Forced Narratives

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Maria Popova celebrated nine years of her fantastic blog Brain Pickings last October. In her celebratory post, she listed several really important life lessons. One really resonated with me: “When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.” These moments — forced narratives if you would — are very dangerous because they test your own vision.

I read the post shortly after someone dressed me down and told me what they thought I was all about. There was nothing kind about it, and frankly it was a pretty disappointing experience. This person may have spent a total of 2 hours of time with me, and knew nothing about me.

If I embraced this person’s views as truth — as I would have 20 years ago when I was first starting my career — then I would have been crushed. Instead, I was able to see the forced narrative for what it was, anger and a last attempt at control.

In her post Popova stated, “assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” It’s not for me to judge the other person, but the moment offered a powerful reminder to stay grounded in my own belief system.

It’s a Long Road

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I am at the halfway mark on my career lifespan if you were to assume that 65 is the assumed age of retirement. Frankly, I don’t think I ever want to completely retire, but the point is that one’s working life lasts a long time.

There are some people who walk the entire journey with you, but they are rare and often hard to recognize. I assumed some very like-minded people would be great colleagues my whole life and we pursued different paths. Other people who you didn’t think would be periodic players over a period of decades become just that, people who watch you and you watch them.

One thing you learn about people is that rarely are they one dimensional. Can you imaging if people said Leonardo Da Vinci was only a great painter, that he couldn’t do anything else? And Da Vinci believed them? How many inventions would have been lost to this world? His art would have been all the world had seen. Of course, just having the Mona Lisa wouldn’t be too bad ;).

When you watch a person over time you see their many sides. They are not just a writer, but also someone who can teach other people to write, and lead them to accomplish great things, a manager of sorts. As time progresses, they have a family and they become better able to administrate or become more tolerant of politics.

The point is you see many dimensions to a person. Not all of them are good either, but at the same time every person has strengths and weaknesses. The best come to terms with their weaknesses or at least come to understand them well enough to play against them. You learn to appreciate others for their respective skills, paths, and evolutions.

And when someone simply pushes a person you know into a label, a sense of disappointment rises. They don’t know Joanne (or Joe, if you prefer). And they don’t because they haven’t walked that long road with them like you have.

The Power of Introspection

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It took me a long time to publish this post, four months really. It took that long for me to understand the full power of that moment, that dressing down, and how I carried it with me.

Over the past few months I have been journaling pretty regularly, three or four times a week. It’s a fruitful exercise that helps me stay grounded on business, work through scenarios, and understand some of the emotions I experience as I move out of the agency entrepreneurial part of my life and into this next phase.

One of the biggest challenges I worked through was a sense of failure. But I have to tell you the biggest failure I experienced was not the loss of individual opportunities or even the painful end to Tenacity5. The biggest failure was my lost sense of qualification. That is what came

I used to look at opportunities in depth and really qualify them, not just to see if they would come in, but also to see if they were a match from a culture and offering standpoint. Really, this is sales 101. Anyone who is experienced in sales knows this, and I knew it, too.

Somewhere along the Tenacity5 journey I stopped doing that. And along that journey work became a grind. We took on projects we hated, and worked with companies that maybe we shouldn’t have. Unfortunately, that behavior continued after it ended, for a couple of months at least.

See, here’s where that dressing down comes in. If I listened to my gut, then I would not have entered into that relationship. I sensed trouble before it happened. There was a major cultural and ethos mismatch, and the warning signs were crystal clear.

When I think of that moment and the person in question, I don’t think about their forced narrative. This person has not walked that mile in my shoes, and cannot possibly understand my perspective. At least not yet.

Instead, I consider their roasting as a gift, for it reminded me to stay true to myself and qualify my opportunities well so that I select work opportunities that I truly care about, and with the people whom I can help the most. In the past two months, I have walked away from several business opportunities — including a full-time job offer. They were not matches. I believe the lesson has been learned.

What do you think about forced narratives?

Consulting and Photography in 2016

 (Geoff Livingston)

(The Space Shuttle Discovery)

Several folks have asked what I am doing now on the professional front in the post Tenacity5 era. I am focusing on independent consulting and photography in 2016.

Consulting remains my primary focus as it is my most valuable skill, and the one companies need the most. Give them what they want as they say, and it is something I feel very comfortable doing. I will say that I am being a bit more selective about clients as it is just me, specifically no ongoing community management accounts or the like.

This also means I will not build a new agency or a larger marketing company. Part of my reasoning to end Tenacity5 was that I did not want to invest the energy into starting a new company anymore. That remains as true now as it did six months ago. However, I am keeping the Tenacity5 site up to describe the services I am offering, but have deleted the primary Tenacity5 social media properties.

What About the Photography?

 (Geoff Livingston)

(Early Morning at Pier 3)

On the photography front, I am getting hired more frequently as a pro photographer, which is awesome! In fact I have three jobs this week alone, which is pretty cool. Overall, photography makes up about 10-15% of my current income, and for that I am grateful.

However, the fine art and landscape photography, while certainly a driver of social media engagement, is not producing great amounts of revenue. I believe this is in part due to distribution.

Combined, the photography is not enough to earn a living. I am exploring some possible gallery and distribution methods, but none of these will be a quick fix. Even if I am able to get my own space, I don’t anticipate that photography will become my primary business. Things could change, you never know, but for now it’s a nice secondary revenue stream.

If you want to help with my photography business you can buy or license a photo, or you can hire me to perform work for your business or custom portrait shots. I am referring personal events to my friend Camille Catherine.

What About a Job?

 (Geoff Livingston)

(Under the El)

I did conduct a job search for several months, and while there were some near misses, things have not worked out. Some of the experiences reminded me of why I left corporate America 10 years ago. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Rather than continue the search, I have stopped looking completely. There will be no commute for me. Instead, I am taking the aforementioned consulting and photography route. I am able to do this thanks to my wife Caitlin, who successfully rejoined the government contracting community this past October.

That does not mean I won’t take a job or won’t listen to opportunities, but it is no longer a direction I am actively seeking.

I do want to thank everyone who inquired about what’s going on. You are good friends.

A New Blog and Approach for 2016

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You’ll probably notice a new simple blog design on the site. The revised geofflivingston.com reflects a greater focus on photography, and less on books and writing as a whole.

This reflects an anticipated larger strategic shift with my own activities online in 2016. Next year will bring a professional change. With it will come a reduced focus on marketing personal consulting services. I will reveal more when I can.

As a result, at some point during the next year I anticipate letting myself off the hook for a weekly post, and will simply blog when I have something to say. I know people like to interpret these things and go off and write posts about bloggers quitting and riding off into the sunset. This is not that. It is not a resignation, nor the end. Instead, it represents a maturation and an evolution.

There are two drivers behind this change.

Purpose

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The aforementioned personal change will likely push any personal blogging to other venues, a corporate site, my Huffington Post blog, and/or my LinkedIn blog. If I am not marketing, building personal influence, or trying to prove my worth as an individual blogger for some other reason, then weekly blogging is a habit.

There are a variety of reasons for that habit, from maintaining a consistent presence to making sure my writing skills don’t get rusty. The truth is I will be writing, again probably elsewhere. So the only reasons to continue are to build personal influence, which frankly doesn’t interest me very much.

Keep in mind, this is not a new game for me. I don’t see much value from getting free Doritos, conference passes, and movie tickets because I am an “influencer.”

When blogging here does become something I do on my own time, it becomes a time eater, a hobby. My top two concerns will be my child and my professional activities. And I have another hobby which actually produces a dollar now and then, one that I find is less time consuming and more enjoyable, at least right now: Photography.

After regular periodic blogging for so long (see below), it is time for geofflivingston.com to become a true personal blog. That means only publishing when I care enough to write something. Writing when I have something to say effectively right sizes personal blogging to where it belongs.

I’ve Been Around Too Long

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In April, I will celebrate/mourn 10 years of blogging. I have used blogs to weigh in on industry issues, market my services, help causes, and in the latter few years, add my voice to societal matters.

Blogging was unique when I began. Now it is a crazy evolving mess. That probably reflects content shock, and the corresponding impact information glut is having on the interwebs.

In the end, writers write. While I may be a marketer and a photographer, my core skill remains writing.

My experiences blogging and marketing over the past ten years have taught me one thing: A blog is just a means of publishing, nothing more, nothing less. It is an online Gutenberg press that allows people to comment on and share posted media. It’s always been that way. How marketers use or abuse the form is up to them.

My words will still have a venue if I need it. And if I am still active on social channels — and I will be — then my friends and community will still welcome those words, infrequent or not.

So blog I will. When I want to. I guess that’s what happens when you become a cranky old blogger ;)

The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

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In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

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People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

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I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

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With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.

My 40th Birthday

I turn 40 years old tomorrow.

Before I begin, in some ways this post discusses second chances. If you want to do something for my 40th, please donate $40 to DC Central Kitchen. Give someone an opportunity to get off the ground with a new job and life.

Frankly, it’s been a neurotic odyssey getting to my 40th birthday over the past three months. I’ve had a real hard time with this one, in large part because I don’t think I should be here.
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