Take a second

Yesterday I read a post in a blog I follow that really stuck with me. It wasn’t actually the topic itself–it was a friends-helping-friends-plea, very well done though not unusual–but a single line.

Nobody is too busy to give another person five seconds a day. —Andra Watkins

That stopped me short.

Is it really that simple to make a difference? I think it just might be. If everyone on the planet offered just 5 unselfish seconds every day, that would add up to more than 9,722,222.22 HOURS each day of doing something good. Okay, so maybe that’s overly simplistic pie in the sky, but if I can make even a tiny difference to one person and all it costs me is five seconds, isn’t that worth doing? And if even a handful of people felt the same way, isn’t that even better?

I guess the reason Andra’s statement really struck me was that it changed the way I look at giving my time. She presented the quantity as something so small, so insignificant, so manageable, that instead of agreeing with a shrug, I’m now wondering what else I can do.

Five seconds? Really? That doesn’t seem like much. I could give several of those. 

Besides seeing this as a how-to-make-the-world-better-in-five-easy-seconds lesson, there are also some marketing lessons here, however unintended.

  • Make it easy for people (whatever “it” is). In this case, five seconds of time is an easier bite to chew than thinking about going to a website, finding the right person, and clicking the vote button, even though that’s still the task. Five seconds? Pfft. No big deal.
  • Change people’s perspective. One a-ha moment will earn you a ton of mental real estate. I’ve been chewing on those five seconds since I read that line. I’ve taken that one statement in a jillion different directions. What can I do in five seconds? What if everyone gave five seconds? Why only five seconds? Ten would be easy, too. Who cares WHAT I’m thinking; the important thing is THAT I’m thinking about it. If you can get someone noodling on your idea, you can really make things happen.

Sorry, Andra. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what you intended when you set out to help your friend. But you know what? The five seconds it took you to write that comment helped more people than you thought. In your own words, Thank you so much for giving a tiny piece of your day to someone else. 

New clothes

new clothesAs I kid, I remember reading the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. If you don’t remember it–or even if you do–it’s worth clicking the link for a refresher. I always got a giggle from the tale as a kid, but lately I’ve been consumed by its wisdom.

Tricked by a couple of shrewd schemers, the vain emperor parades around naked, believing he is garbed in clothing so fine that only the wise and enlightened can see it. Afraid of being deemed stupid, his subjects shower him with cheers and compliments, and the farce continues.

That is, it continues until a child, uninhibited by pretext and social expectation, speaks the truth. The very plain, very apparent truth.

How often have I been in situations where people have been afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid?

How often have I been one of those people?

It saddens me to think how much time has been squandered talking around an issue because everyone thought he was the only one who couldn’t see it. That feeling is unsettling; it erodes confidence and undermines productivity. Those things eat away at a person.

As I think about the people I respect the most, I realize they share a common trait. They have the eyes of a Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled child, who could only see things as his eyes showed them to him. They’re not afraid to call it like they see it, even if that strains against convention. They’re not afraid to ask questions to help them see something better. And they’re not afraid to speak up about it.

Be that child.

If you see someone running around naked, tell him it’s time to get new clothes.

One lucky girl

tvdThe best career advice I can give anyone is this: figure out what you love to do, then go after it. I firmly believe that there’s a job out there for everyone that will make her say, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”

When I wrote my first article for publication, I danced on cloud nine. Not only did someone believe in my writing enough to put it in print, but it also came with a check–with my name on it. Even though that check wouldn’t have bought dinner, drinks, and dessert for a party of two, I didn’t care. Someone was paying me to do something I loved. It was the best feeling in the world. (Or at least one of the best two or three.)

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what that “thing” is that you love. It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness and generally a healthy dose of trial-and-error, as well. I’ve often thought it completely unfair that we have to make choices at young ages that determine the direction of our entire lives. I wish I had known myself at 18 the way I do now that I’m, er, 40-something. I wouldn’t have taken so long to get here.

After 4 years of college and 22 years of a career with 3 years of grad school sprinkled on top, I finally know what gets me charged up and passionate. Heck, you probably do, too, since those are the things I write about. Making connections. Finding the meaning. Getting the details right. Learning lessons to make things better. Helping other people do it, too.

Now I get to do it and get paid for it. Officially.

On July 8, I’m starting a new adventure. After 18 years with the same company, changing jobs is kind of a big deal. I know the drill where I sit today. In fact, I know pretty much all the drills. There’s a certain comfort in that–but not enough to keep me from this new thrill.

I am so excited! I can’t believe they’re going to pay me to go to work there every day, to do what I love.

It makes no difference if you want to coach wrestling, crunch numbers, create video games, care for people, or call baseball games. If you love it, do it. Live your passion and find a way to make a living from it. Life’s too short to do anything else.

One Lucky Guitar, here I come. I am one lucky girl.

Good stuff

Beef-jerkyI attended a conference yesterday and walked away with word jerky like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know which of these nuggets to chew on first, so I’m going to share them all and see which ones make you bite. Chime in early; chime in often. Let’s get the most out of these.

And in no particular order… Drum roll please…

  • Trust changes everything. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Get comfortable with change and patience. (Tiffany Sauder)
  • Let go of the mentality that you have a secret sauce. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Truth and transparency can change an industry. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Putting your toes in the water isn’t good enough. You have to jump in all the way. (Brian Halligan)
  • Why do we let our competitors dictate how much money we make? (Marcus Sheridan)
  • If you have too much dead wood in your organization consider this: were they dead when you hired them or did you kill them? (Will Davis)
  • I love watching dumb businesses. It’s awesome! (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Marketing used to be about the size of your wallet. Now it’s about the size of your brain. (Brian Halligan)
  • Don’t irritate your way into someones wallet. Love your way there. (Brian Halligan)
  • Make sharing easy. (Nate Riggs)

I’ve got lots of ideas to develop for future posts, but for now I need to chew on this Sam’s Club-sized portion of word jerky. Talk it up, friends. Which one of these grabs you?

P.S. If you’re a Twitterer and you’re interested in some of the buzz around this conference–the topic was inbound marketing–check out #GoInboundMktg. There was a lot of energy in that room!

Light it up

mirrorYesterday I saw someone I’ve known for a very long time, and I hardly recognized her. I see her a lot, so it wasn’t as if she had undergone some major physical transformation–hair, weight, etc.–that took me by surprise. Her face was just different.

After a few seconds, I realized what had changed her so. It was her smile. Of course, I’ve seen her smile thousands of times, but something made this one stand out. It was deep. It was genuine. It was transforming.

It struck me then that a smile–a true, soul-driven smile–can make anyone beautiful. Or handsome, as the case may be. When it goes that deep, no one can see anything else. It reminded me to smile more, to seek things that fill me with joy. To share the joy with others. That girl has some good things going on, and everyone can feel the energy.

Even someone looking in the mirror.

Just say yes

Kara80s-8My kids ask me for stuff all the time. I’m not talking about buying them things–they’re actually not too presumptuous in that area–no, my kids want to go places, have friends over, do things. For a long time, my immediate reaction was to say no: our schedule was always too busy, I needed to go for a run and didn’t have time to put myself back together, the house was a mess. Even if we eventually worked our way back to a yes or some modified version of it, everyone’s spirits sagged a bit from the process.

Somewhere along the way, I started saying yes more often. When I can’t give an unqualified assent, I offer a few alternatives.

“I want a tie dyed cake for my birthday.” — *gulp* “Okay.”

“Can I have a friend over on Friday, Mom?” — “I need to go to X place on Friday, but we probably have time on Saturday afternoon.” 

“Can I go to the mall and hang out with Noah?” — “I’m expecting someone to come over and can’t take you right now, but if his parents can pick you up on the way, I don’t see why not.”

At 12:45: “Can I go to Megan’s party at 1, Mom?” — “Sure.”

Not too long ago, I would have categorically said no to each of those requests. I had plans on Friday, I wasn’t available to play taxi at the needed hour, 15 minutes was not enough notice. I don’t know what changed my approach, but I’m amazed at how much more smoothly things go when I start with a how-can-I-make-this-work attitude rather than simply denying a request because that’s the easier thing to do.

We’ve had some of this going on at work, too. No, no, no, is turning into let’s think about this. We still can’t accommodate every request, but working toward a common solution builds a lot more cooperative atmosphere than drawing a clear line between yes and no, regardless of the explanation that may accompany the no.

Sure, I sometimes fall back into old habits, but I’m getting a lot better. The best part is that I’ve found that the more often I say yes, the bigger my world becomes. I meet new people, make new things, see someone smile.

The yeses make my life a lot richer than the nos. Try it yourself.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Awhile back, someone very close to me told me that he doesn’t think I respect him. That knocked me on my you-know-what because, of course, I respect him very much. Indignantly, I started pointing out all the signs that conveyed my respect. Clearly, he didn’t see things the same way.

As my list grew, I saw his eyes glaze over and realized that nothing I said mattered one whit. The things on that list may have been important to me, but they weren’t important to him. Hitting him over the head with them wouldn’t make him appreciate them any more. I might have well been speaking Chinese to a German; I wasn’t speaking his language.

I realized once again the importance of making a connection. Even though his perception didn’t accurately reflect my depth of feeling, it was his reality. Until I understood that, we were destined to miss forever in this area.

It never hurts to be reminded that perception is reality. Even if that perception is flawed, that doesn’t make it less real to the person taking it in. To change his reality, I have to change his perception, and that means learning to speak his language.

Now that I know that different things are important to my friend, I can be more *ahem* respectful of his pinch points. Hopefully I will be better able to demonstrate the level of respect I have for him in a way that will resonate with him (not me).

Someday I’ll finally get it.

More to chew

Beef-jerkySooo…I’ve been working an idea for a post for months. Months. That’s not like me. Normally I just sit down and write. The thoughts coalesce and the words flow. They may tumble over the top of each other, but eventually they settle into place in a puddle on the page, leaving you to decide whether you wade through or walk around it.

For some reason, I just can’t make this one happen. The ends of my thoughts trail off and evaporate before they can precipitate and I’m left with a thunderhead. Argh.

I’m not letting this one go, though. On the contrary, I’m going to let you chew on it, too.

Wait, what? Chew on it? You got it–it’s WORD JERKY time again! Here’s your thought for the day:

Do actions without intent have meaning? Or is it the thought behind them–not the actions themselves–that define the nature of an interaction?

What do you think? Is it the thought that counts? Or just the results? Sometimes? Every time?

Let’s chat about it.

Dinner plans

IMG_0944Last weekend I cancelled a dinner party. Although I had been looking forward to it, various circumstances led me to make the decision to reschedule, one of the more important of which was the number of people who could attend. Looking at the guest list at the 11th hour, I decided it would be more conducive to what I wanted to accomplish to postpone the event until more people could come.

So with mixed feelings, I sent an email to my invitees. It landed in their inboxes with an apology for the inconvenience and a promise that the new event would be even better than the original I had planned.

As I moved to selecting new dates, my own inbox pinged. One of my invitees had responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with something like this:

How will you make it better? What did you have planned for the first one so I will know how to judge the second one? I’m going to hold you to that!

Even if he was being a smart alec, I thought it was great. I work with this guy, and questions like that underscore why I find him so effective. He digs in, asks the right questions, and holds people accountable. And he does it in a way that people respect–i.e., he’s not a jerk about it.

I know he meant that message as a joke, just to poke a bit of fun at me, but he’s right. I’m already reconsidering my menu and brainstorming some fun activities. He’s holding me accountable, and I plan to rise to the challenge.