When Good Enough is Good Enough

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Me and my bike

Sixteen years ago this month, my husband and I were married. We were barely able to shake the rice out of our hair and clothes before we were asked about children.

Fourteen years ago, I gave birth to my incredibly handsome and wonderfully original son. Before I’d even mastered the art of the diaper change, I was asked when I’d have another child.

Fast-forward to 2014. Determined to overcome a back injury and subsequent surgery, I started running again. I was immediately asked when I’d run a 5k. As soon as I’d completed one, I was pressured to complete a half marathon.

In January 2015, I ran the Rock n Roll New Orleans half marathon. I had just posted the post-run I-can’t-believe-I-survived selfie, when a FaceBook friend asked the inevitable, “So, when are you running a whole marathon?”

That same year, I began cycling. Almost immediately, I was asked why I wasn’t competing in triathlons. So, I signed up.

I could go on, but I think you get where I’m going with this. When is good enough ever good enough? What prompts humans to constantly try to one-up each other?

In my case, I think there are several issues at play. First, I have an internal competitive perfectionist who simply can never be satisfied with status quo. She is always searching for the flaw, a string to pull in order to unravel my self-esteem and prevent me from basking in the limelight of success for very long.

Second, I think many of my well-meaning athletic friends suffer from a similar malady. Always looking for the next challenge, they’re not content with sitting resting and enjoying the moment, so I shouldn’t either.

But, it goes deeper than just competitive athletes. There seems to be an undercurrent in society of humans making themselves feel better by diminishing the accomplishments of others. I’ve heard it referred to as leveling. Basically, when we perceive someone getting ahead of us, we have the need to diminish their accomplishment, level the playing field.

It’s time to stop the madness. It’s time to recognize that a little competitive spirit is good, but when it pushes to the point that you can no longer see and appreciate your daily successes and the overall forward progress you’re making, it’s gone too far.

It starts with me. And you. It starts with allowing ourselves a breath, a moment of simple, “Hey, I really just did that and it was pretty awesome!” before we set our sights on the next challenge. Or not. I may choose to stay where I am, and that’s OK. Just because I average 16 mph on my bike and you prefer 20 doesn’t mean I need to improve. We have to stop ourselves from raining on our friends’ parades. Give them that same opportunity to revel a moment in their accomplishments.

That 14-year-old handsome kid? I was told I’d never have him or his little sister. That 5K post-injury race? I was told I’d never run again. I just biked 105 miles this weekend. I was told a year ago that I wasn’t built for cycling and should just sell my ride.

We are each on our own journey. My path may converge with yours for a moment, but you don’t know me, where I’ve been, nor where I’m going. I may not be the fastest on the road. Know what? I don’t have to be. It’s OK.

Let’s just enjoy the scenery.

 

 

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The Bright Side of Life

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
       Monty Python

Try to watch your favorite television program during an election season without DVR-ing commercials and you may soon find yourself thinking the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Being bombarded by constant negativity is more than just aggravating. I believe it can truly alter your mood for the worse.

There have been numerous studies conducted on the effectiveness of negative campaign ads as they relate to poll results. Do negative ads sway voters? For every voter who tells you he is put off by the ads, a researcher will point to studies that show negative ads work because they contain more hard-hitting information to help voters decide between candidates.

happyA different, but closely related question might be, “What is all of this negativity doing to our outlook on life?”

It’s not only the ads. Even as a former reporter myself, I can barely stand to watch the local or national news anymore. One horrific story after another. It makes me feel as if no one truly cares about anyone else, and there is simply no hope.

But, there is hope. It starts with one person making the conscious decision to be positive. To turn off the TV, log off of Facebook, put down the phone and help someone in need. Call me a bleeding heart, but I think we could all benefit from a big dose of compassion.

For Christians, the season of Lent upon us. This is a time of self-examination and reflection – the perfect time to begin building a habit of focusing on being the change we want to see. Personally, I am not only taking part in my yearly sacrifice of sweets, I am shifting my focus to others by participating in the Lenten Positive Acts Challenge. Giving up a favorite food or beverage only impacts the person doing the sacrifice. Committing to positive acts has a direct impact on the lives of others.

No matter your religious beliefs, I challenge you to become consciously aware of the negativity that surrounds you on a daily basis, and it’s effect on you. Bit by bit, work to add more positivity to your life. Too Pollyanna? Maybe. But, who knows? You just might find that those around you become a bit more positive, too. That definitely makes for a brighter side of life.

Join the Lenten Positive Acts Challenge here: http://lentenpositiveacts.com/the-challenge/

For additional inspiration:

http://www.chopra.com/ccl/10-ways-to-bring-more-compassion-to-the-workplace

http://www.positivityblog.com

http://pelicananglican.blogspot.com

 

5 Tips for Recruiting and Keeping Brand Ambassadors

For the past year or so, I have been in a love/hate relationship with the makers of one of my favorite protein bars. Because I still have mad love for the product itself, I won’t name the brand here.

I was fortunate to become one of the company’s brand ambassadors. Only, I never quite felt fortunate or appreciated. I watched daily as other ambassadors used social media to show off their branded gym bags, filled with free product like water bottles and tank tops while I made do with the occasional product shipment and hugely oversized t-shirt (seriously, it came down past my knees). I felt like Charlie Brown out trick-or-treating (“I got a rock.”)

Yet, I plugged away, sharing product samples, posting online product reviews and promoting within my fitness circles. Not once did the company use my images, my stories or my testimony. I continually was made to feel like a stepchild despite that fact that I was living and breathing their brand every day.

A couple of months ago, I received a cut-and-dry email, informing me that the ambassador program was changing. I was advised to reapply, and perhaps I would be chosen. Perhaps not. I reapplied, and heard…. nothing. Lots and lots of nothing. I called, emailed, tweeted, finally receiving a form message back saying that they still had not finalized the new program and I would be notified if chosen. Meanwhile, those lucky folks I mentioned earlier? They never missed a beat, continuing to post photos of their company perks.

I decided to retain some of my dignity and walk away. But, as a marketer myself, I would be remiss if I did not use this as a learning experience.

So, here are five tips for recruiting and keeping strong ambassadors for your brand:

  1. Have goals and a clear program plan. Make sure your would-be ambassadors know what is expected of them, and what they can expect from you.
  2. Know the type of ambassador you want and need. Establish this up-front so you don’t end up with step-child ambassadors like me. If you choose to have different levels, make sure that everyone knows going into it.
  3. Make them feel special and appreciated. Obviously, you feel they have something to offer your brand. Ambassadors carry your message to a wider audience and strengthen your brand. Recognize them and make them feel part of an elite group. 
  4. Ask for their advice… and use it. Ambassadors are your eyes and ears and can provide valuable feedback if you only listen to them.
  5. Reward them. It can’t always be about your brand. What’s in it for your ambassadors?

In Cycling and Public Relations, Visibility is Key

riding_a_bicycle_311140As I steered my road bike toward the intersection, I noticed the driver of an oncoming SUV was clearly more engaged in her phone conversation than on the stop sign she was approaching. Sure enough, she barely tapped her brakes before barreling on through. Luckily, I was paying attention, and hit the brakes just in time to avoid becoming her new hood ornament.

Afterward, I reflected on how important it is to pay attention and to be visible while sharing the road. That advice can also be applied to the world of public relations, where assuming your audience sees you can be equally deadly to your brand.

Here are a few other cycling tips that are applicable to your PR efforts: 

Have a plan  It’s always good to have an idea where you’re going before you put on your helmet and bike shorts. Similarly, when considering how your business communicates, having a strategic plan keeps you on the right path and helps you know how far you’ve come and when you’ve reached your goal.

You’re not invincible  At least once a week while cycling, I pass the same biker who is always riding sans helmet, on the wrong side of the road. I’ve never seen him with a toolkit or even a water bottle. With the closest neighborhood miles away, I can’t help but wonder what he would do if he ran over a nail or worse. The fact is, in cycling and in PR, expect the unexpected and plan for it. My bike’s toolkit always holds my cell phone, tire repair kit and energy gel. I always advise my PR clients to start on the right path with an achievable and measurable strategy which includes a crisis communications plan.

Learn the code  As an injured runner who’s cycling as part of my rehab, it has taken me a while to get up to speed on the cycling lingo. And, I still don’t know it all. It’s a continual learning process. Likewise, I work to stay abreast of the latest communications trends and tools. For example, social media can be an important tool in your communications arsenal, but only if you take the time to learn to use it wisely and effectively.

Persevere  When I first started biking, I had a terrible experience with a local bike shop. The owner had no clue how to work with female cyclers and had no patience with me, advising that (because I was struggling to find a seat that didn’t feel like sitting on barbed wire) perhaps the sport just wasn’t for me. I almost gave up and sold my bike. Instead, I stubbornly dug in my heels, found another shop with friendly and helpful staff to which I now give my business and referrals. The point is, don’t let setbacks stop you. Expect a little discomfort along the way, but know when it’s time to change course.

In my love/hate relationship with Facebook, hate wins (aka Why I’m Breaking Up With FB)

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About a month ago, I received a call from my mother.

Mom: “(Name) saw on Facebook where you posted something saying that you were a proud mother of a gay son.”
Me: “Mom, first of all, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Second, if that were true, while I would still be a proud mother, I wouldn’t use Facebook to publicly out my kid.”

As we say in the South, bless her heart. It was the straw that broke the Photoshopped, duck-lipped, selfie-loving camel’s back.

A recent study found that people who regularly use FB tend to be the most unhappy. As I read my news feed today, I understand why. It is 80% filled with thinly disguised racism, hatred, fear and ignorance. Arguments bounce around as each side of decisive debates try to win the other side over with not-so-cleverly-designed memes. The miserable feed off the miserable.

I’ve tried filtering, hiding, de-friending. But, still I find myself getting all worked up each time I log on and am met with a barrage of posts that go against my most basic beliefs in justice, equality and civility. I’m not sure why half of my ‘friends’ have actually befriended me when it’s clear we have nothing in common. Again, misery begets misery. Facebook actually knows this and conducted its own little experiment with your emotions: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full.pdf

The average person who has been on FB for 10 years has wasted 40 days of his life. For those more hard-core FB addicts, it can be as much as 150 days! Imagine what a difference we could make by devoting all that time to something that really matters.

Because I couldn’t have said it better myself, here are six additional reasons I am dropping my personal Facebook account: www.entrepreneur.com/article/234598

Now, because I am in the marketing business, some may ask how my loathing of this social media platform will impact the way I promote my clients. In short, it won’t. The same things that aggravate me about my personal FB page bug that heck out of me and cost my clients money when trying to promote a business. For quite a while now, I have steered clients away from using FB as a means to market their business, and haven’t been worse for it. Communication with customers is critically important and FB seems to block it at every turn.  I would rather focus my attention and my client’s dollars on using social media networks that help, not hinder, our efforts to build their brand.

Here is a great follow-up article from Eat24 following their break-up with the social networking giant, calling it “the best marketing move we made all year.” http://blog.eat24hours.com/eat24-life-after-facebook

Do I expect my declaration of independence (I just caught the irony of that since it’s almost July 4th) to really matter to anyone? No, of course not. The truth is, the folks who really care about me and want to see my kids (instead of just liking a picture of them) will drop me a letter, stop by for a visit, or (gasp) pick up the phone to see how I’m doing. The rest care about me as much as I care about the link you shared from your ultra-conservative hate group espousing your right to fly your Confederate flag or deny service to my gay friends, or the photo of that strange growth in your mouth that had to be lanced – all equally repulsive.

Girl Gone Mild

If you are one of the handful of followers who keep up with my posts, or you’re just a random unlucky Web surfer who stumbled upon my rants, you know that I am a runner who has been struggling with the ups and downs of recovering from knee surgery. If there is one piece of advice I hear most frequently, it’s “Take it easy.” As the legendary Tina Turner croons, “(I) never do anything nice and easy.”

I have always been of the opinion that anything worth doing is worth doing 110%. All in or all out. Yes, I can be a fairly intense individual. So, it comes as no surprise that being unable to run (or workout, or even walk very well) has been a mental challenge as well as a physical one. I find myself so discouraged by the fact that I can’t run a mile that I overlook the small gains that I am making.

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As I’ve worked to redefine my definition of success as it relates to physical fitness, I was reminded of one of the Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. If you are not familiar with the Four Agreements, I highly recommend you run out (pun intended) and go find a copy. The basic principles Ruiz outlines are simple enough to comprehend:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

4. Always Do Your Best

However, as evidenced by my audible frustration during physical torture/therapy, remembering to model them in my daily life can be a challenge.

The fourth principle is of particular relevance to my situation. As Ruiz reminds me in his book, my best will change from day to day. Some days, my best will be a 5K or half-marathon. Other days (or months), it will be cycling around the block, or doing squats without crying. The point is, whatever I am able to do, I should “avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” My best will change, but it’s always MY best, belonging to me alone. Others have their own definition of best, meaning I shouldn’t try to compare myself to the super fit elite triathlon pros who speed past me on the road. That’s not my best. Yet. It could be one day. But, for today, I will focus on the work that is at hand, knowing that doing my very best today will not only move me closer to my long-term goals, cutting myself some slack will most certainly improve my current state of well-being.

As I always work to tie in my learnings to the world of Communications, I should point out that these principles are absolutely applicable in the workplace. Just look at rule number one. PR professionals should always practice the Golden Rule, communicating with the highest of ethical standards.

What about two, three and four? How can you see these being important guideposts for communicators? What else would you add to the list?

Who Does She Think She Is?

Recently, my community experienced yet another tragic example of schoolyard bullying leading to suicide. A young girl at my son’s middle school took her own life, following alleged repeated bullying by her classmates. As you can imagine, this tragic incident has brought bullying back to the spotlight. Hopefully, it means parents will have meaningful discussions with their children about the impact of bullying. But, it has me wondering how many parents have the ability to have those discussions? How many of them are bullies themselves? I believe bullying is a learned behavior that I have experienced myself as an adult.

According to a 2010 office survey, thirty five percent of American workers say they experience bullying in the workplace. In fact, workplace bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment and racial discrimination, found the same study. Women more frequently engage in behaviors such as sabotage and abuse of authority, as compared to the more observable form of verbal abuse engaged in by the guys. (Source: Workplace Bullying Institute).

“Women bullies will often befriend you and then air all your secrets later, in boardrooms or at office gatherings. I’ve had patients that just can’t trust again after being humiliated like that at work,” says psychologist Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Institute.

All that sneakiness makes it harder to report, too. How do you tell your boss you’re being talked about and picked on without coming off as a whiner? Even worse when the bully is your boss. Been there, done that, got the dagger marks.

At the risk of sounding cliche, why can’t we all just go to work, do our jobs, and get along? What are the root causes of workplace bullying, and why does it happen more often to women?

“From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to compete,” says author Sophia Nelson. “I need to be prettier, taller, smarter, my hair needs to be straighter, curlier, whatever it is. I need to get the better looking guy. I need to always be better than because we’re taught to come from a place of lack as women.”

Perhaps we are threatened by one another and view other women in the workplace as competition. Despite all of the progress we’ve made, women still hold less than 20% of all board seats in corporate America, fewer than one-fifth of Fortune 500 companies have 25% or more women directors, and ten percent of companies have no women on their boards (Forbes).

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Mean Girls

The fact is, ladies, by constantly cutting each other down, we set our entire gender back. As Washington Post writer Selena Rezvani writes:

While workplace studies show women are routinely underestimated compared to men, we don’t give much credence to the fact that women hampering other women is also to blame…. Many of us have witnessed the man who comments on a woman’s hotness just as she leaves the room. But what about the woman who criticizes another’s appearance (Did you see what she was wearing in there?) or frowns on a woman’s unapologetic use of power (Just who does she think she is?)?

Maybe once we reach a certain level in our careers, we develop what Rezvani calls “sexism amnesia,” where we forget what it’s like to be the young inexperienced and underestimated girl. Or are we simply overcompensating? I’ve had female bosses that I felt were trying entirely too hard to be “one of the boys.”

So, let’s hear your office war stories. We all have them. Do men and women bully differently? How do we break the cycle and teach our children…and our co-workers…that bullying is not OK?

(Nelson’ five tips on how women can work with as opposed to against each other: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=33971183)

You Had Me At Hello

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Ice on the fleur de lis.

I spent this morning clearing out my inbox which, after two days of being stuck inside due to a rare Southern winter storm, became cluttered with all sorts of junk. As my eyes quickly scanned through the subject lines, I became aware of which ones drew my attention, and which ones I didn’t hesitate to send to the trash. The latter are typically unsolicited messages from unknown sources. They usually don’t address me directly, but instead lead with whatever they’re selling. “New!” “Today Only!” In a matter of mere seconds, I will decide if the message is worth opening and exploring.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “thin slicing.” It’s the ability we all have to find patterns in events based only on thin slices, or narrow windows, of experience. In other words, making quick decisions based on very little information. In our super-busy, get-it-done-immediately lives, marketers have a very narrow window of opportunity to make a first impression that will lead to a lasting relationship. 

The emails that cause me to pause and do a double-take are the ones that address me directly by my name in the header. “Hey Tricia, Wine’s On Sale!” It’s a start, but even then, it’s no guarantee I will actually open the email to read more.

Which brings me to the third type of email in my inbox this morning – the one that grabbed my attention and made a permanently negative impression. It’s a simple, but powerful thing. Get my name right! How can I trust you to deliver on anything you’re promising if you can’t even accurately spell my name? Also, make sure the product yphotoou are selling is relevant to my life. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I’m the right target market for “Hit the Road with Diesel Driving Academy” or “Erection Problems Making Your Wife Unhappy?”

It all boils down to Marketing/PR 101. Start with research. Know your audience and what make them tick.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your marketing dollars and your prospect’s time, both of which are in short supply.

Patience is a virtue

Patience is a virtue. I’ve heard and used this phrase all my life without giving it much thought. Recently, however, it’s been in the forefront of my mind as I recover from injury. (If you recall from a previous post, I was training for a marathon. I did complete that race – yay! – but injured myself running trails the week after. Bummer.)

The thought of being forbidden from running for the next two months makes me want to scream. The idea of weeks of slow and repetitive physical therapy is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I want to be healed now. I’m done with this. Move on. Next!

Life doesn’t work that way. Mind over matter only goes so far. (Especially once you turn 40!) I can’t mentally force my knee to heal itself more quickly. As hard as it is for me, I am forced to rest, recuperate and let others help me.

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What does this all have to do with communications and marketing? Having patience forces a communicator to realize a few things:

– I am not always right. I am human and I make mistakes. I need the patience to give myself some slack, learn from my error and move on.

– Even when I know I’m right, the client may disagree. I may need to redo a design or an article that I thought was perfect. Breathe in, breathe out. Patience opens us up to seeing other’s viewpoints.

-Patience forces the mind and body to slow down. In these quiet times comes reflection and greater clarity, leading to enhanced creativity.

Isn’t that worth waiting for?

Five Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Marathon Training

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Call it crazy. Call it risky for someone with my back issues. Call it a mid-life crisis. Each of those would be accurate an accurate assessment as I take on training for my first half-marathon just weeks before the big 4-0.

As I sit at my dining room table, icing my foot and sipping white wine (don’t tell my trainer), I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned from my fitness program thus far that are applicable in the office.

1. Believe that you can.  Sounds easy enough. Think positive thoughts. However, it’s much harder to actually put into practice. I truly do run better, farther and faster on days when I tell myself “You’ve got this!” than on days when I repeatedly moan and whine. The same is true in the business world. Positive thinking can do wonders for your own productivity as well as workplace morale.

2. Make a commitment and see it through.  Pretty self explanatory.  If you say you’re going to cross the finish line, do it. Give it your all. Nothing garners respect in the workplace more quickly than proving you’re good for your word.

3. Have a plan, but know that it may change. It’s not enough for me to wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon. I must have a plan to get me there. It’s also important for me to be flexible enough (and work with someone flexible enough) to adjust according to my ability and any unforeseen circumstances (refer to above mention of ice on foot). The lesson here is that the only thing constant is change. Deal with it.

4. Get outside your comfort zone. It’s the only way to grow. In running, and in life, you will never improve if you aren’t challenged.

5. Enlist help when you need it.  I knew how far I could go on my own fitness knowledge, and when it was time to call in a pro. As a manager, it’s important to know when it’s time to relinquish control and call in the troops.