I admit I’ve played it small in my life, not feeling ready to be seen or claim my place. One way I did this was by having dozens of jobs over the years: typesetter, yoga teacher, fundraiser, editor, bartender. It’s hard to be “big” when you have to be at another gig in 15 minutes.
But I always found myself writing for people: scribbling business plans for them on napkins or jotting down taglines or ad copy while I was supposed to be wiping tables or making cold calls. Some part of me knew what I could be doing.
My preoccupation with words started early. I was born into a family of extreme readers—three daily newspapers, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, summer vacations spent lying in hammocks with a stack of library books nearby. At school, I would burn through those Iowa reading test cards—yellow level, green level, red level…Bring on purple!
My other hobby was observing people and trying to understand them. My mother tells me that when I was 4 or 5, I would describe visitors to our house in excruciating detail—their hair, their laugh, their shoes, their car—and ask all kinds of questions about why they had said something, what it meant.
And I loved writing. My first book was a lengthy fantasy work penned in 3rd grade: “Jackie and Susan in the Land of Stoves.” Two girls enter a mysterious world of talking ovens and, as you might guess, some wild adventures ensue.
Writing came easy to me but—in that not-ready or not-willing way—I never believed that I could have a career that had anything to do with it. My brothers were the good writers, not I. At college, I studied art, French, political science, literature, sign language…even Greek for a while. I got a masters degree in language acquisition.
Circling like a nervous hawk around what I loved, but never quite landing.
Then I started getting those jobs. All of them looping closer and closer to writing. When I was hired as an editor of an outdoor magazine in Boston with a wonderful group of colleagues, I finally saw what it was to be a professional writer and that I actually could be one. We won awards, traveled, and had a lot of fun producing a publication that was meaningful and important.
My favorite thing, of course, was writing feature stories about people. And hearing them say things like, “I can’t believe you made sense of that garble that came out of my mouth.” I loved creating clarity out of the ideas people could only see as jumbled and confused.
But while I knew what I loved, I still didn’t quite see how to make it manifest in the world. And so off I went searching for the path in all the wrong places. I hitched my wagon to a lot of other people’s stars, following boyfriends to Africa, India, and finally out West.
Where I finally got—after some capital D Drama and capital R Reinvention—that I alone had the key.
And that the key was the things I loved when I was small: people and words.
So I acknowledged that I had been making things much more complicated than they needed to be (and that I was cobbling together way too many part-time jobs to remain sane for much longer). I got that I could do what I loved and what I had always done: Understand people and develop messages for them.
I hung out my shingle as a promotional writer for business owners. I allowed myself to be seen.
Today, I work mostly with entrepreneurs and small business owners—smart, fun people—who generally have a few things going on: They’ve got great ideas, great energy and great potential. And they’re their own worst enemy. They’re stuck. They’re overwhelmed. Often they’re ashamed of their website and don’t want people to look at it. Just about always, they’re making things more complicated than they need to be. They’re losing business. Lots of it.
And they’re finally ready to get very clear about their message so they can be seen. So they can stop playing it small. And so they can make some damn money.
When I think about my ideal client, it’s someone like me. (Yikes, right?) Someone who is raring to go but just has to get clear first—maybe shift an old assumption here, confront a sticky pattern there, find the right message—and then they’re off.
Doing just what they have long known they should be doing because now they have the clarity—and the words—to do it.
They have their own key.
And they can be who they were always meant to be.
Clear. Unstoppable. Profitable. And Happy.