Filling the Space

Filling the Space

© Robyn R. Smith, 2016

Years ago, my growing, homeschooling family of five moved from an 1,100 sq. ft. home to one that, including the basement, was three times that size. Despite the cramped conditions of our old house, we had LOTS of extra space in the new home, with nothing to occupy it.

We talked about furniture and uses for each room. Visions of pool tables and mini ball-pits flashed through our heads. We would even have one whole wing of the house dedicated to homeschooling, and a breakfast nook for crafts; no more cleaning up books and projects every time we wanted to eat!

As we considered the best uses for all that space, I shared our thoughts with another home-educating friend. She, too, had moved from a smaller home to a much larger one a few years earlier. She offered this advice:

“Don’t be in a hurry to fill the space.”

She suggested taking our time and observing how we naturally gravitate to different spaces for different tasks. Besides, the less “stuff” we owned, the less we were “owned” by our stuff.

I took her advice to heart.

Following my friend’s suggestion, we found our open, unfinished basement a great roller skating space in the middle of winter, and a cool play space in the heat of summer. Eventually, we added a carpet remnant, couch, beanbag chairs, and TV for our kids-become-teenagers’ “hang-out” space. I even ran a short-term gift basket business in one section.

We never did get the pool table, and we didn’t really mind.

The upstairs fluctuated between office space, guest room, and separate bedroom. The formal living room did indeed become a home-school classroom, and the back screened-in porch, left to its own evolution, eventually became my summertime sanctuary.

Ultimately the space did fill up and, as we were warned, we felt the strain of being “owned” by too much stuff – a lesson I’m still trying to learn. Nevertheless, it took time to do so, and our space was filled with many happy memories and activities.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with my wise friend. We discussed our grown and growing children and our future plans. Her youngest was about to graduate. She was mentally in transition already, considering what to do with all the time previously filled with homeschooling and child rearing. Lots of thoughts were going through her head: ministry ideas, classes she could take, organizations she could participate in, travelling she might do, even potential employment. As she talked, a smile began to escape my lips.

“My friend, years ago, a dear friend offered me a piece of wisdom that served me well for many years. I now offer it back to her.” I paused, looking her in the eye, with a twinkle in mine.

“Don’t be in a hurry to fill the space. Wait patiently and see what you naturally gravitate to. Eventually it will fill itself, but take your time.”

I hugged her and concluded with, “It was good advice then, and I believe it is just as valuable now.”

She couldn’t help but smile – and agree.

Filling the Space

Filling the Space

© Robyn R. Smith, 2016

Years ago, my growing, homeschooling family of five moved from an 1,100 sq. ft. home to one that, including the basement, was three times that size. Despite the cramped conditions of our old house, we had LOTS of extra space in the new home, with nothing to occupy it.

We talked about furniture and uses for each room. Visions of pool tables and mini ball-pits flashed through our heads. We would even have one whole wing of the house dedicated to homeschooling, and a breakfast nook for crafts; no more cleaning up books and projects every time we wanted to eat!

As we considered the best uses for all that space, I shared our thoughts with another home-educating friend. She, too, had moved from a smaller home to a much larger one a few years earlier. She offered this advice:

“Don’t be in a hurry to fill the space.”

She suggested taking our time and observing how we naturally gravitate to different spaces for different tasks. Besides, the less “stuff” we owned, the less we were “owned” by our stuff.

I took her advice to heart.

Following my friend’s suggestion, we found our open, unfinished basement a great roller skating space in the middle of winter and a cool play space in the heat of summer. Eventually, we added a carpet remnant, couch, bean bag chairs, and TV for our kids-become-teenagers’ “hangout” space. I even ran a short-term gift basket business in one section.

We never did get the pool table, and we didn’t really mind.

The upstairs fluctuated between office space, guest room, and separate bedroom. The formal living room did indeed became a homeschooling wing, and the back screened-in porch, left to its own evolution, eventually became my summertime sanctuary.

Ultimately the space did fill up and, as we were warned, we felt the strain of being “owned” by too much stuff – a lesson I’m still trying to learn. Nevertheless, it took time to do so, and our space was filled with many happy memories and activities.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with my wise friend. We discussed our grown and growing children and our future plans. Her youngest was about to graduate. She was mentally in transition already, considering what to do with all the time previously filled with homeschooling and child rearing. Lots of thoughts were going through her head: ministry ideas, classes she could take, organizations she could participate in, travelling she might do, even the thought of a job. As she talked, a smile began to escape my lips.

“My friend, years ago, a dear friend offered me a piece of wisdom that served me well for many years. I now offer it back to her.” I paused, looking her in the eye, with a twinkle in mine.

“Don’t be in a hurry to fill the space. Wait patiently and see what you naturally gravitate to. Eventually it will fill itself, but take your time.”

I hugged her and concluded with, “It was good advice then, and I believe it is just as valuable now.”

She couldn’t help but smile – and agree.

Don’t Quit!

(c) Robyn Smith, 2016

Have you ever started a project with great gusto, only to be knocked down before you even get off the ground?

How do you react?

It’s tempting to give up and simply “cut your losses” early. I know; I’ve been there.

Thankfully, I also know the benefits of perseverance – a key to many success stories.

The following (true) story is my encouragement for you to persevere…

So we’d published the first three of our quarterly newsletters. The company we wrote for was happy with us, but we knew a contract renewal would require more than “warm fuzzies”.

We set out to get real feedback.

Putting together a makeshift survey, I obtained a list of customers to call and ask opinions. I had a list of a dozen – about 10% – just to get a feel for popular opinion.

Feeling good about the product, I proceeded to dial the first number with optimism.

A lady answered.

I began enthusiastically:

“Hi, I’m Robyn Smith. I work in conjunction with JLH services and wondered if you might have 3 minutes to answer some questions about our newsletter.”

“Newsletter? What newsletter?”

This. Was. Not. the way I was hoping to start our survey.

“Popular opinion” and renewal of services between my company and JLA’s suddenly looked very gloomy.

I tried to recover courageously, and courteously promised to mail out another for review.

“So watch for it!” I said as cheerfully as possible.

I hung up, feeling anything but cheerful.

What had I done! The company knew I was making the phone calls and they were expecting to hear the results. Certainly the outcome would affect the course of our future relationship.

I felt devastated.

I would have been okay with, “Well, it’s okay, but the articles are a little long”, or “I don’t really have use for the calendar” (a point of differing opinion between me and my highly respected mentor).

But, “What newsletter?”?!

This was not good.

Still, I had agreed to call the others, so after some ice cream and a self-pep-talk, I took a deep breath, said a short prayer, and dialed.

“Hi I’m Robyn Smith working in conjunction with JLA services. Do you have a couple free minutes I could ask you some questions about our newsletter?” (Holding breath and wincing slightly for the punch.)

“Sure! What would you like to know?”

“Uh, well, you do receive the newsletter, right? From JLA services?” I ask incredulously.

“Yep, I just got the latest one the other day`” (So he even knows we’ve sent more than one!)

“Okay, well, my first question is: what’s your overall impression of the newsletter”, I began, cautiously optimistic.

“I like it. I usually read it cover to cover. It’s short enough I can do that pretty easily.” (SHORT enough – Score!)

“My wife really likes the calendar. She pins it to the bulletin board for when we’re looking for something to do.” (Writer-instinct-over-mentor-experience – SCORE!)

From there the questions continued, most with very favorable answers.

The next call was easier to make, though the sting of the first call prevented any puffed up pride. Humility can be a good thing though, so I allowed myself a mix of celebration and realism.

The third call went much like the second, and so did the fourth, fifth, and sixth calls.

Then came the eighth call. That one call I will never forget.

That’s the one where the respondent could tell me article for article what the newsletter was about, even quoting some key sentences pretty closely!

Thanks to the last eleven phone calls, I was convinced that we had evidence to support the “warm fuzzies” and assure JLA of our value.

Our final newsletter of that contract included a specific request to call and schedule an appointment for their seasonal inspection. In the first week after publication, they had 22 phone calls – surpassing all previous experiences.

We were making an impact!

At our next meeting, JLH renewed the contract, our relationship was enhanced, and our services were extended to include an additional product.

And that first call? I honestly couldn’t tell you if she ever noticed the newsletter after that or not.

I can tell you though, that it really doesn’t matter, because one rejection is really just that – one rejection.

So if you get knocked down, stand back up (even slowly, if you must), brush off the dust, and give it a running start. With a gust of perseverance, you’ll soon be soaring!

You probably know an “uplifting” story to share,too. Please encourage others in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Gift of T.T.T.

© Robyn R. Smith, 2016

January is a time for both reflecting on the past and preparing for the future. As you consider your accomplishments and goals, how much thought do you give to the people in your life? Can you identify someone who has positively impacted your life? If so, you’ve probably met a person practicing the secret gift of T.T.T. – Take The time!

This abbreviation is the signature of one of my influencers – my husband’s Uncle Rink. He’s a retired orthotics specialist who still helps family and longtime customers (some more than 50 years) relieve pain by altering their shoes – and their souls.

Visiting Uncle Rink is always a pleasure. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt going in, you always feel better coming out – even if he didn’t fix anything with your shoes. It’s because he lives his premise of T.T.T. He takes time to sit and talk, and even more importantly, to listen. What may start as a conversation about the weather may turn into a discussion of our longing for a vacation and the hard hours we’ve been putting in. He’ll empathize and encourage, acknowledging how hard it can be, but what a great job we’re doing to get through it. We leave feeling affirmed and even refreshed, without a single circumstance changing.

Uncle Rink’s gift is a rare and valuable treasure. In our rush-about society, few people have real time for anyone else anymore. It is the exception, not the rule, when someone stops what they’re doing to just listen and encourage someone else. Yet that bit of time can influence a life powerfully. You probably know some examples in your own life.

One of Uncle Rink’s longtime clients struggles with depression, yet when she visits him for her orthotics, she often cancels her appointment with her counselor. She doesn’t need it that week – she’s been heard, offered compassion, and encouraged.

Growing up, some of the most influential people in my life were my school’s janitors. They went about their work every day just like everyone else, but they always took the time to listen. It made me feel significant. As an adult, I still cherish the mentors in my life who willingly take the time to share with me, listen to me, and help me grow.

Maybe you’ve experienced someone with the secret gift of T.T.T. Some stereotypical listeners include barbers, hairstylists, and bartenders. In my life right now, my listeners include an author, a sales group, my nutritionist, and of course, my Uncle Rink. In your life, it could be a neighbor, a co-worker, even the crossing guard at the corner. T.T.T. is not limited by one’s age, profession, or position in life. The only limitation is whether or not one takes the time.

So how about you? On a scale of one to ten, where would you fall as a listener? I know I find myself challenged to become one of those listeners. I also know that when I take time for someone else, even a stranger, I always receive much more than I give. It’s a thrill to pass on to others the blessing someone else gave to me of taking the time.

As you reflect on the positive influences in your life, consider who you might bless with the gift of T.T.T. It can be anyone from a child to an elderly neighbor to a co-worker, or even a boss. (How often do people really listen to their bosses? think about it!) All it takes is a little T.T.T.

Thanks for Taking the Time to read this. Please take a little more to share your T.T.T. memories or goals in the comments.

Achievable “One Thing” Goals

Happy New Year, everyone!

As 2016 gets underway, millions of people are setting goals for the new year. We’ve made them before, passionately penned with enthusiasm and hope. Yet life happens and we find ourselves overwhelmed, our lists abandoned.

What if, instead, we could make real and permanent progress? Even one small victory could boost our confidence and fuel the fire for more. That is the premise to the “One Thing” Goal.

What is a “One Thing” Goal, you ask? Let me explain:

A great salesman and friend once taught me how he kept so many clients. As his clients’ contracts were ending, he would approach them and ask, “If there was one thing I could do to serve you better, what would it be?” If they had an answer, he would see to it that it got done, then the contract renewal was easy. All it took was that one thing to boost their confidence in his service. And one thing was achievable by my friend.

As you look at your own life or job, what one thing could you accomplish that would have a real impact? It doesn’t have to be big, just worthwhile and achievable. Ideally, it would be something that would make other areas of life run more smoothly, but the real goal is simply victory.

For example, let’s say you’re a salesman. Maybe you struggle with being on time consistently, following through with new clients, and keeping in touch with prior clients to stay top-of-mind.

  • Your “One thing Goal” is to be consistently on time.
  • You make your goal measurable by deciding to be on time for the next six appointments in a row.
  • You make it achievable by determining that you’re going to arrive 20 minutes early to every appointment.
  • Then, with that extra 20 minutes, you’re going to contact one new prospect or old client.

By the end of the month, you’ve achieved not only the one goal you set out to do, but you’re already improving on the next goal of follow-through calls.

With the first achievement under your belt, you confidently create the next “One thing Goal” and focus on that success. By the end of the year, you’ll have a portfolio full of victories!

So what’s your One Thing Goal to start the year right? Share your inspiration in the comments. Thanks!

(C) Robyn Smith, 2016

 

Four Secrets to a Successful Monday

Mechanical MarketIt’s Monday. It’s cold. Again.You’d much rather be in bed right now, or sipping hot cocoa with the company of a great read. Sorry about your luck. So, since you’re here anyway, how about we make the most of the day?

Forging Ahead

Facing down a tough day ahead – or even a tough time of life – can seem overwhelming. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by the details, the what-if’s, and the fear of ultimate defeat. With all that pending, why start at all? Because that’s what will bring you ultimate victory; starting.

When you don’t know where to start, it’s probably because you have so many options; pick one. If you’re a list person, try jotting down all that you have on your mind, then choose your priorities based on necessity, easy victory, urgency, or affect on others (either other people or other projects).

Once you start somewhere, other issues begin to fall into place, prioritizing themselves as you go. You’ll build momentum through the day, and that which looked impossible before will begin filling up your “done” file. The accomplishment alone is a great reward, but don’t hesitate to set up an extra reward as incentive, too.

Become Aware

Besides the thrill (or at least the relief) of your accomplishments, you can increase your day’s ROI with a simple awareness boost. What do I mean? Look around you. What do you see in your office, car, or home? What books are available for your reading pleasure, self-improvement, or inspiration? What accomplishments are represented here? Even a filled gas tank can be cause for celebration. Look around at the people with whom you work. What are their attributes? How do they contribute to the company, the household, the world in general? Be fair here; it’s easy to find things to criticize, but someone with a keen awareness can usually find something of value.

Word of warning: As you look around, don’t simply focus on the negative. My grandfather used to say, “You have to look for the good, ‘cause the bad will find you.” Think more like Tigger and Pooh Bear than Eeyore and Piglet. If you can’t help but see all the areas of weakness instead of strength, choose one thing you’d like to change and set up a plan to do just that.

Focus on Others

Add value to any day by refocusing on others’ needs instead of just your own. If you’ve incorporated the “Awareness” idea, you’ve probably noticed someone else who has some kind of need. A kind word, a pencil loan, a sidewalk shoveled, or a simple smile can make someone else’s day and add value to yours. Your random and conscious acts of kindness to others also offer perspective. This nearly effortless practice helps expand the world that might otherwise seem to be collapsing around you. You create a feeling of connection with others, replacing the loneliness commonly felt in times of struggle with a worthwhile bond to another human being. Besides your own improved outlook is the effect kindness has on others, adding value to their day and lives as well.

Remember to Say ‘Thank You’

Thankfulness improves any situation. If you look hard enough, there is always something for which to give thanks. It could be big or small, but there’s something. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of someone else’s act of kindness; say thanks. Perhaps your boss approved your vacation, loaned you a pen, or answered your email in a timely manner. Say thanks. Don’t forget those who work to serve you, too, whether employees, assistants, family members, or even your favorite barista. If they’ve done anything to make life better or even simply done their job, say thanks. Everyone appreciates appreciation!

Remember the big things, too, when you’re looking for a reason to give thanks. If you have a job, it means someone hired you, worked for you, or purchased from you. Say thanks. How about providing you with a home, food, or even life? Send a cheerful card or make a phone call to say thanks for that which we normally take for granted.

“We have all received one blessing after another”, whether we acknowledge it or not. Food to eat, clothes to wear, shelter and warmth from the cold, friendships, health, abilities, and intelligence are all things for which to be thankful. The fact that you are here reading this, working through your day, and getting anything done at all is evidence of a life for which to be thankful. Savor the good of the day; what you accomplished, the observations you made, the people with whom you connected, and the blessings you received and gave to others. The value you gain will not only make this day worthwhile; it will give you the momentum to shine again tomorrow.

Share your own secrets to a successful Monday in the comments… and “Thanks” for reading!

How Can One Old-Fashioned Word Impact Your Success?

Awareness.

It’s a simple, old-fashioned word compared to all the high-tech terms today, but it packs a powerful punch for those who put it into practice.

Awareness conveys the concept of knowledge gleaned from one’s observations and sensitivity to the implications of that knowledge. In short, awareness means noticing what’s around you and applying your observations appropriately.

Awareness

So what’s the big deal?

We’re already so overwhelmed with information – all available at the touch of a button. Why would we want to be more sensitive to information around us? Because awareness is powerful. It allows the observer an insider’s guide to the motivations and needs of others. That ‘insider’s information’ can create opportunities for growth, ministry, business, and success.

Awareness in action

Take, for example, the story of Velcro ®. After a walk in the woods, George de Mestral observed that the burrs from the plants stuck to his pants. Examining the burrs with a microscope revealed tiny hooks which clung to the fabric. Applying this concept, he created the hook and loop fastener we all know and love.

Relationship rewards

Awareness benefits parents and managers through improved relationships. Practicing sensitivity, these leaders can begin to observe interests, concerns, and subjects that create excitement among their people. Applying this knowledge to systems, rewards, and motivators can encourage bonding, loyalty, and stress-reduced productivity. That’s powerful!

Ministers and businessmen aren’t often categorized together, but when it comes to awareness, they share the same goal: determining needs of the people and figuring out how to meet them. Awareness serves both of these desires. The ability to actively listen in a conversation as well as observe habits, behaviors, and choices reveals deficiencies in people’s lives. That knowledge could lead to new business ideas, products, or services as well as creative solutions to someone’s needs.

Fulfillment of a higher purpose

Blake Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS shoes, a company who popularized the process of “one for one”. Blake’s awareness on a visit to Argentina created both a successful international company and ministry combined. By purchasing a pair of TOMS shoes, based on the Argentinean ‘alpargatas’, TOMS promises another pair to be given away to a shoe-less child in developing nations around the world. The shoes are manufactured by the Argentinians themselves, adding to their economy. All this resulted from simple awareness.

The question at hand then, is how does one get in the habit of awareness when one hasn’t been? Consider starting with these practices:

  •  Listen to conversations around you. (No, I’m not advocating eves-dropping.)

o Focus on what the other person is saying, without distraction.
o Ask questions to prompt more in-depth responses.

  • Observe habits of people and ask yourself these questions:

o Where do they shop? Why do they shop there?
o What do they wear? Are they dressed for fashion, comfort, impact?
o What do they eat? When? Where? How much?
o What are they talking about in person or on social media; good or bad?

  •  When you’re watching TV, reading internet news, listening to the radio, look and listen for patterns (more on this in a future post).

o What subjects come up repeatedly? Why?
o What about the ads; who is advertising what and where?

  •  Ask yourself how you can apply this knowledge.

o What other situations are similar?
o What knowledge exists that can be adapted?
o How can this knowledge help someone else?

Awareness may be a simple, old-fashioned concept, but the impact of awareness is powerful, as illustrated in the above examples. The practice of awareness takes time, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

So what have you become aware of lately?

Conquering Conversation at Holiday Gatherings (and Beyond!)

‘Tis the Season to feel awkward!

Awkward conversations, especially at holiday gatherings, are everyone’s fear; from the networking newcomer to the seasoned veteran. Networking opportunities abound at the holidays with co-workers, neighbors, relatives, and strangers. Great opportunities emerge or disappear. Bonds are forged or broken. Deals are made or lost. Relationships blossom or wither. All these things depend on the simple element of your ability to converse; No pressure!

The pain of awkward conversation, can be avoided with a little bit of training. The techniques are easy, but not natural, so it does pay to practice.

Where to begin

Starting a conversation is simple, as outlined in Weekly Sales Builder’s article, “How to Develop Stronger Bonding and Rapport with Prospects and Clients”. Using the acronym FORM, author Isabel Hogue teaches easy methods to begin a conversation. Keeping a good conversation going is where most of us get tripped up. The secret to successful conversation is in the question.

“What question”, you ask? See, you’re already off to a great start! 😉

Conversations get complicated when we feel pressured to produce a sterling opinion or a witty retort, especially if we ‘re unfamiliar with the subject. The obvious way to avoid saying something regrettable is to not say anything; but awkward silence is just as bad. The solution is to not *say* anything, but to ask questions instead. Using a technique called “reversing”, you can both continue a conversation and sound smart doing it. There are other benefits to the method, too, but we’ll get to that later.

Ask a simple question, get a genuine answer

Reversing is the simple act of asking a question based on someone else’s question or statement. Remember the earlier line; “What question, you ask?” That is an example of a reverse from the statement, “The secret to successful conversation is in the question.” By listening to the speaker, you can formulate a question that will take the conversation to a deeper level of understanding. Let’s try some examples:

You’re at the company Christmas party, and you’re introduced to the CEO. He says to you; “Good to meet you, I’ve been hearing good things about you.”

Bad response: “Well, I’m not surprised, based on the number of hours I’ve been putting in lately.”

Better response: “That’s flattering; may I ask what good things you’ve heard?”

This response tells your CEO that:

a.)You’ve listened to what he just said, b.)You’re not an egomaniac, and c.) You’re interested in hearing his opinion.

You’ve said nothing of consequence, you’ve handed the conversation back to the CEO, and you’ve set up a scenario for the boss to reinforce aloud the good things he’s heard about you. Not bad payback for a simple question!

A conversation power tool

Let’s try another one. This time, we’ll reverse from a question:

You’re at a family gathering. Highly successful Uncle Phil asks: “So how’s work?” It’s a seemingly simple question, but the response can be complicated. What if your company is failing? What if you hate your job? What if you hate small talk, but would really like to get to know Uncle Phil better, so you want to keep the conversation going? Try this:

(Bad answer: “It’s going okay.”)

Better answer: “That’s an interesting question, Uncle Phil. Why do you ask? “

This example is a powerful question to use! Try it anytime a short, open-ended question is posed for which you’re unsure of or uncomfortable with the answer. (An example in sales would be when someone starts a conversation with, “So how much is this going to cost me?” ) The power of this response lies in the element of surprise. Most people are expecting a short response to their short question. By asking a question in return, you catch them off guard, requiring them to think deeper. This enables real conversation to transpire.

Beyond the initial response

Continuing the conversation beyond the first few sentences requires good listening. Reversing demands that you sincerely listen to the person with whom you’re conversing, instead of concentrating on the next smart thing you’re going to say. You’re next question depends on it. So let’s carry the Uncle Phil conversation further:

Uncle Phil: Well, I guess I’ve been curious about your company; we offer similar services.

You: I see! What services do you see as similar?

Uncle Phil: Well, we both provide technical support, in a way, to other businesses.

You: I guess you’re right. Who are your top five clients right now?

Multiple Benefits

The conversation can go on indefinitely by first listening, then asking simple questions from the answers or questions you receive. It’s okay to answer occasionally, too, once you’ve reached a point of comfort with your answer. Even so, the benefits of listening, asking, and listening some more are golden. Here are some of the earlier promised benefits:

  • Avoidance of awkward silence
  • Avoidance of regrettable responses
  • Elimination of the “What do I say next?” pressure
  • Genuine answers that create deeper knowledge
  • Sincere appreciation for what the other person is saying
  • Appreciation by your conversation partner for your interest in what they have to say
  • Relaxed, real conversation that reveals real people behind the words
  • Solid bonds forged between people which last long after the meeting

Practice makes…Perfect!

As stated at the start, though the technique is simple, it takes practice. The good news is even the practice will produce the benefits listed above. Try them with your spouse, your children (especially your teens), your neighbor, and even your pastor. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you pick up the habit and how effective this simple technique will be in creating great conversation and building solid relationships. Instead of fearing awkward conversation, you’ll feel prepared and in control.

You’ll have a happy holiday, no question about it!