Welcome to episode 172 of The Introvert Entrepreneur. I’m your host, Beth Buelow, and I’m grateful that you’ve joined me for this, my final episode of this podcast. It’s been a great 8 ½ year run, and I’ve made the difficult decision to come to completion with the show. Rather than have a final interview with someone – I mean, who wants to be your last guest?! – I’m going to share with you some of the story of how I arrived at this point and what comes next. My hope is that you join with me on that “what’s next” part of the journey, and in hearing my story, it supports you and provides some food for thought about any pivots you have going on in your life. I’m titling this blogcast episode simply “Endings and Beginnings.”
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
(Lots of wise people, frequently misattributed to Mark Twain)
A lot has changed since I launched The Introvert Entrepreneur in May 2010. The biggest change has been an explosion of resources for introverts who want to embrace who they are and make personal and professional choices that align with their energy. It’s been amazing to see how many people are carrying what I call the “Introvert Pride of Ownership” banner. If they’re not leading the charge, they are openly following and sharing. We might be considered quieter than our extroverted counterparts, but we are definitely not silent. And we’re definitely getting a more prominent seat at the table.
The change in the conversation has been seismic. This is the perspective I offer in almost every presentation I’ve given over the years: when I first launched in 2010, I set up a Google Alert for the word “introvert.” I wanted to see how the term was showing up online and specifically, in the media. The vast majority—80-90%—of stories that landed in my inbox used the term in the context of a crime or tragedy. “The alleged assailant was quiet and kept to himself… neighbors say he was an introvert.” That ratio slowly started to shift within a few years to more positive stories. Fast-forward to 2018, and 80-90% of the stories are focused on introverts as leaders and business owners; improving our networking, sales, or dating skills; or deepening our understanding of who we are and what makes us tick.
It’s been encouraging to witness, and I hope I’ve played a small role in helping the conversation evolve and take a turn towards empowerment.
As different voices have joined in, full of new ideas and fresh energy, I find myself called to exploring other areas that have touched my heart and moved my spirit much like introversion has. With my book, “The Introvert Entrepreneur,” I feel there’s an ongoing legacy that will continue to serve the world in wonderful ways (as will the archives of this podcast). I will always share its message wherever I feel it will be of service. That won’t change.
I’ve spent the past two years in a liminal space, or as past podcast guest Rabbi Sherre Hirsch puts it, in the hallway between the rooms of my life. And one thing I’ve learned is that entrepreneurs are innovators and inventors not only of products and services; we innovate and invent our selves.
It’s my core business—and in some ways, my identity—that gradually has been shifting. My personal innovation and self-invention drive has been moving into high gear. Those who know me well don’t see this as a change at all; they see it as an evolution of who I’ve always been. It’s just that now, I’m going to make it official.
I’m pivoting my work from entrepreneur coaching and a focus on introverts to broader conversations about questions around identity, purpose, and values, leadership coaching, and conflict skills development, including mediation and mediation coaching. I’m really taken with the concept of ZOPA and the foundational belief that healthy conflict is essential to healthy relationships. ZOPA stands for the “Zone of Possible Agreement”; one key way to move from conflict to cooperation is to hold a ZOPA intention: communicating with Empathy, Truth, Curiosity, and Humility, with a commitment to finding an intersection of interests through explorations of identity, values, and life experiences.
I’ve started those conversations through a new podcast called “How Can I Say This…”, which I launched in September. You can learn more about it and listen to episodes at howcanisaythis.com or searching for it wherever you listen to your podcasts. The podcast allows me to tap into and nurture one of my superpowers: finding the words to express whatever is stuck in your throat, and sharing those words in a way that they can be heard.
Before sharing more, there are two important questions to answer: Will I still work with introverts? Absolutely! I am one, I speak introvert, and I love being able to support our growth. What about entrepreneurs? If they have a business that intrigues me and that I think I can add value to, then yes, I’m game to explore it!
Back to the path forward. Over the past two years or so, I’ve been feeling a need to expand my skillset and services to encompass what I’m calling Communication Capacity Building. This includes how to have healthy, respectful, productive conversations with others, especially those with whom you have a disagreement, either about a specific situation or issue, or a broader ideological difference. There are two words that have guided me over the years that I feel this new direction is going to help me manifest and facilitate: peace and grace.
Peace doesn’t mean freedom from conflict or tension. To me, to embody peace means we can hold the tension of differences without the need to be right, change others, or sit in judgement. We can hold the possibility that there’s truth in any point of view. Sometimes the heart of that truth is fear. Sometimes it’s love. Sometimes that truth is personal and not shared by others (and even may considered wrong by others). Peace is possible when we can release our tightly held, black-and-white notions of right/wrong and consider the idea that there’s more than one truth. Once we recognize that, we can listen more carefully to one another. And listening to another’s story, to their motivations and what it’s like to be them, helps us be open to finding a space where we can co-exist, if not in harmony, at least without hurting each other. Approaching others with an intention for peace, not war, is a good start.
Grace is a word I could unpack for a long time. I visualize it as a clear prism with sides that reflect and absorb in equal measure. I associate numerous words with it: Compassion. Forgiveness. Empathy. Understanding. Abundance. Lightness. Freedom. Kindness. Openness. I wonder what it would be like if we looked at one another—and ourselves—through the lens of grace. Perhaps we’d be gentler and listen more deeply. Maybe we’d be quicker to reach out and extend a helping hand. There’s a chance we’d be less attached to our ego, more aware of our interconnectedness and interdependence. Through the lens of grace, we have more space to be vulnerable.
Leading with peace and grace is one way of leading with love. It’s how I try to approach conflict that happens within myself and between others. When we come to the table from a place of curiosity, assuming best intent, and releasing attachment to being right or “winning,” we can start to, brick by brick, take down the walls that divide us. From that place, hearts and minds are more pliable and able to be transformed.
If that sounds woo-woo and squishy to you, that’s okay. I’ve long ago embraced my woo-woo paradigms in the spirit of expressing myself authentically. Yes, it’s helpful to learn the 10 steps to better listening, or to find out what your style is according to the latest assessment or quiz. Structure gives us an excellent jumping off point (as it has when we start with the framing “introvert” and work out from there). And, even more important than tips and tricks, is your perspective, your intention. You know, the woo-woo stuff. Mine starts with peace and grace. If you start with fear, ego, or scarcity, all of the lists and quizzes in the world won’t help you be a more effective communicator or build more trusting relationships with yourself or others.
Case in point: I recently saw a woman in a coffee shop in a t-shirt that said in big letters, “I’m not arguing, I’m just explaining why I’m right!” That’s the challenge in a nutshell. I understand that the sentiment is supposed to be funny. But it’s the modus operandi for too many people! Laughing at communication dysfunction is okay, as long as we don’t normalize it, which puts it on the slippery slope towards acceptability. Accepting disrespectful, ego-centric speech is part of what has led us to become a crasser, less tolerant, divided society.
As my work in the world evolves, I am excited to spend time with individuals and teams to examine, identify, and confront the root causes of conflict. We will co-create a path and a plan to move through the challenges that includes mutual responsibility, accountability, and commitment to lasting transformation. Does that sound idealistic? Maybe, especially if you’re in the tornado of conflict yourself.
But what would it be like, even if it seems far-fetched, to believe in the possibility of resolution? Isn’t that better than living in the certainty of strife?
When I reflect on my core messages that go beyond the introvert niche, I land at the intersection between the work I’ve been doing and the work I feel called to do moving forward. Where I witness transformation is when people fully embrace who they are (self-acceptance with compassion); listen to and believe their truth (trust); and choose to live their truth and articulate it to others (courage).
When people hold back who they are, and when they lack the space for deep critical thinking and discernment, then the loudest, most repetitive voices win. Influence becomes twisted and external, based on number of followers, likes, shares, and tweets, rather than on being about changing hearts and minds. And we start to make decisions or define our personal success based on what’s most politically and socially acceptable, rather than our inner truth.
I have felt a personal restlessness and emptiness over the past year as I’ve realized how much my work has been consumed by the seeking of external validation and the futility of that pursuit. The ideas that fill my cup – safe spaces, silence, soul searching, spirit speaking – aren’t in the lead. There’s a tension between hustle and heart that I’ve danced with for years, and I feel depleted and called to shift my focus. There are new conversations to be had, those that contribute to the healing of our individual hearts and minds and that of our collective consciousness. I feel an opportunity to come full-circle from where I started my coaching journey, when I focused on empowering language and communication with self and others. This new direction is a different way to serve and live out my Vision and Purpose as I defined it in 2008 during coaching training. This is what I wrote more than 10 years ago (woo-woo alert, LOL!):
I am Shekinah. Dwelling place of divine expression, powerful feline grace, soft forgiving earth. Wellspring of perception, humor and peace. River of deeply felt compassion and joy. Loyal Sherpa and spiritual midwife.
My purpose is to live within the questions, hold the sacred space between the words, gratefully and courageously receive and create possibility, and inspire others to fully realize their essence.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur or working within an organization: what’s most important to your feeling of purpose and contribution is that you are living at the intersection of your gifts – your superpowers – and the world’s needs. How that manifests will probably shift many times over the course of your life. That’s what I’m experiencing right now. The core values are the same, but those values are flexible in how they show up.
I’ll be honest: it’s taken me a while to fully accept that it’s time to pivot. Where I’ve been has been safe and wonderful. Sharing with you, serving you, and learning from you has been one of my life’s greatest gifts.
I remember the day it really landed with me that it was time to move on. I was interviewing one of the many fabulous guests I’ve had on this podcast, and as she responded to my questions, I heard myself. It was like I was interviewing myself in that she was answering using the same words and phrases I would have used. And that’s when I realized that my inspiration well was dry, because I didn’t have the energy to keep deepening my own introvert message so that it was unique again. There were, and there continue to be, new voices emerging that I want to yield to. I invite you to follow them all and see them as your partners on your journey towards being your best self. You’ll find links to them on my website, theintrovertentrepreneur.com, which will be evolving over the next few weeks to be focused on my book, the podcast archives, and directing you to resources to support your curiosity and growth.
There’s more I could say, because how can I distill more than 8 years of learning and gratitude into 20 minutes? I’m sure I’ll publish this final episode and realize later there was something important I meant to say and forgot to include. And I’m sure I’ll feel a pang of disappointment for having missed the opportunity. I’m reminded of a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci: Art is never finished, only abandoned. The same could be true of almost anything in life, and it’s certainly true for the work we do. We never really get to truly finish it. We do the best we can, and then when it’s time, when we feel ready and even if we don’t feel ready, we move on. We abandon it to make space for something new. In this case, it’s less of an abandonment, and more of a release. I can picture myself releasing a bird – and in this case, the bird is all of the content I’ve created over the years – and letting it fly on its own. I’ll still check in with it, and I’ll keep nurturing my book, which is my lasting gift to the conversation. But releasing it feels right, and it’s time.
Since 2010, I’ve been focused on supporting you as an introvert, as you embrace who you are, your strengths, and your power. The wonderful result has been individual transformation. Now it’s time to turn my energy towards transformation through community.
Being a coach has changed my life. I see others—and myself—as whole, capable, and resourceful. I see leadership as the facilitation of possibility. I’m more open to outcome, not attached. I believe that once we know someone’s story, we can’t see them as “the other.” I know that creating the gift of space and grace helps us see and hear one another more clearly.
I now feel called to “be coach” in a new, expanded, deeper way in the world. That’s part of what moves me forward into the unknown, the latest and greatest liminal space in my life.
Thank you for being part of this journey, whether you’ve only listened a short time or been with me for the past 170+ episodes. I’m beyond grateful for more than 150 brilliant guests I’ve had over the years, and to Paul Messing, my always-accommodating podcast producer, who has made my life easier and this show more professional.
As for you, my listener friend, I believe in you and your power, your introvert strength, and your capacity to make amazing contributions in this world. I hope you’ll follow me over to my new space, which right now is focused on the How Can I Say This… podcast. From there, I expect I’ll be sharing, as I discover them, the new sandboxes I’ll be playing in.
And until we meet again, remember that success is an inside job.