This isn’t for you. It’s for me.
What I write here doesn’t matter. This isn’t for you, it’s for me.
Think of a purple elephant the size of a tennis ball. It fits in the palm of your hand and, when you bring him closer to your face to inspect his tiny features, he tickles your nose with his spaghetti-like trunk. You laugh and think of what you might come to call him. This is your new companion, he will be with you and love you far beyond your lifetime.
Did you visualize your elephant? Did you itch your nose? How far was that idea of a purple elephant planted within your mind?
This is influence.
What’s strange is that even without reading, without hearing, and without seeing – people can still have influence over our thoughts and actions. Last night, while walking to drop a note at a neighbor’s door, I jumped on the elevator with a very cute blonde in her late twenties. As I entered the elevator she asked, “what floor sir?” I took out one of my headphones and responded, “two… wait, did you just call me sir?” We laughed and, on the brief ride up to the third floor, talked about the unnecessary absurd formalities our generation was taught to use. As we got off she I said, “have a good night ma’am”. She smiled flirtatiously before turning to walk to her door and I continued down the hall.
As I dropped the note and made my way back, my mind drifted to the jacuzzi and an uncorked bottle of cabernet sauvignon begging to join me. At the exact moment I walked past her door she walked out. She had put her bag down and was taking her dog for a walk. Nervously I joked, “I promise I’m not stalking you” to which she gestured to her “fierce guard dog” … an adorable wire-haired terrier. I continued to walk down the hallway and she went to the elevator around the corner.
By the end of the long hallway, with two more to walk before getting to my door, I realized I had pulled my keys out of my pocket. Confused, I wondered what had compelled me to have them in my hand several minutes before I needed them. It didn’t take long for me to realize why. As I had walked away from her I became concerned that she would think I was actually stalking her. Even though I knew she was already around the corner on the elevator, I wanted to display that I did in fact live in the building by pulling out my iconic blue key fob. While I logically knew that she couldn’t see me, I was allowing her to influence my thoughts and physical actions… even when she had no intention to do so. I had a perfect picture of her standing at the end of the hallway, brow furrowed to examine my stride, and her hand reaching for her phone as she contemplated calling security. Yet that never happened, it was all in my head.
This happens daily. The human mind is a powerful force and, left unchecked to roam aimlessly, it can be a dangerous one.
Striving to identify and conquer these forces within my own mind, for the past year I have called these ‘artificial influence’. This happens when you project a perception of yourself into someone else’s mind and allow it to effect you negatively. Every once in a while, as an experiment, I would share these perceptions with the people I believed to be thinking them. Each time they reacted with genuine surprise and astonishment as they jumped to clarify that such a notion was never on their mind and, quite often, they had perceived the opposite. When I thought they were repulsed, they were secretly hoping I would ask for their phone number. When I thought they didn’t want to work with me, they were wondering if I had availability to take on their project. Time and time again, I was proven wrong.
These conversations helped me to clarify these influences are indeed artificial. It’s a bit like watching a magic trick and knowing the secret behind the illusion. At first you are intrigued to see the deception in action, but after a while it becomes nothing more than a cheap trick. Rather than dwell on these manufactured thoughts for hours, if not days, on end – I was able to squash them in seconds. In this journey, I began to see patterns. Commonalities between some of the most successful publishers, personalities, and brands became overwhelmingly apparent.
The truer you express your personality, or that of your brand, the more you will thrive.
Detach from external influence.
This would seem to be one of the hardest things to achieve, but it’s quite the opposite. In July of 2014 I attended my first World Domination Summit, a conference put on by Chris Guillebeau that focused on illuminating each individual’s answer to the question, “how do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” This was positioned at an opportune time in my life as I had felt myself nearing my breaking point. My marketing agency was thriving, but I was serving clients and partners who’s values conflicted with my own. One of my most clarifying moments leading up to the trip was on a strategy call with a client when he interrupted to say, “you have to understand, the vast majority of my audience are complete idiots.” As evidence by my inability to explain just what I was traveling to Portland to attend, I felt open to the discovery of a new path.
Unsure of what to expect, I had no expectations.
As soon as Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (not an affiliate link), took to the sage I felt there was something different – something I needed to understand. His calm demeanor, relaxed frame, and paced speech was vastly contrary to what you might expect of someone in his position. Speaking in front of a crowd of three thousand people who yearned for transformation it was clear to see that he wasn’t pressured by their expectation. He didn’t begin with a lecture, he began with a statement:
“So many people are caught up drifting and they end up in a destination that they wouldn’t have consciously chosen. This is the drifting life. The driven life is the opposite of the drifting life.” ~ Michael Hyatt
To explain the origin of this lesson he shared the story of his childhood and with it, a piece of his soul. Throughout the first quarter of his life, Michael witnessed his father whom he idolized transgress from being a hero to a self-loathing alcoholic. Captivated by his story and the love with which he shared it I wondered how he could possibly allow himself to be this vulnerable. How could he be this brave? It was his attitude, more than his words, that stuck with me for weeks. The seed he planted gestated into the realization that those who were most successful were those who most successfully communicated their message devoid of external influence. Their creativity, their uniqueness, and their bravery came from their refusal to allow unwelcomed influence.
It was as if a vail had been lifted from my eyes. The more I contemplated the freedom Michael spoke from, the more I saw how I had been adapting to the world around me. The realization of how often I would change my demeanor, my words, or my actions to reflect my perception of how others perceived me was astounding. The place where this became most apparent was in my communication with others, specifically my writing. Whether I was crafting a social post, a text message, or an email I found myself often writing ten times what ended up being sent. I was filtering.
What was most concerning to me, more than the realization that I was not acting as me, was the amount of time and energy that was wasted in this process.
The only way I could see to speak a voice free of the world’s opinions was to live in a different one. That sounds rather outlandish, but what I did was simple. I made a commitment to journal every day, but with it came a promise. Under no circumstances – not fame, fortune, or decades of time – would I reveal the results of these writings to anyone save for myself. This freed me from the opinions of others as each day I was simply having a conversation with the voice(s) in my head. At first it was difficult, I followed a format from Russ Whitney’s book ‘Inner Voice’ (also not an affiliate link), but quickly realized how limiting it was for my purposes. I modified my process to write about whatever was on my mind and dump from there. It didn’t need to be structured, it didn’t need to be formatted, it didn’t need to be spelled correctly, and it certainly didn’t need to make sense to anyone other than myself.
As time went on, this got easier. I found myself writing more in less time and began to uncover my voice.
One morning, I woke up with someone else in my bed. She was one of those “friends” that occasionally came over in the evening and left in the morning. Being an early riser, I went about my morning routine by brushing my teeth, meditating, and reading. When it came time for me to journal I sat in bed, opened my computer, and began to write. A few lines in, having detailed why she was sleeping next to me, I hit a block that at this point seemed unfamiliar. She was dead to the world (it was a long night), but still I felt myself filtering as if she was reading over my shoulder. I turned around so she wouldn’t be able to see my screen, wrote a bit about that, and again hit the same block. Even with an unconscious body present in the same room, I felt unable to express myself truthfully.
I realized how necessary it was for me to take the connection I had made with my voice into the real world. As Michael Hyatt had said, “we are architects of the memories that others will have of us.” Without his bravery to express his voice, pure from the imperfections of external influence, he wouldn’t have inspired a room of thousands.
In pursuit of this, I started to write educational articles destined for a blog. In the process of identifying my unique selling proposition, I discovered a surprisingly intense hatred of technical articles and, seeking to find another means of communicating, tripped into my love of stories. I had no desire to write about what I learned, but rather how I learned it. What was interesting was, as often as I told stories, I had never identified them as a valid method for communicating – I had always seen them as a form of entertainment. Instead of trying to sound smart, I just needed to relive moments from my past. To make things a bit more interesting I challenged myself to express more than what happened and share the emotions behind the experience.
Almost immediately, I found myself thinking of how this would change the perception of those that knew me. It was an identical, yet dramatically amplified, block that I had felt when trying to write my “friend” sleeping in the room. After a few days of finding excuses to abandon the process I had a conversation with a stranger in a cafe that was as spontaneous as it was amazing. While this wasn’t out of the norm, it illuminated how much more easily it was to craft a new perception than to change a new one.
This was my final clarity.
I started a new blog, one that wouldn’t be shared with anyone who knew me. Quickly seeing how easily I was able to communicate when I was free from the angst of opinion I wrote three two thousand word articles in the span of a week. The first of which was the story of how I pranked my roommate with targeted Facebook ads. I remember writing it from a cafe on a trip to see my sister in Tampa. Giggling, laughing, and even snorting out loud in the process; my amusement with myself attracted more than a few odd looks over the two days it took to write. I was unaffected. I wasn’t writing it for them, I was writing it for me. Somehow I knew that, with an ability to relive an experience this vividly, I was on the right path.
While I had fired all my clients, this wasn’t the beginning of a pitch. Creating any presence in order to later sell something is stressful and emotionally trying. I decided to go on a diet. For the first thirty days that my new blog was live I wasn’t going to pitch, craft a pitch, work towards a pitch, or even think about pitching. My commitment was to offer as much value and engagement as possible with no expectation of return. If an opportunity didn’t show itself in the first thirty days, I would strategize accordingly so that I be financially secure in the following month.
At 4:16PM EST on Tuesday, September 16th I posted my first article to reddit’s /r/marketing – a group of intelligent strangers. I was hopeful that people would enjoy it as much as the handful of friends I had confided in to ask for feedback and grammatical corrections, but I wasn’t expectant. It didn’t matter, I hadn’t written it for an audience – I had written it for me.
When the story went viral, it changed my chemistry. It was with this experience that I saw a powerful pattern amongst the most successful publishers – they had tapped into their true voice. They had stopped caring how others perceived them and allowed themselves to communicate devoid of external and artificial influences. This connected with my favorite axiom and one of the most powerful lessons I’d ever learned:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) May 5, 2015
I used this knowledge to surround myself with the type of people who I wanted to have influence over me. These had to be people dedicated to their path. People who would learn from those ahead of them and support those behind them, but never divert for any reasons other than their own. While some might describe their voices as “ridiculous” or “outlandish” I saw them for what they really were… true. I unsubscribed from anyone who I saw as having an inconsistent voice and started looking for people that embodied this strength. I opened myself to five people:
- Michael Hyatt author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (still not an affiliate link)
- Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project
- Scott Stratten of UnMarketing
- Steve Kamb of NerdFitness
- Chris Brogan of Owner Media Group
They, at the time, didn’t know me and they most certainly didn’t know how much I was stalking them. I read everything they wrote, watched every interview I could find, and absorbed every drop of bravery they exuded when they shared their voice. You know that moment when you meet a celebrity and they’re completely different in person? That never happened with these people. Whether through email, social media, or when I met them in person – they were exactly who you’d expect from they public presence.
The first time I connected with Ash Ambirge was in response to an email she sent to her list. Without having communicated with her directly, is was no surprise that she did her research. With the intensity that people approach her, she has extremely high walls to get “in” to her circle, but if your intentions are pure she welcomes you with open arms. Her response to my email was a true representation of who I perceived her to be. In one response, I had evolved from a follower of her story to a character within it.
The first time I met Steve Kamb was at a pre-conference party. I had gone bungie jumping with Joel Runyon of Impossible HQ earlier that day and knew that they always had a playful rivalry. With Joel watching from the other side of the bar I walked up to Steve and, in the voice of an excitable fanboy, asked “excuse me… are you Joel Runyon?!” His reaction was priceless. In response to the excitable energy with which I used to get his attention, he lit up with the excitement of meeting a true fan. When I said Joel’s name he responded in a monotone voice, “no… I’m Steve. Joel is over there” and pointed across the bar to Joel who was now laughing hysterically. Realizing that he had been had we laughed and I shared how much I enjoyed following his journey. We then posed for a photo which was posted to Facebook with the caption:
“Guys, guys, guys… there’s no need to fight. I can follow BOTH of your blogs and love you just the same.”
It’s not about audience. It’s about friends. The most powerful publishers understand the power of true expression. They didn’t start by writing for an audience. They wrote for themselves and attracted those who wanted to listen. It’s the blogging equivalent of “if you build it they will come.” In the same vein, remember that this article wasn’t written for you – it was written for me. If you didn’t like it then it wasn’t meant for you to read. If you did like it, then you’ll like me – so drop a comment below and let’s get to know each other.