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Above: Look at the joy on those faces! Though not all the Heroines were present, this photo is special because it’s the first snap
of the first time we met in person.

“What if joy were my only metric for success?”

The comedian Sarah Jones said this in conversation with Liz Gilbert on Gilbert’s wonderful podcast, Magic Lessons.

As soon as she said it, both Gilbert and I sighed audibly. My shoulders dropped, and I felt a wave of relaxation in my body. To me, these physical responses are unmistakable signs that something is true for me.

Jones’s words invite us to question prioritizing the usual metrics of success, social approval and revenue creation. 

It resonates with me because it sums up an experiment I have been running for the last year: what happens when you put joy first? 

It didn’t start as an experiment. It started as a Master Coach Training (MCT) challenge: design your own project to begin and complete by the end of the course. 

I knew I wanted to create a group coaching program, but I didn’t know what it would be about. Martha Beck, the founder of Wayfinder Coach Training, has always exhorted us to dream big – she calls them WIGs: Wildly Improbably Goals. So, I thought, Why not? If not now, when? This is a safe space.”

<Deep breath>

The Dream

I did have a dream: to fly my freak flag. 

Ok, my nerd flag, really. But the point is, I wanted to be more completely myself as a coach. 

I thought that to be successful, I had to look a part: normal (not weird), together (not fumbling), and smoothed out (never inconsistent). But the façade was a little lifeless, like “enriched” white bread: adequately nutritious but bland after the interesting, chewy bits are removed. 

I loved coaching, but I was not attracting many clients. 

In other words, prioritizing social approval and revenue had brought me little of either. 

I thought the answer was to work harder, learn more! So, there I was, in another training program (MCT). But instead of learning how to build my business, Martha was inviting me into clarity about who I really am and dreaming big from there.

She wanted me to bring the life back into my coaching, to restore the interesting, chewy bits.

She wanted me to prioritize joy.

The Joy

Okay, then: my joy project would be a group coaching program based on the novel Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

Middlemarch lights me up. I love its heroine, Dorothea Brooke, like a soul friend. I identify with the way she struggles with her ambition and to be herself among people who find her a bit much. I aspire to be like the narrator: so warm, so wise, so witty. She makes me want to be a better person. I am a better person when I read Middlemarch. For me, the novel is akin to a companion for living: everything is in there, and it’s good.

I struggled for months to pull it together – how do you combine coaching with an 800-page novel? 

And then something magical happened: I realized I didn’t need the book anymore. I had extracted the juice: the heroine’s journey. My group coaching program would help soulful women (like Dorothea) fulfill their ambition and become the heroines of their own lives.

Reader, it worked. From that moment, the Be the Heroine program was a joy to develop, attractive to potential participants, and fun and easy to enroll. (I also created a separate group, a virtual book club, for reading Middlemarch and other inspiring books together).

Most importantly, the Be the Heroine group, now in its ninth month, has exceeded my expectations. The heroines are engaged and brave, they encourage and love each other, and they are getting things done! They inspire me every day.

When I prioritized joy, I found success – for me and my clients.

What Would Joy Do?

I have found more joys to pursue during the working day, such as going to group exercise classes, hiking, reading for pleasure, staring at clouds, watching birds and squirrels, strolling, and deep breathing. Before the joy experiment, I would have called these guilty pleasures, things I had to earn before enjoying. 

None of these has a direct line to revenue creation or social approval, and yet my business is growing month to month.

So, to plan 2023, I’m asking myself, “What would joy do?”

Joy certainly would continue and expand the Be the Heroine program, next year focusing on joy and inviting some new participants to join us! In this blog space in the coming months, I’ll be meditating on the other themes – such as spaciousness, ease, and self-trust – that have captured my imagination, that I’m considering for our Be the Heroine year, and sharing opportunities to join us.

What about you? What if joy were your only metric for success? I challenge you to run your own joy experiment and find out.

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