Posted by: brandextenders | May 29, 2014

What Would You Do Differently?

Here’s the scenario: Just shy of a year ago I was referred to a woman at a Fortune 500 company who’d just taken over a new position. Part of her job was purchasing promotional products in large quantities for scores of managers to use as gifts for customers and prospects. We met on email, then over the phone and finally in person to discuss her needs and how best I could assist. Over three months I pulled together ideas and samples, created virtuals of what their logo would look like on a variety of products, all for a meeting where managers could choose the items they liked.

Sales is not for sissies.

Sales is not for sissies.

The meeting came and went and the date she had given me for ordering also came and went. I reached out via email and phone calls, very few of which were answered, and I did my best to stay in front of her in hope some of the business she promised would come our way. After six months one small order arrived with promises again that she would be ordering in the next “few weeks.” Then nothing.
I finally sent an email I reserve as a last hope, where I ask if I have done something wrong or misunderstood the situation. I don’t whine, but simply ask for feedback in case I have done something unintentional. Still nothing. I decided to send a handwritten note basically saying the same thing; apologizing for any unintentional gaffs I may have committed. I marked the case closed and moved on knowing that things like this happen in sales and often there is no logical reason.
About three weeks later I received an email from her apologizing profusely and saying things had taken much, much longer than anticipated and there were still some large orders she would be placing and planned to keep me busy this summer. That was almost a month ago and I’ve heard nothing more, but will keep my fingers crossed and hope we do get an opportunity.
If you’re in sales, how do you handle this kind of situation? I know many people would have given up after a few unanswered attempts, but if nothing else I’m persistent. What would you have done differently? Have you ever had a sales situation like this? I’d love to hear your comments below and I know others can benefit from our collective wisdom.

Posted by: brandextenders | May 14, 2014

Just Wishing and Hoping

Question: What is that elusive elixir known as hope and how do we tap into it during the darkest days of our lives? During those times when it seems we can do nothing right?
Answer: I have absolutely no idea and if I did, I’d be a billionaire lounging on a tropical beach rather than writing this blog post.

Dusty Springfield in 1964. "Just Wishing & Hoping."

Dusty Springfield in 1964. “Just Wishing & Hoping.”

Hope can be elusive and is typically not something hard-wired into our brains. I’ve never been able to pull hope out of thin air and go from sad to happy and upbeat. But I’ve found there are things I can do to help me change my perspective, which is really what hope is. Exchanging a perspective that may be dire or (dare I say it?) hopeless for one of belief, desire and/or trust.

Movies: I love movies and by losing myself in the story I let go of my own worries and fears. And hope can be found in many movies, like this clip from the classic, ” It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Books: These are a great source of hope be they fiction, biographies, non-fiction or whatever. For some, self-help books can offer hope through increased confidence.

Music: This can so easily change my mood and there are numerous studies to prove it. Choose upbeat music, a favorite artist or perhaps even classical. Research at the University of Missouri showed people can improve their moods and be happier by simply listening to cheery music.

Meditation: Taking even a short amount of time each day to meditate or reflect can be beneficial. An attitude of gratitude will aid in keeping a hopeful attitude

Hope is the foundation of all success and without it, failure is surely inevitable. As Thomas Edison, who attempted creating a light bulb over 10,000 times before he was successful once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Posted by: brandextenders | April 5, 2014

The Tenth-of-a-Second Second Rule

Somewhere in the not too distant past someone created the five-second rule. Who that someone is we don’t know, but this law states that food dropped on the floor won’t be contaminated by nasty crap and bacteria if picked up within five seconds. As you can imagine, this theory has been studied time and again by scientists and others and has proven to be true, for the most part. A study by Professor Anthony Hilton of Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences, shows the sooner dropped food is picked up, the less likely it is of being contaminated. Moist foods tend to become contaminated more quickly than dry foods and hard floors offer the greatest chance of defilement vs. carpet.

Is this a face you could instantly trust?

Is this a face you could instantly trust?

But have you ever heard of the tenth-of-a-second rule? This law states that people make their first impressions when meeting someone new in a tenth-of-a-second. Not seven seconds as many articles claim or even 30 second, but a decisecond. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found first impressions are based on looking at someone’s face and deciding instantly whether you like or trust that person. So while dressing appropriately, being on time, a firm handshake and even confidence will go a long ways towards that first impression, it’s your face that’s going to seal the deal.

Be sure to offer a genuine smile when meeting someone new and make eye contact as you shake hands. If this one-tenth-of-a-second rule is true, then the fait accompli is over before you even utter your first word. Is this fair? Of course not, but didn’t your parents always tell you life isn’t fair? As Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible from Greek to Latin once said, “Early impressions are hard to eradicate from the mind. When once wool has been dyed purple, who can restore it to its previous whiteness?” And once someone has determined they either like you or don’t, the chance of getting them to change their mind will be difficult at best.

Smile and the world smiles with you; frown and that decisecond of impressionism may leave you out in the cold.

Posted by: brandextenders | March 28, 2014

What is Your Legacy?

If you were to die today, what would you be remembered for; what would be your legacy? Would it be kindness, philanthropy, compassion and generosity? Or perhaps apathy, insolence, legacy word in vintage wood typeineptitude and anger? No matter who we are and what we do in this life, we all leave behind a legacy, intended or not. This is the 35th anniversary of my father-in-law’s passing, a man who followed his dream, pursued his passion and as a result touched the hearts of millions during his lifetime. And while the Internet and social media have made it much easier to go “viral” and find your 15 minutes of fame, lifetime legacies rarely happen overnight and usually take literally a lifetime to create.

Very few of us will change the world however; every one of us can help effect change within our own worlds. We all have a sphere of influence we interact within and it is there where our legacy will reside. We create it with each thought, each action and each interaction with others. Fortunately for most of us, our legacy isn’t created in one day or through one stupendous mistake, but over a lifetime of consistent actions. For some, their legacy will be their name adorning a university (Stanford), a company (Ford) or maybe even a comet (Haley’s) or telescope (Hubble). But for most of us, our legacy will reside within the hearts and minds of those we touch through our actions and interactions. Our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others. So what are you doing right now, today, this week and this year to create your legacy? What will you be remembered for when you have moved on to whatever lies beyond this life we know?

What is your legacy?

Posted by: brandextenders | January 29, 2014

A Whole New Way to Go Green

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe marijuana would become legal during my lifetime. Not that I’ve inhaled mind you, but it seemed like one of those issues that would always be talked about and never acted upon. But two states have legalized it for recreational use and another 18, plus Washington D.C. sell medical marijuana, so the trend is apparent. It is still a federal crime to possess or smoke marijuana, but the current administration has said they will not interfere with state’s rights on this issue (that’s a first).

Cannabis sativa has been cultivated for thousands of years, grown for its seeds, oil and fiber (hemp rope) while the flowers have a high THC factor and are used for medicinal and recreational purposes. Until the early 1900’s it was legal to possess and smoke pot in America, but 1906 saw the first restrictions put in place on the drug. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 sealed its fate making possession or transfer of cannabis illegal throughout the U.S. under federal law. Movies like “Reefer Madness” and Harry J. Anslinger’s “Gore Files” (he was America’s first drug czar) wove depraved tales of people committing heinous acts while high on marijuana and helped turned the public against it.reefer-madness

And now, 77 years later the tide has turned. I was thinking the other day, when will we begin to see various accouterments from the marijuana culture branded? It’s only a matter of time, right?

Marijuana smoking apparatus: Items like water pipes (commonly referred to as “bongs”), regular pipes and various other paraphernalia.  Great imprint area and four-color process is encouraged. Visualize it with an Apple logo or perhaps a food brand like Kraft. In fact, food brands should jump right on that.

Containers: I suppose one must keep their stash, I mean marijuana, in something and this will provide plenty of new opportunities for suppliers who make metal, ceramic or plastic containers.

The usual suspects: By this I mean all the regular items in our industry that will be used to brand and promote the retail outlets where marijuana can be purchased. Lighters (an obvious one), mints (container is reusable), pipe stands, bumper stickers, coffee cups and toothbrushes among other things.

Apparel: T-shirts and hats are a given and will be used for trade show giveaways, customer appreciation, sales calls and sold under glass countertops with cool slogans. I’m thinking T-shirts made from recycled hemp might be appropriate here.

Hemp producer license c. 1930's

Hemp producer license c. 1930’s

It’s on its way and in fact, in researching this blog I found a website that’s already ahead of the curve in this space, Check it out for some Colorado inspired promotional products. In the meantime I’m feeling kind of hungry; apparently writing about marijuana does that to me. Brownies anyone?

Posted by: brandextenders | January 8, 2014

Business Lessons Learned from a Shark Tank

I love Shark Tank and have binge-watched past seasons three or four at a time. I’m fascinated watching the people who pitch; how shark-tankthey dress, their obviously scripted presentation which they’ve carefully memorized, the display they set up to showcase their venture and how they interact with the sharks.

The program has its origins in a Japanese show that first aired in 2001 called “Tigers of Money.” It then went to Canada in 2006 as “Dragons Den” before hitting the airwaves in the U.S. in August of 2009. Here are some fun facts you may not know:

  • Each pitch is actually one hour and edited down into the dramatic 10 minutes we see.
  • Approximately 40,000 people applied to be on the show in season 4 for 130 slots (26 episodes x 5 pitches per show).
  • It takes 20 days of back-to-back shooting to tape the season’s episodes.
  • The sharks know nothing about the pitch before they come out other than the names of each person presenting.
  • In terms of net worth (according to Mark Cuban is the wealthiest with a $2.5 billion net worth, Kevin O’Leary (Mr. Wonderful) is next with $300 million, Dayman John weighs in with $250 million,  Robert Herjavec at $100 million & Barbara Cochran  with a measly $40 million
The Sharks at work

The Sharks at work

I like all of the sharks for different reasons and I’ve observed a few things by watching that I work to incorporate into the way I do business each day:

  1. Be passionate: I understand the pitches for the most part are canned and rehearsed. However if you aren’t passionate about your work you can have the most well-written pitch and not get a dime. It’s easy to see passion in someone and for those of us in sales; our customers are the “sharks” who want to see our passion shine through as we present our ideas and solutions.
  2. Listen: Way too often I see someone rambling on and on, saying the same thing over and over again and not listening to what the sharks are telling them. The sharks often give great advice and that advice might be that they don’t need a shark. Remember the old 80/20 rule; spend 20% of your time (at most) talking and 80% of the time listening. True in business, friendships, relationships and in the Shark Tank.
  3. Know your numbers:  How often have you seen one of the sharks ask about sales, profit margins or other data and the person pitching looks like a deer in headlights? Don’t ever go into a meeting without thoroughly anticipating the questions that might be asked and the answers you’ll give. Like the adage about a great lawyer in the courtroom; they never ask a witness a question they don’t already know the answer to.  It’s said 1 out of 3 deals don’t close after the show and the reason is usually because the numbers in some form or fashion weren’t factual.
  4. Don’t B.S.: As an addendum to #4, don’t B.S. The likes of Kevin O’Leary or Mark Cuban will chew you to bits if you try to B.S. your lack of knowledge. Same is true in all business dealings, don’t lie, steal or cheat because in the end (usually) you’ll be caught and be much worse off for it. Think Bernie Maddoff.
  5. It’s not all about the money: Some of the people who leave with no funding make out the best. They don’t have Mr. Wonderful taking half their company plus a royalty on each sale and the publicity they garner is priceless. My goal is to take each win and each setback and learn from it. Sometimes losing a deal equates to a better outcome than if it was won.

I think of Shark Tank as a modern-day version of gladiators and lions. Obviously the results of this modern-day arena aren’t nearly as life threatening as they once were unless of course you raise the ire of Mr. Wonderful. In that case, as you walk out of the tank, with or without a deal, he’ll ruefully intone, “You’re dead to me.” Which might not always be a bad thing?

Posted by: brandextenders | December 26, 2013

Goals that aren’t Written are Simply Wishes

(This is an edited version of a previous blog. I recently sat down to write the “story” I’ll use to embed my goals into my mind and trust this is useful for you as well.) 

I hate resolutions. They are usually hard, difficult things I don’t really want to do. The sales guru, Jeffrey Gitomer sums up my feelings; “Not that I’m against resolutions, but they seem to have a negative connotation. Take off something (weight). Fatten something (wallet) quit something (smoking, eating, drinking). All either negative or too challenging to ever accomplish.” Instead of resolutions, I sit down at this time each year and develop my goal story for the coming year.

Earl Nightingale says “Goals are the pursuit of a worthy ideal” and goals must be defined with a beginning and an end otherwise they can become exercises in futility. I’ve worked out early in the mornings for many years and while I may not like getting up that early (5:15am) I truly feel better the rest of the day. Like clockwork every January hoards of new people start showing up at the gym early to exercise vowing to keep their New Year’s resolution and get fit. Within a month people are dropping like flies and by three months, perhaps just 1% of those who started are still sweating it out each morning.  That’s a resolution gone awry.

Got GoalsCall it semantics, but the word “goal” is more concrete for what I want to accomplish and goals should be concrete to help us focus our daily tasks in such a way as to reach them. Instead of saying, “I want to make more money next year” break down how much and how you plan to make it. Let’s say you’re in sales and you decide you want to make $20,000 more next year. If you work 49 weeks a year, that’s 245 days and if you divide the $20K by 245 you find you only need to earn an extra $82 per day to reach your goal. Easy peezy, huh?

Here are four things I’ve learned over time to do as I write-up my goals for the coming year:

  1. Most importantly for me, I write them as though they have already happened. This is what I call my “goal story.” The sub-conscious is a funny thing and it can’t differentiate between whether something is true of not. It sounds crazy, but if you read something over an over again as though it already happened the subconscious will work to ensure it happens. No guarantees, but numerous studies have shown people with written goals are more likely to succeed over those who simply have a goal or two in mind. Every day, close your eyes for a few moments and visualize yourself having achieved your goals. Seeing yourself in that new job or 20 lbs. thinner or with that extra $20,000 will give you confidence to keep plugging away. It can be easy to lose focus and get frustrated and visualizing your goals keeps you on track and moving forward.
  2. As noted above, goals need to be concrete. I want a new job or I want to lose weight are too vague. Decide exactly what kind of job you want, see it in your mind and see yourself performing the work. Same with losing weight. How much weight do you want to lose and how will you do it? Become a runner, work out three times a week, buy a treadmill? Be specific and make sure you…
  3. Write your goals down. As noted in #1, this is important for several reasons including helping you clarify what you want and giving you something visual to reference. Goals you don’t write down are simply thoughts in your brain and if yours is anything like mine, things tend to get lost up there. Another reason to write them down is so you can…
  4. Read your goals several times a day. When you’re fresh in the morning, read over your goals to remind yourself what to focus on each day. Keep several copies of them in different places at home and at work so you can reference them throughout the day. This will help burn them into your brain and keep them top-of-mind.

As religion has its atheists, so too goal setting has disbelievers, those who think setting goals can be counterproductive. One such soul is Ray Williams, author of several books wrote an article called “Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work.” His premise is the brain is resistant to change and goals, especially those that require substantial change, will be ignored by the gray matter in our heads and may even de-motivate us.

Commercial airlines don’t take off from an airport without a detailed flight plan of how they will get to their destination. The same with ships leaving port, so why would we not also have a plan of how to get from where we are to where we want to go? Without one we are like a cork on water, bobbing about with the pull of the tides. And at the risk of my brain going rogue on me, I’ll take the path of setting goals, referring to them every day and praying the tides are in my favor. How about you?

Author Steve Maraboli sums it up for me: “If you have a goal, write it down. If you do not write it down, you do not have a goal – you have a wish.” Happy New Year and may all your goals come to pass.

Posted by: brandextenders | December 16, 2013

4 Things that Make the Law of Reciprocity Easier to Use Than Say

Have you ever received those sheets of address labels in the mail from a non-profit organization that also conveniently included a form for donating to the group? Or maybe a pen with your name on it (often misspelled) or perhaps a set of hand drawn notecards by one of the children the group supports? How did you respond? Did you send money to the group out of a sense of guilt or did you keep the gift and throw away the donation information?

Welcome to the Law of Reciprocity, something sociologist say is drilled into us as children and occurs almost universally throughout all cultures. It’s the reason we feel compelled to respond in kind when given a gift or even something as simple as returning a hello when we pass a stranger on the street. Studies have shown those address labels, when included with a donation request, raise the response rate from 18% to 35%.  Simply by including a gift that cost a few pennies to produce, the address labels, these groups were able to almost double the amount of money they received from the recipients. No matter how you cut up those numbers, that’s an amazing response rate.

Or take the case of a young sociologist at Brigham Young University who, in 1974, decided to conduct an experiment. Phillip Kunz randomly chose about 600 people he didn’t know and sent them either a hand-written Christmas card or one with a photo of Kunz and his family. In response, he received back some 200 cards, many with long, hand-written notes of their own about the sender’s family and wishing good tidings to Kunz. And many continued to do so for the next 15 years.

So how can reciprocity help us in business and our lives on a daily basis? Here are four ways I’ve seen this law used to build relationships and to increase sales.

  1. Direct mail: As noted above, when a gift is included in a mailing, the odds are greatly increased that the recipient will respond favorably. Keep this in mind when inviting customers and prospects to a trade show or when seeking to set an appointment with someone you may not know. Reciprocity doesn’t mean you’ll always convince someone to come to your booth, meet with you or even buy from you, but the chances improve dramatically if a small gift is involved.
  2. Unreturned calls/emails: Studies have shown the average number of touches before you get hold of a prospect or get them to respond is eight. I have personally used the Law of Reciprocity to reduce this number substantially. If after three or four calls/emails to someone I haven’t heard back from, I will send them a small gift in the mail with a note that says I understand they are busy and I’d just like five minutes of their time to introduce myself and see if there might be a need for my service. While not scientific, I’d say 50% – 75% of the time they will take my next call or respond to my next email in some way. They may say no, but at least I can then check them off my list and move on to others who may need what I offer.
  3. Trade shows: A study a decade ago by Georgia Southern University found people were more likely to stop by a trade show booth when invited beforehand if they knew they would receive a gift in exchange for their invitation. I always advise customers to have a very inexpensive promo product for everyone who comes by, but to keep a nicer gift hidden away for those who are current customers or they can qualify as interested prospects. If these branded products are unique and functional, not only will these people keep and use them, but they’ll be advertising for the company as well.
  4. Every day interactions: It’s no secret customer service has declined in every area due to layoffs, the poor economy and a myriad of other factors. I’ve seen it personally and heard stories from others who’ve said a kind word or a small gift has helped them get what they wanted. Be it an upgrade on a trip, the email address of a prospect from a receptionist or a better seat at a venue, little things can make the difference. Kindness is free to use and often makes the difference between whether someone will respond to your request in a positive way or not.

08_18_2013_reciprocity 2 As we head into a new year, make the use of reciprocity one of your goals. Keep in mind as you put it into practice that it can be a powerful tool so use it respectfully and ethically. People’s B.S. meters will go off if they think you are trying to scam them or use them. Use this law to show people how you can benefit them as much if not more than the benefits you’ll receive in return.

Be willing to give of yourself freely, offer help to others, be a mentor and share your knowledge. What this does is show you are a caring, honest and credible person and when the opportunity arises, they will be much more amenable to returning the favor, sometimes in spades.

Peal S. Buck, an American writer from the last century, spent the first 40 years of her life in China. Her first book The Good Earth was a semi-autobiographical look at the life of peasants in that country and resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for her work. She spent her life helping others and she knew well this law and noted, “There is one word that can be the guide for your life – it is the word reciprocity.”

Posted by: brandextenders | December 4, 2013

Learning the Lessons From the Losses Life Throws Us

Our youngest son, a senior in high school, had the great fortune to be on a successful football team this year, winning two playoff games and then going to the state championships. In the final game his team, the Hammond Skyhawks, were down 21-14 at halftime, but came back in the second half and with just two minutes left in the game were leading 27-26. But then a few key errors were made, among them a fumble leading to a touchdown by the opposition and our quarterback throwing an interception ending their last hope. Hammond lost 34-27, but ended the season with a 10-4 record. A loss to be sure, but many lessons to be learned that will help each of them grow into adulthood.

Let’s face it, losses in our lives suck. Be it the loss of our health, the passing of a family member or close friend, financial losses or the loss of a job, a house or one’s reputation. As humans we’ll all face them at various times throughout our lives. Some losses are much more devastating than others, but I believe it is how we react to loss that will determine how quickly we can accept it and move on or start over.

I’m not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve learned that all losses have commonalities that help us get through the pain and anguish. If we can better understand the processes we all go through, then perhaps we can learn to move on from the losses we’ll inevitably face.

  • The five formal stages of loss and grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Contrary to popular belief, you may or may not go through each of these stages as you work through the losses in your life. Let the emotions flow and learn to rely on your network of support be it family, friends or business contacts. Willingness to talk, be open and not hold your emotions in seems to be the fastest path to healing.
  • Once you’ve accepted the loss, you can start to formulate the best next steps. In the case of the loss of someone close, a spouse or parent, this process may take months or sometimes years before we can formulate the necessary first steps. If you’ve lost a business, you might decide it’s not worth the sacrifice to start over or if your health is faltering, you’ll want to understand what your options are to deal with the situation.
  • Understand that as counter-intuitive as it sounds, failure and loss walk hand-in-hand with success. You will rarely find anyone successful who hasn’t also failed at least once, often multiple times. Take the time to analyze your failure and, if need be, take responsibility for it. We all have weaknesses and if we can learn to mitigate our weaknesses by surrounding ourselves with others who have the attributes we lack, our successes can take us to heights we never dreamed of.
  • If we don’t take the time to learn from our losses, chances are they will happen again. As the saying goes, those who fail to understand history are bound to repeat it and the same is true with loss. Reflection and meditation are essential in seeking to understand even when there are no pat answers.
The Chinese philosophy of yin & yang

The Chinese philosophy of yin & yang

I believe in the concept of yin and yang and that without opposites, our lives would be very dull indeed. How would we know what beauty is if there were no ugliness in the world? Without grief would we have an appreciation for joy? Would success be as sweet if we had never tasted the bitterness of failure? And without loss would we ever know true fulfillment?

1998 was a terrible year for me. At the start of the New Year, my brother learned he had an aggressive form of leukemia, in the spring my mom unexpectedly passed away, in June my car was totaled (thankfully no one was hurt) and in the fall my brother passed away after a mere 10-month struggle with his cancer. I was devastated, but the end of year brought a silver lining. My dad met his soul mate oddly enough at my mom’s funeral; she was the minister who performed the service. I know that sounds strange and there was no romance until just before my brother died. It was then my dad finally took the advice of friends and asked Mary out on a date. Three months later they were married and it was the happiest nine years of either of their lives until my dad passed away in 2006.

Loss can be bittersweet and while most of us will never relish it, we can learn to accept it as a part of life. Be open to the lessons each loss has to offer, communicate with others to get their insight and, if needed, seek out professional help to work through your emotions. As cliché as it may sound, learn to live each day as though it were your last. The human spirit is amazing and while today’s loss might seem insurmountable, given time and reflection my hope is you’ll find the seeds of growth in every challenge you face.

As Scarlett O’Hara said as the movie “Gone With the Wind” came to a close, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Posted by: brandextenders | November 26, 2013

What’s Your Joy?

(I originally wrote this blog eight years ago and re-publish it each holiday season because of all the requests I get for it. It seems a good time of year to look for the joy in our lives and find ways to show it to others on a daily basis. Sadly, our friend’s mom who was the inspiration for this article passed away several years ago, but her passion and memory lives on in my mind.)

Elaine Feder's Smile

Elaine Feder’s Smile

We sat in the dining room of a friend’s home, having just finished a delicious and filling Thanksgiving meal. My wife, our two sons and I had taken a road trip to Florida to visit friends with children the same age as ours, albeit girls. Our friend’s mom, Elaine Feder,  a former dance instructor and now in her late 70s, sat across from me and it was she that asked the question, “What’s your joy?” One by one, we went around the table as she queried each of us, looking for an answer that came from our hearts.

For one of us, it was traveling and being able to help others go to the places she had been. Another told us reading was his passion—and taking naps (one with which I could strong identify!). Yet another loved woodworking and spending time in his shop creating things others would use and enjoy.

When she got to me, I answered, “My joy is my family and the time we spend together as I realize how, before we know it, our children will be grown and gone.” She responded that family should be a joy, but she probed deeper, wanting to know what lit my fire and what was it inside of me that sparked passion? I told her I loved to write and touch people’s hearts with the words I strung together to form the articles, stories and plays I create. I told her I also loved to teach about our industry and help others understand what a diverse and creative medium it is.

What this wise woman was hoping to do was to get me—and all of us around the table—thinking about what brought joy to our lives and how we could tap into it more often.

The sad part is that to survive in the work-a-day world, the majority of us have suppressed those things that make us passionate. Many have so repressed the things that bring them joy they can’t even tell you what really gets them fired up. In each of us though, no matter how deeply we’ve buried it, there is a passion that if brought to light and developed can not only make us happier as individuals but also bring joy to others as well.

Your work may be your passion, but chances are it is not. You may love to paint pictures, play an instrument, work in your garden or cook—and odds are you do this outside of your job. But why does this have to be?

I have a friend who is very good at sketching and has turned this love into a career by drawing people’s homes in pen and ink. She then sells these pictures to homeowners to frame for their walls and for putting on note cards, holiday cards and other things with the house prominently displayed. She loves what she does and is able to touch people’s hearts with the artistic gifts she’s been given.

So how do you go about finding your joy, your passion? Here are a few steps that may help:

  • During some quiet time in your life, ask yourself what you consider fun? What do you get a kick out of doing? Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, says, “Imagine you’re at a party and you overhear someone talking about a subject that fascinates you, one that makes you want to join in the conversation. Ask yourself, what would that subject be?” Also, think back to your childhood and try to remember what you enjoyed doing back then. Chances are if you were passionate about something as a child, it’s probably something you can be passionate about as an adult as well.
  • Determine your talents. Take a sheet of paper and brainstorm those things you enjoy doing and at which you’re good. We all have things we do that we enjoy and at which are skilled, but if you have trouble listing your gifts, ask those you trust what they think your best skills are. These might include sports, artistic endeavors, working with your hands or being mechanical.
  • Find the significance in your current work. Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions:

1. Do I like what I’m doing?

2. Am I good at it?

3. Does the world need it?

If you’re passionate about something, but the world doesn’t need it, chances are you’ll eventually get frustrated. But if you’re really good at something, enjoy doing it and it’s something the world needs, what a chance to make a difference and earn a living at the same time. I truly believe we choose our career paths intuitively. If you can come to understand why you’re on the path you are, you’ll become empowered to make future choices to do the most good for yourself and the world around you.

Let’s face it, you’re going to spend tens of thousands of hours working during the course of your life, so why not spend that time doing something that will leave a positive imprint on those people and things you touch?

One of my passions is continuing education, and I agree with Oprah Winfrey who said, “Education is freedom.” As a result, I not only take classes on a regular basis to advance myself, but I also volunteer with Junior Achievement to teach business skills to 7th and 8th graders. These kids learn about science, math and social studies through a core curriculum, but business skills are something they may not learn until college, if then. I realize these kids won’t take what I teach them and become the next Bill Gates, Ted Turner or Fred Smith (founder of FedEx); but I pray I can reach just one in each class and touch something inside that one to help make a positive difference for the future. The key is I don’t know which of the kids I’ll reach, so I treat them all as though they are the one—and who knows, maybe one day I will reach them all!

What Brings You Joy?

What Brings You Joy?

Finding your joy and a way to share it with others, as your life’s work or a hobby, is an adventure that can bring bountiful rewards. To me, it’s what life is all about, the reason I’m here and why I wake up each day excited about the opportunities I’ll encounter. That’s not to say it’s always an easy adventure, but what in life that’s worthwhile is easy? Katherine Graham, owner and former publisher of the Washington Post, sums it up for me, “To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

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