First Day Predictions

By now, the internet shouting about the “new year, new me” has hopefully died down. I am an optimist by nature and pretty self-disciplined, so don’t feel obliged to start fresh just because the calendar changed. However, I do enjoy considering whether our January 1st experiences are an omen of the year ahead. How did you spend your “first day” and was there anything extraordinary that left you wondering about 2017?

For starters, I slept until 10:30 a.m. – something I haven’t done since college. And no, I can’t say we were out particularly late the prior evening. I must have needed the extra rest, so of course, I wondered if 2017 was going to be a year of catching up on needed sleep. Not a bad start!

Feeling so rested I was motivated to go out for a jog; yes, my pace is slow these days so I can’t honestly use the term “run.” Anyway, as I made my way through the city streets, I approached two still-tipsy men who I actually thought were going to trip me for a laugh. Then I realized they just wanted a fist-bump as they continued on their merry way. Hmm…does this mean 2017 will be a year for chance meetings with happy people?

Next, we decided to attend the last of the local First Night events – an organ concert at an 19th century church. We’re not religious or organ-music fans, but we do walk by this church regularly, so thought it would be a good excuse to check it out. Although I didn’t love all the music, it was entertaining to watch those in attendance, especially the little kids putting their hands over their ears whenever the music was loud (and scary?) and the elderly woman nearly tipped over as she slept through the entire concert. Could this be a foreshadowing of finding humor in unexpected places?

After the concert, we stopped by a restaurant we’ve wanted to try and found two seats at the bar. The bartender apologetically noted that the kitchen had just stopped serving brunch and was transitioning to dinner, so she couldn’t give us menus for 15 minutes. I guess this suggests “beware of bad timing.” We decided to wait it out, however, and eventually enjoyed some tasty appetizers, reminding us that patience is a virtue and that sitting at the bar is more entertaining than a table for two.

The day wound down with the last of the NFL season on our TV competing with Netflix on my tablet. Okay; so another year of multitasking – or competing priorities. My last mobile interactions of the day were texts confirming a family birthday-weekend getaway. I like to think this means we’re in for a year of celebrations.

So to sum it up – more sleep, chance meetings, unexpected humor, timing, patience, multitasking and celebration. Oh – and jogging and good food. I suspect that on December 31, I’ll confirm having lived through these experiences because they’re not particularly extraordinary. But hopefully, they’ll be enjoyable and memorable. May the New Year offer you many good times, both anticipated and unexpected!

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We’re approaching the end of the holiday week, with family dinners and gift exchanges already a distant memory and New Year’s Eve merriment on the horizon. A rarely mentioned highlight of this time is that for many of us, work slows down. The luckiest are off completely, either because their organizations are closed or they’ve taken vacation time. And except for retailers and others with year-end pressures, little is missed by being off this week.

I couldn’t help but think of this when hearing the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” over the past month. “Rest” opens the song and “Tidings of comfort and joy” are repeated in the refrain, which has been sung for nearly 200 years. Not a bad message.

Slowing down a bit at year end gives us the freedom to better enjoy the holidays and the people we celebrate with. Yes, I guess that’s the “tidings of comfort and joy” bit. And a little time away from our daily routine translates to some “rest.”

However you’re spending your time, wishing you rest, comfort and joy.

Happy holidays!

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The Privacy Zone

It’s ironic that being in public often encourages us to remain in our own private space.  When we ride public transportation, for example, we ignore those around us while waiting on the platform. And once aboard, we focus on our phones, listen to music or simply stare into space, always trying very hard not to make eye contact with the other passengers.

This irony recently motivated an American optimist living in London to encourage social interactions on their subway. He went as far as printing buttons and brochures proclaiming “Tube Chat” and recruited other friendly volunteers to help promote subway conversations. However, the locals were not impressed. London commuters were simply not interested and that’s the last I’ve read of his campaign.

I couldn’t help but think of his failed attempt one evening when I was riding the local subway after work. Most of us boarded the crowded train, tired from a long day and already thinking about the evening ahead. Seated directly across from me was a young woman with an incredibly happy baby girl perched on her lap. Within moments, a middle-aged man several seats down was making silly faces to engage the child. His antics were welcomed by the probably weary mother, as her daughter laughed and clapped, so she began chatting with him. Before long, nearly everyone around the baby was also making faces or smiling at her, or joining in the conversation.

So because of a cute baby, the usual quiet zone rules were disregarded. We humans are naturally social beings, but we learn to be cautious around people we see in temporary circumstances. Even though it would probably make the commute seem shorter, and who knows, maybe introduce us to a new friend or two, as the American in London learned firsthand, our nature is to be private in public.

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#FlytheW – Even if You’re Not From Chicago

What happened in 1908? As we all know, it was the last time the Chicago Cubs earned a World Series victory.  But did you also know it was also the year “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – or baseball’s unofficial anthem – was written? Yes, these two significant baseball events share an anniversary that has withstood the test of time.

Of course, this year, Cubs fans everywhere hope to override that fact. Tonight the Chicago Cubs made history by hosting the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. They last took home the big prize with back-to-back victories in 1907 and 1908. Needless to say, the city has come to a standstill to savor this moment. As a Boston Red Sox fan, I totally get it – we waited 86 years for a World Series win and the excitement of that post-season was incomparable to any sporting experience I’ve ever had. Even though my team got bounced early this year, I’m very happy for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

I’ve been to Wrigley Field once, for a Sunday afternoon game in May 2015, and it’s as charming and iconic as you’d imagine. From the bar scene in Wrigleyville to the coveted bleacher seats atop the brownstones that ring the field, it’s a very special place. This weekend I’m confident getting close to that area has been impossible, except for those fortunate enough to score tickets or a bar stool. Yet, I’m also confident that the same electric ambiance is being felt all throughout Chicago – in bars, homes and streets everywhere.

While sports loyalties run deep, every once in a while, I think it’s okay to “root, root, root for another team” because they’ve demonstrated they deserve a chance to bring it home. With 103 wins this year, the Cubs eclipsed every other team in both leagues. 108 years is a lot longer than our 86; I hope 2016 is the Cubbies’ year. Of course, if 2017 is the Red Sox!

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The Nobel Times, They Are a-Changin’

Last week the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan, the first musician to earn this pinnacle award. Many were startled at this choice, given that Dylan’s prose is absorbed through song. He wasn’t the front-runner. And apparently a week later, he hasn’t acknowledged the prize. Not sure if that’s consistent with his style, as I don’t consider myself a Dylan fan.  I’m also not particularly familiar with his lyrics besides the iconic songs we all learned along the way. Nothing personal but I was happier listening to the Rolling Stones than folksingers.

Biases aside, I think we can all agree that many of the rock-and-roll greats credit Dylan as an important influence on their careers. And amazingly, he’s been at it for over 50 years. I Googled namesake Alfred Nobel’s intent for this award and according to his wishes, the prize should go to a writer with “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Notably, Alfred didn’t qualify writers of a particular output – e.g. a novel versus a song.

So while I may be ill-qualified to tough to weigh on Dylan’s selection, here’s what I can say.

  • If a song is good, we memorize the lyrics and listen to it again and again. Not sure that’s always true of a good book.
  • When a writer scores a hit, the chances of repeating that success are limited. Long-term careers for authors or singer/songwriters are for a talented (or lucky) few.
  • Writing something that reflects cultural sentiment and that helps stoke awareness and change is a rarity. How many “Blowin’ in the Wind” type ballads, books or poems can you list?

Maybe the Nobel Prize Committee recognized that today we absorb content across a broad variety of media. And by awarding the prize to an iconic songwriter, maybe they’re simply redefining literature. Not sure that book clubs will start analyzing lyrics anytime soon, but the next time you find yourself memorizing the words to a song, think about this Dylan award. Not all songs are Nobel-prize worthy. But perhaps the songwriting genre has just earned recognition as an influential method for sharing ideas and prompting thought and emotions. Sounds like a happy ending to me!

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The cost of pricing: When free may not be worth it.

Today I attended a seminar targeting senior marketing professionals in the financial services sector. The content was presumably custom-fit for my level of experience and my business. Given that I could walk there plus a no-cost price tag made it irresistible. However, I ended up leaving early and I’d actually planned to do so even before arriving. I’m sure you’ve done the same thing when it’s a free event because we have nothing invested in the opportunity except our time and attention.

But isn’t free the “right price” from an expense management perspective? Or do those sessions suffer by seeming less compelling?  Does paying a little money make you anticipate value? But these days, why even bother attending when you can probably get similar content through a free one-hour webinar that’s available whenever you want to listen?

Okay; a webinar doesn’t offer the on-site networking or the break from your workplace so that’s not a fair comparison. But I am intrigued by the pricing variable and how that may influence our level of commitment to an event.

Here’s how I’d set my event pricing:

  • Free: if the main event is professional networking, travel is unlikely and vendors may be on the agenda.
  • Small fee (less than $100): for educational forums with no-name facilitators (e.g. industry peers). They may be good, but you won’t remember their names and probably can’t find their books or blogs.
  • Medium fee ($100-$500): association events that may involve travel but to a second-tier location; some targeted/industry keynotes and high -quality networking.
  • Premium fee ($500+): save this for exclusive events or exceptional content with big name keynotes. At this rate, I expect innovative content and expertise that will make me really think, along with highly valuable networking and travel to top-tier locations.

I’ll probably always feel okay leaving early – or even skipping – a free conference but not anything I’ve paid for. There’s an expectation of getting something of value when money’s been exchanged. So if you want to fill the seats, a small fee may be worth it!sxsw_panel2015

A Working Summer Adventure

We sold our home earlier this summer, a process that moved faster than we’d anticipated. In fact so fast, that we hadn’t found a new home yet. The local storage facility solved our transition dilemma and freed us to relocate to our family getaway cottage. However, being a “getaway place” means it’s far from work, which has led to a patchwork of remote days, Airbnb housing and some business travel to manage through this homeowner’s hiatus.

Sound complicated? In fact, it’s been a wonderful adventure. Instead of the routine commute to work and sitting in weekend beach traffic, it’s liberated me from train schedules. And as I’m walking to work, I’ve helped my team gain an unbeatable advantage in our office summer “step challenge.” My husband and I have sampled different city neighborhoods through Airbnb stays, enjoying the tempo and energy of city living after years in the slumbering suburbs. And perhaps best of all, our time at the family getaway has been more enjoyable because we know it’s at least temporarily permanent.

Admittedly, it’s been easy because we’re not anxiously trying to get kids into a particular school system or hastily establishing residency to satisfy a job requirement. However, we’re also navigating this well because we don’t fear uncertainty, a mindset made possible perhaps because we’re a bit older or maybe because we’ve been through worse and know things somehow always manage to work out.

So for now, the adventures of being property-free continue. Thank you, Airbnb, Hotels.com, Uber and Amtrak, whose services have contributed to this successful experiment. And of course, the calendar, too, which fortunately made this all happen during the warm summer months. Chapter two may be very different come winter!

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