Taking back “success”

If we don’t define success for ourselves, it will be defined for us.

Family, friends, colleagues, our culture and society – our environment.

They’ll define it for us, and probably in ways we won’t find easy to live with.

When the definition of success feels wrong – too difficult, too busy, too overwhelming, too heavy, too materialistic, or whatever it may be – it’s no surprise that we struggle to achieve it.  After all, that’s not what we want.

Take back success. Define it for yourself. Make it your own.

It’s a lot easier to be successful when it’s what you actually want.

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The view from now

I heard a story on NPR the other day about how the title “president” was chosen for the leader of the United States.

It seems that the House of Representatives was concerned to keep the holder of this position from getting too impressed with himself. (I say “himself” since at that time, of course, there was no inkling that we might ever have women in office.) They apparently debated for weeks with the Senate about an appropriately insignificant title – one that would keep the officeholder properly humble and in his place.

At that time, “president” was simply a term for, as the NPR story relates, “somebody who presides over a meeting…[or] the foreman of the jury…”

While there were those in the Senate who objected, wondering how anyone with the “silly little title” of President of the United States could be taken seriously by the heads of other nations, it was – obviously – the final choice.

President of the United States.  A “silly little title.”

There are now 147 countries whose leaders are called “president.”

The President of the United States is arguably the most powerful person in the world.

The view from our “now” is considerably different from the view from their “now” in 1776.

What does this have to do with you and your business?

Your view of your business is now.  It’s not what your business will be in six months, a year, ten years.  You don’t know what it will be in six months, a year, or ten years.

The view from now is all we’re allowed to have.

Don’t let it limit your vision of what you might achieve.

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Sustainable or endurable?

What does it mean to have a sustainable business?

I don’t mean sustainable in the environmental sense. I certainly support environmental sustainability, but I’m thinking about something closer to home, closer to our day-to-day experience of being in business.

Personally sustainable.

A business that gives us the time and space we need to enjoy our work and also our friends, families, and the things we do besides work.

We pay lip service to the concept that we all need time off, that we need to take care of ourselves, get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and so forth.

But then we check email before bed, answer client calls on weekends, and agree to deadlines we know will push our endurance.

I recently asked a group of people to define what a successful, sustainable business would look like for them. I primed the pump, so to speak, by giving them my definitions to consider as they wrote their own.

SUCCESS: Doing work I love, with people I respect, enjoy, and like in a way that’s sustainable and brings in the money I need to live well.

SUSTAINABLE: Energizing, not exhausting; enjoyable, not an endless struggle to do things I don’t want to do; allowing time for play as well as for personal and professional growth through meaningful challenges; and with the flexibility to do things in my own way and in my own time.

I was surprised and somewhat saddened by their reactions.

It seems that many people define “sustainable” as what I would call “endurable.”  As in, “I can get through this, I can do it.  It’s not going to actually kill me, and it’s better than looking for a job.”

Wouldn’t it be more fun to be energized, delighted, fascinated, and intrigued by your work?

Isn’t that what we’re really here for – to find joy and to enjoy?

If we don’t know what we want, it’s hard to achieve it.

And if we have wonky definitions of the things we think we want – such as a sustainable business that’s really only endurable – well, what do you think your results are likely to be?

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The perils of “how”

Everyone does it.

(No, not that. Let’s have a little decorum here, please.)

In over 25 years in corporate America, working on  systems analysis, business analysis, and system design, I never saw anyone not do it.

And in all my years of self-employment since, I continue to see people doing it. Clients, colleagues, friends … and even myself, every now and then, although I definitely know better.

So what am I talking about?

Asking – and deciding on – how before you’re sure you know what.

Answering how before you know what is instantly limiting. It immediately puts you into a box. It inhibits – sometimes very painfully – your ability to access the true scope of what you want. After all, if the how you’re thinking about can’t get you to the actuality of what you want … that what will be stunted from birth, without ever being allowed to develop into its full potential.

So when you answer how before you know what, you’ll almost inevitably warp your outcomes (your what) into something that’s not really what you wanted. You’ll probably struggle a lot more to achieve those less-than-optimal outcomes than necessary. And you’ll never know why it was all so difficult and confusing.

We all know the old saying that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But we don’t always remember to apply that wisdom to our every-day experience.

Let me tell you a little story.

A friend of mine invited me to a party. When I arrived and asked if I could help, she thrust a cutting board, a knife, and a bowl of tomatoes into my hands.  “Cut up the tomatoes!”

“What,” I inquired as I cored the first tomato, “is the goal?”

She looked at me as if I’d started spouting classical Greek.

“Sandwich slices or salad chunks?”

She wanted slices for sandwiches. But if I hadn’t known to ask what, she could easily have gotten something that wouldn’t have worked at all.

And that’s exactly what happens when we jump into solving the how question before we’re completely clear on what.  We end up with something that can be so different from what we wanted that it’s unusable … or maybe just different enough to be painfully disappointing. And we never really know why. 

So next time you’re thinking about something as small as – for instance – an article you’re writing or an email you’re getting ready to send, or as large as – for instance – a new service offering or program for your clients, STOP.

Ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish. Because the article, email, service offering, or program? Those are all answers to the how question. They’re the tool, the vehicle, the mechanism with which you deliver the what you want your audience to experience.

Asking what first opens up the possibilities and lets you see a wider range of options. It may be that the how you’re thinking of will be perfectly suited to what you want as your outcome. But there’s a very good chance that there’s something easier, better, faster, and more likely to produce the great results you’re hoping for.

Because whenever you pick the how first – whenever you select the tool before knowing the outcome you want to use it to create – you run the risk of missing the mark, and getting very frustrated in the process.

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Is using jargon really all that bad?

Jargon is everywhere.  We all use it.

In and of itself, jargon isn’t necessarily bad.  But it can go horribly wrong.  We’ve all seen websites that read as if they were assembled from a grab-bag of catch-phrases, clichés, and other jargon-y expressions.  And I’d be willing to bet that we’ve all experienced moments where we felt safer hiding behind jargon instead of putting our real work and real selves out into public view.

And of course we’ve all read the various blog posts, articles, and even books that talk about how jargon muddies communication, diminishes credibility, and can make us sound like idiots.

But is jargon really all that bad?

Yes … and no

There’s no hard and fast rule.  (Sorry.)

Your choice of whether to use jargon or not will differ according to the situation.  The answer depends on three things.

1.  What are you talking about?

When your field of expertise is a specialty that has its own language, knowing the language (the jargon) is necessary for credibility within the field.

2.  Who are you talking to?

If you’re talking to people within your field of expertise, they’ll expect you to speak the common language – the industry jargon.

However, if you’re talking to an audience that isn’t in your field of expertise, using industry jargon may confuse them at best, and alienate them at worst.

3.  How do you feel about what you’re saying?

That may seem like a weird question, but it’s actually the most important question of the three.

Jargon tends to slip into our writing and our speech when we’re uncertain, feeling vulnerable, or in some way reluctant to really put our message out there.

How this shows up

I recently worked with an executive coach.

The initial written description of her work that she sent to me could have applied to any coach who’d been accredited by the coaching school she’d attended.  She had drowned her uniqueness in a morass of coachy buzzwords and co-creative jargon.

Granted, she hasn’t had a lot of experience yet as a coach.  But she has decades of professional and personal experience that gives her plenty of highly-relevant credibility.  And she’s already made a significant difference in the lives of several impressively high-powered clients.

Her audience is high-end non-profit executives.  Coach-speak would be pure industry jargon to her potential clients.  Worse, it would obscure the true uniqueness of who she is and what she offers – the factors that make her work different from any other coach, even those serving a similar market.  Her audience might have some understanding of coaching jargon, but a conversation phrased in that language would not be meaningful to them nor give them any idea of the power of her work.

I was honored and very glad to be able to help her draw out the unique value she offers and describe her work clearly, without relying on coaching-industry buzzwords.

I don’t blame her one bit for what she initially sent to me.  It’s what she was taught in her coaching classes, and so of course it’s how she talked about her work.  Recognizing and stepping into real ownership of your value is powerful – and can be scary.  There’s nothing to hide behind, and it can feel like you’re out there flapping in the breeze for all to see.

Which, of course, is exactly the point.  You want your value to be front and center, no matter how vulnerable that may feel, because it’s your uniqueness that draws your best clients to work with you.

Using jargon effectively means using it consciously and always being sure that you’re communicating as simply and clearly as possible given the topic and audience involved.

Most importantly, be sure that you’re not hiding your unique brilliance behind jargon – even if it’s language your audience will understand.

gljudson Better conversations

How to use symbols to create clarity and understanding

“Do you really believe in that sort of thing?”  my friend asked, looking at me with an odd expression.

I’d just told her about a gift I’d bought for myself:  a tarot reading by someone who consistently gets rave reviews from people whose opinions I trust and value.  And I could tell she was trying not to offend me with her opinion of my superstitious irrationality!

Do I believe that a deck of cards can tell the future?  No.  And neither does the woman who did my reading, whose tagline says, “The cards tell a story, but you write the ending,” and whose home page states, “Tarot is not about revealing a predetermined destiny (news flash: it doesn’t exist).”

However, symbols have power.  Symbols remind us of things we need to remember.  They help focus our attention on things we might otherwise overlook or avoid.  And symbols are often exactly the tools we need to help our intuitive awareness click into focus, allowing us to put clear language to a previously inarticulate sense of what we want or what we feel is emerging.

Without that clarity and language, we can’t take action to bring our desires into reality.  And as you’ve probably experienced, the struggle to bring an intuitive sense of growth and creativity into enough clarity to begin moving towards the vision can be infuriatingly frustrating.

A tarot reading is an extended examination of symbols, and in the hands and heart of a talented reader it can be startlingly powerful.  But you don’t have to take that particular leap into using symbols.  There are other ways to tap the power of symbols to help you create new understandings about your life and your work.

Try this experiment with symbol and image

Page through a magazine – any magazine will do, though one with high-quality images such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, or glossy lifestyle publications are best – and tear out the first image that really grabs your attention.  Don’t pick one that speaks to what you think you want; for instance, even if you’ve got your heart set on a red Porsche, please don’t go hunting for photos of red Porsches!  And don’t try to figure out why a particular image is attracting you; this isn’t about an image being pretty (it may not be a pretty image that catches your attention), or about its being well-photographed or well-designed.

Instead of thinking your way through why you selected your image (or it selected you), let its story unfold.  Set the image where you’ll see it several times each day, and let it tell you what’s interesting about it.  Try writing about it, in a very open way; just ask yourself, “What’s this image trying to tell me?” and let yourself answer freely and spontaneously.

We know more than we think or say

We all know more than we think we know, and we all know more than we can consciously articulate in any given moment.  Symbols – and these images that I’m suggesting you work with are a type of symbol – give us the opportunity to tap into that wordlessly creative space.  Using symbols and images as our guides, we can bring conscious focus to our intuitive awareness, speeding up the process of finding the words that describe what we want.

And as I said, it’s only when we have the words to describe our vision that we can begin to bring the vision into reality.  Without the words, the vision remains stuck in an inarticulate, intuitive space.  We know there’s something important that we want to do, but we haven’t got the clarity required to take action.

Of course the inarticulate, intuitive sense of creativity is an important first step; without it, there’s no next step to take, no seed of vision to bring out and describe, nothing to work towards.

But if the vision is never described, it’s like the seed that germinates underground but never sprouts leaves and grows.

The tarot reader is Theresa Reed, at www.thetarotlady.com

gljudson Better conversations

Is it hard, or is it scary?

It seems like every article and marketing email coming into my in-box these days is playing some variant of the “it’s so hard” song.

Whether they’re harping on how hard it is to do some specific thing, or how hard it is to focus on doing anything at all, it seems like “it’s hard” is the current Hot Marketing Trend.

I don’t buy it.

Of course some things take skill, practice, time, and effort.  But there’s a difference between effort and hard.

That feeling of “hard” comes from three things.

  1. You don’t really want to do it.
  2. You very deeply want to do it … and it’s scaring you half to death.
  3. Or you just don’t know how to do it.  (As I said, some things take skill and practice, meaning knowhow and ability.)

The solutions that the people playing the “it’s so hard” tune are selling only solve the “how to do it” question.  But “how to do it” is the smallest piece of this puzzle, and the easiest one to solve.

In my experience, “it’s hard” usually means “I really, really want to do this, and I’m scared to death to put myself out there in such a big, vulnerable way with my work.”

What we’re really here to do is big, and that tends to feel vulnerable.  Standing fully in the knowledge and power of what we do best means being different, unique, and completely ourselves.

Yet being different is something our culture teaches us not to do.

Our parents themselves are often afraid of the consequences of being different, and teach their children well (out of love as well as fear).  Our teachers tend to want all the kids in class to conform to a norm so they can manage – and score well on tests.  As for our peers:  high school – need I say more?   Then when we finally reach the work environment, we’re held to a standard dictated by our job descriptions and the HR staff, who generally have a mandate to score everyone on a so-called level playing field.

And moving into self-employment hits all the fear buttons.  Paradoxically, of course, it’s when we’re most completely ourselves that we succeed, but the need to get clients and make enough to pay the bills can make it seem impossibly risky to deviate from “normal.”

So we look at those people who have been different – Steve Jobs is an obvious example, of course, but there are many public figures in everything from business to entertainment to politics – and we think they must be special.  We think they must have talents, abilities, or advantages that we don’t have.

It never occurs to us that, for whatever reason, they were able to lean into the fear of being different, let go of the thought “it’s so hard,” and put in the effort required to learn what they needed to know that made it possible for them to do what they are here to do.

There’s nothing wrong with fear – if we recognize it and acknowledge it.  There’s not even anything wrong with letting fear stop us in our tracks – if we recognize and acknowledge that this is what’s happening.

It’s only in the recognition of the fear we feel that we can begin to see the possibilities that lie beyond it.


Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”


gljudson Self-talk

Don’t accept your labels – especially if you like them

Labels are tricky things.

You can learn a lot about yourself from labels.

Personality styles, for instance – everything from Myers-Briggs to the Enneagram and a host of others – can provide powerful insights into why you do things the way you do, what you might enjoy and excel at, and even into what’s most important for you.

Personal attributes are another kind of label, and they can be sources of satisfaction and pride … or of frustration and shame.

Any label, whether we view it as positive or negative, limits us the moment we decide that it defines us.

The same label that offers “aha!” insights can quickly become a box we feel we have to fit into.

Don’t fixate on your labels.  Whether you’ve chosen them, whether you agree with them, or whether someone else has applied them to you, you have options and you have choices.

If there’s something you want to do or be, don’t let a label stop you from going for it.

If there’s something you don’t want to do or be, don’t let a label make you feel pushed into it.

If there’s something you want to change about your experience of life, don’t let a label keep you stuck.

Who you really are can’t be defined by a label, no matter how much you may like or dislike what that label appears to say about you.


Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”


gljudson Self-talk

Sandwiches or salad? Goals matter!

At a party earlier this week, the hostess handed me a cutting board, knife, and a half-dozen tomatoes to be sliced.  “What,” I asked, “is the goal?”

She laughed at me. “Sandwiches!”

I asked for a good reason, no matter how funny it might have sounded.  If she’d said, “Salad!” I would have cut the tomatoes in different shapes than I did for sandwiches.

The goal matters.  It affects how you do the task, and therefore it affects the quality of your results.

When I work on website content for my clients, I always start by asking about goals.  Websites serve different purposes for different people.  Each page on a website has its own goal, usually to invite the reader (the website visitor) to do something specific – which could be anything from signing up for a newsletter on up to calling to book high-end services.

Whatever you’re working on, whether it’s slicing tomatoes or writing website content or anything else, don’t start until you know your goal.  Because if you haven’t clearly and specifically defined your goal, you risk never getting there.  

Tomatoes sliced in bite-sized salad chunks would never work for a sandwich.  Yes, they’d be sliced.  But they’d be useless for the actual goal:  sandwiches.  The same task, but very different end results.

Later that evening, someone came in muttering about the back seat of a car and the dog.  My friend started to answer his question, then stopped.  “What’s the goal?!” she cried.  Needless to say, she and I practically fell over laughing.  But his answer – “Dog slobber!  A towel!” – allowed her to give him an answer that was directly responsive to his need.

Whenever you start something, stop to think about the desired end result.  It will change how you do the task at hand.

gljudson Better conversations

What does it take?

Driving home this afternoon from having lunch with two of my favorite colleagues and friends, I was thinking … what does it take to be successful?

We’d talked about this at lunch – not directly, but indirectly in the things we said about our own businesses and about the people we meet at different types of networking events.

What does it take to make a difference?  (It’s the same question, really – just a slight shift in perspective.)

There are a lot of things one could say in answer to this question.

For me, it all boils down to one thing:  Follow-up.

Whether you’re following up with a person, an idea, a project, or a routine task, it’s the presence and quality of your follow-up that enables success and helps you make a difference.

What do you think?

gljudson Leadership