I knew they didn’t align with my values — but I wanted the client
As the founder and CEO of Bite-Size Workshops, Toby Goldstein delivers emotional intelligence focused (EQ) workshops and seminars to schools, businesses, and corporations. By identifying inefficiencies within the company, then teaching the “soft skills” necessary to close those gaps, she helps companies become more productive and successful.
IF you’d stop by my home office, you’d probably notice plants dotting the room (I love greenery), the rows of books on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (I’m a chronic reader), and the oversized coffee mug that has a permanent place of honor on my desk. And there, hanging on the wall in big, bold print, you’d see my “Values List.” What is it, why is it there, and why do I need to see it every single day?
Because I can’t forget who I am.
Those values didn’t get their place on the wall right from the get-go. It took a big wake-up moment for me to realize that I needed to see this list in front of me. Every single day.
The Soft Touch
Ten years ago, I founded “Bite-Size Workshops,” where I help founders, CEOs, and managers develop the soft skills needed to create success in the workplace. I had come to realize that EQ skills — active listening, communication, time-management — were the ones that got people promotions, put them in management positions, and catapulted them to success, while others, perhaps with much higher IQs, were left behind.
But while most businesses hire coaches to help them improve numbers and implement strategies, many companies neglect to focus on the people who drive the company and the skills that help them succeed. That’s where I come in. Through workshops, coaching, and full-day seminars, I help businesses grow and expand with small “soft skill” changes that make all the difference.
One day, I’m sitting in my office working on the curriculum for an upcoming workshop, when I get a call from company X. They were asking me to come on board to help the entire team improve their communication and productivity.
Company X was a prestigious company, one that I thought would look good in my portfolio. The scope of the project was significantly larger than any other I had taken on, and I was excited at the prospect of working with such a high-level client.
For a moment, something niggled at me. A small voice whispered, “Toby, this company doesn’t match your values.”
I speak to all of my clients about values — they define you as a company, determine whom you hire, and inform which “red lines” you place in your business. I practiced what I preached, and I actually had my values written down on a paper in my drawer.
One example is, “I do work that changes others’ lives.” Did company X share that value? It was clear on the phone call that this wasn’t the case. They were bringing me in because they needed to have evidence that they were working with someone, not because they actually desired real change.
Another one of my values is, “I work with people who are kind, communicative, and respectful.” That, too, didn’t check out.
So yes, I had my values down pat, written on a paper in my drawer. But that was exactly the problem… they were buried deep in the drawer. So I quieted down the little inner whisper and pushed it away — because I wanted to work with this company.
For six months, I worked with company X, making little headway, but convincing myself it was “worth it” for the financial gain and brand recognition.
Until my other clients found out.
I’ll never forget when the CEO of company Y, a person I respected and appreciated, called me over to a quiet office one day. His company had experienced tremendous growth since I’d been brought in, and I was sure he wanted to compliment my work or discuss an upcoming workshop. But instead, what he said filled me with shame.
“I’ve known you for a while, Toby, and I just heard that you’re working with company X. Their reputation is well-known, and it’s a bit surprising to me that you’d work with such a client.”
Ouch. I had overridden my values, and I was being called out on it — by a client I really liked and respected.
Then came the punchline.
“I just want you to know,” he continued, “that I was recently sitting with a networking group with two other friends, who are both your clients as well. One of them said, ‘Did you hear that Bite-Size Workshops is working with company X?’ All of us were shocked.”
That was like a painful punch. Three high-level companies I enjoyed working with and highly respected were disappointed to hear that I took on company X? The shame and embarrassment I felt was acute. And not because they disapproved, but because they were right — I had overridden my values to work with company X, and it didn’t fit with who I truly was. I had let down people whom I held in high esteem, and more than that, I had let myself down too.
I heard my inner voice saying, “When you compromise on your values, you will always lose.” And this time, though it was hard to face that voice, I knew it spoke the truth.
So I gathered my courage and had a hard conversation with the owner of company X, telling him that I’d no longer be able to work together. It wasn’t my reputation I was trying to protect; it was my values I needed to uphold. Trying to suppress them because of the allure of the company name and project scope was a mistake I wasn’t willing to continue.
It wasn’t comfortable. At all. And it was definitely embarrassing to face my three clients who all knew I had walked back on my standards. But the experience also gave me something precious and invaluable — a rock-solid dedication to the principles I hold dear and an ironclad unwillingness to compromise on them, no matter how alluring the gain.
What I’d tell my younger self:
I’d ask her just one question: “Toby, is this really what you want, and is this who you truly are?” Because if it isn’t, you will only lose by compromising your core values.
It’s hard to have the courage to ask ourselves difficult questions when exciting opportunities come up. We have an urge to just “go for it.” And sometimes, in doing so, we ignore red flags that should have alerted us to the fact that a specific opportunity is not in line with what we stand for.
Nowadays, I ask myself some honest questions before jumping into anything:
“Does this reflect who you are?”
“Are you fully comfortable with this direction?”
“Is money more important than the value that’s at stake?”
Your values determine how you view the world. Your values determine what you believe in. Your values determine who you are.
Recently, I got an offer to speak at a large conference on a topic I truly enjoy. But speaking with the director, I realized that he and I did not share the same values, and that attending this particular conference as a speaker would be out of alignment with who I am.
Rather than answering him on the spot, I took some time to sit down, do some reflection, and ask myself some hard questions. Once I looked at my core values in relation to this opportunity, it was very clear that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to take.
I said no with calm, equanimity, and pride in who I am.
There will always be more opportunities that come your way. But a value, once crossed and blurred, is a lot harder to reestablish. And who I am is worth more to me than any money in the world.
I loved Toby’s story, as it brought to life something I’ve seen many times in my work.
Entrepreneurs usually have passion. You have to, if you’re going to be able to forge ahead despite the challenges and setbacks along the way. Many entrepreneurs are doing something they feel strongly about and enjoy the work — or at least the results.
So why is it that so many entrepreneurs hit burnout so quickly? How is it that something they felt so passionate about in the past can’t motivate them anymore?
One of the major reasons entrepreneurs encounter burnout is when they feel out of alignment with their highest values. When they’ve subtly crossed their value lines so many times that their current reality no longer matches up with their core values, they’ll face strong feelings of disillusionment.
The process happens so slowly, it’s hard to perceive its actual progression. A client’s request will infringe on a core value… but you feel you must make this client happy; what choice do you have? Or an opportunity will come up that clearly puts you out of alignment with a principal you hold dear… but an opportunity like this doesn’t come around every day; how can you say no?
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, your business — and life — can start deviating from your core values.
Until one day you wake up, look at your life, and think, “I went into business because I wanted something for my life — why does it seem like my business is actually taking me away from the life I want?” And then the burnout, disillusionment, and lack of fulfillment kicks in.
How can we avoid a process that’s so subtle and “under the radar?” Stephen Covey’s second habit of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states, “begin with the end in mind” — think about where you’re going before you embark on the journey. If you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how to get there.
When you clearly define why you’re doing this in the first place, what goals you’re trying to reach, and what your core values are, you have a clear path to travel on. You won’t be easily swayed by the circumstances that come your way, and you’ll be able to create a business and life that is truly in alignment with what is most important to you… and that brings you the fulfillment, joy, and purpose you were going for all along.
Fay Dworetsky is a mindset coach who helps women work from the inside-out to open up to so much more possibility, expansion, and abundance — both in their businesses and in their lives.
Least favorite business chore:
data entry — it’s just not for me!
anything outdoors! Every summer we visit a different state.
One aspect of business I never expected:
When you own a business, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. If work is overwhelming, it will affect your home life and vice versa. Know that it is OK, and work with it instead of fighting it.
Funniest thing that happened to me at work
I once gave a workshop to a group of executives, and only deep into the workshop was I told that I was in the wrong conference room! The executives had said nothing, all the while listening eagerly to the workshop and taking copious notes.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 810)
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