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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.

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(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert


Winter term, freshman year, on a bleak, white-washed January Ohio day, I showed up for the first day of that necessary evil of college: composition or expository writing or whatever you want to call the class each college makes you take to ensure you write well enough to get through any future college writing assignments. That day I met my future academic adviser, though I didn’t know it yet. The major hadn’t chosen me yet so I still had the adviser assigned to me before I showed up on campus. Dr. B. seemed the picture of one of those common caricatures of what a literature professor is like—he was a former beatnik with a salt and pepper early Beatles’ style haircut who rode an old black bike across campus, keeping his small manual typewriter set in the mesh basket attached to the front. He wanted us to call him by his initials or his nickname, but I stuck with the formal “Dr.” whenever I addressed him. I was way more uptight than this man, but we got along just fine, nonetheless.

When I left for college, I wrote well enough—you know, for a person who could apply basic grammar rules. My papers made sense and I could say what I meant. Still, like most of my peers, I did not write well enough to test out of the basic composition class. At the time I put that down to a writing prompt that had something to do with the Iran Hostage Crisis. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was really not into thinking that deeply at that point in time, but I’m pretty certain the reason I didn’t test out of the class was because I needed to take it not because of the difficulty of the prompt.

What I learned most in his class was less about writing with correct grammar—because I already did that well—and more about how to create writing that sounded fresh in a variety of settings. Yes, we could insert fragments (incomplete sentences) as long as we applied them sparingly and used our pens to indicate we knew what and where they were. (Excuse me while I apologize to him right now since it appears I often ignore his “sparingly” rule regarding usage of fragments—sorry, Dr. B.)

However, the fragments are just something that really resonates with who I am as a writer. I imagine I might write better if I stopped making quite so many asides. Not that I’m stopping. (Mark that frag. for Dr. B.) What mattered most was that he taught me and all my classmates the difference between writing in passive and active voice. He challenged us to circle every instance of passive voice we used in our papers and to leave as few as necessary in the final drafts. Even if I hadn’t majored in English or chosen to write/edit, I would have needed to learn this—hey, I think everyone needs to know how to write in active voice. Not only does writing become more immediate with active voice, but using it also forces writers to search deeper for just the right verb, something that tends to develop a more creative process.

To this day, I struggle to get through a book that distances itself through passive language. Maybe reading all those (mostly ancient) philosophy texts my first weeks in college influenced the amount of relief I felt from learning how to bring about some clarity in writing! Yet, I have read books on topics such as probability, process management, business, psychology, and DNA but only if written well—which for me tends to mean the writing uses active language. Even the chemistry and astronomy textbooks I proofread last fall avoided most usages of passive voice—the writing spelled out concepts in a straightforward and accessible manner that should aid future students in applying those concepts to the associated exercises and experiments.

Some of life happens to us—passive voice sometimes works in the tales we tell of those stories, but not always—unless, of course, we are deliberately trying to downplay the action. Imagine the emotional and visual difference between saying “I was hit by a car” versus saying “A car hit me”—one creates distance and a sort of matter-of-fact impression of the news while the other projects a strong picture that could lead to a more visceral response. Nonetheless, the first statement is exactly how my mother finally admitted she did remember after all that a car hit her first before she came home and fell again. Though my mom had a story to tell, she did not want to do so—she deliberately fell back on passive voice to obfuscate the facts.

Don’t make the mistake of using passive voice when you really want others to hear your story, though. Doesn’t matter if it’s an annual report for a business or a technical how-to piece or the story of how your mother broke her foot—if you want the reader to stay with the story, write in active voice as often as you can.

(Even after a car hit my mother, she healed well. Thank goodness we soon found a doctor practiced enough at listening to seniors that he could interpret passive voice narratives meant to conceal health and/or safety concerns.)

Note: this is the first in the series of topics/concepts encountered in college that mattered most to me. See the introduction post here.

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I went to select a college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study for a major or what profession I wanted to pursue, so I looked for schools that had good programs in the variety of subjects that interested me. I figured that with exposure to different areas, the major would choose me. However, I already knew I wanted to continue studying Spanish—my high school teacher said at that time the U.S. was the fourth largest Spanish-speaking nation—surely knowing Spanish would continue to be useful no matter what else I studied.

So when the course options and registration materials arrived at my home a few months before I left for school, I selected a Spanish class and then mulled other options. Since this was back in the pencil and paper days, I had no idea which of my other suggestions would end up on my schedule until the paper with course numbers and times arrived. My first trimester classes represented a classic humanities schedule: the Spanish course, history (Western Civilization Part I), and Philosophy (Greek and Roman).

My introduction to philosophy didn’t exactly set me on fire. Though my son Jackson can go on for hours about all sorts of in-depth topics in philosophy, usually what he says goes way over my head. But if I had not taken that class with the lectures and texts that so often put me to sleep, I might have missed out on learning about Plato’s Cave. True, maybe I only stayed awake in class the day the professor introduced the topic because he showed it through a cartoon video—I’m not ashamed to admit that without those simplistic pictures I might have missed the point. Learning comes through many avenues, right?

Though so many years have passed since I watched that film, I can still see those men who were chained together in the cave, facing a wall and unable to turn to look behind them where a large fire burned. Shadows flicker on the wall—the men have no idea the images are mere suggestions of themselves or any activity happening behind them. Those shadows are their reality. Then one man is released and able to turn to see that so much more is occurring—he realizes the truth he knew was only partial. That same man then discovers a way out of the cave and encounters even more realities—even those who move freely within the cave do not know the whole truth, it seems. Amazed, he returns to tell the others how much more exists in the world—and, yet, they do not believe. They know what they know.

What a perfect concept to encounter so early in my education. The Cave taught me to question all assumed realities and to try to figure out for myself whether or not what I think I know about something is simply the shadows of that truth or if my understanding is based on something more tangible. On the other hand the Cave also showed me why others might not agree with my version of reality—and that sometimes the person who has seen the sun cannot enlighten others who have only known darkness and shadows, no matter how hard he or she tries.

I’m lucky I learned anything academically during my first months at college. Oh sure, I was going to all my classes and doing all my work—even if I had a lot to learn about time management—but I wasn’t really thinking very critically yet. The Cave opened my own eyes to the importance of thinking about what I was being taught—which was a good thing to learn early because in my four years at that college I was going to encounter a whole lot of blue books I had to fill with my own answers to essay questions. I could hardly believe that I could get A’s on philosophy tests simply by stating what I thought of what we were studying—I mean, what did I know about philosophy? My success on those tests showed me that maybe professors weren’t just looking for me to parrot what I’d been told.

Could it be the reality of pursuing an education was about way more than just doing the work? That it wasn’t enough to be a vessel filled with ideas taught by others?

In so many ways, previously my own idea of learning was like being chained in that cave. Take what you see and memorize it. How much better to be called to discern for myself whether what appeared to be reality was true light or simply shadows on a wall—or somewhere in between.

Not only might a major choose the person, but also sometimes so does knowledge.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Water brings out thoughts for me—if I’d written about everything that came to me while I was in the shower or the bath tub, I’d be a lot more prolific. If nothing else, water helps me to keep thinking—and sometimes even turns those thoughts into a new study direction.

What was yesterday’s thought that came out from nowhere while under the influence of a nice flow of water? About which ideas and topics I studied in college that really became part of my mindset and who I turned out to be. Keep in mind I first attended a liberal arts school before getting an MBA. If only I’d been baptized by this writing topic a week earlier, I might have been willing to commit to doing the Blogging A to Z challenge again this April. Instead I skipped it after spending the last three Aprils writing like a crazed fool.

So this crazed fool began by thinking she could write one simple post on what mattered most to her in her formal education—and then she realized just how much she gained from so many of those courses and how much there was to say. Instead I am going to write a short series of blog posts explaining why my education mattered and how it hasn’t been wasted, even if I have not spent a lifetime pursuing vocations that would meet some exacting formula for showing how the educational dollars spent on me have paid out. When I come to do the balance sheet of my life, my assets will always include the goodwill (intangible asset that it is) received from my education having taught me to open my mind to lifelong learning.

I am so, so sorry that pursuing a higher education has become so prohibitively expensive and so tied to what kind of money a person can make from what he/she has learned—if nothing else just to pay off the student loans so many have gained from the pursuit. Trust me, the piper is going to need to be paid in this household and that is going to hurt way worse than it hurt when I attended college since both my parents and I received so much more help for mitigating costs.

I can only hope that someday soon my daughter will not only be employed in a way that allows her to afford the education she received while utilizing much of what she has learned, but that she will also come to recognize the intangible benefits that came with that education. That even as she looks back on a particular course or topic that might have felt incredibly painful, she can still appreciate how that learning gave her access to whole new ways of thinking or doing—that will never leave her and that will allow her to continue to grow throughout her life.

You know your education really suited you well when you can be thankful not only for what you experienced in classes you loved attending but also for some parts of what came out of classes you either disliked or didn’t really care about one way or another.

It seems to me that in the midst of real learning, you more often feel baptized by fire than by water—the tricky part is not to be burned up by your experiences, but to become more like the flame on a wick—and able to pass on that fire to others.

I will never regret the fire kindled in me by those early learning experiences that helped make me who I am today—which is someone who cannot take a simple shower or bath without ideas and questions flowing from this brain trained so long ago to not only think for itself but also to always continue pursuing ideas and knowledge and all the intangibles that come with that pursuit.

P.S. The motto for my undergraduate college, Wittenberg University, is “Having light, we pass it on to others”, which is represented by the symbol of a torch. Coincidence? I think not.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

We loiter in winter while it is already spring.
Henry David Thoreau

There’s a whole new season out there—America’s sport opened yesterday with hearty shouts of “Play ball!”, the grass is way more than knee-high to the already jumping grasshoppers, Mr. and Mrs. Finch have built a nest under our patio roof, the dandelions are shining like the sun, and the most recent snow didn’t even stay on the ground a whole day—well, in most spaces.

Easter Sunday, after singing two church services (the finale of a song-filled Holy Week that began with a Saturday all day rehearsal, followed by Palm Sunday service, the two-hour Bach St. John Passion service, a Wednesday choir practice, plus Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services), I was ready for what seemed more like a long winter’s nap than spending time outside in the midst of earth’s rebirth. But with what turned out to be just a short spring fling with sleep, I was ready to experience the great outdoors I had been so missing with all that indoor singing.

My husband Sherman and our dogs Furgus and Sam were just as willing as I was to get back at moving under the big blue sky with which we were blessed on Easter.

Just a few minutes into our hiking climb up the Hogback, I realized how early in this season it still was. Yes, it was warm enough that I needed to keep an eye and ear for rattlesnake activity, but my breathing told me I hadn’t been climbing for several months. Apparently the large (to me) hills I run in my neighborhood as well as riding a chair lift up a mountain in order to ski down have not kept my lungs in anything like the hiking form I soon hope to regain. Another excuse to pause and admire the view stretching below, right? Worked for me and Sherman (though he already has been climbing on his mountain bike) even if the dogs would rather we pushed the limits from the start versus eased into the season.

By the time we descended to terra more firma, we sported evidence of both sun and dirt, morphing our winter skin into brand new shades. And speaking of brand new shades, the warmth of the new season seemed to have ushered in the return of the full moon, thanks to a cyclist-gone-commando who felt no need to hurry into his post-riding shorts. Yes, it is most certainly springtime next to the Rockies.

Transformations are happening in our home, too—though we prefer a more modest (and appropriate) approach style-wise. Our daughter is graduating from college next month. She and I are both looking for work—in many ways it seems as if finding that first post-college career job is a lot like finding one as a returning job seeker. The world wants to see both levels as stuck in the winter of our recent pasts and yet we are primed for the rapid greening that comes with spring.

Oh yes, the seasons are changing—outside and inside this house. Let us not loiter too long in winter when it is already spring—each step we take brings us closer to the growth and eventual fitness that comes with moving upward and outward into the world.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert