Are You Looking For Solutions? Or Sympathy?

by Annie

in motivate schmotivate, ruthless productivity

Cup of tea viewed from above So, you’re overwhelmed.

You’re face-to-face with an Everest-sized mountain of to-do’s and emails and projects that have slipped off-course.

Your inbox and voice mail are flooded with messages from clients and colleagues, asking with ever-increasing levels of frustration “where is that thing you promised to do??”

You feel desperation creeping in, and it sucks.

Literally, it sucks the life and energy right out of you.

No matter how hard you try – no matter how much you plan and no matter how hard or long you work – you’re continually putting out fires instead of building your business.

You want to get back on track.

You’re a good person. You have integrity.

It feels like an emotional cancer eating away at you, this awareness that you haven’t fulfilled your obligations.

Honey, I get it.

But here’s my question to you: What is that you’re really looking for right now?

Are you looking for solutions? Or are you looking for sympathy?

Getting Clear On What You Need to Cope With Overwhelm

Let’s get one thing straight: there is no one right answer. 

Also, there is no wrong answer.

Whatever you’re really after right now — it’s OK to want that, and not the other thing.

We are all human. (I’m assuming.) We all, therefore, have very human needs — emotional needs, as well as physical and financial needs.

And if that’s where you are right now — if what you need is someone to prop you up a little, tell you it’s going to be OK, that you are a good person, that you can and will figure a way through — that’s perfectly fine. 

And you should go ask for what you need from someone close to you. Your significant other. Your BFF. Your dog. (Cats and goldfish, not so good for this purpose, I find. Cats can really do a number on your self-esteem when you’re low, and goldfish? SO not into cuddling.)

But sugarplum, cupcake (can you tell I’m a little hungry right now?) — at some point, if you want to move through this awfulness to the other side, you’re going to have to start looking for solutions. 

And that’s where I come in. Maybe.

Solutions — Not Sympathy

One of the things I insist on, before I work with anyone, is that they take advantage of my one-free-half-hour-coaching-call offer first.

The reason is simple: I might not be the best person to help you through your quandary. And you might not be the right client for me.

That freebie 30-minute call lets us both audition each other. And that’s a good thing.

But here’s what I need you to know before you rush to take me up on that free call: I don’t do sympathy. 

I’m not saying I’m cold or heartless. Actually, quite the opposite. Anyone who has watched 13 Going on 30 or Deep Impact with me will testify: I’m firmly in the “wuss” camp. I feel for just about anyone going through a tough time.

But that’s empathy – which is a very different thing.

What I have found is that if I try to fulfill a client’s need for sympathy, I end up not being very effective at helping them chart and complete a course of action to solve their problems.

So, I’m not gonna let you blather and blubber on. I will gently stop you and ask, “Are you ready to fix the problem?”

And there’s no wrong answer. Maybe you’re just not ready for solutions yet.

That’s totally fine. Call me when you are.

How the Free Coaching Calls Work

  1. Fill out this contact form. Say something like “Yo, woman, I’d like my freebie.” Send it.
  2. I will email you back and ask you a few questions, aimed at clarifying what your biggest challenge is with respect to productivity, your biz, your life, etc., and figuring out a good time for our call.
  3. You reply.
  4. We schedule the call.
  5. At the appropriate time, I call you.
  6. I help you figure out how to solve your problem.
  7. You go solve it.

The Fine-Print My Lawyer Made Me Include

  • One call per person
  • I don’t do medical or legal advice.
  • I am not a therapist.
  • That’s …. pretty much it, actually.

And Now, For Something Completely Different Yet Still Relevant …

My friend Tea Silvestre of The Word Chef recently conducted a massive survey of solopreneurs and freelancer types. She wanted to find out what they thought worked for them, what didn’t, and what was standing in their way …

And to no one’s surprise, the #1 identified challenge to successful marketing?

Time management.

Now, y’all know how I feel about that phrase “time management.” But, bygones – it’s how we think of that process of deciding how we put our time to best use, so I’ll capitulate and use it, too.

Tea’s results don’t surprise me at all — take a look at this handy-dandy infographic she cooked up:

”Solopreneurs[Source: The Word Chef]

Pretty freakin’ cool, and enlightening, don’t you think?

With that knowledge – that over 40% of the 1,000+ respondents said their biggest challenge to successful marketing was time management – it got me thinking:

It’s time to cowgirl up.

You know.

Put my money where my mouth is.

Or, more accurately in this case, my writing where my mouth is.

Yup. I once more took up the ebook project that I had so much trouble wrestling into submission last year. And to my surprise, this time around, the ideas are just flowing like Niagara. A veritable deluge of ideas. Practical, do-able, implement-able ideas that WILL, by God, save your sanity and maybe your business, too.

And it’s coming. Very, very soon.

If you want in on that, then sign up to be one of the first to get access. You can also leave a comment to this post and just check that little box that asks whether you want to subscribe as you do – it’s that easy.

I’ll be sending out just-for-the-list-subscribers info, excerpts, tips, and exercises over the next few weeks that will not be available on this blog. You’ll also get access to some goodies I’m whipping up to accompany the ebook when it’s finally available for purchase as well as a “head’s up” when the publication date rolls around.

And In Conclusion May I Add That You Are Awesome?

So – to wrap this shindig up:

  1. Sympathy: nothing wrong with needing a little, now and then.
  2. I am not your best bet for sympathy.
  3. am, however, your woman for workable solutions.
  4. Free half-hour coaching call – super-easy. Sign up here.
  5. You’re not alone. Tea’s survey tells you this.
  6. The Pajama Productivity ebook on getting your shit done is coming! Sign up here for all the good stuff.
  7. I want a cupcake.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle July 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm

PREACH! You know I totally gotcha back on this one, about the sympathy vs. solutions. I think that all service professionals run in to this to some extent, but I imagine those who work in productivity/time management (not a fan of that phrase either) feels must run in to it more than usual. (Could be my bias, of course!) After a lot of trial and error, I had to get *really* clear in conversations with potential clients about what I will & won’t do. If we work together, we’ll get things done; but you *have to* hold up your end of the bargain.

There is nothing more frustrating than client who doesn’t want to take action, but just wants to complain about how overwhelmed and frustrated they are, and be given a pat on the head and a cookie. I can’t do it. Like you, I’m not a cold-hearted person by nature, by any means (I love puppies and snuggles, ask anyone!), but I can’t do the sympathy-huggy-cookie thing. Just CANNOT. (I’m also not a babysitter or a hand-holder.) A client being willing to take action is as important to me (probably more, as far as job satisfaction goes, haha) as them being able and willing to pay me.

I think this is something that doesn’t get talked about enough, actually, when it comes to service professionals – there’s a really great line in the Referral Engine by John Jantsch (sp, Duct Tape Marketing guy) where he says that in his view, one of the things that separates mediocre service providers from top-tier service providers is the ability/willingness of a service provider to hold their clients accountable. After all, if your clients aren’t taking your work together seriously, that doesn’t exactly compel you to take it seriously.
Michelle recently posted..What a Las Vegas kiosk can teach us about tools + systems


Annie July 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm

YES, exactly, Michelle. Love John Jantsch by the way – and yes, accountability is a huge part of it. But there’s just so much emotional baggage wrapped up in productivity that I think a lot of folks just don’t understand – both folks like us who work in the field, and individuals like our clients who just want to get their shit done. There’s this emotional, psychological overlay that makes the whole process much more complex. There’s nothing wrong with that – it doesn’t make you weak, or less-than anybody else. It just makes you human. But you cannot live in that emotional turmoil. You can’t get anything done in that state. You have to be willing to just gently lay it aside and move through it. And what you and I do — helping folks move through it by keeping their eyes on the prize(s), so to speak — is not counseling, not hand-holding, and not-possible if we’re also serving in that sympathy role.


Nick Armstrong July 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm


Having some skin in the game (the 30 minute consultation) is so important. It shows your clients that you mean business, although it’s prone for abuse.

I’m interested to see how this works out for you! 😀
Nick Armstrong recently posted..#$%!: a Guide to Profanity in your Messaging


Annie July 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hey Nick! Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, too! I can plan ’til the cows come home, but this is an interactive thing, so at some level we’re all engaged in one long intellectual improv exercise.


Nicole Fende July 16, 2012 at 1:18 am

I agree with you Annie & with Michelle’s comments. (Love John too BTW). I often have to play the “heavy” and require accountability. In the end you either make a profit or you don’t (unless of course you have Enron style accounting). I find that if I mix it in with humor things go better.
Nicole Fende recently posted..Stop Playing Coffee Shops, Start Playing Stadiums


Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca July 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

Awesome stuff, Annie!

I love how you clarify the difference between sympathy and empathy. 🙂

I also love how the post took a different turn and looked at Tea’s (oh-so-awesome) marketing info-graphic.

A lot of love went into making that 🙂

Interesting, that you have a history with the term time-management, because I do too — and now I study Time Abundance, instead 😉
Jason “J-Ryze” Fonceca recently posted..Flying High On Travel & Collaboration


Tanja @ Crystal Clarity August 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

So the lovely Michelle at Let’s Radiate just linked me to this post, and I have to say… WOW. We were discussing branding, and she linked through to your page as a great example of how to let people know whether they’re you’re right fit by telling them who a *wrong* fit would be up front.

Firstly, I want to say that I think this post does that perfectly. Just so you know, I’m taking notes and learning from it for my own website!

Secondly, your messaging spoke to me pretty directly too: the blend of compassion and “here’s the deal” pragmatism resonated just right for me. If I wasn’t already working with entirely too many people right now, I’d be on that 30min coaching call like a shot. As it is, I’ve signed up for your newsletter, and look forward to contacting you some time down the track when the timing’s better.

Really glad I’ve discovered you, and I look forward to reading more 🙂



Annie August 17, 2012 at 9:20 am

Awesome sauce, Tanja! Happy to meet you – any friend of Michelle’s is a friend of mine!


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