I'd rather do me, so you can do you

Photo by  Elijah Hiett  on  Unsplash

Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash

I used to be music collector when I was in my teens (late 80s, early 90s). I would scour record fairs for rarities that could build on my collection of rare recordings; live shows and back catalogues of my favourite bands.

(Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Black Sabbath in case you're interested).

Today, it's a little hard to collect rare pressings of live shows and recordings of unreleased tracks because there is so much that is accessible via streaming services as the norm.

But the beauty of these streaming services is the discoverability of great music you would otherwise not discover. 

(I'm an Apple Music fan — I switched from Spotify last year)

And it's this discoverability that lead me to find these great lyrics last month:

I'd rather do me so you can do you
You're following the crowd, I'd rather break rules
You're copying trends I'd rather invent
I've got nothing to prove but neither do you
Said I'd rather do me, so you can do you

By Ray Blk

As good music always does, these lyrics spoke to me.

Many years ago, I was in meeting a prospective client. I had wanted to work with this specific client for quite some time and as luck would have it, they had finally accepted to meet to chat about a potential project.

I was excited and so was my team.

I arrived for the meeting early, dressed the part and I had a couple of case studies ready to present on my laptop if the meeting called for it.

The conversation moved from small talk to commercial talk quickly and the problem that I initially thought I was responding to magnified from a digital strategy to something more — a transformation of their website (this was early 2000's) and a venture into other interactive domains as well.

Now, at the time, I was working for a digital agency whose sole offering was digital strategy and design. We had an amazing capability in design and development of tier one (for the time) solutions and very little else.

The meeting was going well. I was answering all the questions and I felt like she liked me.

This is a good thing.

Then she asked me "we're also looking to rebrand and redesign our print collateral. Do you have people who can help in these areas?"

"Yes. Yes of course we can do that."

The words came out before I put any thought into them. 

She looked surprised and I felt it in the pit of my stomach — she didn't believe me. The meeting ended with the standard niceties and needless to say, we didn't win the work. Any of it.

I was caught in a difficult position — sales were low, cash flow wasn't flowing and I knew that the business needed projects. I had to grab it when I saw it. I was also up against stiff competition and deep down, I knew we couldn't provide all the services our competition had up their sleeve.

I was in the moment and I said what I said. We needed a win and I promised more than I could actually offer and I was trying to be something I wasn't.

I kept saying yes when I should've said no. I should've stuck to what I was good at and left the rest to someone else. The experts.

We didn't win any of it.

I've learned from this behaviour now and I stick to what I'm good at.

And I've also learned to spot this behaviour in other contexts.

I was asked last week, by an aspiring designer, if he should focus on branding, digital, user experience or customer experience design — or if he should continue to focus on all of them.

I could see that he wanted to conform to some abstract vision of what he thought the industry expected of him. He wanted to find out what the secret mix of skills were that would land him the job he so desperately wanted.

I asked him what made him happy and I told him to pick one thing and be really good at that thing. To stay true to himself and not conform.

I asked him to channel that energy into finding the thing that drives him and only he could tell the rest of us what that was — not the other way around.

I asked him not to try and do everything because if he tried being everything to everyone, he'd be nothing to no one.

I asked him to enjoy the song.