Gurus vs. Role Models

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Perfect weather on the lake.

I freely admit that I’m familiar with the self-help genre. I also am pulled toward gurus, especially in the marketing/branding industry. A guru (per one definition in my go-to dictionary) is “a person with knowledge or expertise: expert.” You know who I’m talking about. That personality doing TED talks. They have a large following on social media. They always have some tidbit of information that is so attractive and helpful. “Start here…” “You can’t do this unless…” “Remove the obstacles and then…” It’s all very, very smart. And, very, very inspirational. They know what they’re talking about. Wisdom oozes from their pores.

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Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

It wasn’t until I started reading David Sedaris’s Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002), that I remembered just how much I enjoy his writing and perspective. I love that he writes mostly personal essays and some funny short stories. He is probably the author that ignited my interest in memoirs. And, it wasn’t until I was reading Sedaris’s latest book, that I realized he is a great source of inspiration for me. I don’t read his work because it’s full of truisms about “the craft of writing.” I read it because it’s interesting and well-written. For this, Sedaris is somewhat of a role model. A role model is “a person whose behavior [skill, talent?] in a particular role is imitated by others.

I spend an embarrassing amount of time thumbing through Facebook and Instagram. I have followed multiple blogs regularly (before bloggers just focused on Facebook and Instagram). There are a lot of people out there defining themselves as gurus. (I’m guilty of posting aspiring guru-esque content.) It’s so tempting to write and post because it seems to be what gets liked and clicked and shared—social media currency. Maybe because I’m already tuned into self-help and marketing/branding gurus, my feeds are just a reflection. But, I also see people who are successful bloggers or have a large social media following take time away from their normal subjects and post something like “how to get more followers” or “3 ideas for creating an editorial calendar” or even, “here’s how I really do this—my life isn’t as glamorous as you think.” I get it, because I click through and, like I said, I, too, have written similar pieces. But, goodness, I’m yearning for something different.

The guru and the role model. They’re very similar. A role model could be a guru and a guru could be a role model, but that’s not necessarily the case. I want to follow fewer gurus and more role models. I want to know people who are just doing really cool things and creating really beautiful art and are really good citizens of this universe. I don’t want to know how they do what they do in 5 steps. I want them to just be role models. I want to imitate. I’ll figure out the particulars on my own.

Diary Keeping

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After a long wait, my name came up at the library for Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris. I’m a long-time Sedaris fan. I’ve read most of his books and I own 5 (he’s written more than that). I’m not crazy, though. Like, I’m not very motivated to attend one of his signings or readings. And, I don’t necessarily keep up with his pieces published in The New Yorker. (Sorry, David.)  Still, as soon as I read the introduction of his diaries, I was reminded just how much I want to write like him and write the same kind of pieces he does.

Maybe I’m on the right track, too, because I’ve been keeping a “diary” since July 7, 2001. I was 18-years old, a fresh graduate of high school, and it was before I really discovered Sedaris.

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I purposely cropped this picture, because the first thing I wrote is embarrassing.

Of course, I call mine a “journal.” I do that intentionally. Diaries just don’t seem serious enough, you know, “does he like me” kind of junk kept secure with a cheap lock that your brother just may pick or bust anyway. (You’ll find plenty of “does he like me” junk in my journals, though.) I just Googled the difference between a diary and journal and there’s a lot of weird explanations. My go-to dictionary uses each word to define the other. So I’m going to keep using them interchangeably. (Maybe I’ll keep calling mine a “journal.” But then, maybe Sedaris will convince me to start calling it a “diary.”)

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My stack of journals. Newest to oldest from top to bottom. I finally got over feeling like that cloth-hardbound journal made me cool. The yellow one I made in portfolio school, which I thought had it’s own cachet, of course.

In his introduction, Sedaris explains the purpose of keeping a diary:

If nothing else, a diary teaches you what you’re interested in. Perhaps at the beginning you restrict yourself to issues of social injustice or all the unfortunate people trapped beneath rubble in Turkey or Italy or wherever the last great earthquake hit. You keep the diary you feel you should be keeping…

After a year, you realize it takes time to rail against injustice, time you might better spend questioning fondue or describing those ferrets you couldn’t afford. Unless of course, social injustice is your thing, in which case–knock yourself out. The point is to find out who you are and to be true to that person. Because so often we can’t.

Talk about the truth! Although, I think I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I’ve already instructed my husband that if I happen to die an untimely death, to burn my journals: don’t read them, don’t collect $200, just burn. A lot of it is just me rambling, trying to figure out how I feel. And, no one needs to suffer through that. I already have.

A week or two ago (before I picked up this book), I was writing in my journal and I had the thought, “Is this enough? Is writing here satisfying?” That is, I have this hazy goal of being published. It’s the reason why I’ve done all this. At times, it can seem slow–both slow in writing and slow at searching for opportunities. And, honestly, I answered, “yes.” Writing in my journal is fulfilling. If I could look into a crystal ball and see that none of my writing* is ever going to be published in a way that earns a living (which is the ultimate dream), well, then I’d still keep a journal and I would feel satisfied.

I’m still going to keep writing outside of my journal and pitching pieces until that crystal ball rolls along, though.

 

*That is, stuff I write outside of my job as a copywriter.

Writing About Yourself

Talking about yourself is tough. Your insecurities can obscure your understanding of your talents–even what you want your talents to be can cloud your self-awareness. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says,
One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, about the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.
Isn’t that the truth? Ugh, it makes writing resumes, bios, and brand guidelines so tough!

Late last year, I helped the John Budnik Band write member bios along with a history of the band. Yes! It is my brother’s band and yes! they are located in my home state, Alaska. I conducted quick interviews via email to accommodate the full-time work schedules of the members and the four-hour time difference.

Instead of asking the members only questions about themselves, I asked them to provide their basic info: what instrument they play; how/when they learned to play. I then asked each member questions about the OTHER bandmates. Each member provided personality and talent insights about everyone except themselves. This gave outside perspective, but also a genuine portrait of who these cool cats are.

I did something similar last year when my co-workers and I were told the website we were writing for was shutting down. While we were all looking for new employment, I organized and ran a workshop of sorts to help with resume writing. Together we unearthed and articulated everyone’s talents and skills. “Unearthed” is the key word. We focused on one person at a time and I asked each person to answer the question, “If on the first day of your new job, you walk in and see that so-in-so also works there, you would be excited because…”

The answers were amazing and filled with valuable resume fodder. I think that collectively the soon-to-be-former coworkers provided each other with skills to add to their resume. These skills were always there, but we don’t always know what talents are most valuable to our cohorts. Or, we quickly dismiss our own value because it’s not what we are striving for. This exercise provided a positive outside perspective on each of our talents.

The key to both of these examples is that an outside perspective can be clear and genuine. We often think about who we wish we were and how maybe we’re not quite there and let it cloud our self-perception—much like Gretchen Rubin discusses. When you ask for an outside opinion (and pose positive questions—very important!) you can clearly understand what talents are really important and impactful to your fellow band members, co-workers, clients and business partners.

If you’re stuck on your resume or perhaps you’re trying to define your business/brand/agency, consider getting an outside perspective. Being able to see yourself or your band or your business from a different position is invaluable as you put into words who you are.

Announcing My Baby Naming Guide

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I wrote a baby naming guide! I titled it, “Choosing the Most Perfect Name for Your Baby: Demystifying the Naming Process and Honoring Your Heart.” I started out my copywriting career doing a bit of professional naming—creating monikers for brands, companies, products, technologies, etc.. I loved it. When I had my own kids, and had to name them, I realized that the professional naming process could be bent to help expecting parents.

I’ll be the first one to say it, parents don’t need my guide to name their baby. It’s not like there is a nameless baby problem. But, what my guide does is expose the process. Once parents are aware of that process, the discussions around names and the final decision can be made with a bit more ease and confidence.

The guide is not a huge list of names. It does 3 things: It lays out the groundwork you need to do in order to figure out what kind of name you want. Then, it goes on to describe those different types of names. Finally, there is a list of different evaluations you can do as you sift through your list of name ideas.

Friends, this is a passion project. I love baby names! So, I paired my copywriting experience with my intuition as a mom and wife and wrote the guide. I’ve made it available through Amazon’s Kindle program, because I want to share it with the whole world! Head on over to get your own e-copy of “Choosing the Most Perfect Name for Your Baby: Demystifying the Naming Process and Honoring Your Heart.”

The J. Peterman Catalog Makes Me Cringe

Did you know that The J. Peterman Company catalog still exists? Yes, it does! I signed up for the catalog not too long ago, because I am a copywriter, who loves catalogs, and The J. Peterman Company Owner’s Manual has long been held as an astonishing example of catalog copy, mostly because they spend an extravagant number of words on each product description. Extravagant for a medium and retail arena that focuses on shoving in as much information as possible.

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The J. Peterman Company Owner’s Manual No. 146 Early Spring 2017

When I received Owner’s Manual No. 146, Early Spring 2017, I had time to sit down and read a few of the product descriptions.

My jaw dropped.

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Honestly, what the hell is this? This: “If you are thin, this dress will positively make you look more thin, chic, feminine. …If you are not thin but more of the voluptuous persuasion… Decadent gifts of choux à la crème from the finest Parisian Patisseries….An over-abundance of social engagements.”

Let me translate that for you. If you’re thin, you’ll be even prettier. And, hey, even thinner, which is chic and feminine. If you’re fat (sorry, J., even your fancy wordsmithing isn’t clever enough here), people will shove Twinkies and Hohos in your direction, because they’ll think you’re too thin. Oh, and you’ll finally get asked out.

Surely this is just a fluke, right? I took a look at some of the other descriptions for the women’s clothing.

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Nope. Not a fluke. Just across the spread a pleated collar blouse promises to have people ask, “Dear God, who is that charming little darling…?” Because, “little” is what any woman should be and strive to be, right?

No, no, no, say it isn’t so! The J. Peterman Company surely is doing better, right?

Then, there’s this dress that “hide[s] what you want to hide and accentuate[s] what you want to accentuate.”

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“And of course there are the colors—slimming and eye-popping.”

Really, they should have started and ended the copy here: “The thing is, a simple yet alluring dress like this makes people feel good when they see it.”

Take that in.

Let’s just sit with that a moment.

Because, it’s all about WHO is looking at a woman, right, J.? Never about the actual woman. Never. Go figure.

But, across the spread, I found one amazing, inspiring description. I’m not being sarcastic either.

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In its entirety:

The merger hasn’t been announced but everyone’s in panic mode.

Brantley said you’d be okay but nothing’s concrete. The good thing is you’ve got a niche. They need you. Don’t they? Wait, do they expect you to move to Berlin? You’re asking the wrong questions.

How about, do you need this headache?

Do you even like Berlin?

What’s the weather like on the Spanish waters this time of year?

These questions are more befitting of someone ready to turn the page.

Tomorrow you’ll tell them how it’s going to be.

Hell yes! This is the woman I imagine wearing J. Peterman clothes and, really, any brand. The woman who doesn’t depend on anyone. Who isn’t told what to do. The woman who forges her own path. The woman who’s ready to turn the page.

C’mon, J. Peterman! How about some more copy like that last one? A little less focus on women’s bodies. No more feeding into the vicious cycle of body image. You’re better than that. Or, maybe you’re not. Doing a quick Internet search, I found that you’ve written eyebrow-raising copy before. Check out this piece on Jezebel about a “rapey” description. Good thing I’m ready to turn the page.