Everything I Need to Survive The Family Vacation I Learned at the Office

national lampoon

With the last day of school behind us, I now look forward to the next milestone of the summer, The Big Family Trip. Not the one you take with your own spouse and kids but the one you take with your family, your siblings’ families, and your aging parents. That One. Ours is coming up in July. And, though my 80-year old father proclaimed to me on the phone one day after returning home last time that really, he only needs three days with my kids, we are doing it yet again. One full week together, all 11 of us in one house.

Ever since I became a parent, it’s been a little more challenging to coexist harmoniously with my own parents. It’s ironic, though, because I thought parenthood would bring us closer, by shining light on our similarities, and strengthening our connection. But, all it really seems to do is poke giant gaping holes in our relationship, causing heartache and stress. The judgments about how I rear my children are fierce and frequent. They can be sneakily subtle or blatant and bombastic. It has made cohabitation with the crew a bit gnarly to say the least. But I look forward to this years’ week together because I am armed with a new strategy that has been working well for me.

With this trip on the horizon for not just me, but likely many of you, I’m going to share my strategy, in the hopes it may also help you through your time, however long, with Your Entire Family. My strategy is a simple one. It’s so obvious and yet we all overlook it. It is this: Treat your family like your clients or boss.

I know – it sounds crazy, but let’s first consider the amazing diversity of the group of 11 people in my family, which comprises seven adults and four children. We are diverse in age with the oldest turning 81 and the youngest at 7. We are diverse in level of education, with some graduate degrees, some college, and some high school. We practice different religions, and some of us practice no religion at all. We have members who are ethnically and culturally different, making the game of charades or Trivial Pursuit a little more interesting, if not frustrating. Some of the women are Moms, some are not. Some are business owners and some are not. We are mostly liberal Democrats, but there is also one Republican. God help him. I could go on here, but the point is, we are as diverse a group as any office may be, and this makes it challenging to reach consensus on everything from what to do about dinner, how to spend the day, and how much to spend on accommodations. Every individual comes to every decision point with a unique set of needs and desires, a different value set and a strong opinion. Just because you are family, doesn’t mean you will all click.

On vacations past, I’ve cried the whole flight home, wondering how I was even related to these people, vowing never again. But now, with my new found strategy, I return home with my nerves intact. Now, I’d like to impart this wisdom to you. Here’s how to survive your family on vacation, using basic strategies employed at the office.

1. Change Your Tone. You know how we all have our business professional tone and lingo at the office, but on the drive home, we all morph back into our casual slang selves for family? Well, the first rule of surviving vacation with your extended family is not to do that. When you arrive to your vacation destination, maintain the business professional tone with your parents and siblings. I don’t mean be a stilted suit. You are not a stilted suit at the office, right? I mean, just be your most courteous self. No swearing, no back talk, no muttering under your breath. Enunciate. Speak slowly. Choose your words carefully. Use a positive, upbeat tone. Be assertive without being aggressive. Be affable. Don’t, whatever you do, let yourself slip into your old familial role, whatever that may be. I am the youngest, by the way, in case you’d like to psychoanalyze me as you read this. But, I swear this works wonders. Your whole family will see you differently and they will react differently to you. Treat them as you would a difficult colleague or boss, with courtesy, respect and the assumption of goodwill. You may not feel less annoyed by what they say and do, but you will survive. You can scream into your pillow late at night or on a jog on the beach, when no one is around.

2. Don’t React Emotionally. This is critical. Someone is likely going to say something to you that rocks you to your very core. Whatever you do, DON’T REACT EMOTIONALLY. Let the offending words roll over you like an angry ocean wave. Let the salty sentiment gently exfoliate the outer layer of your skin, but don’t let it penetrate in. Calmly acknowledge what was said with perhaps a genuinely said, “Interesting,” then, redirect the conversation elsewhere, or if you can’t, hum a tune in your head instead. I choose “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Walk away whistling it.

3. Practice Socratic Questioning. You know this savvy management trick, right? Peel the onion. Don’t assume. Get to the heart, not by proclaiming answers, but by asking questions. “What do you mean? How’d that happen? Where did you learn that?” Asking questions (not in a judgy tone, but in a “pass the butter” neutral tone) instead of giving answers, not only shows others you are very interested in what they are saying, it has the added benefit of leaving your opinions and judgment out of the conversation, which can be triggers for arguments. It also helps to keep the conversation going. You’ll seem insightful, too.

4. Take Criticism Gracefully. Perhaps this is the toughest of all the lessons, but arguably, the most critical for the good of the trip. This will likely happen a lot. You have to be strong. They mean well. Instead of thinking of them as siblings or parents who exist merely to make your life miserable, think of them as your personal, trusted advisors, giving you the keys to unlock your future. When they say you should put more money away, be tougher on your kids or turn down dessert more often, don’t blow them off. Blow them away with a, “You know, you are so right. I am going to do that.” Then serve the additional blow by asking them, “How do you suggest I go about doing that?” We both know you are not going to do that. But at least they’ll feel they’ve been heard and considered. That’s all they want. And it sounds like you are genuinely interested in bettering yourself, even if you’re not.

It can seem awkward at first to use this level of formality with your parents or in-laws or siblings, but you will be amazed at the positive reactions you receive and how much smoother things go. You may even get to planning next year’s trip with them a year in advance. And if all else fails, bring some voodoo dolls along. It can’t hurt.

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Which Good Wife Girl Are You?

ImageTo say that I am a HUGE fan of The Good Wife would be an understatement. All week I look forward to Sunday nights and all during the show, I grow more and more anxious that the hour will soon be over, and I’ll be left waiting Lord knows how many weeks before I get the chance to see them again. Invariably, while I watch, I compare myself to Alicia Florrick, the show’s heroine.

It’s complete and utter flattery that I let myself make the comparison, for I haven’t the education, skills or beauty of Ms. Florrick, but a girl can day dream. I’ve begun to consider the show professional development, because I come away each week feeling inspired, not just by Alicia, but by many of the show’s female characters. Each woman wields such power, grace and control. Ordinary women like me have much to learn from them. So in your work or personal life, which woman of The Good Wife are you?  

Alicia Florrick – (Calm) The wife of a disgraced state’s attorney, Alicia is the very definition of cool under pressure. You almost never see Alicia cry, but don’t think she isn’t hurting or full of doubt. Despite her pain and insecurity, Alicia always seems to find a way to get what she wants in work and in love, while being true to herself and the law. Alicia never loses her cool or composure in front of people, and to take the time to plan what she’s going to say so that she can deliver the precise message that’s needed, at the right time, with the best impact.

Elsbeth Tascioni – (Spoof) Elsbeth is a quirky woman that you think couldn’t be a good lawyer. Don’t be fooled. Elsbeth may lose track of the conversation, be ridiculously distracted by background noise, and not present the polished package you’d hope or expect from a litigator, but she’s the real deal and knows her stuff. Elsbeth uses her quirks as her weapons to confuse, discombobulate and disorient her opponents. Elsbeth’s quirks are, in effect, her strengths. You’re standing there scratching your head, while she’s already knocked your strategy into pieces and on to her next victim.

Kalinda Sharma – (Guts) Kalinda is a private investigator who is also fiercely private herself. Though petite in stature, Kalinda packs a punch, literally. The girl can fight and she’s not afraid to. Her one weakness is that she doesn’t trust anyone, but that’s what also keeps her on her toes and ready for anything. Kalinda teaches us the power of the poker face, and that physical strength can be very sexy. She uses her strength of silence to protect her heart and her physical strength to protect her bod. Thigh high boots don’t hurt either.

Diane Lockhart – (Spirit) Diane is a senior partner at the firm and a fierce competitor. She makes the tough decisions, delivers the unpopular news, and enjoys the heat. She will stop at nothing to win. Diane puts the be-“yuch” in boss. She has the uncanny ability to love and hate you at the same time, and fight and support you in the same breath. Watch out. Has she just promoted you? Or has she actually kicked you to the curb? You have no idea, but you walk away feeling good about it.  

I think what draws me most to these women is that they are all flawed, but also very strong and effective. It makes me believe that despite my shortcomings, my strengths can carry me. Though I like to think of myself as an “Alicia,” I think we’ve all got a little of each of them in us: the calm, the spoof, the guts and the spirit. Rock on. Be your own Good Wife Girl.

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C’mon. Tell Us How You Really Feel.

With all the honest revelations coming from some very big brand CEOs lately, you may be tempted to react as I did initially, and say, “Geez people, why don’t you learn a lesson and keep your racist or prejudiced or small-minded thoughts to yourself, for the sheer sake of your profits?”

But then I thought, no. I am glad to learn how these corporations-that-are-people actually feel about things. It narrows the market for me and makes the buying choices much easier. So, now I say, “Tell us! Please tell us how you really feel.”

I look forward to each day with a new kind of eagerness, excited to learn which new brand to avoid. Here’s my running list so far (in no particular order):

  1. Chick-Fil-A – because they’re against equal rights for Gays.
  2. Boy Scouts – same as above.
  3. Walmart – a million offenses against human and environmental resources, but mostly for discrimination against Blacks and women, and anti-Gay policies.
  4. Barilla (the number 2 pasta company in the world) – See #1 and #2.
  5. Hobby Lobby – For an unwelcoming attitude toward Jews and other Non-Christians. I’ll bet Gays, too.
  6. Abercrombie and Fitch – For their proactive campaign against the uncool or overweight.

The next group has had a history of anti-Gay policies or practices, but I am not sure where they stand today. A lot has changed in the last year, the last two years and the last five years. Let me know if you know differently about the following companies:

  1. Dollar General – Discriminatory hiring practices against LGBTs.
  2. BMW – same as #7.
  3. Cracker Barrel – This I should’ve known. They have a long history of discriminatory firing of gay employees. They’ve since changed the policy, but still supposedly offer no tolerance or diversity training, no domestic partner benefits and no support to LGBTs.
  4. Dish Network – Won’t carry LGBT networks, and shareholders voted against a policy that would’ve stopped the company from hiring based on sexual orientation.
  5. A-1 Storage – the second largest donors – more than $600K – to Yes on Prop 8 (DOMA) in CA.
  6. Gold’s Gym – Damn, I am in a contract with them. I didn’t know the CEO is a major donor to American Crossroads (Karl Rove’s gig that has a huge anti-Gay agenda). Not renewing.
  7. Domino’s – Damn again, just had it tonight. The CEO also contributes to organizations that work to block Gay rights and domestic partner benefits.

I hope I am wrong about #7-13. The info I obtained is from 2008 and a lot has changed since then. Perhaps they all have changed. Let me know if you know. I hate to leave Domino’s, especially when the Papa John’s guy seems like such a jerk, too (Google his comments about the Affordable Care Act).

Who else would you add to the list and why? It’s time we let brands know how we feel about them with our wallets.  

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Mike Jeffries, You Ignorant Slut

So Mike Jeffries, clueless, narcissistic CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF), is at it again. Abercrombie saw a 33% profit loss this past quarter and he’s blaming it of course on the economy. That’s right, the man who spent the first and second quarter of this year alienating teens everywhere with his grotesque comments about who’s cool and who isn’t, blamed his colossal loss on the fact that the recent uptick in the economy hasn’t trickled down to teen buyers yet. Oh really? Is that so? Hmm. Then how does he explain the profit increases in that same period by competitors Urban Outfitters and The Gap? They’re targeting teens, too, so what gives?

Well, let’s see…let’s roll the footage so to speak. Here’s one memorable thing he said recently, in case you don’t recall. Maybe this has something to do with it:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

What he’s saying here is that alienating large swaths of teens is a deliberate activity. He’s intentionally insulting the masses. Why? Because he wants to excite us and I guess it’s too vanilla to be nice. And, he somehow thinks that in doing so, he will generate sales and profit from a tiny, exclusive group of beautiful American teens (whatever that means) – and might I add rich too – (see: A&F washed denim shirt, size youth medium $70).

But, don’t you see Mike, that when CEOs offend large groups of people in their comments, people stop liking the company and stop buying from it (see also Chick-Fil-A)? Perhaps your latest quarter performance is your fault not the economy’s. The uncool kids (and make no mistake they are the majority) have spoken. They are showing you just how they feel about your comments with their wallets.

It’s bad enough they have to worry about whether they’ll fit in at school. You are assuring them that even at the mall – a traditionally “safe” teen haven – there’s yet another place where they also don’t fit in. Good job, and, as a Mom of a precocious, prepubescent tween, thanks a lot.

You fool, thinking that by catering to an elite group, as defined by only you, you will carve out some crazy profit-making niche. Just the opposite my foe. For in the real world, where the rest of us live, it is cool to be real. It is cool to be naturally yourself and to care about people beyond their clothes, their bodies and their skin. Even teens get that. So you keep up your crusade to only clothe the cool people, and the rest of us Gap-clad geeks will watch while your empire falls. That will be really cool to see.   

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What Birth Control and Recycling Have In Common

Funny thing happened to me at the library today. I have been working there a lot lately, now that it’s summer. I usually work from home and though I do have a sitter for my kids, it’s still quite loud and distracting for me to be home when they’re there. So, I’ve been packing up my laptop, files, mouse, notebooks and other supplies, and setting up shop in the library each day. Usually, I pack some small, quiet, neat snacks and a water bottle so I can stay there for long periods of time without leaving. Today, after packing up my files, papers, pens, mouse, and laptop, I grabbed my empty water bottle and headed out. On my way, I passed several waste cans, and even some paper recycling bins, but no bins to recycle my water bottle. I peered into one waste can and saw three or four empty plastic bottles. Most people would see this, think nothing of it, and move on.

But I couldn’t ignore the irony that I had just spent the better part of two days working on a project to improve recycling in the local community, and there, in my neighborhood library, not ten feet from the chair where I sat toiling over how to do just that, recycling was not happening. So, I went to the information desk and asked about it.

Me: Hey there, I see you have paper recycling bins. Can we put plastic bottles in those too?

Them: No, they are just for paper.

Me: Do you not have plastic bottle recycling bins for the library or are they somewhere else?

Them: Well, no. The thing is, there is no drinking in the library and we don’t want to encourage drinking by providing recycling bins for plastic bottles.

Me: [a completely blank stare]

I am dumbfounded. I have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I am reminded of sex education and the argument against giving teens condoms, because it might cause the sex to happen.

Providing plastic bottle recycling bins isn’t going to encourage drinking in the library any more than providing a condom will cause the sex to happen. Providing the bins prevents the placement of a perfectly good commodity in a landfill for thousands of years. Just like providing condoms prevents the pregnancy.

Did I mention there is a soda machine (that serves up plastic bottles) on the same floor where I was working, right by the bathrooms?

So, the library will be happy to take your money for the drink in the plastic bottle, but they don’t want you to drink it there, and if you do drink it there, they will not enable you to recycle it.

Not great for an institution of learning.

Library – 1 Recycling – 0  

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Please Take the PR Pledge With Me

Media relations. Sigh. For many PR people, it’s the core of what we do. For many others, it is but just one strategy out of many we use to get the job done. I am in the latter camp. I use it sparingly, when it is the right strategy for what my client or company is trying to accomplish. I believe that too often, media relations – the practice of working with members of the print, broadcast and digital media, to place a story – is the “go to” strategy companies use when they want to get the word out about something, or raise their profile in the public’s eye. Rarely is it the right strategy for them. For one, it’s like hoping you’ll get hit by lightning while in line to buy a lottery ticket. The chance of placing a story, due to the incredibly vast competition for air space and ink, is so slim; it’s often not worth the time invested. But more importantly, it’s usually not even the right strategy for the client or company. By that I mean, in most cases, the target audience comprises only a tiny fraction of the audience of the media outlet, so the return on that invested time spent getting the story placed is not great.

Alas, many PR people still try. Boy, do they try. Many will stop at nothing. They hound reporters with their calls. They make long boring pitches. It’s embarrassing, quite frankly, for all of us to be in the same camp. With client demand to be in the news so often and cohorts killing the game with bad practices, what’s an intrepid PR professional to do?

I used to think that the Universal Accreditation Board’s accreditation (APR) for PR people was the answer. I had originally thought more than ten years ago when I became accredited, that this for sure was the answer. If we all followed the right school of thought, the right approach and strictly adhered to a code of ethics, then we could tamp down on the reckless use of media relations. Through this we would improve our success with clients and bosses, and improve our reputation with journalists. But I’ve found, unfortunately, that the APR is not the answer. It just hasn’t taken off within the PR community the way I had hoped. Not enough of the good folks have it. Many that don’t have it can’t earn it because they don’t have the right foundation of learning to pass, and many that have it still aren’t playing by the rules.

The best I can come up with is a pledge. For simplicity, I am calling this, The PR Pro’s Pledge. It lays out all the things I will not do for a client or boss in the name of smart and savvy PR practice. My thinking is, if enough of us sign this, and share it with each other, and more important, share with clients and bosses, than we may have a real chance at success, whether that success is for our clients, or our own reputations. United we stand against bad PR. Please join me. Sign this. Present it when asked to violate these rules and refuse to violate them. We can’t do it without each other, so let’s do it together. Take the Pledge:

The PR Pro’s Pledge

I, (insert your own name), being of sound and strategic PR mind, hereby swear before all my PR and journalism colleagues, to abide by the following rules for best practice public relations. Should I violate any of the rules contained herein, let me be shamed in a public forum of my peers, with nary a media call returned to me, so long as I shall practice PR:

  1. I will not spam journalists by sending multiple journalists the same, generic release or pitch in the same email or in separate emails.
  2. If I have to send a generic release or pitch because time is tight or there’s a gun to my head, I will at least hide all the addresses in the BCC line or send them separately with a personalized salutation.
  3. I will not call a journalist on deadline to see if they got my email.
  4. I will not try to pitch a journalist a story after the journalist has become a victim of an email blast where all other media outlets were visible in the email TO line.
  5. I will not turn off my cell phone after sending a release or pitch on a Friday about a weekend event.
  6. I will not pitch a story about a client or boss receiving an award, unless my client or boss is an A-list celebrity, a high ranking authority, or a truly remarkable individual.
  7. I will not pitch a story that is not news to anyone but my client or boss.
  8. I will not lie, stretch the truth, or even white wash information to make my client or boss appear better than they are.
  9. I will not purposefully hide information from, or circumnavigate questions asked by the media.
  10. I will not buy advertising with a media outlet in attempt to garner more coverage for my boss or client. I won’t even suggest it as a strategy.
  11. I will not pitch a journalist that I am not positive covers the topic I am pitching.

Samantha J. Villegas, APR

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Carnival’s Crisis of Character

A crisis is the most powerful opportunity a corporation can have. How a company handles a crisis solidifies for its customers, more than any advertisement, marketing collateral or public relations puff piece it creates, what its brand really is about. This one moment seals its lasting impression on consumers and therefore, its financial future like no other event can. Yet, still, year after year, companies get it horribly wrong. This time, it was Carnival Cruise Line’s opportunity. Two paths lay before them out of the darkness and, alas, once again, the wrong path was chosen.

Crisis communications, Step One: Get your leader and or leaders out in front of the public, quickly, to announce in their own words what happened, to show genuine care and emotion for the harmed or hurt, (or even just the inconvenienced), to show regret for the event and to tell, in detail, what you are doing to address the situation. Assure us that you have anticipated exactly this kind of emergency, have practiced the response hundreds of times and that you are currently following the appropriate and well-tested strategies at this time. Tell the public what those strategies are. Step Two: When public health is at stake, apply the full command of your resources to rectify it quickly and effectively. Money cannot be a factor during a crisis of public health and make no mistake, that’s what this was, for there is no community in America of 4,000 people where three to four days without basic sanitation, food and water would be tolerated. Step Three: Repeat Step One as frequently as you can and make updates of your progress.

This is not hard, yet so few companies get it right. Time after time, profits are put over people, in the short run, only to see this strategy backfire in the long run. Right now, polls are showing that regular cruisers are less confident and less likely to cruise again than they were after the Costa Concordia accident, which resulted and several lives lost. That is the impact of Carnival’s choice here. And Carnival’s CEO, calmly watching the game as his customers, staff and assets suffered at sea, will be the lasting brand impression. Not even Kathie Lee Gifford will be able to sing them out of this one. It’s Crisis Communications 101. Every company should know it by now.

Breaking Up (With Your Employer) is Hard To Do

Everyone has had at least one bad breakup in their love life, or at least, if they haven’t, they should. Not that I wish it on anyone. It’s just such an important experience to have. Usually, it’s a catalyst for growth and self-reflection, which ultimately yields greater wisdom and maturity. The same can be said for breaking up with your employer. I have had the great fortune to have experienced all permutations of the business breakup in that I have been both “the leaver” and, “the let go.” In fact, I have experienced many types of leaving scenarios like the “let’s agree you should leave,” as well as the “I am leaving for greener pastures” and even the “I have nowhere to go but I gotta get outta here.”

Being the leaver is obviously very empowering, because in most cases, you have taken charge of a less than ideal, or even a failing situation. You have taken a very brave and necessary step in recognizing that something isn’t working and you’ve ended it. It’s a risk whether you have a job lined up or not. As the saying goes, the devil you know is always better than the one you don’t. Leaving is hard, though, even when a situation is bad. But it’s courageous and it makes you stronger.

What is surprising to me, however, is also how empowering being let go can be. Although, let me assure you, it did not feel that way when it happened. In fact, the empowerment phase came much, much later. Everyone talks about the financial implication of being let go unexpectedly. You hear about the injustice of it and the trials of searching for a job in a down economy, but you rarely if ever hear anyone talk about the emotional toll. I want to take a second here to share mine with you.

The opportunity that came before me in 2010 was the kind of career move you can’t pass up. Where I was a manager of communications for a smallish company with supervisory responsibility for one employee, this new opportunity was to oversee the PR function for nine separate subsidiaries of a large company, with supervisory responsibility for seven employees. Without trying to seem dramatic here, receiving that offer was one of the biggest accomplishments of my career and it changed my life.

This opportunity was more than a title change and a fatter paycheck. It was a validation of my past work history and a down payment on my future abilities – a validation and recognition that my employer at the time was never going to give me. I had not fully recognized how stagnant and underappreciated, as well as underutilized, I felt until the chance to move on in such a big way was before me.

At the new job, I was floored by the trust and respect for my judgment from the get go. I was asked to weigh in on heady, impactful decisions. They always wanted my input and advice. They trusted my instincts, my knowledge and gave me an incredible chance to rise to the occasion. Though I hadn’t been given the chance to work at this level before, they believed in me and I felt that I was holding my own.

I was let go just 10 month later, under a new CEO who knew that the quickest, easiest way to achieve higher profits was to cut costs, and they felt I was a cost they could do without. They assured me this decision was no reflection on my performance and to prove it, gave me a performance bonus for my ten months, plus an incredibly generous severance package. Maybe they felt bad about letting a good employee go. Maybe they felt they were at legal risk for doing so.

Despite the cash, which was extraordinarily helpful, I cried every day for about three months. No matter how often a colleague from the company assured me it was no reflection on me, I couldn’t help but take it personally and secretly I resented the friends and colleagues who were not let go. For months I recalled specific conversations I had with my team, my assistant, my boss and others and wondered whether I said something along the way that built a case against me. Did I meddle too much in decisions? Did I not meddle enough? Did they think my judgment was spot on or in left field? Did I not produce enough? Not engage enough? Was I too yes man? Too no man? They all assured me my judgment was solid and that I had made important contributions to the organization in that short time, but being let go plants a very persistent seed of doubt in you and I let mine germinate way to long.

For months I bargained with myself how I would approach things differently, were I given the chance to go back. I prayed for that chance to go back – like a lover longing to be taken back by an ex who wronged her. I played out conversations I would have, planned out different strategies I would take. I saw myself dazzling them at every turn, right into a promotion into top leadership. I was like Walter Mitty on coke. For a long time I believed I would go back if asked, certain it was something I did, that I could fix if given another chance.

This month marks 19 months since it happened. I have now been away from the job 9 months longer than I actually had the job, but it’s only now that I can finally say that I am over it and better off. I learned while talking to a colleague still at the company, that more layoffs had indeed happened, and more good folks were let go as part of their profits over people strategy, and it finally settled in that it indeed was not me, but them. I got off the phone that day feeling more relieved and settled and secure in myself than I had since initially getting the offer.

What I learned from this is the power of self-doubt. In the last year it had done a real number on me. I had foolishly let that job define me and my self-worth, so of course being let go meant I was somehow worth less. This feeling permeated through everything I did – writing a proposal, a cover letter or even counseling a client. I found myself downplaying my advice before it even left my tongue. It took me awhile to realize that I am still the same person who got the job in the first place and the layoff was not about me. Now I know that my experience and my judgment are mine and cannot be taken away or measured by who my current employer is.

My advice to anyone on the verge of a layoff or in the midst of one – is know that it’s not you, it’s them, and you are still everything you were when they hired you, if not more, plus a tad more humble and a little wiser.

Out of The Mouths of Babes

This phrase, “Out of the Mouths of Babes” comes from a Bible passage referring to the surprising wisdom of children. We use it in everyday language to remark in wonder at what children – the young and inexperienced – sometimes say to us.

I am 41. About a year ago, someone more senior to me said this in my presence, referring to something I had just said. It pushed my buttons. Yes, this person was older than me. But I am not a child, and the use of the phrase for something I said at 40 years old felt incredibly condescending.

I have become a tad sensitive about this type of thing in the last couple of years. The comments I’d occasionally get from my elders about how young I am – how I wouldn’t get a reference to something “before my time,” has started to grate on my nerves. In my teens and 20’s I thought nothing of it. To be fair, they were right. But as I progressed through my 30’s, these comments that were tossed in my direction without much thought started to really bother me.

In the last 6 months, someone called me “kiddo” and another remarked several times within the same conversation, “you are probably too young to remember, but” or “one day you’ll understand this.” And, just today, someone made a reference to a very well-known icon, then suggested I probably hadn’t heard of her, and gave me someone more contemporary to soothe my ignorance.

I realize these things are never said with ill-intent. In fact, I think it’s probably just the opposite: they are said in an attempt to endear me. But let me tell you, it’s never felt that way. It’s just always felt like someone older was reminding me once again that I hadn’t reached some pinnacle of accomplishment, or some height of wisdom. It’s this imaginary line in the sky that keeps inching away from me as I inch closer to it, never to touch it.

To make matters worse, I look young. I am mistaken for being ten years younger than I am. Champagne problems I know, but I have actually wished for some gray hair and more laugh lines just to nudge people away from the assumption.

Throughout my career, people referred to the 20-year mark as being the sign of a true senior professional. This year, I rejoiced that I had finally hit that mark. Then, last week, how to define what a senior professional is actually came up in conversation and someone actually suggested that we define it at 30 years. My exasperation peaked. Come on, people!

What this has taught me is to be very careful about the way I speak to my contemporaries. I have vowed not to use the phrase, “you’re probably too young to remember, but” unless I am talking to a 14 year old, who probably is indeed too young to remember. I will not suggest to my younger colleagues that they “will one day understand” and I will aim to always make them feel as though they are my equal, now that we’re all officially adults.

Now, anyone know how I could get the folks on the other side of my age to commit to this as well?

Same Great Store, Exciting New Name – Food Lion!

I noticed this morning (on my way into Starbucks with the kids for a celebratory doughnut on the last day of pre-school) that the Bloom grocery store in my neighborhood suddenly had the words Food Lion across the front.

Wait a minute, I thought. I scratched my head. Was it all a dream? Wasn’t this store Bloom a minute ago? Didn’t it change FROM Food Lion TO Bloom recently? Like three years ago recently? You do remember this, don’t you, because it absolutely was just three years ago that Food Lion made the exciting switch, effectively erasing all those 60 Minutes images of bleached meat from our brains with the nifty, fresh new name of Bloom.

I hurried home to my laptop, flipped to Google and searched Bloom. I pulled up www.shopbloom.com. First line of text:

Same Great Store, Exciting New Name – Food Lion!

I’m sorry, did you say, “Exciting new name?” I rubbed my eyes. I reloaded the page – maybe it was a joke. Nope. They actually think we don’t remember. First on the list of things to do with this new brand you’ve recently created is to fire the dumbass who posted that text.

Remember those insipid TV and radio ads with the shiny happy people in the lime green polo shirts imploring you to shop happy? In fact, I think if I recall correctly, the theme of the ads was to showcase how life really sucked, except for the fact that you could go to Bloom and that would change everything and life would be awesome! Remember that? So, now we’re going back to Food Lion. And here’s the especially funny part.  On the Bloom website, next to this text…

“The name may be new, but you can expect the same friendly faces, convenient layout, and great selection. Food Lion offers the great features you’ve come to expect but now with new lower prices, special coupons, and even more ways to save!”

…is a picture of a Food Lion storefront with the year 1918 next to the name. 1918. Silly Lion! You’ve been around 6 years shy of 100! And we all know it.

I wish I knew what all those conversations in marketing were leading up to Food Lion’s original name change to Bloom in the first place. I am betting it had something to do with the Bloom tagline.

“Bob, we’re still reeling from the bleached meat thing. We need to chnage. Make them forget it. We need to be a different kind of grocery store. We need to bloom into something else.” “Hot damn, George, that’s it!”

They were desperate to be different and fresh. So they became Bloom, a different kind of grocery store. (That’s literally the Bloom tagline).

And here we are three short years later back to Food Lion. What happened? Not different enough? Too different? My guess is, different didn’t work because it was a half-assed different. You know how I know this? Because I recall seeing a mouse in the cake mix aisle one night shortly after they had transformed to Bloom. Now to me, that was very Food Lion-y. I knew there and then they hadn’t really changed. They changed the name and colors, maybe the floors and lighting, but nothing meaningful. There was no real change in attitude or behavior of employees. They probably still bleached the meat, too, what with all the rodents running around.

I also think it failed because they lost loyal Food Lion customers. They forgot who their audience was, like Susan G Komen all over again. Bloom and lime green shirts and the happiness of it all didn’t speak to Food Lion peeps. Food Lion peeps were not shiny happy people. They were down on their luck coupon clippers, trawling for gourmet frozen pizza on the cheap. They didn’t want new fan dangled fruit with an organic section and hardwood-ish floors. They wanted their familiar, dreary linoleum grocery store that sold meat on the cheap, because they could, because they bleached the darkened expired beef and stuck a new date and price tag on it. The Food Lion peeps liked that.

Take a lesson here from Bloom. If you’re gonna make a change – know why. Fix what’s broken in a big way, and for Pete’s sake don’t change without checking in with customers first. Or else you might just find yourselves changing right back.

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