Opting out(side)

rei-optoutsideIt’s no secret that the mere thought of Black Friday sends shudders down my spine. It’s also no secret that I love good marketing–which, thronging hordes of turkey-belching people aside, is a big part of my aversion to this crazy day. (Read why HERE.) I stoically refuse to join the masses and stay home. Every. Single. Year.

Yesterday I came across an organized alternative to the shopping frenzy, and I rejoiced. In fact, I’m still rejoicing.

The surprising part is that the alternative comes from a retailer. Instead of discounting to the masses, REI has decided to close all 143 of its stores and encourage employees (and customers!) to go outside. If you aren’t impressed, remember that Black Friday is the biggest retail shopping day of the year.

Still not impressed? The company will pay its 12,000 employees anyway.

No revenue + paying employees = an expensive proposition.

That’s taking a stand for your brand.

And that’s why I love this idea so much. Who better to promote outdoorsy-ness than REI, a seller of outdoor gear and clothing, a company which professes that “for 76 years our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out, too”?

Sure, giving up a (big) day of sales is a gamble for a retailer, but oh, how very authentic its brand just became for me. The company believes so much in its mission (“we are dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”) that it intends to make the mission a reality–not just a sales gimmick.

And that’s the brilliant part of branding: walking the talk.

It’s what makes people seek you out. It’s what keep them coming back. It’s what builds your tribe.

When people believe what you say about yourself because they see you doing it, they trust you. With that trust, you start building loyalty. If you’re an individual, that’s how you make friends. If you’re a company, that’s how you grow your customer base.

Sure, REI is taking a risk with this move. It may prove too expensive for them to be able to ever do again, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run. After all, when you focus on fulfilling the mission and not the sale, you usually end up succeeding at both. I really, truly believe that.

While I wait to see how it turns out, I’m joining the movement; I’m going to #OptOutside. Kudos, REI, for the on-point brand lesson.

Read the Forbes article about #OptOutside HERE.

Check out the REI Opt Outside website HERE.

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Kicking the tires

flat tireMy kids and I pack a lot into our days. With work, school, practices, rehearsals, committees, and social lives tugging us in different directions, we sometimes have to get creative in order to spend time with each other. That’s how I came up with the idea of having my kids tag along on my runs–on their bikes.

A few years ago on one of spring’s earliest days, I laced up my running shoes to take advantage of the warm air and colorful blossoms. I invited my daughter to come with me so that we could steal a few moments together. She said yes, grabbed her bike, and off we went.

Before we proceed, you have to understand that my dazzling princess is somewhat averse to physical exertion, or at least she was at the time. Previous runs through the neighborhood with her on foot had resulted in my frantic assessment of potential onlookers to see if anyone might be calling Child Protective Services as my daughter screamed things like, “Stop hurting me!” “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why won’t you let me stop?!” and “You’re a MEAN WHALE!” Keep in mind that these exclamations generally came about five minutes into any activity after she remembered what she might be missing on TV.

Back to the story.

A block into our run/ride, dear daughter started complaining. It was too hard. It made her legs hurt. Could we please go home? Shaking my head, I pressed on, shouting over my shoulder, You have wheels! I only have feet. Keep up! After another block of ever-increasing complaints, the grousing stopped. Relieved, I looked back to see whether my daughter had caught up with me.

Rather than being hot on my tail, she was a block behind me, feet firmly planted on the sidewalk, wheels stationary. She refused to budge.

As I retraced my steps wondering how to cajole her into continuing, a tiny thought weaseled its way into my brain. I don’t think she has had her bike out since last fall. I wonder if she needs air in her tires…

I arrived at her fortified position and squeezed the rubber. Sure enough, her tires were flat. Not just low on air, but completely flat. No wonder she was complaining; she was riding on the rims! Every revolution of her pedals took extreme effort for her little legs. Oops. Bad mom moment. Her complaints were valid this time.

That incident is never far from my mind, and I’ve become extra-vigilant about checking tires before bike rides. As I’ve chuckled sheepishly over the memory, I’ve also realized there was a greater lesson embedded in it than the effects of winter storage on air pressure: never, ever stop listening.

You see, I know my daughter and her patterns. When a situation seems to fit a pattern, it’s pretty easy to check the box and tune out; it’s all about context, right? Of course, that’s exactly the moment when I risk missing something important.

I’m a huge proponent of understanding context, but paying too much attention to the context can sometimes crowd out the facts. Like tire pressure.

When losing is winning

I’ve said it before: even more than I like to win, I HATE to lose. But last Saturday, my son beat me in a road race for the first time ever. He didn’t even hand me the defeat gently; he blasted my time by almost two minutes. I’d like to say I had a bad run, but that wouldn’t be true. Back in May, I posted the same time in another race and beat him by almost a minute.

We’ve run a few races together, and usually I follow the course in reverse after I’ve finished so that I can find him. I’ll jog alongside him and encourage him all the way to the finish line. This time, he came back for me.

Of course, by the time he found me, I already knew I had been beaten. He took off like a shot from the starting line and I never saw him again until the end. The funny thing is, I didn’t care.

I was one proud mama when he came back to find me. In that moment, I saw the culmination of many of the important character traits I’ve tried to teach him: determination, perseverance, and the importance of working toward goals. This boy who seemed not to care for so long finally got it. I was nothing but proud.

That’s the way it should be. When we have the privilege of mentoring someone, whether our own child, an employee, a colleague, or a friend, the best measure of success is not the point when he can do just as well. It’s when he can do better. It’s when he takes what he has learned and develops it in new ways, building on what he’s been taught and taking it beyond what has already been achieved. It’s the day he beats you at your own game.

Then you’ve actually won.

Just for fun

My finishing time at the Warrior Dash this year increased quite a bit over last year. I added almost FIVE minutes per mile. Normally, that kind of performance decline would reduce me to a quivering mess; in fact, it’s pretty amazing that I’m even admitting to it here.

Today, I don’t care.

Why not? I could justify it by saying the course was harder (it was) and it had more mud obstacles that were difficult to navigate (it did) and that everyone posted slower times (they did), but those aren’t the real reasons.

I don’t care because it was FUN. As much as I enjoyed the muddy obstacle race last year, this year’s event stole my heart. Last year, I took on the Warrior Dash–billed by promoters as “the craziest frickin’ day of your life”–to prove I could. I tackled all kinds of tasks that would normally make my sometimes-prissy self balk, if not turn away in self-righteous disgust. When I crawled out of the mud pit to cross the finish line, all I could think was, I DID it!

My brother and I both agree that this year’s race felt completely different. We had already proved that we COULD do it; this time we actually WANTED to do it. When the starting horn blew fire to launch my 11:00 wave, I hit the woods grinning. I leapt roots and ruts, took the direct route through the stream instead of pussyfooting from rock to rock, embraced the mud, and army-crawled through trenches on the forest floor. I ran hard and felt great all the way through. I loved it. Last year’s race felt like an accomplishment. This year’s race was an out-and-out blast.

I’m pretty sure that’s one of the benefits of expanding your comfort zone. Once you master a task or conquer a fear, it leaves you free to enjoy the experience the next time. You can do it just for fun.

Face plant

My son has been an occasional runner, so I ask him hopefully most evenings whether he’d like to run my first mile with me. Although I tell him it helps me warm up (it does), it’s really a way for me to entice him into some together time. I think he has it figured out, because he seldom agrees to accompany me.

Last week, however, he graced me with a rare assent. Thrilled, I suited up in my running clothes and met him in the garage. I synched my GPS watch with the governing satellites and we hit the street.

Literally.

Yep, not 30 strides into our route, I tripped over the uneven sidewalk and face planted. Thankfully I was able to maneuver my hands to absorb the primary brunt of the impact and avoid serious injury, but I looked ridiculous nonetheless. I staggered to my feet, brushed the gravel from my stinging palms, and recommenced the run. After he saw that I was okay, my son simply shook his head at my clumsiness.

In varying degrees, I think everyone secretly wants to impress her kids [insert any group here: coworkers, friends, etc.]–to be the best, smoothest, most admired, coolest, smartest, the expert. In building that persona, however, sometimes I wonder if we don’t build a wall to separate ourselves from those very people. We try so hard to set ourselves apart that we don’t realize that success can make us the slightest bit unapproachable.

As much as I wish no one had seen my spectacular face plant, I wonder if, injured palms excluded, it wasn’t a good thing after all. I’m pretty sure that dose of humility made me a little more human in my son’s eyes. Since then, my reluctant runner has casually mentioned training for a couple of longer races with me. Suddenly, inexplicably, I’ve become more approachable.

Maybe everyone needs a face plant now and then.

A metaphor

My kids and I spent a lovely few days in the southwest part of France last week, but it certainly didn’t have much to do with the weather. We arrived at six o’clock Tuesday morning in Foix to cold, gray, foggy skies. The weather didn’t improve much over the next few days, but as I told the relatives we were visiting, We came for the people, not the weather.

We had a great time anyway, and the crummy weather even helped me learn a few related vocab words (e.g. brouillard = fog). And even though the climate might have been a tad disappointing, somehow the misty gray skies added to the fairytale enchantment of the ancient villages.

On the last evening of our visit, the skies began to clear enough for the cloud ceiling to lift–just a bit. From my cousin’s house, we could see the ruins of Montségur, its perch on a 3000-foot summit of rock previously shrouded in the ever-present brouillard. Somewhat satisfied, I assumed the show was over.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning to brilliant sunshine, bright blue skies, and…snow-capped mountains. I felt as if the heavens had opened and unwrapped a gift for me. Montségur, which had seemed to be the highest point in the distance, was dwarfed by the Pyrenees peaks behind it.

Those peaks had been there all along, but circumstances had blinded me to them. What else have I missed?