Is it Time to Get Your Hands Dirty?

dirty hand

Have you created a business based on a plan alone?  You know – spent hours closeted with spreadsheets and marketing plans, expecting the world was going to match your vision?

I did, but only in B-school. Once I was out and creating my business in the “real” world, I learned that new business doesn’t work like that — it requires planning and lots of improvisation.  So as I am re-visioning my business, I know that my job is to create my plans and get ready to say YES AND to what I discover along the way.

I learned about flexible planning in the garden. When I started my current garden seven years ago, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.  After paying for some initial help with planning, I created a learning program for myself called “Dirty Hands 101.” I plunged my hands in the soil and prepared to make a ton of mistakes (and did!).

I wanted to learn by doing.

It would have been more efficient to wait until I had lived on my property several years and was sure what I wanted.  Some of my gardening friends tried to warn me.  “Start small,” they counseled, “take time to plan.”  But they didn’t understand that I had a great hunger to garden and wanted the land (aka experience) to be my teacher.

I jumped in and quickly over-extended myself.  In hindsight (isn’t it always great to be so wise?) I should have known better.  I created a maintenance monster!  This fall, I’ve had to start winnowing the garden down and pulling out some of my precious beds.

Yes, it was inefficient and a bit costly  – but I don’t regret jumping in.

Because I committed – and let my passion for gardening lead me forward.

Commitment is a principal of improvisational theatre.

When you play – whether it’s a scene or an exercise – you want to be ready to jump in wholeheartedly and commit to an action, even as you risk falling on your face.  Commitment makes everything in the scene more interesting – even the failures –  and it’s your only chance for greatness.

I’m not arguing against planning.  I still need my action plans, cash flow models, profit and loss statements – you know the works.  But I also need a big dream, the passion to realize it, and a willingness to keep improvising and adjusting as I move ahead.

In my B-school days, I spent hours fretting over my future.  I’d analyze different career options every night because I wanted to make sure I made the RIGHT choice.  I needed to know how my career would work out before I even started.  I was in deep analysis-paralysis.  Finally, I broke the death grip of planning and started to act.  I pursued one idea and I pursued it fully. I jumped into the scene!

I told myself that it didn’t matter if my idea worked out – as long as I had researched it full out – because if it didn’t work out – I’d go one to the next.

Because I loved horses (still do!), I decided to research careers in the horse industry. I  passionately pursued every angle I could think of.  I interviewed trainers. I met with the NY State Racing Commissioner.  I learned there were lots of horse trainers and professional equestrians working 16 hour days with little reward.  Then there were investors who never lifted a hoof and made millions through horse syndications.

Neither sounded like my cup of tea. I decided to pick another career and buy a horse for fun when I could afford it.  On to the next idea.

That’s how it went. I listened.  I said yes. I improvised.  Sure, I had some fear about not being sure what I was doing and some bumps along the way.  I tried out many ideas until I found my niche.

I never would have gotten there if I stuck to my stay-at-home plans.

I got my hands dirty.


Category:  Improvisation,  Entrepreneurship, careers


Does Your Contact List Need a Spring Cleaning?

Address book page in computer with unknown friend in address book

It’s a great new day.  I’m launching my new blog – and looking forward to lots of new subscribers, colleagues, and friends.

So why do I feel compelled to launch a fit of cleaning professional “house?”

It reminds me of what happens when I bring a piece of great clothing home– like my new Eileen Fisher jacket.  The piece feels great and fits who I am today. But as I hang it up, I notice my other clothes and start wondering – uh oh – what about that blouse, those pants, that skirt – are they still right for me???

This invariably leads to a fit of purging. (I love our local thrift store!)

But today, I’m thinking business, so I’m not cleaning my closets but tackling my address data base….

My family tells me that even as a toddler I was interested in connecting with people.  This applies to my professional contacts as well.  I don’t want to have names just to have names.  I want to care about those names.

So when I looked at my address book I was in for a shock: 2045 names.

2045  names?

Wow.  I hope that I’m likeable – but I don’t think I am connected to 2045 current friends, family members, colleagues, and services.

So who or what is in that list? It was time to find out, like opening the door to a closet full of stuff I don’t even remember. Or cleaning out “that drawer” in the kitchen.

I started to cull the list.  First, I went for low-hanging fruit: the vet who helped my dog who died thirteen years ago, the nice neighborhood bank that went bankrupt, the phone service that no longer exists.  And all those addresses that start “info@….”  from some purchase I made eons ago.

I found duplicate names – entered I’m sure by gremlins. Every time I “sync” data duplicates pop up like Janes@aol and janes@aol.

Then I searched for easy targets – like the 200 names from a meditation community I once was a part of.  I didn’t know some of those people then – and I sure don’t remember them now.  I kept the names of people I know.

The hard work begins

I found a few colleagues and friends who had died.  Sad.  I blessed and deleted them.

And all those unknowns!  I felt like I’d thrown a party at my house and it turned into an open house – I didn’t recognize half of the guests.  Time to send them home!!!

I turned the sorting process into a meditation.  I’d stare peacefully at each name for 10 seconds. If I had no clue who it was – bless and delete.

Why was I so naïve to think my great memory would last forever???  Note to self:  remember to add little notes with all new names: met at Improv conference in Berlin, etc.

Occasionally, I’d find names that brought up bad memories, people who wanted a different kind of instructor or consultant, and told me as much. Sometimes I have reconnected with one of them and heard how much he or she really learned in my program.  That’s been sweet! But often, seeing one of those names has been a way for me to stay stuck in the past.

It’s time to bless and let go. Let the new energy in!

I push that delicious delete button. It’s a weird kind of empowerment.  One stroke “sayonara”.

I already feel fresher.  More ready for this new world.  Ready to welcome new subscribers.

Bless and delete

Now some of you may think it contradictory to profess to care and then cavalierly delete contacts.  Well, I didn’t promise to be contradiction free!  And my tendons can only take so much repetitive stress before I begin to feel a lot less spiritually enlightened.

But I’m happy that the names I have kept mean something to me.  They’re real connections, people I want to learn from, talk to, write for, or call up and say, “It’s Sally.”

So now, before my wrist (and spirit) goes into carpal tunnel shock, I’ll stop for tonight and tackle the next thousand names tomorrow.


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