Help Is Meaningful No Matter How Small

hug“I’m not mad. I’m disappointed.”

At myself.

I’m a helper. Always have been. I try hard. I watch the world for opportunities to help strangers, friends and Cohere members especially. Once, I almost crashed my car pulling over to help an elderly women right her shopping cart. Turns out she did NOT want my help and swore at me but I feel happy that I tried. I’ve apparently lost my way as of late…

Last week I ran into an associate who said to me, “Hey, “Sally Sue*” is really struggling right now. Can you think of a way we could come together and help her?”

I stammered and stuttered and then muttered, “I don’t know her well enough to help in any meaningful way.”

WHAT.

THE.

ACTUAL.

FUCK?

Let’s break down the absurdity of what I said, “I don’t know her well enough to help in any meaningful way.”

  1. I don’t know her well enough. That doesn’t even make sense. I’ve been friends with Sally on Facebook for maybe a year. I’ve met her in person at least twice that I can think of. I’ve SEEN her posts about how she is struggling right now. I’m familiar enough with her work, her life and I even know her daughter’s name.
  2. to help. Help is relative. Who am I to decide what is helpful to any person at any given moment? Who am I to look at someone and decide that this thing or the other thing is better or worse for that person ESPECIALLY if I don’t even ask. If I don’t even try. Inaction is worse than trying something.
  3. in any meaningful way. I dropped everything to help dear friends last week. I cancelled things, pushed meetings and told my own daughter to wait. That felt meaningful. It felt big and it was hard. Helping isn’t always hard or time consuming or particular drastic. Does Sally need that level of help from me? A relative stranger in her life? Can I hire Sally? No. Do I personally have the bandwidth to help her job search? Probably not. There are 300 things I could do to help Sally: send her a note of encouragement, forward a job opportunity that I see, hug her, say that I know it sucks right now but it’ll get better, tell her I understand, tell her I’m thinking about her. Anything at all really. I could have spent 3 minutes doing something helpful but instead I did nothing.

In a world where it’s so easy to keep our heads down and to make excuses that we don’t have the time or the money to help, let’s SEE each other. Let’s make eye contact and say HI. The world can be terrifying. People get gunned down, children die, people are struck down by awful illnesses. That lady with the screaming kid in the grocery needs help (a smile, an encouraging nod). The homeless person on the street needs help (ask). That distressed looking server at lunch needs help (listen). Your mom. Your brother. Your best friend. Help them.

I shed a tear during my reflection on my walk this morning as I smiled and said “good mornings” to strangers on the trail then I reached into a stranger’s car to turn off their headlights. Helping matters.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Fred Rogers

*name changed

Image Credit

 

Ridiculously Productive Meetings

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I bet you never wonder how 3 people with full-time jobs manage to shoe-horn in the creation of a shared rehearsal space for Fort Collins in their “spare” time. If you’ve been following us, you might wonder why I would brag about our ridiculously productive meetings for Cohere Bandwidth when we’ve been at this for almost 2 years. If you must know, most of that 2 years was spent waiting on real estate with very few DONES getting checked off of our TO-DOS. Skip below to the COMPLETION step if you are skimming.

But now that the space is REAL and under construction we spend every Friday going from Oh Fuck! to Hell Yes! Here is our extremely effective meeting process:

  1. AGENDA: Anyone can create or add to the agenda. We do this in a shared google doc that everyone can edit. The doc contains ALL of the agendas with the most recent at the top. The agenda is usually created the night before or the morning of each meeting. We’re agile and quick so it wouldn’t make sense to create an agenda further in advance than that.
  2. SCHEDULE: Meetings are always at 10am on Fridays at Cohere and last 1.5 hours. The person who is late has to get coffee for everyone else.FullSizeRender (1)
  3. AIRING OF GRIEVANCES: At the start of each meeting we get our feelings out. Yep, you read that right. If anyone is frustrated or flabbergasted or just plain giddy, we talk it out BEFORE we task. This step is key. Due to the nature of our structure, we can’t be together or even talk every day so it’s important to make a real connection to one another before we start doling out chores.
  4. ORDER: We go through the agenda in order. Always. We rarely add anything to the agenda during the meeting.
  5. TIME: Never, ever, ever put an estimated time for discussion on an agenda item. This makes no sense.
  6. COMPLETION: We complete any tasks that come up IN THE MEETING. Example, if Julie needs to email someone about a radio interview then Shane and I talk about a graphic design task or similar. This allows everyone to be productive during the entire meeting, which is something I never got to experience in corporate life.
  7. DELEGATE: If any tasks remain, they are completed directly after the meeting ends or get shifted to me (Angel) if possible since I have the most spare time to complete things. Shane will often do heavy duty graphic design tasks outside of the meeting as it’s part of his creative process.

So there. Now you know how we make the most out of our 12 hours/month together.

Does your team have an unconventional meeting process? Tell us all about it so we can steal your tips for our next meeting.

Non sequitwitter

An oldie but a goodie archived post…

Please enjoy a select few of my tweets.  You’d think that due to the volume, this was several weeks’ worth.  It’s not.  It’s just the last 14 days.  Apparently, my followers enjoy these types of tweets much more than the informational or educational ones.  #perhapsIshouldhavebeenacomedian.

@SMacready Latte to go: $4, Drive to Cohere: 50 cents, Spare underpants: $2, Having a hired wedgie giver on call: Priceless (@reusmith)

Waiting for @caligater to get to my desk (6 feet away) so we can get a snack.

Partied like it was 1985 with photos @coherellc http://bit.ly/bqSQza

coworkers are competing in a which word represents each letter of the alphabet in military @michaelclingan is winning @coherellc

@petechee smart phones…. that’s all we ever use, unless you count Skype. Then I guess it’s a world of smart phones and skype-like things.

Productivity dips by 300% due to Google Pacman interactive logo.

Impressed at how easily my hair went into a side ponytail for Old Town’s 80’s party today.

@juliesutter “childrens’ concerts aren’t a priority anymore..you know what is? Sewage.” -Leslie Gnope, Parks & Recreation.

@juliesutter Almost bought a cropped black vinyl jacket with grey sweatshirt hood. Yeah, it was pretty sweet..I mean rad.

@LaurieMacomber Does there HAVE to be a reason to have mass mustache hysteria?!

We’re doing Halo (the song) mitigation @coherellc this morning. We’re all plugged in and blasting different music.

Trololololo! @rockstar_ @juliesutter and @ecosphericblog are here and we’re admiring our new Tears for Fears poster @coherellc.

Successfully resisted offer of cupcake, tho I can feel it staring at the back of my neck.

You might be wondering about the donkey video on the Cohere youtube channel. That’s fine.

OH at an event this morning “Angel, I’m wearing a bathing suit under my clothes.”

@RedheadWriting Well, your “rat sputum” data is going to be off the charts tomorrow.

@juliesutter History channel investigating “glowing, flying, headless pig.” Maybe that keychain does unlock a parallel universe.

I can call them toll free….thanks Kleenex, b/c I worry about tolls so often on my cell phone

@CleverCubed Let me know if you need to borrow my slide rule#architectjokes

Feeling proud of this chicken icon thing I just invented (**>

Spent morning idolizing thought of having a backyard chicken, spent afternoon learning that chickens are kind of a pain in the ass

@mrembolt It was a nightmare, hair follicles felt all strained!

Tabs I have open: gmail, calendar, twitter, Cohere, Facebook, Pandora, Bit.ly and 5 minute hummus. Can anyone analyze that?

I have generalized excitement disorder today.

@DorseyPromotion I know…I like how you can just see Lindsay’s eyebrows.

New Product Dev @coherellc today. Adhesive pockets to attach (to bare skin or clothes) when you need a place to put your hands @alliebrosh

**special thanks to Cohere coworker, Julie Sutter, for the title of this post.  Brilliant.

When the going gets tough

This is how awkward I feel in a 1 on 1 yoga class

Ever show up for a yoga class just to find out that you’re the only student? Most people would be thrilled for a $7 one-on-one yoga session with an expert.  Not me. I like to blend my non-bendy body and jagged breaths  into a crowd. This is admittedly hard because at 6 feet tall I tend to quite literally stand out. There was no hiding my clumsy body from my yoga instructor and he apparently didn’t want to hide his from me in a 100% spandex outfit.

Instead of just proceeding with the class, he wanted to engage in a long conversation about what type of yoga I like, what positions I wanted to concentrate on etc, etc. Again, a lot of people would be thrilled about this situation but as he asked more and more questions in an attempt to accommodate me, I just kept thinking. “Crap. Now I’m not going to get a good workout.” The reason I knew I wouldn’t get a a good workout is because I would cop out on the tough poses and typical challenges that go along with a class filled with moderately experienced yogis.

When given the option of a difficult task or an easier task, I will almost always do what I perceive to be simpler or faster. I once took a personality test that told me that my main characteristic is “likes to save effort.” It’s absolutely true. I won’t go back even 4 aisles in the grocery store if I forget something. It’s too much effort; I’ll just do without. As you can imagine, exercise is difficult for me owing to the fact that the main characteristic of exercise is effort. This is a real problem for me.

So now I’m trapped with Mr. Spandex and he keeps giving me options like, “We could do Fish or Dancer or Blah-vanassana now. Would you like that?”

“No thanks,” I reply. The poor guy had to go through about 200 different poses before he found the 5 that I was willing to do. Then I asked if the class could be over early. He apologized profusely which I didn’t understand. I am clearly the one with the issue here. I actually had to use the, “it’s not you, it’s me” line on him.

You might be wondering where the nugget of business wisdom is in this TMI post. Me too…tune in next time for the answer.

Unmet Potential

I ran as fast as I could to get outside. It was sunny and inexplicably bright. What wonderful delights would the yard hold today? Would I climb a tree, turn on the sprinkler and run through it? Would I dig a hole?  A light breeze flicked the leaves on the big cottonwood tree. I watched it as I ran. I grabbed the corner of the kitchen island so I could whip around faster.

I woke up on the floor. My head hurt. Mom cleaned the sliding glass door to an invisible sheen again.

Unmet potential.

I could have done more. I could have made a bigger impact. I could have changed things/people/lives for the better. I feel this swelling inside my chest. It’s somewhere between the lump you get right before you cry and the kind of utter exploding happiness you feel when a puppy wriggles in your hand or you watch two baby bunnies squirm.

Possible but not yet actual.

What to do with the utter certainty that you didn’t get to go all the way with your plans, your passion, your inspiration, your life’s work? Were you cut off at the pass? Did someone beat you to it? Did you sabotage yourself?

I had this great job once. A perfect job, really. The kind that hundreds of people wanted and didn’t get. I got it. I planned on working there for 26 years. For 86 days I ran so fast I lapped myself. I ran at full speed while I looked so far in to the future at what *could* be that I didn’t see the obvious barriers right in front of me. Instead of running in to a door, it was shown to me.

Undeveloped excellence.

That’s what they call potential. Undeveloped excellence. I sure had a lot of potential in that job. Bursting with ideas, alive with passion and well regarded by most of my coworkers as “the best [insert job title] person I’ve ever had.” Too bad I didn’t have even a cursory idea how to implement my big ideas in a way that wouldn’t result in my swift termination.

Do it anyway.

So I started a company. My very own squirmy bunny that I could raise up right in the vision of my own potential. Now I’ve got the developed excellence and ALL . I . WANT is to go back to that dream company and set the record straight.

I’d step off their elevator in impossibly cute shoes and say in an impossibly articulate way, “I was great for your company. I had the vision, the passion to carry it out and a whole boatload of employees who STILL WANT what I have to offer. But I’m Cohere’s now so I can’t come back to you. Your sprinkler is on and I can’t run through it.”

And they’ll smile and weep and hug me and offer me some ridiculous compensation to just hear my thoughts.

It’s possible.

Cohere: Working without walls-NCBR

Cohere: Working without walls
Old Town space brings freelancers together to collaborate, connect
By Jessica Centers
Published May 7, 2010
Source: Northern Colorado Business Report
As a freelance copywriter working from her Fort Collins home, Julie Sutter found herself craving human interaction. She’d heard about the concept of coworking, but she didn’t get it at first. In her experience, working in office suites wasn’t much different than working at home. The climate of working in coffee shops was a little better, but she still didn’t feel like she could lean over to her neighbor and ask him what he was working on.
Now that’s exactly what she does at Cohere LLC – a membership-based coworking community that opened its doors in Old Town Fort Collins in April.
“It’s more about collaboration and getting to know the people who share your space,” she said. “Being happier makes for better work. I’m getting more done and the structure is helping me create balance between what’s work and what’s life.”
Cohere is the brainchild of curator Angel Kwiatkowski. It was just last December that a friend – Kevin Buecher – introduced her to the concept of coworking.
Kwiatkowski calls Buecher a community organizer; he calls himself a platform builder. He’s been an organizer for conferences like Podcamp, Laidoffcamp and Ignite Fort Collins, and says the concept of coworking grew out of barcamps. The network of conferences use a many-to-many communication approach rather than the traditional method of one person, such as a politician, keynote speaker or CEO, talking to an audience.
But coworking is a movement for people who want to have that many-to-many collaboration every day, according to Buecher. There are no walls, no private spaces. Coworking is a mindset that embodies the Internet’s method of communication.
“I decided to research and found a global community of coworking,” Kwiatkowski said. “I decided that was definitely what I was supposed to do with my life.”
She started a meetup group to pilot coworking in Fort Collins. Freelancers met once a week to test it out and see if they liked working together.
She was working with the Rocky Mountain Innovation Initiative at the time, and RMI2 donated space to the group. After just five weeks, they had grown to 15 people, all crammed into a reception area. Kwiatkowski found Cohere’s current home, upstairs at 215 Jefferson St. in Old Town, and planned her business with the help of a mentor, RMI2 COO Kelly Peters.
Space historical, sustainable
The building was built in 1890, and it’s sustainable, with wind credits and a 40-foot skylight that eliminates the need for artificial light during the day. It has great character, with exposed brick and an open floor plan. Its 1,100 square feet include 12 work stations, two smaller areas to get away to make phone calls or have meetings or brainstorm sessions, a lounge with couches and comfy chairs, a loft called the tree house that’s good for meeting deadlines.
They’re even in the process of testing out reclining work stations, where programmers and others who work at night can actually lie down with their laptops on big circular work pods.
The 16 current members pay dues ranging from $48 to $249 a month depending on the level of access they want. There is a $19 pop-in rate for those who want to test-drive the idea before joining, and non-members can rent the conference room for $15 per hour, depending on availability. Sutter went to full, unlimited access after just a week because she knew she wanted to be there all the time.
“The two primary draws are being around other likeminded people; they come here to be happier,” explained Kwiatkowski. “They have been isolated and bummed out at their home office maybe for years. Other people come here to be more productive; they feel like their work life and home life now have a separation for the first time. Many freelancers lose the ability to separate home from work.”
Sutter comes from that camp. Now she relishes the days when she leaves her computer at Cohere and decides she’s done working for the day. Before, she would tell herself she was just going to check her e-mail in the evening and before she knew it she’d been working for four hours.
People connector
The other draw for Sutter has been Kwiatkowski herself.
Coworking is the perfect marriage of Kwiatkowski’s experience in management, career counseling and organizational development. “I created a company where I just get to be around awesome people all day long,” she said.
“What separates Angel and Cohere is that she’s there,” Buecher said. “Her role is to connect people and help people be themselves. Most (coworking spaces) don’t have this connector person there, someone there who cares about you as a person.”
Already, Sutter is finding opportunities to collaborate with people in the Cohere space who are working on projects that also call for a copywriter.
“My main mantra about coworking is not about office space,” Kwiatkowski said. “It’s not about a physical thing. It’s people coming together and building community and working collaboratively and being passionate about their work and sharing that with other people.
“We don’t have any walls; we don’t have physical walls or mental walls here.”

Trust: a Bad Lunch Box Trade

I’m the classic skeptic.  Always willing to give you the devil’s advocate point of view or find the loophole in your plan.  I’m also a naturally untrusting person.  So, in true guru fashion the universe has decided that I need to learn to trust and quickly!

I don’t know where my lack of trust originated.  Maybe I got the short end of the stick in a bad lunch box trade in 2nd grade.  Maybe it was that time that my brother dug a hole, filled it with water and told me to run across the “puddle” so I could fall into a four foot deep mud pit….which I did with great relish because my super cool big brother would never do anything to hurt me!  Ongoing therapy aside, I’ve had to learn how to trust and now I get to do that daily!

Starting a coworking space has been such an excellent exercise in learning how to trust.  First, I had to hire lots of people to perform services like real estate transactions, web development, interior design, build outs and reliable internet.  Luckily, I have been thrilled with the results and their work allowed Cohere to open on time and only a little over budget.  But, in the grand scheme of trust, this wasn’t any big test of my ability to let someone else take the reins whilst I carry on blissfully unconcerned with the state of my business.

Now on to the big daddy of all trust activities.  I’m not talking the “let’s get out of this human knot or fall backwards into my arms” type stuff.  I’m talking, “hey, there’s a lot of stuff in this building that you don’t own and you’re going to give 10 people 24/7 access to that space.”   Oh, and it’s impossible for you to be there all the time, and one day you might want a day off so you’re going to leave your business in the hands of someone else while you’re out and about.”

So, I tried it.  Little by little.  First, I would just leave for 10 minutes, then that turned into long lunches.  Guess what?!  Not only did the building not burn down–everything continued on as usual while I was gone.  Visitors were greeted, tours were given and questions were answered…..the coffee even got made.  Now I’ve worked my way up the trust ladder to a whole afternoon off and we’re headed towards a whole day off!

Now, I’m not recommending that banks and jewelry stores ask their customers to just “keep an eye on things for a minute while I’m out eating a burrito,” but there is definitely a special place for trust in a coworking community.  The members of Cohere are some of the most trustworthy and honest folks in town.  They treat the space and each other respectfully and no one has tricked any one else into running into a 4 foot mud pit—success!

How do you surround yourself with people you trust?

Your Job is to CARE About People and Who Doesn’t Want to be Cared About?

Zachariah (Cohere member) shared that the above title is my job description!  I love it and it has inspired today’s post.

I come from a small town and enjoyed relative peace of mind knowing that our banker lived just up the street and gave out loans based on reputation.  My school teacher was also my Brownie leader and my mom handed out the food stamps to our neighbors who were down on their luck.  My best friend’s dad raised the cattle we ate, my uncle grew our corn and you could see into the kitchen at the bakery where my brother worked mornings.

In an increasingly global economy, products are made and services are rendered on the other side of the globe instead of right around the corner.  I long for the bygone days of knowing my farmer, my baker and my candlestick maker and their children, spouses, cousins and their debt to income ratios as well as who was dating who every Saturday night.  How can I get a little slice of this hometown nostalgia in a world where it is cheaper to make and ship bowling balls over here from China?

Managing Cohere has been an excellent exercise in keeping things local and provides daily lessons on how deeply you must CARE for your customers, especially when there are no layers of staff or thousands of miles between me and them.  I see my customer’s faces and speak with each of them nearly daily.  They witness how I work and interact and run the business.  There are no secrets in Cohere (we have very thin walls). How many businesses can say that they actually see and talk with their customers every single day?  Even the local coffee shop will draw the occasional tourist whom they will never see again.

Cohere is held up by local people who care.  Our coffee is roasted by a woman named Jackie.  She hand roasts and delivers our coffee right to our door and stands there and chats while I write her an old fashioned check.  When is the last time you shook hands with your coffee roaster? Soon, we’ll enjoy the fruits of Grant Farms labor when the summer harvest starts.  When is the last time you set foot on the land where your produce is harvested?  Cohere t-shirts are printed by a man named Jason who does his work around the corner from here.  He takes the order, prints the shirts and takes my payment.  There is no 1-800 number–I just knock on his door.  Our signs were made by a woman named Amanda.  She delivered the signs to Cohere and stayed to explain how to install them.

Our furniture was made by a man named Drew. He bought beetle kill wood from Colorado forests and created everything in his garage, trucked it up here and installed it.  All of these people care about their customers–deeply and locally.

Who serves you locally and how do you know that they care about you?

The f-Word

I used to help people craft stories about why and how they left a company–“never say you were fired, always say you were laid off.”  Well, I was wrong.  Tell the truth and tell it well, my fellow fired friends.

I don’t know what economic crisis caused everyone to eliminate the word fired from their lexicons but it’s bullshit.  If you were fired, you were fired.  If you really think you were just let go, laid off, right sized, wise sized, down sized, culled, made redundant, smart sized, outsourced, off sourced, off shored, excessed, de-layered, re-deployed, force-shaped, riffed or simplified, stop reading.

If you have been fired and I mean really fired because you jacked something up (regardless of whether or not you are ready to blame yourself for it), read on.

Stop blaming your coworkers, your spouse, the company, the idiot manager who always had it out for you, the broken processes, the moronic systems and company politics.  It’s your fault.  Just accept it, learn from it and move on.

Here are some tips for coming to terms with and getting over your firing.

Tell everyone you were fired:  If you want an exercise in humility, tell the truth even if your face burns and you get real sweaty.

Grieve it: Don’t go home after your firing and tweak your resume or call the unemployment line (you should file online anyway).  I grieved my firing by reading the entire Harry Potter series, front to back, on my patio, for 3 weeks.  If unicorns and evil wizards can’t pull you out of your funk, I don’t know what will.

Examine the circumstances: Reflect on your former job, your role, your actions and see yourself from the CEO’s point of view.  If you still think you’re perfect, stop reading. You’re not ready for this–get back on monster.com and keep looking for your next soul sucking job.

Volunteer: Your reflection time should help you understand why you got fired.  Perhaps you were too proud, too whiny, too lazy or too much of a maverick.  Pick a place to volunteer where you can re-learn how to be a good employee.  If you think you’re the cat’s pajamas, I recommend volunteering to pick up trash.  If you think everyone is out to get you, some jail service would suit you well.  If you think your life is too hard, volunteer to help drug addicts or abused children.  If you think you’re always right, withhold your opinion for the duration of your volunteer job.

Sit in the Fog and Wait: If your next career move isn’t immediately apparent after all of this, just sit and wait.  Listen to what’s going on inside and around you.  Stop ignoring clear signals from the universe.  Be open to new experiences and be patient.

Have you been fired?  Share your story here.

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