The Stress Doc traces a four year journey that has him traveling at time warp speed:
from the not so distant days of computer viginity to an evolving, cutting edge presence in
cyber space. Learn ten key entrepreneurial steps for making virtuality more real and
From Technophobia to Cybermania A Cybersaga:
On Becoming a Netrepreneur
Four years ago, if you had told me that I would be writing about becoming an Internet
entrepreneur I'd have diagnosed you as bonkers. It's not just that I was clueless about
cyberspace. A lot of folks were back then. The real mind boggle is that four years ago I
was a total computer virgin in a symbiotic, codependent relationship with a 15 year
my Smith-Corona electric typewriter!
So how does a hi-touch entrepreneur, educator, training consultant, and/or allied
health professional cross the offline-online threshold, going from phobic, hi-tech virgin
to self-proclaimed "Virtual Dear Abby of AOL"? What's the evolutionary process
for becoming an expanding Internet columnist and America Online's "Online
Psychohumorist"? How do you produce an award- winning website? Are you ready to
become a chat group leader? And finally, when it comes to generating business, like the
question posed in the old Memorex commercial, is cyberspace real or is it virtual? (What
did happen to those Memorex commercials? Was Memorex an audio-tape dinosaur in a digital-
Let me illustrate ten evolutionary steps for the transformative journey -- "From
Technophobia to Cybermania." Also included are strategic concepts for striking out on
your own "Netrepreneurial Path." To good adventures!
1. Overcoming Computer Phobia. The start of a major belief and behavioral system shift
often begins with a crisis. And five years ago, hanging out with an artists support group
definitely proved to be a pain in my paradigm. Several visual artists, setting aside their
fine arts upbringing, were exploring computer graphics. They would bring in work and
regale the group with tales from the technological edge. Boy, did I feel trapped in the
Shame finally got the best of me, thank goodness. Despite years of math phobia and
pathetically low scores on mechanical aptitude tests, I gradually started confronting
"The Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." And I had a blazing insight: hire a
personal computer coach. I knew a computer class would only draw out my startup agony. And
opportunity beckoned. At the close of a stress workshop for professionals in career
transition, an out of work computer consultant approached me. She would prove to be
low-key, patient and nonjudgmental; a good coach for a neurotic, Type A student. In a
matter of moments a reasonably priced one-on-one contract was negotiated. Together we
purchased my computer, set it up and, in about a dozen hours of coaching, the training
wheels were removed. The scarlet "CV" on my forehead and in my psyche (for
"Computer Virgin") was forever exorcised.
2. Confronting the Possible: Is the Earth Round?/Is the Web Real? It's still quite a
leap from overcoming electronic phobia and frigidity to lusting for cyberexposure. Once
again, hanging out with marginal characters proved decisive. After my computer conversion
experience, I joined a social/networking group for self-employed, entrepreneurial types
called "Home Alone." This step definitely shook me out of my computer comfort
zone, if not my complacent reality. The Internet and the World Wide Web were the buzz. (An
image comes to mind of a young Christopher Columbus, hanging out in the local pub, first
hearing an "on the edge" sailor boast that the world was round.) While intrigued
and envious of the trailblazing "Webbies," I hardly knew where to start.
I needed a hi-tech Yang to my hi-touch Yin. With some trepidation (barely knowing how
to speak cybergeek) I approached an Information Technology colleague. John, a fellow baby
boomer, was a consultant to Howard University's School of Continuing Education. The school
had previously sponsored my stress programs. "John," I ventured, "You have
all this arcane computer knowledge, I have all this psychobabble
Let's put together a
'Stress Doc' website." In one way, timing was good. John was just starting up a
website design business. But where was my head and heart
Alas, a lifetime of technological inertia would not vanish in one fell keystroke. I
emailed some material and John played with a skeletal structure. But, in truth, I wasn't a
collaborator, a genuine entrepreneurial copilot. I wasn't on top of the web project, nor
was I providing continuous informational and motivational thrust.
Fortunately, adversity would soon push me over the cyberedge.
3. Being Downsized and Breaking Out. Now the turbulent transitional arena was a
division of the Food and Drug Administration. For two years I had worked as a conflict
resolution and team building consultant, starting with one divisional section. I
progressed to the branch level (with the supervisors) and, finally, had begun winning the
trust of the division head and his top managers. Alas, progress was not swift enough.
Major reorganization, if not counterrevolution, was in the air.
Amidst this barely contained chaos, a group of contractor's attached to the division
had requested my group facilitation services. The tension and fairly inhibited group
atmosphere was palpable. And the principal controlling figure was a high-level FDA
manager/overseer. Unfortunately, during the course of my initial consult, one fact was
clear: for a genuine exchange of ideas and beliefs, tactfully setting limits on Mr. Micro
Manager was inevitable. Of course, this did not sit well with my ego-inflated and insecure
antagonist. Though not returning to the sessions, he soon got his revenge. For when the
reorganizational dust settled, Mr. MM was the new head of the division in which I had so
painstakingly toiled. Guess who was now expendable? (Ironically, the three contractor
facilitation sessions were universally described as, "the best meetings we've
The "rightsizing" process occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas '96. I
was definitely bummed -- the loss of a major contract and supportive clients- colleagues,
punctured pride, concerned about future finances
The season was appearing far from
Eventually, I tired of licking my wounds. I seemed to be intuiting the poignant and
hopeful wisdom of Nobel Prize-winning French author and philosopher, Albert Camus: Once we
have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [or loved position]
obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain. I engaged in
some needed self- confrontation. Time and energy had to be invested in new marketing. But
pursuing the same old sources was igniting little enthusiasm. While feeling trapped,
"the pass in the impasse" was facing me squarely; or, rather, I was staring at
it daily. I needed to step into that Compaq Presario looking glass-monitor!
4. Inverting The Creative Box Paradox. Let me pose my problem-solving paradox thusly:
In order to think outside the box I needed to get inside the box
to explore the AOL
software built into my computer. Until now, I had mostly used America Online for dabbling
in personal ads; to have reason for checking my sporadic email. Anxious to find new
marketing venues, my recent reorganizational rupture pushed me into an AOL Writer's Forum
and Bulletin Board. (Historically, I've used writing as one means of promoting my
business.) While trolling and scrolling, a solicitation from an electronic humor
newsletter stopped me in my mouse tracks. I submitted some humorous organizational
consulting stories. And to my surprise, the submission did not get sucked into some
cyberspatial black hole for proposals and manuscripts.
The editor of Humor From The Edge emailed the next day. Shawna, (SV Honey) was
enthusiastic. She sent my 500-750 word stories to the publisher. In size, content and
style my material was a radical departure from HFTE's standard fare. The publisher, Rick,
always sensitive to his reader's preferences, had some ambivalence. He challenged me to
limit the humor stories to about 100 words. Shawna, later revealed that Rick doubted my
ability to meet his proposition. My writer's ego was bruised. I, of course, deserved more
words and space. Putting pride on hold...somehow, I met the challenge.
At first, there was a firestorm, especially among his more youthful readers. To them I
was a Trojan voice, if not a virtual virus, compromising the purity of their newsletter.
Yet some positive responses also came down the cyberpike. And Rick stood fast behind me.
Before long, he was even giving me a yellow, then a green light to expand the size of my
essays. Length proved less important than that the writing be fast-paced and fun,
accessible and insightful.
5. Feeding and Pushing the Online Envelope. Well give me a column inch and I'll take a
whole screen. Actually, a page
I submitted Humor From The Edge writing samples to
AOL's major mental health forum, "Online Psych." They immediately resonated with
the psychologically-minded language, humor and stories. And my own AOL page, Keyword
(Stress Doc) and new media moniker - "Online Psychohumorist" - came into
And then a new, consistent feedback loop: a small but steady stream of heartfelt
questions from the four corners of cyberspace on stress and depression, on the challenge
of finding or sharing love, and on family and work conflicts. The self-proclaimed
"Virtual Dear Abby of AOL" was in the making.
The feedback loop was just the needed whack on the side of the head. I was beginning to
generate a small but evolving national and global audience. Maybe there was a potential
market for Stress Doc Enterprises services. And there was. An email arrived from a Texas
Instruments Training Coordinator. Her friend had forwarded some of my Humor From The Edge
writings on creatively disarming organizational stress and conflict. Ms. Training Lady was
interested in my doing some programs. And within a week, a $3,000 contract plus travel
expenses for two days worth of training was signed.
Now I approached my web maven with evidence and with a vengeance. We started meeting
regularly - two and three times/month - to push the web design process. (I also began
paying him a $100/month web design/maintenance fee, which included emergency tech support,
thank goodness.) And it wasn't all geek-related. From informational content and marketing
copy to graphics and screen layout my input was vital. It's not unlike working with an
architect and general contractor when building a house. (There's a reason that your
opening website screen is called a "Home Page.") While John and I occasionally
battled, ultimately, there was true left-and right-hemispheric synergy and "creative
peace of minds."
The site now consisted of a growing body of columns and articles, program blurbs, bio,
testimonial letters and photos (including the home page, signature "Stress Doc"
shot of me in the Smoky Mountains wearing a small backpack, my Berkshire Mountains
tee-shirt and my cool New Orleans brim). Sixty-three revisions later, the site was looking
good and it had substance. Still, it wasn't getting that much traffic. Key lesson: you can
have the sexiest looking and/or most profound website, but if folks can't find
it's all pose and prose.
6. Discovering the Role of Internet Marketing. The early web construction days
clarified our team's strengths and limitations. John was fluent in HTML (the web building
operational language) and site construction; website placement in the various search
engines was another complex matter. John knew the basics for consideration by the major
search directories like Yahoo, Lycos, etc. But there were strategies and labor-intensive
tasks for expanding directory placement and enhancing positioning. When a World Wide Web
engine did an informational search on "stress," for example, would our site
likely be discovered among the web flotsam and jetsam? (Of course, positioning isn't the
only factor. Upon asking a New Haven Register reporter, "Why call me?," he
declared, "Yours was the only website I found that didn't look like it was designed
by a wacko.")
This marketing game plan required a new collaboration. While hanging out in a
coffeehouse, fortuitously, I overheard an author and cybermarketer talking about the
Internet. (Luck does come to the prepared mind.) We quickly struck up an animated
conversation; I had my next Internet consultant. Mary handled both search engine placement
and some public relations. The fee: $1,000 for a two months project. The key results:
improved search engine positioning and a website press release that hooked a big fish.
My site was featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site" Website, one of five
sites from the entire web selected daily. (The first two selections that memorable day
were Barnes & Nobles Online and a historic New York City jazz club, The Village
Vanguard. The Stress Doc site was in some heady company.) And the "field of
cyberdreams" was becoming increasingly real. Loosely analogous to the ethereal
ballpark in the movie, we discovered veritas virtuality: "If you build it (and market
it) they will come." And they did. 2500 folks in two days visited my website,
including a book editor for a prestigious, mid-sized publishing house. (This junior editor
thought my essays might have book potential. While this author-editor dance did not yield
a book contract, I was gaining confidence that my words and website might one-day help
garner a book deal.)
7. Pondering Reality/Virtuality: The Chicken or Egg Dilemma. The USA Today Online
"Hot Site" experience illuminated the fine line, actually, more the permeable
membrane between the offline and online worlds. The loop was completed when the newspaper
version of USA Today included a brief summary of my site in an article highlighting the
"Hot Sites" of the week. (Which triggered another large flurry of hits.)
However, the exposure loop doesn't always begin in cyberspace. Sometimes real life
impacts a virtual one. Keynote speaking at a national convention for the National
Association of State Farm Agents in June '97 led to meeting a free lance writer in the
insurance industry. He suggested pitching my essays to the editor of Financial Services
Journal Online, a slick webzine, with a monthly readership of 30,000 (now 40,000). I
forwarded some pieces and, presto, a monthly column was born. Once again, in a frontier or
startup world, as opposed to an established one, there are more options for carving out a
new stake or niche.
8. Generating Cyber Spinoffs. A truly amazing thing about the Internet is how quickly
new projects and possibilities emerge from the ether. For example, Online Psych essays
triggered a round of guest appearances on AOL chat groups. After a guest expert stint on
an AOL/Digital City-San Francisco chat, I realized, "Hey, I can do this."
(Digital City, a subsidiary of America Online, is an AOL resource-entertainment guide in
the fifty largest US markets.) And around Thanksgiving '97, "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat" started streaking across the Digital City-Washington cyberspace twice a month.
Then we moved to a weekly format in the Spring '98, to get Digital City - National
Believe me, running a chat group is something else. Fortunately, Digital City provides
a chat host, the esteemed Dig C Blues. It's a real team effort. We've opted for a pretty
loose format -- like a support group that allows crosstalk. Individuals raise questions
and the group and I dialogue with the person who is up. We have between 10 and 30 people
in the room at any one time; there's a core group. It's intense; comments and concerns
(and witticisms) flying across the screen. And what's most real is the sharing and caring.
My mind and fingers know we've been through an exhilarating and exhausting ninety-minute
And now that AOL has bought out Netscape (the original World Wide Web browser) Digital
City plans to push its programming beyond AOL; to go onto the web through Netcenter. And
I'll be heading up a Work Stress Q & A column. "Future Shock" here we
9. Having the Mass Media Mountain Come to Mohammed. Fall '98 provided further evidence
of the far-reaching potential of a varied Internet presence. Within a span of two weeks, I
was approached via phone or email by: a) ABC-TV News looking for an angry couple to be
interviewed by Barbara Walters on a news special. Why they had to call an expert in
Washington, DC still puzzles. You mean they couldn't find one angry couple in New York
City?); b) US News & World Report for background info on a story about workplace
stress and conflict in the Postal Service. The reporter had read one of my online articles
mentioning my stint as a stress and violence prevention consultant for the USPS; c) Adult
Ed Today to write an article for this new four color, national offline magazine. The
magazine targets university and corporate administrators looking for high quality
conference speakers. (Twist my writing arm/keyboard fingers ;-) and 4) an LA Times
reporter wanting to interview an individual who had been "Multiply Downsized."
The reporter parenthetically asked, "Did you know that according to 'Hot Spot' (a
rating service which tracks website traffic) on the topic of 'layoffs,' yours was the
fourth most visited site on the entire World Wide Web?" Blew me away! And media
interviewing is becoming a regular occurrence. "Holiday Stress" was the latest
Once again, my existential mottos ring true: "I don't know where I'm going
just think I know how to get there!" and "I no longer count on nor discount any
10. Evaluating the Bottom Line. Enough of this virtual-existential psychobabble. In
addition to ego-aggrandizement and exposure (and funny lines: if I get any more exposure
I'll be arrested for indecency) what have been the tangible results of a hard-earned
1) Training. This summer yielded four website-or Internet-generated speaking/training
programs, one with a state addictions conference across the country in Phoenix, AZ. The
average fee: $750 per two-hour programs. While not big bucks as speaking fees go, one
program immediately generated a spinoff conference. "Practicing Safe Stress"
programming has growth-potential!
2) Therapy/Consultation. I have not actively solicited therapy clients, though I've
consulted with several people both in person and on the phone who are already in therapy.
(My normal hourly consultation fee is in effect.) A second opinion helped purposefully
redirect them back to their therapists. Actually, there is a marketable concept waiting to
be developed: online support/clinical consulting services as part of an EAP (Employee
3) Coaching. As a good netrepreneur role model, let me highlight a service attracting
allied health professionals -- my "Online Coaching Program." This involves
one-on-one, phone and email "how to" skills and strategies for developing and
marketing various educational-training-consulting services, online and offline. Again, the
possibilities are almost limitless. With a startup student, an LA actress and comic, I'm
now collaborating on an upcoming film project. Talk about virtual reality! (Email
firstname.lastname@example.org for more coaching info.)
4) Writing. An informal online syndication is evolving from slick webzines to homegrown
newsletters (both offline and online, actually). I'm convinced there is a market for
engaging, meaningful and fun content on the Internet. My free newsletter has 1500
subscribers and is growing daily. And this "fast food for thought" will attract
customers and clients hungry for more.
In conclusion, for the entrepreneur, educator, training consultant and/or allied health
professional, cyberspace is a new system of connection and collaboration. The World Wide
Web is aptly named, though the web is less a structure of entrapment (alas, there are
cyberaddicts) and more an electronic network challenging us to: a) upgrade our
technological knowledge and savvy and, especially, b) to create, online-and off-line,
dynamic linkages and synergistic partnerships among hi-touch and hi-tech individuals and
groups. Are you ready to help build a cutting edge system that can inform, support,
inspire and market to both an expansive and intimate community of consumers, clients and
colleagues? Are you ready to be a cyberpioneer? It's real, it's virtual, it's out there.
Go for it. Go web young cyber-ite!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, is a therapist, speaker, trainer, author and "Online
Psychohumorist" known throughout the internet, America Online/Online Psych and the
nation as "The Stress Doc." He specializes in stress, organizational change,
team building, career transition, creativity and HUMOR. The Doc also leads the online
"Shrink Rap and Group Chat" for AOL/Digital City-Washingtn. Mark writes for such
the national publications as Treatment Today and Paradigm Magazine and for the popular
electronic websites/newsletters, Financial Services Journal Online and Mental Health Net.
For more info, call (202) 232-8662 or check his USA Today Online "Hot Site"
website - at: www.stressdoc.com. Or email Stress Doc@aol.com for his free newsletter.