“Quiet people have the loudest minds”, Stephen Hawking once said.
I’m a creative introvert by nature. As a comms strategist, I’ve always been happier working quietly on my own or in an intimate team of like-minded souls. The only extrovert thing about me are my thoughts and ideas; but for years I was frightened to share them in public.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to. As an ad agency planner, the firm showcased my work to clients and at award festivals. As a freelancer, I received a modest but steady stream of referrals via word of mouth, and repeat business from existing clients. I never needed to do much marketing or self-promotion, and I was all the happier for it.
But the honeymoon ended in the dying embers of Covid-stricken 2020.
The year had started well, with a number of plumb projects that saw me through the spring before gigs started to dry up in the summer. By September, for the first time in my freelance career, I had no incoming and an empty pipeline. With a family of five to support, I felt I was in dire straits and began to panic. Anxiety and despondency followed, coordinating their insidious assault on my mind.
To help me out of the doldrums, my wife suggested I start writing. She knew I enjoyed it and thought it would be therapeutic. At the very least it might make me feel more productive. Anything was better than wallowing in self pity on the sofa.
Luckily I took her advice. I quickly penned five short pieces about the first things that came into my head. I liked what I wrote. It was very me. But it stayed in my laptop.
A couple of days later I was speaking to a friend who’s very active on LinkedIn. I told him about my predicament and deep aversion to self-promotion. I was seeing too many self-proclaimed gurus humble-bragging on the network about their alleged success and it wasn’t my thing.
He asked to see the pieces I had written. To my surprise, he really liked them and suggested I post them, as is, on Linkedin.
“Are you out of your mind?!’ I replied. “I wrote these for myself, solely for my own amusement. No-one else would be interested.” “Not at all. This stuff is great!” he replied. “You should post something daily for a month and see what happens. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Unpleasantly mortified you mean! I retorted silently. For the love of G-d, expose my innermost thoughts and feelings to a million strangers on LinkedIn?! Just thinking about it made me nauseous. I felt the same wave of anxiety rising from my bowels I had experienced a hundred times before. Specifically, every time I had to present advertising or brand strategy to a client. For one whose work is so inextricably tied to his identity and sense of self-worth, the cost of failure was simply unconscionable.
Authentic self-expression terrified me so, but it laid bare the things I hold most precious. My mind, my soul, my cognitive prowess, my ability to serve up the magical confection that is creativity in the service of commerce, good causes and positive change. As an agency employee you have no choice but to push through the terror on a weekly basis because it’s your job, but to willingly put yourself out there is to peer into the void. Not to do so, however, is a capitulation to it.
So I accepted my friend’s 30-day LinkedIn challenge. And from the next day on, for three-and-a-half months, I published a short piece each morning at 8 am sharp.
What did I write about? Whatever thoughts and ideas, observations and musings were percolating in my mind at the time. Some posts were cerebral, others acerbic and witty; most of them a tad irreverent. But they all had a point of view. My only brief to self was “be interesting, and interested”. Beyond that, I had no editorial policy to speak of. If I enjoyed reading what I had just written, I published. If others liked it too, that would be a nice bonus.
And did I love writing! I had no one to answer to but myself. Writing authentically and without inhibition felt liberating. My daily posts served as a safety valve opened each morning to relieve the overabundance of thoughts and ideas accumulating in my noggin. It was cathartic – and addictive.
With a small but growing coterie of like-minded readers came the dopamine hit of self-validation. Not for me the fleeting vanity metrics of likes and claps, but rather the discovery of a demimonde of bold, contrarian, irreverent thinkers and creators. After many years in effective hibernation, I had found my tribe.
This is the wonder of self-authenticity, and the joy of finding a medium through which you can express yourself, courageously and unapologetically. Wholly unintentionally, my writing became my personal brand strategy. And as a strategist driven above all by the search for truth, it was the most authentic brand I had to offer. Through my writing, readers – and later, clients – knew exactly what they were getting. Guy Unplugged.
It would be coy not to mention that the steady stream of posts also generated much-welcomed business returns. Gigs and job offers began trickling in after a few weeks, including the biggest strategy contract of my career, and a month later, a DM from a manager at Amazon Web Services inviting me to apply to the newly-created role of Storyteller, the first in the company’s history. (I applied, survived the notorious ‘Loop’ interview hazing, and got the job.)
My takeaway from all of this is simple. Writing has enabled me to find my true voice. It’s given me the confidence I needed to share my innermost thoughts and ideas in public, to truly embrace my authentic self, warts-and-all. It has kept at bay the Imposter Syndrome that has dogged my professional career from the get-go, and imbued me with newfound respect for others baring their vulnerability. No less importantly, writing continues to be a constant source of meaning and joy in my every day.