You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, goes the adage. But there's one critical piece people forget: who do you think you are?
The story you tell yourself could be the reason why there's a mismatch. This works for individuals and companies: how you frame, position, and market yourself determines what and who you attract.
Why it matters
The story you tell yourself impacts what you do. Your actions determine your future.
Every one of us has probably examples of people who get all the accolades, the promotions, and opportunities. They may not be the most capable, yet always top of mind. It's frustrating and it feels unfair. Because, you reason, if you've good at what you do, or you have a product everyone needs, all that promotion is not necessary.
On the other hand, a small part of you longs for recognition. While a dependence on the desire for public approval can lead to scarcity thinking and paranoia, a little recognition can go a long way. It's motivating and can help you connect with the people who are right for you.
This is why writing and communicating are important. How else are people going to know about your ideas and your work? Write and communicate to transfer knowledge and value. Good ideas aren't enough. You must be able to present them in a clear and compelling form.
You need both: the substance, and the presentation.
Changing the story
When people show you who they are, believe them. And eventually they all do. But sometimes it takes one or few disappointments to get there. There are tells in simple interactions. Whenever I connect with someone, I try to do something for them. It could be demonstrating I've read their work and providing an insight or introducing them to someone who could benefit.
How they react is a good gauge of whether they're givers or takers. That's how they approach the world. Attracting the right people is complicated. Because people don't often have clarity about who they (really) are. So their story might be off.
At the end of a conversation on greed, shame, and what really matters, Guy Spier* says being a good reader of people is a valuable skill. “Books are a priceless source of wisdom. But people are the ultimate teachers, and there may be lessons that we can only learn from observing them or being in their presence.”
We cannot control what other people do. But in addition to becoming better readers of people, we can control our story. That's deeper than what we say. Who we are and what we value determine what we do, how we frame issues, and negotiate conversations.
If you notice a pattern of disconnects, work on your abilities and your story. Disconnects are a symptom. Possible causes:
- Ever expanding gap between intent (aim) and what is intended (plan)
- Inability to navigate the line between what should and what is
- Confusion over the difference between ambition and reality
Changing the outcome
“When your consciousness or mental attitude shifts, remarkable things begin to happen. That shift is the ultimate business tool and life tool,” says Spier. You could get there over time and through experience—failures and mistakes are great teachers.
Working with someone skilled in spotting causes and supporting self-awareness can help. A large portion of my work is developmental. The secret is to align strategy—how you make choices—and habits—how you do things. Simple to say, not easy to keep doing as situations change (or at scale.)
The words and symbols you use to communicate are only part of the story. People watch what you do. If you want to change your story, provide tangible proof. Unconsciously, we all use the be/have/do framework to evaluate things. We choose the people who help us improve, have greater self-esteem, do things we couldn't do before.
Most people, when they think about marketing, all they see is promotion (or spam.) But marketing is just a tool. How we use it depends on who we are. The artistry and craft of marketing can help you bring out the strongest ideas and create the most beneficial products.
Real life is a messy ball of stuff filled with details. Stories are linear. Some people, and I've seen companies do this too, want to fill in more information like caveats and detours. Their intent is to be more more precise. The outcome is that it creates navel-gazing habits.
Every story involves prioritization. It's also worth remembering Brené Brown's, “stories are data with a soul.” They're starting points, and an opportunity for growth.
*An ardent disciple of Warren Buffett, Guy Spier is has run the Aquamarine Fund for the last 17 years. The author of The Education of a Value Investor