Monday, April 30, 2012

Turning Thoughts Off

Is it possible to turn your hopes off while you work?

I'm always pulled two ways when I work:  on one way, I try to focus on what it is that I'm doing.  On the other, I'm trying to focus on what I want to do.  Unfortunately, the two are seldom the same thing.

At one time I had the ability to focus on exactly what I was doing.  In particular, I picture working at the convenience store my cousin owned.  Every night, it was my job to fill the walk in.  Every night, that's exactly what I did:  opening each door to face the beers and sodas, then going in back and loading the beers and sodas into the rows, bundled up in a sweat shirt as I did it.  I had it down to an art - approximately 1.5 hours to do the whole cooler, clean up, and get ready to close.

Did I ever spend time thinking about doing something else?  Possibly.  But I knew my routine and I executed it every night. I was there, working away, being where I was.

That feeling of being where I am seems strangely gone from my life at this point.  Even when I am at work, it feels like I have forty things there pulling at my attention, begging to be completed.   I try and focus, and sometimes I'm even successful at keeping my attenion on one project - but when it's over, I am only suddenly reminded of all the other things I have to do.

This, of course, do not play on anything that I want to do.  This is another area that my brain happily runs off pursuing, leaving me to try to wrangle my day with what's left.

How do I do it?  How do I completely "be" where I am, even if it entails a constant struggle to accomplish things that seemingly have no meaning?

Friday, April 27, 2012

On Turning Forty Five

Today is my 45th Birthday.

I don't really know what to make of this.  Forty five sounds so, well, old I guess.  I think of those whom I have known that have been in their mid-forties and have always thought that sounded on the downhill side of disaster.

It's interesting, because I don't really know that is correct.  If I take stock of my life today (never a bad exercise), I find that I am probably in better shape than I have been in for years.  I'm actually doing athletic activities (Highland Games, Iaido, running).  My interests in music, language, history and reading are as broad as they've ever been. 

My family continues to enjoy good health overall; my children are intelligent, interesting, talented, and focused.  My wife continues to be a great wife, selflessly giving of her time to support the children's various activities and interests AND holding down a job AND keeping our household running.

Our menagerie of pets is doing well with minimum maintenance and continues to add joy to our lives.

We are loved of God, have a splendid church family, and opportunities to serve.

My writing continues to go strong and I continue to explore other ways to communicate and express myself.

Sure, there are parts of my life that aren't where I'd like them to be - my career being a huge one - but on the whole, life is going quite well if I really sit down and look at it.  And Forty Five is really sort of a page marker instead of a significant milestone of decrepitude.

I'll have a quiet day today away from work - a trip to bookstore (for me, nirvana), maybe make a little cheese, practice Iaido, have dinner with Nighean dhonn, and read.  The perfect way to celebrate something which has significance only in the fact that I am doing much better than I think I am and have any right to.

Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Strategists and Tacticians

I am realizing I am not a strategist.

Yes, I know that everything can be taught and yes, I know that we can do things which we think we can't.  Be that as it may, I don't know that I'm a strategist.  Instead, I'm tactical.

I have realized that strategists like strategy and believe in it firmly.  But what I've also realized is that strategists - or at least the strategists I know - are too often the most of touch people in any situation.

They have no anchor in the real world.  They don't know how the things they strategize for actually work. Confronted with the need to accomplish a task, they couldn't do it.  Instead, they look for the tactical people to "execute" their plans.
Strategists are important - of course.  But it's a rare strategist that can understand the day to day operations of anything, or talk to someone performing the work without the sense of condescension that so often accompanies a civilization.

Bottom line, we don't value the people that do the work.  Strategists have become the pinnacle of the work pyramid, but the people that actually complete the tasks and execute the strategy are more often than not seen as a sort of speaking tool whose purpose is to support whatever strategies are developed.

Once upon a time, a rise in position was tied to merit.  People who came up to the strategy positions had experience with the actual function of the tasks to be done.  When they planned work and set goals, the understanding of all was that the people setting the work understood the work being done.

No more.  Too often, people with little or no experience in how to accomplish something are put in charge of something.  They make grandiose plans and improvement projects.  When confronted with items to be done, they too often assume how things are done or things that are in place.  The result?    Plans that too often fail midstream or are never accomplished at all.

I'm a tactician.  I solve problems.  I do the work.  Occasionally I strategize.  But I've come to realize that while strategists have the option of planning and not accomplishing, I do not. For many things, if I don't do them, they won't get done. 

Which gives a certain amount of power.  I can exists without the strategists.  But for many things, they cannot exist without me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Doves forage above:
Birdseed waterfall trickles
to squirrels below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Key Performance Indicators

KPI: Key Performance Indicator.   A metric identified as indicative of the performance of a business.

What are the Key Performance Indicators of our lives?

KPIs are even not that easy in business.  Some of them leap out, like "Revenue" and "Profitability".  Others are more subtle.  "Deviations" can tell you how a company's inner processes are performing; "Personnel turnover" can be a guide as to what kind of people are leaving and why they are leaving; "Failure Rates" can tell you not only how much you are failing in production, but potentially the root causes of those failures.

But what about the KPIs of our lives?

We tend not to think of life in this context.  Life is an organic process; business is business.

But life is also a process:  we're either moving forward or we're falling behind.  Too often I myself have never taken the time to actually measure my life against some metric.  I then occasionally freak out when I perceive things as having gone bad.  "Dear Lord, how did we get here?" I wail, as if all of a sudden this incident occurred.  It wasn't all of a sudden, of course; had I been monitoring things on a more regular scale with something to measure them against, I would have at least seen the trend.

But what would these look like for a life?  Here I'm a little less certain.  One could certainly use money as indicator with all of it's intricacies, and perhaps for some things that's a good one.  But it's hardly the only one.

  What is it that is indicative of how one's life is really going, whether forward or back?  Are they different for every person, or is there some kind of baseline that can be applied?

What is there can be measured about a life?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pondering: Career

I'm grappling with the fact that another birthday week is upon us - well, really me.  I've been in my industry entering 15 years and at my current title for 10.  I have seemingly hit a wall - professionally.
And personally as well. There's a subtle sense in all of my doings that I'm stuck within boxes, not moving forward in anything.  Last year feels like this year; next year, I fear will feel the same.

I took part of yesterday to begin the hard job of looking at where I was professionally and what my potential is, given what I am and where I am.  The initial answer, quite frankly, was bleak. 

Yes, I can get more certifications.  Yes, I can increase my industry and managerial experience with another year of work.  But I suspect that will no more lead me to a better than job than just finding a new job today.

I looked at additional education as well - maybe (given my seeming career slump) it is time to consider looking at something else.  The research there was not particularly more encouraging - 2 years and $20,000 for an MBA (I looked at one school; I suspect they're all pretty close); 2 years + for something in the electronic engineering field (I live in an area with many high tech firms, so there was a certain amount of sense in looking) and experience required.

So what do I do?  What does anyone do when they feel stuck?  Redouble my efforts? "pay it forward"? - I've come to have a distrust of this concept, as it never seems to work out quite as it is portrayed (the effort is always greatly appreciated by management; the reward always seems to be delayed or lacking).
Simply accept the fact that I am where I am and at this point, nothing is likely to change (so shut up and be happy)?

I don't think any of those is the answer - yet I have nothing better.  All I do know is that the thought of staying 20-30 more years at the level I am, doing what I am doing is a thought I shudder away from.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Love a Job?

What is like to have a job you truly love?

I was sent into a spin of thought-provoking despondency this week by overhearing the conversation of two individuals.  One was relating to a third party "When I saw Violet at the bar I gave her a hug and said 'How do you like your new job?' Her response was 'I love it!'  My response to her was 'I love my new job too!'"

This has provoked one of those nagging thoughts which has dogged my thinking for the rest of the weekend.

Have I done jobs I loved?  Sure.  The Firm was one - although financially fraught with peril (and consequences), I loved doing the research and crunching the numbers and presenting datq.  The Music Group was another - paid virtually nothing, but I covered costs and had an excuse to sing and play and learn the obscure languages I love.  Teaching perhaps - certainly the reading and the preparation of the lectures, if not so much the presentation of them.

If I look at the connecting factors in these, they 1)  Involved doing reading and researching; 2) Leveraged my interest in something I already liked; and 3) Paid terribly.  1 and 2 are alright; 3 becomes a bit difficult to swallow in a society that requires cash for a living.

I think the thing I remember most about all of those - the thing that  I miss now - is that I got out of bed excited to start to work.  Even in the case of teaching and music, where I had another job to support them, I still got up thinking "I get to do this today!  Great!".  

Was there a sense of doing good?  Possibly - maybe not in the more "direct" way I should be feeling it now, but there was at least a sense that somehow, somewhere I was contributing positively to the lives of others.

I understand that jobs which are loved are few and far between, and many have to endure that which they do not love simply because a job is, for most, a necessity.  But I equally understand that jobs that are endured inevitably eat their way into the fibers of being, replacing enthusiasm for anything or the zest to succeed with the dull retort of "I have to". 

And given long enough, "have to" becomes signature phrase of the intellectual and emotional walking dead.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Does God move our plans forward, or do our plans move forward when they agree with His?

I've been struggling to make progress with this thought as I look through my life, especially now at the moment of putting down more roots in New Home.  Purchasing a house has brought this  thought to the fore as well, as reviewing the selling documents brings to mind the series of events that brought us here, which things brings up the series of events which brought us to that point.  So often, my life seems like a series of random accidents to which I responded, perhaps without always thinking as well as I should of.

But plans.  I had them. I have them.  I'm sure most people do.  We'd like to believe that God puts these plans into our heads and hearts so that we can execute them.  We read "Commit your work to the Lord, and He will establish your plans" in Proverbs 16:3 or 1 John 5:14  "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." (and yes, before you comment, I do realize this verse is not a promise to just receive every prayer we ask.). 

So we do it.  We pray and plan and study God's word and talk to people and gather data and try to move forward on these plans.  And, at least seemingly for me, they seem to go precisely nowhere.

Have plans that I made moved forward?  Sometimes.  Sometimes I think God let them move forward in spite of the fact they were silly or stupid or (occasionally) downright dangerous because He wanted to teach me the folly of thinking I knew it all.

But what about the good ones that go nowhere, the honorable and noble ones, the ones that (it seems like) really represent something God would approve of?  How do we reconcile that those don't go anywhere when our lives too often seemed trapped in things of little value and impact?

I suppose that comes down to the point of making the argument about what God's will is.  There's been plenty of ink spilled about it over the centuries.  And unless one is of the type who believe God still speaks (which He does to me occasionally, but never audibly and never in such direct terms) you'll find yourself trying to chase a will-o-the-wisp you can never catch.  Some things we can know, of course - He put them down in the Bible - but there are just as many things that we can't know.  I sometimes wonder if these are the things that He often makes those kinds of decisions on - yes, He states what He would like to us to do, but He keeps His own counsel on what is in His heart.  This perhaps we can only know by His blessing after the fact, or in Heaven itself.

Which probably gets back to the point I often find myself returning to:  is it that (once again) I've managed to ignore what He's really asking of me in order to find my justification for what I want? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Changing Up

This morning I opened my blogging account only to discover that the website that hosts my blog (that would be, also known as Google) has helpfully changed the entire interface of the system.  It was one of those visual shocks where the screen portrays something that you haven't the least idea what it is, like watching a childhood movie you remember and suddenly seeing things you have absolutely no memory of.

I'm not really sure why companies feel the need to do things like this.

Does it look like there are more features?  I think so, judging by the parts ribbon at the top of my post right now and the plethora of options which greeted me when I logged into my account.  Do these features make my life somehow better or help me in my quest to improve my writing and my ability to get my thoughts down on paper?  I don't think so.

(Note to self:  as you continue to type into the box of text and reach the size limit, the box helpfully expands on its own instead of you having to scroll up and down.  It's useful - but slightly disconcerting).

The thought that always leaps to mind when things like this happen is "why?"  Was there a crushing need to improve the interface by users?  Or (as I suspect) is it more of an issue that programmers, like inventors throughout the ages, always feel the need to tinker with creations to make them "better" in their eyes - regardless of whether or not anyone has asked for it.

It's certainly not the end of the world, and I'm sure I'll learn to drive my way around this eventually as well as I did the previous version (e.g. what't the bare minimum I have to know to make an entry).  It's just one of those slightly off kilter events that leaves one concentrating more on the medium and how to work it rather than the actual words themselves - which, really, is the point of any blog.

Now, if I can just figure out how to post this....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holding Down the Fort

So the bad news: I seem to in the midst of another depressive mood. And the good news: it seems to be almost 6 weeks since the last depression that I have had.

This, as they say, is progress.

It feels like I'm banging off walls in every aspect of my life: professional, personal. Even physical: this chest thing I seem to have acquired somewhere is just annoying enough that it keeps me from really exercising (or really sleeping well) but is not severe enough to really be "sick" - thereby ensuring I neither exercise nor truly rest.

It's as if (to use Bilbo Baggin's terms) I'm too little butter being spread across too much toast, feeling thin and stretched.

The thing that seems to be nagging at me today is the sameness of everything. It's as if I keep looking for something to happen or change, yet nothing seems to be ready to do so - or even gives a hint that it ever will.

Has it always been this way? I think back to 20+ years ago, having gotten out of graduate school with no real idea of what I was doing to do. There was change; indeed, the first three years of my post-school life were full of it: marriage, moving, music, 3 different career types. Even when I fell into my current field, there still seemed to be changes: learning new things, learning new industries, moving from company to company to learn and grow, even a bevy of new activities on my off hours.

And now, none of that seems operative.

Brian Tracy, I suppose, would tell me to get a vision of my ideal life and start working on it. The problem is even if I really knew what that is, any change of that magnitude - indeed, any change at all - seems light years from where I am today.

It's almost the mentality of holding down the fort because that's your task in life. The problem is that holding down the fort means that the ability to do anything else, or even the hope of doing something else, is put on hold because you have to stay in one place.

In all military histories, garrison duty was considered the most boring and least likely to produce any promotion or change. Garrison duty in life seems no different.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Of All The Gin Joints in All the World...

As part of the ongoing Home Quest 2012, the mortgage broker keeps asking for a little information more. Gone are the days of wild figures and limited paperwork: now, everything is to be triple checked and cross referenced. Yesterday's request: the 2009 tax returns and documentation relating to the sale of our house in Old Home.

In digging through the documents and trying to find anything relating to the sale which accompanied our move to New Home, I suddenly found myself awash in a sea of depression and regret. Every bad memory around the house, every failure I ever managed to do - not only in regard to the house and The Firm but elsewhere in my life - came bubbling to top, reflecting the paperwork that was scattered across the bed as I continued to search for documents.

The past, it seems, never really goes away.

But upon later reflection (mostly at night, after a low day) I realized that saying is only partially right. While it is true that the past never goes away and is therefore available to rise up when we least expect it, it is not true to say that the past has power. The past, in fact, is powerless.

The past can do nothing to me without my acknowledgement and acceptance. It's like the video or DVD we keep next to the TV: I can replay it, but it is only a record of what has happened, not the event itself. Any power it has to harm, any strength it has to distress, comes only from my willingness to grant it, the same way I become concerned for actors of whom I know nothing and have no relation except through the power of acting.

But in one way the past does have power, if we choose to use it: the power to learn.

The past is a learning center of our lives where, like the aforementioned DVD, we can reflect and review the events of our lives - what worked, what didn't - without the risk of trying out something "new" in our current life state. In truth, most of what we face now we have faced in the past; we need only review our lives to see where it happened, what we did, and how it came out.

(A small plug here for the importance of History, both for our education system and as a personal source of learning. Just as we have probably done it before and failed to learn, so have other individuals and other civilizations).

So yes, of all the gin joints in all the world, my past wandered in yesterday. Fortunately, after freaking out about it and being a bit depressed, I invited him up to the bar for a drink. It seems, after asking, he has a few stories to share with me...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not Forgotten

Nighean bhan has been asking to put fish in her tank for a few weeks now, and yesterday was finally the day to do it. We got into the Trusty White Protege and headed out.

To get to the next turnoff is merely the act of getting on and off by staying in the exit lane. I've missed that exit many times - and, New Home being New Home, if I miss it I have to go down another mile to turn around and get back. Therefore I was paying complete attention to what I was doing and where I needed to be.

As we came off the freeway (exiting at freeway speeds, of course) I looked up ahead. To my consternation, I saw a red Volkswagen turning out from a nearby store and into the road. As was watching out of my right vision, it seemed that they were not just turning and getting into the middle of three lanes but seemed intent on moving into the far left lane.

My lane.

It's at moments like these that I'm grateful I grew up at a time where Driver's Education was still real and in a small town where you learn to do things that you might not learn to do in a city. I hit the brakes hard and, as the VW continued to turn in and then (realizing I was there) moved back out (seemingly at sub-light speed), made a soft left and went up and over the small curb and into a median of native grasses and wild flowers.

I came to a stop and just sat there for a moment, nerves jangling. The traffic was not too bad (being Sunday and all), so I was able to get the car moving and over to a lane where the VW had pulled in.

A very nice young lady and her boyfriend got out as we checked on each other, then made conversation as I crawled around the bottom of the car to look. Tires looked low but good - they were probably low anyway - and there was no leaking that I could see. We exchanged information, then they drove away and we, trailing bits of grass and flower petals, headed on to buy a fish.

After we got back home, fish in hand (a blue betta, name undetermined at this time), I sat there shaken for a while. It's been a long time that I have had so near a miss moving so fast. I went back and forth about cause - should I have stayed on the surface road, should they have stayed in the center lane - but that's all in the past now and probably irrelevant. All were safe, the cars are okay. Carry on.

What it did make think about was the very real presence of God in my life.

I often feel - well, not forgotten, but maybe mostly out of mind - by God. The things that I have always thought were important (mostly to me, to be fair) never really seem to work out the way I hope for. The life I would like, doing the things I would like, seems to constantly evade my grasp like tadpoles in a spring pond. It's a fairly selfish view as I sit and think about it - judging the attention of God as if he were a genie and wish fulfillment was the Key Performance Indicator - but I suspect I'm far from the only one.

And then something like this happens, something that could have ended very badly instead (and hopefully) somewhat amusingly - I can imagine what the drivers whizzing by thought of my Trusty White Protege in a cloud of pollen and petals. One could make the argument that it was almost as a hand had gone between the two cars and guided mine up onto the median, making sure to give it a short lift on the way over the curb.

And there are so many other little things: the fact that the tires were not completely full and so did not burst; the fact that there were no handy sharp object in the grass to puncture my tires, the fact that no harm seems to have befallen the car; that I did not take The Ravishing Mrs. TB's car (which, being lower, surely would not have survived unscathed); the fact that it was Sunday and that incident any other day of the week would not have ended as well.

And the big one, of course: that no-one was injured.

It was an excellent - and for me, a very timely - reminder that just because we don't see God working on what we think is important doesn't mean that He has stopped working and caring for us. And, more importantly, that He has not - and will not - ever forget us.

Even in the simple act of getting into a car for a fish.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Starting The Day: A Lifelong Habit

Once upon a time I was not a morning person. Through my teenage and college years, I'd sleep in until I absolutely had to get out bed in the morning, then rush around as quickly as possible. This habit moved itself into the post-graduate years as working early and taking classes late meant morning was a time to get up and get ready and go.

But after I married and began to work early mornings, I began to discover the power of the morning. It started simply enough - Study a Latin Lesson and read some Scripture as I hurried down breakfast before running out the door - but over time I found that I was actually making progress in something that I enjoyed while I worked as I had to.

Over the years with a series of long commutes and early risings, time became more and more precious. Suddenly getting it up a little earlier in the morning was not just something I did because I moved slowly, it was something that allowed me to extend my day into the areas that I wanted to do but couldn't because of work.

Scheduling is everything; you could make the argument it has taken me 22 years to get to the point that I am maximizing my time while maintaining some degree of flexibility in what I do. But with the scheduling comes the power to do the things that I like to do, to "squeeze out" the maximum amount of usefulness in the time I am granted.

Is my schedule subject to change? Sure it is. I'm always seeking to find ways to get a little more time in the morning as there are others things I'd like to do (maybe another language, time to garden in the cool of the morning, a regular morning time for writing, or even the beginning of a new activity) or even extend the time for things I do now (a longer workout or more time for reading). I could need to be to work later or change my commute to a far shorter one. Either way, I've got a structure build on now.

Starting the Day can either make or break the rest of the day. The odd thing is that much of Starting The Day remains in our power to control.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Starting The Day: Reading

What is the thing that can keep me on focus during the day, especially days when I feel completely off course? What can give me the power to visualize a possibility in the midst of day of drudgery? Reading.

Reading - specifically, reading for success - is for me the secret sauce that keeps me focused and going during the day. It is very hard for me to visualize moving forward in any aspect of my life without motivational reading, something to spur me on to success.

My reading is divided into two parts:

1) Spiritual: For me, the Scriptures. I've read "Through the Bible in a year" for many years now, where the Old Testament and New Testament is broken down into 366 segments. Mornings are my time for the New Testament, followed by a reading in Proverbs for the Date (31 days, 31 books). I also try to included a devotional reading as well: sometimes theology, sometimes biography, sometimes a true devotional reading.

The point? This keeps me grounded in what is actually important and what the purpose of life really is - and that no matter how much I flatter myself, I am not truly in control.

2) Motivational: For me, this varies tremendously. I've read The Art of War by Sun Tzu many times. I've read books by motivational writers: Brian Tracy, Jeffrey Gitomer, Orison Swett Marden. I've read books on success in writing and publishing. I've read books about businesses and business models that I admire, such as Raising the Bar by the founder of Clif Bars.

The point of this variety in book choices is that it helps to keep focused on things that my day to day existence tends to wipe clean. Things like self improvement, visions of things I want to do, stories of people who have done the things I want to do - all of these keep me looking towards the horizon of the future. I am very forgetful and easily distracted by life. I need these readings as a touchstone for what is possible.

I literally cannot imagine a morning without this kind of reading any more - to me, it would be as foreign as to start out the day without a cup of coffee. If I don't do this sort of reading for two or three days I can feel it: my world becomes shrunken and shuttered by the musts and have to's of my existence.

So read every morning. It's not just good for the mind, it's good for the soul.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Starting The Day: Have a Plan

So now I've gotten enough sleep. The reality is that even with the sleep, the day is still there and ready to have a crack at me. And the second reality is that unchecked, the day will overrun any good intentions I have to accomplish anything.

That's why I need a plan.

My morning is remarkably - almost frighteningly - planned out for me by me. Is it written down anywhere? No, of course not - even I'm not that OCD (yet, anyway). But it tends to always be the same, on the same schedule.

After rising, I pray and read my morning Scripture and the Proverbs chapter for the date (31 chapters, 31 days) and work on my memorization (currently working through Titus) and usually read a devotional text. Then I do my language portion: some Old Testament Greek, some Old English (I never anticipate becoming fluent, of course, but a reading knowledge would be nice). After this, lately I have been reading some motivational books (that will be in tomorrow's post).

After this, Physical Training and exercise. I've been trying - not always successfully to alternate running (MWF) and weight training (TTHS). The timing here is a bit off sometimes: if I'm on my game, I'm out the door to run or in to lift by 0535; if not, as late as 0550. A little flexibility in one's schedule is never a bad thing. The going is the important thing.

When I'm back, it's rabbit and hamster time. I try not to rush this more than I have to - the rabbits (and hamsters) appreciate the attention, and it really is one of the more important things I do during the day.

After finishing with the animals, it's usually off to the computer to check my e-mail and post my quotes on the locations where they exist on the Internet. I don't do my blogging at this point, but instead return to the couch to practice Japanese and eat breakfast.

Following breakfast, it's on to writing (just like today). The time it takes varies greatly - sometimes the words flow and I'm easily completed (I try to average 500-600 words a post), sometimes they drag and it takes a lot longer. However, usually by 0730 the work is done.

And then? Loose time before I shower. Make lunch, perhaps check a few websites I frequent, maybe practice Iaido for a few minutes. It's largely dependent on how long it has taken me to do everything else - and what I feel like.

Is my schedule cast in stone? Not at all. Sometimes I oversleep. Sometimes the weather outside is frightful and running sounds cold, or reading takes more time than I anticipated, or the bunnies want a bit more love. The important thing is that I get up every morning not having to start with a sense of "What do I need to do?" but rather a guided plan of what I should be doing. By the time I'm in the car on my way to work, I've accomplished many of the things that are important to me personally - which matters when your time is limited and you don't feel you are really doing that which you love to do.

Try it yourself. Pick five things to do in the morning. They don't have to be mine - you have your own interests. But plan your day from when you rise and find out if, by the time you're done, you don't have a sense of making something happen in your life before you walk out the door.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Starting The Day: Sleep

Starting the day correctly starts the night before. With Sleep.

I am not a sleep expert and have not significantly studied the science of physiology and sleep. All I can tell is that for myself - and for everyone else I know - sleep is a crucial aspect to the following day.

The amount of sleep required by individuals varies and I don't know why. I've known people who could subsist on 3 hours a night quite nicely. I've known people who absolutely require 8 hours of sleep a night at a minimum and are a wreck between.

Many of most (most of us, depending on what survey you see) are sleep deprived. I didn't really used to accept this - for years I lived on 4-5 hours a night because I had lengthy commutes and I wanted to have a life - but realized that I had all the classic symptoms: tired during the day, making up lots of sleep on the weekends.

Sleep matters because being rested matters, because starting the day rising up refreshed is far different than starting the day dragging yourself out of bed:

1) Find your sleep amount: I suspect most people need more than they think. A classic method is to start at 8 hours a night, then cycle back a half hour at a time until you find your limit. This becomes the minimum amount of sleep a night you need. It will be different for other people. Accept this.

2) Keep your sleep amount: Once you've determined the minimum amount you need, assiduously guard it. If your rising time is 0500 and you need 7 hours of sleep, you need - NEED - to be in bed, asleep, no later than 2200.

You'll find excuses of course - I always do: "I'm not tired yet" or "Just five minutes more to do this". The reality is that every excuse you make deprives you of the ability to start the day out right. Keep your sleep schedule the way you keep your important meetings: inviolate and on-time.

3) Sleep when you sleep: There is a multitude of sleep resources on the Internet so I'll not belabor the point. Just make sure that when you're asleep, you stay asleep. You'll find the things that cause you to be disturbed during the night. To the greatest extent possible, fix them. It's a matter of both quantity and quality.

The best guard against a bad start to the day is to insure that night before was one that allows you to rise fully rested and refreshed to meet the day. The day's struggles will be enough. Don't compound them by being run down yourself.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Starting The Day: Miasma

Sometimes the problem with trying to get positive minded and "successed up" is overcoming the morning.

I really wish I understood why things worked this way. There are days where I can spring out of bed ready to act and enthusiastic. There are other days (today, as you may have guessed, is one) where it is all I can do to acknowledge that today has come and I'll probably need to be about something.

The difficulty, of course, is that that moving forward is built on making progress every day - yes some days more, some days less - but still moving forward, something that a mind set such as mine this morning would seem to make impossible. A morning before anything else spent in the doldrums will lead to a day spent in the doldrums, which hardly moves anything anywhere.

It's certainly not achieved by dwelling on the bottom rung, the place that I seem to be trapped so much of the time. Nor is it achieved (as I can attest to by personal experience) by simply "willing" myself out of a mood - it always seems faked.

No, the times that I am most able to turn my "epic fail in life" mood around is when I am able to look to something else or someone else, that I turn my eyes from whatever is here to what is there, from what is to what is possible.

The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. By learning to fix this, I think I can learn to make every day that much more successful, that much more of a progression, instead of a stand-in-place failure.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Dead Ends: How Do I Avoid Them?

The purpose of life can be many things and can include successes and how well we lived. While avoiding Dead Ends is not necessarily a guarantee to a better life, knowing when they occur and how to avoid them at the beginning generally means we waste less time on trying to get out them, thus giving time to spend on things of greater value. Once again, it seems an ounce of prevention prevents a pound of cure.

But how do we learn to avoid Dead Ends? Especially when we're young and perhaps lack knowledge (or wisdom), we enter into things and relationships that serve us ill in the long run yet we've not the ability to see it. Is there some sort of screen or filter we can use now - and teach to those who are younger - on what to look for in anything to try to verify, as much as possible, that it is not a Dead End?

1) Plan: Things go better in anything - vacations, getting ready in the morning, life- with a plan. Knowing where we're going and having it documented by a map, a list, or a life plan make it less likely we'll veer off track and end up some place that we didn't intend. Again, this is an activity that requires thinking and consideration on our part. Example: If you plan to become a veterinarian, there are certain things you have to do to prepare yourself to get accepted into Veterinarianary school. It is probable that doing poorly in school leading up to that point is not one of those activities that will support that ultimate goal. Knowing that, we can make the better choice for the ultimate destination.

2) Learn : In reality, many of us know through painful experience the outcome of choices leading to Dead Ends. We simply need to learn to leverage that knowledge from our past into other areas of our lives. This also requires effort on our part: we need to train ourselves to extract principles from the experience of our lives. An example might be that we know that other jobs in the same industry will have issues needing to be confronted, although perhaps not the same issues, so the idea that a simple job change will completely change a career that we consider a Dead End is probably not an accurate one.

3) Consider: This is a Stephen Covey concept which he so clearly elucidates in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as "Knowing the end from the beginning". Look a period of time down the road (Covey suggests the eulogies at your funeral). If you started with this choice - person, activity, career, lifestyle - where do you think it will lead in 20 years?

It's a careful needle we need to thread here - too often we veer to the extreme of "Blue Sky Thinking", where nothing bad will ever happen and we'll be massively successfully. Yes, we should look at that - but we should also look at the failures as well. What's the worst that could happen? It may take some research on our part - for example, what is the happiness of people in a chosen career field after 20 years, or do marriages with alcoholics tend to work out well - but for many things, we can at least gain the knowledge of potential outcomes.

4) Teach: We all - especially those of us that have racked up the "hash marks" of living known as birthdays - have our own tales of Dead Ends we have arrived at or chosen. It's not enough to try and find our own way out. We need to take that experience and share it with others - our children, our relatives, our coworkers, our friends - anyone who is in the place or process of making decisions. We need to share our past, help them to extract the principles of good and bad decision making in the short and long term, help them to understand and create a plan. Ask anyone who's suffered from a miserable Dead End brought on by bad choices and their fervent wish will be that no-one else has to undergo what they have undergone.

If time is the stuff of life, then the less time spent in Dead Ends, the more time we have to make effective choices that lead to desirable results and success. The ultimate difference: thinking before we act rather than acting before we think. Acting without thinking in driving in life leads us to Dead Ends. Acting without thinking in life is no different.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Dead Ends: How Do I Get Out?

We've admitted that we're in one (or many) dead ends in any number of areas in our lives. We've admitted that these do happen, and hopefully we've taken the time review the map of how eventually got to this dead end where we never intended to be in the first place.

Good news: Now it's time to get out!

But how do we get out, we may ask? The situation we are in seems to have gone for so long and the opportunities we have to get out, let alone change things, are so limited. We've made our list of how we got here and frankly, we don't think we could recreate the directions of how we arrived, let alone trace our steps to the fork in the road where we came from.

Happily, there are multiple options:

1) Retrace the path: This certainly doesn't work in all situations - we can't for example, go back twenty years in the past and knowing what we know now, take a pass on a relationship - but it does work in some. Example: In debt? How did we get here? By spending too much. Why did we spend to much? We wanted x and y, so we got a credit card. Solution: retrace to the problem (credit card, spending) and change that.

2) Preposition our way out: Another piece of good news (two in one post!) is that our Dead Ends are not necessarily the same as real, physical Dead Ends like cul-de-sacs. For those, there is only one entrance and exit. Other Dead Ends are not (usual) spatial in nature, and so the linear path of retracing our steps may not be the only way to go.

Preposition our way out? Think of the common prepositions we use daily: over, under, around, through, across, beneath, up down (here's a longer list). Take those prepositions and apply them to our Dead End: Is the Dead End something we can go around or under (Like a difficult person or situation)? Is the Dead End something we can go across (like a similar career field or staying with our music but learning to play a different instrument)? Is our Dead End something we can simply go through (a change which, if executed, will move us through the issue)?

We've been trained in a world that moves in a linear, one dimensional fashion. It's time to be spatially expansive in how we address our lives.

3) Plan the Change, and Execute: Sometimes Dead Ends are simply that: Dead Ends that, no matter how hard we try, we're not going to be able to back, around, through or over. In those cases, there's really nothing to do except plan to make a significant change, one that does not follow this Dead End in any way, and execute it. The important point here is that, once the situation has been recognized as irredeemable, to intellectually accept that a change needs to be made, plan the change, and do it.

There is only one Dead End (in this life, anyway) which cannot be changed: Death, the sort of ultimate Dead End. All others are lesser than this immutable fact and thus, something can be done. We just need to find the will and (often) the creative thought and iron will to do it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bang the Drum Slowly

Unfortunate news: Maeve of Connaught is leaving.

She's going on to do that which she has done before and done well and will do well again. I cheer for her, and weep for myself.

Weep? Yes. Of all that confronts me in my business, she was the only thing or person there from which I could learned something new. My opportunities to learn and grow where I am have become vastly curtailed.

She was someone who had done this before multiple times successfully. There never was a foolish question, and she was always ready to give feedback and share her experience - and having been successful, it was experience that counted. Hers was the first attitude I have seen in a long time - maybe ever - of "What do you need, let's fix it" - and then backing it up with actually fixing it instead of delegating all the responsibility to you, the suggestor of the problem, to repair.

She was the first leader I've had in many years - and certainly the best - of being part of the individuals she was leading as well as leading. She was the one that sat with folks at lunch or laughed (loudly) at jokes or went out to discuss things after work. She was the one whose coming into your office did not immediately invoke a sense of dread or the tuning out of the higher brain functions as one prepared for lecturing or another layer of work. She led, yes - but she led beside you, not five steps in front of you.

The best analogy I can think of is trench warfare in World War I where, after the shelling, the Captain blows the whistle and shouts "Up and Over, boys." There are two thoughts at that point: the one that if The Captain says go you're sure that somehow all will work out well and you'll come back to the trench, or the one that says if The Captain says go there is little to no hope that you'll return.

Maeve is, obviously, the former.

There were other issues of course: home in one state, working in another; her beloved dogs and her horse that were "in exile" while she was among us; the care and feeding of us in a situation that was undoubtedly less than optimal. The fact that she gave so freely, for so long, continues to amaze me.

It's amazing the impact that one person, properly trained and experienced and a true leader, can have on any organization. The sense of purpose and enthusiasm while they are there present and active is only seemingly eclipsed by the emptiness and void left by their going. They are truly those who bring joy by their coming and sadness by their going.

The fact that those feelings are seldom felt is probably a reflection of the fact that there are truly few exceptional leaders that one encounters in one's life. I've had the privilege to know a handful - now, I can add one more to the ranks.

Ave atque Vale, Maeve. May you continue to do your good work - not just your job, but the process of molding and inspiring others - in a environment where it is so desperately needed.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Dead Ends: How Did I Get Here?

"How did I get to a Dead End?" we may have asked ourselves in the past? "I did my homework on this career" or "Person X and I really examined ourselves before we moved into the next phase of our relationship. It just seems like it happened out of nowhere."

The truth is that Dead Ends, like virtually everything else in life, do not simply appear out of nowhere. The analogy of a physical dead end is applicable: we don't just show up in a cul-de-sac or cove, we somehow get there - either purposefully or by accident.

Now, arriving at a cul-de-sac to visit a friend or a cove to enjoy a lovely afternoon on the lake is one thing; to arrive there when we fully expected to be somewhere else is far more depressing, especially when we fully expected to be somewhere else.

But just like determining that we need to reverse our direction to get to where we need to go, we also need to figure out how to do this in our personal Dead Ends. And, just like driving, we need to take a crucial first step before going: How did I get here?

The reality is that if we are truly honest with ourselves, most of the Dead Ends we find ourselves in do not truly arise out of nowhere. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we had inklings or expectations that this might be the case. Oft times it results from a decision hastily made; other times it stems from a decision made thoughtlessly or with less than fully consideration or even consciously ignoring ourselves or others. Either way, much like passing streets we don't recognize and aren't expecting yet continuing on, there are almost always indicators before we arrive that the road we are on is leading to a Dead End.

Of course we acknowledge that in order to leave a Dead End, we need to get back to where we got lost. But before we do, we need to take a moment to orient ourselves and figure out what we need to do. It's instructive to ask these questions:

1) What is the Dead End I am in?: Define the Dead End. What specifically is it: Is the the job, or is it the career? Is it the specific thing I am doing, or does this activity overall really not suit me? Is it specifically this time in our relationship, or is it the relationship in general? Without specifically defining the Dead End, it is difficult to figure out what we will need to do.

2) How did I get here?: This requires a bit more thought - and a lot of honesty. Look back over the history of the Dead End. Why did you choose it? What were your thoughts when you made this choice (if you're a journaler, this can be a useful tool in recreating your thought processes)? What did you hope to get out of it? Were there any signs at the time of choosing, or any time after, that gave you pause in your decision? If so, why did you choose to ignore them?

Turning around and navigating out of a Dead End is not difficult - but if we don't know where we are and how we got here, we'll simply succeed in arriving at another Dead End.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Dead Ends

Dead End (n): An end (as with a street) without an exit; a position, situation, or course of action that leads to nothing further.

Dead ends come to us in many forms: relationships, jobs, careers, hobbies, even the literal dead ends of a wrong turn and no where else to go. Yet surprisingly, as I think about it, there is little (if anything) that I have read about how to deal with one.

Why is this? What is it about dead ends that (apparently) cause them to sink below our consciousness and ability to deal with? Otherwise competent and skilled people seem to sink into morasses of inability when faced with one. There are the typical solutions, of course - suck it up and deal with it or get out - but I wonder if those options are so common that we use them without thinking.

Or is it possible that the dead end is so common to the human experience and so painful that we would rather not give a great deal of thought to the matter?

The situations that we often find dead ends in are often painful in deep ways: the job or career that is not fulfilling but there seem to be no options; the relationship that will not advance beyond a level of intimacy yet has had so much time and energy invested into it; the hobby or activity at which we have reached a level and cannot seem to go beyond it. Each of these bears similar characteristics: something of importance to us which we have a great deal of time and energy invested in, that a sense of not being able to move forward creates feelings of depression, hopelessness, and powerlessness.

But what if there is another option?

Think of Star Wars where on the Death Star Han Solo, faced with the sudden arrival of a squad of stormtroopers, does the unthinkable: screaming wildly, he starts shooting and charges them, forcing them to flee. Or the Heike Monogatari where, when told that the cliffs around Ichi-no-tani were too steep for a horse, said "If a deer can do it, a horse can do it", charged down with 50 of his men, and took the field.

The odd contrast is that while we are so often depressed and hopeless about the situation, the greatest stories and greatest achievements are done in the face of seeming dead ends - or maybe not real dead ends, as there was a way out.

The dead ends we face in our lives may seem like they represent the end of trails with no hope, but in reality they may represent the greatest opportunity for personal achievement - if only we will look for it.