In her book Start Right Where You Are, Sam Bennett sells a story about an email list to whom she would send free stuff.
“Then my wise friend Melissa pointed out that I very rarely offered anything else for sale, and when I did offer a program or workshop, I was much too low-key about it. It was as though my sales strategy was something like ‘Okay, here’s a bunch of stuff for free, and now by the way I’ve got something for sale, but you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to, and now let’s talk about something else, okay?’”
I read this book many years ago and, at the time, I marked the paragraph and wrote, simply, “Uhh…” in the margin. It hit close to home. It still does.
I can no longer tell you when I first started sending out newsletters; I can’t even tell you when I committed to a weekly note to The Bigger Badder Crew. It’s been a long damn time. That’s all I know. For some time now, the acknowledgment of my coaching practice has been a little blurb toward the bottom, after the content and the sign-off, after the reminder about Chomp & Chat and the free-to-attend Bigger Badder Book Club.
Recently, I started sharing my little zines with their latte-priced tags (for the high-dollar ones) in my weekly email and I’ve noticed a yammering Innerling voice saying, “People are going to feel pitched to. They’re going to tune out. They’re not going to like you anymore…”
Sam Bennett says something similar there, too: “I was afraid that if I tried to sell them something, I would lose their affection. I had made their affection more important to me than income.”
Seth Godin, who wrote blurbs for both of Bennett’s books, coached me once for what was probably no more than seven minutes. What I took away from what felt like three years in a hot, intense spotlight was this analogy, paraphrased as closely as my brain will go:
Anyone can read Gretchen Ruben for free but if you want her to listen to you, you’d better bring a wheelbarrow full of money.
His point was this: Generosity isn’t just nice. It’s wonderful and important in a lot of ways. (Anyone who has engaged with any of his books or courses will tell you that generosity is a hot topic.) And be sure you’re not giving away the work that pays your light bill.
Coaching pays my light bill.
Listening deeply and using what I hear to help people see and hear themselves more fully pays my light bill.
Guiding people toward not the right answers but their best answers is what pays my light bill.
Sharing perspectives and tools that I’ve been gathering like a crow scouring the earth for buttons and shiny scraps of tin is what pays my light bill.
My clients, though, don’t hire me because they’re invested in my access to electricity. They hire me because they’re invested in their own Life Well Lived and they’ve decided to listen to the quiet little voice of wisdom that tells them an informed outside perspective will help them not only live into that life more fully but figure out what exactly that life may be.
The weekly emails and regular community gatherings, the zines and occasional giveaways? These I do for the sake of my own delight and my hope that what delights me will be meaningful to my community of readers; my hope is that like a good piece of fiction that leads you to extrapolate out and find the truth for you, you’ll find in my stories bits and bobs that touch or enliven or reassure or, best yet, provide some utility to you.
Humility, I have long believed, is not a denial of where we are uniquely skilled. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment of those unique skills paired with the awareness that we will always have room to grow and that there will inevitably be others who are more skilled than us, both in the arenas where we shine and in the far more abundant arenas where we are fair-to-midland or full-on clumsy.
For many of us, though, our fear of arrogance leads us to tarnish our own shine.
I’m shiniest as a coach. I endeavor to become as skilled at being a spouse. I have no desire to try and be as skilled as a marketer, a hiker, or a candlestick maker.