Shortly after I left my full-time job for solopreneurship, my son bought a book for me.
He had never done this before, but debate camp was nearly over. Buying something for me in the university bookstore justified using my credit card to buy himself a souvenir shot glass.
His book choice—10% Happier by the journalist Dan Harris—was prescient.
Before leaving for the summer, Leo had admitted his biggest fear about my new life: that I might get soft.
I understood his concern. During a decade as a single mom, my drive had put a pretty nice roof over our heads. It might soon cover his car insurance. But after 20 years at the 24/7 mercy of university crises, I wanted to set my own schedule. Chase good snow on a Wednesday.
Harris's book—advertised as part-science, part-memoir, part self-help—promised that it’s possible to feel less stress without losing one’s edge.
“Mom,” Leo said, “You’re already way more than 10% happier, but I thought you might like this.”
Fast forward six months. I have a few clients and Flamingo Strategies has a few bucks in the bank. I'm happier and more driven.
What powers me now is my need to draw out and share the truest 10% of any story.
That’s the incremental narrative that is revealed after the 90% that’s obvious, or automatic, or has been written or said before.
It’s the 10% beyond the superficial stories we tell at cocktail parties.
It’s the 10% we discover when we leave our story groove and reconsider.
It’s the 10% of the sales pitch we omit, when we shout that our product is distinctive, our service is infallible, and you’ll be empty and alone if you don’t join our tribe.
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Confessions of an Admissions Officer (behind paywall, but worth the fee), reminded me how much university narrative is rooted in the safe 90%.
But Jason England, now a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University, took the leap. He wrote about the impossibility of evaluating candidates honestly and fairly. For three years he had tried. But, he wrote, the system, “makes participants complicit by necessity, despite our best intentions.”
I could relate.
Though I’ve never been in a position to decide the fate of applicants, I have definitely been complicit in prioritizing what England called "hackneyed talking points" over fresh and true language that might, one day, make the system 10% healthier.
Working with willing clients, I will try 10% harder. The onus is, at least in part, on storytellers like me to help shape a new, truer, narrative. To do that, everyone has to get real.
And not just about our work.
I’ve been coaching a few individual clients who want to write stories about their lives. I tell them the real satisfaction will come when they access the 10% of the story they’ve never told before. When they go beyond the pat telling that ties their story in a neat little bow.
How do we do that?
How can we be 10% truer? 10% more vulnerable? 10% more open?
For me, it begins by knowing every day that there IS another 10%. And holding myself accountable to it.
Going that extra 10% will definitely make us more than 10% more uncomfortable.
But it will matter even more in the long run.