Day 2 – Traversing the Dark Dirt Road

As a young student working full-time while taking evening classes, I often became overwhelmed. Doubts would frequently fill my head. I’d want to go back to my simpler 8 to 5, $9.50 an hour job as an agency office assistant in a health care company. The path to success wasn’t marked. It didn’t have well-lit signs that read, “your successful future, ahead”. My path was not paved. It was made of mud-producing dirt and large stones. It winded through a dark and scary forest with creatures that you couldn’t squish with a shoe. It rained, a lot. My path had many forks taking me in opposite and sometimes dangerous and misleading directions. It was tough. I thought about turning around…many times. I didn’t. I kept walking and the path started becoming clear. The dirt and mud beneath my feet made way to a smooth and well-paved path. I completed this part of my journey and obtained my degree and well-paid job in an engineering firm.

I’m very fortunate to have a career that I love. As an urban planner for the past 19 years, I have been able to work in areas such as land use planning, private development, transportation, and economic development (to name only a few).  I can’t think of any other joy than to help young planners achieve their goals while traversing some of the obstacles that I faced reaching mine. I want to be their tour guide as they take steps along their own dark, muddy, and confusing path. Many goal-seekers want to speak to someone who has been there. They want empathy from someone who can relate to working a full-time job while putting in late night study hours to reach a pinnacle in their education and ultimately career goals, and someone who is willing to help. This is my Why.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

Day 1 – Choosing a What

Being laid off from your job is a major inconvenience. I know because it happened to me in November 2010. It was devastating, but I knew it was coming. I planned for it the best way I knew how. That is to say, I took my hobby of photography and made it a career; until it wasn’t. If you want to turn your passion into your job during an economic downturn, make sure it’s a recession-proof. Photography is not. I found out the hard way. It helped keep me busy, but not monetarily cover the time that I put into it. During times of hardship, you compete with other photographers, mainly uncle Joe or aunt Debbie or whoever has the nicest camera. <Sigh> Don’t get me started.

As an urban planner for the public and private sectors, primarily local government, and civil engineering firms, many planners faced the same fate as me. Many also went through similar stages of grief. Fortunately, my unemployment short lived. It was my wife that finally forced me (almost physically) into doing something that I was resistant to do, go back to college and obtain my master’s degree. I needed to stay competitive in a volatile world. Signing up, I promised that I would at least take one class and see how I liked it. It had been nearly 13 years since I first sat in a college classroom and I didn’t know what to expect. After the first semester and an ‘A’, I made my decision: “I loved it!” I was ALL IN! I continued my education with two goals: 1) I would obtain my Master’s Degree in Public Administration; and 2) I would make at least a 3.7 GPA and be admitted into the Pi Alpha Alpha honor society. I achieved both goals in December 2013.

Aside from reaching these two goals, I found that I had another passion which was required as part of many of my class curriculums. I loved teaching. It showed. My enthusiasm for the subject matter and creation of chapter lessons was not lost on my professors. One professor, in particular, urged me to find an adjunct teaching position in my field of study. Easier said than done, I would soon find out.

Applying at many community colleges, many who did not focus on my urban planning or public administration field of study, I quickly became disheartened. I continued to stay in touch with the professor who encouraged me and also extended my reach to others in my university department. I called or emailed at least once every two months to remind them, “I am still here if you need assistance.” Finally, I received an email.

This Spring semester 2017, I will be teaching an online Urban and Regional Planning course for my alma mater. I am excited, nervous, and overwhelmed. This is the moment of truth. Time to make a positive mark. That leads me to my “What”.

During my 30 Days of Hustle, I will create a fully developed program for the Introduction to Urban and Regional Planning online course. I will create a course schedule, weekly modules, bi-weekly quizzes, mid-term and final exams, and weekly “starter videos” based on the week’s discussions.

I am excited to take on this endeavor and look forward to this new sub-chapter in my life. Goals are not easy and this will be no exception; however, it will be worth it and fun.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

 

Returning to the 30DOH

It has been three months since I’ve last posted anything on my blog. My original goal was to get into the habit of writing during my 30DOH. I can proudly check that off of my list. My focus was customer service and how to improve it. Well, I did that too…kind of. I had a grandiose thought that I would be able to write a myriad of information on the downfall of customer service and provide my methods for improving it. I have volumes of information to provide knowledge seekers with the cure to their troubles and the tools to succeed. The problem is that it’s all in my head. I wanted to give readers the key to standing out in a world of rude and unappreciative business owners and gum-chewing, face-in-their-phones employees.

What happened? Well, I re-evaluated. I haven’t completely abandoned my future authorship. Save my spot New York Bestseller List. I want to achieve a few other goals first. That lead me to sign-up and return to the 30 Days of Hustle once again. More to come!

Have you re-evaluated? I’d love to hear your story.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

 

The Power of a Name

Plane_TravelI love to travel, but I’m not a huge fan of flying. I didn’t always hate to fly, but in the age of budget airlines,  gone are the days of professional customer service, personal space, and free peanuts. Why did they have to eliminate the five peanuts in the convenient aluminum packet? Let us not forget the extra cost if you want to have a decent seat. Free seats are in the back near the turbine engines (that’s a free tip). Don’t get me wrong; I love taking trips, but the idea of getting to a magical far-away destination in what equates to a city bus in the sky is not appealing. It will get you very grumpy, very fast.

While in college, I worked as a front desk clerk and reservation specialist at a hotel owned by the late George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankee’s Major League Baseball team. During that time, I had the privilege of dealing with many grumpy travelers. Being employed at the hotel of a national icon like “The Boss” meant that all employees were required to do anything and everything to ensure the happiness of the guests. Those who didn’t, would face a wrath no less than that of the Yankee’s Billy Martin, who was fired five times by Steinbrenner. My skillset in “grumpiness minimalization” was greatly enhanced by the position. What was my secret? Simple. Make a personal connection by using a name and starting a conversation. People are challenging. Fortunately, I’ve always been a people-person. Do you know what I call someone who is grumpy, unfriendly, or impersonal? A challenge.

During a recent family trip to Michigan, I met one such challenge. As I tried to check into our hotel before the check-in time of 4 pm, I asked the front desk clerk if they had any clean rooms. Abruptly, she said, “well, we only have what we have.” Fortunately, she found a room and promptly ask for my government ID to receive the cheaper rate, one perk of working for the government. Checking my wallet, I realized that I had accidentally left my credentials in the car. “You’ll need to show me later then,” she barked.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. Hmm, a challenge! Looking down at her engraved tag, I saw a name that I couldn’t readily pronounce, ‘Shaunadalay’. “How do you pronounce your name?”, I inquisitively asked. Her eyes immediately came up from the keyboard to meet mine. “It’s pronounced ‘shawna-da-lay'”, she said. “That’s a beautiful name”, I responded. She beamed. I had won. Personal connection made. What followed that brief interest in her name led to a series of “can I help you with anything?”, “Are you sure?”, “if there is anything that you need, please let us know”, and “no, I don’t need to see your ID. I believe you.”

A name, that’s all it took. I went from being just another customer to being a person who took an interest in the name of a front desk clerk. That same personal connection was extended to the rest of my family as well. That is the simple power of a name.

On the flight home, I reflected on that experience and realized that I hadn’t been using this “super power” as often as I could. It was at that point that I decided to make a habit of calling customer service providers by their name. If they had a name tag, I was going to use it. Since taking on this personal challenge, something interesting has happened. I receive wonderful customer service. It is all due to the power of a name. It works both ways. Give it a try.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

All this talk about Hustle…

Thirty days of hustling, thirty days of blogging, thirty days of aiming for my goal of writing blog posts and then…silence. Did I stop hustling? Did I pack up my dreams like old sports equipment long destined for the attic? The answer to this question is a resounding NO. Instead, I decided to prioritize. I had another dream that was calling me; and has been for many years. So, I made the decision to put the blog on hold while I pursue another goal that has been eluding me for many, many years. In fact, for the past 8 weeks, I have been hustling harder than ever.

I hate multiple choice style exams…passionately. Over the past 3 months, I was studying for a palm-sweating and heart-palpitating exam. As a public sector local government urban planner, there is a certification that tops all others known as the AICP. It is the acronym for American Institute of Certified Planners, a comprehensive exam given by the American Planning Association. In layman’s terms, it is as the CPA is for accountants, or the P.E. is for engineers. It is not an exam required for planners, except for in the state of New Jersey, but it is highly encouraged by many public and private sector employers. Feel free to commence the eye-roll whenever you’d like. I already have.

What will this certification get me? Certainly not a fancy seal that I can stamp onto plans. Nor will it give me any special authority. In the world of economic development, which is the area of my planning and analysis focus, it doesn’t get me so much as a raise. Frankly, the only thing it gets me is four letters after my name on my business card. 

So, why do it? Why take a test that is going to give you very little to nothing in your current career? The short answer is because it beat me. I have attempted to pass this test before and it beat me. What’s more, I wish I could tell you that I rallied and pulled a Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed comeback, but I cannot. Because this test “bested” me 3 times.  Yes, I decided to give up after the third time. Why did I need it? I have 18 years of experience under by belt, a Masters in Public Administration (the pinnacle of my education), and a great position for a county government.

The AICP became my bully. It was the thing I knew I had to fight but instead, I kept taking alternate halls to my middle school classroom to avoid. You’ll understand this analogy unless you’re a bully. I finally made the decision to “throw down”. I was going back into the ring and this time, I WASN’T going to lose!

After studying during every waking moment, the day finally came. With theories, history, planning implementation techniques, and ethics (to name only a few) swirling in my head, I sat down at the computer to face the 170 question, three and one-half hour test. Question 1; <CLICK>; Question 2; <CLICK>; Question 3; <CLICK>. The questions continued to get more challenging. Finally, the last question; <CLICK>. I waiting. I knew what was coming next – a survey. Yes, the folks at APA thought it best to give me a survey about my study habits, the test taking environment, and exam subject matter prior to receiving my score.  Yes, seriously.

I rushed through the survey to hear the hum of the computer once again. My heart began to race. Finally, the words that I longed to see: “Congratulations, you PASSED”. The bully was dead. No longer to taunt me. No longer to tell me that I’m not smart enough to pass. I finally tamed the beast.

The moral of my story besides explaining my absence is to never give up conquering your bullies. If something keeps pushing you down, make a stand and do what it takes to accomplish your hustle. You will continue to regret it in life if you don’t. Be Rocky, no matter how times you get knocked down, get back up swinging hard!

Now, back to blogging…

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

 

 

 

The Used Car Salesman

When someone says, “that guy reminds me of a used car salesman,” it usually isn’t meant as a term of endearment. Is it because of their honesty or their dedication to protecting all vehicles with an underbelly anti-rust coating? I doubt it. I believe the reason goes beyond what they’re trying to sell. It’s how they’re trying to sell it.

There are many different characteristics people give used car Grandpa_CarSales_smsalesperson. They’re persistent, pushy, and sometimes rude. They have secret meetings with their “managers” and use tempting phrases like “0.0 percent financing” and “no money down”. Most people view a used car salesperson as ungenuine. Why? They have a tough job. The ability to sell a used vehicle at a minimal profit is not an easy task. “Take a look at this beauty! It has roll-up windows AND a tape deck!” Hyping makes it appear as though they’re hiding another issue. Sometimes they are required to fake it. The problem? People are intuitive and can spot when someone is fake.

Customers need to know that a business has their best interest at heart; that it’s not a one-way street. Pretending doesn’t have that effect. It does quite the opposite. It alienates and pushes current and future customers away. It makes the stereotype a truth.

Not all used car salespeople are fake. How do I know? My grandfather Ed Salisbury (in the photo), spent the majority of his career as a used car salesman. How did he get away from the stigma? He was honest. He was vested in every customer. If he wouldn’t buy the vehicle for himself, he wouldn’t sell the vehicle. During the 30 years that he sold cars, he gained a reputation for fairness, honesty, and decency. He even had a few cars stolen because he trusted people to do the right thing. Even dishonest people never swayed him.

Grandpa_Carlot_smCase in point, not all used car dealers fit the stereotype. Those who do not try hard to break out of the mold, fail at being a successful car dealer. This too goes for every business owner. Treating people BETTER than you want to be treated will always reap many rewards. Don’t be swayed from your principals and always do the right thing.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

The Power of a Telephone Call

As a new writer, I quickly realize that many of the journal articles, books, and case studies that I read fall in line with my everyday life experiences. Recently, one topic, in particular, stood out from the rest. The value of a telephone call.

To be successful in business, communication in any form is key. Let me tell you about my recent and ongoing experience with a local plumber. All that you had to read was the word plumber, and most of you are feeling anger, frustration, and heart palpitations. Let me assure you; I continue to feel all of these. Ah, the emotions that bind us.

Our house just turned 16 years old. I wish that the only fanfare was balloons and cake. To celebrate, our home sprung a leak in the bathroom shower. I didn’t put on my Luigi outfit, grab my tools (limited to a screwdriver, hammer, and pliers) and tackle this mammoth-size job. Instead, I decided to call a professional, a plumber. These folks go to fancy schools for this type of work. They start with cool titles like apprentice, and they adorn cool plumber belts with huge wrenches. A plumber would surely fix the problem.

They arrived between the convenient hours of 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. to tell us that our small problem was a much larger one. Tile needed to be removed and pipes replaced. Someone get me the Excedrin.

They got to work, the plumber and his apprentice, to solve my water-department loving problem. After about three hours of work and a large bill, the bathroom was nothing less than a war-zone. Tiles removed, adjacent tiles cracked, faceplates scratched, and no solution to our problem. I scheduled another “convenient” appointment.

The second plumber came over the following week. The ace of plumbers. He showed an air of confidence. This plumber didn’t need an apprentice. He analyzed the previous colleagues work, shook his head, and questioned their techniques under his breath. He got to work. After an hour and a half, he was finished. Job done.

The next day, the pipe leaked again. I called the owner of the plumbing company and left a message with the receptionist about the plethora of problems. She cheerfully took a message promising a call within twenty minutes. I waited. No call. Hours later, still nothing. The next day, my anger continued to rise.

Finally, a call with a recommendation to send photos. The owner promised to call me back to explain what she could do to help. That was a start.

Then nothing. I called. I left a message. Nothing. This repeated. My anger began to boil. I made a decision. I would no longer use this plumbing company…EVER. I would also never recommend them to anyone…EVER.

What would’ve changed my mind? Simple. A phone call. A gesture of understanding. Was I asking for a refund? No. A simple phone call to express I was a valuable customer and a willingness to correct the problem? Yes.

The best way to appease a customer is follow-through. That is, doing what you say you are going to do and doing it. It’s a relatively simple task, but it’s one that many businesses simply don’t do. There are many benefits of a telephone call. Repeat business, positive reviews, and referrals.

Stuff happens. Most people understand.  Apologies for missed phone calls can go far. There are simple steps businesses can take for missing calls: apologize, explain without excuses, and answer or solve the original questions, concern, or problem. Simplicity can save your reputation, keep customers happy, provide many positive reviews.

Have you had this problem? I’d love to hear your stories either as a customer or a business owner.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

Day 30 – Time to Soar

This is it! I’ve made it through the 30 Days of Hustle. Yep, I’m going to brag. To be honest, I didn’t believe the 30DOH would help me accomplish much. I’ve read about similar “achieve your goals” courses promising HUGE results and wealth so vast you could fill a Scrooge-sized vault. I have even tried some of them to no avail.30DOH_Final What made this one different? One word: simplicity. What the other courses didn’t count on is that most people aren’t looking for a “get rich quick” scheme. Most are looking for a motivational way to achieve goals in a fun, challenging, habit-forming, and incremental way. The tasks made you think; put you on the right path, and guided you onward to whatever goal you set. Most importantly, the 30DOH brought similar-minded people to a private Facebook page and created a camaraderie among new friends. The Facebook page was our outlet to post fears, challenges, accomplishments, and to encourage each other. It became the best part of the 30DOH.

The blog was a last minute decision just before starting the challenge. As you’ll remember from previous posts, I was horrible at blogging. I’ve tried before and failed. This time was different for all of the reasons above. I needed a place to start, and the 30DOH became the basis for this blog and an avenue for typing out my thoughts while practicing my writing skills.

I have accomplished my goal. That is to say; I’ve achieved 30 days of it. Now, the real work begins. The challenge gets more difficult from this point forward. I have been pushed out of the nest and must flap my wings to avoid crashing to the ground and doing a massive, but impressive faceplant. I must now create on my own. I have the tools, skills, momentum, and new friends, so it is time to continue moving forward.

Until next time…

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

Day 29 – Making it a Habit

The general rule of thumb is that it takes 21 days to make a habit. I’m not sure who came up with that insightful rule, but I’ve never been able to make it work. People take to habits differently. Like many, I go through cycles. First, I’m all in and will start with a sprint. Then, just as I think I’m creating a habit, something happens. The flame dims. The discouragement builds, and the habit disolves.

I’m well on my way to creating a writing habit. So, what did I do differently this time that I didn’t previously? I attribute it to the support from my new Facebook friends. I attribute it to an occassional email saying “how’s it going?”. I’ve said in previous posts that you can’t be your own cheerleader when you’re trying to be the star player of the team. It took me a while to realize this fact. This time, the people who read, like, and comment on this blog; and those who encourage me in the Facebook group, are my cheerleaders.

I’m going to continue posting to this blog well beyond 30 days and will write for at least 30 minutes a day. Will the flame of motivation dim? Probably, but I will not let it die. Have I created a habit yet? No, but I’m well on my way.

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih

 

Day 28 – I bet ya!

Today’s 3oDOH challenges us to use one more tool to assist in reaching a goal. The tool is a stopwatch. The art of timing ourselves leads me to another, more interest point. I have a vivid memory as a child of playing with my grandparent’s egg timer. I’d turn the dial to hear the fast paced tic, tic, tic, tic, DING. I’d create challenges for myself. “I bet ya I can…” was a common phrase. I bet ya I can stand on one leg for a minute; I bet ya I can run around the house in 20 seconds; I bet ya I can make 25 basketball shots in less than a minute. These were perceived to be childish challenges, but they had measurable goals.

Young children challenge themselves. They have no fear of showing you what talents they possess. If they fail, they try again. No shame. No fear. Somewhere between the “I bet ya” years and adulthood, we loose that confidence. The bets turn into cannots. Our lives turn into a series of doubts and insecurities. The “I bet ya’s” slip away.

For the 30DOH, I’ve decided to bring back the I bet ya’s. I want to challenge myself. Since I know I can perform a task in 30 minutes, I’m going to bring back the egg timer…or rather my phone’s stopwatch. Failure is not an option.

I bet ya I can continue to write each day for at least 30 minutes. How about you?

troy_signature_55x50_zps2ge5jlih