The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2006
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Vacation Techniques for Balance
- The Human Condition: Escaping The Rip Tide
- ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department
- Vacation Techniques for Balance
Eleven responses you may have wished you used at the time:
Comment: "Would you like some advice on how to improve that?"
Response: "Yes, which is why I'm going to ask an expert I know."
Comment: "I'm calling for a contribution to a very worthy cause."
Response: "You may be, but there's so much fraud in phone solicitations that I only respond to written requests. Send me your background information."
Comment: "I've never heard of you or your work."
Response: "That says much more about you than about me."
Comment: "You don't need help with that, do you?"
Response: "That's not really a sincere offer, is it?"
Comment: "What about a hefty discount if I start immediately?"
Response: "Do you give hefty discounts to your customers who buy immediately?" ("If you don't, then why should I? If you do, then that may be your problem.")
Comment: "That sounds good, but let me tell you of an even better place."
Response: "To you it sounds good, to me it IS a better place."
Comment: "Would you like some feedback?"
Response: "No, thanks anyway."
Comment: "That's not the best way to get there."
Response: "There are a lot of ways to get there. I didn't know there was one, best way."
Comment: "People have come to me with critique of what you're doing."
Response: "If that's true, you're enabling their reluctance or inability to discuss this openly. We'd all be better served if you advised them to speak to me directly instead of your serving as a middleman."
Comment: "I heard rumors she got the job and I didn't because of connections and affirmative action."
Response: "I heard that she got it on merit and because she doesn't bad-mouth others."
Comment: "Did I ever tell you about...."
One morning I walked into my office and, in the next hour: lost my email connections, ran out of copier paper, ran low on toner in my printer, had a fax jam, ran out of money in the postage meter, spilled juice on my checkbook, and cut myself trying to fix my stapler.
I decided to leave, and went for coffee with the dogs.
There is an often-fatal beach phenomenon called a rip tide. It's a narrow, violent undertow which drags people out to sea. If you swim against it, back toward the beach, you are quickly exhausted and perish.
However, you can escape the rip tide. Since they are very narrow, if you swim ten or twenty yards perpendicular to the rip tide and parallel to the beach for 20 yards or so, you will find yourself in calm water again. It's counterintuitive, but it works.
If I had stayed in my office that morning, I'm sure the computer would have crashed or the roof would have collapsed. I was in a rip tide, probably enhanced by my own anger as one infuriating problem influenced me to act more hastily and ill-informed with the next (swimming against the tide).
So, I swam out, to the side, to calmer water, with a pleasant experience. I could have "drowned," but I chose not to.
We all encounter personal and professional rip tides. It may be the fates, or bad luck, or others' doing, but it's usually simply an accidental confluence of unfortunate events which we, advertently or inadvertently, create and/or exacerbate. (We all know how effective it is to throw something when we're angry.
It helps nothing and creates new problems. This is also the case when we "throw" words when we're angry.)
There are clearly times when discretion is the better part of valor. We need to move away, to turn the page, to start something else. It is not a positive commentary on your courage, intelligence, or confidence to refuse to walk away from continuing disaster, nor is it a negative one to realize that you're losing a battle and you don't want to lose a war. I don't know about you, but after a string of bad luck or bad decisions, the last thing I want to do is talk to an important client or make a key investment determination.
The vicissitudes of life are such that we're all due for "runs" of positives and negatives, though they are more often judiciously mixed together. Those who visit casinos and have the benighted belief that they can create more runs of positives than anything else are due for inevitable failure, for we all know that the house never loses in the long run. There's nothing wrong with attempting to exploit a positive run (it's called "playing with house money") and there's nothing wrong with walking away from a negative run (it's called "prudence").
There's no reason to elevate your stress level and blood pressure when the alternative of walking away exists. And for most of us, in most instances, it does exist.
So the next time you feel yourself being figuratively dragged out to sea, swim to the side, get back to the beach, and stay out of the water for a while. Read a good book or just relax in the sun.
All rip tides disappear eventually, usually sooner than later. Then it's safe to go back into the water.
I'm looking at the back yard through my den window. My den is the smallest room in the entire house (smaller than the master bathroom, by far), but I chose it because I can watch the wildlife and greenery while I, well, while I write things like this.
One of the members of the squirrel gang is on the birdfeeder again, and I'm beginning to wonder about the claim that it is "squirrel-proof." Does that mean they can't shoot through it, and merely take all the food? But, what the heck, squirrels have to eat, too, and the birds get their fair share.
The yard is an acre, predominantly shades of green: grass, evergreens, deciduous trees, bushes, vines, and suspicious things I can't recognize taking over the tennis court. I can't see another house and, with 60-foot trees about, can't see the sky unless I move close to the window and look up. It is verdant and private out there.
My Shepherd, Koufax, has quite a few paths he's created, where he can travel at great speed through what appears to be thick underbrush. But chasing him one day, I found that his main paths may actually have been laid out by the Rhode Island Department of Public Works: They are flat, about two dog-widths wide consistently, and have no encroachments. It's a high speed dog run.
From the run on the periphery of the yard, Koufax can see through the fence to other homes. I know he often stops by a neighboring pool in the very corner of the property, where he watches the kids splash and hopes for a handout when they barbeque. He's the only dog of five we've had who can actually catch squirrels, because he has his own paths and knows the territory extremely well. He figured out early that the way to catch a squirrel is not to chase it, but to run between it and the nearest tree. You don't mess with Koufax.
If I viewed the yard only from my window, as serene and comfortable as that is, I wouldn't know about the paths, or the neighboring yards, or the variations of what otherwise seems like consistent turf.
Too many of us view life from a comfortable distance, through a distant perspective or, worse, through others' opinions and perceptions.
No matter what the view, no matter what the comfort, we need to go through the woods. They actually become more satisfying once we know what's in them, and what's on the other side.
We assume that the same scenes each day are identical, as if we're simply watching all that green foliage outside. But the trees are different in shape a nd size, each plant varies, and, goodness knows, the grass is not very uniform out there.
Neither are the people, places, or possibilities that life presents each day. We tend to generalize, to label, to assign categories to the events in our life when, in reality, they each hold separate and distinct possibilities for us.
"I want that tree pruned," I said to my landscaper.
"Which tree?" he asked.
"The big pine."
"Which big pine?"
"The one by the tennis court gate."
"There are two tennis court gates and five pines around them. Which one?"
"The tallest one?"
"Do you mean the tallest from the ground to its tip, or the one on the highest ground?"
You get the idea. To me, a tree is a tree. To him, they are quite individual. To all of us, the people and possibilities in our lives ought to be quite individual.
Otherwise, we will lose them in the background foliage encroaching on the periphery of our lives.
One day, trying to get a sense of how to improve the aesthetics of the fencing, I decided to simply follow Koufax's path around the edges of the yard. I had learned that he had a far better perspective walking the boundaries than I had from my window.
I have all these hats, because I usually forget to pack one and have to buy a new one at the beach, or people send me them. (My current favorite is from Linda Tally. It says, "The Man, The Myth, The Legend.")
Last summer, in Nantucket, the Wauwinnet Inn gave me two. I took to wearing one of them, which said, "Wauwinnet," because few people know what it is and those who do really appreciate the place. Unfortunately, the hat was less comfortable than my others, so I didn't wear it for long periods.
Recently, after nearly a year, I complained to my wife about it, pointing out that one of most exclusive places we visit has one of the most uncomfortable hats.
She looked at it, reached inside, and pulled out the cardboard liners which are used to retain shape until purchase.
"There," she said, "it should be better now."