Productivity Hacks

May 31, 2017

ProductivityI don’t know anyone who feels as though there are enough hours in the day. Whether you want more time to spend with your family, to chase a new business opportunity or to pursue that big dream you’ve always tucked in the back of your head – you could always use an extra hour or few. And to get there, your productivity needs to be at its peak.

We could absolutely do less and for some people, that’s a viable and attractive option.  But for those of us who aren’t ready to slow down but still want to be as efficient as possible – there are some tools that can help.

For me, there are some absolutes that must be present when I consider a new productivity tool.  Missing any one of these is usually a deal breaker for me.

  • Must be accessible on all of my devices (laptop, tablet and mobile phone) if appropriate
  • Must sync all data between my devices so no matter which tool I’m using to get to the tool – the data is current
  • Has to be Apple/Mac friendly
  • Simple, simple, simple – I don’t have the time or the desire to learn something complicated
  • Responsive customer service team – if I run into trouble, I want to know there’s a human being somewhere in the mix who can help me
  • Can’t cost an arm or leg but I am willing to spend some money to get the fully loaded version or some of the features (like sharing capacity) that I need

I thought it might be useful to share a few of the tools that I use on a daily basis to keep my world in order and to be as productive as possible.

Evernote:  Think of Evernote as a virtual super secretary that helps you keep everything you might need at your fingertips.  It’s like a virtual file cabinet that stores notes, visuals, web clippings, digitized business cards, audio files and so much more.

What makes this tool so useful is the ability to tag everything you add.  So searching for something that you stored two years ago becomes a breeze, as long as you’ve created a simple tagging system/hierarchy.

My Evernote is a mishmash of blog post ideas, notes from client meetings, web clippings of things I want to share with someone or refer to later, my digital Rolodex and a list of vacation options for upcoming trips.

Wunderlist:  I searched for a couple years to find a To Do list app that actually helped me get things done.  I can keep multiple lists, share them with other people so there’s built in accountability and it is easy to access on all of my devices.  Most To Do apps are unnecessarily complicated.  Part of what I love about Wunderlist is its simplicity.

My lists include client To Dos, things I need to do around my house, my grocery list, phone calls I need to make, next steps (tied to calendar reminders) for some new business prospecting and best of all – I can share tasks with others on my team and assign responsibility as needed.

Tiny Scan Pro: This phone app produces incredibly legible scans of any document. If you travel or are out of the office on a regular basis, being able to scan a document and then either email it to someone, upload it to Evernote, DropBox, Google Drive or other cloud tools is invaluable. If you have the companion app Tiny FAX, you can even go old school and fax it to someone.

Productivity – It’s all about getting things done smarter, faster and with less hassle. Hopefully, these tools will allow you to spend more of your time doing the things you love the most with the people you love the most.


Don’t forget to recognize your good fortune

November 23, 2016

good fortune

It’s easy to get caught up in the metrics, goals, sales projections, and all the other things we measure in business. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to suggest that the best parts of being in business can’t be measured in dollars, percentages or increases but by your good fortune.

I don’t know about you, but by this time of year, I’m getting a little tired. I’ve been going full throttle ever since the holidays wound down last year and I’ve been chasing some pretty aggressive goals. This coming week is the perfect time to slow down and genuinely be grateful for our good fortune. Why not take advantage of the slower pace of Thanksgiving week and actually say thank you to those who make your work meaningful and successful.

Your employees: Let’s be honest – your employees are awesome, aren’t they? They care about your customers, they care about your business and they care about you. They work hard and your bottom line benefits from their efforts.

If you have a small staff, take the time to handwrite them a thank you note. Point out the things they do that make such a difference and let them know you appreciate all they do.

If your team is too big for that, gather them together and tell them how much you appreciate them. If you have multiple locations – why not shoot a video? It doesn’t have to be fancy — you can do it on your computer or phone. But make it personal.

Your clients: What if you spent a couple of hours this coming week and called all of your customers just to say thank you. Don’t try to sell them anything or talk about 2017. Just say thank you. But be specific – tell them why they’re such a wonderful client and why you appreciate them so much.

Encourage your employees to do the same thing with the customers that they serve.

Your vendors: You know who I’m talking about – the ones who bust a hump when your client shortens their deadline or wants to double their order but not the time it takes to get it done.

Let them know that you value their skills, commitment to your customers and willingness to bend over backward to help you over deliver. If there’s a sales rep or front line person who is always going out of their way for you – why not pick up the phone or write a note to their boss? Express your gratitude for their employee and make sure they know just how lucky they are to have them.

Your past customers: Even if they haven’t done business with you in a while, why not drop them a note to thank them for their past business? Tell them how much you appreciate the faith they had in you and the opportunity they gave you. Again, this isn’t a sales gimmick and you’re not trying to win them back. Just acknowledge that you enjoyed working with them, are grateful for the chance and wish them well.

In keeping with this blog post’s theme, I want to thank all of you for reading my blog content. Your emails, calls, notes and kind words make my day. I love it when you disagree, agree or just ask a question. I’m very grateful for our on-going conversation about marketing and all things business.

The magic of this week of giving thanks is that the more gratitude you express, the better you feel. You’ll be reminded again and again of your good fortune and that’s the perfect way to wind down this year and gear up for even more blessings in the year to come.


Keep Up

November 2, 2016

Keep UpI was recently asked to give a presentation on what students can do/learn so they can keep up with the ever-changing landscape of business and marketing today. As I was preparing the material to deliver, I quickly realized that my counsel wasn’t just for today’s students. It’s what all of us, whether we are a student or seasoned professional, need to be doing to stay current in this never static environment that we all exist in.

Recognize that your employer is not going to invest in your continuing growth. You need to do it for yourself: I’m not saying you won’t have the opportunity to attend a conference or take a class, but the reality is, no company can afford to provide as much continuing education as we need.

We have to be motivated to keep learning on our own or we will very quickly fall behind and once that happens, it’s tough to catch up. Regular consumption of podcasts, webinars, books, blogs, TED talks or whatever method works for you is critical.

Consume information wisely and quickly: We’ve all done it. You click on one online article and next thing you know, an hour has passed and you are far away from where you started. Today’s information overload can bury us in a blink if we’re not careful. We definitely need to consume information every day but we need to have a plan.

Use tools that help you sort and filter all the information out there to find what you need to keep up. An RSS Feed reader (I like Feedly) is an easy way to sort through huge volumes of data. You can also use customizable news apps like Flipboard to aggregate the latest news in the categories that matter most to your industry and career.

Learn to teach, write to learn: The linear nature of mentorships is evolving into a new model. We old dogs have a lot to learn from our younger, digital-native co-workers and we still have a few things to teach as well. When you know you’re going to be teaching others, you learn at a different level.

One of the best ways to teach is to write. As you do your research and fact checking, you will learn even more. A side benefit is that your writing skills will get stronger as well.

Be productive at the start: Most days, the distractions win. We rarely get as much done as we’d like, simply because of the interruptions and constant distractions that bombard us throughout the day.

But if you start your day in relative quiet and get the most pressing of your work done before you log into email, walk into a meeting or take that first call – you’ll feel less rushed and frenetic. If you include some of your media/information consumption into that morning routine, you’ll also feel more plugged into what’s going on in the world.

Surround yourself with other learners and thinkers: You can’t possibly learn it all. And even tougher – you can’t see it all from every angle. You need to create your own tribe of people who will share freely, encourage you, hold you accountable, challenge you and cheer you on.

Very few professionals make the time to create this sort of mastermind group of their own. But I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a safe place to admit you don’t know something, to ask someone you trust to hold you accountable to a goal or just to compare notes/experiences.

The world is not going to slow down. If anything, the speed of change is just going to accelerate even more. If we don’t master these habits now and develop this ability to keep learning and evolving – to keep up – we may never catch up.


How are you sharpening your saw?

April 20, 2016

Sharpening Your SawAre you consciously sharpening your saw every day? Maybe it’s just because I’m living through it, but I truly believe that there’s never been an era that has experienced the rate of change that we’re enjoying/enduring now.  It presents us with some remarkable opportunities to explore new tactics and tools but it also presents us with what sometimes feels like an insurmountable challenge of trying to keep current.  With all of this change, how are you sharpening your saw?

A question from a reader (which I love, so keep them coming) got me thinking about all the ways we can and should be sharpening our saw so that we don’t get caught behind the times.

Read: It seems like a good book is published every single day. Even if you only consume a book a month, you’ll be ahead of most. If you can’t get through an entire book, try the audio version. Still too daunting? Then at the very least make a habit of reading a few good magazines. Be sure you stretch your boundaries. Sure, read Fast Company but also grab The Economist for some variety.

Listen: Podcasts have come a long way. Many authors and experts offer their insights in 10-60 minute sound bytes that you can enjoy on your daily commute, while you walk the dog or as a team. One of my favorites is one that’s done by Iowa’s Nick Westergaard and DJ Waldow called The Work Talk Show. Although they’ve put it on hiatus — the existing 100 episodes are definitely worth a listen. Each episode digs into how successful people work – their habits, their tools and how they accomplish so much in a day.

Surf: Of course, you can always go to school by going online. Between all the blogs, free content, online courses, and other sites – you can fall into a rabbit hole that you’d never escape. Find a few reliable sites that focus on marketing and not just digital marketing. But don’t forget to also follow some trending sites and some that focus on your industry.

Watch: YouTube isn’t just for funny videos and previewing the Super Bowl spots. There are some incredible resources that will keep you inspired (, on the cutting edge (Trend Hunter’s channel) and informed. Again, be sure to subscribe to a few so you don’t miss an episode.

Meet: Don’t be so overwhelmed by all of the content contained in our technology that you forget that your greatest teachers are probably other people. Seek them out. And don’t be fooled into thinking they have to be heralded experts. Your own peers are a great source for exploration and conversations. Whether you are better about attending conferences, being active in a professional association or just grabbing coffee with a colleague – don’t forget the most interactive teacher of all.

I can hear you now – that’s all fine and good but how in the heck does anyone find the time to consume all of this? I think it’s easier to consume all of this in bite-sized pieces. Find ways to weave the consumption into some new habits. Listening to a book or podcast while you’re on the treadmill means that for as long as you honor your New Year’s resolution, you’ll be learning something new.

One of the best ways to make sure you keep learning is to make it a team activity. It’s the combination of accountability and the camaraderie of learning together that will keep you more dedicated to the task. You can do a book club type of thing or you can create a culture that encourages everyone to not only learn, but also to share what they learned. But however you structure it, there’s value in doing it together.

Honestly, the key to actually doing this is deciding that it’s not optional. Because unless you want to quickly be obsolete, it’s not.


The Google Yourself Challenge

July 30, 2012

Forget egosurfing for a second and ask yourself, how much can people learn about you by simply Googling you?

The idea behind the Google Yourself Challenge is this: friends, relatives, recruiters, hiring managers, and even strangers may be searching for you on the web.  Why not Google yourself first and control what people can learn about you online?

Here are some statistics on who is looking for your data:

  • 81% of millennials Google or Facebook their date before going out
  • 79% of recuiters and hiring managers screen applicants by information available online
  • 86% of hiring managers have rejected someone based on information available online
  • 7 in 10 internet users search online for information about others

Check out some of these stats in this infographic…and then go Google yourself.  (And your employees, employer, parents and kids!) You might be surprised at how much Google (and everyone else) knows about you!

The Google Yourself Challenge


Going viral = out of your control

May 8, 2012

It seems like one of the goals I hear more and more is… “and we want it to go viral.”  I translate that to mean — we want a lot of people to see it.

But rarely when someone says they want something to go viral, do they really understand the implications of that.  The biggest one is — the minute it begins to go viral, it begins to take on a life of its own and it is beyond your control.

Let me give you a very tangible example.  My daughter and several of her college friends decided that they wanted to jump into the Sh*t People Say meme that was started in December (the original video has over 16 million hits – click here to view it) and make a video based on what University of Northern Iowa students say.

Their intention was pretty straight forward and college kid appropriate — they thought it would be funny. (And it is).  So they scripted and shot the video with that intent.  It’s filled with inside jokes about the names of resident halls (Dancer, Bender, Rider so you can imagine the joke!) and some of the art that lives on campus. And the first 50 viewers or so, mostly their friends or people within their circle of friends, were of the same mindset.  They got a lot of “LOL” type comments.

But then as the video began to spiral outside their own circle and go viral, some interesting things happened that we all need to keep in mind as we cross our fingers for a viral spread of our marketing efforts.

Not everyone is going to like it.  Some people took the humor as putting down the college they loved and took offense.  And there were a couple swear words sprinkled throughout which a few people objected to.  No matter how clear your intent or how pure your motives — as your audience widens, so will the range of opinions.

People will apply it to their own agenda. Like most Universities, UNI was not without some controversy this year.  Budget cuts are leading to dropping some majors which routinely only graduated a few kids a year.  Professors and special interest groups started sharing the video as proof “that the kids are upset that classes are being cut.”

Know that we all view things through our own perception/lens.  And nuance and meaning can be inferred or transfered if the motivation or inspiration is strong enough.  Sometimes that will work for you and other times, it might take you off course.

People will nitpick at it, because they would have done it different.  Apparently UNI is a very windy campus and one of the bits referenced that inside joke.  A commenter pointed out that they should have shot it in a different location which is the windiest of the windy spots.

One of the truths that has become apparent via social networks is that everyone has an opinion.  And now, they have multiple ways of sharing it. Some will applaud your efforts, others will take the opportunity to critique.  You can’t put yourself out there if you aren’t ready to accept both.

The lessons learned by the UNI students is a very valid one for all of us that create content and toss it out into the social wind — hoping it will grab an updraft.

There’s the trade off.  If your efforts goes big (their UNI video has over 5,600 views as of this posting) it will also go places you never imagined or intended it would go.  Is that bad?  No, of course not.  The goal is exposure.  

But you need to be ready for the tangents, the crazies and unintended consequences because those are part of the package too. If your brand is strong and consistent, most people will dismiss the fringe comments and see what you were trying to say.

The fear that comes with the potential loss of control is why so many brands do social media badly or not at all.  You have to be willing to let go and trust your audience.

Hmm, there’s an interesting twist.  We want them to trust us with their money but are we ready to trust them with our message?

(Hat tip to my daughter and her fellow students for their creativity and willingness to see what happens.  A special nod to freshman Linh Ta (Electronic media major) for a great job shooting and editing the video. Want to read her thoughts on studying journalism in today’s world? Check out her blog.)

Photo courtesy of


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The path is never straight

March 24, 2012

I receive a lot of mail from readers and many times, they have a question that I can answer here on the blog, so everyone benefit from their initiative.

Victoria writes:  I am so interested in marketing but don’t really understand the best path into the business.  I was just wondering if you could tell me a bit about your story and how you got to where you are today.  

I am currently a sophomore in college and I was wondering if you had any advice or words of wisdom to share. 

I’m happy to share my story but realize that if there is a single truth in our business, it’s that no one’s path is the same and there are many paths that lead to the same place.  Sit back, this might take a bit.

I entered college convinced I was going to be a psychologist.  Late in my sophomore year, my advisor (who was also one of my psych professors) asked me to meet with him.  I’d had him for several classes and we’d gotten to know each other.  When we sat down, he challenged my career choice.   He asked me to consider a single question:  Could I leave my job and my patients at the office?

He told me that to be a successful (and healthy) psychologist, I’d have to be able to listen and guide but not try to help.  I couldn’t, he said, bring home every broken person like they were a stray puppy. After a weekend of soul searching, I realized he was right.  I wouldn’t be able to leave it at the office.  I was too much of a fixer.

So I went back to his office and asked him….”now what?”  He asked me what I loved about psych and why I wanted to be a psychologist.  I said:

  • I love understanding people and why they do what they do
  • I love helping people
  • I love asking questions that get people to think in a fresh way

Then, he said…what else do you love to do and I answered:

  • I love to write
  • I love to read
  • I love to do logic problems and puzzles
  • I love technology and computers (even back then)
  • I love to lead

We talked some more and finally he said, “have you ever considered advertising or marketing?”  I honestly hadn’t.  But from my first copywriting class, I was hooked.  Marketing was the combination of all the things I loved.  I just had never even considered it before.

Lesson One:  Know yourself well enough to do what you love.  That way, no matter how hard it is to get the job or how many hours you need to work — it’s a labor of love.

One of my professors was actually an adjunct professor who also worked at Grey Advertising in Minneapolis.  She asked me if I wanted to do some freelance writing for them.  Of course…I jumped at the chance.  I was petrified.  What if I sucked?  But, I decided I was not willing to let my fear get in the way of the opportunity.

Lesson Two:  Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway (thanks John Wayne).  There have been many times in my career when I was petrified.  But sometimes you just have to do it anyway.

So I freelanced quite a bit while I finished school and met a bunch of people in the business.  I was smart enough to know that making contacts would matter when I graduated.   I graduated and got married….and within a month of getting married, my new wife got a job offer from Disney.  In Orlando.  So of course, we moved.

There I was, ready to find a job and I was suddenly living in a city where I didn’t know a soul.  No contacts.  No familiarity with the agency scene.

Lesson Three:  The road rarely zigs in the direction you expect.  You always need to be ready to zag.

So there I am, in Orlando.  I need to find a job.  And no one knew who the heck I was.  I had a great book of real work (thank you Grey!) but I was going to have to do something dramatic to get their attention so I could show it to them.

I had just watched Guys and Dolls and somehow it wove itself into my brain.  Next thing I knew, I was writing a cover letter in “wise guy” language, threatening to have Guido come by and break their legs if they didn’t make time to see “dis kid Drew who could write real pretty.” Believe it or not….I sent it, along with some samples of my work.  I got three interviews.

Lesson Four:  Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.  The art is knowing when.

I showed up for the interviews in my suit and tie and hoped they’d take me seriously after my wise guys cover letter.  Within a week, I had a job offer from Y&R and accepted it.

My job was a whirlwind of learning and new experiences.  But it wasn’t just about being a copy writer.  I never said no.  I was relentless — anything that needed to be done, I did.  I helped collect old receivables, I ran errands, I served as an account person, I did admin tasks.  I wanted us and our clients to be successful and I didn’t mind doing anything that got us closer to that goal.

Lesson Five:  Put your ego aside.  There is no job that’s beneath you.  Your job is to help the team and your clients be successful.  Do that and it will get noticed.

I loved my job in Orlando and the people I worked with so I was devastated when they decided to close the office.  We all got laid off.  By then, the allure of living in Orlando was wearing off.  I wanted to get back to the midwest so that’s where I concentrated my job hunt.

I was offered a huge opportunity at Burson Marsteller in Chicago.  I would have been one of the lead writers on the Tropicana account.  It meant a lot more money. It meant getting back to the midwest.  I turned it down.

It would have also meant that all I did every day was work on the Tropicana account.  And not all of Tropicana.  The Tropicana frozen orange juice team.  10 hours a day.  5 days a week.

Lesson Six: See lesson #1 about knowing what you love.

I loved the variety of working with multiple clients.  I loved being at the strategy table as well as the creative table.  I couldn’t imagine ONLY caring about frozen orange juice.  And I couldn’t imagine not caring about my work.

Within a month, I was offered a job by the same Y&R agency I’d worked for in Orlando.  But this job was in Iowa.  As a Minnesotan, I was a little appalled at the idea of living in Iowa (long time rivalry) but I knew and loved the company so I said yes.

I spent the next several years there….learning more than I can tell you.  I was given a lot of freedom, responsibilities and lots of encouragement to get involved in the community.  I served on boards, was Ad Club president and found a way to influence the agency’s culture and success.

I couldn’t get enough of it.  I worked long and late.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I asked questions.  I listened.  And I challenged.

I loved earning my clients and co-workers’ trust and then exceeded those expectations.  The relationships mattered a great deal to me and I will always look back at that job/agency as my real education on how to be a good marketing professional.

Lesson Seven:  Sooner or later you will find a job or a boss (or both) that wants you to succeed as much as you do.  Soak up their wisdom, generosity and be ready sometime in your career to be that person for someone else.

I eventually left that company in the biggest mistake of my professional career.  I took a job for money.  And I was miserable.  But from that mistake came the greatest decision of my career.  I launched my own agency (initially with a partner).

I was in my early 30s, ignorant as heck and thought it couldn’t possibly be that hard.

Man, was I wrong.  It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my professional life.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  But it’s also what I am most proud of, career-wise.  I’ve hired some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.  We’ve built an agency that does smart, strategic work.  And we’ve built a culture that makes people want to stay (average tenure of my employees is 10+ years).  We donate over $100,000 of services to local charities every year and every one of my teammates serves on community boards.

We make a difference for our clients and our community.

Along the way, I’ve made some incredible friends and I am a very fortunate man.  And it’s not over yet.

Final lesson:  Trust your heart.  Our business is about people and relationships.  Yes, you need to be smart and you need to keep learning but above all that — you need to love the work you do, the people you do it with and the people you do it for.

There you have it Victoria…my path.  Now go out there and carve out your own!  (Here are some practical tips on getting that first job!)

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Mitt Romney is getting tired (or lazy) in Iowa!

January 3, 2012

This upcoming Presidential election will be my daughter’s first opportunity to vote.

Combine that with the fact that we live in Iowa, the caucus is upon us and she’s a registered Independent and you can only imagine the flood of mail and calls she’s received leading up to the caucus.

You know what all the candidates are thinking…. fresh meat!

So I was a little surprised and appalled at what front runner Mitt Romney sent her late last week.

Screen shot 2012 01 03 at 12 51 08 AM
The front of Mitt’s postcard to my daughter.  Understated would be a nice way to describe it.
The back of the postcard sent to my daughter. No real message or reason for her to lend him her support.

Now….I’m all for plenty of white space but come on.  Is this really the best that Mitt and his team could do?  Why bother spending the money at all if this is the effort you put out?

The marketing message is pretty clear here.  Don’t just spend money or send stuff out to be doing it.  Have a vision/goals and make sure your copy and design support those goals.

Shame on you Mitt.  You claim to be the candidate that will run this country like a business.  Well no business I know would waste their money on this kind of a direct mail campaign!

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One last gift

December 23, 2011

bigstock Getting Ready For The Holidays 960678
Give one last gift this holiday season

I’d like to ask you to slow down for just a few minutes.  I know the holidays are crazy busy and you have gifts to buy, wrap or unwrap, baking to finish and all sorts of other very legitimate  things on your To Do list.

I don’t want to suggest that all of that isn’t important because it is.  It matters to you and your family.  It’s about traditions and love and making memories.   All worth your time and attention.

But I want you to consider giving one more gift this holiday season.  I think you have the potential to give a gift that can put a flicker of light back into a person’s soul.

One of my favorite movies this time of year is It’s a Wonderful Life.  I’ve seen it a million times and I still tear up as George watches his neighbors and friends pour into his living room, ready to share their last dollar with him because he mattered to them. (watch the final scene here)

I think part of the reason that scene makes me tear up a little is because I think for a lot of people — they wonder who, if anyone, would pour into their living room.   I’ve come to believe that perhaps the loneliest feeling in the world is the feeling of being insignificant.  As human beings, we need to matter.  And I think this earth is packed with people who don’t really believe that they do.

And that sense of insignificance can lead to a debilitating despair.   Think of it as a shroud of that wet cold that chills you to the bone.  But in this case it goes beyond the bones to the very spirit of a person.

Here’s the dirty little secret.  The people feeling that way aren’t homeless or jobless or anything less.  They are people in your house.  At your work.  In your church.   In your dorm or apartment complex.  At the gym.  You’re surrounded by them but you’d never know it.

They lead busy lives.  They accomplish stuff.  They show up.  They step up.

And yet they feel like none of it really matters.   Because they don’t really matter.  Not really.  Not unless you need something from them. They know you’ll rush in if you need some help, but will you be standing there if they’re the one in need?

In today’s hyper connected world, I think it’s even easier to feel disconnected.  “How can I be so surrounded by people and no one can see how I’m hurting inside?  How can they not know?”  And that’s how the whirlpool begins…pulling a person down deeper until they can barely breathe because the weight on their chest is so heavy.

I suspect there are many people in your life who don’t really know that they matter to you.  Or it’s just been a really long time since you told them.  From the cheerful woman you look forward to seeing as she brews your low fat latte to the quiet co-worker who listens to your “my kid is so cute” stories to the neighbor who always lends you his tools to the boss who gave you extra time off because your son was being deployed to the friend who always seems to know when you need to vent to the teacher who pushed you to do better than just call it in to the Facebook friend who posts things that make you think or laugh or both.

I don’t know exactly who they are.  It might be your dad.  It might be the person on the bus who always offers you their paper.  You might love them with all your heart or you might not even know their name.  But somehow, in ways big or small — they do matter.   They matter to you.  And if they were in trouble or needed $20 — you’d pour into their living room.

Tell them.  Look them in the eye and tell them.  Tell them how they touch your heart.  Tell them how they pick you up.  Tell them how they brighten your day.  Tell them how they make you laugh.  Tell them that they matter to you.

Because what you don’t realize and what we often don’t realize until it’s too late is that today just might be the day that they decide they can’t do it anymore.  They can’t continue not to matter.

Give someone the gift of significance this holiday season.  You’ll probably never know how much it means to them.

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Are we living lives of quiet desperation?

September 4, 2011

… who out there is truly feeling alone?

I’m not a big believer in coincidences.  I am however, a big believer in clues.

I think our lives are littered with clues… and usually we either dismiss them or are completely oblivious to them.  Who you think doles out those clues depends on your spiritual beliefs.  For me, I’ve often joked that  God starts with pebbles and it’s about the time He’s placed a boulder in my path that I finally notice.

Who leaves the clues isn’t my point.  It’s the fact that they are there that matters.   This is a post about clues and how often we miss them.  And maybe something we can do about it.

For me, clue one is that Henry David Thoreau‘s quote “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” has been weighing heavy on my heart for the past month or so. It keeps appearing in odd places like Google searches and I find my mind drifting to it and lingering on it, both in my head and in my deepest soul.

I think Thoreau was right.  And I think his statement is actually more true today than ever before.  What makes his words so haunting is how horribly isolated they sound.  A  heart filled with a loneliness and hopelessness that is cloaked in silence.

In a world where we are constantly reminded of how many friends, followers and fans we have — how can that be?  We’re busier than ever before.  We check our email 37 times a day and update our statuses around the clock.  The chatter is constant.   The sharing never ending.  And we like it that way.  We like getting to know each other.  But are we really?

For many of us, our financial/professional success is tied to all of these interactions and to the persona/brand we create.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that it’s fake.  But it is selective.  Just like there’s an inside and an outside voice when you’re a kid — we understand the social norms and most of us stay inside them.

But what if on the inside, surrounded by 2,000 friends, 10,000 followers and a bevy of fans — you feel all alone?  Maybe that constant buzz and busyness allows you to keep people at bay. What if that quiet desperation is slowly enveloping you to the point that you might suffocate — but you don’t dare let anyone see it.

It’s so much easier to hide today in the flurry of quips, 140 character chatter and the constant activity.  Which is also what makes it all the more lonely.  It’s like being at a huge party and needing to cry.  There’s no way you can pull that off — so you stuff those feelings down deeper and you become the life of the party to distract yourself and everyone else from how you’re really feeling.

Clue two came today with word of the tragic suicide of Trey Pennington, a very talented writer, speaker and a well known social media personality.  Trey was everyone’s friend.  One of the good guys.  He was always helping someone achieve a goal or try something new. I “knew” him but I didn’t know him. We’d never met in person. We shared some brief exchanges on Twitter and Facebook — but like many others who mourn his loss — I only saw the parts of his heart that he felt safe to expose in public.

I think there are a lot of Trey Pennington’s walking around out there — lifting up and supporting other people, partially because it’s who they are but also because it’s more comfortable than letting the attention turn their way.  And yet inside, they’re barely  making it through the day.  They are drowning in their own quiet desperation.

Clue three came in the form of an incredibly brave blog post called The Difference Between Trey Pennington and Me by Bridget Pilloud.  She tells of a time in her life when she had decided to commit suicide and the one thing that stopped her is that someone noticed her depression despite the mask and called her on it.  I believe that blog post will save a life.  Maybe many.  It made me cry.

Why in God’s name am I telling you all of this on a marketing blog?  Honestly, I have no idea why and maybe I never will.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  I’ve almost deleted it several times.  But somehow, the boulders are so big that I can’t.  So I’ve stopped fighting it.  If I lose some subscribers, so be it.

For some reason, I think you need to hear this. Or maybe I need to say it.

Trey’s friends, both casual and very close, are writing about him tonight as you can imagine.  They’re telling wonderful stories, talking about how he touched their lives and they are loving him well.  It’s a fitting tribute to a man who has earned the love and respect he’s being offered. The more casual of his friends are of course, saying that they wished they’d known.

Maybe that’s what’s driving this post for me.

I think we have this stereotypical idea of what a depressed person looks and behaves like.  The prescription drug commercials tell us that they can’t get out of bed or shower.  They sit on their couch in their robe, staring blankly into space.  They certainly aren’t successful.  They aren’t the life of the party.  They aren’t charismatic and busy serving others.

But they are.  And I think they are all around us.  But we’ve been fooled because they’re afraid for us to know.

Despite the suffocation of the desperation — they don’t want us to know.  It’s a shame-filled secret.  But they also desperately need our help.  They need us to ask because they have no idea how to tell us.  Or if they should.

If you’re a little worried about someone or you see hints of something going on underneath — ask.  And ask again.  If you know someone is going through a tough patch, don’t accept the quick “I’m fine” as they turn the conversation back to you.

Please pay attention and watch for the clues.  I’m hoping you’ll be more alert to them and brave enough to act on them.

Thanks for being patient while I moved the boulders off the path.  Some clues are too big to ignore.

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