Being Authentic with a System That Resonates

It was another perfect morning at the California Coffee Café and Bistro, the favorite spot of the locals in the tiny, upscale California coastal town of Rancho Benicia. The fog was floating in from the harbor across the street as the regulars zipped in and out or stayed to chat, enjoying the ambience of the little café.

Bennie Banks, the owner, was standing behind the antique oak bar that had been there when the town was a harbor for the nineteenth-century sailing ships and the place was a watering hole for the waterfront’s sailors. Now, though, Bennie and his three baristas proudly labored between it and the wonderfully gilded Italian espresso machine for this watering hole of a different era and all the friends it had made him and his team.

He took a moment, glanced around, and smiled. Five of his favorite regulars were there right now.

In the center of the café with her large double mocha was Sheila Marie Deveroux, one of the most prominent Realtors in town. Flamboyant to say the least, the eclectic woman with her raven black hair, her bright outfits, and her happy way of talking with her hands was hard to miss at her favorite table in the middle of the morning chaos. Bennie couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her there alone. She always had someone with her, which of course Bennie liked since that meant yet another coffee drinker. But he couldn’t help but notice that whoever the current person was, Sheila Marie would treat him or her like family. Just as she had always done with him.

“Bennie! A fill-up, please!” Bennie turned his head to another of his regulars—Paul Kingston, a casually dressed, thirty-something good guy, who was holding out his empty vanilla latte. Paul, a fixture each morning in the corner booth, with his sports page and his own special coffee mug, was one of those trustworthy men who knew everybody and seemed to know a little of everything, who loved spreading his knowledge around, and who had found a home in managing sales at the largest auto dealership in town. Bennie could not think of one bad thing he’d ever heard about Paul—except that he was talking about cutting down on his latte consumption. This made Bennie laugh since Paul had just ordered another.

Out on the patio sat young Sara Simpson, Female Entrepreneur of the Year before she turned twenty-nine, holding court. It was Tuesday. Every Tuesday and Thursday, 8:30 a.m. sharp, that was where she and eight of her top salespeople met. A dynamo, all business and proud of it, Sara loved to have her early morning meetings with all her system sales consultants in the warm California coastal air under Bennie’s umbrellas. “Double espressos all around, Bennie!” was always her “good morning.” And he always made hers a triple, just to see if she noticed.

And then there was Philip Stackhouse, striding in on his expensive loafers for his large cappuccino-no-whip with a purposeful, time-to-get-the-day-started wave. Philip, who had just turned forty, had somehow turned his networking ability and his early years hustling securities on Wall Street into being the guy to trust in Rancho Benicia for financial planning. Everybody knew it; everybody trusted him and told their friends about him.

“The usual?” Bennie called as Philip came toward him, saving Philip a few seconds. Philip gave him his trademark thumbs-up and bellied up to the old oak bar, laid down six dollars on the counter as he waited for Bennie to deliver his morning brew, which Bennie did in record time.

As he watched Philip pivot and head purposefully back out the door with a smiling salute to the coffee “colonel,” Bennie gazed over the scene, hands on his hips, enjoying the sight.

Slipping through Philip’s opened door walked Jeanne Hogan, projecting her infectious smile and charm that immediately brightened the room. Bennie smiled, noticing that Dr. Jeanne’s medium mocha light, with a half pump of chocolate and extra whipped cream, perfectly paralleled her engaging personality. Jeanne was a world expert on social networks before the term “social media” was invented and taught at the local university. That was until the Fortune 500 firms discovered her vast knowledge base of how social media and social proof drives revenue and started paying her more money than she could spend. However, anyone who knows Jeanne will tell you that money was never her primary motivator.

That’s when Bennie noticed Susie McCumber standing alone at the bar, staring at the circles she was making in her coffee with her spoon. It was her usual—hazelnut with steamed milk—Bennie remembered, and he moved her way.

“Hey there.”

Susie momentarily looked up. “Hi, Bennie.”

“How are you doing?”

“Fine,” she answered, unconvincingly, continuing to stare into her cup.

Bennie leaned closer. “Okay. Now, how are you really doing?”

Susie didn’t even look up this time. “Oh, you don’t really want to hear about it, Bennie. But thanks for asking.” She began to rap her fingertips nervously on the counter.

Bennie pulled a chocolate-covered biscotti from the big glass jar at his elbow, placed it on a paper doily, set the doily on a little plate, and slid the plate right to her fingertips, bringing them to full rest and prompting Susie’s eyes to look up to meet his.

“Yes,” Bennie said. “I do.”

Susie then recognized his sincerity. She gave Bennie the smallest of smiles and said, “Well, okay. The thing is … I can’t deny any longer … I’ve come to a crossroads.”

“What kind of crossroads?”

“The business kind. I may have to admit to myself that I’m not really going to get what I’ve wanted. And I don’t know what to do about it. I wanted my own business so desperately. I wanted to feel some purpose beyond a nine-to-five job, wanted to work for a dream of my own instead of someone else’s. You know?”

“Oh, yes.” Bennie sighed, looking around. “I know.”

“I wanted to make a living, not just a paycheck that could disappear at somebody else’s whim. So I got up all my courage and all my savings and … well, I risked. I tried. But,” she paused, fingering the biscotti, “it’s not working. And I may have to give up.” She shook her head. “I mean, I have to be the absolute worst at cold calls. I can’t do them. I cannot.”

“So don’t.”

Surprised, Susie looked up at that.

“It’s more than about making money, isn’t it?” Bennie said.

“Yes. Or it was supposed to be. But maybe I’m not cut out to do anything but just put in my hours and get by.”

Bennie leaned against the counter behind him, crossed his arms, and studied Susie.

Finally, Susie couldn’t stand it anymore. “What? What’s wrong?”

Bennie grinned. “Less than you think. Susie, you don’t know how familiar this all sounds. Look. I’m going to give you a phone number. You can use it or not. But if you do, well, let’s just say that when I used it and I met and listened to the man on the other end,” he waved an arm around at the busy place, “the rest is coffee history.”

He grabbed a napkin and a pen and scribbled a number and slid it over to Susie.


“His name is David Michael Highground. A good friend of mine referred me to him years ago, and now I’m doing the same for you.”

Susie looked apprehensive. She’d watched so many webinars, read so many books, and listened to so many big ideas for making it “out there.” How could she get excited about another one? She didn’t think she had the energy for another letdown.

“No, Highground’s philosophy and process isn’t like anything you’ve ever heard.”

That definitely surprised Susie. “Are you a mind reader, too?”

“No, I just know exactly what you’re thinking. It’s just another pitch, right?

“But have you ever heard a pitch that talked about relationships?” he asked. “Or about building a business doing the right things at the right times for all the right reasons, personally connecting with the clients you serve? Have you ever heard a pitch that suggests putting the relationship first—making your business foundation the golden rule?

“Trust me,” Bennie laughed. “David Michael Highground does not now nor ever will have dollar signs on his forehead! Yet he’s the most successful man I know. It’s not about money. He has all the money he will ever need. It’s about passion, purpose, and personal fulfillment. That’s what floats his boat now.” He nudged the napkin closer to her. “It’s your call. Let him know I referred you and let me know what happens.” And he moved down the bar to wait on a new customer.

Susie stared at the napkin, then at Bennie, then back at the napkin. Absently, she picked up the biscotti, dunked it a few times, and took a bite. Bennie got busy again and Susie’s thoughts went bleak once more. She swallowed the last of her coffee, picked up her belongings, turned to leave, and then remembered the napkin.

To her surprise, she reached out and took it. And with a glance back at Bennie, she left.

Inside her car, Susie picked up her phone and then put it down, staring at the number scrawled on the coffee shop napkin. A rush of thoughts—not the least of which was the thought of getting more business advice she couldn’t follow—made her hesitate. Maybe she needed to admit to herself that her dream didn’t fit who she was. She just didn’t have the right personality—or something.

But the things Bennie said.

Well, she sighed, she was certain of three things: she needed help, she had nothing to lose, and she had everything to gain. So she entered the phone number and pressed the dial icon.

“This is David.” The response was surprisingly warm.

“Hello,” she said, trying to hide the nervousness. “Yes, hello … my name is Susan McCumber. I was given your number. Do you have a moment to speak?”

“Absolutely,” the voice responded, still just as friendly.

She paused, enjoying the warmth. She wasn’t used to that sound from a stranger. She had spoken with far too many strangers who hated receiving cold calls as much as she hated making them. She took a calming breath. “Mr. Highground, I hope this isn’t a bother. You see, Bennie at the coffee shop gave me your name, said I should talk to you, that you have helped him and thought you might help me.”

She could almost hear his smile through his voice. “Ah, yes, Bennie. He’s a good man. Any friend of his is a friend of mine. How might I help you?”

Susie realized she no longer felt nervous. And to her surprise, she found herself telling him everything:

“Well, you see, I went into business for myself six months ago. But now I seem to have lost my momentum, and I’m beginning to think the problem is me. What I mean to say is that I started out so well and the business services company I’m affiliated with is fantastic and the people are so helpful … and I really believe in what we’re doing. But I’m not making it work somehow. I’ve gotten off track and I can’t seem to get back on. I feel like … like …” She made herself say the word she had been dodging for weeks—“a failure.”

Susie couldn’t believe she had just admitted this to a complete stranger. But the weeks she had spent attending local chamber of commerce networking meetings and following the cold-call procedures she had learned in training without results had become increasingly frustrating.

To be around so many successful people who treated her with respect and encouragement made her feel upbeat. But each week the vision of her actually attaining the same level of success as others in her industry seemed to decrease because of her absolute inability to acquire new clients.

In fact, the several contacts a day she had been forcing herself to make had dwindled lately to nothing more than thinking about making them. And her workday had begun to consist entirely of looking forward to the next business mixer to hopefully get an easy lead or maybe searching the Internet for some marketing guru’s advice or a new podcast that would save her. Day by day, she could actually feel her confidence and savings draining away.

“Susie.” Highground’s warm voice snapped her out of her funk.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, embarrassed. “Really, forgive me. I just can’t get my mind to stop thinking about it all.”

“Susie—may I call you that?”

“Sure,” she replied. “All my friends do.”

“Susie, you’re definitely not a failure,” Highground began. “You’re simply in a place that all people pass through at some time in their career and in their life. You’re on the mantel.”

“The mantel?” she repeated. “You mean like the shelf-over-a-fireplace kind of mantel?”

Highground laughed. “That’s the image. The mantel is a place to reflect. It’s where the good stuff happens. It’s the best place to be for me to help you because to get off the mantel and move forward permanently, you need a new plan. And you will move forward: I guarantee it. Does that make sense?”

“Absolutely,” Susie responded.

Highground continued, “Before we meet I need you to know that my help is not for everyone. My philosophy or way of doing business doesn’t suit everyone’s style or need. So before I agree to meet with you, I need to ask you several questions. Is that okay?”

“Well,” Susie said, “I suppose so.”

“All right. First question: Do you think there should be a distinction between your business self and your personal self?”

She listened as Highground went on. “In other words, do you want to become more of your authentic self in your business life and refine the God-given gifts that make you unique instead of trying to imitate someone else?

“I’ve never thought about that,” Susie replied. “I don’t think there should be a distinction between my business self and my personal self. But as for me, well, yes, I think I have acted differently in business, which has made me uncomfortable. And yes, I do want to be my authentic self, but I’m not sure I fully understand what you mean or how to do that.”

“Good response,” Highground replied. “This may be the first ‘lightbulb’ moment you experience on the mantel. It’s recognizing that you already have amazing gifts. It’s what I refer to as your inherent talents, the God-given gifts that you have owned since birth. When you work within these gifts, these inherent talents, time flies by, you will speak with your authentic voice, feel fulfilled, and be extremely productive. Most of the time we are the last ones to recognize our gifts and inherent talents, and they are what everyone likes most about us.

“Let me give you an example that might help unpack this truth for you. Have you ever watched The Wizard of Oz, Susie?”

“Oh, yes,” Susie said, giving a wide-eyed smile. “Those flying monkeys scared me to the point I couldn’t sleep!”

“You got it. They frightened me as well.”

Highground continued, “Remember when Dorothy and Toto were trying to get home, on the way to the Emerald City they met Scarecrow, who wanted a brain; Tin Man, who wanted a heart; and Cowardly Lion, who wanted courage?

“During their journey, every time they encountered a problem Scarecrow would be the first to think through the situation and offer thoughtful advice. During sentimental moments, Tin Man would cry to the point that he rusted up—demonstrating great emotion. And on the path to the witch’s castle, while under attack, Cowardly Lion led the way—demonstrating great courage.”

Susie added, “Exactly, I loved that movie.”

Highground smiled and said, “Then you remember when they finally met face-to-face with the great Wizard of Oz, each had still not recognized his own gifts, his own inherent talents. The Wizard of Oz gave Scarecrow a diploma, Tin Man a heart-shaped watch, and Cowardly Lion a medal.

“In the end, all of the characters realized they already possessed what they deeply desired. While it was obvious to others, they just needed to find it within themselves and embrace it!

“Here’s the thing, Susie: when you recognize and work within your own giftedness, your own inherent talents, then, and only then, will your authentic voice be heard. People will be drawn to you because you are real, your authenticity will become a magnet to attract others to you and be your biggest weapon against the urge to act like someone else.

“You see, Susie, we are no different than the characters in the movie until we recognize, value, and embrace our own inherent talents; they are what makes us truly unique individuals.

“So my first question for you, Miss Susie: are you ready to become more of who you are? Are you ready to speak with the authentic voice within you?”

With her chin stuck out and her eyes misty, but wide open, Susie responded, “Absolutely, Mr. Highground. I’ve never been more ready.”

Nodding his head in approval, Highground replied, “Well said, Susie. Well said!”

“So, question number two. Ready? Do you believe in the products or services that you offer? Are you proud to associate yourself with all aspects of your organization?” he asked. “It can’t be only about making money.

“You see, I am going to show you how to build lifelong advocates of you and your company, so it’s imperative you are absolutely sold on them yourself. That way, even in the event you were to move on, all the people you do business with will feel that you moved them to a better spot with the products or services of your current organization.”

“There’s no doubt about that,” Susie replied emphatically. “That was why I started my own business in the first place.”

“Excellent,” said Highground. “Now, question three. And sometimes this is the hardest one. Are you willing to ‘stay the course’? Everyone is different, so the process I share applies differently to each. The one key thing, though, that everyone must have is what I call ‘demonstrated consistency’ in this process.

“You will see results immediately, but the real lasting effects, the kind on which you can build your business and life, happen only when you consistently apply this process of putting relationships first in your business on a daily basis for about four months. Then it continues to build and deepen each month thereafter. So the whole way of doing business turns on this: Will you stay committed to a course of action that won’t include old-school selling techniques like cold calling or making others uncomfortable with pushy sales tactics but will take a daily commitment on your part?”

Susie felt a twinge of anxiousness, but there was nothing she was hearing that she did not instantly like. “Well, yes. I’m ready to try,” was her determined response.

“Well, then, Susie, so am I,” was his reply. “We’ll meet this afternoon, around three, at the coffee shop if that’s convenient.”

“Yes, I can be there.”

“Good. See you then.”

Before Susie could respond, Highground was speaking again: “Oh. One more thing.”

“Yes?” she replied.

“You’re going to do great.”

Susie tapped her cell phone silent. What was she getting herself into? But she trusted Bennie, and this Mr. Highground seemed to be a good friend of Bennie’s. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. “And,” she told herself, “you certainly have nothing to lose.”

She’d be there.

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