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What Have I Done?

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I’ve been bad


I am very critical of web sites.  I always have been.  For me, usability has come naturally.  Design quality isn’t as natural, but I work hard at it because I know there are sites I like and sites I don’t.  I studied (briefly) journalism, so I have a good idea of what is technically correct for content.  I understand SEO so I can quickly identify content written for Google.

I’ve been teaching classes in my area for over a year encouraging Realtors to consider blogging.  I share the many benefits, I harp on sites made by Advanced Access, Point2, Number1Expert and others and I’ve convinced a few Realtors to get going.  Now that a few of these are really getting going, I’m questioning myself.  Should every Realtor blog?  I’m beginning to think not.

I keep seeing the same sites (blog or not) over and over again and A) it’s getting boring and B) as a consumer, if your blog/site look so similar to the next guy’s, why would I pick you?  Maybe it’s a generational thing (I love reading the comments when I make a statement like that), but I just read a great article about “Why Gen Y Is Going To Change The Web”.  The only part I disagree on is the “going to” part.  I think we already have.

Canned Sites

These are the ones from before that I mentioned harping on.  I know about 99% of Realtors I talk to who have a site beyond their company site have one of these.  They have worked well in the past  and for a small handful of people who update their sites frequently (like a blog) they still work well.  But in my eye, (almost) all of them look virtually identical.  As someone who uses the Internet as my primary source of information, a site either has to wow me with content or design or both.  Too many links down the side, animated images all over the place, old information – it all doesn’t work.  But it’s easy, so I understand.  It’s a presence, which is better than nothing.

Blogs for People Who Shouldn’t Write

This is the new unfortunate trend I’m seeing.  I’m fortunate to be a part of such a great team here that doesn’t fall into this trap, but I keep seeing blogs that are either A) an outlet to bash on “stupid” customers, B) “I’m being trendy by blogging, but I have no idea what to say so I’ll just regurgitate the same thing my neighbor put on their blog”, C) One post every 6 months or D) “Now is a great time to buy!”

Unfortunately, a few people have made some good money off Blogging For Dummies types of books (some even specific to this industry).  Should Dummies really blog?  Maybe I’m being an elitist jerk, but methinks not.

(And yes, I can VERY easily tell when you are SEO spamming, so please stop or I will never come back to your site again. Even  friends who don’t understand SEO can tell your site reads “funny”.)

Blogs for People Who Get It

Go through the authors here.  Check out their many blogs.  When I teach, I use their sites as examples.  Yes, they cover local market conditions as MLS’s and area associations and national publications release new information.  But they go beyond; they give their own thoughtful analysis of the information.  They keep up to date on current events that may impact the community they are blogging for or the real estate market in general.  They get it.  They are truly writing for their customers, not Google, not their ego, but to be a great information source.  To me, that is blogging done right.
(Their sites are also appealing on the eye, which keeps me from cringing when I try to read the great content.)

Am I Being a Web Elitist?

Maybe.  But I would wager I’m not the only person with these thoughts.  You could potentially be wasting your time and money while scaring people away when you could (easily) be marketing yourself online correctly.  Heck, I’ll even give you my honest $0.02 on your site if you’re curious 🙂

One final word: Thank you all of my wonderful Twitter friends who listened and offered great words of encouragement during this difficult time in my life.  I plan on being back next week to share in some great conversations.

Nick runs a new media marketing consulting company helping real estate professionals learn how to implement new media tools into their marketing arsenal. He frequently gives presentations on generational marketing, green marketing and advanced online promotion. Nick is active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Irina Netchaev

    May 16, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Nick, interesting post… insightful and real. As a new blogger, I find it hard to be as creative as some of the “old timers”. I think a blogger will either come into his/her own over time or will just give up after awhile. A great thing about Agent Genius writers is that they truly care about what they do and are open to share and help the newbies like me. 🙂

  2. Jonathan Dalton

    May 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

    So I’m sitting at happy hour a couple of weeks back and the office’s webmaster was talking to some of her proteges …

    “You need to post to your blog.”

    “I know, I know.”

    “For now, just go to x’s blog and copy the article we put there.”

    Keep in mind the article wasn’t originally written, just a canned piece dropped onto the site. (I’ve been trying for six months to get my owners to stop copying newspaper articles whole without success.)

    Blogs like the one above have no voice, no soul and no merit.

  3. Todd Carpenter

    May 16, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Nick, I know where you are coming from, but it’s important to put on a consumer’s hat when evaluating a blog. Canned sights don’t look canned when you only visit one of them. Many times, simply changing the header is all it takes to make it look original.

    Most consumers won’t recognize SEO spam either. Although some of it makes the posts impossible to read. So if someone is keyword stuffing in the short term, it’s probably going to work.

    As for quality of writing, well sometimes a new blogger just needs to find their stride. I look back at my first few months of blogging and laugh.

  4. Jay Thompson

    May 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I think one CAN use a template provider for a “static” site, provided they work with it to make changes. Agents tend not to be too tech savvy, and the template providers (I use Point2) make it relatively easy to modify a site. Ours (thompsonsrealty.com) has worked well for us, but I have added a ton of content to it. I don’t *think* it looks like thousands of other P2 sites.

    I get asked all the time “should every agent blog”. My personal opinion is no. It’s not for everyone (just as other forms of marketing/prospecting aren’t for everyone). It helps if you can write fairly well. More importantly, you really need to enjoy it, IMHO.

  5. Nick Bostic

    May 16, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Irina – I definitely think you’re right. One of the key aspects to me of blogging is that you do it because you want to and not because you’re being told right and left that you must. If you do it because you enjoy it and are trying to provide a service, I think that stride will be hit early and you’ll do great.

    Jonathan – Those are the exact ones I keep seeing sprout up in my area. A few are doing a great job, but some of the new ones must just be feeling a need to get content from anywhere.

    Todd – I guess my thought (I am a consumer, not a Realtor, but I am a techy) is that I’m going to research several Realtors. If I look at even 4 or 5 sites, I’m going to start to notice similarities. And you’re right, most SEO consumers aren’t going to notice. I just keep seeing more and more keyword stuffing and even my least techy friends notice it.

    Jay – You’re definitely right on this one. In my area, I work with a lot of agents whose companies provide them with a reasonably high degree of customization on their “free” site. My question I guess is why would you use the “free” canned site from your company then feel the need to create yet another canned site that you pay for? In your case, I understand, you are the company, you need a site and for that, P2, AA and N1E work great. And no, it doesn’t look like thousands of other P2 sites, when you first launched it, I was surprised when I got to the bottom and saw the P2 logo.

  6. Elaine Reese

    May 16, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Well as one of the “old-timers” you mention, my template web site and WP.com blog are working well for me, however, you may not find them “fancy” enough. Don’t take this personal, but I’m really only interested in whether potential clients like them … and it seems they do by their comments and emails. I’ve personalized the heck out of them. My blog is updated at least every other day and sometimes daily. My web site front page changes every few days.

    Like Jay, I don’t think every agent should have a blog just to say they have one. To me, an agent should have a “passion” about communicating with their public/clients. Otherwise, it would be too much of a chore, and that attitude would, I think, come across in what they write or the way they write.

    The sites I really dislike are those that ONLY talk about the agent and how they’re #1.

  7. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Elaine, I know exactly what Nick is talking about here, and that isn’t you by a longshot. You’re a superstar in that you are targeted to exactly your market and have origionality. Beauty in a website is many levels, creativity obviously ranks highest.

  8. Scott P. Rogers

    May 16, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    >> They are truly writing for their customers, not Google, not their ego, but to be a great information source. To me, that is blogging done right.

    I agree completely! Through the course of representing buyers and sellers, we come to know a LOT about real estate, our communities, the market, and so much more. If, when blogging, Realtors can focus on sharing of this information, they will succeed. Blogging is (relatively) easy, it is automatically archived, it has an infinite reach, and it’s free!

  9. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    click here This is a really good example of what a canned site looks like. If you suspect that you find a canned blog stolen from somewhere else, copy a line from the article and google it with quotes around it. Chances are, you’re right.

  10. Kathy Drewien

    May 16, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Interesting discussion points. One of my pet peeves is real estate agents who believe blogs, or websites, smartphones, or software are the magic solution to business woes.

    When I entered the business in the mid-90s very few websites existed for real estate agents in Atlanta. Template sites quickly became a solution for agents seeking the “easier, softer way”. Some folks understood templates were (are) a tool, and experienced success; some viewed their site as money wasted, a failure. How many times have you heard, “This [insert tool here] didn’t work in my market.”

    I believe the boring and repetitive sites you view, Nick, belong to agents who have shrink wrapped software in their office, and smartphones used only to open electronic lockboxes. So, keep recommending new tools to agents. Some will “get it” and their clients will be better for the experience.

  11. cindy*staged4more

    May 16, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I think it’s okay to be a blog critic 😉 I am all for constructive criticism.

    I think you point out a fundamental flaw in real estate blogging, which is people don’t really get what blogging is about but they know it’s the new “it” thing to do so they started to a) copy and pasting other’s contents b) write what others are writing c) write one blog and call it a day.

    Jay has a great point that not everyone should blog, it’s not for everyone. It’s really for people who a) get what blogging is about b) actually likes to write c) have no problem voicing their opinions about issues/questions/etc. After all, there are gazillion blogs out there, only the ones that have great contents stay.

    A lot of real estate professionals also feel that you require a lot of tech knowledge to blog. I am a professional stager and we are even less tech savvy than real estate agents. I can count the people who blog consistently on their company site/or outside blog (Active Rain doesn’t count) on 1 hand. Even when I talk about having a website, I see some stagers’ eyes rolling over.

    But the great thing about real estate community is that we continue to progress forward (even we are just slightly lagging behind) and it just takes a few individuals to start the trends!

    🙂

    Cheers,
    Cidny

  12. Barry Cunningham

    May 16, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I’m standing and applauding and holding a lighter up! Been saying this since day one and unfortunately not enough people seem to get it. You said it much more nicely so perhaps they will in this instance.

  13. Tom Vanderwell

    May 16, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Nick,

    Very well said. I’d love it if you could check out my site and give me your .02 worth. But let me tell you a little of what I’m working on doing with it (hopefully by June 1):
    1. The focus is going to be exclusively two things: 1) Current market news that impacts mortgage rates and 2) Other topics that I find might be helpful, insightful or educational to the agents and consumers who read it.

    2. I’m starting a separate page called https://straighttalkguestpost.blogspot.com that I’m going to open up to agents, insurance people, title people, appraisers, consumers, architects and anyone who has something they feel they’d like to say.

    3. A third page called https://houseoftheweek.blogspot.com is going to be an opportunity for sellers and agents to feature a house that meets two requirements: 1) It has to be for sale and 2) there has to be something “special” about it. It’s design, it’s landscaping, it’s history, or something….

    So, tell me what you think, I’m all ears (figuratively speaking).

    Thanks!

    Tom

  14. Jonathan Dalton

    May 16, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Dear Lord, I agree with Barry … I’m heading outside to check for snow. 🙂

  15. Benn Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I just had a T-shirt made that says “blame Nick.” Agents guilty of Nicks article can purchase these online.

  16. Barry Cunningham

    May 16, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Hey Jonathan,

    See what happens when you leave Bloodhound and take a different focus..oops..did I say that out loud?

  17. Eric- New Orleans Condos and Lofts

    May 16, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    I a way I am glad its harder to do than most agents think. Each of us are different and approach blogs in different ways. if your site has generated thousands of dollars in commissions you are going to be a better blogger and strive to be better because you know it works. Its hard to make $250,000 off your site.

  18. Jonathan Dalton

    May 17, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Barry … f*** it. I’m laughing too hard to put together a coherent response.

    But if you start singing kumbaya I’m going to kick your ass.

  19. Mariana

    May 17, 2008 at 8:34 am

    You are a web-elitist … but that is okay. We, as an industry, have multiple ways to get business and help people. Blogging is one of my favorite ways … but it is not for everyone.

    I talk about blogging when I teach InternetLeadGeneration classes for my company, but I only touch on it, and stress that it is NOT for everyone. If they don’t want/like to write, then that is a big sign that blogging may not be their cup of tea … Even the blog coaching that I am doing is aimed at weeding out the bloggers from the non-bloggers.

    Now, on a canned website note … I have an AA site that ranks #1 on Google for all kinds of SWEET terms. I dumped all the canned content and used blogging to get it there. So, there IS a place in the world for those sites. Just not a very BIG space.

    Blogging is an evolution for MANY businesses and events… Especially for real estate. I would like to think of it as a REVOLUTION … and maybe it is, a little bit. But with any evolution (or revolution) there will be a lot of commotion – both good and not-so-good until the dust settles and TRUE meanings of what is right/wrong acceptable/not acceptable cool/lame are more clearly defined.

    Nick, your “web-elitist” attitude is EXACTLY what we need to help create these definitions.

    … and PLEASE no kumbaya …

  20. Eric Blackwell

    May 17, 2008 at 11:31 am

    @Mariana- Exactly. As you and Jay have pointed out (and to jump in on Barry’s lighter comment). It’s the singer not the song. You can take any of the MAJOR standard templates and make them work-some easier than others. They look NOTHING like the off the rack model.

    Along the same analogy– Nick, I totally agree when it comes to content. Milli Vanilli just doesn’t cut it. It is not being an elitist to say the following:

    “Blogging is not for everyone. Be original. Have a unique take. Don’t write posts that suck.”

    How do you define a post that sucks? ask you wife or significant other to read it. They’ll tell you straight up. (grin)

  21. ines

    May 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I’ve always had a fear of falling into the “everybody’s doing it” trap – I’ve been known to do the total opposite and it’s always worked for me – this doesn’t mean I don’t learn from others of course.

    Now when it comes to blogging I have to tell you that now that I’ve been doing it for almost 2 years, it’s not easy at all. First to capture your personality on there, second to identify and capture your own audience, then to keep it fresh and exciting – It’s A LOT OF WORK!! It definitely is not for everyone, but people that are getting discouraged should stay with it to see if they can make it work.

    I am the biggest critic of my own stuff and very often look back at what I wrote on my blog and think OMG what in the world was I thinking? But we have to remember that to have a little fun is always acceptable. Now please feel free and cruise by Miamism and tear it to pieces……it’s what get’s my wheels turning to keep it exciting.

    …and Nick……again I offer my condolences.

  22. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Should every Realtor blog?

    No.

    Could anyone image what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging? Who would benefit? IMO the only ones that would benefit are those selling the blogging platforms.

  23. Scott P. Rogers

    May 17, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    >> Could anyone image what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging?

    So…..apparently a presentation during NAR mid-year referenced that 4% of Realtors are blogging. If membership is still around 1.3 million-ish, that would be 52,000 Realtor blogs. I can’t imagine what the web would look like with 1 million plus Realtors blogging — but I also am not sure if it seems like 52,000 are currently blogging!?

  24. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Scott I agree there aren’t 52,000 actively blogging agents. If the number is 10% of that (5k) I would be highly shocked, again actively blogging…not once or twice per month. Most agents that start blogs give up within a couple of months, they still own a blog but they aren’t blogging.

  25. Scott P. Rogers

    May 17, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Ken — I think it’s possible that 10% (5k) have started a blog. As far as once-twice a month — it has to be a relatively low number. Does anyone know if this data is available somewhere?

  26. Jeremy Hart

    May 17, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Scott and Ken – I’ve got to imagine that AR blogs play into that number somehow.

  27. Ken Smith

    May 17, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    But even including AR there aren’t that many truly active bloggers. Plus some of the many at AR aren’t even Realtors.

  28. Rich Jacobson

    May 18, 2008 at 12:57 am

    Yes, but there are real estate professionals – valued faces & talents who come to the transaction table and make things happen. And many of them are actively blogging….

    I would agree that the true number of those actively contributing quality content to their blogs is probably a lot lower than we think. That’s great news for us. There’s still yet time to capture your unique local market, and fill the vacuum before someone else does.

  29. Eric Blackwell

    May 18, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Rich- Spot on. That is great news for us.

    Blogging is labor intensive by DESIGN. It is Earned Media. I wrote about that over at BHB. That is not being elitist to say that…it is just noticing the fact that you can either buy media with money or with time. (or both…).

    While I moderate on a major real estate website forum, I find that blogging gives me a better chance to actively converse and connect with folks more easily. It is definitely easier to convey your personality (for better or worse-grin) via blogging. IMO.

  30. Scott P. Rogers

    May 18, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    >> Blogging is labor intensive by DESIGN. It is Earned Media. I wrote about that over at BHB. That is not being elitist to say that…it is just noticing the fact that you can either buy media with money or with time. (or both…).

    Very interesting insight — as I have talked to some other agents in my company about blogging I have always said “it’s free, it’s easy….” — but I guess I tend to forget about the time consuming nature of it because I enjoy doing it. There certainly is a trade off of time in order to blog — though it seems like my time (blogging) has a higher ROI right now than my media buys (print advertising, etc).

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Opinion Editorials

Basic tips on how to handle common (and ridiculous) interview questions

(EDITORIAL) There will always be off the wall questions in an interview, but what is the point of them? Do interviewers expect quick, honest, or deep and thought out answers?

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We’ve all been asked (or know of friends who have been) some ridiculous interview questions:

  • What type of fruit would you be in a smoothie and why?
  • If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is one item that you couldn’t live without?
  • Could you tell us a joke?

Sound familiar? You may have worried about stumbling in your response, but the reality is, you will receive questions in an interview that you may not know the answer to. Many of us sweat bullets preparing for interviews, trying to think through every possible scenario and every question we might be asked. Usually the hardest part about these questions is simply that you cannot prepare for them. So how do you approach questions like these?

First and foremost, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and do your best to answer them in the moment. Interviewers are not expecting you to know the answer to these question. Instead, they are literally looking to see how you handle yourself in a situation where you may not know the answer. Would you answer with the first thing that comes to mind? Would you ask for more information or resources? What is your thought process and justification for answering this question? Please know that how you answer this particular question is not usually a deal-breaker, but how you handle yourself can be.

Now, with more common questions, even though some can  still feel ridiculous, you have the opportunity to practice.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

They want to be able to see that you have confidence and know your strengths – but also that you are human and recognize where you may have areas of improvement, as well as self-awareness. This isn’t a trick question per se, but it is an important one to think through how you would answer this in a professional manner.

If you’re not feeling super confident or know how to answer the strength question, it may be worth asking your friends and family what they think. What areas of business or life do they feel comfortable coming to ask you about? Were there subjects in school or work projects that you picked up really quickly? This may help identify some strengths (and they can be general like communication or project management.) One great way to delve in to your strengths is to take the CliftonStrengths Test.

“Your CliftonStrengths themes are your talent DNA. They explain the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave.” It gives you your top 5 strengths (unique to you), as well as a detailed report on how those work together and amongst groups. Per the research from Gallup, they say time is better spent on growing your strengths than trying to overcome your weaknesses.

The thing with the “What is your weakness?” question is that you cannot say things like “I really cannot get up in the morning!” or “I absolutely hate small talk!” – even though those may be true for you. They are looking for a more thoughtful answer demonstrating your self-awareness and desire to grow and learn.

They know you’re human, but the interviewer is looking for what you’re doing to address your weakness. An example of a response may be, “I have struggled with advanced formulas in Excel, but have made sure to attend regular workshops and seek out opportunities to practice more functionality so that I can improve in this area”. Another example might be, “I have a very direct type of communication style and I have learned that sometimes, I need to let the other person share and speak more before I jump to a decision.” Many times you can also find some great insights in self-assessment tests too (like DISC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram for examples).

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

Let’s be real. Companies want people that want to work there. They want you to be interested in their products/service because that usually means you will be a happier employee. You should be able to answer this question by doing some company research, (if any) drawing from your personal experience with the company, or getting “insider insight” from a friend or colleague who works there and can help you understand more about what it’s like to be employed by that company.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

All companies have goals and plans to make progress. They ask this question to see if you, a potential future employee, will have goals that align with theirs. Jokingly, we are all curious about how people answered this question back in 2015…but in all seriousness, it is worth asking yourself and thinking through how this company or role aligns with your future goals. This question is similar to the weaknesses question in that you still have to remain professional. You don’t want to tell them that you want to work there so you can learn the ins/outs to then go start your own (competitive) company.

Take a few minutes to think about what excites you about this job, how you can grow and learn there, and maybe one piece of personal (hope to adopt a dog, travel to India, buy a home) but it doesn’t have to be anything super committal.

When it comes to behavioral interview questions, these are also much easier to prepare for. You can take out your resume, review your experience, and write out 3 examples for the following scenarios:

    • Handled a difficult person or situation
    • Decided steps (or pulled together resources) to figure out a problem/solution that was new to your team or organization
    • Brought a new idea to the table, saved expenses and/or brought in revenue – basically how you made a positive impact on the organization

These are very common questions you’ll find in an interview, and while interviewers may not ask you exactly those questions verbatim, if you have thought through a few scenarios, you will be better conditioned to recall and share examples (also looking at your resume can trigger your memory). Bring these notes with you to the interview if that makes you feel more comfortable (just don’t bring them and read them out loud – use it as a refresher before the interview starts).

Practicing is the best way to prepare, but there’s always a chance that you’ll get a question you might not know the answer to. Do your research and consider asking friends (or family) about how they’ve handled being in a similar situation. Ultimately,  you have to trust yourselves that you will be able to rise to the occasion and answer to the best of your ability, in a professional manner.

Whatever you do, please also have questions prepared for your interviewers. This is a great opportunity to help you decide if this is a right fit for you (projects, growth opportunity, team dynamics, management styles, location/travel, what they do for the company/what are they proud of/how did they choose to work here). Never waste it with “Nope, I’m good” as that can leave a bad final impression.

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Opinion Editorials

Be yourself, or be Batman? A simple trick to boost your self-confidence

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “If you can’t be yourself, be Batman.” We’ve heard it before, but is there a way that this mentality can actually give you self-confidence?

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Batman symbol has long been a way to boost self-confidence.

The joke with scary movies is that the characters do stupid things, and so you scream at them. No you dumdums, don’t go FURTHER into the murder circus. Put down the glowing idol of cursed soda gods and their machine gun tempers. Stop it with the zombie dogs. STOP IT WITH THE — WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?

We do this as the audience because we’re removed from the scene. We’re observing, birds eye view imbued ducklings, on our couches, and with our snacks. Weird trick for horror movies to play — makes us feel smart, because we’re not the ones on meat hooks.

But if a zombie crashed through our window, like RIGHT NOW, the first thing we’re going to do doesn’t matter, because that thing is going to be stupid. So so stupid. You can’t believe how stupid you’ll act. Like, “I can’t leave behind my DONUT” stupid, as a zombie chomps your arm that was reaching for a bear claw you weren’t even really enjoying to begin with. “Oh no my DOCUMENTS I can’t leave without my DOCUMENTS.”

There’s a layer of distinction between those two instances — removed versus immersed. And really, this colors a lot of our life. Maybe all of our life. (Spoiler: It is all of our life.)

It’s Imposter Syndrome in overdrive — the crippling thought that you’re going to fail and be found out. And you tell yourself that all the little missteps and mistakes and mis…jumps are entirely your fault. Feedback loops reiterates, and then you get paralyzed. And man, what a time to be alive — what with the world on fire — to start up a self-deprecation engine shame machine. No way our self-confidence is suffering now, right?

The point is: You — as a being — experiencing things first hand is the perfect time to see your shortcomings. You can’t help but do it. You are living in your skeleton meat mecha human suit, and all the electronics in your head strangely remember all the times you struggled. And weirdly, if you look at someone else in the exact same situation you were just in, you suddenly have this powerful insight and awareness. It happens naturally. It’s why you think I would never head on down to the basement in a creepy mansion. Watch any cooking competition show to see this in action. Armchair quarterbacks, hindsight 2020. It’s all the same.

But when it’s just you and you’re doing things in real time? You lose focus, you stumble, and you wonder why it’s suddenly so hard to make rice, or why you fell for the really obvious fake punt.

So where does that leave you? How do you solve this problem? There are ways. But the journey is arduous and hectic and scary and difficult. Time tempers your soul over and over, you harden in ways that build you up, and you become better. The process is ages old.

I bet you’d like at least… I dunno, there’s gotta be a small trick, right? Life has secrets. Secrets exist. Secrets are a thing. Let’s talk about one to boost your self-confidence.

Stop seeing things in first person, and instead, talk to yourself in the third person. Yes, just like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t say, “I need to finish the project today.” Say “Bob needs to finish the project today.” If your name is Bob, I mean. Substitute in your name. In effect, you are distancing yourself from the situation at hand, as you begin to view it from outside yourself.

Studies have shown that doing this causes a fascinating side effect — an odd insulating barrier that can give someone just enough distance from the problem at hand, which in turn lets someone more calmly examine the situation. Once that is achieved, a plan can be written and executed with great results.

There’s some research demonstrating this concept, and as truly crazy as it sounds, marked improvement in behavior has been measured when participants are told to think of themselves as a different person. It’s like the “fake it ’til you make it” principle — suddenly you’re sort of cheering on this other person, because you want them to succeed. It’s just that in this case, the other person is still you.

I’ve heard the concept also said that “your current self can give your future self an easier life if you work hard now.” It seems like distancing functions on that wavelength — that by thinking you are supporting some other entity (and even when that entity is still you), some empathetic mechanisms spring into play, and your natural desire to see success rebounds back onto yourself. This is you eating your cake, yet something still having cake.

So that’s magic in and of itself, right? I want you to try it. Don’t think in terms of what you have to do, but what you watching yourself will do. All these fun tiny benefits concurrently happen — encouragement, pressure removal, controlled thought, drive, momentum, and motivation. It’s all there — a trail mix built out of emotions and psychological buffs. And they’ll all fire off at once and you’ll start noticing how much better you feel.

Here’s the best part — we can take this further. At least two different studies have shown with children that thinking of an alter ego and then distancing creates even stronger outcomes. Now we’re not just hyping ourselves up — we’re hyping up an impressive figure. Batman is already taking down jerks. So what if you say you are the night and combine that with self removal? Even in children, the conclusion was fascinating. When they were given a menial task to complete, those who were told to believe they were Batman had an improvement of 23% in focus and productivity over a group who was given no directive. Even without the consequences of adult life and its inherent complexities, children naturally showcased that they work harder if they undergo an alter ego transformation. Now you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for Batman himself.

“But that’s just children.” Ok, well, it works in adults too. Beyoncé and Adele would psych themselves up by creating onstage personas that were confident, successful, fearless versions of themselves. It’s an act within an act, with a performer further elevating themselves away from reality through the substitution of a personality built and engineered for success. Set aside that these are powerful, fierce, intimidating entertainers in their own right; the focus here is that they also used this mental trick, and it worked.

(There’s an aside here that I think is worth mentioning — in the midst of performing to a crowd, you are 100% in control, and I think this simple realization would help scores of people with their fear of public speaking; a concept to write about another day.)

Distilled down: If you think you’re a hero, you’ll act like one. Easier said than done, but give it a try by taking yourself out of the equation, even if for a moment. You’re not changing who you are so much as you are discovering the pieces of innate power you already had. You aren’t erasing yourself — you’re finding the hidden strength that’s already there. Having a way to kickstart this is perfectly fine.

The ultimate goal with all of this is to build the discipline that lets you begin to automatically engage this mode of heightened ability – that you’ll naturally adopt the good parts into life without the need for ramping up. Armed with that, you’re unstoppable.

Life — as a series of interactions and decisions — can be gamed, to a degree, with tiny and small shifts in perspective. Dropping a surrogate for yourself gives you enough room to have the chance to take everything in, and augmenting this concept further with the thought of having an alter ago creates even wilder possibilities. Psychologists are finding that this sidestep phenomenon can potentially help in different areas — improved physical health, learning how to better handle stress, emotional control, mastering anxiety, and a host of others.

So put on a mask, and then put on a whole new self. It’s almost Halloween anyway.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t forget about essential workers in a post-COVID world (be kind)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) As the world reopens, essential workers deserve even more of our respect and care, remembering that their breaks have been few and far between.

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Tired essential workers wearing an apron leans against the doorframe of a cafe, eyes closed.

Anxiety about returning to work post-COVID-19 is real. Alison Green, of Ask A Manager, believes “much of that stems from a break in trust in the people and institutions that have shown they can’t be counted on to protect us.” Green also goes on to remind us that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of returning to the workplace – the essential workers who never left the workplace. The grocery store clerks, janitors, garbage collectors, and healthcare providers, just to name a few. As the country reopens, we have to be more sensitive to these essential workers, who often are left out of the discussion about safety, work norms, and benefits.

Essential workers got lip service during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, the essential workers were hailed as heroes. We appreciated the grocery store workers who tried to keep the shelves stocked with toilet paper. We thanked the healthcare workers who kept working to keep people healthy and to take care of our elderly. I remember being more appreciative of the person who delivered my mail and the guy who came and picked up the trash each week. Now that the pandemic has been with us for more than a year, these workers are still doing their jobs, just maybe not so tirelessly.

Some of these workers don’t have sick days, let alone vacation days for self-care, but they are still making it possible for their community to function while being treated with less than respect. They’ve weathered the pandemic while working in public, worrying about getting sick, dealing with the public who threw tantrums for policies beyond their control, and managing their health while employers didn’t enforce safety measures. I’d hazard a guess that most of the C-level executives didn’t bring in any of their essential employees when writing new policies under COVID-19.

Bring essential workers into the conversation

In many cases, it has been the workers with the least who are risking the most. In Oklahoma, even though Gov. Stitt deemed many industries as essential, those same workers had to wait until Phase 3 to get their vaccine. Please note that elected officials and government leaders were eligible under Phase 2 to get their vaccine. Society pays lip service to the essential workers, but in reality, these jobs are typically low paying jobs that must be done, pandemic or not. In my small rural town, a local sheriff’s deputy contracted COVID-19. The community came together in fundraising efforts to pay his bills. It’s sad that a man who served the community did not have enough insurance to cover his illness.

As your office opens up and you talk to employees who are concerned about coming back to the office, don’t forget about the ones who have been there the entire time. Give your essential workers a voice. Treat their anxiety as real. Don’t pay lip service to their “heroism” without backing it up with some real change. As offices open up to a new normal, we can’t forget about the essential workers who did the jobs that kept society going.

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