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Being Invited vs Inviting Yourself

I was thinking about the beginning. The first days, months and now years of what I think of as “Reinventing Chrissanne Long.” Last night I was recognized as an Emerging Leader in Polk County. I joined an elite group of individuals who have been honored with this distinction over the last 8 years.

As I realized that I had been selected, I was overcome with emotion – humbled by the feeling of being recognized in this way, but also thrilled at the realization that what I am doing is making a difference, at least, in the eyes of the people selecting the winners of this beautiful collection of Polk County leaders who are choosing to lead in their chosen professions.

Leadership is a choice. That is what I have come to understand.

Every single day, each of us wake up with the same number of hours. We look out at the day ahead of us and, depending on our DNA, our gender, our backgrounds, our education, and our emotional state, we make choices.

Over time, the fact that these are choices is forgotten and we begin to feel as if these are requirements. We have to go to work, we have to pay our bills, we have to read that email, or answer that call.

But no matter how much these things feel like requirements, they are always choices.

Always.

I was selected, but that isn’t the whole story. I was nominated, and I accepted the invitation and completed an application to be considered for this award.

But, what if I had never been nominated? What if I had not been selected? What if what I am doing wasn’t seen as valuable in the eyes of the community I love so hard? What if nobody noticed, or cared about the work I was doing?

Being invited to join this group of amazing people is a wonderful feeling.

But the greatest and most exhilarating reward is the feeling that I invited myself to the conversation. I made the choice to show up and do the work, and take risks and bring value.

In those early days, I didn’t know if it would work. But I chose to try anyway, because it was all I knew to give – and it was important to me that I started, that I just BEGAN doing something, no matter how small it seemed.

Nobody asked me to do this. No invitations were sent.

Nobody gave me an instruction manual and said, “Here, go do this.”

And there wasn’t any requirement that I keep showing up. People would have understood (or not noticed, or cared) if I had decided to quit along the way.

It was always my choice.

If there’s any lesson in this moment. If there’s any reason I stood on stage with those amazing young people who show up and do great things, it’s this:

Whether or not you are ever recognized, the work you do matters. The days, months and years you choose to show up, and do something- big or small – and do that over and over and over again – that little contribution you’re making is important, because YOU know that it feels scary, awkward, uncomfortable and insignificant. And when you do it anyway, when you continue to choose to contribute, and be YOU, whether or not you are invited… that is the stuff that fills us with satisfaction.

That is the real purpose of life. That is what Leadership is. That is who we are all capable of being, even when we’re looking at this big scary world, filled with all these incredible people, and we think, “That’s not me, I am not a Leader, I’ll never be good enough.” We have to make a choice to do it anyway.

Because it’s not about the applause. It’s about making the world better, and it’s about making ourselves better along the way.

It’s about inviting yourself. That’s where it starts anyway.

Versus: Winning in Communities

Winning vs Losing

When we play a game, we understand there’s a chance we will lose. We want to win, because winning gives us opportunities to become the champion, to become more popular, to have more power.

There is a lot to be said about winning.

Look for quotes about winning and you’ll find one for every situation:

“Winner takes all.”

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

When it comes to communities, though, winning takes on a different meaning.

In order for a community to win, there must be a different approach to winning.

One in which the idea of winning doesn’t measure success by how many losers they’ve left in their path to the top.

Too many losers in the community brings everyone down, which leads to an unhealthy, or even toxic environment in which no one thrives, limiting the chances the community will win.

A community — big or small — is responsible for creating an environment that measures success differently.

Sentiment, quality of life, reputation, culture, accessibility, just to name a few.

In order to improve these areas, communities need leaders who recognize that you can’t use the same metrics for quality of life for everyone. Each member of the community has different needs.

If the community leaders focus too much in one direction, focusing on the tangible, easy to see measurements of success, they will easily forget that there are the less visible, non-obvious aspects of their community that will begin to decline.

It’s easy to rattle off the wins. To show the great strides being made in unemployment, or real estate development.

But the hard work starts when we want to improve things that are harder to measure. Sentiment, quality of life (for everyone?) reputation, culture, accessibility.

It’s a place most winners don’t want to go. Because they are unsure how they will be able to win, in a game that has no clear grid for measuring success.

It’s easier to focus on what we’re good at, than it is to find a way to become better at the things we are not. But this is a fallacy —  this is how we become (and stay) mediocre.

In the end, if we want our community to win, we have to look beyond the easy to see, easy to measure, and start to find ways to improve the things that will impact our community in more subtle, less obvious ways.

And, this might mean losing for awhile. But if the end game is a better community, the results of the effort will be more winning.

The legacy of our community, then, will be one that serves the future generations — with strength, resilience — valuing the hard work it takes to do the best thing for the community they will soon serve as leaders.

If we’re playing to win, we have to remember – We are all on the same team.

The Cost of Efficiency

I recently learned about a local gynecologic oncologist that kept his patients waiting, sometimes for hours.

Doctors’ offices like this are common. They schedule their appointments for efficiency, in case there are cancelations. But when everyone shows up on time (or early) for their appointments, the patients suffer, as the office and the Dr. try to efficiently move the patients through the assembly line.

This doctor, however, had an uncommon reputation. Instead of his patients complaining about the wait, they celebrated it. Because they know he was caring for another patient.

Holding her hand, answering her husband’s questions, listening to the fears and the concerns as the couples and families he treated struggled to understand the news he was sharing. He was also there, celebrating with his patients, encouraging them and cheering them on.

The patients of Dr. Cardosi — and other doctors like him — know what it means to be cared for. They don’t feel like another patient, being herded through the clinic door, only to sit inside and wait for what seems like an eternity to be seen by the busy, frazzled doctor, looking at charts, talking in brusque tones to the tolerant nurses. I am sure these doctors didn’t  set out to be too busy to care.

But that’s the reality of being efficient.

Efficiency is necessary to be profitable. It’s essential for the bottom line.

But caring — that is what truly matters.

I know how it feels to need to be efficient. Looking at the clock, knowing that time is running out before a deadline, while I sit, trying to be patient with a client who needs me, because I truly care. And, when the client knows I care, and appreciates the fact that I am taking my time, I feel more inclined to give them the time that they need.

What we need to realize, as customers and clients who want to be cared for, is that the caring comes at a cost. And the best way to ensure that we can continue to be cared for, is to celebrate the professionals who care.

If we want more caring, we must accept that it comes at a cost. There’s no possible way for caring deeply for another human being to be fast and efficient.

But, we still need more caring, all the way around.

Need More Rah Rah!

It’s not uncommon to hear feedback about the way I approach life. But before I tell you what I hear from others, let me tell you a couple of things I already knew, before these responses started to trickle in.

I am weird. My positive attitude can be overwhelming. People can’t handle so much “rah rah.” When I am surrounded by my family, I see it more clearly, because, sitting around the table, I see a lot of people who believe in the same things I do, so, in fact, we’re all weird!

I didn’t always see this, but today, when I hear someone suggest that I should take off the rose-colored glasses, I know that I come by it honestly!

Recently, someone told me about a conversation they had with someone about me — and I was not surprised to hear: “They don’t have a problem with you, they know you are aware that they can only take so much ‘rah rah.’”

Yes. I am aware. We can have that understanding. We can make it work.

I am aware that the world has made people unwilling to embrace a positive attitude, regardless of how Pollyanna it might appear.

There are days when I am not sure it’s worth it. I struggle to keep shining the light.

I wonder if everyone else might be right, and I really am just weird in the sense that I should adjust to fit into the negativity that makes them feel so comfortable.

I wonder if I should “be more realistic, less optimistic; More “get a grip on reality;” Less, “people say I’m a dreamer.”

But, here’s the thing. The more I give in to “reality” the more difficult it is to get through the day.

The more I get angry at the check-out line when there’s a person paying with loose change, slowing me down.

The more frustrated I get when someone is driving slowly and I am in a hurry.

The more I want to give an attitude back to the snarky person behind the counter who is having a bad day — or maybe a bad life.

The more I obsess about a mean comment on Facebook.

The more I look for things to be miserable, or annoyed by.

The more I want bad things to happen to people who have hurt me.

I don’t want to live like that. And, I don’t want to be around people who live like that. So, when someone suggests that there’s too much “rah rah,” I choose less time with that person.

I used to pull back the “rah rah,” and try to “blend in” with everyone else, but I’ve learned that there’s no benefit to me (or others) for me to shrink so that they can feel more comfortable.

Instead, I just keep beating the “rah rah” drum and looking for those who like the beat.

Living a life that is filled with joy, acceptance, and a refusal to accept that it should be any other way, is the only way I want to strive to live.

I want to continue to believe in what is possible. I believe that things will all work out. They always do. And, sometimes, they work out even better than I had imagined they would.

I hope I will be able to hold on to this attitude for the rest of my life. It has changed me, and it has taught me so much about how I want to live.

If you’ve ever wanted to see more positivity in the world, just look for it. It’s right under your nose.

Rose-colored glasses? Nah, it’s not the glasses. We just need a little more rah rah in the world!

Love? Seriously?

I am far from calling myself enlightened. There’s so much work, the journey is long and there’s so much to do, before you can say you are done. And I am so far from being “done” and I am pretty sure it’s not going to get easier, but I have learned some things that are certainties for me.

What I am writing about, in my experience, absolute TRUTH.

I talk about Love a lot. Because that’s the only explanation I can give for much of the success I can now claim.

How did you get here? Love!

LOVE? Seriously, come on, Chrissanne. There’s more to it than that! What about all of the hard work it took?

Work? It wasn’t work, it was LOVE.

Holding on tight to the only certain thing in my life has been the answer to EVERYTHING.

What if I fail? What if this is the wrong path? What if I am not good enough?What if they think I am a fool? What if I can’t get past this point? What about when I’ve been rejected, and no one seems to love me?

LOVE is the only answer that makes sense. Love is there, even when we don’t want it, and it’s there even if we can’t see it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be alive. There’s love, it just might not fit “our” personal definition, desire or expectation of what love “should” be.

Maybe there’s another explanation, and maybe you might call it something else, and indeed, in your life it might be something else, because you didn’t have the same experiences that I have, but if I trace my survival back to when things were at their worst, I just find LOVE.

Let me explain a little bit.

When I was a 17-year-old runaway (oh, the book I will write someday), I stood in front of a juvenile judge at the Polk County courthouse and tried to explain what was wrong, why had I run away from home?

I am pretty sure he was not expecting the words that I blurted from my defiant mouth as I looked at him with anger and frustration.

“Your Honor,” I said, in my orange shirt and green pants, “They love me too much!”

With those words, I turned around to point accusingly at an entire bench which was taken up by my entire family. My mother sat next to my step-father, who sat next to my father. He was accompanied by my step-mother, and then there was my aunt and uncle, my grandmother and, of course, my shrink. “They won’t let me LIVE my life!” I shrieked, as the tears spilled from my eyes.

I was too distraught to notice, but I am pretty sure there were some stifled laughs in the courthouse.

I was the only person that judge saw that day that probably had so many people caring about her. So many teenagers who are in trouble have no one. Maybe a caseworker, or a mother or grandmother, but not an entire baseball team! (My brother was away at college in Montana, otherwise he would have definitely been there too!)

There is so much to learn in this life, and as I think back on these experiences, I realize that LOVE was what I was rejecting. I resented it. I pushed away from it. It was not them that had it wrong. (duh!)

It was me that was keeping me from the success that was waiting for me — if only I would let it in.

I was not allowing love to play the role it was designed to play. I was suffocating on the very thing that was keeping me alive. I had convinced myself, in my adolescent mind, that I wasn’t good enough for that (or any love) and yet, I was craving more love from other sources.

Love isn’t perfect.

Let’s get that straight!

There was definitely some suffocating going on, which might not have been the healthiest. But, dysfunctional or not, when love is pure, it’s there for the long haul. And it doesn’t go away, even if we reject it.

And even if it takes us 20+ years to realize it!

Today, it’s obviously different. The love of my family has been constant. But along the way, I have added the love of myself, and the love of my partner, Craig, and the love of my team, my community, my friends. The real kind of love that refuses to allow the judgement, comparisons and pettiness get in the way, but really truly embraces what is possible with the gift of love. The love that sees through the smile, and knows what’s behind the work being done, and the sacrifices being made and the challenges being overcome. The love that appreciates every single effort that is made to create life worth living. Because when love is present, we all know what is at stake, even if we can’t talk about it. We know. Love knows.

That has been my life, and the only thing I can point to when I think of how far I have come.

Heck, I was just born — like anyone else — to create something beautiful, as I believe I have with the businesses I have been designing, and this blog that I have been writing, and the heart that I have been growing.  There’s nothing special about it – everyone has access to it, but maybe we all get stuck trying to make it more complicated. But no matter how I try to look at it, the only thing that I can tell you, is that Love is what has made it all possible.

And, love is also what makes it all worthwhile. 

Where do You Want to Go?

Get in the car and drive. Go wherever you want. Get your GPS, plug in an address and go.

This is easy when you only have yourself to consider in your decision making, or when it’s just you and your spouse.

But when you add more people to the car, it requires — well, MORE planning, more consensus building, more work.

You can’t just hop in the car and drive anymore.

Where do you want to go?
I dunno.
Well, what do you want to do?
It doesn’t matter, whatever you want. 
Do you know what you want to eat?
Not really.

The sticky part comes when the other people in the car don’t know where they want to go.

Which happens a lot. Most people prefer someone else to drive, because they either don’t want to be responsible for making the decisions, or they are afraid of what would happen if they made the wrong decision.

Most people wouldn’t just drive the car to wherever they want without the input of their passengers. Heck, even a bus driver doesn’t do that. They go where the passengers want to go.

The key, if you’re driving the car, is to make sure you have everyone in the car that wants the same things you want.

This doesn’t mean MAKING them want what you want.

It means looking them in the eye, exploring with them what they want for themselves, and finding out of this is a trip they want to take with you.

And that’s when all of the best discoveries can begin. Without this awareness, we might find ourselves in the car, driving in circles.

Valuing the Past

There’s nothing wrong with the status quo.

The details of how we arrived at this pivotal moment, can be found in the ideals and the decisions made in the past, and the limits we find on our capabilities today are only a matter of challenging what is, with a clear understanding that people — good, hard-working, passionate people were responsible for the changes they made that got us to today.

Even if they seem stale and stagnant to us — the next generation.

Looking back — if we’re willing to see the status quo as it was before it became the status quo — we will see people just like us, challenging the “old guard,” and looking for ways to push beyond the place things were to find a better way.

We cannot stand still. 

But we cannot move forward without honoring the wisdom of those who have come before us.

We cannot get discouraged — real progress only comes when we’re here for the long haul.

Yes, you’re right, it shouldn’t be this difficult. Times have changed. Times are always changing.

What happens next is up to us.

Because when we find ourselves standing where they are, and we discover that we have become the status quo, we cannot forget who we were before we (suddenly?) became them.

Valuing the past ensures that someday, we too will be appreciated for the things we contributed to move our community, our country, or society forward.

The only thing we cannot do, is give up — on finding a way — on creating a future that we can be proud of.

Get Back on the Horse

The horse doesn’t care whether you do or not. He might sense your fear, but if anything, he is indifferent to it.

And, it’s so easy to explain the thing holding you back. Everyone will understand.

If you’re afraid of horses, or the high dive at the pool, there’s probably a good reason. You’ve probably explained your logical explanation a hundred times. You’ve convinced yourself that your fear is rational, and you’ve grown to accept it as reality.

Horses and diving boards are scary. Stay away from any experience that might involve either.

Your story has nothing to do with the horse, or the diving board.

Rationalize it all you want, but the only thing that is real is your belief that it’s ok to be afraid.

The fear isn’t in the horse, or the diving board.

The fear is in doing it anyway.

I was stalling (no pun intended!) the writing of this post. I was afraid of it. I started to think about you, the reader, and what you would think if I started writing again, after a week.

The process isn’t whether you’re going to read this and think anything of me. The process is in overcoming that fear and doing it anyway.

I am back on the horse today.

What’s holding you back from getting back on the horse? Are you buying into the crap that your story about your fear is telling you? Is it real? Or is it just an excuse to let you off the hook?

Are you Connectable?

I write a lot about the power of connection. It’s the foundation of many leaders’ stories of success. And, as they say, success leaves clues. So, as a detective, on the hunt for the best pathway for my own success, I have spent a lot of time studying. The most common theme among the most successful people that I admire (note, my definition of success is based upon the message that Zig Ziglar was so famous for:

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” 

The part that has recently been more relevant to me, is not as much about how connected one is, but how connectable

Before I get into this, there are a lot of precautions we all must take to ensure we’re taking care of ourselves. I do not condone helping others at your own expense, or letting others take advantage of your kindness, however, I do believe that the gateway to happiness toward a successful life is in the giving back to those who find themselves seeking answers to questions and puzzles you’ve already solved. To me, it’s much more efficient that way!

So, what do I mean by being connectable? Here are two short stories:

1. When I sent an email earlier this year, to my favorite author, Seth Godin, I was sending it for myself – not knowing whether he would receive the email, but knowing that I needed to share my gratitude for the way his work and his example has molded and shaped me and given me hope to make a difference. To put it simply, I wanted to connect to him. And, it could have been that I just sent the email, and went on with my life, knowing how busy, popular, important he was. But that’s not what happened. Within 15 minutes, I had a reply. This is what being connectable, what being a leader worth following, what realizing the value of the people around you (the connections you make, simply by being alive), is all about.

2. Several years ago, I was still figuring out my place in my community. I looked out, as many people do, looking for answers. I don’t struggle to find people I can learn from – there’s a book that can help me learn anything I want. But I admit, I found it difficult to find a mentor locally, as I was designing a life I felt was worth living. I discovered something that was disappointing to me at the time – there was little accessibility to connect with the leaders of the community. Quite honestly, I saw a very closed environment. I sent a couple of emails, and tried to connect with some leaders via Facebook and LinkedIn, but my requests went unanswered – I eventually canceled the requests, because I felt embarrassed that I would even have asked for their time.

But there was one person who was accessible, and it’s quite possible he is one of the busiest people I now can say that I know, because he was connectable. I had not met this person yet, but we were connected on Facebook. I could see in his interactions a person who was accessible – connectable, and who would help me get some clarity on my path. So, I sent a Facebook message (I didn’t have his email), and I hoped for the best. Sure enough, I had a response from him later that day. His name is Bill Mutz, and he was just elected Mayor of Lakeland last month. And, to be quite honest, it is probably because he’s been willing to take the time to listen, to be connectable to a lot of people over the years.

I get the feeling that this is something new, trending, and challenging to the status quo leaders who have, for years, made deals in the back room, with their known contacts, getting it done their way.

I argue that today, the connections you have are only the beginning, and that being connectable is the way to succeed in a world seeking connection, and transparency.

So, be connected if you must, but the real work starts when you’re ready to be connectable. 

Numbers Don’t Lie

No matter your station in life, you’re going to be faced with the truth that numbers bring to any discussion.

But if we want to make a difference, we have to be willing to read between the numbers.

We have to see the people that those numbers represent.

When we look solely at the economies of scale, and the safe bets, we’re asking the numbers to do the work, instead of our hearts.

After all, if a market has proven itself, it’s easy to nod in agreement and throw one more vote, or dollar into a project.

If we’re wrong, we can blame the numbers. Hedge our bets, avoid the risk.

Who are we to disrupt what’s always been working?

Those who want to make a difference, have to be willing to see beyond the numbers. We have to be willing to take the risk, invest the emotional labor that listening requires, and make the hard decisions.

We have to begin to trust more than the numbers. We have to be willing to trust ourselves.

It’s the unproven, raw instinct that doesn’t get much attention from the numbers.

The family that just needs to make ends meet this month but doesn’t “qualify” for assistance from the programs that are based on the numbers.  How do we help them?

The passionate minority that seems to be pushed to the fringe because the majority rules. How do we see them, and forge a way to begin to provide a more equitable path?

It’s not a political debate whether people matter, but when we add the numbers into the equation, politics rule the day.

If we’re going to make a difference, we have to be willing to listen in between the numbers. There may be no financial or political reason to care about the little guys, but there might still be a reason.

It’s called the human reason.