Owning The Experience

Have Done

Driving into work the other day, I heard Groupon’s latest commercial about the Haves vs. Have-Dones. Most commercials usually don’t stick with me, but coming from a marketing background, I pay special attention to the ones that do. And this one did.

The closing line in the commercial is solid:

“If you’re going to own something…own the experience.”

Hearing this struck a chord because I immediately tied it back to something I read earlier from James Altucher.

For me, experiences are always more important than material goods. A story is more important than a gift.”
— James Altucher

He goes into this in more detail in his book Choose Yourself. As frugal as he can be when it comes to buying things, James Altucher spares no expense when it comes to spending money on experiences.

When I first read that, I thought about how so many people I know, including myself, seem to be in the endless pursuit of the material more. Maybe because we can. I like to blame cultural pressure and the unnecessary need I feel to keep up with the Joneses. Of course some material things are essential for safety and survival, but as for the luxuries, it’s only because we want them.

Spending Time vs. Spending Money

We often spend money to buy things. To have them and to own them. And if we’ve earned it, why not? Having new things — better things — feels good. So we want more…and more.

Shopping is an experience that can be addicting. I’m in no place to judge. I just bought a new suit online this morning. I didn’t need it. I already have seven in the closet. It was 73% off so I justified the purchase knowing I could wear it to work. I guess what I was really buying was the pleasure that will come along with it. I’m indirectly buying that experience. It’s a means to an end.

If in the end I just want to feel good and be happy, perhaps I should be more mindful about how I spend my time.

I grew up hearing “time is money.” I agree it needs to be spent well. If it truly is finite and we never know when our time will run out, then I wonder why we waste so much of our time trying to be happy in the future. Couldn’t we just be happy right now, without spending a penny or accumulating any extra baggage?

Even when I’m having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong, I can transform the experience knowing that those bad days happen for good reason. You don’t appreciate the good times as much unless you know the challenges that come with the “bad” days. Oftentimes, we need those bad days to teach us an important lesson. And if seen from that perspective, we can be grateful for the good sandwiched between the bad. Perception becomes reality.

What we choose to do with our time is important. More important, I think, is how we perceive the experience of that time. The same story can be interpreted in numerous ways. The same circumstances provide a different experience to different people.

Too much philosophy and not enough practicality? That’s fair. Instead of manipulating our perception, let’s consider how we can alter our approach to improve the experience.

Elevating the Experience

I love to read and to watch movies. It gives me the chance to experience life through others. Experiences that might normally be out of reach or a life better left to fantasy and imagination.

It wasn’t until recently that I wondered why. I’ve already acknowledged that I enjoy living vicariously in the shadows. Although I’ve occasionally ventured out into the limelight, my introverted nature feels more comfortable in the audience. Comfortable but limiting. Being the spectator only takes me so far. It’s so much more fun to be on stage. The experience is elevated.

Take, for example, the difference between the experience of a reader and that of a writer. I enjoy both. For me, writing is more sublime. I become an active participant. In addition to input there’s output. I can connect different dots and create something new. This takes the enjoyment of reading and brings it to a higher level.

Passive Participation > Active Participation > Creation

The transformation can take many forms and different paths, depending on what you experiment with and where you find your passion.

  • Reading the book > Writing the book
  • Sitting in the audience > Being the main character
  • Spectating in the stands > Playing the field > Coaching
  • Listening to the radio > DJing the playlist > Producing
  • Eating at the table > Cooking in the kitchen
  • Wallflower > Dancer > Choreographer
  • Passenger > Driver
  • Employee > Manager > Entrepreneur
  • Consumer > Creator

Those who step up and perform, have an opportunity to inspire the audience. Those who create, have the power to elevate the experience for others as well as for themselves.

Love eating French cuisine? Julia Child decided to become a chef and bring the art of French cooking to the United States. Julia went on to author several cookbooks and become a legend as a TV cooking personality.

Fascinated with movies? Harrison Ford (I’ll always think of him as Han Solo) overcame his shyness and got into acting. He is now the highest-grossing actor in U.S. box office history.

And if you feel like an old dog, remember that both Julia Child and Harrison Ford blossomed later in life.

It’s never too late to elevate your experience.

Own It

Surround yourself with the Have-dones. When you’re time is up, let your memories be filled with what you’ve done more than what you possessed. Spend more time in your world, not somebody else’s. Don’t just go along for the ride, find your own path. Choose to dance instead of being a wallflower.

“ Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.”
― Mary Schmich, Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life

…or don’t.

Every experience you have is all that you really need. You still have to own it though. You’re accountable for making good of it. Elevate it, learn from it, share it, or simply enjoy it. Don’t take for granted the fleeting precious moments you already have. Be present. Everything else will unfold as it should.

So let me reiterate and close Groupon style:

“If you’re going to own something…own the experience.”

Life of a DJ Then and Now

Let The Music Play

Mylove for DJing started 30 years ago in high school. Back then in Chicago, before Hip-Hop took over, House Music was the thing with my teenage friends. It wasn’t mainstream so I felt like I was part of something special. Like I was in on some secret that only the underground knew. Chicago DJs would mix the music using Technics turntables and 12″ vinyl, blending the tracks seamlessly so as not to interrupt the packed dance floor. Since my friends and I were too young to get into bars or dance clubs, we would go to dance parties hosted at local VFWs or in somebody’s basement.

That was the scene back then. And the DJ was always the life of the party.

To see a melting pot of people, all grooving to the same beat, was inspiring. I could feel their joy. I could hear their heart beat in sync with the music.

I was just coming out of my super-shy, nerdy phase of adolescence. When I saw the girls swoon over the DJ, something told me that I needed to be that guy. My friend Charlie Manlapaz, a.k.a. DJ Charlie, kindly took me under his wing and showed me the way. After teaching me the basics of beat-matching, he showed me how to scratch and even a few record ‘juggling’ tricks. That’s how my DJ life started.

By the time I was in college, I had enough experience to DJ live at parties. Up until then, I was just practicing hours and hours in the privacy of home. After rotating as a guest DJ at several university dances, I noticed that most of the DJs played the same type of music…the same songs just in a different order. To set myself apart, I chose to play more “new wave.” This is what got me invited to mix at more parties. It wasn’t because I had better skills. That definitely was not the case. I just played good music that people didn’t hear from the other DJs.

DJ Insight #1: Find the gap that everyone overlooks and find a way to bridge it. When introducing something new, it helps to sandwich it between the familiar. Make sure it blends nicely and make the transitions as seamless as possible.

There was a bar at U of I called Skylight Club. They had a DJ every night and there was usually a long line outside to get in. During the weekends, the line would snake around the corner. When the head DJ, a senior about to graduate, auditioned people to replace him, I stepped up. Using DJ Insight #1, I got the job.

After college, I spent six years working in Japan. When I wasn’t working, I spent my free time with Japanese friends as well as other gaijin. Most of them were still in their twenties and loved to party. I began offering my DJ services for special events and even organized a few myself. Mixing music abroad drove home something I guess I already knew…

DJ Insight #2: Music is magic. It’s a universal language that speaks to people from all cultures. It can connect and inspire.

I returned to the States in 1997 and decided to start a mobile DJ business on the side, focusing mostly on weddings along with a few school and corporate parties. This was the first stretch where I had to constantly deal with requests from the crowd. I hated it. As much as I like to please the crowd, especially the client, to get bombarded with individual ad hoc requests — while you’re in the middle of spinning a live set — is very distracting.

While it paid well, the DJ-for-hire life taught me that DJing is much more fun when the only one you’re trying to make happy is yourself.

DJ Insight #3: Selling your services often feels like selling out. Unless you’re in a financial position to be selective and say no, it often takes all the fun out of why you went into business in the first place.

A few years of providing mobile entertainment almost every weekend was enough. When my wife told me we were expecting our first child, I put my equipment in storage and started working my way up the corporate ladder. It paid off, except that in exchange for six figures, I sacrificed my family life and personal interests. Somehow that doesn’t make much sense in the long run.

So now, in this chapter of my life, I’ve slowed things down, gave some things up, but got some great things in return. Family time feels special again. I’ve dusted off the DJ equipment and am exploring other interests (like cooking and writing!) I’m mixing things up again, instead of playing the same tune day in and day out. The magic is coming back.

DJ Insight #4: It’s good to mix things up. You discover new things as you explore and experiment. There’s value in dabbling and incorporating something fresh. And if you do it long enough, you find it gets easier to create the perfect blend for you.

I’ve been a DJ on and off for 30 years. Vinyl is now back. I use the original Technics turntable from back in college. And the songs I used to spin many years ago can still rock a party. So many great experiences along the way and a few very valuable insights. Today, I spin music only when I want to, not because I have to. I still take requests, but I don’t get many since the people I choose to spend my time with are those who like me for who I am, the way I do things, and the music I choose to play.

Let the music play.

-Donn (a.k.a. DJ ReCreator)


Recorded practice set when I volunteered to DJ for my son’s end-of-year middle school party.

Track List:

  1. Tom’s Diner (7″ A) — DNA & Suzanne Vega
  2. What’s My Name (Funkymix by Supa Dave Jackson) — Rihanna w/ Drake
  3. Lean Away (3LAU Mashup) — Fetty Wap vs. Daya vs. Major Lazer
  4. Thrift Shop (Short Edit Xmix) — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Feat. Wanz
  5. Yeah! — Usher Feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris
  6. In The End — Linkin Park

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie

One of my first mixes recorded after dusting off the DJ gear.

Track List:

  1. Champagne — Salt-n-Pepa
  2. Not For Long (Xmix Short Mix) — B.O.B Feat. Trey Songz
  3. Suit & Tie — Justin Timberlake
  4. Only Wanna Give It To You — Elle Varner Feat. J. Cole
  5. Fancy vs. Rich Girl (Xmix Mash-up) — Iggy Azalea

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/2016-04-17-5h10m48

This blend is a spicy mix of female vocals with some unusual twists. At 140 bpm, it has a bit of a kick.

Track List:

  1. What’s Up (Original Dance Mix) — DJ Miko
  2. Another Day (Two Man Remix) — Whigfield
  3. When I Grow Up — Garbage
  4. Mickey (Killa Klub Edit) — Toni Basil

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/friday-flashback-1-dj-recreator-mix

Serving up some disco flavors, peppering in some reggae and old school rap. Then I top it off with a classic from the Jackson 5.

Track List:

  1. Best of My Love — C.J. Lewis
  2. Got To Be Real — Cheryl Lynn
  3. Good Times — Chic
  4. The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel — Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
  5. I Want You Back — The Jackson Five

Time to slow it down a bit. This mix is more of an eclectic blend including mild samplings from Africa, United Kingdom and Japan.

Track List:

  1. No Worry — Angelique Kidjo
  2. Thank You — Dido
  3. Moonchild — Cibo Matto
  4. We Are One — Angelique Kidjo
  5. Can’t Help Falling In Love — UB40

What’s The Best Form of Self Marketing?

Viva Voce (WOM)

I’ve worked in digital marketing for over 15 years. First, it was for small online businesses I launched from home. Then I got into corporate marketing for several retailers. Now, it’s primarily freelance for one person … me as a writer.

During my corporate marketing years, I learned about the different effects between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ marketing approaches. In simple terms, writer Tanya Robertson describes the difference in this way: “From a business perspective, pull marketing attempts to create brand loyalty and keep customers coming back, whereas push marketing is more concerned with short-term sales.”

Most of my time at corporate was spent pushing. Trying to be at the right place, at the right time with the right offer. The Internet made that so much easier and Google was our best friend. Not only did their products — AdWords, Product Ads, and once upon a time, Google Affiliate Network — give us the best return on our investment, our Google friends always came to visit us and treat us like royalty. I had every reason to keep pushing.

Interesting. Google is great at pull marketing.

For me, the biggest challenge with the push approach is that you become insatiable. You always want more. Always looking for something to increase year-over-year marketing revenue while maintaining efficient advertising spend. It’s exhausting.

Obviously, pushing for growth is important. We all want to keep growing. It feels great to make big strides. And in business, it helps keep the doors open and the lights on.

That said, in retrospect, I wish I spent more time on pull marketing. Effective pulling still requires a lot of effort. What I like about it is that it’s focused on the long game. It focuses on developing relationships more than one-and done transactions.

What about personally?

Whether you’re looking for that next promotion or interviewing for a new job, you have to market yourself at some point. There are countless ways to push market yourself. Perhaps you have an online portfolio or blog that you share. Maybe you’re active on LinkedIn with a well-crafted profile. Some use their social channels to push messages to their followers and friends. I’ve been spending a lot of time on many of those things. Not so much to get a new job, but to develop as a writer.

It can be frustrating.

Like when I was deep in e-commerce, I still spend a lot of time with the analytics and other reports. Constantly refreshing data dashboards to see if the needle is moving in the right direction. Though now — instead of traffic, conversions, and revenue — I’m looking at views, likes/recommends, shares and follows. I get encouraged when there’s a spike in activity. When the trend is down week-over-week or month-over-month, I feel like I’m doing something wrong.

That’s not the only reason I’m frustrated though.

I’m also frustrated because I feel I’ve lost focus on what’s really important. Rather than just practicing for the sake of continuous improvement, I’m putting too much weight on the immediate metrics at the expense of the higher-level goal. I find myself choosing topics, or adjusting my writing, to see if I can generate more green hearts. It’s beginning to feel like I’m slowly losing myself in the process. As much as I preach the value of being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, I still succumb to doing not-really-me things for the attention. For the immediate gratification of external validation. To improve my marketability.

I keep pushing. And I’m tired. There’s got to be a better way.

Word of Mouth (WOM) About You = Your Reputation

This morning, as all of these thoughts were dominating my free association time, I remembered that the best form of marketing is a kind of pull marketing — word of mouth, sometimes referred to as viva voce. In marketing, the acronym is WOM, or in the digital realms, eWoM (Electronic Word of Mouth).

From a marketing perspective, the beauty of WOM is that you can pretty much consider it free, and other people are doing the work for you. People spread the word because they want to, not because you’re paying them. Most likely because they had such a great experience, they can’t help but share it with a friend. If the experience was really share-worthy, they’ll be telling the story to many friends. And because the story is not directly coming from you, it doesn’t come across as bragging. Marketing doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m shifting my marketing approach to pull, working in a way that encourages others to share. I’ll still push occasionally, just not to the point of obsession.

If enough people start talking, maybe I’ll start developing a reputation. Hopefully it’s a good one.

Developing a Good Reputation

I’ve had my share of bad reputations growing up. In college, apparently I was considered a “player” with the ladies. During my career as a department manager, I was known for being “fluffy” with my management style.

Word gets around and eventually it gets back to you. Regarding your reputation, this is your feedback loop for something that’s difficult to measure. I use this feedback to focus on what I need to improve.

I find that the best way to improve and develop a good reputation is to choose to do the right things all the time especially when you think nobody is looking. This approach assures me that I’m coming from the right place … a place of personal integrity. Not just to impress or please others, but to be good and to do good because that’s the person I want to be.

I love reading articles from writers that do that.

I’m impressed with the likes of Coco Shackleton. During the course of June, she set a goal of writing 30 articles in 30 days. As I followed her, I noticed she didn’t submit anything to publications, even though I’m sure many would have gladly accepted her articles. She wrote from the heart and it was refreshing. I could sense that she was writing more for herself. She wasn’t stroking her own ego. She doesn’t even use her real name. (Coco Shackleton is her pseudonym.) I’m drawn to Coco because of how she represents herself. She exudes authenticity.

I’m not sure what happened to Coco. She hasn’t posted anything in a while. I miss her.

But you see that? I’m talking about her. And I do so gladly. Because reading her words during those 30 days was a great experience for me.

If I can write more like Coco and stop worrying so much about the stats, I think the frustration will subside.


This post still feels a bit forced. Heck, I’m thinking about what publication to submit this to, so I can extend my reach. I won’t, but it’s tempting. Well, then again, maybe I’ll include it in one of my own publications. (Not really push marketing since I have zero followers.) I also promise not to share on Facebook or tweet this time.

I guess I’m still recovering and getting to know myself again.

What’s different is that I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard this time. I don’t care so much about what you may think about my writing ability. Yes, I hope this might connect with another person going through something similar, but I’m letting the words spill out as they may. This is how I write without a whole lot of editing. Incomplete sentences and all. At least I’m feeling more like myself.

Whatever kind of reputation I might develop as a writer, I’m fine with it as long as it develops long-term relationships and I don’t sell out while I’m at it.

As Coco would say. “Keep going…”