Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Try to find my way in the increased world of higher expectations.

There comes a point in every activity, every job, every relationship where one realizes two things:

1) This is a good as it it going to get. The limit has been reached.
2) The resources you have are the resources you are going to get. Further aid or support is a pipe dream.

What I would like to hear from myself is that this has given me greater clarity in my life. Instead, it seems only to have given me greater stress.

Stress? Yes, stress originating from the fact that the expectations and resources behind the situation generally have not changed. The goals are still the same and the resources are still what they have been. You are expected to perform at the same level as previously or even better - and Heaven forfend you should mention the lack of either. The expectation - always the expectation - is that you are an adult, and whatever sacrifices are necessary for the accomplishment of the task are presumed.

Adapt or die. The New Normal.

The stress results in a high level of frustration as well. I tack back and forth in my emotional state between a bland sense of acceptance of the situation as it is and a high level of anger about lashing out and making others deal with the same situation. Neither, of course, is correct.

But what then is correct? Work harder at the job or project or relationship? There are only a certain amount of hours in a day to accomplish things. Work smarter? I'm never really sure what that means - that becomes a never ending target that is judged by others about how "smart" you are working.

It's as if there was some revolution on the tip of my mind, something floating just beyond the reach of consciousness that has some kind of solution. I can feel hovering there, seemingly waiting to be discovered.

But is it there? Or is another attempt by mind simply to veer aside from the realities that exist and cannot change?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Despondency At Work

Strangely despondent at work yesterday.

I can't really trace it down to a single factor. It's not as if work was more overwhelming than it has been in the past. It's not as if it was the middle of the week (it was Monday). It's not as if the people that usually bother me were there (they were not).

So what was up?

The only thing that I can pin down is a sense of the overwhelming. A sense of reviewing document after document, knowing that there are (literally) at least a thousand more behind them needing review as well. A sense of the fact that no matter how much I do in the time I'm there, I leave with just as much work there as I arrived with. A sense of the fact that, longer term, all the effort is doomed to fail.

Would it help if there were victories? Sure - but as I've discovered, victories are not recognized as such. They are, apparently, merely expectations of things that were supposed to be accomplished, not significant milestones along the way. This alone can make any advancement towards future "victories" very difficult to achieve.

Would I find less despondency if I would doing something else? Hard to say - at this point, I can scarcely imagine doing anything else other than what I am doing now (which may be part of the problem). Would I find less despondency if I was doing what I am doing somewhere else? Again, hard to say - every location has it's own specific issues, and it really seems to be a case of the grass always appears greener wherever you are.

But the question remains: How does one fight the sense of one's effort amounting to nothing, every day?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Traveling and Scheduling

I am rediscovering that I am a creature of schedules and habit.

One thing that traveling always does for (to?) me is that it shakes me out of the schedule I have arranged for my life. One might say on the macro side it is good: it helps one to see new things and expand one's world. However, on the micro side, it's terrible.

Over the course of the last two years I have carefully worked to find the optimal schedule for my time away when I'm not work. My mornings have fluctuated only a little over the last two years, my evenings more so. It's an attempt on my part to practice the most important things I have in my life given the time that I have available. Within a hair's breath (and given enough sleep the night before) I have created a fairly detailed list of what I need to do in the morning and even can (with a fair degree of accuracy) tell you what I am doing given at a particular time.

Traveling changes that, of course. And not only during the actual traveling experience. What I have found is that it disrupts my schedule for up to a week after - not just in missed sleep (which seems to happen all to frequently) but in trying to re-establish my routine in the morning. It's almost as if my "routine equilibrium" was so disorganized that it takes a while for my inner self to refind its balance and get reset.

It's troubling, of course, because I always tend to lose the progress I've made as I try to re-establish what I was doing. And it's interesting to me, because I may be more usual - or maybe unusual - than I thought: where many people wither on routine, I thrive.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Panning for Truth

"Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not be its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold." - Leo Tolstoy

How do we seek and deal with the truth? Do we believe it to be something that is ever expanding and accretive process, or is it something that we need to work at by paring away all that is not the truth until we arrive at it?

It's not as idle a conversation as one might think. In our social lives, in our work lives, in our political lives, even in our personal lives, there is a great discussion of what truth is and, therefore, how we are to run our lives.

It's not, as Pilate asked Christ, "What is truth?" in the sense of the nature of truth. It's "How do we obtain the truth?"

Does truth grow? Is it an evolving thing? Or is it something, as Tolstoy seems to suggest, that is not so much grown as it is mined by removing all that is not truth?

Gold panning, for those that don't know, is essentially this process. First by eliminating larger rocks, the miner agitates the remaining mud and gravel in a pan with water. As the material is agitated, the heavier items (including gold) fall to the bottom of the pan as the lighter material is washed away. This process is repeated over and over until all that is remaining is gold.

Has the the gold grown in the process of panning? The unwise might say "Yes it has, as the over time more and more is in the bottom of the pan." The wise would respond "It has not grown. The amount has increased, but only in relationship to the amount of material panned to get that gold" (and trust me, you have to pan a lot of material to get a little gold).

So here is the question: are teaching others - indeed, are we teaching ourselves - to pan for truth as for gold, to mine it out of Life as we would seek anything else precious and worthy? It's the same as panning, after all: you have to go through a lot of dirt and rocks to get that which is most precious and even then, you have to continue to wash away everything that is not what you seek until you find it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Giving Up for Lent

And what did I give up for Lent this year?

Lent and practice of it has become more difficult for me as the years have passed. In one way, it's become more difficult simply because it's become more meaningful: while I don't completely grasp the entire concept of it yet, I'm certainly farther along that road than I was. The more we begin to comprehend a difficult truth, the more the truth opens up in our mind for application, like a flower continuing to bloom or the painting in which we continue to see greater details as we continue to look.

It's also become more difficult because of the concept of giving something up, rooted as an act of penitence (Yes, I understand it's not specifically in Scripture, but acting penitently and remorsefully for our sin is - and besides, it hurts nothing and self discipline is always good). Originally I viewed it purely as giving something up. I did sugar one year (do you know how many things have sugar?), soda one year, sweets another (having learned from my "no sugar" experience) - but always it was something physical and an extra, not something needful.

Then upon hearing the suggestion of a preacher, I added to my giving up adding on - that I would also do something during Lent that I would not do otherwise, make a special effort, whether it be praying regularly, reading a portion of the book of John systematically, or practicing some other action.

But, as noted above, things can become more difficult as we move through them.

I now hardly ever drink soda and sweets, though I love them, can be surrendered at will. Other things I like to do are either too easy to let go (such as watching the occasional movie) or are outlets (such as Iaido or reading). What to give up?

This year for Lent, I am giving up criticism.

I immediately put myself at risk by writing this, of course. Criticism? Criticism of whom? Of what? When?

Of whom is to remain between me and God. Suffice it to say that it will be an active effort on my part.

I shuddered a bit as I considered this. After all, this would be difficult. I almost instinctively know that I will fail, which throws me back on I should never try it and go back to something less difficult.

But the risk of failure here is no greater than the risk of failure in any other activity I have undertaken. Did I eat cookies during Lent in the past? Sure I did. Somehow I did not castigate myself for failure the way I am considering doing it now.

Why? Because criticism is a huge sacrifice for our selfish selves. It means that I suspend verbal judgement of others, that I don't engage in the secret pleasure of zinging someone (the secret pleasure of myself and others, I might add), that I simply allow others to be and go about my life.

Frankly, I'm uncomfortable enough just writing about it.

Which probably means it was the right choice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Change is always a great deal harder than what it made out to be by the media. Change is portrayed as perhaps something a bit painful but something which is moved through fairly easily(cue montage here, as our hero goes through taking actions to improve his life; the cuts are short: smiling at someone here, helping someone change a tire there, as a either a 1980's song or sweeping orchestral piece plays in the background). The reality is that even the easiest of changes is a far harder exercise than one can imagine.

It's also difficult because we do not value the process of change as we should.

Too often it seems that we focus on being, rather than becoming. Again, thank our fixation on media and entertainment for this. We pay the attention to our stars and celebrities ("heros" is hardly a term I would use) as if we were worshipping a god, looking at the radiance of what they are or what they accomplish. Seldom if ever do we consider where they came from (maybe, if we're lucky, we'll get a short 5 minutes retrospective on their life) or the great amounts of work they had to pour into their life. It's not even as if we are encouraged to see it; instead, it's as if we're actually discouraged from looking at it. Look at what is, not at what it took to get there.

The result? Too often the generation that is or the generation that is coming give up too early, seeing that if things don't instantly "change", there's no point in starting. The reward - the thing that you are becoming as you change - is lost in the need for instant gratification and instant reward.

How is this combated? Biographies are one good way. Reading the stories of peoples lives is a great way to see them as they were and as they became. The change over the course of their lives, as recorded in a book, is helpful because it clearly lays out how they changing on the journey as they became what we know them as.

Another is simply to remind ourselves that the result of the change - the outcome - is only one aspect of the change, and maybe not even the best one. If I achieve a weight, I've accomplished something - but the changes in lifestyle and better health I enjoy are things that occurred along the way and are just as significant.

If we fail in this, if we lose the ability to communicate the totality and difficulty of change, what we will be left with is a generation who will become increasingly unable to accomplish anything except that which is easy and immediately gratifying. And easy and immediately gratifying is hardly the sort of foundation to build anything on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Choosing One's Self

"It is what one is oneself and what one makes of one's life that matters." - Sir Ernest Shackleton

How often we become confused in life.

How often we mistake movement for action, conversation for communication, being present for being involved.

Especially, how often we mistake allowing the siren song of the world around us, the fads and interests of a society and civilization concerned largely with speed of action and entertainment and progression, for our own individual choosing.

Be assured: the "world", for all of its trumpeted phrases on life such as "Be the self you were always meant to be" and "Follow Your Bliss", is not really interested in that. Certainly, to the extent that you support the currently existing wisdom of what passes for "acceptable" in society, you'll be considered self actualized. But at the base line, the world is concerned about conformity, specifically yours, to the greater civilization around you.

How often have I found that "choosing for myself" or "being independent" is really just a mechanism for choosing the conventional wisdom of the age? And how many times have I found that really choosing for myself, really being my own person, is seen not so much as becoming myself as it is being a "nonconformist", "old fashioned", "Luddite (my favorite)", or even "archaic"?

Any time we rely on society or civilization to define who we are or what we believe, what we find is that we have really become an appendage of definer, subject to their definition of what constitutes personhood. It is only when we take ourselves firmly in hand, determine what we ourselves are and how we should live, that we will find that our choices are really choices and our decisions really reflect who we are.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jesus in the Boat

"On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them 'Let us cross over to the other side. Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?'
Then he arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?' And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!'" - Mark 4:35-41

How much faith do we have in God?

We, like the disciples, so often believe that we are in the purposes of God, that we hear his commands and that we are executing them. "Take the boat to the other side". "Right away, Lord", we shout out as we scurry around the decks of the ship of our lives, making ready to sail.

And then the storms come up.

One wonders what the disciples must have thought. They included fishermen who had spent their whole life on the sea of Galilee, so apparently when the storm arose they initially thought that it was no worse than that they had usually seen (I say this as someone who has never - and never wants to - experience a storm at sea).

But the storm increases in pitch and volume. The winds howl, the boat begins filling with water. There is no modern day coast guard or Bay Watch; if they go down there will be none to save them.

Jesus, they suddenly think. What about Jesus? Will He save us?

Jesus is in back, quite possibly exhausted by a long day of teaching the multitudes. He must have been tired, because the storm wasn't waking Him at all. Suddenly He's ripped out of sleep by the disciples saying "Master, don't you care if we drown?"

In passing, what a thing by these men to say to Christ. In chapter 3 of Mark, He had chosen these twelve men. Later in the chapter He had said that those who followed Him - His disciples - were as important - or more so - than His own family relations. He had ultimately come to sacrifice Himself these men and others - how could He not care?

But Christ addresses the immediate situation first. "Peace, be still!" And like that, no storm. No waves pushing over the side of the boat. A sky of clear stars and gentle breezes, I would imagine.

Only then, after He has saved them, does He rebuke them. "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

Christ had brought them to this point. Christ had commanded them to go out over the water. Christ was even in the boat with them as they sailed. This was the Christ whom they had seen drive out demons, heal the sick, teach with authority. They had seen his displays of power, heard the testimony of John the Baptist.

And yet, when brought to the point of trial, they forgot that this was the same Jesus that was at the back of the boat. Having seen Him act in other situations, they had no belief He would act in theirs.

Really of course, we're no better. We Christians proclaim that God is in control of our lives, that He is ultimately in control of everything that occurs. And then, when we hit the storms of our own lives, we prove ourselves no better. "Hey God! I'm going under here - a little help?" we cry, as if somehow the omnipotent God is taking a nap and can't remember our names.

But as Christians, do we not acknowledge that Christ is the one that who guides our lives, who controls our circumstances? We are happy to follow when it is easy for us to see - it's when it becomes dangerous or perilous to ourselves that we doubt.

Note too that Christ seems to draw a comparison: "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" We're either fearful - full of fear and the circumstances around us - or have faith - faith in Christ who brought us here.

So when we meet the storms of our lives, do we recall that we, too, have Christ at the back of boat. And are we willing to have faith about His being there - or continue to react as the world does, in fear of that which we can see but not recalling "the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen?" (Hebrews 11:1)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pushing Boundaries: Confrontation

I'm hitting the edge of my boundaries again - and I'm not liking it much.

This week's boundaries have been around confrontation of others and managing relationships, two things which are the least enjoyable to me.

Confronting others on issues where there is disagreement is not something I've ever really been good at. It's a function of the fact that I like to be liked; it's also a function of the fact that I don't like to be yelled at, which really doesn't happen that often but which I perceive much disagreement to end in. The corollary to that, managing my relationships, is being able to draw the boundaries between friendship and relationship, between making the work environment a pleasant place to be and being sure that the work that needs to get done gets done.

I'm being driven by this as much as by anything else - pushed, if you will, into going over that wall and into the great big world beyond by two - Maeve of Connaught and Boudicca of the Iceni, who seem intent - kindly and helpfully so, but intent none the less - of pushing my boundaries out, of making me a better manager (dare we suggest leader), of making me "tough".

It has to be one of the most psychically painful things I have done in a long time.

What I'm finding is the actual confrontation itself is not the issue - it's what I do in my mind before and after that's the issue. Before, I'm constantly agonizing over what needs to be done, how do I phrase it, what will be the reaction of the person. I go through ever conceivable scenario in my mind in excruciating detail. After the fact I replay it in my mind: did I do okay? What are they thinking? Will I get fired? Will they quit? Will they ever talk to me again?

It occurs to me as I write this that maybe - possibly - I'm overdramatizing the whole thing in my mind a bit. Maybe I am - but maybe I also have this unreasonable dislike of conflict. At the same time as I write, I realize that I really do follow that process each and every time I go through the exercise.

Henry Ward Beecher said "I don't do more, but less, than other people. They do all their work three times over: once in anticipation, once in actuality, once in rumination. I do mine in actuality alone, doing once instead of three time."

Maybe pushing my boundaries is not only in how I deal with people, but how actually do how I deal with people. Decide and do, not decide and think about/do/think about what I have done.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Post meeting let down day.

The day following a Senior management meeting is, for me, one of the hardest workdays of the year (lucky me: they happen four times a year). The amount of effort that goes into each of these - about 40 hours of preparation, the meeting itself ( around 2 hours) and the post meeting write up and sign off (about another 2 hours) equates into so much effort going into the thing that, once down, I simply collapse internally.

This is always a bit difficult as one has all the other work which one is required to do which has essentially been put on hold while I attempt to do my best on a very visible piece of work. Even this morning I'm dragging as I move in my morning routine: the will to do what I normally do is simply not there.

The exercise, of course, is a good one: making presentations to senior management is always a good idea and the exercise of creating, reviewing and interpreting metrics is a useful skill that I can apply in may areas of my life. But the other part of me, the part that is slowly trying to rebuild the energy to go forward and continue with everything else that needs to be done, is asking the question "really?".

Presentations like this and the results remind me of the fact that, at heart, I am an introvert: performing for large crowds, while there may be some thrill in the version of holding people's attention and being recognized, is draining to me. I would still rather talk in a group of ten rather than present to a group of hundred. One can leave me engaged and excited; the other simply leaves me trying to get through the day after.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Father's Brother

My father's brother died yesterday.

He was in fact my uncle, but I say "My father's brother" because of all my aunts and uncles, he was the one which we least saw - in fact, in the last 20 years I have probably saw him three times. "Uncle" can be as much of an honorific as it can be a statement of relationship.

His life was a series of ups and downs, partially brought on by conditions beyond his control - Type I childhood diabetes and the resulting health concerns which dogged him all his life at time when so much less was known, at least one business failure - and partially by decisions which he made which did not turn out well (as if we always made decisions which do). He usually lived far away and so we did not often see them, although I wonder now if that not only the simple fact of living busy lives as it was an conscious output on both sides to keep the peace.

The talk with my father ironically came at the end of a long day that I was feeling drained: a long day of preparing and re-preparing for the presentation to senior management tomorrow, followed by a quick dinner with the family to celebrate Valentine's day and then running off to Iaido class - the pressures of modern living, one could say.

And all of a sudden, the pressure comes off.

Death is the great perspective adjustor. We can profit from it when it happens around us, taking heed to the matters that are truly important versus what we convince ourselves are important, and change the way we live. Alternately, we can see what happens and learn nothing from it - which will turn out to be the biggest surprise to us when we suddenly realize that there is simply o more time to do anything and those tasks and items we put off to "someday" have suddenly been put off to "never".

It's trite but it's true: If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you change about how you lived today?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Champis the Sheepherding Rabbit

In honor of Valentine's Day (and because I think this is fabulous), today's blog is dedicated to Champis, the Swedish Sheep Herding Rabbit. Enjoy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cold and Rainy

One of those cold mornings that you wish you could stay in bed.

The rain last night was an extension of yesterday: a morning temperature of 34 F, followed by sleet at 1300. We spent the rest of the cocooning in the house, avoiding the bitter cold (high of 41 F).

And then the night came.

I woke up this morning at around 0200 and 0345 to hear the rain hitting the roof and overflowing the gutter in front our bedroom which, no matter how hard I try to clean it out, continues to gather leaves and become clogged, becoming a stream right outside our bedroom window (but, I suppose, helpfully letting me know when it's raining hard). It was raining when I finally plunged myself out of bed at 0500; it is raining now as I write.

Outside temperature: 37 F (feels like 32 F!).

I sit inside at the computer and continue to gulp down my cup of hot coffee, then go to the back door and check the weather again. The blast of cold air and the dripping of the rain on my water storage barrels tells me that in spite of my wishes, the weather has not magically changed. I come back to the computer and have another shot of coffee, randomly thinking that the commute will not be pleasant this morning and mentally changing what I was going to wear to work.

Part of me is simply grateful for the rain, no matter what the temperature. We've had a hard summer this year and little enough rain so far, so anything - even when it comes with near freezing temperatures - is to be welcomed.

But there is another part - a part which, for the most part, is corralled in the back of my mind - which wishes that, for one day, it could simply convince me to "pretend" I never heard an alarm or thought that Monday was a holiday, turn off the computer and the lights, and head back to bed.

Friday, February 10, 2012


"Integrate what you believe into every single area of your life." - Meryl Streep

How well do we integrate what we believe into every single are of our lives?

If I consider it deeply, what I realize is that in many ways this is a concept which is often discusses as part of self-actualization but too often seems to be a luxury reserved for those who can afford it or those who are supported. Integration of what we believe - truly believe - is actually a costly endeavor - not just in terms of money, but in terms of reputation and the ability to survive - especially if your "integrated self" is contrary to the prevailing attitudes of the environment around you.

But does that make it a goal less worth striving for? Not all - in fact, as I continue to exist I find it to be one of the most important goals of all.

This concept of integration of our beliefs should be no surprise to the Christian, simply because this is what Christ expected of us: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me" (John 14:21a). In fact, the Torah is a compendium of God commanding the people of Israel to integrate their beliefs, not just in the inner person (The Ten Commandments) but physically and visually through the dietary, moral and social laws. The ideal Jew was to integrate their belief in God both inwardly and outwardly, through moral behavior and correct thinking as much as through the physical manifestations of avoiding ceremonial uncleanness and being set apart.

But perhaps there is a lesson in failure of the Jewish nation, that they became so focused on the outward manifestations of integration that they forgot the true point of the inward integration: to be holy as God is holy.
Inward integration of our beliefs is always much more difficult. It requires time; it requires thought; it requires continual application of our beliefs to our active lives - and it requires a great deal of courage to live that out. Outward integration to a movement or society is always much easier, simply because we don't have to much: just agree with whoever is in charge and do what they say and we'll blend in.

Those that have integrated their beliefs into their lives always stand out. I cannot specifically give a key to how to know them any more than I can point to a wind blowing in the open plain and say "There it is". The integration is so complete that they simply are what they appear to be.

So perhaps the real question to ask is not "Why am I not integrating my beliefs into my live?" Integration is a process like any other that can be accomplished as it's been done before. Perhaps the real, the profound question is "What do I believe?" and the second, "Do I believe it to the point of acting on it?"

Thursday, February 09, 2012

What to Do

Pondering career stability last night.

I had a long talk with Bogha Frois last night about work and the world and the way of things. As it turns out, we share many of the same thoughts about our current choice of careers.

The biggest point for both of us is the fact that we don't like the fact that we are essentially dependent on an employer for a job. Ah, you may say, this is true of everyone that works for someone else. That's true enough, I suppose - but it doesn't change the fact that the reality is that my career is at the disposal of someone else. I could work diligently and still be let go due to circumstances beyond my control, whether it be a downturn in business, a personal grudge, or a need for a scapegoat.

Which leads to the second point: I don't like the general direction of the economy. It's not my point to argue the pros or cons of the current economic policies (there are plenty of websites that will discuss such things in great detail; we don't do politics here) - what my point is that I, at least, am not filled with a sense that any rebound in the economy will lead to anything remotely like the situation prior to crash.

The third point: If I'm not in control of my career and I'm concerned about the economy, where I don't want to end up in 10 to 15 years is essentially begging for a job in my field, knowing that I will be in too high salary bracket for many due to experience. I've had to interview such people once or twice in my career that I was hiring for. One floats through my mind yet I can't remember the particulars; what I do recall is this sense of a man who was as old my boss interviewing with a quiet sense of desperation because he needed the position. I don't want to be that guy.

So where does that leave me? I'm not really sure. I have always believed that those who are the best in the industry will always have jobs; the problem is being in that top bracket. I also look to my own industry, when seems to be in the continuing throes of layoffs and downsizing, further compacting the labor pool.

Start over in something else? I'm a little too far along for that I guess - although as a friend pointed out, since you've got a daughter in elementary school, you're not really too old period.

Do something on my own? Great in theory - lousy in the practice of deciding what that would be and how I would make it work. My history in this arena ala The Firm is not such that it makes me eager to try again.

Questions without answers, answers I seem to need.

The thing I don't want, the thing I fear more than all, is having these vague feelings and in 15 years saying "I should have done what I thought about" - but by then, it will be too late.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Control of Things

There is so much I am not in control of concerning my life.

I hate it.

When I say "so much", what I really seem to be saying to myself is the things that I really want to be in control of. The big things, like new jobs and raises and, in general, good things happening to me. Or the things that really impact me, like the decisions of others that have an influence on my life - wishing that I had a say in such things, or even that I was consulted for my input prior t the decision.

Alas, it is too often the case that none of this is true. I end up sitting on the sidelines, waiting in vain for input that is never requested or dealing with the consequence of a decision that I was never consulted on - or worst of all, simply waiting in a seemingly empty universe for something, anything, to happen.

What I do seem to get is ability to influence things which don't seem to matter very much. Small tasks which seem not even to happen themselves but require my involvement. Things like getting paperwork accomplished at work (which I have to get others to finish), or continually following up with someone, or even just accomplishing simple things around the house like raking leaves and mowing. Do I have complete control of these items? Yes, absolutely. Does it seem to make a difference in the vast scheme of things? No, not at all.

Why then is the universe structured in such a way?

I'm not sure. I guess one could posit that by learning to do small things which we can accomplish, we gain the "right" to influence bigger things. Possible I suppose, although that seems to suggest a progression of events which is too often not present.

One could also suggest that such an arrangement teaches us patience, to learn to wait for things (for the Christian, to wait upon God) until things happen in their own good time. This is possible as well, although the line between waiting and becoming inactive in the pursuit of that which needs to be done can be a thin one.

My best guess is simply that it is a training in the reality of life.

The reality is that we don't control large chunks of our lives. Take our physical being: we can eat well and exercise and sleep but we can't control when cancer appears or a genetic disease comes out of nowhere to strike us down. We can't control the weather around us that can lay waste to our homes and loved ones through wind and water. We certainly cannot control people, who often seem to hinder us or outright hurt us in ways that seem incomprehensible - we cannot make them call to offer us a job or companionship, and we certainly cannot make them change their minds. And ultimately, we cannot control the length of our lives: our death is a date unknown to virtually all of us and there is ultimately nothing we can do to extend it significantly beyond what it will be.

All of the issues we consider needful to control are, in fact, little issues in comparison with the very facts of life itself. What is a new job compared to the loss of one's home, the jolt of a random bonus compared to death? Could it be that God has established the universe this way to remind us that, ultimately, we are in control of very little?

I suppose it's comforting in an odd way - there are lots of things I can't control, but in reality I could have never controlled them anyway. The fact that I thought I could was an illusion based on a mistaken view of my own place in the universe. Accepting that there is much I cannot control frees me to focus on that which I can.

Perhaps the better thought would be to rejoice in the fact that I am given the ability to have an impact on anything at all.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


We lose too much by a lack of clarity and power.

The key (as I believe any highly paid consultant would tell you) to communication is clarity - not just that you have a message, but that you present that message clearly. That you do it in such a way that whoever was to hear the message understands it completely and well. That they leave with either a decision to make or something to accomplish or a piece of knowledge that they did not previously have.

We prize clarity. We cry for it. Yet somehow, we continuously find ourselves in the position that we feel our communications to be largely ineffective. Why is this?

One is perhaps a lack of confidence in ourselves and our message. We believe that what we have to communicate is important, but maybe we don't really believe it. Any failure, any wavering on that account will result in the message being garbled. We're too often not sure ourselves what we believe or that we are sufficient to bring the message.

Another is our perception of how the message will be received. People like to hear items that are good or praise them; they are much less receptive when the message is bad news or something about themselves which is less than praiseworthy. The more powerful people become, the seemingly less and less they like to hear such items. Why? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that they have attained their position by trusting in their own abilities and efforts (and they have the results to prove it) and that anything which is in conflict with that view is immediately due to suspiscion as it does not otherwise reinforce their view. We can tend to pre-account for that view by imagining all possibilities (usually bad ones) of how the message will be received which changes how we give the message - before it is even delivered!

A third reason is often fear - fear for ourselves. Being the bearer of news which is not what people want or need often creates fear in ourselves - fear of how people will react, or even fear for the results of the communication. We tend to either try and parse our word for less than a full effect or blurt out the message as quickly as possible and retreat to our own mental burrow, where we fearfully wait for the effects to come as we huddle every time the earth around us quakes.

When people they want clarity of communication and they want the truth, they too often seldom really mean this. What they often mean is that that they want the truth that accords with the "truth" that they already know to be true in their lives. But how often we as communicators oblige this, by shying away from what should be said because we don't believe in the message or we predispose ourselves to how the message will be received or that we fear the results to ourselves.

Clarity in communication should probably seldom involve loud voices and shouting - occassionally they're necessary, but they don't make things more clear. Only by overcoming our own fears and reservations can we do that. We can seldom control how the message is received. We can only do our best to make sure it is as clear as possible.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Missing Center

Centering is so hard to do these days.

I've no real sense of a center right now. Life seems to be ripping by at about 1000 miles an hour, and if I'm lucky I can get about one tenth of it in.

How does one bring oneself back to the center of one's existence? So often in my own life events and tasks seem to be dictating what I should do and how I should do it, rather than me dictating such things to my life.

I seem more busy but less purposeful, more involved but less engaged, more movement driven but less destination achieving. It leads to a life that is constantly in motion but seldom doing anything of value, a life that is constantly doing but seldom making a difference, a life that is always "active" but seldom bring deep value to others.

Would that I could clear this fog of existence from my mind to refocus on that which is truly important and less of what claims for itself how important it is.

Friday, February 03, 2012


Simplify. This is the word which has come up repeatedly in my life lately.

Part of it is an simply an extension of how time is flowing in my life - I'm continuing to find that I seemingly have less and less time - so I have to simplify what I can do with my time. They'll always be more to do than I will be able to do, so I have to more carefully choose what I will do.

Maybe some of this is simply part of the years passing - we learn that there are things that we are simply never going to do. I can hold out my hopes for a touring gig as a harpist, but I think the chances of that happening are small at this point.

On the other hand, things we can't do doesn't mean there aren't thing you should never do. Maybe I'll never be a harpist, but I picked up the mandolin. Sure, I won't ever be a performing genius, but I'm learning something new.

It's also looking at everything which is in your life and questioning the presence of each thing that is there. Where did these come from - I mean really come from, not just the fact that they've been in my life forever. Why am I doing them? Should I continue to do them? In Brian Tracy's words "Knowing what you know now, would you start/continue this thing?"

It's hard letting go everywhere - at work, where delegation becomes a fact of life and at home, where perhaps things which have become as comfortable as a good set of sweatpants are moved on in our lives. But the benefits are seeming to outweigh the pain: less clutter (physically and psychically), a greater sense of choice about what one does, and the very real sense that one is using one's time in the very best way possible, doing the things that are really important.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Communication. The Killer.

The Killer, you ask? Isn't a lack of communication the dangerous condition? After all, if we are communicating, then in theory we are talking about the same things. It's only when people or countries or businesses fail to communicate that things can become difficult.

True in one sense - obviously if there is no communication at all, issues are not being addressed and problems are not being solved. Allowed to go long enough, a lack of communication will result in the destruction of whatever needs to be communicated about.

But communication can be a killer to.

Why? Because too often when we communicate we think we are discussing the same items and issues. We may use the same words, we may use the same concepts, we may even leave with goals and "to do" lists, yet we never actually communicated about the issues we thought we were discussing. In this scenario both parties leave the conversation thinking that the other understands their position and what needs to be done.

Then, suddenly, two days or two weeks or two months later, the parties look around and realize that the nothing they discussed came to fruition. "How can this be?" they ask. "We had meetings and project teams and minutes around this subject? We talked and made plans. We communicated."

"We communicated." Perhaps. We talked, at least. We assumed we had communicated. But did we really?

Communication, to be truly effective, needs not only to be done, but to be done thoroughly and to the point of understanding. Only then will our conversation of issues turn to communication about the issues.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Successful and Unsuccessful

The unsuccessful drives out the successful.

I got an e-mail from an old coworker yesterday about a visit he had yesterday from an agency. It was his first visist, especially after he revised their operations in the industry we both work in. The result: a very successful audit and a vindication of the work he put in to revising the systems.

I was happy for my coworker - in our field of work, one seldom gets a such a vindication that the changes and work does are successful. At the same time it made me shake my head: this individual used to work at the company I am at. He could have employed this same level of dedication and diligence and change to where he was.

But he left - not because he didn't try, not because of a lack of trying, but because the company simply did not want to hear what he had to say, or the fact that the one saying it was someone that they did not consider to be of appropriate rank.

And so he went - off to another company, where (apparently) he's doing quite well.

There are many reasons that people, companies or movements fail. But one of the most obvious is that they lose the ability to hear the truth, or they lose the ability to hear the truth and act on it. What it results in ultimately is not a stronger company because the hierarchy was preserved and the "systems" worked; what it results in is people of talent and drive taken their skills somewhere else to where they are valued. Such people will succeed and more often than not, the companies or movements they are involved with will succeed too.

And the unsuccessful? They'll sit in the corner, badmouthing those the left and declaring them "difficult to work with" or "uncaring" or "not a team player".

It's not that they're not a team player - it's just that they are playing for teams that want to win.