I was walking my dog today thinking about how this so called “new normal ” is surfacing some of my old habits. Some of them not so great.
I’m eating more, working out less, and most of all feeling stuck in more than a few places. For some reason when I’m feeling stuck I start thinking about The Roomba.
The Roomba is a self-governing, robotic vacuum cleaner that navigates the floor area of a home to clean it. When the Roomba hits an obstacle, it senses the obstacle and adjusts itself to go in a different direction to complete the task of cleaning.
It occurred to me today while walking my little Cherrier (Chihuahua-Terrier) in the park, I could be more like The Roomba.
Think about it. How many times have you set a goal for yourself or intended to do something only to be stopped by an obstacle? The obstacle in itself may not be inherently bad or good. It is what it is. But then you start thinking, “what’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do this?” Why am I so ____?” fill in the blank. Lazy, stupid, fat, scared. Then I thought about The Roomba. The Roomba doesn’t tear itself down when it hits an obstacle. It doesn’t berate itself for things beyond its immediate control, it doesn’t judge itself. What does it do? It shifts direction.
Last week I kept thinking, “I need to record some video presentations and share them.” This shouldn’t have been that difficult. Afterall I speak publicly quite often. I have grown quite comfortable with getting up in front of a room and sharing my expertise. So why then was it so hard for me to record what I already know I can do? The more I kept thinking about it, the more anxious I became. My inner critic starting shouting at me. I felt myself banging up against the same old obstacle.
So what did I do? Just like The Roomba, I shifted direction, in this case to something I knew I could do without fear. Instead of recording my talk, I organized my office. (Yes, even organizers need to stay organized.) Then I reached out to some clients by email; I participated in a webinar with other small business owners; and I even took an online class which I could add to my CEU requirement. Then I went out and took a walk with my dog.
In other words I pivoted. It’s a word I’m hearing a lot lately to describe how businesses are responding when they find they suddenly don’t have any business, but it’s also a great strategy for overcoming internal obstacles. Not to mention, it’s one of the cultural and behavioral outcomes of this pandemic – a new lingo just like social-distancing and flatten the curve.
If like me, this horrible pandemic is keeping you from being your best self or scaring the living daylights out of you, or something in between, get out there, turn your switch on, pay attention to what your sensors tell you and if you hit an obstacle, shift directions. Just keep moving. You will get through this. You will more than likely survive. Be like The Roomba.
At 8:00 this morning, I had my own private celebration. It took place in my head.
An hour earlier I was driving and thinking about how terrifying it must be for some of my clients to do the one thing that scares them the most; To finally confront what’s kept them from moving forward in their lives because they feel overwhelmed and stuck and it’s showing up as piles of papers, boxes and who knows what else, on their desks, on the floor, in their drawers, everywhere.
I was thinking about what it means to do the one thing that scares you the most and to have the courage to do it anyway because you know you have to. Because you know not doing so will have far greater consequences.
For people who are chronically disorganized, the consequence of not facing their fears can be enormous. For some it’s a loss of control over their lives. For others, it’s isolation. I know people who have lost their children, their spouses and their very security because of their inability to face their fears head on. I also know people who have shown great courage and have discovered the meaning of making room in their lives.
My fears are about public speaking. And yet, as a small business person I know the value it brings to others in the form of information and sometimes even inspiration. But I do it quite frankly because I have to. Working with people in their homes and in their offices or helping them move is tactical but it’s also very personal. I know that if people see me and feel I am someone they can trust, and recognize I have the expertise to help them, then they often will remember me when it comes time to organize their offices, or their bedrooms or help them plan and oversee their move to a new home.
This is what I was thinking at seven o’clock this morning, on my way to speak to a group of fifty small business owners and entrepreneurs about how to face their fears, specifically about how to confront their own Paper Monsters. I did this presentation a few weeks earlier and it had not lived up to my expectations – perfectionism, my monster, rearing it’s ugly head, yet again – and now I was getting ready to face him again. Was I scared? Petrified, which is why at that moment I started thinking about my clients.
“If they can have the courage to hire me, then I can damn well find the courage to face my fears as well, ” I thought. And so I did. And it went fine. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. And that’s good enough. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. At least for today I can celebrate.
The famous comedian, Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
I grew up with a family of non-joiners. This got passed down to me in many ways. I never was a Girl Scout (or a Brownie) as all my friends were. I didn’t attend Sunday school. I never played team sports, except one summer when I joined my camp’s co-ed softball team and they put me in left field hoping I’d never have to catch a ball. I never joined clubs in high school. I didn’t even attend my high school graduation, although once I volunteered to MC a high school fashion show but was replaced by a young Puerto Rican kid who wore jeans with sharp creases that I envied. My mother never ironed any of my jeans. She was too busy working a full-time job as a copywriter.
So when I started my own business, I learned quickly that getting business meant I was going to have to renounce my family’s anti-social culture and become ‘a joiner.’
The first group I joined was the one for my industry, the National Association of Professional Organizers also known as NAPO. I have been a member of NAPO for almost three years. Just learning there was a group for organizers was a huge relief. It meant that I wasn’t crazy to think I could make money helping people avoid or at least reduce chaos in their lives. I was always good at this, but getting paid for it? Sign me up!
Joining NAPO was a great way to embody my new organizer identity and meet other like-minded professionals who, like me, discovered their passion for helping people find the space in their homes, offices and lives to focus on what truly mattered to them.
After NAPO, I joined another related group called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization or ICD. ICD started as a subgroup of NAPO in 1992 but eventually split off to become it’s own organization. It’s focus is education and research about chronic disorganization, more popularly known as “hoarding.” Their mission is to help people with chronic disorganization, but they are also a great resource for professional organizers and other related professionals such as mental health counselors. ICD offers its members free teleclasses on a variety of subjects related to the understanding, treatment and support of people who have been impacted by this sometimes crippling need to acquire and hoard. For me, as an organizer, it has helped me better understand my clients tendencies toward disorganization as I believe the seeds of hoarding exist in all of us.
I am also part of a group called EBUG. For months I couldn’t remember what the acronym stood for so I just called it East Bay Uncommon Girls. It’s actually East Bay UNITED Gals though I’m not sure exactly what unites us other than we are all women looking to have some more fun and friendship in our lives.
EBUG, which currently claims about 200 members, was started by a group of four friends so they would have more opportunities to socialize and feel less isolated after a long day’s work. EBUG is known as “the book club without the books.” It’s perfect for someone like me who hasn’t read a piece of fiction since Clinton was in the White House. EBUG meets roughly once a month for all kinds of interesting and fun member-led events such as chocolate and wine tastings, kayaking, outdoor hiking, palmistry and Tarot card readings, movie nights, barbeques and belly dancing.
I originally joined thinking it would be a great opportunity to network without the usual pressure to collect business cards but it’s turned out to be so much more. I’ve made some great new friends (who thought that would be possible in mid-life?) and after nearly 25 years of living in California actually feel part of a community, not a geographic one but a community of smart, savvy, fun-loving women. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s why it’s call United gals.
Earlier this year, I went to a networking event sponsored by the Mount Diablo Business Women, or MDBW, a group whose mission is to enhance it’s members “business, social, professional, and personal well being.” I first learned about this group from someone I met at EBUG.
I confess, I went initially because it was held at a really nice hotel. I figured if the meeting was a bust I could still walk around the elegant, marble-floored lobby and pretend I was a guest. Instead, what I discovered was another great group of women, only these women, had taken the plunge to start their own businesses, like me. MDBW is not so much about exchanging business cards as it is about developing relationships and learning new skills and perspectives as fellow travelers on the road to success. Besides, that the food is really good!
Then, this past September you could say I really drank the Kool-aid. I joined BNI. BNI stands for Business Networking International. It is the networking group of all networking groups. Their whole philosophy can be boiled down into their two word motto, “givers gain” or to give it a more street interpretation, ‘I watch your back, you watch mine.’
According to it’s website, BNI generated business referrals resulting in $2.8 billion worth of business for its’ members in the past year. It was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner, an author, columnist and networking guru.
I joined BNI for one reason. I wanted more business. The meeting format is not for the faint of heart. Some have even called it ‘cult-like.’ I prefer to think of it as enthusiastically supportive. Each group works on a one-profession-per-chapter model to eliminate competition or the perception of it within each group. Before I joined, I almost joined. Two years earlier I had learned about BNI from someone I knew through EBUG. I submitted an application (yes, one needs to be approved by the individual chapter members) then subsequently withdrew it because I just wasn’t ready.
Membership really depends on your ability to make referrals, and that requires knowing people and being in situations to know more of them. It also means being a serious business owner. The cost to join is steep (about $1000 a year) for a sole proprietor but I expect to make back my investment soon. So two years after I almost joined, the stars aligned to let me know I was ready this time around. It came in the form of another organizer who told me there was an “opening” for an organizer at my group, which by the way, meets at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. every Tuesday. Still, I have to say that I am really glad I joined. Partly because I genuinely like the people – people’s true colors are vivid that early in the morning – and partly because they have a great track record of upholding the ‘givers gain’ model. It’s like knowing you got the best seat in the house or got picked to play on the winning team.
Having never been on any team (with the exception of that camp softball league) I have to confess, in spite of my anti-social upbringing, I like it. With all due respect to Groucho and my family, being a joiner, afterall, ain’t that bad.
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