On branding yourself for strangers

I haven’t done a great job coalescing my disparate web presence over the past few years. At one point, it mattered less because I wasn’t actively seeking to do anything with anybody. But as I get more exposure in random places, I find myself having to explain basic things that I realize no one got because they never visited my website.

I’m fine with that, you can’t expect everybody to Google you. When I realized is, even if they had, there’s so much stuff I’ve been leaving out of my bio/profile mostly because I wasn’t sure how relevant it was to the bottom line. When you’re into a lot of things, the shifting of gears can leave you wondering exactly how to position your professional skills. I see a lot of it was connected, but I haven’t ever made those connection points for newcomers.

Over the years, there have been more newcomers. I tend to assume people know stuff, until they talk to me and I bring up something casually and they’re like “wait, you did that?” and then I have to explain the story. I realized there just needs to be a better introduction to “me” that encapsulates everything much better than I have.

So I’ve been working on that lately.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever back to the point where I’d just write about anything, but I’m considering moving back in the direction of writing more eclectic fare. My best assets are my breadth and ability to weigh in on a diverse array of topics. Limiting myself the past few years only to the digital/UX/Content Strategy whatever space has really left me feeling constrained. I felt like people didn’t want to hear about the “other stuff” and so I would intentionally say very little. Plus, there’s always a fear someone is going to be offended by some third party opinion about something unrelated to work.

But I’m seeing more and more people out here talking about whatever. Part of taking a stance is being willing to draw your line in the sand. I’m not super inclined to get into political discussions with many people, especially because I know they just haven’t read that much, but I do think it’s time for me to dip my feet back into the marketplace of ideas wholly. We’ll see how that manifests itself, but…I figured it was worth noting to the crickets that still read this thing.

Podcast Episode #3: Meditations on Process

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A text conversation the other day with a friend of mine trying to synthesizing her guy problems. We’ve had variations of the same conversation for weeks months years now, but the other day after a breakthrough or two, I fired a text away that read something similar to this tweet:

So much of helping other people solve their dilemmas is working through your own problems too. It’s not entirely self-serving, but I cannot count how many times spending time breaking down the dilemmas of my friends and family have helped me to unravel my own messes along the way. In thinking about many of these conversations, it led me to think about how I view “the process” in my own life.

Seth Godin talks about “The Dip” as that thing in the middle that helps decide whether to stick with what you’re doing or whether to quit. I like recommending the book because it’s short, easy-to-read and most I recommend it to haven’t read his blog. But “the process” isn’t really about a barrier standing in the way of what you want, what you build in the middle — the process — is what sticks. If you don’t prepare, if you aren’t constantly self-critical, improving and trying to adapt…that entire time is wasted on you. Even if you end up getting what you want, I often find that I’m not really ready for it. Or I somehow decide that I don’t really want it anymore.

The process molds and shapes us.

Today on the podcast, it’s all about the process. For me, just getting this recorded and shipped to you was part of my own process. Hopefully it won’t take another few weeks for the next one to end up on your virtual doorsteps.

How to be everywhere and nowhere at all once

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I will sometimes waste entire days staring at the screen trying to do something. I’m not proud of it and it’s something I try to limit, but sometimes my response to being productive is being paralyzed by the idea of not having enough time.

For instance, I have so many different blogs that I write that I will often say “I have like eight blog posts to write” because it’s true. I have lots of things I want to say. If you’ve spent any time with me in real life at all, you know this is a true statement. But writing on a bevy of channels isn’t the same as actually processing everything you need to say in each one of them. They require different thinking, different thoughts and ideas that might not always fuse neatly together when you need them to.

Which is really irritating.

One of the ways I’ve grown from my younger years has nothing to do with doing less stuff, as much as I’ve become better at realizing you can’t do everything at once. I’m far more interested in building sustainable projects that have a legacy beyond my ability to run them. I used to do projects that were heavily reliant on me being there to manage every aspect of them. Obviously these things would sort of die after I left because they weren’t being run the same way.

As time went on, I became far more interested in creating things for wider audiences that would last longer. I would build with cultivating leaders in mind. Too often we don’t want to reveal the secret sauce behind what we’re doing, because there’s a fear that people will perceive the work to be too easy. This negates the intangibles of our talents, but is a fear that’s generally unfounded. By helping others do more, we save organizations money and we help people adapt and grow their perspective behind the mystique of what they thought went behind different things.

I realize now that it’s not realistic to manage of ton of projects and expect the same kind of result. But not every project is built with the same aim in mind. Sometimes, there’s no aim at all. We’re just doing something that sounded interesting. That’s the case with the movie blog. We didn’t sit down one day at summer camp and say “hey, let’s start a sport” or “we should create a tumblog with 80,000+ followers.” In both cases, it just worked out that way.

You can’t always create the movements that resonate. And it doesn’t always make sense to try to tackle something bigger than you can handle or to set out with the goal of doing that. If I had, I’d be in a totally different place and not necessarily for the better.

Nonetheless, doing something is better than doing nothing. Just remembering that is often the trick and realizing that the first few attempts aren’t going to be perfect. But we’re not striving for perfection, just constant improvement.

On to the next thing.

A life’s work

The curse of the “jack of all trades” generalist who is “good at everything, but not great at one particular thing” is this fallacy that you can be all things to all people, all of the time. Anyone who has been around the block awhile recognizes the faulty logic involved in that thinking and yet, I meet kids at a non-liberal arts college on a fairly regular basis who think they’re going to triple-major in Biology, Theater and Business.*

One of the things you get from doing something over a period of time is a sense of purpose. I like being useful, probably more than anything. I get a great deal of satisfaction from being good at what I do and from the recognition of others that i have unique insights that improve the bottom line or just plain make meetings better. Often times, it’s just my particular brand of hilarity mixed with a heavy dose of perspective that was needed at that time.

The challenge of the generalist — nay, of anyone really — is finding out where you fit. Woven into this is knowing what you’re really good at. I complain mightily about the conundrum of being able to broadcast loudly other people’s attributes and being a brand steward of the first order; but being less than good at boosting my own works. The thing is, I’m not shy or especially modest. I really want people to know. The disconnect is getting them to know without me telling them.

And that’s when we end up where we are now. I’ve come to recognize how much I was doing and stepping away from the day-to-day work on the web has strangely illuminated how much I enjoyed my old work, ways I could improve certain aspects of things given the opportunity and has made me (slightly) more vocal about cool things I’ve done over the years on and off the web.

Sometimes, you need to step away from what you love to realize what about it made you really love it in the first place. I’ve done it and now I know better than I ever did before.

On First Impressions

I think it was instilled in me at a pretty young age that it’s important to dress well and look good. It’s less about money and more about making sure that you take the time to care about your appearance. There’s probably some politics to this, but I think at our core, we all want to reflect how we feel and if we’re feeling good, it extends to how we present ourselves through our outfits.

One of (many) things many of us don’t find out as kids are how to navigate the waters of dressing well and what that even means. We’re all probably seen enough “What Not To Wear” episodes to recognize that some of us are just less sartorially minded than others.

As I contemplate stepping into a different role, there’s a comfort (and a fear, frankly) associated with the first impressions and perceptions people have of you. A lot of this stems from when you first walk through the door. My music teacher in high school used to always say dramatically that when you walk in the room, everything should stop and people should take notice.

He usually illustrated this by throwing a music stand but that’s neither here nor there. His point is and remains well-taken.

For all of the chatter in my social media world about brand identity, personal brands, Klout scores and follower counts, few things have the same impact of a first meeting. It’s why so many people flood our inboxes trying to schedule meetings. They want that face to face. Whether it’s a date or an interview, folks are always looking to size up others to see what they’re made of.

Still, we don’t really spend a lot of time talking about clothes because it’s a personal thing. There are general dress codes and I know for men, the politics of these things aren’t as deeply fraught with controversy as they can be with women. All of these things are an entirely different conversation than I’m riffing off of here.

Ultimately, I just think it’s interesting to consider the idea of transition to a new place and how our look impacts how we begin building relationships and ultimately present ourselves to an entirely new audience. You lose the comfort of people knowing you, of having an established brand identity and have to rebuild and refresh.

It can be scary, but it’s a good opportunity to revisit, revise and revamp as necessary.

On Context

The other day, I was talking to a friend about LinkedIn. He’s on the job market and a recruiter told him about how necessary it was for his field (he’s not in higher ed) and that he needed to get serious about it. I was telling him that I’ve never been much of a fan of LinkedIn because it was just your resume splayed out there for whoever to read, without any real context for what it all means.

It works fine in my mind, if you went to a good school. If your career has been linear and makes sense to someone, then I can totally understand how just copying your resume with some extra words and maybe overselling your accomplishments for all to see would be worthwhile.

But how do you decide what’s important? What if your own experiences don’t quite move along that path? I’ve managed to do okay in spite of having a career that I mostly fell into. There’s no way that I’d ever encourage some kid to follow my trajectory and yet, so many of the experiences I’ve had that I value immensely came from being bold and making the moves that others would’ve admonished me not to make.

There’s no real way for a resume to explain “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just figuring it out as I went along and each place I went, I maximized my opportunities,” because well..even a cover letter saying that might be a bit strange.

Alas, this is my own dilemma of sorts. I was a non-traditional student after spending four years on active duty in the Air Force. I left college at two different times after that before finally getting my undergraduate degree while working my first job. I tried a few startups including a time when I sort of stumbled into developing an athletic brand with a Chinese company. (Yes, this actually happened.) Back since the early days of personal websites, I was never a partisan of “put your resume on your website” and so, LinkedIn doesn’t really offer me much in that way.

Plus, the competitor in me is not too keen on giving away too much of the “secret sauce.” That is, there’s a whole pitch that goes into getting you to a place where you can even get into the room to talk to people. I’m not convinced oversharing does anything other than give people more ways to scrutinize.

So what do you do? I’m more interested in it from the perspective of someone who wants to try to encapsulate a bevy of life experiences into some kind of coherent narrative. I want to provide context for the things that wouldn’t make sense (or let’s be frank, raise red flags) because while the answers might not satisfy, I’d rather people know the right answers than to assume the wronganswers.

Maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way? Everyone approaches these kinds of things in such a predictable way, maybe the right approach is to take it from a different angle? What if the answer is really to own your path for what it is and communicate that in a way that owns every aspect of what’s made me who I am and why that makes me an asset? (Now you understand why I called this post “Thinking Out Loud…”)

This all boils down to the notion that there’s no context button online. Context takes time and not everyone seems to have much of that these days. I’ve taken to segmenting my messaging on Facebook because I feel more comfortable having contextual conversations rather than just barraging everyone with inane things they may or may not care about. While this is a strategy most of us employ in our work social media lives, it’s not one that we always feel like bringing to our personal worlds. Or if we do, it’s more in theory than in practice because sites like that don’t make it easy to filter out the noise.

The trick is finding a way to provide context for strangers. Dinner guests are easy to cook for when I know they’re showing up; it’s the ones showing up unannounced (with food allergies) that I always have a difficult time preparing for.

I’m headed to the kitchen.