A few weeks ago, some friends and I decided to do something really seasonal: We went out to the country (read: Jersey) to pick apples.
Turns out, we’d missed apple picking season by two weeks. We could buy the ones that had been picked and stuffed into paper sacks. But what’s the fun in that.
We instead visited the pumpkin patch, picked among the misshapen, warty gourds for perfect, round orbs that we could carry and fit into our tiny New York apartments. (Plus, document on IG #fall #pumpkinspice). We proceeded to go eat burgers the size of our heads.
Then, after it got dark, we went BACK to the orchard and paid someone to scare the crap out of us.
“I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all,” one of our five friends said.
“Too bad. We’re doing it.”
We bounced along on bales of hay, and were deposited back at the Demarest orchard, where the charming sunny pumpkin patch had become something much darker, where all manner of ghosts, goblins, and witches lay in wait.
There was an edge of cool in the air, the moon as bright as as bulb, casting long green shadows across the grove. We waited in line FOR AN HOUR.
When we finally stepped through the old barn doors into the yawning orchard, there was…no one. It was silent and still.
Where were all those other people? We tiptoed through, bound together as if by glue, giddy and giggling, wondering what was about to happen.
The world right now, I think we can agree, is scary enough.
But what we, and many others, didn’t want the evening news, or virtual reality.
What we wanted was to walk through an actual orchard and be taken off guard by by real people masquerading as monsters—who, I reminded my frightened friend, were heavily made up theater majors with a sweet seasonal gig.
Even when I knew what was about to happen, I was still startled when a witch leapt from the shadows or a hunching ghoul came snarling over my shoulder.
It worked. Humans startling humans, one of the oldest games in the book.
Why am I telling you this?
Because for all our bustling online lives, all the platforms we build out of thin, digital air, for all our efforts to reach each other—as I’m doing with you, via the interwebs right now—nothing can ever replace real people affecting, and sometimes surprising, real people.
All the crazy special effects in the world cannot come close to the real-life experience of good old fashioned analog horror. Even when it comes in the form of a 22-year-old kid in zombie makeup.
We don’t always want to be scared, of course—what we want is to be stimulated, to feel alive, and sometimes, yes, to feel that is…startling.
Maybe you don’t like scary things. But you can startle in many ways—with beauty, with humor, with a unique thought or story or idea.
Canned marketing does not startle. Predictable sales pitches do not startle. Carefully executed web pages designed to trigger in the name of conversion, rarely startle.
But leaping into the path of another person, in whatever form that takes? That remains the only way to get someone’s attention. You don’t have to scare them, but you may need to startle them out of an old way of thinking and seeing.
All five of us made it out of the orchard alive, laughing, feeling the afterglow of adrenaline returning to its natural levels.
It was fun to be scared in a pretend situation, to fake fight with a maniac and for real flirt with a haggard ghost who kept haunting me (“Oh please, you don’t scare me,” I said. “I’ve been ghosted before.”
So my question to you is this:
Where are you startling people out of their habitual thoughts, fears, predictable loathing? Where have you been startled?
Where are you helping someone feel more alive than they were five minutes ago?
…Part of the fun of any work, your work, is being surprised by it. Delighted, awed, engaged. Have you given yourself a chance to do or experience that? Are you doing it in the work you share with the world?
You can still access the replay of my two-part masterclass, Rekindle Your Content, where you’ll discover ways to breathe startling new life into the connections you’re making with your prospects, clients, audience.