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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 116: April 2009)
Techniques for balance
There is a story I heard (from a priest) about a priest assigned to a new parish. He was a stranger in the town, and quickly became lost trying to walk to the church from the train station. He wandered into a bad part of the city, and suddenly felt a gun in his ribs, and someone demanding his wallet.
The priest quickly opened his trench coat to extract his billfold from an inside pocket, revealing his clerical collar. The robber said, "You're a priest, I can't rob you. Put your wallet away," and he lowered the gun.
"You are troubled my son," said the priest, let's talk. I see a tavern on the far corner, I'm happy to buy you a beer."
"Oh, we can't do that Father," said the thief quickly, "I gave up alcohol for Lent!"
What this story reinforces for me is that life is about decisions based on priorities. Some of us aren't that good at decision making, and some of us are excellent, but none of us is successful if we're making decisions about the wrong priorities.
I would never be pretentious enough to prescribe others' priorities, but I am observant enough to tell you that they often seem strange to me. Just this morning, I received a question from a business owner I'm coaching which went like this: "What language have you found effective to push reluctant customers into a gig before the end of the fiscal year?"
That priority is just wrong on so many levels. The key, to me, is what's in the client's best interests? Another priority is to have ongoing relationships which prevail throughout the year. And still another is that I'm not interested in "gigs" or assignments, but rather in results and outcomes. In just one sentence, he revealed that he and I are working on the basis of vastly differing priorities.
What are your REAL priorities in life and work? Are they dictated by obligations and customers and family and community norms? Or do you establish what you feel is the right emphasis for you and your loved ones? Are they symbiotic with those around you, or dictated to you (or forced upon others)?
I think we need to think about those priorities more and more, adjusting them as life, maturity, and experiences dictate. Giving up alcohol while committing armed robbery is fairly ridiculous.
But, then, so is working so hard to support your family that you don't get to spend much time with them.
For some time-I mean many years-I've been hearing the lament of victimization. It was the economy (long before it WAS the economy), or technology, or cheap overseas labor, or government regulation, or the fates. It was always something, but it was never the lamenters themselves.
There are people suffering today, who can't meet basic debts, who are losing their savings, who are destitute, homeless, and malnourished. We owe our neighbors and colleagues our help. But first, people have to help themselves.
Individuals who have purchased too large a house, too many TVs, too many cars, and charged expensive vacations, assuming credit would hold up the house of cards, made very poor decisions. The first thing to do is to recognize that. The chief financial officer of a major company, making $250,000 per year, is losing the family multi-million dollar home because his income is being reduced and he can no longer afford a $12,000 monthly mortgage (this story appeared in the Wall Street Journal).
He could NEVER afford a $12,000 monthly mortgage on that income, and he is supposedly a financial expert! There may be a basic right to freedom and happiness and liberty, but there is no such right to two homes, three cars, and six televisions, nor to private schooling, nor to retiring at 50 years old. These are all choices that we have to weigh for ourselves in terms of our ability to pay for them-not charge them and hope to pay for them.
The first step to reduce the catholic (small "c") fear pervading society is to admit that a great deal of the problem emanates from poor decisions we made, not from bad luck. (The unlucky ones invested in funds they thought were safe which, in turn, invested in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. But those who invested directly with him easily should have known better but thought they had a "free ride.") Once we purge ourselves of blaming others, we free ourselves to take command of our own lives again.
I think people are starting to do this.
If poor decisions can cause economic chaos, good decisions can result in fiscal responsibility and confidence in the system. There is plenty of money sitting on the sidelines, waiting for more assurance, more stability. There is a plethora of jobs requiring talent which will open up once banks lend and businesses can reinvest in their growth.
I don't know when we will see strong evidence of this turnaround, but I'm confident it's coming. Fear is often good for us, because it prevents us from rash action. But the larger fear now should be fear of inaction.
We all have to get back to our lives and our professions and our businesses, but this time taking responsibility for making better decisions.
I kept getting calls from my wife's friends and colleagues on boards, who were calling on my business phone. I was furious, and not all that polite as I frostily took messages. I couldn't reach my wife, who has the knack for finding the six square yards in New England without cell phone coverage whenever she goes somewhere, and I'd left her some crisp messages.
Searching for an answer, I picked up the business line, dialed the house, and got a busy signal. So I then called the phone company and unloaded on them.
A somewhat bored woman asked, "You're answering your business phone and talking to people?"
"And people you're talking to have said they dialed the house phone?"
"Yes, the wires are obviously crossed!"
"Did you use call forwarding today on your business phone?"
"Yes! Why is that relevant to….?"
"Do you use a two-line phone on your desk?"
"Yes, but what's…..?"
"Sir, you did not forward your business phone to your answering system, you forwarded your house phone to your business phone by punching the wrong line when you entered the forwarding code. Unforward your house phone and things should be fine. Have a nice day."
Of course, she was talking to a highly trained problem solver….
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