A Lesson in Business Etiquette

As part of Villanova’s Summer Business Institute program, students participate in a series of professional development events.

Tonight was the first such event; a dinner for all students, faculty, and staff, that also featured a presentation on proper business etiquette when out to dinner.

The featured speaker was Laura Katen, who has her own consulting firm which focuses on providing “business soft skills training”.

In my 30 years at Villanova I’ve gone to a lot of presentations, and today’s presentation would rank in the top three of all time. My only regret is that I didn’t learn this information 40 years ago, so I am thrilled that our students are learning these soft skills now.

I’ve always been a believer in the importance of soft skills (such as kindness, empathy, presentation skills, getting along with people, etc.), so it was helpful having the importance of such skills reinforced by someone who specializes in helping people and firms to build such skills.

Tonight’s presentation focused specifically on the do’s and don’ts associated with a business dinner.

The event began with a brief presentation by Ms. Katen about the value of knowing how to behave at such an event, and then we started eating our salad. In addition, at each table there were a series of true/false questions that we were asked to work through during our salad. The correct response to some of the questions surprised me.

For example,

If you arrive to the restaurant before the host, you should take a walk around the block and come back.

I didn’t see what the problem was with being there early, but apparently doing so could upset the host by making him think he was late for the appointment. Now there are exceptions, such as it’s OK to arrive before the host if it is just a couple of minutes before the scheduled time or if the host is running late.

After we finished our salad, Ms. Katen then went over the correct responses for each of the questions, and by the time we were finished that, our entree had arrived. For this part of the meal, each table had been given an index card with a question on it which we were to discuss during dinner. Our table’s question was “What are some foods to avoid during such a dinner?” (answers included, among others, spaghetti, shellfish, burgers, broccoli, and spinach)

When dinner was over Ms. Kalen went through the various index cards that each table had, as well as answered any questions anyone might have. During this part of the program I also learned an easy way to remember what side your bread is on versus your drink. Ms. Katen gave us the acronym BMW, which stands for, from left to right, Bread, Meal, Water/Wine.

Here were some other tidbits:

  • anything inedible, such as taking the wrapping off of a straw, should be placed under the lip of the bread plate
  • anything edible that you need to take out of your mouth (olive pit, gristle) should be placed on your main dinner plate and then covered with food
  • you should always leave a little bit of food on your plate
  • follow your host’s lead; if she orders an appetizer, you order an appetizer; if she orders dessert, you order dessert (even if you are full); eat at the pace of your host; if you are asked to order first, and you just order an entree but the host orders an appetizer and an entree, when everyone is finished ordering tell the server that the appetizer sounds like a good idea, and you would like to order one; if the reverse happens, you order an appetizer but no one else does, let the server know that you changed your mind and that you do no need an appetizer
  • how to leave your fork and knife on the plate if you are not yet finished versus how to place them when you are finished
  • never ask for a doggie bag
  • take the lemon wedge off the glass of water and place it on your bread plate before drinking the water
  • if someone asks you to pass the salt, you also include the pepper
  • leave your napkin on your chair if you have to excuse yourself during the meal, and then on the left side of your plate when you are finished

While we were learning all of these behaviors, our dinner plates were cleared off and we were then served dessert.

Ms. Katen then offered some tips on other soft skills, such as the proper way to shake hands. She even volunteered to shake hands after dinner with anyone who wanted to so that she could let you know if your handshake passed muster.

I took advantage of such an opportunity and so after dinner I went over to where Ms. Katen was standing and introduced myself. I guess the handshake was OK, since she did not say otherwise, but then a couple of minutes into our conversation I noticed that I was still holding my napkin in my left hand. I have no idea why (it certainly was never one of the options discussed in terms of what to do with our napkins), but I quickly fessed up to my faux pas. Fortunately, Ms. Katen was enough of a professional to act as if she hadn’t even noticed, even though it was a pretty big blue cloth napkin.

As noted earlier, I thought this was a wonderful hands-on learning experience, and I think the students will benefit greatly from learning such skills at this stage of their lives.

I also learned a lot, but apparently I have to remember to actually use what I’ve learned (put the napkin down, put the napkin down, put the napkin down…)

*Table setting image courtesy of Cal State University Dominguez Hills Career Center

P.S. Any mistakes about business etiquette noted above are mine – I was trying to write down everything I was learning, so there is the chance I got one or two of the things wrong.

Do You Owe Something to An Eliza McCardle?

This is the 62nd in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


She met a tailor when he was twenty.
He had never been to school.
She married him.
Taught him to read, write, spell.
He learned fast.
Became President.
Inherited post-Civil War reconstruction problems.
Beat an impeachment rap by just one vote after trying to fire his Secretary of War for justifiable reasons.
Bought Alaska from the Russians for $7 million.
Lost his try at a second term.
Ran for U.S. Senate instead, and won.
Hs name?
Andrew Johnson.
America will reach its full maturity when an Andrew does the same for an Eliza.


I’ll admit that I’ve never heard of Eliza McCardle, so it was nice learning a bit of history while writing this blog. I’ll also admit that I don’t know much about Andrew Johnson (I’m no Macey Hensley. If you don’t know who she is, she is the cutest six-year old you will ever see, who also happens to be an expert on the PResidents. She has been on the Ellen show several times. Here is a clip of when Ellen sent her to Disney World so that she could see the Hall of Presidents.)

Anyway, back to Andrew Johnson. I decided to do some background reading on him (well sort of, I looked him up in Wikipedia), and it seems like perhaps he wasn’t the greatest example that Harry Gray could have used.

Here’s one excerpt from Wikipedia:

In the early 21st century, Johnson is among those commonly mentioned as the worst presidents in U.S. history. According to historian Glenn W. Lafantasie, who believes Buchanan the worst president, “Johnson is a particular favorite for the bottom of the pile because of his impeachment … his complete mishandling of Reconstruction policy … his bristling personality, and his enormous sense of self-importance.

And here’s another one, this time from Annette Gordon-Reed, another historian:

…Johnson, along with his contemporaries Pierce and Buchanan, are generally listed among the five worst presidents.

However, in the interests of providing some balance, Gordon-Reed also points out that

Johnson’s story has a miraculous quality to it: the poor boy who systematically rose to the heights, fell from grace, and then fought his way back to a position of honor in the country. For good or ill, ‘only in America,’ as they say, could Johnson’s story unfold in the way that it did.

So yes, it’s a good story of someone rising from a humble background to the highest office in the U.S., but obviously such a story by itself doesn’t guarantee that you will succeed in such a position.

But I also realize that this was not the main point of this United Technologies ad. Gray is trying to point out that we need to see men playing a more supportive role in helping to advance the careers of women.

While I would have to agree with his point, and I noted as much in a recent post:
Women are socialized from early adulthood to monitor their own health, and the health and well-being of others which is less common among men.

However, I think there are more instances of men providing support to women today than ever before. I can think of a couple off the top of my head:

  • Bill Clinton supporting his wife Hillary in her bid for the Presidency
  • Dave Goldberg supporting his wife Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook. When Goldberg passed away suddenly last year at the age of  47, here is part of what Sandberg had to say about him:
    I met Dave nearly 20 years ago when I first moved to LA. He became my best friend. He showed me the internet for the first time, planned fun outings, took me to temple for the Jewish holidays, introduced me to much cooler music than I had ever heard. …He gave me the experience of being deeply understood, truly supported and completely and utterly loved – and I will carry that with me always.

I realize these are two high-profile cases, but so was Andrew Johnson’s. I also realize that many of you probably have a friend or relative where the husband provided a great deal of support to his wife as she pursued her career.

So while Eliza McCardle’s story may still be the norm, I think the times they are a changin’.

Who knows, perhaps there will be a great man ready to stand behind Macey Hensley as she pursues her dream of becoming the President of the U.S.

There’s no such thing as too much Macey!

A Trip Down Memory Lane Thanks to Spotify

I recently signed up for a three-month free trial of Spotify, and so far I’ve been loving the opportunity to listen to essentially any artist, song, or album I can think of.

Today we took a trip into Philadelphia and for the drive in I decided to play some music from a group that I probably haven’t listened to in 35 years. I’m not even sure what made me think of this band, but I was glad they popped into my head.

What was the band, you ask?

If you guessed Three Dog Night, then you are correct! (if you recognized them from the picture above, then you’ve got mad music skills).

When I searched for them on Spotify, there was a wide variety of albums to pick from, and I finally settled on 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Three Dog Night.

As my wife and I listened to the album, I realized that I had forgotten how many hit songs they had – here’s the list of songs on the album:

  • Joy to the World
  • Shambala
  • One
  • Black and White
  • Mama Told Me Not to Come
  • An Old Fashioned Love Song
  • Never Been to Spain
  • Liar
  • Eli’s Coming
  • Easy to be Hard
  • Celebrate
  • The Show Must Go On

Really, how great a list of songs is that?

When I checked Wikipedia for some background info on the band, there was only one other song mentioned in the list of singles which I recognized but did not end up on this album – Family of Man. So this seems to be a legitimate Greatest Hits album (assuming you are of a certain age and like Three Dog Night).

It was also amazing how easily the words to most of the songs came back to me; words that I haven’t heard in almost 40 years. And this from someone who can’t remember the name of someone I just met five minutes ago.

In the few days that I’ve had Spotify I’ve listened to Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, and Tim Moore. A true trip down memory lane. (I did try to play Bob Seger’s greatest hits, but he has so far opted not to have his music available through Spotify).

I realize I’m late to the game of using something like Spotify to listen to music, but if by chance you haven’t tried it, I can highly recommend it.

And here’s some lyrics from a few Three Dog Night songs that might get you singing…

Just an old-fashioned love song
Comin’ down in three-part harmony

Jeremiah was a bull frog
Was a good friend of mine

How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel

A four-level highway across the land
We’re building a home for the family of man

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music

 

 

Thanks, Internet, for Raising My Fear Level for No Reason

I recently had to get some minor surgery, and I thought I was doing myself a favor by reading as much as I could about the procedure before it took place.

Unfortunately, some of what I read did not exactly sugarcoat things, and made the procedure sound quite painful and unpleasant.

Here’s one person’s account of her experience (in italics):

...removing the nasal packing is one of the most frightening and painful experiences you can have in a hospital.

followed by this warning:

DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ IF YOU ARE OF A SENSITIVE DISPOSITION – this is graphic and prejudiced.

Of course, I kept reading…

The packing will be grasped with the tweezers, then pulled steadily and firmly out with the assistance of a suction tube. This results in a horrific and painful sensation which feels as though brain tissue is being removed from a point beneath your eyeball. It is not only excruciating, it is quite terrifying to realize that the points of the tweezers are indeed that deep in your head: your nasal passages extend past your eyeballs. (This was almost an eight or nine in terms of sheer agony. Thankfully it was brief, but debilitating and demoralizing.)

What exactly happens then I am unsure, as this was the most painful part of the entire experience and I nearly blacked out. I cannot describe it without sounding melodramatic, but it was literally the most frightening and intense pain I have ever felt in forty years of my life (and I am including the thirty-four hours of mostly unmedicated labour, the spinal epidural, and recovery from an emergency C-section).

I’ve been lucky to have never had any serious injury or experience significant pain, but I’ve watched my children being born and that looked painful, but my wife was amazingly under control for all three births. Why did this Internet poster have to compare my procedure to childbirth? But she wasn’t quite finished describing things…

I went into shock while sitting there, trying to keep myself upright in the chair, holding the clotting basin under my own chin, shaking and trembling and crying. Perhaps you’re made of tougher stuff. The children and teens who were ahead of me and after me (they did all the packing removal for the surgery patients in the same hour one evening) were screaming in literal hysteria during the procedure, and even the older males (who pride themselves on toughness and have been through compulsory military service) were coming out looking dazed and shaky.

So that’s what I was getting myself into, and I had no reason to expect that I would face such pain any better than the people she described.

Well my surgery was successful, and I had a follow-up doctor’s appointment a few days later for the removal of the packing, which is what I was most concerned with. In the days leading up to the appointment, it was all I could think about.

Well the big day finally arrived, and I can happily say that my experience was nothing like that of the woman quoted above.

It was over in less than five minutes, and while it was an odd sensation, I certainly wouldn’t call it painful.

As I left the doctor’s office I realized I had gotten myself all worked-up for no reason.

I had read other people’s accounts of having the procedure, but none of them were quite as dramatic (or as painful sounding) as the one noted above. I basically just ignored these other stories and focused instead on the worst possible outcome.

I think such a reaction may be human nature. We tend to dwell on what could go wrong and tools like 24-hour news channels and the Internet only serve to amplify such reactions.

FDR had it right back in 1993 when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

We just need to be reminded of that today; maybe it would make a great Presidential campaign slogan…

 

 

Dear Freshmen,

Adam Grant has been recognized as both the youngest tenured and highest rated professor at the Wharton School (the business school at the University of Pennsylvania).

While he has achieved great success in a variety of ways (published articles, books, TED talk), the one item that captured my attention from his web site was a project called “Dear Penn Freshmen“.

The project grew out of Adam Grant’s 2015 class in Organizational Behavior. Here’s a brief explanation from its web site:

This is a collection of letters from Penn upperclassmen writing to their freshmen selves. These notes are filled with advice, anecdotes and random thoughts in hopes that their words will make readers’ first year at Penn just a tad bit easier. We’re hoping these letters will foster a better Penn culture and assure freshmen that failing an ECON10 quiz doesn’t mean the world is actually ending.

Along the way, we hope our words will inspire a renewed environment built on curiosity, kindness, humility, & a prioritization of laughter, health and the little things. 

Upperclassmen: if you’re looking to pay it forward with some wonderful advice, or merely looking for any reason to pause your studying, let us know and we’ll get you on board! 

Freshmen: read on and let us know what you think. Freshman year can be tough. Trust us, we were there. But we want to help. Let us know how we can. 

Wharton student Lauren McCann is the one who took the initiative to make this happen—the website had over 10,000 hits in the first 24 hours alone, and other schools are now adopting it.

After reading this, I want to do this at Villanova.

I’ve often thought of having students who did well in one of my courses come to my class the first day of a new semester and offer advice to the new students for doing well in the course. But I like the Wharton approach better, since it gives both the seniors the chance to carefully write down what they want to say and more time for the freshmen to reflect on the written words as compared to listening to someone give a five-minute presentation on the first day of the semester. Plus, the Wharton approach is much broader, not just focused on academic success, but success as a young adult.

I plan to put something together this weekend, and send it out to my former students who just graduated two weeks ago. Hopefully they will be willing to share their thoughts with the incoming freshmen. I think it’s a great way to have the graduates feel like they are still part of the school and to have them think about what they have learned over the past four years, both in and out of the classroom.

For the freshmen, it’s a way to perhaps relieve a bit of the stress they are feeling of being at a new environment and what the next four years may hold.

I’m excited about this project; thank you Lauren and Adam for the inspiration and for making it a reality.

When Business and Art Collide

It’s another blow to the world of abstract art.

Last week, in tribute to Morley Safer, I wrote about one of his more famous stories, “Yes… But Is It Art?” in which he exposes abstract art for what it really is, nonsense.

And now we have the story of 17-year-old TJ Khayatan who placed his glasses on the floor of the newly remodeled San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

It wasn’t long before the spectacles garnered some foot traffic, as passersby mistook the ordinary lenses for a piece of modern art. Khayatan tweeted the news of his accidental masterpiece and before long, the story went viral.

If such an event doesn’t prove that a lot of art is nonsense, then I don’t know what would convince you.

But it got me thinking. Maybe I’ve got a future in abstract art, specializing in business-based art.

Below are some ideas off the top of my head.

 

aseetframed

Anyone who has taken an accounting course knows how beautiful it is when your balance sheet balances, truly  a work of art.

 

fourpframed

Imagine walking past this at a museum and impressing your date by explaining that this drawing represents the four Ps known as the marketing mix. You may not know a van Gogh from a Rembrandt, but you know your buzzwords.

 

framedgaap

Notice the starkness of the white letters against the solid blue background, providing just the right amount of gravitas to such an acronym. Once again, a chance to impress your date if you can explain what it means.

 

framedmoney

A piece that will appeal to the international art lover. Notice the subtle shadows, perhaps suggesting the presence of shadow economies all over the world.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

The world of business is a beautiful thing, so why not celebrate that beauty by creating an art exhibit devoted to business concepts.

It can’t be worse than a vacuum cleaner or a urinal claiming to be art.

*money signs courtesy of Cliparts

 

Do the KIND Thing

I’ve written before about how for the past several years, the Villanova School of Business (VSB – the #1 ranked undergraduate business school!) has selected a book for the incoming freshmen to read over the summer. The program is known as the Read to Lead program, and the cost of the books is generously funded by EY, one of the Big 4 public accounting firms.

The book that incoming students will be reading this summer is “Do the KIND Thing” by the founder of the KIND Healthy Snacks company, Daniel Lubetzky.

I’ve read through the book twice at this point so that I can think about how to integrate the lessons offered in the book into our Intro to Business course. Lubetzky offers 10 core tenets for succeeding in business:

  • Thinking with AND: An Introduction to Avoiding False Compromises
  • Purpose: A Fuel for Your Passion
  • Grit: Steadfastly Advancing your Vision
  • Truth and Discipline: Staying True to the Brand and to Yourself
  • Keeping It Simple: Practicing Restraint to Stay Grounded
  • Originality: Unlocking the Ability to Think Boundlessly
  • Transparency and Authenticity: The Value of Open Communication
  • Empathy: Channeling the Ability to Connect and Create Community
  • Trust: Learning to Let Others Lead
  • Ownership and Resourcefulness: Building a  Culture with Staying Power

Throughout the book, Lubetzky offers words of advice that were often learned the hard way – through failure.

One of the phrases I liked that Lubetzky uses in the book is “not only for profit”; to describe a business that is not a non-profit, but works hard to earn a profit, while also having social goals.

Lubetzky’s overall mission in life is to foster economic cooperation between conflict-torn peoples as a way to help them get to know one another, create an incentive to build a shared future, and achieve peace. It’s certainly a lofty ambition, and one that he believes he can achieve through the success of the KIND Company.

The book is not only an inspirational story of how Lubetzky overcome some significant obstacles to turn KIND into one of the great success stories of the past decade, but also a great opportunity to market the KIND brand.

All hype and bias aside, it really seems like a great company, not only in terms of the products it makes, but in terms of trying to make a difference through what it calls the KIND Movement. Two particular programs stand out.

The first is the #kindawesome card program. #kindawesome is a little program started in 2013 to empower the KIND team to spot and celebrate acts of kindness happening around them. It’s one of our favorite ways to spread the KIND Movement – the company’s social mission to make the world a little kinder.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Spot someone being kind.
  2. Go to howkindofyou.com.
  3. Share a #kindawesome card by email, text, Facebook or Twitter to celebrate that person’s act of kindness.
  4. Poof, the #kindawesome card is redeemed for a KIND snack! And another #kindawesome card to pay it forward.
  5. That #kindawesome card is passed on after another kind act is done, and so on.

The second program is the KIND Causes initiative. This program allows anyone to upload to the company’s web site an idea to make the world a better place. Each month, members (people like you and I), login and vote for the project of their choice. The way they vote is by pledging to do a kind act. The cause that gathers the most votes receives a $10,000 grant and support from the KIND company to make the idea a reality. The eventual goal is to build this platform into a KIND exchange. Not only will the company sponsor one project per month, but there will be thousands of projects that the community can support.

Here’s the link to the KIND Causes web site, where you can see the variety of projects that are currently seeking funding.

So if you are looking for a quick, but inspirational book to read, I highly recommend “Do the KIND Thing”.

One of Lubetzky’s dreams is that when someone says “Do the…” the response is “KIND thing”. I hope that dream becomes a reality, as does of his goal of making the world a more peaceful, and more KIND place.

 

The Perfect Gift for the Recently Divorced or Widowed Man

As if we needed further proof that men need more help taking care of themselves than women do.

A recent research study out of the United Kingdom looked at the effect of marital transition (from married to divorced, separated, or widowed) on healthy eating indicators, broken down by gender. Healthy eating was measured by both the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables eaten.

The results show that compared to men who stayed married, widowed men showed significant declines in all four indicators of healthy eating including fruit quantity, fruit variety, vegetable quantity, and vegetable variety. Men who were separated or divorced or who remained single also showed significant declines in three of the indicators (there was no signifiant change in fruit variety). Among women, only those who became separated/divorced or stayed single showed declines in one indicator, vegetable variety.

The researchers note that the finding of gender-specific patterns of health-damaging associations with marital terminations or remaining unmarried might be explained by a number of sociological factors underpinning social relationships, such as personal expectations and expected norms for gender roles. Other researchers have proposed that personal relationships provide a healthy environment because marriage confers individuals with a sense of meaning and obligation in life and these social and psychological factors facilitate a person’s motivation to engage in healthful behaviors.

Thus, in the absence of spousal-facilitated social control which occurs with marital termination or remaining unmarried, the probability of engaging in health-compromising behavior increases. However, women and men differ in their experience of the social processes underpinning the influence of marriage on health and healthy behaviors. Women are socialized from early adulthood to monitor their own health, and the health and well-being of others which is less common among men. Thus, in a marital relationship, gender determines an asymmetry in spousal influence on health and health behaviors, with men gaining more health benefit from marriage than women.

Or simply stated, if a man goes from being married to widowed or divorced, he isn’t so good at taking care of himself, since he likely relied on his spouse to do so.

While the results may not be that surprising, to me the key is knowing what to do with this knowledge.

I think perhaps the most important reaction is to take responsibility for your own health; don’t rely on your spouse (or someone else) for ensuring that you are engaged in healthy eating behaviors.

Being aware of the value of eating an appropriate amount and variety of fruits and vegetables is also a useful takeaway from the research study.

Another takeaway is that guys need to be grateful to their wives; the research shows that men get more positive outcomes from a marriage than a woman does.

Along with this is the idea that men may need to consciously think about how they can support the health of their spouse (and others), while with women such an attitude seems to be a natural part of who they are.

And finally, if you know someone (particularly a guy) who has recently been widowed or separated, send them a gift basket with a wide variety of fruit. It’s literally exactly what they need.

The Most Creative Job in the World

homemaker

This is the 61st in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


It involves
taste,
fashion,
decorating,
recreation,
education,
transportation,
psychology,
romance,
cuisine,
designing,
literature,
medicine,
handicraft,
art,
horticulture,
economics,
government,
community relations,
pediatrics,
geriatrics,
entertainment,
maintenance,
purchasing,
direct mail,
law,
accounting,
religion,
energy,
and management.
Anyone who can handle all those has to be somebody special.
She is.
She’s a homemaker.


As noted above, this ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal sometime in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

There’s a lot of assumptions in the ad, the primary one that a woman is the homemaker, and responsible for all of the items listed. That’s a tall order for anyone.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that today’s world, particularly in terms of careers, social dynamics, and family life, is quite different than it was 35 years ago.

I wonder what the reaction would be if such an ad appeared in today’s paper?

Would there be a boycott of United Technologies? Would people call for Harry Gray’s resignation? Would people use the ad to push for a return to what life was like back then? Would women be insulted? Would men be insulted? Would creative people be insulted?

Who knows, perhaps back when the ad was first released there may have been complaints about it.

All I can assume is that when Harry Gray first wrote the ad, he did it with good intentions. He was offering praise and gratitude to women who were labeled as “homemakers”. I do not think he was trying to belittle anyone.

So yes, while the ad may seem a little dated, I think the message is timeless.

We need to treat all people with kindness, respect, and gratitude for what they do.

And try not to be so easily offended…

 

Two Ordinary Women, Two Extraordinary Lives

sherpashymara

I’m guessing that to most people who stop in at the 7-Eleven store in Connecticut, Lhakpa Sherpa is just another foreign worker earning minimum wage as a cashier.

I’m also guessing that most people going through the drive-through at a Popeye’s restaurant in Philadelphia just look at employee Shymara Jones as a young black woman struggling to survive.

While those perspectives may be accurate from the outside, there’s a lot more than meets the eye in the stories of these two women.

Lhakpa Sherpa, a 42-year old born in Nepal climbed Mount Everest for the seventh time on Friday, breaking her own record for the most summits of the world’s highest mountain by any woman, a hiking official said. This despite the pain of watching her marriage unravel and struggling to support herself and her three children. Along with such family problems, there is also a general lack of respect for Sherpas who do the bulk of the work on such climbing expeditions.

Shymara Jones, 22,  has worked at a Popeye’s fast food restaurant since 2009, but in the past two years she has visited the Eiffel Tower, met fast-food workers in Brussels, picketed corporate meetings in Chicago – twice – shook hands with politicians, led marches down Broad Street in Philadelphia, and plans to rally outside the McDonald’s annual meeting this week. A high school graduate with a year of college, she has gained an education in economics, in the workings of corporations, in labor law, in franchises, in networking, in forming alliances. She has become a local leader in the Fight for $15 movement to raise the minimum wage.

There’s so many things that could be said here:

  • our job does not define who we are
  • we are all capable of great things
  • don’t assume you know someone until you get to know them
  • have the courage to pursue your goals
  • the power of one individual to make a difference

The two stories got me thinking about how I sometimes make judgements about people and what their lives are like simply from a two-minute interaction with them.

Who knows what amazing people I’ve missed getting to know  because I never took the time to find out what makes them tick.

I’m sure there’s a cashier at a Wawa that’s checked me out who spends his free time working to make a difference in his community; that there’s a student in my class who has become passionate about tutoring children in low-income neighborhoods; that there is someone working at the the local Mom’s Organic Market who is active in protecting the rights of animals.

So I’ve to be more willing to try and get to know the people I interact with on a daily basis. I am sure they are all leading extraordinary lives.

And I wish Lhakpa and Shymara continued success in making a difference in the world.