I Need You To Promise Me That You Will See a Total Solar Eclipse In Your Lifetime.

If you tried to explain the Sun to some sort of subterranean mole person who had never once ventured outside, you might show them a picture.

They would look at it, and probably say something along the lines of “Wow! Sure looks bright. We certainly don’t have anything like that down here.”

But if you then took them outside on a warm, summer day and told them to take a quick glance up at the Sun, their reaction would be far, far different.

“OH MY MOLE-GOD! What IS that thing?! It’s so bright! My God, it physically hurt my eyes to see that! I can feel it’s warmth on my skin! Geez, it’s going to literally burn me if I stay out here for much longer, isn’t it?

“That is NOTHING like the picture you showed me. Wow.”

That’s what it feels like to explain a total solar eclipse. I can show you pictures or even a video. I can explain what it looks like. But until you’ve stood in a field on a bright, sunny day and experienced what happens when the moon fully blocks out the sun — you simply can’t understand the magnificent, transcendent beauty.

I’m not one to expose my more tender, vulnerable emotions to the public, but I feel obligated to tell you that looking up to the sky and seeing what I saw on August 21st quite literally brought me to my knees, filled my eyes with tears, and made me laugh deliriously at the incredible experience happening around me.

You MUST see a total solar eclipse in your lifetime.

Seriously, this is not a recommendation. I need you to promise me that you’re going to do it. If you’re reading this, you must go and experience this in person as soon as you can. Do whatever you have to do to get there. Walk if you must. Save your pennies. Stop eating out for a year and put that money towards a flight. GO.

And don’t settle for anything less than the absolute closest you can get to the center of the path. The closer to the center, the longer totality you’ll experience. A few seconds may not seem important, but I promise you, you will cherish those fleeting moments. Spend the entire day out there, the lead-up is important.

Most of all, don’t bother trying to take a picture of it — unless you’re a hobbyist photographer with a nice camera, it won’t do you any good. The image won’t be nearly the same. It won’t help you remember, nor will it help someone else understand.

Instead, turn the camera towards you and simply let it roll, selfie stick style. Because the only way you can possibly show another person what it’s like to see a total eclipse is to show them your face as you saw it happen.

The Many Faces of Eclipse Day

Despite growing up in the South, I somehow seem to always forget just how oppressively hot summer below the Mason Dixon is. Eclipse day was so muggy and hot that no amount of water or Gatorade would make you feel comfortable. In some ways, the heat actually enhanced the experience. The Sun was making one last effort to make its awesome power known.

Gallatin, Tennessee was our viewing spot — a small town north of the city with a massive park that had been preparing for this day for years. Hundreds of cars filled the parking lot, but we were directed to a large field in the back that I have to imagine not a single person spends a moment in on any other day of the year.

It was perfect.

11:59 AM, first contact. Through our eclipse glasses, we could see a tiny sliver cut from the Sun — the Moon making its first appearance. Across the next hour and a half, the world began to change in ways that were hard to describe. It was slow at first, but as 1:27 PM — the beginning of totality — drew closer, the changes became more rapid and pronounced.

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30 minutes out, there was palpable excitement. Our hearts were racing as we checked the sky with increasing frequency. One ill-timed cloud, and all our planning would have been for naught.

One minute out, it all began to happen. Quickly.

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First you see the shadow bands — the wispy, smoke-like shadows that dance across the ground immediately before totality.

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Seconds later, it began to go dark.

Cheers erupted from all over the park. Repeated exclamations of “Oh my God!” burst from some around us. Others simply screamed.

And then, it happened.

That bright mass of unfathomable energy that had burned my skin countless times, forced me buy dozens of pairs of sunglasses to protect my feeble vision, and powered life itself was gone. I looked up into the sky where the sun was supposed to be and saw something that no words or photograph could ever describe.

High in the sky was a black hole so dark and ominous that you immediately understood the panic and terror that gripped ancient civilizations during an eclipse. Around that hole was a beautiful glow of gas and light, radiating with alien energy.

I cupped my hand over my gaping mouth and fell to the ground. It was euphoric.

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Before that moment, I could count on just two fingers the moments that I had experienced anything that resembled this kind of strange mix of euphoria, wonder, and importance. One was the moment my wife and I said “I love you” to each other for the first time. We were teenagers — I was 18 and she was 19. The next was again with her — the moment immediately following our wedding ceremony. In that moment, I knew the world was now different — it was a strange sense of happiness and responsibility that I’ll never forget.

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When people get married, you frequently hear others ask them if it “feels different.” I always ask, because I desperately want to know — did you feel it too? That feeling I can’t describe, do you know about it?

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Most of the time, people respond with “It feels exactly the same.” I don’t know if it means anything, and I certainly don’t want to imply that something is wrong if they didn’t feel it. Maybe it’s just that the feeling is too strong for small talk.

I’ve only known a couple of people who have experienced something similar. But when you find them, it’s like finding someone in a foreign country who grew up on the same street as you. They know. They understand!

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After totality ended, we panted like we had just run a marathon. On the video I took of my reaction, I heard myself incredulously asking everyone around me “Did you see that? Did you SEE that?!” It was, of course, a ridiculous question. We had all gone to great lengths to be in that spot on that day to see that thing. Of course we saw it.

What I desperately wanted to know was “Did you feel it too? That feeling I can’t describe, do you know about it?”

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We laughed, hugged, and went back to lay on our blankets in the shade. When my heart rate had finally returned to a normal range, I grabbed my phone and took a quick glance at Twitter. I was hoping to see other people expressing what I just felt — more members of the club. But I found none of that. I saw people making jokes. I saw people outside the path of totality saying the whole thing seemed overhyped. I saw endless pictures of Donald Trump looking at the Sun, sans protective eyewear, accompanied by endless jokes about his cognitive function.

I put my phone down, more annoyed than I perhaps should have been. I expected to find a different place, but I found the same world I left behind.

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The rest of the field cleared, until we were the only people left. Except for one older woman, who sat on a bench behind us, alone. She was not reading anything, not doing anything, not waiting on anyone. She just sat there and stared off in the distance for a good half hour.

I walked over to throw something away in the nearby trash can. “That was something else, wasn’t it?” I asked.

Did you feel it too? Do you know about it?

She turned her head slightly to meet my eyes and smiled knowingly.

“It certainly was.”

Why Not Measuring a Damn Thing Might Be Just What You Need.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Suggested Music Pairing: "BRNT" by Magic City Hippies

We live in an outcome-obsessed culture.

There’s a lot of things that contribute to this. You could blame it on impatience. You could blame it on laziness. You could blame it on an obsession with success stories.

And you’d be partially correct with any of those.

But I think an oft-overlooked factor with our outcome fetish is the persistent focus on goals and metrics.

Goals and Metrics

Goals and metrics are a good thing. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you improve what you measure.

But the unintended consequence of our love for goals and metrics is that the outcome becomes the “it.” The product of our work itself is often overshadowed by how much it makes, how much it weighs, or how many people saw it.

Sure, an avid cyclist might work hard to shorten her race time, but if you asked her what she loves about cycling, I doubt her answer will be “Shaving seconds off my time.” She would be more likely to say something about the wind in her hair, the feeling of speeding down the highway, and the endorphin rush that accompanies extreme physical feats.

My friend Jay Acunzo uses the game theory term ‘telic’ to describe this idea in the content creation world.

“A telic activity is something done for the end result alone, i.e., a chore. It’s tedious to do and so you look for easier ways to get to the end.”

But even chores can have some joy in the process. Take it from Roger Mifflin, the fictional proprietor of “The Haunted Bookshop” from Christopher Morley’s novella of the same name:

“It is intolerable for a human being to go on doing any task as a penance, under duress. No matter what the work is, one must spiritualize it in some way, shatter the old idea of it into bits and rebuild it nearer to the heart's desire.”

Mifflin goes on to illustrate his point, using dish washing as an example:

"When one views a stubborn fact from a new angle, it is amazing how all its contours and edges change shape! Immediately my dishpan began to glow with a kind of philosophic halo! The warm, soapy water became a sovereign medicine to retract hot blood from the head; the homely act of washing and drying cups and saucers became a symbol of the order and cleanliness that man imposes on the unruly world about him.”

Even the most mundane of tasks can be “spiritualized” in a way that makes the process enjoyable. And in doing so (I would argue), the quality of the work is improved.

Etsy's Craft Fair - Damn the Numbers!

My office is located in Dumbo, Brooklyn (the actual name of the neighborhood, not trashing the good borough of BK). Dumbo is a burgeoning tech hub, with several startup incubator spaces and a few big names all calling it home. One of those big names is Etsy.

A few weeks back, I went to grab lunch and saw a bunch of orange balloons tied off in front of the entrance to a small space on the ground floor of our office building. As I walked down the sidewalk towards my favorite food truck, I saw signs and sidewalk chalk all pointing people to the “Etsy Craft Event.”

Inside, the floor was covered in orange confetti. A photo booth in the corner filled the room with strobe flashes. Several people stood in front of a wall-sized piece of paper, filling in the colorless canvas with a rainbow of colored pencils. Spread throughout the room were three tables, each featuring a different craft visitors could complete.

I’ve been trying to get a meet-up group off the ground in NYC for over a year now, with mixed results. Simply put, getting people to show up to an event is hard work. Given the resources I assume Etsy must have at their disposal, I wanted to see how they pulled off an event like this.

I wanted to know what they were measuring. What was their desired outcome? What would be considered a success?

Surely a large company with a sophisticated marketing operation like Etsy would have strict data recording requirements to prove ROI, right?

After scoping the scene, I approached someone wearing an Etsy shirt and told her how much I enjoyed the event, and asked about how they pulled it off.

She explained that the craft event was a recurring event that they host around the country. Each event partners with various local shops in the neighborhood by having them host a craft station in their stores. Participants can grab a map at the main location (where I was), then walk through the neighborhood to each station/business, making a different craft at each.

“Here’s what I really want to know,” I said to her. “I work in marketing, and I’d love to know what you guys would consider a successful event? Are you counting how many people come in or how many go on to create Etsy accounts?”

“Nope,” she replied.

“...oh! Really?”

“Yeah, our goal for this is really just to get the community engaged and for everyone to have a good time.”

She went on to explain how Etsy’s default interaction with their customer base is digital. People browse, shop, and sell online. But the products themselves are notably “old school.” Handmade items, created by craft-driven people with care for their customers.

That doesn’t really jive with the online-only mechanics of the site.

So the craft event is Etsy’s chance to bring their brand and all it stands for face-to-face with the public. They can build phenomenal brand awareness in a unique way, all while building relationships with local businesses that will pay dividends down the road.

But I would argue that the very reason they ARE able to do this is because they’ve freed themselves from the burden of a numerical goal that directly translates to more business for the company.

“You improve what you measure” cuts both ways. Sometimes it helps you focus on what’s important and make a real impact. Other times, it over incentivises a specific outcome, leading teams to force their desires on the customer, no matter what the customer wants.

Had the goal been to sign up X number of new Etsy users, I would have been pestered by event workers with iPads attempting to get me to create an account.

That’s bad for the user.

So they said “to hell with that,” and focused solely on creating a fun event. The quality was the only thing that mattered.

And that’s indicative of their brand as a whole. Sellers on Etsy (or at least the ones Etsy is trying to attract) aren’t concerned with churning out the cheapest product as possible to keep their margins high. They want to create a quality product. Something that will mean a lot to the person who buys it. They’re willing to spend a little extra money, because the buyer knows they’re getting something unique.

The end product is something far more valuable than a short term win from an event. It’s a lasting brand experience that will pay off for the company for years.

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Email Forms & The Worst Guy at The Party

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suggested music pairing: "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck

A while back, I read something that changed the way I talk to new people at parties.

The advice was simple: “Stop asking ‘So what do you do?’ at parties.”

Simple, yes, but surprisingly difficult to actually pull off. The question has been so ingrained in our lexicon of icebreakers that I find myself saying it before I can even really think about it. It just jumps out.

The arguments for abandoning this question are compelling. For one, parties and social gatherings are often where we go to escape and unwind from work. If you find yourself explaining over and over what it is you do for work, that defeats the whole purpose. Even if you love your work.

It also boils people down to nothing more than their profession. Our society is career-obsessed. So much so that the way we get to know someone new is by asking what their career is.

Finally, it’s just boring and predictable. We all get asked that question so frequently that our answers have become rote. We have a 30-second “elevator” pitch, and it's rehearsed and perfect. It’s boring and doesn’t reveal a thing about who we are.

Why not ask something more interesting? Something your conversational partner has to actually stop and think about?

What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to?
Been to any good concerts lately?
What’s the best place to eat in your hometown?
What do you do for fun on weekends?

Much like a bad party, the scourge of boring, routine questions has infected our online lives as well. Anywhere you turn online, you’re being asked to subscribe to something (hey, subscribe to this blog!) or fill out something.

They’ve become so routine that they never grab our attention anymore.

Unless you’re creative and clever, like my friend Simon Scriver. Or the brilliant folks at DoSomething.org.

Commanding attention with the right question.

Simon Scriver is just an all around brilliant dude. He’s a quick-witted and a gifted communicator. And he does it all with an Irish accent.

He’s sung on stage with Pavarotti in Hong Kong and has just 14 items left on his bucket list.

Oh, and he’s also a fundraiser for a wonderful organization in Ireland called One in Four.

His personal blog, ChangeFundraising.com, is a wonderful look at the fundraising and charity world that I think is interesting even for those outside of that bubble.

But what I love most about his blog is the subscription form he uses.

 

Name (alright), email (okay), favorite song right now (oh hey what now? Hmmm, let me think…).

It grabs your attention and makes you pause and think about your response. I actually opened up my Spotify account and looked at the songs I had recently added to try and pick the best possible response.

Aside from the improved experience as a user, it gives Simon a much more personal look at his subscribers. He’s got something to talk about with them should he want to email and get to know them better.

They’re no longer anonymous email addresses that he obsessively collects in a vain effort to have the biggest list possible. They’re people that he gets to know by just that little bit.

Also, he uses my favorite word (“cheeky”) on that form too. Quite cheeky.

Building a better icebreaker.

I’m more than a little obsessed with DoSomething.org.

DoSomething is a nonprofit that connects teens and young adults with cause-based activities that don’t require a car, money, or an adult. They help teens get invested in their communities through action.

They also throw one hell of a party.

DoSomething is headquartered in New York City and they frequently host events at their offices.

Although, “event” isn’t really the best way to describe it. It’s a party.

Photo booths, DJ’s, kegs, disco lights, and dancing.

For their annual meeting, DoSomething mixed things up a bit with their RSVP.
 

Last question: Your Celeb Crush

Last question: Your Celeb Crush

 

Love it.

Now, besides being clever and attention grabbing, this question served as a way that DoSomething could combat boring ice breaker questions at their event and get people having meaningful, fun conversations from the get-go.

You see, your “Celeb Crush” was printed onto your name tag:

Not only that, but it’s far more prominent on your badge than your company is.

So you walk in, grab a drink, join a conversation, and people instantly have something to talk to you about. That conversation can spill over to music, movies, hometowns, and more.

Enough with the same old crap.

The quickest way to never be noticed is by doing the same crap everyone else is already doing. And nowhere is that more true than in the blog/marketing world.

Influencer publishes how-to. Everybody reads it. Everybody copies it (usually poorly). Lather, rinse, repeat.

But there are little things you can do on the “must-haves” of your blog that can make it a more memorable and enjoyable experience. These seemingly frivolous things can have a huge impact. I would bet that Simon Scriver probably has a pretty high conversion rate on that subscriber form, but honestly, that part doesn’t even matter.

A question like that is guaranteed to make you more memorable to your audience. How could they not open your next subscription email after reading that?

It makes you human again. It makes your reader human again.

And it certainly makes you the most interesting person at the party.

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