Category Archives: Attention and Focus

brand you

The Best Advice So Far - brand you

This past Wednesday, I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, where I taught a group of opticians-in-the-making about branding and marketing.

I love teaching. And by all indications, I’m good at it. But as a rule, I’m more interested in people than I am in imparting information. As such, I found myself naturally sliding into the role of mentor throughout the two-and-a-half-hour class. Whether these students ever wound up becoming opticians or not, I wanted them to go away from our short time together thinking differently about life, themselves and how they interact with others.

It’s actually not all that big a stretch to get personal when talking about branding and marketing. After all, in essence, every single one of us is an individual brand.

That is, whether we like it or not — or are even aware of it — we are constantly engaging in the same core functions as any business where marketing is concerned. We face similar challenges. And we are therefore subject to many of the same “rules” concerning success or failure.

Maybe you rail against commercialism. Maybe it gets your blood up that I’d be using capitalistic terms as a comparison in interpersonal matters. And that’s all well and good. But I’m afraid it won’t exempt you from experiencing gains and losses all the same, based on the foundational principles that follow.

Or perhaps you’d claim that you really don’t give a flying leap what anyone else thinks about you. And that may be true. Nevertheless, just as any company operating with such a mindset would suffer negative consequences, so will an individual who doesn’t qualify that statement and adjust accordingly.

Allow me to share a few terms from my Wednesday class, as well as some thoughts on how they might apply to brand you

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fake: part one

The Best Advice So Far - fake: part one

Due to a lack of sound sleep over the past couple of days, my brain is in a strange, swishy sort of place. Rather than fight it, I figure I’ll just ride the wave of weirdness and see where we land.

By and large, the word “fake” has a negative connotation:

Lucio’s new girlfriend is so fake.

The masterpiece was somehow stolen and replaced with a fake.

The newscast was decried as fake news when it suggested that the news about fake news was fake.

But I’d like to suggest that being “fake” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Case in point: fake teeth.

Let’s begin with some fun facts about fake teeth. The original version of the wind-up toy teeth was released in 1949 as “Yakkity Yak Talking Teeth.” H. Fishlove and Co. was the first to market the toy, and Fishlove remains a division of Fun, Inc., where the toy is still manufactured today.

They’re fake. But they’re apparently good enough an idea to have retained popularity for nearly 70 years. (I feel obliged to point out that it’s doubtful wind-up real teeth would have fared so well.)

Speaking of fake teeth, I’ve got two in my mouth right now.

About 25 years ago, a kid I was mentoring had a PTSD flashback and head-butted me in the face at close range. The blow broke a jagged corner off one of my two front teeth and snapped one of my bottom teeth clean in half.

Regarding the lower damage, even the slowest of breaths in and out over the exposed nerve was enough to make a lumberjack drop his logs and run crying for mama.

And it happened on a Friday evening going into a long holiday weekend, which meant I wouldn’t be able to get to a dentist until Tuesday.

Well, the nub of it (pun intended) is that I pretty much ate minimally through a straw, nursed two bottles of Anbesol and cried until I could get to a (very mean) dentist that Tuesday. The bottom job was a terrible match, but stayed in. And the top repair fell out in just a few months. I decided that I couldn’t afford to shell out the money on account of vanity, so I sported that chipped tooth for over two decades.

Last year, while on vacation in Florida, I made a new friend at the gym. We got talking about stuff that matters in life, and before I left, I gave him a copy of my book, The Best Advice So Far. Well, as it turned out, Houman is a dentist and noticed my chipped tooth, and I told him the story of how it had come to be. He kindly invited me to stop in the following year and let him fix it. It was a kind gesture.

Well, this year was “the following year.” I saw Houman again during workouts at the local gym. True to his word, he once again invited me to come let him fix the tooth. (And, no, I wasn’t smiling extra wide just so he’d notice.) I did go to his practice where I got V.I.P. treatment as well as the gracious gift of his skill and care in fixing that long-broken tooth.

As I walked out of Houman’s office, I couldn’t stop running my tongue over the smooth surface of the tooth. I took pictures and sent them around. I found myself repeatedly looking at it in the rearview mirror. And I immediately became aware that, for nearly 25 years, I’d been smiling in such a way that the top of my lower lip covered the jagged corner of that front tooth. Since that day, however, I’ve found myself smiling bigger than ever.

My real tooth was great. But part of it has been gone — the shards somewhere in the carpet or under the baseboard heater of a long-vacated apartment — for more than half my life. My new tooth … is fake. And yet it’s awfully good. What’s more, if I’m being honest, it makes me feel loved that a new friend would go out of his way for me for no reason at all.

In a further effort to be fair to “fake” (and because, as I pointed out, my brain is on its own little roller coaster) let me share with you a few more of my favorite fakes … followed by a few that foster frowns.

Fake Things I Like

Flavors

Fake banana flavoring (which my best friend, Dib, refers to as “breathy banana”) is definitely good, particularly when it comes in the form of a banana Popsicle.

And while I know it’s basically made of Vaseline and sugar, I do love me some Cool Whip. I don’t buy it myself, but my mom does; and when I’m visiting, well … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t maybe eat a spoonful (or two) of it, right out of the tub when no one was looking.

Medicine

In 2002, after three years of mounting health problems that finally had me sleeping as many as 18 hours a day, unable to work, I was officially diagnosed with…


puzzles

The Best Advice So Far - puzzles

Many of you know that I just returned from the longest vacation of my life — a full five weeks on Florida’s West Coast.

Prior to the trip, I began concocting plans for all I wanted to do, see and accomplish while away:

Get the audiobook up and available online.

Visit Captiva and Sanibel Islands.

Spot a wild dolphin.

Start writing my next book.

The list went on.

And I’m happy to say that most of my goals were achieved, including each of the above.

But among my aspirations was one that may seem strange to some:

Complete a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

When I was a child, and into my teen years, I always had a jigsaw puzzle going. And as far as I was concerned, the harder — the better.

I did an all-black puzzle with only a tiny pinhole of light at the center.

One was just bubbles.

I enjoyed the square variety where the same picture from the front was displayed again on the back, only rotated 90 degrees.

I did puzzles where the frame was irregular instead of having flat edges.

And though finding room was a challenge, I often did puzzles of 4000 or 5000 pieces.

Still, as big a part of my growing-up years as puzzles were, it struck me recently that I hadn’t done a single one since high school.

As crazy as it sounds, setting into that jigsaw puzzle — whatever it would be — was cause for just as much anticipation as watching a tropical sunset. I’d been given a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas and had tucked it away in a special place, just the occasion.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Florida, I’d chosen a first puzzle. I decided to ease my way into it with a puzzle of a mere 500 pieces: a colorful underwater scene featuring sea turtles. (After all, I did have other things I wanted to be doing on this vacation besides puzzling.)

Working on the puzzle, I was transported back those three decades. I often became aware that I was biting my…


i spy

The Best Advice So Far - i spy

 

My tank top clung to my skin with sweat. After temperatures that had topped 100° over the last several hours I’d been exploring, the air conditioning that wooshed out to greet me as I opened the metal and glass doors felt like an ice bath. I settled briefly onto a blue sofa, across from a young couple who had also just entered.

“See anything good?” I asked them.

The man rolled a shoulder. “Nah, nothing really. Just a couple of the usual lizards.”

I was mystified.

We’d each just emerged from an incredible Audubon-protected swamp sanctuary here in Southwest Florida, having traversed the same boardwalk that meandered through six different ecosystems. How had they seen “nothing” … when I’d seen so much?

Just a few paces in, I’d spotted a small alligator lounging along the far side of a murky pool.

Yes, I’d seen lizards, noting which were green anoles and which were brown. But I’d also seen black ones, trying to hide among the puzzle-like pattern of tree trunks covered in red and white lichens. There were skinks as well.

Great egrets sauntered among waist-high marsh grasses, one only perhaps a yard away, its slender neck undulating side to side then straightening regally.

I’d lingered in the shaded areas where possible, canopies of giant palm and ancient cypress overhead. At times, I just closed my eyes and listened. I wondered what creatures were making the slurping, splishing, crackling sounds in the water around me. Birds laughed raucously somewhere among the trees as sonorous grunts ping-ponged back and forth from among the tall grasses. Pig frogs, as it turns out.

There on a moss-covered log, motionless at first, was a fairly rare species of turtle, Deirochelys reticularia. After watching a while, however, I was rewarded with a full extension of his yellow-striped neck.

Another alligator, much larger than the first, blinked its eyes at me from among some reeds around a bend. I was patient and he was curious. Before long, he glided lazily over — so close I could have reached down and touched him — before continuing on his way into unseen spaces.

Just moments later, something caught my eye to the right…


un-dumb frog

The Best Advice So Far - un-dumb frog

With age comes wisdom,
but sometimes age comes alone.
~ Oscar Wilde

As I start this post, there are just a few more hours left until my birthday.

Birthdays for me are still a time of celebration. They are also a time of reflection:

Where have I been?

What have I done?

Where am I going?

This time around the sun, I find myself thinking about the life advice that’s been passed along to me and that I have, in turn, passed along to others over the years. It’s an ongoing process. Sifting. Sorting. Testing. Honing. Much has been discarded. What I’ve kept has become all the more precious.

From books to broadcasts, seminars to sermons, political missives to posted memes — everyone seems to have “truer truth” than everyone else. I can’t help but wonder, amid the onslaught of voices, why anyone should be inclined to listen to mine. How’s anyone to know what to believe when it comes to advice?

What is factual — and what’s no more than loudly proclaimed opinion?

Somehow, all of these thoughts coalesced into a scene from my childhood. Or rather, I should say scenes from my childhood and adolescence; some tend to blur together on account of their repetitious nature.

There I am, sitting in a church pew. The side pieces are white, trimmed with dark-stained, ornate armrests. The back side of the pew in front of me is the same near-black wood, and at intervals along its length are matching outcrops that hold hymnals with gold foil lettering and faded maroon covers made of cloth that makes a zzzip! sound when I run my fingernails lightly over them.

Oscillating block chords emanate from the organ, reverberating from high ceilings, only to be pulled back down into the pits of stomachs by the weight of pulsing bass tones played on long, black foot pedals.

As the last echoes retreat, a suited man with slick hair solemnly ascends crimson-carpeted stairs and stands before a ponderous, stark white pulpit that matches the end-caps on the pews. As hymnals thud back into their places, the pastor’s eyes dart to parishioners, cowing any last whisperers into awkward silence, until he is sure he has everyone’s full attention.

His speech is slow, measured, punctuated with pregnant pauses. Authoritative. He knows what others do not — could not — know, mysteries that the masses would have no hope of understanding unless by his impartation.

He begins with an object lesson, as a principal might to abashed school children who had played hooky. He tells us that a frog placed into boiling water will jump out; but a frog placed into a pot of cool water that is heated slowly, degree by degree, will sit motionless, unaware, until the water reaches a boil and…


adventure

The Best Advice So Far - adventure

In May of this year, the dare-based television show Fear Factor was revived by MTV. I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of the show during its original run from 2001 to 2006, though catching snippets at a friend’s house or while at the gym was virtually unavoidable.

I recall an episode where one person from each couple/team had to lie down in a glass coffin which was subsequently locked. A few dozen tarantulas were then dumped on top of the person through a chute, followed by a hundred or so live crickets.

Outside the coffin, more live crickets were fed continuously through another chute into a blender-type mechanism with a tap of sorts at the bottom. And only by chugging down glass after glass of the fresh cricket guts — fast enough to get the blender level to dip below the halfway mark — could the second contestant from each pair pop the latch on the coffin and release his or her teammate from the feeding frenzy of spiders.

My aversion to the show, believe it or not, wasn’t due to any particular disgust at the situations, but rather to something closer akin to irritation. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

People would pull pained faces or shudder and exclaim, “I can’t imagine ever doing this stuff, no matter how much money!” Meanwhile, I’d be thinking things like…


tripping

The Best Advice So Far - tripping

I was running behind for a meet-up with one of the kids I mentor. It’s become a tradition that I pick up iced coffees for us before we meet. “Two medium iced coffees: one cold brew, caramel swirl, black with three sugars; one decaf, coconut and raspberry, with skim milk and one Sweet’n’Low.” (Care to guess which belongs to whom?)

The people before me had placed large orders, and the shop seemed to be low on staff. Usually, I’d use that time to strike up some light conversation with whomever happened to be waiting in line along with me. This morning, however, there was no conversation. My mind was somewhere out beyond the people in front of me. And though I love mentoring, my mind was even out beyond my upcoming (and as yet un-started) time with the kid for whom I’d soon be ordering coffee. A giant unseen clock boomed and echoed inside.

TICK.

TOCK.

TICK.

TOCK.

Late, late, late.

And I imagined I’d be late for much that day, well into the evening. Jam packed — a feeling I describe as being stuffed toward the narrow end of a funnel.

Finally, I’d placed my order and picked it up at the far end of the counter. I’m not sure I even thanked the server. Maybe I did out of sheer habit. But there was nothing by way of intentional interaction there.

I grabbed a couple of straws and threw them onto the tray that held the two cups of iced coffee, then made a bee-line for the doors. The car. The road that somehow seemed to symbolize all that needed to be done before the day was out.

That’s when I tripped.

Had it not been for the snug fit of the lids on the cups, and the cups in the tray — the latter of which definitely bounded down below a 45-degree angle as I stumbled headlong into the plate glass window — those coffees would have gone sloshing to the tile floor.

When I finally found my footing again (if not yet my dignity), I glanced down to see what I’d run into. It turned out to be …