I never had ‘a project’ before I came to London.
Ok, I had things I stood for, loved and was dedicated to, but they were other people’s things that I supported. I had always felt the need to support other people’s projects. It’s a desire for relevancy, a need to belong, I guess.
I never thought I’d speak in public (those times they tried to get me to lecture in the temple don’t count, ok.) I started shaking and sweating every time I stood up and asked a speaker a question. We didn’t do debates in school – back in Germany, education was full of facts and very, very thorough, but not exactly made to give anyone confidence.
It’s a class thing, I guess – the higher up in society you get, the more confidence you get pumped into you by your school. Not necessarily more substance though. Think Boris Johnson.
So when did I start talking about anything I might contribute? I guess when I had done my first social media project and done it well, judging from the results. I hadn’t set out to doing anything differently from everyone else, or even to create some kind of unique niche for myself. It was a progression from ‘oh yay social media’ to ‘oh wait my assumptions are wrong’ to ‘oh, but those other social media projects don’t do what mine did and cost a lot more’ to ‘ok this is what I did, it might also be useful for other organisations.’
When I started speaking up, I didn’t really have any kind of career plan. The fact was just that I had done a thing and it had worked. Of course the thing wasn’t perfect – that’s a post for later this month – but I had started it, grown it, handed it over and it was still going. Because that’s what I thought social media projects would look like. This was in 2009, of course, before there was this huge massive industry.
And then, my ‘project’ evolved from a vague ‘wow, social media, I can help, let me help’ over many months and years of not feeling relevant because others would always speak louder, to ‘don’t let anyone else be your voice online’ to ‘Speak for Yourself’ which then became my ‘brand’.
And finally, last year, after months of public speaking course, lots of conversations, some coaching sessions and some encouragement, oh, and writing a book, my good friend Neil Usher invited me to actually speak on a stage.
My central message was ‘I get it, it’s hard, but don’t be silly, don’t let someone else handle your online voice’.
Of course because I didn’t have a gimmick, it was ignored, but at least I didn’t make a total fool out of myself.
Now I wouldn’t do that talk any more, and I’ve been winding down the ‘Speak for Yourself’ identity, because it’s not about that any more. Plus, Twitter has really become a terrible, terrible place, and I can’t confidently say any more that you’ll be fine if you just do what I tell you.
I have a new ‘thing’, about how we deal with the need to give much more of ourselves to our work, about we recover from having given it all once things end – as they all do -, and what this is going to mean for our mental health in the long run. I’m working on creating spaces to have conversations about standing for something, while questioning convictions, because we are always wiser than when we adopted them. For being less certain than when we decided that that thing was worth standing for. For being better at and more conscious of the need for recovery, now that we don’t work nine to five any more and recover in the weekends.
It’s still in the early stages but if you want to be kept informed of that thing, please sign up here.