Networking

Jefferson Dinner, Part Three: How To End An Event Without Ending The Fun

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Last week's post spoke to how the Jefferson Dinner created the opportunity for respect in the conversation so that every participant felt equally heard. This week, it is about when the conversation should end. Sometime soon I will talk about the conversation needing to end after it has been an unenjoyable interaction, but this week I am going to stick with the positive and focus on how an enjoyable situation can end without depressing those involved. 

At the Jefferson Dinner, after three DEEP questions were asked and discussed in their own turn, the Dinner host said

"I wanted to ask a last question but the conversation feels pretty full and I don't want to push it any further." 

I thought that was quite interesting because it was a strategic stop to a conversation and a powerful example of how a positive conversation can be cut off and still is appreciated. I felt equal parts agreement and disappointment when he said that because even though the mental effort needed for the conversation was rather tiring, it was still so interesting, engaging, and new thought-provoking for me. As minutes went on, I realized how profound stopping the conversation at that point had been. It allowed us to casually chat about whatever we wanted as we were cleaning up because we still had enough energy to do so, and it left us with the buzz of how enjoyable the overall conversation was, which promoted our continued thinking about the subjects long after the event. 

It often happens that we humans do not want an enjoyable experience to end. Duh, that is obvious. We want to promote enjoyment, in fact. However, there are times when a fun party becomes un-fun because it goes on too long, or a first date loses its luster because the couple got dessert after drinks and did not leave the positive energy for a second date (Okay, bad example: dessert doesn't harm anything...but you get the point).

Too much of a good thing is exactly that: Too much.

Just like pushing the limits of an amount of recreational drugs, you will not continue to get the same high. It will wane. It is also pretty human, though, to avoid ending the experience because of our natural sensitivity to loss. It feels absolute. Finite. As though it could never be experienced again. Emotional hangovers are real too after a super fun party. 

Do not fret. Here is what you do:

  • When an enjoyable interaction or situation is concluding, whether you or an external entity is concluding it, take the step in that moment to plant the seed to continue the enjoyable parts of that situation in the future. 

You cannot replicate the exact same situation because life and people move on, but following the following steps will help you feel like the enjoyment has not died forever:

  1. Identify what is so enjoyable about the situation. Is it:
    1. the subject of your conversation
    2. something about the individual with whom you are speaking
    3. something about the setting where you are
    4. something else?
  2. If your enjoyment is related to the individual before you or the conversation topic, plant the seed in whatever way is comfortable about continuing the conversation with them again, either over coffee or planning to meet up at an event again sometime in the future. If it is not comfortable to do so in that moment, reach out to them the next day and tell them how much you enjoyed the conversation and go from there. 
  3. If it is something about the setting or event, use that characteristic to focus your search for similar events or parties going forward. Doing so will help you weed out so many parties and events that may not invigorate you. 

Energy does not die, but gets transferred to a new system or setting. What was enjoyable about the Jefferson Dinner for me has lingered because of how and when the host ended the dinner. The exciting mental energy I felt during the dinner transferred from being passed around the table to inside my brain alone and I have continued to think about the subject in my head. Not only has it motivated me to write blog posts about it, but it is something that I am excited and comfortable to bring up with others and initiate discussions of my own. 

Because the party has to end does not mean that your enjoyment does.

Just transfer the energy.

Jefferson Dinner, Part Two: How To Earn Respect In Any Conversation

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A while back, I wrote a post about finding your true voice and how I finally heard mine for the first time a few years ago at the Book Swarm event in Oakland, California. As I have moved around the country since then and worked on my business in different places, my true voice has come and gone, hidden from me here and there, gone on vacation a few times without telling me. It is only natural because it is connected to my self-confidence and my meta-awareness about my skills and acquired knowledge. 

Sometimes it hits me hard in conversation and I say to myself "Oh damn, I know stuff..." and drop knowledge bombs on whoever with whom I am interacting. It is so cool when you realize that you know things. You suddenly feel so powerful and even unstoppable. But it is hard to ground it and hold on to it in your awareness because there are so many moments of the day that distract you and that do not give you the chance to exclusively have the floor and fully live in that knowledge power.

The Jefferson Dinner last week, however, was just that opportunity. For those of you who did not read my post last week, shame on you. Also, to recap, a Jefferson Dinner is when a small group of people get together, eat dinner, and discuss their thoughts on a certain pre-determined topic one at a time such that everyone is heard and everyone gets to speak. 

My true voice came back from vacation just in time for my turn to speak in each of the discussions we had. 

No, I'm not telling you that Jefferson Dinners are the only times when you can feel heard and powerful. They help and they are a lot of fun, but let us dissect what about the Dinner specifically created the opportunity: 

1. Structure

The overall subject of the discussions was determined and advertised ahead of time, which told participants what to expect and also what was not going to be addressed (makes sense, right?). Furthermore, the location was predetermined and private, which provided the comfort of containment for the participants to express their opinions about the topic in a safe space. No matter the topic, the fact that the setting is preset and someone else is in charge of deciding the conversation topic, its direction, and its movement relieves the participants of a lot of pressure and energy to maintain a conversation on their own.

2. Forming an opinion

The structure of the setting and the structure of the discussion itself provides a comfortable scenario in which you may formulate and express your opinion. When the question is asked, participants naturally dive into their own brains and feverishly thrash around searching for a comprehensible personal response like a kid in Jaws swimming away from the shark. The cool thing, though, is as soon as the first person volunteers to speak, the mental ferocity subsides and you attend to the speaker. Every so often, a new little phrase will connect itself onto your response in your mind, but it does not take any extra energy or distract you from listening. 

The structure of the setting also provides the space in which you do not have to stressfully choose when to interrupt someone, raise your voice to share your opinion, or get angry when your opinion is not heard and the conversation moves on. This one is HUGE because it means that you do not have to expend any extra energy AND everyone remains civilized and amenable by the end of it. The Book Swarm discussions? Not so much... But that is for another time.

3. Respect

Here is the whopper. The crown jewel. What it is all about. You got external structure, you add personal comfort, and now all that is left is how the crowd welcomes your offering and respects your input. In the Jefferson Dinner, if the rules are followed, everyone shows you the respect your opinion deserves because you showed them the respect that they deserved. 

This is what is missing in so many conversations these days. Work, relationships, phone calls with family, you name it. Think about yourself at work interacting with a manager or colleagues. The structure of the setting is all set, you know what you would like to talk about, but BAM, you are met with disregard, inattention, and discourtesy. Maybe the listener is distracted, maybe for some reason they do not care, or maybe they are so arrogant that they cannot wait to hear themselves talk again. 

Often, this dynamic leads you, the speaker, to unsheath a nice defense mechanism and try to meet the listener where they are at on a higher level of snobby-ness than is natural and comfortable for you. Then it is a battle of defense mechanisms and you never actually express anything that you wanted to express nor advocate for yourself in an authentic and respectful way. 

Unfortunately the presence or absence of respect in an interaction determines the outcome of that interaction. 

What do we do about it? Kind of like last week, let us use these three themes as a sort of scorecard. Next time you are in the position to have a convo with someone in which you have something important to express, first ask:

  • Is there external structure around you? Is the setting familiar? What are the wild cards?  (i.e. will someone interrupt? will it be noisy? Have I been in that office before?)
  • Have you thought about what you are going to say IN A RESPECTFUL AND APPROPRIATE WAY? (i.e. what is the purest form of what you want to say, and how do you say that with etiquette?)  I capitalized those for a reason because some people take my advice to plan what they want to say but do not think about how to say it respectfully. It does not end well...
  • How can you set up the conversation such that you garner respect from the second it begins?  What can you say or how can you approach the conversation in such a way that makes it clear to the listener why you are in the conversation and what you want to accomplish in it? 

This can look like a lot of things, but often what I help clients to do in this situation is to be vulnerable and honest up front about their own reason for being in the conversation and then send the ball over the net to the listener who can now speak to their own experience. Because the word "vulnerable" is a terror trigger for many people, let me show you an example. Imagine you are the speaker:

"Hi ____________, I reacted quite strongly to some of the things that were shared in the meeting earlier. I would like to tell you about the reactions and ask you what it was like for you so I know how to go about starting my tasks." 

Though oversimplified and unspecific, this example still includes several important features to practice:

  1. you are being open and honest about your emotional reaction to something
  2. you are not downplaying or discrediting your experience
  3. you are not accusing the listener of anything, thus eliminating their need for defensiveness
  4. you are asking their opinion on a situation as well, thus opening up a respectful dialogue between you two
  5. if the listener does not respond respectfully, then that shows much more about him/her and is evidence feedback for how to interact with that person in the future 

What can you do either in preparation of a conversation or right at the beginning of that conversation that will quell power trips, offer respect, earn respect, avoid defense mechanisms, and help you feel empowered by expressing your opinion in an authentic and comfortable way?

Think of some interactions in the past and brainstorm how they might have been started differently.

Finding Authentic Voice, Part 4: The 6 Pieces Of A Successful Conversation

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Anger does not get us anywhere. It feels good to let out because anger carries so much energy with it, but it is not a long term solution for either he who lets out the anger or its intended victim. This is why conversations that are fueled only by emotion - any emotion - end up with the participants too distracted by the emotion that mature self-expression goes out the window. Examples include: any argument between drunk people at a bar or a kid crying to its parents about wanting a toy.

The needs of those involved are rarely met because it is an unattractive and ineffective display of self-advocacy. 

On the flip side, relying too much on intellect while suppressing emotion can be detrimental. Several times in the past I suppressed emotion in difficult conversations with significant others so that I could focus on what was being said in the conversation and offer a level, honest response. No matter how honest my response was, I came across as detached and unempathetic. Even though we both were feeling feels, the fact that I suppressed mine in the convo made her feel more alone and dejected. Suppressing mine only made the conversation feel worse in the end.

Luckily for everyone, there is a middle ground where the magic happens. The problem for everyone is that it is a difficult space to navigate. People get anxious about letting themselves feel strong emotions when trying to communicate in a respectful way. It takes practice.

I am here to tell you it is manageable and possible. I had to learn how to do it myself many times.

Whatever it is you have been ruminating on and workshopping with me over the past three weeks, it is time to let it out in a healthy and effective way. 

Last week you defined WHY you want to express the thing you want to express. If you have not, go back now and do it now. Knowing the Why gives you the objective of your conversation. The goal you would like to achieve. 

Example 1: in the scenario where you hate your boss, sure, you likely feel anger, but the reason why you will talk with HR will not be because you hate him. They will not care to hear that. Instead, your goal is to enjoy your workday more without the stress of wondering what your boss will do or say next. That is why you care to hate your boss.

Do you see the difference? 

The past client I described knew that telling HR his boss was a douche would not help his situation. Instead, our work together made him realize that he was going to speak to HR because he cared about his job and the cool ideas he had for it. 

The goal of the conversation is bigger than the person to whom you are speaking.

As a result, tell it as a story. Easy as that. When you sit down with the person to whom you want to express yourself, follow these steps:

  1. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Say: I have been having a lot of trouble with something and I want to have a conversation with you about it.
  2. TELL THE STORY. Describe ALL of the relevant data points to set the scene for the person and lay the framework for why you are having this conversation.
  3. LET A LITTLE EMOTION IN. Explain what is affecting you, how it is affecting you, and why. Be specific and honest.
  4. RESPECT THY ENEMY. Even if it is a boss you hate, explain their position, the things they say/want, and why they seem to do that, if you know. Do not whine, though
  5. ASK FOR HELP. Now that you have the context (2), your side (3), and the other party's side (4) presented, inquire as to how to proceed. Ask for advice on how to accommodate all parties involved so that you can move forward. 
  6. REPEAT WHY YOU CARE. Reiterate why you care at all. In our example, it is why you care about your job and what you are motivated to achieve within it.

Follow this outline for any conversation. Practice it. You will still feel quite vulnerable as you are describing the situation. Instead of anger or sadness taking over, though, you will feel the emotion behind your description and it will remind you why you care. 

This form of conversation honors your emotion while respectfully communicating your feelings and needs. 

As I said, I have had to practice this many times. Last year, I had this exact form of conversation with a boss in a side job because the culture amongst coworkers had become sadistic and toxic. I knew complaining and venting would not achieve any change, so I followed the above format in order to present every layer of the situation, of which my boss was not aware. I was able to explain how burnt out I felt and how it affected our work with clients. Because of the fact that I referred to how it was affecting other specific people as well and how we were all at a loss, my boss sought those people out and asked for their perspective the very next morning. 

Remember: if you are polite, honest, and authentic when you express yourself, you will succeed in conversation. If the recipient cannot handle it, then that is their problem. Speak your truth.

Try it out. You will do great.

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

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If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice: A Beginner's Guide

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The first time I wrote a blog was when my sister and I went on a road trip around the west coast starting back in 2011. It was a great way for our family, friends, and ourselves to keep track of the daily adventures and, more importantly, convey to our mother that we were alive and safe. Cute side moment: she would make her morning coffee and sit down to read our post from the night before before she read her morning newspaper. Mm the best way to start the day. It was fun and it was natural because I have always liked writing and it helped that the subject matter was super easy. It was also easy because a) I was not trying to gain income from its exposure and b) we knew the extent of its exposure: just family and a select group of family friends who knew about the journey.

Fast forward to 2015 when I wrote my first blog post for The Tailored Quill. I did not know how it was supposed to be used or how it could translate into clients or income. Instead I simply knew that I had to have one because everyone else did. If you were ever curious about how impressive I am, know that I wrote ONE WHOLE BLOG POST ------ and that was it for a really long time. I wrote another post a few months later. Yeah, months. That is like 1000 years in Millennial social media chronology.

The second post was more like a cute summary of why I started the business but it did nothing to convey what the reader should do about it. SOLID content marketing. But hey, everyone starts somewhere. So my blog sat stagnant for two years until I felt it in my heart that I had a lot I was ready to say. More powerfully, I knew how I wanted to say it. That is when I sat down last year and made a list of almost 200 topics on which I could write blog posts, most of which could easily be broken down even further into more topics. 

Fast forward / rewind to a couple days ago when a friend told me that last week's post about the two questions you need to ask as the first step toward career satisfaction (which she happened to read while at work) made her realize that she did not in fact hate her job as she thought. She instead disliked certain pieces of it while it otherwise checked off many boxes relating to her goals and interests. She stated "the two questions reminded me why I do what I do and put it in perspective, even though my story has always been that I'm terrible at it and that it is miserable."

 

She went on to articulate what I was thinking: the fact that it is difficult - sometimes impossible - to know what impact I have on people who read my work even if they never become clients or ever get in touch with me after reading it. I can track clicks and engagement on my blog page, but Squarespace cannot yet measure the lingering emotional impact the content has on visitors. And this is a crucial point about entrepreneurship that applies to every other arena of your life: 

Expressing yourself with an authentic voice is always valuable even if you do not know who is listening. 

I did not hear my true authentic voice until six months after I started my company in 2015. I did not find it in high school or college or even in the years of mental health work before I started The Tailored Quill, but it was growing ever so incrementally. I found it on the second day of the Book Swarm in Oakland, CA, where I was hired as a scribe to record and consolidate material from industry experts to craft a book on Narrative in the 21st century with a small team in only two days. The second day was when the team got together and took all of the previous day's material to package it into concise, world-rocking chapter outlines. It was basically ten of us in a big room interrupting each other and debating what should be included where and how to emphasize what. 

Several team members were debating one point ad nauseam and I suddenly burst in to the fray and commandingly offered the perspective that the focus ought to be on the broader scope for the moment and that the point about which they were debating was in fact more appropriate for a different chapter altogether. Even though I was "right" and they relented in order to move on, I personally was like "Oh damn, that's what I sound like??" and my whole life, evolution, development, interests, jobs, thoughts, and goals all passed before my eyes and connected to how I saw myself standing there and speaking in that moment. 

I sat down and thought about that for a solid ten minutes. My brain and its prior skills and knowledge recognized that the group was focusing on the wrong thing and then...here is the magic moment...I CHOSE TO SAY SOMETHING. I chose to speak up right then. Something in me was ready to do that and impelled it. 

I did not know that starting my blog would impact people's lives when I started it in earnest last year, but I was able to feel that same impulse within me that it was time to start speaking up. As opposed to when I "started my blog" in 2015, I knew what I wanted to talk about this time and I knew that I was ready to share. 

Now, believe it or not, this is not a boastful blog post. I am not trying to celebrate myself. Sure, I am reciting my own personal narrative growth but my point is that I am just like you. I spent years frustrated that I was not heard, years wondering how to authentically express myself, and it will forever be a challenge. It is becoming more and more consistent in this blog and in conversations about my work but it is not perfect. It is like yoga. You have to keep practicing it in order to actually stay flexible.

I can, however, consistently recognize the impulse to express something, even if I do not end up expressing it. That is the first step. Feeling the urge to express yourself but not following through causes tension within you and may lead to stress and frustration. I am willing to bet that you feel the same kind of detachment between who you are now and the fully aligned, authentically expressed you.

Example 1: standing up for yourself to a boss?

Example 2: articulating your true value in a job interview?

Example 3: Telling a cute stranger at the bar that they are attractive without sounding rude and creepy?

Need I go on? You can come up with countless other examples. And that is okay. All of it is so normal.

In fact, society promotes the disconnect between your expressive drive and the actual act with cutthroat work cultures and an intense "This is the land of opportunity! Go take it for yourself!...But also be careful! It is super dangerous too and you might not succeed!" ideology.

No one can know when the moment will occur, and that is the way it is. You will never make it to that moment, however, if you recoil and avoid the conversations you want to have or avoid asking the questions you want to ask. You will be stuck shoving the voice into a teeny tiny box deep behind the fire of tension and inauthenticity. 

What I want you to do is breathe and shrug and say "Yep, I do not have my voice yet...AND THAT IS OKAY. Cut yourself a break. Do not get down on yourself because society thinks that you are failing. It took me 26 years to hear my authentic voice for the very first time. That is 9,490 days! 

That is a long time seeking the sound of authenticity.

If you are able to accept the fact that that detachment being present is totally cool and normal, then you open the door to the cavern deep inside you (see my post on Cave Diving) and you will feel the same subtle impulse that I did/do and you will not hesitate to say what you want to say in exactly the way your brain has yearned for you to say it. 

Who knows what you will say, but you will hear it when you say it, and your life will never be the same. 

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: How saying less actually says more.

I recently attended a workshop on effective communication. It was three hours long on a Thursday morning. The content focused on mental frames we use that bias our interactions and affect the ways we engage in conversations with others. For instance, how formulating the belief that someone won't listen to you before you have even tried speaking to them inspires us to avoid any conversation altogether. The content subsequently covered a step-by-step method for conducting a productive conversation with respect, integrity, and confidence. 

I was content to learn that a lot of my conversations with people already follow that general method, but what was most interesting about the workshop was how direct and concise the content was. The prowess of the facilitator and the idea of "leaving your audience wanting more" not withstanding, it was a strong emblem for how communication should be. 

See, we humans think that we need to beleaguer subject matter to get our point across. That is often why it is easier to tend to be more wordy in writing than is necessary. Think of someone you know who - to put it diplomatically - is proud of something they know and loves to tell people about it ad nauseam. Do you often think that you would still get their point if they had concisely expressed their message once and left it at that? Aside from any arrogance behind talking about something longer and more frequently than is necessary, think about how much more time we would have in life if everyone got to the point and moved on.

Yeah, kinda depressing. But here is the thing. It is very difficult to be concise. It has been something I have been working on for years in interpersonal conversation. In text messages and college papers and cover letters I have improved over the years, but I know I can do better in person. 

Because my human experience on this earth is made up of my unique interpretations of events and stories based on what intellectual / emotional capacities my brain developed, how I understand a message or story from someone is guaranteed to be at least slightly different than the way they imagine and understand it themselves. Even when I feel like I totally get what they are saying, it could very well still be because I am thinking of something different. I will go over this more in depth later when we cover "conflicting narratives", but it suffices to say that we can all work on getting to the point.

"Why do we need to do that?" you might ask. Because wordiness comes from insecurity. We fill in our sentences with useless fillers like "just" and "like" and even a lot of adverbs to curb the edge of what we are sharing, whether out of fear of how the other person will take it or out of insecurity about what you are saying. If you read my post from a few weeks ago (see Friend-request your stress), I am willing to bet that you can identify interactions or individuals that cause you stress or insecurity. Those are perfect examples of moments to expect that stress, blurt out what you need to, and breathe into the silence that follows. Isn't it ironic that our stress response of adding more words to our conversations is our way of trying to shy away from a situation?

Next time you feel yourself start to blabber on and on, ask yourself: how much more do I need to share? Have I yet conveyed the point I wanted to make? If so, stop there and accept the fact that your message has been shared. If you have ever heard the old proverb Silence is golden, then let it be so and see what your audience does next. 

How to find a resource! Hint: Be afraid...

Merriam Webster defines resource in numerous, but related, ways:

  • a possibility of relief or recovery
  • a source of supply or support
  • a source of information and expertise
  • a natural source of wealth or revenue
  • an ability to meet and handle a situation
  • {and most importantly...}
  • a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life

Let's get the obvious one out of the way. When we say "someone has the resources for x...," it is often clear that we are referring to money in some way. A resource in that sense is almost like a relaxed recognition that money is there and can be accessed as necessary.

Okay, great. Let us move on. Resource comes from Old French meaning "a source or spring", refers to "a means of supplying a want or deficiency", and "to rally and raise again." It also comes from Latin's root word for resurgent, relating to the idea of rising from some lower point.

I think that is pretty cool. We seek resources when we acknowledge a need of our own or a gap in our knowledge, however big or small.

The first time I ever made my own appointment at the dentist's office when I was younger, I was petrified. The fact that my parents had made appointments for me before that point made me think that there was this grand, special way to do it that only they were allowed to know and that there was definitely absolutely a right or wrong way to do it. In other words, a high probability I would fudge it all up and be eternally ashamed. I was lucky to recognize my mom as the resident expert at the time on this knowledge that I needed so, what did I do, everyone? Say it with me: I. Asked. Her. For. Help...! Very good. 

She was all like "Yeah, just tell them that you need a cleaning and see what days they offer might work." 

Am I on candid camera? Was that it?

You know the emoji of the narrow, focused eyes and the one pensively scratching its chin? Combine those two and that is the face I remember giving to how simple her answer was. This is how a resource presents the possibility of relief and recovery. Not only was all of my pre-pubescent anxiety immediately extinguished but I also acquired a new skill of confidently picking up the phone and advocating for something I needed from the big scary dentist's office.

Resource seeking can be as simple as my younger, cuter self calling the dentist or as complex as someone with an epic idea wanting to start a business (I know there are bigger examples but no, I am not going to mention the kind of resources our marvelous president should definitely seek right about now...).

I have met so many people in the startup world and, having created two startups myself, there is an endless need for resources in the form of information and expertise.  Even though I listed what the dictionary calls a resource, actual resources are completely subjective. My clients see me as a resource for personal branding and building narratives, but the way in which they need that is unique to them and their journeys. 

A common misconception is that seeking a resource is a one-way effort. But instead it is an exchange. A matter of teamwork.

You are the one that has to break the ice, though.

No one will know you need their supply and support unless you put yourself out there in an honest and authentic way. I was shaking in my socks when I asked my mom about the stupid dentist but my vulnerability could not have been more authentic because, well, I was terrified to make the stupid phone call. 

I prepare for every single meeting, phone call, email, text message, what have you, when I am seeking aid from a resource so that I am able to not only honestly ask the question I want to ask but also contribute back to the discussion and subsequently put the work into applying whatever was taught to me. It becomes a mutualistic interaction around an agreed topic.

I learn from my clients every time I speak with them and it is my job to provide resources to them in any form they need. Narrative evolves (stay tuned for more on that) and so do everyone's needs for knowledge, including my own. If we continue to practice our authentic expression of vulnerability when we realize we don't know something, everyone will benefit and their eventual resourcefulness will be filled with new skills and knowledge that they can then share back to the world themselves. 

Remember, the origins of the word resource reiterate the theme of rising up from a place of deficiency. A resource can empowering, uplifting, helpful, and exciting if you are open to seeking it.

I am humbled that the mission of my companies and the mission of so many companies with which I am acquainted echo the last listed definition of the word: the enhancement of human life. 

Whether you want to call the dentist or start a company or anything between and beyond, I guarantee there is someone who can relieve your angst and I hope you will take the step to reach out. We will all be made better for it. 

I saw the sign! How to ask for help about asking for help

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Two weeks before I "officially" "publicly" launched my company in Colorado in June of 2015 (even though I had started working with clients that February before I had a website or a name or anything - just details), I took this picture at the parking garage of a friend's apartment building and it's probably the most important picture I have ever taken.

You are thinking what I thought:

A) Kinda creepy.

B) Where was its author?

C) What did they need help with?

To this day, I hope that the person received the magnanimous assistance they required and the sign was placed by the dumpster because the person no longer needed to call out for help and wanted to make sure their artwork was recycled. The sign stuck with me not because of the concern for its origin but instead because its message is the driving force behind everything I've ever done in my career. 

Nothing I write in this or any future post will fully convey the significance that the theme of "asking for help" maintains in my soul. I ask for help all the time. I get a weird satisfaction out of asking question after question. If one person gets sick of answering them, I will move on to someone else. I don't care.

Of course I went through the perfectly human phase of discomfort asking for help: the pre-pubescent arrogance that I had everything under control and I knew everything...right up until I didn't know anything.

In every math class ever in my academic history, it took me all of five minutes to realize I had no idea what was going on. It took me longer than that, though, to feel unabashed about raising my hand and, when the teacher asked "Which part is confusing you?", saying "Umm...something about something...you said about that stuff" while beckoning to the chalkboard. See? I didn't know what the heck I needed help with, I just knew I needed a whole lot of help.

The one exception was one summer during college when I had two brilliant ideas:

1) go to med school

2) take Calculus 1 and Physics 1 summer courses as prerequisites for pre-med.

Starting a mere week after my sophomore year ended, the first session of Calculus 1 was pitched as the review day of Pre-Calculus material that we presumably "had learned in high school or college already".  NOPE. Not this guy. And that's not a slant at my high school Pre-Calc teacher; she was fantastic. It was all about that summer professor (it's fine, he doesn't remember me). My brain has been through just as much as the next hypersensitive emotional intellectual millennial, but what hewas throwing up on the whiteboard that morning looked more like intricate wallpaper with which I'd ignorantly plaster a future office wall than information that I would have already known for my brave pursuit of a career I didn't want.

I didn't raise my hand once that day. Other people did, to answer questions, not ask them, which only confirmed my suspicions. I withdrew the next morning and returned the textbook, swapping it for one on Neurobiology (#nerdstatus1000).

I digress. That's a lot about me. But bravery in the pursuit is important to bring up. I've worked with thousands of people so far in my career, children and adults, and I only got the opportunity to work with them because they accepted that they needed help and were somehow in some way comfortable asking for it. In the mental health treatment programs, residents were at the most extreme crisis moment of their young lives and chose to ask for help. It's still mind-boggling. They chose to be vulnerable, seek out the aid of strangers in a strange place, and battle the suffering to which they could have instead so easily succumbed on their own. It's similar with current clients. Whether charged with giving a speech or inspired to build a brand, everyone gets to a point where they gulp and ask "Crap, what do I do next...?"

I guarantee you have needed help before and I guarantee you've asked for it at least once in your life. You're not perfect. You may be arrogant but you're not perfect. And I'm here to remind you it's okay - just like the person who spray painted that sign at some point in the past. It's okay to not know everything and do something about it.  Even if you don't know what help you need, ask for help on that. Asking for help in order to learn what help you need to ask for is still asking for help. Following?

Sparknotes: ask. Just say "Help". We all need help. We all need our own form of support. Even if you don't need the kind of help that I offer through this company, you can still ask me for help. In fact, do it. I dare you. If I can't help you, I'll tell you. I still don't know everything, but I'm working on that...