Author Archives: Joshua P. Cohen

Intro to My Influencers: Ari Weinzweig

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

My family introduced me to Zingerman’s Deli a few years ago and I made it a tradition to stop by there and do a pilgrimage each time I made it to Ann Arbor, which admittedly wasn’t that often. Zingerman’s prides itself on high quality of food, unique and local variations of regional and international cuisine, and high standards for customer service. So, when a work trip with a couple colleagues necessitated a visit a few years ago, I made a reservation for the three of us at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. 

Zingerman’s Roadhouse is a sit-down outpost of the Deli. More down-home American classics than traditional deli fare, but perfect for an introduction to the quality of food and service that Zingerman’s was known for. And it didn’t disappoint. 

Our server was attentive and thoughtful, even using her own body to demonstrate what part of the cow the steak I was interested in was from. Our water glasses were refilled with regularity. Our plates cleaned of every last morsel. 

We had a professional development budget to buy the books or attend the conferences that we wanted. Ari Weinzweig, the CEO of Zingerman’s, had written several and I convinced my colleagues that we should each get his books so our server dropped off a stack of 9 thick hardback books on the table as I polished off the remains of the donut ice cream sundae that marked the end of our meal. 

And then, the water guy sidled up to our booth, sat down, opened the first book (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part I: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business), and started signing them. My colleagues and I all looked incredulously at each other. 

“Are you Ari?” as if that wasn’t already self-evident. 

“Yes, welcome to Zingerman’s! I hope you enjoyed your meal.” 

“We did! But weren’t you just filling our water?” 

“I was. That’s Secret 25: Managing by pouring water.” 

We opened the book to that chapter and indeed, there it was, Secret 25, Managing by pouring water. Turns out that every week, Ari works at the Roadhouse one evening so that he can check in with the team, get an eye on operations, and interact with the customers. So that he doesn’t just sit around making everyone uncomfortable while he observes what’s going on, in the spirit of servant leadership, he identified a job that he could do that would be valuable to the guests and the team, but also could be covered by others should he be out of town. He settled on refilling the water glasses.

I have to admit that this was a pretty good party trick and clearly, we weren’t the first people he had pulled it on. But more than that, I was impressed with his dedication to his craft, to his team, to his customers. 

So began a deep dive into the history of Zingerman’s Deli and it’s growth from a small delicatessen into a community of businesses–all in the Ann Arbor area–that support each other. Beyond the Deli and Roadhouse, they also have a mail order business, coffee shop, coffee roastery, candy manufactory, bakehouse, training company, Korean restaurant, farm, creamery, mail order, event space, and food tours. As I dug into Zingerman’s, I also explored all of the many writings of Ari Weinzweig. There have been so many inspirational parts of his work that have influenced my own personal development as well as my coaching. Here are just a few:

  • “Don’t get furious, get curious” as a reminder to dig into the root causes of what angers you and to dig underneath the immediate emotion.
  • If feeling lousy, find three people to thank. Gratitude changes your perspective pretty quickly.
  • Knowing and accepting what is “enough.” This one deserves an essay all on its own but recognizing what constitutes enough (money, fame, external validation, rest, etc.) will change your life.
  • The art of giving excellent customer service. It’s not enough to simply provide good customer service once, you have to have an underlying philosophy and the processes in place to make it a consistent reality. 
  • The power of visioning. This one also deserves an essay of its own, but I’ve found that creating a compelling vision of a future state that I want has changed my life.

Ari’s influence on me is not limited to the content of his writing. I also appreciate the vulnerability and thoughtfulness that permeates it. He clearly spends a great deal of time thinking and reflecting, also skills that I desire to practice more. The voluminousness of his writing also inspires me. He produces so much great content that I’m amazed he has time for anything else, let alone helping to run a multi-million dollar organization. 

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Upending the Status Quo

MLK Birmingham Jail.jpegPhoto credit: L. Cunningham, US Air Force

As someone whose mission is bringing about positive change in communities around transportation and mobility, I think a lot about the status quo. In mobility, the status quo is the exorbitant funding for roads compared to public transit. It’s the loss of vulnerable lives walking and riding bikes for the convenience of speeding autos. And it’s the systematic prioritization of white neighborhoods at the expense of communities of color. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted our communities in a very short time. The challenges are immense and already well-documented. Though North Carolina has been spared some of the worst of the pandemic so far, we recognize and honor those challenges. They are real and they hurt. 

And yet, we have to acknowledge this pandemic has inspired some positive outcomes. Some of the positive changes are public: 

Traffic went poof.

Water is clear.

Air is cleaner than ever.

Car crashes are down significantly.

And some of the changes are more personal in nature: 

Families are rediscovering game nights

Outdoor exercise is flourishing

Happy hours are being reinvented on Zoom.

When we have this experience to look back on, these positive changes will recalibrate some of those “the way things always have been” conversations. It is already putting into stark relief some of the things that we accepted as inherent to the status quo just may not be.  

For instance, many working parents and disability advocates are finding out that work from home limitations were not technical in nature, but a lack of imagination at best and discrimination at worst. Some cities are finding that sidewalks that aren’t wide enough for proper social distancing require more aggressive measures by taking away roadspace. And Spain is planning a Universal Basic Income to ensure that everyone can pay their bills, even when the pandemic runs its course.

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Still, while some aspects of the status quo are changing, more troubling parts of the status quo–especially around issues of equity–still remain.  

  • Areas of the country, especially communities of color, already dealing with a lack of healthcare investment are now some of the hardest hit by COVID-19. 
  • Frontline, lower-wage workers like transit operators, grocery store clerks, and food preparers and deliverers are struggling under the weight of lost wages, a lack of personal protective equipment, and higher rates of exposure
  • Kids who traditionally relied on their school for internet access and food are now navigating an impressive—but still community-driven—effort to cover these critical resources. 

As we collectively struggle with this pandemic which can infect all of us equally, but will affect us all differently, I’ve found Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” instructive as he dealt with the similarly virulent scourge of racism:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 

When we pull one string to close schools, we loosen our social safety net a tad. And when we don’t pay living wages or appropriately honor those nameless workers who we all depend on now, we all pay the price. And when we chronically underinvest in the communities that need it the most, the status quo digs in a little deeper. 

So, even during these challenging times, let’s celebrate those areas where we’re already upending the status quo and let’s commit to ensuring that everyone benefits from the needed changes still to come.

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Welcome to the Rock…

4487140623_75d7681d73_oPhoto credit: Zach Bonnell

A few months ago, my wife and I took our 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to see Come From Away at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Before going, all I knew about the show was that it told the story of the planes that were diverted to Newfoundland when the tragedy of 9/11 shut down the US airspace. As I learned after the amazing performance with cast members playing multiple parts with no intermission, it was that, but also so much more. 

I’ve been thinking about the major theme of community togetherness from Come From Away a lot over the past few days of isolation and social distancing, and not just because the soundtrack seems to be on repeat in our house.  

The diverted passengers almost doubled the size of the small town of Gander and the community responded with donations of food, shelter, and transportation. In that time of fear and confusion, these Canadian citizens responded to their better angels and made their guests as comfortable as possible. Instead of falling prey to any number of negative ways this could go, they instead recognized that they were more similar than they were different. 

The very nature of air travel and the fact that the flights that landed in Gander from all over the world perfectly illustrated the interconnected nature of the world. Planes take off and they have to land somewhere. Everyone on the plane puts their trust in the pilots, air traffic control tower personnel, and ground crew. These fundamental truths were what the islanders–as the Newfoundlanders called themselves–recognized even as they shared little in common with the passengers except the small town they were occupying together and their humanity. 

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Compared to 9/11 which descended on us with an unsettling speed and then burned for days, this COVID-19 pandemic and particularly the US response has been more akin to boiling a frog. All of the economic, political, and infrastructure decisions that have been made at a macro level for generations have been warming the water as many of us blithely swam around the pot. And now we’re starting to notice that water is getting too hot for our comfort and we know it’s going to boil over, throwing hot water and boiled frog everywhere around the kitchen. We just don’t know when.

Still, despite these differences, both 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted our interconnectedness as well as the depths of humanity. 

The COVID-19 virus is a physical manifestation of our interconnectedness. The virus can’t travel by itself, so the only way it’s been able to travel from its point of origination halfway across the world to my rather small community in North Carolina is the connections between people.  Connections that we may have taken for granted, especially since social distancing began. 

In our community of Durham, NC, community members are taking steps to minimize the impact on local businesses by identifying ways to support them that still allow for social distancing. Whether that is purchasing coffee from one of our local roasters or creating spreadsheets where community members can identify restaurants offering takeout and delivery to ensuring that our local schoolkids get fed even though school is cancelled, we are coming together in ways that many couldn’t have anticipated. 

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If we can take ourselves back to the first few hours, days, and weeks after 9/11, they were some of the scariest, confusing, times of many of our lives, even if we were geographically far from the impacted areas. And yet that time was also where our country showed tremendous resilience, courage, and community. 

And birthed out of those contrasting feelings came Come From Away. Looking at Come From Away in this context helps me see the performance for what it is: art. Art has always served as a critical tool in helping people to cope with tremendous challenges while also honoring those who are doing the yeoman’s work to help others. 

While we don’t yet know the global health, financial, and psychological impact of COVID-19 will be, I can only hope that we can channel some of the same power that those brave souls who played parts of the larger 9/11 response and contribute art that will help us honor, appreciate, and mourn everyone and everything we lost. 

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As I settled into my seat a few months ago to watch Come From Away, I still didn’t know what the title referred to. Turns out it’s what Newfoundlanders call those who weren’t born there that end up on their remote island. The 7,000 plane people were all “come from aways” who found out that indeed “a candle’s in the window and the kettle’s always on.” 

And in introducing rocky and isolated Newfoundland to the audience in the opening song, “Welcome to the Rock,” the cast sets the tone for that time after 9/11 and still holds true now as we wrestle with COVID-19: “Welcome to the land where we lost our loved ones/And we said, we will still go on!”

Yes, we will.

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How you can learn to love negotiations

When I started at TransLoc in 2008, I was the only business person on a team full of engineers.  It remained that way for four more years as we continued to devote resources to the technical side of the house.   And while I did my best to learn from others in similar positions, with few new ideas coming in, I felt a little like a fish in a pond without a freshwater source.   

When we hired Daniel–and his 15 years of experience in sales–I received a constant stream of fresh ideas into my pond.   The ideas I benefited the most from centered around negotiations. Here are three specific lessons about negotiations that he taught me.

Be positive

Negotiations can often be tense, especially when trying to get a deal done or soothe a frustrated customer.  In all situations, the reason you’re negotiating is that you and the other party want different things, perceive that you want different things, or don’t understand what the other party wants.  This can make both sides ratchet up their defenses.

And that was stressful for me.  Daniel helped me overcome this stress by often stating at the beginning of the call, in the most positive tone possible, “I’m really looking forward to this conversation so that we can find an agreement that makes sense for both of us.”  

This simple line–which both parties want even if they don’t know it yet or are not as explicit about it–diffuses tension on both sides and sets the tone that you want to get a deal done.  

Be vulnerable

This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s helpful to simply share your position.  We had a conversation with a customer who was late paying their invoices. We didn’t want to turn off their service even though our contract allows us to do.  We had never done it before and didn’t think we ever would because it is a nuclear option.

And yet it seems weird to just tell our client that we weren’t going to shut off their service.  But we did. We didn’t want to play games and take a position far to the extreme and then retreat to our fallback position.  Being vulnerable reduces the games that are often played during negotiations so we can focus on what we could do to remedy the situation.  

Don’t keep score

I used to think that negotiations had to be equal.  If I concede something of a certain value, you had to concede something of similar value.   But, that’s almost impossible to do in practice. So, now I just try and get something in return so that the power dynamic is not off-kilter with one side giving in on every point.  With the customer who was late on their bills, just getting them to pay something and acknowledge that they were late was a win.  A win didn’t have to represent them sending in the whole amount. A win was both sides giving a little–even if they weren’t equal amounts–and feeling positive about the experience.  

These lessons have changed my perspective on negotiations so much that I now look forward to them. What about you?  

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Kicking the Hopium Habit

When my daughter was just shy of two years old, my wife and I were faced with a decision: to take away her pacifier—and endure a week of interrupted sleep as she cried her way to a pacifier-free world—or hope she would swear off her pacifier on her own, thereby preserving our well-earned sleep.

It wasn’t an easy choice for us. In the end, we decided to endure the sleepless nights because we recognized that the alternative simply wasn’t likely. (Not only was it not realistic, but the longer we waited for a different outcome, the more painful the inevitable taking of the pacifier would be.) By taking away her pacifier, my wife and I resisted the siren’s call of “smoking hopium.”

This term–introduced to me by one of my former managers–describes what happens when we allow emotion to trump pragmatism and when our vision for the long-term is blurred by short-term gains. That being said, if you’re the parent of a toddler, you’ll do just about anything for a good night’s sleep.

It’s not just new parents that are faced with the seduction of hopium. As I look around at the circles that I’m most involved in, transportation and startups, I see how hopium has inflicted casualties far and wide.

♦♦

Chris Pangilinan removes his gloves as he rolls his wheelchair into our meeting, his semi-permanent grin embedded on his face. A transportation advocate and researcher for TransitCenter in New York City, Chris is an expert on not only transit, but one of the more prosaic elements of many subway trips: the way you get from the street to the train. While most of us may just take the stairs or escalator, an elevator is a requirement for a wide swath of public transit users, from people like Chris who use wheelchairs to seniors who use canes to new parents with strollers.

The New York City Subway is the hidden workhorse for the city that never sleeps. The city simply wouldn’t function without the movement of 5 million people a day under the city streets. But the subway doesn’t function for many of the city’s residents. Less than 25% of its stations have elevators. Almost a third of elevators and escalators failed a recent inspection and nearly 80% of those have not received their preventative maintenance on time.

And while it’s easy to blame the subway’s age on its inability to serve all its citizens, not accepting reality is a classic sign that you are addicted to hopium. The subway inhibits Chris’s mobility because the New York City MTA and those that fund it simply haven’t prioritized building and maintaining elevators. They’ve spent billions–significantly higher than the rest of the world pays– on just a few short miles of subway. They’ve played politics with funding, sending some upstate and some to labor unions and contractors as kickbacks. They’ve hoped the problem would go away.

Only recently, with the commitment of new NYC Transit President Andy Byford, has the New York City MTA paid more than lip service to the fact that a lack of accessibility impacts millions of people everyday. Still, though, until the plan is funded, which would require the mayor, governor, and legislature to recognize that expectations for accessibility have changed significantly, something as simple as taking the subway is still an impediment for many.

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I was negotiating a job offer with an old friend who had started a company on the side and needed someone to run it for him day to day. They already had a handful of employees and customers.

“What’s the revenue?”
“The revenue will be $750K by the end of the year.”
“Wow, you’ve done an amazing job so quickly.”

I was a newly-minted MBA and running a small entrepreneurial venture was exactly what I had wanted to do when I graduated. And this one, right in the location I wanted with a local businessman I respected, was just what I wanted. I heard a revenue number and saw an office with real employees and pictured myself in the proverbial corner office with an opportunity to put in place all the lessons I learned in school.

To this day, I’m still not sure if it was him, me, or both of us smoking hopium, but let’s just say that the air was hazy.

Regardless, the end result was that when I stepped foot inside the company on day 1, I found the reality to be quite different than the rosy picture that both my friend painted and I had imagined. There was no malice. He was simply thinking positively and I was assuming positively. But neither was based in reality. The company didn’t have a unique value proposition, adequate funding to build a customer base, or any real way to scale the modest success they had locally.

My friend had wanted me to run the company and I ran it, alright. I ran it into the ground in about 6 months. I’ve reflected a lot on that time. Sure, the idea was flawed from the beginning, but I let hopium cloud my judgment. It was a lesson I won’t forget.

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Like any other bad habit that leads to bigger problems, smoking hopium manifests differently in each of us. It might show by deferring handling an issue with an employee directly and hoping that they will start performing. It could be losing focus too early in your venture or trying to do too much later in your venture.

I met Kenny Fennell over coffee in one of Ann Arbor’s many coffee shops after a couple of people had recommended we chat. Kenny was a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious graduate school and a finalist for the Go Ford Challenge for his startup Caravan.

Kenny shared some of the challenges that he was having building his social entrepreneurship startup, Caravan. He wanted to help community groups with transportation needs match up with other groups with underutilized vehicles, but was struggling with the business model as well as ensuring that he was solving real problems for his users. I gave him some advice and he promised to stay in touch.

Fast forward three months and Kenny called asking for more advice, but this time about a couple job opportunities he was exploring. What happened to Caravan? “We pulled the plug.” The clarity by which Kenny and his team moved on from Caravan startled me, especially considering how most start up entrepreneurs I talk to who are convinced that the next big contract or key employee or business model tweak was the one that would put them over the top.

For Kenny, avoiding the seductive call of hopium was fairly clear. He and his co-founder mindfully created a social contract that outlined each of their responsibilities and helped to create a culture where the expectation was that Kenny and his cofounder were “honest with each other because our social contract valued listening, being curious, and learning over winning discussions.” This strong foundation allowed them to define their personal limits so that they were clear on how much each was willing to sacrifice for their startup, a critical conversation that was missing in my entrepreneurial adventure. Finally, Kenny and his co-founder created strong decision milestones ahead of time so they could make an evidence-based decision that their startup wasn’t going to take flight.

Like any addiction, hopium is not an easy one to kick. But once you do, you’ll find that you are healthier and better equipped to accomplish what you want to accomplish. And, like my daughter, wife, and I, you’ll sleep like a baby.

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How to make your summer internship a success

IMG_1888-e1496689718596-986x1315A few weeks ago, TransLoc’s interns started work. Each year, TransLoc hires a handful of interns across departments to help us tackle projects and help them gain work experience. We take onboarding seriously here at TransLoc, even for our interns. They are welcomed with balloons, company swag, and approximately five pounds of their favorite candy. With all the Reese’s Cups, Kit-Kats, and Sour Patch Kids we have floating around, it’s a good thing walking trails surround our office and a gym sits right across the road.

In addition to the copious amounts of sugar, one of our other onboarding practices is a one on one with each department head to share how their department advances TransLoc’s mission, introduce the other people on the team, and share any other TransLoc wisdom worth sharing.

This past week, during my meeting with our new interns Kayleigh, Joyce, Nancy, and Jess and our new salesperson Dustin, I introduced them to my department and also provided some advice on how to make the most of their experience at TransLoc. Beyond their usefulness in the short term, these tools can also help them identify compatible organizations to work for, wherever they end up later in their career.

Here’s the advice I shared:

Turn your inexperience into an asset

It’s easy for someone new to an organization to question their ability to contribute, especially those just starting out in internships or entry-level positions. What do you know about the industry? Or the products? Or even the company culture? Probably not much. And while this lack of knowledge undermines many newbies’ confidence to contribute, that’s a mistake. Your very inexperience is what makes you so valuable.

You possess a perspective that is free from the assumptions or blind spots that those of us who have been neck deep in the business for years have missed. So how do you turn this inexperience into an asset? Ask good, hard questions. Listen carefully. Apply logic to what you hear and politely ask for clarification if things don’t make sense. Bad organizations will be threatened by this questioning and it’s better you learn that quickly. Good organizations will welcome this approach and your contribution to the “marketplace of ideas.”

Make your teammates look good

In any organization, there is always more work to be done than can be possibly be done. Only the most effective “Essentialists” will ruthlessly prioritize the most important things and clear the decks of the extraneous fluff that doesn’t move the needle. For the rest of us, we’re in a constant battle between the urgent, the important, and the “Holy Crap.”

Recognizing that your boss and your colleagues likely exist in this world is the first step towards using this reality to your and the organization’s benefit. The more you can anticipate their needs, ask for work, or just jump in and start identifying problems you can tackle, the more they will appreciate you. Another benefit: it allows you to practice a critical skill that will be necessary as you grow in your career: making a recommendation. Many times, your boss will take your recommendation and implement your ideas. Other times will be opportunities to get great feedback on what your recommendation may be missing. It can be scary to open yourself up in this way, but great managers appreciate this initiative.

Begin with the end in mind

You won’t work here forever. Whatever job you’re in, it will be for a finite time, even if you do not always know the specific length of time that will be. So it’s important to begin with the end in mind. As Yogi Berra so eloquently stated: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

So think about what those bullet points are that you want on your resume when you finish your internship or job. Is there a specific skill or software you’d like to learn or a specific type of project you want to gain experience in? Share that with your manager so that they can help figure out a way to make that happen, which is easier if the skills you want to learn are something your team needs.

A caveat: beginning with the end in the mind doesn’t mean that you run as a one-man wolfpack, pursuing projects that benefit only you. It simply ensures that both your interests and the organization’s interests align so that you both receive value, which is how any good relationship works. The motivation sweet spot is where your interests and career goals intersect with the needs of your team and manager.

What other advice would you share with our newest employees as they begin their TransLoc careers?

P.S. If you would like to work at TransLoc–either as a full-time employee or as intern–please let us know!

(Crossposted from the TransLoc Blog)

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The intersection of transit and diversity

E3A13C32-3706-4B45-A258-37971625C87CIn March, I chaperoned my daughter’s third-grade class on a walking and public transit field trip to explore economic development in downtown Durham.  As a working parent, I don’t get to attend as many school day events as I would like.  But, beyond the obvious connection of this trip to my work in transit, this outing appealed to me for one important reason: it highlighted the innate inclusiveness and diversity embodied by public transportation.

My daughter’s public school is roughly ⅓ white, ⅓ Hispanic, and ⅓ African-American.  Over half of the kids at school qualify for free and reduced lunch, indicating a larger issue of food insecurity for children in Durham. Her school truly reflects the diversity of the area. Our use of the fare-free Bull City Connector—and the ½ mile walk each way to the bus stop—ensured that the field trip came at no cost to these children, allowing all kids to participate, regardless of means. It also gave me an opportunity to blow the kids’ minds when I used TransLoc Rider to tell them exactly when the bus would arrive. I even managed to sneak in some learning by asking them to count to 120 until the bus that was 2 minutes away would arrive.

Public transit at its heart embodies and celebrates diversity. Its fundamental mission to provide equitable access invites diversity of age, background, income, and physical ability. You don’t have to be rich to use it, but you can be.  You don’t have to be able-bodied to use it, but you can be. You don’t have to be a third grader to use it, but you can be.

Beyond the introduction to public transit, the field trip was powerful in other ways. On the heels of February’s Black History Month, our tour guide, third-grade parent and former city councilman Farad Ali, showed the students Parrish Street, Durham’s famed Black Wall Street. Here, many of Durham’s minority-owned businesses sprouted in the early 20th century. In unique symmetry, with March being Women’s History Month, the class visited two woman-owned businesses now taking up residence on Parrish Street as it begins another transformation.

The week after the field trip, I found myself again at the intersection of diversity and transit at TransLoc’s office a few miles south of Parrish Street.  It was International Women’s Day and our CEO reflected on the impact that our women employees have on TransLoc:

I want to thank each and every one of you for all that you do here and everything you bring to TransLoc. We wouldn’t be where we are today, as special a place to work, nor would we reach the heights I know we’ll reach without you. You are truly valued and appreciated and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with you all.

At TransLoc, we’re taking concrete steps to create a more diverse work environment by assigning indexed, market-based salaries for each role we hire for.  These indexed salaries eliminate the need for negotiation, which research indicates disproportionately benefits men.  As a result, we have increased racial and gender diversity to 49% of the company in 2016, up from 32% in 2015.  Our commitment to diversity at TransLoc serves multiple purposes. Sure, it’s a smart business decision, as non-homogenous teams are smarter. But, it’s also the right thing to do.

Our mission is that of seamless mobility: to create a world where all modes of transportation are fully connected into a single, integrated network with transit at the center. At the core of this mission is our belief that transit is an equalizer, a democratizing force, transit is for all—much the way it was during my daughter’s third-grade field trip.

Transit’s role in promoting diversity started way before TransLoc entered the scene a few years ago and it will continue long into the future. In the meantime, we are excited to do our part in helping to reinforce its importance on our way towards accomplishing our mission to create seamless mobility and make transit the first choice for all.

Crossposted from a post I wrote for the TransLoc blog.

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High Intensity Interval Training for the Community

One of the great joys in life is volunteering in the community with your children.  Children are impressionable and exposing them now to the benefits of volunteering will pay dividends down the road.  The trick is to find volunteering that will hold their interest.  Enter High Intensity Interval Training for the community.

With three kids, two jobs, and one busy life, my wife Sarah and I are big fans of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  I first learned about HIIT in a New York Times article citing the benefits of a “7 minute workout” that cycled participants through 12 exercises using only body weight and a chair in only 7 minutes.  Since then, we’ve found a free Johnson & Johnson app that has several pre-planned HIIT workouts as well as the ability to customize your own.   It gets your heart rate up and is a great complement to my running.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised recently to find a couple volunteer activities that help the community, are family-friendly and provide a good workout to boot.  

Stop Hunger Now, a Raleigh non-profit whose mission is to “end hunger in our lifetime,” packages thousands of meals in a couple hours with a highly efficient assembly line comprised of dozens of volunteers.  My kids and I ran from table to table collecting packaged meals to put them into boxes.  The payoff?  Ringing a gong every time we packed 250 meals.  Seriously, what kid isn’t going to be excited to ring a gong?

StopHungerNow

The Diaper Bank of North Carolina offers a similarly accessible environment to volunteer with kids.  The Diaper Bank converts donated pallets of diapers into packages of 50 for local community partners to distribute to their clients who cannot afford to buy clean diapers.  When our family volunteered together on Sarah’s birthday, we packaged 3800 diapers in an hour and a half.  We were hustling to count, stack, and package diapers and I definitely broke a sweat.  More importantly, the kids were able to help out with the packaging, continuing their exposure to ways to help in the community.  

DiaperBank

So if you’ve been looking for a way to get your kids volunteering in the community (and get you a workout to boot), check out these ways to get involved with Stop Hunger Now and the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.  And let me know if you have other High Intensity ways to get your kids involved with volunteering!

Above the clouds

It was one of those days where you’re not sure whether you should be flying or not. It was midday, but the sky was dark, the rain is falling, and the wind was howling. You just have to trust that your pilot has been through this before and can handle it.

We push back from the gate and start our taxi. As we hurtle down the runway, our speed forces the rain on the window to move from vertical to horizontal. We start heading up into the teeth of the storm.And then we break through the clouds and it’s sunny and clear. None of the gray clouds or rain are present. It’s as if we are in a different world.  

This should be self-evident. This is simple science. I’m sure I learned about this in sixth-grade science. But, if you can’t tell, I wasn’t always paying attention when I was in school. 

But it isn’t self-evident. When you are in the midst of the storm, it feels like it is that way everywhere. And that’s true whether we’re talking about weather or we’re talking about the storms in our mind.    

The trick is remembering that the storms aren’t everywhere. It’s always clear above the clouds. 

So how do you stay above the clouds?

Photo credit

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The humanity beneath your Uber driver’s star rating

“How’s business?”
“I’m not talking to customers today.”
Well, this is getting interesting.
I persisted. “What’s going on?”
“Some guy gave me 2 stars yesterday.  And I drove for 13 hours yesterday and made $37.”

When I booked my Uber on my way to the Houston airport, I noticed the driver–Anne–had 4.7 stars out of five.  Most drivers care very much about their star rating, with Uber penalizing drivers if their star rating drops too low.  4.7 stars is about the lowest I’ve ever seen an Uber driver.

When my colleague John and I got into our Uber and had the above exchange, I got an inkling of why she may have received two stars from a passenger.  Anne was having a bad day or, likely, several bad days.  I had known Anne all of 30 seconds and she had made quite an impression on me.  

I recalled a recent terrific podcast Tim Ferriss hosted with comedian Whitney Cummings.  In it, Whitney describes how she deals with the daily struggles of life and people and her needs and their needs.  She simply says to herself prior to interacting with anyone for the first time, “I love you.” This simple act humanizes the person and allows her to see that they are just as frail and broken as she is, though in different ways.

After the humanless computer program failed to deliver any decent fares yesterday and some guy penalized her for feeling frustrated, Anne was feeling unhuman.  The easy way out would have been to simply murmur something polite and then stare out the window for the next 20 minutes and hope she didn’t say anything else.  

But Anne opened up.  “I just graduated from nursing school and I can’t find a job so I’m doing Uber to pay the bills in the meantime.”  As she talked about her 22 years as a phlebotomist, her passing of the state nursing boards last week, and the other humanless computer program online that overlooked her resume since she hadn’t seeded it with relevant keywords, I looked at her less as a number of stars and more as a human.

As she talked, her voice and her eyes conveyed her passion for helping children and cancer patients.  She understood intuitively that being a nurse is only partly about technical skills, but more about connecting with her patients.  These kids were scared to have their blood drawn and she let them have control on when she did it because kids in hospitals often feel like they don’t have any.

After faceless computer programs kept dinging her, Anne felt that she didn’t have control either.  John recommended an organization that he had volunteered with, Jobs for Life, that connects job seekers with volunteer mentors to help with the transition to work.  

Not only will mentors and informational interviews help unlock the hidden job market where most jobs are found, but those people you meet along the way become your cheerleaders.  They give you hope when you feel like you can’t write one more cover letter or thank you note.  

As we were getting out of the car at the airport, Anne remarked to me and John, “You have been so helpful. And I wasn’t going to talk to you today!”

I’m glad a computer program can’t get in the way of that.  

Uber Receipt

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