The End of a Decade

During the holiday season we often slow down and live a little differently with more gatherings and celebrations and time off, which is in many ways one of the best ways to end a year because it gives us time to focus on what should be most important in our lives but we don’t always have (or make) time for during the rest of the year. As we transition to not only a new year but also a new decade this week I was reminded that our slow times are busier and fuller than the lives of people 100 years ago, and that they could never last a day in our shoes. I know it can be frustrating to reach the end of another year and not be where you wanted to be, but maybe reflecting on this can give you some peace about what you have and haven’t accomplished over the past year and decade.

For obvious reasons, this year change seems bigger and more important, as if the change to a new decade is somehow different from the usual calendar turn, which it really isn’t. But at the same time it does seem fresher and more of a clean slate than we usually get. The interesting thing about clean slates is that it infers that there’s something to clean off the slate, and that’s certainly true for the decade we’re finishing. It used to be that we could come up with a list of things that happened and that list would be fairly brief, but now there isn’t one list for everything or everyone because, as we talked about before, there’s so much more going on in our lives now than there used to be. I can’t remember everything from the last decade of my life, let alone everything and everyone that happened in the world. And I think that’s OK. It just puts more pressure on us in our already crazy lives to try to remember it all.

So given that, how do we review the past decade of our world and our lives? I think we just review what and who we do remember because that’s what has stuck with us. In taking time to think about the ways we’ve grown, the people who are and aren’t part of our lives, the mistakes we’ve made, lessons we’ve learned, ways we’ve helped, the fears we’ve faced and conquered, and the milestones we’ve reached, we give ourselves the opportunity to choose to build on those experiences and people, or fully let them go with the decade as it ends. And if you can’t remember anything, well, maybe your goal this coming decade is to live a more memorable life.

What are your thoughts on the decade that is ending?

Change for a New Year

We’ve got a new year waiting for us, and a new decade too, just a couple of days away. As I was thinking about this calendar change I got to thinking about our kids and schooling and how school starts in September or August and how the new calendar year starts in January. Add to that how companies can start/be “born” any time of year, or how we can start a job any time of year and you add additional layers of change and schedules onto the pile.

As strange or challenging as it may be, I do think that the different school and calendar start times have some good lessons to learn in them though, primarily in regularly introducing kids to the idea of change. The new year introduces some changes, but they’re mostly good changes, certainly not changes that come with a lot of baggage or concern like some school years start with. So having the calendar change at a different time from the school year change keeps kids in practice with change happening, but also exposes them to the idea that change isn’t bad or scary, at least not all the time, and it does happen regularly.

As adults we certainly embrace the new year a little stronger than we do other types of change, typically because we’re ready to move on to what the next year holds. It’s a great way for us to be released from what the past year was, or to be lifted into the next greatest part of our journey. With this change being a typically positive one, it helps us do better with teaching change to our kids as well.

Yes, we do often use a new year to talk about making changes in our lives, like eating healthier or exercising more, but even if we don’t embrace or practice using this time of year to make changes in our lives, just the practice of accepting and even celebrating this change of calendar year can be good for everyone.

So as we head into the new year next week, I encourage you to take time to reflect on what may be changing or what has changed over the past year, and do the same with your kids. You may be surprised at what you remember from this year that is ending.

The Gift of Love

There are so many things we could pull from this time of year to talk about regarding success. Like how businesses get people to buy stuff this time of year under the guise of giving gifts and getting great deals. Or how we talk about and celebrate the holidays for a month or more before we get to the actual holiday, allowing for sufficient time for planning, gathering and gift-purchasing. Or we could talk about how the holidays encourage people to spend time in community and do good for others (and it actually happens). Or we could talk about how the holidays allow many of us to end the year on a positive note, something that may not ring true for the rest of the year.

But today I want to talk about the success of getting love and community into our lives and into the lives of others. Whether you celebrate Christmas (religious), Christmas (secular), Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is one of celebration and gathering together. We each celebrate something a little different, but with each holiday we’re invited to turn on or light some lights and gather together to celebrate. For several thousand years we’ve been celebrating Christmas (religious) and Hanukkah, Christmas (secular) for the past several hundred, and Kwanzaa for the last 50 or so years, taking time to set aside any differences or struggles we may have, remembering the good times and making new memories together. Anything that gets people of all cultures and backgrounds to stop and be more considerate of others year in and year out is worth talking about.

I’m willing to take on all the commercialization, crowded roads, spending, and some extra stress because more people are polite, more people are helpful, and more people show how they care unlike other times of the year. The time we take to purchase exactly the right gift for someone, make someone’s favorite foods (including special cookies), and lengths we travel to be together are all evidence of the fact that we do care about each other, even if we aren’t always willing to admit it. We may wrap our love up in the activities and actions of the season, but when all the trappings and trimmings are removed, when we stop moving and eating and sit, when the gifts are all unwrapped, what it comes down to is love for each other.

With the holiday season in full gear, I encourage you to make time to think about love and let that be the best gift you give or get this holiday season.

Be A Light

One of the things I talk about every December is the topic of light. It’s fascinating that we use light in so many of our celebrations. From candles for birthdays, to fireworks for the Fourth of July, to the lights in a jack-o-lantern, to lights on homes and trees for Christmas, to the lights of the Menorah for Hanukkah, to the Las Posadas celebration, and Kwanzaa’s lights, it’s clear we love to celebrate with light. And of course we can’t forget how we use light to illuminate our worlds and push back the darkness no matter how low the sun is or late the night is.

The other day I was shocked when I read that we’re heading to a new decade in less than two weeks. I have been anticipating and aware of the new year coming up, as it follows Christmas each year and means that the celebrations are over but the winter weather sticks around for a few more months, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that with this new year was a big change with the calendar, and that’s to a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to celebrate and move into a new decade after this past one. This decade probably wasn’t the hardest one we’ve ever had, but there’s something about going into a new decade that is even more refreshing and exciting than going into a new year usually is.

This holiday season I’ve been lighting more candles than I often do, there’s something about the light of a candle that’s both soothing and inspiring. I may be a night person but I can’t imagine being without the light, or choosing to not be a person of light. I donate regularly to charity and non-profit organizations, and this year on Giving Tuesday I was thankful to be able to donate to some organizations that are really shining light in some dark places in the world, including one that supports children and their families with cancer (Jesse Rees Foundation), one that works with in-need children and families in Guatemala (Integral Heart Foundation), and several that work with veterans (Warrior Canine Connection, Travis Mills Foundation). With technology today we’re able to see first hand the great work these types of organizations are doing through posted pictures and videos on social media and in newsletters, and you can’t help tearing up watching some of the videos that shows the incredible difference these organizations and others are making in the lives of people who were lost and without hope, and now thanks to connecting with them and supporting them in the unique ways that they do, the lives of many families are greatly improved and they have hope again.

Life rarely changes in one day, often it takes many years to change, halt or improve, especially if you’re dealing with something like trying to change a country’s future, curbing addiction or addressing the world’s climate issues. But lately I’ve been seeing some more lights and more signs of hope than I have in the past. Light is a choice. No, every day won’t be filled with light and happiness, there are some really tough things that we’ll have to face in our life and others will have to face in their lives. But when you can, choose to light a candle, turn on a light, help a neighbor or coworker or stranger, share a positive social post, volunteer with organizations doing great things, or do something that makes you or someone else happy.

Even the smallest light can be seen when it appears in the darkness. When that one small light joins with other lights it has the power to banish all the darkness in the area. This winter solstice, on the day of the year that the darkness arrives the earliest and sticks around the longest, I encourage you to be a light today, this holiday season and in the new decade.

Creating ‘Likeable’ Companies

This month I read Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen. It’s a good book for those who are just getting started with social media, especially companies who are wondering if social media is right for them or why it’s worth joining. For those who have social media experience, it’s a good reminder about best practices when using social media. It definitely does address some of the questions of what it takes to be likable in business and on social media.  As always the rules of posting consistently, knowing the network and being social are always recommended by the author, but they also included some other good insights as we’re looking towards the new year and maybe the next level of social media.

One of the things that I really appreciated that was discussed in this book was a real life example of what a tricky company can do with social media. Tricky companies include those who are in very regulated industries like medical or financial, or companies that offer products or services that are considered boring or strange like storage or incontinence. Dave shared an example of a medical company that primarily used social media to listen and hear what people were saying about company/product/service keywords and specifically about their brand. It’s a great way to use social media even if you can’t do a lot with other aspects of it since people do post reactions and insights that you can learn about what people think about your product or are in need/want of that you offer.

Second, the book talked about how social media is one of the newest ways to provide feedback to brands and for brands to provide customer service. It’s also the new version of word of mouth that people use to share with each other the companies they do and don’t recommend. The big difference between feedback in the past is that it wasn’t available for everyone to see, and now it is. Filling out a feedback card in the past gave the feedback just to the company, now it gives it to the company and all of your connections, which can be a very good thing for both the company and all of a person’s connections. Companies can do a lot of good or damage depending on the responses they give to questions and comments on their accounts, building or destroying trust and future business opportunities. With social media the grapevine got a lot faster and bigger, something that companies should work to their benefit rather than being scared of it or hiding from it.

Third, as I always remind my clients one of the biggest keys to being likable is being human. Have people clearly running the company page, respond in very human ways to comments and questions (avoid using canned responses), apologize, and respond quickly and helpfully to all customer needs. Real people use social media, and they want companies to be equally real with them.

Finally, I leave you with a bit of a warning from the book: social media cannot make up for a bad product, company or organization.  It won’t instantly fix any/all of the marketing problems you may have or low sales numbers.  It can be part of the solution, part of how you market and part of your future plans for how you support and connect with customers, and it should showcase your organization truthfully as the great brand that you are.

What are your new plans or commitments when it comes to social media in the new year?

A Little Holiday Community

If there’s one thing that the holidays are all about, it’s community. The holidays bring us together in ways that we’re not during the rest of the year, encouraging us to spend time with those we love and those who matter to us, and taking time out of our daily lives to celebrate together. Community is everywhere this time of year, from the people standing outside stores with their bells asking for donations, to sending of cards and messages that have pictures of families and groups on them, to working together to decorate both inside and out, to gathering in homes and restaurants to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

If community is so very obvious this time of year, does that mean it’s not something that exists during the rest of the year? No, it’s just not as obvious as it is during the holiday season, with the exception of other specific holidays throughout the year (4th of July, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc.). Community is bringing up the neighbor’s trash cans for them, calling for help when something doesn’t look right, holding the door for someone, and most importantly building relationships (however casual) with those you live near and work with.

Community isn’t necessarily about knowing each other’s secrets, having the type of relationship where you exchange gifts or celebrate each other’s birthdays, but about being assured that someone will miss you if you’re not seen for a while, and that others are glad you’re part of this world and part of their lives.

Yes, we’re naturally part of a community by where we work or live, but what we do with that, and if we do anything with that, is up to each of us. Community can be as insubstantial as we want it to be, or be one of the best things about where we live and/or work. This holiday season I encourage you to give community a try and see if contributing to your community improves your life as much as it does those you connect with on a regular basis.

A Little Christmas Magic

A song that always catches my attention in the holiday season is A Baby Changes Everything sung by Faith Hill. Hearing this song again the other day got me thinking about parenting and having children. For most it’s an equally exciting day when their child is born as it was for Mary and everyone else when Jesus was born in the Biblical Christmas story. For others, in this day and age the ability to have a child isn’t as significant as it was back in Biblical times or back when the first stories about Santa circulated. In some circles and families there’s certainly pressure to have a child, but most are not under that pressure and can choose whether they want to bring a child into this world or if their time and efforts are better off with other pursuits. Finally, unfortunately there are some people who have children and aren’t as excited or changed by the process as they should be (including those families you wonder why they chose to have kids).

But then I got to thinking about some of the less-traditional ways that a child changes things. For those who can’t have children, adopting a child from a less-than-ideal situation is a huge blessing for both the child and new family. For families who lose one or both of a child’s parents while the child is still young, the child can be what keeps them going and helps them work through the grieving process. For those whose children have grown older and don’t have grandchildren or don’t frequently see them, working with children as a career or volunteer activity can be a great way to keep that child-inspired zest for life spark alive. And for those who see a cute child in the store or out and about, it’s a reminder to smile and love life. Whether they played an active roll in bringing them into the world or not, sometimes a child can be the one thing someone needed in their life or just that day.

Yes, children have their moments where we wonder what someone was thinking when they had them, or why they can’t just appear grown, or how soon they’ll get through this phase. Working through these tough times with a child can teach us many things that we can apply to other areas of our lives such as working with difficult people or coworkers, managing expectations, conflict resolution, and lessons on patience in general. I’ve found that these moments are fewer and farther between than some may think, and that more often than not kids are a blessing.

If you learn anything from kids at this time of year, learn the value of believing in the magic. We don’t often see the magic as adults because we pick out details like the amount of work or where the dirt shows up or managing schedules, but if we stop and listen and look around, hopefully we too can find some of that magic for ourselves this season and beyond. What magic will you welcome into your life this holiday season?

Balancing People and Technology

This holiday season has been an interesting one for shopping. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’ve been quite surprised by some of the exceptionally pleasant, cheerful and helpful people I’ve connected with in stores. It’s been a shift from many other holiday seasons that were filled with grumpy employees and team members who clearly weren’t happy to be where they were or dealing in the holiday spirit. In the past couple of days I’ve connected with a few more helpful and cheerful team members who helped alleviate some issues and move things forward in different areas for me. I don’t think we should ever remove humans completely from business, I think they play an essential role that can’t be fully replaced by technology. Having people in business also is a good reminder for us that at the other end of every transaction is a human as well.

As a business consultant and coach I always advise my clients to provide as much online information as possible. There’s no way we’re going to go back to the way things were two decades ago and not be dependent on the internet and online world (unless a serious event happens that makes it impossible for us to of course). So if you want to succeed in business, provide your customers a great experience and resolve as many issues or questions as easily as possible, it’s essential to have detailed, up-to-date information easily find-able online. I’m amazed most days when I go online and do different things how easy it is to do or find out without talking with anyone, spending tons of money, or going way out of my way. You’re able to back up a show you’re watching by a few minutes if you missed something. You’re able to do returns and get customer service with just a few clicks at any time, day or night. We’re able to work just about anywhere at any time. All of this makes our lives easier, more productive, and gives us the freedom to do the things that only we can do, when we need to do them. I’m thankful for all that the internet allows us to do as customers and business owners.

However, I’ve also had some serious challenges over the past week that have shined a negative light on some brands too, both when it comes to people and technology/online information. In a couple of cases, there was a shocking lack of information or heads up that would have alleviated many hours of frustration and circling to try to resolve things. It costs a negligible amount to customize an email with the relevant information, to deliver an email on the day it should be delivered, to provide helpful how-to’s on the website that aren’t going to change regardless of a device or location or person, or to provide a number or email or support line that could connect you directly with a business location. These are things that could have helped along some or all of these things and would have avoided frustration for a number of people including myself and the employees I eventually spoke and worked with.

Many companies have come a long way with finding the right balance between real people employees and technology, but we still have a ways to go to make it all work as it could, and there’s no question that you have to have both excellent online and person-based customer service. What has your holiday season so far revealed about your customer service capabilities and issues? There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve got issues or that things are a work in progress, it becomes a problem when you don’t address the issues, or don’t accept that there are any issues in the first place. There’s still quite a bit of shopping and working to be done before the end of the year, so address the biggest issues now and make a list of what needs to be addressed and can wait until January. Don’t let poor online or in-person customer support be the reason you don’t succeed as a business.

Taking a (Holiday) Break

Success is a combination of many things. Part of it is ideas, part of it is following direction, part of it is taking initiative, part of it is reaching goals, part of it is about your team or support system, part of it is about getting things done, and there’s another part that we don’t always remember as being influential in our success journey, and that’s knowing when to stop and when to take a break.

The holiday season both adds a lot of stuff to our plates and gives us the opportunity and encouragement to take a step back and relax a little. I’ve noticed more this holiday season than ever that people aren’t sending a lot of emails and messages over the weekend, but instead are doing other things like going places with families, doing holiday things at home or just plain taking a break and watching holiday movies.

Sometimes the only thing you can do in both life and for success is keep pushing forward and keep taking action, or else you’ll end up under a pile of stuff deeper than some people’s email inboxes and you’ll never be able to get out. But it’s not healthy or sustainable or smart to live or work this way forever. Our bodies and brains aren’t designed to be “on” all day every day. They need the recharging as much as everyone around us needs us to take a step back occasionally and take time off.

Maybe you can’t get away for an extended vacation in the near future or can’t spend lots on gifts this year, but you should be able to give yourself and those in your life the gift of a break. Try to take at least almost the whole day, one day a week off, or even all or most of two days each week off and do things that aren’t work related, and especially are fun, seasonal or relaxing. You’ll find that you’re more motivated during the rest of the week to get stuff done, and more prepared to move into the new year that is almost here.

What are you doing to relax and enjoy life this holiday season?

Celebrating Christmas with Advent Calendars

Something that many families participate in during the holiday season is an Advent calendar. It’s a fun way to keep kids engaged and a simple way of celebrating Christmas for more days than just the one that officially is given the title of Christmas. It’s been something we did as a family growing up, and this year since I was gifted an Advent calendar, my partner and I have been doing it at night as well and it’s been more fun than I remember it being even as a child.

Advent calendars are essentially a way of counting down/to the day of Christmas, typically with one thing each day. Growing up we had some simple paper ones with a scripture behind each window, and for a few years we had Lego ones which were a lot of fun to create something special each day. Many popular Advent calendars today have a little piece of chocolate in them, although it’s pretty much open ended, as long as you have 24 different somethings to do like attaching a paper chain or doing a fun Christmas craft or doing different Christmas activities like decorating or baking cookies.

It doesn’t matter what the specific tradition is that you practice, or if you choose to do something different each year, it’s about doing something together as a family, honoring the season, investing the time to really think about the holiday of Christmas and all of what it means (both secular and religious), and of course having as much fun as you can during this time of year. For us adults, it’s a good break too, giving us a chance to step back from all that we’ve got going on, everything we’re thinking about and working to plan and have a minute to reflect on why we’re doing all we’re doing, and hopefully recapture some of the joy we had as a child about Christmas.

Do you have an Advent calendar tradition in your family, or is it something you would like to start? If you’re looking for somewhere to start, on my other blog this week I shared some fun DIY ideas.