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Events and Life Mindsets

Feminism from a tone-deaf male’s perspective

Feminism isn’t new to me. I have been aware of and supported the movement for about a long as I have had a sense of gender roles in our society. I think of myself as being respectful of gender equality and a woman’s right and ability to do pretty much whatever she sets her mind to do. I don’t believe my respect, recognition or permission is required. I believe women have as much a right to determine their own destinies as men do and that women’s rights are inherent.

Tone deaf, reading lips

At the same time, I am conscious of my tendency to be very male in my thinking. I wrote about this in a recent, private discussion on Facebook and I thought I’d repeat some of what I wrote to give you a better sense of what I mean. I was writing about participating in discussions about feminism as a man, a fairly risky exercise:

The problem with this topic for me is that it is a linguistic minefield shrouded in mystery.

It’s not to say that I’m insensitive to much of what feminism stands for but I am still a male raised by parents with certain perspectives on roles and relationships. It isn’t to say that my parents believed in submissive women and strong, manly men but they did the best they could as products of their upbringings.

I firmly believe in gender equality and women having as much choice over their destinies as men. At the same time, I also know some of my perceptions and subconscious beliefs are probably relatively patriarchal. I make conscious efforts to change my thinking but I make mistakes all the time.

When I read conversations like this my first instinct is to shut up and move away as quickly and quietly as I can. I just know that opening my mouth is a mistake because I am going to offend people, usually without intending to or even being aware of it.

Just adding a perspective from a flawed male who has definitely missed something important that everyone else seems to take as a given.

One of the commentators mentioned anger at the treatment women receive from men and I had a few thoughts about that too:

Actually I think women are fully entitled to be angry about a lot of things. There are times when I am glad that I am male because I don’t know how women put up with the crap men do, seemingly all the time. So angry is ok too because sometimes men only pay attention when faced with rage.

I think the conversation tends to go sideways when men who support gender equality (and what goes with it) become the targets of all that rage because we are more receptive to it. The men who make being male an embarrassment so often, just don’t care and your anger reinforces their attitudes.

The crux of the issue, for me at least, is this:

For sure but it seems, from my perspective, that when men try and participate in a discussion about feminism, the amount of care we have to take with language we use is analogous to a ritualistic tea ceremony.

It just doesn’t seem possible to have a meaningful discussion using imperfect language that almost certainly carries a legacy tone, irrespective of the underlying intentions and beliefs.

The discussion about mansplaining largely confuses me. It is probably because I lack an awareness of how to effectively listen (active listening? I’m a man, I am almost genetically coded to struggle with this) and explain perspectives without appearing to be condescending.

I know I definitely speak more than I should listen and have a tendency to forget to just listen. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a useful perspective or support gender equality (for example). It just means I sometimes use verbal crayons to express it.

What gender inequality means to me

There are many themes in feminist debates that I come across now and then which seem too extreme for me. I suppose that is bound to happen, particularly in debates about feminism and gender equality and the nuances in gender discrimination. Fortunately or unfortunately, most of those nuances elude me. While I understand that there are feminists who have adopted extreme positions on a range of topics including marriage and men opening doors for women, I don’t agree with those positions.

There is probably a lot in what I have written that only highlights the concerns many feminists raise about men and our problematic behaviours (things like mansplaining, which I think I have a basic understanding of but which can be pretty nuanced in itself). My efforts to outline support for feminism and gender equality probably only exacerbate the situation in some activists’ eyes and I accept that.

I grew up in a relatively liberal cultural context. Even then, I am almost coded to think about gender roles and relationships in certain ways that may seem anachronistic to many. There may be some sort of gender-neutral ideal for how people “should” talk and relate to each other. I don’t know what it is and I’m not sure I want to.

I recognise that men and women are different in many ways. We are physically different. Our brains seem to work a little differently and our bodies, generally, seem to handle some things better than others. None of those differences make one gender better than another or subordinate to the other, fundamentally. But, we are different and those differences are part of what make us remarkable.

There are some differences that are profound and deeply troubling to me as a man. As aware as I like to think I am, I have had very little insight into the daily challenges women face, just being women. Actually, scratch that, girls and women! These challenges are, to me, at the centre of gender equality and they were spelled out in a 2015 blog post by Gretchen Kelly titled “The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About”:

This post is perfect for me. What I have come to accept is that I often need things to be spelled out to me and Kelly does a great job with that in her post. Below are some extracts that really stood out for me. The first touches on this need to spell stuff out for us men. We really can be utterly tone deaf:

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the everyday sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

When I think about the experiences Kelly writes about, I cringe. I cringe when I think my wife may be experiencing stuff like this every day. I cringe when I realise that I don’t even ask her whether she does? I especially cringe when I think about what our daughter may face as she grows up.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means.

We develop into women while our minds are still innocent.

We get stares and comments before we can even drive—from adult men.

We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex—that boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

Glimpses of women’s daily challenges

What Kelly writes about is, to me, the scariest thing about how men and women tend to relate to each other. Whether a woman (womyn?) approves of marriage as a structured relationship or takes offence because I haven’t assumed an appropriately remorseful and submissive posture when dealing with her falls into the category of issues that may never be particularly meaningful to me. That may be unreasonably dismissive and patronising. I see it as an issue between the woman and whoever she is relating to.

What makes a deep impression on me and forces me to think deeply about how I live my life and relate to women are stories like Kelly’s. They speak about the fabric of our society and about the legacy we are leaving for our children.

Just a flawed male doing my part

I make a point of teaching our children (a boy and a girl) that they can both achieve great things. I love that my daughter admires Wonder Woman, a character I see as powerful, intelligent and confident. I also don’t particularly care whether my kids choose the pink or blue Kinder Joy eggs, only that they enjoy the treat.

I will keep teaching my son to let women enter before him and, when he is old enough, to open doors for women and to respect them (like my father taught me). If a woman takes offence at that, she will have missed his intention to be respectful and courteous. I don’t want him to grow up being ashamed of being male either.

I teach my daughter that she can do all the things she wants to do, even if they are traditionally male activities. I will also encourage her to learn to defend herself because I don’t want her to ever feel vulnerable because she is a girl. Like Wonder Woman, I want my daughter to grow up feeling powerful, confident and beautiful. I want her to feel free to express her femininity and be compassionate and see those qualities as strengths.

So, yes, I am male. I don’t always listen (something my wife will attest to, enthusiastically) and I can be pretty tone-deaf when it comes to all the things that contribute to gender inequality. I don’t understand all the issues and am not aware of all the nuances. I may never be and I’m not sure I want to be. It seems like a sterile and neurotic world to live in.

Above all, though, I definitely want to help create a world where the fear and compromises Kelly writes about become unpleasant memories. My contributions are not intellectual and semantic. They are the conversations I have with our children about how to be good people and my continuous efforts to be a better husband to my long-suffering wife.

I am glad we live in Israel. Casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was a perfect choice. She represents so many of the inspiring qualities I see in Israeli women every day: they are confident, capable and beautiful. They set a very different tone for our children and I think that makes a big difference too.

My wife asked me if I consider myself a feminist. She defined being a feminist as “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men”. Maybe I am but that doesn’t mean that I am not a flawed male with residual neanderthal tendencies, just like the many men who work really hard to help build a new world where women’s inherent rights are self-evident, not the subject of debate.

Image credit: Lost in Translation by Kris Krug, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Categories
Business and work Writing

Writing should take that long

I suspected I was about to hit the bottom of the pit earlier that day. By early afternoon, I was lying, broken, in a crater. The lesson (spoiler alert!): yes, writing should take that long.

I was working with much shorter writing deadlines to produce new articles than I usually have. I was sceptical that the deadlines were feasible. At the same time, I thought that if journalists could produce articles on ridiculous deadlines, I should be able to do the marketing writing equivalent.

I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

Bending space-time while writing

I started my morning at a sprint. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to say in the article and I was determined to meet the new deadline: researching and writing a medium length opinion piece in a standard working day (effectively 5 to 7 hours).

I finished the initial piece an hour or two over my deadline and shared it with my manager to review. She read it the next day and we discussed it shortly after lunch when I was in the middle of another article-in-a-day.

Well-written crap

The critique of my article began with my manager saying she couldn’t quite understand what I was saying. I wasn’t too disturbed by this because I wrote the article a little more creatively than usual.

When we discussed more of her comments it became clear that the facts and assumptions which I relied on to make my point were utterly irrelevant and devoid of any practical value as parts of a case study.

There was no doubt: I had produced well-written crap.

Writing isn’t easy, there is a process

The challenge is an expectation that it shouldn’t take long to write a clear, insightful and effective article about some or other business topic. By “clear, insightful and effective”, I mean that the article should have certain qualities:

  • It should be well-written and easy to understand;
  • The article should contain more than a simple reporting of its subject matter. It should contain something interesting and, well, insights into some valuable aspect of the topic; and
  • The article should fulfil its purpose which, in my case, is to attract prospective clients to our blog and persuade them to sign up to use our products.

ThatDasia, aka Patricia, described the problem nicely in her blog post titled “Are Writers the Most Disrespected Creatives?”:

On the surface, our job is something everyone learns to do when they’re seven.

Everyone who gives us work can write (they write briefs, don’t they?)

Everyone who pays us can write (they send us emails, don’t they?)

Everyone uses words, but the heartbreaking thing (to me) is that most don’t care about them.

Everyone writes. But not everyone is a writer.

Surely it shouldn’t take more than a couple hours to research a compelling topic, write a brilliant piece of between 500 and 750 words that converts targeted prospective customers into paying customers? They’re just words. Writing is easy. Writers just sit there in front of their screens typing stuff. How hard can it be?

Something like that, right?

Here is the thing: what seems like the simplest of tasks is really not that easy. We just make it look easy because most of the work occurs in our heads.

Perhaps if there were tears, strained muscles and blood seeping out of our ears, it may be easier to perceive the difficulty involved? Thankfully writing doesn’t usually have that sort of physiological effect but you can pretend it does if it helps.

Picking the topic takes time

For me, finding the topic is the first step. Some people like to sit and brainstorm 10 articles about 3, 7 or 10 things prospective customers absolutely must read to make it to their next meal and thrive.

That sort of approach can be useful if you have interesting topics in mind already but I much prefer researching what is going on in my industry and identifying relevant, topical themes. That takes time because it involves a lot of reading and processing.

Then, once I have a topic I find more information relevant to my topic. Other perspectives, data to work into funky infographics and quotes to inspire and amaze. That also takes time because it also requires me to test my hypothesis against what is actually going on in the world.

My well-written piece of crap skipped this stage and that came through pretty strongly on review.

Putting words on a page

The most visible part of the work is when I start typing. This is when observers can see Progress happening. If it looks like there are a lot of words on a screen then it means Things Are Happening. This is a risky time for us writers, though.

The process of writing the article is a lot like that metaphor used for launching a business: you leap off the cliff with your materials and build your plane on the way down with the goal of powered flight before you hit the ground.

Writing isn’t a mechanical process. At least good writing isn’t. Just producing words in some sort of coherent form isn’t enough.

You always have to keep the article’s flow or story in mind and keep it all consistent. Add to that all the keywords, phrases and links that we like to include in marketing writing and it can be a lot to keep track of.

All of this while appearing to Make Progress.

For bonus points: picking the winning headline

The Experts say you should dedicate about as much time to writing a great headline as you do writing the actual article. The reason for this is that your article’s headline is your hook to capture your prospective reader’s attention (and Google’s).

I don’t spend nearly as much time as the Experts say I should when I come up with a headline. I can image the consternation if I sat there at my desk with a largely complete article and a blank headline field for a couple hours while I appear to stare blankly out the window.

Yes, it really should take that long

Once the article is done, a brilliant headline formulated and it is all paired with great images (that is another process in itself); the article you spent A Lot of Time working on has to perform. It has to have the right combination of keywords, headline and other mystical stuff to draw the crowds.

Remember the movie “Field of Dreams”? “Build it and they will come”? It’s a lot like that except this isn’t a baseball field on a farm somewhere. It is one of a gazillion articles published on the Web that day, many of which are written by other marketing writers aiming for the same audience with a very limited attention span.

Somehow our article has to reach through the noise and grab our audience’s attention. We then have to hold their attention long enough for some of them to invest their time in our companies.

Achieving that is part marketing technique, part talent and part luck. The proportions vary but our talent as writers, as a storytellers, is what will persuade prospective customers to become actual customers. Actual customers are convinced by our stories that what we offer holds the key to their success. Our marketing technique and luck show them the way and, perhaps, open the door. We still have to help them believe, to see the light.

No production lines here

That takes time and it isn’t something that can be simply cranked out on a production line like engine parts.

These creations we give birth to on keyboards (there’s an image for you) must find their way across the Internet, blind, and connect with someone who may have no idea who we are or what our companies offer. It must then persuade that person to take the time to listen to us and, more than that, trust us enough to sign up and pay our employers money.

That requires more than pounding a series of keys to produce 500 to 750 grammatically correct words. It requires insight, creativity and talent.

It also requires time.

How much time is required for for clear, intelligible, insightful and effective writing, you may ask? Easy, as much time as is needed. No more and no less.

So, yes, writing should take that long.

Image credit: Kaboompics

Categories
Events and Life Mindsets People Travel and places

Israelis gatecrash a quiet wedding

Israelis are a crazy people and have a reputation that isn’t always positive. What people often don’t see is how amazing Israelis are. I came across a fantastic story yesterday about how a group of Israelis gatecrashed a quiet wedding in Haifa that really highlights one of the reasons I am proud to be an Israeli.

According to Times of Israel:

An American Jewish couple who came to Israel to get married, but found themselves short on guests, were caught by surprise when dozens of Israelis joined them to make their celebration a little bit merrier.

Guests celebrating a bat mitzvah at an adjacent hall in Haifa noticed that Judd and Ma’ayan’s party was almost entirely devoid of attendees.

“We saw the hall was empty. We spoke to the owner and he said that they came from the US to get married,” Miri Shabat told Ynet news. “Some friends from central Israel were supposed to come to the wedding. They couldn’t make it and there were only 20 guests here. So we started running posts on Facebook.”

What happened next was awesome. Here is Miri’s post on Facebook:

:משהו בשביל חברים ישראלי

Yes, we can be abrupt, obnoxious and take arrogance to a whole new level but that doesn’t come close to a complete picture of Israelis. Israeli culture is, well, complicated. There are many aspects of it that I don’t particularly like and I’ve been taken advantage of more than once. Those experiences pale in comparison to all the times our friends and strangers have been unexpectedly and wonderfully generous to us and to people they encounter on the street.

I used to stereotype Israelis before I really met them, before we moved here. I really had no idea. The negative stuff people experience that informs common perceptions about Israelis is really just the thin surface, a superficial layer that sometimes obscures something amazing within. We’re definitely not perfect but, like Shrek said, layers.

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Mindsets People Sports

Little girls can wear fairy wings and do skateboard tricks

I saw this and just thought about our daughter. I can definitely see her doing this in a couple years, with the wings.

Categories
Mindsets

Moderating yourself in the Information Age

Mike makes an appealing argument for integrity informed by a complete representation of your self online in his post titled “The Measure of Character in the Information Age“. He argues that we shouldn’t have to delete anything we publish if we conduct ourselves responsibly. At the same time, I believe he is also arguing that we should be authentic and express ourselves from that authenticity (at least, that is how I interpret what he is suggesting):

Knowing full well that I am the kind of person who enjoys this reality, I want to be the kind of man who never has to delete anything. Who never has to worry about that email I sent to my tax man about that loophole getting published or passed on somewhere (that was a hypothetical example :)). Who never has to delete a WhatsApp message. Who never has to delete the updates or tweets I publish. Because if I do, I’m lying to someone. More importantly, if I do, I’m lying to myself. Which is a great barometer for weak character. Nobody wants that.

I have made some spectacularly bad decisions when it comes to publishing my thoughts about a range of topics and I have even deleted a couple of posts and updates after either reconsidering them or having people I respect approach me to reconsider my publications. My tendency to publish impulsively, especially when I am annoyed or upset, has probably cost me quite a bit in terms of my credibility, potential business and personal relationships.

I’d like to live in a world in which the people we engage with form a bigger picture view of who we are and what we stand for despite the occasional emotional storms that rock our inner oceans. There are times when it seems we are living in that sort of world but, for the most part, the things we publish have a much more immediate and profound impact on perceptions and relationships regardless of who we are from a broader perspective. People, it seems, rarely adopt a meta view of each other, they’re usually being tossed around by the choppy water too much to look around and into the distance.

Where that leaves us is that moderating yourself, our public expressions of our thoughts and feelings. On the one hand that leaves us with a somewhat diminished sense of personal integrity when we don’t speak our truths completely and confidently but, on the other hand, moderating ourselves enables us to function in our society more effectively.

If the measure of character in this Information Age is what you feel you need to delete and censor, be the kind of person that doesn’t have to.

Mike’s conclusion is compelling but I’m not so sure that this is the solution. Very few people are the sorts of people who don’t need to “delete and censor”, either because they are immune to public perception of their controversial views or because they are credible people with integrity who don’t have a mean tweet in their literary bones. Most of us are flawed, irrational, compulsive and have far too many ways to publish our thoughts and feelings without thinking too much about it beforehand.

This comes up for me when I think about defamation (wearing my lawyerly hat, if lawyers wore hats). An analogy that comes to mind is this quote by late US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his opinion in the case of Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 376 (1927):

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

The emphasis is mine.

The reason why this comes to mind in the context of Mike’s post is that I keep thinking that instead of finding ways to close the net around people’s self-expression because of the myriad ways that expression offends others and may even result in some sort of harm (I don’t include categories of hate speech and incitements to do harm – that is not and should not be protected for good reasons), we should all grow up a little and remember the nursery rhyme:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me

Categories
Business and work Events and Life Mindsets

A father's advice to his daughter about words in magazines and make-up aisles

I came across this terrific letter Dr Kelly Flanagan wrote to his daughter in a blog post titled “Words from a father to his daughter (from the makeup aisle)” which I want our daughter to hear when she is old enough to affected by them.

Two paragraphs really stood out for me:

When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.
… and this next one which, aside from the bit about fingernails, is advice we could all benefit from:

Brilliant strength. May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.
Thanks to Daniella for sharing this on Facebook.

Categories
Mindsets

Challenging Not-for-Profit Perceptions

I’ve been involved in a couple not-for-profit (aka non-profit) organisations in my career in some form or another. What I have noticed is that many of this not-for-profit organisations (let’s just refer to them as “NPOs”) suffer from a debilitating perception held by their various stakeholders. This perception is that a NPO should not make much money and everyone involved in it should either be volunteers or work for very little money. Only for-profit businesses are entitled to generate substantial revenue and pay their staff decent to high salaries.

This perception cripples NPOs because it undermines their fundraising activities and their staff and contributors have this notion that their NPOs should be operated as whatever the opposite of how a commercial enterprise is run. That is, as a business.

Fortunately there are NPOs which are operated as true social businesses . They employ skilled professionals and pay them pretty decent salaries. They operate as businesses with effective management and controls and the primary difference between their work and a commercial counterpart’s is that the NPO works to benefit a cause and doesn’t distribute profits to its members and directors.

Unfortunately, this business-like approach does not seem to be the norm and many NPOs with important objectives are run inefficiently and ineffectively which, in tough economic times when contributions to NPOs take a dive, can be disastrous. Fortunately there is some innovative work being done to change this perception. I particularly like Dan Pallotta’s recent TED Talk on this topic which is very much worth watching:

Funding and operating smart marketing campaigns to support and attract funding for NPOs is essential. Both supporters and contributors simply have to shift their expectations and perceptions of NPOs and start running them like a commercial enterprise, except with the purpose of having an impact on important social and environmental challenges. It is the only way to make sustainable progress where it is needed most.

Categories
Business and work Events and Life Mindsets

Mostly Bullshit


I’ve rethought a lot of my life in the last 6 months or so since I was diagnosed as diabetic. It wasn’t so much that my diabetes was so out of control that I was facing imminent doom (at least I realised that when I got over the initial surprise and learned more about it) and that sense of my looming demise forced a rethink of my life and general direction. No, it was more that my diagnosis prompted changes in my lifestyle which necessitated different approaches and perspectives which led to further changes. It was a cascading series of changes. In the process my life changed fairly profoundly and continues to change.

I have been thinking about a number of things during this time that I have realised are mostly bullshit. Those things include the almost religious zeal with which many of us (I include myself in this insular group of tech- and digital-aware pundits with too few substantive challenges in our lives or who lack the appropriate perspective to recognise the real issues) approach consumer tech. Another item on this list is commercial banking which we allow to totally screw up our financial wellbeing.

The consumer tech rant

The consumer tech obsession isn’t new. It’s been going for ages and I have made a small contribution to it in my brief time blogging about it. I still obsess about aspects of it, mostly social services like Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as part of an externalised series of thought experiments. I still find myself getting caught up in new shiny things from time to time and that annoys me. I have been reading posts about recent new devices and the commentary is pretty much the time. The difference is that specs change.

The commentary is generally that some device is the death of another because of its size, screen resolution (aside from whether a device looks good to you as an individual, do you really care precisely how many PPI you can squeeze onto that screen?) or some other arbitrary factor. I use an iPhone and I upgrade to the new one every other year or so. I largely do it because I want more capable devices (better camera for better photos on the go, faster processor so my phone runs my apps more effectively and so on). Yes, Google’s software is pretty good and, yes, many non-Apple devices have multi-core processors and other features that seem better on paper or in a multitude of virtually identical reviews (which is why I don’t do gadget reviews anymore) but I like my iPhones and they work for me.

Unless you are a tech journalist or blogger who gets caught up in specs for the sake of it, most people probably use the devices they use because it is what they could afford; because it works for them or because it was probably the best of a selection available to them when they upgraded their contract. Tech specs and the extent to which one device’s screen has worse white balance compared to another (insert comparative gripe here) are largely bullshit. Each of us have a preference for a device or range of devices based on what may appeal to us at that point. Tech bloggers and journalists are basically spoilt sales people who hype new tech based on meaningless criteria (at least for a substantial number of people). All this talk of devices being iPhone- or Android-killers is about as meaningful as, well, it really has no meaning in real terms.

I don’t know what the solution is. For me, at least, being amused because I still have an iPhone 5 when there are any number of bigger, brighter or newer Android/Windows Phone/Blackberry phones out and asking why I haven’t switched is pretty idiotic. If I really cared about the new thing, I would have changed over. What I have works for me and the same thing probably applies to most non-tech bloggers and journalists.

Oh, one more thing on this rant: I noticed a newish trend for tech journos to write really cynically about new tech. That newfound cynicism is just the flip side of what most be totally old fashioned fanboyism. It is still bullshit, just negative and oxygen-sucking bullshit.

The bank rant

We had a time in the last couple years where banks were falling over themselves to show us just how cool they are and how much they innovate. Many of us consumers were rushing to switch to one or more of these banks because we completely bought into the hype.

That new and shiny smell has worn off and we are still stuck with much of what we had at our previous banks, although service levels have benefitted somewhat from the competition. The flashy banks that offered us manufactured status, perks and loyalty programs have become victims of their success. They are overwhelmed and can’t meet the service expectations they created. They almost never call you when they say they will and their offers to support you with seemingly fantastic products and services have very fine and contradictory print.

What I realised about banks is that they sell lifestyles. At least, the money they loan to us in substantial quantities is justified by co-created visions of better lives (we are just as much to blame, we aspire to be more than we perceive ourselves to be) made possible by higher credit card limits and overdraft facilities. This problem tends to be exacerbated by most of us buying into this very early on, usually when we start working and are just happy to make a break with relatively poor student years. Once we are caught up in that world, it just becomes progressively more expensive until we find ourselves in our 30s and 40s and in obscene debt.

The people who keep their costs down out of university and save as if they may need to pay for cars and houses with their own money (imagine being able to do that!) are the ones who have living expenses at a fraction of everyone else’s, much higher disposable income (which they probably mostly save) and who retire at 65 with a smile on their faces.

The rest of us are fools. We start off buying into the promise of a better life and wind up pursuing it because we just want to go on that one holiday or survive the month before the next payday. Although these banks are our best friends and @-mention us on Twitter when we are first dating them, we are eventually reminded that until we generate substantially more income than we did at the beginning (and merit more attention), we are economic slaves in tough economic times. All that advertising and all those benefits of switching from one bank to another are also mostly bullshit.

What really counts

Twitter co-founder, Ev Williams wrote a post a while ago in which he sets out his Formula for Entrepreneurial Success. Two of the items stand out as truly important things in life (they all are important and meaningful, so read the whole post):

3. Take Care of Yourself

When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers.

Love those Close to You

Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationships is.

It is easy to get caught up in bullshit and I still do it far too often for my liking. Developing a healthier perspective on that stuff takes work and it worth the time and effort. When you do, you begin to reintroduce more meaning into your life which becomes more your life the more you do it.

My diabetes diagnosis is one of the best things to have happened to me as an adult (after meeting and marrying my wife and having our children). It has become a metaphor for how I manage (loosely) my finances and even how I perceive attitudes to my work. I have more thoughts and questions about so many aspects of my life and far fewer answers. How about you? How conscious are you of the cruft in your life? Assuming you’re living your life, of course.