The prayer I dreamed last night

Continue us not in our goods but in our services
“Continue us not in our goods, but in our services.”

I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed a prayer before, but that was a line I either heard or read in a dream last night. I could dismiss it as a random string of unrelated words, as dreams so often generate. Or I could embrace it as a pretty cool metaphor.

Might it have been a supplication for strength to rise above the everyday grind of tasks and action items? To set our energy on the greater good through serving others, on providing value and not just “stuff” to do?

There’s the obvious spiritual connotation – do your words and actions constitute service to God and those around you?

And there is also a work and life context. In your job or other avocation do your activities simply allow you to check something off your to-do list, or do they provide a tangible benefit? Is there a worthy purpose for what you do?

The lesson of the survivor tree

The survivor tree outside our dining room window

This frail and disfigured little tree stands just outside our dining room window. We call it our Survivor Tree.

It’s not much to look at. The oddly curved branch once was the trunk, much longer and rising straight and strong toward the sky. But when a severe winter storm struck a few years ago it nearly collapsed under ice that entombed its branches. Ice can increase the weight of a tree’s branches by as much as 30 times; this tree bent all the way over until some of its branches touched the ground. A few branches were indeed lost, broken off under the icy weight.

I thought it would stand back up when I knocked the ice off of the remaining limbs just as the other shrubs and trees in the yard had done. It didn’t. Instead, it remained stooped and defeated. “It’s done,” I was told. “You need to get rid of it and maybe plant something else in its place.”

But I refused to cut it down. “Let’s just give it a few weeks and see what happens in spring.” I pruned back the most damaged branches and waited.

Sure enough, as the weather turned warm again small green shoots began to appear on the upper side of the bent trunk. The little tree had survived the ice storm. In time the shoots became tiny new branches that sprouted leaves. You could almost hear them crying out, “there’s still life here!”

It’s winter again now and our Survivor Tree is bare. But in a few weeks those signs of life, symbols of being a survivor, will start to appear again.  Something that’s not much to look at now will transform into a poetic image that “looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray,” to borrow a line from Joyce Kilmer.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, of course.

Don’t be in a hurry to write off something, or someone, bent or broken by life’s winter storms. As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope for regeneration, for rebirth, for not just surviving but even thriving again.

Once a musician, always a musician

Last month I had the great fortune to reconnect with a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen since I was about 14 years old. I met Sam Hawkins after my family moved to north Raleigh when I was 11. He was one of the first neighborhood kids I met and we quickly became friends.

Me on my first drumset, age 12

Me on my first drumset, age 12

Though I speak often of my first band in high school, Sam was actually the very first guitarist I ever played with. Soon after I got my first Silvertone drum set on my 12th birthday Sam and I started jamming together in neighborhood carports and basements. We had grand visions of becoming rock stars.

Our moms drove us to a Battle of the Bands competition being held at Dorton Arena on the NC State Fairgrounds. We were not yet teenagers, too young and inexperienced to compete, but the event organizers agreed to let us set up on the floor near the arena entrance and play a couple of songs before the real show started. We were nervous, enormously self-conscious, mostly unnoticed, and I’m sure we stunk up the place. Nevertheless, we were bitten by the music bug in a big way.

Disraeli Gears album coverIt was Sam who turned me onto an album by a cool new band called The Israeli Gears. This band combined blues and rock in a way I’d never heard before and I promptly fell in love with their sound. Some time later we discovered the band’s name was actually Cream, and the album we were digging on was Disraeli Gears. Pretty heavy stuff for a couple of middle school boys.

My family moved away from Raleigh shortly after I turned 15 and I hadn’t seen or spoken with Sam since. We connected on Facebook last month and messaged each other briefly, which in turn led to a 45-minute phone conversation the next Saturday morning. It did my heart good to learn he still plays his guitar, and I was excited to tell him I’m still playing drums every chance I get.

For better or worse – once a musician, always a musician. Rock on, Sam!

Gets Better

If you could write a note to your younger selfI saw this post on Linkedin today asking, “If you could write a note to your younger self, what would you say in only two words?” The comments were filled with the usual pithy and silly responses like “bless you,” “enjoy life,” “go ahead,” and even “buy Apple.”

But among all that, one comment stood out to me as the thing I would say to my younger self: “gets better.” Boom! Kudos to whomever wrote that. We all go through seasons where we don’t believe that’s possible, but then in time it happens.

Sometimes my older self needs to hear that too.

Men’s Wearhouse gets it right in social media following email snafu

On the Sunday after Christmas Men’s Wearhouse sent an email blast to its customers announcing the last day of of its After-Christmas Deals promotion. But due to an unfortunate glitch in its email system, customers received the same email dozens of times. I counted 64 in my inbox. I was slightly annoyed.

But I’m also in marketing and I understand that automated systems can sometimes go sideways. It sucks, but it happens. As the old saying goes, the true test isn’t whether you make a mistake – it’s how you respond to the mistake that really defines you. I fired off a tweet:

I was curious to see what their response, if any, would be. We’ve all seen examples of companies mishandling screw-ups, either becoming defensive, not responding at all, or worse – attacking the complainer. I wanted to see how savvy Men’s Wearhouse is with social media. Their response would determine whether I unsubscribed from their emails or not.

Now, I’m hardly one of their bigger customers. I do like their products but with two family members’ college tuition to pay, I don’t exactly have a lot of discretionary income left for frivolous things like clothing. If I never spent another dollar in their stores they’d never miss it. It would have been easy for them to ignore me. But to their credit, my answer came 3 and a half hours later:

Short, to the point, and effective: an apology, a brief statement about the cause of the problem, and assurance that action was being taken. No excuses, no phony falling on their sword – just a swift, positive response. That’s all I needed. I didn’t unsubscribe.

My response let Men’s Wearhouse know I was rooting for them to resolve their issue:

I think they were relieved to see I wasn’t going to be a troll – they even favorited my tweet. You can almost hear the relief in their final tweet to me:

What Men’s Wearhouse understands is that social media for business is no different from face-to-face engagement – except that the whole world can eavesdrop. They knew they weren’t replying just to me, they were telling everybody in the Twitterverse that they appreciate customer feedback and they are responsive to us. Well done.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have an example of customer engagement in social media, good or bad, to share? What was your experience?

Remembering the Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

Remains of the Berlin Wall, June 2013

November 9, 2013 marks the 24th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

My first visit to Europe in June 2013 brought me to Berlin and face to face with remnants of the wall I’d heard and read about for as long as I can remember. Once an ominous physical and symbolic barrier between East and West Berlin, the wall met its demise with radical political changes in the late 1980s. The East German government announced on November 9, 1989 that its citizens could visit West Berlin and West Germany.

It may sound trite, but I was awestruck standing on the very ground where the infamous wall stood, where so many would-be defectors lost their lives trying to escape their oppressors. Where 5,000 others succeeded in reaching the other side.

I snapped the photo above from atop a double decker tour bus Continue reading