Great advice from a local restaurant owner

We (my local business network) had a meeting of the minds this morning. We had a lively discussion about how local business owners can work better together, and ultimately drive more awareness and foot traffic to the stores that are, historically called the “backbone of our community.”

Our host, a local restaurateur participated in the conversation, and helped re-ignite my passion for small business, which for the last 8 years has been at the core of everything I do.

Owning a small business is hard. In the initial stages of building and growing, it seems there’s little time for rest. We’re pulled in hundreds of different directions, and that’s not even counting the direction of “home.”

As big box brands have strengthened their grip in our small towns, and made it more and more difficult for the mom and pop to survive, friends and loved ones are warning new entrepreneurs against starting a new business.

And yet, here we are, in the trenches. Believing not only in ourselves, but also in the communities we choose to build our business, that we can make it happen. And, it creates a contradiction – We know, in order to succeed, we must compete, but not at the risk of isolation.

Most of the time, my involvement in these conversations circles around what we can do as consumers to raise awareness. But today, the conversation was packed with wisdom that we can all apply to ourselves. We have to remember that we’re not in this alone.

The message he shared caught me off guard, and yet struck a chord deep inside:

“Get over yourself”

It wasn’t said in anger, or frustration, but out of love. The tough love that we’re not so used to these days. We’re soft. But there’s no room for soft in the small business trenches.

I have paraphrased what this wise, young entrepreneur shared:

“We, as business owners have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s the customers’  job to “shop small.” We have to make the shopping local experience BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose Lakeland. We also need to support other small businesses — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT LOCAL and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” — Marcos Fernandez, Owner 1961

To apply this to anyone, regardless of their chosen profession, it might read like this:

“We, as human beings have a duty to bring our best. We can’t keep thinking it’s someone else’s job to support our efforts. We have to make what we do BETTER. We need to work together, share and talk about what makes us choose to do what we do. We also need to support other human beings — outwardly. We might not like everything about them, but we ALL have a duty to SUPPORT HUMANS and encourage others to do the same. We need to get over ourselves. We chose this for ourselves. We choose it every day. So, the only way to improve our situation, is to make it possible for all of us to thrive.” —  Awesome Human

If we want others to support us, we have to commit to supporting others. 

Because I work with and live the life of a small business owner, when I look another micro-business owner in the eye, I can see my reflection. I know they know. And that is all it takes for me to charge my batteries and ignite the passion to carry the flag of my brothers in arms.

We, as human beings are all fighting the same challenges. We’re not alone, we’re in this together.

We don’t need to explain the challenges, but we do need to stop blaming and resenting the big box (or whatever our personal challenges might be) and focus our energy on uniting on the one thing we all believe — that the lifeblood of our work is being awesome!

If small business is the backbone of a community, an alliance among all of us, arms locked in unison, becomes the arms that embrace and connect the community together. It’s not their job — it’s ours.

By Sarah Keener

Tonight, I had an incredible opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit which is a community of believers, walking with the homeless.  Gospel, Inc is a grassroots organization where the volunteers and leaders are right out there, befriending the homeless of our amazing city.

I’ve been to these dinners before.  A prayer, a speech, a sad video, they ask you for money, you fill out your envelope, you go home full of good food and with a few dollars less in your pocket.  This wasn’t that dinner.

The light bulb came back on.  My spark was re-ignited.  I remembered.

I remembered making cookies and serving them on Christmas Eve with my daughter.  (And if you know me, you know I don’t bake…that was LOVE)  I remembered driving around with my aunt and my mother-in-law, feeding the homeless chili when the weather got cold.  Most of all, I remembered being a 16 year old girl, staying at the Bowery in New York City, a senior in high school, on my senior mission trip.  We sat at a piano while a homeless man who was staying at the Bowery played and sang.  I sat right next to him.  The homeless man became a human.  His gratitude and pure love poured over me.  And I was the one who was supposed to be helping him!  I don’t remember his name, but I remember his love and passion and understanding, his story.

In my heart, I have always felt called to help the homeless.  But we need to help them beyond feeding them every day.  (Feeding them is first priority, but there must be more)  Why do we have a shortage of jobs and an overage of homeless?  While I do understand the reality that some will never be able to work due to circumstances beyond our control, some are able to work, they just don’t know how.  I was able to come out of the dinner, with a new idea, a new perspective to solve two problems with one solution.  Let’s help these men and women work, in good jobs, and make it a joint effort.

Is this going to work?  I don’t know.  What I do know, is I found my spark again.  MY cause… My reasoning.

Relationships are the Root of Success

Thriving communities give off a special kind of vibe. There’s an energy and a dynamic that spreads in the smiles, actions and connections that are shared among the people of any successful community. I once heard the statement: “The Roots Determine the Fruits” and it resonated with me. Another similar message was “Garbage in, garbage out.” When it comes to the health of individuals it makes complete sense.

Imagine a grove of healthy, strong trees. The strength of one does not make all of them strong, nor does one smaller, weaker tree create a weak system for all the trees’ health.

No, the roots are the foundation for the health of any organization — groves, families, cities, countries — all the goodness comes from the roots.

I spend a lot of time thinking about communities. And, about how to make them stronger. The answer is not more, the answer is better quality.

We say things like, “A rising tide lifts all ships” as if it’s a magic spell. We just need to say these words, and all will rise.

 If the fruits are a result of the roots, it’s going to take more than just a storm surge to improve the communities we live in and love so much. Our love can be both dividing and uniting, depending on where our love is coming from.

And, if the roots of our love are healthy and strong, resilient and determined to give fruit to the world, we have everything we need. People, not systems determine a healthy thriving community.

The systems, when developed in a healthy environment, unite, not divide.

Relationships, trust, respect, concern, empathy, love. That is the stuff of great communities.

Make Sure it’s Not a Cop Out

“Don’t worry what other people think — you can’t make everyone happy,” has been common advice I have received in my life.

Admittedly, I am a bit more sensitive than apparently, most of the world, and I have needed to strengthen my thin skin over the years. So, I am not arguing that you can (or should) strive to make everyone happy.

However, since I come from the other extreme, I see this advice as both helpful and potentially dangerous.

Helpful, because of course, we need to be able to recognize that we will not be able to satisfy 100% of world, 100% of the time. Even I agree that is unrealistic. 🙂

But the application of this logic is also dangerous because — especially in the business world and in the organizational leadership roles many people play —  the attitude, if taken to the other extreme can result in a very cynical and isolated way of thinking, leading someone to the mindset, in which “My way or the highway,” becomes the way she thinks and acts.

Dismissing someone who disagrees with us, or failing to listen to constructive criticism can be just as dangerous, as worrying about what everyone thinks.

Creating a tribe that supports you, but also can share their concerns and carry on a healthy debate, without threatening you, or your trust is a sign of true leadership.

The trouble is, we’re so polarized and afraid of the critics throwing potshots from the sidelines, that we’re likely losing valuable insight from some people who might have a valid point, and simply want to help you see the gap that you might not realize exists.

So, while I agree, and personally continue seeking a balance between these two ideals, I caution against completely dismissing someone’s viewpoint that contradicts your own. In fact, I have found the best way to address this is to ask trusted advisors (outside the organization, or at least distanced from the decision making) for their opinion.

Seeking input from a different perspective, and consistently trying to see things from the other side, can prevent all or nothing thinking from pervading the culture of the organization.

Bringing Different Perspectives Together for the Greater Good

How we look at the world will never be complete. Individuals can only see a fragmented view, based on a very limited scope of the world, based on our own experiences.

I have never experienced poverty, although it exists.
I have never been the target of racism, but it’s a real threat for many.
I have never been a man, because I was born a woman.
I have never been homeless, but there are people who need shelter.
I have never been a politician, a news reporter, a millionaire.
I have never been abused, neglected, arrested, or evicted.

My tender heart has become stronger as I have learned how ugly the world can be, even when your heart is in the right place. Even when you have the facts to support your beliefs, or an opinion that contradicts what others are saying, your expertise can only be based on the realities you’ve lived yourself, or the data that is gathered from others, who also can only report based on the realities they have lived themselves.

It’s a flawed system, because we are all flawed humans.

There’s an ongoing struggle in my heart, and maybe in the hearts of others. The conflict that challenges me the most in the work I do, is between the Status Quo and the Greater Good.

The Greater Good

The Greater Good endeavors to see beyond the world as we know it. To see things that “Could be” and address more than just one group, category or sector of the population in every consideration. This requires that we take off our myopic lens, and try to see beyond our own scope and limited interpretation. It requires that we do not accept our understanding of the world as absolute.

This is where consensus comes in. Not one person’s view, but a diverse and possibly opposing group of people, coming together to find a way forward, for the greater good.

Egos must be checked at the door, and an understanding that we’re not here for ourselves, or for what might be best for me (or those that I represent), but for what might be best —  or as close to best for the most — and especially for widest reach.

The Status Quo

The Status Quo doesn’t always consider themselves as the status quo, which makes it harder to acknowledge, and more challenging to overcome. What we might see as a conversation about “what is best for all” actually is “what is best for me, or for those I am defending or protecting.

What we fail to recognize most of the time is that we’re basing our desire to keep things as they are, solely on our own experiences, ignoring, or disregarding that there are other players, other needs to be met and a bigger picture than just our slice of the world.

We defend our position when we’re feeling that a change might usurp all of the work we’re doing, or have done, or are planning to do.

How do we find a way forward, when there are conflicting agendas and opposing views? How do we balance power, with what’s best for everyone, including the powerful? Does “leadership” require that we place our agendas to the side and work to raise the bar? Or, could it be that our role as leaders is to see and hear others, do our share of the work, and together, find a way to be the bar?

Being the Bar

Being the bar, means walking the walk. It means leading from within, and throughout. Not standing in the front, or behind, not looking on from the sidelines, not keeping our ideas separate, but bringing our knowledge and experience, and perspectives into one place. But, most of all, it means realizing, and admitting that, even as experts, as people who have the means to achieve what we need, for our business, or organization, we’re still on the hook as a member of the community — and we’re all working for the same goals.

An individual wants a family, a family wants a neighborhood, a neighborhood wants good schools, good schools want good businesses, good businesses want good communities, good communities want good leaders, and good leaders want good individuals.

Top down doesn’t work as well as it used to, and we’re all still getting familiar with the new rules of engagement. But there’s one thing that will never change — being part of a community isn’t just for people with a title.

In the past, raising the bar was all we talked about. And, that job fell on the shoulders of the people with the titles, power, influence and leadership.

Today, being the bar means we’re all in this together. Creating the future, painting the vision and then, staying in the game to achieve the greatness we all believe is within our reach. It is not just in some of us, it really is in — and up to — all of us. We simply need to make the effort to see from beyond our own experiences.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Written by Chrissanne Long | October 13, 2017

One of the greatest soundtracks of my childhood was the Sound of Music. I still love that movie today. When Maria is teaching the children Do-Re-Mi, before she starts singing, and throughout the song, the recorded soundtrack includes the dialogue from the movie. I can almost quote the dialogue from memory:

“Now children, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So and so on are only the tools we use to build a song. Once we have the notes in our heads, we can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up. Like this” and she begins So-Do-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Do….the children sing along, until Brigitta interrupts.

“But it doesn’t mean anything!”

and Maria nods and smiles, understanding her concern “So we put in words. One word for every note.” 

This morning, I woke up thinking about this song. Whenever I ask myself “What does it mean?” Brigitta’s true words pop into my head. But, like Maria, I believe we have the power to apply our own meaning to everything. Simply by choosing the words we want.

What does it mean, if I missed writing a blog yesterday? It could mean that I failed, or it could mean that I took a break, or it could mean that I was too tired, and I can write again today.

What does it mean if I didn’t get the contract? It could mean that I am not good enough, or it could mean that the client wasn’t a good fit after all, and there’s another opportunity on the other side.

What does it mean that I got into a disagreement with my best friend? It could mean that we shouldn’t be friends, or it could mean that our friendship becomes stronger as we work through whatever conflict arises.

What does it mean if someone goes behind my back and tries to undermine the work I am doing? It could mean that I have done something to deserve their disrespect, or it could mean that their insecurities are so great, that they need to give themselves a sense of importance.

Nothing has any meaning whatsoever, except for my own interpretation of it. And, how I choose to interpret every single detail of my life is completely up to — me.

When I met Craig almost 10 years ago, his version of the story is different than mine.

I saw him looking over at me. And, I chose to take that to mean he was interested in me. He, on the other hand says he was looking at the TV just above my head.

Had I not given that moment in my life the meaning I did, everything today would be completely different.

The meaning we give to the small, and the big, are completely up to our own interpretation. We can make something meaningful, or we can let the moments pass, with little to no significance.

It is not the circumstances that have meaning, but the other way around. What we believe about those circumstances creates the reality in which we exist. And, with the right attitude, and the right meaning applied to the circumstances, we can truly change anything in our lives.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Written by Chrissanne Long | October 11, 2017

Share Your Message with the World

I called my mom to catch up this weekend, and we enjoyed a quick, but powerful conversation that led me to want to be bolder with my writing. I heard her telling me she was proud of me. And I also heard the voice in my head.

Ordinarily, when someone offers me a compliment, I deflect. But when my mother says something complimentary, the voice screams: She’s your mom — she has to say these things! But this time, I fought back that instinct and I listened to her. She wasn’t blindly giving me a compliment, saying things that moms were supposed to say.

This time, the message I heard was one that suggested maybe, just maybe, I might be teaching my mother something.

I felt a subtle change: This changes everything. Could it be that I am inspiring her?

Not because my mom knows everything. She’s the most loving, humble, kind person anyone can ever meet.

No, this was about me being in a different place. A place I cannot recall ever being before. In all of the experiences I have ever had, I don’t recall being in a position to teach my mom anything. I am sure I have shown her how to do something, but that’s a different thing completely.

No, this was a conversation in which I might be guiding her to become a writer. Even though, she is the one who taught me to write. She is the one who gave me the the gift to express myself with words. She’s been writing a book for as long as I can remember. Her experiences in Cuba, her life as a daughter, wife, mother, divorcee, teacher, student. But on the phone this day, she was exploring the possibilities of blogging, writing regularly, sharing her story, following my example?!

When you think about the story you are writing (through the life you are living), and you realize that you are in a position to shift the roles, to trade places with the person who has been written into the script to be your teacher, it’s a moment you might not be ready for. But, the truth is, if you’re hiding from yourself, you might never be ready.

But, here’s the scary part. I think I might be ready. I might be ready to turn “Pro” and that means I can no longer choose to be silent. I can no longer believe I am not enough. Because, as a leader, that can’t be the position you take. You cannot be a leader, and at the same time, fearful of whether you are capable of leading. You just have to take what you have, your skills, your abilities, your faith.

And step into the role, and lead.

After our call, it occurred to me that I am following Steven Pressfield’s advice again, and I am “Turning Pro,” Turning Pro is my latest discovery, and the message is as powerful as The War of Art – except this time, I was prepared for Pressfield’s uncanny ability to use words to create emotion.

I was led to reading Turning Pro after reading Pressfield’s previous book, The War of Art — a book I wish everyone would read, but only when they are ready to take massive action. It’s a real kick in the ass, but you have to be ready for it.

When I read the book this summer, I was ready.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. 

Whenever you’re ready, the opportunity to lead will await you. 

I shared with my mom that I believe it’s time for love, kindness and light to have a voice. And she turned that statement on me, in her subtle, kind and loving way — I heard my mother say, “You’re already doing that with your voice, Peanut. And it’s so needed. I am learning from you.”

“I don’t have any power to change anything,” was my immediate response.

But then, I reflected…

This is the voice of my amateur self. I believe this is the biggest enemy today. The enemy of our own self-doubt. The belief that what we have to say isn’t important, or won’t make a difference, is part of the process, but it is holding too many of us back.

Saying that we have no power to change anything, no matter whether it’s true or not — won’t get us anywhere.

We have to decide that we will Turn Pro. And, as Pressfield suggests, it will be messy; it won’t be perfect. It will not be easy. It will, however allow us to become the person we were meant to be.

The person we’ve been rejecting. Until. Until we refuse to remain silent. Until we begin to use our voices —  and our light to make a stand for whatever we believe in.

The enemy is not fighting us. We are fighting ourselves. We are choosing to stay quiet. And, as long as we allow the enemy to win, we will give away our power. We will remain amateurs.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We are what we consistently think — and do. Do you know why Rome wasn’t built in a day? Do you know why patience is a virtue? Do you know why excellence has never existed as a result of one single act?

It’s all in the details — in every action, exchange, promise made (and kept), and in every opportunity.

Several years ago, I was walking downtown and a friend named Kimberly stopped me to say hello. In our 3 minute chat, she said something that no one had ever said to me in my entire life — “I admire your consistency.”

At that moment, it occurred to me that I was making progress. The work was paying off.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, success is new to me. At 42, I can’t even say I have felt successful at anything 1/3 of my life. The only thing I was consistently — was unhappy.

It was only a few years ago that I was eating dinner at my parents’ house, reminiscing and celebrating, “How far Chrissanne has come.” When my mom looked at me and said, “I still don’t know why you cut the screen door.” I looked at her mildly annoyed, and insisted — “I never did that. I swear, I never cut the screen.”

At this point, my brother, who was in the kitchen when my mom asked the question, walked in, saying casually, “You mean the screen door? In the shape of an L? That was me. I cut it when I was in high school because I had lost my key to the house and had to get in so I could get my basketball uniform for a game.”

At this point, 20+ years later, it doesn’t matter. But the reality of how little I was trusted as a teenager, is the reason I am sharing this story. Whether or not my brother had been there to admit to this adolescent mischief, didn’t matter. I had earned my parents’ trust — finally. This was just a little icing on the cake — I had been denying this for years, and the mystery — Who could it have been if it wasn’t Chrissanne? Had finally been solved.

Today, I am not the same person I was as a teenager. I might even be a little too honest and transparent — call it over compensation — but it is this fact that I believe overall has made success possible in my business, and it has paid off, in more ways than I can probably even measure.

What can we learn about this as professionals? Leaders of organizations?

If we’re fighting with our customers, trying to “prove ourselves” to them every single day, should we stop and look back at how we got here in the first place? If we acknowledge that we have made mistakes, that we have lost our path, and admit that we have overlooked the needs of our customers— that we have put our agenda (making money, getting our way) ahead of those we are ultimately in business to serve — do we want to continue doing things this way, and risk losing their favor and trust forever, or could this be the way we can win it back?

Over the years, the public has become numb to the effects of power. We’re not surprised when big companies force their agenda. We expect to be lied to, we expect there to be some hidden back office deal that only the powerful know about. We detest this fact, but we’ve been seemingly helpless to do anything about it.

And yet, today, more than ever before, we do have a voice. Our concerns can be shared with our social media connections. This, combined with years of feeling like we don’t matter, like we have no voice, has begun influencing the marketplace. Regular, every day people are making it known how little trust they have for the system. We are pushing back, and our voices are getting louder.

The question is, what are powerful companies, organizations, local governments going to do about it?

They want buy-in. They want the public to cheer when there’s some great news to share. But, instead, we’re just asking a lot of questions, pushing back, doubting. The bridges have been burnt and in disrepair for far too long. Now, that they need us, now that our voices are slowing things down, and challenging the system, it’s obvious that something needs to change.

And, if we’re looking at the long view, this is a necessary step for progress.

It’s going to require that the people are part of the process again. Because the trust that used to exist needs to be built back up again.

This is not much different than my parents pushing back when I was a teenager. Even when I was telling the truth, they didn’t believe me. The public has lost trust. We’re assuming there’s something we’re not being told — because that’s what we’re used to, we expect to be lied to, so we don’t believe anything anymore.

The only way to combat this, is to undo it.

To go back and create a new, honest, transparent way. To overcompensate, over-communicate, and over deliver — consistently working to be better, to win back the trust, and be trustworthy.

Beginning with the conversation that says — “We want to do better.” Followed by consistently doing “Better.”

The other side of this – the part that brings the people in to the conversation, that’s just as important as the door being open. We, the people cannot continue to take pot-shots, and stand on the sidelines expressing our displeasure. We must engage, and stay engaged. We must listen, if we want to be heard. And, we must place our personal agendas aside, and see the big picture.

We might have to sacrifice some things along the way. They might even be big things. But if our eyes are on the best future for all of our community, all of our city, all of our country, we will see that our agenda is not the only agenda, and, maybe not the most important agenda. 

But, I will warn you, it is hard. And it is frustrating, and it will require that we all work to create the future we’re seeking. We are all on the same team. We all want opportunity, prosperity, economic growth, a talented work force, an inspired and engaged community.

Because, when the trust is built, it cannot just be one-sided.

Together. That is how we get there.

And, hopefully, at some point — over time, we can all sit around the table, remembering when things needed fixing, and celebrating “how far we’ve come.”


Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few years ago, someone asked me this question:

“What advice would you give to someone who is just getting started as a professional?”

… and my answer hasn’t changed.

Show Up … and Listen.

Your input isn’t going to matter if your only platform is your social media persona. Participation means showing up. That’s where people really start to listen, because you took the time to show up makes it more tangible. The opportunity to look into someone’s eyes makes it possible to know who they are. And it gives them a chance to know who you are.

Are you authentic, abrasive, kind, thoughtful, polite, well-mannered, rude?

It’s easy to paint a perfect picture of yourself when you choose your words, and your profile picture to paint the best version of yourself.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and it’s not 100% true. Even if you try to show who you really are in your social feed. Who you are depends on who you are when you show up and who you are online. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

20 years ago, “showing up” was the only way to connect — and it made it harder to make a name for yourself, because most people were busy doing their thing, and it was impossible to know anyone, unless they did show up.

Today, showing up means being engaged in the community in a meaningful, purposeful way. It means supporting others and allowing others to share their concerns, passions and ideas.

You can make a name for yourself simply by participating in the conversation online, but your relevance won’t be confirmed until you take it one more step. Not just once, or twice. Not just because it’s a thing you need to check off the list. But by leaning in and staying connected, between the “IRL” (In real Life) meetings by listening to what people care about.

Success requires that you understand the relationships, to share your own passion, and allow people to hear your thoughts in person. The nuances we can hide behind online are out in the open, and real trust and communication can begin to take place — when you let people know who you really are.

Because, who you really are is what people want to know, and what allows business to take place, and trust and respect to exist.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

and embracing new ideas.

I have a pair of jeans I love to wear. They are the perfect pair of jeans for me. As most people do, I have several pairs of jeans. But these are my go-to jeans. They never let me down. Whatever the occasion, they make me feel comfortable. I think we all want to feel comfortable. It’s part of the human condition.

Sometimes, though, we buy jeans with the hope, “These will be perfect as soon as I break them in.” And they are. Because we gave them a chance. And even if they aren’t our ‘go-to jeans’, they still have a place in our closet.

Life is like that too. We crave comfort. We look for friends who are like-minded, so we don’t have to have uncomfortable conversations on topics we can’t agree. We seek a partner who finds us attractive, and makes us feel good about ourselves. We visit certain restaurants regularly because they serve food we enjoy, and the atmosphere is — comfortable.

When we are forced into situations that are not comfortable, we make comparisons. It’s at these times, I believe, when we become judgmental.

“That’s not how we do it back home.”

“This would taste better with less garlic. This chef doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“I can’t wait to tell Mary and Bob what they were talking about tonight.”

“I can’t believe she said that. What an idiot!”

All of these statements place others on opposing sides. We don’t like to feel uncomfortable, so whenever we do, we compensate, and this divides us. But what we fail to realize is that the person we’re judging is comfortable being who they are. They want the same exact things we do. They just have a different definition of comfortable.

Is our way better? Is theirs? Is one right and the other wrong? When we realize that the jeans became comfortable after we wore them and washed them a few times, we might be more willing to embrace those things that make us uncomfortable — and maybe, just maybe, we can lean in to the process of being uncomfortable, because we need a couple of extra pairs of jeans in the closet.

Because face it — those comfy jeans are gonna rip someday. What are you going to do then?