When you run a small business, there are a lot of competing demands and needs in front of you. And what looms the biggest are your clients. As one of our own clients calls them: "My 800lb gorilla clients."
And when they need help, you jump. Because you need them, yes. But also because you really care.
If someone were drowning in front of you, everything else would fall out of focus. Suddenly, all the trivial little things really are trivial, and you drop everything to help this poor soul who is going down for the third time. If you don't act right now, and forget about everything else, they'll be gone, and all that will be left to do is write the eulogy and attend the funeral.
Your business is here to serve others. Your clients need the help, sometimes desperately. They are hurt, they are struggling, they are depending on you. And, they're paying you money. Of course they come first.
Just like emergency workers, you're here to help.
Uh, no. That's not right. The client always comes last.
The patient is the fourth priority.
We were sitting there in our white shirts, and the instructor at the front of the room was saying to us: "No! That's not right. The patient always comes last."
I, along with the rest of my paramedic class, was shocked. Last? The patient comes last? I thought the whole point of being a paramedic was to take care of the patient.
"First priority is you. The second priority is your partner. The third priority is other emergency workers. And the fourth priority is the patient. Because if the helpers are hurt, what happens next? And if you make it through the call, but then need to go out of service, then we have an ambulance offline until we get someone else in, which could take hours."
You've heard some version of this a thousand times, but something about sitting in that paramedic class really helped it sink in for me.
And, years later, I found that there is a spiritual teaching that supports this. It's called 'The Sequence of Connection.'
The Sequence of Connection.
Nearly every spiritual path I've encountered talks about how to experience and live in the Oneness of Reality, and then, from Oneness, from wholeness, from unity, be in service to the many. Some call it being a boddhisatva, some call it 'enlightenment', others call it 'Christ Consciousness.'
Whatever you call it, the elements are the same. And, since I'm a Sufi, I'll talk about it from the Sufi perspective.
The first step in the sequence of connection is 'know thyself.' Taking the time, attention, and consciousness to know your strengths, your weaknesses, who you are, how you feel, what you know.
The second step is 'annihilation.' At least, that's the fun word in Sufism. It's about then surrendering those known parts of your ego, of your limited self, and letting go of attachment and ownership. This happens through connection to the Divine, Source, That Which Is, The Real, God, Allah, HaShem. Whatever insufficient name one uses, we're talking about the Big Reality.
The third step is 'subsistence' or 'the return.' This is when the ego has been cleaned completely, and the enlightened one brings attention and consciousness back to Divine service here in the world.
Of course, all of that is a tall order. People spend decades of their life in spiritual practice, only to receive little tastes of this.
Luckily you don't need to be enlightened in order to put it into action on a daily basis in your business.
The client is the third priority.
Next time a client, or anyone in relationship with your business, asks you for something, take a moment to reflect. Even if they are in terrible, immediate need, my paramedic instructor told us: "There's always time to take your own pulse."
First, check in with yourself. How are you feeling, physically and emotionally?
Then, take a breath and even two seconds of spiritual practice, such as the Remembrance I describe in my free workbook or whatever practicing or centering practice you do. Remember your Divine Source, and that the buck doesn't stop with you.
Finally, finally, turn your attention to the person in front of you and their request. Suddenly, it's a little easier to face it, without dropping everything you're doing.
But, that seems like quite a long process. Meanwhile, the person is sitting in front of you, watching all of these weird contortions on your face... can you speed it up a bit? How does it really work?
Keys to Not Drowning with Your Clients.
• Practice before you're in the hot seat.
Think about a request someone made of you recently that had you forgetting your own needs. Let the experience of their asking you be real for you again- recall the strong emotions.
Now, take as much time as you need in the privacy of your own office, to go through the Sequence of Connection. How do you feel? Make space for that first. Then, take time in your heart to connect to the Divine with Remembrance or other practice.
Finally, in your mind, turn back to the person and their request. How does it all look? With practice, you can get this whole sequence down within the space of two or three breaths, especially with issues that are less "hot."
• At first, or with big issues, it is going to take some time.
If the initial two or three breaths are stretching out towards twenty breaths of silence, you can ask for more time to decide.
No joke- out of every 100 emergency calls I responded to as a medic, 95 of them were not truly life-or-death. Meaning, if we hadn't arrived until the next day, things would've been fine, medically speaking.
It's okay to honor yourself, and take time to decide before responding.
• True emergencies will become obvious.
As you take more time, and use the Sequence of Connection more consistently in your responses, then you'll become more practiced at discerning true emergencies, from situations that just have a lot of charged emotional content.
Over time, you'll notice that emergencies don't seem so urgent, and you'll have a better track record of making a decision that truly honors all involved.
I'm begging you: please don't put your clients first. Use the Sequence of Connection, and start giving yourself some more spaciousness in your business. And with that spaciousness, don't be surprised if you see more opportunities to grow and expand.
How about you? Have you been handling client demands at the expense of yourself?