The two pictures above tell a story…
One was taken on the day I graduated law school in 1992. I walked across the stage at Lincoln Center in NYC and as I approached to grab my diploma, the Dean leaned into the microphone and said, “man, I wish I had this kid’s grades when I graduated law school.” I was magna cum laude, top 5, Law Review, blah, blah, blah. I wasn’t smarter than anyone else, I just worked insanely hard to get there.
The world lay at my feet. Money, power, prestige. Whatever I wanted. That’s why I was smiling.
The second picture was taken in 2006, 14 years later. A few years earlier, I’d left my position as an associate at one of the top law firms in the world. Traded six-figures, Armani suits and hand shakes for bare feet, t-shirts and hugs hello. I was leading a yoga retreat in St. John, Virgin Islands at an eco-resort called Maho Bay. Every day, a small group that blended students from the yoga studio I owned in NYC with others from around the world would wake up, climb to an elevated platform, meditate and practice yoga under a thatched-roof, open-air pavilion.
I’d abandoned everything I thought I wanted, everything that lay at my feet in the first picture.
I’d realized what makes me happy isn’t money, power and prestige, but rather the opportunity to:
- Engage in activities that make me come alive,
- Surround myself with people I can’t get enough of and
- Earn enough to live well in the world.
That’s why I was smiling…well, that and the fact that I was getting paid to hang out with great people, bare foot in paradise.
That second picture is the real me.
It doesn’t mean life’s always easy, always fun, always flowing along. I have challenges, frustrations, angst and anxiety, just like anyone else. But, because they tend to be in the name of the quest for a more authentic, empowered life, it’s so much easier to reframe them as something positive. To move through the challenges with more grace. To understand that, as Kierkegaard said…
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.
I’ve also discovered that part of the process of coming alive involves taking responsibility for your actions and inactions, learning from your outcomes, then closing the book and integrating what you’ve learned to inform and enhance the next leg of your journey. So, now it’s time to look back at 2009, look at what went right and what went wrong, integrate the lessons from these experience…then close the book and move forward.
Closing the book on 2009
For me, 2009 was a year of surprises. Some good, others not so good.
I’d just sold the yoga studio I’d built over the prior 7 years in NYC, left the community behind in the name of clearing my plate to launch a new leg of my journey. On January 13th, my book Career Renegade was released. I’d planned a massive launch campaign, but some things you can’t plan for. January had turned into the darkest hour in this country’s economy since the Great Depression.
At that moment, people were getting laid off at a rate that horrified even the staunchest optimists. People at all levels, eight-figure captains of industry and minimum wage line-workers. The rally cry of those still employed was, “lower your heard, work harder than ever before and hold onto your job for dear life, because you’ll probably never find another if you’re fired.” Into that market, I was launching a book who’s primary message was, “leave your job to do what you love.”
You think THAT was a tough sell?
But, I don’t do the blame thing. Because the moment you start blaming other people or circumstances for your failure is the moment you lose. Rather than executing the campaign I’d whiteboarded for months and pushing the meme’s I thought would drive the book, I began to dance. I reframed what the book was about, positioned it more as a comeback manual, a toolbox to reclaim control for those who’d been laid off.
We sold this message to the media and landed some nice print, a mountain of major market radio and I scored a spot speaking about being a Career Renegade on the Day Stage at SXSW, which was one of my highlights of the year.
The good news was that it worked, at least to a certain extent.
It breathed new life into the book and drove sales. And, my online community of both readers and friends stepped up and supported it in a major way. And, I’m massively thankful to all who rallied to it’s cause. To MY cause.
Still, I can’t deny, I missed my ultimate goal. I was gunning to become a New York Times bestseller. I knew that would be a tipping point for the book that would likely push huge sales numbers and put the knowledge into the hands of vastly more people. That didn’t happen. And, rather than continuing to push hard, get offline and mount a serious ground game, I walked away.
I blamed the market, pulled the majority of my efforts and killed my ground game. And, as I said before, the moment you blame, you lose. I expected the world to step up and embrace my rookie effort as an instant home run. And, for whatever reason, when it said, “we think it’s a triple,” instead of working my ass of to steal home with every pitch, I bailed on the effort.
Big mistake, one I have to own up to. One I’ll learn from for the next book.
And, there WILL be another…and another…and another. That was my plan going in. To sell my seven year business and leverage the publication of Career Renegade to launch a new professional journey as an author, a speaker, a trainer and an entrepeneuer on a much bigger level.
And, it was all based on my assumption that I could hit the New York Times list.
When that didn’t happen, I had to tap dance not only to sell books, but to figure out how to rapidly change my big picture plan. I was having trouble figuring out my message, my value proposition in this new, profoundly changed market. And, along with the economy, the speaking industry had also crashed. At least that’s what I was hearing. Rather than kick the tires of those claims myself, though, I bought into what other top-of-the-market speakers were telling me. So, instead of doubling down on my desire to speak twice a month, I walked away.
Mistake number two. I know better. Conventional wisdom is almost always wrong.
I eventually discovered that the higher priced speakers in the $25-$50,000 keynote range (yes, some people ACTUALLY get paid that much money to talk for an hour) were indeed the ones taking the biggest hit. Because conference organizers couldn’t pay their fees and they didn’t want to lower them, knowing that once we came out of the current funk, they’d have to work back up to current price levels over a period of years. That left room for low/mid-priced speakers to swoop in and fill spots in the $5-$15,000 range. Still not bad money for an hour’s time, lol!
It took way longer than it should have for me to circle back to this exploration and understand what was really happening.
Now, part of my quest for 2010 is to take action on this information.
And, toward the last quarter of 2009, I also awakened to the fact that, though I didn’t hit the New York Times list with my rookie effort, I did still sell a lot more books than the average author. And, I’d spend a tremendous amount of time, energy and even money understanding how to market books in fast-changing online/offline wild west that is today’s book world. And, that had value.
So, I created a free 29 page ebook called The Truth About Marketing to share what I’d discovered and released it online.
With minimal effort, that document caught fire in social media and was instantly downloaded thousands of times. The response blew me away. Time to tap dance again.
Within a week, I rebuilt the website that I’d slapped up to host the ebook, turned it into a real blog and announced a 2-day book marketing training in NYC called Tribal Author Camp. That event sold out, again, with minimal marketing, and the feedback was tremendous. Building on this, I’ll likely roll out more live Tribal Author events and trainings in 2010. Also, we recorded the NYC event and over the next month, I’ll be adding additional content, then launching it to the broader market of authors and aspiring authors as a virtual educational product.
And, this all came to be when I opened myself up to the fact that, just because things didn’t unfold exactly the way I planned with Career Renegade, that didn’t mean I had nothing of value to share.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also look back and close the book on the experiences and lessons from my physical health.
In the middle of all this professional head-spinning, it’s been a tumultuous year for my health.
Shortly after returning from SXSW in Austin, I began to mount an earnest attempt to reclaim my fitness. I’d been derailed the year before with a broken foot and a shoulder that never healed quite right after it’s second reconstructive surgery. But, again, I was looking to move beyond blame and finally solve my fitness/health problems.
So, I began to try different ways to move my body, work with various healers and see what my body could handle. I was starting to enjoy running again, so I went back to the trail where I’d broken my left foot a year earlier…and promptly broke my right foot. But, this time was a lot worse. It was a clean break, which meant a month on crutches, followed by a month in an aircast, followed by nearly 4 months of pain and myofascial repatterning as I recovered not only from the injury, but from a month on crutches.
Then, about 3 weeks into my stint on crutches, my sister and wife noticed something I’d seen in some recent media footage of me. It seemed the area in my throat around my Adam’s apple had become much bigger. So, I went to a doctor who felt around, went a bit white, then said, you have two large nodules, we have to see if they’re hot or not.
That led to an ultrasound, a lot of confusion and the better part of a week not knowing if I had cancer or not. Thankfully, the test showed that doc had made a fairly major miscall and what I had was benign, but would require surgery. So, a week later, I crutched my way into pre-op and had throat surgery with my foot in an aircast.
Thankfully, everything worked out well, but I was now left even more of a physical wreck as the mass removed from my throat was rather large and left a lot of strain that would take months to finally repattern and release.
As I enter 2010, my foot and neck are now largely healed, though I am left with a certain amount of discomfort that I’m told may be there for life. I don’t accept that. I will keep working with a variety of modalities to not only try to completely resolve the pain, but set my body up to be able to bring the activities I love back into my life.
Thankfully, during this year filled with surprises and challenges, I’ve also been blessed to have been able to spend even more time than usual with my wife and daughter.
That has been nothing short of mindblowing.
I love them both more than words could ever describe and, now that I find myself working full-time from my home office, they’ve been constant sources of inspiration, love and support.
So, now, filled with gratitude, humility and hope, I officially close the book on 2009.
Setting up the year ahead.
I am very much in the planning stages for the year to come. The next two weeks will solidify those plans and lock a number of ventures into my calendar. But, if there’s one thing 2009 taught me, it’s that you’ve got to open to dancing a new dance. Doors close and others you never imagined open. But, you need to be willing to see them.
As my friend Chris Brogan likes to do at the start of every year, I find it very helpful to create a set of core focus words and concepts that drive my efforts. Chris limits it to three, I like to go a bit broader at cap it at 10.
So, here are my 10 driving keywords for 2010:
- Align – make sure my efforts and actions are aligned with both who I am, what makes me come alive and what I am building
- Build – Focus in on a smaller number of meaningful projects and build something truly impactful
- Collaborate – work in a more deliberate way with people who are aligned with my vision, values and purpose
- Signal – Create and share content and solutions that rise about the noise and genuinely add insane value
- Impact – create experiences and solutions that impact peoples’ lives in a deeply meaningful way
- Mindset – Focus on cultivating a more present, mindful, focused state of mind
- Eliminate – Remove distractions to create more space for focused building
- Give – Serve others, give more than I take.
- Teach – Share knowledge through speaking, my own events and educational experiences
- Gratitude - create a daily gratitude practice.
I’ll fill you in on many of the specifics over the next few weeks. I’ll share exactly how I’m bringing these to life in concrete ways. But, as we move into this next year, I just wanted to share how I’ve looked back and what fundamental principles will be guiding me as I look forward.
And, of course, I offer a huge thank you to you guys, my amazing community of friends, teachers, colleagues and supports.
You rock more than you know.!
As always, I’d love to know what your thoughts are on closing the book on 2009 and what your Driving Keywords are for 2010 in the comments below…
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