What it Means to be Cool

Image by Juan Ignacio Videla

A while ago, my friend Greg Knauss wrote an essay about what he calls The Empathy Vacuum. An excerpt:

“A few years ago, a photo made the rounds. It was taken from the back, its subject unaware. He was a fat guy wearing a jeans-jacket, and on the back he had stenciled the name of his heavy metal band. It was a sloppy and amateurish job. The photo earned a lot of mocking comments in my circle, including from me. Ha ha, look at the fat guy with the rock-and-roll pretensions. Look at him. Looooook.

And then someone said, ‘I think he’s awesome. He’s found something he loves, and he thinks it’s great enough to share with the world. This guy is a hero.'”

This is a change I’ve been feeling in myself for years. Admiration for people who are deeply enthusiastic, and less interest in the detached nature of “being cool.”

I think there’s a cultural shift happening toward enthusiasm and away from apathy. Our team at Go Mighty even has a term for it that I’ll talk about more next week. For now, I’m curious about whether your notions of cool have shifted too.

This concept was part of my entrepreneurship keynote at Square’s Open for Business. I’ll be fleshing out more points from my talk here over the next couple of weeks.

Your Personal Pitch: 3 Tips for Answering “What do you do?”

Image by Robert Lindstrom

“You sound unemployed.”

A friend said this to me once, in real life. I refrained from shoving him because he was right.

He’d been standing next to me when someone asked what I did for a living, and I couldn’t move my tongue out of the way to answer. I stammered about how I was in a career transition, entering a field that wasn’t well defined, understood, respected. I felt ridiculous calling myself a blogger, insecure saying I was a writer, grandiose claiming I was small business owner. And then I presumably downed half a gin gimlet and cleared my throat.

In short, I knew what I was doing with my career, but I couldn’t navigate a cocktail party. I didn’t know my personal pitch.

Developing a Personal Pitch

We use words to define and alter our realities, especially in how we characterize our work. When you’re in business for yourself, no one hands you a title, so the process needs to be more intentional.

My friend pointed out that I was doing cool things, but freezing up when someone asked, “What do you do?” It was certainly true then, and over the years I’ve had to rethink my response several times. Today, when people ask about my work there are lots of options. I write a blog. I host a conference. I run a community. So I’ve decided to say, “I own a media company,” and go from there.

The SAP Pitch

If you’re running into the same problem, I’ve developed some guidelines and a terrible pun that can help. When someone asks what you do, your pitch should be SAPpy:

1. Succinct

One phrase or sentence is plenty. If the person is interested in your work, you’ve provided an entry point for questions. If they aren’t, you have a socially acceptable answer ready, one that doesn’t reveal insecurities or force the other person to listen while you reason through your career. The alternative is watching someone’s eyes glaze over as you yammer on about how you’re “not sure whether you can call yourself an artist yet… though you have done paid work… but it’s not at a level where you could support yourself or anything…”

Check, please.

2. Aspirational

Yes, you can call yourself an artist, or a writer, or a business owner, even if you haven’t met your internal standards of what those phrases mean yet. If your intention is to be an artist, just say it. You can offer more detailed information as the conversation moves along.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an artist.”
“Oh! Have you shown in any galleries I might know?”
“Oh no! I’m just starting out, applying to schools and painting between my cash jobs.”

And side note, if you are actually unemployed right now, the answer is “I’m looking for work in accounting,” or “I’m a freelance developer,” or “I’m a DJ.”

3. Positive

Your pitch shouldn’t contain any words that diminish your work. Don’t say you run a “small” salon, or that you’re an “aspiring” singer. Don’t say you’re “just” a mom, or demur when someone tries to express enthusiasm about your work. What’s more, don’t highlight a job you took to pay the bills, and describe your real interest as a hobby. If you say, “I’m a bartender. Sometimes I take photos of all the crazy people at the bar,” then people will ask if you’re available to tend bar at their next party. If you say, “I’m a photographer, I like night-life subjects,” then someone may ask to see your work. Highlight the type of work you’d like to attract, not what you do to make rent.

Take those three guidelines into account and come up with a pitch that puts the best possible spin on your career. With any luck, you’ll need to revise every few months to incorporate all the good stuff that comes your way.

These concepts were part of my entrepreneurship keynote at Square‘s Open for Business. I’ll be fleshing out more points from my talk here this week.

You Do You, Resources List for My Talk at Square

Last week, I was heads down preparing the talk I gave at Square Monday. If you were there, hello! This is a resources list, and I’ll be posting here in the coming days to review some of the concepts we covered.

Photo by Etta and Billie, who makes small batch sustainable bath and body products.

SxSW Oral History by Fast Company
My Life List on Go Mighty
Rise of the new geeks: How the outsiders won in the Guardian
New Sincerity
Punk Rock is Bullshit by John Roderick
The Empathy Vacuum by Greg Knauss
Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie Mag
Zooey Deschanel’s Hello Giggles
Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice on keeping expenses low

Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Phillipa Rice’s Soppy Comic Book series

Go Mighty is our community site.
Camp Mighty is our annual conference. Please let us know if you’d like a note when we open registration.

And if you’re looking for me elsewhere, I’m on Twitter @maggie, Instagram at Maggie Mason, Facebook, and Pinterest. If you’d like to have me come speak, send a note to camille at gomighty.com.

I love speaking, so thanks for coming to listen.

I’m Speaking at Square, Come Say Hi

I’ve been publishing here for nearly fourteen years, so it’s ludicrous that I’ve never spoken in my hometown until now. If you’re a Bay Area entrepreneur or aspire to be, please come say hello at Square’s Open for Business Day celebrating women entrepreneurs.

I’ll be speaking with Square Founder Jack Dorsey to kick off an afternoon of workshops on social media, finance, recruiting, and analytics. I like the folks organizing this, so the information should be chewy. Also? It’s free. So it fits right into the tightest small business budget.

You have to register to attend, and there’s limited seating, so get up on it:

Free Reg on Eventbrite
Monday, March 10, 2014 from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM (PDT)
Square Headquarters
1455 Market St
San Francisco, CA

See you there!

Ten Steps to Blogging Genius Presentation

The reason you should never use a 4G photo memory card is that when it konks out, you lose weeks of your life. I can’t even remember what was on the begining of the damn thing, but all my Detroit photos so far are kaput. I’ll miss you Eastern Market, gorgeous burnt-out ruins, weird face Melissa makes when you tell her you want to cuddle. I’ll miss all of you. In the meantime, here are some presentation photos Bryan took.