Here’s our second of three stories about stepping into Potent Expression.
This is a story about being told that you can’t say what you really want to say about the work you do. It’s about what happens when you’re told that enough times, and what changes when you are finally given a space to say what might seem to be dangerous, or difficult, about the work you do. It’s about debunking your inner myths about what your audience can hear, what they want to hear, what they’ll respond to.
Ellen Grossman is a former nurse-midwife, who spent years working, as she calls it, “in the belly of the beast of traditional medicine” – in teaching hospitals, in large practices, serving mixed populations. She worked alongside doctors and nurses, “treading that odd middle ground of not really being either, but fulfilling the roles of both. It really was a place where I felt I couldn’t show the wild parts of myself.”
She has, in recent years, developed a business doing shamanic work with women, including vision quests. She came to work with me in my Mojo training this past spring, at a point where she wanted to make her small practice bigger, but found herself going in circles, stalling, when it was time to put her message out.
She had studied other marketing approaches, and had learned about all the usual solopreneur marketing activities, things like running launches and using social media. She didn’t like the way she was being taught marketing. The tactics seemed manipulative and in her words, “yucky.” When she tried to go out in the world to use what she was being taught, she would freeze. She would sit at her computer thinking, “I can’t do this.” (In fact, instead of sitting down to write about her work, she would zip off on the internet to go see what someone else was doing in hopes that that would inspire her.)
Looking back, Ellen says, “Now I know the reason I couldn’t make those approaches work is because they represented an outside in-approach, which just didn’t feel right. My work is all about helping people switch from doing what other people say they should do to listening to themselves, so it makes sense that it wasn’t going to work for me to market by ignoring what I felt. The whole marketing concept of offering the solution to the client’s problem is antithetical to what I do, given my work is about connecting my clients to their inner voice so they can find their own solutions.”
Ellen heard me say something to the effect that as business owners, we need to get clear on what we want to say and then say it. She found that refreshing: “I get to say what I really mean? Other coaches, when they heard me talk about the deeper, more challenging aspects of my work, told me over and over again, ‘Ellen you can’t say that!”
One of the things reassured Ellen that this approach to communication might be different was the questionnaire I ask people to fill out before enrolling for the training. She appreciated that I was upfront that this would be an intense process, that it might even be uncomfortable, even unpleasant at some points. And she valued that I understood that real work, inner work, is often messy and uncomfortable, She had been in trainings before that had triggered fear or self-doubt, and when she spoke about it was told in so many words, “get over it!” The questions I asked convinced her that she would have permission to talk about difficult feelings that might come up, that she’d be met and supported in the process.
As always, the first thing we worked on was developing the True Spirit of her Work. She appreciated being asked to tell stories about her most meaningful work, it helped her to start by writing as if no one would see it. She worried a little though, that “the other women in the group are going to thing I’m a psycho!”
Ellen describes the process this way, “You tricked me into telling the truth – you created a safe space for me to move into deeper territory, to move slowly toward the possibility of other people seeing these deeper elements, and I started feeling safe.”
What struck me in her stories was the way she wrote about how we face and move through danger. And the power of wildness. Out in nature and inside ourselves.
As Ellen submitted various drafts of her True Spirit, she kept slipping in to safer, milder language. My feedback to her would point that out. I would write: “What happened here? Where did the language around danger and wildness go?” To Ellen, it felt as though I were saying “I see you and I am not seeing you in this.” This kind of feedback brought her to tears. She felt deeply seen and gently encouraged to show these deeply important parts of herself that she’d been told for so long weren’t okay. These themes she’d been told were too much, too big, too out there.
Here’s the True Spirit that came out of this back and forth:
The true spirit of my work is to help people swimming along in the river of their life to dive deeper to that river beneath the river where, if lucky they will be swept into the embrace of their own Soul.
That terrifying, exhilarating encounter with their own dangerous Wildness, their own certainty, their own questioning, swooping into the Mysterious Conversation happening just below our awareness.
Entering into this Conversation is not for the faint hearted. Our Souls are Wild in all the wonderful and terrifying meanings of the word: untamed, willful, powerful, raucous, tender, connected in a way that melts and electrifies at the same time. Saying YES to this deeper Conversation opens us to something that is bigger than us, that at once seems achingly familiar and yet delightfully startling.
It allows us to start living our lives from the inside out; exuberantly, soulfully, giving to the world the unique gift that we and we alone have come to give. When we say YES to this Soul Conversation, we are tapped into the powerhouse of our own Self Wisdom. Our work, our relationships, our experiences take on a vibrancy, a creativity that springs from living from this inner knowing.
The True Spirit, along with the True Wisdom, and the Basic Story that we worked on next, became a great foundation for all her other business writing. Although these pieces were not directly what we would use for copy, they gave her a starting place to work from.
“When I do a flyer, I can look at my True Wisdom, and pick a phrase and make it work for whatever I am writing about. I am not recreating the wheel each time I do a piece. It not only makes it easier for me, it provides a cohesiveness that is reassuring to clients as they work with me. They have a structure that helps them know, ‘oh, this is what Ellen does’. It gives clients some language they can use to speak about their work with me.”
The conversation about what is and isn’t ok to say extended beyond writing the True Spirit. When it came to writing copy, more fear came up. “I can’t tell people that their lives may fall apart if they work with me, that they may be dismembered. It’s too scary, no one wants to hear that!” she’d tell me. But I held my ground. If that’s part of the work, she should share it. Now, she doesn’t have to lead with that, it doesn’t have to be her headline, but somewhere along the line, before someone comes on board, she should speak to it. Otherwise, it’s a bait-and-switch.
As much as our work was about giving Ellen encouragement to share what was true about her work, she also appreciated the practical tools I taught her.
She described it this way: “Something in your work teaches a craft. You offer formulas that are really helpful that you use in service to your own inner guidance rather than an outer guidance. You taught me something wonderful in editing – I learned a lot from the way you could see the True Spirit and go straight for it, and offer me examples of how that could show up in language. It felt like an apprenticeship. Here is how a master does it. I can do it. I can see the formula, but I see great leeway as well.”
Ellen cottoned to the idea that it’s good marketing when she writes and speaks from her True Spirit. After all the times marketing people had told her “people don’t want to hear this,” she appreciated my holding her to writing about the themes and ideas that matter most to her. For holding for her the space and belief that THIS is actually what people are hungry to hear, not the safe, mild stuff that could sound like a million other people. That I challenged her to write until she had the sense, “yes, this is what I want to say.”
She says, “I want to make money, but more importantly, I want to give my particular offering. It’s not possible for me to make money doing something that is not authentic. When you don’t pretend, then everything – marketing, selling, enrolling — becomes much clearer and so much easier.”
So what has changed for Ellen as a result of going through this intensive message development process?
Ellen says, “The most significant change is that I now believe that marketing is important. I really get that for people to find me I have to put out what I offer. I have all these tools and written pieces from the training that I am using all of the time – elements of my True Wisdom, the bridging statements. I have really practical ways of expressing myself that feel good to me and seem to be getting a response.
When I say what I do, people say ‘whoa’! As I got more clear internally, people started coming up to me and asking ‘Tell me more about what you do, I am interested.’ I now use language that had been scary to me to use before. I am now bold about saying ‘I don’t offer you answers, I offer you tools to get answers.’ That seems to be drawing people in rather than repelling them! Surprising to them, but they like it.”
Now, she’s seeing how she creates a pipeline to fill her practice. She’s been leading an ongoing Monday night group for a long time where she nurtures relationships with past, present, and future clients, and she is getting ready to start another. When she started Mojo, Ellen had been wanting to offer a second round of a year-long intensive program, but felt stuck. Now, the group is filling easily through conversations with people in her circle. Her one- to-one practice has expanded by about 30%.
She has a new understanding of the interaction between her outreach work and the actual work she does with clients. The message development process deepened the work she does with clients. It clarified the teaching she does with her groups. As she puts it, “As I am clearer about my message, I can offer that to my clients in a deeper, wonderful way.”
Reflecting on the work we did together, Ellen said, “What you’re doing with your work, Isabel, is part of the paradigm shift that humanity is in. As we look at a new economy, and we shift our appreciation of what healers bring, this different way of valuing, we can’t use old marketing ways, it doesn’t fit the new economics. “
Ellen Grossman works as a Mentor and Guide to people seeking to birth something new into the world. I do this by helping them access the Wild–the Wild within and the Wild in Nature. I work with people in intimate, ongoing groups, one to one, and in wilderness retreats. You can reach Ellen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-391-9901.