Monday, February 28, 2011

Time Control

I've felt at the mercy of time this last week.

I'm not fond of the feeling.

The feeling of arriving at Sunday night and having your life managed for you by events outside of your control is not a good one. To leave on Friday evening and think "I put that much time in at work!" is not a gratifying one either. To realize how little you actually got to do truly important things can be a bit depressing.

Sometimes it seems that life, especially modern life, is conspiring at all times to suck the marrow out of every spare second that we have. There is something wrong with the concept of having to measure activity in terms of seconds spent doing something.

Am I arguing against planning your time? Not at all -in fact, that is one of the things I need to aspire to become a little bit better at. The reality is that we are all given precisely 24 hours a day. Every day. That's we have to invest, to use, to waste.

But what I am arguing for is some sense of us taking control of our time, rather than our time being taken control of by individuals and circumstances who view us as a line item in their calenders, a resource to be used by others rather than using our time as a resource for ourselves. Given free reign, individuals and circumstances will completely use every available moment of our time, thank us for our "contribution" and then move on, leaving us to wonder why we feel so tired and worked so hard and have so little to show for it.

Time: Are you controlling it, or is it controlling you?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fear Takes a Holiday

Somewhere between getting out the door and arriving at work yesterday I lost my fear.

I spent the evening before last contemplating the outcomes of the following day: what could be said, what could I respond with, what would happen. As I began to spin these scenarios out in mind the worst of all possible fears came up: I'd be fired.

What would I do?

As I began to become agitated, I suddenly realized that I had been without a job before. Not by choice of course, but it happened (see January to May 2009 posts for a running history). And you know - we survived. Maybe not well, but we survived.

I had confronted the greatest fear - the worst thing that could happen to me. And suddenly, all other things were lesser fears - peoples' words, people's opinions, people's actions.

All of a sudden, as I got out of the car to go to work, there was no more fear. Calm resolve, a sense of what needed to be done, but no fear. I had confronted my worst fear - the fear of being fired - and had banished it.

My day was different -better, in fact. Not because any of the circumstances had changed - in fact, they got worse. However, I was able to view the entire day with a sense of resolve and a sense of humor (surprisingly) - because I knew already what the worst thing that could happen was, and realized I could deal with it as it occurred. If I could deal with that, I could deal with anything less than that.

I was free - finally, gloriously free.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Resolved

Facing a day of confrontations and choices.

I am trying to decide how I feel this morning as I prepare to set out. Anxious? Always. Anxious to do the right thing, for my family and my coworkers and my God.

Frightened? Not so much at this point. The worst case scenarios have presented themselves to me and surprisingly, they are not worse than what I have faced before. Difficult perhaps, but not worse.

Resolved? Yes. The time has simply come for confrontation and action. Not angry action, not precipitous action, but action. To continue to take mental body blows, to continue to watch my coworkers take the same - without responding, without assistance, without respect - is something which can no longer be countenanced.

There are times, it seems, when even the most timid must rally.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Talk with Hope

The one person I wanted to speak with this morning was Hope.

I keep hoping that she will be there when I come down in the morning (although Depression always seems to be the first one up), but this never seems to be the case. I've left a number of messages but somehow (even in this age of instant communication) making contact seems virtually impossible.

However, today was the morning. As I rounded the stairs, I saw the light on in the family room. Finally. I would get to talk to her. I sorely needed to.

I came through the door frame. The coffee was made, the light was on - no Hope sitting on the couch. I sighed, got my coffee and then went over to sit down. There, on the couch, was a letter.
"To Toirdhealbheach Beucail" it said in Hope's penmanship.

Well, here was something anyway.

I opened the folded in lip of the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper. It was the beautiful blue color I've seen her use to others, the ink color a rich dark black. I pulled up the upper and lower folds.

"Dear Toirdhealbheach Beucail:

First of all, I apologize for not communicating earlier. I'm sorry -things have been a bit busy lately and some thing always end up fallen through the cracks.

I know that you've been desperately in need of a conversation with me a while. That's my job you know - Hope, lifting spirits and fueling passions, enabling those to see beyond their own circumstances to a brighter tomorrow. I enjoy doing it a great deal, and often like to think that I've had some impact on your day to day life.

Unfortunately, I can't do that for you right now.

This letter is to inform you that I am taking a leave of absence for an undetermined period of time. I'm sorry I can't fully tell you why - please accept that this is a personal matter of the greatest importance.

I know this will come as a shock to you, especially due to the lack of communication over the last year or so. Understand that this is nothing that you've done, and certainly nothing that anyone else could control.

I fully intend to be back manning the Hope desk (my small pun -I know you'll like it) as soon as everything is put back in order. In the meantime, I've taken the opportunity to compile a small reading list of helpful quotes which I put by your bed if the need the arises. In my absence, Adventure has agreed to sit in for any critical meetings or projects. Please find attached a copy of my signatory authority designation empowering him to do so.

In closing, I apologize again. I know this is fairly inconvenient timing. Please accept my humblest apologies and know that even while I am working out these significant issues in my life, my thoughts are with you.

Your Optimist, Hope"

I sat there holding the letter, looking at it in disbelief. This would explain the lack of communication, anyway. I sighed and put it down next to me, picking my coffee back up.

Taking a sip, I considered my options. No Hope. I knew Adventure would listen and possibly give advice, but his solution always seems to be "Let's go do something - risky, if possible". Not the best of companions for a day to day life. The times I had listened to him on serious matters never seemed to go quite as well as they should have.

On the bright side I suppose, Hope did not say she was going to be gone indefinitely, just for a while. A while meant coming back at some point.

Still, there was the day to face. And the next one. And the next one.

Which I'd have to do. I'm the dad. I have done it before. I can do it again.

Just because there is no Hope doesn't mean there is no life.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Service Organization and Serving

Humiliating day yesterday.

What I'm coming to be reminded of - again and again -is that my function in my company is that of a service organization. Not a valued partner, not a valued contributor, but a service organization.

Service organizations (if you've not thought of one lately) exist to serve. Not specifically to contribute, not specifically to offer expertise, not to specifically to lead - but to serve. To provide a service - or a series of services - to help other people do their more important work.

Service organizations are not consulted, they are told - what to do, when to do, how to do. Once contracted, they are to provide the expected level of service no matter what the circumstances around their work, their ability to or to not actually support the service requested.

They are, to quote a phrase, "to be seen but not heard", quietly toiling about the minor details of life that are required to make a business go without any expectation of becoming other than that which they are.

I am finding this very hard to take.

I find this hard to take on two levels: 1) I simply can't stand being treated as a servant. The arrogance of "This is what I want precisely; you provide it" has never gone well with me; 2) I want to be the leader. I don't want to be led.

But then, in the back of my mind, God tickles with Matthew 20: 25-28:

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'"

There's the rub - I'm actual called to serve to become great, to be a slave (I'm guessing the word there is "doulos", literally a branded slave, the lowest of the low) to become first.

It never feels like it - when you see the e-mail that has a schedule that seems impossible and you stuff down the resentment at being ordered, when you see the pile of work only grow while others' shrinks, when you feel treated day after day as simply an interchangeable part instead of a valued contributor. But this is probably precisely when it is most important.

It has been said that if we will not humble ourselves, God will take care of the job for us. I'm finding He's a far more exacting taskmaster than I ever was on myself.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sleep Deprived.

Another wretched night in bed. I'm not sure anymore why I can't sleep anymore - it used to be only Sunday nights, but now it is spreading itself out to every night of the week. I tossed and turned, evacuated the bed when Nighean Dhonn came in because of a scary dream and relocated, tried relaxing, even didn't try to wake up at my normal time.

Not good. I still feel completely exhausted.

On the one hand I suppose it's okay - I've learned to be semi-functional on a surprisingly low amount of sleep. I know it's not as functional as I should be, but I can certainly make it through the day.

I'm not sure if this is a relic of other stresses in my life, or sleeping much more lightly than I used to, or even something as simple as diet. All I know is that I am sitting here once again on less and less sleep, trying to make a run at making it through another week.

This may sound a bit self serving. It's not meant too. I'm just frustrated -frustrated beyond belief that my sleep continues to escape me (seemingly for good?), while the fact that life goes on approaches day after day and expects me, tired or not, to continue to function at something near 100% efficiency.

I dream (funny choice of words) of a day, or time when I can get full nights of restful sleep and awake to the morning fully conscious and alive, full of energy, my brain not fuzzy. Until that day here I'll be, trying to find the energy deep within to keep my eyes open and my brain functioning to make the best of this day.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Holy Sonnet XIV

I have never seen this before. It's wonderful.


Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.— John Donne

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kiriage

Last night at Iaido we practiced the triangle drill.

A triangle drill is where three (surprise!) individuals perform a series of attacks: one defends, then turns to their right or left and attacks the next person. The concept is that the muscle memory is being tested as you speed up the drill ( I call it panic. When an actual attack occurs, it's amazing how all your intellectual processes desert your mind). An added twist is that attacks are initially limited: kirioroshi (overhead cut) or tsuki (thrust) to warm up and build confidence, then speed is added. The most extreme (and most difficult) is a fast moving drill with any kind of attack possible.

We started with the standard cuts listed overhead: kirioroshi, then kirioroshi or tsuki. Faster and faster you go, bokkudo clicking of each other as you defend, cut, attack, get cut. Step in to attack, move out of way, turn to the attacker, try and think through what the attack is and how you will defend. Defend: block the blade, make the cut or thrust, turn to your right, attack again. It because a faster and faster dance of oak blades and black clad students weaving in and out, testing and probing their skills.

Then came the twist. "Do kiriage" sensei said.

Kiriage is a reverse upper cut, moving the blade up as you cut in a diagonal from the hip to the shoulder. We've not done a great deal of kiriage cuts, so the assumption (mine, probably) is that this is not something that is a typical or favored cut.

Then we all made a discovery: kiriage is one of the hardest cuts to defend against.

Because of the angle, we couldn't use many of the techniques we have typically trained with. They were either too slow or did not block the blade quickly enough. Stepping offline is an option (stepping offline is always an option) but the world doesn't consist of an endless flat plane that allows you to back up. You have to be able to counter and attack.

There are defenses of course - but they are totally different from what at least I typically practice. It was remarkable to see how much we had to slow down from our previous speed to try and try again to practice defense, blocking and either getting hit or completely missing the blade, stopping, and then trying again.

Driving home after class, I realized this was really no different from the life I lead from day to day. We tend to learn our own patterns of attacking and defending against the problems in our lives, and slowly we come to believe that this challenges are the only way in life that they come. Challenges which don't come often we may consider not as significant or important - not because they aren't, but because we don't typically deal with them. Then when they come, we are amazed that something so seemingly small or innocuous can destroy a hitherto strong defense.

The solution? Training -always training. Not just for the attacks that you are comfortable with or typically confront, but for all the permutations you can think of.

Because unlike the triangle drill, life does not conveniently confine its challenges in a linear or limited fashion.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Visit with Depression

Depression was waiting for me when I came down this morning.

We didn't speak: he from a sense of patience, I from a sense of defeat. I made the coffee in the second-filled silence and stood there, blatantly ignoring him, as I prepared today's lunch and watched the coffee drip down. Finally, when the black liqueur was fully distilled into the pot, I poured myself a cup, my hands wrapped around the edges as if I could draw the warmth of the coffee into my soul. With a long sigh, I turned around and came back to the couch to sit down. Depression was still there, patiently waiting, thumbing through a book.

"The Art of War" he said, putting it back behind him on the shelf. "An excellent and well respected tome of knowledge. Probably wasted on you."

Great. That was how it was going to be, then.

"I mean" he continued "let's look at it really. What you do hardly requires a grand mastery of strategy. It requires the ability to take orders and do repetitive, detail oriented work. Lots of it."

"But I have goals-"

"Goals? Ah yes, your precious goals and objectives. We're what - five week into the year? Six? How are those going?" At my hanging head, he continued "I thought as much. Sure, it's great every Sunday night when you've had rest and a weekend to recharge. But trust me - consistently, by Tuesday you're mine. More and more, it's just Monday."

"But the hard part is over for this week" I tried to rally a counterattack. "Catch up. And if I try hard enough and do what I've been asked to do, this might be the year-"

"The year for what? A promotion? You remember they're scrapping the position above you. Nowhere for you to go there. Or maybe even another job? In this economy? Ha!"

Depression was going now, his eyes ablaze, his hands poised as a Baptist minister preaching hell, his voice a thundering cataract. "You're a serf. A servant. You do what you're told with the what you are given and be thankful for it. Any chance - any chance - you had of being anything but is long past. You cannot achieve. You cannot be great. Those chances are behind you - thanks mostly to the wretched decisions which you made. You are merely what you are - a servant. Get used to it - it will make the remainder of your life easier to bear. If you have no expectations, failure hurts less." He sat back down in triumph on the couch, head poised as if he could hear the cheers of a crowd I could not see.

I sat there staring into my coffee cup, his words penetrating to the core of where I had said such things to myself. I considered the rest of the week, a panorama of demands by others in which I was generally expected to solve their problems but knowing in my heart that any such resolutions would be accepted as my duty at best and ignored at least. I thought of the fact that I was not sleeping and so not having the energy to do what I wanted to do early in the morning and late in the evening, only having enough energy to stagger through one more day to do the things I had to do.

Depression saw - instinctively -my thought patterns even if he could not see my thoughts. His confidence only grew, his smile only got more smug. He finally rose from the couch, a self-satisfied look on his face. "My work is done here" he stated. "See you in the turnip fields."

He turned on his heels and disappeared into the early morning darkness, leaving only me with my coffee to listen to the winds howl. Whether they were outside the house or in my soul, I could not directly tell.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spent

God,
I have nothing this morning.
Nothing.
I'm feeling tired beyond tired,
The tired that when the clock flashes "Time to Rise"
I just lie there in bed.
The tired that when I come down stairs
I don't exercise or read or study
but crawl on the couch with the pillow over my head
hoping the day will go away.

I am spent:
Spent with work, of being two people instead of one;
spent at home, passing through like a ghost;
spent inside, a hollow core of goals and objectives.

I fool myself I think,
believing that if I schedule every minute and moment
I can be and do all things;
All I find is that the more I plan, the less I accomplish;
the more I do, the less I can do.

Help me (for I cannot apparently help myself),
such that if I cannot do all that I can or should do,
at least I can find the energy and mental spirit
to do what I able with a sense of purpose,
not with the quiet, failed sense of exhaustion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February Moon

Translucent spring clouds
burn purple scudding across
February's moon

Powerful

Power and action drive out fear.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I had my meeting yesterday - the meeting I have every 3 months, the meeting it takes me a week to prepare for, the meeting that I stress over each and every time because of who I have to present to and what I have to discuss.

I was ready this time - ready as I have ever been. It cost me time - a lot, because I ended up working on two Saturdays to get ready. But it smoothly - the smoothest it had ever gone. The data was recognized, my proposals accepted, and everyone maintained a good attitude. To boot, I ended 15 minutes early - unheard of in my company!

As I left the room, floating on the heady atmosphere of a job well done, I suddenly realized that I felt in control. The fear had left - sometime during the presentation (I'll have to remember to ask Fear precisely when I see him next). It was replaced with a sense of power and action, an ability to move forward and accomplish things.

Mind you, I understand what got me to that point: it was the preparation (for this meeting, it takes me on average 40 hours to prepare) and practice (talking to myself in my office as I wrote) and knowing all the data in my presentation and all the data so I could support it (including random things that happened to come in useful). It was not easily gained - not by a long shot.

And the power to which I am referring is not some kind of power trip over others; it was the power over myself, control my fear (I can hardly say master - let's say we have an understanding), to do what I needed to do, and to have confidence in what I had done.

But I left that room feeling more powerful and in control than I have in a very long time. It was a good feeling - a feeling of not only feeling like I could take on the world, but having the skill set and knowledge to do so competently. It was the feeling - I can think of no other way to express it - that I had at The Firm when we closed a deal. It was not just that a contract had closed and we made money. It was visceral feeling of triumph, of accomplishment. Of power over circumstances that would have militated against success and a payment on the hard work that made it happen.

Such feelings are addictive. The more you feel this way, the more you want to feel this way - sort of endorphins for careers.

And it makes one wonder: if this happened in one meeting, what could I do if I applied this to every aspect of my life?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Focused Falling

This morning I headed out for another run which I am trying to do each and every morning. As the path I take is often the same one I walk the dog with, I decided to take a different direction on the same route- reverse, to change things up. I headed out of the street and crossed over to the continuation of it. The morning was warm and my mind was regaling my soul with the plans for the upcoming day and meetings that were to occur.

Suddenly, I was reeling, my mind completely blank.

Apparently I had misstepped. I was now off balance, not the normal thud thud mode of a runner with a steady gait but the thu-thud thu-thud of someone off balance looking for a place to fall. All I could see was the concrete and blacktop; all I could feel was the scraping sound my hand would make and the pain when I went down.

And then I saw them: the medians. Swaths of dirt next to the street, between the driveways.

Still staggering off balance, my feet striking the pattern of a man ready to collapse, I bent all my energies towards hitting one of those dirt patches with the dormant brown grass. I have not been more focused in recent history than I was in that moment as I tried to aim myself, a human missile desperately trying to avoid everything around me except one point.

And then I went down.

To the swath of brown earth and brown grass.

I sat there for a moment, not believing my fortune (or blessing) in having reached that point. I felt for pain; my hands were untorn except for dirt, my clothes unripped, my knee unscraped. I slowly got to my feet, pulling pine needles and leaves out of my underwear where the sweatpants had gone down and brushing off the dirt on my skin. Taking stock, I caught my breath and tried to head on (which, as it turns out, didn't work. No twisted ankles but my left hip was a bit stretched. An undignified limp home).

As I slowly worked my way around the corner occasionally pulling out a pine needle, I suddenly caught the irony of the situation: right before I fell, I was thinking about focus and strategy and intensity. Suddenly all of that was thrust aside for a moment when I really needed focus and strategy and intensity.

Could it be that part of the reason we fail to achieve our dreams and goals so often is that we don't focus on them as we should? Certainly we claim we do: we think, we write, we attend classes, we meet with others about what we will do, we even speak of the things we will do.

But do we focus on them with the desperation of a man avoiding falling everywhere except one place.

Last year at the Tokai, our soke told us one of the keys to Iaido is to always practice with a sense of desperation, a sense of reality. "Always act as if there was a real opponent there" he said. "Desperation will add to the intensity of the practice."

I heard that, and believed it - but until this morning at 0435, I don't think I ever really understood it: the desperation and focus that removes all other things from your mind, leaving only one objective that you desperately need to accomplish, that you are straining towards even as your body careens out of control and you can taste the pain of failure as it looms up as each step pounds the ground, your center of balance far forward of where it should be.

It can be a simple as a brown patch of earth to cushion your body.

It can be as complex as completely changing a life.

The focus and intensity remain the same.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Thick of Thin Things

I am overcome this morning with the sense that I have spent my week majoring in things that don't really matter. It the sense of waking up to another Friday morning, looking at what you still have to accomplish for the rest of the week, and realizing "I've spent my time on things that have little meaning".

"The Thick of Thin Things" as Stephen Covey refers to it, the things that crowd together in our lives which are about a mile wide in the amount of time and energy they consume but are about an inch deep in the significance that they have. This is a concept which I have long known and occasionally recognized, but nothing as compared to this week.

When I leave today, I will have seen two audits to completion and spent a majority of the remaining time either preparing for one or the other, preparing a senior management review, or fighting fires. The resulting feelings washing over me are not ones of accomplishment, but ones of indifference. In reality, the things that have been done and accomplished this week will have little if any impact on my life and will be forgotten by all who would benefit by them in a short amount of time.

This emptiness of career accomplishment is beginning to weigh on me heavily.

There is a sense - I cannot fully describe it - that the ground is shifting under my feet, that "good enough" and "taking one for the team" are no longer enough, that doing something for the sake of doing it is not enough create satisfaction. Something happened in the space of a week - something that I am not able to describe not out of unwillingness but out of not understanding what it is - that is sharpening me, tempering me.

All I know is that The Thick of Thin Things is no way to live a life. Life is too precious - and too short - to have it consumed in the morass of the trivial and short-term.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Overwhelmed

There are days in life when I am simply overwhelmed at all I have to do, and how little of it I want to do.

It all starts in bed in the morning, knowing I should look at the clock to see what time it is but not wanting to do so because I know it will mean I have to get up to start the day. Inside my mind is arguing "Got to go, got to get up, lots to do today."

So up I get, all the time with the slowly moving hands of the clock scissoring my activities. I keep checking as I go through my morning routine: am I early? Am I late? What can I spend time on? What do I need to do to get out the door on time?

Even driving in to work my mind is racing faster than the car: what is on the agenda today? What do I have to do? What can I put off until tomorrow? What is going to create issues in my day?

And into the day we plunge, trying to balance the work I have to do and the work I need to do but can't do because of the work I have to do. Everything becomes a trade off: if I do this, this other thing won't get done. Does that matter? How injurious is it?

And before you know it, it's time to go home, with 50% of what should have been done left in stacks on your desk. Your mind races again to what needs to get accomplished at home: what time will I have left after dinner and dishes? What on my list of things I want to do won't get done (again)?

The final insult is bed. I'm always in a quandary, eyeing the stack of books at my table I want to read versus my bed and the clock, which are already singing to me about the fact that I have to get up in a very short time and do I really want to lose sleeping time to read? I always try and compromise - a little reading, maybe ten minutes - which inevitably turns into 30 minutes. Now it's really time for bed.

But in the collapse into the darkness of sleep my mind is already racing ahead to tomorrow.

I keep trying to tell myself that I can find a balance between all these factors, that it is merely a matter of my inability to use my time wisely and schedule rather than an inherent failure. However, the reality too often is that I find my time being consumed by the things I want to do the least, leaving the things I want to do the most on the ash-heap of "On the weekends" or "When I can get around to it", which too often becomes "never".

What if my thinking is flawed: there simply is too much to do, and even most of that is not what I want to do? How do you keep coming back to center when your center feels annihilated by what needs to be done rather than the things that you want to do?

How do you do more of what you want and less of what you have to/should?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Stepping into the Light

There are moments when each of us has the choice to step into the light.

I used to think that this were only occasional moments - that if we missed them, they might not come again for months or years. However, what I have come to realize is that in fact they can be a weekly - or even daily occurrence.

There are two lights: there is the metaphysical light (the light of God, the knowledge of God, the grace and salvation of God) and the mental light within our minds.

(Well, technically there is a third light: physical light. That, I think, you've figured out for yourselves - or you've a lot of bruises from bumping into things.)

This mental light to which I'm referring (Metaphysical light is a long discussion for another day) could be classed as a number of things: self discovery, personal courage, even the simple act of greeting a stranger when you hate talking to anybody. To some extent, they will be different for each and every one of us. However, the concept is not: facing a challenge or a condition in which we have lived, will we choose to step out into the light and face it, or remain in the darkness and live in the shadows?

To step into the light can be painful. It can hurt the eyes; it does not give us a place to hide but instead makes us front and center of the challenge facing us. It exposes us as we are, not as we wish we would be.

But, as C.S. Lewis said, progress is only made into resisting material.

Because stepping into the light - daily facing the challenges we have rather than ignoring them - is the only way progress is made. There simply is no other. Certainly we can plan, set goals, read, ready ourselves in the privacy of our hidden personal closets. However, all of this activity is not a substitute for actual progress.

And the reality - at least for me - is that there are so many areas in which my life could improve (sometimes dramatically) that every day can be another opportunity to step into the light in some direction. Sometimes it can be big, like a dramatic decision to change careers; sometimes it can be simple, like being willing to confront someone over a simple error. But either way, they are both opportunities to make progress.

We should become so used to stepping into the light that every day as we head out that our mental sunglasses and sunblock should become part of our normal attire.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Stuck in Place?

"If you don't love what you do, you're doing no-one a favor by staying in your present position. Your attitude and morale will be negative, you'll be complaining about everything, and you'll be blaming everyone else and their dog for your unhappiness and inadequacy." - Jeffrey Gitomer

So here's a question: what happens if you are in a position where you don't love what you do?

There are a couple of caveats, of course:

1) Is it the position you don't like, or is it the company itself? (If it's not, could a new position at a different company resolve it?)

2) Is it the industry or business model you don't like? (Again, if this is not the case, a simple change of scenery may work wonders.)

So let's assume that it truly is not the industry, business model, company, and/or position you like (love in Gitomer's words) e.g. you really truly hate where you are, what you do, and what you could do in the industry somehwere else. Where do you go from there?

The reality is that most of us are not independently wealthy and cannot magically just "leave" because we really don't care for where we are (nor is this Gitomer's argument at the link). We convince ourselves that there are simply no other options: if we can't leave, we'll have to stay and suffer in dignity (but hardly silence), sort of like the old man on every block who always grumbles about the leaves in fall is out every morning raking them up, muttering to himself.

But in fact, Gitomer's argument is surprisingly different: "Most salespeople (substitute your industry here) fail to realize that when they become the best they can be, they will attract the right offers rather than seek them." In other words, it's only secondarily about the business or company or position: it's mostly about us and our attitude.

He defines a four part formula:

1) Determine what you love to do.
2) Dedicate yourself to getting the skills you need.
3) Believe in your company, what they do, and yourself.
4) Get - and keep - a great attitude. "If it's not internal it can never be external".

So perhaps (I write this mostly to myself) instead of sitting around and complaining ("rising to the level of mediocrity", as Gitomer says), we need to go through evaluation above.

Exactly how long will we keep ourselves in the personal and career chains of our own making?

Monday, February 07, 2011

In Control

I had the edges of a panic attack last night.

The summation of what the next two weeks is bringing hit me like a ton of bricks around 8:00 PM last night. Over the course of the next 10 working days, I have 6 days of audits, three senior management presentations, two system redesigns - plus the day to day work that needs to happen just to keep things moving, plus anything I need to do on the side.

It felt like a bit much.

And even in much of this I have little control: I cannot control what the auditors do. I cannot control what senior management does. I cannot make the outcome of the redesigns and the day to day activities anything other than what they will be.

I don't like not being in control.

So I have a choice, as I sit here in the refrigerator motor and minute keeping silence: how will I face the next two weeks?

In control.

All I can control is myself. All I can do is prepare to the best of my ability. The circumstances and outcome will be what they will be. I can influence, but I cannot control.

And if they are bad? If everything completely falls apart and I am blamed for everything (it is, after all, the worst case scenario)?

Then I know that I tried. And that my image of myself is caught up with how God sees me and how my loved ones (family and friends) see me, not that the outcomes are reflective of my value.

Yes, I will have to work. Yes, I will have to be on top of my game. But I cannot bear the weight of responsibility for all things that are beyond my control.

"In all forms of strategy" says Musashi, "it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance. You must research this well."

So I face the day head erect, shoulders straight, chest out, nostrils slightly flared. In control, at least, of myself.

Shinigurai.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Time and Energy

There are limits to what I can accomplish.

Oh, I'm pretty sure they are far beyond anything that I am currently trying, don't get me wrong. But there are limits.

The limits are 1) Time and 2) Energy.

1) Time. Time is limited in two senses:

a) Time in a day. There are only 24 hours in every day. Only 1440 minutes. Even if you make every minute very efficient, there is still only so much you can do.

b) Time in a life. Our lives are also limited. We don't know the precise limits for each individual, but we generally know the length. It's like leaving bread out on the counter: we don't know the precise time it will start to mold, but we know it's about a week.

2) Energy. Energy is limited in two ways:

a) Personal energy: We all only have so much energy in a day. There are things we can do to improve it - exercise, diet, active minds - but we still all only have a certain amount of it. Pushing ourselves to our limits with diet or sleep does not manufacture more, it only creates a deficit which we have to pay, leaving us without that energy for at least an equal amount of time.

b) Corporate energy: Corporate energy is limited by the fact that even in a large group of people, keeping focus and enthusiasm is a difficult thing. Generally speaking, we are all busy and have lives: to keep the energy level of a group of people high over a sustained period of time is a difficult tasks (this tends to be a hallmark of true leaders, who can call for levels of commitment and energy where lesser leaders have to cajole and threaten).

So based on these limits: personal time, life time, personal energy, corporate energy - how I am choosing to spend and live my life? For everything I want to focus on or should focus on, does it meet the requirements of being most important and critical, or do they fall into the category of filling time and burning energy to keep myself from being bored? Stephen Covey discusses the concept that the urgent should never get in the way of the important.

Do I know what' s important? Do I direct my limited time and energy there, or dissipate it on a host of lesser things?

Friday, February 04, 2011

New Home Snowfall

White dusting on brown:
The wind whipped trees from Tuesday
Sit at peace today.

The Future in Us

"We say that Nature rests, yet she is working like mad. She has only shut up shop and pulled the shutters down, but behind them she is unpacking new goods, and the shelves are becoming so full that they bend under the load. This is the real spring; what is not done now (in November) will not be done in April. The future is not in front of us, for it is here already in the shape of a seed; already it is within us; and what is not with us will not even be in the future. We don't see seeds because they are under the earth; we don't know the future because it is within us. Sometimes we seem to smell of decay, encumbered by the faded remains of the past; but if only we could see how many fat and white shoots are pushing forward in the old tilled soil, which is called the present day; how many seeds germinate in secret; how many old plants draw themselves together and concentrate into a living bud, which one day will burst into flowering life - if we could only see that secret swarming of the future within us, we should say that our melancholy and distrust is silly and absurd, and that the best thing of all is to be a living man - that is, one who grows." - Karel Capek, The Gardener's Year

"The future is not in front of us, for it is here already in the shape of a seed; already it is within us; and what is not with us will not even be in the future." I become more intrigued with Capek the more I read him; he has a very understated way of presenting big truths deceptively packaged as common items.

He's right, of course: the future is within us. Not the big, life altering future outside of us of course: that we cannot control in the sense that I cannot control the car that careens into me or the layoff that occurs beyond my control.

But the future does lie within each of us in terms of how we react and what we become.

As has been oft said, we cannot control events but only our responses to them. Our responses will determine our future - not just in terms of actions and courses (If I do this, I will end up here) but in terms of our own feelings and inner selves. If I choose to react negatively to everything, eventually I will become negative. If I choose to react positively to everything, eventually I will become positive. And these feelings and our inner selves will of themselves influence how we act and how others act towards us - again, our future.

Becoming is an equally important aspect - but it goes far beyond the negativity and positivity discussed above. Like a plant, I will eventually become what is in me and is in my environment (plants start out with seeds (genetic material); they get soil, water and sunlight and maybe a little manure. That's it). If I want to become, oh say a writer, I had better start writing now because 10 years from now if I am not writing at all, I will never be one. These things are seldom spontaneous.

Likewise anything that we want to be or do or become needs to have the initial beginnings - the seed - put in the ground of our souls long before we will see any activity. Like the seed, we will work and work and feel like we aren't really accomplishing anything - while all the time those seeds are below the surface, sending out roots of their own to wrap around our very souls. Even when the first shoots come out - when the first blog post goes up or the first conversation happens in another language or the draw and cut of Iaido comes almost smoothly -we will still feel that we are not really accomplishing anything but a waste of effort for little result. But when the future is in full bloom - the book published, the language mastered to the point of spontaneous poetry, the Iaido kata performed hayanuki-style in a series smoothly and without effort - the effort that was put in will suddenly either seem worth it or may subside in our memory altogether. Like the flower, others will enjoy the end result - and not think of how hard the flower had to work to get from a seed to the point of being an object of beauty.

Like gardeners, we need to consider that tomorrow's harvest will not occur without today's planting. Are we sowing the seeds of our future today and every day, or will we awake in spring to the bare ground of the garden we never took the time to cultivate?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

An Active Will

"The life of a gardener is full of change and active will." - Karel Capek, The Gardener's Year

Will: 1) Desire, wish; 2) something desired; especially a choice or determination of one having authority; 3) the act, process, or experience of willing; 4) mental powers manifested as wishing, choosing, desiring, or intending; 5) the disposition to act according to principles or ends; 6) the power of control over one's own actions or emotions.

We all have wills. We have desires or wishes, choices, intentions - some that we voice, and some that live within us as seeds in the pre-spring soil. However, we do not all necessary have the disposition to act on these things, or the power of control over ourselves to make them happen.

In other words, we may all have wills, but they are not all active.

Could this be where we fail so often? That we discusses wills (e.g. dreams, objectives, thought, wishes) in the terms of "Do you have them?" rather than extended that concept to "Do you have the disposition and power to act on those things?" If so, we are doing a great dis-service to those with whom we interact and speak; we pretend that having is enough to actuate something instead of having plus doing.

Capek in The Gardener's Year spends a great deal of time poking gentle fun at gardener's because they are always in motion, always exercising their active wills. They don't (or can't) leave things to nature: they have to constantly work, rearrange, plant and replant, move, adjust, and nurture the garden in their care. They see the garden of their dreams in their minds; the gardener who is a true gardener is constantly working to make it happen.

Nor is an active will based on sight. As Capek points out (and any gardener will tell you), good gardening requires a vision that transcends the current appearance. They perceive what will be, not see what is - as Musashi said, "The gaze should be large and broad. This is the twofold gaze of perception and sight. Perception is strong, sight is weak." If we only based our wills on what we currently see (or Heaven forfend, feel) very little would ever get done. Part of any active will is a commitment to what can be, that thing in our mind - not what exists around us at the current time.

Is my will active? Do I not just have those things that I want or need to do, but the action and power behind them? Do I have the power of perception, the power to see things in my mind as I want them to be - and do I have the power to cling to that in the midst of circumstances which are not so?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Suburito



My suburito (training bokken) arrived last week.

It weighs approximately 3 lbs and stands approximately 45" high. My practice bokken is approximately half that weight and two-thirds of the length.

The purpose of suburito is strictly practice: no contact or actual engagement is ever expected (although a very famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro was fought using one). Its primary purpose is strengthen both the muscles of the swordsman as well as to perfect the angle of the cut and the ability to stop the blade where the swordsman desires, not pulled down by gravity.

In using it over the last week, I've discovered two things:

1) It's heavy, especially used repeatedly for suburi (sword swinging) drills;
2 See #1 above.

However, in the brief time I've used it I've also begun to discover things about my own technique. I've discovered, for example, that cuts from my left to my right tend to get weaker over time, especially compared to cuts from my right to my left. It has revealed that how I move the sword back into position takes more time that it should - valuable time that could be used in preparing to or striking at an opponent.

The most revealing thing, however, has been how much lighter it makes the regular bokudo feel. It flies into my hand and around my cuts. I've not yet used my shinken to see if the effect is the same, but I'm sure just on mass alone it will probably be true.

In life, as in Iaido, sometimes we seem to have to bear and practice with circumstances and items far heavier than what we think we should have to use. However, when we train this way, it is amazing the speed with which we can move and what we can bear under normal circumstances.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Excellence and the Plans of Others

"The failure to commit to excellence, to victory, leads by default to the subconscious acceptance of mediocrity and eventual defeat." - Brian Tracy, Victory

Reviews are always one of the least appealing parts of any work year. Couched in the context of improvement, it is always a roll of the dice as to what you will get: serious feedback, vendettas from outside sources, or just a list of personal peeves.

Another interesting thing about reviews (besides what is in them) is how they contrast with the 364.9 days of the year. If someone says they want you to exercise initiative but always undercut your initiatives, the chances you'll take the review seriously and act accordingly are fairly slim. Contrariwise, if someone recognizes and applauds (without temporizing) your activities, your incentive to achieve is more.

However, I had something happen new this year that I had not in previous years: someone else's vision of me.

It happened quite accidentally: my proposal of what I wanted to accomplish in the coming year, and then the comparison for what the reviewer wanted accomplished in the coming year. As the discussion continued, suddenly it was not what I wanted, but what the reviewer wanted from me and how I fit into their plans that became the issue.

As this panoramic view of my position was laid out in front of my eyes, what I saw was not the possibilities that were intended (although possibilities were there) but the commitment of myself to the plans and goals of another. I was not a game piece in my own right but rather a cog in the machine of someone else. My success was not to be defined by my achievements, but by mine in their plans.

My initial reaction: defeat. I came home mentally exhausted and battered by the dichotomy of having one thing said and experiencing another, of having a glorious vision of my role in someone else's life told to me. There is nothing less encouraging, more demotivating, than the hear of expectations without authority, achievements without resources, proposed leadership in the face of overpowering resistance.

This thought followed me throughout the night and into the morning until, in a fit of early morning activity, I picked up Victory and read the above quote.

Does a quote magically change my world? Not the last time I checked. Does the quote apply to my situation as it is? Not necessarily - but neither can the commitment to excellence and victory be confined simply to the situation in which one finds one's self. But there is no reason to say the two cannot walk hand in hand, the current and the future. The opportunity to rise above current circumstances comes to all, but not all accomplish it. And certainly the commitment to excellence and victory is a self definition, not limited or bounded by the definition of others in their plans - in fact, perhaps opposite to them.

So the question hangs as I prepare for the first day of the next 11 months: Excellence and victory, or mediocrity and defeat? One leads to my dreams, the other leads me to toiling in the dream fields of others.