More than a decade ago, Tama Kieves walked away from a profitable career as a Harvard-trained lawyer to follow the more uncertain path of author and speaker. She knew following her passion was the right thing to do, and she regrets nothing. She just wishes someone had warned her that embracing her true calling would make her miserable on occasion.
“Even with a calling, there are difficulties and challenges. So many people get thwacked while they’re following their passion,” Kieves says.
Walking away from a “safe” career, which she chronicled in her first book, This Time I Dance!, was one thing; battling doubts as she strove to “wildly succeed” was quite another. What Kieves learned—and is still learning—is that just because you do what you love doesn’t mean you won’t be haunted by your own personal Failure Troll who spends his time whispering confidence-destroying invectives in your ear. Kieves was ecstatic to learn “there are creative people who are making a living [being creative],” and she became one of them when she left her corporate law firm behind and found success with her first book. But that didn’t guarantee peace of mind.
“A voice inside said, ‘You’re failing because you haven’t achieved more. You haven’t been on Oprah!’ I kept thinking I must be doing something wrong,” she says. “That insecurity—thinking there was a ‘right’ way to make it—was one of my biggest limitations.”
The hard-won lesson she came away with was that although she wasn’t making money or building a following in what she calls a “linear” fashion—with targeted marketing or a quantifiable business plan—she was still building success her own way.
“I was going out on the road to promote my book and not ‘making money,’ but I was building energy, making connections, and building my own confidence. All my trips have paid off eventually in more ways than I ever imagined.”
In her energetic, funny, and self-deprecating way, Kieves recalls the time she kept a speaking engagement even though there were only six people in the audience. She should have been disappointed that traveling and spending this time on the workshop didn’t net her a significant profit. Years later, however, she was approached by an event planner to lead a retreat at Canyon Ranch in Arizona, a “dream location” for her. It turned out the person who invited her was one of the six people in that small audience.
“The universe always has openings, as long as we don’t shut down and stop listening,” she says.
Kieves says she’s also learned—again, the hard way—that the traditional method of achieving success, and of evaluating it, is long gone. The left-brain approach—promoting herself and her business relentlessly, being a ruthless businessperson—isn’t the only way.
“The bottom line is a flat line. Financial security is not the only measure of success now,” she says. “I had to redefine the success I already had. There were all these experts telling me I had to run around doing all these different things to market myself, to maximize my exposure, and it nearly drove me crazy. I’m not the Anthony Robbins, ‘make it happen, force it’ kind of person. My personal mission is to give legitimacy to the right-brain [more creative and holistic] approach.”
So Kieves did what she does best—wrote a book about it. Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work! (September 2012, Tarcher/Penguin) is about not only following your passion, but doing it your way. Kieves uses her frustrations with her efforts to achieve her own success as the basis for her narrative; she shares her personal experiences, including her failures, without sugar-coating them, to let readers know it wasn’t all smooth sailing for her, either.
“One woman came up to me after a workshop and said, ‘What I love about you is you’re so f***ed up.’ I won’t write what I haven’t lived,” she says. “Inspired & Unstoppable is about the importance of living your calling and staying inspired while you’re doing what you love. People may be doing what they love, but they feel like they’re failing Self Help 101. They think they're doing it wrong. In a sense, it’s ‘now what?’ But that is the path. And it’s the most exciting adventure you can have in your lifetime.”
The middle road
Traditional business books, Kieves says, focus only on the concrete and tell you to do too much; readers who follow the formulaic “seven easy steps” but end up falling short of massive success anyway, might give up on their dreams entirely. Conversely, self-help books that take an overly simplistic spiritual approach leave her cold. “Just hold this crystal? Really? What do I tell the electric company in the meantime?”
Instead, she takes the middle road. “My approach is reverent, deeply spiritual, but grounded and practical. I wrote what I wanted to read.”
Kieves’ approach is to get people to “veer away from the experts and tap their inner genius. It takes courage to discover your own way to succeed,” she says, “but it’s necessary. Every success I’ve had was because I did my own thing. Other people were dictating how I should behave in order to succeed. But part of following your true calling, your spiritual path, is to listen to your own instinct and see where it takes you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to others, but you should only follow their advice if it feels right for you. I listened to others [when I went into law], and it almost killed me.”
Kieves vows never to make that mistake again. Part of her calling is to help others get to the same place—to think independently and trust themselves. “There are so many talented, amazing, sensitive geniuses who have something in them uniquely theirs. When they follow their inner voice and are inspired, they flourish. There are no doubts. There’s none of this ‘I should be doing …’”
Getting people to trust their instinct is “the work,” Kieves says. She leads A Course in Miracles workshops, and her coaching is based on those tenets. “My goal is to help people stop listening to that other voice, which is louder and more obnoxious. That voice is the one out in the world telling you what to do and how to do it. It sets us up for failure. ‘Who are you? What makes you think you’re so special?’ It’s fear that stops us from listening to our instinct. We think we’re being practical [when we’re really ignoring our greatest chance of success],” she says.
It’s especially important for the new members of her audience to learn this, she says. “I’m seeing so many new people at my workshops. People who wouldn’t have been there five years ago. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of uncertainty. The 30-years-in-one-job track isn’t there any longer.”
The Age of Inspiration
Now that the economy has pushed so many people out of their traditional jobs and forced them to find a new way of living, she says, “people have to follow their dreams because there’s nothing else to do. The traditional is gone. The universe is saying, ‘Come on over, honey.’ We’re all being pushed into the new world. Our whole world has changed from the Age of Information to the Age of Inspiration.”
So the audience members who are already on some mission—writers, speakers, coaches who want to make a difference in the world—are now joined by many traditional, “practical” professionals who suddenly find themselves disenchanted with the working world.
“They want out of the corporate world. They want to open a cupcake shop, or they want to travel to India. They relate to me because I’ve been where they are. I’m the bridge—I know both worlds. Of course,” she laughs, “sometimes they resist the change. They say, ‘But the money [in my traditional job], the health benefits …’ I say, ‘I’m glad you’ve got those cushy health benefits, because you’re going to need them [if you stay in a job that’s killing you].’”
The one thing all the attendees have in common, whether they’re creative types or former professionals who suddenly find themselves without a job and a pension, is the dreams they nurture. “I see people in their 70s, in their 80s, who say, ‘I’ve always wanted to write’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to sing.’ The dream stays. It’s still there.” And it’s those dreams that Kieves wants everyone to follow.
While she helps the practical-minded dream a little bigger, she helps ground the creative types so they can achieve success. “I speak to professional artists and healers who have always struggled. I have to get them to take their calling seriously and represent themselves. They may be talented, but I want to help them find their courage and conviction for taking their talent into the world. Overall, I give permission to people who feel like misfits; I show them they’re geniuses.”
Kieves is most excited by the people who embrace the new reality without a second thought: young adults. “Young people in particular aren’t buying into the notion of a traditional method of success. They’re not buying into the ‘promise’ that if they work for decades at one job and put money in the bank, they’re a success and will be financially secure for the rest of their lives. They know security is now found in multiple streams of income, in following their passion, and they’re adept at this. It’s exciting to see them—they’re custom-made for these times.”
Part of the new economy, Kieves says, is the greater desire for community, even outside our geographical boundaries. “So many of us are in transition, and the worst thing we can do is leave ourselves alone with our own minds [and negative thoughts].” To that end, Kieves embraces social media like Facebook (www.Facebook.com/TamaKieves) and has an extensive website (www.TamaKieves.com) to keep her geniuses inspired and to foster togetherness in a virtual community.
What people are not looking for any longer, Kieves says, is old-fashioned spiritual guidance from the mountaintop. No one has the time or resources to be a weekend spiritual warrior nowadays, she says. Instead, they’re looking for ways to incorporate the spiritual into their everyday lives.
“I see it in my audiences—they start out jaded, skeptical. They’ve had enough of motivational speakers. It’s a backlash. They’re looking for authenticity. They’re hungering for advice on how to live this. ‘Tell me about when you did this and failed.’ It’s like with Eat, Pray, Love—the shared vulnerability along with the wisdom. We need teachers who can get in the mud. We don’t have time to go to an ashram or a mountaintop. We want to know how to touch the light and pay the bills.”
This is where body-mind-spirit shop owners come in, she says, as they can connect with people who want to establish a more spiritual way of living on a daily basis. “I respect shop owners so much. They’re on the front lines, feeding people’s minds and souls,” Kieves says. “They’re living a calling and taking it into the world.”
The challenge store owners face, Kieves says, is to keep their passion alive every day, to carry on during the current economic pinch. “The work here is to avoid shutting down your heart. When you stop the flow, you stop the excitement, and that causes failure. Trust your path, pay attention to your desires.”
When it comes to advice on how to run their shops, however, Kieves cautions, “Don’t listen to the experts [who only talk about traditional ways of improving the bottom line]. Listen deeply to your own brilliant inner voice instead—your way could be totally different from the way ‘it’s always been done.’ Remember why you started the shop—to make a difference. Focus on what you feel you’re meant to do. Focus on being in the moment, loving your customers. When you stir up great energy, you become a ‘mojo magnet.’ That’s the practice.”
Above all, she says, the goal is to stay inspired. That outlook is what keeps her going, even when she’s facing one of her own down times, when her spirit is low and she starts doubting herself—because she still has those moments, even with the success she has achieved.
“I’m not wildly happy all the time, but I’m at peace because I’m following my passion, doing my life’s work. If the plane I’m on goes down, that’s OK. I’m doing what I came here to do. Wild success isn’t defined by possessions, but by doing the right thing with your time on Earth now. You have to find your meaning and your purpose. In times of economic uncertainty, following your true passion is the greatest security. You’ll succeed because it’s your true calling. Good times or tough times, you’re on the most important journey of your life.”
First published in Vol. 26 No. 4 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.