Listen to the story here:
You’ve probably had a year that marked a pivot or change in your life. You take a bold leap in the direction of your dream and everything shifts. 1999 was that year for me. The changes I made set me on a new course as a writer, a coach and a person who finally felt like she was living the life she was meant for.
Part of me resists going into the way-back machine to write this story. Another part of me insists. I’ve seen it so many times: we all need more acknowledging and celebrating our wins. But as I reflected on that first summer of coaching and on all the steps between then and now, I recall how hard it was. How many times I wanted to give up. Getting to a 20-year business anniversary isn’t an accident. A blend of hard work, good fortune and the generosity of others has brought me here. I don’t want to skip over what it took to get here. In sharing this and other stories of things I have created, I hope to inspire you to take up your own daring projects.
That summer, I enrolled in a training that not only gave me a career, but a set of skills I could use to design my life according to my dreams and skills. I began writing a novel, and though I didn’t know it then, launched a business that would carry me through the next twenty years.
Earlier that year, I had heard about coaching from a magazine article. I signed up for the entire Coaches Training Institute program. The coach training coursework offered a completely new way of looking at life. It was a crash course in conscious communicating. I learned how to make choices according to who I am and what I want for my life. This wasn’t just a way to help others; my own life would be transformed in the process of serving others. It blew the lid off my mental state and opened up so much possibility. I started putting into place some of the things I’d dreamed about when I did The Artist’s Way five years earlier.
I was naive about what it would take to actually build a business around a skill set. I had just left my long-time job at Capitol Hill Books in Denver. My time at this quirky second-hand bookshop was my graduate school. I felt great freedom and joy in charting my own course of study at the bookstore. I had just abandoned pursuit of a master’s degree in French and set off on my own path.
I lived nimbly and humbly. Several income streams helped me make a new life for myself. I taught cooking and writing classes, worked as a personal chef and picked up other odd jobs as needed. I didn’t own a car, a home or lots of possessions. I wasn’t responsible for pets or children. Housesitting at a friend’s for the year brought my expenses way down. I spent my extra money on travel or workshops as I still do today.
Remember when you were a beginner at something? It’s not easy. It’s humbling. You kinda suck and you know you suck. I loved learning the coaching skills. But practicing them was daunting. I stumbled my way through client sessions, with sweaty pits and my mind on doing it right – asking the right questions, giving the client my best effort. It would be many years before I could drop the model from my awareness when coaching. It takes time to go from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.
Most of us get really frustrated on a steep learning curve. I was no exception, but I kept practicing. I was grateful for those people who trusted me in those early days with their hopes and fears. I had no idea what I was doing building a business but I was slowly improving as a coach.
Finding clients as a new coach
I practiced coaching on anyone who would sign up for a 60-minute session. At the end of my vegetarian cooking classes, I talked about coaching. I passed around a sign-up sheet for a free sample. I did all the things one did back then to enroll clients: giving sample sessions, leading workshops with a coaching element, publishing a newsletter and hosting a web site. I had been teaching writing classes already, so I knew how to facilitate a group. Now I was adding coaching to the workshops to address the challenges we face when we commit to writing but that no one ever talked about in writing workshops.
But it wasn’t easy. I had to somehow overcome the feelings many of us have. Do you recognize yourself in these things I told myself? I didn’t want to ‘sell myself’. I resisted ‘pushing myself onto people’. It took all my courage and the support of my coach to do the things required to spread the word about my new work.
When we embark on something new, one of the first things we have to do is let our people know what we are up to. Nudged on by my coach, I wrote and sent a letter to everyone I knew. It was terrifying to ‘put myself out there’. Letting people know what I was doing and why was very uncomfortable. Even though this was incredibly difficult, tapping into my network helped me get started. Some of my first clients were people I already knew. Back then, most people hadn’t heard of coaching. There was a lot of work educating people. I worked in the ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ zone while I built confidence and competence.
There were fun things about building a business, too. I got to indulge my tastes and preferences for how I wanted my days to flow. I’d always been an office supply nerd, ever since I was a girl. I used to have my own desk and office at home. I was just like my dad, who ran his business from a desk in our home, and later my mom, who also had her own business. I loved keeping my pencils and pens tidy, and my notebooks in order. I had a ledger in which I wrote down all the books I got from the library and my rating for them. Not much has changed, hello Goodreads! My ‘office’ was a closet desk, with shelves and drawers. I was small enough to crawl inside and sit ensconced in the scent of pencil shavings and paper. I loved the order of my pens, paperclips and ledgers.
So in 1999, starting my coaching business meant, of course, getting office supplies. I went to Office Depot with my friend Gigia. There, we each put a Mac computer on the Office Depot credit card. If you paid it off in six months, there was no interest. I also got a fax machine and a ream of paper. And pens, I am sure. Thus in the summer of 1999, I entered the digital era.
Who would have known that I would take up a skillset and turn it into a thriving, 20-year old business? Back then, the internet wasn’t yet the platform to launch yourself and hang your shingle. I could not have known I could work completely online and from a home office. I’m grateful for it all – timing, luck and connections to new people and new ways of thinking.
Bringing coaching to writing
I took the common advice to find a niche for my work. Being a creative type and a writer, I focused on helping people get their work out of their head and into the world. It’s been a twenty-year deep dive into the creative process. In the course of thousands of conversations with clients, in the thick of my own making, in the study of what works to be an empowered creative, I have learned so much. I’m endlessly fascinated by how we humans make things and how that process in turn makes us who we are.
When I think back to my 32-year-old self, I feel the excitement of the new world opening up to her. What would she think if she could look ahead to 2019 and see what grew from that seed? She would be super psyched. There was of course a lot of stumbling, picking myself up and plunging ahead. This was a way to live and work on a growth edge, and I, a lifelong learner, was up for it. If you want to work through your ‘issues’, take up an art form or launch a business.
I’m working on a big project to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Original Impulse. I’m not ready to share yet, but keep your eyes open for news. I will need your help to make this happen!
Celebrate your own milestones!
Get in your own time machine and travel back twenty years. What were you beginning? Who were you becoming? What would your young, newbie self say if she saw things now? Maybe you took a creative leap more recently. What inspired you to go for it? Finally, how can you acknowledge and celebrate your courage and conviction that helped you get going?
I did pay off the computer, interest-free, in six months. I’m still an office supply geek and I still love organizing and being in my current home office. Later this year, I will move to a new home. It will be the first time in all these years that I will work outside the home. I’ll be setting up my Atelier, or studio, for better workflow. I will also be hosting live workshops and events here in Denver.
When I started out 20 years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. But over time, with luck, persistence and a good bit of magic, it all worked out. I remember this when clients want to plan out every detail before diving into the work. Planning takes us only so far, and I well know how easy it can be to hang out in that comfort zone. But over and over, the books and programs and artwork I have made have taught me about life, making and letting go. And that cluelessness when taking a leap isn’t always a bad thing!
What does my business’ origin story spark in you? Ask me anything.