What’s possible when you let the pressure off?

I was working on a proposal for a new-to-me potential client, and it wasn’t going well at all.

The proposal was for a workshop in a new subject area—a topic I wasn’t sure I wanted to develop. I’d gone over the pros and cons and decided it was worth trying for. (Pros: It’s good to stretch into new areas. The niche might have growth potential. I should take the work that comes my way—you never know where an opportunity might lead. Cons: This would take my focus off the niche I was working hard to develop. The deadline was tight. The work would be hugely time-consuming. I wasn’t familiar with some of the technology involved.)

I’d been sweating over the proposal for hours, and I’d written about two paragraphs. I worried that I was being unrealistic about how long the program would take to create. Would this mean a month of all-nighters? How would I learn what I needed to in the time available? I worried about the effect on my other projects. Yet I didn’t want to back down from a challenge. The proposal wasn’t anything elaborate, but I couldn’t find the words to tell the client what I could do for him and why I was right for the job.

Finally, after much angst, I decided to withdraw from consideration. Sometimes, I reasoned, it’s good to say no to an opportunity. I didn’t want to risk losing momentum on the projects I was working on. I didn’t want to promise more than I could deliver in the allotted time.

I slept very well that night. The next morning, I woke up with all kinds of ideas about what I could have asked for, that would have made the project feasible for me. With the pressure off, I could finally see clearly what I needed in order to deliver what the client wanted, and what the deal-breakers were. So, just for practice—as an exercise in identifying what I want and need—I threw together a proposal that asked for those things: detailed examples from the company that I could turn into relevant activities for workshop participants. Assistance with the technology. A fee high enough to assure that I wouldn’t begrudge the hours I’d be investing.

And then—what the heck—I submitted the proposal I’d dashed off when I was free of pressure and thinking clearly.

Wouldn’t it make a great ending if wound up getting the gig? I didn’t, which was fine. The proposal was strong. I valued the experience I’d gotten in asserting my needs.

Admitting what you want and need, and asking for it, saves a lot of time.

Still working on: How can I tap into this understanding when the stakes are high? How do I release the pressure, and keep the focus?


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Janet. Just what I needed to read right now. I’m starting to realize that I can’t run away from the concept of leadership. If I’m in business, I have to lead. That’s just the way it is. Not leading means I’m not serving my clients. But that doesn’t mean leading involves doing whatever it takes to make the client/prospect happy. If I really care about their long-term best interests, I’m going to ask them to do things. I’m going to ask for what I need. I’m going to risk not getting a proposal signed, even. It might not always be easy, but it is worth it to work with really committed clients. Every proposal like this is always so useful, especially the rejected ones. It could become the building block for something really exciting! And now that the pressure is still off, maybe you can find a way to leverage this thing!

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Kelly – I love the connection you make between asking and leadership. (And I’m hoping to use the proposal as a template for future projects…)

  3. What would you say about vitamins that help you focus? I know that sleep and running can do wonders yet when time is of the essence, I need to know what works!

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Training Connection – I vote for sleep and running, rather than vitamins. Especially when time is of the essence.

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