Work In The Tech Industry? 7 Tips To Help You Describe It To A Lay Audience

3 Oct

I have asked my friend Emilia, a senior executive at a national technology consulting firm, what she does for a living on no less than 10 occasions, probably more. I have asked my brother, who has a great job at Google, Inc., the very same question so many times he has taken to giving me a ‘you better not ask me again’ stare every time we see each other. As for my brother-in-law, who I so adore and admire, I have stifled my natural curiosity and don’t dare ask him again what kind of work he does in his capacity as Founder and COO of a successful, fast-growing technology company.

Why? Because each time Emilia, my brother and my brother-in-law give me a description of their tech-y company, and the work they do there, I understand exactly none of what they are saying. The conversation generally goes like this:

“So, what type of work do you do?” 

“I am a [position name I have never heard of], & I [description that makes no sense to me].”


While I wouldn’t call myself brilliant, I am reasonably smart, highly educated and feel at home engaging in high-level, what some might call ‘heady’ conversations about almost anything. Yet, the blurb they give me about their work goes in one ear and out the other. From my vantage point, their description is fragmented and filled with acronyms and tech-y terms that no lay person would comprehend, which leaves me confused and, at times, even annoyed because I feel stupid. I would be quick to consider this my own shortcoming were it not for the fact that so many other non-technos share my experience.

Do you work in an industry that requires highly specialized, industry-specific skills and knowledge? If so, it is understandable that you may be so adept and immersed in your industry that, like my friend and family members, you also struggle to simplify, or in many cases don’t even realize that the way you are describing your work and your company is lost on us lay folk.

So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter if you don’t effectively describe what you do, where you do it, why it’s important, etc., to your family, social networks, even the man in line behind you at the grocery store who strikes up conversation?

You are missing a great opportunity to strengthen your professional brand, garner greater respect and acknowledgement (which we all need, by the way) and potentially open doors through an unlimited network of lay people. If you, along with my friend and family members and countless others, gave lay folk like me a readily accessible explanation of the amazing work that you and your company do, and the way in which it positively impacts my life, I will not only feel good that I actually understand it, but I will likely be compelled to share and excite my social and professional networks about you (and your company). Not surprisingly, your company also benefits, having its visibility raised and its reputation strengthened because you are serving as such a fine ambassador for the company – part-educator, part-salesperson, part-advocate, part-loyal employee.

I’m referring here to the casual, on-the-fly conversations you have with your extended family members, social and professional networks, even the random stranger. With an easily understood and provocative spiel, those with whom you speak can then easily describe your company to their networks, who can then mention it to their networks, and so on. Without question, embedded within these endless networks of people are your existing and prospective customers, clients, even your next career move should you be interested.

Here are a few tips to help you develop a readily accessible and compelling description of your work:

  • Above all, your goal is to generally educate and excite the layperson about your work, and your company. You want the person to walk away so clear and intrigued by what you and your company do that they actually wantto share it with others.
  • Don’t worry about the nuts and bolts of what you do. When someone asks you what you do, don’t take their question too literally. With the exception of those you are closest to, and your peers in the industry, people are not especially interested in the specifics of what you do on a day-to-day basis. We really just want a general understanding.
  • Adhere to the 3Cs rule when composing your description: Clear, Concise and Compelling. Given the lite speed at which we can send and receive texts, Tweet, compose hashtags and engage in other forms of social media, and the fact that we can do most of these things simultaneously, it is not surprising that expectations of brevity and efficiency, and ready permission to multi-task, have permeated our verbal communications as well. With our attention span limited, our time compromised and our capacity to maintain interest all too fleeting, your listeners only want you to give them ‘soundbites’ (i.e., brief, compelling, simple, short sentences). Also, given the fact that the brain generally absorbs things in 3s, keeping it to 3 (or 4 if you absolutely must) sentences will increase the likelihood that your lay listener will not only understand but also remember what you say and be able to share it with others.
  • Begin by making it clear how your company and your work is relevant to your listener. The bottom line is that all of us are most likely to pay attention and actually remember what someone tells us if it is abundantly clear right off the bat how it directly relates to or, even better, benefits us. You may get my partial attention, and maybe I’ll even remember some of what you say if you tell me about the positive impact your company is having on the world at large. But, if you clearly convey what your company does that directly relates to my everyday life, I can almost guarantee you’ll capture my full attention, and I’ll remember it.

By way of example: I mean no offense to extermination companies, but it seems safe to say that if you simply tell me that you develop the technology that exterminators use to kill termites, bees, cockroaches and other yucky bugs, I would be hard-pressed to get excited. But, if you opened with a sentence that tells me, in a light-hearted manner, that you work for a company that enables me to go to sleep each night with assurance that my bed (and my whole house and neighborhood) is free of creepy, crawly things, you are going to get my ear, and I’ll probably repeat your simple, witty and factual description of your work.

  • Ensure your script suits your personality and communication style. While it is important to use words that your listener is sure to understand, this doesn’t mean you need to be robotic in your delivery. Personalize your delivery so it reflects your personality. If you’re generally a light-spirited person who incorporates humor when speaking, do just that when explaining what you and your company do. There is no need to be bland or, even worse, downright boring when giving a simple explanation of what you do.
  • Be authentic in your delivery. While you may feel you are being overly simplistic, verging on patronizing in your description, don’t let it show. You need to be authentic. Your listener will understand that you are purposefully ‘dumbing it down’ for their benefit. If they detect sarcasm in your voice, or embarrassment in your facial expressions or body language, they may think you don’t take your work seriously or don’t respect your company.
  • Strike a confident pose. You have every reason to be proud of your career and, hopefully, you feel a strong sense of pride about the company you work for as well. Let this confidence and pride show through when sharing this information with others.

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know!


In A Rut? Feeling Bored By The Same-Old, Same-Old? Need A Mood-Boost? Adopt A ‘Do It Different’ Mindset For A Day.

10 Jun

Most of us are creatures of habit, and it serves us well in many ways. We create basic routines and habits that help guide our daily lives, maximize our productivity and give us the sense that we will have the emotional and physical energy we need to fulfill our home, work and other responsibilities and hopefully be able to tend to our own needs as well.

  • We get up at the same time during the week and often on the weekends too.
  • We take the same route to work, the grocery store and other places we frequent on a regular basis.
  • We have a convenient, tasty coffee shop that is our one and only.
  • We have a particular genre of TV we like and rarely venture from it.
  • Many of us have a style of dress we adhere to, much like a firm dress code. My husband, for example, describes his self-imposed professional dress code as his ‘Garanimals for adults’.

At a deeper level, in our quest for a sense of certainty and predictability in a world that is anything but certain and predictable, we tend to form perspectives on people, events and ideologies and rarely if ever call these perspectives into question and open our minds to alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

Without realizing it, we often gravitate to a certain personality type and surround ourselves almost exclusively with the people who fit ‘our type’. When it comes to the people we’re closest to, we tend to believe we know everything there is to know about them and don’t think to probe for something new, something that can broaden our understanding and excite us about them in a new way. How often do you say to your partner, best friend or sibling, “Tell me something I don’t know about you”?

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, investigative journalist and New York Times writer Charles Duhigg points out that our inclination to develop and stick to habits and fixed thoughts is natural. Habits are the “result of the brain’s constant mission to save effort. The number of impulses, functions, operations and outputs the brain must calculate and create just to execute an action as simple as brushing our teeth or backing our car out of the driveway is stunning…to have the opportunity to rest or to think about other things while we’re moving through our daily lives, our brains are constantly unconsciously on the prowl for ways to save effort.”

While there is a vast body of research that explains why we tend to establish fixed routines and form firm opinions and default behaviors, brain science experts also underscore the need for us to switch things up on occasion as a means to keep our brains nimble and strong and gain the greatest fulfillment from our lives.

According to Temple University psychologist, Frank Farley, Ph.D., “It’s easy to get comfortable with your usual way of behavior…But research shows that people who embrace change – not run from it – are happiest.” Michael Roizen, MD, author and Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic further notes that “following the same routine every day will not stimulate your hippocampus-the part of the brain most responsible for memory. To keep your mind active, simply try to vary your routine at work or at home.” Even the slightest variations in our routine and typical thought patterns exposes our brain to new information, interactions and environments, which causes the brain to release ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and enables us to:

  • Interrupt our negative thought patterns and give us the mood boost we need
  • Prevent or overcome a general, often unexplainable sense of malaise
  • Spur greater creativity
  • Fuel our sense of adventure and our excitement about people, places, events & life in general
  • Build our capacity for resilience when undesirable changes in our lives occur without warning

I refer to it as my ‘Do It Different’ mentality, and I call upon it when I’m feeling stuck in a rut, or like I need a quick shot of new energy. Sometimes I ‘do it different’ for just a few hours, other times I try (not always successfully) to hold onto my open mindset for an entire day. The ways in which I shift my routine and challenge my rote thought patterns vary, but they are generally always very simple and the effects are almost always rewarding.

Here are some of the variations that have worked for me:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier or later and do your best not to get stressed by it.
  • Take a different route to work even if it means a slightly longer commute.
  • Don’t look at your phone for a full hour after you wake up.
  • If you walk to walk, make a point of smiling and saying hi to everyone you pass.
  • Push yourself to be curious instead of judgmental when you find yourself judging someone’s behavior or appearance. Instead of thinking, ‘Eek, how could she wear such a ridiculous outfit?!’, try replacing that thought with, ‘Hmmm, what a curious style of dress she has. Oh well, to each their own…’
  • Trying diluting your frustration with a sense of wonder when something doesn’t go your way on a given day. If someone steals your parking spot, which is understandably frustrating and makes you angry, see if you can temper your negative emotions with thoughts like, ‘I wonder if he was late for an interview for a job that could keep his family from being evicted’, or ‘I wonder if she’s rushing to get to the hospital down the block’.
  • Take a moment to appreciate the things you generally take for granted in your daily life, e.g., your mail getting delivered; your trash getting picked up; the train or bus being on time; people working hard on a cold day to clear ice from your city sidewalks; etc. If you’re feeling especially bold, take a moment to say thank you to these folks or others.
  • Ask your spouse or partner, sibling, friend or close coworker to tell you something you never knew about them.

These may appear all too simple and even feel meaningless to some of you, but please give them a shot anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised by the positive effects on your mood, productivity and interactions.

Please let me know your experience and also share any additional strategies that have worked for you.


Beware ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’: Developing A Strong Professional Persona Does Not Mean Becoming Someone Else

29 May

Ever heard of the TV show, Bewitched? If you’re 35 or younger and are not an avid fan of old-school television shows from decades past, chances are good that you have no clue what I’m talking about. Bewitched was a popular sitcom in the 1960s and 70s that had as its main character a witch named Samantha who had the power to transform herself and other people (most particularly her husband, a mortal) into someone else with just a wrinkle of her nose. When a situation wasn’t going well for Samantha or her husband, Darrin, she swooped in (no broomstick needed), wrinkled her nose a bit and, poof, everything, including her husband’s entire identity was transformed. Out with the old, in with the new.

To tell you more about the show would dilute its relevance here, so I’ll cut to the chase: While you do need to cultivate (and continually hone) a strong Professional Identity or Brand to maximize your career success and satisfaction, to achieve this goal does not require you to let go of who you are, to toss your core self and values to the wayside and assume the identity of someone else. Leave that type of complete transformation to the fictitious witch on Bewitched.

The Internet is chockfull of great advice on how to become the consummate professional: 

Learn to read non-verbal cues.

Be an active, fully engaged listener.

Learn how to ‘brag’ in a way that garners respect, not looks of disdain.

Speak with confidence.

Learn to handle conflict with grace and empathy, not anger.

Be authentic in your relationships.

Maintain clear personal/professional boundaries at work.

Much of the advice from leadership development experts (myself included) that you find in articles on The Huffington Post, The Muse, Forbes and many other high-quality online publications is important, and I hope you find it useful.

At the same time, given the morass of advice that’s out there, I also hope you are not getting the impression that cultivating a strong professional persona, one that sets you on a course to career success in a challenging economic climate, means bidding farewell to your former self, the identity that makes you, YOU. Please don’t fall victim to the ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’, namely, the notion that your charge is to erase everything, start from a blank slate and cultivate a whole new person with a set of skills, personality traits, behaviors, qualities, etc. that mirror a ready-made, generally accepted template for the ideal professional.

On the contrary, the advice is meant to help you become your best you. The goal is for you to refine and integrate any advice you receive in a way that is right for you, that positions you to be true to your core values, to capitalize on your best unique traits, qualities and inherent skills, and to improve upon those qualities that don’t serve you well. You need to do this in your own way, according to your own timeline and with the type and level of support and guidance that specifically works for you. Strong communication, listening, interpersonal, stress management, conflict negotiation and many other skills are essential, but it is how you cultivate, combine, put into practice and continually hone these and other skills, behaviors, attitudes and relationships in a professional context that constitute your unique professional brand and distinguishes you from others.

Here are some suggestions to help you become your BEST YOU throughout your career:

  1. Gain clarity about and stay true to your core professional values. Your professional values are what gives you a sense of meaning and drives your professional decisions, behaviors, perspectives and relationships. Your values reflect what is most important to you and fuel your desire to achieve your goals. They enable you to work in service of how you want to be perceived and experienced by others. They help you develop and maintain an accurate sense of yourself. Staying true to your values will enable you to take the skills and knowledge you gain, the experiences you have, the guidance you receive, and the qualities of other people who you admire most, and shape and make them an intrinsic part of you.
  1. Learn to relish and proudly let others know that you will always be a ‘work in progress’ (just like they will always be, regardless of their seniority and accomplishments). Developing and capitalizing on your Professional Persona has no end-point and that’s a good thing. We are so fortunate to be a species that has a never-ending capacity to grow and adapt and become an even greater version of ourselves. It is up to you to recognize how lucky you are in this regard and take advantage of it.
  1. Don’t aspire to become [insert the name of the business leader you admire most]. While it is certainly helpful to gain insights and learn about the experiences, qualities, skills, leadership style and other facets of the business leaders you so admire, be careful that you don’t lose your sense of self and set your sights on becoming their clone. They are not the embodiment of success that you and all others should aspire to become. They are simply neat people who have developed a strong professional brand that serves them well in their career. Your charge is to take the best of what you learn from speaking with, observing and reading about others and figure out how to adapt and apply it in a way that suits and furthers your unique values, qualities, skills, etc.
  1. Welcome support and guidance from others from a position of strength, not weakness. So many of us are taught from a young age that we need to figure it all out on our own. We have this entirely misguided sense that if we need support and/or guidance from others, it must mean that we have failed, that we are inadequate, that we must turn our entire sense of self-worth and professional development over to someone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To be your best professional self, you need support, and you also need advice that you can tailor to fit your unique identity.
  1. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Feeling stuck, overwhelmed, confused, discouraged, insecure, and the like is all part and parcel of professional (and personal) growth. Don’t compound these already negative, uncomfortable feelings by getting angry with yourself for having them. Do your best to be extra patient and kind to yourself when you’re struggling and don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support as well.

What other advice would you add to this list?

I wish you all of the best.

Some Advice on Taking Advice (From Leadership Development Professionals)

20 May

Looking for advice on honing your leadership style, making a career change, stress management, dealing with a difficult boss or almost any other career-related topic? Your timing is perfect. Online publications, such as The Daily Muse,’s Work In Progress, Fast Company and so many others, as well as the Blogs of top of the line career and leadership experts, are chockfull of articles with the latest research, interviews with experts, tales from the field and practical advice.

Just a few clicks of your keyboard and there they are, some online articles that are right on the mark as far as your work-related questions are concerned. They crystallize your issues in a way you never thought possible. They offer legitimate reasons for why you (and so many others) are feeling the way you do, which you find very validating. And, most important to you, they include advice that you find easy to understand and seems fairly simple to put into practice.

Are you feeling inspired and ready to put your newfound, seemingly easy strategies into action starting tomorrow? Please Wait! The advice that experts (myself included) give you is never easy or quick to put into action.

The rest of this article can be found on The Daily Muse:


Your Professional Persona is Not Your Position, Seniority, Salary or Reputation.

13 May

In my early twenties, when I was just getting started in the professional work world, my concept of my professional identity was, quite simply, the position I held within the company that was kind enough to employ me. Who am I? I am an Associate with ABC, Inc. That, to me, was the long and short of my professional persona, my professional brand. 

Then, in my late twenties, as I was given greater responsibility and some nice salary increases at the company that was not only kind enough to keep me on but also apparently saw some value in my contribution, my sense of my professional persona broadened just a bit. My concept of myself as a professional was no longer that of an entry-level staff person with no redeeming skills and value beyond being a willing learner. I started defining my professional identity as someone with a limited set of industry-specific (hard) skills and a decent position and salary. At this stage, the equation in my head was, My Professional Persona = Position, Seniority, Industry-Specific Knowledge.

Fast-forward to my mid-thirties, and I began to see my professional persona in a whole new and much healthier light. Thanks to my own often-challenging efforts to self-reflect and rewire the always-critical-of-myself tape in my head, and some fabulous executive coaching, helpful feedback and advice from my bosses over the years, and input and support from friends and family, I came to understand that my professional identity/persona/brand is NOT my position, power, money or reputation.

My Professional Persona IS the way in which I shape, combine, apply and continually hone my:

  • Relationship, communication and listening skills;
  • Breadth of both industry and life knowledge;
  • Personal and professional experiences;
  • Personality traits and styles, behaviors, attitudes;
  • Emotional intelligence and ability to read people;
  • Professional values;
  • Professional missteps and the ways in which I have grown from them;
  • Understanding of my strengths and not-so-strong areas;
  • My professional achievements, to include ones I consider achievements as well as recognition I have received from others, and the extent to which I don’t them define my sense of my professional worth;
  • Constant efforts to be kinder and much less critical of myself;
  • Maintain reasonable expectations of others;
  • Desire to continue to work on and strengthen my professional persona;
  • Commitment to being authentic in my professional relationships; and
  • So much more that I couldn’t fit on this page and have yet to realize!

Just to be clear, I am not always confident, nor am I fully in touch with my Professional Brand. I have ‘off’ days just like we all do, and I aim to evolve a lot more. This whole Professional Persona thing is not a riddle that I have solved and crossed off my ‘to-do’ list. On the contrary, identifying and capitalizing on your professional persona is not a riddle at all. It is your unique, non-linear, never-static and never-ending path that is, at times, exhilarating, rewarding, burdensome, frustrating and everything in between.

My hope is that you have or are on your way to developing a strong sense of your professional self, and that it fuels you. If you currently define and attribute your professional worth to your position, salary and/or status, or just your industry-specific knowledge and skills, or in a similarly limited way, then this article is meant for you. If you don’t feel clear and/or confident about your professional persona and its value, then I hope I have encouraged you to tend to this critical part of yourself. You deserve and will be all the better for it.

Here are some takeaways from my ongoing journey to develop a fully actualized professional persona that I hope will be helpful to you:

  • There is no finish line. Just like our personal growth, our professional self-concept and brand should also be constantly evolving and embraced as a life-long endeavor.
  • Be patient with yourself. Developing or reestablishing a clear, confident sense of your Professional Persona takes time and hard work. Try your best to take pride in the fact that, by virtue of being human, you will always be a ‘work in progress’. 
  • Don’t bury and hide from your missteps at work. Embrace and learn from them. An inspiring article by Fast Company, called Failure Is The Only Option, If Success Is The End Goal, so aptly notes that “if learning happens through trial and error, then you need to try and, more importantly, you need to err”. The article further states that “real failure doesn’t come from making mistakes; it comes from avoiding errors at all possible costs, from fear to take risks and from the inability to grow.”
  • Establish an ongoing support system of trusted peers who provide you with unbiased, non-judgmental feedback and advice, pep rallying and creative inspiration and expect the same from you. For so long, I was one of the millions who believe that to be a standout professional, to achieve my definition of professional success and be recognized as such by others, I had to figure it all out on my own. In my mind, turning to others for what was without a doubt a much-needed level of support, advice and creativity meant that I wasn’t a genuine professional; I was a fake because I needed ‘help’, another anchor besides just my own mind. Sound familiar? About a decade into my career, I finally realized that both gaining and giving encouragement, candid feedback and work ideas to a group of trusted peers is a sign of strength and essential to professional development and self-awareness. Harvard Business School Professor and former Medtronic CEO, Bill George, and Founder & CEO of the True North Groups Institute, Doug Baker, have been benefiting from their True North Group, which is the support system they created almost 4 decades ago.They describe their True North Group as“at various times a nurturer, a grounding rod, a truth teller, and a mirror. At other times, the group functions as a challenger or an inspirer. When people are wracked with self-doubts it helps build their courage and ability to cope.” While my support system is a little less formal, I am proud that I have one and hope to keep it forever.
  • Know your ‘anxiety trigger points’ and take a moment to acknowledge and tend to them when they occur. Like it or not, regardless of what a strong sense of our professional brand we develop, there will always be certain situations, types of personalities, environments, work projects, etc. that prompt a sudden jolt of anxiety without warning and can cause us to behave in ways that are not in keeping with the professional persona we have worked so hard to establish. Being in touch with what I refer to as our anxiety trigger points and pausing for a moment before taking action (out of anxiety) when they are activated without warning will be very helpful.
  • Know the types of interactions, quick work tasks, non-work-related activities, etc., that reinvigorate your ‘I’m competent, I’m great’ feeling and seek out those opportunities during even your busiest workdays. We all have those times when our internal pep-engine seizes up, and we lose sight of our competence and our confidence plummets. Identify the types of interactions, mindless (or not) work tasks or quick activities that restore your confidence and sense of competence. A former colleague runs at lunch, which makes her feel incredibly capable (and also provides that fabulous endorphin release). A friend of mine seeks out a colleague to see if she can help them with something. At the risk of losing all credibility with you, one of my favorite positive distractions is folding laundry (I work from home). It’s easy. It gives me a sense of order. It has a definitive start and end-point (which my work almost never does). It gives me immediate gratification.

What other advice would you like to offer?


Returners: Be Proud. Be Confident. You Have More to Offer Than Ever Before.

30 Apr

Are you nervous about reentering the workforce after what might feel like a lifetime away? Do you feel you have lost touch with your former professional self, your professional persona, and as such you are reentering the work world as an entirely empty slate? Do you view your time away as a time capsule of sorts, a period in which you have been completely closed off from any growth that could possibly be relevant and benefit you in a work context?

It is understandable if these anxious thoughts are crowding your frontal lobe as you entertain the notion or actively begin the process of reentering the workforce. But, I have some good news for you: These are just your thoughts; they are not your reality.

You have not been in a time warp since you left the formal work world. You did not stop evolving in ways that will benefit you as a professional. On the contrary, you have more to offer than ever before. Regardless of why you left and what you have been doing since that time, there is no question that you have grown and developed new perspectives, attitudes, behaviors and life skills that make you an even stronger professional.

The rest of this article can be found on The Daily Muse at



Celebrities & Their Vacation Homes: Is It, or Can It Become Common Practice for Celebrities to ‘Give Back’ to the Places that Welcome them with Open Arms?

25 Feb

Last summer, I went to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas, just minutes from Nassau, and it was a blast. I delighted in the water slides; I marveled over the incredible sea-life; I will be forever touched by my afternoon with Atlas, the dolphin; and the list goes on and on. Thousands of other people were also there, presumably having a grand time as well.

One evening, my husband and I decided to venture outside of the walls of the Atlantis Empire into downtown Nassau for dinner. What we observed on the cab-ride to and from the restaurant, coupled with what our cab driver shared with us, was disturbing, to say the least.

Just a half-mile from the Resort, the poverty was palpable. Housing that shouldn’t be considered housing. Schools that I couldn’t believe were schools. We passed a home for homeless infants and toddlers that had no less than 5 broken glass windows.

The fact that there are plenty of other locales across the globe where people are living in far worse conditions did nothing to quell my discomfort. What we were seeing and hearing about was (just a dose of) the reality of poverty in the Bahamian City of Nassau, and it was upsetting.

We learned from our cab driver that night (and heard it again from another cab driver as well as our boat-guide later in the week) that residents of the City of Nassau (and surrounding areas) who are not employed by one of the resorts or upscale hotels in the area generally live in poverty, some making as little as $55/week and supporting a family of five.

For many residents employed by Atlantis and the other resorts and hotels, it is not their hourly wages that keep them out of poverty. Rather, it’s the tips we give them for their efforts on our behalf, combined with their wages that enables them to make ends meet. The kind woman at the concierge desk; the people we see scouring the massive waterways filled with sea life; the people who clean our sometimes very messy room; those who serve us dinner; etc.

Low-wage jobs, and a very high cost of living (because everything must be imported) combine to make life a struggle for many residents of Nassau.


Later in the week, we left the Resort again, this time to rent a boat and tour the island from the vantage point of the sea. Much to my husband’s disappointment, the camouflaged shallow waters and the reefs deceivingly close to the surface meant that we had to let someone else drive our boat and guide our journey. The disappointment vanished as soon as we met our jovial guide, Bally, who was born and raised in Nassau.

Bally was not only a kind man with a great sense of humor and an inspiring passion for his island. He was also generous (but not at all overbearing) in sharing his deep knowledge of the island’s history and current situation from a social, political and environmental perspective. With statistics and other hard facts, coupled with stories of his family and friends’ experiences on the island, we learned so much about the physical assets of the island and the extent to which so many are withering beyond repair. We learned about the area’s social and economic challenges, political structure, etc. He also told us about several local leaders who have done so much for the community, as well as those who have used their power and influence in damaging ways.

Bally was careful not to weigh us down with the struggles of the community, making sure to share fun island lore and excite us with the natural wonders of the area as well. The mood was light, with jokes and silliness in abundance and excitement about all that we were learning running high.

Then, everything changed for me. What Bally shared with us next sent my compassion into overdrive and also perplexed me beyond measure.

Towards the end of our boat ride, Bally took us on a tour of some of the celebrity vacation homes that abut the shoreline of Paradise Island and the Cays nearby. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Sean Connery, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Chuck Norris, and many other celebrities have vacation homes in Nassau. Some celebrities actually have two.

It stunned me to see such extraordinary wealth sitting so comfortably against a backdrop of a City in which poverty is so high. But, my stunned feeling was a cakewalk compared to the feelings that hit me when Bally told us that less than half – he thinks it’s more like a quarter – of the celebrities who own homes on the island support the local community through direct financial donations.

Bally was quick to tell us that some celebrity homeowners in the area have been very generous, mainly letting their name be associated and in some cases attending special charity events. But, according to Bally, most celebrity homeowners in Nassau don’t ‘give back’ in the form of financial support to their host community.


It would be foolhardy for me to take one person’s perspective, a sample of only one, as fact. It could certainly be that many celebrities with vacation homes around Nassau, and other Cays in the Bahamian Archipelago, give generously to help the community. It is absolutely the case that celebrities with homes in other locales support their host community in a substantial, lasting way.

The question I was left with, however, which still lingers in my mind more than 6 months after my trip to Atlantis (and which compelled this post), is whether or not it could somehow become standard practice for celebrities – from any industry, anywhere in the world – to ‘give back’ in a financial way to their vacation home community. Can celebrities who already have a demonstrated commitment to philanthropic giving in their vacation home communities encourage thousands (millions?) of other celebrities to do the same?

Imagine the multiplier effect if even just a handful more celebrities started giving (or, for those who already give, opted to award more) to their vacation home community. It would unearth millions in additional philanthropic dollars directed to meet the needs of communities the whole world over.

Based on my novice research, it appears that a growing number of celebrities are not only building vacation homes but also buying entire islands throughout the Bahamian Archipelago. It’s exciting to think about the positive impact that celebrities could have on social and environmental needs in just the Bahamas alone. Add to that the many other communities where celebrities own homes (or so adore vacationing) and, well, you can do the math at this point.


This piece is not meant to imply that celebrities, from all different industries and all over the world, are not already incredibly generous with their philanthropic giving. So many are, and they deserve our praise. My point here is to draw everyone’s (celebrities as well as the rest of us) attention to yet another, exciting opportunity that celebrities have to make an even greater lasting, positive difference in the lives of millions.

The good news is that this opportunity is not just for celebrities. All of us who own vacation homes and/or go on vacation each year can have a lasting positive impact on the communities we come to care about, the places that welcome us with open arms and ask for little in return. While my discretionary resources pale in comparison to celebrities, and I don’t happen to own a vacation home, I am emboldened to give a modest donation to each of the places I visit on vacation, not just because I see the multiplier effect that is possible if others do the same, but also because it feels good.

On a final note if, upon reading this piece, you – celebrities and common folk alike – are inclined to give (even more) to your vacation communities, you should know that there are some great on-line resources you can use to identify high-performing nonprofit charitable organizations in the communities you visit, and you can make your donation safely through their site. My favorites are GlobalGiving and Kiva Their search engines allow you to search by locale, and then by a particular cause you care about (homelessness, adoption, hunger, the environment, education, etc.). They will also keep you updated on the impact of your gift.