THE TRUTH ABOUT RUNNING A (SPIRITUAL) ONLINE BUSINESS

What’s next for The Numinous, and the long-winded, behind-the-scenes, real-deal process of how I arrived at this decision (plus some thoughts on running a spiritual online business in the Now Age and the future, or not, of capitalism)

Photo: Ruvan Wijesooriya

Warning: this post is long, messy, and rambling. A bit like my decision-making process for what’s next with The Numinous. I hesitated about posting it, but in the end I needed to write it for me—and, if you’re running an online business, are a spiritual solopreneur, or are overall just sick of selling and being sold to, I suspect there will also be plenty in here for YOU …

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In the weeks leading up to my Numinous sabbatical I’d been gearing up for exactly the opposite: I was preparing to launch The Numinous Astrology School (a.k.a. NAS—kinda like NASA, but without the Astronauts part. Lol). But as I went about putting all the pieces together, the anxiety knitting my shoulders to the back of my skull was a signal that something was off.

On the one hand, I was nervous about the financial investment. Between the artwork, tech build, marketing funnels, and promo materials, it would cost me at least $10K to get it off the ground. That’s not factoring in the countless hours of my own time spent on content creation. And while I’d seen some of my peers make a mint with their digital products, I knew others who’d been burned when the supposedly magical “launch formula” peddled by the likes of Marie Forleo, didn’t work out so magic for them.

It was after I spent $1600 on a 3-minute promo video that looked like something a 5-year-old could have made on an iPhone, that the house of cards came tumbling down, scenes of past launch “failures” flashing before my third eye.

The time I spent thousands on the Numinous sweatshirt line my readers had been so excited for … which only a handful of people actually bought (it took two years to just about break even, and I wound up donating the leftover sweats to the Bowery Mission two Thanksgivings ago). The digital Numiversity courses I created with my then-resident astrologers Bess Matassa and Sandy Sitron, of which we sold about 30 for a total of less than $1K. Divided three ways, my split didn’t even cover one month’s medical insurance.

Why should this time would be any different? I was banking on at least 1000 sign-ups to cover my costs and (finally) generate a sustainable income to offset the hours (years) I have put into building this platform. To foot the bill of maintaining this platform going forward. This represented just 1% of my Instagram following. But based on past experience and given my miserably low IG engagement at the time (due partly, no doubt, to my growing resentment at IG for stealing our attention and creativity to profit an increasingly ethically challenged Zuckerberg empire), even this moderate goal suddenly seemed totally pie in the sky.

And so I quit. Not only did I not proceed with launching the course, I decided to press pause on everything Numinous while I took a big old breath. Created some space for myself to feel into what exactly did want to come next.

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I’m sharing these details because I know I’m not alone in my attempts and my failures to “successfully” launch. Meaning, to create an income from my work that at least covers my rent and basic living costs (in NYC, this totals roughly an eye-watering $7K a month). In the age of side hustles and spiritual solopreneurship, “how to monetize my passion project / healing gifts” has got to be one of the crunchiest conundrums of the Now Age; we want to create a business and a life that serves others as it serves us … and the capitalist systems we are expected to fall into line with in order to do this are often totally at odds with who we are as creators, and what we believe as spiritual beings. Not to mention the basic root of all inequality and exploitation on the planet.

The “create a digital course” model is typically pitched as a way to generate a “passive income,” leaving you free to pursue what you really came here to do—but not only does it often entail subtle manipulation of your intended customer base, it seems more to me like it becomes your full-time job. And what if posting the recommended 25-30 IG stories per day, managing assistants and affiliates, and writing copy for marketing funnels, feels about as far removed as it gets from what your soul incarnated to contribute to the collective in this one wild and precious life?

Which is not to say there aren’t some beautiful, soulful, and generous digital courses out there. If you’ve created a course and / or a library of digital products that deeply serves you and others, fantastic! Some of us have an innate gift for community building that translates perfectly to authentic and heartfelt network marketing.

If anything, my “failure” to turn The Numinous into a one-stop online astrology shop (what well-meaning advisors have been telling me to do with this platform since before it even launched) has forced me to look more deeply at why this hasn’t worked FOR ME. To consider the value of what I actually DO feel called to create—and of MY unique gifts. And, in doing so, to trust fall back into walking my own messy, intuitive, utterly un-formulaic patchwork of a path.

-This has meant looking at what has worked, what space I was creating from when it did, and working out how I can do more of that.

-It’s meant reminding myself, as a writer in a world where “content” often only exists to sell a product, that my words have value in and of themselves. That my words are my product.

-It’s meant a deeper dive into my own lack of worthiness, the ancestral roots of this, and a look at what we value as a society (where we literally put our $$$) and why.

This is a process that remains ongoing, which is pretty much forming the basis of my next book (how to earn a living, or not, as an author: whole other subject!), and which has resulted in me creating a suite of personal services—from book doula’ing, to personal brand consulting, to astrology coaching 1-2-1s—that I’ll be offering going forward. You can learn more about them HERE.

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But what of The Numinous? If you’re reading this, I hope it’s because you’ve found value in this platform over the years. Maybe you’ve missed our mystical missives, and you’re wondering when we’ll be back. And well the truth is, The Numinous cannot continue to exist until it can earn its own keep.

When I launched the site, it was because I’d always wanted my own magazine. My own space to create and commission content that meant something to me, and that I felt contributed something of value in the wider world. And off I went. I didn’t charge a subscription fee (who paid for online media?), and as well as my own writing, I relied on unpaid contributions from writers keen to promote their own offerings to fill in the gaps.

Within two years, in late 2014, I’d been approached by HarperCollins about doing a book, for which I received a $50K advance. Result! This felt like payment for the work I’d put into the platform to date. Five years down the line, I have yet to earn any royalties from Material Girl, Mystical World (and given that only 30% of authors “earn out” their book advances, it’s unlikely that I will)—and I’ve had to find revenue from other streams to support the site and its growth.

Freelance journalism, hosting events and retreats, the occasional paid partnership. More books, some affiliate sales of other people’s digital courses. There were also my Moon Club earnings, the biz I co-founded with Alexandra Roxo, which I exited in Jan this year. I scraped a decent living keeping these plates spinning, until I hit a wall. Here I was, age 43, super “accomplished” by any external measure, and working all the hours—yet eaten up with constant anxiety about where my next rent check was coming from.

The other reason I “quit” The Numinous this summer? Having finally hired a book-keeper, there was no more ignoring the fact that the majority of my earnings were going straight back into this platform—despite it not actually generating any revenue. Sure, it was what had led to my book deals, and what supported the income streams listed above, etc. But when I weighed the time and energy that was going into maintaining it against what I was getting out of it, the scales were waaaaaaay off.

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Shit … is this coming off as some privileged white girl sob story?! I am mega aware that having a publishing deal land in my lap, for example, is a HUGE opportunity, for which I am extremely grateful. I also acknowledge that my previous career in journalism has opened many doors for me. That being straight and white and thin, it has been easier to risk “using my voice” without underlying fears for my safety. And that having husband who (until this summer) brought home a corporate salary also provided a financial buffer over the years.

And I also I know that my story mirrors many of our stories, regardless of our identities and external circumstances. Whether you’re creating a personal brand or are in any way pursuing a more creative career, the sheer volume of work that has to happen behind the scenes to generate even a moderate income, can be overwhelming. And if you don’t have a natural aptitude for IG stories, it can be even more draining. If this is you, I FEEL YOU. (And, going forward, I also want this to be a space for us to talk about the reality of running a digital business in the Now Age.)

Of course, the “smart” thing to do, as may others have advised me over the years, would be to seek VC investment. Use it to hire a team. Build an app. MAKE A FUCKING COURSE ALREADY. Put a bunch of money into Facebook ads, and get with the 21ST century!

But … that just doesn’t feel (as if you couldn’t guess by now) very “me.” It’s also playing by those same old capitalist rules again, and honestly, isn’t it time for something better? Elizabeth Warren might be promising to “remake capitalism” as part of her 2020 election manifesto, but I am leery of Big Politics ability to affect real change (given its affiliation with Big Business).

For now, here we are, lots of little, individual, human-run businesses, just making it up as we go along. And so long as the rules for how to make it work are still being written, here are some ideas that get a vote from me (*lifted pretty much verbatim from my proposal for book #3):

-We measure the “success” of a business by the positive impact it has on others.

-We buy less “stuff” and we invest more in each other.

-We revalue feelings, ideas, and relationships as our most valuable “assets.”

-We enact a more “matriarchal” business model, by pooling and sharing our resources equally.

-We embrace rest, resourcefulness, and wanting less, as vital elements of our planetary healing process.

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… which is a very, very, long-winded of way of informing you that, going forward, The Numinous will be switching to a subscription model. I’ll still be posting select astro content and lengthy rants on Instagram. You’ll find the odd missive from a guest writer on this site. There will still be one free newsletter per month with info about upcoming events and retreats, details of any other stuff I’m promoting, and the astro mantras you love so much.

But the JUICE. The really GOOD STUFF. The writings and the teachings that reflect the contents of my heart, the ponderings of my mind, and the yearnings of my soul. These will be delivered as a monthly content drop to subscribers via my new Patreon page—which is still in the process of being set up, and which I’ll be sharing links to in the coming weeks.

So, there you have it. The full story and the real, behind-the-scenes deal. If you have any thoughts, feedback, or feelings about this post to share, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected] <3

WHY RADICAL DHARMA IS YOUR 2018 “MUST READ”

Eradicating systemic racism is THE healing issue of our times. For anybody confused about your role in this, make Radical Dharma your must-read this summer …

 

Around this time of year, book stores and magazines are filled with suggested summer reads, the books the publishing industry has decided will best satisfy our yearning to escape into a good read. But you likely won’t find the book I am going to recommend as your “must-read” for summer 2018 among them. Because this year I am more interested in the notion of escape as it pertains to liberation.

Radical Dharma is a seminal work by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a queer Black (her capitalization) Buddhist author and activist. The subtitle is “Race, Love and Liberation” and in it, Rev. angel, along with co-authors Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, (also both Black and queer) explain how genuine liberation means not needing to escape, because there is no longer anything to escape from. Means living free of the chains which seek to bind us, free to be unapologetically ourselves, unbeholden to any systems of oppression.

Published in 2016 in a rush ahead of the last U.S. election, in the intro Rev. angel writes: “We foresee an increasing collective anxiety about transitioning from the first Black U.S. president.” And in the 18 months since, this prediction has played out in every area of life. This time has been a period of awakening in which the notions of liberation and oppression have taken on extra weight for me—as they will have for anybody with so much as a toe in the healing, wellness, and self-help communities.

As a socially conscious person in a post-Trump era, I know I have not been alone in attempting to integrate the implications of my white privilege. A term that was barely on my radar two summers ago, and which, thanks to everything from Black Lives Matter to the voices of women like Layla Saad (among many others) has since become the lens through which I see the world. Meaning, through which I can no longer not see the world. 

To be more specific, in my case this also extends to my educated, mixed-class, hetero, married, cis-gender, thin, white privilege. Sort of like the opposite of rose-tinted-spectacles, through this lens I have been able to see how the circumstances of my birth and my upbringing have placed me within a system of oppression—in which my whiteness makes me the oppressor. Not that the ravages wrought on marginalized and indigenous people by “the system” is exactly news. What’s new is that my eyes are now open to exactly how insidious our acceptance of this has become.

During this time, I have struggled against my own conditioning (“but I’m not racist!”) to accept that alarming terms like “white supremacy” and “systemic racism” absolutely apply to me. As they apply to each and every one of us. I have felt my throat constrict as I have tried to swallow this jagged little pill, while simultaneously being made aware that taking time in silence to absorb and process this information is another function of my privilege.

I have also been slow to speak up on this issue because I am ashamed I didn’t get here sooner. Embarrassed. But I am also not surprised. After all, I was raised to consider the term “racist” to be on a par with “pedophile,” the knee-jerk reaction on hearing it applied to me to deny it, vehemently. And yet, on closer inspection, this does not reflect the world that I grew up in. A world where I can count the number of black and brown people in my school classrooms on two hands. Where I had not one teacher with darker skin than me. Where in 16 years working as a journalist in London, I encountered only one black colleague—who was subjected to subtle racial bullying.

Where every TV show, awards ceremony (besides those attached to sporting events), industry bash, and beach holiday has been predominantly white. A world, after moving to NYC, where nine out of 10 of the service jobs (as far as I can see) are performed by people of color. Where these discrepancies are routinely normalized to the point of invisibility.

Of course, as a white person, my life has been a procession of predominantly white spaces. We are a pack-oriented species, we move in groups, and we gravitate towards our own. Thing is, what makes a space “white” is not just the ethnicity of those occupying it—it is the entitlement, the education, the opportunities, and the affluence that are available. Confronting my own racist conditioning (the unconscious belief that I am somehow entitled to the privileges of my whiteness) has been like discovering I have been host carrier for a highly infectious disease, without displaying any symptoms. Having received my diagnosis, the work now is to eradicate it from my system.

Which has meant reading a lot of articles and watching a lot of TED talks (find a comprehensive list here). It has meant keeping following Instagram accounts which can trigger week-long bouts of internal gaslighting (“I am not racist … and yet my whiteness makes me racist”). Showing up for pot-luck discussions on the topic of “Race and Wellness” with others in my community committed to doing this work. It means that, behind the scenes, I have been engaged in a thorough inventory of my work on this platform, working with a diversity and inclusion coach to identify my blind spots and craft a content mission going forward that takes into account the implications of all of the above. Not to mention help me make sense of all that has been arising in me.

Rev. angel Kyodo williams

You may well be further along this path than me, and I acknowledge all those who have been the torch-bearers in this movement. For this is the literal raising of consciousness in real time. The whole point of all the healing and the personal development and the “self-love” practices. Rather than disavow or shrink from it, it’s thanks to the spiritual resilience I’ve been able to develop over the years building this platform, that I am now able to lean in to the shadow of shame and guilt and fear that has accompanied this part of my awakening. To not take each and every post and op-ed on white privilege personally and to accept responsibility for my part in our collective healing around race.

The reason I am recommending Radical Dharma as your summer must-read is that it’s the egg that has helped everything come together.

Presented as a series of essays and conversations dissecting systemic racism from a Buddhist perspective, the wisdom contained within its pages has helped me to feel fully seen and understood within the problem of my whiteness. Has helped me understand that racism (particularly as it relates to hyper-capitalism) is, literally, the physical manifestation of our modern “disconnection epidemic.” The pain of our separation from each other, from self, and from Source. That I am as deeply implicated in this suffering as any person of any ethnic background. Above all, as a person invested in helping others heal, it has shown me that we will never escape our suffering, as individuals and collectively, will never be truly free, until we heal THIS.

In short, in a year where the conversation about race has had me questioning my sanity at times, this book has helped me feel more whole. And I am suggesting that you read it because I know you want to feel this way too. Below, I have shared a few of my favorite teachings from its pages—and before you go ahead and finish this post, you can order your copy HERE.

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ON THE CONSTRUCT OF RACE
“Race is the ultimate delusion in that it both does and does not exist in reality. Somebody went on around and decided to come up with something so that they could sell folks that they could be ‘better’ than other people, and yet, because of the paradigm, because of the system and the structures, the impact of that creation, that projection, this is felt and experienced as suffering—not only by the people who are on the shit end of the stick but also by the people who are, often unbeknownst to them, continuing to carry that stick.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON DECONSTRUCTING WHITE PRIVILEGE
“The lens of awareness must be placed outside of the construct. As a direct result of privilege, white practitioners (and teachers) have mistakenly entitled themselves to place the lens of awareness inside of whiteness, hence they are unable to see it’s machinations.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON GETTING MESSY
“The tiptoeing around race and other forms of difference as if in fear of waking a sleeping lion is one of the most subtly toxic attributes of whiteness in our culture right now. Everyone fears making mistakes. For white folks, though, the coexistence of being historically lauded as the creators of what is right, making mistakes must be hard. We are all waking up. It is going to get messy.” – Jasmine Syedullah, PhD

ON ALLOWING FOR IGNORANCE
“We also have to demystify this notion that somehow people of color have all the information and know it all and white folks don’t, and that it’s just like Black and White. Because it just isn’t. We have to really allow ourselves to create some space for people now knowing, not understanding, and just saying stupid things. I mean stupid as in ignorant … we have to figure out how to create room for that, rather than policing each other, so that people can actually get into the conversation.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON THE LINK BETWEEN RACISM AND HYPER CAPITALISM
“I have this theory that racism is required in order to keep capitalism in place … I’m not mad at trade and exchange and barter and all of that … but cancerous capitalism, hyper-capitalism, parasitic capitalism … requires a division of people so that we have people that consume, people that are producing what is consumed, and frankly, people that are consumed.” ­– Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON DISRUPTING COMFORT
“We have to disrupt spaces that are not seeking truth, that are not upholding our potential for liberation, because they are invested in their comfort. Usually that comfort means they are invested in perpetuating white supremacy … And not disrupt them by trying to figure out how to be on their boards and their diversity communities; we have to disrupt them by saying ‘I am out.’ I am not going to participate in this and letting them know why.” – Rev. angel Kydodo williams.

ON DISCOMFORT AS THE PATH TO LIBERATION
“If you’re going to any place of spiritual enrichment in which you are not meaningfully experiencing discomfort, not all the time, but meaningfully uncomfortable frequently, you are not doing your work, and you are not walking the path of liberation.” – Rev. angel Kydodo williams.

ON HEALING BEGINNING ON THE INSIDE
“I’m working to end racism, but at the same time I want to be liberated. I want to thrive. I want to be happy … I think it’s an immature view that believes ‘I have to do all the external conditions and have them change before I can be happy.’ I’m not willing to have my happiness wait for what might happen out there.” – Lama Rod.

ON BEING THE CHANGE
“If you are a really well-positioned member of a sangha (spiritual community), make sure you’re reaching out. If you’re a person of color in a sangha, make sure you’re reaching out to other new people of color coming through the door. Be the one who extends your hand and welcomes them and just talks openly. Model that kind of inclusivity for people.” – Lama Rod

Get your copy of Radical Dharma HERE and visit Angelkyodowilliams.com for more on Rev. angel and to find her upcoming speaking dates. You can also follow @lamarodowens on Instagram 

HOW I DISCOVERED THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

Material Girl Mystical World is out May 2 2017. Here’s how I wound up writing the book that changed my life…

Five years ago I moved to New York City, with high hopes that I was basically going to morph into Carrie Bradshaw—with a closet full of designer shoes, fabulous cocktail-fueled social life, and a column in Vogue. 15 years working as a fashion journalist in London had taught me two things: 1) my sense of self-worth was directly linked to the level of kudos attached to my job, and 2) you could never have too many shoes.

My first apartment was on Christopher Street in the heart of the chichi West Village, and even had a walk-in closet. It also had holes in the wall exposing live electrical cables, and was infested with vermin. With hindsight, this is pretty much a metaphor for the holes in my materialistic worldview. Because it turns out no amount of Cosmos was a substitute for the friends I’d left behind, and that as a lowly freelancer, working out of my dingy kitchen using my ironing board for a desk, I barely even got to wear the shoes.

Chasing the SATC dream…

As my SATC dream began to crumble, I found myself questioning everything. Why was my NYC adventure so fraught with anxiety? If none of the editors I tried to get meetings with ever called me back, did I even exist? And how come every Skype with my mum made me feel so angry? As if the physical ocean between us served as a reminder of how emotionally distant we’d become over the years.

Which is right about when I decided to create The Numinous, and in doing so totally flip the script.

Let’s face it, five years ago I was kind of an entitled, over-privileged asshole. And definitely not a happy asshole either. Today, I definitely still love shoes. But I’ve also remembered that, for me, true “success” means being connected to myself and others, and contributing something valuable to the planet. Less conspicuous consumption, more conscious creativity. A journey I’ve written about in my upcoming book Material Girl Mystical World. Yes, MY book is the book that changed my life!

The Book That Changed My Life…

My personal revolution has actually been a result of walking the talk and embracing with an open heart and soul the mystics, the teachers, and the healers I’ve encountered on my Numinous path. Diving head-first into the transformational experiences of the Now Age, many of which are chronicled in all their far-out, emotional, and often hilarious glory in my story.

All with the aim of showing how (contrary to the Eat, Pray, Love school of spiritual awakenings) you don’t have to travel to an ashram in India to find yourself. I found “me” in the heart of NYC! The birthplace of the American Dream—the capitalist ideology that tries to convince us true happiness comes in the shape of a Louis Vuitton handbag. And which, since the Mad Men have made it to the Whitehouse, it is increasingly evident is the root of so many of the evils of the modern world.

So how did I get here? In the book, among other heart-and-mind-expanding topics, I talk about:

  • Astrology As Basic Life Skill. Raised atheist, astrology was the first thing that ever spoke to the deep human need in me to feel connected to something greater than myself. To feel like I have a unique role to play in weaving the fabric of humanity. This chapter explains the basics of birth chart interpretation as the path to Cosmic connection.
  • Doing My Dharma. How I came to understand the concept of my work as an act of service—opposed to pursuing a career for the status, the financial security, and the shiny baubles alone. (*When you pre-order the book you’ll gain access to a special Dharma School webinar with me, to help you discover your dharma too!)
  • Finding My Divine Feminine. A deep dive into modern feminism, and how this is intimately connected to the social, political and environmental issues of the 21st Century. Also, how connecting to my Divine Feminine has been instrumental in healing my sexual identity and my relationship with my mum.
  • The Inner Beauty vs. Botox Debate. Why it’s possible to get Botox and still love yourself / identify as spiritually woke. But also how cleaning up your emotional life and doing your dharma, AS WELL AS the yoga and the green juice, is what will truly give you that “glow.”
  • Healing As The New Nightlife. How I have slowly but surely replaced the cocktail highs with spiritual highs, and become a happier, healthier, more compassionate and more WHOLE human being as a result. Who. Freaking. Knew.

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The book is out May 2 2017 (yes, she’s a Taurus—the original “material girl”) and the above is just a taster. There’s so so SO much more juicy content—and in the lead-up to the pub date I’ll be hosting a series of Facebook Lives to introduce the different chapters, and take your questions. Keep following on Facebook and Instagram for more details.

There’s also a sweet BONUS PACKAGE when you pre-order! Including the Dharma School webinar I mentioned, an exclusive missing chapter on how to work with Angels & Spirit Guides, and a month’s free membership to Moon Club. Get all the details and order your copy here.

So there you have it. THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE. I hope my story can help you re-write your own.