The New Year is four days old and I’m already frustrated. My wife, two dogs and I rode up and down the Eastern Seaboard for two weeks starting on December 20th. We started here in Florida and finished in our former home, New York City. We had time to talk, think, plan and lay out big goals for 2018. Along the way we enjoyed spending time with our families, experienced multiple hotel chains (stay at Kimpton @kimpton if you have dogs!) and the joys of road food. I was sure that when we returned home, I’d dive right into the new year and the incredible changes I’d planned for.
It hasn’t quite happened that way. While I’ve easily returned to work, I’ve struggled with my loftier goals. Professionally, I looked forward to a more focused pre-work regimen, opportunities for professional development and increased networking. As for my hobbies, this was going to be the year I recorded all my original songs and returned to ice-hockey. Four days in and can you believe it? I’m behind already!
OK, so the above is a bit exaggerated - but only a bit. Nevertheless, I was feeling bummed. This was until my wife, my more logical half and voice of reason - helped me see I was being hard on myself. I realized she was right and that at least some (if not all) of us start off with big plans only to watch them fizzle out or at shrink down to more realistic levels. This got me thinking about George Costanza and that classic Seinfeld episode (Do the Opposite - it’s a must see!). Maybe it would be easier if we focused on doing LESS instead of MORE when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions. It’s in that spirit that I’ve resolved to do less of the following in the year ahead:
Public Speaking: Let’s face it, not everyone loves Public Speaking but it’s a skill we’re consistently advised to improve upon. I thoroughly agree; however, I’m going to strive to do just as much Public LISTENING. We’ve all heard the two ears one-month thing and it really is true. Whether it’s parenting, friendship, business or politics, we grow the most when we’re listening.
Using Social Media: While I’m not suggesting you go old school (toss out your phone and only write letters), there’s much to be gained by being social, as opposed to being on social media. Simply stated, next time you’re about to email or text, consider whether it would be possible to pick up the phone (or even meet!) and have a person-to-person conversation. This goes double for newer friendships and contacts.
Completing my daily to-do list: I’m a big fan of apps like Asana and Evernote as well as paper to do-lists; they help us to be organized and in-control. But how often are we so focused on checking off items that we place value more on completing a task than putting forth our best possible effort? Unless we’re talking hard deadlines, give yourself a break and move that last thing on the list to tomorrow as opposed to giving it 56% (or 72% or anything but 100%) today.
Well that’s a start...
As I’ve chronicled in a few other posts, I’m training for what I consider to be my first Sprint Triathlon. A few months, I shared that my first attempt went poorly. I never finished as I never got started due to a swim freak-out. Now with the help of a terrific coach, I’ve been seeing solid improvement; more comfort in the water, more endurance and better overall fitness.
Nevertheless, last week I had one of those bad training days – low energy, fatigue and just an overall struggle. My coach asked me what I had eaten before the training session and what my typical recovery approach is. With some embarrassment, I admitted I typically eat almost nothing before a workout. I use an energy gel if I’m working for over an hour and I eat afterward. Truth is, I’ve always felt that food filled me up too much before and eating afterward was my reward. I know – not smart! I’m happy to report that today was the first day of working out with “good calories, carbs and protein before as well as after. What a difference!
I never mind putting up a post when likely reactions might be something like: Everybody Knows That or (in slang) Duh! I’m sharing this because as excited I was about this personal revelation, it got me thinking about how focused we can be on feeding our bodies. But what about our minds? Much like our commitment to getting the best performance when engaging in sports, are we demonstrating the same commitment to our intellectual growth? This is critical in professional as well as personal settings.
So, surprise! Here are 5 suggestions for DAILY MENTAL STRENGTH TRAINING that will feed your mind with the best and most powerful fuel:
Read: For at least 10 minutes if not more and preferably material that develops you, your habits and gets your thinking. Do it to start your day, take a break or wrap up. The 2nd two options can be a welcome break after periods of intense thinking or absorbing professional material.
Write: Like reading, block out time each day to get some thoughts on paper. What should you write about? Your choice but my suggestion is experiences that get you thinking – kind of like I’m doing here.
Learn something new: Here’s where you can double up. Read about stuff you know nothing about! Go to a website someone recommends that you would have never seen. Just take in new stimuli (athletes will know that this is the opposite of what we do on race day)
Take in an opposing perspective: Trust me, I’m not going near politics with this. I’m just suggesting that if, for example, your organization works on hunger or housing and you have a theory of change, look at those of your colleague organizations.
Do something that has nothing to do with your profession: Whether it’s exercise, playing music or basket-weaving, do something that gives you a sense of joy and creativity. Again, skip one of your social media breaks and do this instead. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ve been a member of Toastmaster’s for about ten years now. Without a doubt, being a part of it has done more for me than I can possibly describe here. No matter what you do for a living, do yourself and find a club to join (End of plug). This past Friday I showed up for my meeting and was surprised to see I was listed as one of the three featured speakers. Each meeting includes three prepared speeches. Typically, members come to the meeting ready to deliver a planned discussion on a topic of their choice.
Today I had a different choice. I could tell the group that this was a mistake and I would not be delivering a speech today. Or, I could take the next 20 minutes and come up with something that might interest the members of my club. I chose the latter. I decided to share a story about one of my favorite moments from launching a cycling fundraiser several years ago and the lessons I learned from my experience. Was it my best speech ever? No; but the club seemed to enjoy it. Was I happy that I didn’t pass on the opportunity? Absolutely!
I’ve shared the story above not to boast but rather to consider the topic of Improvisation or being called on the spot. This skill comes up for us in our professions, personal interactions and other areas. For example, we can be called on to create connecting points with donors as we’re waiting for a formal discussion. Or you may be called on unexpectedly to make introductory remarks at a meeting. It happens. I would suggest that rather than “winging it”, there are ways to prepare to be unprepared. Here are a couple suggestions for always having a few “unprepared thoughts” should you need them:
· Keep some tools in your toolbox: Do you have one or two interesting stories about a situation where you overcame a challenge or conflict? If it’s slightly self-deprecating, all the better as you can introduce light humor at nobody’s expense but your own. I’m suggesting this as leading with the weather (no!!), specific jokes, or the latest headlines can be somewhere between dull and potentially offensive;
· Take on the challenge: Finding yourself in an awkward or new situation can be scary - no doubt about it. And when it comes up, you’ll probably have a choice. For example, one on one, you can look at the ceiling or bury yourself in the critical information coming in on your phone. Don’t do it. Take a breath and figure out how you can connect with another person or group through real and purposeful engagement;
· It’s just a moment in life: It’s a cliché but showing up is half the battle. In this case, speaking – saying anything really – is your win. You may not come up with the next topic for a thesis. But, if you’ve given it your best shot to make the most of a moment, realize that’s what it is. A moment (or two) in your life that will pass. So, seize it!
Two weeks ago, I had a terrible but wonderful learning experience. Here's what happened:
I was registered for my first Sprint Triathlon in Long Boat Key, Florida. I was thoroughly confident with the running and cycling portions. However, I was concerned about the swim even for a short distance like 400 meters. Nevertheless, I felt ready. I had been training in a pool two days a week and even did an occasional swim in the ocean to replicate an open water experience. Prior to race day, I took the extra step of checking out the lagoon where I was to be doing the swim.
On race day, I felt nervous but ready. The water looked calm. The brightly colored buoys made the whole thing seem festive and fun. As we entered the lagoon, I sunk into the muck. I was OK with that. What I wasn't prepared for was the blackness of the water. I was used to the clear pool with its blue lines I followed. I wasn't prepared for the sun blinding me as it bounced off the water. What I was most unprepared for was the 200 other individuals trying to go where I wanted to go! The flurry of kicking feet, bobbing heads and moving hands seemed to be coming at me in all directions. It wasn't long before I was I was frozen in a panic.
I tried to make it to the first buoy with a combination of a side-stroke and a weak doggy paddle but something in me was locked up. Fear. Withdrawal. I'll never know but as I saw the line of swimmers moving fast and forward I knew I was going nowhere. I wasn't in a complete panic and knew enough to wave over the volunteer with a board who got me to shore. I was done and I was crushed.
Once I got myself together, my wife helped me come to some important realizations. (Don't tell her but I really do appreciate the calm logic she brings to a situation). What I learned from this experience applies to any major endeavor we undertake whether it’s launching a venture, doing our best at work or home - and of course if you love tackling endurance events. Here are my takeaways from my epic fail:
“You can get good at something just by working hard at it. If you’ve got some talent and you work hard at it, you can get really good at it. But excellence, peak performance, being the best you can be at something – that doesn’t happen without coaching.”
I’m thrilled to have started work with coach Angie Ferguson and her group called Geared Up (http://www.gearedup.biz/ if you’re interested) and it’s exciting to see results already! Whether you want to be a better professional, parent, friend, spouse, or athlete there’s a coach out there for you. They range from free to accredited professionals. Trust me -- it will make a huge difference so get on board.
Looking forward to sharing the lessons of a very difference triathlon experience soon….
This weekend was a special one for me. Like many other parents, I had the privilege of seeing my daughter graduate from college. Beyond feeling incredibly proud, being at a graduation ceremony was an inspiring experience for me. Since my daughter is a pretty private person, I’m going to respect that and leave out details on her. Suffice to say, I couldn't be prouder of what she's accomplished and I know she's got exciting things ahead.
I can share that she graduated with some people that had some pretty unique majors in fields that didn't exactly scream “here's a job for you." Clearly, they read the books that said follow your passion and don't worry about the money. But I truly, truly admire these students particularly as someone who has followed a rather nontraditional path in my own career. (At one point, I truly believed I would be playing guitar or bass as my professional career).
As an interesting bookend to the weekend, on Saturday, I received an email from a local nonprofit asking me to participate in Career Day. They wanted me to speak to some fourth graders about my career and share an inspiring message. That's challenging! Think about it: How often do we say to each other that we need to make our mission messaging so concise that a fourth grader could understand it? Now I'm being asked to talk about my life story - or at least my professional one.
Well, none of you are probably fourth graders but for the fun of it, I thought I'd share my message. Since I'm doing this tomorrow, if you have any feedback, I'd love it!
Something I read this morning inspired me so I thought I'd immediately put it into practice. In fact, it jives with things I've written here before...
We are creatures of habits so the best thing we can do is create great habits. Lots of books will tell you to start your day by reading for (fill in the blank) minutes and writing for (fill in the blank) minutes. As for me, that fill in the blank is 10 minutes. I find that between exercising, getting ready for work, talking to my wife, walking my dog etc., I've been able to successfully build in 10 minutes of quiet reading and writing. Has it changed my life? Nope. Not yet but it gets my brain moving (or to quote James Altucher, it at least gets my brain at a light sweat). I'm not suggesting that 10 minutes should be your magic number but I am suggesting taking some time to figure what that magic number is. Start at 5 minutes (or less if you need) and build from there.
Three other suggestions:
1) Set a timer - that way you'll know and have specificity
2) See if you can squeeze in a little quiet mediation/thinking time and
3) Let me know how it goes
I thoroughly enjoy writing posts for my site. I enjoy experiencing something, capturing it in a few paragraphs and sharing what I’ve learned. For those who read these, THANK YOU! and I hope you find value; a laugh, a thought you might not have had or an idea or two. I am fascinated by politics; however, I avoid them as a topic here. I do this not because it invites debate; that’s healthy. Rather, I believe it would take these posts in a direction that wasn’t my intention. Today I’m making a small exception…
Last Sunday, I was watching one of the political shows and was struck by something I heard. Or should I say didn’t hear? Understandably, the bulk of the time was dedicated to discussions about the events in Charlottesville. Pundits from both sides of the aisle were asked “where do we go from here” referencing both the state of the presidency and race relations. Now, these are folks that are paid and passionate about advancing their opinions. Amazingly, their responses ranged from sighs to gasps of desperation and ultimately, silence. When pressed for an answer, most simply said “I don’t know”. In other words, they threw up their hands admitting that didn’t have suggestions for how we move forward.
But we (you and I as well as society as a collective we) always need to be moving forward – even if it’s in small steps. I’m putting this out there because I believe this idea holds whether we’re talking big global goals like the evolution of democracy or our own personal goals such as training for an event (yes, my ongoing theme these days!) While this may seem obvious, let’s consider the options when we’re going for the gold. Several have short-term merit but ultimately progress is the answer:
· Give up: There are too many great quotes about never giving up for me to recite them all. If a goal or achievement matters, this isn’t an option. But for simple stuff i.e. getting a better parking space or paying, why stress? It’s a matter of priorities.
· Go backward: Surprise! This might be the sleeper in the bunch. Sometimes we do need to go backward to move forward. For example, when we’re learning a new skill, repetition and even occasional rest is required to ensure that we’ve adapted the skill set before moving to the next level. And stepping back to prior levels can ensure we’ve captured what we need to capture.
· Stand Still (and evaluate): Sometimes we need to look and understand where we are and where we’ve been to take our next step. While this is valuable, one danger to be aware of is paralysis by analysis. Or as it’s often called in work settings: naval gazing. It happens to the best of us!
· Move forward! Forward motion is where we want to be headed. But a few things to remember along the way. First, slow progress – which is often the way goals happen - is still progress. And appreciate your journey as well as your destination.
We’ll get there…
I recently had the honor of greeting the fantastic volunteers that participated in the Panasonic Triathlon in support of JDRF. I was so inspired that I made the decision - in fact, I made the declaration – that I would participate in a triathlon within the next six months. I'd thought about doing one before but the hold back has always been the swimming. This time it was going to be different! I immediately reached out to several NYC swimming programs stating my interest with an invitation to call back at their convenience.
I was pleased when the next day, my top choice called me back. After trading phone calls a few times, we finally connected. When we did, I could immediately tell something was “off" about our call. The owner that returned my call was abrupt and curt. She seemed to want to talk at me, rather than to me. The more questions I asked, the more irritated she seemed. I tried sharing information about my interests and asked what she thought would be the best lesson plan - that fell on deaf ears. I decided I'd had enough when I asked a question about the company and the reply "didn't you read our website?" I muttered "I don't think this is going to work" and hung up with her in mid-sentence. I'm not proud of that response but I believe customers should be treated respectfully.
A few minutes after our conversation ended, I was surprised to get an email from the owner apologizing for what had happened. I was even more amazed when she phoned a few minutes later explaining that she wanted to better understand what had taken place. Her tone was vastly different. I shared that I didn't feel like she was listening to me or that she cared about my interests. Bottom line: she seemed ready to sell way before I was ready to buy. She apologized again and explained that she knew she shouldn't have returned my call when she did. She had just been through managing a difficult staffing situation but felt pressure to call back ASAP. I let her know how impressed I was that she had the courage to engage a dissatisfied customer. In my experience, people rarely do this voluntarily. We ended up having a great conversation. I just finished my second swimming lesson with her program and feel like I'm on my way though I have lots of work ahead. Triathlon, here I come!
This may not seem like a big deal to you. To me, it illustrated a reality many of us, particularly in fields like sales and fundraising, don't consider. Yes, first impressions are critical to paving the way towards a successful relationship. It's true that you only get one chance for the FIRST impression. But why not be courageous enough to create opportunities for a SECOND if the first doesn't go well? That's what the owner of my swim program did and beyond the quality of her service, the simple fact that she cared enough to give it another shot put me right in her corner.
I wanted to highlight three things about she did that I believe we can all utilize next time we want to go for a super SECOND impression if the first one doesn't take:
Give it another shot - The simple act of the owner picking up the phone and trying again instantly changed my perception of her. How could it not? That takes guts, tenacity and caring. Who can fault someone for having any of those qualities? As a side note, for those of you who like to learn sales techniques, this has parallels to the "Blame Me" close. The idea is that you call back a prospect that turned you down and apologize profusely for not having correctly explained the benefits and value of your product and service. The difference between a technique like this and a true relationship builder is the difference between manipulation and authenticity.
Own your mistake - I already felt bad about the whole interaction. I don't like ending a call like that anymore than the person on the other end of the line does. Whether she knew how I felt or not, the owner didn’t try to put me on the defensive. In fact, she took 100% responsibility for what had transpired. She opened herself up to being vulnerable and owned the fact that waiting to call me would have been better.
We have more opportunities than we realize - Please know that I’m not advocating for not doing your 150% best on your first try. Get it right the first time that’s the main thing (to quote Billy Joel). This absolutely falls under the category of “You never know what can happen” until you try it. But imagine the build in your pipeline if you reached back to potential clients, donors, participants where something might have been off the day you spoke.
Share yourself, be a little vulnerable and ask for another chance to work with them. You truly never know what can happen.
This past Friday, I went to see the band Yes for the 30th time. They've been my favorite band since I discovered them in 1979 and I've see them yearly since then. I would describe my recent concert experience as enjoyable, a bit sad and ultimately inspiring. The concert was enjoyable for several reasons. The band covered an intriguing set list featuring the complete play of one of my favorite albums. They then hit several classics and followed with some risk-taking as they played material from one of their lesser-known works. Most importantly, the music was played with absolute skill and technical prowess.
The sad part: With a band that's been around since 1969 health and age become a factor. Yes has always been characterized by an ever-changing line up with new blood often stimulating creativity. Nowadays the changes have come about as a result of health issues and sadly, in one case, the death of a member. The current line-up features no original members. There are two that have been there since the 70's and early 80's. The rest are replacement players.
As I drove home from the show, a line from the movie Rocky 3 kept coming to mind. If you're a Rocky fan, you may remember that Apollo mentors Rocky to fight in his style. Toward the end of the film Apollo says to Rocky "Just remember, you fight great BUT I'm a great fighter". If you've stayed with me till now, you may be wondering what in the world Yes or Rocky has to do with better fundraising and customer engagement which is generally what I blog about. Actually, quite a bit…
What was inspiring to me from the concert was that I had just watched 5 musicians play music flawlessly. BUT something was missing. I realized that something was the inspiration of Chris Squire, the bassist and only member of Yes to appear on every album before passing away last year. Whether you appreciate Chris Squire (or Yes or Rocky for that matter) isn't critical. What is critical to know is that his very presence provided irreplaceable leadership. His very being was the "glue" that pulled the band together and challenged each member to be at their best.
If you're a management consultant you’d simply call what I’m describing as synergy. I'm going to define it as "the 1% difference". It's that just barely discernable difference between everyone on stage playing flawlessly and the music possessing a true heart and soul. It's the difference between Rocky executing Apollo's moves and Apollo embodying those moves in his very being. And yes I realize we’re talking about a rock band and a fictional character!
Of course the above relates to our work as fundraisers and volunteer managers. This inspirational difference is the one between doing all the right things - asking the right questions, using good "fundraising technique" and wholeheartedly embracing your organization’s mission. It’s going beyond the appropriate actions and moving into the realm of true caring and compassion for your volunteers, participants and donors.
Try to imagine what that 1% difference could look like in your life. What would it look like when it comes to being with your family as a spouse, parent or even a sibling? Maybe it’s being truly present in every one of your interactions and appreciating everything that makes them special and meaningful to you. What could it look like in terms of things you do for enjoyment? Perhaps it’s the difference between exercising because “you’re supposed to” and finding real joy in a sport, activity or hobby of your choice (even if it can’t be recorded, monitored, and analyzed on a Garmin device or a fit-bit – imagine that!). Finally, what does that difference look like for your work? Only you can define that but my hunch is that it’s limited only by your imagination and willingness to put yourself out there and be at your absolute best.
I challenge you – and myself – to find that 1% difference in our lives. Keep looking for it – it’s truly worth finding.
To be successful as fundraisers, we must inspire and motivate our donors and P2P participants every day. To do that, we have to be physically and mentally healthy and positive. As I've mentioned in a few other posts, I was born with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) and am grateful to be healthy, active and living a life that connects many of my passions. With that in mind, I recently shared some thoughts on how to be at the top of our game every day on the Adult Congenital Heart Association website. As I felt that the suggestions were relevant to our work as fundraisers, I've included most of the blog post below:
Since my cardiologist cleared me for it, I’ve started running or cycling each morning. While I have my choice of routes, I’ve quickly fallen into a routine. While several of my options are more scenic, I find myself making sure that all my runs and rides pass by a particular high school in my neighborhood. I do this because every morning, the Dean stands at the door and greets each student with an authentic smile and firm handshake. The smile is genuine as opposed to the type that politicians have learned to perfect. The handshake is firm and welcoming. I can just tell by the reaction from the students.
There's something about seeing this morning ritual I find particularly inspiring. I often ride away wondering what those students think and how that greeting makes them feel. Other times I think about how different this is from when I was in school. When I was in high school, the only time we had contact with the Principal (we didn't have a Dean) was when we were in trouble. I even find myself pondering whether I might have been a different person today if all my school days started this way. OK, that may be over-dramatic. But you get the point...
My early morning routine got me thinking of how we start our days as adults and particularly as those with CHD. It’s unlikely that the leaders of our organizations (the adult version of school) are going to greet us each morning. Moreover, while it would be great if each morning our cardiologists gave us an “all clear” for the day, that’s probably not going to happen either. But I think there are some things we can do on our own to create that very positive vibe to start the day. Here are some suggestions for you:
Do something every morning that inspires you: Since I’ve written in this blog and others of my love of running and cycling, you'll probably suspect I'm going to suggest you run, bike, or exercise. I'm not. I am going to simply suggest you find a practice or discipline that grounds you, relaxes you and makes you a bit happier than when you got out of bed. Maybe it is some form of exercise but just as likely not. Reading, writing, playing your instrument of choice or even ventriloquism (I couldn't resist as I have several antique ventriloquist dummies). Anything that makes you feel uniquely you is perfect.
Do something every morning that inspires others (or just makes them start their day a little better): What if you could play the role that the Dean of my favorite school takes on? Be the one in your office that's known for complimenting everyone on something: their work, a project, or even their outfit. Bring in the bagels, coffee or a healthy snack every Wednesday (or Monday or Friday or whatever). What does this have to do with your heart health? Everything! I’m not going to get scientific but doing good things for others is one of the best ways to remove stressors from your body and replace them with positive energy.
Do something every morning that puts you in touch with Gratitude: Let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re living with CHD but have come through surgery – or even several – and are managing through it. That, in and of itself, offers us so much to be grateful for and is worth remembering every day. I can point to dozens of blogs, website and videos to show you how but the truth is that we all express this in different ways. Just be sure to do it…and not just in the morning.
Robert is an Executive and Business Development Coach. You can read him here or on www.younonprofitnow.com