Monday, April 19, 2010

A Fresh Appraoch

So, here I am a mother of three and wife of one. I have been gainfully unemployed (job without pay) for almost 11 years. I decided to stop working and raise my family as a stay at home mom when my first child was born. It is the hardest job I have ever had. You are a mother, teacher, nurse, secretary, chauffeur, social event coordinator, personal shopper, boo boo kisser, relationship fixer, and the list goes on and on. I never expected this would change. But with life comes changes and we need to be able to flexible. It appears that it would be a good idea for me to get some kind of a part time job working from my home to help off set the cost a raising 3 children.

My resume has been dusted off and polished up. This I found to be a very interesting process. Because my resume said everything and nothing about me all at once. The language used to describe what I did before children sounds, well, not like me. I would love to write a letter to one of the companies hiring that goes like this.

Dear XXXX,
I am very interested in the job you have listed. I will attach a copy of my resume for you to read but really this is where you are going to learn the most about me. Here is what you should know. I am an intelligent, well spoken, College educated, computer savvy, resourceful, creative, seriously organized, dependable, efficient, self motivated women. What I don't know I can figure out in a hurry.

I have an entire background that basically comes down to manager and customer service expert. I have had some crazy customers in my past but by far my toughest customers have been the three I am raising. I know how to talk to people without putting them on the defensive or sending them into a melt down. Not an insignificant skill.

I know the value of a dollar and have figured out how to get the greatest bang for my buck. I have made discount and bargain shopping an Olympic sport in which I hold the gold medal for. I mention this only because I want you to know that I won't waste your time or money.

To say I can multitask is an understatement. I balance the needs of an 11 year old, 8 year old and 3 year old daily. The interesting thing with children is that they always have emergencies at exactly the same time. So I am quick and clever about handling it. I manage them, have a clean organized house, and dinner on the table every night.

For additional information please go ahead and read my resume for the details on my job experience.

Bottom line, if you hire me you will not be disappointed.

Thanks for you time, Melanie Strout

I think it would be great to be able to cut through the bullshit of resumes and cover letters and just get right to the point. What would your letter say?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back To The Basics

As I approach my next birthday I have spent some time reflecting on life and all that it brings to us. I have learned that much of life is cyclical. Certain things just seem to keep coming round and round. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it unnoticeable.

One lesson I learned early on in life is that all people simply want to be treated with kindness and respect. I started working in the world of retail when I was barely a teenager. I helped women in the fitting room at a local clothing store and I loved it. I did this only for a little while but had a lasting impression. It wasn't until I took some time off during college and worked for a well-known (predominantly) men's clothing store that I was able to get back to what I love. I was manager of the small woman's department and also expected to sell. I realized early on that by asking the right questions and really listening I was better able to serve my customers. I ultimately developed a deep customer base that became quite lucrative for me. Most of it word of mouth.

It was at that point that I decided I needed to return to college so I could finish my degree. I was told that when I had breaks I would have a job waiting for me. This went on for two years. Upon graduating I had a job with this company at the corporate headquarters in NYC. With the buying offices upstairs and the flagship store downstairs this gave me an opportunity to walk the selling floors and talk with the customer and listen to what they have to say. I placed value on the customers opinion. The information I was able to gather was very helpful when planning seasonal buys which proved ultimately to be lucrative for the company. A very rewarding job I must say.

After a few years of corporate retail it seemed like a natural transition to manage the customer service department for a different organization all together. Again, it was back to basics. Listening to the customer and working hard to fulfill their needs. Over and over this is what seemed to generate more sales. One customer at a time.

With so many large companies providing the same types of services and usually for about the same money there is really one thing that sets one apart from the other. It comes down to service. It's simple, if you provide poor service your customer will go where they feel valued and spend their money.

When I had my first child almost 11 years ago I quit working. Or should I say I went from a full time job with pay, vacation, and benefits to a full time job (24/7) with no pay, no vacation, and the only benefit was being able to care for my daughter while my husband supported us. As our family continued to grow it occurred to me that my role as a mother is much like a customer service representative of a company. I need to be available 24/7. I need to work hard to discern the needs of my children. Most times it is simple because they just tell me what they need.

The challenge for me is to figure out the specific need when it is being communicated in the form of a melt down. Then I have figure out how to make everyone happy within the parameters we have set as a family. Those are my two ultimate goals. Making those you serve happy and developing a large loyal customer base. I am currently in the business of keeping my customers (my children) happy. I am not however trying to grow this customer base. 3 is the max for us. I won't say they are always happy but they are loyal. However, that may be due to lack of funds on their part to go and live anywhere else. Hmmm, wait I think that is a different blog topic all together.

So, by knowing a bit of my background you will understand why I found it interesting that Joe Jaffe, a colleague of my husbands, recently wrote a book talking specifically about the importance of developing and maintaining a loyal customer base. The book is titled Flip The Funnel. I haven't read the book as of yet, but I did read a very nice review of it by Ad Age.

Essentially Mr. Jaffe's book is proposing the idea that businesses need to focus on the customers they have. Spend marketing dollars on them, make them happy. Make your customers experience personal. By doing this those customers will be loyal and bring new customers. It's not rocket science but I think it is difficult for big business to see the big picture. Sometimes it starts with a collective few, they should be thought of as the foundation. Once this is established then you continue to grow. In my opinion unless paying a bill, people want to talk to people. Not press a bunch of numbers only to confuse the system and be transferred to a rep where you need to repeat the information you already entered. For companies of all sizes it's back to basics, lessons most of us learned during childhood. Treat everyone with kindness. This is how friendships start and what allows them to continue to grow.

A few days ago while at home my doorbell rang. Two representatives from Edward Jones investments standing there wanting to talk with me. Initially, I was put off thinking they were selling something or wanting to rope me into a conversation I wasn't interested in nor was I prepared for. Pleasantly, I was surprised by what he had to say. They weren't selling anything, nor were they wanting to keep me at the door for very long. He wanted to leave me with a brochure. They had decided that they would hand them to people rather then leave them on the doorstep or in mailboxes. They said their interests are in building relationships, personal ones, one customer at a time, door- to-door. This company has realized that cold calls and brochures in the mailbox aren't building them the customer depth they would like so they are changing how they try to attract customers. They are making it personal.

I don't know if the people at Edward Jones have read "Flip The Funnel" or had conversations with Mr. Jaffe. I will go out on a limb and say they haven't. What I do know is that I like that people/businesses are realizing that most of their success starts with customers.

We are all customers somewhere. Are you a loyal customer to a specific business? Have you thought about why you are loyal? I'd love to know.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Beauty Redefined

Being a women and having two of my three children girls, I feel acutely aware of the way body image is presented, perceived and desperately achieved. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that if we are not very skinny, perfectly toned and have flawless skin we are somehow not beautiful, which perpetuates the belief that only surface or outer beauty is important or all there is. That who we are on the inside doesn't count as beautiful, simply because at first glance it is obvious.

I have worked very hard as a mother to not discuss the wiggly, giggly, and drooping anything. All exercise and good eating habits are done to help maintain a healthy life style. I found myself asking how do I protect my girls and help them to understand that the images we see everywhere are unhealthy and not something worthy of achieving. Beauty doesn't just happen at a specific dress size.

Recently I felt hopeful we were moving away from these stereotypes when Dove launched a "Campaign For Real Beauty". Dove decided to help girls focus on and embrace their real inner beauty. They feel this is the way to build self-esteem that will carry them through their life. Dove decided to do this by using real women in their ads. Not models perfectly made up and air brushed to perfection.

Jamie Lee Curtis decided to embrace her natural self as well. She no longer spends time or money coloring her hair, sticking to an unnatural and unhealthy diet that leaves her not feeling energized, healthy or full, but, she was Hollywood skinny.

Jessica Simpson was recently chastised when she appeared in stage looking "fat" or "fatter" then she had been. She spoke out saying that she was focusing on her talent and not how she is perceived (clip of her interview with Oprah is below).

Then this happened, an already Barbie look a like Heidi Montag (25) underwent 10 plastic surgeries at one time to have a more "Hollywood" look. The result was that she emerged curvier, flatter, firmer and looking like someone completely different then she had before. Sadly, she really resembles Barbie now more then ever. (As a side note the average women is 5'4", 150 Lbs and is a size 10. If Barbie were real she would be 6' tall, 100 lbs and a size 4. She would be so top heavy she wouldn't be able to stand up straight. What's funny is that even with all that she still can't get Ken to marry her. It would appear that beauty being only skin deep isn't enough.)

If "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" why are so many beholding an impossible standard? Why isn't natural good enough?

I would be lying if I said I never thought about doing a little of this or that to help keep a youthful look. But I ask myself why is it that beauty can only be found in youth? Why can't beauty be found in maturity, in finding your voice, in the confidence that comes with age, having perspective on life and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Are we nipping and tucking for ourselves or for social acceptance? Does it make a difference who we do it for?

As a mother do I pray that my daughters don't want to be actresses, models or anyone that lives a life in the limelight for fear of what it will do to their self concept? Then, I ask can we influence esteem in our children or do they come hard wired? Clearly I have more questions then answers. For now I will continue to have hope that these unrealistic standards for beauty can continue to change. Until then I will wait for Mattel (maker of Barbie) to come up with a new campaign of their own focusing on real beauty. Maybe something like "The New and Improved Barbie For The Average Women"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

To Feel Guilty Or Not To Feel Guilty ...That Is The Question.

Several times over the last few weeks I have found myself involved in conversations with other mothers, or reading articles regarding guilt associated with Motherhood. What I found so interesting was that all mothers regardless of their circumstances felt guilty about their choices.

Guilt because they had to work, guilt because they chose to work, guilt because they weren't working, guilt because they felt they weren't doing enough as a mother, and guilt because they wanted to do something for themselves.

This got me thinking. Where does guilt come from? Is it a learned behavior? Is it part of our DNA as women? Is it imposed on us or self imposed? Does it just happen when we become mothers? I know that I will never know where it comes from. But I am thinking that I might be able to influence it for my children based on my behavior and choices.

It occurred to me that children don't feel guilty for the choices they make. They don't feel guilty about going to school, participating in after school activities, going to a friends house, having a friend over, or going to a sleep over. We actually encourage them to do it. These are the things that help our children become well round people. This is all part of character development.

So why as mothers do we feel guilty about those same things, the things that bring joy to our lives and allow us to continue to cultivate our character development. Why do we feel that by leaving these things behind it somehow makes us better Mothers? Our interests are the things that make us interesting and unique. Isn't it important that we continue to grow as people too? If children learn by example then what are we exemplifying? Would you consciously teach your children how to feel guilty about doing things that bring them joy if it means being apart from the family?

I have decided I am not going to teach that. I am going to participate in the things beyond my family that give me joy and feed my soul. I feed my body when it is hungry because I know that if I don't I will be cranky, irritable and have low energy. After eating I'm not cranky, irritable and my energy level is high. So I am proposing that by doing the things that feed our soul we in- turn are bringing joy, patience, peace and a sense of fulfillment to our families. Don't you agree you and your family are worth it? What feeds your soul?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everything In Moderation.... Including Moderation

While only a couple of days have passed since I wrote my first blog, I had already begun to think about the topic for my next post. Having just wheedled my idea into an appropriate size when a comment was left by my husbands Aunt on an original post via Facebook.

"Good for you Melanie. I liked your first entry. I'm still on the fence about social networking. In a way it is a good way to keep up on what is happening but on the other hand I think it is becomming a substitute for phone calls and having personal contact with people therefore maybe in the long run more alienating. When one is in a room with everyone texting or using the computer it is a real turn-off.

I found this comment thought provoking. In response to these forums "becoming a substitute" I disagree in the sense that we now have multiple channels to be in touch. So depending on your circumstance at that moment determine how you may reach out to someone. There are moments in one's life where all we may have time for is a quick text, email, or IM chat. I know in my own household, with three children it isn't always easy to just pick up the phone and call someone. Children seem to need everything from you the minute you get on the phone. I will admit that more then once I have hidden in my closet hoping that I go undiscovered for the duration of my call, knowing all the while those little voices are closing in on me. Imagine my delight when I was introduced to texting. No one can hear the craziness in the background while sending a text, email or engaging in a quick IM chat.

Also, it is through these social networks that I am able to be part of peoples' lives all year long, instead of the once a year visit or never visiting. I have a sister who lives in southern California and she calls me almost everyday. Our relationship is only enhanced by the fact we also interact regularly on Facebook by sharing comments on photos and status updates. To that end she is my sister and I have never lost touch with her. Now, the real beauty of social networking is that it's given me the ability to connect with people that I haven't seen or heard from since elementary school. I still don't see them nor do I talk with them on the phone but I am connected to them and their lives.

This is where the title of this blog post comes into play. A motto I use regularly in my house with the kids is "Everything in moderation including moderation." I believe each of us entering this world of "social" has a "social responsibility" to know when it is appropriate to be "plugged in" and when it is time to be "unplugged." Sadly, there always seem to be people who don't understand the notion of moderation and therefore will always have trouble with their "social responsibility" and/or their "responsibility to social." So rather then being "turned- off" I simply ask those that I am close with to "turn it off".

photo credit: the bs report

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Makes Social/Communities Important?

As I sit thinking about and reflecting on what my first blog should be, I finding myself asking how did I get here....a blog? When just a little over a year ago I didn't want anything to do with nor did I understand the importance of any social tools. I didn't Facebook, Twitter, or Blog. So the question here is why are these things so important? Before this is answered I think you need to know how I arrived at this place.

Up until pretty recently I would have told you "that isn't my thing", which is particularly interesting given that for the last several years it has been my husbands entire job. If he is everything "Social" I was the anti-social.

It started with Facebook. Without knowing anything I had decided it wasn't for me. Somehow I was talked into having a page. There I was on Facebook. I was a little nervous...which picture do I put up? What do I write about myself? Who do I friend? Who is going to friend me? Then it happened. A couple we me on our honeymoon at this time 11 years earlier friended me. We had tried to keep in touch but with life, growing families, and geography we drifted apart. We lived in Boston, MA and they lived in Calgary, AB Canada. But there it was an opportunity to reconnect and establish a lasting friendship. That was it for me. I now knew and understood the power and hype behind Facebook and was hooked.

Twitter however was something very different for me. "I wasn't ever going to be on Twitter" My husband would gently encourage me. I would always come back with a very strong opinion. "Twitter is very ego centric. Everybody just wants to see how many followers they have and how many people are responding to them" It all seemed to self serving to me.

Soon I knew more and more people who were Tweeting. Funny, they didn't seem ego centric or self serving to me. Then it happened. Oprah joined twitter and tweeted the first time on air. This gave me pause. So VERY humbly I went to my husband and said "it is time, would you set my up on twitter?" I had realized that maybe I have judged this tool to quickly and really needed to experience it for myself. Before I knew it @aaronstrout, my husband, was very graciously giving me a tutorial on Twitter and Tweets.

You are probably thinking but this is a blog - a blog that was tweeted about, has a name and potentially a purpose....what happened?

Here is what happened. I spent some time asking myself "why" why do people Facebook, Twitter and Blog? What I realized is that with the world as big as it is, life moving so very fast, and technology changing daily it is so very easy for people to be forgotten and lost. Swallowed up by the rapid change and movement life brings to us. So it is in my opinion that we do these things to feel connected, to make the world feel a little smaller and give everyone a voice. That is what makes Social/Communities important.

So as I approach 41, am 13 years into my marriage, 10 1/2 years being home full time, and a mother of 3, I simply decided I have some things to say. Now I have a voice.

Melanie Starner Strout (Facebook)
@melaniestrout (twitter)
Not Just Mothering (