Monday Motivation: April 15, 2019


“Don’t compare and despair.”

It’s what we like to tell ourselves and others when we think we’re not doing as well as (or better than) someone else, or when we see how cute someone looks on Instagram in their new spring dress while we’re sitting at home in sweats eating Thai takeout.

We think we’re comforting ourselves when we remind our hamster brain that we all work at our own pace and do our own thing and that what others do is their thing, and that we’re not in competition.

But we kinda are in competition, aren’t we? To some degree? And being in competition isn’t necessarily or inherently bad.

Maybe better advice would be “compare and prepare”? It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. How we respond to it is what counts. Rather than telling someone to not do something, I’d prefer to give people (and, honestly, myself) actionable advice.

I’d rather coach someone that if they compare, they’d better prepare. Prepare to:

  • set actionable goals and actually do things

  • put some work out there that takes a stand, makes a difference, helps someone

  • reposition how they think about themselves (we’re all doing better than we give ourselves credit for, btw)

  • put more words and actions into the world so people can learn more about us

  • let themselves be seen and heard for what they’re already doing

  • produce, produce, produce, and then produce some more

  • champion each other and lift each other up

Saying “don’t compare and despair” isn’t helpful. Instead, let’s try to handle this differently with one another. Let’s celebrate what people are doing, rather than despairing that we’re not doing it. Let’s encourage one another to use those comparison moments as motivation to put ourselves out there in ways that are authentic to us and that help us achieve our goals. Let’s purposely lift up other in our lives (or even those we admire from afar). And, let’s actively tell one another that we admire what they do, where they’re going, and how they inspire us.

Each of us, let’s get out there this week and do one thing that sets us apart from others, makes us memorable, gets us interested, and makes even just one person say, “Daaaaaaammmn, she’s REMARKABLE.”

Because you are.

Now get out there and compare and prepare!

Here’s a little look at some things I’m reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming this week:

What I’m listening to: A backlog of episodes from the following podcasts: The Tim Ferriss Show; The JV Club; Planet Money; Clear + Vivid; The Moment with Brian Koppelman; Houston We Have a Podcast; and Recode Decode. I have a lot of car time coming up this week, so I hope to continue getting through them until I get fed up and declare amnesty and delete them all.

What I’m reading: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick. A lovely story about a woman finding her way as an adult, volunteering in a library, remembering the stories she wrote as a child, and finding out some thing about her family that are quite surprising. It’s lovely and thoughtful, and I’m sad it’s coming to an end. I have just a few pages left, and I am dragging them out because I am enjoying the story.

What I’m watching: 30 Rock on Hulu and Parks and Recreation on Netflix. It’s my go-to, and I love it so.

What’s canceled: Whatever was on my schedule for December 19, 20, 21, and 22 because now that I’ve seen the new Star Wars teaser trailer, I’m clearing my calendar for those days so I can see this movie about eleventy billion times.

What I’m learning: All about the ulnar nerve, or “funny bone” because I’ve banged mine about 10 times in the past few days and the pain/pleasure is so intense.

What’s making me think: How the Fibonacci sequence is found in nature, particularly some of the flowers that are starting to bloom in my garden.

Monday Motivation: April 8, 2019


Ever have one of those weekends where you have a to-do list about 37 items long and you do exactly zero of them?

That was me this past weekend.

I’ve been go-go-going nearly non-stop since January, and I kinda just hit a wall on Saturday morning. I sat down at my desk to bang out a few work-related things and I just couldn’t. Couldn’t put words to paper, couldn’t reply to emails coherently. So, I laid down on the sofa in the living room with the dogs and just watched the birds at the bird feeder outside my window. I watched mindless stuff on YouTube. I puttered around the kitchen. I cleaned out a drawer of stuff I never use in my dining room. I worked out with my trainer. I took myself out for lunch at the local Indian buffet on Saturday and met dear friends for lunch on Sunday. I read a whole book in one sitting.

I forget how much I need these nothing weekends sometimes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “If I do this stuff now, on Saturday, it will make next week so much easier to handle” trap. So, I gave myself two days off and now I feel so much more refreshed and ready to tackle everything that needs to get done this week. And, it’s a busy week of client writing deadlines, three events I’m producing, teaching, Hill hearings to follow, and a brainstorm session to plan.

I’m ready for the week. Ready to kick its ass and give myself permission to end the workday on Friday afternoon and give myself another two days off next week. Definitely something to look forward to.

Here’s a little look at some things I’m reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming this week:

What I’m listening to: Sarah Bareilles released a new album last Thursday, Amidst the Chaos and it’s GORGEOUS. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s so well done, and I think it’s her best work yet. That first track, Fire, is well…. FIRE.

What I’m reading: Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams. Reviewers have called it “Bridget Jones meets Americanah” and I’m here to tell it it’s SO MUCH MORE than that. I’m only a third of the way through, and I already can’t wait to read all the other books this author is going to write. The narrative is really well written, and I love the characters and context of the story so far. It’s been wonderful to have some time to read fiction this year, and I am glad I picked this one up. I heard about it on the Professional Book Nerds podcast.

What I’m watching: #The100DayProject on Instagram. So many beautiful, creative, lovely things. I’m doing my own version of the 100-Day Project, but not posting it (not yet, anyway) for public consumption. So far (I’m only 8 days in), it’s helping me retrain a certain creative muscle that’s long needed attention. Go check out what people are doing on Insta — it’s inspiring. And, it’s a wonderful way to engage with new people, follow others’ work, and be part of a new community!

What’s canceled: Joe Biden. You know why, and you know I’m right.

What I’m learning: Statistics. I KNOW. 2019 is a year where I’m trying new things to see what kinds of new hobbies I might want to pick up. It’s also a year of education, and I’m purposely trying to tackle subjects I, historically, have been very bad at. Probability and statistics is one of those things. I’m taking a class to try and better understand it and see if I can maybe possibly even a little bit understand it. I love math and have always done well in math classes, but my brain never really fully grasped statistics, so I’m giving it another go.

What’s making me think:Your Life in Weeks” from Wait but Why. Click on it. Try not to panic.

Monday Motivation: April 1, 2019


April Fool’s Day has long been a favorite holiday of mine. I love a good prank or practical joke. That said, I think the Internet needs to take a break from this holiday. Companies are losing their clever edge by forcing what they think is a funny April 1st fauxnnouncement, and it’s getting tired and old and not at all humorous or fun.

I think we all feel burned out and need a break for a year or two to let people press the reset button on their creativity around this holiday. I know I’ll be staying away from most social media today because I don’t want to be annoyed and silently cursing out people’s inability to craft the perfect prank.

Here’s a little look at some things I’m reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming this week:

What I’m listening to: Ben Platt’s new album, “Sing to Me Instead”. I was fortunate enough to see Ben play the lead in the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” three times and I was more than curious about how his voice would transfer from his anxious, emotional, and frenetic character to the person Ben is in real life and the stories he wants to tell. The album is beautiful, and it’s been in my headphones quite a bit these past few days.

What I’m reading: The only metric of success that really matters is the one we ignore

What I’m watching: The newest season of “Catastrophe” on Amazon Prime. I love Rob and Sharon, those wackos. The writing is SO SO SO SO GOOD on this show.

What’s canceled: Alcohol. I like wine. I like a good cocktail every now and then. But I am in no way a big drinker. And lately, my body has not enjoyed even one glass of wine. I don’t sleep well, and I feel gross for two days afterward. I used to enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner here at home, and definitely out with friends, but I barely drink at home at all anymore, and only occasionally drink when I’m out on the town. I just don’t like the way I feel afterward. I think my body is trying to tell me something, so I’m gonna listen.

What I’m learning: That it’s emotionally safe to love my Philadelphia Phillies again.

What’s making me think: More than 80% of the earth’s oceans are unexplored. Jellyfish have been around for half a billion years. I’m obsessed with oceans as much as I’m obsessed with outer space. The possibilities for discovery seem endless for both.

The possibilities for you seem endless, too. Go out there this week and be remarkable.

Monday Motivation: March 25, 2019


When you are a founder and a CEO, and you are self-employed, you work a lot. It’s just the way it is with the kind of work I do. However, over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to take time away from work — even if only for 3 days — to fully recharge my batteries. For me, the best and most thorough way to do that is to go to the beach.

My little beach town in southern New Jersey offers the greatest respite. I have friends who live there year-round … other friends who live there during the summer … and I have an ocean that knows all my secrets and dreams.

With temperatures in the low 50s on Sunday morning, it was a perfect time to sit on the sand, stare out at the water, and do some thinking and resting. Maybe you need something calming this morning to help you get centered and ready for the week ahead? Here’s a little snippet of what worked (and always works) for me:

Here’s a little look at some things I’m reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming this week:

What I’m listening to: “The New CCO” podcast by The Page Society. The Page Society is the association for senior PR and corporate communications executives and educators who want to enrich and strengthen their profession. This monthly podcast features conversations with leading Chief Communications Officers in the United States and how they engage stakeholders.

What I’m reading: Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown. Dr. Brown’s work on empathy, shame, and vulnerability has led to some very real conversations among my students at Georgetown, and has helped with the way I shape some client discussions. I’ve just started this book, so I don’t have any insights to share with you but, if you’ve read it, comment below and tell me what you think.

What I’m watching: “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix. It’s my default. It never disappoints, and it’s always sweet and funny.

What’s canceled: Mindless scrolling on Facebook. Last year, I took a four-month break from the platform and it was a very good thing. I’m not the kind of person who falls into a compare-and-despair trap, but I am the kind of person who can scroll through a social media platform feed for am embarrassing length of time and have nothing to show for it. So, I’ve worked really hard to change that habit and not use the platform much, if at all, on my personal account. I like seeing what friends and far away relatives are up to, so I do check in from time to time. But I’m done with the mindless scroll. You should try it, too.

What I’m learning: Money laundering is a fascinating enterprise. NPR’s Planet Money re-released this podcast episode not long ago and I finally got around to listening to it. Really, really interesting: Episode 418 — How the Government Set Up a Fake Bank to Launder Drug Money

What’s making me think: How much emotional and intellectual effort people in (and out of) Washington put into waiting for the Mueller Report to come out, instead of focusing that energy and effort on building their political benches in local, state, and national races. Working in Washington as long as I have, there is nothing more frustrating that people outside this professional realm complaining about the system, yet doing absolutely nothing to change who gets sent to Washington to represent them. It’s exhausting, y’all. Coach, fund, and give professional support to candidates who can get shit done. //steps off soapbox

Now, you go get shit done. Kill this week. Be remarkable.

Monday Motivation: March 18, 2019


I meet waaaayyy too many people who get the Sunday scaries and the Monday morning blues. Not me. Well, most of the time, not me.

I actually secretly kinda totally love Mondays. I love my work, and I love the chance to start a fresh new week to kick some ass and get some great work done.

Here’s hoping your Monday gets off to an awesome start. Make that to-do list. Bang out one or two quick things as soon as you sit down at your desk. And set a goal to make yourself stand out this week. What can you do to differentiate yourself?

Here’s a little look at what’s got me goin’ to start this week:

What I’m listening to: Honestly? The ‘80s radio station in my car. I’m kind of brain-fried from all the podcasts I’ve been listening to, so I needed to take a break and jam out to the music from my junior high and high school days. One of the stations in the DC area just changed format from Top 40 to 80s, and I’m loving every minute of it. It’s always amazing to me that I can’t tell you without thinking really long and hard what years World War 1 was fought, but I have never forgotten a lyric or a guitar riff or drum solo from any songs produced between 1979 - 1990.

What I’m reading: The Amulet series graphic novels by Kazu Kibuishi. My 10-year-old nephew blazed through these books so I am reading them, too. I want him to stay engaged in reading, and if he sees an adult enjoying the books he loved, I’m hoping he’ll find more things to read that he can share with me and we can talk about on FaceTime or when we’re together. The Amulet series is an eight-book collection of really interesting stories with beautiful artwork.

What I’m watching: “Workin’ Moms” on Netflix and “Shrill” on Hulu. I binged these both over the weekend and they’re phenomenal. Women-centered stories and characters, relatable voices and storylines, and so incredibly engaging.

What’s canceled: This is hard to write, but it’s Michael Jackson. I haven’t watched “Finding Neverland” or the Oprah after-show, but I believe victims. I believe survivors. I believe Wade and James. Michael Jackson’s music was an integral part of my growing up. Off The Wall remained one of my most favorite albums of all time. He was a cultural icon. But, sometimes you have to let go of something you’ve loved because of something related to it. I choose to believe survivors of sexual assault. So, I no longer own any music by MJ. I switch the radio station if one of his songs come on. And, I have had to force myself to not sing or bop along in the grocery store when one of his tunes is in the mix.

What I’m learning: Patience. Every day. Every way.

What’s making me think: This quote from Seth Godin: “How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”  Powerful shit right there. And he’s right.

Go. Be remarkable. I’m watching and cheering you on!

#AmBranding ... on the #AmWriting podcast

When Jess and KJ ask you to be on their very successful podcast about writing podcast, YOU BE ON THEIR VERY SUCCESSFUL PODCAST ABOUT WRITING. Only, you don’t talk about writing. Kinda sorta.

A member of their Facebook community asked about Personal Branding. Is it crass? Is it gross? Is it too commercial? Should writers (and others) be thinking about it?

Not crass, not gross, not commercial, and heck yes we all should be thinking about what our brand is and how we communicate it.

Click below to listen to the interview.

How are you perceived?

One of my favorite things about teaching personal branding is when I get to drop the bomb that when it comes to your personal brand, what YOU think doesn't matter.  What other people think matters a whole lot.

Why?  A personal brand is a perception or emotion maintained by someone other than you that describes your outstanding qualities and influences that person's relationship with you.

Your brand exists on the foundation of a set of perceptions and emotions in someone else's head and heart.

Think about some of your favorite commercial brands:  HBO, Amazon, Chipotle, Apple... how do you perceive them?  Those companies pay a lot of money to ensure you have a certain perception of them, but how you really feel about them also is shaped by your own experiences.

As individuals, you and I don't have a $500 million ad budget to help shape how others see us.  When it comes to personal branding, perception is reality.  What you put out there, how you are in public and private, defines your personal brand.

We are judged -- and our brands defined by others -- by what comes up when we're Googled, what we wear, our body language, whether or not we deliver on promises, our social media and personal/professional presence, what we do for others, whether we're seen as authentic, and how we handle ourselves when we screw up.

We're also judged by others' experiences prior to and during their time with us.  Fair or not, it happens.  For example:

I may think I'm a hard worker.
Ugh, she's a workaholic brown noser and her life is sad.

I may think I'm a strong team leader.
This dude just gives orders and takes credit when the boss loves our work.

I may think I have a great sense of humor.
Girlfriend doesn't know when to take things seriously. Not everything is a joke.

I may think I'm great with clients.
I've never seen a photo of him without a red Solo cup in his hands, and Tweeting drunk selfies with clients is no bueno.

See the differences?  I bet we all know people on both sides of those examples above.  Perception matters.

What should you be thinking about when it comes to others' perceptions?
- What do I want to be known for?
- What qualities do I want people to associate with me?
- What's the first thing I want to have pop in someone's head when he or she hears my name?

If you choose to be who you are, with distinction and relevance ... if you choose to be authentic and consistent ... if you choose to be mindful of your words and actions, your personal brand will help you build trusted, valuable relationships and allow you to make a meaningful difference in the world.

There will sometimes be a gap between how you want to be perceived and how you are really perceived.  The goal is to maintain a very narrow gap.

So, how you find out how you're perceived?  Ask.  There's a collective groan in the classroom when I ask my Georgetown students to email colleagues, friends, and others a set list of questions to see not just how they're perceived, but if they are consistent and authentic.

What do they ask?  Things like:
- How would you describe me to someone else in 1-2 sentences?
- If my name were a brand, what would my 3 key attributes be?
- What's an example of a problem you'd look to me to solve?
- What am I most interested in?
- Where could I benefit from professional development or coaching?
- What do you think my specific expertise is?

Many times, the email replies are surprising.  Seven different people giving seven different answers to one person ... perhaps showing a lack of consistency or authenticity.  Some students have gotten replies along the lines of "I don't feel like I know you well enough to answer" -- coming from a supervisor of two years.  What's going on there, right? 

Most of the time, the feedback is interesting, eye-opening, and really helps my students narrow that gap between their intention and others' perceptions.

We all need honest, thoughtful input from others about how we're perceived.  It can be uncomfortable to ask for and to receive, but it's critical to knowing who you are, how others see you, and ensuring that your talents and skills are smartly aligned in your work and personal life.

How are YOU perceived?  Have you thought about it?


Who are you?

The first week of my Personal Branding class at Georgetown, I ask my students:  Who are you?

To begin the real work of personal branding, and get to the core of who we are, I tell them:

  • You are not your job title
  • You are not your affiliation with an employer
  • You are not your passion
  • You are not all the things you've failed at.

Your personal brand isn't "I'm a PR manager" or "Wine and cheese is my passion".  (barf)  Your personal brand isn't "I'm divorced."  It's also not, "I'm a government wonk."

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.

When we think about what that means, we need to reframe how we think about and talk about ourselves.

When I'm not in the room, I wouldn't want someone to describe me as "oh, she does marketing for a tech company."  Why?  Because tens of thousands of other people do that.  That's not memorable.  That doesn't set me apart.

So, I work with my students to identify their functions, attributes, strengths, emotional appeal, and differentiators.

  • Functions: What do I do? What services do I offer?
  • Attributes: What are the characteristics or qualities that describe me?
  • Strengths: What am I good at? What am I known for being good at?
  • Emotional Appeal: How do I make people feel?
  • Differentiators: What sets me apart and makes me memorable?

Every semester I have taught this class -- EVERY SEMESTER -- at least one student says, "there's nothing memorable about me" or "I have no idea what sets me apart".  At least 5 other students nod in the affirmative.  I used to want to just hug them and tell them it will be okay ... but now, hearing that makes me excited.  Why?  Because I know that person is going to have a pretty damn remarkable semester in my class digging deep and finding out what sets them apart from others.  Because it's there.  They just don't know it yet.  When we find it (and we always do), it's magic.  I wish you could see it.  The energy and momentum that comes from it is infectious.

I don't use the word "unique" in my class.  I think it's unnecessary in personal branding.  When I see personal branding presentations or articles with the words "unique value proposition" I automatically know two things: 1) that person's personal brand is Boring King of Finger-Guns City and 2) they are not in my tribe.  Using "unique value proposition" is the kind of marketing gobbledygook that turns people off from the whole exercise of figuring out what they're great at doing, how they can pursue those talents in myriad ways, and how they talk about themselves and interact with the world around them.  Our DNA makes us unique.  But in terms of talents, skills, values, and experiences, "unique" is not what we're going after.  We're going after what makes us memorable ... what makes people want to engage with you when they meet you or have heard about you.  What makes you magnetic.  What helps you find your tribe.

For one student, her memorable moment was that she had her pilot's license before she could drive a car.  For another student, it was having written and submitted a spec script for "How I Met Your Mother" (which never got used, but the very action of doing it is a fun story and shows part of that student's personality and gumption that might not have shown up in a regular networking conversation).  Yet another student had done more than 100 drops out of a helicopter in the military ... didn't seem interesting to her, but in conversation with others it made her memorable and also kind of a badass.

So, who are you?






On Being a Teacher

Yesterday I wrote about my desire to, in some way, feel like a student ... to find something new I wanted to learn, and feel excited and challenged about discovering new things I'm capable of doing, or might fail miserably at.

Today, I want to write about what it feels like to teach.  Teaching is one of the many things I do in my career, and I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the hallowed halls of Georgetown University, working with graduate students in PR and Journalism.

My first experience in teaching was in 2006 in Johns Hopkins' grad school, after which I moved over to teach at Georgetown in 2007.  I taught PR writing for a few years, as well as a class called The Power of Opinion, where my students wrote and submitted op-eds and letters to the editor each week, and they all got published in major media outlets.  My PR practice went BOOM, so I took a break from teaching for a bit, returning in 2014 to teach a class called Personal Branding.

Yeah I rolled my eyes, too, the first time I heard those words.  It sounds so ::pew-pew:: winky-finger-guns, doesn't it?  Barf.  I made it my personal mission to make the class NOT barfy and, instead, work with students on their personal brands, and understand what that really means.  

Personal branding is not a logo, a tagline, or an elevator speech (the ultimate in barf).  

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.  If 10 people in a room have 10 different perceptions of you, then there's something going on in the authenticity department.  It's my job, as a teacher, to help my students peel off all those layers and be who they are and teach them how to build meaningful relationships that make our communities and our world a better place.

Here's the thing: PR people are good at what they do because they love molding, shaping, and promoting others.  We are great behind the scenes, making shit happen, and keeping our clients in the spotlight.  Same goes for journalists.  Great reporters are good at what they do because they're telling other people's stories.  Ask them to tell their own, and they will self-deprecate beyond belief and deftly turn the tables and begin asking more questions so as to not talk about themselves.

The reason we're good at doing PR or being a journalist is because we spend very little time on ourselves, and all our time on our clients, products, employers, and interview subjects.  We're great at shaping others' stories, but have no idea what our own story is.

So, for two hours each week, my students come into a cocoon where they think only about themselves.  In my classroom, we are not our work titles.  We are not what others tell us we should be.  We are not the children of our parents.  We strip all that away and think about who we are, how we're perceived, what our skills and talents are, what we are best at doing (at our core), and what we ultimately want to achieve.  We talk, we write, we figure it out, and we get it done.

It's a tough class.  It's frustrating and deep and introspective (if done right).  On the flip side, it's surprising and rewarding to find out what we love to do and what we're good at when we finally stop "should-ing" all over ourselves.  It makes us better communicators overall, and helps us move forward in our careers and in life in sometimes unexpected ways.