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?

Being an Influencer Is Not a Top Priority

Many people engage in online media to promote their services. The idea of choosing between becoming an online influencer or a communicator probably doesn’t occur to them. After all, they just want to win a few clients and projects.

I reached a point where I needed to prioritize my own online interactions versus a desire to do the work, scale a business, and maintain balance in my personal life. Some are able to build larger agencies and businesses that coincide with significant online profiles, but I struggle to do both. So a choice was needed. In many ways, it is a living decision, one that I constantly need to reinforce.

Last week, a top 100 influencers metric came out, as usual based on Twitter reach, though this time it measured the reach of persona’s following, specifically “how many people are following those followers.” I guess that’s potential RT reach? Anyway, I am not sure how that translates to influence, but many friends whom I do consider to be influential were deservedly on the list. My congratulations to them.

As I watched the usual accolades posted on my social streams, I grew jealous. I could have been on that list if I’d only chosen to focus on my personal network growth over the past few years. But then I reminded myself about my choices. I was able to detach.

How This Choice Impacted Me

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I secured an opportunity for my client Cade Martin serve as the primary portrait photographer for the NBA Wives Association (Behind the Bench) black tie gala last weekend. Cade is photographing MLB great Prince Fielder here. Check out all of his shots.

Many who have known me over the past 10 years would agree that I am not as prolific as I used to be online. I am a practitioner now, not an uber-influencer on the social media conference speaking circuit. Ratcheting it back was necessary to achieve those other objectives.

Instead, I am present enough to contribute to the larger conversation and market my business. Further, I use the tools to demonstrate competency with social media, particularly with my photography.

Frankly, I feel like online tools like Twitter, this blog and others are awesome, but they can blind you. You think the attention is necessary to succeed, but it takes a lot of energy and time to keep that influencer flywheel turning. Plus the necessary, um, political schmoozing is not my favorite activity. So I made and continue to make the choice to focus on other things.

This decision hasn’t been unkind to me. I earn a bit more than I used to, and I have better family relationships.

Having attained the right balance, I believe I am still credible to clients. At the same time, my intent is to promote them first, and not myself. I guess that’s old school, the client should be in the limelight, and not me.

Perhaps I have become just a member of the community rather than one of the top voices. Others have taken the mantle, and today, it seems some leaders are newer voices, at least to this old man. I kind of like that. Perhaps it is time for the next generation of influencers.

Me, I just want to build a good business, and do what is necessary online. My time as an uber-influencer — real or imagined — has passed.