A few weeks ago, I told you to be wary of advice. Even mine.

Why? Because it’s tempting to believe that if we just follow the right advice, we never have to make any mistakes. Ever.

If your whole goal is to avoid mess, mistakes, and effort by stepping gingerly inside the footsteps of others, chances are, you won’t make much of an impression yourself.

In his handy little branding book called “Shout is a Stain Remover, Not a Strategy,” my friend Gary Kopervas, head creative at the branding agency 20Nine, writes,

“Best practices can be a trap. Experts advise that you look at what successful people are doing in your industry and do what they do…but copycats don’t achieve great things. Doing what other people do—no matter how successful they are—can mute your originality or authenticity.”

Well said, Gary, well said.

What he recommends is that you “work your quirk.”

So you’re thinking, “OK, well how do I know what that is? How do I find or choose that thing? Am I even different at all? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m boring. Oh God, I’m a fraud! A horrible, tedious fraud!”

Ok hold up. No, you’re not.

But finding what makes you truly standout isn’t a matter of a mad grab through your junk drawer looking for that screwdriver you could swear was in there.

You need to give yourself the chance to explore your story. You need time, focused attention, and the right container for doing that work (i.e., not on your couch with the news blaring).

And, you need a prompt.

In the Gateless Writing method that I use in my workshops, we use prompts to open the door to new ideas and even old stories.

I’ll give you one right now that you can use:

Think about a time when you felt really torn.

On one hand, it seemed clear what you should do, but on the other, you really weren’t sure anymore. It could have been a big decision. Or, it could have been when you were torn over which brand of BBQ chips you wanted. This doesn’t have to Be Important Work. The goal is to get the ideas out of your head so we can see what makes you tick — without letting your critical mind starting patting them down, TSA style.

Do not analyze. Do not think. Set the timer for 10 minutes. And write.

Now, if we were in the room together, I’d ask you to read what you just wrote. Out loud. To the group.

And we’d then give you feedback. Not to fix your work, but to find its power. What makes it strong. And, show you things in that work you didn’t see. It’s game changing.

This is the heart of the Gateless method. It changed my life and my work. It helped me gain incredible clarity, but also made creating easy and pleasurable and real. It helped me recognize what made my work different. And it can do the same for you.

Want to do this with me? Well, you’ve got your chance.

I’m running a Pop-Up Story Salon in Manhattan on Wed 8/21 from 9-4p.

You can read more about it here.

Space is limited to 12, and we’ve sold about half of those tickets already. FYI.

It’s going to be fun, and productive—kind of like a watering hole for your soul, the part that’s thirsting to do more than work stuff.

Register for the Pop-Up Story Salon here.

Look at your calendar real quick. 

I bet you have stuff scheduled today, and several things this week, that involve being in a room, real or virtual, with other people.

Some of those meetings are obviously work-related, because they happen in a conference room or conference call.

Others are pretending to be fun (drinks!) but are really work-related meetings in disguise (sorry, salt rim, you’re fooling nobody).

And still others should be just fun things, and yet, if we’re being honest, are really super boring.

Yet, we still gather. In rooms, with each other, and always will.

Question is, do you know why you’re there? In that room, at that moment? Does anyone?

Priya Parker is a professional facilitator. She’s trained in group dialogue and conflict resolution, and has spent 15 years studying it. Her book, which is fantastic, is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, and I saw her speak at a conference called How Design Live this past spring. She blew my mind. I bought multiple copies.

She says there’s a reason why most meetings are boring at best and frustrating at worst, or even our social gatherings and “fun” events often suck: Because we don’t really know why we’re there.

Parker says, if you’re not totally sure the purpose of the meeting, BEYOND the category (“status update,” “birthday party,” “networking event”), then you should really seriously consider not doing it until you know.

And if you think you can put some good people, even big personalities in the room, and let charisma take care of the rest, good luck. Because no.

“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering,” she writes. “And we forego the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

A good purpose for a gathering must be, as she says, specific, unique, and disputable.

When I read that my jaw dropped. Yes yes yesss! I’ve been screaming about this for years. Your purpose, whether you use it to drive a meeting or your brand messaging, is the same:

It has to be unique to you, and it has to be something that someone else might disagree with.

That’s why “supporting women business owners” and “helping people grow their assets” are not interesting—because they’re too vague and acceptable. Blah.

Parker says we mistakenly look to logistics to give meaning to events: Chefs, caterers, florists, etc. We have it backwards: The decisions on logistics should flow FROM purpose. Not the other way around.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You don’t start with the assets—website, a brochure, a podcast, a TEDx talk.

You start with purpose. That’s the heavy lifting—and most people just don’t do it.

Most people do what has always been done, and they stay just this side of doing something meaningful. They settle for what checks the boxes on productive (or, worse, makes them “feel” productive and they are not always the same thing).

If you’re going to do something that matters—call a meeting, throw a party, give a talk, craft messaging that actually connects with someone—it’s requires a unique and disputable purpose.

And some kind of risk. Because that’s what it feels like to do something only you could do.

You don’t know HOW many times people have said to me that the biggest problem they’re having with messaging—no matter what it is—is that whatever they have to say (sell, promote, announce) isn’t sexy enough.

But in fact, it is.

Why? Because there is no such thing as a boring topic.

If you think something is boring, it may mean that you haven’t done the heavy lifting to identify the real reason this is compelling. You haven’t tried. You assume it’s boring.

If you want to find the “sex appeal” (and I’m using that term lightly—not everything has to appeal to actual sex to sell) in what you’re doing, sharing, selling—find the way in which it appeals to human craving, desire, or need.

That means: Everything is sexy. (Kind of.)

The way I see it is, if someone has found a way to earn a living from it, trust me, there’s something sexy there. It doesn’t have to be flashy-sexy, but it may appeal to what someone feels a driving need for, even if they don’t admit it out loud or in mixed company.

Take copyediting, for instance. 

Copyediting is tedious, painstaking work. Some people really love doing it. Most don’t. But they want that service. Why? Because they’re “interested” in commas? Nope.

Because no one wants to look stupid. That’s why.

And if you don’t have a copyeditor read over your work and change “there” to “their,” you could end up feeling a little stupid. I don’t know why copyeditors don’t lean on this more. Because you’re not hiring a comma-fixer; you’re hiring someone to make sure you look and sound as smart as you know you are.

Oh and by the way: There’s nothing inherently interesting, either. 

There’s only what you find interesting. If you think a topic, issue, or business is inherently interesting, be careful—you could get lazy and assume that the product, service, or idea will sell itself. (It won’t.)

Anyone who’s ever been bored to near-death by someone at a dinner party knows this. But it has nothing to do with X topic. It has to do with the message and how it was delivered.

A bore is not someone who’s fascinated by things you’re not interested in; a bore is someone who hasn’t done the work to bridge that gap between what he finds interesting…and what you do. It’s lazy.

Finding the emotional pressure point in any message is critical—and without that point, well, yes, the copy or positioning may fall flat.

I think of brand messaging as a kind of of acupuncture. Words must be wielded with intention and skill if they’re going to work.

Sure, you can take a perfectly good acupuncture needle and stick it randomly into your arm. Chances are,  nothing will happen. But it doesn’t mean that acupuncture never works.

When a needle is intentionally and skillfully applied to a precise point, it could send a ripple effect through your entire nervous system. It could change everything.

Don’t think your accounting software, wealth management firm, or crash course in quinoa is sexy enough? Oh, I beg to differ. As long as you know who the audience is and what they want, you can trigger that pressure point.

They key is stop worrying about or judging what seems inherently “interesting” or “boring” and set about doing the work that bridges the gap between what you have and what your audience wants.

Do that and zap! Nervous systems lighting up all over the place.

There isn’t a person out there right now who isn’t dying to give you their opinion. Some will charge you for it. Most will just give it to you for free. 

Your inbox is teeming with bits of advice, expertise—from your boss, your business partner, that guy you met at a networking event (who opted you into his list WITHOUT asking, thank you very much).

It’s not that we shouldn’t ask for, and pay for, the advice we need, when we need it. 

But. 

There are times when seeking or accepting advice is a good idea, and times when it’s a cop out, or worse, keeps you from learning what you most need to.  

Last week I shared with you a great scene from The Agony and The Ecstasy. Well, there’s lots of great scenes and the book is very long. I’m reading it slowly, and so now, you are too.  

This scene is what inspired this idea. Here it is: 

Michelangelo finds a piece of his beloved Carrera marble, and it’s flawless. He doesn’t just bring it home. He spends the night with it, so he can see it in the first light. It’s flawless. 

“You are a noble block,” he says. 

He rushes it back to the garden like a new bride (yes, this sounds creepy, but this is the analogy the author uses!). 

Bertoldo, his teacher, comes over to Michelangelo and asks why he’s out here working alone, and not in the casino with the others. 

“Because I would like to work in quiet,” he says. 

Bertoldo contests this idea; he should be with the others are working, so that he can advise him. 

“Bertoldo, I feel the need to be solitary, to work beyond all eyes; even yours.” 

“You will make mistakes that way,” Bertoldo warns. 

“Isn’t that the best way to learn? To carry one’s mistakes to their logical conclusion?”

“A word of advice can save you time,” says Bertoldo. 

“I have time,” he responds. 

Seconds later, his friend Torrigiani, comes by. 

Now, Torrigiani is very popular and super hot. Michelangelo used to dote on him, couldn’t get enough Torrigiani, but now that he’s living large in the Medici palace and is more obsessed with marble. 

And Torrigiani has noticed. “Oh you’re too good for me, now?” Torrigiani says (I’m paraphrasing). “Mr. Hot Shit Medici Palace, can’t even work near me anymore? WTF?!”  And then: “I can help you! What, you afraid I’ll steal your secrets?” He’s really spiralling.

“I want to make my mistakes by myself,” Michelangelo says. 

Michelangelo’s teacher and his good friend ostensibly have his best interests at heart. But. Realize what they are most triggered by: Not that he’ll make a mistake, but that he doesn’t need them. 

Working in solitude, on your own, and being open and willing to make mistakes is the only way to learn. 

Michelangelo had Bertoldo and a small cadre of the greatest Renaissance minds at his disposal. We have the internet. 

It’s very easy to rely on others’ advice, thinking that it will always save you time, is always smarter, and is always better than you taking the time to learn. 

What I love about Michelangelo is that he’s hungry for knowledge, yes—but he knows when to shut it down and focus. 

Every day of our lives starts as a flawless piece of Carrera marble. We really can carve it however we want. And we will mess things up. That’s a given. 

But the fact is, you don’t learn from doing something right. You learn from doing it wrong. 

You cannot and will not do your best work by committee. There is no substitute for solitary work. 

All the teachers and well-meaning friends in the world could not have made Michelangelo better at what he does. And not one of them can lay singular claim to his genius. Only he can. 

I went on my first solo trip abroad end of June, and spent a week in Florence—in 15th century Florence…which of course explains why I had no cell service. 

OK fine. I had cell service. But. I feel like I time traveled, because I spent days immersed in the Renaissance. Oh, I was ALL UP in the Medici family’s business, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Brunelleschi. And of course, Michelangelo. I’m getting a little obsessed with him. 

While I was there I picked up a copy of Irving Stone’s famous novel about Michelangelo, The Agony & The Ecstasy

Here’s the scene that I wanted to share with you: 

Michelangelo is 14 years old and has been released from his painting apprenticeship and admitted to work in Lorenzo the Magnificent’s sculpture garden. He’s beside himself excited. 

One of his peers, a kid unfortunately named Soggi comes up to him one day and says: 

“Michelangelo, let’s you and I get out of here. All this stuff is so…so impractical. Let’s save ourselves while there is still time… They’re never going to give us any commissions or money. Who really needs sculpture in order to live?”

“I do,” Michelangelo responds. 

Soggi then lays out an argument that might have happened in the 1400s (or may not have—I am quoting from a novel, after all)…but it’s also happening today, in offices all over the world. Maybe even in yours. 

He says (I’m paraphrasing), Oh yeah? Where will we find work? What if Lorenzo dies? What if the garden closes? Who the heck needs a marble cutter? We can’t feed ourselves with that! 

It’d be much better to trade in pork or wine or pasta, things people need, he says.  This art business is for the birds. 

Michelangelo declines, of course. He says sculpture is not only at the top of his list, there is no list. That’s it. 

Soggi quits. And when the teacher, Bertoldo, hears about it the next day, he says of people like Soggi: 

“Their prompting is not love or affinity…but the exuberance of youth. As soon as this first flush begins to fade, they say to themselves, ‘Stop dreaming. Look for a reliable way of life.’” 

And then, this gem: 

“One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must.”

Maybe you don’t spend your day slaving over stone in a sculpture garden (who does?). 

But I’m guessing you’ve felt that tug, that fear that says, “What am I spending time on ‘x’ for, when it’s not practical? How can I make money doing this?” 

Sure, painters and sculptors ruled the day in Florence in the 1400s. But ask Seth Godin who the artists are today, and they’re not people who necessarily work in paint or marble. 

Modern-day artists, Seth says, create meaning in their work, whatever that work is. 

You don’t have to do that, of course. You can just ping emails back and forth and stay busy. 

But the real work, the thing that gives your work meaning, requires emotional labor—a lot of heavy lifting that you may not be getting paid specifically to do. 

Be wary of the temptation to do something else, something easier, just because it’s practical or seems like a sure thing.

Who knows what Soggi’s life turned out to be? Maybe he turned out to be one hell of a pork salesman. 

But one thing we can all agree on is that we don’t go to Florence to see what Soggi created.

Watching Mel Robbins take the stage last week at the Energetic Women’s Conference in Indianapolis was like seeing a rock star on the final leg of her tour.

(She’ll be going off the road as she heads into production for her syndicated daytime talk show which airs this fall.)

You probably know of Mel from her TEDx talk (which she refers to as a “21 minute long panic attack”). Maybe you listened to her on the radio for years, have seen her bestselling book, The 5 Second Rule, and if you drove through Lincoln Tunnel last year, might have seen her leaping into the air on a billboard for Audible.

She strolled onto the stage in her sparkly sneakers, hot pink jacket, t-shirt, and famous black frame glasses. And she did not “give a talk.” I hate when people just “give a talk.”

She talked to us. Moved us. She was on fire, but very much in control, unapologetic, loose as a goose. You know this isn’t the first time she’s done this, yet it feels fresh and happening before your eyes.

To me, that is the high water mark for presence.

We first met when I was a magazine editor in Boston. She had a prominent feature in Boston magazine and my editor said, “Go meet this woman. See what she’s up to.” I was glad I did, and liked her instantly.

So I was thrilled when I saw that she was on the bill at the Energetic Women’s Conference in Indianapolis where I was also scheduled to speak.

Her opening line: “How long does it take to change your life?”

Not long, as it turns out. Or, not as long as you think. “We’re all one decision away from a better life.”

You think she’s going to tell you how to be more productive. But this is also about mental health. Mel suffered chronic and debilitating anxiety for years and years. She has struggled, like all of us, to get out of bed or make sense of her life.

Our problem, she says, is that we go on autopilot and don’t apply the courage required to make one new turn off the same old road—and we wonder why nothing changes.

The 5 Second Rule is simply this: Whenever you’re faced with a decision, a choice that determines whether you: stay in bed or get up, stay silent or raise your hand, take a risk rather than stay stuck, count down from 5 and then move into action.

It’s easier to do what you’ve always done. Easier to let someone else do it. Easier to be angry than afraid. Oh boy do I know that.

Like the 5-second rule, being unapologetic is a choice. And it’s one Mel Robbins takes, every time.

People describe her as “authentic.” We throw that term around a lot.

All it means is “of undisputed origin; genuine.” You are who you are, is what that means. And there are plenty of truly authentic assholes.

What I THINK we mean when we say authentic is a personality or attribute that’s likable, relatable real. And that’s Mel. To me, that’s what everyone wants their brand to be, but is it?

If you really want to be authentic, you have to be willing to walk your talk. If you don’t, how do you expect anyone else to?

Everyone left the room after Mel spoke feeling lighter and brighter, counting down from 5, ready for our lives to begin in earnest.

How are you spurring others to action?

How are you compelling—not advising, not informing—people to do or be or choose differently? Because if you’re not doing that, then why not?

Where can you break the script, take a new turn, and apply the courage it takes to stand out?

Hey-o.

I recently spent two days at a Gateless writing retreat that was part garden party, part creative brainstorm, part coven. It was wickedly fun. 

I’m also trained in the Gateless Method, the goal of which is to slap a muzzle on the critical mind so that you can get dig deep down into the richest, loamiest soil where all the good stuff grows: Your best ideas, your best content, your best writing.

This method has been pivotal, not only for my own growth as a writer and creative, but in the many contexts in which I’ve used it—for speakers, creatives, even wealth managers. 

So early in the retreat, a very bright woman who’s new to the group, piped up early on (being the brave soul she is), to voice her own insecurity around the fact that she was feeling cowed by some of the excellent writing she was hearing.

Suzanne, Gateless creator and retreat leader, said that it’s normal for the critic’s mind to surface when you hear others read.

And that’s why the method works: When you can train your mind to focus on what’s powerful in someone else’s work, you will automatically up-level your own craft, as well as start to see the power in your work.

How often does the critical mind muzzle YOU? Probably a lot.

It can keep you from saying anything, flashing an uncomfortable light on your insecurities until they crawl away, back into the cracks of your consciousness, where they do far more damage.

It’s worth pointing out, today, any day really, that self criticism, insecurity, the comparing mind, does not go away when you’re “good” at something.

It doesn’t go away when you’ve won awards and accolades. Or how many times someone tells you you’re amazing.

Until you turn the light of your attention in another direction, it’s hard to alter that shadow across your thoughts, your work, your life.

The inner critic is a miserable muppet pulling reverse ventriloquism on you, making you say words that aren’t yours and aren’t true.

Trust me, I hated and loathed myself for many years, and didn’t even look for a job because I couldn’t imagine anyone was looking for me. I thought I’d do the world a favor and just stay out of its way.

The critical mind had a FIELD DAY with me. And for a long time, I let it.

I told this story recently to Cass McCrory, host of the “Real Women in Business” podcast, if you’d like to give it a listen.

In it, I talk about how I learned to raise my hand, how I landed my TEDx talk, and how Gateless changed my life (and Cass’s!).

>>Check out the interview I did with Cass on her podcast “Real Women in Business”

I’ve known Cass for years, and I adore her. Hard not to love her, as you’ll find out yourself.

And while I can’t give you the FULL Gateless experience in a blog post, I can come give you the Gateless experience at your company or organization or group.

And if you like the idea of coming on an exclusive Gateless retreat that I’m leading in the fall, let’s set up a time to talk about whether it’s a fit for you!

I’ve always been a late bloomer.

I was born late, in October, making me the runt of the class litter.

Last one to get my driver’s license. Last one to turn 21. Last one to have a boyfriend. Last one to hit a host of other teenage milestones that I won’t go into here.

I dragged my heels getting a real job, and temped miserably for a year before committing to an office gig. I didn’t start my career in earnest until I landed an editorial role at a magazine… at age 30.

I moved to New York City so late, that by the time I did, all my friends had left, headed to the suburbs with spouses and babies in tow. The party was over. (Well, not really. I just started hanging out with younger people.)

If I didn’t tell you that, you wouldn’t know it. You’d assume I had it all planned out perfectly. I did not.

It can be very misleading to look at someone’s life, career, LinkedIn profile, whatever, and assume their life just skipped along like a stone thrown expertly across the surface of a lake. It’s easy to assume the arcs were easy and seamless and right on time.

Nope. But, I will say this: Everything happens in its own, right time. In “divine time,” as some of my more spiritually inclined friends will say. I believe that, because looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I talked about all of this in a podcast I just did with Michele Lamoureux, creator and host of The Good Life Coach Podcast.

She’s a no-nonsense, straightforward woman and I did my best to make her laugh. I think it worked.

>>Listen to the Good Life Coach Podcast interview here!

(There’s also show notes and links to cool stuff too.)

In it, I talk about what a mess I was. I think it’s important that we all know what a mess we all were and are. I don’t find it inspiring to listen to people who think they have it all figured out.

But, I also talk about how to go about standing out (and why it’s so hard to do so).

Here’s how you don’t do it: Watching and mimicking everyone else–even the most successful ones. I admit that I really don’t pay all that much attention to other people and what all they’re up to. I think it can be an energy and confidence suck.

And I go into some of the tools I use for helping you think about and position what you do and want to do for other people. And it’s not “how to get all the business in the world” because trust me, you don’t want all of it. You don’t want most of it!

Ok. That’s enough from me for one week. Don’t you think?

Ciao.

-Terri

P.S. Here’s that link to the podcast again. You’ll like Michele.

When I was a graduate student at Emerson College, I got a teaching fellowship and found myself for the first time teaching writing comp to a roomful of freshmen.

And while I never met a captive audience I didn’t like, this group had its share of challenges—the most memorable being a very tall, very wise-ass kid named Ben who clearly just didn’t want to be there—in this class, in this school, in his own skin.

He asked questions like, “Why do we need to title our work?” and one day opened up a big book of sheet music right in front of me, casually flipping through it while I talked about essay structure.

I went to speak to my advisor about it, a badass woman who said what she thought without apology. She told me to ask him to step outside at the start of class. Oh god.

So that’s what I did.

I wrote a prompt on the whiteboard, gave the assignment to the class. And then:

“Ben, would you step outside with me a moment?”

I don’t care how tough or tall or irksome you are. You get called out of class by your teacher, and you’re going to shrink a few inches. Both of our hearts were pounding as I led us out of the room and closed the door behind us.

We sat down on a window ledge.

“Ben, what is going on.” And then I STOPPED TALKING, as instructed.

“What do you mean?” he said, shifting uncomfortably.

“You tell me,” I said. PAUSE. “Because it’s pretty clear you don’t want to be here.”

And just like that, the whole dynamic shifted, palpably.

His facade crumbled like King’s Landing under the blazing fire of unwanted attention.

He wasn’t happy, he said. He’d wanted to go to the Berklee School of Music, but he didn’t get in. And now he was here.

I told him that I understood how disappointing this might have been. And if he didn’t want to be here, then he had a decision to make.

I told him I didn’t care if he decided to stay or leave—in fact, if he wanted to leave, I would help him. But I was not interested in trying to win his affection for this course or this school or me. That’s not my job.

I gestured to the closed classroom door.

“What I am obligated to do is make sure that everyone in there gets the best possible experience here. And you’re making it hard for me to do that. And so this won’t work.”

I never had a problem with him again.

If I had to guess, this was a kid who’d had people (cough cough, his parents, cough cough) trying to win him over to do what they wanted, and had made it his go-to response to be resistant in ways that helped no one, including him.

And I was not his mama.

I was barely 28 at the time, and I learned a powerful lesson then about what it means to keep your commitments—and what your job really is.

Because there isn’t a classroom or an office or a meeting or a PTA that doesn’t have a Ben in it—someone who doesn’t really want to be there and makes it unduly hard on everyone else.

And if you ask me, far too many of us choreograph days and decisions around that person, navigate them as if they’re an old tree rooted into the ground, just part of the landscape, part of life, and part of our job to endure the people who least want to be there.

Look, I don’t love confrontation, either. And while I get it, some people ARE old trees planted into your life in ways that are hard to navigate (family being a prime example), there are lots of ways to deal with people who are NOT permanent fixtures.

That lesson stays with me to this day, as a grown-up running her own business. Because I know that it is not my job to “make” people fall in love with what I want them to do. I don’t actually care what they do. That’s not indifference; that’s the job.

Trying to bend others to my will or agenda is a losing battle. And it doesn’t serve them or me.

I offer what I can do, and if they want that, we do it. I don’t make empty promises and I don’t waste time convincing you to like it or me. If this isn’t for you, you are free to leave, or take what I create for you and take every last of its teeth out with a plier. I will sleep regardless.

This is not about giving zero F’s, etc—this is about being open, but unattached to outcome. This is about being process-, not ego-led. And it has helped me tremendously.

My uncle, the late Rev. Robert Barone, was also a professor, at the University of Scranton and stood in front of rooms full of freshmen for decades. I told him about Ben at the time, and here’s what he said to me:

“You’re only ever really talking to one, maybe two, people in the room. Everyone else is along for the ride.”

Make sure you’re giving the best of yourself to the right people.