The problem is, people don’t cherish themselves

Time is a story.

Einstein himself proved that it expands and contracts based on our subjective interpretation of it. Here’s an example from my experience.

When I set aside regular, quiet time to get the rest that my body and mind crave, something magical happens. I suddenly seem to have more time, not less, for all the other demands in my life. The act of relaxing creates more minutes in my day.

It’s part of the system that allows me to give more to life, and in a more efficient way.

There is no immediate rush, but it still contributes to a bank of energy that is renewable and sustainable.

That’s the story about time we can tell ourselves. That we are source of it, that we can make as much of it as we want, and that we will always have plenty of it to do everything we want.

Do you see time as challenge that you must overcome, or as your friend who is working for you?

If it’s the latter, you will become the type of person who creates space where there was not any before.

It’s funny, all these productivity and time management books usually spend the first ten pages bemoaning the state of our hurried world, attempting to connect with the reader about how overwhelming life is and how there just aren’t enough minutes in the day to get things done, however, with this new proven simple seven step system, you too can achieve life balance.

Bullshit. That’s not the problem we need to solve.

The problem is, people don’t cherish themselves.

The problem is, people don’t know that they deserve to take up space.

The problem is, people haven’t learned that when they take care of themselves, the other people in their lives who care about them will be happy for them.

That’s the productivity book you’ll never read. The one that simply tells you that, according to your willingness to love yourself, time can be rearranged.

It’s only a one page book, so maybe we’ll fill the rest with pictures of broken clocks.

Because if we are going to transform our lives, we have to transform our relationship with time.

How are you rewriting the story you tell yourself about time?

The writing was on the stall

My first book was written during my senior year of college.

Eighty pages of stories and observations about a guy who wore a nametag every day.

It wasn’t that good, but it was mine, and that’s all that mattered.

After graduation, I published it, and the book went viral. It fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life and career forever.

That was over twenty years ago. Feels like another lifetime.

And looking back, it’s amusing to wonder what would have become of me, had that book never been written.

Because during my senior year, I also had another idea for a completely different book. One that had nothing to do with nametags. Here’s the synopsis.

During spring break, I spent a few days hanging out in all the men’s bathrooms on campus. I know it sounds bad, but stay with me here. While I was there, I photographed every writing, picture, comment and piece of graffiti scratched on the inside of the stalls. My hypothesis was, there would be interesting patterns among the graffiti. The research would make a fascinating social experiment about the impact of anonymity on creative expression in public spaces.

The data turned out to be quite compelling. Out of thousands of entries, the most common themes were racist jokes, homoerotic pictures and misogynist remarks. Apparently, these were the thoughts that midwestern college aged men had on their minds while they were taking a dump.

You could say the writing was on the stall.

But I shit you not, that was going to be the content of my first book.

My media professor even liked the idea. In fact, I had the whole project planned out. Apply for a grant to fund a nationwide research tour, visit the top colleges in the country, record all entries from bathrooms across the nation, publish the book, film a documentary, and spend the rest of my life making a career as the bathroom stall guy.

That would have been my destiny. My wife would have been married to the bathroom stall guy.

Hell, for all I know, there’s an alternative universe where my doppelganger is living that separate reality right now. Just by thinking of that idea twenty years ago, that other version of me exists on another astral plane, living his poop filled life, writing books and giving talks about modern bathroom hieroglyphics.

Wow, there are so many lessons to learn from this story.

One, I had too much time on my hands during college.

Two, men are idiots.

And three, never fall in love with your first idea.

Even though the human brain has this inherent bias towards what comes first, don’t assume it’s your best idea.

Listen to it and honor it, but distrust it. Send it back down if you have to.

Because there might be something even stickier plopping out next.

Which of your ideas are you thankful that never saw the light of day?

If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it

Along each of our hero’s journey, whatever power we are searching for, it has been in our possession from the very beginning. That thing was there the whole time.

We just needed to embark on this long and sprawling quest in order to confront and own it.

Putting on a nametag didn’t make me special, it merely brought to the surface a specialness that was always there. It made me more approachable to an otherwise cynical and disconnected world, which gave me permission to share parts of myself that were otherwise invisible.

And yet, people love to joke that if they ripped the sticker off, I wouldn’t know who I was anymore.


It can sometimes feel strange for the first few minutes, but honestly, I don’t notice the damn thing most of the time anyway. After twenty plus years, it’s just a fixture at this point.

Which doesn’t mean the idea has run its course. Wearing a nametag in my forties is even more important to me than it was in my twenties. And the lesson that’s been pounded into my brain on a daily basis is:

There’s a difference between something that identifies you and something that defines you.

Back to our comic book example from earlier. Ironman’s colleague argued that he was just a big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, and what are you? To which the superhero responded:

Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

Sounds like a solid identity to me. The suit merely identified him, but those other aspects of his life defined him. See the difference?

Proving my theory that all superhero stories have basically the same message. We are who we choose to be. Whatever suit, outfit, glowing thing or mask we think is going to make us special and save us, that’s not the real thing. It’s just a prop.

Our authentic power has been there the whole time. As the sages say, no pun intended, the burning bush was on fire all along. We just needed life to knock us down a few pegs so we were humble enough to finally notice it.

Remember, who you are is not dependent on merely one of your choices in life. Whatever physical object you think is going to validate your identity in some idealized future, just know that there’s something underneath that’s far more important.

Are you wearing that thing because you want to, or because you’re hiding behind it?

The solution is more important that you feeling bad

If one of your ideas doesn’t work out, that doesn’t make it a bad idea.

The issue might have been timing, user error, a tech glitch, or some other unforeseen event.

But whatever happened, treat this failure as part of the account learning process.

Now, if the mistake is yours, own it. As quickly as you can. It’s embarrassing, but you’re not going to get fired, and your clients will be more understanding of human error than you think there will. Because they make mistakes too. J

Just don’t over apologize. That can have an adverse affect, as it pulls your energy in the wrong direction. As my coworker once told me during our client services training session, the solution is more important than you feeling bad.

And so, if you find yourself in this kind of situation, here’s a framework that might be useful.

Here’s what happened, here’s why, and here’s what’s next.

In fact, telling an upset client upfront that you’re going to discuss those three things will put them at ease and project confidence. Even if you have no idea what the hell is going on, they just want to know that you have a plan.

The first part is, here’s what happened.

Think of it as your therapist hat. This is where you echo their frustration back to them, demonstrating your understanding of exactly the issue, and how they have a right to feel how they feel about it.

The second part is, here’s why.

Think of it as your detective hat. This is where you pinpoint the root cause of the failure, or if you’re not sure, suggest multiple potential causes that you’re looking into.

Finally, here’s what next.

This is where you put on your manager hat. Let people know what the action items are moving forward on both sides of the relationship. If possible, give your client options so they feel more empowered and in control. Here’s the framework once more.

Here’s what happened, here’s why, and here’s what’s next.

Doesn’t that sound more uplifting and solution oriented than beating yourself up for making a mistake?

Remember, in customer or client service, the speed of the response is the response. Be fast, be clear, be organized, be human, and frankly, be thankful that you’ve been given the opportunity show your client how much you care.

The service recovery paradox states customers will think more highly of a company after the company has corrected a problem with their service, compared to how they would regard them if non faulty service had been provided.

Maybe this failure is your opportunity to blow somebody away.

Remember, no business wants failure to happen, but once it happens, and it will happen, accepting it with grace, gratitude and generosity will frame the interaction in a way that clients will never forget.

What solution is more important than you feeling bad about creating the problem?

The social cost of being too mysterious

People are quick to complain about oversharing in the workplace.

The argument is that over sharers are employees with an overblown sense of worth who believe everything they say should be shared in person, just like they do online.

The argument is not wrong. Does the intern really need to tell stories about her drunken exploits from the weekend? Does the whole team really need to know that the company founder hasn’t had a solid bowel movement in three years?

Probably not.

But then again, under sharing isn’t much better. At a certain point it become frustrating and counterproductive for the rest of the team. People tend to like and work well with those who they see as open and giving, more so than people who seem to be holding out on them.

It reminds me of an old job where the woman next to me never talked about anything personal, and never let anyone get to know her. For years. In the beginning it was kind of endearing, but it slowly started to wear on us. Because her under sharing didn’t seem like it came from a place of shyness, introversion or healthy boundaries.

It just felt like a manipulation strategy. Like a poker player who didn’t want anyone at the table to know what she was holding in her hand.

And look, we all have different affective styles. Nobody should be forced into sharing anything they don’t want to.

But at a certain point, if you are going to join a team with other human beings, that you need to collaborate with on a daily basis, then you need let others in. At least a little.

Kashdan, the esteemed psychology professor and researcher, created a questionnaire to measure many components of emotional regulation. Several of the items on his list caught my eye, as it relates to this issue. See if any of these describe you or someone you work with.

*Can people usually tell how you’re feeling inside?
*Do you believe it’s okay to feel negative emotions at times?
*Will you act in ways so people will never see you become upset?

Just thinking about this annoys me. Having worked with that woman who was impossible to read, my theory is, she wanted it that way. She liked it that. It made her feel mysterious and in control and even powerful.

Doesn’t mean she was a narcissist, a sociopath or a bad person. Just a pain in the ass to work with.

Believe me, openness is hard for everyone. Including me. It’s a social risk, no matter how you spin it.

But when you bring yourself to work, you should bring your self to work.

That why they hired you in the first place.

Who do you know that never lets anybody in?

If someone tries to hand you their bag of shit

The hardest time to set boundaries is when you’re feeling lonely.

It’s just so temping to give in to people. They ask you for something, anything, and you jump at the chance to help them, because it’s guaranteed to make you feel needed and useful.

The quick fix is irresistible. Like putting a salve on a wound.

When I was a young, struggling entrepreneur, scrambling for any shred of new business that came my way, setting boundaries was profoundly difficult. Potential clients could flatter me into doing free or discounted work, for which I had zero passion or qualifications, solely because anything was better than sitting around in my pajamas all day, waiting for the phone to ring.

Fuck boundaries, this stranger is giving me money to work on a project for them! Oh boy oh boy!

But as gratifying as it is to feel so needed and useful, we have to remember that other people’s problems are not our responsibility. Particularly the emotional ones.

If you’ve ever found yourself depleted or depressed after spending an extended period of time with someone who was suffering, you know what I mean. It’s a gift to sit there to listen and receive their feelings, but the boundary is what prevents us from being harmed by it.

Sometimes, out of my own loneliness, I become a perfect sponge for sopping up other people’s emotions. Taking on their burdens, I try to pedal for them. And I wonder why I’m so tired all of the sudden.

My problem here is a universal one.  Most of us don’t have the faintest idea how to lay other people’s burdens down. It’s not something we’re taught, directly nor are there a lot of positive examples from which to model.

Next time feelings are thrust upon you by another person, here are a few mantras you might incant to yourself.

This is not mine to carry.
I’m letting this emotional pain that is not mine go now.
I am now returning this person’s feelings back to them.

During my many years of hypnosis, part of my therapist’s guided mediation program was a cleansing process. Discharging other people’s behaviors, experiences and emotions from my body, like a green mist rising from my stomach.

Running this simulation each day allowed me to stop carrying other people’s shit on my shoulders all the time. You might consider what sorts of boundary mantras and discharge techniques might work for you.

Remember, our freedom depends on our ability to leave other people’s feelings at the source. If someone tries to hand you their bag of shit, don’t pick it up. It belongs to them.

Figure out your own techniques for stopping the flood of emotion from overwhelming your ability to cope.

It’s a big ask when you’re feeling lonely and just want to feel useful.

But if you don’t set boundaries for yourself, other people will set them for you.

How much are you still carrying around inside that should have been put down a long time ago?

Never trust your business to someone who might not even be in business

My friend’s venture firm incubates, builds and grows tech startups.

He once told me that a huge red flag in the acquisition process is when a company has what’s called a customer concentration risk. Meaning, a significant portion of the organization’s recurring income can be attributed to a single source, and that company runs the risk of losing anticipating revenue at best, and full blown brand extinction at worst.

Check out some of the questions he asks his potential acquisitions:

*Can one phone call from a customer evaporate your business overnight?
*Does one of your buyers have a relationship with a key person that may change?
*Could any of your clients go bankrupt or get acquired?

If so, that’s one hell of a risk. Never trust your business to someone who might not even be in business.

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate this kind of risk going forward. The most intelligent one is diversifying your portfolio. Not only by having a variety of buyers, but also by building out product and service lines with offerings that didn’t exist one, three and five years ago.

Here’s a great case study. One of my startup jobs was for a company that began as a boutique advertising agency, managing digital marketing campaigns for ecommerce brands. That was their bread and butter for the first few years.

But as their client roster grew, private equity and venture capital firms started reaching out to our executive team to get their help on due diligence and digital marketing execution for their investments and potential acquisitions.

This service was unheard of in the marketing and banking industries, so it became a highly attractive offering that helped diversify and differentiate our company.

Then, about two years later, clients who formerly hired us to run execute their digital marketing campaign, who knew that our knowledge across many industry verticals was unparalleled, asked us to deliver the actual service of creative production. Physically building the ad creative.

After all, who better to make winning ads the the company who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars placing the ads of successful companies?

Yet another offering that helped reduce our risk of customer concentration. It’s all about diversification.

And this reaches well beyond business.

Let’s talk about the bigger issue here, which is loss.

Every one of us is vulnerable to it, whether we’re running a business or not. Could be our relationships, our careers, our finances, our health, our property, there’s no way to tell when it will happen, but loss comes for all of us.

We all have exposure.

The secret is preparing in advance so we can execute when the pressure is on. Think of it as succession planning for various parts of your life.

Who or what are the most valuable things you have?
What would happen if, from this moment forward, you never saw them again?  
And what would you need to do to return to normal quickly without them?

It’s heavy stuff. And it might seem absurd to approach your personal life like a business.

But protecting your downside never hurt anybody. 

How could you protect yourself from being overexposed?

Maturity is identity plus time

We’ve always been told that comedy is tragedy plus time.

Maybe the equation of the self works in a similar way.

What if maturity was just identity plus time?

After all, knowing who we are isn’t the hard part. Knowing how to use who we are to navigate the losses, rejections, failures, mistakes and transitions life throws at us, that’s the real work. Opening ourselves to the wisdom that would otherwise run silently beneath our feet.

My friend once gave me some interesting feedback about the twenty year story of wearing my nametag every day.

Scott, you now look so different from those pictures of the younger version of yourself, that it’s like you’re telling a story about someone that you used to know. You’re introducing the audience to a person they will never meet.

Blew my mind. And he was right. It’s not the nametag, it’s the heart behind it. Always was.

The man who slapped on that very first sticker in college has the exact same skeleton as the man who writes these words today. But the muscles, skin and energy that surrounds the nametag is unrecognizable.

In fact, looking at earlier versions of my nametag, even the handwriting itself looks different. It’s a fascinating physical record of my own personal growth. As my sense of identity has evolved and solidified and grown more robust, the typography itself has become different too.

The font appears to be thicker, clearer, cleaner and more centered on the paper itself. The lines of the letters are truer and more properly spaced out. Just like me.

It’s been my identity that carried me through my great seas of doubt.

Once again, maturity is identity plus time. Pretty cool piece of psychological math.

Nametags are a helpful artifact to track that process for me.

What about you? What physical object can you refer to as a mirror of your own growth?

Remember, maturity is always some kind of return to reality about yourself.

It doesn’t have to be a nametag, it just has to stick.

How have you used your identity as a survival tool?

Thinking that the good times are going to last forever

When success comes to us fast, early and often, it’s not unusual to think that it will keep coming.

When we’re young and naïve and the whole world is still in front of us, of course nothing could possibly block the flow of good in our lives. We’re bulletproof.

But one of the lessons we learn as we get older is, attachment often means thinking that the good times are going to last forever.

They don’t. They can’t. Nothing lasts forever.

One day we’re riding a bicycle downhill, thinking our legs are strong, and the next day the pavement suddenly plateaus and we’re out of breath and pedaling like our hair’s on fire.

When this happens, it can feel like the crisis we’re going through is a test of whether or not we deserve to be there.

That’s how I felt during the recession many years ago. Does my business even have a right to exist? Maybe the tide going out is proving to me that my pants have been around my ankles the whole time.

Dalio writes about this in his inspiring book of business principles:

Humility typically comes from an experience of crashing, which leads to an enlightened focus on know what you don’t know.

Ask anyone who’s ever experienced burnout or emotional meltdown or a midlife crisis. Developing a case of the humbles hurts like hell.

One lesson for me was about survivorship bias. Meaning, my own false belief that my successes compared to the cohort of my peers had a special property, rather than just coincidence.

The question had to be asked:

Was it really the strategy of my marketing, the value of my work, and the attractiveness of my persona? Or was my success just a product of impeccable timing?

There was no real way to tell. There couldn’t be.

That’s the rub about being young. Not enough experience, which means not enough data, which mean not enough perspective, which means not enough wisdom.

All the more reason not to be so damn attached.

Have you and your career only had good times, or actually shared some adversity together?

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