Tying the knot

Nœud_d'huit

“Always do what you’re afraid to do,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s visionary Aunt Mary advised him. We tie ourselves in knots to sabotage the energy that might be unleashed if we move resolutely ahead. The risks of making changes are great. . . especially great changes. — Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake

I found this passage while poking around some writing prompts, and it struck me between the eyes. The second sentence, in particular, stopped me cold; knots sabotage our energy, and we tie them ourselves!

I remember one time when I had to make a particularly difficult HR decision. Actually, the decision itself was pretty straightforward, but delivering the message had me tied up in, well, knots. I agonized over it for a week. It consumed my daytime thoughts and kept me awake at night. My productivity level plummeted.

When the big day came, the message I had to deliver went without a hitch. Not only that, but the recipient also received it in an incredibly gracious manner. All that worry for nothing.

Of course, even if there had been hitches, I still had to do what I had to do. And it still would have been over the next morning. Life would have gone on regardless.

Yet I tied myself in knots for a whole week beforehand. I added layer upon layer, spending so much time securing that metaphorical shoe that I never actually used it to get anywhere. That’s some object lesson, huh?

It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to worry about others. We just can’t let those things keep us from moving forward.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gracious. But do what you gotta do.

Don’t let the knots trip you up.

Breakfast blues

IMG_5767I had to take my eight-month-old puppy to the vet for a surgical procedure recently (nothing serious, you know the one). And while I knew it would all work out in the end, the most difficult part was not being able to feed him breakfast–or anything else, for that matter.

Just as with people, dogs have to fast before surgery. No food or treats after 8pm–water only. No come-upstairs-with-me-it’s-time-to-go-to-bed treats. No 6am bowl of kibble. No get-in-the-kennel-while-I-take-the-kids-to-school treats. He was as confused as I was heartbroken for him, softie that I am.

What really struck me in all this is what Wallace did about it. Normally when we get up in the morning, I let Wallace outside to drain. He takes care of the minimal amount of business he can get away with, then comes back inside to chow down. As soon as he’s finished eating, he swipes his paw at the door, signaling that he’s ready to go back outside and finish his business.

Except this time when I let him back inside after the first round, I didn’t feed him. We played instead, but his attention span was short and he kept looking toward the container where I store his food.

I’m pretty sure he thought I was off my rocker and just forgot. So Mr. K9 Smartypants decided to take me through the motions again, hoping I’d remember. He headed back to the door. As soon as I let him out, he squirted a tree then turned around and came back. He went straight from the door to the food container, where he got nothing but an “I’m sorry, buddy” from me.

So back to the door he went. This time when I let him out, he took a few steps onto the patio, all the while looking back over his shoulder at me. “Pay attention, Mom. This is how it’s supposed to go.” He didn’t even bother to squeeze out a dribble; he just made a loop back to the door, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time.

I felt so bad for my furry baby.

Wallace thought that if he just kept following the steps that had always worked for him before, they would work for him again. He didn’t realize that something had changed and the old routine wouldn’t help him anymore. (At least not on surgery day.)

Then I wondered how many times I’ve done that very same thing. How many times have I gone through the same motions, plugged the same numbers, reacted the same way, expecting something to change? If I just keep doing this, eventually it will work. Um, probably not, TD. If it didn’t work the first 600 times, chances are that it’s not going to magically kick in on attempt #601–at least not without changing something.

Wallace is pretty teachable. After a couple more failed attempts to convince me to feed him, he found his favorite chew toy and curled up for a little self-soothing. Too bad we humans don’t learn as fast.

Pain points

IMG_5806There’s a new kind of salesmanship in town, and I think I like it. When I can find it, that is.

Not long ago, I received an assignment to write about a new company that offers sales training. Pretty standard stuff, I thought, so I scheduled the interview and went on about business.

My discussion with the owner was interesting. I won’t go into the full spiel, but the crux of the philosophy is to find the customer’s pain points and solve those problems. If your product/service doesn’t intersect, be honest about it. Don’t sell, solve problems. Don’t conduct the conversation to your benefit; conduct it to his benefit.

What this boils down to is that the salesperson has to get to know his customer. For the most part, that requires ingenuity and intuitiveness–that is, asking the right questions and making the right connections.

I thought all of this was fairly intuitive, but apparently not. You see, I bought a new car this weekend. I hadn’t exactly planned to do it, but I wouldn’t consider it a whim, either. I did a little homework to prepare myself and set off to my dealership of choice.

To be fair to the sales guy, he seemed to listen to me and did everything I asked. When I told him my parameters, he didn’t try to push me in a different direction. He just kept trying to find a solution that fit.

Unfortunately, his manager wasn’t of the same mind. (Why anyone still follows that high pressure, old-school process of hand-off/hand-up is beyond me, but that’s another blog post.) Although the manager had spent precisely ZERO time with me and couldn’t have understood my personality or motivation, he jumped into the conversation and took off, leaving me behind. He started throwing payment scenarios at me and wouldn’t shut up long enough to see what I, the CUSTOMER, was after. The resulting conversation was stilted and mutated, far from the equal exchange it should have been.

After all, he didn’t understand my pain, my motivators.

I wanted a new car, but I didn’t NEED one.

There’s a new driver in my household.

I have a dog whose coat doesn’t match the interior of the car I was considering.

I didn’t have a trade-in because I wanted to keep the old car, too.

I haven’t had a car payment in four years.

I want to be treated like an intelligent human being.

The numbers were important to me, but I needed to verify them for myself. This is a big purchase; I’m not going to take someone else’s word for rates, surcharges, etc.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t even catch my name.

This guy just swooped in, gave most of his attention to my dad, who was merely there as my ride so he could take my other car home if I decided to drive one off the lot. He wanted me to make a decision from estimated calculations, not actual fully disclosed worksheets. He didn’t have a clue as to why I wanted a new car or the factors that influenced my decision. In fact, he still doesn’t.

He never gave any indication that he cared about me or whatever issue I was trying to solve. And he didn’t know when to shut up.

In spite of that sales manager, I bought the car. The salesman and the finance guy–and the service department that has done right by me for years–tipped the balance. But if my decision had hinged solely upon the sales manager, I would have saved myself four hours (and a bunch of money), gone home, and sent the guy a link to that sales trainer.

In fact, I just might send that link anyway.

Cash cab

IMG_5768My little miss is heading to Germany for a month this summer. She’s super excited to stay with family friends who will “treat her like a person, not a kid.” And she wants to do it all by herself; Momma has been instructed not to fly over with her. This kiddo has something to prove: her independence.

She reminds me a lot of me, but better. Way better.

I hope so. Little Miss’s upcoming trip brings back memories of my own trips; in particular I’ve been thinking of my arrival for my second stint in Germania. I was 19 years old, and ready to take on the world–or so I thought.

After I landed at the Stuttgart airport, I needed to make my way to Tübingen, a town about 20 miles to the south where I would spend my junior year in college. That should have been a piece of cake. Airport-bus-train-destination. I had read and re-read every piece of information I had gotten from both colleges–my American one and its German partner–and even though there was no internet back then, they had very thoroughly laid out all the steps on volumes of paper.

But I froze. In spite of five years of German classes and a summer exchange program a few years earlier, my exhausted, jet-lagged self was afraid to open her mouth and ask to be pointed in the right direction. I was afraid to look like another American ingenue. Add to that my Midwestern lack of exposure to public transportation, and I felt utterly overwhelmed. So with a pocket full of the D-Marks I had already exchanged at home, I did the only thing that made sense to my addled brain: I hailed a cab.

Yep, I hailed a cab. To take me to a town about a half-hour’s drive away. A cab that had little chance of scoring a return fare–after all, who would be so stupid as to take a cab when all those beautiful, efficient trains were regularly rushing back and forth between the two cities? As you might imagine, I paid a pretty penny for that cab ride, close to $100 in 1989 money.

I laugh about it now, but you know what? I don’t think it was all bad. Sure, it was expensive, and people–especially my German friends–have laughed about it for years. But the thing is, I got it done. I didn’t know what to do and I still found a way to get it done. It may not have been the cheapest or the most efficient way, but I proved I could take care of myself.

Of course, I learned a couple of lessons along the way. Besides the obvious do-what-you-gotta-do exercise, there’s this: sometimes you just have to put yourself out there. You might get where you want to go without asking questions, but chances are, it’ll cost you. By asking for help along the way, not only will you move toward your goal, but you’ll also learn what you need to get you there the next time.

So, Little Miss, when you get to the other side of the pond, do what you gotta do to find your way. I just hope it costs less than cab fare.

Easter eggs

Easter-EggsSomething popped up on my Facebook feed the other day that I can’t get out of my head, and not in a good way.

XX days till Easter! Have you ordered your FREE tickets yet?

A church pimping tickets for its Easter service?! They did the same thing at Christmastime, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, the church makes it clear that the tickets are free, and a couple of friends have told me that the tickets are just for number-planning purposes. I’ve been assured they won’t turn anyone away.

It still doesn’t feel right to me.

From a marketing perspective, I get it. Issuing tickets combines implications of limited time and limited supply to create a sense of urgency. It can be an effective tool to make people want to jump in and commit right away.

But this is church. Church.

And while I’ll be the first to admit that my faith is pretty lapsed right now, this isn’t right. The mission of the (Christian) church is to save the lost. Tickets are for people who already want to be there, not those who may be inclined to slip in unnoticed to see what they can find to help with their struggles. Or people with questions they don’t know how to ask. Or people looking to make some kind of change. Generally those people are much more tentative, and tickets make it a BIG DEAL.

I’m told that this church won’t turn anyone away who doesn’t have a ticket, but I’ll wager that people who are not in-the-know will assume otherwise. If you were driving by a church that had “Call 555-1212 to get tickets to our Easter service!” what would you think? And if you decided on Easter Sunday to find a service–as many people do–I’ll bet you don’t land at that church. You’ll probably assume it’s too late because you didn’t call ahead. I know I would.

What about the argument that issuing tickets is for number-planning purposes only? My response has four letters: WWJD? For those of you familiar with the New Testament–the foundation of the Christian church, like the one I’m addressing here–think of the loaves and fishes story. There’s a clear answer to WWJD: he’d preach away and let the crowd gather, the bigger the better. Everything else eventually took care of itself.

You can tell me all you want that the come-as-you-are approach is not realistic, but remember, the church embraces the NT as fact. It is supposed to base its teachings AND actions on it.

I’m not inviting religious debate here. I’ll have whatever discussion you want in private, but not here. My point, as always, is that WORDS MATTER. The words “get your tickets” are a communications snafu for a church.

Sure, they create a sense of urgency to commit to the Easter service, but only for those already planning to attend. For everyone else, they create a barrier. They’re off-putting.

Believe it or not, I think more churches should apply marketing principles to their outreach efforts; there are so many ways to generate interest. But the right tactic has to be selected for each effort, whether you run a church, a business, a school, a club, or anything else.

Unfortunately, that church laid an egg on this one.

Complicating the issue (again)

In honor of last weekend’s forward leap into Daylight Savings Time, I’m resurrecting this post from May 2011. Thanks for indulging my recent need to revisit the old stuff!

Mondaine_model_30335Until very recently, my home state (Indiana) did not observe Daylight Savings Time. The magical days in the spring and fall that shift time on its axis were simply not part of my consciousness. That explains how I missed a flight in my sophomore year of college when returning from spring break. It was the day time sprang forward, and I arrived at the airport thinking the I had plenty of time, when in fact my plane had just left.

Since that time, I’ve become a much more seasoned traveler and I know that the protocol that follows missing a flight is pretty straightforward. The airline puts you on the next available flight and you go on. You might be late getting where you’re going and you might have to adjust your plans, but you adapt and keep moving.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite that equanimous back then. When I talked to the agent at the counter, I was rattled and she could see it. She saw me as easy prey. Suddenly, she spun my missed flight into a big deal. The process of rescheduling and rerouting me became a Herculean task, one that would have been insurmountable by a lesser gate agent. She, however, deftly jumped the hurdles caused by my ineptitude, and through her own superiority, solved my problem.

New ticket in hand and calmer, I was on to this woman in minutes. She was one of those people who makes things more complicated than they need to be–or at least seem more complicated–so she can be a hero when she facilitates resolution. She didn’t give me anything that wasn’t already mine (or my right) and didn’t add any value to the transaction, though it initially seemed as if she did. She made me think I couldn’t live without her.

We all know people like that, but I hope I’m not one of them. Why spend my limited resources and energy complicating the simple when I could use it instead to move forward? I don’t want to try to protect my job by adding false importance where it’s not appropriate; I want to add real value.

You know, a reassuring smile and a don’t-worry attitude would have added more real value, Ms. Gate Agent. It doesn’t always have to be hard.

Bully for you

Mary RaberOne of my first kindergarten memories doesn’t have anything to do with school at all. It’s the walk home that vividly sticks with me. I didn’t live far from school, and I routinely walked home with the rest of the kids who lived in nearby. We weren’t exactly friends, just fellow travelers by circumstance, and after about a block or two, the group would start to disperse.

If you’d think nothing would happen in that short distance, you’d be wrong. We had barely taken a step off school property one day when the heckling began. The focal point was a kid whose only transgression was being overweight. The kids–even the big kids, third graders–called him names, and the more upset he got, the more they heckled him.

The kid began to separate himself from the crowd. In my head, it looked (and still looks) like a pint-sized mob scene. Pack of kids in the back, lone kid in the front trying hard not to flinch at the word daggers hitting him from behind, moving toward home as fast as his legs could carry him.

When the kid neared his house (or maybe it was just the corner where he would turn and the others would continue straight ahead), he turned around and yelled the worst insult his five-year-old self could conjure: “YOU F***ERS!” before he ran inside to safety.

Bullies. Jerks. Such cruel kids.

I was part of that group.

I’d like to say that I didn’t do any name calling–I don’t think I did, but maybe that’s just my memory smoothing things over. I was uncomfortable, that’s for sure. I remember going home and talking to my mom about what had happened, ashamed of the taunting and bewildered that lightning hadn’t struck the kid for saying that worst-of-all word.

Regardless, I was still part of that group.

I didn’t stick up for that kid. I didn’t separate myself to walk with him. I didn’t offer comfort. I didn’t leave. I didn’t have to say a word to be complicit, and to this day, I’m ashamed of myself.

I had to look at that kid in class every day; our last names started with the same letter, so we never sat very far apart. And though I was wracked with guilt and could barely make eye contact, I never apologized. Until we graduated from high school, I never apologized, although every time I saw that kid I would think about the kindergarten incident.

Eventually, time and distance put it out of my mind, but when a friend recounted a bullying scenario in which her young daughter was involved, that long-ago walk home came screaming back into my head. I shared it with her, and she suggested that I apologize to him. So I’m going to, through this blog.

And I’m going to use it to remind my kids, myself, and anyone who will listen that sometimes a person communicates more by where she chooses to stand than by the words she uses–or doesn’t use. Get out of the crowd and stand for what’s right, friends. The concept of “safety in numbers” doesn’t apply to your soul.

So, RH, I admire you for standing up for yourself that day. I wish I would have joined you. I’m sorry.