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Off-Topic Friday: Small Town in a Big World

We were at the pub with friends when images of an atrocity (it doesn’t matter which one) flashed on the television screens and hijacked our conversation. The next morning a small group stood in protest at the bottom of town hill (it doesn’t matter for which side) and I wondered, can any of us really make a difference?

Ours is a small town, and yet we sometimes have trouble affecting change in our own back yard. The world is a very big and complex place. How can we possibly hope to influence events hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of miles away

Three hundred years ago, the lives of the people who lived here were not burdened by the knowledge of the cruelty, violence, and injustice of the larger world. Their realms of information and influence were, for the most part, constricted by what they could see and hear for themselves.

Today, technology gives us eyes and ears that span the globe in real time. It makes us witness to every kind of tragedy and horror imaginable. It plugs small town residents into conflicts and crises of national and international intricacy, overwhelming us with the responsibility to do something.

But, what can we do?

Our responses range from intentional ignorance and apathetic indifference to impotent outrage and desperate or hopeful action. We dissect and debate the details, looking for some thread of logic that will explain why these things happen. We try unsuccessfully to apply the rules of the schoolyard to corporate pirates, demented dictators, and renegade terrorists. We protest and petition and vote.

But, does any of it matter?

Not everyone can be an activist. Looking too long and hard at the political, environmental, and humanitarian crises of our day makes me heartsick. From there, it is a quick trip to despair, paralysis, and madness. There is also the reality that we are, each of us, already consumed with living our own lives. But, doing nothing leaves me feeling angry, guilty, and powerless.

The trouble is that our rational and emotional evolution has not kept pace with technology. The Internet has brought the world into our town, but it hasn’t taught us how to deal with it.  We did not have the benefit of gradual exposure.

Though I realize it may be naive, I still contemplate the tangled web of global challenges in the oversimplified context of right and wrong the way my parents and teachers and neighbors taught me. I still wonder why we can’t all just get along. People who are more informed and sophisticated than I patiently explain that it just doesn’t work that way.

But, why not?

Despicable tyrants, homicidal terrorists, and heartless tycoons become the people they are because they were either taught to be that way, or they suffered some great hurt of their own. Children are not born with malice or hatred in their hearts. Like the schoolyard bully, these people are made – one small act at a time.

Why then, is it so hard to believe that we can change things for the better – one small act at a time? I have to believe that we are connected by more than the Internet. Though we live in different countries and come from different cultures, though we are of different races, generations, and belief systems – aren’t we all human

I am not in a position to make a big difference by influencing important people or significant events. I am one person living in a small town, doing my best to make my way and enjoy life. But, even though I am often overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the terrifying things happening around the world, I can make small differences. I can be kind to the people I meet. I can be tolerant. I can be generous.

Call me Pollyanna if you will, but since the big world is made up of small towns isn’t it possible that the ripples of small-town kindnesses might eventually change the world? I’d like to think so. At least it gives us a manageable place to start.


This piece was originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle as part of my bi-weekly column.

How to love marketing (even when the very word makes you cringe)

dolphinListen to this post:


When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer.

I wanted to learn their language and develop relationships with them. I wanted to discover the secrets of the deep and teach people how to live harmoniously with these fascinating creatures.  I wanted to be the Jane Goodall of the dolphin world.

Unfortunately, I never learned to swim. I did learn, however, that I suffer from claustrophobia, which makes donning a wet suit a bit of a challenge (something I discovered on a white water rafting trip).

After I reluctantly gave up my dream of working with Flipper, I quickly cycled through a number of other potential careers: fashion designer, architect, magazine editor, and wedding planner (among others). Never once did I aspire to be a marketer.


Today, I still wince a little when someone asks the inevitable “So, what do you do?” question.

Though I usually say, “I’m writer and a marketer” (which is true), I know that – though I don’t always love marketing. It’s my day job. I am not (yet) writing novels or creating “art” of other kinds. I spend my days crafting brands, designing strategies, creating content, and cultivating audiences. It’s how I make my living.

Recently I realized that my feeling in any way ashamed about this – as though people might mistake me for some kind of snake oil salesman – was not only doing harm to my own psyche, but was sending the wrong signals to my customers.


How stupid is that?

Here’s the thing – in my heart I am an artist, and as the stereotype suggests, I have a built-in aversion to anything that resembles commercialism. I’m not going to go too deep into all the misguided beliefs that are wrapped around my unease about selling and asking people for money. (That’s a post for another day.) So, how, you may ask, did I wind up making my living as a marketer and, more importantly …


… what the hell does my epiphany have to do with how YOU feel about marketing?




If you are an artist, a writer, or a creative in any other sense of the word (spiritually, artistically, entrepreneurially), it’s probable that you are saddled with the same misconceptions and discomforts about marketing. These fall into three primary categories:


Distaste: You don’t like the “feeling” of marketing. You don’t like to be in the spotlight, ask people for anything (attention, approval, cash), or have to justify the value of your art, product, or service. When you hear the word “marketing” you have an involuntary vision of Johnny the used car salesman, all decked out in his plaid sports jacket and Grecian Formula hairdo. You don’t like the way marketing makes you feel like you’re manipulating people, makes you feel like everyone is thinking that you just want something from them. You don’t like the effect marketing has on the way you feel about your work – reducing it to a transaction, a return on investment, or a commodity.

Fear: Marketing brings your inner demons out to play. You worry that you’ll do it wrong. You worry that people will condemn you for it. You worry that you’ll come up short when compared to the competition. I get it. Marketing can put you in a very vulnerable place. It can leave you feeling insecure, inadequate, and incompetent. There are endless ways you might screw up. There are countless opportunities to offend and alienate people. No wonder you’re scared!

Overwhelm: Sometimes, there’s just too much of … EVERYthing. There are too many platforms, too many networks, too many tasks, too many bells and whistles, too many rules, too many “shoulds,” too many “best practices,” and too many questions. The only thing there isn’t too much of is TIME. Marketing can make you feel like you’ve been abandoned in the middle of some vast, uncharted, and inhospitable territory with only a bottle of water and a compass. It can leave you feeling exhausted and frustrated even if all you’ve done is think about it!



I am a marketer. This is what I do for a living, and yet I still have to fight these battles with my own marketing. I still get that icky feeling. I still harbor a variety of nasty little fears and insecurities. I still sometimes succumb to the life-sucking, energy-stealing pressures of total overwhelm.

I am not immune.


I am also not at a loss for ways to push past these roadblocks:

Think of your marketing as a gift.

Whatever you’re selling, there’s someone out there who needs it – needs it, wants it, would be thrilled to fork over cold, hard cash in exchange for it. Never forget this. Your marketing is how you create a beacon so these people can find you. It’s how you articulate your “why” so that these people can recognize you in the vast Sea of Everyone Else and know, instantly, that you are the answer to their prayers.

Don’t think of marketing as an “ask,” think of it as an offer or an invitation. You don’t need to go for the hard sell. You are not Johnny the used car salesman. You are a person with gifts to offer. You are someone who wants to help. And it’s OKAY if not everyone says “yes.” In fact, you don’t want everyone to say yes – just the right people, the people who really get who you are and what your offer is all about.


Relax. There is no Right Way.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no one right way to “do” marketing. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is no silver bullet. There is only experimentation and paying attention to what works. Want to know a little secret? Half of the time, you will stumble on your most brilliant marketing ideas by accident. You will come up with some crazy concept while you’re in the shower or out walking the dog. You’ll connect two dots from totally different parts of your life, and – whammo! – genius will ensue.

And as far as offending people or being compared to the competition goes, these are things you can’t worry about. These are things that are outside your sphere of influence. All you need to focus on is your work and the connections you make with people who appreciate it. All that other stuff going on out there is just noise. Tune. It. Out.



Breathe. This isn’t a race.

If, like me, you spend a lot of your professional life on the Internet, you probably feel like you’ve been strapped to a rocket like poor, old Wile E. Coyote and are just zooming around without any ability to steer or slow down or even see where you’re going. It doesn’t have to be that way. The pace of the Internet is beyond frenetic. It is frenetic times chaotic times frenzied plus feverish. Things move so fast that it’s a wonder we can make anything out before it’s disappeared from the screen.

BUT … just because the Internet moves at Warp 9 speed doesn’t mean you have to. You can set your own pace. You can choose your own path. You don’t have to be everywhere or do everything. And you don’t have to proceed without a map. Putting on the brakes and stepping back is not only allowed, it’s a critical part of your survival. Step off the hamster wheel and give yourself the chance to regain your perspective.



Marketing can be a creative, fulfilling, and – of course – profitable part of your business. It doesn’t have to feel like an extra arm that you’ve tacked on as an after thought. It can be an elegantly integrated and value-driven part of your purpose. You can transform it from the thing that keeps dropping to the bottom of your To Do list into the thing that you can’t wait to work on because it makes you feel good about what you’re doing. You can find an approach that is a perfect fit for you, your business, and your audience – something that feels natural and manageable.


Don’t hate marketing. Stop sending it to the naughty corner. It doesn’t deserve to be shunned. Get over your fears, find your groove, and ditch your dated assumptions.


I am a marketer, and – though it’s not swimming with dolphins – I kind of love what I do.




Image Credit: Leo Reynold 

Write drunk; edit sober. How to blog like you mean it

Listen to this post:


Blogging can be scary. Some days, it feels like you’ve been pushed on stage and asked to do stand-up. The guy who was on before you totally killed it. The crowd was laughing in the aisles and people were repeating his catch phrase. Now you’re up there, peering through the glare of the floor lights, trying to catch a glimpse of the audience, sweating under the deep and awkward silence of a crowd waiting to see what you’re going to do.

Yeah. Sometimes, blogging is like that.

So, you ask yourself, how do people get brave enough to put themselves and their brands out there in authentic, vulnerable, stick-their-necks-out ways? How do they find the nerve to say the thing that needs to be said? What gives them the self-assurance they need to blog in a way that makes them stand out from the crowd, capture attention, and make people give a damn?


The answer: courage.

Courage isn’t a lack of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. True courage does not come easily. You have to dig down deep and find the strength to face the dragons that stand in your way. You have to take a breath, square your shoulders, and push past the fear.

But, we all know there’s another way – a shortcut. It’s called liquid courage. You know what I’m talking about – the inhibition-lowering, boldness-bolstering, let-me-at-‘em kind of courage. The sure-I’ll-karaoke kind of courage. The lemme-tell-you-what-I-think kind of courage.

If you haven’t gotten to the point in your blogging evolution where you can tap into true courage, if you’re still teetering on the edge of writing posts that make you cringe a little when you click the “publish” button, you might want to try writing like you’re a little tipsy.


Write drunk; edit sober.

Most often attributed to Hemingway, this little gem of writing advice is perfect for bloggers. Like good fiction, a good blog needs to reach out and grab the reader. It needs to say something worth saying. It needs to take some kind of stand, but too often, especially on business blogs, we settle for the ho-hum and so-so. We play it safe.

This is called “going through the motions,” and it’s not going to help you build an audience, drive leads, or get known as a “thought leader.” It is going to bore people.

Whether you’re a solopreneur blogging as yourself or part of a corporate team trying to get out from under the red tape of management reviews and legal approvals, it can be hard to push beyond the easy, run-of-the-mill content so you can try something new or even controversial. I get it. But, if you don’t start taking steps in that direction, if you don’t start giving people something worth reading, why even bother blogging

Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get hammered; but what if we applied the attributes of intoxication to our blogger’s mindset?


Lowered inhibitions

You’ve seen it a hundred times in the movies and probably in real life, too. The shy guy finally asks the pretty girl out. The shy girl finally gets up and sings her heart out to a bar full of dumbstruck friends. The downtrodden desk jockey finally stands up and tells his boss what he really thinks.

Turning down the volume of your internal censor can be a good thing for your blogging. If your primary worries are about being politically correct and pleasing everyone, you’ll end up watering everything down and diluting your message until it’s not worth hearing. Instead, loosen up a little. Try to be less self-conscious. Roll with your “crazy” ideas.


Brilliant random associations and wild, unruly bursts of creative insight

Speaking of crazy ideas, get some more of those.

Whether your brainstorming takes place in the conference room with a team of editors and writers, or in your head with just you and your inner critic, make it a free-for-all. Make it a no-bad-ideas zone. Encourage wacky suggestions and cultivate an environment of curiosity and creativity.

Sometimes it takes a little inebriation to see more clearly. How many winning ideas have been hatched during happy hour? We get a different perspective. Our internal filters shut down and the ideas can suddenly flow freely – colliding into each other and creating new, hybrid ideas. Happy hour can be very fertile ground for innovation.



“Lemme at ‘im!”

Eyes slightly glazed, but with a fire burning in them, you’re ready to take on Goliath … bare fisted … with one hand tied behind your back. You know you can handle him. No problem. No problem at all.

Blogging requires a little chutzpah. You have to believe that you’ve got what it takes. You have to believe you’ve got something worth saying. If anyone says, “Who do you think you are?”, you have to be ready to tell him exactly who you are.



A cocktail, mixed correctly, is as good as the best high-test truth serum.

When you’ve had a few, pretenses drop, charades dissolve, and facades crumble. Your authentic self, who has been waiting patiently behind the lines of sobriety and propriety, rolls her head and cracks her knuckles like a boxer preparing to enter the ring. It’s finally game time. Finally her turn to show her stuff.

“You know what I’ve always wanted to tell you?” … and then it all starts to come out – all the really juicy bits, all the stuff that keeps the listener hanging on every word. You don’t need a fancy vocabulary, you just need to tell it like it is – straight up, no filter.



“I love you guys.”

What is it about spirits that makes it so easy for us to express our affections? Defenses come down and the whole world seems like one big hug fest. How did we not see the awesomeoness of these people before?

Feel the love. Go with it. You’re trying to connect with these people on a very real level. Why hold back? If you feel moved to do it, tell them you love them. They are the reason you’re here. They are the reason you do what you do. Go ahead – lay one on ‘em. They’ll love it.


The morning after

Hemingway’s approach is only effective if you work both sides of the equation. I think we’ve covered the “write drunk” part, but what about editing sober?

The key is breathing room. Premature publishing is akin to drunk dialing (or texting). The results can be disastrous and embarrassing. Brainstorm and write to your intoxicated heart’s content, but don’t hit “publish” until you’ve come down off your creativity’s party train and are able to look at things with a sober and impartial eye.

Believe me, you don’t want to wake up with a tattoo you don’t remember getting.


From liquid courage to the real thing

Eventually, you’ll find that you don’t need a shot of faux fearlessness to blog like you really mean it. Over time, practicing blogging like you’re tipsy (even though you aren’t … really), will give you all the true courage you need to get out there and speak your mind in a unique and engaging way. You’ll feel at ease, be open to new and creative ideas, find your groove, embrace your truth, and surrender to your affections.

And that’s when the magic will happen. You won’t worry about feeling trapped up on a stage you didn’t want to be on in the first place. You will have found your voice, your audience, and your stride. You’ll be working that spotlight like a pro and having a great time doing it.



What do you think?

Have you ever written something while under the influence? How’d it turn out? Did you publish it? Did you have to censor much?  If you work with a team, have you ever had a Friday afternoon happy hour brainstorming session? Did anything interesting come out of that? What holds you back from blogging like you mean it?



Special thanks to David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) and Gareth (@dartacus) for inspiring this post. Scott wrote a post about why you should avoid deleting your content and Gareth asked if that also applied to “the content created at 2am when you were drunk & shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the internet?” Scott conceded that maybe that could go, but the conversation got me thinking about how the stuff you write at 2AM when you’re drunk just might be some of the best stuff. So, there you go. Food for thought.


Image credit: WordsIGiveBy on etsy

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