Monday, August 10, 2009

Tiny Little Efforts

Recently, I flew to Chicago to celebrate the second birthday of my precious, little granddaughter, Alexandra. I got there late on a Friday afternoon, just in time to help her parents with last-minute preparations for the next day’s party.

Walking into the home of my “kids,” I immediately found myself knee deep in brightly colored paper streamers and curly ribbons, balloons of latex and Mylar, and a granite-topped kitchen island full of edible goodies. Before I could take it all in — or hug the dickens out of my favorite toddler — my daughter, Nicole, handed me the “Birthday Party To-Do List for Mom.” Obviously, she had scribbled this out for me earlier that day and, upon close inspection, I realized she had given all on the list some “serious” thought.

The to-do list included a number of tasks chosen specifically for me — no doubt because of the unique talents and skills I could bring to the jobs! The list included:
• Make your special-recipe, homemade potato salad for 30 people. Don’t forget the sweet pickles; do forget the celery.
• De-clutter family room of excess stuff and dust the furniture. Don’t overdo; please don’t make it look sterile like your house.
• Find good spot for guests to put the birthday presents. Don’t fuss with or “fix” gifts already here, wrapped and beribboned.
• Set all necessary items on buffet table. Don’t forget: You are not Martha Stewart. Do remember: There’s no time to pretend you are.
• Figure out where to display all of Alexandra’s stuffed Elmos! And, don’t even think about buying any more Elmos before tomorrow!

While looking over my list and contemplating whether or not I should offer up any self-defending comments, I found myself distracted. The others in the room were already tackling their own to-do lists, and watching them was (actually) quite amusing.

Nicole was hanging a “Happy Birthday” banner on the mantel — one with images of Elmo all over it; my son-in-law, John, was taping a “Pin-the-Nose-on-Elmo” game on the wall. Then, with the help of the birthday girl, both began putting up something else — an art piece Nicole had made that cleverly proclaimed, “This party is brought to you by the Letter A and the Number 2.”

Seeing Nicole and John tend to the party details — with great care and concern — made me proud and brought a huge and knowing smile to my face.

The scene took me way back — to another second birthday and to memories of all the work that went into making a Cookie Monster Party “just perfect” for another very special two-year-old.

“Oh my goodness!” I thought. “So long ago, but how well I remember all the tiny little efforts that went into making that grand event so successful — so memorable!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and then make note: “My daughter is more like me than she thinks!” (I decided it best not to point this out to her!)

But, now it is two weeks later; I’m back in Houston and still thinking about “tiny little efforts” and what a huge difference they make in the things we do and the people for whom we do them.

Tiny little efforts benefit everybody — our friends and family at home and our associates and clients at work. And, all that is good. But, let us not forget ourselves. By putting forth a bunch of tiny little efforts, it is we who surely benefit most — in that moment and in the treasured moments to come.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Play Dates

Perhaps it's the business I'm in, but I've always appreciated really good advertising - no matter the medium. Advertisements that get their message across clearly and cleverly are the best.

There's a television commercial running how that has become one of my favorites. Perhaps you've seen it. Three attractive young women are sitting on a living room sofa, chatting away and munching happily on chips and salsa. They laugh a lot and, eventually, re-assure each other what a good idea "these play dates are for their children." Then the camera moves around the room to show three sleeping babies. Three very tiny sleeping babies!

I've seen this commercial frequently of late, and each time I do, it brings a big smile to my face and then an involuntary chuckle. I end up nodding my head and thinking, "Gosh, that commercial's copywriter knows us women!"

The commercial is a strong reminder: we women think we need a good excuse to get away, visit with our girlfriends and have a good time. And, for many of us, the only really good excuse for play is when "it benefits someone else." Taking time for ourselves simply because it's good for us, rarely qualifies as justification!

So, what do we do? We work too much and play too little and wonder why it is so easy to let our lives become unbalanced.

A 2007 survey by the National Women's Health Resource Center found that 94 percent of women believe they need to do a better job of caring for themselves and that doing so would be empowering. No argument here!

August is perhaps a good time to take stock and answer (honestly) several relevant questions:

Do I take the vacation days I promise myself? Do I spend as much time with my family and friends and I could? Do I get the exercise I need? Do I meditate or write in my journal routinely? Do I nurture myself? Do I take care of my body and soul as well as I do my hair and nails? Do I even take care of my hair and nails?

When I can answer "yes" to these questions, it shows. I'm cheerful; I smile and laugh often. I sleep better at night and am eager to take on new projects during the day. I feel less stressed. Work becomes more meaningful; time with loved ones is more rewarding. Life is good!

When I have to answer "no" to those take-stock questions, it shows. My serious side dominates; I become intense and less patient. I feel exhausted or overwhelmed or both. My stress level goes off the chart. The uncolored roots of my hair show! Yikes! For sure, life could be a whole lot better!

We can't control everything in our worlds, but we can re-examine priorities. Scheduling some of those all-important "play dates" for ourselves is a good way to begin the process.

Passion Plus

Several months ago I was invited to give the keynote address at a quarterly meeting of the Federation of Houston Professional Women. The group's program chair told me the focus of my presentation would be up to me; I could talk - for 30 to 45 minutes - about anything I wanted.

“Great,” I said, “Let me give it some thought.”

But then, a few days later, another member of the Federation said, “Beverly, please tell our members about you, where your passion comes from, what keeps you motivated. That's what our members really want to hear about.”

Almost immediately, I began to fret about how I could do that and, at the same time, give my audience information that would be meaningful and useful to THEM.

So, I started thinking about the passion that sparked the idea for Houston Woman Magazine and how important passion for one's work is to fueling the economic engine of any enterprise. An old cliché came to mind: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

I know from experience how misleading that statement can be. Over the years, I've learned that finding one's passion is great, because work does become fun, but passion is just the starting point. Relying on it alone to grow one's business is both naive and unrealistic.

To be successful at what we do, we have to go beyond the passion. We have to prepare ourselves and prove to others that we are worthy of their business.

Preparing? I used to think “preparing” meant getting the education needed to follow one’s passion. In my case, it was college and grad school, majoring in journalism, of course. But, I’ve learned that preparation involves so much more. Staying current is key.

Proving to others? Yes, clients do expect us to stay on top of changes in our own fields, but no longer is that enough. Clients also expect us to do business the way business is being done these days. No one wants to do business with someone who can’t be reached by cell phone (when it’s necessary), respond to an email instantly or refuses to get a website. In other words, no one wants to do business with an out-of-step old fogy.

Five years ago, when Houston Woman Magazine began, we picked up the phone and made direct contact with prospects to develop new business. Within a couple of years, we saw a dramatic change in the effectiveness of that approach. People out there stopped picking up their phones; they let most calls go to voice mail. Before long it was no longer considered rude not to return a call. Sales professionals learned to assume the person on the receiving end just wasn’t interested, and that was that. And, as odd as it seemed back then, even those wanting to know more about what was being offered responded via email.

All that used to drive me crazy!

Then, one day, I got it. I realized I was going to have to change the way I was doing business. I was going to have to improve our website and start a blog. I was going to have to learn more about permission marketing and provide e-blasts and e-newsletters for those interested in what we do here. I was going to have to learn more about social media and join Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo. Just recently, I’ve learned that I need to Twitter too.

Needless to say, the demands of having to constantly change the way we attract and serve our customers are challenging. But, the good news is this: Those same demands can provide great opportunities to mix things up, have some fun and creatively grow our businesses. Truly, they can rekindle smothering fires of passion.

So, this summer, let’s “be cool,” and see how well it heats things up.