selma_pirateI mentioned on Friday that I’ve been playing with fire with metaphors and that now I am a pirate queen. With a monkey.

So I promised you some back-story. Because that was kind of a weird thing to say, even for me.

And the reason you should read this (other than confirming any suspicion you might have that I am completely mad) is that it’s a pretty good demonstration of the power of words.

And the power of changing them.

Also, I am a huge proponent of what I call goofball-marketing (where you make money through giving yourself permission to be your creative, nutty self while letting your freak flag fly).*

*Naomi refers to this as “letting the universe pay you for being awesome”, which I love.

And really, what better way to embody the principles of goofballery than to replace one’s business team with a pirate crew? Right? Exactly.

Transitions. (Sung to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof)

So yeah. I hired the brilliant and kooky Cairene to force me to help me restructure some of the systems in my business.

It’s phenomenal. Especially given just how much resistance I have to so many different aspects of this process.

Life-changingly great, is all I’m saying. She really, really gets how hard it is for me to be a right-brained person with a left-brained team, and how hard it is for them to put up with me.

But then last week she pointed out that I despise the word “team” and yet keep using it.

She also pointed out (somewhat wryly, I might add) that I’d just taught an exceptionally fantastic class like, two days before on the topic of … wait for it … rewriting metaphors.

Fine. Fine.

From team to pirate crew …

I figured out what I don’t like about having a “team”.

It has all these little associated bits under the surface that just bug me. Sports analogies, for one.

Also it just kind of smacks of corporate horribleness. You know, those awful, embarrassing team-building exercises that you read about in business books.

Some of my ideal qualities for the new thing-which-is-not-a-team:

+ support
+ movement
+ direction
+ flow
+ cooperation
+ I get to be in charge but I don’t have to manage things.

It seemed like … maybe a boat of some sort. A vessel. With a crew.

I liked that. But it also seemed kind of boring. Plus, what about things like — tfu tfu tfu — storms and capsizing and mutiny? Scurvy?

Clearly, we also needed some other characteristics.


+ goofy
+ different (marching to beat of own drummer)
+ independent
+ adventure
+ success
+ where’s my monkey?!

Clearly this had to be a pirate crew.

And then I knew exactly what needed to happen.

The genius thing about metaphors is they fill in the blanks.

Because everything falls into place when you have the right metaphor.

For example, all of a sudden I knew the role of everybody in my business:

Havi: the crazy but mostly lovable captain … aka The Pirate Queen
Selma the duck: the parrot
Peggy (formerly Head VA): the Cook … because we can’t live without her.
Marissa (formerly my personal assistant): First Mate
Richard (formerly my designer): Chief Engineer and also the guy who shimmies up the mast and fixes things and yells “land ahoy!”
Cairene (formerly systems-coach): Navigation Expert and resident witch
Charlie (formerly Charlie): Some guy we kidnapped who knows a lot about maps

Looking at this it became obvious to me that what I really need is something like a second mate. Someone to do some of Marissa’s work.

I looked it up (yay, Wikipedia!) and here’s what I learned:

A second mate is almost always a watchstander. In port and at sea, the second mate is responsible to the captain for keeping the ship, its crew, and its cargo safe for eight hours each day.

That’s exactly what I need. A watchstander. And then I found one. Which is really cool.

And I knew what could change and what didn’t need to.

I’d been thinking that we needed to make a bunch of huge structural changes.

But once we’d stumbled onto that one metaphorical change, the energy shifted.

And everything felt better and it also seemed as though a lot of things could just stay where they were, with slightly different names.

I wrote a letter to my pirate crew, giving them permission to wear a lot of black. And letting them know that our VA Checklist System is now Havi’s Pirate Crew Code of the Seas (Pirate Manual and Pirate Systems).

And all the things I never used to look at because they were labeled “VA Team”?

They’re now officially referred to as Pirate Crew! Arrr. Which makes going to work way more fun.

Also, the people on my team ship now say things like “Important note for Captain Havi” or “Don’t forget that the Pirate Queen hates making phone calls so make sure you do x, y and z before you make her call someone”.


New Rule: If you don’t check off your action items in Basecamp when you’re finished with them, you will be forced to walk the plank! Arrr!!


I need to go work on my pirate dance now, if you don’t mind.

Yes, the Pirate Queen is very polite today.

Except for the part where I run around yelling “Where’s my monkey?!

Anyway, that’s it for now.

And here’s the Twitter version of this post:

Words = powerful. Metaphors = useful. Business can (and should be) fun as hell because otherwise, what’s the point? Also: where’s my monkey?

The Fluent Self