GOOD QUESTION: What should I say to a friend who is constantly flaking out?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

I live by the idea that your word, your reputation and your personal integrity are not just ideals, but your currency in business, relationships and life. I can’t stomach flakiness.

That being said, I’m having an issue with one of my friends.

I feel she is flaking out in our relationship — not responding to texts or cancelling at the last moment, despite expressing that she wants to see me.

Any advice on how to broach this awkward topic?

–Stephanie

 
 

Dear Stephanie,

Ten years ago, I was a miserably flaky person. My cell phone was my personal “eject” button.

If I felt tired, insecure, shy or just plain lazy, all I needed to do was fire off a quick text — “Sorry, can’t make it tonight!” — and I was off the hook.

Or so I thought.

One day, the persistent flakiness came to an end… because of a friend who cared about me. A friend who was sick and tired of my nonsense.

It was the usual dealio. She invited me to dinner at her place. I enthusiastically said “Yes!” An hour or two before dinner, I sent a pathetic text — “Soooo tired and there’s so much traffic. Can we reschedule?”

She was not having it.

She called me and said:

 

“I am very disappointed. I went to a special grocery store to buy a special Cornish Game Hen and I have been cooking all afternoon. I love when we spend time together, but you are constantly flaking out. Do you want a relationship with me, or not?”

 

Her tone was loving, but firm. I could hear the disappointment percolating through every word.

I felt sick to my stomach. Panicked, even. Because I knew she was right. I was behaving like a dolt.

It was the High Holy Truth Smack that I needed.

I apologized profusely, got in my car, and got my ass to dinner.

I made a solemn vow to myself, in that moment, to eradicate flaky behavior from my life. Because it’s gross. Because it’s disrespectful. And because — with a modicum of self-awareness and thoughtful planning — it is unnecessary.

You asked, Stephanie, how to “broach the topic” with your friend.

How do you broach it? You pick up the phone and just… broach it.

Tell your friend exactly how you feel.

Don’t scream, shout or be cruel. Try to remain civil and calm.

Just say the truth:

 

“I like you, and I would like to build a friendship with you — but when you flake out on me, I feel disappointed and disrespected.

I understand that we only have 24 hours in every day. If your life is currently too busy to include me in your circle of friends — or spend time together on a regular basis — that is OK.

But if that’s the case, please just tell me, ‘I can’t make it’ or ‘I can’t commit to that’ or ‘I think you’re great, but my life is too full right now.’

I don’t want to keep getting my hopes up and then feel let down. I would rather know the truth. Honesty from now on, OK? Deal?”

 

If you keep your tone level and calm, your friend will be less likely to go on the defensive, and more likely to hear & feel the true intention behind your words: Love.

Try that, Stephanie. Hopefully, you’ll get the result that you want.

Nobody is perfect, and everybody — myself included — is bound to miss the mark and let people down, occasionally.

But we can all make an effort to do better.

It’s not complicated.

It’s just a choice.

Make the right call — and invite the people you love to do the same.

No blame. No shame.

Only love.

 

xo.

PS. Do you have certain friends or colleagues who are constantly letting you down? How do you handle this kind of situation?

 
 
 

Read More good question

10 ways to answer the dreaded, “Can I pick your brain?” question… gracefully.

 
 
 

“Hey! I like what you’re doing in the world. I want to do something like that, too. Could I pick your brain over coffee?”

 

It’s an innocent inquiry.

It’s driven by a desire to learn, grow and do better.

But for many people, being on the receiving end of this particular question (“Can I pick your brain?”) can create feelings of guilt, stress and resentment.

You want to say “Yes”. After all, you’re a decent person. You want to be helpful and share what you know.

But if you say “Yes” to this person, then that means you have to say “Yes” to the next person… and the next… and so on… and soon?

You won’t have any time & energy left to do your own work or hit your own goals.

Instead, you’ll be running a 24/7 Free Advice Factory for Wayward Souls.

 

Is there a graceful solution?

I believe so.

The key is to answer the question you WISH they were asking.

Not the question they are ACTUALLY asking.

 

I will explain. Here’s an example:

Let’s say somebody writes to me and says:

 

“Hey Alex! You’ve written some books. I want to write a book, too. Could I pick your brain over coffee?”

 

The question I WISH they were asking is:

 

“Hey Alex! I want to write a book. Could you recommend ONE resource that might help me to get started?”

 

So that’s how I’m going to respond.

Like this:

 

“Hey! Many thanks for writing.

It’s wonderful that you want to write a book. Nothing feels better than getting to that final line, on the final page, and knowing, I did it!

I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share a terrific resource with you:

It’s a [book / blog / video / program] that I absolutely love — an invaluable resource for aspiring authors: [link]

Oh, and last but not least…

If you’re looking for a place where you can connect with fellow writers, bounce ideas around and get support, I would recommend checking out this online community: [link]

I hope both of these resources are helpful to you.

Be well & happy writing!”

 

And then — since “Can I pick your brain about how to write a book?” is a question I get asked a lot — I’m going to save that response in the Drafts folder of my inbox so that I can quickly grab it and use it in the future, without needing to reinvent the wheel every time. Easy. Clean. Fast. Ahh.

 

Here are 10 more ways to address the dreaded “Can I pick your brain?” question… gracefully.

 

1. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share a resource with you…”

 

2. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I want to share one piece of advice with you…”

 

3. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but if you’d like to book me for some coaching / consulting, here’s how to do that…”

 

4. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but here’s someone else that you should definitely hire…”

 

5. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I’d love to answer your question on my blog / advice column…”

 

6. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but if you make a donation to my favorite charity & forward me the receipt, I’d be happy to answer your three biggest questions via email…”

 

7. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but here’s a blog post that I wrote about this EXACT topic…”

 

8. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but please know that I am rooting for your success. If you give me your mailing address, I’d be happy to pop a little postcard into the mail with some encouraging words…”

 

9. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I have a proposition for you…”

 

10. “I’m going to decline your coffee date invitation, but I hold a monthly meet-up right here in our fair city. Come on by, if you like. I’d love to connect with you then & there.”

 

That’s it. Just answer the question you WISH they were asking.

Offer something valuable — just not the exact thing that they’re requesting.

This protects your time & energy, while still allowing you to be gracious and generous.

Everybody wins.

Their heart is happy & full.

And your brain… can go mercifully un-picked.

xo.

 
 

Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration

Don’t leave a hole where your finest work should go.

 
 


Hold me in your heart till you understand.
Hold me in your heart just the way that I am.
With all your faults, I love you.
Don’t give up on me.
I won’t give up on you.

– “Hold Me In Your Heart,” Kinky Boots

 

When Billy Porter belts out “Hold Me In Your Heart” to packed Broadway audiences, the house comes down.

A standing ovation. Every clap, every tear, every cheer is richly deserved.

He is a star — performing the role of a lifetime.

Every cell of his being is committed to the part.

The discipline. The passion. The purpose.

Billy is on fire.

But for 13 years, Billy barely sang a note.

He couldn’t book roles that felt meaningful. He struggled. He floundered. He did not perform.

Instead, he languished in obscurity — and at one point, filed for bankruptcy.

He thought his career as a performing artist was over.

It was not.

13 years after stepping off the stage for (what he thought) was the last time, Billy booked the role that seemed destined for him:

A drag queen with a heart of gold who saves a floundering shoe company from folding under.

It was the ultimate comeback story. A story of grit, persistence and tenacity. Much like Billy’s own story.

After winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Billy was asked, “After all those years of failure, what inspired you to believe… to keep the faith… to keep going?”

He replied:

 

“God has dreams for you that you can’t ever imagine having for yourself.”

 

If Billy Porter had given up after a few abysmal auditions, the world would have no Kinky Boots. (At least, not in the way it was meant to be performed.)

If Thomas Edison had given up after 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb (yes, it really took him that many tries to get it right), the world would be a much darker place.

If Walt Disney had given up after critics told him that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas,” the world would have no Mickey Mouse.

If Madeline L’Engle had given up after receiving 29 publishing rejections, the world would have no A Wrinkle in Time. (My favorite young-adult fiction book ever. I’m so grateful she persevered.)

If Robert Goddard had given up after his peers in the scientific community mocked his ideas, the world would have no “rocket science”. No moon landing. No Mars Rover. No Voyager playing Mozart through the cosmos, just in case anyone “else” out there is listening…

If you give up… then what?

 

The world will be left with a hole where your finest work should go.

 

Be patient.

Don’t give up.

Do what you are called to do.

And if it provides some comfort, remember Billy’s words:

While you work… and wait… and work some more?

God is dreaming for you.

xo.

 
 

Why I don’t necessarily want to grow “bigger”. (And why it’s OK if you don’t, either.)

 
 
 

Over the years, dozens of lovely people have said to me…

 

“So, Alex, when are you going to launch a BIG online program? You’re a natural teacher. You’re so great with words. You could be selling e-courses on writing & communication to tens of thousands, instead of teaching small workshops with just twenty people in a room!”

 

As a writer who also happens to run a business, I’ve struggled with this. Greatly.

A part of me is enthralled by the power of “online learning”. So much potential to serve. So many ways to make an impact.

I see other teachers doing it, and doing it beautifully. And yet, it has never quite felt “right” for me.

 

Still, I wonder. Is it time? Time for my first BIG ‘n mighty online writing program?

Every time I sit down to outline it, The Big One, I feel… hmm. Not good.

This year, I finally realized what had been bothering me.

It’s a simple sentiment. I can sum it up in 7 words:

 

I want to be there with you.

 

That’s it. That is why I LOVE teaching live, in-person writing workshops.

It’s the simple fact that I am THERE with you.

Physically. In the same room.

 

When you get stuck, I can come over and help.

When you feel like you’re going to cry, I can give you a hug.

When you get something on paper that astonishes you, I can celebrate right along with you.

When your words are rambling all over the page, I can help you refine & simplify on the spot.

MOST importantly:

When you feel the urge to drift off into what Julia Cameron calls your “shadow work” (Twitter, Facebook, Email, Youtube videos, whatever) I AM RIGHT THERE, looking you in the eye, delivering a lesson that you paid top-dollar to receive… and instead of getting distracted, like you have one million times before…

You stay put. You do the work.

(This kind of visceral, eye-contact-driven, I-see-you-and-I-need-you-here-with-me accountability is SO difficult to create in an “online classroom”. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to do. There. Eeep. I said it.)

 

Moral of the story:

 

If you’re like me…

… and you see people growing in a way that is beautiful for them, but not ideal for you …

It’s OK.

You don’t have to grow that way.

 

Go big, if you want.

Grow small, if you choose.

Rock out in a stadium with thousands.

Or do a show in your mama’s living room.

Create the kinds of experiences that feel good… to you.

 

There are an infinite number of ways to serve, inspire, entertain, educate.

 

The question isn’t:

 

What’s the fastest way to grow big, bigger, biggest?

 

But rather:

 

What kinds of experiences do you truly want to create?

 

xo.

 
 
 

Read More business // acceleration creativity // inspiration

Write from a full cup.

 
 
 

Not every writer wants to be famous, get a book deal, or sell tons of products.

Some writers just want to get noticed — and feel helpful.

These kinds of writers think & say things like:

 

“I’m not writing to make money. I don’t necessarily want to get published in big magazines. I don’t care about any of that. But when I post something on my blog, I want feedback. I want comments. That’s all I need. I just need to know that somebody is reading… that somebody is getting value from my words.”

 

I can relate.

I don’t write just to amuse myself. I write because I want to help. I write to make a difference.

You might feel the same way.

The problem, though, is when you start feeling like you “need” feedback, comments, clicks, likes, shares or gushing emails full of praise in order to feel good about what you’ve written.

(That’s like needing somebody to tell you “you’re beautiful” in order to feel beautiful. Relying on that kind of external validation… just doesn’t work.)

 

You can’t write from an emotional deficit and then expect “comments” to fill your cup.

 

I can tell you from personal experience…

It’ll never happen.

Because no matter how much love you get, it will never be enough.

Instead…

 

You must write from a full cup.

 

Do whatever it takes to feel “full”. Full of love. Full of confidence. Full of self respect. Full of excitement. Full of generosity.

Write from that place. Already full. So much to share. So much to give.

And then — if you happen to receive any external praise — your cup will begin to overflow.

But you don’t “need” that praise. You’re already full. The overflow is just a happy surprise.

I know you might be thinking, “Yeah, but, still… I don’t want to work hard on a piece of writing and then have NOBODY read it! How can I possibly feel OK about that?”

The irony is this:

 

When your cup is already full, your writing tends to get… better.

Stronger. Clearer. More helpful. More generous.

When your cup is already full, your writing tends to magnetize even more of the readers that you want to reach.

 

It may take time. One reader today. Two readers tomorrow. Ten devoted fans, next month. Ten thousand, five years from today.

Slowly but surely, people will respond to the fullness & generosity that they sense in your words.

So, try not to write from a place of “hungriness” or “need”.

Don’t write to get.

Write to give.

Don’t write because you feel empty.

Write because you are full.

xo.