Packing the Suitcase for Tomorrow
Your favorite radio station just called with some incredible news. They just drew a winner for that incredible vacation package they were giving away. It's you! Congratulations. You have entered a thousand different contests and usually all it ever got you was a lot of junk mail and unwanted calls from telephone solicitors. But this time it really paid off.
The thing is, your plane is leaving tomorrow. Yes, it’s short notice, but you have to get your bags packed and get ready to go. In twenty-four hours you will be on your fabulous dream vacation. There’s so much to do and so little time. You call a couple of family members and some friends and tell them the great news. When they ask where you are going, you tell them you were so excited about winning, you can’t even remember right now.
All night long you toss and turn. What to pack? How could you be so lucky? When the alarm clock rings the next morning, you realize you barely slept a solid hour the entire night. In fact, you have never experienced this combination of excitement and exhaustion before.
When the cab arrives, courtesy of the radio station, you still haven’t thought about what you were going to pack. You throw some things in your bags. Since it’s summer, you figure a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts ought to do you. Then there are things like deodorant and underwear. Can’t leave home without those. What about money? Surely the radio station is giving some sort of cash prize to go with the trip, right?
The cabbie honks his horn, so you zip up your bag and head out the door. What a great vacation this is going to be!
When you arrive at the airport, there is a representative from the radio station waiting to greet you and get some publicity pictures for their website. After all, you're the big grand prize winner. They walk you toward the airlines that offers non-stop service to Hawaii, and you’re heart skips a beat. Was that the trip they were giving away? Your adrenaline is pumping so hard and fast you just can’t remember.
Past the Hawaii air terminal you keep walking, and to the terminal for your two week trip to San Francisco, California. “Hope you packed your warm clothes,” the station rep tells you. “You know the average temperature in the summer there is only about 60 degrees. In fact, it’s one of the coldest U.S. cities in the summer.”
That’s right, the trip was to San Francisco. The hotel they have booked for you is out along Fisherman’s Wharf, near the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ve heard all about California in the summertime. Surfers and hot days, rock and roll music, and…
Wait a minute. Did the station rep say San Francisco is the coldest U.S. city in the summertime? But how cold could it be? It is summer, right? What about all those Beach Boy songs about California girls?As you're flying to San Francisco, you hear a couple of people talking about their last trip there. One says she bought two sweatshirts and wore them one on top of the other. The other says he's glad there’s lots of places to shop in the tourist areas, since he simply brought extra money in case he needs something warm.
Money… you forgot to ask the radio station representative if there was a cash prize associated with the trip. And the truth is, you're flat broke. There was a packet of information he gave you, so you thumb through it hoping to find some money, a gift card, or something. All you come up with is a letter of congratulations that includes a note at the bottom that all meals and other expenses except the hotel room and flight are your responsibility. How could this happen? You're going on a dream vacation to a great destination – one of the most popular tourist spots in the United States – with your hotel and flight all paid for. Yet, the dream is a nightmare. You don’t have the right clothes and you don’t have any money for food or to visit any of the sites.
All Too Familiar
You may be surprised to learn this kind of thing happens all the time. You’re right; it doesn’t involve radio stations or prize trips to San Francisco. However, our story about San Francisco illustrates what happens to many people on their trip through life. It seems clear the difference between a dream vacation and a nightmare trip revolves around the planning that goes on before the trip begins. How much money will you need? What are the essential items necessary for you to pack? If you don’t have those items, where can you get them? What are the things you need to pack inyour suitcase for a successful journey through life? They may not be heavy socks and a sweatshirt, but they will be just as necessary. Regardless of where you are going on a trip, there are certain basics you always need to carry; socks, underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. On the journey through life, there are also certain basics everyone needs, regardless where they're going. So what are the socks and underwear of our voyage through life? The first thing you need to pack are people skills. Being able to listen and communicate effectively are vital regardless whether you plan on owning your own car wash or being the chief financial officer for a Fortune 500 company. Unfortunately, most people think they already communicate just fine, so they don’t see a need to work on it. First, let’s define what effective communication is: To effectively communicate, I must convey my message in a way that causes the other person to understand what I mean. It is also necessary I hear what the other person meant, using their words, tone, body language, and facial gestures to determine the real message. Let’s look at just one example of how confusing communication can be if not done right. You work in a retail store. A customer comes in and asks for an item you have never heard of before. You go and consult the manager, who says, “We don’t have that.” You repeat the message to the customer, who seems a little angry. The customer says, “I have bought it here for years.” You inform the customer she must be mistaken, because your store doesn’t carry that item. You even checked with the manager, who also agreed that item isn’t available from your store. She asks how long you have worked at the store and you tell her this is your third day. “Well, it is my eleventh year of shopping here, and I know you carry the item.” Her tone is really cranky and she is treating you like an idiot. You know it’s only your third day on the job, but you did check with the manager and your store doesn’t carry that item. This lady must be nuts. Besides, now she's just trying to embarrass you in front of the other customers. You hate someone trying to embarrass you. “Lady,” you say, getting right in her face, “we don’t have what you’re looking for. We never had what you're looking for, and we probably won’t ever have what you're looking for. Go shop somewhere else!” She storms out the door and you think, “What a nut! Good riddance to bad rubbish.” A moment later the manager comes out of his office to inform you he has checked the computer and it shows that a new shipment of what the lady was looking for will be dropped off tomorrow. “What???” you ask. “You said we didn’t have that.” “We don’t have it right now. But we always carry it; we’ve carried it for years. The lady you were talking to is probably Mrs. Peters. She’s one of our best customers. Is she still in the store? I’ll tell her myself. You know, she's probably brought us more business by bragging on our store than anybody in town.” You feel dizzy and more than a little sick. Didn’t you hear the boss say the store doesn’t have that product? How were you supposed to know he meant you didn’t have it at this moment? You thought he meant that the store didn’t ever carry it. One simple misunderstanding has cost your store a vital customer, not just because of the money she spends, but also because she brags on the store to her friends, who, in turn, tell their friends. Now what will Mrs. Peters say to her friends? What will you manager say to you when he finds out what you did?
Nobody likes to look stupid. Because of that, even when we don’t understand an instruction, we're often afraid to ask follow up questions. There was that time you did and somebody jumped down your throat about it. Therefore, you try your best to figure out what somebody means based on an incomplete thought, or a half-sentence worth of instructions. Maybe your mother taught you it’s better to look stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. There is certainly a place for that bit of advice, but when you don’t understand something someone says, it is vital to let them know. I’d rather look dopey for one minute by asking for a more complete explanation than for weeks or months as I tried to explain why I cost the company their best customer. Some guidelines for effective communications: Work diligently to never interrupt someone when they are giving you instructions. The moment you interrupt, you run the risk of missing the most vital piece of information. When you don’t understand, say, “I want to do a really good job, so can you explain to me again how to… “ Be in learning mode all the time. Whether at home, on the job, or at school, if you make a habit of being curious about how things work, there’s less to learn at the spur of the moment. Kids moving off to college have been probably around washers and dryers all their lives, but possibly never operated one. After a week of wearing the same underwear, however, they and everyone they encounter is wishing they’d break down and ask their parents or someone else how to magically make this pile of dirty, stinky clothes clean again. We will discuss this more thoroughly in days to come, but when something is important, write it down. Don’t trust your memory; instead, use a trusty pen and paper. After you hear something, make sure you heard it right. You do that by asking questions. When my wife and I were planning our life together, she said she always thought CDs were a good investment. Since I love music, I quickly agreed. It turns out she meant Certificates of Deposit at the local bank. I meant Compact Discs. We could have avoided our first fight as a married couple if I had worked a little harder to get that straight right off the bat. Never dominate a conversation. As we will discuss in chapter 8, if you find yourself talking for more than two minutes without giving others a chance to speak, it’s time to come up for air. You may see yourself as the most interesting, entertaining person in the room. But if you just keep rattling, never giving others a chance to talk, it’s more than likely others will just see you as someone to avoid. No one likes a rattle trap. Don’t be afraid of silence. There doesn’t have to be conversation every moment of the day. Sometimes when you are making a presentation to customers, one of the most effective tools you can use is what’s called the “pregnant pause.” It is that awkward silence between the time you ask a question and the other person answers it. That is the key moment when they are deciding for themselves if they are buying what you are selling. When you don’t give them think time, you are just begging them to turn down your offer. What other “socks and underwear” items are essentials for the suitcase of skills we will carry with us through life? Excellent table manners, always saying please and thank you, and being eager to give others a helping hand are three that no one can do without. Another is the habit of cleaning up after yourself. Dressing neatly and in a manner fitting your position is another important skill. If you see yourself as the next manager of the place you work, notice how the most effective managers dress and begin dressing that way yourself. It allows other people to also see you in the manager’s role. If someone asks, “So you trying to look like a big shot?” you can respectfully answer, “I would like to be a manager one day. If that would make me a big shot, I guess so.” If you have a work ethic that goes along with your desire, people may kid you, but they will also respect you. You may be their next boss. Action Item: Make a list of the items you need in the suitcase of your life. It should have two columns. The first will be for the “socks and underwear” items: things every person needs to be successful. When George Washington made his list of those items (which he called his Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior), he came up with 110 of them. Don’t be afraid of over-packing. It’s better to have a skill or manner and not need it, than to need it and not have it. The second column should be specialized items suited to what you want to do in life. If you want to be a surgeon, developing excellent eye-hand coordination is essential. You can’t have a slip or a klutzy moment when you are buried two inches deep in someone’s chest. If you plan on being a disc jockey or preacher, you can’t have your speech littered with “uhs” and “ums.” You must learn to speak clearly without stuttering or repeating yourself. Again, don’t worry about the list being too long. And don’t be afraid to move items around from one list to another. If you plan on being an engineer, neat handwriting is a must. However, you may one day decide to be an accountant and find it is just as important in that profession. Therefore, you decide good penmanship is important in whatever you decide to do.