Last week I was taking a road trip with my mother. Hitting our sixth hour in the car, deep into the empty desert, she began speaking to me about a book she was reading called Never Cry Wolf – The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves.

Naturalist Farley Mowat’s account of wolf culture was eye opening. His assignment to investigate why wolves were killing Arctic caribou led to him spend months in the frozen tundra studying the wolf population and their habits.

We are told that wolves are vicious predators who eat all kinds of big game and livestock, who hunt little children (and Liam Neeson). Indeed, writes Mowat, we can thank the tale of little red riding hood for this unfortunate distorted lens through which we see these elegant creatures.

Mowat discovered that it had not been the wolves who were devouring the caribou, but the native hunters. In fact, wolves are of no threat to caribou or even man. What is the main food source for wolves? Mice.

Only occasionally, when the family of wolves needs to feast on something bigger, will they work to hunt a singular caribou, and only a weak, old or sick one at that, thereby assisting the health of the caribou herds. So through the culling of weak caribou and keeping the mice populations down, among a vast number of additional skills, wolves are an important part of the ecosystem.

“Did you know,” she continued in between bites of seasoned gourmet popcorn, our road trip culinary fare, “that these wolves live in tribal clans, each clan has a large specific territory. And these clans communicate to one another through various calls, to warn one another about either danger or food that might be travelling from one territory to another.”

“These clans actually,” she said, with amazement in her voice, “cooperate across borders to help one another.”

“Think,” she said emphatically, “if we all had been told a different fairy tale about a wolf; think, if we had known all these actual facts about wolves, how we might have learned something different from them about how to survive, and what a different world it might be.”

We drove silently for a while, each pondering the possibilities.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has always enlightened me in this way. She’s always cracked open the conventional cultural view, and revealed another option—one that was more whole, more kind, and more magical than the one everyone else was agreeing to.

My mother was my first spiritual teacher. In fact, my primary understanding of my relationship to the world was shaped by her maternal care. When I was an infant, she held me close, and responded to my cries. Rejecting the mothering fashion of the times, she breastfed. I learned early in those formative months, that the universe is a benevolent, caring, abundant place.

Later, she cultivated the soil of a meaningful life. When I was a graduating teen, she gave me my first ‘spiritual book’…The Prophet, of course. And later peppered my shelves with Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Alice Walker, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Mary Oliver, and other contemporary wise women.

When I was doubting myself, she lifted up what was certain about me. When I was feeling broken, she lifted up what was whole and unbroken. When I was failing, she leaned into what was succeeding. And when I was feeling alone, she revealed what was always near. It’s not that she treated me with a Pollyanna approach, it’s that she really saw  the ‘whole’ qualities about me, and simply chose to lean into those, rather than focus so much on the other things.

You could say that through her, I learned to see wholeness, that which cannot be broken, that which remains, regardless of what appears as flawed and dysfunctional.

But we live in a world that looks through another lens. A diagnostic, pathology-seeking culture, that sees what is broken, and attempts to make it whole by fixing it.

A college student feels fear and labels herself anxious. Then she seeks to repair the anxiety, rather than lifting up the new and bold steps she taking each day and understanding that fear is a natural response when one is being courageous.

A healthcare worker is becoming burnt out by experiencing all the illness and pain around him, but does not recognize that what is also happening is connection, love, tenderness and vulnerability.

I’m suggesting that there actually is wholeness inside every person, every moment, every situation, regardless of appearances.

Ironically, I’ve spent my life running from, and arguing with, this understanding. I’ve tried to convince most everyone I know how broken I am, how much farther I have to go, how much more I could do. I guess even though wholeness is our birthright, the ability to embrace it does not come for free.

Fast forward from those early years with my mother, I now spend my days lifting up what is already whole in others, and allowing that wholeness to have its proper dominion over their lives. The transformations in people’s lives we witness are astonishing.

So, speaking of wolves, there’s this well known Cherokee legend—you probably heard it—about the grandfather teaching his grandson a life lesson. It goes something like this:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.

What if focusing on all the ways we are broken, or damaged, or not enough, actually perpetuates it? My guess is that it does. In the name of healing, what if what we are doing is actually feeding that other wolf? My guess is that we are. In the name of creating good, we are actually ignoring what is already good, and perpetrating violence upon ourselves.

So, here’s my suggestion—a bold experiment, but what have we got to lose?

1. See what is whole and good in yourself— Spend some time in a quiet place where you can reflect upon and perhaps journal about your gifts. What is it that you offer the world and to your friends and beloveds? What are some of your amazing qualities? Allow yourself to just embrace them and have them, without the added mind-chatter about how it is not enough, or how the gifts still don’t outweigh all those other faults of yours. Give them the keys to the car. Forget the rest.

2. See what is whole and good in another— When you encounter someone, whether you know them well or not, pay attention to those things that rise to your awareness that you can appreciate. Do they move with grace? Do you see a twinkle behind their eyes? Do you feel safe and seen in their company?

3. See what is whole and good in your community and / or your business— One of my business mentors called me out on my own pathology-thinking the other day. I told her that the roles within our organization were ‘messy’. “Why would you call it ‘messy’?” she asked. “Instead try saying that your organization is ‘in its nascent stages and that each of you within in it are seeking clarity.’ This slight ‘quarter turn’ of the heart gave me a different appreciation of our challenges, and the nobility and dignity with which we were actually facing them.

When we put less weight and meaning on the things that seem not right, and lean into that ‘quarter turn’ of our heart that sees what is whole, beneath those appearances, a magical thing happens:

We become what we see.

I had dinner with a good friend the other day—a highly respected professional who is outstanding in her field. Over chips and salsa, she confided that after 25 years of living hand to mouth she finally enlisted the help of a business coach who helped her to organize a budget and review her cash flow. ‘As it turns out,’ she exclaimed in between bites, ‘I’ve been subsidizing my clients to the tune of about $23K a year, for years!’

Now, her clients do not need subsidizing. Most of them earn six to seven digit salaries, and besides, she is not running a non-profit (not deliberately anyway). And in addition, Maureen* is one of the finest mentors in her field that I know. When she works with someone for 60 minutes, they receive not time, but the culmination of all of her wisdom, experience and creativity that took her 35 years to accumulate.

Maureen’s situation is sadly common, especially among professional women who are freelancers or self-employed, and especially among those who are in the caring, mentoring or teaching field. The more I listen to people, the more I see some very uninformed relationships to money that undermine success. Not only that, it contributes to lack of abundance for everyone, not just the professionals, but their clients as well.

Let me confess here that I am only just learning better financial management, through the road of some very hard knocks. But I believe that my glacially slow awakening puts me in the unique position of being very close to appreciating how easy it is to remain inside unsustainable practices without realizing it.

First of all, we are not taught about money as kids. We are not taught about it at school, unless in college we take economics, which bypasses just every-day finance, or we entered business school. But most of us who are now self-employed professionals did not go to business school. Most of us were guided by our passions and created a business to serve that passion. And girls, more than boys, were denied conversations about finance even more, unless we had very enlightened parents.

Second of all, money is harder to talk about than sex. Our human relationship to money can be rational and logical, and it can also be complex and rife with symbolism and meaning, bringing up issues of guilt, hostility, terror, burden, resentment, abandonment, sadness and immense denial. It confronts our sense of self and others, and provokes confrontations internally and externally around power and worth. As author Kate Levinson writes, money is not only legal tender, it is emotional currency. Phew! No wonder we treat it like a hot potato!

We were not warned about how money represents value and self-worth and that the two often effect one another. If I don’t value what I do, then I won’t charge what I am worth, and people won’t value my work or my time, and I’ll consider that a justification of my lack of value. Round it goes.

In our ignorance we also tend to stay very in the ‘now’ about our finances. As long as ‘enough’ is coming in, we don’t feel the need to know anything else. It usually takes some kind of crisis to push us into financial wisdom—a health issue, an accident, a sudden economic downturn—something that pulls the rug out from underneath our usual stability.

And lastly, if we love what we do, and we are really passionate about our craft or service, then some of us unconsciously charge less than what we are worth, because we feel we gain so much just by doing it! We feel grateful nearly every day and it can be that some small part of us decides that we need to ‘pay back’ for the privilege of loving our work.

It can take years of doing business as usual before one begins to experience the consequences of poor money management. It can look like the balance sheet is working short term. But it isn’t. And often we don’t discover it until too late. Like water over stone, poor management gradually erodes sustainability.

So, I thought I would share some things I’ve recently learned, and with them wondered, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?’

How to charge for your services
If you are self-employed, a freelancer, and charge by the hour, it’s vital you know how to charge for your services. Once I learned this little formula, I understood why I too was subsidizing my clients, and why profit margins were eluding me. Here’s how it goes (with much thanks to one of my mentors, Gordon Hawthorne):

These are the things you want to include in your ‘hourly’ price:

• The coaching/professional fee on an hourly, session and daily basis—this is your actual hands-on time. Say you are $75 an hour.
• The facility fee – ie, a percentage of your actual operating costs, to be able to turn on the lights, walk into an office, studio or other work space, turn on your computer, answer the phone, etc. To do this, come up with a monthly ‘operational’ cost for yourself and then divide it by the number of hours you work each week. You’ll see how much it costs you per hour to operate. That cost should be passed on to your client.
• A prep fee is usually a percentage of your original hourly. It accounts for any kind of thought process or planning you may have done in preparation for your ‘hands on’ time. You might think of something between 10-20%, which is the time you spend preparing for the session or call and processing and documenting your work after.  In other words a 1.5hr session may actually be a 2hr session of your time in reality.
• Administrative fee is 5-9% of your hourly and goes to cover the cost of the back office such as a working student, your accountant, bookkeeper, assistant etc.
• Credit card fee – if clients pay with credit card / am ex is expensive – those percentages cost you and should be handed off to the client.
• The other aspect you need to build in is a ‘content’ fee.  This is where you begin to recoup the sweat equity and thought leadership you have put into developing and designing the core program or your ‘core’ work you’ve put into being able to do what you do (ie, all of your training, professional development, experience).  Again, just add a percentage, say 5 – 10 % of your hourly.

So, with this example, your hands-on hourly is $75.00. Lets say you work 30 hours a week and your operational costs are $1000 a week, divided by 30 is $33.00. I add that to my original hourly and get $108.00. Add prep fee of 10% is $7.50, now we are at $115.00, an administrative fee of 5% is $3.75, bringing us up to $118.75 and a content fee is another 5% ($3.75) totaling $122.50. $122.50 is my REAL hourly rate.

Don’t freak at the new number and tell yourself that you’ll now lower your original hands on hourly! Take a look at the market out there for others who are providing similar services. You can nudge your numbers a little to fit the market, but remember it’s not a problem that you are among the top 25% price-wise. People appreciate that kind of confidence, especially if the service you are providing is valuable. I’ve even had clients tell me that if I were in the lower 25%, they would not have even considered me.

For example, in Maureen’s case, one hour with her is the equivalent to two hours with another instructor, because of the depth of her knowledge. Find a way to position your service as different and know that taking care of yourself financially allows for the quality of your work to continue to improve and sustain.

I’m not suggesting you gouge your customers. Make sure you are worth your price by providing excellent customer service, being ahead of deadlines, and staying on the front lines of your craft. I’ve never had a legitimate client complain about my prices, because they know I’m worth it.

I am also not saying to offer services outside of your scope of excellence. Know yourself, know your work, and know where you have your gifts. This takes time, and honesty. But with women in particular, I find they more likely to underestimate their gifts, rather than over-estimate.

A freelance friend of mine once confided that he discovered he unconsciously kept his prices low so that ‘he wouldn’t be accountable for poor quality’. He wanted the right to be late, to not be present, to provide less-than-quality work—just in case. As it turns out, it was just a self-esteem issue for him. His work was in fact visionary, professional and consistent. But he was scared he couldn’t measure up, and keeping his prices low would hopefully prevent him from crashing against the rocks of others’ expectations.

The problem was that this set up a vicious cycle. His prices prevented him from being seen, and his clients were lazy and unaccountable, which kept his work at a certain mediocre level. When he turned it around, everyone stepped up to the plate and in turn everyone received more.

I hear many professional colleagues tell me that the reason they keep their prices low is ‘because they do not want to wear the expectations of others’. But over time I’ve decided that as a professional, I want those expectations! Those expectations put me on the edge of my game. And while it can be scary to say, ‘I can do this, and do it excellently’, it is much worse for everyone (you and your clients) to say subconsciously ‘I can’t.’

Boundaries around your time
If you charge by the hour then boundaries around that are important. Late cancellations, no shows, late payment and client tardiness require specific, clear policy. If your time is wasted because of a client’s choices or circumstances and there are no financial consequences, you are subsidizing their time with yours. There are some pretty standard practices out there you can find within client agreements in your field. Look around and steal their words if you like them and create a Letter of Agreement for your clients that clearly outline your policies. Then, stick with them. In spite of people not particularly feeling comfortable with such boundaries, especially if they have to wear the consequences, they feel safer and trust more those who are clear, consistent and not a push-over. They would after all require and expect that you are that way on their behalf as their hired professional.

But charging by the hour is just the tip of the iceberg.

You may soon discover that charging by the hour, over time, creates a financial glass ceiling for yourself. Because it does. The solution? Charge by the project. Mike McDerment, founder of Freshbooks writes, ‘I (used to run) a small design agency. I felt like I was on a treadmill, billing by the hour, and not earning as much as I thought I was worth.’ Read his great blog post about how he moved from an hourly price structure to a ‘value based’ one, billed by the project. I highly suggest you read his great easy-read (and free) book Breaking the Time Barrier here. It’ll take you about an hour to read, max.

Essentially, it works like this: first find out what the client actually needs, rather than starting with what you offer. Then create a proposal for the project based on those needs. When you charge by the project, rather than the hour, you are shifting your emphasis from selling your time, to selling your value to the client, and positioning your service as an investment rather than an expense.

This changes the way people value your work because you are working together to meet their specific needs. You stop seeing yourself as a punch card.

You are not a collection of hours, available for sale. You are a unique culmination of wisdom, creativity and skill. In this way, you no longer compete with other service providers on hourly price. Clients will stop seeing you as a commodity, someone with an hourly rate that they could compare to somebody else’s.

Getting help
If you are self-employed or a freelancer, the best thing you can do to support your success is to find a mentor. I have two! And they help me in very essential ways. Look around for somebody who is successfully working outside the box, whose values you respect, and from whom you really want to learn. Sometimes these angels are generous enough to give of their time because they are in a stage in their lives where they want to start passing on wisdom. Sometimes they are happy to work out some kind of a trade.

Check out your local SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives), an organization that provides free confidential mentoring.
When you value your work by supporting yourself with wise, sustainable financial practices, you create a virtuous circle that in turn encourages you to offer more value to your clients. You cultivate your knowledge to meet their expectations and needs, you rise up to expectations, and develop your work so that you are worth more. You attract clients that are willing to pay you for the value you deliver. The whole game then changes to a win-win model that perpetuates financial levity and success for both you and your clients.

I imagine a world where we can all be abundant, not just a few of us. Where what we offer our clients serves them to also have a more abundant life, and those they serve receive in kind, and that a new model of value, abundance and doing our best for each other is created.

*names have been changed

A friend of mine was having a really bad day. Imagine the worst day ever and multiply that by a thousand and you get the kind of day she was having.

Now, this friend is a profoundly wise person who runs a huge business in New York City. Additionally, she has had years of experience in meditation, contemplation and practice. In effect, she has courage, and she has muscle. She knows how to center herself, how to not take things personally, how to create right perspective and how to surrender. She knows how to be present in the here-and-now. She knows all the philosophical tactics to get over her suffering and return to wholeness. Basically, she could take anyone to the spiritual mat and my bucks would be on her.

But for reasons any normal person could understand, this day presented more than she could handle. It did. And she found herself at a café, crying uncontrollably into her double shot cappuccino. She had houseguests coming later that day, and like this she was ill prepared to meet them with any equanimity, much less hospitality.

She had to pull it together, and fast.

Sobbing, she called her husband, who implored her to call her dear friend, or call her spiritual director, or to come home and take a walk, maybe take a bath, and just find some peace again. She knew none of these things would work this time.

‘You know,’ she said to me dryly as she was recounting the story, ‘sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work.’

So, purse in hand, she bolted up from her table and headed straight for the local high-end cosmetic boutique, The Cos Bar.

She burst through the glass doors, the counters were teaming with customers trying on lipstick and examining eye pencil color palettes. A saleswoman spotted her instantly and met her half way.

Gesturing towards her tear-stained, world-weary face, my friend looked this saleswoman straight in the eyes and said simply,

‘Fix this.’

The saleswoman took my friend’s hands and slowly led her over to a chair in front of an enthusiastic display of various cosmetics.

‘Honey,’ said the kindly saleswoman, in that velvety southern drawl (that all cosmetic saleswomen seem to share), ‘everything’s going to be just fine.’

During the makeover, my friend and the kindly saleswoman discussed all manner of essential profundities such as Kim Novak’s much-discussed appearance at the Academy Awards, and whether or not Meryl Streep had had work done (she hadn’t, they concluded).

Five hundred dollars later, my friend was back on track. She walked out of The Cos Bar feeling centered, lighter and grounded. She was ready to move forward in clarity and strength.

In the words of my wise friend, yes, sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work. Don’t make the mistake of missing the depth of her choice, just because it appeared superficial. When a tool, any tool, serves wholeness, it is always sacred.

I think sometimes our philosophical, spiritual and religious concepts deny us the use of a lot of ways back in to wholeness, because they appear ‘unenlightened’. So we try to be ‘good’ and ‘wise’ and do all the right things and we’re still a mess, especially on those really-really-bad-times-a-thousand days. And we flounder and we don’t know why we can’t find our way.

In my friend’s story, I see a profound exchange — of vulnerability, of authenticity, of kindness and of wisdom. Who cares if eye shadow, lip-liner and concealer were the medium.

I’m going to toss you a gauntlet. How about you sit down and write a list of ten tools—really outrageous, indulgent, out-of-the-box ideas—that you know will help you get back to center. Then, you’ll have a list handy just for you when your having one of those ‘really-bad-times-a-thousand’ days, when nothing else works and you have to pull it together.

And please don’t write ‘meditation’ or ‘walking’…no, none of that wholesome saccharin sweet Hallmark stuff. I mean take a risk. Go ahead — go over to the dark side. It’ll be ok, I promise. I won’t tell anyone.

To get you started, I thought I’d share a few of mine.

1. Have sex (preferably with someone you love and trust, in my case, my beloved husband) — my body knows much better than my mind the way back to sanity. When my body leads and my mind has to hop in the back seat, I’m restored to where I need to be.

2. Dance — I play my iPod over my speakers, really loud, and dance like crazy — I have different playlists for different moods. I have sad playlists, angry playlists, joyful playlists, and earthy playlists. This gets me out of my head, and allows my body to process intense feelings.

3. Go shopping — just do it, and get over yourself about it. If I’m feeling broke, I go to thrift stores and go treasure hunting. One well-scored, three-dollar item is all it takes to make me happy.

4. Ride my horse — at a gallop. This helps me to feel unfettered. What ever your horse is, ride it at full tilt.

5. Buy music — the kind that is really speaking to me in that moment. This helps me to remember I am not alone.

6. Clean out a closet or drawer — I love throwing stuff away. Let me say it again. I really lovethrowing stuff away. It gives me great joy. Yes, ok, sometimes I’m politically correct about it and donate. But sometimes I just need to chuck it into a giant black trash bag and walk it ceremoniously out to the trash bin, and fling it in, and slam the lid down again. This helps me to feel unburdened.

7. Visit puppies at the animal shelter — I know, that sounds weird. But we’re lucky to have a no-kill shelter in my town. We also have several animal sanctuaries. Every dog and cat will have a home eventually. So I get to let my inner child lose in the puppy runs and have a ball. They remind me what is important.

8. Indulge in my favorite TV series — the darker the better as far as I’m concerned. Breaking Bad and True Detective really helps me find my heart again. Comedies also help, but again, darker is better (that’s just me). My favorite comedian? Louis CK of course.

9. Work on my business’ excel spreadsheets — there are rules to math and equations. Hanging out in that black and white world of rules and expected outcomes based on those rules helps me to feel safe again.

10. Drive in my car down the highway with the music as loud as possible — it feels like my very own private flying sanctuary. This helps me to feel free.

I recently spent time with my friend again. Life is still throwing her some heart-shredding challenges. But she’s finding new ways to keep her head above water; I can tell you they are downright unconventional. And they are working. She’s a blessing to be around. She’s radiant. And it isn’t just that new lipstick.