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Be for the weirdos – and other lessons from a day with Seth Godin

How to be so good, there's no substitute for you.

I was so mad that December day.

At 6:40, I was hustling off to my 7pm House dance class, wearing my dowdy, full-length black down coat and all kinds of other thermal layers. I’d walked a block thinking, “Only for Cebo’s class do I go out in this cold.”

Cebo is my teacher’s “dance name.” (All the house dancers have them.) His real name is Terry. He makes every class the best class you ever took.

When people ask, “Would you ever live in LA in the winter?” I say, “In a heartbeat. Except no, because LA doesn’t have Cebo.” It’s like that.

After about a block, I remembered to pull out my phone and register for class online so I wouldn’t have to check in with the people who always make me spell my name out loud.

And there it was on the schedule: SUB FOR CEBO.

Let’s be clear: There is no substitute for Cebo.

The subs all go at the level of the slowest person in the class. They forget their own routines. They make you do sit-ups. They stop in the middle and lecture about street-dance culture, while you have to be the freak who jogs in place if you care about cardio. I finish their class with a dry t-shirt.I want to go home with a t-shirt that’s extra heavy in the old Murray’s Cheese bag I plop it in after class. Woe to anyone who thinks there’s cheese treats in there. Ooh, brie? No, not brie.

I want that shirt so soaked that I have to put newspaper underneath it when I hang it at home on the bathroom door, where it makes Steven gag.

That’s a post-Cebo tee. Dry tee: unacceptable.

I looked at the Saturday schedule. That one too. SUB FOR CEBO.

So I had to come to terms with a weekend of no Cebo.

There are greater tragedies in the world, but I was pouting.

Then, on Friday night, my friend Selena Soo tagged me in a Facebook post:

“Anyone want to go to this with me tomorrow?”

The image was a big photo of Seth Godin. The “this” was an all-day Seth Godin event at an FIT auditorium 15 blocks from my house.

Seth is my favorite thinker and speaker. He’s more than that, he’s like my lucky bottle cap. Any time I’m feeling stuck creatively — like I don’t have anything new to say, or anything worth writing — I listen to a podcast interview with Seth. It’s like rubbing his bald head and having a magic genie come out to give me ideas.

Now, thanks to the SUB FOR CEBO tragedy, I didn’t have to choose and have FOMO about one or the other.

The ticket was 600 dollars. I didn’t think twice about it. Automatic yes. Even though it meant being somewhere by 9am, which is when I normally wake up.

In a nutshell:

The day flew by. 9-4. Seth opened with a 1-hour or so talk that was riveting and full of stories, and then most of the day was Q and A where people presented their business challenges.

He solved most by asking “What’s it for, who’s it for, and what is the change it makes?” Most people had at least one of those things screwed up.

They served lobster rolls and whitefish sandwiches for lunch. Plus, pastries from Seth’s wife’s gluten-free bakery, By The Way Bakery.
Everyone got copies of a bunch of his books and a water bottle that says “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.” (Seth claims it was invented in the 20th century.)

I also went home with this action figure. (Considering taking it out of the plastic so I can rub its head.)

Seth Godin Action Figure (Human Seth presented for likeness but not for scale)

Here are my other takeaways.

Some are from Seth’s head, some from mine. (Mine’s the one with hair.)

Reuse, recycle, repeat.

Most of what Seth said, I’ve heard him say in some form on a podcast or on his blog. But I liked hearing it again, especially in person. I found myself scribbling down things I already knew, and getting new ideas as I did.

Meanwhile, I always think, “Oh, I can’t write that, I’ve written it before. What if someone catches me?” Just like I’m afraid someone will see me in an outfit twice. What am I, a Kardashian? Who cares?

Not only is it OK to repeat your material, we want you to.

Give people a story to talk about. That’s how your idea spreads.

Tony Robbins would’ve been just another motivational speaker – though a massively tall one with a huge head – speaking in musty-carpeted Sheratons. But he filled a 50-foot trench with coals and walked across it. He got people to follow him. When you ask someone after a Tony Robbins event about their weekend, they have a story: “I walked on coals.” You will never, ever catch me telling this story about my weekend. My feet have been through enough trauma after running 10 miles a day in college. But I get why people love it, and why it spread.

Other examples:

“When we left, Gramercy Tavern gave us coffee cake for the morning.”

“The Soup Nazi won’t serve you if you even stammer when you get to the front of the line.”

“Seth Godin not only answered questions brilliantly all day long, but gave out all his books and Seth Godin action figures and fed us lobster rolls.”

Be for the weirdos.

I know this. We all know it. If you’re for everybody, you’re for nobody. Go for the smallest, weirdest possible audience. Stop worrying about that person who might not like what you do, and focus on the person who’ll love it.

“This might not appeal to millennials.” “I don’t want to alienate the working moms.” “I’m going to turn off people who love dairy.” That’s fine. Don’t worry about all those people, worry about the ones who will be your die-hard fans.

I don’t care a whole lot about Star Wars. Is the Star Wars franchise creating a guest role for Bethenny Frankel from Real Housewives so people like me will start loving Star Wars? No. Star Wars is for Star Wars people. It’s a huge business, the Star Wars business, but that’s because they keep it Star Wars-y for their Star Wars weirdos. (Now watch them come out with a Skinnygirl Light Saber.)

On the other hand, I do care about Cebo’s class. (Ya think?) It’s at EXPG, a street-dance gym in the East Village. They do hip hop, house, popping, locking, b-boying. Do they also offer tap, ballet, contemporary interpretive to get a broader crowd? No. They’re for the street-dance weirdos like me. On a side note, they’re backed by Japanese money and have Toto toilets in the bathrooms. Bonus points for fancy rear-cleaning mechanism.

Price is a story we tell ourselves about who we are.

You’re in a fancy hotel that charges $150 for a massage. Down the block, you can get a perfectly decent $30 massage. From a place with a disturbing foot rub video in the window, but still decent. So why do you spring for the hotel one? Because you’ve told yourself, “I’m a fancy person. People like me spend the extra to have the massage in the nicer place.”

Be so awesome, we skip the sales page.

Seth didn’t say this. I’m saying it. All I needed to know was, All-Day Seth Godin Event. I didn’t even look at all the things promised on the Eventbrite sales page. I knew what Seth is, I knew I wanted more of that, and so I wanted in. For 600 bucks. That’s a lot for a day. That’s a flight to LA, or a seat at Hamilton, though probably Mezzanine. That’s really nice shoes or an iPad.

When you keep creating and writing and letting people know who you are, the ones who love it won’t even think what else they could do with the money, or need to look at the sales page.

If what they get is you, that’ll be enough for them to take out the credit card. Or, in my case, recite it from memory. I know two credit card numbers by heart, it’s not good.

There are actually good gluten-free baked goods.

I’ve been scarred – and scurred – for years by a mealy gluten-free cupcake I had at someone’s birthday. Those By The Way Bakery desserts would’ve fooled me in a blind “gluten or not gluten” taste test. And the almond cookie? I’ve waited till now to curse: Holy Fucking Shit.

I bet I’m the only person who’s ever said the following:

Seth Godin substituted for my House dance teacher.

I wish I had more takeaways and examples to share. The biggest one is that I take terrible notes and forget all the good examples.

Now you.

If you have a business, do you keep it weird for your weirdos? Or do you get tempted to make it for everyone?

What’s something you spend extra on, and what’s the story it lets you tell?

Have you skipped right past the sales page and sprung for something big-ticket, sight unseen?

Are you a Seth weirdo like me?

What’s your Cebo – something you’re so fanatical about that it dictates your schedule, and there is no sub?

I want to know – tweet me @lbelgray

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