Some of you have no doubt figured out that a good deal of my posts are anecdotal – they deal with challenges that either I or those around me are trying to overcome. I recently wrote about overcoming our perceived failings and it really made me think about some of my personal challenges and how I’m holding myself back.
The test case for this was the way in which I stalled for the longest time on starting coaching because I struggled with the fact that I’m not a really exciting guy. I’m not flashy, particularly funny, and most things people would pay me for have little to do with the things that most people find interesting about me. Who would want to spend an hour on the phone with me?
Paralysis by Analysis
In my academic and military life, being interesting is a secondary issue. In those domains, as long as I’m teaching, coming up with great ideas, and leading others to get things done, I’m good. None of the expectations others have of me include “be an interesting or fun person” as a point of consideration.
The expectations change, though, when people are paying for both your expertise and your personality. If the “competition” is just as smart as I am but give a better experience for their clients, I lose. The only way to compete in that type of match, assuming I don’t become more “fun,” is to offer more than the next coach. Not only do you get phone coaching, but you get unlimited email support…and a book…and a T-shirt…[insert chain of giveaways here].
I foresaw that that type of progression would break me. I’d be offering more and more stuff and probably not be helping anymore than if I didn’t do it in the first place – they would basically be gimmicks to get people to start with my services and they’d most likely stick due to commitment inertia. And it would start the inane “arms race” in which I would keep having to one up the competition with more goodies.
Given that I’m good at thinking of things that may affect the life of a project, I saw all of this coming and didn’t see a way of getting around it. If those were the rules of the game, I didn’t want to play.
I want people to choose me because we resonate. I want people to stick with me because I’m helping them in the present and not because they made a decision in the past. I want my clients to know that I’m walking the road with them, cheering their big and small victories, and helping them get unstuck if they veer off the path they want to be on.
If I couldn’t have that, coaching wouldn’t be worth doing. Other people would be far better at taking the money of those potential clients and perhaps helping them along the way – and I’d have more time to do other things that spread value a little better.
Friends pushed me and referred me to others. I was my normal, uninteresting, helpful self with people who I wasn’t trying to turn into clients, and they decided they wanted to hire me. I hung my shingle, said I’m a creativity and project coach, and my natural brand did the rest. It turns out that I never really had to sell myself as something other than what I am and to this day I haven’t had to cold call.
In the end, it made me think about why I hire people. The experience is important, but the experience doesn’t have to be entertaining. The questions I ask about the value of what I paid for are questions like “was she helpful?”; “was he interesting?”; “did she do something for me that I couldn’t do or help me do something I couldn’t do on my own?”; or “did he make me feel like my concerns and problems were important?”
Obviously, if the person is an ass, it will bear on those questions. But unless I’m going to see a comedy show or a professional entertainer, I’m not really expecting the person to be entertaining. Hindsight makes you see things a lot differently.
[Post-publish edit, responding to Vered’s comment]: I got the idea that I had to be interesting and/or entertaining by looking at the types of people I found interesting were. Merlin Mann, Seth Godin, Brian Clark, Naomi Dunford, etc. They have a panache and story that I lack, comparatively. I completely misunderstood what it meant to provide a good experience for the client and what it meant to be remarkable. [end edit]
Do I wish I had a neat background story that made people feel like they were talking to somebody really special? Sure, but who doesn’t? But it’s probably better this way. I can be who I naturally am, and people can take it or leave it. I know I help those I work with. Rather than trying to figure out what I should be doing and what I could be offering to outpace my “competition,” I can offer less by just being me.
That’s a game I can play.
**Special thanks to Havi for writing a post on vulnerability that prompted me to action. And to Mynde for being herself and being open to letting others in. And to those friends who harass me into action push me to become a better person and help others in the process – you know who you are, and without your efforts, my life would have far fewer possibilities than it now does. Thank you.**