David and I were at the gym the other day talking about a race we had run in the Everglades. He was congratulating me on my performance when I pointed out how much better he did than I.
“It was a great race,” he said, “You and I did the same thing.”
“What are you talking about? You ran 50K to my 25 and your time per mile was faster than mine,” I answered.
“No, we did exactly the same thing. We both went out there and ran the course as fast as we could.”
This reminded me of the conversation between a Victorian worker and his liege.
Rich man: “If you bow to the king you wouldn’t have to live with so little.”
Poor man: “If you learned to live with less you wouldn’t have to bow to the king.”
Often the only thing that stands between success and failure — or the feeling of the two — is how the situation is framed.
If you can stand another running story, let me tell you about my friend Adam.
Adam has been training as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone train – up before 5 a.m. to run grueling repeats around the track. He gets there so early and works so hard that he’s often finishing up when I get there. By the way, in his spare time Adam runs a world-class corporation and is a terrific father, husband, and community crusader.
Two weeks ago Adam ran his big relay at the national championships. I couldn’t wait to hear how he did.
“Let me tell you what happened in Kansas City,” Adam said dejectedly. “One of our guys didn’t show up so we couldn’t field a team in our 50 to 59 age group. We found another runner to take his place but he was in his forties so we had to drop down to the 40-49 group.”
“So how’d you do?” I asked.
“Well, we won that division but there was no one else in it. If we had run in the 50-59 age group we would have come in third.”
“You won? You won the national championship? Wow – that’s amazing!”
“Nah, not really. I mean yeah, we won… technically. But we didn’t really win.”
Do you see what just happened? Adam took months of training, the loss of a team member, AND a national championship and wrote it all off simply because it didn’t happen the way he wanted it to happen. Because – last time I checked – the officials at national qualifying events don’t give out trophies unless you actually win fair and square.
Before you judge Adam too harshly, think about the last time you did the same thing.
Maybe you returned a compliment on how nice you look with a disparaging, “Me? No no no, my hair looks terrible… and I need to lose at least 20 pounds.”
Perhaps you blew off a congratulations for a new job or winning a piece of new business by crediting it to knowing the right person or being in the right place at the right time.
Or maybe you wrote off a smart investment or business decision to just being lucky.
Why is it we so willingly beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done badly or haven’t done at all, but we’re so loathe to take credit for the things we’ve actually achieved?
You see this in marketing all the time when companies build their branding programs around their weaknesses. They enumerate the items that they think will make their customers think they’re big or accomplished or credible or whatever they’re worried about instead of talking about what matters the most to their clients.
But like the best of friends, the real savvy marketers don’t talk about themselves. Instead they focus on the things they do that help their clients overcome their own negative feelings.
And like those friends, good brands make people feel good. But GREAT brands make people feel good about themselves.