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…

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

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: Privilege Based Pricing

A few months ago, I was connected with Peter Rubin who was experimenting with a new pricing model the likes of which I’d thought of before but of which I’d never heard: privilege-based pricing. As soon as I heard the name of it, I asked if he’d be willing to write a blog post. This isn’t a model I’ve implemented yet, and neither has he, but it’s the kind of thing I imagine I will be moving towards in the coming years for, at least, certain portions of my business.

Peter and I share an understanding that this world is full of institutionalized oppression, meaning that certain people (and it’s predictable who) tend to have it easier than others, get better access to resources etc. Myself being a white, CIS gendered, male in North America? I get a lot.

And I did nothing to earn those privileges.

Women, people of colour, indigenous people are marginalized and oppressed constantly. It’s something I’ve put much thought into over the years, even creating a blog you may not know about called Healing from Whiteness. I’ve also collected an impressive gathering of memes and articles on topics from Institutionalized Oppression and then a second one on that topic, Feminism and Gender, #BlackLivesMatter and White Privilege.

So, it’s been on my mind.

But Peter has taken this all to another level by considering how this could all be woven into our pricing structures.

This post is provocative. It may feel unsettling. I invite you to read it in full and sit with it for a while.

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by Peter Rubin

What is Privilege-Based Pricing?

Privilege-Based Pricing is an innovative pricing structure designed for social justice.

Unlike sliding scale systems which typically have no guidelines or simple income-based guidelines for how much to pay, Privilege-Based Pricing takes clients through a rigorous self-reflection and conversation process which determines a discount on services, ranging from zero to 50%.

The discount is calculated to correct for the imbalances of an unjust culture. It’s an experiment in taking all the rules of our society and turning them around 180 degrees.

This is not a scholarship or a charity for people who are less privileged. It’s also not a way to punish people who are more privileged. It’s a way to make the invisible privileges of our lives visible, bring balance to an unfair world, and spark learning and transformation for all.

What do you mean by privilege?

In one of my favorite books, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, she talks about “headwinds” and “tailwinds” as the forces that make our lives easier or harder each day based on whether we’re in a dominant or minority group.

Factors outside of our control, such as race, gender, access to education, family resources growing up, where we were born, experiences of trauma or lack thereof, etc., profoundly shape our life trajectories.

Where did this idea come from?

As a Business Midwife – someone who helps my clients give birth to their dream businesses – I’ve come to realize that certain clients are poised to make a lot of money from the outset, and for others it will likely be a much longer journey. This doesn’t have to do with their skill or how good a person they are — it had to do with their privilege.

For instance, a white male client with a graduate education, who has already had a successful corporate career, has a lot of money in his bank account, and is connected to wealthy and powerful people, will likely have an easy time getting a return on their investment.

In contrast, a black female client who grew up poor, is supporting 6 family members, has experienced significant trauma in her life, and wants to build a community-focused business will likely have a more challenging time paying for her coaching with me.

My question is, why are these two clients paying me the same amount of money?

In the old “equality vs. equity debate” the idea of privilege-based pricing is to look at a client’s resources and ability to make money based on their life story and privileges they’ve received in order to determine a price that creates equity by stretching everyone equally.

All clients receive the same high-quality service, and I hold all clients to the same Visionary Code – principles for being powerful creators in their lives and businesses. But the place each client is starting from is acknowledged.

How would you respond to people who might say, “Isn’t this reverse discrimination?”

No. It’s about equal opportunity and restoring balance to an unjust culture.

Women make 79 cents for every dollar men make (source). The median wealth of a black family is $6,446 while a white family is $91,405 (source). These are long-term trends and statistical truths, and they won’t resolve themselves without a change in policy.

Why wait for government policies, when we as entrepreneurs have the power to create change by changing how we price our own services?

For legal reasons, the Privilege-Based Pricing Questionnaire doesn’t ask directly about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., but rather explores how our identities mixed with cultural biases influence our chances of business success, asking questions like, “Do you see other people who look like you leading in your field?” and “Do you have family members who are role models for business success?” and “What’s the most money you’ve made in your life?” These are the invisible headwinds that make it easier for us privileged people to succeed.

Why does this idea matter to you so much?

I’m currently immersed in a 2-year training with Lee Mun Wah to be a diversity facilitator. I’ve been deeply exploring my own whiteness, having conversations with friends about race and privilege, and have been curious about how I will bring these learnings to my business.

This idea of Privilege-Based Pricing came to me one day, and I smiled. I have a trickster side to me, and this feels like the perfect “trick” to play on all of us (myself included) to challenge the assumptions we have about how business should be done.

I’ve been doing some informal research on the concept with the intention of implementing it in my business in January of 2017. It feels like a big risk, and yet a unique and profound way to practice the social justice values I’m preaching.

I’m happy to discount my services to some clients in order to spark a healing conversation about privilege and, hopefully, have a more diverse and socially-aware group of clients as a result.

How exactly does the process work?

There are three steps to the process. They include:

Step 1 – Education

Because this is such an unusual pricing system, it’s important to give context. The model will be explained to potential clients so they understand what they’re getting into, and the intentions behind it.

Step 2 – The Questionnaire

I send an online survey to potential clients that asks about specific questions about:

  • Their personal and family story, and the advantages and disadvantages they’ve had from before their birth to the present.
  • Their existing resources – including financial resources, social capital, and more.
  • Their potential for future income – based on their vision for their business, who they plan to serve and how they plan to price their services.

The exact questions in this questionnaire are still being worked out.

Step 3 – Conversation + Decision

Then we review their questionnaire together and decide together how much of a discount to give them. There will be six tiers of discount, from no discount up to a 50% discount, with case studies that exemplify each tier. This conversation is held as sacred, and we will take time to process any emotions that come up along the way.

Do you think people will take advantage of the system?

I guess people could lie about their responses, but those aren’t the sorts of people I work with. I handpick clients who care about social justice and have a lot of integrity, and I trust them to answer honestly and pick the tier that best represents them.

Where do you expect to receive the most pushback?

Let’s be honest – there’s nothing comfortable about this pricing system!

In the testing I’ve done, just along lines of race, people of color have been pissed (“I don’t need your handouts!”) and white people have been pissed (“How dare you reverse-discriminate!”). People of color have been delighted (“What a cool way to bring privilege to the light!”) and white people have been delighted (“I’d be happy to pay more to support this”).

So I realize that what I’m filtering for isn’t privilege at all. I’m filtering for willingness to be vulnerable.

Determining your Privilege-Based Price is an incredibly vulnerable process and brings up the very things we are taught to be most private about – race, class, level of education, etc. I intend to be very tender with my clients as I talk through the questionnaire with them, expecting difficult emotions (shame, grief, fear, etc.) to come up.

Those courageous and open-minded souls who want to be part of a social justice experiment will be drawn to this new pricing system. Those who aren’t open to it will be turned off by it – and that’s just fine!

I’ve found that clients who are most vulnerable with me get the most value out of working with me. They’re able to release shame and reclaim their power, making them stronger business leaders. So filtering for a willingness to be vulnerable can only be good for my business.

What kinds of places could you imagine people using this?

This pricing system is somewhat complex – each client is required to fill out a questionnaire and have an in-depth conversation with a service provider who has the capacity to hold space for such a conversation. So I don’t imagine us using Privilege-Based Pricing at vending machines! But I do think it is promising for transformational education and services.

How can people learn more about Privilege-Based Pricing and the work you do?

You can visit my website at www.yourbusinessmidwife.com and sign up for my mailing list. I’ll be keeping my subscribers in the loop about PbP and announcing when I officially launch the new pricing system in January of 2017.

downloadAbout Peter Rubin

Peter Rubin helps visionaries give birth to their businesses. He gives his clients the support they need to get clear on their visions, craft a strategy, and deliver it to the world. Peter has developed this radical approach to business, having given birth to a series of transformational service-based businesses himself, each time pushing his edges and learning from his failures. Before becoming a full-time coach in 2011, he was a consultant at IDEO and Daylight, two of the world’s leading innovation firms. He has taught at the Stanford d.school, OneTaste, General Assembly, and beyond. He lives in the Bay Area with his life partner, Morgan West, a midwife (for real babies!) who continually inspires him with her badass midwifery skills and devotion to her clients at all hours of day and night. Learn more at www.yourbusinessmidwife.com.

Gifts vs. Tools

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Gifts and tools are different things.

Gifts are those things that come to you naturally. Those capacities, inclination, tendencies and abilities you were born with. These are the things you do that feel effortless for you where you lose track of time. We are, in some mysterious way, born with these. They are woven into who we are. Identical twins can be born and yet have such different gifts – one a good listener and the other a good speaker. Same DNA. Born into the same “when” and the same “where” and yet . . . so different. It’s one of life’s most enduring mysteries.

If you are thwarted in the expression of your gifts, you will suffer. If these are identified and fostered and you’re given chances to express them, you will thrive.

Tools are an entirely different beat all together. In the context I’m speaking of, a tool might be a modality you use in your healing practice (e.g. massage, reiki, NLP, yoga therapy, Non-Violent Communication, The Work of Byron Katie, life coaching, etc.)

While I was in Iceland for a session of the Orphan Wisdom School, Stephen Jenkinson was sharing with us his understand of what a “tool” is. The gist of it was that a tool is something basic, small and simple, with few moving parts. It’s something primitive. It’s not complicated. A tool extends the grasp of the hand (e.g. a wooden spoon), augments the strength of the grip (e.g. pliers) but it does so in a way that the hand recognizes itself in the extension – in kind, not degree. A tool makes the hand more able. The work you do with tools is a devotional act. You can see this in the incredible care that people took of their tools in traditional cultures and the veneration they gave them. They treated their tools as sentient, just just alive as they were. A tool is a sacred thing. But not a “thing.” A sacred “one.”

And so the techniques, skills, processes, and modalities we learn are tools and they extend, strengthen, magnify and enhance the grasp of our gifts. They allow the capacity for more detail and nuance in our work.

And so our tools are in a deep relationship with our gifts.

If you are doing work that isn’t built around your natural gifts and you have no tools you’re using, you’re “winging it” at something you’re mediocre at. Your work will only ever be functional. It’ll be okay at best.

If you are doing work that isn’t built around your natural gifts and you have a lot of really good tools you’re using, you’re probably “competent.” But you’ll likely only ever be good at it.

If you are doing work that is built around your natural gifts and you have no tools you’re using, you’re “winging it” at something you’re naturally great at. Your work will be good, but unpredictable. It’ll be inconsistently amazing at best. This is the mad genius, the unpracticed artistic genius, the untutored savant.

If you are doing work that is built around your natural gifts and you have plenty of tools you’re practiced with or in, this is closer to the neighbourhood of mastery or, better yet, a deep devotion to the expression of your gifts in this world, in the most skillful and articulated way possible.

And so, this is the goal: to find the right tools to help you express your gifts and become skillful in using them.

This is how you become trustworthy.

Guest Post: How To Use Back-To-School Momentum For Success

Guest Post by Craig Filek

Fall is in the air. Can you feel that back-to-school vibe?Purpose Mapping Fitzgerald Life Starts All Over

This time of year supports “New Year Resolutions” better than the dormancy of winter’s long night.

Whether you’re fresh out of school, or catching your second wind via your school-age children, we’re all entrained to make major behavioral shifts this time of year.

If you’re like me, you’re feeling both relieved and excited to settle in to some autumn productivity.

How can we use back-to-school momentum to lay down a new rhythm track of daily and weekly routines that fortify our success?

Stephen Covey loved the metaphor of putting in the big rocks first.’

Success, he explained, comes most easily when we schedule our big rocks (priorities) first. Gravel and sand naturally fill in around them.

Filling our calendar buckets with gravel and sand (small, unimportant activities) leaves no room to add the big important rocks, resulting in a hectic, mediocre life. 

Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is a habit.”

Hab·it /?hab?t/ noun

1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: “the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.”

Habits come from repetition.

The alternative is drifting. Drifting leads to failing (in identity-damaging ways), and ultimately flirting with compensatory habits, a slippery slope toward stagnation and even addiction.

To establish healthy habits, we need regular repetition with scheduled time to practice.

The big rocks, the big priorities, are the things we want to make second nature. Involuntary. This means they go into our daily and weekly schedules before anything else.

For instance, every morning I drink a mason jar full of organic green glop. I love it. I literally watch myself making this green wonder on auto-pilot every morning, without fail.

That’s a habit; all but involuntary. (Wasn’t always that way, but about 3 months in, the auto-pilot switch flipped for me and I never looked back.)

What Habits Will You Build Your Schedule Around This Fall?

Ken Wilber describes 4 Quadrants, or primary areas of life. I find these to be the most succinct framework for a well-integrated life.

Grab your calendar, and by the end of this post, you’ll have a healthy “rock” scheduled for each quadrant. They are:

  1. Self
  2. Body
  3. Relations
  4. Systems

Like any 80/20 assessment, one of these areas will contain your BIG rock. The rest will be supporting rocks, while everything else is gravel or sand.

What we’re after in each quadrant is the One Thing that, if you do it consistently and predictably, making it an involuntary habit, will make everything else easier… or unnecessary.

So, let’s identify a habit you can develop in each quadrant, and make sure you get the big rocks in place.

Before we do, a quick disclaimer:

It takes 2-3 months for a new practice to become a habit.

Using that time-frame, it’s far easier to start with ridiculously tiny, no-fail habits and work your way up to something  you feel proud of, which changes your life in measurable ways.

For example, start with 10-seconds of meditation every morning, and win! vs. shooting for an hour and failing right out of the gate.

Then the following week, bump that up to 30-seconds, and so on, until your’e doing 5, 10, even 30-minutes consistently. This rewires your brain and makes the practice an involuntary habit.

Consistency is the key. So if you’re already doing 10-minutes of meditation a day sporadically, try 5 or even 2-minutes every day without fail and build from there.

1. Self

Self-practices could include things like:

  • Meditation which is my current focus, but I do all of these more or less habitually now (after years of practice). Try apps like Headpace if you’re just starting out, or Insight Timer if you’re looking to build consistency in your existing practice.
  • Journaling is not as scary as it sounds. Just scratch out three shitty, stream of consciousness, never to be read again ‘Morning Pages’ first chance you get each day. Use cheap $0.99 memo notebooks and burn them once they’re full! (I use a Moleskine for my coaching / workshop / business notes and I don’t burn those.)
  • Gratitude Lists have been proven to bump your dopamine levels, resulting in a significant mood enhancement, especially when stabilized through daily practice. Start by writing 3 things you’re grateful for every morning when you first wake up.
  • Reading, or listening to Audible.com, even podcasts… anything that feeds your mind is a good Self practice. Most people never read a book after college. If you read one a month, you’re doing great. One a week, and you’re on fire. You’ll feel it, too!

Start by putting one of these practices, or some equivalent Self-enhancing practice on your calendar. Ideally, daily. Pick one and start with regular, no-fail doses.

Use apps like Momentum habit tracker to support you in gamifying your new practice.

Make it fun!

2. Body

Before you start getting antsy over going to the gym, let’s slow things down and look at some foundational Body practices that will support you to create a life and business that feels deeply nourishing for you.

Body practices I’ve seen work miracles include:

  • Sleep because the science is in, and it’s just non-negotiable. You need 8 hours, on average. So, cut out caffeine after 4pm (or switch to green tea until you restore your adrenals). Dim lights after 9pm and get Fluxio on your computer to aid in melatonin production. And avoid sleep medications – the sleep is low quality.
  • Exercise in a way that works for your body, start slow and build. Try walking around the block, or hiking for a start. A little cat-cow yoga or tai chi movement to get the spine lubricated in the morning. If you’re more advanced, consider hiring a personal trainer. Get consistent. That’s the key.
  • Multi-Vitamins every day because food just isn’t what it used to be. Get a good food-based multi like MegaFood, MyKind, VitaminCode or whatever you like that’s food-based so your body doesn’t just eliminate it, undigested.
  • Green Drinks are a genius way to start your day. I don’t love veggies, which is why I LOVE my green drink. If I get nothing else green in body each day, at least I’ve got this checked off.

Here’s my morning Green Drink recipe:

Base Model:

1 Organic apple or pear (chopped, seeded, and put at bottom for better blending)
Handful of Greens (I used the organic, pre-washed field mix + some kale or chard)
1/2 Avocado (for fats and oils… add half the pit for the best soluble fiber ever)
1/2 Lemon (or lime if it’s hot that day… this is a great way to alkalize your body)
Water (just enough to get it to blend, then add more until prefered consistency)

If you want to get fancy, try adding coconut oil and cilantro in summer, ghee and ginger in winter, unhulled flax & chia seeds for protein and enzymes, seaweed for all those nutrients, collagen powder for joints, or add ¼ cup aloe vera gel to keep things flowing smoothly in there.

Adjust everything to taste and monitor your body for sensitivities. Give your body time to adjust and notice how the taste you may dislike at first becomes a craving. That’s a great sign!

 

Getting some version of all these body practices going is the best basis for health to sustain you in every other area.

For now, pick one, or create your own, and start small with tiny, no-fail repetitions. Build up over time.

3. Relations

This is where I’m personally putting in my big rock first this fall.

My daughter is 15 1/2 and if she needs anything right now, it’s a strong father showing up for her no matter what. (Much easier said than done.)

So for me, the big rock is a daddy-daughter date every week. I’m scheduling it right after yoga when I’m nice and grounded. I rescheduled her violin lesson so her mom drops her off, and I pick her up from the cafe next door where I can leave my phone in the car, and give her my undivided attention for 20 minutes or 2 hours. Whatever it takes for her to feel seen and nourished by my presence.  

Knowing that’s on the calendar every week, in addition to all our other regularly scheduled days and overnights, communicates more to her than words can ever approach. That’s putting the big rock in first, and aligning the supporting priorities (yoga, violin, pick-up/drop-off times) around it.

Relation practices I recommend for friends and clients include:

  • Date Night, if you have a partner, this is such an overlooked no-brainer, and one of the most potent ways to ensure your relationship has what it needs to thrive. Block out the time, every week, and hold that sacrosanct for connecting with your partner. Or daughter. If you have multiple kids, rotate 1-on-1 time. It will work wonders for family dynamics.
  • Imago Dialogue ensures both partners feel heard, seen and ‘gotten’ which is the essence of real communication. The steps include Mirroring, Validating, Empathizing and offering a Gift. My friend John Wineland encourages couples to practice this every day for 40 days just to make it a habit. I couldn’t agree more. Get the book or just google “Imago Steps” to get started.
  • Men’s/Women’s Group is such a valuable support structure for your life. If you’ve never experienced a regular, weekly container for going deep without the distractions of the opposite sex, I can’t recommend this highly enough.
  • Singles Practices could include anything from journaling about your ideal mate, doing therapy to prepare yourself, or creating an online profile and committing to date at least one person each week to get yourself into a rhythm until you find the one.  

Again, we’re looking to start small and build consistency. That’s what rewires your brain and turns a practice into an involuntary habit.

Your habits define you.

You are already a cluster and pulse of habits. With this back-to-school momentum, you’re consciously choosing practices you want to become the habits that define you, and your relationships.

So choose wisely!

4. Systems

There are two types of systems:

  1. Your Environment includes your ecosystem at the macro level (Vancouver is different than Boulder is different than Topeka), and your home, office, even the chair you sit in and mattress you sleep on
  2. Your Contribution system involves what you’re contributing into the marketplace and what you are receiving back (usually monetarily, but not always).

Systems practices you can score big wins fast with include:

  • Clean Out Your Closet because all the stuck energy is holding you back in your life. Believe it. Try Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. Hire a professional organizer if needed. Especially as you spend more time in doors this season, you’ll be amazed at how much flow this frees up in your space and your life.
  • Upgrade Your Systems is there something you use every day that you feel dissatisfied with? Like that old granny blender? Try upgrading to a Vitamix or Blendtec and you’ll be amazed at how your morning green drink seems to make itself. How about your chair or your computer?

Winners understand, environment is the better part of strategy.

  • Structure Your Space for the different types of work or activities you do. This is especially important if you work from home. Once I separated my financial space from my creative space, they both felt so much better, and the work got done more consistently. Make a list of the 3-5 highest priority things you do, and identify one activity that would feel so much better if it had its own space. Carve out that space and support your practice at the structural level. It doesn’t have to be its own room, just a station.

And the grandaddy of all Systems practices…

When my Purpose Mapping® clients discover their Purpose, the thing they were born to do… the thing that puts them in flow… they pause for a moment and glow, and then their very next question is always:

“Great, I know my purpose… so how do I make a living with this?”

My answer is:

  • Build Your Contribution System Around Your Flow State because anything less will leave you dissatisfied. The way to do this is slowly, through small experiments and lots of course-correcting repetition. Pick something you love to do and would do for free because it makes you feel so alive. Then give it as a gift to someone. Get paid in dopamine and endorphins. Then do it again. Get paid in testimonials. And again, and again… until someone says, “Hey, can I pay you for this?”
  • 80/20 Your Business if you’re already getting paid for doing your life’s work, then it’s time to take stock and dial in on the things only you can do, with an eye for how you can delegate, automate or eliminate everything else. Make a quick list of everything you do in your business, and circle the top 3 most profitable, flow inducing things that you do best. Make a plan to start paring away everything else on the list. One item at a time. Your increased productivity will astound you.

In Conclusion

By now you should have enough clarity to understand what the 4 Quadrants are, and why it’s important to have a practice in each area.

It doesn’t matter what practices you choose. But choose something, and put it in your calendar.

Then, monitor and adjust and correct your course continuously you hit your target. You need to understand that your target is fulfillment in life, and giving your unique gifts in powerful ways. That requires focus and FOCUS is an acronym for Follow One Course Until Successful.

Use the social momentum of the back-to-school season to make some quick, high-leverage changes in your routine, and stay the course.

Little changes now, well practiced, will result in habits that can carry you swiftly toward your goals with a lot less friction.

NOTE: Got a great idea for a habit-practice? Share what’s working in the comments below!

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 9.54.14 AMAbout the Author: Craig Filek knows success and significance are not the same thing. After building a 7-figure business, he walked away from it all to focus on what matters most — raising his daughter and living his purpose. With over 20 years experience coaching and facilitating deep, transformative work, Craig developed Purpose Mapping® to bring his own life into alignment. Now, he guides High-Achieving Misfits to reclaim their authenticity and find true fulfillment by using their talents to full capacity in service to a larger mission.

Executives, entrepreneurs, investors and professionals in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe seek Craig’s support when making life-changing decisions. If you’re ready to unlock your full potential without blowing up the success you’ve already created, request an invitation to speak with Craig.

 

“But aren’t people indecisive?”

During my last tour in Toronto leading my Marketing for Hippies 101 workshop, I was asked the same question, twice in different workshops.

“But don’t people have a hard time making decisions?”

And, both times, I had to stop to address it.

The notion that people struggle to make decisions is one of the classic premises used to justify pushy and manipulative sales techniques.

The logic goes like this.

  1. Your product or service is great and high value. It could really help people.
  2. People have a hard time deciding.
  3. So you have to help them decide. Helping them to decide is a service to them.

And that’s actually fine as it goes. It depends what we mean by ‘helping them decide’. What that usually translates into is ‘helping them say yes’ or, stated another way, ‘getting the sale.’

Let me ask you, the first time you fell in love, did you decide to or did it just happen?

Do you remember the first house or apartment you fell in love with? Did you decide to?

When people see something they like, they like it.

This notion that ‘people have a hard time making decisions’ is one of those core beliefs about humanity that feels similar to the notion that ‘kids won’t learn unless we bribe them with gold stars, grades and punishment’.

If I believe that you need what I have (which is the first thought worth questioning) and that you have a hard time deciding things (the second thought work questioning) then I will manipulate you. Those two thoughts are all I need to justify my use of pressure-filled, sneaky tactics to get you to say ‘yes’ to working with me. I’ve heard it said outright by well-known sales trainers that you need to sell yourself on your product so that you walk in absolutely certain that what you’re offering can help those people and then to do whatever it takes to sell them because you’re actually doing them a service by pushing them.

If I believe those two thoughts, I will also be blind to what’s really going on.

They’re not indecisive, they’re just not sure it’s a fit. They’re not sure it’s worth the investment. They’re not sure it’s the best use of their money. They’re not indecisive, they’re deciding.

And our job is to facilitate the decision-making process (whether that’s towards a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’).

If we let go of those thoughts and are willing to accept that we have no idea if others need what we’re offering and we let go of the idea that deciding is hard then what we’re left with is that some people decide to work with us and some don’t.

Without those two thoughts, we can see potential customers as capable human beings who are in the process of making difficult decisions. Some of them will be a good fit for us and some won’t. Some of the ones who are a good fit for us will decide to work with us and some won’t. That’s how it is.

Knowing this, we go embrace the notion of slow marketing and go back to the three roles of marketing, to crafting better packages, to gaining more skill in having conversations with potential clients, to clarifying our niche and our point of view.

Instead of applying more pressure to help them decide, we clarify what we do to make the decision-making process easier. We help them contrast and compare what we do with what others do.

Human beings are not inherently indecisive.

But, if you believe it, you might just become inherently pushy and hard to be around.

The Poverty of Believing in Yourself

13185318_sIf you’ve ever struggled with confidence in building your business, this blog post is for you.

This blog post isn’t written to give advice so much as it is to comfort and console and to lift our gaze up from our personal struggles to the bigger context in which they lie.

It is a long post that might need more than one sitting to get through but the topic is worthy of the time invested. One doesn’t approach such a topic, so central to our experience of being human in the dominant cultures of the world, lightly or casually.

*

12417937_1160132484004549_2435039033404846341_nIn mid-March of this 2016, I had a two and half hour Skype conversation with Yahya Bakkar (pictured here) in New Jersey who had been following my work for years. Many parts of the conversation struck me but one has stayed with me in particular.

He has been a motivational speaker and is working to coach and mentor young men to find self-confidence and to believe in themselves. I was inspired by his work and what it might mean for these boys with whom he’ll be working.

And he knows something about the need to believe in yourself as he was raised in a strict, religious family and was disowned by his adoptive father in his twenties because he wasn’t religious enough for him.

He also found his birth mother in his mid-twenties. She was living in Thailand and working at the airport. He flew her to the United States to visit for ten days. On the fifth day, she had a meltdown and, while he watched, tore up his only photo of himself as an infant. He’d left it, framed, by her bedside during the visit.

And then she left. He hasn’t spoken to her since.

So, as a young man, he had to learn to believe in himself because no one else would.

He had to love himself because none of the people who should have did.

And so he was going to teach these young men to believe in themselves too.

It reminds me of this quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”

Those words could only, I have, have been spoken by someone born and raised in a modern culture. I don’t know if someone raised indigenously would understand this.

I was struck by both the beauty and the poverty of the whole situation. This approach of ‘believing in ourselves’, complete with its affirmations and incantations, its notes on the mirror and its positive self-talk, is a solution to a problem.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, we imagine it to be that we don’t believe in ourselves.

But why don’t we believe in ourselves?

Because we weren’t believed in.

This is important. Our lack of self-belief isn’t a personal failing. It’s not that we’re internally deficient or lack some confidence gene that everyone else had.

This might seem like I’m indicting his parents for not believing in him, but it’s a bigger story than that. Likely his parents never got believed in either. Who knows how long this lack of belief goes back. And, frankly, this job of being believed in is a village-sized job that has been foisted onto parents. It’s too big. It’s too much to ask of the parents and it might not actually be a job that is suited for parents particularly. Surely, the aunts and uncles and grandparents have some important role in fostering the young person’s belief in themselves. Surely the rest of the community plays some role.

But it’s deeper than that.

When I talk about being believed in I mean something deeper than looking at a child and saying, “You can do anything”.

In fact, I certainly don’t mean that.

I mean something more along the lines of a community expecting the arrival of the child and considering that this child might be coming to them from somewhere and that it might be bringing with it, in its tiny closed fists as it emerges from the womb, some sort of gifts for the community. I’m talking about the community believing that its well being hinges on those gifts being properly identified and fostered into their fullest fruition. I’m talking about the community, its elders in particular, clearly seeing the seeds that have been handed down to the village from those who came before in the form of this little one and doing their best to ascertain the proper role for them.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about niching. Most of my colleagues use the word niche to mean ‘target market’. But I tend to define it as something like, ‘your role in the community’ as it comes from the old French verb ‘nicher’ which means, ‘to make a nest’. And it’s worth noting that the bird makes the nest for their young. The chicks in the eggs don’t build the nest into which they will be born. And so, the role of culture needs to be about helping the young person to find their role.

My father died when I was nine years old from multiple sclerosis and I never had a strong male role model growing up. Those male role models became men, most of whom I never met except in passing. They were men who wrote the personal growth books I devoured with a hunger I couldn’t understand. Leo Buscaglia, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, Gregg Braden and more. I was trying to elder myself with personal growth books because there were no elders around.

That wasn’t my mom’s job.

It wasn’t even just my family’s job.

It’s not a job that they, alone, were capable of. It’s too big.

The personal growth scene is big on confidence as a thing to cultivate.

After all, if you don’t have it, what might happen? It’s like a ticking time-bomb we know might go off. If we don’t become confident by a certain point, then it could be too late and the timer might run out, and the bomb could explode leaving us with a life of quiet desperation.

And yet, the desperation is present now in the way we approach this getting of confidence. It’s present in the way we talk about confidence as something we can ‘get’.

The desperation is present because the bomb we’re terrified might detonate already went off so many generations ago and we are standing in the crater of it. We are standing in the poverty of the dismantled village. We are left fending for our own belief in ourselves. We are left with a fractured, individualized understanding of who we are. Instead of understanding ourselves as a part of a community we are left to understand ourselves as some static, atomized individual who is responsible for making themselves feel worthy.

We are told that we need to parent ourselves. And I’m not arguing with this or suggesting this kind of therapy isn’t vitally important work to do. I’m grateful that the ones who do it are out there. But I am suggesting that the existence of this work and the clear need for it is a sign of the deep poverty of this culture and collapse of village mindedness.

It is madness. 

Of course, we feel desperate about it all.

*

“If you haven’t been fed, become bread.”

I think we also forget how much of authentic confidence comes from real competence.

If you are good at something you will tend to feel confident about it. 

When we are doing something we aren’t good at and we fail, it’s a terrible feeling. People have been let down. People have been hurt. We didn’t do a good job. If we’re an alive, empathetic human being, we’re going to feel bad about that because, in our heart of hearts, we’d never want to hurt someone.

When someone isn’t skilled in an area and is being asked to take on a big job in that arena, the appropriate response is not, “You can do it! Just believe in yourself.”

In a traditional culture, you’d never become a medicine person after taking a year-long course. You’d be mentored. You’d apprentice to someone. You’d be set up for success and not failure. You’d have support. And you would have, likely, been recognized as someone to groom for this role from a young age.

If a young person was born with a fascination in stories, maybe they might become a story teller. If they were more athletic, maybe a hunter. If they were drawn to crafting, maybe that.

But, in this culture, we are raised to conform, fit in, be a cog in the wheel of industry and progress. In this culture, we are told how to be based on our gender. In this culture, we are put into boxes of reward and punishment. In this culture, we are led so far astray from the reason we might be here, the gifts we brought in the trust that our community would recognize them, that even finding our way back there is a miracle. And finding our way back to that without help? It’s a miracle.

I found myself amazed at the work this Yahya was doing. “What you have done is Herculean” I told him. “It’s huge. You’ve taken on the work of a whole village in trying to find those gifts and then craft a way to give them. It’s too big. Robert Bly has the line, “If you haven’t been fed, become bread.” You’ve done that. You’ve become bread for these young men. And my hope is that your work with them helps ease their burden, that it’s another step towards some sort of a village so that those to come aren’t left with the too heavy burden of trying to figure out their gifts on their own or believing in themselves.”

*

The following is something I came across on Facebook. I can’t verify the truth of this story, though I have heard of it from other sources I trust as well,

“There is a tribe in Africa called the Himba tribe, where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.

And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.”

*

The industry of believing in ourselves is often a band-aid solution to a deep laceration. It’s covering up something so immense. It’s an industry that whispers to the sapling, “Water yourself. Be your own Sun. Be your own soil.” As Stephen Jenkinson puts it,

“If you’re on the receiving end of that stuff long enough, what happens is, there’s this little bud that grows up from you being bombarded with somebody being certain that you’re loveable, no matter what you think. And that little bud is a bud of worthiness. That you didn’t do anything to conjure, or manufacture. It’s not a meritocracy getting loved, getting grieved, getting understood and seen. It isn’t. It’s a consequence that you’ve got sane people around you. That’s what it is. But if you have this bud of worthiness that somehow, involuntarily starts to take up room and your take on yourself? The inevitable consequence is your ability to love somebody is born there.”

In the video below, Poet Maya Angelou once recounts to comedian Dave Chappelle about her experience of meeting young rapper Tupac Shakur. The way she related to him was the way an elder relates to young people, a feeding of their deep importance in the scheme of things. This kind of interaction is one that every young person deserves on a regular basis. What she does to Tupac is not to feed his ego, but to feed his soul and to tether him back into the history of his people. She places him back into belonging. She nails him back to time and place. She tells him, “This is who you are. This is where you are. This is when you are.”

And how many young people will ever be on the receiving end of such a moment? How many will be fed in this way? How many will ever even meet someone capable of this kind of beauty?

I recall one story I heard from an elder who was sitting with a young man, an activist wrestling with the state of the world.

“I am depressed,” said the young man.

“Yes, you are.” said the elder. “But, depressed as you may be, while we are here together, you won’t be depressed alone.”

He was affirming his feelings. He wasn’t trying to change him. He was letting him know he mattered enough to have company in the matter.

While speaking to a group of kids at Vashon High School in St. Louis, ET the Hip Hop Preacher, a black motivational speaker, was confronted with deeply disrespectful behaviour from his audience of mostly black students. His response was not to attack or shut them down but to confront them with a fierce love and honesty.

There are so many ways this kind of love and believing in people can look.

But most of us didn’t get a lot of it.

This culture is full of olders on drugs but has a deep poverty of elders dispensing medicine. This culture is full of young people with gifts to give and no one to recognize those gifts.

Years ago, I interviewed the good David Waugh of the Natural Gifts Society about this issue.

Tad: So, how did you get involved in, with this work of helping people find their gifts?

David: Yeah, it started, oh, very early on. I would say one of the first mentors that I found when I was lost in my mid-life crisis, in that crisis all of my old identities didn’t work anymore. I had been running a business, I left that. My marriage broke down, so I was no longer a husband and a father, a worker. All of those identities that I really thought — when people would ask me who I am, I would describe myself in those terms.

When I left all of that, it was like the deep question: “Who am I?” It started to haunt me, and I had some time and I had some means so then I started to explore. One of the first mentors that I came across was a fellow named James Hillman, who just passed away last year. He has a wonderful book called “The Soul’s Code,” and that was my first hint that there’s some sort of code, there’s some sort of pattern and it’s really unique to each person.

The metaphor that he used was — just like the acorn that has the blueprint of the mighty oak tree, it’s that specific. Each person has something of a unique pattern, and that’s very different from a lot of how the culture represents us as more of a blank slate. I think the term is “tabula rasa.”

It’s actually echoed in many indigenous traditions around, and like you say, the Catholic mystics also discovered that people have these innate or inherent gifts of spirit, that’s the way they articulated it. James Hillman called it “the soul’s code.”

Then I started in my research, I met an African shaman who really still — he’s quite modern in the sense that he has a couple of PhD’s, but he went through a traditional initiation. His name is Malidoma Somé, and he says in their culture when the mother is pregnant with a new child, the medicine person or their shaman actually interviews the child when it’s in the womb through a kind of hypnosis, I suppose. They find out that the child has a unique purpose, a unique destiny.

This is probably the oldest tradition on the face of the planet since modern research is showing that we all originated in Africa at one point, and this is an ancient idea that we’re — each person is unique and how to find that uniqueness and have it unfold.

A lot from our education system focuses on kind of standardized testing and there’s a lot of mixed messages like “You can be anything you want to be.” Well, that’s kind of life telling the acorn that it could be a rose or a sunflower, where it’s actually more precise in, you know, we’re fortunate enough if we can be who we’re meant to be. That’s going to take some help, I think, some guidance.

If you struggle with believing in yourself it’s because, properly, I don’t think that it should be your job. It’s a job that’s too big for you. It’s a village sized job being taken on by an individual. It should have been the job of everyone around you as you grew up to help you find the perfect role for you in your community and to become good at it so that your community could receive your gifts.

“…in their culture when the mother is pregnant with a new child, the medicine person or their shaman actually interviews the child when it’s in the womb through a kind of hypnosis, I suppose. They find out that the child has a unique purpose, a unique destiny.”

*

If you struggle with believing in yourself, the truth is that you may always be plagued with this.

You may never get the confirmation from the world that you need.

It may be too late for you.

But, again, “if you haven’t been fed, become bread”.

If you didn’t get it from your family, you can be that for others.

Being wounded doesn’t mean you can’t heal others. It just means you know how important the medicine is.

If you don’t believe in yourself, then see if you can’t walk your way towards believing in others and why they’re here. And see if that can’t be something more than a reflex, blanket reaction of positive affirmations. See if you can make it particular to those you meet as you narrow your eyes a little to make out the types of seeds they carry with them in their fists that they never dared to open because they were terrified to lose what they’d been entrusted with knowing full well that their family and community had no capacity to see or help them plant those seeds so they can grow. If you’re very lucky, maybe some of those people will relax their fists open and you can sit next to them and help them in learning to weave them into that bigger blanket of a village that might be one day.

*

It’s good to distinguish, in all of this healing work, the difference between healing and a cure.

A cure means the problem is gone.

Healing means that some measure of wholeness has been restored.

And, often, we don’t find a cure, but we do find healing.

*

A good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself… it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals. But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armour, he has no effect.”— Carl Jung 

The archetype of “The Wounded Healer”, as we know it now, seems to have originated with Carl Jung (1875-1961) in the Greek myth of Chiron (a centaur, was known as a wise teacher, healer and prophet) who, in the process of overcoming the pain of his own wounds, came to be known to us in modern times as the compassionate master teacher of the arts of healing and medicine, privy to the secrets of life and death.

During a skirmish with a rowdy bunch of centaurs Hercules, carelessly and accidentally wounded his friend and mentor, Chiron, in the knee with one of his arrows.

The arrows Hercules had chosen to use on this particular day were arrows coated with the blood of the monster Hydra. Arrows coated with the blood of the Hydra were known to cause painful wounds that would never heal.

Being an immortal, Chiron would never be able to heal from the wound caused by Hercules, and being immortal he could never die.

He then retreated to his cave to heal himself, and, in so doing, created the healing arts. Ironically and despite this great achievement, his wound never healed. He had spent his entire life becoming very accomplished in the use of healing with herbs and other methods, but he could not alleviate his own pain. But, in his own search for personal healing, his ability to heal and teach others grew.

On the Moontides blog, I found these good words.

Chiron reminds to us that it is only by being willing to face, consciously experience and go through our wound do we receive its blessing.We are all wounded healers in one way or another, and many of us have been directed and made wise through our own painful childhood experiences. Hence, it is through these very experiences of hurt and pain that we can best help others…and it is not just helping those who are suffering similar experiences. In fact, the healing process applies to ourselves as well because each time we relive our pain in order to help others, we are also again dealing with and healing ourselves just a little bit more.

We each have the ability and perseverance to go beyond our issues, our problems and troubles, and not have suffering label us as who we are. There are many men and women – probably in our daily lives – who are an inspiration and testimony to that. Chiron symbolizes those who find the strength through suffering to help others avoid the pain they themselves have had to undergo. We are often directed and made wise by own painful childhood experiences. Chiron’s house and sign show where we have been deeply wounded and may hold the key to our own healing. Chiron takes us on a journey through our darkness, personally and collectively. He teaches us that our wounds contain a gift, and that the process of healing oneself is a journey back to greater wholeness and integrity…the gift of who we truly are. His story reminds us of the magic, relief and healing that can occur when we fully accept and honour who we are. 

A Chironian wound is an injury that will never, ever totally heal.

We learn, suffer and grow from dealing with this sensitive area . . . but the wounding will never totally heal and go away. This Chironian wounding is then a special area where we can help others. The more work we put into our own healing and learning, the more useful we will be to others. Having a wound alone doesn’t qualify you for anything in particular but Chiron also teaches us that we can still be a blessing to the world with unhealed wounds. 

The most important question is not how to get rid of our own wounds, but how to make our wounds a source of healing…it’s like the Grand Canyon is a wound in the Earth, but if you go into that wound, there’s a healing force coming out.” — Henri Nouwen

*

This culture is obsessed with the self.

We imagine ourselves to be self-made and value self-esteem. We try to teach young people about self-respect and self-worth. When we are dumped or heartbroken, we are told to practice self-love.

What if instead of manufacturing belief in ourselves, we could muster up some of the honest grief for having never been believed in the first place? Maybe that might be a more honest path to follow. Maybe that grief could remind us that we showed up here with something to give. Maybe the grief could point us back in the direction of the village we left so long ago.

What if, instead of trying to avoid our lack of belief in ourselves, we could learn that lack of belief and come to understand what it does to us? What if we could testify to what it does to someone when others look through them? What if we could give voice to the grief of never having been seen so that others might follow that our well-wept tears to water the seeds in our unopened fists? Isn’t this what many of the greatest artists in the world have done? They have turned their own suffering into art and beauty.

What’s missing is the grieving that this world full of people who don’t believe in themselves. What’s missing is the grieving of what’s been lost and what we never knew. What’s missing is a village full of grandmothers and grandfathers who help us find our way. When we don’t grieve its absence we have no chance at cultivating its presence. Our grieving it is our remembering that it matters. It is our affirming and praising its importance.

When we grieve, we aren’t cured, but we do receive some portion of healing.

So, if you’re looking for a cure to your lack of belief in yourself, consider that inwards may not be the only direction to face because the feelings of belonging, peace and happiness we’re after don’t come this alone.

“The devotion to personal contentment is the depression machine, it generates the depression. It makes the depression inevitable which of course obliges you to work harder to be happy and there we are. But how does it do that? Because it whispers to you that happiness should be the discernible consequence of you winning, of you trying hard, of your best intent being in the forefront of all your design. And a lot of people in the world, ancestrally, knew long ago that being content or that sense of well-being, that’s a consequence of your willingness to help the world live. That your happiness is actually a corollary—let me change happiness—that your health is a corollary of the health of everything around you.” —Stephen Jenkinson

If you are trying to ‘get confidence’ (as if it were something you could buy off the shelf at the local mall) you may be trying to find a remedy for something that has no cure. You may be a tree planted in the crater where a bomb went off, struggling to survive and feeling that it’s your fault that you don’t grow stronger not even knowing what it would be like to be a part of an old growth forest. And, if you learn of that heartbreaking impossibility, then you are left with the realization that the old growth forest isn’t for you. You will never live to see it and you deserve it as much as any human being ever born. You were not born in the old growth. It will be a thousand years before it arrives.

“The candle is not lit To give light, but to testify to the night.” – Robert Bly, The Night Abraham Called to the Stars: Poems

You were born now in the crater.

And so, what does this time and this place ask of you then? Perhaps, what it asks of you is to plant the saplings and tend to them, to be the source of that old growth for the ones yet to come. Perhaps the crater is asking you to redeem it and turn into a place worth coming from.

My friend Corin Raymond struggled with self-doubt for years and wrote songs about it. He was guided by the understanding that, if you need it, someone else will too. Jonathan Byrd calls these songs ‘Songs of Service’. “This is a song I worked on for many years, and I talk about it in the Record Lonesome Night book, how the song – even during the years it was unfinished – was a companion and a friend I could turn to. I had the idea when I was probably twenty, and I started writing it for a girl, but as the years went by, the “you” in the song became me. It became a letter to myself, a reaching out, an offer of friendship from the part of me that had faith that we were going to make it. It’s definitely one of the songs that saved me.”

What if we were less concerned about getting confidence and more concerned with creating beauty? And what if this included beautifully expressed grief? What if we were less concerned with acquiring belief in ourselves and more focused on believing in others? What if we stopped running from our low self-confidence and started getting to know it? 

As David Richo put it in this beautiful book, How To Be An Adult,

“Our problem is not that, as children, our needs were unmet, but that, as adults, they are still unmourned… neediness itself tells us nothing about how much we need from others; it tells us how much we need to grieve the irrevocably barren past and evoke our own inner sources of nurturance… What was missed can never be made up for, only mourned and let go of… We are grieving the irretrievable aspects of what we lost and the irreplaceable aspect of what we missed. Only these two realizationslead to the resolution of grief because only these acknowledge, without denial, how truly bereft we were or are. From the pit of this deep admission that something is irrevocably over and fone, we finally stand clear of the insatiable need to find it again from our parents or partner. To have sought it was to have denied how utter was its absence. Griefwork done with consciousness builds self-esteem since it shows us our courageous faithfulness to the reality of loss. It authenticates us as adults who can say Yes to sadness, anger, and hurt. Such an heroic embrace of our own truth transforms emptiness into capacity. As Jung notes, ‘your inner emptiness conceals just as great a fullness if you only allow it.'”

*

If you don’t believe in yourself, I don’t blame you.

It’s hard.

And it was never your job to begin with.

When someone says, “believe in yourself!”, it’s so worthless. It’s just words. And words aren’t food. So much of the meaning of your life is in the hands of others and the meaning they grant it by their actions and non-actions. When someone believes in you, there is no price that can be put on it.

One of my friends, in a conversation about this, shared with me, “This seems true and I find it so disheartening. I’ve never really valued myself and I’ve always struggled to try and believe that I had something to offer others. Now, if this is true then I’m left feeling both validated and powerless. Validated because I feel like the struggle to build my self-worth has never been successful and powerless because maybe I don’t have as much control over it as I had hoped.”

And, of course, we don’t.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.

I’m not against pump up and motivation. I’m not against therapy, visualizations, meditations, and retreats to build up self-confidence. Those all seem to be a needed part of the story these days, and god bless the people who do that work, but the fact that it’s needed is an indictment of the deep poverty of our culture. It’s what we’ve been left with. It’s not a sign of our culture’s wisdom. It’s the evidence of how much wisdom has been lost.

I’m not against the work people are doing to help other’s believe in themselves, and surely there must be a diversity of perspectives and approaches on this in the world, but, before you can believe in yourself, you need to see yourself and, the one thing we can never really see is ourselves. The set up of the whole arrangement of our bodies is that we have eyes on the front of our heads that see most of our bodies but not all of it. There’s a lot of yourself you usually don’t see. Without a mirror, you can’t see the back of your head or neck or upper back. And so, it’s up to the community to see the rest of you. If you don’t have a community, you’re left to twist yourself into contortions to get some perspective on yourself or to walk around believing only in the parts of you that you can see.

I’m not against the work of helping people believe in themselves but, in this culture at this time, much of that work seems to further the deification of our individualism. It’s the attempt to reify our capacity to be self-made. It’s the affirmation of our atomized understanding of this universe. It’s our saying. “I can exist without you. I don’t need you to believe in me… and you don’t need me either.”

And what is the end game of this all? Nobody needs anybody. Everybody is self-sufficient.

Cha duine, duine ‘na aonar (A person by himself is not a person).” – Scottish Gaelic Proverb

I’m saying that worshipping at the altar of the self is a lonely place to be.

I’m not saying the pain isn’t real. It’s too real.

I’m not against reading books on positive thinking, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the heart-brokeness that these times seem to ask of us, as long as it doesn’t stop us from using that grief, or being used by it, to make something beautiful to feed life. Grief is a reliable compass, pointing us in the direction of what matters. Grief is what connects us with the beauty and preciousness of life and reminds us that life is worth believing in. Our deep grief can be a form of high praise for the thing we never got. Grief is what motivates us to make sure that it still has a place in this world.

I’m saying that, as Vernon Howard put it, “the resistance to the disturbance is the disturbance.” Our resistance to grieving what we never had is the issue, not just that we never had it.

I’m saying that confidence is the natural by-product a sense of deep belonging to a people and place. It comes from our lived relationship to all of the people we know, all of the natural world and whatever that mysterious unseen world is. Belonging comes from relationship. Belonging is the seed from which a comfort in our own skin might sprout and bloom into a flower that some might name ‘confidence’. Confidence is the natural by-product of being supported in developing an articulated skillfulness in the expression of your natural gifts that others helped you identify. 

I’m saying that the bromides of “You can do anything!”, “Believe in yourself,” and “You can do it,” are sometimes tonic and sometimes toxic. Sometimes they encourage people to keep going and sometimes they encourage people to do foolish things. Sometimes people should not believe they have the capacity to do things (e.g. “Sure! You could do brain surgery! You just have to be confident in yourself.” or “Sure you can lead this group through this healing ceremony!”). Sometimes confidence is misplaced. 

Believing in ourselves, in the way this culture asks us to, seems to be an impossible task like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again before it reaches the top. Our modern approach to confidence mistakes the sources of our strength and any swagger we might have and ignores the gravity of the culture that we live in.

 The soldiers settled down to filling and lighting their clay pipes. They continued to ignore him as if he were a ghost and they could not see him. Perhaps he was in a dream. Or perhaps he was a ghost; perhaps he was dead already. How would you know if you were dead?” – Peter Behrens, The Law of Dreams

The story we are fed is that we’re supposed to be able to live in a culture that fundamentally looks through us, or sees us as a resource to be used or that sees us as inadequate in some fundamental way and be utterly unaffected by this. That’s the story we are told is true. You’re supposed to stand in the face of that and remain intact. According to whom?

This is madness.

During the Potato Famine in Ireland, many Irish fled their country to North America. But the route took many of them through Liverpool, a town that, according to John Kelly in his book The Graves Are Walking, “had grown steadily wealthier on the high-end vices of the white man: African slaves, sugar and tobacco. In 1807, when Britain abolished slavery, Liverpool – nimbler than other English seaports – identified immigration as the next growth area of human trafficking.  By the 1820’s, the city offered regular passenger service to North America.” But even those Irish who, somehow, survived the famine that killed twice as many as the American Civil War, were often emotionally and spiritually crushed by their time in Liverpool. For most of them, “…Liverpool represented a first encounter with modernity… Under the sheltering umbrella of peasant culture, even the most humble could be esteemed. Of course, the peasant knew he was poor, but that was the result of being outmatched by life, and where was the shame in that? Many a man – many a fine man – had been outmatched by life. Besides, the peasant’s language, Irish, was such a glory, the saints in heaven spoke it.  In Liverpool, modernity pitilessly deconstructed all the comforting myths of peasant culture; the emigrant suddenly found himself an object of horror and contempt… In Liverpool, the emigrant was forced to see himself – judge himself – by the standards and values of the modern world. The historian Robert Scally has called this change in perspective the ‘Liverpool Mirror.’ and it was as cruel as any pestilential Vauxhall cellar. Standing in front of his reflection, the peasant saw the poet, honored for his perfect image of the moon, and the ‘scholar’ revered for his ”priest’s knowledge of Latin’ dissolve into Punch’s ‘aboriginal Irishman: illiterate, savage,’ a speaker of a language ‘through which no light had flashed for a thousand years.’… some were broken utterly and completely by it.”

Swagger doesn’t come from affirmations. It comes from belonging. It comes from having a people who have your back. Swagger comes from having a role in your community. Swagger comes from the end of self-concern which is the bloom on the flower of knowing your place in something so much bigger than you, something which your life is dedicated to feeding.

I’m saying that we can be the source of a world that would never place the burden of ‘believing in yourself’ on the shoulders of the young, a world where children would know that our love for them was a place they could rest and lean into not a prize to be won so that, when they are adults, they’ll know that they are here not to earn love but to spend it.

And, in reality, when my friend does his good work with young men around their self-confidence, his teaching the concept of ‘believing in yourself’ won’t be the power of his work. It will be his believing in the particular youth with whom he works, the look in his eyes and the fact that he makes time for them that tells them, “You matter.” The notion of self-confidence is the menu. His willingness to sit with them and listen and try to see what they’re seeing… that’s the food.

People seeing us and believing in us is food. We can’t live without it and we can’t self-generate it. We can question the thoughts that stop us from seeing all ways we have been and are being affirmed every day by simply being alive. We can question the thoughts that, “We’re worthless” but… it’s likely we even need help doing that.

Years ago, I heard an audio of Jack Canfield and he ended by telling the listener that, even if no one else in the world believed in them, he did. “I believe in you,” he said. And that message was a mixture of things. It was a beautiful and sincere message, the kind of message I am imagining he could have used when he was younger. And it was also a generic message, however genuine, to the masses. It was a ghost of the real thing that had very little power to touch anyone in a lasting way. It was an indictment of the culture that he felt, accurately, it was a needed message. 

Many of us grew up not believing in ourselves. We grew up not knowing our gifts or strengths. We grew up not getting much of the emotional and spiritual food that we needed to become healthy human beings. The most terrible part of this all is how normal it has become. We look at the situation, if we see it as a situation at all, and we imagine that it has always been this way, that it is this way everywhere and that it will always be this way. “Of course,” we tell ourselves. “Humans are plagued with self-doubt and don’t believe in themselves! That’s how it is!” 

It has become normal, but it is not natural.

The work Yahya is trying to do with young men is beautiful and it’s needed but what does it say about our culture that it’s needed?

There are other cultures who do not know these neuroses. We all descend from cultures like this. Remembering this is costly and asks a lot of us to see that. But, in seeing it and being willing to grieve the absence of it, our tears water the ground of our days to make it fertile for the possibility of the presence of it again in the days of those to come.

Decades ago, Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” I don’t think she was endorsing self-definition here. I don’t think she was trying to make the case for defining ourselves as the height of any sort of personal empowerment. I think she was testifying to what it was like to be a strong, black woman in a time that vilified and demonized strong, black women. I think she was giving voice to the truth of how impossibly hard it is to love one’s self in the face of the sustained gaze of hatred and indifference; how unattainable it can seem to even see one’s self as real, substantial and of any consequence to a world that looks right through you when it looks at you. I imagine it might have been hard for her, as her fame grew, to also contend with being seen as something more than human by those who followed her works – the crushing weight of expectations and hopes that our own communities can foist on us that are too big to carry. I think she was testifying not to her strength but she was grieving aloud the poverty of a culture that required her to define herself. 

The central poverty isn’t that we don’t believe in ourselves but that we have to.

Suggested Reading: 

Long Life, Honey in the Heart – Martin Prechtel

What am I being asked to see here?

20104219_s“The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.” – Carl Jung

Sometimes in business things go wrong.

Sometimes it’s because we are out of integrity. Sometimes it’s because others are. Sometimes, everyone’s in integrity and it still falls apart.

However it happens, there’s a certain amount of heartbreak that can occur. It can leave us feeling shame, regret and hopeless.

The questions we ask ourselves in these moments shapes everything.

We are often tempted to ask ourselves questions like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why does it never go right for me?” or “Why didn’t anyone respond?” or “How can I fix this?”

Here’s a different question I recommend asking: what am I being asked to see here?

If things have gone wrong, there’s a good chance that there’s something you didn’t see that led to it. Maybe it was something in yourself. Something in a business partner. Maybe it was something in the marketplace.

But this is a question worth setting aside a quiet, undisturbed 20 minutes for with a pen and paper. It’s worth wondering about. This question isn’t interested in making you or anybody wrong. It’s not interested in fault finding. It’s just interested in helping you to see more.

And then, once you see what you haven’t seen before. Look at that piece and ask yourself, “What am I being asked to see here?”

 

When we have a problem, the instinct is to move faster to solve it but it’s often wise to slow down and see if we can’t see more first so that any actions we take might be better informed and less full of drama.

We often get into trouble because we have some blinders on. And, before breaking into a problem-solving sprint, it’s usually a good idea to see if we can’t take them off, or at least open them up a bit.

Getting Unstuck: The Five Minute Support-Asking Blitz

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If you’re on this list you’re an entrepreneur but, if I know my people at all, that really means you’re a solopreneur.

Emphasis on the word “solo.”

That means you’re doing almost everything alone.

And you think that you should be doing better.

This is insanity.

What if, instead of beating yourself up for not being more successful, you were to step back and see the truth of the situation: you need more support.

In fact, you need a lot more support than you might think you need.

How much?

Well, you’ll be happy to know I can give you an exact quantity.

You need an embarrassing amount of support.

Possibly a mortifying amount.

I mean that, if you don’t feel embarrassed and humbled by how much support you’re asking for, it’s probably not enough.

My take on it: if you could have done better on your own you would have. Period. You haven’t done better and that tells me that something is missing. Maybe you’re needing support:

  • With social media; or your website; or other online presence issues
  • To get clear on your goals, or clear on where you’re currently stuck
  • Tidying up and organizing your workspace
  • Learning how to have sales conversations that feel good instead of terrible
  • With building better business systems

Great. What support do you need to make those happen?

Isn’t it true that you need more support?

The big question to me is, why haven’t you asked for it yet?

When you sit with that question, you discover that you’ve been scared to ask for help because of what others might think of you.

Here’s my assignment for you (and it’s a favourite part of participants of my Meantime 30 Day Cashflow Challenge):

Part One: Take five minutes and brainstorm all of the different kinds of support you’re most needing right now.

Part Two: Take another five minutes and go on a support-asking blitz. The rule is that, for those five minutes, you can’t stop asking for support. You must keep at it. You can text, email, message or post a request on Facebook. Keep at it. Keep asking. Note: if you don’t feel embarrassed by the end, start over. Ask big. Ask for what you really need.

Part Three: Schedule to return here to this blog to comment on what happened as a result of this support-asking blitz within 24 hours.