Are you poised?
November 30, 2015
Interns get jobs.
Get a good internship, do a great job, and you’ll probably be first in line for the job.
Katie snared a heck of an internship this summer, and I was impressed by how she handled it. So, apparently, were the people in charge -- because she’s still working for them. And she’s barely halfway through her undergraduate work at NYU. Can you imagine the possibilities?
One thing about how Katie operated stood out above everything else. As she worked on a project that involved people across the organization she made sure not to wrap her requests in apologies. None of this “I’m sorry to bother you, but” kind of lead-in I probably attached to every request of every person I worked with until only a few years ago.
Asking for help is part of the job. Katie’s polite and cheerful, a joy to have around. But when she needs something she doesn’t apologize for needing it. She’s a pro. Already.
I wince when I think of my younger self. I wonder how much further I could’ve gotten, faster, with a fraction of Kate’s poise. But had I come into my own as quickly as she seems to be, I doubt if my travels would’ve taken me anywhere near northwestern Minnesota. I wouldn’t have met Darrell. For starters.
No, what I wanted most was a good story. Katie was a plot twist I couldn’t have seen coming -- and nothing in the way of an accelerated career path can compare with having a front-row seat to her story.
How quickly can you get to the point?
November 29, 2015
You have twenty seconds of undivided attention when you get someone on the phone.
The Phone Lady, Mary Jane Copps, isn’t kidding. Do you really want to spend those twenty seconds fumbling around? Of course not. So prepare something. It doesn’t have to be much, obviously. But scribble it out and say it out loud to yourself until it sounds natural.
Say what you want, and say it straight out. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t wrap it in disclaimers. You don’t have time.
Mary Jane thinks of a woman who got back to her. “I have five minutes to return fifty calls,” she said. “Talk fast.” Mary Jane got right to the point, which was how she could help the gal. Isn’t that what we all want? Someone who cares what we want?
You’ll find more tips like this in The Phone Book. I’ve read it. It’s short, so there’s that. But it’s also helpful.
Mary Jane is singlehandedly rekindling the art of conversation. It’s a calling!
How quickly do you interrupt?
November 22, 2015
As a young woman I actually believed I was helping people when I finished their sentences. Can you imagine?
The Phone Lady, Mary Jane Copps, was happy to field that question on the show recently. “I think I thought the same thing,” she said. That’s one reason I love Mary Jane. She’s relatable -- and soothing. She’s quick with reassurance you’re not so weird after all, in a voice so smooth I wonder if I’ve ever heard a better one for radio or the telephone.
Mary Jane left me speechless when she suggested we give people on the other end of the line at least twelve seconds to respond. Twelve seconds! That wouldn’t fly on the air. It’s called dead air. In the first few seconds of it your audience is asking themselves, “What the…?” Then they find another station.
But if your telephone conversation’s just between you and someone else, not for broadcast, then you need to give that person time to compose a response. “People are used to texting,” Mary Jane says. “They’re used to being able to back up and erase a phrase or two. The stakes feel higher without that edit feature.”
Still. Twelve seconds?
What do you do in that amount of time?
Check your posture, feel great you asked a question that requires a bit of thought to answer, go to a happy place. Just don’t interrupt. Nothing spells “you matter” more than “I have time for you.”
Do you collect trivia?
November 21, 2015
One of the most amusing and pragmatic justifications I’ve heard for eschewing an extramarital affair went something like, “Who has time to keep track of all those lies?”
Have you ever realized you know a little too much about some celebrity for your own good? When I find myself spouting trivia about someone in the news -- not someone making news, someone in the news (and yes, there’s a difference) -- I do a quick scan of my project list to see if I’ve made measurable progress.
There’s usually a correlation between knowing useless things -- the kind of thing you find on Facebook if Facebook is your thing -- and not having much else to show for myself.
A few months ago I mentioned the joy of missing out to someone who makes a living helping people make better use of their time. He’d never heard of it. Which should’ve told me perhaps I’d spent a little too much time online, that I’d know about it when he didn’t.
But this is what struck me. Call it the joy of missing out, call it the more traditional fear of missing out. Either way, you’re going to miss out. That’s life.
How you look at it is up to you.
The better question is whether you’re going to stay so current on other people’s lives you don’t have anything to show for your own.
Do you have a need to know?
November 20, 2015
In the early days of the talk show we interviewed one of my favorite career consultants. He was hilarious. Helpful, and hilarious. The perfect guest.
He offered to come back again and again, and we took him up on it. He always gave us the impression it was about as much fun as he had.
Then one day he declined our invitation. I didn’t know if he wasn’t doing any more interviews, period -- or had just tired of our show. “That’s impossible,” Darrell said. We had the last conversation recorded, after all. Nothing had gone wrong. We’d had the usual blast together.
I made it easy for him to tell me what had changed, but he didn’t bite. So I sent him a letter to thank him for all the inspiration over the years.
And that was it. For a while I continued to be curious. I’d come to think of the guy as a friend, after all. But the thing I was most curious about was my own curiosity. Surely I could find things more interesting to ponder than something Darrell was sure had zero to do with me.
I decided to be more curious about my own business -- and let other people be.
Have you ever been approached by someone who obviously wants something from you, but doesn’t say what that is? I used to play along. I’d try to guess.
Not anymore. It isn’t that I don’t want to help. I do. But nobody’s getting any younger, and the people who ask for things straight out move to the front of the line.
Have you earned your keep?
November 19, 2015
“Do you see what I’m seeing?” I asked Darrell on a recent grocery run. Indeed he did. It was another couple a few feet from us in the cereal aisle, talking and smiling. With each other. As if it was on purpose. As if they truly enjoyed each other’s company.
What made it unusual was the advancing years. Old enough to sport gray hair (him) and a few extra pounds (her). Old enough to have the phones tucked away in his pocket and her purse. But young enough you couldn’t write off what appeared to be happiness as proof of senility.
We couldn’t take our eyes off the two of them. They were a sight to behold.
You think I’m kidding? How many long-married people give you the impression they’d choose each other all over again?
Most interesting to me was what we couldn’t know about these two. She might have weathered a drug addiction that decimated the couple’s finances. He might still need several hundred dollars in therapy every month to keep the demons from his own childhood at bay.
Whatever the cost, whatever went on behind the scenes, appeared to be a bargain from the look on those faces.
Can you put a price on being excited to wake up in the morning? For the privilege of being married to someone who still makes you laugh?
I don’t think so. But maybe that’s just me!
Are you sure you want to forget?
November 18, 2015
“Nothing bad happened.”
Every family has its own language, and that’s our family’s way of reassuring each other the loud and potentially ominous sound we just heard hasn’t done any harm. Nothing’s broken. No one’s bleeding. Carry on!
“Nothing bad happened” was also my way of describing my life until it imploded in my thirties. Clearly something bad had happened. I just refused to see it. And in the process I blamed myself for everything. It went way beyond thinking maybe I wasn’t a good kid. It ventured all too often into the territory of maybe I didn’t belong here after all.
Everything changed the summer of 1991. I took a step back from myself and everyone I’d ever known. I made peace with my life.
But I didn’t forget where I’d been. I didn’t forget the mistakes I’d made. I decided to honor my past by learning from those mistakes and forging a new path.
I didn’t forget how I felt around certain people, either -- and when I recognized the same qualities in new people I met, I kept a safe distance. You can love someone from a distance, after all. I’m hardly the first person to have the observation, but it’s a lifesaver!
Are you willing to tell the truth?
November 17, 2015
“Do you love your kids? Not if you text and drive.”
That’s according to Larry Winget, the self-described pitbull of personal development. It’s also according to me.
If you text and drive, you increase the chances you’ll crash. You increase those a lot. You don’t have to take Larry’s word or my word for that. Look it up.
How can you claim to love anyone -- yourself, your kids, the other people on the road with you -- when you’re so careless with those lives?
Yeah, I know. I’m not perfect. That doesn’t mean you’re not criminally reckless.