We have an achievement-compulsive-disorder epidemic on our hands.
“When I get _______ then I’ll celebrate.”
“When I get ______ then I’ll be happy.”
As a society, how many times have we collectively thought this? More digits than pi.
“I’m just goal orientated. I’m driven, I want to meet my full potential, & I don’t have the time to slow down and smell the flowers.”
That sentiment sounds good, but can slide into dangerous territory very quickly, specifically when:
1) I put fulfillment on-hold until said achievement is obtained.
2) I get the achievement, and I immediately move the goal post.
“Of course you have to move the goal post. You clearly don’t understand what it takes to get ahead.”
On the contrary. It’s my biography.
I’ve always been attracted to high-achievers, both romantically and platonically. The go-getter. The active, assertive, ‘on-it’ type. Growing up, my parents were high-achievers. Groneks never quit. They were hard-working and dedicated. While they went after what they wanted, they always took time to celebrate milestones — their own and that of others. We were pretty poor, but my parents took the time and resources to acknowledge birthdays, graduations, job offers, promotions. I remember celebrating very specific things like getting a big part in the school play and my first literary publication. My home life was far from perfect, but this element was spot on — holding achievement & celebration hand in hand. We took time to pause and commemorate the achievement. We took time to stand in awe of the person who achieved it.
The more I live and encounter others, the more I see this is not the norm. High-achievers struggle with taking a moment to celebrate before moving on to the ‘next big thing.’ Those Jones’ aren’t going to keep up with themselves.
I’ve tried (without success) to get celebration-resisters to observe little victories. This feels a lot like trying to convince a 5-year-old who wants gummy bears that he actually wants broccoli instead — a fruitless endeavor. High achievers often object: “If I celebrate little things, I’ll get lazy and complacent.” They posit that taking a moment to celebrate will decrease their drive. To which I respond literally every institution disagrees with you. Employers give their employees paid time off, communicating that time to reflect, unwind, and celebrate with loved ones is important. Restaurants give space between courses to revel in the dish that came before. Organized religions celebrate holy days (holidays) as a time to connect with each other and the divine. I could give countless other reasons, but have come to realize that logically trying to convince a celebration-resister is not effective. Much like motivation, the desire to celebrate must come from within.
Every high-achiever must get to this place in their own growth first: success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure. Failure isn’t falling short of what you wanted, it’s getting what you wanted and still not being satisfied. That’s the real tragedy. Only when we value fulfillment as much as success will we start to see the value of celebrating.
I’m beginning to see your point. How do I change my ways?
1. Think small.
Get good at mini-celebrations. Don’t think big scale (like graduations or career change). Those events happen too infrequently to form a celebratory habit. Think smaller.
2. Have the chocolate cake.
Celebrating the small things should be a daily exercise. There’s a terrific bakery down the street, of which I am a regular patron. First name basis, thank you 💁. I buy a slice of chocolate cake (practically) every day. The guy behind the counter, Wess, always gives me that puzzled you eat so much cake for such a small person look. After a full day of leaving it all on the field, coming home to a slice of cake and a glass of pinor noir is a ritual I look forward to it. It’s my way of celebrating my efforts on a regular basis. Chocolate cake might not be your thing (having trouble believing such people exist), but it’s important to find other small ways of celebrating every day.
3. Write it down.
I have a Win Jar on my kitchen counter. Whenever I have a small victory, I write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. A risk I took. A moment of vulnerability. A world-series-level date. A favorable outcome resulting from good choices. Right around New Years Eve, I open each piece of paper and read it. It’s a precious ritual: a moment to reflect on how I’ve grown over the year, as well as a time to get excited about all that the new year holds. This is the thing high-achievers often miss — celebration is a terrific motivator.
4. Choose the pompoms.
Relationships are a choice and we need to choose cheerleaders. I’ve learned that the ability to celebrate is a non-negotiable when it comes to selecting those who have access to me and my life. When you achieve something, big or small, you want those in your inner circle to say something along the lines of ‘That’s incredible! Let’s celebrate. Thursday. You. Me. Happy Hour.’ These types of people are relational goldmines — precious, rare, and abundant. Willingness to celebrate victories communicates not just that you see the work that went into the achievement, but that you see who I became in the process. These are the kind of people you want to hold onto. They will bring you from one degree of glory to the next.
So, come join me. Think small. Have the chocolate cake. Write it down. Choose the pompoms.
It’s time we embraced a celebratory spirit.
It’s time we moved toward contentment.
It’s time our outward success matched our inward fulfillment.
It’s time to celebrate this article I just wrote. I’m going to grab a slice of cake. Question is, will you be joining me?
Yet another one.
An email demanding you act on something quickly. No greeting. No expression of good faith. No humanity. Terse words that shout at you to fix something, improve something, produce something. All, of course, by yesterday.
Can someone please tell this entitled brigade knocking on my inbox that my job does not revolve around their wishes?
I call this type of email The Rude Demand, and it isn’t the only type of email we loathe to receive. Below is the full list.
1. The Rude Demand (see above).
2. Mama Borg. These are the emails that are just boring: sterile, dispassionate, devoid of any warmth. No exclamation points. No humor. No levity. It’s as if the Borg Collective has assimilated their inbox. People avoid their emails for the same reason they avoid glum Aunt Norma - no excitement. Sterility, 1. Humanity, 0.
3. The Charles Dickens. Dickens was paid by the word, and so (seemingly) was this sender. They write you a tome the lengths of which rival The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, complete with bullet points, color-coded items, and yes, the dreaded 'next steps' section. People avoid their emails for the same reason they avoid going back to school - homework. Long Email, 1. Likelihood of Me Fulfilling your ‘Action Items,’ 0.
4. The Passive Aggressive Leaker. This is the person that won’t come out and say ‘You’re stupid, why are you asking me this,’ but will instead, leak this mindset through every rich-text-format option at their disposal. “Per the email I sent out multiple times previously. This group is NOT for discussing issues pertaining to x. Please be clear in the future about what you mean before sending.” The type whose keyboard just staged a walkout from all the bold, underlining, and italics overuse. Self-sabotage, 1. Emily-Post-Would-Be-Proud-Of-You, 0.
5. Jekyll & Hyde. This is the bi-polar emailer. They send curt and obviously-written-in-haste emails to those ‘beneath’ them while sending elaborate, painstakingly-looked-over emails to their superiors. They are oblivious to the fact that everyone can see through their pandering. Every time you get one of their emails, you’re reminded of the fact that they would treat you much better if you had a c-suite title to your name. Power-grab, 1. Consistency, 0.
While the above five senders may have different motivations and manifestations, the end result of the recipient is the same: we don’t look forward to their correspondence. We avoid their emails (and oftentimes them) if we can get away with it.
Most email writers ignore this basic tenet of human psychology: pleasure is the greatest motivator. If my first encounter with you is enjoyable, I will look forward to it again. In fact, I may seek you out. The inverse is also true - one passive aggressive email, and you best bet I’ll be rolling my eyes when I see your name come up in my inbox the next time.
We repeat things we enjoy. Emails should be enjoyable.
I receive responses like this regularly from the 6,500+ customers in my user group. People who look forward to my emails. People who get bombarded with emails on a daily basis, and choose to open mine faithfully. It’s both an honor and a responsibility I take seriously.
The average person spends 11 hours a week reading and answering emails - that’s 28% of the work week. You would think this large of a slice would warrant deeper scrutiny and strategy. Not! When was the last time you saw an email etiquette component as a part of new hire on-boarding? Or how about the latest communication seminar you attended - did it have a component on communicating effectively over email? We are woefully and aggressively lacking in the basic skills of results-driven email writing, and there doesn't seem to be much guidance or strategy out there in ways of remedy.
The essence of the problem can be crystallized as such: the majority of emails are selfish. People only send an email when they want something from you: a question answered, a problem solved, a meeting scheduled, a metric produced. Do me a favor. Open your inbox right now and tell me how many of your first 25 emails do not require something from you. I’ll wait.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an email whose sole purpose is to give and not take. And this observation, right here, is how we change the game. This is how we get people to actually want to read our emails.
—> Shift from Taking to Giving
We have to shift our mindset from ‘how can I get this person to do what I want’ to ‘how can I add value to their life?’
We can add value in the following ways.
We all want to be better at our jobs. Send out an email whose sole purpose is to build acumen in something that is integral to the recipient’s day-to-day work. When I first started at my current ‘day job’ four years ago, I noticed that the majority of our users only knew the bare bones of our systems. There were pieces of functionality, reports, and click paths that would make their job much easier, the majority of which were unknown by the largest swath of our customers. I decided to start a user group where I would send out a system ‘Quick Tip’ every Tuesday to those who subscribed to my group. Each week, subscribers would receive a little nugget of knowledge (screenshots, step-by-step exercises, & training videos) aimed at building acumen in the system. I had no marketing campaign, no big launch from senior leadership. But even so, the emails came flooding in. 'OMG I had no idea I could do this! Thanks for sending out these weekly tips, they are saving me a bunch of time.' Word of mouth spread, and two years later, I currently have 6,500+ customers who willingly - yes willingly - opt in to receive my emails and rely on them for on-going professional development.
How you show up on email is everything. Each email you send is building your brand. Yes, you have an email brand. Yes, you should be intentional about it. Don’t be afraid to show some emotion (dare I say excitement!) via email. Have a little levity. Have a little playfulness. It humanizes you. People are more likely to learn from you (and do what you want, btw) if you are approachable. This is true in real life and it’s also true on email. A little less RBF, and a little more positive energy on email goes a long way. One of the reasons my user subscription is so high is because I deliver the content with warmth. My customers tell me this repeatedly. Most ‘official’ emails sound robotic. Who wants to learn from a robot? My emails sound like me. It’s important that your emails have a strong voice, your voice. Your delivery should be congruent no matter what communication medium you are leveraging.
Imagine a cake without icing. It loses its appeal doesn’t it? Adding little ‘extras’ in your email, while not substantive, act as the icing on the cake of your content. In my weekly Quick Tips, I have a short section at the bottom called Word on the Street. It features fun, whimsical, and interesting things that happened that week. Perhaps Amazon announced it started delivering to garages. Or a report came out ranking the cleanliness of football stadiums nationwide. I include a brief, one-sentence blurb of a few noteworthy items and link off to an article for each. This adds immense value. People don’t just want to excel at their jobs, they want to be better conversationalists. Giving someone a few hand-picked, interesting topics to discuss with anyone that week is incredibly useful. I get so many emails from customers saying something to the effect of 'Your technical tips are great, but my favorite part is the Word on the Street section.' It's the icing that sweetens the deal. ;)
We will run marathons for people who truly appreciate us. Gratitude engenders respect, respect begets loyalty. When was the last time you emailed someone with a genuine thank you? Very few people send thank you emails; most people send ‘thank you - and’ emails. They say thank you, only as a primer to what they want to you to do next. 'MaryBeth you did a great job at the presentation. Now we really need to focus on converting results to ….' The thank you is used as a warm-up to get you motivated to do whatever follows. It’s not a simple thank you. It’s a thank you - and. People can smell the manipulation a mile away. I challenge you to send 3 thank you emails each week. A straightforward thank you, no strings attached.
Most people enjoy being affirmed. We like when people shine a light on our skills, attributes, contributions, and successes. It makes us feel capable and wanted. It makes us feel valued. Human nature 101: we value people who value us. Take time out of your day to send a heart-felt compliment to someone via email. Like gratitude, this should be no strings attached. No agenda. You best bet the next time this person sees an email from you, they will open it.
Whether you’re trying to start an email subscription group, trying to create repeat customers, or trying to build a brand, remember this: everyone starts with zero followers. And most people stay there by solely focusing on themselves and what they want. If you want to gain an email faithful, you need to start focusing on how to add value to their lives, not your own.
Ask yourself this, would people still do what I want if I didn’t have the fancy title and the big corner office? If the answer is no, you don’t have loyalty, you have compliance. And compliance doesn’t motivate someone to tell others how awesome you are. Compliance doesn’t translate into positive word-of-mouth. Compliance doesn’t make followers.
Let’s aim for real influence. That starts in the way we interact with others, especially on email. Focus on enriching others. Focus on adding value. And then be patient. Really patient. Slowly, you’ll get their trust. Slowly, you’ll get their loyalty.
Then, well, the rest is history 😉
I’ll take a weathered person any day. Someone who’s been through the muck, who’s been waterboarded in the sea of tribulation. Resilient, bold-face, humble. Not the type who goes looking for a fight, but the one who can hold their own when the fight is thrust upon them.
The kind that laughs in the face of adversity. Not because they know what is to come, but because they don’t fear it. Because they bring their best defense - themselves. Tried and true. Battle-tested.
Someone who has gone through deep hardship and has emerged better, not bitter.
Most people put a premium on innocence. A newborn baby, a fresh blanket of snow, a new company hire. The allure of innocence is that it is uncorrupted. The newborn is unstained by the world, the snow is undisturbed by footprints, the new hire is untainted by workplace culture. There is a beauty to purity that takes our breath away.
That being said, I’ll take the experienced person any day. The toddler who scrapes his knee on the playground and comes back the next day for more. The snow that has been commingled with human hands to form a snowman. The practiced manager who can adeptly navigate workplace politics to get the job done.
I like my people seasoned. People who have delved deeply into life, who have taken risks, and lived full out. People who have failed over and over again and keep trying. People who stay in the arena. They are seasoned. Seasoned by experience. Seasoned by choice. Why have a steak with just salt when you can have one marinated overnight with all sorts of interesting spices? It tastes better that way.
While innocent people take our breath away, weathered people leave us thirsty for more.
I have an ’02 Jeep Wrangler. I call her Emma. We’ve been through a lot together. The first job I loved. The first man I loved. The first apartment that broke my bank account. The first man that broke my heart. Emma is a weathered vehicle. She makes a wurring sound every time I start her, her back bumper is sprinkled with rust stains, and she growls every time I switch gears. Emma bears the marks of the road and the marks of my life. She’s beautiful. Over the Thanksgiving holiday last year, she broke down. The dealership gave me a loaner car while they worked on repairs. It was a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. It had all the bells and whistles: seat warmers, GPS, bluetooth speakers, quiet engine, and only 5,000 miles. Bright-eyed and innocent. It was fun driving the loaner for the first day or two, but after a while I started missing my Wrangler. Emma’s loud and noisy and rough around the edges, but she’s mine. She’s traveled the road with me. She bears the scars of my life. She’s a daily reminder that despite hardship, life keeps moving on. The road continues, and so do I. No innocence can compare.
See here’s the thing: innocence doesn’t last. The world is cruel. Suffering eventually arrives on every person’s doorstep. It’s what we do in that moment that defines us.
Adversity reveals what we are truly made of. Imagine a glass full of a mysterious liquid. You don’t know what is inside, because the glass is opaque. How do you find out? You shake the table. The liquid comes pouring over the side and you see - ahhh it’s milk, revealing an important truth: We spill what we are full of. It is only when our life is shaken with the most violent of storms that we see our true character. When things get hard do we run? Hide? Lash out at those we love? Vow to never take a risk again? That’s the real us.
What is your type?
Anyone who has dated has been asked the above question.
I’ll tell you - my type is a person of character, who adores me, and has born adversity as well. The last part isn’t so sexy, but gosh it’s important. I don’t want someone who runs away at the first sign of turbulence. I don’t want someone to disappear when things get hard. Commitment is great. Compatibility is great. But without courage, the other two are sinking ships. Those looking for a life partner must look for someone who has born adversity well. Because hardships do arise, and we want someone who can weather the storm with us.
So, to make a long answer longer, my ‘type’ is weathered. The man who’s experienced rejection over and over again but still takes risks. The woman who’s been treated poorly and still chooses to stay sweet and gentle. The person who’s been through hell and back and still lives full out.
Because, the best book has the dustiest cover.
Because, the best shoes have the shabbiest sole.
Because we learn from weathered people. Their sojourns have brought them to far and distant lands. They are wise and knowledgeable, bearing the marks of hard-earned lessons. They are a walking library. Those with teachable spirits benefit from their tutelage. To be in their presence is to walk among the gods. The world does not deserve them.
It will be my joy to befriend you, weary traveler. You are interesting, seasoned, tested. Your impurities were scorched in the sweltering hot furnace, and you came forth as gold. Your scars are beautiful. They remind me of what you have overcome.
So hold court for us, weathered kings & queens.
We pull up a seat. We’re all ears.
--Dedicated to Malina & Kailyn, two of the most beautifully weathered people I know--
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