How Small Talk Can Save Your Life

Make Small Talk

This guest post was written by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of THE POWER OF SMALL.

In today’s deadline driven, digital world, taking the time to ‘shoot the breeze’ with a coworker, neighbor, or passing stranger can seem like a waste of time.  But, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether you’re a Washington politician or a barista at a local coffee shop, every one of us has the unique ability to inspire change in our lives and in the lives of others around us.  And small talk is the key.

When we were writing our book, THE POWER OF SMALL: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, we discovered a truly amazing story that brought our attention to the unexpected ways in which ‘small talk’ can change and save lives.  In this case, it all started with a cup of coffee and a simple conversation.

The Story of Annamarie and Sandie

Every morning, when Annamarie Ausnes would head to her local Starbucks to pick-up her usual coffee, she looked forward to making a bit of small talk with the barista, Sandie Anderson, but she never imagined that those little conversations would one day save her life.

Over time, what had begun as a casual, “How’s your morning?” or “Nice weather, huh?” eventually grew into more personal exchanges about their grandkids, weekend plans, and holiday traditions, until one day Sandie noticed something wasn’t quite right with her “short-drip double-cupped” customer. And instead of ignoring it, she decided to trust her instincts and asked one simple question: “Are you okay?”

At first, Annamarie was reluctant to confide in her barista buddy, but with a little prodding, she opened up.

“Actually, I’m not doing so well,” she sighed.  “I was just placed on the national kidney transplant list and I’m getting ready to go on dialysis.”

To her shock, Sandie would discover that her friendly customer faced a bleak future.  Distraught and determined to help, Sandie announced that she would get tested to see if she could become a donor.

As luck would have it, Sandie turned out to be a match and donated a kidney to Annamarie. Today Annamarie is not only alive and well, the two women are dear friends.  And it all started with a cup of coffee and a little small talk.

Of course, not all of us have the ability or courage to make the huge gesture Sandie made by donating her kidney to a virtual stranger, but by simply making small talk, we open ourselves up to new people, new experiences, and new opportunities.  As children, we make friends easily.  We ask for each other’s names, we join in and play with one another.  But as we grow older, we tend to close ourselves off, shield ourselves with technology, and forget to acknowledge the people who are right in front of us.

So put away the iPhone for a minute, look up from your laptop, and take the first step by saying hello to the stranger sitting next to you.  You never know, they just might be the hero you’ve been hoping for.

In Their Own Words

Here’s a short video clip of Annamarie and Sandie sharing their story in their own words:

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval are co-authors of the national bestseller THE POWER OF SMALL: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, which debuted on the best seller lists of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

Photo by: polandeze

Why I Live Every Day Like It’s My Last

Live Every Day

Laugh with every breath.
Love as long as you live.

A Good Girl

Alyssa was my best friend.  She was a talented musician, a graceful gymnast, a brilliant writer, and a deeply passionate individual.  She cared so much about people.  Love bled from every facet of her being.  When she spoke, her eyes were as sincere as her words.  And she always wanted to understand what was wrong so she could strive to make it better.

But Alyssa woke up one day during her senior year in college with a strange pain in her chest.  The on-campus doctors didn’t understand why, so they referred her to a specialist.  After several MRIs and blood tests, they determined that she had a rare, escalated case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a form of cancer.  She spent the next three years suffering through varying degrees of pain and sickness as multiple doctors treated her with radiation and chemotherapy.  And although these doctors were initially hopeful, Alyssa’s condition worsened, and she eventually passed away on her 25th birthday.

A Bad Guy

Ethan was also my friend.  Though not as multi-talented as Alyssa, he was insanely smart – particularly when it came to money and business tactics.  But he didn’t care about people.  I eventually learned, just before ending our eight year friendship, that he ripped people off for a living.  He primarily targeted elderly folks who had a relatively small life savings.  “They’re all suckers,” he told me.  And he felt no remorse because, he continued, “they’ll be dead soon anyway.”

Today, at the age of 28, Ethan is a multi-millionaire.  And although we haven’t spoken in years, I’ve heard from others that he still hasn’t gotten into any legal trouble – largely, I think, because of the calculated threats that I’ve heard he makes to anyone he suspects might have a good conscience.  I hear, also, that he doesn’t suffer from any major health problems, and that he, his trophy wife, and his two healthy sons live in a mansion somewhere in Southern California.

The Reason

These are old stories – familiar stories.  The people and the circumstances differ slightly for everyone who tells them, but the core lessons remain the same.  Life isn’t fair.  Bad things do happen to good people.  And good things do happen to bad people.

Yet, these are the excuses many of us use when we choose not to follow our hearts.  And they are the excuses many of us use when we choose to treat ourselves and each other without dignity and respect.  “Why care?” we argue, “When the Alyssa’s of the world suffer and die young while the Ethan’s of the world sip wine at a five-star resort well into their 80’s.”

But for some of us, Alyssa and Ethan are the reason we do follow our hearts.  His story is the reason we live to make the world a little brighter, to make people a little happier.  And her story is the reason we use all of the strength we have right now.  Because we know we may not have the same strength tomorrow.

Because a world with no guarantees requires us to live every day…

As if it were our last.

Photo by: Stuant63

22 Tools You Should Keep in Your Car

Tools to Keep in Your Car

“Always be prepared!”  That’s the Boy Scout motto.  Most people keep their tools at home.  But if you aren’t at home, you probably drove your car to get to wherever you are.

Here are 22 useful tools you should keep in your car.

  1. 2-3 Gallons of Water – You can drink it when you’re thirsty, use it as a cleaning/rinsing agent, pour it into your car’s cooling system if it’s overheating, etc.
  2. Portable GPS – Being lost is not a fun feeling.  A GPS basically eliminates this possibility.  During a recent spring vacation to Costa Rica our Garmin GPS pretty much saved our rear ends on multiple occasions.
  3. Hand Sanitizer – Because there isn’t a sink and a bar of soap conveniently located in your car.  In my mind, hand sanitizer is a tool, a tool that prevents me from infecting my body with germs on a daily basis.  Keep yourself healthy!  Sanitize your hands regularly… especially before you eat.
  4. Multi-head Screwdriver – Take a look around.  I bet most of the manmade objects around you are being held together by screws.  Throughout your lifetime you’re going to need to tighten and loosen a whole lot of them.  And you won’t always be near your tool chest when these occasions arise.  Keep decent multi-head screwdriver with a wide assortment of screwdriver heads in your car and you’ll be prepared.
  5. Adjustable Wrench – If screws aren’t holding it together then nuts and bolts almost certainly are.  You will eventually need to adjust the bolts on office furniture, your vehicle, and other objects when you’re out and about.  A basic 3-piece adjustable wrench set should fit the bill just fine.
  6. Pliers – Your hands are not the most effective tool for gripping and maneuvering small objects.  That’s where pliers come in handy.  One set of pliers will not do the trick either. You’ll likely need a small assortment of pliers in various styles and sizes for different kinds of jobs.  At a minimum, keep a needle-nose, a heavy grooved, and a wire cutting pliers in your trunk.
  7. Hammer – The single greatest tool of all time.  The hammer has an infinite set of practical applications.  A good old 16 oz claw hammer will provide a lifetime of reliable service.
  8. Pen and Notepad – If you don’t write it down, you will forget it.  Regular note-taking is one of the most productive habits a person can practice.  Keep a pen and notepad in your car so you can jot down key ideas and information as they cross your mind.
  9. First Aid Kit – Human beings are not made of titanium.  When you or someone you care about gets injured, a basic first aid kit becomes the single most important thing you own.  And what good is a first aid kit that’s sitting at home when you’re not at home?
  10. Hands Free Set for Your Cell Phone – Why would any sane person drive one-handed while holding an odd shaped phone to their ear when they have the option to use a hands free set?
  11. Multi-Use Car Charger – Some multi-use car chargers (like this one) allow you to charge up to four devices at once.  This unit turns one auto cigarette lighter port into two, has two USB charging ports, and provides a heavy-duty 20 amp capacity.  Now you can charge your iPhone, iPod, and other electronics on the go.
  12. Prepaid Calling Card – A calling card basically allows you to call anyone, anywhere from any telephone.  They are particularly convenient when you misplace your cell phone or when you’re in an area that lacks cell service.
  13. Duct Tape – If it’s moving and it shouldn’t be, duct tape it.  Duct tape may very well be the second greatest invention after the hammer.
  14. Quality Sunglasses – Most people consider sight to be their most important sense.  Quality sunglasses protect the human eyes from being destroyed by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.  This radiation can lead to short-term and long-term ocular problems such as cataracts, blindness and various forms of eye cancer.  So wear sunglasses when you’re out in the sunlight.
  15. Work Gloves – Unfortunately, human hands are covered with fragile skin just like the rest of the body.  Sometimes you need to use your hands to accomplish a task that requires a durability threshold beyond that of your exposed skin.  This is where a rugged set of work gloves saves you from a few days worth of blistering agony.
  16. Wind-up LED Flashlight – What happens if your car stalls at night on a dark road?  What happens if you need to search for something in a dark utility closet at work?  Always keep a wind-up LED flashlight (no batteries required) in your automobile.
  17. Rubber Bands – Rubber bands are simple, functional and versatile.  There is an endless list of practical uses for a rubber band.
  18. USB Flash Drive – One of the most practical accessories for a computer.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve used my 16 gig flash drive to save some data from someone else’s system.  A USB flash drive is an essential tool you always need to have on you.
  19. Small Fire Extinguisher – This one is a no-brainer.  Completely useless until the moment the sh*t hits the fan and the world around you is burning to the ground.  If you don’t keep a fire extinguisher handy, you’re being foolishly optimistic.
  20. Leatherman – This is the all-in-one multi-tool you should never leave home without.  These little tools can handle a plethora of different jobs.  I personally own the Leatherman 830039 and I love it.
  21. Bungee Cords – Tie things down, wrap things together… Bungee cords are like giant rubber bands with hooks.  They’re darn practical to have out on the road when you need them!
  22. Spare Credit Card and Cash – Let’s go back to the Boy Scout motto again: “Always be prepared.”  If you lose your wallet when you’re out and about, it’s always nice to have a back-up plan.

While I’m sure this list could be expanded, these 22 tools are the tools I keep in my car.  And each of them has served me well over the years, saving me lots of frustration in my moments of need.

Photo by: Viernest

How To Achieve The Impossible

Achieve The Impossible

The impossible is what nobody can do until somebody does.

Teleportation is the new air travel.  Humans can walk on water.  And there is a cure for cancer.  These things will happen eventually because, quite simply, the nature of progression dictates that they must happen.  And because there are people on this planet who believe they can make them happen.

Are you one of these people?

3 Short Stories on Achieving the Impossible

When I was a high school freshman, a 260 pound freshman girl showed up for track and field try-outs.  Her name was Sara, and she was only there because her doctor said her health depended on it.  But once she scanned the crowd of students who were trying-out, she turned around and began walking away. Coach O’Leary saw her, jogged over, and turned her back around.  “I’m not thin enough for this sport!” Sara declared.  “And I’ll never be!  It’s impossible for me to lose enough weight.  I’ve tried.”  Coach O’Leary nodded, and promised Sara that her body type wasn’t suited for her current weight.  “It’s suited for 220 pounds,” he said.  Sara looked confused.  “Most people tell me I need to lose 130 pounds,” she replied.  “But you think I only need to lose 40?”  Coach O’Leary nodded again.  Sara started off as a shot put competitor, but spent every single afternoon running and training with the rest of the track team.  She was very competitive, and by the end of our freshman year she was down to 220 pounds.  She also won 2nd place in the county-wide shot put tournament that year.  Three years later, during our senior year, she won 3rd place in the 10K run.  Her competitive weight at the time was 130 pounds.

When Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, which proposed the groundbreaking idea of evolution by natural selection, it launched a worldwide debate.  Supporters included scientists, historians, and others whose professions and worldviews required that they carefully analyze new ideas and adopt those that seemed to make sense.  Critics included theologians, conservative extremists, and others who were convinced that the current explanation of our ancestry was the only possible explanation.  This group of people, the ones who refused to accept the possibility of new ideas, eventually alienated themselves from the debate, and arguably failed to assist in the progression of mankind.  The people who didn’t blindly reject evolution, who instead questioned it, researched it, and sought to explore its possibilities, were able to achieve previously impossible feats by making important advances in various fields of study from sociology to history to medicine.

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google, they had absolutely no intention of building the most powerful Internet-based company in the world.  In the mid 1990’s the Internet was already saturated with hundreds of established search engine companies like Yahoo, Lycos, and Alta Vista.  Competing and succeeding in such a competitive environment seemed impossible to them.  So instead, they tried to sell their search technology to these companies.  And although Google, with its PageRank algorithm and efficient scaling, was clearly more cutting-edge than any search technology currently in place, none of these established companies wanted to get their hands dirty with Google’s new technology.  So after exhausting their options, Brin and Page decided to release Google to the public and directly compete with the biggest names in the business.  As we know, they blew them out of the water.

‘Impossible’ is Simply a State of Mind

If we can find the patience to see the world for what it is – dynamic, flexible, and loaded with untapped potential – and if we can accept the fact that change is an inevitable and brilliant part of life, then we can partake in the thrill of progression, and help shape a world in which the impossible becomes possible.

To achieve the impossible, we must first understand that the ‘state of impossible’ is simply a ‘state of mind.’  Nothing is truly impossible.  Impossibility only exists when we lack the proper knowledge and experience to comprehend how something can be possible.

Sara was convinced that it was impossible to lose weight because, in her past experience, it had never worked-out the way she had hoped.  19th-century theologians laughed at Charles Darwin’s theories because his theories didn’t come from the Bible, which, at the time, was their sole source of knowledge and truth.  Google’s old competitors didn’t recognize the next big thing when it was offered to them on a silver platter.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to bother with a new technology that they didn’t fully understand.  This ultimately forced Google’s Brin and Page to achieve their version of the ‘impossible.’


When people say something is impossible, what they really mean is, “I can’t imagine how it could be possible.”  But with more knowledge and experience, they’d begin to realize that anything is possible, it just takes a change in mindset.  Because ‘impossible’ is what we get when we haven’t trained our minds and our hearts to see past the systems that currently exist to ones that don’t yet exist.

So let’s start the training our minds and our hearts, today, so we can turn today’s impossibility into tomorrow’s possibility.

Photo by: Rajeshvj