Positive influences – It starts at home

This post is somewhat of an extension to Surround yourself with people that challenge you to grow.  Surrounding yourself with the right people is not especially challenging if you are motivated enough and have the courage to distance yourself from the people who bring you down.

However, over the last week, I have encountered several cases where the above is not really an option. That is, by having parents that are poor influences. Again, I am relying on my experiences at work where I have high-volume customer contact.

Example 1 relates to two separate cases where I was approached by an adult and a child. My role on the night was to advise that the trains weren’t running due to track maintenance and to provide them with options for Rail Bus travel. An inconvenience but not the end of the world. In both situations, I was in the middle of discussing the correct bus when the ‘adult’ turned away from me angrily and stated variations of ‘F**k off, you guys are hopeless’.

I’m big enough, old enough and ugly enough to let abuse roll off me. I all but forget the interaction immediately and move onto the next customer with a smile. However, how does this influence the child? They absorb that aggression and verbal abuse are the manner to interact with people when things don’t go their way.

Example 2 relates to a middle-aged woman who was visibly shivering on a platform. It was only slightly chilly, so I approached her to see if she was ok and if she needed an ambulance. Her son (so I found out later) pipped up to say she was ok and that she just had a ‘dirty shot’.

The son was in his early 20’s, barefoot and his clothes were clearly dirty. I will note also he was smoking on the platform in the middle of customers and I had to tell him to put the cigarette out as it was illegal.

I contacted my manager for advice. I found out that both the mother and son were well-known to police, with extension drug histories, aggressive behaviour towards customers and staff and never paid for tickets.

Again, what hope did this kid have to grow up to be a positive contributor to society? His main influence was an antisocial drug addict mother.

I’m sure there are countless examples of people with poor influences who have grown to be beautiful people and achieved amazing things. However, I will bet that the majority of children that grow up with poor parenting influences follow a very similar path.

For a number of reasons, I never became a parent. But surely when you have a child, the world becomes more than just you. Children are sponges and on the whole, look up to their parents.

Maybe if you can’t create a positive environment for your children, parenting might not be for you. How do you want your child to grow up? Think about what you say and do.

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Self-limiting beliefs – Not for Cathy Hughes!

One of the biggest obstacles to success is having self-limiting beliefs. I’m definitely a victim to self-limiting thinking. Often I’m caught myself in doubt due to my age, lack of education, my mental health issues, financial situation or whatever else I can find in the dark recesses of my mind.

I came across a wonderful podcast today on How I Built This. This episode featured Cathy Hughes . Cathy is the founder of Radio One. She is now 70 years old and has a net worth of over $500 million.

I won’t go into every detail of Cathy’s story and recommend you listen to the podcast and read Wikipedia. The major points that I took from Cathy’s story is that she had no self-limiting beliefs. She had a goal and had no doubt that she would achieve it.

However, Cathy had several potential obstacles that many would consider insurmountable to achieve even minor success:

  • Lived in housing projects as a child
  • Was a single mother at 17
  • Is an African American woman
  • Lived in middle America
  • She started her career in the 60’s and 70’s, which I understand was a less enlightened time in the US for African Americans (I’m from Australia, so I wasn’t there to experience it)

Cathy apparently faced discrimination in her early days but again, she maintained focus on her goal and never doubted she would succeed.

Again, I won’t go into her whole story but one story she recounted was approaching financial institutions for a $1 million loan with only $10,000 in the bank. She went to 32 banks before getting the loan. 90% of people would give up after 2 or 3 banks but not Cathy. She said that she believed in the law of averages that every ‘No’ is one step closer to a YES. It is not hard to believe that she would have gone to 100 banks if she had to.

What if we all had the same confidence as Cathy that we would succeed despite self-imposed limits? Very few will achieve the success that Cathy has. Without question though, the person that follows a passionate goal without thought of failure will be far more successful then the one that finds reasons they can’t.

I pity miserable people

‘Miserable people love to make other people miserable. I don’t hate them, I feel sorry for them.’

Brandi Glanville

A few weeks back I was at work during a train track closure. A track closure normally is due to essential track repairs. Alternative transport is organised to accommodate customers. My job on the night was to provide customer service through to guidance, advice and directions to appropriate transport.

Track closures are an inconvenience. They add time to a customers trip and mean there are sometimes multiple transport changes. All the same, they are performed for a purpose to provide a safe service for customers and are traditionally scheduled well outside of peak transport times to minimise disruption.

Well, I was half way through my shift and waiting for the next connection to arrive at the station. Customers were waiting and I was standing back with a couple of my colleagues on the night. One of my colleagues shared a joke and we had a laugh together. I excused myself from the group and made a round of the customers to see if anyone looked confused or had questions.

I was stopped by a sour-faced middle aged woman. The conversation went something like this:

Woman: I don’t appreciate you laughing while we are being inconvenienced.

Me: My apologies but we were certainly not laughing at your situation.

Woman: That doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t be laughing at all.

Me: Ummm…ok

Woman: I’ll be talking to my priest about it tomorrow.

From memory, I might have just nodded and continued me walk around the customers.

Surprisingly, my immediate thought wasn’t ‘What a miserable old bitch’. My first thoughts were 1) Is that why people go to church?; and 2) I feel sorry for her.

Working in high-volume customer service, I encounter miserable people that complain almost daily. On the whole, and putting things into perspective, their complaints are petty. There would have been a time when I would have reacted with irritation and anger. But perhaps due to some of my roles I performed over the last decade that dealt with death and real suffering, I see minor annoyances and complaining people as very small issues.

My honest response to miserable people now is pity. Are they so miserable that the smallest thing is an opportunity to be upset? Do they see no joy in life? Or maybe trying to demean others gives them pleasure? Either way, it is not a pleasant way to live and I feel sorry for them. Barely moments after our encounter, I have all but forgotten them but I assume they will continue to stew on the issue for some time after.

Life is hard, why make it harder when something minor disrupts your day. Just go with the flow, there will be plenty of really bad experiences in your life to test you without worrying about being 2 minutes late or your coffee is slightly too hot.

And if you come across one of these people, just let there bad energy slide over you. Don’t absorb it and take on their negative point of view on life.

Home project – Wall removal

Though I love my little house, I seem to be constantly looking for areas to change that firstly add to my enjoyment of the home and secondly, to add value. Creating equity is important to me for next steps in my financial journey.

I currently own a 60 year old weatherboard home. My best guess is that much of the internal layout is original. The Living area is separate to the living and dining.

One area that I thought would make an immediate improvement was the removal of a wall between the living and kitchen. An open-plan kitchen living area is more aligned to the preference of today and also creates the illusion of more space.

My first point of call was to call in a builder to discuss the wall removal. I was all excited about grabbing a sledgehammer and smashing down the wall but was fairly certain it would be load bearing. Sure enough, it was. That took the project out of my hands as I don’t have the construction knowledge to install of load bearing beam. I also didn’t want any issues with insurance or selling the property at a later date. I needed a professional.

Professionals cost money though. What I could negotiate on was the level of finish. If I was prepared to fill the gaps and paint, I would almost halve the cost of the job. I am not a total DIY incompetent, so I asked that the wall be removed and supporting framework installed. I would finish the job up to make it look pretty. The end quote was $4500.

Though I’m no expert, I assume it was a relatively minor job as it was complete in 2 days. based on how it looked after the first day, I can’t imagine it took more than a few hours the second day it knock it over.

As the photos demonstrate, removing the wall drastically increased the illusion of space. Actually, it’s not entirely an illusion as the kitchen cupboards and faux brick wall were several feet thick, so I have literally gained extra space.

  • There are now gaps in the floating floor. I’m not a huge fan of the colour of the flooring though, so I may end up replacing the lot. I can live with it for now though.
  • I have lost kitchen storage. I normally live with about 2 plates and a couple of cups, so I don’t need much room but as far as resale goes, I need to add more.
  • The now see the dated kitchen all the time. It was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ before. Now I can’t not see it. It’s functional but ugly. A kitchen renovation is now on the list of things to do.

The positives:

  • The sense of space. I have a small house and space is premium. Instead of walking in the front door into a small room, now I walk into a nice open space.
  • More layout options. I have more room to space out my furniture. For one, I can now place my TV against a wall so it’s not the first thing you see as you walk in the house.
  • Much more light in the kitchen/dining area. My kitchen is South facing. In Australia, that is the aspect that receives the least light. Now I gain the light from the North facing window into the kitchen area.
  • I have added value. If I haven’t at least added the value of the renovation, I would be amazed. I consider the change has vastly improved the saleability of the home.
  • I like it! That was the primary purpose of the reno. I wanted to enjoy it more than before. it makes me smile.

Maybe I half expected that the wall removal would do the job and I would be satisfied to leave it at that. I would be fooling myself also, I can’t sit stagnate without change. As indicated above though, now I want to change the kitchen and review the flooring.

More saving and more projects to come.

High-volume customer service – The 15 second relationship

The majority of my career has involved some level of customer service. Some has been intensive, long-term case management, where you have the opportunity to develop working relationships with customer over a period of time.

Currently, my customer service exposure is high-volume. A normal shift will involve interactions with 100’s of people. The trick in high-volume is to provide value to the customer, while still being efficient. My view is that each interaction with a customer is a relationship and you have 5-15 seconds to maximise the experience.

Following are some tips that work well for me in terms of customer involvement and the business objective:

Smile – It amazes me how many people in customer service fail to smile. They work efficiently without expression. The service is provided but fails to engage the customer. In high-volume customer service, you only have one chance to make an impression. A smile is so simple and if you really enjoy customer service like I do, it is genuine and comes easy.

Greet the customer – Again, such a simple thing. Just say ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning sir’, ‘Hi’, or even ‘Gidday’. Accompany a greeting with a smile and the customer will usually respond in kind.

Provide value – Even if you are dealing with a large volume of customers, you can still provide additional value. For example, I am often asked for directions for a particular train. I could respond quickly and just say ‘Platform 9’. I have done my job but it takes me possibly 5 seconds more to quickly turn to check the monitors and say ‘Platform 9, Springfield Train in 5 minutes’. Little things make a big difference.

Become knowledgable – In line with the previous point, having knowledge of your business is very important. In my case, what trains are on what line, what stations are on what line, where is the lost property office, where are the toilets, where the taxi rank is; etc. All simple things but important so you can move traffic through quickly while still being informative.

Develop short scripts – I don’t sit down and write out scripts for each situation but I take notice of what responses are effective with customers with respect to being clear, concise and achieve a positive customer response. A quick example would be directions to a platform. Instead of saying ‘Platform 9 up the end’ (which admittedly, I have said), I say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left’. The customer walks away confidently instead of looking back at me with blank eyes.

Close the transaction quickly – For a lot of regular commuters, efficiency is key. I still apply the engagement techniques but I retain efficiency. Some customers are oblivious to how busy it is and are inclined to stop in chat. This is fine during quiet periods but not when there are 20 people in a queue. My goal is to engage the customer and move them on in a courteous way. Scripting plays a part here. Using the previous example, I will say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left. Thank you, have a good day’. This sums up the interaction in a pleasant way and allows me to divert my attention to the next customer without being rude.

No jokes – Unless I am comfortable with a customer, I don’t consider that jokes, more like clever quips actually, play a part in high-volume customer service. A lot of my colleagues rely on amusing comments. I find these unnecessary and don’t add value to the customer experience. I’m not particularly funny anyway, so I don’t want to force something and be disingenuous.

Don’t do it unless you love it – In terms of work, customer service is my passion. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it. The more customers I can serve and get positive feedback, the better my day is. Sadly, I see many, many colleagues performing the job without passion. They are either transitioning between jobs or stuck in the role so long they no longer enjoy it. My view is, if you no longer enjoy a job, move on. You are doing yourself, the customer and the business a favour.

Look professional and smell nice – This applies to any customer service role. How you present yourself is a reflection of the business. I consider it also a demonstration of your respect for your customer. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Be clean shaven or at least have facial hair neat. Shoes should be clean. Brush teeth/ Wear deodorant! I recall a podcast from How I Built This.  1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudmore In this episode, Brian stated that a priority was for his staff to be neatly presented. This is a role where they will be carting away rubbish and will get dirty. Brian still recognised the importance of how the customer perceives someone who looks presentable, versus someone that turns up in dirty overalls and smells like a goat.

These are my thoughts on what works for me with high-volume customer service. In some ways, I’m not the most confident person and understate my ability. Customer service is not something that can be easily measured as but when you’re good at something, you know.

Do what you love. Not always a good thing.

One of the constants in my adult life has been going to the gym. At a minimum I attend the gym 4 days a week and have done so for 30+ years. It has become such an important part of my life that when I move house, I make sure I buy near a gym. I love how I feel after a workout, I love the noise of clanking weights, I love the feel of iron in my hands, I love challenging my body, I even love the smell of the gym. I just love going to the gym.

In my early 40’s, I was having a bit of a career crisis. I was really going through tIMG_3741he motions in my job. The only job satisfaction I had was when my pay went into my account. I needed a change.

I came across an advertisement promoting a fitness trainer course. I could undertake the course after my day job and after 6 months I could be a certified Fitness Trainer. I loved going to gym, so surely this would be the perfect career fit for me.

I signed up and started the course with nervous excitement. I loved it. I learned a lot of the more technical aspects of fitness training and physiology in addition to improving my repartre of workout methods. I was also surrounded with like-minded fit and healthy people.

One completion of the course, I very quickly secured a job as a Personal Trainer with a private studio. This was the dream! I would have one-on-one sessions with clients and be involved in changing their bodies and lives.

Though I continued to maintain my full-time work, I was able to train clients before and after work. The studio would allocate me clients, so I immediately had a client base to work with. I utilised my free time to create individualised training programs to meet the goals of my clients. I would also find time to fit in my own workouts along the way. I was busy but having fun!

Move forward 6 months. I was getting up at 4:30AM, train clients, go to my day job, do my own workout at lunch, then go to the studio after work to train clients until 8:30PM. I normally a client or two on Saturday and then had Sunday off. I was tired.

Being tired wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that my clients didn’t love the gym as much as me. Gym was my passion. To them, going to the gym was a chore and only undertaken only because they had to. I would approach each client with enthusiasm and put in all my energy to construct interesting and intense sessions. I would train my clients hard but I was seeing no results.

It became clear that my clients were not training with the same intensity outside of our session…or not training at all. One client attended an afternoon session stinking of alcohol. It seemed every day I would hear more excuses about why they hadn’t been training or couldn’t attend a scheduled session.

As my clients were not demonstrating their commitment to the gym with the same passion as me, I lost the passion to help them. My sessions became little more then recycled, generic workouts. The majority of my clients just wanted to talk, so that’s what I did. If they started to sweat, it was due to the temperature, not the workout.

I stuck with the job for 2 years with the hope that I could somehow develop a reputation as a specialised trainer that could afford to pick and choose their clients. This would never happen though as I was barely making an effort to be a great trainer. As with my day job, I was going through the motions. Though the extra income was great, I decided to leave the job before I lost my own passion for my own training.

Though I posted Saving dollars & cents – Do what you love and..hopefully..money will follow, I don’t necessarily consider that doing what you love is a good thing. If the customer doesn’t share your passion, it can reduce your enthusiasm and it can just become a job.

Do work that is important to you and provides value. If you are emotionally attached to the work though, you risk losing your own love for what you do. Maybe some personal passions should stay that way.

Be your own normal

For a large part of my life, I tried desperately to be normal. What I mean is that I tried to conform with what the majority of people were doing.

With age and reflection, my past attempts to try to be normal led me down paths that gave me no happiness and were at times, exhausting and destructive.

It was only when I reached my mid 40’s that I realised that for me to normal I had to  follow my natural instincts and do what feels right for me.

I’ll give you an example. I was always under the belief that being socially active was the normal thing to do. Attending morning teas and parties is what everyone else would do, so I followed suit. However, I found that the only way I could attend a function with a large group of people and feel at all comfortable was to drink alcohol. And not just a beer or two but to binge. This obviously is not the healthiest thing to do but probably worse is that I acted completely different to my own personality. I was loud and out-going, where I am generally reserved and reflective. Strangely enough, the loud and out-going me was quite successful with women but needless to say, when they met the real me, it was awkward and things did not progress.

That is just one example of where I have followed a path in the past to be normal and socially accepted. Others have been:

  • Following a safe and secure career path
  • Buying a particular type of car, or car in general
  • Wearing a particular brand of clothes
  • Not taking risks with career or finances

I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was but one day I started to consider that maybe I should put myself first rather than worry what others thought of me. Maybe it was from a discussion I was having with a friend from a previous job. He is very attracted to men, however, he insisted that he wanted to get married to a woman and have children. When I pressed him a little, he responded that it would make his family happy and it was what they did in his culture.

I didn’t argue the point further but it did seem strange that he was doing something to make other people happy and to meet his cultural standards rather than following what was natural to him. Anyway, it made me consider my choices. Was I basing my choices on what was right for me or just to conform.

I realised then and more so since, there are so many 07403197a4f3c8e09d8d5128febdf78fthings that are normal to others but seem abnormal to me. Some that come to mind:

  • The Kardashian’s. While I love reality TV, I cannot see the universal appeal for this family. To me, this family seems to lead a existence without substance. To me this doesn’t serve as entertainment yet their every movement is of social importance.
  • Going to church or following a religion in general. I won’t get into a theological debate on this one. I’m very spiritual and I’m a strong believer in karma but organised religion and praying to a God does not seem logical to me.
  • Buying a ‘forever’ home. I rarely stay in a home for more then 2-3 years. To wake up in the same room for the rest of my life seems depressing.
  • Having children. I don’t particularly like children and don’t feel compelled to have my name carried on.
  • Working for one company your whole career. I actually admire this but it isn’t for me. To my career advancement detriment, I change jobs frequently.

Please, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the points above. They are simply my opinions and I don’t judge anyone for thinking the opposite. Well, in the case of the Kardashian’s, I pretty much assume you are not right in the head if you like them! What I really mean is, what is right for one person does not mean that it has to be the only way.

Recently, I was in conversation with a colleague at work. He was telling me that on the weekend he had some activities to do with his family. He asked if I was married and had kids and I said no. He asked me then ‘So what do you do then?’. I actually took offence at this comment as I perceived he was judging me and that my life had no value without a wife and kids. This bugged me for a while until it came to me that he didn’t know me, what I had done in my life or what my interests were. His life was not normal for me but I didn’t judge him for choosing it and he shouldn’t have judged me.

To summarise my point in a nutshell, I would say ‘Follow your own path’. Do what feels right for you and makes you happy. I would much prefer to be considered an eccentric that goes by the beat of his own drum than a sheep that follows the herd.

In saying all this, you still have to follow some reasonable societal standards. For instance, regardless if it feels normal or not, you should not purposely break laws just because it feels right. Also, you must be reasonably considerate of others. To swear loudly on a crowded train may feel comfortable for you but would be unpleasant for others and may get you a punch upside the head.

In general though, be your own normal. I definitely feel more calm, content and happy then when I tried to be everyone else.