Bio: Maggie Patterson is a communications strategist who works with entrepreneurs and corporations  to help them craft intelligent communications strategies that boost the bottom line. With 15+ years experience, Maggie has worked with big brands and solopreneurs, and has run her own successful communications agency for nearly 10 years. She’s the host of the Marketing Moxie podcast and her work has been featured by, and The Huffington Post.

Show Notes:

The Storytelling Animal Book

How The World Sees You by Sally Hogshead

Story Distillery


Show +

Zephan: Zephan Blaxberg here with another episode of the Year of Purpose podcast, and today I have the great pleasure to introduce you to Maggie Patterson. Now Maggie is a communications strategist who works with entrepreneurs in corporations to help them craft intelligent communication strategies that boost the bottom line. With fifteen plus years in experience, Maggie has worked with big brands and solo-preneurs and has run her own successful communications agency for nearly ten years. She’s the host of the Marketing Moxie podcast and her work has been featured by,, and the Huffington post. Maggie, how are you doing today?

Maggie: I’m doing great! How are you doing?

Zephan: I’m doing super great. I’m happy that spring is getting very close. I know we were talking about how the weather’s getting up and down, but I see the sun is out right now and things are definitely getting warmer over here.

Maggie: Yeah, us too. I’m just hoping that this is it and there’s not some big like surprise snowstorm Easter weekend or something.

Zephan: Me too! So I wanted to bring you on the show today because one of the big things that you talk about is the art and science of stories and storytelling. And so, I think that this is a valuable piece of information, a valuable tool for pretty much everybody. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, I think that you connect with people on a deeper level if you’re able to tell your story the right way and to get your message across. So how about we just get started with tell me about the art and science of stories and why it’s so important in our everyday life?

Maggie: Here’s the thing. I mean, if we just look at it from a science perspective, I mean, I could probably have a twenty-part podcast series just talking about the science of podcast storytelling. But I think what we really need to know when we’re telling stories is that there’s an actual psychological reason our stories work. And that’s why when we hear a story, we kind of lean in. our body language changes. All of a sudden we’re more engaged. And you know what you’re out and you see two people sitting at the bar and they’re like totally magnetized cause they’re talking to each other? They’re telling stories. They’re not reciting facts.

You know, you look at story telling as this pattern. It’s a pattern that we are conditioned from birth to recognize. We learn numbers, we learn letters, we learn colors, shapes—stories are the exact same thing. You think back to all the years ago before we had verbal communication, we still used stories. You know, cave drawings? So when you actually tell a story, something different happens in the brain. When we talking in facts, two parts of the brain activates. When we talk in stories, and we share stories, multiple parts of the brain get in on the actions. And like you think about somebody’s talking to you about movement, all of a sudden your motor cortex is going. Someone’s talking about something happy, the part of your brain that processes—one of those receptors, I can’t keep them all straight. There’s too many! But something different and magical happens in the brain.

So when you use stories instead of facts and try to appeal to people’s logic, that’s what really gets them. And that’s why when you see really great compelling presentations or videos or TEDx Talks or whatever it is, they’re using a story. Because a story is what makes us human and everyone has something interesting to say even if we don’t think we actually do.

Zephan: So is this why—and this happens to me often times when I hear a story—is this why I can almost see it in my head verses if I’m just watching a power presentation of “first you to this, then you do that” and I’m just staring at the screen like “what is going on…”

Maggie: That’s totally it. And you know what’s really interesting is there’s this entire idea that when you hear a story, you make it a positive association, generally. And then that positive association, what it does is it—it like lodges in our brain. And then it becomes part of our imagination. And then eventually, if it’s been hanging out there long enough, it just becomes part of what we know. So we no longer have any objections to it. It’s like, all of a sudden it’s become factual information we use in our day to day lives. And if you can engage that verses like “53% of people say blah,” it makes a huge difference in how we remember it, how we recalled it, and how we actually connect with the person and associate with them.

Zephan: So you had a great example there of how we can use it with the 53% idea. What are some of the ways that we could take advantage of this, whether it’s meeting a random stranger in a store—cause maybe that talk turns into they become my client somehow—and so how can we kind of leverage this story telling factor to just increase all of our experiences—or at least benefit our experiences with other people?

Maggie: So, you know, in just kind of a day to day, going about your business, it’s gonna depend on your personality. Are you introverted? Are you extroverted? Are you someone who really loves to talk a lot? Are you someone who’s more guarded? But I always say to people there’s two things you can do. Number one is instead of just kind of reciting factual information, find a way to ground it in an experience you had. So like a lot of times, I’m a mom, so I will talk about something my son did. And that’s something very human, very relatable. You know, stepping on a Lego. You’re gonna remember “Oh, Maggie’s the girl who keeps stepping on Legos and she’s having this moments about Legos.”

Or, you know, quirky facts. People remember quirky facts. I’m Canadian, so I make fun a lot of the fact that maple syrup in our house is like a major commodity. I just got two new bottles yesterday! But I mean that—the fact that I love maple syrup, you’re gonna remember that more than “I really like—” You know, “This book was kind of awesome.” No, you’re gonna remember like the quirky different things that people always remember.

You want to make sure that those are real, genuine things. I mean, I really do genuinely love maple syrup. I genuinely love gardening. So those are things I talk about. So just bring through your personality a little bit. You don’t have to be so mechanical and guarded. And even if you work in a corporate position, you’re still allowed to have a personal life and a personality in that position.

Zephan: So the maple story—the maple syrup story is gonna work way better than the 53% story, most of the time. Or probably all the time.

Maggie: Unless you have like a robot person—in which case, you don’t want to hang out with them anyways.

Zephan: Right, right. So, how about his: the people who are great at talking in general—I’m somebody who will randomly say something to somebody in the store. Perfect stranger, I’ll joke about whatever, right. But some people are introverted, like you said. So how do we overcome that fear? Because, obviously, we’re missing out on something by not telling our story or not opening up to other people. What can we do if we are quieter most of the time?

Maggie: So this is something, like, I personally—I’m an INTJ, I get it. I’ve learned to be extroverted by necessity, because I chose a career in communications. So you can’t really be quiet or all those extroverts will take over. But I think—you know, you need to operate where you’re comfortable. So if you’re not someone who’s gonna turn over in Barnes & Noble and start talking to the person next to you, you don’t have to do that. But maybe you’re gonna find opportunities in small conversations, or small networking events, where you can have deeper, more intimate conversations that are gonna serve you better. I know for me, like, I personally—throwing me in a huge room, I’ll just totally shrink back. Whereas, I’m in a group of three or four people, where we can have a genuine dialogue, I know I’m gonna do a lot better. So try to line up opportunities for yourself where you can be successful and you are gonna be more comfortable.

And, you know, the other thing is, too, you have to just remember that it’s a skill, practicing. When I started doing any sort of public speaking, I used to be so nauseous and sweaty—like I almost failed my persuasion class in college because I couldn’t get it together to do my speeches. So, you know, it’s always gonna be an improvement, so just push yourself a little bit more. If you’ve never done something, don’t think you’re gonna be amazing the first time you do it. A lot of practice and building your confidence.

Zephan: Right. Taking small steps here are there. Maybe talking to people when you’re in a smaller group. That’s something that I get too. I can’t really go to a networking group of a hundred, hundred and fifty people and just walk up to a random strangers. Often times, I will actually do that. I’ll find the groups of three or four people that are standing around and I’ll just kind of stand there and look really lost, like a sad puppy, until somebody comes and is like “So what do you do? Who are you? Why are you just standing here watching us?” But it works out really well, so there are ways to take advantage of, you know, being in that big group scenario and opening up to a smaller group within that.

Along with telling a story, sometimes—so growing up, we learned to have a filter, right. Like you don’t just go out in public and say something crazy like “My kid wrote all over the wall today in permanent marker!” Like, you just don’t tell random people that. And perhaps there are other things that we want to tell people that we really shouldn’t. So how do we determine what needs to go into the story and what needs to stay out?

Maggie: So this really comes down to two things. Is listening. You need to really listen before you tell stories, and I think this is where someone who’s a little more on the introverted side has a definite advantage. Because you’re able to say “Oh, okay.” You’re able to take their information, make a better judgment call about information you should be telling a story about, what kind of information you should be sharing. The other thing I thing is, too, is really kind of trust your gut. Like if your gut is going “[gasp] I don’t know if I should say that…” maybe you shouldn’t. You should just really kind of get attuned.

And I see this a lot. I work a lot with online entrepreneurs, and it’s really in style right now to let all your dirty laundry hang out, and I’m like “Oh my gosh! No! I will never do business with you!” because you seem flaky or unreliable. So, you know, be authentic, be vulnerable, but be selective! Like, I don’t talk about like “Oh, on Thursday, I was crying.” Like…no one needs to know that! You don’t want to do business with a crying person, you want to do business with the person who has it together!

Zephan: Exactly. And so—I actually have a really good friend of mine right now who we’re working on actually writing out her story, because I feel like when she has spoken a few times, she leaves out certain details that I think could allow people to care more about it.

This was something that I hit when, uhm—when I was in college, I produced a feature film. This was something that probably my most proud accomplishment while I was in college. And there was this hundred and eighteen page script. It was written by a fraternity brother of mine, true story about his mother passing away. And I read it and I’m like “Wow! This is a really good story! But when I turn this into a movie, I don’t know if people are gonna sit there for two hours and say the same thing…” and we had to go back in a try to figure out how to alter it without embellishing what actually happened so that people cared about it.

So are there certain things within our stories that influence people to care more about what’s going on? Because you we saying a lot of different receptors in our heads fire off. Like for example, if I were to describe to you—I’m a rower. If I really started to describe what it’s like to be rowing in a boat, you’d probably understand this misty spray that comes up off the water and the smell of the harbor, because it’s kind of gross sometimes, and…you know, you could probably sense that in your mind. So how can we encourage people through our stories to see what’s going on for us?

Maggie: It’s—you know, it’s so hard. I think that—here’s the thing. As humans, we’re really, really inherently selfish. So there’s always kind of that little ticker that goes through the back of our head that goes “What’s in it for me?” So—and, you know, it’s a psychological principal of implicit egoism. So if you’re telling stories, you want to—people like people like them. So it comes back to what I was talking a few minutes ago, that common ground. So maybe I haven’t rode, but I used to play field hockey. And hey, maybe there’s a connect—oh hey! We’re gonna talk about the early morning practice!

I can identify with that story in some way, whereas, I think sometimes…the challenge is—if you have a really big story, like…it’s so hard sometimes for people to identify. Like, and I always talk about the rags to riches story, like… “I don’t have a rags to riches story, so I’m not gonna tell my story.” Or, “wow, that’s so outrageous. I can’t even being to understand that.” So I think you need to kind of parse your stories in a way where people can find that common ground with you and you are tapping into that like and like factor so that they can at least start there, before you drop them into the middle of the epic story where they’re like “…I don’t even know—” Like, you know, what you were talking about with your friend. They don’t even know what to do with that and you’ve all of a sudden made them uncomfortable. And when they’re uncomfortable, they start to recoil from you.

Zephan: So let’s not drop them in the eye of the storm just yet. Let’s kind of throw out some of the details and make sure, strategically, that they’re ones that people can start to relate to even if they’ve never been in that experience before, is that right?

Maggie: Yeah. Yeah, I would warm people up. There’s a reason—like in—and you know this from film. There’s a reason you don’t start with a battle in Star Wars with Darth Vader. Like, Luke does not meet Darth Vader in the first scene! You need to warm people up. So kind of think of that story, the angle’s gonna go up til we reach the exciting moment and then we’ll have the climax and the resolution. Don’t just start at the climax, you’re gonna mess people up.

Zephan: Right. It gets them too excited right off the bat, or not even excited because there was no build up, and then the story just crashes and burns, I feel like. So let me ask you this, though, when—you’ve been doing this for quite some time now. Did you ever have a point when your first got started where you were afraid to tell your own story?

Maggie: Oh my gosh, yes! [laughs] Completely! So I’ve been running my own business for almost ten years, but I would say, for the first…probably eight years of the business, probably, I was doing my work and I was successful, but I wasn’t doing it fully as me. And I realize that, at a certain point, I’m like—I think turning forty kinda tipped the scales and I went “I don’t care anymore.” If I’m working with a corporate client and they can’t handle that I’m the kind of person who’s gonna drop an F-bomb in a blog post, I don’t really care anymore. And I think that there’s just—at that point, it’s a matter of being comfortable with what I was doing and being confident in it.

At the same time, though, I was—you know, there’s that little part of me that was being held back. And I think that you kind of need to be able to…sometimes just let it out. Let that freak flag fly. And now I work with clients who totally get me and appreciate me for that. So, you know, the story telling is always gonna be an evolution of getting more comfortable and confident and moving along that spectrum. You probably aren’t gonna watch this and the next day be like “I’m gonna tell you everything!” Story is iterative and always gonna be evolving.

Zephan: I like—you said “let that freak flag fly”? Is that what you said?

Maggie: Yeah. Yeah, let your freak flag fly.

Zephan: That’s—first of all, that’s a tongue twister, but second of all, I think that’s a really cool way to go about thinking about yourself and what you’re sharing with the world. Just let it out. I mean, don’t go telling them all of your deepest, darkest secrets, but like you said, not being afraid if you have to drop an F-bomb in a blog post. If they don’t like it, then—obviously that’s who you are. So you want people who are gonna follow who you are. And I think that’s really important.

Maggie: Yeah, and you know, in my own career, I really feel like when I first started out, I spent so much time—because I looked young and, you know, I was inexperienced—trying to be something I wasn’t because I was in a position of authority and my clients needed to know they were secure. So they got to see this very narrow view of me. And then when I started freelancing, you know, I had to present the picture of the perfect consultant that you could very much—you would pay me this money and it would be very reliable! And now I’m just kind of like “Yeah, I’m here. I’m experienced. Deal with it.” Like…but I mean, that took fifteen years.

Zephan: Yeah, no, it takes a long time. It’s not something where you’re gonna go to sleep tonight and say “Alright, tomorrow, this is how it’s gonna be. Let’s go!” There’s no magic wand, but there’s definitely little steps to take over time to start getting used to it.

So, let’s try this for a second: So I know that quite a few people who listen in right now, I’ve actually gotten to skype with a few of them, some of them are actually about ready to quit their jobs. They want to follow what they really want to do. How could they leverage their story of quitting their job? Because I do this quite often. I used to work at the Apple store in Apple retail, and I often times tell people that, you know, somebody came in one day with a broken phone and they had had it. I mean, they cause a scene in front of like two hundred people, packed store, and I just kind of stood there. Cause this is normal for me, right, but I just had this moment of, you know, “Are you done yet?” and that’s when my decision kind of came in and I was like “Alright. This is it. This is done.” And I tell a lot of people that story because it really…it resonates with them. They understand it. They’ve been at that point in their job where they’re just so done with everything.

So how could we leverage telling the story of, you know, perhaps leaving our job, when we’re fresh as an entrepreneur. You know, we don’t—we can’t go and say we’ve been doing this for ten or fifteen or twenty years because, you know, maybe I just quit my job working for some accounting firm and I’m becoming a photographer, so I have no real world experience. How can I at least make people realize I’m a genuine person and trustworthy person?

Maggie: You know, I think there is something that we—especially if you hang out with other entrepreneurs, you forget how aspirational your job story is. Like, I’m sure when you tell your friends that, that work in normal jobs, they’re always like “[dreamy sigh] I wish I could do what you do…” and I think if you could just use that to your advantage… We start to think it’s so common place. We start to think it’s so normal. It’s not. Not everyone quits their job! Most people don’t! They check the boxes! They follow the rules! So I think if you can demonstrate the connection between why you quit your job, why you do what you do today, and like why you were so called to it.

And like—you know, here’s the thing. Experience, it’s—I think we’re past the point with experience where you have to have this big ten thousand hours. You have people that are sixteen years old that are more insanely talented on YouTube than you can ever imagine, and they don’t have ten thousand hours. So think—if you’re not experienced, it’s factual. It’s not something you need to apologize for, because obviously you’re gonna figure out how to make it work, and you’re gonna gain the experience as you go. And if the only story you have is the “I quit my job,” make it juicy.

Zephan: Make it juicy. That’s awesome. So this can really become almost like our new brand. I could be the unemployed employee in a sense. My brand could be I’m the unemployable employee, maybe. Maybe people can’t employ me. How can we use this in our branding and in our marketing? So maybe in logos or in our taglines or just in who we are on social media, how can we go about using that?

Maggie: That’s a good question. I think—you know here—it’s gonna depend on your audience. It gonna depend on your thing. If you were—for example, if you were doing videography, if you really wanted to go after doing a lot of corporate clients, I would never use the word unemployable. Cause unemployable, with the entrepreneur circles, is like “Yes! I’m unemployable!” but to a corporate client, it’s gonna seem like “Wow, they’re a deadbeat.”

Zephan: Right, cause “I have six hundred employees.”

Maggie: Exactly! They wouldn’t give me—no one would give them a job. So think about the context of who you’re serving. If you’re a wedding photographer, no one cares that you’re unemployable! Maybe you care that this person has so much creative vision and so much passion that they quit their job so they could do this full time and they are wholly dedicated to making sure your wedding photos are the best possible thing ever! So that context for where you’re operating, for my clients, they really like that I’ve had a business a long time and I play that up because they’re like “Whoa, she’s been around this long, she must be good!” So use the context of what your market needs to hear from you and what your audience is really looking for.

Zephan: So we’ve heard a lot about telling our stories, but now I’d be interested in hearing from you. So I’m curious, what do you love the most about what you do and your business?

Massie: Oh, my gosh, I love so many things! I think—you know, here’s the thing. I like—I will never deny the fact that I like I’m the boss. I like the fact that I never have to ask for vacation leave. Like these are things that everyone loves, but I really love them, because I used to always be so scared when I put in my vacation leave. I’d be like “Please don’t say no, I’ve already booked the plane ticket! I got a good deal, I’m going to Europe!” But I think it’s—ultimately, for me, I really love my clients, and how I’m able, with the marketing, with the work we’re doing, to really transform them from point A to point B. when I can see from like, for example, my Story Distillery, which is a one-on-one product—when I can see where they walked in and where they walk out with me, and then the transformation that happens with how they tell their story and what they’re doing in their business, that gets me really, really excited.

When a client emails me and says “I just want to let you know I applied what we did and I’ve had the highest traffic on a blog post I’ve ever had,” that, to me, is rewarding. Because, ultimately, money? Money’s nice, but…money doesn’t keep you warm at night.

Zephan: Very true! So, Story Distillery, what is this?

Maggie: So Story Distillery is essentially—I have distilled many, many years of sitting in boardrooms and on the phone with working with people on their story and I’ve created a four part process where, essentially we look at four different types of stories. Stories that your customers need to hear, and understanding what conversations you’re going to be a part of and where you fit in the market. I think a lot of times, we tend to figure out a story, show up and go “Da-da-dadaa! Here I am!” and it’s like “Noo…” Again, going to that context. Then we look at what’s your personal story, your back story? How do all these pieces get together? The results and credibility you have and really talking about the things you do for your clients, the results you get them.

And the last part, I call “Bold and Brazen” where we really talk about things within your industry. Whether you’re a chef or a wedding photographer, or coach, what are things within your industry that you feel strongly need to change, that you want to stand up for, that you want really—you feel passionate—I hate—I really don’t like that word passionate. Cause I—passion is so overused, but the things that you feel most called to be talking about. so we go through that entire process as a one-on-one service, and by the end, they come out and they have like a really good, strong game plan for how to actually use stores in there business.

Zephan: And, how long is that process from start to finish? At least, until you can provide them with the “Here’s your what you need to do.”

Maggie: Start to finish, Story Distillery is about two weeks. So pre-work, call, Maggie goes away, lives, breathes, eats your story, and at the end, here’s your handbooks and you’re ready. Rock and roll.

Zephan: Very cool. Well, I think I actually have a couple people to talk to you later about, because I know some people who would probably be interested in that. So, you know, you’ve got—you love your clients. You love what you’re doing. –What’s that?

Maggie: I do. I really, really do. I’m not just saying it.

Zephan: So, what do you love about your life outside of work? Because there’s an important balance to make sure you’re taking care of your business, but you’re also taking care of yourself.

Maggie: Wow—first and foremost, I mean, I’m a mom. So I love my little ten year old! And my husband. Like, you know, my family is the reason I quit my job, and the reason I actually took—jumped out of the plane like I did and never went back to work after my maternity leave. So really, that’s what drives me. I love traveling. We’re huge, huge travelers. I love my garden. I love books. I love Netflix. I love wine. I love maple syrup. That’s about it.

Zephan: Well that’s why you’re a distiller. You love wine and you love maple syrup!

Maggie: Yep! Yep, pretty much, that’s where that theme kind of got picked up.

Zephan: So, in sharing your story with the world, in sharing others’ stories with the world, I have to imagine that your quality of life has changed since you started this journey. Because you’re learning a lot about a ton of other people. You’re learning a lot about yourself. Maybe talk just a little bit about your quality of life and where you were, let’s say, ten years ago compare to now?

Maggie: Oh, my gosh, ten years ago, my quality of life was horrible. Because I had a child—a very small child. I was very sleep deprived. But I think in terms of my quality of life, like…you know, I don’t really believe in work/life balance, I believe more in a harmony. I think starting out in my business and being a mom of a really small child, like I just had nothing left in me. And the difference now is I’m working with clients that energize me, that I genuinely like as people. That makes it—there’s just so much more personal gratification that goes on. And then I can see like how what I’m doing impacts my son’s view on the world and like, just, you know, yesterday I took the day off because I wanted to hang out with him. So those little tiny things all add up to a much better, happier, healthier approach to life.

Like, my friends who haven’t seen me for a while, since I started making changes through my business, they’re like “You’re different… You’re like more sparkly or something.”

Zephan: They’re probably jealous!

Maggie: Yeah, they were jealous of me before, but now they’re really jealous because not only am I self-employed and thriving, I’m also really insanely happy. It’s kind of gross to them, I think, and annoying.

Zephan: There’s nothing wrong with being insanely happy though.

Maggie: Yeah. I am insanely happy. It’s a little worrisome at times, I’m sure, for some people.

Zephan: Do you have any books, or maybe any mentors that you recommend listening to that have perhaps just helped you learn some things, whether it’s about yourself or in helping your clients?

Maggie: I actually have it right here. This book here—

Zephan: Oh, my gosh! That’s literally in front of me right now! That’s is—wow!

Maggie: So this, two years ago when I decided to change my business, I took the how to fascinate test. It change my perspective on myself, so much. Because—and when I shared this with people, like my actual test results, they were like “It is so you!” So instead of being all these things, I know now innovation is a driving force for me. And I’ve gone so—I’m so—the reason I have this on my desk right now is I actually just did certification with Sally and her team because I believe so much in this process. And I use it with my clients. I think there’s something really powerful about learning how the world sees you, verses how you are internally. How the world sees you is very different than what’s going on up here.

So I really think this is a fundamental books that everyone needs to read. So that’s How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead, and take the fascination test. It’s like thirty-seven dollars—I’m not selling anything here. I’m not giving an affiliate link. I just think it’s really, really important to get an outside perspective and kind of rejig what you might be thinking.

Zephan: It’s really cool that you have that on your desk. Because, ironically, that is the book that I’m using to hold up the tripod for my camera right now. [Maggie laughing.] And the reason why it is the book I’m using to hold up for my tripod for my camera is because it is a constant reminder that it is my next book on my list to read after I finish the current one that I’m on. So I’m actually diving into that one next. It’s really cool to see that that’s been an important thing for both you and your clients because I’ll be jumping into that very soon here.

So for everyone watching, the name of that book, I will actually write it into our show notes on our website with a link to Amazon for you, right on our site as A lot of people listen in both on iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube—this kind of goes out into a bunch of different places. So, if you guys are listening right now, definitely check out the website because I will be posting a link to that.

Uhm—it has been awesome talking to you, Maggie. What are some of the ways for people to get in touch with you if they want to check out your distillery program or anything else that you do?

Maggie: Uhm, probably the best place is always my digital home, which is, and that’s Patterson with two T’s. And you will find me on Twitter tweeting, you know, sharing my life in a hundred and forty characters or less.

Zephan: Good deal. Well, thanks so much for being here today. I hope that the weather is getting warmer by you guys very soon, and I would love to chat with you more—maybe next time on the Year of Purpose podcast. Thanks for being here.

Have you ever had a dream? Of course you have – I mean we all dream right? But what if you had this huge unobtainable goal (or so you thought)? You see, I believe that you can obtain any goal if you want it bad enough. With the right resources and the proper people to hold you accountable, you’ll strive to accomplish it.

But we tend to have this little thing that gets in the way quite often. It’s a little thing that we call fear. But did you know there were only two fears that humans were born with? This means that everything else you have learned (which means you can unlearn it too). Join me on this shorter but still inspiring episode where I gave a speech to a Rotary Club on how you can overcome your fears and rewrite the story in your head so that next time you run into an obstacle, it won’t scare you anymore.


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So, what I hope that you guys leave with today is basically a sense of where you are in life. So what fears do you have? What obstacles are you trying to overcome? Is it in life, in work—anywhere in your life?

And so I want to start off with this: Does anyone know that there are actually two fears that you are born with in life? Does anyone know what they are? Falling is one. Anyone else on the other one? Public speaking—well that’s a fear of mine. So…it’s only fitting that I’m talking about fear today, because I am afraid of public speaking as well. The other one is loud noises.

So there’s two big fears on top of public speaking that I really grew up with. The first one is rollercoasters, and the second one is needles. And so here’s why. When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I was on this sporting team that traveled all across the country. In our summertime, we would go to competitions. And one day we had some time off and we’d so to a theme park and I said to my coach—you know, I’m fourteen or fifteen, I think I’m invincible. I can do anything. So I’m like “We’re going on a rollercoaster before I leave today. Make sure that I go on a rollercoaster!” That was a bad idea. I instantly regretting telling her that, because I knew that she would make sure that I did not leave the park that day without going on a rollercoaster. And I had never been so I had no clue what to expect.

So we walk into the park, she grabs a map of where the rides are in the park, and she looks at it and finds the biggest, baddest rollercoaster—little did I know, it was actually like the third largest drop on a rollercoaster in the country—and she says “Let’s go!” and I go “Uh oh…” So we walk up, we get in line, I’m starting to get nervous, getting really nervous. More nervous than speaking in front of your guys right now. And she’s like “What”—she puts her hand on her hip and goes “What?” I said “I’m nervous!” And she says “I’ve got heart problems, I’ve got high blood pressure, I’m on this medication, I’m on that medication, and you can’t get on the ride?” I’m like “Oh, okay. Man, you really have all that stuff? I guess I’m doing okay here. Let’s do this.” So I get up into the chair, and we get our seat, we go up the big climb to the top.

And right before we get to the top, she turns and said to me “You know all that I said to you while we were waiting in line?” And she didn’t say stuff, she said a different word, but you can guess that one. At this point, I kung fu grip the chair in front of me. Probably the person in front of me had a second seatbelt at this point. And I’m freaking out, and she says “I lied!” And the whole way down, I screamed “I’m gonna kill you” and the person in front of me was already passing out, I was holding them so tightly. And, from that day on, I’ve been afraid of rollercoasters. Why? Because I had a bad experience, so I always labelled rollercoasters and being tied in with being lied to. And that’s what I remember that as.

Another fear that I have it needles. So when I was growing up, my parents chose not to vaccinate me—now we can talk about that issue another time—but the point is, I did not have many experiences where I was given a needle in my arm. And so, going into that, when I was probably fifteen or sixteen, I had to go in for just a typical blood test, you know, doctor does a checkup. And I sit down, you know, they wrap the little thing around your arm, they pull out the tubes one by one just because they want to scare you, and next thing I know there’s eleven…twelve…there’s thirteen tubes on the table. And I’m just like “I don’t know if there enough blood in my body to go into all of these tubes. And I passed out. He didn’t even pull the needle out of the drawer yet, and I passed out. And that fear was because I had this idea that when he sticks this needle into my arm, either, a, I’m gonna deflate like a balloon and just pop, or, b, it’s going to hurt so bad that I’m gonna pass out anyway! But before that even happened, before I had the chance to feel that, I was gone.

And so the differences between these two fears is that one of them was based off of this preconceived idea of what was actually going to happen. So I passed out from the needle because I had this clue of what was going to happen, but I had never experienced it before, so I had nothing to go off of. Verse the experience with the rollercoaster, I had been lied to. So it was a bad experience. So either, one things going to happen where it’s a bad experience, or we think it’s gonna be a bad experience.

So how do we overcome that? How do we take an obstacle that we have in our life, where we’re stuck, and get passed that? Well, it’s really hard, to be honest. You know, Nike says “Just do it.” It’s not very easy. But if we can understand that it’s something as simple as we have this false notion in our mind of what it’s going to be like, we can start from there and kind of bring it down to the basics and bring it down what really is going to happen.

Going in for a blood test, right, the best thing that could happen is they come back and say I’m totally healthy. Like wouldn’t you want to know that? You would want to find out that you’re healthy. So if you focus on the positive, you can overcome this preconceived notion in your mind.

Now, with the other event, with having a bad experience…it happened already, right? You can’t go back and rewind the tape and just erase over it. But the way that our minds work is that we can actually generate a new experience.

So what are you guys afraid of? Shout out a couple fears, whether it’s clowns, not being good enough, not making enough money, whatever it is. Give me one. Somebody’s got to be afraid of something. Drowning. Snakes. Anything else? Who here is afraid to even tell me? So it—everybody has fear, right? So whether you’re afraid of clowns, whether you’re afraid of not making enough money in your business or not supporting your family, when you create that experience that you can almost overwrite that with, it kind of wipes out that memory in our mind.

So what do you do? Well maybe you decide “I’m gonna buy tickets to go to the circus! But I’m gonna have a couple of drinks beforehand, we’re gonna laugh it up, and it’s gonna be a really good time.” And from that point I realize that clowns are just people acting in costumes, right. Like, it’s not a big deal.

I’m not asking you to go and be a snake wrangler for a day. That’s probably not the best way to go about doing it. But when you create that experience so that you can remember a good memory about what’s going on, it’s gonna be much better off for you in the long run.

So what did I do with this knowledge once I figured it out? I mean, I was only like fifteen when I figured out these two things, right. So when I graduated college—I had a job fresh out of college. Two weeks after school, had a job. I was set. And a year after working there, I show up to work one day, a lawyer walks in, pink slip. “You just lost your job. The company got bought out. We’re moving to Chicago. Everyone was let go.” And I got crushed. I was afraid of doing something great at that point in time, because I realized that if I just get a job, well it’s only gonna end in failure again. Or it’s only gonna end in disappointment. So I went on unemployment. And for a good three months, I freelanced while I was on unemployment. I learned how to get my own clients and I talked to some people from my past company and I said “Hey, look, the company got sold, I need some work. You know that I do great video work there. I’d love to come do some work for you.” And fortunately, three or four people actually did step up and say “Hey, I need that.”

Little while later, I actually got picked up. I worked at the Apple store. So the genius bar is where you take your iPods and iPhones when they’re broken. Which leads me into my next story.

I started working at Apple, and you think “Oh, my gosh, I’m working for one of the largest companies in the world. One of the coolest and hippest companies in the world.” And being somebody who’s two years out of college, it’s what you want to tell your parents. You want to come home and make them proud. You want to tell them that you did this. You got a job at one of the greatest companies in the world. And a year—well, six months into that, the magic faded. I was—at the end of the day, I’m in a customer service position, right.

So I’ll next forget that almost one year into working there, somebody comes marching in—the stores busy, there’s like two hundred people. She bee-lines it for the back and just—I could tell she was mad. She wanted to make a scene for everybody to see. And she takes out her phone, hands it to me, and says “RARARARA!” Like, it was like—you know, in Charlie Brown when the teacher just goes “wah wawahh.” I had tuned it out because I had become so numb to what was going on. And that happens to a lot of us. Some of us settle for a job that we’re kind of good at. Maybe like—maybe we even settle for starting a business that or kind of like or may be good at, but we become numb to it. We don’t realize that there’s so much more out there to do.

So while she’s yelling at me, I see out of the corner of my eye somebody, one of my clients from when I was freelancing, who’s standing there watching this whole thing go down. And I’m embarrassed, of course, and eventually she gets taken out by plain clothes police officers. And he comes up to me and says “What are you doing for dinner?” I said “Hopefully having a drink.” And he took me out to dinner that night after work. He came back, picked me up, we went out to a really nice steak house. And the first thing he asked me is “What are you doing here?” He saw me at my old company, he knew I was happy there, he knew I didn’t have that anymore. He saw me working for myself. He was like “Why are you still here? Why are you settling for mediocrity?”

So he asked the bar tender for a little napkin—you know, those little square ones they have at the bar, he pulls out a pen, he says “How much do you make right now?” And I was really embarrassed, I told him, “I make thirty thousand dollars a year. I still live in my parents’ house.” So he writes thirty thousand at the top, and he rights zero on the bottom. And he draws twelve little steps on it, and he says “Pull out your phone. Open up your calculator. Take thirty thousand and divide it by”—I think it’s two hundred and sixty, if you work five days a week, fifty-two weeks out of the year. He says “Divide it by three hundred sixty. Hundred fifteen dollars.” He said “That is what you have to make to replace this job.” Now I could go out and mow four or five lawns for a hundred and fifteen bucks, right? I don’t want to, but the point is that it’s that simple to replace that amount of money. He broke it down into a goal that I can actually achieve. I was no longer trying to replace thirty thousand dollars. I was trying to replace a hundred and fifteen dollars, five times a week.

Well the next day I walked into the Apple Store with a resignation letter. Handed it in to the manager, two weeks later, started my business ZMBmedia, Baltimore based video production company, and within about six months of being there—after networking, doing everything right, researching online, overcoming every obstacle. You know, I had to pay for an accountant, a lawyer, I had to get the LLC, I mean, it is not easy when you’re a broke kid without a job trying to start a business.

But I overcame each and every fear of saying, well, let’s break this down into that smaller step. How can I go about making this happen? Well, I need an LLC. Who gives you an LLC? A lawyer gives you and LLC. Okay, let’s ask around. Does anyone know a lawyer that’ll give me an LLC, and an LLC was formed. So it was no longer “I need to start a business.” It was these little steps that got me to where I was. And so I think that it’s really important that we realize that whatever the fear is—whether it’s a bad situation or this bad idea in our mind of what it could be like—as long as we break it down into those smaller steps, we’re gonna be able to overcome that.

And the same thing happened again. I was a year and a half into my business and said “What do I really want to do? Well, I worked for a year and a half, I want to travel. I want to travel for a whole month. I want to leave on November 1st and I don’t want to come back until the 30th.” And I did. I was afraid. I had never traveled alone. I had never traveled on my own. I taught myself how to travel hack so the flights cost me next to nothing. YouTube and Google is your friend with that one. It’s super easy actually. I didn’t know how to find places to sleep at night. Well, there’s this really cool thing called Airbnb, and there’s couch surfing. I slept on random strangers’ couches and it was probably one of the best experiences I ever had in my life.

And so from November 1st, I left, and the first step was this: buy a plane ticket. I didn’t look at it as “I’m gonna be gone for a whole month.” Because if I did that, the fear comes up of, “Well, I’m not working for a whole month. Where does the money come from? What happens when I get back? What if I get back and there’s nothing there?” and you play that “What if” game in your mind. Everybody does this when it comes to fear. You’ve been there, you’ve done that, you’ve heard that little voice in your head. And so my little step there was buy the plane ticket. So I bought a plane ticket from Baltimore to Denver. And then I bought a ticket from Denver to San Francisco. And then I bought a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And Los Angeles to Dallas. And Dallas back home. Right after Thanksgiving. And actually, it was one of the coolest Thanksgivings I spent with someone who was in my entrepreneurial mastermind group and I got to meet her family and I actually got to make them a Rice Krispy, full-sized turkey that was stuffed with M&Ms.

So being about to generate that experience, though, wouldn’t have happened unless I had looked at it and said “Okay, what’s the smaller step here. What am I afraid of and how am I gonna get over that?” We could’ve gone back to the Nike just do it, just buy the ticket to go. But it wasn’t gonna work in my head, I was still gonna play that “What if” game of spending all this money, “What am I doing?”, “What happens when I come back?” and sure enough, I got back. And I looked in my invoicing software—I worked a little bit when I was on the road. And I made the same about of money when I was gone on the road, not working, just booking video for the next month, as I did the previous month. And that was the reality. As soon as I saw that and I realized that the only fear that I really had, which was coming back to nothing, was gone, I did it again. So December came around, I went on a three thousand mile road trip around the country. Cause I wanted to.

So what I ask you is this: What is it that you really want to do? Is there some place in your life, whether it’s family, in life, in wherever—is there something that you really want to achieve? Maybe you want to write a book. Maybe you want to talk. Whatever it is, take that idea, break it down just like we did with the little twelve stairs, and what are the twelve parts that you need to get that to happen?

And so what I want to leave you with is this—I actually started a podcast in January of this year, cause I realize that there are people all over the globe who are doing these amazing things. And actually, this afternoon, I’m getting ready to go interview the first woman to have ever stand-up paddle-boarded the be Bering Strait—twenty-eight miles in eleven hours—and she’s preparing to leave in a few weeks here to row a boat from Japan to San Francisco. That wouldn’t have happened had she not taken the first step in saying “What do I need to do to do this? How do I break this down? What are my fears? And how do I overcome them?”

So the podcast is called the Year of Purpose podcast, for everyone who has a smartphone, I will explain to you how you can get access to that in just a little bit. But I just want to leave you with this: What is it that you really want to accomplish today? What is it that your put on your to-do list tomorrow that’s gonna get pushed off to the next day and the next day, that’s never gonna get done that you can say “I’m gonna start right now”?