Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Social Barriers We Subconciously Create

You arrive at a social event and your eyes quickly scan the room.  You don't see anyone you know.  You walk over to the bar or buffet table  for something to focus on.  You look around again, and still no familiar faces.  What do you do?

Perhaps your hand automatically goes in your handbag or your pocket to grab your cell phone.  Thank goodness for your little plastic friend! You immediately begin pressing buttons, checking email, checking the weather, checking FaceBook.  Because when you are using your cell phone, you're not alone.  But deep down you know it's true--you really are alone.  That little "friend" becomes a 2.5" x 4.5" wall between you and everyone in the room.   Last Friday I was at a networking meeting where there were over one hundred business professionals, and saw a man sitting by himself at a table before the meeting started. I walked over to introduce myself to him, but as I grew closer, I noticed he was on his phone so I swiftly walked off.

Secondly, what about your facial expression?   When we enter a room full of strangers, we tend to put on our "game face." That face that communicates confidence, but also looks serious (almost frowning) because that's what our face does when we're ill-at-ease.  What's missing is the warm smile that relays to others that you are approachable.  You'd love to receive a smile from someone else, so why are you so reluctant to be the first one to give it?

A third social barrier is your physical space.  Standing in a room full of strangers always feels awkward, so many people try to find a seat as soon as they can. By sitting, you've basically cut yourself off from all of the others who are mingling and moving around.  The chances that someone else is going to approach you when you're sitting by yourself is a lot less likely than if you are standing.  And when you remain standing, what is your body language communicating? Are your arms folded or hands clasped in front of you?  You're probably not even aware you're doing it, but remember that people are drawn to those who have open body language rather than a guarded stance.

No matter how confident we are, it takes courage to walk into a room of strangers.  The next time you do it, stand up tall, walk in with a smile, move around, and leave your cell phone in the car.  It's scary, but I promise you'll have a much quicker and easier time connecting with others.  And isn't that the reason you came in the first place?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Life Lessons From Valentine's Day

Photo courtesy of
It was Valentine's Day,  and I was in first grade.  A boy named Marvin liked me, and I was irritated by that fact; all because I instead liked a boy named David who didn't like me.  Our teacher instructed us we were going to exchange valentines in an orderly fashion, row by row, meaning the first row would stand and walk down each of the other rows, passing out valentines to those of us seated.  It all sounded wonderful, until I saw a horrific sight.  Three gift boxes, beautifully wrapped in white paper with red ribbon, sitting with Marvin at his desk.  I thought,  "Oh no, he CAN'T have brought these gifts for me.  If he gives me these gifts in front of the class, it will be like flashing neon lights, advertising Marvin's undying love for me."  Sure enough, when Marvin's row stood up, he proudly carried those gifts to my row, and gently set them down on my desk with a smile.  I panicked, not saying a word.   I felt the entire class was staring at me.  What could I do?  I asked a girl sitting near me if she wanted the gifts.  I then saw my teacher staring at me with disapproval.  After the valentine exchange was over, my teacher called me up to her desk and said something I'll never forget:  "Antoinette, if you don't want the gifts Marvin gave you, you should take them home and give them to someone else, but don't try to give them away in the class. It will hurt his feelings."  I thought, "Why are Marvin's feelings more important than my feelings of humiliation?"  Little did I realize the power in my teacher's words.  I was only thinking of myself.  Not once did I think about Marvin's intentions.  Not once did I think about the time and expense that Marvin's mother probably spent to shop, purchase, and wrap those gifts for her son to give to me.
As an adult, we have to continually remind ourselves of this life lesson....whenever we dismiss a kind gesture from someone whom we are not excited about having as a friend or a date, or from someone who we feel can't benefit us in some way.  Whether it's not returning a smile or a phone call, not responding to their invitation, not expressing thanks for a gift or favor,  we are acting like a self-centered first grader. 
The next time someone shows you kindness, show your appreciation and gratefulness. It not only will help them feel good about themselves, but you will feel better about yourself, as well.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Internet Took Away Our Excuse

Photo from
Ten years ago when we took time to examine our life and the reasons why we hadn't achieved our life goals or passions, we had some big obstacles to blame.  "I've sent my manuscript/song to 100 publishers/record producers but keep getting rejection letters", or  "I've developed a great product, but can't secure a distributor."  And the list goes on.

Fortunately, the Internet has solved many of those problems.  YouTube is no respecter of persons...anyone can go viral.  If you've created a product, whatever it is, you can set up a virtual store on your website, and anyone in the world can visit your store. No overhead, no utilities, no rent.  You may not set the world on fire with what you have to offer, but you have many more opportunities to be successful than you did ten years ago.

Consider Elizabeth Hasselbeck, the young woman who auditioned through the Internet to be a contestant on "Survivor", the popular reality television show.  As a result, she was accepted as a contestant on the 2001 series with a viewing audience of over 29 million.  Although Elizabeth didn't win the contest, she has laughed her way to the bank ever since that television stint.  "Survivor" catapulted her to fame, and as a result, landed her as a host on "The View", and she currently is a co-host on "Fox and Friends". Elizabeth's net worth is  $12 million.  And it all started from filling out an application on the Internet.

Just as the Internet has solved many of our obstacles, it's also taken away our excuses.  If the Internet has removed so many obstacles to our realization of greatness, then why are we not all being discovered for our talents?  Probably because we're not putting ourselves out there.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are You Having A Conversation Or A Comparisation?

Photo from
Lately I've found myself guilty of doing the thing I hate when it's done to me.  I hate it when I'm telling a story, and someone else either interrupts or chimes in on the heel of my story with their own tale which is either similar to mine or better than mine.  It's like verbally raining on someone's parade.  But when I am guilty of doing it,  I mean no harm--I'm just trying to connect with them and show that we have something in common. It goes something like this, "Really? A similar thing happened to me..."  It's only been in my time reflecting on past conversations that I realize these comparisons are not forming a common bond, but they are deflating the other person's importance.

When we are telling someone a story or revealing something about ourselves, what we want most is to be heard. And this means focused eye contact, reactive facial expressions, questions, and two listening ears.  It does not mean a voice chiming in to tell you about themselves while you are telling your story.

Starting a comparisation is tempting because:
1. We are anxious to create a common bond with the other person; to show them that we have something in common with them.   We can create the strongest bond, however, by listening and valuing what the other person is saying. There will be time later to share our own stories.
2.  We are trying to prove to the other person that we have value. For instance, rather than being genuinely happy and interested that the other person has gone on a fabulous vacation or their daughter is going off to college, we feel a need to show them that our life is going just as well as theirs if not better.  Feeling the need to boast of one's achievements, however, is not going to make someone value us. They will, however, value the person who listens intently to them.

The next time you start a conversation, remember the root word is "converse" and not "compare".  I promise it will be a much more enjoyable encounter for both of you.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why Did We Quit Having Fun?

Photo from
We all see the same thing every January...commercials advertising how we can eat healthy, lose weight, and quit smoking.  Articles in magazines highlighting a step-by-step plan of how we can reach our goals.  Everything is about what we can and should do for self-improvement.  But what about the fun stuff?  How can we get our lives back on track in 2013 to have fun like we've experienced in the past?

Think back to some of the fun things you tried but they are no longer a part of your routine:  A daily morning walk to clear your head and bond with your dog or friend while enjoying nature.   A social or networking group that you frequented where you made new friends, felt included, and gained self-confidence.   A church that you attended in which you felt connected spiritually and socially to others.  A sport that you enjoyed.  A weekly date night with your significant other in which your bond strengthened as a result.  If you enjoyed doing these activities so much, why did you stop doing them?

Most likely, the problem is that you quit showing up.  Maybe you decided to sleep in for a few days, or maybe life's demands got in the way and prevented you from doing these activities for a few weeks.  As a result, those fun activities slid down a few rungs on your ladder of priorities, because you knew you could always do them later.  After all, you had to focus on the 'important' stuff that adults are supposed to focus on.   But as Steven Covey writes about in his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we have a tendency to focus on the urgent things in life, and fun stuff is never urgent. 

Woody Allen was right--50% of life is showing up.  Even to do the fun stuff.  When planning your goals and your calendar for 2013, schedule fun things and do them.  What is one fun past activity you can schedule in your calendar this next week?  Remember, all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl).  And who wants to be dull? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beware of Facebook Envy

Facebook has intrigued most of us, even if we swore we'd never open an account, or seldom post updates ourselves.  The average  user logs on more than once a day (40 times per month), and spends 23 minutes on the site.  What is it about this specific social media outlet that makes us feel compelled to peek at the lives of our family and friends, and in some cases, acquaintances that we don't even know that well?

Despite Facebook's bright side of staying connected with others, do you ever feel left out when you log on?  Like your life is not nearly as exciting as your friends?  It seems like every day is a party for some Facebook friends.  It's a Tuesday night, and you're home alone, bored, eating a microwave meal while doing laundry.  You take a break, go check Facebook, and see your friends "checking in"  at exquisite restaurants you would only visit on special occasions (and I remind you, it's a week night).  Others are posting their pristine beach vacation photos, looking model-perfect in their swimsuits standing by their adorable, smiling children.

My life is probably average on the scale of excitement, yet recently a friend mentioned to me, "I see by reading your Facebook posts that you're always doing such exciting things."  Really?  Actually, most of the time I'm either working, or at home doing mundane chores.  I then went back and read some of my posts...I don't post daily or even weekly, but only when I'm going out for a fun weekend evening or while on vacation. It's not that I'm trying to portray my life as something out of the ordinary, but ordinary posts of ordinary days are....ordinary. And who cares to read about that?

I watched the attendees on television at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions--so many of them had their camera phones poised, ready to take a photo when the Presidential nominee walked by. Rather than savoring the once-in-a-lifetime moment, they were staring into a little 3 inch screen on their phones, most likely eagerly hoping to post their brush with fame on FaceBook.

When you're having an ordinary day, remember that others have plenty of these days, too. When you're having a fun, out-of-the-ordinary day, relish it.  Stop the inclination to update your status.  Put your phone away and enjoy the moment.  There will be time to update your friends later--such as on a Tuesday night while you're doing laundry.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Okay To Be Last

I started working out at a gym called X-Train .  It's a boot camp style workout, and challenging for everyone.  However,  I still use lighter weights than most, run slower, and lay face down on the floor about 50% of the time when we're supposed to be in plank position.

Flash back to 20 years ago when I would have been humiliated to have been seen as the weakest or the last, and may have even quit going to a gym like that for that reason.  Not now.  Not only am I not humiliated, but I don't feel the least bit embarrassed about my lack of strength and physical fitness compared to the other regulars. Many of these regulars compete in triathlons, marathons, and participate in the grueling Tough Mudder competition.  Anybody who works out to that extent should be in better shape than me.

As best-selling author Jon Acuff writes, "If you want to be awesome at something, you just need to be brave enough to be horrible at it first.  The fear of being horrible is actually what keeps most people from ever being awesome at everything.  You’re afraid to look dumb when you give your first speech so you never give one. You’re afraid people will hate your first book so you never write one.  But guess what? If you’ve never tried something before, you should be horrible at it your first time. No, strike that. If you’ve never tried something before, you better HOPE you are horrible at it your first time. Why?  Because you want to improve." 

When I think back to the times in my life when I improved, it was when I was competing against or working with others who were more skilled than me.  They set the bar high, and thus made me dig deep to try to reach it.  Just as a lower priced house in a high end neighborhood realizes a higher value all because of its proximity to more expensive homes, your value will increase when you associate with those who are more skilled than you are.

I might still be trailing far behind those adroit professionals when it comes to the skills I'm trying to perfect, but those are the people I want to be working with and competing against because they will make me stronger.  And I will continue to tell myself that when I'm laying face down on the floor while everyone else is in perfect plank position.