Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Maureen Martone Rule

A few times here on the blog, I’ve referenced “The Maureen Martone Rule.” (As in, “I haven’t dropped the f-bomb here since the inception of the Maureen Martone Rule”.) This story’s background proved to be one of the most important and defining moments in my life as a professional fitness coach, and one I’m happy to share here with you.

Some of you who have been reading the blog since the beginning (July 2008) may know a bit of the back-story. I had switched over to blog format from the CrossFit message boards, where all content was constantly monitored and censored. I wanted the blog mostly to track my own workouts, but I also liked to share funny stories and random musings. Trying to tell some of those stories on the message boards was frustrating, because the rules of posting limit both content and word usage. So I decided to move this party over to the free-for-all that is the internet… and I was determined to use the crap out of my freedom of expression.

I swore. A lot. My use of creative profanity was often excessive and gratuitous, but it didn’t seem to bother those of you who were, at the time, following along, and I was childishly excited to finally be able to speak my uncensored peace. I thought my colorful language added flair, and since I knew my in-person manner was professional and family-friendly, I figured my on-line alter-ego could afford to let loose a little. After all, we’re all grown-ups around here, right?

Fast forward to October 2008, when I met the Martone family (Jeff, Maureen, Kristina and Mike) at my first kettlebell certification. I spent a good deal of time with them that weekend, both socially and during the cert, and really enjoyed their company. Jeff and Maureen proved to be amazingly talented coaches, and when I asked them for some business advice during dinner, they were encouraging and supportive and not afraid to give it to me straight. I decided then and there to try to learn more from them in whatever form I could.

The very next weekend, I was working the gymnastics cert with Tucker at CrossFit Boston. Jeff and Mike Martone were also attending as participants, so we got to spend a lot more time together. Over dinner, I planted the seeds for an assistant coaching gig with Jeff, offering to come help him and Maureen at an upcoming local cert. I’m good at demonstrating, I love public speaking, and I’m professional and responsible – so I figured I had a good shot at scoring an assistant coaching spot.

And then Jeff mentioned that he’d been reading my blog.

I was flattered that he’d spent some time poking around on my site, and he was initially complimentary of the style, quality of writing and the community I was building. But then, without warning, he looked me straight in the eye and dropped the proverbial hammer. "You know what, Melissa? Gotta clean up the language if you want to come work a cert with me. It’s a family affair, y’know what I mean?"

I was shocked. I think I may have even blushed. I mean, sure, I swore on the blog, but I certainly didn't behave like that in person, especially not when working a certification. He could certainly see that from the weekend, as I worked the room helping Tucker coach, demonstrate and spot. I assured him my in-person coaching presentation was nothing but professional, but Jeff just shook his head. “I can see that, but if I just read your blog, I might have thought differently. I mean, my wife thinks you’re great, but I wouldn’t send Mo over there to read your stuff. She wouldn’t like that language at all.”

At that point, I was flat-out embarrassed. I liked Maureen an awful lot, and the thought of her reading my writing and being disappointed was an awful feeling… kind of like when you do something your Mom doesn’t approve of. And I was kicking myself, thinking that I may have lost my chance at participating in something amazing (assisting Jeff at a cert) because of the impressions I made via my blog. So I thanked Jeff for his candor, and went home to think long and hard about our conversation.

That conversation, and its implications for me as a coach, a mentor and a business professional within the fitness community, prompted a post called “A Public Apology to My Mom”. There was much discussion after that post, with people commenting things like, “It’s your blog, and if people are offended, too bad” to “I second the idea that you don’t have to swear to be edgy or funny.” I wondered at the time whether readership would drop, or whether I would have a hard time being as creative and entertaining without using profanity. But from that day forward, I was committed to reflecting a higher standard of professionalism in my writing.

It’s been over a year now. Readership continues to grow, affiliates continue to link… and when was the last time I dropped an f-bomb here? You’d have to dig way, way back, people, and I’m pretty sure I apologized for it up front. And now I’m proud to have a site that everyone – Maureen Martone included – can visit and reference.

The MMR is enforced as follows: If I write a questionable sentence or use a potentially offensive word, I say to myself, “Would I be comfortable with Maureen Martone reading this?” If the answer is no, I edit. So far, it’s worked beautifully – and although I haven’t spoken to Maureen in a few months, I have been working certs with Jeff. I asked him what he thought of the blog while coaching at North Shore CrossFit in August. His response? “I’ve been keeping tabs, Melissa. Good for you.” I’ve heard the same feedback from a few others, including Dallas’ Mum, who told him she’s glad I’ve cleaned up my act. You know what, Mrs. Hartwig? I am too.

Do you miss the colorful language around here? Did you even notice when it went away? Do you employ something similar to the MMR at your affiliate, or on your blog? Post thoughts to comments.

With the always classy Jeff and Maureen Martone


Angie said...

While I believe in the freedom of speech and that people can speak what they wish, I agree with the Martone's. Foul language and pictures of people flipping the finger is a turnoff for me when reading blogs, professional articles in the CrossFit world, etc. I don't feel that foul language adds to the value of the message people are trying to convey, but serves as a distraction because after reading an article, that is what I'm left with....the message that this person may be pompous and unprofessional-no matter how great the article was or how great the person presenting really is. Reminds me of the driver that thinks they own the road.

One article that stands out for me was an article titled "Have a F*ing Clue" published in The Performance Menu. Quite honestly, I was shocked that a professional entity would publish an article with that kind of title. And even funnier, I don't even remember what the article was about, but I remember who write it and the title. My thought at the time was, "this is a professional journal about exercise and I can't even leave it on the living room table for fear my grade school age kids will pick it up and read it".

Unfortunately, it seems commonplace for foul language now-a-days especially in this community. Foul language doesn't offend me, but it does leave an impression on me. The Martone's proved that you never know who is reading your stuff and what kind of impression you are going to make on someone and how it will affect you in the future. The internet/published papers are a permanent record of the freedom of speech that one cannot erase-ever.

I think it says a lot Melissa that you valued what the Martone's had to say and that you admittedly learned a valuable lesson.

Jimi said...

I didn't mind the language at all and think it is appropriate at certain times. However, I'm on the internet a lot so I see it all and probably have a built up tolerance.

Two rules I use in my writing and speaking...
1) Foul language is lazy word usage, there is always a better, more descriptive way to get an idea or point across and
2) if you rarely use foul language, when you do, it has a greater impact.

Rory said...

I do think something has been lost in the pursuit of professionalism, but I don't think it has very much to do with swearing. I used to love your foul-mouthed posts, but after thinking for another 2 seconds about what I really miss, it is this: I miss posts about your own training successes and failures.

Looking back through your archives, it has been nearly two months since "Derailed" which was your last post about your own training/fitness. Sure, I loved the old swearing, because part of me is still in 5th grade, but what I really felt was: this is someone who feels the same way I do when they hit a PR ("F*** Yeah!") and the same way I feel about burpees (middle finger) and flax seeds (F-Off). I could relate.

I know that a lot of people have really benefitted from the Paleo/Whole 30 thing and I am totally supportive of your recent efforts to support the troops (and bummed for you that it didn't work out). But I feel like this has become more and more of a blog about coaching rather than the old blog about your own training. And I can't relate to that as well, so I've been finding myself less interested.

There are literally hundreds of affiliate blogs out there that will tell me about the next cert, coaching, and telling me to eat paleo, but there are surprisingly few goods blogs about people's own training. I always thought that was your real edge.

Sean said...

Often times I find it amusing the amount of effort people put in to include questionable language when conveying thoughts & ideas over the internet. There are better ways to communicate and I feel as if one debases themself when actually writing or typing out foul language. But we all have the freedom to exercise free speech and communicate however we'd like to so if you want to "cuss" to your heart's content go right ahead - just remember that you cater to a certain kind of audience (conciously or subconciously) when writing.

WWMMD? - "What Would Maureen Martone Do?"

Melissa Urban said...

I'm responding to Rory first, because your comment totally hit home. You know what? I MISS THAT TOO. I was just saying to Dallas the other day that it's been ages since I've done a training post. Ages. And I miss writing about that stuff an awful lot.

I think there are a few factors at play. First, I've had a lot going on in my personal life this year, and as a result I purposefully kept the tone of the blog LESS personal. I wanted to create some distance there, you know? In addition, my own training has been sporadic and disjointed. I started the PTP program back up and then got notice about the Afghanistan trip. So I switched to a heavy gymnastics base, and then spent some time off because I was sick, and traveling. So I guess I haven't felt like I've had anything worthwhile on the training front to write about... although when I really think about it, that's not entirely true. Hell, my first experience with gravity boots at a friend's gym last weekend deserves its own write-up.

Finally, I guess I thought maybe now that more people read my stuff, I shouldn't be so "me, me, me" and try to offer information that would help them with their diets, training, etc. But it's interesting to hear that my own experiences were what you found valuable. I never really would have considered that on my own.

Thanks for the feedback, and for reminding me of my roots. I should totally write about those gravity boots. It was pure upside-down hilarity.


Angie said...

I agree with the others. I think I enjoyed listening to your training adventures and other stuff. I miss the posted workouts too. Sure it's nice to hear all about sleep, nutrition, etc. but a balance of that along with your own adventures would be great. It is YOUR blog so why shouldn't you talk all about Melissa?

cassio598 said...

I guess I'd like to follow Rory's lost with an observation of my own. Because you have become a fitness professional since you started this blog, and started training people and providing advice through it, I think it's appropriate that you adopt a more professional tone. This blog is part of your business and should reflect that status.

However, I disagree with the idea that swearing is never acceptable. Sometimes it's hilarious, but you have to be judicious and sparing with it. Eddie Izzard and Robin Williams are just two comics who come to mind who can use a well placed curse word or phrase to devestating effect. Melissa, you share that same talent, and I think it contributed to the fun, spunky attitude this blog used to have. As long as this site remains part of your business, I think you'll find it difficult to return to your earlier style, curse words or no.

Jesse Richards said...

Hey Moxy Boss, I didn't actually start reading your blog until after you had instituted the "rule", and after going back and reading some old stuff I really think that it just depends on your focus. However I would definitely second(fifth?) the idea of personal training posts, especially since I can relate to that. I think what you and Dallas have done is amazing, but I'm not as able to relate to a bunch of cert posts as I would be about personal training ones, or eating, or dealing with life. I get all of those, I deal with them all the time.

Anywho, I'll be interested to read what you've got whichever way you decide. As for swearing... where appropriate. Season to taste?

P.S. The PTP stuff you and Dallas put together ROCKS! I'm about a week from being done with it, and I already know I'm stronger, since I've worked up to my previous 1RM as working weight! Keep up the strength and the awesome!


Rory said...

Thanks Melissa, can't wait to hear about the moon boots. Would also be interesting to hear about what it's like to jump from one program to another (even if the lesson is that maybe its bad), how you have progressed (or not) since the "Derailed" post, and what your training plans are for the immediate future.

I understand the need for professionalism, but don't forget to keep your personality in there too!

Kevin Daigle said...

Being vehemently opposed to dropping F bombs, while a personal choice is a leftover puritanistic hang-up. If you choose to do it or not to do it, so be it...and I fault no one either way. Personally, I have a problem with the entire concept of being offended, so I don't censor myself. I can preach from the rooftops with Shakespearean prose and stentorian tone....or I can F-bomb my way through my much lauded and widely enjoyed (albeit HIGHLY ridiculous) analogies and metaphors. But hey, that's just me. There are many storied writers from antiquity who used less than "proper" language in their verbiage. Notthat I count myself in their number, certainly not....but well, you get the point.

mikealley said...

I'm chiming in because it's (language) been an ongoing struggle on our affiliate blog. At times, in a fit of frustration, I'll let some harsh words fly about being lazy or less than conscientious about form. Typically, Katrina will come behind me and delete or edit my post. And typically she's justified in doing so. My member's kids are on the blog from time to time as well as my mom. Bottom line is, I don't always love having to keep things PG, but as much as it chafes me, I do it. My vote is to read writing on this (your) blog that reflects your personal evolution and experiences as an athlete, cursing or not, just authentic.

Gracewanderer said...

If you want to have a professional blog, you've got to conduct yourself professionally.

Gant Grimes said...

About time.

CrossFit GSX said...

this is going to be my new years resolution for 2010...

Tucker has got to clean up some of the public speaking!