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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2001

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Transference
  3. Musings
  4. Give me some balance (wherein reader reactions are encouraged)
  5. Listen to this

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Take the issue that is driving you absolutely crazy (communicating with your kids, organizing your files, dealing with finances) and talk to a trusted friend or advisor. You need to break the cycle of stress/non-success/stress.

    • Schedule, on your calendar, three hours a week to kick back and just think about where you are in life. If you don’t do this, factors other than your own volition will determine where you are in life.

    • With any new relationship, talk less than 30% of the time. Learn to ask provocative questions. You’ll learn a great deal about the other person, who will also believe that you’re a great conversationalist!

    • Separate process from content. In other words, you may hate the way your kids suggest or demand something, but they just may be right. Don’t disregard valid ideas just because you don’t like the way they’re presented.

    • There are two kinds of pets: active and passive. They are not mutually exclusive. Dogs can be very demanding at home, but try to take your fish on a picnic.

    • If you like television (which I do, so shoot me), use current technology to time shift programs so that you are not prisoner to the tube. You can map out a week’s viewing, record it automatically, and watch the shows at your leisure when you’re ready to invest that kind of time. (If you don’t get to them, then how important can they be?)

    • Don’t eat unless you’re hungry. Just because the airline, meeting planner, or social event offers up a meal doesn’t mean you have to ingest it. The only thing you’ll "lose" by not eating is weight.

    • When is the last time you had a family photo or portrait done?

    • Don’t be judgmental of others. That "bad hairpiece" can be covering the results of surgery; the incessant questions may be from someone who has a learning disorder; the "inappropriate clothing" may be the result of financial hardship. Let’s cut each other a break now and again.

    • Are you somehow, in some way, better off than you were yesterday? If not, what can you do about it?

    I’m now on the national board of the Institute of Management Consultants, the largest and most comprehensive accrediting body for consultants. If you’d like to consider membership, I’d be happy to sponsor you. Go to http://www.imcusa.org/newmembre.acgi to obtain an application or fill out one online.

  2. The Human Condition: Transference

    It has been said that the virulently homophobic FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, wore a dress in private and, of course, never married but instead had a life-long, intimate male friend. My personal belief is that everyone’s life style is their own business, but that hypocrisy and—worse—transference of self-loathing to others is everyone’s business.

    I publish extensively. My columns and articles, in particular, are popular with editors because they are opinionated and provocative. Yet the strongest reactions I receive from readers are not in response to controversial positions, but rather to minor wording and peripheral suggestions that seem to irritate someone’s personal demons.

    When you’re a public figure (by dint of writing and speaking) you have to expect all kinds of feedback. I pay close attention to solicited feedback, and universally ignore unsolicited feedback, which is always primarily provided for the benefit of the sender, not the recipient. Here’s an example: Recently, someone took umbrage and absolutely went bezerk because I suggested in an email that anyone interested in what I was proposing conform to a "no whining" rule. He wrote rudely and insultingly to tell me how inappropriate it was for me to suggest to someone with his "credentials" and experience that he was prone to whine. He explained to me at great length how he was better than I was, and how my attitude was personally insulting to him.

    In other words, he whined.

    I’m convinced that most anger is actually self-anger which is redirected in order for us to preserve our well being (and not be destroyed by our own hostility). We often call it "having a bad day." Of course, some of those days stretch into weeks, months, and entire lifetimes. I also believe that some of the worst railing against pornography, religious zealotry, poor driving habits (George Carlin says that people driving slower than you are "idiots," but those driving faster are "maniacs"), breaking into lines, and other social transgressions are actually the result of those unhappy with their own poor performance in those areas.

    But it’s easier to carp at others than it is to change ourselves.

    The guy above doesn’t like the suggestion that he’s a whiner—even mentioned in jest to a large group—precisely because he is a whiner and doesn’t choose to deal with it (except to whine more). We know we shouldn’t have sped or made the illegal turn or taken our eyes off the road to use the cell phone, so we blame others for the sin. This enables us to justify our behaviors since we’re clearly capable of condemning the inappropriate actions—so long as we observe them performed by someone else.

    That stuff about "casting the first stone" is rather enduring advice. I don’t care what Hoover did in private, but to condemn the same actions of others in public is worse than whining. It’s cowardly.

    We need to face our own demons before we’re so quick to try to eradicate them in others.

  3. Musings

    There is, on the far East Side of New York, just short of the East River, a small bar called "The Raccoon Lodge." Its provenance is from the old Honeymooners television show, starring Jackie Gleason, who was a member of the Royal and Ancient Order of Raccoons. That august group met monthly at the Raccoon Lodge.

    There is nothing noteworthy about this bar amidst the thousands in The City save for one fact: One night a week my son sings there, accompanying himself on guitar. And, one night a month ago, my wife and I visited to watch my son’s final performance before shoulder surgery would sideline him for six weeks. It was advertised as his "farewell performance," at least for the time being.

    We arrived at 10 for his set that extends until 3 in the morning. Loudspeakers pump the music onto York Avenue, and the place is filled with smoke, liquor, screaming voices, a constantly contested 50¢ pool table, and, most of all, amplifiers which could easily drown out a 747 in full throttle climb.

    It was hot, my wife and I were the oldest people there by a good 20 years, and I was calculating how many songs would count as polite and sufficient before we could leave. My daughter’s (my Emmy-award-nominated-producer-daughter’s) MTV friends had shown up in force, as had my son’s actor buddies from around The City, including most of his graduating class from the University of Miami Drama Conservatory, now all variously successfully or unsuccessfully auditioning in New York.

    What I found, to my amazement, were 40 or more young people who graciously accepted us into their midst. Aside from the actors and television people, there were attorneys, stock brokers, advertising copywriters, and the temporary waitresses and bartenders, in between their desired callings. I never saw a drug in the place, though a prodigious amount of alcohol—almost solely beer—was consumed by people who weren’t driving because they couldn’t afford to keep a car in a city where you couldn’t drive anyway.

    My son played for two hours before I demanded a break through the effective expedient of dropping a hundred dollar bill into his tip jar, which quickly brought the backup band to the stage, which also happened to be the bartender and waiter. Before I knew it, I was dragooned into the pool challenge, and my temporary-waitress-about-to-enter-Columbia- Graduate-School-partner and I were undefeated when my wife and I finally left—three hours after we got there, and only then because we had an early train the next morning.

    We hailed a cab in a light drizzle on a deserted street and I felt absolutely renewed, as the Raccoon Lodge loudspeaker faded into the distance. The world isn’t going to hell, there are some fine young people out there who know how to work as well as how to party, and the real "oldest" people in the bar turned out to be two couples in their late twenties who wanted to get home early because they didn’t trust their pets to the people watching their apartments in New Jersey.

    This is why you have kids—to keep you perpetually young. Danielle and Jason, I love ya!
    (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call before you come to visit...)

  4. Give me some balance

    The question: Your boss tells you that an important contract absolutely demands your attention and you have to fly to another city tonight for at least two days. Your plane tickets are already purchased. You were due to have dinner with your spouse at a special restaurant, and tomorrow is your kids' open house at school. You've worked at your company for ten years and will probably be up for a promotion in six months. What do you do?

    The responses:

    I will never be able to get another family, but I will always be able to get another job. I have already made this choice before. My family wins - no contest.
    - Jay Turley

    Let your boss know that the reason you're probably still around after 10 years has much to do with your integrity, i.e., you don't let your family down, and request that your boss reschedules it for a day later.
    – Suzie Simmons

    Call the client. Explain the dilemma. Offer a better solution (three days next week?). Make everyone happy.
    - Malcolm Macpherson, Ph.D., Alexandra, New Zealand

    My answer: you go on the trip because if you've been there ten years this isn't the first time it's happened. You've already proven you don't have the guts to stand up to the boss over that time (or he/she wouldn't make this demand on you).
    – John Martinka

    My wife and I have discussed our values and know that family comes first. We also know that business often interferes with our family plans. A night out at a restaurant can be rescheduled, which leaves the open house. I would talk to my wife and child and explain the situation; my wife would attend the open house and I would set some special time aside to visit my child at school on another day.
    - John Konselman

    (Note: since I have no children, my response is as hypothetical as the question. Ah, but this is hardly a hypothetical question! –AW)

    If discussing problems and commitments with your company is still a problem after 10 years and interferes with an upcoming promotion, then perhaps its time to go job hunting.
    – Erik Brown

    Talk about "balance"! If it were I, I'd politely tell my boss that no matter how important the business was, what I had to do that night and the next day was more important. However, if my husband were approached with the same situation, I can't say what he would do, and I would probably "understand"--the open house isn't the same as a performance. The old double standard definitely still exists.
    - Jody Berman

  5. Listen to this

    I was saddened by the death of Perry Como recently, who had a great voice and was such a wonderful gentleman, with great humility. If you’d like to listen to some people who can interpret a classic song like no one else, try these CDs:

    • Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall (Capitol)
    • The Concert Sinatra (Reprise)
    • Mel Tormé, 16 Most Requested Songs (Columbia)
    • Sarah Vaughn (Verve)
    • Tony Bennet, MTV Unplugged (Columbia)
    • Maria Callas, La Divina (EMI)
    • Billie Holiday, The Silver Collection (Verve)

    And, since he won’t be there forever, visit Bobby Short at the Café Carlisle in New York for a soupçon of the old supper club ambiance.