I was working out yesterday, on the bike, with an Amy Winehouse themed ride.
It brought me back to my 20s and reminded me of how much I loved Amy.
The dry humor in her lyrics. Her give no f’s energy. She’s exactly who I want to channel when I’m feeling myself.
But if you think about her choice to pursue a musical career, it’s not an obvious choice. I can imagine her submitting tracks to labels.
Her music, while epic, does not at all fit with the traditional notion of a blockbuster hit.
Her voice is gravely and low – obvious that she’s a heavy smoker.
And her look — not what you’d call Hollywood or mainstream.
But in her short 27 years she dropped hit after hit, with a slew of superfans.
She was successful because she didn’t follow anyone else’s path. Had she listened to the “professionals” — the ones who know how to shape a star — would we even know her name?
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
NARROWING IN TO BECOME KNOWN
Attract and repel.
It’s one of the basics when you’re trying to niche down. The idea is that in order to let people know that you’re for them, you have to be as specific as possible.
The general advice is to choose one person to focus on. I’ve even heard some say to print out a picture of this person and every time you’re marketing, every time you’re writing to your audience to write specifically to this person.
The result is that your absolute specificity will help others like this person know immediately that you’re talking to them.
While this is not new advice it’s hard to follow. Because every time I’ve ever talked to someone about narrowing in they’ve been hesitant.
When they’re moving from serving one group to another I hear: I don’t want to leave my current customers behind.
When they’re worried about excluding a group of people they would also happily serve it’s: But I don’t want to exclude the others.
There’s a fear of when you’re calling someone in you’re inherently excluding someone else.
That’s the goal, actually, but it doesn’t feel comfortable to do.
I was watching an interview with a successful business owner and she said she gets asked a lot how to become booked out. I loved her answer.
She said, “There’s power in saying no.”
“People think getting 100 inquiries a month is the best way to run your business, but it’s not. The best way is to get the ones that most align.”
If you were to clear your schedule right now, what is the maximum number of clients or projects you could take on this month? It’s probably lower than you expected. Yet, when inquiries aren’t rolling in we take it to mean something about us…yes, even when we couldn’t accommodate them anyway.
That’s just our ego talking.
Most of us — me included — aren’t specific about who we’re for. And, as you’ll hear in the next episode, I’m not talking about qualifying who we serve by income alone. Please baby Jesus don’t let me hear one more person say they’re for the $10k girl gang.
I’m talking about talking to one person even when you feel the resistance inside. I’m talking about clarity of focus. I’m talking about relentlessly narrowing in so you can speak in details, not generalities.
As a copywriter, I’ll give you a little tip. When you can get specific enough to speak in details, even when those details don’t all line up with a person’s experience, they’ll relate to it. AND, here’s the big one, being for one group of people does not mean you’re against all others. You will still have people reach out to see if you can help them if they’re big enough fans of your work and approach.
Case in point.
I’m hosting a retreat in Arizona in two months. I searched for photographers in the area and came up short. I reached out to one who was a wedding photographer but also did portraits. She got back to me with this response:
Thank you so much for reaching out to me and showing interest in having me photograph your retreat. I appreciate your kind words and enthusiasm about my work! Unfortunately, this is not the type of project that I am currently taking on. As my business grows, I’ve chosen to focus on senior portraits and weddings so that I can give my clients my absolute best.
I was bummed but also like, yessss girl. Way to hold up your boundaries to call in the exact work you want to do. She did it in a respectful manner and ended up referring me to someone in the area who was a better fit.
Call in what you want and say no thanks to everything else.
MAKING YOUR OWN DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
I went to school for many years. Through those years I became skilled at being a good student.
I aimed for the singular definition of success. To get an A for the sake of getting an A.
When I left grad school I thought I’d excel in the workplace.
I was good at taking action. I had natural born leadership skills, I was told. So why was it that I started my job, went in ready to make it happen, and within two weeks was told I was out of place?
Once I got that wrist slap I didn’t challenge again. I let the anger and resentment boil inside of me. “Why can’t they see how I could help?” I wondered.
So instead I resorted to sitting at my desk in my windowless office, overseeing spreadsheets. I didn’t want to step on any more toes.
Tara Mohr explains this in her book, Playing Big. This is the book I recommend every woman read if they want to step into their power and lead.
She argues that school does not prepare us for the world of work. “In school,” she says, “students must figure out what each new authority figure wants and then shape their work accordingly.”
Heck we’re taught this from high school when we take standardized tests. Teach to the test, not for actual learning and absorption.
So when we get in the workplace and someone disagrees with us we’re unwilling to believe we have a right to be able to disagree cordially. This is especially apparent when there’s a hierarchy involved — the higher up you are, the more assumed you are to be right.
Mohr, in her book, follows up with this: “If we want to make a distinctive impact on our communities or organizations and make positive change, we need a different set of skills. We need to effectively challenge authority, not just adapt to it. We need to influence authority figures, not just please them.”
I don’t know if you ever had a mentor teach you this but I sure didn’t. Every message I got in the workplace was about keeping the peace, keeping my head down, and doing my job.
So if we’re conditioned to all strive for the same things, you can see how hard it is to take another path, to define success differently.
I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with this right now.
I don’t dream of success in the same ways others do. I want financial security but I don’t have dreams of owning a yacht or a jet. I don’t need to own an island or have full-time staffers in my home.
Six months ago success to me felt like having more space. I was reeling from burnout and I just wanted to have a more stable foundation.
And here I am with a mostly clear calendar — all the space you could desire. I have travel coming up every month for the next five months and I’m spending time every day on personal projects.
Those are things I’ve identified as being important to me. But then I look up. I log onto social media or fall into old patterns of wondering what it will look like six months from NOW.
I start to feel a certain way about myself because I don’t have ten inquiries coming in every week. And yet, I’d feel absolutely overwhelmed if I did.
I was chatting with a colleague last week about holding steady to what we want even if others may not agree with it. She shared with me the name of someone who planned a 30 person wedding. Valerie, my friend, shared how much this appealed to her.
“To choose that means a lot of people will be left out,” she said. “But to choose the life I want means being okay with that.”
People are always going to have an opinion on your life, your decisions.
When I became an entrepreneur, I did not have the support of my family. It was hilarious how hard they avoided the topic.
We’d be at Thanksgiving and no one, and I mean no one, would ask about my business. I think everyone thought it was some cute little distraction I was doing because I was bored.
I so badly wanted someone to ask about it because I was working endlessly behind the scenes. And the fact that no one took it seriously felt like no one was supporting me. Now, ten years later, I can see that it wasn’t that they didn’t support me. It’s that they couldn’t imagine it for themselves. So if they didn’t talk about it, they didn’t have to admit they could believe in it.
Choosing your own path means accepting that many people will not agree with it. Many people will not understand your decisions. Some will even be angry about them.
But if you’re unwilling to choose your own way, you’ll never stand out.
HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN POINT OF VIEW
Let’s talk about Elon Musk. You may have feelings about him — strong ones at that. And that’s exactly the point I want to make.
Elon Musk is notorious because he does not hold back.
He doesn’t operate based on what he thinks people will tolerate. In fact, sometimes I think he says things purely to provoke people. He knows where he stands and whether you agree with him or not, he’s gotten your attention.
I’m not arguing that having a strong opinion is always good. If you’re using that to harm people or spew hateful rhetoric it’s a completely different story.
What I am saying is that if you don’t take a stance, you’ll fall into the popular life template everyone else is adopting. Standing out requires self knowledge and courage.
People have said to me, “Kim, you always say what I’m thinking. I love that about you.”
I can assure you not everyone has loved that about me. It’s what has made me a natural entrepreneur and a kind of crappy employee. I don’t see the point in holding back when there’s something obvious happening that no one is talking about.
Have I experienced retaliation because of this? Sure. But you know what happens when we don’t speak up? Nothing. Things stay the same. The people in power stay the same. And who is that motivating?
Standing strong in who you are and what you want can be done with kindness. That’s where people pleasing and boundaries come into play.
My form of people pleasing is chasing whatever will get to the yes. It’s focusing so much on what others want that I’d abandoned my own wants and needs.
There will never be a stickier metaphor than put your own mask on before assisting others. But it’s hard to spot and adjust in real time every time we need to be doing this.
Because I’d experienced push back early in my career, I made it my mission to be likable and to not rock the boat. But the frustration didn’t just disappear — it happened behind the scenes. It was easier to go with the flow in public and freak out behind the scenes.
This tip-toeing on eggshells became a normalized routine.
I had a coach say to me: “You need to focus on yourself first. Get what you need.”
My response? “But I don’t want to change who I am. I want to help others, not act selfishly.” Somewhere along the line I had equated prioritizing myself with being selfish.
I picked up the book Boundary Boss after hearing the author, Terri Cole, on a podcast. I felt a little sheepish carrying the book around, worried what others would think about me. How obvious as a people pleaser, right? Don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable no matter how uncomfortable I might be.
I won’t give it all away because I recommend reading it. All you need to know is on the first page. Five questions.
Do you ever say yes when you want to say no?
Do you prioritize other peoples’ needs or desires above your own?
Do you feel like you should be doing more in all areas of your life?
Are you overly invested in the decisions, feelings, and outcomes of the people you love?
Are you so resistant to asking for help that you end up doing most things yourself?
I’ll let you guess how many of these I said yes to. How about you?
My friend, this is the breeding ground for resentment! When we do things for others or that others want us to even when they aren’t asking us. When we’re acting out of obligation. We are in charge of these decisions even though we don’t want to be doing them.
What’s worse? Disappointing someone else or disappointing yourself? Watching others gain notoriety for your ideas or claiming them as your own?
Setting boundaries is a skill. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking there’s something wrong with you if you don’t live and breathe strong, solid boundaries. And it’s important to set them early because it’s nearly impossible to backpedal once a relationship has been established.
I’m working with a client now who is dealing with this. She’s been flexible — probably too flexible — in the past and now she’s ready for another way. She’s too tired to continue bending to what works for everyone but herself. And she has a choice to make — try to re-establish boundaries with existing clients or accept that she can start new with only new clients.
Perhaps you’re thinking that strong boundaries require confrontation. If you’re someone who avoids conflict, you’re not alone.
Even as someone who appears confident and outspoken, I hate broaching tough conversations. But I also feel so much better when issues are addressed rather than allowing them to infiltrate relationships under the surface.
I like to remind myself of the simple mantra: clear is kind. No one wants to be led on. No one wants something out of obligation. So when something’s not working we should always bring it up.
The trick is detaching yourself from the outcome. Will the other person get upset? Maybe. Will they disagree? Maybe. But does this mean anything about you? No.
When we know our actions are in alignment with our truth, we can assume the best of others too. That means communicating expectations without making someone pay for another person’s past mistakes or bad behavior.
I’d rather be direct than resentful any day of the week.
WHOSE OPINION MATTERS?
So you’re out here fighting against fitting in. And it’s great. And then the feedback rolls in.
It doesn’t feel good to get hater comments or bad feedback on your work when your work is a personal expression. But is the feedback a reflection of you?
If no one has told you this before, I’m glad to be the first: NO, most feedback isn’t about you. It provides more information about the person giving it than you. And we actually need to pay very little attention to the feedback we’re given.
Let’s take that example about me starting my business. No one wanted to talk about it. It made them uncomfortable. Was it really because they didn’t think I could make it or was it because they couldn’t imagine making it themselves?
My mentor, Sarah Ashman, talks about everything being a mirror. When she taught me this last year so much made sense.
I’d tell her when I would get a visceral reaction to someone. And steady as ever she’d ask me: “What is it about this person that’s bothering you? What does that tell you about what you want or don’t want?”
Our reactions are almost never about the people we say they are. They’re merely information about what we want the most.
Think about someone who you follow. You might even feel jealous of them. It’s easy to pick them apart, because that makes you feel less envious, right? No judgment, I’ve been there. I’m still there sometimes.
The growth is when you can acknowledge this is because they bring up something in you that you want or something you stand against. When we can see this in our own behavior it makes it easier to accept feedback from others.
Just knowing this feedback is likely much more about them than us, we can actually feel empathetic towards them rather than angry. We can neutralize our reaction, therefore remaining more steady.
Sometimes feedback is important to hear. We won’t always get it right. And growing into a leader means accepting feedback with grace.
I don’t want to be the overly optimistic, perpetually positive person when I say this — I feel like it’s important to preface with that because toxic positivity is rampant. But one thing that has helped me tremendously in my growth as a creative and entrepreneur is always looking for what I can learn from a situation.
No one bought my program. That’s feedback. Does it mean no one is interested in what I have to offer or does it mean that the way I sold might not have been clear enough or through the right channels?
I said something that offended someone and they let me know. Do I need to argue my stance with them? No, maybe this is the time to listen and consider the impact rather than be blinded by intent.
I think it was Brene Brown who talks about the 1×1 inch sticky note. She says write down the names of people whose opinion matters to you. If you run out of space you are considering too many. Once you have those people, let those fade away.
You’ll have the impulse to ask for someone else’s opinion. So will I. You know you’re making progress when you stop looking outward as much and begin looking inward for those answers.
In general though, I’ll add: friends and family aren’t always the best for professional advice. They don’t want to see you struggle or sometimes even step out of your comfort zone. That’s why, when I was a career coach, people hired me. They’d often say, “I just need someone outside of my mom and my partner, someone with an objective opinion, to help me work through the next step.”
At the end of the day, some people will not like you, no matter how lovely you are.
Don’t believe me? Remember Tara Mohr who I mentioned earlier? I was in one of her workshops and she recommended this exercise: go to Amazon.com and look up a book you love. Read the 5-star reviews. Now read the 1 or 2-star reviews.
Even this person who you think has produced incredible work has haters.
So why expend so much of our effort to be palatable?
It’s of course because we’ve learned to position ourselves for what others want. For some people in some areas of the world this is a matter of life and death, quite literally. But if you’re realizing you’re doing this to avoid discomfort, here’s something that may help.
As I’ve embraced my creativity I’ve come to realize I can and desire to operate more like an artist. And an artist creates without concern for what people want. They can trust that their experience, their eye, their perspective is what needs to come out…and that there will be someone who is yearning for just that.
To keep the blinders on. To protect your energy. To do things differently. This will often feel unsettling. Maybe it will even feel like you’re on the wrong path altogether.
When you don’t see or hear people like you or sharing the beliefs you have, it can feel like you’re on your own. But you’re not. I can guarantee people are waiting to see themselves in you.
It’s like that video – the one of a guy dancing alone at a music festival. He’s the only one flailing around. To some, he might even look ridiculous. But as you watch you realize he’s inspiring others.
Another guy joins him. Then another and another. The lesson remains – it takes guts to be the first.