#Stacktivism Is a Thing and It’s Awesome

Asking what an object or structure means is an intrinsic part of what designers, architects and artists do all the time. It’s not natural for engineers, though. Engineers are practical people; they build things to spec, they keep the lights on and the trains running. To be clear, this isn’t to claim that engineers have no imagination – far from it. Engineers have plenty of imagination, but it is directed very differently. Engineers solve problems; they imagine “how”. The artist, by contrast, imagines “why”; the engineer’s problem is the end product of the artistic process.

Paul Raven

I Want You To #StackThatPaper

The short: #StackThatPaper for Philadelphia’s public schools

I pledged to donate as many stacks of paper to Philadelphia’s public schools as I could support on my back while planking. Continuous budget crises place the burden of purchasing copy paper on the backs of our public schoolteachers; stacking paper on my back felt like the least I could do.

How much paper could I plank and thus, how much am I donating? Watch the video to find out!

The medium: #StackThatPaper is an easy, fun way for area businesses and their team members to help Philly’s schools

Long story made medium: I’ve always cared about public education. I attended Head Start and K-12 at public schools in my home state of Indiana. During summers and on afternoons and weekends in college, I taught middle school students who were attending public schools in New Haven, Connecticut. While making program recruitment presentations to rising sixth graders on-site at these public schools in New Haven, I saw first-hand that not all public schools are funded equally. These urban public elementary schools were not as well-equipped or well-maintained as the rural public elementary school that I’d attended.

But how can the average person help dampen this inequality?

For many of us who work at companies in the private sector, it’s not always clear how we can help, if at all. It’s not easy to volunteer a public school, at least not in Philadelphia: there are (rightfully) many forms and background checks, the administrators who would otherwise process said paperwork and/or coordinate said volunteering were let go two or more budget crises ago, and anyway, most of us work when school’s in session. Creating volunteer opportunities for well-meaning citizens often means more energy, effort, and work for teachers and administrators, who are already doing their darnedest to help their students–i.e. our collective future–succeed.

So when my boss (the CEO and co-founder of the company at which I work) mentioned having visited a school in Philadelphia earlier in the year, and tasked me with figuring out how we as a company might be able to help, I chewed on it for a while and remembered something that a woman in my book club had mentioned offhand a couple of years ago.

“Oh, my husband [a math teacher at a public high school in Philadelphia] has to buy all his own copy paper. They don’t have any in the school’s office. And that stuff is not cheap.”

Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!

Who has paper? Businesses.

Who needs paper? Schools.

How to make it fun? PAPER FIGHT!

So, how to help spread the word about #StackThatPaper in an (I hope) amusing way? (And also kick off my training for Crash B Sprints in February?)

Enter me, pledging to donate whatever amount of paper I could stack on my back while planking.

You don’t have to plank paper on your back to participate in #StackThatPaper, of course …

The long: I’ll have to write longer blog post entirely about even more reasons I want us all to #StackThatPaper

For now, I join anyone who works in Philadelphia at a place with a photocopier and a copy room to see if your company can beat mine in donating as much paper per full-time employee as possible to Philly’s neighborhood schools.

If there’s one thing that the businessmen and women of Philadelphia know how to do, it’s how to #StackThatPaper!

Click here to learn more about how you can join in and help #StackThatPaper.

How To Use The Digital Marketing Framework

The marketing framework I summarized earlier is useful for helping digital immigrants think about challenges their brand may face. But how to put it to actual work? At first glance, it may seem a bit pie in the sky.

Mmm, pie ...

The next time you have homemade blueberry pie, invite me over?

So, here’s a concrete example of how a brand can frame a marketing problem.

Let’s pretend you work on the team for Comcast’s xfinity.com. Your specific responsibilities revolve around the product’s search function. How does the framework help you?

Picture 1.png

xfinity.com home page


Customers want digital brand experiences that cost nothing in terms of willpower depletion.


  • Want it now
  • Define “it” in ever-changing ways
  • Want it personalized
  • Want it easy

In other words, customers expect brands to be available 24/7/365, ever-evolving from an experiential POV, totally tailored to them, and easy to engage with (e.g. continuous service subscriptions; lightly paternalistic defaults).

Customers want it now

Whatever it is a customer’s looking for, they don’t have the patience to look around for it very long. This means if they don’t find what they want immediately upon landing at your website, they’re going to want to use the search function. Placing it prominently on top of your page may not be a bad idea.

Requiring that mobile visitors click a magnifying glass icon before they can input a search query may also not be a bad idea.


xfinity.com as seen on an iPhone


xfinity.com on an iPhone after clicking the magnifying glass

Whether or not these approaches satisfy your customers’ ‘now’ needs can be tested and measured with the right analytics, and exactly what actions you’ll want to track and how you want to do so will depend on what your business goals are (i.e. whether you are trying to drive more upgrades, across the board revenue, or simply increase site stickiness).

Customers’ definition of ‘it’ is ever-changing

Sure, maybe it seems like the ‘it’ that a customer wants is a helpful result to a search query, but depending on what they’ve experienced on other sites or why they’re searching on said query in the first place, they may actually want more than that.

Let’s say, for example, they’re visiting xfinity.com because they want to figure out if they can watch Bridesmaids and if so, when and how. The current experience is a bit disjointed; after realizing the search results from the main search box are not relevant

Picture 5.png

Results from a search on ‘bridesmaids movie’ conducted at xfinity.com

they’d have to click back to xfinity.com and then look in the left rail to discover TV listings and click again to visit the TV listings page

Picture 10.png

Left rail of xfinity.com homepage

and then search from the box on THAT page …

Picture 6.png

Conducting a search at xfinity.com > TV listings

Let’s imagine that the customer’s initial search gave them a relevant search results’ page.

Picture 7.png

Picture 8.png
They might want to…

  • Send a reminder to their cable box so that while watching TV they receive an on-screen alert that Bridesmaids is about to be shown on whatever channel
  • Automatically set their DVR to record it
  • Start streaming it right now to their iPad or iPhone (even though they’re searching from, say, a laptop)
  • Text a link that would launch a stream to their bridesmaids
  • Add the upcoming listings to their calendar

… or any other manner of activities that will continuously evolve — hence the ever-changing definition of what your customers will want, now.

Customers want it personalized

Sure, a visitor is prompted for a login, but they may not want to bother. And anyway, they might think, shouldn’t you already know who I am? Aren’t you the company that is providing me with my high speed internet? Can’t you tell?

Even aside from that, whatever search results they get they’ll want tailored to any past actions they’ve taken on xfinity.com. They’ve become accustomed to the manner in with Google serves them with results, and they don’t want to keep seeing results or calls-to-action that they’ve ignored in the past; they want you to serve them relevant results and so-whats, as defined by what they’ve responded to recently.

Customers want it easy

Don’t make them type things, and if you must (as with a search input box) auto-fill when possible.

Picture 2.png

Picture 3.png

And streamline your search experience; as detailed above, depending on what the search query is, it may be evident that what your site visitor is looking for is TV listings. Thus, don’t provide them with search results from all over the web; tailor how the query is executed so it runs against the listings.

Macro to-dos for organizations

From this one example, it perhaps becomes easier to see from where the to-do list comes:

The three recommendations the article makes given how the landscape is likely to look in the near future is for organizations to

  • Design interactions across the consumer decision journey
  • Make data and discovery a nonstop cycle
  • Deliver with new skills and processes

You can see, then, how these macro to-dos enable the efficient execution of one line manager’s action steps. Absent any of these and the line manager is set up for failure as she will be attempting a Herculean task of having to roll out these fundamentals before she can actually do something like get the search results to query something other than the web.

Have you seen how an organization has successfully leveraged the future-proofed digital marketing framework? Have you experienced the pitfalls of an organization that has not?

A Marketing Framework For Digital Immigrants

Today I happened across a solid strategic framework for thinking about digital marketing challenges facing established companies whose executives’ first experiences online were after the age of 15. If you work with or are one of these digital immigrants, you may find this article useful as you think through opportunities.

Customers want digital brand experiences that cost nothing in terms of willpower depletion.


  • Want it now
  • Define “it” in ever-changing ways
  • Want it personalized
  • Want it easy

In other words, customers expect brands to be available 24/7/365, ever-evolving from an experiential POV, totally tailored to them, and easy to engage with (e.g. continuous service subscriptions; lightly paternalistic defaults).

Throw your hands upTo say a brand should treat their customers like babies would be impolitic

One line that jumped out at me, particularly in light of my recent frustrations with most marketing teams’ lack of P&L ownership (which belongs to product), was:

the marketing organization’s structure will need to be rethought as collaboration across functions and businesses becomes ever more essential.

This is absolutely evident to me but it’s encouraging that a publication tailored for the C-suite at large companies is saying it, too.

The three recommendations the article makes given how the landscape is likely to look in the near future is for organizations to

  • Design interactions across the consumer decision journey
  • Make data and discovery a nonstop cycle
  • Deliver with new skills and processes

Another paragraph that jumped out at me as totes obvs but refrescante was the following anecdote in support of end to end analytics*:

One packaged-goods company got a jump on competitors when it saw a spike in online conversations about the lack of natural ingredients in shampoos and then recognized a corresponding rise in search inquiries on the subject. A new line of natural hair care products, launched at record-breaking speed, has become a successful early mover in a growing segment.

Yes.  Yes!

Molested honeycombI do not recommend putting honey in your hair

You may recall my frustration voiced earlier when Product failed to heed suggestions from Marketing (which had direct access to data on evolving customer demands):

Back in the credit card space, at Citi Cards the marketing channel teams had zero control over product features, even if we (the channel teams) knew exactly what prospective cardholders were looking for. Product development remained a ‘push’ activity: consultants monitored the space and R&D teams made lots of decks and who cared what the people were seeing on the ground in terms of actual search queries and landing page abandonments. Granted, as with the Instant approval example, you don’t always want to give people what they want, but there are intelligent ways to capitalize on traffic (such as by creating secured cards and/or instant approval cards with very low credit lines).

Again, it’s encouraging to see the ideas in this article being communicated to the C-suite.

Read: “The coming era of ‘on-demand’ marketing

* To track your customer end to end, don’t forget: you must append!


Why Marketers Are Losers

Somewhere over the past fifteen years or so (!), what used to be referred to as simply ‘Marketing’ has evolved into two separate and often competing departments: ‘Media’ and ‘Product.’ Unfortunately, many organizations still use the legacy ‘Marketing’ label for what are really just ‘Media’ teams; ‘Product’ is often lumped into ‘Operations’ and, as we once used to joke at NewSub Services, Inc. (now Synapse Group), weekly MOps meetings are really just Marketing vs. Operations meetings where both departments jockey for position, power, and the most comfortable chairs in the conference room.

Cry Baby :(

Future marketer?

This evolution of marketing into media snuck up on me, and now that the two personal projects I was working on at the beginning of this year are mostly complete (hint here), I’m beginning to evaluate full time employment opportunities again. What I’m finding, however, is that the opportunities to which I (as an individual contributor) am most drawn are now referred to as Product Management roles and not Marketing roles. The Marketing roles are, by and large, glorified Media roles and are less compelling (unless you are a people manager and will be spending <10% of your time individually contributing … but as I explain below even those roles can be fraught).

Three ways marketers are losers? Allow me to explain.

1. Marketing can’t really improve conversion rate

Or, put in a way that won’t make lawyers cranky, marketers’ ability to improve conversion rate is limited.

When Marketing does not own the funnel where conversions actually happen, their success is limited by Product’s ability to effectively convert traffic. Any optimization decisions made by Marketing are limited and potentially suboptimal, as Marketing often does not have end to end visibility at worst or end to end control at best.
Three white funnels

Putting the FUN in funnel

For example, when I was the Senior Product Marketing Manager for a lotto subscription product known as EZPicks, I ran an acquisition test against an internal email list.

  • Neither cell’s email subject line said anything about a premium
  • The control cell’s email creative did not mention a premium; the test cell’s did
  • Both email’s linked to a landing page that offered a premium

Absent visibility into end-to-end analytics, I might not have known that despite more clicks on the test cell (which mentioned a premium) it was the control cell that drove the most overall subscriptions. If I had been optimizing on email CTR, which many marketers are forced to do, I would be optimizing incorrectly. In addition, if I hadn’t had the ability to determine this marketing test in the first place and thus get a landing page with a premium on it built, this test would not have existed.

Another example is in the credit card space. When I was at Digitas, we created a few banners for the American Express Blue card to see what kind of messaging drove new cardmembers. Not only was this the wrong success metric — we should have been looking to drive maximum aggregate cardmember NPV — but we didn’t really have access to the data to improve our success metric from the get go. (When you are an agency, you ‘enjoy’ a classic Marketing problem, because you hand everything over to a client and lack a holistic viewpoint.)

What happens in Vegas usually involves Instant Approval and a bedazzled pimp cup

Anyway, the lead messages tested on these banners (circa 2002 or so) were something like

  • 0% APR
  • Special security doohickey chip feature thing for safe online shopping (I’m paraphrasing)
  • Instant approval

By and large the banners that demonstrated the highest CTR were the instant approval banners, so of course we Digitarians were recommending that this become a lead message in emails and other marketing channels. But what did the backend numbers say? Turns out people who were responding to instant approval messages were doing so for a reason — they were going to max their instant credit line and then never pay their balance, and/or they had just lost their job and were worried about not getting approved for a credit line moving forward. Either way, no bueno for the NPV of cardmembers acquired via the Instant approval banners, but as marketers optimizing on approved cardmembers how were we to know?

Finally, in my last stint as an FTE I was in charge of SEO, PPC, and Social Media for a lead gen company in the higher ed space. Unfortunately, much of what needed to happen to improve SEO were changes on the product side, and my team had no control over the product. Ditto for PPC on the landing page and offer prioritization engine front. And with Social Media, there was nothing for which we could drum up enthusiasm as we did not control on-site content. You can imagine how much fun it was to be a marketer in that environment.

Related to this, another reason that Marketing loses to Product?

2. Marketing cannot prioritize Product’s release cycle

If my team had been able to dictate the order in which Product prioritized its releases, our efforts would have been much more successful and life would have been less frowny-face for yours truly.

Another example is from my first role as an FTE at the higher ed lead gen company. B2B clients could not easily pay for their advertising with a credit card, and since their ads were annual buys (usually), this made auto-renewal an easy and obvious opportunity. As with AdWords, it would have been much easier for both the clients and for the company to allow them to “set it and forget it” subscribe to their ad buys. But for many reasons, including that Marketing did not own Product (and other reasons I won’t get into), this project never made it onto the priority list at all.

Back in the credit card space, at Citi Cards the marketing channel teams had zero control over product features, even if we (the channel teams) knew exactly what prospective cardholders were looking for. Product development remained a ‘push’ activity: consultants monitored the space and R&D teams made lots of decks and who cared what the people were seeing on the ground in terms of actual search queries and landing page abandonments. Granted, as with the Instant approval example, you don’t always want to give people what they want, but there are intelligent ways to capitalize on traffic (such as by creating secured cards and/or instant approval cards with very low credit lines).


I have no idea where either this pint glass, or Citi shareholder value, went

Of course, both the clients-can’t-subscribe-to-advertising-buys and prospects-want-a-card-with-feature-X examples above can be attenuated if their are transparent product feature forecasting and collaborative cross-departmental prioritization efforts, but this is not always a given. Absent an open, collaborative, accountability-driven environment, Marketing will become very sad over the money left on the table, time and again, by Product.

Of course, marketers aren’t just losers on the quantitative front. There’s a qualitative loss, too.

3. Marketers are the book jacket; Product is the story

In the manner that Marketing has been redefined over the past decade or so, Marketing has been relegated to shelf placement and book review and jacket design concerns. Product gets to tell the story, and as someone who is literally an award-winning creative writer on the side, not controlling the narrative makes me ornery.

How do users navigate a space? With what impression do we want to leave them as they do so? How can we architect choice to advance the story we’re trying to tell?
Boxes And Arrows

What I do in my free time. I wish I were kidding.

When I think about the projects that, as an individual contributor, I found deeply engaging, do they look more like Marketing or more like Product?

  • Multi-phased landing page and microsite tool creation (my final rotation at my most recent employer)
  • Building CreditCardio.com during PHLSW
  • Managing the phased approach to the launch of the Beliefnet.com social network
  • Owning BlinkRewards and Jackpot.com
  • Futzing with the bajillion domains I own (#32)
  • Helping build American Express’ application winback tool
  • Owning the InstantPoints and Internet Magazine Cross-Sell platforms at NewSub

Blame those oafs in the game of Adventure (which I started playing at the age of six; insert buckteeth here). By golly, by today’s current naming conventions, I’m really more of a Product person, especially now that Marketing = Media (= Agency).

Of course, for roles that are dominated by people management, it doesn’t matter what you do, because the interesting bits are helping your people develop and contribute. But if you are “up against” product and your team can’t succeed and you can’t influence the prioritization queue (which is opaque)… then Marketing loses. Every time.

The three questions I’m asking myself as I consider my next career move?

  1. How much control does my team have over customer NPV?
  2. How much control does my team have over the product release cycle / priorities?
  3. How much control does my team have over the customer narrative?

If it’s less than 50% for any of these, then there has to be an operational / business process infrastructure that ensures transparent, collaborative, accountable discussions between my team and the team that has majority control.

And if not? Then I’m simply setting myself up to be a loser.

And me? I like to win!

So depending on how an organization is structured and infrastructured, it may simply be that Marketing loses and Product FTW. Where ANP will land from a departmental POV is simply TBD on an organization-by-organization basis.

I win! I am the Champion of Whatever!
Career regret #782: Not interviewing with Ari Paparo while he was at DoubleClick for a potential Product Management role. They were eventually acquired by Google, Ari now owns two homes and seven yachts, and, well, yeah.

On Awareness

More insights written by Michael Carroll in the March 2010 issue of Shambhala Sun (”Beyond the Elevator Speech”):

Genuine awareness can modulate our thinking, so that we become less driven by unexamined motivations to put ourselves first, to control things to assuage our fear, to always proffer our brilliant answer.

Why this matters?

Awareness helps us see why we behave as we do in situations, and allows us to deploy our insights towards changing our behavior (if that’s what we’d like to do).

  • Why the desire to be a people manager?
  • Why is getting that promotion so life-or-death in our minds?
  • Why do we feel like we can’t ever work for someone else and can only work for ourselves?

Helmut Newton-ish 01
Awareness can help us explore what might be going on underneath the surface of things.

[ Earlier. ]

Will Mindfulness Get Me Promoted?

My best friend texted me earlier today with, “sometimes you take this healthy peaceful Buddhism sh*t too far”. Well, well, well! Aren’t those colorful words for a woman raised Mormon!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I admit that I am a practicing Buddhist and that the mindfulness key to Buddhism has unlocked personal and professional contentment for me. But that doesn’t mean that I have lost my edge, though certainly I am not as edgy as I was when I was less connected to myself.
All that said, here’s some cool words written by Michael Carroll in the March 2010 issue of Shambhala Sun (“Beyond the Elevator Speech”). Sorry if this authenticity takes it “too far” =)

Mindfulness at work starts with synchronizing with our experience.

Then we can address our primary responsibility: seeing clearly.

By appreciating our circumstances in such a way, we can more skillfully contribute to our world.

And in the end, live a confident, decent life at work.

How this has manifested itself for me personally is basically something like: I don’t get worked up about situations at work. I used to flip out … when I was less mindful, I would mix in other stuff from my past or other realms of my life, and then react to any given situation not only based on the situation itself, but also the other personal stuff I sprinkled on top. Now, I see what’s going on at work clearly, and see it for what it is, and I do not “volunteer” additional personal stuff into the work situation. If HR accidentally circulates an organization chart that does not include my name on it, I do not let this become about the time that Mom did not pay enough attention to me when I was seven. I recognize that this was a simple clerical error, do not fire off any huffy puffy alienating emails, and I keep it movin’. This allows me to skillfully and confidently contribute at the office; I am not walking around fighting imaginary battles in my head.

Carroll continues:

When we’re mindfully synchronized with our workplace, however, our instincts inhibit missteps [such as firing off nasty emails] because we are naturally alert to the full picture. We know that the stage is as important as the actors. We recognize an organization to be a web of lively relationships, not a series of isolated transactions “about me.” When we train our minds in mindfulness, we become more and more aware that no matter what we do or say — whether in an email or in the boardroom; in the cafeteria or at a press briefing — there is always a greater context to consider. Narrowly focusing on our agenda, our insult, our needs, simply makes no sense when we are fully synchronized with our workplace.

Reading this reminds me, embarrassingly, of an extremely junior move I pulled several years ago. I was invited to speak at an industry conference, all expenses paid, and was super psyched. My little head shot was beaming at prospective conference attendees from their full color brochures and everything. Then, three weeks before I was set to go, my company changed their travel policy — and I was not allowed to go. I wasn’t even allowed to pay my own way.

Miffed, I briefly considered resigning on the spot, but instead, I childishly fired off an email to my boss’ boss’ boss. Good gravy. My email listed all these reasons why this was a bad move for my company and how much better it would be for our bottom line if I spoke. But really, I was just pouting because I wasn’t going to get to flap my trap and feel important. Had I been more connected to myself and my organization, that entire debacle — which cost me a promotion and a sizable chunk of my annual bonus — could have been avoided.

Final thoughts from Carroll:

Mindfulness reveals that for us to accomplish goals, conduct ourselves ethically, and contribute to our world we must first see clearly.

[“Beyond the Elevator Speech” on Shambhala Sun.]

Do Carroll’s words have any meaning to you? What do you think?

5 Hints Brooks Brothers Has Yellow Fever

Brooks Brothers’ Holiday Gift Book 2011 was filled with intriguing elements suggesting that a transformation is well underway for a brand I’ve historically associated with the likes of J.Peterman. Rare is the prep school grad who doesn’t consider Brooks Brothers as their first source for a suit (unless it’s a prep school alumna; women taller than 5’5″ need not bother trying anything on at Brooks Brothers unless you want to look like a squat toad). But it looks like they are making assertive moves to broaden their target audience beyond sons of the American Revolution.

Because by “a transformation is well underway”, I mean, “I think Brooks Brothers is totally horny for wealthy East Asian nationals.”

Five clues that bring me to this conclusion:

1. Chairman and CEO is named Claudio Del Vecchio.

And he’s flaunting his non WASPy ways right there on the inside front cover of the catalog!

I mean, couldn’t he at least have pretended his middle name was Brooks? ;)

Of course, you’d have to be a member of the historical Brooks Brothers target audience to notice this detail. If you’re a Chinese national, you may not pick up on the subtlety of an Italian running this company.

2.  Brooks Brothers offers ‘experiences’.

They’re hosting 20 people in Newport in June 2012. You can join other like-minded folks for $3K a pop.  They’re also offering experiences like a St. Andrews golf weekend, a Kentucky Derby getaway, and evenings in Manhattan.

This seems consistent with the growth strategy outlined by Claudio ‘Brooks’ Del Vecchio in a 2007 interview with Time‘s Barbara Kiviat:

So it’s probably not a bad idea that Del Vecchio is finding growth in new places—like abroad. Brooks has had stores in Japan for years but now is breaking into new markets, from Paris to Seoul to Santiago to London.

If I were a wealthy immigrant or wealthy foreigner who wanted to buy her way into what I perceived as high status or high society goings-on, you bet I’d be joining in for these BB-curated experiences.

3. Anyone for a hot WASP on a platter?

Okay, so maybe you tall ladies can’t wear their suits … but you can get yourself some Brooks Brothers dessert platters or a set of Brooks Brothers China by Richard Ginori.

And — though not in the catalog — apparently you can get a set of $350 Brooks Brothers chopsticks as well. If that isn’t screaming court-the-rich-Chinaman … then I don’t know what is!

4. Miscegenation!

On pages 40-41 there’s a lovely scene depicting holiday celebrations of a family whose dad is Asian and mom is white.

Seriously. This is news, people. This is aspirational imagery for the rich Asian guy.

5.  Sleep With Brooks Brothers

Now everyone can sleep their way to the top with linens by Brooks Brothers. High thread count? Check. Patterns that echo their shirt fabrics? Check.

Available in extra-long twin for your Exeter dorm room? Fail.


This is all very fascinating to me. Can’t wait to see what they’re going to do next. Wonder if these brand extensions will alienate their core constituents? They’re savvy enough to not include the chopsticks in their catalog, so perhaps their core audience won’t even notice.


thinking/marketing provides business and operations strategy consulting services for funny, good-looking, intelligent clients. We’ve worked with clients in many industries, including fashion, such as American Apparel. Is there a way we can help you out?

Give us a call at (317) 426-7267 or ANP at thinkingmarketing dot com to start the conversation.

Don’t Go Chasing Happiness

I have no idea where I read this (the magazine page I tore out and plopped into the ‘blog about this someday’ pile doesn’t list the publication’s name) but wherever it was from, it was on page 39 and was something written by Barry Magid, the founder of Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York and the author of Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide.

Magid writes:

Sitting, first and foremost, is sitting with who we are — what we see in the mirror…

Cherish your questions, but do not chase after answers. Sit still amid your doubt, restlessness, loneliness, and anxiety. They are not obstacles to your practice — they are your practice.

Sometimes I get frustrated with myself when I’m in the midst of a blue period, but this frustration only begets more blue. These words are a good reminder that doubt and loneliness are part of this experience, and that as I practice accepting these uncomfortable feelings, I will be less fixated on chasing happiness.  Happiness is not the answer; feeling okay with not necessarily being happy is.

Meditation cushion

Oh wait! There are no answers! I shouldn’t be chasing after answers any more than I should be chasing after a bigger paycheck, a fancier title, or a nicer office! Duh. =)

Maybe, then, the journey towards career nirvana is less about figuring out what makes you ‘happy’ in the cracked-out, high-on-delicious-cupcakes, OMG-the-sun-is-on-my-face-and-I-am-laughing-like-a-maniac sort of way. But rather, it’s about stepping into that blissed-out zone where everything is thrumming and resonating in a way that just feels right, that’s free from constant nagging and anxiety, where you are vibing with that person in the mirror and with everyone else around you.