Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.” That provides strong principles and values, a useful framework, to live by but is it a useful definition of purpose? I offer a simpler take:
The purpose of life is to find your true purpose.
This article will explore my journey, not for the sake of mere self-indulgence but for the purpose of helping you on your own journey and perhaps getting to know each other better. I hope that, by the end, you’ll realize just how valuable and accomplished you are. If you’re at a crossroads in life, this may be the article for you. If you have any thoughts to share, please don’t be shy. This one will be quite the journey!
This epic collection of stories and scattered thoughts will cover a lot of things, including, but not limited to:
- How writing can be a tool of self-discovery and self-improvement
- What I’ve learned through running Y3B as a vehicle for consulting
- Going beyond establishing expertise and credibility
- Toxicity and the dangerous brand of knowledge (i.e. bad advice)
- Why culture/personality fit trumps technical knowledge and experience
Tomorrow, on April 6th 2017, Y3B turns 11 years old and it will mark an over 20-year journey. While I’ve dabbled in just about everything and worn many hats, writing and technology have always been passions. The challenge is translating those passions that into what Mark Schaefer calls sustainable interests, a concept that I have long taught and believed in before the book “Known” was published. That said, you really should read “Known” and check out the discussion groups on it.
I believe blogging is still one of the most powerful tools for those wishing to be known. On a greater scale, if you wish to establish credibility and visibility, the written word is still one of the most compelling ways to do so. Writing forces you to really think through your ideas in a way you may not do on a podcast and certainly not video, where you may be more preoccupied with production quality instead of the relevant, uniqueness, and importance of your message/stories. Writing is easily the most powerful form of communication and it is something everyone should strive to improve upon, if for no other reason than to structure your ideas and self-identity better.
I’m Not A Blogger, This Is Not A Blog
When folks have asked me over the last few years what it is that I do, I never answer with blogging. It’s not my focus or core competency. I believe that calling yourself a blogger diminishes the value of what you do; furthermore, your blog should be a catalyst for bigger things. The term “blogger” has become synonymous with hobby or passion, not profession or purpose. That’s fine if your blog is truly a labor of love but, if it can be so much more, why wouldn’t you develop it as such?
All the successful “bloggers” I know tap into core competencies and concentrations that stretch far beyond writing words in digital spaces. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know influencers such as Dino Dogan, Gini Dietrich, Laurinda Shaver, Robert Dempsey, Mark Schaefer, Marcus “The Sales Lion” Sheridan, Oli Gardner, Knikkolette Church, and Stan Faryna. I’d even consider some of these fine folks my friends and, in some ways, role models. While they all have their blogs, it is not their job or core offering. They make a living as speakers, authors, trainers, coaches, marketers, and more. Their web sites are a vehicle or channel for something much bigger.
Six years ago I admitted that, as a blogger, I am a failure; that is, if I were to go by what the “experts say”. My blog breaks a lot of rules from being too kitschy and loud to having too much long-form content and being arguably “unprofessional”. I don’t work a single niche hard but there are common threads and people have picked up on them. What’s been more encouraging is all the wonderful feedback I have received over the past two decades or so…
You’re a fantastic IT guy but what really sets you apart is what an expert communicator you are.. And the way you write really drives ideas home, whether it’s technical, creative, or a little bit of both. Maybe you should consider shifting your career to writing. ~Tony Wolken, CTO
…The fact that I got emotional reading this. That it has been preying in my head and that I’m even rereading it days later shows me that your post is effective in accomplishing what I think all blog posts should:
1) made me question my thinking
2) made me feel something
3) made me come back
~Laurinda Shaver, Interactive Media & Video Production Executive
You are an awesome writer buddy! I like your job with, content, links and quotes. I think you could split this post into more posts; and then you have more content for your audience – What do you think? please feel free to debate
~Matt Groenberg, Entrepeneur, HubSpot Partner & iGoMoon Founder
Each time I get to share your thoughts, Yomar, I am so full! I feel that exact way at times (Your response to Mattias), when you see that old friend or suddenly as you are sharing a point, it sparks so many more! Thanks, Pal.
~Amber-Lee Dibble, Pioneer Outfitters Brand Strategist
The fact that I have touched so many lives and seen my friends go on to do amazing things fills my heart with great joy. While I am never one to drive massive engagement or followings, the connections are deep, enriching, and meaningful. I believe that matters more because you build your brand or business one person at a time.. And they will remember you for many years to come.
In that manner, I believe writing and blogging alike is an investment in people, not just idea sharing and credibility building.
While I have lacked focus and consistency in some areas, my consistent quality and themes have opened doors to countless opportunities and beautiful, if not productive, relationships. I realized long ago that the boat has sailed on professional blogging (better said, blogging as a profession) but that doesn’t mean it is not a worthwhile pursuit. In fact, I recommend blogging to just about all my clients and it’s surprising how many people devalue blogs.
One of the other unfortunate trends is that many content creators focus on jumping on current trends and reinventing the wheel, leaving many opportunities to explore fresh perspectives, new ideas, and anticipating needs rather than just reacting. Most personal development and education focuses on doing “what works” and being conservative, yet none of the huge success stories involve people who played by the rules or stuck to the same old thing. As we’ll see later, these mindsets come from a place of failure aversion and incorrectly-channeled fear.
Who Are You Writing For, Really?
What I find with many blogs is that the contributors are too self-absorbed or dishonest with themselves. They say it’s “just for fun” but then get upset when their blog does not perform in any significant way. Mind you, they’re likely using the wrong measures for success. Even worse, they write for themselves, with no regards to whom they may be able to help or appeal to.
I’ve always found the trend of thinking out loud or just screaming into a void rather strange. I’m all for stream of consciousness writing but, if you really have no intention of serving others, why not just keep a private journal? Something just doesn’t add up there. I’m reminded of brands whom claim to want help yet push back when you give them solutions that will exceed their needs. What’s even more odd is that content creators generally want the attention but somehow think that won’t come with criticism and trolling. You can’t have your cake and eat it too – it’s true, because Nice & Smooth said so in the nineties!
Fear of rejection or failure are likely the biggest reasons we lie to ourselves by saying we are just doing what we are passionate about. There is always some expectation and desire deep within us and we should embrace that. Whether it’s simple affirmation, building credibility, or creating business opportunities, your approach to blogging and writing as a whole should be the same once you share it publicly.
Your content will have greater impact when you realize that you are not writing for everyone but, rather, the few who will madly love what you have to talk about. That same approach works in business: you build great businesses one customer a time, focusing on building loyal customers who will serve as brand ambassadors. I’d also add that communication style is a big factor to consider, too. Some will connect with how you share ideas and others won’t. Focus on the ones who do.
Stories are powerful because they move us in a way that simple facts and figures never will. When you become a great storyteller, you see the world around you differently and you yourself transform. In sales, they say “features tell, stories sell” and it’s very true. There are plenty of robots and zombies regurgitating the same old things and claiming to be #1 so, if you want to differentiate yourself and blaze your own path, it starts with becoming better at storytelling.
That said, we can always get better at what we do. Accept feedback and apply strategically. Always be ready to “empty your cup” and start fresh when embarking upon new opportunities. But be wary of the naysayers and sharks…
Dangerous Knowledge Can Kill Your Soul
Everyone is looking for that magic bullet, that easy opportunity they somehow missed that will fix everything. Be wary of what the so-called experts say. They’re giving well-intended advice that may have worked when they started but may not work now or for you. There are too many variables to consider to blindly adhere to the broad strokes thrown out there.
Always be open to feedback and guidance, regardless of whom it comes from.. but be sure to adapt the message to who you are and where you want to be.
One of my favorite fallacies is that great blogs focus on concise content. In every medium, the “gurus” have said short form is the only way to go. Well, that didn’t work for Vines or Twitter, and now the same experts are saying what I’ve known all along: long-form content can provide better quality and more inbound marketing value.
Experts and gurus are dangerous. They do not intend to misdirect us but that’s what happens if you just dive in blindly. Too many of the pervasive folks are offering advice that is broken. They feel that, because they followed a path that worked for them, it will work for everyone else. They speak in absolutes, giving no pause for other variables and failure points, as if it’s really so simple. If it was a mere matter of cloning ourselves, that’d be easy.. but it’s not.
These otherwise fantastic folks possess what I call dangerous knowledge: they know enough about a topic to speak with convinction but they fail to do research and consider other perspectives. The real bad ones just assume everyone should be like them – how arrogant and presumptuous, right? It’s like the endless sea of people who think that, just because they read a programming book and read some online articles, suddenly they are experts in coding and SEO. *facepalm*
Recently, I had a client tell me she has a brother who knows SEO and can do it for free so she passed on a complete inbound marketing solution. Do you know what she got? Spammy backlinks and keyword stuffing. Her web site is now buried in search engines and she’s clueless about it.
I share this story not to come off as a salty dog, but to illustrate that everyone thinks they know a better way or found a secret. Take it all with a grain of salt. More importantly, never allow anyone to tell you that you’re not amazing.. Because you are. Success is a marathon, not a sprint. We are all works in progress with plenty of opportunities at every step of our journies. You’ll get there so long as you don’t let folks discourage or derail you. Do invest in personal development but temper expectations: every webinar, workshop, coach, book, and class will only help you find your own path. They provide guidelines, not magic bullets.
Of course, we all have those types of clients and friends in our lives: the ones who want to lowball you and get you to doubt your self-worth. It takes persistence and fortitude to overcome those hurdles and, no matter where you are in life, there will always be folks who think they know better than you. Receive their knowledge and filter out the toxicity, I say; it’s not worth lingering over the negativity. Everyone has their off days but there are people who are habitual proponents of verbal diarrhea – BEWARE!
Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks and Arment Dietrich founder, refers to these types of unfiltered, me-first people as Type OO (Output Only) professionals. Kim Klaver calls them pukies but you may just refer to them as assholes. They’re the folks who are not very good team players, are always in selling mode, and/or come off condescending. They’re also terrible listeners and lack the compassion to value people fully beyond transactional interactions and snap judgments. For many, that complete emotional detachment is effective but who really wants to live that way? Not I!
Two pieces of advice for every blogger: Keep it short (sorry) – 500-750 words. You’ll lose people if it’s too long.
TIP: If you lose people because you are thorough, they’re likely not your audience.
Gini Dietrich knows her stuff and I often name drop her because she’s a rockstar. Her energy is intoxicating and she has more experience than most business consultants, freelancers, and marketing professionals that I know. She understands business psychology and PR more than most. That said, this is bad advice.
Long form content is finally “coming back”. That’s what all the gurus are saying now on their podcasts, workshops, speaking engagements, and what-have-you. They’re realizing the things I knew long ago: short form content can be lazy and generic; furthermore, everyone is doing the bare minimum so you need to differentiate yourself.
Time is an increasingly tougher resource to conserve because, quite simply, we’re too distracted by the never-ending stream of content and the busy work we waste our time on. I’ve learned that, when people say that they’re “too busy”, they’re either…
- Terrible at time management.
- Don’t value you enough.
My response? I shift my attention to the folks worth my time. The Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule still holds true today. I don’t take it to the extreme of creating fake barriers for friends and rating people in terms of importance/usefulness, but I’ve certainly trimmed the fat in terms of carrying dead weight.
Excuse makers, drama queens, and micromanagers are three types of people who will use “busy” as a tool for evil. That word is evil. Are you busy or productive? They’re not the same. Sorry.
They “too busy”, highly-driven/focused professionals out there are very dominant and have become bad role models. They often see relationship building as frivolous unless they identify potential for an immediate “win” or payday. If you want to truly communicate that you care about people, never forget that everyone’s time is important, including your own. If you share value, then you did your job right. Also, never forget that you never know when that person you dismissed as unimportant may be the one who could make a huge hiring decision or business introduction for you.
To be clear, I will admit I can concede on my points and do not want to propagate my own broad strokes. One major concession I’ll make is that focus is indeed important for success. Lack of focus is bad but too much focus in one area of life is bad as well. As an avid multitasker, I have a tendency to have several open tabs open on my web browser and I’ll juggle tasks but I also know when to fully-engage with people and tasks. I notice that younger generations struggle with focus as they can binge and concentrate enough to be functional but they rarely immerse themselves in anything. I believe that multitasking, by nature, lowers quality though you could arguably get more done at once. These generation-defining topics are items of contention over on sites like Generation Z and Huffington Post. Regardless of whether you agree or not, understanding your natural work ethic and habits is crucial.
Anywho, the phrase “too busy” can kiss my ass. Git gud with time, plz.
Did I mention Vines are dead? Short videos, pithy quotes, funny clips, and cute pet photos are still in, though. With those types of things, you’ll capture a larger market share if you keep content short but that’s not my audience. I know my audience and they’re the people that want to dig deeper and don’t just scrape the surface. I, for one, don’t want to work with folks who think too highly of themselves or are impatient.
It’s absolutely important to value your time but, when you go to extreme measures to keep everything brief, you’re only feeding the douchebags.
Last but not least, I must reiterate that even the most successful people forget that their advice is not absolute or universal. They have to consider the communication styles and business goals of their brand. Just because you have experienced success doesn’t mean I want to be like you. Sadly, there is a lot of presumptuous thinking amongst established leaders. We can walk similar paths but others do not have to copy you step for step. Again, the “too busy” or hurry-up mindset has people cutting corners in personal and professional lives alike, meaning they only scrape the surface and make really poor snap judgments. Imagine how many opportunities they miss out on!
Redefining What Success Means
What does success look like, really? I believe most brands are aware of KPIs such as low cycle counts, lead times, turnaround, retention, followers, reach, market share, growth of audience, and, of course, sales volume.. But what about the small wins that get you there? That’s where folks struggle. It’s easy to create those superficial victories and let the vanity metrics fool you into feeling accomplished. After all, you can speak a common language with others who don’t get it either. If you want to feel truly fulfilled, you need something more. It needs to be something deliberate. A true purpose beyond just making money or creating illusions.
The struggles all go back to those pesky absolutes, whereas everything is an all-or-nothing proposition. We believe we must be perfect in order to be remarkable. We pursue expertise instead of confidence and interpersonal skills. We treat people as individual transactions, not life-long relationships. We become too competitive and forego any type of collaboration. Worst of all, we try to please everyone when we really should be striving to make a difference in the lives of a select few, as I alluded to earlier.
Fame and fortune are over-rated. Purpose and fulfillment is the real ticket. Passion gets you there but, in order for dreams to be sustainable (what I sometimes refer to as product longevity), you really have to consider…
- How easily can you duplicate and scale efforts/results?
- Is there a real need today and in the future?
- Am I associating with the right people or time wasters?
- Do my associates and friends build and uplift.. or do they destroy and disparage?
- Is the value of what I offer being clearly communicated?
- Am I being too specific or too generalized?
Most of all, you have to ask yourself, “Have I changed someone’s life today for the better?” There’s almost always a degree of WIP (Works In Progress) in any venture but, if you’re heading in that direction, that counts for something. If you can answer “yes” to the question of creating meaningful impact, more times than not, you are successful and you are definitely on the right track.
Seth Godin did a Q&A for Quora (yes, that’s still a thing) recently. You may not know who he is but to suffice to say he has some of the coolest glasses and ties I’ve ever seen. I also agree with his take on most things. During his Q&A, many of the questions Seth got revolved around entrepreneurship, content creation, and consulting/freelance. The common thread was this:
You win when you focus on a tiny market and delighting them.
I’d take it a step further: if you go back to contacts from many years, maybe even decades, ago and they still remember you – WINNING! That’s the ultimate testament to not just delivering but delighting. That said, the pursuits of winning and being super competitive are tricky ones because the tendency is to place blinders on. Winning focuses too much at the end result and it’s the steps in between where we drive the most value and find the greatest sustainability.
Now, I can tell you about how I have my certifications in Six Sigma, PMP, CCNA, MCSA, MCP, A+, Network+, Server+, HP, IBM, and yada yada yada. I can tell you about the schools I got accepted by (and scholarship offers from), including Columbia, NYU, and Fordham University. Whoops, I just did.. But, seriously, when I hear touting off about their educational background, I tend to roll my eyes because that stuff matters less and less the deeper you get in your career track. How about the small wins?
Milestones, accomplishments, and recurring themes, as well as the feedback throughout, are all very important. They build morale and let you know if you need to make course corrections or pivot. Here are some of the things that mean a lot to me:
- Appointment as NISM Chairman. I’ve proudly served the NISM since 2011. My contributions include curriculum development, optimizing exam items, technical assistance, strategic planning, project management, and meeting coordination. It’s been a demanding volunteer role but I believe in the product and the people. I’ve been the biggest and most consistent contributor, which is why I now have the honor as serving as advisory board chairman.
- Helping content creators be known. As we mentioned earlier, being known is one of the biggest keys to success. Heck, it’s long been true that “who you know is more important than what you know.” I’d say that being known is more about visibility, transparency, and authenticity than being famous or making lots of noise, as many seem to believe. I’ve helped brands and content creators connect with the right people and minimize encounters with douchebags. That’s a HUGE win!
- Recognized as a top marketing professional on Unbounce. World-renown authority on landing page design, copywriting, and conversion optimization, Unbounce, recognized me as one of the top 3 marketing professionals and writers as part of their 2011 ConversionFest event. It remains one of my favorite distinctions because it was 100% based on peer selection. I was amidst people I truly admire or at least respect greatly for their contributions to our space. What’s more impressive is that I had a mere fraction of the audience everyone else had yet I drove the highest comments, conversion rates, and overall engagement. In fact, my content on Unbounce still drive tons of traffic for them so they got some free inbound marketing out of it. Everyone wins!
- Driving industry-leading conversion rates. One of the things I pride myself on is being as a efficient as possible so we get things right the first time every time. It’s not just a mantra I fool myself and others into believing. I’ve driven industry-leading conversion rates on landing pages, ad spots, articles, and more. For clients who really invest in their business and follow my strategies, conversions average around 70-82%, which is no small feat! The idea is to focus on the right people at the right time with the right value proposition, rather than blanket messaging.
- Creating high visibility, relevant content. I have this weird habit of searching topics on Google, Bing, and other search/discovery engines just to see what pops up. Much to my delight, I see so much of my content pop up, whether it’s under my name or produced as “work for hire” for a client. I do this naturally without any of the weird stuff people do these days (i.e. buying fans, keyword stuffing, purchasing already-ranked domains, etcetera). The beauty of inbound marketing is that it drives value virtually forever if done right so you get value today and in the future. It’s always nice to have customers come to you instead of staying on the grind to find them.
- Ranking amongst top 50 sites on directories and award sites. While the web rings and award consortiums of past are not as important as before, it’s still nice when you check them and see that you’re recognized. One of my sites, Geeky Antics Network Global, is frequently in the Top 50 on BlogSurfer. This is impressive considering that there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of blogs on there and folks have to submit my blog in order for it to get bumped up. I must be doing something right!
- People really like me. I get along with everyone but many disagree with me and that’s great because I’m only here for the few that match my life goals and core values. That said, I work hard to be a better person every day yet I remain humbled by how much more I have left to learn and master in my life. My constant personal development efforts have made me more receptive to things. I notice how many people skip out on courtesy and compassion, which only drives me to further differentiate myself by being a real person. I often hear something like this: “Yomar, we should have stayed with you.. This new firm is full of dicks who only want to get paid. They don’t care about our product or people.” Luckily, I believe in second chances because we all misstep along the way.
As amazing as all these things are, it pales in comparison to the kind words I’ve received from old colleagues. My old boss, Dr. Jean F Coppola recently wrote in a recommendation,
It is my privilege and honor to recommend a well-regarded individual, Mr. Yomar Lopez. While it’s been close to 15 years since I have worked with Yomar, I can tell you that he is the type of professional that is unforgettable…
His experience and ventures always impress me but, above all, his compassion moves me. He cares about seeing people succeeding and happy. When Yomar worked under me at Pace University, he quickly rose up the ranks. His “can do” attitude and charisma allowed me trust him with more responsibilities.
To leave your mark wherever you go. That’s real success. I can tell you that I am by no means rich nor am I famous.. But I am appreciated and remembered for the right reasons. That gives me hope and keeps me driven.
What do YOU want to be remembered for?
What is your legacy? Better yet, what are the stories you will share five, ten, and twenty years down the road? The more proud (yet humble) you can remain about your milestones and achievements, the more accomplished, confident, and fulfilled you will feel. That emotional charge is crucial because it puts you in a better position to make the right decisions at the right time.
By the way, it may be worth noting that I’ve always had trouble talking about my accomplishments and doing self-promotion. Many times, I felt like a shark or borderline spammy. What I’ve learned is that many people see humility as inauthentic so they just assume you’re really full of yourself. As a result, I’ve worked on being more transparent without going over the top. Whenever you talk about you, remember that you have two ears and one mouth; thus, listen more than you speak. If you share value, then it’s perfectly fine to ask and promote.
Just don’t tell Reddit users that: if you even smell like a driven/sales person, they will call you out. The expectation there is that you give value up for absolutely nothing. If you post 100 times and share one personal link, they’ll crucify you – even if that link adds value to the conversation. This may seem insane and counter to social media (because it is) but the expectations of an increasingly entitled world come to us thanks to all the free content and offshoring options out there. If you have an endless amount of time and don’t ever intend to promote yourself, a friend, or a client, Reddit is great; otherwise, steer clear of it and things like it. The toxicity there rivals League of Legends!
Undersell, overdeliver. This is not earth-shattering advice, I know, but the approach still works. It can also be a trap (more on that later). Knowing when and how much to share is part of the equation. What I’ve found is even more effective is this:
Ask for referrals and recommendations.
When others speak highly of you, it doesn’t come off douchey and it is far more believable. After all, anyone willing to put their reputation on the line for you clearly likes and trusts you.. So don’t let them down (no pressure)!
Do Not Undervalue Yourself.. EVER
You may have heard this before but here goes anyway: to make your business better, get better clients. That’s a lesson that most of us independent types learn the hard way. The unspoken truth is this: you may have to do something else to stay billable until you can be a position to say “no” first. In doing so, you may have to accept things that are not as “sexy” so be aware of what your limits are and think long-term, too. Certainly, I believe in hand-picking the people you work with because compatibility is far more important than any other consideration.
In my experience, the biggest PITA prospects are the ones who value your time the least, lowball you, and are not serious about investing in their business. In other words, they won’t pay you what you’re worth and only waste your time. Signs of these types of people are unrealistic expectations in the pre-hiring/bidding processes, micromanagement, and endless asinine questions.
The truth is that technical skills are easy to come by if you’re dedicated enough to learning. The creative and strategic stuff is tougher… But personality/culture fit is priceless and you can’t force that.
…But what if you feel stuck?
The book “The First 90 Days” is a good start to getting UNstuck. It touches upon one of the aspects that I have worked on myself and in my business coaching sessions with clients: making transitions deliberate and managing expectations. I have found that the times I felt the most stuck or unfulfilled were when I simply reacted and let others call the shots. Chances are you can relate to that.
Managing expectations is a concept I often revisit because there’s a lot to it. There are so many things people can read between the lines and even the slightest cues can set others off. That is why proactively sharing your intentions, plans, and values through actions, strategies, performance plans, and the like can help you steer things a bit. If you simply react to what others impose upon you or assume, then you’re constantly going to feel like you’re fighting fires and being scrutinized under a microscope. Believe me, that is a recipe for quickly burning out!
This reminds me of all the recent studies showing how productivity actually lowers when companies switch to an open office model. When your priority becomes doing the things that show that you are being productive, then the real work suffers. In my journey of defining exactly what conditions bring out the best in me, micromanagement and backseat driving were amongst the things that I have identified as non-negotiable. Let’s not forget that the control freaks are usually the least appreciative and, in my experience, do not compensate you properly.
We all have peeves and preferences, but the non-negotiable things are the things that you absolutely can’t compromise on. Before determining what those things are (and there should only be a few), consider what they say about your personality and address the underlying behaviors first.
For me, any position where there is micromanagement means there is no trust which means you’ll likely be stuck in an operational role and constantly fighting to prove yourself, even if you secure early wins. If you’re someone who prides themselves on taking initiative, driving value, and/or providing strategy along side the tactical stuff, that’s the sort of scenario where you may feel stuck.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people who enjoy being managed closely and functioning as worker drones. There’s no wrong answer but self-discovery and introspection demands that we be honest with ourselves. In many ways, writing and taking on different types of consulting/freelance projects has helped me really figure these things out and discover what empowers me and what just bogs me down.
We also should revisit the relationship between purpose and passion, both of which I say are equally valuable. The key is to do what you truly believe in and associate yourself with the right people, folks who push you but don’t push you around (unless you like that sort of thing). Ultimately, this helps your pursuits be more sustainable. I believe the reason passion is being attacked as a personal development concept is because people are mistaking “passing fancies”, hobbies, and casual interests for passions. Sure, there is a spark with passion that can easily fizzle away at times but sustaining momentum/success is challenging no matter how driven and focused you are.
There’s a lot of talk about how the concept of pursuing your passion is bad advice that started with the millenials coming of age. I disagree. Passion is super important because, if you truly do not love and believe in what you are doing, no amount of compensation or “saving lives” will satisfy you. That said, the caveat to pursuing passions is that love alone cannot sustain any venture or relationship.
I know a lot of successful people whom I consider great inspirations but, when they share advice, they skip over the biggest part: the struggle. As a result, people try desperately to replicate their success and fail, for reasons mentioned earlier. Just think of all the friends you know who go on diets and start off gun-ho, only to end up binge eating and hating themselves later.
Consider how often we resolve to do things because someone lights a fire in us, only to be disappointed when we don’t realize just how hard it is. Those challenges are further compounded by the circumstances that the advisors and leaders may fail to address in their “sure-fire techniques” – WHOOPS!
Lingering On The Deviations From The “Right” Path
I common thing I hear from friends and colleagues at any level of their career is that they regret X, Y, and Z. They wish they knew a decade or two ago what they know now. Typically, it’s because they took too long to end up at their dream job or the industry they truly enjoy or excel at. They might even fear a less-than-proud moment that may re-surface from their past. What most fail to see is that they are in the majority, even amongst successful people. Instead of looking at change as failures and deviations, consider all the learning opportunities and how every experience transformed you into who you are today. Truly successful individuals play up their strengths to the point at which their shortcomings become irrelevant, giving them time to right their wrongs.
The struggle, deviations, failures… All of the bad stuff matters. It’s what has brought you to this day. What becomes of that is completely up to you.
This notion of regretting career/life decisions is something so common that I’ve had multiple related incidents in just the past few weeks. The biggest one came when I discussed a business opportunity with my close friend, Rich King. Rich works for one of the biggest raw materials mining and manufacturing companies in the world. We’re talking a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Like most of us, he spent his early career taking wrong-fit jobs just to pay the bills. In doing so, he stumbled into the logistics industry. It was a perfect fit since he has a military background and that’s where logistics originated. Today, he is an expert in lean, logistics, SCM, and more. Those are all hot spaces to be in, too. He gets paid very well but he still wonders “what if” with regards to all his career shifting decisions. I’ve had to remind him that everything served it’s purpose and where he is today is amazing. It’s never too late to reach those “AHA!” moments but you have to open up to them.
On the opposite of the spectrum, there are the people who have carved very deliberate paths through careful planning and complete focus, at the cost of personal lives and perhaps their souls. I have plenty of executive-level associates who are major players and influencers. They have everything together, at least when it comes to business stuff and perhaps only on the surface.
You see, these folks are also your stereotypical suits: unemotional, career-obsessed, conservative, and mostly boring, really. I love them to death but I see the cost of their brand of success: marriages in shambles, loneliness, emptiness.. At best, they’re surrounded by a lot of expensive stuff, paper credentials, and superficial things. They have tons of contacts but no one who truly cares about them or knows who they are underneath the corporate mask. This sets the stage for what we must discuss next…
In spite of our best efforts to grow wiser and stronger, many of us live in quiet desperation and, if we don’t feel stuck, we feel unfulfilled. On the surface, we’re likely successful, happy, and impressive but we are riddled with demons that eat away at our souls. What I’ve learned is that it’s important to value yourself – don’t let others calculate your own value! Remember that the things people hold against you are usually just verbal diarrhea or tools for creating leverage/dominance. Be careful who you model yourself after and certainly do not envy others, as that is a fruitless endeavor.
You always hear about lazy people who are not driven enough to succeed but there’s another extreme to that profile. You see, there is a price to be paid for success but, if that price is too steep, is it really a “win”? I believe boundaries are important. I have often gone above and beyond, doing what’s not in my job description and working 10-16 hour days… but, at some point, you have to draw a line or risk losing yourself. After all, if you are stressed out and spread thin, can you truly perform optimally? And how long can you keep that up for? You can’t – you’ll eventually burn out.
I will also note that many uber successful types have gone to extremes in their lives and the lack of balance in their lives makes them volatile. Here are some signs of people who are only successful on the surface. They may…
- Be the first to arrive at the office, last to leave
- Get frustrated when people share reasonable concerns and challenges
- Tend to take control of conversations
- Assume that what has always worked for them is the “only way”
- Be generally stubborn when asked to change or compromise
- Talk down to people they consider younger or less experienced
- Pass off rude comments as gentle nudges
- Take credit for the hard work of the people below them
- Speak about themselves more than is asked of them
- Dismiss the credentials, talents, and experience of others
- Compete to the point of being cut-throat
- Dislike spiritual, emotional, or religious people
The list goes on but all these behaviors revolve dominant personalities that over-compensate for fundamental personality flaws (i.e. poor social skills, lack of empathy/compassion, imbalanced life, etc). I’ve seen what happens when those folks experience true crises: they fall apart and melt down. Of course, we can’t generalize but there’s something to be said for failing and struggling at the beginning of our journeys. When you get lucky or are born into wealth, it’s easy to take granted and have a very unrealistic, perhaps entitled view on things. Now, just think about how many stories you hear where people lose it all and actually rebuild successfully. Not many, right? It’s a scary realization.
Furthermore, over-commitment to any single facet of your life means something else suffers. Balance really is important because you perform optimally. If you don’t focus on you first and be just a little selfish, everything falls out of line. That said, I’m a firm believer in going the extra mile to show you are committed, meet deadlines, and make yourself more indispensable; it’s just unrealistic to be a super hero every day. I’ve bumped heads with some colleagues on this because they feel that anyone who believes in work-life balance is inherently an underachiever.. and it’s just that sort of close-minded thinking that limits the opportunities and relationships we can nurture.
Making The Change: Career Shifting
Whether you choose a traditional career path or you decide to work independently, the success phases in the middle are the scariest. You know, the ones between your first job and the thing you really want. I like to check in with my professional network frequently and there are a few things that stand out:
- Most stumble into an industry, career track, and just get complacent.
- Few have been at any single company or project for longer than 5 years.. And even fewer break the 10-year mark.
- It typically takes at least 5 jobs for the average person to find a stable, right-fit opportunity and grow with a company.
- Truly successful people are always willing to be servant leaders, while the superficial types are lofty, if not condescending.
- The talented people seem to struggle, but the bullshitters and users end up on top.
- The career-obsessed people are generally very miserable, curmudgeon types who consider meaningful connections and conversations “a waste of their time”. Yikes!
- For those who get into Fortune 500 companies, the corporate ladder is a long climb. You may spend 10 years or more shifting laterally before truly moving up.. and that’s only if people move on or get fired, freeing up the positions.
Overall, it seems people settle. They figure the pay and/or prestige will be enough. Perhaps the fear of risking a new path is too scary. There’s a lot of concern with outward appearance rather than inner truths. Perhaps this is why depression and mid-life crises are so common nowadays – we repress what we truly want to settle for what’s in front of us or what “smarter people” say is the way to do things. It’s worth noting that I respect those who have the personalities to stick things through to the bitter end but that takes a very specific personality; for the rest of us, being proactive is smarter, healthier, and saves everyone time and heart ache.
I am a shifter. I’ve worked and moved across various industries, verticals, core competencies, job titles, pay grades, and more to find that sweet spot for me. I believe I am on the verge of some major breakthroughs, too! As a person who, on the surface, bounces around a lot, I’m seen as someone who is flighty, gets bored easily, or doesn’t commit to things. Those are all fair (though wrong) assessments but I’ve learned not to let those impressions stop me. Remember that perspective can be twisted: I can see someone who works in a company a very long time as complacent, uncoachable, and perhaps under-skilled. Just like when you market products, when you market yourself you have to position things with confidence and share value first.
Career shifting comes in different flavors but I can tell you that seeking the right fit for you improves your confidence, develops your skills, and prevents time from being wasted at dead ends. The downside: the transition can be rough and the apparent “gaps” will concern potential employers and clients. We can reduce the number of snap judgments and bad impressions we contribute to but some folks will come to conclusions we don’t agree with and that’s just part of life. Even the most well-crafted products get negative reviews and consumer backlash – you really can’t please everyone!
Why have I shifted? I shift because I don’t want to settle. The people, product, timing, and work-life balance have to all be in harmony; otherwise, what’s the point? You can’t know what that looks like until you experience enough, after all. Most will stop at finding the first lucrative and stable opportunity but that may not be the best strategy. Sometimes, you’ll find that even a lateral movement or taking a pay cut is smarter if the opportunity represents growth, stability, and culture fit.
I can’t stress this enough: when you look back at your experience and choices, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel some degree of regret. You should find solace in knowing that everyone has growth opportunities and everything can be spun to be seen as good or bad. I’ve learned to be confident in the decisions I’ve made and, looking back at everything, I would not have changed a single thing. Remember your truths!
Look for the common threads and transferrable skills in all the work you do. Tailor your pitch, resume, and branding to match what you really want to focus on. Don’t ever feel bad that you didn’t find your dream company or job early on. Everything serves a purpose and we have the power to repurpose failure and missteps into positive things so that they can’t be used against us. Heck, you can even apply this to dating and other things in life.
You only truly fail when you victimize yourself, give up, or fail to see that our shortcomings and challenges are the best learning opportunities you’ll ever get. Failure builds character and fortitude like nothing else. Fail fast and hard.
Above all, hand pick your opportunities. I mentioned this earlier but it’s worth reinforcing the points. You see, my sites and blogs garner enough attention that sometimes it is really overwhelming. About 70% of the inquiries I receive are scammers, time wasters, or wrong-fit opportunities. Sometimes the money or product may be exciting but the overall fit, the working relationship compatibility, just isn’t there.
You should work to make yourself feel empowered to say “no” more often so you can say “yes” to the right people. Personally, I make it a point to only serve a few major clients at any given time because I want to make sure I drive the most value for them and I am available when they need me; after all, you can only delegate and outsource so much! If you’re feeling desperate, consider approaching brands that excite you, volunteering your services, and working that into a contract-for-hire type of scenario.
Most of the great jobs and gigs are never advertised in any way. They get filled through referrals, promotions from within, and proactive opportunity seekers like you. Make your value abundantly clear and doors will open up!
Be Vulnerable & Transparent, But Don’t Spill It All
If you’re reading this far, chances are you know me to some degree. You probably know that I am huge advocate for the authenticity movement and I truly believe in being as transparent as possible. Blogging is fantastic at making you vulnerable which, in turn, allows people to trust you more. The more you give up, the more folks trust you. This trust allows us to open up more and it comes around full circle.
The A-list influencers out there tend to hold back a lot, perhaps too much, but I get why they do it. If you spill your guts, you leave little opportunity to create more intimate (as in close and meaningful, not sexy though that could apply too) relationships with your inner circle. My blogs and web sites have gone through many iterations with regards to portfolios, clients, case studies, etc. There’s good reason for it, too.
Information is power. You should not give up power frivolously.
If you give away too much information, you lose some power and leverage. That is why, when I respond to an RFP or job req, I hold back information. That’s tough for me because I believe in full disclosure as it avoids disappointments down the road.. But you simply can’t spill your guts. How much information I hold back depends on how substantial and credible the opportunity seems. It may seem shady to omit things but here are some scary trends going on right now:
- Other consultants, freelancers, and content creators are stealing your content
- If you have a price list, folks will use that to engage in bidding wars
- When you share clients/projects openly, others will try to steal them
- Your resume/CV can be used to burn you and/or steal clients
- Content, brands, and domains are being scraped/stolen constantly (like Yomar.me, which is now ran by some “SEO” company in India trying to steal my authority)
I recently went through an application process for a digital agency based out of Hawaii. Their process involved you writing copy and photo captions, as well as revealing client names, project details, salaries/rates, and other very specific stuff. This intrusive process took some of my colleagues over an hour and there wasn’t even a specific project/client listed. This was just a general application to be “considered” for future work!
Right now, most of you are thinking, “Oh, they’re just being thorough.” Meanwhile, the clever folks are thinking, “What do I get in return?” Bingo! By the time you’re done with that sort of app, you’ve given up all your leverage and the company has built up their content bank, prospect list, best practices, and more. That’s free labor!
Oh, and I publicly shared my concerns regarding their application process. No one from the company commented or contacted me in any way… Interesting.
I believe there needs to be a value for value exchange before you give up deep information. For example, if you’re going to have folks sit through three-hour assessments and topgrading (one of the most thorough hiring processes out there), you need to give something in return. This is why I urge you all to value yourselves more and be confident in what you bring to the table. There will always be an opportunity to seek certifications, degrees, industry experience, better references, and all that sort of stuff but you are hirable and marketable TODAY – just go for it!
Standard market rates and equality are very subjective things. What make be fair for someone earlier in their career or less experienced/talented may not be equitable for a more senior or executive-level professional. Make sure you’re honest with yourself and your collaborators about where you are at so you don’t waste time on forced/wrong-fit opportunities. For example, a quality writer with at least five years of experience should not settle for a one penny a word rate nor should they waste their time on article writing gigs where they pay $50 a piece or less.
So, what does value-for-value or equitable exchanges look like? In exchange for your time, a resource that is finite and valuable, prospects and employers should…
- Pay you for any proposal that provides actionable provisions
- Outline the overall process, target project, and expectations thereof
- Provide contracts or simple agreements that mutually protect IP and time
- Respond personally after any process that takes over 30 minutes to complete
- Guarantee minimum billable hours if they expect rapid response and availability beyond what is reasonable
- Offer sensitive information in exchange your sensitive information
- Respond within a reasonable or clearly-communicated period of time
- Establish clear ownership and attribution guidelines
On that last note, writers and creatives as a whole tend to have the roughest because many clients these days want full rights. That often means you can’t claim any involvement because it’s work for hire or a white label solution. In those cases, make sure you charge a premium for your work so you’re not simply trading time for money. I’ve found that writers and designers are particularly undervalued but there’s a growing number of business owners who realize that simply churning out low-quality content is not a smart business strategy.
The generous, fair brands want to differentiate themselves and truly value quality so they’ll pay you what you’re worth. Sadly, those opportunities take time to discover and they’re much more competitive, even if you’re a rockstar. The hustle of working and prospecting in parallel can be daunting. It may make you feel vulnerable to the point of despair so make sure you lean on others who are walking similar paths so you can uplift and support each other.
There is a very thin line between making yourself vulnerable and allowing for abuse, invasion, and manipulation. Dig deep, ask the right questions, and make sure every deal is truly equitable; that is, does it match who you are, what you offer, and where you are in life now? Have the confidence to explain why you’re worth it or why a job is worth more than is being offered. If you can’t build your case, be ready to move on or be very uncomfortable going forward.
Vulnerability is a tricky thing, particularly in the professional context. If you’re too guarded, people assume you’re hiding something and potentially make insane conclusions. If you over-share, then you come off as unstable, unbalanced, or just plain risky. I find that insecure or paranoid people (control freaks) will make unfair conclusions in spite of what you do so, if you feel like you have to walk on eggshells to impress a potential client or boss, you may have to reconsider things long-term.
I feel that there is not enough integrity and honesty in the business world because drawing the line is too tricky. Perhaps it’s just easier to be deceptive and manipulative. When striking the right balance comes into play, everything ends up becoming an all or nothing proposition. That’s not healthy, either. I like what Mark Schaefer and others have said about strategic authenticity. It’s exactly what I do and I highly recommend it. When you open up about something, consider if sharing that adds more value than it does risk or vice versa. Don’t speak or share just for the sake of doing so. Be intentional in your sharing efforts.
Overall, I am grateful for the journey that has been Y3B, blogging, business consulting, and everything thereof. The journey certainly did not start here but it has continued to make beautiful things happen. Soon, it will be 11 years – amazing! I’ve learned so much and yet there still so much more to learn and improve upon.
I am humbled, happy, and so honored to be amongst wonderful people like you. Yes, YOU. After all, you made it this far, which shows you are someone that I value. For those folks who are “too busy” or have short attention spans, I’m sorry… I still love you too. Here’s to 11 more years of awesome sauce, friends!