Hearing footsteps outside the door, I quickly arrange my body so that my shoulders are caved in and I’m looking down at the floor. I know the key to getting through the next 30 minutes is to look as apologetic as possible.
The Headmistress walks into the musty old room, smiling slowly at the six of us, sitting at our desks in a circle.
“Hello, girls, it’s so nice to see you! Ready for confessional?”
I had a very … different education.
I went to a Classical Christian Academy, this experimental thing where a group of fundamentalist Calvinists wanted to raise up a generation of children who’d take up positions of power in the government and culture, so that we could Turn America Back To Jesus.
The only problem was, by the age of 16 — I wasn’t sure I believed in him.
Or in any of this.
So I put my head down and did what I had to do to get through it as quickly as possible. Including navigating weekly group confessionals overseen by a woman with the face of a possum and the soul of Nurse Ratchet.
Smoothing her hands down the back of her tailored floor length skirt, the Headmistress sits in the chair to my right. As usual, she starts things off with her testimonial.
She takes a deep breath before she starts, grinning like she’s offering us a huge treat, and I steel myself. We’ve been hearing this same testimonial word for word for 6 years.
“I used to swear like a SAILOR. I went dancing. I drank ALCOHOL. I read…” she whispers – “…dirty novels.
But one day, Jesus came into my heart, and I’ve been walking with the Lord ever since!”
Now it’s our turn.
I watch, silently, as everyone goes around the circle, confessing their sins.
A temptation to cheat on a quiz, defeated by prayer. (She totally did cheat, I was there and I helped her.)
A lost opportunity to witness (aka to Sell Jesus) to the sinners downtown, because she was “just too involved my root beer float to spread the good word!”
The whole time, I’m constantly assessing, reading the room, my brain whirring as I craft my narrative to fit as seamlessly into the conversation as possible.
Finally, Headmistress turns to me.
I fold my hands and grimace.
“Earlier in the week, I was tempted to use … salty language.” I see her draw her chin back into her neck in shock. “But then I remembered that the Lord calls us not to “let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths,” and so I stopped myself.”
There’s a pause. I hold my breath, internally chanting, Please let her buy it, please let her buy it.
The Headmistress nods. “Well Rachel, it’s just good to recognize that the devil comes in many forms.”
My shoulders release. I’m safe.
I can look her in the eyes and nod right back, eyebrows knitted.
“Thank you. It’s a struggle.”
I spent my teenage years in an apprenticeship to language. Every day, I had to figure out exactly what to say and how to say it to achieve strategic objectives.
The good news? You don’t have to sit through years of forced group confessionals to develop the ability to use words strategically.
In fact, you can get a basic content strategy going by answering just three questions:
1. What are you trying to accomplish?
2. What are you going to do to make that happen?
3. How are you going to know whether it worked or not?
Sounds like a WILD oversimplification.
Works like a fucking charm.
You can get into all kinds of detail with it … but genuinely, if you can answer those three questions, you’ll be off to a flying start.