Monday, June 25, 2012

An Amazing Graduate

Every graduation season takes me back to my own graduations, when I, consistently, couldn’t wait to get going but was never quite ready to leave. Graduation is always a heady time for anyone on the cusp of enormous change, especially when you are trying to figure out which oar to bring, when you are still not quite sure of the size of the ship.

This year, I received a simple announcement from Laureen, a friend from graduate school, whose daughter, Alexandra graduated from high school on June 2nd. The announcement made me sit right down as if someone had pushed me down - not for any particular mountains Alex climbed to get to where she was, but for the choice she made as her next step in a world which has been so defined by those around her.

When Alex was two, her brother, Garrett, then 4 years old, and her father were in a car accident that left Garrett paralyzed from the chest down. They were running a morning errand in their small New England town when a man coming home from a night shift fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into their car. Over the years, Garrett and Alex and their parents have been unwavering in their focus on a cure for Garrett’s injury. Garrett has found inspiration in others’ similar conditions such as Travis Roy and Christopher Reeve. He, in turn, has been an inspiration to countless others as he has maintained his resilience through multiple surgeries, sought to encourage others with spinal cord injuries and embarked on a fundraising effort of his own design: Garrett and his father, Benton, flew in a single engine plane to the capitals of 48 states, lobbying support for stem cell research, a promising avenue for research into curing spinal cord injury, raising $50,000 on the tour.

Garrett’s story is amazing and he is awe-inspiring in so many ways. His story continues to be filled with hope as he projects a cure for his paralysis as well as the return of his sight which he lost 2 years ago due to complications during a spinal fusion operation.

What I see when I look at the picture of Alex which accompanied her graduation announcement, is the child who accompanied Garrett on so many doctor visits, who missed him and her parents when they had to seek treatment far from home, who helped him be a normal kid in a normal household, who shared his thrills on the Disneyland rides and the frustrations at his limitations. I thought Alex might have lived in Garrett’s shadow. But I was wrong. She has been shoulder to shoulder with Garrett every step of the way. All the while, Alex was tucking the knowledge learned and experiences lived into her budding young mind.

So when I read on her announcement that she will be attending MIT to study Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biology, I bowed in awe of Alex. Not just because she must be one smart cookie to get acceptance into MIT, but because of her choice of study. I can feel it in the depths of my soul that, as an adult and as a scientist, she will contribute to her brother’s recovery, just as she has contributed to his tenacious will to overcome the obstacles in his path.

Bravo Alexandra! You are an inspiration to me and so many others. You will be unmatched in your understanding, empathy and motivation in your field. A job fantastically well done, in getting where you are. And brain and spinal cord injury patients all over the world just felt their ray of hope brighten.

We should all find inspiration and do something with it to make the world a better place, or to make the world better for one person.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Time-Saving Social Media Tools & Tips

Facebook & WordPress Collaborate: This week, Facebook introduced a social plug-in for use by WordPress bloggers. The Facebook for WordPress plug-in is receiving positive feedback for enabling bloggers to cross-post WordPress content to their Facebook Timeline and the Facebook Pages they manage. If your blog is based on WordPress, this new feature is good news for you! It is another great way to intertwine your content across your social media tools – broadening your reach, efficiently. 

How are you saving time?
I almost wrote “cross-pollenate” instead of “cross-post,” above! But really, that slip is not that far from the truth. If you spread your posts across social media tools, you will capture new followers who are connected for different reasons. If you can spread your posts across social media tools with less keystrokes, you just bought yourself time as well as exposure.

Clients have asked me whether they should choose Blogger or WordPress and I haven’t had a compelling case to choose one blog application over the other. I use Blogger, so I have been partial to that. But I have to admit that the advancements I have read about on the WordPress front make me a little jealous! I don’t consider Facebook the supreme judge of all things social, but their pick of WordPress for their new plug-in might be a (potentially temporary) leg up for WordPress in its survival-of-the-fittest race against Blogger. I fully expect Blogger to reciprocate. Sometimes Blogger will beat WordPress to the punch and, at other times, it will be reversed. That is what is called healthy competition. This time, WordPress got the head start.
Get further synchronized: If you are using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, be sure to synchronize those three tools so that your posts on one tool are published to all of these tools. Another purchase of invaluable time.

Still adjusting to Facebook’s Timeline? Recently, HubSpot published a handy little (free) Guide to Facebook’s Business Page Timelines. It is a good resource for taking advantage of the new Facebook features which your business can use for marketing. It offers short explanations of:

  • Six Facebook Timeline Features You Should Know
  • Best Practices for Using Facebook Timeline
  • Examples of Great Business Page Timelines
Get a handle on these features and concepts and you will be in a great position to better use Facebook Timeline for your business.

Keep an eye on your past: Don’t forget to analyze your own activity. Use analytics (from WordPress, Blogger, Google Analytics or through social sharing plug-ins such as Digg Digg or Shareaholic) to discover what is driving traffic to your blog, website, Google+ or Facebook Page. Try to identify what topics and/or keywords are drawing the larger crowds, as well as what falls flat. Stay in tune with trends in your industry and continue to blog about them. Your opinion is important to those who have chosen to follow you. Give them your creative perspective on your common interests and they may pass them to their circle of followers. 

Let me know if any of these new tools or tips helped you, and how!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Navigating the Information Wave

When I made the deliberate decision to embrace and enter the social media world, I experienced two feelings: (1) excited in the discovery that the vast majority of tools I needed to learn and manage social media was accessible from my home office computer and (2) completely overwhelmed by the volume of information and the rapid rate at which it continues to multiply.
The reason I bring this up to people who are contemplating the wade or dive into social media, is because the feelings I experienced (and continue to experience) are universal. It is important to be prepared for the feelings that accompany an entry into social media, if simply for the purpose of recognizing them and being able to move on.  The worst outcome is to feel beaten by the overwhelming information crush from the get-go. Rest assured, we’ve all felt it!

The information wave which rolled over me seemed particularly large because not only was I learning new social media tools and techniques, but I was doing it in the arena of social media where all of the gurus and wannabes crank out hourly updates. I was blogging, tweeting, using Facebook and LinkedIn, reading other blogs and e-newsletters I'd subscribed to and some I hadn't, downloading e-books, watching webinars (live or archived if I missed them) and I had a constant feeling of being behind the eight ball. Analyzing the new information, separating the wheat from the chaff, quickly became more chore than challenge. I eventually discovered that the best approach was to admit that I could not keep up, but I could still do a good job. Without reading every post or attending every available webinar, I am still able to learn an enormous amount and can still design an effective social media strategy for myself, which translates into designing effective strategies for others.
Now I feel somewhat validated in my roundabout conclusion after reading a blog post from Peter Bregman, a strategic advisor to CEOs who contributes to the Harvard Business Review blog. He wrote a blog post back in 2009 which continues to get reposted because it rings so true: Two Lists You Should Look At Every Morning. His main theme is that we must be willing to risk missing some information. We need to sharpen our focus, to actively choose to miss information, to define and accept what we are willing to give up in order to succeed. In this world of constant information streaming, ignore the urge to do it all.

As we work endlessly to use our time wisely, I highly recommend reading his helpful blog post. Peter articulates so well the overwhelming world in which we operate and the importance of developing our ability to focus on what really matters. It works in business. It works in life.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Heart-Mind Connection

Blogging about life instead of social media this week. I hope you don’t mind!

I had the good fortune to get together with a group of female friends recently and the subject of memory, specifically mid-life, female memory came up. We discovered that all of us at the dinner party had read the recent article in the Boston Globe about memory loss in middle aged women. That we all read the article is surprising because all of us at the dinner party work at least part time, are still raising relatively young children, some are knee-deep in the college visit process, and all are juggling the dreaded spring youth sports schedules – making pleasure reading a rarity. However, the article caught all of our middle-aged eyes because we have all found ourselves in memory lapses that make us skeptical about our ability to maintain a healthy memory for the next half-century ahead! No one had any major lapses to report: The usual name recognition gaps and missed appointments. Most instances are comic relief and don’t carry with them any real worries – except maybe the report of a mutual friend who put her purse in the fridge! I’m not sure I can put that in the same classification as forgetting names! But it is nice to know we are all in the same boat and, as the article assured us, that our memory lapses may be a temporary state of mind. We are all suffering from complete overload at a sustained level. It is nice to know the mind is not on a permanent downward trend!
Besides living in the same town and raising children generally around the same age, this group was drawn together by a friend who moved away nine years ago. My friend, Jill, who moved back to her home state of California, was in New England on business, and thankfully extended her stay for a mini girls’ reunion. She was the thread that wove all of us together that night and just being in her presence took me back nine years to memories of what I was juggling then – new mother of a third boy, overseeing a major home renovation, sending my oldest off to Kindergarten, my husband changing jobs, stresses of parenthood, my mother having a malignant tumor removed. All very caregiving-centric memories and all made more vividly clear as a result of Jill’s visit. I am actually amazed at how much I can recall from that year, having not thought hard about it for a long time. I can remember a heart-to-heart conversation I had with Jill about marriage nine years ago, better than a conversation I had 9 days ago.

It is all tied to adrenaline and what lies within our heart. I firmly believe our memories are tied to the level of adrenaline we were producing at the time of the remembered event. Whether it be fear- or joy- or sorrow- or thrill-induced, adrenaline fuels our memory bank. But what we carry in our hearts shapes what we recall, often without warning.

Earlier in the day, before Jill’s arrival, I cheered on my youngest at his soccer game. As I scanned the sidelines at the start of the game, I saw an elderly man arrive, pushing his collapsible wheelchair across the soggy grass. He and his daughter, who I’m guessing to be in her late sixties, set up as close to the field as they could while keeping the shortest distance back to the parking lot. They were about 30 yards from me – I saw them diagonally across the field. Why did he catch my eye? I don’t know exactly. I didn’t know him. I didn’t even know which child was his great-grandson. But it was touching to me to see him make the huge effort to come see his great-grandson play.

Of course it reminded me of my dad, who made enormous efforts to see his grandchildren, and, frankly, anyone who needed him to “show up.” And who, eventually, required the use of a wheelchair which I pushed across soggy ground.

So my heart and my mind caused me to subconsciously check on this man every now and then. At lulls in the soccer action, I glanced over to see him get settled in the chair as his daughter stood next to him. I later saw him doze, with a small slump of his shoulders, and his daughter take a few steps forward for a better view of her grandson. And it was my heart and mind that catapulted me out of my chair into the fastest 30-yard dash I’d done in 30 years when I looked over to see him lying helplessly on his side with his daughter completely unaware that he had quietly toppled out of his wheelchair in his sleep. I was the first person to his side, not because I saw a stranger in need, but because I have an unfulfilled desire to help my dad. Why did I keep an eye on that man? I don’t really know. But I know my heart wouldn’t allow my mind to let him go. And my mind switched my body into rescue mode without a second thought. The small event is burned into my memory now because of adrenaline and because the eyes that looked up at me in stunned confusion were not a stranger’s, but my dad’s.

If I’m lucky enough to have my heart and mind continue to synchronize to keep what is important in my memory bank, then I am lucky enough.