Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 8, 2023
by Neil Senturia
Before I begin my weekly offering, allow me to wander back in time.
Two weeks ago, my column, which included Adam Grant’s rules for proper email etiquette, generated an unusually large response from readers. I have permission to share an email sent to a friend of mine from a “senior relationship manager” literally three days after the column ran.
The email begins with:
“I’m sure you’ll agree with me that persistence is the key to success. The reason I’m insisting on this 15-minute call is that I believe your team can benefit from our software development services that will help you scale and digitally transform your business.”
Note the words: “Insisting” and “benefit” — even though the sender knows nothing about this person’s business.
“To break the ice, I’d suggest onboarding our resource for a three-day trial period to start your collaboration with us. This would allow you to see our engineers in action with minimum risks and no obligations.”
Note the arrogance and assumptive close. Maybe instead of onboarding for three days, what about overboarding you in the middle of the Pacific?
“If you’re busy or don’t have an active need at this point, please let me know when I can circle back and I’ll follow through. Otherwise, what would be the best way for me to get 15 minutes on your calendar next week?”
Note: Next week is fine, but let’s do the year 2029. Send me a calendar notice.
And then here comes the ultimate topper. After the signature block, there is the final line of the email.
“I’m sorry if my emails have been bothering you. If you no longer want to receive them, please reply with OPT-OUT.”
You cannot make this stuff up.
On a more uplifting note, I recently read an article by Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, who writes that the stories we tell about ourselves, our “narrative identity,” can shape our mental health.
I love telling stories. However, I am not always deeply connected to reality. In that respect, Mark Twain has been my guide: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” My earlier time in Hollywood reinforced that mantra.
But how we tell our own personal story is important. Boardman cites psychologist Dan McAdams of Northwestern University who says that two narrative themes, “agency” and “redemption,” are key predictors of mental health.
Agency, he explains, is when we describe past events and recognize our role in shaping the outcome. It is “our” story. We own the tale of the tape. Redemption is when we recount “challenging times” and are able to find personal growth or a triumph. It is our overcoming of obstacles.
As an entrepreneur, this is your baseline. You need to create a coherent narrative about how you see yourself, and how you present yourself. This kind of storytelling is not about “pitching” your company. This kind of storytelling is about who you are.
Every person has their own stories of struggle and then (hopefully) triumph and redemption. And embracing these stories enhances your mental health. If you can create powerful personal stories that emphasize your competence, it will boost your level of persistence. This is hard stuff because all of us have demons, doubts, damages, perceived inadequacies, losses and failures (real or imagined).
Without playing psychoanalyst, let me also suggest that reading the stories of others who triumphed can give you a framework to hang your own story. We can imagine being Ernest Shackleton or Martin Luther King. The list is endless.
On a personal level, I think if you can imagine it, you can make it real. In other words, can we tell a story before it becomes reality? Not a story of the past, but a picture of the future, and in so doing, act in a way that makes that story come to life.
Write the story, make it concrete, look in the mirror, and then perhaps you can make it true.
Rule No. 759: “Yo, Adrian, I did it!”
— Rocky Balboa