…people have a safe harbor to be themselves, to know they can trust each other with their truth, with their frailty, with their humanity, with their vulnerability and with their triumphs, and that movement is almost a counter balance to culture right now. So popular culture right now is about tall poppies, it’s about tearing people down, it’s about finding the flaws, and shaming people publicly, it’s about virtue signaling and our movement is a counter culture to that. There’s none of that, it’s literally, you’re in a safe space to be all you can be on your terms and that’s celebrated and championed and expected.
For my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Pearson. She has been at the forefront of the coaching and personal improvement field for more than 16 years. She has helped thousands of people improve their lives through Global Success Institute’s ongoing training programs and is recognized internationally as the pioneer of the Meta Dynamics™ coaching methodology. She is the bestselling author of 7 books, including Ultimate You, Ultimate You Quest Edition and Disruptive Leadership. She is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, and coach.
Thank you so much for joining us Sharon. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
So I was at a real crossroads, I was really lost.
I was really, really stuck, I was pretty agrophobic so I was stuck at home and I was terrified of living and I was stuck in a rut and if I did anything different I was terrified so everything scared me. Meeting someone scared me, what someone thought of me scared me, what to wear to leave the house scared me. Having anyone ask me about how I was, I didn’t know how to answer the question without feeling I was going to be judged. I just lived in fear and I got myself into such a state and my world became so small, so shrunken and so filled with terror that I couldn’t do anything. Anything I did was just filled with fear. And it got so bad that I convinced myself that this is as good as it’s going to be in this life. I was 37. And it’s never going to be any different so what’s the point? So I contemplated killing myself. So for two weeks, the question was, ‘How does someone like me do that?’ and I just stayed in bed. I didn’t tell anybody and I just keep bouncing around in my head, I’m either going to check out, or my life‘s never going to be anything because this is as good as it’s going to get. I was just anxious all the time and just so scared. And I remember standing there one day and I was just frozen with fear and I knew that if I went in that direction, I literally stood there for an hour in one spot. My world, you know the comfort zone they talk about? My comfort zone was so small it now amounted to one square foot in the carpet.
And if I went that way I would be judged, if I went that way it wouldn’t matter, if I went that way I would be laughed at, if I went that way no one would notice. So what was the point of going anywhere and doing anything?, I had no idea what I could do to feel safe or good about myself.
And of course I was relying on everything external to feel good about myself. I didn’t get enough validation, I felt bad about myself. If I didn’t get noticed, I felt bad about myself. But why would anyone notice me?. I wasn’t doing anything, but that logic defied me.
And it occurred to me as I stood there, finally I had a moment of something that was going to help me. There are people worse off than you that are managing to live great lives, ‘How?’
‘How?’ That was it, just one question, one word. How?
If they have the background they have, if they were so much worse than me, so much hardship and yet they created lives that are extraordinary and filled with life and purpose and doing what matters and meaning and fulfilment and joy, they’ve done that? How?
And it’s the first smart question I’d asked myself in 37 years and that was it. I had that question, that’s all I had, I had no idea what the answer was, no concept, that answer could be found but I finally had something to focus on other than myself and my own misery. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired., I was so over me. Everywhere I went my misery went, every conversation I had my insecurity was there, every place I went, I felt insignificant, and small and petty and miserable and I finally realized that Sharon, the common denominator, is YOU.
So I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had this wonderful question and all of this came from answering that question.
The whole journey began about 13 years ago. I remember the moment. I was standing in my living room in my home, wonderful husband, everything’s perfect, the housework’s done and I stood there for an hour not daring to move, all I could feel fear, was if I go that way I’ll fail, if I go that way I’ll be judged, if I go that way I won’t be good enough and if I go that way who will care? And I just thought this is a miserable way to be, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’d had enough of me and everywhere I went there I was. Me. There was no escape, I would go to parties and be miserable and it was nothing to do with the party, it was me. And just one day as I stood there, it was an hour of frozen fear, I looked great the house was great, on the surface you would have seen that I had the perfect life and I just realized none of this is real, this is not authentic at all. There was no authenticity. And as I stood there, I don’t know how it happened, it was one of those wonderful moments that I will always remember, I pictured Oprah Winfrey and her story. And I thought if a lady can have that experience and now have this life and be so courageous and public about what she’s facing and what she’s conquering and how she’s failing, if she can do it and my story isn’t nearly as bleak as that, why am I standing here?
And then I thought of Nelson Mandela, who spent all those years in solitary and every year his captors came to him and said ‘If you deny the cause we’ll release you’ and he said ‘To deny the cause is to deny me’ and I thought what kind of magnificent soul believes so deeply in who they are they’ll sacrifice basically their life, for what they believe in. And I got tears in my eyes and I just remembered a couple of other people and I thought they have had what would be considered traumatic stories, breaking heart backgrounds, and yet they’ve triumphed, and not only just triumphed for their own lives they’ve become such authentic versions of themselves they’re an inspiration to millions of others and I’m still standing here? And I realized I didn’t have any excuse. It was time, it was time for me to start finding out who am I? And that was the beginning of the journey and two weeks later I was training myself, pretty well full time in how to get this (mind) working for me instead of sabotaging me.
I thought maybe if I get a coach my problems would be solved and I’d feel ok about myself. Then I thought I could take that same amount of money that it would be to get a coach, maybe learn how to become a coach so then if I ever felt this way about myself again, I would be able to solve it for myself. So I made the decision to become a coach, not to help anyone else, I never dreamnt I’d be working with clients. I just thought I’d be my own client, a terrible client and I’d work with myself and help myself and learn how to be empowered and not feel so miserable and sad all the time. It was simply a pathway to save myself. That’s all it was. I never dreamed the vision would be this big.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
It’s all hard when you start out, I think it’s really hard, because there’s no safety net. If you fall, you fall. And so to start out to get my business started, I started cold calling. Overcoming the fear of rejection, overcoming not feeling I was enough, overcoming ‘will this ever really work for me?’, overcoming never having had success like this before. Overcoming myself, so the real barrier the whole time was me.
I just set myself a schedule, I had to get in 5 days, 5 ‘Yes’ a day of people willing to accept an information pack from me or willing to see me. So I had to have every week 25 people potentially to follow up on the next month. And that just became a wave. In the beginning that was, every single day to pick up the phone, seemed impossible. And then I’d get into and I’d be great but just at first. Another thing that was really hard was a lot of rejection. The 25 ‘Yes’ a week of people just agreeing to receive my information pack, that would sometimes be 8 hours of rejection, and I’d get none in a day and then at 6 pm when all the other offices were shutting, I’d be getting message banks or still trying to get the 5 and literally facing more rejection than I thought was possible. I think bloody mindedness and determination is the thing that kept me going. I didn’t have a vision that was huge I didn’t know what it could become. I never dreamt it could be this. It was just determination every single day.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’d hit rock bottom. I had been that person and I’d known what rock bottom was, and the thought of ever going back to that drove me for I reckon the first 5 years of my business. The first 5 years at least of my business was, I must do everything so I never go back to that. I must never go back to feeling that bad about myself and about my life and about how I was incapable. So every single day was accelerating away from how bad it had been. It wasn’t moving toward anything fantastic, that came later, but in the beginning it was I can never have it this bad again so the persistence was just this fear of this terror of ever falling down like that again. And I was just starting to claw my way out of my rut, and I just had to, you know the runs seemed to build themselves as I climbed. So the next ladder step wasn’t there until I took the step. So once I learnt that, it became easier to keep moving forward because the ladder steps appeared the more I pushed. But the ladder step didn’t appear if I ever stopped and I thought this is hard.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Grit IS my success, warmth is as well. The central theme of my journey, I believe, has been to know myself and live that expression of myself. One of those aspects of me is grit but it’s also flipping that to compassion for myself, it’s not just grit in a hard place, it’s grit and ‘you know what? It’s okay, you’re doing great’. So grit was a parallel track with compassion I would say, for myself or learning what that means. But central to the tough times, and there have been many, grit… because the truth of it is, what has pulled me through everything has been knowing I have to live with myself and how I behaved during the tough times. So when the going got really tough, I turned up in calm love every single day just determined that we would all be incredibly proud of how we lived our values despite people around us not doing so. That no matter what, at the end of that period, and we didn’t know when it was going to end, we would look back and be proud of who we became and who we were. That’s the truth of what grit is to me. That I must come through this being loyal to people, loyal to my relationships, loyal to my values, loyal to what we’re building together and having people around me live those values as well. How that translated into grit…but that’s really central to everything I do, that the tough times I pull myself through knowing I am going to look back one day, this will be done, ‘who will I have been?’ and I’ve gotta have loved who I was.
And that’s someone who’s full of grit, full of compassion, full of determination, all of those things.
I find that question so hard because I feel so self-conscious saying I’m really loving things (Q: how are you doing today?) All of that is playing out to be true, for all those moments where I stayed loyal to you and people around me and that’s come back to me, all of that is the stuff we get to enjoy today.
We did what we did, we’re here today, that’s amazing.
So where I am today is knowing what matters most, and it is love for self, love the people in life, loyalty to them no matter what, like just the deepest loyalty that I never even thought I’d have.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh completely overreacting, drama, like complete drama, dramatic scenes and tantrums with my husband, like ‘no one’s ever going to hire me’, ‘it’s never going to work’. I’d be crying, dramatic exits and dramatic entrances. I constantly went into red alert and read the worst of every moment. There was one moment when I got a multi-million dollar contract, one of my biggest contracts and another coaching school came after it, and was bad mouthing me and saying ‘why would you go with her?’, ‘she hasn’t got the experience we’ve got’ and I had a contract and I was just beside myself, I was literally just SO doing dramatic princess, with the crown, the tiara, the whole thing. And I finally phoned this beautiful lady that I signed the contract with and she was like “I don’t know why you’re even thinking about it, we’re loyal to you’ and that was my, okay maybe I should learn to find a more grounded way through some of these times, I haven’t always done that, I do like the dramatic turn, but that would be a great example of how I didn’t handled it well.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think loyalty. I would say loyalty is the stand out. You know what people say about us, our community just raves, they love us, they love what we stand for, they know us as a very caring company, because we’re so loyal to them during their dark times and we’re so loyal to them when they are doing well.
So their success is celebrated, their down times are championed, we’re with them through all of it. We’re there for each other through all of it. That central theme, that sense of belonging and loyalty, we’ve got your back and you’ve got my back. You know one of the things I said was you know I hope I’m on your list of 2 am phone calls when you’re in trouble. That central theme is there, that there is always someone that can be turned to in our community and we fight for our community and we stand by them and we dig them and we believe in them, we’re passionate about them and they feel that way about us. So it’s this constant reciprocity that keeps building on itself, it’s self perpetual joy, truly.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You have got to love what you do. I can’t imagine burning out loving what I do. I don’t love management and I was burning out, so I don’t do management. Do the things that you’re great at. To play to your weaknesses and just keep banging away trying to overcome your weaknesses is exhausting. So playing to your strengths and helping and gathering a team around you who love that you’re strong about that and don’t begrudge you that. You know it would be horrible if I was in a situation where if anyone in my team begrudged me not being great at management but saying you should be the manager is like, no she’s best doing this other thing and being on this other track and then having people around me who appreciate that, dig that, and then their playing to their strengths, you play to your strength and because of that we are a very wonderful three dimensional jigsaw. Whereas if I wasn’t playing to my strengths right now, I don’t know how I could be free to have this conversation. So it’s playing to strengths and allowing those around us to play to their strengths and let that evolve over time as well. That evolution needs to happen to prevent burnout. To me it’s, how have my strengths evolved? What have I learned that allows me to tap into a different part of me and how does that help you? And then how can you do the same for me?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Oh yeah, JP. In my first three years of business, or maybe longer but that’s all I’m going to admit to.
I did not go to work without having a conversation with JP about how to handle a conversation of the day, a tough moment of the day. So whatever I knew what was coming up, until I role played with JP, got mentored by him, got his insight, understood his thinking on it. I didn’t know what to do, because everything I did was new. I did not know how to have a single conversation. I did not know how to handle any of it.
Everything was new, every single day. But he had done it all, so I would then brainstorm with him, get his insight and that would give me the certainty I needed to be able to face it. I might not do it because it might not apply the same way, but it gave me the certainty to think ‘ok, someone’s handled this before, they handled it really well, they really loved the outcome, it’s really working for them at least I’ve got that’ and it gave me a platform from which to have a go my way, because if it started going badly I brought it back to the foundation that I’d learned. And then that taught me to start off conversations, ‘I might not handle this conversation well’, ‘I might not know how to articulate it really well’ ‘Please forgive me for the mistakes I’m going to make’ ‘I’m going to do my very best and I trust you can trust that and be on my team and we can bring it out together’ I learned that from brainstorming with John because he would give me language like ‘I can’t say that’ but it gave me the foundation of thinking, the ethos by which to face it.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
One way to develop grit is to keep telling yourself no matter how bad it’s getting I can handle it.
Someone has handled it before, which means you can handle it. Like, it has been handled.
Nothing is uniquely happening to anyone. It has happened in human history, there’s been billions upon billions of people. It can be handled, so remind yourself constantly ‘this can be handled’, ‘if someone else can handle it, I can handle it’.
An example of that is when I started out cold calling, and just going and visiting these offices and for the first time sitting in front of someone who had my information pack on their desk and me starting that conversation, thinking ‘well this is not the first time this has ever been done, so figure it out’ ‘It’s been figured out by other people. Tell yourself ‘it’s been done’ and ‘you can handle it’.
The second way to develop grit is to have a vision that is bigger than your problems. You’ve got to have a vision of where you’re going that can out ride, out last and out launch, jump over any problem that you have. If your vision is only the size of your problem, your problems are going to win because the mind tends to focus on the problems ahead of the vision. So given that’s the way our brains are trained by evolution we have to overcome evolution and create a vision that is so big that it can overcome any problem.
An example of that would be me starting out. I had a lot of problems, but my vision, as bad as it was, was to never go back to that (miserable life) and that just drove me.
The third advice for developing grit, have people around you who see the best in you and support you rather than tear you down. Having people around you who are going to be a sounding board in a awesome way and not in a negative way. I have never been around people who ever said you can’t do that. Ever. I just don’t hang around with them.
An example of that is when I started out JP said ‘Do you think it will make you happy?’ I said ‘I don’t know’, JP said ‘Do you think it’s worth finding out?’, I said ‘Yes’. That was it, I became this, because with all the grit I’ve got, doing it alone is exhausting we need to champion each other.
Four. Have a contingency plan. Developing grit is about finding another way. This way didn’t work, you’ve got to find another way. So grit isn’t just banging away at the same thing over and over the same way, it’s you know what this didn’t work I’ve got to find another way. I’ve got to be open minded, I’ve got to be adventurous, I’ve got to be creative.
An example of that is one year we lost access to a brand and within two weeks we had two new brands launched to replace the brand we lost which was a $4 million dollar a year brand and we replaced it easily.
Five. You can only give that which you have.
The days I run on empty, which haven’t been for a long time now, were the days where I wasn’t showing myself and I was only running around after other people, or only doing things that didn’t play to my strengths or I was only solving other people’s problems and I was JUST putting it out there. Bushfire management. There was no pathway in there for me to have a sense of certainty about me. So I constantly felt that I was at the beck and call of the team. That was tough. I never had a moment of where am I in this? So I got lost in it.
So my advice there would be said as, know yourself, nurture yourself and have compassion for yourself during the tough times. An example of that would be when we went through a tough time, I didn’t know myself, I didn’t nurture myself, I did not know how to take care of myself. I got lost and I think I did burn out and I just kept going because of bloody mindedness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Yes, so that’s the movement we have. So we have a worldwide movement called the ‘Ultimate You Quest’ and it’s all around the globe now and people have a safe harbor to be themselves, to know they can trust each other with their truth, with their frailty, with their humanity, with their vulnerability and with their triumphs, and that movement is almost a counter balance to culture right now. So popular culture right now is about tall poppies, it’s about tearing people down, it’s about finding the flaws, and shaming people publicly, it’s about virtue signaling and our movement is a counter culture to that. There’s none of that, it’s literally, you’re in a safe space to be all you can be on your terms and that’s celebrated and championed and expected.
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