Cynthia Smith

Prime-Connections: ‘Driving’ Your Career


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!

Prime-Connections: Seeing The Same Things Through Different Eyes

taking-pictsRecently, we had the opportunity to host our 7 year old grandson-want-to-be for an overnight adventure. The thought of buying a camera and taking him on a photo shoot popped into my head.

Aha, an inspirational moment that I could not deny!

Having been a x-ray technologist for decades, I can be heard making the claim ‘once a radiographer, always a photographer’! My role has always been staging reluctant family members into just the right pose, very similar to positioning patients for the perfect medical image. Often, my husband and I will pick a place, pack our camera gear and away we go to seek that one special photo.

This day with our special 7 year old, we could not travel too far. Each of us had our camera in hand as we walked to the village and a nearby park. Along the way, we often stopped to take a photo of something that caught our attention.

When we returned home, each camera’s memory card was inserted into our big screen TV. We watched each picture cycle through. We oooh’d and ahh’d at our masterpieces and also talked about how to improve those pictures that were ‘not so good’. What we discovered was that often that ‘thing’-perhaps it was the waterfall, the garden, or the landmark-captured each of our imaginations differently. Each of us captured the image of the same item but each photo was unique. Each of us photographed the same bridge, creek, and landmark, but with a different angle, camera and perspective. Truly, the object of interest was subject to the eye of the beholder. Similar yes, but each was exceptional and distinctive.

When we are accompanied by others doing the same job or activity, the task may be similar. However, the results may be very different as each person directs their eyes and attention to ‘that thing’ that commands their attention. Give pause and acknowledge that perspective gained from both life experiences and life inexperience, can change the outcome. Making prime connections with others is often easier when one is slow to judge and quick to accept a different interpretation, which is truly is in the ‘eye or the heart of the beholder’.

As I think about our individual works of art though photography, it was our prime connection to each other and the ability to trust one another that allowed vulnerability to become learners, give and accept constructive criticism, offer and receive advice, and sometimes, accept the decision to discard the image all together. Our collection of photos and our memories from the day’s activities will always speak to the quality of the connection we have to each other.

Prime-Connections: Creating Prime-Connections Through ‘Culture-Crossings’

Blog2PhotoA symposium of Indonesian visitors were our guests this week at Rochester Women’s Network. The purpose of their visit was to gather information to improve their own business practices through dialog with American citizens and business organizations.

Not all spoke English. Two ‘prime-connectors’ served as interpreters. Each translator took turns at various intervals throughout the meeting. One interpreter took notes in an attempt to translate verbatim. She would stop to clarify and then relay the communication. The other, did not. The female interpreter asked one English speaker to ‘please slow down’ so she could be more effective. It was her partner’s turn to translate when a slang American term was referenced.  The male interpreter kept on speaking into his machine, without hesitation. Apparently, our guests understood because laughter prevailed. When I asked the translator, how he decoded the funny phrase, the woman answered. Perhaps the male interpreter was more skilled or perhaps the woman was able to read his mind. Maybe she was a quicker responder. Maybe I had asked a very common question. Nevertheless, the woman said, “We work around slang”. But my question was, ‘How did you interpret that phrase?” I wanted to know verbatim. Another question was asked elsewhere, and so, we moved on. I never received the exact wording.

We all have times in our lives when we need an interpreter. I call these experiences ‘culture crossings’.  ‘Culture crossings’ occur during those times when advice is needed outside of our own wheelhouse or we are facing a new challenge.  We look for a ‘prime-connector’ who will interpret for us-to bridge the gap in our own understanding. Depending on our own experience, the skill-set of that interpreter is critical to our well-being, especially if we need details or an extensive plan. At times, we prefer to allow someone to read our minds and respond from their own experience.

Take a few mental notes as to how you receive information and how you interpret the steady stream of incoming messages. Who are your ‘prime-connectors’? How are both you and your ‘prime-connectors’ supplying feed-back? Become more aware of who is speaking for you.  What they are saying and what is being interpreted?

The challenge is choosing the proper ‘prime-connector’ at critical junctions and also choosing to become the ‘prime-connector’ for others by slowing down the conversation and asking clarifying questions. Revisit conversations to correct areas of misunderstanding.  Don’t move on until appropriate and sufficient understanding is reached.