Friday, February 7, 2020

The MS Westerdam

“At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.”- Heather Hepler

You've surely been watching the news, as I have, about the novel coronavirus outbreak. Every day, it seems statistics grow considerably and more and more travel bans and quarantines are put in place in an effort to stop the spread of the epidemic. It's truly unbelievable and, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, many of us are being carefully vigilant while we watch this unfold—our thoughts and hearts with those in the midst of it.

Surely you've also seen the news about some of the cruise ships that have been affected: one moored in Japan with thousands quarantined on board, with confirmed cases of the virus therein recently tripling overnight; another one quarantined in Hong Kong with passenger symptoms being reported, likely to be stuck there for quite a while; and then there’s that third one that's sailing the South China Sea with nowhere to dock, turned away from every port in the area despite there being no reported cases of the virus on board. My parents are currently passengers on that third ship: Holland America Line’s MS Westerdam.

In their 70s and retired after many long, gritty, hardworking years, my parents are now very lucky to be able to go on cruises from time to time. This current one—a 30-night exploration of Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea—was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Neither of them had been to that part of the world before, and both were truly looking forward to the privilege.

The first week or two of the MS Westerdam's scheduled itinerary went very smoothly. They departed Singapore on January 15th and enjoyed ports in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. But, as news of the novel coronavirus outbreak got worse and worse and more cities and countries were limiting travel and authorizing quarantines, the itinerary began to change.

At first, scheduled ports in China were cancelled, and previous plans to disembark in Shanghai on February 15th had to be changed to Tokyo, including all of the passengers' hotels and flights. Holland America Line took care of all of that for its passengers who booked through their services and gave onboard credits as some consolation, even though the itinerary changes were out of their control.

Hong Kong was the midpoint of the scheduled itinerary. The original plan was to spend two days there to explore the city while the passengers just doing the first 15-night leg disembarked and the passengers only doing the second 15-night leg came aboard. As the time neared, plans changed as officials felt it was no longer wise to spend a long time in Hong Kong. They still needed to stop, but would limit it to just one day with restrictions on what could be done in the nearly-shut-down city. My parents made the best of it and enjoyed their limited time there, though of course didn't get to do the shopping they had hoped for; my dad was really looking forward to finding some sweet Chinese silk!

From Hong Kong, they were headed to the Philippines. But, the Philippines wouldn't let them in, so they turned around and spent an extra day at sea. Then, they headed to Taiwan, but were only allowed into one of their scheduled ports there. And now, after leaving Taiwan, they are stuck at sea—denied entry anywhere else they had hoped to go. The rest of the cruise has officially been cancelled, with the captain announcing the news to the passengers this morning … with deep regret.

My parents' emails and messages lead me to believe that Holland America Line has been nothing but gracious, apologetic, cooperative, and transparent about all of the unexpected itinerary changes and eventual cruise cancellation. The cruise line has gone out of its way to help passengers adapt plans, flights, hotels, and given onboard credit, free phone access, free Wi-Fi, and even future cruise credit to try to make up for the major hiccups on this voyage. All of those on board are monitored daily with temperatures taken and screenings performed to ensure that the ship remains free of the novel coronavirus. They have plenty of food, water, and fuel to sail until they're able to determine a final destination.

And the passengers? Well, it seems that many of them are taking it in stride. After all, there's nothing they can do. The situation is what it is, so why freak out about it? Soon enough they’re sure to find a friendly port, disembark, probably be poked, prodded, and screened up the wazoo by whatever local authorities they encounter, and then eventually fly back to their respective homes, likely to face further quarantine once on their home soil. It's not ideal, but it sure is an adventure!

There are some passengers, however, without such an attitude. Some are causing a stir, going to the media, lodging complaints, and creating as much extra strife as they can—making the stress of the situation for their fellow passengers, the ship’s crew, the cruise line officials (and surely customer service reps), and everyone’s worried families back home much worse.

And I get it. People are stressed and some may be scared. This situation is indeed very serious and measures are being taken like we’ve never seen before in a global health crisis. For some people, the unknown isn’t an easy thing to accept. Unexpected changes in plans aren't easy. Staying away longer than anticipated isn't easy. Being flexible isn't easy. But the uneasiness aside, to go out of your way to create drama in an unprecedented situation like this where staying calm is so imperative is something that I just don't understand.

Just this morning, I shared Holland's latest blog update on Facebook. Somehow, some loony person who I don't know got through to my private, personal Facebook timeline and wrote a long, ranting comment on that share. I deleted it right away, but the part I read was awful—full of negativity and blame-slinging. I have a feeling that person was just trolling around, looking for whomever showed up as sharing that blog post link, and then probably linked in from there to their private timelines just to rant, create drama, and cause a ruckus. It's so sad.

The older I get, the more it becomes clear to me how much someone's attitude can shape their life. There are people who dwell on negativity, and as a result become toxic, cause problems, and make situations worse. And then there are people who accept the things they can't change and look for silver linings. That latter personality, I'm proud to say, is found in both of my parents; I'm so very proud of the incredible humans that I’m lucky enough to call my own.

What happens next is yet to be determined. We'll keep hoping that the virus doesn't show up on the MS Westerdam and they'll soon be able to find a country who will let them dock, disembark, and return home. But, if the virus does show up on board and they have to go into quarantine, they'll comply with whatever the authorities deem is necessary.

Whatever happens, I know my parents are level-headed, strong, faithful, savvy people who know that the powers that be are doing everything they can to make this situation as palatable as possible. They have perspective, knowing very well that there are millions of people in affected areas that are in much more serious situations than having to miss a few ports on a luxury cruise vacation, or spend a few extra days at sea. They’ll get home eventually … and they'll have quite the story to tell when they do!


Marty Johnson is an entrepreneur, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication and Advisor to the Board for the non-profit Association of Mail & Business Centers (AMBC) and is Editor of MBC Today, AMBC's industry-leading publication. Marty owns and operates Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Novel Coronavirus: Keep Your Team Safe

The novel coronavirus outbreak is no joke. Every day, statistics are expanding and more cities, countries, and populations are being affected. Should we be panicked?
This news hits closer to home for some more than others. At my shipping business, I have a very large international student client base, and for the past couple of weeks have been steadily shipping boxes of masks, gloves, and other medical supplies to their friends and families in affected areas; their stories both warm and break my heart. 
My parents have been on a cruise for a few weeks now. Their 30-day trip aboard the MS Westerdam left from Singapore mid-January and was slated to finish in Shanghai mid-February. That itinerary, of course, has been affected and they will no longer be hitting any ports in China, instead hoping to end in Tokyo. Because of stops they've already made to places that are now experiencing lock-downs, even though there are no suspected cases on their vessel, they're being blocked from entering some other ports and had to cancel stops in the Philippines and other areas. Despite a few outliers--the dramatic, attention-seeking, make-the-situation-worse people on board who are causing a stink because plans changed and flights had to be adjusted--my parents and the vast majority of the passengers are very happy with the cruise line's care, caution, and compensation regarding the unexpected route changes. Each passenger has their temperature taken daily and, as my mom says, "There are much worse places to be stuck!" 
I am in no way trying to draw a comparison to my parents' non-drama of having some ports changed on a plush, month-long cruise, or the possible quarantine or delays they may face in getting back home, to the trials that people on the ground in affected areas are facing. There are whole cities--millions of people--completely blockaded in an effort to contain this thing. It's unprecedented! The reason we're shipping so many masks is because there's such a profound shortage in the most desperate areas. As a result, those who have family and friends in other countries are asking them to ship supplies in that are otherwise unavailable. There's such a run on supplies in my city that, the last time I heard, all of the big box stores were sold out of masks; even Amazon is/was sold out too, to my understanding.
There are now suspected cases in my community, though nothing is confirmed yet and no warnings have been issued. Nevertheless, we're preparing ... just in case. 
I felt it pertinent to share some of my lay suggestions with you, which are similar to practices you may use in your own home, office, or retail store during flu season, keeping in mind that I am a non-medical small business owner simply trying my best to make sure my team stays level-headed and protected if indeed our city becomes affected.
  • Wash your hands often. Studies consistently show this is one of the simplest, yet best forms of defense.
  • Wipe door handles with disinfectant often. Don’t forget the bathroom door(s), cabinet pulls, drawer pulls, and especially the front door(s)–both sides.
  • Wipe keyboards, mice, phones, tools, printer buttons, pay station key pads, cart handles, and other oft-touched things with disinfectant often.
  • Replace pens that both clients and you use often. You can keep a bag of clean, disinfected pens, and also a bag of used pens that can be disinfected later for reuse.
  • Keep an emergency kit with masks and gloves on hand, just in case.
  • Closely monitor and comply fully with whatever your local authorities advise.

So, panic? Not yet. But surely stay wisely cautious. Stay informed so you can educate your team and your clients. I suggest listening to the special edition episode of Science Vs. on this topic, as it gives a good overview of what we know so far, acknowledging that this is all still very new and information breaking daily. That episode is available here:

It's also important to be cautious of prejudices that may result from misinformation or ignorant generalization. You'd think that we humans would have learned this lesson by now, but our history shows over and over again that a situation like this can cause phobias against entire groups of people, simply because their group was the one initially affected. Be careful of that, protecting your empathy and intelligence just as much as you're protecting your bodies. Continue to treat everyone with respect and compassion, doing what you can to help those in need.
This article is an adaption of one written for the AMBC blog on February 5, 2020.
Marty Johnson is an entrepreneur, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication and Advisor to the Board for the non-profit Association of Mail & Business Centers (AMBC) and is Editor of MBC Today, AMBC's industry-leading publication. Marty owns and operates Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty

Friday, December 20, 2019

I Can Because I Will

by Marty Johnson

“You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
– Glinda

New year’s resolutions often get a bad rap. In my experience, rarely do they last longer than a few days—a week or two at most if we go by my record. Their intentions are often pure(ish), and the initial momentum on January 1st (or January 2nd, because why start on a holiday?) fades fast as old habits creep back in, junk food starts appearing back in our pantries, and life resumes its full speed.

I’m not a huge believer in the resoluteness of run-of-the-mill new year’s resolutions, but I am a huge believer in the power of a changed attitude, the focus and resolve that comes through a clear vision of what one wants of the future, and the beautiful marriage of willpower and faith to make the seemingly impossible possible, the ostensibly insurmountable surmounted, and the supposedly adverse advantageous. I’ve experienced it. I’ve preached it. And I need a whole lot more of it.

The word “mindset” is currently being thrown around a lot in personal and business development seminars, publishing, and podcastdom. Like any trendy phrase-of-the-moment, it can be overused and its meaning therefore may get a little diluted. But, let’s think about the word for a second. A mindset, by definition, is “the establishment of attitudes held by someone.” Simply stated, a mindset is an attitude.

There are two common mindsets—or attitudes—that we, as fallible, imperfect, easily persuaded humans, gravitate toward. The first is the “I can’t because (insert excuse here)” mindset—an attitude through which we constantly make excuses and procrastinate. And the second is the “I will because I can” mindset—an attitude that allows us to do whatever we want because no one is telling us not to.

There’s also a third mindset that is less common, yet a tell-tale trait of some of the most successful, productive, and impactful humans I can think of. That mindset is one that helps us recognize the traps of the first two attitudes and use willpower to overcome them. It’s the “I can because I will” mindset.

Let’s explore these a little more. As we all know all too well, it’s human nature to make excuses—to say, “I can’t because…” We’re prone to have conversations with ourselves that may sound something like this:

“Should I finally reach out to a mentor and lay out a plan to get started on the next phase of my business development? No, I can’t because it’s just too much to think about right now.”

“Should I send a quick note to my old friend to let her know I’m thinking about her, even though we haven’t spoken in years? No, I can’t because she’d probably think it was weird.”

“Should I give a little extra to the local mission? No, I can’t because it’s not my responsibility. Besides, I dropped off a big bag of old clothes at the donation center last Christmas.”

It’s also very natural for us humans to just do whatever we want—to say, “I will because I can.” We end up sabotaging ourselves, and sometimes harming our health and taking quality away from our best years on this planet, simply because we say things to ourselves like:

“Should I skip the gym this morning and hit snooze for a fourth time instead? Sure! I will because I can.”

“Should I binge the entire next season of my favorite baking show instead of working on that project that’s been sitting on my desk for eight months? Sure! I will because I can.”

“Should I eat that whole box of donuts in one sitting? Sure! I will because I can.”

When no one’s stopping us, it’s in our nature—or at least it’s in mine—to just give in and do that thing we know we shouldn’t … just because we can.

But now let’s think about what would be possible if we changed our attitude; if we changed our mindset from the first two self-attacking ones into the third attitude—the healthy, forward-thinking, self-loving and others-loving mindset where we say, “I can because I will.” If we did that, our conversations with ourselves may instead go something like this:

“Should I finally reach out to a mentor and lay out a plan to get started on the next phase of my business development? Yes! I can do that because I will do that. All it takes five minutes to send an email.”

Then what happens? Maybe our mentor emails us back the next day and we set up a 15-minute call together for an evening the following week. On that call, she outlines a few steps to get us started and answers some of the questions we have with wisdom from her own experience.

Then what happens? We take the first few steps and start to see how not overwhelming they actually are when we take them one at a time. So, we take a few more, and within a few months we’ve laid the groundwork for the business expansion we’ve been dreaming of but back-burnering for years. It snowballs and, before we know it, a five-minute email has turned into a quality-of-life changing venture.

Let’s look at another example of what an attitude adjustment might do:

“Should I skip the gym this morning and hit snooze for a fourth time instead? No! I can get up because I will get up.

Then what happens? Maybe, as a result of that one simple change in attitude which led to that one simple decision, we find out that we have more energy that day. We’re more productive, less stressed, and end up going to bed at a more decent time that night so we can get up on time again the next day.

Then what happens? In a few weeks, what may have initially seemed like a huge burden has become a fueling, healthy habit. When we look in the mirror, we see a happier, healthier, more energetic reflection; we see someone who, in being more self-respecting, has become more others-respecting too.

I know this may sound all too simple, like a pie in the sky, but I promise it can be done. When I said that I’ve experienced it and proved it, but need a whole lot more of it, it’s the truth. I’ve been able to overcome quite a bit and grow both my business and my being as a result of simply having a positive, can-do attitude. And, in all transparency, there’s a lot more that I know I could realize if I could get my act together on more things; there are still quite a few snooze buttons that I need to stop hitting.

I write this as advice to myself as much as advice to my readers. I’d like us to all pause for a moment and think of what could be possible with a simple attitude shift. Maybe, instead of making our same old likely-to-fade new year’s resolutions—or new decade’s resolutions, as the case may be—we simply resolve to change our mindset; to change our attitude. Maybe we resolve to stop saying, “I can’t because…” and “I will because I can,” and we start saying, “I can because I will.”


Marty Johnson is an entrepreneur, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication and Advisor to the Board for the non-profit Association of Mail & Business Centers (AMBC) and is Editor of MBC Today, AMBC's industry-leading publication. Marty owns and operates Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty

This essay was published on page 12 of MBC Today Volume 22, Issue 1 (January / February 2020). It was also published on the AMBC blog on December 20, 2019.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Ask Uncle Marty: Understaffed in Utah

Ask Uncle Marty™ is an advice column published bi-monthly in MBC Today, the Association of Mail and Business Centers' (AMBC) industry-leading magazineIf you would like to submit a letter to Ask Uncle Marty™, please email Anonymity is guaranteed, and names are always changed.

Dear Uncle Marty,

I need to hire someone new. I know you’ve written about this before, and I’ve tried some of the methods you suggested but am not having any luck finding the right person. Any other ideas?

Understaffed in Utah


Dear Understaffed,

It sounds like you’ve tried the usual channels: online ads, “Now Accepting Applications” sign at your shop, asking your current team if they have family or friends they’d recommend, etc. If none of that has been successful yet, I indeed do have another suggestion for you: hire your clients!

This topic came up again at AMBC’s The Event in November. It was a great reminder to me that our best potential hiring field is right under our noses. So often we start our hiring search outside of our own doors, when really we should be starting by looking at what’s right in front of us. Who better to sell our services than those who already appreciate it so much that they’ve become regular patrons?

Ask your clients directly if they’re looking for a side job or some part-time hours. Clients might be caught off guard by you approaching them with this question—and obviously you’re not going to ask that CEO who’s always in a rush if she’s looking for a job—but you can generally tell those who might be interested, and all you need to do is just bring it up. They’ll probably be flattered that you asked, even if they’re not interested, and the conversations that start as a result have a good chance of leading to the right person.

Your clients know your business better than you may think. They’ll know who to recommend, even if they’re not job hunting themselves, because they know the type of people they’d want helping them: friendly, caring, kind, and outgoing … with big smiles and big hearts.

Happy hiring,
Uncle Marty 

Marty Johnson is a shopkeeper, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication for AMBC, Editor of MBC Today, and is the owner of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty


This excerpt from Ask Uncle Marty was first published on page 19 of MBC Today Volume 21, Issue 6 (November / December 2019); it was then republished on the AMBC blog on December 5, 2019.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Grace, Optimism, and Love

A friend of mine just passed away after a courageous and tenacious five-year battle with cancer. Felipe was just a few years younger than me; his cancer was very different than the kind I faced, yet that bond of similar struggles made him someone with a special place in my heart.

For five years, I’ve followed his and his wife Julia's posts, journals, and updates as they bravely navigated the highs and lows of their battle. Through it all, grace, optimism, and love shined strong—incredible, beautiful, unconditional, expanding love for each other, their kids, their family, and their friends. 

Grace is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Love is a choice. We can’t choose what situation we’re born into or what fate has in store, but we can choose to react to whatever we’re given with this divine triad. In doing so, it's possible to make even the most heartbreaking of situations fruitful. 

Felipe and Julia did this; they chose to react positively to a situation that would have crushed many others. In doing so, they changed lives and expanded hearts. My life has been touched deeply by their example.

Thank you, Felipe, for your grace, optimism, and love. It has made such an impact. Rest peacefully, my friend. <3

Felipe and Marty - August 2, 2015

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

That Morning

I remember that morning as if it were yesterday. I sat there, at the foot of that bed, listening to the radio as the world changed.

A few weeks prior, I packed up my little studio apartment in Lubbock, Texas, and schlepped myself back to my hometown of Endwell, New York. I had just graduated with my bachelor’s in marketing, finished up some classes over the summer, and was anxious to start a new career.

I searched job listings all over the Northeast for some sort of entry level marketing job and lined up interviews in a few different places. On Monday, the day before that morning, I had had an interview in Baltimore. It went well, but the firm wasn’t what I was looking for. My next interview with another marketing firm was lined up for Tuesday morning in Queens.

As an introvert, I don’t often stay with people, much preferring to just get a hotel and stay out of everyone’s hair. I like my space and privacy, so cohabitating—even for just a one-night visit—isn’t really my jam. But, at that time, I was 22, fresh out of college, and trying to save every dime I could, so when my old friend Mary invited me to stay at her house on Monday night as a pit stop between my Baltimore and Queens interviews, I was glad to take her up on the offer. 

Mary lived in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. She and my parents were very close when we all lived near each other when I was a baby. I was born in Morristown, but because I was a very sick, early baby, I was rushed into Manhattan right away to get special care at Cornell University Medical Center. So, even though I was born in Jersey, I still made my way into New York within a few hours; I consider myself a New Yorker through and through.

I got to Mary’s Monday night, had a great dinner, then went out with my old buddy Eddie (Mary’s son) for some ice cream. I wanted Eddie and Mary’s opinions on how I should get to my interview the next morning, since they were both very familiar with commuting options into New York. Did it make sense to drive through the city to Queens, or would it be better to take the PATH train to the World Trade Center station, then switch trains and head into Queens?

I didn’t mind driving in the city. In fact, I kind of liked it—and still do. In high school, my friends and I would often drive the three-hour trek down to the city on a Saturday to see a show and tool around, and I would, almost without exception, end up being the driver.

After talking it over that night, I decided it made more sense to drive to my Queens interview. To take the PATH train, I would have had to leave earlier, change trains, and then repeat the process in reverse when I was done. It seemed cheaper and easier just to drive. Besides, any excuse not to get up at the crack of dawn is a huge plus in my book.

On Tuesday morning—that morning—as I was getting my tie tied and about to head out to drive to Queens, Mary came down to the basement room where I had stayed. She said something had happened at the World Trade Center. We turned on the radio, then both sat on the foot of the bed and listened as the tragic events unfolded; we didn’t know what to think. Shock took over as our brains tried to wrap themselves around what we were hearing.

I called the firm in Queens where I was scheduled to have my interview and the receptionist there must not have been aware of what was going on. She advised me that cancelling an interview wasn’t a good idea, but I told her that there was no way I was going to be able to get there. At this point, we still didn’t realize the full scope of what was unfolding across the country, but we knew whatever it was was bad—very, very bad—and I wasn’t about to head toward it.

My mom called. Or, maybe she paged me. It was 2001 and I had a very cool Cellular One teal see-through pager at the timethe late adopter in me not quite ready to make the switch to a fancy new cell phone. Anyway, whether she called or paged, I distinctly remember standing in Mary’s kitchen on her antique wall-mounted phone, talking to my mom who was urging me to come right home. I can imagine how her heart must have sunk when she heard the news, knowing I was headed into the city that morning.

Mary’s daughter Kimmy had already gone into the city early that morning for school. After trying unsuccessfully to reach her, she finally she called Mary and said she was at a friend’s and would be staying there for a day or two until the dust settled and bridges and tunnels reopened. That was a huge relief. Another mother had just found out that her child was out of harm’s way. But countless other mothers wouldn’t.

As soon as we heard that Kimmy was safe, I got in my car and drove the three hours home—listening to the news, turning the news off to sit in quiet, then turning the news back on and repeating the cycle. I was traveling Interstate 80 westbound, away from the city. There weren’t many cars going in my direction, and for miles and miles it seemed there weren't any cars at all going in the eastbound direction. There were some emergency vehicles, sirens blaring, heading that way, but the lack of traffic and eerily open interstate sure was surreal.

I remember being on a charter bus on a school field trip in late 1993 or early 1994 when I was a freshman in high school, driving by the World Trade Center after it was bombed. We saw the shrouded, damaged lower part of the North Tower. It made an impression. We couldn’t have imagined then that, less than 10 years later, the whole complex would be gone.

As an adult, I’ve been to the World Trade Center site loads of times. I visited the grounds often when I lived in the city in the mid-2000s. I watched the progress as the rubble was cleared, memorials were erected, and new buildings were built. I found a good perch from the second floor of a nearby Burger King where I could see over the fence and into the craters where the towers once stood. The footprints of the North and South Towers still show, but now they’re beautiful memorials—places to reflect, mourn, hope, and take some deep breaths.

I don’t know why the cards fell where they did that morning. We hear stories upon stories about those who survived by what may seem like chance, fate, or divine intervention. And we hear thousands of other stories about those who didn’t survive—victims and heroes whom we honor again today. My experience wasn’t as near of a miss as many others we hear about, but it still takes my breath away when I think about it. One simple decision—drive or take the PATH train—has been coming back to me often for the past 18 years. Had I chosen to take the PATH, I would have left earlier and been on my way toward the World Trade Center station when everything began to unfold.

I woke up early this morning, remembering that morning, 18 years ago today: September 11, 2001. A generation has passed, but memories live on; it will never be forgotten.

Marty Johnson is a shopkeeper, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication for AMBC, Editor of MBC Today, and is the owner of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Business Unusual: Follow the Rabbit Hole

In this month's Ask Uncle Marty™ column in MBC Today, instead of answering readers’ letters I decided to share some of my own personal sources for business coaching and inspiration—the people and places I go to myself to shake up my own thinking. Hopefully some of these will strike a chord with you too, as they have with me, and inspire you onward and upward.

The first, easiest way to get a shot of fresh thinking is to tune into podcasts. They’re free, available through a bunch of different apps (I use Apple’s Podcast app since it’s built right into my phone), and available on every imaginable topic under the sun.

I subscribe to a lot of podcasts. I used to listen to even more, as for many years I commuted to my office an hour each way, six days a week, and needed the entertainment to make the drive go faster. Some of the shows in my queue are business related, some are personal growth, and many are just for fun.

For years now, one of my go-to, can’t-miss favorite podcasts has been Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness (complementing, but not to be confused with, his best-seller book, The School of Greatness). Every week, Lewis interviews someone new, from big-time celebrities and influencers to business owners and wellness experts; he has a way of interviewing that breaks down barriers and brings out something genuine. Sometimes the guests I’ve not heard of in advance are the ones from whom I get the most value.

A few months ago, Lewis interviewed Barbara Corcoran, whom many of you likely know from Shark Tank. In that incredible episode—one I could listen to over and over again and gain fresh thought nuggets from each time—I learned about Barbara’s own podcast, Business Unusual. Of course, I subscribed to it right away … and downloaded all her past episodes.

Business Unusual has been an incredible listen, and I highly recommend you check it out. It’s very different from other business coaching podcasts—unusual, as the apt title suggests. The episodes are short, so you can easily bang out one or two on your way to the bank, at the gym, or while you’re getting ready in the morning.

In each episode, Barbara shares little stories—snippets—about lessons she’s learned over the years, experiences she’s had, and people she’s encountered. In one of the first episodes, she talks about how to brand yourself as an expert in your field, even if you don’t feel like an expert. Public perception is everything! She tells of how, when she was building her real estate business (which became an empire) in New York, she was able to brand herself a real estate broker to the stars, even though she hadn’t yet had any celebrity clientele, all because she proclaimed herself as an expert. And soon after, celebrity clients came knocking at her door … and the wild success that followed—one door leading to another, opportunity after opportunity opening up, chances to invent and reinvent herself over and over—is history. Her story reminds me of the old adage, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” If we believe and put in the effort required, we can be most anyone we declare ourselves to be.

Barbara also talks in her first few episodes about making a list. She says to take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, and on one side write everything you feel you are really good at and (here’s the key) enjoy doing. On the other side, write what you don’t think you’re good at and don’t enjoy doing. Then create a career, business, persona, or whatever based on your strengths. It’s so basic, yet so brilliant!

Another gem I’ve recently gleaned from listening to Business Unusual is the importance of creating a team. And not just any team, but a powerful, diverse, fun-infused team. Create a fun work environment by surprising your team with unexpected, fun activities from time to time, whether it’s a group trip, a company party, a night out at their favorite restaurant, or a game night.

Barbara talks about toxic people with bad attitudes and how imperative it is to get rid of them right away. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch if it’s allowed to fester and spread its negativity. It’s so important to hire and retain good, positive, genuine people. Skills are important, of course, but attitude is so much more important.

I ordered one of Barbara’s books. It’s still on my read-me shelf, alongside Lewis’ two books and countless others I’ve been galvanized to read from business experts, barrier breakers, movers, shakers, and even some bakers. Some I’ve read cover to cover, some I’ve just started, and others are still waiting to be broken in. Reading is something I absolutely need to make more of a priority—a struggle I know some of you share.

One book that I’m currently absorbed in, am reading through backwards and forwards and trying to gain everything I can from, is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I’m sure you’ve heard of Simon, his book, or have watched his still-incredibly-popular TED talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” which still holds the record as the third most popular TED talk of all time. (If you haven’t watched that talk, please do so right away!) Start with Why will make you rethink your business from the ground up, and you, your clients, and your community will all benefit tremendously from the shake-up. I promise!

Outside of podcasts and books, if you want to go a little deeper into the inspire-me-verse, consider attending a seminar or summit. I’m not talking about the industry conferences, expos, and workshops you already go to. Yes, those are extremely important and events that I’ve personally been very involved with for years. But consider going to something outside of your normal schtick.

My dear friends Seema and Fahim and I attended the Archangel Summit in Toronto a couple of years ago (and together are planning to attend again this fall), and what an eye opener that was! It was there that we and about 3,000 other entrepreneurs got to see Simon Sinek speak in person, as well as Danielle LaPorte, Daymond John, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Jim Kwik, Nicole Arbour, Marc Kielburger, Angel Lauria, Nicholas Kusmich, Dr. Stephanie Estima, and my personal favorite, Lewis Howes. I was privileged to spend some time with both Lewis and Jim at an after-hours event, and those connections, along with others made that weekend, have become part of my circle of inspiration to keep me both in check and pushing forward.

Summits are great, but you do need to use your noggin when planning for them. There are some that I’m sure are pure shams—charging you lots of money to spend a weekend listening to marketing pitches to get you to spend more money. But there are lot of great ones too, intended not to suck you in, but to uplift you, bring new ideas, and break the mold that you may feel stuck in.

From podcasts to books to summits, there’s a level of inspiration out there for everyone. No matter where we currently stand or what limitations we think are holding us still, sometimes all it takes is willingness, coupled with an open mind, to take in a new perspective; to break our tunnel-vision. Listening to, reading, or experiencing a new point of view is so important to make us realize that there’s a lot more out there.

Where do you start? I’d recommend you download the first episode of Business Unusual. It’s only six minutes long. From there, follow the rabbit hole and see what you can discover.

#LewisHowes #SchoolofGreatness #BarbaraCorcoran #BusinessUnusual #ArchangelSummit #SimonSinek #StartwithWhy #Inspiration #BreaktheMold #MoveForward

Marty Johnson is an entrepreneur, writer, and business coach. He serves as ex officio Director of Communication for AMBC, Editor of MBC Today, and is the owner of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Please visit him at #AskUncleMarty