Have you ever felt that you have to act, even if you have no idea whether it’s the best thing to do? That you simply have to follow your gut instinct, for no other reason than it feels right?
Those things, in my experience, are different in some way. It’s when we recognise that what we feel compelled to do goes against what people expect of us. It’s scary! Unknown.
They’re the experiences that teach us the most. The hunch is often right; the journey, as they say, is its own reward.
I discovered this for myself recently when I led a lockdown writing challenge for 56 days. The outcome?
Different = learning
Different = connection
And doing is the best way to test your gut instincts.
Here’s what I learnt from two months of going against expectations.
The smallest ideas have the strongest legs
Mid-March 2020. The news is awash with COVID-19. The amount of information coming at us from every direction, and the pace of that news, is staggering.
What to do amidst a global crisis? What difference can a copywriter possibly make in the face of cold, hard science?
The only thing a copywriter knows how; connecting to the humanity of a situation. And being an amplifier of experience.
And so a small idea was born, one that had helped me lift my spirits in dark times. For the duration of lockdown, I’d share an inspirational quote and a writing prompt each and every day on LinkedIn and via my newsletter. The idea was to create a moment of contemplation in the day. People could write their thoughts down, or simply pause and reflect.
I had no idea whether it would be welcome. I simply knew that I had to do it.
The first step into the unknown is the hardest
You know me as a copywriter, a networking contact, or someone you bumped into on a course. Not a self-help guru. Certainly not as a guru of any sort!
And so, I was plagued with doubt about my plans.
Is once a day too much?
Will people dislike it?
Will they unsubscribe – in anger, irritation, disgust?
Honestly, there were some unsubscribes. A handful of the people in the community decided it wasn’t for them. That’s fine, and expected.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: I wasn’t downhearted when I saw that someone had left.
Yes, honestly. I quickly felt comfortable and at home in what I was doing. I think that’s largely because what I was doing felt right: reaching out at a time of isolation. The knowledge that I was connecting with even one other human buoyed me up, far more than I was bummed out by someone else stepping away occasionally.
So, what warrants this optimism?
Our words connect us
The work was having an impact.
Marketers love to focus on measurements: impressions, click-to-open ratio, percentages, conversions, ROI, and so on and so on. This was pure – and immediate – feedback. Qualitative, solid-gold interaction between two humans. Isn’t that a much better way to think about the power of words? Whether their application is through marketing or an attempt to bring a little joy to the day?
Lockdown gifted my writing something I never anticipated.
The daily newsletters and LinkedIn posts sparked conversations - in text, by email, over the phone, on Zoom… Amazing! The posts didn't only produce likes, comments, and shares. To be honest, those things were fairly minimal. And yet, the number of discussions that it sparked was like nothing I have ever experienced.*
What you put in, they get out.
Wisdom is only found in doing the work
There’s catharsis in repetition. Mundane jobs are mundane – yet you soon get into them.
How can this be?
Speakers, business leaders, and the latest celebrity author-entrepreneur will happily trot out Pareto’s Principle. They’ll urge you to ditch the ‘busywork’ and prioritise the few activities that yield the greatest results.
And there I was, head buried in the ‘busywork’ of formatting LinkedIn posts and scheduling emails. Breaking every business guru’s top commandment, and getting something from it.
Dirty hands make for a stronger sense of purpose
I racked my brains to try and establish why I was enjoying the process so much.
Was it simply a distraction from the misery of the news? Probably.
Did the mundanity dull the edges of not seeing friends and family? Possibly.
Maybe the repetition allowed my brain to slip into a different state – active-yet-relaxed, optimal for creative thinking. Yes, in part.
I tried to think of people whose vocation involves process, a collection of many repetitive tasks. Monks? The military? Surgeons? As I trawled a mental list of occupations, my mind alighted on rugby players. Specifically, the New Zealand All Blacks.
A few years ago, I read ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr.** Kerr examines what enables the All Blacks – often described as the most successful sports team in history – to stay at the top of their game and hold such a special status. In the very first section of the book, Kerr describes how after a punishing training session or a gruelling 80 minutes, senior players take up a broom and sweep the sheds before they go home. They don’t leave it for the coaching staff. They don’t sack it off on the groundskeeper. They do it.
The reason Kerr cites? Because nobody takes care of the All Blacks. They take care of themselves.
Clearly, I am no All Black. Nor am I a business leader. I am but a humble copywriter.
And yet, there’s something here. Something different to what the New York Times’ number one business bestsellers would argue for.
While mundanity doesn’t always move us forward in any big, impressive, or even perceptible way, it does keep us grounded. It reminds us that no matter what our calling, no matter what our position –a star of international rugby, a god among mortals – we are never too big to take care of the duller by-products of the work we do for others.
Why repetition helped break mind-numbing tasks
Despite the fear of going against the grain, despite the realisation that I was committing a cardinal business sin with my busy-ness, I found joy in the work.
“Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.”
The translation is from Hindu scripture, a quote I discovered on the journey. I found that it rang true.
If I was having a down day, the work cheered me up. If I felt ‘meh’, knowing I was doing something for someone else made me feel better.
This quote – and the rest – gave me a fresh perspective every single day. They reframed my thinking.
The power of making different public
Being in the moment matters. Doing something that others don’t expect, but which you believe will offer something meaningful, matters. Thought, words, reflection; they all matter.
And in many ways, I had no choice but to come to this realisation.
I’d stated my intentions. I’d made it public, so now I had to do it. To write something is to commit. When we jot something down, we write the future into being. There was no choice in the matter. If this piece gives you nothing else, I promise you, it’s a good way to get something done!
Forward motion is progress no matter how slow
On the truly miserable lockdown days, the rhythm of carrying out a repetitive task gave me a way to simply keep moving. It wasn't fast. The steps were tiny.
Though they were small enough to be manageable. And that was what I needed in that moment.
From the conversations I have had with other people about their reflections, I think it’s what the Your Words Matter community needed in some tiny way too. A small idea that was a little different, which delivered an equally tiny moment of pause.
"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward."
- Amelia Earhart
Tentative. Shaky. Bottom-meets-floor. Those are baby steps. Without them, we never learn to walk, to run, to discover the joy of exploration, or to tread our own path – even if it leads us away from the norm, or from what people expect.
What I learnt from 56 days of trial and error
I discovered that when you do something different, it affirms the sneaking suspicions that you have. When we feel compelled, there's always a good reason. Even if the thing that we feel like we must do is ‘unsuccessful’, the act of thinking differently, the joy of doing something different teaches us a great deal.
When the nagging voice in the back of your head says, ‘But what will people think?’ it’s time to find out.
When the doubt creeps in and says, ‘Why would anyone care about this? And why would they care to hear it from you?!’ it’s time to dig your heels in and do the work.
When the naysayer in your consciousness says, ‘What’s the point? What difference will it really make?’ it’s time to pick up that broom and start sweeping the shed.
Doubt is your cue to act
I’m so convinced of what I’ve learnt about doing something different, that I've put my money where my mouth is.
I've written a manifesto that captures my version of different, and why it matters to the world.
Do I know it will be well received? No. Am I aware that I could fall flat on my face? Certainly. I simply have to walk the path.
My manifesto is a call to arms for B2B business owners and professional services marketers who're sick and tired of the content treadmill. The mavericks. The pioneers. If you find joy in the grit and gravel of the process, it argues for a different way of thinking; a different way to approach copy. The outcome isn't a walk in the park. But you’re here already, so I’m guessing that’s not what you came for.
If you're part of my email community you'll be the first to know. So, don't miss out. And don't let your friends miss out. Pass the message on, and watch this space.
Because your words matter,
P.S. When have you gone against the grain, followed your gut, and done something different? Tell me your story…
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Welcome, welcome one and all!
Each week I share a quote that I’ve found inspiring. The idea is to create space for you to do some active reflection through writing. Nothing demanding, simply jot down a few thoughts about your week. There’s no need to share, though if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to read your writing. Or, you can simply reflect on how your week has been. So…
Your quote, to find a moment of pause this week, is:
“Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
- Thomas Jefferson
And your writing prompt, should you wish to use one:
The baby steps calling to me are...
* While the Daily Writing Reflection was not a marketing campaign (nor is this post an analysis of such a campaign), it does give food for thought about how marketers approach their work. I think this provides evidence that ‘marketing’ – even the simple act of putting something out there – is about more than a percentage. When you’re gunning for a metric, for a neatly-measurable output, you’re missing the point. People who never, ever liked one of my posts or replied to a single newsletter have since told me how helpful the quotes and writing prompts were to them. The initiative was not driven with a marketing intention, yet perhaps we would all do well to bear this in mind next time we are planning a campaign.
** I boycotted Amazon three or four years ago. If you purchase through Hive, they’ll donate a portion of the sale to a local high-street bookshop of your choice. I’m not affiliated with Hive in any way.