Life with a Scarlet Letter

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Long-term readers know I have attempted to evolve my language to become more mindful of others. Part of that reparation is learning to live with that negative reputation publicly — my proverbial Scarlet Letter — and handle new disagreements.

At SxSW two different people informed me how a person was telling everyone what an A&^hole I was every time my name came up. It’s no coincidence that this person is someone I wrangled with on here and elsewhere. He’s not the only one. So the damage continues long after the matter passed.

The way I see it, I have two paths; one is to leave the interwebs, walk with some shame, and live a quiet life as a marketer behind the scenes. As entertaining as that seems many days, this path lacks courage.

Part of  acknowledging the problem for me means moving forward in the face of it, and continuing to exist in the ecosystem, albeit in a more productive fashion. I have things to say, and can contribute to the larger conversation.

To do that, I have to accept the repercussions. For me, that means openly acknowledging my mouth, and acting more responsibly. A tainted reputation means you have history. You can’t run from history. You can only openly acknowledge it, make your amends, and live with the outcomes.

I counsel clients who have public errors to do the same. There is no pushing issues under the rug. In fact, that exacerbates the problem.

So you own it, and accept your scars. You let your new actions speak for themselves, good or bad.

New Disagreements


While I have stopped taking people’s name in vain, so to speak, I do still have disagreements. And you know what, sometimes I feel like I’m right, and I won’t yield.

I’m not going to hurt someone’s reputation directly, but I won’t openly encourage folks to engage in negative actions towards me just to people please.

I was wrong in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in becoming a public or private punching bag as a penance. Change necessitates a more moderated approach, not a complete pendulum shift.

Instead, I choose to detach, distance or ignore. I suppose I have become colder, and less passionate or emotionally invested in issues. I’d rather not feed the negative, instead walking away and turning to a more productive activity.

People that receive this cold distant shoulder can easily say, “Hey, he is the same guy.” And that’s fine, it’s part of living with the scarlet letter. I have to take those hits. Folks can say what they want, but believe me, all parties are living easier without my proverbial cannon locked and loaded.

It’s the path I choose to walk so I can stay public and look myself in the mirror with comfort. As time evolves, I am sure my approach will change, too.

How do you handle the impact of your past errors?

Featured image by ErinJane7284


  • It’s taken me a long time to learn not to punish myself for past errors. When I was younger, any transgression or faux pas, no matter how small, was something I’d turn over and over in my mind, punishing myself for something that (sometimes), another person didn’t even notice.

    I wear my heart on my sleeve, and very rarely engage in any confrontation or mean-spirited discourse. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. My past errors are not from things I’ve said, but things I’ve left unsaid, to my own detriment. Now, I speak up, but with diplomacy, tact and compassion. It frees my soul from the bondage I used to place upon myself.

    The past is done. There’s no undoing it. The only moment is this one and then poof!…it’s gone. Live every moment; it’s the best way to mitigate the impact of past errors, and the best way to live a rich and rewarding life. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Yes, you know I really hope this is the last time I talk about the matter for a while. I’ve been really transparent about it, but at the same time, I know there’s so much that I do bring to the table. Not sure if I feel ashamed or bad about this at all now. It just is what is. As we chatted on G+, onward.
      Thanks so much for your comment and time today!

  • The best of us can learn, change, and improve. Not everyone can. Some can’t even acknowledge their past mistakes. You’ve not only acknowledged them, but have worked to become a better person. I really admire and value that.

    That’s why I prefer to be the kind of person who is willing to give others a second chance. People can change. It’s a shame that those who are speaking badly of you are still so wrapped up in the past that they feel the need to do so, and aren’t able to take a fresh look and see who you are now.

    Keep it up, Geoff. Whatever others think, you know you’re better inside and better for the way you’ve handled this.

    • Thank you, Neicole. I feel like if I don’t talk about it from this perspective, it’s harder for the general conversation to improve. I am by far not the only person who engaged/engages in this type of dialogue, and we have to see the holistic picture to understand the dynamics.

      I think getting here has been hard. Getting to the other side has been character building, and humbling at the same time. We can all grow “up” and beyond if we want to. Thanks so much for your words here and on Twitter, today!

  • I’ve made some big mistakes in my life. College comes to mind. But though I’ve gotten myself into some pretty deep “ish” over the years, even to the point of being suicidal (if you can believe it), those are the experiences which taught me who I am and what is truly important. I keep them close.

    • If I don’t keep it close, I am likely to act the same way again. It’s important. Thanks for your affirmation of that!

  • Better to be someone with rough edges making progress, than someone who doesn’t notice the log in their eye while pointing out others’ splinters. I’d undo a thousand things in my past, Geoff. But we just have to keep learning and keeping moving ahead, sometimes with a hearty dose of humble pie for nourishment…!

  • I recall you going through a phase where you tried to eliminate every personal pronoun and reference. You were seeking Universality.

    However, a little shared introspection can go a long way to help the rest of us understand.

    I like the new Geoff. He’s a lot better than that guy who used to yell at people. ;)

  • Your investment in patience will be richly rewarded. As an old person, that is all I can really tell you about this subject, but detachment is so much more than it seems to be…neutrality is a very worthy goal to achieve.

    • Indeed. I think the ability to act without strong emotion is always a plus, even though we may feel it…

  • I’ve softened with age in regards to thinking I have to fight every battle or die for principles…that are really just small in the general scheme of things. I favor conflict, because I think it can drive us to better heights if it is “constructive conflict” that leads to resolution and unified direction.

    But if it doesn’t, then it is time to disengage. I used to stick around and “kick the dead horse” a few times – out of anger or strong desire to prove I was right. Now, I seek more constructive pursuits.

    Of course, sometimes the world will still call you an A** to your back…as you are walking away. Some people will always fear your confidence and conviction. When you learn not to take THEIR limitations personally, then it makes for a little more calm life!

    • There does come a point where you have to say to yourself, enough is enough, and walk. Not just from the little conversations, but also issues like this. I feel like I’ll always have detractors because of the past, but I can’t do much more to achieve reparations.

      Your experience here is helpful, thank you. How was your daughter’s wedding?

  • Marketer Perry Marshall asks his clients to make a list for things they get in trouble, and rename it things that will make them money. ;)

    I think you have changed as the field has evolved. There was always principle involved, and you are still the same person. I honestly don’t see why this is a big deal.

    • Thanks much. I think this is kind of like wearing a plaid jacket to the prom. None of the cool kids ever let you live it down. But I’m still making money, LOL!

  • Hi Geoff – I enjoyed this insight into your character, and Im impressed you feel able to both admit tensions and confront yourself.
    For what its worth, I appreciate you sharing this internal journey very much

    • Thank you, Tony. I felt this was one that shouldn’t be swept under the rug given the general state of the conversation. I really appreciate the support!

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