Best behavior

Mothering a daughter is hard, especially a strong-willed, independent-thinking, highly emotional daughter. And most especially the teenage variety of said daughter. She’s smart and funny and caring and I generally love being around her, but it’s still challenging.

I try to be conscious of my actions. After all, she’s been watching me for the past sixteen years and I’m her role model whether I like it or not. On my good days and bad days, she’s taking it all in.

She’s a big part of the reason I walked away from a long-term job with a fair amount of responsibility a few years ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to pursue fulfillment over a fat paycheck.

And I certainly thought about what she would learn if I didn’t end an unhealthy dating relationship not long ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to stand up for oneself and to walk away from situations that may steal one’s self-respect.

It’s also crazy important to me that she sees me interact amicably with her father and her stepmother. She needs to know–to see–the positive effects of releasing grudges and moving forward, that sometimes you can love someone (your kids!) so much that you work through things for their benefit, even when it’s hard.

I want my daughter to absorb my actions and not just hear my words.

Doesn’t that all sound great and honorable? Unfortunately, I’m only thinking consciously about this stuff about ten percent of the time. The other ninety percent, I forget to be intentional and I’m just…me. Whyohwhyohwhyohwhy is it so hard for me to remember that she’s watching everything, not just the lessons I’ve identified?

I can handle a full-blown crisis like a pro, but insult my intelligence, stomp on my pride, or hit me with a steady stream of attitude and all bets are off. Let’s just say my lackluster everyday frustration management skills might be a little more visible than I’d like. That’s not the best scenario for a mom with an already outspoken, highly emotional pair of teenage eyes on her.

I also tend to think out loud, so I go down a lot of rabbit holes before I end up on the right track. know I’m just working through an idea before I take (what I hope to be) rational action, but what does she think as she observes my process?

You’d get bored and I’d get embarrassed if I continued laying out my everyday faux pas. My point is that unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose which lessons our kids learn from us. While I’m happy with some of the big things, this light bulb moment has helped me realize that I need to be equally diligent about the little things, too.

The best I can hope now is that someday she’ll look back and realize that in addition to being a mom and a role model, I’m also human.

Take care

Aunt Gladys circa 1972When I was very small, my great-great aunt went to live with my grandmother. Aunt Gladys (unconventionally pronounced  GLAY-dus) would follow my brother and me around and we didn’t mind a bit because she never hesitated to join our games. She played with us unhesitatingly until the dark cloud of her dementia overshadowed the sunny side of her personality.

And that’s why she lived with my grandmother. Grandma was her caretaker–at least, that’s what we would have called her then. She fed Aunt Gladys and bathed her and tucked her in bed at night. Grandma kept AG safe and made sure she knew she was loved. She took care of Aunt Gladys.

Taking care. That term sounds so…detached.

It says nothing of the emotion my grandmother’s actions carried, the love and devotion that washed Aunt Gladys’s face or the tender care that removed obstacles so she wouldn’t fall. It ignores the sacrifice of unexpectedly rearranging a household to make sure a loved one won’t suffer alone in her time of need, or of stretching a threadbare budget to make room for one more.

Sounds a lot more like giving than taking to me.

Perhaps that’s why, somewhere along the way, we’ve embraced a shift in terminology. People we once called caretakers have become caregivers. Technically, both words carry the same meaning, but at least for me, the former screams duty while the latter emanates devotion.

I love how our vernacular keeps evolving to perfect itself. It amazes me how one little word–or portion of a word–makes all the difference to its meaning. And even if you give it little thought, your choice affects the perception of your listener.

Words matter; always choose wisely.

Translation error

translation errorOh boy. I spend all this time talking (writing) about finding a common language, minimizing communications mishaps, and interacting with clarity and what do I do? I tumble into that very pit myself.

I was sitting at lunch when an acquaintance asked me how I would approach a particular situation. After casting about (in my head) for a plan, I chose the germ of an idea and held on for dear life. I ran with it, talking and talking around the thing until I had exhausted its possibilities.

When I finally shut up, I noticed my companion’s eyes had shuttered. I had missed the mark.

I hid my embarrassment as we moved the conversation to other things, but I didn’t stop turning over that misfire in my head. Where had I gone wrong? What should I have done differently?

As usual, clarity came almost instantaneously once we had parted–when it was much more difficult to “fix” it. Even so, here’s my epiphany:

We were speaking different languages. Instead of stopping and trying to make sure I understood what he was after, I plappered along based on my translation–not his. Duh.

He had used a term that can have broad interpretation, and not wanting to look dumb, I picked one narrow facet of it and worked from there. Unfortunately, that took me down the long and winding road to nowhere. I ended up looking like the inexperienced country cousin.

Instead, I should have stopped my blind dive and sought more information. I should have asked questions to clarify what he was after. I should have taken the time to ensure I understood his language. I should have looked before I leaped.

Who knows if I still would have come up with an answer that helped him, but at that point at least he could have evaluated its potential effectiveness rather than trying to figure out how it connected.

That’s a broad term. What does it mean to you? Do you mean X or Y? What do you hope to accomplish? Would have been some great starting points.

The moral of the story? Ask questions. Assumptions that haven’t been validated lead to conversations rife with translation error.

Stop the madness (again)

Sometimes I can’t seem to stop escalating an argument–or a non-argument. When I stumbled across this post in the archives, it felt right to dig it back out. I wish I would have remembered this a few times over the last couple of months. Oh well, it’s not unusual that I have to re-learn the most important lessons!

Every now and then, someone sends me a message that really ticks me off. These messages are generally short, snarky, and pointless, designed simply to throw a barb my way for a perceived slight. I don’t get mad when I’ve really done something wrong–humble and embarrassed, maybe, but not mad. Strangely, it’s the undeserved barbs that hit their mark.

I got one of those messages this morning. I can thrust and parry with almost anyone when it comes to words, and I quickly typed my equally snarky response. And then I retyped it. And retyped it. I continued honing it to get it just right. With my cursor hovering over the send button, I hit delete instead. On purpose.

I’ve never done that before.

I’ve always risen to the challenge right along with my hackles. I respond in kind (that’s a funny expression when the response is usually not kind at all), and I end up sputtering and seething. And the cycle continues. No one needs that.

Inexplicably, this time I realized some key points. First, I didn’t act inappropriately to this person. Second, I didn’t owe him an explanation for anything. Third, he knows how to push my buttons, and I was poised to let him do it. By the time he had sent the message, he was already on to the next thing. Why should I spend the rest of my day stewing in this one?

It was up to me to continue the madness, and for once, I didn’t. I deleted my response, deleted, his email, and–writing this post notwithstanding–moved on. For whatever reason, I realized that it only takes one person to stop the madness. Anyone can be that person; today it was me.

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.

Give me my money (again)

For some reason, a bout of nostalgia is causing me to revisit some of my old posts. I originally published this one in June 2011. Hope you enjoy this oldie-but-goodie.

Bound for yet another youth hostel at the end of a long spring break jaunt through Italy, a friend and I hurried to catch a subway train in Rome. (Obviously, the presence of the word “youth” indicates that this event occurred MANY years ago.) Caught up in the rush hour hustle-bustle, we scrambled to squeeze ourselves into a crowded-to-bursting train car. When the door closed on my backpack and then reopened, I tried to press myself deeper inside. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past the man in front of me because we got caught up in that awkward dance of both moving the same way at the same time. We finally figured it out following a rapid-fire exchange of good-natured scusi/prego, and the train door closed.

A minute later, an older man pointed out the gaping zipper in my fanny pack (no comments, please!). You guessed it–my wallet was gone. Of course, being the enlightened world traveler that I was at the ripe age of 20, I quickly understood that the scusi-dance I had just experienced had been an intentional distraction. We hadn’t yet come to our first stop, so I knew my dance partner was still on the train and I easily drew a bead on him. As I suspected he would, this guy left the train as soon as the doors opened. Fearless and galvanized by my youth, I hopped off the train and jumped on his back, yelling over and over, “GIVE ME MY MONEY!”

To keep this long story from getting longer, I will simply tell you that during this excitement, I looked back at the train as it pulled away from the platform. Through the window I saw another man holding my wallet, rifling through its contents. I had nabbed the wrong guy.

Certainly, the guy I had in my clutches wasn’t innocent. He was part of a two-man team whose MO was for one to distract and the other to snatch. Even so, my actions were ill-directed and didn’t recover my money.

Now, you may be wondering how I’m going to turn this into some sort of communication insight. That’s easy. Particularly in times where you need to take corrective action or to give negative feedback, consider these lessons:

  1. Look before you leap, especially if you’re jumping someone’s back. (Literally, in some cases!)
  2. When you need to resolve a problem, make sure you have the right guy. (Misdirecting your anger won’t help anyone, and it could even backfire. I was lucky.)
  3. Be patient. (What I didn’t mention above was that there was another train coming five minutes after the one  into which I had crammed myself. The time I lost due to my haste and bravado was far more than the five minutes I would have waited for the next train. And I would still have had my money.)

I love to tell this story, and I’ve told it often. For the record, though, this is the first time that I’ve made the connections that now seem so obvious to me. There really is a lesson in everything.