Shannon Graham has developed a number of transformative coaching programs to tackle the hurdles of life and business. Some of Shannon Graham’s more recent innovations include “The Ultimate Lifestyle Intensive”: a highly popular weekend mentor coaching program that helps developing coaches skyrocket their personal and professional success, and “Legacy”: Shannon’s intensive one-on-one program for visionary entrepreneurs which combines one-on-one coaching with a powerful mastermind.
Shannon Graham on People Being Addicted To Their Own Suffering
I want you to picture yourself on the West Coast of America, California, USA. I want you to be thinking of how it would look if you were standing by the coast in one of the most beautiful parts of the entire state in Santa Barbara, California. With your eyes still closed, imagine you’re about to get an incredible injection of wisdom directly from Santa Barbara, California from one of the ultimate success coaches in the country. His name is Shannon Graham and he has built the Ultimate Lifestyle Intensive which is a highly popular weekend mentor coaching program that helps develop coaches skyrocketing their personal and professional success. Shannon, welcome to the show.
Mitch, thank you very much.
It’s great to have you on the show. A lot of people are looking forward to this interview. Go through what it was like when you started and tell us about some of the struggles and the decisions you made and what your journey look like.
I started my coaching career at age 21. I’m 34 now. That’s close to thirteen years ago. I had two major challenges when I first started coaching. The first was back then, thirteen years ago, hardly anyone knew what coaching was. A large part of having a successful coaching practice at that time had to do with educating the marketplace. The second major challenge that I had was my age. I was 21 years old. I’m 34 and I look like I’m in my twenties now. That was a major challenge because the people that I was having conversations with, that I was marketing to they were easily fifteen, twenty, some of them even 25 years older than I was at that time. Building rapport and building credibility was a major challenge for me because initially, it was hard for them to buy into hiring me specifically because I looked so young. Those were the two big ones, people not really knowing what coaching was. They didn’t really know how to value it or how to perceive it. Then here’s this young kid that’s going to tell them what to do with their life, and they’ve been here at least ten or twenty years longer than I have. Those were definitely some of the big challenges at the beginning.
A lot of listeners, myself included, have gone through this process of getting something started and presenting ourselves to the world in some form of an expert. A lot of us experience a thing called impostor syndrome. Tell me about that. Did you go through that or did you have those feelings as well?
I did have moments of doubt because I thought to myself, “These guys aren’t wrong. I am fairly young and they certainly have been around longer than I have. Who am I to have these guys pay me a bunch of money to help them with their lives?”I did deal without a little bit, but I realized was that you can only be an impostor if what you’re bringing to the world is untrue, is not genuine. Even though I was young, I still had some great experience under my belt. I started my personal development journey at about age fifteen or sixteen. I had absolutely transformed my own life and I had transformed the lives of some other people. It just wasn’t in a professional setting. I knew that I had the skills. I knew that I had the gift to be able to do this.
You’re very lucky to have recognized it. A lot of us, the unconscious competence, which is the gifts that we’ve been given, come so easy to us. Many people believe that everybody else is just like them and so they don’t understand how unique and how special they truly are. Here you are at this very young age and you’re now putting out your shingle as a success coach. People might have challenged you and said, “Where’s your success if you’re such a success coach?” How did you deal with that?
It’s not necessary for someone to be better than somebody else in order for them to hire you. What I mean by that, for example is, Tiger Woods’ golf coach is not a better or more experienced golfer than Tiger is. However, Tiger pays his golf coach over a million dollars a year purely because he can help Tiger go to the next level. Part of my strategy was to shift people’s focus from, “What have you really accomplished?” to, “What can you help me accomplish?”
You’ve had a little bit of success at a very young age and now you’re out there looking for clients. What was that like and what did you do?
One of the very first things that I did to get clients was I put an ad on Craigslist. Craigslist back ten years ago is not the Craigslist that it is today. It was actually a very lucrative and very effective marketing platform back in the day. A lot of my clients came from Craigslist and I was one of the very first adopters of the Google Places feature which is when Google started listing local businesses above normal organic listings. For example, if you typed in life coach New York City, it’s going to show you the local businesses that match that before it shows you just general web sites. That was one of my major strategies as well. No one had really quite figured out how to use that and SEO back then was very easy to figure out. With a little bit of SEO, I could position myself as the number one search result for multiple keywords in some of the biggest cities in the United States.
The fact that you’ve figured that out gave you an edge for sure. Walk us through what it was like when you started to get calls and tell us a little bit about the way you dealt with those calls in the beginning.
I started to get calls and one of the very first things that people would ask me is where is my office. You type in “life coach Los Angeles,” or “life coach New York City,” I was at the top of Google for all of those keywords. Obviously, I didn’t have an office in those places. I would get phone calls saying, “I’d love to come by your office.”This is where some of the educational process would come in. I’d say, “Unlike a typical therapist, I actually do the majority of my work over the phone.”Some people really had a challenge with that because they’re just so used to going to the therapist or going to a personal trainer. They’re used to that physical location. Some people were turned off by that, but some people were really into it. I got calls from all over the country and started building a nice little roster of clients and building things up from there.
This you did when you were 21 years old and you got these folks to come to you through some very clever use of SEO. Now you’re working with clients and you’re building your client list. Tell me now a little bit about your evolution as you started making money and building your client base.
The most valuable thing that I could share about my evolution would be a small handful of things. The first being that historically I got paid for my knowledge and my experience, because that’s what I thought was valuable to bring to the marketplace. However, if I was really honest with myself my most valuable asset is my imagination and my creativity. If I could just have it my way, I would daydream about having these clients that were wanting to create massive change in the world and they weren’t sure how to do it because very often what they wanted to do was either impossible or had never been done before. They would hire me to not only help coach them up from a peak performance standpoint but also from, “How do we crack this? How do we imagine who I have to be and what I have to do in order to pull this off?” One of the biggest shifts that I made in my evolution was I made a commitment. I created a new standard for myself. I said to myself, “I’m no longer going to get paid to answer questions that I know the answers to. I’m only going to get paid to answer questions in which the answers do not yet exist.”
Here you are talking to people and they may have an idea of what a coach is about, coming to you and having you say that, explaining your new personal standard. What was the reaction when you started to tell clients that that’s what you wanted to do?
It was disappointing to some of them because some of them simply wanted to hire me for my knowledge and my experience because those things are valuable. If a journey of a thousand miles has 500 forks in the road and I can show you, for the most part, at each turn where to go left and where to go right, that’s very valuable, especially if the wrong turn has a dead end or a black hole or whatever. If I can help you avoid those and navigate that, that’s worth a lot of money because it’s worth a lot of time. However, that’s not the most valuable thing that I could bring to the table. It’s so funny how the universe challenges your standards. When I made this commitment, when I created this new standard, there was this big influx of people who wanted to work with me in the old way. I believe that’s God’s or the universe’s way of challenging your belief, your new standard, to make sure that you’re truly committed to it.
Testing your conviction, right?
That’s right. I had to disappoint some people. However, I got to inspire some people. Your ideal clients are waiting for you to just step into the best version of yourself. That’s when they show up. It’s hard for them to show up before that because it’s not a match. It’s not a fit. When I started playing at that level that’s when a whole new caliber of people started to show up. That by far, raising that personal standard of who I wanted to work with and how I wanted to work with them and who I had to be in order to work with them, that changed everything.
It basically caused you to evolve as a catalyst for others to find these unanswered questions and then make huge changes. Is that right?
When you started this process, when you started to get that feeling that you knew you needed to change basically your personal standard, what work did it take on your part to move out of that comfort zone and into this?
The number one thing that was a challenge in that evolution was owning the fact that my greatest value is what came most naturally to me. You said it, “Sometimes we all have gifts but sometimes we just imagine that other people do, too. We don’t think of ourselves as that special or that unique.” If you think of something like your imagination or your creativity, for a lot of people like myself that’s not something that I necessarily earned or developed or went to school for. It’s just something that I naturally have. We live in a culture, we live in a world where your value very typically is based on your knowledge. How much do you know or your experience? What have you done? To separate from that and say, “No, my greatest value actually is what comes most naturally to me, “that was a major challenge because that meant I had to own my value which is ultimately myself. I had to accept myself. I had to accept that I had value far beyond my knowledge and my experience.
I don’t think it’s that unique a position at all. It’s a unique positioning because everybody has this natural value. Most of us ignore it because it comes too easy. This could potentially make you question even the thing you’re doing right now trying to become successful. What advice would you give or how would you take somebody through the beginning stages of this process? Can you give me a feel for that?
It really has a lot to do with brutal honesty. What do you really want to do? Who do you really want on to do it with? For me, there was a difference between who I was working with and who I really ultimately wanted to work with. It took me getting really honest with myself about who do I want to work with, who do I want to be, who do I want to show up as to do that work, and how would I want to do the work. The work I do now is the way that I do it. The how is radically different than what I did before. It took me getting radically honest about what I want in order to liberate myself to go to the next level.
From my perspective, it’s a simple question. The simplicity of the question is what prevents it from being a true self-inquiry unless it’s done many times over the course of maybe several days, weeks or even months.
It’s so simple and it’s so avoided. It’s a relatively easy question to answer if you can come to a place of brutal honesty. That’s not a place where most people live.
If people are in a place right now where they’re in a business and they’re producing a result, but frankly it’s a slugfest. It’s hard work and they’re putting in their seventeen hours a day just like many of us did when we started businesses. Now they listen to you and they may be saying, “I’m already doing what I want to do. I know that because I’ve tried seventeen other things and truly this is the only thing that I ever got any traction with.” What do you say to that?
I’d ask them two things. I’d ask them, “Are they happy slugging it out every day? Is that what they really want? Are they are they happy with who they show up as every day? Are they happy with the results that that’s producing?”
I’m going to challenge you a bit. Most people are going to tell you, “I’m happy. I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t happy.” The thing they really want to do in their mind is something that they don’t think would either be a business or make money. I’ll give you an example. I was a professional photographer at one point in my life. I go out and I make pictures all over the world because it’s my joy. It’s the thing I would love to do. If I could, I’d love to do it all the time but I know that it’s something that is very difficult to make a great living, like the living I make at present. It would be literally impossible to duplicate that as a photographer.
I’d like to challenge you a little bit. That’s the name of the game. How do we take the impossible and make it possible? If we just chalk it up to “it’s impossible” then that’s a zero-sum game, we can’t go very far from there. If we challenge that and if we’re willing to play with it and say, “How could I?” Tony says, “The quality of our life comes down to the quality of questions that we ask.” How could you make the same amount or more money than you do right now doing photography? How could you? You see that’s why I like to play on the impossibilities side of the fence because impossible is just a dare in my opinion.
You’re absolutely right because if I’d answer the question honestly, I would have to say, “There are other people that are making more than me in photography.”
I would even go so far as to say even if there was no one that was making as much or more than you, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t be the first.
These types of questions are the soul-searching questions that, at some point in our lives, if we never ask, we never get to live the true life that we want to live.
I would much rather make someone wildly uncomfortable and have to figure out how to do exactly what they want to do rather than settle for anything other than that.
Answers that come up are designed in a sense to block that true desire. I’ll give you an example. One of the first thoughts that I had was I started coming up with excuses.”My daughter would miss me because I see her a lot or my wife would not like the fact that I’d be traveling so much.” I’m watching my mind evolve as we’re literally just chatting about this right now.
The cool thing is for every excuse that your mind creates, there’s an equal opposite positive solution for it.
Give me an example.
You said that you wouldn’t be able to see your daughter as much. Why does that have to be true?
The reason that it would have to be true is because she is graduating college and then after we come back from Japan, she is going to be starting her brand new job. If I’m in Indonesia or Asia or Morocco or Europe anywhere in that area, how could I possibly see her?
There’s an interesting answer to this which is you can design your schedule however you want. For example, you could take one month off a year where you just spend time with her. I know people who do that. They work very hard for the majority of the year and then they take an entire month off to do whatever they want. Now the other thing that I learned from Tony is sometimes less time with people isn’t bad as long as the time that you do spend with them is high quality.
What comes to mind when you say that is a buddy of mine named Ron Rosenstock who is a tour photographer, trip leader. He attributes his wonderful marriage to the fact that he’s not home six months of the year, so I do understand that.
My point is we’re just opening the perspective up to see different sides of the equation to go, “I actually know someone who that’s true for.” Now it’s not hypothetical. It’s real. The options, the possibilities are limitless as long as we’re willing to look at them.
I want to take what you’ve said here and I want to put a different wrapper on it. I want to repurpose some of what you’re teaching. I could use that same approach to go to each one of my staff members and check in with them and find out how I could make what we’re doing together far more on purpose to what their true desires are. Do you like that idea?
Totally. One of the things that I do behind the scenes is I design company culture. I actually got hired by a large company back in the day to help figure out what company culture is. This is back when people were just first beginning to talk about it in this new 2.0 way. Ultimately what you’re talking about is bringing more of the individual to the work, bringing more of their passion, bringing more of their excitement, bringing more of their daydreams or what have you. That’s going to make them want to show up completely differently. That’s just going to improve the company culture over all because it’s going to include more of the individual.
Wouldn’t it also challenge people to ask themselves if they’re really in the right place?
If you were willing to go there, absolutely. If you said, “What is it that you really want to do?”I believe it’s Google or it’s one of these really big companies that if you get hired and you know it’s not for you, they’ll actually pay you not to take the job.
You’re talking about Zappos. Tony Hsieh created that. I, too, create cultures for companies as part of my own Power Tribes program. I take a more pragmatic approach than you, but I’m learning so much in this conversation. Let me tell you what I do and we could figure out a way to put the two together. To me, culture is a set of boundaries that when defined allow immense creativity and freedom within those boundaries. Without those boundaries only chaos can exist. I don’t mean boundaries like “you must do this and you must do that.” These boundaries, let’s say, what is possible within this group and how we interact with each other and who owns the intellectual property. Even though that may sound like a legal issue, it is truly a cultural boundary in my world. How do you think about some of those things?
One of the most genius inventions in the creative world was the Japanese Haiku. It essentially forces you to take creativity and put it into exactly what you’re talking about which is boundaries. You can be as creative as you want within these boundaries. It actually liberates people in many ways. If there are no boundaries then, just like you said, it creates chaos because it’s too open. Very often if you sit down and it’s just wide open, that’s why people get writer’s blog because they can write about anything. As you know, energy in space is chaotic, but energy so that surrounds a force, a pillar for example, will congregate around that. That makes a lot of sense to me.
The two ideas are, in some ways, an extension of each other. I’ll give you a short experience. I built a certified consultant program for my software company and I almost completely crashed the company when I did it because I had no boundaries. We brought people in and we said, “You seem to know the software so you’re certified.” Within 120 days, I was on the verge of being sued out of existence because of what those people did. I had to shut down the program and call every single person who had a bad experience and asked them what went wrong, and then do whatever it took to fix it at any expense. It didn’t matter to me. I had to do that, and I did. I fixed every single problem that these people created while being in my program. Then I went into hibernation and I rebuilt the entire program from scratch with boundaries.
From there, we grew to 350 certified consultants. Everybody loved the program because everybody knew where they stood. It was a much happier environment because there were no things going on that people didn’t understand or didn’t see how it fit into the rest of the picture. If you’re an entrepreneur, these are some of the key questions that can help guide you to better focus on what it is you truly want and also help the people who work for you be more fulfilled doing the job that they’re doing. Nobody basically in kindergarten said, “What I really want to do when I grow up is clean offices.” Kids don’t think like that but that may be where some of us are at times in our lives. By asking the questions that Shannon talks about, it gives us the chance to get beyond that. What other questions do you think people should be asking themselves?
It certainly depends on what phase of the business they’re in. The first question is purely “What do I want to do?” The other thing that I would think about is a little challenging to navigate, but I believe that you should simultaneously make things as easy on yourself as possible and as hard as possible. Very often because it’s unfamiliar territory and because of just the way that we live our lives at this point, for the most part, we have a tendency to overcomplicate things. That can lead to frustration, disconnect, burnout, it can lead to all of these major challenges that can have a negative impact not only on a business but on the people that are running it. You’ve mentioned a couple times the simplicity in some of the things that I talk about. I believe the more simplicity that you can bring to what you’re doing, the better. Life is going to bring enough challenges as it is. You don’t need to bring any extra challenges. Use the lens of simplicity as a filter for everything that you do. Integrate that into your thinking, into your feeling, into beliefs, into your actions. That’s going to mitigate. That’s going to reduce the amounts of excess thoughts and actions unnecessary things that can be detrimental.
I hear what you’re saying and it’s a simple suggestion. At the same time, how realistic is that? If I’m running a business and I have clients that I need to serve and they have issues that need to be dealt with and on and on, I wonder what that would mean to me if I’m already in a fairly complex life.
There’s two parts to that. The first part is ideally we want to catch things from the very beginning. We want to implement that lens of simplicity from the beginning. Part two is I believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks. It doesn’t matter how old a company is. They can shift things if they truly want to. Even though you maybe a certain amount down the line, you can always stop and say, “How can we make this more simple?”I found that being radically transparent with your clients is powerful. To possibly send out an email to all of your clients and say, “This is what’s been happening. I have noticed over the past X amount of time that there are some things that are creating challenges within the company. My desire is to make your experience as positive as possible. In order to do that we’re going to be simplifying some things here at the company and here’s what that looks like.”Bring the customer along for the journey.
I’ve seen in so many different scenarios, my own included, that that’s such a powerful thing to do because then they don’t feel like a consumer. They feel like part of the experience. The second part of the piece that I want to touch on is making things as challenging as possible. That sounds very counterintuitive to the first thing I just said. In this day and age, everyone’s looking for the easy button. Everybody wants the one-click funnel and the easy access and everything. However, the most growth comes from that which challenges you the most. Some of the biggest success stories are also some of the biggest “failures.” They are the people who had the most challenges. Steve Jobs got fired from his own company. Can you imagine that?
I hear what you’re saying Shannon and I have to agree with you on both counts. I look at things a little bit differently. I like the way you look at things, by the way. My idea when you said make things simple, the first word that came into my mind was systems. That’s how I’m going to make things easy. I’m going to systematize. Frankly, that’s where half of my success in life has come from, my ability to build systems to take complex things and reduce them to simple actions.
Here’s where the two worlds merge. We take the things that are complex and ultimately not necessary for you personally to put manpower into, and we systematize those things. I’m not against systems at all. This is where the challenge is. Most people stop when they have the systems in place. They say, “Everything’s humming along nicely. It’s a well-oiled machine. The leads are coming in, the sales are happening. It’s growing. It’s all excellent.”Where I see people that are really taking things to the next level is they take all the weight off their shoulders and they systematize things, and then they turn around and then they say, “Where’s my next big challenge? Now that I have these things off my plate and I’m free to focus on the next big thing, what is my impossible right now?”
These align quite well with the same ideas that I’ve been spreading and teaching and learning all my life. Another way of saying it is, if you don’t dedicate some of your time to work on the business, you’ll only be working in the business.”
Let’s take that a step further. What is the business? There is no such thing as a company or an industry or a bit. It’s all people. The thing that we’re working on ultimately, at the most valuable level, is ourselves. The fastest way to grow a company is to grow the founder. I believe that 110%.
We’re in total alignment there. I look back on my own life and see so much of it having to be my challenge first to evolve before the company could grow.
Systematize as much as possible so that you can open yourself up to say, “Where is my next big challenge for me, either in my vision or my leadership or my communication or my fill in the blank?” That’s when you get presented with something that you don’t necessarily know how to solve. It forces you to go up a level to a version of yourself that does know how to solve it. You grow personally, you grow as a leader, you grow as a visionary. The company grows from the top down as a result of that and everybody wins.
What we’re talking about here is something that ultimately can affect your business more than one more funnel or one more Facebook Ads spend or even one more product. It’s all about a being a founder and being a leader. It’s all about stepping up into the role of being a true business leader. When you think about books that have made an impact on your life, can you give me an example of one?
There is a book that was written by Wayne Dyer that is called Your Erroneous Zones, his first book. He’s written so many books but in my opinion that book, by far, is his best. It’s relatively straight forward and simple. As we’ve put together by now, I am all about simplicity. That book very clearly outlines, “Here are some things in your life that really are just erroneous.”It’s very helpful to me because I also think that this culture is addicted to their suffering in a way.
Misery loves company. It’s like the two year old knows they can get attention when they cry. They don’t do it consciously. They just they just do it because that’s how they get attention. As a culture, we know we get attention when we metaphorically cry, and we love to do it together because misery loves company. There is a group of people that love to commiserate together. They love to talk about what’s not going right and how the president sucks and how this isn’t good. It becomes a little bit of a pissing match where they go, “My problems are worse than yours,” and they go back and forth and they fuel each other’s fire. They all downward spiral together. I was one of them. I used to be one of those people until I realized how detrimental those mindsets were. When you’re in it, it’s hard to read the instructions for how to get out of the box when the instructions are on the outside and you’re on inside. I just didn’t know there was another way.
The other big one that I’ll tell you about which isn’t actually a book is Tony Robbins’ Lessons in Mastery. The interesting thing about Lessons in Mastery is that is a course that most people don’t know about. Most people know about Personal Power. Most people know about Get the Edge, but Lessons in Mastery I believe is six lessons, some of the most profound and very simple life-changing lessons that I’ve ever learned. The cool thing about Lessons In Mastery is the lessons are so simple and they’re so profound that it’s like the FedEx symbol. If you look at the FedEx symbol there is a secret arrow in the in the E and the X of the actual logo. If you’ve never seen this before it’ll blow your mind. If you look at the logo of FedEx and you look at the E and the X at the end of the logo, inside that there is an arrow.
In the negative space. I’ve seen it.
Most people don’t see that. However, when you see it you can never unsee it. What’s cool about that is when I read some of these books like Your Erroneous Zones or Lessons in Mastery, I learned strategies, I learned techniques, I learned things that I just can’t unlearn. I can’t unsee them. It’s very powerful for me from a growth standpoint because when challenges come my way or when negative chatter comes up, rather than indulging it and getting other people in on it and having a party about it, I can ask myself a question, for example, to turn the corner or I can create a metaphor, I can raise my standard. I can do something that’s going to shift it and make sure that my trajectory stays the way that I want it to rather than the way that I don’t want it to. Those two definitely were big ones for me.
I concur with you about Tony’s Lessons in Mastery. I’ve I studied that many years ago and it was breakthrough amazing for me at the time. Thank you for reminding me of that and recommending it. I do have one more question and this is what I call the grand finale question. It is truly the “change the world” type of a question. What is it that you were doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
The work that I am doing right now specifically is focused on working with visionary leaders who wants to change the world by doing the impossible. For example, I’m working with a guy who works with tech startups in New Zealand. In New Zealand, they have this funny thing called tall poppy syndrome which is essentially a mindset that says, “Who are you to be big? Who are you to have a big idea?” Now that’s a challenge because New Zealand per capita has some of the most innovative geniuses in the world. There’s the Sketch 22 where they have these amazing innovative geniuses, they create this amazing technology, but then they doubt themselves or their colleagues doubt them. Then they go,” I won’t bring this to the world because who am I?”This amazing world changing technology doesn’t get to see the light of day. This guy that I’m working with is on an absolute mission to raise the GDP of that country by raising the GDC which is the Gross Domestic Confidence.
As a result just as one story, in particular, he worked with a guy named Ollie Mikosza. Ollie invented what’s called a rapid public transportation system. It is a zero emission high speed rail system that is almost little gondolas, little pods that you get in that run at high speed above the traffic line. Brilliant technology and he invented it ten years ago. The world has not been able to benefit from this technology for ten years and it’s because of this mindset. It’s because he’s doubted himself. He works with my guy from New Zealand. He helps him bring his confidence to a new level and he helps him with his ability to pitch his idea, to pitch the value of the technology at a new level, so much so that he gets invited to India to pitch the idea to the Prime Minister of Transportation. Because he has confidence and because he has an ability to powerfully communicate value, India rewrites their entire transportation policy to include his technology. They just green lighted the next phase of the production to do a thousand-kilometer test track of the technology. Once all the box gets checked on the test, then they’re going to take it to the next level.
That’s truly changing the world and I know that there are going to be people who want to know more, who want to even help you, who may even want to work with you. Shannon, how can somebody get a hold of you or connect with you?
Shannon, I have to thank you. This has been a great experience for me. Many people’s lives will be enhanced by the words that you shared with us, so once again, thank you.
Thank you, Mitch.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Your Erroneous Zones – Wayne Dyer
- Lessons in Mastery: How to Use Your Personal Power to Create an Extraordinary Life!