You Gotta Get a Gimmick

My brief theatrical career included playing a “Toreadorable” in a summer stock production of “Gypsy” when I was about 13. My sister had dragged me to the auditions because of her own thespian ambitions, and I think she just liked having some company and a ready-made fan in me, so I suddenly found myself in the chorus. Now, forty-plus years later, I can still sing every word of every song in that libretto. My favorite song is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” the refrain of a song sung by three strippers who are instructing young Louise before she turns into the unforgettable Gypsy Rose Lee. Their sage advice is to get a gimmick that makes you stand out from everyone else.

The same holds true in the world of business. What makes people remember you? Maybe you aren’t wearing phony Roman soldier regalia and carrying a horn like one of the strippers in “Gypsy”–at least, I hope not. But each of us has our own unique style and sensibility. “Gimmick” implies that it’s false but I prefer to think that the essence of this theme is to find something special about yourself and then use it, leverage it, let yourself be known for it. For Jeffrey Gitomer, he’s known not only for his brash and in-your-face sales advice but he’s recognizable in his red shirt with his name patch sewn onto the chest, looking like an upscale mechanic. Another world-class speaker, Patricia Fripp, wears stylish hats that set her apart in a crowd. And her British accent, along with her nuggets of wisdom which she calls “Frippisms,” make her undeniably unique. Think George Will and his bowtie, Louise Nevelson and her turban, George Burns and his cigar.

Last year I was interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Elizabeth Bernstein, for a column she writes called “Bonds” (it’s about relationships, not financial instruments). Her article was about being a diva, and I was delighted to respond as a source. I’d been encouraging business women for years to redefine the word “Diva” to mean a woman who knows what she wants, knows how to get what she wants and honors the people who support her. When Elizabeth asked me what was diva-like about me, though, I was stumped. Somehow, I ended up describing my love of vintage jewelry, born during a time when that was all I could afford, my signature pearls and red lipstick. I defaulted to describing my style. Like Jeffrey Gitomer’s red shirt, it’s a uniform I put on every day because it feels like an expression of the authentic “me.”

So what’s your “gimmick?” What do you do or say or wear that most expresses your brand and your style? What makes you unique and unforgettable? Please share about your own way of expressing yourself that sets you apart from everyone else. We’d love to know.

[Photo: The Village Voice]

The Logistics of Job Satisfaction

When you’re evaluating the elements of a satisfying career, don’t underestimate logistics. Where we work and how we get there contribute a great deal to our job satisfaction, and the joy of a new job can fade quickly if you have to spend an hour and a half just getting there.

An article in yesterday’s online edition of the Wall Street Journal supports my hypothesis. In “Secrets of the Happiest Commuters,” Sue Shellenbarger writes that new national data shows a significant spike in the number of Americans whose commute is longer than an hour, from 300,000 in 2011 to 11.1 million people in 2012. In order for someone to be satisfied with a longer commute, economists estimate that a person needs to make 40% more money to rationalize the trade-off in time. The story goes on to highlight ways in which commuters make the time they spend in cars, on trains or riding the subway more palatable.

As someone who lives in a “train town,” I understand this trade-off. When we first moved from Phoenix to the Chicago area, I was intrigued by the culture of commuter trains. Our Metra rail system reaches out like an octopus from the heart of Chicago to suburbs reaching far to the north, west and south. My job in the city required a five-minute drive from home to a public parking lot; a train ride that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the time I traveled; then a 20-minute bus ride followed by a five-minute walk. By the time I got into the office I had spent an hour and a half just getting to work. This meant I spent a staggering 31.5 days per year in transit. That’s a full month just getting to and from the job.

Some folks don’t mind the commute. I know a man from my church who commuted from our home town of Wheaton into the city for more than 30 years and he said he enjoyed his commute time. Another gentleman, a former colleague of mine from a publishing company, rode the train with friends and had a running poker game that lasted, literally, years. Back when I was commuting daily, nearly everyone had a newspaper or a book and a cup of coffee. These days you’ll find most commuters plugged into some kind of electronic device, from a laptop to an iPad to a smartphone to a Kindle.  Some use the time to daydream and stare out the window; others take a snooze.

People told me to enjoy my commute–that it provided me with “down time,” time to read or write or do more work (!). But over the years I came to resent the commute and the time it robbed from me and my family. In fact, the WSJ article reports a 2011 study in the Journal of Health Economics noted that “[w]omen tend to be unhappier about long commutes than men, even after controlling for any improvement in income, job satisfaction or housing quality—perhaps because women tend to shoulder more housework at home.” After six years of schlepping to and from the city, I deliberately looked for a job closer to home. Through my “Golden Rolodex” I connected with a hospital president I knew who soon hired me as her VP of marketing for a hospital that was a four-minute commute from my home. And now that I’m self-employed with an office in downtown Wheaton, I can make it to work in 3.5 minutes if I don’t hit a red light.

I’m not saying that everyone should work close to home–where you work and how you get there are personal choices that each of us has to make. I’m just recommending that when you weigh the factors of what makes you happy, remember to include those logistics. Otherwise, what originally seems like a minor annoyance can become an intolerable compromise that threatens your quality of life.