Debra Swersky
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Journal

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Life Motto

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “method.” Perhaps it was because the Oscars were on (and “method” can be short for “method acting”), or because I enjoy The Bar Method, or because when I filled out my IDEA School mentor application I had to answer the question, “What kind of learner are you?” (Hands-down. I’m hands-on.) More to the point, the concept of something being “method” is sticking with me.

Method is “a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one.” Or, “orderliness of thought or behavior; systematic planning or action.” Common synonyms are: procedure, technique, practice, routine, strategy, order, organization, structure, form, system, logic, planning, etc. You get the point.

Several months ago a mentor-friend of mine shared with me one of his life mottos: “Never take ‘no’ from someone who can’t say ‘yes.’” Those are his easy words to live-and-die by (in sales). But, rarely, will anyone that you’re selling to say, flat-out, “no.” Typically, ‘no’s’ are coated with caveats, run-arounds, and delays etc. which I’ve been hitting my whole life and rarely saw them as ‘no’s.’ But, then again, unless I’ve been applying for a job, I’ve never had to sell myself (or my services) before. So though I inherently understood what this phrase meant (i.e. If the person isn’t the final decision maker then their “no” isn’t actually a “no” or a “yes.”), I really had no idea what it meant until I experienced it.

For the past several months I had been preparing a series of proposals for a dream client. The initial conversations were going well and progressing nicely. My next steps were to meet other people on the team… until my contact said: “[Person X] does not want to talk to you. I’m sorry. We’ll be back in touch if an opportunity for your services come up.” Excuse me? I had to wonder to myself: Can my contact actually say “no” here? Then it hit me: “Never take ‘no’ from someone who can’t say ‘yes.’” This. Was. It! 

People say their life mottos all of the time. Phrases that they live-and-die by. Hard lessons that they learned in life. When people say their life mottos they instinctively know what they mean. You could repeat their life motto back to them and understand the words they used, but, in my opinion, you can’t understand the life mottos of others until you experience them yourself. 

I didn’t understand my mentor-friends’ motto when he said it. I understood the words, but the meaning of it had to be experienced like an actor practicing method acting. According to the father of method acting, Constantin Stanislavski, for me to fully reflect (or understand) what my friends motto was conveying I had to experience the “truth” both internally and externally. In Wikipedia’s words, I had to “build a cognitive and emotional understanding of the [role].”

It’s not surprising that the concept of something being “method” would be sticking with me. Rather, it’s eye-opening that I hadn’t identified this concept previously. When I got stuck thinking about it, I connected the dots of “you can’t understand the life mottos of other people until you experience them” and what it means to adopt a method, or to fully understand something by both understanding the words being said and the meaning of those words in context.

I had to live it to understand it. (Sounds like a life motto in the making... for me.)

Debra Swersky