Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do(n't) Talk to Strangers

It’s been drilled into us since childhood: “Don’t talk to strangers.” But now that we’re grown, is the fear of stranger danger keeping potentially-valuable relationships at bay and preventing us from making some meaningful connections? Don’t get me wrong, there’s undoubtably evil in this world and bad consequences do exists; but is the boogie man, or as the Spanish call him, El Cuco, really lurking behind every stranger’s eyes?

I once struck up a conversation in an airport with an attractive stranger. Ill-advised? As it turned out, that innocent dialogue led to a dating relationship and, as the degrees of separation often go, led me to reconnect with a girlfriend of mine who I knew in the third grade in Puerto Rico! That connection then led me to another classmate who now lives in Barcelona. On a recent trip, I met up with her and her husband and ended up touring the city with them for hours. What a memorable moment.

Then there’s the woman I met over the shampoo bowl at the salon. It just so happened that 60 years ago she went to school with a certain “Nido” boy. She shared the sotyr of how enamored she was with him and stories of the two of them together. To my disbelief, that young boy was my father and she was his childhood sweetheart! What a random moment.

Those are just some of the special people I’ve added to my life because I gathered my courage, took the first step and said “hello” to a stranger. There’s no telling what can happen when you welcome the unknown into your life. It could open the door to a valuable business connection or new, innovative ideas in the workplace. It could mean an exciting personal relationship or new horizons you’ve yet to explore.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that there are many strangers-turned-friends in my life. According to my mom I never met a stranger. “Every time you went to a party, your sister would come crying because you had already made friends with everyone.” But what about those whose personalities don’t naturally gravitate towards the unknown? Talking to strangers can be daunting, but it’s also a skill that can be learned with practice.

I like to make it an exercise. Start with a person of the same gender or someone with a common connection. Initiate the conversation, find out all you can about the other person and keep the talk flowing. Then, move on to more intimidating situations: that attractive man at the bar, the head of the company you really want to impress or that striking woman next to you in carpool. Like the first person on the dance floor, sometimes others are just waiting for someone to make the first move. Just take two deep breathes to lower your racing heart, and as you breathe in the second time around, smile from your heart and start with a simple “hello.” You never know what could happen next.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Paying It Forward

I’m often asked why I write a blog. Why now? What do I get out of doing this? It’s not for the money; not so people will know my name. It’s more about passing it on and paying it forward. Sharing the hurdles, experiences and the wisdom I’ve acquired along life’s road in the hope that there’s a take-away for someone else. It’s also my legacy -- a place for me to tell the story of my life so that one day my girls, my grandkids and even my great-grandchildren can read these words and feel a connection to where they came from. I’ve always said that if by doing this I could touch just one person’s life, it would be worth it. That person was Anna.

God brought Anna to the salon, in the chair close to mine, when she was at a crossroads in her own life. After a brief conversation, she went home, sat down at her computer and pulled up this blog.

“I was so energized after meeting you,” she wrote, “that I went home and found your site. I stayed up late last night reading and was up early this morning to pray, read the Word and do some yoga stretches before breakfast. I’m back on track now with my bag of fresh fruits and veggies. I don’t know what is right or wrong about this, but I feel happy and energized.”

Anna found something in my story that she could relate to. It gave her hope that her own journey to health and well-being was do-able and what she was up against was not insurmountable.

“I honestly feel you participated in a divine appointment,” she continued. “While reading your bio I couldn’t believe how I am right where you were physically, mentally and emotionally when you were my age. Thank you for the work you have done to improve yourself. That investment has now been passed on to another woman who is making the decision to honor herself.”

I don’t know if Anna will keep reading or if what she received at that moment was enough. I do know that God has sent people into my life at just the right time to look after me. There’s a lot of Annas in the world -- I know because I’ve been one. I’ve been uncertain, unmotivated and uninspired and there has been someone there to encourage me, to tell me that life is always a choice and to help me get up and move forward. Who are the Annas in your life? What part of your story is it that they need to hear? I encourage you to be bold with the lessons life has taught you. You never know who might be listening.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Integrity: Who you are when no one is looking

How far would you be willing to go to keep your word? Would you honor a commitment even if it hurt? What about if no one but you would ever be the wiser? I always thought I had the question of integrity answered but a recent promise to deliver a discount to one of my diamond clients had me second-guessing my good intentions...if only for a moment.

Here’s how the dilemma came about. Seldom do I receive an additional discount from this one particular vendor I purchase stones from; the standard discount for the type of diamond this customer was purchasing would be about $500. In my mind, that was the savings I had promised to pass on and only if I received it. I did make it clear that that additional discount rarely happens.  However, when my vendor came back with a $4,000 discount I faced a huge battle of conscience. The struggle was between keeping my promise to pass on whatever discount I received or pocketing the profit and giving my client the expected amount. In the end, I passed on the full savings to a very grateful and pleasantly surprised customer. He got more than he expected that day and I guess you could say I did too.

It seems like an easy thing to say you are a person of your word -- but what if keeping it comes at a cost? Better yet, what if no one would ever know the difference? This instance gave me pause for thought. I had been raised with a great work ethic and a very uncompromising sense of right and wrong but in the business world is wrong always wrong? Turns out it really is.

Remember the days when a handshake was as binding as a contract? When was the last time you “shook on it” to close the deal? I do it all the time. I admit, it’s an old-fashion way of living but if you are who you say you are, your word is all the promise anyone will ever need. Consider for a moment your own reputation. Do you show up on time and deliver what’s expected? Do you own up to your mistakes and refund when someone overpays? Do you treat your clients, and your employees, with respect and honor? Integrity may seem like something of the past, but when you live your life in pursuit of it, it pays back in immeasurable ways. Try it!