It was 10:30 p.m. I had decided to challenge myself with a 12 mile bike ride home from the northernmost Chicago el stop. I was riding in the street because it was far better lit than the sidewalks. Which is a totally legal thing for me to do. I was coaching myself along because riding home late at night was a bit outside of my comfort zone. Out of nowhere, a man shouted, “GET OFF THE ROAD!” I almost fell over. He scared the living daylights out of me.

This was the second time that week that someone had shouted at me as I was innocently biking along. Earlier in the week, a man shouted, “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!” Of course there where no sidewalks. And I told him so when I shouted back. Which I am totally sure he heard. <sarcasm>

Both of these incidents had me wondering what it was in my behavior that inspired these people to be so angry and hostile. Were they just not good at sharing the road? Were they in a hurry and was I slowing them down? In any case, they acted like they did in fact, own the road and I was in their way.

My experiences with these rude drivers were just demonstrations to me that we have become a country of narcissists. So many people believe that everything and everyone around them should accommodate them. That they should not have to be inconvenienced by other people. I have certainly witnessed it often in our far too rich for their own good suburban area.

It’s incredibly annoying to deal with people who think the planets and the sun all revolve around them. But I also think there are larger consequences to this attitude than just being annoying to the rest of us. People who are narcissists don’t believe in being responsible for their behavior, which leads to their not understanding the connection between their behavior and the consequences of their behavior. I believe this lack of understanding has at least some of its roots in parents constantly telling kids how talented and brilliant they are and calling to bail kids out every time they get into trouble. Ultimately, it leads to drivers on the road yelling at bikers like me because they don’t like that I have inconvenienced them.

I remember watching a Saturday Night Live spoof called, You Can Do Anything! Guests come on the show and perform, doing things they have never done, just because. They receive unquestioned support and applause. The guests say ironic and revealing things like, “No one is ever honest with me about how mediocre I am,” and “I tried and therefore no one should criticize me.” We are so eager to protect children now that we limit their ability to function in the world. Self-esteem has become a reason never to tell our kids they have messed up. Once they grow up, these same people don’t have the ability to understand and accept their role when things go badly for them. Sadly, this lack of introspection means that they aren’t using their failures as learning opportunities to change and grow and improve as human beings.

My hope is that, over time, people will get fed up with this behavior and tell people to knock it off. It means we will need to hold people responsible for their actions. Especially our children. We can do this respectfully and kindly, without shaming anyone. But we must do it.

We also must think about our own role in relationships, jobs, and other experiences that don’t go well. Taking some time when we fail at something, to figure out why what we did, didn’t work. Even if we have a horrible boss, we can almost always find ways in which we played a role in getting fired. Working at understanding what that role is will help us with the next job, the next relationship, or any of our next experiences.

Ultimately, if enough people do this, my bike rides will get a little more pleasant. Because after all, it really is all about me. 😉

ImageAs of midnight on July 1, 2012, we are officially a carless family. Crazy, I know! It has been an evolution of sorts, to get to this point, and part of an overall transformation since my position at a nonprofit was eliminated in June, 2009.

Going carless has been on my agenda for a few years. My plan has been to move to the city once my twins started college. They have just finished their freshman year of college, and I am within weeks (hopefully, if the house sale goes through) of moving to the city. The biggest motivation to go carless now is that my license plates expired. In order to renew my plates, my car would need costly repairs. So rather than do those repairs, I decided it made more sense to stop using the car.

When I first thought about not owning a car, cost was not a deciding factor. However, between insurance, gas, and maintenance, owning a car is expensive. Once I live in the city, I will be able to get anywhere I need to go without a car. It’s an easy way to save some money. And I love the side benefit of getting loads of exercise by riding my bike or walking without having to build it into my schedule. When I go someplace now, I am getting a workout too!Image

However, perhaps the best reason I am going carless, is to do my part to be kind to our planet. I am very concerned about climate change. I think we are naive if we think that all the crazy weather we are experiencing is just a coincidence. There are too many natural disasters, and too much atypical weather for us to ignore what is going on. Cars are a huge contributor to this problem. I have a guilty conscience when I drive, especially when I could have gotten to where I was going without my car. I don’t know that everyone can go carless, but we can all use our cars less. So I am doing my part. Happily

I am definitely concerned about those times when I will “need” a car. On rainy days. When I have something too big to carry on a bike. Or when I just don’t feel like riding my damn bike instead of hopping in the car. But I will get by. There are car share programs like I-GO and ZipCar and rental car companies. It just won’t be quite so convenient and therefore, I won’t do it nearly as often. Which is a good thing for me and for the planet.

Note: Just discovered this post by my friend Julie Urlaub, Founder of Taiga Company: Declare 4th of July Independence from Your Car – Ride a Bike!

Open Books

I love Open Books. Did you know that Chicago has a low literacy rate of over 50%. I can’t imagine trying to navigate life as an adult, unable to read what I need to, in order to get through my day. Open Books has the most innovative programs to inspire the love of reading and writing in children and adults. And their bookstore is like none other. LOVE!

So when I was approached by Razoo to chair the Chicago efforts for the national give day, Twive and Receive, I said sure! I got to choose the nonprofit that we would be raising money for in Chicago. You may know how I feel about Open Books and its founder, Stacy Ratner. I am not in a position to make substantial donations to the organization. But I can create great momentum to facilitate others giving to this incredible organization.
So here’s the deal. Today, June 14th, is a national competition. Cities all around the country are spending 24 hours fundraising for their chosen organization. The top 3 fundraising cities will receive additional funds of $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000. How I would love for Open Books to be one of those winners!
If you are in Chicago, join us at Open Books for Literacy Olympics, tonight, from 6-9:00 pm. We’ll have silly and nerdy book games, delicious Wow Bao to eat, and loads of fun. It is $15 to come in and $25 to join in the game playing.
Open Books Literacy Olympics

Support the power of books!


If you can’t come, PLEASE go into this site and make your donation to support Open Books. Every gift, no matter the size, will make a difference. So whether you can give $5.00 or $500, please support Open Books.
If literacy and Open Books are not your passion, but you feel connected to me, then do it for me. I can’t even begin to describe what a critical role Stacy Ratner has played for me as I have navigated this journey over the past 3 years.
And if you are on Twitter, the hashtag is #twivereceive.
Thank you! Hope to see you at Open Books tonight and/or your donation in the tally on the Twive and Receive site.
Are you a douche?

Are you a douche?

I am fed up with all of the e-newsletters coming to my inbox. This frustration stems from the fact that I didn’t sign up for these newsletters. I posted on Facebook that I was on an unsubscribe mission. Based on the many comments posted in response, it seems as though there are a whole lot of folks who agree. So I decided I needed to do a follow up post to I Can’t Find You: How to Self-Promote Without Being a Douche.

I am a firm believer in self-promotion. I wrote that post because I don’t think some people promote themselves enough. But it has to be done right. And for some reason, what is right isn’t always very clear to everyone. So, here is my list of things you shouldn’t do when you self-promote.

1. DO NOT ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR E-NEWSLETTER WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION. Were all those capital letters annoying? Certainly. But not nearly as annoying as all those newsletters I am getting. I got one last week from an African American Evangelical Christian group. I am a white Jewish girl in the suburbs. WTF folks???

Look, I send an e-newsletter. And building the list that receives it has been painfully slow. I think I have under 100 on the list. But everyone on that list is there because they chose to be. And just because I agreed to be your LinkedIn connection or your Facebook friend does NOT mean I agreed to let you sign me up for your newsletter. Capeesh?

2. And speaking of LinkedIn, sending me spam via LinkedIn is a major nuisance. I know you are sending these messages to all of your contacts, so it is just guilt by association. But don’t do it. If you really want me to attend your event, send me an individual, personalized email. That way I know you actually thought about it first. If you keep sending these to me, know that I shall be un-linking with you. Life’s too busy. I don’t need 12 different notifications of your events. And for some of you, I don’t really want any. I don’t want to attend your events. My lack of attendance and lack of response should be an indication that this is the case. Stop spamming me.

3. And still speaking of LinkedIn, do you really think I am going to approve a request to connect from someone I don’t know and have never heard of, with the LinkedIn template? “I’d like to add you to my professional network” is lame. Expediency is sometimes highly overrated. If I don’t know you, why would I approve that? You have to convince me.  So take a few moments to craft an effective ask that explains why it is in my interest to connect with you. It won’t take long, and the payoff is that you get what you want.

4. Unless you and I are close friends, do NOT ask me to vote for you, share your blog post, or leave a comment.  I could spend my day just responding to these requests. And none of these folks are going to pay my rent or any of my bills. And usually they aren’t going to promote anything I do either.

5. When you choose your title, choose wisely and carefully. You are not a ninja, guru, jedi, or expert just because you say so. Leave that to other people to say when they describe you. Otherwise, you sound like a douche. Truly.

I know I am leaving out boatloads of annoying behaviors. Please add your pet peeves in the comments.

I am not a fundraiser. In reality though, working in the nonprofit sector means everyone is involved in fundraising. So it’s not that I have never worn the fundraising hat. It just isn’t the primary description I inscribe on my shingle. However, social media and the people I have met through those channels seem to be slowly changing that for me.

Gulf fisherman affected by the BP oil spill

Gulf fisherman affected by the BP oil spill

It all started a few years ago when I met my friend Geoff Livingston on Twitter. Not long after we exchanged tweets, he traveled to the Gulf with Citizen Effect. Geoff is a talented photographer who used his camera to document the impact of the BP oil spill on the people of the Gulf. His compelling photographs captivated me every day. After the trip, Geoff and the rest of the Citizen Effect group that traveled together decided to create a national fundraising event with coordinators in each city to benefit Gulf fishermen and their families. I was soon recruited via Twitter to be the Chicago coordinator. It was no easy task to coordinate this national event via the telephone, twitter, and email. But Citizen Effect did just that. We spoke regularly to coordinate, brainstorm, and share ideas. Most of the promotion we did was via Twitter, Facebook, and blog posts. That is how the buzz was created for the trip to the Gulf and how the buzz was created for the national fundraising event. Ultimately, I think what made the entire initiative work was the photos that people shared. Whether it was Geoff’s pictures from the trip itself, or the photos from the night’s events, the pictures made it real.

Join in this national effort

Join in this national effort

And now I am in the midst of getting to work with Geoff once again on a national fundraiser. This time it is with Razoo. On June 14th, cities across the country will join together for a day called Twive and Receive. Each city has a coordinator who chooses a nonprofit to be the day’s beneficiary. I have chosen Open Books to be the recipient nonprofit organization.

Open Books is a nonprofit that promotes literacy

Open Books is a nonprofit that promotes literacy

During these weeks leading up to the event, we are using blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, and the website that Razoo has created for us to promote Twive and Receive. Chicago has a pretty large network of people who are involved in and passionate about social good. One of the challenges for us will be that many people already have their pet causes. I have begun reaching out to high impact individuals who are not already tied to another organization. Their support and outreach via social media, blogs, and announcements at events in Chicago will be critical to our success. Additionally, we will use the network that Open Books has created to promote Twive and Receive to their network. I will also be utilizing my own network on Twitter and Facebook to promote this event.

I encourage you to consider serving as a coordinator for your city. Working with Citizen Effect and now with Twive and Receive, connected me with a whole new community of do-gooders and I learned so many great skills about effective promotion, event creation, and utilizing social media in the nonprofit sector. To this day, I still feel pretty great about the money we raised for Gulf fishermen and their families. And I am thrilled to be able to help do the same for Open Books.

When you send an email, do you have a permanent signature on the bottom? If you do, YEA! If you don’t, why not?  Even if it is your private email, you are  missing opportunities to promote yourself. My email has the following signature:

Info at the end of an email

My email signature

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of promoting yourself, think of it as providing a service to others. Frequently, I need to find people’s websites, blogs, or other online information. It is so easy if they include that information in their email. If they don’t, I have to search for it, which can take several minutes.

Here is a short list of easy things I believe we all should be doing to become more searchable and to promote ourselves-not in a spammy way, but in a professional, appropriate, and helpful way.

1. Email Signature (as mentioned above)

As you can see above, I include a tagline and links to my LinkedIn profile, this blog, and my Twitter account. Once I have a website up, I will link to that, which will include my blog. You can certainly include a phone number, an email address, Facebook page, or any of your other online accounts. I always thought including email was redundant. But it isn’t incorrect to do so.

2. Comment on Blogs

When you read blogs, do you leave comments at the end?  I make it a point to comment on blogs for a number of reasons.

  • It is a way to acknowledge that you appreciate the effort someone took to write that post. We all can look at statistics to see that people are visiting our sites, but it is the comments that really provide the proof that folks are reading and thinking about what they read–that we actually had an impact with our writing.
  • Great conversations can result from commenting. It gets me thinking and understanding the issues more thoroughly or from a different perspective.
  • Commenting on blogs increases my “search-ability” on Google. Yes, really. Comments show up and move you higher up in search.

3. Complete Profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Elsewhere

A Twitter profile without a bio or a link to a site means I generally don’t follow them back. That bio and site link give me back ground information so I know a bit more about who he or she is. Plus, why skip an opportunity to promote your website or your blog? LinkedIn is also an incredible way to promote yourself appropriately. Websites, blogposts, volunteer experiences, skills. People are looking at your profile. Why withhold information that may help them hire you or promote your work for you?

There are most certainly many other actions we can all take to promote ourselves without appearing promotional. What did I leave off of this list? Remember, if you comment, it’s great for your “search-ability.”  😉

(Special thanks to my friend Dwana De La Cerna, for her permission to include her Facebook comments. To read more of her thoughts on the Trayvon Martin killing, see her post here.)

My online network was definitely discussing the murder of Trayvon Martin. I shared a link on my Facebook page to an incredible blog post by Gina Carroll. However, I don’t think I really had internalized what had taken place. We are bombarded by so many stories every day, that we sadly become numb. As a white woman living in the suburbs, the story hadn’t felt personal to me. Until my friend Dwana posted a comment on my Facebook post.

Facebook Conversation

Dwana's comments on Facebook

Dwana and I had shared stories about our sons because they are very close in age. When she posted these comments, the story became personal. This story was no longer just another story. I now felt like I had been hit in the gut when I thought  about Trayvon Martin.

Later in the week, I heard Jonathan Capehart on Al Sharpton’s show on MSNBC. He talked about African American teenaged boys getting taught a list of things they shouldn’t do when out in public. I understand parents having lists of things to teach their children. I taught my kids to say please and thank you. To treat others kindly and with respect. To brush their teeth. To follow through on tasks. But Capehart discussed a different list that was not a part of my world. He was told not to run in public because people would think he was in trouble. He was told never to run in public with something in his hands or people would think he stole it. I googled to see if others knew about these “lists” of items to teach African American teenaged boys. Sure enough, there were several blog posts in which people described these lists.

I want to swear at the top of my lungs at all of this. How can we raise a generation of young, proud, African American men when they are taught these lists? And how can my white sons and African American sons co-exist in fairness, justice, and peace when the terms under which they live in this country are so rife with inequality?

We must speak up about this. Not just African Americans, but all of us. We must do everything in our power to fight racial injustice in our communities. Because I now know that Trayvon isn’t just Dwana’s son. He is all of our sons now.

A relevant quote believed to be by Martin Niemoller: 

First they came for the communists

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.