Grow Inspire

Do You Know Your Story?

Your story is about the defining experiences that shaped you, molded you, refined you.

Embrace your story, whatever it is. Your story reveals who you are, and your story reveals what makes you unique. From your story you find your strengths and talents that will enable you to make a contribution to this world that only you can make.

I've been writing a lot about myself lately, and that's mainly to help me think through my own story and find the threads that connect all the dots. It's my hope that by doing this exercise in public, I'll inspire others—like YOU— to dig deep to uncover and understand your own stories.

Bo Eason is all about using the defining moments in your life to tell your story.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and, over the past few months, Bo has turned up as a guest on a few of these.

Bo Eason is a former pro football player. For that reason, he's not the type of person I'd normally seek out as a source of inspiration. To be honest, I almost skipped the episode the first time he turned up because I didn't want to hear a former pro football player go on about his story of playing through injuries. But…..

Gaining New Perspectives

One strategy I use to make sure that I'm taking in new ideas is to listen to or watch interviews with people that are outside my realm of experience or direct interest. I like to expose myself to new ideas.

That's how I came to be listening to School of Greatness podcast to begin with. Lewis Howes happens to be a pro football player who talks about playing through injuries and has become a motivational speaker and “lifestyle entrepreneur.” His guests are kinda guy-oriented, but the insights are universal so I listen to most episodes from the School of Greatness. But when I heard Lewis introduce Bo Eason I almost hit “skip” because the idea of TWO former pro football players talking about playing through injuries just seemed like a bit much….

Whenever I feel a strong urge to avoid something harmless (like an interview with a former pro football player-turned-playwright and motivational speaker), I take it as a sign that I'll learn something from the experience.

So I didn't skip Lewis Howes' conversation with Bo Eason and, as is usually the case, I found some nuggets of wisdom that I could apply to my own life. In short, I learned about his approach to finding and telling your story through the defining moments in your life.

In some ways, it was that first podcast interview that sparked the “how do I tell my story better” exploration on this blog.

What Are Your Defining Moments?

Quite honestly, once the semester kicked me into overdrive trying to get everything done at work, I forgot about Bo Eason. I was so busy that I was only blogging occasionally, when I could squeeze something in, and focusing on the Teach Social Business site because I could use my blogging there for course preps. I knew I wanted to explore my story, but I was concerned about blogging too much about myself, yada yada yada.

This weekend Bo Eason turned up again in my podcast feed. At first, I didn't remember his name so when one episode of Bulletproof Radio ended and segued into the next one I ended up hearing once again,  an intro to Bo Eason. I ALMOST skipped it once again.

But I'm so glad I listened to this episode of Bulletproof Radio to hear Bo Eason explain the importance of finding your defining moments and building your story around them.

Sometimes it takes repeat exposure for messages to sink in.

I'll be honest, some of my defining moments are still somewhat private and I'm not sure that I'm ready to publicly announce my take on those experiences. Others know about them, but I feel that talking about some of those defining moments in public would hurt other people and I don't care to do that. I don't think it's necessary to hurt others to succeed.

In any event, I think it's how we RESPOND to what we experience in life, rather than the experience itself. I like to think that I'm not defined BY my experiences, but rather how I've responded to both adversity and success.

[Tweet “It's our response to events in our life that define us, not the event itself.”]

Many of my defining experiences are easy to share. I've recognized them as defining moments for my entire life—so much so that I've never considered blogging in detail about most of them. But I will, soon. Here are a few highlights of defining experiences that happened before I was 6 years old.

The Lawnmower Accident

When I was 3-1/2 years old I was in a lawn mower accident.

My dad had me sitting in his lap on a riding lawnmower and it started to “rear up” on a slight incline in the yard. He tossed me off to the side, trying to get me out of harms way. But instead, the mower tilted over on top of me. The left side of my head was crushed.

My parents rushed me to the hospital. I can actually remember every detail about the accident AND the trip to the first hospital, my head on mom's bloodstained shirt and her stroking my hair saying “It will be OK.” Everything did turn out OK.

I call it my Harry Potter scar.

The Not-Dorothy-in-Oz Experience

A few weeks after that lawnmower accident, a freak tornado sent everyone scrambling for shelter. My dad literally got stuck in the mud as he ran across a freshly-plowed field toward the storm shelter with me in his arms and we fell face-forward into the mud. We survived, of course.

I didn't end up in Oz. Instead, my freshly-changed bandages were a muddy mess.

I learned about the power of storms and, for a while, I was afraid of them. But another defining moment changed that a few years later.

“I Have An Idea”

I started first grade when I was 5-years-old, having never been to kindergarden or pre-school. My parents didn't want me to wait another year and I'm glad they found a way to get me in school early.

Since I was so young, I was placed in the “can't read” group. By the end of the first week, I had progressed to the strongest reading group. I knew I could read.

I also appeared as Martha Washington that year in my school play and got to proclaim at the Constitutional Convention: “I have an idea.” Yes, I remember that vividly. I still have ideas.

“Mrs. Peel, We're Needed”

Sheree Martin Emma Peel 1967Around the same time, I discovered a TV show called The Avengers. Even though I was much too young to understand all the irony and nuance, Steed and Mrs. Peel became a role models. My mom would let me stay up and watch the show every week.

Scenes from one episode, in particular, always stayed with me. The defining moment of that episode: Mrs. Peel is on a conveyer belt, about to be sliced in half by a spinning saw blade. Instead of revealing fear, Mrs. Peel just displayed the unflappable, calm fortitude she's known for.

I began to emulate Mrs. Peel when I played. More importantly, the strengths of the Mrs. Peel character helped to define my own response to a whole host of situations.

I even dressed like Mrs. Peel.

Life, Then Death

Shortly after my first school year ended, I watched my beloved grandfather experience a fatal heart attack and die in front of me. He was only 46 years old. I learned about death and how it can come suddenly, but it didn't make me afraid.

Those are a few of the defining experiences from the first six years of my life. I'll be sharing more about these events and others in future posts. They're too complex to do justice here.

The key takeaway for me is not that the moments or experiences define us, rather it's how we RESPOND to the experience that defines us.

Honor Your True Self

Today, I know myself pretty well.

I lost myself for a while, in my 20s, as I floundered trying to be someone I really wasn't. I relinquished a lot of my creativity, energy and adventurous nature in an attempt to fit into the world of business law and estate planning. My intentions were good, but my soul and spirit were suffering.

What I've found is that when I honor my true self, by playing to my strengths, I get good outcomes. Trying to fit into someone else's definition of what's right for me is like wearing someone's else clothes—and that's under the best of circumstances. It usually doesn't turn out that well.

To get to this place in my life, where I know myself, I had to make some detours, wrong turns and experience some things that I didn't enjoy at the time. I never quit, never gave up. Those detours are part of my story.

You probably have some detours and wrong turns, too. Most people do, unless they never seek to grow.

Learn From Your Experiences

I am convinced that our experiences are meant to teach us something. If we keep having the same type of experience over and over, and getting the same outcome, repeatedly, we are not paying attention and not learning what we need to learn.

The point is that we all have life experiences that both shape and reveal who we are. We face a situation and we respond to it. We have to find those and look for opportunities to grow from them.

So look back at your life and consider your experiences. Find your defining moments. Find the “Groundhogs Day” moments when the same problems or issues keep cropping up.

Through those moments you can uncover the lessons you've learned, or still need to learn.

I hope this post will inspire you to find your own defining moments and enable you to tell your story with courage and dignity.

I'd love to hear from you!

Marketing Professional

Client Confidentiality & The Era of Personal Branding

I began my professional life as a business lawyer. I am honored and proud to be a lawyer and proud of the work I did as a lawyer during the 12 or so years that I practiced.

I love thinking through legal problems and solving legal puzzles. That said, I don’t like to sit behind a desk all day and I'm more into harmony than conflict resolution, so I’m unlikely to return to the active practice of law anytime in the near future.

One of the challenges I've run into is how to translate my extensive legal experience in the business world to land new business and career opportunities outside of the legal profession.

I typically have at least one conversation per week where another person says some variation of this:

“Wow, you have an awesome set of skills and expertise. I'll be you have career opportunities just flowing in all the time.”

I've been hearing this for well over 10 years, since I finished my dissertation and added the Ph.D. to my list of accomplishments.

Overqualified for the Corporate World

Too Interdisciplinary for Academia

The reality is that I've usually been labeled “over-qualified” in the corporate world.

Another way of putting it is that I'm deemed (by some) insufficiently narrow in my expertise to fill most jobs. For example, I don't do cost accounting, engage in supply-chain systems optimization, or initiate HR-best practices for outsourcing the workforce. I'm not sufficiently myopic in my pursuit of academic topics.

My expertise, the value I add, is all about understanding. I can quickly identify the relevant pieces to a puzzle, evaluate  how those pieces fit together, examine them in light of emerging trends, and create a viable strategy, solution or opportunity for something bigger and better.

That's what I did every day as a lawyer and legal-problem solver. I solved problems to prevent or minimize crises. That's what I've done in my smaller personal entrepreneurial ventures and volunteer efforts. And it's how I approach my work in the academic classroom. As a teacher, I use this approach to select and refine the subject matter in courses I teach and I strive to enable students to do the same as they prepare for a career in a world that is changing much faster than academia.

It's just as well that I'm deemed over-qualified for mid-level corporate management or analyst roles. I'm not interested in those types of jobs. I'd be bored out of my mind in a cubicle, doing the same spreadsheet analysis every day, writing Dilbert-esque reports or creating an awesome presentation for someone else to deliver.

No Boxes for Me

The reality is that people don't know what box to put me in. I don't like boxes, so I haven't made it easy. But that's really my strength.

If everyone is in the box, no one knows what's on the outside.

My professional life has been all about helping businesses and leaders expand their box, improve their box, or move from one box to a new box. I help students who realize there's life beyond the narrowly-defined career categories and specialties that academia offers them.

Practical Knowledge To Move Beyond The Status Quo

My strengths are the result of my ability to understand, comprehend and synthesize disparate bits of information. I am all about vision, strategy, innovation, change management, adaptability, communication, resilience.

I have developed and sharpened  myhighly practical business knowledge through more than a decade of of guiding businesses and high-net worth individuals in my law practice and through a lifetime of problem-solving, advancing my own skills, and engaging with the real world as a business owner and committed citizen.

Not only can I quickly grasp new ideas and understand things outside the realm of first-hand knowledge,  I have the ability to interpret that information, apply it, and communicate it to a new audience.

I've been a business owner and manager, as well as an employee at every level of an organization.

But my expertise goes beyond practical, applied tactics.

Through my Ph.D.-level academic work, I also understand the theory that explains or seeks to explain systems thinking, organizational development, leadership and communication.

Writer, Speaker, Advocate

As a paid writer and consultant, I have written more than a hundred published feature-length articles for trade magazines and newspapers. I have a huge portfolio of work as a copywriter for several ad agencies.

And I have extensive experience as a public speaker on a range of topics, from continuing legal education seminars to civic organization talks to leadership training workshops for college students and social media marketing for business owners. I've been active in public speaking since 4th grade when I won 1st prize in my school's 4H Club Public Speaking Contest.

I also have more than a few scholarly research papers and presentations in my dossier.

On top of all of those accomplishments, I have 2 decades of experience creating and publishing online content for fun and business.

So the reality is, traditional skills and job descriptions are too narrow to describe what I can do.

But the challenge I've often faced is how to communicate the specifics of real-world business challenges that I've resolved or helped to resolve without breaching client confidentiality.

How do I tell these stories?

Specifics in Law Practice

During the 12 or so years that I spent actively practicing law, I routinely represented small businesses and professional clients in 7-figure+ business transactions.Many of those 7-figure deals in the early to mid-90s would be 8-figure deals in today’s dollars.

The biggest transactions I handled usually involved the healthcare industry, and occasionally involved sales to major publicly-traded companies. My clients were sometimes the sellers, sometimes the buyers.

The deals often involved real estate and real estate developments. Sometimes, I was involved in writing and/or reviewing contracts ancillary to real estate development projects–like cable television delivery agreements or homeowner association governing documents.

Another big focus of my practice was new-entity formation and restructuring for business expansion into new projects. I formed a lot of LLCs and limited partnerships for real estate projects, healthcare and, occasionally, oil and gas.

Related to my general business work and my interest in intellectual property law, I handled trademark registrations and assisted litigators with cases involving business trade secrets. Occasionally, I reviewed contracts and advised authors on publishing matters and copyright law.

Contracts between professionals (usually MDs) and healthcare service providers was another focus of my law practice.

Estate and business succession planning rounded out my law practice areas. I had a mix of clients who needed guidance for estate and tax matters, but many had a high net worth and needed advice about how best to structure estate plans involving commercial real estate, manufacturing operations and/or other b-to-b and professional services firms.

My firm represented municipalities and quasi-government corporations involved in public/private activities, so I was also involved in work related to municipal financing. Once, I wrote updated regulations for delivery of cable TV services to a small municipality.

Owner and Manager

I was a shareholder (owner) in Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll & Jones, P.A. (today, Rosen Harwood, P.A.). During those years, I had a range of management-level responsibilities, including hiring and managing employees and shaping the vision and future of the firm.

I've also owned my own, small law practice (as a sole-practitioner) where I was 100% responsible for all the business decisions. I've been self-employed as a freelance writer, as well.

Confidentiality Comes First

Confidentiality is one of the marks of an ethical lawyer so I have never promoted the details about the types of transactions I worked on. I've never even identified my clients outside of my law practice, except in a few situations where publicly-filed documents made it obvious that I represented someone or some business entity in a transaction or legal proceeding. Even then, I've never revealed anything more about the attorney-client relationship: “Yes, I worked on that” is about as much as I've ever said.

Unlike litigation, the work of a transactional lawyer is rarely public. The work is seen by the client, other lawyers and the clients of other lawyers who are involved in the negotiations or present at closings.

I often received thank-you letters from clients and referrals by the clients and other lawyers. But these are not the same as “Likes” on Facebook, so they aren’t something I feel I can display as a testimonial on my website.

So the challenge is finding a way to tell the story of all I've accomplished in my professional life, while maintaining the confidentialities of my business and estate planning clients and adhering to what I consider proper professional ethics and decorum.

In short, as I've said elsewhere, “tooting my own horn” is not my natural tendency.

I'd love to hear suggestions about how to handle this, especially if you're a lawyer!

Inspire Marketing

Who Is Telling Your Story?

I’ve never been one to “toot my own horn,” as the saying goes.

For most of my life I believed that my work would speak for itself and that self-promotion is, to be quite frank about it, a bit gauche.

But the reality is that hard work, effort, ethical behavior and successful results are not enough. Talent, effort, ethical behavior, and results are necessary, but not sufficient.

In today’s noisy world, your work doesn’t stand out on its own. Your work will not, by itself, rise above the din. Equally importantly, if you allow others to put their spin on your work first then you are always playing defense.

Politicians and their spin-doctors know this better than anyone.

You must be proactive in telling your story.

Silence leaves the door open for someone else to tell your story. In the realm of history, there’s an admonishment that history is written by the victorious.

That adage also applies to career and business success, where history is written not necessarily by the victor but by whomever chooses to tell the story. Nature abhors a vacuum and nowhere is that more evident than in the political gamesmanship on display in many work environments, especially in those organizations where change is feared.

In the business arena, customers are telling your story every day. If you want to stay in business, you must be a participant in shaping and telling the story of your brand. That’s why leading businesses who realize and accept the new reality are embracing brand journalism and adopting it as the foundation for their marketing efforts.

You Are Your Own Brand Journalist

As Tom Peters famously told us some years ago, you have a personal brand–The Brand Called You.

Reid Hoffman followed up more recently with his twist: The Start-up Of You.

Like it or not, you have a personal brand and, if you want to have any chance at success in the current economy, you must work to tell the story of your personal brand. You must be your personal brand journalist and advocate.

At work, your savvy colleagues and managers are telling their stories to other colleagues and to their supervisors. Like it or not, the stories told by your colleagues and managers stories include stories about you, whether explicit or implicit. Sometimes your contributions are simply left out of their stories.

Not everyone perceives events the same way. Perceptions matter and the inclusion or exclusion of facts certainly influence perceptions. The weight given to isolated incidences can also move a trivial matter from a minor, one-off aside to a defining moment.

If you aren’t actively telling your story you don't have a shot at influencing perceptions.

Let me repeat: You must be proactive (and truthful) in telling your own story.

[Tweet “Someone is telling your brand's story. It might as well be you. “]

Thinking About My Own Story

As a professional, the main theme of my professional life might be summed up as helping other people successfully tell their stories through:

  • Legal negotiations and legal strategies
  • Corporate copywriting
  • News reporting and feature writing (links coming)
  • Student success (links coming)

On a more personal level, in the realm of personal growth and charting my own path, my story features these themes:

  • Committed to excellence
  • Openness to change and growth
  • Desire and willingness to seek new opportunities where I can grow personally and professionally in ways where I can combine my talents, strengths and interests to make the world a better place.

I'm not interested in stagnation or being satisfied with the status quo. I refuse to settle for someone else's plans for me.

 See my Shine Values and Vision statement here.

But despite my success-oriented mindset and commitment to constant improvement, I never put much effort into publicly telling my own story.

I assumed my successes would speak for me, even as I was actively involved in creating and promoting the successes of other people. I knew better. But, like I said, self-promotion just left me feeling uncomfortable.

Interestingly enough,  I was a subscriber to  Fast Company when The Brand Called You appeared in the magazine. I read the article, and filed it away in my mind. I took action to create and enhance my personal brand, but I never made an effort to tell the story of my successes.

So, at this point, I’m determined to remedy my past quiescence and to tell my story and, I hope, demonstrate some of the ways I’ve used my strengths and talents to help others.

I'll be writing and sharing those on this blog over the next few weeks. I hope you'll read and share your thoughts on how my story comes across.

Are YOU Telling YOUR Own Story?

Yes or no? If no, why not?

I'd love to hear from you and learn more about YOUR story. Please leave a comment, share your experiences about personal branding, or just share one of your successes!