June 1, 2022

Five Stars: Why I Write Reviews. Why I Coach Magical People.

Why do I write reviews

I write reviews. I have always written reviews in one form or another. Before the internet, it was just far less efficient. More non-scaleable oral history than viral exuberance.

I wrote my first Yelp review 15 years ago, and I’ve written another 100 since then. I rely on star ratings on hotel booking sites, so I usually rate those that I love, or hate, in service of others.

I’ve shared before that I am the Conscious Leadership Company Coach at G2, the premier review site for software. I am not so much “in” the business with them, but I occasionally watch their comms to see how they engender more authentic, high-quality software reviews. This often leaves me wondering what makes me take the time to write reviews.

Note, I am a dramatic avoider of friction. I am often at inbox zero, I’m a ruthless unsubscriber (sorry about this email, if you read my blog that way), and I actively delegate delegateable tasks to my Chief Enabler (and stellar EA). I treasure free time. Not because I’m using that free time to necessarily solve a major social ill. Sometimes I’m binge-watching Gilmore Girls for the third time. I just love the feeling of space around time.

In that context, it strikes me that my penchant to occasionally write an often-detailed review for a restaurant, hotel, or experience is contraindicated.

I nailed it today. I am moved to write a review when something completely blows my mind. Most often, my mind finds itself blown by an incredible moment, an unexpected experience, a surprise, a delight. Once every few years, it is an inexplicably awful experience. In those instances, or shortly after they occur, I write a review in the place I find to be most meaningful to the business owner.

Here’s a typical review of mine, a 5-star review written on Yelp about a meal last week at David’s Restaurant in Portland, Maine.

This place is superb. Everything about it. Creativity in menu creation, fantastic food execution, genial service, cool and relaxed surroundings. If you imagine that the only thing you're going to eat in Maine is whole lobster, go do that. If you get weary of that or your partner isn't on that crustacean train, go to David's. Either way. Go to David's. I recommend specifically two things: the veggie dumplings, which come with the "ends" of Asian-steeped beef. OMG. I also had a salad of cheddar, Granny Smith apples, perfectly roasted walnuts, greens, and the ability to get some other Asian-infused beef on top of it. It was divine. Can you tell I was sick of seafood:)? And, David's has that too.

Put this place on your agenda. Reserve soon for summer. Enjoy.

Here’s another for the Rogue Valley Roasting Company in Ashland, Oregon:

This is the kind of locally owned that feels local. I'm sitting on the lovely remodeled porch at RVRC right now, and the owner is working with a couple of other guys cutting wood to improve a couple of doors, seemingly the finishing touches on a magnificent renovation.

This place is BEAUTIFUL, and it feels like home (if you're home had hand-made beautiful wood patio benches, a built in gas fire pit, lovely tile and menu boards, and a seriously fancy Italian espresso machine). My home doesn't have these things and also doesn't have extremely amazing coffee and creative baked goods. So I'm HERE.

One more thing, which I say with caution because I want you to come here, buy stuff, tip your genial servers, et al. But...it may be the fastest WiFi I've experienced anywhere.

So don't come here and open a home theater on your iPad, but come enjoy the food, liquids, friendly service and just-central-enough spot in Ashland.

And one more, from Baked & Wired in DC:

Seriously? A cupcake is a cupcake is a cupcake.  What makes the entire experience is the frosting, and baked & wired has this down.  You might think brown is chocolate and white is vanilla and life is packed with drudgery and predictability.

You'd be wrong at baked & wired, where white is sometimes espresso, and sometimes cream cheesy, and always layered on with the kind of consistency that makes you feel you better chew and not just lick.

This is no fluffy lard with a whiff of sugar situation.  This is the best frosting on earth.  Run don't walk.

Do you see what I’m saying? These reviews are about beef, wifi, and frosting respectively. It is THAT short-term love affair, that overwhelming sense of deep appreciation and wonder, that prompts me to write some swoony ode.

I had dinner with one of my oldest friends last week (at an excellent restaurant in New York, which I did not review). She was sharing with my partner a quality of mine she feels has been part of me since fifth grade.

"Sue sees some tiny detail of a thing. Like a bug on the street and the way the bug is moving. She notices. She admires. She raves. And that quality makes me more aware and more present to what is happening around me.”

I don’t remember this in me as a kid. When I think about it in me as an adult, my inner critic says I’m just as likely to complain about something as I am to appreciate it. I’m not sure what the “truth” is.

And I can see that if that story is true (at least to Lauren), then perhaps it is exactly that behavior that comes through in my decision to write a review and in the way I write the review.

Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

I gush. I’m convinced I’m right. I kinda want to convince you, gentle reader, that I’m right. I want the person who made the beef, wifi, or frostings to know that I saw them and their excellence in what they’ve created.

This behavior is pretty consistent with how I live, how I pick friends, how I gravitate to a new show, or restaurant, or artist, or book.

This is also getting more relevant to how I work. I feel fortunate to be in a position to choose whom I work with. It perhaps has always been true, but I’m now catching up with this realization. I want to be around people who have magical features. I have a story that I spot those pretty easily, and I have a further story that, through coaching, I can amplify them in others and also help a person upend the patterns that get in the way of the magic.

So sometimes that “magic-spotting” probably looks like gushing. And sometimes it looks like pushing… against the behaviors that interfere with things that are really special.

The flip side is I am getting more attuned to the experiences that drain my energy. I’ve long ago given up on coaching engagements with people for whom coaching is a required condition of continued employment, for example. Coaching can be very helpful in these situations. It’s just not for me. I want to work with people who are not just magical, but also hungry to grow, learn, be pushed, take risks, and face down the unknown even when doing that is frightening for the well-entrenched ego structures we carry around.

So I am a person who sees and reveres the extraordinary. Extraordinary is not just about the most fancy restaurants and it is not just about the most senior executives. It looks like hunger mixed with potential mixed with a perhaps-inexplicable form of optimism.

Five stars for that.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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