Feb 02 2018

Darcy Luoma: The Struggle Behind Her Success

This week on 52 Brave Conversations, Mary Burke talks to award-winning life coach and recovering perfectionist Darcy Luoma, CEO of Darcy Luoma Coaching and Consulting. Her mission? She creates high-performing people and teams, while sharing strategies on how to choose your life, rather than letting your life be dictated to you.

Mary: Darcy, you have a thriving career, and a business as a consultant, coach and professional speaker. Yet, it was only 5 years ago that you were out of a job, with an uncertain future! How did that feel?

Darcy: Scary! Talk about the story behind the story. I was full of fear, self-doubt and uncertainty.

Mary: How did you address that?

Darcy: For 12 years, I worked for a US senator. When he announced that he’d not be running for reelection, most of my friends, colleagues and family assumed I’d work for the next US Senator, or go back into education or nonprofits. I hired a life coach who asked me different questions and completely changed the course of my future. She helped me jump into the fear, and launch my own business. My last day with the senator was January 2nd, 2013. I launched my business January 3rd.

Mary: And it’s only been 5 years.

Darcy: I just celebrated my five-year anniversary!

Mary: Congratulations, that is amazing! What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now?

Darcy: There are a lot of external obstacles, but the hardest to overcome are internal obstacles. That gremlin, that saboteur and that voice that says, “You’ve never been in business. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how to create a budget. You don’t know how to market anything. You are in education, and you’re a teacher.” Having to manage that internal gremlin was probably the hardest part, and in many ways continues to be the hardest part.

Mary: As a life coach are there any tips you can give us to overcome that self doubt?

Darcy: I have my own life coach! 

Mary: You do? You’re a life coach with your own life coach!

Darcy: Just like dentists have dentists! I do, because it works –– and my coach is able to help me figure out my fears. I’ve even named my strongest gremlin, because I know her very well. “Little Miss Perfect Pants.” She wants everything to be perfect. My coach helps me to navigate that, and to make the distinction of when it’s fear, and when it’s real.

Mary: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

Darcy: I am a recovering perfectionist, and I work hard to be in recovery.

Mary: What are the imperfections you’ve come to accept?

Darcy: So many. One of the biggest is having the mindset that things have to be perfect before you can jump. If I didn’t have that as an imperfection, I would have launched my business 10-20 years ago.

I couldn’t get past the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I didn’t have an MBA. So, I think that was probably the biggest realization for me. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. And also, feel the passion! That was so freeing for me, to be able to recognize: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, or of done.

Mary: Research shows that men and women go after jobs in very different ways. I certainly saw myself in that research. I read every desired qualification, and if there were one or two boxes I didn’t check –– I thought I wasn’t qualified and didn’t apply. Yet men, on average, check half the boxes, and they go for it. Tell me about a time you had to abandon that perfection, realizing you’re not checking every box, and did it anyway.

Darcy: Certainly when I launched my business. And in a big way, that was guided by my passion. Also 12 years prior, when a senator reached out and said he needed a director for his office. I hadn’t worked in the US Senate before, managed a full staff or worked in federal politics, so that was another time I had to overcome those big fears and jump in.

Mary: It was someone else recognizing your potential before you did.

Darcy: Almost every step of the way.

Mary: In your coaching business, do you find that women have a hard time overcoming that hurdle?

Darcy: Yes. It’s one of the things that’s powerful about coaching. When I’m working with a client, a woman, I have no personal attachment to whatever their decisions are. I can hold up a mirror to help them see their blind spots and cheerlead them to take leaps and jumps they’d otherwise not feel confident enough to take. It’s so fulfilling.

Mary: I have experienced other people seeing my potential before I recognized it myself. Often we can’t choose what happens to us, what people think about us or even the circumstances we face, but we can choose our attitude. When has choosing your attitude been most important to you?

Darcy: Every day. In every situation there’s an opportunity and a choice. What energy am I going to bring in? I was just listening to a Brené Brown speech where she talked about being aware of the impact of the energy you bring in, and consciously choosing. I have to self-manage that, and when I get home from a busy event, the belt-line is crazy, I’m stressed out and the girls are there waiting for their mom –– I pause in the car to think about the energy I want to bring in.

Mary: You said one word that really caught my attention: Pause. Our reactions are so immediate, so uncontrollable, and yet, if we can take that time and just pause, we can choose.

Darcy: We help women recognize the need for a pause and being present. Thinking about what’s working in my life, in my calendar, in my day and what’s not working. What’s getting in the way? What are the obstacles? Then there can be a conscious choice. That’s the core of the new “Thoughtfully Fit” model that I have. Pause, think, act. You have to always build your core, and it starts with a pause.

Mary: The great Packer’s Football coach, Vince Lombardi said, It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. Were there times where you felt like you just couldn’t go on? And then how did you get back up?

Darcy: When I was in college, I ran for a national board seat for an organization, I poured my heart and soul into it and I lost. I was devastated. I thought I was done. I was washed up. One of the things that helped me get through that was my support system, my friends and my family. When I couldn’t do it on my own, they were incredibly valuable. Then, in working with coaches, they helped me see it as an opportunity to redefine what’s next and to see the gift and learning in the failure.

Mary: What was an aha moment in your 5-year business, where you felt it all coming together?

Darcy: I just had that moment a couple nights ago. I’ve had it many times. I was reading the The E-Myth (Michael E. Gerber), and it talks about what happens when you go from having a job, to being an entrepreneur, to starting your small business and the trajectory of what happens. I’m reading this book and relating to all of it. I thought I could do it all, that I had to do it all, and I got really stressed out. I decided I had to hire somebody. I stressed that person out. They decided to leave. It felt like a case study about my business.

Mary: I’m hearing a little bit of my own journey in this too. I better read that book.

Darcy: It’s phenomenal. I had this aha moment, because he talked about creating systems and processes and getting out of your own way, starting to build a team to trust. That’s one of the things that I have done, and it has not only made my business better –– it’s been more fun to have people that I love around me. I wished I’d read that book 6 years ago.

Mary: You talk about your support squad and having people around that you trust, but how have you handled the doubters?

Darcy: There are two different kinds of doubters. There are the doubters who don’t want to see you succeed, who are jealous for whatever reason. Then there are the doubters who really don’t want to see you fail; they don’t want to see you jump into something and make a fool of yourself. I handled those two different types differently.

I don’t pay attention to the doubters who just aren’t on board. The family and the friends and the colleagues who are doubters? They can bring up really good points that help me be stronger. If I can see that as a gift, then I can secure a business coach to help me address those things. Then my support squad knows they can back off a little bit. She’s got this. I integrate their feedback and use it to bolster my business decisions.

Mary: That is so smart. Darcy, my go-to spot when things don’t go as planned is my silver linings journal. I put all the good things that came out of what at the time looked like a disaster. Do you have any stories that you would add to your silver linings journal?

Darcy: So many. In 2016 I had a rough year, my life fell apart in a lot of ways, and I ended up divorced. It was REALLY hard. I mean really hard. My husband was a full-time stay-at-home dad, and I was working and running my company. The biggest silver lining I have ever been given, is that right now, I have redesigned my business, and redesigned my life. I am so present for my girls. Josie and Jadyn will be 10 and 11 only once. I am now driving them to karate and girl scouts and hockey and volleyball. I am present. I used to just show up for the game. For the concert. Now, I’m involved and present in their lives.

Mary: The issue of work-life balance is raised a lot for women, so what impact did that have on your business?

Darcy: A huge impact. One of the things the The E-Myth talked about is that you have to let go. I was forced to let go! I don’t know if I would have been able to, but for the fact that I now need to get groceries, I need to cook, I need to do the laundry –– all these things that I didn’t used to have to do. I had to build up my professional team, delegate and trust.

Mary: Wow.

Darcy: That was a silver lining. I think I might have hung on tighter otherwise. Does that make sense?

Mary: Yeah. I can certainly see the benefits to your personal and business life.

Darcy: Huge. Absolutely. In the first two years of my business I went nuts. I had read that 90% of small businesses fail. So, I was all in. I was going gonzo. Two years in, I was exhausted and stressed. I woke up one day, and I had adrenal fatigue syndrome. I had to recognize that I couldn’t do it all, and that I’m not the only one that can. In building the team and in having my life sort of blow up in front of me, I had to let go. Now my team is so loyal, strong and trustworthy. It was a silver lining of all of that.

Mary: That’s a powerful story. In my career, I’ve made the mistake of focusing on all the things that I didn’t excel at, and then working to be better at those, rather than on focusing on my strengths and building on those. How have you handled the things that don’t play to your strengths?

Darcy: For about two decades, I tried to fix them and be something I wasn’t. It wasn’t until this coach asked what I loved, where my joy came from, what my passion was –– and it wasn’t politics. There were so many things I did that were not my strengths. Talk about the imposter syndrome… I felt like a fake. Do you know how draining that is?

In my business, I do the things that I’m good at, and the rest the team handles. And the things I don’t love doing? Deb LOVES doing. She LOVES doing strategic planning, and creating a budget and creating systems, manuals, and processes. Me? No, thank you! I’ve worked really hard to recognize that I don’t need to do those things that I’m not good at.

At my very first job in college, I was working for a leadership consulting firm, and my boss ordered me a new desk. He saw me putting the desk together, and said “Darcy, no no no. You do what you’re good at, and we pay someone else to do what they’re good at.” It took me more than 20 years to actually understand that advice given to me at 19.

Mary: I’m just figuring it out myself, too. Looking back to when you first started your professional career, what would you tell your younger self?

Darcy: Trust yourself. Don’t play it safe. Don’t allow others to ‘should’ on you. If you focus on doing what you love and trust yourself, it will all work out.

Mary: That’s great advice. What are your dreams? And what might hold you back from pursuing them.

Darcy: One of my dreams right now is to write a book. And I’m working on the book, on this “Thoughtfully Fit” model. One of the things that held me back was all of the chaos happened in my personal life. My goal was to write the book in 2017, and my team came to me saying, “Darcy, you’ve got to back off on this.” That was just such a devastating thing to hear, and yet I trusted that they knew what was best and had my best interest at heart.

Talk about another silver lining! I’m having so much more clarity and awareness, and the book is going to be better because it was delayed. So that’s a dream I have, and we’re trying to allow it to unfold. Instead of seeing every obstacle as a negative, we’re seeing it as an opportunity to understand what’s trying to happen. It’s a different perspective. Looking at conflict, not as obstacles but as indicators of something trying to happen.

Mary: Last question. What is one thing you’d share that might inspire women to see past that self doubt and take the next step forward?

Darcy: Every time I’ve looked past self doubt, I’ve been working with somebody who helps me hold up the mirror and asks powerful questions –– whether it be a coach, my friend or my mom. They help me get out of my own way and to recognize that you don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to keep doing what your heart says, and be authentic, be real and make a positive impact. I’d say that’s the thing that’s helped me. Search out who those fans are: Those cheerleaders, your coach, your mom and whoever else it is that can help you.

Mary: Thank you, Darcy.

About the Author

Alana McKeever


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