The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: February 2002
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for balance
- The Human Condition: Not giving up
- This and that
- NVJ (no value judgment)
- If you're traveling with heavy baggage, and the airport hassles cause you stress, think about sending your bags ahead by FedEx or UPS. For a couple of hundred dollars (at most) you may just be buying yourself a great deal of peace of mind.
- Never agonize over a couple of bucks. If you're not sure whether to tip, or if you've tipped enough, include the extra. It doesn't matter to you in the long run and, in the short run, you'll have an easier day.
- Set up your email software for queued messages and not instantly sent messages. When you're ready to actually mail them, read over every one that is negative, accusatory, or defensive, and ask yourself if you really want to send it. If you merely wait an hour, you'll find that you'll change or delete at least half of these angry missives (and save a few relationships).
- My kids convinced me that DVDs are worth watching, and I've found that they're best to revisit favorite movies. Options such as different angles, optional endings that weren't used, critical analyses of the action, insights into special effects, and other features add immense value to old "friends." (All right, the first one I watched was "Creature from the Black Lagoon," one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and it was great!)
- There are some urgent calls which require you to remain on "hold" for long periods—airline reward tickets, cable television problems, health insurance claims, and so on. Invest in a speaker for your phone, and leave the charming "hold" music on the speaker while you work on your computer, watch TV, or build a house extension. Don't fixate on the delay, because there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
- Some people have told me that they use their vacation days to take frequent long weekends off, rather than weeks at a time. With just two weeks and a few well-timed holidays, you could do this a minimum of once a month. If you're self-employed, you can do it every week!
- If you feel slightly ill, or uncertain about a physical condition, don't talk to friends or look it up on the Internet. Call your physician. (If your physician won't talk to you, get another one.) The stress from worrying about what certain symptoms may mean is often worse than an actual illness.
- The new digital cameras, which are uploaded to an Internet site, such as Ofoto.com, provide for albums of photos which can be accessed by other family members or friends, cropped and altered (e.g., remove "red eye"), and ordered on line. You can also see the photo right in the camera and decide whether it's good enough or another is required immediately.
- I know it seems hokey, but these "sound machines" which play rainforests, or oceans, or tropical jungles while you go to sleep are really quite relaxing. (And you can be awakened to roosters, church gongs, or whatever else gets you out of bed with a smile.)
- If there's a more important special day than Valentine's Day, I'm not sure what it is. Make nice to someone you love.
I was playing poker once at a remote corporate compound in northern Minnesota with my CEO client and his four top officers. It was after a day of strategy work, a huge dinner, and fine wine. The "pot" never exceeded about $20, so little damage could be done.
During one hand, the CEO and I were the only ones left, and I belatedly realized that I had a pair of fours, since I wasn't paying close attention (or the wine was even better than I had thought). This is not exactly a power hand. But, in for a dime, in for a dollar, and I kept raising the ante. The pot grew to $25 and I raised still again. The CEO considered for a long time and dropped out. As he folded his hand I saw that he had three tens. Neither of us ever said a word about that hand.
I don't recommend charging through life with two fours, but I do believe that we should stay in the game as long as we possibly can. Too many of us drop out too fast.
Sales people often give up too early, at the least sign of resistance (or what they perceive to be resistance); mediocre athletes give less than 100 percent for the entire game; otherwise determined people will bend in the face of opposition at the school board, zoning committee, or little league meeting; sometimes just one more bid would have secured that hotly contested item at an auction.
I won the greatest chess game I ever played after my opponent had captured my queen, ordinarily a fatal development. He asked if I wanted to resign, and I said, "Are you crazy? I still have all my other pieces!" I launched a relentless attack, never letting up, and checkmated him in a game most people wouldn't have bothered trying to finish. I've come from behind more than a few times in my life, usually because of two dynamics: my perseverance, and others' belief that I was done for.
I don't mind being bested by someone else, so long as I've given my best. The other person deserves credit, and I've probably learned something. But I hate giving up, because that is within my control. Even more importantly, how many of us give up too early on relationships, passions, self-development, and recovery?
John Paul Jones, in the rebuilt French merchant ship Bon Homme Richard, engaged and defeated the larger, heavier armed British war ship Serapis. When Jones's ship had a hole in its side "large enough to drive a coach and four through," as one observer noted, the British asked if he would like to surrender. "Surrender?" shouted Jones in one of the most famous of all battle replies, "I have not yet begun to fight!"
When the British finally pulled down the colors, Jones had to transfer his command to the captured ship because his own literally sunk beneath him. But he won the battle because he refused to give up.
The ship might be taking on water, but that's no reason to give up. "It's not over until it's over" said the sage, Yogi Berra, and it's usually up to us when we deem it over. Life is short.
Don't give up.
I'm sitting poolside at the Marriott Resort in Lihue, Kauai. There are four waterfalls embracing five Jacuzzis, a bridge connecting to an island in the middle of the pool, and enough palm trees to constitute a coconut plantation, shielding the pool from the Pacific.
But I'm focused on a small patch of ground beside my chair where my wife has accidentally dropped a two-inch piece of bread from her lunch. There are eight dove-like birds focused quite determinedly on devouring this manna.
Yet unlike most birds I've seen, from pigeons to sea gulls, they are not fighting over the morsel, but cooperating. The birds form a disciplined circle around the bread, reminiscent of a rugby scrum, but without the eye-gouging violence. As the crust is pecked and flipped around, the scrum moves to new locations, always intent on surrounding the bread, now progressively disappearing under the jack-hammer attacks of the syncopated beaks.
The eight birds all eat heartily. Other doves, on the perimeter, make no attempt to horn-in. There is no room. Nor is there any apparent animosity. These birds are engaged in a win-win exercise.
Finally, the remnant of bread is tossed inadvertently (I presume) well outside the scrum, where a lone sparrow, biding his time, grabs the gift and flies away as though jet- propelled. The doves seem to shrug it off, gather up the remaining crumbs, and wander off to search under other lounge chairs. They form a well-organized search party, and head toward what appears to be a lone French fry.
For a longer time than I like to admit I viewed the world as a zero-sum game. If I were going to "win," then you had to "lose." And if you were "winning," then I must surely be losing. Too often I would deride others to elevate myself, which is not really an elevation but actually a descent. There is a thin line between healthy competition and malice aforethought.
Life is not an athletic event. There should be more than one "winner." Success should encourage benevolence and philanthropy, not victory dances and "high fives." With rare exception, we are neither hunting for scarce food nor protecting remote safe havens. The doves knew that there were plenty of spilled lunches in their territory, and that it was dysfunctional to argue and fight. Cooperation meant moderate shares in numerous meals with no stress and no damage.
We do ourselves too much stress and too much damage when we insist on an "all or nothing" approach to the challenges in our lives and our work. When we intelligently share—information, credit, preferences, earnings, victories, comfort, and other trappings of power—we elevate everyone, including ourselves.
The greatest business leaders I've ever seen as a consultant are those who personally accept responsibility for failure but generously share credit for success. Their subordinates, peers, and friends support them without reservation and will follow their lead in any direction.
There is enough bread for us all. Let's not peck at our colleagues over a crust.
- Read Bernard Goldberg's superb book, "Bias," about the deceptive prejudices often included in your nightly news. Goldberg was a star correspondent for CBS, until he started to write about this.
- I will begin writing a book on Life Balance in the next two months to be published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer in late 2002 or early 2003. I'd like to include some advice or experiences exclusively from the readers of Balancing Act. This is NOT a compilation book (e.g., "Chicken Soup for the Soul") but is the seventh book in my series called "The Ultimate Consultant." The "mini-interviews" will appear to emphasize points within the chapters, which will all be 100 percent written by me.
I'm happy to try to include readers of the newsletter. Though I can't guarantee inclusion, I can guarantee that any submissions I do include will receive clear attribution in the book where the entry is placed, and a complimentary signed edition.
If you're interested, please read the following before disregarding:
- Send me your advice for life balance or an experience that you had which dramatizes the need for life balance.
- The submission should be about 250 words (e.g., 240-260).
- They should be sent only by email, and preferably as a Word attachment and not embedded in the email, to: email@example.com.
- I will acknowledge every submission, and will send the book to everyone whose submission is used upon publication.
- You must include with the submission this sentence: "I hereby provide Alan Weiss with permission to use this item, to edit it for style and grammar, and to publish it in his book on life balance without restriction or compensation due me." Sorry, but the lawyers demand it.
- I thought it might be fun if the only outside contributions to the book were from the
The deadline for submissions is March 1, but the sooner I get them the better chance
that I can incorporate them. Thanks for considering this!
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- Teenage suicides have skyrocketed over the past decade.
- Apparently, most day-care for children, at least in the U.S., is used for college-educated, two-income families earning over six figures, and not a single-income parent working for subsistence income.
- There is more information to process in a single, weekday edition of The New York Times than an inhabitant of the 16th Century processed in an entire lifetime.
- The social security system in the U.S. was based on a demographic of the 1940s which included 11.5 people working for every person retired, retirement age of 65, and average lifespan of about 68. Today, there are approximately 2.5 people working for every retiree, retirement well before 65 in many cases, and an average lifespan of about 76 years.
- The Internet is overwhelmingly used for email, games, and research. Fewer and fewer people simply surf the web for pleasure or curiosity. One of the main reasons is the time consumed in "surfing."
- Productivity per employee is actually quite high in the U.S., far higher than in Japan or Germany, for example.
- The strongest factor in health and longevity, stronger than diet and exercise, is heredity.
- We are now able to see the evidence of poor language education in the classroom reflected in egregious errors in books, interviews, news shows, and even major newspapers. The editors themselves no longer know the rules and can't correct the writers.
- Second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages and, you guessed it, third marriages a worse divorce rate than second marriages.
- People who live together before marriage are more likely to be divorced than people who never lived together before marriage.