But wait, there’s more!
I remember watching those TV advertisements as a kid. You know the ones – the offer just kept getting better and better. There where Ginsu Knives, the Slap Chop, some flashlight with a military grade beam strength (whatever that means) and a variety of non-stick pans with revolutionary coatings (that we eventually ingest as the coatings come off into our food over time).
The product didn’t really matter. The success of the commercial model was all in the anticipation and buildup. First, the announcer would demonstrate the product. Then he would throw in unexpected accessories. After that, the price would be slashed from what he told us we expected to pay. Last, he would make it a two for one deal if we called within the next ten minutes. BUT YOU MUST ACT NOW!
Each step in the process, the announcer lost credibility because he drastically improved the deal he just got finished offering. But we didn’t care. The deal got better! More for less! The announcer is the sucker, not me! By the time it was over, we were begging to pay $20 ($19.99 to be precise) for two pieces of crap with a combined manufacturing cost of $1.13.
I’m a capitalist. I believe capitalism is the only economic model with any chance of succeeding because of our intrinsic human instincts and insecurities. I also have a marketing degree from a highly regarded business school. I get it. I totally understand the art of making people think they can’t live without something, then putting it within reach by making it seem like the offer of a lifetime – in however many easy monthly payments are necessary to seal the deal.
When we were in our mid 20’s, my wife and I were shopping for a new car. As we talked to the salesperson, another couple entered the dealership and were greeted by another salesperson. After a few minutes, that salesperson asked to speak in private to our guy. Our salesman returned a few minutes later, and – wouldn’t you know it – the new couple was interested in the exact same car. It was the only one on the lot in that model and color, of course, so we had to make a decision fast or risk losing the car. Even as I felt my blood boil at the unwanted pressure this joker was applying, I also felt a sense of urgency and we made the deal in the next few minutes. I knew what was happening and I still couldn’t resist.
These techniques are not necessarily dishonest. And I get that people who sell things for a living deserve to make money for their efforts. Creating a sense of urgency is like a shove in our naturally indecisive backs. We were probably going to get there eventually, so why not make the system more efficient, right?
The pressure is everywhere. We post to social media pictures of our vacations not because we want to, but because we feel the pressure to have a life as carefree and elegant as the lives of our friends. Fashion is all about squeezing our imperfect bodies into the outfit that looked fabulous on the supermodel. It seems every kid in America goes to college now, even when there is more money to be made, and a strong sense of job satisfaction to be gained, as an electrician or a welder, because college has become a societal expectation. Have you noticed that beer commercials don’t even advertise beer anymore? They advertise a lifestyle that we will envy, then tell us we can find that life of leisure under the cap of their bottles.
I get it. I get all of it. I’m not even necessarily against it. Our economy needs to be strong and transactional, and this pulling and prodding at the American psyche is required to keep the gears lubricated.
But I am drawn to authenticity. Are you?
The more I learn and the better I understand that society’s main function is to tell me what I need to hear to elicit certain responses, the more I want to spend time walking the other direction. Sometimes running. I want connection with people who have felt defeat and know they need to make changes to survive. I want to spend time with humans who want to spend time with me – not for what they can sell me or what they can extract from me with a minimum of effort – but because I am naive enough to share my warts and blemishes for the benefit of us all.
I run an early sobriety program called SHOUT Sobriety to help people through the most challenging period of their lives – the weeks and months of early recovery from alcoholism. I offer the program for free, and I say often that I don’t believe people should have to pay for their freedom. My friends think I’m nuts. Fellow recovery warriors like Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen charge like $800 to $1,000 for their similar programs. They are both a couple of years ahead of me in sobriety, and their programs have more bells and whistles to justify the cost, but the bottom line is that we are all trying to help people based on the lessons we learned when no one was there to help us.
Laura and Holly have it right. They need to survive – they deserve to thrive after all they’ve been through – and capitalism is the American way. I am jealous of their decisions to operate for-profit businesses that help people.
Me? I solicit donations from alumni of SHOUT Sobriety and anyone else in the recovery community who believes in my message. It’s a noble endeavor, no? But I’m a sucker. Remember those lessons I shared about human instincts and insecurities? My donation-based model doesn’t drive people with pressure and the illusion of value. My non-profit model suffers from the other intrinsic human characteristics of assuming the other guy will take care of the issue and prioritizing our own needs over the common good. Even when we find savings in sobriety of hundreds of dollars a month we used to spend on booze, that money finds a new home effortlessly and before we have time to pay it forward.
Like I said, my friends think I’m nuts. They express admiration for my attempts to help people without personal gain. Now that the model is proving unsuccessful, they urge me to charge an entry fee just like Holly and Laura and the others who are smart enough to get paid for the knowledge they have accumulated.
But while my naivety is yielding unsustainable financial results, something else is happening to strengthen my resolve. From a statistical standpoint, over 92% of SHOUT Sobriety participants are still sober. Do you know why? It isn’t the curriculum or the organization and quality of the materials, it is the authenticity.
I legitimately enjoy communicating with my community of enlightenment. I wait impatiently for their emails about temptations and struggling relationships, and I eagerly share stories from my life when I was in the exact same situations. I love watching them interact in our group setting, and their accomplishments warm my heart in the same way I feel pride when my own children succeed.
I could charge money for that experience without making it smarmy or inauthentic. Holly and Laura do, and they are as real and relatable as people get. I could charge $500 and undercut them especially since I am a few years behind them in reach and experience. I could do that. My friends encourage me to follow that path. I know how to deliver a message that creates a sense of urgency and makes people believe their lives are incomplete without handing me $500. I’ve been learning how to do that since the Ginsu Knives commercials ran between Roadrunner episodes on Saturday mornings.
But I can’t. I can’t do that.
There are people sharing their lives with me, trusting me, leaning on me, who don’t have $500. Participants in SHOUT Sobriety are dealing with bankruptcy and future, inevitable bankruptcies, and a myriad of less severe financial struggles. They share the pain of these struggles with me not to justify their inability to donate, but because monetary challenges are high on the list of reasons they drank. Money problems are not just a result of alcoholism, they are incredibly often the root cause as well. For many of the 92% who are clawing their way out, they don’t have $500. Given the choice to buy a program for $500 or struggle with alcoholism, they would be forced to choose alcohol.
But wait, there’s more!
That’s not even the main reason I refuse to charge money for SHOUT Sobriety. The main reason is selfish. When I needed to get sober, I had $500 of disposable income. I even had $1,000. But there is no way I would have spent it on a sobriety program. Not then. Not yet. Eventually, maybe. But eventually might have been too late.
Eventually might have been after my wife left and tore my kids away from me. Eventually might have been after a DUI or worse. Eventually might have been after I lost everything. You might have had to pry the $500 out of my cold, dead, hand.
I want to help people find sobriety at the very earliest time they admit their affliction and realize drinking is doing them harm. I want to be there without barriers to entry as soon as someone is ready for help, and not wait for them to be ready to pay for it. I want to enroll participants in SHOUT Sobriety before they wreck their lives and lose everything that is important to them. I don’t believe people should have to pay for their freedom because by the time they are desperate enough to fork over the cash, it just might be too late.
Do you know a lot of alcoholism success stories? I’ll bet you know more people whose battle with addiction killed them early. Don’t you think we should offer help before the point of no return? I do. I authentically do.
I’ve always planned to write books about addiction and recovery. I’ve dramatically sped-up the timeline on trying to get published now that the financial side of the non-profit SHOUT Sobriety model is failing. I’m going to keep SHOUT Sobriety going because of 92%, and I love the people, and, well, I value authenticity more than I should. I’m a sucker. I get it. But the less authentic version of me was a raging drinker, so I think I’ll keep going in my current direction.
SHOUT Sobriety, you complete me.
But I also need to feed my family, so I’m learning about publishing as fast as I can. I watched a webinar last week presented by an expert in the book industry I’ve really come to admire. The webinar started out giving tips to aspiring writers for free. Eventually, the presenter started pitching his online course. He showed all the extras and gadgets included, and estimated the program’s value at $2,500. Then he slowly brought the price down while adding bonus materials until he wanted only a measly $297 – but only if you paid within the next 48 hours (during which time he sent half a dozen reminder emails). I watched all the way to the end – not because there was even a remote chance I’d spend $300 on his program, but because I wanted to relive the Ginsu Knives experience of my childhood.
I have read and watched enough from this seller-of-wares to respect and admire his knowledge and passion. And I applaud his efforts to feed his family, and in no way begrudge his efforts to demonstrate his understanding of human instincts and impatience. He has something of value to share, and he deserves to survive and thrive. But he became a little less authentic to me last week.
And I don’t want that to ever happen to me.
Maybe it will. I’m very near an emotional breaking point. Between my writing and podcast and speaking and SHOUT Sobriety, I work long, stressful hours. And I need to monetize it soon. It isn’t even that I’m out of money (though that day is rapidly approaching). It’s that I’m human, too. And humans need to provide for the ones we love. That’s another one of those intrinsic human instincts.
I’m having lunch next week with a friend who was out of work for a year. He worked tirelessly on his job search during his lapse in employment, and his efforts paid off in a wonderful job at the compensation and benefit level his years of experience and expertise had earned. And during that year between, while he didn’t give-in and take less than he deserved, the pressure mounted. I’m not even talking about budget pressure. I’m talking about the deep, gnawing, ingrained need to be compensated financially for his relentless efforts. I had empathy for him during that year. Now I feel like empathy is not a strong enough word to describe my understanding of his agony and stress.
This is the part where I usually invite you to join SHOUT Sobriety. Today, that invitation comes with a warning. People usually think they want to stop drinking because of the damage alcohol is doing in their lives. What they discover is that the pain of alcoholism resides in the inauthenticity of denial and bad behavior. What they really long for is to live an authentic life. I can help you get there, but be careful, because authenticity is addictive, and it doesn’t pay very well.
I have no uplifting message to end my story today. Sometimes following a mission from God or purpose in life or spiritual calling is hard. Often, in fact. Often it is hard even if you are 92% good at it.
Life is a limited time offer, with no money back guarantee. I feel the sense of urgency along with the stress and terror of the unknown. Right now, it’s too much for me to enjoy. Even the 92% is overwhelmed.
This is my authenticity. But wait, there’s more! At least, I hope so.