The Not So Obvious Way to Surround Yourself With Good People

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

Italian Fix leads with compassion

We all have our North Stars.

North Stars are the things we naturally move towards and use as our motivation.

Today I have something to say about one of mine: COMPASSION.

A few years back, I remember watching my daughter, who was five at the time, get her heart shattered into a million pieces.

You could see her small body contort and each muscle on her face flex as she wailed, dropped her library books in the muddy parking lot, and ran to the scene of her own personal tragedy.

She arrived at her plastic “bug cage” that was sitting on the ground with the lid off. That morning she had brought it to school, where she had carefully placed three tent caterpillars, harvested from the cherry tree in our backyard along with sticks, leaves, grass and whatever else a five-year-old believes caterpillars will need to survive a day of kindergarten.

Two playmates from school had gotten ahold of the cage, opened it, removed a caterpillar… and stomped on it. “You need to kill these kind,” snapped one of the boys.

Apparently, these boys were taught that tent caterpillars were merely pests.

But my daughter had no idea.

To her, these little dudes were a thing of beauty. Colorful, furry, funny in the way they moved — a winning combination for show-and-tell.

Having compassion and empathy for all living things is just how she “came out.”

And I think that’s beautiful.

Compassion is NOT the icing.

I’ve definitely fallen short on some traditional “mom traits.” Like, I rarely make time to sew or craft because I have a low threshold for that much mess on my kitchen table. But I’ve always tried to demonstrate being compassionate to others, and I’m proud that this has rubbed off on her.

Having compassion and empathy for others isn’t the icing on the cake — it IS the CAKE.

It’s a foundation that other values perch upon.

The reality is, you and I could be wildly different from each other — where we live, how we spend our days etc… But if we share the same worldview of compassion and empathy, we’re probably more similar than dissimilar.

We have a willingness to step into others’ shoes.

My dream is to see more compassion in my lifetime from the “higher ups” — the men and women running our countries, schools, and the companies we do business with every day.

Businesses can be a vehicle for social change. When I first started offering trips to Italy (before I had enough business savvy to even recoup the costs of the tour), I started lending money to women in developing countries via the microfinance company Kiva.

While that continues to be an excellent vehicle to help others, we also have some other initiatives on the radar so we can feel like we’re doing more as we grow.

Compassion Leads. Always.

The decisions you and I make are really just the result of the beliefs that organize our behavior.

Whether in our families, our PAC meetings, or companies we may build or hire, values matter.

You might think that the best part of owning a travel company is all the traveling I get to do.

That’s not actually the truth.

The best part of what I get to do is form incredible CONNECTIONS, by building a team, building products, and serving customers. I get to work with interesting and passionate people who are showing up and doing their best. For our company and for our customers.

The Inner Circle

Truth be told, there are plenty of great restaurants we just don’t take our clients to because the owners are so insanely rude. No food is so delicious that it makes up for the bad vibe those meals are served with. (It’s really handy to not look Italian but speak Italian, because you’re privy to all the background chit-chat that staff in hotels/restaurants assume you can’t understand.)

I just can’t stomach doing business with jerks. If you don’t care, we don’t come.

Our service providers in Italy (think chefs, drivers, concierges, guides) are hand-picked by us.

We don’t just focus on what they deliver. We focus on HOW they deliver it. That’s part of the package for us. We want to do business with outstanding providers that are ALSO incredible humans, each working their strengths to the best of their abilities.

Great PRODUCT + great PROVIDER translates to:

  • a restaurateur who comes over to the table with “just a little something extra,” not because it’s good for his bottom line, but because it’s good for his heart line. He loves to share.
  • the driver who heard it was a client’s birthday, so he brought her a slice of “torta” from home.
  • the concierge who raided his personal medicine cabinet to dig up some throat lozenges when he heard I was losing my voice.

It takes decades, connections, and a willingness to find these people. Eventually the cream always rises to the top. We skim that cream!

As far as our staff, my question before the hire is, “Would I enjoy working with this person if I were locked in a hotel room with them for a week?” Our customer service lead, Kiiri, who I’ve known for 15 years, stuns our clients with her detailed answers to their questions as they prep for their trip.

One of our newest clients, Bev, who traveled with us on the Southern Italy trip this year, had several questions about Europe, since she was planning to head to Croatia and France after she traveled with us in Italy. Kiiri explained all of the intricacies related to foreign plugs, adapters and data plans that Bev needed to consider for her summer sojourn. She was happy to help with Bev’s questions because she really cared about making sure her two-month trip through France, Italy and Croatia was a success, even if Bev was only going to be with us for ten days.

I found this in the inbox while looking for something else and it made me smile 🙂

Kiiri customer service queen at Italian Fix

As far as our lead guides, who are the hosts that you spend time with every day of your tour and who are responsible for your health and well-being (and fun!), choosing the right people REALLY IS rocket science. There are so many important qualities the perfect lead guide has to have. I was the lead guide for six years and know how crucial it is. Now, with multiple departures each year, we have brought on more people to fill this critical role.

Our lead guides are basically, ya know, your standard-issue unicorn. They have a Swiss Army set of skills:

  • Someone compassionate with a great heart who puts PEOPLE first. This is how I’m wired and I make sure all of our lead guides are wired the same way.
  • Someone who’s next-level organized, but not uptight.
  • Someone who’s constantly ten steps ahead of the entire weekly strategy, but is “in the moment” when you’re breaking bread at dinner or joking together on the drive.
  • Someone who has the energy of a racehorse, but the empathy of Mother Teresa

The lead guide on our Sicily and Southern Italy trip is named Tommaso, and he’s SUCH a sweet person (I’m hugging him, below). The very first time we traveled with a group together, he told me that if the weather was good and his mamma was feeling fine, he would invite his parents to have lunch with our guests. Then he brought everyone to his private home for limoncello.

Tommaso, Italian Fix guide, and Bianca

Another lead guide, Gina, who heads up our Cinque Terre trips, is more doting than a Sicilian grandmother. She carries scarves in her bag in case people get cold. And she took one of our clients shopping and decided, just because it would be adorable, that she would buy the same top and they would meet us for lunch dressed as twins. (Gina is below, with the dark hair on the right.)

Gina guide for Italian Fix

The other day our group hit rain, but that didn’t stop her. She flew into a store to buy everyone umbrellas. After all, if she were traveling in a foreign country trying to have a holiday, she would have liked someone to hand her an umbrella the second she needed it too.

Nowhere in the training manual of the company does it say:

  • Buy umbrellas at the corner store if you feel raindrops
  • Bring extra clothes in case clients need to wear yours
  • Invite your mamma to meet everyone
  • Buy matching outfits with your own money, just to make the group have a laugh

They do these things because that’s how COMPASSIONATE people act.

“Hire for the heart, train for the skills.” – Me

You can’t teach that “heart” stuff. You either have it, or you don’t.

And I think “having it” is totally and utterly key to making this planet a waaaay more peaceful place to hang out on.

If you get a chance, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this question:

What values do you consider most important when you buy an “experiential” product? (A flight, a dinner out, a spa appointment?)

I love reading your comments so please don’t be shy! Each week I learn from you.

Thanks again for your input.

With love + almond granita,

Bianca

Image credits from top to bottom: Caroline White, Stefano Butturini, Bianca Gignac

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean

Enjoying your thoughts on compassion and others comments…life is so much richer when you are surrounded by compassion, respect and ❤️ love

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Bianca @ Italian Fix

Hey Jean, Appreciate you adding to the conversation. Grazie! I agree that compassion, respect and love does make us richer. At the very least it raises us above the “muck” and into a positive mindset (which is so needed right now, because the TV blasts all the worst news). Looking forward to keeping in touch. xx Bianca

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Kathryn

I wholeheartedly agree that compassion is essential to good relationships. If you are interested in learning more please look up the interesting work that Kristin Neff and Jeff Germer (psychologists) are doing on compassion and on having compassion for yourself. Ciao.

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Bianca @ Italian Fix

Kathryn, Thanks for your comment and sharing these references. Looking forward to checking them out. xx Bianca

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Jeannie

Compassion is what the world needs right now and it starts with our children…

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JodyO

As a mother of two teenage boys, I agree with Jeannie. It’s important to teach our children. The best way for them to learn is to model the behaviour. I too would love the leaders of our nations to demonstrate this more. Having said that, I see so many compassionate examples in my life everyday from everyday people like you and I. It gives me hope that little by little one act of kindness may just be enough to spark another and another. Thanks Bianca. you have given us all some great food for thought. now about that almond granita… xx

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El

We do need more compassion and kindness in the world
Good customer service is crucial as well
In one of my past lifetimes, as a corporate manager I taught customer service
Those few who didn’t want to get it were the ones who had the most difficulty with their clients
I stand by it today
whether giving or receiving and
am quick to drop any service that does not give good customer care No matter how much I want the product
This also goes for kindness and compassion
We are responsible for teaching it and sharing it

I love your business and parenting model

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Jeannie

Bianca, I think our compassion to others helps us to focus on the good…a way to help others including ourselves, in these crazy times were living….thank you so much for your thoughts. They are really appreciated.
Ciao

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