A long, long time ago — like, 4-8 years ago; the jurassic era, online — I was trying to be fabulous online. I was writing clever blog posts and getting a fair amount of attention.
That influx of attention awakened possibilities. It led me to try and figure out how to leave my job and turn all this attention into an actual business.
So I started trying to figure out how to monetize my writing. I decided to be a copywriter. Copywriters get paid. Lots.
- I deconstructed Eben Pagan’s sales funnels.
- I followed Marie Forleo really closely and deconstructed her copy and strategy too — not just what she was teaching in B-School but what moves she was actually making, herself. (I trace the everywhereness of B-school to her and then-partner Laura Roeder signing up a number of big-list male affiliates in B-School’s first year, but I didn’t necessarily see that strategy being translated into a high-profile teaching.)
- I learned copy psychology from Drayton Bird, the wily-ol’ Ogilvy exile.
- I watched Frank Kern and Jeff Walker and didn’t really understand what they were doing…except that Frank Kern was creating a character and using projection to attract customers.
In other words: what you like about Frank Kern is what you want for yourself — and he was then styling himself as a lazy, long-haired slacker beach bum making millions because the desire to have it easy is something fairly universal and therefore a superb high-volume customer-attraction strategy.
Now, if you watch Frank Kern’s FB feed, you’ll see him with short hair wearing suits; you’ll see images of 6 stockings on a huge stone fireplace with the note “I never thought I’d have such a big family; and you’ll see snapshots of his apron-wearing wife, who is a model, fully made-up and pulling a turkey out of the oven with a note that she does it all even though she’s got a six month old baby.
He’s styling himself as a patriarch and inviting in clients who want that — the authority, the respectability, the big house, the beautiful wife who does it all.
From 2008-2013ish, that’s what I was trying to do, too.
I was performing a character and a life as a client attraction strategy.
That’s what I was learning to do from the online marketers.
I posted pictures of my fabulous clothes and shoes and beautiful children and wrote stories about my complicated dating life. I was trying to become independently myself…and displaying my emerging personal power invited in an audience who wanted that for themselves, too.
I’m explaining it like it was really conscious, but most of it wasn’t. Most of it was reactive. I was trying to figure out how to be successful by reverse-engineering other people’s systems, copywriting and public personas.
Here’s what happened, though: whenever I couldn’t perform the shiny, happy, public me, I had to retreat.
I also spent a lot of time hiding my body, thinking that I had to lose weight in order to be visible, because who would aspire to have the life I had if I had this body?
I ignored invitations from Blogher to syndicate my content. I ignored an invitation to a speaking gig in front of 1,000+ that someone famous recommended me for. I landed a paid gig at Problogger and flaked on my weekly column. I failed to realize how significant it was that an editor at Jezebel was publishing me and did not nurture that relationship or try to turn that into a recurring gig.
It took so much energy to perform myself publicly that I didn’t have the reserves necessary to do my actual work: writing.
And I didn’t really have a commitment or a purpose beyond myself.
So, purposeless, I wrote about any ol’ thing that caught my fancy. Sometimes I wrote third-wave feminist blog posts about subverting social expectations. Once in a while I wrote about the politics of hair. Sometimes I wrote about my mothering. Eventually I just wrote about my love life, all the time.
I was just trying to figure out my own life and make my own money.
I can offer a lot of critique and a lot of tenderness to myself, then. I really needed to do those two things. I was newly split with two little ones and I needed to figure out myself and my career so I could take care of us.
So I poured myself into being The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. I was feminist, sort of, but sometimes I couldn’t be my full-blown feminist self because I had to work scarcity into my sales funnels or look pretty online.
And sometimes looking pretty online was a fist in the air, because I’m a fat woman who is supposed to be invisible.
My point was that my only commitment was to doing better for myself.
And that’s why I could never sustain myself or my efforts in my business-building and lifestyle marketing.
I’d summon energy, force myself to follow my scripts and plans, execute, and then collapse and disappear. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Or I’d half-assedly do what I was supposed to do because it felt pretty awful to have to sheer off my feminist commitments in order to be ‘successful’.
These two things worked against me and sapped my energy and resolve — and my results.
Because of my stop-start-y-ness, I never ever got momentum.
And my stop-start business pattern was a direct result of the high energy burn and the amount of willpower it took to perform a character and cognitively dissociate from my own political beliefs at the same time.
There really wasn’t any amount of money that could sustain me at this level of energy and principle burn.
So I dropped out.
I got a terrific marketing job in a B2B company with 50 million dollars in annual revenues and oh my god, what a relief. I didn’t have to perform a character. I simply had to present features and benefits. It was a massive palate-cleanser.
When I came back online a couple years later, it was a bit of a shock.
It was like launch marketing and lifestyle marketing suddenly shape-shifted — or maybe I was the one who was different — and I saw it as one unified pattern called white supremacist patriarchy aka The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand.
At the same time: Ferguson. Baltimore.
And not a word from the female leaders who’d been so very important to me, from whom I learned from and loved, who’d for years been styling themselves as change-makers and (juice) activists and philanthropists and empowerers-of-women.
I was furious and broken-hearted. Freddie Gray could have been my son. He WAS someone’s son. He was himself and his life mattered.
Where were all the change-makers?
They were making videos about love and light and mindset and money and being adored for their empowering ways.
Along the way, I went to my daughter’s school time after time after time after time because she was being called nigger.
And then there was the time the guidance counselor made my daughter apologize to a child she’d called racist for doing actual racist shit to her.
All of it: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, my daughters, all the white women leaders saying nothing while saying they were change-makers, white supremacy. It was all one.
My fury coalesced. It’s called love.
It’s called justice.
It’s called commitment.
Now, I had a purpose. Now I could direct all my talents and intelligence and power towards creating the only things that matter in this world: love and justice.
This is my feminist work in the world: to honour my first commitments of love and justice and be a culture maker and be part of the change, not the status quo.
We are going to invent a new future in which everyone counts.
This is happening, no matter what.
And here’s the thing: it was when I was committed to something bigger than myself — justice — that I could actually be my full self.
I want to say that again so that it gets engraved on my heart: when I committed myself to something bigger than myself, I was finally able to be my full self.
I suddenly had a star to tie my talents to.
And that is rocket fuel in my every project and my every aspiration.
My unconditional commitment to love and justice sustains me through business tedium and trials and even exhaustion.
I get tired but I never want to quit. I never want to disappear.
I am doing all of this for a reason.
Now, with the exception of personal hiccups (my mother-in-law is ill and my schedule goes seriously awry), I’m more consistent than ever before in articulating my message, synthesizing my ideas and sharing them, and leading.
Because now I have a commitment and a vision.
Now I am committed to something bigger than my personal success.
And here’s the individual success paradox that’s a direct result of my collective commitment: now I am EASILY achieving all the conventional success metrics I so desperately craved back then.
And truly, it’s because I’m committed to something bigger than myself.
My unconditional commitments fuel me, sustainably and unrelentingly.
So I can almost always keep going. I WANT TO. It’s essential that I do.
Also: because I have this commitment to love + justice, I have the endlessly renewable fuel. I have purpose.
I do not have the energy drain of performance or cognitive dissonance (usually).
Those two unconditional commitments — love and justice — also provide a decision-making pivot. If I’m invited to do something and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea, I ask myself: “does this advance my cause of love and justice?”
If I have to make an elaborate, indirect argument to justify my participation, I know it’s NOT advancing justice.
And it’s therefore at odds with my first commitment and my source of fuel.
To keep burning and burning it down, I’ve got to honour the commitment. I’ve got to do the work I’ve chosen. Justice. Love.
This is happening no matter what.
So that’s what I want you to know.
When you decide and declare your first unconditional commitment — that thing that’s bigger than you and that you might not ever fully achieve — it’s both your touchstone and your fuel. It will keep you consistent. It will keep you connected to your community and indeed invite the most radical, loving community and relationships into your life.It will keep you learning. It will keep you humble. It will make you magnificent.
Committing to something bigger than yourself allows you to be all of yourself.
And you know what that is?
Freedom. A whole new world.
Let’s go there, together.