Disconnecting to Reconnect

 

Not even 5 minutes into Disney World and we had no line to meet Mickey. Perfect and complete day.

Not even 5 minutes into Disney World and we had no line to meet Mickey. Perfect and complete day.

I’ve been out of touch the last two days because I’ve been closely in touch with my precious son. After two days at a yoga festival, we immersed ourselves in Disney and I honestly haven’t felt the need to send messages out to the world; it’s been a focused time on connecting one-on-one.

Remember when that used to happen? Yesterday in line for rides at Magic Kingdom, I was amazed at how many people in groups of families and groups of friends were disconnected and staring at their smart phones.

imageNot at each other. Not in conversation. Not looking eye to eye. Not feeling grateful for the moment and the place and this wondrous life.

For big pockets of the day, I actually turned my phone off. Who did I need to be in touch with, really? I was at Disney World with my son, a gift from God, and that was all I needed to know for the moment.

imageIn fact, I was awash in emotion. As the Christmas parade danced down Main Street U.S.A., tears spilled from my eyes. Not from the idea of a Christmas miracle, but from the glory of life itself.

How wondrous, a day in the high 70s with bright sun and cool breezes. How wondrous, to be walking through a world of magic with a child entrusted to me by the universe.

How wondrous, to be able to take this trip alone with him – and to do so with my other children, too – to snuggle up at night together, to laugh together, to focus only on him and look into his eyes and fully hear his voice in the moment because that is all I have to listen to.

You can see my little boy's hand waving fiercely to Olaf as the parade passed us. The power of belief is incredible.

You can see my little boy’s hand waving fiercely to Olaf as the parade passed us. The power of belief is incredible.

How wondrous to be truly present in this moment, not worrying about the next or the one prior. Just here, right now, together. True love.

Yesterday, we spent a good 12 hours at Magic Kingdom and we only left because the heavens opened up and poured rain down upon us. We returned to our hotel, stripped off wet clothing and climbed into pajamas, and then the bed, and ate from a room service tray while we watched children’s TV for hours.

The final show before we slipped into sleep was Arthur Christmas, about the one person who truly cares for every single child in the world. The idea that every individual matters and if you forget one, it is as if you’ve forgotten them all.

Shaya fell easily to sleep. For the first four nights of our trip, I did too, but not last night.image

Last night, work worries and silly conflicts from past and future flooded my mind and kept me up and tossing for hours. I was no longer present, no longer in this moment. I was already heading home to the land of rush-rush-rush and get-it-done.

The challenge, I believe, is to find a way to live in the here-and-now always, to cherish the moments and look into another person’s eyes and hear their voice clearly without interruption from worries and anxieties and what-ifs.

That Walt Disney created a character and from there an entire world where we can feel the magic and immerse in it, is truly wonderful. We should all change the world for the better at this magnitude.

That Walt Disney created a character and from there an entire world where we can feel the magic and immerse in it, is truly wonderful. We should all change the world for the better at this magnitude.

As I plan a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah for my two older children next year, I am reading about the reasons behind this ritual which has become the most widely known and observed Jewish ritual in America. Judaism and Jewish ritual is about sanctifying the moments.

It’s about noticing. Celebrating. Cherishing. Stopping to fill up with a sense of wonder and gratitude.

Most religions are, in fact, if we strip away dogma and judgment and get to the bones of what we believe.

We believe in whatever we believe in to give us back our sense of wonder and our state of celebration. It’s what Walt Disney created for the entire world here in Orlando. And it’s what we must create for ourselves, every day, if we are to live satisfying lives.

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On Kundalini Yoga, Tantric & Wearing White

imageThe sun shines brilliantly from the height of the sky down onto the soft grass, the crystalline lake, the white sand. It is perfect in central Florida right now, cool and refreshing at night, bright and light and incredibly warm during the day, and not a hint of humidity.

Yesterday, Shaya took to kids camp and I immersed in two incredible Kundalini workshops, complete with energy-moving exercises for my body and meditative ideas for my mind. At night, we fell into bed sore and happy, tired and refreshed.

3HO's Winter Solstice Festival in Lake Wales, Florida

3HO’s Winter Solstice Festival in Lake Wales, Florida

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Today, we woke early and packed up our things for a half-day at 3HO’s Winter Solstice Festival – yesterday a day full of classes, conversation and making friends (both of us), today devoted to White Tantric Yoga, an adventure in all white where you sit close to a partner for 31 or 62 minutes at a time, with the idea that the movements and mantras cleanse and purify you and unite every single person under the big tent (something like 500 of us) as one.

I’m not sure why I am here, but I think I’m glad about it.

I’ve been to yoga festivals before and loved them, but I have to say that this Kundalini world is the friendliest, most welcoming community I have ever stepped into.

Me in all white? Well it's pretty comfortable, I have to say...but is it a fashion statement?

Me in all white? Well it’s pretty comfortable, I have to say…but is it a fashion statement?

yoga, and Sikhs, welcome everyone and all traditions - it's not a we-are-better type of faith, and very peace-promoting

yoga, and Sikhs, welcome everyone and all traditions – it’s not a we-are-better type of faith, and very peace-promoting

That said, I’m not wholly on board with all the observances and rituals of this world. Yet, or maybe ever.

I have never fancied myself a follower and for most of my life, it has in some ways hurt me, in some ways helped. Because I can’t just follow along, I’ve never been immersed in the center, and fully belonging to, any community.

In high school, I had friends in every clique but was never in one deeply. In the religious world (Judaism, but also this Kundalini Sikh world and in college, somewhat on the fringe of the Christians), I connect with people at all points of the journey but never held a leadership pose.

You can’t if you don’t buy into the dogma, hook line and sinker. And some days, I wish I could.

It is so much easier when you believe, or sign on to belief, in one path. When you believe, like I do, that we are all the same, that all people are connected and similar and brethren, that every community is beautiful and wonderful and dangerous, then you are by definition not popular.

It’s ok. I’ve come to accept who I am and my role in this life. I will share one idea from this festival that rings powerful to me: there are two most important days of your life, the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Further, one of the teachers mentioned that it is better to be a teacher than a student, defining teacher as someone whose presence changes or inspires others.

Those two lessons alone were worth coming for.

And the friendships I made as well as those my son has made.

So here’s what it’s like in the Kundalini world: you walk down the street and everyone is smiling.

It doesn’t matter what you wear, what you look like, what you do for a living or where you’ve been – you are welcomed with a hearty “Sat Nam!” and often a hug. People smile at you just because you’re standing there.

People hug you just because you’re both here together. Conversations strike up on the sand street as you walk from the parking lot to the big white tent when you ask a tall, handsome stranger if a headache is a normal reaction to the tantric exercise you did.

(It can be. Think about doing a meditation with 500 people in an enclosed space and imagine all types of intense connections and releases.)

I am amazed at how many similarities continue to arise in every world I step into. In the religious Jewish world, there is a powerful notion that when you pray as a community, your prayers are more powerful.

image image imageIn the yoga world, when you meditate with many others, your meditations are more powerful, too, changing everyone present for the better.

We all talk about God and higher purpose and the meaning of it all. Think about that question – the day you realize why you were born? Have you made it there yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

(Why was I born? To write. Right this moment, sitting here crafting these words in beautiful nature, a perfect breeze kissing my face, I am in heaven. My purpose: to write, to inspire people with my words, and to help people find their truth through writing.)

As much as I was born into a secular world that poo-pooed the idea of God, I am increasingly drawn to the supernatural, the spiritual, the powerful underpinnings of all of us and all that is.

This world is so incredibly beautiful and wonderful and scary and perfect. We are lucky to walk on its surface and sample its moments.

imageRight now, I sit beneath two big leaning trees with fuzzy moss growing off the branches and blowing prettily in the wind. It is a gorgeous morning. Tents dot the landscape and a mom walks with a baby in a sling and a toddler at her side.

From the tent, I hear the teacher instructing the group in their next tantric pose. The white sand and volleyball net gleam in the sun.

Yesterday, my little guy kayaked around the lake by himself. An old man in a turban and a long scraggly beard said, “He is brave! Braver than I am.”

It was a small lake but the wind was strong, and I had to agree with the man. I beamed a smile. “Yes,” I said, “he is brave. He is very athletic.”

The man said, “He should always be athletic. He should not stop. Perhaps he will go to college and kayak competitively.”

It was a sweet and casual moment with a stranger on the beach, and both of us were focused on the positive glory of the child before us. For me, it was the maternal pride of watching my own offspring take flight with confidence and ease.

But for this man, what was the connection?

Perhaps the purely held belief that all of us are God’s creatures, made in the image of the Divine, and every moment, every small miracle, every brave step into the unknown is worth celebrating.

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The Power of Travel

Pacific Ocean, from Ocean Beach pier

Pacific Ocean, from Ocean Beach pier

I’ve circled the globe this year. Two weeks in India, a week in Israel, a week at the beach, a week in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’ve been back to San Diego (five times in three years), and I’ve jaunted to Sedona, Maine, Florida for long weekends.

There’s nothing like getting away to make you appreciate your life. And there’s nothing like travel to show you the beauty of the open world, the discoveries that await you.

In 2015, I plan to stay pretty close to home. It will be a change, for sure, and I am certain that come midway through the year, I will yearn to hit the open road. (Thankfully, family trips will take me away from home by car, and those getaways will fuel my hunger.)

The decision to travel less in the new year is motivated solely by the expense and detail of my son’s bar mitzvah in May and my daughter’s bat mitzvah in October. It’s a practical decision, not one that I make because I am sick of traveling.

Truth be told, one trip leads to another and creates a hunger to create new adventures, go as far-flung as I possibly could. And being the kind of mom I am, I want to take my children with me.

Path of Life Sculpture GardenRent an apartment in a tiny European town for a month. Flit to South America and stare up at the soaring Andes. I’d love to take my children to Bali with me and to India, just so they can see how other people live, but also to drink in the tropical air and the spirituality emanating from the streets.

Yesterday, I had breakfast with a friend, and we talked about how much we spend – she on others, a generous soul who finds herself paying the bill when friends go out for dinner; me on travel and gifts.

Travel, my friend said, is not a wasted expenditure. It’s the gift of knowledge, of experience, of opening your eyes. It’s like the way my father would give us carte blanche in bookstores when I was a kid: buy whatever you want, books are knowledge.

So is travel. You see the red color of the rock in Sedona and the unique outcroppings of the land, and suddenly you realize that not everything looks as it does in Michigan. That the landscape and the culture and the very air you breathe change from place to place, but that people at the core are utterly the same.

I often write about the similarities between all people, for I believe that is our undercurrent, the river running through all of us.

It is so true. And yet, the places we live bring their own unique circumstances so beautifully and those surroundings change us.

These streets are whisper-quiet and peaceful, welcoming, beckoning.

These streets are whisper-quiet and peaceful, welcoming, beckoning.

When you can walk in sunshine every day of the year to a coffee shop, you do it, and it makes you happy. When the sky above you turns gray 300 days of the year, so do you.

Our environments change us, they seep inside, they affect who we become. I long to live in a place where I can walk into the town square and buy fresh food on a daily basis for my simple, flavorful meals.

Surprisingly, I do love where I live. For all the bad rap Michigan gets, especially Detroit, I like the salt-of-the-earth people who live here, and I truly like the seasons.

I like the stories of our shared past, the communities that have sprung up and claimed this place as our own.

I like the fact that no matter where you go in this world, people are, at the core, very much the same. They care about the people they love, they work hard to earn enough money for their families, they snuggle in their beds with their children at night, holding them close until they are old enough to fly on their own.

The sun descended in the sky as we made our way back to the starting point. Full of peace, full of love, full of insight, for having the courage to be silent, in nature.

The sun descended in the sky as we made our way back to the starting point. Full of peace, full of love, full of insight, for having the courage to be silent, in nature.

We’ve heard it said that a life is a journey, and I’d like to think it’s true. If that’s the case, then indeed we must achieve that same sense of wonder and adventure that we have automatically when we touch down in a new city and take to unfamiliar roads just to discover what we’ll find there.

One of my resolutions for the new year ahead will be to infuse each day with a sense of wonder and discovery, a sense of enthusiasm for whatever I may find. I hope you can too. For there is no perfect place. Perfection resides within, in the knowing that there is no perfection, that each moment is a precious prism of jewel to be cherished and awed before it fades away.

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Dress for Success

Today my son, Asher, a 7th-grader, wore black pinstriped dress pants, shiny black dress shoes, a royal blue button-down and a sharp green tie to school. No particular reason.

At the end of the day, when I picked him up at the school door, he said, “I believe that how you dress has an impact on the kind of day you have. I had a great day, and I really think it had something to do with what I’m wearing.”

Profound awareness for a 12-year-old.

When I went freelance in the late 1990s, I promised myself that even working at home, I would shower and dress, do my hair, take pride in my appearance – even if I was the only one I saw that day. Most days I keep that promise, but sometimes I fall prey to the temptation to throw on Lululemons and a long-sleeved waffleprint shirt with Detroit embroidered across my chest.

On days like today, when it’s gray and rainy outside and I know I have a big trip scheduled for tomorrow, that shleppy outfit comes with a knit winter cap over my unwashed hair and glasses instead of contacts. No makeup whatsoever. It’s a miracle I have earrings on.

And I have to say, I feel like a shlep. My son emerged from the school building all upbeat and happy, and I huddled under my black umbrella, shuffling down the sidewalk like one of those moms I swore I’d never be.

Now I have to give myself some slack for having off days and times when I just want to chill. Sometimes dressing for success is the last thing on my mind – especially since I’ve been taking care of a sick child for three days, completing work before yet another vacation, and getting ready for Chanukah, which begins, um, now.

I made two holiday parties for middle-schoolers over the weekend and attended a neighbor’s holiday party to boot. Spent Sunday morning at urgent care with my 102-fever daughter. This morning I chopped shallots and onions with garlic before waking the kids for school.

It’s a lot. People ask me all the time how I do it all, and I’m starting to think it’s a bit crazy indeed to expect to get it all done. Maybe that’s why these comfy clothes beckon.

But I want to feel as happy and upbeat as my son, who by the way, carries the heaviest backpack full of obligations I’ve ever lifted and has a lot on his plate, too. We’re all busy. That doesn’t mean we have to look it.

The other day, I was featured on CW 50’s Street Beat TV show, talking about end-of-year planning for businesses to succeed in 2015. I wore a great outfit, including a tan jacket that a friend said, when he saw the segment, “I’ve never seen you in that!”

Apparently, the put-together look is an exception rather than a rule. And as I prepare to depart for a yoga festival in Florida followed by a little Disney escape with my youngest, trust me when I say that my suitcase is filled with “comfortable” clothes.

Since it’s that time of year, I am choosing to be inspired by my son’s revelation and resolve to put myself together more days than not in 2015. That means outfits and makeup, hair done just right and accessories to complete the effect.

That’s my New Year’s resolution, but it’s not for any of you. It’s for me. The promise is to my Self, to be happy, healthy and whole in the new year, and comport myself for daily success, even if I never leave the house.

What better gift could I give myself?

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Storytelling Makes the World Go Round

1412455936347 “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” ~ Hopi proverb

If you think about it, everything we do depends on storytelling.

How we make friends, build relationships, add new clients. How we deepen our existing relationships, how we tell the world we exist.

This weekend, two of my children hosted holiday parties for friends. After, they recounted the stories that unfolded. They felt closer to their friends, energized by the experience of coming together and sharing time.

Storytelling-cartoonThe Sunday newspaper arrived, and we opened it up to read the stories. Stories about books and about businesses, about how women have it hard in the U.S., sacrificing career for motherhood or vice versa. Stories about how people meet and how they decide to commit to one another and stories about where relationships go awry.

That about sums it up, you know. Even in the political arena, it’s all storytelling. Terrorists take over an Australian coffee shop, waving a Palestinian flag. In Iraq and Syria, as the Islamic State wields power, out come the stories about what is allowed and what isn’t, who will be put to death and why.

Stories, stories everywhere. If you think storytelling doesn’t matter, you’re dead wrong. The person to speak first and speak the loudest and have the easiest-to-follow storyline is the one who wins.

Professionally, I help other people tell their stories. I help them find the right audience. I help them channel through the right storytelling mediums.

storytelling3Someone asked me what my story is, my purpose, my direction in life. What am I here to do? Simply put, what is my story?

I didn’t know what to say. What IS my story? What IS my purpose? I’m so busy helping other people discover theirs that I haven’t taken the time to do it myself.

It’s imperative that I do, of course, because without clarity on what story you need to tell, there is no success. Life begins and ends with a story. We come into this world amid stories of love and anticipation, we gain our name based on story and legacy, we spend our lives telling stories until the very end, when we sit calmly and at peace, sharing stories with whomever will listen.

storytellingWhat I love most about older adults is the stories they can tell. The sense of history and purpose, discovery and calling they share. Last week, I met a woman who is a pastor and a yoga teacher. “I’m so lucky,” she said. “I get paid to think about God.” Great story.

Now, the key is to find my own. Here I write a story to share with you, and after I finish and click publish, I’ll need to devote the day – or perhaps the week, or perhaps even longer – to discovering my own unique purpose. What a fantastic exercise. What a daunting task. And perhaps the most important task of all.

“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.” ~ Michael Margolis

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Parenting Tweens

My daughter's 6th-grade holiday party yesterday, decorating cookies at the dining room table

My daughter’s 6th-grade holiday party yesterday, decorating cookies at the dining room table

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Some of the finished cookies

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Cookies awaiting decoration as they cool on the kitchen table

Yesterday, 10 6th-grade girls filled my house to make holiday cookies, decorate them with frosting and colorful edible beads and sprinkles, watch a movie and eat pizza. The volume level rose, with high-pitched squeals and giggles, and the energy increased, girls sliding across the floors in exclamatory glee.

Today, it’s 8 7th-graders, 3 girls and 5 boys, and there is a mellower vibe. They’re making Chanukah menorahs out of wood and pipe cleaners, bottle caps and glass tiles, on a Jewish-themed blue tablecloth. My son carefully selected the background music – the a cappella station from yesterday was just too jingly, he thought, and so we have Pharrell on Pandora.

Two boys have already migrated into the family room – enough of the art time. Here come two more. They’re done with being creative. The female energy stays in the dining room, huddled in a corner.

Recalling the middle school parties I attended – in basements on weekend nights, M&M’s in giant bowls and popcorn and chips. Soda and punch, no parents dared to peek downstairs, and the lights dimmed darker as the night wore on.

It seemed like every weekend someone else had a party, and we migrated from house to house, sharing secrets and crushes and giggling in corners, wondering if the one we liked liked us back.

My children do this, too, now, and in a way they are more eyes-open to the real world. But in some very great and surprising ways, they are more innocent than we were at their ages.

Yes, they are besotted with technology and always in contact with everyone they know. Photos of them in all sorts of poses and expressions float around the cybersphere in fantastic time, never to be retracted, sometimes offering them up to trouble.

My son's 7th grade party started with menorah-making art projects followed by pizza and this movie

My son’s 7th grade party started with menorah-making art projects followed by pizza and this movie

But I can tell you that my middle-schoolers aren’t as experimental as we were, and I’ll just leave it at that. My son’s party started today with an art project, something I doubt I would have consented to in my 7th grade glory.

There is a rich sense of connection and community among kids today. For all the bullying and cyber-talking and in-touch-ness of their generation, they are also wishful and sweet.

I delivered pizza just now to the basement group watching Maleficent on the couch. The girls huddle together, the boys around them but not quite with them. Separation continues, until it doesn’t, and we’re not there yet.

I watch the quirky navigation between the genders, the wondering, the yearning, the shy does-he/she-like-me-back, and when I ask, what if they do, what does that mean, the kids just look back red-faced and sweetly embarrassed and say, “I don’t know.”

My son's artistic menorah, made today at his 7th grade pre-Chanukah party

My son’s artistic menorah, made today at his 7th grade pre-Chanukah party

Because all it means is that you’re liked and you can claim another ally in this world. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I think of all the trappings and tradeoffs of relationships, I think about how we muster up emotion for scenarios that don’t quite exist. So much of life’s interactions have nothing to do with core reality. And yet we ruminate and posit and dissect he-said-she-said as if everything is paramount.

It’s not.

The sun rises each day and it sets again. People come in and out of our lives. Relatives are given to us, and if they weren’t we may or may not choose them as friends. We make our best situations from what we are given.

We choose friends and then we release them when that phase ends, but some get to stay for good. We show our version of gratitude and love, and some people receive it as such, while others have no clue what we’re trying to say.

This dance of connection goes on the whole life long, for each of us, and I just hope that by the end, we start to get some things right, finding the peace and love we all yearn for and ultimately deserve.

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Grassroots Marketing: Straight No Chaser

straightnochaserThe first thing the guys from Straight No Chaser said on stage last night at their Detroit concert was to encourage the packed Masonic Temple crowd to take photos and videos of the concert and post them widely on social media.

What a refreshing change from most musical acts!

SNC 5Perhaps because the a cappella group Straight No Chaser won fame and a record deal by a YouTube post that went viral in 2012, the 10 guys who first formed a singing group at Indiana University in 1996 encourage sharing and grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing as a way of growing their fan base.

I love it. Not only are they an amazingly talented group of singers who creatively riff on popular tunes, representing the 40-something stage of life exceptionally well, they are brilliant businessmen.

Bumper stickers are another great grassroots marketing tactic. There is so much you can do to crowd-source your growth.

Bumper stickers are another great grassroots marketing tactic. There is so much you can do to crowd-source your growth.

They even mentioned on stage how much they appreciate grassroots marketing as a way to build their fan base and spread the word about this unique and unusual singing group.

We saw them last night, a Chanukah gift from my brother’s family for my family, and we fell in love. Even my youngest was bobbing along to the beat.

I’ve taken video of my kids dancing before at a party, and when I go to share the video on Facebook, it’s flagged and taken down because of the popular recorded songs played by the DJ in the background. Here is a band who not only doesn’t mind, they encourage recording of their concerts and sharing – in the style of the Grateful Dead all those years ago – making their openness and sense of community sharing attractive and alluring for audience members.

Simply put, we are part of the effort to build the band. And that makes the listeners, the fans, important. Not just because they like the show but because each and every person in that audience is valued as having a crucial part in the growth and success of the band.

fwb_frozen_20140110That makes the performers everyday guys, average Joes. After all, they talk about their wives and kids, the debate within the band as to whether a Frozen medley is tired or popular (the 5 guys with kids won – they sang it to great applause).

Any group that welcomes in their fans as some of their own can’t help but win over any audience. It’s a brilliant approach to marketing – commiserating together as equals, a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude, a sense of community around the brand.

Every business can do this – whether big or small. And they should.

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The Power of a Thank You

say-thanks-grow-business-designer-rob-russo It’s good manners, yes, but also good marketing.

A handwritten thank you note, a quick email just to say thanks, an end-of-year card with a custom chocolate to show gratitude.

However you do it, saying thanks goes a long way. And when it comes to building your business, you can’t say thank you enough.

I blogged about the new dentist yesterday (read it here) – the week after my kids’ appointments, a handwritten thank you card came in the mail. We already had a good experience. This just cemented it.

mandala_033_gratitudeLast night, I shopped at Michael’s with the kids for holiday parties they’re planning this weekend for friends. We went in search of holiday-themed cookie cutters and found lots of Christmas trees, angels and candy canes. No menorahs, no dreidels, nothing Jewish.

I asked the cashier about it, and she said, blank-faced, “We didn’t get anything this year for Chanukah. Try another store.”

No compassion. No concern. I was peeved. I shared my disappointment and asked if she could convey that to corporate, so that they knew for next year’s inventory that Jews do in fact shop here. Minutes later, another customer came to the checkout to ask why there was nothing for Chanukah in the store.

1079966The difference between saying thank you when you don’t have to and turning a blind eye when a customer expresses disappointment is huge. I was mildly annoyed to find nothing in stock, but after the blanket stare and it-wasn’t-me lack of concern, I was highly annoyed. Isn’t her job to make sure my experience with the business is positive?

The problem with big-box stores is they don’t have to do much to win our business. Show up and shop. They’re big. They have deep pockets for advertising and plentiful coupons.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll care about you.

Your-People-Logo-02A small business, even a mid-sized business, should care. They have skin in the game. They need the business. And dare I say, in this economic climate, where we have all we need and more options than we could possibly consider, every business would be wise to court customers and do the dance of appreciation.

At the end of every year, I find a way to say thank you to my clients. This year it’s custom cards and Your:People branded chocolate bars. A little something, but it’s something. One year I hosted a luncheon with an inspirational speaker and invited all my clients and staff to attend.

thank-you-post-it-752x483There are many ways to show appreciation. But taking the time to handwrite a note or pick up the phone and say voice-to-voice, thank you so much, I really appreciate you, it just carries more weight when it comes from the heart.

Years ago, my sister-in-law and I went to a little yoga studio in Petoskey when we were up north with the family on vacation. We are not in any way likely to be regular customers, though we enjoyed the class immensely.

Sure enough, a week later a handwritten notecard arrived in the mail at our homes thanking us for coming in.

As far away as we get with technology and face-to-face interaction, we have to be even more careful to make those human connections. Thank you notes, personal calls, whatever it takes – to stand out from the crowd, you truly have to make the effort.

And if you’re in this for the long-run, there is no shortcut, no other way. Jump in full force, wear your heart on your sleeve. There IS room in business for the heart. Dare I say, it’s what makes all the difference.

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The Way to do Business: Paul Darmon, DDS

Mouth careI never thought I’d find anything blog-worthy about a dentist.

I mean, let’s face it: how exciting can it be to clean teeth? And really, aren’t they all the same?

Over the past two years, my kids and I have had a fantastic journey from a dentist I saw for years, to a transient dentist-friend whom I thought had a more holistic approach to teeth health, to the dentist we chose, Dr. Paul Darmon.

The quick story is this: when my long-time dentist found six cavities in my then-six-year-old, and his hygienist aggressively told me that every single thing my son ate would lead to cavities, including bagels, carrots and apples, my son freaked out, frightened of this crazy person sticking into his mouth, and I freaked out, having never had a single cavity myself.

Rather than submit to the diagnosis that my little boy would need a “kiddie root canal,” I sought a second opinion from a dentist-friend. She took a look and sure enough, Shaya had six cavities – none deep enough for the root canal, though. She suggested he might eliminate gluten from his diet and see if that improved things.

Well, my kids had endured four years of stomach agony with no apparent recourse, and the minute we kicked out the gluten, not only did his teeth improve, his stomach calmed. Brilliant. We were hooked, and we vowed to stay with this dentist from then on.

Until she switched offices. Twice. And that was just too much moving around for my taste.

relationship-marketing-loyalty-trustSo I set about doing research, taking recommendations and trying to find a dentist whose teeth-side manner and approach to mouth health matched what I was looking for. Plus, I wanted someone with a good solid reputation who wasn’t too old to retire before my kids grew up. No going anywhere. Staying put.

We chose Dr. Darmon really because he took the time to call me directly when I inquired, and gave me his cell phone number in case I had any questions. Sight-unseen. I could have been a lunatic patient. He welcomed me in.

My kids have seen him already, as have I. And each visit impressed the hell out of me.

I don’t know if Dr. Darmon takes a deliberate business approach to his practice, or perhaps it’s just his way. If the latter, it’s amazing because every word, every step amazed me as a brilliant way to do business.

IMG_4656The women at the desk have sunny smiles and are friendly. The office decor features gorgeous photographs of happy patients, with brilliant smiles. The hygienists are welcoming, friendly and focus on educating patients in what they can do to improve their mouth health.

I always thought I went to great dentists. But no one ever recommended a different toothpaste or toothbrush to help stop odd staining or gum recession. The others just noted that it was happening and asked questions, but no one took an active approach to try to heal the problem.

IMG_4653They did at Dr. Darmon’s office.

And another thing. As a new patient, I was ushered into his office for an interview, where we had a lengthy conversation about my entire health history as well as our lives. He wanted to get to know us so that he can best treat us.

For the one thing any businessperson knows is that customers are multifaceted. He’s treating the whole patient, not just teeth and gums. If I can’t understand my clients’ entire lives, their hopes and dreams, the reasons they went into business, how can I help them grow?

I left Dr. Darmon’s office yesterday highly impressed and motivated to spread the word. He has no idea I’m writing this. I just had to point out that even a dentist can do business right, and it likely makes all the difference.

relationship_marketingIt seemed to me that he is a happy man who loves what he does and has built a team of the same energetic, motivated people. The company culture and values are clearly articulated, otherwise there couldn’t be such harmony and flow.

After my first cleaning and set of x-rays (by the way, I’ve never had such a full set of x-rays – talk about thorough!), I am hooked. I love my dentist. I’d recommend him to anyone, and not just I but my kids, too, can’t wait to go back.

It’s all about how you engage with people, the relationships you build, the passion you show for what you do. It applies to any and every business. And it truly makes all the difference.

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A Few Days in San Diego

shutterstock_101574643Sometimes you have to go away to come home.

That leaving, that immersion in a culture and a climate different than your own, facilitates perspective.

In our daily lives, we get tunnel vision. We don’t see the beauty all around us, the wonder, the miracle in the work we do. We get stuck in routine. We eat bad food. We become depressed. We focus more on cleaning up the kitchen and taking the garbage out and finishing the laundry and getting the kids to bed.

Nowhere in the regular routine, so it seems, is room for two yoga classes in a row or a mile walk down an unfamiliar road to discover a new place to write and sip tea.

Except, all of that is possible within our own regular lives, if we want it there.

finding-inspirationThat sense of wonder, of discovery, of exhilaration at the sun shining so brightly and the smell of the air kissing our skin, that exists everywhere we go. Were I to live in San Diego, and travel to Detroit on business, I might find that sense of wonder in the cold air, the industrial city.

It’s all in how we look at it.

Here, I have been working, and working hard. The neighborhood walks have been investigative so that I can direct my client in growing her new studio population. I needed to understand the world around me in order to get inside it.

IMG_4827

Moonlight Beach, Encinitas, as the sun began to set yesterday

It was easy to look at San Diego with new ideas. I don’t live here, though I’ve visited five times in the past two years. And when I come in cold December, it’s easy to fall in love with the sun and warm air.

That said, there is wonder and discovery everywhere if we are primed for it.

Marcel Proust said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

And even then, if we are always looking outside ourselves, what good do we do?

Thomas Merton said: “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.”

Strong words from a spiritual scholar.

We have one chance at this life. We’d better make it a good one. Why do we walk this planet? Why are we born into the families we have? What difference can we make in our communities, in our relationships, in our paths?

Those are the questions that we need to answer, whether we stay at home consistently or like I have this past year, travel the globe.

I admit, it has been an incredible year. I’ve been to Sedona, India, Israel, Maine, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Delaware beaches, Washington, D.C., San Diego. I’m sure I’ve traveled to other places too.

I mastered swimming in a supportive group early in the summer mornings, feeling more alive than ever. Each time I have taken a journey for myself, I’ve grown. I’ve gotten back in touch with my Self, reconnected with my soul.

This, outside our breakfast restaurant this morning, Snooze in Hillcrest. Do we really have to go away to ponder such questions?

This, outside our breakfast restaurant this morning, Snooze in Hillcrest. Do we really have to go away to ponder such questions?

That is the key: self-care, time alone, a journey to the center of the Self.

I’ll admit something that you may not believe: I almost didn’t go to India. Something in me reared up and said, don’t do it, it’s too scary. 

I worried about being away from the kids too long, and from my business. I worried about what India would be like, what I would eat, would I get sick, would I turn away in disgust from the poverty and filth.

Well, I overcame my fears and went and I am forever glad that I did. As I boarded the plane in Dehradun, the first leg of my long journey home, I cried. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks as I stared out at the landscape, the Himalayan foothills in the distance, the men lined up at the airport fence to watch the planes climb into the sky.

I didn’t want to leave.

A whole new world of spirituality and a different kind of rich living (inner living!) opened up to me and though I wanted to see my children after two weeks on the other side of the globe, I really didn’t want to go.

I’ve never felt that way before. Usually, five days into a trip, I am ready to go home.

spiritualYes, sometimes we have to get away from our routines in order to truly find ourselves. But then the biggest challenge is that we have to find ourselves again and again inside our ordinary lives.

We have to wake each morning, even in the pitch-dark, and see brilliance and possibility and hope and inspiration. We have to walk familiar streets, drive carpool, listen to the children bicker, and respond with love, love, love.

We have to be our very best and strive to make the world a better place from our homes, from our workplaces, from the children’s schools, from the family of origin where we have always felt out of place.

You have to go away to come home. And then once home, the lesson is in the staying there, the getting comfortable, finding inspiration in the familiar.

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