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?

gljudson Management & Leadership

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.

gljudson Management & Leadership

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

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 Management & Leadership

Your Mom Was Right (and why that’s relevant)

There are things almost every mother ends up saying to her children.  We recognize these pieces of advice and instruction as amusing mom-cliches simply because they’re used so routinely.  And like most cliches, these bits of motherhood wisdom hold a certain kernel of truth.

I noticed recently that many of them also apply to running a business.

So whether or not your mother ever said any of these things to you (and I’ll bet she said at least one or two of them!), I hope you enjoy this little journey through three pieces of “mom wisdom,” and that you find them helpful in your own business.

“If all the other kids jumped off a bridge…”

I have to believe that every child, at one point or another, says, “But Mo-oooom!  All the other kids are…” (fill in the current hot activity)

And Mom’s infuriating reply? “Yes, dear.  And if all the other kids jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”

It’s natural to want to go with the crowd.  It makes you feel warm and secure and like one of the cool kids.  And if everyone else is doing it, it must be a good thing to do – right?

Not necessarily!  Just because you see others taking a particular approach or a fellow business owner recommends that you do something – whether it’s blogging, social media, creating video, or any other apparently hot must-do activity – doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Before you start any new tactic – or even continue an activity you’ve been working on for a while – stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it.

What result do you want?  And will this activity actually achieve that result?

A colleague asked me recently about a networking group a friend of hers had recommended.  I asked, “Who will you meet there, and are they your best audience?”  As simply as that, she saw through her urge to follow the crowd and recognized that although the group was right for her friend’s business, it might not be right for hers.

What are you doing – or considering doing – just because everyone else is doing it?

“Just be yourself, dear.”

I think we all remember the painful teenage desire to be popular.

And when we agonized about dates and dances and the prom, Mom’s advice was often, “Just be yourself, dear.”

Just be yourself.  As another old saying goes, everyone else is already taken!

Trying to be someone you’re not, in business as well as personally, simply doesn’t work.  We all know that, yet it can be difficult when you’re putting your business out there in the world.  It often feels startlingly vulnerable to just be yourself – and to just let your business be itself.

But the best way to gain customers’ trust is to let them see that you’re a real person, running a real business.  You have expertise; that’s what you’re offering to them, whether in a product or through your services.  And of course they expect you to know what you’re doing within your area of expertise.  But they don’t expect, don’t want, and will never believe that you’re flawless.  The drive for perfection is, ultimately, a drive to be someone other than who you actually are.

Being yourself doesn’t mean revealing private personal information.  It just means letting yourself be seen as a complete a human being – the unique and individual human being that you already are.

Which leads me to the third and final Mom-ism.

“There’s no one else just like you, my little snowflake!”

Okay, maybe she didn’t put it exactly like that!

Yet it’s more than just wishful parental thinking or rah-rah boosterism.  Every one of us really is unique, different from all the other billions of people on this planet.  We have our own unique brilliance, as well as our own unique flaws.  We may share skills or expertise with others – but how each of us employs those skills and implements that expertise is completely our own.

As a business owner, you bring your work to your customers in your own unique way.  Identifying what that unique way is – identifying the value you provide simply through that uniqueness – is what makes you stand out from the crowd of others who do similar work.  When you’re clear for yourself about that value, you can be clear in how you communicate it.  And then you send an unerring signal to your best clients that you’re the one for them.

I attended a conference session last year led by someone who does apparently similar work to mine.  Yet it was obvious to me that the people who are his best clients would be dreadfully unhappy with me – and vice versa.

Our styles are completely different.  Even though his customers and mine appear to be looking for the same results, the value we bring to our customers is uniquely our own.

Knowing the uniqueness of your business, the individual ways you provide value that no one else can ever match – that’s what makes your message ring loud, clear, and true for your best customers.  Whether you’re in touch with your own uniqueness or not, Mom was right:  it’s there.

She was right, too, that identifying that uniqueness requires stepping away from what everyone else is doing … and definitely requires being yourself!

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.”  Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist.

gljudson Self-talk

The potential cost of poor communication

I got an email from American Express on Thursday.  Seems my account had been compromised and there were fraudulent charges on my card.

Theft, in other words.

But this isn’t a story about theft, or even about my overwhelming curiosity about how in the world did they know those charges aren’t mine?  (Kind of creepy, really, even though it’s nice that they do know.)

In fact, it’s not a story about American Express at all, though I will say that their customer service is superb.

It’s about the ways businesses communicate with their customers.

There was one charge on my account that I couldn’t place.  It wasn’t very much – a $6.50 purchase through PayPal.  But apparently credit card thieves use small charges like that to test whether they’ve got a “live” card number or not, which is why the AmEx representative wanted me to verify it.

I couldn’t place it.  The company name wasn’t familiar to me.  The item purchased?  Not a clue from the transaction record.

I told AmEx it wasn’t mine, because I didn’t have any idea what it was.  Later that night, though, it suddenly dawned on me:  I’d bought a knitting pattern online over the weekend.  Oh, yeah.  I called AmEx back and told them to release that transaction from the fraud inquiry.

The point here is that you want to be crystal clear about who you are in every instance when you’re communicating with a customer – and especially when that communication has anything to do with money!  If I hadn’t remembered what that charge was and called back to reclaim it as something I should pay for, the author of the pattern would have been out his fee.

The chances that this will happen to your business – that your customer’s credit card will be hacked and that a payment to you will be denied – are obviously very slim.  And of course in this instance, $6.50 isn’t all that much.

But there’s much more at stake than just a $6.50 transaction.

Because ultimately this is about credibility and visibility.

You want to be viewed as a serious business – and you want your customers to know who you are.

Whether it’s your caller ID when you call them, the entry on their credit-card statement, your email address, or any other touch-point, you want them to be absolutely clear on who you are.  And you want them to be absolutely clear that who you are is wholly professional.

Where are your communication touch-points?

Are they completely clear?

And what are your experiences with other unclear communication from other businesses?

gljudson Better conversations