Last night at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, the Kitchener Rangers faced the Sudbury Wolves in OHL hockey action. As always on a Friday night, every seat was filled and the building was buzzing.
Though no one would have noticed, a man with an 11-day moustache and a brutal head cold led his six- year-old son up the stairs, to the very last row of seats in the building. It was the first time the father had ever taken his son to watch a hockey game.
We were sitting next to a very young couple, their baby and a portable car seat beside them on the floor. A father and his son, who looked like veterans of Friday night hockey games, sat on the other side of us. I hoped they would all tolerate some coughing and a bit of seat kicking from the two jokers in the neighbouring seats.
My son became thirsty immediately, so we left our seats in search of water and the popcorn “with lots of butter” he had asked for all week long. Returning to our seats, I was surprised to realize that the baby beside us was a very lifelike doll! The young couple was either practicing to be parents or perhaps were the strangest people in the building that night.
After a nice Remembrance Day ceremony and the singing of the national anthem, the game began. In the first minute of play, my son turned to me and said, “Daddy, this is boring.” He either expected players to shoot out of cannons while a laser show lit up the air or he was testing me and I highly suspected the latter. I chose to ignore the comment and my son settled in and seemed to enjoy the action on the ice.
The Rangers scored the game’s first goal on a power play and my son covered his ears when the crowd roared. The noise had obviously overwhelmed the “baby” who awoke from its sleep and its mother was now feeding it a bottle, all of which I pretended not to notice.
I had asked my son to see if he could make the water bottle last the entire game, but midway through the first period I saw it was nearly gone and I couldn’t help but think the popcorn was at least partially to blame.
He asked me during the second period if he could get a souvenir and I told him that the program I purchased on the way in was his souvenir, but he was clearly unimpressed. I realized then that the program hadn’t been a great idea and told him we could see what else was available between periods.
At the souvenir store a Kitchener Rangers flag caught his eye and we returned to our seats so he could wave it in every direction, nearly hitting people and lifelike dolls on all sides of us. The flag had to be confiscated, but flag waving was replaced by a hearty cheer of “Let’s go Rangers!” from my son that, surprisingly, didn’t catch on in our section.
The Rangers won 4-3 and we left happy. My son couldn’t stop talking about the game or the experience on the drive home and it made me smile.
Years from now, we can refer to the program and say we saw players like Matia Marcantuoni before they played in the NHL and I’ll remind him that Ryan Murphy, perhaps the most talented player on the team, had been out with an injury that night.
I doubt my son will remember any of the details of his first Rangers game, but he’ll remember that we went together. I’ll remember that I had a horrible cold that under any other circumstance would have caused me to cancel my plans. But as long as I was breathing, I wasn’t going to cancel that game. It just meant too much to miss.
To both of us.
Last night at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, the Kitchener Rangers faced the Sudbury Wolves in OHL hockey action. As always on a Friday night, every seat was filled and the building was buzzing.
Eight days into into Movember and I thought I should provide a quick update on my experience so far.
My moustache is growing in nicely, although to assume there is anything nice about it might be a stretch. I’ve attempted to go with a conservative looking stache, but have already been told that I look a bit like Freddie Mercury, a look I was not necessarily going for.
My kids are having a great time watching the moustache grow and telling their friends why I’m doing it. My son has taken to calling me “Moustache Man” and delights in telling people that because it’s the month of November, but I’m growing a moustache, that it’s actually MO-vember, followed by hilarious laughter. I wonder if six year olds everywhere are getting this much enjoyment out of Movember?
Walking into work on Monday was very interesting. Coworkers went out of their way to see how the moustache looked on me, most of them laughing immediately. Despite what I thought was plenty of advance warning, one still recoiled in horror when she saw me and I worry that I may have actually offended her with my appearance.
I passed another coworker in the hall and the only words spoken were, “Oh no.” I suspect this will not be the only time I’ll be hearing these words.
I had lunch with two coworkers and as we were getting ready to head back to our desks, they both said how distracting the moustache had been for the past hour. I suppose that’s a really good thing?
I’ve often heard people say that Movember is such a great cause. Of course they’re right, but I can’t help but wonder also if that’s not a way to avoid saying what they really think – that perhaps a moustache isn’t my best look?
I read in the original instructions that I’m responsible not only for growing a moustache, but also for grooming it. Aside from shaving it into shape, I haven’t done any grooming and don’t really know what I might need to do in the future. If tools of any sort are required, I certainly don’t have them and might find myself at a severe grooming disadvantage.
The best news is that I’ve had solid support from family and friends who have made very generous donations. I’m thankful that I have so many people in my life that care enough to support me as we raise money for cancer research.
If you’d like to support me by making a donation, here’s the link. And remember, it’s for a very good cause.
Sales organizations are fond of using something called a “sales funnel” to track all of the open opportunities of their sales teams. The idea is that you need a lot of potential opportunities at the wide end (or top) of the funnel because most of these will fall out (decide not to buy something), for one reason or another, before they get to the bottom. Only by filling the funnel with enough high quality prospects, the thinking goes, will there be a steady stream of buying customers at the bottom of the funnel.
It struck me today that maybe we can borrow this concept when we think of our own lives. Here are three ways a sales funnel is like a life funnel:
1. Quantity counts
Sales Funnel: Sales is often called “a numbers game,” meaning that with enough prospects in your funnel, you’re likely to end up hitting your sales targets.
Life Funnel: When you look at your own life, do you have enough experiences and activities that excite you or do you need to prospect until your funnel has enough to keep you happy?
2. Prospecting never ends...even when we’re busy
Sales Funnel: The successful salesperson is constantly prospecting for new business, especially when they’re about to lose prospects that fall out of the funnel and become buying customers. When business is good (and busiest!), the successful salesperson makes time for prospecting.
Life Funnel: Even if you’re content in your life at the moment, might you want to take on some new experiences that could turn into things that you really enjoy? Does the feeling of being “too busy” prevent you from looking for new opportunities? What happens when/if your current activities lose their appeal?
3. Quality counts too
Sales Funnel: The successful salesperson is honest about the possibility of each opportunity turning into a sale or falling out of the funnel. The smartest work those that have real potential and get the others to say “no” so they can remove them from the funnel.
Life Funnel: How many activities or experiences in your life funnel do you truly enjoy and how many are just taking up space because you haven’t had the courage to admit they don’t really fit in your life? Do you commit most of your time to the things that have the biggest impact on your happiness? Are you ready to remove things from your funnel that aren’t important and never will be?
When I think about my life funnel, I want to make sure I’m keeping it filled with the things that matter to me: my family, my health, my career, rewarding experiences and adventures, my 500 words. I need to make sure I’m prospecting to add more positive experiences, and at the same time I need to get rid of some things that are just taking up space in my funnel.
How about you?
A couple of days ago, I decided to participate in Movember, meaning I’m going to grow a moustache for the month of November, trying to raise as much sponsorship money as I can, all in the name of prostate cancer research.
Though I made my decision just a few days ago, I’ve known this was coming for an entire year. I started my current job midway through last November and noticed immediately that either my workplace really embraced Movember or I had somehow accepted a job in 1973. As I had missed half the growing season, no one invited me to take part, but I knew I would get the email this year, and I did.
I must admit that it wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve grown beards on vacations, that sometimes became goatees, and some of those lasted a few weeks after I had returned to work, but never have I grown a moustache. Of course there are men that look great with moustaches, but I highly suspect I’m not one of them and that my moustache may well make me look like a buffoon.
So, I took the question home with me and decided I’d ask the opinions of my two biggest fans - my kids. My son told me flat out that I should not do it. He told me that I look a lot better clean shaven, and then added that I look a lot better when I don’t wear my glasses. Before Honesty Hour had a chance to really take off, I thanked him for his opinion and quickly left the room.
My daughter was far more kind and seemed to like the idea. I asked her if I should grow something really wild and she said I shouldn’t, that it would make me look too mean. She said I’d look nice with a simple moustache and I felt like she put more thought into her answer than my son who was probably wondering why he hadn’t said something about my haircut.
My daughter then asked me why I would be growing a moustache and I told her that it was to raise money for cancer research.
“Oh, if it’s for cancer research, then you’ve got to do it, daddy!”
I realized at that moment that my daughter was completely right. Whether I look like Tom Selleck or Borat at the end of the month, it doesn’t matter a bit. This is a great cause and I’ve got to do it.
Our family, like nearly all families, has been touched by cancer and this is my very small way of trying to make a difference.
If you’d like to sponsor me, please click on this link.
On Sunday morning, my son and I were up early for his hockey practice. It’s always a struggle to wake him up, but he fights it a little less on hockey mornings.
He asked if I would carry him down the stairs and assumed I’d also transport his favourite blankets, two teddy bears and a special pillow. There was no reason for me to agree to the extra items or carry him in the first place, but I know that he won’t want to be carried downstairs forever and I’ll miss these days.
While putting on his hockey equipment, he asked me if we were early or late and for the first time this season I told him we were early. He reminded me that I said he can put on his equipment by himself when/if we weren’t late, so he took over and only asked for a bit of help from me. He told me that other boys on his team don’t have their mouth guard tied to their mask, like he does, and that some of their mouth guards are blue. He wants a blue one, he told me and I agreed that we’d look into that when his current mouth guard needs to be replaced, which I hope is about 10years from now.
Arriving at the rink, he seemed confused by the nearly empty dressing room, confirming that he really doesn’t know what early feels like!
The practice went well and my son skated quickly when the drills called for it, turned slowly when asked to stop and perfected a full body spinning slide along the ice (this is a new move for him). During the end-of-practice scrimmage, he volunteered to take the first shift as the goalie, despite my repeated requests that he avoid this position at all costs. Leaving the crease on the second shift, he scored a couple of goals and by my unofficial count his White squad outscored Team Grey.
Back in the dressing room, he threw his gloves on top of his bag and sat back with an air of satisfaction about a rare win. I took off his skates and noticed the tremendous amount of snow that caked his laces, likely picked up from a dozen or so spinning slides.
“Daddy,” I heard him say, his words garbled by his mouth guard, “Where’s the weapon?”
I don’t normally bring weapons with me to the rink (likely against league rules), so my mind raced to understand what he was asking for. Someday, I could see him becoming a dangerous scoring threat, but does he already see his hockey stick as a weapon? I know he doesn’t lack for self esteem, but this seemed like a stretch.
“What do you want?” I asked.
Again, he asked about the weapon or was it Webkinz? I was certain we were past the dreadful Webkinz stage and thought I might actually prefer he was asking for a weapon.
“I can’t understand you, Alex,” I said, and reached for the strap on his helmet that would get us one step closer to removing the mouth guard.
“Nooooo!” he said as he pushed my fingers away from his helmet.
“Spit your mouth guard out, Alex!”
He did, then said “Daddy, where’s the button?” touching the side of his helmet near the spot that my fingers had been moments before.
I finally had it. He just wanted to take off his own helmet.
Most people I know have jobs. And if you have a job, chances are good that sometimes you: get bored, feel unchallenged, wonder what more you can do, worry that you’re getting stale, worry that you aren’t promotable, wish you earned more, want a leadership role or simply wish the days would go by faster.
With that in mind, I created a list of things you can try today that will help with all of the above:
1. Bring one really great idea to every team meeting
2. Volunteer to lead the team meeting
3. Ask your boss if you can do more...or better yet, figure out what needs to be done and just do it.
4. Ask to shadow someone in a different department
5. Offer to mentor someone
6. Find a community organization looking for a speaker and talk about what you do
7. Write an article for the company newsletter
8. Research another business (even in a different industry) and try to borrow their best idea for your place of work
9. Learn a new skill that would make you better at your job (does your company have internal training? Would they pay for external course?)
10. Ask a co-worker if they need help with something... ignore them when they refuse and help anyway
11. Partner with someone you don’t normally work with...then give them all the credit for a job well done
12. Think of a way to improve a really important aspect of your business, write a plan outside of work hours and present it to your boss (offer to take the lead on the project, of course)
13. Find someone whose strength is your weakness and pick their brain over coffee
14. Find someone whose weakness is your strength and offer to coach them (coffee works here too)
15. Create some goofy way to have fun with your co-workers when things get a little too tense
16. Find a really great article that applies to the work you do and share it with your team
17. Offer to host a lunch and learn where you teach your co-workers a new skill. Make it a series.
18. Try to make friends with another department and find something you can do together that brings value to both teams
19. Talk to the end users of your product or service and ask how you could be better?
I hope that you:
1. Pick at least one thing from the list that would make a difference in your work day and make it happen
2. Share this list with your co-workers, friends or anyone who might need it
3. Write back to me to tell me how this list made a difference in your work day
I look forward to hearing from you!
For the past few weeks, my job has been taking a lot out of me. Last night, after dinner, homework and dishes, I collapsed onto the couch.
I told my son there was a hockey game on TV and waited for the groan and the begging to watch one of his shows instead. But, to my surprise, he seemed excited to watch the game and plunked himself down on the couch, tucked right under my arm, snug up against me.
He realized he had forgotten to bring snacks to the couch and ran to the kitchen, returning with a bag of something that he wanted to share with me. After a few minutes, he asked, “Daddy, when can we go to a hockey game, just you and me?” He said he wanted to buy a “little dude,” like the one I have, motioning toward a miniature Toronto Maple Leaf figurine holding the Stanley Cup. I’ve owned the little dude for a few years, but can’t remember where it came from. My son must assume that I bought it at a hockey game.
He asked me if they sell nachos at hockey games because he really loves nachos. His eyes lit up when I told him that they did and again, he repeated his love for nachos.
Sitting there with my son reminded me so much of growing up and looking forward to Saturday nights when my whole family would sit on the couch and watch hockey games.
During the game, my mom would sneak away to make big bowls of butter popcorn with her noisy air popper that barely filled the first bowl, but produced so much by the third and fourth that no bowl could contain it.
We didn’t have a lot of sugar growing up, but my mom allowed us to have soft drinks while we watched hockey, usually ginger ale and sometimes we even had scoops of ice cream in our cup to make “floats.”
We asked my dad if he could take us to games and some of my favourite childhood memories are of Friday nights spent at the old arena with my family, watching our junior hockey stars.
Our Saturday night game always involved the Toronto Maple Leafs, teams that were never very good, sometimes even among the worst teams in the league. But, to have a bowl of hot popcorn, a ginger ale, and to lie on the couch, surrounded by my family while we watched the game, it was impossible not to become a fan of Saturday nights and the Maple Leafs.
With my son beside me, I realized that taking him to a hockey game is one of those special moments for us both that simply has to come true. I’m going to look into Kitchener Rangers tickets for a Friday night, sometime soon. We’ll share an order of nachos and see if they sell little dudes holding the Stanley Cup.
Moments and memories like this are part of my 500 words.
Like many people, I spend too much time being “connected.” I’m reachable by email, text, BBM, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I know this will sound strange, but sometimes I even talk to people on the telephone. I carry two smartphones with me almost always (work and personal) and I just can’t deny that being this connected gets in the way of my 500 words.
I’m working on it, and this week I’ve received some unexpected help. As of today, I’ve been without high speed internet and a home phone for three days. My next blog post will be about the frustrations with my service provider, but for now I’m treating this like an experiment in being “unplugged.”
I noticed very quickly that I hardly miss my home phone at all. Aside from my parents and in-laws, the only calls that come into my house are from telemarketers (oh, how you have failed me Do-Not-Call-List) and I’m quite enjoying the break from phone numbers that begin 1-800.
Living without my high speed internet has been a far greater struggle, but I’ve found the break to be very revealing. Many of the times I’ve longed to log on have simply been to read the same online newspaper that I would have checked five minutes earlier. I wonder about the last 10 status updates from my friends, but doubt that my life is any worse off, with only a few people who might now be left wondering why I haven’t wished them a happy birthday (I promise I’ll catch up). I’ve realized how much the force of habit is driving my time online and it’s time I replaced this habit with playing more with my kids.
An added benefit has been the failure of my phone to work at the arena where my son plays hockey on Saturday and Sunday mornings (the heat doesn’t work either, but I suspect this is unrelated) and I’m so glad I’m not distracted as I watch him have such fun on the ice.
I do feel inconvenienced in some ways – I’m behind on emails to my family and some close friends and I’m unable to post these blogs until service is restored. I try to work from home every Tuesday so I can take the kids to school and avoid the draining commute for one day, but will have to scrap that plan tomorrow because my work requires me to be connected.
I expected the period without my home phone and high speed internet to make me feel so much like a primitive caveman that I’d want to run outside and kill a sabre-toothed tiger with my homemade spear, but it’s actually been a very welcome relief from the daily pressures I’ve likely put on myself to stay connected.
Now that I think of it, I’m not sure my caveman analogy is historically accurate, but with no way to do a Google search, I’ll just let it slide.
As much as I’d like my 500 words to focus only on those things that matter most, there are times I need to take care of unpleasant business. For the past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a bee problem at my house and realize that my use of bee killing spray is doing almost nothing to stop it.
I’ve decided I need some sort of exterminator, but a quick look at my yellow pages reveals that what I really want is “pest control.” Who knew?
The first listing is a giant advertisement for “Mr. Pest Control” that includes pictures of seven different types of insects, a bird that oddly seems smaller than all of them and a mouse that looks about the size of a koala bear. He “specializes” in 12 different types of pests and the language geek in me wonders if this truly counts as a specialized business? Noticing his phone number ends in M-I-C-E, I suspect I know his true specialty.
The next listing is for “AAA Get Them Out.” I wish them luck in their business, but just can’t see their franchising plans taking off without a name change.
Next, I notice a company called “Bugs Or Us.” Their ad includes a hand drawn insect, riding what appears to be a chariot, pulled by a mouse. The insect is saying, “We’re out of here!” and I find it surprisingly easy to choose the bugs over this company and keep looking.
“The Exterminator Inc” mentions that they are now “Rentokil Pest Control” and you just know there’s a story that goes with that. The name “Rentokil” confuses me – am I renting this service? Would you kill my bees faster if I agreed to buy and not rent?
“Global Pest Control” avoids the branding issues of the previous companies, but my bees are hiding between four bricks in the corner of my house and I really have no need for global coverage.
Some companies offer unmarked vehicles as I assume it is horribly embarrassing to have your neighbours find out you have bees living between the bricks in your house? As long as they don’t put a sign on my lawn saying “We’re here because this idiot let his house get infested with bees!” I’m sure I can live with whatever perception this might create.
The last ad that catches my eye is for “Rid-a-Critter” and what stands out most is that he calls himself “The Skunk Man.” Like many of the other ads, the skunk man has a list of critters that are his speciality and I have to wonder how many people take him up on “opossum?” He invites customers to “call anytime” and “ask for John,” which presumably is the skunk man’s alias.
Does John realize he’s opened himself up to opossum calls at 3 a.m.?
Something tells me his marriage to The Skunk Woman is on very thin ice indeed.
Thanksgiving was originally a time to give thanks for a good harvest season. These days, good harvests aren’t trending topics with too many people, so we’ve turned the holiday into a time to give thanks to any and all of the blessings in our lives.
I was fortunate this year to have Thanksgiving meals, complete with periods of thankfulness, with both my extended family and my in-laws. Everything was wonderful, until last night, when I got home from dinner number two.
A wave of fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks and I soon found myself in bed. Within an hour, I realized I had some sort of stomach ailment and, before the morning, it had also hit my wife and daughter. It was interesting to note that my son seemed unaffected and I realized this could be a useful clue in solving the case of what do I have and who gave it to me?
I really don’t know why I bother with these types of investigations as I don’t know how I will ever be certain I’ve solved the case. And, if I was ever to know who precisely had given me their sickness or accidentally poisoned me, what do I intend to do? Confront and scold them for their shocking lack of judgment and appalling display of selfishness? Tell them I’m thankful they live in different cities and don’t have the regular opportunity to inflict me with their diseases and venomous food?
If I assume I’ve either picked up a case of stomach flu or food poisoning, my investigation must consider several factors. If someone I came in contact with was sick and gave me their germs, when exactly did this happen? Is it possible this person or persons was no longer showing signs of their malady?
A family member giving me their sickness reminds me of a game I played as a young boy in school. In the game, someone was secretly told they were the “murderer" and told to wink at people as they passed by. The person receiving the wink would wait 10 seconds, then fall down to indicate they had been “killed,” the time lapse working perfectly to mask the identity of our classroom serial killer. In the game of family sickness, the murdered victim has left the dining room table and driven home before they know they’re about to get sick, without so much as a wink of warning.
The problem with pinpointing the source of food poisoning at a family meal is that half the family didn’t order the salmon, while the other half had the veal-we all ate the same stuff! So, how are some of us feeling miserable and others feel just fine? And, is it possible that the idea of everyone contributing a dish to the meal is actually just a way to ensure no one can ever know who left their creamy dressing in the car too long? Ah yes, the wonderful alibi of the pot luck.
Well, I’m sure I’ll never figure this out and have to admit that the exercise is a complete waste of time.
In keeping with my 500 words, I’m moving on. To give this some closure, I’m going to blame all of this on heat stroke.
That’s right. When, oh when will I learn to wear my hat?
Spending time with my family is quite likely the most important part of my 500 words and often it’s the unplanned and simple things that we do together that mean the most to me.
Last night, my wife decided she was going to go for a 20 minute walk and the kids quickly included themselves in the trip. I’m back on a morning walking routine, so I thought about using this time to do something else, until my son said, “Daddy, please come?” and I realized that my priorities were out of whack.
The kids love being outside at night and my son especially loves to ride his bike in the dark, so he was quick to put on his helmet and get a head start on the walkers. My daughter decided to walk with us, but also wore her iPod, which meant she yelled instead of speaking to us.
My son rode his bike out of sight, causing my daughter to turn to us and scream, “HE SHOULDN’T BE RIDING THAT FAR AHEAD OF US INTHE DARK!” which was the exact mix of sweetness and bossiness toward her brother that has become her trademark.
Unannounced, my wife broke into a jog. My daughter started to giggle, but it was entirely too much for my son who burst into laughter at the sight of his mother running! There’s nothing at all funny about the way she runs, but I suppose they just haven’t seen it before and found it hilarious. It’s never easy being mommy!
Halfway through our walk, my son decided he didn’t want his bike anymore and asked if I would carry it the rest of the way. I decided some time ago that carrying children’s bicycles is one of my least favourite things to do and declined the invitation. He wasn’t happy, but I felt he needed to live with his decision. Within seconds the disappointment had faded.
On the way back, my son made up a game where he would ride his bike up to me and we would bash our fists together as he passed, both of us making the sound of an explosion. He called it “giving me props,” and I’d have to have a lot more street cred to know whether that’s actually the proper label for our bike game.
Along the way, I thought about the great time we were having, getting outside on a perfect fall evening, and all of it hadn’t cost us a dime!
My wife and daughter had settled into a nice walking pace while Mr. Props and I and our exploding fists walked on ahead. As it appeared we would beat “the girls” home, we crossed the road to add a little time to our trip.
We clearly added too much distance and it looked like my wife was going to beat us into our driveway. My son said, “Daddy, you’ve got to beat her!” and I didn’t want to let him down, so I broke into a ridiculous version of speed walking. It wasn’t going to be enough, but I had another gear left and found myself in a full sprint for the final 50 yards.
Ducking under the tree branches that nearly touch down on my front yard, jumping out from a shadow to bound over the steps, I reached the door just ahead of my wife and declared victory.
Only then did I hear the kids behind me, doubled over with laughter.
And there was something different about their laughing this time.
They were laughing at me.
Nearly three years ago, I decided I was going to change my career. At the same time, I decided that once I found my first position in my new field that I’d get involved in my local professional association, the Waterloo Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
After being a member for a year, I was offered the chance to serve on the Volunteer Board of Directors as the Membership Co-chair and I jumped on it. The board is filled with really wonderful people and already I feel like I’m making friendships that will last throughout my career and beyond.
But the real story is how I came to know that volunteering or “getting involved” was going to be part of my 500 words.
My story begins with my first time serving on a board. I was an 18-year-old high school student and my guidance counsellor asked me and a girl in my class if we would be the student representatives for a not-for-profit that offered information services about our hometown. I presume we were considered because we were both good students and too polite to ever refuse the assignments.
I remember almost nothing about the services our organization provided and it’s possible this was never shared with us. What I do remember was being asked to sell tickets for a draw for a new car. I was confident I could sell a great number of these tickets, but overestimated the demand for new car raffles and sold exactly one, to my friend’s dad.
Before the draw was held, we were called to an emergency board meeting where we learned the Board President (and the only paid employee) had run off with all the organization’s money. He may or may not have been driving the new car when he fled.
This was horrible news for the organization and hardly the kind of experience I was expecting. I wondered if I would ever again be part of a board.
Years later, after my schooling was complete and I had joined “the real world,” I attended many networking events and meetings. I had well rehearsed “30-second-infomercials” or “elevator speeches,” depending on whether or not I was actually between floors. I had pockets full of business cards, both mine and those I had expertly collected from other networkers, while balancing Phyllo pastries on small napkins. I was never overly satisfied with the relationships I was building, but I never had to worry about refunding ticket money to my friend’s dad so it seemed like a decent trade off.
But a chance encounter one night at an event in Hamilton made me realize that I was doing it all wrong. Near the end of the evening, I heard my name called as the winner of a door prize. I could barely contain my excitement as I walked toward the front of the room to claim my gift basket of bath soaps and various sundries. It turned out that the woman who gave me my prize also worked for the same large company as I did and we struck up a conversation.
She told me that if I wanted to really get to know people in a professional organization that there was no better way than to take on a leadership role. Her own choice was to handle membership because she would have an opportunity to talk to all the new and returning members and often be the first person that these members would seek out at an event. The added benefit was that it was easy to make a difference in this role, by simply caring enough to listen to members and ensuring that they were finding value in their membership. Any sincere person can fill that role and the organization is always better for it.
The lesson stuck with me and I’m very much enjoying the chance to make a difference with the IABC. I know it’s early, but it seems pretty clear that this board experience looks quite a bit more promising than my first.
A couple of years ago, I was in a classroom, learning the proper way to write a news release. The instructor began the lesson by asking us to remember all the 5,000 word essays we wrote in university. Of those 5,000 words, he argued, there were about 500 that were truly important, the ones that made our point. The other 4,500, he added, were “crap.”
Writing an effective news release, we learned, starts with identifying what really needs to be conveyed and saying it as briefly as possible, often with a goal of about 500 words.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what really matters to me and how I can make sure I’m building those things into my life. Like many people, I often feel like I don’t have enough time to get to the things that are most important, but more often than not, I realize it’s the choices I’ve made that have cost me the time I need to live according to my priorities.
I realize that I get the same 24 hours a day as everyone else. The magic then is in making choices about how I spend those hours, to ensure I’m making time for what matters and eliminating or ignoring what doesn’t.
It’s about choosing the 500 words that really tell my story.
For me, those 500 words need to be spent on time with my family, especially my kids while they’re still kids. I need to take care of myself, physically and mentally, and learn and grow every day. I can’t forget to slow down and enjoy a coffee with a friend or a good book. I need to write and create and see how far I can take these gifts.
In the last couple of years, I’ve made some choices that have opened my eyes to new possibilities and I think I need to leave some of my 500 words open for new adventures. I’m a work in progress and don’t need to use them all up just yet.
My 4,500 words are things like watching television and spending mindless hours on the internet. I love my sleep, but maybe it’s worth giving up a little and spending more time on things that excite me?
Life is filled with distractions, things that do nothing to bring you closer to your goals and I’m as guilty as anyone of letting these derail me, sometimes even confusing them for worthwhile activities. I figure if I’m clear on my 500, then the 4,500 should be really obvious – everything else.
Now that I’ve shared the thinking behind my plan, I’ll fill in the details in later posts. I hope you’ll be interested to read along and maybe even share some of your own experiences with me, your unique 500 words.
When I got home tonight, my wife turned to my daughter and said, “Do you want to tell Daddy what happened today?” I could tell by the look on my daughter’s face, this wasn’t going to be a good story.
My daughter told me that today at school, someone took her Lululemon jacket. It was hanging on her hook outside her classroom and when the day ended, she looked for her jacket and it was gone.
She looked throughout the school, but there’s no sign of it and since it was taken off her hook by someone, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll ever see it again.
My daughter was very sad about this and worried that my wife and I were going to be mad at her. I was furious and still am, but certainly not at my daughter.
As angry as this news has made me, I’m probably more hurt than anything else. To understand my reaction, you probably need to know the whole story.
In April of this year, my daughter was turning nine. The girls on her cheerleading team plus a lot of the girls at her school were wearing anything and everything made by Lululemon. My daughter longed for even one item of clothing from this magical company.
Over and over she begged and pleaded, but the answer was always “no.” The stuff seemed far too expensive to us and since I had just started a new job, it seemed like money that we really didn’t have.
This was going to be a tough lesson for my daughter, but little did she realize, it was far tougher on us because it just flat out hurts to not be able to buy things for your children that they’d really like to have.
When it comes to money I’m usually the one who says “no” the longest and my wife is the one who says “maybe,” especially when it comes to the kids. Without telling anyone, my wife decided she would research used Lululemon jackets in our area and found a woman who had several in my daughter’s size, in good shape and for a fair price. She asked me what I thought, but I was surprised that used jackets could still be so expensive! She said it would be our birthday present to our daughter and after a couple of minutes, I said that if our daughter would want that to be her birthday present, we could find a way to do it.
When my daughter heard the plan she was overjoyed and didn’t care that this would be a used jacket. This would be the best birthday present she could ever dream of and wondered how soon could they go and see it?
I still thought it was ridiculous that used jackets would cost so much, but knew this was about giving my daughter something she thought was really special for her birthday. My daughter has never cared about “fitting in” but I knew it had to be hard for her to understand why she didn’t have what the other girls had and I was glad we were making this sacrifice.
My wife and daughter returned home with the jacket and the smile on my daughter’s face didn’t leave for several days. Her reaction made me forget about the money and how low I had felt that we hadn’t been able to provide the jacket sooner.
I guess the hardest part about today is that someone didn’t just take my daughter’s jacket - they took something that was very special to her. They took her birthday present and the giant smile that lasted for several days.
We’ve turned this into lessons about honesty and trust and hope that these are things she will always remember. But, for sure, I know she’s not going to forget her sadness. Not for a while.
And more than anything, that’s what really hurts.
A few weeks ago, I had some pictures taken because I’m serving on the Board of Directors for my local professional association. For most people, the experience would be unremarkable, but I’ve found myself laughing quite a bit over the details and suspect I’ve created most of my own fun.
The pictures were being taken in the evening, immediately after a networking event for the association, followed by a board meeting, creating the concern of not knowing how to dress for the occasion. We’re not an overly formal group, but we’re not super casual either, so I was really only able to rule out tuxedos and coveralls. Terribly unsure of myself, I settled on a dress shirt and pants and a jacket as my outfit.
Within minutes of arriving at the venue, I realized that “layers” had been a huge mistake and I was seriously overheating. Worse yet, I had missed the four second window where removing the jacket without causing further embarrassment was still an option. This was quite troubling as I still had a couple of hours of talking to strangers to put in before pictures; this realization alone seeming to send the temperature in the room even higher.
Several conversations followed with people who must only remember me as some variation of “the guy who got really hot,” before it was finally time to take my shattered pride and slink outside for some air.
Luckily, the pictures were being taken outside so I could cool down for a while. I hoped that the fresh evening air would erase whatever mess the inside had made of me to that point, but I was doubtful.
The photographer didn’t know our names and resorted to ordering us into our positions by pointing and saying things like, “You, with the white dress, come down here.” If he had turned to me and said, “You, sweaty guy, stand with your hands in your pockets...my God, what’s wrong with you?” I would not have been surprised.
After the group shots, we took our turns to have our individual pictures taken. I was one of the last people to go and the photographer seemed deeply troubled that the natural light had changed so significantly since the first pictures were taken. He excitedly showed me the difference on his camera about 20 times, but I’m unsure why he did so since there was nothing I could do to change the situation and a total blackout would have suited me just fine.
The rest of the evening was uneventful and we went our separate ways to await the finished product.
About a week ago, I was sent an electronic version of the picture they planned to use for me in the newsletter. The photographer had skilfully masked my glistening, but somehow missed the fact that I looked positively demented.
So, I asked if there were other options to consider and received about seven or eight of the other shots. In many of them, I’m obviously trying so hard not to blink that my eyes could be confused for “The Cookie Monster’s.” There were several shots taken from underneath my chin and I can neither remember the photographer lunging to the ground to take these nor do I enjoy the double chin effect this angle created.
I’m a fan of the crossed arm look, but here too, I had found a way to make this look dorky.
After careful consideration, I found one that seemed better than the others and submitted my selection.
I was told by one of my fellow board members that Mariah Carey takes less time to decide on an album cover. I’m not sure you’re ever really prepared to be compared to Mariah Carey, but I thought it most appropriate to laugh at myself.
I’ve just returned home from the annual meet-the-teachers-school-barbecue. My wife was working tonight, so I had the pleasure of bringing the kids on my own.
This is my sixth year attending the barbecue, so I knew to show up early to avoid the long line-ups that form 10 minutes after the event starts for food that couldn’t possibly meet the school standards for healthy choices (hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and pop).
The second I stepped into line, the kids abandoned me in favour of their friends and I knew I was going to have trouble carrying and garnishing three versions of the combo meal.
The kids came running when they saw I had food for them and we sat on a step, next to the hill to eat our meals. Ketchup was spilled everywhere and the kids argued over who had which can of pop and which bag of chips, but quickly ran off to find their friends again, leaving me sitting with a giant mess of plates, cans and bees.
It didn’t take long for my son to come running back in desperate need of my help. He explained to me that he had lost a small toy on the hill and needed my help to find it. He said he threw it down the hill then rolled down to where he thought the toy would be. When he stopped rolling, he couldn’t find it.
If only there had been some way to avoid this problem...
He wasn’t sure exactly where he had thrown it and I suspect the rolling didn’t help. I asked him to recreate the scene by having him stand where he had been and throw the imaginary toy as my daughter and I watched.
While we looked in the general area we thought it would have landed, my daughter instructed him to roll down the hill, as perhaps this would reveal clues to the missing toy. He gladly obliged and my daughter said, “Keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling,” until he was well past the bottom of the hill and I wondered what purpose that had served.
“How big is the toy we're looking for?” I asked.
“About the size of a smurf,” my daughter answered. Thankfully, she held her fingers about two inches apart or I would have followed the generally accepted guideline and looked for something “three apples high.”
The toy was gone and it was time to go inside to meet the teachers.
Both kids enjoyed showing me their desks, the work they contributed to the walls and the system each teacher has to tell them when their behaviour is about to get them in big trouble. My son’s class uses red, yellow and green lights and my daughter’s teacher writes the word “Awesome” on the board and erases one letter each time their behaviour warrants it, until all letters are gone and they get a detention.
My wife is much better at teacher conversations, always coming prepared with 42 or more questions, while I struggle to think of a single thing to say.
The truth is, I hope there isn’t a lot to talk about, two weeks into the year and feel like I just need to show the teacher that I care enough to come and make a big deal about the things that are important to my kids.
If nothing else, I surely did that.
Something that happened to me today at my eye doctor’s office got me thinking about a mistake many businesses make. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, many years ago when I worked in the service industry.
At the time of my story, I was an Assistant Branch Manager for a car rental company. It was a demanding job that required me to arrange all the customer pickups and drop-offs, ensure cars were clean before customers arrived, phone were answered and employees were in the right spot at the right time.
One day, my Branch Manager overheard me take a phone call from a customer who was finished with her rental car and wanted us to come to her house to pick up the car. This was something we never liked to do, because it took two employees out of the branch, sometimes for a very long time, putting the branch under a lot of stress while they were away.
I told her that we normally don’t pick up cars and asked if she could drive the car to our branch and we’d be happy to give her a ride home.
She didn’t want to do that.
I then explained the problem of having two employees out of the branch and again asked if she could return the car herself.
Again, she refused.
I told her that we could pick the car up from her house, but since it was going to take extra bodies and extra planning, I wasn’t sure when we would be there.
She didn’t seem to care about the inconvenience of waiting one bit and we agreed that sometime before the car rusted away, we would be there to pick it up.
When I hung up the phone, my manager asked me, “Do you find that works, asking customers over and over to bring the car back so we don’t have to pick it up?”
I had to admit that almost always the customer stuck to their guns and in the end we picked up the car.
“Right,” he said, “so after the first time you ask, why don’t you just agree to pick up the car and be done with it? Otherwise, all you’re really doing is annoying people.”
I realized immediately that he was right and I was browbeating my customer into doing what benefited me, not them. It rarely worked and even if it did, I had an unhappy customer.
It’s a lesson that stuck with me.
Today, at my eye doctor’s office, I needed to pick up some contact lens solution. I’m on a plan where I pay for a year’s supply, which I’m supposed to receive at the beginning of the year. The problem is that I always run out and have to come back to the office to get more.
For years they didn’t bat an eye when I came in for additional supply, but this year they give me a lecture about how they’re changing things and that if I run out I’ll need to pay for the additional bottles.
Except they don’t make me pay, they just continue to give me the lecture.
I’m sure the cost of running an optometry office has gone up and contact lens solution might be a money loser. I’m sure they don’t like giving me lens solution for no money.
But those are their problems, not mine. This was the deal that they offered me and I don’t need to feel like I’ve asked them for a kidney each time I need more lens solution.
I’m terribly sorry that this deal has become a hardship for you, but we both know, you’re going to give me the lens solution and not charge me.
So, why do we have to go through this every time?
When I was a kid, I looked forward to the one glorious week each year that the Fall Fair came to town in almost the same way I looked forward to Christmas.
In my hometown, the fair transformed a large patch of grass, an even larger parking lot and old, tired buildings into a magical place for kids. Today, so many years later, I can still remember the excitement I felt when I knew I was going to the fair.
Because of my daughter’s singing competitions, we likely get to as many fairs as any family in Ontario, so I have ample opportunity to compare the fairs of my youth to the fairs of today. Perhaps it’s not surprising, but in most ways, the fairs and the fair experience for my kids are exactly the same as they were for me.
The rides were the big thing when I was a kid and that’s still the case today. My kids can’t wait to get on anything that goes around too many times, goes too high or too fast. I can barely watch them without feeling queasy, but they never slow down and have to be forced to take breaks.
Many of the rides from my youth are still going, like the Scrambler and the Zipper. The Himalaya is still going too, impossibly with what seems to be the same DJ, taunting riders with his trademark, “Do you want to go faster?”
Kids scream “Yes!” and adults whimper, “No, not really.”
When I was younger I never worried about the safety of the rides, but being a parent has changed that for me. At one fair this year, I noticed a giant dent in the corner of a metal barn that seemed ridiculously close to the nearest ride. It’s hard to completely overlook a thing like that.
The games with the really big prizes are still unwinnable and the easy games have prizes that aren’t worth winning. I remember my dad telling me I shouldn’t waste my time with any of the games because the game that cost a dollar to play might net me a prize that cost ten cents to manufacture, even if it was six feet tall.
When I came home one year with a mystery prize that I learned was a “backscratcher,” he laughed at me, but I was undeterred. My kids already ignore me in a similar fashion and will someday, undoubtedly come home with equally worthless prizes. It seems no kid ever can resist the temptation of horrible fair games.
The food may actually be worse now than it was then or perhaps I just didn’t notice that they were frying both butter and Mars bars. Nope, I can’t believe I would have missed that.
Fairs still have agriculture on display, and for many I’m sure that’s a big part of their fair experience. My kids aren’t any more interested than I was in cows, goats, sampling butter milk or seeing a ribbon on a giant pumpkin, so we tend to avoid these areas completely.
I think I see the fair now the way my parents did-a huge cash grab with little to nothing of real entertainment value.
But, like my parents, I realize that fairs aren’t for me, they’re for kids.
And to a kid, the fair is pure magic.
I doubt I will ever forget this weekend.
My daughter was competing in the finals of the Western Fair Youth Talent Competition for kids aged 12 and under. She made it to the finals last year as well, but at only 8-years-old, we had no expectations that she could place in the top three.
I hoped that she would make it back to the finals this year and place somewhere in the top third of the group of 15. If so, with another year of improvement, she could come back next year and have a shot at winning the whole thing as a 10-year-old.
These may well be the crazy dreams of a proud daddy, but I’ve learned that my daughter is capable of some pretty amazing things.
My daughter was the final performer in this year’s show and for a parent it’s akin to torture to watch every other talented kid take the stage and wonder if your own child stands a chance.
In the days leading up to the show, I had given my daughter so much advice I think I stopped just before telling her to “win one for the Gipper.” While I’m sure I was mostly rambling, I did tell her to believe in herself, to control what she can control and to enjoy the moment when she was on stage. Having done all the coaching I could, and likely more than she ever wanted, I sat back and nervously watched the other kids perform.
At some point in the competition, I started to realize that if my daughter performed as well as she could, that she wouldn’t be “outclassed” by any of the kids in the show. In my eyes, she belonged with this group, even though she was a few years younger than nearly all of them.
It was her turn to sing and she simply blew me away. Before her song was over, I knew this was her day and that she was giving the performance of her life. When she hit her last note, I was bursting with pride and didn’t give a damn how the judges saw things. She had done more than I ever thought she could in three short minutes and nothing could diminish the feeling inside me.
When they announced the third place winner, I thought it was a shame she hadn’t at least snuck into that spot. Second place would have been awfully nice, but that too went to another performer. I guess the judges were looking for different things and that was ok, because as I always tell my daughter, we can’t control any of that.
“And the 2011 Western Fair Youth Talent Competition Champion is............number 15, Lauren Hastings!”
I was in shock and disbelief. My wife cried. My daughter deserved first place, but I just never thought it would happen!
After the show, one of the judges approached my daughter and told her that she has a bright future and that she must keep singing. She went on to say that she doesn’t like kids doing Disney songs because they’re performed by adults and normally too difficult for children...but she was making my daughter her one and only exception. I thought that was a tremendous compliment.
Then the judge gave my daughter some great advice.
“Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance-that will keep you humble.”
And since this is true, my daughter should feel incredible about the performance she put on at the Western Fair.
Congratulations, Lauren, you should be so proud of yourself!
Click here to see the video.
My kids really enjoy watching a cartoon program called “Phineas and Ferb.” If you’re a parent you might be familiar with the show and if you’re not a parent, but watch it anyway, I’m not here to judge.
Phineas and Ferb are stepbrothers who decide to pursue some fabulous adventure in every episode. Just before the adventures begin, Phineas turns to Ferb and says, “Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today.”
I don’t know why that line has stuck in my head, but recently it dawned on me that maybe Phineas and Ferb are onto something with the way they schedule their lives.
Now, I’m not going to suggest living your life according to the “Tao of Phineas and Ferb,” but even so, I should probably explain myself quickly before you think I’ve lost my mind.
When I think back to times in my life where I’ve been unhappy, often these times have been exceptionally busy, but I haven’t been doing what I really wanted to do. I’ve changed my career a couple of times because I wasn’t finding a single thing in my work day that excited me or allowed me to use my greatest strengths. I hope you don’t know what that feels like, but if you do, you know it’s a pretty miserable way to live.
Even today, despite my best intentions, I can be my own worst enemy by over-scheduling my life, only leaving time to get to the “must do’s” and none of the “want to do’s” on my list. The end of those days leave me exhausted, unfulfilled and even a little angry at myself that I didn’t build in at least one thing that I could get excited about.
I know that “life happens” and that few of us have total control of our time or our circumstances. I certainly don’t. But if you declared even a single thing each day that you really wanted to do and found a way to do it, how happy would you be? Just one thing?
For me, it’s making time to exercise or time to write this blog. It’s about making time to play with my kids (though I’m still terrible about turning off my BlackBerry when I know I should).
At work it’s about doing more writing, getting involved in interesting projects, stretch assignments, or learning new skills. You might think that my job is different from yours, that interesting opportunities are all around me, but the truth is that I often have to think up these opportunities myself or “invent” the need so that I can do something I know is helpful, but also what I want to be doing.
My life is a far cry from the lives of two cartoon characters that have every day of their summer vacation to use as they see fit (did I just compare myself to cartoon characters?). But, each day that I can decide what that one thing is that I can enjoy doing, and then follow it through, is a really good day.
I really don’t like to be critical of teachers, especially when I think my kids go to a great school. But, I received an introduction letter from my son’s Grade 1 French teacher and I just have to point a few things out.
Let’s start with the good stuff. The letter is intended to tell parents what our child will be learning, how they will be learning and how we can assist them with their learning.
The first problem though is the length of the letter – it’s a full page, front and back, single spaced, probably about 2,000 words (think four times the length of this blog). Unless you’re sharing the entire course material with parents, this is entirely too long.
We’re told “the program uses the Accelerative Integrated Method for teaching French.”
What a relief that is! I thought they might use some lesser method that’s slow and not integrated.
The third paragraph is as follows:
“The motivating activities address the needs of a variety of language learners and their learning styles, including kinesthetic, linguistic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal which, in turn, helps students develop confidence and competence in French as they progress through each story unit."
I think they may be trying to say that this learning program will appeal to all the kids in the class, but it’s possible that this 41-word sentence actually isn’t saying much of anything. Either way, I’m certain I’ll see more of this gobbledegook come report card time.
The fifth paragraph begins, “In addition, as opportunities present themselves, we will introduce and learn other basic vocabulary...”
As opportunities present themselves? What else would you be doing? I guess that’s a drawback of the Accelerative Integrated Method.
The tenth paragraph (yes, the tenth) tells us what our child will need to do this year to do well in the class. This might be the most important piece of information in the letter and it barely made it onto the first page!
The children should “use class time wisely, stay focused and complete all class work in a reasonable time.” Hmm, not sure I see my son excelling in the world of “independent study.”
The top of the second page is the “How can you help?” section. I suspect many parents will see it when they grow weary from reading and turn the page over in the act of throwing it down on the table in frustration.
Apparently we are to explore French websites with our child. A suggestion or two about specific sites would have been helpful here.
I’m told my child “has a folder (chemise) that contains work in progress.”
What else would it contain? It’s a chemise!
“The chemise remains at school.”
You obviously don’t know my son.
I’m told my child “will also have a duo tang (cahier) that will be filled with the vocabulary for the unit, a script of the play, song sheets, puppets and additional vocabulary that may be introduced during other activities in class.”
A cahier filled with vocabulary concerns me and is it more than a little odd that this is the very first mention of puppets?
I’m not a teacher and I thought a chemise was a shirt, but I know that this letter would have been far better if it was one page max, had included a quick introduction of the teaching style and course content, followed by tips for success and what we as parents can do to help our child.
And really, in two pages you couldn’t mention that some kids will be forced to pee in their pants when they don’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom in French?
I received a question the other day from my youngest brother. He’s 10 years younger than me (technically, we’re 11 calendar years apart, but since his birthday is January and mine is December, I feel like a fraud adding that extra year) and asked if there was one movie that defined my generation. One never knows the reason behind these random questions from him or when they might be coming, and I was stumped to provide an answer.
So, I did something I’ve never done before and posted the question on my Facebook page, hoping it might spark some conversation. Boy, did it ever.
I guess this is the way social media is intended to be used and I’m just now figuring this all out.
I had a lot of fun reading people’s replies to the question, and going down memory lane with all of them. Many of the respondents (strange thing to call friends, I know) came from my hometown and had seen these movies at the only theatre we had at the time. The movies were the place to be and the place to be seen. We were all at the mercy of seeing popular movies several times when they were “held over for a second or third or fourth smash week” and we couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Friends from other places were watching the same movies (presumably when they had greater choices) and it seemed their experiences were similar to ours. I suppose I would have expected that to be the case, but it was fun to confirm it.
I got the sense that the question stirred a lot of memories in the people who replied and perhaps those who didn’t respond, but read along. I’d be interested to hear more of your stories about your favourite movies from your teenage years, and hope that you’ll want to share.
Looking forward to keeping the conversation going!
Oh, and If this goes well, I promise we can have the discussion about 80s music sometime.
As hard as it is to believe, today is the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001.
While TV, print and digital media have recently bombarded us with stories of that fateful day, I’ve done my best to avoid their coverage. Instead, I’ve spent some moments on my own thinking about my experiences of that day. It’s the usual stuff-where I was, how I heard and how I reacted when the news reached me. I’ve also thought about how much the world has changed in ten short years. How much I’ve changed.
Ten years ago today I was working in Halifax, Nova Scotia as a regional manager for a car rental company. My wife was about three months pregnant with our first child and my thoughts were split between overwhelming joy and secret terror at the prospects of being a dad.
I had chosen to spend my day at our largest and busiest branch. The day was like any other-customers and employees coming and going constantly, phones ringing off the hook. In a word, it was crazy.
Our branches didn’t have televisions or internet or radios. Cell phones didn’t send automatic updates on catastrophic world events like the one we were about to live through. Instead, while our employees were out picking up customers, they heard on car radios that a plane had crashed into a tower and brought the news back to the office. Our customers too were hearing the news and sharing it with us each time they arrived.
Sometime after the initial reports, someone said they had heard a plane had just crashed into a tower. We assumed they were telling us what we had known for a while, but then the awful realization set in that this wasn’t old news. There were two planes. Planes crashed in other parts of the US and we learned that these were coordinated terrorist attacks. Towers collapsed. We were in the middle of an earth shattering series of events that none of us would ever forget.
At the time, I thought myself a good manager. I thought my role was to acknowledge the horrible events that had overtaken the day, but keep the team focused on running the business. I was aware that this was going to be more difficult than any challenge we had faced before as a team, but somehow we had to quickly put it out of our minds and do what we did on any other day.
My wife was frantically calling me on my cell phone with every update as she sat glued to our TV set at home. Like anyone else, my mind was racing, but I thought that if I showed even the slightest hint of emotion that our business would implode. So, I did my best to put it out of my mind and asked the team to focus on doing their jobs. I could tell I wasn’t giving my people what they wanted that day, but I believed that good leadership could make you extremely unpopular at times.
Looking back, I don’t think it was wrong of me to try to balance out the delirium in the office by remaining calm and asking that others did the same. But, it’s clear to me now that I expected others to manage their shock and their pain exactly as I did, by putting it out of their mind and focus only on the business. That wasn’t fair of me under the circumstances and I’ve regretted it ever since.
I wish I had put less emphasis on the business and more on the people I managed. I wish I had given them an opportunity to react in whatever way they felt necessary before asking them to carry on with the business of renting cars.
I wish I realized then that the business of renting cars should never be made to seem more important than the emotions of those employees who faithfully ran the business every single day, especially in a crisis such as this.
I realize that now.
I shared these thoughts with my wife earlier tonight and she asked me if I feel differently about the way I acted that day because I’m a dad or simply because I’m older. I thought about the question for a minute, then answered that fatherhood has given me more patience and compassion. Then, I added that being older has shown me that there are a lot more important things in life than running a business or being someone’s boss.
I can’t say September 11th is solely responsible for these lessons, but I know that it played a part.
Day 2 of school and it seems the routine doesn’t work...for me.
My wife worked tonight so I was on my own to pick the kids up, get them home, feed them, and get them through their homework.
My daughter didn’t have any homework, so after dinner she went to her room to work on her song. Careful inspection of my son’s school bag revealed that he did have some work to do, so we sat at the kitchen table and got started.
Our task tonight was to complete two pages of exercises that focused on writing the letters “S” and “A” and using them to write some simple words. How hard could this be?
My son hadn’t been seated for two seconds before he complained that his pencil wasn’t sharp enough. Perhaps it wasn’t, but I’ve written with duller pencils and this seemed to have “excuse” written all over it. Rather than fight him on the issue, I tried to find a pencil sharpener, but none could be found.
I wasn’t ready to admit defeat just two minutes into “Operation Homework”, so I decided I could sharpen a pencil using a large kitchen knife. While this is certainly possible, no kid ever gets over the strange look of a pencil “whittled” by his father in this fashion and the confusion alone was paralysing to my son.
Somehow I found a sharp pencil and we were free to try our hand at writing small S x 15. There seemed to be no regard for spacing or keeping the letter between the top and bottom lines provided on the page and any attempts at coaching on my part were met with, “Daddy, this is hard!” Endless starting and stopping and complaining made for a tedious session and we weren’t nearly finished.
I remember going through this with my daughter when she was first learning to write, then again when she was learning to read, each time resembling the character on Sesame Street who smashes his face on the piano keyboard saying “I’ll never get it, never, never, never!”
After an exhausting 20 minutes, we were ready to copy “Sammy”, “Snake”, and “See.” Each letter beyond “S” required a negotiation to complete and I had lost my patience. I chose to ignore the gigantic “M’s” that used up most of the available space and hoped we had time to get to the second letter.
At that moment, my daughter came downstairs to tell us that my son should turn on the TV because there was a really cool show on about reptiles. I did my best to tell my son that reptiles had nothing on the letter “A” - that “Amanda”, “Ant” and “Apple” were what the cool kids were doing right now, but knew I didn’t stand a chance.
It was nearly time for bed anyway and we had used up all of our time.
Putting him to bed was no easier. Instead of putting on his PJs and brushing his teeth like I asked, he came down the stairs and asked, “Do you think there’s something wrong with this frog, Daddy?” (Answer: there’s a giant marble that you’ve stuffed into his mouth)
And just when I think he might finally be settling into bed? I can hear him in his room.
He’s singing “Moves Like Jagger.”
As a parent, one of the most difficult things I deal with is watching my child get hurt emotionally, knowing that I can’t do much about it.
Today was the first day of school for both kids and unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to talk to either of them about their day until just before bedtime.
My daughter is very excited about being in Grade 4 and nothing about today seemed to slow her down. My son didn’t say much about his first day of Grade 1 other than the full day of school (his first ever) was very long and tiring. His eyes backed up his story of being exhausted, but only after he went to bed did I learn that perhaps it was more than just the hours in the classroom that had taken a toll on him.
My daughter reported that at recess, she noticed that my son wanted to play with an older boy named Aidan that he knows from the baby sitter’s house, but that Aidan wanted nothing to do with my son. My son persisted and Aidan continued to ignore him and run away, leaving my son heartbroken and without a friend to play with for the entire recess.
It hurt to hear this story, remembering similar things that happened to me when I was his age. I hoped they wouldn’t happen to my caring little boy-a boy who wouldn’t be mean to anyone, but such is life.
The story hurt a little more because I remembered a conversation I had with my son a week ago as we drove somewhere in the car.
“Daddy, I don’t think I have a BFF,” he started.
I hate the term “BFF” and a big part of the reason is that kids as young as six feel that if they don’t declare this friendship they will be left without the one thing that every kid wants-a friend.
I had erroneously assumed that BFFs were more of a girl thing, but obviously need to worry about the concept with my son as well.
“Daddy,” he continued, “I think Aidan is my BFF. I’ve never asked him though if I’m his BFF, but I think I am.”
I told my son that since Aidan is a couple of years older than him that he might have other friends and maybe even a BFF (using the term made me cringe). I told him that it was far more important to be a good kid and have lots of friends than to have a BFF at six.
“That’s ok, Daddy, Aidan is my BFF so I should let him know.”
We’ve gone through similar situations with my daughter and will take the same approach with my son: teach him that sometimes kids hurt our feelings for no reason and that the best thing you can do is find other kids who will be better friends.
There’s a real chance that I’m taking this harder than my son, but I felt the need to go into his room again before he fell asleep to give him an extra hug and tell him that I love him.
I wonder if he’ll remember this in the morning and have more questions about why it happened.
I wonder too if today at recess, he was just trying to tell Aidan that he was my son’s BFF.
This weekend, we were at the Paris Fair for my nine-year-old daughter to compete in the Youth Talent Competition, for children aged 12 and under.
She’s a singer and decided to sing Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. She was a little late in picking her song and developed a case of the sniffles a week before the competition, so I was even more nervous than usual about how things were going to go.
The first performer was a girl who required a team of three to set up what looked like a 15-foot swing set with two long strands of fabric hanging down from the middle. I learned this was called “a silk act” and based on previous experience, I expected her to do very well. Last year at this same show, a girl performed an acrobatic routine, climbing on and through a large circle that spun on a base. I had absolutely no idea what I was watching or whether it was the best acrobatic spinning circle routine in history, but she took top prize at the fair so I am led to believe it was extraordinary. The silk act was similarly confusing to me, but the audience erupted as though they had never before been more impressed by silk and the judges likely gave it a perfect score.
I have learned to pay attention only to the other vocal acts because I don’t know how to compare my daughter to acrobats, dancers, lion tamers, or anyone riding a motorcycle in a giant sphere. I have concluded that judges will award top prize in the show to the biggest act imaginable, leaving my daughter and the other singers to fight for the spoils, but that is beyond my control. On that note, those children wishing to read poetry in talent shows need not bother.
The first singer was a 12-year old girl, wearing a similar dress to the one my daughter was wearing, who was also singing Part of Your World! This happens at nearly every show, and you always hope to avoid being the second person singing a song that might now bore the judges. What can you do?
There were two dancers in the competition and although I don’t know good dancing from bad, I’ve decided that tap dancing is more impressive to me than other types. There was a girl who did a routine with a baton and I don’t think you need much experience to know that dropping the thing all over the stage is going to produce a poor score. Poor kid!
There were two pianists-one great and one who played for about 30 seconds. A man in his 40’s, obviously not part of the talent show, walked across the stage between acts and thought he was clever for playing a bit of Chopsticks on the piano and I hoped it might explode on him like it does in the cartoons.
In all, there were 10 singers and, as often happens, my daughter was the youngest and smallest of them all. But, she absolutely nailed her song and I think she may have been the crowd favourite.
She has learned so much in four years of competing about stage presence, audience rapport and turning her song into three minutes of musical theatre.
My daughter placed first in the vocal category and second overall and will compete next weekend at the Western Fair in London. I’m so proud of her and all that she’s accomplished. Let’s have fun in London!
Oh, and who placed first overall?
The silk act.
If you’d like to see my daughter’s performance, click here to see the video.
As a parent, you know that certain conversations with your kids are coming. You don’t know when, but you anticipate and prepare.
In your planning sessions (conducted years in advance and entirely in your head), the child brings up a contentious issue, the parent acts as though the subject has taken them completely by surprise, but miraculously provides the perfect answer/guidance/acceptance/refusal with Shakespearean eloquence. The child is awed by the response and asks only that the conversation can continue long enough to thank you for your wisdom.
I wish that my years of planning had helped me tonight with my conversation with my daughter about getting her ears pierced.
The chat started exactly as I envisioned: “Daddy, can I get my ears pierced?”
The answer I had rehearsed was, “Hmm, I’m not sure about that. Why do you want to get your ears pierced?”
The answer that came out was, “No,” surprising even me.
My daughter asked, “Why not?” and I answered, “Because I don’t want you to have any more holes in your ears.”
The truth is, I really don’t know how I feel about my daughter, at nine years old, getting her ears pierced but found myself playing a game of “Say the first thing that enters your mind.”
My daughter then countered with, “But everyone has their ears pierced, Daddy!”
Knowing this to be untrue, but still not in control of brain or my words, I provided the examples of her close friend and my mother. A total deviation from the script to be sure, but I was pleased that I had come up with one relevant example and only one ridiculous example, right there on the spot. If pressed, I was going to mention the members of the Blue Man Group and I’m thankful it didn’t come to that.
My daughter rolled her eyes and said, “It doesn’t cost anything!”
I said that it must cost something and she said that it didn’t, but quickly added, “If it does cost something, I’ve got gift cards!”
I knew I had an argument that buying goods and services with gift cards (that had been purchased for cash), was not in any way obtaining services for free, but stopped myself when I realized I was playing right into her hands. How had I let things get this far? I had lost all control.
“Mommy says the two of you will have a conversation about this,” she added.
I hadn’t planned for that.
I was shocked tonight to hear that former NHL player, Wade Belak had died. Like Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, current players who also died this off season, Belak’s passing was sudden and unexpected.
All three players made their living as fighters in the game and many will say that the pressure of their roles indirectly killed them. Many will blame a league that says it is trying to reduce or eliminate fighting, but refuses to take drastic steps to make it so. The debate about concussions in hockey, with Sidney Crosby as its lightning rod, will point to the tragedies of Belak, Rypien and Boogaard as further evidence that brain injuries are the largest problem facing the game today.
None of these arguments are necessarily wrong and the NHL should continue its efforts to look into these issues. But it seems the problem may be much bigger than this and I hope the league is prepared to look at more than just the dangers of fighting and brain injuries and answer some questions that perhaps haven’t been asked before.
Boogaard, we now know used and perhaps abused alcohol and prescription drugs. Is enough being done to counsel players on the danger of substance abuse? Are the treatment programs effective for those who ignore the advice?
Rypien battled depression. Hockey is a macho sport-do players feel comfortable revealing feelings of despair that may or may not have anything to do with hockey? Do teams know the signs of depression and are they reaching out to players who are suffering? Are solutions designed to help the player when it’s arguably “too late?”
Are the pressures of professional sports truly understood? Have we made success such a priority that players will do anything to obtain it, including putting their lives at risk?
The Nashville Predators, Belak’s team until his retirement in February, issued a lovely statement today praising Belak for being a great member of their organization. The NHL expressed its sadness in an equally touching statement.
In times of tragedy, this is what team and league spokespeople do.
We’ve lost three players in a few months, young men in the prime of their lives. Every indication is that these three were good human beings and they’re gone.
Words aren’t going to fix this problem.
While they say that self praise is no recommendation, I could tell you about some things that I do quite well. I probably wouldn’t feel the need to share that if last night hadn’t been one giant reminder of a few things I do poorly and even some things that I don’t do at all.
Last night my next-door neighbour knocked on my door to tell me he had something to tell me. He went on that he had noticed whatever it was, but still hadn’t told me about, several times before and had always forgotten to tell me. He said that when he saw it again, just now, that he had to tell me or he would likely forget again. I realized a) that I have the same problem, b) that perhaps all men truly do have lizard brains, c) I have a good neighbour and d) that I still didn’t know what had led him to my doorstep.
He told me that he noticed the bricks on the corner of my house were shifting and that I should really take a look at it. This sounded like a reasonable solution and I know how to look so off I went.
I saw the problem and couldn’t help but wonder how a reasonable home owner hadn’t seen it before. I also wondered how long a colony of bees had been living in these same cracks. As a home inspector I was a failure and I wasn’t overly confident in my abilities as a bee exterminator either.
My neighbour stood and watched me as I looked at the shifted bricks and the buzzing bees. We engaged in a short discussion about whether they were bees, wasps or hornets, but I’m not convinced either of us knows the difference. He suggested that I should deal with the “bees” first, then worry about the bricks. Seemed logical, but how exactly was I going to do that?
He told me that he had some spray for bees and that I’d be welcome to it. He told me he had the same problem years ago with bees getting into the ceiling over his kitchen and he and his friend (who is a bee keeper) wore bee suits to cut out some drywall because honey was starting to bleed through the ceiling. He asked if I had a ladder to get up to where the bees were and offered me one of the dozen ladders he has around his bee free property.
I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but at that moment, I couldn’t help feeling incompetent as a man. I hadn’t even noticed the problems with my house, had no bee spray of my own, know no beekeepers, have never even seen a bee suit close up, have only a 5-foot step ladder and have nooooooo idea what to do about shifted bricks! How had I even been allowed to buy a house in the first place?
My ladder in position, I made my awkward climb up the three steps, looking like a man scaling the outside of the CN Tower, who had just looked down. I sprayed the cracks and anything that moved with the bee spray and wondered if everyone watching me (my neighbour, my wife and my kids) was thinking the same thing?: it’s only a matter of time before he gets stung.
The bees will need further treatments and the bricks will need to be fixed. I really don’t know what to do about the bricks, but won’t be surprised if my neighbour tells me I’m welcome to the scaffolding, mortar and seven different trowels that he keeps in his garage-for occasions just like this.
The other day, I started to do some research on the best times to post content to different social media sites. My research took a very strange turn and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened and how I feel about it.
The very first website that purported to have helpful information on this topic was “Twitter Marketing Agency.” Within seconds of clicking on their site, a text box popped up in the bottom right hand corner of the page that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said:
Amanda: Hello, thanks for visiting us at Twitter Marketing Agency. How can I help you with your business? Yes, I'm a real person :)
Let me provide a little context-I work in communications and I’m fascinated by the ways organizations are connecting with their customers (or prospective customers). Organizations need to embrace technology to enable quicker and easier communication with their customers or risk being left behind by their competition.
If I was to believe that there really is an “Amanda” at Twitter Marketing Agency and that she engages each and every person who clicks on their site in this fashion (how this would be done I do not know), then I might think Twitter Marketing Agency is on the cutting edge. I might think that this business completely “gets it” by making a live person available even before I’ve had a chance to look over their site.
However, I don’t see it that way at all. No, I think Twitter Marketing Agency has taken things too far and missed a crucial step.
When I walk into a store, I want the option to look around without being bothered by a salesperson and I want to know that someone is ready to help me when or if I need help. I agree to let eager salespeople know when I’m ready to be helped and I don’t mind making this effort in exchange for my uninterrupted time to browse.
The magic of the internet is that I can do my browsing anytime, anywhere and I’ve never had to worry about someone ambushing me at the door to ask, “Can I help you?” As it is with a physical store, I want to take a look around and then let you know if I need any help. Not only do I feel like Amanda has rushed me, she jumped out from between a pile of jeans and startled me!
If I were to go shopping for a car I wouldn’t expect a salesperson to jump into the backseat of my vehicle as I pulled into the lot. If I was at the bookstore, I wouldn’t expect an announcement to be made over the speakers that Jeremy, our associate of the month, would be pleased to read pages one through 14 in the book that I had just opened. I get the feeling that if I respond to Amanda I’ll have to be careful that she doesn’t assume it’s okay to untuck my shirt.
Maybe I’m overreacting? Maybe this is a good thing and I just need to accept it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to post this to Facebook and Twitter...if I only knew the best time to do that.
The internet is full of great articles, written by experts, about how to effectively use the social media site, Twitter. This is not one of them.
Instead, this is my story about how I have fumbled and bumbled on the site since I joined in September 2009, what I’ve learned, and the things I’m trying today to turn it into a valuable tool for me.
When I first heard about Twitter the name sounded funny to me, the act of tweeting funnier still and I decided I would ignore it. But, over the next few months I heard about celebrities, politicians and other influential people tweeting and thought it might be something I should at least try to understand.
Not having any idea what I was doing, I created a profile using the only decent picture of myself in existence and started to follow people. Twitter suggests people you might want to follow, but before you’ve built up any kind of history they can use to “profile” you, the suggestions are mostly celebrities. Accepting their suggestions, I set out to build close, personal relationships with the likes of Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Barack Obama and Shaquille Oneal.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t getting a lot of value from my news feed of tweets. Britney seems to travel a lot and really loves her fans. Demi also loves her fans, but has a really odd picture of herself which I find distracting. Obama seems like a positive chap who likes to give little sound bites. Shaquille says very little, all of it misspelled. I started to wonder if Twitter was for me.
I was disappointed that my witty and informative tweets weren’t gaining me followers by the dozens and requests to be interviewed by CNN. I studied the tweets of others that were “retweeted” hoping I could learn their secret, but discovered that Lindsay Lohan can stub her toe and get retweeted while nothing short of providing the location of the holy grail from me (in 140 characters no less!) would even be considered.
Twitter allows users to create lists of people and soon after I joined someone in India added me to a list of “celebrities.” While I may well be a celebrity in India, I suspect this is a case of mistaken identity that I will make no effort to ever correct. Perhaps this can work in my favour.
I’ve learned that Twitter is rife with spammers, using pictures of some of the most attractive people in their profile pictures that I’ve ever seen. If you happen to actually be that attractive, you will want to take extra steps to make it clear you are not going to provide information on “great deals” 479 times a day.
While not in the spammer category, I have also been put off by those who use automated responses when you follow them, directing you to a Facebook page, offering free gifts, stopping just short of saying “hey buddy, do you want to buy a letter M?” The spirit of Twitter is about building relationships and I’d run the other way from this type of person in real life.
Trending topics are a great way of being alerted to breaking news stories that might be of interest. The list loses its appeal for me though when items like “Phineas and Ferb” appear for days and days for no reason or the inclusion of items like #snakebitmyface that simply defy explanation.
While I’m still a long way from reaching my Twitter goals, I’ve figured out some things that work for me and the experience is improving steadily. I’m adding followers each day (real people!) and creating content I hope they find useful and/or entertaining.
I still haven’t completely figured out hashtags and just yesterday I sent a message to myself when I tried to thank someone for retweeting one of my blog posts.
Clearly, I still have some work to do.
I noticed tonight that two boys from Stratford, myself and Justin Beiber, now have a combined 12, 179, 372 followers.
Obviously, I’m doing something right.
I’ve had a very interesting night.
After work, on my drive to pick up the kids from the sitter’s house, I heard there was a tornado watch for most of Southern Ontario, including my area. I wondered if the kids knew.
They sure did.
The car ride home was an unending stream of questions that covered the following: What’s a tornado? What happens if we get a tornado? Where should we go if there’s a tornado? Are we going to get a tornado?
I told them what a tornado is, does, and where to go in the very unlikely event that we get one, hoping that would put an end to the inquiry. I was very, very wrong.
The sitter had told them that if there was a tornado that they would need to go down to her “cold cellar.” My answer was that we would go into the “basement.” Perhaps if I called my basement a cellar and if this space was cold, there would be no problem, but suddenly our lack of a cold cellar made it seem to the children that we were woefully unprepared for tornados (and storing jars of beets) and this only encouraged more questions.
We were going to singing lessons after we checked in at home. Was there a cold cellar at singing lessons? Did they have a basement? How is it possible that our dad seems to know nothing about the architecture of the music school?
Why was it best to go to the basement to be safe from tornados? Where would the house go if a tornado hit it? What would happen if we were on the main floor? How about upstairs?
As flattering as it is that your kids think you know everything about everything, I couldn’t help thinking they have me confused with a structural engineer. And as much as I thought I owed it to them to be patient with their questions, would answering only lead to other rhetorical questions such as what would happen if we were on the roof, in a tree or having ice cream on the trampoline when a tornado hit?
On the drive home from singing, my son said, “Daddy, I’ve never had a tornado (dramatic pause) in my life.”
“Son, (equally dramatic pause) you are six.”
Before we were home I was asked if a tornado was worse than a hurricane. I had gone from structural engineer to part meteorologist, part scientist and I wondered when it would all end.
Are tornados loud? How loud? Are they louder than the airplanes at the air show?
They’re loud, really loud, not sure how they compare to jet airplanes (where exactly do you think I keep the equipment necessary to measure and compare the two?).
What percentage is it that we’ll get a tornado?
Hmm, seems like another way to ask how certain I am in my earlier assertion that there will be no tornados tonight. Do they have any idea how long I spent in school to become a structural engineer/tornado expert/aeronautical sound technician? And besides, I was told there would be no math.
I think their questions finally drained me of all my strength because when my son asked me if we would have to pay for a new house if ours blew away, I caught myself just as I started to explain how it works to file a claim under your home insurance policy...to a six-year-old.
We did get a fairly significant storm, and I am in the basement, but only to give myself a break from the kids.
No tornado, unless you count the one I’m feeling in my head.