The Lifelong Activist: Career and Life Strategies for Joyful Activism


*EDITOR’S NOTE: The strategy advice for activists outlined below should be limited to the context of persuading potential supporters to assist in the positive change you are advocating and should not be viewed as an effective strategy for persuading a knowingly exploitative individual or entity. An individual or entity which is already financially and  ideologically invested in their policy decision  is less likely to be persuaded to change harmful behaviors through relationship building. Unfortunately, under these adverse conditions, the tactics outlined below will more likely result in feigned cooperation and covert retaliation than in productive dialogue. – L. Christopher Skufca

Hillary Rettig

By Hilary Rettig

What Activism Is—or Should Be

Activism is the act of influencing a person or group of people with the goal of eliciting a desired behavioral change. That change might be that the person votes for your candidate or ballot initiative; joins, donates to or participates more fully in your organization; or adopts a new habit such as energy conservation or vegetarianism.

The word behavioral is crucial because it is behavioral change, not simply a change of heart or mind, that leads to a more progressive society. Some activists don’t get this; they think they’ve done their job if they can get their audience to agree with them. As meaningful as agreement is, however, and as good as it feels to both you and your audience, it does not in itself change the status quo: only behavioral change does. Getting your audience to change their behavior is harder than simply getting them to agree with you, but a dedicated activist will work diligently toward that goal, knowing that it will benefit not just the planet and society but, as I discuss below, the individual himself or herself.

Two other activities that aim to influence people with the goal of changing their behavior are marketing and sales. These are anathema to many activists, who consider them inherently exploitative, and the essence, really, of all that’s wrong with capitalism. There’s some truth to this viewpoint, but it is also somewhat of an oversimplification, since marketing and sales can, in fact, be used non-exploitatively and to positive ends. In business classes, and in this section of The Lifelong Activist, I teach what is called “consultative sales,” where you’re not manipulating the customer, but working alongside of him to arrive at a solution to a serious need he has. That need might be “I need a computer,” “I need a birthday gift for my girlfriend,” or “I need a government that represents the interests of everyone, and not just the top one percent.” The salesperson’s/activist’s job, in consultative sales, is not to manipulate the customer but to guide him toward an informed choice, and the outcome is not zero-sum, but win-win: the customer gets what he needs, and the salesperson/activist gets what she needs, be it cash, a vote or a petition signature.

The bottom line is that activism is, or should be, marketing and sales. Meaning, that you should use the same marketing and sales techniques that corporations use to sell products to sell your activist cause, and progressivism in general. You should, moreover, use these techniques wholeheartedly and without shame or embarrassment, for two main reasons:

1. Modern marketing and sales are, literally, the most powerful persuasive techniques ever devised.

They are responsible for the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the globe willingly eat at McDonald’s, listen to Madonna or U2, wear Nikes and use Microsoft Windows.

These techniques are too powerful to ignore and, in fact, it is folly to do so—folly, and a disservice to those on whose behalf we say we’re working. This is especially true given that our opposition generally embraces marketing and sales wholeheartedly, and uses them to powerful effect.1

In her book Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing (see Bibliography), activist Linda Stout says:

It is important for [activist] organizations to have a marketing plan. Marketing is usually thought of in terms of selling products. But I think of marketing as figuring out how to talk about your work and get the message of what you are doing across to particular groups of people. When you are organizing, you are literally marketing a message.

All successful activists do, in fact, use marketing and sales, even if they don’t recognize or identify their activities as such. Fundraising and volunteer-recruitment are quite obviously marketing and sales endeavors, but so is any activity where you seek to persuade others. That’s why, throughout this section of The Lifelong Activist, I am able to quote business experts and activist experts side-by-side, giving essentially the same advice.

2. What corporate marketing and sales harms, progressive marketing and sales heals.

Many progressives believe that ubiquitous corporate marketing has largely replaced authentic expressions of identity, culture and community, resulting in a citizenry that is alienated from self and others. Corporations create that alienation, then profit when they sell people on the (false) idea that buying things will heal the alienated, hurting soul.

That’s not what you are doing when you market and sell progressivism, however. What you’re doing is offering a cure for that alienation.

Convince someone to support a progressive cause and you help heal society.

Convince someone to become an activist, with all the self-determination and self-expression and community that that role encompasses, and you help heal him.

How to Save the World

Sometimes, the healing referred to in point #2 extends beyond “emotional” and “community” healing to actual physical healing. That was certainly the case with one of the most successful activist movements of recent decades, the AIDS treatment movement. In the early and mid 1980s, AIDS remained a terrifying mystery. Because it preyed mainly on gays and drug users, it was considered by many a “disreputable” disease; and it wasn’t until mid-1987—nearly the end of his second presidential term—that Ronald Reagan finally gave a public address on the epidemic. Jerry Falwell and others even claimed that AIDS was God’s retribution for the supposedly sinful homosexual lifestyle.

Needless to say, there was little societal impetus to fund a cure—until a vocal and determined activist community started demanding one. Many of these activists worked in fields related to marketing: for instance, the group of six activists that created the famous “Silence=Death” pink triangle included a book designer and two art directors.2

The achievements of these activists were stunning. First, they succeeded in largely removing the stigma from AIDS and making it a topic of general conversation. That in itself made life much more bearable for many AIDS sufferers. The activists also managed to educate Americans—and, later, much of the rest of the world—on the need for, and mechanics of, AIDS prevention and safe sex. Finally, these activists managed to focus the attention of the medical establishment on AIDS, and to garner substantial funding for research into the disease and its treatment, resulting in the development of azidothymidine (AZT) and other palliative drugs.

While it’s true that AIDS remains a vast problem, especially in Africa, there is no denying the spectacular achievement of these “first-generation” AIDS activists whose work saved millions of lives. They serve as an inspiration to all progressive activists.

So, for your sake, the sake of those around you, and the sake of the planet, please market and sell your progressive ideals boldly and effectively.

The rest of this section of The Lifelong Activist tells you how. First, in Chapters 2 through 23, I discuss some fundamental principles you need to know to market effectively. Then, in Chapters 24 through 36, I discuss sales.

Of course, marketing and sales are highly complex endeavors, about which entire libraries have been written, so what follows is necessarily just an overview. See the Bibliography for suggestions for follow-up reading.

The Primary Requisite of Effective Activism

Are people selfish for focusing on their own needs instead of the community as a whole or the larger principle? Maybe or maybe not, but that’s not the point. The point is, that is the way most people—including most activists, by the way—behave. They need a reason to buy, and that reason isn’t the intrinsic worth of your viewpoint, it’s that they have a need that they perceive your viewpoint can fill.

At the same time, if you do your job properly, people will often surprise you by moving their focus quickly from their own immediate need to the more general principle at stake.

Accept the validity of Bitter Truth #2 and start presenting your causes, candidates and viewpoints in such a way that your audiences can immediately and effortlessly perceive them as meeting their needs. They shouldn’t have to do much thinking or guesswork to make the connection. The primary requisite for doing that—and for effective activism in general—is that you hold a sincere liking and respect for your listener that allows you to see things from her viewpoint (see Chapter 16), and to build a positive relationship with her. In the presence of such a relationship, your listener will feel safe and respected and is therefore likely to be tolerant of your attempts to persuade her; in the absence of one, she will likely (rightfully) be suspicious of you, your motives and your ideas. Again, contrast Patricia McHugh’s success at reaching out to people during the New York City memorial vigil, with Jane Doe’s and the other activists’ failures.

The best salespeople and activists are successful largely because they build those kinds of positive relationships almost effortlessly, and with a wide range of people. They are “people people” who love diversity, not just of race, class, religion, age or gender-orientation, but of mind. They enjoy talking to people—or, more to the point, listening to them—hearing their stories and opinions, and figuring out what makes them tick. They find human nature and human behavior endlessly fascinating.

To be sure, there are many salespeople who are insincere flatterers. I believe the percentage of them is much lower than most people think, however, especially among the top ranks. “Faking it” doesn’t work all that well, and it’s just too hard for most people to pull off, especially over the long term.

One word for the attitude I recommend you cultivate is “tolerance,” and yet tolerance doesn’t quite go far enough. If your goal is to influence people, you can’t just tolerate them, you have to really like and appreciate them. This is true even in cases where you disagree with some of the person’s viewpoints or actions. You gain nothing, absolutely nothing, by blaming or shaming such people, or by lecturing them. As Dale Carnegie said way back in 1936, in his classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People (see Bibliography):

You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words—and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.

Carnegie, whose book every activist should read, and then reread repeatedly throughout his or her career, recommends using a “Socratic” method of gently questioning the customer’s ideas and assumptions in order to gradually win him or her over to your viewpoint. And—guess what?—Alinsky also recommends using Socratic questioning. From Rules for Radicals:

Actually, Socrates was an organizer. The function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern. Socrates, with his goal of “know thyself,” was raising the internal questions within the individual that are so essential for the revolution which is external to the individual.

This, of course, brings us all the way back to the discussion, at the very beginning of The Lifelong Activist, of Gloria Steinem’s personal evolution from self-abnegation and self-denial to being able to live Socrates’ “examined life.” Revolution From Within, which is what she called her autobiography, and now you understand that you don’t just start a revolution from within yourself, but also from within your audience. You can’t impose a revolution on anyone—or any society—from the outside, and to attempt to do so is not just folly, but morally reprehensible. (See Chapter 15 for more on this point.) But you can ask the questions that will help your listener achieve her own revolution from within.

Later in his book, Alinsky suggests as proper activist technique a gentle form of interview called “guided questioning”:

Much of the time, though, the organizer will have a pretty good idea of what the community should be doing, and he will want to suggest, maneuver, and persuade the community toward that action. He will not ever seem to tell the community what to do; instead he will use loaded questions. . . . And so the guided questioning goes on without anyone losing face or being left out of the decision.

Is this manipulation? Certainly, just as a teacher manipulates, and no less, even a Socrates.

At the heart of the sales process is a similar form of interview, or “needs assessment,” in which you gently question your customer to ascertain his needs and lead him in the direction you wish. The process may be manipulative, as Alinsky unapologetically points out, but it is not inherently exploitative. Done from the standpoint of a sincere interest in, liking for and respect for the individual—not to mention for society and the planet—it is actually kind and caring.

Bitter Truth #1

The success of your venture depends much less on the quality of whatever it is you have to offer than on the quality of the marketing and sales you use to promote it.

I refer to this as a Bitter Truth—the first of three Bitter Truths discussed in The Lifelong Activist—because, in my experience, no one likes to hear this.

• My programming students would prefer to hear that it’s the quality of their code that will determine their success.

• My cooking students would prefer to hear that it’s the quality of their cuisine that will determine their success.

• My art students would prefer to hear that it’s the quality of their painting, writing, sculpture or music that will determine their success.

• And my activism students would prefer to hear that it’s the quality of their cause that will determine their success.

But it’s true. As Al Ries and Jack Trout point out in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing:

Many people think marketing is a battle of products. In the long run, they figure, the best product will win.

Marketing people are preoccupied with doing research and “getting the facts.” They analyze the situation to make sure that truth is on their side. Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that ultimately the best product will win.

It’s an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion. . . .

Most marketing mistakes stem from the assumption that you’re fighting a product battle rooted in reality. All the laws in this book are derived from exactly the opposite point of view. . . .

Marketing is not a battle of products. It’s a battle of perceptions.

Note that word, “perceptions.” Along with its verb form, “perceive,” you will see it used frequently throughout this section of The Lifelong Activist. Ries and Trout are absolutely right: in marketing, there is no objective reality—it is all about perception.

The Evidence is Overwhelming

We all wish the world worked differently, and that it were the quality of whatever it is you are selling that determined your success. Unfortunately, however, the evidence in support of Bitter Truth #1 is overwhelming. Just look around you, and you will see that the world is filled with shoddy, useless or even destructive products that are far from being “quality,” but that millions of people have been marketed and sold into believing they need.

For some more evidence in support of Bitter Truth #1, answer these questions:

• Is McDonald’s the best restaurant in the world?

• Does Microsoft produce the best software?

• Is John Grisham the best writer?

The answer in all three cases is, of course, “No,” but that doesn’t stop McDonald’s, Microsoft and John Grisham from being perennial best sellers, largely on the basis of their marketing and sales efforts.

Let’s also be clear, however, that “quality” means different things to different people. McDonald’s may not win any haute cuisine awards, but the company isn’t going after the gourmet market. Rather, it’s going after the cheap food/comfort food/consistency of menu/convenience of service/child-friendly markets, and if one or more of these criteria are important to you, then McDonald’s does indeed offer a quality product. You can make a similar argument for Microsoft software, John Grisham’s novels, or any other popular consumer product. The very fact that the product is popular proves that a lot of people see it as “quality” in at least one crucial attribute.

Needless to say, Bitter Truth #1 also applies to the political and social arenas. It explains why some people become president, and some do not. It also explains why you sometimes have trouble selling your “common-sense” or “obvious” viewpoint to audiences. While your cause may indeed be “gourmet,” your audience may well be craving “comfort food.” Whether they truly want that comfort food (or “comfort politics”), or have simply been convinced they want it by the opposition’s zillion-dollar marketing-and-sales campaign, is irrelevant to our discussion. Marketing is about perception, not truth.

In business and in activism, expecting the customer to automatically share your standard of quality is a classic screw-up, and usually fatal to the endeavor at hand. Your job is not to dictate to the customer what he or she ought to think or like, but to adhere to the three-step marketing process described earlier: locate your likeliest customers—meaning, the ones most predisposed to like your viewpoint; repackage your viewpoint to appeal to them further; and connect the customers with your viewpoint.

Bitter Truth #2

People buy a product not because of its intrinsic qualities or characteristics, but because they believe it will either solve a problem or meet a need that they have.

In other words, we don’t buy something because we think it is wonderful or beautiful or valuable—although the thing we are buying may possess all of those qualities and more. We buy it because we believe it will help us either solve a problem or meet a need that we have—in other words, as a means to an end.4 There is even a business axiom that neatly conveys this concept: “People don’t buy drills; they buy holes.”

In my experience, novice businesspeople don’t like Bitter Truth #2 any more than they like Bitter Truth #1. They would prefer that people buy their programming, cooking, art and other products because of the products’ (and, by extension, their) intrinsic excellence. This is especially true if the need the customer is filling seems wholly unrelated to the merits of the product in question. Many artists, for instance, hate it when people buy their work for reasons of status, or “to go with the décor,” and many computer programmers hate it when their customers show a lack of interest in the subtleties of their code, and only ask, “how fast can you get it done?” This attitude, by the way, is the exact opposite of that held by most experienced businesspeople, who are thrilled if someone buys their product for any reason. They are not inclined to dictate to their customers what their motivations should be.

If you think about it, Bitter Truth #2 actually explains Bitter Truth #1. If we buy something because we believe that it will fill a need, and if marketing and sales are the primary vehicles sellers have for fostering that belief, then it makes sense that it is the quality of your marketing and sales, rather than the quality of the thing you are selling, that will determine your success.

Types of Needs

There are hundreds of needs that people can have that can compel them to buy things. We tend to be very familiar with our pragmatic “surface needs” for things such as clothing, food and transportation, but all of us are also motivated to varying degrees by emotional “deep needs” for love, beauty, youth, virtue, etc. More precisely, what we crave is the feeling or emotional state of being loved (or in love), beautiful, youthful, virtuous, etc.

Needless to say, we also strongly crave to avoid negative or painful emotions such as guilt or shame.

Deep needs derive from our individual personality and experiences, and tend to reflect our most profound desires and fears. They are thus extremely powerful motivators; so powerful, in fact, that even manufacturers of mundane products often choose to market and sell by appealing not to the obvious surface need that the product addresses, but to one or more deep needs. Many ads for packaged foods, for instance, feature an image of a traditional family enjoying a meal that Mom is serving them. The image is designed to address at least three deep needs that the purchaser (usually a real-life mom) has:

• The need to feel as if she’s succeeding at her immediate goal of feeding her family.

• The need to feel as if she’s succeeding at her larger goal of creating a happy and healthy family life.

• The need not to feel guilty about serving packaged foods, as opposed to a home-cooked meal.

These can all be lumped into one “mega-deep-need”: the need to feel like she’s a good mother, or at least not a bad one.

As this example suggests, we usually act from several needs at once, and often our needs are multi-layered. When making a purchase, we may be conscious of some the needs we are fulfilling, and only semi-conscious, or unconscious, of others. We may download an MP3 music file because we enjoy the music, for instance, but we may also download it because, less obviously, we enjoy the “hip,” “affluent,” “authentic,” or “artsy” feeling(s) we get when we do. In other words, the purchase helps us meet our need to feel a certain way about ourselves.

Smart businesspeople learn to market their products by identifying the customer’s most urgent needs and presenting (or “packaging”) their product as a solution to those needs. And, as we shall see in the next chapter, smart activists do the same thing.

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Bitter Truth #2 and the Activist

Hard as many businesspeople find it to accept Bitter Truth #2, many activists find it even harder. That’s because the things activists sell—peace, justice, freedom, equality, etc.—tend to be of extremely high value: the most valuable things on the planet, in fact. This blinds them to the fact that Bitter Truth #2 holds no matter how valuable the thing you are selling is.

Here’s Saul Alinsky in Rules for Radicals:

The first requirement for communication and education is for people to have a reason for knowing. (Italics his.)

In other words: a need. He also writes elsewhere:

Communication for persuasion . . . is getting a fix on [your audience’s] main value or goal and holding your course on that target. You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue.

Notice how neatly he incorporates both Bitter Truth #1 and Bitter Truth #2 into that concise statement.

Activists who don’t understand or accept Bitter Truth #2 are usually easily spotted. They tend to be ineffective, and they also tend to go around asking questions such as the following, often in tones of high frustration:

• What’s wrong with these people?! [Meaning: their audience.] Can’t they see that my cause is in their best interests?

Usually, the activist is asking rhetorically, which is a shame: if he asked for real, he might have a shot at answering the questions, thus arriving at Bitter Truth #2 and the key to improving his effectiveness.

As activists become more and more frustrated, they often ask more pointed questions, including:

• How can people be so ignorant?

• How can people be so selfish?

• How can people be so short-sighted?

And the ever-popular,

• How can people be so stupid?!

At this point, the activist is actively blaming the victim—i.e., his audience—for his own inability, or unwillingness, to market and sell effectively. And the sad truth is that anyone who feels so negatively about his customers is unlikely to succeed at selling them anything. So the more frustrated and embittered an activist gets, the more likely he is to fail.

If You’re Frustrated . . .

Knowing how hard activism can be, I certainly wouldn’t blame any activist for experiencing, and venting, occasional frustration. If you feel frustrated a lot, though, you should take a step back and, with the help of friends, colleagues and mentors, assess the situation. Maybe you need to change the way you do your activism. Or, maybe you’re burning out, and need to take a break. Try re-assessing your Mission, and see where that process takes you.

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On Bullying

Many activists seem to operate under the principle that if they just badger people enough, or make them feel guilty or ashamed enough, then those people will finally see the error of their ways and embrace the activist’s viewpoint. A word for this behavior is “bullying,” and there are (at least) three problems with it:

1. Bullying is not marketing and sales. It is, in fact, the antithesis of marketing and sales, which seeks to build a strong positive relationship with the individual. Even the stereotypical manipulative used-car salesman acts like he is your best friend, at least until you buy the car.

2. Bullying, even for the noblest of reasons, is cruel, and therefore not consistent with progressive ethics.

3. Bullying doesn’t work. It is, in fact, more likely to motivate people away from your viewpoint than toward it.

Bullying can masquerade as activism, but is in fact antithetical to it. If you spend a lot of time talking at people instead of listening to them, you should give serious thought to the question of whether you are, in fact, bullying. And even if what you’re doing doesn’t quite cross the line into actual bullying, it probably isn’t the most effective activism, which, as you now know, involves gentle Socratic questioning.

Many of us know activists who bully others. And, perhaps because bullies tend to be fearful and timid at heart, they often tend to bully not the opposition or the unconvinced, who probably wouldn’t put up with that kind of treatment anyway, but other activists, and their own family members. They blame and shame and hector their victims for committing “the crime” of only agreeing with them 50 percent or 70 percent or 90 percent of the time. Here’s Alinsky again:

I detest and fear dogma. I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.

Rampant bullying also leads to the kinds of ongoing sectarian wars that can suck the very life out of a social movement. Todd Gitlin, in Letters to a Young Activist, points to what I would characterize as a disparity in internecine bullying as a key reason for the Right’s recent successes and the Left’s corresponding failures. “The fanatics of the Right . . . believe in submerging differences for the sake of victory,” he says. And elsewhere:

The activists of the right are, above all, practical. They crave results. They are not terribly interested in pure parties or theoretical refinements, not even in ideas or morals as such. Once the Christian right decided to launch out of their churches and work the political arena, they preferred actual political and judicial power to private rectitude. To agree on a few central themes—military power, deregulation, tax cuts, tort reform, cultural rollback on abortion, gay rights, and affirmative action—was enough.

Don’t bully.

Bullying v. “Hardball”

When I say not to bully, I am not saying that you shouldn’t fight as hard as you can for what you believe in, or use every non-bullying tool and tactic at your disposal. How could I, when Dr. King himself said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” and Fredrick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.”

Let’s remember, however, that when you’re trying to influence an organization, what you’re really trying to do is influence the individuals within that organization—and that you gain nothing if you wind up alienating them. Expert activists make it their business to learn the fine art of opposing someone without alienating them—an art that begins with progressive values such as respect, compassion and tolerance. Recall Nicholas Wade’s observations on activist Henry Spira, quoted in Peter Singer’s Ethics Into Action: “I think he was effective because he was such a friendly, outgoing moderate sort of person. He wasn’t strident. He didn’t expect you necessarily to agree with everything he said.” Later, Singer quotes an executive from Revlon, Inc., on Spira, who was working to convince the company to stop testing cosmetics on animals: “On the top management floor…there wasn’t one person who didn’t get to personally know Henry, and like him.”

There’s one important thing you should notice about both Henry Spira’s and John Robbins’s approach to activism: that while they moderated their behaviors, they did not moderate their viewpoints and goals. The idea that to achieve radical goals you need to employ bullying methods is a fallacy, and a self-defeating one.

Don’t bully.

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The Bitterest Truth: It’s Not About You

In How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes, “If out of reading this book you get just one thing—an increased tendency to think always in terms of other people’s point of view, and see things from their angle—if you get that one thing out of this book, it may easily prove to be one of the building blocks of your career.”

Bitter Truth #2 says that people buy to fill a need, with the implication being that you need to sell to their needs. This can be hard to do if we succumb to the all-too-human temptation to place our own needs front and center. Most people have a tendency toward that kind of egocentrism—to be “the star of the movie,” as I like to put it—but serious activism demands that you learn to subordinate your needs to your customer’s, at least during the sale.

Here’s Carnegie again:

Thousands of salespeople are pounding the pavements today, tired, discouraged and underpaid. Why? Because they are always thinking only of what they want. They don’t realize that neither you nor I want to buy anything. If we did, we would go out and buy it. But both of us are eternally interested in solving our problems. And if salespeople can show us how their services or merchandise will help us solve our problems, they won’t need to sell us. We’ll buy.

And here’s Beckwith in Selling the Invisible:

The most compelling selling message you can deliver in any medium is not that you have something wonderful to sell. It is: “I understand what you need.” The selling message “I have” is about you. The message “I understand” is about the only person involved in the sale who really matters: the buyer.

And so, we arrive at our final Bitter Truth:

Bitter Truth #3

In any transaction, the other individual’s needs and viewpoints count far more than yours. In fact, yours hardly count at all.

Here’s how Bitter Truth #3 plays out in a business context:

• A “fashionista” opens a clothing store and stocks it only with clothing she likes—and is surprised when her sales are meager.

• A chef opens a restaurant whose menu consists solely of his favorite dishes, which tend toward the complex and esoteric. He also refuses to compromise his culinary standards and therefore uses only the most expensive ingredients, even in dishes where his customers can’t tell the difference. His restaurant runs at a loss until, less than two years after it opened, it is forced to close.

• A freelance programmer takes pride in her elegant and “tight” code. Only, her projects frequently take too long and go over budget, so her customer list is dwindling.

Each of these entrepreneurs has put his or her needs—or ego, if you prefer—before the customer’s. The fashionista’s shoppers want to see clothes that they like in her store. The chef’s diners want comfort food—and don’t bother with the truffles. And the programmer’s clients don’t care about elegant code, or code at all: they are not buying code but an inventory-management program. They just want it delivered on time and within budget.

Placing your needs ahead of the other individual’s is a common reason for business failure—and also for activist failure.

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A Day in the Life of a Successful Activist

A day in the life of a successful activist could be a day in which she or he:

• Won a significant victory in a campaign.

• Didn’t win a victory, but participated in a series of productive activities related to the campaign.

• Experienced a “defeat” or “failure”—but handled it well.

• Spent the day doing paperwork. It wasn’t too exciting, but it wasn’t that stressful, either, and it had to get done.

• Procrastinated on work for four hours—but not five!

• Procrastinated for five hours—but not six!

• Finished one-tenth of what she had planned to do—which is still better than not doing any of it!

• Didn’t shame, blame or criticize herself for any of the above or other perceived “failures.”

• Didn’t do much, or any, activism, but performed well and in a low-stress way at her classes or day job.

• Spent the day working mainly on health and relationship goals, or reworking her Mission or Time Management.

• Didn’t work on any goals at all—just had fun!

• Didn’t do much of anything—was feeling stressed out, so stayed home and took a low-stress “mental health day.”

A successful activist will experience all of these types of days, and many more. Some days will seem more productive than others—although you should be careful about defining productivity too narrowly, since a day spent catching up on paperwork or taking a needed break definitely qualifies as productive. You should also avoid labeling days “good” or “bad,” since almost every day, no matter how much it may seem to tilt in one direction, will probably be a mix of both.

Of course, the secret that all empowered activists know is that every day you spend fighting the good fight—no matter how “much” or “little” you achieve—is a good day.

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Hillary RettigWelcome! My goal is to help you recognize and overcome any disempowering forces in your work and life so you can reclaim your joyful productivity, and achieve your personal and professional goals more quickly and easily than you ever imagined! Thanks for checking out my site, and I always welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions

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