Empathy By Way of Handicap Ramps

ONE WEEK. That’s how much longer I have until my foot surgery recovery hits the weight-bearing milestone. How long will my empathy for fellow humans with disabilities or handicaps last? FOR-EH-VER.

For the past five weeks, I have gotten from Point A to Point B via crutches or knee scooter. Each day has been a challenge with successes as well as sweat-inducing challenges. (My worst undertaking each day has been to crutch up our stairs in the morning… I keep feeling like one moment of imbalance will result in my death down the steps.)

Through all of this, I’ve experienced an existence which I had only before observed. Sure, I’ve moved out of the way on the bus for a person in a wheelchair or with a cane, or I’ve offered to hold a door open longer to help them pass through. But seeing and knowing are not the same thing.

I mentioned empathy earlier in this post, and that’s where I feel this experience has brought me the farthest. As a marketer and communicator, exercising my empathy muscle is one of the most important ways I stay good at my job. Throughout this last month, I’ve drawn many correlations between what I experienced with my temporary disability and what our customers experience when we lack empathy.

Read on and see if any of these ring true for you:

You can’t assume you know the other person’s story.

Climbing out of the car with crutches
Every morning, getting out of the car and ready to roll to work was a challenge.

By just glancing at me, you can immediately tell something happened to my foot. I’m carting it around on a knee scooter, it’s bound up with an ace wrap and a black boot of sorts, and I’m obviously favoring it with every motion.

But not every person living with a handicap is as obvious. In my commutes I often crossed paths with another woman who walked with a cane. She would join me on the handicap ramps rather than trying to climb up train steps. As we began to chat, she shared with me that, in spite of there being zero cartilage between her femur and tibia/fibula bones, many people assume that she should be able to handle a few steps. Even though she attends physical therapy and takes painkillers to alleviate what her body experiences, she has heard fellow passengers on the train grumble and opine as to whether she really needs to use the handicap area.

I’ll confess: when I used to see someone without a wheelchair make their way onto public transportation using the ramp, I would wonder if they just weren’t putting in the effort to climb the steps. My newfound friend on the train woke me to the fact that just because I don’t see someone’s ailment doesn’t mean they don’t live with one every moment.

In the future, I’ll never again judge someone for using the accessibility features in our world. I can open my mind to a world of possibilities rather than a mistaken assumption.


Your offer to help is about them, not about you.

The first week of my limited mobility was all about finding the ways I could move with assistance that was already built-in: ramps, automatic doors, smooth terrain, etc.

hill up Colfax from Civic Center Station
Throughout March, I’d wear sleeveless tops because of this hill. Two blocks of sheer exertion to make it to the top… and I didn’t want anyone to help me.

I also knew I’d be relying on the kindness and patience of others… and I have to tell you that my ego and self-sufficient tendencies mightily roiled at the idea. Since I was young, I have always been proud of my independence and ability to “be strong” my way through any difficulty.

I found myself working in ways to thank others for their offers to help while assuring them I didn’t need it. The first few times I could tell that my refusal of assistance was taken badly, so I worked on putting more sincerity and gratitude into my vernacular. My challenge was to try to see the person’s good intentions without internalizing them as a knock on my independence. I have found myself often timing my approaches to certain doors or ramps when no one is nearby who will offer a lending hand right when I’m about to accomplish the obstacle at hand.

Does this make a helpful offer bad or unwelcome? Not at all. But I know going forward that I won’t take it personally if my offer to assist is declined, because the other person may have it entirely under control without my help. They may also have other reasons why my help isn’t needed.


Happy endings aren’t for sure.

I mentioned that I have one more week until I can start trying to walk with two feet instead of one. My recovery is on pace and my left foot should eventually heal fully and allow me to walk without assistance (and in nice shoes once again!).

There are so, so many who don’t share this positive outcome. Their pain is chronic, their ailment has no turnaround cure, or their treatment options are limited (if existent at all). While I can chuck my crutches to the storage space in a week, they’re facing months and years of continued struggle and judgment just for making their way through each day.

As someone who experienced a temporary setback to my mobility, I can’t tell you enough how much I look forward to getting things “back to normal.” But that’s my normal. “Normal” for many other people means always using ramps, always needing handicap-accessible features, and always facing people around whom they must navigate.


If you aren’t accessible… really???

This was my biggest revelation: accessibility is important. It can make or break the ability for someone to relieve their bladder, carry out plans, gather with friends, perform a job, and generally live life.

Handicap ramp at light rail station
Each Light Rail station has a handicap ramp. I often had company on my daily commute.

I have been overall very impressed with the accessibility features in Denver. The Light Rail system has handicap ramps at each stop, from the parking area all the way to the front door of the train. Drivers of trains and buses readily helped me and other passengers get on and off safely, as well as reminding other passengers that the handicap area needs to be vacated for passengers needing assistance. Buildings like the Pepsi Center and state buildings are equipped with automatic doors and handicap-accessible restrooms.

Granted, I did run into some exceptions. A restaurant in the Highlands I visited with coworkers during my first week of recovery offered several sets of steps for me to traverse just to get into the door on a snowy evening. A public transportation driver would occasionally show impatience with having to lower and raise the ramp for me to enter. Even fellow Denverites would give attitude, or zero signs of yielding space, when I rolled on needing to find somewhere for my seat and my knee scooter.


Empathy matters. It’s what makes us human. Because whether you carry yourself around with a fully capable body or a fairly capable apparatus, you deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to be seen and heard. You deserve empathy.

I know these recent experiences exercised my empathy and will continue to do so. How do you maintain your empathy for others, and how does it make you better at what you do?

Same harassment, different day.

Every.single.platform.

That’s where women get exposed (quite literally, quite often) to sexual harassment from others.

Twelve minutes ago, I hopped onto Periscope to “share” a beer with my viewers and chat about going to see Wonder Woman tonight with my daughter. Less than three minutes in, I get this:

image-Periscope-screenshot-same-old-harassment
My face hadn’t quite yet registered my reaction. Go to rachel.live to see that. I refuse to edit it because stuff like this is shouted from sidewalks to passing women anyway, so get woke.

Lovely. A random viewer decided his question about my personal hygiene was a perfect segue from my alliteration about Blue Moon and Business Unusual. Because, why not, right?

Later in the broadcast, after I lit into his comment, he told me, “Oh, lighten up.”

No. It’s my broadcast and I don’t need to lighten up. You, sir, are welcome to go find another broadcast where you can assume the woman on the other end must really want you to ask her questions about her genitals.

Different Day

This isn’t a new thing. It’s a new harasser on a new day. Usually it’s just a matter of if you get the comments earlier in the day or later.

A few weeks ago on Snapchat, a random new “friend” decided to go straight from friendly banter Snaps of “How are you today?” and “How’s it going?” to a picture of his hand reaching into his tidy-whities asking if we could have some fun.

Well, I’m a woman on social media… surely that means I’m up for anything that will make a man sexually happy, right? Wrong.

NBD, right?

The most infuriating part is that many will read this blog and think just like RichStan7835 did: “Lighten up, Rachel, it’s not that bad.”

Or worse: “Take it as a compliment, can’t you?”

No.

HELL no.

No chance.

What’s amazing is that I was chatting a few seconds prior about taking my daughter to see Wonder Woman. Women empowerment and breaking glass ceilings, here we come! Except, first, don’t leave the house without being reminded that any man should be able to ask you about your personal grooming without you getting offended.

Again, hell no.

I’m not here for it. I’m sick of it. The only man who deserves my attention after making suggestive comments is the guy who vowed to share my life with me and all it carries with it. I don’t have to put up with “same harassment, different day.” And neither do you.

If you still think harassment doesn’t happen and I’m overreacting, watch this:

How about you? Let me know how you’re doing and what you do to combat the harassment. Blocking only goes so far, because it’s easy for someone to create a free handle and try again. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for how to make a change for the women out there.

Back in the (bike) saddle again!

At LAST.

For the first time in months, I’ve ridden my bicycle more than once in a span of a few days. I got on my gear, checked the tire pressure, flipped on my tail light and my Strava app, and off I went for an average of 5.9 miles each time.

You know what’s completely stupid about that last paragraph? It’s not insanely hard. I used to do far more preparation and distance than that on a daily basis back during corporate life. Seven miles one way, lugging a 12-pound laptop and clothes for the day, and then back the same way in the afternoon lugging the same load.

Maybe that’s why I’m weighing in at about 15 pounds over what I used to. Oy.

I have worked out of my home since I dove into my business, Really Social, full-time, and my best intentions of getting up early each day to ride my bike – rain or shine – have proven to be completely fruitless. My best guess is that my corporate commute by bicycle was letting me multitask, so I was able to justify the effort easier. Now that any bike ride I embark upon is simply for the purpose of staying fit, somehow my brain is very “meh” about the whole affair.

But I’m 42 and I need to get my ass in gear. This isn’t going to get any easier as I get older, and I have-to-have-to-have-to work cycling into my routine to improve my physic and looks, although for this I can also use the help of the Medpsa plastic surgery clinic.

That means days like yesterday, when I worked from dawn to midnight glued to my desk to hammer at work and completely miss a window to get out and bike, need to cease. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to this, because I’m fairly certain none of my clients or industry partners are going to rail at me for taking care of my health while grinding out the work they want done.

So… that’s the trend this week. Think I can keep it up?

Check out my visual blog of the Concealer Chronicles:

Click for Concealer

An Ounce of Automation is Worth a Pound of Engagement

There is a battle waging in social media against automation.

On one side, there’s the crowd I have dubbed “engagement purists” who believe every single social media interaction should be done in real time. No rules, no automatic messages, no bots. You either post as a real person in the now, or you don’t post at all.

On the other side, automation thrives with a vengeance by “automation addicts.” These folks use apps and programs for one-and-done social media posts, auto DMs, and an endless stream of sales pitches going out to any new followers.

Use an ounce of automation.

Of course, there is much space between the two polar opposites in this fray. In the space between purists and addicts, there live the “happy hybrids.”

We believe a little automation can go a long way. We know the ill effects of too much automation, yet we also realize our limitations as single, unique individuals who only have the standard 24-hour day (some of which must be used for catching some shut-eye).

When used effectively, an ounce of automation can lead to a pound of engagement.

 

Let me paint you a picture to describe what I mean…

Imagine your last (or next) networking event or party. When you encounter someone you don’t know, do you find yourself using the same introductory words and phrases?

Hi, I’m Rachel. How are you?

It’s great to meet you. How did you hear about this event?

Nice to meet a fellow business pro! What’s your specialty?

What’s wrong with this approach? Not one darn thing. We all have our go-to introductions when we first meet someone in real life. Why would it be different on social media? In these tools which are hailed as true engagement and relationship tools for marketing and communication, real world methods of communication can be implemented within each platform’s unique parameters. Think of it as the difference between a handshake (Facebook) and a business card (LinkedIn).

That said, there are ways to use and abuse automation in digital communication.

 

How to use automation effectively:

 

  • Follow up any automation with real engagement. A real person needs to be part of the process, preferably most of it. Even if an automated post or email gets the ball rolling, insert a live pulse into the conversation as soon as you can.
  • Respond to every inbound message. Every single one. You can’t automate custom follow-up with your audience, nor should you. Once a follower makes the choice to engage with you, reward that intent with respect by engaging in kind.
  • Customize any automated efforts to each platform, each audience. Show that you really do care by tracking your followers’ interests, likes, and dislikes on any platform you use to engage.

 

How to abuse automation detrimentally:

 

  •  Send the exact same message to every single person, every single time. Ignore the uniqueness of each follower through laziness and self-importance by delivering the same verbatim thought to each one.
  • Ignore messages and fail to respond to followers or friends. If you wish to alienate friends as well as followers, simply pretend incoming messages and questions are of no value.
  • Leave the automation on when the world goes off the rails. In times of crisis and tragedy, keep your automated posts of “buy this” or “click that” going while virtually everyone else is focused on helping their fellow humans.

 

What do you think? Are you an automation purist, believer, or a hybrid of the two?

Click the tweet above to vote, or share your opinions in a comment.

Remind Them Who YOU Are!

Did you know…

…that Edna Mode of “The Incredibles” was voiced by director Brad Bird?

Edna Mode of the Incredibles (animated GIF) will remind you who you are! | Really Social
Edna Mode doesn’t let anyone forget what they’re capable of.

 

The story goes that Lily Tomlin was originally cast to voice the small yet larger-than-life character who helps usher the Parr family into a new age of heroic antics through her special talent of superhero costume design.

Director Brad Bird would read through Edna’s lines for Lily Tomlin to give her an accurate idea of how he wanted the character to perform. However, after hearing him read Edna, Lily told Brad, “What do you need me for? You’ve got it already.”

Edna is my favorite character of what I consider to be the best of Pixar’s films.

Know who you are.

Though “The Incredibles” follows the lives of the Parr family—Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack—we meet their various influencers throughout the film. Edna Mode is seen in the first sequence as an attendant of Bob & Helen’s wedding, and years pass before we see her again when Bob asks her for a “patch job” on his antiquated superhero suit.

Edna, through a quick expository scene, establishes her identity as the superhero costume designer who has now turned to designing for super models. We learn fairly quickly that she loathes her current occupation and Bob’s request catapults her back into what she truly loves.

From her first spoken words on screen, Edna leaves no doubt as to who she is in the world, what she doesn’t like about it, and how vital she is to the lives of those in her circle. She leaves no doubt of who she is and how she fits (sometimes with resistance) into the landscape of her influence.

Remind them who you are.

∧My favorite line in the movie.∧

In a crucial scene where we find Edna allowing Helen to sob about where her life has arrived and doubts she has about her own husband, Edna will have none of it. She knows she sits inches away from a being who has the abilities necessary to save lives by superhuman means yet has allowed very human experiences to reduce her identity to powerlessness. In the space of 30 seconds, Edna confronts Helen incredulously and speaks the crucial words,

“You will show him you remember that he is Mr. Incredible, and you will remind him who you are!”

Remember you.

How often do you forget who you are? Everything you offer to the world around you—talents, words, actions, reactions, kindness, honesty—can feel insignificant when we are confronted with failure, disappointment, or ____________________ (fill in the blank with your own detractor).

Whether or not we have a little superhero costume designer around to whack us with a good dose of reality, we each need to constantly remind ourselves and those around us who we are. Even if you need to write on post-it notes the best parts of you and stick them up around your space, give yourself those necessary ego boosts to recall why you’re important in spite of whatever happens.

A parting thought for you from Edna,

“Go. Confront the problem. Fight! WIN!

And call me when you get back, darling. I enjoy our visits.”

5 Tips for Managers from Staff

Even someone who doesn’t manage can have great advice for a manager. Ask me: I’ve been a contributor many times over the years and for all manner of bosses. While I’ve been lucky enough to work for great people, we can all look back at struggles we’ve had in the “managed” department.

Managers, Listen Up

So what advice would someone experienced as a direct report give to a manager?

  1. Respect your staff’s time. It’s nigh on impossible to engage consistently with staff when faced with countless meetings and projects. But by staying on top of your calendar, you can ensure your timely attendance to meet with your staff. You will show you care about the time they took to prepare by being present. Managers, even if you need to print out your daily schedule and tape it to your tablet or legal pad, do what is necessary to set the bar.
  2. Build an individual rather than a clone. If you try to coach one of your staff to replicate you in every way, you are stifling areas where they could uniquely improve a project or process. In this way, managing can be like parenting or coaching: the last thing you want is to limit your subject’s accomplishments, especially when the result can improve your team and the company.
  3. Assume your direct report will grow out of their role. it’s the rare person who decides they want to stay in the exact same role, pay grade, and skill level over the years. Most contributors want to follow this thing called a “career path,” which means they want progress. As much as you may love how your staff performs in their role right now, you can trust that in at least two years a change will be desired. Help it happen.
  4. Advocate for your staff. As a manager, you may report to a boss who resembles what I described earlier: your title keeps you in a box for when they wish to let you out. But if staff reports to you, they inevitably need their valuable input run up the ladder. It is your duty to carry out that communication. By setting this example for your direct reports, you’re showing them how to take risks that can lead to improvement in many areas.
  5. Never be done learning. Even the very best managers need refreshers. Look at how flex time and telecommuting has changed the corporate landscape in just a few years! As times change, expectations and best practices will also shift. You’ll stay ahead of the curve if you get yourself to regular management trainings and workshops. Ask HR to help you.

If you are one of the managed, you know what works best for you and who you will work your best for. Your insights into the pain points of contributors are invaluable to your manager. What tips would you offer to today’s managers?

Parents, Did We All Make it?

Back to school this year made me achieve this level of restraint.

 

What got me to this point?

With my oldest getting “silent lunch” with the dean on the 4th day of school, then my education at Back to School Night on how the same child had tried to snow me all week about a procedure with his planner, and finally having to muscle the same child through his homework during breakfast because he had forgotten his math book—which I retrieved for him at that Back to School Night… let’s just say I was DONE.

How is your back to school parenting going? Commiserate. 

Finally with my people.

Day 3 and we said goodbye to London, yet the prospect of finally getting to the land of my people in Scotland had me antsy in my train seat. Onward and upward!

What I Saw

All the things. First off, Kings Cross, and yes—I was absolutely thinking of the scene from the Deathly Hallows. Fortunately, I’m not the only one.

Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross

I wonder what it must feel like as an author to know you thought up an idea that was then brought to life at a major travel thoroughfare in one of the world’s most popular cities.

What I Ate

Not enough, apparently. As we walked up and down the full length of The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, we scoped out just about every pub and dining establishment along the way but didn’t stop until I had a certifiable Snickers-diva moment. Thankfully my husband darted us into a Turkish café where we enjoyed hot croissants with bacon and cheese. #crisis averted

What I Learned

We followed my Google map app to the hotel, which directed us to take one way designated as a “Cl.” Came to find out that stands for “Close,” which is a type of very narrow alleyway. This has swiftly turned into our favorite method for finding places off the beaten path. For instance, we came upon the Writers Museum and this array of quotes which puts Hollywood star pavement to shame.

Writers Museum stones in Edinburgh

I’m off to post more pictures on my Pinterest board, so take a gander if you so desire. I have a feeling I’ll need my spare battery charger for sheer shutter needs.

Quickly, London.

Day Two of our We’re 40! adventure in the UK was our only full day in London on this particular trip. It went by far too quickly!

What I Saw

For lunch, my husband had arranged for us to eat at a pub about 10 minutes from our hotel. In what became our trademark style, we made about two wrong turns before arriving at the Anglesea Arms. We chose a patio seat for our lunch, from where we could enjoy the mild weather and street views.

Former residence of Charles Dickens

A placard on the stone patio wall directed us to the residence across the street. Apparently Charles Dickens resided at No. 11!

What I Ate

I realized with this post I need to follow the ways of the foodie and take more pictures of meals, if for no other reason than to prove I’m not relying solely upon liquor to sustain me through my travels.

A tasty breakfast in bed: grapes & smoked cheddar

We’ve been using local grocers and our room’s mini-fridge to plan our breakfasts. This morning I enjoyed grapes and smoked cheese, as well as some tastes of cured meats. When combined with the coffee, it was a delightful repast.

What I Learned

Big Ben at Westminster Abbey

Londoners walk fast. We made our way to Westminster before 9am and thus were in the very midst of a weekday morning commute. I discovered the feeling other shoppers at American malls must have when I zoom around them as they saunter when I wish to sprint. As we walked the paths and ways around Parliament and the Abbey (which, as it turned out, was not conducting tours today), my main goal was to enjoy the sights while staying out of the way of the residents zooming quickly by.

More to come, as we continue our travels north to Edinburgh. If you’d like to see more pictures, visit my Instagram profile.

We made it to London!

Today was our first day of our We’re 40! trip. First thing we did was buy matching bags, special Ultralight backpack for our backs so we could make it to all the trip, it was amazing ! First comprised of traveling by air to Gatwick by way of Reykjavik, then to the hotel by way of train and “the tube” (Underground).

What I Saw

As we explored South Kensington on foot, we came upon a set of museums: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. We opted for the last; being on a thrifty budget for this epic trip, we like finding local attractions which don’t break the wallet (okay, who doesn’t?).

What a lovely choice! We walked through several sections which highlighted centuries of portraits, furniture, and even rooms which had been moved from their original palatial site to be housed within the museum. What most struck our senses was the gallery exhibiting the works of Raphael.

Rafael works at the Victoria and Albert Museum | Rachel, Really Social

This room was striking not just for its contents, but I learned that is was designed to be a choral room to accentuate vocal performances. Naturally I wished I could be in there for five minutes with a small orchestra at the ready.

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This was my personal favorite, which was featured at one end of the gallery and entranced me with the detail and descriptive story of St. George as well as the life of Jesus Christ and his disciples.

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What I Ate

Once we completed our multi-stage trek to our hotel, our stomachs were battling our jet lag and won out. We went across the street to the Hoop and Toy, a small pub which serves a small variety of beers, whiskies, and even ciders (yay!). I enjoyed a strawberry-lime Rekorderlig, while my husband imbibed his Guinness. And, to fulfill a craving I’d had for the week leading up to this day, I ordered fish and chips. #YUM

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What I Learned

To combat jet lag, our plan was to stay awake until 10pm. Part of our strategy was to bike ride through Hyde Park (a short distance from the Ampersand Hotel). After walking through traffic and witnessing how motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians interacted in harrowing ways, I almost backed out. But we rented our bicycles and rode up the street to go through Hyde and Kensington parks.

I learned that, as much as I sometimes find cycling in and around Denver to be a pulse-quickening experience at times, cycling in London is vastly more thrilling. Pedestrians, whether tourist or resident, are on all sides of the lanes and sidewalks, so at times cycling on the road with the cars was less stressful.

My husband, the seasoned city cyclist, shook his head at both my anxiety and my avid desire to take pictures at almost every turn.

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I’ll continue updating on our UK trip and the chaos we cause along the way. Look for my reviews on Tripadvisor.com.