Is it Finally Time for You to Step Up?

image of African violet

A frail older woman, never married. Living in a large house that she has inherited. Her materials needs are met, but her days are lonely.

Health challenges have confined her to a wheelchair, and she is feeling increasingly isolated. Increasingly … useless.

Her life has very little meaning, and less pleasure. She wonders why she keeps going. And sometimes, very late at night, she considers simply … quietly saying good-bye.

But not today. Today she is having a visitor for tea, a friend of her nephew’s.

That visitor is the renowned psychiatrist Milton Erickson.

And he is going to give her a single piece of advice that will transform her life beyond recognition.

Erickson takes the tour of her house, nods politely at the lovely furnishings. Notices the closed curtains and the air of depression that has seeped into every corner of the house. And he sees the one thing that light’s the woman’s eyes up — her greenhouse full of African violets. The one thing that brings some life to her days.

He listens as she describes her small, constrained life. She leaves her house once a week, for church on Sundays. She arrives late, so she doesn’t “disturb” anyone with her wheelchair. She leaves early for the same reason.

And this legendary psychiatrist gives her no words of therapeutic wisdom. He doesn’t seek to uncover her childhood issues or resolve any Freudian complexities.

He simply makes a rather sharp observation — that, in his estimation, she is not being a very good Christian.

“Here you are with all this money, time on your hands, and a green thumb. And it’s all going to waste. What I recommend is that you get a copy of your church membership list and then look in the latest church bulletin. You’ll find announcements of births, illnesses, graduations, engagements, and marriages in there — all the happy and sad events in the life of people in the congregation. Make a number of African violet cuttings and get them well established. Then repot them in gift pots and have your handyman drive you to the homes of people who are affected by these happy or sad events. Bring them a plant and your congratulations or condolences and comfort, whichever is appropriate to the situation.” ~ quoted in Do One Thing Different by Bill O’Hanlon

Somewhat taken aback, the woman acknowledges that perhaps she has not been as good a Christian as she ought. She thanks the visitor for his company and his advice.

20 years later, Erickson shows a student an article from the Milwaukee newspaper, an obituary about the “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee,” celebrating the life of a generous, caring woman who touched the lives and hearts of thousands.

Near the end of her life. Constrained by health and a lifetime of habit. A reclusive, depressed woman near suicide is transformed … and transforms thousands of others.

What do you have today that you could be sharing?

What are your African violets? What, to use Peter Drucker’s phrase, comes rather easily to you but rather hard to most people?

What do you have that’s going to waste?

It may be your ability to write a warm, engaging article or email that sparks conversation. It may be your sense of humor. It may be your ability to boil down a complex topic into something people can understand.

This is your time. You have assets to share. Why are you hoarding them?

How can you find more people to help?

Since we’re in business to make our customers’ lives better, how can you find more people to help? How can you get your African violets in the hands of more people who need them?

How can you take your particular gifts and get the word out? What’s holding you back from that? Is it a lack of marketing knowledge? Or just a lack of the audacity to actually put that marketing knowledge into practice?

If you could use some help with that …

Our mission this year is to help smart writers and content creators (like you) find a wider audience.

To improve your marketing knowledge so you can find the clients you need (and help them become much more successful).

To increase your audacity so you can tilt your chin up and take pride in what you have to offer.

To enhance your authority by turning what you’re great at into a system for yourself and your clients.

Why? Because the world really needs you. Content marketing is exploding — every day, hundreds of mainstream businesses are discovering how badly they need your expertise.

Literally every business owner I talk with says that their biggest content marketing challenge is finding someone to create all that content.

In other words, their biggest problem is they haven’t found you yet. Because you’ve been hiding. Reluctant. Hoarding your treasure.

Here’s the next step

If you haven’t yet, sign up for our Internet Marketing for Smart People course. It’s free. All by itself, it will give you a solid, proven framework for strategic content marketing.

What you should do to promote yourself, and what you should do to promote your clients.

For thousands of people, the free course alone has been enough to get them to their goals. And if you decide you want something more comprehensive, we’ll be building that for you, too.

The first step is to make sure you’re plugged in so we can start your education. Drop your email here and we’ll get started right away.

Looking forward to seeing you there. :)

Note: The African violet story is taken from Bill O’Hanlon’s book Do One Thing Different, a great read about how to uncover small changes that can make a dramatic impact on your life. You can also watch Bill tell the story here

Now go do this…

Don’t nod your head and drift on to the rest of your day. Get into the game. Get connected to the material that will show you how to get your best gifts out to the world. Leave your best email address here … and we’ll talk more soon.

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Reader Comments (74)

  1. says

    I’m writing books in a fictional format about love, loss, abuse, forgiveness, and how we deal with those issues. My first book, “A Train Called Forgiveness” is based on my own childhood in a cult. I’m learning the ropes of blogging/marketing. It’s a long process. No easy overnight fixes, just a learning curve of things to do along the way. Learn more about my writing @

    • says

      Hey Dan,

      That’s fantastic! I will have to check out your book. Did this article inspire you as much as it did me?

      Just think of how much time, talent, and just having so many advantages that we take for granted. And how can we turn that to use for good, help others, and inspire a community into action!

      I know you can learn the ropes and your in the right place to continue to learn and grow! Keep up the great work Dan!

  2. says

    Beautiful story Sonia. I just published a post on how difficult simple writing can be but, as you point out, when applied to other areas, it can be life changing.

    • says

      Thanks Vince!

      Writing is difficult. I’m not sure why that is. :) Then again, this lady had a great deal of effort to make to get her gifts out there — but the reward was so much greater than the effort.

  3. Mary Montserrat-Howlett says

    This story brought a tear to my eye. What a wonderful example of the power and influence of emotion in great writing.

    Thank you. :)

  4. says

    Just what I needed to inspire me to do more. I need to look at what I can pass on, it’s bound to be right under my nose…
    Looking forward to the marketing course!

  5. says

    Nice story, Sonia. The other day someone gave me a different quote from Milton Erickson:

    “Expect what you see.”

    That is to say, don’t be surprised when people act the way they usually do. If you’re not expecting it, you’ll get knocked off balance. But if you are, you can roll with it.

    Smart man, that M.E.

  6. says

    Well done, Sonia. I always love your posts, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. I feel inspired–and I may have found my African violets. The jury is still out.

  7. says

    My mom grew African violets and read voraciously. I encouraged her to write, but she never did. She hated computers with a passion. So, now I write on computers daily, for a living. This post is a blessing to m, Sonia.

  8. says

    Wonderful story. One thing I saw though was that if she had not had a visitor she who showed her a different way, life would have been traumatic. Many people see something new and say, that would be great for Joe down the street but I have no need for it. The Internet marketing course is excellent but again, unless you apply what you learn, nothing changes. Thanks for sharing a story that made a difference for you and from the comments, several others too.

  9. says

    Sonia – Thanks for the mention. It was great to meet you and I am so glad that African Violet story touched you, as it did me. In fact, it changed the course of my career. I was inspired to invent a new approach to psychotherapy and change based on finding the African Violets in people’s lives.

  10. says

    When I die I want people to call me the “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee.” Just kidding.

    Seriously though, how many times have I been in that stinking, self-absorbed state–feeling sorry for myself–because things aren’t going MY way…

    It only gets worse if you don’t stop staring at your navel, climb out of that pit and live for something greater than yourself–namely, helping people. That’s the antidote.

    You probably already know this but Jesus said second to the greatest commandment (love God) is to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s instructive because what does it say about a person if they say they love God but hate their neighbor? A lot.

    Or what does it say about a business person who loves money but hates customers? A lot.

    To be honest the words I want people to say about me when I die are generous, hard working, loyal and stupid funny. And if it was my grandmother who said “stupid funny” that would take the cake.

    Great article, Sonia.

  11. says

    This has encouraged me to finally get up off my “but’s” and start making that course I’ve always wanted to create. Thanks for the kick in the proverbial pants! :)

  12. says

    Thank you. Exactly what I needed today and I bought the book for more inspiration. I have really enjoyed reading Copblogger lately and look for it first in my reader.

  13. says

    Another great post from the people at CopyBlogger, is it any wonder that this is my first stop of the day?

    The only thing that most of us have to offer is kindness and I spend most of my time looking after my father so there is little chance of anyone else benefiting. :)

    • says

      You don’t have to solve the world’s problems, you just have to make your offering in the world where you can. Sounds like you’re in good shape there. :)

      Kindness is no small offering.

  14. says

    Beautifully written Sonia. Thanks for it.
    Fascinating how Erickson used guilt to motivate her.
    I wonder if it would have worked if he had said, “You know what’s a good idea? Why don’t you…”
    Instead, he met her where she was at and used it. To her, and Milwaukee’s advantage.

  15. says

    I’m just a little bit knocked off balance by this. I was just working myself up to focusing less on writing and finding a part time job on the side to help pay the bills that writing is falling short on.

    Now I’m going to have to spin over all the options again…

  16. says

    Sonia, your article hit home! This story reminds me of my mother who has no purpose in life because of health and age. Now I’m thinking I need to help her find her “african violets” and encourage her. It gave me a great idea for a post and may link back to your writing.
    Thanks! Always enjoy your posts and look forward to them daily.

  17. says

    Hey Sonia

    Loved this article.

    I watched the documentary “Happy” not too long ago. And they said that a big difference between happy and sad people is how much they do for others.

    I know in my own business, I’m happier when providing advice to people, even if its free, rather than seeing how I can squeeze a few more dollars out of someone (I’ll admit, I’ve tried both).

    Thanks for the piece of inspiration today!

    • says

      My experience definitely bears that out. Making a living is great and we need it, but making a living by helping people is about one billion times more enjoyable.

  18. says

    A gem of a post. :) I could all but BE that lady (other than the single and old parts). I choose to share my gifts and have made countless lives better because of it. The trick is to take your gifts and knowledge and DO something effective with them.

  19. says

    Beautiful story. Before reading this, I actually spent the morning on an artistic project i’ve been putting off, that I think others would really enjoy if I “got it out there.” It felt great todo it. So this article came at an opportune time.

  20. says

    Sonia, the direct big-heartedness of this post shines. In all our “small, constrained” lives is a dormant seed, waiting. Thanks for showing us what happens when it’s watered.

  21. says

    Wow! What an inspiring story. Sometimes it takes and “outside” to point out the obvious to us. We have something that no one else has. There are things that may be easier for us to do or share than others. Why not stop hoarding it and share it with the world? Thanks for an insightful post. I’ll be thinking about it all day!

  22. says

    My favorite post on Copyblogger EVER. Last year, writing my blog was about me. How many people commented to ME. How many people shared MY tweets. How many people liked ME on Facebook. And guess what? I was frustrated and unhappy because no one seemed to want to be all about ME. I’m a Christian psychologist, so I should know better, hm? I started a blog where I don’t talk about myself, have my picture featured on the front page, or ask people to comment (it’s too much work for most people!). I’m now writing for others. Where I used to be frustrated with people, I’m now happier than ever. I love doing what I’m doing. It’s true that I’m not in business, but I believe that if I were, I’d be in a better position to succeed doing what I’m doing. Thanks for the inspiration and for doing what you do day in and day out. It’s appreciated..

    • says

      You guys are awesome and so generous! Thanks so much. I really did need this today. I know comparison is a killer of dreams, hopes, confidence…but I find it very hard not to feel with such a saturated blogosphere my heart, my message is unnecessary compared (there’s that killer word again) to what others are doing and saying. Inspired and encouraged, I press on…and try to get over myself and onto offering myself.

  23. Angie says

    Wow, Sonia, really great article! I will not soon forget this, as it reaches way deeper than my writing life. Thought-provoking stuff!

  24. says

    “Audacity” must be bouncing around the ether right now, lots of people grabbing onto it. I’ve just started a blog for artists who have the audacity to make good livings without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death. :)
    (Make Creativity Pay) I’m hoping there are a lot of people out there who want me to share what I’ve learned over the years as a musician and business owner.

    Great story, Simone, and really moving. Thanks so much!

  25. says

    This really hits home. Many of us would believe that we have little of value to offer others…when in reality things that come easily to us might be the struggle of a lifetime for another person. Share your gifts, everyone.

  26. says

    Very inspirational, this post makes you think of all the possibilities and chances you could use. Very strong words, thank you, Sonia.

  27. says

    This is really inspiring… makes me want to reach out and contribute more with my writing. Sometimes, you want to do more, but are either shy or too afraid of making mistakes. Particularly in Asia where I am from, people get suspicious when you are too nice, unfortunately…

    I wonder if marketers in US are interested in Asian content too. There might be a niche somewhere that I have yet to uncover.

  28. says

    Yup. It’s time to step up. I liked how you presented this. It made me think, and recalculate what I’m doing. I’ve been in the content production industry for the past 7 years, and I’m still not where I want to be in this game.

    I’m going to step up this year.

    Thanks for making me want to detail my plans.


  29. Joona Kaarna says

    WOW WOW WOW!!!!

    It was as magnificent as always. But this time I was literally lying on bed and reading your story from my mobile device. And I was unable to stop. It just captivated my mind totally. When I was in the end of story, I knew excactly what to. I have to get up and do SOMETHING NOW. There is a way to write about topic that is so desperately needed in my country. And nobody cares.

    Thank you so much about this story.

  30. says

    This was an incredibly touching story. Thank you for sharing it here, Sonia.
    And you know, we all need to create more “African Violet” moments.
    They’re there, for sure. And we all could step up a little more than we should.
    Thank you again for your post.

  31. Mitch says

    ALWAYS your writing brings the best motivation, good sense, or much needed butt kicking!!!
    Sonia ..Thank You.!!


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