The Hello Bar is a simple web toolbar that engages users and communicates a call to action.

click to see this image on Facebook

In my first year of changing from my old work into my free range life, I met up with a friend who had moved overseas and I hadn’t seen in years. Over coffee and sticky cinnamon rolls I told him what I was doing now and how much I loved it.

He looked at me and said “oh that makes so much sense for you, I can see you doing that so much more than what you used to do”. He said it like it was obvious. Yet for a long time it hadn’t felt obvious to me!

Why is it that when someone is doing what they love it looks like the clues were always there – but when we are the ones doing the looking, for ourselves (in the ‘before’), it’s like we’re fumbling in the dark?

Here’s a short cut to finding ‘your thing’ (aka your direction, what you actually want to be doing):

It’s likely to involve something you’ve been told to ‘tone down’ more than once.

For example:

The person who needs to be doing something advising/mentoring others but thinks “who am I to do that?” or “that’s too ego-y” is unlikely to be the one hiding his opinions in the corner – ask people in his life if he offers unsolicited advice about how they could make things better, and the answer is likely a big old heck yes, all the time.

The person who is better at improving things than coming up with something brand new? Might be telling themselves that there’s only value in developing something new that no one else has thought of… but in reality simply can’t help finding improvements or awesomifying what’s already there. (If they are currently in the wrong work environment they may be driving their colleagues batshit crazy with this tendency).

Your biggest strength (your superpower even) doesn’t want to be caged. When your ‘thing’ doesn’t have a home, and barely has acknowledgement as anything more than an irritating weakness, it goes around like a whirlwind, untamed. Result: it might well be something you’ve been told to tone down more than once.

And of course you were told to tone it down. It was shining in garish blinding lights not because it was wrong in itself, but because you never learned how to direct your flow to find its sweet spot.

I’m not talking about a topic area or a hobby by the way, I’m talking about something deeper – the main thing you bring to the table. The theme behind that person you are when your lights are fully on, without apology. 

Bottom line: in the times you’re not officially looking for what you ‘should do’ you’re being a part of it already. Whether you are looking for that ‘big idea for what direction you should take’, or how to hone what you are already doing to be more you, odds are a clue is right there, in the moments you just can’t help doing.

Quite often a long-term search for self is rarely that: scratch the surface and it’s a search for another self, a more acceptable, shiny self, that you can call your own.

That person may end up finding that ‘other self’ in their third best strengths, so they plough on and do pretty ok, but never feel like they are thriving… and meanwhile they save their very best thing to unintentionally vomit up over friends, family, and colleagues when they aren’t watching themselves. (That right there is a great way to reinforce that your strength is really a weakness).

If you take one thing from this message? Take this:

Honour yourself.

Stop looking outside yourself for who you think you should be, and instead look at the clues of who you are when you just can’t help it. The former is the way to years of feeling not good enough (and feeling lost in the process). The latter is the seed that will thrive when you own it, and create the right environment.

A natural ‘superpower’ isn’t usually playing the piano like Mozart. It’s that little thing you can’t help doing… and it turns from a weakness to a strength when a) you do it in the right environment (ie: not unasked among family or within an organisation that truly doesn’t give a damn) and b) you step into it and own it.

Stepping into who you are is not selfish and it’s not a ‘luxury’ for when you’re in a better place: it’s the key to what you’re looking for. Because being the person you are? Will do more for the world than being a shadow of the person you think you should be.

So going back to the start, with my friend and the coffee and the sticky cinnamon rolls – he wasn’t saying “well done for a brilliant idea”. He was saying “well done for stepping into the person you’ve always been”.

If you haven’t done this yet, one day I’d like to say the same to you. Because that person, my dear, is more than worthwhile.

Love

Marianne x

PS: and when you find that thing? Odds are at first you’ll dismiss it as not good enough. You’ll tell me it’s not worthy, too quiet (or too loud). You’ll tell me it is the only strength in the world that can’t possibly be a seed in your free range career. You’ll tell yourself it’s too ‘boring’ too ‘hubristic’ too ‘obvious’ or too something.

I’ll tell you aren’t evaluating whether or not you get to be that person or do that thing – the reality is that you will continue to do it all the darn time as you always have done. Instead, you’re deciding, here and now, whether you spend the next however long looking for who you should be… rather than turning in to what’s already there, patiently waiting to be seen.  That person has more value than you can imagine.

 

{ 11 comments }

Ever been told that writing is a waste of time? I mean it’s fine to do it on the side, so long as you focus on more serious pursuits. Right?

That’s what I was told too and for years I believed it. As it turns out, that advice was a load of BS.

Now I know that creative writing is the single most useful skill I could have learnt.

 

Let me tell you the story of how I ended up writing for a living.

 

At the age of 18, I graduated from high school, with top grades which, according to the ranking-obsessed Australian university entrance system, would have let me into just about any degree in any university of my choice.

The day after the grades were announced I was in the supermarket with my Mum.

A teacher walked up to us to offer her congratulations.

She turned to me and said: “So what’s it going to be then Marianne? Medicine or Law?”

I shook my head, smiled, and said “neither. I’m going to do an Arts degree. I want to read novels”.

And that’s what I did.

Once at university I took a degree that let me pick and choose stuff I was interested in, creating my own education from a cornucopia (told you I was an English Lit major) of subjects: sociology, psychology, linguistics, film, English, history, and creative writing.

Creative writing was the biggest luxury in that list – it seemed a ridiculous addition to a degree, even for me. It wasn’t like I was going to become a published author or anything.

My friend’s mother warned me in all seriousness “if you were going to write a book you’d have done it by now”. I was 18 so I believed her.

No, I didn’t take creative writing classes out of some desire to write the definitive novel of our time. I just liked writing and wanted to get better at it. I figured it would be a relief from the more serious academic subjects on my schedule.

So I hunkered down, worked hard (again) and entered the university world head on.

4 years later, I graduated with a first class degree, top of my year, president of the debate society and (and this is the kicker) fully qualified to flip burgers for a living.

Turns out an Arts degree isn’t the top of the employability lists. Who’d have thought it?

For a while there I was regretting that decision to take creative writing classes when I could have used that time to use a real skill.

 

Of course this is not where the story ends. I promised you the story of how writing lead to a real living.

Let’s talk about that part next.

 

How reading novels can be your best career move

 

Fastforward a few years and I’d talked my way into a grown-up corporate career, and worked with some of the biggest name companies in the world (of course, I wasn’t writing for a living. There’s no money in writing, right?).

Then a few more years later, I found myself at the helm of a new business.

Suddenly I had to communicate to a whole new audience of people – most of whom didn’t even know who I was.

So I did the only thing I knew how.

 

I sat down, with a clean piece of paper, picked up a pen and started to write them a story.

Then I wrote another.

I wrote about them. I wrote about me. I wrote about people like us: about how it feels to be like us.

I said those things that all of us think, but that only a storyteller is allowed to say.

There were moments I thought “does anyone want to hear that? Can I really say that?” and every one of those moments were the most powerful stories.

Above all, I just wrote.

 

Now, my business is based on writing.

Every connection I have made, every client, every opportunity (and every cent) has come via my writing. Period.

The single most useful part of my education was the semester where I sat in that creative writing class, my favourite author in front of me taking a guest seminar.

She sat at the head of our round seminar table, short grey hair clipped to perfection. Pursing her lips at our boorish undergraduate attempts at prose:

“It’s not real”, she said, shaking her head, “your writing has to be real.”

“So you lost your bag on the bus and you were annoyed. What does that mean?

I want to hear about your red shoes, the ones with the scuff mark, that pinched your left heel. I want to hear that you were wearing then on the day you lost your bag on the bus.

I want to hear about how you were thinking more about the shoe and the scuff mark than the lost bag and how you wondered if you could go home and change before going to the police station to report your bag and how you knew that was messed up at the time but that’s just the way it was.

I want to hear about the imperfections of your experience, not the surface of the story.”

 

She was right. Read the best novels, or the most gripping magazine articles, or that blog post that stays with you, and you’ll see – it’s not the plot or ideas that connect with you, it’s the red shoes pinching your heel on a hot day.

That’s a lesson I use every day.

 

Here’s why:

Ever had that moment at a networking event, the one where you’ve just shaken hands with Pete, or Mark, or Roy  - whatever his name he’s the balding man in the checked shirt who always shows up to these things.

Anyway. You’re in the first minute of telling Roy what you do… and you already know he doesn’t care.

It’s uncomfortable – partly because you didn’t pee before walking in you’ve drunk too much tea and now you’re trapped for at least another 5 minutes in a conversation about accounts – but mostly it’s uncomfortable because you know Roy should care.

What you’re saying has value and if only he got your message then you could help each other.

But even though he is nodding with that polite half smile, you know he doesn’t care and he wishes he was speaking to someone else.

If you run a business, you need people to care.

If people don’t care what you do, people don’t show up, people don’t buy, and you don’t have a business.

This is the problem:

Roy doesn’t care about you

Sorry. Sure, he heard your tale of ‘this is what I do and who it helps and why it’s important’ but he didn’t have a reason to care. Here’s why:

  • You don’t get people to care by listing features of your service.
  • You don’t get people to care by explaining and preaching reasons this is important.
  • You don’t get people to care by speaking in business-speak platitudes.
  • You don’t get people to care because your business card border is a slightly darker shade of blue this time
  • You don’t get people to care by copying another person’s style and hoping ‘that works’.

You get people to care by sharing a story that they already care about.

A story about them.

The natural language of humans is ‘story’.

That’s what humans have done since we came down from the trees. Told stories.

If your business is going to rely on humans (and it will), then show them some respect and speak their language.

Speak the human language of stories – stories as real as that day you got on the bus with the scuffed red shoe and the pinched heel. This isn’t about writing the definitive novel of our time. It’s about you, where you are now, connecting with the people you need to reach.

 

Writing isn’t a waste of time

It’s the most powerful way to communicate the message you care about.

You don’t need a writing degree. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You don’t need an expensive computer.

I know you want people to care about what you do, so forget sticking up ads or adjusting your logo or browsing competitors’ websites. Start with what matters: your people, and you, and the stories you have to share.

Make them real, make them true, make them full of the things you wanted to say to them… but never thought you were allowed to speak.

Above all, start writing.

Now.

 

{ 21 comments }

(though soon that patient bird is going to be all like "screw this shit, I'm getting us both outta here" and, well, you don't want a pissed off imaginary bird pecking through your insides. Trust me on this one).

Recently I was sent a question about what I wish I’d known when starting out figuring out my ideas / doing my own thing. I had a lot of things I could have said, and a lot of things I did say, but there were more that came up after I replied. So I’d like to share these with you below.

 

You see, you can Google the answer to questions like ‘how do I set up a facebook fan page’ or ‘how do I do that twitter thing anyway?’ but there are some big picture things that matter more than any of that. 9 of the things I wish I’d known when starting out… but which no one really tells you:

 

1. At some point you will have a choice between speaking your truth and making the ‘sensible decision’. The first time this happens you will choose the latter. Some time later you will realize this was the least sensible move you could have made.

(This will not stop you making that same mistake at least once again).

 

2. You will decide, at some point between coming up with your idea and launching, that there is too much competition. You might be right.

 

3. You will find, some time after ditching your idea because of the competition, that someone else has launched this idea anyway. They seem to be doing well. You will, at this point, kick yourself.

 

4. You will try to create something magnificent and put your mark on the world, but early on you will look at what you have created and feel its smallness. In that moment you will wonder if anyone else notices how far wide of your mark you have fallen. What you don’t realize is that they are too busy with their own lives to ponder yours. Are you touching them? Does what you do matter to them? Why not?

Ponder that rather than your own grand dreams and you will find that somewhere along the way your grand dreams happen anyway.

 

5. The people you used to spend time with? Some of them will stop understanding you. (Although in a way that’s probably ok: after all, you stopped understanding them quite a while ago. This is your cue to find a new tribe).

 

6. One day when you are feeling stuck someone will give you a piece of advice – or maybe an opportunity. At the time you will reject them, vehemently. Watch out for those moments. Those are usually the moments where you heard exactly what you needed to hear, or had the chance to learn exactly what you needed to learn.

Why? Because when you are well and truly stuck, your options are restricted to what lies in your comfort zone. But your answer is not there. The road to where you want to be, at those moments, lies outside your comfort zone, and it won’t look quite like you expected (if it did you’d have found it already).

 

7. You will start out with two things: 1) a diary full of things that need to be done this week (your washing, that latest report, that thing for your dad) and 2) a jumbled up list of dreams in your head all labeled ‘one day’. Your breakthrough will come when you learn to sync the two.

Watch out for the opportunities to which you say ‘one day’. They are quite often the ones you need, as you are, here and now (click to tweet this!).

 

8. You will feel that you have a secret. A secret about your own lack of progress. About how your so-together outside doesn’t fit with the turbulent mash up of your insides. About how you haven’t sorted this out by now and it’s just not coming together and how you just don’t know what to do and how you feel ashamed you don’t know what you want by your age.

To which I would say: please know that you are not alone in this. Right now, someone else is reading these words too. And another, and another. One of them may be in your neighbourhood and the other across the world, and they are nodding and saying ‘yes that’s me, how did she know’ and the answer is simple: while how you feel may be a secret to you, I have been through it and I have watched many others go through this same uncertainty and come out the other side.

When you poke your head out of your fog of confusion, and join others in forging a path toward your own clarity, you might well do the same.

 

9. One day you will come across a list of advice, with which you may or may not resonate. You will have the chance to complete this list with a thought of your very own. When that time comes, what will you say?

(Feel free to share your answer below or on the Free Range Facebook page).

 

Marianne x

 

{ 17 comments }

 

 

I came across Humans of New York several years ago. Then, it was a Facebook fan page with some photos, and maybe 30,000 fans.

I think the main reason I looked at it was that another page with the word ‘humans’ in the title got me curious. However within 20 seconds of browsing the Humans of New York (HONY) page I was hooked.

The concept was simple: one man, Brandon Stanton, was walking around New York, taking photos of individuals he met walking the streets and posting them to this Facebook page. But it wasn’t just the photos that people were looking at. It was the captions and stories attached to them:

 

Fastforward to today and Humans of New York has grown from a one-man page to a #1 New York Times bestselling photography book (it sold so well there were multiple-week waiting lists to get hold of a copy for over a month after it launched). HONY has also become a Facebook phenomenon, with over 4 million fans (I’d guess that half of people reading this post today have already liked the HONY page).

Funny, poignant, unexpected, smart and chock full of human connection with a great photo to boot: what’s not to like?

Well, turns out that New York’s publishers found quite a lot not to like. Before all this happened, Brandon pitched to ‘just about every publisher in town’, got rejected multiple times, being told the photography book he had in mind would never be published.

So what did he do to get from (yet another) unknown guy with a camera to one of the best known photography book authors of the moment? The answers to that question why I’m sharing this post with you today.

Here’s my take on what made HONY take off among the thousands of photo-blogging ideas out there.

 

7 lessons anyone with a small idea can learn from HONY’s rise

 

1. Start before you’re ready.

Brandon took his first photos when on his way to work in Chicago in 2009. At first he took photos of “anything” on the streets, but soon realised that his photos of people were what he enjoyed most and got the best response, so he decided to specialise.

His first New York photos came after he lost his job in finance in 2010. Thinking “it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants,” his aim was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map.

This project soon became something else.

 

2. Let things evolve.

As Brandon said in an interview with New York Metro, “Humans of New York was really an evolution. It wasn’t a fully formed idea that I thought of and executed”.

You see the 10,000 people project sounded interesting enough… but for the first year, not many people noticed this self-taught photographer’s posts. Plus he was new in the city and didn’t know anyone – conditions that would have led many people to give up. But Brandon didn’t – and something unexpected happened.

“Somewhere along the way HONY began to take on a much different character. I started collecting quotes and short stories from the people I met, and began including these snippets alongside the photographs”.

Turns out, this changed everything. As Brandon noticed his captions were getting as much interest as the pictures themselves, he shifted to focus his efforts on the interviews, seeking to get better at the questions and picking the answers to share.

This approach of listen-and-evolve is key to the Humans of New York story. The success of HONY has been down to ” a constant process of ditching what’s not working, and doubling down on what’s working,” Brandon said in a Reddit AMA. “Prime example: I noticed that social media was where my growth was. So I removed my ‘free-standing’ website, and began hosting 100 percent of my content on social media.”

 

3. Follow your flow

Here’s the thing. None of this would have happened without the moment of connection and feeling we fans get when we read a typical HONY post.

 

So how did that ‘secret sauce’ come to light? I’d argue it had its birth as a product of flow. Here’s what I mean by this:

We all have an unconscious ‘flow moment’ – a secret superpower if you will. This is usually something we do that we find easy or fun and barely notice… but that others value.

Brandon’s moment was not in photography.

Of course he is a great photographer… but when, as a result of the book, HONY photographs made the front page of the New York Times’ “Arts” section – it was with the accompanying line “passable photography skills” (which, in typical HONY style was the only quote from that otherwise glowing piece, posted to the HONY fan page!).

In short: in a city filled with photographers of Brandon’s skill level and up, his success is not in photography alone.

Instead Brandon’s moment of flow seems to be in understanding people: he knows the right questions to ask (his subjects seem willing to share their innermost thoughts and feeling after meeting him for only a few minutes) and then moves his though to the reader and time and time again he picks just the right snippet to share to bring a picture to life for us.

That level of connection he creates between the reader and a stranger on the street something unique in a world that can feel all too easily disconnected. In just a few minutes and just a few lines a flow moment is born. This guy is one hell of a storyteller and does it both in the asking and the selection of the words, creating connection between the person on the street at the person behind the laptop (whether they be in Brooklyn, Boise or Birmingham).

This is not just a photo site – it’s a movement about stories and connection, and that’s where this creator shines.

Here’s the thing: as I said in Be A Free Range Human, most of us ignore our biggest strength, or our flow moments (because they are natural to use, they seem too inconsequential).  Instead we work hard to get good at our second, third or fifth best thing… leaving the first for the weekends.

It would have been all too easy for Brandon to miss his moment altogether. He could easily have said: “heck anyone can draw out stories from strangers on the street. That’s just chatting. I want to be a ‘real’ photographer, and real photographers don’t rely on words.” (and promptly disappear into the mass of people who deny their moment of flow in order to try to be someone else).

It’s no co-incidence that many businesses, projects and movement that stand out and take off are by a founder who did not ignore their moments of ease and flow, but instead dove right into them. That’s a key difference between ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’.

The willingness to break the rules of a medium to be more ‘you’ is a theme among many successful free rangers-  and this project would not have taken off without it.

 

[SIDE NOTE: when I asked free range tribe members what they believed was the one thing that made HONY take off this theme of human connection and story was the single biggest response – another validation of the impact of this approach].

 

4. Cultivate a movement

Hop on to the HONY page and, right after the photos and the captions, the thing you’ll notice is the strength of community in the comments section.

This community has come together from around the world to become something special: with thousands of photos and millions of people the comments are still (usually) welcoming and supportive… without the snark that can develop in other big online comment spaces. This is partly because it is moderated effectively, but also partly because of the example of the founder and the tone that is set in all the posts.

What’s more, these strangers have come together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes from the stories shared in the photos. It goes down to the details too: over Christmas, Brandon’s girlfriend opens up a spreadsheet, and puts out a call for New York based HONY folk who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas… and for those who have a spare seat at the table. These strangers get matched up, guests are hosted and new friends are found.  (She even did it last year when the community shot up into the millions).

Connection is all over HONY: from the connection we feel with the humans in the photos to the connection generated by people making this community their own, this is a place that makes the vast unconnected word feel much smaller and more welcoming.

 

5. Think big and smart (ie: don’t baulk if you can’t get it tomorrow)

Brandon wanted a photography book published but instead of sighing about how hard the publishing industry is (or saying that he had no training as a photographer or a writer, so didn’t have a chance at getting accepted), he thought like a free range human.

To start with, he knew that if he had any chance at getting the book deal he wanted, he needed to grow a good following. So that’s what he did, day after day.

It’s the intersection between creating something valuable AND getting it out there that leads to these successes. As Inc Magazine said, Humans of New York is “a mesmerizing study of humanity and offers an amazing guide on how to create a social media frenzy”. The core value and what is done with it from there, both matter.

6. Don’t give up at the first rejection (aka know your value)

With all this strength of community and growing fan base it may be a surprise to hear that a book deal did not slip into Brandon’s lap. But the truth is, it didn’t.

The HONY book idea was rejected by almost every publisher in New York. They explained that it couldn’t work because it a) was a regional book, that only New Yorkers would buy and b) those sorts of photography books don’t sell. With the costs of production of a book like this, they couldn’t take a punt.

Yet Brandon kept pitching – not because he was blind to the commercial pressures the publishers were under, but because he knew the publishers had missed something crucial. They simply hadn’t believed how far Brandon’s community spread around the country and around the world. There were already people on the HONY page from places far away from NYC (*waves*) who were highly engaged on the page every day who would not only buy the book… but tell everyone they met about it.

Finally Macmillan (who were clearly the only publishers in town who knew how to use Facebook!) agreed to take on the project and it went from there.

 

7. Succeed gracefully – and in the end, never alone

Brandon’s success has been beautiful to watch because at the heart of it, he comes across as a likeable person. (Let’s just say that anyone who describes their book’s ongoing position in the New York Times bestseller list as akin to sticking to the bottom of the rankings “like a frightened barnacle” gets my vote).

So when his book came out, and reached #1 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list by the end of its first week, it wasn’t just one person who celebrated…. it was hundreds of thousands of people who had made HONY their own.

During the last 3 days of Nov 2013 they sold out their entire stock for the holiday season… and it wasn’t just New Yorkers or Americans wanting it, the waiting list extended to just about every country you can think of. And it has kept on going to this day.

 who would have guessed

Which brings us to the final part of the picture:

When looking at the reason for the reason for why something works, it’s hard to pin down just ‘one thing’ and the truth is that there is always more than one thing at play. Which is why I’d started by highlighting what I think are HONY’s Big 7 here – but I am sure there are others.

Much like Humans of New York’s tales of people on the street go beyond the surface level small talk, so does each ‘success story’ have more depth.

In the end, this isn’t a story about social media or photos or captions or publishing strategy or following your flow or evolving or even the power of connection in an increasingly unconnected world. It’s not even a story about persistence for a year when no one was watching.

It’s a story about all those things, and more, coming together to allow something to arise that is, in the end, greater than a tick-the-boxes formula could ever allow.

Which, time after time, is how free range successes are made.

 

Which of these 7 stood out to you? Would you add anything to the list? Drop a comment below and let us know!

 

{ 8 comments }