Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ramblings and Resolutions

Today’s topic is a gimmee…Resolutions.

New Year’s Resolutions only come in two flavors: You resolve to stop doing something you’ve been doing, or, you resolve to start doing something you haven’t been doing.

I guess the objective of resolutions is to have a better life. If you eat better, exercise a little more, get to bed a little earlier, stress a little less, be a little nicer, and work a little harder maybe life comes out the way you at least think it’s supposed to be.

Which brings me to regrets. Do we create resolutions because, in some cases, we regret not eating better, not exercising enough, staying up later than we should, getting stressed about silly things, not being nice, or slacking off?

I always wonder about those folks who say, “I have no regrets.” It strikes me that if that’s true they either have no imagination or no conscience.

I regret a ton of stuff from the past year and the past decade.

But, when I think of the things I regret I keep thinking that life is like going to the state fair. You’re jacked up about going and you get there in the morning when the sky is bright and the air is cool and the sensory explosion is almost overwhelming and you try to ride every ride no matter how scary and you eat lots of fair food and see all the exhibits and walk until your feet hurt and smell the animals and see lots of people you’re glad you don’t look like and try and win something for your sweetie and get embarrassed ‘cause you don’t or get elated because you do and meet new folks and get lost and then you find the folks you came with and then it starts getting dark and you know you’ll have to leave soon and you push for a little more fair food and a few more rides and exhibits and then, the next thing you know you’re walking through the gate and on your way home. And you ride home tired, and miserable because you ate too much fair food, rode too many rides, and saw exhibits and animal shows until your mind was numb. And you resolve to not do that again.

Or, it’s a good miserable. And you did it all. And you’d do it the same way again. It depends on how you see your day at the fair.

So, does it help to make resolutions? Probably. Just thinking about making resolutions turns out to be an exercise in self-evaluation and that’s a good thing in moderation.

Now, lean back for a few minutes and tally up this past year: Pluses and Minuses. Then tally up the last decade in the same way. Now, look ahead and ask one last question for 2010 and the ‘10s: If I only get one day at the fair, how do I get more of what I want and less of what I don’t want?

And remember, the fair closes sooner rather than later.

Be careful if you’re out tonight.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Where, and Who?

So, how’s your planning for 2010 and after coming along?

Try to look at it from a simple perspective.

Someone once told me that there are only two questions you need to answer in life:
- Where do you want to go?
- Who do you want to take with you?

Where do you want to go physically (your health), spiritually, emotionally, your career, intellectually, and the environment in which you live?

Who do you want to take with you in terms of a significant other, family, friends, and acquaintances?

Where, and who?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That Which is Old is New

Ok, I have a confession that I’m sure some of you will click with: I LOVE quilts!

You may remember what it was like when you were a child. The grown-ups would put you in bed at your grandparents on a cold night and throw all those quilts on top of you. If you were like me you were thinking, “I sure hope they don’t forget me. I can’t even get out from under these things to go pee!”

But, wasn’t it warm? And the weight felt so comforting.

I’ve always loved quilts and about 20 years ago I made few. Not the patchwork style, mind you; even if I had the skills, I don’t have the patience. My quilts were essentially fabric sandwiches stitched together. But, they were cheap to make, felt great and lasted forever. My goal was to make art quilts that I wouldn’t mind throwing on a bed or on the floor.

My Christmas gifts to myself this year were some quilting books and some tools. I’m gettin’ back into quilting and I’ll let you know how it goes.

What activity from the past did you really enjoy that you’ve lost touch with? Wouldn’t you like to rediscover it? You’ll be surprised at how the rediscovery will energize you.

We can all use new/old activities to keep us growing.

What’s yours?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just a Couple of Hours

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Christmas is over and I’ve made it through, alive.

Now, we’re looking down the barrel of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

What do you do with the 3-4 days between right now, Monday, and New Year’s Eve?

Lots of folks see these as the lost days; nothing much happening at work unless you work in retail or an emergency room (and I’ve worked retail so I can tell you that sometimes there’s not much difference).

My suggestion is that you use the time to do some of that planning you always say you are GONNA do, but never get around to. When you hit the ground running next Monday the thought of taking a chunk of time out of your day to plan for the next year, or for the rest of your life, will seem like an impossible luxury.

Here’s your starter: What? Why? Who? Where? When? How? How Much?

Those questions will get you started when creating a plan to do anything.

So, come on and let’s do some planning…for the next year and for life.

I’ll go first.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

All I Want for Christmas

When I stopped at a local mall to buy one last item (something utilitarian for myself…not a gift) I was…well…annoyed at how hard it was to even get into the parking lot. And then almost every spot was taken. And there was an Army of late shoppers frantically trying to get their shopping done.

I know, I know, it’s Christmas.

Ok, I sound like a Scrooge. But, I remember my father saying, “Why is all this buying and going and doing jammed into one time of year? Why can’t we treat people every day like we treat them at Christmas?”

I thought it was kinda dumb at the time. I don’t think it’s dumb now.

Here’s my question: How many of the latest toys (help me with the Zhu Zhu pet thing) and technology will be broken by lunchtime on Christmas Day? How many of the sweaters, shirts, ties, and accessories will never be worn?

Let’s be honest…Christmas is much more for the givers than the getters. It’s about giving what you think the other person should have, not necessarily what they want. And we don’t often know what they really want because we don’t really listen to them.

Here’s my suggestion: Spend the next few days really listening to people. Often, they will tell you in one way or another that they want to truly know (not just hope, think, or assume) that you love them, that you appreciate them, that you are glad they are in your life.

I’ll go first: I’m glad you are here. Thanks for reading.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

See you next Monday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where Ya Comin' From?

In today’s comics Dennis the Menace is sitting on Santa’s lap. He’s been asked the obvious seasonal question and replies, “It depends on what your definition of good is.”

I’ve been thinking about relative definitions lately for a variety of reasons.

Words like good or bad, smart or dumb, fast or slow, strong or weak, can have different definitions for different people.

Your definition depends on…well…the old ‘60s phrase, “where you’re comin’ from.”

Whenever anyone offers an opinion (which is based on where they’re comin’ from) it’s almost impossible for us not to jump to a conclusion depending on where we’re comin’ from.

Taking the time to consider where they might be comin’ from slows us down…and makes us think. And, to be honest, most folks don’t want to do think because they might realize something that challenges where they’re comin’ from.

I think that’s pretty true…or not…dependin’ on where you’re comin’ from.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Duct Taping Children to a Stop Sign

This is the weekend for Christmas parties. For the politically correct and all our friends of non-Christian faiths these would be Holiday Parties.

For many people this is the most wonderful weekend of the year. They get to see old friends, make new ones, and revive traditions. For a lot of other folks, this will be a difficult weekend for a lot of different reasons.

Some people are thrown into situations with family and others with whom they don’t exactly….get along. For those folks, remember, patience is a virtue. And, you can stand anything for a few hours.

For others, it may be a weekend of watching others celebrate. They’ll spend the weekend watching television, riding around looking at lights and buying a couple of presents. For those folks, remember, it’s only a couple of days.

Here are three suggestions that will allow you to live through the weekend and the next week:
- Lighten up. Don’t expect anyone to be perfect. Retail and food service workers, fellow partiers, other drivers, and family members are experiencing much of the same stress you are.
- Consume 2/3 what you would normally consume. That goes for meals, drinks, snacks, anything you ingest. You don’t have to feel miserable to celebrate.
- Find time to take a nap. A short one is great, a longer one is better. Even if you have to duct-tape your kids to the columns out on the porch, or a sign out on the street, it’s a high stress time and you need more rest.

Have a wonderful weekend and get a great start on the holidays….whichever ones you’re celebrating.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Belle of the Ball

Recently, I read an article that noted North Carolina’s dubious honor as one of the primary sources of fake IDs.

For some reason my mind jumped immediately to the diploma mills you see on the internet.

OK, so I had a weak moment and for the fun of it got ordained as a minister by an internet church. According to what I found out I can perform weddings, and do christenings and funerals. I was thinking about getting one of those “Minister” stickers for my car so that I could park anywhere, but that’s probably more than you need to know. Bless you.

Back to the diploma mills. There’s an online university that, if you want to read about 10 books and write 10 papers, they’ll give you a doctorate. Now, let’s be honest. The credibility of having a doctorate could provide access to a fair number of opportunities, especially considering what I do for a living.

However, when their promotional materials said that at the end of the program you get “a diploma suitable for framing,” the whole thing seemed a little ridiculous.

You’d be surprised if you knew how many folks are faking it…faking education, credentials (oh yeah, no one lies on resumes, especially in a tough economy), lifestyles, income, political views, attitudes…you name it. My friends from Texas talk about people who are all hat and no cattle.

In fact, there is that wonderful cliché: Fake it ‘til you make it.

Here’s the deal: Don’t feel inferior, intimidated or outdone by someone until they’ve shown that they have the credibility, skills, accomplishments or….mmm…juice…to warrant your respect.

Be cordial, but don’t assume that just because they’re wearing a pretty dress they’re the belle of the ball.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We're Doomed!

Today is George Santayana’s birthday (1863-1952).

A philosopher, writer and educator, it was Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

WE’RE DOOOMED! DOOOOMED, I SAY!!!!!

Just kiddin’. I like that doomed phrase.

Here’s the lesson: What did you learn yesterday that you can use today?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Toads or Toast?

Should you do your most important task first thing each day?

Mark Twain said, “If you have to eat a toad, eat it first thing in the morning.”

Toads or not, I wonder if the “first thing” philosophy is best.

I believe that for morning people the first thing strategy works. But, for people whose energy level jumps in the afternoon, maybe mid-afternoon focus is best.

Ask yourself, “If I had to eat a toad when”…mmm…maybe another example would work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

If You Don't Go, You Don't Know

“If you don’t go, you don’t know.”

I first saw the quote above in the wonderful monthly column, “What I’ve Learned,” in Esquire magazine. If you aren’t familiar with the column, go to esquire.com, click Features, then click What I’ve Learned. The interviews range across the entire spectrum of society.

Back to the quote.

It is absolutely the truth. There are many situations in life in which other people just ab-so-lutely can not tell you what it’s like, whatever it is. So, unless you go, there is no way you can know.

However, the danger is that the price of knowing may not be worth the going.

And, that’s the rub. You may not begin to know the price until you are on the way, until you are in the process of going. The sluggoes around you will say, “I told you so.” “You knew you shouldn’t have gone.” “I hate you for going.” “The rules said you couldn’t/shouldn’t go.”

But, they aren’t you.

The silver lining is that once you know…you know. And, in knowing, you find that your life has changed. Any time you learn something new, especially if it’s in the big categories, your life changes.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned about, “If you don’t go, you don’t know,”…once you know, what do you do with the knowing?

If the knowing changes your life for the better it was worth going, no matter what the cost. If it changes your life in a negative way, at least now you know.

If you learn something important and you keep doing the same things…you’re a dope.

The quote came from an interview with Robert Deniro.

Go somewhere this week…so you’ll know.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Using a Whip and Chair in the Center Ring

Yesterday, I had a great time lecturing in the Executive Masters Program at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health.

Well, lecturing is not really the right word….being a ringmaster is more appropriate. I do this a couple of times a year and the folks who run the program and the attendees are great. Many of the attendees are physicians, executives with health care organizations, and consultants. They are all smart people and almost all of them are focused, ambitious, high-energy folks WHO WOULDN’T LET GO OF THEIR CRACKBERRIES AND LAPTOPS TO STOP EMAILING DURING THE LECTURE EVEN IF YOU HELD A GUN TO THEIR HEADS!

So, I didn’t hold a gun to their heads…I made a deal with them. I said, “We’ll get out a little bit early as long as I don’t see a laptop or hand-held device in use during class time.”

And you know what? They did it. Amazing!

However, it wasn’t that amazing if you understand that, together, we found the appropriate reward.

People will most often perform the way you want as long as you offer the reward they want. Just realize, it may not be the reward you would want.

Where do you want to go? And what reward do you want waiting for you when you get there?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't Waste Your Time

Are you trying to hard?

At some point we reach a point of diminishing returns.

In lots of areas of life we get to a point where the same effort brings less rewards. A great example is eating…anything. After awhile your taste buds deaden out and you gain less enjoyment frm continuing to eat or drink the same thing.

This often happens in efforts we make in life. While I admire folks who say, “I always give 100%!,” I don’t think some of them are all that smart.

In about 80% of the projects we get involved in we could do them 80% and we’d be fine. The extra 20% we put into them do not bring us all that much more reward or pleasure.

In about 20% of the projects we get involved in we need to give 100% (and talking about giving 110% is just a saying, it’s impossible to do).

One of your most important objectives in life is to figure out what to give 80% to and what to give 100% to.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nothing Works the First Time

Like many movie fans I am eagerly awaiting the much-promoted new movie, Avatar, directed by James Cameron (Titanic, Aliens, Terminator). It premieres a week from Friday, on December 18.

A wonderful article about the movie in the current issue of Time magazine notes that during the filming (that’s kind of an obsolete word in a digital world, isn’t it?) a crew member wrote a set catchphrase on a whiteboard: “It’s Avatar, dude, nothing works the first time.”

The technology Cameron used is so new (it supposedly creates 3-D images that you don’t need the silly, cardboard glasses to see) that…well…nothing worked the first time.

I’m in the middle of trying to learn some new technology myself and am frustrated beyond what is probably good for me. My young friends aren’t daunted and I envy their patience.

I’m going to take the note from the Avatar set to heart; “Dude, nothing works the first time.”

How much more patient and less frustrated would we be if we looked at a lot of the challenges we take on in life like that? Wouldn’t we cut ourselves a little more slack than we often do?

Try it: “Dude...or Dudette...nothing works the first time.”

(Unless it’s a parachute.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You Never Know

Not long ago I read an article pushing the idea that the music of The Beatles was a significant force in influencing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR.

The point was that the freedom expressed by the music showed young Soviets that there might be something better in a different way of life.

The irony of today is that it’s the anniversaries of the murder of John Lennon (‘80) and the day the USSR was dissolved (‘91).

When I read the article I thought it was a cool thought, whether true or not. But, when I saw the two anniversaries of today I thought, “We never know the effect we have on others.”

And then I thought about an email a friend sent last week. I know some of it is hokey, but here’s part of the email:

1. At least 2 people in this world love you so much they would die for you.

2. At least 15 people in this world love you in some way.

3. A smile from you can bring happiness to anyone, even if they don't like you.

4. Every night, SOMEONE thinks about you before they go to sleep.

5. You mean the world to someone.

6. If not for you, someone may not be living.

7. Someone that you don't even know exists loves you.

8. If you have a great friend, take the time to let them know that they are great.

9. When you make the biggest mistake ever, something good can still come from it.

10. When you think the world has turned its back on you, take a look: you most likely turned your back on the world.

***The key is that we often do not know the effect we have on others…on life…in the short or long term.

Seems to me that the best idea is to do the best you can, with what you have, where you are, and in spite of what seems to be a negative world in many ways, believe that good things will happen.

By the way, today is also Jim Morrison’s birthday (’43, The Doors).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Not Start With a Laugh?

Why not start the week off with a laugh? These are actual comments made on students' report cards by teachers in the New York City public school system. All teachers were reprimanded, but boy, are these funny!
1. Since my last report, your child has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.
2. I would not allow this student to breed.
3. Your child has delusions of adequacy.
4. Your son is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
5. Your son sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.
6. The student has a 'full six-pack' but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together
7. This child has been working with glue too much.
8. When your daughter's IQ reaches 50, she should sell.
9. The gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming.
10. If this student were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week.
11. It's impossible to believe the sperm that created this child beat out 1,000,000 others.
12. The wheel is turning but the hamster is definitely dead.

Have a great week!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Technology is Magic to Some of Us

Am trying to put together a new website and I continue to be amazed at how young people today are so comfortable with technology. I have some young friends, one of whom is brilliant with web-based tools, and it’s like watching David Copperfield perform magic when this young guy puts his hands on a keyboard.

The news that many of us over 40 don’t want to hear is that if you are not comfortable with web issues, Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In you are truly falling behind in the workplace…and in life.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we live in a world in which we are all connected. And it’s going to get better…or worse, depending on how you view these issues.

Look at it like this, it’s all change and change is good. It might not make us comfortable but it isn’t slowing down so the best thing to do is embrace it, understand that there will be an almost constant level of anxiety for a lot of us with gray hair, and learn as much as you can as fast as you can.

Try this: Learn one new thing on your computer or cell phone this weekend. In fact, if you have kids, get them to teach it to you. They’ll like the teaching part, you’ll be ok with their teasing, and you both win.

And, if you care about someone who likes sports…just understand that they will be glued to the TV tomorrow with all the college football conference championships and hot college basketball games being played. Bring’em a cold drink and get’em to promise to do something nice for you in exchange for your patience.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Devil or Angel?

Last night was great, the Bio Network showed a two-hour special about one of the greatest movies ever made, Animal House.

One of my favorite scenes is when Pinto, played by Tom Hulce, takes a young girl to a bedroom during a party. (Hulce was educated at the North Carolina School of the Arts and later nominated for Best Actor for Amadeus)

When his date passes out before they can …mmm….start, Pinto is conflicted about what to do. In a hilarious sequence that is so true to life in so many situations he experiences a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil and angel are obviously his good and bad natures, and they are both telling him what he should do. If you’ve seen the movie you know that the angel wins and the devil is not happy about it as the two little characters poof into oblivion.

Our devils and angels argue all the time about decisions we make in life. One of my friends says that sometimes you have to treat your conscience like a dog, “Tell it to shut up and go sit in the corner.” I don’t know that that is a good idea, but I do know there are times we wish we had listened to the voice on the other shoulder.

However, don’t just think that the devil is bad and angel is good. Think about the times when you do something that is out there on the edge and you might use the Flip Wilson, “The devil made me do it” reasoning. The devil could be a good devil pushing you into an experience that will expand and enlighten you. Your cautious angel is trying to hold you back, to keep you safe. If you are waaaaay tightly tied to the good/bad connection, you might want to think of the angel as your inner voice coaxing you to a better life (even if it is kinda scary) while the devil is trying to keep you in a rut.

Interestingly, when older people are asked what they regret most in life they almost always respond that it’s the things they did not do that they regret more than what they did do.

There’s something you are trying to decide. Which are you listening to today…angel or devil?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Little Human Gifts

Today is Special Education Day and Special Kids Day, a day on which we honor children with developmental and physical challenges.

There are a couple of children, girls, in my extended family who live with challenges and I am always amazed at what appears to be their level of happiness and joy. They seem to experience life in the moment and revel in everything from a kitten to a piece of candy. I always wonder what life looks like through their eyes.

One of the children, Abby, suffers from Rett’s Syndrome, a severely debilitating condition that afflicts 1 in 50,000 girls. For years, when Abby saw me or heard my voice she would shout, “Mike!” In fact, she shouted it at a funeral at which I was a pallbearer. It was one of the most delightful moments of my life.

We are often inhibited from interacting with children with special needs because of our concern that we won’t know how to act if they do or say something we are unprepared to handle.

Don’t let your concerns prevent you from at least smiling and nodding to the parent and the child. Your smile may be the only smile they see that day.

These little human gifts deserve all the smiles they can get, and they will often be the first to give you one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Woodie in Some Old Jeans

I've been amazed by a couple of things over the last few days: the Tiger Woods silliness and a short piece that was in the paper about a pair of century-old denim jeans selling for $25,000 at auction.

Here's my take on these events: Either we live in a society that is so wonderfully successful and affluent that a family spat and 100+ year-old blue jeans make the news...or...we are so adrift in a sea of irrelevance that a family spat and 100+ year-old blue jeans make the news.

I'm thinking it's probably a little of both.

But, here's the more important point, when you read the sentences above you had one of two thoughts: Isn't that wonderful...or, We're screwed.

You were either positive or negative, or, as you might interpret the situation about other peoples' perceptions, they were either realistic or delusional.

You interpreted the events based on your world/life view. There's a ton of new research that shows that a more postive, optimistic view of life is better for your health and can, in fact, lead to a longer life.

So, my view is that I hope the Woods' get a handle on their disagreements and I hope whoever bought those jeans can fit into'em.