You don't know magic
Last September, I had an experience that led me to acknowledge a true thing about myself — I am a liar. Or, I am more prone to lying than I was aware of.
As a liar, I guess I'll leave it to you to decide whether or not that's true.
I didn't really know that I was a liar, because I didn't really know how people-pleasing and suppression were synonymous with the truth of the matter: dishonesty is dishonesty.
No one has lied to you more than you have.
I wrote a lyric about that all the way back in 2012. "God, I believe a lot of lies that come from the mouths of a lot of good liars. Namely: me." At the time, it was something I only understood in theory — knowledge borrowed. Eight years later, after experiencing the toll, there's a new kind of awareness. It's fascinating though, isn't it? The way the subconscious mind longs for what it is after. The way that — when you wake up — you can see the ways it has been trying to get out, like intuition's little warning signs (or, perchance: the Spirit's whisper).
Anyway, in this particular instance, last September, I found myself aware of the fact that my work as a copywriter was making me feel like a liar.
Since 2015, I've been working relatively consistently as a content marketing guy / copywriter for... whoever. At least, consistently enough to keep Levi The Poet afloat.
I'm good at what I do and I'm happy to be able to say that with confidence. It took a long time to give myself that credit (even though, some days, I still have to fight to believe it).
There's nothing wrong with copywriting. Nothing wrong with marketing. Nothing wrong with making dollars. I don't think that "marketer" is inherently synonymous with "liar" and I don't think that — despite the sellout attitude of anti-success in the DIY music world I first "came up" in (if you can call what I've done in my career thus far anything remotely close to a "come up") — financial "success" (as if that even exists) is bad.
One of my favorite things in the world to do is to help other people work toward and realize their dreams. I think I love it so much because I recognize what a gift it is to still be a full-time creator after all of these years, and I suppose a decade of provision-via-art is something to be proud of.
It's why I created Coffee Dates where, among other things, I teach people how to do do it well (especially artists... who generally don't). It's why I'm working on a course of my own, because I've discovered throughout the years how much I love helping through teaching the how as much as I do helping through artistically communicating the what and the why. I want artists to eat something more than Top Ramen.
So the "liar" thing is — I think — subjective, time-bound and twofold.
On a personal level, I woke up to the reality that people-pleasing and assimilation aren't just cute bullet points on an Enneagram breakdown about No. 09s...
I was unable to take on client projects without becoming them.
I am an empathetic writer, naturally, and a highly analytical one, at that (which makes me perfect for a persuasive copy job). When you're headed into a sales-writing project, you have to become the mind of the client. The mind of the client's audience. You have to anticipate every possible question. All pushback. Figure out how to be on the offensive line and address all skepticism. Every barrier to entry. Thwart all skepticism about why your rubber bands are better than their rubber bands. It is a psychology in and of itself, and I'm good at it.
And what I realized is that perhaps part of the reason I'm good at deconstructing boundaries is because I have so few of them.
And that is what made me feel like a liar. I didn't know how to put the job away. I didn't know how to enter into their world for the duration of a work day and come back into mine when it was time to clock out. I didn't know how to persuade without feeling as though I had abandoned myself to hop into someone else's skin (and I didn't know how to take their skin off). I didn't know how to speak on someone else's behalf in a work situation without my personal being absorbed, as well.
As soon as I realized what my own gradual disappearance was doing to me, I dropped everyone. It was one of the fastest decisions I've ever made. I kept thinking it'd be a scary decision, but it felt like heaven — taking ownership and honoring reality. Taking care of myself.
I still do (and enjoy doing) consultation, strategy and direction — I've just tried to rework the for whom and the what for. Maybe, someday, I'll take on some random client projects again — or, be able to, at least.
But there's more important work to be done before then, like learning how to become Levi (whoever he is).
So that's the subjective and time-bound bit.
The other thing is the sleaze-culture that seems to dominate salesmanship, and bastardize storytelling.
I remember taking a copywriting course from a guy who used the word P.A.S.T.O.R. as an acronym for all the ways I could shepherd my audience into buying my products. We begin with the word "Pain" before moving on to its "Amplification" and so on and so forth.
I understand that the best products solve problems, and that people's pain is amplified when those leaking faucets keep dripping, but God how I hated yet another clear conflation of consumerism with a faith that is so much more than the cult it has become. (Then again, are they any different in the Church of American Capital?)
The best marketing agency that I know of is Belief Agency, based out of Seattle, Washington. A few days ago, I was listening to their You Are A Storyteller podcast. It might be the best podcast out there, period, but it is definitely the best podcast out there in terms of the structure, education, depth and importance of storytelling.
On the most recent episode — Denying the Ego — Jesse and Brian talk about the "real purpose of storytelling: to help people."
They're talking about the difference between truly understanding storytelling for the sake of helping others versus — in essence — understanding language floral well enough, to smell pretty for long enough, to sell to someone who can't see that the roots are nonexistent in order to help oneself.
"Don't learn a couple of tricks in order to wow people at a dinner party and say that you understand magic. Don't tell someone that you know Spanish just because you can ask where the restroom is and order off of the menu at a Spanish restaurant...
That's not Spanish. That's just learning enough to fool other people who don't know those phrases into believing that you know Spanish so that you can sell them on your language course.
And that is what a lot of 'story gurus' do."
I realized, then: the same overarching lie permeates the advertising and marketing guru culture.
"How can I half-ass this just enough to make myself look professional so that other people who have no idea can buy all of my garbage?"
That's why Belief Agency is so good at what they do. Their very premise operates out of an inherent fullness (the truth) — not a deficiency (the hype). It understands its craft and shows that to other people.
Funny enough, I applied for a copywriting position at Belief a few years ago. Brian is a friend of mine. We spent some time on the phone together and that's when he told me some of the best advice I've ever been given:
"Fuck trying to be cool — just tell the truth."
I think I'm glad he didn't give me the job. Not because I wouldn't have liked it or been good at it, but because it wasn't what I needed at the time. Maybe he knew that.
I was in a room with a woman last November who told me that:
"When you try to give to others out of your own deficit, it's not actually giving — it's a form of nonconsensual taking because you're hoping that what they have to reciprocate will be enough to fill you up."
We were speaking personally, but I think that's every bit as applicable to your business, creative output, whatever.
Maybe you do know magic.
Maybe you just have to set it aside for awhile to learn how to wield it well.
Anyway, be honest with yourself. Don't lie. And don't pander. Eventually, you’ll realize your “not lies” were lies, and the biggest of them were the ones you told yourself.
Pandering becomes prison, and if your livelihood is attached to it, then you get an ankle monitor thrown in.