Don’t mess with your selfie…

April 3, 2020

In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words,  pastor Jack freed used this quote – “The easiest thing in the world to be is you.  The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.  Don’t let them put you into that position.”  (Leo Buscaglia)

So, why is so hard for some  to just be yourself? I suspect that it is because we don’t necessarily like what we see when we look at ourselves. We take a mental “selfie” and immediately break out our copy of a virtual Photoshop to try to alter the picture.

For some it is their physical appearance with which they are uncomfortable. That may lead to all sorts of different and sometimes unusual steps to change that appearance. It may involve dying one’s hair bright orange or perhaps just wearing unusual clothes. Maybe it means getting a noose ring or a tattoo. It may even lead to plastic surgery to correct a perceived imperfection.

For others the desire to “fit in” may force dramatic changes in their behavior or lifestyle. If putting on the “uniform” of the group to which one wishes to belong isn’t enough, they change things like their vocabulary and speech patterns or maybe adopt a different lifestyle.

The rationale for making any of these changes is based upon trying to make yourself into something that you are not, to be something that you think other people want you to be. That rationale starts with your own dissatisfaction with what you see when you take that mental selfie. If you cannot love yourself and what you see in that selfie, it is natural to try to find others to emulate, in the mistaken belief that you will be happier being them than you are being you.

Life seldom works out that way. It is not until much later in life that most discover and appreciate the words of Meryl Streep – “What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength.” 

Maybe what you see in your mental selfie looks weird to you, or at least different. Start by embracing that and saying it is OK – it is your strength. In fact, maybe you should find ways to enhance and bring out those differences that make you unique. After all, they are your strength. Instead of being just another clone dressed in the cookie-cutter “uniform” of the crowd, you will stand out as someone with the confidence and strength of character to go their own way in fashion as in life. You might be surprised how attractive that can be.

How do you start to go your own way? Well, it starts with loving yourself and who you are. I’ve posted here about accepting and loving yourself first several times. Rather than spending your time seeking the approval of others, seek first approval of yourself. You must come to the conclusion that I am who I am, I like who I am and I’m not going to change who I am to suit others. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable you will be around others. In that comfort within your own skin you will find courage and confidence that will radiate from you and make you the type of person that others enjoy being around.

For some, loving yourself may start with accepting the fact that God loves you just the way yo are. God does not ask or expect you to change. He just loves you and accepts for who you are. After all, He made you what you are and how can you not love that. So, if you can accept the love of God, you should be able to love yourself and then you can go on to love others and be loved by others.

So, it is alright to look in the mirror in the morning and take that mental selfie. The goal should not be to makes changes to be like someone else; but, rather, to be the best you that you can be that day. Embrace the things that make you different. They are your strength. They empower you. Loving yourself will allow others to love you, too.

Today, start by taking that mental selfie and saying – “Hello world. Get a load of this. It’s me. Don’t you just love it? I do.”  The world will be a happier place because you let the real you shine through.


Take back control of your life…

April 1, 2020

I suspect that I have been like most of us during this crisis, either being swept along with it or going along to get along. For the first couple of weeks leading up to the stay at home order and for the first couple of days into that order, I was maintaining somewhat of a normal routine, in terms of getting up, getting showered and getting dressed for a business day. Eventually, I succumbed to the feelings of “why bother” and started staying dressed longer in my “walk the dogs” outfit of jeans and a sweatshirt that I normally put on when I get up. I also started just putting on a better pair of jeans when I finally did get cleaned up for the day.  So much for my normal business casual outfits.  It’s time to take back control of your life…

Today I decided to take control of my life back and get back to at least part of my old routine. Why? Because I refuse to let this crisis and the lifestyle changes that it has dictated for all of us completely run my life. Since I can’t actually visit with my clients and have to use email or phone calls, it is easy to ask, “Who will know” whether I’m in jeans or a business casual outfit? The answer is, “I will know.” That makes a difference; at least it does to me. It’s time to take back control of my  life…

There have been many Facebook posts from people who have begun lounging around the house all day in their PJ’s. In fact, Mike Morris, the TV personal injury lawyer, has a commercial running that shows him with a suit top and PJ bottom. One post that I saw talked of exchanging one’s daytime PJ’s for the nighttime version. For most it’s more probable that jeans have become the outfit of the day. How you dress during this crisis seems to be a trivial thing to focus upon; however, it is an important clue as to how this is all effecting you. Not getting cleaned up for the day and sitting around in your PJs or your weekend jeans all day is saying to the world – I’ve given up control of another aspect of my life. There are certainly enough things happening right now, over which we really have no control that we need not surrender on things that we can control. It’s time to take back control of your life…

The other aspect of taking this attitude is that it puts you in a better frame of mind to deal with the situation. By saying to yourself, “I will not let this thing dictate my entire life; I will stay in control of how I react to it”, you empower yourself. That empowerment will allow you to cope better with the travails that we are all facing. You can start making pro-active plans, rather than passively sitting there and waiting to react to whatever comes at you. It’s time to take back control of your life…

I’ve posted a few messages that were aimed at getting that same message to the small business people in my community and one that was specifically aimed at avoiding viewing yourself as a victim (see my post of March 21). It is all too easy to fall into that victim mentality, to surrender to the situation and find comfort in wallowing in self-pity; however, that is the slippery slope that leads to depression. The pervasive advertising messages that “We’re all in this together” and “We’re here for you”, tend to reinforce the idea that there’s nothing that you can do – that you are just a victim like everybody else Don’t allow yourself to focus on that message. It’s time to take back control of your life…

Sitting around in your PJ’s or jeans all day, watching TV or movies is not being in control. Stop worrying about what’s going to happen to me next and start thinking about what can I do about this next. For some that will mean finding meaningful ways to spend the time that they suddenly fine on their hands. Doing all of those little projects that you’ve been putting off is a much better way to spend the time. For others, there are tons of volunteer opportunities available during this crisis. Most organizations are taking steps to protect those volunteer workers, so that they don’t fall victim to the virus. Find the organizations that need help in your community. It’s time to take back control of your life…

walking man

Maybe you, like me, need to start by getting up each morning and getting ready for business. Your “business” now is greatly different that before this all started; however, if you start with the attitude that you ae going to remain in control, you are more likely to end the day with a sense of accomplishment and you will feel less like a victim. It’s time to take back control of your life…


Time for Plan “B”…

March 31, 2020

(NOTE: Most of this post was originally the contents of an email to the Milford Business Association members in Milford, Michigan.)

Anytime a crisis hits people quite naturally formulate a quick plan to deal with it. If you recall, I wrote about having a plan way back on March 20 in my post “What is your plan?” Doesn’t that seem like a long time ago? The Corona Virus crisis is turning out to be one in which that plan (we’ll call it plan “A”) isn’t working out for most. It’s time for plan “B”.

Plan “A” is the one that most bought into initially, which said, “I’ll just wait out the next two weeks” or “I’ll just close until April 3 or April 13”. That last plan was what many small business owners used as Plan “A” in my area. Plan “A” was a very passive plan – the hunker down and wait it out plan.

Now we have been told it will be at least April or May before we can even think about easing the restrictions on travel, crowd gatherings and working. It is clear that at least half of the year will be gone before America starts the road back to something approaching “normal”. No matter what you may have believed going into this crisis, it is clear that it is time for Plan “B”.

For the small business person, Plan B is a proactive one that deals with the reality that this situation is liable to be with us until late summer and that you need to figure out how to do business under the rules that have been imposed by government. For almost all, that means finding a way to do business without being able to welcome visitors into your physical stores.

Many small businesses already had a web site or a presence on Facebook and other social media sites. Now is the time to expand and leverage that presence to allow your customers to do business with you. If your web site didn’t have an eCommerce capability before, now is the time to add it or highlight your alternative. You need a way for customers to order and pay through your web site or via a phone call. It is also the time to figure out how you are going to deliver products to customers – on-site pickup or delivery, somehow.

For some small businesses in the services industries, it may well mean delivering your services via on-line sessions, either interactive in real-time or pre-recorded. Churches are using both methods during the shutdown and some fitness and health related businesses, such as personal training and yoga have already launched on-line classes.

The keys to creating a Plan “B” that will get you through this is understanding the needs of your customers and making it as easy as possible to do business with you while the shutdown lasts. You can do that through advertising, offering incentives and making the shopping and delivery experiences as easy as possible.

You can start with the assumption that the customers do not know what you are doing during the crisis. Begin your road back by informing them of your plan B – how to do business with you; what your hours of “operation” will be; where to go on line (web site or Facebook) to see your goods and how to order products; what incentives you will be offering; and how they will get the goods or services that you provide. For some, it is also about informing the customers about your new, spring product lines. This crisis hit right when that seasonal transition was to take place.

In the same “What’s your plan” blog post I described the four phases that people go through in crisis situations. Most are now exiting phase three and entering phase four. They are starting to put some creative thought into how they will live under the constraints imposed by this crisis and they are looking for ways to get the things that they need and want. It is up to you to tell them how to get those things from you.

Communications with your customer base is more important now than ever. Using ads in your local paper (like the Spinal Column in the Milford, Michigan area) to reach your local base is a critical part of that communications. People are home all day and have time to read those papers. Your ad in the local paper can tell the customer base many things – “I am still here”, “I am open for business”, “I am working hard to help you get through this crisis”, and “We will get through this together”.

So, take some time to craft your message for plan “B” and get it out there to your customer base. I think you’ll find a very receptive audience that is ready to find a way to do business with you.


What to do, what to do…

March 27, 2020

Many of you already know that I am a Realtor®, in addition to doing some sales work for a local paper and a bunch of volunteer work. The Michigan Governor’s stay home executive order has had a dramatic impact on that aspect of my life.

We all know that we are supposed to stay home, wash our hands a lot and practice social distancing. We can do that. The real estate market has been effectively shut down by the Governor’s stay home order. Realtors are not considered to be essential components of the infrastructure under this order and, thus, are not allowed to show homes during the shutdown or to visit homes in order to list them. It’s disappointing, but a logical precaution to take.

 What if you are a would-be home seller or buyer? What else could you be doing, while you wait out the government mandated self-quarantine?

If you want to sell your home, use the time to work on the little things that can increase its value or allow it to sell faster, once the government releases the market from this shutdown. There are lots of advice articles (some in posts to this blog) on the things that home owners should do to get their homes ready for market. Most of the time homeowners just don’t have (or take) the time to do therm. The result is a house that is really not ready for visitors or which leaves a bad first impression because of those little things. You have the time now that you are confined to your home to get those things done. Walk through your house with an eye to identifying all of those little things that you know are there, but which you have trained yourself to ignore. Things to look for and make note of include:

  • Declutter each room – what can you take out of the room to make it look bigger and cleaner?
  • Cleanliness – what needs dusting, cleaning , vacuuming, or wiping – just do it
  • Small repairs – replace those missing or worn/dirty plug covers or light switch covers
  • Larger repairs – fix those tape and nail pops in the drywall, especially those along the ceilings
  • Paint touchups – either touch up or repaint areas of wear or areas that you just repaired
  • Replace missing handles/pulls on kitchen and bath cabinets and drawers and any doors
  • Wash windows and, if you can,  replace any cracked glass and repair windows with broken seals
  • Clean or re-grout  bathroom tubs and showers and replace worn out fixtures as needed
  • Trim exterior hedges and bushes, especially around the front door
  • Fill and smooth any basement floor or wall cracks in unfinished basements

There are many more things that you might start to notice that you need to do, once you start working your way down that list. The whole point of the exercise it to deal with the things that might distract a buyer later or cause them to back off from making an offer.

Either buyers will make lists, in writing or mentally, when they go through your house of all of the things that they see that need to be done to make the house “perfect” for them. If they make an offer, they will use that list in two ways – as a negotiating tool to get those repairs made prior to closing or as justification for reducing their offer price (sometimes both). You have the time right now, while you are on lockdown to shorten that list. Anything that you can do to take items off their list will help your home sell faster and for more money.

If you are a would-be buyer, this is a frustrating time. Due to the stay at home order, homes may not be visited; so, what are you to do?

Some Realtors are experimenting with so-call “virtual showings”. These are usually video based and offer the “visitor “a virtual walkthrough of the home, sometimes accompanied by audio remarks by the seller to explain what you are seeing. At a minimum there are usually lots of pictures available that have been posted by the listing agent. It is important that you use the right real estate web site to get access to the most pictures. Some sites restrict the number of pictures that can be posted. I recommend using the Realtor.com site, which taps into the local Multi-list Services (MLS) and usually provides access to all of the pictures that are on the MLS.

The reason for doing virtual visits or going through the web-site pictures is to give yourself practice on what to look for and to help you refine what it is that you are really looking for in a new home. Make note s as you view the virtual tour or pictures of features that you liked and did not like. If you are a buying couple discuss each home you look at that way, so that you begin to understand each other’s point of view. Discuss the features on which one or both of you are willing to compromise and which are “show stoppers” for one or both of you. This will help you narrow your search when you actually can start to make visits.

Learn and practice what to look for when you walk through a real house. You have to train yourself to ignore some things, like the current  paint colors or furnishings that are there now, and start looking instead for things that might indicate problems that will need to be resolved:

  • Scan the wall-ceiling lines to look for any signs of water intrusion
  • Also look for ghosting on the exterior walls and ceiling that indicate possible insulation issues – just google ceiling ghosting to see what this is
  • Look closely at the windows for cracks or cloudy glass that indicates an issue with the seals
  • Look for evidence of leaking fixtures under the sinks and around tubs and toilets
  • Look for obvious signs that maintenance has been delayed or ignored (those missing switch plates or cabinet pulls are a telltale sign)
  • Look past clutter, but take lack of cleanliness into consideration, which is another sign of of a homeowner who hasn’t maintained things well.
  • Check the age and condition of the furnace and water heater and look for signs that they have been maintained – both have limited lifespans and the owner may be trying to pass off the need to replace them to you.
  • Check with the FEMA database to see if the property is in a FEMA flood zone You may be required to buy expensive flood insurance if it is.

Revisit your financial criteria and plans. Do some research on the cost to make common repairs or to renovate areas of a house.  There are many reports available on line of repair cost estimates and renovation costs. Ask your mortgage person about programs that they may offer to help with renovation costs, if you end up making a bid  on a house that needs renovations. Also as your mortgage person about programs that might be available in certain areas to allow for low, or no, down payment mortgages, which can save that money for the renovations that you see are needed. Arm yourself with all of this knowledge and practice by applying it to the homes that you visit virtually or through MLS pictures.

By using this down time in your home search to better educate yourself on these and other topics, you will be a more well informed buyer and will find the new home that you desire much faster. It is especially useful to hash out with your partner what it is that you are both really looking for in a new home. You can also develop a practice of looking at listings with a more discerning eye, which will save you time by eliminating those listing s that you would probably eliminate anyway of you visited them.

So, you see that there is plenty to do for both buyers and sellers during this stay at home time. Your Realtor will be happier, too, because you will not be wasting your time or his/hers visiting hoems that just won’t fit for you.


Without church, but not without faith…

March 22, 2020

This is the second weekend without a church service, due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Like most other churches, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church of West Bloomfield is offering an alternative, on-line services for members to watch from home. It is a shortened version of a regular service, with some music, a few of the prayers that would normally be used in a service, the Bible readings for the week and the sermon that the pastor would have delivered in church. I create a video of it during the week and post it on YouTube. (click here to see our first post) It is better than nothing, but it is still less satisfying than actually attending church. It is what we have for now.

What is lost in the process of sheltering in place during this crisis is both the social aspect of church and the sense of being a part of a community of faith. There is something reassuring and reinforcing about seeing others who are experiencing and professing the same beliefs that you have. There is also a sort of mindless crowd mentality about church services. Most church services have become so predictable in their format and execution that one just sort of shuffles along with the crowd through the service. Even the homilies or sermons have in many churches become uninspiring and, in their care not to be politically incorrect, blandly predictable. Eyes glaze over like they do when listening to an insurance salesman.

The current crisis has forced us into isolation in our religious lives as it has in the rest of our lives. What that really lays bare is the faith that underpins all religion, no matter what name or denomination the religion goes by. Rather than just sit there, passively allowing a church service to take place around us, we are now forced to ponder our faith and make whatever effort we can to express or practice that faith. For most, that may take the form of quiet prayer or perhaps reading the Bible. For others, the realization of their faith may spur them into some action that expresses their faith, like volunteering to help others during this crisis.

The point is that we all still have whatever underlying faith was there to begin with and now must find ways to express and practice that faith outside the structure of a church service. Perhaps that is a good thing. How many of us would take the time to contemplate our faith were we now in self-imposed isolation? How many normally take time to open their Bibles and search for the reassurance that can be found there? How many might watch the sermon sitting in church with the same attentiveness that one devotes to watching a video?  This crisis and the isolation that has come with it has forced a change in our lives that allows us to refocus upon our faith and to create a new and more meaningful expression of that faith than we had become used to in a “normal” church service.

Maybe you can create your own “church service” to practice your faith. Watch the videos or streaming broadcasts that may be available. Go find your Bible and spend a little of the time that you have suddenly been given by your isolation to reacquaint yourself with it. Take time for prayer each day. I think you will find that some of the fear and anxiety that you may have been experiencing will melt away. Strengthening your faith allows you to also strengthen your hope and will give you the strength to get through this crisis.

Let God know that your faith is still strong, even if you cannot attend church services. Pray and ask God for the right thing – not that He make this go away; rather, that he strengthen your faith so that you can get through it. Where you can and where it is safe to do so, put your faith into action through volunteering to help others get through this crisis. We are only without church services during this epidemic, not without faith. Keep the faith!


What is your plan?

March 20, 2020
The choice is really up to you.

There is no way to change, control or sugar coat the crisis that we are all facing, only different ways to react to it. Your reaction is the only thing that you can fully control.

It is my belief that most people go through four phases when faced with situations like the current one we are facing with the Covid 19 pandemic.

The first phase I liken to the shock and awe that the U.S. caused when they initially attacked Iraq. The sudden impact is so unexpected and overwhelming that causes shock and inspires awe. The very rapid set of events that occurred during the first two weeks of this crisis was full of shock and awe – the cancellations of most sporting events, including the NCAA Tournament, was unprecedented and shocking. Weren’t you totally shocked by that?

The second phase, which most are in right now is the fear and anxiety phase. Much of this is caused by an overload of frightening and frightful news coming out on a daily basis and yet there is little information about what one can really do about the situation. The fear factor is exacerbated by the directions to isolate and hunker down. Not being able to share that fear or reassure each other increases it’s impact.

The third phase is just starting for some and yet to come for others – frustration and anger. Both frustration and anger are being expressed now on social media. Currently both are being aimed at the government and what is perceived to have been a slow start to dealing with the crisis. However, at he heart of that frustration and anger is a sense of helplessness and a need to strike out at something or someone without knowing what or who. Being cooped up inside for a while will increase that frustration and heighten the anger in many.

The fourth phase, which only a few have really gotten to yet is when one accepts the current situation (it is what it is) and begins formulating and acting upon plans to make the best of it – finding ways to get on with life. Life is not going to return to our old definition of normal, but one does not have to accept fear and despair as “the new normal”. Most of us will eventually get to this phase and will heed the advice of Winston Churchill to never give up. You will be surprised how creative and resourceful you can become in this phase. And, you will discover that Churchill was right. Business people are particularly going to have to crate new ways fo doing business in order to get through this crisis.

Some, however, will have sunken into despair and will need help to recover. Others might have never gotten past the fear phase and will need to be coaxed out of their shells. A part of the plans for moving forward for all of us must be a commitment to look around and find those who need help overcoming their fears or depression. It turns out that an important part of your own recovery process can be found in this willingness to help others – it is a rebuilding of our sense of community.

No matter which phase you are currently in with this crisis, it is important to get back on he path ahead and not get sidelined by fear or depression. It is OK to be a little mad about things. Use that energy to start fighting back. Take some time to ask for God’s help and than create a plan for yourself and those that you love who are in this boat with you. Start figuring out how to move forward. Look around and figure out how you can serve or help others.

We will all get through this and it is important that you be to look back upon what you did to get through it and be proud of yourself. Be safe during this crisis, but don’t become its captive. Be proactive – chart your own course.What’s your plan for getting through it? Have you asked God for help yet? Maybe that should be your step one.


Hunkered Down in Milford…

March 15, 2020

Like most Americans right now, my wife and I are “hunkered down” in our home in Milford, Michigan. It is not that we are too afraid to go out. In fact, we went to dinner last night (in a mostly empty restaurant I might add) and we will be venturing out to do some shopping today. However, we did not go to church today; because church services were canceled, as a precaution against the spread of the Corona virus.

The governor of Michigan has now called for the cancelation of almost all events that would gather a group of people together, including school, church, sports and other spectator/participant events. The Oakland County government issued a directive yesterday instructing restaurants and bars to cut their occupancy capacity in half, as a way to insure sufficient space for “social distancing”.

All of this is both unprecedented and necessary to try to slow down the spread of the virus. None of it will stop that spread from occurring, but the hope is to slow the pace of the spread enough such that it does not overwhelm the American health care system. If the disease tacks along the same growth curve as has occurred in Italy, our hospitals would be quickly overcrowded and overwhelmed (or such is the theory).

I’m out of TP!

There have been alarming, if somewhat amusing, developments locally. The runs on toilet paper and hand sanitizer in our local stores have provided opportunities for very amusing Facebook posts. One can postulate that we make end up with lots of sick people locally who will have some of the cleanest rear ends in the nation.

News of the economics of this pandemic has mostly focused upon the highly visible impact on airlines, cruise lines and events (sports and conventions) businesses; however, it is the millions of small local businesses, like restaurants, retail shops and health and beauty businesses that stand to lose the most. Many will not make it through even a mild recession and the impact of this may be anything but mild.

The messages meant to calm the populous, which proclaim that we will get through this together, are certainly true. We got through other crises like 911 and the Great Recession and we will survive this one, too. What life looks like on the other side of all of this is still to be determined. Life after those earlier crises that I mentioned was nothing like it was before them. We will not “get back to normal”; rather we will have to get used to a “new normal”.

While all of this have interrupted the public practice of religion, I suspect that the underlying faith that is within most people is stronger for it  In times of crisis, one needs something to believe in that is bigger than the crisis itself. It does not get any bigger than a strong belief in God. Focus upon your faith and not your fears. Remember what the Bible tells us –  

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Your faith doesn’t give you permission to do whatever you want or prevent you from catching whatever it is that is threatening you; however, it does allow you to go on with life by giving you the assurance of your fate, should the worst occur. What happens now is a lot less scary if you believe in what happens next. So, hunker down wherever you are, keep the faith and ride this thing out.