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

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Birdbath

My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

They got married on June 20, 1969 in my mom’s parents’ back yard in Parsippany, New Jersey. It was a small, simple wedding, officiated by the mayor, with just close family and friends attending.

Many of my parents’ wedding pictures were taken next to a birdbath that my grandparents had in the yard. I remember that birdbath well from visits to my grandparents’ house as a child. It was pretty—molded concrete with three fish holding up the column, a petal pattern on the top, in gleaming white with the inside bowl painted light blue. It was very ‘60s.

In the '80s, my grandparents sold their home in Parsippany and moved to a new home they built for their retirement in Smyrna, Delaware. The birdbath moved with them and found a new home in their Smyrna back yard, under a young tree they had planted.

In 1992, my grandmother passed away, less than two years shy of my grandparents’ own 50th anniversary. My grandfather eventually remarried and sold the Smyrna house to move to Arizona. But the birdbath didn’t get moved this time; instead, it was sold as part of the property in Smyrna. And there it remained, under that growing tree, likely not given a second thought by the new owners of the house.

Over the years since then, whenever my parents drove by that old Smyrna house, they would stop to look at the birdbath, wondering how they could get it back in the family. They tried a few times to rouse the owners of the house, but never had any luck getting in touch with anyone to see if they could buy the birdbath back. My uncle had tried too, but all efforts were fruitless.

Then last year, when my parents were house hunting, hoping to downsize and move to Delaware themselves and enjoy their retirement closer to the beach, they saw that my grandparents’ old house in Smyrna was for sale again. They made arrangements and toured the home, gaining closure to continue looking elsewhere for a home of their own. They saw the birdbath then, but taking it wasn’t an option. Eventually, my parents found their own perfect house in the little town in southern Delaware, sold our family home of 38 years in upstate New York, and moved.

A few months ago, when my sister and I were visiting my parents at their new home, we drove through Smyrna on our way back to New York and stopped by my grandparents’ old house. We had talked about the birdbath in advance and had hoped that it would still be in the yard. If so, we were determined to do everything we could to recover it, knowing it would mean the world to our mom and dad. We even stopped at an ATM on the way, just in case we had to bribe the homeowners.

We were thrilled to find the birdbath still there, albeit neglected and crumbling apart under that now-grown tree. The yard had collected quite a bit of other statuary over the years … far different than the meticulously manicured yard that our grandparents kept.

My sister and I knocked on the doors and rang the doorbell of that old house, but couldn’t reach anyone inside. A neighbor was across the street, watching us as she worked in her yard, so we went over and introduced ourselves. That neighbor fondly remembered our grandparents and told us that that house had recently been sold again and was now a rental. She thought her husband might have the name and number of one of the tenants, so she went inside to find him. Indeed, he had some contact information and was glad to give it to us.

Standing in the street, I called the number the neighbors gave us. A nice guy answered and I explained our situation—that we’d love to find a way to buy the old birdbath in the back yard from them and restore it to our family. He said he couldn’t make that decision, as he was just renting the house, but he'd try to reach the homeowner to ask "as soon as he was finished with his game."

So, we waited. After a while, we figured whatever game the guy was playing must be taking quite a while, so we might as well just head back to New York. At least we had made contact, and maybe we'd be able to come back down to pick up the birdbath if the homeowner indeed agreed to let us have it. 

As we were driving awayslowly, looking back at the birdbath with regret that we had to leave itthe guy called us back. He had talked to the homeowner and the homeowner said, “Just take it.”

We were thrilled! We returned to the house, hurried to the birdbath, and together schlepped it back to carthrough the minefield of doggie doo and overgrown grass that had become of the back yard. We were in our Sunday clothes; my good shirt and pants got all mucked up from carrying the dirty concrete pieces, but I didn't care. We had the birdbath. Finally! 

We decided that the birdbath would make the perfect surprise 50th anniversary gift for our parents. We knew we'd all be together on a family vacation on their actual anniversary, but maybe our cousins who live close to our parents could help. We made some calls, sent some texts, and a plan began to brew.

The birdbath was in rough shape and needed some fixing up. It had a hole clear through the side of the bowl, was crumbling in places, and clearly hadn't had a good scrubbing in decades. So, I brought it to my home in Ithaca, New York and put it in my garage, hiding it under piles of recycling when my parents visited so they wouldn't stumble upon it and spoil the epic surprise. 

Over the next month or two, I cleaned the birdbath up, patched up the hole (mixing concrete and everything—an impressive task for my notoriously not-handy self), and painted it a beautiful shiny pearl color. I ordered a cut glass “diamond,” engraved with my parents’ names and anniversary date that could be placed at the bottom of the bowl, like a jewel under water. Then I got a big red bow and made an oversized tag with a little note on the back.

My family was all meeting in Las Vegas for my parents’ 50th anniversary. It had been over 20 years since we had a family vacation with all five of us, so we were overdue to spend some quality time together. 

My parents planned to get home from our trip the day after their anniversary, so I made plans with our cousins to bring the birdbath to them ahead of time so they could set it up in my parents’ yard while we were away—complete with the big red bow. And so, before I flew out to Vegas myself, I drove to Delaware, met my cousins at a restaurant, dropped off the birdbath, then turned around and drove to Philly to catch my flight.

The plan worked like a charm. While our family was together in Vegas, my cousins set up the birdbath on my parents’ back patio—texting me that “the eagle has landed” with a picture of it perfectly centered in an alcove; my heart jumped with excitement!

I’ve saved and will treasure the voicemail my parents left me on the night that they returned home from our trip and found their gift. They simply couldn’t comprehend that this was indeed the birdbath—not a replica or replacement, but the original one—and couldn’t believe that we pulled something like this off. Our goal of surprising them was met with wild success, and the emotion and gratitude in their voices made it all worthwhile.

My parents have been married for 50 years. That’s 18,250 days (and counting) of being together, working together, parenting together, housekeeping together, traveling together, and joking together. Indeed, theirs is a relationship that has grown stronger and more precious with time. Through it all, they have remained each other’s best friend and partner—at home, in business, and in faith—and the love and respect that they show each other is something incredibly beautiful.

The birdbath is, in itself, nothing special; it's just concrete and paint. But what it representssomething solid, that after 50 years can still hold wateris priceless. 

And now, it's back home ... right where it belongs.

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