Sunday, July 15, 2018

I found my niche! (Lots of them, in fact)

"How many different careers have you had, Rich?"

I get asked this question more often than you might think - because I am, in fact, a mutt who has worn many different hats in my life. People have known me over the years as a computer programmer, a corporate manager, a freelance writer, a book author, a public speaker, and a psychotherapist. And that doesn't count youthful indiscretions like being a pizza delivery man, golf caddy, short-order cook or radio announcer.

Which brings up something I've always noticed: we tend to look down our noses at people who don't follow one path in life. Children are asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?," while adults are greeted with, "What do you do?" Most of us know better than to be racist, sexist or even ableist nowadays, but we are still thoughtlessly single-path-ist. We use terms like "dilletante" or the euphemistic "Rennaisance man" as a synonym for "lost and confused" - but never, in my experience, in a good light.

My diverse career actually makes more sense than people might think. Some paths were borne of neccessity - like when layoffs, technical obsolescence and burnout made my original 20-year software career impractical, and I started writing full time. Others were happy accidents, like when I wrote a book that unexpectedly became an international bestseller and I suddenly found myself speaking 40-50 times a year all over North America (a pace that continued until I retired last year).

Finally, some things made no particular career sense, except that I really wanted to do them. I secretly always wanted to be a psychotherapist all my life, but after decades of brushing it aside for more practical pursuits, a novel distance learning program in the 2000s put that within reach. After which I happily juggled writing, speaking and therapy for many years - often with people who knew me from one field scratching their heads about the others.

Which brings up a larger point. Why should any of us HAVE to have a single "brand"? What is wrong with wearing different hats as we go through life? If we can walk and chew gum at the same time, why can't we have more than one profession?

I actually think being a mutt is great. It always gave me multiple ways to make a living, any of which could be scaled up if needed. And it doesn't equate to "unsuccessful": personally I have never been fired or laid off, had to borrow money from people, or even been late paying a bill. I can truthfully say that I've done well at just about everything I've tried, and now I am happily retired (and still doing lots of different things). As far as I'm concerned, it's all good.

Far too many people feel trapped in someone else's idea of a good life. Others discover that their chosen career becomes obsolete or intolerable. And many suffer a horrible loss of self-esteem when what they do, for whatever reason, doesn't work out. But society is often far richer when people escape their career ruts: for example, I'm glad Walt Disney moved on from being a failed newspaper editor, and Andrea Bocelli gave up being a defense attorney to sing.

So my closing thought is to stop asking your children questions like "What do you want to do when you grow up?" Instead, ask them what they like. What they enjoy. What makes their heart sing. And as they get older, how they might get to do more of the things they love. And perhaps, with a little luck, lots of them!

(P.S. My favorite job of all? Hands down, being a stock clerk at a department store when I was eighteen - because the cute girl I met working there has been my partner ever since.)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Tooting Your Horn

A little while ago, I ran into an old friend in town, and among other things she noted that I tended to toot my own horn on Facebook – in other words, that I often post about my speaking gigs, my books, or the good times I am having.

It was meant well, and taken as such. And she is completely accurate. But it raises a deeper issue that rarely gets explored: the differences between tooters and non-tooters. So I would like to take you inside the mind of a lifelong tooter, to put it in its proper perspective.

You see, for many people, this issue takes on moral overtones. Non-tooters often grow up believing that it is shallow and pretentious to brag about yourself; as one recent meme put it, “May your life be half as good as it seems on Facebook.” At the other end of the spectrum, tooters are at risk of seeing non-tooters as dullards who celebrate nothing and share nothing.

Neither of these stereotypes is accurate. So here is my attempt at brokering a truce between two equally valid worldviews. First, here are some of the reasons why I tend to toot my horn:

1) To me, tooting isn’t egotistical – it is epidemiological. Since the dawn of history, men were often hunters and gatherers who took care of their families. And when they stopped being able to do so, they died. This is how hunting trophies and harvest celebrations came about: they celebrated the successful pursuit of food and survival. So for thousands of years, tooting has been a celebration of life, and of still being in the hunt. Same thing when I celebrate my goals and pleasures – it isn’t about winning or being better than others, but rather about taking pride in the happy pursuit of a good life.

2) For me personally, there is almost a spiritual dimension to celebrating yourself. During the toughest times of my life, non-tooters had nothing to offer me. And it was always other tooters – people who openly liked themselves, and encouraged others – who saw potential in me and gave me hope. So I wanted to be like them, not like those who had nothing to say.

3) We tend to be attracted to our own species as friends. I really like the company of other tooters. For example, I have always delighted in seeing other people’s books, cheering on their launch campaigns, watching their videos, and hearing their stories. It is life-affirming for me to be in the company of other people who take joy in their own pursuits, and see possibilities for themselves and others.

4) Tooters make good tutors. Yesterday at a speaking engagement in Pittsburgh, one woman told me how much she enjoyed my talk (always a good thing to say to a tooter), and then confided that someday she would like to be a public speaker herself. I gladly sat down with her at lunch and opened my playbook about getting started in the business. More broadly, I love seeing other people learn, grow, and succeed. If you want to learn to become a writer, speaker, musician, or whatever, your best bet is to find a good tooter.

5) Finally, we are all the product of our own family histories. I come from a large family of high achievers, including a very professionally successful father, and a funny and often brash mother with a very healthy ego – and as I often told her, much of my own success came directly from what I learned from her. For me, as with her, taping my mouth shut about my life would feel like a dull grey existence.

Non-tooters often mistakenly believe that tooting is a reaction to covering up some deeper emptiness in your life. Not in my case. If you were to crack my head open, you would find a pretty happy guy inside most of the time. And if I am sharing good things publicly, this is a very good sign that I am in my normal happy place. When things are tough for me, I am much more likely to withdraw then blather on.

Now, a word to you non-tooters: you’re OK too. You have perfectly good and valid reasons for being the way you are, based on who you are and what you have learned in your life. And there are healthy and unhealthy extremes to both your personalities and mine. Tooters can be friendly and engaging, or egotistical boors. Non-tooters can be kind and modest, or wet blankets. It goes without saying that we should always try to be our very best selves and make other people feel good.

But above all, we all have to be true to who we are. We all have our own unique personalities and gifts. And living someone else’s life is never a prescription for happiness. So if you are like me, toot away!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The only political blog I will write all year – 2016 edition

In this most unusual of election years, we have a communications skills expert’s nightmare: one of the most divisive races in modern history, fueled by non-stop partisan talk radio, cable TV and social media.

I am pretty apolitical on the best of days, but this year in particular, the electoral process makes me feel the same way most women would probably feel if Bikini Babes of NASCAR was blaring on their TV 24/7. But people still do ask me to weigh in about politics, and while I wouldn't dream of telling you how to vote, I do have some thoughts about how to best approach this election. Here they are:

Use the outrage test. I have a simple rule for whether an issue should concern me: is the outrage bipartisan? If not, then it isn’t allowed to take up valuable space in my head. This simple rule automatically exempts me from Benghazi, Melenia Trump’s speech, Hilary’s emails, Trump steaks, and a whole host of other issues.

This is particularly true when (only) one side is going, “Oh, OH! Let’s investigate! Let's litigate! Let's prosecute!” When I hear people talk about jailing Hilary or blocking Trump from candidate security briefings, all I can do is roll my eyes and mutter to myself, “Holy 1998 impeachment, Batman.” Because these faux issues won’t give anyone a good job, improve our well-being or stop violence.

Real issues like the economy, health care, racial justice and the police, and terrorism raise strong opinions from both sides – and even if they disagree, it’s game on. But if one side is outraged and you are hearing crickets from the other side, move along.

Choose your sources. Do you form your political opinions – or worse, express them – through Facebook memes or partisan sources? Let me make a gentle suggestion. See what a more neutral source has to say first before you contribute to the political discourse. You might be surprised to learn that people actually do exaggerate things and distort facts – even in politics.

If you can’t do that, and reject the mainstream media the way many good zealots do, fine. At least do me this favor: check out the memes and articles that the other side is posting first. Then imagine that all of you were locked in a room, and couldn’t emerge until you reached consensus. What do you think the consensus might be? At least let that inform your posts and opinions.

Tune out the pundits. Political talk hosts on opposing sides are probably best friends off-camera. Why? Because they all engage in the same strategies: emotionally-charged language, fatuous arguments, one-sided facts, straw man arguments and ad hominin attacks.

Everyone criticizes commentators on the other side for doing it – but when I notice the same things with pundits on their side, people look at me like I have three heads. Yet they too are polarizing people and spreading half-truths. My gentle suggestion: don’t listen to jerks just because they are “our” jerk.

Listen to the other side. This is the most important advice one could give for this or any election – learn how the other side thinks. Listen to their candidates. Read their articles. Visit their social media pages. Because real problems are solved through dialogue and consensus. And that can only happen when both sides “get” each other first.

If you can’t frame the other person’s position as that of a totally reasonable person, you aren’t yet capable of advocating effectively for your side – you are limited to preaching to your own choir. Which, in my humble opinion, never changes anything.

This is especially true in this unusual election, where it seems like the more we vilify the opposition candidate, the more their poll numbers go up. I hope that when the dust settles on the 2016 campaign, its legacy is that we finally learn to listen to each other and solve problems together.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Becoming a book millionaire, revisited

A little over a year ago, I shared my thoughts about reaching the milestone of selling a million dollars worth of books in this blog post. More recently, I created a blog post for my good friend (and New York Times bestselling author) Carol Roth about what I feel is the larger issue: how to consistently get published by major royalty publishers, and write books that are regularly featured in bookstores.

Aside from the obvious advice (create outstanding content, and work your way up to the big leagues by writing a lot), it discusses what I truly feel is the hidden secret of every published nonfiction author: become a student of (1) how successful nonfiction books are structured and titled, and (2) the mechanics of good, tight queries and proposals. Here is a link to my post:


Enjoy, and best of success with your own writing!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sixty years on

Today I turn sixty years of age.

So how does it feel to be 60? Mostly thankful and thoughtful. I am happy, healthy, and enjoy my life. But any major life transition is a complex mosaic of emotions, and at the risk of TMI, here is my best effort to capture them:

1) I can’t believe that I am still married to, and madly in love with, the same woman I met when I was 18 years old - and that she is still as beautiful as the day I met her. Our relationship remains my greatest joy and probably always will be.

2) I do not feel the least bit old. My eyesight and my waistline beg to differ sometimes, but at least in the latter case I hope to do something about it this coming year. Still, I honestly feel that 60 is the new 30.

3) I will probably never stop working. Nor do I ever plan to sit, beer in hand, in front of a television for days (or even hours) on end. The thought of a permanent vacation sounds like anathema to me. But I do find myself using the “R” word (retirement) a lot more often now.

Whenever it happens, my idea of retirement will probably be crazier than other people’s. There are things I hope to always do as long as I am vertical, like my psychotherapy practice, my annual teaching gig at Cornell, or writing for my favorite clients. And I will still speak when it is interesting and fun. At times, I will still be extremely busy. But I will consciously start winding down things I do just to make a living.

4) I haven’t punched in at a job for many years now, and am reaching the happy conclusion that I hopefully never will. There are few things I am more proud of than having supported my household entirely through self-employment for much of the past two decades. God has been very kind to me in providing wonderful clients and great opportunities every year, and I am extremely thankful.

So finally, what about the whole question of, you know, getting older?

I probably felt more mortal – and worried more about it – when I was in my 20s and 30s than I do now. I enjoy life more now, one day at a time, than I did then. And I am not alone: studies show, for example, that 85 year olds are among the happiest people.

But I am more aware than ever of our own mortality. For example, my father and his only sibling – two of the most successful people I’ve ever known – did not survive the decade I am now entering. So I value time like I never have before.

Of course, I hope to fare better than they did. I often tell my wife our old parish priest’s joke that I have an “un-dying” love for her. But my departed family members have given me a gift: an urgency to not trade precious time for things that aren’t important. For example, I am sure all those articles telling us to keep working and delay Social Security are technically correct – but after watching too many people I love never get to retire at all, I am probably unwilling to trade more sunsets with Colleen for much of their advice.

So overall, what is it like turning 60? I hope it is a way station on a path, and many years from now I hope to be a bit like the late Hedda Bolger – a psychotherapist who, at age 102, was still seeing clients and teaching online training programs. In the meantime, I am very glad to reach this great age.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Online Marketing: How to Make a Pain in the Ass of Yourself

The world is full of online marketing experts. Some of them are brilliant and have taught me a lot (I’m looking at you, David Newman). But others teach and use tactics that annoy the heck out of me, and probably many others. Here are three examples of “worst practices” I still see a lot of:

Squeezing people on your squeeze page
If you are offering me a free copy of 10 Tips for Better Tweets or whatever – and aiming it at solopreneurs like me, not businesses – where did you get the brilliant idea of *requiring* my phone number on your signup page?

You obviously don’t know how busy I am. Or how much I love getting interrupted by cold calls from people trying to sell me something. My phone already rings too often from people who feel I have nothing better to do all day than switch phone companies or whatever. And clearly you don’t grasp that I’ll call you when I want more information. Except I probably won’t call you.

I do need to point out that it is common practice for businesses in the B-to-B market to gather phone numbers and call - that's how they roll. But trust me on this one: if your product or service is designed to help individuals succeed, we really, really, really don't want you calling us.

(By the way, guess what is on my squeeze pages? NOTHING. I never make people sign up for my content. I figure that if people like it, they’ll call me. After years of capturing low-quality leads, I have personally found that simply putting great stuff out there is actually more profitable for me.)

Too much of a good thing
I completely get giving you my email address in return for some kind of perk. And yes, this does give you the right to send me information. But not Every Single Freaking Day. Or even every few days. I don’t care how fantabulous your product is, it doesn’t mean you get to clog my in-box like an infestation of lice. This is the marketing equivalent of someone giving your kids a snare drum for the holidays.

Copping an attitude
Perhaps the worst failing is when people treat me like I am stupid and need to be “pushed.” Act now Rich! Don’t miss this Rich! Did you read this Rich? Last chance Rich! Honestly, many marketing emails sound like they are trying to call a dog or yell at a teenager, rather than connect with a friend.

It isn't rocket science

Ironically, marketing has always been a big part of my success as a writer and speaker. But I’ve never bought in to the idea that good marketing is about bugging people, over-promoting yourself, inundating them with information they don’t want, or breathlessly rushing them to action. To me, it all circles back to things my mother taught me: build a good reputation, help other people succeed, and don’t be a jerk. What do you think?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The LinkedIn Code: An interview with author Melonie Dodaro

MELONIE DODARO is the founder of Top Dog Social Media, a social media agency that helps brands, businesses, professionals and sales teams use social media marketing and social selling to boost their visibility, attract new customers and increase their revenue. Dubbed by the media as Canada’s #1 LinkedIn expert and social media strategist, Melonie provides LinkedIn training to corporate sales teams and speaks worldwide at both industry and corporate events and conferences.

Yesterday, Melonie visited Ton De Graaf's 'Worldwide Coaching magazine' blog at http://worldwidecoachingmagazine.com, where he asked about LinkedIn Ads and how to create a 'virtual presence' in order to stand out from the crowd. Today, I'd like to share with you a recent interview I had with Melonie where I asked her about LinkedIn premium accounts, positive posting and activity levels in LinkedIn groups.

RICH: You put a lot of emphasis - rightfully - on branding yourself with a strong LinkedIn profile. But what if you are a "mutt"? For example, I am a freelance writer, a public speaker on communications skills, and a psychotherapist - and all three are important parts of my livelihood. Or, to use a bigger example, Bill Gates was both a software CEO and a philanthropist. What is your advice to people whose career descriptions use the word "and" a lot?

MELONIE: Like you, I also offer more than one set of services to a variety of different ideal clients. The first thing you need to do if you are in this position is determine if your ideal clients for each product or service use LinkedIn.
Once you have determined which products or services are the best fit for LinkedIn, you need to pick the best two or three of these. More than this will make it difficult to ensure that your profile is optimized well for search and it also becomes too much information for your ideal clients to read through when they land on your profile.
After you have your top two or three, then you need to make sure that you address each appropriately, in your Headline, Summary, Experience and Skills sections.
RICH: How active should you be in a LinkedIn group? Of course you shouldn't spam or post self-serving messages. But is there a point past which you are "too" present in an affinity group, even posting appropriate messages?
MELONIE: Often one post a week is sufficient for each group, with most of your time being dedicated to either replying to people who have commented on your posts or reading and commenting on others posts and comments. The engagement and interaction is often just as, if not more important than the act of posting itself.
As long as you are making positive and helpful comments that make sense, it is unlikely that you could be too active.
RICH: You do a good job laying out the features of LinkedIn Premium accounts. Should most small business owners get one?
MELONIE: Not at all. Most small business owners will only ever need to use the free version of LinkedIn.
Situations where you might consider upgrading would be:
  • If you are sending semi frequent InMails, which are costly if you are purchasing them individually
  • If you have a lot of people viewing your profile everyday and you want to use the Who’s viewed your profile page to see everyone who has viewed it or to better understand the general demographics of those viewing it.
  • If you would like to increase your ability to narrow your searches with the premium search fields as well as to increase the number of saved searches you are allowed and the number of results displayed from each search.
I hope you enjoyed this brief interview with award-winning social media expert Melonie Dodaro. You can find out some of Melonie's TOP SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES – along with those of 10 other TOP world-class social media experts – on her FREE 3-Day Telesummit:
Cracking the Social Media Code:
The Masters Speak!
Register FREE at
http://topdogsocialmedia.com/book-launch/pages/telesummit.php

Here's Melonie's stellar guest line up (in order of appearance):
  • MELONIE DODARO - Founder Top Dog Social Media, LinkedIn and social selling expert, author of The LinkedIn Code
  • LYNN SERAFINN (co-host) - Founder 7 Graces Project CIC, marketer, coach, author of The 7 Graces of Marketing, Tweep-e-licious
  • JASON MILLER - LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, corporate marketing manager for many companies
  • JOEL COMM - Entrepreneur, NY Times bestselling author, new media innovator
  • EKATERINA WALTER - CMO of Branderati, speaker, author of Think Like Zuck, co-author of The Power of Visual Storytelling
  • MICHAEL STELZNER - Founder/CEO of Social Media Examiner, host Social Media Marketing podcast, author of Launch, Writing White Papers and others
  • JOHN JANTSCH - Marketing consultant, business strategist, Founder Duct Tape Marketing, author of Duct Tape Marketing and others
  • PATTY FARMER - Marketing and social media strategist, speaker, trainer, radio host and author
  • KIM GARST - CEO of 'Boom! Social', social media marketing strategist, entrepreneur, speaker, author
  • ALLISON MASLAN - CEO of "Blast Off", business mentor, entrepreneur, author of Blast Off!
  • JILL ROWLEY - Marketing expert, social selling 'evangelist', entrepreneur
Over those 3 days, Melonie and her guests will share their top tips on:
·         Building Your Personal Brand
·         Building Your Online Community
·         Monetizing Social Media
If you cannot make the live broadcast, register anyway so you can listen to audio replays.
THEN, when you buy The LinkedIn Code during its official Amazon launch, you’ll receive dozens of valuable free gifts from Melonie and her friends and colleagues. You can CLICK HERE to find out more about the book, and these free gifts.
Be sure to follow Melonie tomorrow on the next stop of her Virtual Blog Tour, when she’ll be visiting Wendy McClelland's blog at http://wendymcclelland.com/blog-2/, where they'll be talking about sponsored updates and the 'relationships' tab.