Sharing ideas on “best practices” is a great way to learn from someone who’s doing work that’s similar to what you’re doing. When you learn something new, you feel a jolt of positive energy. And when you share best practices in return, it can make someone’s day. You win. They win. And we all get better work done.
A couple of years ago, I was getting back into consulting work and decided to go on a road trip to hear what friends in the direct marketing industry were doing for best practices. I planned a week-long trip through western Massachusetts with a zig to upstate New York, then down through the mountains of New Hampshire with a few final stops in Vermont.
I headed out and all was well until day #4 when I realized I was on the last disk of a Dennis Lehane novel – and that was it for audio books. Anytime I’m in the car I listen to audio books. I get them from the library and listen to them to learn new stuff as well as to be entertained as I drive. I’m pretty much never without an audio book in the car. But as I pulled into the parking lot at Kripalu in western Mass, I broke into a cold sweat. My next stop was Burlington, Vt. There’d be plenty of bookstores in Burlington, but that was four hours away.
I chided myself for panicking. Surely I could survive four hours in the car without an audio book.
I had a great meeting at Kripalu, and as I headed out a back door, something drew me around to the front of the corporate offices. What did I find? A tea shop. And what was for sale besides tea? Audio books, of course. Except “books” is an exaggeration. There were exactly two books for sale: “Ask Your Guides” by Sonia Choquette, and “Trust Your Vibes” – also by Sonia Choquette. Sonia was clearly the only recent instructor at Kripalu who had a published audio book. I purchased the title that seemed the least weird, “Ask Your Guides,” and headed to my car.
I turned on the radio for about a minute but couldn’t find a decent station. I glanced over at “Ask Your Guides”. I had no choice. I popped in the first disk and Sonia started talking in a spirited voice about how we have guides who are here to help us. Now I’m a spiritual person and I love chatting with the Universe but I have to say that I don’t often ask for help. AND I don’t like it when people ask the Universe to help them with little things – like getting over a cold or winning the lottery. And that’s what this book seemed to advocate.
But there I was, trapped in the car as Sonia talked on through a long list of named guides, elaborating on specific ones to call on for specific questions. I didn’t care for the dogma and was feeling unusually skeptical, but the book got me to Burlington. As I left Burlington for my last meeting in southern Vermont, I considered finding a bookstore, but then Sonia started talking about travel guides – how we have them and how they like helping us. And that all they ask in return is that you’re thankful.
Sonia said that every time she flies she asks her guides to get her bumped into first class. I laughed. That would never work for me! I’ve been bumped into first class a few times and have never had fun. In the “regular seats,”, I’ve had some of the best conversations of my life. I don’t know if it’s the proximity of the seats, the fact that you sit side by side versus facing each other, or if it’s the possibility, with each bump of turbulence, that the plane might crash and this could be your last conversation, but people have told me astounding things on planes. In coach. Never in first class.
So I took what she was saying and decided to put her ideas to the test on my own terms. I was headed that night at a Bed & Breakfast near Orvis’ corporate headquarters. I asked the guides to go ahead of me and find me a room that felt safe. And I asked them for a great conversation – two things that make a trip excellent for me.
I arrived at the B&B – thanks to my favorite travel guide: my GPS system. The B&B owner was outside on the porch and gave me a friendly wave as I pulled up. I went inside to check in and she looked at me oddly as she pulled out the register. “I was going to put you in a room in one of our outer houses, but now I’m thinking you’d feel safer staying in the main house.” The fact that she used almost the exact words I had used to ask the guides for help gave me a chill, as did the fact that she changed my room as if an outside force were telling her to do so.
Thinking of my conversation request, I asked her if she could recommend a nearby restaurant. She told me the name of a place about three miles away that only the locals knew about. I thought, “Perfect. I’ll have a nice dinner and a great conversation with folks who live around here.”
I found the restaurant and was quickly seated at a table in a small dining room. The waitress was aloof, so no conversation there. Around me, I heard all sorts of great discussions, but I was served, ate a great meal, and was out of there in less than an hour without sharing a word with anyone. I was surprised that I was surprised. You don’t normally have a great conversation when you’re dining alone in a strange town. But I had asked for help and was disappointed when it didn’t come.
When I got back to the B&B, the sun was setting, and I thought, “Maybe this is still part of the ‘safe’ wish. I didn’t have a great conversation because I needed to be back here before dark.” As I pulled my bag out of the trunk, I saw a couple on the front porch packing up their stuff and moving inside. I passed them in the living room as I started upstairs. The woman looked at me expectantly. I paused to say hi, and she looked me squarely in the eye. “Aren’t you going to join us for some tea and a conversation?”
I smiled, set my luggage down, went to the kitchen to get tea, and spent the next three hours in the living room having a wonderful conversation with this couple. The man had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and they were dealing with the new reality of their lives. Despite this, they were funny and fun. And the woman had started a support discussion group for spouses. My sister’s father-in-law had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the idea of a discussion group seemed like a great idea for my sister’s mother-in-law. We exchanged more ideas talking about life, philosophy, and food. My spirits were uplifted by the discussion – and by the thought that travel guides were helping me. I was deeply grateful on all fronts.
Asking my guides for help has become routine when I travel – even around town. You wouldn’t believe the great parking spaces I’ve found over the past couple of years. And don’t I always find great conversations.
The book opened my eyes to a couple of things.
- When you’re being judgmental and thinking something is wacky, still listen. Things aren’t always what they seem to be.
- When you ask for something, be open to the answer that’s presented to you. Like asking for an audio CD, and having one appear. Sometimes the answer’s right in front of you.
- Ask for help.
- When you get help, be grateful.
- Always be open to new ideas.
Next trip, try asking your travel guides for help and let me know how it goes! 🙂