Friday, August 12, 2022

The Secret to Success

Hard to believe, but this month marks 20 years (20 YEARS!) since I launched Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC. Best of all, it’s my final business anniversary. I plan to retire from my two remaining clients at the end of the year.

To celebrate the achievement, I thought about listing 20 lessons learned as a creative entrepreneur. But let’s be real. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, as my anniversary gift to you, here are my top five tips:

1.    Listen more than you talk. As you listen, make and maintain eye contact.
People want to be heard. People want to be seen. Be the person who truly pays attention, and watch clients, colleagues, and kids gravitate to you. Positive attention is a powerful magnet.  

2.    Sandwiches should always be cut on the diagonal and arranged on the plate like a butterfly.
This is true whether you’re serving a grilled cheese sandwich to a toddler or making a peanut butter sandwich for yourself – and no one else is home.

3.    I don’t have to tell you why turning your sandwich into a work of art is an essential life lesson. You will figure it out.
Besides, my why won’t be your why. We all have our own whys.

4.    Manners matter.
Thank you for remembering this.

5.    Life gets easier when you give up the need to always be right.
Not a critical issue? Let someone else win. If the most competitive fool in the universe (aka, me) can do this, you can do it too. Hmmm. I’m retiring. I hereby bequeath my “most competitive fool in the universe” title to … well, you know who you are.

Now, listen closely because I have one more thing to tell you. This is the true secret to success:

Help others succeed.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Driving Desmond Tutu

All the lovely tributes about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who died today at the age of 90, are missing one key point: Desmond Tutu glowed.

A joyful activist for equality and justice, Archbishop Tutu radiated; he filled the space around him with an expansive, inclusive, golden aura of light and love and peace and kindness.

I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

I was captured by the glow when Archbishop Tutu and his gracious wife Leah visited Kansas City in 1996. As one of their hosts during a visit to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, I had the privilege of driving them around town. They eschewed a limo or police escort; after years of leading protests against apartheid in South Africa, the Archbishop reportedly preferred to avoid police cars.

I was embarrassed to open the doors to my small, old car. I shouldn't have worried. They were clearly delighted to get in the backseat together and relax a bit, out of the spotlight.

As l drove this loving couple to the airport, we chatted like old friends. I asked him about the risks he faced daily, the dangers he put himself in as he fought for change. I don’t remember his response (I believe it was essentially a shrug and a, “One does what one can,” kind of answer), but I do remember Leah, resplendent in colorful South African garb, looking directly in my rearview mirror and rolling her eyes. 

I could have asked dozens of questions as I drove, but Archbishop Tutu had other ideas. He wanted to ask the questions; he wanted to use our limited time together to learn about me and my life.

“You are a young woman with a career and a family,” he said. “How do you manage? How do you balance all the demands?”

He asked. He listened. This gentle, strong, world-changing leader wanted to know about me.

I was honored by his interest; he was grateful for my time. Several days after their visit to Kansas City, I received a handwritten postcard from the Archbishop, thanking me for all I had done to “look after” him and his wife and letting me know they enjoyed themselves “hugely.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was all of the things the tributes note — he was ebullient and inspirational. He was heroic, powerful, and courageous. He was a sage and a leader. 

He was a man. A son, a husband, a father, a friend. And he glowed. 

In the words of my religious tradition, may his memory be a blessing. May his light always shine.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tell a Story Day

Not sure what story you'd like to tell? 
No worries -- it will come to you. 
For now, be willing to listen. Really listen. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

100% Lillian: Lullabies and Love

Look Up: A Centennial Celebration wraps up on this very special Friday -- 100 years ago today, Sophie and Issie Eisen welcomed baby Lillian into the world. 

Lillian loved music her entire life, and learned how to play the piano as a child. It was a rare day that didn't find Mom singing a song, or humming along as someone else sang. When Village Shalom, her retirement community, brought in entertainers to perform for the residents, Mom was always in the front row, singing along and clapping enthusiastically. 

Matter of fact, one of her few complaints at Village Shalom was that not enough of the "old people" showed up for these weekly performances. (She also felt that those who did show up weren't nearly appreciative enough. Mom was a big believer in applauding the talents of those around her.) 

Mom's love of music -- and her appreciation of talent -- drew young people to her. They'd come to Village Shalom as part of a volunteer group or with a simple desire to connect, and be captured by the magic that was Mom. 

A delightful young woman named Sarah visited Mom regularly for years; Mom treasured a CD of Sarah singing some of their favorite songs. Paris Naster -- like Sarah, a musical theatre star -- met Mom back in 2017 and kindly sent an email, telling me how much she enjoyed their encounters:  

"We connected almost immediately and began singing," Paris said. "I have gone to see her about three times since and each time is wonderful. She shares with me her pride in being a Jew, her adoration of her family, and wonderful stories that bring joy to both of us ...

"I brought my Mom to meet her the other day and she said, 'We could be famous, you and me. We'd make a great team and an even better album!'"

Mom and Paris. They do make a great team.
If the video below of them singing doesn't work,
please forgive my technical 
incompetence and click here

Along with music, Mom loved children. I like to think that I top the list, followed by Harry and Eva or -- more likely -- Kate and Mary. (Ha! My blog, sibs. Write your own stories.) Put her love for music and children together and what do you have? Lullabies, of course! Mom wrote the music and lyrics for four beautiful lullabies -- one each for Harry, me, and Eva, and then the Choo Choo Song for all three of us. 

Over the years, Mom sang Hello Sandman; See Me, God; It's Nighty-Night Time; and the Choo Choo Song to us, our kids, and dozens of other lucky children. And the lyrical loveliness didn't stop with Mom: My sister, who recently retired from the MU Child Development Lab, rocked countless more babies to sleep to the tune of these songs.

The lullabies are part of Mom's legacy of love, so it's only fitting that they are Mom's centennial birthday gift to you. If you would like the sheet music to all four lullabies, leave your email address in the comments here, or send an email directly to me. It will be my great pleasure to send you a PDF of The Lillian Sokoloff Songbook

Because, lord knows, we can all use a little more Lillian in our lives. 

Big thanks to my friend Linda Sweenie
for translating the lullabies into sheet music! 

Oh! When you get the music and lyrics, remember that the classic Choo Choo Song is adaptable. The original version says, "Three sleepy children, just got on the train ..." because there were three of us. Make it work for your family. 

And, this is VERY IMPORTANT: You have to sing the Choo Choo Song last, right as your little one is drifting off. And you absolutely need to add the "Whoo! Whoo!" train whistle sound at the end. Lillian is listening for it. 


Thursday, April 22, 2021

100% Lillian: One to Grow On

So, by now you know that tomorrow -- April 23, 2021 -- marks the 100th anniversary of Mom's birth. We've been 100% Lillian all week on the blog! Today, Look Up: A Centennial Celebration continues, but we're taking a teeny, tiny detour to celebrate another birthday girl. 


It was 1960. I was 5.
I'll let you do the math. 

As you might expect, Mom made every birthday special. More than that -- she made every "month day" special. That's right. On the 22nd of every month, Mom happily greeted me with an enthusiastic Happy Month Day! the minute I got out of bed. 

Growing up with a mom who makes you feel like a rock star for existing is absolutely as lovely as you might think.*

But, I digress. Let's get back to birthdays. 

On one birthday long ago, Mom saved me from a candle disaster. I don't remember which birthday it was, but I was young and had long hair. In my typical near-sighted, asthmatic way, I leaned over really close to blow out the candles -- and my hair went into the flames. There was a collective gasp -- and there was Mom. At my side in a split second, pulling me and my ponytail back to safety. 

Mom was always there to protect me. 

I'm not sure if it was that near miss, or the fact that we reached the age where candles overwhelmed the cake, but at some point Mom created a new tradition. Rather than a candle for every year, she put three candles on a birthday cake: 

  • One for all the years past
  • One for this year
  • And one to grow on!

Today, I'm as I blow out my three candles (very, very carefully), I'm going to do exactly what Mom would want me to do. I'm going to make a secret wish and enjoy a day that's 100% Janet. 

But tomorrow? That's the day we've all been waiting for: Our centennial birthday girl has a surprise just for you. Tune in tomorrow to get your gift!

*I hear those wheels turning. You're wondering how you could turn an ordinary day into something special for someone special. Do it! Make Lillian proud. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

100% Lillian: Harry has a Family

Look Up: The Centennial Celebration continues! This Friday -- April 23, 2021 -- marks the 100th anniversary of the day Lillian (Eisen) Sokoloff was born. It's a day to remember, and what better way to celebrate than with a few Mom stories?

Well, there is one better way: We'll wrap things up on Friday with a gift from Mom to you! Stay tuned for that. 

But first, today's story ... 

When Mom lived at Village Shalom, I took her to most doctor's appointments. Once, when the girls were young and I was overwhelmed by work and life demands, I reminded Mom that I wasn't the only child she had in town. Couldn't she ask Harry to take her? Just once? And she said ... 

"Oh, Janet. Harry is working and he has a family." 

To this day, my brother thinks this is one of the funniest things he's ever heard in his life. I am less amused. 

But you're laughing, aren't you? Well, fine. You're right. It is funny. And when I think about Mom, moments like these are what I remember. The moments that were classic Mom, whether she was making me crazy or making me laugh. I miss her daily. 

And, just for the record, my family --  yep, I really do have one -- misses her too. (Are you listening, Mom? Are you laughing? Ah, you are. All good.)

Mom and her favorite son. 

P.S. Do I really think Mom is listening to me? I do believe in souls, and living on in some manner. And I was hugely comforted as we approached this landmark week by my dear friend, Rabbi Vered Harris,  who told me, "Your mom was and is so proud of you."

Doesn't the present tense of that make you happy?

P.P.S. Vered was helping me through an unexpected whiplash of grief. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I was through crying over Mom's loss, I would have said, "Yes. My active grief was done long ago." But then, something out of the blue reminded me of Mom, and there's my birthday, and her birthday, and Mother's Day on the way, and ... WHAM. Waterworks. 

P.P.P.S. Mom first saw Vered years and years ago, when the synagogue I attended saw the power and potential in this young rabbi. Mom -- who periodically mused about the propriety of referring to God as "He" when God could be a "She" --  was very impressed with "the girl rabbi" and loved the idea that the rabbinate was no longer an all-boys club. Trust me, Mom is dazzled by Vered today



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

100% Lillian: Meet Cute

Welcome back to our week-long party, Look Up: A Centennial Celebration! This Friday -- April 23, 2021 -- marks 100 years since the birth of Lillian Sokoloff, so we are 100% Lillian this week! To wrap things up, Mom even has a gift for you on Friday. (What could it be? Look forward to a nice surprise!)

Yesterday, I promised to tell you how Mom and Dad met. Their "meet cute" story illustrates Mom's smarts and creativity. Not to mention her good taste in men. 

Cutie pies. 

Back in the early 1950s, Mom was part of a social sorority -- as I remember, she was the "den mother" of the pack, and most of the girls were a bit younger than she was.  One weekend, the group had a special date night event, a picnic at Swope Park in Kansas City. 

Mom showed up with a date, of course. But, as the group sat around the campfire, she noticed a good-looking man with one of the other girls. She didn't know who he was, but she was determined to find out. How could she get to know him without being obvious? She took the first step, announcing, "Girls, I think it would be a good idea if we go around the campfire, and all introduce our dates."

Everything moved pretty quickly after that introduction. Handsome Allen was equally captivated by beautiful Lillian. After a quick chat at the picnic, they agreed to leave with their respective dates early. Allen dropped his date off and drove over to Lillian's house. It was, for both of them, the second date of the evening, but the first night of their love story. 

P.S. Dad was driving a sports car that night. Mom insists* she saw Dad before she saw the car. 

When you see what you want, dear heart, go for it. 

* I automatically wrote this in present tense. I'm good with that, as I'll explain tomorrow. Party on!