There’s Always a Scoreboard

Competition is a hard thing. Too much competition without compassion and you end up with a vicious ‘win at all costs’ mindset. Too little competition and no focus and you miss out on opportunities to excel. I googled “is competition good” and got pages of articles on the subject. I’ll be honest, I didn’t look at any of them.

It doesn’t matter if it’s good — it just is. Like gravity.

Last night I was hanging out with family, sharing how I got two ‘good mom’ points for having a great frisbee toss with my son. (That probably sounds lame, but I’m pretty inactive on vacation and putting myself in motion was a big deal. And it was an even bigger deal that we had fun, and neither of us took it too seriously.) Anyway, my brother-in-law said, “You’re keeping score?” And I said, “There’s always a scoreboard.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, two things happened. First, I felt awful for saying it and second, I decided to write a post about it.

The reason it felt awful is because so often competition is about doing better than someone else.

  • I ran faster than they did
  • I answered more questions right than he did
  • I sold more boxes of cookies than she did.

It’s all me versus you, us versus them. And the next mental step is that doing better means being better. Like somehow a point in time result in an isolated activity equates to a person’s overall value. You know, I managed to have a bit of fun active time with my son therefor I’m a better mom than a mom somewhere who didn’t have the energy to get off the couch. Therefor I am a worse mom than a mom who went with her son on a 10-mile bike ride.

Which is crap.

The reality is that I did something that I’ve been trying to do more. However, tallying a couple of points in my mom column didn’t mean I pulled ahead of Sally Jones in Peoria (currently sitting at 3rd in her region due to a disappointing Sunday dinner), it just meant that I could feel good for a moment. And, I could bank those points, mentally at least, for the next 12 hour workday when my family has to eat Chipotle without me.

I love the Harry Potter books. It’s no surprise that my favorite character is Hermione: she is unapologetic about her smarts, she comes up with great ideas, and she isn’t afraid to get stuff done. But perhaps my favorite part of the overall universe is the battle for the House Cup. “Five points of Griffendor” makes me smile, every single time I hear it. Yeah, sometimes you have to save the world to get points, but most times you just have to work hard, apply yourself, and support your team. I find myself saying it all the time when I see small wins and everybody knows what I mean.

What does your scoreboard look like? If it’s lower than you would like, today is a great day to give yourself some points. And if you’re struggling with it, here’s something…

Five points for Griffendor, just for reading this post.

Building Your Brand

At dinner recently, I was chatting with the kids about going to a movie. The teenage girls (my daughter and her friend) were giggling over a rated R movie starring some good looking men. I commented that there was no way we could see that because, “Your mom would never forgive me.” They assured me that I could simply tell her mom that we saw something more acceptable. Then a sigh went around the table, “She would never do that, she doesn’t lie.”

And that is what brand looks like, an instanteous certainty of who someone is and how they will act.

When I was studying branding basics in grad school, I didn’t think of it beyond its business applications. We talked about the research on brand recognition, we discussed the Tylenol scare and Johnson & Johnson’s response, and we did case study after case study on some of the strongest brands in the world. It was easy to see how important a company’s or product’s brand was to its success. I just didn’t realize until later that the concept of personal reputation is too simple — that looking at oneself as a brand is much more inclusive.

I spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about my brand. Like in business, at the end of the day that is all you really have. You can lose your possessions, your job and your looks, but the way you have acted and the impact you’ve had on others leaves an indelible aura in the world. Your brand creates a spontaneous reaction when someone hears your name. Brand is why people join communities and companies, or why they leave.

And yet there is no “good” brand — some people like Starbucks, some like McDonalds — what matters is consistency. Knowing that day after day, week after week, year after year you will get what you expect. The individuals who have the strongest brands are those who don’t shy away from who they are and how they act. Love them or hate them, their brand roars through and refuses to be compromised.

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to rebrand myself. I picked a college so far away from where I grew up that there wouldn’t be a hint of the vapor trail I had created in my first 18 years. I set about creating new experiences with a new group of people. I started over with a white piece of paper. And a funny thing happened, the same brand re-emerged. So, I stopped thinking my brand sucked and leaned into it.

It’s a lot more fun that way. Trust me.

Retirement of the Accidental Blogger

This morning, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I googled “Accidental Blogger” — I’ve had a whopping 87 visitors so far, and I wondered if someone could find it without being my friend on Facebook. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there were no fewer than five blogs listed, none of which were this one. Hmmm, my idea wasn’t very original.

Throughout the day, I put some backup cycles into thinking about a new name. One that is cool enough to be memorable but unique enough that it wasn’t already taken. That’s a stretch given the fact that Tumblr alone had 227 million blogs as of April. Anything I could think of was even less original than my initial attempt. It seemed hopeless.

And then I remembered an interaction I had with a good friend during my college years. After a late night chat fest, hours spent debating God knows what, it was time to call it a night. She looked at me as I walked out of her room and said, “I love you, but you know there is such a thing as too much Mel.”

At the time, I was still young enough that the statement hurt. My view of friendship was binary — great friend or not friend. I wasn’t capable of seeing that relationships have limits and that healthy relationships are honest about those limits. All I saw was that one of my newest and best friends thought that I was annoying or obnoxious or boorish or…something, but nothing good. I went back to my room and tried to figure out what I needed to change.

Of course I didn’t need to change anything. There wasn’t anything wrong with me then, just like there isn’t anything wrong with me now. She was exactly right that having a strong, hyper-energized, always on personality can be a bit much to take, especially for people who prefer quiet and solitude. Now, I can see the gift in her simple statement. I understand what ‘too much Mel’ looks like, and I can (and do) ratchet it back when needed.

I googled it, and guess what? No one else is calling their blog “Too Much Mel.”

Sold.