One a grey day in February 2000 in a neon-lit office in Berlin I signed a think, office-pale-kind-of-yellowish paper that would change my life: As a 32 year old woman I started a business called Down to Earth.
It started out as a publishing business, but over the years expanded to four areas
Last summer after I had turned 50 and took time and I looked back over the years. I analyzed my successes and failures. I believe that every person longs to be successful in one way or another. While ultimately I consider everything that we can do in this world as a gift of grace there is an deep, god-given longing in my to see fruit for my labour. Taking a deep look at my success or lack thereof was encouraging, but also frustrating.
My biggest success lies in the lives of people I was able to shape. There is no week where I do not get feedback like:
Your book inspired me so much
You are the only person I follow on G+, because what you say gives so much to me
Your book helped my friend to reconnect with God as it was so honest and helpful
I had one of your articles on my kitchen wall for 8 years as it was so helpful
Some even told me that a book I published cleared their suicidal mind so much that it literally saved their life. There were others who as a coach helped to overcome traumas.
I think of the refugee girl who was afraid of water after crossing the Mediterranean sea on a tiny boat. She lost her fear in just one coaching session using the very focussed and effective emotional de-stressing wingwave method I am trained in.
The stories are too numerous to tell. My heart is deeply grateful for the many ways in which I could make the lives of others stronger, more relaxed and more joyful.
9 out of 10 start ups in Germany do not survive. Therefore I did consider it as a success that I my business did survive. However in all these years it never really did well financially. Especially in the area publishing the basic cost for graphics, copy editing, printing, storage and distribution were so high that it was hard to make a profit. And I never reached the numbers that were necessary to make it easier.
In all years I was able to pay my team, but often there was not much left over for myself. At times even the German government did not ask taxes from me as my income was so low. I survived with the help of friends and massive use of my improvisation skill. When – in most years – I could not afford a real holiday I would visit friends. When I could not afford flowers I went to pick wild flowers.
When the door is closed you can climb through the window – is one of the things I say a often. Because I mean it.
It did not really help finances that in 2012 I decided to buy an old army ship to turn it into a place of hope. A place where I could live, teach seminars. And as a haven for people who needed to refocus or after a crisis needed a break from it all – to just stare on the water for hours and receive professional coaching.
Buying and over the course of five years renovating the ship with virtually no budget was an adventure and a miracle story in itself and it is wonderful to have this place. However it did not really help to improve my finances, but left me with a 5 digit number of debt.
Looking back I did see that I could shape the lives of people. . But it left me helpless and deeply frustrated me that in spite of working really hard I never found a way to make my business thrive financially.
Trying hard and not succeeding left me with a deep feeling of helplessness – a bit like a person who does want to loose weight and really, really tries hard and sometimes it works a bit, but she never finds the keys of how to do it successfully. At that time I made a drawing – me in front of a machine that was supposed to make money, but clueless as to what buttons I needed to press for the machine to work
I longed to be successful and was so frustrated that I started to pray in a new way. I had prayed all the years asking God for help – and did see many of these prayers answered. He did care for me in a million ways. But by September 2016 I was so fed up with seeing that I was blessing others, but not doing well financially.
So for the first time I thought about giving up. I dared to think about ending my business in spite of the fact that what I did was beneficial to so many others. I decided after prayer that I would give my business one more year and if it did not bear fruit financially by then I would re-think the whole thing and maybe give up.
So now I no longer just prayed “please provide for me”, but prayed differently: “God, I believe that you made me to do well – not only in the ways I help others, but also running a business successfully – show me the keys.” A while nothing much happened, but then starting in June 2017 the prayer did get answered in many unexpected ways.
One of the first things I felt was that God said: “If you would label yourself as a fundraiser, you would be highly successful!” This made sense. Over the years I had sponsored projects and encouraged others to do so, too. Some in Berlin, but mostly in Afghanistan…I guess I love rough places and I do like to invest where nobody else does.
In the years we had sponsored a club for children in Berlin. And for Shelter an organization working in Afghanistan I raised money to built a well, plant 400 trees, rebuild villages and sponsor medical projects. I even have my toilet twinned with an outhouse in a village in Afghanistan that helps to improve hygiene and reduce mortality.
In addition to that I raised the money for a few tons of would, hundreds of pots of paint and lots of other building material for the ship and I guess that I was given thousands of hours of volunteer work.
To see myself as a successful fundraiser did a lot for my soul. I could now see: I am successful in business in one way – not really in the area of profit from sales, but in raising money for good causes.
Although generally speaking I usually do not feel helpless, but rather creative in finding new ways, in business there was a big, ugly feeling of helplessness. It felt like a big, massive octopus that entangled my soul. I engaged a professional coach to deal with that.
We worked for two intense hours. And in this short time we could disentangle the present feeling of helplessness in business from some childhood experiences that amplified it. It was so intense that after the coaching I slept two solid hours and woke up with much less of a burden.
I also consciously chose to I let go of that old childish game of hide and seek: In the past I hesitated to promote my things. Partly because I did not like (and sometimes judged) people who promoted their stuff in a loud and aggressive way. But partly also because of that romantic hope that people would somehow find and love me and my products. A bit like a child playing hide and seek, hoping to be found. Instead I chose to really show up with what I have to offer. That still takes courage, but I am growing in it.
I did engage two professional business coaches, to help me with marketing. But after a while I found out that they wanted to analyze every aspect of my business and then wanted me start all over again. I knew that my products were not perfect – there is always room for improvement, but once people found Down to Earth they usually love our materials and remained faithful customers. I just needed to find more effective ways for new people to discover us. As we could not agree on the way ahead I cancelled the process. This road did not lead to sucess.
In the meantime something interesting happened. I usually spend the first day of the month reflecting and praying and planning the month ahead. So on the first of June I sat on the roof of my ship, looking at the water and praying: “What is important this month!” I would never have anticipated the answer: “Stop working with your present webmaster!”
I was in a state of shock for more than two hours: A good webmaster is crucial for an online business and they are hard to find. I had worked with my present webmaster for more than 8 years, he is the father of one of my Godchildren. However I have walked with God long enough to distinguish his voice from mine and this was clearly not my own thought.
As we had a strong relationship and he was overworked anyhow I could end the cooperation with my old webmaster in peace and respect.
What now? While having coffee with a friend who I only see twice a year she recommended her webmaster.
It turned out that he not only had the skills for hosting websites professionally, but in the previous months had learned a lot about online marketing and longed (and prayed!) that he could use these newly acquired skills more. What a match. He then recommended amazing business and marketing teachers like Michael Hyatt and Amy Porterfield to me and through them I also discovered Donald Miller, Jenna Kutcher and Marie Forleo
One of the things they all say: Your newsletter is key to success in Online business . I write a newsletter every two weeks. The people who get my newsletter usually love it as it contains lots of good input on how to improve your life. Some even asked me if they could use some of my content for magazines. And they follow my recommendations and buy the products I suggest.
I knew that more people on my newsletter would help me, but in spite of trying hard I had not been able to grow my list of subscribers. I simply did not know how to do it successfully.
The marketing teachers had the keys I had been looking for all these years. And all of them are incredibly generous at sharing a good portion of their business knowledge for free in podcasts and blogs while also offering in depths paid courses. Until December I was preoccupied with writing and promoting my new book, so I could not give this my full attention. But in the last month or so I tried to learn as much from them as much as I could – only stopped at times by very slow internet on my ship.
My team and I now step by step implement what we learn. We created some great free ebooks/ freebies that people get in exchange for signing up for my newsletter. Just in the last 10 days we had more people sign up for our newsletter than previously in a whole year! Since we started working on this four months ago our list has grown by +15%. Presently it grows even faster: 1% every 3 days.
While this has not yet turned around finance over night – numbers are still fairly low – I know it will. But the best is: For the first time in years of being a business owner I do not feel helpless, but have a strategy that I know will work.
So on Feb 18 I will celebrate 18 years in business. I will look back thankfully and ahead to the future with the hope to continue blessing people in their lives while also doing well in business.
That feels really good.
What do you think? Drop a line of comment if you want to cheer me on, add insights or share wisdom.
I shared with one of my friend how I do my planning. She loved it so much that I decided to share it with you all. At the end of the year 2017 I had written to her:
Concerning the future one of my favorite ways of thinking about the future is to plan from the future backwards…Right now I do my annual Look Back 2018. No spelling mistake.
Step I: I dream with God what at the end of the next season I long to look back to
I have not finished my 2018 evaluation but these are some milestones. By the end of 2018
that is a big one. I was more of a do-er kind of person. But in this year I developed the skills to receive and enjoy things on a deeper level emotionally. This is on all levels – spiritually, emotionally and interpersonally. This also included enjoying and creating beauty more and “catching” it.. I might get myself a good camera…
The years before there were hardly any real holidays. 2018 I did make room for an spend money on discovering new places and I did it with great people I love (Han, you are on the top of my list for people I would like to explore with — we need to do some serious planning on this).
I defined values, goals and processes so well that my team knows exactly what to do. Using the formula eliminate – simplify – automate – delegate I reduced the organizational part of my business by 80%. This freed me to be less of a worker or manager, much more of a leader and developer.
I sold 30% of my existing stock and transferred it to cheaper warehouses, thus reducing storage cost. I also finished the solar panels on my ship – reducing electricity costs.
I transformed and developed great digital products and the marketing strategies that go with them.
Both paid and unpaid I invested in the lives of many people and made them stronger and happier
And I sense what it feels like. Yes, I am totally happy with what this year has brought – what a great year
Based on what I want to look back at at the end of the year I plan the specific steps.
That is my year 2018 – what is yours?”
I would love to hear your feedback on this method. So please drop a line and let me know what you think and what tools you use for planning and dreaming.
It is a dream to live on a river, look out on the water and rub my eyes every morning: Is this true?
It is. I love my life. All the pain of renovating this old, rusty former Army ship was so worth it. For myself and for others who come here.
One of them was Evi who had lost her job in a ministry she loved just a few months earlier when she came for her first visit. At the end of the first visit she said that she now feels hope for the first time.
But best read it in her own words: Weekend on a houseboat
A dear friend recently told me, that she finds ist hard to sit and pray. And asked me: “How do you pray?”
I told her that I usually do not sit when I pray. I generally do not like to sit – I built myself a standing desk and a walking desk (a treadmill with a laptop stand) because sitting for a long time is not good for your body. The body is not made for sitting long term – not even in prayer.
Most religious traditions honor that. So body posture for prayer includes
I like talking to God when I walk – it comes very natural to me.
As I do not have the time to go to a park every morning two artistic friends, Elizabeth and Scott, created a labyrinth on the roof of my ship for me. Especially in the middle ages Labyrinths were popular as a framework to hold your steps and your mind while you prayed. Some of them – for example the one in the Chartres Cathedral are really big – and it takes about one hour to reach the center. I have a pinterest collection of Labyrinths.
My labyrinth is a bit smaller – but what I love about it is that it holds me and my steps, leads me to the center – marked by a heart and then from there back “to the world”. I can do a quick run through the labyrinth in a few minutes or take my time and very slowly walk and pray.
What I love about it is that et every turn the scenery changes. I see water on one side, factories on the other,. In some positions the sun shines in my face, in others she warms my back (providing she is there -after all i live in Germany). This change of scenery often inspires my prayers. So one time as I was praying about a woman who intensely requested something from me I did not want to give, I saw a buoy – it reminded me of my right and obligation to set healthy boundaries.
As mentioned I love to chat. But at times I do enjoy a more structured approach. This is how I pray then.
All prayer is a means for connection. So I remind myself that I am a daughter of a good heavenly father. IF the sun is out I give myself some moments or minutes to simply feel the sunshine on my face as a touch of his love. I also take time to think about his attributes and reflect and comment on them and express how they affect and touch me.
I take time to express my thankfulness. When my brain is still tired in the morning often the same things come to mind: Security (no war), Health, provision. To be a bit more diverse it helps me to think about thankfulness in different categories: What am I thankful for in my Job, in my friendships, in my last experiences?
Forgiveness has so many shades and aspects that I wrote a whole training manual about it: Learning to forgive. n(also available as ebook) In my mornings I often ask the Lord to show me if there is someone I need to forgive. Sometimes it is someone else, but very often that someone is myself. To make forgiveness more tangible I imagine myself standing in front of the person looking that person (or myself) in the eye and say: “I forgive you!” As usually there is some accusation and anger involved (who is without sin) I also imagine asking for forgiveness from them and father God. And also receiving His forgiveness as a gift. I love it that the word give is included in the word forgiveness.
This part can include prayers for the world, political and social situation, but very often I focus on how I would like to be available for God to be used to bring his kingdom. I think and communicate about the person he would like me to become in the long run to advance his blessing on the earth. Here I also find it helpful not to take the whole package, but think about different aspects each day: My character. my relationships, my business. I try to catch a glimpse of the picture of what he wants me to become in these areas and pray into it.
Here I break the big picture into what it means for today. I run through the schedule of my day and think of the best, most god-honoring and life-filled way to go through this particular day. In my mind I imagine myself working with focus, envision myself meeting people in real life or on the phone with attention etc.
Feeling and expressing my need for help and company. He is so good. And he is with my.
As you have probably noted much of my prayer practice follows the Lord prayer.
I personally like to put in then thankfulness right at the beginning and the forgiveness earlier in the prayer – then the “ugly stuff” is dealt with. But following it in the way Jesus taught it of course is the original.
My friend Debbie, a wonderful clever and beautiful woman, a people – lover and worshipper of God told me that she would love to write more songs. She asked me for ideas how she could increase her creativity. Here they are.
1 Make it a habit to be creative (almost) every day
Write, paint, dance, draw etc. regularly. Even if it is only a little. That might sound boring, but the truth is: The more you practice the better you get. After all – Amazing grace was the result of John Newtons habit to write one song per week for his congregation. Discover what helps you and develop habits and routines that help you get into work/creative mode quickly – i.e. same spot, same place, same mug. You might find gems among the dust.
2 Detox from social media and other stuff
Our brain is carving new stuff. If there is nothing new coming to us from the outside it will use its energy to come up with its own new ideas from the inside – i.e. it will start to be creative. Hence the “best ideas come in the shower-effect. If we constantly junk feed our brain with email, social media, noise etc. it will have no need and desire to come up with new thoughts and ideas. So detox regularly. Make sure you have enough boring times!
3. Care for your brain
The brain is an organ after all. It needs good, energizing nutrients (no, I do not mean Red Bull). You will not be able to do good work if your brain is deprived of sleep, oxygen, water and nutrients and a chance to go and pee.
4. Get moving
If you get stuck get unstuck by taking a break moving your body: walking, dancing… and yes, take care you are in a good body posture while you work. Bad posturer increases feelings of sadness and depression – usually not what you want to work from – unless you write depressing novels.
5. Fill your tank
Nobody can create from nothing. Only God. Maybe not even He worked from nothing – but from all that was in Him. In order to be creative we earthlings need fragments and pieces that we can combine in new ways. So: Get inspired. Take inspiration from others – a lot. But use only what is resonating with you and integrate it into your work.
6. Note all your fragments
Don´t wait for something magically complete to emerge. Use post-its and big pens – so that you see and can read the parts from a distance.
7. Work from the gut – later revise with the brain.
In the beautiful poetic language of German we say we do things “from the belly” when we allow stuff to flow from our innermost being. The belly needs some time to flow. Do not stop it in its flow. It is better to revise your work sometime later after a break.
8. Work from what moves you
Don´t try to write a song or paint a painting. Take time to feel and note what topics, issues, things move you right now. What fascinates you about life, God, people…? Work from there. Thus it will be your own. Find the topics that are on your heart. What have I been fascinated about!
9. Don´t multitask or jump to something else too quickly
When we get stuck or feel bored it is easier to jump to something else – stay there a little while… something new might develop out of that empty space.
10. Trust Gods Spirit in you and others. You are not alone in this creative journey. Pick up and work from what you feel the spirit of God is giving to you as inspiration – either directly or through the people around you. And yes let go of control and fear… what is in you is beautiful and it waits to come out.
Kerstin Hack, March 2017
What are your tipps and ideas to enhance creativity?
One of my friends wrote on Facebook:
Seeing as I always seem to do the opposite of my new year’s resolutions: this year I’m going to smoke and drink more, exercise less and go far deeper into debt.
So that raises the question: Should we formulate New Years resolutions – yes or no?
The answer is: It depends.
key to really good new years resolutions is to answer three questions
One of my resolutions for 2017 is
[WHY] I believe that I can and should inspire people in the world with writing. [HOW] So I want to reliably and diligently work on improving [How exactly] by spending the first two hours of every office day with writing and reading books or taking online courses that will help me improve my skills.
In a nutshell: All general resolutions usually are of no value. And you can kick them out and plaster the way to hell with them as we say in German. Because not fulfilled resolutions tend to make you feel frustrated, shameful and so on. We all do not need more of these hellish feelings.
But good, resolutions who are anchored in your personality and deepest needs really empower you.
And yes, for those who recognize the basic idea – it was adapted from Simon Sineks Ted talk How great leaders inspire action.
When I cry out to God he often answers – through books.
In the last days as I was thinking and praying about what I most wish for 2017 there was one thing I longed for most.
Less stuff in my head.
2016 was hard
Just thinking about 2016 makes me tired. Understandably.
But there was more to that. There was an incredible tiredness in my brain. Just the thought of thinking about something made me feel exhausted. And I felt that somehow I was doing something wrong that took my energy. And creativity. And to some extend the joy in life.
I found the answer – or at least a big part of it in an interview of the Bergman Leadership Podcast (20 Min Interviews with interesting people, often authors) The Interview mit Christine Carter inspired me and on her page she had a link to an Ebook, that promises strategies that would free up to one day per week.
In a nutshell she sais that our brain is craving for novelty as much as it is craving for food. If there is no outside stimulus it starts to search inside for new connections, processes things and comes up with new ideas.
However if we constantly give the brain outside stimulus (email, Facebook etc.) it has the short moment of “happiness” that satisfying an addiction gives (not the same emotion as true happiness that satisfies you deeply, whereas the act of fulfilling an addiction only leaves you hungry for more).
I would like to add: Because this habit of constantly looking for outside inspiration the brain has no real time to process. And thus the brain gets exhausted, deeply exhausted. So exhausted it does not even have energy for things that are true fun and inspiration (She did not say that in the interview, I just describe my experience).
Shorty before that I had read that German employees check their emails every five minutes, but believe they do it far less often. Yikes. Ouch. I will not confirm that my email checking habits contributed to the statistics nor deny that I checked my emails every … minutes. Yikes.
Ideas to free your time
She recommends (among other things)
So I went through all the notes I had written to myself what I should do and ki
cked things out. And sorted the rest into the five priorities for 2017 – that part was easy as I do sort things by category anyhow. All in all deeply satisfying feelings
Going through this stuff I also realized that I had a ton of things in the back of my mind that never made it on one of my to do lists, but are still there as a “you should”: i.e. I should go through my jewelry and decide what I no longer wear and would like to give away and through the books that did not fit into the shelves and the towels and pots and … I pulled all of these out of the back of my brain and started a new category.
I know it will be challenging – especially the detox from Internet and Social Media. But rewarding. Weeding out my to-dos, resisting “quickly checking what is happening in my life (i.e. did I get new messages or book orders) or in the lives of others is a challenge, but I can sense how much it will strengthen and ease my life.
Just thinking of it makes me feel relieved.*
Thanks you, God and thank you, Christine Carter.
Last night, while brushing my teeth I had a moment of enlightenment and I finally understood what is going on in the present elections in America.
Or let´s say a glimpse of enlightenment that suddenly gave me a perspective of how I could at least bring some sense to this bizarre spectacle.
It came with the word …
I suddenly realized that I see both candidates as dinosaurs – remains from an age long passed that somehow made it into our world.
Clinton seems old to me
I am not young any more (turning 50 next year), but I am a generation younger than her. And am more sensitive to internet security than she is – however sending sensitive email through a private server, because it is less complicated than using government servers could have happened to me as well.
And I was in my diapers when she was protesting against Vietnam and for women´s rights (at least I guess she did). Most of this had to do with being able to make your own choices as a woman – without the dominance of men or the government. As a woman I am thankful for many of the good freedoms the women who were before us helped to achieve. But still a lot of the women´s rights language seems outdated. It sounds as if we still need to fight – whereas many younger women still see the need to discuss and explain and sometimes negotiate. But not fight. Rather find ways how WE men and women can work together.
And yes, the bizarre idea to define it as freedom or right of a woman to take the life of another human being – even if it is before birth – to me seems totally wrong.
Trump seems even older
With his High Noon – I am alone on main street – is there anyone I can shoot – style of communication and action this man seems to have jumped out of a time machine from the early days of the Wild West (as portrayed in movies, in reality it probably was slightly different). Movies where it is clear cut: The good, the bad , the ugly. Also he seems to be playing all roles in the movie himself… thinking he is good, while he talks and behaves bad…and ugly…well…there were some comments on his hair…and his communication style… he seems centuries old.
It all seems like reality TV, but the weird thing about it is that it seems to be real reality.
Why did two parties choose dinosaur candidates?
So why on earth would two established parties select two candidates that are old or even vintage? How can people lead a nation when their views and manners seem outdated and older than the nation itself and most of the people they represent.
I guess the answer is the same as usual: When we face too much new, too many changes we withdraw to the old.
I see the same in my country. When Angela Merkel at the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees courageously said “We can do this!” she was dreaming of a flexible, welcoming, modern, integrative Germany. It inspired many – 10% of all Germans actively help refugees in one way or another. And it frightened more.
I guess in the same way as some Germans were frightened , the Brits were frightened about the new and changing world – slightly less British then before I would say, Mortime – and voted exit. And maybe Americans got frightened by the new world their president wanted to embrace.
And – like Angela Merkel he did not have the personal or communicative or political power to keep the dream of a flexible, integrative society alive in his nation.
The frightened ones go back to old patterns of us vs. them. Fear and rejection. The same game everywhere. Nothing new under the sun.
That is not only a problem of the right. It also is a problem of the left. I sometimes cannot believe the slogans I hear at left-wing demonstrations. They are half a century old. The us vs. them patterns haven´t change.
The WE-world does not exist in their heads either.
So what now?
I guess in a few weeks the Americans will vote one of the dinosaurs for president. I hope and pray that it will still be good – somehow. Not just words. I seriously do. I promised to myself that I will spend more time praying for the candidates than discussing what they do or say. A hard promise to keep with all the noise…
And for you in America
In those four years stretch yourself. Talk to strangers. Invite them into your home. Learn new stuff. Open to a world that is new to you. And gets newer every day. Revisit your values – how do you think life can be lived in the best way – and see how you can live them in this world.
And then – in 2020 nominate and elect someone who is at home in this modern – ever changing world and can be a good leader in a WE world.