I grew up near the Pacific Ocean, and I’ve always had a respectful, yet slightly fearful relationship with the sea.
I love being near the ocean. I love staring into the ocean. I love feeling the gentle spray of the ocean. But most of the time, I’m afraid to swim into the ocean — especially in deeper waters, when I can’t see or feel the bottom beneath me.
I vividly remember one experience, as a little kid — maybe eight or nine years old — when I was snorkeling in peaceful, shallow waters. This was during a family vacation in Hawaii. My parents were hanging out on the beach, laughing with friends and discussing grown-up things. I was feeling brave-ish, so I ventured out into the water on my own.
I was mesmerized by the colorful tropical fish and the otherworldly coral reef. I swam, swam, swam for hours with my plastic face mask staring down at the bottom of the reef, just two or three feet beneath me. So close, I could reach down and practically graze it with my fingertips, or stand up if I wanted to.
Then suddenly, without warning, the reef vanished — shattering off into sheer cliff, like an underwater mountain — descending down, down, down into black nothingness.
I panicked. My stomach lurched. I felt like I was falling into the blackness, spiraling into outer space — even though, in reality, I was perfectly safe, floating with my little foam board at the surface. I lurched my head out of the water, and realized that I’d paddled very far from the shore. I did a 180 and swam back to the sand at an Olympian pace.
My parents greeted me on the shore with a towel.
“Have fun out there?” they asked.
I nodded, too embarrassed to admit that I felt completely terrified.
I think that was the last time I went swimming in the ocean. Like, really swimming. Not just splashing around on the shore.
Approximately 25 years later.
Today, I spontaneously attended a beginner-level surfing class. Why surfing? Because surfers are undeniably cool, and I wanted to feel cool. Haha. Why else? Because I wanted to confront my fears about swimming in the ocean. And because I figured, if nothing else, I’d get a nice tan.
First, the instructor had me practice a few movements on the shore, popping up and down a few times to get the general hang of things. Down on my belly, arms pressed by my sides, like a cobra pose in yoga. Then popping up to my feet, arms outstretched for balance. Down and up. Up and down. Simulating what I’d be doing on the board.
“You’re goofy footed,” the instructor told me.
“Uh… thank you?” I laughed. He explained that it’s surfer slang. It means you instinctively put your right foot forward on the board — which is slightly unusual –instead of your left — which is more common. Left foot is natural footed. Right foot is goofy.
And then it was time to head out into the water. And I definitely felt very goofy. Everything felt awkward. Even just sitting on the board — without toppling over — required my full concentration and all of my core muscles.
Over and over, my instructor would select a good wave for me. Then he’d point me towards the shore, and push me into the wave at just the right moment.
“Go! Pop up!” he’d call out, urging me to pop onto my feet.
Except somehow, it wouldn’t happen. Most times, I’d sorta get one foot propped up onto the board, inching forward in little micro-scoots, and then maybe one knee, and then promptly fall off in an un-graceful fashion. I couldn’t figure out how to get onto both feet at the same time. It felt physically impossible.
After seven or eight tries, the instructor told me, “You’re hesitating. You’re waiting too long. By the time you’ve got one foot on the board, the wave is basically over.”
I nodded. It was true.
“You can feel that moment when the full force of the wave is behind you, right?” he asked. “You can feel it carrying you. When you feel that — right then, that moment —
no waiting. When it’s time to pop up, POP UP!”
We bobbed in the water for a few seconds, and then it was time to try again.
“It’s a good one,” he smiled, setting me up to catch a nice, rolling wave with a perfect white crest. He shoved me into the heart of the swell, and I could feel the momentum building behind me.
“Go! Pop up!”
And I popped. Right up. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t analyze it. I didn’t paralyze myself with fears about how deep or shallow the water was, or if it might hurt if I fell off. I just popped. Goofy footed and brave and determined.
And I rode that wave like a total pro…
… for approximately 1/3rd of a second.
OK. Not hugely impressive. BUT STILL. I did it! I got to experience that incredible rush, even though it was just for the briefest of moments. And then I couldn’t wait to do it again.
Hours later — toweled off and dry, back in my room — I kept thinking about what the instructor had told me. What he said about hesitating too long, well, of course, it’s good advice for newbie surfers, but it’s a powerful metaphor for “life,” too.
An ocean wave only lasts for a few seconds and then it’s over. A human life only lasts for a few decades (or much less, sometimes) and then it’s over. If we hesitate too long — over-thinking, second-guessing, fretting, mired in our fears — then we lose our chance to experience what we want.
I used to stare into the ocean with a mixture of awe and anxiety. Now, after today, the ocean symbolizes something else for me: urgency.
This is it, you know? This is life. It’s finite. The shore is approaching and then it’s all over.
We can’t allow ourselves to whimper and hesitate, postpone things until someday later, make excuses, or sink into lethargy and inertia. We can only say “maybe next summer” so many times, because eventually we run out of summers.
The right time to say “I love you” is now. The right time to write a book is now. The right time wear a pineapple-print bikini is now — not ten pounds from now. The right time to start saving up for a trip to Thailand or Tokyo is now. The right time to pop up onto that board is now.
Here comes the wave. It’s only here for a moment. Wait too long, and it’s all over.
Hesitate — or pop up? Let it pass — or seize the ride? It’s a choice we make in a million different ways, every day of our lives.
I usually ask myself, “Is it safe to proceed? Is it the right time? Maybe I should study / practice / prepare more?”
But maybe the new question I need to start asking is,
“What the hell am I waiting for?”
Is it just me…
… or does it feel like the first half of the year went by at triple-warp-speed?
It feels like two seconds ago that I was celebrating New Years Eve. Cake and champagne. Wishes and goals. Then I glanced at my computer, answered a few emails, looked up, and whaaaaat just happened? Um. It’s the middle of June?!?
This week, I’ve been feeling an urge to slooo-oow down, exhale, sit cross-legged in the center of my bed, and take stock of everything that’s happened since January 1st. Because it’s been… a lot. I came up with 10 questions to percolate on. If you’d like to join me for some mid-year reflection, here are the q’s…
– 10 QUESTIONS –
1. What were my goals at the beginning of this year?
2. Are my goals the same—or have things changed?
3. Is there something I’ve been doing lately—like a writing project, a business project, or any kind of project or commitment—that’s not feeling “right” anymore? Do I need to keep doing it? What would happen if I just stopped?
4. What’s something I’m sick of hearing myself say, over and over? Like, “I really need to start…” “I really need to stop…” “Seriously, for real, this week I will…”
5. What’s something I definitely want to create, achieve, or experience before the end of this year?
6. Who are some people I feel jealous of right now—and why? What do they have—or appear to have—that I want?
7. Who’s someone who’s been an important part of my life this year—like an amazing friend, mentor, or colleague? Have I said “thank you” to that person recently?
8. What’s something I see out in the world that breaks my heart? What could I do, say, create, or contribute to be “part of the solution”?
9. Fill in the blank: “This year, one of the best decisions I made was _______.”
10. And lastly: Fill in the blank: “This year, I feel proud of myself because _______.”
Maybe you’ll want to answer those questions in your journal. Or on your blog. Or with friends around the dinner table. Or aloud, muttering to yourself as you walk across the Super Target parking lot. So many options! And if you enjoy digging into interesting questions, you might like this, too. Enjoy!
Most people don’t know this, but… a couple years ago, I sorta “accidentally” helped to open a brunch restaurant here in Portland, Oregon, where I live.
How did this happen?
1) I fell in love with a sexy chef named Brandon.
2) One day, Brandon confessed that he’d always dreamed of running his own restaurant.
3) I said (with starry-eyed optimism) “Well, then let’s do it together! How hard could it be?”
4) And so we did.
5) And it was really hard. But also fun, rewarding, and amazing.
The restaurant, HunnyMilk, has been running for nearly 2 years. Like most new businesses, it all started as a teeny-tiny shoestring operation.
At first, it was just me and Brandon doing absolutely everything — shopping, food prep, shlepping food around in the back of my VW beetle, serving customers, and washing dishes by hand. In the beginning, we operated in the back of a pizza restaurant with a quasi-illegal bathroom and shaky electrical wiring that blew out repeatedly.
We built a reputation — and earned fans and repeat customers — one meal at a time.
It did not happen overnight. It happened slowly, gradually, and with a lot of butter, flour, muscle and heart, and hard work.
Eventually, we outgrew our original location and moved into a new space. As things got busier, we were able to hire 1, then 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, and then 7 part-time employees. Today, I’m proud to say, the business is profitable and thriving. HunnyMilk has gotten local and national press, it’s been nominated for local foodie awards (OK, just an Honorable Mention, but still!), and most days there’s a waiting list to get a table. Things are going great.
Aspiring entrepreneurs sometimes ask us, “How did you find customers way back in the beginning? Back when nobody knew you existed?”
If you’re curious…
This is exactly what we did to spread the word and find customers:
1) LOTS OF EMAILS
Brandon and I both emailed every single person we knew (friends, family, colleagues, etc.) to let them know about our new business. That was the first step.
2) CONTACTING JOURNALISTS
We emailed every single local journalist who covers food, restaurants, and culture to let them know about our new business. Nothing fancy. Just a quick email letting them know that we’re open, and encouraging them to pop by sometime and check things out.
3) HANDING OUT TONS OF GIFT CARDS
Using our very slow and unreliable home printer, we printed 1,000 gift cards offering a free hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows or a free chocolate monkey bread. These two items are very tasty and also very cheap to produce. Our hope was… maybe people will stop by our new restaurant if we tempt them with a small freebie. And it worked! (FYI: 1,000 people did not show up. Maybe 50 or 60 people showed up. A small percentage, but that’s what we expected… and it was a great start!)
To hand out these cards, I personally walked up and down the streets of Portland handing out these cards to anybody who was willing to stop and chat. Some people were not interested. Some people were very interested. I spent several days doing this until all the cards were gone. It was very tiring, my feet ached the entire time, and in retrospect I probably should have worn comfy sneakers instead of cowboy boots! Haha!
4) SAYING “HELLO” TO LOCAL BUSINESS OWNERS
We also dropped gift cards at about 50 local businesses, like bike repair shops and vintage clothing stores.
Each time, we walked inside, marched up to the owner of the shop, smiled, and said, “Hi, we just opened a new brunch restaurant in the neighborhood and we just wanted to introduce ourselves and invite you to come by sometime! Here’s a card for a free treat.”
Most people were very nice and said “Congratulations! That’s exciting!” and some of them came by later for a meal.
5) LETTERS FOR OUR NEIGHBORS
We printed about 100 letters saying “Hi neighbor! We’re called HunnyMilk. We’re new in the ‘hood. Here’s our menu and a gift card for a treat…”
I put these letters into envelopes, decorated them with ribbons and cute little drawings, and personally dropped them off at 100 different houses in the neighborhood. Mailboxes. Doorsteps. Car dashboards. All over the place. I did this during the winter and I remember my hands were freezing so I walked quickly to stay warm!
6) GIFTS FOR THE MEDIA AND OTHER LOCAL BUSINESSES
We made tiny cakes, cookies, and biscuits, packaged them in pretty cardboard boxes with handwritten cards, and then dropped these boxes off at all the local newspapers and magazines and lots of other businesses, too. Each card said something like, “We’re HunnyMilk and we’re new in town! We hope you enjoy these treats!” with a link to our website.
We spent an entire day driving around town — in the snow — dropping off these boxes of cake. Most people were totally shocked and amazed and said, “OMG, seriously? Free cake? For us?!” This led directly to our very first newspaper review, which was a huge milestone!
7) DOING SOMETHING “WORTH TALKING ABOUT”
We made an effort to “do things differently” and “do something worth talking about” so that customers would tweet about us, talk about us, and rave about us to their friends.
For example, we put homemade coloring sheets and Crayons on every table. We did special brunch parties with a big movie projector screen and ‘80s cartoons. We made awesome music playlists and put vintage toys all around the restaurant. We hosted “Letters & Brunch” parties and gave our customers postcards, pens, and stamps, and encouraged them to write a letter while they waited for their food. We put birthday sparklers in people’s biscuits even if wasn’t their actual birthday, purely just for fun. We tried to make every single customer smile and have the best time ever.
8) ASKING FOR YELP REVIEWS
If a customer seemed especially happy, I made a point of thanking them personally and saying, “No pressure whatsoever, but if you feel inspired to write a Yelp review about us, that would be amazing. Thank you.” And often, they would!
9) INSTAGRAM AND MAILING LIST STUFF
I don’t use social media anymore, but Brandon does, so he decided to set up an Instagram account for HunnyMilk because he wanted to share photos of his food. He doesn’t post things constantly — maybe once or twice a week — but he does a great job with it!
Also, I set up a MailChimp email newsletter and we email HunnyMilk subscribers about once a month. In each newsletter, we include drool-inducing photos, announcements about new menu items, and usually a few silly just-for-fun things, like our favorite songs and TV show discoveries. Our goal with each newsletter is simply to make people smile and laugh… and remind them to stop by for brunch!
10) REALLY GOOD FOOD
We knew, at the end of the day, the quality of our food was the #1 most important thing.
If our food was underwhelming or boring, then obviously people wouldn’t come back. So making delicious food — and treating all of our customers with warmth and enthusiasm — was always the top priority. When someone eats an amazing meal, they’re probably going to talk about it to their friends… and word-of-marketing is the best kind of marketing that there is!
So, that’s how we spread the word about our new business and got customers to come check us out! We didn’t hire a publicist. We didn’t buy Facebook ads. We didn’t set up an email marketing sales funnel conversion strategy with SEO keywords blah bee bloop bloop. We didn’t do anything fancy or complicated. Mainly, we just marched all around town smiling and introducing ourselves. That’s what got things rolling.
WE ARE INTROVERTS WHO LOVE NETFLIX
I want to mention, Brandon and I are both quiet, introverted people. We’re not extroverts. We’re total homebodies. Our idea of a perfect evening is Thai takeout, Netflix, and snuggling under one million blankets. It took a huge amount of stamina for us to “put ourselves out there” like we did, be we just buckled down and DID IT, because we knew that we had to!
After all, if nobody knows that your business exists, then you’ve got to find creative ways to let them know that you exist! There’s no magic wand that will do this for you, and tweeting or emailing a few times is NOT enough. You’ve got to make a serious effort. This goes for any type of business — a coaching business, a writing business, a graphic design business — not just a restaurant business.
ARE YOU MAKING A SERIOUS EFFORT? OR BARELY TRYING?
If you’re struggling to find clients or customers, my advice is… make a list of everything you’ve done so far. How many things have you actually done? How many people have you actually contacted? Have you marched up and down the streets talking to people and handing out 1,000 gift cards — or something equivalent to that — or have you mainly been hiding at home behind a computer screen and complaining?
I don’t mean to sound bossy, but… if you’re serious about finding clients and customers, you’ve got to get out there and let people know what you’re doing, in as many ways as you possibly can. Emails. Cards. Letters. Flyers. Personal handshakes and introductions. Free samples. You gotta hustle. Yes, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Even if your feet hurt. Even if you’d rather just watch The Great British Baking Show and stay home. Get out of your PJs, get out of the house, and do it, do it, do it.
As my friend Susan says:
“If you make a full-hearted effort, then you get full-hearted results.”
When it comes to finding customers, please don’t make a half-hearted effort. Put your whole heart into it. Then, if things still don’t work out, at least you’ll know that you truly made your best effort, and you can take comfort in that.
Full heart. All in. Yes, you can. And yes, it’s worth it.
Often, we think to ourselves:
“I love doing creative stuff! But ugh, I hate marketing. It’s so hard to find clients and customers and build a fanbase. It’s so exhausting. Marketing is the worst. I’d rather just… make art!”
But actually… It’s the same thing. It’s all creativity. It’s all self-expression. It’s all art.
When you appear on a podcast and tell an inspiring story about your latest project… you’re making art. (Podcasting = an art project.)
When you share an uplifting video on Instagram that makes someone smile or laugh… you’re making art. (Videography = an art project.)
When you share a personal story on Facebook that makes someone exhale, nod, and feel a little less alone… you’re making art. (Storytelling = an art project.)
When you teach a free class and share a couple of brilliant ideas with your students, and share some words of comfort and encouragement, or a worksheet that you’ve made… you’re making art. (Teaching = an art project.)
Every time you make an appearance in front of an audience — large or small, online or offline, pre-recorded or live, free or with payment — it’s an art project. Or at least, it can be… if you decide to think about it that way.
If the word “marketing” bothers you, then replace it with some other word or phrase. Call it “saying hi” or “connecting” or “brightening people’s days” or “extending a fun invitation” or “doing community service” or “a cool opportunity for me to teach, inspire, and motivate people” or “making a public appearance and sharing something beautiful with the world.”
You can make a public appearance, share something inspiring, and then invite people to spend even more time with you in the future — by visiting your website, by hiring you, by signing up for a class, or whatever you’d like them to do. Inspire + invite. That’s it. That’s art. And that’s marketing.
When my boyfriend Brandon opened his brunch restaurant, there was one dish that quickly became the undisputed superstar of the menu:
The open-face croissant-donut sandwich.
It’s a crispy, flaky, tender, buttery, deep-fried extravaganza topped with a sunny-side up egg, melted cheddar cheese, thick bacon, and finished off with a drizzle of spicy maple syrup.
Customers loved it. They’d scrape their plates clean, moaning “OMG…” in maple-drenched ecstasy. Pretty soon, the local media wrote about it. Photos appeared all over Instagram. Brandon’s croissant sandwich quickly became the #1 most-ordered item on the menu. People went bonkers.
Which was great. Except for one thing.
It was a real pain for Brandon to make.
See, making homemade croissant dough is a long, complicated, multi-day process. It requires specialized skills and lots of attention. It’s almost like having a pet. You have to check on your dough constantly. Is it fermenting correctly? Rising enough? Too much? Croissant dough is extremely high maintenance. It’s definitely the “diva” of the doughs.
Consequently, Brandon’s life was ruled by… the dough. Weekend getaway to the woods? Nope. Brandon can’t go because… he has to watch the dough. Flying out to LA for my brother’s wedding? Nope. Brandon can’t go because… he has to roll and fold the dough. Taking a week off for a summer vacation? Nope. Brandon can’t go because… nobody else on his staff can make the dough.
One day, I exclaimed to Brandon, “That dough is ruining our lives!” I was partially kidding, but… only partially!
Brandon agreed. But what could he do? He needed to make… the dough.
Finally, after several years of this madness, Brandon had an epiphany. He said to me, “What if I just take the croissant sandwich off the menu? What if I just… don’t make it anymore?”
LIGHT BULBS. THUNDER CLAPS. GLORY! HALLELUJAH!
He continued, “I could replace it with something else. Like biscuits ‘n gravy. That’s way easier to make. In fact, I could delegate the entire project to one of my employees.”
YES! SWEET JESUS IN A BACON MANGER!
Both of us grinned at each other, imagining our new, improved, croissant-free lifestyle. So much freedom! So much extra time! Incredible!
Why hadn’t we thought of this sooner? It’s so obvious! Just… take the croissant off the menu! Stop making the damn dough! Duh!
Here’s my question for you:
What is your “dough”?
What is the task, commitment, or chore that you force yourself to do — week after week — even if doesn’t bring you any joy? Even if it’s tedious? Even if it’s inefficient? Even if it’s clogging up your calendar and seriously cramping your style?
We’ve all got some type of “dough.”
For you, it might be a particular errand, or a project that’s going nowhere, or a habit that doesn’t serve you anymore, or an ugly couch in your living room that’s totally blocking the flow. (Why is that even there??!)
As human beings, we slip into mental ruts so easily. We convince ourselves that we “must” make the dough. That it’s mandatory. That there’s no other option.
But of course that’s not true. There’s always another option that’s just as tasty, just as good, or maybe even better. There’s always a simpler way.
Whatever your “dough” is, this week, I challenge you to stop making it, or change how you make it, or delegate the entire project to someone else.
No more dough. You dough-n’t need it in your life. (Sorry. I had to.)