anonymous letters

Feedback

Feedback is a general term. Feedback is all around us. It can be good or bad. It can be positive or negative. It can be insightful or misinformed. It can be valuable or trash.

As my dad would say, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink. But when someone is paying you or has power over you, their opinion holds greater weight. You can’t just dismiss it as meaningless, no matter how short sighted or bewildering it may be. I guess that’s when, for me, it goes beyond just random opinion and becomes feedback.

Everyone likes positive feedback. It’s great when people love you. But what about when it’s negative? I used to spin out over criticism. I took it personally. I would spend days hashing it over in my mind, maybe with a friend I trusted. I’d often want to take my ball and go home and not play in whatever arena it was anymore. Why play if I am not good at it?

Now I try to reframe criticism as feedback. I think to myself, this person is telling me what is important to them. If my boss is unhappy with things lying around my workplace? He is telling me that his priority is how things look. If he takes me out of meetings that are about teaching and learning, he is telling me my priorities should be elsewhere. If he gets excited about special events and pizza parties, that’s where my attention needs to be.

Same holds true in sales. If a customer doesn’t like what I am selling and they tell me, it’s an opportunity to listen and adjust. I can learn what a customer values by listening to their feedback.

I may see things differently. I can argue that I didn’t get into education and earn a PhD to spend hours on clerical work. I can tell them all the things I do to help teachers. I can explain to a customer all the subtleties and value that I believe they missed.

Maybe I’ll change their minds, maybe not. Maybe I care, maybe I don’t. It’s my choice to play in the sandbox or leave. I can adjust my energy and priorities to match what others want or I can do something else.

Deep down I am a people pleaser and I like gold stars. But I have learned that I can control the amount of importance I give to others’ feedback, whether it’s positive or negative or somewhere in between. I can shake my head and keep going and not let it pull me from my path. Take it for what it’s worth and know that it does not determine my personal worth. Full stop.

family

Small Town USA

On an extended road trip, I had the pleasure of staying in one of my family’s heritage hometowns, Bemus Point, New York. Perched on Lake Chatauqua in western New York state, Bemus Point has a population of about 350 people. This population swells a bit in the summer and drops in the harsh northern winter, I’d suspect. Far removed from my densely populated life in suburban Atlanta.

Small towns are fascinating, so very different from my suburban life. I immediately noticed the banners on every light pole with photos of all the graduates from the local high school. Each student had their own banner, their own celebration. There were maybe 50-60 banners. My daughter’s graduating class is almost 1,000 in number. It was impossible to imagine how many miles of light poles her class would cover! Above each was an American flag.

Little woodchucks scampered everywhere on my morning runs. Numerous deer leaped for cover as I approached. Many of them were just out by the roadway nibbling when I startled them. So many creatures without that many people stirring at all hours. I smiled driving through the country side seeing all the different “heads up” signs for drivers. I’m used to seeing signs to watch for deer, but we also saw signs for tractors, bears, moose or elk (maybe?) and snowmobiles. We were way out in the northern sticks, sharing the road with many other creatures, not just cushy suburban SUVs.

Speaking of sticks, there were so many roadside pickups for firewood just out in people’s front yards. Hand painted signs…$5.00, $4.00, pay what you can. The honor system in full effect. (I also wondered if there was a price war between neighbors!)

My mother once lived in this town, and her parents spent decades living here. My family road tripped here many summers in my youth. Several downtown shops I visited as a child were still there. A local grocery store. A general store turned souvenir shop. The wing place near the dock. Each had a rocky road through the years but made it.

When we went out for dinner, many other parties that came in dropped by to say hello. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Driving around town with my aunt and uncle was a parade of small town dramas. Stories would tumble out as we passed houses of friends and family. Where someone had worked for the summer. Which person had sold their house for too much or too little. Who broke rules that brought them in front of the town council. Who didn’t keep their property up well or planted trees to block someone else’s view of the lake on purpose. Small town charm as well as small-minded petty. Little room to forget when the stories are so narrow and intertwined. Grudges and alliances last across generations.

Small town life has its ups and downs. A pleasant place to visit and remember.

business

At the Car Wash

Sitting at the car wash on this sunny day. I don’t get here often enough but when I do I enjoy the scenery. Today it’s a good bit of sunshine and a slight breeze in the air. 

It starts with the drive in section. Sort of old-fashioned. The soap is applied manually while you sit In the car. The workers use their hands to massage in the soap, scrub the tires. Rinse. Repeat. Then you get shuffled outside to wait while phase two takes place.

To paint you a picture: the small car wash stand is located in a gas station parking lot with a small hair salon. The car wash and hair salon are operated by the same family. Some inside some outside working the day away. I sit observing from the metal chair outside the salon. A little stoop of sorts. Here I have a view of so much action on the street corner. Makes me think of my childhood days In the city.

The parking lot is also home to the local guy with a pickup truck and peanut stand. It’s always loaded with the best boiled peanuts and today he has some watermelons as well. Many folks stop by and grab some peanuts on their way to a day on the lake while others stop by on lunch break or while filling up with gas. Such a diverse group of buyers visiting the peanut stand today.

I like to support small businesses whenever I can. Whether it’s the local dog groomer, mechanic, or the peanut man. Tucked on the corner of a main road I can hear the hustle and bustle of the roadway. The cement trucks accelerating as they leave quarry next door. The rushing of water from all the car washes. The reviving of engines at the red lights from the souped up cars.

Observing the small details while I sit and wait in my special chair. I write. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I answer emails. Today I write as I think about whether I should buy the watermelon or the peanuts before I leave. It’s a tough decision. I will choose one.

As you can see the peanuts won today. They are too hot to eat at the moment but such a nice treat after my trip to the car wash. The good old fashioned car wash.

business

The Deal

The deal is dead so I guess I can write about it. The deal I wanted to wrap up in 2020 with a pretty bow is in the toilet. Gone just like that.

Instead of celebrating the new deal in my portfolio, I am reviewing how it got squashed. It wasn’t just squashed once. It was squashed many times. Why? No lenders want to take a risk in this particular industry thanks to COVID.

Despite a rocking year of financials and long standing history, the market is considered volatile. This is crazy to me because the housing market is booming. Lenders will lend people money for a $400,000.00 home but they can lose their job just like that. As an entrepreneur you need to make things work, not just collect a paycheck.

For this deal I was willing to bet my blood, sweat and tears on an opportunity that is solid and immediately generating revenue but that’s too risky for the stuffy bankers in their suits and ties. 

This is just an example of what’s wrong with today. It’s okay for me. I have other irons in the fire so I’m going to keep on fighting and maybe revisit that opportunity later. Maybe later I won’t want the deal because I wanted it when others saw the odds were down. I like the underdog shots. The come-from-nowhere wins. The opportunities others will toss to the side because it takes grit to get the outcome desired.

For now I’ll watch. I’ll listen. I’ll soak in the experience. I mean I do say you have get some nos before you get the yes. I also believe in karma, timing and gut feelings.

In my gut I know when the time is right for me, the deal of a lifetime will pass by and I’ll be ready to sink my teeth in. For now I’ll wait. I’ll watch. I’ll learn. I’ll keep putting those coins in the piggy bank so I’m ready when opportunity comes knocking.

Can you say Corona has put up a wall for you in 2020? How did you handle your challenge(s)? What, if anything, are you doing now to be ready for traversing the wall. Hopefully your wall is just temporary like mine.

A new day. A new opportunity to get better. Moving on to greener pastures. A little farewell to bankers. I’ll don’t like government loans anyway. I’d rather start with a $20 bill and see how much I grow it.

Starting something from nothing is far more gratifying but not for the weak. Maybe you now know something about me. I will always be chasing the next version of me.

business

The Bottom of the Report Card

In elementary school, I was obsessed with my grades. Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Spelling, Writing, all of the main subjects. I was an “All A” girl from an early age, nearly consumed by keeping my GPA a 4.0. Tests, quizzes, projects, all of it was about chasing the A.

The other day, I was having a conversation with a business owner about his employees. He’s been struggling to find decent workers. As he describes it, his employees, all adults, regularly show up late or don’t show up, don’t follow instructions, are questionable with honesty, stir up petty drama within the staff, spread crappy attitudes, and waste resources. As an employer, it is frustrating to say the least. He spends more time dealing with employee problems than doing the the actual work that generates revenue.

This got me thinking about my report card growing up. I spent so much time on the top part, where they listed my grades in all those core subjects. But what about the bottom part? The “conduct grades?”

This section had things like:

-Uses time wisely

-Uses resources wisely

-Follows directions

-Works well with others

-Neatness

-Punctuality

-Thinks creatively

-Accepts feedback

-Keeps a positive attitude

-Shows initiative

It was a grid, graded on an E / S / N / U scale. I’ll admit, most of the time I ignored it. I would just glide my eyes over the letters. Mostly S, with a few S+ and some Es. But in the end, it didn’t affect my GPA, so I didn’t really think much of it.

In light of the business owner’s comments, I wonder which part of the report card can really tell us who will be success in different areas of life…the workplace, the community, life in general? Are my grades in math and science more important than the way I use my time? What parts of elementary school should be the focus of creating a productive, contributing adult?

As an elementary school teacher, I wonder where I should focus my energy, especially in these pandemic days. What matters in the long run? Just something to ponder.