Savoring summer.

Savoring summerI’ve been writing lately on uncovering what you really want and the value in surrendering to your deepest desires. I also wrote about what might happen if we mustered the courage to really be ourselves — a strong, deep desire I encounter over and over in my work as a coach and leader of workshops and retreats.

This week, I’m keeping this newsletter short and sweet as I dip into a time of savoring summertime. So here are a few quick updates:

  • Today we celebrate my middle son’s 12th birthday, complete with a three-layer cake made from scratch by my 15-year-old and a friend of the family who is here visiting for the week. On the menu, per our tradition of letting the birthday boy or girl choose dinner: Mac and cheese + bacon.
  • My three boys return to school on August 14th, and while I’m mostly done with back-to-school shopping, there are meetings to attend and a few last items on the list (my kingdom for a school binder that doesn’t fall apart after three weeks!). My firstborn starts driver’s ed this semester. How did that happen?
  • I just launched a beta version of a group coaching program, which kicked off on August 1st. The energy that this group brings to each session is something to behold: Vulnerability, raw honesty, humor, and fierce determination. I feel so lucky to do what I do! My plan is to shape this into a periodic or even ongoing offering, with some one-on-one coaching mixed with group sharing and growth. Email me if you’re interested in joining an ongoing program like this.
  • My new blog series on how to suck at self-employment is off to a terrible start. At least that’s the plan. (In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at common mistakes and pitfalls of starting a solo biz.) If you’d like to do a guest post about this, or have a great story about your own experiences being bad at business, I’d love to hear from you.
  • In other news, my friend Mike and I just released the first episode of a just-for-fun podcast called Serious Business. We are silly, hopeful, engaged, and at times irreverent, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll definitely want to check it out. There are links to subscribe via iTunes over at that link.
  • I’m hoping to launch the ‘Do What Lights You Up’ podcast this summer, too. I’ll have more info on that in the weeks to come. If you’d like to be a guest, please get in touch and we’ll talk about setting up an interview.

That’s all for now! To get in touch with me about anything covered here, or just to introduce yourself and say hi, email me or post a comment here on the blog. I’ll return to regular posting here in September.

How to suck at self-employment: Plan, plan, and then plan some more

How to suck at self-employment, a road map for solopreneurial failure by Toni McLellanPlan, plan, and then plan some more.

Load up your Amazon shopping cart with every book you can find on business planning. Also, get some out of the library, and forget to return one of them because your [kid, parakeet, roommate, spouse/partner, friendly ghost] put it somewhere unknown. Take an e-course about planning a business, and fall behind somewhere in the middle of week one and let the emails pile up, unopened but creating stress in the back of your mind. Don’t forget YouTube; watch hours and hours of videos on starting a business.

Maybe also hire an expert to help you craft a bulletproof business plan. Bonus points for choosing an expert whose personality, existing business model, and methods don’t jibe with yours, and let them push you to make decisions that don’t feel right in your gut. Shrug and think, “Well, they’re the expert!”

Also, buy a calendar and spend a full week of your biz-building time filling it in with all of the great stuff you’re going to do once you’re self-employed. Spend months and months obsessing over every detail and forecasting every potential outcome. Create databases and piles of stuff that needs to be collated.

While you’re at it, obsess over which structure your biz should have – corporation, LLC, sole proprietorship. Don’t allow yourself to do anything concrete related to your business while you research various options endlessly, creating more and more self-doubt and overwhelm. Got it? Great. You should totally suck at self-employment.

However, pretending for a paragraph or two that you don’t really want to suck at self-employment, I’ll say this: Planning is great, and there are lots of awesome and useful resources out there, from biz coaches to books, classes, and seminars on starting a business. I know I just spent a few paragraphs poking fun at using resources to over-plan and buffer you against facing failure or rejection, but don’t mistake that for a complete dismissal of good planning tools. Here are a couple of solid resources I’m personally familiar with and am happy to recommend. (Note: I don’t really do affiliate links, so if you see me recommend stuff, it’s because I believe in it and love sharing great ideas, products, and services):

  • The Right Brain Business Plan® by Jennifer Lee is great for creative types – you shiny-object-chasers know who you are. There’s a book, a website, and plenty of other resources to use. Just don’t use them at the expense of taking action.
  • The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – You may know Chris from his website (formerly known as ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’) or his epic conference, World Domination Summit. Chris’ book involves case studies and hours of research on starting a biz without taking out huge loans, and his style is very clear and open-minded. A great primer to get you motivated to take action.

Many people hide behind the planning phase because it feels safer. That’s because it is safer; you can’t be rejected if you’re still in the planning phases. Planning is great, and often  both advisable and necessary, but it shouldn’t stand in for action, effort, and forward momentum. At some point you have to let go of the edge of the pool and start swimming.

I’d love to hear your ideas on this, including great resources and stories of your own experiences planning a business. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Toni McLellan is a biz + life coach who used to suck at self-employment as a freelance writer and blogger. She sucked even worse at law school, which she attended to avoid getting a straight job. Learn from her mistakes and those of others she’s coached, interviewed, or spotted sucking in the wild.

How to suck at self-employment: Listen to the naysayers

How to suck at self-employment, a road map for solopreneurial failure by Toni McLellanNaysayers, complainers, people with negative ‘tudes, your broke-as-a-joke friends/family, and Those Who Believe It Can’t Be Done are great resources to consult if you’re thinking of starting a business and want a high probability of getting really bad advice. Oh, and don’t forget people who have never been self-employed; definitely get their insights into your best first steps.


“In *this* economy? Are you kidding?”
“My [friend/cousin/neighbor down the street/parakeet/person I read about on Facebook] started a business and it totally tanked.”
“Did you know that most businesses fail within the first two years?”
“People won’t pay you for that.”
“If it wasn’t for [the bad economy/the government/a parakeet/lightning bugs/"The 1%,"/my neighbor down the street], you might have a decent shot at making it.”
“Why should I buy a handcrafted item from you when I can just get a coupon and buy that at [some big box retailer/chain restaurant]?”
“How will you do that [at your age/with kids/in this economy/with a parakeet/without a degree]?”
“Do you have a trust fund or angel investor? Because you need a boatload of money to start a business.”
“Are you incorporated yet? You can’t start a business without being incorporated and having a tricked-out website.”
::snort:: “Good luck with that.”

Here’s a story for those of you who don’t actually want to suck at self-employment: When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to be a geologist. I aced my geology classes my freshman year and really wanted to pursue it further. Trouble was, my parents and other adults kept telling me “There’s no jobs in that field” and “Do you want to end up working for an oil company?” Truth was, I didn’t. I wanted to be a forest ranger or professor plate tectonics all day, every day. At least, 19-year-old me did.

I listened to the naysayers and, as you can tell, I’m not a geologist. Now the truth is, it’s not my parents’ fault I’m not the world’s coolest and best geologist, complete with my own adventure reality show, where I get people excited about how obsidian is formed or the majesty that is the Yellowstone caldera. I can’t lay any blame at the feet of any other well-meaning adults or peers, either. I was young, and naive, and wanted to please people (a lifelong habit I am shedding with increasing agility). The real deal is that I probably just didn’t want to be a geologist badly enough to shrug aside any pronouncements to the contrary.

If you’re thinking of starting a business, entering a new field of study or work, becoming a parent, or considering any sort of lifestyle change, people will literally fly from every conceivable crevice of your social network and lay their (usually well-meaning, often unsolicited) advice at your feet.

Your job is to sort through it for the good stuff and chuck the rest. How?

Patience. Practice. Devotion to what it is you really, really want to do.

Sorting through it: Not all unsolicited advice is bad. Case in point: I probably wasn’t meant to be a scientist of any sort, despite my love of armchair (and roadside) geology and basic biology (when it came to studying chromosomes on fruit flies, I bailed). My BFF in college was the one who gently sat me down after watching me work my butt off and earn only C’s. She suggested that maybe science wasn’t my thing, and she was right.

Chucking the rest: Despite the fire hose of advice typically directed at you, it’s not all actually meant for you, for a variety of reasons. Often, people share things based on their experiences, their needs, that random headline they saw on Facebook, and sometimes, their own desire to keep you right where you are, because if you were to change, what might happen to them–might they lose you as their kid, sibling, lover, friend, coworker, or confidant? Could you move away or simply devote more time to pursuing a dream, leaving less time for them? Would you making changes create discomfort for them by making them wonder if they shouldn’t be doing something different in their own lives? What if you end up happier, or more successful than them? Or are they simply negative/naysayers by nature, blurting out a “can’t” for every “what if” that comes within their range?

It’s tough sometimes figuring this out. There are many reasons why people say what they say, and time and experience makes it easier to either set boundaries or open your ears and mind around this stuff and nod and smile, knowing their words simply aren’t meant for you. (I like to think to myself: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own!”) In general, keep refining your filters; you’ll get better at learning how and with whom to share about this stuff.

Two big things to look for when pursuing a career doing something that excites you:

Does it feel like ‘home,’ like you’ve arrived at a perfect combo of “Hey, I’m pretty good at this and I think I could be great at it eventually,” and “I could earn a good or even great living at it”?

Are you willing to muster the determination to ignore most of the advice and negative statements that come your way in order to create a business that sustains you, heart, soul, and bank account?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Share them in the comments here, or shoot me an email.

Toni McLellan is a biz + life coach who used to suck at self-employment as a freelance writer and blogger. She sucked even worse at law school, which she attended to avoid getting a straight job. Learn from her mistakes and those of others she’s coached, interviewed, or spotted sucking in the wild.

The courage to be yourself

The courage to be yourself by Toni McLellan

I’ve been writing lately on uncovering what you really want, ideas for what to do if you just don’t know what you want, how to handle it when things aren’t happening for you, and the value in surrendering to your deepest desires. Know what I think is really at the heart of all this stuff?

The desire to really be ourselves.

If we can truly be ourselves, we can pursue work that feels like home, instead of work that is only practical/safe, or that our parents wanted us to do.
If we can truly be ourselves, we can care for ourselves without guilt or apology.
If we can truly be ourselves, we can say both yes and no with clarity and a clear conscience.
If we can truly be ourselves, we can tell the truth to and be vulnerable with friends and loved ones without fear of judgment or rejection.
If we can truly be ourselves, we won’t feel the need to distract ourselves from our wild and precious lives.
If we can truly be ourselves, we won’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much (or the big stuff, for that matter).
If we can truly be ourselves, we will not only love, but truly like who we are — even when we screw up, big-time.

I’m not suggesting that being yourself means living without fear, or struggle, or bad days, or hard work. But man oh man, the life that’s possible when we get out of our own way!

Getting to this place takes time, depending on where you are in your individual journey. For some of us (::raises hand::) it can take decades of searching and stumbling around; talking with friends, loves, and trusted mentors. Reading self-help books, attending workshops and conferences and retreats. Therapy helps in some instances (it helped me through some serious rough patches like postpartum depression and grief). Coaching helps in others, like when you’re feeling stuck in the same patterns and can’t seem to break out of them, or like you keep having the same argument but with different people or are feeling stressed all the time but know deep down that there’s got to be a better way to live. I’m in coaching myself, in order to maintain my business and also to work on being the best self I can be so I can best serve my clients. It’s a good system. :)

It also takes commitment — to honoring yourself and your purpose here, even when it’s hard, even on days when you don’t wanna, even when people don’t agree with your choices.

I’ve written quite a bit about self-love in the past, because I deeply believe that it’s at the root of everything great that can come to us in our lives. It’s hard to build the life of our dreams if an inner voice is yammering on all day about how much we suck. Getting to the heart of who we are, gradually learning to remove the masks and self-imposed barriers to our individuality and authenticity, is some of the best work we can do in our lives, and it’s time that’s seldom wasted. Help is there if you want it, but you have to seek it out. Courage is there if you ask yourself, deep down, to muster it.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What would your life look like if you had the courage to be yourself?