Inspiring minds

thinkingI have a confession to make. I need to learn from the insights I write as much as anyone–perhaps even more sometimes. Since I draw a lot from others, too, I’ve decided to share some of the sound bites that have occasionally inspired me. Use what works, discard the rest.

When the everyday grind gets tough: You don’t get paid for Sunday [insert your own big event here]; that’s fun. You get paid to get ready for Sunday.–Marv Levy, on football

When pride gets in the way: Apologizing doesn’t always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.–Unknown

On the darkest days: We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.–Abraham Lincoln

When you want to hide: Let me remind you, the light doesn’t blind you at all…it just helps you see. -Goo Goo Dolls

Each of these has spoken to me at a particular time. Even so, I am amazed at how quickly I forget their wisdom when circumstances change, regardless of how firmly I try to tuck their simple truth into my heart. Perhaps the secret is this:

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.–Marv Levy

Ducks and horses

The Backstory:

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the recent NYU-Replyallcalypse and he got stuck on one of the goofy Reply-All messages sent to the giant list of recipients. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link I provided.) To poke him a little, I whipped off an email response in blog post format. Although it was intended to be a wry attempt at humor, I wondered if it might have real merit when I re-read it this morning. You can decide for yourself.

My Wry-Attempt-At-Humor-But-Hey-Wait-It-Might-Have-Legs Response:

Would you rather fight a 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? You’re probably laughing at the absurdity of this question, but I’ll bet you find yourself revisiting it throughout the day, however unwillingly. After a while, you’ll realize that you are taking up precious brain power pondering a what-if that has about a zero percent chance of becoming reality.

Even if you don’t think about mutant ducks and horses all day long, I’ll bet you tie up your brain waves pondering scenarios that probably won’t come true. All of us do it—and it’s probably a healthy exercise if we can keep it in check—but when we’re thinking of stuff like that, what AREN’T we thinking of?

When you’re worrying about ducks and horses [insert your favorite diversion here], chances are you’re NOT thinking about your customers and how to help them make their lives better. Or your business and how to do what you do more effectively. Or how to nurture your kids’ talents. Or what to make for dinner. Or, or, or.

Personally, one of my favorite diversions is what-if-I-had-done-this-differently-way-back-when. I ruminate about how my life might look today if I had just answered that one question differently, or chosen a different major in college, or taken a different job. While I’m sure there’s something to be learned in hindsight, I’m sure I spend way too much time on the what-ifs I can’t recapture rather than the ones I can actually make happen today.

The next time you find yourself thinking about ducks and horses, use them to propel yourself into productivity.

Bad joke

A girl walks into a bar and orders a hard cider.

If you think that’s the start of a bad joke, you might be right. Last Sunday, my usual compatriots and I decided to head downtown early and grab a bite to eat before we made our way to the stadium for the Colts game. Although we arrived in plenty of time for the game, we did not arrive in plenty of time to beat the like-minded crowd. We finally found a pub that had room for us after several false starts.

When the server arrived with the requisite, Can I get you something to drink to get you started? my buds ordered Buds while my beer-averse self opted for hard cider. The server promptly let me know that his establishment didn’t carry anything of the sort, so I opted for a glass of water while I mulled my options.

When he returned with my buds’ Buds and some menus, I decided to give it another shot. How about a Mike’s hard lemonade? I asked. Or something along those lines? Again, I got a no, but this time it was accompanied by a lecture on why they didn’t have those things and why it was ridiculous for me to even expect such a thing. Really, he did.

Um, excuse me sir, but I’m the customer. You just don’t lecture customers.

Later, one of my companions told me that he could visibly see my mood change as the server held forth. He was right, of course; that rude interaction–not the fact that the bar didn’t have my drink of choice, but the way the server handled it–put a damper on the next part of my afternoon.

I eventually recovered, but I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I don’t know why the guy didn’t just say, I’m sorry, but we don’t have that. Instead, his attempt to establish his superiority cost him three customers when we paid for our libations and left without ordering lunch. Since the place didn’t have people lined up at the door to get in, I would have thought he would have cared a lot more about keeping us happy.

Come to think of it, now I understand why it was so easy to find a table there. I guess the joke’s on them.

Dancing in the dark

I wish whoever saved all the daylight would give it back.

For some reason, I’m having a tough time this year adjusting to the fall time change. Maybe it’s because my Indiana body is still resisting the adoption of this silly custom (we’ve only done this since 2006) or maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m really struggling. My circadian rhythm just won’t dance.

I drive to work in the dark. I drive home in the dark. Try as I might, I can’t convince my body that it really is only 6pm and that I’ve got no less time to accomplish the same things I easily master on bright summer evenings. I want to eat more and exercise less. I want to cook heavy, comforting meals instead of healthy, refreshing alternatives. I long to curl up under a blanket and read until I fall asleep.

But I’ve got stuff to do.

I have kids to shuttle, articles to write, miles to grind. It may be dark, but I’ve got places to go and people to see. Somehow, I’ve got to light my own way.

Life doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.

Talking turkey

Scarcely an American household has escaped the Thanksgiving tradition of polling the room to encourage everyone to share her most thankful thoughts. The question What are you thankful for? must be individually addressed before the bird may be released into the waiting bellies of friends and family. If you wanna eat, you gotta talk turkey.

I shared some of my list here last year, so I thought I’d do it again and call it tradition. In no particular order or sentence structure:

  • I love being able to share humor, insight, and goofy tidbits with my son on an adult level. He’s growing up fast, and those secret smiles when he “gets it” mean the world to me.
  • I swoon over my daughter’s gregariousness. She lights up everything around her.
  • I am overwhelmingly humbled by my kids’ capacity to forgive my quirks and parental failures. I wish I didn’t have to accept that gift so often.
  • I have a house that’s warm, a car that works, a closetful of clothes, food in my cupboards, and the ability to share my fortune with others. How often I take these cornerstones of my life for granted!
  • Witty rhymes and practical jokes–I love them.
  • Black licorice. Even the smell sends me to a happy place.
  • Really good books.
  • Pancetta. It goes with everything.
  • A hot shower after a hard run.
  • One particular shoulder to cry on, no matter what the topic.
  • The respect of others.
  • My relationship with each of my parents is often complex and certainly not storybook, but I am who I am because of their (often divergent!) influence. And even though I’m a highly independent, middle-aged woman, they still help me out A LOT.
  • The smell of fallen leaves.
  • My own personal cheerleader.
  • A good glass of prosecco. Or two.

I was in a crappy mood when I started making my list and wasn’t sure what I would be able to squeeze out. Once I got rolling, I found it hard to stop; I’m still adding to the list in my head. Crappy mood or no, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for–and I’m not just talking turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Paying dues

The problem with the concept of paying dues in a job, in a career, in life is that it implies that once a person has proven herself, she never has to put in the muscle again. I beg to differ.

The minute I become “too good” for something, I begin to lose touch with the people on my team. That doesn’t mean I have to do every job, every time, but it does mean that I need to be willing to roll up my sleeves just as much as I expect everyone else to do it. It keeps me plugged in, it helps me understand how the work gets done, and it underscores my credibility.

Surprisingly (or not), football got me thinking about this. Following last Sunday’s Patriots-driven embarrassment of my Indianapolis Colts, the winning coach took a lot of criticism for leaving one of his star players in the game too long. Very late in the contest, that player suffered a broken arm in a special teams play. Critics say that with the outcome of the game already firmly decided, the guy should have been sitting on the sidelines to preserve him for future match-ups.

I think that’s hogwash, and clearly so did his coach. One sports writer put it this way, and I agree completely: You’re not special enough to NOT play special teams. (Emphasis added.)

If you think you’ve paid your dues, be sure you don’t let them expire. You’re not that special.

Note: Like any good Colts fan, I HATE the Patriots. As much as it pains me to admit, however, they got this one right.

The one time I agreed with Rex Ryan

I can’t stand Rex Ryan. The head coach of the New York Jets is brash, rude, divisive, and generally just a jerk. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but he IS the guy who was fined $75K for telling an opposing fan to shut the f#$k up on national television. Form your own opinion.

Last week, however, I found myself cheering him on. According to news outlets, the team’s much-maligned back-up quarterback, Tim Tebow, fell victim to some nasty commentary from his own teammates. The problem was that rather than owning up to their opinions, they spread them anonymously. In-your-face publicly, but anonymously. I’m not a Tebow fan, but that’s just not right.

Really, guys, man up.

Rex called it “about as cowardly of a thing as there is.” He went on to say, “If you’re going to make a negative comment, that’s fine. We never say that it always has to be a bed of roses. But again, put your name on it. I think people will respect you a lot more.”

Amen, brother.

My dad taught me that lesson years ago. If you feel don’t feel strongly enough about something to put your name on it, don’t say it. Why should anyone take an anonymous comment seriously? (Find more life lessons from my dad HERE.)

As much as it pains me to agree with Rex Ryan, this time I did it wholeheartedly.

Here’s a link to the article if you want to read more:

Aim high

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting the number one rated provider for a nationally known moving truck rental company. While you might think the shop she operated was big and bright and beautiful, sporting gleaming counters and huge fleet of vehicles, reality looked much different. The shop was tiny, sharing space with a couple of related businesses. The fleet consisted of just a few trucks, and the woman behind the counter was the sole employee.

How did she rise to the top of more than 15,000 locations in the country? By relentlessly, intentionally taking care of her customers. She keeps her trucks spotless, inside and out. She makes sure her fleet is meticulously maintained. She keeps her moving blankets so neatly folded and creased that customers ask her if they are new. She always gives her customers the benefit of the doubt, and she stays awake at night wondering how she could have handled each tricky situation better. Really, she does.

This woman’s attention to detail not only got my attention, it also made company officials take notice. Surprisingly, however, their reaction wasn’t what I expected. Rather than looking at her business as a model for helping others grow their franchise, they instead felt threatened. Her high standards frightened them, and they reacted in a paroxysm of nonsense:

“You’re going to raise the expectations of our customers!”

Holy moly! Yes, you read that correctly. The company officials even asked her to back off; they told her she was making other locations look bad. Thankfully, she has no intention of changing her business model.

The bigwigs are right, you know. This special woman will likely raise the expectations of her customers–and I hope she does. After all, isn’t that the point?


I creep on my coworkers. I don’t mean to, but my office is positioned such that I can hear a lot of the daily activity that goes on around me. Occasionally, it gets annoying (i.e. in the way of doing my work) and I shut the door, but mostly I appreciate the hum of action–and I learn a lot.

Today I overheard this conversation:

Person1: The next time the training comes available, I’m going to get my [Lean Six Sigma] green belt.

Person2, with a note of surprise: Whoa. That’s a lot of homework.

Person1, determinedly: I know and I don’t care. I’ve decided that’s what I want. I need it.

I was impressed. So often, I meet people who say they want to move to the next step in their careers. They want a title or a salary increase or the accompanying parking space. When it comes to doing the work it takes to get there–to earn it–those people quickly disappear.

In this case, I didn’t hear a word about the rewards it might bring. What I heard instead was someone who had identified a goal and was willing do to the work to achieve it. If advancement was in her sights, she chose to let it dangle somewhere beyond the horizon as a consequence, not as the immediate call to action. Brava, lady!

I moved on with two takeaways. The first is obvious: if you want something, you have to be willing to do the work. When her coworker brought up the homework hurdle, I half expected Person1 to say something like, Really? How much. Hmm. You’re right; that IS a lot. Instead, she remained unfazed, shrugging it off with an if-that’s-what-it-takes attitude. She was ready.

The second is a bit more subtle: the interim goals have to be worthy for their own sake. If something deters me from reaching my end-all-be-all goal, I don’t want the path I take to get there to be for naught. The stepping stones along the way need to be worthwhile in themselves. They should aid my physical, mental, educational, social, or professional development. They should be independently fulfilling. If not, why expend so much effort doing something I hate? Life’s too short.

So again I say, brava, lady! She has made up her mind and she’s moving forward. We should all be so committed.

One for all

A couple of nights ago, I had dinner plans with my staff and a visiting colleague. The colleague and I arrived about 30 minutes early, so we ducked into the adjacent bar to have a glass of wine while we waited for the others to arrive.

Twenty minutes and two coworkers later, we decided it was time to move to our table. I signaled the server and told her that we were ready to settle our tab. Graciously, she asked whether I preferred to close out my tab with her or to transfer it to our dinner bill. She said she wanted to do whatever was easier for me.

Of course, paying a single bill instead of two was the obvious answer. However, I also knew that if I transferred the tab to the dinner side of the restaurant, she wouldn’t receive any of the tip, and I effectively told her that. I wanted to make sure she was fairly compensated. Her response? I want to do what is easiest for you. It’s only one round of drinks. It’s okay–really.

I love, love, love it when people embrace big picture outcomes, understanding the trade-offs between long- and short-term success. That server clearly grasped that doing what is best for the customer is what will keep that restaurant successful, even if it meant a short-term tweak to her tip jar. Two days later, I’m still ruminating on her considerate gesture.

One for all, and all for one.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we both got what we wanted. I transferred the tab to the restaurant, but I handed her a cash tip before I left the bar. She deserved it.