The one thing

Why did I write that?

I stumbled into the bathroom, groggy after a short night’s sleep. My body wasn’t ready to get up, but as usual, my brain raced ahead.

That was dumb. Now they’ll know how insecure I am about this.

I flipped the switch on the wall and the light came on. Well, two lights came on: one in the bathroom and one in my head.

Wait a minute. This is exactly what they were talking about in that conference I attended last year. No one knows what’s going on inside your head, they said. If you project confidence, people will think you’re confident. Act the part until it comes naturally.

I had completely forgotten about that conference. I attended via Zoom from the den in my dad’s house, where I was staying while mine underwent renovations. I had a million things going on at the time, so those few hours on an April Saturday had all but disappeared from my memory.

I don’t remember much detail about that conference (never fear, I do have notes). In fact, I’ve distilled the entire event into that single idea. That one thing.

That’s not really unusual. When you read an article, you categorize it in your head as that article about [X]. When you see a movie, you likely think of it as that movie about [X]. It’s pretty much the same for anything; we compress the information into a single thought or idea, and that’s how we remember it. The details may follow, but the memory always starts with one thing.

When I interview someone for a writing assignment, I want to be sure I capture the essence of their message. After all, I’m there to help them tell their story. That’s why I never leave without asking the question: What’s the one thing you want people to remember from this article? Their answer determines my underlying theme.

No one remembers every detail about all the things they see and do. The events in our lives get boiled down to singular messages, themes we can file in our annals of experience. This is that show about the American football coach who goes to England to coach soccer. This is that article about how to organize your closet. This is that conference about confidence. They may be packed full of good ideas and important messages, but what comes to mind first–or sometimes at all–is whatever theme we’ve gleaned from it.

Stop and think about what you’re doing right now. How do you want it to stand out? What’s the one thing you want people to take with them? If you’re not deliberate about defining your message, your audience will do it for you.

Yes, this is about your work, but it’s also about you.

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