I envy my boyfriend, Brandon — who works as a professional chef — because every single day he wakes up and makes delicious, tasty things that make people happy.
He cooks. They smile. Such a direct line of pleasure. So simple.
I wonder, sometimes, if he would be equally happy as a “cooking teacher” or running a “cooking blog” or being the CEO of a food-related company.
My guess is that he’d be marvelously successful in any of those roles, and I’m sure he’d be quite content for a while.
Sooner or later, I have a feeling he’d be itching, twitching, yearning to get back into the kitchen. Back to the place where he can actually make something with his hands.
I am wired the same way.
I love writing about how to become a better writer.
I love teaching workshops to help people become better writers.
I love helping people to get un-blocked and create beautiful things.
I love ghostwriting and helping my clients to move their projects & missions forward, too.
But lately, I’ve been feeling… itchy.
That “I need to get back in the kitchen” itch.
The urge to create something real and tangible that is… mine.
Not writing about writing. Just writing.
Not discussing how to be more creative. Just creating.
Not motivating other people to achieve wonderful goals. Just meeting my own goals.
Do you feel it, too?
That irritating prickle that’s becoming tough to ignore?
What is the itch that you need to scratch?
What are you aching to make with your own fingers, your mind, your muscle and heart, your bare hands?
Make the time to bring it to life.
Nothing will feel right until you do.
The kitchen is waiting.
You can make anything you want.
Don’t worry about anyone else for a moment.
What’s going to satisfy… you?
Like you, I do a lot of ghostwriting for clients and a bit of consulting.
Most of the time, my clients get great results. My work and suggestions bring a lot of traffic and sales their way, but I have the occasional client who’s upset because it seems like my stuff isn’t “working.”
In reality, there are much larger issues at play — their site is poorly designed, they don’t promote their work on social media, their offerings are overpriced or unnecessarily complicated, they’re not networking to find clients, and so on.
Is there a way for me to politely and diplomatically tell them this?
–[Please don’t use my name]
Dear Nameless One,
My friend Nicole — a former couch potato who is currently training for her first ultra-marathon, and who writes prolifically about what it takes to achieve big, long-term goals — once said to me:
“Everyone wants to change their life… without actually having to change their life.”
This makes me chuckle, because ain’t that the truth?
We all want big results… without actually having to, you know, do hard things.
Most people are perfectly happy to throw some money at a gym membership, or a business consultant, or a pair of new yoga pants, or a new piece of software, or an e-course, and so on, thinking that “spending” is the same as “doing the difficult, uncomfortable, often tedious and repetitive things that are required in order to build lasting success.”
You & I both know: “spending” isn’t enough. That’s not how it works.
But explaining this to someone, tactfully, can be difficult.
You don’t want to sound accusatory (“You’re lazy and you’re not doing what you ought to be doing!”) or defensive (“Well, it’s not MY fault your life / business sucks!”).
This is a conversation where you’ll want to channel your Inner Mister Rogers and use your most encouraging teacher / mentor voice.
Here’s my advice:
When someone reaches out to you and says something like…
I want to hire you for writing project.
I’m hoping you can re-write my website so that I can start attracting more clients and customers.
I want to double my sales this year.
Your next move, as the writer / consultant / service provider, is to establish some healthy expectations right from the get-go.
This means having an “expectation-setting conversation” BEFORE you officially begin working together.
You could hold this conversation over a phone call, via email, or face to face.
You might say something like…
Hey, I wanted to thank you again for inquiring about hiring me for a writing project.
I love that you’ve got a clearly-defined goal — to double your sales — and you seem highly motivated to make it happen.
Here’s what I’ve found, after working with hundreds of clients over the past several years:
Having the right words on your website can definitely help you to impress potential clients, get more bookings, and hit your revenue goals — but “words” are just one piece of the pie.
After that, you’d go on to elaborate:
I’ve met some business owners who have this notion that after putting awesome new language on their website, everything is going to magically click into place. Boom! Instant sales. Oprah calling. Etc. I wish that were true, but that’s not the case.
You probably already know this, but I always like to remind my clients that “awesome words” are just one component of your overall business and marketing plan.
My most-successful clients — the kinds of people who hit, and even surpass, their goals — tend to be people who have clear, powerful language and who ALSO invest in a beautifully-designed website, promote their work on social media, encourage clients to send word of mouth referrals, seek out media and publicity opportunities, do a weekly newsletter to keep in touch with their business audience, and so on.
And then, good news!
You, oh Thoughtful Service Provider, have already created a helpful resource that’s going to support your client in taking the next few steps. For example, in your case, you might say:
Not long ago, I wrote a blog post called 10 things you can do to get more clients (… besides hire a professional writer to revamp your website). I will email that post to you. For best results, I’d recommend doing EVERYTHING on that list. Sound good?
Your client will (almost assuredly) say “Yes, that sounds good! Send me that blog post!” and you will say, “Perfect. Watch your inbox later today.”
You can close out your conversation by reinforcing that — Yes! — you are excited to collaborate and you can’t wait to be a “part of the team.”
As as, multiple players, pieces, and components.
This will reinforce, yet again, that your role — providing compelling language and advice — is just one piece of the pie, not the whole darn pastry.
To pin things down into a neat list:
– Hold an expectation-setting conversation with your client at the very beginning of your relationship. This is a MUST.
– Be upbeat and encouraging (“Yes! Your dream is doable”) but also completely honest and direct about what is going to be required (“And if that’s what you want, then this is what it’s going to take…”).
– Get things in writing. Send an email outlining ALL of your recommended action steps. That way, if you get any complaints from your client later down the line, you can say, “I’m sorry you’re frustrated. Let’s review the 10 recommendations I made back when we started working together. Which of those 10 have you tried so far?”
That is all.
If you do these things, most of your clients will be EVEN MORE excited about working with you, because you’ll be demonstrating that you’re a caring, professional, strategic person who really wants your client to succeed, and who isn’t going to “sugarcoat” the truth about what it takes to build success.
(Oh, and this advice goes for all industries — fitness training, life coaching, reiki healing, photography, home renovation, etc. — not just the writing / business consulting realm.)
“There are no shortcuts to victory.” –Richard Lugar
That’s the stone-cold truth.
No shortcuts to success in business, writing, fitness, or any kind of meaningful pursuit.
Just the work. Easy, at times. Grueling, at others. But always worth it.
Good Question is an advice column about writing, communication, creativity, and how to be a decent human being in a complicated world. Looking for past columns? Go here.
A couple years back, I got this notion that I should be on TV.
“I’ve got opinions! I’m a seasoned public speaker, uh, sort of! Plus, my hair is amazing! C’mon… I’m destined for this!”
I decided I would pitch a local TV station with an uplifting concept for a segment on the power of gratitude — specifically: why we all need to write more handwritten “thank you” notes — just in time for World Gratitude Day.
I had a new book coming out — a collection of adorable notes that you can fill out and give to people you love — so the timing was doubly-perfect.
I emailed the newsdesk to pitch the segment. No response.
I reached out to one of the on-air hosts on Twitter to introduce myself. No response.
I recorded a voice note for the news director and attached that to another email. Emailed again. No response.
I encouraged my Twitter friends and followers (over 12,000 people at that time) to tweet at the TV station and encourage them to bring me on the air. Twitter exploded with beautiful enthusiasm. From the TV station? Still: no response.
I did everything I could think of and… nothing happened.
Ultimately, I decided to just let it go and focus my attention elsewhere. There are a million and one reasons why someone might not “want” you, and that’s life. I get it. I’m zen like that.
Once in a blue moon, my memories drift back to that experience… and similar experiences that I’ve had throughout my life and career… and experiences that I’m having right now, where there’s something I want (or at least, something I SAY that I want) but don’t have yet.
When I’m not getting the results that I crave, it’s relatively easy for me to brush it off and say something chilled out like, “Oh, all in good time…” or “When it’s meant to be, it’ll happen!”
It’s much tougher and grittier to stop myself in my tracks and ask,
“How hard am I trying, really?”
Because 95% of the time, the answer is:
“Pretty hard! Maybe. Sort of. OK, actually, let’s be honest… not really very hard at all. Damn.”
I’m guessing this is true for you, too.
You say you want six-pack abs but you’re unwilling to dial up the intensity during your workouts or forgo your daily muffin that’s the size of your face. How hard are you trying, really?
You say you’re ready to meet your soulmate and you sense that he / she is out there, drawing closer, every day. But it’s Saturday night and you’re watching Netflix reruns at home on the couch. How hard are you trying, really?
You say you’re ready for your first big media opportunity (or a promotion, or your dream job, or a bustling, thriving business). But you hide behind your computer screen, sending emails to try to woo people and move things forward, figuring “Hey, that’s enough! I SENT AN EMAIL AFTER ALL.” But seriously, now. How hard are you trying, really?
The gnarly truth is that, usually, we’re not operating at full capacity. We refuse to dig deep. We don’t want to tolerate even a moment of temporary discomfort, even when we know it’s a necessary part of the journey to excellence. We make excuses. We flake out & hold back.
And then we grumble when we don’t get what we want.
As my friend Susan often says, it’s fine if you want to hold back and chill out.
But if that’s what you choose, then…
“Don’t be mad about the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.”
I’m not advocating that anybody push themselves to the point of injury, burn out, anxiety, or depression.
I’m all for relaxation. (I literally have three beds in my 1-bedroom apartment: sleeping bed, flopping bed, and outside-balcony bed.)
What I’m saying (mostly to myself, because I need to re-learn this lesson continually) is that before you decide that your goal or dream just “isn’t meant to be,” check in and see if you’re actually “trying” as diligently and courageously as you could be.
In all likelihood, you’re not. Which doesn’t make you a “bad” or “lazy” person.
It just makes you a person who is facing a choice, a fresh opportunity:
Walk away, let it go, or go harder… bigger… braver.
What’s it going to be?
My friend Kyeli has mermaid scales tattooed on her legs.
She is easily one of kindest, silliest, loveliest people that I know.
Which is why it was very difficult for me to visualize mermaid-and-daisy loving Kyeli ripping a phone off the wall, tearing books off the shelves, smashing plates, and (the grand finale) flipping over a couch… in a violent rage.
But that’s exactly what Kyeli was doing in her home — about fifteen-ish years ago — after getting into an argument with her partner.
Because — as Kyeli explained to me over tea and macaroons — Kyeli used to have “a pretty serious temper.” (To put it mildly.)
Growing up, in Kyeli’s family, when you got upset, you didn’t “talk about your feelings.” You yelled. You screamed. You threw things. You broke shit. That’s what Kyeli witnessed as a child, so that’s what she learned to do, too.
On the night of the Couch Flip Incident, as the (literal) dust settled, Kyeli emerged from her angry-hulk-rage and stared at the ravaged room, the broken pieces, the catastrophe that she had created.
And then everything changed.
“Oh my God… what have I done?” she thought to herself. “What if my son had been here to see this? This isn’t the kind of mother and role model that I want to be.”
Her son was only an infant at the time, but she knew that being around this kind of tornado-like anger would be toxic for him, nonetheless. She realized, too, that unless she found a way to manage her emotions in a healthier way, her son was surely going to grow up and succumb to violent outbursts just like she did, just like her elders did, and so on, back through the generations.
Kyeli said to herself:
And she never, ever threw a tantrum like that… again.
“Never again?” I asked her, incredulous.
She made her choice. And that was that.
We’re often told — by therapists, coaches and healers — that it can “take a very long time” to change your mindset, to change your behavior, to change your deep-rooted patterns.
I do believe that’s true. Deep transformation is rarely an “overnight” experience. In fact, some might say that it’s a never-ending journey.
What we forget, sometimes, is that…
Transformation begins with a personal CHOICE.
A choice to do better, to seek help, to commit with your whole heart.
A choice that goes into full effect not “tomorrow,” but starting NOW.
A choice that only takes a split-second to make. Boom & done.
A choice that can be permanent and binding. If you mean it.
The same kind of “never again” choice that Kyeli made, standing amidst the rubble of her biggest and last tantrum, ever.
The same kind of choice that you can make, right now.
Maybe it’s being more punctual… being a more attentive listener… being the kind of person who doesn’t flake out on her friends… being the kind of person who exercises every day with gratitude instead of a grimace… being the kind of person who says “I’m going to write my book!” and really does it… or being the kind of business owner who no longer works “for free” and always operates like a pro.
Whatever kind of “upgrade” or “shift” or “turnaround” you yearn to make in your life:
Everything changes now if you say so.
Falling in love with a sexy chef is a really good idea.
I recommend that you try it at least once in your lifetime.
Since meeting my sweetheart, Brandon, I’ve been exposed to the fascinating, hidden world of chefs, specialty food producers, and restauranteurs.
You know. All those people who make your favorite meals, drinks and treats, and who you rarely get to meet — or see in action.
By Brandon’s side, I’ve had the privilege of taking a private tour of the kitchen at The French Laundry, one of the top restaurants in the world. (I was on crutches and slightly champagne-tipsified at the time… and I was terrified of knocking over a $1,000 pile of black truffles and then being personally beheaded by Thomas Keller.)
I’ve also gotten to hang back and observe the happenings inside top restaurants here in the Portland area. I’ve gotten to see what talented chefs do — and don’t do — both inside and outside of the kitchen.
To summarize my observations?
Chefs tend to be deeply passionate, but also meticulously organized, efficient, deadline-driven and productive — by necessity.
No matter what kind of work you do — writing, painting, website coding, parenting, project management, or personal styling — there’s a LOT that we can learn from culinary virtuosos.
Today, I present to you: 5 productivity secrets that I learned from a sexy chef.
None of these suggestions are particularly “revolutionary” or “innovative.” Just classic, tried-and-true recommendations that really work. In the kitchen — and in the “kitchen of life” — it’s often the simplest approaches that yield the greatest results.
— Make a production list.
Brandon doesn’t rock into the restaurant at 7am every morning and then say, “Hmmm… I wonder what I should be doing today? Guess I’ll just wing it!”
He’s got a clear-cut production list that’s already been outlined, usually the night before: a certain number of loaves of bread he needs to bake, desserts he needs to prep, sauces he needs to whip up and store for the evening crew, and so on.
There’s no ambiguity. These things must get done by a particular time, or the restaurant customers won’t get to eat.
What’s on your “production list” for the week?
A certain number of pages you need to write… blog posts you need to post… podcasts you to record… or proposals you need to send out to clients?
Write everything down. Make a neat list. Assign a completion time for each item. Then, crank up some music (Brandon especially loves Whitney Houston, Lil Wayne, and this chill dance mix) and make it happen.
— Mise it out.
In the culinary world, there’s a French term — mise en place — which means “putting in place.”
If you’re a cool guy, like Brandon, you say: “Mise it out!” [say it with me: Meez it out!]
Meaning: “Set everything up in an orderly fashion — ingredients, knives, herbs, oils, cutting boards — so that I can get down to business.”
If you want to exercise daily, mise it out: lay out your running shoes and gym outfit the night before, at the foot of your bed.
If you want to start each morning by writing a letter to someone you love, mise it out: put your paper, pen and stamps right next to your coffee maker.
If you want to finish your novel, mise it out: charge up your computer, queue up your favorite music, get your headphones, block out the time on your calendar and treat it with the same level of seriousness as your best friend’s wedding or an urgent doctor’s appointment. Crucial. Vital. Un-cancellable.
— Treat your materials with respect.
“No! Not like that,” the lead chef exclaimed in horror, watching one of his assistants carelessly pile leftover cake into a freezer tray, making a big, sloppy mound. “Would you treat a nice piece of Jamón ibérico like that? No way, dude. Slice it neatly. Tight rows. C’mon. Respect the food.”
I observed this interaction, watching, afterwards, as the chef demonstrated how to lovingly wipe down the twelve-foot long prep table in the back kitchen, glossing the wood to a fine sheen with a lemon-scented olive oil. “We need to do that at least once a week,” he explained. “Let’s treat this table right.”
When you treat your materials and your workspace with respect, you tend to work more thoughtfully and intentionally — which means that whatever you are producing winds up being better, too.
— Take your rest & recovery time seriously.
When Brandon comes home after a long, hectic day in the kitchen, he’s been on his feet for twelve hours straight, or more, hauling 40-pound bags of flour, cranking out an enormous volume of products, in non-stop production mode since the crack of dawn.
When he walks through the door after his workday, he doesn’t want kisses, conversation, and lots of attention (not for the first hour or so, anyway). He wants to flop face down on the bed and take a few moments of absolute silence. Then he wants a chilled beer. Then he wants a few moments to peruse the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship blog updates. And THEN he’s ready for dinner, snuggles, conversation, and couple-time.
He treats his “rest & recovery time” seriously, because he knows that if he doesn’t take some time to chill and decompress — and get a full night’s sleep — he will be a cranky grump-face the next day, or worse, make a potentially costly or dangerous mistake in the kitchen. (Open flames + razor-sharp knives + sleep deprivation = certain disaster.)
I admire the way that he doesn’t “apologize” or feel “guilty” for needing to rest. It’s simply a non-negotiable part of his day.
You can’t be massively productive if you are massively exhausted. It’s that simple.
— Never stop refining.
One of Brandon’s most mind-blowing dessert concepts — an orgasmic ball of homemade ice cream encased in cake crumbs, then dipped in donut batter and deep fried — required dozens and dozens of “tries” to get it just right.
Sometimes the center was rock-hard. Other times it was molten goo. Other times the batter was too salty. Or too sweet. He didn’t give up after the first or second try. He knew that — without enough tweaking — he’d eventually nail it.
So many people — myself included — feel defeated after just one or two small “failures.” We give up on our dreams too quickly, mostly because we’re scared of wasting time, energy, or costly materials, or simply because our egos are bruised.
I know talented authors who have basically “retired” and stopped trying to write because their first book launch wasn’t the “international success” they’d been hoping for. I know business owners who panic and close up shop after their first product launch fizzles, rather than pausing to regroup and ask, “What can I learn from this?”
If you give up, then it’s game-over. Production grinds to a halt. Sometimes, permanently.
Avoid that fate. Fight to keep hope alive.
Keep battering. Keep frying. Keep trying.
One day, not too far away from now, you might have a concept that makes people groan audibly in ecstasy, begging for “just… one… more… bite.”
PS. If you are currently wondering, “Um, how can I meet a sexy, creative, amazing person like Brandon???!” I highly recommend that you dip your toes into the online dating waters. That’s how he & I met. Yep.
Here’s a template I created to help you write a simple, enticing dating profile.
You might also dig… this.
Oh, and have you read my debut novel, Milk & Honey…? You can find it in my Shop and if you love food, romance, smutty sex scenes and general deliciousness, it could be quite a delight. Enjoy to the max!