When Life Throws You Curveballs

We all go through life hoping that it will run smoothly. We have this idea that the path to whatever we want will be easy to follow, streamlined, and void of any hurdles. Okay, sure, we might expect hurdles on a cognitive level, but most of us probably have this desire that maybe just for today life will run smoothly. When it doesn’t run smoothly and when we run into problems that seem like monsters, it can catch us off guard. I’ll list some of these monsters and then discuss ways to tackle them. The point of this post is to plan ahead in case these happen. You will invariably experience bumps in the road, and you need to have a plan for how to manage them.

1. You lost your job, got fired, or decided to quit. This one is a curve ball that many people have encountered. Obviously, these three are quite different from each other in terms of their circumstances. One of them might be expected, and the other two can completely blindside you. Scenario A: Your company decided to cut several employees, and you are one of them. You’ve worked at the company for a while, and it just doesn’t seem fair that they would cut you. Scenario B: Or, you could have made a mistake – or several – that cost the company. It may not be typical of you, and it surprises you that anyone would see you as that employee. Scenario C: You decided to quit your job because you found something that fits your dream journey and that better sharpens your skills and passion. What surprises you about it is how quick the change came about.

The common theme in dealing with these is that you have to be your own boss, your own HR person, your own brand, and your own company even when you are working for the other person. You need to get to know yourself and learn how to advocate yourself. What are your goals, dreams, and visions? What are you passionate about? What do you want to see when you get to the end of your life and look back on your work? You also need to have your own brand as a person. Obviously when you work for a company, you are expected to maintain the company’s brand, but you need to have a sense of who you are as well. The company doesn’t own you. Make a list of companies you would like to work for, network with professionals in those companies, keep your resume current, and even write cover letters ahead of time. Keep them in a file in your home. Even if you rewrite the letter at the time you apply, you at least have something to go by when you sit down to write them.

2. The class you need to register for in order to graduate is full. The way to avoid this one is to take the required courses early in your degree plan. If there is a course that everyone in your program has to take, go ahead and take that one early. Sometimes programs require you to take a certain number of elective courses, and all programs have specific courses that are required. If there are certain electives that are only offered during certain semesters, pay attention to that and plan accordingly.

3. You’re late for a doctor’s appointment, and you can’t find a parking space. To avoid this one, leave the previous place (whether it’s work, home, or lunch) in enough time to arrive to the appointment 10-15 minutes early. If it’s a new doctor’s office, you might find it helpful to drive to it a couple days before the appointment so you can get a feel for the parking setup.

4. You’ve moved to a new state and can’t stand the people. You know that you have to move. It’s a new job, a move for your family, a new place to live. There’s not really a way to know if you will like the people in the new location, but you can plan ahead for how to deal on those days that you just can’t stand the people. Not everyone in the new place will be the same. You can meet different personalities, which is a good thing. Even though there might be some people that annoy you, not everyone will be bothersome. Also, our level of tolerance for some people depends somewhat on our mood for the day. If we’re having a bad day, a lot of people may bother us that normally wouldn’t on a good day. Find those people who will be solid friends, and find them sooner rather than later. These are people whom you can talk to and not be judged or ridiculed. People who get you and don’t impose their opinions on you. (Granted, if you move to the South, people speak their minds pretty openly.)

5. You arrive at the gym at the only time you can go, and the workout machines are all taken. This might be one for Captain Obvious, but you might want to choose a different time to go to the gym. If you’ve just arrived to the gym and notice that all the machines are taken, don’t rush out the door just yet. Most gyms have mats where you can stretch. Do some stretches and take your time. You have to stretch anyways, and it might be that someone is almost done with one of the machines. By the time you finish stretching, one of the machines is bound to become available. You can also walk or jog on the indoor track, or you could pick a different type of exercise machine.

6. The pharmacy where you’ve had your prescriptions filled for the past several years no longer takes your health insurance plan. Health care is a beast. While it can be quite daunting to find the right plan, you also feel very accomplished when you have conquered it. Before your prescription runs out, make sure you have refills available. Call the pharmacy ahead of time and ask them if they take your health insurance plan. Also ask if they keep your prescriptions in stock. Plan to fill them at least a week before you run out.

7. Your new health insurance plan doesn’t cover the same doctor you’ve used forever. Call your provider and ask what doctors are covered by their plan. Do this as soon as you select the plan that you want. Once you have confirmed who is covered, go ahead and call to make an appointment with the new doctor. This will help you get established as a new patient. Fair warning, though: if your new doctor is thorough in his or her practice, he or she will ask you just about every kind of question they can about your health, including things that might be uncomfortable to talk about.

8. Through a series of complaints and interviews, you discover that a trusted colleague has betrayed you. This can be really tough. When trust is betrayed, you feel violated and deeply hurt. You try to think of how this happened and run through possible explanations, but you only end up feeling angry and bitter. While it is necessary to get to the bottom of why or how a conflict arose, it’s also healthy to restrict yourself from thinking about it too much. When we overthink things, that is usually when we come up with false explanations. This is when it is good to have a friend, mentor, or counselor to talk to, someone who won’t gossip about your situation, someone to whom you can vent about the situation. You might could benefit from conflict resolution skills and assertiveness training. At some point, you will need to have a conversation with that colleague, as long as you feel safe doing so. Make a list of all the things you want to say, run it by your mentor, and make sure you cover all points on the list in your conversation. You don’t want to leave anything out, because you don’t want bitterness and resentment to develop.

9. The new job you just got doesn’t allow long enough breaks for your appointments (doctor’s, counseling, etc.). Plan to take a day off occasionally and schedule all of your appointments for that day. Ask the scheduler of your appointments if there is any penalty for being late.

10. Someone steals your credit card. This one definitely makes you feel violated. One way to conquer it is to carry cash on you, or especially to places where your information could be compromised. Places that are vulnerable to credit card fraud are gas stations, grocery stores, drug stores, etc. Plan to bring cash with you and pay that way. You can also keep a prepaid card on you to use. This way, the card isn’t connected to your bank information, so if the number gets stolen, only the amount that’s on the card could be used.

The Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received

Giving advice is a tricky thing. People want to help, and they try to offer advice that sounds good and seems reasonable, but people often give bad advice. Usually people mean well when they give bad advice, but it would mean more if they would just keep their mouths shut. Here is a list of bad advice that I’ve received, heard, or read. I offer counterparts to each piece of advice.

1. Every career decision you make must line up directly with your specific field. While certain careers require specific educational tracks and work experiences, you might have to take a job at some point during the journey that varies from your specific field. You might do this for a number of reasons: extra cash, savings to pay off student loans, health insurance, benefits, development of certain skills, resume building, etc.

2. Your career path is a straight line. You might have a number of internships in college or grad school that have nothing to do with each other, or you might have some twists and turns in your journey to that dream career. That’s okay. You want to survey all of those and see what you learned from each one.

3. Wait until you make X number of dollars before you donate, tithe, or help out people in need. This is a big lie. Like with anything else in life that you spend money on, the bottom line is that if you don’t budget for giving, then either you won’t do it, or you’ll overdo it.

4. Don’t volunteer. I received this advice in college, and unfortunately, I took it to heart for a semester, but only for a semester. Worst semester ever. When you volunteer, you help organizations provide invaluable services to people in need, and you develop skills that you will likely us later on. Part of a successful, alluring business is the fact that they give back and that they care about more than just their bottom line.

5. Take everyone’s advice without filtering it. Filter advice you receive, including this post. Set up a grid through which you run other people’s input and ideas through.

6. Take no advice. Ever. This one is dangerous. While it’s good to stay focused on what you know you have to do, it is also wise to consider advice that other people give you.

7. In order for your dreams to work out, you have to take the same path everyone else takes to get the job of their dreams. Your journey is yours. It does not belong to anyone else. Just because someone did a, b, and c to land the job of their dreams does not mean that you have to take the same steps.

8. You can’t succeed in the same position for which someone else is known. This one can really trap people. You see someone who is really successful in the exact job position that you want, and you think to yourself, “Well, that person has already cornered the market there, so I need to change career paths.” That’s a lie. Just because Jane Doe is a successful news anchor does not mean that Sally Smith can’t be a successful news anchor. There is room for you to be successful, too.

9. Don’t take a course is something that is not related to your specific job. While I was in college and grad school, people couldn’t understand why I wanted to take certain courses. The courses were not in my degree plan, so why waste the time and money? Well, first of all, if you’re really concerned about the courses I’m taking, you can send me a tuition check, and then I’ll take your course advice. 😉 You have to look at the big picture. You are not a one-trick pony, and your career path is not just limited to one specific job. Undergraduate and graduate education are the perfect times in your life to learn more about the world and that which inspires you.

10. Only apply for a job when you’re ready to apply for one. This one can be true and false. You certainly don’t want to apply for a job that you would be miserable in, but you also don’t want to become a couch potato. If you really want a job, you need to apply even when you don’t feel like it. You need a job for all kinds of reasons, and in the meantime while you are saving up money and honing some valuable skills, you can look for something that will be more fulfilling.

11. Never seek out help from a colleague who is more successful than you. You see person in #8, and you start having jealous thoughts about him or her. Why talk to him or her for advice? The world is really big, and there are different niches. Just because that person might be more successful than you right now does not mean that you won’t be as successful one day. Everyone has to start at the beginning, and you need to glean as much wisdom from people who are more successful than you. That doesn’t make you any less of a person, and it doesn’t mean that you will be less influential. Take the opportunity while you have the time to meet with as many people as possible and learn from them.

12. You can’t ever buy what you want because you’ll never have enough money for it. You might not have the money right now to get what you want, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save up for it. One of the greatest rewards in life is saving up for something special and then being able to go and buy it.

13. You’ll always be stuck in your current position. I’ve heard this applied to jobs, to one’s current financial situation, to one’s current field of work, or to one’s emotional state, but it is a flat. out. lie. Figure out what specifically makes you happy and what would give you the greatest fulfillment in terms of career. Talk to a career consultant; make a plan; and go get what you want. When you get to the end of your life, what do you want to say about the life that you lived?

14. All of your decisions have to make sense to the people in your life. Some people may not understand why you are taking a year off to travel the world. They may not get why you would study in another country. They may not understand why you would take a college course in pottery, take a certain job position, etc. So what? They aren’t living your life. You are living your life. You get to call the shots. You get to make the decisions in your life. Don’t let anyone make you feel less confident in your choices.

Customer Service – 15 Ways to Make your Company Stand Out

Let’s face it, not everyone who works in the customer service industry knows how to provide quality customer service. This industry includes retail, restaurants, medical centers, counseling clinics, car dealerships, insurance companies, cable providers, energy providers, event planners, nursing homes, universities, churches, nonprofit organizations, and any vocation in which you are directly providing goods or services to people. These come from several years of experience in customer service and from personal experiences.

1. You are your client’s (customer’s or patient’s) advocate. While in your job you may serve as a proponent of the company, to your client, customer, or patient, you are the company. This means that how you treat your customers comes across as how the company treats its customers. If you notice that a coworker is not treating a customer or client with respect, report it immediately to your supervisor. Give it some time and follow up with your supervisor. Customers a lot of times don’t feel like they have a voice with a company when one of its employees has been rude to them.

2. How you, as an individual employee of your company, act in public represents the brand to the world. In many businesses, particularly the fashion world, you’ll hear the term “brand ambassador.” On the reality show “House of DVF,” contestants compete for the coveted position of brand ambassador for Diane Von Furstenberg. They are evaluated by Diane and her team based upon their potential to succeed in representing the brand of DVF to the world. Each week we see contestants struggle with their desire to be noticed as individuals and to fit in as a DVF brand ambassador. This criteria is important as it reflects the power of one employee to alter the perspective of his or her clients.

3. Don’t ask for permission from your boss to go the extra mile for your customers. Just do it. I visited a well-known bakery in Birmingham, Alabama recently and ordered some macarons. The girl handed me my bag, which is odd for macarons to be served in a bag, and my change, and she quickly shut the cash drawer. Upon receiving my change, I noticed that she gave me five one-dollar bills instead of a five-dollar bill. I asked her if she had a five-dollar bill, and this is where my frustration continued. Instead of taking the initiative to go get her boss to reopen the cash drawer, she stood their and gave me this monologue about how she didn’t know how to open the cash drawer after a transaction, and she concluded with, “I can go get my manager to reopen it.” 

Customers don’t need to know the inner workings of your business, and they shouldn’t be expected to. You’re the one who works there, so if you can’t figure out how to do something, don’t try to explain it to your customers as a means of trying to get them to go away. You’re getting paid to do your job, so do your job.

4. If there’s a sign in your store that says that something is on sale, it is YOUR responsibility (not the the customer’s) to know about it. You need to know about the sales going on in your store. I can’t tell you how many times a clerk rang up my items incorrectly and then looked at me like I was some kind of woodland creature when I mentioned the sale sign. “Do you want me to get someone to check?” No. I want you to know about the sale in the first place. You should know that information, and don’t make your customers feel awkward about pointing it out to you.

5. A sale sign that is still posted after the expired date must be honored without you popping an attitude. If there is a sale sign, then the sale price is still valid. You cannot leave a sale sign up and then refuse to honor the sale price when a customer mentions it. Do not punish the customer for you not doing your job, when you should have taken the sign down already.

6. Anticipate the needs of your customer. Pay attention to your customers. The best employees anticipate the needs of their customers and act upon them instead of waiting for their customers to ask. For example, when you wait tables, don’t wait for your customers to ask for refills. Glance over at your tables frequently.

7. Read between the lines when your customer asks for something. In other words, don’t take the words of your client at face value. You will need to interpret what your customer is trying to say. Your customers likely don’t know the lingo of your workplace or your field of work. They shouldn’t have to. That’s your job.

8. Be careful how you communicate the rules of your business to customers. This goes back to you being an advocate for your clients and customers. If a customer brings back an item to return after the allotted period of time, instead of just telling the customer, “No,” find a solution that will work for you and the customer. If a customer is standing in line but not in the right place, honor the fact that he or she was there first. During the transaction, quietly communicate where the line is supposed to start, then later on, make natural boundaries for lines so there won’t be anymore confusion.

9. If you work for a retail company and you ask for personal information from your customer, explain to the customer why you need this information and how it will be used. Do not coldly ask your customers for their phone numbers or email addresses. You are not entitled to that information. The company is not entitled to that information. If customers tell you that they don’t want to give you a phone number or an email address, then do not give them an attitude about it. They don’t owe you anything, so don’t make them feel like they do.

10. Stop. answering. the. phone. IN FRONT. of. another. customer. Many retailers use this as a model to close more deals and to maintain efficiency in their work. However, this will hurt your business in the long run. The driving motivator now behind company success isn’t the product itself. Customers now seek an emotional connection with the product or the brand as a whole. If you have a customer standing in front of you who has made the effort to show up to your store in person and in the middle of the sell you take a phone call – even if it’s just to put the other person on hold (which is an even more awful idea) – you ruin the rapport you’ve built with the customer in your store, and you end up leaving both customers on hold so that your company can stand on and take advantage of the willing patience of your customers. “But I don’t want to miss a customer,” you say, and I understand your predicament. However, I also understand that the current model isn’t working, and something needs to change.

11. Stop closing the restroom during your busiest hours.

12. If your answer to a customer is, “no,” always have an alternative solution to offer. Chances are that you have a better solution to offer your customers. Can’t think of anything else? Make sure to do the following point.

13. Write down every possible scenario that you can imagine and come up with at least three to four (five to seven if you’re feeling extra ambitious) realistic solutions for each scenario. This will stretch you. You need to be able to think on your feet when you are with your customers, and having multiple solutions ready will make situations less awkward.

14. It’s okay if you make a mistake. If you make a mistake, just own it and correct it as soon as you notice it. Don’t wait until the problem gets bigger to solve it. If you don’t know how to correct it, ask your manager or a coworker for help. That’s one of the best parts about working with a team, you don’t have to solve everything on your own.

15. Make conversation with customers on the phone. Especially if your customer is calling from a different location, you can make it as simple as asking them about the weather, or you can make it more exciting by asking about their favorite sports team from their location or about something their location is known for. Genuine connections will keep your customers engaged with and excited about your company.