Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past

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Today’s post is the second in our summer guest post extravaganza. It’s from my friend and contract limitation-killer, Danielle LaPorte, the creator of WhiteHotTruth.com and The Fire Starter Sessions. You can also find her on Twitter @daniellelaporte

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“You can’t change the world from the rear-view mirror.” – Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

When I get a group of entrepreneurs together in a room we kick off with introductions, and here’s what I request of people:

When you introduce yourself, please give us:

  • Your cocktail line. Describe what you do in just a sentence or two.
  • One word that might describe your “brand”—don’t worry if nothing comes to mind, or if you’re compelled to throw out some strange word like velvet or spicy. Just go with it.
  • Your current business challenge. It could be cash flow, life balance, writer’s block, or staffing—whatever.
  • And here’s the catch: You can’t talk about your past. It doesn’t matter how many Masters Degrees you’ve earned, or how the economy walloped your sales last year. Focus on what you’re doing now, on who you are today.

Here’s why. (WARNING: instructive, but unsympathetic cynicism ahead.)

When I hear a business introduction that starts like this, I can predict that cash flow is stuck, or that work-life balance is way outta whack:

“I’m Jane. I have a widget company that I started eleven and a half years ago (fails to mention name of the actual company). Shortly after I started the business, which I used all of my savings to do (that’s what entrepreneurs doyou won’t get much sympathy from this crowd), I got divorced (sad, but irrelevant). That really affected my debt load.

I started with six staff and then cut back to two, and now I work more than I really want to (your choice). My widgets are the best on the market (this is quite possible, but it’s getting harder to believe), but I haven’t had time to get a great distributor (you haven’t made time)—it’s so hard to find good help, you know? (if you believe it is, then it is) I’ve worked with a number of distributors, but had to fire them because they didn’t really believe in the product.

So my challenge, I guess…is…distribution, which of course affects cash flow. So I guess my challenge is really cash flow.” (No kiddin’.)

No, sweet Jane, your challenge is that you’re stuck in the past and you’re chronically complaining about your present. It’s a drag.

Face forward. We want to look ahead with you. Look backwards, and you lose us.

Try this, love:

“I’m Jane Smith, the founder and CEO of Wild Widgets. Industrial Magazine named us Top Widget Maker of the Midwest, which was a huge honor in our business. I’ve scaled back from six to two staff and am looking to build back a really strong team so I can live more of my life.

I’ve struggled to find really crackerjack distributors—they are critical to going from a $1 million dollar company to my vision, which is $10 million within the next 2 years. So my challenge is identifying the winners—the right people to get on board. And if you need widgets, you can find us at WildWidgets.com. Thanks.”

Jane! Baby! I’m so impressed with your clarity and stamina that I want to help you find a legion of those magic distributor elves, right now.

The past is never as relevant as we might think it is.

Stand in your present power. Not relying on your glory days or curriculum vitae forces you to draw power from who you are — now. It’s cleaner fuel. It’s less about proving (which burns energy), and more about trusting in all that you are, today.

I was once late to a swanky advisory meeting for a board that I sat on. I rushed into the dining room and pulled up my chair. “Perfect timing Danielle,” said the CEO. “It’s your turn to introduce yourself.” Sure thing.

“I’m Danielle LaPorte. You can find me at WhiteHotTruth.com where I write about self-realization and entrepreneurship. I’ve got a weekly commentator gig on CBC TV, and I advise entrepreneurs how to rock their careers in what I call ‘Fire Starter Sessions’, and I’m working on my next book.”

Concise, right? Just the way I like it. I clocked in at about 30 seconds. Good finish. I presumed everyone else was eager to get into the Brie and champagne.

Then, each of the six women who introduced themselves after me proceeded to list their very impressive accomplishments, from Harvard degrees, to millions of dollars raised for start-ups and charities, to how many children they had. It was a power tour of who done what. Though, it wasn’t as obnoxious as I may be making it sound. It was proud and thorough and appropriate in that context. It’s just that I’d missed the memo and I felt like a total unaccomplished loser by comparison.

Ohhh…we’re doing those kind of intros. I thought. Humph. If I’d only known, I would have pulled out my most sophisticated ammo:

“I ran a future-studies think tank in Washington, DC, had my own communication agency for years promoting Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and some old pop stars. I raised a bunch of money for my high-profile lifestyle company. I wrote a book—it was an Amazon bestseller, Oprah producers called, lotsa photographers took my picture. I went seriously renegade from my last lil’ empire, and now I’m like, a power blogger with awesome clients. And BTW, I gave birth to my son in our living room, and can run ten city blocks in heels.”

The ego loves a good resume. I took a breath and decided to be sophonsified with who I was in that moment. Easy. They could like me, or not. Or they could inquire for more. And besides, my past pales in comparison to my future, this I know. So does yours, I bet.

PURGING + GLORY BOARDING:

Think about your past career failures, mistakes, bombs. Write out your 3 favourite screw-ups. What did you learn? Can you see a pattern in the lessons? How did they make you a better person? Then, burn the list or write HAHAHA! in big letters across the page. It’s done. You’re free. Next…

Write out your victories and accomplishments. What have you inspired, founded, launched, published, shipped, directed, earned? Let it roll. Blow your horn. And then – you guessed it, burn the list. You’re free – free to innovate.

A Buddhist would advise that power comes when you detach from your past. An exec would say you’re only as good as your last Pn’L. They’re both right. When it comes to your genius, there’s always more where that came from.

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Excerpted in part from The Fire Starter Sessions: A Digital Experience for Entrepreneurs.

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Danielle LaPorte is the creator of WhiteHotTruth.com, which has been called “the best place on-line for kick-ass spirituality.” A motivational speaker, former think tank exec, publicist, and news show commentator, her latest online book is The Fire Starter Sessions. You can find her on Twitter @daniellelaporte

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29 responses

29 responses to “Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger and others. remarkablogger said: RT @jonathanfields Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past http://bit.ly/avMu4n (pls RT) […]

  2. Mick Morris says:

    I love this advice. There are some great pearls of wisdom and some great pointers for making your interaction positive and future focused, and immediately more positive.

    So… it was with interest that after reading all of that great advice about not relying on your past I find this line “former think tank exec, publicist and news show commentator” in the footer of the post…..

    I think that they do provide a context, but they just seem at odds with the content and intent of this post.

  3. Ligia Buzan says:

    Smply perfect! I know those fancy, past-oriented intros, and it’s wonderful to stay in the present. (I hope you are enjoying Bali!)

  4. Joel says:

    I’m right with you Danielle when it comes to being unsympathetic. It sounds harsh, but sometimes you just have to be in order to have a breakthrough with some people.

  5. Tallulah Flyte says:

    I could never understand the relevance of detailing your past to your shrink or what have you. I’m so much more into coaches who are focused on what you can do for your future; what’s really the important thing. The great thing about the past is that it’s the past. Right now: this is me & this is where I’m going, take it or leave it.

  6. Jane says:

    Thanks for kicking our behinds Danielle. I only object to the character being Jane : ) I’m one of the WCWW people. Another good writing exercise you’ve given us all.

  7. Daniel says:

    Hi! Very engaging article. I’ve been reading ‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Taleb off and on lately. The thing that popped into my head as I read the first part of your article is Taleb’s assertion that imposing a narrative limits our vision of what is possible. Dragging up all ones baggage and focusing on the events that appear to be holding one back, tends to do exactly that. I think most of us have spent time being an example of that phenomenon at various times in our lives.

    Thanks! (guest post summer is off to an awesome start!)

  8. Dana says:

    This is so true. It is not only the ego of past accomplishments that keeps us looking backward but regrets that hold us back. Focus on the future. Mistakes are lessons in disguise.

  9. Amy says:

    Wow, what a way to hit me in the chest this morning. Thoughts from last night on the frustration of indecision:
    “It’s like standing on a beach watching the grains of sand, each a complete diamond universe of possibility glittering and shining with hope, that I watch slip through my fingers. But to do what is the question? And as I ponder, another crystal of possibility falls in the hourglass of my life, slowly burying me one indecision at a time. A pile of dreams, and possibilities lying at my feet, lost to the potential and passage of time.”

    Not only am I not looking in the rear-view mirror, I’m imagining a rear-view mirror. Maybe it’s time to drive. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  10. I love this post. I do a lot of networking, and always found the whiny past oriented introductions super annoying. I now know why. I am a very NOW oriented person. Thanks for the great article, I will be passing it around!

  11. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amanda Brand. Amanda Brand said: Great Article, especially for any networkers! http://ht.ly/29pXI […]

  12. Michael says:

    Dang it. I just finished writing up a nice little bio for an event coming up.
    It just got shredded.

    Present tense, present focus, delight and challenge. Its a bit risky, and I’m going with it!

  13. Howard Karp says:

    I agree that you can’t whine about the past, however we are heavily influenced by our experiences and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything I’ve done in the past is the prologue to what I am doing and will do tomorrow!

  14. “I took a breath and decided to be sophonsified with who I was in that moment. Easy. They could like me, or not. Or they could inquire for more.”

    Oh boy, this is the person I’m trying to be, partly because I admire people who can be this way. I am finding it hard, though, because those around me seem put off (for lack of better words) by it. It could also be that I don’t do it very well, but I will keep trying!

    And, by the way, LOVE that photo!

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scrappindipity. Scrappindipity said: RT @daniellelaporte: Cocktail Lines & True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past. My guest post w/ @jonathanfields Check it: http://ht.ly/29DW9 […]

  16. I’m continually reminded lately to step into my power. Great article Danielle.

    xo & belief in you,
    Carmen

  17. Rob says:

    I don’t particularly get together with a group of entrepreneurs often to give my “elevator” speech as some call it, but these are good practices. I would thinking talking in the now helps bring people to your reality and into your story. Good thoughts and something I’ll use bringing my IT Arsenal into reality.

  18. Mars Dorian says:

    I luv that being the in the moment explanation, Danielle.

    If a Jedi had a business, he’d introduce it like you.

  19. Carla (Feminine Richness) says:

    Danielle,
    Your post is the best advice/point of view I have read in quite some time. What a difference being in the present and looking to the future makes in the tone of a presentation.

    I used those concepts yesterday when composing an email to congratulate the achievement of a former colleague.
    Many thanks.

  20. Karilee says:

    The “Face Forward” advice is a good reminder. I like concise. Mark Twain once said “If I had more time, I’d have written less.” I think you got it right with “They could like me, or not.”

  21. Excellent advice, Danielle!

    I’ll be re-evaluating my “introduction speech”. I often struggle with those intro answers- wrestling with the urge to indulge in my past accomplishments while trying to quantify all that I do as a freelance photographer/producer in a few sentences. Sometimes I just pick the wildest answer to see who is listening or stoke the conversation a little.

    I feel a little more empowered to just reveal the present me. Thanks!

  22. […] Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past – The past is never as relevant as we might think it is. Stand in your present power. An interesting look at how people introduce themselves and their businesses. What they do wrong and how to correct it. […]

  23. […] Danielle LaPorte: Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past “Look at what you would like to achieve and ask yourself, ‘What is the smallest step in […]

  24. Brett Henley says:

    I’d like to put this blog in a mason jar and hold it while sitting in a rocking chair on ancient wrap-around porch.

    The truth is a cold, cold bitch, and nothing more true than the dangers of clinging to the past. I’m guilty as charged, and looking to break that mold.

    No, I will break that mold and carve something fresh.

    Much love and thanks.

  25. When people tend to regress into the past, it’s only natural to remember the bad times rather than the good. It almost sounds like complaining and when people complain, I often get bored. Lets hear something excited, something that might pick my day up or teach me something new. As hard as it is, you have to train yourself to speak in the present and think FUTURE.

  26. […] This blog article over at JonathanFields.com had me thinking. In fact, I went back and read it two or three times. What is my cocktail statement?“I’m LJ and I am a web programmer. I run a successful blog over at SimpleProductivityBlog.com, where I help people find solutions to the problems of unbalance and complication, as well as be more productive. I am working on writing a fantasy novel, as well as a simple productivity system book.” What’s your cocktail statement? From “Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past”. […]