Are You Changing Lives?

Are You Changing Lives?

“I change lives.”

During my recent trip to SXSW, I overheard these three words often. Someone would ask a person what they did for a living and more often than not, the person would brighten, smile and chirp up the answer.

“I change lives!”

And I would think to myself, “Well, now. That’s kind of dumb.”

Sorry, but it is. You’re a human being. You change lives all the time, every day. You change people’s lives when you smile at a passerby or hold the door open for someone or scold your child or answer an email or buy onions in the grocery store.

Changing lives is that easy. We live in a ripple-effect world.

Here’s what really makes me roll my eyes, though: If you’re in business, changing lives isn’t an elevator pitch. It’s redundant.

You’re in business. You’re supposed to change lives.

People are plunking down money for this – they want results. They want web copy that sells. Design that gets attention. Blog posts that attract comments. Marketing that brings in clients. Socks that warm their feet. Food that makes them feel good. Books that entertain them. Courses that teach them.

Changing their life is expected. It’s a default.

Claiming you change lives doesn’t really make you special, or worthy, or even interesting. You’re no different than anyone else. This isn’t a unique selling proposition. You sound as authentic as a crystal-ball gazer holding a snow globe.

It gets worse, though. I’d hear people utter those fateful “I change lives” words, and then I’d watch things fall apart. It was nearly painful. People would blink, look polite and say, “Oh? How does that work?”

But the life-changers couldn’t give clear, succinct answers. People had to ask more questions. They seemed confused. They didn’t understand what “I change lives” mean.

And no one could sum up the business in a handful of words.

Oh, they tried, though. The life-changers would grab their fu-fu and slide on a mystical, knowing expression, as if they had ancient shaman wisdom into the way the world works. Then they’d spout off some vagaries in an attempt to make a grand impression.

Fail. People would nod and smile politely, but that was about it.

And that’s what happens when you don’t have a clearly defined business. You don’t generate many sales. You won’t get many clients. Because most people sense when you’re handing them something that’s as wispy as the wind, and they’re not going to take you seriously as a professional if you can’t take them seriously and give them straight answers.

The solution is pretty easy: Get yourself a good elevator pitch, and be ready to give people concrete answers when they ask you questions about your career.

Oh, and drop the life changing angle… it’s just not working for you.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. The best/worst part? “I change lives” doesn’t default to value-positive.

    I change lives…

    “…by stealing paychecks from mailboxes.”
    “…by selling homeopathic medical remedies that don’t work.”
    “…by taking people on Adventure Vacations and then stranding them in the desert.”

    Changing lives doesn’t necessarily imply changing lives for the better.

  2. Those three little words sound pretty desperate. I’m sure they’re supposed to be lofty, exciting and irresistible, but when something becomes a generic catchphrase, people see through it in a hurry.

    Parroting someone else’s words doesn’t work, either, which is what I suspect happened here. Some A-list blogger came up with a great headline, and the bandwagon took off.

    If you can’t answer the question “What do you *really* do?” with clarity and confidence, it’s time to do some serious brainstorming.

    Nice to see you back, James, and nice to see *you*!

    • I think people say them to try to create impact and generate interest. “I change lives” could possibly sound powerful to some people. But to me, it just sounded silly, like people were trying to put on airs. Not a good place to be when you’re trying to tell someone about your business…

      • Sounds too ‘fluffy rainbows and butterflys’ to me. Besides, nobody can change the entirety of someone elses life.

        The best you could do is one small segment. How about….I change people’s lives by making them better high jumpers….or just ‘hey, i make people better high jumpers”

      • To me it sounds too general, non sense, unless you continue

        e.g. I change lives: I help webhosting companies double their profit in 3 months or less.

        How’s that for a tagline? :)

  3. Amen sista!

    I’m always asking clients to please be more specific about what exactly does that positive change actually look and feel like? I can’t sell change. But I can sell a specific type of change to a specific type of person who wants it.

    Karri

    • Specifics go a long way, don’t they? I try to always ask people to define what they mean when words or phrases are vague. You can’t do anything with woo-woo vagaries. But you CAN (and should) do something with clear specifics!

  4. Someone needed to write this post and I’m glad it was you James.

    My two cents? Being able to “change your life” is a bit of a cop out actually. I’ve met people who were working crappy jobs, living unhappily… who then “changed their lives” by moving to some other place to do a small variation of the same lame things. That’s a “changed life” and such people rationalize this as a dramatic transformation.

    However, if you’re able to make millions… or even just free yourself from the 9-to-5… that’s a change of results. Something far more valuable and rare.

    Anyone can change their life. Actually creating something (be it money, freedom or an incredible “thing”) is the hard part.

    • Okay, I’m totally making “changing results” my new catchphrase. THAT’s measurable. THAT’s something clear.

      And see, that’s the kind of thing I’d definitely say to someone: “I help businesspeople get results online.” I already know I change lives… but I like the results that back it up with hard, solid proof.

    • You’re so right! I know of a Nigerian blogger who started almost two years ago and now he makes $3,000+ a month writing for clients. Last year he wrote and published 270+ guest posts alone. The most incredible part: he is only 17 years!

  5. Life IS change.
    Beats the hell out of the opposite.

  6. Wow–I found myself cringing through this one, James. For some reason, it reminded me of the clients who justify staying in an unhappy relationship b/c, “Well, he doesnt’ cheat on me, or spend time in bars after work.” Hmmm…so sad, this barometer. And nothing concrete to build on.

    A clearly defined biz plan, goes hand in hand w clearly defined boundaries for how we expect others to treat us.

    Am I changing lives? Hehe, if I am, I’ll never utter those three words above. Never. Ever.

    • Measurables matter, *especially* when it comes to a changed life, I think. The results are completely up to the individual and not to the consultant, so without measurables and clear, mappable progress… well. Life doesn’t change much, does it?

      I grinned to hear you say you’d never utter those words – you get exactly what I’m saying!

  7. When I was a teacher, one of the most annoying things was listening to other teachers talk about how important our jobs were and how were “shaping” and “molding” the future and blah. blah. blah. It was our job to help kids learn to think. (Well, that was what our jobs should have been. Really, it was to teach them answers to an asinine test, but that’s an entirely different topic.)

    This is the first blog I’ve read about SXSW that makes me really happy I wasn’t there. Hearing “I change lives” would’ve given me horrible flashbacks to faculty meetings.

    • There was a LOT of talk and no action at SXSW. Don’t get me wrong, there was a LOT of action as well, but I’d expected the margin to be steeply tipped in favor of “results” versus “coasting”… and it wasn’t.

      Eye opener.

  8. I’m not sure how I’d respond to someone who told me they “change lives.”

    I’m thinking the best thing we can do for our businesses is to change our own minds before we worry about changing other people’s lives. (I’ve just finished working through Peter Shallard’s Seek and Destroy, so I’m feeling a little introspective. :) ) At any rate, it seems that once we get really clear in our own minds about what we offer, why we offer it and how we offer it, the elevator pitch becomes obvious and concrete — no more wispy.

    You’re absolutely right, James. Vague doesn’t sell. Nor is it really worth selling.

    • I responded with, “Oh… that’s interesting. Would you like some more wine? I’m going to go get me some.”

      Then I went to talk to people who knew what the hell they were talking about. 😉

      (PS: Seek and Destroy is a frikkin’ gem and I wish Peter didn’t give it away free. But he does, so everyone should totally take advantage of that.)

  9. I change slogans.

    ~Graham

  10. Oh, blech. If I was a mother I probably would have responded, I change diapers. Get over yourself.

  11. Patrick Vuleta says:

    ‘Change lives’ is part of a collection of meaningless feel-good words, like idealism and passion. The problem with these is that they’ve become so overused to the point of being a commodity. If someone mentions them it shows they don’t have a specific brand.

    I’d go so far as to say that people shouldn’t talk about results full stop, but instead talk about the actions they take. I’m more willing to listen about the details of exactly how someone does something and how that relates to situations we both have in common, rather than how someone increased Client X’s sales by 15.7%.

    Though that’s different from your favoured “I help businesses change results” because you’re talking about a process.

    • I think overuse of “cool” words and phrases happens all the time, and it’s a hard trap to avoid. Someone says something neat, and because of the ability for people to share online, the quip becomes spread all over and used by all sorts of people. Then someone has to come up with a new quip to change the pattern and get attention again. Sigh.

      I’m also with you on the “increased client sales by 15.7%”. Tell me HOW that happened. What will you DO to make that happen. And what were sales like before? Going from zero to 15% isn’t that difficult, after all!

  12. Now, that’s a good slap in the face and a reality check for businesses (and people, too). 😀 At the surface, those three words may seem powerful, but without good backing and a solid “elevator pitch” they’re nothing but meaningless words.

  13. Okay, I had to click through and get here so that I could say, “Thank you!”. While you’ve heard the “I change lives” anthem, I’ve been reading it out there in the blogosphere so often and it only made me wonder. Sure, we bring about change, but as @Chris Anthony before me commented, change does always equal positive value. It has be definite, concrete and measurable. So, thank you for summing up what goes through my head each time, I read “change lives”.

  14. James,

    Maybe it’s an Austin thing. I hear a lot of horrible elevator pitches but “I change lives”… never. Besides, *I* change lives, so they’re all wrong. hee hee

    Boiling it all down to a tagline, elevator pitch, email signature, etc. is one of the most underrated steps in getting your business ready for the public eye, but maybe THE most important. It drives some people crazy for months or years, but most people just don’t deal with it.

    After all, a restaurateur can’t take his store with him, a beauty-shop owner can’t give you a haircut in the line at the grocery store, a web designer can’t make you a landing page at a networking mixer… that little intro on your business card and on your lips is essential to making new contacts into customers.

    Of course, if the chef, hairdresser, and designer all change lives, that’s different…

    Regards,

    Kelly

    • A good elevator pitch is essential, let me tell you! At SXSW, I met a lot of people and asked several what sort of website/business/career they had… only a few sparked my interest because they were so matter of fact.

      “Oh, I do social media.”
      “I’m a freelance writer.”
      “I’m here for the booze… who’s party is this again?”

      SIGH.

  15. Hi James,

    You are always teaching me new things. This did take the sting our of missing SXSW.

    Actually I found this post shocking. I scanned my memory and can’t remember anyone ever saying, “I change lives”–certainly not as an elevator pitch or trite slogan. Thank God!

    The people I know and love would never use that phrase. They are too modest. And they are indeed moving mountains and working their guts out –usually for no pay–and creating the “results” that speak for themselves. The change we are creating is quantifiable. Our children demand our actions.

    The people I distrust and are “rules is rules” kind of administrators would be embarrassed to say, “I change lives” to us. We would laugh them back into their corner offices and challenge them with specific situations.

    For us “change” equates with our children’s survival. Change is our hope and motivates the direction of our lives.

    It is also probably why we will never be able to make any money–which would make some of the “change” so much easier to obtain.

    • Well, modesty doesn’t go far in business. If you’re good at something (and everyone is!), then you should be proud to step up and say so. Moving mountains is fantastic, but if no one knows the mountain moved… well, how can anyone be expected to cheer or start shoveling themselves? :)

  16. So if I may go all foo foo on you James – it all does start with connecting with a higher purpose for what makes you get up and go to work each day. You do, in my opinion, have to find that.

    So . . . I do change lives everyday, I know that and that’s what drives me, but what I’m also smart to enough to know (okay maybe I’ve just been doing this long enough to know) is that I have no idea what that means because it means something different to each person I encounter – oh, and I’m open to having my life changed too, but that’s my personal problem.

    So, with that clear understanding of why my work is fun for me, I actually install marketing systems and consequently somehow people get their lives back. That I think is the key to your message, it’s not enough to understand what you do, you’ve got to understand what, in practical ways, someone really gets when you do what you do.

    Great hanging out for a few minutes in Austin too!

    • I agree with that, John. There’s nothing that gets me more excited than knowing I can help someone have a better life or business – so yeah, I change lives too. But as you say, that change could be financial, or emotional, or practical… or even all three!

      The difference is that you and I can clearly say what we do that helps change lives. You install marketing systems that work to bring in clients. I provide businesses with websites that work hard and words that sell.

      No one has to wonder about what we do every day… and by being able to tell them this clearly, they have a good idea how our services make their life better to live.

  17. I change tires.

    (Brilliant, no?)

    Realistically, didn’t SXSW reach critical mass a few years ago? It just seems like the vast vast vast majority of people who attend have somehow managed to flatter themselves into going. There’s definitely some good stuff, but there’s a lot of repetitious self-affirmations that are utterly laughable.

    Thanks, James. I always enjoy your stuff.

    • I have no idea when SXSW reached critical mass… but it was interesting to hear people talk about how they’d like to change it for next year. Everything can be improved, after all!

  18. Endless vagueness may to be the result of endless molding. Like standardized tests except it’s standardized phrases.

    I’m a life awakener. If you’re not alive, how can your business be?

    g.

  19. It would never occur to me to say, “I change live.”

    And I think that is a good thing.

    What I really try to do it change people’s impression of Los Angeles, which I think I do fairly well.

    Thank for the heads up on “I change lives.”

  20. that phrase is something bestowed by another, not self proclaimed! I feel the same way about those that refer to themselves as a “healer”.

    loved you post-thank you

  21. Your blog is great, I like your heading “I change lives”. As we have lives means it is changing in every moment. but it is difficult to say the changes are good or bad.

  22. We communicate in such generals that we miss out on connecting with people in a real way. I loved this because I heard variations on this throughout SXSW. I would try to dig a little deeper, but most of the time I kept hitting a communication wall.

    I think it comes back to our core values. When we understand what our superpowers are and how they help others that’s when the conversation is easy. We can be clear in what we do and how we do it.

  23. i loved this post …we all are changing someones life for the better or for the worst. No human being can be an island unto themselves. We are someones role model and are influencing people we come in contact with. We might could say a little of us rubs off on everyone through our words, attitudes and deeds.
    Let us live our days as solutions to the problems of others and surely the world can be a better place

    James

  24. Excellent. I sold advertising for awhile and my boss instructed us not to ever say we were selling “advertising” – only “solutions.” No one ever understood what I was talking about. Ever since then, every time I see a company telling everyone they sell “solutions,” I just want to gag.

  25. If someone told me that they “changed lives”, I’d have a very real sense that it’s all about them. “I change lives”? Seriously? How ego-centric is that? To me, it smacks of wanting to impress rather than wanting to communicate distinct value.

    I’d probably reply with something flippant like “I make a mean omelette”.

  26. Here’s another take on changing lives. In my day job, I’m a social worker. I don’t think anyone has the power to change another person’s life. Change comes from within. In both my social work position and my writing, I try to introduce concepts that may help clients decide to change their own lives when and if they’re ready. Of course, that’s pretty nebulous for an elevator pitch.

  27. hi james
    so true what you say about delivering on what your business promises.
    when my confidence is stoked on caffeine i like to also say that i change the world. that’s what my nonprofit promises on a daily basis – to make it possible for artists to make life beautiful.

    and how do i do this? by working with people to do exactly what you say is important – wind up with a clear as day elevator pitch that tells people why they should be in the elevator with you.

    http://hoongyee.com/2010/08/05/pitching-your-story/

    but honestly, i am dying to say, “change your shoes, change your stature”. do you think that is too crazy?

  28. I remember during the days I was a social worker, we were given these badges to wear that said “I make a difference”. Makes me wonder when that phrase will catch on in the business world 😛

  29. People want and deserve specificity. It’s why ingredients are listed on food labels. it’s why we see more than headlines on newspapers. When we know ourselves and our job well, we should have no problem defining what we do in a short statement. We don’t have to go the Linnaeus route and specify every detail. All sailors have a destination, they don’t just ‘sail somewhere’. There must be meaning to your destination, to your content, to your relationships, to your clients. Put some emotion into what you do.

  30. Everyday we change lives, every time we engage or interact with others we influence them. Even if those little things we do effects a change towards one thing and like what you said the ripple effect.

  31. Dear James,

    “I make people awesome” is a variation on the same inanity.

    “Awesome” being a redundant and VAGUE word, does nothing to tell me what it really means.

    Hmmm…by awesome do you mean ego-crazy? Sexier? Happier? More obnoxious online and tweeting constantly because, WOW, they are so “awesome” now?

    Hee hee. Thanks for igniting my sarcastic pimp. Love Amy

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