46-year old me wanted to know, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
Those sound like two unrelated questions. They are not. So what’s the common thread connecting the two? To answer that, I must share a short story from last week.
True Confessions from My Mastermind Meetup
A slight flicker of nerves showed up in the pit of my stomach a few days out. Like extended family around Christmas, I wasn’t surprised by their arrival.
Fast forward two days. In the morning, I made the 4-hour car ride to Franklin, TN through what looked like a painting of fall trees. I pulled into downtown with a few hours to kill before the trip’s main event. I emptied several coffee cups at a trendy downtown hotspot and knocked-out some to-dos. But the time had arrived. I closed my laptop, slid it into my backpack, mumbled “excuse me” through a maze of hipsters, and walked back to my car. I punched the address in on my phone and pressed “Go.” My app showed I was nine minutes away. The flicker of nerves grew like the floodlight on a train escaping a tunnel at midnight.
Rolling to a stop at the first red light, I pressed the scan button on the car radio, oblivious to the earbuds dangling from my ears plugged into nothing. ‘Who uses the scan button on a car radio in 2018?’, my internal voice asked with the bite of sarcasm. Clearly, the stakes were high. And my move for the scan button makes one thing clear, I’ve got a terrible poker face.
After one-and-a-half laps scanning around the radio dial, my phone chirped, “Your destination is on the left.” I waited for an oncoming SUV to pass before making my turn. My heart was now beating two-times the rate of my blinker.
I pulled into a treelined driveway that slaked upward. Thick trees blocked each bend of the narrow path. My car churned up the incline and my stomach followed suit.
Finally, a large cream house peaked around the corner. It looked asleep. I scanned the three cars parked out back. All were unfamiliar.
Doubts foamed up to my head like boiling potatoes turned too high. The fading daylight barely lit my steps as I eked towards the front door. I dislodged my right hand buried in my jean pocket and thought, ‘Is this the right house?’
Tap, tap, tap on the glass front door.
Was this the right move?, I screamed in my head.
Professional Grade Self-Doubt
Maybe you’ve been there. Self-doubt. If so, you’ve met her ugly twin named ‘Is it too late to back out?’ That’s exactly who I brought with me as I walked into my first face-to-face mastermind meetup. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. But the feelings were as real as my shallow breath over the next two days.
Why did I get this way?
Enjoying an insightful podcast on the drive back home after our meetup conjured up what had been bubbling below the surface. With Franklin fading in my rear view mirror, a Spark came like a bolt of lightning.
First, let me introduce you to the podcast occupying a spot in my Top 3.
Spark, Issue No. 4: That Graffiti on Your Garage Door Is Killing Your Personal Brand
By way of reminder, each issue of Spark comes from my musings about marketing, business, life, and the gospel from top podcasts.
You can check out the previous issues here.
Now, let me introduce you to the podcast for this Spark.
I’m struggling to find the words to say how much I love the podcast behind this issue of Spark. Maybe it’s host Jonathan Goldstein’s similar age and cultural references to my youth. I can’t get enough of his dry, slightly-tilted, self-deprecating humor—the laugh-out-loud by yourself in the car kind of humor. I’m not alone in my being drawn in like a mouse to his pied piper delivery…
…engrossing. When he talks, you listen in a state of simmering amusement that frequently boils over. —Sarah Larson, The New Yorker
He feels like the kind of guy who would fit in perfect at my high school lunch table between Charlie and Daniel, and in the goofy videos we made on VHS tape.
Regardless, you should listen to every episode of his podcast Heavyweight, which he describes this way:
Heavyweight goes back to that moment in your life when everything changed.
Each episode gushes with insights on what it means to be human—fragile, wounded humans. In Heavyweight, the topic and the host combine into the perfect couple.
Just how good is this podcast? I shared an episode with a friend last Tuesday and he used it in his sermon on Sunday. A convert was made.
Fresh off the inaugural, in-person meetup of my marketing mastermind, I got a Spark 38-minutes into episode 17, Skye. Skye’s 11-year old son Clark walks into the recording booth and asks his mom’s childhood friend this question…
Why did you do this to my mother?
Here’s a bit of context behind his poignant interrogation. (Just a warning before you listen. This episode has some snippets of strong language. The departure from the podcast’s family-friendly rating is integral to the story in this episode.) When Clark’s mom Skye was in middle school, her best friends showed up at her home one night and spray painted an offensive message on her garage door. They never spoke again. Now Skye’s son Clark is entering middle school. He knows the story. His mom has shared it with him numerous times to serve as a lesson about adolescence and fickle friends. But he doesn’t know why his mom never asked her friends why they did it. So, thirty years later, Skye and her son set off to find out. And as part of their quest, Clark asks his mom’s middle-school friend that question—why did you do this to my mother?
What struck me was the answer his mom’s friend Tessa shared with mom Skye and son Clark.
Sometimes you’re with friends because those are the ones you have. So you’ll stick with your friends even though you see things you don't like in them…You just don’t want to be alone.
Crash! (Don’t worry. Not my car. I’m still safely in my lane rolling down the highway at this point.) A wave of school memories rolls over me. What survivor of junior high can’t identify, right? Then my mind jumps to the mastermind meetup I just left.
As I consider the perspective of each character, I can see things through his or her eyes.
I See You Skye
I identify with Skye. She’s intimidated. Even thirty years after middle school, the thought of her junior high peers still causes her to cower. It’s her natural reflex. She hems and haws around the issue. It takes her 11-year-old son Clark to embody the courage she can’t call upon. He asks the question she’s dreamt of asking for three decades.
I Got You Clark
I understand Clark, Skye’s son. In his eyes, his mom is incredible. She’s been heroic in his life. Not once or twice, but daily. So his question makes total sense. She’s amazing, so how could anyone treat her that way, especially her friends?
I Know Tessa
I get Tessa, the one friend brave enough to finally explain what happened all those years ago. She’s insightful and honest. Why did she do it? Because you don’t want to be alone. If she said ‘No’ back then, she would be saying no to far more than a cruel prank on Skye. Saying no would cost her a place to belong.
A Round Trip Back to What I Learned at My Mastermind Meetup
OK. Let’s bring this full circle. Here’s what struck me about the mastermind meetup I just left.
Why was I a bundle of nerves walking through the door last Sunday? Why? For many of the same feelings expressed in the episode of this podcast.
I’ve been in countless groups. But I’ve never been in a mastermind. I’ve never been in a mastermind of my peers, all professional marketers serious about building personal brands. Being in a few months of Zoom calls already felt intimidating. But meeting in person. Yikes!
I’ve only seen their faces behind the safe veil of my laptop screen.
On a Zoom call, I’ve got the tools I need to ‘keep myself safe.’ There’s the “mute” button. Left of that is the “turn off video” button. With a few keystrokes in the chat channel and I know I can politely exit. ‘Sorry. Gotta hop off for another meeting.’ When I start feeling like an imposter—someone who doesn’t really have the chops to be in this elite group—I can always bail.
But walking up Sunday night, I knew the minute I crossed the threshold, there was no turning back. No mute button where they can’t hear me. No video button so they can’t see me. No place to hide because ‘these guys are out of my league.’ I held many of the same fears Skye must have felt. Is this group going to turn on me if they find out I’m not like them? What happens when they discover I’m less talented, less knowledgeable, less skilled, less experienced, and have less to offer?
A Gang of Clark’s (No Supermans)
And then there was Mike Kim and the rest of the uber-talented mastermind—Joy Capps, Lauren Davis, Lindsey Hartz, Ryan Holck, Danny Ozment, Josh Pies, Sean Pritzkau, Hope Schaefer, Russ Stalters, Jason Clement, Jody Mayberry.
Time and again they became Clark—champion of Skye. (Turns out, I wasn’t the only Skye in the room.)
The One Thing Every Personal Brand Needs to Grow
Here’s my main takeaway. When you are growing a personal brand and business, you need Clark—preferably a gang of Clarks. You’re going to hit moments in your business where life, circumstances, or clients bring doubts and confusion. Your insides will churn. External and internal voices will leave offensive messages on your garage door. The words or phrases may vary, but the message is always the same…
Who are you kidding? You don’t have what it takes. You’ve reached your ceiling.
And here’s how that plays out in your business. I’ll say it with the words of Tessa—Skye’s middle school friend 30-years past…
Sometimes you keep mediocre clients because those are the clients you have. So you stick with those clients even though they don’t really value what you offer them…You just don’t want to be without any clients. You don’t want to be alone.
I’ve run my business like Tessa too many times. I hop on my bike and follow my client into something I don’t believe in.
A cheap, hurried website to meet a tight deadline rather than solve their marketing problemA “we’ll send you the content…you just design it” client oblivious to the power of messaging and copywritingA client searching for a low-budget logo that will “do for now”
Here’s what happens when I do. I end up with three things:
- Regret stacked higher than whatever dollar bills they paid me.
- Self-doubt in my ability to add real value to a client.
- Resignation that this is just the way it is and always will be.
Before you know it, months or years go by. And it can take a mastermind of Clark’s to pull you out of it! Once you find your Clark’s, you just have to be brave enough to walk through the door.
Unsure Going In, Grateful Going Out
In the end, I’m grateful for the two days I spent last week with my mastermind—face-to-face with a room full of Clark’s who believe in me. After all, if a group of keen, talented, peer marketers sees the value you bring, then you know there are clients out there who will!
So guess what self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and would-be clients who just want a cheap fix? I have a mastermind full of Clark’s who have a question for you.