Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Serenity Check In: Are You of Service to Your Clients?

Last week I was sick. It's a long story, and ends with surgery next week. Don't worry. It's nothing serious. Jus an outpatient procedure. Still, it's serious enough to cause me to miss work and freak out quite a bit. I couldn't sit at my desk, I was worried sick. I was cranky that I didn't know what caused it or what would happen next. And I couldn't get a single, coherent answer from my healthcare providers.

So it was that I went to the gym on Sunday, in a bad mood and in pain.

I walked out of the gym and ran into some tourists looking for directions to public transit. I showed them the way and we struck up a conversation. It was a beautiful day. And at the end of it, I felt happier and more relaxed.

What happened? I got out of myself and helped someone else.

So while I wait for the surgery, and worry about the results, I'm keeping in mind this week that those five minutes when I was giving directions were five minutes when I wasn't worrying about myself, my health or anything else. It's not that health isn't a totally valid thing to worry about, but frankly, I was burned out on my own self-obsession. It felt good to help someone else and let go of the drama I was creating around myself.

So the name of the game for me this week, and hopefully beyond, is to be of service.

If there's something you're worrying about--if your work is slow, if your bank account is low, if the recession is eating into your sleep--take a tip from me. Be of service.

If you catch yourself obsessing about things out of your control, scan this list and do one:

Be of service to your clients. Have work to do? Do it. Don't think about yourself, and how doing this article or finishing that project will make you a rich and lead to accolades. Just do the work. You're helping your client by focusing all your attention on their needs and their readers' needs. That's what's important right now.
Be of service to your household. Often, I'm too busy fretting to get to that pile of laundry or to wash my dishes. I figure I'm a very busy and important person. I don't have time to do the dishes. Dude, get over yourself. Stop thinking about yourself and just do the dishes. You are providing a service to the people you live with.
Be of service to your loved ones. You may not believe this, but just calling a loved one and telling them you love them is providing them with a huge service. They could be having a horrible day and your call could restore some sanity to their day, too. Just remember: Don't bitch about what's wrong in your day. Listen to *them.* This is about service, not feeding your own drama.
Be of service to yourself. You still and always matter. So when I'm obsessing, I try to break out of it and do the following: I call the doctor to arrange an appointment if I need to. I dye my hair. I go to the gym. I buy and cook healthy food. These are services I do for myself that don't feed whatever I'm obsessed about.

Consider it a mini-holiday from the doom-and-gloom. I write a lot about loving kindness, but that can seem a little to airy-fairy to grasp. Service is much easier. You are spreading loving kindness when you replace your negative obsessions with loving service. And, by the way, you're creating a better world for yourself and those around you.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Serenity Check In: Are Your Clients Your Higher Power?

I write a lot about relying on a Higher Power as a way out of the insanity of focusing on things you can't control. But what happens when you make your clients your Higher Power?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I'm working on a story proposal that's really important to me and I have an equally important client interested in the story. As I was working up the proposal, talking to folks, I noticed how ravaged I was by the process: Every time a source said something that backed up my premise, I was elated and excited and deeply convinced that doing this story is my Higher Power's will for me. It felt great to be in that groove. But every time someone said something that contradicted my premise, my self-esteem took a nose-dive and my anxiety level went up five octaves.

What was consistent about both responses was that I couldn't work on anything else the rest of the day. I was emotionally drained by it and in the back of my mind constantly wondering what the potential client might say about each of my sources.

Here's what I know is true:

* I can't read my client's mind, no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate. I haven't yet developed the skill of clarevoyance.

* I didn't know exactly what she was looking for. She simply asked me to gather information, to report. And it's not my job to manipulate the results into whatever I think the "right" answer will be for me to sell the story.

* This is a great, important story. It just is. And if it's not right for this publication, it's not a judgment of me or the story.

What I realized in looking at all these things is that my spiritual life was askew. Instead of thanking my Higher Power for being my muse and guiding me to this story, I was making this editor my Higher Power. Her opinion was more important than anything else, and upon it all my sense of worth was resting.

She doesn't need that responsibility. And it's not very professional. It reminds me of Liz Strauss's great blog post about what she was looking for in a freelancer. The line that stuck out for me was:

Most freelancers I met with were too worried about my approval. The ones I looked for were the once who looked past me to the folks I was working to serve with my publications. That meant they were helping me think through the needs of my audience.

In other words, I can talk as much as I want about how much it's about the story, but what I'm doing when I'm trying to force a solution and making my client my Higher Power is making it about me. I share this not because I'm a glutton for punishment, but because most of us at some point have made our clients into our Higher Powers by wanting their approval instead of wanting to write a story that serves our client's readership. This is a spiritual malady with a real business consequence.

So for the sake of my business and my serenity, I did a lot of work to realign my spiritual life. Every morning, I've been writing the following. I share it with you in the hopes that it may help you realign your thinking, too, if you're in a similar fix:

* I really want to write this story, and I want to write it for this publication.

* I can really really want something and still hand the results over to my Higher Power.

* I trust that my Higher Power will guide me to the right home for this story and hold me up no matter what.

It's helped tremendously. I keep thinking of that line in Eat Pray Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert writes that "God loves you as you." I don't have to be serene and surrendered and needless or wantless to align my will with my Higher Power's. My Higher Power wants me just as I am--passionate about my work, slightly neurotic, excited about this client and really really focused on trying to make it happen, even though I can't. Oddly, that realization lends me freedom, to want all I want, and know that my wanting doesn't require a response. It can just be what it is.

And then, I can get back to work.