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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: May 2001

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Good People
  3. Musings
  4. Give me some balance (wherein reader reactions are encouraged)

  1. Techniques for balance

    This issue, some ideas for getting out of the house and out of a rut:

    • Go duck pin bowling. It looks ridiculously easy, but it's incredibly difficult. Yet the ball fits in the palm of your hand, anyone, any age, can do it, and it's really pretty funny.

    • Take a role in an amateur play. No one expects great performances, everyone is rooting for you, and you'll find you're more capable than you imagined.

    • Visit an off-beat museum. There are railroad, airplane, doll, furniture, industrial machinery, Native American, immigrant, hat, uniform, insect, and lint museums, all within a drive of my area alone. (Okay, not lint, but sewing and thread, which is just about the same thing.)

    • Plan a route in advance, and drive for the entire day, stopping for lunch or bringing a picnic basket. Make sure it's through an area you've never traveled. (If you own a convertible and the weather ever exceeds 68° in your area and you don't do this, you ought to just sell the car.)

    • Spend a weekend in a hotel in the nearest large city. (Those of you in North Dakota may skip to the next idea.) In most cases, we don't make as much use of the city as do tourists. You can get a great hotel deal, treat yourself to a fine restaurant and the theater, and have breakfast in bed.

    • Take a hike. There are usually good hiking trails within easy reach. (Even in New York City, the Palisades are fantastic for a walk up the river.)

    • Go up in a hot air balloon. You can usually buy a ride, and they are fantastic. The view is great, and you silently swoop over animals as large as deer which don't know you're there, so don't run away. (I've got a ride in the Goodyear Blimp coming up, even though they don't have first class.)

    • Go see a ball game. The new stadiums are downtown (even the minor league ones), family-oriented (they have latté bars), and you can see other people sweat and feel good about yourself.

    • Ride a horse. This is much more fun than I ever imagined if you do it with your family. But wear jeans and boots, or it will be an experience you literally can't forget.

    Is it just me, or have you noticed the tendency in airports to put smokers on display as if they were exhibits? I've found more and more glass-enclosed areas, sternly marked "smokers only," where you actually watch, through a thick cloud of pollution, 30 or more people packed in like sardines avoiding eye contact and puffing away. If there is a lesson here, I am somehow missing it. Or are we all in a Mel Brooks movie? Some web sites of possible interest to business owners and entrepreneurs:

    • http://www.ltbn.com: Let's talk business network, open to all entrepreneurs who would like to engage in support, advice, and interchange and end their isolation.
    • http://www.yeo.org: If you're under 40 with $1 million or more in sales, the Young Entrepreneurs Organization is a support group for business owners.
    • http://www.aoop.org>http://www.aoop.org: Entrepreneurs served by the Academy of Organizational and Occupational Psychiatry. No kidding.
  2. The Human Condition: good people

    I've been vastly disappointed in the last couple of weeks by two different sets of "colleagues" in the consulting business who acted unethically. They simply reneged on signed agreements. I love this profession, but I'm ashamed of some of the people in it.

    In any case, I was all set to write one of those "here are the kind of people I loathe" columns, until I stopped myself short, realizing 1) that life balance is about viewing the positive, not dwelling on the negative, and 2) that my family has permission in writing to shoot me the moment I resemble Andy Rooney (whom I do loathe, that whining, supercilious, superficial, jejune…).

    So, on a positive note, here are the kinds of people who really make my day:

    • The person who sits next to you in a plane and pleasantly says, "Good morning!" or "Hi!" but then doesn't demand constant upkeep for the next two hours.
    • The driver who stops and lets you make that impossible left turn across traffic and waves when you thank her.
    • That kid with the excellent manners who opens a door or who introduces himself with a handshake and smile, and whom you know has parents with a great value system.
    • The government clerk who is happy to try to help and actually suggests some ways to get the building permit or the registration faster and easier.
    • Any trades person who returns a phone call within 24 hours and tells you they'll get there within the next week.
    • Anyone who's ever refused a tip or gratuity and said, "I couldn't, I'm just doing my job."
    • The grad student who tells you AFTER grades are posted that "this is the best course I've ever taken because it's so practical and useful."
    • The bank tellers who put a dog biscuit in the drive-in pneumatic tube when they return your receipt, and the Dunkin' Donuts employees who give the dogs an extra munchkin or two.
    • Colleagues who refer business or make an introduction and simply say, "I think this is right for both of you. Just keep me in mind if I can ever be of help to you."
    • People to whom tough things have occurred who then decide that it's up to them to do something constructive about it, two of which are not whining or blaming others.
    • Anyone who apologizes and says, "My fault, my responsibility, I blew it." How do you remain angry at someone with that kind of integrity? In fact, how do you refrain from trying to help them out?
    • The person who sends you a gift or compliment out of the blue and simply says, "I thought you deserved it."
    • Anyone who cares enough about you to tell you when you're making a fool out of yourself.

    Okay, I feel much better. How about you?

  3. Musings

    I had a health scare the other day. It turned out to be nothing at all—in fact, embarrassingly nothing at all--but at the time my attention was rather riveted. I've found that on the few occasions traumatic events intervene in my life, the prism through which I view the universe shifts the light patterns. My focus moves in a new direction, and my mental peripheral vision disappears.

    I'm suddenly staring straight ahead, attentive only to the fundamentals, with a renewed clarity about life and relationships.

    The first thing I did was to take control. In my professional life as a consultant I've found that the two most stressful aspects of the workplace are:

    1. Not knowing what will happen to you in the immediate future; and
    2. The perception that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. When those two beliefs are in alignment, people become ill, they make others ill, their productivity drops, their relationships sour, and their lives, in general, deteriorate. "Empowerment" is not a buzzword in my profession. I'm constantly helping organizations to empower their people so that they remain productive, constructive, and positive, despite turbulent times. (And that, by the way, is the secret of productivity, not mindless downsizings and layoffs or the dithyramb of "do more with less" and "give me 110%.")

    The morning of my concern I was scheduled to be with a client, requiring that I leave the house at about 6:30 am for a 90-minute drive. I decided that a morning with the client that had been scheduled for weeks and which was bringing 20 people together was important to honor, but that my mind had to be focused: In short, I needed a plan. So, I left a message from my car phone on my doctor's answering machine, described the problem, and asked to see him that afternoon. I also told him I'd call at 10:30, which I knew would be during a break in my client work.

    At 10:30 I called as planned, and was told by the secretary that my doctor was on vacation. The backup wasn't in that day—he had his own emergency—and the remaining doctor in the partnership was booked solid. She suggested the local emergency room. I suggested that I was a patient, I was not going to an emergency room, and she'd have to come up something better than that and pretty quickly.

    She consulted with the remaining physician who agreed to speak to me on the phone before he left for the hospital at noon. After my client work I called back, he reviewed my charts and performed the requisite reading of the stars and planets, and told me he'd come in early the next morning if I could meet with him at 8 am.

    I did so, he did so, and all was fine. (I told you I was fine at the outset because I don't believe in melodrama and bathos.) But the point, I think, was that I took control of my own predicament.

    Life often throws us a curve (my doctor seldom goes on vacation, and his backup seldom has personal emergencies). We have to adjust. We can't allow ourselves to be tossed on the tides and swept by the winds like a jellyfish, hoping that, sooner or later (and before we expire), we'll drift by some nourishment. We need our own motive power.

    If the engines stop working, I'll raise the sails; if the sails collapse, I'll use the oars; if the boat sinks, I'll start to swim. If I go down, it won't be because I'm powerless.

    Are you generating and harnessing your own power, or are you dependent on others for movement?

  4. Give me some balance

    • You notice that seats in the fifth row center have not been occupied through the first act of the play. Your partner suggests that you grab the seats during intermission, since the two of you are seated up near the roof. Do you make the move?

      Some representative responses from last issue:

      Absolutely not. The potential disruption caused if those seat owners appear 30 seconds before curtain is embarrassing and unnecessary. Want better seats? Pull out a bigger wallet next time. That's what the rest of us do...
      --D. Kevin Berchelmann, SPHR, Houston, Texas
      (Over 90% said they wouldn’t make the move-AW)

      My wife and I actually saw five empty seats in the first row during the first half of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" last year in Washington, D.C. During intermission we moved from our humble seats in the last row of the balcony to two of these seats. Just as the intermission ended, a lady claimed one of the two seats we were in and we moved a few seats down to the two empty seats actually closer to the center. About five minutes into the second half, a couple arrived and claimed those two seats. We, in considerable embarrassment, retreated much farther back and were not asked to move again. We noticed that two empty seats surrounded the lady who had asked us to move first. Oh well, we gave it a chance!
      --Steven Else

    • You've left your car motor running on a very cold day while you dash inside your favorite coffee shop for the usual. A customer you don't know says, "Are you so rich that you can waste gas and pollute the air like that?" Do you respond? (No, this did not happen to me.)

      Your crime is simply offending someone's sensibilities of what constitutes polluting the environment. Assuming you just ran in to get something (i.e., you weren't sitting there eating a full meal while your car was running) before dashing out, I think I would simply point out that "no" I wasn't rich enough to leave it running and that I was planning to get right back in the car and drive away. I would take the opportunity to ask them if they were so unpressed for time that they could afford to stick their nose into someone else's business.
      --Kevin Humphreys
      (Every response was in favor of a short reply, and no concessions—AW)

      With an absolute emotionless, dead-pan response: "It burns more fuel and creates more pollution cold-starting a car than it does to leave it idle warm for five minutes." And then leave, because the point was to educate, not argue.
      --Paul Pease

      I deadpan, "Of course, I'm a Republican."
      --Lynda Curtin

    • You see two guys walk into the United Airlines Red Carpet Club and go immediately to the lounge and take seats without showing membership cards. You hear one say to the other, "See, if you walk into these places like you own them, you don't have to belong." Do you do anything?

      This reminds me of a verse in Proverbs. It says something to the effect that meddling in other people's affairs is about as smart as grabbing a dog by the ears. If I'm in the Red Carpet Club myself legitimately, and these guys become obnoxious, then I'd probably say something to the concierge. If they behave themselves, then there's probably no real harm done. I know there are people who would seek to have them discharged on principle; I'm not one of them.
      --Bruce Hoag

      (Overwhelming reaction to mind your own business—AW)

      Walk like they do and have a seat. Perception is reality.
      --John Naples

    • In the pouring rain at night, you accidentally back into a parked car that is 20 years old and has more dents and scrapes than you can count, although you clearly see the new dent you've left. Do you do anything, or just drive away?

      Leave a note. What would your mother say?
      --Stub Estey, Triple E & Associates, LLC

      (Everyone agreed to take the responsibility—AW)

Bonus question:

  • You park your car in front of a hotel near the beach and immediately go bankrupt. Where are you?

    You're on the Boardwalk in the game of Monopoly. This is an old chestnut, but only one of three respondents got it right.

My responses: Don't take stuff that doesn't belong to you, whether seats in a theater or seats in the Red Carpet Club. The car and gas do belong to you, and you're entitled to do what you please, including to tell "wowsers" to mind their own business. You owe that other car owner a note and repairs. In for a dime, in for a dollar, ethics aren't situational. I've refused to move my jacket off an empty seat when people come to "claim" it during intermission. I tell them my kids are going to join me.

My question for next time:

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?