Jeff Kramer: Breaking the bonds of perfectionism > Forward From 50
Jeff Kramer is an Arizona native and civil engineer who raised four daughters with his wife, Sharon. Prior to turning 50, he worked in public services for several Arizona municipalities.
“I really liked to see the fruits of my labor whenever a project was done,” he said. “When I could drive on a road or turn on a faucet and see water coming out, it was a satisfying, tangible return on the service I provided for the good of our community.”
However, as much as he enjoyed his job, local politics started taking a lot of fun out of the experience.
“I was an engineer for 35 years and really loved the first 25. But, as the politics got worse, it started sapping the joy out of my job,” he said. “I still loved helping people and the personality tests I took and administered to others provided a natural progression from that career into something I’ve become really passionate about.”
Jeff retired at 58 and opted to become a coach and trainer to help people improve themselves and achieve their own goals.
“I don’t classify what I do as being a life coach. My interest lies in helping people achieve goals and realize success however they define it,” he explained. “Success looks differently for everyone. For some it’s work related while for others it might be leading a team at church or in the community.
“Either way, it involves helping people understand themselves and direct their activities in a way they can have greater impact in their world,” he added.
Jeff became a certified coach through several different organizations and generally meets with clients online, although he has done some in-person events, like workshops, group training and speaking. But, the bulk of his work is done in virtual coaching sessions.
A natural progression
Getting into coaching was a natural progression for Jeff. As a supervisor and manager for many years, he led a lot of people. That required him to help team members best utilize their natural skills and abilities.
“I have heard many times that if three or more people ask for advice in the same area, it’s likely an area of giftedness you have,” he explained. “After I’d speak at conferences, people would come up to me seeking advice on how to prepare themselves for advancement or to enhance a specific skill. All those encounters were really nothing more than coaching opportunities. I just didn’t know it at the time.”
He often works with engineers and construction professionals because they are familiar with his work and he speaks their language. However, Jeff’s coaching is not confined to those industries because people in all career fields and different skill levels need some guidance to become better at whatever they do.
“Most people I work with already know what they’re trying to accomplish, but they’re just stuck. So, I help them get unstuck,” he said. “Others reached a plateau or became lost as to the direction they need to head.
“My favorite quote is from Mark Twain. He said, ‘The two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born and the day they discover why,’” Jeff explained. “When someone discovers why they are here and their purpose in life, it’s a very powerful moment for my clients and for me. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”
Jeff utilizes a variety of training programs in his consulting business, including material developed by John Maxwell Team, Igniting Souls, Empowered Living and Patrick Lencioni, who wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
“Patrick has an incredible model for how work gets done. He calls it the ‘working genius’ and I’ve been certified to teach that as well,” said Jeff.
One of Jeff’s most frequent problems is a tendency to be a perfectionist, which stems from a fear that he’s not good enough. As a result, he has collected training programs over the years. He completed courses by John Maxwell, Robin Sharma, Darren Hardy, Michael Hyatt and Amy Porterfield, just to name a few.
“I could probably list 30 different classes that I have taken over my lifetime. I have also personally worked with several coaches as well, including spending time with Cristina Roman, of Pique Coaching, on overcoming procrastination — which is a HUGE problem for perfectionists,” he explained.
All that training and personal coaching uniquely prepared Jeff for advising clients of his own.
“The real turning point for me was accepting the fact I didn’t have to be perfect, nor did my skills have to perfect in order for them to bring value to others,” he said. “When I sign my book, I inscribe it with the message, ‘Be freed from your flaws and escape to excellence.’”
He wrote “The Perfection Paradox” to help people get past being stuck in perfectionism. Initially, he wanted to write a success book related to work performance, but Jeff was badgered by self-doubt.
“I kept telling myself that I wasn’t good enough to write this book because I’ve never really done anything worthwhile. Who would want to read it?” he asked himself. “I’ll never forget Sept. 23, 2014. I call it Perfection Revelation Day. That’s when one of my coaches made me cry by exposing how the issue of perfectionism was so deeply ingrained in my psyche that it was completely upending my life.”
That conversation turned out to be the start of Jeff’s recovery. Prior to that day, it was hard for him to see the big picture because he was trapped inside the frame.
After writing the book, Jeff began work on a course called Escape to Excellence, which guides people even deeper into major themes of his book. He plans to launch a podcast soon to share interviews and insights with others.
“I tapped into training offered by Amy Porterfield about creating online courses, and studied John Lee Dumas’ programs about podcasting to learn some of the basics,” Jeff explained. “One thing I learned from prior experience is that I don’t need to take 17 courses before I can get started.
“I know the platform will grow through a lot of trial and error, and that will be good enough to get going,” he added. “Then I’ll tweak it as it goes.”
In his 40s, everything Jeff set out to do had to be perfect or it never saw the light of day. Now in his 50s, he is no longer bound by that need for perfection. As he grows and learns, he can pass that knowledge on to others even if he’s only a step or two ahead them. Helping people move from their starting point forward works to build momentum for Jeff and his clients.
Launching his coaching business required a start-up investment. Some certification programs he completed cost several thousand dollars or more. He had to hire professional editors and designers to help finalize his book. He hired coaches to guide him along the path.
“I probably invested $7,000 total in writing and publishing the book,” Jeff explained. “The courses and certifications were completed over several years, but were very good investments in my professional career.”
Because Sharon is a professional graphic designer, she designed his logos and social media posts, which saved him some money. When Jeff hosted a launch party for his book, one of his daughters staffed the sales table and another one handled tech issues so the event could be livestreamed.
“People who think they’re going to make a whole bunch of money by writing a book may want to reconsider that thought. For me, it has been more about serving people than making money upfront,” he explained. “Eventually, the returns will be there. Much of my initial investment has already been recouped.”
Jeff was fortunate in that people closest to him were supportive of his desire to start a coaching business.
“I know some people really struggle because they face a lot of discouragement from friends and family members,” he said. “Because they have known you and who you are for years, they can be discouraging. What they don’t know is who you’re trying to become.”
When former colleagues seemed to dismiss the idea of Jeff’s new direction, that actually motivated him.
“When I told them what I planned to do, they weren’t negative about my idea; they were indifferent,” Jeff explained. “They’d say things like, ‘Yeah, okay. Call me when you’re ready for a job.’ Their phone hasn’t rung yet.”
Entering a discomfort zone
Jeff’s biggest challenge came in the personal discomfort he felt by being stretched in many ways to learn new things and implement them.
“I knew how to design highways and water lines. I also knew how to manage a design and construction program because it was something I had done for years,” he explained. “Starting a business meant jumping into something new.
“I had no knowledge or experience in running a business of my own,” he added. “Learning to build a website and write a book was challenging. Engineers aren’t the world’s most outgoing people. We tend to be somewhat introverted, so I needed to overcome that.”
Jeff dismissed the discomfort because he wanted to reach people and help them with his message. It paid off.
“I’ve received good feedback from folks who thank me for helping them. I smile when they tell me my advice helped them get a promotion,” he said. “My book was even nominated for an award and I became a finalist.”
Perhaps Jeff’s greatest reward came when his mother called him out of the blue to compliment him on his book.
“My mom never calls me unless something is wrong,” he explained, noting that his mother affectionately calls him sonny boy. “She said, ‘Sonny boy, I’ve known you for 58 years and just finished your book. I finally understand you.’ That made the pain of writing my book worthwhile.”
A new direction
As Jeff closes in on 60, he loves the direction his life is heading today.
“I recently spoke at a luncheon for 30 people and signed books for them. A few days later, I got calls from several people who heard me speak and invited me to talk to their organizations, too,” he said. “I know my message is connecting and it’s having an impact, which is fantastic!
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to reach more people and share my message about overcoming perfectionism in order to help them accomplish what they want in work and life,” he explained. “It motivates me to write more books and develop additional courses to reach even more people. That’s what I think the future holds.”
If Jeff had to start over again, there is one thing he’d definitely do when launching his business.
“I’d get out of my way a lot quicker and quit worrying about whether or not something was good enough,” he admitted. “I’d just get on with it.”
With the expansion of virtual and teaching platforms, it is very easy to take any message to any audience eager to learn new things, Jeff noted. For example, if someone loved gardening, he or she could start a podcast and put together a tiny course to help people who have no idea where to begin in creating a garden.
“Whatever you are passionate about, if you’ve been doing it for a while, that makes you an expert,” said Jeff. “Go ahead and share what you know because there a many people just waiting for you to share your knowledge and skill with them. When you do, your joy becomes their joy, too.”
His book is available at amazon.com.