Hosting companies out there. SKIP GoDaddy, they suck for more than one reason. I use Bluehost, and also recommend HostGator as a trusted source with good customer service. Once you purchase hosting, they will help you ‘install’ WordPress onto your fancy new domain name.

(Note: .com is highly recommended over .org or .biz if possible when choosing your domain)

I hate seeing people get stuck on this step. The truth is you DO NOT need a website to get your business up and running.

But, I know for some there is a feeling of legitimacy that comes with a website, so if you want to go the WordPress route and want some help setting it up, reach out. Someone in your network, or Tad or I can recommend someone. I even built a mini course to walk people through building sites on WordPress because I was tired of seeing my friends spend $5k on a website they didn’t like.

#4 Surveys, Questionnaires, Quizzes –

One of the greatest ways to know what your people want is to….. ASK THEM! Yep, to actually get their input on how they think about their issues, what they desire most and what kinds of solutions they are looking for. (There’s a great book on how to do this called “Ask” by Ryan Levesque.)

You can use a free system like Google Forms or Typeform and create a quick survey that asks them a couple key things.

  • What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
  • What have you already tried?
  • What do you want instead?
  • What kind of support are you looking for?

….and so on.

PRO TIPS on this: Keep the number of questions low and make most of them multiple choice. The one you really want their exact words on is how they’d describe their biggest challenge when it comes to (the problem you solve). Surveys work better when you make their personal info optional, or don’t ask for it at all. This is an info-gathering phase, not a list-building phase.

Quizzes are awesome ways to both get to know your people and add some value. It’s human nature to want to know about ourselves, if we can provide insights like that, while also learning about the needs of our audience, awesome! I use Thrive Quiz Builder on WordPress, but have heard good things about Qzzr as well.

#5 Content Delivery Platform –

Do you have a Blog? Podcast? Youtube Channel? Meetup Group?

Are you sending out emails, pdf’s, checklists and blueprints? There are countless platforms to assist you in delivering your message to your people. My recommendation matches Tad’s, start where you feel like starting. Play to your strengths.

Whatever you do, start doing it and sharing it with your people. Your unique point of view is what sets you apart from every other practitioner.

Yes, the world needs your message.

There are people out there literally waiting for your refreshing take on this wild ride called life.

Share it.

Ring the bell.

Shake the dust.

#6 Social Media Biz Presence –

This could be a Business Page on Facebook, a Professional Profile on LinkedIn or even an Instagram account, the point is to figure out where your people are hanging out and show up there. Many kinds of people hang out on Facebook, but sometimes it’s easier for a jeweller or photographer to get found on Instagram, as it’s more imagery based. Likewise, corporate or traditional business folks might be more inclined to seek resources on LinkedIn.

I encourage people to begin with a media presences that feels light to you. If you are a writer, write. If you are a speaker, live stream some videos. If you are better in some other format, start there. I have personally gained a lot by pushing myself to expand to new frontiers of visibility, but I started with words on a page. That’s what I knew how to do.

#7 Social Media Scheduler –

One of the biggest game changers in my business growth was when I started batching my creative output. Rather than worry about how I was going to be ‘visible’ on social media, or to my list, or in the world on a daily basis, I started tackling that stuff in big batches.

So I’d sit down and write 20 inspiring posts, or a months worth of Blog entries, or pull a bunch of quotes from past talks and videos. I started mining past articles I’d written for what I like to call ‘nuggets of glory’ and then using those quotes on an amazing website called Canva.com where you can easily put images and text together in a fancy way. (Without having to learn the ins and outs of photoshop.)

Then, I would, and still do, take this chunk of juicy content bits and use Hootsuite.com to schedule them out into the future on my various social media pages. Don’t put it off forever, it goes quicker than you expect.

#8 CRM or Follow Up System –

I don’t personally use a CRM (Client Relationship Management Software) but the idea is that with a good tracking system, following up is easier to do. When you meet someone and they express interest in your work, or you do a consult and someone says “Yes, but let’s start next month.” You want to have a solid way to track that information so you don’t forget to follow up because when you follow up, you generally end up with more clients.

I use a project management tool called Trello.com which syncs to my phone and allows me to set due dates and make notes about people I’ve spoken to. (More on this below.) You can also set a reminder in your actual calendar to call them back. Whatever you use, make sure you’ll keep up with it. The best plan of action is one you will actually take action on.

#9 Content/Project Management –

Tad talks (“TadTalks”) about tracking things like the ‘Hubs’ for your niche, and organizing your brilliant ideas as they come to you. I found after a few years of great ideas and personal connections, I was overwhelmed with pieces of paper and ‘important notes’. So this tech tool tip is to find a project management, or idea organization system that works for you and USE it!

Here are my favorites:

Trello.com: I use this to create new projects, to organize what I delegate to my VA’s, to track my work with my clients, what they’re working on, how many sessions they have left etc. I even use it to keep all my To Do lists organized in one place. FREE I have like 30 separate project boards and still haven’t paid a dime.

Evernote.com: This is where my brilliant strikes of inspiration go first, into special organized note folders until I know what they’re for or what project they associate with in Trello. Lists like Books to read, Links to remember, Groceries to buy, and Gift Ideas for Mom and Dad usually end up in Evernote. FREE

Scrivener: This one is really more for writers, but I’m mentioning it here because I love it. I’m actually writing this in Scrivener right now. Easily create folders and subfolders for different parts of a project. Great for keeping good track of ALL your content without going hunting for it, or for managing the development of a book. $40 software.

#10 Shopping Cart –

This is a key element when it comes time to sell a product, course, program or service. If it’s a class or appointment, you can use Acuity, or whatever scheduler you chose that hopefully takes payment. If it’s something larger, you can get started on PayPal, Stripe or Square. All charge roughly 3% to process payments. When you move into an online learning platform, they will often include secure checkout pages also linked to you via PayPal, Stripe or Square. Don’t feel like you need to go out and get a “Shopping Cart,” you’ll know there’s a need when the time comes.

The fact that you’re reading this means you are on to big things. I love that about you!

I’ll leave you with two last reminders:

1. You do not need all of this, especially not all at once.

2. You do not have to do it alone. If you need support, get it. If not me or Tad, someone else you have access to. It can be daunting to take new systems on but I promise you it is worth it in the long run.

To infinity and beyond!

Xo Molly Mandelberg

About Molly:

Having studied with masters, traveled the world and applied the great teachings to her own life, Molly Mandelberg is uniquely qualified to help launch you from where you are now, to the next level of your business. Molly has an unusual combination of spiritual/visionary and high tech/practical/business savvy. She is an artist, a globe trotter, a writer, a speaker, a facilitator and a leader.

Whether you are stuck in procrastination, confusion or things just aren’t moving fast enough for you toward your goals, having empowering, kickass support may be just what you need. From content and design through streamlined global delivery systems, Molly Mandelberg may be the answer you’ve been looking for. You can learn more about her at: www.WildHeartsRiseUp.com