Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shelley 1.0 Meet Shelley 2.0

Let me tell you a little story about Shelley version 1.0 and the newly upgraded Shelley 2.0.

Shelley 1.0 Takes a Trip to Borders
The year that I was living in Austin I took almost weekly trips to Borders for new reads. I have a compulsive habit of reading about fifteen books at once and never finishing anything unless it's truly riveting. This means I have a pretty hefty personal library and a well worn Borders rewards card. Anyway, back in the days when I was making my weekly jaunt I would go spend an hour or two perusing the shelves, sitting with a coffee and getting a few pages deep in several books before making my final selections. This was sacred, solitary time for me. Very rarely did I allow anyone to accompany me on these trips. They were "Shelley time." Frequenting as often as I did I got the rotation of the staff down, mastered the Borders computer search engine and realized Borders does a LOT of book drives. Damn, it was like every single week from my estimation.

Here's the thing about these book drives that Shelley 1.0 couldn't handle: the awkward social exchange of having the Borders employee pitch me on whoever the current drive was benefitting, what the logistics were (e.g., "Would you like to purchase a book from our selection up here to be donated to charity XYZ?"), the look on their face as they asked (e.g., some felt nervous asking, others were totally zoned out from having asked people all day long, some weren't selling it at all, barely mumbling through it, etc., etc.)... the whole thing just made me incredibly uncomfortable. Why? Well, I have an incredibly low threshold for embarrassment/uncomfortable situations/potential conflict... you name it, it makes me uneasy. When I try to explain this to people, this is how I put it: "When I was a kid I had to get up and walk out of the room when Zack and Kelly would kiss on Saved By The Bell because it made me so uncomfortable." I haven't come very far. Everything makes me uncomforable - romantic comedies, awkward hugs, spotty eye contact, watching a first date from across the bar/restaurant, sensing a conflict coming on, someone tripping on the sidewalk... I basically live in a constant state of either being embarrassed myself, embarrassed for someone else or preparing for it to happen at any given moment.

All that being said, when I got to the checkout counter I just wanted to run away. Literally, I think a few times I debated just leaving without buying anything because the anticipated exchange was more than I wanted to deal with (I understand how nuerotic this all makes me sound). But like so many of my other posts, what I'm realizing is that I just didn't want to be bothered and interact with other people and for whatever reason, I couldn't get over my weird hang up of an awkward situation. I would feel pressured to just buy the damn book for whatever the charity was, even if I really didn't have any business spending $10 extra bucks or I would go in to bitch mode. I would avoid eye contact, act too busy and decline the offer before they could even get their spiel out.

This second reaction is the one I hate even more. You know how hard it is for a regular person to pitch someone else on a random product to a random charity they probably don't truly care about? Well, from a girl who worked selling bath products for ten years at Bath & Body Works and trying to "add on" to every sale, let me tell you, it's rough. It's even more rough when someone acts like Shelley 1.0 and doesn't make eye contact with you and dismisses you before you can even say what you've been rehearsing.

Cut to...
Shelley 2.0 Takes a Trip to the Grocery Store
On an early a.m. trip to the grocery store today to pick up some ingredients for dinner I encountered the Borders book drive scenario but this time, it was Giant Eagle grocery store and Hunger for Harvest was the charity du jour. Here's where the truly amazing part happened, as I stood in line putting my items on the conveyor belt and listening to the check out clerk talk to the guy in front of me I heard her give him the spiel: "Would you like to donate to Harvest for Hunger today?" This old dude did not even look nor respond to the check out lady. I assume she must get this a lot because she rolled with it, didn't pester him, finished up the transaction and moved on. Now it was my turn... what would I do?

My usual M.O. is to get weird and uncomfortable. Not this time folks! I made eye contact the whole time, I made small talk (!?) and I smiled :) Guess what else? As we were engrossed in conversation she began wrapping up my transacation and I started to feel a little panicked, wasn't she going to ask me if I wanted to donate to Harvest for Hunger? I was ready, I can do this, come on ask me! I lingered for a minute before pulling my debit card out and lo' and behold she went in to the spiel. Though this time she delievered it with a lot more sales umph and energy given the friendly conversation we had going. I maintained eye contact the whole time, nodded and enthusiastically said "You bet, I'd be happy to." It was that easy, I gave $5 and I got a cookbook of recipes from Giant Eagle employees across the country who had compiled their favorite recipes as a thank you to customers that donated. Not only did I change my 'tude, I did some good and I got one of my favorite things in return: a cookbook. What a win, win, win!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mom Gets to Eat a Hot Meal

Today my mom, sister and I held a baby shower for my sister-in-law, the fabulous Moll-Doll. My mom has hosted more family parties, holidays, random meals, etc., etc., than I can count. Rather than these events getting easier over the years they have seemed to become a tad more stressful for my mom than they used to be. I get it, it's a lot of work. A lot of being "on," and a lot of post-event clean up. Also, my mom is getting older - which, let's face it - means being a bit less energized than she used to be.

Back to the baby shower. Usually when my mom hosts an event my sister and I try to get over a few hours early and lend a hand. I'll own it, this used to make me crazy. I wanted to just show up and have everything handled and ready to roll (I know, that's pretty selfish). As I'd be helping my mom out I'd find my patience wearing thin within fifteen minutes. Inevitably I'd lose my cool, snap at my mom and probably say something snotty that I'd then feel bad about and either regretfully apologize for and/or feel guilty about later having said nothing at all to let my mom know I didn't mean to be such a brat.

Cut to today. My sister and I showed up and found my mom outside in the garage with the vaccuum cleaner laying in pieces. Evidently the thing had gone haywire and broken down at the very moment my mom needed it most - before 20 females were going to come over and hang around her house for a few hours. I could tell she was at a level 15 on the stress meter. I got out of the car, said hi, and told her I could tell she was feeling stressed. I followed it up by saying "It's just a shower mom, we'll figure the vaccuum out, don't worry about it." I could tell it helped a little.

My sister and I went in the house and kept the vibe calm. We decorated, went and got balloons, put the food out and there was no fuss. We all just worked together and enjoyed the task at hand. The shower went off without a hitch. We ate, we drank, we were merry. As we wrapped up the shower there was a pretty hefty clean-up that needed to happen. In the past this is when I pass out on the couch or hit the road (again, I know this makes me pretty selfish), this time I grabbed the dishes, hit the kitchen and got busy. Know what the really amazing part was? I enjoyed the clean-up. Know who enjoyed it more? My mom. She got to spend the last hour of the baby shower visiting. Not waiting on people or making up plates or cleaning up serving dishes that guests needed to take home - she just enjoyed her guests. It reminds me of "A Christmas Story" when Ralph says he doesn't think his mother ever ate a hot meal because she was always waiting on one of her family members during dinner - my mom embodies this too. Today, I hope she got to "eat a hot meal." :) P.S. - Mom I love you :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Looking Outside the Great U.S. of A. to Give Back

Last week when the earthquake and resulting tsunami hit Japan I was totally unaware. I was in bed when my boyfriend called upstairs telling me a major earthquake had hit Japan. Know what I did? Went back to bed. Literally, I may have mumbled something and rolled over and went back to bed.

A few hours later when I was up and functioning I watched the footage of the devastation online. I was mortified. What a horrible natural disaster and how casually I had blown it off earlier in the day. As I watched homes slide down the street, highways turn in to waterways and people huddle together in shops and office buildings I was reminded of 9/11. That same feeling hit my chest and pit of my stomach. Why do things like this have to happen in the world? We can say it was just that - a natural disaster - or that there's some higher purpose, but I honestly can't find the sense in it. And I struggle to believe "everything happens for a reason" when I see how many innocent pepole were either killed or had their lives destroyed by this event.

There's a million different ways you can do someting small in the wake of this tragedy. I've had friends posting on Facebook all week of different charities and opportunities to make a contribution. Just do it. Don't question it, don't talk politics, just do it.

Here's how I chose to show my support:
A cool t-shirt company I shop from a lot created a line of t-shirts with 100% of the proceeds going to relief efforts for the hardest hit areas (that's why the tshirts all have a series of different city names on them). The company is called Palmer Cash and unbeknownst to me their second largest market is in Japan and they have some pretty strong roots there. I know a $20 donation that gets me a t-shirt may seem somewhat self-serving, but my thought was every time I wear this t-shirt it will be another reminder to be humble and grateful and look out for others. Get yours here if you're interested: http://www.palmercash.com/

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shelley's Takeaways

As I've been looking for my chance to do some good this week I've also been working on some basic behavioral changes and I've been thinking. A lot. The behavioral changes have been for me as much (if not more) as for anyone else, so I guess I can't really call them good deeds, but here's a little round up of some of the small things I've been doing and some general thoughts that have been percolating in the old dome.

1. Take off your sunglasses indoors. I'm the biggest culprit of keeping my sunglasses on constantly (e.g., in the grocery store, in the elevator, every time I fly - regardless of the time/lighting, etc.). I realize this is kind of a douchebag move but my reason has always been because it allows me to avoid eye contact with people. For a long time I've walked around with this general attitude that when people are just being people and interacting with me (e.g., making small talk, smiling at me, nodding, etc.) somehow they are imposing upon me. I realize this is a pretty crummy attitude to have. So today when I went to the airport I put my shades on in the taxi (it was sunny, yea!!) but I took some time to be nice to my cabbie (another thing I don't usually do) by the way, he was a lovely man. And when I got in the airport I took my shades off. I looked up. I didn't hide my face or look to the ground, I looked - really looked - at people. I nodded, I smiled, I noticed things. You know what? It wasn't so bad. In fact, I'm vowing to take the shades off for good indoors.

2. You are not invincible nor are you the center of the universe. People are not thinking about you nearly as much as you are thinking about you. Realize it's a good thing.

3. Talk to the lady at the newstand. Or at the taxi stand or in the coffee line, etc. Usually I stand in line or go through daily transactions without looking at who is helping me or who is around me. I actually try to ignore people. Again, I realize this is a pretty crappy way to go about your day. This week I chatted with the lady in the taxi queue with me - guess what? She was hilarious and she paid me two compliments. Score. I also talked to the lady who checked me out at the Hudson News in the airport today. I could feel her looking at me as I walked around the store and of course, my initial cynical inner voice kicked in "alright, what's her problem?" I hit the reset button in my head "you are not the center of the universe, she is probably not looking or thinking about you." When I went up to check out she said "you look like Summer!" I started laughing, "I do?" "Yes, your hair, you look like you're ready for Summer!" We went on to talk about the Obama's and how I would make a great first lady one day. It was a pretty awesome conversation. I also made small talk with the guy at the coffee shop in the hotel this week while we waited in the post lunch, coffee rush. He was extremely interesting. A fellow Sociology major, an ex corporate lawyer and now working for Ferrari - just a cool guy to get to know. Glad I gave him ten minutes of my time.

4. Don't be too cool for school, pass along PSA's and meaningful messages. We're all inundated with philanthropic email chains, sad video posts, etc., etc. Usually I delete this stuff ASAP and/or tune out immediately. It's not my bag. This week AT&T spoke at my company's conference and hammered home their "It Can Wait" anti-texting and driving campaign. I was floored, in tears and entirely moved. I didn't stop there. I took their pledge to stop texting and driving and I passed along the message. Some good people even reposted it. One good deed gets passed along just like that.

5. Tip your waitress well and write her a note when she's doing a good job. When I flew out Saturday night to Chicago I decided I was going to go for the biggest indulgence I could find: a Panini's sandwich in the airport with an ice cold beer. It was amazing. My waitress was swamped. She was helping the entire half of the restaurant on her own and she was getting bombarded by pissed off patrons who were in a hurry to get to their gate. It seemed everyone was riding her about needing their food to go now that it took so long and just taking their anger out on her. You know what she did? Smiled, nodded at everyone and hauled ass to try and make it all happen. I had plenty of time so I just watched and ate my heart attack on a plate with joy. When she brought my tab over I tipped her well and wrote her a note on the bill: "You are doing an awesome job and keeping a smile on your face even though it's CRAZY in here and you seem to be responsible for a lot. I appreciated your attitude and service, thanks so much, keep it up!" To this day I have a card a random person wrote to me in my first job, framed in my house. It can mean so very much to have a stranger take time out of their day and recognize another human being for doing the right thing and working hard.

6. SLOW DOWN. The biggest thing I've realized this week with all of these minor behavioral changes is that I stopped thinking my time was so valuable I couldn't be bothered and took some time to just recognize the world and the people in it, around me. That's it. I just stopped being so self-focused and in my own head and looked around a bit, looked at people's faces (not their shoes). It's not so hard. I think I'll keep it up :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting My Hands Dirty

Yesterday as I sat in the speaker green room preparing to play hostess to any speakers who decided to take a break at my company's annual conference, I heard some teenage girls hanging out in the hallway. They were pretty noisy and the area of the hotel I was in was fairly off the beaten path, so I couldn't really understand why these girls were hanging out over there.

About fifteen minutes after the girls had departed the hallway I took a potty break and mosey'ed over to where they had been. There was a gift bag on the floor outside of the bathroom that was tipped over the contents were spilled out (hair clips, random junk, etc.). I thought this was a pretty odd thing to find outside the bathroom, I figured maybe someone in the bathroom had left it outside the door and it had tipped over. I realize I'm making a lot of deductions here :) regardless, in to the bathroom I went.

The inside of the bathroom was a hot mess. The tissue box had been thrown on the floor, the paper towels ripped out of the wall and thrown about and someone had gone to the bathroom on the toilet seat. Yikes. I don't know what the heck went on in that bathroom but it wasn't pretty. I was pretty shocked to find it in this condition, the hotel we're staying at is pretty swank - not the kind of place to not monitor the status of the facilities. All I could figure is the teenage girls I heard making a commotion had decided to do something stupid. Rather than get mad at them or get upset that the bathroom was a wreck, I took a step back. How many times have I done stupid, selfish things that I wish I hadn't? Too many to count. If it was the girls who did this, I could forgive them. What I couldn't forgive was letting the cleaning staff find this mess. How often must they find crap (pun recognized) like this and sigh and wonder where is their fellow man's compassion? Probably far too often.

With that thought firmly in the front of my mind I got busy cleaning up some of the mess. As I was doing so I heard a loud sigh and a tiny hispanic woman wheeled the giant cleaning cart in to the bathroom. I'm certain she had found the mess on her rounds and had left to get the cleaning cart because the sigh I heard and the look on her face made it clear she knew what she about to walk in to. Or at least she thought she knew what she was going to walk in on, what she didn't expect was me all dressed up cleaning crumpled tissues off the floor.

She immediately began apologizing. I stood up and apologized to her. I told her I was sorry someone would do this and sorry that she had to deal with it. I told her I had wanted to clean up a bit so that no one would have to find the bathroom this way. She looked shocked and then she very sincerely thanked me. I smiled, told her no problem and went about the rest of my day. I imagine being on the housekeeping staff has got to be a thankless and invisible job. You stay at a hotel and you just expect the linens to get picked up off the floor, the bed to be made, the garbage to be emptied, etc. I guess it was a good reminder to thank the people who make my days easier, cleaner and seamless and to take the time to go out of my way once in awhile to make their day better too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A New Gig for a Relative Stranger

One of my clients, a cultural arts institution out in Vegas, has been looking to fill a Director-level sponsorship position for awhile. They are without a doubt an unbelievable opportunity. State of the art, brand new facility, entire staff of the best and the brightest in the world (literally – they’ve recruited worldwide) and they are paying their staff with the same prestige. That is to say, they are paying their people handsomely.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say they’ve hinted at wanting me in the position. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say there have been moments an opportunity like this have been tempting. But let’s get serious, I’d self-destruct in Vegas. I can see it now… six months in to this gig I’d wind up a low-rent cocktail waitress at Bill’s Gambling Hall cleaning up beer pong tables in some get-up that looked like it was out of Fredericks of Hollywood. Anyway, that’s not to say the opportunity doesn’t kick ass, it’s just not what I need to be doing.  

However, it might be just the right thing for a new acquaintance I made at the opening cocktail party of my company’s annual conference last night. Enter Sam. Sam sat in on my presentation Sunday and intro’d himself that night by saying if my presentation set the tone for the rest of the conference, that this week was going to be hugely beneficial. I immediately thought he was a cool dude. Flattery won’t get you everywhere, but it will at least hold someone’s attention through their first drink at a networking event. He went on to tell me about his current position and how he was interested in pursuing some new career challenges. He told me about his family and I saw a picture of his kids. Again, just a good, solid guy.

Somehow we got around to my client and their search for the perfect candidate. I had literally just spoken with them prior to talking to Sam. My good deed meter started buzzing – could I play matchmaker between Sam and my client and make some sponsorship magic happen? I immediately made it my quest. I searched that cocktail party high and low for my client hoping to do an on-the-spot intro. No luck. They’d already retired for the night.

I found Sam and promised him I wouldn’t forget to make the introduction and that I was excited at the possibilities. Now, I don’t know how many conferences, networking events or cocktail parties you’ve attended, but people say stuff like this ALL THE TIME. 99.9% of the time they do not follow through. I made it a priority not to fall flat on my promise and be the cliché cocktail party attendee. It had been a long day, and I didn’t get back to my hotel room until fairly late, could I have waited till today to send the email and get Sam introduced to my client so they could meet up at some point during the conference this week? Sure. Would I have dawdled away a little time, lost some of my energy and possibly forgotten if I had waited? Quite possibly. So, I dug out Sam’s card and fired off an email to my client introducing the two and saying I thought it was imperative they meet at my round table event the next morning and talk about the possibility of working together. Sam immediately emailed me back “I owe you a huge one! Just for making the introduction, I owe you big time!” It felt great. I literally felt like I could put my head on the pillow with a smile on my face and know I earned that smile.

Know what I usually do at a “networking event?” Stand in the corner with my colleagues acting antisocial and drink a glass (okay, maybe 2… alright, honesty is a virtue I’m working on, maybe it’s truly 3) of red wine and head back to my room when I feel I’ve “paid my dues.” Not this year. I resolved to be as open to meeting as many new people as possible. And I wouldn’t interrupt. I’d listen to what they were curious about, I wouldn’t try and solve all their problems off the bat, but if I could help, I’d do that too. More importantly, I’d genuinely be interested. Not just “it’s my job so I’m ‘interested,’ interested,” but truly invested interested. At this stage I don’t know if Sam got the job, but the two of them met at my session this morning and looked to have a great conversation. One simple change in my attitude may mean someone else’s life changes and one of my clients solves a challenge they’ve been grappling with for months. My cup runneth over at the thought of how positively powerful we can be when we set our mind and our attitude to the right frequency. Here’s to hoping Sam lands the gig!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Gown Fit for an Ass-kicking Survivor Princess

Every Saturday I spend seven and a half hours with people planning what is hopefully one of the happiest days of their life. It's sacred time helping a woman, her mother, her sister(s), and friend(s) pick out a wedding gown. It's not an act many people get to be a part of and the inside scoop and access many of these women are willing to grant you in the confines of the dressing room can be truly staggering.

The bride-to-be I worked with this week, we'll call her Jenny, was one of those brides that had a major impact on me the first time I worked with her. Note to the inexperienced out there: brides often come back to the same boutique three or four times with a whole new posse each time to make sure they're really sure about "the dress." Such was the case with Jenny. I worked with her for the first time in mid-February. Jenny is tiny. A petite, fellow curly haired gal (although a brunette), with a way of carrying herself that just lets you know in some way she's fragile. She came in with a smile plastered to her face, although it felt a little forced. Wedding dress shopping can be a bit intimidating and a fake smile isn't all that rare to see. But something about this was different.

Jenny had her mom in tow on this first trip and I could tell they both had heavy hearts. I'm the kind of person that for better or worse (pun recognized) I pick up on whatever energy is around me. So much so that sometimes I literally feel like I walk around through life the permeable girl. At any rate, Jenny began picking out dresses. She had a budget that was strict and a requirement - the dress couldn't be too heavy. After gathering up some selections I put them in her room and asked if she wanted my help getting in and out of the dresses. I got a polite but swift "no thank you." Some people are shy and don't want someone in their fitting room (I'm one of these people) I get it. But again, this felt somewhat different. As Jenny tried on dresses both she and her mother seemed to perk up a bit.

Jenny even asked for my help a few times getting in to some of the bulkier dresses. Finally she spilled the beans: "I have skin cancer and I've had some very painful procedures recently." Cue the not wanting heavy dresses, rough fabrics tugging on her skin and a stranger in her fitting room. We spent a moment staring each other straight in the face. From that point on I was not a bridal consultant. I seriously cared that this girl get exactly what she needed and wanted and not just in a wedding gown. I remember how carefully I clipped her dresses (which all gaped off of her tiny frame) so as not to pinch her skin and how hard I tried to find exactly what she was looking for.

Jenny and her mom left, we had a very heartfelt goodbye in which I sincerely told her I hoped she'd be back and that I was wishing her all the best.

Cut to yesterday when I showed up to work to see Jenny's name back in the book for a second appointment. Jenny rolled in to the bridal boutique a new woman. Curls bouncing, friends in tow, mom with a gleam in her eye - these girls were ready to make a decision and get this wedding rolling. I was greeted with the warmth of a lifelong friend. As I put Jenny's dresses in her fitting room she jabbered away about the shoes she had ordered that she hoped would make it in time for this appointment (canary yellow heels), the dancing she planned on doing at her wedding and the order in which I thought she should try on the dresses to give her audience the best show.

As I went to exit the dressing room so Jenny could try her dresses on she grabbed my arm, "I need to tell you something, all of my tests came back negative." Now neither one of us was in a hurry to get me out of the fitting room. I shut the door behind me, my eyes welled up and I grabbed Jenny's hand and told her how incredibly happy that news made me. She also explained to me that the last time they had been in not only were her test results unknown but her grandfather (her mother's dad) had just passed.

As Jenny whittled down the selections, took the feedback from her friends and mother I came to realize that somehow, someway she was most interested in my opinion - though I have no idea why. Finally she tried on the all lace dress that I remembered her lighting up in on her first appointment. That familiar look crossed her face and I couldn't help but feel the "this is it" feeling that I imagine I might feel one day myself. Needless to say, everyone else saw the look and felt the feeling too - even though not everyone was aesthetically in love with the dress, they shut their mouths, looked at Jenny's face and knew it was "the one."

Needless to say, Jenny ordered that lace dress yestereday for her wedding and promised me to only make appointments on Saturdays from here on in - on the days I'd be there to see her. I don't know if this really counts as a good deed for the day but I can tell you this, I was more present with Jenny than I've been with anything or anyone in a long time and I feel like somehow she knew.

Here's "The Dress:"