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Would You Pass this MBA Exam?

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I once heard about an MBA professor’s unique final exam (I think my friend Peter was telling me this over a diner-dive breakfast in NYC, as we discussed the interview “test” of taking candidates out to see how they treat the staff…to set the scene…), and the lesson has stuck with me.

This professor spent the entire semester telling the students how important the final exam was going to be, that it could count for at least 50% of their grade for the class.

You know, educational fear of jeebus threats.

When finals week came up, the students were freaking out.

Studying for hours on end leading up to it. Quizzing each other on potential answers. Doing everything they could to learn everything they could about all things business and management.

The day of the final came, and the students filed into the classroom.

On each desk there was a single, blank, piece of paper.

Weird, right?

The professor got to the front of the classroom, and cleared his throat.

“The final exam is one single question. Anyone who answers correctly will receive an A for the semester. Anyone else will be graded on a bell curve against all these students.”

Eyes shifted and terror captivated the room. What would the question be?!

The professor turned to the board, and wrote one sentence on the board:

What is the name of the custodian who cleans this building?

In that simple question, those students learned an extremely important lesson.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about business. It doesn’t matter how well you manage your team. It doesn’t matter how respected and revered you are in your industry.

If you don’t know the name of the person who cleans your waste bin every night, you are failing as an entrepreneur.

What To Do When You’re Feeling Vulnerable and Embarrassed

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Someone once asked me how I “do what I do” when I’m feeling vulnerable or embarrassed.

My answer was probably not helpful, as it was something they were obviously struggling with, because my reply was simply “I just push through it. I don’t really have a choice. People depend on me to make things happen, so I can’t really take time to wrestle with such ideas. I feel them, I contend with them, I spend more than a few minutes a session chatting to my therapist about them…but I don’t really have an option to let them stop me.”

This week, I have a good story of embarrassment to share with you, if you are struggling with something this week. It will hopefully bring a smile to your face and give you a push to do something that feels foolish!

We’ve been picking up the marketing and content focuses in CYC over the past few months, and in April I had a consultation with a social media pro about our current plans.

Part of her initial feedback was that I needed to not only focus on CYC’s accounts and feeds, but my own. Which is something I’ve actually been cutting back on to focus on other projects and writing.

She noted that an easy pick-up for me would be to try to use Instagram a bit more, as folks are always curious about the creative/writing/entrepreneurial process. Now, aside from the fact that most days I would rather slam myself into a brick wall again and again and again over espousing on social media about how hashtag-blessed I am to be working on whatever I’m doing that day, there was a greater problem.

With my fibromyalgia (a chronic illness that affects your tendons, joints, muscles—pretty much all fine motor skills) and older phone, I struggled to take photos that could be shared on social media because my hands had a constant (mild) tremor.

But, as I noted before, not at least trying something that someone recommends for the agency’s growth is not really an option.

So I sat and thought about where I could find the best cell phones (I didn’t want to get a whole separate camera to use, as I love photos, but not really taking them) for people with shaking hands.

Here comes the smile for you and sheer embarrassment for me…

I ended up scouring the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) because that is a demographic that also battles with fine motor skill control. Of course not all retired persons, but it’s a common side effect of traveling around the sun yearly.

What does that mean?

Well, my friend, the new phone I’ve been using to post more Instagram pics than I’ve posted in probably the past six months is one that I found because at the age of 37 my hands are all shaky and resembling a person 15-20 years older than me. Awesome.

This is such a small thing, and let’s be real, my personal Instagram use isn’t going to make or break our 2nd quarter profits. But there are always going to be obstacles to doing even the simplest thing. Sure it might be embarrassing as all get-out to have to acknowledge them—but there are solutions as well.

Whatever you are scared to do this week, just think back on this story of buying phone for the camera, to use on social media; and hopefully my silly sleuthing will give you enough of a grin to take a leap yourself!

Be Honest, Do You Read and Watch Drivel?

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A friend sent me an article a couple weeks ago, and it’s been twitching under my skin ever since.

In the piece, the author was making an argument for watching and consuming fun and light content. Their argument was that not everything had to be a work of high craft.

Now, I’ve spoken before about my glee in the resurgence of people’s interest in “craft” and quality, especially when it comes to their media and content. Not just because I don’t have to explain as much that I don’t run a business centered around decoupage and knitting.

So it took me a while to figure out what my issue with the article was, as I’m obviously someone who believes in the importance of craft.

There’s an old phrase, furthest attributed to an English humorist Thomas Hood in the 1820’s, that “the easiest reading is damn hard writing.” Mr. Hood, you hit the nail right on the head, and that observation is even more important.

I’m always perplexed by this elite and rather ridiculous concept that for content and media to be high-quality and crafted, that it has to be obtuse. So outside our grasp and understanding that we have to work to understand and appreciate it. Slogging through any 1000+ page tome of literary drudgery will turn even the most curious reader off.

Maybe it is my affinity for reading “trashy” chick lit as often as I can? Maybe it is my binge-watching tendency on cult television darlings like Community and Arrested Development? (Season 5 coming soon on Netflix…after a Season 4 re-edit that makes it SO MUCH BETTER!) Maybe it is my guilty pleasure movie secret, which is that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Midnight in Paris are the only movies I have ever downloaded to every laptop I have traveled with?

The twitching, the itching, the uncomfortable feeling that I had with the article lies in the fact that someone would perceive work that isn’t critically acclaimed and lauded to not be crafted by its creators.

It’s easy to create content and media that only you understand. But to craft something that appeals to people, that resonates with them, that persuades them to become fans who eagerly anticipate your new releases…that’s quality. That’s talent. That’s devotion.

To have someone write that it isn’t, about how you shouldn’t feel bad for consuming things that aren’t “crafted”, well…that’s someone who doesn’t understand and appreciate the craft that goes into creating something great. Even when it’s “not.”

You’re Doing Better Than You Think

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We’ve been getting a lot of replies from people who are beginning to submit their ideas and articles more, using the calls for pitches we’ve been searching out and sharing in newsletters for the past couple issue.

I’m so glad you are finding them helpful, and putting yourself out there!

One of the top replies we get, though, is from people asking for advice on how to pitch or how to get over the anxiety of knowing whether your ideas are “good enough.”

I get it. Putting yourself out there can be scary. And rejection totally sucks.

So here’s my pep talk for you, complete with some picture evidence (so make sure you have images “turned on” in your email view):

No matter how bad you think your pitch or submission is, if you are putting in an effort and some serious thinking time, you are already ahead of 10-25% of the competition in an editor’s inbox.

I’m not just saying warm fuzzy things to make you feel better. Here are a couple recent submissions we’ve gotten in our own and various client submissions queues.

bad pitch examples

And this doesn’t just apply to pitching articles. I occasionally get pitches from publicists and PR firms asking if I’d be interested in signing on with them. Those ones are crafty, because they aren’t obviously templates (that are badly executed, like above) and they seem to have actually done some research.  Yet they almost end up being worse, because they drip of falsehoods and feigned authenticity. When you only pretend to do the work, it’s painfully obvious.

(That last one almost got me to consider a positive reply…until I saw that it was suggesting that the could help me get on Forbes (where I had my own online column for a half-dozen years) and referenced a podcast I did in 2012 in which I was supposedly talking about a project I worked on in 2016. Damn, I’m a soothsayer!)

Like I said, if you are putting in the effort and time, you really are ahead.

So go out there and be the email/pitch/proposal that someone actually wants to read today.

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