Fuck “Finding Your Passion”

It’s not the thing we think

“I Was A Botox Junkie,” LA Arts District, artist Tristan Eato

Note: this was originally part of “The 1 Most Important Thing To Be Successful.” I broke it out, as it seemed to warrant a stand-alone post, but if you already read it there, you may not need/want to read it again here.

Too many people don’t pursue anything because they’re “finding their passion.”

And to these people I just want to say:

You don’t need passion.

At least not in the grossly oversimplified way we define it — as “interests” — and definitely not as a standalone thing.

If you’re already passionate…

Great — keep on keeping on. This message isn’t for you. Skip ahead.

This message is for everyone “trying to find their passion,” i.e., expecting the universe to hand it to them. It’s for those sitting around waiting for “inspiration” and using a lack of it as an excuse to do nothing. It’s even for people who consider themselves “passionate” but allow it to dictate their effort levels, which ebbs and flows day to day. (And many of us are guilty of this.)

If you’re “looking for your passion”

Get over yourself — you’re overcomplicating.

As Tim Grover, personal trainer to a number of top professional basketball players, including fifteen years with Michael Jordan, says,

“You know what passion is? Passion is an emotion. It’s an emotion without an action. Passion will get you nowhere. Inner drive will get you nowhere unless you act on it. You have to act on your passion. You have to act on your inner drive. Don’t let those feelings stay inside you. You gotta know what to do with them. You gotta know how to make them work to get what you want.”

You already have everything you need

Because “passion” is not what we think it is.

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, and here’s something a remarkable number of people have in common:

Many successful people didn’t choose their “thing.”

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin of Veuve Clicquot only came into the champagne business through her husband, who inherited it from his father and then died early on in the marriage. It was a just a few struggling vineyards when Barbe-Nicole took it on, but over her life she not only built what is still today one of the leading champagne empires, but she completely re-engineered the way champagne was produced, shipped and marketed, revolutionizing the industry forever. All of this from someone who, before her husband’s death, had probably never even considered getting into champagne.

Howard Schultz and Ray Kroc (the recognized founders of Starbucks and McDonalds, respectively) were restaurant supply salesmen who bumped into single-location shops (coffee and burgers), saw how good the products were, and blew them out. Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran was introduced to the commercial real estate business where she made her millions through her boyfriend at the time.

Andre Agassi, widely considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, admitted in his autobiography that he hates tennis “with a dark and secret passion.”

Plenty of people succeed having spent exactly zero time pondering what interests me? Not because they were “accidental entrepreneurs,” or “just got lucky,” because they sure as hell still worked — hard. They just didn’t sit around waiting for the perfect opportunity or “interest” to fall into their lap.

They directed their energy at what was in front of them.

It kinda reminds of the scene between Buddy and the store manager in the 2003 film Elf,

Buddy: “I just like to smile — smiling’s my favorite!”

Store Manager: “Make work your favorite — that’s your favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.”

Now, obviously there are of course plenty of founders who chase intrinsic, tangible interests — Elon Musk, Coco Chanel, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Chouinard (Patagonia) and Ford — but if you do not already have a natural inclination toward a specific system (and you would know by now — we’re grown-ass adults), it’s because your passion is actually aligned elsewhere.

Because: you can be passionate about things, sure. But you can also be passionate about other areas: people, ideas, experimentation, insight, structure, etc. And you already have these.

Create Energy

How do you want to feel? Recall times you felt the closest to it.

What raised your body temperature? What made you feel alert and alive? It might not have been something as literal as “playing basketball” or “learning Latin.” It might have been something less discrete, like “helping people” or “high energy environments,” or, simply: “winning.”

You already have something, somewhere — you just undervalue it.

A lot of people are going to read this section and come away thinking: “yeah, see?! So I still need to ‘find my passion.’” No. It takes 5 seconds to answer the question: when in your life have you felt most alive, most fired up, most powerful? Name 2 or 3, then say why. That’s all you need to chase.

My passion is people.

My happiest and most energizing roles are simply those where I am:

  • Working very closely with others. That bartender life, just for example, does right by me — there’s nothing quite like the sexy-ass zen feeling of being totally aware and in sync with the other bartender(s) movements behind the bar on a slammed Saturday night. You’d maybe think this would be lower, being an introvert (and a writer) and all. And it’s true that I hate stupid shit like “group projects” and “brainstorming sessions,” but I do love me a good group-tackle on a singular objective.
  • Solving others’ pain points —directly. Every job I’ve ever loved, from high school to today, was interfacing with the customers or clients. Every job I’ve hated were those I was abstracted from them.
  • In a high energy environment. (See: bar. Also: software.)

And the point here is: I don’t give a fuck about the product — as long as my customers care about the product. Some of my happiest roles were supporting products that I had never used, would never use, would never want to use, and in some cases could never use, but I didn’t care.

In fact, even when I had my own business, I wasn’t really “passionate” about that product in and of itself either. But it didn’t matter, because I was instead a.) passionate about the customer I was serving and b.) pissed about their pain point. I didn’t need to be passionate about what the solution looked like, just like I don’t need to personally like every drink I pour. Or every software solution I touch. I just need to care enough about people and what they want out of it.

It just needs to work.

You just need to find the one piece you need and once you find it, you just commit to and jump in on the rest.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

The Number 1 Reason Your Life Sucks

And the number 1 way to turn it around


If you think your life sucks, it probably does. But if you think it’s primarily due to any external factor, you’re wrong.

Across the board, there is one consistent, yawning, drowning reason that keeps us from achieving things, and it’s:

You Make Excuses

Instead of finding solutions.

In fact, many of you are making an excuse right NOW as you’re reading this!

Like,

  • or I don’t make excuses — I have ADHD!”
  • or “it’s not my fault — I have health issues!”
  • or “I was raised to believe — ”
  • or “I’m not as smart”
  • or “I didn’t have rich parents” (news flash: many successful people didn’t, either)

Or maybe they sound more like:

  • “I do work hard on my business — this is just the ‘research phase!’” (lol gtfo here with that and come back when you’re ready to join the real world)
  • or “I need to make a plan first
  • or “I need more information”
  • or “I don’t know what I want to do” (no shit — see below)
  • or “my market is hard”
  • or “nobody will help me”
  • or “I’m doing everything right!” (lol, clearly not.)

Or perhaps my (least) favorite,

  • “I know! I just need to get motivated!” (Look, bud. “Motivation” is bullshit. Successful people didn’t have more sparkle juice for breakfast — they just wanted it more than you do, and were willing to endure more setbacks to get it.)

We all have something we come back to. (My own favorite excuse that I use? Nothing is “quite right” enough — I’m critical, I hang back, I reject. And it’s probably interesting to note that the exception here is my relationship. The only reason I find “relationships” so easy is because I eliminate all of the judgment and “checklists” and only look for 3 things. And now that I’ve found them, all I worry about is committing each and every day.)

Anyway, to anyone thinking any of these or anything else — and we all have something we go back to — these are all examples of shit that the sort of people you admire overcame.

The one most important thing to be successful is: perseverance

Psychologist Angela Duckworth calls it “grit.”

Mega pro-basketball trainer Tim Grover calls it “relentlessness.”

Gary Vaynerchuk calls it “hustle,” sure — but he also calls it patience,” i.e., hustling over the long haul, not just sometimes.

Will Smith calls it “being willing to die on the treadmill.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, calls it “working like a mule.”

Some call it “creating possibilities” — “by looking beyond what you think is available, and… focusing on what you can offer.” i.e., finding workarounds.

One CEO (and founder!) of a billion-dollar publicly-traded company chalks his success to only two things: (1) never run out of money. And after that? (2) When it gets hard — “and it will get hard!” he emphasizes — don’t stop. (Just for context: his company was in the red for ten years before they saw a profit.)

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and one of the biggest commonalities I’ve noticed across all of these amazing people? When they experienced remarkable setbacks — situations where most people would fold — they kept going.

Some of them lost their entire inventory. Or they got fucked over by a partner. Or a vendor. They lost their right-hand product person. They went bankrupt. They were revolutionizing the champagne industry in the 19th Century and struggled to figure out how to get bottles around Europe without them a.) going bad or b.) breaking. Whatever.

The difference with successful people isn’t that they never experienced setbacks — it’s that they didn’t stop.

And those who don’t see the success are all the ones who did.

Why Do We Make Excuses?

Any number of reasons… maybe it’s because “inertia” — a body at rest will stay at rest. Or because “self esteem.” Because it’s socially acceptable.

But at the end of the day, it’s really because:

  • You either don’t actually know what you want
  • Or you don’t want it badly enough

People who know exactly what they want — and want it with a blinding desire — don’t make excuses.

How To Stop Making Excuses

It’s simple:

1.) Take ownership of your own life

Nobody is here to rescue you, Charles. Nothing outside of you matters as much as your reaction to it, and countless people have achieved more with less. Use what you have — and know that your biggest asset is your mind.

2.) Decide — specifically — what you want

“Build a business” is not specific. Fuck off with that shit. Be specific. And it’s not about “having a plan,” but it is understanding the difference between “get in shape” and “lose 20 pounds.” “Build a business” is not the specific goal — “sell x amount of x product to x people” is. Then you build the business around that, to support it.

3.) Want it badly enough

Want it enough that you’re willing to make sacrifices (lifestyle, relationships, other opportunities, credit, etc.) and you’re willing to push through when your shit sandwich is more shit than sandwich.


Take Ownership

Too many people think “work ethic” or “trying” means “only when it’s easy,” but trying when it’s not easy is the entire point. The universe doesn’t hand out special awards for people who can carry on in clear skies and sunshine. The universe favors those who are out there sloughing in rain and snow and hurricanes. (Metaphorically speaking. Unless it’s not for you…?)

The only thing holding you back from what you want is you. And the excuses you make — like what you incorrectly assign to other things.

You are not a victim of your own life

If you think the world is out to get you, it’s because you’ve victimize yourself and it rushes in to fill that energy void, receiving your negative energy with negative energy. You see negative because negative is what you put out.

You will never achieve what you want if you spend your life as a victim — if you do the same mediocre, hapless thing but expect great things to happen.

If you never get what you want, that is no one’s fault but your own. You are the only one who is standing in the way.

Life doesn’t owe you anything

If you want something you have to work hard for it — not make excuses as to why you don’t have it, or whine and complain.

One of my good friends is a dude now in his mid-30’s whose primary goal in life is to find his wife. He’s tall, has a fantastic job, dresses well, owns his own place, and — most importantly — has a heart of gold. In other words, has tons of the shit most people look for on paper. But the dude can’t find a partner.

But he also refuses to do anything differently. I’ve known him for over five years and he still goes to the same bars and uses the same sites. I hired aninterpersonal coach to help me with sales after a few months of running my business — a woman whose primary business is actually dating coaching: helping people find their spouse. I referred him to her, but he never called. He makes enough money — he just doesn’t want to try.

I have another friend who — same thing — also wants to find a husband. And again, she thinks she’s trying — she puts in effort for dates, she “puts love out there” right away, and when each one doesn’t work, she always asks me: “what am I doing wrong??” But the problem is that she doesn’t actually want to be doing anything wrong. She doesn’t actually want to change. She doesn’t actually want to hear the answers. What she actually wants is to keep going into these relationships doing exactly what she’s always done and for that to magically work. And I’m not saying it won’t work out for her because I’m sure it will, but it might help the process along a little bit if she actually tried a bit, too, rather than only thinking she was.

People will say you have to “work you ass off” and “work really hard” to get what you want. And yeah, that certainly helps. But so many people aren’t trying at all! They think they’re trying but they’re off in left field, doing things that don’t work and too consumed with making excuses to ask questions and experiment — and take responsibility for the outcome.

Commit to your own life

Don’t pretend your life is someone else’s job — or at the hands of the universe. Quit making it about anything that isn’t “you.”

If you want your life to get better then start, living like it. Start doing something positive in the right direction and don’t stop until you get there, and keep going even once you do.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

Fuck Your “Planning”

Planning is procrastination, not action


Originally part of “The 1 Most Important Thing To Be Successful.”

“What’s the plan? We need a plan!”

If there’s one thing in a work-environment that makes me want to punch a kitten, it’s when people react to uncertainty with words like, “the plan,” “the process,” “the procedure.” And here’s why:

Needing “a plan” is always fear-based.

The issue isn’t plans — plans are fine, in and of themselves. The issue is people who can’t do anything without plans, whose knee-jerk, default response to any unknown is to compulsively “figure out a plan” — to get “certainty.”

News flash: there is no certainty.

And when you obsess over perfecting something that’s inherently imperfect, you immobilize yourself. Defining how the problem could be solved isn’t actually solving the problem.

Planning is procrastination, not action.

And plans are never “the work.”

As Eric Ravenscraft wrote in LifeHacker,

“Procrastinating feels lazy… Planning, brainstorming, and discussing feels productive because you’re talking about doing stuff. If you don’t move to action, though, there’s no difference between the two.”

We’re socialized to “plan,” and that’s fine. But when you start to idealize the plan, spending more time and focus on perfecting it than executing, it becomes a problem.

And as Lily Herman wrote in The Muse,

“We’re told to plan ahead… to look before we leap, plan before we act… When you procrastinate working on a project, you’re not doing anything to further that project. In other words, the amount of time you’re spending on your actual task is zero. Similarly, when you over-plan, the amount of time you’re spending on working on that project is also zero.”

If you’re planning, you’re not taking action. The longer you do the former, the longer you delay the latter. They are not one in the same, and anyone who thinks planning is “the work” needs to be tossed into the deep end of the pool and learn to swim.

“Planning” is mental masturbation

When I was a kid, my mom would leave us these handwritten chore lists before she went to work. She did this every day for years, rewriting the lists over and over —which is ridiculous because: they had the same exact chores 99% of the time.

After a while we knew what to do (my brother and I still today remember: I cleaned the upstairs bathroom, he did the downstairs; I vacuumed the second floor, he did the first; I dusted, he unloaded the dishwasher; etc.)

My mother didn’t write those lists for us. She wrote them for herself. It was just psychologically-soothing to her — because list-making always is.

I love writing my goals down. I’ve got monthly goals, yearly goals, five year goals, and a loose idea of what I want next week, in six months, and by the time I’m 50. And even though they’re already written, sometimes I still rewrite them — in particularly stressful times, I’ll rewrite them compulsively, over and over, mentally masturbating over the way my pen moves to make each familiar letter and word. But, as you can guess, this isn’t actual headway.

Goal-writing, like many lists, is just self-soothing. It’s a great first step, but it’s not how things are accomplished.

Yes, experts tell you to “write it down”

Some readers are dying to tell me how the “productivity” and “success” masters all say so. And my dudes, I like Napoleon Hill as much as the next guy, but I also recognize that that circle-jerk will only get you so far.

Many people have accomplished shit they never wrote down (and many people obsess over lists they never achieve.)

For years I included “write a novel” on my long-term list, and for years I made no progress on it.

Here’s how I actually ended up writing one: two days into November 2012, I learned it was “National Novel Writing Month.” Despite a late start (and missing “Outlining October”), I wrote a 50,000-word novel in two weeks. (And I had a full-time job at the time; this was entirely after 5 pm and on weekends.)

If you want to write it down, then do it. I still do.

But when you’re actually ready, you’ll just get it done.

I know there are people who disagree

I know some of you are reeling at this suggestion, huffing and pissy like, “You have to have a plan!”

Fuck off. No you don’t.

I have built multi-million programs — and my own business — without a plan. I earned six digits by my mid-20s without a plan. I lost 20 pounds without a plan. I grew my presence on Medium without a plan. I wrote the novel without a plan.

All I had in all these examples was: a singular, high-level objective, a driving desire to achieve it, and binary metrics of success (did I hit it: yes or no?)

No diet plan in the word will overcome your self-delusion if you’re not actually deeply serious about and committed to losing weight. (And on the flip side: when you’re deeply committed, you’re never a slave to the plan.) It’s the same with anything.

And again: I know full well that people want to @ me over this, insisting plans are “crucial,” because people who crave plans are so deeply ingrained with the fear of not having them that they can’t conceptualize it, instead getting defensive about how “important” they are. But whatever — I shared what I’ve achieved without them, and I know what I’m about, son.

Give me a doer over a planner any day

I have worked with a remarkable number of “planners” who are totally useless when it comes to achieving a goal.

I just can’t with people who spend more time “updating the plan” or “overhauling the process” than they do actually doing the thing; who respond to any change — and there’s always change, because this is real life, people! — with panic and the compulsion to touch the plan. It’s all they know: plan after plan after plan. Always planning, and then more planning.

I once worked with a senior-level manager who responded to every “fire” by immediately whipping out his big ole brick of a laptop to update his project plan instead of actually resolving the problem (which of course secured the opportunity to update the plan again the next day when it only got worse.) He and I had a very real throwdown when I refused to do the same, neglecting “the plan” updates and instead running around to resolve shit. The “documents” were always out of date, but I rarely missed a deadline. (And “plans” are obsolete then minute you hit “save” anyway, losing value faster than a new car driving off the lot.)

I have managed teams of up to 20 or 25 people, and I’ll tell you this: give me a doer over a planner any day of the week. Given the choice between someone who can execute on just high-level objectives or someone who first needs to “plan” and “process” every time we have a hiccup, I’ll take the former every. single. time. With zero hesitation. I don’t have time for people who are immobilized by lack of clarity. Life is lack of clarity. The goal gives “clarity.” Go.

Done is better than perfect. Action is better than theoretical perfection.

“Preparation” is not the same as “perfectionist planning”

Nobody is telling you to walk into a client meeting or an interview unprepared. Nobody is suggesting you go all renegade on shit and Jackson Pollack your entire life. (Though you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I do veer into this territory.)

There’s a difference between preparing for discrete events — buying some baby shit for the arrival of an infant — and planning that shit into the ground. I bet the number of moms who throw out their beloved “birth plan” is higher than those who keep them.

It’s about headspace and mentality

Someone armored with “the perfect plan” but still crumbling internally by fear and uncertainty is going to perform worse than someone without a plan but full of confidence. Someone who is petrified, and clutches their plan as though it will protect them, is going to cave under pressure and go running back to it, whereas someone who’s just fucking ready is going to be fine.

Nobody likes networking events. But getting yourself into the right headspace is eons better than having a detailed plan and flash cards of conversation starters.

Confidence comes from action — and focusing on the right thing

The difference between people who are confident without plans and those who are emotionally dependent on them is that the former group’s “certainty” comes from their focus on the high-level goal rather than the execution of minutia. They can make adjustments, adapt and keep taking action, because all they care about is the thing that actually matters, which is getting what they set out for.

“Planners,” on the other hand, often get so tangled up in “adhering to the plan” that they lose focus on the thing that actually matters — or confuse it with “the plan,” honestly thinking that moving through their checklist is the most important thing, and “success” is following it exactly. (Doesn’t matter if we had fun on vacation — we did everything on the list! We didn’t land the deal, but we followed the plan!) I just can’t with these people.

If you want progress, stop giving in to fear and a compulsive need for “certainty.” Build confidence through action, not outlines. Focus on the end goal, not the game plan. Adapt. Act.

Everything Is Marketing

Especially all of our food


Anything that involves our emotions has marketing.

And it always involves our emotions.

Orange Juice

Oranges have less vitamin C per mg than many other foods, including fruits such as strawberries, pineapple, and kiwi, but also a whole slew of vegetables like chili peppers, bell peppers, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.

Oranges just had the biggest marketing budget — and a big ole surplus after World War II, during which we’d been shipping them over to American soldiers.

Vitamin C

Does almost nothing to fight colds.

Not surprising, the “vitamin C” push came just after the “orange juice” push, during the 1970s.

And vitamin C may support protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and skin wrinkling. But ain’t none of that got anything to do with your common cold.

The Orange Slice in Blue Moons

This is the last one on oranges — I promise.

Blue Moon denies that this was a marketing ploy, of course — they’ve written all kinds of pieces about how the orange “brings out the flavors.” And maybe that’s true. But whether it is or isn’t, what we know for sure is that customers saw “the beer with the orange” and ordered it on basis of looks, not flavor.

And as a bartender, I can assure you: the most popular drink will always be the one that gets the most attention. The single signature drink we light on fire probably makes up half our cocktail sales.

Moscow Mules (and their copper cups)

Copper cups were a thing before Moscow Mules — they use them in India all the time, because it makes the drink feel colder in your hand. But the reason they’re used in mules is literally: two drink reps — one for vodka; one for ginger beer — were at the same bar, trying to dream up ways to sell more. Vodka guy needed an edge; ginger beer guy needed an edge — together a drink was born. But then they needed a cool cup to put it in, and one of them knew about copper cups in India, and voila — marketing magic.

Cake

1.) Molasses and the original boxed cake mix

A lot of people think boxed cake mixes were invented after WWII when companies had too much flour, but actually they were developed in the 1930s when a Pittsburgh company, P. Duff and Sons, had too much molasses. It developed a dehydrated gingerbread mix and sold enough to deplete its excess supply.

2.) “The egg”

By now most of you have heard, but in case you haven’t: we actually have the chemistry that wouldn’t require you to add an egg to cake mix. But the 1950s housewives to whom cake mix was marketed liked the product a lot better when they could contribute a bit more — and it turns out “the egg” was the perfect amount.

3.) Red velvet cake

Was a ploy to sell red food coloring.

Yes, red velvet was a thing before that, and originally got its name from the chemical reaction between the cocoa powder (which contains anthocyanin, a pH-sensitive antioxidant that reacts to acids) and the vinegar and buttermilk, which turned the cake reddish brown.

Sure. But mostly it was the Adams Extract company, in a ploy to sell more red food dye, who made the “red velvet” we know today.

The way Guinness is poured

See: “Blue Moon,” above.

Right down to the arguments that it’s about “taste” or “head,” and sure, if you say so. But it’s also about making Guinness seem special.

Pomegranates

Wanna know why pomegranates hit us out of seemingly nowhere in the early 2000s?

Because Lynda Resnick and her food empire:

“According to her memoir, she acquired a pistachio orchard that also contained some Wonderful variety pomegranate trees in California’s San Joaquin Valley. In 1996, intrigued by folklore, she began to sponsor medical research regarding the pomegranate’s health effects. By 2000 there was research published with findings regarding effects of regular pomegranate consumption.”

Dog Food

Pro tip: skip this one if you’d just rather not with how the sausage is made.

Dog food has pretty much always been a way to sell by-products of other industries. For the most part, this was commercialized (human) food production (which is why most dog food companies have always been owned by people-food corporations.)

That being said, the dark and dirty catalyst for commercialized dog food in the U.S. came just after World War I — when we needed a way to dispose of dead horses from the war.

Apples

If you thought apples were safe from this post, you thought wrong.

The “Red Delicious,” for example, is so notoriously disgusting (rubbery on the outside and almost universally mealy on the inside) because it was bastardized for looks, not taste, over the years. (The only reason it’s still so common is because the orchards went in before other varieties came along to offer our faces a much-needed reprieve.)

And the “Pink Lady,” alternatively, was the first apple with a trademark. It is described as having “pink skin,” “white flesh,” and an “attractive pink blush.” It’s also “real,” “authentic,” “the only truly pink apple,” and “considered to be one of the best.” (Even better, buying one supports programs “fighting things such as child obesity and breast cancer!”)

I’ll let you guess which demographic it was explicitly designed for and marketed to.

The Food Pyramid

The FDA won’t admit to this, but anyone with half a brain and even a basic understanding of human nutritional needs (and the US lobby system) can take one look at the food pyramid and put two and two together.

Multivitamins

As several Johns Hopkins doctors published a few years ago, “multivitamins are, at best, a waste of money.”


Alright, KG! Enough with the food! We GET IT! What else you got?

Oh, you want more? I got more…

The Pledge of Allegiance

And the Smithsonian Mag wrote about it, so it’s gotta be true.

It all started with Youth’s Companion, the country’s largest circulation magazine. In a marketing gimmick, the Companion offered U.S. flags to readers who sold subscriptions — and not only that, but they proposed a flag in “every Public School from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” and that children salute it with an oath.

Francis Bellamy, a writer and publicist at the Companion, wrote that “pledging allegiance to the flag” would ensure “that the distinctive principles of true Americanism will not perish as long as free, public education endures.”

Santa Clause

Dude, Coca Cola stole / created him.

The Chicago Cubs

I was still living in Chicago after the Cubs won the World Series, and one night was grabbing a beer with a fellow biker / art director who works on campaigns for one of the major sporting goods companies that supplies the team.

So I asked him the obvious: “Who’s your favorite Cub?”

And he said, “Joe Maddon.”

I laughed. Because Joe Maddon, for those (like pre-World Series me) who are not in the know, is the Cubbies’ Coach.

“Why??” I asked.

And he said, “because that guy created that team. Everything they do, on and off the field, is totally deliberate and by design.”

And that’s when I realized everything I’d seen on the Cubs —pitcher Jake Arrieta being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated body issue in 2016, Kris Bryant’s pranks as a “college transfer” and Lyft driver, his bromance with first baseman (and my personal favorite) Anthony Rizzo (or, as I affectionately call him, “Rizzie.”)

I’m not sayin that Rizzie and Bryant aren’t buds IRL. They probably are. I’m just saying their bromance didn’t hit Youtube and Chicago Tribune by accident.

And it’s probably true for all teams. If it’s not, it certainly should be, because whatever they’re doing over there is working.

The NFL

The NFL pushed real hard over the last 50+ years to get us to associate “football” with “patriotism.” (And now, of course, that’s causing some problems.)

Barnes and Noble

I hope I’m not shooting myself in the foot here, but… lol, guys… there are oodles more books published each year than whatever is sitting on those tables at Barnes and Noble. And sure, it’s lots of peoples’ jobs to weed through it all and make sure what’s sitting there is “the best out there,” but some of what’s “the best” is marketing too.

“Gift Guides”

lololol I pity all you sad fools still using these — just like I pitied myself when I finally realized (mostly because of how long it took…)

I didn’t realize these were marketing until I started a business and, come mid-fall, got several emails in my inbox citing prices to be included in their publication’s “gift guide.”

Guys, these things aren’t editors sitting at their dimly-lit, midnight-oil desks mulling over every product option, pros and cons, to decide which is best. This is — for the most part — people pushing their product on both sides.

Maybe this was obvious to everyone. Maybe it should’ve been obvious to me. Maybe you’re thinking “but they still vet them!” and the answer is no, not really — just so long as your product fits their audience. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Featured and Recommended Products

I already wrote about this when I wrote that “top three things I know about consumers I learned from bartending.”

“You can ‘create’ a ‘most popular’ item simply by telling people that it’s the most popular. This is sometimes the truth behind ‘featured products’ lists. Social proof is a powerful thing.”

Actually, pretty much anything you read online

Probably including this post.

Marketing Is Not About Your Company’s Values

It’s about your customer’s values — and aspirations


Marketing is really about how customer values translate into aspirations, insecurities, fears and motivations.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, Steve Jobs told us,

“Marketing is about values”

He was right, of course. He was right about a lot of things, and marketing in particular was where he ruled. He was right in that the way to talk about a brand is “not to talk about speeds and fees” or “bits and mega-hertz” or “why we are better than windows.” He was right that marketing is about benefits, not features. And he was right when he said,

“Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for?”

All true.

But what he didn’t explicitly say is that customers only want to know “what a company stands for” as it relates back to them.

Marketing, at the end of the day, is not just about a company’s values — it’s about understanding what these mean to a customer, and getting that meaning to be felt strongly enough that they buy.

Now, the real mastery of Jobs is that he almost certainly knew this, consciously or subconsciously. He almost certainly knew full well that people care more about themselves than Apple — and he also almost certainly knew full well that that speech he gave was not talking about marketing. It was marketing.

Which is why he said things like:

“Apple at the core — it’s core value — is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”

And,

“The people who believe they can change the world are the ones who do.”

When he said this, he almost certainly knew:

He wasn’t talking about Apple. And he wasn’t even talking about the customers.

He was talking to them.

People don’t care about you — people care about themselves

And they care about you only to the extent that you fulfill their wants and needs.

Look, it’s not cynical — it’s a fact. People not do business with you as an act of charity, or to get in on some of that sweet, sweet value set you got going on. They do business with you because they believe you are adding value to their lives — and how that sweet value set of yours aligns with their own.

People don’t come into the whiskey bar just because it’s cool — they come in because they want to feel cool. They don’t drink whiskey just because it’s “manly” or “strong” — they drink it so they feel manly and strong.

People didn’t buy Apple because they liked that Apple “believed people with passion can change the world” (like “oh, now isn’t that nice!”) No. People bought Apple because they wanted to see themselves as one of those people.

And the success of a business — and its marketing message — is partially figuring out what people want. And partially the promise of fulfilling it.

People care about the way you make them feel

There are a number of companies popping up that sell clothing with elephants on it and donate part of the proceeds to “saving the elephants.”

They’re popular. And they’re popular not because donating makes people feel good, but because elephants make people feel good.

It’s not accidental. These companies aren’t donating to, say, endangered Amazonian spiders or rock moss.

No. It’s elephants.

Why? It’s simple. You want to sell some fast-fashion casual clothing? Look at who’s buying it. Once you know who’s buying it (and we all know who it is: early 20’s to early 30’s women), then look at why they’re buying it — their values, their insecurities, their wants and aspirations and motivations.

What do they value? What are they insecure about? How do they want to feel? How can we remind them of these things?

Cue the elephants.

Elephants are sociable. They’re cute. They’re smart. They’re just exotic enough to seem special but not exotic enough to be unfamiliar. They’re family-oriented. They’re strong. But they’re safe, not scary. Elephants are on trend.

And if you think this is reading too much into it, recall that we’ve been using motifs such as this since the beginning of time. Almost every smoker wanted to be the Marlboro Man, and at the end of the day you have to understand that, when it comes to inspiring feelings, an elephant isn’t that far off from a cowboy.

And marketing is about figuring out who your customers are, what they value, and most importantly how this manifests in insecurities and aspirations. And then it’s showing them the solutions in your brand.


This story is published in The Startup, where 258,400+ people come together to read Medium’s leading stories on entrepreneurship.

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The 3 Most Important Things I Know About Consumers I Learned From Bartending

#1 — it’s never really about the product


My day job is in digital marketing. By night, I bartend.

And it’s kind of remarkable how consistent the two are — mostly because:

People are people.

1. It’s never really about the product

People don’t drink because they need alcohol. People drink to socialize, to kill time, to have fun, to fit in, to numb their existential crisis. They drink to feel something — or stop feeling something. (This is true even for people who make alcohol for a living — some of my area’s local brewery and distillery owners sometimes pop into the bar on their nights off, and even they drink simply to take a load off, not for the drink itself. Everyone does.)

Conversely, my previous business was in women’s clothing. Not a single one of my customers actually and truly needed another dress. They were all solving for some other problem — to feel important, to feel beautiful, to feel special, to feel more comfortable or confident in her skin, to feel younger or more sophisticated or whatever else. This was the case even when I worked with other women in the industry, who lived and breathed clothing — as products — every day. When it came time to dress themselves, they were the same as all of us. It’s never about the clothes — the clothes are simply a means to an ends, and solving for other, bigger problems.

It’s the same with any product. Unless you are selling electricity or heat or the absolute most basic of food and clothing to someone in dire straits, you are never, ever selling a product. And the need is never what it seems.

Understanding these needs goes a long way. You almost never want to speak or market directly in terms of these needs, because it freaks people out and breaks the “magic” of what they’re doing, but understanding the deeper motivations goes a long way in building rapport.

2. People want to be guided

People don’t want to do the heavy lifting of decision-making. Very rarely do customers come to the table knowing exactly what they want — and if they do, it’s either because (a) they’ve built experience in the subject matter or, more likely, (b) already received input from some other source ahead of time (i.e., “my friend told me…” or “I heard…”)

Outside of this, most people want guidance.

a. People want to know your expertise

“What do you recommend?”

This is by far the number one question I get asked — as both a bartender and in my day job in digital marketing.

People know that this is your domain. They know you see countless exchanges just like this one every single day. They trust your expertise. And, most importantly, they trust this more than they want to entrust themselves with the responsibility of deciding.

To be honest, this question can be a bit frustrating at the bar, mostly because it’s usually asked cold—i.e., the first thing the customer says to you, with no further context. So I always counter, “what do you like?” Because we gotta start somewhere, people — a whiskey and a pina colada are very different drinks, and I would never recommend one to the other’s crowd.

At the day job, it’s easier — because (a) you almost always have some context — you at least know what their business does before they ask this — and (b) when it comes down to it, there are infinitely fewer options. The power is really in the execution.

But either way, people are always looking for your recommendation.

b. People want to know what everyone else is doing

“What do others do?”

Again, one of the most common questions I hear at both the bar and at my day job. I’d estimate the most popular drink at the bar accounts for 30–50% of the cocktails we pour. And almost everyone who orders it does so because they heard it was the most popular.

The funny thing about this is that it’s circular and self-fulfilling. The “most popular” has a good chance of staying the most popular, because the minute people hear this, they want to have it, too.

Of course, for those paying attention at home: this also means you can “create” a “most popular” item simply by telling people that it’s the most popular. This is sometimes the truth behind “featured products” lists.

Social proof is a powerful thing. And with great power comes great responsibility.

3. Consistency vs. Novelty

Consistency

On the one hand, people love consistency. They want to believe that they are consistent — and will often continue historical behavior in order to demonstrate this — and they want consistency in their environments. They want to understand what they’re getting into.

You can pretty much always tell when it’s someone’s first time in the bar, because they’ve always got a look on their face like they’ve never been out in public before and they smell dog poop. They don’t hear the bartenders’ greeting. They don’t know where to sit. They look at the menu like they can’t read and they glaze over looking at the wall of booze and beer. They’re lost, they’re disoriented, and they need foothold.

This is probably how people feel when they first interact with a brand online — each time acting as though they’ve never used the internet before. And a look on their face like it smells like dog poop.

Customers want rapport with you. And themselves.

Regulars are confident; secure; happy. They walk in and they know where they want to sit. They know where the bathroom is. They know your name. And most importantly, they know what they want to order — even if it’s different than last time. Because their drink is an extension of their personality, mood, or needs, and it’s important to them that the two are consistent; that one serves and satisfies the other. And that you’ll get them there.

Novelty

If you put something in front of people, they will engage with it.

I was recently working from a (different) bar while on a business trip (for the day job), having a beer and minding my own. It was mid-afternoon, so the place was pretty empty. But it was a knock-off of one of those big-box restaurants, this one “Caribbean” themed, so the bartender was making mixed drinks.

I’m not a fan of mixed drinks. And I’m definitely not a fan of free sample (srsly — don’t make it weird.) But I’ll be damned if when she set a few ounces of the extra from her most recent concoction down in front of me, I didn’t down that white, syrup mystery like I’d ordered it.

People love new shit.

I definitely get this question — “what’s new?” — a lot more in my day job. Clients always want to know what new functionality we offer that we didn’t last time we all met — and, more specifically:

“Can you give me a taste of what others’ are ordering?”

“What else you guys making?”

“What am I missing out on?”

And it trickles right down to their customers, who have come to expect that each time they hit your site, there will be something new. That’s consistent and the same.

People love new. They love novelty.

Free Shit, Full Prices, Rapport and Reciprocation

Now’s as good a time as any to include a note about “free shit.”

People love free shit. They love beer samples. They love giveaways. They love discounts.

When companies — and bartenders — give little shit away, it gets people engaged, and it inspires them to come back and spend, through the power of reciprocity. They feel like you guys really had something special.

The caveat, however, is that it has to seem targeted, special, and unexpected. If customers know that you’re giving everyone a sample of beer — or 10% off — the magic is broken. They’re definitely still going to reciprocate — but it’s going to be in like-kind. They’re going to treat you as a source for discounts. If you want this, awesome — seems like it’s working fine for Costco. But if you don’t want this, tread lightly. Build the relationship instead — or alongside.

There’s a little local deli two blocks away from our office, and a group of us go there for lunch almost every day. They make good sandwiches, the prices are good, and the employees always remember us — and our orders.

I had heard that they had “get a free sandwich on us!” cards floating around — at least one of my colleagues had received one — but they don’t hand them out like candy. They don’t shove them in your face as you walk by on the sidewalk; they aren’t laying around on the counter. They are given person to person, probably with first names used, and unexpectedly. And when I finally got one, on probably my 100th visit, it was simply icing on the cake — an almost superfluous acknowledgement — and not something I was grabby for.

People want to like you

And they want you to like them. And perhaps most importantly, they want others to like them. And they want to like themselves.

The closer you help them get to all of these goals, the closer you are to your goals as well.


This story is published in The Startup, where 258,400+ people come together to read Medium’s leading stories on entrepreneurship.

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Why You Don’t Have What You Want

Whether in love, in work, or anywhere else in life


One of my dearest friends is struggling to find her life partner. She is certain someone is out there for her, but also increasingly anxious about the fact that it hasn’t worked out for her yet.

This struggle is incredibly common — the hunt for a partner.

It fascinates me. Because to me, relationships seem incredibly obvious and easy. I have no problem getting into them, no problem choosing a partner and just kinda running with it. So at first I didn’t really understand this emotional preoccupation.

And then I realized: I do this, too.

I’m not guilty of it in love (well, perhaps I am. Perhaps I just reject my suitors years later down the line) but I definitely do it with work. Whereas this same friend accepted a job and goes to work with the composure and ease I have with relationships, I definitely mirror her attitude with work.

“Why isn’t it working out for me?”

The reasons vary. The reasons are also all the same.

It’s you. (And it’s me. It’s always “us,” ourselves.) The steps to achievement are actually incredibly fucking simple — be good at making good decisions, make a decision, and then take the necessary steps. But we hold ourselves back from getting what we want. And we do this because we’re insecure about something.

Here are some ways that insecurity manifests. Not all of them will apply — but at least one of them will.

You don’t know what you want

Not specifically, you don’t.

Not literally. Not in a way that means anything. You don’t have a crystal clear vision. You don’t have focus and clarity. You may feel strongly, but the feeling of resolve isn’t actually tied to anything. You may think you want it, but you don’t actually have anything specific.

Because you don’t care about anything enough, and it’s important to you that you care about it. Or because you care about the wrong things. Or because you’re holding yourself back somewhere else (read on.)

We have big ideas about what we want — in theory. But so many of us struggle with the specifics.

“I want a business” is not a thing. “I want a partner” is not a thing. What problem are you trying to solve? What kind of partner? What are you going to do with your day when you wake up tomorrow?

What you want isn’t actionable

We want things like “a business” or “money” or “happiness,” and this shit isn’t actually actionable.

You can still get up every morning and execute against “the thing” in theory — work out, eat healthy, meditate, take cold showers, whatever the fuck — but without an actual, literal, actionable endpoint in mind, all you’ll have to show for it is some rad habits that lead to nowhere.

The people who accomplish the sort of things we want don’t think in terms of “business.” They think about the problem they’re trying to solve — something to improve outside of “myself.”

Because you reject everything

You can find a reason not to pursue pretty much any option, or you reject it a year or two later, because you feel like:

“I know there’s something better out there for me.”

This is what binds so many of us up in finding a partner — we want our ideal, we think we deserve our ideal, and we keep holding out for an ideal that isn’t fair, realistic, or actionable.

I don’t do this in relationships, but it is what I’ve done with work since I got my first job — always thinking I can do it better, or “this should be better,” but doing nothing whatsoever to actually pursue it besides quitting jobs and looking for a new one — then starting a company, only to set it down because “it could be better.”

I’m bartending to bide my time while I “look for my next company,” but the reality that I’ve only just now realized is that when you disqualify everything, you end up with nothing.

Better is what we make. And there’s nothing to build on if we go through life constantly looking for “better.”

Because you have ideals — you’re looking for “perfect”

And because perfection isn’t possible, you’re on an endless hunt that leads to heartbreak.

You want the best and perfect solution to something — work, love, etc. — so you get hung up on thinking about your ideals — what you want, what you deserve, what your idea of greatness and perfection looks like.

You become anxious and frenzied when things aren’t perfect — when a relationship isn’t everything you think it should be, it fills you with anxiety and unhappiness.

The problem is that when you hold off committing to anything, you end up with nothing.

You have two options:

  1. Change your standards
  2. Stubbornly maintain your standards and have them forcefully changed for you

Fucking ease off, man. Take it easy.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. 
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. 
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. 
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

— Aldous Huxley

Because you’ve made self worth about “the thing” you want

The difference between people who have the thing you want and people who, like you, are suffering and struggling through getting it is: one group made it about their self worth.

You want to know why achieving this thing is so important to you? Because you’ve made your identity about achieving it.

And as long as you hang your self worth on an external marker, you’re going to hamstring yourself from doing anything that could harm it — because doing so is hurting you.

People who have whatever it is you want got there because they weren’t immobilized by every misstep. They didn’t have breakdowns when shit was imperfect, they don’t get hung up on how it matches up to the ideal in their head. Because they don’t make it about their own value.

This thing you want so bad is fucking you up because you’ve made it into something — you’ve hogtied yourself. And now, because you have it on a pedestal, you’re hindered and you’ve terrified yourself into a corner.

If you make your self worth about finding a partner (and not only a partner, but the “right” partner; the “perfect” partner), you’re going to sabotage every relationship — until you realize that the relationship isn’t there to stand for your self worth. Likewise, if you are obsessed with finding the perfect work, you’re going to sabotage every job or business — until you realize that your work is not a stand-in for your self worth.

You may not think you’re sabotaging it — in fact, you may think you’re trying very hard. But the more anxious you feel about it, and the more you unload that anxiety back into it, the more you’ve tethered yourself to this thing and made it about your own value.

And you think everyone does this, but they don’t. I certainly did. I value other people by their work. Some people value others by the “success” of their relationships and home life. But people who have these things — calmly, quietly, with certainty — don’t actually view and value themselves in this way. Because doing so causes too much anxiety, and the anxiety will always sabotage it in some way.

Because what you want is contradictory

And because your standards of measurement are self-sabotaging and stupid.

You want a meaningful relationship, but you keep looking for bullshit like looks and income and they way they dress.

You want meaningful work, but you keep measuring it by money.

You think everyone does this, but they don’t. People who really have these things don’t measure them in this way. They are secondary, not primary, motivators. People with richness in their lives got there by pursuing richness first, and not hamstringing that pursuit by evaluating it with bullshit measures.

You think you can have both, but you can’t. Focusing on bullshit, or using bullshit to measure meaning, will always extinguish anything worthwhile.

Because you don’t work for what you want

You get sidetracked. You get distracted. You lack motivation or discipline or follow-through. You’re more excited about the ideation or daydreaming about the thing than actually executing. You make excuses, you let things trip you up. You lack grit.

You think you’re the only one who experienced setbacks, or you think others didn’t have this thing, but the reality is that everyone who has something got there by getting up every day and doing the work and hustling — even through the boring bits.

Because you don’t actually want it that badly

You only like the idea of it, not the messy execution. You like the idea of owning a business, but making decisions (including which business) isn’t actually something you do day to day. You like the idea of a relationship, but not the messiness of making one work.

You like the way things sound on paper, but you like the idea of them more than you like the details. You don’t want the shit sandwich that comes along.

Because you don’t commit

To either the decision or the follow-through, or both.

Because you aren’t certain enough. You aren’t confident enough. Because you fear you’ll miss out on something better. Because you get sidetracked and tempted by other things. Or because you’re insecure about how you’ll be perceived by others. Or you’ve burdened yourself with other people’s struggles.

Because you’re afraid of the unknown. Or because you need to know everything before taking action on anything. Because the idea of trial and error terrifies you.

How to get what you want:

Nobody talks about the first step. But without the first step, nothing else matters.

  1. Stop making this thing about your self worth. Have good standards — built on internal, not external value. Don’t make decisions based on bullshit. The “right standards” is the area of ourselves where the problem really exists. We don’t have what we want because we don’t know what we want or what we want is the wrong thing or we can’t decide — all because our decision framework is fucked. Our values are bullshit. Fix this, and the rest becomes incredibly easy. And then it’s as simple as:
  2. Decide. Fucking decide.
  3. Actually do the work.