Welcome to Voices
Spring 2007 issue:
Replenishing the Doll-Maker's Supplies
Like many of you, I’m self-employed. Actually, that’s something of an illusion on my part. It’s truer to say that I am rented part-time by many people and entities: clients whom I coach; organizations with whom I consult; strategic partners with whom I have specialized and delightful roles; readers and listeners whom I may never meet; associations and other organizations for whom I make presentations and deliver workshops; and the like. Looking over the list just now, I suddenly realize why I sometimes feel so scattered; I’m all over the place, with so many bosses, clients, collaborators, co-creators, etc.
One of the joys of this so-called self-employment is that I get to have many offices: the condo I use as my “official” office; the nearby Caribou Coffee shop; a couple of spaces in our lovely home; the Ashman Branch of the city library; the west-side Borders Books and Music store; and several other locales. I can place my body in any one of these, depending on my purpose and mood. Recently, when I was in desperate need of replenishing of ideas for my work, I headed for Borders. I prefer to do my Borders Time during a weekday, when it’s inhabited by a more manageable number of people than on the weekend: young moms and their younger kids; some retirees; a few University of Wisconsin-Madison students; and a scattering of people who (judging from their open laptops and notebooks) suffer, as I do, from delusions of self-employment.
Here’s my Borders ritual: First I stake out a table and arrange my “stuff,” then I get some coffee or tea, and then I browse through the New Non-Fiction tables, the shelves containing Business, Psychology, Self-Help, and books on any other topic that beckon to me. In the process, I scoop up five or six books that attract my eye and I return to my table, amply equipped for the next hour or two of exploration. I never start at the beginning of any book; I pick up the one that has the most energy for me, open it at random, and start reading. If I don’t experience some kind of “click” within a minute or so, I go to a different page and repeat the process, until I find myself absorbed. When I tire of that book, I go onto another. Sometimes, I spend all my time with one book. For me it’s a matter of being alert to where my energy is aroused and sustained. Through this process I encounter a cornucopia of delights, and I make notes for future columns or other projects.
(In case you were wondering, I sometimes buy one or two of the books, as I did this particular morning. I don’t like to think of myself as being a free-loader, and I know Borders shareholders are counting on me to keep up their stock price. Actually, I consider the price of the books I buy at such times to be rent on the table and chair.)
I thought it might be fun to present a bunch of quotes from one of this recent morning’s books, and add my own free associations to each. The book is boldly titled, “ Ballsy : 99 Ways to Grow a Bigger Pair and Score Extreme Business Success .” Its author is Karen Salmansohn, and it was published by HOW Books, 2006 . Here goes:
“Know thy limitations . Whenever possible, delegate what you suck at.” (Page 89.) The author’s recommendation is exactly what I urge my coaching and consulting clients to do, although I don’t phrase it that way. I often give them a simple criterion as to how to select and prioritize from among their many choices of activities; I tell them to assess where their greatest ROY is. (No, not ROI, or return on investment.) ROY stands for Return on You. They always seem to intuitively grasp that it refers to what they can uniquely do, by virtue of their skills, passion, and position; for so many of them, they know that they are spending large amounts of time on activities that don’t provide substantial returns (however computed) but in which they feel trapped. The ROY concept seems to serve as a Bell of Awakening for them. I’ll come back to it in another column.
“Use your mornings to get fired up, and aim yourself like a human cannonball at your goals!” (Page 114.) I just love the vivid image of a human cannonball, and its inherent contradiction with how my body feels on most mornings. Actually, I’ve begun to think of it in terms of “hurtling myself towards my Destiny.” The point, for me, is that the only moment I can do something about is the present one; that’s where I’m really accountable to myself; her advice, and the cannonball metaphor, remind me that I can aim myself in any direction, in each moment, and that I have a choice. I’ve begun to focus on what it’s like to feel “choice-full,” and what leads a person to feel that way. A lot of my coaching work has taken on that focus.
“When faced with a problem, substitute someone you trust and respect as being in your place -- and imagine what they would do.” (Page 152.) This is almost identical to what I touched on in an early column, on “What Would __ Do?” I have become familiar with this practice in the last few years, and have used it occasionally with myself. Sometimes, I substitute the Buddha; sometimes Jody, my wife; sometimes Ruth, my late friend and mentor. They’re all wise people. It always works. It’s an amazingly appreciative question, in that it taps into our vision of our wisest, most effective role models. As I have grown to have a stronger sense of who I am, what I stand for, and what I won’t stand for, I’ve modified the question: I now ask myself, “What would I do here (if I had my wits about me)?” It’s funny, how quickly the right action springs into mind. I believe that people possess great wisdom, and that our job is to help them access that wisdom; apparently, by asking myself “What would I do here (if I had my wits about me)?” I tap into my own inner gyroscope. Try it for yourself, and see if it works for you.
A note about the Salmonsohn book: Truthfully, I was both intrigued and repulsed by its title. We don’t talk that way in Wisconsin; it’s simply not the Wisconsin Way. However, I was quickly won over by its medium and its message: the contents are not only true to its title, but they’re very insightful and wise; and the book is gorgeously and creatively designed, with a lot of pizzazz and energy. If you thumb through it, I think you’ll be delighted by its zany creativity, and you’ll agree with my impression that it was designed by a very deranged individual. And here’s a post-script: as I was reading through it, I realized I already own a book by the same author. You might love its title, as I do: “How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness. ” (2001, Celestial Arts.)
I had intended to share snippets from three or four other Borders sources, but I see that this column is its rightful length. I’ll save those others for another column, and perhaps add some other gems from subsequent Borders Times.
You might be wondering about the title I gave this column, “Replenishing the Doll-Maker’s Supplies.” Anne Lamott, a wonderful writer about the craft of writing, doesn’t believe that there is a phenomenon of writer’s block. She thinks it’s actually writer’s emptiness. In “Bird by Bird,” she likens the writer to a doll-maker living in the attic. When her production of rag dolls dries up, it’s not because she’s blocked; she’s simply run out of rags. You don’t need to send her to a therapist, have her go on retreat, or dispatch her to a doll-maker’s camp. All you need to do is take a new supply of rags up to the top floor, climb on a ladder, and hand them up to her; then wait for her to her convert them to riches. That’s what going to Borders is about, for me. I do it for the rags.
How do you replenish your supplies: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, familial? What kind of gauges do you use, to tell you when your supplies are running low? What practices do you have that keep up your levels, so that you’re continually replenished? In the coming week, tune into your “inner gauges,” and see what you learn. Perhaps you already do this, and are finely tuned and responsive. Please tell me about it. I’d love to know.