Understanding What You Have To Offer


I like to think of people as bottom-less reservoirs of unrealized potential. Sort of like Hermione's handbag in the Harry Potter stories. Her handbag is useful because literally everything can fit in it, from a complete camp site to a huge broad sword.

The reality is that most of us don't see ourselves this way ... as full of unrealized potential. 

We are not even sure we know what we can do well, much less the difference we can make every day.

In this post, we are going to change all that.

Do you have paper and pen handy?

You are going to want to write down some things as we go along.

Change and Transition

Change for most of us, today, is a way of life. It isn't always as we expect it either. In some cases, the change is just the slow decline of all that we thought was good and hopeful when we were younger.

You can see it when people talk about their work. It is something to endure. It is as if the job's purpose and their idealism left them a long time ago. They still get up every morning, drive to work, and go through the necessary activities to do the work. But, it isn't a happy picture of the good life for many people.

Add in a global recession that may become a way of life for many people, and it is easy to understand how we can lose touch with the things that matter. Especially the talent, the skills, the passion and the unrealized potential that is who we are. We carry them around inside of us everyday, just like the stuff in Hermione's handbag, that has the potential of enriching every place we touch,and every person we encounter every day.  

So what do you do when this is not your situation, like it happen to one of my friends, who found himself out of his dream job after 40 years, and is definitely not ready to retire?

These are two sides of the same coin. Both the person who has lost their passion and purpose for work, and the person whose work lost him, need to understand who they are, distinct enough from their workplace, so that a picture of their unrealized potential can begin to be drawn.

The first thing we need to determine is "What do I have to offer to the world?"

Say that to yourself.

What do I have to offer the world?

Say it out loud if you want, emphasizing the "doing" of the offer.

What do I have to offer the world?

Write the sentence down. Look at it again.Think of your hands open extended out in front of you. In your hands is what you have to offer. It is the gift that you give to people, organizations and places that makes a difference that matters.

Now imagine that every day you climb out of bed to offer to the world all the unrealized potential that you have been storing up in the Hermione's handbag of your life. 

We are, now, beginning see that our unrealized potential is not some abstract value, but something real that we have to offer. Something tangible that can make a real difference in the world. We are recognizing here that we have within our own abilities the power to bring change that creates goodness wherever I am, even at work.

To learn what we have to offer is a process of self-discovery. It leads to a realization of all that we have been storing away, out of sight, out of mind, down deep in Hermione's handbag all these years.  It is all we've learned, gained and developed in the way of knowledge and experience over the course of our lifetime.  The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
Five Questions

, I sat down with my friend who lost his job and talked him through the Five Questions That Every Person Must Ask.

After 40 years of doing the same job, it is understandable that we don't know really know what we know, and we need help getting down into Hermione's handbag to find out what we have to offer.

To understand this is to see that we are not what we do.

We are what we desire to change, the impact that becomes the validation of who we are.

This is what we offer, our gifts, talents, wisdom and experience to make a difference that is an expression of the very best of who we are.

Now, let's answer the Five Questions.


The first question asks what has changed. If you are out of a job, then the answer is easy. If you are at a dead end in the work you are currently doing, then you need to reflect a bit more on how things got this way.

It is important to see that our lives are a long progression of changes that has an inner logic. To see the rationale behind the changes in our lives is to understand how we are always in transition from where we were to where are going to be.

Write down what helps you to understand what this sequence of change looks like. It is a reference point for understanding what you've been going through. Keep what you write down, and the benefit of seeing this transition will grow over time.

If you are in a hard spot right now, go back in time as far as it takes to that point when you were happy in your work. Because when you were, you were fulfilling some of the unrealized potential that you have. Remember fulfillment is happiness.


It is a simple question. What is my impact?

It may be the hard to answer because it forces us to look at the world differently.

So, think in terms of what is the impact that you'd like to create? Put yourself back in your old job or back when you were the happiest in your work, and then ask, What is the impact that I had then?

Don't be too analytical. Keep it simple.

Who are you impacting?

You need two lists of people.

Create a list of those people whom you believe were impacted by your work and relationship with them.

Contact them to discover what it was that made the difference.

Create a list of people whom you know who can provide you connections to people and fields of work that are currently not open to you.

Follow these steps.

Ask, who do I know?

Ask, who do they know that I don't know that I need to know?

Contact your list to set up a conversation.

Share with them the impact that you'd like to achieve.

Ask them, who do you know that you think I should know?

Ask, are you willing to make an introduction for me?

Go to see these people, repeat the process.


When you go talk to people, don't go looking for a job. Go looking for an opportunity to make a difference with the assets that you bring to the business.

Think ... I'm looking for opportunities to create impact.

Your opportunities are not limited to the work and occupations that you have had in the past. By understanding what you offer, you can demonstrate how they can be applied in many more situations than you can imagine.

Obstacles / Problems

Let's be honest with ourselves. Often the loss of a job is the product of our own failure to do what we needed to do to stay current in our field or demonstrate the value of the impact that we bring to the company.  As a result, there may be obstacles or problems that stand in your way of fulfilling the opportunity that you see before you.

Don't sit around paralyzed by guilt and regret. Neither will bring the next job or the good life. Get to work on resolving the issues that hold you back so that you are prepared for the next opportunity to make a difference.

The Offering

Knowing what we have to offer the world is an important step of bringing fulfillment to the unrealized potential that fills our Hermione's handbag. What we have to offer is our gift. When we give it, the impact is magnified because the spirit of the gift strengthens the environment of the relationship and organization.

Our offering of service to create impact distinguishes us from those who are simply looking for a job. By giving of ourselves, we create the conditions for goodness to be realized for the companies and clients we serve, and for our own sense of well-being to be fulfilled.

The steps above are simple. Believing that we have something to offer is hard. I hope that this process is helpful. If you need more specific help, just let me know.

The future is local

I've been talking to people. Here's what I'm hearing about how they are handling the recession.

Fear, desperation and hunkering down are typical descriptions.  No confidence about the future. I've yet to talk to a person who either runs a business or owns one that believes the government's stimulus efforts will do much good.

Heard about a guy who bought rental property as a retirement investment. He's had to take a second job to pay the mortgage because his tenants have lost their jobs.

Heard a guy tell another about a long career with a company that started early in his life. He retired well and young, and now is having to think about going back to work because his investments are in such bad shape.

Read in a Tom Peters' post the other day a quote from Peggy Noonan. She first speaks about spread of pessimism.

This isn't like the stock market crash of 1987 or the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2001. People are not feeling passing anger or disappointment, they're feeling truly frightened.

The reasons:

This isn't stock market heebie-jeebies, it's systemic collapse.

It's not just here, it's global.

It's not only economic, but political. It wasn't only mortgage companies that acted up and acted out, so did our government, all the governments of the West, spending what they didn't have, for a decade at least.

And at the center of the drama is your house—its worth, or its ability to see you through retirement, or your ability to hold onto it. An extra added angst bonus: Those thinking now about retirement are just old enough to remember America before the abundance, before everyone was rich, rich being defined as plenty to eat, a stable place to live, and some left over for fun and pleasure. For them, the crash has released old memories. And it's spooking people.


Perhaps the biggest factor behind the new pessimism is the knowledge that the crisis is not only economic but political, that we'll have to change both cultures, economic and political, to turn the mess around. That's a tall order, and won't happen quickly. One thing for sure: Our political leaders for at least a decade, really more, have by and large been men and women who had fortunate lives, who always seemed to expect nice things to happen and happiness to occur. And so they could overspend, overcommit and overextend the military, and it would all turn out fine. They claimed to be quintessentially optimistic, but it was a cheap optimism, based more on sunny personal experience than any particular faith, and void of an understanding of how dark and gritty life can be, and has been for most of human history.

The crisis isn't just global, but local. It isn't just about the ability of large institutions, business and governmental ones, to foster trust and confidence. She is right this isn't a simple burp along the path towards prosperity. We are experiencing the first great systemic failure or collapse (as Kevin Kelly calls it) of the connected era. 

The Noonan quote that Peters selected. 

I end with a hunch that is not an unhappy one. Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone's garage, somebody's kitchen, as it did in the case of Messrs. Jobs and Wozniak. The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That's where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts.

My experience of working with people and their organizations they make the transitions of organizational change has shown me that attitude is an important factor in dealing with a crisis. Fear and desperation need to be replace with trust and confidence. Hunkering down isn't survival. It is burial. The future is local and it is collaborative.

The challenge we each face together is the recreation of a local business environment that supports innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. It doesn't start in Washington, or on Wall Street or at your state capital. It starts right where you are.

I end, as Noonan ended her column, believing that opportunities abound right now. They are not easy or simple, but they are there for people and business who are willing to put aside territorial privilege, act collaboratively and practice innovation and entrepreneurialism in their businesses and community organizations. 

There is great strength in every community waiting to be released. It is up to us. Let's begin the conversation that makes this happen.

How to make a transition that matters, with new afterword

Transition through Time

I've been talking about change as a process of transition for several years.   I'm not sure very many people  paid any attention to me, at least until now.  Now, they are seeing what I see, that growth during a recession requires a tremendous amount of energy.  We have to think differently, organize differently, have different expectations for our performance. We have to be open to adapting to the situation as it actually exists.

I was thinking about this while I read Dan Pink's latest posting.  He closes the post by saying,

The bottom line: In a downturn, everything’s up for grabs. More generally, place and time lose a lot of their meaning in an outsourced, automated age.

I'd say that place and time's value changes. They are still important. Here are two examples of what I'm  doing.

Five Questsions - Simple

1. I've created a presentation built around my Five Questions that can last from about ten minutes to four hours. In that presentation, I use these diagrams to help people think more clearly about their situations. I do a lot of the same things I do in longer projects, just in a shorter timeframe. So there's the time consideration. It means that I've shifted from a focus on a few projects of longer duration to shorter projects. 

2. I've also been talking with people about collaboration in their communities. There's the place consideration.  What I'm offering to do is help them organize a Lessons-in-Leadership like event with my Five Questions presentation on transitions as the keynote. The purpose is to come into a community, bring organizations together, inject some ideas, optimism and networking into a day when many people may be at the office reorganizing their files waiting for the phone to ring.

If everything is up for grabs as Dan suggests, then that means your past assumptions may be your greatest inhibitor to success.

Do you assume that leadership training for non-profits and commercial businesses should be separate?
Do you assume that business training can't be charitable?
Do you assume that your business can get by without an online presence?
Do you assume that you can control your public relations message?
Do you assume that customer relations is primarily about the transaction at the cash register?
Do you assume that online social networks have no place in your business?
Do you assume that all you need to do is cut costs and work harder to get through this recession?

I could go on. The reality is that each of us has to aggressively challenge every assumption that we've long held about the business we are in.

What are the keys?

1. Relationships last longer than customers.
2. Service is more important than the product.
3. Trust and transparency build loyal clients.
4. Adaptation opens up opportunities.
5. Leadership is in greater demand than ever before, and more absent that ever before.
6. Pricing is flexible.

The time to change is now.  Don't wait a month. If you need help, I'm here. We'll talk you through the diagrams, and help you figure out how you are going to make it. You may have a vision for where you want to be, but without a way to make the step-by-step transition to it, it is just a dream.

A Personal Afterword (2014)

I'm writing this five and a half years later. Little did I know that within six months of writing the above post that my consulting practice would have virtually gone away. Yet, opportunities abound as, slowly, new, smaller projects began to emerge.

Two years after this post, I transitioned from the state-wide, non-profit board, that I had served on since its inception six years prior, to become its Interim Executive Director with the primary task of conducting a state-wide fund raising campaign.

It was both an exhilariting and a painful experience. It was thrilling to see a vision for linking groups across the state of North Carolina for fund raising, training and support began to take shape. Confirmation of that vision came soon after we began as one donor made with a $500,000 commitment. The painful part came as the Board shut the project down as operating funds diminished, eventually leading to the closing of the organization. It was the first time in my career that I had been terminated from a job. A new learning experience that I'd rather not repeat.

Within a week though, I was asked to step in as the interim pastor of a Presbyterian church an hour from my home. Two years later I'm preparing to leave as venture into another time of transition.  The experience of leading a diverse congregation that had been through a painful season of staff departures reinforced the importance of the six keys listed above. I'm grateful for my time with these lovely, caring folks.

Five years later, the Five Questions resonate as the tool, above of all my diagramatic ones, that provides the greatest clarity and grounding in reality. Once again I am, like many people, in transition. The experience of the past five years has confirmed in me three values that are essential for all that I do, and will do in the future. They are,

Personal Integrity

A Personal Intimacy of Openness, Transparency and Trust

Practice Generosity, that align with Integrity and Intimacy.

My recommendation that you take a few moments and ask yourself the Five Questions. If the answers don't come, then print off this version of the diagram. Carry it around with you. Let the questions become a part of your everyday thought process. When reflecting of a situation, ask the questions. When planning an event using the questions as a projection into the future. The more you use them, the more you will see what you need to see before others do. All the best as you do.

Five Questions - Life-Work Transitions

Recession-proof Leadership

What should an organizational leader do when a recession hits their industry or their business?

In 2002, I went through a three month stretch with no work. It convinced me that many of my assumptions about what I was doing were wrong or not sustainable. So, I made changes. Lots of changes, and am still doing so six years later. I learned a lot during that time. Here's what I learned.

First, a recession is as much an attitude as it is a tightening of the economy. FEAR grips the nation as an economic recession begins to be talked about by the mainstream media.  Be careful about what you read and hear. Take pronouncements with a grain of salt. I'm not saying go into denial. I am saying don't let fear dictate your attitude and actions. 

Think of it this way.

Are their opportunities for me during a recession? There are always opportunities. The question is where are they? What sort of changes will I have to make to take advantage of these opportunities. Just remember, someone is always makes money during a recession. The question is how can your company.

To take this attitude requires you to fight fear and grasp a clear-sighted confidence about the future.

Second, if you are feeling this so are others. Talk about this with your employees. Develop a plan and commitment how you'll address the challenges that come.

Go to your clients and talk with them about what they plan to do. Do this early before they fall into the fear trap. Deepen your relationship with them so that when the recession is over, the relationship is stronger, and they become your greatest advocates for your business.

You aren't doing this because misery loves company. No, the reality is that you can't survive an economic down turn alone. You need clients and customers. They need them too. Talk about what is going to happen, and how you can support each other's business. You never know what sort of new opportunity may emerge.

Third, be aggressive in keeping your name in the public's eye. It may be time to take on a volunteer position that allows you to initiate new relationships with people. Be smart with you marketing dollar, but don't stop marketing. If you disappear, the public won't know, because they will have forgotten about you. When the public is constantly reminded that you are around during a recession, some of them will translate that impression to one of strength in connection to your business.

Fourth, manage your money well. If you need to take a loan or a line-of-credit out, do so before things get tight, and you are in a position of strength to make the decision. Do you homework, and establish your plans for repayment. Keep a clear eye on your bills. If you know that cash will not be on hand to pay a particular bill, call the company and tell them. They will work with you if you make the effort. After all they want your money.

Fifth, invest in a long-term strategic plan. I say this, not because this is part of what I do, but because when the recession ends there will be an increased level of demand, and you want to be prepared to take advantage of it. If a recession hits, think of it as a weekend retreat where you can take time to get your business house in order. Establish a plan of action for the next three years can give you all sorts of new areas to explore during the recession. Think of a recession as a correction in the system, and when it is over the system is healthy and you want to be ready to roll with it.

In summary, you have to look at a recession as an opportunity to regroup, rethink, repair, rework, renew and recommit to being at your best for your company. It starts with your attitude and it is translated in action in your relationships and in your future development plans.

If you have additional suggestions, offer them in the comments. They can be just the right help for someone.