June 2010


Recently my husband and I have been discussing starting an alternative energy company with two other couples. We’ve had a few meetings, and quite a few starry-eyed dreamy diversions into “what if’s” and “if only’s.”

For anyone who owns a business or who is in the process of starting one, you know what I mean. And while it is great to dream about being fully funded and having enough in the bank to fund everyone comfortably for a year so we have time to roll out a business successfully, it’s a bit like waiting for that winning lottery ticket. It sure would be nice, but let’s face it, the odds are stacked against that happening anytime soon.

While in most cases I am an optimist, when it comes to business I have a strong realistic streak mixed with a small helping of pessimism. I believe in writing the business plan and in it, detailing to the nth degree where you are going, what you will be offering, and how you are going to accomplish it. You can have a bold and beautiful vision of what the perfect company, the perfect business offering would be, but if you aren’t able to focus on each component and polish it to perfection before expanding into different realms…you will fail.

Resent my words all you like, but that is the truth of it.

On our third meeting with these two other couples, I went around the room. “Who can commit to spending time on xyz?” I asked. One by one, people were too busy, they had full-time jobs, were busy running down the money or simply didn’t know where to begin. The idea of what we wanted to start was overwhelming and complicated to them.

I get that. I truly do. But someone has to do something or nothing will ever get off the ground. And if you are talking partnership, then it better be more than one someone doing something, if you get my drift. And it was at that moment that I realized they were all looking at me.

Hmmm…

I realized that my anxiety and frustration level had risen exponentially and we dismissed for the day. I needed time. Time for them to think about just what they would be contributing and time for me to decide whether this adventure was worth continuing. More than a week went by before I got an email and later a phone call from one of the couples. “We could tell you were frustrated, Christine, by the end of the last meeting,” she said, “And I feel bad, because it’s like we need A, B, C and D and the only thing I know anything about is D!”

We talked for a long time, over an hour. And I gave her an assignment. Mainly because she had spent a good part of an hour begging me for some kind of direction but also because I know when she does the research and learns what I already suspect to be true, she will stop suggesting we “get a grant for $150,000” and return to earth for what could be a half-decent reality-based planning session.

I say that, and I know it sounds snarky, and for that I am sorry. She’s a great lady and has lots of heart, she’s just hung up on the idea that ‘we have to have this, this and that’ and can’t think past it. The reality of the matter is, with little or no funding and a decent of education we need to accomplish before being able to do this, we aren’t ready to open for business. Dreams of showrooms with glassed-in views near the highway for little or no rent are simply not realistic. Neither is buying equipment that can cost up to $250,000.

But as I said, I gave her a bit of ‘homework’ and said, “You believe there are grants out there for small businesses. I don’t, but I am more than happy to be proven wrong. Go find one. But don’t just come back with a name of a place. I want details…how much would the grant be for? What restrictions or requirements? Find that grant…and I will write the most drop-dead slam it home business plan you have ever seen.”

I’ve heard it said that the devil is in the details. I’ve also heard that God is in the details. I’ll settle for simply saying, with no parallels implied, that I am in(to) the details. Bring me details and you will get results.

In business or in life, things often hang in the balance on details. My husband once said to me, “That first week I stayed at your place, I knew we would be compatible. Not only were you my intellectual equal, but more importantly, you hung the toilet paper the right way and squeezed the toothpaste from the bottom.”

It’s all about the details. Don’t get lost in them. Identify them, recognize them, and use them to move forward in whatever you seek to do.

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“Know it all”

“Miss Smarty-Pants”

“Bookworm”

“Miss Million Dollar Words”

“Show off”

I’ve heard it all. Most of the time it just confused me. Why is answering someone’s question wrong? Why is knowledge shared – when it isn’t bragging, but simply the wish to help others, to inform, to educate yourself or others – a bad thing?

Recently I taught a “Change Your Life” class and in it offered a single free coaching session to each attendee. My instructions are always the same, “Call me at the phone number on the card and we will set up a time that is convenient for us to talk. There’s no sales pitch and if you are interested in continuing coaching, here is my price.”

Rarely does anyone make that call.

One woman did. She had sat quietly in class, said little, and merely shared her goal of returning to school and obtaining her Master’s degree. She did not say why but it was obvious that she was struggling with the decision. When she called at the pre-arranged for her coaching session I asked her what it was that was bothering her most about returning to college. She listed several reasons, concern about her grades from ten years ago not being good enough, worrying that they would reject her application. She shared with me that her husband and her daughter were both very supportive of her and wanted her to do this.

Classes can be re-taken. Colleges are desperate for students. These weren’t very realistic fears, but she focused doggedly on them. I could sense there was something more.

“So what is it really that is holding you back? You said you were a good student, why are you so worried about returning to school?” I asked. There was a long pause.

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college. They gave me a hard time before, and then I got pregnant with my daughter and had to drop out. Lately they’ve been really razzing on me, telling me, ‘You think you’re all that’. That I think I’m someone special, too good for them.” She admitted miserably.

“They think you are reaching above yourself, or selling out, don’t they?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you?”

“No! I mean I’ve almost got my Master’s, and I want to go into a line of work that will help kids and families, and…” She spoke for several minutes about the dreams and goals she had once she obtained the training. The joy in her voice was obvious, the excitement at the thought of finally achieving her dream was loud and clear.

“So I guess what you need to ask yourself is: ‘What is more important? My dreams and goals or the opinions of others?'”

She paused for a moment and said, “Thank you.”

A few days after the phone call I received a lengthy email from her thanking me for my time. It was worth more than any money she could have paid me. And it got me to thinking about my own experiences in school and work.

“Teacher’s pet.”

“Show off.”

[sigh]

Today I drove to the local recycling center to attend a free rain garden class. The speaker never showed up, but I passed my card out to five people who were all very interested in the classes I teach and my gardening knowledge. We visited for 1/2 hour as we waited for the speaker to arrive, and talked about organic gardening, rain barrels, companion planting, and wild edibles.

As I said goodbye, each and every person stopped and thanked me for coming and sharing my knowledge. Considering I was just there as another student, I thought that was pretty cool.

How ironic is it that I know more now, at 40, then I even could have dreamed of knowing at 15 or 20 or even 30. Back then I was the “know it all” and now what am I? The expert? How did that happen?!

What drives you? What peaks your interest and pulls you in? What makes you stay up late or get up early just so you can learn more or improve?

Whatever it is – be it fly fishing or psychology – be it art or alternative energy – even if it seems silly to others – take hold of it tightly. Immerse yourself within it, breathe it, live it. Become the expert. Become the smarty pants and the know-it-all.

‘Cause you know what?

I might be the know-it-all. I might be Miss Smarty Pants. I might be that bookworm, encyclopedia, who thinks she’s ‘all that’ – but I’m me. And I’m doing what makes me happy, teaching and informing others. And in that, I am of benefit to the world and my heart is happy.

Go do what makes you happy and let the others stand still while you fly.

Go on.

Do it.

p.s. And if you have read this far, would you give me a shout out? Who’s listening/reading out there?