Sunday, October 25, 2009

What is Your Why?

I serendipitously started a class this week with an entrepreneurial women's group called SMARTY. This week's homework assignment is to ask ourselves, "what is our why" for going into business on our own. As a cash flow crisis brought on by the loss of a client this month has me searching for full-time work at 2am on a Saturday, I just realized my why. I'll share that in a second but first want to say how I even came to be in this class because it's pretty incredible.

When I learned via a harsh email on Monday that I lost a client, my best friend (who happens to be a budding Yoga Therapist) shot over to my apartment to comfort me. As soon as she walked in the door, I asked for her to guide me in a yoga series to help me through the pain of my first real "failure" as an entrepreneur. I use quotation marks because failure is code for opportunity, growth and powerful lessons. But at that moment it was more like a swift punch in the stomach.

During the gentle movement and meditative exercises we did for 10 minutes, I asked to be open to whatever was in store for me next. After all, everything happens for a reason, right? During our brief practice, my friend received an email from a contact of hers offering a spot in the class which started the very next day. Because she was reading the email in my apartment, I was able to jump in and say what an amazing opportunity that sounded like, and she was generous enough to let me take the spot. So, for four Wednesday nights I get to meet with seven other women entrepreneurs in cozy armoires at a day spa in Costa Mesa to share experiences, insights and learn from a well-thought out curriculum. The first class was already amazing.

Our homework:

"Why do you want to do what you are pursuing? What does you doing THIS thing mean in the bigger context? Bring your WHY to class in your head or on paper. Knowing it will also help you get through the some of the harder moments in business."

I realized my why when I started dredging through the PR jobs on craigslist in search of something full-time. The moment of clarity struck as I read yet another post full of skills and requirements, low on pay - the only job I saw relevant to my skill set that night was a marketing/PR job for a Korean game manufacturer. I started thinking how I'm pretty much against video games - at least the violent ones - and I didn't want to contribute to something I don't believe in. Especially if it's full-time and at the cost of focusing on my new business. Ah ha!

My why for going into business for myself is that I want to apply my talents, skills and energy to something I believe in. In other words, I want to choose my clients. I chose green companies as my niche because I’ve always had a thing for the environment (my college thesis was on American attitudes toward nature). In other words, I heart nature.

It’s really hard to get behind something that you either feel nothing for, or worse, despise. This was the case at my last agency job. While I was fortunate enough to work on a few alternative energy accounts, there were some clients I worked for who did things I wanted nothing to do with, such as building dams, mining for limestone, manufacturing chemicals, drilling for oil and slaughtering animals. Actually, I did want something to do with them - in the form of stopping them!

I used to think, how could I, Miss Treehugger/Protestor, become a corporate flak for evil companies?! Well, maybe I’m exaggerating about the evil part, but that is what it felt like to me at times. What got me through the disgust I would sometimes feel looking through dam-builder brochures was the knowledge that I was learning new skills - transferable skills - that eventually I could use for good. I knew that while at the time I was working for less-than-desirable clients, one day I would get to apply those skills to companies and causes that were actually doing good things in the world. Fortunately that moment came sooner than later when an unexpected lay-off pushed me head-first into starting my business.

And that's what CraterCom is to me - it's my chance to consciously choose where my energy and efforts go. I'll still keep an eye out for full-time work, but my real effort will go into finding the next green business to go after. As the homework assignment says, knowing your why helps you get through the harder moments in business. Losing my first client (and thereby rent money) definitely counts as a hard moment, but fortunately I have my class (and movement) to help me through it. And as I said in my first post, one of the most essential things in the early phase of running a business is having a support system of positive people. In other words, thank goodness for my peeps!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When no sleep is a badge of honor, we're not practicing what we preach

"Sustainability" is one of the big buzz words I encounter daily working in the green industry. I've been thinking about this concept a lot as it applies to the work/life balance. Part of the green movement is challenging practices that cannot be maintained and repeated over time. When companies talk about being sustainable, they are referring to practices that can be replicated without damage in the long run. So drilling for oil and using coal for power are not sustainable practices because we run out of resources and hurt the planet. Using the power of the sun and wind, on the other hand, is sustainable because it is not depleting anything. Businesses embrace sustainability in their supply chain and business models, but what about the people who run and work in those businesses? How many of them travel incessantly and work crazy hours without rest? Why is it that almost every entrepreneur I've spoken with hardly sleeps (me included) and doesn't seem to experience real days off?

Our culture of consumption measures success by increased output (i.e. the growth of the GDP) and there is an aching undercurrent of faster, better, more. This applies to businesses and individuals. We try to balance work, family, exercise, rest, social life, etc...but how many of us feel like work gets most of our time and attention at the expense of the other things? I know I do. But to admit that sounds like I'm not a hard worker, which is not the case at all. It's just that our society values output and production - fortunately, we are also beginning to value sustainability. I say that to make a fulfilling and successful career sustainable in the long run, we must embrace balance in the beginning. Workaholism is not sustainable - and neither is its cousin, drinking more coffee than water. But when I get to encounter amazing people and share invigorating ideas, it replenishes me. That's the reason I have the energy to write this blog right now.

Today I went for a midday walk in the Bolsa Chica wetlands (squashing the guilt I always feel when I do anything other than WORK). The fresh breeze, glimmering water and mesmerizing birds actually did little to alleviate the constant pressure I live with every day. There's client work, business development and cash flow worries. I felt guilty for walking but I knew I needed to do it (it would have been a run but I am sick and still wanted the fresh air).
In my last post I compared the challenges of running a new business to feeling like a waitress carrying multiple trays. Sometimes you just need to set the trays down for a second. The walk was my second, and it helped at least to recognize that the plates full of household chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming) and self-care items (manicure!!!) are important too. If I'm only focusing on the work projects and ignoring my personal and household care, I feel terrible and gross. To keep up the pace and not drop the trays, I have to do things like take walks to gain perspective and maintain stamina. But I still have a long way to go before I don't feel guilty all of the time - that's because my inner self wants to please everyone but at the same time rejects the existing standard of an unsustainable chunk of life dedicated to working, working, working.

I need to sleep, play, laugh, dance and sleep (did I already say that?) so that I can be present and focused when I am writing/pitching/planning, etc. It's not sustainable to be imbalanced. And in the green movement, if we are going to talk sustainabilility, let's try to live it too. It's 11:20pm and I should go to bed, but I'm going to be a hypocrite now and go back to work. Why? Because that's the way it is. It's not the way I want it to be though, and little by little I will become the change I wish to see. Today I took a walk, and tomorrow, by G-d, I am getting a manicure!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let the blogging begin!

Thanks to the help of my wonderful friend and fellow blogger, Yogalexis, I am finally foraying into this new forum of communication. I hope to use this blog as a way to reflect, share and motivate both myself and others. I've been journalling since age 8, so just a heads up that my posts will probably be long because once I start writing it flows for at least 15 minutes. I don't know how narcisstic blogging is in my case - such a strange dynamic I don't even know where to begin on that one - but I'm feeling very drawn to it so here goes.

As a sole practictioner running a public relations practice from my home office in Sunset Beach, CA, I find that it's so important to stay connected to a community of inspiring people. Positive people, positive's not only vital to success, but to survival and sanity. Especially when you work mostly alone and don't have colleagues to bounce ideas off. Many of my family and friends are so supportive, but they don't understand exactly what I do (sometimes I don't even understand exactly what I do, which brings me to the forthcoming lesson of the day).

What I miss sometimes about working in an office environment is that random brainstorming and venting throughout the day with colleagues who not only get what you do, but are doing it too. So I'm taking to blogging about my process as a necessary step to gaining clarity and focus for the work I'm doing. I wanted to say that I have so much on my plate, but what I really feel like is a waitress carrying two trays of six plates, each one with so much on it. Maybe we all feel like that. I do especially as a new business owner balancing the needs of my clients with the business part of billing, proposals, marketing, not to mention personal needs like healing, dance, yoga and meditation. I need to set the trays down, take a step back, roll my shoulders, shake my head and take some deep breaths. If angry customers are crying for their food while I do this, so be it, because if I am to really do a good job in this world, I better be grounded. I used to be a waitress actually, and on more than one occasion I quit in tears, so I know how serious it is to be calm, collected and clear heading into every situation.

Lesson of the day: back away from the computer.

Today I found that stepping away from the computer for a couple of morning hours was the best move to gain perspective on a project I've been trying to tackle for over a week. I realized that the project was driving me mad (and away from it) because I wasn't clear on what exactly I need to do. So everytime I tried to work on it, I would sit down at my computer and get sucked into the vortex of Internet, emails, random spreadsheets, everything more urgent and entertaining than planning and focusing. My facebook status read "Must. Stay. Focused!" but the very fact I was on facebook sabotaged my intentions, and not too long after I was posting a picture of Suri Cruise in highheels with a starbucks cup to speak out against the oversexualization of little girls. Pretty interesting, right? There I go again....!

So, I took my notebook and my brain to Coffee Bean on PCH, where the smell of espresso sweetness enlivened my senses and I sensed a buzz of energy. Looking out the window at the rain pouring every few minutes, hearing the rythmic music at just the right volume, taking just a notebook and pen to work with, that felt right. I did my best to break the project into pieces and identify clear next steps. So now I am going to make a PowerPoint slide by slide, with each slide identified ahead of time. We'll see how it goes. This project is like the entree on the biggest plate on one of my many trays. It's a steak and I had to cut it into pieces to make it digestable.