In 2001, I was having lunch with Neil Evans, the first CIO of Microsoft, in Bellevue, WA. At the time, I was the CIO for ITech Services, a company managing technology training programs in partnership with academic institutions, which included 150 colleges and universities in the US. We were in the middle of building the Microsoft IT Academy (now called the Microsoft Imagine Academy), which I had helped design and was eventually rolled out to over 10K academic institutions around the world. We had stopped for lunch, and during the conversation, Neil asked me why I called myself a CIO. At first, I was a bit surprised and slightly offended, because I thought he was implying I wasn’t qualified to be a CIO. I started to explain my technical background and duties at ITech, and he stopped me and said, “No, I mean you are not a CIO…you are a CMO.” I started to stammer and defend myself as a “techie.” You see, at the time I thought being a “marketing guy” was like being a used car salesman…always trying to make a pitch….stretching the truth. I hated selling. It just wasn’t me. However, he pointed out that I was building products and programs, coming up with ideas on how to get these programs adopted by our target markets, and that this program development was really a marketing function. It would be years later before I embraced my marketing side and actually called myself a CMO, but that opened up the “flood gates” in terms of opportunities. I felt free to think about things that were “pie in the sky” ideas instead of always forcing myself to think about processes and the immediate future. Instead of trying to automate everything and take people out of the equation in the name of efficiency and cost-savings, I could actually think of ways to put people back in the equation…to understand their needs and pain points so that I could solve them. However, this would not be the only time I had to look in the mirror and be honest with myself.
Fast forward to 2012 – I was known as “Ronnie Tsunami – The Tiki Techie,” and I helped coaches to market themselves better and grow their businesses by leveraging the latest technologies. I was doing videos and workshops, and I was using my island persona – Ronnie Tsunami. In case you don’t know, I am originally from Hawaii and am also a professional musician in my own trop-rock band, the Tsunami Wave Riders (imagine Jimmy Buffett meets Santana in Hawaii). I was doing island-themed technology workshops for entrepreneurs while dressed in an aloha shirt, cowboy hat and flip flops…and my band would actually also perform at my workshops. It was so much fun, and I was pretty happy and excited because I thought it was very unique. To grow even bigger, I met up with THE video marketing “guru” as part of special brainstorming session, and I showed up in my aloha shirt, cowboy hat and flip flops. His recommendation to me was “get rid of the Hawaiian shtick.” To him, the island theme represented a lack of technology. He wanted me to instead lead off with my tech credentials (i.e. working for the Secretary of Defense and building large scale training programs), and for heaven’s sake – “lose the aloha wear.” I remember jumping on the plane from San Diego, CA, back to my home in Charlotte, NC, and being the most miserable EVER. Physically I was so sick I couldn’t even talk, and apparently had laryngitis. Emotionally, the wind had been knocked out of me as well. I actually had to be rushed to the hospital right from the airport. It took me a few weeks to recover, and during that time I did a LOT of thinking. I decided if I wanted to succeed, I had to listen to successful people like the one I just met – I had to give up being Ronnie Tsunami. I changed all the branding on my website, and I dressed like the perfect businessman. I got rid of the island imagery in my materials and events, and I was oh so “professional-looking”…and I was also oh so depressed. It wasn’t until I mentioned this story six months later to one of my clients and a network of coaches I had been working with that I got feedback – be authentic. The love and support I received was overwhelming, and within a few months of being me again, I was the happiest I had ever been AND I had tripled my income.
Today, in 2018, I am still Ronnie Tsunami, and one of the things I enjoy is doing keynote talks on how change leaders and organizations can go bigger and faster in accelerating product launches, movements and anything else in between…and I still do my talks in my aloha shirt…tsunami-style. One of the first points I talk about is being authentic…being true to your core values as as an individual and as a company. This may seem like an abstract goal, but there are real steps you can take to identify who you are, what you stand for, and what your organization stands for. Taking the time and making the effort to do this self-exploration has real consequences. It creates a self-awareness of strengths, weaknesses and purpose that allows an individual and organization to anticipate problems, overcome challenges, and react faster to change. Many of the people I meet are caught up in “positioning” themselves on social media, whether on Facebook or LinkedIn, based on what they perceive is most valued by all their “friends” and contacts rather than what is most important to them. Considering how people are very selective about what they share on social media, especially challenges and “pain points” they have, basing your persona solely on what you see on social media is a mistake.
I’m sure you can see my point about why you should embrace YOU if you truly want to be happy and successful. The catch is that you have to take a long look in the mirror and be willing to see both your strengths and your weaknesses. That can be pretty scary if you hate criticism. YOU have to give yourself permission to love yourself….warts and all. No one else can do that…not your friends, not your children, and not your spouse…only you. It can be challenging, but it is oh so worth it. The act of liberating your mind and spirit..to be your authentic self…it is more than just temporary motivation – It is lifelong inspiration.
So are you ready? It’s time to embrace YOU for the happiness and success you know you deserve.