Category Archives: Motives and Attitudes

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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why we do: part three

The Best Advice So Far - why we do part three

I first came across the term “curse of knowledge” during my reading of Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. (Incidentally, it seems the Heath brothers delivered on the promise implicit in this particular title, since a lot of what they covered in this book … well, stuck.)

curse of knowledge: a cognitive bias that inhibits communication

This definition seems ironic to me, since whoever wrote it apparently had a curse of knowledge going on.

Let me give it another go here.

curse of knowledge: when you know something so well or are so familiar with a topic, that you talk about it using words and terms that assume everyone else knows it equally well

For me, the curse of knowledge can slip in when I write in ways that assume all or most readers have read my book or followed my blog for a long time, and therefore understand fully what I mean by things like “You always have a choice”; or that they are already familiar with certain people I talk about, such as Dib or Chad. It even happens when I use terms like “the election” or “this holiday weekend,” forgetting that not all of my readers live in the United States.

It happens to all of us at some point, no matter how intentional we may be about clarity and inclusivity.

Well, one reader’s response to last week’s post caused me to suspect that perhaps a bit of the curse had crept in. You see, I’ve thought and written and talked so often about perceived gains over the years that it feels like everyone knows what I’m talking about. It occurred to me in the last week, however, that the meaning of the term is not necessarily self-evident.

In my first year blogging, I wrote quite a bit about perceived gains, including a series of posts called “why we do,” part one and part two. These were later combined and edited to form a chapter in my book, The Best Advice So Far. Today — more than six years later — I’m adding a part three, in hopes that I might “reverse the curse [of knowledge]” where perceived gains are concerned.

Here is the statement I made last week:

“Virtually everything we do in life is done for a perceived gain.”

At least one reader took this as…


fake: part two

The Best Advice So Far - fake part two

The week before last, I shared with you a post containing  a bit of uncharacteristic rambling about fake things I like as well as a few I don’t personally care for. The central premise was that just because something is fake … doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.

Thing is, as I got toward the end of that post, some deeper thoughts began to tickle the fringe of my sleep-deprived mind. But they would have taken the post in a completely different direction (if I could have even managed to grab hold of them in that state). So I just decided to write a follow-up post.

Well, here we are. And so I shall.

In the comments section after that previous installment, there was quite a bit of interesting discussion about “fake people.” We all know them:

The too-loud laugher with the glistening perma-smile that never quite creases the eyes.

The party guest who enters with fanfare, kisses the air beside both cheeks with an ostentatious *muah!* and always seems to be standing in camera-ready poses.

The co-worker who profusely issues compliments and nods heartily in agreement during conversations — and yet somehow always seems to be at the center of office gossip, drama and controversy.

Today, I’d like to offer some thoughts on fake people (and, quite possibly, ourselves)…


happy sad

The Best Advice So Far - happy sad

I’m writing mid-flight, on my way back from the longest vacation of my life — five weeks in Southwest Florida. After so long away, it feels more like a move than merely returning from someplace I’d been visiting.

Late last night, I drove to the beach for one last walk.

The main street downtown was still aglow, lit up like Christmas. I’d strolled the strip often during my stay, this year and during the five years of previous visits.

I’d eaten at that Persian restaurant on the right.

I’d sat awhile on a bench in that tiny garden park on the left.

I’d played gin rummy and sipped iced chai and written blog posts in that little coffee shop.

People sat at outdoor tables, talking and laughing. Music greeted me from the open doors of a warmly lit restaurant.

Just a few days ago, it had all felt very much like my street — like a place and people who knew me well. Last night as I drove, however, it felt … different. A bit foreign. Like I was a ghost passing among the living, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

A few zigs and zags and I’d arrived at my destination. I kicked my sandals off into the car. I’d walk the shore barefoot, as ever. The colorful ceramic turtle mosaics set into the cement pavilion that opened onto the pier seemed somehow to be swimming … away.

Caribbean music pulsed from the close side of the pier, a group of young Haitian boys having an impromptu dance party. They parted as I approached, smiling and turning toward me with hands overhead and hips swaying, a wordless invitation to join them if I liked. I returned the smile and dance-stepped my way over to the stairway that let down onto the beach, the small crowd closing in my wake.

Above, in the sky, silent lightning played its own complex rhythms, reflecting off the waves beneath. The water was warmer than ever, tumbling over and around my feet, then pulling the sand out from under them in retreat.

A perfect night.

I walked with the knowledge that, whether I stayed ten minutes or two hours, there would come the time when …


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…


superstition

The Best Advice So Far - superstition

It was Thursday, well past the witching hour. I was on my way to the gym, the silent back roads lit only by the cold white light of an occasional street lamp. As I approached an intersection, something darker than the surrounding night dashed out from the woods in front of my car, stopping just long enough to fix bright green eyes on me before continuing into the thick brush on the other side.

A black cat.

And it had crossed my path.

Of course, being a rational person, this didn’t cause me to turn back the way I’d come and find an alternate route. Yet I was clearly still aware of the superstition associated with the incident. And it occurred to me that this awareness did have a subtle effect on my emotions. I drove onward as I normally would have; but some part of me felt I was doing so despite the superstition. And that would seem to indicate that the superstition had credence, if only in a residual way.

In other words, it seems to me that we don’t do things despite other things, unless those other things are perceived to hold some power or sway.

We wouldn’t say, “We had the picnic despite the forecast” — unless we perceived that the forecast had at least the potential to disrupt our plans.

Back to the example of the black cat crossing our path, it’s almost as if some small part of us feels we’ve accepted a dare, and that by crossing that path, we’re somehow giving the proverbial finger to the universe, proving we’re not one to be controlled by such nonsense.

No one could deny that we don’t have the same reaction when, say, a squirrel or turkey crosses our path. It wouldn’t even occur to us to think such a thing. Why? Because, well … we really don’t believe squirrels or turkeys crossing our path makes a lick of difference.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of us are affected to some degree — maybe even more than we might be aware — by …