Finding Peace in Community: When Your HOA is an SOS

“All politics is local.”  ―Tip O’Neill

I attended the monthly meeting of my Home Owners Association (HOA) this week. As I entered the room on the humid summer evening, the atmosphere was heavy with expectation and simmering with skepticism.

You see, we are in the midst of launching an extensive and costly community-wide renovation project addressing years of deferred maintenance. But the project we are all funding is more than six months behind schedule. It has not even begun. Now, the board and residents are at loggerheads ― embroiled in a major kerfuffle over the financing and management of our seriously delayed initiative. With tensions festering, tempers flaring, and barbs flying, I felt very uncomfortable in the middle of this murky morass.

About 15 neighbors and I were attending the “working board meeting” to inquire about project status and related decisions impacting our finances and homes. But some of the board members were not amused. They responded to our questions with escalating hostility and defensiveness. One fellow resident even left in tears.  Such drama. The whole event was profoundly disturbing.

Days later, I am still feeling unsettled ― but I recognize this small community meeting in Lake Highlands, Texas  was truly a microcosm of our nation’s broader, brooding dysfunction. I do not understand this behavior, this lack of tolerance. When some folks encounter differences of opinion, they tend to lose all ability to relate as mature adults. In this unconscious breakdown mode, listening, respect and compassion cease. Polarization sets in.

Why is this happening? Why do opposing opinions make us all enemies? It reminds me what happened in the 2016 election as we hunkered down in our separate psychic silos. But, here’s the rub ― don’t we all want to live in happy, healthy, pleasant environments? So, what is getting in the way? Why are thoughtful, honest questions interpreted as personal attacks ― lambasted and dismissed? Evan McKenzie, University of Illinois political science professor and author of the book Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government, explains that a complicating aspect of HOA disputes is that they often become personalized, “so you can’t even resolve them.”

One thought is this. The road to resolution is an inside job. It requires that we all commit to building authentic, aware relationships with ourselves, first. What I witnessed Monday evening ― and afterward, in harassing texts from a participant who took issue with my right to ask questions, was unconscious reactivity. And it spilled out all over the patio after we were dismissed as the “closed session” continued. There is no changing other people. Ever. But we can shift our own realities.

So, there is hope. There is mindfulness.

Essentially, I’m talking about the discipline of staying present, awake and aware in the moment. A great Forbes article states:

When you are mindful . . . you become keenly aware of yourself and your surroundings, but you simply observe these things as they are. You are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not react to them in the way that you would if you were on ‘autopilot.’”

I love this definition, because it’s about aspiring to a higher level of consciousness. Yes, it takes practice, but it is a practice that improves mental health ― as well as relationships. This means building mastery over your emotions and impulses — allowing you to adjust your behaviors.

According to a 2014 study from Carnegie Mellon University, self-soothing skills, mediation, and relaxation techniques that are part of mindfulness training have been proven to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and meditating for just 25 minutes a day for three days in a row is an effective way to alleviate psychological stress. There is a great, new app I’m using to keep me on track with my meditation called Headspace. It’s been proven that meditation can actually enhance empathy, creativity and focus ― all core elements of a joyful, peaceful, centered existence.

SOS: Small Organization Stress

HOA board meetings can be tough rooms. Stress levels for the board members can be high, because the job is voluntary with very little appreciation involved. Resources and time are limited. The organizational structure is likely insufficient, and there is usually no official training for positions that carry significant responsibility. Boundary function is probably not optimal regarding task assignments, and these unexamined resentments can easily manifest as contentious and unsavory behavior. Not exactly a recipe for a good time!

An insightful Entrepreneur article reminds us of the importance of process ― not mistaking impulsive action for productivity. This is something I have been tackling in my own life for the past couple of years. It involves becoming aware of my own emotions, taking a breath and a beat ― and retraining my brain to intentionally consider the pros and cons possible options. It’s called “wise mind.” Start your day with a contemplative practice ― breathing, mediation, journaling, etc. Or, spend 15-20 minutes a day walking outside in nature. Gain perspective. Space. When you feel yourself reacting emotionally, take a moment ― and ask yourself what the reaction is about. Is it an unconscious response?

Make Mindfulness Matter

Mindfulness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence — and a way to help you create a more fulfilling life. Here are a few tools to make that journey more manageable for leaders in organizations:
• Delegate
• Listen
• Empathize
• Resist making snap judgments
• Ask for guidance and opinions ― know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness
• Evaluate your operating structure and responsibilities
• Realize that you are completely biased ― love that one!
• Get clear about what you really want out of a relationship, transaction or activity
• Prioritize — you won’t get everything. Clarify for yourself what is most important
• Recognize that folks have other opinions, and they have nothing to do with you.

Above all, get real! And find a way to enjoy the process. Courageously assess your strengths and weaknesses, continuously. We are all spiritual beings having physical experiences, so let’s try to make the best of it.

Do you have suggestions or questions regarding nurturing healthy communities ― from the inside out? Please share.

Reeling from 2016? It’s in the numbers.

“Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”  ― Marilyn Monroe

clock2016

The agony and angst of 2016 are palpable. A grueling and malignant election cycle, combined with pernicious social unrest ― and the loss of too many beloved cultural icons to count have left us dazed and devastated.  So many friends and colleagues are anxious to bid 2016 a swift farewell, but I have recently stumbled on a compelling contextualization.

It’s about the numbers. After all, we seem to be a society obsessed with metrics. We are constantly parsing, computing, digesting and analyzing the data. We warehouse it, mine it and dump it ― but what about the most ancient of calculations ― numerology? Whether you embrace the metaphysical realm or deal solely in the concrete, it’s difficult to completely discount the math.

That is, 2016 is a “nine year:” The end of a cycle.

How does this work? Well, numerology is the study of numbers and their harmonics. Like those who question astrology, auras and chakras, skeptics abound. But who has all the answers?  Plus, this feels more like the mirror than the smoke. Without going into the granular detail, the Pythagorean system of numerology considers the cosmic significance of numbers associated with names, birthdays and years. That makes 2016 a “nine year.”

Do the math:

2+0+1+6 = 9

2+0+1+7 = 1+0 = 1

Clearly, we are living the completion of a particularly volatile and significant nine-year cycle.  Next year, 2017 will be a “one year.” A “nine year” heralds significant change and brings to fruition what began in the previous nine-year cycle. It’s a time of shedding old skin and trying on new ways of thinking and existing.  Where were we in 2007, the end of the last nine-year cycle? Where were you in 2007? George W. Bush was president, and we were about to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president in history in 2008 ― commencing a remarkable cycle fueled by the audacity of hope. But now, that cycle is ending ― as we enter another new era.

A “nine year” is a time of completion, resolution and forgiveness, says one numerology site.  You can even calculate your personal-year number for 2017. Mine is “five,” which also foretells change, new adventures, relationships and adventures. I’m ready.

The interesting impact of a “nine year” is it focuses on cleaning up unfinished business. And if we resist the closed doors or deny the new horizons, we will not see the new realities. Daunting stuff. So, the numbers tell us it’s time to learn from the past, radically accept it, and decide how we want to build the future in the next nine years. It is a time to jettison old thinking, pursuits, habits and relationships that no longer serve us. Another great quote:

“The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.”  -Shannon l. Alder


That one has resonated with me deeply this year ― as I seem to have been entangled in perpetual tangos with many aspects of life. However, what I have discovered is change begins within ― in each individual heart and mind. As we end 2016, it’s time to reach your conclusions, and tie up your loose ends. Clean out your closets and make more room. This will help you step into the next nine years free of unresolved traumas and challenges that might hold you back.

Apparently, it’s natural for a “nine year” to be highly emotional.  It can even feel like it’s taking you backwards, but the purpose is to help you learn the lessons that keep you stuck. This is a necessary process to release old emotions that might be triggering you in the present ― impeding your progress. We may be evolving spiritually as a society in ways we cannot fully fathom right now. Sometimes, painful experiences are required to help us grow. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that some of our most beloved creative voices have left the earth this year ― at a time of such disruptive transition.  I think we are likely on the precipice of an unparalleled period of seismic spiritual realignment.

So, what will the “one year” hold?

Who knows? But 2017 is the number of beginning ― the dawning of something altogether new. The “one year” is time to act independently ― but also to lead by example, putting your unique talents to work for the greater good and the community as a whole.

The great news about 2017 is that transformation is an integral part of the equation. Be open and be ready. Fasten your seatbelts; it going to be a bumpy, high-velocity ride. Embrace positive expectancy.   Anything is possible ― with hope, faith, love ― and a clean slate.

The Art and the Science of Infinite Possibilities

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping . . .”

— George Harrison

guitarI was taking my morning walk in the crisp Texas air on Sunday and listening to the “random shuffle” on my smart phone. As indicated with crystal clarity here, there are no accidents ― a pattern to the randomness usually emerges. And George’s message in “My Guitar Gently Weeps” impacted me on a profound, new level. Admittedly, we all have our favorite Beatles’ songs, and this is definitely in my top five.

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping 
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps.”

In sync with this moment, I was attending a dazzling event over the weekend called #DreambuildersLIVE, and I thank Unity Church Dallas for offering special access to the experience.  This was the Mary Morrissey show, and she is certainly a magnetic maestro of meaning ― orchestrating mesmerizing messages in “a container” of multimedia magic.

One of her fundamental life-coaching principles is “notice what you are noticing.” This reinforces and supports my current journey ― as I find it requires vigilant practice. I think of it as “uber awareness” or “turbo mindfulness.”  And it’s essential, because our dreams all start in our own hearts and minds ― an inside job. Deftly unfolding this concept, Mary polished many glistening enlightenment nuggets in her approachable, warm style. “You can’t get TO your dream ― you must come FROM it,” says Mary. Letting that idea seep into every molecule is potemt as I envision and feel my future joy in the now ― the present moment. Be the change. Live the dream. (Need more practice.)

In this iconic song, George is definitely noticing what he is noticing. And though that darn floor is filthy and his guitar is gloomy, he chooses to see the “love there that’s sleeping.” I have read he wrote the song at his mother’s house in Warrington, England as he contemplated “I Ching, The Book of Changes.” It’s regarded one of the most important texts of Chinese wisdom and philosophy ever scribed, and it was a foundational source for Confucius and others.

I believe one of the notions George is referencing is the ethereal mystery of relationships and the interconnectedness of all things and beings in the universe.  Our oneness with all ― and one for all time. Just beginning to embrace these ideas based on ancient philosophies, twenty-first century science is now studying the hidden, untapped power of the brain and its relationship to the quantum field. In fact, “Make it MATTER” is another great Mary-ism ― linking meaning with quantum change and infinite possibilities.

Yes, Mary is vibrating at a higher frequency ― and creating a surge in the process. You could feel it in the room of more than 750 people from across the globe gathered here in Texas for a nexus of relationship and intention to generate something wonderful and good.  So refreshing as we notice . . . our “political floor may need some sweeping.” But . . .

“With every mistake we must surely be learning.”

Thriving Trumps Narcissism

Art-Painting-American-Flag-Wallpaper-HD“Before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.”
—from Rasur by Roberto Brenes Mesen

As America’s fascination with Donald Trump continues to mystify me and many others across the globe, I believe I have a heightened sensitivity to his shenanigans and rhetoric, because I have struggled mightily to break free from toxic narcissists and unhealthy relationships. It’s a little like the smoker who has kicked a noxious 10-year habit. Daily, I am mindful about elevating my consciousness to recognize these insidious hooks — toning my exit muscle.

Narcissists are not intrinsically evil — as many contend, but they have developed hard-wired coping behaviors to compensate for their own deeply damaged psyches and false selves. On one level, my heart breaks for them and I do feel empathy ― even for those who have caused me such profound pain. Thankfully, I have learned that I am not responsible for their harsh judgments.  I am only responsible for my response to them.  There is absolutely no “fixing,” “repairing,” “convincing,” or “cajoling” these people.  They are who they are. That is it. The healing journey is stepping away from the tango.

Narcissists seduce, ingratiate, self-aggrandize, manipulate, denigrate and exploit, because they are desperate to neutralize their own shame ― and they have limited capacity to access their authentic inner selves.  Indeed, individuals with Narcissist Personality Disorder are perpetually looking for affirmation of an idealized, flamboyant, yet fragile, sense of self.

Et tu, Mr. President?

From a purely clinical perspective, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) Narcissistic Personality Disorder is signified by satisfying  5 of 9 of the following standards (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

  • A grandiose logic of self-importance
  • A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty or idyllic love
  • A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  • A desire for unwarranted admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally oppressive behavior
  • No form of empathy
  • Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  • A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

Philosopher and teacher Deepak Chopra said this recently:

“But in reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret.  Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow.”

The coping mask of the narcissist is an amalgam of arrogance, entitlement and pretentiousness. He or she often professes to know all the answers to all the questions ― while monopolizing all the conversations. A narcissist may become indignant at the drop of hat ― or belittle anyone in any role if he does not receive the service or treatment expected.  I witnessed this countless times in relationship with narcissists, but I always thought things would eventually get better somehow.

Finally, the reality kicked in. Having been the frequent recipient of this vitriol, I now know this comes from unresolved anger — often unconscious. A narcissistic reacts abruptly with rage or contempt to feel superior. And he can’t stand any perception of criticism. He may even abandon you ― anytime, anywhere. I know.

But, as narcissistic abuse recovery expert Melanie Tonia Evans insists, focusing on the NARC does not help or heal us. There is no cheese down that hole. Therefore, we can analyze Donald Trump all day long, but the more we try to inspect, explain and prescribe, the more deeply we become hooked. That’s the painful irony. It becomes an excruciating no-win scenario.

“It’s like trying to wrestle an ape,” says Evans. “Impossible.”  And the real reason we do it is because we are trying to soothe our own unhealed wounds by somehow fixing and placating the narcissist. We are assuaging our own concealed feelings of inadequacy, pain and unworthiness.  His grandiose promises attract us like the circus coming to town ― filling the darkness of our hearts momentarily with sparkles of light, some cotton candy and cheesy spectacle, but as when the circus leaves town, it also leaves us desolate, depleted and feeling a little sick.

He tells us just what we want to hear ― and then, he turns on a dime and crushes us to the mat. In Trump’s case, he calls someone “an idiot,” the world “a mess,” or mocks a disabled reporter. This pumps up his ego and self-esteem. It becomes a seductive, unending cycle ― until we decide the healing must happen inside ourselves. Evans calls this the “Thriver Model.”

That’s just what we must do as a nation.

We must face the deepest unresolved traumas of our early and recent history ― racism issues that have festered since the days of slavery, institutionalized inequality, fraying of the middle class, lethal police culture, gun violence, and the list goes on . . . we must heal them from within. Individually, we must feel better about ourselves; love ourselves and each other deeply and truly — so we are not prey to the brittle, smarmy, sanctimonious charlatans.

Trumping Survival Programs

Melanie Tonia Evans says the purpose of any relationship is to reflect back and trigger unhealed parts to help us evolve and grow ― individually and collectively. With a narcissist, this opportunity is amplified and intensified, because he or she eventually obliterates our fragile survival programs.  But in a sense, this is a gift, because we can take the wake-up call as an invitation to heal what is broken in ourselves. We have the power to become whole, productive suppliers of our own support, vitality and affirmation. We do not need to look externally for validation or worth.

When we deny, disown and mask the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to ourselves ― all the fears and pains, our abuse radar does not operate effectively. This leaves us out of alignment with our true selves ― and exceptionally needy. We are unconsciously replaying tapes from our families of origin, and in the case of the election, the early and recent years of our adolescent nation.  So, we need to get real.

We are not inextricably attached to this difficult person. We do not need to make this relationship work to survive. We do not need Trump to take us to some sort of vague “great place.”

It’s time to wake up, America! It’s an inside job.

Stream of Consciousness

teardropI am a seeker ― with far more questions than answers, and in recent days, my queries have been dramatically outnumbering my explanations.  Fortunately, in the past decade, my lifelong spiritual quest has led me to the sagacious sphere of one Dr. Joe Clifford.  And that’s why I pen this post today.  Alas, I am struggling with his recent announcement that he and his family will be leaving our frazzled city in less than a month. Intellectually, I know this sadness will pass, and Dallas/#DallasStrong will persevere somehow, but I still feel an overwhelming sense of  loss.

References to Joe’s canny wisdom and his super-human pastoral care shimmer across the pages of my blog like freshly cut gems.  Since 2009, the content I have crafted here has included both professional and personal musings ― more like a meandering stream of consciousness than a stake in the ground, but these ideas started spilling forth way before Twitter was cool and Snap even considered Chatting.  And, this stream has definitely ebbed and flowed . . .

Now, thinking about the soul-rattling events of recent weeks and days, my own profound healing journey over the past seven years, and Joe’s impending departure, I can’t help but recall one of the first posts I was ever inspired to write. It was about a “Joe sermon.”  And several years later, I actually had the good fortune to do some “official” blog writing for First Presbyterian Church ― helping amplify the impact of Joe’s insights and the Word of God.  A career highlight and honor. 

An excerpt from that April 2009 post:

Joe has an extraordinary capacity to inform and enrich my path in ways that are difficult to articulate. Today was an excellent example. He talked about the celebration of Easter wearing off as we entered a week punctuated by the bleakness of tax day, difficult professional challenges ― real life, etc. Then, he said a friend forwarded him the Susan Boyle link on Wed ― the astonishing performance of the unassuming 47-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent, who has captured the world’s imagination. He says he does not have time for all the forwarded email he receives, but he opened this one for some reason.

He said he wept ― and he asked the congregation how many of us had seen it and wept. Most of those present raised their hands. He went on to describe theologian Frederick Buechner‘s take on the origin of these tears. I now cannot get enough Buechner. He ponders:

How do you listen to your life? How do you get into the habit of doing it? How do you keep ears cocked and your eye peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else? One thing I have said, which I think is true, is to pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who you are . . .

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.

Joe said we have a profound, spiritual reaction to joy ― to God. And it’s not enough to experience the moment ― we must use it as a way to discover our own life’s calling, what God has called us to do and be.

The world is hurting ― facing daunting challenges. I believe we are called to pay attention, be vigilant in our consciousness, and bare our hearts. Thank you for helping us do all of those things along the way, Joe.  Godspeed to you and your family . . .  with a smile and a tear.

This may not be Susan Boyle, but it’s a moment ― for now.

Taking the Last Mile to Heart

highway“The Last Mile” is a phrase used in the telecommunications and technology industries to describe the final piece of the communication journey that connects the network to the end-user or customer. In more jargon-y tech circles, it’s often referred to as the “last-mile problem,” because the end link to consumer is too often disproportionately expensive or difficult to achieve. Even compared to the costs associated with rolling out broadband wire and hardware across the globe, last-mile connections have been plagued with technological issues, infrastructure barriers, and high costs.

It’s so beguiling that there are many publicly traded companies focused exclusively on the “challenge” of facilitating this precarious one-on-one connection.  Pursuit of this delicate alignment extends to transportation logistics, as well. From traditional heavy goods shipments to  e-commerce-driven home deliveries, the last mile plays a critical role in the supply chain. It’s the ultimate destination – the final frontier.  Get it wrong, and you risk customer alienation.  Get it right, and you create a meaningful, high-value, and potentially lasting relationship.

That’s the connection. My wheels are turning—thinking about that ever-so-bumpy road that often characterizes “the last mile” in our most intimate relationships.  A metaphor is born. You know the adage that those closest to us have the power to hurt us the most deeply. Well, here we go.  I think the struggle of the last mile speaks to this.  Yet, the sad part is that some us never let anyone down that barren stretch of highway into the inner sanctum of our hearts.  Even if someone finds entrance ramp, there are often too many twists and turns, culverts and crevasses—too many dead-ends . . . or just too many barricades.  Plus, there are all those the emergency vehicles that come out of nowhere—crimson lights blazing and sirens shrieking! Or, the bridges may be washed out due to years of emotional storms and deferred maintenance. There are a myriad of reasons.  And this can be true in a variety of contexts—family, friends, romantic partners—even work. Your “last miles” can be very painful, even scary, but they are worth the trip.

Being more mindful and aware has definitely helped me enrich some of my “last mile” journeys recently — and I find that I am becoming more appreciative of noticing these attributes in my fellow travelers, as well.  I feel the “last mile” in any relationship is best navigated as a two-way street. After all, it’s where the rubber truly meets the road, right?

You fish or you cut bait, as they say.  Face it.  “Last-mile connections have been plagued with technological issues”— especially when some of us have more baggage on the bus than others.  So, to stay on track, unpack with care and compassion when necessary—and refuel when needed. Traveling light – and maximizing flow . . . here I go.

Letting Go.

Roses_3_1.0

“Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.”  

– Voltaire

On Saturday, we honored the memory of Everett E. Gantz Jr. with a quiet, traditional Episcopal memorial service.  After nearly 89 years on this earth, my father was still an enigma to many— and to me in many ways. Few truly knew the man behind the stoic, Midwestern-chiseled facade— and the charismatic artist/wife of more than 50 years.  Thankfully, my dear sister Melissa gave a lovely, instructive “reflection” that filled gaps and hearts.

The loss is palpable—and beginning with my mother’s devastating stroke in January 2010, the grieving process has been a lingering one.

Plus, as a single, working mother of two growing boys, remembering to “put the oxygen mask on first” is a constant effort—and a daily focus of my mindfulness practice. However, I am certainly no role model for the “sandwich generation,” and I guarantee you that I still get tangled up in the roughage, as it were.  Still, I have come to understand that the frustrating stubbornness and vitriol I have encountered on “both sides of the bun” often mask the poignant vulnerabilities that quite frequently melt my heart.

Mastin Kipp, one of my favorite daily inspirational mentors, says, “When you let go and admit it, accept that you have moments of being a mess, and you share that feeling at times with the rest of us, then you can step into a larger, freer life.”

So, with another Mother’s Day behind us and a new normal dawning, I have revisited something I wrote several years ago for my mom:

Letting go.

No need to give to feel anymore.

Her bare spirit shines — less the veneer.
Without speech, without talk
Now real.

Transcending words.
The essence of her soul.
Awareness without comprehension,
Cognition, no.

She looks at me finally – and actually sees.

Letting go of need.
Content to be.
Helpless though.
Fights her wheeled prison.
Her body knows now
To bridge the chasm.

There between this Scylla and Charybdis.

And yet he still clings.
Together alone.
Denies to suppress — but never go home.

Letting go of control.
But the seizures defy
The years and the secrets
He insists to know why.

Anger. Passion. Pain.

A stone cold wall.
What a loss — so far.
Tear us apart and we fall.

Oh, to let love  . .  .

So, letting go.

–Elaine

Are You Content?

let goIt’s hard to believe I started writing this blog  five years ago. Seems like five months in many ways—and yet, so much has changed and at breakneck speed.  The trailblazers along the social-media super highway—accelerators such as Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Beth Kanter and Clay Shirky—continue to inspire and challenge my thinking as they constantly reinvent, re-calibrate and re-conceptualize their own approaches to social media, their audiences, the web and their own livelihoods. It is, indeed, an ever-changing frontier out there . . .well, out here, as well.

Where are we five years later? Where am I? Good question.

I suspect I am inordinately philosophical as I review the past five years today. Such monumental milestones. Such enormous challenges. Such “opportunities for growth.” “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Kelly Clarkson? Well, I believe Friedrich Nietzsche said it first.

Having just returned from another day of waiting in the hospital to hear news about a gravely ill parent, I am considering the past five years even more pensively.  Just moments ago, I was straightening the few sparse gray hairs dancing across my emaciated father’s damp, ashen forehead as I watched him fight for every shallow breath.

The weight of the past few years as a single mom has been palpable —encompassing my mother’s death a year a half ago after complications from a massive stroke—as well as other daunting challenges.  Let’s just say, life has been messy. However, thank goodness, the learning has been rich and the clarity gleaming beyond the fog. Fortunately, I have been open to it. Not just about the social media stuff, mind you—but most everything, really— life, love, the way I tick, and  my relationship to all of it—media, circumstances, feelings, places, people . . . That’s the good part.

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me

and 90% how I react to it.” 

― Charles R. Swindoll

This awareness is informing my writing, as well. Hence, I have arrived at this very blog post. In fact, I now think our relationship to our content is probably more important than the content itself.  In this new media, mega-sphere world, we have admittedly become obsessed with our gadgets—with the act of communicating. As Sherry Turkle says in Alone Together, we are too busy communicating to really connect.

Ironically, we began this social journey with rabid focus on the technology—the latest whiz-bang toy du jour. What will we do with Twitter? Instagram? Yada? Yada? Then, we moved to “content marketing.” We’re all about the content. The what. Serve it up in giant scoops of frothy, delicious digital goodness—early and often to satisfy Google’s ravenous, insatiable appetites. Businesses and thought leaders have been maniacal about producing “the right content” with the right words at the right time. SEO-yea!  Maximizing, masticating and matriculating . . .

But, now, I think it’s really and truly about relating.  Getting to the heart of the matter, right?  Who are we? What are we about?  Not another refill of the cloying Kool-Aid. After all, what does really matter?

Am I conscious? Am I present?  Am I paying attention? No more facade, thank you.

What does this mean to our marketing plans? Not sure. And more important, what does this mean to our relationships—whether they are with friends, romantic partners, business partners, parents, children, subordinates, siblings, superiors, colleagues, employees, customers, shareholders, vendors, service technicians, teachers, neighbors, customers, students, etc.  . . . or the person behind us in line at Target? Anyone.  You? It means being fully present, in the present—in the relationship.  (And I don’t mean with your phone, but that’s another post.) In fact, the truth is there will come time when . . .

The words don’t matter, because we cannot hear them.

The affectations, witty banter and posh color choices don’t matter, because we cannot see them.

And what matters is simply spirit—being there.

Life coach Martha Beck says, “Little miracles begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life – even if it’s in the middle of the muck and mire. Small miracles turn into big ones.” We just need to pay attention.

So, once again, I ask the question, are you content?

Buzz Pill?

Is there a magic social media pill? We all seem to be looking for it.

As a professional riding the social media tidal wave, I’m engaged—in witty Facebook banter, of course, but I’m also digging deeper—doing some serious soul-searching about the role of social media in marketing, how best to execute it, how to manage it, and how to leverage its power to make clients and associates successful and happy. I guess taking a hard look at my path is sort of a mirror to my life—as some of my most enlightened friends would say.

Yet, it’s surprisingly tough—on all levels. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, iPads, Nooks, etc., social media is embedded in every fiber of our awareness. Personally, I feel unhinged without my Apple. (Remember Eden?) With something so pervasive, so woven into the fabric of our daily behavior, one would think clarity and monetization would be a cinch. But not so fast. It can be difficult to put the buzz back in the bottle! It is not enough to simply offer up content and post updates.

Brand advocates and marketers who want to take advantage of social media are encountering a tangled web. They are finding they need to design a fully integrated program of active and ongoing engagement, connecting customers with the actual human beings in their organizations who can meet their needs. It’s part Marketing 101 and part online alchemy, I suspect. Gosh, maybe it’s really not about the technology at all. It’s the humanity. Could it be that the stuff that happens offline is what really makes social media sing?

For instance, Dell currently engages with customers through what they call the “four pillars” of the company’s social media ecosystem:

  • 100,000 employees
  • Dell.com–ratings, reviews and customer feedback relating to Dell products and services
  • Dell communities, such as IdeaStorm, a platform launched in 2007 that is designed to give voice to customers and enable the sharing of ideas
  • External platform communities, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

That first pillar represents one of the biggest changes in Dell’s use of social networking, lately—and possibly the most powerful. Although social media initiatives began with public relations teams at Dell, employees now play the role of brand ambassador across the company, notes Buck. This requires a purposeful, dedicated engagement plan, as well as policy development and training to ensure that the employees who will be representing Dell clearly understand company guidelines regarding the appropriate use of social media.“Our employees play a vital role in our social media outreach, and, to date, we have trained more than 8,000 Dell employees to engage with customers through social media,” says Michael Buck, executive director of global online marketing. “Dell’s Social Media and Communities University is a key enabler for the company to leverage the power of 100,000-plus employees as brand ambassadors, confident that they have been empowered to use it the right way.”

Perhaps the most effective social media strategy is to train your company’s employees to use social media—whether 3 or 300,000, fully integrating the support process and empowering interaction with customers/prospects on behalf of the company. This has not only spread the marketing buzz, so to speak, it has also building the brand across the farthest reaches of the vast social media psycho-sphere. To infinity and beyond!

Where are you going?

What’s to Like About Facebook Business Pages?

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach — providing the practical tools you need to survive and thrive in the brave new media world — listener, writer, blogger, speaker and mom. Contact her ellagantz@sbcglobal.net

What have you always wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask? Register for Breakfast and Blogs, a very social session with Elaine to find out. Start off your New Year with real social media sizzle. Email or comment to reserve your place. First 10 are FREE and $10 after that – Thurs., Jan 13 or Fri. Jan. 14 — 9:30 a.m.– 12:00 p.m. Location details in Dallas to come. Join me at the B &B.

I never thought I would be part of the blogging brigade— leading the social media charge. “How did I get here?” as David Byrne one asked. For heaven’s sake, I ran computer programs on punch cards in a box. I trie dto make some semblance of sense of those bleeding lines of purple Fortran code on the never-ending accordion-folded pale green and white-striped paper—in the bowels of the Vogelback computer cave at Northwestern. I remember thinking, “Geez, I’m a theater major. How will this stuff ever have a practical application in my life? I guess my life has been more Lennon-esque – what has happened while I have been busy “making other plans.”

But it’s still a hard place to be–as so many are still generally nonplussed about the power and process of integrating this brave new media communication phenomenon into their customer/donor-development strategies. “The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history, ” proclaimed NYU media guru, Clay Shirky, also a former theater major.

It’s hard to completely comprehend the full impact somewhere in time (more great music, sigh), but I predict this period in communication media innovation will assume milestone prominence in retrospect-–similar to the era of the printing press, the telephone, photography and motions pictures. Shirky continues, “A revolution does not happen when a society adopts new tools. It happens when a society adopts new behaviors.” Can you imagine life without the mobile phone?

So, as we begin to navigate and maneuver the tools that are quite literally redefining our relationships and behaviors, here are a few solid ideas for making the most of on of your core social media tools–your Facebook Business Page. Like it or not, Facebook is the new black. Remember, to maximize effectiveness and results you should carefully customize this list for you and your distinctive business objectives:

1. Create a personal service “direct line” to the brand and paint a personality that differentiates your business.
2. Respond to your customers quickly and personally to create authenticity and loyalty.
3. Provide notice of special events – with the ability to catch RSVPs—photos, videos and after-party conversation.
4. Post quizzes: In addition to providing fantastic engagement opportunity, your page is also a rich research resource. What’s your personal style? Why do you support programs to help the homeless? What three things mean most to you in the world?
5. Present special offers – one-day-only deals, Facebook-only bonuses, “Like” incentives.
6. Register for preferred customer email and coupons.
7. Create participation and passion around your preferred cause – feature the link on your page.
8. Post how-to videos, which might be a little wacky or unconventional – to ignite viral sharing.
9. Photos,photos, photos. Tag, tag, tag.
10. Subscribe to the tip or quote of the day – stat on homelessness, inspirational quote, green tip, how to tie a scarf, etc.
11. Feature links to blogs related to your business/organization – enhancing authoritative rank in organic search.
12. Sell gift cards – online with PayPal transaction.
13. Secret sales – “Skip lunch” or “Mimosa Mondays.”
14. Enter a contest to go to Vegas with our BFFs.
15. Highlight your customer of the day – tell the stories.

The list goes on – and the very best possibilities relate to your particular mission or customer, depending on your individual objectives.

Start writing down ideas, and watch how they be gin to flow . . . and join me at the B&B on Jan. 13 or 14, 2011!