How May I Serve You?

August 12, 2015

Ingrid Hart Website Screen Shot

I’ve been reading new-age guru Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book on “Living the Wisdom of the Tao.”  When it comes to prolific and profitable writers, Dyer is at the top of the heap.  In this book, properly titled “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life,” Dyer writes one essay reflecting his own personal thoughts on each of the 81 verses of the Tao Te Ching authored by the Chinese sage Lao-tzu nearly 2,000 years ago.   The Tao or “The Way” is a book of wisdom that’s been translated more than any volume in the world, with the exception of the Bible.

My friend Hannah found Dyer’s book at a thrift shop and probably paid one dollar for this gem, written in 2009, and gave it to me as a gift.  I’m grateful. After thumbing through the preface one morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and the gentle morning sun peeking through the mini blinds of my Mountain View apartment, I wondered to myself how long it would take me to read the entire book.   I ran the numbers in my head: four chapters a week would allow for reflection and integration, divided by 81 chapters would equal roughly five months.  And so I began the self-study course on Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

“Living Contentment” is this morning’s reflection.  I’m enchanted with the Tao-centered question Lao-tzu says will lead us to a life of contentment.  “How May I Serve?”

This question shifted the possibility of engaging in the business world with greater intention for me.  Just this week I redesigned my website at to reflect more of who I truly am: business writer and project manager. The user interface design on the website is stripped down to capture the essence of simplicity, catering to the visitor who sees themselves immediately in the images and text.  I followed the “Don’t Make Think” philosophy of web guru Steve Krug.

The website displays a You, Me, Our Journey content that is simple and direct.  It features a nautical theme: sailor, compass, boat, and lighthouse. You seek someone to write proposals, social media posts, press releases, newsletters, and reports; I’m a writer and project manager with over 20 years of experience in business communications; We collaborate on a winning strategy, create measureable results, and watch your business grow.


As a business owner for over 23 years, I’m always asking “How may I serve?” Because I want to support people, maybe you, or someone you know, on their projects.  The only way I know how to do this is by using my marketable skills as a business writer and project manager. Business, I believe, is about building and then maintaining relationships.  At the core of it, people want to be connected to one another and making the world a better place.  I believe that’s the true spirit behind Living the Wisdom of the Tao—working together for the greater good of humanity.

proposal v2

I just completed a proposal writing engagement for a global gaming company in the Silicon Valley.  This wild and wooly six-week gig facilitating a team of 11 professionals including engineers, marketing and sales, and the C-suite, inspired me to reflect on the art of persuasive writing and the magic of collaboration.  Here are some lessons learned from my experience.

Assign one proposal manager and then empower that person

A full-length proposal in response to an RFP holds myriad moving parts including production schedule, pricing, formatting, tables and graphs, table of contents, and an executive summary.  As the coordinator, I was tasked with keeping all parts of the proposal moving toward completion.  By assigning one point of contact the team members were clear on whom to funnel all their content.  If the proposal manager is not empowered, ambiguous roles may create confusion in version control which could lead to lost work and inefficient timeline management.

Understand the link between the proposal and sales manager

A solid business relationship between the proposal and sales manager cannot be mitigated.  When both these roles are in step, a stronger proposal is a sure thing.  I learned that if both operating styles are compatible, there’s a greater chance of success.

Identify the client’s pain points

The most effective proposals are those that the sales lead has developed a relationship with the client.  Sales should understand the client’s pain points, and the proposal manager must articulate a customized solution to address these issues.  To ensure a smooth communication download from sales to the written word, I developed a series of interview questions posed to the sales lead of our proposal based on a problem/solution/results format.

  • What part of the client’s company is affected by this problem?
  • What is the single most important part of this proposal that will make the client choose us?
  • What does success look like for our client?

Ensure a clear review process is in place

Identify all the team members who will review the proposal and how much influence they have on the final product.  I recommend three levels:

  1. Editorial review: technical aspects such as grammar, formatting, spelling, consistency, punctuation
  2. Client POV: Is the proposal approach solving the pain point? Is the language clear? Is there enough technical detail?
  3. C-Suite Review: Allow plenty of time for this final review by the CEO, CFO, or COO. Chances are once the C-Suite reviews the proposal there will be changes that must be addressed, so also build time in the schedule to integrate changes for one final pass-through after this review.

Conduct a post-mortem on the entire proposal process

After all the hard work, hundreds of hours, and countless versions of the proposal, it’s finally complete.  I believe the most useful part of the process is to identify what did and didn’t work for this proposal.  Less than 25 percent of proposals actually get the project, sometimes less, and for us, it may take months before we find out if we’re the winners.  Why not gather the team together for a 30-minute forensic evaluation of the proposal writing process?  It benefits everyone, making the next go-around even better.  This internal process builds the team and, even though it might be painful, and certainly enough finger-pointing to go around, it does make everyone stronger.  In the end, it’s about learning and improving communication skills, and making your business competitive.

About Ingrid Hart                                                                                                   

I’m an award-winning business writer, project manager, and social media strategist specializing in communications.  Throughout my career I’ve written funded proposals in excess of $1 million dollars. I’ve been a content writer and manager of over 15 websites, multiple social media channels and accounts, print collateral, press releases, blogs, emails, newsletters, white papers, FAQs, speeches, news stories, talking points, and public opinion pieces.  I’m the author of an award-winning book on California.  In the evening you can find me biking around Shoreline Lake in Mountain View.

Share Icon

I’ve been asked to pitch ideas for a brand new online magazine that will launch in June.  Their target audience: millennials, young adults between ages 18 and 34.

According to Entrepreneur Magazine writer Sujan Patel, these millennials are diverse.  “Nearly 43 percent are non-white and roughly 25 percent speak a language other than English at home,” writes Patel.  “A good deal of millennials have never known a world without the Internet and social media.”

But what they do know is how to buy, collectively they wield $1.3 trillion in annual buying power.  A stat that captured my interest is roughly 95 percent of millennials say friends are the most credible source of product information.  So if you want to sell something to a millennial, you might want to plant the seed in their friend’s ear, then allow them to spread the word.

The online magazine that asked me to pitch ideas created a target audience analysis of the millennial sector, and I believe their research hits the mark.  Genius.  My favorite description: While they may not be directly seeking an “Ah-Ha” moment, they appreciate those experiences when they occur and are quick to share what they learned, enjoyed, or found entertaining with their social network.

Yes.  Again with the social sharing.  I get it.  Of course, as a social media strategist, that’s what I thrive on too.  I want to share all the great stuff I discover online.

Next step: select from a list of 25 categories the online magazine has generated that resonates with millennials.  I’m leaning toward adventure junkies, or travelers—something that will support lots of stunning photographs, a shareable story.  YOLO anyone?

Butterfly  You botched the interview. You didn’t get into the MBA program at a top-tier university. The promotion you were seeking went to someone else. Things are not going according to the plan and now your life is upside down and you’re walking through molasses. How do you regain balance after disappointment?

What about if you reframed the disappointment as a catalyst to your growth? You could then consider these trying times as an opportunity to become stronger and wiser. I’d like you to consider these four steps toward balance after disappointment:

1. Remain present for the experience

The desire to escape the pain of disappointment is the path of least resistance. Try to remain present. It is more painful in the short run, but in the long run, greater emotional health and vitality will be your reward. I’ve found that the disappointment comes through in waves. The intensity waxes and wanes. By remaining present, you can acknowledge the situation with clarity. Say to yourself, “I am here now. I will not be here forever. This too will pass.”

2. Seek and accept support

If you recognize that you are not alone in the struggle against the pain of disappointment, your challenge becomes less self-centered and more about what it means to be a human being in the year 2015. These are hyper-competitive times. Once you remember that we are all connected to the great mystery of life, you’ll feel less alone and more inclined to accept support from others who also continue the struggle. There are times in your life when you’ve held the lantern in the dark for others, helping to show them the way. Now it’s your turn to be led. No one can take the journey for you, but they can hold your hand and guide you through the darkness into the light.

3. Recognize experience becomes wisdom

When you are in the midst of your challenge, it’s hard to imagine a time when the transformation will be complete and the experience will become wisdom. As long as you feel you’re in transformation, you are not any wiser for it. It is when you are complete with the struggle that you can gain perspective and can then transform the experience into wisdom. You no longer identify with the disappointment. You have distance from your challenge and can now examine it with clarity and perspective. You’ll look back and reflect on your behavior and the results of your actions. Don’t judge them as good or bad. They simply are. Then take that information and catalog it. Now it is in your mental and emotional files. Soon you will be called upon to participate in another struggle. It may not be any easier, but now you have a greater awareness of how to get through it. You will be wiser than before, but not as wise as you will become.

4. Life is a gift beyond measure

Sometimes life will be raw. But if you allow it, your life can become a creative expression of who we are. The choice to be awake and present for the experience can crystallize in greater clarity on your purpose for being on this Earth at this time. It is up to you to decide. This opportunity to choose is given to you every time you face challenge and struggle. When you are in the metamorphosis from a cocoon to a butterfly remember that the reward of your great effort is wings to take flight.

Cover of Book

At midlife, my two college-bound children left home at the same time.  Restless and living in an empty nest, I questioned: Am I living my life’s purpose?  I heard prophetic words that altered the course of my life:  If you want something to change, make a new choice.  This advice set my heart on fire.  How far would I be willing to go outside my comfort zone to discover who I really am?  As I shouted “yes” to my newfound desire, I wondered after the course of a year where I might end up.  I surrendered the need to know, figuring that this was all part of the journey which basically began before I even left Sacramento.  I sold my home and possessions.  The remaining belongings were packed into a Lexus coupe.  Then I launched on a pilgrimage across California where I lived in one city per month for a year.

I started my journey in the mountains and ended at the ocean.  After an entire year of being on the road, I made some insightful discoveries, now lessons, which I’ll share with you below.  I’ll be the first to admit, changing the course of your life takes some true grit, not for the faint of heart.  If you’re ready to trust that a larger story of your life is unfolding, then I have three words of advice for you—beast mode, engaged!

  1. If you want something to change, make a new choice

If you want to experience another way of living your life, make a new choice and follow that path on your journey.   The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a new result.  Make a new choice.

  1. Passion requires risk

When was the last time you had butterflies in your stomach and felt your heart pound wildly?  Resting safe and secure in your comfortable life will not inspire passion.  Put your head in the lion’s mouth and feel what it means to be alive. Make a new choice and change the trajectory of your life.

  1. Say yes to every opportunity

Your life contracts or expands.  When you say no, it contracts.  When you say yes, it expands.  “Yes” sends the message that you’re in expansion mode.  Yes is a muscle you strengthen every time you use it.  Your reward is confidence.

  1. Release attachment to outcome

The direct cause of suffering is desire.  What you want for your own life may not be what the world wishes or needs.  There may be something much bigger and bolder waiting for you.  Surrender your will.  Trust that a larger story of your life is unfolding.

  1. Every step of the journey is the journey

Your journey has no start or end.  Your existence is infinite.  Life mirrors the universe, it continues to expand and evolve.  You create meaning of your life with each choice you make.  Wake up to yourself.  There is only one time and it is now.

dove release

The direct cause of suffering is desire.  What you want for your own life may not be what the world wishes or needs.  There may be something much bigger and bolder waiting for you.  Surrender your will.  Trust that a larger story of your life is unfolding.

Practice these three tips:

1. Recognize the difference between capitulation and surrender

Capitulation feels like you’re resisting “what is” without any horsepower behind it.  A great business example is when your boss makes a bad decision and you have little choice but to follow along even though you don’t agree with the direction.  Surrender removes the resistance as you simply take a step back and watch what unfolds from a neutral position.  You don’t judge it as good or bad, it simply “is.”

2. Accept your life as it is, not how you think it should be

How many times have you said to yourself, “I should be making more money,” or “I should be driving a brand-new Tesla by now just like my college roommate.”  Instead, why not experience your life as it is?  Living becomes way more interesting when you take a step back and observe how your life actually operates.  With some practice, you’ll amuse yourself instead of being the jury and the judge of your existence.

3. Trust that your life is unfolding for your highest good

The bottom line is this: you are here on Earth to experience life in all its manifestations, good, bad, indifferent, that’s the beauty of the human condition. Be awake and aware for all the choices you make, then surrender your will and watch what happens.  When you release attachment to outcome, liberation becomes your trusted companion and you are free to create the life you actually want to live in.

WisdomI’m now part of the Wisdom 2.0 Street Team.  What does that mean?  I’ll distribute postcards advertising the San Francisco Wisdom 2.0 Conference on Feb. 27 – March 1, 2015 to over 50 South Bay locations including coffee shops, yoga studios, and health food markets.  I’ll get to visit the campuses of Stanford, Google, and Facebook.  The result of this volunteer effort will be a free three-day pass to the conference.  In the words of rock band the Who, “I call that a bargain, the best I ever had.”

The concept of wisdom and technology bewitches me heart and mind.  I get freaked out by the singularity concept, the moment when humans and machines merge and nonbiological intelligence, err…robots take over the world.  I want to engage in conversation that sculpts humanity’s role to live with greater wisdom, purpose, and meaning while using technology in ways that create a more open and healthy culture.  Score one for humans, stupid robots! Plus, I have a cool idea for the postcard distribution project.

My goal is to discover the answer to this question: What role does wisdom play in technology?  The kaleidoscope responses to this query will be myriad, there is no one answer, but rather, many facets to view the question.  I simply want to create awareness that wisdom and technology are intimately connected.  How will I do that?

One things for sure, it will be a pen-and-paper, low-tech project, duh!   On a 11 x 17 legal-sized sheet of paper will be a handwritten question:  “What role does wisdom play in technology?”  At each postcard distribution site I’ll ask a real person to write their response using a black sharpie.  Then I’ll snap their picture and post it on social media, contributing to the larger conversation that’s taking place right now, sculpting our future.  This is my own way of integrating community at the grass-roots level.  Wish me luck!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.