Conscious Success

December 6th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

In the mid-2000s, most of my income came from advertising. The Google Adsense ads on my website were bringing in $9-10K per month, and it was totally passive income. I focused on writing new articles, and Google took care of selling and serving up the thousands of ads that were displayed each day. It was a pretty nice way to make money as a blogger.

In addition to Adsense, I also sold some ads direct, and I earned income from other ad networks too, although Adsense was by far the best one I tested.

Then one day in October 2008, I decided to stop hosting third-party ads altogether, including Adsense, as I explained in a blog post about dropping Adsense at that time.

The consequences were predictable. Overnight my income dropped significantly.

If I’d kept those ads running, it’s fair to say I’d have received at least an extra $300K in ad revenue since then — probably significantly more since my web traffic has gone up during the past 3 years. Google has undoubtedly continued to refine the Adsense program as well.

If I ever feel the urge to do so, I could easily restore these ads to my website. It wouldn’t take long — a few hours at most. And it would probably start bringing in an extra $10-15K per month.

Many people would consider my decision a foolish one. Some have told me as much.

But my vision of success is my own to nurture. It’s not for anyone else to decide. I intend to grow in the ways that matter most to me, not the ways that society tells me I’m supposed to care about.

Letting go of that $300K bought me a different path of growth than I would have otherwise experienced. It started with asking myself What kind of man do I really wish to be? and How far am I willing to go to become that man?

This soul-searching led to a cascade of other choices, including ending my marriage after being together for 15 years and making some significant lifestyle changes.

Of course I can never be sure what would have happened if I made different decisions — we only get to experience the results of the paths we take, not the ones we don’t — but I’m still pleased with the path I chose. In this case the ad-dropping decision remains easily reversible, but I don’t see cause to reverse it.

Life includes many tests that help us clarify our values. I could have come up with all kinds of reasons to justify why I should have kept taking the ad money and what I could have done on that path, but based on what I knew about myself and what I was already experiencing on that path, I concluded that a different path would be more authentic and empowering for me — but also more difficult.

One side effect of dropping advertising is that I finally started doing live workshops. I’ve done seven of them now, and I have two more coming up. But workshops produce active income, whereas advertising was passive income. I’d previously believed that passive income is always superior to income I have to keep actively earning. But I learned that having to earn income actively can help me grow faster, especially when I have to exercise my creativity to earn it; active income is more challenging, and challenge encourages growth.

When my life gets too easy, I like making things harder on myself because it stimulates more growth. I like getting up early. I like writing deep and insightful articles. I like pushing myself. I like having some pressure to take action. I like being challenged. I don’t want a life of ease and comfort.

I made the choices that I felt were best for me, and I balanced that decision with what I felt was best for others. I think my website is more usable and provides more value to people without all those ads. I also know that the workshops I’ve been doing are providing a lot of value to those who attend. I really like the business model I’m using today, even though it’s more challenging than other business models I’ve tried. Designing and delivering 3-day workshops stimulates a lot more growth in my life than watching ad revenue automatically plop into my bank account.

Society may nudge you to adopt certain values, but at the end of the day, you still have a choice. You can decide which values you’ll hold as sacred and which aren’t nearly as important to you.

Exploring different ways to make money can be an interesting challenge, but I hold my path of growth and how it affects others on a much higher plane.

Conscious success requires making choices to mold your character as you desire to be molded.

Sometimes your choices will receive the approval of others. Sometimes they won’t. Regardless of others’ reactions, do your best to stay true to yourself. Make the choices that allow you to look in the mirror and feel good about the person gazing back at you.

I’ve been thinking more deeply about what it means to succeed consciously as I prep for the Conscious Success Workshop in January. I see a lot of people struggling with fuzzy notions of success that are overly infected by assumptions that society has drilled into them. I know that many people feel pressured to improve their finances, and they worry that they may be sabotaging their success with limiting beliefs about money.

I’d like to suggest that perhaps it isn’t self-sabotage or laziness that’s getting in the way, but it could be a need to develop more clarity about your true values.

There are a lot of ways to potentially earn more money that I wouldn’t feel good about, so I don’t do them. Perhaps you’re in a similar situation.

On the other hand, there are ways to make money that I do feel good about. I feel great about selling workshop registrations, so I can be pretty shameless about that. When someone signs up for a workshop, it’s good for me, and it’s good for those who attend.

There’s a temptation to sacrifice your values to buy into someone else’s definition of success, but again you have the power to choose. At many personal growth seminars, for instance, there’s a big push to get you to spend more money on products in the back of the room. Some people earn more on product sales than they do on seminar registrations. In fact, BOR sales (BOR = back of room) is a common topic for pro speakers to discuss in organizations like the National Speakers Association. Speakers frequently share tips with each other on how to maximize BOR sales.

I don’t buy into this model though. It often creeps me out when speakers push for BOR sales so hard. It feels like they’re just trying to squeeze more money out of people who already paid to be there. Behind the scenes I know that speakers often calculate and track their BOR sales per attendee. Then they try to increase that number over time.

The only products I have for sale at my workshops are my books and Erin’s CDs, and they’re discounted. The main reason we do this is because some people want us to sign copies for them or to buy them as gifts. We don’t sell very much at all though. At the October workshop we did $100 total in product sales, just to give you an idea. In fact, one of those sales was to a conference center employee who was walking down the hall, saw our sign and got curious, and ended up buying one of my books. :)

It took me many years to figure out what conscious success means to me, and it’s still very much an ongoing process of discovery. I gradually learned that much of what is taught about success, achievement, and wealth just doesn’t resonate with me.

It’s nice to make money, but I prefer to earn it on my terms, even when it means earning less. I like making money from exercising my creativity, such as by writing and speaking. I like making money in ways that feel congruent to me, where more income equates to more value being provided to others. I feel better about earning money from workshop sign-ups than I do from seeing more clicks on third-party ads, for instance.

If you’re able to attend the Conscious Success Workshop next month, I think you’ll find it a very unique experience because it’s about understanding and achieving your own vision of success, not someone else’s.

As anyone who’s been to one of my previous workshops can attest, we create a special vibe at these events that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere. At the October workshop, for instance, I’d estimate that the average attendee received at least 5 hugs before they even made it to their seat at the start of Day 1 — from me, from Erin, from Rachelle, from KB, and from Shae. This doesn’t even include the hugs attendees often gave each other.

No one is going to force you to be hugged if you’d rather not be hugged, but I actually instruct our staff members to greet everyone by offering hugs. This isn’t for any manipulative purposes whatsoever. We do it because virtually everyone likes to be greeted in this way, and it feels good to us. It helps people feel very welcome and fosters an intimate, family-like atmosphere. I don’t know of any other success workshops where you can expect to be showered with warm hugs as soon as you arrive.

I share this because it’s another example of how we can define success on our own terms. Just because other people’s success seminars tend to have a vibe that’s more cold and calculating doesn’t mean we have to buy into that model. Whatever you don’t like about how society seems to be conditioning you to behave, you can say no to that. Then go do your own thing. I for one think American society is cold and disconnected enough already, and I want to help warm it up. I think we’re all better served by relating to each other as family as opposed to acting like strangers.

There’s a tendency to think of success in competitive terms, as if the point is to outperform other people. But that isn’t a very effective model. I think most people will experience far greater long-term success through cooperation, mutual support, and encouragement than they will through hard-hearted solo determination.

One tricky thing for me to figure out was how to create sales pages for my workshops that feel really good and congruent to me. I don’t like hard-sell tactics when someone tries to use them on me, nor do I like feeling that I’m being manipulated to buy something I don’t need. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel good to me to be shy about telling people about these workshops either. I know they help people, and so it would be lame not to encourage people to sign up.

In the summer when I launched some new workshops, I created very basic web pages for each of them. An example is the current page for the February Conscious Relationships Workshop. It’s a pretty simple page that’s mostly just a description of what people can expect to learn there.

My thinking in creating these pages wasn’t to try to sell people on new workshops but actually to get out of the way as much as possible. I wanted to give people a sense of what each workshop was about, but I didn’t want them basing their decision to attend on how persuasive I could be. I figured that it would be better for them to base their decision on whether or not they resonate with my work in general and if the topic appeals to them. That way we’d end up with a really good group of attendees who truly wanted to be there.

I was pleased to discover that these simple pages actually work just fine. Plenty of people have already signed up for each of the new workshops. And by and large, the people who’ve been signing up have been the right ones to attend.

But I still made some mistakes, and I’m continuing to calibrate my approach to feel more congruent to me.

For one, I used to offer a money-back guarantee on all my workshops. I discontinued that guarantee weeks ago. Of course it’s still going to be honored for anyone who signed up while it was in effect, but it isn’t something I’m willing to offer anymore.

I didn’t stop offering the guarantee for business reasons. Refund requests have always been minimal, so that wasn’t the issue. I don’t know if having a guarantee increased registrations overall. I didn’t have a guarantee for the first two workshops I did, and those were very well attended.

I realized that the way I was phrasing the guarantee was a mismatch for the kinds of people I wanted to attract. It was too far in the direction of trying to convince people to attend. My guarantee was based on my assuming 100% responsibility for people’s results, which in practice doesn’t make sense. Each workshop is a co-creative experience, and if people are showing up with less commitment because of that guarantee, that’s no good. I’m going to bring my A game to each event, but I also want other people to be fully committed as well.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I received a refund request from someone who didn’t claim to have a problem with the workshop at all. He just needed more money for rent, so he requested a refund as a convenient way to acquire some quick cash. I still honored his request, but it seriously creeped me out. That incident combined with a few other questionable requests convinced me to re-evaluate the decision to offer a money-back guarantee. I let the emotions of that incident subside, so I could make a clear-minded decision, and ultimately I concluded that it was the wrong approach for me.

Another thing I used to do was offer workshop scholarships to some people. I haven’t been advertising that fact because I don’t want to be inundated with freebie requests, but when I felt someone would benefit from the workshop and I knew that were very unlikely to attend due to financial issues, I’d offer them a free registration. Almost always when I made such offers, people took advantage of them.

In practice, however, this has been a mixed bag. Some people who were given free passes really appreciated it, put a lot of effort into the workshop, and got a lot of value out of it. That was nice to see. Unfortunately others utilized the freebies in ways I felt were hugely disrespectful. They’d show up late, skip out on key exercises, and not really take it seriously. They came to play.

So I’ve backed off from doing scholarships except in very rare cases, like with people I know very well and can absolutely trust to do their part. I don’t take freebie requests, so please don’t bother to ask.

My current approach to selling can be described as testing for resonance. This means that I seek to find the best matches for my workshops. As I see it, some people are really meant to be there. These people really resonate with the message of conscious growth, and they’re willing to put some effort into accelerating that process. Those are the people I want to work with.

Most of the material I’ve read about selling treats the process as one of persuading and convincing people to buy. But who actually likes to be convinced of anything they don’t already believe?

Testing for resonance makes a lot more sense to me. So I’ve been pondering how to do this with my workshop pages. I figured a good approach would be to simply write about the topic and share more thoughts about it, just like I do when writing new articles.

So a few weeks ago I rewrote the CSW web page to see how that approach felt to me. I wrote it to be more like a new article on success and achievement, not a sales page. I don’t think the workshop is even mentioned till about 2/3 of the way through. I mainly shared some personal stories about success and failure from my own life. My aim was to give you a better sense of my thinking about success and to see if that resonates with you. It’s only a small slice into the big picture, but I think it was a good slice to share. The page is much longer than the original version, but that’s because it’s long on content, not salesmanship.

On that page I also added some pics that I’ve never shared online before, namely copies of some of my college report cards.

Even if you know that you’re not going to attend CSW, I still encourage you to read that page if you’re interested in success since I do believe you’ll get some value from the content, especially if you’ve liked some of my other articles on the subject. If you don’t already resonate with the idea of coming to a workshop of mine, I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that page convincing you to attend.

Yet another area where I’ve been re-assessing the notion of conscious success is our discussion forums. I realized that I’ve been a bit lax as admin this year, and the standards for our community have been slipping a bit. Our rules haven’t changed, but our enforcement of those rules hasn’t been as consistent as it could be. Consequently we’ve been seeing a rise in problems like trolling, thread derailment, and members taking disrespectful jabs at each other. Some members have racked up a half-dozen warnings or more, when they really should have been banned months ago.

So recently I’ve been working with the mods to raise our standards when it comes to cutting members who can’t follow the rules as they agreed to do when they joined. Suffice it to say we’re going to be much more strict about it. Otherwise the community is at risk of drifting towards a juvenile stomping ground like so many other online forums. So if you’re active in that community and you sense a tightening of our standards, it’s not because our moderation team is ganging up on people. You can lay the blame for that on me. I want our community to continue to serve as a place where people come together to help each other grow and to offer positive support, and I want to our signal-to-noise ratio to stay high. For everyone else, there’s Facebook. ;)

This article itself could serve as an example of resonance testing. If the ideas I’ve shared here feel good to you, you’ll probably get a lot of value from one of my workshops, and you’re likely to make lots of new friends there who share a similar resonance.

On the other hand, if you’ve read this and think “meh… you’re an idiot for not taking the ad money,” then you’re probably less likely to be a good match for my workshops. So you can also label me an idiot for not wanting your money either. You probably wouldn’t be a good match for the other attendees either.

A key lesson I learned about success is: Sometimes we have to say no to the paths that don’t resonate with us, clearing them out of the way first, and only after that will the more congruent paths come forward and make themselves known. In other words, you may continue to attract mismatched approaches to success as long as you’re still tempted to pursue them. When you finally muster the strength to say no to those paths, then you can gain access to much better ones.

And yes, I really do feel good about shamelessly plugging my workshops… as long as I’m doing it in ways that align with my values. Convincing you to go isn’t the right approach. Testing to see if you’re the kind of person who totally belongs there does feel good, however.

Incidentally, the $100 early bird discount for CSW is still good for one more week. I’m not going to extend it beyond that since we already have enough people signed up to guarantee a vibrant weekend, and from past experience I know that a lot of people sign up in the final week before the discount expires.


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