(Or: how not to name your business)
I made the somewhat rash promise yesterday that I’d tell you all about how The Fluent Self came to be called The Fluent Self.
This should really be an Ask Havi post but I can’t be bothered to dredge up a hundred emails asking how come I started a business or how come my business is called The Fluent Self.
As far as popular questions go, it’s probably number three, right after “What’s with the duck?” and “Can you fix all my problems?”.
A little background.
We have to go back some years. I was living in Berlin.
And I was a teacher. Leading change-yer-life-ey workshops on how using yoga concepts and techniques to do things like … quit smoking, or teach yourself foreign languages, or have a healthy relationship to your body.
And then, “on the side”, I taught actual physical yoga. In Hebrew. To a group of fellow expats and some jewish-culture-obsessed Germans.
Looking back, I’d have to say it was one of the most interesting periods of my life. For many reasons, but especially because it was a time of huge mental, emotional and spiritual growth, both in terms of challenges and breakthroughs.
Including downloading an entire system of self-fluency in a series of very intense meditations. Which even I thought was kinda nuts.
It wasn’t clear to me at all whether I was giving birth to something or receiving something, but there it was:
A complete system of self-learning and self-work that you could pretty much use to solve, heal or work through basically any problem or issue the world could throw at you. Scary stuff!
Of course I had no idea how completely useless this was in terms of actually making a living … but that’s
another story another hilarious “don’t try this at home, kids” disaster learning experience for another day. The point is, my life felt pretty exciting.
Man, it was great. I was learning and processing so much, and the teaching felt like it was my calling, and for the first time in my life it was like I had a mission. And I was living it. And it had a name.
I’m sorry, it’s just too embarrassing.
So I was teaching this system, and it had a ridiculous name that I thought was just the most perfect thing in the history of names.
Someone will out me eventually, I’m sure. But it’s just too embarrassing lame to type out loud.
That’s not the point, though. The point is, I was in love with it. And I was about to have business card and flyers and a website launch, all with this perfect, perfect name, all on the same day.
It was a big deal, too, because I was poor. Like, “these are my last twenty euros” poor.
And two things were going on.
One, I knew that I couldn’t take another winter in Berlin. Especially not in a semi-abandoned building where the only heat in the cavernous, high-ceilinged rooms came from persnickety, attention-sucking coal-fired furnaces.
Two, I’d had a dream. A series of dreams. And they’d said, very specifically, that I needed to go to San Francisco because that’s where the next step was.
(Which, in case you’re wondering, turned out to be a very good bit of advice, seeing as I fell in love a couple of days after I landed. Thanks, weird dream people.)
Anyway, I needed money if I was going to be able to buy a plane ticket to San Francisco and start living my mission and all that. And I had a plan. One plan. All my sad, scared eggs in a tiny little basket.
This was my (incredibly naive and stupid) plan:
I’d realized that even though I loved teaching my system, it was only the Dance of Shiva workshops (my wacky brain training work) that were paying the rent.
So I set up a series of September workshops, this is 2005 we’re talking about, and planned to promote them with flyers at a big festival.
But what about a website? My ex had just arrived from Israel and needed to turn out a website design super-fast for his graphic design school portfolio. I was the perfect guinea pig.
The website would feature my workshops and the flyers would feature the website, and this weekend festival was going to fund my next adventure. Or else!
It had to work. Because otherwise I was spending another winter in east Berlin, tripping over heroin junkies on my stairs. Plus, it was my mission!
I’d checked out the domain name I wanted and yep, it was available. But then …. thanks to a combination of not-very-good advice and my lack of what I would now call “cashflow”, we waited until the very last minute to grab it.
The name I wanted had been taken. Not available. Gone.
I was sitting in a smoky internet cafe full of loud Turkish teenagers, staring at the computer, completely in shock.
My business name was taken. And not just taken. Taken by pseudo-spiritual, highly branded corporate training bullshit. It looked like something you’d see in Yoga Journal, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
Ugh. I was upset and anxious and terrified. It was — and here’s where things tie into yesterday’s post — a roadblock. A terrifying, impossibly impassible roadblock.
I already had flyers and cards! The website was all designed and had the name — my name, as I thought of it — plastered all over it.
It seemed like the perfect time to pitch a fit and then figure out a way to pay for another winter’s worth of coal.
But then I remembered self-fluency: Bringing quiet loving attention to whatever I’m experiencing, legitimacy to the feelings, being present with worry-doubt-frustration without being impressed by it. Letting myself be pissed off. Reminding myself that I can get quiet again and feel the next step.
And I remembered what my teacher in Israel used to say:
Kol ma shenegdi ashlaya. Everything that is against me is an illusion.
It wasn’t that I necessarily believed her, but I found a measure of bitter-sweet, ironic comfort in the idea that something which seems like a terrible thing is probably not real. Or that I’m just looking at it the wrong way.
And I started to laugh.
Engaging the roadblock.
It was late at night. My ex agreed to rework the site the next day, in time for the festival — and he and my sweet, generous friends decided to make me new flyers and cards. Yay friends!
But first — I needed to come up with a new name. A name even better than what I’d lost, which I was sure was the most perfect name ever. With fewer than eight hours to do it, and I needed to get some sleep.
For the full effect, let me sketch you a quick picture of this scene:
It’s me and Keren, my best friend from Israel, and we’re sitting at the kitchen table with paper and crayons, brainstorming.
Keren’s German girlfriend is there too, she’s smart, funny, stunningly beautiful, and six feet tall (not counting the mohawk), and Henry/Antonia, our erratic drag king diva roommate. And Selma, my duck.
A pot of tea for me, and a couple of bottles of wine for everyone else.
We’re scribbling down every single word we can come up with that relates even vaguely to who I am, what I do, what it means and how I do it. And nothing. We’ve got nothing that doesn’t mostly suck.
I’m out of luck. Except I have one last card.
You can always go inside.
When in doubt, take a nap. It was bedtime. But first I needed to spend some time in entry. Meeting this exhaustion and anxiety.
I talked to myself. I talked about fear. And love. And the things I wanted to accomplish. And sat with myself quietly for about fifteen minutes.
And then I said, “Hey, deep internal guidance and smartnesses! Help a girl out. I’m going to sleep now. Do me a favor and engage whatever unconscious abilities you have, okay? Because I really need a name by tomorrow morning.”
Next morning, there it was. The Fluent Self.
This is not the point.
I did actually fill all my workshops thanks to those flyers at the festival, and the right people visiting the website. I made a modest chunk of money, and made it to San Francisco.
And along the way it also hit me that I’d have to get good at business fast if I was ever going to spread the stuff I teach, and help people.
There are all sorts of “lessons” someone could take from this, some more relevant than others.
But the thing that sticks out for me from this experience is not “think positive” or anything boring like that.
Here’s what I get from all of this:
1. Not every roadblock is a roadblock.
Or at least, it helps to keep in mind that sometimes something that seems like a block is actually the best thing that can happen to you.*
* Those people who “took” my “perfect” name? No one has heard from them since. Just saying.
2. The thing you need most is inside you.
Or put it this way if you prefer: Spending more time drawing on your internal resources of strength, knowledge and compassion is always a good thing. Always.
3. Help is there and available, even when it’s really hard to find.
Maybe it’s inside you. Maybe it’s your wonderful friends pooling their own meager funds to help you out. Maybe it’s in a dream. Maybe it’s in a meditation. Maybe it’s in a story or a blog post. I don’t know — but it’s there.
The better you get at asking for help, the better you get at receiving it.
I told you it was a long story.
Hope you liked it. Or that it’s at least helpful the next time a roadblock shows up.
I’m definitely lingering with my finger over the publish button today, wondering if sharing this story wasn’t actually a horrible idea, but time will tell. What the hell. Enjoy!