The Story Economy Blog

Are You Still Waiting to be Picked?

As a kid, I couldn’t hit, throw, kick, catch, or volley, and I didn’t understand how anyone ever knew what to do with the ball on a giant field or court where everyone is running. (I was a gymnast, so I knew exactly how to move my own body in space; I just didn’t understand how to relate to moving objects whizzing by me in space.) Hence, I was always the last one picked for any teams in gym class.

Everybody has a “not being picked” story from childhood; it’s a rite of passage. But too many of us keep waiting to be picked long into adulthood. We even build careers around waiting to be picked by people like publishers, managers, clients, editors, agents, and scouts. We wait to be noticed, promoted, appreciated, applauded, rewarded, and led to the next big thing.

I spent 10 years actively trying to be picked by magazine editors. I sent thousands of emails, hundreds of pitches, and idea after idea after idea. I sold my book, Sew Retro, and the whole first part of the process involved waiting to be picked by a publisher. It’s not a terrible process, because I learned how to up my chances of being picked by sending better ideas and delivering better work. I became a better writer because I had to compete to be picked.

But the “please pick me” model is limited. In fact, it’s all about creating scarcity (“we can only pick a certain amount of people and pay them a certain amount of money”). This hit home for me when I listened to a chat a few weeks ago between Seth Godin and Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta (I’m still exploring his site, but I think Leo is my newest professional crush). Godin talks about the publishing industry, and about how the smartest way forward is to stop waiting to be picked, and instead to grow your tribe and build things (books, eBooks, videos, products) that connect with them directly.

If that wasn’t enough, I heard the message again that same week when I was discussing web site copy for a new client of mine. She’s a financial coach, and told me that one of the reasons she left corporate America to go out on her own is that she saw how corporate life was built around this idea of waiting to be picked. She saw people give huge chunks of their career to a corporation, sure that they would be picked for the promotion and the glory. And instead, they got downsized. They had no control over their own destinies in that environment, and she didn’t want the same thing to happen to her.

It’s no coincidence that I heard this message twice in the same week from people in completely different industries. (And if this is something you’ve been thinking about for a while, and today you decided to open my newsletter and read this, that’s not a coincidence either.)

You Choose First

I know your business brain is saying, “Okay, yeah, maybe I am tired of waiting to be picked. But it’s just not that simple, Judi, because in my business, clients still have to choose to work with me.” Hey, guess what? Mine too. But the way you stop waiting to be chosen is that you choose first.You choose first by creating the thing that is so great, so different, so compelling, so fun, so weird, so nostalgic, or so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s the only thing that makes sense for your people.

You’ve eliminated most of the people in the world in choosing your tribe, and now you get to work with the ones who really want to work with you. Their choosing you is just a by-product of what you’ve created. It’s step two. Step one is that you choose them. You choose them by what you put out there.

I can’t say that I’ll never wait to be picked again, because sometimes it’s fun to throw proposals out there and see what happens. But I realize that it’s not my M.O. anymore, and that realization has led me to a whole new phase of business planning and things I want to offer my own tribe.

I have my list of what I’m going to create for you (you’ll hear a lot more about it in coming months). What can you start creating for your people? How can you be your own team captain, publisher, CEO, or production company? How can you pick yourself?

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  • Ellen Norcott

    Posted by Ellen Norcott on 01/04/12 9:47pm

    Another great message!

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