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SPI 472: My Struggles with Communication

Communication is at the heart of a lot of what we do as entrepreneurs. Because guess what? If you can’t communicate well, you can’t serve your audience and, as I’ve said before, your earnings are just a byproduct of how well you serve your audience. It all circles back to communication.

We just had an amazing episode on the podcast earlier this week — SPI 471: How to Become a Better Communicator with Kolarele Sonaike. Definitely listen to it if you haven’t had a chance yet. But today I want to share my own journey as a communicator. We’re going to hop in the DeLorean and go all the way back to middle school, high school, and college — where I first started honing my communication skills.

Sometimes you just have to hit the ground running, and when it comes to learning how to communicate as an entrepreneur, it’s not helpful to be “the kid in the back of the class” (like I once was). Hopefully, this episode inspires you to get out there, make mistakes, and avoid the trap of thinking everything you put out there has to be perfect.

Oh! And make sure you listen until the end of this one — you’ll get to hear my first, definitively cringey, podcast recording from back in the day. I hope it inspires you to hear how far I’ve come!


You’ll Learn

SPI 472: My Struggles with Communication

Welcome to the Smart Passive Income podcast, where it’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host – he thinks Ready Player Two was actually a pretty good sequel, don’t at him though – Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn:
Earlier in the week, we had a really amazing episode of the podcast. We invited Kolarele on the show to talk about his work with and his experience with helping other people become better communicators. And it really made me think about my journey as a communicator. And in reflection, I realized that I wasn’t great at all, but there were certain moments that happened in my life that unlocked a lot of great communication for me. So I want to take you back in time, in fact, in the DeLorean, all the way back to when I was a kid in school.

Now, when I was a kid in school, I was the person who sat at the back of the class, never raised his hand because I was too afraid of getting things wrong. I was too afraid to share the wrong answer. I was often very embarrassed when I got wrong answers. And I think this was because in my upbringing, it was a result of trying to be perfect all the time. You perhaps have heard this story before, where I would come home with a 97 percent on my math test and then get asked what happened to the other 3 percent and spend the next four hours working on those problems I got wrong, not really appreciating what I had gotten right.

Now, I love my parents. I love my dad, especially, who had taught me everything I know about math and science and all this stuff that I am very appreciative of, but it definitely didn’t feel good at the time. And I think it conditioned me to either be perfect or not say anything at all. And that’s not good, especially if you want to become a communicator, especially if you want to become an entrepreneur. If you want to be a leader of any kind, you have to learn how to be a good communicator. And that’s not going to come if you don’t have experience and practice communicating. And this kind of came with me all the way through middle school and even in high school.

However, in high school, there was one little pocket of high school where I started to really understand that there were certain moments where I was actually pretty decent as a communicator. And this was specifically in the marching band. You might know that I was a marching band nerd. I played the trumpet. And my freshman year, I was like any freshmen, pretty quiet, pretty reserved, very similar to the way I was in middle school and in elementary school.

However, as I began to get older, within the marching band I began to have a few more responsibilities. I ended up becoming section leader of the marching band, which almost in a way forced me to learn how to be a good communicator, because every single day during practice, I had to lead the freshmen, and the sophomores, and the juniors, and the other seniors to hopefully have our music memorized, to have instructions given so that everybody knew what to do at the right time and become that leader. And although in classes I was quite shy and would shy away from just answering at all, in the marching band, I actually did take a little bit of initiative. And I think there’s a few reasons for that.

Number one, the fact that those people who I was speaking with – and I was mostly just open with the other trumpet players – we all spoke the same language. We had the same experiences. We had the same journey. We were in this together. And as a result, it never felt weird to talk to them because we were talking and speaking the same language. Sometimes in class, I would often feel like I didn’t know what I was talking about or I didn’t understand everything. So I didn’t really want to say anything incorrect. But here I was now a senior having four years or three years, at least, of experience in the marching band and able to, and almost responsible to help those who were in the earlier grades.

In addition to this, within this little group, we all created a bond with each other and it became sort of a safe place to command and a safe place to communicate. And when I think about it, a lot of times we’re great communicators even if you’re an introvert, but you are a great communicator often with those who you’re close with, with those who you are friends with, with those who you spend the most time with. And I definitely spent the most time with my fellow trumpeters within the marching band. That, plus the idea of just consistent communication. The more consistent that you can communicate, and in this regard, it was literally every single day to this group of people because we had field shows to memorize, we had competitions that we wanted to perform well in. And the band director was relying on me and I was responsible for the rest of the leadership there, or of the trumpet players.

So that consistency every day, learning what worked, learning what didn’t, and not really having a choice but just being put into that situation, really helped me become a better communicator, at least in front of this group. And that was the first time that I really felt that I actually took charge in some way, shape, or form.

And then of course I graduate high school and I go off to college, UC Berkeley. And then here I am again, a freshman, and not knowing the language of the band there. And yes, I’m going to talk about marching band even more – not knowing what it was like to be in college and just being a small little freshman, literally and physically small, I, again, kept my mouth shut and was very shy. I was back in that situation of not really knowing what was going on, not being a leader, but having to just be a good listener and follower. Again, very similar in classes, never really spoken up, never really, in the marching band, tried to take initiative because freshmen don’t really do that.

But as I started to get older, as I started to become an upperclassman, again, I became the section leader of the trumpet section. That actually happened my second year. The third year I became a member of the musical activities committee, which put me in a higher leadership position. And again, learning how to communicate even better with now, not just people who were beneath where I was. And when you’re in the musical activities committee and marching band, essentially every section leader you are responsible for. So not just the trumpets, but I was responsible for being a leader to a few other people. It wasn’t just me at this point – the section leader of the saxophones, and the clarinets, and the flute players, et cetera.

And then my senior year, I had tried out to be the student director. I missed out by one vote. And I was so determined to be student director. It was a big dream of mine. My band director in high school was actually the student director of the Cal Marching Band at UC Berkeley. And I was following in his footsteps really. And I was so devastated that I, in fact, bent the rules a little bit. I stayed an additional year in college to take one landscape architecture course so that I could be qualified to be in the band for a fifth year. And they definitely looked this up in the constitution of the band, I didn’t break any rules, I just bent them a little bit. And I actually won by a landslide and I became student director of the marching band.

And that of course was at the sort of climax of my college career when I was just in a great position to learn how to really communicate, not just with the band, not just with the other leadership committee, but with actually other really important people in the university, because my role was to coordinate with the director of athletics and the football team and whatnot in terms of who was doing what and when, and it really helped me understand that I actually could have an effect on – both positively and negatively depending on how I do my job – the entire experience. In fact, an attendee of a football games experience.

And that was a huge weight on my shoulder, but definitely pushed me forward. And I think that pressure and sort of a reason to communicate pushed me forward into learning how to become a better communicator, to understand how to negotiate, to understand how to position oneself because there was a lot of negotiation that needed to happen. The band wanted certain things and at the time there was a coach who came on board named Jeff Tedford, and he was a very traditional old school-style coach. And he didn’t really believe that the band needed to play in certain moments. And we had to negotiate and talk about school spirit and how much that was important to us in our tradition and all this stuff.

It was really fun to be a part of that. Pressure situations for sure, but pressure situations that again, forced me to learn how to be a better communicator. And that was really helpful because as I began my career as an architect, I had a lot of courage. I had a lot of ability to step forward even though I wasn’t asked to, but to have a voice. And unfortunately I wasn’t always thanked for that. I wasn’t always recognized for that, but I still had a voice nonetheless as a result of me stepping forward and learning how to do that and again, putting myself in positions to make that happen earlier on in my college career.

And of course the story goes on. I get laid off in 2008 after having been working my way toward an architecture license for several years. And that was a huge devastation. That was a huge blow to me because I didn’t really have a plan B at that point. And I discovered podcasts. I found one in particular that inspired me to start my own business, big shout out to Jeremy and Jason at Internet Business Mastery. And again, being in that position of not really knowing what I was doing, not understanding the language, but the beauty of online business and especially those online is there are groups of people – not everybody is like this, but there are groups of people that are willing to help, that remember what it was like to just get started, who are willing to help those who are just getting started.

That’s really what I feel like SPI Pro is. If you’re not familiar with SPI Pro, this is our little community, our little premium group of people who, they pay to get access to it, but it’s access to each other as a community and access to our team to get that help, very similar to how I got help from internet business mastery back in the day in 2008 when I started my business. So I’m very grateful we have something to pay it forward with and have a community of entrepreneurs who are involved in that now, which is pretty cool. So if you are a member of SPI Pro, thank you so much. You’re awesome. And if you want to check it out, you can go to

Well, as I was starting my career as an entrepreneur, again, very much sit in the back of the class, and my version of that was blogging, right? I was just a blogger. And blogging is communication, of course, it’s through text, but I felt like it was great because I could filter my thoughts. I could spend some time writing things out and scripting it out in a way where it would not be shared until it was perfect. Again, that perfection sort of being a recurring theme here. But over time, I realized that even just when I was blogging and blogging alone back in 2008 to 2010, I realized that it still took courage. It still took just putting it out there even though it wasn’t perfect.

And it wasn’t about perfection. It was about the idea and the communication of the message, of the value that I could share and the example that I was giving. Any time I leaned into that, the experiences that I had and the lessons that I could put forth into the world and have other people understand because I’m sort of like the guy who is paving the way or as I once called myself, the crash test dummy of online business, people really responded to that. And I wasn’t always perfect. And that was so great to know that I didn’t have to be perfect. And that’s just a message I wanted to pass on to you.

But really the ultimate form of communication came when I started to put my voice behind a microphone. And this is back in 2010 as a podcaster. And I really, really struggled because it felt so real. It felt like I couldn’t filter my true self because words on a keyboard and on a blog, yeah, I could. But my actual voice that people could hear, I mean, I wanted to put it through auto tune or something because I was just so afraid of what people would say and think about it. I wasn’t sure if people were going to respond to the interviews and the stories that I was going to tell and the lessons that I was going to be sharing. And so this podcast, the Smart Passive Income Podcast, the podcast you’re listening to right now, I made an announcement in 2008 that I was going to start this thing.

In December of 2008, I actually wrote a blog post and had a test audio recording that shared my very first thoughts about the podcast and the fact that it was going to be coming out. I kind of cringe when I listen to that, in fact, because it’s kind of terrible. And in fact, for the editor who’s editing this right now, let’s keep this in here by the way, I want to play at the end of this episode my very first audio recording. I have it available. So make sure you stick around so you can listen to just how cringe-worthy that is. But hopefully it inspires you to show you that even somebody who you might consider upper tier in the world of entrepreneurship and communication, first of all, I’m not perfect still. I’m always looking to improve.

But when I first started, it was pretty bad. And I’m going to play it for you so you understand that we all start in the same place. I had a good microphone. I spent money on all this equipment. I didn’t know what I was going to say. I didn’t know what I was going to do. And again, that was December of 2008. Well, my first episode of the podcast didn’t come out until July of 2010. That’s a year and a half later. Because every time I got behind the microphone to hit record, I would freeze. I would think about, again, the people who might not like it and I would go back to blogging. But eventually I mustered up the courage to hit publish and go. And I haven’t looked back since.

Now, I did start every other week. It was only a bi-monthly podcast. But then once I went to a conference and realized just how impactful – this was in 2010, how impactful the podcast was for people, for the stories they remembered and the things that they could recall, the lessons that were learned. I was blogging three times a week and podcasting every other week, yet people could not stop talking about the podcast. And that was a sign to me that, wow, this form of communication through the airwaves here on a podcast is just incredible. Absolutely incredible. I got to do more of this. I got to double down.

So I did. I started going weekly. And then in 2014, I wanted to answer more questions and coach people even more. And that’s when AskPat came out. And now I’m very proficient on podcasting and on YouTube as well. And in addition to that, I’ve been doing a lot of stage talk, a lot of speaking on stages. And that started in fact, a little bit before. In 2011, I spoke on stage at the Financial Blogger Conference and this was the very first conference of its kind. And I was supposed to have a breakout session. A breakout session is like a little room that happens while other rooms are happening simultaneously with usually smaller amounts of people because there’s kind of a spread of where people are across the conference space.

However, I got a call a couple of weeks before the event was going to happen and PT Money or Phillip Taylor had reached out to me and said, “Pat, our closing keynote, he can’t make it anymore. Can you do the closing keynote for me?” And then I thought about all the times that I was put in pressure situations and how much that helped my communication. Because truly my honest thoughts were that I wanted to say no right away. It just scared me to death. I was not excited about it. But I thought about all those things moments where I felt pressure from feeling pressure to deliver for the marching band in high school, from feeling pressure to deliver for the marching band in college and pressure in architecture as well, and all those times when that pressure forced me to become a better communicator and to become more consistent with it.

I said, “You know what PT, I’ll do it.” And although I was scared, although I scripted out literally the entire thing – which I wouldn’t recommend doing, but I was so scared I was going to get things wrong or miss it. I memorized my talk like an actor would memorize his or her lines. And I did it, and although it was very scary, it made an impact on people. When I saw that, I started to consider, wow, am I going to let my fear, am I going to let this imposter syndrome, am I going to let the resistance get in the way of me potentially getting on other stages and helping people who are listening in?

Is it going to be something that’s going to stop me from turning on the microphone and hitting publish on the podcast episodes that I’m going to be recording? That’s actually a very selfish way to think about it in my opinion, where, oh no, it’s going to hurt me. It’s going to be something that embarrasses me. Me, me, me, me. But we don’t create content for me or us. We create it for those who are going to be consuming it. We create it for those who need it. We are creating it for those who are looking and seeking for help from people like us who’ve had experience with things, who can step up and ask the right questions to the people who we’re interviewing, or step on stage and present something in a way that’s finally easy and understandable.

That’s why we communicate. We communicate for others. And if I could go back into time, I would find my younger self and I would say two things. Number one, “Pat, don’t worry. You’ll get a girl one day. It’ll be fine.” And number two, “Communicate, talk to other people. It’s not going to be as bad as you think. It can only do you good as you learn how to navigate this world of language, as you learn what works and what doesn’t in the world of negotiation, in presenting ideas, thoughts, yourself to others, and in helping people.” Because the truth is, if you don’t communicate with others, you can’t help people. And in the world of online business and entrepreneurship, your earnings, well, guess what? They’re a byproduct of how well you serve others.

So go out there, communicate, don’t be afraid. And anybody who says anything negative about the way you do whatever it is you do, guess what? They weren’t meant to be served by you anyway. There are groups of people out there who need you right now. So the thing that you know you’ve been looking to do, that you’ve been holding yourself back from that involves communication, you know what it is. I know there’s something in there, but I know you know what it is. This is your permission slip to do that.

Thank you so much for listening in. I appreciate you. We’ll have another show, an amazing interview in fact, this coming Wednesday for you and then another follow-up Friday.

Thank you so much for joining me on these episodes. I appreciate the feedback so, so much in these in-depth sort of follow up episodes that happened on Friday, and looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts about it. Cheers, appreciate you, and as always, Team Flynn for the win.

Hey everybody. This is Pat from the Smart Passive Income blog. Thanks for taking the time to listen to this. I think that’s so awesome that you guys are helping me out figure out all this new podcasting stuff. I’m actually just bought a whole bunch of podcasting equipment for myself because I listen to a lot of podcasts, so I figured, hey, why not do one? So I mean really, I really don’t know what I’m going to talk about yet. So I just wanted to get familiar with all the equipment that I have right now and what it’s like to post something online and hear what people think about it. So you tell me, should I give up on podcasting now because my voice sucks so bad or no? Should I talk a little deeper or? I really have no idea.

So again, just thank you so much for taking the time to listen to me, keep coming back to the website, I got tons of information coming up in the near future and let’s make 2009 a great year for all of us. Let’s make it the most profitable year we’ve ever had. I’ll try my best to help you get there. So again, good luck with everything. Happy holidays. And this is Pat Flynn from the Smart Passive Income blog signing off. Peace.

Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Sound design and editing by Paul Gregoras. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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