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What is marketing?

When I changed industries — from social work to advertising — I was skeptical. Why would an international branding agency want to hire me, a M.S.W. (social work) graduate from Columbia?

They did, and here’s why:

Empathy.

They knew I could question: How to analyze behavior and communities, how to look for factors that contribute to the way in which someone sees the world; how to start conversations to learn how people see themselves.

This is marketing.

As part of my social work degree, I had two clinical internships. For the second, I was placed in the counseling clinic of an all-girls college. My experiences prior to this was with drug and alcohol addicts, youth on probation, middle school students. Yet now I was playing the role of therapist in a clean office, listening to educated young women talk about their anxieties and frustrations.

These women had resources. They had money and options and opportunities. Yet their worries were the same as those kids on probation and the middle schoolers who walked up flights of dark stairs in Section 8 housing to go home.

Will he/she love me?
Will my family be proud of me?
What should I do for work?

Since then I’ve worked with Buddhist monks and young leaders in Nepal. Our yearnings are largely the same, but our resources are not.

If we fail to recognize these differences as marketers, we have no chance of winning.

I believe we can use this same awareness to create incredible marketing campaigns — and a better world.

Which audience will I care about?
Who do I want to impact?
Which traits do I want to develop?

brown canoe in the body of water near mountain

Not everyone wants passion

They might say they want passion, that excitement and energy is magnetic and alluring. But they don’t really want it.

Stability is comfortable, and safety is reliable. Passion inserts question marks into shadows and corners. It’s the same with knowledge and education, opportunity and progress; publicly, someone might say they want these things, but do they?

What if progress means stepping away from the known, and opportunity means walking away from those you hold close? What if education creates a gap between you and your tribe? What if knowledge brands you — and not in a positive way: A tree standing too tall, asking to be cut.

Which direction do you choose? What do you chase?

Last year it was 35 acts of kindness. This year: 36 letters.

Getting older isn’t always looked upon favorably, but I’d like to think I’m becoming more confident and more thoughtful each year. On August 6, I turn 36.

Leading up to my birthday, my goal is to write 36 letters. The hope is to share gratitude and inspire generosity and love within my friend circles.

Consideration should be the norm, not the exception, and I believe — now more than ever before — it is our responsibility to make the communities in which we live more tolerant and kind. That’s my birthday wish.

Takeaways from two weeks of “Positive Talk”

14 people from around the world signed up to join me in a small experiment: For two weeks, I would commit to daily discussions focused on Good Things.

I spoke with Italians, Brits, folks in the United States, Sweden, and Nepal. On some days I had to talk myself up for the session; other days I looked forward to thirty minutes of positivity.

At the beginning of each call, I asked participants to rank themselves on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 for on-the-floor depression and 10 for something close to contagious joy). At the end of our call, I asked for another self-ranking. 12 out of the 14 participants reported an increase in positive feelings. The other two reported no change, having already reported high levels of feeling. I, too, found myself feeling better at the end of the calls.

But beyond feeling better, I felt seen. Those thirty minutes became a plug-in of support, encouragement, and connection. Many participants echoed battles with imposter syndrome“Am I good enough, capable enough, strong enough, ready enough, productive enough, gentle enough, prepared enough?” Time management was another expressed hurdle, but it was rephrased as a goal that could be conquered.

And in all of these calls, it became clear that even when the world seems upside down, we have the ability to write our own narratives. We have the choice to fall into old, self-sabotaging coping strategies or tap into traits that can set us up for something greater. We can choose to see ourselves through a compassionate lens, or we can cling to memories that no longer apply. Our stories can become ones of curiosity and growth.

There’s no telling when or if things will return to “normal.” This experiment, however, reminded me there are many things still in our control. We can make time to connect, and we can train our minds to focus on creation, empathy, and compassion — for ourselves and for others. I’m thankful to all those who participated in this experiment with me.

Try for yourself: Set a calendar of participants (ask friends, family, and colleagues), keep a journal of notes, and record pre- and post- rankings for each call. Let me know how it goes.

Now is the time to think about the Connection Economy — and your role in it (a free workshop)

Seth Godin dubbed the phrase “Connection Economy” to encourage meaningful relationships that inspire art, community efforts, and the pursuit of worthwhile work.

Right now it’s easy to feel stuck. It’s more important than ever before to be kind and present and approach others with consideration and respect.

We live in a moment in which the internet spreads information quickly (for better and for worse). We can use this to our advantage to help each other.

Task 1. Build a group

You want people who can call you out, people who can serve as your cohort and personal sounding board as you make moves (or sit on the coach and try to find a new Netflix series). We all have unique talents and traits to share; a group offers support, accountability, and the ability to help you level up. These people can let you know when you’re on track and nudge you gently should you veer off course.

Whether one other person or four, enlist a few friends. Ask, “Will you try something with me?”

Task 2. Designate a time

Set a day and time and commit. Make the details known.

Everyone is struggling with responsibilities, house work, inner battles. Make each other a priority and respect everyone’s time. You can choose to meet once a week or on Mondays and Fridays, for example.

Task 3. Finalize your reading list

You can find many books online. I’ve listed a few here as suggestions. If you have a book that has been important to you, use that one instead.

Sample list:
Linchpin
Poke the Box workbook
Superconnect
Business Model Generation
E Myth Revisited
4 Hour Work Week
Creatively Independent
Make Your Idea Matter
Host an unforgettable dinner party

Task 4: Put it into practice

The activities are designed to get you out of your comfort zone and reinforce what you’re reading. If you feel inspired to add your own twist, please do. The most important action is to set aside time for writing.

The writing prompts provide creative direction. Use what is helpful and change what isn’t. Not everything works for everyone.

FIRST MEETING

Reading: Bernadette Jiwa’s Make Your Idea Matter
Project: Tear out photos, images, and words from newspapers and magazines. Look for anything that inspires you. Rearrange the clippings onto a new piece of paper.
Writing exercise: Set your alarm for ten minutes and choose one prompt:

  • Imagine your dream life. Write down everything it entails. It doesn’t need to be complete sentences or thoughts, words are fine.
  • Write a series of questions. Every question you can think of. They don’t need to make sense, and you don’t need to have the answers. Just ask.

Group discussion: What is the difference between storytelling and dreaming? Do you set aside time to dream? What are some of the stories you tell yourself about yourself?

SECOND MEETING

Reading: Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week
Project: Do something new. Cook a different recipe. Sign up for an online class. Find a new place to explore using Google Maps.
Writing exercise: If you could do anything, anywhere, what would it be?

Group discussion: How do you define work/life balance? Is a distinction necessary? What helps you set better boundaries between work and home?

THIRD MEETING

Reading: Seth Godin’s Poke the Box workbook
Project: Print out the workbook and try to complete it in thirty minutes.
Writing exercise: Notice areas of hesitation while you complete the workbook. Is a particular topic more challenging than others?

Group discussion: What stops you from shipping? How do you get in your own way?

FOURTH MEETING

Reading: Project Exponential’s Host an unforgettable dinner party
Project: Plan an online dinner party. Get creative.
Writing exercise: Set your alarm for ten minutes. Choose one:

  • What are the traits you admire in others?  What are the traits you’re most proud of in yourself?
  • Assemble an imaginary Dream Team. You get five players. Who do you choose? What skills do they bring to your team?

Group discussion: What kind of people belong on your Dream Team? Who inspires you? Discuss how teams are formed and which environments contribute to their development.

FIFTH MEETING

Reading: Jess Pillmores’s Creatively Independent
Project: Challenge yourself to write the first draft of your very own ebook.
Writing exercise: Consider the uniqueness that you bring to your work, your relationships, and your family. What are the traits that single you out?

Group discussion: How do you stay inspired? What techniques have you found to be helpful during the goal setting process?

SIXTH MEETING

ReadingE Myth Revisited and/or Business Model Generation
Project: Brainstorm how you might turn $10 into $100.
Writing exercise: Write out a sample business plan. What would you do if you had no excuses, no responsibilities? Think back to the days of mowing lawns, selling lemonade, or babysitting.

Group discussion: How would things be different if you set aside time to write, dream, explore, or learn?

Modified from A Free Program posted February 26, 2013.

If dinner conversations can change the world

Social media is abuzz with prevailing issues. How to provide platforms for underrepresented voices. How to protect those speaking out against injustice. How to tip scales and create balanced systems of power.

Maybe it’s overwhelming to expect or look for answers. Maybe the best we can do is focus on finding solutions through awareness. From awareness comes discussion.

If people aren’t encouraged to tell their stories for fear of retribution or alienation or ostracism, how can we fight for change? If derogatory names are spat freely, if media remains unmonitored and unchecked, how will anyone find the people they need — those to assemble, those who create, those who listen.

One day, legislative change. For today, maybe it starts with a conversation at dinner.