The Greater Good

When I was a waiter my bosses always wanted me to “upsell.” This is the practice of talking customers into buying an appetizer they hadn’t ordered or recommending the Australian lobster tail rather than the halibut. It makes a certain sense from a business standpoint. We were a fine dining restaurant and wanted to “maximize sales” on each table. From a waiter’s standpoint it made sense also: the higher my sales, the more tips I’d make.

Yet I refused to upsell. I focused instead on helping the customers have the best possible experience they could have. I believed that if they felt as though I were trying to squeeze an extra few bucks out of them, they would feel more used than cared for. I reasoned that I could make just as much money by caring more about service than sales.

I did not know it then, but I was getting a glimpse into a dynamic that is always at play in every business arrangement – even writing. Namely, an individual’s needs versus society’s needs. Customers, or society, don’t give two figs about the restaurant’s bottom line. Customers want to enjoy themselves. A business, meanwhile, wants to make money. Whether I’m waiting tables, running a restaurant, or selling books, it can seem sometimes as though my only focus is extracting as much money from other people as possible, so that I can go on living and writing.

In a way, my choice not to upsell was a kind of experiment. What if, I reasoned, the customer’s needs could be my own? What if there was no difference between what I needed and what other people needed? As it happens, the more I focused just on service and not on sales, the more money I made. It was a happy arrangement.

But if I’m honest, the choice not to upsell served my most immediate needs as well. I didn’t like how it felt when I tried to sell rather than serve. It felt dishonest. Service, meanwhile, always felt good. After all, I was a human first and a waiter second, just as the people I was serving were humans first and customers second. Service became a means of connecting on a human level rather than a commercial level.

I started having success as a writer when I saw it as service, not sales. Instead of asking what I could write that could get someone to buy what I’d written, I asked myself what I would most like to share with other people. What if the kind of story that uplifted me, that served my life, might serve others? You already know how this story ends, because you already know that we all meet each other in our shared desire to know life as an act of love.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Service

My brother works in Hollywood, which in certain ways isn’t all that different from publishing, but in one way is significantly different than publishing – money. I’m not saying you can’t get rich writing books – indeed I’ve met many writers who have – but success in television and film almost always translates to a level of financial wealth not known by every successful novelist.

Money is great, but its potential can sometimes distract you from the job at hand, which regardless of your medium is always telling the story you most want to tell. The other night my brother was playing poker with a new group of pals. It wasn’t going well. The stakes weren’t high, but he was in the hole and playing poorly. After another bad hand, he realized he wasn’t even enjoying himself. Why bother, if there’s no pleasure?

He got up from the table for a short break. As he stood outside he realized he was only playing for himself. He was only playing so he could walk away with twenty extra dollars, so that he could win not just cash but these men’s approval. It meant nothing. So he told himself a story. He decided he was no longer playing for himself but for his new girlfriend’s children’s college fund. He sat back at the table and was immediately dealt a near-perfect hand. Before long he was back in the black.

He did not know it at the time, but he had discovered a fundamental truth of all artistic endeavors: that every work of art, that every story ever told, should be in service to something greater than the Small You, the you who needs a roof over your head and the approval of others. And by service I do not mean the sort of altruism my brother concocted that night, though that is fine. Rather the understanding that you write to share whatever you believe is of value.

Once upon a time you were not a working writer. Once upon a time you merely loved to read. One day you read a book, and you were transported. What a gift! Why, it was as if the writer had told this story just for you. Remember how glad you were on that day that such a book existed? You are writing now, in part, to offer such a moment to another reader like yourself, another reader you will probably never meet. This is service. Do not doubt for a moment that the world is a slightly richer place when you offer it the gem of a story you discovered in yourself.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Time To Serve

When I was still waiting tables, I worked with a friend who had been at the waiting gig as long as I had and had wanted to get out of it for as long as I had. Having finally gotten married, quit drugs, and had a few kids, his attentions settled enough that he discovered his own small internet business. It was not a get-rich-quick kind of business, however, and he would report to me daily on the sales he did or did not make that morning.

His wife worked in the restaurant also, and one evening before dinner shift she came running into the kitchen where I was cutting butter. “Bill,” she said. “He wants to quit. He says he can’t take it anymore. Talk to him. He’ll listen to you. Please talk to him.”

I understood her panic. They had a new house and two small children. The business was still in its infancy. But no one had ever asked me to talk to someone in this way. It was one thing to do it theoretically, but another thing to do it in a moment of crisis. On this evening, however, I did not have time to doubt myself. In another moment there was my friend, full of his impatience and frustration and fear that what he wanted would never come.

“Listen,” I told him. “You’ve just planted this thing. You’re watering it and watering it and it’s growing. You quit now, and it will be like trying to harvest grain that isn’t mature. Don’t worry. It’s all growing. It’s growing every day, but sometimes it grows so slowly you don’t even notice it. But it is growing and it will be what you want it to be.”

He did not quit that day and his wife came to me later in the evening and thanked me. But I should have thanked her. In talking to my friend I had to first go to a place within me I was frequently searching for myself. Only there could I find what needed to be said.

I told my friend’s wife not to worry, that he would be fine, and went out onto the floor to serve – a calling, I was beginning to understand, I would never actually quit.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Service

My brother works in Hollywood, which in certain ways isn’t all that different from publishing, but in one way is significantly different than publishing – money. I’m not saying you can’t get rich writing books – indeed I’ve met many writers who have – but success in television and film almost always translates to a level of financial wealth not known by every successful novelist.

Money is great, but its potential can sometimes distract you from the job at hand, which regardless of your medium is always telling the story you most want to tell. The other night my brother was playing poker with a new group of pals. It wasn’t going well. The stakes weren’t high, but he was in the hole and playing poorly. After another bad hand, he realized he wasn’t even enjoying himself. Why bother if there’s no pleasure?

He got up from the table for a short break. As he stood outside he realized he was only playing for himself. He was only playing so he could walk away with twenty extra dollars, so that he could win not just cash but these men’s approval. It meant nothing. So he told himself a story. He decided he was no longer playing for himself but for his new girlfriend’s children’s college fund. He sat back at the table and was immediately dealt a near-perfect hand. Before long he was back in the black.

He did not know it at the time, but he had discovered a fundamental truth of all artistic endeavors: that every work of art, that every story ever told, should be in service to something greater than the Small You, the you who needs a roof over your head and the approval of others. And by service I do not mean the sort of altruism my brother concocted that night, though that is fine; rather the understanding that you write to share whatever you believe is of value.

Once upon a time you were not a working writer. Once upon a time you merely loved to read. One day you read a book, and you were transported. What a gift! Why, it was as if the writer had told this story just for you. Remember how glad you were on that day that such a book existed? You are writing now, in part, to offer such a moment to another reader like yourself, another reader you will probably never meet. This is service. Do not doubt for a moment that the world is a slightly richer place when you offer it the gem of a story you discovered in yourself.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Another Light

Many lives follow a similar arc, the middle of which often involves a dramatic reevaluation of what the first forty or so years was all about and how the next forty years should be spent. The answer to this question frequently includes service of some kind, the beautiful paradox that the best way to fulfill yourself is to be of use to another.

My first real girlfriend and I disagreed on a number of things, one of which was that I was not interested in joining any causes. This was the early eighties, and I was not inclined to march against nukes or for whales or what-have-you. “You have to be for something,” she told me. I said I couldn’t help it. I just wanted to tell stories.

I felt at the time, though I couldn’t express it, that telling stories was enough. I still feel that way. The normal explanation made by artists who feel the way I do is that we are doing our level best to bring a little beauty and joy into the world, and “in these troubling times” don’t we all need as much of that as we can? Fair enough, and certainly true, but still, in my mind, not the whole point.

To tell a story well, you must be in service to it, the story. That is, you cannot tell a story to prove what a great and clever writer you are or to make you lots of money or get you on The Daily Show. All the choices you make, every word, should be in service to the whole of the story you wish to share and nothing more. Nearly every writer I’ve interviewed reports a sense that a story came to him or her. That is, they didn’t invent the story, they found it, and then were charged with the task of translating it for the rest of the world.

Working in service to a story will not feed the hungry or dethrone the wicked, not directly anyway, but every time a person sets aside their ego to share something they love, another light in the darkness is lit. A perfect cure-all, if you ask me. To paraphrase Einstein, what we call darkness is merely the absence of light, and what we call evil is merely the absence of love.

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