The Story Economy Blog

The Pontiac, The Lexus, and Me

the bug and familyMy youth was filled with crappy cars. Or, more accurately: stories about crappy cars. By the early 1960s (a good 10 years before I came along), my parents had four kids crammed into that very Volkswagen Beetle you see pictured here. My oldest brother (the one sporting the hat) likes to talk about how there was no heat and no defrost, and they would all be freezing, and my dad would drive with one hand on the wheel and the other trying to scrape the windshield.

Of course, the VW was gone long before I was born. I have vague memories of a station wagon (10 of us packed in for a vacation to Florida when I was two), and somewhat clearer memories of a light blue Pontiac that loved to stall, right as my mom was backing out of the driveway. There was a Dodge Dart the size of Minnesota in there as well. At some point—probably around my middle school years—the cars got a little better. But they never approached luxury. Even after my dad retired and could have afforded a little luxury, he opted for a series of Ford Tauruses.

These stories were galloping in and out of my mind at the Lexus dealership on Saturday. It’s possible that ghosts of the past were with me because my husband still thinks it’s 1979, and that buying a car is not much different than the movie American Hustle. “Alright, now it starts,” he kept saying each time our sales person left the room to check something (to my knowledge, whatever it was he was talking about never started).

I kept reaching for my dad’s dog tags around my neck, clinking them together the way I like to do when I’m thinking about him, and pondering if having a luxury car could possibly be in my DNA. I didn’t want to lose the idea that I am who I am in part because that stupid Pontiac kept stalling.

But who I am now doesn’t want to be a Pontiac that stalls at the end of the driveway. It wants to be a Lexus.

Trading in the Corolla

I used to judge people who gravitated toward luxury cars. What, you think you’re better than everyone else? You need to drive that thing around to prove something? Actually, let me revise that: I didn’t judge obviously rich people, because they were just doing what was expected of super rich people (and I’m sure I was judging them at some other level for something else). My luxury car judgment was reserved for the next rung up from me: people who didn’t seem that different from me, but made more money and managed to crack some invisible barrier I decided must exist.

A few years ago, I realized that was, you know, stupid. But not for noble reasons like wanting to be a better, less judgmental person.

It was because I had started to think much more closely about my own brand—and how I wanted clients to regard my services. Clearly, I didn’t want to be an unreliable clunker, unable to make it out of the driveway when it was most needed! But I also wasn’t branding myself as a reliable Toyota Corolla anymore. I started out as that person, writing for very modest fees for my local newspapers, not even knowing what I didn’t know. That was a fantastic way to start, and I am so grateful for it, and for every editor who took me under their wing. I learned how to be reliable. How to get the job done. How to get from point A to point B with relative ease. That could be a terrific brand, right there.

It’s just not how I see myself anymore. I have so much more to offer now.

I’m definitely not the least expensive copywriter. If you just need copy to fill a space, you don’t want me. If you just want someone to edit and fix your typos, you don’t want me. If you just want content churned out, recycled information that isn’t wrong or scandalous, but isn’t moving anyone to some higher plane of thinking, you don’t want me.

At least half of the people who contact me don’t actually want me, and I either wind up telling them that or we both mutually realize it and I don’t hear from them again. They need a Corolla. And I loved the crap out of my Corolla. When I bought it 11 years ago, it was what I needed. So I completely understand where they are.

But none of that is actually why I got a Lexus. It’s not about alignment with my brand, because I think that’s apples and oranges quite honestly. I got a Lexus because they are beautiful (but built from the reliable bones of Toyota!) and a little bit like spaceships inside. I got a Lexus simply because I wanted one, and was finally at a place where it wasn’t a disastrous financial decision.

All of the above meandering is just the story of how I stopped judging that want. Because people, judgment is pretty much at the root of 90 percent of the problems we have and fights we start and stupid decisions we make. And reasons for therapy. My god, the therapy!

Here is what I know: I want clients to want me in the way I wanted that Lexus, and never to judge themselves for hiring a better, more high-end writer, versus simply the one who can get the job done. Even if their business was built on opting for the one who could get the job done, it doesn’t mean it’s where they are now.

What you drive? It can matter as much or as little as you want. What I think matters is whether or not you’re at peace with why you want people to hire you—and if you would hire you. That’s all the alignment instruction you need (at least from me, the girl who grew up with the stalling Pontiac and now drives a Lexus).


  • Tony Baxter

    Posted by Tony Baxter on 02/18/15 4:57pm

    You have said it best. We are who we choose to be. We rode our rides on the way to where we are today. We do what we do because we can. My joy is increased because of your joy expressed. I am very proud to have been there to help you out of the crappie car cycle into a Lexus. Love the heart in your words.

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 02/18/15 7:04pm

      Thank you, Tony! And of course, I would recommend you in a heartbeat. Thank you for not being in 1979.

  • Dan Kommeth

    Posted by Dan Kommeth on 02/18/15 6:04pm

    Very true! I'm glad Tony was able to help you along your automobile journey. Good luck in your writing and let us know if we can ever be of assistance to you...

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 02/18/15 7:05pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Dan!

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