I got up from the hotel desk that morning in August of 2006, the WiFi was thankfully working and I’d had a chance to answer my emails.
I’d sat not at a laptop, but at a full PC which I’d packed up, CTR monitor and all, and taken on the flight to the conference for reasons I will get to shortly.
I was hungry and looking forward to the breakfast provided, and so I exited my hotel room.
It was a sweltering 95-degree day in San Jose as I marched toward the McEnery Convention Center. The sun beat down on me in my suit from a clear blue sky for the full 28-minute, 1.3-mile walk, and I’d have to do the same that night.
Thankfully it would be cooler.
It was my last day at the conference though not the last day it was taking place. I’d had to cut my trip short but was looking forward to the sessions ahead and an evening out.
I’d spoken the day before on optimizing for all three major engines. They were Google, MSN, and Yahoo! if you’re wondering.
It was my first time speaking at a conference, and now I could relax.
I settled in, enjoyed the day, and when lunch rolled around it was delicious and boxed. I took two.
That evening we went to the hotel bar. I nursed a beer and when the opportunity arose, I pulled $20 from my wallet and bought my friend and now Webmaster Radio co-host Jim Hedger a Crown and Coke.
He’d given me some valuable advice on surviving my first session and supported me throughout. It was the least I could do, and I’d been waiting to do it.
Waiting, that is, because I’d held on to that $20 for the duration of my time in San Jose. Not because it was a special bill, but because it was the last that I had.
And that’s my point.
I Was an Ad
I was an ad. A manufactured version of the person I wanted others to see.
The reason I’d brought my computer with me is that I couldn’t afford a laptop. So instead I packed up the computer from “my office”, a beat-up desk at the foot of my bed, and brought it on the plane with me because I needed to keep up with clients.
I walked for 28 minutes through miserable heat in wool suits because the HoJo’s was a couple hundred dollars cheaper than anything around the conference.
I couldn’t spend the money I didn’t have on a cab, and so I walked, immediately ducking into the men’s room on my arrival at the conference to let my body cool off so I wasn’t sweating when I ran into people.
I took two lunches because it would save me having to buy food later. I was almost found out when I was invited to dinner one night with a few folks. I made up a client emergency and then stayed out of sight for a while.
There was no way I was making an extra trip to my hotel.
I’d brought $50 on that trip and it had to last me the full conference. A conference I cut a day short so as not to have to spend anything extra on a cheap hotel because I had nothing extra to spend.
I’d nursed that $50 right to the last evening, and needed to save some for the cab back to the airport. But I was able to treat my friend to a drink. I was able to play the part I was supposed to play as best I could play it.
I was surrounded by success and I was not one of them. But I’d pulled it off. I’d looked like one.
I was the ad I wanted to be. No one knew I was an imposter.
That Was Not the Last Time…
That was not the last time I played that role. In fact, I do it every day.
Yes, I have a laptop now. I sit at a desk I’m happy to sit at, no longer at the foot of my bed.
When I travel, I stay in decent proximity to conferences and I’ll grab a Lyft to get to places more than a few minutes away. And I’ll probably buy myself some food.
But even still, the version of me that is presented to the world is not the real me.
And that’s important to remember because the version of those around me that I see, that I compare myself to, that version is very likely as manufactured as I am.
This is not to say we are fake, it’s to say that back in 2006 I presented the version of me that I thought the world needed to see. I felt I needed to be an ad to earn the respect of my peers, and to hopefully land a client.
This tendency has only been amplified by social media but certainly not created by it, and being in marketing, skilled in the art, we know exactly how to craft messages.
Show just the right wins. Show just enough struggle. Be flawed in just the right way.
Yes, I’m an Ad
And as I see the successes of the people around me and judge myself based on them, I try to remember that they’re all ads too.
We are looking at manicured versions of each other, comparing ourselves to highlight reels that were created by marketers. And we’re trying to live up to them.
I am not what I appear. In some ways, I may be better, but in a great many more I am certainly worse.
And even now, in the example I have chosen to use to illustrate this point, the words I have chosen to convey it, and the way I am closing this piece, I am presenting the version of myself that I wish to be seen as.
Remember this when you’re looking at the folks on a stage rocking it.
When you’re hearing about how successful their companies are.
How amazing they did on a campaign.
How fantastic their dinner was (they made it themselves!).
Remember, as you feel you haven’t accomplished what others have, I’m an ad.
And you can, too!
Picture From SES 2006: Barry Schwartz on Flickr
Now With More Factors Image: Adobe Stock (edited by author)