“I want to be remembered as the guy who likes lemons.”
About 10 years ago, I asked a college admissions advisor what she considered the most memorable essay she’d ever read. She responded without pause: “I want to be remembered as the guy who likes lemons.”
She explained. There are always wonderful essays about ambition and adversity, but this one, semi-sensible essay took the cake. The first sentence was “I want to be remembered as the guy who likes lemons.”
She didn’t remember the specifics of the essay. It was probably some analogy about how the author strove to be bright and funky, or sweet and sour. The contents of the essay didn’t even matter; it was all about that unforgettable opening sentence that I’m still talking about 10 years later.
In a world where hiring managers review your resume in 6 seconds, users context switch after 400ms, and the optimal sales email can fit in a single tweet, the guy who likes lemons got that advisor’s attention in just 11 words.
Wear Orange Shoes
Four years later, I read Dave Kerpen’s book “The Art of People”. Out of 53 chapters, one detail has stuck with me: Kerpen always wears orange shoes.
Some people will think that’s silly; most won’t notice. There’s a sliver of people, though, that will never forget those bright orange shoes. If that translates to just one new connection, hire, or investment, the shoes have paid out in dividends.
I stood in a room filled with entrepreneurs and investors, hoping to get the attention of just one. I was contemplating whether to get a drink from the bar, when all of a sudden I heard, “I have got to talk to the man wearing those f–king shoes!”…
Were my orange shoes the reason I secured an investment? Of course not. But they were the reason I got into a conversation in the first place. In a room full of people trying to get busy people’s attention, that was all it took to stand out in the crowd.
The key, Kerpen asserts, is to garner attention and be authentic. When I gave my first conference talk, the overwhelming majority of messages in the Slack thread weren’t questions; they were comments about my mustache. Some jokes were Mario riffs, and others were a bit more creative.
Jokes aside, my mustache gave me an identity at that conference, intentional or not. As one commenter said: “your mustache brought all the boys to the yard”. Afterwards, a friend told me that I couldn’t shave it; “it’s part of your brand”.
The funny thing is I never intended to grow a mustache. I was debugging a misbehaving system under a time crunch, and didn’t shave for a bit. After the dust settled, I promised coworkers that I’d keep the mustache until our product launched. Now I have a permanent tea strainer.
Look good, feel good, sh*t in the woods!
I went to college in Maine. Freshman orientation was a one-week trek deep into the forest. So deep, in fact, that our van had skid plates for dirt roads and bull bars in case we “bumped” into a moose.
Before we left campus with our groups, one of the student guides stood on a picnic table and started chanting “Look good, feel good, sh*t in the woods!”, emphasizing every word. Then everyone joined in!
It was goofy and ridiculous, but it loosened everyone up and made us comfortable around each other. We’d be living in close quarters for the week, and quite out of our element, but something about being crass and childish was oddly freeing. It shattered social pretense and set a clear tone; we were there to be honest and ourselves.
We played orientation-type games, repaired a few hiking trails, and then went our separate ways. Over the next four years, though, you could walk into any communal space, chant “look good, feel good!”, and at least one person would holler back “sh*t in the woods!” while grinning ear to ear.
I recently met a fellow alumna at a holiday party. I told this story and repeated those magic words. “COOT!”, she said (the name of our orientation week). Those 9 words were all it took to open the flood gate of shared experiences, and we happily compared notes and swapped stories.
The Game of Life
I’ve recently been thinking about my personal brand – whatever that means. Do I want to expose all of myself? None? Probably some facets, but which? I doubt I’ll ever find the right balance, if there is such a thing.
At the end of the day, like all of you, I have varied interests. What I might want to shout from the rooftops one day, I may be uncomfortable sharing the next; and what others might find meaningful, might feel inconsequential to me.
One interview that lives rent-free in my head is Numerphile’s discussion with John Conway on his Game of Life. To Conway, the Game of Life felt like an insignificant curiosity. To the rest of the world, the game was immensely impactful.
Conway spent much of his illustrious career studying cellular automaton, but his most notorious work can be written in less than 40 characters.
Kolmogorov complexity is the theory that something is as complex as the shortest program that can reproduce it. By those standards, the Game of Life is less complex than the name of some Welch towns.
Well, I used to say, and I’m still inclined to say occasionally, that I hate it, I hate the Game of Life. I don’t really, at least I don’t anymore.
The reason why I felt like that was that, whenever my name was mentioned with respect to some mathematics, it was always the Game of Life. And I don’t think the Game of Life is very very interesting. I don’t think it was worth all that, I’ve done lots of other mathematical things. So I found the Game of Life was overshadowing much more important things and I did not like it.
The Game of Life and Conway’s relationship with it, highlights how little it takes to leave a lasting impression and how it often happens when you least expect it. No matter how we try, we can’t control it.
Franz Wright wrote that “one of the few pleasures of writing is the thought of one’s book in the hands of a kind hearted intelligent person somewhere.”
I take solace in knowing that, as long as we approach life bright and funky, bold and authentic, or smiling and borderline puerile, someone will remember.
And so, of course, there’s only one way to close. My name is Walker Griggs, and I want to be remembered as the mustached man who looked good, felt good, loved lemons, and shat in the woods – metaphorically, of course.