Customers Love A Good Story

For 19 years I’ve owned and run my family’s business, a local bagel shop where we make our bagels from scratch, boil and bake them in a real oven (not some steam room or conveyor belt oven) and sell them for breakfast five days a week, all over our local area. The business is now expanding our reach by offering nationwide shipping, but we’re still in the early stages of development on that front. It’s a healthy business, and it gives me plenty of time to be with my family and enjoy time with my friends. But over time I became restless with the business and wanted to do more than the bae-gal life was bringing to me. That’s when I began writing copy for clients as a way to navigate myself out of running the bagel business full-time and into my next career.

One of my first jobs as a copywriter was working for a SaaS company in their content department. The content marketing director is the host of a podcast and one of my tasks was to listen to upcoming podcasts and write an SEO friendly summary for the episode’s page on their website. The job didn’t pay too well, but I still loved the work and especially listening to the podcast material. She would interview all sorts of experts. Often her guests were the founders and CEOs or the CMOs and various marketing directors from successful ecommerce brands that were using her company’s SaaS solution. After simply listening to these episodes I felt like I KNEW that particular brand, and if their products fit my lifestyle, I was hooked and couldn’t rest until their products were mine. I bought everything from stylish bluelight glasses to eczema cream for my daughter to daily supplement powders. And most surprisingly, I’ve yet to regret even one of those buying decisions. 

I’ve gone on to tell my friends about many of these brands and share exactly why I believe in the brand, how my life is so much better after making these purchases, and then I get out my phone and text them the website. Not only do I love what these brands have added to my life, I feel like they are my friends in some strange way, and I want to help them succeed by spreading the word as far and wide as I can.

Even some of the SaaS companies she interviewed for the podcast have gone on to be my first stop solutions when I began to grow the ecommerce side of my bagel business and we still use a handful of those softwares to this day.

I’ve become a raving fan, a lifetime customer, and an evangelist for these eCommerce and SaaS brands… And the companies didn’t have to spend a dime to get my money.

This worked because the podcast interviews with these brands took me behind the scenes. I got to hear the voices of the people who worked there, oftentimes the CEO him or herself. I heard about their struggles and how they figured out new strategies, and what it felt like when they finally hit their stride. I heard the very briefest explanation of how they went from idea to development to making sales. But it was enough to make me feel like I KNEW where they came from.

Nothing builds trust like hearing someone’s back story and being able to relate to the struggles in a human way. And nothing builds excitement like hearing how a brand has grown and made sales to all these different people. It’s the most essential form of FOMO… it’s the famous line from When Harry Met Sally:

And it was virtually effortless on the part of the brands. All they were doing was telling their story, their real story of how it all came to be. I bet if you’ve experienced this same connection to a brand if you’ve ever watched Shark Tank or any other reality TV show featuring a startup company.  You hear the origin story, how they came up with the idea, what problem they set out to solve, what the difficulties were in the beginning, how they framed the first dollar they ever made, and then by the time they get to their pitch you are probably already thinking to yourself, “Do I need one of those?”

If the company is selling a baby sleep solution, and you don’t currently, or are’t in the near future planning to, have a baby, you’re most likely not going to become an instant customer. But the next time you are talking to someone who has a baby, and especially if that baby isn’t sleeping well, you are going to be raising your hand,”oooh oooh,”  desperate to tell them about this amazing product you know of, that is going to make all their baby sleep problems disappear.

By the time you’ve finished the episode you can clearly see the intersection of this brand and your life. You don’t even have to be sold to, you are busy talking yourself down from googling and buying that thing this second, and at the same time rationalizing for yourself all the reasons this purchase is a good idea. 

And if you happen to see an ad or a mention of this brand in the coming week? Forget it. You won’t be able to resist buying.  

Stories of struggle and overcoming adversity are that powerful.

You may be thinking to yourself by this point… I have to start a Podcast, or at least start being a guest on other people’s podcasts. And I’ll tell you, that’s not a bad idea. But I have a much simpler solution, and it’s one you are probably already paying for, but you aren’t using the way you could.  

That solution is your email list.

If you’re not using your emails to:

  • Tell your origin story of how you came up with the idea for your product or service
  • Explain what you struggled with in the beginning
  • Introduce that first amazing hire, the one that you now realize saved the company
  • Show the energy you all felt when you finally hit a stride
  • Unpack the case study of your first and second and fiftieth success story with a customer
  • And tease about the new challenges you’re taking on next

You are tossing future lifetime, raving, evangelizing customers out into the marketing abyss with your boring, templated, probably way too busy and spectacularly impersonal emails.

Emails are the single easiest, cheapest and most effective way to build confidence, trust, and affinity in your audience of potential customers. 

“But people won’t read an email like this!”

That’s what you’re thinking, right? First I ask you, are you still reading this blog? Second I’ll tell you… they only have to read ONE of your emails to get all the benefits. They only have to read a paragraph actually, maybe they skip to the ending, or…

They read only the most poignant sentence in your whole long email…

But they won’t be able to stop there. They’ll go back and read the rest of the email, or they’ll click to your website, or they’ll click the next time they see your Instagram ad. Even if peaking their intrigue is ALL you’ve done for this person, if you’ve done it with a story, you’ve done it in an intimate, person-to-person, way. You’ve begun to make that person feel like they know what your brand is all about. They are invested in a way I’ve never seen a facebook ad, or an instagram quiz, or a subway poster, or any other channel acheive, except perhaps really freakin’ talented door-to-door salesmanship. But again… email is virtually free.

If you want to learn more about telling your brand story with email you can visit my website at aaroewriting.com

And if you are still hung up on that bagel shop thing that I started explaining at the beginning… Then I just proved my point again. Check us out at bagelgrove.com

Content vs Copy

A lot of my clients ask for content when what they actually want is copy and visa versa. For most people outside the copywriting world, the difference between the two is not at all clear. This short essay aims to explain the difference in both process and value between copywriting and content writing, and how this figures into my rates as a freelancer.

Copywriting: When I first started my freelance writing business, I wasn’t clear on the copy vs content situation either. A colleague explained it to me simply by saying, copywriting is when you’re trying to persuade someone to do something. Even a string of text messages when you’re trying to convince your best friend to come out for a drink with you instead of staying home in their PJs… is copy. In the world of marketing, there are two types of copy. Branding: These are the words on your ad, your website, a bill board, or your tag line and Direct Response: Words meant to persuade prospects to do anything from clicking a link, to booking a call, to buying a product. A copywriter combines their writing skills with their understanding of human psychology to produce content that will move the reader further down the marketing funnel. Copywriting has specific goals for how the reader will respond, and the results (ROI) can usually be measured in the short term.

Examples: The words on an ad (print or online), landing pages, about pages, advertorials, sales emails, lead magnets

Content writing: Obviously content is used to refer to all different forms of media including images and words. In this particular context, content refers to writing that is used more generally to inform, entertain or simply attract attention. Content writing does not require an in-depth knowledge of human psychology, and the form is more open to creativity. Content writing is usually used at the top of the marketing funnel to bring prospects in and start to educate them about your product or service. Because of the top of funnel focus, web content writers require an in-depth knowledge of SEO. The results (ROI) of content are harder to measure so content writing should be just one part of an overall marketing strategy.

Examples: Blog posts, articles, social media posts, newsletter emails (can also be copy when part of a larger strategy), white-papers, books

Direct Response and Story Based Copy: I have been trained and work mostly in the form of direct response copy. This means rather than writing taglines and quirky ad campaigns, I focus on writing copy that persuades readers to take action immediately (click this link, listen to this podcast, seize this bonus).  Most of the time, I use story based copy. By using stories, and the story form, I get readers quickly engaged and feeling like they relate to the message and to ultimately follow along and respond to the final call to action.

My Rates: Because I have a background in copy, I approach all writing, including content writing, with these three copywriting principles:

  1. Know and write to a specific audience (involves research!)
  2. Story, or story-form writing
  3. Include a specific call to action

My rates for copywriting will always be higher than for simple content writing. This is because copy requires more work to get it right, but ALSO because my clients can measure the results of my copy and easily see the ROI they receive, even with higher rates.

I charge either per hour, or per project. I prefer per project arrangements because it gives me the flexibility to put as much time as needed into the research and editing stages rather than only focusing on the billable hours spent actually writing.  

MIBO DANCE PARTY: A REVIEW

I attended a virtual event this evening that reminded me why I like virtual events….

Because I hated it.

I mean… I had fun. I learned how to do a bunch of new shit. I caught up with an old acquaintance and I even made a new virtual friend. I also kind of experienced what it’s like to throw a ball without arms.

But I hated it. I hated it in that deep dark 13-year-old-self part of me. The one that ensures I never enter a bar without a friend by my side, or these days, at least my phone. The part of me that hates going as a plus one to work parties or weddings filled with people who don’t know me. 

Looking back on it… I should have done what most self respecting, not-in-recovery, adults do to ease the unpleasantness of trying to impress people with a skillset I don’t possess… 

I should have had a drink. (Hence the eerily familiar 13-year-old awkwardness). 

This is who I am.  A bubbly, fairly high-strung, white woman who does awkward things at bars like turning around too fast and scaring the person chilling out next to me (translated in this virtual world as running into a participant with my avatar and giggling about it loudly when no one else cared or even noticed). I’m the girl who stands at the bar with a big smile on my face and dollar bills out, and still somehow… doesn’t get served by the female (or even the male or trans) bartender until finally I turn into Karen and say too loudly, “Excuse me!”

But that was then… Now, I’m a grown-ass woman with 3 teenagers, a second husband who I actually like, a thriving business, and best friends who feel more like family at times than my own parents… I don’t typically entertain feelings of insecurity. (Especially since COVID got rid of the need for anyone, ever, to make small talk at a conference, attend a party they don’t absolutely want to be at, or even show their face in a crowd if they don’t want to, thank you masks).

So how did I end up here… feeling like this?

The event was run by Mibo.com. I pressed a small blue oval that beckoned me to “Join” and dropped myself into a 3 dimensional drawing. It was basically a virtual reality video game (if reality looked like a preschool cartoon and people dressed up like baby crayons by choice). I had my very own Teletubbie-ish avatar operated by regular gaming keyboard controls (Side note: when I first arrived at the “party” I overheard participants discussing these four controls, which happen to be the same first 4 letters of my maiden name. So I’m already, justifiably, thinking like, “how the fuck are they talking about me?”)

Once I got my bearings, I could see other Teletubbie/crayon people with face-screens I recognized from the day’s (normal) Zoom event. Everyone was vaguely gliding around. It took video game know-how to move and not run into each other.

I recognized the thoughts immediately. “Who do I talk to?” “Do I even feel like talking to anyone?” “I should network…” “Shit, I’m so annoying at this stuff…” 

And one new thought…

“How am I trapped in a cartoon TV body… and yet so, so ME?!”

I’ve never feel like THIS on Zoom, not even in a room full of strangers, not even when I have to speak! And I have a theory why. It makes me both love and hate this new virtual world. Mostly, it just helps me understand it.

The hallmark of virtual events are the tiny rectangular tiles, the virtual body of each participant. Even this event had those. (Anything else would be just fucking wierd… like those action dolls they make of movie stars, uncanny valley on steroids). But this Mibo party was missing one… 

Mine.

I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t constantly make those micro adjustments that give me confidence when I know I don’t look half crazed. I couldn’t adjust my demeanor to calm and attentive. I couldn’t see how wild my laughter looks. I couldn’t see how HARD I am trying. I just had to BE me. I had to look at everyone else, or the fucking sky, or run off and play with walking on water and running into walls. I had to awkwardly introduce myself, try and yell over the music, start talking, interrupt and negotiate, “no you go ahead…” I had to show up or go home.

As unpleasant as the insecurity is, the unexpected is fun. The risk is satisfying. I hung with a group and talked about European architecture and history, and desensitizing ourselves to horror films and heavy metal music and why Bjork is an acquired taste. 

It turns out… even in this virtual world of controlled backgrounds, a socially acceptable mute option, and an ever present mirror… I’m still me. Uncool, a tendency to overshare, talkative and shy at the same time. 

And it also turns out… people like me when I’m me. It’s actually the only likable thing about me.

Tomorrow night there is another one of these parties… I’m kinda, definitely looking forward to it.

What I wanted so badly I could taste it

I had just started therapy. The chance to talk about myself, and only myself was relishing. I loved being able to sit in the chair and have someone listen to me. There were a few questions, but very few. Yet somehow, a thing began to open up in me, a tenderness and an honesty. Really it was a sadness. A deep sadness and grief. I felt like a failure. I’d poured years of my life into my job and my family and my husband and my church and my activism and my looks and all these things. But the one thing, the only thing I’d ever wanted to do, was missing.

I realized it while driving down the road. My thoughts opened up like a firefly from the bottle where he’s been housed by a small child. All I wanted, was to write. I knew, as I’d always known, that if I didn’t get myself to write and tell my story, I would carry this sadness the rest of my life. Suddenly the make-up of success and perfection melted off me. I was left grey and plain and alone. But not so alone, because the honest confession that I was missing all that I really cared about, was my new companion. To write. I believe it, felt like a distant dream. Like knowing myself, in some future state, the ability to know who I really am. The ability to accept myself and be free to feel, fully. It wasn’t just the dream of success, the dream of being published and known by the identity of writer. It was the realization that I could only be alive if I was writing.

From that moment on I was changed. I knew writing was all that mattered. I was still so far away from being able to do it, but at least I’d changed my course. I’d admitted to myself that I’d been led astray. I think perhaps my fear of failure led me away in the beginning. Then my mind did that thing where you have to justify the choice you made by continuing to make choices that lead you down that same path. Never having to admit wrong doing. That was what was important to me.

These moments of honesty, they are so powerful, but so fleeting. I am so good at lying to myself, pretending that everything is fine. Numbing myself with business and duty. I love the positive feedback of doing what I’m supposed to do and someone tells me they “don’t know how I do it.

But all those choices at the end of the day have nothing to do with who I am and what I want. I don’t want to admit that I gave that all up a long time ago, but as the years tick on, the realization that I don’t have forever is getting the better of my fears. To have to write is my seed. When I pursue that life, the life where I need to write, and where I have a purpose, and writing helps me get there, that is when I feel most alive. I don’t know why I ran away from it for so long. I had an idea of writing, and it looked like a quirky short story, or a fully developed novel. My idea of writing always looked peculiarly like someone else. I hadn’t yet accepted that the story I needed to tell had to be wholey mine, and that I might not like it.

After my divorce, that voice inside my head grew a little louder. It was only a little louder, but loud enough to hear, all the time. I began to write until the goosebumps rose on my arms. Writing became like orgasming. I think it was myself coming out of a dark shell that had finally, permanently cracked. I was feeling what it was like to be me, in many ways for the first time ever. Writing became my identity. Not because I was known to the world as a writer, but because I was known to myself as a writer, I was writing. Writing it down in bursts of pieces of feelings and images. Honesty about the world and the pain that lives inside me could start to come out. It would take years to actually be comfortable writing anything, everything, writing freely and fluidly. The voice inside is loud now, the voice inside is my voice, the one I speak out into the world and the one I write with. I have been and always will be, a writer, I know this, but slowly, surely and each day a little more, I am this.

Why I call Bullshit on “Thank You Essential Workers”

“You have arrived.” 

The voice from my phone taunts me as I squint out the window of my van, panning slowly across rustic-style doors and perfectly arranged porch furniture for, please god, a house number. I’ve got an order of food to deliver but all the houses on this street clearly want to keep their address a secret. There is a message drawn in a child’s hand and pasted in the window of a blue front door, it says “THANK YOU ESSENTIAL WORKERS.” I stare at it, and then see, nailed above, the shine of metallic numbers. Of course, this is the house.

The first time I saw one of these handmade signs, I felt special, and it put a little extra bounce in my step as I walked the food delivery up to the house. An envelope was taped to the door with “Thank you!” written across the front, a bigger than usual tip left inside. But now, after the hundredth sign, and the thousandth delivery, these signs have started to betray something hidden,

“I’m so thankful you’re out there, so that I can stay put and stay safe in here.”

I am an essential worker at a bagel shop in Upstate NY. I happen to own the place, but as any small business owner knows, I still have to do the work. I am grateful to have a job. It’s even nice to have somewhere to go, a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. I even enjoy getting some human interaction, joking around with co-workers and most importantly, bringing home a paycheck. But essential work is hard and repetitive. The pay is the lowest in the labor market, and the jobs are often not very rewarding.

Essential workers perform tasks essential to the health, safety and community wellbeing of the larger population. One of the biggest differences between essential and non-essential workers is that the essential jobs require the worker to be in a specific place, away from home, usually among other people. Whether it be a janitor who cleans and sanitizes after each teacher leaves with the next week’s work or an aid who lifts her patient into bed at night, essential workers have to use their bodies as well as their minds to do their work. 

This type of work often carries increased risk, from traffic accidents for truckers, to working heavy machinery in a factory, to handling dangerous situations as first responders. Since the pandemic swept our country, that risk, and the related stress, has increased. Essential workers have struggled with a lack of personal protective equipment. And for those who deal directly with the public, sometimes that risk comes from the brazen disregard of public health recommendations on the part of consumers. 

In light of these realities, how does a thank you sign actually help?

Everyone is struggling during the pandemic. Many Americans are juggling new responsibilities from homeschooling to housecleaning. Essential activities are disrupted, and access to essential goods is more difficult. Suddenly a trip to the grocery store requires extra preparation and special timing. Doctors visits, scans and surgeries are postponed until further notice. Everyone is more aware of the things we used to take for granted. Things that used to be part of our day-to-day life are now disrupted and it’s out of our control.

The impulse to thank essential workers comes out of this lack of control. We feel we have to do something. Being able to say something kind, like thank you, makes us feel a little better. Maybe saying thank you feels like a small insurance policy against the threat of life unraveling any further. In reality, the thank you essential worker messages highlight a deep divide in American society between the haves and the have nots. The signs are created in an effort to lessen that divide. 

When I look at our society, I see the opposite of gratitude for essential workers. 

We may look up to reporters and doctors, but what about truckers and housekeepers? Truckers are nothing but a nuisance on the highway and housekeepers literally stay out of the way so that we don’t even have to see them. How many parents of those kids hand making signs are imagining their children will one day come home satisfied after an honest day’s work of garbage collection? Not one. It’s sad to me that bumper sticker-like sayings are all that we have collectively been able to say about the moment we find ourselves in. And like so much of what is said nowadays, I think the “thank you essential workers” messages betray a deep disconnect between what we say, and what we really mean. 

When I deliver to poor neighborhoods in the inner city, or trailer parks, I don’t see the thank you signs. Rather they pepper the fancy neighborhoods, the ones with solar panels on their roofs and perfectly curated front porches. Does that imply that the poor, the folks who make up the majority of the essential workforce, are not thankful for each other? Of course not. Because that’s not really the point of the message.

American society says thank you to the essential workforce only as long as we are forced to notice them. As more of the country returns to work, society’s focus will shift off essential workers. Pretty soon the signs will start to come down.  Getting back to normal will mean that as long as there are fresh tomatoes to pick over at the market and the bus arrives at the time the schedule says it will, no special attention is required.

Grocery work will be treated again as just grocery work. Nothing to strive for.

Thankfulness for essential workers is not actually directed towards people, rather it’s about relief that someone (doesn’t really matter who) is out there to do the jobs we would not want to do ourselves. The signs make us feel better about the fact that as a culture we have never really seen essential workers before. Essential workers have never been anything more than fully stocked shelves and resolved power outages. 

If society didn’t value the essential workforce before the pandemic, I don’t see how a bunch of thank you signs have made any difference. Not one sign has put food on a family’s table or made working conditions any safer. The thank you messages haven’t forced policy makers to address income disparities and crack down on abusive corporate policies. They haven’t made worker’s unions any stronger. They haven’t made people pay more for essential services allowing for a universal basic income. And the signs certainly haven’t stopped racism from dictating the terms of our country’s economy and society.

So, as long as making signs is all we can come up with to bridge the wide gap between people who are safe, and people who are struggling, then the essential workforce will remain invisible, and the divide in our nation will continue to rip us apart.

Redefining the Holidays

When we use our personal stories to create holiday traditions, the loss of a loved one becomes a part of the true meaning of the season

Holiday time is all about planning. We plan our trips to see loved ones, we plan our wish lists and our shopping lists. There is a plan for how and when to get the tree, or to get the decorations down from the attic and put them in their pre-assigned places. 

The radio stations play the most predictable music of the year, and the color palette of every store, every party and social gathering is basically the same hues. 

But for many of us, the Holidays include the un-expected, and the tragic. Scientific studies have even shown that there is a rise in deaths during Christmas and New Years, though scientists have not been able to explain why.

Since much of the holiday traditions we enjoy tend to operate on a sort of auto-pilot, most of us aren’t prepared for how to reconcile our experience of the holidays with our grieving over the death of a loved one.

We may even feel guilty when trying to enjoy the spirit of the holidays if there has been a death of a family member or close friend during this time of year. 

Even though the experience is common, there is little discussion about how to deal with this loss of equilibrium.

Holiday traditions and rituals all began somewhere, some are very old, and some originated within the timeframe of our own personal memories. No matter where these traditions started, their origins had to do with real people, and those people’s real life stories. 

In many cases, holiday traditions we now find simple and even trite were complex and fraught with human struggle at their inception.

The biblical Christmas story begins with the mother Mary’s fear at her miraculous pregnancy and culminates with the naked, vulnerability of the infant Christ Child.

The Christmas card was invented when a harried, overworked businessman found himself unable to muster the energy to write the customary, expected, personal Christmas letter. Unable to get his act together, he hired someone to create a stock Christmas letter that would suffice for his lack of personally addressed prose, and the idea spread from there. 

As our lives unfold, so do our personal and family histories. Holiday traditions offer us a chance to tell our own stories, our memories of joy, and our history of loss. We can infuse our genuine feelings of sadness into our existing traditions as a way of acknowledging and honoring our grief.

An example of this may be including a meaningful song that reminds of us of our loved one and not feeling bad about playing it alongside the customary Holiday playlist.  

But we can also build new traditions for the holidays, ones that honor our missing loved ones.

We might create a special dish at the holiday table, one that the person who died used to make regularly, or was their favorite to eat. We might take some time one day a week, or daily at meals during the holiday season to light a candle in honor of those who are no longer with us. Or we could take a portion of our holiday spending and give to a charity that in some way honors what our loved one was passionate about in their lifetime. 

These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking about how to incorporate your feelings of  sadness into a time a year that rarely makes space for it. The idea is to be empowered to make the holidays about your family’s story, and use the traditions you practice to honor that story. We also encourage you to make entirely new ones.

Remember that without sorrow, there can be no joy, without loss there can be no appreciation of all that we are given. This is not to diminish the pain and suffering of losing a loved one, but rather to help incorporate those experiences of pain and loss into the true meaning of the holidays. 

The holidays are a time to be deeply human, and to embrace all that makes us so. For us northerners, it is a time when darkness grows to its fullest point of the whole year, before it gives way to the light. This process of darkness to light continues year after year, cycling as birth and death. 

If we allow ourselves to feel sadness at this time of year, we will be tapping into true stories of countless who have gone before us, and through acceptance, we can find our way, time and again, back to joy.

Raising Women

Yesterday, Cokie Roberts died. My afternoon commute was peppered with women’s voices remembering their friend and mentor for her role in their lives and in the history of journalism. Clips played of her strong, defiant voice, challenging the legacy of patriarchy and the way women’s contribution to a news story were discussed and recorded. Her leadership in the industry was apparent by the number of women in positions of prominence who said she helped pave the way. In each recollection of her significance, the speaker endeavored to explain the most distinctive aspect of her leadership, her kindness. Strong and opinionated, she conducted herself with an unfaltering commitment to decency and manners in a city of cutthroat ambition almost bordering on barbarism. Her specific mix of authority and consideration of others was all too rare. This is especially in the world of politics, where the most visible women are either laughing stocks (think Sarah Palin or Elizabeth Warren) or singular targets of vitriol (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelozi and Kamala Haris).

It all got me thinking about my daughter, about all our daughters, and what we are raising them to be in this world. For certain we need more women as CEOs, more women in houses of government, more women’s voices on the news. We need women leaders in emerging fields of science and technology, where the future and it’s implicit biases are being researched and invented. But more important than what our daughters become, is who they become. If we aren’t focusing on building up their strength of character, their ability to consider others, and their commitment to kindness, than what is the point of having women replace men at their half of the table? What our world lacks is not simply women, but compassion and perspective. In a culture where power is equated to the number of losers in your wake (just look at our presidency), are we raising a generation of girls to serve these same gods of ruthless ambition?

We need to not only encourage young women to speak out and step up, we must warn the next generation what is at stake if they sacrifice their integrity while climbing the professional ladder. There exists no world where a woman (or a certain race, or people of sexual orientation or whatever) is a better choice for a position simply because of her gender. We should be instilling in our children judgement based on Dr. King’s “content of their character.” We should be spreading the message that our everyday choices matter enduringly. It’s in a world where women and men, and everything in between, value kindness, that I’d like to set my daughter up for success.

The Scary Beginning

We all know the feeling of beginning something, the rush of nerves, or the uncontrollable excitement. There are new beginnings that happen in rhythm, the beginning of a new day, the beginning of summer, the start of a new fiscal year, or a new school year. There are beginnings we launch into with intention, a new job, a product launch, a fresh workout class, welcoming a baby, But then there are beginnings that creep up on us, without a rush of adrenaline or even a moment to prepare. Sometimes we find ourselves at the beginning of a journey we didn’t choose, like unemployment, a market crash, a breakup, a new body pain that won’t go away, life after the death of a loved one. It’s just as we relax into a sense of routine and familiar patterns that some new affair pulls us off course. Like a ferris wheel bench that comes behind and hits our knees before we are ready, we fall into an awkward position as something we haven’t felt before, carries us upwards. 

Perhaps what is most scary about beginnings is the possibility that we won’t get past them, that failure will overcome us and we will lose this chance to become something new. Like training a new puppy where every opportunity, whether seized or missed, sets the course for what type dog he will become, the beginning of something requires focus. Our attention can’t be elsewhere, we have to commit to caring about the outcome.

A friend of mine recently started her own business. In looking over her website I was struck by the polish of the design, juxtaposed with empty spaces inside. Pages with intentional titles were followed by Lorem ipsum dolor sit ame. This is similar to much of our lives. The design may be flawless, or at least polished enough to get by. The titles of our internal pages are the categories of our care, kids, work, finances, parents, hobby… But how many of those internal places are fully written? How often do we open the books on our mind’s shelves and read the deepest desires we have stored there? How many blanks spaces are left unnoticed? How much chaos uncleared? How many times have we begun at this and turned the light off, to begin something else instead? Maybe the next beginning we choose could be to go back and finish what we started.