First, Be Kind to Yourself.

By: Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP

Today, I felt shame for the first time in a long time. Not your average “uncomfortableness” but real shame. And then immediately, I was ashamed of feeling shame. So, what does a reasonable person do? Put that shame on full display, in hopes that others who have felt the same way I did earlier today will: 1) not feel alone, 2) think about how we communicate “with ourselves to ourselves” (intrapersonal communication) and 3) redirect this almost-reflexive shame emotion into something that makes us (me, you and our industry community) stronger.

Often, in my work as a public involvement specialist, I receive copies of letters that are submitted to Town/City officials (good and bad). Typically, these are fairly straight-forward; someone is for or against a particular policy, program or parking management strategy that I’m helping communicate to the local community. Today, however, at the end of one of those long letters, the gentleman included a “PS” that said (and I’ll paraphrase for brevity), “your consultant should dress more appropriately, not like she is going out on a date.” The author went on to say that I didn’t have any credibility because of the way I was dressed. Instantly – I was filled with shame, anxiety and fear. Did I embarrass my client? What was I wearing that day? I always take great care with what I wear to not distract from message…how did this happen? What did I do...? 

Heart-racing, my mental spiral worsened as I tried to think back to every detail of that day; the public meeting, my posture, the cut of my dress and the suit jacket. This “shame spiral” went on for several minutes, until I realized that his comment wasn’t about me at all. The letter-writer was simply using an ad-hominem (personal) attack to discredit me (the person) because he didn’t like what was being proposed (paid parking). Of course, I dressed and carried myself in a professional manner. And honestly, the issue wasn’t about the length of hemlines, bare arms or skirts vs. slacks. It’s not even about dress codes or personal hygiene/presentation. While extremely important to our success as professionals in a public-facing industry, the real issue here is communication: both interpersonal (how we communicate with others) and intrapersonal (how we communicate with ourselves). 

Many of us in the parking and transportation industry are often in the hot seat. Whether we’re in front of City Council, our supervisors; being stared down by a reporter, angry customer or simply trying to do our jobs and write a parking citation. And while we vigorously prepare, train, plan and practice what to do in those tough interpersonal situations, I think we oftentimes overlook how many times a day we’re filled with silent shame because of something someone said (or something we assumed with their silence); we’re berating ourselves internally because we messed up; we’re telling ourselves over and over again that we’re just not good enough. The challenge to all of us is to recognize these moments of self-abuse” and to do the hard work to turn each one into a moment of “self-coaching”. The saying that “you wouldn’t let a friend (or customer) talk to you the way you talk to yourself” may be trite and over-used but it couldn’t be more true. While, how you talk to yourself can instantly change your mood and ability to focus (short-term impact), when constantly repeated this negative internal self-talk can impact your confidence professional ability, your relationships and even your health. Much like our crafty parking public, emotions need somewhere to go and without thoughtful attention, they can spill over into interactions with colleagues, partners and employees.

So, next time something doesn’t go your way or someone says something that cuts right through to your core, just remember to take a few minutes and recognize how you are communicating with yourself. Go for a quick walk, phone a friend, write a feisty response and then toss it in the garage, or blog about it to hundred of your closest industry peers…! Whatever your strategy, first, be kind to yourself because at the end of the day, there is one person who should always have your back: YOU.

We Are All Ambassadors

By: Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP

This is one of the tensest times that I can remember in my lifetime. Regardless of your political, religious or philosophical affiliation, across the country and across the world, the news seems to go from bad to worse every time I pick up my phone. The question I’ve been struggling with most lately is: what can I do? Doing nothing and hoping that someone else will pick up the slack, or simply thinking that what is going on in our global community dialogue doesn’t directly impact me, are not viable options. 

But where do I start? How can any of us make a difference, even just a small one, when the challenges seem so significant, so emotional and so widespread? While it may seem small or incremental, I think we can start today by doing what we do best as parking professionals:

  • Extend our welcoming front line out into the communities we serve even more intentionally; 
  • Greet our patrons with a smile and let them know they are welcomed and wanted;
  • Patrol our facilities and be that first line of security in the facilities that we operate.
  • Lead by example in our interactions with our colleagues, clients and communities; and
  • Represent our diverse and progressive industry of servant leaders in all of our interactions, professional or otherwise.

We are all ambassadors; not only of our industry but of our individual communities and this great country. Let’s go out there today, tomorrow and every day after that and do what we do best: set an even higher standard for professionalism, service and passion for helping people find their place. 

The (R)Evolution of Public Outreach

By: Vanessa Solesbee

As parking professionals, engaging the communities we serve in meaningful dialogue about their parking preferences and experiences is an undeniably important of our work. Many of us have learned the hard way that if decisions are made behind closed doors, our proposed projects, policy recommendations and/or initiatives can quickly fall victim to project-killing resistance from outraged citizens, the results of which have played out in countless City Council meetings and on the front of our local newspapers. 

While outreach used to be a “nice to have”, it is now an expectation and the options are seemingly endless. 

  • Should I livestream my public meeting on Facebook?
  • Where are my customers…Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? 
  • Are in-person meetings even a “thing” anymore?
  • What the heck is involved in a walking audit anyways?
  • Create a citizen’s academy?? How terrifying could that be?!

And with all the decision-making, time and resources that goes into planning and conducting outreach efforts, that’s just the first step. The real challenge comes with finding ways to incorporate what we hear and learn from community members into our planning efforts and operational decision-making. How do you effectively message what you’re doing to different audiences and (even more terrifying) what happens when you do everything “right” but those in charge don’t want to expend the political capital to move your recommendations forward. Was it all just a waste of time?

I would argue that it’s exactly the opposite. Outreach is about the journey, not the outcome. Since outreach is a people-driven activity, it is reflective of all of us. Messy, contradictory and confusing, yes, but in the end, hopeful that change is possible and focused on leaving our neighborhoods, cities, universities and public spaces better than we found them. 

How to “Lean In” Without Falling on Your Face

By: Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP

Like many professional women, I rushed out to buy and read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The main premise of Sandberg’s book was that to be successful, women need to more actively “lean in”; lean in so that they had a seat at the meeting table and not on the sidelines; lean in with their supervisors and ask for that raise; lean in to carving out time in their professional ascent to have children, etc. Sandberg’s book intrigued, inspired and motivated me to work harder, sleep less, and say “yes” to every opportunity. I thought “having it all” as a professional woman meant that I just had to be creative and find more hours in the day – to succeed at work, have a relationship, workout, hangout, meet up with friends…the list goes on and on. 

When I look around at the women in my life– with or without kids, working outside the home or in – I wonder if anyone else feels like they’ve “leaned in” so far that they’ve fallen flat on their face. Leaned in so far that they don’t feel like they’re doing a very good job at anything; leaned in so far that they don’t have any “margin” left; that they’re too tired, too busy, spread too thin to be effective at anything in their lives. I know that I sure have. However, for the first time in my life, I find myself also willing to raise my hand and say that as a woman, mother, colleague and full-time consultant, I simply can’t “do it all” successfully. At any given moment, there is someone – a client, my child, my husband, my friends, colleagues – that should be my top priority, but quite simply isn’t. 

As parking professionals, we’re lucky to belong to one of the most supportive industry families that I’ve ever experienced, and for my part, I want to make sure that I’m leaving the industry better than I found it. As such, I would challenge you all to not only talk about our successes and what’s going well in your lives, but where you’ve failed; where you’ve disappointed someone, where tough choices had to be made and where you maybe haven’t performed to the best of your ability. I believe that it is these moments where true change and progress are made. I also believe that it is in these moments that we set meaningful examples for those who are looking up to us or who depend on us. It is in these moments that you’ll set an honest example for your team, co-workers and the other women and men that you supervise, mentor and train. And finally, it is in these moments that you can say yes, I’m leaning in, but today, I also might need to lean on you too.

“Oh the Places You’ll Go”

By: Vanessa Solesbee, Kimley-Horn

I travel a lot for work and I mean, a lot, a lot. Sometimes frequent travel has its perks – for instance, as I write this blog, I’m sitting on a plane headed to the sunny beaches of Waikiki for a project site visit. However, sometimes I’m homesick before the plane even takes off, especially after welcoming my first kiddo. I’ve been spending some time thinking about how to “reframe” the love/hate relationship that I have with always being “on the go” and I’d like to share a little lightning bolt of inspiration that struck me on a particularly long flight last fall.

As parking and transportation professionals, we are so fortunate to have access to countless “living laboratories” regardless of where we live or how much we do or do not travel. Throughout my years of travel, both around the world and right in my own backyard in Colorado, I’ve always made a point to try something new or outside of my comfort zone. It’s just something that I’ve always done and now I’d like to make that my challenge to each of you: make the decision to be a first-timer again

  • Visit that restaurant you’ve been wanting to try across town
  • Take a different mode of transportation to work
  • Pick up a friend from the airport 
  • Visit a college campus with your high-schooler
  • Take Uber or Lyft on date night

See what the signage is like, how the parking is laid out and what other options besides driving did you have to get there besides driving? Was there someone to help you if needed or instructions on where to find help? Was there an app or website to help you plan your trip before leaving home and if so, how user-friendly and intuitive was it? 

Want to get really crazy? Find a friend or “volunteer” your spouse and check out your own parking system; use your local app to pay, park in a spot other than your regular location or visit a neighboring town or district that you’ve heard so much about. Get your friend and/or spouse to give you their take on what they experienced. We see our own “problem areas” so frequently that our brains literally do not see them anymore.  

The experience of being a frequent first-timer gives us a way to constantly “reset” our assumptions and routines. It adds richness and complexity to the stories we tell and conversations with have with customers, clients, co-workers and staff. It also regularly reminds us what an integral role we play in creating inviting, livable and connected places that everyone, even first-timers, can enjoy. Wheels up!