Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category

I was turned onto a site (PG-13) this week that made me laugh out loud.  This site is about funny and embarrassing text messages sent out due to erroneous auto-corrections made on phones and computers these days.  As funny as I found these messages to be, alot can be learned from them. Take your time when sending a message, think twice about your recipient/audience and most importantly, don’t say anything you didn’t mean to say.

With the advent of text-messaging and emails, so much can be left up for interpretation and even more can be left up to individual mood and preference.  Email is a two-dimensional communication – there is not tone of voice, no body language, just words.  This is unfortunate but it is our reality.

What might you be saying in your daily interactions that someone else is interpreting differently?  What are you saying to your kids, your co-workers, your spouse?  And more importantly, how is what you are writing being interpreted?

Did you know that approximately 2.8 million emails are sent every second and some 90 trillion emails are sent per year?  Around 90% of these millions and trillions of messages are spam and viruses, but 294 billion messages per day are sent by around 1.9 billion email users each year.  With that kind of email traffic, there are bound to be some mis- (missed/messed-up) communications.

I have had a few of my own spell-check funnies along the way for instance, Chrysty Fortner when spell-checked correctly, signs my name as “Crusty Fortune.” I found this out the hard way while asking for a six-figure sponsorship from a prospect!  Just last week I started an email with “Yellow Lewis!” when asking for help with a non-profit business plan, apparently the incorrectly typed word Hellow (Hello) turns into “Yellow,” while I wasn’t looking–obviously not what I wanted to convey.

Aside from the spell-check incidents in my professional career, there have been other times where what I wanted to say was lost in translation or in one case, lost to ALL CAPS!  As the Director of Marketing for a Medicare Insurance company, I used all caps in a message to my new sales team.  It was my first day.  I was excited to meet the staff and to let them know my excitement about the new Medicare Prescription plan that was to be unveiled in 2005.  In my overzealousness to make a large first impression, I sent out
a communication to the Chicago, Houston, Birmingham and Nashville team with MAYBE a few too many CAPS and immediately I was criticized by the staff.  I’m not an easily disliked person and I’ve never been hated by people I work with let alone a group of sales people I was hired to inspire!  It was a disaster and the excitement and drive was lost by the skepticism created by my welcome email.  What a disappointment for me and obviously to them.  The point to all of this is to ask you the question, has WHAT you meant ever been lost by what you SAID or how you said it?”

There are many ways productive communication can break down to alienate your audience:

  • using clichés
  • using industry jargon
  • using slang…

Here are my 10 tips for better communication:

1.    DON’T USE CAPS, even if you’re REALLY, REALLY excited about emphasizing a point

2.    Don’t use lingo, jargon or technical terms

3.    Be yourself; and most importantly use your authenticity to speak/write with passion

4.    Don’t beat around the bush (I know, it’s a cliché, but you get the point)

5.    THINK before you speak and most importantly, listen before you speak

6.    Be thoughtful; it’s not necessarily what you say but how you say it

7.    Keep it short, sweet and to the point; use the carriage return (hard return between points)

8.    Use your subject line as the most powerful (but short) lead-in

9.    Give the recipient of your message a clear idea of what you’re expecting as a response

10.  Remember, what you send can be stored in someone’s archives FOREVER, so don’t say anything you don’t want to come back and haunt you!  And double check what you’re sending before you actually hit “Send.”

So from my silly spell-checker to yours, Yellow and Hoppy Moon day! Make the most of your day today and remember, mean what you say, say what you mean and maybe after reading this post you can avoid the pitfalls of communicationitis.

Yours truly, Crusty Fortune!

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Just when you think you have it all worked out; when you know exactly what the next few months of your life are gonna look like, a Southern wind blows in and changes direction, without the convenience of the weatherman giving you a heads up.  That’s what happened to me in a short twelve hour period last Tuesday.

The announcement was made that the company I’ve been working with for 12 months, Rockhouse Partners, was acquired by a ticketing company; it was a surprise to me.  That same evening, the fans and advocates of “Save My Fairgrounds” made an historic showing at a council meeting to let their voice be heard that their fairgrounds wasn’t just something that could be tossed out with last years funnel cake dough.  They were able to persuade the council in an unanimous decision to STOP the demolition of the 106 year old racetrack and to continue the Tennessee State Fair, world-class flea market and Expo Center–at least for now.  It was quite a day and night from where I sat and with that announcement came change and at least a question I had to ask myself.  Do I have it in me to run the Tennessee State Fair again?

I was a bit overwhelmed on Wednesday but when I stopped to breathe I realized that what lay ahead is an abundance of awesome opportunity; opportunity to carve out what I wanted to do with the two announcements. Sometimes change happens in the form of mergers, acquisitions and council votes…and sometimes, it comes in the form of how we react to it.

Maria Robinson once quoted, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

I like the idea of starting today to make my new ending.  Typically I would assume that we have two reactions to choose from when change is forced upon us: fight it or embrace it.  I’m embracing it with a mindset that is aligned with what works for ME!  What that is EXACTLY is yet to be determined this early in the game, but one thing for certain and to quote Sheryl Crow, “…a change would do me good.”

I started tooling around on the internet to help me through my concept of change.  The Shapiro’s have summed up ways to deal with change pretty darn good:

1. Accept what is! If you can change something, then do; if you can’t change anything, then release resistance and simply be with what is.

2. Take risks. Life is about not having answers, taking chances and risks, and making the most of every moment, all without knowing what is going to happen next.

3. Be your own best friend. It is easy to blame and shame yourself, but now is the time you deserve the most love and kindness of all.

4. Every day is a new beginning. Each time you take a step forward you have no idea what might happen. But nothing will happen if you continue to stay where you are.

5. Keep falling as long as you keep picking yourself up! Making mistakes is not the problem, but not learning from them and moving on is.

6. Nothing is permanent, so appreciate every moment, fully and completely, as it will never happen again.

7. Think with your heart instead of your head. When you come from your heart you come to your senses!

8. Meditate. Take time to just stop and breathe, to remember why you are here, and to find what is of real meaning to you.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. A good sense of humor prevents a hardening of your attitudes, and stops your opinions from getting too rigid!

10. Do something for someone else and make giving a part of your life, even if it is just a simple smile and a hug

I think these are extremely simple steps to follow when faced with change.  I also think that believing that change is a good thing and never a bad thing is a great way to think.

So, today as the winds of your life take a swirl or a new direction, know that you are STILL very much the one responsible for how you react to it and more importantly what you do with it.  Life is short…change is inevitable…and fighting it won’t get you what you want.  As for me and what I want?  It’s a work in progress; it’s a beautiful thing to know that it’s up to me.  Change, opportunity, new beginnings…all a part of life and all a part of the next 3 months in all of our lives.  Don’t get too comfortable and don’t worry if the weatherman forgets to predict winds of change in your forecast…I promise you they’re coming so you might as well buy a wind breaker for when it does!

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If you are like me, you know how precious time is.  You’ve also suddenly realized that twenty (or thirty) years have flown by in a flash.   Aside from a dozen or so life-changing and amazing moments I can’t recall everything I’ve done in all those years that mattered, I mean really, really mattered; I can probably better tell you what I haven’t done.

This quote by Henry Van Dyke sums up time best, “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”

After careful contemplation I’ve concluded that outside of love, time is the most valuable commodity in the Universe.  Time and love are two things we can never have enough of; and they are the two things we spend our lives fighting for and once shared you can never take either of them back.

You may find it odd how many times I write about love in a blog that is about business.  But I find it odd that we don’t talk more about love in business.  Without getting too philosophical, I can tell you that after my recent trip home for the funeral of my friends’ 17 year old son; it’s apparent that time and love are the only two things that matter in the end.

So why am I writing about these two subjects as if they’re interchangeable?  Because I believe they are.  Time is all we have to give to the ones we love.  Our careers are a means to an end and if we’re lucky, it’s a means to happiness and joy because we love what we do!  Time is something we either manage well or have no sense of.  Love is something that is either a part of everything we do or grossly missing from the picture.  Yes, time is money, but spending time with others is how we show love…an invaluable gift.  If we are lacking in time-management skills it could take away from the time and love we get to share with our families.  It’s that simple of an equation.

Personally, I have some decisions to make about how I’m going to spend my professional time this year.  I have to weigh out the fact that I’m needed to manage the State Fair as a project against the reality that my balancing of  job, life and love could use some work of its own.  I will either be a living, breathing testimony to what I’m trying to convey or I will be a slave to the clock and missing precious time with the people I care most about.

A year ago today I wrote of a new day, a new beginning and a year full of unknown professional challenges.  Right now, as I’m looking at what those challenges are and what they will be again this year, I have to really take stock of my priorities.  The best news of all of this is that I have a choice.  I am the person deciding where I invest my heart, my head and my time. Can I truly make the most of each day so that I have some time and love left to share with my family?

The answer lies somewhere in the commitment I’m willing to make to each day.  I’m not talking about resolutions or crazy quips to get me through each day; I’m talking about a lifestyle that embraces making the most out of each and every moment.  Is it possible, you ask?  I think it is!  Here is a 21-step plan that I’m going to try for 21 days – you can try it, too:

  1. Before you get out of bed, breathe in through your nose and out making a “ha” noise.  Do it five times (it gets your blood circulating)
  2. When you’re standing in your closet looking for your clothes for the day, slide your left arm down your side, then your right…repeat five times on each side
  3. If you can, jump in the shower before you do ANYTHING else in the morning, even before coffee.  Try it!  There’s something stimulating about water and helps you to think more clearly
  4. Don’t get on email or Facebook before work
  5. Invest in a good travel coffee cup and use it for your 2nd cup of coffee during your commute
  6. Try to force yourself to laugh out loud (even if it’s a fake laugh) for at least one minute while you’re driving (it is great exercise for your diaphragm and it releases endorphins )
  7. Arrive to work 15 minutes before you really want to get started
  8. Make sure to make the rounds (quickly, but sincerely) to say “Good Morning” to everyone in your office
  9. When you turn on your computer, answer outstanding emails in that 15 minute window
  10. Try to have “email” times set aside so you don’t get bogged down with the constant interruption every time you hear the “ding” of a new message
  11. Take a break for lunch and if you can, take the stairs, go out on the rooftop or do something that forces you to take in the beauty of your surroundings
  12. Carve out another 15 minutes somewhere to write personal thank you’s or to touch bases with business acquaintances that have been on your mind
  13. If you get bogged down with Facebook, bill-paying or personal business during the day, earmark 15 to 30 minutes to knock stuff like that out.  If your mind is full of things you keep meaning to get done, your head won’t be in the game
  14. Do the hard stuff first: outbound sales calls, proposals, etc. THEN do the more task-oriented functions of your job
  15. Before you leave, make a bullet list for tomorrow putting the hard projects at the top of the list
  16. Stay late if you have to, but leave it at work!
  17. On your way home try not to talk on your cell, listen to relaxing music, breathe and get geared up to give your family your undivided attention
  18. Before bed stretch and recall a few things you were grateful for in your day
  19. Try to go to bed before 10 p.m.
  20. Try the “ha” breathing again while you’re lying in bed
  21. Fall asleep while saying “thank you” for every little thing you are grateful for (your bed, your favorite pillow, your family, your job, your home, your clothes, running water, a furnace, etc.)

It only takes 21 days to form a habit.  I need some new habits; some good ones!  I want the time I give to everyone in my life to be quality.  I want people to think of me as caring, thoughtful and loving…in both the workplace and at home.  I have some work to do but I am committed to finding balance.

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You should.  We all should.  If I’ve heard it once this week I’ve heard it 17 times; living your life for the approval of others will cause you to drown in your own disappointment.  Well I didn’t hear it exactly like that, but that’s how it made me feel.  Striving for approval means a little less you and a lot more of what “they” want to see from you.  THEY will eventually cause you to sit so still that there’s no chance the boat will even sway let alone full-out rock!  Hey, if this boat is a rockin’ – you better come knockin’ because it means I’m doing SOMETHING that I’m passionate about.

When we make a conscious decision to do something bold there are usually two things present:  conflict and passion.  And living my life without either of these would mean I was merely floating down the river of life without purpose.

Supposedly variety is the spice of life; I say LIVING is the spice of life!  Variety helps, but just beyond variety our elusive friends pain and pleasure lay in waiting; watching and laughing at the countless things we will do to either avoid one or run full steam in pursuit of the other. So, am I saying that taking the path of least resistance is like living with no rock in your boat? Kinda.

Rocking the boat, at least for me, means that instead of avoiding something painful or taking the fast track to something pleasurable I choose to sit in discomfort for a while because it might just be the right thing to do.  And I also believe that when we cause ourselves to sit in that uncomfortable place, it empowers us to make a statement; whereby rocking the proverbial boat.  Yay for us!

So, you ask, “What’s in this for me?”  I hope there’s a nugget of hope that sometimes when you WANT to take the easy route, you have an option to grow through the process of uncomfortability (I just made that word up).  And since I made it up, I’m forming my own definition to mean that you have the ability and choice to go beyond your limits of comfort to reach new places and to take a stand where you might have previously sat idly by.  It means you have permission to venture out; to float a little further into the deep water. It means you are living your life instead of worrying what other people think.

So go out today and rock your boat…or someone else’s; it just might be the life-changing life jacket that causes you to explore new waters and make a statement.

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Is it faith or family?  Is it money or purpose?  I sat back this week…yes, I sat back…and thought about my recent trip to New York.  I once again soaked up the smells, sounds and sights of my favorite city…and I quickly began to realize that PEOPLE were what inspired me the most. People, humanity, reality!

My taxi driver, Ahmed inspired me as he spoke of his journey from India with his wife and kids; my nephew, Nathan who greeted me at the hotel elevator, as the consummate optimist, with a grin from ear to ear as he showed me to my matchbox-sized room in Midtown.  It was the group of boys on the corner hustling CD’s (possibly blank, but I bought one for 7 bucks anyway).  It was Richard, our tour guide, on the Greyline who prided himself on his knowledge of history and HIS city!  It was the sales clerk at The Gap who went above and beyond to ensure I found what I was looking for at a store across town. 

People inspire me because they somehow inspire themselves to give each day, and everyone in it, all that they’ve got! Everyday, ordinary (really extraordinary) people inspire me by how they live their lives out loud.  It doesn’t always take a Lance Armstrong or a Randy Pausch to inspire but it does have a lasting impression when people live inspired lives because it’s who they are to the core.  I watch my next-door neighbor Cathi, who has MS, tackle each day with more fervor and gusto than most people I know; I often forget she’s in a wheelchair let alone stricken with a debilitating disease.  She makes me want to be a better person.

SO many people say the words, “My wife makes me want to be a better person.”  What does that really mean?  What does being better mean?  Better than whom? Better than what?  Well, I guess better than I was yesterday…and better than even I want to be on some days. 

Today, back at my everyday life, I’m working outside with my husband stacking wood and I am inspired by a man who puts so much care and thought into everything he does for us.  I might be more apt to sling and stack at a spastic pace that gets it all done in record time; not Tracey, he thoughtfully and strategically grooms the yard, stacks the wood and ensures that everything is in its place.  By witnessing him and other people who live their lives right in front of me I learn new skills: the art of patience, the value of resting, the pride of a job well done, and a respect for people doing everyday things that inspire me to be a better person than I was yesterday.

The question I ask myself next is: what have I done to inspire others lately?  And one I ask of you: what have you done to inspire your spouse, your kids or your co-workers?  I think it’s a valid question with answers we can all come up with.  In part, the question is intended to force us to take inventory of the inspiring things we do on a regular basis; to give thanks for our gifts, to celebrate our achievements and to recognize the good in ourselves and other people.  I bet we inspire people more than we know it.

Sometimes I forget to appreciate our individual differences, but today I’m taking time to see simple but amazing things that inspire me about the people in my life and the people I may have only one chance to inspire if I so choose.  How amazing would it be if I could live in this space forever?  What an incredible impact I could make if I made a concerted effort to be intentional; to inspire.  I think part of inspiration IS acknowledgement.  How often do we tell the people around us that we appreciate their gifts, their character or their impact on our lives?  Admittedly, not enough, but I vow to make an effort…starting today. 

So I ask you again, what or who inspires you? If someone immediately pops in your head then today might just be the day to pick up the phone and let them know!

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I liken this time in my life, in your life, in our lives to the Lotus flower whose seed is planted deep in the bottom of a pool of muddy water; and through stormy and calm seasons has fought its way to the surface.  As it grows from its root it pushes onward and upward toward the light.  And just after it breaks the waters’ surface it blooms into the most beautiful, vibrant water lily one can imagine. 

I want to be a Lotus Flower. I want all of us to be!

There is a Chinese poem that depicts the life of the Lotus flower most eloquently, “The leaves break the bandage of the green stem, stretching themselves and form a green pool with untidy edges. Now the flower comes from out of the vast surface of the water, just like a very beautiful woman coming gracefully from her bath.” 

Chinese poets also use Lotus flowers to inspire people to continue striving through difficulties and to show their best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. This is understood as being just like the Lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond.

I’ve been at the bottom of the pond and it’s been weeks since I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts in writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shared PLENTY of thoughts (and a few gestures) over the past twelve weeks of producing the state fair, but the quality time I once spent on a Sunday evening writing about my crazy week, crazy job or the crazy people in it has been on hold as I pushed onward and upward through some pretty muddy waters of my own.  Tonight, it is cathartic making time for my long-trusted friend “the blog.”  I’ve taken part in an effort to save the Tennessee State Fair and by all counts, succeeded.  And now, on the other side of that daunting task is a very tired woman and the wonder of what’s next.  I’m guessing this is my time to blossom–again!

These post-event doldrums are like that beautiful water lily having to make a trip back down below the surface to start the climb all over again.  I wonder if that flower would feel the same way right now had she kept some balance in her life the past few months (hint, hint)?  Sometimes it takes wallowing down in the muddy waters to reflect and realize that we have a lot to look forward to…it also takes some reassurance from within that we are exactly where we should be, doing exactly what we should be to continue with our life’s work.  We must push through so one day we can become beautiful Lotus flowers that people can admire and enjoy.  Yes, I will do it  (or something equally as crazy) again…but next time there will be ground rules:

  1. Never, ever, ever give up the balance of your beautiful life and family for your job
  2. Spread your “yeses” and “no’s” out according to your priorities and your abilities
  3. Make time for the littlest of things that mean a whole lot to the people around you

I thought about waiting until I was fully recuperated and on more solid ground, but that wouldn’t have been very “Lotus flower” of me would it?  And the truth of the matter is, there is no perfect time to get a fresh perspective and dig in and celebrate the fruits of our labors while pushing through life’s waters.  There’s also no time to rest on our laurels.  Waiting for the right time or place would be like, “a flower planted in North Dakota putting off blooming because it would prefer to do so in Illinois.”  It just doesn’t make sense.  Now truly is the time!

So dig in, plant your seed and push on!  Push through the doldrums and the struggles and the murky waters.  Set your aim at the sunshine and get busy. THIS is our time! Nobody ever said life would be easy but no one ever said we couldn’t get through it all either.  We survive, we fight, we persevere; we become Lotus flowers time and time again throughout our lives.  It’s a thing of beauty and grace.  It’s our calling to emerge from whatever stormy depths of our lives as the strong, resilient women God made us to be!

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I use it every day.  The more I find myself engaged in relationships that cross both personal and professional boundaries, the less I try to resist.  I can also say that the advent of social networking has made building true friendships easier at work where once a line was drawn. And dropping a “love ya,” or a “sending love your way” comment seems to soften those lines even more.  Facebook made me do it, I’ll say.  Facebook made me love these people!

I enjoy telling people I love them.  I think people need to hear it more often.  I feel good knowing that if you or I got hit by a bus tomorrow, you would know that I truly cared.  I see people hurting in the workplace; whether it be health reasons, family woes or car troubles, and if I think they need an “I love you,” by golly I’m giving it to them.  The bad news is we’ve become such a nation of political correctness that it’s inappropriate to tell people you love them at work.  And just like Roberta Flack, I ask, “Where Is the Love?”

Sadly, it’s left Corporate America…and even more disconcerting are the stats that we spend more time with the people we work with than we do with the people we live with.  Reports say that the average full-time worker spends 9.3 hours at, and commuting to, work versus the 1.8 hours per day of quality time in the home.  Of that “quality time,” .31 hours of it is spent watching television.  Seems to me that a little love just might be what’s missing from the mix.

I was once reprimanded at a corporate job for calling a list of required items needed for a loan closing, a “love note.”  Anyone  who had ever done business with me knew it was my personal way of lightening up the ugly list of items being requested (demanded) by the underwriters, i.e., 2 years tax returns; 2 months bank statements, pay stubs, etc.  Calling it a love note, then asking for all the required documents somehow made the gathering more pleasurable if you can call that task pleasurable.  For me, it was an extension of the love and care I took in finding the right loan, positively communicating and making their experience one they’d tell their friends about.  For corporate banking, however it was considered a recipe for a lawsuit.  I say, losing that personal touch is what’s contributed to the demise of the American Dream.  The missing ingredient IS love–for what you do, how you do it and how you treat people along the way.

Okay, so you can’t go around telling people you love them all day because 1) they’d think you were certifiable, 2) they’d probably think you were selling Amway (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and 3) they  probably are not prepared to reciprocate–which makes for some awkward silence–so here’s my solution:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can. As often as you can!

Not my words, but I think John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, was onto something.  The thought and intent behind his words fit any religion or lack thereof.  I think his quote DEFINES love.

The basic premise behind the quote has to be the kind of principles this country, and its workforce, were founded on.  I say if you can’t say it, show it; and if you can’t show it, sing it!  As John, Paul, George and Ringo once said, “All You Need is Love!”

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What are you willing to fight for?  Where are you willing to draw the line? What motivates you to take a stand?  Questions you should know the answer to long before you have to pick a side.  As I go through the political mire of the transitioning the Tennessee State Fair from metro government into private hands, I realize there are very few people willing to suit up for battle. But, through all of the people that aren’t willing…there are those who are!  And the ones who are, inspire me.

Everything we do matters and everything we don’t do matters, too!

In researching the people over time who have made a historical stand you see the common denominators as being a combination of heart, fight and integrity.  The “greats” who stood tall did so no matter what the consequences; their stories stood the test of time. 

What we’re doing at the State Fair does not compare to Rosa Parks or Joan of Arc, but it IS important to the future of agriculture in the entire state of Tennessee; it’s important to 3rd, 4th and 5th generation farmers to perpetuate the art and the education of their importance to our dinner tables.  It doesn’t always have to be something so huge in history to make a positive difference, but it does require you to DO something.

Prior to their acts of bravery they too were ordinary people who happened to do extraordinary things.  Think about it, Rosa Parks was not a great warrior in the typical sense, but she was an amazing warrior in the history of humanity.  She didn’t have to invent a cure for cancer, she didn’t have to fight off armies of soldiers, she sat.  And her act of sitting did more for our nation than some who did raise weapons and fight.  She sat.  I like the thought of that.  Rosa Parks’ DOING was actually NOT DOING.  What she did and didn’t do mattered!

I recently read, “The Butterfly Effect” by Andy Andrews.  It’s a terrific 30 minute read.  It reminds us that everything we do matters.  Every word, every act and every moment.  So my part in saving the Tennessee State Fair matters to me.  And if the Butterfly Effect holds true, then some day it will make a significant difference in a child’s life…and what I did may change history…or it may not, but it will never be said that I did nothing.  Today, I did something to further that mission.  Tomorrow, I will do something else.  It’s not a single act, but it will be a series of acts that contribute to change.  I’m committed to change.  My effort counts.  I will sleep good tonight.

I’m sure all of us are committed to something: the church finance committee, the nursery, a political candidate, a cause.  But sometimes our effect can be through something so ordinary as an exchange with a cashier, a wave to a homeless man, a door we held for someone far enough away that we could have just let it close.  Everything we do matters…to someone.  Remember how powerful your words and actions are and pay close attention to them today.  Because today you will make a difference in someone’s life.  Everything you do matters.  Every effort you make counts.  What a glorious thought to begin the week!

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If you think you’ve read this before,  you may have.  If you’re reading for the first time, welcome to my world.  I’d like to think that I’m learning along the way and that when I’m faced with new challenges I create new solutions.  But sometimes, just sometimes…disappointment comes back around to greet us like an unwanted house guest…we take it in, but hopefully we have established new boundaries and “house rules” on how long we’re going to let it stay! 

Here’s a repost from July of 2009 entitled “How to Deal with Professional Disappointment,” (ironically, about the same disappointing time in the process of planning the State Fair this year) where we lost many of our livestock competitions due to lack of funding. The story is similar but the heartache is exactly the same…allow me a moment to wallow and reflect and then smack me and tell me to move on! Thanks for indulging me!

Anger doesn’t fix any problem; profanity is a waste of breath and blame is an exercise in self-righteousness that really has no place in the workplace.  And I know because I’ve tried all three!  So what is the answer to overcoming a large-scale let down in business?  It’s the same as it would be in your personal life; and as a psychologist once told me, “disappointment is just disappointment…nothing more than a noun; a word like ‘frustration’ or ‘aggravation.’  When you disappoint someone else it doesn’t mean death for anyone, it’s just disappointment.  Acknowledge the fact that you’re disappointed and move on.”

Yeah, right! It sounds very easy on paper but quite frankly, I need a little more time to process than that.  I need a day or two of wallowing and self-talk that allows for some pondering, questioning and praying.  I don’t think I’m that unique.

On Friday, I received an email that informed me that the single largest initiative I’ve been preparing for the 2009 fair has fallen apart.  Like a house of cards in a windstorm it’s destroyed.  Had it not been the very anchor I had based the entire “vibe” of the fair on, I would have just rolled…but it dropped me to the depths LIKE an anchor when I got the news.

Part miscommunication, part overzealousness on behalf of the manufacturer, whatever the case I am gravely disappointed and somewhat at a loss for a “plan b.”  Sick to my stomach is a better description.  I remind myself, it’s not world peace.  Then I plead, “but it was MY world peace.”

My world peace is a greening initiative that I feel could change the face of fairs and recycling and energy use…it is a world-changing endeavor that I am still eager to find a solution for.  The machine I was expecting is a rarity and its use was unique for our application.  I was hoping this machine would change how people perceived the fair, change the demographic of who was interested, and possibly be the innovative new idea that crossed agriculture with technology and saved our fair!  Big ideas I guess can result in big failures.

How much energy can one expend and how much heart can you have left after such a huge let down to forge ahead?  The answer is: there is no limit to what you can expend and you can give it everything you’ve got.  After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM  read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that “when you’re experimenting, you have to try so many things, that you may go days getting nothing but exhausted. And there is a reward for perseverance.”

Blah, blah, blah you might say…I did..I’ve tried every motivational quip and rah-rah antic I know…but the winner for me this weekend was silence and contemplation and a bit of perseverance.  The quieter I got about the issue the more I came to realize that I can only do what I can do.  I’m not (thankfully) single-handedly in charge of greening my world or my city or my fair so maybe there are people and resources that exist that I haven’t yet met.  Maybe there are phone calls and pitches still to be made and there is hope that my efforts thus far have mattered.  There is hope that even with a disappointing outcome, what I did mattered. I’m not rolling over to accept defeat; I’m rolling over and looking for a way–where there is no way. It’s painful and “uncomfortable” as one friend put it, ha, uncomfortable what a great word for “part humiliation, part disappointment, part exasperation.”  I’m holding onto uncomfortable for today. But just for today…

A quote by Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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What would you do to escape reality?  A friend shared his daydream with me last week and it gave me a new appreciation for the realm of make-believe.  I know we should always strive to function within our realities, but I think spending time daydreaming may be a short-term escape that helps us through difficult times.  My friends’ daydream was as simple as associating a road sign with a far-off fantasy about owning a quaint restaurant, and it goes like this, “…as I was driving home last night, I passed over North Rocky Creek. Every time I pass over it I think of it as a really cool name for a restaurant. So, for the next 50 miles or so I tried to completely plan out what type of menu, ambiance, clientele, etc. North Rocky Creek would have. It’s not that I’d want to run a restaurant, necessarily, I just think it’s a cool exercise to give my brain; to fantasize about a world that seems much simpler than my own. I can see and almost smell the rainbow trout almondine served over a bed of saffron rice with a side of steamed asparagus (I don’t do broccoli)…”

After reading his thoughts, I realized that it is not at all about owning a restaurant but very much about the exercise; taking something everyday and ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary at least in thought.  It keeps you thinking, challenged, and gives you a place in your mind to escape to when things get overwhelming. 

I often use the technique as a way to spice up a boring luncheon speaker or mandatory cocktail hour I’m not at all interested in attending.  I imagine that I’m dining with royalty as I make up storylines for all the people sitting at adjacent tables to help complete my fantasy.  I think it’s healthy to play make-believe, but I think the healthier part is in knowing the difference between truth and fantasy.  Escaping reality because you can’t handle it is different than escaping reality because you need a break…very different! 

Twice last week I found myself dealing with people who had selective amnesia.  It’s not even fudging the truth or little white lying, it’s flat out, change-the-truth-to-fit-your-agenda kind of amnesia.  I’ve heard and seen politicians lie but I’m astonished at the level of people that would lie about what they ate for breakfast if it provided them an escape route from the uncomfortable.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again…if you think my baby’s ugly, TELL ME!  I can deal with the truth; it’s the untruth I have a difficulty processing. I’ll give you an escape route, just don’t lie to my face.

Why do people lie in the workplace? I’ll give you two good reasons why, confrontation and pain.
Confrontation is not a bad thing; it is the thing that leads to change which in turn leads to liberation and progress. I’m not saying that I like confrontation, but if we’re not willing to deal with even the slightest discomforts in the workplace, what does that say about what we’re willing to face when challenged with real life stuff? People also lie to avoid pain. I say that without pain, how do we know when things feel good?

After some research about dishonesty in the workplace, I discovered that sometimes it happens because policy doesn’t allow for integrity. Not always, but sometimes.  If team members seem to be habitually lying in your business, HR consultant, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, suggests having a good, hard look at your company policy.  “Sometimes, unfair rules back people into corners,” she told Kathy Thomas-Massey on an Inc.com website interview.  “If a company has a policy that penalizes people for staying home with their sick kids [for example], they’re going to call in and lie about why they can’t come to work. Fix the rules and you’ll probably fix the problem.”

Fixing the rules sounds easy, but how do you convince people to act on integrity not on self preservation?  My father-in-law always said telling the truth was worth taking the risk for, and I like to live like that.  It’s a great philosophy…and I share that philosophy when dealing with confrontation, “give me an opportunity to help you through the discomfort and we’ll find an answer, any answer.”  A lame answer beats dishonesty and cowardice in my book.

So, what does that have to do with escaping reality into the world of make-believe?  There is a healthy place to take your mind on a day when you just want to well, escape…and there’s a place you don’t want to go when you’re trying to avoid the truth or an uncomfortable situation; that’s when it becomes unacceptable.

My test to you today is this: when you’re tempted to tell a little white lie to spare some embarrasement or discomfort, just lay it out there in truth and sit with it.  Watch how people respond; let them feel the discomfort of your raw integrity and then breathe.  It feels good.  It takes practice because avoidance is easier.  Steering around a topic can prevent hurt feelings.  Nodding when you don’t agree circumvents further questioning.  But all of it builds up and chips away at your integrity.  So plan your daily escape to North Rocky Creek or Buckingham Palace if you must, but don’t run from your realities no matter how tough they may be to face.  Tell people their babies are ugly, but do it gently, with integrity and above all because it feels good.

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