How to be human

The art of f***ing up

The sun is shining, the sky is blue and it's Friday as I write this. The pubs are open, we can begin to meet our friends and families again, and life is looking up.

I hope this newsletter finds you enjoying at least some, if not all of the above. That you and yours are safe and well.

Firstly, an apology. I've fucked up, utterly. I said I'd be in your inboxes at the end of the first quarter of 2021, and here I am almost a month late.

I'm sorry!

Like a guilty lover I've come grovelling; I'll be honest, the sunshine and pub chat at the start was the verbal equivalent of flowers and chocolates. A little something to soften the blow before we get down to the nitty-gritty. The fact that I messed up, we haven't spoken in a while and can we, perhaps, be friends again?

There is something for you too though, besides the chocolate and flowers. A big juicy lesson on the art of messing up. Turns out it's impossible to separate our shortcomings from our humanity.

Why does it matter? And how does it relate to business?

Because if you're not being human, you're not in business.

Let's get stuck into it, shall we? God, I've missed you.

What happened?

The truth is, I was super busy in March. Easter, like Christmas, does something to business owners that no other time of year does. The hard deadline on the horizon, the prospect of a prolonged period of enforced 'downed tools' lights a fire under many-a-marketing campaign. The brief, no matter who the client is, is always the same: get it done, and get it done before Easter. Or Christmas. But Easter, in this particular case.

Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful for my business. It's a joy to work with clients who are so focused and, though it's busy, I quite enjoy the thrill of a short, immovable deadline.

My body, on the other hand, my sleep pattern, the 'off switch' in my brain, they don't enjoy it quite so much. And so it was that I careered up to the end of the 31st March, screeched to a halt and breathlessly handed in the final piece of client work.

And I was done in.

Kaput.

Finito.

As I looked at the big red mark on my calendar that said 'Newsletter' I knew that I hadn't left myself any time to create. The busyness of work had overtaken the business of writing.

Could I scratch something together, get it out ASAP?

I wanted to say yes. But my drooping eyelids, my neck cricked from hours at my laptop, my pasty skin crying out for some daylight said 'no'.

My eyes wandered over the calendar, to the next day, the Thursday before Easter marked in green: holiday. Maybe I could just bin that off... I could do my newsletter tomorrow morning, then take the rest of the day off... It won't take me that long... And then I'll only be a day late...

Nope.

I was late. I'd messed up. A day late, or a week, or a month - it was all the same. I hadn't left myself enough time to deliver on what I said I would.

Could I sacrifice my holiday in an effort to catch up?

Nope.

That may sound a bit flippant for someone who is writing an apology letter.

But I realised something. Not only was I shattered, not only did I really, really need that extra day tacked onto the bank holiday weekend, there was something else at play too.

It's not what you've done, it's knowing what it means

The thought of cancelling my holiday to write my letter wasn't heroic, it wasn't service to anyone else.

It was self-flagellation.

Trying to atone for the sin I had committed by working myself even harder. Was it really about trying to make up for not doing what I said I would? No. It was about saving face. Keeping up a reputation. Sticking to the high standards I had set for myself.

It was, essentially, about me and not about you.

Thankfully, I realised what I was doing while I was doing it. And rather than launching into a deeper round of self-criticism, I let it go. All of it.

Yes, dear reader, I had screwed up and let you down. And I got over it.

There's the lesson. Or a big part of it anyway.

Let me explain...

Full throttle only takes you so far

That short, immovable deadline? It's how I got the newsletter out week after week for a year. It's how I got through 2020 and lockdown after lockdown.

But 2021 was different.

A third national lockdown.

The depths of winter, dark nights, dreary weather.

Not to mention trying to maintain personal relationships. Service clients with a smile.

Uphold some semblance of creativity. Attempt to innovate in my business. Keep my business going, full stop.

Exercise.

Not go insane.

Eat as healthily as I could while the miserable weather, lack of anything better to do and the depressing COVID figures drew my hand irresistibly to the biscuit tin, yet again.

Am I alone in this? You're more than welcome to share your experience of this lockdown here. I'm intrigued to know how it's impacted you, if it did, and if you noticed any crossover between business and personal, or any more so than usual.

What had got me to the early part of this year, wasn't going to get me out the other end. It's part of why I changed my approach to the newsletter. More than that, I couldn't keep up the pace that I had set for myself.

Case in point, I failed to deliver on what I had said I would.

Full throttle had led me to the end of the motorway, but it wasn't going to help me navigate a maze of country lanes.

The human-business connection

You're a newsletter subscriber. You're probably a newsletter writer too. Even if you're not, you're probably running your own business, working for or with a founder in a small business or start-up, or you're generally interested in marketing.

So I'm guessing you have a pretty good idea that business, like so many other things, is about people.

It's about helping people.

Offering a way to resolve their problems.

Supporting them to be the best version of themselves.

Sometimes, just being a friendly face, a listening ear, a familiar beat in the rhythm of life.

The truth is, it's not really possible to do any of those things without showing a little of yourself either. To be in business is to connect to others, and to connect to others, you have to reveal yourself. The good parts, the punctual parts, the parts that smile and offer hope, optimism, the parts that are cheerful and upbeat.

The part that moves heaven and earth to uphold a promise.

Turn on a light, cast a shadow

That's all lovely sounding, isn't it? Though it's only one half of the whole.

If you're showing up as yourself, if you've any hope of connecting, those other not-so-sweet parts have to come for the ride too.

The part that scowls, that part that swears and rolls its eyes, the part that doesn't hold any punches, the part that acknowledges 'I'm pissed off!', and the part that stamps its feet and doesn't do as its told.

Or indeed, what it said it would.

A rounded, full and fulfilling business is what we seek, isn't it? Whether it's the business we're running or the businesses we support.

If my experience of royally dropping the ball has shown me anything, it's that I can only create a rounded, full and fulfilling business if I accept that I am a rounded and full individual. Good and bad.

Light and dark.

Day and night.

That works for me. I suppose all I can do is hope that it works for you too.

It's been almost ten years since the death of Amy Winehouse. I recently saw a news piece where the reporter was talking about what made Amy so human, so relatable. She relayed a story about an interview Amy had given where she was asked about her music. The subject of heartbreak came up and Amy's response was disarmingly honest; she said that she was over other artists banging on about empowerment because heartbreak, she said, was the worst thing ever. It doesn't make you feel empowered, she protested, it makes you want to lie on the kitchen floor and cry!

If I think about what I enjoy, work, music, art, reading, writing, hanging out with interesting people, there's a common theme. The interplay of light and dark. A kind of thirst for the realism of some brutal honesty; to cut the BS and get it out there as it is.

Why was I so offhand about getting over my cock-up?

There are a few reasons.

First of all, it was true. In that moment, I couldn't carry any more weight, so I chose to skip the guilt. The big stick would have to wait, I didn't have the energy to beat myself up.

Secondly, as I sat down to write this newsletter, I couldn't see any benefit in bullshitting you. You have been so honest with me over the life of this newsletter; I thought that the least I could do was offer the same in return.

I could be totally wrong, of course. It's entirely possible that I'll come back to an inbox full of hate mail next week. Though I hope not...!

Finally, I realised it would make excellent fodder for this newsletter. If I had allowed myself to wallow, I wouldn't have had anything to share. I would still be in a stew of self-pity and you still would be waiting for that promised newsletter.

On a more serious note, I think it's vital that we share the not-so-shiny stuff in business, as well as all that glitters. And I don't just mean the 'I failed', 'I survived xyz... ' narratives - all of which are needed, don't get me wrong.

We need to hold ourselves to account; from time to time we have to put the spotlight on our own actions and say, 'Was this good enough? No, probably not.'

If this belated newsletter does nothing else for you, please do use my experience as a valuable lesson and example of what not to do.

And – more importantly – as a reminder that you will be imperfect at some point. You’ll screw up, and it’ll be OK. Consider this newsletter, late as it is, a permission slip to put down the self-torture device, and to keep on doing the best that you can.  

I hope that it serves you well.

Wishing you an enjoyable, connection-filled and honest (!) spring.

Until next time, know that…

…your words still matter,

Laura


P.S. Have you got your brand manifesto?

My wonderful friend, Egle Vilutyte is running a workshop ‘How to think like a creative director.’ This is a two-part workshop to help founders connect with and get energised by their brands, with homework to craft their brand manifesto.

You can find more info here.

If you’re interested, don’t wait! They are charging a pilot price for now, so it’s a pretty good deal.

Having delivered a workshop with Egle, I can confidently say she’s wonderful. Go check it out 😊