Saturday, June 30, 2012

Doing What You're Not

I had another one of those lovely conversations with Bogha Frois last night which comes precisely at the time I need it - and sparks a massive amount of thinking afterwards.

No lies - this was a long and hard week, long to the point that on Tuesday it seemed like it should have been Wednesday.  Virtually the last thing that happened before I left was the discovery of an error which had been reviewed and re-reviewed 15 times.  All the old accusations of failing and not paying attention washed over me like a tsunami, and I crawled home dragging worse than I had all week.

And then I talked to Bogha Frois, and found that she had a week just like it.  There is a peculiar comfort in shared misery.

As she walked me her through week - rising frustrations, rising disconnections, changes in physical well-being and mental attitude - it was like looking into a mirror and hearing myself speak.  She put into words everything that I had been feeling - everything that I have inside but could not express.

Overriding everything for both of us was this huge wall of frustration, this wall we simply cannot get over.  It's as if the cliff is crumbling behind you and the wall is too high in front of you and there is simply no place to turn:  you do not want to plunge to your doom, but neither do you want to be pressed up to a wall, unable to do anything except beat your head against it.

And then the thought occurred to me as I got ready to make cheese this morning:  I'm not doing what I am.

I am simply not a detail person.  Yes, I understand that we all have to have some attention to detail (in writing and cheesemaking as in all else) and of course it's easier when it's something you're interested in.  But I'm not the kind of person that happily sits at a desk, reviewing and re-reviewing, reference and cross-referencing.  I take little joy in the thought that I have corrected an error.

What am I then?  I'm a creative person - a broad brush painter, a starter.  I love to create things.  I love to see the possibilities.  I love to make things - things of beauty, things that are of use to others. 

And like a smack on the side of the head, all became clear.  My frustration mounts because I'm not doing that which I do best.  The frustration I feel is because I am not creating or making anything; instead, I'm correcting and cross-referencing. 

The result?  Not only everything mentioned above, but an additional factor that I seem to be losing interest in almost everything I like to do.  Career has become like the Ring in The Lord of the Rings in Frodo's mind:  A burning wheel of fire dominating everything.

What to do?  I'm not sure.  Creative careers are surely much harder to come by than those of execution and detail are required. 

But there's another simple fact.  Doing what you are not is like putting a freshwater fish into seawater:  it will not survive long.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Failures bother me.  Personal failures bother me more.  Repeat personal failures bother me the most.

Nothing speaks to me more of my sin nature than the fact that there are just some things that I repeatedly fail at - not the sort of thing that is tried and not accomplished, but the sort of thing that is done and shouldn't be.  For those who are Christian, it's sin. 

It bothers me but not on the level that it really should.

The thing that does bother me is that it is a sign of personal weakness, a lack of self control.  Especially returning to the same issues over and over again.  It serves as a reminder that I have not overcome basic character flaws and not self disciplined myself enough.

But the thing that doesn't bother me - and should - is how much it says about how far I haven't come yet.

Repeat personal failures should be treated by me as one of the greatest learning tools I have available to myself.  They are the road signs of things I have not advanced in but should have.  They demonstrate where I am most vulnerable.  They show where sin resides most deeply in my soul, the ingrained portions I cannot or will not address.

They are the road map to all the unlit portions of my soul.   And seeing them, knowing they are there, means that I have grasped where my limitations lie, because I cannot advance farther than my greatest personal failure. 

The question is am I more committed to dealing with them - and the pain and discomfort that will cause - than I am committed to becoming comfortable with them.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I'm now on the approxatimately 501st copy of editing work for my book.  In long years of reading and writing and doing documentation professionally, this is one of the longest and most frustrating things I've ever done.

I've printed out hardcopy and edited that.  I've reviewed it online and edited that.  I've reviewed online, made additional changes I located and then edited that.  And still, the nagging little errors miss my every sweep, ready to leap in and show themelves after I think I'm finished.

Part of me just wants to surrender and give up, to say "That's enough - you've surely caught 99% of the errors.  A mis-spelled word isn't going to make or break you."  But as soon as that comes up, the very first time I catch one more error, I immediately switch to "What else did I miss?" and get ready to re-route the thing for formatting and review.

In an odd way this is highly symbolic of the work that I do right now - sending documents around for review and signature, learning (the hard way) that printing out a hard copy is truly the only way to review, catching something I should have changed after I signed it.  Rushing there gives me no more greater speed than in my personal life, apparently.

It strikes as remarkable because this is really the sort of thing people think they want:  clean or well assembled work or documents, 100% correct, pleasing to the eye.  What they fail to realize is that such work takes a lot of attention to detail and hard work (those "Thankless Tasks" I have written of before) is work that is by and large unseen and unappreciated.

Not true in this case of course - the end result is something which I am doing for myself, which I will at least reap the benefits of having accomplished instead of yet another document that is essentially invisible.

Still, I have to wonder:  if we held this level of expectation out to everyone - if we expected everyone to turn out high quality work - would most people be willing to make the commitment and effort?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


A signature is more than just our name:
It is an expression of us, of how we perceive
and present ourselves.
Cramped and small, flowing and large,
they are us - or the us that many will perceive.
There are electronic signatures, 'tis true,
but they are no more true signatures
than a typed name is an autograph.
When a signature is applied
 it is an approval,
a guarantee,
a statement of our involvement.
When we are gone afterwards -
moved on, left the building, even left the world -
our signature remains as a testimony to our presence.

When our life is done and those who come after us look,
where will they see our signatures?
What will the signature say about us, about what we believed,
about what we supported and who we were?

Do we seek to sign that which truly matters,
or have our signatures become no more than another set of words
written because we have to?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Doing It For Me

One of the great struggles I have always had in my life is simply being consistent with anything, continuing to follow it, staying with it.  I have picked up half a hundred ideas or things to do in my time; most of them fall by the wayside of life as I move on.

Why is this?  It's not as if these things were harmful  and needed to be dropped, nor that didn't want to persevere in them.  It's just that, well, the motivation seemed to go away.

An example:  I have always struggled with exercise in my life.  At best I was semi-physically motivated as a child and no team sport player.  This has dogged me in my later years, especially when physical activity is almost a necessity for health.  I have spurts: I go for a while, seem to reach a point where I feel I've accomplished something, then suddenly stop.  Every time I try to pick it back up it seems to be more difficult to do so.

Why is this?  It's not as if I don't know the benefits of exercise.  It's not as if I don't feel better after I do it.  But for some reason, all of these points fail to motivate me on.

Then it occurred to me yesterday:  who am I doing this for?

The reality came that more often than not, I do these things not for myself, but for the notice they get me.

I've written before how motivated I am by the approval of others.  I found a new layer of it yesterday as I considered the reasons I chose to do so many things:  it was not just because they were interesting (they were) or I liked to do them (I did), it was also because it was a topic of novelty and discussion among others, an attention-getter for me.  The problem, of course, is that when the attention goes away, so does the reason for doing them.

We cannot ever really succeed or make good in anything that we do not do for ourselves.  That's a bold statement I know, and might be construed as selfishness by some.  But the reality is that unless we have a personal interest and stake in anything - not based on outside circumstances or outside people - we will eventually stop doing those things because the reward is not what we need to keep us going when the going gets difficult - and at some point, it will.

I confess that this is a difficult thing for me - the idea of self-committing to a goal and seeking the reward when measured against myself rather than any outside influence.  It's not something I think I have done before, at least not regularly:  so many other activities of my life seemed to be done to please or get the attention of someone else.

But difficult or not, it is time to change.  I cannot continue to dip my toes in the water of life and pull them away when others leave the pool, looking for where they will go next so I can dip my toes in too.  It's time to decide what rivers to go in myself and take the plunge.  If others come too, great:  we'll float together.  But if they don't, that still cannot influence my thought to stay in the river and ride it once I'm in.

To do the first is to simply become a copy of what's desirable and popular.  To do the second is to become the individual one was meant to become.

Friday, June 22, 2012


What is the first step to changing our life or anything in our life?  Is there a mystical aura that suddenly arises, or do the clouds form themselves into words?  Does our dog look up and us and say in an audible voice "Go West, Young Man"?

I ask the question because I am person who on one hand throughly supports the idea of change and growth while on the other hand seem to have a less than stellar track record on the subject.  Why is that?

Motivation has something to do with it, of course.  Without motivation nothing will happen; without motivation that is not tied something more enduring than "I hope someone notices this" nothing will change for the long term.

But even motivation is an effect, not a cause.  There is something deeper still, something buried in the depths of self that give rise to motivation.

And then somewhere on my morning bike ride this morning the answer came blazing down to me:  we have to give ourselves permission to grow.  We have to become more comitted to the growth that to the comfort of our current self.  And we need to accept that we have to choose this ourselves instead of waiting for permission from someone else.

The first two thoughts are ones I've read and seen before, so there was no great shock there.  The third one nearly plowed me into a parked car.

We need to accept that we have to choose change for ourselves instead of waiting for permission from someone else.

For myself, I am a man of permissions. I work in an industry of permissions, of things that can and can't be done or there are consequences.  And too often I've worked  where decisions cannot be made unless decisions are made by others, sometimes decisions which almost run out the clock in making them.

The thing with waiting for permission instead of acting is that sometimes the affirmation comes to late:  the window for completing something is gone, or the opportunity has passed.  You would have said yes, but you were forced to wait.

That may be as it is in our professional lives.  My fear is that I have allowed it to invade my personal life as well - for far too long.

It's almost as if I'm looking for permission - indeed, for approval - from someone else to make changes, looking for a sign of approval, a hint of disapproval, before I move in a direction.  Like a soothsayer of old, I watch the flock of birds looking for the slightest variation in flight pattern to determine the course of the future.

But reality is different.  Reality is that other than those close to you, most people don't care one way or the other.  In fact, in some cases it serves their cause more to have you do nothing than to have you change.  But we (at least I) continue to pursue the permission that will not come in hopes that I'll get that spark of affirmation that says "Yes.  Go ahead. Do that."

The cure?  As hard is it will be for me to implement, the cure is simply to decide that I will no longer wait for permission to change, to grow.  There is no permission or approval come - except if it comes from myself.  If it is a situation where I need the permissions of others fine, I'll get that.  But for much of the growth and change I need to do as an individual, there is no permission from others.  There is only the acceptance that I need permission from myself.

Change begins in ourselves the day we decide we have had enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Good At, Love, Worth Doing

"Do what you are good at, do what you love, and do what you believe is worth doing." - Sam Calagione, Brewing Up A Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship

Economic climates which are not conducive to considering second careers are never the best time to start thinking about one.  There's nothing like looking at the closures and layoff in your own field, the economic mayhem around you, and then saying, in a weak and wavering voice "Well, maybe it's time to..."  From personal experience I can state that security is something that you don't really miss until it's gone.  Feelings of strength and security and a sometimes reckless you have wash away with the realization that it was too often built on assumptions - the first assumption being that the pesky job you may not be crazy about would continue to generate income.

The counterpoint to this thought is exactly what you are doing.  It's one thing to argue safety and security; it's another to argue them in the context of facing something which could just simply be boring and fruitless or at worst be destroying your physical and mental health.  In such situations, the concept of safety and security dips below the horizon, beaten down by the intense sun of reality which too often feels like a physical presence leaving you hot, drained, and desperately in need of a cool drink called "something I can look forward to".

And then I read something like the quote above - do what you are good at, do what you love, do what you believe in - and suddenly I'm thrown back into the quandary that (it seems) I've been dealing with my whole adult working life:  Do I love what I do?  Have I ever loved what I did?  Was I good at it?  Have I done anything that I believe is worth doing?

Looking at my own career history, I can pick out elements of all of those, even with jobs I didn't like all that much.  The things I loved doing didn't always pay well and maybe I wasn't that good at it.  The jobs I liked okay I may have been good at but didn't love and probably didn't believe they were worth doing.  Most unusually, the jobs that I perhaps felt were the worst all, that I didn't love but may have been good at, were some of the jobs that (on a macro level) were jobs that needed to be done.

So the question remains, is such a concept even valid?  Is it better to do something worth doing, maybe even something you're okay at if you don't love it? Does loving something overcome the need of it being worth doing?  (Being good at something is partially natural talent and partially practice; given time most people can become passably skilled at most things so I would argue it's the least of the three factors.)  I don't doubt that the combination of those three things are what brings the ultimate satisfaction and ultimate success to individuals and companies that find them.  The question is, how do you find it?

And, if you figure out what it is, how do you go about doing it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Fighting with ineffectiveness this week.

Frankly, I feel ineffective.  Every week I convince myself by the end that the next week will be better, that I just have to dig deeper and try harder.  And every week I find that have either lied to myself or events are not what they seem.

In order to be effective, one has to be able to point to something that one has changed for the better, something that one has done that has had an impact.  The question is, what does one do when the impacts one seem to fall through the pavement as the cracks get wider?

I keep trying to find bedrock, the bottom, something that will not collapse under my weight as I rest it. But everywhere I seem to put it, I hear the sound of cracking ice starting to break.

So then I have to ask:  if it's ineffectiveness I feel, is it because of me - or because I simply can't be effective at all in this situation?

The two are different of course. In one, it's not the situation that is the issue but it is myself.  In the other, it is not I that have failed but rather the situation.

How am I going to resolve this?  I honestly have no idea.  There is no easy out here.  At best, things keep going and I receive the inevitable blame for anything that happens; at worst....well, at worst I find myself in a situation I've been in before.

When everything seems broken, how do you find the one thing you can fix?  And even if you find it, does fixing it make the difference you think it should?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Motivation and Mediocrity III

How can we use our own motivation to motivate others?

This is the challenge that I find for myself every day: not just that I need to motivate myself, but that as a manager I need to motivate those under and around me.  Motivation is always easy when things are going well and people are happy, of course.  The unfortunate part is that very few of us dwell in that particular world.

Recall that motivation stems from a motive, really something which causes someone to act.  It's often difficult to give myself a reason to act - it can be ten times more difficult to get others to act.  Why?  Because in the end, I know what motivates me.  It can be very difficult to know what will motivate others.

There's a short cut of course, one that authorities like to use all the time.  It's called the "You will do this" scenario, in which an individual is told to do something or something less than desirable will happen.  It certain is appropriate in some cases - traffic laws come to mind - but it hardly lends itself to creating highly motivated people.  It is simply a fact that when I am forced to do something - or when I feel forced to do something - at some level I simply will not put some aspect of my best effort into it.

There is an answer, of course, even if I'm to dim to see it.  Some people simply have the ability to motivate others.  I've participated in being in such groups, even if I am seldom able to recreate the experience myself for others.  If I had to describe it, I would say that it is the sense that what I am doing is contributing to a greater cause, some greater good, or that somehow the efforts that I am putting in now will result in a better person than I am now.

One thing that leaps to mind as I write that is that good motivators have the ability to paint a picture, to make something real.  Be it a future day, be it an output, even be it an idealized picture of myself, the best motivators bring to life a picture of what is possible - indeed, what is probable if only one will rededicate one's self.

But great motivators of others also have something else:  a track record of success.  People believe in their words and visions and become motivated because this person has accomplished such things in the past.   Even if they themselves are not physically leading, their accomplishments serve as a sort of virtual road map of what is possible.  When this is combined with words and visions, it can be well nigh impossible.

But that again points the focus back to where it should probably be:  myself.  Others cannot be motivated by me unless:  1)  I am motivated; 2) I have a vision and can communicate it; and 3) I have credibility that this vision is possible based on my past.  Without any one of these three points, I simply will become one more person in a long line of individuals that people have heard speak before - and then they write them off.

Which, I suppose, explains the issue of "You will do this" as a common form of motivation.  Authoritarianism is always the easier road than self examination.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Changing Classics

Yesterday for Father's Day the Ravishing Mrs. TB and Na Clann indulged me for Father's Day by taking me to see John Carter.   I am a great fan of the series penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs and although I had some trepidation when I heard a picture was being made (because book adaptations so seldom seem to get things right), I at least excited to see a series that I enjoyed so much growing up brought to visualization on the screen.

I left the theater in a sort of fuzzy aftershock, akin to finding out a friend you knew in high school had taken up an unusual hobby that you weren't sure was really healthy or not.

Did I enjoy the movie?  Overall, yes.  The scenery and recreation of the dead cities and sea bottoms of Barsoom were close to what I pictured.  The representation of John Carter's ability to jump (less gravity on Barsoom, you know) was even better than I could have pictured.  Woola, the Martian Hound, was a treat.  The Green Men - Tharks, Warhoons - were different than my pictures of them, but there have been many different artistic interpretations of them over the years so that was not a huge obstacle.  The interpretation of Barsoomian technology - fliers, weapons, buildings - was different but not all out of line with what I had seen in my mind and on the pages of the books.

Plot and characters?  Ah, there's the rub.

Plot- The plot and storyline actually incorporated parts of the first three books of the John Carter series.  They did what I seem to loathe in other movies:  they used characters and situations from different parts of the books, added a big dollop of explanation to create conflict, and then spun it back out into the theater.  The effect was disconcerting, a sort of fusion plot cuisine in which you discover that Japanese and Bulgarian cooking are not as compatible as you had first hoped.

Characters - This is where the breakdown really occurred for me.  Dejah Thoris has been modified from a Princess to a "Princess-who-is-the-regent-of-the-Hall-of-Science-and-Inventor", I assume to break some kind of character mold and give greater appeal to a female audience - a strong lead (although interestingly enough, Dejah Thoris of the books never strikes you as anything but a strong female presence).  Still, worse things have happened to beloved characters of my youth, so I could soldier on.

John Carter - this was the biggest problem.  John Carter of the movie was a man who was bitter, who gave his allegiance to no-one after the Civil War and the death of his wife and daughter.  He is man consumed with finding his treasure and is not a man of causes.  It is only after great soul searching that he "suddenly" becomes devoted to a cause.

John Carter of the books was none of these things.  He was a man who believed passionately in a cause, a man to whom money was useful but not required.  He fought for causes - even loosing ones.  He was noble and brave, not shirking the call of duty. 

The movie John Carter became a hero.  The book John Carter always was one.

As movies are developed, is there an incessant need to feel that characters need to be redeveloped?  If so, why?  Because they're dated (hardly the case for John Carter I think, as his books continue to sell)?  Because writers like the name and not the character and so are trying to cheat moviegoers into coming to see that which they think they know, a sort of mask of a person without the person behind them?  Or is it that in creating a character they are really creating what they themselves view the society in which they write needs are wants:  that a man of heroic proportions and single minded purpose either no longer exists or should not, that such a man has been replaced by the man of profit and no causes?

Deep thoughts for a two hour afternoon movie, I know.  But it left me with one question:  if a book is popular because of what it is, what sense does it make to change it to make a movie?  Is it hubris on the part of the writers that they know better than the author?  Or simply that if something does not conform to a world view, it's easier to write differently than to confront the outstanding issues in our own souls?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Motivation and Mediocrity II

The whole question of motivation lingered in my mind yesterday after I wrote my post and continued about my day.  The issues I wrote about were the same ones I confronted at work - bottom line, why is it that so few are motivated to be self-initiating and will only respond to outside influences?

The question came up last night with Bogha Frois in phone call.  Her lament mirrored my own earlier one:  why is that some people are simply content to put in the minimum of effort - except when pushed by others?  Why aren't more people self-motivated - and self motivated to do well?

Motivation, in case you were wondering, is either "The act, process, or condition of being motivated" or "a motivating force, stimulus, or influence". (Thank you Merriam-Webster.) 

Okay, that's a definition I can start with.  A motivating force, stimulus, or influence.  Interestingly, it doesn't say whether that force is internal or external, just that it is.

So now we've got something to work with:  A force/stimulus/influence, internal or external, which motivates.

Motivates?  Back to Merriam-Webster:  "To provide with a motive; impel".  Fine, then - Motive?:  "Something that causes someone to act."

So motivation is really nothing more than something that causes someone to act.  It's a neutral thing.  It can come internally or externally.  But motive as a cause has an effect - it causes an action.

The question then becomes "Why don't more people seem to have something which causes them to act from the inside, rather than having to be externally caused to act from the outside?"  There's the nut that, if someone could crack, could lead to one of the greatest explosions of creativity and industry in the history of the world.

Back to the practical.  What causes you to act?  What causes me to act?  Can it be discovered in others and fanned into flame?  Or is it something which we all must discover on our own?  Are motivations, like our secret selves, something only we and we alone can truly find - and change?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Motivation and Mediocrity

I was having a conversation with a colleague yesterday concerning a number of things, including creating items (business aides) for them to use to comply with our systems.  I confess I'm a bit less generous than he is, and made the case that while tools can be provided if they're not used that's not my fault.  We continued into the discussion about responsibility of individuals versus the responsibility of those providing compliance oversight provide everything to make that happen, including make things very easy (i.e. "spoon feeding").  Finally, asked why I though some areas were not improving, I simply said "They don't care.  People don't care.  And until they do, things won't really get better."

I buried the thought and continued on through my day until, finishing up my post-lunch lemonade, I found the following quote from Andrew Carnegie:

"People unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity."

Poof.  Epiphany.

It's certainly true that without motivation people may accomplish something, but it sure won't be much are or of good quality.  It's equally true that self motivation is far more productive than motivation enforced from above - also known as "fear" or "command structure".   The question is, where does that self motivation - the best kind, the most product - come from?

I think it comes from one of two places.  The first place is the motivation for self - that what I am doing will ultimately benefit me in some way and I can see the way that it will benefit me.  This is why people work at low-paying jobs to do the things they love or workout when it's convenient or not, because they see the ultimate good.

The other place is the motivation of others - that what I am doing is ultimately going to benefit someone else and I can see the way that it will benefit them.  This again can be as simple as working at something I don't love to support my family or doing something that is tedious and thankless because it serves a larger purpose, such as cooking a meal for someone who needs it or enforcing regulations to make sure a product that is supposed to help someone is well made.

There is an alternative, as Carnegie puts it, one that many people are simply not willing to acknowledge but is arguably as expected as the law of gravity:  if you can't or won't self motivate, there is only one other option:  mediocrity.  And this mediocrity you must be content with - if you will not work with the one, you will have the other.

So here's the question, a question that as I think about it I'm sure companies, corporation, teams and governments have asked throughout history:  how do we get those who are under us to motivate themselves?

It's a good question.  People who are motivated are generally better workers, more careful workers, and more driven workers.  Even if what they are doing is not directly related to the source of their motivation, they do what they do because of that motivation. 

(And when I use worker I use it in the largest sense possible:  you can substitute creators, volunteers, parents, etc.  It's doing anything that relates to the motivation).

What's your motivation?  What's mine?  If we don't know, if we can't verbalize it and understand, we are almost certainly doomed to mediocrity - and this is something we can only blame ourselves for.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


How much time do we spend on the fluff of life?

I'm calling to mind a conversation I had yesterday.  Someone I've known a long time.  It's one of those moments where, halfway in, you suddenly realize that your doing all the talking about things and they have revealed nothing about themselves or how they are doing - and they seem okay with that.

I understand that we don't necessarily want or need to know everything about everyone's life (although some strangers seem intent on sharing it with us), but for those that are close to us, who know us, we too often seem to spend time talking about nothing instead of the serious aspects of life.  We play at having conversations, not realizing that those who know us are better than any other at evaluating us.

Is it boundary setting?  Is it the unconscious admission that those who know us best have the ability to hurt us the most? Or is it nothing that simple, more of a simple fear that we don't want to talk about some things because we don't want to be challenged or hear words that make us examine ourselves?

Let's be fair - I'm as bad as anyone about this.  How many times have I turned the conversation to well worn gags and old phrases rather than the things that need to be said because I'm not ready to deal with something?

It occurs to me that to truly have meaningful conversations, one has to be hungry to grow.  To learn.  To become knowledgeable - about self, about others, about anything.  But one has to be hungry - so hungry to grow, to embrace excellence (not perfection of course, because we'll never be there this side of Heaven), to become the best we can be that we are willing to hear the hard words, to think the challenging thoughts, to risk coming out of the shell of preprogrammed conversations into the light of knowledge.

Are we that hungry?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I am not very good at confrontation.

I'm not sure why this is.  It's not as if I have problems dealing with people - certainly I make it a point to try to build good relationships with others.  But when it comes to confrontation, to confronting the very hard issues, I always seem to find myself unable to effectively do it.

Why?  Is it because I feel that disagreement is like anger and not helpful?  Is it because I empathize too much with being on the disagreed side?  Is it because I have ingrained into myself that I should always be humble, and humble means letting others have the upper hand?  Not sure - I only know that I'm not good at it.

It happened again yesterday with a colleague.  The conversation went something like this: 

"I see we've dropped out X." (colleague)

"Yes, yes we have." (Me)

"Why?  It was useful."

"Because it's going to be duplicated and I don't really have the resources to put one in each thing.  We're the one's that will have to do it."

"We'll see."

And so I sit in my office, feeling slightly defensive and upset about actually saying "No" to someone.

But as I sat and thought about it, I realized I had the same problem with sparring.

Sparring, in Iaido, is not the typical full scale armored sparring of Kendo (although we do some of that as well).  Instead, it's practicing cuts and blocks with a partner.  What I have noticed over the last three years of doing this is I'm not the best sparring partner.  Why? Because I tend to be more concerned about hurting the other person unintentionally than I am about making sure I get the cut or block correct.

It's easier, of course, if I am with someone whom I know their ability - but for someone who is unknown, I tend to compensate on one side rather than the other.  More important not to hurt than to get the cut right.

Then I realized they're no different.

Concern about the other party has to be paramount of course - in life as in Iaido (and isn't all life Iaido?), wantonly waving a sword around is as harmful as flinging words like grenades.  But neither should one overpower the other:  being kind to a killer will get you killed, just as being less than fair to yourself means that you will constantly let others determine the course of your day - and your life.

Will it mean that I suddenly become more powerful and less avoiding of confrontation?  No more than it means I'll start smack people on the heads if their nigashi blocks are not effective.  But at least I'm now aware.

And awareness is the first step to addressing the problem.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Looking for the Answer in the Wrong Question

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a little bit frustrated with my current line of work.  It's not specifically the job itself but the career path I seem to have chosen.  It's not a bad career path at all - in fact, it's allowed me to do many things I would not have otherwise done - but the older I get and the longer I'm in the field (this is my 15th year), the more trapped I feel.

One solution, of course, is to explore other options.  But this hasn't been the raging success I thought it would be either.  Times are tough all over - my industry is no different - and there are plenty of skilled people out there that are looking for work.  I also wonder in my heart of hearts if I've reached the level I'm going to reach - after all, I'm a non-industry professional in an industry of professionals.  At some point, perhaps explanations and rationalizations simply don't work as they used to.

Yesterday I had the unmitigated privilege of working again on my book - in this case, cover design and final drafting.  Cover design is a wonderful thing if you have the tools (and thanks to technology, even I have the tools to do it).  The day was only marred by a random error in file conversion I can't quite figure out -but this, too, will happen in time (and that time will pretty much be today!).

As I compared the two things in my mind this morning  - getting ready for the one while anticipating the other - I suddenly was hit by the thought that maybe the reason I'm not finding success in what I do is not the reason I thought it was.  Maybe it's that I'm looking for the answer in the wrong place.

Do not misconstrue what I'm saying - by no means do I believe that upon publishing my manuscript will become anything like a bestseller and I'll be able to quite my day job (nice to dream, of course, but let's be practical).  I'll simply be happy if I make back my investment.

But what it will do for me is twofold:  1) It will be the accomplishment of a long time goal; and 2)  if I sell one copy - one - I will have proved to myself that I can do it.  I can be a writer.  And more importantly, the time I invest in writing and creating books may very well be better spent than the time I spending looking for something else.

Maybe - possibly - the answer is not coming here because it is over somewhere else.

I'll keep working hard of course, and trying to improve my current career skills - after all, better the bird in hand.  But I also need to allow for the possibility that the answer I am seeking is not where I'm looking at all.  It may actually be behind me in the box I keep of the things I thought I could never do.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Verbal Spam Filter

So my posting to my friendly neighborhood spammers (located here) three weeks ago was not as successful as I might have been hoping for.  Sure, I was not anticipating a sudden cessation of all spamming activity, but at least a lessening of it.  I was disappointed to learn that was not the case.

So I went the next step up to moderating comments.  This was not an improvement either, as it continued to keep the spam comments out the regular stream - but I had to continue to delete them on a daily basis.

Then, out of desperation, I did the one thing I typically hate doing on other sites:  I required typing in a character recognition to make sure that an individual was entering them.  Suddenly, all the spam went away.

This has been quite a relief.  Yes, I know it's a minor annoyance, but it's the principle of the thing that makes the absence of it all the better.

Why do I write about this?  Because I realized yesterday that I am exposed to a lot of verbal spam as well - and I sure wish I could block it.

Verbal spam?  The things people say that are not at all related to anything.  The things said to shock, or occasionally hurt.  And certainly, the things said to remind one that you are lesser than others.

Wouldn't it be convenient to have the equivalent of a verbal spam filter - something you could simply throw up around your ears and verify the nature of the communication before it comes through?  Would it change the situation - no, possibly not at all.

But at least, like with my visual spam, it would give simple sigh of relief - and unburden our spirits from a great deal of verbal information that we're better without.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Lurching Forward

Somewhere yesterday, between getting in the car to go to work and getting home, I made the mental commitment that I was going to finish getting my book ready for print.

I went through and did my last check of the fifth draft.  Today I'll convert it to the approved template, print it tomorrow, and then do another edit job.  At least one more print out draft and edit then upload, leaving only the cover to design the marketing plan to finish.

It's curious, as if I reflect on things it's not often I make this kind of commitment and (apparently) am going to see it through.  What changed?  Certainly not the drive to work or my environment, nor virtually anything else about my life.

Except remembering a gift from Uisdean Ruadh.

A year or two ago I received a package from him in the mail.  Upon opening it, I found a medal issued to commemorate World War II.  On one side is a figure of Victory in front of the sunset with the words "World War II".  On the back in an outer circle is "United States of America 1941-1945"; in the middle are the Four Freedoms of Roosevelt: "Freedom from Fear and Want; Freedom of Speech and Religion."  In asking him about it, he said that he had sent it to me as a reminder that as hard as things seemed to be (in his life and my own), they were not nearly as hard as the men who fought in World War II.

I have kept the medal at my bedside since then but not really thought of it - until (because yesterday was June 6th - D-Day), it leapt out at my mind.  Surely, the thought came, if men could willing hurl themselves up beaches into withering fire, I can at least accept responsibility for making my own commitments and own life, even if it meant not getting a little bit of sleep.

I'm not going to say I've totally climbed that hill yet - but I've decided to start taking the medal with me where I go, to work or at my writing desk or wherever, as a continued reminder that whatever what I am called to do, it's more manageable that the last sounds of the boat ramp dropping and the surf rolling in as the firing starts.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Note From Motivation

I'm having problems finding my motivational mojo.

I'm  a little unclear precisely where the darn thing went.  There were actually signs of it hanging around over the last three weeks - yet strangely, it seems to have traveled to somewhere I can't quite locate.  Interestingly, it did leave me note last Sunday (about the time it seems to have disappeared)

"Dear Mr. TB:

This is a note to let you know that I'll be taking a few days off.  Simply put, I need a mental health day or three.  I won't be checking voice mail or e-mail.  Please see Imagination or Hope for any critical issues.

Thanks,  Motivation"

I checked in with Imagination and Hope. No luck there.  Imagination was off somewhere maundering about the actual facts of my life versus what it wanted, and Hope simply had a sign on the door saying "End of pay period - please do not disturb".

The last conversation I had with Motivation was around Saturday or so, when we finished making cheese.  He was remarkably quiet that day, responding in monosyllables to my excitement about how the cheese was turning out.  The one sentence I recall was when I made a comment about the next kind of cheese we could make - his response was short "Cheese?  With the complete sameness of your life, all you can talk about is cheese?"

The note followed the day later.

I keep hoping he comes back - but even if he does, what will I say to him?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Paneled Houses, Ruined Temple

"In the second year of king Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying "Thus speaks the LORD of hosts saying 'This people says "The time has not come, the time that the LORD's house should be built.'"

Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying 'Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses and this temple to lie in ruins?'"  - Haggai 1:  1-3

One of my resolutions this year was to work on memorizing three books of the Bible.  I have finished my first one - Titus - and moved on to the Old Testament.  I chose Haggai because because 1)  I've taught on it before, and 2)  It's short (38 verses).

As I began on Haggai, the above three verses leaped out at me.

Why?  Because so often I have found myself saying the exact same thing.  Oh, it's not that the Lord's temple needs to be built (Old Testament stuff, of course).  But in my own life, how much is there that God has called us - me - to do? 

Interestingly, although works do not save us, God has plenty to say about what we should be about - not just in our attitudes but in our actions.  He does have the expectation that I will be about building up His kingdom through actions in my family, my circle of influence and my world.

But how often do I say "Oh, the time has not come"?  More than I probably should.

My intentions are, I'm sure, seemingly justifiable:  I'm already so busy and there's so much to do.  I'm sure if God really wanted me to be doing something, He'd make it self evident that's what I should be doing.

But God doesn't necessarily see it that way - it's not a question of time, it's a question of importance.

 Surely the Israelites were busy too - rebuilding a ruined city in a conquered land, worrying about protection from enemies, struggling to get crops in.  It's that they apparently found the time to build paneled houses - houses that were paneled with cedar, or houses that were improved, a sort of 5th Century B.C. home upgrade - but could find no time to rebuild God's temple.  I'm sure if you asked them they too would have said "We're so busy just trying to stay alive.  Sure, we have  some fruits of our labor from that, but we're still really busy, and I'm sure God doesn't mind.  Yes, I know God wants His temple rebuilt but after all, He hasn't given us a clear sign in a long time - I mean, we had to stop 16 years ago and He never really said "Start" - and we're so busy trying to stay alive.  Whoops - if you'll pardon me, the paneling oiling and house cleaning service is here.  Need to go let them in."

God's response "Is it a time for you"  suggests He doesn't see it that way at all.   He turns their words against them - Not just "The time has not come" but implied "The time has not come for you (because you're too busy about yourselves), the time that the LORD's house should be rebuilt - but is it time for you  to build your own lives and neglect Me?"

If the focus is there - building God's kingdom instead of our own - how do we fare?  How do I?  Or am I too busy putting in my own panels to realize that the time to do God's will is always first and always now?

Monday, June 04, 2012

Three Years

Yesterday was my three year anniversary of moving to New Home.

Interestingly, The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I were discussing this very weekend the fact that overall, this move has been good. Na Clann have really blossomed in their school and their activities.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB has made new friends, become heavily involved in Girl Scouts and the girls' school and was able to find a part time job to accommodate this.  We are involved in a good church.  We have a plethora of animals that we probably never would have had if we had not moved.

The only less than desirable thing, honestly, has been how my career has worked out.

I idly wonder, in off moments, about what would have been.  What if I had not made the leap to the company that went out of business, that I was still working where I had worked.  I'm pretty sure I would still have a job - but I would also have the 1.5 hour commute in the morning and 2 hour commute in the afternoon, all with gas prices about 1/3 again what I was paying before I left.  Yes, we would still have our house (but be terribly underwater) and yes, we would be much nearer our family - but the other opportunities might not be there, and I'm not sure my career would be any better than what it is now.

So how do I evaluate the impact of the move?  Good for everyone else?  Okay for me?  If the reverse were true - good for me, not so good for everyone else - would that make it justifiably better?

I suppose, on the whole, the correct view to take is the since everyone seems to be doing well, we view it as a package, not with its individual components.  Everyone is doing well - and I'm doing okay - so overall it's a good thing.

The fact that I have these curious longing and faint sighings are, I suppose, such a thing that need only be borne by myself.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Control and Attitude

How do I deal with the fact that I don't - really don't - control most of my life?

I pondered this thought late into the day last night, brought on by a conversation I did not intend to have from someone I did not expect.  The conversation was on my attitude - which at work could be marginally said to be somewhat less than positive - but the thought followed me home long after I left.  Why am I so often negative?  Why do I do the things that I do?

As I continued to roll the conversation around in my mind, what I came to find is that I really, really perceive myself to have very little control over the things in my life.  So much of what I do seems to mandated - by my responsibilities, by the decisions of people above me, by people around me doing their own things. 

For the purposes of analyzing my attitude, I sat down and made a list of what I actually could control at work.  The list was much smaller than I imagined, and seemingly lacked any impact.  I listed that I could control:

- My attitude
- My responses
- My work output
- My personal adherence to the rules and regulations
- My education about my work

That's it.  It's not a very spectacular list, and you'll be quick to note that there's not one thing there about any particular item, activity, or program.  That's because I don't really control those either, even as I don't (and have never) controlled the direction of anywhere I've worked, the decisions that are made, or the future of the company.

What does my response seem to be?  Go for those things I perceive I can control, which is generally my attitude (often not good) and eating.  Eating?  Because it's the one thing I can completely choose to do or not.

So how do I confront this?  It's pretty clear - if I'm willing to take a long hard look at myself - that it does need to be changed, if for no other reason than this will eventually do me in.

The problem I seem to confront is it's as if I'm throwing everything down a rat hole.  I literally have no expectation or belief that 100% really does anything - when your job function is described as performing "thankless tasks" and what you do scarcely translates into the only sorts of recognition available, you tend to lose any confidence that more effort makes a difference.

But in theory, that's where the Christian work ethic should be different.  God clearly speaks about how we should work (let that "Do all things without grumbling or complaining" of Philippians 2:14 sink in for awhile), and having reviewed them again last night there's nothing there that talks about any sense of doing things based on your sense of control.  I'm told to obedient to my employers with all respect, to be well pleasing in all things, not responding poorly, not stealing, showing all good fidelity, doing things well whether someone is watching or not, as if I was working for God (and again, the no grumbling or complaining thing).  You'll notice these speak to attitude, responses, output, how I work, and how I equip myself to work - surprisingly the same as the list above. 

And the result?  This for me is the terrifying part:  leave it up to God.

I have problems processing this.

This feels like the ultimate abandonment:  to simply give up any expectation of any result and continue to work on the things I can control, giving 100% every day with no anticipation that it will control anything or lead to anything greater, because that is what God commands me to do.  Any reward, any greater control or arena of service, will be totally up to Him.

(On a side note, it should probably bother me that this feels so much like dying when it's such a little thing compared to the actual problems that people face every day:  cancer, death, hunger, even the simple fact of not having a job and wanting one.)

But there is one fact buried in all of that:  if I do that, at least I am working on those things I can control.  If I want control, it's there for the taking - just not on the things that I feel matter. 

But how long into a career - or life - can someone go constantly chasing the control they can never have without eventually destroying the very things that they could control?  And how much longer would it take until the very fabric of their life and personality is also impacted?

And if it was, would we know?