“I’m done with this crap.”
Those five words changed my life. I had just arrived home from a full-day shift at my job as a gas jockey – at the end of my third 50-hour week in a row – and I felt like I was going to vomit.
We were short-staffed after experiencing a rash of sudden resignations. Some people gave notice; others just stopped showing up. And since I had seniority, I was first in line to be approved for overtime. Which meant I’d have to stretch myself even thinner in order to manage a now-50-hour-a-week job and my growing freelance writing business.
As I closed the heavy white door of my musty, water-damaged basement suite and collapsed onto the thin futon, I wondered how I’d gotten to this point. And I remember thinking:
I used to be impressive.
Growing up, I was one of those irritating overachieving nerds, with the big, irritating list of accomplishments to prove it.
“Fluent in 3 languages” impressive. “Winning $8,000 scholarships and awards from major universities” impressive. “Nationally published poet by the age of 15” impressive. “Toronto Star Award for journalism by the age of 17” impressive.
And the fact that all my friends were making actual headway in real careers while I was stuck working 50-hour weeks at a gas station only made my accomplishments eat away at me inside. Every morning when I woke up, the thin old futon jabbing swords into my back, I’d look at myself in the mirror and ask where the old me was and when he was going to get his stubborn, overachieving ass back here so I could get on with my life. I’d ask what happened.
The answer? Life happened. (As it often does.)
After I’d graduated from university, freshly minted psychology degree in hand and a mountain of student debt at my back, I was excited by all the prospects the future held.
A small-town lad like me in the big (okay, medium-sized) city surrounded by mountains and lakes? I could travel up north to see the volcanoes and out to the coast to check out the rainforest. I could find fulfilling work – maybe a job in arts and culture or something with a newspaper or even a career as a motivational speaker. I could write slam poetry in the park underneath giant oak trees while my friends tossed the Frisbee nearby.
And then I had to go and nearly get myself killed.
It was a sweltering hot summer day. I’d just left church and was cycling home, down a large side-street with trees on one side and retirement homes on the other. I was crossing the highway when a dark green SUV cut into my lane in front of me in a hasty attempt to get into the turning lane. My options? Take evasive action or get hit.
I chose the option that wouldn’t end with me splattered all over the road.
I quickly moved over to get up onto the sidewalk, but the tires caught in the pavement and sent me flying. An inconveniently positioned divot jostled my seat, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground – bike on top of me – and I was bleeding through my clothes. And that’s when the pain started.
Ever wondered what someone’s thought process is during a traumatic accident? It goes something like this:
Pain! Ow! What the hell?
Oh god, that’s blood. That’s not good.
Now I’m not a doctor, but I know that an artery runs somewhere in there and it’s totally full of blood.
Did I slice up the artery? Aw crap. I did slice up the artery. There ain’t no coming back from that. I’m going to die.
And that’s when I reached into my backpack, pulled out my cellphone and called for an ambulance. When I got to the hospital, I was rushed into surgery.
The last thing I remember from that day is getting wheeled into the operating room and telling the nurse that dying isn’t so bad, because it means you get to see what’s next.
When I came to, I was in the recovery ward. The surgeon told me that I hadn’t, in fact, hit the artery. Rather, the part of my leg that I’d sliced up was the millimetres-wide area between the artery and the nerve. He said I was lucky. My O.R. nurse friend says it was more than luck – she says that most surgeons can’t make an incision that precise.
I was in a room in the hospital with three other men. I was the youngest one in the room. I was on the left hand side of the room, in the bed closest to the door. Next to me was a frail black-haired guy in his 30s. In the far corner laid a portly 50-something man.
And directly across from me was a thin, unshaven gentleman who looked to be about 60 or 70. He’s the only one who said more than two words to me during the three days I was there.
The nurses told me that I’d need to walk around the hospital in order to retain my muscle mass. The surgeon had stitched me up, but the accident left me with limited mobility during recovery, and something as simple as walking made me break a sweat. And as someone who biked everywhere for three years, played volleyball twice a week and loved his morning jogs, the fact that I could no longer get out of bed on my own was humiliating.
So there I was, shuffling down the hospital hall with a 70-year-old man I knew next to nothing about. I’d never met him before, but during those few days, he was my closest friend.
We traded stories about our lives. I had to ask him to slow down more than once, and I joked that it’s not every day a senior citizen can move faster than a 22-year-old. He had worked lots of different jobs during his life – he’d gone logging out in the forests for a while, and picked up a few skilled trades here and there.
I quickly learned that he loved poetry, as do I. On our walks, he’d recite old poems I’d never heard before and tell me about the authors and their lives. He was a fan of the old English poets. He was a great storyteller. Every time there was a change in the atmosphere of the piece, he’d intone his voice differently. He’d gesture at important plot points.
I never learned his name.
Now, hospitals aren’t all kittens and rainbows. But up until this point, life was easy. After I got out of the hospital, that’s when things got tough.
My recovery was to take 8 weeks. During that time, I wasn’t to lift anything that weighed more than 10 pounds and I couldn’t do anything physically demanding. About two weeks after I got out, I found a new job – pumping gas at a full-service station – and I was working there 40 hours a week. I had to walk two blocks to catch the bus to get there, and I didn’t finish work until after 10 PM, which meant at least a 45-minute wait for the last bus back home.
That meant when it came time for me to find a new place to live, I definitely wasn’t prepared.
The suite I’d been renting for the past two years? Was going to get converted into a bakery – and I had a month to find a new place and move out. While on painkillers. While also working a full-time job. While recovering from a near-fatal accident. With no car, no boxes, no family within 2500 miles, no time, no money, no strength, no help, and no hope.
My landlords heard about friends who needed a new tenant for their recently renovated basement suite. They helped me move in as soon as it was ready, which ended up being about a month after my accident.
That basement suite is where everything I was, everything I’d accomplished, everything I wanted…keeled over and died.
One big lesson that I had to learn the hard way is that people have these things called needs. And when those needs go unfulfilled, bad things happen.
One such need is natural light. I’m utterly astounded at how something so seemingly insignificant, something that so many people take for granted every day, can be so important. Natural light seems like nothing – until you don’t have it. And then, it appears, it’s everything.
Combine that with a generous helping of post-traumatic stress, and you have a recipe for absolute despair.
I was convinced that I would die in that basement suite.
For a good long while, I couldn’t face my future. I wouldn’t let myself believe that I had one. I thought for certain that I should be dead, and I assumed the fact that I hadn’t died in my accident was some kind of a mistake that the universe would soon rectify. And any attempt to make something of myself would just be wasting my limited time.
That’s when I found it.
A freelance writing contract with a marketing firm.
Some kind of a job that would let me use my talents. Something that could give me purpose. Give me joy.
It seemed too good to be true, but it was actually an early foothold in a career that I would come to love.
And over the months (and eventually years) with that firm, I learned to hope again. I learned to trust my talents again. Eventually, my writing workload grew to the point that I had to choose between it and the gas station job. It was at the same time that my day job was requiring more and more from me as a result of being short-staffed, which made the decision easier.
And after several weeks of nausea-inducing overtime, I finally decided that if I was going to be working myself to the point of physical illness, I was damn well going to do it in a field that I actually enjoy.
And that moment is when Brand Gesture was born.
That’s the moment I decided that instead of waiting for someone else to give me permission to live my life, I was going to build the life that I want.
That’s the moment I decided that instead of hiding from a world that I feared would destroy me, I was going to use my writing to make myself indestructible. And I was going to show people – myself included – everything that is possible in a world beyond fear.
That’s the moment I decided that instead of deliberately undervaluing my writing talent in order to insulate myself from the world, I was going to write anything and everything I can, in order to give myself – and others – permission to be amazing. Permission to be different. Permission to be who they were born to be.
Because I’ve learned something from my ordeal. (Which, I think, was the whole point of it.)
I’ve learned that life is too short to be anything but extraordinary.
Life is too short to second-guess everything you do. Life is too short to keep yourself contained in some sad little box for fear of what people might think if you actually did something they didn’t expect. Life is too short to let imaginary barriers stop you from doing what you love.
And life is too short to build a business that you hate just because you think you have to do what’s always been done.
(My mother used to say, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”)
And the one question I asked myself that made all the difference for me is…what the hell is the point of owning a business if you won’t let yourself run it the way you want to?
That’s what Brand Gesture is here for – to help you run your business, your way.
My name is Mike Straus, and I started Brand Gesture because I was tired of using other people’s strategies to run my business. I started Brand Gesture because I decided that this time, I’m doing it my way. (Cue Frank Sinatra’s crooning baritone vocals.)
Brand Gesture is a marketing firm that helps businesses of all sizes to get heard, do something different, and multiply their sales.
Over the years, I’ve helped dozens of clients on three continents to create engaging and persuasive marketing materials that get the ‘yes’.
At Brand Gesture, you’ll find all sorts of goodies like workshops, courses, tools, articles, and professional advice to help you revamp your marketing, boost your profits, recruit more clients, tap into new markets, do something different, create a real legacy, find fulfillment in business, and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
But most importantly, Brand Gesture is here to help you do something that works for you.
To help you find your 70-year-old roaming poet – whatever that might look like for you – and reignite your business passion.
To provide you with the strength to figure it out – even when you’re 2500 miles from your nearest lifeline.
To give you a boost out of your dark little pit of despair, whatever form it may take.
For me, it was a basement suite. But for you, it might be a judgmental & discouraging family or a lack of formal expertise & experience or an over-saturated market.
But if you ride with Brand Gesture, you’ll quickly learn how to hush the naysayers, make up for lack of formal experience, and part the sea of competitors through creative methods that make you an expert.
Don’t die with your song stuck in your throat.
It’s time to figure out what you really want for your business. Your story is the one competitive advantage that nobody can take from you. So tell it your way.
After all, the only way to stand out from the hundreds of competitors in your industry…
The only way to figure out what really works…
The only way to get the “hell yes”…
Is to show people not just how you’re different, but why you’re different.