Forced Narratives

24506230083_4331f9972f_k

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

25072525782_cc674fdb1c_k

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

24749404160_75a6443520_k

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?

Six for Six

Day 71 - Dreidl Die
Image by slgckgc

Next Monday marks the six year anniversary of my first blog post. As I’m blogging less these days, I decided my final post of this year with six reflections based on my experiences over these years. Here are my observations about social media, blogging and marketing based on my journey:

1) The Idealism of Better Business Through Social

When I began blogging, I believed in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Its raw message that businesses would be forced to act better thanks to social media spoke to me. Cluetrain inspired hope that conversations could change the very fiber of business in favor of people. I was full of passion for that change, and my first book Now Is Gone reflected this idealism.

Continue reading

The Beginner’s Mind at Work

by Benson Hendrix

Cup of tea
Image by moonlightbulb

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

One of the concepts in Zen Buddhist philosophy is the idea of the “beginner’s mind.” This is the idea that people should approach a subject with excitement, an open mind, and no preconceptions, regardless of how much knowledge they have gained about a subject.

When someone gains experience and a certain comfort level with that expertise, they might run into the “expert trap.” Starting to think of themselves as “experts,” or “guru-ninja-superjedi-badasses.” Experience is a wonderful thing to have, and is necessary in both personal and professional growth. When it becomes closed-minded, there is the risk of prejudging a situation. When this happens, people can miss potential solutions that don’t immediately present themselves, or don’t match what their expertise tells them.

In an Internet age where everyone is considered an expert in something, how do you resist falling into this trap?

  • Mindfully look for opportunities to move out of your comfort zone, by trying something new (whether it’s a new strategy at work or a new hobby at home). Try to recapture what it’s like when you experienced something new, and keep that feeling with you when you start to fall into the “expert trap.”
  • Don’t stop asking “why can’t we do …?”
  • Failure will happen from time to time. Respect and remember the lessons you learn from it.
  • Don’t get bogged down by the tools. They are only important for helping you achieve your (or your organization’s) goals.

For a communicator, with the added benefit of the plethora of “social media” tools (from video to audio, and blogging to Facebook, livecasting and beyond), the toys for this childlike creativity have never been greater. The chances to mix and mash a unique way of telling your organization’s stories has never been easier (Don’t let the ease of these various tools take away from the primary goals of your project. What’s your ROI? How do you measure success?).

By keeping your options open, you are allowing yourself to best respond to the circumstances around you, instead of assuming you know how those circumstances will progress, or that you can bend outside forces to your will. When these feelings start to emerge, please take a moment to reflect on “The Cup of Tea”:

    One day a university professor visited a Japanese Buddhist Master to ask him about Zen. The master served tea to his guest. When the professor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring, spilling tea out of the cup and onto the table.

    “Stop! The cup is full!” the professor said. “No more tea will go in.”

    The master paused and looked at the professor.

    “Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

# # #

Benson Hendrix is an Albuquerque-based public relations professional and perpetual student. When not pondering technology, public relations, social media, higher education and other topics at www.bensonhendrix.com, Hendrix can be found writing about rugby at www.rugbysupersite.com.

Advice, Politics and Parenting

Soleil Sleeps

I thought about writing a post mortem election post on what the Democrats could have done better with their online communications campaign (starting with their relentless spamming of my email address in spite of several opt-out requests). Then I decided not to. After my Mashable post on the two party’s approaches, did I really need to offer this unsolicited criticism? No one at the Democrats is asking for my advice.

As a new parent, I am getting quite a bit of advice right now. Some of it is paid (pediatrician, lactatian, etc.), some of it is requested advice from friends who have been there, and most of it is unsolicited from family, friends, and online community members.

Don’t get me wrong. I generally hear people out. It’s important for people to share their experiences, and really, parenting is such a great life journey, it’s hard not to… I understand that.

That doesn’t mean listening to everyone makes sense. There are no absolutes. Especially when someone has no experience in a situation — like me and politics. I have never run a political campaign, I only get online communications as a generalist. While I certainly have some experiences to share (and I kept it to SM experience only in my Mashable post), who am I to tell Tim Kaine and company how to run an election? Opinions like this are a dime a dozen on Twitter.

Experience-based advice is better. But, it’s important to note, no singular experience is 100% right. For example, everyone told me a baby couldn’t turn itself sleeping on its back until it was roughly three months old; that babies enjoyed sleeping on their backs. Soleil turned herself on day two and hasn’t stopped since (no arm swaddling for her). Like her daddy, she likes sleeping on her side.

Point being, advice — particularly when it is an unsolicited unexperienced absolutism — rarely has value, nor is it usually welcome. Further, when we do have experience, isn’t it best to couch it as just that? Something like, “Hey, this is just my experience.”

This is what’s wrong with online communications today, the amount of pontificators offering absolutist advice. That’s why I wrote last week’s punk social media post, which pointed out a general groundswell of discontent with social media “rules” today. We have a lot to add when it’s a shared knowledge, it goes off the rails when it becomes an enforced dictate.

What if we are right? This seems like an obvious question at this point. The answer: “You can lead the horse to the water…” Some people learn by their own experiences. After we offer our experiences, isn’t it best to let them do just that? And cheer them on if they find a different way? Or allow them to fail gracefully without rubbing it in?

Just some thoughts on advice. And until someone at the DNC asks me, I’ll let the Democrats judge their own results (but I would be delighted not to be included in their email lists anymore).