Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sometimes it's Technology to Blame, and Not the Person..

Recently having read Elisabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, an engaging book that discloses the Italian’s claim on how Americans lack pleasure in their lives, I was inspired to set out on a little Italian adventure of my own. To satisfy my craving for more leisure and fun…and for a tasty, time-honored Italian meal…I decided to try and make home-made pasta and “gravy” (the red sauce with meat).

While I started out with great confidence, enthusiasm, and the traditional ingredients, I unfortunately lacked an essential component: a pasta drying rack. Still enthused, however, I got on my mobile phone and started calling stores who I thought might have what I needed.

After about a half hour of unsuccessful searching, I finally reached a woman (Eve) in a local store who seemed at least knowledgeable about the rack, although her store was temporarily out of them. Eve was very cheerful and helpful until I asked her for a recommendation of where else I might find this item. I started naming stores, brainstorming aloud possible specialty locations, and babbling on about the recipe. Then I stopped for a minute to ask her if she agreed with me that one particular culinary store might carry the rack in question. Within seconds the phone went “click.” I was aghast. I sat on the other end of the phone, shocked at her appalling attitude. What nerve, I thought.

Now I realized I probably rambled on a bit, it was a busy time of year for her, and had no doubt come across as a novice chef who might not prove to be a frequent or valuable customer for her store, and I was talking about going to the competition. Yet I was seeking expert advice, and manners are manners, right? So to hang up on me? How rude! I was steaming by then, thinking all kinds of vengeful thoughts. Just wait until I go down there and tell her I’m in the communication business and “thank” her for my next negative example of customer service!

Setting out to find my drying rack, I dressed in my most intimidating suit. My plan was to stop by her store on the way home and confront Eve about her disrespect. I would have my delicious pasta dish, prove the Italians wrong, and settle the scores with this bad-mannered woman. When I got to the store, I inquired how to find the department where Eve worked. The manager knew who I was asking about, escorted me to the specialty department, all the while raving about Eve’s knowledge and service approach: she had apparently worked there since the store opened and had contributed a great deal to the store’s success. I thought to myself, if you only knew!

The manager introduced us and walked away with another customer. Upon meeting, while my initial instinct was to pointedly tell this lady how rude she had been to hang up on me, my good grace and sense thankfully took over at the last minute. She was much older than me, very tiny with tidy hair and clothing, and had a warm smile. I suddenly felt like I was standing in my grandmother’s kitchen. I began by apologizing for being so green at this “cooking thing,” but I was the one who had called about the pasta drying rack…and well, I was surprised that she had hung up on me!

The astonished look on Eve’s face showed me immediately that I had it all wrong. In careful detail, she explained what had happened on the other end of the phone. My phone, it seemed, was going in and out and she was having a hard time understanding me. She had continued to try to tell me that she couldn’t hear me well, and that suddenly I wasn’t there anymore. She felt terrible, as she had determined that I was desperate for this item and so excited about a first attempt at home-made pasta, and hoped and figured I’d call her back. She had even called a few other stores around to ask if they had the rack I was looking for.

Her face and sincere tone told me she was telling the truth. She was so lovely, and in the end, I told her that even though I was embarrassed by my own intentions, I was glad I had come. She gave me some lasagna preparation tips and showed me a few other tools that might help me starting out in the kitchen. I learned a lot that day…about cooking, about giving someone the benefit of the doubt, and about the possible harms of technology.

As I drove home, I started thinking about that afternoon as a microcosm of a much bigger picture. While the technological age has advanced us as a productive society and has significantly increased our ability to communicate, there are some ironic, downside risks. How many times have you been on a cell phone and you or the other person have lost charge or coverage? Think about the advertisements we see that expose these ill-fated circumstances…the woman telling her partner they are pregnant, and he doesn’t react with the enthusiasm she anticipates because he’s lost the call!

What about the emails we send with important requests that never get a reply? Has the message been blatantly ignored, or did the message go into some “undeliverable” vortex? How many times have we accidentally sent a message to the wrong address by hastily hitting enter in the drop-down address list? Or misinterpreted the content or tenor of an email message that was written quickly?

Technology is now so intertwined with communication, both for personal and business gain, we really can’t imagine living without it. It connects us around the world, and gets the job done instantly! Another article could be dedicated to the benefits of technology for sure. But as with any modern-day convenience, when technology is involved, some challenges are bound to occur. After all, humans created it, and we humans aren’t perfect.

The key is to anticipate problems, avoid or prevent them whenever possible, and most importantly, don’t be completely dependent on technology. Let’s not forget the old-fashioned way of communicating – conversing in person! Driving down to the store and talking to the kind and helpful associate…

Here are a few quick tips to consider:

· If feasible, meet face to face. There is no better way in history to develop productive relationships than to interact…live. Conversing face to face allows us to ask questions, read non-verbal cues, make sure messages get interpreted as they’re meant to…and it’s fun.

· Pick up the phone. Speaking to a person live is the next best thing to being there, right? More so than the written word, speaking on the phone allows us to “read” sincerity, intent, and implication. Not only meaning, but motive can get lost in translation in emails, memos, and sometimes even voicemails.

· When communicating in writing, select your words carefully, use a positive tone, write complete thoughts instead of fragments. Avoid techno-speak or “instant” spelling. Review what you’ve read to check for tone. If using email, double check the “to” line to ensure the correct recipients.

· Assume positive intent, behave rationally, and keep a level head when corresponding with others, regardless of the communication vehicle. If something gets misinterpreted, take responsibility. Remain calm, and ask about the other person’s viewpoint. And never ever, just “assume,” for this can be a big mistake! Sometimes, it’s the technology to blame, not the person!

Even through we do occasionally have challenges with communication technology, we’ve got to be thankful for it and remember how far we’ve come. After all, remember the telegram… the fastest method of written form we had a few short years ago, replacing ox carts moving across town with the mail!

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Power of One

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Social Networking Conference in Miami Florida. I was only able to attend one day out of the two and I was able to attend as a press person representing the Orlando Business Journal where I have a regular column.

Verna, who works for Mark Brooks’s company, Courtland Brooks Agency was the press contact who sat me on a bench and brought one interesting entrepreneur to me after another. She kept my plate full with dynamic people doing incredible things on the web.

One such person was a guy by the name of Markus Frind. Markus is a regular kind of guy who looks really smart and wears really cool glasses but when I saw his company name, I nearly got weak at the knees. I started jumping up and down and screaming like I was meeting a rock star. And to me, I was!!! My husband had just recently read an article about Markus who is the owner and founder of the number 1 dating website in the world called Plentyoffish.com Before I stopped screaming and jumping up and down I quickly called my husband and asked him the name of the website we were reading about recently. When he announced it was plentyoffish.com, I promptly handed the phone over to him and introduced the two programmers to one another.

Before you start thinking that I’m a complete geek, let me share, that one report stated that Markus makes about 10 million $ a year off of his free social networking site. Although he didn’t confirm it to me, he told me he stopped sharing the amount of money he was now making. Oh yah, and did I mention, that he only has one employee?? And his biggest competitors, like eharmony or match.com employee 400-500 people? Markus is just ONE person, and he’s recently hired one gal to work for him.

After getting over my initial shock that I was sitting with Markus Frind, the founder of www.plentyoffish.com, I settled in on asking the questions that I wanted to know! I wasn’t interested in how he did it necessarily; I was more interested how one person could achieve such dramatic results, and what sort of person he was to focus on one major purpose like he did.

So my questions started: why did he pick opening a dating website? Because he wanted to service as many people in the general population as possible. How did he do it with just one person? He focused every single day on how to make it better and while he would listen to the feedback from the participants, he ultimately listened to his gut instinct. Why was his site so special I asked? Not because it looked good he told me. He said programmers like bells and whistles, but the average person just wants it to work. That’s all they care about! He doesn’t try to make it look good. He just wants it to be great at allowing people to meet. Then I asked where he worked and what sort of person he was? He told me he grew up on a farm in Canada, originally from Germany and he didn’t know the language when he moved there, but over time he grew up and found he liked programming. He told me he lived in a 2 bedroom apartment and didn’t any distractions. He was competitive, and just loved that he was like David in David and Goliath. I loved that scenario. I loved it that he was sitting in an apartment continuing to make his site better and better, and not out spending all of his money on himself. He didn’t get caught up in the glamour of the money and continued to keep his life simple. I commented to him that now he could afford boats and cars and houses anywhere. He did admit to buying a BMW, but that was about it. He also travels a lot now but other than that, he still likes things simple.

It was such a pleasure to meet Markus. I am impressed by his accomplishment of course, but more than that, by how he chooses to live. He lives simply and without the bravado. It made me want to scale back, and to stop the thousands of things that I do, and think about the ONE thing that I want to achieve.

What about you? Do you have one project that gets you up early every day and keeps you up at night? Do you spend your precious energy thinking about how to make it better or more improved?

Just think about what one person can do. When one person gets completely focused, and puts all of their heart, mind and soul behind a project, the possibilities are limitless.

The power of One.
It’s all we really need.
The power of ONE.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Living with Sensory Processing Disorder Successfully

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on Occupational therapy for my son who has had Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD. I believe in Occupational Therapy and who knows where we’d be if we didn’t have the OT. But I’ve found how to integrate it into our life, and save us some money.

My son loved OT and I know the many benefits that he received from it. But it didn’t come without a struggle. Each session was $60 per half hour, or $120 an hour. I loved seeing him thrash around in the mats, swinging on the swings or spinning, running and jumping. I knew that he was getting mental benefits as well as physical and we continued the work at home by doing jumping on the trampoline, wheel barrels and crab crawls. But the money I was spending without being reimbursed started to cut into other things I wanted to do for my son. For instance, I wanted to get him allergy testing, but that $1300 for the test was something I’d have to save for, so we cut out OT.

I’ve made hundreds of little changes in our lifestyle over the past year and a half since I became somewhat educated about my child’s needs. It truly has been a series of trying something and seeing if it worked, and trying another to see if that worked. Some days, it seems we have moved forward several steps, but then we can take several steps backwards in one day, or one giant, dramatic episode.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about my son. I need complete structure in the house and with his routine. He gets up at a certain time, eats, bathes and does story time every day and every night. We have to plan far in advance to do something out of the ordinary, and the whole house has to be set up to accommodate that. That means, if we have cub scouts or basketball practice, then the house has to be clean before he gets home and I will focus 100% of my time on him before he goes. If we have a play date, the date wraps up at exactly 5PM so I can get home and get dinner on the table by 6:15 and have him in the tub by 7PM. His bedtime is strictly 8:30 and there is no negotiating.

I’ve learned that I have to spend more time with him in the afternoon. I get all of my work and chores done during the day around my work, so when he gets home, I play with him and part of that play is his OT. He jumps on the trampoline, we box, wrestle, go hunting for treasures in the yard or go for a walk. The afternoon routine always consists of homework and exercise.

I have learned that TV and play dates with other kids are rewards. For good behavior, he can watch a cartoon. He does not get to plop down in front of the TV whenever he wants or turn on the computer. He has to do his home work and gets to play with friends if he has good and we usually plan these play dates. We do this so there is not much stimulation and there isn’t a lot of chance where he can get over stimulated.

All throughout the morning and day and evening, I rub Jeremy’s muscles. I scratch his back and affectionately massage his legs, arms or feet. In the bathtub I scrub him with a washcloth and he always makes sure that I get under his armpits! That wash cloth takes the place of the OT brush and the massage he gets throughout the day must help too. He doesn’t seem to complain about it because I tell him we want to warm up his muscles and keep him in shape.

I have asked Jeremy to help me get in shape so we do push ups together, crab crawls and bear crawls. We race each other and we compete. In the evenings or in the mornings, I have my husband wrestle with Jeremy or have Jeremy try to push my husband over by pushing his hands against my husbands’ hands. This helps with the upper body strength and is similar to wall push ups. The wrestling is good for his body as well and acts like the mats in therapy.

Bath time used to be the worst time of the day. Getting him in and out of the tub was a literal nightmare. I dreaded it for the hour before bath time. Now, I give him choices. He can stay in the tub for the whole time or he can get out and watch 15 minutes of TV. He has choices to make and it doesn’t matter to me which choice he makes, it is up to him. He usually gets out the tub to watch a few minutes of TV. I have stopped screaming for him to get out of the tub. I simply give him a choice of two things: tub or TV. If he chooses to stay up for longer than he is supposed to, then he loses a play date with friends the next day. If he gets in bed on time, then he gets a special reward and I’ll make a special play date for him the next day if I’m able.

We’ve experimented with no dairy, magnet therapy, supplements and tae kwan do. We’ve done allergy testing, toxin testing and are hoping to do Mind mapping in the near future. My goal is to get him off of any type of ADHD medication. We’ll keep doing different therapies until we’ve found the magic potion of what works for him. We regularly read healing scriptures and the Psalms in the Bible.

We are on a journey together and I’m definitely not “there” but I have learned a few things along the way. I’ve learned that my child needs me to keep him comfortable and needs me to structure his life. I’ve learned that yelling isn’t the answer and that building up his body is a process but it’s one that is worth the effort. I’ve learned that putting him first above everything else has worked for me. My career is on hold. Marketing is on hold. Moving ahead with dream projects are on hold. Jeremy has my complete and full attention at the moment.

I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I don’t even eat sugar or drink alcohol much anymore because it might affect my mood and I just don’t have time to slow down. I do many of my workouts at home with hand weights, pushups and lunges because I know I need to be strong for this journey.

My son has made me into a better person. His challenges that he had early on due to a premature delivery has made us all work harder in our life. But I see a remarkable person developing right in front of me. He’s smart about nutrition and exercise. He understands the value of hard work. He sees that when he eats well and exercises that people comment positively on his body. He has such in depth knowledge of historical bible characters from the cartoons, that he often shares pearls of wisdom with me from the leaders of the Bible. He understands that everyone is a little bit the same like that we all have skin, eyes and hair, and that we’re all a little different, in our attitudes, beliefs and actions.

I feel honored to have a child that has had challenges in life out of the gates. He changed my attitude of entitlement to one of hard work and commitment and devotion. I would never give up the last several years of incredible struggle and learning that we’ve gone through. Now I know what it takes for him to have a good day. It takes muscle work, good food to feed his body, reading to him, being with him and loving him.

Sensory Processing Disorder is a situation that can cause families to be in crisis and have chaos. When the kids are whiney and uncomfortable and mom and dad aren’t sleeping, the whole family life is turned upside down. There is hope though, and I hope one day I’ll be able to say that all of my discoveries are things that worked over the long haul, but for right now, they seem to, and I’m going to continue to integrate our OT, healthy eating and nurturing of my son into our daily routine.

After all, I’ve never met another person who I thought was more worth it… than my son.