Cold Feet and a Cardboard Sign

It was mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and I was walking reluctantly through the aisles of the store. Despite my best efforts, the Christmas spirit managed to find a crack in my armor: I couldn’t get the sight of that woman out of my head.

When I pulled into the parking lot, she was standing by the road holding a cardboard sign. A quick glance over my shoulder caught the words “Single Mom” and “Will work for Xmas.”

Completing my purchases, I requested cash back and stuffed it in my jacket pocket where I could reach it easily. I tossed my purchases in the back seat and started the car.

She stood on the snow piled to the side of the road, the sign held high before her face, like a shield to deflect the judgment of affluent shoppers. I pulled up to the light at the edge of the parking lot and pushed the button to open the passenger window. She didn’t move, and I wondered if she noticed me.

I called out, “Merry Christmas,” she lowered the sign and turned her head. Under her hood, her face looked older than I expected. I wondered how many kids she had, and how old they are. She started to climb down the snow bank, moving slowly, limbs nearly paralyzed from the cold. I leaned across the seat and stretched my arm out.

“My feet are so cold,” she said, reaching slowly in to accept my meager offering. I smiled weakly and nodded. The light turned green and I called out “Merry Christmas” again as I pulled away.

This encounter affected me. I spent a lot of time thinking I should have given her more money, wishing that my business had been in a better place. I thought that maybe I should have given her a ride somewhere, bought her some food, done something. But what?

After Christmas dinner, I told the story to a good friend over tea.

Never mind that it was Christmas Eve, why should anyone ever have to stand outside, shivering and shame-filled, hoping for a handout? How did our society fail?

My friend wisely pointed out that we are responsible for our own reality. We can’t control circumstances, but we do choose how we react to them. Our decisions and actions have consequences. This is true for everyone, including Sign Lady.

Is it sad that Sign Lady was begging on Christmas Eve?

Yes.

Should I (or any of the hundreds of other people who drove by that day) done more to help her?

Yes.

Did she have to wait so long to ask for help, or in such a dramatic fashion?

No.

There is a societal failure here, but it isn’t about charity, or lack of opportunity.

The failure is that our educational system doesn’t teach people the difference between self-esteem and pride. People equate being wrong or asking for help with weakness. I know many smart people who mistakenly believe that being wrong is a failure. How many more believe that they should be able to do everything by themselves?

The reality is that asking for help fills a need: Givers need recipients. And you are worthy of help!

I needed a reminder of what it felt like to give. Sign Lady provided that.

I can’t know the circumstances that Sign Lady faced on her journey to the snow bank, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it took her a while to get there. She probably had many opportunities along the way to ask for help. Did a sense of pride hold her back?

Whether at work, school, business, or personal life, have you been reluctant to ask for help? In the last year I have struggled mightily with many areas of my fledgling my business because I thought “I should be able to do this myself.”

While I will probably make that mistake again, I am grateful for the reminders Sign Lady gave me.

  1. Givers need recipients.
  2. You are worth asking for help (and so am I).

I hope it’s easier for you to internalize those lessons than it has been for me.

Dear Lady with the Cold Feet and Cardboard Sign,

I don’t know anything about you, but I thank you. By doing what you did, you gave me a chance to give, something I desperately needed. You also reminded me that it’s OK to ask for help.

I sincerely hope your night and Christmas day got warmer, and that your future is filled with hope.

Now if I could just find a way to ease the guilt about not giving more…

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Panel Discussion: State of the Entrepreneur

The 140 Character Conference came to Detroit in October 2010, and my friend Dave Murray put a panel together to talk about the state of entrepreneurship in Detroit. I was honored to be included in the panel with two people I like and respect Dan Walker (founder of River’s End Consulting), Pat Williams (Realtor and Virtual Assistant).

While the whole twenty minutes is good (I have watched this a few times and taken different things away each time , and I was on the couch!), the highlight starts with Dave’s closing remarks at 14:04. Hilarity ensues about a minute later. (I won’t be offended if you turn the volume down for my answer.)

Enjoy!

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How Twitter Changed My life

Autographed copy of UnMarketing by Scott StrattenI wrote this a few weeks back because a friend asked for social media success stories. I hadn’t planned to post this here, but I was inspired to do so after listening to Scott Stratten at a book signing earlier this week. I’m not a social media “expert,” and I don’t play one on TV. (I don’t even watch TV.) Maybe somebody will get something from this, so here it is.

Twitter logoI took advantage of an unplanned week off in February 2009 to meet a friend at a tea shop on a late Thursday morning. I was working on a side project (long since put on hold) at the time, and I talked to my friend about it. Henry (@balanon) listened to what I was doing then said, “You should be on Twitter.”

I created my account a few minutes later. I took a Twitter class at InSights Group a few days after that. I learned about “@-replies,” RTs, #hashtags, how to connect my (non-smart) phone to my Twitter account, and how to use a few tools outside of Twitter.

I began by following the few people I knew on Twitter. Then I started following people my friends were talking with. Guess what? Some liked to complain, some were smart, some were funny, but they were all people. And they were interesting!

I broke away from the limitations of Twitter’s web interface and started using other tools (I still like TweetDeck).

I attended my first #Tweetup, and I was hooked. Here were people who wanted to make new friends.

I shared my newly acquired Twitter addiction with a friend. I sat down with her for a few minutes and showed her some of the things I had learned. She played with it, and a few days later she said, “I see why you like Twitter. There are all these people, and they’re right there, smiling at you!”

As of this writing (18 months after my first tweet), I follow 794 people and I have 1242 followers, but I don’t measure success by these numbers.

Twitter has changed my life. No, I didn’t gain 30,000 followers or become a millionaire, but my life is much richer for it.

How? Here are some ways that engaging people on Twitter has directly enhanced my life:

  • I have attended scores of Tweetups, Meetups, Eatups, and assorted gatherings.
  • I have seen at least five movies with a group of 5 or more other people.
  • I went on two Photo Walks.
  • Joined a couple of networking groups.
  • Found several people who can help me with hard-core technical aspects of my fledgling business.
  • Met a man who became my business coach for more than 6 months.
  • Attended Karaoke 3 or 4 times. And I liked it.
  • I found (and donated to) charities that I would not have known about otherwise.
  • Had a Skype conversation with someone around the world. Olivia gave me advice and I gave her material for her blog.
  • I found like-minded people to work on improving our sales skills.
  • Tweeps (friends) have sent me funny stuff to make me laugh when I had a bad day.
  • I have gone dancing.
  • Adding Foursquare to Twitter helped me meet friends for an unexpected drink on three occasions.
  • I have attended events at crowded bars and felt comfortable because I knew at least 20 of the people there.

The friendships I have made have challenged my thinking, broadened my horizons, and stretched my limits.

What is my “secret” for Twitter “success?”

Engage in conversation with other people. Read what they write, retweet things you find something funny, fantastic, or noteworthy, and reply to people. Jump into a conversation. People won’t bite.

In short, do the same things you would do when meeting somebody new at a party. You won’t mesh with everyone. That’s OK. You will have more in common with some than with others. That’s OK. You will follow some people who tweet three times then never log in again. That’s OK. You will follow some people who tweet Way Too Much and create a separate column for them in TweetDeck. That’s OK.

If you haven’t tried it, give Twitter a chance. You might have to ask for help at first. That’s OK. I did. I don’t regret it.

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That will teach me…

Maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea.

What, you ask?

Launching a new business and blog a mere 10 days before leaving for a week-long vacation, that’s what.  Between other commitments and planning for my trip, I couldn’t build any momentum. Someplace in the stagnating stack of my inbox is a list of plans and things to work on.

I packed a couple of books to read on my trip, but I only managed 30 minutes of reading the whole week I was gone. I think I’m going to have to step the pace up a bit.

Now I’m home and excited to get going.  Tomorrow I’ll dig through the inbox and start prioritizing.  You can expect more frequent updates here, and maybe even a book review soon.

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