April 24, 2016

Oprah, Death Threats, and My Very First Check: 9 Highs & Lows from 9 Years of Running My Own Business. #LadyBoss

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9 years ago… I opened my life coaching practice.

It was called “Ideal Life Design LLC,” which I excitedly printed on 1000 business cards.

I had high hopes and zero clients. None of my friends understood what it meant to be a “certified life coach” (“Is that like being a therapist, except you’re not a real therapist?”) and even my husband had intense doubts about my new career.

Earning my very first check—for $600—felt like an unbelievable victory. I cried holding that slip of paper in my hands. It wasn’t much, compared to what I used to earn selling estate, but it was a start.

9 years later, I run a seven-figure coaching practice that includes private coaching, group coaching, international retreats, speaking engagements, a training program for professional coaches, and a line of products including video courses, books, and inspiring candles.

I am not telling you this to “brag” or make you feel “small” in comparison, but rather, to illustrate just how BIG your life can become when you devote yourself to your dream with grit and tenacity and keep showing up, day after day, doing your work like a #boss.

(Grit and tenacity, even during those early years of your biz when you wake up wondering, “Am I delusional? Is this ever going to generate money consistently? Does anybody give a f*ck about what I’m trying to do here?” That’s when you need courage most of all.)

Here are 9 highs and lows from the past 9 years.

(Let’s start with the lows so that we can end on a high note…)

LOWS

1. The early doubters. Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 12.38.40 PM

After starting my coaching practice, a close relative said to me, “This will just be some ‘hobby’ that you do for a few years before you go back to having a real job.”

One of my previous managers said (behind my back), “She’ll starve trying to do that and she’ll be back to selling real estate in the spring.”

My husband said, “Show me the money! I don’t understand how you will ever replace your real estate income as a life coach?”

Each statement broke my heart—but also fueled my desire to work my ass off and prove everyone wrong.

2. Refund shame.

The very first time that someone hired me and paid for coaching through my website, she demanded a refund after our first session. The reason: She thought I was going to hold her accountable with brass knuckles and I wanted to get to the root of the issue. She wasn’t having it. And then I realized my website copy didn’t explain “how I worked.” So I updated my website to let people know exactttttttly how I roll.

3. My first speaking gig. 

I showed up and the average audience member was a 75 year old retired white man wearing suspenders.

These gentlemen were polite, but I could immediately tell that my passionate speech about “creating your most delicious, authentic life” was not going to resonate with this crowd.

One man told me, bluntly, “Honey, the only thing I have going on today is this Salisbury steak lunch.”

4. The disappearance.

One time, my teenage son Ryan “ran away” for 12 hours without explanation. Total panic. Heart-stopping fear.

Then Ryan came back—just a few hours before I was supposed to get on a plane for a hugely important speaking engagement.

I was torn—”Do I cancel my trip, stay here, and deal with the Ryan situation? Or go?” My husband Scott said, “Get on the plane. I can handle it.”

I cried the entire 5-hour flight.

(When you’re a working mom, there is no “perfect balance” between “career” and “kids.” There’s just real life—and sometimes it’s messy. I am blessed to have a husband who takes charge when I can’t—and I do the same for him.)

5. Website #FAIL

I naively thought that once my coaching website was “live” that my phone would ring OFF THE HOOK. Instead… *Crickets.* Then I had the realization that launching a website is not a “marketing plan.” I have to do things to encourage people to actually visit my site, first. Eureka!

6. Having to hire a bodyguard because of an online stalker. 

Trust me, having a bodyguard is NOT Hollywood-glamorous or sexy or fun.

7. Embarrassing myself in front of my hero, Martha Beck.

On multiple occasions. One time—at a training seminar—I delivered a presentation that was truly awful. Not my finest work. Afterwards, I stood there while Martha critiqued my talk and picked apart everything I had done poorly. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and sobbed uncontrollably.

The embarrassment was almost unbearable. But I knew she was right—and her feedback ultimately made me a much better coach.

(A few months, Martha circled back to me and hired me to run her training programs. Moral of the story: even if you’re sobbing on a toilet right now, keep working. You can always turn things around.)

8. Hate mail, death threats.

I’ve been told that… I need to lose weight, that I need to shut up, that I’m a terrible role model and mother, that my work isn’t “real” work, and that I need to die. (I’ve also been sent inappropriate romantic proposals and dick pics. Such a delight!)

These types of online messages are rare, but they do happen, and they’re horrifying.

My strategy: never post your home address or phone number online, be cautious, and report hate-speech to Facebook (or Twitter, Insta, etc) and to the police if necessary. Also: unfriend anybody who’s dragging you down. You don’t need that word-poison leaking into your heart.

9. Copycats. 

If I had a dollar for every time someone has copied my work (literally: copy-and-paste-ing my writing onto their website without getting permission, and without giving me credit as the author)… I would have a big pile o’ dollars and I could probably treat myself to a nice massage which would be a great way to melt away the stress and annoyance of dealing with copycats!!!

It’s so tempting to copy the people that you admire, but it’s not right—and ultimately, you’re just hurting your own business because you’re imitating someone else rather than creating your own unique, distinctive work. #DoYOU

OK, we’re done with humiliation and plagiarism.

Now onto the highs!

HIGHS

1. The final real estate closing. 

Before becoming a life coach, I sold real estate—which I completely hated. After finishing up my final sale, I didn’t even pack up my office. I didn’t say “goodbye” to my coworkers (who were lovely). I just bolted out into the sunlight. I was free. That freedom felt like fresh air, hope, renewal, possibility… new LIFE.

(I paid someone to go back and grab my things later on. I didn’t want to step inside that office building even one. more. time.)

2. My first check from a client.

Four coaching sessions. $600. I held it and cried. I knew I had a long way to go.

But it was a start.

3. My first “thank you” letter from a client.

“You changed my entire family’s trajectory by helping me love myself.”

To anyone who thinks that life coaching isn’t a “real” job: kindly see above.

The work is real. The impact is real. “Thank you” letters (like that one) remind me why I do this.

4. Oprah.IKEA article

Several years into my coaching career, Oprah’s people called to ask if I would be part of a life coaching feature that they were doing in collaboration with Seattle’s Best Coffee. Later, they invited me to join the “Life Improvement Squad” for another collaboration with IKEA. Then later, to do a book signing at O You.

All three times, I laugh-cry-danced (lacryanced!) around my home office for DAYS and I felt like THIS inside my heart.

5. The moment I held my first printed book in my hands.

It was called Create Your Own Luck. It was the first book ever published through The Difference Press. It’s not a bestseller and probably never will be. But it was full of great stories and advice, readers enjoyed it, and most importantly: it meant so much to me.

To every teacher who told me I was “too opinionated,” and to every doubter who told me that my business would “never work,” and to every grammar-troll who told me that my writing style wasn’t “professional” enough… guess what? I WROTE A BOOK. #MicDrop

First book of many.

6. Boat fantasies.

That one time I was sailing on a yacht from Positano, Italy to the isle of Capri with a group of amazing clients and I realized… “Um, WHOA. I have created my fantasy life.” This is my job?? For real???

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7. Signing a non-disclosure agreement in order to coach one of my idols.

It felt like if Michelle Obama called you up and was like, “Can I hire you for six weeks of life coaching?” THAT level of amazingness.

(Side note: it was not Michelle but heyyyy Michelle, if you’re ever interested in working together, I’m super down.)

8. Turning down a major network TV show offer because it conflicted with my values.

Such a hard decision. But if you’re not going to feel proud of what you’re creating, what’s the point? No amount of money or fame will ever make it “worth” it.

9. Surpassing my real estate income.

My greatest fear—after quitting my real estate job and starting my coaching practice—was that I would never make as much money as a coach as I used to make selling real estate.

By year two, I surpassed my real estate income, officially silencing those fears.

Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean it’s real, or that it will happen. The exact opposite could happen, too. You won’t know unless you try and make your best effort.

WHAT’S NEXT

I have no idea where I’ll be 9 years from today.

I am sure there will plenty of lows and highs along the way—experiences I can’t even fathom right now because life has a way of delivering the unexpected.

I know, for sure, that I want to keep showing up for my audience. I want to keep serving. I never want to get “so busy” that I don’t have enough time for dinner with my family or a gym session with my best friend.

I know that I always want to feel “free.” That’s the main desire that compelled me to become self-employed in the first place—and “freedom” is still what drives me today.

What drives you? 

Where you do imagine yourself 9 years from today?

Nothing, no matter how improbable it may sound, is out of your reach.

I am saying this as a small-town mom from Evansville, Indiana who has gotten to work with Oprah’s editorial team… who is currently working with a few of the most famous people in the world… who has gotten fan mail from teenage girls across the world… and who will be sailing on a luxury cruise ship from NYC to London later this year. With hustle and focus and patience, all things are possible.

If you can crave it, then you can create it. 

I’m not saying it’s “instant” or “easy.”

I’m saying it’s possible.

I’m saying you can have exactly what you want—or something pretty darn close—if you keep showing up and doing the work.

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P.S.  I’m leading several amazing retreats this year! You can join me in Italy (2 new spots opened up), France (sold out), on a luxury cruise ship across the Atlantic Ocean, or New York City. With these experiences, everything is handled for you—accommodation, meals, excursions—all you have to do is show up. And I know you can find a way to show up. ?

XOXO,
Susan

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