Smoky Mountain Rain

smokies 020

It is so funny how things connect to memories in our brain. Seemingly unrelated things are connected by strange, oft forgotten, little triggers from our past that stir up memories of those times who framed our being.

I seldom remember how much I love sitting on a porch in the morning, sipping coffee, while a light rain comes down until it happens again. It isn’t an experience I ‘crave,’ but it is one that I always cherish when it happens. This morning was one of those moments and I was overwhelmed by the flood of memory connections that started to occur as I quietly let that moment happen.

I know that one of the reasons that I love softly raining mornings is that we had them a lot when I was a student at Milligan College in the mountains of East Tennessee. The rain would fall lightly as we walked or biked to class, coffee in hand, trying to wake up for an 8a lecture. Normally, when we came out of classes for lunch, the rain and fog would have burned off and we’d have a view like the one in the picture above greeting us. For some reason this morning, the temperature, fog, and soft rain were exactly right to trigger a very specific memory of a fall day of my junior year when I rode my bike to class in such a rain from my first apartment to campus. It was a glorious day, rain or no rain. I was so excited to be able to ride my bike to class with my new Mountainsmith backpack (which I still have), no longer an underclassman, time on my hands since basketball hadn’t started yet; a man with the freedom of living off campus!

And the memory connections continued…as I recalled that rainy mountain bike ride I remembered that a song popped into my head that day that took me even further back in time. When I was growing up my parents listened to the ‘new country’ of the time – The Carpenters, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Ronnie Millsap. That fall morning as I rode my bike to class, the song Smoky Mountain Rain popped into my head right off of one of my parents’ 8 track tapes and wouldn’t let go. I sang it over and over all the way to class that day. I’m singing it again this morning.

I was profoundly impacted by my time at Milligan College. In some ways it was the mountains, which I fell in love with and have been a place I’ve loved ever since. In some ways it was the lifestyle; an outdoorsy, laid back approach to a life lived in pursuit of knowledge and beauty. And in all ways it was the people – my best friends, my roommates, my first loves, my coaches, my professors, and my classmates who made up an environment that shaped me from a boy with few of his own thoughts and values to a young man who had figured out how to learn, question, search, and find what he needed to be successful in life.

I’m so glad that the brain finds ways to connect those little things in our lives to one another in amazing ways that allow us to recall and give thanks for moments in our lives that have made us who we are.

You Never Know

Jackcurious

You just never know who you are impacting with what you say, do, or write. Twice over the past few weeks I have had close friends tell me how a specific blog post that I have written has spurned them to think about some part of their life and has encouraged them to work on a change in that area. Then, this weekend, I ran into a friend who I haven’t seen in awhile and he told me that he has enjoyed reading my blog and appreciated the insights.

AsI was sipping my coffee on Sunday morning I got to thinking about how we impact people’s lives and don’t even know it and it reminded me of the picture above that I took this week of my son, Jack. Jack had finished swim lessons and we were waiting for his sister and he was reading this poster out in the lobby. I don’t even remember what it was for, but he certainly was absorbing it. He’s shown a recent interest in running, swimming, and biking so maybe he’s contemplating a triathlon?!?! Whatever he was reading is sure to come up in conversation this week.

What has been so impactful about those comments my friends made and my son’s curious interest in reading everything around him is that it is a reminder to me that the words that I speak and write, and the actions in my life ARE VERY IMPORTANT because people are listening and watching. In a world where it seems like everyone is only worried about themselves and rushing so fast they aren’t paying attention to anything, the reality is that everyone is still actually searching for answers and direction in their own lives (me included). You never know when a kind word in an email about something positive you saw someone do will encourage them to greater achievements. You never know when being kind and polite to your spouse in day to day interactions will be witnessed by your kids and replicated with their friends. You never know when telling a cashier or service provider how much you appreciate the work they do will add enough meaning in their life to keep them going one more day. And you never know what sort of impact you are having (good and bad) with the things you post on social media.

As I start a new week of business interactions and life to be lived, I’m going to keep in mind how powerful my words and actions can be sometimes. I don’t expect to move mountains with my wisdom this week or seal the greatest business deal of my life with slick-talking closing skills this week. What I DO EXPECT FROM MYSELF this week is to treat others with kindness, regardless of how they treat me; encourage the people I love about the strengths I see in them; commit to consensus building and honesty in all of my business dealings; and stay present with people in conversation so that I can really LISTEN to what they are saying so I can provide timely and creative insights. I think if I can do those things, no matter who is listening, reading, or watching they will walk away better than before they crossed my path.

The Danger of Assumption

There’s an old saying about what happens when you assume…you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. I’ve recently found out that making assumptions is also dangerous.

About 3 weeks ago, I got a new phone, switching from my iPhone to an Android phone. I won’t go into all of the details of why or argue the benefits of one over the other, but one of the nuances I found out about the iPhone is that when you change to a non-iPhone, but keep your same number, other iPhones still try to communicate with you via iMessage instead of regular text message (This apparently is a common problem – click here). Since I no longer had an iPhone, most everyone who did and was trying to text me, did not have their message go through. Apparently there is a setting on iPhones where you can disable this, but it isn’t a default setting, and hard to find, so most people don’t even know about it. What does this all have to do with assumptions…a lot.

In today’s world, we all have people that we text with as our primary form of communication. I have a couple of those types of friends in my life and this weekend, after not getting any text responses from me for over 3 weeks, one of my neighbors stopped over to ask me why I wasn’t responding to his text messages. Glad we talked, because he was starting to get upset that I was just blowing him off. Another friend of mine, who I work on projects with from time to time asked me this weekend if I wasn’t interested in the recent project he had asked about a couple of weeks ago? I’m sure my look back at him was puzzling because I didn’t know anything about it…of course, he had texted me and I never received it. His response when I apologized profusely and said I’d love to work on the project with him…”oh, I just assumed you were swamped right now and didn’t have time.” Missed opportunity narrowly avoided.

It’s not all my iPhone-toting friends making dangerous assumptions. I’ve been making these myself with clients recently, too. Months ago, a prospective client that I’ve been working to do business with for a year told me face to face in his office that he had 5 projects that he was going to bundle together and have our company work on for him. He even went as far as to give me tons of detail on the projects and I put together formal proposals for them and sent them over for his sign off. That was over 60 days ago. Since I’m in sales, I naturally continued to follow up on getting the signed contracts back – at first calmly asking about them every other week or so, and then getting more persistent and more direct about him signing the contracts he had promised. After 2 weeks of NO RESPONSE AT ALL, I assumed that something must have changed his mind and he just didn’t want to tell me…a competitor came in with a better deal, his superior nixed the deal and told him he shouldn’t have promised, budgets got cut and the projects got put on hold, he was tired of me badgering him and decided he didn’t want to do business with me…you name it, I had made up a reason as to why he wasn’t sending the contracts. Since this client is on the other side of the country and not returning my calls or emails, I chalked it up to business lost. And then, out of the blue, I get an email from the client…”John, sorry for the delay, I’ve been working on the details of a 6th Project that I want to include with the others so that you guys can work on them all at the same time – I’m sending over the details of the 6th Project and I’d appreciate you putting together a proposal for that one and we’ll get them all signed off together and get rolling.” Come to find out, the 6th Project is going to be as big as the other 5 combined!

My dangerous assumption caused me a lot of unnecessary heartache. I’m sure that my friends assuming I was ignoring their text messages caused them some anxiety as well. It did, however, lead to some good – it made me realize how much I assume about people, feelings, and situations that have no validity whatsoever. That is valuable for two reasons: 1) It is a reminder that nearly always my assumptions are false and until I’ve had a chance to discuss things face to face with the other person, those assumptions are irrelevant and dangerous; and 2) Everyone else is making assumptions about me as well, and if I want to avoid others making false assumptions I should be clear, straightforward, and open about what I’m thinking both personally and professionally. I can’t control the actions of others, let alone pretend to understand what they are thinking, so I’d best stay focused on the known and the now while I strive to make sure that I am open with others so they can stay there with me.

So, if you’ve been trying to text me and getting no response, I’m not blowing you off! Change your iPhone settings or give me a call and we can chat.

Small things

hotel work

The past year and a half has been an ongoing lesson and instruction for me in both mindfulness and productivity. It has been very interesting to me to watch my own development in these areas because when I started to really focus on mindfulness in my life, I had no idea what an impact it would have on improving my productivity. This improvement has come through focusing on and making changes in several “small things” that have added up to huge gains. I still have a long way to go to improve both of these areas, but I believe I’ve experienced the path that leads to success in these small things that will allow me to duplicate it as I strive to be a more mindful, present person and see that lead to improvements in my productivity.

There are many small things that I could go into great detail on that have changed in my life because of improved mindfulness. From setting aside time each morning to be quiet and meditate which has a calming effect to the start of my day to leaving my phone in my bag when I’m in meetings on the road so I can truly focus on the conversations and be present with my clients. Both of these things have made me healthier mentally and more productive. The list goes on and on, but recently I realized a small thing that I could change that would have monumental impact on my productivity directly.

I’ve been re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss as an inspiration to continue to push myself to greater flexibility and freedom in my life while being able to continue being a productive employee for the company I really enjoy working for and want to continue to be a part of as long as they’ll have me. One of the great things about the book is that it has a TON of useful suggestions of small things that you can change that will allow you to work more efficiently, with more focus on what is important, so that you can get more work done in less time (therefore freeing your time to do what you really want to do in life).

Two weeks ago I went in to my Outlook mail settings and turned off all of the desktop notifications. Long ago I had turned my cell phone email notifications to vibrate only, but always had that ‘ding’ and the small pop-up box in in the corner of my computer screen turned on so that no matter what I was doing I would see when an email came through and see the first few lines of the message. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in the middle of building an important proposal for a client or researching a prospective project and see something like this pop up:

FROM: Bob Smith
MESSAGE: Client Issue
PRIORITY: High!

Well, you know what I did…stopped everything and jumped over to my email as fast as possible as my blood pressure spiked and my mind started racing about all of the projects I was working with Bob on and speculating what it could possibly be…only to find the following message:
John,
Just keeping you in the loop on the issue at Client X that we were working through last week. Everything has been resolved and the development of their interactives is back on schedule. Call me if you want more details.
Bob

Whew, blood pressure drops back down, mind starts to settle back, but now I see there are 4 other messages in my inbox that I should look at and see what is up with those, maybe fire back a couple of responses; or it jogs my mind of something else I wanted to do and I start surfing the internet. 30-40 minutes later I remember that I was working on something and shift back over to the proposal where I spend 15 minutes refreshing my memory of what I was doing and the topic I was working on so I can get started again. Just like that, an hour of the day is gone.

The simple change of removing those notifications has kept me focused on the tasks I’m working on and finishing them before moving on to other things. And you know what I’ve found out…none of those emails that I don’t respond to immediately have cost me any business or any client goodwill, not one. It is a small thing, but one of the many small things that I’ve changed that have had a profound impact and it won’t be the last.