Imitation is Not Flattery (and what to do instead)

A number of times over the past year, I have discovered entire portions of my website copied and pasted onto other people's websites. In several cases, the website belonged to a friend or to someone I'm relatively close to.

Each time this happens, I feel hurt and disappointed.

I always try to assume positive intent and remember that most likely, it wasn't deliberate or intentional. I acknowledge that very rarely is there such a thing as a "unique idea" and believe what Mark Twain said when he stated:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I believe in the possibility that it was a complete coincidence that we just so happened to create the same exact program and describe it in the same exact words and structure it in the same exact way.

When I inquired with a friend about one of these situations in the past, she apologized and said that she had been deeply inspired by my website - so she applied that inspiration to her own site. She didn't realize that the impact of her inspiration had been recreating one of my programs, word for word, and listing it on her own site. 

I believed her. 

She took it down.

We moved on.

I still consider her a wonderful person and a friend.

But here's the thing. 

Imitation is the most sure-fire way to keep ourselves from our own truth.

As Oscar Wilde said:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Imitation keeps us in a cycle of mediocrity. 

Imitation keeps us from our greatness. 

Imitation keeps us playing small. 

Imitation is one path forward - we see it happening all day, every day, all over the internet. It can get us reasonably far and can lead us to a level of relative success. 

However, originality is another path forward. Originality is the path that leads us to our greatness and leads us to our truth. 

And often, in order to find our truth, we need to take a little break from all the inspiration. 

Many of us fill our days with consumption from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed. We take a quick scroll through our favorite social media sites first thing in the morning. We pop in to read our favorite blogs throughout the day. And we wind down in the evening by scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. 

When we do this, we fill our days with other people's thoughts, other people's truth, and other people's ideas. This leaves little time or space for our own. 

If you feel like you might be a little heavy on the "inspiration" side and could use a bit more space for your own thoughts and own ideas, here are a few things to try:

Creation Before Intake.

Specifically, this means no social media or intake first thing in the morning, until after you have had at least 5 minutes to chill out and think and perhaps even write down a reflection or two. In addition to getting in touch with your truth, this simple habit will lead to more productive and easeful and spacious feeling days. Read more on how to create better days through better mornings here.

Self-Check: Is this My truth?

When writing or speaking or posting or creating a fun little graphic with a fun little quote you found online somewhere, pause to ask yourself: "Is this my truth? Is this what I deeply believe?" If your answer is anything but a resounding yes, pause. Step away and reflect. And come back when you know the answer. 

Ask Yourself: Is Inspiration What I Most Need Right Now?

Sometimes it is. We are in the mood for some of those fun little graphics with fun little quotes, or to look at or read something beautiful online. And often, what we really need is some time with our own thoughts - 5 minutes to sit quietly, a quick walk around the block, or 2 minutes to just pause and breathe. 

As Herman Melville said:

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."

And I would argue that originality and truth can never fully fail.

The 3 Most Important Questions to Answer Before Doing Anything

I spent the weekend staying in this adorable little rustic cabin in the woods, sitting my butt on a cushion, practicing a bit of gentle yoga, breathing, and feeling my feet.

I went on retreat because I was craving spaciousness and slowness. While I attempt to create this feeling as part of my daily rhythm whenever possible, as we all know, it can be hard - and can even feel impossible at times. 

We have meetings, events, tasks, places to go, stuff to get done, and seemingly never enough time to do them all. 

Spaciousness is both seductive and elusive. It winks at us from the 30 minutes of white space on our calendar between meetings, before disappearing into a sea of back-to-back appointments for the rest of the day. It flashes us a big smile during the rare completely unscheduled summer weekend, only to vanish into a sea of Saturday morning classes, weddings, weekend visitors, trips, baby showers, and reunions. 

Spaciousness can be confusing. On one hand we yearn for it, yet on the other hand, the things that fill our calendars and our weekends are often full of fun, love, community, and connection. We want to do it all. 

Spaciousness can feel scary. Often, upon connecting with colleagues or acquaintances who I haven't seen in awhile, the first question they ask is, "How's business? Are you busy?" We live in a society that associates "busy" with "good" and "successful." While this is slowly starting to shift with the growing popularity of books like Essentialism, The One Thing, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as a whole, our western society operates on the principle that "more is better." 

And sometimes, it is. For me, the "good" kind of "more" involves: more positive impact, more connection, more community, more generosity, and more creativity. And I've discovered that this type of "more" requires space.

Creating space doesn't always require going on a weekend retreat. What it does require, however, is constant intention and attention about the things we say yes to and the things that fill our minutes, hours, and days.

Derek Sivers famously said, "if it's not a Hell Yeah, it's a No." While I love this quote and concept, I find that our Hell Yeah isn't always abundantly clear. For example, "doing laundry" is never a Hell Yeah for me. Does that mean I abandon it altogether, leaving my clothes in a defiant heap on the floor? And while "saying no more" is often touted as the answer to cure our society's disease of busyness, I believe that the answer is often slightly (or largely) more complicated. 

As a result, I've created three key questions that help me to make the best possible decisions about what I say Yes to, and what I say No to. 

  • Does this come from a place of gratitude?

  • Is this aligned with my highest purpose in the world?

  • Is this 100% aligned with my values?

I use these questions whenever making a decision about what to do or how to spend my time. 

Making an Important Decision

Several months ago, I was trying to engineer a very complicated system for determining which out-of-town engagements I would say "yes" to, and which I'd say "no" to. I was traveling too much at the time and was feeling burned out. My system involved analysis, spreadsheets, and complicated self-created formulas which would help me determine the right answer for each of these requests that came in. Excited, I explained my new system to my coach. She replied, amused, "or, each time you receive a new request, you could just take a breath, and ask yourself, 'what would make this opportunity worth it?'" Damn it. Her advice was always so simple, and always so spot on. In that moment, I threw out my spreadsheet and embraced this new approach.

  • Step One: Take a Breath.
  • Step Two: Ask Myself the 3 Key Questions

This simple process of breathing and reflecting on my 3 key questions led me to let go of two of my largest pieces of business at the time. While both were projects that I enjoyed, and both involved working with some incredible people, the cost for each had become too high. Taking a breath and tuning into the key questions allowed me to set aside the voice of my ego (But...they want you to do it! But...money! But...what if you don't find anything to replace these two enormous projects?) and tune into the voice of my intuition and my deep inner truth. These were two of the best decisions I've made in my business in the past year. 

Responding to a Request

I get a lot of inquiries from new coaches and potential new coaches who want to learn more about becoming a coach, starting a coaching business, and becoming certified as a coach. I love helping new coaches; I believe that coaching skills make the world a better place and that we could truly create world peace if only we knew how to talk to each other and ask questions from a place of curiosity.  I am eternally grateful to Chariti and Darcy, the two spectacular Madison-based coaches I called up on the phone when I was a new coach starting my coaching business. 

However, there was a moment about 6 months ago, when I realized that I was spending so much time in meetings and on phone calls with other new coaches that I was doing my own client work exhausted, at 1 in the morning. This was not okay. My core 'why' for my business is Impact. Clearly, I was not having the greatest possible impact on my clients or in the world if I was doing my most important work in an exhausted state at 1 in the morning.

This realization forced me to reevaluate how I handle these requests. Now, instead of shifting around my calendar or eliminating my independent working time to "squeeze in" these meetings, I schedule them around my existing appointments or independent working time. Sometimes this means that these meetings need to take place a month or more in the future. Sometimes this means I need to send a link to a blog post in the meantime. While this is still incredibly hard for me (I want to say yes! I want to be helpful! I want to squeeze in just one more thing on my calendar and make it work!), my three key questions help me know that this is the right thing to do. 

Managing our Calendars

It's easy to feel as though our time, our inboxes, and our calendars belong to everyone else but us. Often, from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are fielding calendar requests for our time and presence, email requests for our input and review, and in-person requests for our attention, car keys, or knowledge of where the paper towels are stored. 

If we aren't deliberate and intentional, our minutes, hours, and days are quickly gobbled up by the requests of others. And as Annie Dillard says, "our days become our lives."

I like to frequently spend time looking at my calendar and appointments, and "cross checking" my calendar with my three key questions. If I don't have time for my most important, purpose-filled work, I add blocks of time to focus on key projects. And if there are "rogue" meetings or appointments that are filling my hours and my days and distracting me from the things that truly matter, I'm forced to think carefully about how to proceed. 

I recommend doing this "cross checking" yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. It sounds extreme - I know. And, for most of us, it's one of the most difficult, yet most critical things we can do to ensure we are living in a way that aligns with our values and our highest purpose in the world. 

I hope that these questions are of service to you as you look for ways to create more spaciousness in your life, in service of the things that matter most. 

With Gratitude,

Sarah

My Current Morning Routine

Creating Joyful and Productive Mornings

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of mornings. I'm most productive in the morning, I'm happiest in the morning, and there are few things I love more than the early, quiet moments of the day. 

Last month, I led a talk at a Rising Tide Society Tuesday's Together event and received a mix of loving giggles and groans from girlfriends in the audience when I referenced my love of mornings and morning rituals and routines. 

While my love of mornings may be a little over the top, I stand firmly behind my feelings. I've found with 100% correlation that if I give myself the gift of a few reflective moments in the morning, my day is more productive, easeful, and joyful. And if I don't, my day feels more chaotic, more rushed, and out of control. And I'm not alone. If we look at the schedules of successful CEOs, presidents, actors, writers, and great thinkers, many of them follow(ed) a consistent morning routine. 

When I talk about morning routines, the most frequent questions I receive are, "what do you actually do?" and, "how do you avoid checking your phone first thing in the morning?" 

Here are the answers, in hopes that they're helpful for you as you experiment with your own morning structure. 

Wake Up.

Many people ask me if I use my cell phone for my alarm. I do! The trick: shut off the alarm, and then set the phone down. No checking Instagram, no looking at email, no checking Facebook, no checking messages, and no checking the news. I know, I  know - just trust me on this one....

If you have a hard time not "checking things" first thing in the morning, I recommend:

  • Turning off notifications for all of your apps 
  • Putting your phone on airplane mode
  • Deleting highly addictive apps from your phone, at least for a couple days
  • Turning your phone to black and white to make the pretty pictures less seductive (On the iPhone: settings >> accessibility >> accessibility shortcut >> color filters. Selecting this option will allow you to turn your phone to black and white by pressing the home button three times in a row, and return the display to color by pressing it again three times.)
  • Turning your phone to "night shift" so that the colors are more subtle right before you go to bed and when you wake up (On the iPhone: settings >> display and brightness >> night shift.)

Lemon Water.

Hot water with lemon in the winter, and room temperature water with lemon in the warmer months. Confession: I'm a little inconsistent with this - I'd say my percentage is typically around 50-60%. There are many suggested benefits of drinking lemon water in the morning related to inflammation, digestion, and overall wellbeing. Some celebrities claim that lemon water is the secret to their flawless, glowing skin. My conclusion: they must be drinking a lot of lemon water, or have some magical lemons. 

While "flawlessness" is a benefit I'll leave for the celebrities, my own finding related to lemon water is that I simply feel a bit better when I drink it. Preparing lemon water in the morning feels as though it adds a little extra boost of intention that then flows into the rest of my day. 

Coffee.

Okay, now for the good stuff. Preparing and drinking a cup of coffee in the morning is without exaggeration one of my single favorite moments of the day. The smell, the warmth, the pause it creates while drinking it....I could go on and on. 

Alongside my fierce love of coffee is awareness of the correlation that is often made between coffee and adrenal fatigue. While western medicine doesn't recognize adrenal fatigue as an accepted diagnosis, I can feel the direct impact of too much coffee, and I'm pretty good at creating stress in my life in other ways, so I've been working to cut back a bit. One cup of the real stuff, and then a switch to a caffeine-free alternative. 

My single favorite local roast is True Coffee Dark Roasted Sumatra

For coffee substitutes, I've tried many. Most haven't even come close to replacing the dark deliciousness of coffee and instead result in a hot cup of sadness. The only one I've found that comes close is Dandy Blend. It's dark, smooth, delicious, and almost tastes like real coffee. It comes in single packs, too, which are great for traveling. 

Reflection

Once all of the beverages are ready (a very important part of the morning), I spend a few minutes in quiet reflection. Sometimes this is a brief seated meditation, or sometimes it's just quietly sitting in my breakfast nook enjoying the sunshine (or today, the sound of the rain). These few precious quiet moments are sacred and grounding and create a bit of spaciousness and stillness that flows into the rest of the day. 

Typically, after this reflection time, avocado toast also makes an entrance. 

Planning and Intention Setting

Next, I take a few minutes to think about my day to set both intentions and priorities. My two favorite tools for this are:

While I'm a sucker for a great planner, a regular old notebook works just as well. 

The key questions I ask during this part of my morning are:

  • What are my intentions for the day?
  • What are the 3-5 things I most want to accomplish?

Here, I also look at my schedule for the day and plan out meetings and logistics. 

Writing, Creative Projects, and Strategic Work 

If I'm going to get something important done, it will almost certainly be completed in the morning. When it comes to independent work that involves writing, creativity, and/or strategy, I do it first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. I do this before I check email, before I log into social media, and before I start checking off less-important-but-more-urgent tasks from my list. I do this for a number of reasons, including:

  • I'm way more productive in the morning
  • I believe in "creation before intake." This means that I like to give myself the time and space to think my own thoughts and have my own ideas before consuming any thoughts or ideas from other people. I believe that this ultimately leads to more authentic, joyful, and original work. 
  • It's easy for the "urgent" list of tasks to take over our days and ultimately our lives. If we don't create time for the "low urgency, high importance" tasks, they rarely get done. 

On a really good day, I've completed my most important task for the day by 8 am. This doesn't always happen, but when it does, it's awesome. 

Tips for Making Mornings Easier 

On the surface this can look like a lot of time and a lot of effort. I often hear from people who say they don't have time for an hour-long morning routine. The good news is that this can all be done in as little as a few minutes. Often if I'm traveling for work, this routine is condensed into 5 minutes and involves a cup of coffee, some quick reflection, and jotting down a few thoughts before heading onsite. But even those five minutes have a massive positive impact on my day. 

Some tips for making mornings easier, and making a powerful morning routine more accessible, include:

  • Prep everything you need the  night before. This means that you might grind your coffee beans, fill the water kettle with water, and set your journal out on the dining room table. 
  • Turn off your notifications before bed. There is nothing more seductive than an iPhone screen full of people who have SO MUCH AMAZING NEWS AND SO MANY BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS TO SHARE WITH YOU FIRST THING IN THE MORNING! Reduce the temptation by turning of your notifications. If you're feeling especially courageous, delete the apps altogether - at least for your first couple days of your new routine. 
  • Go analog. Many of us are on our computers all day long. For me, having a paper-based system for morning reflection and planning has helped me stay away from email first thing in the morning.
  • Allow it to be fun. Morning routines don't have to be serious and heavy. They can be (and should be) fun. Think about what would bring you joy in the morning, and do that.
  • Make it your own.  The above system is what works for me. This might not work for you, and that's great. Give yourself permission to experiment and find the flow that feels right for you. 

I'd love to hear from you as you experiment with your own morning routine - what works, what doesn't, and the things you find most impactful. 

You Want to Become a Life Coach? Three Key Things to Consider

Each week, I receive calls and emails from people who are interested in becoming life coaches. For various reasons, their hearts have called them to the profession, and they want to know more - what it's like, any tips I have, and what my experience has been like. 

The tragic truth is that I see many brilliant coaches fail, or become so frustrated with their coaching practice that they abandon it altogether.

Here are three key questions to consider in order to increase your odds of success, happiness, and fulfillment as a coach.

1. Why Do You Want to Become a Coach?

The answer I hear most commonly is "to help people." While this is great and noble, I lovingly say that this is not enough. You can help people in your current job, you can help people by volunteering, and  you can help people through a position with a nonprofit where you still get paid. 

What is your deep, compelling Why that cannot be ignored? What is your Why that outweighs walking away from your corporate job, your salary, and your benefits?  What is your "why" that makes paying $12,000 for a coach training and certification program a Hell, Yeah?

This crystal clear Why will be essential when you start telling people about what you're up to. It will be essential for creating content that feels 100% like you. And it will be essential on the days when building a coaching practice is damn hard. 

Before moving forward with training, certification, or abandoning your corporate job for good, spend some time reflecting on your Why. If it feels squishy, or unclear, spend some more time. Journal. Get quiet and listen. Check out Simon Sinek's TED Talk for inspiration. This Why will be your home base for your business. It's essential.

2. How Do You Feel About Running a Business?

In a successful coaching practice, only a fraction of our time is spent actively coaching clients. The rest of the time is spent running a business: creating content, handling operations, building meaningful relationships, growing your skills as a coach.

New and prospective coaches often tell me, "I just hate the sales part of coaching," or "I don't really like the business part of coaching." If this is you, PLEASE proceed cautiously down the path of becoming an independent coach. 

In order to have a thriving coaching practice, you must run a thriving business. And in order to run a thriving business, you need to either a) love running the business, b) learn to love running the business, or c) build out a phenomenal team of people to support you. who love running the business.

I invite you to spend some additional time thinking about how you feel about becoming an entrepreneur in addition to becoming a coach. The successful coaches I know run a business in addition to running a coaching practice. 

If you decide that the entrepreneurial aspect of coaching doesn't thrill you, there are many ways to be a coach without it. I know several people who have built out roles for themselves inside their organizations, as internal coaches. I know others who are part of coaching collectives, where they are connected with fully vetted clients, in exchange for a commission. They just show up and coach.

We are most successful when we are working within our zone of genius: the place where we are doing what we are best at and what we love. Getting clear on your zone of genius, and specifically where "entrepreneurship" fits into your zone of genius, will increase your odds of success and happiness with your coaching business. 

3. How Do You Want Your Life to Look?

Oftentimes, we start our own businesses because we desire more freedom, in addition to the opportunity to serve others.

Prior to starting a coaching business, take some time to reflect not only on how you want your business to look, but how you want your life to look. How do you want your business to flow with your life? Do you want to run your coaching practice as a lifestyle business, or do you want to build a global company? Do you want to work a couple days per week and spend the rest of the time with your kids? 

Getting clear on this vision up front helps us make better decisions down the line. As my business has grown, I've noticed an unintended pattern of, at times, accidentally recreating my 'old life' from the corporate world in my 'new life' as a business owner: working from 7 am until 9 pm, back to back travel, and a pace that is unsustainable. These days, I love my work so it rarely feels like work; however, one of my values is freedom. At times, I've compromised this value by saying Yes to too many things. 

When I get to this point, I find that it's helpful to take a step back to connect to my vision of how I want my work and my life to look. Doing this exercise up front makes hard decisions easier, and allows us to run our business in an intentional, rather than a reactive, way. Additionally, it allows us to set a clear foundation upon which we can build. For example, I know a number of new coaches who say Yes to taking clients at all hours of the day: 7 am, 9 pm, and weekends, because they are so desperate for clients. Not only does this create challenges up front, but it forces them to attempt to unravel this aspect of their business later on, when they decide it's no longer working. Clear agreements and boundaries up front make things easier for everyone: for us as coaches, and also for our clients.

Bottom Line

This work is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and joyful work I have ever done. I love it, and it fills me up from a place deep within. And, it's hard. Running a business is not for the faint of heart. A business takes time, energy, sweat, and sometimes tears to build. When I moved to Iowa for two years shortly after starting my business, I knew exactly one person. Building my business in Iowa meant combing through the local newspaper each week to try to identify possible opportunities to serve, and it meant more coffee meetings than I can count. Ultimately these efforts paid off and allowed me to create a greater regional impact through my business. And, the path to get there was not glamorous. Being tethered to my Why, being committed to my business, and reminding myself of my vision for my life were essential.

What about you? What is your Why? How do you feel about running a business? And how do you want your life to look in this new chapter? For more on this topic, check out 5 Key Questions to Ask When Looking for a Coach

Perspective

How we hold things is often how we experience things.

When we hold things as "obligations," often they feel like obligations. When we hold things as "hard," often they feel hard. Many times, we can shift our experiences by shifting the way we hold things.

A project I once led had a big project management component - we're talking spreadsheets, project management software, multiple budgets, proposals - all the stuff we think of when we think of project management. There's a part of me that holds this work VERY intensely and wants to turn everything on the project plan green - like, right now. And, unsurprisingly, when I hold the work in this way, it feels incredibly intense. While intensity can be good, it's unsustainable for 6 straight months (the length of this project). As a result, I practiced holding the work as incredibly *important* and incredibly *impactful* but in way that felt lighter and more easeful. When I do, the work feels lighter and more easeful....and it's way more fun.

Another example is training for a big race. I often catch myself viewing my training as an obligation. Once again, unsurprisingly, when I hold the training in this way, it feels like an obligation. I like to practice holding it as a privilege - that I have a body that allows me to move, and that I have a schedule that allows me to get outside in the middle of the day (if I'm organized enough to do so). Whenever I hold my training this way, it not only feels like a privilege, but I am able to fully enjoy the ducks and the beavers and the squirrels and the birds that I encounter along the way.

What do you think? Are there any things in your life that you're holding in a way that doesn't serve you? And, what might it look like to hold these things differently?