Yesterday, my dog and I hiked the foothills of Mt. Diablo, grateful for the sunny California winter day that is incubating a vibrant blanket of fresh, green shoots. Nature is setting the stage to welcome the new year.
Lost in thought about my own new beginnings at the turn of the year, a bright glimmer caught my eye. Darting among the branches of an ancient oak tree, a few birds were likewise soaking up the sun…literally. With the full force of the mid-day sun behind them, there was a split-second where the light shone through their opaque and downy white-tipped wing feathers and rendered them translucent. In that fleeting moment, the artistry of their flight transcended from gliding and graceful to shimmeringly radiant and other-worldly.
A moment made at the intersection of simplicity and serendipity.
May your new year be filled with translucent moments that shine a light through the well-known to reveal something magical that lies just below the surface.
In battle, it marks a failure to win a battle. But in life?
This week, I’m retreating. And I’m doing so with a group of 20 women, many of whom I’ve never met.
We are gathering on a mountaintop lodge — remote even from the sparsely populated town at the base of its long, long, long private gravel road. The lodge and tiny town share a zip code and a spectacular view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca separating Canada’s Vancouver Island, in British Columbia from the northern tip of America’s Olympic Peninsula, in Washington State. This setting in the crisp chill of early Autumn at the top of the tree line, naturally inspires slower, deeper breathing; softer, quieter thinking; and a sense of deep reverence.
Remote Lodge, Bankrolled from Bear Guarding
This place is testament to the vision and passion of two brothers, who opened Soule Creek Lodge 16 years ago as a place to connect their professional expertise as chefs with their personal passion for enjoying and preserving pristine natural environments.
This labor of love was bankrolled by a stint of lucrative but “unusual” work in Alaska, cooking salmon and guarding bears. Turns out that accomplished chefs can elicit equally passionate responses from two- and four-legged diners. The problem is that if the latter ever actually taste the food, their addiction to the savory simplicity of dining on at someone else’s table marks them for extermination, as they could become very dangerous moochers. So, the accomplished epicurean siblings had to take turns either preparing meals or standing guard with pepper spray to deflect the interest of prospective 900-pound diners with names like ScarFace and Victor.
That fund-raising junket also taught the brothers about the value of another kind of agility: the ability to have a plan B and plan C at the ready. So, when the Alaskan weather grounded the sea plane explorations that brought them many of their dining guests, they learned to captain and curate their own boat trips to offer stranded visitors with alternate and unique options to taking in the majesty of their environment. These experiences, in turn, fueled lively dinner conversations and new-found community around a long, shared table in their restaurant.
After six subsequent years of searching the Pacific Northwest for the right location, they found the foundation for Soule Creek Lodge. At the heart of this mountain top site ringed with a collection of unique Yurts on cantilevered decks, is the main lodge featuring a restaurant with sweeping views. In keeping with the commissioned First Nation art depicting family paintings from a traditional longpole house, the dining room is intended to inspire and connect its guests with a single seating for each meal at a long common table.
Yurts, Yoga and YOLO
An apt setting for the retreat’s mission: to take the time and space to learn more about ourselves — our innate behaviors and passions — and explore how we can connect who we are more successfully with what we chose to do. And the bonus: connecting with 20 women at various stages of leadership in their work, their communities and their networks.
We’re here for a workshop to better understand ourselves. With facilitators, we’ll look at the individual results from our SuccessFinder behavioral self assessments. And we will also explore how those results connect us as a group —a cohort— of participants that we can learn with and learn from.
That reflective, introspective workshop is in the middle of an agenda shaped to advance mind, body and soul. Like last night’s delicious dinner (sans bears), the workshop is a savory entree, preceded by a developmental amuse bouche: sunrise yoga with a majestic dessert of daily hikes in the wilderness at the water’s edge.
I am thrilled to be here, briefly retreating from a life busy with responsibility, commitments, and deadlines to explore, advance and more purposefully experience what’s possible in this life that you only live once.
Confession: I am middle aged, but spend the first part of every morning watching cartoons.
Brightly-colored characters speak in short sentences, flash simple words and phrases, and wait on me to respond or reiterate what they’ve just said. All from my phone. And with every correct reply, like Pavlov’s dog, I look forward to my reward: the satisfying “DING.” Better yet, I earn a trumpet serenade by accumulating my daily quota of 30 XP (experience points).
Not so far off from my kids mornings with Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer years ago. The biggest difference: I am an old dog, learning a new trick—the German language. (ich bin ein alter hund and lerne einen neuen trick). My cartoon pals are all on my iphone german language app, DuoLingo.
I harbor a tiny flame of hope that in one month, when we help move our son to Berlin for his first job, I can be marginally more helpful knowing a tiny bit of local language.
But to be brutally honest, my husband an I are gleefully signing up “to help” for a marvelous excuse to travel, see new sights, taste new foods, dance to new music, communicate a little (ein bisschen) in a new language, and embrace our new stage of life as empty nesters.
So, in addition to many hours on the internet scanning apartment listings, indulging in HouseHunter’s International in Berlin, watching Rick Steve’s travel tips, I am having some fun taking a daily dose of language with my free DuoLingo app.
With Oktoberfest around the corner, it is fun (if a tad nonsensical) to learn to talk about drinking beer, drinking beer with your husband, drinking beer with your friends, and yes, even on occasion drinking beer with a cow or dog. I don’t plan to drink with animals, but it makes me smile to translate those sentences while sipping my morning coffee.
So, even if your near term travel will be mostly virtual from the comfort of the internet, why not introduce a few choice words into your vocabulary and your relationship? It’s fun getting a little lost in translation together.
Speed: a core ingredient of success in the technology marketing world. Here in Silicon Valley, you need to: be a quick study; have hair-trigger responsiveness; and learn to make your point in a nanosecond to an increasingly distracted audience of peers, customers and influencers.
And if you are a consultant in this world —surviving on your instincts, context, contacts and flexibility—you sometimes need to fly by the seat of your pants to ensure you meet the speed requirements of your clients.
But what if you discover that the seat of your pants has literally ceased to exist?
Yup, it happened to me this morning. On route to a new business meeting at 9:40 am, my biggest concern was the one thing you can’t plan for: chemistry. I’d done my homework, read market research, prepped key points and business questions and had a proposal on my iPad.
I’d also given thought to my wardrobe—which in the post business suit world is a social minefield for women— navigating the fine balance of professionalism, function vs. fashion, dowdy vs. trashy, etc. But I felt confident in my choices:
-Sweater and shoes: fitted and fashionable styles, neutral palette, but still functional enough to walk a mile from the train without heat stroke nor injury,
-Fitted leather jacket: took the edge off the windy 55 degree morning without being an “establishment” suit blazer;
-A few select accessories: bold designs, yet sleek and good quality silver, and
-A pair of tailored pants: age-appropriate cut and material, and comfortable enough to navigate whatever start-up situation awaited me—bean bag, floor mat or rolling ball chair.
I was on my game with eight minutes to spare if I walked quickly.
What I was totally unprepared for: a nasty “wardrobe malfunction.”
It started innocently enough. “Excuse me, Miss, I thought you might prefer hearing this from a total stranger,” said the handsome business man walking up from behind me. “It appears that the back of your pants has…um…come undone.”
Aghast, I felt the backside of what I’d thought was a flattering pair of trousers, to find a gaping—and growing— hole at the seam. “Oh, no! I am on my way to an interview!” I managed, incredulous at my predicament.
“I’m sorry, perhaps I shouldn’t have told you,” offered the kind man, who had been following behind a demure, age-appropriate pair of gray pants with a peek-a-boo swatch of silky bright orange panties competing for attention.
It was my very own Bridget Jones moment.
With a ten minute walk still ahead of me, I had to come up with a plan:
a. try to buy a pair of appropriate pants (requiring a 15 minute wait for the closest stores to open) and call the client to request we start the meeting half an hour late, or
b. attempt to cover my blooming backside with my (well selected, outfit-coordinated) bag, and back into the room, praying that the act of sitting down didn’t blow my cover.
Flabbergasted, I decided to keep moving toward the meeting and option B. For peace of mind, I called my husband. “What would you do?” After he remarkably swallowed at least three inappropriate scenarios that jumped to his creative mind, he suggested: “Tie your jacket around your waist, march in there and let them know that you are dedicated enough to their business to overcome a wardrobe challenge.”
As I contemplated tying the bulky leather jacket, unable to help himself, he added: “Or, buy a gray Sharpie to replace the orange panties.”
Three blocks and seven minutes from the meeting, I found a new lifeline, Siri. “Women’s clothes near here.” Miraculously, she served up the Levi’s store, directly across the street from my meeting—and even more fantastical—open at 9 am instead of 10. I jogged the last block, well aware of the refreshing breeze, and dove, laser-focused through the door. A lovely salesperson asked if I needed help. “Oh, yes, this is a retail emergency!” I gave her my details and requirements and she yanked two pair of jeans from the hundreds folded on the wall display.
I must’ve done something kind somewhere in my past: the first pair fit. Perfectly.
Two minutes later, I strode into my meeting, on time, with a slightly bulging briefcase filled with great ideas, strategy and a pair of butt-less pants.
No one was the wiser. I got the job.
I haven’t worn Levi’s since high school. I am now a brand champion for life.
Beyond my profession as a marketer, I draw on skills for persuasion daily in my other roles: as a a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sibling, a neighbor, a friend, a volunteer and a pet owner.
An incident yesterday got me thinking about the ingredients of effective persuasion. When you mix all of the art and science tricks in your repertoire to no avail, how far are you willing to reach to help cajole someone to change their thinking or take a different course of action?
Case in point: persuading a 14 pound dog to run around a 3 mile lake.
No brainer, right? Wrong.
Understandable challenge if the dog is old, overweight, arthritic or ill. Or maybe just lazy or unwilling to brave an unseasonably cold, rainy or hot day. But, what if there is no reasonable reason?
In marketing speak, my dog was already a satisfied “customer” that I was sure would be an easy “renewal”. She already loved our daily runs in every conceivable venue from mountain trails to beaches to neighborhood sidewalks and even across the noisy new span of the Oakland Bridge with a zillion lanes of traffic. And her Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction) was off the charts: she cajoled every other dog–and even tried with a few cows, deer and turkey–to come and run with us. So I thought I was good judge of her overall customer experience, level of engagement and willingness to respond favorably to an adjacent offer.
As we hopped out of the car at the lovely local reservoir on a stunning, sunny afternoon (in a small window of time between kid sports), I was comfortable that I was backed up with my time-tested communication tools to see me through a successful experience:
1. A leash and one word: “run?” This does the trick 99.99 % of the time and is equally, efficiently effective for trips to the beach, jogs in the neighborhood, and adventures across miles of open space trail running.
2. Occasionally, there is a need to pull out the big guns: “treat?” Which brings the girl back, boundingly, across hillsides, from muddy ponds, and even tantalizing explorations of a hillside brimming with squirrel holes.
And then the inexplicable happened. My ever-ready running friend and ally stopped. Cold. She was suddenly, maniacally consumed with a grass-born OCD. Each and every blade of grass along the trail now needed her personal triage: to be sniffed then methodically sorted into a to-be-eaten or to-be-peed-on classification. Every single blade.
Amused, I watched carefully, determined to understand her motivations and needs. About 5 minutes and 89 blades of grass into this, I engaged her with a little “campaign prompt” about how much better her experience might be with a change of venue.
She gave me the doggie version of an email unsubscribe. Not interested.
Then I tried proving the clear value of my customer service –and without her asking– I picked her up and carried her for a while, free of charge. When I put her back down to let her test the new experience for herself, she balked.
GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock recently said in a keynote address to a roomful of marketers, that the ultimate skill of marketing is “to fly well in the fog.” And even though everyone else out on this glorious day at the reservoir was indulging in 75 degrees and a bright sunny sky, I realized I’d run a-ground (or a-grass) in the fog.
Cajoling (“run?”) and bribery (“treat?”) were not working. Then, I tried the toddler- tested skill: distraction (“see the squirrel?”). Finally, the signal in the noise! She temporarily dropped a blade of grass from her mouth and looked up for a furry plaything… Buoyed by that momentum, I tried again: “Oh! Let’s go find that squirrel… I see it over there, let’s chase it!” She jogged 10 steps, then sniffed out my totally over-hyped promise. And went back to her fascinating weedy triage.
Flabbergasted, and with the carpool clock ticking in my ears, I made one more desperate attempt. A bit of a high-wire act for me to attempt on a deadline and in front of dozens of happy, sun-drenched exercisers. But desperate times…
A little shyly, I tried the first one in a suitably high pitched tone: “blah-dahl, lah-dahl, lah!” My dog stopped her 312th pee and looked up, warily. So, empowered, I let it rip, full-throated with no pride left to protect and a deadline to meet: “BLAH-DAHL, LAH-DAHL, LAH!” She was transfixed, alert, attentive to my every movement–we were on the hunt! She and I could both see and smell them in our imaginations–a gaggle of ungainly, opinionated turkeys. I’d reached her actionable core, and it was time to make my move to persuade the ultimate action–a full out run around the 2.99 remaining miles of this lake loop.
And so there I was, the fearless, feckless marketer, delighted to have hit on the magic elixir that persuaded my pint-sized canine to change course and try a new action. Loudly doing my best turkey imitation: over and over and over, past every single blade of grass.
I’ve built my career as a wordsmith. As a marketing professional, words are core to my craft. I love to collect them, to connect them and run my mind across all their direct, nuanced and euphemistic possibilities.
Over the past few months, as I’ve explored my next career move, I’ve had to explain myself with words: in resumes, during interviews, in application forms, on LinkedIn, in 140 character Tweets, etc.
Once, I was even asked to choose the one word description that close friends, my husband or colleagues would pick to describe me. Intrigued, I actually asked. Here’s who I am to others cornered with this socially-awkward request (you can guess which one might be the spousal reply): Honest. Smart. Creative. Caring. Demanding. Fun. Energetic. Persistent. Engaging.
And, as I consider becoming a consultant and starting my own business, I’ve asked myself for the words that best describe my values, my mission, my aspirations and my “freak factor” that sets me apart from others. I feel stymied and even shy about applying words to myself, a bit like trying on a bikini in a brightly-lit dressing room. I am tuned to inspect, interpret and cultivate stories for others, their business models, their products, their visions.
But yesterday, at the beach, I caught a moment that captured my imagination. One I’ve been mulling ever since.
A solo swimmer, 30 yards from shore, relentlessly, effortlessly, exuberantly sliced through the water, again and again, to catch and hitch a ride amidst the gentle waves. A perfect, 75 degree sunny day had snuck in, unannounced to weathermen nor Spring Breakers, leaving the wavy playground to him and no more than a three dozen other people along this long stretch of Stinson Beach coastline. And he was clearly oblivious to anything but the joy of the surf.
As I watched him repeat his dance — slicing forward, darting beneath a wave, cresting the surface to turn and ride another one in– I noticed something else. Not six yards away, every time the swimmer ducked under a wave, another head popped to the surface to observe him. It was a harbor seal.
The hide and seek game lasted for about seven rounds of body surfing. The seal successively and successfully dipping beneath the water just as the boy turned to glide back in. Then, the water unexpectedly calmed. Boy without plaything, seal without cover, the two emerged simultaneously, serendipitously, mere yards apart. They each stopped, looked unflinchingly at the other, as the sun glinted off their two dark, wet heads. Just as quickly, the next wave brought them back to their respective missions.
That energy, curiosity, playfulness, openness, boldness and purposefulness was all empowered by one thing: buoyancy.
Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.
I recognized, in that moment, the word that captured and connected my mission and my passion: to create a level of buoyancy in marketing storytelling. To enable ideas to push up against the weight of market pressures, distractions, and apathy with an unflinching vibrance and purpose.
Thanks to those swimmers, the sunshine and Stinson beach. I am propelled forward.
For the first time in 19 years, our family’s Spring break broke this year. Okay, maybe it was just me. And I guess it was really more of an uncomfortable contortion, than a break.
This is our inaugural year as 1/2 nesters, proud parents of two freshmen: one in college and one in high school. To underscore the dichotomy, their respective schools delivered separate–but equal–spring break schedules. Exactly one week apart from each other.
Add to that, a few key milestone events: the week before break was the wonderful, inspiring celebration of my 73-year-old mom’s marriage. And the following week was our daughter’s 15th birthday.
The final touch: a little real-time work/life rebalancing as my husband and I test drive the concept of two separate consulting businesses: same house, different specialities, different clients and different home office spaces. A lot of uncertainty and many spinning plates, but off to a promising start. That is, until one of those office spaces — the sunny, quiet and recently-converted guestroom/office that I have claimed–reverts during college break to a temporary teenage hibernation vortex.
So, with wistful memories of last year’s Spring break road trip down the California coast, filled with kayaking, biking and even dune riding on ATV’s, we all agreed to a plan-free, play-it-by-ear spring break season, 2014, anchored between a bride, two clients and a birthday. What I didn’t anticipate was my own long, strange trip within the walls of my home: in a quest for the consultant’s holy grail, a private spot with working computer and phone charger.
In one tragi-comic four hour span –with a bylined article deadline looming and two conference calls set right in the middle– I went from:
-Temporary squatter’s rights in my husband’s well-appointed den for an early morning conference call, until his pending video editing deadline got me booted to the
–family room table, where I wrote 3 marvelous paragraphs of copy until heart-warmingly rare sibling bonding over a video game prompted me let them savor the sweet shared moment of digital assassinations. So, I stole away to the briefly-abandoned, darker and messier
–office/hibernation vortex for about 45 minutes, before said college boy reclaimed it for his internship project and like a pinball, I went reeling back to
-the family room table where, in the blissful post-assassination quiet, I discovered that our very old Mac desktop was vomiting a trail of gray pixels wherever I moved the mouse, burying unsuspecting files and tool bars alike in its wake of gagging, gasping health.
Apparently, I must have emitted a bit of gagging and gasping myself, as my husband soon came downstairs without a word, crashed around in the garage for a few minutes, then disappeared upstairs, arms full, for some more scraping, crashing mayhem. Five minutes later, he collected me, a functioning laptop and an armful of cords, keyboards and accessories and deposited me into my new office: a folding picnic table set up in our bedroom.
Voila! A genius move.
Just as I got re-acclimated and finished the first page of my article, my lovely college boy peeked a look around the door. “Hey, that’s cool! Look at all that space! Can we trade desks?”
Suffice it to say that my son is back at college today, and the sweet little red writing desk that I assembled myself, stands unused in his recently vacated room, awaiting our reunion. But for now, on this cold rainy April Fool’s eve, I am content here at the big plastic picnic table in my bedroom.