Chris Guillebeau’s Secrets to the Happiness of Pursuit

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Chris Guillebeau bookWant to conquer the world, or at least your very own tiny piece of it? Then get to know Chris Guillebeau, the easy-on-the-eyes, hard-to-put-down-books-writing self-help helper extraordinaire. His very popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, explores entrepreneurship, travel, and personal development topics. At his site you can also download his Brief Guide to World Domination and learn more about the World Domination Summit he organizes each year.  As the author of The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, Chris is the go-to guru for fledgling entrepreneurs. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Chris’s brand-new book, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life. It’s a great read full of inspirational stories of people who find purpose in their lives pursuing their own unique “quests.”  A “playbook for making your life count”, it encourages readers to make their lives about something — and follow-up with the focus and commitment needed to make their quests a reality. (Chris knows from where he speaks, literally. He recently completed his quest to visit every country in the world before turning 35!)

I was extra lucky to get a chance to catch up with the very busy Mr. Guillebeau to find out about the book’s backstory and get his insights on how we can find happiness and success pursuing our own “quests”:

DIXIE: WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK? WHO NEEDS THIS MESSAGE MOST?

CHRIS: I wrote the book partly as a way to reflect on my journey to every country in the world—but fortunately I didn’t stop with that. Along the way, I also met a lot of people who were also undertaking quests. Many of these quests were travel-oriented, like mine. I met a young woman who sailed around the world in a small sailboat, and I met a young guy who walked across America. But many of the people undertaking quests had very different projects: to knit 10,000 hats, for example, or to produce the world’s largest symphony, or to train an untrainable horse.   I wanted to take all these stories and combine them into a single message: the story of living for adventure. The book is for everyone who wants more out of life, everyone who enjoys a challenge and wants to craft a truly remarkable life as they make plans for the future.

DIXIE: HOW DOES ONE FIGURE OUT JUST WHAT ONE’S LIFE PURPOSE IS? HOW DO WE IDENTIFY OUR “QUESTS”?

CHRIS: Well, “life purpose” can be a tough one—but I think you start by figuring out what you’re excited about and what you’re bothered by. In the book we used a checklist to ask people if they might be especially well-suited to a quest. It looks something like this:

  • Do you like making lists and checking things off?
  • Have you always enjoyed setting goals?
  • Do you feel motivated by making progress toward a goal?
  • Do you enjoy planning?
  • Do you have a hobby or passion that not everyone understands?
  • Do you ever find yourself day-dreaming or imagining a different kind of life?
  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your hobby or passion?

The more answers you say “yes” to, the more likely you are to enjoy pursuing a quest.

DIXIE: HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE “QUEST”? WHAT ELEMENTS SHOULD EVERY QUEST HAVE?

CHRIS: Every quest has a few things in common. First, there’s always an end or final destination. Ultimately the process is more about the journey, but you also need something to strive for. It helps to have something specific: in my case, I went to every country in the world, not just “a bunch of countries.” The woman who’s knitting 10,000 knits isn’t just “knitting every day.” Having a clear goal or outcome makes a big difference. Every quest should also have a real element of challenge to it. If your quest is to take a long walk in search of a Frappuccino, that’s not a quest. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be impossible—but somehow it should involve challenge, sacrifice, or at least a real tradeoff as you have to say no to some things in order to say yes to the quest. Finally, we learned something else: most of the time, something else happens along the way. Almost everyone who undertakes a true quest is changed along the way.

DIXIE: IN THEIR QUEST TO BE HAPPY AND/OR SUCCESSFUL, WHAT DO PEOPLE GET WRONG?

CHRIS: They think that happiness is dependent on external circumstances of some kind. Don’t get me wrong: circumstances matter. It’s a lot better to be rich than poor. But you can also be happy in challenging circumstances, and you can be miserable in comfortable circumstances. In the end, happiness is a decision you make more than a temperature you check. You have to understand what you find meaningful, and you have to take the time to do those things.

DIXIE: WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE IN MID-LIFE WITH RESPONSIBILITIES, FAMILIES AND OTHER PERCEIVED OBSTACLES OR ROADBLOCKS TO FULLY PURSUING THEIR QUESTS — WHAT ADVICE (OR ADMONISHMENTS) DO YOU HAVE FOR THEM?

CHRIS: I certainly don’t have any admonishments. In some ways I think it’s easier when you have those responsibilities and roadblocks, because you have more limited time and thus you need make that time truly count. One thing I learned from the book was that a lot of creative people are always talking about how we should “think out of the box”—but that’s not always helpful advice. Many times, to get what we really want, or to pursue a big dream, we need to limit ourselves and focus on what matters. Essentially, we need to “get in the box”! I also think the theme of reinvention, which is a big part of my overall work, is very applicable to people in mid-life. After you’ve had a number of career and life experiences, you may be better suited to knowing what you like and dislike. You have the benefit of many successes and probably at least a  few failures. Perhaps you’re also more conscious of the matter of urgency—the fact that life is short and the imperative to make our lives count. Lastly, there’s a reason why most people don’t start running marathons until well past young adulthood: the long game becomes more attractive as time goes by. In mid-life, you have emotional and intellectual stamina that perhaps wasn’t as strong as your early days. If you want to focus, if you want to truly invest in something, you know you can give it your all. So I think you’re in a good place, in other words.

DIXIE: WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN AT 20?  

CHRIS: When I was 20 I was busy learning a variety of skills, some of which ended up being helpful while others ended up being useless. This is fairly normal, I think. But in addition to learning skills, I also felt pretty unconfident and insecure about a lot of things. So if I could have go back and teach myself something, I don’t think it would be a specific skill; it would be more of a pep talk. I’d say, “Hey, 20-year-old self, keep working on stuff. Someday you’ll make something that matters to people. It’s okay if you get frustrated, but don’t hate yourself and don’t be unkind to others just because you don’t always see the path that lies ahead.” -

Calling all my Dames: What’s YOUR quest?  We’re dying to know! Meanwhile, check out Chris’s blogs or books to get the inspiration you need to get goin’!

A version of this interview also appears on LikeaBossGirls.com

Be Contagious! Effective Social Media Marketing

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social media contagiousEveryone wants their content to be seen by as many people as possible.

But what you really want is for your content to be shared by as many people as possible. (Which is really the way to make the first thing happen, isn’t it?)

Some people obsess about page views and “Likes”, but for me a better metric of content’s success is not how any liked it but how many shared it. It’s sharing content that ups your brand visibility and gets your message out there. This is especially crucial when you rely on others to do your marketing for you. A good “batting average” to determine a piece of content’s success within this context would be to divide the number of shares by the number of views.

It’s Not How Many Likes You Get, It’s How Many SHARES

Getting your content get shared seems easy to some (they’re wrong), and it seems impossible and mysterious to others (but they’re kinda wrong too). While nothing is guaranteed, there are tactics you can use to make your online content as “contagious” as possible. What’s needed is some understanding of human psychology, plus some thinking about the whats, whys and whens of social media and “word-of-mouth advertising”.

In Jonah Berger’s wonderful book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he drops some super science on what you should keep in mind if you want to up your chances of getting what you do shared, and shared again.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. “Sharing this will make me look pretty smart/cool/awesome.”

We share to convey something about ourselves. Our choices define us, and in some ways so does what we put out in the social universe. We want to appear cool, in-the-know, useful, expert, liberal, patriotic, smart, clever, successful, kind, mean, sexy, whatever. People share content as a sort of social currency. When someone finds something remarkable, they want to share it because it reflects positively on him or her.
Knowing this, fashion content in such a way as to make it easy for someone to imagine how posting or sharing it will help someone convey their status, intelligence, political savvy, allegiance to a cause or group, “hipness”, or insider access.

But for me, social currency can also mean communicating something about you to form or strengthen bonds. Saying “I like Bruce Springsteen to an insane degree, too!” or “I play accordion, infer my awesomeness!” For example, let’s say you share a clip from the TV show Degrassi, with a reminder that the show’s on Tuesdays at 9, that recipient may tune in next week at 9. But if you share a clip about a character’s really horrendous “bad hair day” – complete with a poor girl’s giant frizzy neon ‘fro – the recipient may share that clip because she knows it’s resonant to her friends, or relevant to herself or a particular friend who had a similar tonsorial terror. Now many more people have seen the clip, and perhaps even more folks will be tuning in come Tuesday. What’s more, while the initial clip only had relevance to existing Degrassi fans, by layering in the social currency of “bad hair day-ness” the video bite is now resonant for lots of people, and now many who’ve never heard of Degrassi before have become aware of the show and enjoyed a piece of it. In fact, all these folks may continue to share the clip whenever they, or someone they know, is reminded of the reoccurring horror that is the Bad Hair Day. In this way, the clip’s audience has now grown exponentially because the content has this socially resonant aspect. And its “contagiousness” will continue to resurface every time one of this legion is reminded of bad hair days.

Which brings us to one of the most successful elements that can make content more viral – triggers.

2. “That reminds me…”

Perhaps one of the best things to build into your content is a commonplace, reoccurring environmental trigger. One of the most shared TV ads of all-time was not the cleverest, funniest or even really terribly interesting. The second most-shared TV ad of 2013 was the Geico commercial where a camel wanders around an office floor asking what day it is, when a beleaguered worker finally says, “It’s Hump Day.” So why was this totally ‘meh’ piece of video one of the most shared? Think about it. Here’s a big hint: The video had a huge upswing in shares every 7 days.

Yep, every Wednesday, some people (A LOT of people) felt compelled to post the ad as their way of declaring it was, indeed, “Hump Day”. It really increases a piece of content’s share quotient if it includes a reliable, recurring trigger of some kind. It can be a literal equation, Wednesdays remind people of Wednesday, or it can be an associative trigger – like peanut butter and jelly, pumpkins and Halloween, donuts and diets. (Okay, maybe that last one is just me.)

Recently, a writer pitched me n article on respect, suggesting she’d interview one of the founders of the Respect Institute on tips for giving and getting respect in the workplace and elsewhere. I suggested she tweak the idea so the piece was about Respect Tuesdays or Respect Everyone, Someone, People Tuesdays (RSPT), advocating it as a day when we make a special effort to show and get shown respect. This way, the site has a reason to promote the link every Tuesday, and other people have an incentive as well. Maybe not the best example of waving a trigger into content, but you get the idea.

But don’t think a trigger has to be a day of the week. It can be a anything that comes up often enough to make the reminder worthwhile – like bad hair days. For example, I have a blog that often talks about old school Hollywood stars, Lost Art of Being a Dame. Rather than just writing about one particular femme fatale’s celebrated bad temper, I might frame the content as a piece on “5 Telltale Signs You’re a Bitch”. That would get the piece posted much more than if it were just a straight-ahead little bio of an actress most people don’t know from Adam.

3. “Wow! That 100-year-old woman bench pressed 100 pounds!”

Another thing that can raise shareability through the roof is emotion. People share stories and videos and facts that arouse emotion in themselves — and they assume will do so other in others as well. But not all emotions are equal in the viral department. It needs to be a strong emotion that puts the pulse to racing, the eyes to watering, or the throat to lumping. To up the contagious factor, the content should inspire awe (Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja Warrior; Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent) or “Ah!” (insert viral cute animal video here). Or it should arouse anger (inert political factoid here), or big-time laughter (insert clip of person being hilariously physically injured here).

Often the content we shared is remarkable – that American Ninja Warrior woman, for example – but being remarkable isn’t always enough. It has to inspire us, floor us, make us laugh, or surprise us in a big way. Content that makes us sad or happy might work, but awe and anger have proven to be much stronger emotional catalysts for posting.

4. “You’re welcome.”

People like to bond over things they can be inspired by or indignant about together, but they also like to share things that think will prove valuable to others. We like to be of use, to share practical information.

Of course, to maximize the viral potential the practical information needs to be of use to lots of people, or at least to a good portion of the audience you’re trying to reach. The content might be the best, most clear how-to on neutering a camel, but unless your target audience drive caravans across the desert, it’s not going to be shared much.

5. “Hey, get this…!”

From the Dawn of Man (and especially Woman), human beings have liked to spread the word, gossip, and especially, share stories. I said earlier that content needn’t necessarily be “remarkable” to be shared, but it should tell a story.

Think back to the Susan Boyle example. That viral video clip inspires awe, yes, but it also tells a story. “This dowdy-looking middle-aged woman ambles onto the stage. Simon Cowell and the other judges, and everyone in the audience, they’re all rolling their eyes and dreading the awkward audition to come, when all of a sudden…” That’s a story. A restaurant that only serves bananas, that’s a story. A blender that can blend anything – and here’s a video of it blending a cellphone to prove it, that’s a story.

Human beings like to hear, create, embellish and share stories, and the Internet has given that uniquely human predilection a quantum leap by making countless more stories available to countless more people. That’s our double-edged sword. Our stories are theoretically available to a nearly limitless audience – but so are everyone else’s. Our stories have to cut through the clutter. Our stories have to be better, more useful, more inspiring, more relevant, more moving, more funny, more powerful, more shareable.

When crafting or curating content, keep one or more of these five attributes in mind so that those who see it will in turn help make it available to as many people as possible.

Remember, the best marketing is the kind other people do for you. And frankly, it’s often the only kind you can afford!

Marie Prevost : The Movie Star Eaten By Her Dog (Or Was She?)

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“She was a winner, Who became a doggie’s dinner…” — Nick Lowe

Would a dog loving movie star leave her pooch to starve?

Would a dog loving movie star leave her pooch to starve?

Memorialized in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and in the eponymous pop song, Marie Prevost is best-known today as a overly-nasal actress who killed herself without anticipating that her pet dachshund would get hungry after days of not being fed.

It’s a memorable Hollywood fairytale, the falling movie star who killed herself in despair and ended up being consumed by her starving if reluctant pup. But is it true?

At the end of the 19th century, Mary Dunn was born in Canada and later moved to Hollywood with her family.  As a young teen, the beautiful girl found success as a Sennett Bathing Beauty. (Other Sennett Bathing Beauties include Gloria Swanson, Mabel Normand, and Carole Lombard.)  Mack Sennett changed her last name to the fancier, French-ier Prevost, and she went on to star in movies as an unflappable flapper and later a charming comedienne at Universal and Warner Bros.  Her career spanned 21 years, during which she not only survived the transition to sound, but managed to make over 120 films!

Marie had the requisite bee-stung  lips and perfect pouty insouciance to embody the 20s female ideal. She was featured on the first cover of The Flapper magazine, which asked readers:

“How do you like our girl on the cover? Some fascinating little minx, Marie Prevost, isn’t she? And who but she could assume such a fascinating pose?”

Marie as The Flapper Magazine's first cover girl

Marie as The Flapper Magazine’s first cover girl

Prevost flappered it up in lots of films, occasionally scoring a juicy lead, as she did in an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned (1923) where she had sufficient chemistry with her leading man to merit their marrying Kenneth Harlan the next year.  She made three films with Ernest Lubitsch where his infamous “Lubitsch touch” was in full-effect in mischievous movies like The Marriage Circle (1924), where Marie once again got to play an impish, slightly risqué jazz baby who turns out to be a “good girl” in the end. She made films with other famous directors as well, including Frank Capra, Mervyn LeRoy and Cecil B. DeMille.

But in 1926, while starring in one of her six films with the original movie star Harrison Ford (you didn’t know there were two, did ya?), Marie’s mother died in a car accident. It hit Prevost pretty hard, and that, coupled with her divorce from Harlan, sent Marie straight to the bottle – and the fridge.

Her drinking and eating made her put on the pounds, and roles became harder to get.  Too curvy to represent slim, flat-chested flapperdom (a trope that was losing steam, and steaminess, anyway), she was now primarily playing “blowsy tough dames” or the wisecracking sidekick to stars like Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford. She tried all kinds of crash diets with hopes of getting back in the game. In a 1936 New York Times article, “Sometimes They Do Come Back”, Prevost ‘s slide is evident:

“In the studio restaurant at Warners there is an “Old-Timers Tables” that is reserved, in tacit arrangement, for the group of former stars who like to talk over together their halcyon days. A few weeks ago, Marie Prevost sat down at the table. The siren of Mack Sennett days had been successful with a reducing course and had got herself a job as a contract player…She was put to work almost immediately, in a small part in The Bengal Tiger…Miss Prevost is unbilled in The Bengal Tiger: She has only three lines to say, and those short ones.”

Full-on Marie Prevost!

Full-on Marie Prevost!

Prevost’s “reducing course” consisted of drinking and not eating. A star just a few years before, Marie was now an “old-timer” and a has-been who was subsisting almost solely on booze –and hope.

On January 23, 1937, neighbors in her rundown apartment building called police to complain about a dog ‘s non-stop barking. Inside, they found Marie dead. Initially diagnosed as having died of acute alcoholism, the major cause of death was actually severe malnutrition.

To get back into pictures once again, Marie had basically starved herself to death. She was only 38.

Though she ate one too many hot dogs, today it’s the appetite of a different kind of weiner dog that has put poor Marie into the Hollywood Hall of Infamy. Despite Nick Lowe and Hollywood Babylon, the truth is that her poor distressed pet was only trying to rouse his sleeping mistress. The police report clearly states that the dog “had chewed up her arms and legs in a futile attempt to awaken her.” In her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1937, the paper details the more poignant than putrid scene:

“Whining at the-bedside was her pet dachshund, Maxie, and teeth marks on the actress’ body indicated animal had tugged at his mistress in ant attempt to arouse her.”

In fact, one can plainly see from the photo in Anger’s book that Marie’s corpse is intact. (And as far as the accuracy of Nick Lowe’s song, he even misspells Marie’s name in title!)

Prevost died a pauper, with only $300 and a few IOUs made out to Joan Crawford, a pal from silent days who’d lent her some money. Marie was also remembered by other  luminaries; stars attending her funeral included Barbara Stanwyck, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clark Gable, and her old boss Mack Sennett, and her destitution prompted Hollywood to form the Motion Picture Relief Fund and the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital.

Marie was a lovely, talented woman who died not of despair but from the hope that fueled her starving for stardom. Her end is sad, not sickening, both for poor Marie — and poor Maxie.

Elevator Bitch -- or Why I Started This Blog

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People often ask what started me thinking about creating this blog about the “lost art of being a dame”. I think it all started in an elevator…

Years ago I was riding an elevator at work with a couple of (very) young female co-workers and an older gentleman I’d seen from time to time . . . → Read More: Elevator Bitch — or Why I Started This Blog

Bring Back the Dame!

Lauren Bacall -- Archetypal Dame
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Check it out! I couldn’t have put it better than E.A. Hanks in her piece in Time Magazine — Enough With the Kooky Ingenues — Bring Back the Dame!

Lauren Bacall — Archetypal Dame

Guest Post: Ava Gardner and Me

Sexy brunette
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By Guest blogger Deborah Ingles Schwalbach

Met Deb, 65-years-old and still getting all hot and bothered (but mostly hot) when she discovers a classic film she haven’t seen before. Like me, she grew up crazy about old movies; turns out we’d both sneak out of our bedrooms as children to . . . → Read More: Guest Post: Ava Gardner and Me

I Was Totally Wrong About Teresa Wright!

Teresa Wright
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I always thought Teresa Wright was talented and sweet, but kind of an ineffectual limp noodle. She plays the good girl well, and I guess that was my problem.  Sure, her screen characters had pluck, but pluck is an anemic version of the charming ballsy-ness of a Stanwyck or the fearless hijinks Irene Dunne . . . → Read More: I Was Totally Wrong About Teresa Wright!

Flea-Smitten

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The thing about hearts that love a lot, they just keep breaking. And this time it’s the ease and energy with which I love a lot of stuff a lot – weird, wonderful stuff – that’s doing me in.

The last vestige of the big weekend Manhattan Flea Market, known as ‘The Garage”, is . . . → Read More: Flea-Smitten

Best Job Hunting Advice You’ll Ever Get, Ever!

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A LOT of people come to me looking for help finding a job. They either contact me with a hidden agenda of wanting me to give them a job (fat chance), tell them about some incredible job somewhere for which they’d be perfect (fairly chubby chance), or help them craft their resume, LinkedIn profile . . . → Read More: Best Job Hunting Advice You’ll Ever Get, Ever!

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel (The Most Interesting Star You’ve Never Heard Of )

Ann Dvorak
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What would you do if you had to choose between becoming a famous movie star or traveling the world with the love of your life?  When she was just 20 years old, Ann Dvorak made just that choice, and it changed the course of her life.

If you love classic movies — . . . → Read More: Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel (The Most Interesting Star You’ve Never Heard Of )

Mary Astor and Her Dirty Diary

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I learned about blow jobs from Charlie Chaplin. (Yes, that Charlie Chaplin.) I was about 12 and with my babysitting earnings I bought the book Hollywood Babylon. As a passionate old movie fan, and an adolescent girl with a filthy mind and an even filthier curiosity, a book like Hollywood Babylon was a dream . . . → Read More: Mary Astor and Her Dirty Diary