Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 109: September 2008)
Leave a trail….
I'm sitting in the Marriott Marquis in New York where I'm speaking for the National Speakers Convention. Next to the phone is a note pad, which the small admonishment: "Leave a trail of genius."
It's clever, a nice little touch. (And a lot more fascinating than the "Today Show" playing in the background, currently advising me on how to choose fresh corn. You can't make this stuff up. Make sure it hasn't loss its tassel.)
In any case, I'm wondering what kind of a trail we're all leaving every day. When I lived in California, in the early morning I could trace the path of the departed slug in the garden by its trail. A slime trail may not seem like much, but it revealed the methodical travels of the creature as it sought food, avoided predators, and perhaps engaged in creating prodigy. Although the elements would soon erase it, the creature had left a trail, and would so again early the next morning.
We don't need to leave a trail of genius, perhaps, which is a burdensome responsibility. But what about a trail of assistance, of improvement, of growth, of support, or alleviation of pain? At the end of each day, what evidence have we left of a better world, a better condition, a better environment?
Many of our superhighways today are based on older roads, which followed ancient trails. Some say that the width of the wheels of Roman chariots (determined by the girth of two horses pulling it) ultimately led to the width (gauge) of modern train tracks. We do tend to follow in the footprints and pathways of those who came before, often for no good reason.
We are sentient creatures, aware that we are self-aware. What are you doing to determine what your trail will be at the end of the day, whether useful for your unique contributions or also for others to follow? Whether anonymous or public, do your trails leave a legacy? Or are you in the same rut day after day? Is your trail determined by some unknown ancient occurrence, or by your own determination to make a difference tomorrow?
Unlike the slug's trail, ours needn't disappear with the next sunrise.
Sitting on the 43rd floor of the hotel, I see architecture and relationships that can't be appreciated from the ground. Sometimes, you just have to get above it all.
I'm as guilty as anyone of getting involved in ground-level arguments from time to time that would greatly benefit from a higher perspective. A 30-second delay in a line, a product that breaks, a service that is poor-these are daily events, whether we like it or not. I remember a gate agent saying to an exasperated passenger, "The plane isn't leaving until everyone is on board, and even then not until I close the door. So please calm down."
The cable guy being late is annoying, but if he fixes the problem and your programs play well, isn't that the real issue? The person in front of you is fixated on exchanging stories with the bank teller, but will your life really be different if you have your money in two minutes instead of one?
I was sitting in a play the other day, and a really tall man walked in and sat in front of a small woman. The woman and her friend laughed about it. When the man's partner arrived, he changed seats to sit in front of the other woman, and they both laughed again at this reversal of fortune. I had a good time just appreciating their attitudes. (The woman leaned in one direction and watched the play.)
Churchill said that success is never final and failure seldom fatal, it's courage that counts. I'd like to soften that to quotidian existence by suggesting that the challenges we face every day are seldom going to ruin our day, unless we allow them to do so. Your television is fixed, your money is in your hand, you figure out a way to see the play.
Life is about success, not perfection.
Life is about enjoying yourself on a personal basis, not compared to how others are enjoying themselves. You'll never be happy in that comparison, because there's always a bigger boat.
Book a room on the top floor of the hotel or go up to the lounge on the roof and have a drink. Look out over the city or the countryside. You'll see a different perspective.
What's going on down in the street seems trivial by comparison.
Some years ago I shaved off my mustache of 20 or more years, changed my hair style and my wardrobe, and showed up at an annual convention I attend with a "new look." My name tag was on my belt, and I had my hand over it as I stepped onto an elevator.
Three women were engaged in a conversation about…..Alan Weiss! One, who knew me but didn't recognize me, was extolling my virtues (such as they are).
"Isn't he somewhat arrogant?" I interrupted.
"He can be," said my advocate, "but you have to get to know him, he has a lot to offer."
"But can you get past the ego?" I persisted. "He can be insufferable."
"Who are you to be so negative?!" she demanded. She swiped my hand from my belt to see my name tag.
"You're right," she said, "he IS insufferable."
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