Reasons people get scared

1. They might fail.

2. They might succeed.

3. They might not get what they expect.

4. They might get exactly what they expect.

I think almost everything fits into one of these categories. Once you figure out which one, then you can figure out what to do about it.

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Happy accidents

It’s funny how we sometimes stumble into the things we enjoy. A chance encounter, a sliver of opportunity, a mention in passing. Sometimes it’s a new hobby, other times it’s a new genre of music. It can even be a new job or a new role in an existing job.

I never intended to be an event planner. Comfortable (sort of) in my role as a marketing analyst, I attended my first company sales meeting many years ago–13, to be exact. After two seventeen-hour days of information cramming and intense networking with the same 50 people (read: meetings all day, followed by carousing till the wee hours), I was exhausted and frustrated.

After the first few hours of each day, my brain was fried. The intense format, followed by zero downtime to process the information presented, left me questioning whether I would retain anything at all. And if I wasn’t retaining much of the information, I wondered if anyone else would. If not, why were we even there? There had to be a better way.

Following the meeting, I made a list of the things I didn’t like or that I thought were ineffective. In an uncharacteristically bold move for my young, upstart self, when the VP of sales later asked me what I thought of the meeting, I told him that I thought it could have been done better. (Yikes!) Ever gracious, this man suggested that we get together for a more detailed discussion. The next thing I knew, I had a slot on his calendar.

Appointment made and back in my office, I panicked. I couldn’t go to this man with my laundry list of complaints and simply drop it in his lap. Unless I also brought some specific suggestions for improvement, I’d be lucky to get a pat on the head and a kwityerbitchen–and I’d probably never be granted another audience with this guy.

With four days till the appointment, I worked frantically to come up with a plan. When the day came, I was nervous but ready. We sat down together and the VP gave me the stage. He asked me to tell him what I thought in specific detail, and then he listened intently. When I finished, he posed the question I knew was coming:

How would you make it better?

I have never been so thankful to have been prepared. I presented him with three alternative meeting formats, and it took him all of about 36 seconds to tell me that I had just earned the next year’s meeting planning duties. I walked out of that meeting stunned but thrilled.

After that, I planned a lot of meetings, eventually adding trade shows and a few other events. That chance opportunity helped build a bridge from my then-job to corporate communications, which is my current playing field. I love what I do today, but you wouldn’t have found it on my radar all those years ago.

Sometimes, life’s best opportunities are happy accidents. Pay attention; don’t miss the next one that crosses your path.

P.S. Thanks, KMN. Every day I realize something new about how you quietly mentored me.

Jumping through hoops

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about mind games we play with ourselves, particularly when we pretend not to know something. It brought to mind a nightly ritual with my daughter years ago.

Somewhere at around 18 months old, my little bundle of energy joy learned how to climb out of her crib. Unlike most toddlers, however, she was pretty savvy about it. She would wait a requisite amount of time after being tucked into bed before she would quietly steal from her room. Rather than announcing her presence, however, she would pad down the hall and stop just short of the doorway to the family room, lying down to position herself to see but not be seen.

The first few times I caught her were like a Laurel and Hardy skit. I’d find her and put her back in bed. She’d wait a few minutes and come back out. I’d find her and put her back in bed. She’d wait a few minutes and come back out. Both of us equally stubborn, we sometimes played this game all night.

After weeks of trying to find ways to keep her in bed, I eventually stumbled across an unconventional solution. I gave up. Sort of.

My scheme was this: as long as my little diva sweet pea didn’t know that I had seen her–and I almost always knew she was there–I would let her stay in the hallway. After all, she would fall asleep almost immediately, and wasn’t that what I wanted anyway? However, if she knew that I knew (stay with me here) that she was there, I had to take her back to her room.

Huh?

It was all a clever mind trick, at least to my way of thinking. She had to see me as a firm parent who followed through. If I saw a problem, I had to solve it. If I didn’t see it, though, I couldn’t be held responsible for solving it. And if she didn’t know I had seen her, that counted as not seeing her.

I’m not recommending this course of action for anyone. It worked for me in this case–my daughter went to sleep at a reasonable hour and in calm fashion (just not in her bed), and I stopped making myself crazy over it–but it seems like pretty convoluted logic. What I find interesting isn’t the solution, but the logic behind it. Assuming I’m fairly normal, human beings will often perform complicated mental gymnastics to justify their actions. We go to great lengths to do what we want to do–and make it work in our heads.

This is an important concept to understand, not just in marketing, but simply in communicating with people. Whatever point you may be trying to drive home, you have to make it work for your audience. Give them a reason to embrace it that allows them to fit it into their world. Make it work for them; don’t make them jump through hoops.

Fat and happy

I popped into Panera the other day for breakfast with my daughter. I already had an idea of what I wanted to order, so I scanned the menu board for a match as I waited in line. There it is! I said to myself when I found it, and I relished the thought of my breakfast treat. Upon closer examination, I noticed a number next to each menu item, so I looked at the top of the board for an explanation. It all came clear like a thunderclap: these were calorie counts!

I can’t eat something with that many calories! I thought. Especially when it is a single item–not a whole meal! Heartbroken, I scanned the board for an alternative, but there weren’t many better options. After a complete reassessment–including revamping my eating plan for the day and just a wee bit of rationalization–I ended up sticking with my original choice. Somehow, though, it just didn’t taste as good as I thought it would.

Actually, I applaud Panera for going big with its nutrition information. Most restaurants make it available in the small print, on their websites, or on the packaging that customers can read when their food is already in hand. Some have brochures quietly tucked away in case someone asks, but few (if any?) post it right next to each item. Panera introduced this practice in 2010; I’m obviously just a bit late in noticing.

What surprises me about this effort isn’t so much that restaurants are starting to do it. Instead, it’s my reaction. In general, I want to know more, more, more. Knowledge is power, right? I also like to be fairly informed about what I eat, both as a foodie and a reasonably health-conscious consumer. I may not always make the best choices, but I do want them to be choices, not accidents of ignorance.

That’s why I’m surprised at myself: when I first saw the calorie counts, I found myself wishing I hadn’t. I just didn’t want to know. I wanted to eat my eggy breakfast sandwich in peaceful oblivion, focused only on making my tummy happy. As long as I didn’t know the facts, it was A-OK, or at least A-OKish. My newly enlightened self, however, was forced to choose between responsible eating or willful decadence. I didn’t like that choice.

Besides the self-examination evoked by this experience, I’ve been mulling it over for weeks looking for the marketing lesson. I think I’ve finally found it. People want to feel good about the choices they make. It’s as simple as that. They either want to make good choices, or they want to justify the bad ones to make sure they’re really, really worth it.

Maybe that’s why I struggled so much with my egg sandwich. I should have opted either for the fruit cup and half a plain bagel, or I should have high-tailed it to my favorite greasy spoon and gone all out.

Assuming I’m mostly normal, it’s an interesting insight into human nature. I’m still chewing on that breakfast. So to speak.

An apology

I have been neglectful, dear readers. My other-than-blog life has been overflowing, and I have struggled to juggle (love that mid-word alliteration!) all of my projects. Unfortunately, the ball I have dropped has been this blog. Happily, I possess a growing list of post topics, and you should start seeing some of those come to fruition soon. Really. I promise. Give me another day or so, and I’ll be back on track.

Thanks for sticking with me.