Who the hell are you? And what the hell are you doing here?

That golden age question – ‘Who are you?’. When was the last time someone asked you this? And even if they didn’t voice these exact words when was the last time someone expected you to tell them? Perhaps you were asked to ‘introduce yourself’ or ‘say a few things about yourself’ in one of those awkward go-around-the-room scenarios. Maybe it was at a job interview ‘tell me about yourself’, or on a first-date ‘So tell me about you’.

What did you say? Maybe if it was in a work environment you would have said something about your role – ‘My name is Souad and I’m an Account Director at Sunday Lunch’. Or if it were amongst friends, you might have said ‘I am Souad, I’m a friend of so and so’s’. If it was a job interview, you probably said some rubbish like ‘I am an ambitious go-getter who delivers outstanding results for clients yah-di-yah’. And if it was a date, you probably bragged about how laid-back you are, even though you cracked it at your last boyfriend because he didn’t respond to your text messages.  Now, I am mindful that I have an ‘About Me’ section that probably has some carefully crafted jargon intended to make me sound a certain way. But we’ll park that for now….

The reality is that very few of us actually know who we really are, we simply customize our response to the question based on who we are talking to and what we think they want to hear.  As François de La Rochefoucauld said ‘We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.’  At school this is obvious. Were you the ‘popular kid’? Or the ‘smart kid’, ‘sporty kid’, ‘all-rounder’, ‘jock’, ‘socialite’, ‘muso’?  The list goes on… I tried to be most of these things at some stage or another.  And it doesn’t end at high school. At university it gets worse and arguably in adult life it’s at its peak. ‘The mother’, ‘the entrepreneur’, ‘the adrenaline junkie’, ‘the party animal’, ‘the bachelor’, ‘the gym junkie’ – who are you? What defines you?

The definition of identity is ‘the fact of being who or what a person or thing is’ but to François’ point, when you spend so long trying to be what you think you ought to be, then that fact becomes a bit of a mystery to you.  And if you are constantly defined by one aspect of your character or life, then you need to ask yourself why. Did you label yourself?  Or did someone else put you in that box?

Mark Twain said the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Given that being born is relatively straightforward, the real challenge is getting to that other day.  The definition of purpose is ‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’, so the question is does your identity, your ‘fact of being what you are’, ultimately define why you are here?  Or is it the other way round? Identity and purpose – what comes first – it’s like the chicken and the egg.

Now to give you the heads up, I don’t know the right answer. I don’t know whether your identity shapes your purpose or the other way around, but what I do know is that it is important to have a handle on both.  I have no problem admitting that I have spent a long time, most of my life in fact, trying to be something to everyone.  As a result I haven’t truly had a handle on my identity, nor my purpose.  Similarly in business, especially small business, it is easy to be a ‘yes man’ taking any brief or client that comes your way and losing sight of who you are and what you stand for in the process.  Simon Sinek says ‘Start with Why‘. To quote Simon, ‘By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?’.  

In business, companies are getting better at not just telling you what they do, but what they believe in (Simon has some great examples in his TEDx talk).  And these beliefs should be crafting what they do and how they do it rather than sitting passively as words on a wall. Sunday Lunch believes in empowering socially conscious business leaders of the future. We believe that we can change the way business and marketing is done in Australia. We believe that in business you can and should make money by sharing your why. How do we do this? We drive profit through purpose by creating cause, community and promotional campaigns for our clients.  And who the hell are we?  We are a boutique creative marketing agency. Makes so much more sense than just telling you we are a below the line marketing agency specialising in cause and community right?

And if like me you’re still on that journey of discovering your fundamental identity and purpose, start with what you know to be true. I make every decision based on my values, my beliefs.  I make decisions based on the principles of freedom, passion, presence, respect, trust, optimism and positivity.  I believe that people are happier when they lead positive lifestyles and respect their bodies and minds, that’s why I exercise and meditate daily, eat well, practice gratitude and continue to learn.  I believe that people shouldn’t live in the past, nor solely for the future, that’s why I work for a company that I love to show up for every day.  I value freedom – physical freedom, financial freedom, freedom to play, experiment, and fail – that’s why I work for a company that values ownership, a company that gives me the permission to grow, to a point that one day I might have my own business. These beliefs drive my actions, and these actions shape who I am.

So next time someone asks you ‘who are you?’, or ‘tell me about yourself’ imagine how much more powerful and interesting it would be if you could give them a more accurate account of your identity and a real sense of your purpose.  Tell them who really are by telling them what you believe to be true, and why you are here. If instead of saying ‘I’m Souad. I’m an Account Director at Sunday Lunch’ you could say ‘I’m Souad, I believe that everyone can profit by doing good, that’s why I work for a marketing agency that specialises in purpose, cause and community’. Or in a job interview ‘Passion, respect and optimism are some of my core values, that’s why I commit wholeheartedly to the task at hand, why I follow all processes and never cut corners, and why I remain positive in the face of challenges, aspiring to do more with less.’ Whichever one you discover first, your identity and purpose is rooted in what you believe and in order to have a true sense of self, to succeed at business and in life we need to stop disguising ourselves to others.  As Oprah explains in her wonderful book, What I Know for Sure, “What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.” 

Originally published in July 2015.

Photo by David Iskander via Unsplash.

What do dating and business have in common?

In astrology one’s ‘rising sign’ or ‘ascendant’ is the star sign that represents the first impression we make when we meet new people, the person we pretend to be. When someone who has just met you describes you it might be different to that of someone who really knows you, as they will be describing aspects of your rising sign. At a recent event, Shannan Ponton asked the audience if their partner was exactly the same person they first met 10/20/30 years ago, and as expected, the answer for many was no.

So in the dating world, when you’re at dinner, staring at the face of a stranger asking them to like you, and wondering if you like them, how on earth could you possibly know if they are the right person for you, or will be in 10/20/30 years time? Well, you can’t. Apparently you have to go on first impression, chemistry, flow of conversation and all that stuff you read about in Cosmo.

The problem is we’ve all done that and at some stage or another been wrong.  Moreover it often takes months or years before we realise that things aren’t heading in the direction we had hoped, and despite the initial sparks we have ‘grown apart’… and so off we go to find someone else.

The same can be said in business. Which suppliers, partners, and employees should we go for? Should we base our decisions solely on a resume or a creds document? Sure, these things are important to a point but, if I told you I only date guys who tick boxes based on profession, salary and height you would probably call me narrow-minded, shallow and stuck-up.

I am sure many of us have sat in a job interview and been completely sold on a company or candidate and then ended up being dismally unhappy working for them, or less than mesmerized by our new recruit. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does it still starts with the same excitement and energy a great partnership does. So, what actually makes for a good long-lasting relationship, partnership or even friendship?

It’s quite simple really, shared values.

What does this mean and why does it matter? Well, because beyond the bullshit of who we try to be lies who we really are. One’s creds, resume, physical attributes, or ability to impress on a first date are not what’s going to keep that relationship, friendship or partnership kicking in 10/20/30 years time. Whatever dress you’re wearing, whatever job title you hold, whatever your handshake is like does not tell someone whether you’re going to conduct yourself in a way that is in line with their principles.

So why someone would ever tell you their values, or even if they did, why would they ever be honest? I mean anyone can reel off a lovely list of wholesomeness right? Except you don’t need to know their values – you only need to know your own.

A person’s values aren’t what they tell you they are, they manifest themselves in the way they act. So we can pretend all we like, but our values are exposed in the way we act and live. Once we understand our own value set, it’s not even about finding people who have the exact same list; it’s about ensuring people whose actions don’t challenge our beliefs surround us.

A very good friend of mine told me that a leader knows and lives their value set and stands by them even at risk of becoming unpopular. Your values are what you believe to be true, and right. They are non-negotiable. People make mistakes, but your values are the proverbial line that cannot be crossed. A personal value of mine is Respect. I strive to show people, clients, friends, respect, and I try not to associate with anyone who doesn’t show me the same.

At my previous company, when one of the cofounders left the office he was often heard saying ‘Be good, be honest, be true’. Interestingly, I have done his natal chart and found his ‘rising sign’ matches his sun sign, which basically means ‘What you see is what you get’.  Anyway, the point is that he’s a leader who knows what’s important to him. He embodied it in his businesses, and when I joined his company we went for coffee and I asked him what his vision for the business was. He said ‘like-minded people with shared values coming together to deliver great work and making some money along the way’. He nailed the essence of why he’s still in business in the first few words.

They say you become like the 5 people you spend the most time with. So, does that mean we should surround ourselves by ambitious, successful, high-powered and popular people? Maybe, but in business there are lots of successful, high-powered people – some of them are greedy, some are generous, some are ethical, and some are corrupt.

I’ve come to see the difference between ambition and passion. There are lots of apathetic ambitious people; I want to know the people who really love something whether it’s their career, cooking, writing or netball. If someone is successful but a slave to a job they hate then that’s not the kind of success I am interested in, and if someone is high-powered but negative then that energy is no good for me either. If someone has lots of ‘friends’ but no one they can trust or call on in the eleventh hour then well, quite frankly I don’t want to become like them.

So on that first date if I am sitting effortlessly chatting away, staring into the eyes of a dreamy tall, dark and handsome stranger and he is less than polite to the waitstaff it shows a lack of respect, a principle I value highly. And by the time he tells me that he hates his job and has no interests outside of work then I have tuned out.

Look around you, who are you surrounded by? Would you be happy to become more like them? And are you the kind of person or organisation people want to spend time with or even become more like?

In marketing, we often ask existing and prospective clients, ‘What will your brand stand for?’ but the real question is ‘What do you stand for full stop?’ And to what extent would you be willing to stand up for these beliefs in the face of becoming unpopular?

Would you lose followers on Instagram or Twitter? Would you end a partnership or friendship to defend your values? Do your values influence the brands you’ll buy? Do you partner with the cheapest suppliers or the ones whose beliefs are aligned with yours? Would you hire someone with less experience because they’re a great cultural fit? Roy Disney said ‘it’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are’, and he’s right. Deciding how to act or respond in any given situation is much easier with a value set to guide you.

And that’s the real learning here; identifying your value set is one thing, but to live these beliefs, to let them guide you in finding and surrounding yourself with the right kinds of people is quite another. As Mahatma Gandhi said “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”

If we spent some time together tomorrow, would what I deduce from your actions, be in line with what you believe your values to be. If I met your friends, or colleagues would I still have an impression of you that is consistent with the type of person/business you claim to be? If not, why not?

Whether you believe in astrology or not, there is no doubt that people aren’t always who they say or what they seem, the real connections are made when we meet people who live their life by the same principles that we do.

Originally published April 2014.

Photo by NASA via Unsplash

Thinking outside the box

Back in my retail days, I was instructed to bring an object in to work that I felt represented me.  I found the perfect item. It was a clutch bag. A clutch bag that was made out of a book.

The grey hardback book cover represents my academic pursuits and the vibrant floral fabric lining the inside represents my creativity, enthusiasm and resourcefulness.  I know what you’re thinking; I took a good book, tore out its soul (i.e. the pages), and turned it into a flowery compartment of crap. The point is, when on a bookshelf with a number of other books, this book/bag would look like any other book. You would need to select it from the shelf and open it up before discovering that it’s unique inside.

When applying for jobs, one is ‘boxed’ based on one’s experience, or lack of. One sheet of paper is all you have to differentiate yourself on. Your resume serves as your book cover, situated amongst a row of other book covers, each hoping to be selected for an opportunity to immerse the reader in its contents.

When I started looking for work in advertising I had no agency experience and a seemingly irrelevant degree.  I chose my degree and took part in a range of extra-curricular activities on the basis that all the skills I developed would be ‘transferable’. Employers trawling through hundreds of CVs would no doubt glance at my resume, their gaze programmed to recognise only agency names and marketing degrees, neither of which I had.  If you read between the lines, I had experience in people, financial and project management, administration, relationship building  and client service across a multitude of roles BUT I hadn’t worked for an agency.  I was ‘boxed’.  Filed away as not having the relevant skills or expertise. The blinkers were on and the readers hadn’t allowed themselves to delve deeper and see the colourful lining of gazillions of other creative projects that I had initiated, developed and managed.

My ‘book cover’ wasn’t selling me at all.  I had to get creative and use the exact skills I wanted someone to hire me for to get the role in the first place. I ended up with tens of resumes tailoring my skills to the exact position I was applying for, and equally as many unique covering letters. It became a skill in itself – rather than let the interviewer ‘box’ me based on what they read on my CV I boxed myself.  If I was going to be put in one place, it might as well be the right one.

My opportunity came when I came in to contact with a rare group of individuals in the form of ‘The Family’. It sounds like a mafia, and while it shares some similarities in the form of fierce loyalty, long standing members and the fact that members are often united by food and drink, the essence of The Family is centred upon beautiful people, doing wonderful work and pursuing all their crazy dreams. I worked for one of The Family’s companies, a small team of happy people called Sunday Lunch.

Sunday Lunch gave me the opportunity to continue to develop skills I had acquired over years, and also to learn new ones.  After almost 5 years with Sunday Lunch I grew revenue for the business, while almost tripling my salary, I expanded our client and competency portfolio while diversifying my resume and in the fast-paced nature of a start-up, I consistently. faced new business challenges and was encouraged to learn new things.

I have learnt that this attitude doesn’t stop at employment.  It’s everywhere, particularly in ad land. Agencies are ‘boxed’ too. Depending on who you asked, Sunday Lunch was an ‘LAM agency’, ‘BTL agency’, ‘promotions agency’, ‘cause marketing agency’, ‘creative marketing agency’… What’s funny is that we weren’t always in the same box.  To some we were x and to others we were y, yet trying to explain that we can do x, y and z could be a challenge.

There are 2 lessons here.  First, we all need to tailor our credentials to suit the roles we are applying for or the work we want to win. It’s not enough to assume that someone else will see our potential.  If we don’t tell them bluntly, clients or employers will assume we don’t have the skills or expertise for another opportunity or brief they have.

Secondly, if we are on the other side of the table we need to take the time to look a bit closer at what’s right in front of us and ask some questions; because before we look elsewhere there might be the assortment of skills we are looking for whether it be in a prospective employee, a supplier, an agency etc.

Ironically, in a world of marketers, we are in the business of ‘thinking outside the box’ and while so many of us consider ourselves to think outside the square, many of us are guilty of doing exactly the opposite.

Originally published April 2014.

Photo by Erda Estremera via Unsplash