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.
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.
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.