Outside, Barcelona was in flames.
Inside, the waiters in white mandarin collar jackets fluttered and fussed around me. And that was exactly what I wanted. Air conditioning, a small space to call my own for as long as I needed it, a few professionals paying attention to my every need, a Mediterranean menu and a glass of sparkling water with ice and lemon.
A moment of paradise.
In a city on fire.
Outside, it was hot, very hot; a sun-drenched July day in Barcelona.
A very curious thing happens every summer to the habitants of this city—we enter into a collective amnesia. We forget what summer is like and has always been like. And to express this curious condition we throw ourselves into a type of verbal and emotional ritual. We don’t formally organize any of this, but all of us, at the same time, are truly astounded by the heat. We are incredulous and morally wounded by the blasts of hot air that are projected onto our bodies and penetrate our souls. As if we had never had this experience before.
Every July-something, we wake up one morning and it’s summer. It’s hot with a humidity index pushing upward with each tic of the melting clock. And, on that morning, we are completely surprised. All of us, in unison. From that moment on, we begin, like synchronized swimmers, to greet one another using the same language, the same phrases. “How’s it going?” is substituted for “Woah! Can you believe this heat?” or “Man-oh-man! Can it get any hotter than this?” This temporary shift in our cultural language code happens as if scripted from beyond our earthly lives. Together, we wilt, wither, moan and writhe in daily theatrical pain as if feeling heat for the first time on our new-born skin.
It’s a ritual, and the shared language centered on heat somehow brings the culture together again in case we have gone astray and drifted apart. We all produce the same gestures of hands and lips puckered as we blow out an audible breath and tilt our heads upward to communicate our abandonment and impotence before the punishing God of climate.
Thus, in the cool refuge of my temporary haven, I begin to do what I came here to do and take from my briefcase two brown folders with the names of two new clients on the top of each one.
I am here to prepare my work with them. The two folders hold the notes and papers where I have sketched the stories and needs of these two clients, both of whom will begin their sessions of strategic mapping for their projects at the same time.
Now, you may be asking yourself what does the heat, rituals of language and these two professionals have to do with each other and, more importantly, how is it all relevant to you, my dear reader?
“Why don’t you pull up a chair and join me here at my quiet table in this delightful restaurant and let me tell you. I think you’ll find what I have to say interesting”.
You smile and accept my invitation and I summon the waiter nearby who quickly approaches our table. “Could you please bring another place setting, today’s special and a sparkling water for my guest?” I ask. “But of course”, he says and briskly walks away.
As you settle into your chair, put down your things, and scoot in closer to me and the table, I set the two folders between us, using them as a visual prop—their detailed content is of course confidential—and take a unhurried sip of the cool water with the twist of lemon. The light tang of citrus captures my senses and takes me further away from the wave of heat that awaits me patiently on the other side of the heavy wooden doors of the restaurant. Heaven on earth, I smile to myself.
Now comfortably seated at the table, you look at me and then at the folders with curiosity. There is a story here—you can sense it. You lean away from the table with a gentle motion as the waiter sets the sparkling water in front of you.
You take a quick sip, and move back toward our intimacy.
I brush my hand across the folders and tap each one with the tips of my fingers. “These two people”, I begin, “came to my office the very same day. I had scheduled introductory meetings with them so that we could have a tea and talk about their particular needs”.
“They both decided on that day to begin the process of strategic mapping. That is rare in my line of consultancy work. Two new clients on the same day within hours of each other”.
“They are both immigrants to Catalonia”, I continue. “One is from North America and the other is from France, though they both have lived in Barcelona for a long time. There are 23 years of difference in their ages. They are also very different in body language, demeanor, skin tone and style of dress. One has long cascading hair and the other has a short sporty cut”.
“Their professional experience is in different fields and their businesses will cater to completely different audiences and client profiles. Yet, as their stories unfolded, I saw that there were aspects of these two people and their needs that were strikingly similar.”
“And this is the part of the story”, I tell you with a smile”, that I think has something to do with you.”
I pause for a moment and, as if on cue, the waiter brings the main course of our meal—a very large green salad with thick pieces of fresh seared tuna and black olives lightly sprinkled with feta cheese and a deep brown balsamic vinaigrette.
Mouth watering. A perfect meal for a summer day.
We move into the ritual of dining while we continue our conversation. I have your attention now because you want to see what these two people and their projects have to do with you. How their story might connect to yours.
You happily begin to eat and from time to time break off small pieces of fresh bread to dip into the tangy vinaigrette that has settled at the bottom of your bowl.
The next thing you hear me say pricks up your ears.
I tell you that the two people that came to my office that day in July have something wonderful, something truly special—they have talent. Wild, rich and unique talent. More talent even than they have begun to formally identify and name. But I could see it very clearly.
I stopped talking to enjoy a mouthful of crisp greens, and as I savored the taste, I remembered a question that used to dance into my thoughts from time to time. I wondered how it had happened that, within the last few years, people with such interesting, unique and shining talent had shown up at my office. At first I thought it was nothing short of miraculous. Then I began to realize that there was something else going on.
I realized that our long trusted economic system and the job environments that accompanied it had been helping people hide within the folds of institutionalized work. People didn’t have to risk being seen. Many people did not ever have to truly define what they loved to do, what they felt passionate about and what they wanted to give to and change in the world. Within many organizations and businesses there is no need to truly see yourself or let others truly see you.
Now things are different. People are beginning to come out of hiding and letting their unique talents shine. And the world appears to be filled to the brim with talented people.
Because of changes in economic and social frameworks, people are being forced to leave or are choosing to leave their former professional environments and are looking at themselves in a new way. For many people the self-descriptions of their CV have become limiting and antiquated and no longer serve emerging needs. They are now daring to explore new territories of themselves, new possibilities—in order to survive.
People are beginning to look closely at the skills they have and what they feel passionate about in order to create a new type of professional identity. And people are seeing, perhaps for the first time, that they are wonderfully and uniquely talented and they want to figure out how this talent can fit into the world today and how they can earn a living from it—as independent professionals in most cases. People are trying to create new projects for a new economy.
I return from my thoughts, pat my lips with the white cloth napkin and resume our conversation.
I tell you that this is the first thing that these two new clients have in common with each other—and with you. They were burning with talent. Their talent was hot, it was on fire. And they could feel it.
And there’s something else.
Having wonderful talent is not enough. No matter how hot your talent is, no matter how on fire, nor how much you feel the flame, you must give it shape—you must give it a form that will help people see it. You must construct a system, a project, a business that delivers your particular set of skills to people, and let them know exactly how it will contribute to their lives.
You must find the right language to communicate your skills and passion, to clearly communicate your projects and your vision in a new, moving and changing economy; using a voice that is completely yours.
I pause for a moment and quiet my tone. You scoot your chair closer to the table.
The second thing that startled me that day in July was what both of these clients said to me during our first meetings only hours apart from each other, in almost identical sentences, one speaking Spanish and the other English.
They both said, “I am looking for the right words”.
Both of them knew that they needed the perfect language to describe and express their particular skills, passions and ideas to the world. They knew that finding their unique voices would be key to their success.
And they were right.
It’s not easy to find your own words, your own way of connecting to the world through language. First it’s necessary to analyze, search for and define what it is you want to offer to the world and how you want to offer it. This is what I help my clients do in the process of creating a strategic map. I help them find their unique voice to clearly communicate their project and talent to the world. I help them to make a strong connection with their targeted public.
I encourage them to resist saying the same thing that everyone else says. Now is the time to create their own rituals and rites. I help people feel that it’s ok to leave the comfort of memorized language and trendy phrases and dare to stray from the rules of the synchronized swimmers, in order to develop a fresh language to frame their own talent and their own professional vision.
As you listen you hold my gaze and your eyes are shining with recognition. I can see that you are wondering about your own words and the way you define your talent.
I decide to give you some questions that may help stimulate a new perception:
These are a few things you can ask yourself about talent:
- Have you stopped recently to look at the full dimension of your talents in this particular moment of your life?
- Can you name or identify what your core talents or skills are?
- Have you tried to strip away the descriptions used in past jobs or CVs in order to see what your underlying talents and passions are?
- Can you tell someone in a very simple way what it is that you love to do?
And for developing your own language:
- How do you describe to the world what you do or want to do professionally in this moment of your life?
- Have you clearly named what you are offering to the world right now?
- How do you communicate what your particular talents will do or change for other people?
- Do you use a simple vocabulary that is fresh and easily understood by your audience?
- Do your words clearly describe what you offer, no matter how complex the project or idea is?
We sit in silence for a minute and I see that you have finished your salad and have set the empty dish to the side.
I take the last few bites of tuna, tear off a piece of bread, wipe a quick circle in the bowl and pop it into my mouth.
The waiter appears out of nowhere and takes both of our empty bowls away asking if we would like desert. We both shake our heads in a silent “no thank you” and I suggest we have a coffee before we head back out into the roaring sun.
“How about an espresso on ice?” the waiter suggests.
We both look at each other and give an affirmative nod. “That sounds great”, you say to the waiter, “because man-oh-man, can you believe this heat?”
We both laugh and even the waiter smiles.
I imagine what you are thinking now.
You may be thinking that your talent is alive and burning inside of you. Yes, your talent is on fire, and you know that you need the perfect language to serve it up to your public, to connect to them. You need the cool of just the right words.
And that is a wonderful thing to be thinking while we wait together, in sweet anticipation, for our iced coffee.
Technical and artistic support for images: INDAStudio
Lone swimmer painting by Andrea Cook entitled “Swimming in a swimming pool”