Outrunning The Little Man: Dealing With Impostor Syndrome

There’s only one person I’ve ever been afraid of my entire life.

He’s average height, and skinny, very skinny. He’s got a bad combover, wears outdated glasses that are too large for his face, and a tie clipped onto a pistachio green short sleeve shirt. He’s an older Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. He’s very officious, and kind of an asshole. The kind of guy who loves wielding his teeny-tiny bit of power over other people’s lives.

I call him “The Little Man.” He’s not little in size, but in spirit and vision.

I live in fear of the day The Little Man knocks on my door. He’ll look at a form on his clipboard and say, “I’m sorry” — except he’s really not — “but there’s been a mistake. You’re not supposed to be a writer. You’re supposed to be a claims adjuster. Sign here, please.” I’m afraid The Little Man is going to show up one day and take everything away because of a clerical error.

Impostor syndrome makes people worry there's some bureaucrat out there trying to get us and fix some error about our lives.I’ve been looking over my shoulder for The Little Man for the better part of 30 years. Ever since I published my first column in my college newspaper, I’ve been trying to outrun him.

It’s like the movies. The hero runs as fast as he or she can, knocking shit over into the bad guy’s path. But the bad guy just steps over everything like it’s not even there.

So I’m amassing evidence to slow him down and prove him wrong. Evidence to show that his form is wrong, and that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve thrown four books in his path. Twenty-one years of newspaper columns. Thousands of blog articles. Writing awards. Writing residencies. Speaking opportunities. But he won’t stop. I’m throwing it all in his path, and he won’t even look at it. He’s a mindless bureaucrat, a drone who refuses to see evidence in front of him or use common sense. He only believes what the paperwork says, despite what real life is showing him.

I’ve been running for 30 years, and he won’t stop coming.

I thought I escaped him once last year, when I was a writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. It’s a prestigious residency where only four writers are chosen out of over 300 applicants from all over the world. To me, this confirmed that there had been no error, there was no form on a clipboard.

“This will stop him,” I thought. “There’s no way he can find me here. I’m supposed to be here. They said so.”

But when I stepped inside and closed the door on my first day, he was right there on the sidewalk in front of the house, staring up at it. In fact, it was the closest he’d ever gotten.

He chases my other artist friends too. They’ve seen him, following them wherever they go, whatever they do. To a man and woman, they’ve all seen him, no matter how successful they get, no matter how much stuff they throw in his way.

In fact, the more successful they are, the closer he gets. So we all run faster and work harder, and throw more stuff in his way. But he steps over it and continues on.

It’s a rare artist who isn’t afraid of him. Every capable creative professional I know keeps one eye on their work, and the other looking over their shoulder.

The ones who aren’t afraid often don’t know enough to be afraid. They’re not committed to their craft and they don’t take it seriously. The Little Man leaves alone those artists who wait for inspiration or think they’re masters of their craft. (Because even the real masters don’t think they’re masters; they’re looking for The Little Man too.)

So we work, because that’s the only thing that lets us outrun him. It doesn’t stop him. He never stops. Because he’s waiting for the day that I stop, when I give up and quit running. That’s when he’ll get me. That’s when I’ll have to take his pen and sign his form, and finally give up on my dreams.

But that’s not today. Today, I still have things to do and dreams to win. I still have the energy and the drive to work, and to outrun him one more day.

Photo credit: Max Pixels (FreeGreatPicture.com, Creative Commons 0)

Beware Mark Schaefer’s Blueberry Shock

Mark Schaefer alarmed content marketers two years ago when he warned of the impending content shock. The idea that the amount of information on the Internet was going to grow 600 percent between 2014 and 2020.

In other words, if we designate the amount of information online in 2014 as “one Internet,” we will have six more Internets of information by 2020. We doubled in “Internets” from 2014 to 2015, and again in 2017.

Except, we as humans only watch, read, or hear 10 hours worth of content each day. That’s reading articles for work, listening to the radio during our commute, and watching TV or reading at home.

But the amount of information available will continue to grow, most of it bad to mediocre, and all the good stuff will be buried.

Hence the shock.

What does this have to do with blueberries?

Mark Schaefer's blueberry harvest. This is when the blueberry shock began!

Photo by Mark Schaefer

Everything!

Mark Schaefer posted the following on Facebook today:

This is the entire 2016 harvest from my three blueberry bushes. This might seem sad until you learn this is a 100% productivity gain over last year.‪ #‎Winning‬

Winning, indeed.

While Mark laments that he only has two blueberries, he also realizes that he has, in fact, doubled his harvest from last year. If he can continue this trend, he’ll double it again next year, and have four blueberries. And eight the following year.

He’ll be able to celebrate 2020 — the year the Internet will have grown by 600% — with 32 blueberries. That’s nearly 2/3 of a pound of blueberries.

That’s when things will start to go terribly wrong.

There’s an old saying that if you double a dollar 20 times, you’ll have $1 million.

If Mark’s blueberry trend continues, in 20 years, he’ll have 1 million blueberries — 1,048,576, to be exact.

Satirical chart of blueberry growth representing blueberry shock; I adapted it from Mark's original content shock chart.

If we assume an average of 50 blueberries in a cup, and 4 cups of blueberries equals 1.5 pounds, Mark will have 31,457 pounds of blueberries by the year 2035. That’s 15.72 tons of blueberries.

And while that number is only .0055% of the total US production of blueberries in 2015 (563.2 million pounds), it’s still a staggering number.

Will this have a significant impact on overall blueberry prices? What sorts of steps must we as a blueberry-consuming public take? Will his friends and neighbors be flooded with buckets and shopping bags filled with blueberries mysteriously left on their porches in the night?

We need to be prepared for the coming blueberry shock. While this won’t reach Mark’s staggering growth of information, this is an issue we must face nevertheless.

As a leading consumer of blueberry muffins and pancakes, I urge food professionals everywhere to begin to examine how you can deal with the pending blueberry shock, and take steps to incorporate their use in everyday cooking — from bread to soup to desserts.

Additional markets should be explored as well: blueberry-based skincare products. Alternative fuels. Even blueberry milk. (If almond milk is a thing, then blueberry milk can be!)

Thankfully, we have time. We won’t have any major problems for another 15 years, in 2031, when Mark’s blueberry bushes produce 65,536 blueberries, or .983 tons. Hopefully by then, our blueberry infrastructure will be in place, ready to receive the increased blueberry shock.

(Note: This is all satire. I’m also a humor writer. Please don’t think I actually took this seriously. Although I probably put more time into it than I should have.)

Mobile Phones Are Dying!

Yesterday’s blog post on LinkedIn by Martin Varsavsky, CEO of Fon, says that mobile phones are killing the laptop, and people will eventually quit using them simply because of the rise of mobile-only apps like Foursquare and Instagram. Also, laptops are $1,000 – $2,000, and smartphones are nearly free, and therefore people would rather buy phones than laptops.

Muh-huh.

Varsavsky’s reasoning reminds me of the old philosophy joke, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, all men are Socrates.”

So people will no longer buy laptops to write blog posts, create spreadsheets, create websites, design magazine ads and logos? They’ll just whip out their handy-dandy iPhone and everything will be just as powerful and fast as a laptop?

Technology Adoption Lifecycle bell curve

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle shows the number of people who will adopt new technology, like smartphones and tablets

I don’t know what kinds of phones Varsavsky is using, but until I can use mine to tell my transporter chief to beam me aboard, there is absolutely no way a mobile phone is going to replace the laptop.

Besides, haven’t you heard, mobile phones are dying. At least, the technology experts are predicting that tablets like the iPad will outsell mobile phones in 2013.

Clearly — clearly! — this spells the mobile phone’s demise, right? Because with a tablet, I have a bigger screen than a phone. I can play games, watch Netflix without straining my eyes, and they’re faster and more robust, which means they’re better, right?

At least that’s what Varsavsky’s logic means, right? That our ringtones are slowly changing to death rattles?

If we follow his reasoning, the only reason tablets are outselling mobile phones is because the phone eco-system is dying.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that everyone already owns a mobile phone and that sales plateaued, but tablets are still new enough that people are constantly buying them. Also, Varsavsky is hoping you won’t realize that many people already own laptops, which is why their sales have plateaued, while smartphones are just reaching the Late Majority adoption phase of technology, and people are still buying them.

While the sky may be falling in Varsavsky’s world, the millions of us who use laptops and desktop computers to actually produce the things the mobile phone users consume will continue on our way, doing the actual work on computers big enough and powerful enough to create it.

To say one technology is dying just because another starts to outsell it does not mean the death of that first technology. That’s like saying the 2nd place Indy 500 finisher is a failure. Specious arguments like that — as well as the one about mobile phones replacing laptops — deserve to be laughed at.

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Employers Should NEVER Be Allowed to Ask for Facebook Passwords

This whole “employers asking for job candidate Facebook passwords” thing is complete bullshit.

Not only is it an infringement of personal privacy, it’s unconscionable that they would make a person’s private life part of that hiring decision.

In some cases, employers are even asking current employees for their Facebook passwords as a condition of their continued employment. It was bad enough when they required employees to friend someone from the company, now they’re demanding total access to the things you wanted to keep hidden from everyone but close family.Doorway to the International Spy Museum, Washington DC

That’s not to say that a person who is wildly inappropriate or shows poor decision making skills should still be hired — if you’re stupid enough to post your half-nude keg stand photos for the entire world to see, maybe you don’t deserve that job as a kindergarten teacher — but if you’re smart enough to keep it private, or better yet, not to put yourself in that situation in the first place, then employers shouldn’t be snooping around.

Employers are free to Google a potential candidate to see what they can find, for the same reason. If you put your stuff online online, you should be willing to stand behind it. And if you wish you had never put it out there, there are ways to hide it. Or at least make sure it’s not seen by people who think a YouTube video montage of you yelling at children and puppies makes you a horrible person.

But as far as I’m concerned, Facebook is like your house with a giant picture window. You would never parade naked in front of the open window, but you have some things that you do that you would prefer to keep private and personal. Those are the things you keep in your desk, in a closet, or under the bed.

Yet, employers asking for Facebook passwords are basically asking for the key to your house so they can root through your drawers, read your diary, flip through family photo albums, look at your bank and credit card statements. They want to see what they can find, to determine whether they should hire you in the first place, or let you keep your job. They don’t have any reason for this search. They don’t think there’s anything incriminating to find, or have any evidence that you’ve done anything wrong. They just want to see if there is.

You would never let the police put a speed tracking device on your car to tell them when you speed. You wouldn’t let them come into your house uninvited for a quick peek. Why would you give employers the open opportunity to waltz in whenever they’d like, to see if there’s anything they maybe ought to be concerned about?

Don’t give me this “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you should have nothing to fear” bullshit either. I haven’t done anything wrong, and yet I’m not going to let anyone into my life, house, or Facebook account to snoop around in the hopes they can find something incriminating.

I’ll admit that there may be some sensitive jobs that require a background check. But the thoroughness of this type of probing make Facebook snooping look like a quick drive-by glance through your front window at 30 miles an hour.

I have not met a single individual who supports this. At least no one who is facing the fear and desperation of unemployment, or the desire to keep their job. Nor anyone whose job it is to professionally argue that Facebook snooping should be allowed. If anyone thinks it’s okay to give your employer unfettered access into your personal life in order to get/keep your job, let me know.

But if you, as an employer, are going to snoop around my personal Facebook account, then by all means, let me snoop around yours. Give me your password, and I’ll poke and prod at my leisure. Maybe I won’t find anything salacious, but do you really want someone poking around to see all your private messages and the photos that you marked “friends only?”

We still have a relatively fragile economy, and people have been unemployed for months, or face a devastating financial loss because of new unemployment. For employers to dangle the golden carrot of survival in front of a candidate in exchange for the ability to snoop into a person’s private life are slimy, underhanded, and extremely unethical. There is no earthly reason, short of working for a federal agency where you’re allowed to carry a gun or know state secrets, that employers should be allowed to become electronic voyeurs into someone’s non-work life.

Companies that do so face the threat of lawsuits from disqualified job candidates, loss of corporate Facebook accounts, and possible legal action as Congress and several states seek to make this against the law.

Photo credit: Tony Fischer Photography (Flickr)

Should I Cover Up the Name of No Bullshit Social Media?

Update: Awesomize.me contacted me with a great response addressing this issue.

I wrote a book with a naughty word in the title.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media, which I wrote with my good friend Jason Falls, has generated surprisingly little controversy. It’s been placed cover out on all the shelves in all the Barnes & Noble bookstores. It was even on their New Arrivals shelf, top center, where everyone could see it.

Of course, there has been some controversy. I’ve given presentations where I had to refer to the book as “No BS.” One group asked that I not mention the book at all, and since they dealt with a lot of very conservative Christians, who would be attending the conference, I was fine with that. (I covered up most of the offending word, and kept the cover one the last slide of the slide deck though.)

I’m not ashamed of the title. I’m not sorry I did it. I understand that some people don’t like saying it, and I’m fine with that. If they want to call it No BS, they’re more than welcome to. I won’t tell someone to do something they’re not comfortable with.

But what’s bothering me today is a particular social network, awesomize.me is covering up the title of the book completely. In my bio, I included the title of my book, spelled out in all its 4 letter (8 letter?) glory.

However, the “no naughty words” algorithm covered up the word, and recast it as No @#$% Social Media.

This actually bothers me. I can’t tell you why. It’s not censorship, because awesomize.me is a private company, and they can do what they want. If they want to make a rule that says “no swear words,” then they’re free to do it.

But at the same time, I’m annoyed by the fact that on a social network made up of grownups, I can’t use a grownup word. Not in a gratuitous, shocking, let’s-make-everyone-giggle kind of a way. But in a this-is-a-real-book-title way.

The easy thing to do would be to just change the title of the book myself to “No BS Social Media,” or “No Bull***” or even “No Bullsh*t.” But I don’t want to. That’s not the name of the book.

Am I overreacting? Should I just toe the line and change the title of the book in my bio? Or should I stand firm on principle, and refuse to change it, even if it means that people are going to wonder what @#$% stands for?

What would you do?

People Who Can’t Need to Stop Dismissing the Work of Those Who Can

“I’m tired of people who ‘don’t’ attacking the people who ‘do.'” — Britt Raybould

Writer, crafter, and blogger Britt Raybould put the dope smack on people who dismiss the work of others, saying “I could do that,” or “that costs too much” (Dismissing the Myth of Easy). It got me to thinking about the critics, both the professional and amateur a-holes, who give a knee-jerk negative reaction about some new venture, and why it won’t work, without considering whether it actually might.

There were people who thought Facebook would fail. They still write blog posts about why Google+ is doomed.

There are people who have been predicting the death of email, blogging, and now Twitter for years, and despite their egregious incorrectness, still insist on doing so.

There are people who dismiss modern art, writing, and even social media consulting as “too easy,” and they don’t value it.

Britt’s pretty tired of it, and after reading “Dismissing the Myth of Easy,” I’m right there with her.

You don’t have to like my work, but don’t you dare say that it’s easy or has no value. Maybe not to you, but unless you’re willing to ante up, I don’t want to hear it anymore.

If you want to have a best-selling book, write one. Quit slamming people who’ve already got one. If you want to host a widely popular webinar AND charge money for it, then figure out what the market wants and do it. If you want a custom quilt, then by hell, buy the 12 different fabrics, cut out 200+ pieces, and sew the damn thing together.

It’s not easy to sit down and come up with words that string together into powerful sentences and come together to make big ideas. And it’s not easy to take your version of the blank canvas and create something out of nothing. It may look easy, but that’s just the result of time and a willingness to do the hard work.

So the next time you see me, please don’t say, “I could do that, too.” I highly doubt it, and you’ll just piss me off.

I face this all the time as a professional writer. The problem is we all learned to write in the 8th grade. But for a lot of people, that’s where they stopped. And since the extent of their writing is dozens of emails, they know how to write. As a result, they don’t value writing, because they think it’s easy.

There’s a big difference between plopping out an email and actually writing something that’s powerful and moving. There’s a difference between whipping up scrambled eggs and cooking a souffle. And there’s a difference between playing a kazoo and playing a piano concerto.

But those people who write emails, make scrambled eggs, or have mastered the kazoo seem to think that what they do is on par with the professional writer, the trained chef, and the concert pianist.

It isn’t. Not even close.

The people who dismiss it as “not that hard” or “not worth anything” either need to go out and show us how smart they really are, or step out of the way of the people who are actually doing the work.

Because until they understand what actually goes into creating something, their criticisms and out-of-hand dismissals are nothing more than the meaningless and petty ramblings of the perpetually envious.

And anyone can do that.

Photo credit: hfabulous (Flickr)

If Your Local Government Doesn’t Hire Your Company, That May Be Your Fault

I get pretty pissed when I hear stories of how my city or state government spent thousands of dollars on out-of-state consultants, when there are outstanding companies right here in Indiana.

For example, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana spent $72,000 on a social media consultant from Chicago, when one of Indiana’s best social media consulting firms is less than 10 minutes from the city building. Talk about job creation: in Fort Wayne, that could have easily created 1 – 2 jobs for young social media marketing professionals. Instead, the money was sent four hours, one state, and one time zone away.

I was listening to an episode of Douglas Karr’s Marketing Tech Radio show on Blog Talk Radio, where he and his guests were discussing how local and state governments, and even large companies, ignore home-grown talent in favor of out-of-state consultants. Sending our tax dollars out of state hurts our local economy because those contracts could mean new job creation, which means more tax revenue, and so on.Dog begging for melon

So why aren’t governments and larger companies hiring local companies to do the work?

Is it the elitism that says hometown talent isn’t that talented? Is it the hometown curse? Is it that the government decision makers are looking to flex a little muscle and feel more powerful?

Or is it the local companies’ fault?

Not to disparage my fellow small business owners, but sometimes if we’re not being hired by our local companies and governments, that’s our own damn fault.

It’s our fault because they didn’t know we even existed. It’s our fault because we never talked to our local governments and big companies. It’s our fault because in all of our networking and back-slapping, we didn’t realize we were networking with other small businesses, and not the real decision makers in the government or the corporations.

That’s not to say the big organizations are absolved of all blame. I mean, a simple Google search that includes your city or state will show you whether there’s a local company that can do the work. If you want a web design company for your Evansville business, Google “web design Evansville” and you’ll find bushels of them.

(And shame on any company or government body that doesn’t actively seek out local companies to do the work for them. Don’t make up some lame excuse about how you wanted a web designer that has government web design experience, or needed a marketing agency that specializes in statewide tourism, not local tourism. The truth is, you couldn’t be bothered to look.)

But while we can point fingers at government and corporations, and blame them for being lazy and unmotivated, the local companies need to share in the blame.

If a particular government agency doesn’t know you exist, did you even tell them about you? Did you meet with the decision makers in a particular agency? Have you added them to your e-newsletter list? Do you invite them to your industry events? And, most importantly, did you respond to the agency’s RFP? If you never filled one out, then of course they’re not going to hire you. As mind-numbing and aggravating as these rules are, they do exist, and you can’t fight them.

I spent most of the day at the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise Central Indiana Resource Fair. It’s a day-long series of workshops to encourage small minority-owned and women-owned businesses to apply for government contracts. Apparently there is something like $3 BILLION in government contracts in the state of Indiana alone. And in some cases, the contracts go unfulfilled because no one applies for them. So the state has taken the initiative to ask these MWBEs to please PLEASE PLEASE apply for these contracts.

Applying for an RFP is not rocket science. It’s not that hard. Truthfully, it’s mostly bureaucratic busy work. Having served on a couple RFP committees when I was at the State Health Department, I can tell you that they’re tedious and boring, and a 20 page proposal is usually 18 pages too long. But, the contracts get awarded to the companies that suck it up, deal with the tedium, and submit the proposal.

There are government websites and email newsletters that tell you when RFPs are available. All you have to do is register and fill them out. Don’t wait until the winning bid has been announced before you whine about the out-of-state company getting the contract. They filled out the RFP, and you didn’t.

There are real people who work at these large companies and government agencies. They have phones and email addressess. All you have to do is call them and meet with them to tell them what you do. Don’t wait for RFP opportunities to come up, do it beforehand.

Look, if state and local government want to stimulate the local economy, they would do well to leave the building once in a while, and point their web browsers to something other than their own websites, but they sometimes can’t. I worked in state government for a year-and-a-half, and while it was never said outright, we were discouraged from associating with people from the private sector. The same is true with a lot of corporations. If it wasn’t invented there, they think, it must suck.

Government and corporations need to get over themselves and actually learn about their business communities and see what resources are available within a 20 minute drive of their office, rather than sending our tax dollars to high-dollar consultants.

But if local businesses want to get those government and corporate contracts, we would do well to skip the same old networking events and actually call up people from our government and big companies, and invite them to lunch. Attend their events, or better yet, invite them to our events. Let them get to know the local landscape, and be the one to help them navigate it. (Trust me, they’ll remember you if you help them out.)

In the end, both parties bear equal responsibility for this problem, and need to contribute equally to its solution. But someone needs to go first. Will it be you? Or will you just wait to see if your phone starts magically ringing?

Photo credit: Fotofisken