I read the email from the magazine editor and my heart skipped a beat.
“We’ve decided to use the attached photo from your blog for our cover and we’re going to print tomorrow. Can you send us the high-res version?”
I was ecstatic. Not only was my travel blog going to be featured in a magazine from my home town-- they were going to use one of our pictures for the cover!
But then I opened the attachment. It was a picture Vincent had taken of me in Argentina, swimming in a beautiful mountain lake at sunset.
And I had no clothes on.
Granted, it was a silhouette taken from the back, so you couldn't see my nasties or anything, but honestly, that was the least of my concerns. There it was, the outline of my naked body, in all of its I’m-travelling-and-eating-whatever-I-want glory, every curve accentuated by the light of the setting sun.
I'd been ok with that photo when it was low-res on my little travel blog with 100 readers. But now that I knew it would be blown up on the front page of a glossy magazine for tens of thousands of people to see, all of my insecurities decided to come out to play.
I started crying. Like, a lot.
Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I replied to the editor, suggesting a different photo, but she was adamant about using this one. To be fair, I had told her any photo on our blog was fair game-- I just completely forgot about this one. I even seriously considered asking her to Photoshop my body, but then decided that would be even more embarrassing.
So the magazine went to print, with me on the cover. Naked.
But as upset as I was at the time, that experience taught me lessons that have helped me enormously in my business, especially when it comes to writing and creating. These lessons are for anyone who is building a personal brand and putting themselves out there every day.
Hell, these lessons are for anyone, period. Because don't we all put ourselves out there in some way or another? So here they are: the 3 things I learned about business from accidentally appearing naked on the cover of a magazine.
1. It’s not about you
No offense or anything, but when it comes to writing or creating for an audience:
It isn’t about you: it’s about your audience.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is forgetting their customer. Because without customers, you don't have a business.
When I was in the depths of despair about the magazine cover, I forgot that. I forgot about what the magazine’s audience wanted because I was so consumed with what I wanted. If I was going to be on the cover of a magazine, I wanted to be in the best damn shape of my life, not looking like I’d had about a dozen too many empanadas.
But it wasn't about me. It was about the audience of that magazine: women 30-65 years old. What would they want to see? Yet another photo-shopped, airbrushed, unrealistic body that makes them feel terrible? Or someone more relatable-- with an "imperfect" body-- having the time of her life, love handles and all?
I might have been cursing that magazine editor’s first born for using that photo, but she was right: it was perfect for her audience.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t put any of yourself into what you create (hell, this entire blog post is about me!), but you have to do so while still putting your audience's needs first. What value are they getting from what you’re creating? How is your story going to be useful to your audience? Because in the end of the day, you're doing this for them.
Or at least you should be.
2. It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does
Quick: what was the last article you read? Who wrote it? What was the cover image?
If you’re like most content-overloaded internet users, you consume far, far more information than you retain. Just to give you an idea, a recent study found that 25% of adults spend more than 20 hours a week consuming online content.
So while you’re obsessing over every word you write (you and me both…) or how your chin looks in that headshot (ditto), your readers are clicking on to the next article in their feed.
Listen, I get it-- you put a lot of effort into what you create and it’s hard to take distance from it. Me too. But the fact is, as hard as it is to accept, it just doesn’t matter that much to anyone but you.
I know this because I’ve lived it. I recently had one of my articles published in the Huffington Post. It was a big deal for me. I was excited, and nervous, and frankly, obsessive about every part of it--from my writer bio to the image I used for the article.
And you know what? It didn’t matter. Sure, it was exciting and now I can say I’ve written for a major publication. But did it drive traffic to my site? Did it bring in any new clients? Did it change my life or business in any significant way?
The same went for my magazine cover and the same goes for the vast majority of anything we do.
In the long run, it just doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think it does.
Which leads me to my last lesson learned.
3. Perfection is overrated
Listen, this is coming from an undeniable perfectionist. Like, I go to therapy for my perfectionism. The struggle is real and I need to remind myself of this every single day.
But it’s true: perfect should never be the goal. That’s not to say you should do crappy work. Please, please, don’t do crappy work. But don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards of perfection either.
Because perfection is paralyzing. If something needs to be perfect before you'll publish it, or launch it, or put it out there, you’ll never do anything. If you wait until it’s perfect, you’ll be waiting forever.
Plus, is perfection even possible? Seriously, what does "perfect" even look like? This is the most important thing that damn magazine cover taught me:
Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not good enough.
Because when I was crying over that magazine cover, let's face it, I was crying because I didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel thin enough to be on the cover of a magazine. I didn't feel like my body was good enough for thousands of people to see it.
And believe me, it wasn’t the last time I haven’t felt good enough. It took me four months of blogging before I dared submit an article to the Huffington Post. It takes me hours to write every single post on this blog because I obsess over every word. It’s a daily struggle to feel like the work I do is good enough.
And I’m sure anyone who makes any kind of creative work for other people can relate. You put your heart and soul into what you create. It’s important to you. And you want it to be perfect.
I know this one article won’t change that (see point #2), but if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from putting myself out there again, and again, and again, it’s this: You’re already good enough.
You just have to let yourself believe it.