What it takes to hew to you (Part 2)

leaf growing through a board fence

This piece builds on this one, which you may or may not want to read as well.

Once upon a time, when I was very much like I am today, only with a lot more income and a lot less happiness, I found myself shopping in a store that sold nothing but sexy ladies’ underwear.

Now, if you know me in even the most passing of ways, you know this is a very unusual thing, and if you’ve known me in the Biblical sense, you’re probably re-reading the above sentence to make sure it says what you think it said. For I am no more a lady of lingerie than I am a lady of pedicures, blender drinks or fancy jewelry. Not that I judge! To each her own, and more power to her. But I buy my panties plain, on the cheap and under duress. Any top/bottom color coordination happens strictly by accident, luck of the drawer, if you will, and most of it looks better off than on. Which, to my mind, anyway, is the main point of underwear vis-à-vis your vis-à-vis-type situations.

True to form, I was there at this sexy lingerie store under duress as well. My boss at the time, a chic and lovely woman whom I’m sure had no end of matching drawers in her own drawers, had extracted from me a promise: that while I was in Los Angeles on my next production gig, I would go to this particular lingerie store and buy myself some high-end undergarment of the completely superfluous variety. It had to be expensive, in other words, and it had to be sexy.

Half of the store was dripping with lace and the rest of it vibrated with the various colors of the rainbow. Promises or no promises, there were some depths to which I would not stoop, which pretty much left Sheer, Black and Clingy. I found some one-piece something or other that looked okay, sexy, even, I guess, given the right lighting and enough liquor. It cost $75 (I still remember!), it itched (the better, I supposed, for wishing oneself out of it) and served no actual, foundational purpose.

I tried it on at least fifty times, and wore it exactly three. Each time I felt not only stupid for having wasted $75 on a shitty piece of nylon but whatever the opposite of sexy is. And itchy. Off it went to Goodwill.

I am sure it made a terrific addition to some girl’s Slutty Olympic Swimmer costume that Halloween.

* * * * *

I was having coffee with The Chief Atheist while back, one of those occasional treats I look forward to with a genuine pleasure I would not have believed possible ten years ago when we were fresh out of the marriage. He is a sincere, smart and forthright fellow; also, he is hilarious. And for my part, I am fairly pleasant to be around now that I’m not a miserable wannabe stewing in her own hot soup of envy and denial.

At some point during the conversation, we were talking about the shapes our day-to-day lives had taken now that we were no longer together, and now that I was (finally) living alone. His, as always, is filled with lots of laughter and activity, always well-populated with friends, colleagues, or loved ones. Mine, by contrast, is filled mostly with quiet and work, punctuated by spikes of peopled activity, and dotted lightly with extremely low-key relaxation amongst one or two close friends. Excepting perhaps the financial freedom to have it all more so, neither one of us could be happier with the way things had turned out.

We had just about wrapped up the topic when he paused, smiled just a bit and said, “I never really got it while we were together, but I finally realized it recently: you weren’t kidding; you really did need more time alone than most people.”

He’s right, I really do.

* * * * *

The good news about the Internet is that it makes it really easy to get ideas; the bad news is that it makes it really easy to think you should be applying them to yourself, now!

The always-on, always-up nature of the Internet is great when you’re feeling low and need to get you some hot baby penguin action. It’s not so great when you’re feeling unmoored and adrift, in an in-between phase, unsure of what the next shore will look like, much less how to get there. This accounts for a lot of the business bipolar disorder you see on the web: constant overhauling of business models, flip-flopping of pricing, re-branding of websites, and of course, rampant copycatting of UI elements, visual identity and even language.

I’m not talking about evolution or emulation. Things can and should change, and we all learn by adopting and mimicking the styles of those we admire, all of us, even the geniuses (and if you don’t believe me, go rent the Scorsese documentary on Dylan. It’ll blow your mind.)

But if you’re doing things because you see other people doing them, beware. If you’re using things because so-and-so is, beware.1 Not only do you have no idea of why they’ve chosen do x, y, or z, you can’t even be sure it’s working for them. Or that it will for much longer. To borrow Seth Godin’s astute summing-up of the futility of emulation in this era of constant and rapid-fire change, “if you’re looking for a map…you’ve totally missed the point.” He was talking about business models, but it works for positioning, for identity, for personal trajectory as well. Today’s opportunity lies in uniqueness and novelty, in innovation and personal touch, and the quickest way to quash that is to lose the thread of yourself in the tangle of other people’s business.

Does this mean you should not surround yourself with people you admire? Read good things? Take in with an eye toward what works, what draws you in and delights you? Of course not. If anything, I would do more of it, and more broadly. As with food, so with brain food: the healthiest diets seem to be the most varied (provided you’re not just varying which drive-thru window you pull up to).

A good exercise for making sure you’re hewing to you is to be able to point to any element of your life and say why you chose it and why you love it. A sofa. A fragrance. A logo. An entrée. A cellphone. A lover. A project. A pair of jeans. A business partnership. A morning spent on Facebook. An evening spent with American Idol.

Even a blog post.

I wrote this one because I get challenged a lot for my business and marketing decisions, or the lack thereof.2 I can point to much of what looks crazy to the outside world and tell you why I do it my way. But there’s a distressing amount that I cannot explain with anything better than I don’t want to be like them. Or I hate that thing, over there. Or just I don’t wanna! You can’t make me!

Which, for a person who not only is into the whole self-actualization thing but who also hires herself out to help people sort out what’s working and what’s not, is not only hypocritical, but more than a little nutty.

On the other hand, who among us isn’t a work in progress?

* * * * *

Are you a philistine for not personally sweating each individual detail of your life? Hell, no. Neither am I, and I’ll wager I have a helluva lot more free time to muse about these things than you.

Could you benefit by thoughtful ongoing review of particular elements of your life, your work, your outward face, your inner workings? I cannot see how you couldn’t. The unexamined life, and all that.

If you don’t know who you are, start there. If you’ve got a pretty good handle on that, pick one aspect of your life (or your business, or your marketing) and start doing an inventory to see if things jibe.

Is this me or is this something I’m defaulting to? Is this something I want, or something I think someone else wants of me? Is this an outdated me, and am I okay with changing it?

It is not a speedy process; when you rush it, you end up with things like a $5000 website you hate in three months and want to completely change. Or a $75 onesie for whores.

Do not look to the left or the right. Look at yourself.

Chances are, that’s what that other guy you admire so much did…


1And of course, if you’re using things you dislike because you think you should, or you think it will get you there faster, just stop right now.

2A lack of a decision is always a decision. Think of it as passive-aggression against yourself, and see if that doesn’t move you to get off the dime and do something about something.

Image by k david clark via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What it takes to hew to you

car with stuffed animals glued to the outside of it

Back in my adhole days, I worked on an unusual account, writing ads for a unique product.

Not pretty unique or really unique or any other slovenly, modern crimes against a once-useful word, but unique, period: there were no other products like it. It was “automobile” when the only other choices were “horses” or “feet”; it was upper-case Kleenex before the name became the generic term for “disposable facial tissue.” It created a category and reigned as its sole entrant for a crazy number of years, considering its high margins and low barrier to entry.

I was brought on when this was changing. Not because I was some hotshot copywriter or had any affinity for the market (it was sports-centric, and I have always been, as The Chief Atheist liked to say, a non-athletic mug), but because I had a solid track record of making packaged goods sexy. Never met an incredibly dull product I couldn’t coax the sizzle from: cereal, deodorant, moribund shelf-stable dessert brands.

Plus, and this was at least as important as any so-called talent I had, I was user-friendly. The kind of copywriter you could take home to meet your brand manager.

* * * * *

My first sign that there might be trouble ahead was the laundry list of non-negotiables that had to be shoehorned into every ad. A dubious animated “demo” and an accompanying list of superlative claims that still lived safely in parity land. A tagline that made me die inside a little every time I had to type it. A goofy, no, seriously goofy, jingle. And I liked jingles.

But okay, it was a start. We would maybe not solve this in a fell swoop, but we would inch along, steadily raising their tolerance for the new and outré. I would earn trust and cred by delivering slightly better iterations, by remaining accessible and amenable throughout the endless rounds rounds of meetings, testing and production, even by learning something about sports so that I could discuss it like a non-nimrod. And when the time came, I would be poised to deliver the work this formerly unique, still unusual product truly deserved, in spite of itself.

The time, however, never came. Not in four years of working my ass off on that product.

It almost came. For brief and shining moments here and there, within the commercials themselves, even, it looked like it came. But if it had been the 17-year-old male that we were positioning it towards, it would have been walking around with the worst case of blue balls in the history of jacking off and balls.1

Why? Because what the protectors of this brand really wanted was to be “kind of” unique. Which, as we’ve established above, is un-possible. They wanted to stick their necks out with a guarantee that heads would not roll. They wanted exciting, breakthrough work that was familiar enough to be comfortable with. Award-winning work that did not make them in the least bit nervous.

And you can’t have those two things at once. Not in 1989. Not now. Not, period.

* * * * *

Believe it or not, this piece started out in my brain as a screed against modal windows.

You know, those things that pop up when you’re on a site, exhorting you to do something or other, usually to subscribe to the site’s feed, or to download something excellent and free NOW in exchange for an email address.

I hate modal windows.  I hate them almost as much as my friend Nathan does, and he really hates modal windows. We hate them because they are insulting, disruptive, and insistent, which is exactly why site owners use them. Well, they don’t use them because they’re insulting; they use them because of the disruptive/insistent part. It converts. I’ve talked to many of my fellow bloggers who use modal windows, and they all confirm that modal windows convert. (Interestingly, many will cop to disliking them as users in the same breath.)

So, could I increase my subscriber rate by adding a modal window? Most likely. Will I even try it? Unlikely. Not because I am right and all those people who are actually increasing their subscriber bases are wrong, but because I am me and I hate modal windows. Modal windows go against everything I believe in when it comes to good behavior online. They look like they are there to help the user, but really, they are there to help site owner. Me using modal windows makes me less me. For you? Maybe not. Maybe they make you more you. Maybe they are the Newest Sliced Bread you have been waiting for all of your Internet life, and to you I say “Mazel tov! Work the sh*t out of that modal window, my brother!”

But if I use them to get me somewhere faster, even if I get there, I lose. Even if I gain subscribers. Renown. Fleets of yachts and strings of polo ponies. Because a piece of me dies every time I vote against who I really am. I do not cease to be unique, but I trowel a layer of stucco over it.

And stucco, I think we can all agree, is not a thing you want to be troweled under.

* * * * *

For the past five or so years, possibly longer, my favorite quote has been this one from American opera singer Beverly Sills:

There is no shortcut to any place worth going.

It means there will always be distance, for which you may read “work” or “pain” or “doubt” or anything else you like, between you and what you really love. Will some pretty nice things fall in your lap? Of course. Or, well, we hope so. Treats are important! Nothing wrong with treats.

There is another quote that lodged in my brain fairly recently, though, by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, and it’s pretty much the perfect companion piece to old Beverly’s:

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.

No fast lane. No lane, period, and no finish line, it’s not a race. There’s just me and the road I create day by day, choice by choice. I can choose a thing that feels right and scary. I can choose a thing that feels awkward but safe. (And hey, I’m not a masochist: if it feels truly right and also pleasant, I’m gonna roll with that, too.)

In the course of all this walking, I’m even likely to take quite a few steps that feel very “me” in the moment but that in hindsight look like embarrassing missteps. Have you looked at your ’80s photos recently?

There’s a difference, though, between trying things on for size and doing things that don’t fit just because everyone else is. The first is life. The second, a slow, steady death.

If modal windows speak to you, for god’s sake, use modal windows. But if they don’t, and I confess, as a reasonably savvy user and longtime student of usability on the web, I truly hope they don’t, for the love of your very own self, please don’t.2

* * * * *

A final note, small but worth mentioning: hewing to yourself does not necessarily mean that the things you are hoping will happen will do so less quickly. On the contrary, they may happen faster.

Yes, the 10,000-hours rule holds (for anything with staying power), and yes, you do have to put yourself out there, but when someone really starts being herself, people tend to respond pretty quickly and word travels fast. It is intoxicating and alluring, what the lack of need can do. And really, when you are copy-catting around, that’s just your need showing.

Even if it doesn’t translate into the accelerated growth you’re hoping for, hewing to yourself is infinitely more sustainable. Not easier, but simpler.

And from the reports that have come back to me, infinitely more rewarding, in the real sense of the word.


1Actually, shortly after I left the business, I would argue that it finally came. It was not I that brought off this feat, but a wonderfully clever person who also happened to be a man, and one who did not particularly give a crap about solving problems within parameters, but just solving them. I wish I could have worked with him longer; he remains one of my favorite people I’ve ever met in advertising.

2I pause here to cede that there is a point at which an unwillingness to be obtrusive becomes just as hurtful to the user as the willingness to sock it to ’em and to hell with the cost. Like not clearly delineating where and how and for what one might be hired, for example, something I am taking pains to correct. I also confess that I’ve been woefully negligent about providing easy, front-page access to (1) my newsletter signup, (2) my resources for actors and (3) my articles on Crohn’s disease and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I defend #2 and 3 on the grounds that most people needing those pieces come straight to them via search. The newsletter thing I need to correct. I am officially on notice!

Image by Highway Patrol Images via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Taking my own medicine

the author kissing a fave client on the cheek

Getting clear so I can get more amazing clients like this one!

It has been happening for some time now, probably since I shuttered my design business, definitely since I quit acting, but the polite and puzzled apologies that “I don’t know exactly what it is that you do” have escalated to a point where I can no longer shrug, laugh or otherwise play them off.

“I write and I talk” is true, but coy. It’s good for keeping myself clear on my priorities, but is far from useful to anyone else.

“I do marketing consulting for solopreneurs and very small businesses” is true, but leaves out a lot. Like me, for instance. I mean, please, do I look like a marketing consultant? (For that matter, do I write like a marketing consultant?) By which I really mean, “Do I do anything that looks like a descriptor you’d find in a drop-down list titled ‘Employment’, wedged between ‘Manufacturing’ and ‘Media’?” I do not. At least, I hope not.

My attempts at self-description have been many, but ultimately disappointing.

First, because not being able to succinctly describe what it is that I do is embarrassing, to say the least, a whole lot of “physician, heal thyself” going on there.

Also, it’s ungracious. It’s confusing, which wastes everyone’s time, ungracious! (Worse, it makes some people feel stupid, like they’re missing something, and that’s beyond ungracious, it’s so mean as to be unacceptable.)

Finally, it makes me a lot less money. Because as any graduate of Marketing 101 knows, given you can deliver the goods (the “All Things Being Equal” Rule), to be easily categorized is to be easily recalled, recommended and other good things that begin with “r”. Like “rich,” which seems like it would be delightful, if only for the possibilities it promises regarding the equitable (i.e., by me) redistribution of wealth. Although to be able to fill up the car without feeling faint, visit the doctor as necessary, and at least occasionally buy the good tea wouldn’t hurt, either.

* * * * *

What has sustained me throughout my feeble, murky swipes at self-promotion has been this: the great reward of doing at least some of what I love every day; and the equally great (and incredibly humbling) reward of being appreciated for it. Getting hired despite my laughable inadequacies around making myself hirable is the most tangible, not to mention remarkable, form of appreciation, but the support of readers throughout these six-plus years I’ve been slinging hash on the interwebs has been no less important.*

If you take nothing else from this post, that would be a good thing to take: You must in some small way always provide your own source of joy through some kind of work, whether it’s things or ideas or self-improvement or self-understanding. And if you do it with all your might, chances are good the universe will throw a bone your way.

* * * * *

Here’s how I have talked about myself that might serve as a starting point for wrestling this bear to the ground:

  • I help creative people sell themselves effectively in the postmodern marketplace. (on Biznik)
  • I provide creatively-minded people with the tools, ideas and practices they need to share their awesomeness with the world. (on my current “hire me” page)
  • I help entrepreneurs get clear on their core truth and assist them in finding the best ways possible for putting it out there. (on LinkedIn)
  • Better living through content strategy.** (on Facebook)

Each falls short in its own, special way. The LinkedIn one falls so far short that if it were a person, he would have cracked its chin open on the curb and been rushed to urgent care for stitches.

But they are the truth, if a little lackluster and faint of voice. They can’t touch my mission statement*** for awesomeness and other things that get me up in the morning, but they are a place to begin.

* * * * *

I will eventually, as the Brits say, get this sorted. In the meantime, I’m going to do something radical (for me): not worry about it. Nope. I’m going to go about fixing things, here and there, tweakity-tweak, again, just as I advise certain clients to do. This is an iterative process, getting clear on who we are. And, given the current and projected future rate of change, will probably continue to be so. Over the past week, I’ve added:

  • clearer “contact me” info (because really, I was kind of a jackass about making people hunt it down)
  • social sharing buttons on each post (because really, “ditto” for making it harder for people to share my work)
  • dedicated “consulting” and “speaking” buttons in the top navigation (because what? I want to make it HARDER for people to hire me?)

It’s scary, and it’s fun. And it’s good for me, because this is the kind of stuff I help other people do, and the more I understand exactly where, how and why it’s scary, and come up with ways of handling it so it’s fun, simple and sustainable, the better off we’ll all be.


P.S. If you’re reading this in email, I’d love for you to click through and take a look at that top navigation. And if something looks hinky to you, or is in any way confusing, to let me know in the comments or privately, via email.

P.P.S. If it isn’t obvious, this is one of the most excruciatingly painful posts I’ve ever written. I wasn’t kidding about that embarrassment factor, above. On the other hand, for some of us, excruciating pain is the only thing that will move us off the dime. So here’s hoping!

*It is one of the chief reasons I encourage writers to blog, the other being a weird kind of accountability it creates. And this doesn’t even get into that other “hot” reason, the author platform.

**I didn’t realize that this was a “thing” until about a year ago, when my friends at Mule Design assigned it to me in a bio for that year’s BattleDecks. The Mules are nothing if not articulate, and I find much to emulate in the way they move through the world. They’ve been particularly astute over the last several months about intentionally raising their profile, executing each move with style and grace, and, in a way that deeply satisfies me, reinforcing the truth of The Three Behaviors. Which is good, because they’re all over my presentation. Anyway, since discovering this magical thing of “content strategy,” I’ve been devouring books and other, uh, content on the topic. As it turns out, much of what I do could be summed up fairly well as being content strategy. Expect more on this topic, including a series of book reviews, in the coming months.

***”To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love.” Everyone should have a mission statement, just not one of those icky, ’80s-corporate, b.s.-style ones.

Photo of me and my beloved client, Susan Carr, Education Director supreme of the ASMP, at SB3 Chicago, by my other beloved client, Judy Herrmann, who introduced us. This is how it works, people!

Poetry Thursday: Slow death by bullshit happiness

old clip-art dude holding sign: Dead inside. You?

You think to yourself:
“I can do this!”
“This will be good for me!”
or even
“It doesn’t matter.”

And so you smile
when someone asks
how things are going,
broadly, you smile,
with most of your teeth,
and you flick aside what’s left of your heart,
and you stick out your hand and say,
“Couldn’t be better!”
or, when life is particularly bleak,
“Things are looking up!”

And you recite from memory
a menu,
several pre-selected items
from columns “A” and “B”,
of all the marvelous wins
and fabulous opportunities
and other stale pellets
of extruded terror
formed into appetizing, life-like shapes,
tarted up with brio
and garnished with a wilted sprig
of false humility
until you question
whether you can even remember
what it felt like
to really, truly feel anything.

What happens,
I wonder,
when you just
“Damn, I’m tired.
Business sucks,
traffic was awful,
my husband left me,
my hard drive crashed,
the dog has cancer,
and the Emperor’s ass
is a flat, pale, pockmarked bucket of sad
the sight of which is going to take years to wipe
from my memory banks.
What’s new in YOUR world?”

Whether everything is awful right now
or everything is perfect right now
everything IS right now.

And I can’t think of a single thing
that doesn’t get a little bit better
served up fresh
and truthfully,
with humor, with tenderness,
with the judiciously-chosen expletive,
dependent on company.

Besides, what’s the alternative,
slow death by bullshit happiness?

The end is coming,
either way.

And I’m guessing,
just guessing, mind you,
that if you let at least some of it
hang out,
the two of you
might even toast
to the ironies of life,
and the way a bump in the road
can turn two complete strangers
into fellow travelers.


Whom will you offend today?

a bunch of kids with their hands over their ears

I have been on an unsubscribing kick lately. And I’m not the only one.

People who track and parse the trends of social media (which is currently being transitioned into “the new media” and which will, soon enough, become just “media”) have been saying this for a long time: attention is the new currency. In other words, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention, this is non-news.

But from the dismaying and ever-expanding swath of garbage I have to wade through every day to get to fresh, open waters, I’d say most people have yet to get the memo. And I say that having already deliberately and painstakingly filtered the firehose down to a relative trickle. I follow fewer than 100 people on Twitter. I have only a dozen or so “always” blogs in my Google Reader. I use delicious and FriendFeed to collect and collate, not chat nor find new material. I stay the hell away from YouTube entirely, just reading the comments there is often enough to lower one’s IQ 50 points, not to mention plunge one into a black hole of depression. I will visit HuffPo only out of absolute necessity, and only long enough enough to hit the “Instapaper-izer” bookmarklet I installed on my browser to strip it and its ilk of their Downtown Vegas-like flashing carnival lightshow of crappery.

And yes, Facebook “friends”, many of you who are redundant, dour, knee-jerk cheerful, or too talky, especially around the business offerings, just don’t show up in my feed at all anymore.

I am not a highly-sensitive person like my friend, Havi, and I never saw that old ’90s movie where Julianne Moore became allergic to everything, but as I let go of the clutter I’ve used both to insulate myself from and inure myself to sensation, I’m freaking out a little bit over how crowded and noisy everything has gotten in the past seven or so years. I mean, I’m as delighted as the next gal about the democratization of dissemination that owning the means of production has created, but does EVERYONE have to make EVERYTHING ALL the time? And with quite so many %#@$ modal windows?

A brief history of the Web 2.0 gold rush

It’s not like any of this is news. When most normal people, i.e., non-ADD types and non-change addicts, first come to social media, they ask the same question: how do you deal with the noise?1

To which the standard reply from a responsible social media tour guide is two-fold:

  1. Reduce input to what is necessary
  2. Filter the rest with tools and processes

In the beginning, we tended to err on the side of too much info and rely on tools and processes to manage it. Them was heady times, the land-grab days, and we didn’t want to miss a minute of it. And yes, it sounds goofy, but there was a great big bunch of us who were writing about the same stuff we were reading about, the stuff we were always interested in, that we were now finally able to swap stories about (productivity pr0n was a big one) and the stuff that was brand spanking new that we were trying to wrap our heads around (i.e. social/”the new” media). I was as guilty as anyone, and guess what? I’m not even the least bit ashamed. This was well before social media hit pop-will-eat-itself levels. There were a handful of gossip bloggers. There were (blessedly) no mommybloggers.2 Back then, it was such a relief to be able to have conversations and interactions instead of just consuming page after mind-numbing page of webular data, I loved it all, including the then-occasional “10 Best Whatever” post. I subscribed to blogs, to newsletters, I joined forums and Yahoo! groups. I did way too much, but I learned a lot, which I was then able to sift through, process, and synthesize in purportedly useful ways to people joining the party late.

And then, all of a sudden, a little bit at a time, I realized: I was done.

Done with ubiquity. Done with ravenous, voracious intake. I am back to reading judiciously about process, and intensely in new areas of interest. So I unsubscribed, and unfollowed, and deactivated, and generally went elsewhere. There are plenty of people who have a deep and enduring interest in exploring and sharing the stuff I once did, and some of them are even doing it responsibly, thank goodness, meaning they are not just yakking about social effing media, but talking about it from some sort of useful context. If you’re climbing aboard now, you should find one of these people. They’re fairly easy to spot, if you like the tenor of my blog.

Walking my own (not-)talk

In February of this year, I did something fairly radical for me: I told people to unsubscribe.

The engagement levels of my newsletter had been dropping for a few months, and I was despondent. Not that I don’t spend a great deal of time on this blog, I do!, but I spend even more time on my newsletter, proportionately, plus it costs me money to send out every month. This is one thing when you’re working, and when your newsletter is bringing you clients; it’s quite another when you’re purposely on self-imposed sabbatical and essentially paying for other people to read your work and they’re not.

The solution suddenly seemed simple: tell the people who were disinterested that it was fine for them to go. So I did. My unsubscribe rates are now just about dead even with my subscribe rates, so the cost is holding steady. But the range of feelings I was suddenly exposed to was far more valuable than the few bucks that went back into my pocket.

I would be offended and/or surprised at who left, and almost immediately after, I would be joyous. I was letting go! They were letting go! We were all free to go wherever we pleased! I got a taste of what it feels like to be filtered out, along with a kind of permission to filter more honestly. Walking the talk! What a concept!

The remains of the day

What’s left is a profound gratitude for who’s left, because they’re really choosing to be fully present with me, plus a kind of focus I never felt before. I am paying more and more attention to what it is that interests me, and trusting that everyone else is grownup enough to do the same. I’m enjoying the hell out of the time I do spend in social media, and what I read and share there. Out of the nothing, a something emerges, and I realize that this is all one process, and that it doesn’t end until we do: we take in, we interact, we synthesize, we release. The landscape of our lives is always changing, just like life is always changing. It’s so obvious, it’s ridiculous, but there it is.

I look at what is left of all I’ve learned from so much time spent absorbing these various modalities of communication, at what has stayed with me, and I start to get a sense of how I might be useful to people when I emerge from self-imposed sabbatical. I’ve been playing with it a bit here and there, quietly test-driving it with a few longtime clients who are, for whatever reasons, also happy to play in this space, to cop a coach-y term. I’m hopeful that by February, when the odometer on my year rolls over, I’ll have some clear and useful offering to extend more widely.

In the meantime, though, I hope that if you are here, you will be really here with me. And that if you are not, you will feel free to let go. And that if there are impediments to your finding utility here, a lack of organization in some critical area, or a missing delivery system, you’ll let me know, either via a comment or an email. Comments and emails remain a constant, I do not see giving them up anytime soon.

You are my great love, giver of useful feedback, engager in meaningful conversation. I will give up much to share in this way…


1In fairness, the first question many people ask is, “What the hell is the point of this crap?”, but these folk are unlikely to use social media for any purposes, good or ill.)

2There were plenty of mothers who happened to blog, and some outstanding blogs from them. They just weren’t the ad-splattered, Proctor-and-Gamblized, black holes of mediocrity you find in such woeful numbers today.

Image by woodley wonderworks via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book review: Influence

author Robert Cialdini and his book, INFLUENCE

How out-of-date is the library-sale copy of Influence: The Power of Persuasion I finished recently? When my 1984-minted paperback was printed, its subtitle was “The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion.” (Italics mine, of course.)

Today, the psychology Robert Cialdini outlines in his now-classic book is so not-new, it’s almost shocking to think that anyone could ever have been sucked in by any of examples of Cialdini uses to illustrate the six “Weapons of Influence” he describes. If you’re not a small-business owner or one of the bajillions of marketing freaks the social web has spawned, you may not be able to list all of the terms by name, but you sure as hell can recognize them when they’re coming at you.

That friendly car salesman who gets you to take a test drive, who goes to the mat with his boss in the back room to get a better deal for you, who confides that the exact model you want is due to come in tomorrow, but only one of them, and only if you sign on the dotted line today? You might not know that he’s employing Weapons #1, 5 and 7, a.k.a. “Reciprocation,” “Liking,” and “Scarcity”, but you know he’s hustling you.1 His going-to-the-mat b.s. has already been debunked for you in several mainstream Hollywood films. Hell, chances are you’ve already used the Google to find out exactly how many cars were made with those options, when they shipped, and what the dealer price is.

So why read a 25-year-old book about “modern” persuasion in a postmodern world like ours, populated by savvy, heck, jaded consumers like us?

Because while the book is 25 years old, the techniques themselves are thousands of years older, as old as the first person trying to get the first other person to do something. And whether you are an honest person trying to get your message across or an honest person trying to keep from getting shafted, it behooves you to gain a real understanding of what motivates your fellow human beings, and what’s fueling the transactions between us every single day.

And I’m not just talking about learning how to sell sell sell, or, on the other hand, to avoid being sold sold sold. The way we are moved has ramifications in all sorts of interpersonal situations, and there’s terrific advice in Influence that will help you do better at everything from buying soap to choosing lovers to raising children. The chapter on Commitment & Consistency alone has more useful information about smart relationships than 99% of the crap targeted to women in the self-help section.

Which brings me to another huge plus for Cialdini’s book over most of what’s out there purporting to illuminate the darker corners of our souls: it’s well-written, and downright enjoyable to read. Somewhere during the chapter on Social Proof, it hit me, with its mix of footnoted and well-researched information, great illustrative stories and (thank you!) wry humor, Cialdini reminded me of not a little of Malcolm Gladwell. Cialdini is far more earnest and not nearly as sophisticated, but then, he was at it a full 10 years before Gladwell. (And, yeah, okay, Gladwell is just a singularly silky and sexy and fabulous wizard with words. You bewitch me, Malcolm!)

I will likely release my ancient copy of Influence back into the wild and pick up a revised version, if only to see how the text has been updated. I’d love to hear Cialdini’s take on Bernie Madoff’s use of the Weapons of Influence, for instance (although you can read one take on it here.)

But if you are a marketer, or a buyer, or a person who wants to be in a good relationship, or to NOT end up in that oh-so-bewildering place of “how the hell did I get here?”, I’d pick up a copy, any copy, old or new, of this fantastic book.


1The six “Weapons of Influence,” in the order Cialdini describes them in the book, are: Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

Photo of Robert Cialdini © Jason Petze, used with permission.

Disclosure! Links to the book(s) in the above post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: while small, it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

When you can’t hire me


I raised the price on my main consulting package today.

Well, okay, technically, I raised it several days ago, and then I lowered it slightly to a number that was still higher, but not quite so much. But still, the price ($475) is higher now than it was ($250) a couple of weeks ago. And while I noted it in my newsletter, pretty much the only place I pimp stuff like that, you may have missed the big, fat, hairy announcement.

While I raised my prices almost 100%, the truth is that I just brought the price in line with what it actually costs me to do these things. I started consulting verrrrry tentatively, at the request of a friend who became my first client, over a year ago.

I then created the Main Thing I Offer by way of consulting, the “Full Monty” (still in beta!), as I call it, about 10 months ago, and purposely kept the price low, even as the Monty grew in depth and scope (and goodies, which I’ve added). I’ve done a slew of them, and so far, everyone has walked away from the experience ecstatic, unless they’re lying to me. They come out of it with clarity and excitement and a plan, and I get to share all this great stuff I’ve learned and assimilated over the past 20-odd years, and it’s awesome. It’s a billion times more satisfying, not to mention useful, than writing ads or even acting in them. (And let’s not even mention the design, which was an ulcer-inducing year for me.)

Which means that people who need it are happy with it, and I’m happy with it, and it should all be sunshine and roses. And it was, except for what it was taking out of me. Because while I got better and better at doing them, they still require tons of prep. Shit-tons of energy. All good, but completely unsustainable at the old rate.

Problem is, even though it’s a reasonable increase given everything that goes into it and still a pretty awesome value considering what you get, it’s also a big jump, percentage-wise and I recognize that it’s going to put me out of range for even more people than before, an unfortunate but unavoidable reality.


I’m working on some ideas for putting what I do for clients with the not-too-high-priced (but still not cheap, I realize) one-on-one consulting stuff into a do-it-yourself, low-priced alternative. It’s a little tricky, but I’ll figure it out. This ain’t rocket science, and plenty of other fine people have figured it out before me. But in the meantime, until I get these magical, mysterious, as-yet-unknown things out into the universe, what do you do when you can’t hire me but you want some help sorting out your marketing messaging, here’s what I’d suggest:

1. Comb through the newsletter archives. They’re right here. There are a lot of ideas and exercises embedded in the monthly thingamajiggy I put out which, because I am a barefoot cobbler’s child and can come up with no better, I call a “newsletter.” It is not really a “newsletter”, since by weight, it’s only about 2% news, if that. (The price hike thingy is news, I guess, as are my occasional “Come here and hear me speak” items.)

The “newsletters” are archived chronologically, with a little description for each. Browse them, see what catches your eye, then pick two or three to work on.

And then subscribe. Seriously. A lot of what I do with my clients is help them apply the stuff I talk about in the newsletter to their specific needs. You won’t get a custom fit, but trust me, you’re a smart enough cookie to figure it out yourself with a little extra effort.

2. Do the Formula exercise. The Formula kicks ass. Seriously. And it’s the foundation of doing ANYTHING right, marketing-wise, on or off the web. Remember: at its core, marketing is the truth of you, translated into the language of them. Here’s an example of it in action on my old design website. Here’s another one, on Conrad Winter’s copywriting site. More as I think of them.

3. Download the DIY version of the homework. Seriously, download it. Won’t cost you a cent. No, you don’t get me going over it with The Mixmasterâ„¢ (my brain, didn’t know it had a name, did you?) Then DO it. If not now, put a time down in your calendar to do it.

BONUS EXTRA: If you want help in any particular area, getting up to speed on social media, becoming a better copywriter, being more productive, check out my copious delicious and StumbleUpon links in your area of choice. Yeah, yeah, there are a lot of tags to sort through. Do a search for what you need, or use one of the bundles I created for delicious. These two spots are where I bookmark most of the truly awesome stuff I find on the web. Again, you’ll have to do a bit of the legwork yourself, searching through them, but it’s there.

As any real productivity nerd will tell you, a huge part of getting things done is just doing it, starting it. Start with these. Do, read, write, think. See how far along you can get yourself. It takes a while, but it’s possible; after all, it’s how I learned to do all this stuff.

And if there are specific things you’d like me to address, let ‘er rip in the comments. Like I said last week in the Very First Screencast Ever on Communicatrix, I’m looking to do more stuff with audio and video to help share the crazy tricks and tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Basically, I’m open for suggestions. Wide open. What do you want? What would make your life better/stronger/faster?

If you’re just “here for the beer,” as we used to say, that’s cool, too. But if there are particular things you’re looking for, problems you wish I would tackle in my uniquely communicatrix-y way, this would be an excellent time to let me know.

Thank you, and have at it…


Image by sittered via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.