"Alan Weiss is, without doubt, one of the most astute business people I've come across in the last 20 years."

Anne Miller
Author
Metaphorically Selling
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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2000

Balancing Act® is in five sections this month:

  1. Mea culpa and other explanations
  2. Techniques for balance
  3. The Human Condition: resilience
  4. Musings
  5. Quandaries answered and asked

  1. Mea Culpa and other explanations

    Okay, I took a beating over my comment in Newsletter No. 6 that the folks at the Johnson O'Connor Institute told me I could play the radio, but not in "pubic." Of all the email missives, my favorite was from reader Don Blohowiak, viz.:

    "Alan,
    I believe it is at the *Masters & Johnson Institute* where they advise not to play your radio 'in pubic.' Enjoy your newsletter and am quoting you in The Productive Leader published by The Economics Press. All the best. -- Don"

    Along those same lines, and less embarrassingly, Anne Angerman writes: "Thanks for your great newsletter. You mentioned Johnson O'Connor: Wanted to bring to your attention another group called The Highlands Program, http://www.highlandsprogram.com, that does ability testing similar to Johnson O'Connor. They also combine introversion and extroversion with it and have comprehensive workshops for people going through career change. I am the director of the office in Denver. They will be coming out with a CD of the test within the next 6 months. -- Anne"

    Another reader constructively wrote that I can't be practicing much of a balance in my life if I'm sending out this newsletter at four in the morning. Let me make two important points. First, an automated list server sends this out whenever it feels like doing so in the early hours, which is a standard practice. There are far too many subscribers for me to perform the distribution. But secondly, and more importantly, so what if I decide to do something at four in the morning? My balance is not subject to your criteria, nor vice versa. We all need to learn to be a lot less judgmental, eh?

    Faithful reader (and outstanding professional speaker) Joe Calloway was able to absorb a shocking defeat:

    "Another GREAT newsletter.......helped cheer me up after last night's heartbreaking (if you're from Tennessee) but exciting Super Bowl. One of the things I'm giving myself this year is Philosophy. I wanted to have a better foundation in the great philosophical ideas, so I've embarked on a wonderful course on Philosophy - 50 hours of college lectures on video tape. It's great! Also doing more writing WITHOUT concern for making money with it -- most fun I've ever had writing! Your ideas and example continue to inspire me! - Joe" [If anyone is interested in a philosophical overview and tour de force, read "Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton, Allen Lane/Penguin Press. - Ed.]

  2. Techniques for balance

    My comments on venting last month brought a ton of commentary, so I offer you some of my favorite pet peeves and invite you to submit one or two of your own. I won't make this a regular feature, but I will publish any that are really clever and will send one of my hardcover books, "Our Emperors Have No Clothes," to my favorite submission. So, let me vent about:

    The criminals in the health club who use the treadmills for more than the allocated time, and try to hide their heinous crime by placing a towel over the machine's timer. They ought to be made to leave without showering.

    The narcissists at resorts who send their kids down at five in the morning to place towels over six pool chairs in the best locations, and then show up around 10 or 11, after sleeping late and grabbing breakfast.

    The troglodytes who go for a run in the morning and then show up in the concierge lounge of the hotel, sweaty, smelly, and spoiled, to have breakfast next to you just before you leave for a business meeting.

    Okay, I feel much better. Now, in a more positive vein:

    Plant a garden if you have the room, or tend to a few plants if you don't. You won't believe this, but one of the most aggressively successful entrepreneurs I've known had a huge vegetable garden with prize-winning stuff. I, myself, am highly adept at growing leeks, also known as white onion. I learned this in California (of course).

    Learn something about natural science, whether it's identifying different trees, recognizing various rocks, understanding topographic configurations, naming the major constellations in the night sky, or learning the various type of clouds. It will add meaning to the world as you look around, and isn't a bad conversational gambit, either. (I minored in geology as an undergraduate, and can casually freeze any discussion by pointing out an intrusive sill or a monadnock, trust me.)

    Local theater groups are always willing to accommodate a small walk-on role or a minor speaking part to encourage someone to join the group.

    A great many people use the holidays to send out lengthy family updates and to reestablish contact with those not otherwise heard from. The holidays are the worst time to do this, since everyone is busy and another three dozen such updates are simultaneously received. Mark your calendar for mid-year, and send your photos and updates then. You'll get a much better hearing, and many more responses.

    If you want to painlessly track a flight without waiting on "hold" or making a dozen phone calls, go to http://www.trip.com and select "flight tracker," which is free. The information is updated every seven seconds.

    My favorite quote in the world comes from Branch Rickey, a baseball genius and the man responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers. He was accused of being lucky in his choice of ballplayers, managers, and promotions. His response: "Luck is the residue of design." What are you doing to design your own luck?

  3. The Human Condition: Resilience

    Did you hear Carlos Santana, garnering all those Grammys at the age of 52 and 30 years since his last such honor, saying that his breakthrough in therapy came when he came to realize that the entire world was not getting up each morning with the intent of trying to screw him? (Pardon the wording, but that's his quote.) I found this admission to be revealing and powerful. A life of perfection is impossible, but a life of success certainly is possible. One of the keys is rebound, colloquially, or resilience, more aesthetically. Every day I see people suffer a setback and immediately sink into a generalized hopelessness and despair. Some lose a day, others a week, and still others a lifetime. I'm not being melodramatic-you've seen them, sometimes within your own family. But I also see other people who stride over a setback the way most of us step over something unpleasant on the sidewalk. It's an effortless move and quickly forgotten. After all, our gaze is down the block, toward our destination. Why linger over something ugly under our feet?

    The components of resilience seem to include:

    • High self-esteem which enables people to view setbacks as inevitably temporary and never as a commentary on their self-worth.

    • Sharp perspective, allowing the event, statement, or interaction to be judged in context and in an appropriate frame of reference.

    • An orientation toward success, not perfection. Success can tolerate quite a few setbacks and still be achieved; perfection is an intolerant bigot, which destroys you after a single mistake.

    • An intimate knowledge of and reliance on one's strengths. We do not grow by correcting weaknesses, only by building on strengths. If setbacks relegate us to improving perceived frailties, we're destined not to grow.

    • Life-long learning, unhindered by challenges to our beliefs, values, and baggage. Carlos Santana had a revelation. So do all strong people, often quite frequently. I'm constantly surprised by how stupid I was just two weeks ago.

    Resilience is a completely internal asset, created, governed, and utilized by us, without need of any external prompt or support. When trapped in the dark unexpectedly, some of us scream out, cursing the darkness, while others among us simply light candles.

    As you might have guessed, Carlos Santana and I are about the same age. I feel I'm enjoying life more than ever, writing better, loving more, contributing in new ways. There are a lot worse things to be than simply resilient.

    Now wouldn't that make a terrific cologne?
    "My, you smell wonderful! What is that?"
    "Resilience."

  4. Musings

    In her book that's become a cult classic, "Leadership and the New Science," Margaret Wheatly makes a rather profound observation. She says that consciousness is based on the ability to process information and, consequently, there are varying degrees of consciousness. A snail, for example, is less conscious than a dog, since a dog can process a great deal more information through more sophisticated sensory abilities than can a clam.

    Fair enough, but then it occurred to me that different people, therefore, have different levels of consciousness because some clearly process information far better than others. Now, that's worth thinking about.

    Recently, someone in my mentoring program asked me for advice on an issues, and I said, "Do that, then this, then put those together, and you'll have it." There was a brief silence, and then he said, "That's great! But how the heck did you do that so fast? I didn't see those combinations and I've been working with this for a week."

    I've been asked that thousands of times over the years, and I think I simply have the ability to process information in larger amounts and faster than most people, and I think that's because I constantly learn, frequently read, continually write, and always attempt to apply my learning in real time. I think that some of us are more conscious than others, not because of necessarily intrinsic talents or endemic conditions, but rather because we've taught ourselves to be more conscious, and our successes have reinforced our habits.

    Early this morning I drove to the gym for my workout in heavy fog. I turned on the car headlights, and both front and rear fog lights. I soon came upon a car approaching me with no lights at all, so I flashed my high beams, since the other car could barely be seen. When it pulled abreast, two women waived at me, as if I were flashing my lights to try to flirt with them (how ironic that it's working now for the wrong reasons, but wouldn't work 35 years ago when I could have used it).

    Not long ago, in a nearly empty theater, two people came in and sat directly in front of my wife and me, even thought there were another 388 seats they could have chosen. Yesterday, I watched a woman who was nearly trampled when she stepped off an escalator at an airport and immediately stopped to get her bearings, even though 25 people were bearing down on her from behind.

    We often ascribe terms such as "narcissist" or "self-absorbed" to these and similar actions. But they are so widespread that I'm beginning to wonder if we're simply seeing the human species in another light: according to differing levels of consciousness. That would certainly explain a great deal of what I've been observing among clients. Some just don't get it, and now I'm realizing why.

    How conscious are you? Are you really seeing the world around you, or only the tiny glimpses that a limited consciousness allows? A woman complained to a television news show this morning that it's silly to listen to and to quote Bill Crystal (actually William Crystal, noted reporter and political commentator) because a comedian's political opinions aren't really that newsworthy (she was thinking of comic Billy Crystal). Some people aren't just at low levels of consciousness. They seem to be able to walk around and otherwise function in a complete coma.

  5. Quandaries answered and asked

    From last time: You have a co-worker who has been out for several weeks with unspecified medical problems. Upon return, the colleague has a distinct body odor which is not only unpleasant from several feet away, but is causing others to mock and make unkind jokes. You and this person were always cordial and friendly, though solely in the work environment. What do you do?

    While quite a few people said, "Stay out of it," most said they'd either tell the person privately and candidly, or ask human resources to do so. I actually faced this once with a supervisor whom Prudential would not promote because she was considered "dirty." I told her personally, as her immediate manager, and she was initially crushed, but then appreciative that I had respected her enough to tell her directly. I'd do it again tomorrow. Wouldn't you want to know?

    For next time: Traditionally, both your parents and your spouse's parents have come to your home for the Thanksgiving Holiday. This year your house is being remodeled, so the tradition will be broken. Both sets of parents are adamant that you should come to their home for Thanksgiving, although both are also extending the invitation to the other set of parents. How do you decide what to do, and what would you do?