Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 133: September 2010)
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Techniques for balance
I’m thinking there is something worse than “not having things.” It’s having things and not appreciating it.
We’ve spent our annual August week in Nantucket at a beautiful location. I meet a variety of people at the upscale bar having my evening martini while awaiting my wife and heading out to dinner. At the very fine restaurants, we encounter quite a cross-section or people.
Some of these folks have spent their entire lives in affluence and luxury. They have a waterfront house because it’s been in the family for many years. They have homes in several locations around the country, belong to clubs, and are accustomed to the best.
And many of them are miserable.
I hear complaints about marriages and in-laws; about “lousy” service (that was perfectly acceptable in my opinion); about the “unfairness” of the market; about others who, apparently, are spending all their waking hours trying to cheat them. It’s depressing.
I remember once waiting for my haircut appointment at the John Barrett Salon in New York, on the top floor of Bergdorf Goodman. As usual, I was one of the few men in the place, and I was surrounded by quite wealthy women, well dressed, highly accessorized. And most of them looked quite unhappy. They just stared into space, not reading a book, not even chatting with each other. They used their hairdressers as bartenders in that they complained about a great deal even I didn’t want to hear. I went back to my book.
I appreciate every single benefit that I have, and I realize I have many that others may not, and lack some that others may have. Such is life. I made my own way. I’m in control of my destiny, to the extent that’s possible.
To sail through life as if you own not just the boat, but the ocean underneath and air above, and become unhappy and offended when the wind picks up and the waves douse you, is a mindset I just don’t comprehend. Understand what benefits you have, and whether you earned them or were just lucky. Then appreciate them.
Somehow, a guy complaining at a bar that his wife is too harsh and his mother-in-law impossible, but who has a $20 million home due to his father-in-law’s talent and a nice income because of wonderful connections, doesn’t elicit a whole lot of sympathy from me.
What it elicits is another martini.
The human condition: Conniving
I know some of you will take exception to this, but hear me out before you write me the letter. (“Dear Alan, I find that your opinions are far too strong and don’t represent….”)
Every day I meet people trying to connive. I seldom get to use that verb as an infinitive, but there you have it.
They hang around the airline ticket agent, smooth-talking, trying to get a free upgrade to first class. They want option 3 for the price of option 2. They want to “pick your brain” or “barter” services: You help introduce them to your existing client base and they will give you a free copy of their self-published book on tripling your money raising artichokes. They fly through an unnecessary stop to maximize frequent flyer points, or drop someone’s name to try to get a better table in a restaurant. They take a better, empty seat at a theater or sporting event when they suspect no one seems to be occupying it a few minutes after the start.
I find the same phenomenon in the workplace: people who jump in for credit at the last minute, having contributed next-to-nothing during the project; who try to build relationships with people they think can help them rather than simply doing great work; who try to apply for special treatment as a minority- or woman-owned business by bringing aboard a minority or woman for that particular project.
I used to go to a store where the same woman tried to jump the line every day, explaining, “I’m doubled-parked outside, let me pay for this before I get a ticket!” I don’t even think she had a car.
My feeling is that if people applied the same amount of cognitive and physical energy in doing the right thing, they would be successful enough not to have to connive. If you’re successful, you can afford to fly first class, purchase the best seats, take credit for the project you headed yourself. And you can afford to wait when you have to, or calmly concede that someone else was fortunate or smart enough to get a better seat.
It doesn’t crush your self-worth.
Robespierre, I believe, said, “No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”
Not even by conniving.
Approaching Developmental Events
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On vacation, about to walk over for breakfast, I reported to my wife, “I’ve lost the keys to the terrace door.”
TLM: Did you check the pants your wore last night?
Maria walks over from the other room, opens the closet, puts her hand into my jeans pocket, and pulls out the terrace door key, which she puts in my hand as she walks out to have breakfast.
(You can play along. Just substitute any husband and wife in the above sequence and you’ve become a writer!)
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