The Story Economy Blog

My Dry Erase Board is Sending Me Messages

For years, I neatly printed my list of deadlines on the tiny orange dry erase board that hangs above my desk. It was a checklist-at-a-glance. (I love lists.) But earlier this year, I realized something: I already had a day planner that detailed out my daily lists and weekly deadlines. Why was I sacrificing such a valuable piece of office real estate to redundancy? Sure, it was only a dry erase board, but it was in my field of vision every minute that I spent sitting at my computer working. Couldn’t I do something better with this?

I decided I’d use it to write down inspirational quotes and ideas. This is what inspires people, right? Lovely sayings about the loveliness of life that fuel our creative juices.

So I’m not sure why the first thing I wrote down was, “I’m tired of being treated like crap.” (Actually, correction: I didn’t write that. I wrote something like that, but with a lot of expletives.) I haven’t done a thorough market survey or anything, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever put this on one of those Success posters. Still, it’s what came out of my brain, and it felt powerful to see it there.Yes, I’m tired of being treated like crap!Hey wait, that means thatI shouldn’t take on projects that involve me being treated like crap! When an assignment or client request landed in my inbox, I could ask myself: does this involve me being treated like crap?

After a few months, I felt ready for a new mantra. So I erased it, and thought for a minute. Here is what came out: “I think I might be a team player.” This was a curious thing for me to write, since I had always enjoyed telling people that under no circumstances was I a team player. Teams were stifling and annoying, I would say, and I preferred to do my own thing. But without knowing it, throughout the year I had been forming teams and collaborating and it was crazy awesome. Putting out there—in writing—that I was a team player was like sending magnetic energy into dry erase board land. It sent a series of team-oriented projects back to me.

For the past few months, my saying has been: “Focus on the joy.” It’s appropriate, now that we are in the season of joy. But I’m not talking about manufactured, twinkly-light joy (well, except for the picture above of my JOY display in my living room, because it’s just pretty). But seriously, I mean joy. Real joy.The joy of an idea that comes to me when I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and I can’t stop thinking about it until I write it down. The joy of finding the exact right word, telling the story that changes someone’s life, or learning a story that changes my own. It’s the joy of good work, happy bank accounts, deadlines I care about, and day planners that I want to open because I can’t wait to start. It’s the joy of moving from A to Z, and not being freaked out by the 24 steps in between.

Focusing on the joy doesn’t make every moment joyful, but it helps me recognize the ones that are (like writing this newsletter). Last night, in fact, when I sat down to write this newsletter, I had a much different topic in mind. But it wasn’t working. At all. So I glanced up and saw it: Focus on the joy, Judi. Ah, thank you, dry erase board guardian angel.

Stop Borrowing Mantras That Don’t Work

Mantras are such a simple concept: little pieces of positive self-talk that calm, energize, and center us. They help keep us focused and even push out negative self-talk. But it’s funny how we screw them up all of the time. I’ve actually written about the psychology of this, and it’s fascinating. When it comes to exercise, we hear mantras from pop culture and advertising, like “no pain, no gain” or “pain is weakness leaving the body,” and we think they are brilliant because they are tried and true. But they’re not. They’re terrible (those are), and as manufactured as twinkly light joy and Success posters. They don’t work because they have nothing to do with us. They don’t come from a place of what we need. Do you seriously need self-talk that keeps you in pain?

The same is true of business-type mantras. Lots of things can inspire you, but the best mantras are usually the ones that randomly pop out of your head and take you by surprise. Capture those. It’s not just that they might lay a foundation for your brand and your messaging, it’s that they might also change your behavior and guide you to making a different decision at some key point in your life. One day, I wrote down that I was tired of being treated like crap, and then a series of things happened based on that.

I don’t know what my mantra will be come January 1, but I already know it will feel completely random and surprising right up until the minute I write it down and greet it. Then, it will be exactly what I need.


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