Thursday, November 7, 2013

Life according to a Tunisian cab driver in Chicago

This morning in a cab on my way to meet my dear friend Kathy Cecilian for breakfast in Chicago I had one of those moments drop into my life that for a brief moment in time make me stop, take note, and think of things completely differently. I take a lot of cabs in my travels, and am threatening to write a book about the stories many of the men and women who have driven me through cities all over the country have shared. You can learn a lot in 20 minutes in a cab with a total stranger. Today was one of those most precious times.

It usually starts with asking where I am from, and I reciprocate with the same. Today's driver was originally from Tunisia and had the French accent to prove it. Or maybe with comments about the weather. That was the opener today - how beautiful this early November day in Chicago was - fall colors, crisp air, clear skies, light wind on Lake Michigan. My driver went from there to how much he loves living in this city, versus, say Los Angeles where his brother lives. One of, I would learn later, five brothers he has. When he learned I am from Vancouver, Canada he drew a parallel between my hometown and Chicago. Both have four seasons, both have great urban cores, both are very pretty. To him the seasons are important. You see, in cities like LA where it's nice all the time he told me, people take things for granted, and often adopt the "meh, I'll do it tomorrow" attitude in favor of spending time at the beach or just hanging out. He took it further and said those kinds of places are not good places to raise children, they just don't inspire the same work ethic as cities like his new hometown. Interesting logic.

Then comes the next question - do you have kids. My standard answer is I have fur kids with four legs. Here's where it got amazing. Growing up in North Africa my new driver and friend had a number of cats. It was pretty typical for cats to come and go and take care of themselves - they were all over his neighborhood, coming and going in and out of the house as they pleased. But it was a special dog he really wanted to talk about. A German Shepherd he named Prince, who he got for free from a neighbor who promised him a puppy. Prince was the runt of the litter, skinny, and not expected to be anything special. But my driver took him home, nurtured him, fed him and trained him, telling me with pride that when his neighbor saw him two months later he didn't believe the puppy could possibly be the same one. He was big, strong, athletic and smart.

My driver was a teenager at the time and saved the money he made working his family's farm to buy food and bones for Prince. He took care of him. He trained him and he shared that the time he spent with Prince kept him from the trouble some of his brothers got into. Prince gave him a purpose, a responsibility. Very sadly, after being the most important thing in my driver's life for 4 short years, Prince fell to an infection from a raw bone and despite trying everything in his young power to save him, Prince passed away.

Sad, for sure, but there's an amazing legacy that lives on today. Prince became the metric by which my driver friend learned to choose his friends. He chose them based on their character. Were they egotistic and selfish, or were they kind and giving to others? Were they trying to do something positive or just causing trouble? These questions were coming from a teenage boy growing up in rural Tunisia because of the time he had with a special dog. A dog that showed him a strength of character that he used to measure others by.

He still carries a picture of Prince and shared with a smile that he uses his name in his online passwords. He thinks of him everyday. My new friend now has human children too, and loves them dearly, (I am quite sure he's an amazing father) but tried to find words to explain the special gift of unconditional love and devotion a special animal gives.

When we arrived at my destination I thanked him for the ride and the conversation. I took with me into my Thursday morning a deep gratitude for the special animals (Lucas, top of my list) I've shared my life with, running through the list of life lessons they've taught me. I hope I honor their gifts and memory as much as my driver friend honored Prince's.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We're all customers. How "salesy" can you really take?

Today I had the amazing pleasure of visiting a community we opened in Tampa, FL about 8 months ago. First, I am here to tell you, the housing market is back. People want to buy homes and they are excited to do it. The building activity is great, and we are accelerating Phase 2.

Second, we nailed it. Not to brag, but I am going to brag. The Landing (cafe, community info center, bridge to the fitness facility and pool) is working better than I could ever have dreamed. The integration of our community information with a non-sales environment is spot on. Want a coffee? How about a custom individual pour-over? I had the Waterset Blend this morning, and it did the job. Rather sit and surf? Go for it in the banquettes, located along the windows overlooking the pool.

The photo above is the community table, think farm tables of days gone by, where family and friends gather to talk about the day. Here you can check out the location, the topography, the lots available and the builders selling homes. Or, you can just drink that amazing pour-over coffee.

Super proud of this place and how we created it to be whatever it needs to be for whomever wanders in. Kind of like the bar at Cheers.

The lesson here, and the real take-away, is that we are ALL customers. What kind of experience do we all want? Not one where we are pounced on and asked what we need. Nope.

We are on our own terms, and we should acknowledge that our customers feel the same way, and create spaces that work to support that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lessons learned from Lucas (the best dog ever) who left us 5 years ago today.

Five years ago today we said sad goodbyes to Lucas, the best dog ever. My sweet precious boy, when diagnosed with adeno carcinoma, had just one month left to teach me some of the most important lessons ever. Lucas knew these intimately and lived them every day. I am still his student. Five years later, I've still got much work to do. An encore re-post in honor of his sweet sweet soul, shining eyes and easy smile.

Things you've taught me:

Always show your deep love and devotion when someone you love enters the room.

When there's a crowd, hang back but be near and strong in your commitment.

Forgive quickly, easily and completely so you can love the next moment.

Enjoy absolutely everything you can to the fullest, and show those around you your joy - even at the simplest things.

Be free and giving of your love and support when someone you love is hurting and distressed. Come to them on their terms to help.

Keep playing, even when you may not want to, and show those who love you that it matters to them.

Come when you're called, no matter how you feel - and stay really really close.

Trust the ones you love the most will always return, even if you don't know when or why they left.

When they do return, be open and ready to make a complete fool of yourself showing them your love.
Jump. Dance. Smile. Wiggle. Kiss hard and fast.

Let your eyes show the full depth of your emotions.

Be gracious and accepting when someone tries to help, even if you really don't want it.

When you're scared, come to the ones who love you for comfort and support.

When you just need to "be", and you feel pain or discomfort, let it out, let those who love you stroke your head and love you up.

Approach each day as if it were the first and last day of your life.

When there's anger around you be quick to move in and offer comfort.

Live fully, beautifully and completely in the moment as it happens.