Dear Guru and/or Expert (aka what track cycling has taught me about social media douchebags)

Do you really need a guru?

Dear Guru~

On October 26 of this year, I got on my first fixed gear bicycle at Boulder Indoor Cycling. I’d wanted to try track cycling since the beginning of the year, but schedule and broken bones thwarted my goals. While at Veloswap, I saw BIC’s table and stopped by to pick up a class schedule. I said to hell with it and called on my way home to reserve my place in a class.

Now, it’s not like I didn’t have resources for the “inside scoop” on track cycling. I was dating a pro track cyclist. From the first time I saw a live track race event, I was pretty much hooked and knew I wanted to figure out what that was like. I mean, he made it look so easy. Bound and determined to (how shall we say) lift the tail on the proverbial donkey myself, I never told him that I was going to start taking lessons.

Wanna know the awesome part? My very first time on the track, I immediately brought my bike off the track back down to the apron, promptly issuing a “fuck this,” certain I was going to meet a bloody, mangled death. Unclipping from my pedals and trying to remove my spleen from my esophagus, all I could think was: THIS SUCKS.

But the damnedest thing happened: I fessed-up. “This scares the shit out of me. I’m gonna slide off this thing!” (Yes, I even said it aloud.) So what did my coach, Nick, do?

He paired me up with a 17-year-old ringer in a full Cervelo kit (from bike to spandex) for an “escort” around the track. Seventeen. Christ almighty, I was more than twice his age, I thought. I swallowed my pride and away I went, death grip on the handlebars of this bike with no brakes and only one gear. (Which we were later told was a “safety feature.” I had my doubts.)

Then the next damnedest thing happened: I didn’t fall off. I rode that little Fuji bike up on those 50 degree banked turns, following the 17-year-old wunderkind (who was probably laughing at the old lady on his wheel the whole time).

Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering what this has to do with YOU, Guru. Logical question.

That 17-year-old kid isn’t a guru. He’s not even an expert. I take classes three days a week now from three different coaches. (You may say I got over my fear of “sliding off the track.”) They are all pros or track employees – none of which get paid to teach and probably arrive each week terrified of the jackassery we’ll demonstrate.

None of them are gurus or experts, however.

They’re all people who know more than I do about track cycling (thank all that’s holy).

And this is why I’ll say that I think you’re assholes, Mr. and/or Mrs. Guru Expert Person.

You think you know more than anyone. You also think that everyone should be doing what you do and how you do it.

And I keep finding that you have the audacity to charge for it.

With your seminars on how people and businesses the world over should use Twitter and social media. Broad-sweeping statements that if you’re not using social media that you’re missing out. That your business should be on Twitter. And for $69 and a snack, you’ll help people get on the right track.

I want you to stay off my track. Literally. As has been made all too evident to me, not everyone belongs on a track and not every business needs to be on Twitter. Holy shit. Yes, I’m serious.

Here’s what track cycling has taught me about Gurus and Experts:

  • A little knowledge is dangerous. Over the past five weeks of track cycling classes, there have been the following injuries: one separated shoulder, one broken collarbone, two cracked ribs and thousands of dollars of damage done to bikes (both personal bikes belonging to pros and rentals from the track). All instruction begins with basic knowledge, but when Experts and Gurus purport that this knowledge comes complete with a cape and superhuman powers to dominate a field – you’re putting both students and those that surround them in harm’s way.
  • You’re not a superhero. Let’s expand on this, shall we? When you’re on a bike with a single gear and no brakes, you learn in short order what it means to be a “master of your own destiny.” Or demise. Gurus and Experts tell you that failure isn’t possible. Funny – all of my coaches at the track have consistently reinforced one thing: failure IS possible. And on the track, your failures affect everyone riding around you. Three hour seminars not only give you enough tools to be dangerous, but fairly wide berth to hose your brand’s image in the social mediasphere. Take off the underoos and start acting like you’re riding with no brakes.
  • You’re riding with no brakes. This means that you’re responsible for momentum, strategy, speed and the overall handling of your bike (and brand). If you put the hammer down and go 30+ MPH with only the skills to handle a bike at 20-25 MPH, your chances of hitting a wall increase exponentially. Social media is no different. If you start haphazardly spewing because some Guru told you that you only need a few skills to “get in the game,” you’re going to look like an ass and probably do more harm than good. Any strategy, whether on a bike or online, requires a proper ramp-to-max and an accompanying strategy for managing momentum…and bringing it in safely to a stop so you can walk away to see another day. (Note: I’m famous for falling off my track bike when it’s at a complete stop. This may make me an idiot, but each bruise reminds me that I have something to work on.)
  • You’re going to get bumped. If you think that riding on banked plywood at speeds between 15 and 30 MPH is freaky, try it with someone right-freaking-next-to-you. Gurus and Experts will teach you to ride with no one riding next to you. Hence, you never learn how to hold a conversation or manage yourself in a crowd. One of the coolest days I’ve had in the past four weeks on the track was the day where I rode about 20 laps holding a conversation with a guy riding right next to me. I learned he’s a Physician’s Assistant with Kaiser Permanente…about his goals for bike racing for the season. He learned that I’m a writer and social media consultant…and asked what that meant. And then we grazed elbows. Aside from scaring the everloving shit out of me, it added an important element to my “Things I Need to Work On” list. You have to learn to ride with people around you and understand that, on occasion, you’re going to get bumped. It can wreck you or make you a better rider. A better online brand. More agile or a pile of bike on the apron. Your choice.
  • I don’t want to hear how good you are. When I look around at the track, it’s pretty much a given that most anyone there (aside from my fellow classmates) is better than I am when it comes to ride fast/turn left. There’s not a single coach who’s sat in front of me and my classmates and said, “Yeah, so….(snort) I’m pretty good at this. You all – yeah, well, you suck and you should just really watch me.” <hocks a lugie over the rail> When you’re in the presence of people who are truly proficient, it needs no words or titles. It’s actually pretty awesome to watch them and be in their midst. When you’re open to watching someone who’s put the effort into becoming exceptional, you begin to appreciate the “becoming” part of that descriptor. There was a process involved. They didn’t emerge from a 3 hour lunch with a laptop and think they’re going to compete on an international level. They log in every day, do the work and indulge in the process. Gurus and Experts feel they have to tell everyone how brilliant they are. Quite frankly, I don’t want to hear it. I want to see it. So shut it.
  • Speak up. I tell ya – track is crack. On December 9, I’m on my way to Tiemeyer in Estes Park, Colorado, for a fitting on a custom track bike (a far cry from “fuck this, I’m getting off this death trap,” no?). It’s not because I’m such an “expert” now that I’m too good for BIC’s rental bikes. It’s because I’m learning that a 5’4 woman doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to track bikes off the rack. The velodrome is like porn and bikes the express lane at the adult bookstore. I love riding on the track and realize that in order to improve, I need to focus my resources on tools and skills that will allow me to ride at the next level. Social media’s no different. You’re not a master of all trades. No Guru or Expert knows everything there is to know about the social media landscape. But they’ll tell you they do. While I’m over here learning about stack height, drop, effective top tube lengths, g-force and how to shave a few tenths of a second off my hot laps…speak up about what you don’t know. It’s the only way you get better. There are a ton of people out there willing to share their perspective on Best Practices.
  • Best practices come by referral. The last person I want teaching me to ride at a velodrome is an ambulance chaser. It’s a rare station in life when we find a lasting relationship via an ad. That’s why social media is so popular: it’s endorsement-based marketing, pure and simple. If I need to know something at the track, I don’t have to hire a guy to tell me the answer. People will line up to tell me what works for them and what I might want to look into. I’m on the verge of hiring a coach to work with me outside of group class times and I’ve gotten a lot of recommendations. When certain names come up time and time again, I don’t wonder why. I get it. It’s the same way I earn clients in my own business. They’re doing something right. I’m thankful each day that I appear to be doing something right as well. It’s the greatest compliment, no? The referral.

So, Mr./Mrs. Expert Guru Person…I know I just made you do a lot of reading. Kinda selfish of me when you could have spent that time robbing some unsuspecting newbie of $69 while shutting them up with a box lunch. You’re no different than the ambulance chasers and boob docs who advertise “special rates.” Some things just shouldn’t be bought on discount and unlike you’d have people believe, not everyone has a legal grievance or needs a tit job.

How about putting in the “good work?” Here’s what works for me: I just need to continue to put the time in, at both my career and at the track, to improve. I’ve got a lot left to learn in both arenas. Humbling to admit, really. But unlike you, I don’t need to be popular or thought of as a Grand Poohbah. I just need to continue to put in the work so that my clients and audience understand that I’m their partner each step along the way and while I don’t have all the answers, I’ll share what I know. What I think. And why.

I have an all new appreciation for that pro who gave me an up-close look at track cycling. It’s not unlike social media: it looks really cool when you’re watching someone who “gets it.” When you set yourself after trying it…oh damn. You’re either going to get proud and wreck or realize you need to shut up and listen so you don’t get yourself killed.

Please unfollow me. Consider this your “bumping.”

Sincerely,

The Redhead

PS: The bikes not having brakes is a safety feature after all. If you can’t learn to manage a bike with a fixed gear where you control the speed, brakes aren’t going to help you.

17 comments
The Redhead
The Redhead

I have enough baggage...I don't need to carry around a lot of BS ;)

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai

But the SEO and social media folks are all so entertaining! Really, I love to read about all this stuff. Self-proclaimed gurus rock! :)

Cab
Cab

How soon can we get married?

Brian Watkins
Brian Watkins

"When you’re in the presence of people who are truly proficient, it needs no words or titles. It’s actually pretty awesome to watch them and be in their midst. When you’re open to watching someone who’s put the effort into becoming exceptional, you begin to appreciate the “becoming” part of that descriptor." I've always thought the same thing about people. Humble pros are always better teachers than loudmouth wannabes. You summed that up aptly!

"Coach Nick"
"Coach Nick"

You've come a long way since those first few laps Erika!

Nick Armstrong
Nick Armstrong

As a former douchebag myself, I completely agree with the entire premise. I pseudo-douchebagged it for a while, teaching twice monthly Facebook classes to business people for $79 a head.Now I teach those same classes for $1, which goes to charity and on a weekly basis... and really, I'm not teaching so much as learning from the class what is working and what isn't while they teach each other. If they're not into it, we branch off and talk about something else that -is- relevant.These tools really aren't for everyone in business, but everybody deserves to be able to learn 'em for free if they want to.

Nick Armstrong
Nick Armstrong

As a former douchebag myself, I completely agree with the entire premise. I pseudo-douchebagged it for a while, teaching twice monthly Facebook classes to business people for $79 a head.Now I teach those same classes for $1, which goes to charity and on a weekly basis... and really, I'm not teaching so much as learning from the class what is working and what isn't while they teach each other. If they're not into it, we branch off and talk about something else that -is- relevant.These tools really aren't for everyone in business, but everybody deserves to be able to learn 'em for free if they want to.

Lauren Fisher
Lauren Fisher

Love it - my favourite types are the Twitter gurus who link to posts on how to get 5,000 followers. May sound nasty, but you can spot the business/life coach types a mile off, who are now calling themselves social media gurus. Without even really using it.I work in social media and the problem is that every single client thinks they should be using Twitter. It's up to us to remind them that there are other sites they can use and that Twitter isn't the be-all and end-all of social media.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Oh, Beau...my best recommendation is to get thee to a velodrome :) Once you go track, you never go back. The helmets aren't so fancy. But the g's going round the turns...now THAT'S fancy!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Alas, I am but a wee one. I liek to say I'm 5'4. Some days (most), it's closer to 5'3...

ddmulholland
ddmulholland

You are only 5'4"? I pictured you being so much taller! Regardless, I so agree with so many things in here.

Beau Blackwell
Beau Blackwell

You're dead on about the real experts not going around spouting off about it to everyone. Usually they're the people who are too busy actually practicing their craft and making shit happen to be able to talk about it, even if they wanted to. Fortunately, I find they're also usually humble enough to be flattered when someone wants their advice or help.After reading this article, though, I have to wonder... what's the fun, addictive part of track cycling?! Broken bones? No brakes? Riding in an oval? I must be missing something. Maybe it's the stylish helmets :)

Lisa Nelson
Lisa Nelson

Great post Erika...tell me i'm not one of "those" people...ppplllleeeaaassseeee!

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  3. […] let the cat out of the bag a bit earlier this month in my post Dear Guru and/or Expert (aka what track cycling has taught me about social media douchebags), but today I’m going to let you know what your options are if you’d like to come […]

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  5. […] writing style. Whether she’s blogging about business (the bitch-slap), her obsession with cycling, or why she’s not going to follow you on Twitter, Erika is someone who has done an amazing […]

  6. […] let the cat out of the bag a bit earlier this month in my post Dear Guru and/or Expert (aka what track cycling has taught me about social media douchebags), but today I’m going to let you know what your options are if you’d like to come […]