Review: Tom Volkar’s Authentic Business Discovery Course

From September 29 to October 3, 2008, I was immersed in an intense self-exploration course called “Authentic Business Discovery” offered by my blogging colleague Tom Volkar of Delightful Work. Right off the bat, the timing of this offering was such a cool synchronicity, as I was just about to publish my business plan when Tom invited to me to take this course. It is designed for those who want to explore what is their right self-employment/business for them, and for those who already have an inkling of what that is, an opportunity to examine and validate that idea.

Course Description and Defining “the Sweet Spot”

I don’t know how many of you have ambitions to own your own business (hint: if you plan to make income through blogging, then you are), but figuring out what business you want to be in can be a very daunting question. A lot of us know what we’d like to do with our lives, but that’s really not the same thing as building a business around it. It’s easy to say “do what you love” — but some activities we dearly love, we scratch our head and wonder how that can lead to an income-producing, value-offering operation.

Tom’s course is not designed to tell you how to find your passion and turn it into a business. But it will lead you through steps in which you’ll figure it out for yourself. And as I said, if you feel that you have an idea, this process will put that idea under a magnifying glass, fleshing it out and ensuring that it is compatible with who you are.

I hit it off great with Tom even before the course, for we have agreed on the fundamental of what makes a business “right” for someone. Borrowing words from Frederich Buechner, Tom calls this business a “sweet spot” where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meets. Similarly, I’ve been living by the words of my mentor Pastor Bruce Benson of St. Olaf College, which is: your calling lies where your need and the world’s need meets.

Yes, so the sweet spot lies where a single set of activity meets two needs.

So, how do we go about this? By first discovering who we are and what our needs are. Then looking out to see how the activities we need can meet other people’s needs. It’s crucial to work from within and then out, as the other way has the potential to lead you to a spot where you’re meeting everybody’s needs but your own.

Tom’s 5-day course is centered around one one-hour teleconference per day, augmented by what Tom calls daily agreements — basically self-exploration home work. In this, the first installment of this class, there were four participants including me. The class size was perfect, as it was small and intimate and really allowed us to get plenty of personal attention from Tom. But still, there was enough diversity among us to get exposed to other people’s issues and discoveries.

The Journey Inward

First of all, Tom knows his stuff. He is a well-experienced career/business coach and is really a wealth of insights and information, much of which was developed from his own observation and analysis. Very impressive.

On the first day alone, he had us discover our limiting beliefs, learn the concept of dynamic value, and had us identify four core values. From there, every day was jam-packed with more insights, exercises and revelations, including EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, for processing emotions), urgent discovery, and authentic cycle of probability.

It’s fair to say that this course is not for timid. He had us tackle at least 5 challenging self-examination exercises a day, which was intense and rigorous. I noticed that I was being quite shaken in the process — my emotions ran gamut from fearful (for discovering a vulnerability I didn’t know existed), discomfort (from being stretched) to vulnerable (for having to really open ourselves). But along the paths there were numerous little discoveries and realizations that kept me very excited as well. And Tom was right there with us as we explored our tender innards, at once affirming, encouraging and challenging.

Allow me to share some of my discoveries about myself from one week of working with Tom:

  • Among my core values, I was surprised to find “lead.” This affirmed the trend I was noticing the last few months — as I shed my fears and became more of myself, I found in myself a desire to take more leadership. Before, my lack of confidence kept me apprehensive and reserved.
  • Socially, breaking the ice has always been my biggest challenge. The course made me realize how much that problem is holding me back. On the other side, once the ice is broken, I am very good at maintaining and growing relationships.
  • I would rather “be imaginative” than “create.” What’s the difference? I love exploring the potential inherent in by using my imagination to conjure up many solutions. I love creating, too, but it involves picking a solution and making it real. I’m good at it, but I’m even better at discovering options. No wonder I love songwriting! I like humming my unfinished tunes in my head, mulling over how the song can evolve and change. Once the song is finished, then I start thinking about how to rearrange it. 😉
  • I am a bit hesitant to consider options and possibilities suggested by others. It’s because I’ve been working to shut out external voices, simply to isolate and then strengthen my own voice. But the time has now come where I need to open myself up and start listening to other voices.

There have been numerous other little a-ha’s throughout the week, and I know that others who took the class had their shares as well.

But after all is said and done, I realized that the course had delivered on its premise. At the beginning, I was hearing a small voice of doubt in my head saying “are you sure this business is right for you? What if you start your business and discover that you didn’t enjoy doing it?” That voice was gone at the end. My vision and its compatibility to my core self was tested and became stronger. I feel comfortable with my business ideas and now feel perfectly ready to move forward with it.

Similarly, at the end of the week, everyone reported a major progress in their journey to either discover or validate their business vision. It’s to Tom’s credit that he was able to meet each of us where we are and help us make significant progress in such a short time.

Constructive Criticism

This being the first-time around for Tom as well, I did notice a few kinks. One of Tom’s strength is adaptability — he is perfectly able to be spontaneous and make decisions at the spur of the moment to deliver what we needed. That said, the flip side is that he could have prepared us better for what was in store by giving us an overview or a syllabus at the beginning. This being a teleconference class, we did have to listen carefully to catch everything he said, and having a written outline ahead of time would have better prepared us, enabling us to absorb the information more instead of deciphering and processing it.

Also, some of his assignments were a bit confusing — he has his own sets of vocabulary, where words like “values” and “agreements” and “realizations” are used, but it was sometimes unclear what he meant by them. Some of the exercises could have used more concrete examples for us to follow.

Finally, I felt that packing all this into 5-day was quite a lot. I think all of us got a lot out of it, so in that sense it was a very effective class, but some of the ideas presented, I wished I had much more time to sit and ponder. Plus, it didn’t provide a lot of opportunities for the class-takers to interact with each other, which I felt was a missed opportunity — taking an intense course like this creates a strong shared experience, that have potential to lead to longer friendships. I realized that I wasn’t the coach here, but I was itching to jump into the discussion and do some peer-coaching. 😉

I have communicated all this and more to Tom at the end. Being a very perceptive guy, Tom was already aware of many of the issues — and I’m certain that he’ll make improvements in the future offerings.

Conclusion

A few forgivable quibbles aside, Tom’s Authentic Business Discovery was an extremely effective self-exploration seminar. I’m sure that all of us who took the course are still processing all the information, and will be realizing how much this experience has changed us in the coming months. As with any learning opportunities, you do have to put a lot of yourself in to get the most out of it. But the benefit is that this course can really get you started walking down the path to discovering your ideal business, starting it and running it. I wish I had known about a resource like this back when I graduated from college — this is much more practical, applicable information than a lot of what we learn in 4 years (spending tens of thousands of dollars)! It took me 12 years to figure out who I am enough to draw up my business plan, through mostly trial and error, working slowly through all my denials and un-awareness. This course can’t do that all in 5 days, but it can shorten the process to mere weeks.

Bottom line: consider it a must if you are entertaining self-employment/entrepreneurship at all for yourself. Tom is able to meet you exactly where you are — which means that no matter who you are, you’ll get a lot out of this course.

I highly recommend it. Check it out!

In the interest of full disclosure, please note that I have become Tom’s affiliate after taking this course and had the chance to experience it for myself.

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19 Responses to Review: Tom Volkar’s Authentic Business Discovery Course

  1. Pingback: Finding Your Path to a Successful Business Startup | Delightful Work

  2. Ari – I’m very grateful for your thorough review of your experience in taking my Five Days of Authentic Business Discovery course. Truly it is an exceptional review in it’s completeness and honesty. It makes me think you ought to be in the review writing business as well. 😉

    “It’s fair to say that this course is not for timid. He had us tackle at least 5 challenging self-examination exercises a day, which was intense and rigorous.”

    I’m pleased that you’ve shared this with your readers. This five-day format is designed to shake you up quite a bit and to urge you to make decisions quickly because it’s exactly what most would be entrepreneurs need – less analysis and more action. You along with your co-participants were really invested in your success so I may have even laid it on a little thicker to make sure that you were stretched.

    I’m very much looking forward to you creating the business of your dreams – it’s going to be a blast for you. 🙂 How sweet it is!

    If any of your readers are considering the next course which begins on Oct 27, I’d like to encourage them to visit the Delightful Work Contact page and request a no-obligation phone interview to determine their fit.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Finding Your Path to a Successful Business Startup

  3. Ari

    This is probably the best review I have read of Tom’s class, and I liked how you explained your realization that you would rather be imaginative than creative. I have never thought about the distinction before, but I think that goes for me too. I find imagination/brainstorming/strategy stimulating and I’m naturally very good at it. But when it comes time to choose focus and then push forward with one idea, then I wax and wane on. If I don’t commit 100% or feel certain enough to commit 100% then I just fluff around juggling a number of different projects and coming up with ideas for more, even though I don’t have the time to bring most of them to completion.

    Thanks for this review as you have really got me thinking.

    Kelly

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Kelly,

      >If I don’t commit 100% or feel certain enough to commit 100% then I just fluff around juggling a number of different projects and coming up with ideas for more, even though I don’t have the time to bring most of them to completion.

      Wow, that seems like I’m reading a description of myself. All my adult life has been a series of ideas, trials, and getting stuck after a while and changing course. I always credited that to not knowing myself well enough, not giving myself permission to do what I truly wanted. But I’m beginning to wonder, perhaps that’s just me — I’m an idea person and creating ideas is my muse, not following through on them. That sounds too easy, though, and I do enjoy the joy of completing something — as I am proud to say I have, several major milestones — but nevertheless it’s something to keep in mind.

      I’m glad it made you think. I hope it will yield good fruits.

      ari

  4. Maya says:

    Ari,

    Very well written review. I started reading Tom a few weeks ago. I am wondering now if this is right for me considering I am starting my business in a few weeks …? What do you think?

    Maya´s last blog post..The key to happiness and balance is right with you, just learn to use it – Part 2 of the thinkmaya framework

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Maya,

      Well, I can think of two things.

      1. Yes, go take his course, if you’d rather put the time in now to evaluate whether your business is the right fit for you and prevent strains/conflicts down the road.
      2. If you’re pretty certain about your business and is at a place where you’re trying to focus, instead of opening yourself up to more external influences — I can respect that, too. I feel that way about my business now. At some point, you have to say you’ve heard enough, shut out the world outside and listen to your voice. Tom’s class will lessen your chance of finding that your business is not a good match for you, but nothing will entirely take out that possibility. But as I said to others, there’s nothing wrong with moving forward and risking failures. If you happen to fail, you’ll learn plenty from it, anyway.

      But if you’re at all doubtful about your business being your sweet spot, then I would recommend his class. I really have little doubt at this point, which enables me to focus fully on what I need to do.

      ari

  5. Melinda says:

    Ari, I learned so much from your very well written post on the workshop. It sounds as though it was so beneficial to you. Reading your post made me want to take Tom’s class as well.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us.

    Melinda

    Melinda´s last blog post..Just Say "No" to Stupid Assumptions

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Melinda,

      If you are thinking of starting your own business or self-employment, then I would highly recommend Tom’s class. Heck, it’s just a good personal growth exercise all around, even if you’re simply thinking about whether self employment is right for you.

      Check out his blog and you’ll find much of what we discussed, and more.

      ari

  6. Laurie says:

    Taking Tom’s class was such a wonderful experience for me. I learned so much about myself and how important it is to make sure who you are is a match with the business you are developing. I too, Ari, found some of my personal discoveries a bit frazzling for me. But you have to find the areas of your life that you need to work on in order to grow. Denial never moves you forward.

    For me, I have already taken the plunge into self-employment (barely) and Tom’s class not only confirmed that I was on the right tract but opened my eyes to areas and aspects fI hadn’t considered. He took me where I was and moved me forward with confidence.

    I see your point with the outline of the class helping us follow. But at the same time, being a teacher myself, I don’t want the outline to inhibit the direction of the class turning a different corner if those are the needs of the class. The coach must drive the plans instead of the plans driving the coach. I am sure there is a happy medium somewhere.

    For his vocabulary, maybe a handout where the terms are operationally defined would be helpful. That way you understand the meanings of the vocabulary. I felt the 5 days was really intense but that was what kept me so focused. I believe if it was spread out over two or three weeks, I would have let other things get in the way of keeping up with the homework.

    As a teacher, I always felt the first group I had with any new lesson or class was my guinea pig class. They were the testers used to find the bugs so I could work them out. I was glad to be Tom’s guinea pig. With the minor things to work out considered, the class was a great success. I got out of it so much more than I paid for. Besides learning so much more than I expected, I also made some great friends. We continue to contact each other and give our support!

    So Ari, how you coming on your 30 day goals? Email me with your progress!! :O)

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Laurie,

      It is a testament to Tom’s value that you got so much out of it — when others in the class were very much in earlier stages of development than you were.

      I agree with you about the outline. I was simply suggesting it as an aide to help us understand what he was talking about, and was not suggesting that he stick closer to a syllabus. It just is easier to follow someone on the phone when what he’s talking about is also written in front of you. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more of a visual learner. 😉

      And I do wonder if the intensity and the brevity of the course worked for you because you were already employed? I have to tell you, between my day job and my family and my blogs and such, I really wished I had more time to sit and ponder all the stuff. Granted, I signed up at the last minute without really thinking about the impact on the workload….

      And thanks for asking about the 30 day goals. I already accomplished mine last Friday! 🙂 How about you?

      ari

  7. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Ari – what a great, honest review. It sounds like the course if intense but worthwhile.

    Now I never knew you enjoyed songwriting but I do recall you saying you didn’t feel comfortable networking in clubs etc, so I wondered what the connection was. I’m really looking forward to hearing your business plans as you progress.

  8. Lance says:

    Great review and write up on the course Ari! You describe well what makes Tom effective at doing what he does – and that’s to get people out of their comfort zone and really delving deep into who they are. Finding that sweet spot – a great place to get to for all of us! Speaking from my own personal experience working with Tom, he does provide much value to the process of finding that sweet spot. And of really getting us thinking about what it will take to make the sweet spot become a reality.

    I wish you well in your future endeavors Ari! Hearing where you’re at, and the passion you have for where you are going – I know you will do well!

    Lance´s last blog post..Coaches…Not Just For Football Players

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Lance,

      Thanks! Indeed, I’ll be lying if I said that it was a peaceful, comfortable experience — but that’s what makes it good. As with everything else, we get what we put into it. All the participants in the course invested a lot of time into all the tasks and got a lot out of it. So Tom did well to attract really motivated people.

      ari

  9. Davina says:

    Hi Ari. I could certainly have used Tom’s course a year ago. But, I did learn through my own process and perhaps I wouldn’t have been ready for the course at that time. I closed a business I had started after coming to the realization that my heart was not in it. You are very fortunate to have recognized the value in taking Tom’s course.

    Davina´s last blog post..Thanks, It Means The World To Me

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Davina,

      Well, I had a number of attempts at various businesses over the last 13 years. Like I said, I wished if I had taken a course like that right out of college.

      Self employment and being an entrepreneur is also very much a product of culture. Since my father was a corporate business man, I knew next to nothing about starting my own business, and my background emphasizes steady pay check greatly, which created a road block.

      If you want help/advise on something, the only people you should listen to are people who have done or are doing it. Bless my family and friends, but none were doing what I wanted to do, yet I have been heavily influenced by their uneducated guesses.

      As they say, get it from the horse’s mouth. 😉

      That said, you are right, some things you just have to learn by trying and failing yourself. There are few lessons as powerful as that, so I wouldn’t say people take Tom’s course and prevent any mistakes at all cost — in fact, Tom will tell you that he’s made many and that he won’t prevent you from making yours. But when you’re forging ahead with your own ideas, you just have to know that you’re fully responsible for your own outcomes.

      ari

  10. Jennifer says:

    This sounds intense and wonderful all at the same time. Thank you for sharing what you learned with us. All in all sounds like it was well worth everything you put into it. It does seem like Tom really knows his stuff. I’ve noticed that from reading his material before, either from comments on my blog or through his posts, although I haven’t been keeping up with him. I’m going to go subscribe to his blog now. Thanks again for sharing this review with us.

    Jennifer´s last blog post..The Interview Continues…

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Jennifer,

      Tom is really good — not only is he thoughtful enough to come up with his own theories and observations, but he’s backed by many years of being self-employed. I highly recommend him.

      ari

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