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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 an introvert, I usually prefer to keep to myself and avoid the limelight. I’ve noticed, though, that I like to stand at the edge of the shadows. I look and I listen, passively participating as others with more gusto express themselves uninhibited. If living a full life is about enjoying experiences, I sometimes fill my void by living vicariously through others.
I’m most inspired by people who have the courage to put themselves out there even though, like me, they’re inclined to hold back. They’re often the ones that surprise me with something new. Something different. Something I don’t get from those who normally live in the public eye.
That is why I am here. And why I am sharing my writing publicly.
Unlike others on Medium, I’m not a published author. I don’t consider myself a good writer, but others have taught me that it’s not a prerequisite to making a meaningful contribution. What’s more important is staying true to yourself and telling your story. Not to be recognized. Not for the green hearts. (I can’t deny they’re encouraging.) But to share something that might make a difference to someone else.
So this piece goes out to everyone standing at the edge. Nothing wrong with staying there. It’s a comfortable place to be. A fulfilling life can be lived in so many ways, with or without the limelight.
For me, sometimes that’s not enough. So I intentionally get uncomfortable and do things I love for public consumption. I record my DJ mixes and post digital versions on MixCrate. I create a YouTube video for my kids of me dancing in the living room. I write about my career insights on LinkedIn. And I share my miscellaneous perspectives on Medium.
As hard as it is, I try not to be too concerned with the number of views, likes, or recommends. When I focus on how the public share might help just one other person, I’m satisfied. I simply find exhilaration in the act of creative self-expression. It bridges the gap between the shadows and the light. Between my comfortable introversion and my wannabe extroverted side.
Where I work, there are two expressions that frequently come up in the corporate lingo:
Leave it better than you found it
Those words resonate with me because I like to apply them to my personal life as well.
If you’re up for it, why not join me for the occasional moment of gusto? No talent necessary. Just be yourself and have some fun. There’s security in living vicariously, but I don’t think you’ll regret occasionally stepping out and doing a little dance. Your dance. You just might inspire someone, in a way that only you can. In doing so — to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson — you’re succeeding at making this world a better place because you have lived.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
– Mark Twain
In this achievement, results-driven culture that we find ourselves in, it can be easy to get caught up in the craze. With the focus on movement, there’s an inherent lack of focus on being still. Taking time to pause and reflect. Doing nothing. As Benjamin Hardy eloquently describes in The Harsh Truth Of Rapid Personal Growth, there is the Law of Opposites, where it’s impossible to appreciate things like the sweetness of success unless you’ve tasted the bitterness of defeat.
In my personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way that getting important things done and making big strides forward are easier and faster when I make time to do the opposite. Time to stop and pause. Time to rest. When we choose not to do this, sometimes it’s imposed upon us like my Career Break.
Since then I’ve had a chance to revisit some lessons learned long ago while I was working abroad. Concepts first introduced to me while reading Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh— a fun way to get acquainted with Taoism, particularly Yin and Yang.
For anyone not already familiar with Yin and Yang, here’s a translated excerpt from the Tao Te Ching to help provide some context:
When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.
To oversimplify what can be a much deeper interpretation of the concept, I see the main takeaways as balance, flow and wholeness.
Like many others, I also feel the pressure to keep moving, to make it happen, to do what it takes. Not too long ago, I would do 14 hour work days with only 4 hours of sleep. Push, push, push without taking time to rest, rest, rest. Always being plugged in so I wouldn’t lose any connections. Recently, I’ve significantly changed my pace.
There is a natural ebb and flow as day turns into night and night into day. When we fight against the natural rhythm, we invite disharmony and imbalance. At work this can lead to burnout or loss of personal mojo. At home, fatigue makes us impatient and fosters a dysfunctional environment. Within ourselves, we lose clarity and creativity. None of this is particularly appealing yet we continue to force flow without respecting ebb.
“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.” — Stephenie Zamora
Whether you occasionally do ‘a complete unplug’ as suggested by Neil Pasriche, or simply listen to Depeche Mode and Enjoy the Silence every once and a while, rest is not only vital for your overall balance, you’d be surprised at how much more productive you are after you re-engage. As Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz are quoted, “The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.”
Going Full Circle
Before I got caught in the ‘the busy trap,’ I used to enjoy sleeping in and taking long naps. I’d wake up fully recharged and filled with fresh ideas. Full of energy, I’d actually follow through and see those ideas to completion, one step at a time.
Settling into my career, I got too caught up in the wave and would try to ride the momentum too long. Forcing flow when it was time to ebb. Focusing only on Yang and neglecting Yin. Not making time to enjoy the silence.
At the extreme end, I eventually lost my mojo, burned out and received the dreaded pink slip after years of climbing the corporate ladder.
I don’t regret it though. It was the sign I needed to reset. And the experience has given me more appreciation for a simpler life…and more naps. That might sound a bit like the other extreme, but for now, it’s the needed Yin to counter-balance the Yang life I had been living.
My One Thing now is wholeness to improve the flow.
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” — Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”
Fortunately, cultural shifts seem to be moving in a similar direction. You may have noticed as well. Perhaps you’ve joined the ranks of Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution. Or you’re following Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution.
Take a break, get some rest, and I’ll see you on the other side.
A month ago it started. I would have about 5 weeks to myself and thought about how much I could get done while my wife and three kids were in Argentina traveling and visiting with family during summer vacation.
An entire month of extra ‘me time.’
That time is now almost over. I pick them up from the airport next week. My time alone didn’t go as planned, but I did learn a couple things from reflecting on how I spent it.
To start the 5 weeks, I reviewed my Honey-Do List and made several lists of my own. I like lists. They give me focus. They give me an outline of steps to take. It feels good to check items off the list and say “Done.”
Lists are also a source of great anxiety and a misleading tool if used improperly.
My to-do lists usually contain a mix of items that fall into opposing camps: creative vs. maintenance, recharging vs. charging ahead, big and time-consuming vs. quick hits.
Taking a breath and thinking back on the past four weeks, here are some observations.
Maintenance items and quick hits lure me away from the more important things. With every check off the list, I feel like I’m getting a lot done in a short period of time. I gain momentum which leads me to the next quick hit. I go through the day thinking I’m getting a lot done, but at the end of the day it ends up being the trivial many versus the vital few.
Lists focusing on Doing rather than Purpose are like a big helping of empty calories. Short-lived satisfaction without any long-term sustenance. The day ends with regret from just spinning my wheels and not really getting anywhere meaningful. The negative effect of shifting my focus on what’s past — regretting a day lost — also distracts me from being at peace and appreciating the present moment. This perpetuates a vicious cycle.
With the one week I have left, here are the changes I’m committing to.
First Things First, as Stephen Covey would say. Or if I can only get one thing done, making the priority my “One Thing” as Gary Keller wrote. The maintenance work still needs to get done, but I’ll put the big rocks in my jar first and then let the sandy maintenance items fill in the remaining space.
Follow some advice from James Altucher and time-block my day based on balanced themes instead of to-do lists. By aligning daily choices to address what’s important for my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical needs, I’ll be more likely to make healthy decisions on how I spend the time. These are the four big rocks (themes) for me.
Put Into Practice
All fine in theory. But what would this look like from day to day?
This post is one example. In the beginning of “Me Time” I had planned to use the extra time to write about and publish several ideas piling up in my drafts folder. Four weeks later my list of ideas is even bigger, but I didn’t complete a single post. Today, I traded-off a few hours of maintenance items to sit down and follow-through on something that simultaneously feeds my spiritual, emotional and mental needs. As I wind down this article, I not only feel good about checking something off my original list, I also feel nourished. I made time to recharge my energy and be creative.
For all the other scenarios out there — for whatever you might be personally experiencing — the one take-away is this. Shift your focus from simply doing, to doing the right things.
As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, narrow your focus to what’s essentially important to you and be willing to trade-off the trivial many (e.g. checking my phone every other minute, staying up late binge watching Netflix, etc. in my case.)
In The One Thing, Gary Keller recommends we ask ourselves some variation of the following question, “What’s the one thing I can do today/this week/this month to [insert context for family, career, exercise, whatever applies to you] such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?”
Using my personal example, I asked “What’s the one thing I can do today for my peace of mind, body and soul such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?” My answer: Block out a couple of hours to reflect, collect my thoughts, then write about them.
As I close, I already feel the nourishment kicking in. I still have a lot of necessary chores to do, but I’ll get to them in between more important things. Instead of rushing back to attack my to-do list, I’m going to take the dog for a nice leisurely walk (without my phone) to enjoy the sun, the warm breeze and the simple pleasure of pausing to sniff the roses.
Practicing my other profession, this is the third installment of a series where I post some of my music mixes to kick start the weekend. Most tracks will be reminiscent of years past. And if you were born around 1969 or earlier, you may actually have memories from when these songs were first released 😉 I intentionally keep the mixes short and byte-size. Nowadays our attention spans are too short and our tastes are very selective!
Time to slow it down a bit. This mix is more of an eclectic blend including mild samplings from Africa, United Kingdom and Japan.
Music inspires. It’s the sound of creativity and the lyrical expression of self. It elicits movement and can influence across boundaries. Certain artists know how to push those boundaries, leaving a legacy and setting an example of what can be done by the creative spirit. As these posts are examples of my self expression, this is dedicated in memory of #prince (1958 – 2016)
Practicing my other profession, this is the second installment of a series where I post some of my music mixes to kick start the weekend. Most tracks will be reminiscent of years past. And if you were born around 1969 or earlier, you may actually have memories from when these songs were first released 😉 I intentionally keep the mixes short and byte-size. Nowadays our attention spans are too short and our tastes are very selective!
Going out a little early this week, so we might want to call this Thursday Throwback.
This weekend’s blend is a spicy mix of female vocals with some unusual twists. At 140 bpm, it has a bit of a kick.
This day means different things to different people. Resurrection, life after death, hope, and miracles are first to come to mind. On the secular side, it’s an observed holiday that allows us time off work to spend with our family and friends. For me it means a little of all those things. It also got me thinking about something we don’t often connect with Easter…creativity.
When I think about it, creativity is a very subtle part of the holiday. It’s below the surface but it’s there. For example, there’s a creative aspect in the Lenten practice of giving something up in order to make room for something new. On a more common level, kids tend to be very creative when it comes to coloring Easter eggs. Then, of course, there’s the dramatic story of new life and hope that gave birth to a whole new religion.
I like to think of days like today as a day of quiet reflection. A day to be grateful for your blessings and to appreciate the everyday miracles around us. A day to take stock of who we’ve become and the kind of person we want to be…then make conscious decisions on how we’d like to bridge the gap. A great example has been set. If a humble carpenter can change the world, how can we follow in those footsteps? I don’t see a need to be as dramatic, or to expect transformation after only the third day. It’s a process and you can feel good about taking a single small step in the right direction.
Let’s take a break from the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine. Maybe make an effort to unplug. No checking email, Facebook or Twitter…self-contradictory as this post may be. Be with your family and friends. Be present and enjoy the moment. New life is embodied in this simple act. Happy Easter everyone!
I’m at a good chapter in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Currently on “Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength”. There are several sections talking about the creative process. Some statements that stuck with me are as follows:
“At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.”
“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”
“…creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.”
“One of our favorite things to do―instead of our art―is to contemplate the odds…In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, “What’s the use?” instead of “What’s next?”
From The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Creativity―like human life itself―begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!” It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary.
We speak often about ideas a brainchildren. What we do not realize is that brainchildren, like all babies, should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Ideas, like stalactites and stalagmites, form in the dark inner cave of consciousness. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing.
Mulling on the page is an artless art form. It is fooling around. It is doodling. It is the way that ideas slowly take shape and form until they are ready to help us see the light. All too often, we try to push, pull, outline, and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive–but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.
As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path. This mulling on the page can be very threatening. “I’ll never get any real ideas this way!” we fret.
Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea needs to rise. If you poke at it too much in the beginning, if you keep checking on it, it will never rise. A loaf of bread or a cake, baking, must stay for a good long time in the darkness and safety of the oven. Open that oven too soon and the bread collapses–or the cake gets a hole in its middle because all the steam has rushed out of it. Creativity requires a respectful reticence.
The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas. Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of “Oh! That’s it!”
From page 219 of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:
“The morning pages and artist dates must be experienced in order to be explained, just as reading a book about jogging is not the same as putting on your Nikes and heading out to the running track. Map is not your territory, and without reference points from within your own experience, you cannot extrapolate what the morning pages and artist dates can do for you.”
Observing My Creative Process
Since I stopped spending so much in the office and working outside of normal hours, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with my creative side. I got back into mixing music and acting out my other side – DJ ReCreator. I took the leap and started publishing my writing. This blog is one example but I’ve also built up my confidence to share some of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse. Experiments in the kitchen have also been fun though it’s been more scripted by other people’s recipes and not my own creations.
All these areas have been creative outlets for me and have brought more balance to my spirit. I’m happier now. Less and less, I’m not displaying what I learned is the “angry artist” that arises from being stifled and held back. I don’t like being grumpy. Caro and the kids don’t like being around me when I am. Who can blame them. I’m just glad they’ve been patient with me as it took me a long time to find my way “back home.”
Anyway, while I’ve been spending time on my creative projects, I take mental notes of my process and try to get a better understanding of what brings out my best. I also note habits that seem to undermine the process.
It really is more about the process than the product. When I focus too much on the product and the recognition I hope to get from it, I lose my way. Enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination is where I’ve been most myself. So here are some observations regarding the process from my own experience (They seem to reflect the truth in Julia Cameron’s words):
I’ll occasionally have bursts of inspiration where the ideas or words just gush out and I almost can’t keep up. This usually happens during free association or when I’m writing my morning pages. More often, though, I get an idea that feels like a good seed, so I plant it and let it grow at it’s own pace until it’s ready to blossom.
When I’m focused too much on the product versus the process, I get tempted to share something prematurely. I’m learning that my best outcomes are a result of nurturing over time. Maintaining environments and conditions conducive to growth (i.e. balanced and inclusive of all the right elements).
By letting things simmer and rest, I’m able to go back with fresh perspective. This allows me to refine and fill in where needed.
If I’m ever afraid to express something, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if some people don’t like what I’m doing. If the process serves it purpose and I’m the only one who benefits directly, that’s enough. Worrying about what other people will think is self-sabotaging. Actually, it’s when I don’t worry about putting my true self out there, that I seem to connect with others in a more magical way…at least based on the feedback I’ve received in those instances.
My gut has been a good indicator of whether or not something is ready. Going against it has rarely been a good idea.
Quotes on Creativity
‘Trust that still, small voice that says. “This might work and I’ll try it.”‘
― Diane Mariechild
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
― Albert Einstein
“Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”
― Claude Bernard
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers–only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
― Grace Hartigan
“Art? You just do it.”
― Martin Ritt
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
― Linus Pauling
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Remember first that everything you think, say, and do is a reflection of what you’ve decided about yourself; a statement of Who You Are; an act of creation in your deciding who you want to be.”
― Neale Donald Walsch
“Intelligence looks for what is known to solve problems. Creativity looks for what is unknown to discover possibilities.”
― Simon Sinek
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Expressing yourself in different ways naturally develops your personal brand, even if that’s not your intention. Whether it’s through your words, your actions, your work or―as is the focus of this article―your sense of style, you can give others a glimpse of who you are and what makes you different.
How you go about expressing your style can also send a strong message. To me, fashion and style are synonymous. When we meet people for the first time, we can’t help but jump to conclusions about their personality and character, based on how they’re dressed. Superficial? Yes, but we often do it unconsciously.
Instead of criticizing it, I’ve learned to embrace it.
Career In Fashion
After my 6-year career start in Japan, I returned to Chicago not sure what the next chapter would be. I decided to explore my interest in fashion by working part-time at Bachrach Clothing. It was where I bought my first suit out of college and I had fond memories of shopping there. Ten years and a full wardrobe later, I learned everything about gentlemen style guides down to the details of how to properly fold a pocket silk or how to tie the perfect knot.
Putting outfits together is an art form. There are general rules you’re supposed to follow but with practice you learn when it’s ok to break those rules. It helps to start with the basics and then build from there. Once you have essential items that can easily be mixed and matched, you move to other details such as layering and combining colors, patterns and fabric. The fun starts when you accessorize. Finishing touches such as pocket silks, cufflinks, scarves and watches can transform ordinary to extraordinary. (See my Pinterest board on men’s fashionfor more details and inspiration.)
At Bachrach, I also learned the importance of fit over fashion. We’re often drawn to things that look great on the shelf or display. But when we try them on, certain things just don’t work well with our build. We may need to go up or down in size. Sometimes alterations are needed. When available and within our budget, made-to-measure usually gives the best results. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether something looks good from a distance, unless it fits you properly, the end result won’t be as good as you expected. Forcing a fit usually leads to disappointment in the long run.
I’m grateful for these lessons learned. The time at Bachrach helped me refine my personal sense of style while I helped others do the same.
When I transitioned to work in e-commerce for Dreams Retail (before it was acquired by Fanatics), fashion took on a different definition. Acceptable dress code was very characteristic of sports fans and dot com culture (e.g. graphic t-shirts, snapback caps and even flip-flops). I enjoyed the freedom of the relaxed work environment and wore my gear my way. It was more in line with how I like to look and feel when I DJ a party, or when I’m at home. I couldn’t get totally away from suits and ties though. My closet was full of them and it felt like a waste. So every once in a while, I would break from the norm and come in dressed to the nines. As expected, I stood out like a pair of mismatched socks, but I made no apologies. I was doing it because it represented another side of me that I didn’t want to neglect. To my surprise, our President at the time, Kevin Bates, took a liking to it and declared an annual “Dashing Donn Durante Day” where everyone was encouraged to dress up (See featured image of me with Tim Glinski, our Don Draper look-alike). It was like the opposite of Casual Friday.
In retrospect, Dreams brought out a different side of me and helped me develop a healthy respect for the various shades of everyone’s style and character. When you go beyond first impressions, you’re often pleasantly surprised at the depth of character of the company you keep.
Now I’m back to wearing suits daily at Nordstrom. Many things to love about Nordstrom’s approach to business. One of the corporate values I enjoy most is the emphasis on being yourself. It’s more about expressing your personal style and not just about buying fashion. Among the many inspiring messages you’ll find on the walls of the employee hallways is the note below:
Fashion may be the form of expression, but the emphasis is on you. Fashion is one way of representing who you are and how you want people to think of you. Let the true you shine through.
Fitting is a great word to describe my career to date. At a glance, my path can appear haphazard and random. A closer look connects the dots between the things I love and the opportunities that presented themselves. My personal brand is about making meaningful connections in creative ways.
Personal Branding By Being Yourself
Personal branding, as a concept, sometimes gets a bad rap. I like to look at it as simply an extension of being yourself. The effort of branding yourself becomes negative only when it’s not authentic, not genuine ― when it becomes about fabricating an image that’s only designed to please others. Branding for branding’s sake is shallow. Let’s not do that.
So how do you represent your genuine self? When free to choose, what’s your signature look? And why? What does it say about you? Einstein was known to have identical outfits so he wouldn’t have to think about it in the morning. Other things were a priority. Steve Jobs wore his classic black turtleneck, blue jeans and gray New Balance. He had his reasons. How about examples from the people around you? When I was at Dreams Retail, Kevin Bates was known around the office for often wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of white Puma sneakers. To me this look matched his very approachable nature. For my other friends at FansEdge and Fanatics, it was common to proudly sport the jersey of one’s favorite team or alma mater. It was easy to see what they were passionate about and it often prompted conversations about their personal history and experience.
Albert’s typical head-to-toe attire consisted of an undershirt, baggy pants held up with a rope, and sandals.
His attitude was either people knew and accepted him, or they didn’t. Case closed.
Going deeper below the surface, it all starts with you and ends with how it all fits together.
What’s important to you?
For example, do you like simple or sophisticated?
Do you prefer loud or muted?
For you, is it in the details or the overall package?
I know it’s not that simple. So start with the basic questions and then dive into the more intricate details. As you build on your essence and layer in the other unique aspects of yourself, you begin to get a good sense of what makes you you. Then you can consider how this all fits with everything else. Is your current company a good fit? Maybe the company is a good fit but your role within the company could be better. How well do you gel with the team? Do they bring out your best, or do you feel you’re always at odds? Make some time and think about it.
Applying This to You and Your Career
It’s important to emphasize how unique and multifaceted each of us are. We’re different on the field and off, at work and at home, from one role to another. Our diverse nature gives us the flexibility to adapt from situation to situation, depending on what’s appropriate. You’re still being yourself. Just bringing out a different side of who you are.
There’s only one you. Like no other. Never has been. Never will be. So go ahead and express your one-of-a-kind style with confidence. Be comfortable not only with your personal style of dress, but also with your special style of speaking writing and working. Otherwise, you’re depriving the world of something only you can give. Building your personal brand will happen in due course.
“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”
― Brenda Ueland
As you navigate your career choices, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to be someone you’re not and your integrity is compromised, get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. No matter what the potential rewards, don’t sell yourself out. At the end of the day, you’ll make the most meaningful impact by staying true to yourself and finding company that brings out the best you have to offer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my most impactful, rewarding and memorable years were at Dreams Inc where I was encouraged to be myself, manage in my own way and be creative in how I delivered results. Finding the right fit takes precedence over glamorous opportunities.
Again, fashion is just one of many ways to express yourself. You may agree it’s superficial and only a mere reflection of who you are. For your personal brand, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Be Yourself. Don’t just try to fit in. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fashionista, old-fashioned, or if you couldn’t care less about fashion. Even when we’re buck naked, we should all be comfortable in our own skin.
It’s been a few days since I’ve logged an entry into this journal. Time to catch up. I’ve got the day off today so my theme today is “back to balance.” This is why…
After Sofia’s birthday last Sunday, I had a spurt of LinkedIn/Blog writing. Mostly LinkedIn this past week. It started Sunday night and then I wanted to ride the wave while I had momentum. It helped that the first post about “Reflections on a Career Break” was received pretty well and got several likes, comments and private messages.
I wasn’t comfortable just having one post associated with my profile so I set a goal of 3 before taking a break from LinkedIn publishing. I met my goal of 3 by republishing/editing my blog post on “The Annual Performance Review” and then a couple of days ago, I wrote “Simply Effective Leadership” around the Don Draper quote.
All of this had an associated cost and trade-offs. I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. I didn’t spend time doing things like exercise, cooking, Duolingo or just chilling with the family. Any “free” time I had I spent writing and obsessing over the stats. I’ve attached a screenshot of the stats for the three posts after 6 days. My ego wanted reassurance that my writing was getting views and being liked. Comments were icing on the cake.
In the beginning, it was invigorating and I felt like the creative juices were flowing again — a renewed zest for life and ideas for the future. Towards the end of the week, though, I was sensing the stress levels elevate. It was similar to when I would be thinking about work all the time and wanting to keep plugging away at something. The problem before, and it seems to be happening again now, is that forcing it forward had diminishing returns and a greater cost with every push. It was getting extreme to the point where Caro and the kids would stop by the desk and mention how much time I was spending with the writing thing. Even one of my coworkers said, “Donn, you’re so active on LinkedIn! I keep getting alerts…” It was a little embarrassing and I took it as a sign to lay off the social channels for a while. If I can help myself, this might be the last post for a while. (I can hear your sighs of relief.)
So that’s why today’s theme is “back to balance”. I need to sharpen the saw. To focus on other areas such as physical, spiritual and emotional. The last week has been primarily mental exercise. There may be nothing wrong with the occasional deep dive into something, but it’s important to come up for air. Wouldn’t want to drown in my own excitement.