Scott Belsky was one of the speakers at this month’s World Domination Summit, and he gave a talk based on his book, Making Ideas Happen (Affiliate). At the end of chapter two, Belsky challenges readers to overcome the stigma of self-marketing and gives several strategies for doing so. One of those strategies is effectively naming the differentiating strengths or experiences you possess. Step two of the process is creating a communications strategy for telling others about the strengths and experiences that make me good at my profession (or the various aspects of my profession). Step three is executing on that plan.
Well, right now I am working with a couple of partners to design and develop BarrettABrooks.com, where I will transfer this blog and also tell more of my story. The blog will be my sandbox for testing creative ideas, sharing life lessons, and taking action (with your help, of course). I’ll write on a few main topics, or buckets:
- Servant Leadership
- Organizational Culture
- The Great Outdoors
- Current Events
Basically, I’ll write about the things I love and the things I learn.
It’s part of my overall self-marketing strategy and it makes me very uncomfortable. I hate talking about myself, I have a fear of sounding pompous or conceited, and I think deep down at the root of everything is a fear of criticism or rejection. After all, if I am to openly proclaim my strengths and my mission and then publicly fail, it opens me up to all kinds of negative feedback.
Luckily, I learned a lot about myself at World Domination Summit. There are several things I need to work on in the immediate future if I want to succeed in establishing and growing Living for Monday:
- Be more vulnerable
- Take more action (and finish the drill on key projects)
- Get comfortable marketing myself and L4M’s products/services
In an attempt at all three, I want to tell you about some of my greatest differentiators. Next time I post I’ll write about how those strengths will help me grow into an awesome coach, recruiter, and product creator. The last post of the series will ask for your help based on what comes next for marketing myself and L4M.
Disclaimer: this post is unabashed self-marketing in an attempt to get over my fear of self-promotion. I go into detail about where my strengths come from and why they are differentiators. I would love it if you would read and tell me how to better communicate these differentiators without sounding conceited or pompous. I would also like feedback on ways in which I am apologetic – I have a tendency to self-efface in order to diminish the self-promotion aspects. Call me out on it!
Here goes nothing…
I have been given the chance to explore the world.
I have visited three continents, 10+ countries, and 20+ states. That list pales in comparison to a guy like Chris Guillebeau who has visited 175+ countries. But I’ve learned something new about myself every time I’ve visited a new place. I grew up being hauled all over the country because my parents wanted me to see new places and experience new things, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of that fact.
College was a playground for travel where I made two trips to Europe, one of which was to study at Oxford University for an entire semester and live in England/Europe for four months.
My travels have helped me to understand new perspectives appreciate diverse people, and communicate across cultural boundaries. Studying at Oxford ignited my passion for learning, made me a writer, and honed my communication skills. Travelling through Europe with my girlfriend expanded my comfort zone, made me try new things, and challenged conventional beliefs.
Most importantly, my travels have allowed me time to reflect. They have forced me to take a step back from life as I know it and reevaluate where I am headed. They have given me clarity and pushed me to make changes in my life to align with what I truly believe. They have strengthened my relationships with friends and family. And ultimately, my travels have fueled my personal development, which has led to many of my further differentiators.
Few people my age have had the opportunities to travel as I have. I have been fortunate in that way. Fewer still have used their travels as fuel for personal growth. I have done both and it has given me a more wholesome view of the world, of business, and of the impact I can have on others. I can only hope I will have the opportunity to continue to travel and develop new perspectives.
I use both my left and right brain
So many people have distinguished between left- and right-brain people, but it is becoming more and more accepted as a false dichotomy. Brene Brown put it so well at WDS when she said that there are people who use their creativity and those that don’t.
Ie, no one lacks creative ability. Instead, we are molded and influenced to believe that we lack creative ability. Brene reminded us that our art work is graded in elementary school – a purple tree receives a 50 because trees are green… Which send a message of conformity. And then we move up through the ranks of education and we are graded on our ability to find the right answer instead of coming up with innovative or creative solutions to old problems. And then our fate is cemented when we are hired by a big company to follow directions and sit in a cube…
Luckily my semester at Oxford University opened up my creative side again – otherwise I would probably still be following directions and sitting in my cube. At Oxford I was taught to make strong arguments based on research-based unique opinions. Yes, everything was supposed to have some kind of factual basis, but there was no right answer. “What do you think about the Arab-Israeli conflict?” does not have a right answer. For that experience I will be forever grateful.
So then I went to work and I took my learning with me. But at work they wanted right answers. I felt like I was back in the environment where answers should be catered to what a superior wanted to hear. So I found my own creative outlets. I started reading blogs and books and articles from unconventional people. I created a blog in order to have an outlet for my creative ideas.
This unique thing started to happen. I was learning to be a high-level strategic thinker in my consulting work (which built on my experience leading organizations in college) at the same time I was learning to be creative on nights and weekends. The problem was that I was being forced to compartmentalize my life. Left-brain from 9-5 and Right-brain in my free time just didn’t work.
The beautiful thing about Living for Monday is that I actually need both types of thinking to succeed. I have to brainstorm and provide creative solutions to old problems. But then I have to know how to create strategies for execution. I still have a long way to go in molding the two halves of my brain into one complete skill set… In the mean time I know that a key differentiator is my ability to challenge the status quo and then deliver strategic plans to make it happen.
I have strong communication skills
This one is so blasé because its what everyone wants to hear. I can speak, I can write… blah blah blah. But really, I speak well in public and I write well.
My speaking ability comes from the necessity of past experience. I held various leadership roles in my college fraternity that meant I was in charge of leading meetings in front of a large audience at least once a week. I served as an orientation leader, which meant I was on stage and speaking to groups multiple times a day for an entire summer doing everything from acting to reading, to rapping, to speaking to auditoriums of nervous parents, to relaying lessons to incoming college students. I was in a leadership development program where I had to introduce corporate executives to large audiences and make presentations to “clients” from our leadership projects. Finally, I went to work and was immediately put in rooms with executives of huge companies and partners from my firm where I had to present ideas succinctly, answer probing questions, and remember not to bite my tongue at any given point.
My writing ability comes from two places: Oxford University and consistent blogging since my travels to Oxford. If you can’t tell yet, they don’t teach at Oxford like they teach at American universities. Instead of big classrooms, we learned in intimate tutorial settings where a don (Oxford professor) would meet with 2-10 students at a time. Every week, in every class, we were required to write a paper of 4-10 pages in length. All in all, I wrote over 100 pages over the course of three months of classes. At the same time, I started my first blog to catalogue our adventure at Oxford and throughout Europe. When I got home from Oxford I started this Living Values blog, and then when I left my job I started the Living for Monday blog. Basically, ever since I left for Oxford in March of 2010, I haven’t stopped writing.
That hasn’t been lost on the people around me. The reason I know speaking and writing have become differentiators are the way people react to me. Older adults ask if I plan to become a published author (I do) and groups to whom I speak praise me on my ability to communicate a message or facilitate a conversation.
My communications skills are differentiators for me.
I have always been a natural leader
The first thought that comes to mind after that statement relates to my days as a little league baseball player. Even back then I was regularly voted as captain of my team and onto the all-star team. I was runner up for the leadership award as a twelve year old. The point here is that I didn’t know what leadership was at that age, I just knew that I wanted to work hard and be the best at everything I did. Because of that, other people were willing to follow.
There are two sides to this story. The first is that people tend to follow me. I am not entirely sure why, but they do. It has happened throughout my life and I cannot entirely explain, but I know it is a differentiator – when I set a path, create a vision and lead by example, others have followed. Three examples:
- I ran for team captain of my high school baseball team, lost, and then proceeded to act like a captain anyways. I helped set high expectations of winning the state playoffs and we lost in the semifinals where we had only made it to the first or second round in the past.
- I ran for president of my college fraternity unopposed, which meant I was elected. People allowed me to do that because I had a vision of where I wanted to go.
- I was asked to create a vision, strategy, and form a group to refound an honor society in college. I was not elected, but rather intentionally sought out the people that were influencers and could actually make the idea happen.
The other side of this story is that whenever I have asked for permission to lead, my peers have struck me down. I lost election for elementary school president and never ran for SGA again. I asked for my high scool baseball teammates to select me as captain, and they chose someone else. I had an intense desire to be in secret societies in college, and despite my accomplishments I was never once invited to the prestigious groups. I applied to be the student commencement speaker and was chosen as the alternate, but was not chosen to be on stage.
So while I am a natural leader, people do not like to pick me… Especially my peers. Those older than me – mentors, professors, etc have always had more confidence in my leadership ability than my peers. I don’t know where this comes from, but I do know that it is why Seth Godin’s message appeals to me. He says, “Don’t wait to be picked. Go. Take action on your own.”
So I guess what it comes down to is that I’m not scared to get my hands dirty and lead by example. I’ve never asked anyone below me to do something that I am not willing to do. I am not scared to cast a vision that is scary, imposing, and that might not be accomplished. When I am presented with an opportunity to lead, I take it. Not for glory or popularity, but because I don’t know how to do any different. The reality is that I have an intense desire to change the world, and that must come from taking responsibility and action towards a greater vision.
My participation in a leadership development program in college cemented my desire to lead and create change. It made me define my values, create a vision for my life, and define the legacy I want to leave in this world. It made my desire to lead tangible and gave me something to shoot for.
I may not be the first to be chosen by my peers, but I am not scared of the responsibility of leadership.
I have a burning desire to learn
My desire to learn chases me everywhere I go. When I see problems I want to learn potential solutions. I want to absorb the knowledge of the people around me. I want to devour books and articles and blogs and everything else that can convey knew knowledge.
My desire to learn has been a life-long pursuit. When I was young I read voraciously. From Goosebumps to Harry Potter to The Chronicles of Narnia, I read and read and read. And then I wanted to be cool (you’ll notice that my desire to be cool put a halt in my personal development for a couple of years).
What finally snapped me out of the learning plateau was… you guessed it, my studies at Oxford. I finally was given the license to learn for the purpose of forming my own opinion. I hated the confines of college in which I was encouraged to read mandatory textbooks to answer multiple choice questions about minute details in the text. My question to some of my professors if I could talk to them now: why does it matter? Is it just easier to adapt suggested questions from the textbook publisher than to create a test that actually makes us think and requires thought on your part to grade?
I’ll never forget the day I received a paper back that said something like this: “You make great points in this paper, but you didn’t follow directions. Grade: 70.” That was literally the most infuriating experience of my classroom time in college. But I digress.
When I came back from Oxford I dove back into reading and started amassing a library of books. Biographies, business texts, religious writings, novels, classics, and more. It was as if every book held the key to some important piece of knowledge that would allow me to solve a problem later down the road.
What I found was that the more I read, the more I learned. And the more I learned the more I was able to synthesize disparate ideas from various sources. By doing this I realized I could serve as a curator of ideas, reading through sources and bringing together great ideas to save people time and inspire.
My desire to learn fuels my ability to be creative. It creates a way for me to lead and deliver solutions to those that have problems that need to be solved. Most importantly, my desire to learn allows me to write and speak on interesting topics that come from various sources. It allows me to see problems in the world and start to find ways to fix them.
My desire to learn is a differentiating strength for me.
I love building meaningful relationships
I’m just to the introvert side (I think) of the introvert/extrovert scale because I’m not the guy who can or would go to a networking event and hand out 50 business cards. In fact, big events make me nervous. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing people and the idea of standing there awkwardly without anyone to talk to is a daunting thought.
That being said, once I’ve met people I love to learn about their stories. Where do they come from, what do they love, what are they good at, what are their dreams? These things intrigue me, and they fuel deeper connections.
Somewhere along the way I learned the value of close friends, great mentors, and always being willing to share myself with others. When I meet someone, I follow up with a note or email. I keep in touch, I wish people happy birthday, and I make sure people know that I care about them.
People mean the world to me and building relationships is the way for me to learn their stories, stay connected, and help in any way I can. The way that I care about those close to me, my willingness to really listen to others, and my willingness to invest in long-term meaningful relationships are differentiators.
I am younger than almost any other person in this industry.
One of the first things people say when I tell them about what I’m up to and I’ve answered a couple questions is this: “Just to play devil’s advocate for a minute,” [a polite way of saying: let me call you out on why you’re likely to fail, be discounted, or otherwise crash and burn] “what do you say to people when they ask about your age? Isn’t that a major weakness?”
Here’s what I want to say: “No way. You’re a bozo. My age is to my advantage.” Instead it always humbles me, makes me retreat into my shell to some extent and reply with something weak like, yes but… blah blah blah.
Here’s the reality of the situation: I had to go through a ton of leadership trials in college (more about that later). Then I went off to Oxford and they taught me to think for myself (more on that later too). Then I went to work for a huge professional services firm where within two months I was working on a project team at a Fortune 5 company; within three months I had received a 10% raise and promotion by meeting the right people, proving my worth, and learning the performance review system; and within seven months I was managing a team of three people on one of the most important and creative projects at the Fortune 5 client; by the time I left, I was being asked for advice (yes, me) by every new hire at the staff level in the Atlanta office. Finally, ever since I graduated college I have read, networked, and invested in myself constantly. I’ve learned more in (almost) 25 years than a lot of people have the opportunity to learn in a lifetime.
My age and choice to leave the conventional work force means that I’m not prisoner to the status quo. I don’t have a boss to answer to and I can get creative with the way I solve problems. I don’t have to find the right answer, I can find many potential answers, learn about the options, and then present an educated argument or proposal to anyone asking.
I have youthful energy, passion, and work ethic that carry me through The Dip (to use Seth Godin’s term). That energy, passion, and work ethic will no doubt carry over to my future years because I’m ingraining all three into habits… They are constantly becoming a part of me.
That’s a long way of saying that my youth is an advantage and I don’t want anyone to be fooled because of my age. I don’t have all of the answers, I am not as wise as many people older than me, and I have plenty of hours to commit to my craft before I reach the 10,000 hour mark made popular by Malcom Gladwell. But I can guarantee you that if I don’t know an answer, I know I will find it. I may not be as wise, but I have mentors who can share the wisdom of their years. And I may not have reached the 10,000 mark, but you can bet your tail I’m working towards it.
My age is a strength of mine.
Wow, so 3,500 words later, there you have it. That’s alot. If you know me, I would love to hear your thoughts on everything I had to say in today’s post. Have you seen any of these strengths in me? Do you feel that I’m kidding myself with regard to anything I feel is a strength? How can I better communicate these strengths?