The Cuban Five: Rediscovering Cuba

This year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It all started with one question my grandmother asked, “Will you go to Cuba with me?”

Ready for Cuba!

Ready for Cuba!

My grandmother is basically Wonder Woman. She has been to all seven continents and wrote two books about it. The first one, Around the World in the Middle Seat talks about her many adventures as a group travel leader and the second one, Seven Before Seventy, is about reaching her goal of traveling to Antarctica, her seventh continent. I’ve been blessed to have her as a role model and I couldn’t be more proud to follow in her footsteps as a writer.

Of course I said I would go with her to Cuba. In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, not many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. In fact, only a few travel agencies have the certifications to bring American tourists to the island. Because of this reason, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I’d ever have the opportunity to visit. I savored each city we visited, knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can talk to anyone/anything, so it was no problem and I enjoyed learning about Cuba with each of them. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I learned a lot about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

While Cuba was an amazing historical journey, I loved experiencing the culture first-hand. Here are five of the attributes I wanted to take home with me:

 1. The weather

When I left Dallas early March it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty. Although it’s spring in the United States, we were in Cuba during the middle of winter. I’m glad we didn’t stick around for rainy season, but I wouldn’t mind having such a mild winter here in the States.

 2. The cars

Back in the 1950s it was common for Americans to travel to Cuba on a ferry. Our local guide told us that many came to gamble in Havana and after one too many mojitos I assume, many bet their car. This explains why so many Chevys and Fords can be found speeding through the streets in Cuba. Our guide Ari said, “There are no mechanics in Cuba. Only magicians!” This is certainly true, as many of the old-fashioned cars are still up and running even though they’ve passed through many generations. Not all the cars have the antique charm only the 50s birthed, but these gems that do make Cuba such an exciting place to venture. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride around in a red convertible for an hour the last night we spent in Havana. By the end I was wishing I hadn’t taken the time to do my hair, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

3. The architecture

Because of Cuba’s history, there are so many types of architecture in Cuba. Some buildings had regal columns and others resembled brightly colored boxes. Each city we visited had a different style and even some neighborhoods were distinguished by particular architecture styles.

My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s mosaic style and then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

4. The music

I grew up around music and although I thought I enjoyed music a lot, I quickly realized that Cuba is on an entirely new level when it comes to enjoying music. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

 5. The outlook on life

Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easy going way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregated by the fences talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans do.

Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

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Reflections on a Mason Jar of Memories

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

I don’t always play board games, but when I do…I typically can’t wait for someone to win so I can do something else.

Maybe I’m no fun, but something about the fact that most board games come with a million little pieces and a novel-sized book of instructions that people don’t read, but still manage to argue about the rules, makes them even less fun. I’d rather do something else, like have a conversation, bake or go outside like people used to do before televisions were invented.

On New Year’s Day I was with my boyfriend, some family and friends, and we started playing his favorite board game. I was reluctant at first, but since I was in the holiday spirit and figured it wouldn’t kill me, I went ahead and joined in. Seeing the delight on his face was something I wasn’t expecting. He was genuinely appreciative that I put aside my preferences and played his favorite game. Although it wasn’t a tremendous sacrifice on my part, it brought me joy in return and I started to think this would be a great continuation of my New Year’s resolution from last year.

Choosing Contentment

In 2013 I resolved to be more content and positive with my life the way it is. I have a perfectionist mindset, which often makes it hard to appreciate what is going right and focus on fixing what isn’t. To help me accomplish this new mindset I wrote down positive experiences and thoughts, and put them in a jar on my dresser. After ringing in the New Year, I read through all the little slips of paper. I remembered sweet conversations over mugs of coffee, thoughtful gifts I didn’t deserve from friends and family members, and the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me after seeing my work in print for the first time. Others included waking up to beautiful sunsets, volunteering at philanthropic community events and random acts of kindness.

Last year wasn’t perfect, but looking back on the positive things reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a year to be productive in accomplishing my goals. The strange thing is, I really didn’t even make specific goals when I decided what I would focus on in 2013. In addition, I felt much more successful than I had in years before when I wrote out a ton of things I wanted to change about my life.

Redefining Resolutions

Instead of a resolution that limits your possibilities, why not choose a word instead?

As a former, overly obsessive resolutionist, I know that more resolutions are abandoned than achieved, and the most apparent reason for that is the fact that most resolutions are about the person making them. As I looked back through all of the positive moments from 2013, I was reminded that contentment, which is defined as “a state of happiness or satisfaction,” is the key to accepting what I have without longing for more or struggling to be someone else every time January rolls around. If I’m distracted by what I don’t have, I can’t see past my own failures and can’t possibly be in tune with meeting the needs of others. Contentment is an open door to freedom from greed, envy, selfishness and severe expectations. Although contentment can’t solve all of life’s problems, it’s a great place to start.

Contentment takes discipline and can be difficult in our world where we know little of actual need, but reading through each of the positive things that happened in 2013, I was reminded that the good far outweighs the bad.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.                                    – Oprah Winfrey

Thankfulness

When contentment is achieved, thankfulness is the result. Thankfulness is a relational benefit of contentment, which is “expressive of thanks,” and “aware and appreciative of a benefit.” Oftentimes thankfulness obliges selflessness, which can lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. There are so many people and things to be thankful for and I sincerely hope that this year I will more effectively recognize what is lovely and worthy of gratitude (and even things that aren’t) and respond with self-sacrifice and love.

I would love to hear about the word you’ve chosen to focus on in 2014.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Why We Love & Hate Brand Mascots

Guess what day it is!

Guess what day it is!

Only one thing can cause middle school principals to ask kids to tone down the camel nonsense every Wednesday, give my boyfriend the inspiration to dress up as a “hot babe out jogging” for Halloween in a suit and a pink sweat band and replace Chuck Norris jokes with “the most interesting man in the world memes.”

Brand mascots are often effective communication tools for consumer brands. They create ripples on social media sites and spark conversation, but evidence suggests the hype is much more than just talk.

According to USA Today, brand mascots add more value to companies than celebrity endorsements. In addition, associations are so strong even toddlers can make judgments on brands based on mascots alone, according to Slate Magazine.

I grew up with the Energizer Bunny, Captain Crunch and Mickey Mouse, but as social media  has grown more and more important, many characters are now popping up on YouTube (Remember Mr. Six from the Six Flags commercials?) and Twitter, engaging with consumers and fans and generating even more direct conversation between brands and consumers.

Some of the brand mascots that have gone digital include Aflac duck, Tony the Tiger, Flo from Progressive, Mr. Clean, The Green Giant, Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome and Mayhem, of course. (Fun Fact: Mayhem has a handsome, Spanish-speaking partner in crime, Mala Suerte)

Of the most notable brand mascots, many represent insurance companies, making them more attractive to consumers and bring them to life. For example, Business Insider named Allstate’s Mayhem as “The Man Who Made Insurance Interesting,” and Aflac used a duck to skyrocket revenue. The Harvard Business Review refers to the Aflac duck as a rock star in Japan.

The idea was born when a colleague at Aflac’s creative agency pointed out that “Aflac” had a similar sound to a duck’s quack. After some experimentation and planning, the CEO fell in love with the idea and after only one year, the company’s profits shot up by 29 percent. The Aflac duck put the company on the map for insurance in the United States and Japan, its two major markets. Today, Aflac covers 25 percent of households in Japan.

It all started with a quack.

What can we learn from success of brand mascots?

All of the mascots that have taken off and changed a company’s brand recognition involved a company taking risks. Aflac’s CEO was taking a huge leap of faith when he went forward with the idea for the duck commercials as well as the other brands whose mascots are equally quirky.

If all else fails, move on to what’s next. GEICO is a good example of a brand that has evolved from mascot to mascot, creating tremendous buzz and triggering mass renditions, although not all were popular in the public eye. (Check out NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki’s rendition of GEICO’s hump day advertisement.)

When Brand Mascots Go Wrong

According to Business Insider, consumers only like a small percentage of brand mascots. Top reasons include creepiness, obscurity, vagueness and just plain stupidity. Many of the mascots that meet the “most hated” criteria belong to fast food brands. Although McDonald’s mascot, Ronald McDonald, has lasted for decades, he is much less loveable than mascots of other industries that have better engagement with consumers. A possible reason for Ronald McDonald’s lack of success since his 1963 debut might be that clowns are not generally seen as likeable.

What makes a good brand mascot?

  • Humanization of the brand (Or animalization in some cases.)
  • Recognition
  • Humor
  • Uniqueness

The best brand mascots make you feel something. You might hate a company’s attempt at creating a mascot, but chances are, you still recognize the brand and respond to advertisements with a positive or negative response.

What is your favorite brand mascot?

Can’t Put a Price Tag on Passion

My grandmother always told me growing up, “Success is doing what you love and getting paid for it.” I’ve been very fortunate during my college years to have found my passion and gained experience in internships and leadership positions on campus.

As I enter my last year of college and start thinking about where I’d like to work after I graduate, I really hope to find myself in a work environment that challenges me and helps me learn and grow. I hope that I will find my work to be meaningful and a salary would be a great step up!

Although I’m looking forward to ultimate freedom from textbook fees and the good ol’ college budget — complete with Ramen noodles and thrift-store dresses — I’m finding that my salary will probably matter less than I thought it would.

This semester I’m taking an honors leadership class and I love the real-world applicable insight I’ve been gaining on leadership, professional development and personality strengths. Accompanying a recent discussion on motivation, my class watched the TED Talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation” by Daniel Pink. In the presentation, Pink has a lot to say about the differences between management and leadership. An overlying theme of the story is that, “there’s a mismatch in what science know and business does.”

Science has proven that although financial incentives are commonly given to motivate people in the business world today, financial incentives are worthless without passion. Many managers try to coerce their subordinates with carrots and sticks, punishing or rewarding them, which narrows the focus of the followers in effect. Although motivation via carrots and sticks might’ve worked in the past, in today’s day and age, right-brain creative and conceptual thinking cannot be coerced and the companies that cultivate engaging environments derive higher levels of productivity and better overall employee satisfaction. It’s a win-win.

In conclusion, Daniel Pink gives three points as the new operation system for leaders and managers that have worn out the carrot and stick method.  The three points are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives. Autonomy explains that self-direction provides more engagement.
  • Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. This envelopes intrinsic motivation, which is doing work because we believe that what we’re doing is important.
  • Lastly, purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These three points are important because moving into a new era of accepting scientific proof that financial incentives don’t work and moving forward with new methods involving empowering employees rather than coercing them to do their work.

In these least seven months before graduation, I’m focusing on following my purpose and gaining mastery. I’m very passionate about what I do. The more I study public relations, the more I find it to be my calling. Because I feel that what I’m doing matters, I’m motivated to move toward mastery and keep going even though it’s stressful at times. Autonomy in my previous work environment helps me work on my own schedule and I’ve found I’m most productive when I budget my time wisely.

Passion is something that money can’t buy and I’m thankful for the students, mentors and professors that have helped me learn over the past few years. I hope that my upcoming job search will be fruitful and that I will find a work environment that plays up my creative strengths and helps me see the bigger picture.

Personal Brand Identity Crisis

Let me officially introduce you to laurenfrock.com.

After months of having my portfolio, blog and resume on one site, I got a little restless. My online portfolio was uninteresting because it was a series of hyperlinks and screen shots and I didn’t have as much creative flexibility as I wanted. I was also strongly considering a domain name and wanted something bright and fun that would stand out and look professional.

After playing around with my blog and doing some research, I decided to switch over to a site better suited for displaying a portfolio. I’m very happy with the end result!

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I chose Wix.com to personalize my own free site because it was fairly inexpensive to purchase a domain name and upgrade to premium. I also liked that it was easy to edit.

I’m not a expert in website or portfolio making, but if you have questions, feel free to leave a comment below or email me!