#180in120: Some Like it Hot

I’m not sure what it was that caused me to write the first chapter of this book or to tell the story of our turnaround through my blog on Linked In’s Pulse but I did write it. And I didn’t write some bullshit perfect blog about how awesome it is to be in business. I told the unvarnished truth.

I got the news at 5:05 p.m. on a Friday. My emergency surgery was scheduled for Tuesday. The same day as the speech that was being broadcast live across the country. “Can it wait?” I asked.

The answer of course was that it could not wait. The doctor was making my health and me a priority even though I clearly didn’t know how to.

So what does a committed business owner do? She gives the speech at 8:30 a.m. which American Family Insurance tapes and later plays at noon “live across America.” I’ve often wanted to be in two places at once. I’ve now accomplished it as I was both “live across America” and checking into Meriter Hospital for surgery at the exact same time.

There are moments in your life where you realize your life may be working for others, but it isn’t working for you. This was my moment and I ended up writing a book about it.

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The thing wasn’t exactly going up in flames, it was more like it was smoldering like a campfire at 2:00 a.m. – still burning but it wasn’t very hot anymore.

More candidly, I wasn’t.

Every day was just an invitation to more stress. Another headache. Another encounter with someone who was just putting in their time. Another person who in one way or another I wasn’t doing enough for. For the first time, I looked at this company I had brought to life out of nothing, and thought maybe it’s time for me to do something else – anything else.

I was also facing a pretty significant move. My lease was ending in a few months. I had hired Cresa Madison, a tenant representation company a year earlier and we had been looking at spaces on and off. I had no interest. I wasn’t certain if I even wanted to do it anymore.

Even if I had wanted to, I didn’t know where to begin.

But begin I did.

I started by acknowledging that the gig was up. I was done with coasting so I either had to get in the game again or get out. I didn’t know how it would end.

I might be bloodied and bruised but I wasn’t going down without a fight.

I’m not sure what it was that caused me to write the first chapter of this book or to tell the story of our turnaround through my blog on Linked In’s Pulse but I did write it. And I didn’t write some bullshit perfect blog about how awesome it is to be in business. I told the unvarnished truth.

You’ll never guess what happened next? People read it. Busy people stopped in the middle of their day and wrote me. They loved it. They wanted more of it. They were forwarding it in their offices. They were rooting for me.

I was like a breath of fresh air which is funny because that’s exactly what I needed myself – fresh air.

You know that story about how if the oxygen mask drops on an airplane, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on the person next to you? That’s straight up the truth.

It began simply enough when one day, I decided not to return to the office but instead to sit at a coffee shop for an hour on State Street in the sun and write down some ideas. No agenda. Nowhere to send the ideas. I was writing for me and just me. It felt so decadent, so indulgent, so selfish and it felt good.

I started reading James Altucher’s blog about choosing myself and not being a sell out. I may have my own business but I knew I was just another cog in the wheel too. I wasn’t doing what I loved or doing it in a way that brought me to life. I was doing what I needed to do to pay the bills.

I would come into work with my super hero cape on and think, today will be different but it never was. It was always the same. Like a Dilbert day or a Groundhog Day only thing weren’t getting better until they did.

And I have James to thank for that. He was my inspiration, honestly.

I read a lot of Christian authors who write about redemption and sin and things that people in polite conversation don’t like to talk about.

I had never read anyone who wrote like that about business. Until I met James Altucher.

I loved how he wrote – transparently, honestly, in a way that almost hurt to read. He was real. He was like the Velveteen Rabbit. Do you remember that story?

It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I discovered that in the perfect world of advertising and PR, I had fallen quite in love with the opposite of that. I begged for transparency. I was desperate for something “Real”. The Real James Altucher was much preferable to the perfect Jim Collins from Good to Great. I just needed to know how to turn the Titanic around and I needed someone to be my guide. While he wrote about business, that wasn’t what drew me to him – it was the WAY he wrote about business. He was Real.

So I decided if I was going to write about all of this, it had to bleed. After years of putting up the facade that all was well in wonder land, I chose to get real with myself and my readers. I put myself out on a limb with something people in business tend not to like to shine a light on – the truth.

The truth is that my company was coasting and it’s owner was running on fumes. The truth is that I was tired of the broken promises, the late payments and the employees going in and out of the revolving door. The truth is we were desperate for new systems and processes. The truth is, as President and Founder, I was ridiculously in charge of this hot mess. If the company lacked focus, it was because the captain of the ship had left her station and we were now adrift without a destination in mind. That’s not how I wanted this story to end.

Through reading and thinking, I was able to discern that I really did want it to go on – just not like it had been.
I began by being humble and transparent. I told everyone on my team and through my blog that while I had many gifts and talents, I was not enough to solve this on my own. We were in this together and I needed their help and their ideas. I also needed them to be honest – completely honest.

It’s funny how when you go first, other people follow suit and pretty soon, you’re surrounded by a bunch of brave people who also tell the truth. And the truth, as we know, will set you free.
So I opened up my business, my processes and my company. I asked, “How can we look at all of this with new eyes? How can we be better than we’ve ever been? How can we attract great people again? How can we create a culture where we feel good about what we’re doing every single day? How can we attract clients that will pay what we’re worth and value us not just for what we do but for the great partners that we are?” And most importantly, “What is getting in the way of you being wildly successful in this place?”
And do you know what happened? They told me. Not easily and not at first and some people even quit along the way but new people came and they told me and pretty soon, we had this company moving to the beat again.

There’s an old saying that says when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I felt like I was in college again and it was fun. I was the student. I was learning. But we were all in this together and on a mission of my own making.

I dusted off some of my management consulting books and work I did a decade ago. I started to dig in. I asked more questions. I talked less. And I wrote about it.

My process was simple enough which is important. If you’re running a business, you don’t have time to read a novel. From beginning to end, you can read my book in less than two hours. It’s probably best read in chapters which will take you no more than 10 minutes to read and you can apply what I’ve written about that day.

The book will go on sale within the next week and I want to invite you to get a copy now. For my friends, I’m selling the books for $15.00 each – that’s almost $10 off the price at Amazon. Just write me and I’ll set aside a copy for you. Shipping is on me too.
My final word on this tonight is a thank you, actually. In the Christian life, we are taught to exhort one another with love. “Exhort” is one of those words we don’t use very often anymore but it means “to strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something.” Late last week, my friend and a former editor for the Wisconsin State Journal, Mr. Terry Shelton wrote me and asked if we could meet. He had some concerns about the 180in120 website – a few commas were missing and some dangling participles. Sure, I said. And today, he came to my office and said, “You are a fantastic writer. I care about you. What the hell are you thinking?”

The website, you see, was missing the most important part of all this – it was missing me, my words, my story and how very much I care about each and every person who is reading this right now. It was missing the pixie dust that makes all this work. It was missing my voice. So tonight I stayed late at the office and I got the job done right. Don’t go to the website yet because it’s still being edited but this piece that you’re reading now is part of what needed to be done to make it worth your visit later this week. I know I only get one shot this time. I’m so glad God and Terry Shelton gave me a second chance this week. I had another hiccup today related to the book launch which actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. Much of life really is. The setbacks are just as important as the triumphs in my book. So I hope you have both. And I hope you remember that life is not meant to be lived the way I had been living it. You are so much more than a cog in the wheel. Do whatever you need to do to find the time to put yourself first, to create again, to think. It will be the best investment you can possibly make this year for yourself and everyone you care about. My life is still really busy but I’m so much happier. I’m doing things that make me come alive and I’m getting the job done. People at my company are happy to be here and we’re attracting great talent again. Plus, we’re delivering pixie dust with our promises the way I always knew we could. And if I can do it, you can too.