Let It Happen
You know that second when you stub your toe and the pain hasn't registered yet but you know it's coming? That's how I felt as I watched in horror (and slow motion) as one of my favorite coffee mugs teetered on the mug tree then tumbled toward an untimely death on my kitchen floor. It wasn't just the loud noise (waking my kids), the mess or the painstaking delay of caffeine that I feared as the shiny ceramic somersaulted to the ground. "Is that?" "Wait, it can't be?" "Oh, noooooooooooooooooo. It is." It was my Make It Happen mug.
Given to me by my client at Microsoft many years back, my Make It Happen mug was a gift of thanks and props for being an agency partner who "always figured it out." A symbol of our tenacity and can do attitude. Make It Happen. A simple phrase that modeled one of our core beliefs: no was never an option.
Having spent more than a decade at an experiential marketing agency, doing the 'impossible' was our calling card. We were often tasked with doing things that hadn't been done before, which became increasingly difficult as the industry widened and social media broadcasted it. But we did it, time and time again. Our work was often stressful as all hell yet exhilarating all the while. Make It Happen. That we did.
Another beloved client once called us "The Ray Donovan of Marketing." While we weren't hiding bodies (except our own tired ones on occasion to get a few hours sleep onsite) we were absolutely fixers. Strategically, we were helping our clients solve their sales & marketing challenges. Tactically we were pulling permits in record time, navigating endless ordinance red tape and cleaning up any damage before anyone had a chance to know about it. Did you know that frosting from a 20' tall wedding cake is very susceptible to melting in the sunlight, creating a slippery viscous liquid? Did you know that the grates in Times Square hover directly over the NYC Subway system? Do you know what happens when you combine these two facts? Of course you don't, because we got there first.
As the mug hit the ground, a momentary reprieve!!! It bounced! Completely unscathed and landing at just the right angle it catapulted up and was within my grasp. "Yeah baby!" my ego and endorphins screamed, "Indestructible. This mug ain't going no where."
If this were a movie, it would be the perfect time for an additional montage of "bad ass marketing" memories to flood the screen.
Although not proud, I once stole a hard wired internet line from a neighboring business when our internet provider failed to successfully install one in time. We were going live in less than two hours with a global live stream for a leading television network client who was premiering a feature film. Add to the pressure that this was the first time that this particular cast had been reunited together on stage and on screen, in more than a decade, for all of the world to see.
There I stood. Huddled with our crew, in show black solidarity. Wearing both a comm and a walkie (it was THAT kind of show). My ears were ringing with questions and updates.
"Front of house, we're at pre-party doors - guests are entering the building."
"Copy that." I stammered.
"Press pen is filling up, Erin, do you want to open the red carpet in 20 minutes?"
"Yes, carpet go in 20," I mumbled through quaking lips.
There I stood. Dumbfounded and just holy shit. Moments away from the biggest event of my professional career to date and it was all about to blow up. It was truly a scene from a movie (at a movie premiere, very meta).
During load in, we had discovered that the neighboring box office's ethernet cord had been snaked through our control room. And now this shiny blue lifeline, aglow with sufficient Mbps, stood before me.
"It's a pristine connection - we've tested it." They advised me.
"That theater is dark today, yes?" I asked, assessing the collateral damage & karmic impact of what I was about to do.
"Yes, but the box office remains open."
My stomach pitted even further.
"Though most of their ticket sales are by phone..." a knowledgeable production assistant tried to offer solace.
"Do it." I told our technical director and then ran backstage to hot holding. Little did I know the venue manager was standing in the corner, secretly watching this moral & professional dilemma unfold. She confronted me in the back stairwell. She and I, face to face. It wasn't pretty but let's just say I won. Our show went live with perfect connectivity and our neighbors had their Fios back 59 minutes later, none the wiser. Not my finest moment. Ok, let's be honest, I'm actually really proud of that! Stealing from the internet rich and giving to those most deserving of the bandwidth - the fans. If you do it for the fans, you can't be wrong.
(Lack of) Java Script
Crack. The mug hit the ground again, this time indefinitely. But wait, what's that I see? Another reprieve? Yes! It only broke into three pieces... nothing I can't fix. You can't stop me!
I leaned in for further inspection. And there it was, micro shrapnel abound. It was beyond repair.
In a moment of vulnerability, tears flooded my eyes. "Damn it." I said as I wiped them away. Being pre-coffee and hearing the entire house rousing from the crash (and thus about to devoid me of any me/focus time for likely the rest of the day), I felt totally overwhelmed. Crest fallen. Defeated - and just like my mug, apparently not so indestructible. And of course me being me, my mind quickly took a very scripted, dark & twisty existential turn.
This is a SIGN.
How quickly I correlated my circumstances to 2020, the year that continues to belie us. Just like my mug, this year was broken. It was shattered just like the lives of so many this year. Shattered like the health, the dreams, the livelihoods, the normalcy of so many.
Why does the universe NOT want me to make it happen? Who is trying to stop me? Why are we all being stopped from making it happen right now? Was I wrong to start my own business? Am I kidding myself that I can build an experience company when experiences are all but prohibited right now?
Oh man, if only I'd just poured myself another cup of coffee.
But instead, I spiraled. And I mourned. I mourned the way things used to be. I mourned an entire industry that was literally ground to a halt in two week's time. I mourned the speed & agility with which I used to deliver for my clients. The solutions I was able to offer, the live engagement I was able to create. I mourned going to the office, with dedicated work time vs. having to repeatedly disappoint my three most precious clients here at home when they see mommy answering her laptop instead of their very important questions about the world. Yesterday's was "If you delete the app store from your iPad then how do you get it back?" Even that one stumped me.
There it was, a pile of splintered dreams. Chards of hopelessness. Certainly an indication that I would no longer be able to make it happen in the manner in which I was used to.
Party's Over - Or Is It?
Luckily for me, dwelling is not a luxury I'm often afforded - as the little ones, hearing the commotion, did rouse and my pity party was forced to end as abruptly as it began. The day proceeded to its familiar tune of chaos - virtual homeroom, a conference call, tutoring Zoom, a new business presentation, potty training regression and so forth.
Amid the grind, an unexpected thing happened. Out of the clear blue sky, a new opportunity for Strat House fell right into my inbox. It wasn't the result of a proposal we had authored, nor our SEO, nor a referral. It wasn't the result of anything 'I made happen.' How could that be? Again, with the no time to dwell, I accepted it as luck as kept on with the day.
Two hours later, a current client got in touch and awarded us an additional project - one that wasn't even on our radar. Did I see it coming? No. Did I make it happen? Nope. It just did.
I finally started to understand what the universe was telling me.
Right now, it's ok to feel immobilized, both personally and professionally. It's perfectly acceptable to mourn the control we all had previously. To long for the nimble nature in which we all led our lives. To aspire to the days pre-pandemic when our worries were far less consequential than those we are confronted with today, AND were able to be addressed by our own actions vs. needing to rely on the WHO, the Federal Government, Pfizer and Moderna.
Very much is out of our hands right now, save for keeping ourselves and our loved ones as safe as possible. It's ok to admit that the paths forward for our businesses are elusive and daunting. So what should we do?
Celebrate our prior successes, be grateful for the learning opportunities we've been granted to date (like how to justify stealing an ethernet connection) and perhaps use our current circumstances to shift our focus outward, and if you're a spiritual being - upward. It's not all about you. And accordingly, it's not all on you.
Trust that there is a way forward, it will become clear to you, it will become clear to us all.
The weight of this journey is not on you alone. Now is the time to allow yourself to...
Let it happen.
Authored by Strat House CEO, Erin Mills, House Call is a weekly dose of strategy, inspo & perspective for your professional life. Although unplanned, all posts in this series thus far have involved coffee.