Growing Without Pushing

The biggest surprise over the last dozen years of owning my business is—just like real  life—you can’t force things to happen. For most of my adult, corporate life, I thought that’s how you got things done. Pushed against resistance till the resistance collapsed and you “won.” Negotiate hard until the opposition caved and I “won.” I sure wasted a lot of time doing that.


Not every skirmish needs to be turned into a war that must be won.

An example: I’m a good writer. Experienced, nuanced, clear. After decades of writing, I should be. I deserve to be paid for that ability and expertise. When a client says, “We’re not paying you what you asked for, we’re paying you half. We pay our other writers less, you shouldn’t be asking for that much,” I no longer force back by piling up my experience and subject knowledge. Nope.

Instead, I nod and say, “I understand your budget can’t stretch to cover my fee. I wish you every success on the job with another, less expensive writer. Thank you for considering me,” and head toward the door. Notice it’s a statement of fact, not anger or threat. I rarely make it to the door before I’m called back. “Maybe we can arrange something.” Good, let’s talk.

Another example: Occasionally, I’m asked to speak to new coaches on choosing a niche. I’m supposed to explain how I chose my niche, and how others can choose theirs. There is no secret. I didn’t sit down and think over what niche I would develop. It worked the other way around. I looked at the people around me, the ones naturally present already, and built by offering what they needed from what I could do.

It’s an easier life if you don’t  have to put your shoulders down and bull your way through. It’s far more rewarding to work with your natural gifts, with people who are already around you. By heightening talents you have in situations that present themselves, there is less damage to your spirit and more building of your strengths. Less grinding, more polishing. Less spinning, more weaving. It’s a good life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She’s also a life– and creativity coach who helps people when they are stuck. She can’t help everyone, and doesn’t fight it.

Winning From Within (Book Review)

41PoCXmr73L._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_We negotiate every day, even when we are not aware of it. For example, when we discuss where we want to go to dinner or what movie we want to see.

If you have teenagers, you negotiate their lives with yours.Erica Ariel Fox takes negotiating into a new light. First, she reminds us that when we think through a problem, it’s a form of negotiating with ourselves. Then she combines ideas from Western philosophies and Eastern philosophies to help reconcile our approach to negotiation.

Fox is a coach who helps her clients look for new sides to themselves that they haven’t discovered yet. She explores possible undiscovered points in her book, including

1. we are more multifaceted than we realize.

2. We pick part parts of ourselves to define who we are.

3. The identities we form have some truth to them.

4. Yet, they don’t tell the full truth. We create profiles of ourselves by elevating certain elements of who we are and leaving others behind. That distorts the full truth.

The identity we show the world, and the Performance Gap, the difference between how we see ourselves at work and how our co-workers see us. Neither of the views is wrong, but the difference in perspective can make a big difference in promotion and working relationships.

Fox highlights “The Big Four” sections of our personalities, the pieces we use to make decisions and react: The Dreamer, Thinker, Lover and Warrior. Fox shows how using one or two of these pieces results in friction with co-workers. Using all four pieces in different situations leads to inner peace (or at least inner understanding) and better relationships.

The book also has sections in Balancing Your Profile and Connect to Your Core.

What made me enjoy it was the easy style, the lack of jargon and smugness and an approachable, usable plan to make the four dynamics work for you at home and in the office.

OK, I will also admit that she talks a lot about archetypes and dealing with the darker sides of ourselves–and I’m delighted that it could be a more formal companion to The Inner Hero Art Journal.

–Quinn McDonald knows that to a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Standing Up For Yourself With Kindess

Today was a day of administrative chores. One of the deep wisdoms I’ve learned from owning my own business is that administrative work is also working. Going to the bank to make deposits, the post office to mail out books, answering emails from clients, going to the mall to take the computer to the Apple Store–all that is work. Hard work. In my case, hot work. It was 106˚F. And I came home and wondered “What have I accomplished today?”

The short answer is “Work. I did work.” And the longer answer is, “I stood up for myself. With kindness. And that was the most work of all.”

There are many reasons people treat anyone else rudely–they are tired, angry, you look like an easy target because you look different, belong to a minority, don’t look like them. But it hurts. It diminishes people. It feels unresolved.

I decided that part of my work today was to return to the eyeglass store because my glasses, which I have now worn for 10 days, do not help me see clearly. What I’ve been chewing on the last 10 days is not the fact I don’t see well. Rather, that when I mentioned it at the fitting, the staff passed me back to the eye doctor who ran me through the eye test again,  lightning fast, not giving me a chance to decide if I really like 2 better than 1, or if there was a difference between 3 and 4.

When I told her that I was an artist and a writer, and needed excellent vision, she sighed and said, “Oh, yeah, right.” She then said that the prescription was fine and left the room. I followed. In the hallway, in front of both store employees and other customers she said, “I TOLD you it would take 10 days for you to get used to the new glasses, but I guess you DIDN’T LISTEN” I felt as if I were 80 and had wet myself in public.

So today when I returned because the lenses on my sunglasses had a light leak at the edge of the frame, I mentioned that I had been treated badly by the doctor. The woman got the manager, and I repeated the sentence. The manager said, “Everyone loves Dr. X”

And this is where I stood up for myself. I said, “Dr. X treated me disrespectfully, scolding me in front of three staff members and five other customers. I was humiliated. But most of all, I cannot see clearly out of any of the glasses that I just paid $668 for. I want to have glasses that I can see clearly with. If you cannot provide me with a doctor who will solve the problem for me, I will go to an ophthalmologist who can, and I expect you to pay the full fee. Can we discuss these choices?” I spoke clearly and calmly. And I smiled at the manager when I was done.

She stammered at first, said that it was impossible. “Which one of the choices is impossible?”

“That you go see another doctor and expect us to pay.”

“It solves the problem that you could not solve. I have another suggestion: I return the glasses and you return my money.” I was still calm.

She looked scared.

“Please tell me your solution,” I said, still calmly.

“How about we let another doctor examine you and see what the problem is?”

I agreed to this solution, because it is on the way to getting me glasses that work. So now I have an appointment, and I worked hard today.  I stood up for myself. Not with anger. Not by insulting people who were not involved, but with kindness. And that was the hardest work of all.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist and a writer and needs glasses that correct her vision to 20/20, which she does not find unreasonable.

Freelancers and Perspective

If you read the blog, you’ve seen several articles on perspective. (Here’s one using a fence,  one with a Homer Simpson tree,  the ugly dog mindset, and one using landscaping). Most people think perspective is an artist app, or maybe a New Age-y way of looking at life. But for a freelancer, knowing how to work with perspective can be the difference between saving and losing a client relationship.

Do your math. Is the client worth keeping?Case A: Ms. Freelancer is a trainer. She has several clients, and Client A wants to lock the training days in place for the company’s budget. In July, at the beginning of the fiscal year, Client A and Ms. Freelancer agree to 5 training days through December. In October, two days before the training date, Ms. Freelancer calls Client A to confirm the upcoming training hours and ask for final registration numbers. Client A is flustered, having forgotten. There are only three people registered. Client A cancels the class and apologizes. Ms. Freelancer is left with no class, no pay, and not enough time to replace the work. Client A says, “Enjoy the unexpected day off.

Problem: To Client A, the only consequence is embarrassment. To Ms. Freelancer, the problem is both financial and supplies–she’s spent now-unpaid time preparing the class and money on class materials which now need to be stored for the next time.

Perspective: Ms. Freelancer makes money only on days she works. Client A gets paid every two weeks, no matter how much or little she works. She has no idea that she has caused financial problems for Ms. Freelancer. An unscheduled day off looks very different for each of these people. For Client A, it looks like a day of fun. For Ms. Freelancer, it could easily mean a bill-paying problem. Maybe even a grocery-restriction problem.

A contract is a negotiable document before it's signed.

Case B: Ms. Freelancer has saved dates for Client A, and lost one of them. Client B calls and asks for a training, which must be held on a date already promised to Client A. Ms. Freelancer worries that Client A may cancel another class and begins to wonder if it wouldn’t be smart to cancel Client A’s class and take Client B’s.

Problem: To Ms. Freelancer, having been burned, lining up another client might seem like a good idea. To Client A, it means a break in trust, and possibly a cancellation of the rest of the job.

Perspective: To Ms. Freelancer, having once been burned, it might look like a good idea to take on Client B. To Client A, it will look like a break in trust and contract. To Client B, cancellation will look like an unreliable freelancer at work. (Or not at work.)

Solutions: In both cases, it’s a matter of client education. A good idea is to add a kill fee into the contract. If the class is canceled less than a week in advance, the client pays a fee to the freelancer. Often, however, the client will refuse this. That’s how it is for most contracts–both parties want to have the upper hand. This is a time to negotiate. Before that, it’s good to explain to a client how life works for a freelancer. Don’t fall into the “I can’t buy groceries” trap. Showing neediness to a client is like having an overly-needy friend–you immediately want to push away, knowing that no matter what you do, it won’t be enough.

Better to say, “When you cancel, you are breaking the contract. When you do it with one-day notice, I have no way of replacing the training day, and I lose money. The purpose of our contract is to assure you that your group will be trained, and assure me that I will be paid. If you want to change the contract, we can talk about it. But canceling a day I have reserved for you needs to be covered financially.”

While that sounds tough, freelancers need to be clear. The client doesn’t have your perspective and can’t be expected to. When explained objectively, there is a better chance for good results. The other important part of perspective discussions, is to show the same situation if the client got the fuzzy end of the lollipop–if you canceled with one day’s notice.

Of course, one discussion won’t fit all sizes. Your experiences will vary. A client who is sloppy and cancels routinely is one that you need to drop. And that might require a shift in your perspective–a lousy client isn’t a client, it’s a financial liability.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer, and author.