Cynthia Smith

Are you looking for ‘a sign’?

Are you waiting for ‘a sign’?

In Biblical days, people put out a fleece looking for a sign to determine purpose and direction.  From my perspective, few truly arrive at a set point created by the self. The path is often not clear. People, places and things can either clutter, or can pave life’s pathways.  For some, the road is decisive: full speed ahead! For others, life occurs with happenstance. Serendipity, or the road less taken, defines the journey.

Those of my prime-connections who are on the direct path arrive sooner; achieve their goals quicker and often times with more monetary gain.  But, few stay satisfied. They wonder, ‘Is this all there is’? The serendipitously connected find joy in the journey but are left wondering, ‘Did I achieve my purpose’?

On a recent vacation, the plaque ‘Give the dream a wake-up call’ grabbed my attention. Is this a sign for me? If not a personal sign, then surely over 100 new readers to the prime-connections.com website within the last few months (without a new blog in several years) certainly is! I remember the dream I had when this site was created. The dream was to acknowledge, appreciate, and applaud the purposeful prime-connections in my life and to serve as a reflective guidepost to enlighten and to renew the human spirit of the reader.

As a major life shift is rapidly approaching, ideas of possible next steps are swirling about.  This next piece of the adventure will embrace uncharted experiences at a new pace based on former familiarity. What are the next steps in the journey? Will I achieve my purpose?

My husband wisely advises ‘stay quiet and wait for a sign’.

Connecting With Your Community

One of 'our Community Connectors'

One of ‘our Community Connectors’

As an employee of ‘The Premier Career College’, our students and graduates depend on the community to host them as interns and hire them as graduates. Outside academia, businesses and other entities depend on a multitude of marketing and public relations gurus to usher customers to their doors in order to stimulate, catapult, and drive sales. These entities can drive traffic through their doors, but cannot keep customers from returning.

What is the surefire vehicle for growth? Rarely is the vehicle self-promotion. There is no real power in the number of the alliances, but clout comes from the quality of relationships and the wiliness to connect others through experience. Instead, consider connecting through partnering. Partnering endeavors to produce mutually beneficial outcomes. Partnering with your community may begin in multiple ways: a phone call, a referral, a personal association, networking opportunities and meeting your next door neighbor. Building one trusted relationship is often the catalyst for another.

Relationship building is not linear, nor are the sturdiest ties built from ease. ‘Resurrecting a project from trenches of despair’ as a joint venture can build camaraderie and solidify the alliance. Partnering with others takes energy. It takes guts to experience the glory. Creating steadfast and sturdy associations often creates the willingness to collaborate on future ventures.

Build your community and sphere of influence one person at a time. Focus and grow your community deliberately. Those who share deep connections with you may become your best connectors to others! Watch your list of strong, cohesive relationships flourish beyond your imagination!

Prime-Connections: Celebrating Life through Death

Sacred Heart Cathedral,  Rochester, NY

Sacred Heart Cathedral,
Rochester, NY

One of my graduates posted on Face Book that his father had undergone surgery hundreds of miles away and was having a very difficult recovery. I watched for my friend’s Facebook posts and messaged encouraging words of support for several weeks. Finally, his father, Papa Frank, was able to return to his hometown and we rejoiced! However, his recovery was short lived. Shortly another post announced that Papa Frank had passed away.

I attended the funeral Mass which was held in our hometown’s biggest cathedral. Upon entering, I was comforted by the peace of the church and the beautiful but profound aroma of abundant Easter flowers. It was a small gathering of family and friends. From the homily and from the stories from the grandchildren, I felt that I knew Papa Frank, but alas I had never met the man! These stories were outpourings of bittersweet experiences of a very robust life of an Italian immigrant. How strong were these bonds formed by taking the time to create prime connections through story telling! The grandchildren had never ventured to Italy, but through Papa Frank’s mentoring, cooking and storytelling, these youngsters inherited quite a legacy!

As the Mass ended, I was approached by another attendee. This person and I had a tumultuous relationship that ended badly. We chatted briefly offering and accepting each others’  heartfelt apology. Indeed, it had been 7 years since I had seen this person, but I had thought about this person and the situation many times over the years. What an amazing day! I went to connect with a friend in grief and I left without the grief of a relationship that went wrong. Connecting during an emotional time which seemed rather inopportune, created an opportunity for one prime connection to heal another!

Building Volunteer Prime-Connections with a SMILE!

 

Penfield-Webster Rotary Presentation

Penfield-Webster Rotary Presentation

Building a solid volunteer base is one of the greatest challenges volunteer-based efforts confront. Get off that roller coaster ride of prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers! Consider influencing participation  through creating prime-connecting conversations with perspective volunteers on an individual basis by using the SMILE method: Stimulate, Manage, Involve, Lavish and Encourage!

Stimulate: Be enthusiastic about your organization!  Share information and compelling stories about how the organization benefits others or how the association has benefited you personally. Ask the candidate why they considered joining your agency. As a leader, communicate  how you can help the perspective volunteer meet their goals.

Manage: Most volunteer projects involve project management. Be honest about how much time and what skills might be required from the perspective volunteer. Create and furnish each candidate a job description of the required task or title of the position. Whereas volunteers often are very willing to share the time and talents with an organization, these same people appreciate organization and a fair assessment of what the organization requires.

Involve: It is wise to conduct a critical conversation to establish ‘good fit’ at the onset of the relationship. Does the volunteer’s skills match the task?  Will the candidate work solo or with others?, Will training be required? Who will mentor or oversee the newbie’s progress? How does the volunteer manage their own time? Where does the person see themselves in your organization?

Lavish: Lavish means giving bountifully and freely of any good thing. Spending time with volunteers and giving praise are two things that all people crave. Be sure to see the volunteer in action often. Ask how they are doing and if any questions exist. Note their progress and give thanks for their support and involvement on a personal level and with group recognition events.

Encourage: Be open to listening when difficulties arise without going into ‘fix-it’ mode. Allow the volunteer to talk about the issue, allow them to offer creative solutions and empower them to move forward. Confidence-building, as well as skill-building, will help retain volunteers who believe their work is adding value to the organization. Happy volunteers often recruit others.

Take an honest look at the prospecting, recruiting and retaining efforts of your volunteer organization and make adjustments accordingly. Are you smiling?

 

Prime-Connections: Combining Business with Pleasure

Professional development is a great activity that spurs action. Often employees sit for long hours attempting to absorb best practices presented by key leaders. Participants leave with a full to-do list, promising to incorporate these nuggets into daily practices on the job site.

Making prime-connections through networking, connecting to the topic of the day, and planning for implementation is all well and good. At an all-day conference, the mascot from the Rochester Red Wings baseball team named Spikes, reminded me of how to spice up this long day of learning. Laugh, have some fun, joke around a bit! Do something crazy! Release creativity by letting all those brain chemicals connect with one another through laughter. Allow the prime-connections of ideas and learning strategies to morph into implementation through the sheer joy of silliness. Relax, let those innovative ideas flow. Inspiration beats perspiration any day!

 

Making Priime-Connections with Spikes, Rochester Red Wings baseball mascot.

Making Prime-Connections with Spikes, Rochester Red Wings baseball mascot.

Prime-Connections: ‘Cindy Magic!’

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Cindy Moo Reveals My Magic!

Cindy Moo Reveals My Magic!

 

Prime-Connections: What is ‘Cindy Magic’?

People have asked me to define what I call ‘Cindy Magic’. Cindy Magic is the ‘thing’ that makes me unique or special. I just couldn’t put my finger on it until my grandson-want-to-be bought me a book from one of his school’s book fairs. The book is Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen.

Interestingly enough, it was our special connection to each other and the partial title of the book ‘Cindy’, which spurred him to surprise me with both the gifts of the book and a private reading. Basically, the book was about a cow named Cindy Moo was inspired to jump over the moon after hearing the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle-Diddle read to one of the farmer’s children.

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon!

The little dog laughed to see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon!

Cindy Moo thought that if that other cow could jump over the moon, then so could she! After several valiant attempts resulting in utter failure (no pun intended), she paused to rethink the entire problem. Then it dawned on her! Cindy Moo saw a reflection of the moon in a puddle! It was an ‘aha’ moment! She got up, gathered some running speed and jumped over the puddle and simultaneously, over the moon! She continued to ‘jump over the moon’ and then invited everyone else to do the same! Cindy Moo delighted in solving the problem and shared in the joy of her barnyard friends as they took turns jumping over the moon!

My prime connection with my grandson-want-to-be and his opportune connection of finding that one special book at a book fair was just a small part of the magic. The story of Cindy Moo solved my dilemma of how to define ‘Cindy Magic’. I learned that ‘Cindy Magic’ is my special gift for explaining complex concepts. As an adult educator, these explanations generate new ways of thinking, learning, and problem-solving.

Recently, at a job interview, I was tasked to create a presentation on the topic of Compton’s Effect or Compton’s Interaction, which is, in essence, quantum physics. Many believe physics concepts are beyond their capacity to learn. Other learners’ eyes generally glaze over with sheer boredom when the word ‘physics’ is mentioned. Instead, I likened Compton’s interaction with matter to a game of billiards commonly known as ‘eight ball’.

Thankfully, I had a pool shark in the shark tank of interviewers. The lesson was clever and thoroughly enjoyed by all! Cindy Moo brought moon jumping to the other barnyard animals. As an educator, I bring often difficult material to learners who have preset notions of abilities. Like the animals in the barnyard who would not even entertain the venture of jumping over the moon, as an educator, I make inspire others to take a risk, take a leap of faith, and just jump into a new adventure of learning!

Prime-Connections: ‘Driving’ Your Career

driving

Success is a ladder that cannot be climbed with your hands in your pockets.

~Cheryl Henderson

Is this all there is?

Congratulations! I thought I had arrived! I worked diligently to complete multiple college degrees to help land my dream job! I believed  that obtaining my Doctorate in Education would land a role in Higher Education that would be remembered as the crowning jewel of my educational  and professional experience! I put in countless hours of study and preparation to be qualified for a great opportunity! Then the economy crashed! I found myself unemployed and underemployed! As I moved along in my new journey, I asked myself “Is this all there is?”

Taking Control of My Professional Life

Quickly, I learned that I am responsible for my own success! It was very difficult to create strategic and imaginative answers to the question “What will I be doing in the next 3, 5 and 10 years beyond?”  This was a tough order when the economy was sluggish. I discovered that book-learning is very different than learning new skills! It was a scary and often overwhelming time! I also learned that by focusing on college studies and the job that previously held, had made me very vulnerable. Because I was so busy, I had no time to cultivate relationships! Many of my former prime-connections had move away, retired, or just plain vanished into thin air!

I looked around. There were many others in the same predicament!  I joined several networking groups and began meeting with people for various reasons: some for comradery, some for support, and some to help create prime-connections towards identifying new career possibilities. I met so many ‘strangers’ who assisted me in my journey towards enlightenment and onward to career prospects. It was a truly humbling experience!

I created an inexpensive business card and began to trade them like baseball cards. These cards were my reward for an excellent networking opportunity and quickly my LinkedIn contacts grew. I began to create prime-connections for my new acquaintances with others  I met along the way. Soon, these folks were doing business together and I found great joy connecting and promoting others as they promoted me.  These prime-connections provided advice to improve or clarify next steps current role and these same people can provided both leads and opportunities that were quite exciting!

During an entrepreneurial pursuit, it was suggested to list all of the people I know and provide these people’s contact information. Fine. Then I was encouraged to contact them and tell them I was unemployed! Ugh! Lastly, ask them for leads and ask them to connect me with their prime-connections! On my list was someone I hadn’t seen in 10 years. I mustered up all of my courage and she hired me! Three years later, I have a different job, but I continue to create prime-connections everywhere I go as well as to pay it forward to those who are in need. I am much better prepared, more confident and much more skilled than I was when I first lost my job. Indeed, I took a road less traveled, and like Robert Frost said in 1920 in his famous poem The Road Less Traveled, ” I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference!”

 

Prime-Connections: Volunteers – The Ride!

Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers-Oh, my!

Think about the last time you went to your favorite amusement park. What ride held most spectators spellbound? Which ride garnered the most screams? Which ride was the most fear inducing? Which ride do you see people riding over and over again? When you think of Six Flags or Cedar Point, what ride comes to mind? Yup, you guessed it, the roller coaster! Some liken working with volunteers similar to riding a roller coaster. Indeed!

Recently, as a leader in a women’s organization, I was tasked to recruit a team of multi-talented volunteers to help with an annual fundraising event. Amazingly, no one volunteered because the call for volunteers went out through the newsletter! Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers has never been a daunting experience for me because time is taken upfront to create prime connections with every potential volunteer candidate. Before one person is approached, the organization’s needs are outlined and a job description is created. What do these potential candidates need to know? What skills do these women need to be able to contribute for this event?  Matching talent and time commitment towards ‘best fit’ is paramount.

How do I find these fearless women who will face all their fears and jump on the coaster with me? Let’s go back to the amusement park. Look around. Do you see some potential volunteers or coaster riders watching from afar? These people are assessing how much time will be required or if they can get on and off the ride safely. When approaching these candidates, communicate both the task and the time commitment honestly. Assure them that riding with you is safe because you will respect their time and talents. Do you see some want-to-be coaster riders who are at the gate, but never get into the seat? These need a friendly invitation to take the first ride. Going alone is all too frightening! Consider providing the support and encouragement needed by riding along or asking someone to pair up with them. Some coaster riders as well as some volunteers may require a bit of hand holding until a comfort level is reached. Some just get on the coaster alone and ride all day! These folks have conquered their fears and have learned to throw caution to the wind! These ride-repeaters are often wonderful recruiters! The loops, the hills, and the hairpin curves of the ride have been memorized long ago, yet these funsters embrace the challenge and find new thrills every time they get on board. Oftentimes, this third-party recommendation is the lynchpin of solid recruitment and ongoing involvement. Back to the roller coaster, reluctant riders are often cajoled to ‘ride it just one time…!’

There is an ebb and flow to working with volunteers. Volunteers come and go for many reasons. Yet by creating prime connections upfront, trust is established. Volunteers can be inspired to jump in to the roller coaster car for at least one ride!  Some will take the front seat-some will not. Some will scream at the top of their lungs and some will close their eyes. Others will waive their hands in the air but others will clench the safety bar for dear life! Some will ride again, and some, well, will need additional time to reflect on the activity before getting in line! The volunteer leader must take the time upfront to get to know each rider before boarding to create that trust.  The organization’s pledge to take care of all of the riders along the way to both insure and  ensure safety needs to be heartfelt.  Volunteers, like roller coaster riders, must make it back to the station in varying degrees of  happiness. Thrilled that they participated or at the very least, happy to live for another day!

Prime-Connections: Using Improv Techniques to Create ‘Prime-Connections’

From TV shows, improvisation (improv) is often used by a comedian to supply a quick rebuttal towards hecklers or naysayers. However, when I attended Rochester Women’s Network Summit Business Conference, I curiously chose the breakout session on the topic of improv.  The presenter, Ms. Caitlin Drago from the McArdle Ramerman Center in Rochester, NY, demonstrated that improv is a great technique which can empower trust, especially during critical conversations that often result in communication break down and ill-will.Improv Blog 4

The attendees were paired up and were given a scenario. One lead with the problem and the other teammate responded with the problem statement and then added the word ‘AND…’ followed by another statement that was not necessarily congruent with the first.

It went like this:

Scenario: A teenager was confronting his Mother regarding curfew.

The teenager said ‘Mom, the curfew you have given me doesn’t work for my social life’.

The Mom replied ‘Yes, I understand that the curfew I have given you doesn’t work for your social life AND you need to be home early on school nights.

The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand that I need to be home early on school nights AND I need some time with my friends after spending all day in school.

The Mom said ‘Yes, I understand that you need more time with your school friends after spending all day in school, AND, I am tired by 10pm and need to go to bed knowing you are home and are OK.

The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand you are tired also, and you want to be in bed by 10pm AND thanks Mom for caring about me!

I would challenge each of us to continue critical conversations by reiterating the words from the speaker. This forces us to REALLY LISTEN. Resist the urge to use the word ‘BUT’, which tends to refute the value of the speaker’s ideas or sentiments. Instead, try inserting the word AND to link the conversation towards negotiation and understanding.

Those who participated in Ms. Drago’s presentation felt very awkward in the face-to-face confrontational scenarios. Many of us commented that our need to be ‘right’ or our need to ‘win’ the argument was sometimes overwhelming and definitely presented a challenge. In a competitive world, many have been trained to win at any cost. OUR ideas must be foremost and final. Caitlin helped each of us understand that improv can help us to say ‘yes’ in new and creative ways, rather than shutting our partner down through bullying or power trips. Improv’s goal is to increase trust, teamwork, listening skills, and creativity among people.

Need a way to build prime connections with significant others?  Let your listening skills be sharpened through capture and repetition. Bridge both person’s statements with AND, and lastly, have ‘no buts about it’!

Prime-Connections: Creating ‘Prime-Connections’ at Dad’s Breakfast Table

An appreciation of diversity was learned at our kitchen table. A first generation American of Dutch decent, Dad found employment at a local printing company and later was promoted to a supervisory position. The 1960’s brought so much social change including the term ‘race relations’, women’s rights and the Viet Nam war. Certainly, these were confounding times.

As there was pressure to employ entry level positions with diverse candidates, Dad hired many. He hosted Webster’s version of the “International House of Pancakes’ and welcomed these foreign-born workers to breakfast every Saturday morning to fill up on pancakes and share life stories. Dad enjoyed learning their exotic phrases and often learned just enough to poke fun or to help correct a work issue.

Fast forward thirty years, as an educator in a local college, one half of my classroom was attended by English speakers of other languages, two of which were from Viet Nam. Enlightened though our Saturday pancake breakfasts, I still struggled with these two pupils. As I reflected, I understood why. No Asians attended Dad’s breakfasts, but the TV newsreels of our soldiers being maimed and killed in Viet Nam attended dinner daily. I became acutely aware of the impact of these images.

I decided to do what Dad modeled. Although rather reluctantly at first, I befriended the CPSmith_MyLifeVietnamese culture. Stories and photos were shared and an understanding had been reached. In essence, the war had not left their families or their country unscathed either.

Both successfully completed the program and I successfully overcame my own discrimination. As a token of my graduate’s gratitude, I received a package that contained a painting from Viet Nam of a rice farmer working in a field. Prominently displayed in my home, it is a reminder that like sowing rice, peace is sown through creating prime connections with people groups, one person at a time.

As I learned by my father’s example, making prime connections with those who are culturally diverse takes time and effort. Not all of our neighbors in our small town were as enlightened as Dad. Overcoming fear of miscommunication and being misunderstood is risky and takes practice. It also takes diligence and determination, but the outcomes can be life-changing for all!