Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eight and Out

For two weeks in a row now I have had Mondays where I instituted my Eight and Out goal:  eight hours at work, then leave.  It is one of the hardest things I have done.

Why so hard?  Because I have built up the habit over many years of staying beyond 8 hours, of having a "flexible" plan which meant that 8.5, 9 or even 9.5 hours were become the norm.  There was no real sense on rushing to everything because I had no definitive time when I was going to leave.

That changes with a set time.  Suddenly everything is measured in terms of when I need to walk out the door.  All time becomes cross-referenced to the hour and minute hand.  One actually has to select tasks which need to be accomplished and those which will not be accomplished that day. 

Has my work load decreased?  Not at all - in fact, I am probably more busy than ever.  But what has changed, if ephemerally, is the sense that my "job" is the all consuming area of my life.  Now I am defining limits on where that consumption ends - and starting to find a place to put the extra time.

Extra time?  Just in commuting alone, leaving and coming home at a different time can add 1 to 1.5 hours to my life every day.  The few times this has happened I find myself almost luxuriating in the fact that it is not even 4:30 and I am already home.

Fear not about the extra time - it is already trying to find ways to be used in my life. But this time I am trying to use it strategically, to begin to advance towards a more rewarding career.

In other words, after Eight and Out I am still using that time for work - it is just that I am reallocating that time to a new boss:  me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Adding and Subtracting

As I was sitting on my bed on my birthday's eve, it occurred to me that I should start doing something on my birthday for myself:  that I should start adding and subtracting things.

Not the basic math, you understand.  Instead I am referring to the act of adding something to and subtracting something from my life every year.  Birthdays are the perfect sort of event for this sort of thing:

1)  They are annual.
2)  They are a fixed date one can always remember.
3)  It is a time for giving gifts - why not to yourself?

What do I mean?  Simply that going forward on each birthday I will make a decision of at least one thing to add to my life (start doing) and one thing to subtract from my life (stop doing). 

Is this not the same as setting goals or intentions at New Year's?  It is generally the same I suppose - with the difference that I am trying to think of it different (add to and subtract from rather than do/do not do) and that it does not happen when everyone else is also trying to set their resolutions.

What to add and subtract?  It occurred to me that these can be as varied as I would like them to be.  They can be an activity.  They can be an attitude.  They can be an action.  The only rule is that the addition must improve my life and the subtraction must remove something I no longer want or need from my life.

How did I do?  I came up a list of four items for each, a mix of actions and attitudes and perhaps an activity.  I need to go back this week, review them, and rank them in order of how I would like to see them dealt with.

But make no mistake:  I intend to do it.  After all, birthdays are a fine time to receive gifts - and what better gift than that of self improvement.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Things of Little Import

An overcast morning this morning.  The rain we have been expecting seems to have come early this morning so the patio has acquired the darker color of wet stones.  Opening the window I feel the cooler air - remarkably unusual for this time of year, so my local friends tell me.I hear the conversation of the the local avian conversing about some matter of great importance.

I have taken the day off today and so as I write, later than usual for me, the house is filled with the sounds of silence.  Kiki the Songbird occasionally chirps away - to talk to the rabbits?  Who knows.  The coffee from earlier this morning is not steaming hot but warm enough to be consumed.

Mornings like this seem to come far too rarely these days.  The sense of things rolling around in my mind in the silence of the moment have become times to be treasured - so often it feels as if I am rushing from place to place and thought to thought in such a hurry that little if anything of importance gets done.

Things of importance.  Aye, there is the rub.  I so often seem enmeshed in things of little importance, tasks that are great only in the minds of the small.  I feel as if I spend my life on things of no substance, waiting for the things of substance to someday appear.

But do they appear?  Or are they something that must be sought out?  It is a truth that small things and things of no import will always multiply to fill all available time in our lives.  They seemingly require no encouragement to do so and feeding them in slightest only results in a sudden explosion of their activity. 

The things of import, the things that matter - the thoughts that need time to ponder, the writings that need time to be written, the relationships that need interaction to be built - all of these are built on the edifice of time and attention, items that the things of little import seem to steal relentlessly.

How does one make such time?  I wish I knew.  The things that I have tried - carving out time, delegation, even planning - never seem to get the job done.  I may start strong, but inevitably find myself falling back to being controlled by the trivial things of life.

Perhaps it is different.  Perhaps it is a matter of simply beginning to address the big things rather than trying to make time and space to carve out to address the big things - a sort of directly doing rather than indirectly planning to do, if you will.  At least if one addresses something it has to be dealt with then rather than being shelved.

But something must be done. Time is relentless - and the things of little import will happily eat everything available until the moment of death.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Change Where You Bang Your Head

"Above all, avoid banging your head against the same piece of wall.  The wall will not get any softer." - Felix Dennis

There comes a moment - really a series of moments I suppose -when the realization comes that a certain thing is simply not going to change.  You may hope it will change.  You may think the requirement for change is patently obvious, not just to you but to everyone around you.  You may even think that the readily viewable consequences of this thing are so visible that to continue forward is this way is a retrograde action similar to driving over a bridge that is obviously half finished.

And still, nothing changes.

It is what you do at that moment that is important.

Why is it important?  Because in fact the thing that needs changing is within you.

Whatever this thing that you cannot change is, it is not changing because it is (obviously) out of your control - if it were, you would have a more direct ability to change it.  Why it is out of you control is relatively unimportant:  perhaps it is because a decision must be made by someone who does not want to make them or perhaps someone else's pride and prestige are involved or perhaps the power of inertia is simply more powerful than the need to resolve it.  In any case the "why" might make for an interesting theory over coffee but will not change anything.

And a change is the key.  The wall, as Mr. Dennis points out above, will not become any softer by you hammering it with your head.  And the wall will not move.  You are the one that needs to change your position.

This realization is a large step - but an important.   It takes the focus off of the wall (which had no intention of relocating) and puts it squarely on you (the one who is capable of moving away).  It grants you the power of decision, of intiation.  Rather than waiting for the wall to change you can turn your efforts to finding what else you can change, what is actually in your control.

A word of warning:  when making this discovery do not suddenly become depressed by the fact that changes you are able to make do not seem to immeidately address the wall.  Often the initial changes that we can make are small in comparison to the wall we have been hitting our head against.  But small changes properly executed can lead to bigger changes and bigger changes to real revolutions.

And who knows -the changes you can make and do make may actually allow to rent the bulldozer to drive over and through the wall where you used to hit your head.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bargain Wall

We made a visit to our local regional used book store last night.

If you suspect that I am a easy target for such a place, you are right.  As The Ravishing Mrs. TB would happily tell you, one of my "failings" is that a love books - perhaps a little too much, judging from the bookshelves that push out from the sides of our walls.

I will also admit that I have come to love the used book  store more than the (essentially) single remaining monolith that dominates the book store industry.  Why?  Because entering a used book store is always a sort of adventure:  one never knows precisely what one will find there.  Sometimes I can spend an hour and find nothing that I want to take home.  Other times I can be there two minutes and be gone, or else suffer from a cornucopia of items I wish to acquire in which case I end up taking an hour to make a simple decision of what to buy.  By entering such a place I always have the sense of adventure hanging just to the left of vision, barely visible in my sight.

As a matter of course in my wanderings I always take the opportunity to walk by "The Bargain Wall" - the last stop for books that have not sold.  Here, books have been brutally slashed in their already low prices in order to do anything with them other than have to continue to maintain them on the shelf or send them to wherever the truly unsellable books go to live.

Looking at the books as I wander by, I am always struck both by the variety and the wording of the texts as I go by.  "New York Bestseller"  says one.  "Recommended by X" says another.  "As featured on A Really Important Television Show" says a third.  All of them trumpeting their importance, their relevance, the reasons why you should be procuring their books.

And I then I pick one of them up.  "$24.95" says the original cover which is now overlabeled with "$1.95".  I flip over to the back to read about the author, who maybe I recognize - or maybe not.  Maybe they went on to write five more books.  Perhaps they never wrote another book and were never heard from again.

Do I begrudge them these prices and this exposure?  Not at all.  The fact that we live in a society where books can continue to exist and serve long after their authors are gone or have fallen from visibility is a miracle to me, a testimony to the power of literature and the existence of such things.

But was does give me pause as my eyes wander the shelves is what ultimate end is represented here.

Writing a book is hard work, even if one is skilled at it.  It is hours of writing, then editing, then rewriting, then sighing as others criticize, then rewriting - and then comes the process of convincing someone else it is worthy enough to get published.  And as many authors as not think that they are contributing something great to the world, something that will make a difference in the lives of others.  "I have written the next world changing novel" or "I have spoken a great word" or "I have created a force of entertainment which will create a media empire" are thoughts which, if authors were honest, probably rolls through their heads more than they care to admit.

And here the book sits, marked down to $1.95.  After having been marked down three times before.

The thing it makes think about as I return the book to the shelf is the reality of the effort of so much of our lives, that we put so much time and effort into those things that we think are of great importance only to realize that, too often, they are merely things which eventually get moved to the bargain shelf - and conversely, those things which we may consider of lesser importance, things that we moved out of the way to do the things of "great importance", are often the very things we should have spent our time on.

Will such a thing deter me from trying "greater things"?  No more so than the $1.95 price of a book will deter me from buying it.  But hopefully what it will do is give me a more moderate sense of the fact that the "great things" I often convince myself I am doing are not very far away from being essentially irrelevant and forgotten.

Except by bargain hunters and those who frequent second hand stores.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Fine and Pleasant Art of Stealing Back Time

You cannot make time.

This is a misquotation that we often use in our own society.  We speak about "making time" for this and that, as if we somehow had the ability to control quantum physics and generate additional seconds ex nihilo

Instead, what we seem to mean is that "I will find some time to do that" - which again seems like a bit of a mis-statement.  Time is the invisible and ephemeral; like the wind, we can only see its passing by the running of clocks and the stretch of seasons into years.

Almost everyone wants more time.  It is something that we never seem to have enough of, something that we pay millions of dollars every year to "save" (Yes, you guessed it - we can no more save time that make or find it and even if we could, how would we store it?).  I want it as bad as anyone else - if for no other reason that to do something of the things I really would like to or need to.

So if we cannot make, find or save time, how do we get it?  There is really only one answer:  we take it back.

I know - taking it back sounds as unreasonable as the other concepts I have just proposed as silly.  And in a sense we cannot take it back physically - but we can recover it.  And when I say recover it, I really mean steal it back (which sounds a great deal more exciting than merely recovering it, you have to admit).

The reality is that every activity we do - sleeping, eating, working, writing a blog, running - consumes a certain amount of the 24 hours we are given every day.  Accept the fact that certain biological facts - sleep, for example - take a certain amount of time whether or not we care to admit it.  What is left is that 16 to 18 hours a day we call life.

To get the time we want to do the things we want, we have to learn to steal it from other places in our lives.  Am I suggesting stealing time from your employer, for example?  Perish the thought - but what I am suggesting is that you may be giving away your time to your employer for free (not that they will mention that to you, of course). And something as simple as commuting can double or triple, depending on the time you do it.  Yes, there are such things as Books on CD and How to Learn Czech for the car - but how much better if you were not limited in the use of that time"

And think about the activities that you do in a day.  Are all of them necessary?  Important?  If you took time away from something of lesser value for something of greater value, would your life really be that much emptier?  Or over time, would it be more full?

It is all about priorities of course, the practice of determining what is more important and less important in our lives.  But the greatest effort in prioritization will matter not at all unless we are able to match it with the time to meet those priorities.  And that time will only come when we remove it both physically and psychically from somewhere else.

More time is not being manufactured nor is it being given away - so go wrest your time back and, as they say, "Drive it like it was stolen".

Because it will be.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Taking Action

I need to be more about the doing.

This has always been one of the weaknesses in my life.  I am great dreamer.  I am a great one for painting pictures and imagining scenarios and planning.  But I too often fall down in execution.

Why?  A plethora of reasons I suppose.  Execution is not fun.  It is the actual hard work after the hard work of thinking.  A thousand things try to steal your attention away from the task you are currently at.  And it always seems to take much longer to accomplish something that what you envision it would.

But reputations are made on execution. Results are based in execution.  The doing is ultimately what determines the rewards that come in life.

If I looked at my life over the past year and rated it not on what I had thought about or dreamed about but what I actually accomplished, my sense of my life would be greatly changed.  I would have far fewer things to point to as accomplishments - family, professional, personal, spiritual - than I would than to what I had thought about accomplishing during the last year.

What is the solution?  Fairly straightforward of course, as most of the really important things are:  Do.   Understand what it is that I want to accomplish and take some action on them every day.  Begin to incorporate what I have done in to the metrics of my success, not just what I have thought about doing.

Words alone will not accomplish great deeds.  Action is called for.

P.S.  Here is a splendid article by Kirstin  O'Donovan on 4 Ways That You'll Ensure Failure.  It summarizes the concept quite nicely.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Barrenness and Busy

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." - Socrates

This quote flashed at the bottom of the one of the newsletters I subscribed to years ago in my e-mail.  I looked at it briefly then immediately closed down the window and scurried off to the next task that I had to accomplish.  The thought lingered though, through a day of meetings and trainings and conversations - in other words, a day of being busy.

I have already pondered the fact that my time seem scarcer than ever and the result was a consideration of looking at what I was trying to accomplish.  But I wonder if I am looking deeply enough.

The quote itself seems initially contradictory.  If one is busy, the assumption is that one's life is full of something - after all, to be busy is to be busy about something.  It is not as if one is being lazy; one is doing things. 

And barrenness has an ugly connotation.  It is not just the sense of less; it is the sense of nothing.  Think of some of the desert landscapes you have viewed in pictures or even driven through in travels:  rock, gravel, scrub brush.  Little indications of life; almost no indications of comfort.

And this, suggest Socrates, can be the outcome of a busy life.

Why?  It makes sense if one gives it some thought.  A fruitful life, like a fruitful landscape, takes care.  It takes attention.  It takes an investment into what one is doing.  If you have ever planted or landscaped or gardened, you know that to truly grow something you just spend five minutes occasionally on the plants and then immediately move on.  To be busy, to be rushing from thing to thing without investing the time and energy to make sure that something actually succeeds, will ultimately insure that nothing succeeds.  We can always be doing but can end up never accomplishing.

The impact for me?  I always feel like I am am busy:  at work rushing here and rushing there, at home always immediately trying to take care of the list of items I have which I want to do because they are the reminders of a life not totally tied up in work. 

But am I accomplishing anything?  Or, as Socrates suggests, am I merely insure that my life we become barren, another testimony to the fact that busyness is not always indicative of true accomplishment?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ephemeral Spring

Summer's humid wind
drives the scudding rain clouds by:
What happened to Spring?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


So yesterday I made a decision.

I know what you are thinking:  a decision.  Good heavens, I make fifty of those a day.  I decide things in my sleep.  Why is he going on about making a single one?

Fair enough - except that for me, making a decision does not happen often enough.

It was noteworthy in that if felt different - not the typical feeling of "Hey, I am deciding to do this" which I can often flippantly say.  It was much different than that:  it was as if a lock clicked somewhere inside when I made it, a simple but profound sense of "Yes, I am going to do that".

It was the sense that for once something is going to be followed through on, that instead of my too-often wild commitments just rolling out of me a calm, deliberate course of events was going to take place which would lead to a conclusion.

It interests me because I am often not one for really deciding - from early years, I have been gifted or bedeviled with the inability to make a firm decision.  Why?  Because I like to have options, because the world seems too often too big to narrow focus on deciding something.

Because decisions are really doors.

We like to pretend they are not, that they are just something we do that we can go back through at any time.  But in reality - and maybe this is a lesson that we simply learn when we become older - every time we make a true decision we walk through a door, a door that will often close behind us and cannot be easily re-opened.

People may react this in one of three ways.  They may find that they like the finality of making decisions and come to engage in such decisions every day.  They may kid themselves into the idea that they can always go back so they either "decide" in such a way that there is no real decision or airily do not remember makining any decision at all.  Or, like me, they can simply avoid making decisions about things as long as possible in hopes they will not have to decide.

My way does not work of course - there are simply decisions that one has to make. Granted, it works no better than the one who pretends they did not decide when in fact they did because circumstances and others will hold you to your decision even if you yourself try not to. It seems that only in the process of deciding and doing so conciously that we seem to find both the greatest freedom and the greatest ability to move forward in our lives - for by pretending to decide or by not deciding at all we are always looking back.  It is only in deciding, in going through and closing the door behind us that we are able to give our full attention to the road ahead.

So yesterday I made a decision.  The timing may not be what I want in the end.  The road may not be quite the journey I am hoping for.  But at least the sound I heard in my soul was not the whine of inconstancy but rather the loud "click" of the lock tumblers engaging.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Running After Boston

I"ll go running again this morning.

It will probably be like every other morning I run.  It will be dark.  It is cooler than it was yesterday (just stuck my head out the door) so the chance that I will be wringing with sweat will be less.

I'll head out of here in a bit, pounding the pavement in the early morning air with probably not a thought in the world except putting one foot in front of the other and trying to avoid landing my foot at the wrong angle and possibly even give my time a consideration.  I'll dodge around cars and move to the side to accomodate the early morning dog walkers, smell the smoke of the occasional first cigarette and ponder what the weather will be like today.  All as it should be.

The thing I would not have considered - the thing I should not have to think about - is thought of an explosion going off as I round the corner to finish.  That is because no-one in their right mind should have to consider the possibility of such a thing.

I did not, and I am sure a great many people yesterday did not as well - until Boston happened.

Now, everywhere, every race will be touched with concern.  Racers and runners this weekend will approach the course with perhaps a touch of apprehension.  Somewhere on every course will be the thought by at least someone "Is there something there?  Are we safe? Is this Boston again?"

I am not a one man army. I am not an investigator.  I am not a first responder.  There are a great many things which I cannot do.

But there is one thing I can do, one act of defiance I can offer to those who seek to haunt and terrify with fear.

I can continue to run.

We can continue to run.

Catch us if you can.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seeing the Potential

What is your core?

This the question that Santa Claus asks of Jack Frost in The Rise of the Guardians:  what is your core, the thing that you are ultimately about?  Figure this out, understand what it is that truly motivates you beyond all the things that you think motivate you, and you can find the thing that will empower you to move forward.

I have been pondering this thought in the back of my head ever since we saw the movie, not so much for the profundity of thought as for the simple acknowledgement of the fact that such a concept exists - and I do not know what the answer to it is for me.  If the core is really the gifts God implants in all of us, that one thing or even things that He has given to us to do, what is it?

I think I may have finally figured my own out.  It is trying to help others be better.

If I look back over the course of my life - the attempts to enter seminary that lead nowhere, the short gigs of teaching, leading a study group, my oft-marred attempts at leadership, even my writing - all of them revolve around some level of trying to help others figure out what they should be doing with their lives and then trying to figure out ways to get them there.

It is like a puzzle.  I see them, see their interests and talents, and somehow see their potential - what they could be doing if they could (fill in the blank here). It is then my "job" to help them to see the potential that I seem to see in them and to get them moving in that direction.

There is little that brings me more joy that the notice that a friend or acquaintance has succeeded, especially when they have done so in a way that uses the gifts they have.  It is like seeing the bloom of a flower which you knew was going to be beautiful  finally appear to the world around it that never gave it a second glance.

I have seen it with my friends; I have seen it with The Ravishing Mrs. TB; I am even beginning to see it with Na Clann as they begin to reach the point that their own gifts are appearing.

But what do I do with this?  I do not really know.  It is not as if there is a job category for "Potential Seer", and I have no initial thoughts on how I could apply this in a way that would significantly help others and let me make a living at it.

But I have found this upon reflection:  my core, my gift, is seeing what is possible for those I know - and then helping them to see that is as well and launch towards it.

You see what you do.  I see what you can do.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Trenches and Change

I need to make some serious changes to my life.  I am in a rut - and what is worse, the rut seems to be settling in deeper and deeper.

How did I get here - Oh, the usual way I suppose. There are large landmarks that are defined in one's life - work, family, activities.  These landmarks become the thing by which our day becomes linked, and then our days linked into weeks.  To and from, back and forth, the path remains the same as the line of traffic gets driven deeper and deeper into the ground. 

Suddenly you look up and realize that the path has reached the point that the edges are over your head.  You have wondered why you cannot ever seem to break out of the rut and you become aware that when you are marching body level through a trench the chances of turning off suddenly become very rare indeed.  And still you pound down the rut day after day, hoping for something that will be something different even as you tacit acknowledge by your choice of paths it never will be.

A trench. I had never thought of that terminology until now but that is quite accurate - and more alarming.  Ruts are small sounding things, things we trip over and step out of.  Trenches are deep and far more forboding.

How do we step out of trenches?  It is, unfortunately, much more like the trench warfare of World War I - one has to climb out of the trench and start down a new path (although hopefully not with shells going off).   It obviously takes a great deal more effort than a simple rut - but then again if you have building something for years it is not surprising that it will take longer to rectify the issue.

So here I sit at 0600, realizing that I need to make some serious changes but having no real idea how to go about implementing those changes.

How does one choose a change?  Where does one choose to climb out of a trench?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Do I Really Want to Do?

What would I do if I really could do anything I wanted?  I used to know; I am not so sure that I do any more.

This bothers me a bit.  After all, it is not as if my current line of work has served to generate any deep sense of career satisfaction - it has been a vehicle to pay for things, nothing more.  There is not more passion for what I do than there is for the fact that I need to do maintenance on the cars on a regular interval - it is just part of living life.

But if I had the choice, what would I do?  I can honestly say that I have no idea what that would really look like.

Why?   Is it a series of finding things I did not want to do that has finally made me reluctant to consider things I would want to do?  Is it the occasional failures I have had?  Or is it simply the sense that after years of essentially surrendering to the inevitability of "being  responsible" the thought of doing anything else is killed before it even sees the light of day?

More importantly, how do I break out of this box?  The situation as it is only ends one way:  keep doing something until that opportunity is pulled away from you by loss of job or loss of industry and discover that you cannot do anything else, then scramble at a host of things you cannot really do and do not enjoy at all to make things meet.

Passion is the key - the problem is, I feel almost no discernible passion about anything.  And as I've pondered before, my time has been wedged into bits and pieces that seem to be unusable.

But I need to think harder about this - quite hard.  My time doing what I am doing is ultimately limited by factors beyond my control. And there is nothing worse than being at the mercy of that which you cannot control.

Where is my passion?  And why can I not seem to connect with it?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Work That Matters

I want my work to matter.

There, I've said it.

I want what I do to have an impact on others for good.  I want what I do to make a difference -  a real difference, not just a sense of doing what has to be done because it is required.

What I don't want - what it seems like I have too often lived - is essentially going through the motions of a career, doing what needs to be done, all without the sense of having an impact or reaching a point at which there is a sense of accomplishment:  a finish line, something that says "Yes, we did get here".

What I don't want - what I too often seem to end up with - is the sense that no matter what I do, there is no impact.  That no matter how hard I work, there is no finish line, no stepping up to the next height of the mountain; instead, there is only the endless track through the same wilderness through which we have just come.

I wonder, in all my looking, if I have subtly undone myself because I simply bear in the back of my mind that I do want to have an impact and I do want to do something that has measurable steps to it - that to this point over the last four years (if not longer), I am always looking at versions of what I am doing now.

If I want to be honest, why did I change course in 1996?  Surely it was not to do something different - I had like what I was doing in business college teaching much better.  It was the money and benefits.
And why did I suddenly change course again for The Firm?  At the heart, it was concern for money, of being left behind as success came and went for others but not for me.

And how did that all work out?  It has not been a total loss - the industry I am in pays well (better than most) and has allowed us to do some wonderful things and provide Na Clann with an education I might not have otherwise been able to. 

But looking at today, almost 15 years in, with the upcoming promise of another day of arriving with more than I can do and leaving with the same situation only to find the same thing tomorrow, I still wonder if it was maybe the right decision but not necessarily the best decision.

But if that is the case, what do I do about it?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Howling through my dreams,
the shivering leaves sing of
a front passing by.

Monday, April 08, 2013


One of the great(?) things about beginning to contemplate moving is the process of getting ready to pack.  This in turn leads itself to the act of The Great Review of Stuff.

Charles Swindoll once commented that stuff has a way of growing:  when he and his wife first got married, they could move in a car.  Then they moved again, and that took a small trailer.  Then again, and it took a large truck - finally, they reached the point of needing a whole fleet of trucks when they moved.

I'd laugh, but it is too true.  We have a huge collection of stuff - not only in our house, but in our garage and in a shed as well.

Where did this stuff come from? It is hard to remember that once upon a time we, too, had not a lot of stuff.  I can remember the first time after I moved off campus from graduate school that I, too, had only enough stuff that I could fit in the back of my car.  It  consisted of books, clothes,  an Apple computer and a futon to sleep on.  The furniture I had was a cardboard chest of drawers that I assembled for socks and underwear.

And now we seem to have so much that I too often seem to stumble over it when I move around.

One of the theoretical advantages of moving is that you have the opportunity to review everything you are living with and make changes.  There is no sense in packing stuff, moving stuff, and unpacking stuff only to find you do not really need it anyway.  But to do that it requires a special ability:  the ability to let go.

I wonder if our enchantment with stuff is not partially due to a combined sense of selfishness and security.  We want to keep it because it is ours; we want to keep it because it offers us security.  Perhaps once we got rid of something and then suddenly needed it; forever after we convince ourselves that we must keep everything in case we have need of it.

Another potential factor:  we get stuff at certain times in our lives when we are interested in certain things.  We may move on from the interests; the stuff either serves as a reminder of that which we used to do and enjoy. To let it go sometimes seems like letting parts of our souls go as well.

But the move is coming regardless:  smaller house, no shed,  a garage I would like to park in someday.  The change needs to be made, the stuff sorted and moved on.  The question too often is if we have the ability and emotional fortitude to  do it.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Time Speed

There is the distinct sense in my life at the moment that things are moving more quickly than ever.  Time seems to be a commodity that has rapidly disappeared as an item which is present in my life.

When did this happen?

I am not really sure.  I seem to remember (as through a hazy mirror) years in which time seemed to be always available to me to do the things that I wanted.   Even more recently, time seemed to be something that was available in at least small chunks for spending on things that I might want to do.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.  Time is now the thing that I always seem to be running behind, trying to capture more of. 

The argument can be made (I suppose) that workday time is simply scarcer because there is more to do.  That could be true -the combination of a great deal of activities combined with a commute that seems to take longer has stretched a 9 hour day into 10 hours or more - and even those hours are now filled more and more with meetings to do and places to be and things that need to be accomplished.

But my non-work time?  This too has become compressed into smaller and smaller quantities for reasons that I cannot seem to understand, to the point that it almost feels there is a schedule running somewhere in the back of my mind to get those things that I would like to do done.  Even 5 minutes doing something can be begrudged when something else I really want to do is not accomplished.

Where does this end? 

I wish I knew.  I suppose I keeping hoping that I will reach a point of stasis or even reversal, that at some point the business will start to subside and I can begin to get a handle on managing my time and perhaps even beginning to do some of the things I want again.

But if my time has slipped away through circumstances I do not understand and cannot control, what are the chances that those same circumstances will suddenly - magically - allow me to slow down?

Thursday, April 04, 2013


I had an epiphany at work yesterday.

I was scurrying around trying to manage a major action item while mentally keeping track of a host of smaller action items.  Periodically (as it happens every day) I would suddenly get a question about a particular item from someone else: "What about this particular issue?  How do I address it?"

As I continued to whirl through the day and came to the end, I was once again overwhelmed by the fact that I had seemingly accomplished nothing while others had successfully moved single items off their plate.  I felt extremely depressed about this - once again, look how much I had failed - and then the epiphany came.

These individuals are only working on small amounts of things at a time.

They have the time and effort to address one thing and then another because the scope of what they do is overall smaller.  They can dedicate 4 hours to resolving a document because they do not have 40 other things that must also be accomplished at the same time and have the same (or greater urgency).

It was not the fact that I could not do it; it was the fact that I am responsible for doing far more.

This was a comforting thought - even (dare I say) an empowering one. Does it mean that this solves all my issues?  Not at all.  I still need to learn to prioritize better.  I still need to practice the art of delegation more actively.  I still need to learn to lead better, work more effectively and be more focused.

But what it does mean to me is that if only I can figure my way through this, I can come out of the other side a far better worker - perhaps even a better person.  For to learn to accomplish important things simultaneously in the past is the mark of someone who can do such things - for himself or others - in the future.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Perils and Problems of Group Sit

Yesterday I made an important discovery about myself.  There are significant limits to my ability be in or around a group of people and continue to get things done.

I have suspected this for quite a while.  An introvert by nature, I tend to find continued interaction with larger groups of people to be somewhat wearing and ultimately exhausting.  Making a trip to the mall or attending a larger social function are hardly my sensation of having a good time.

But that is my social life.  I had never taken a good look - perhaps never had to take a good look is more accurate - at how I work and my ability to produce.   And perhaps I have never looked because I have never had to - for the past 10-12 years I have had a location in either my own office or in a quiet work area.

But no more.  Currently - and for the last two months or so - I have been working in a shared cube in the midst of shared cubes.  In one sense it is definitely an improvement as I am able to much more directly interact with individuals on a frequent basis and in real time.   I am equally fortunate in that those with which I share cubes are those with whom I enjoy working with.

However what I think I have found is that working in this environment is not necessarily enough to give me the work environment I need to work as well as I could.  Why?  I do not know that I can distinctly tell you.  Certainly focus is one thing - my ability to focus is greatly influenced by having a quiet environment around me, not only in the sense of noise control but in the sense of having a controlled environment, the ability to shut the door and go about my business.  My current situation now is that I am available to everyone who walks through the door of the cube - and now that I am more centrally located I seem that much more available to all.

Another factor is the noise level. The sense of having a constant background of noise is much more disruptive than I would have anticipated.  It is as if a string of thoughts is constantly getting cut off and then restarting each and every time.

The result of all this?  My focus definitely seems to be less.   My output seems to be less.  My stress level definitely seems to be higher. 

But perhaps it is not noise alone that is creating the issues.  Now that I reflect on the matter, the issue of control of my own time looms larger in my mind.  I feel as if I am constantly exposed to the wants and needs of others - I cannot count the times that someone brings something to our area and, seeing that I am there with only my back turned to the entrance, feels completely justified in sitting down and engaging in conversation to have their issue resolved.  There is now no door between myself and others, no barrier I can engage to set aside blocks of time to work. 

What to do? I am not sure.  I have very little control of my sitting arrangements.  Noise eliminating headphones?  Possibly - that would seem to be the most useful option to at least cut down on the noise.

The question of accessibility?  I have no ready answer for this except the impractical one of relocating myself periodically to not make myself so available, which sort of undermines a primary belief that at some level my job function should be available for questions and comments.

But availability is not should not be complete access and participation in the work life should not be a complete overwhelming one's ability to focus.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


I am re-reading Brian Tracy's book Victory!: Applying the Proven Principles of Military Strategy to Achieve Success in Your Business and Personal Life and found myself this morning finishing up the section called "The Principle of Intelligence - Get the Facts".  From the chapter:

"Knowledge and know-how are your keys to the twenty-first century.  The more accurate information and knowledge that you acquire and apply to achieve results, the more valuable you will be come.  The greater your value, the more you will be paid and the faster you will be promoted." (P. 117)

As I pondered this a bit running this morning I thought about knowledge - what I have and what I do not have.  It is true that we work in a largely knowledge based economy, although that knowledge base can reflect either learning or actual physical knowledge/on the job training as well.  At the same time, we live in a world that is becoming more and more knowledge based - and competitive as a result.

I look at my own career in my industry - 15 years as of next month - and both the advances and changes that have occurred within it.  One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me as I progress through the years is that knowledge (and the skills that come from that knowledge) are good, but they are not everything.  The greatest amount of knowledge in the universe cannot substitute for a place for that knowledge to be used.

This is the thought that is beginning to nag at my mind.

As I review resumes for Fear Mor's replacement, I am finding people with the same years of experience as I have - or more - looking for a position two steps down.  People that have the knowledge and skills but are looking to essentially start over.

What do I do with this?  I am becoming increasingly conscious at this point that my own education and background, which were never the typical education for my field, are more and more becoming a liability as I am in the mix with individuals who have a much more typical path.  And eduction - a four to six year process - is not quite in the cards for me at this moment.

Where does that leave me?  Unstable, perhaps clinging a bit more than I would like to a profession and position that is not my ideal.  The problem, of course, is that clinging produces desperation and desperation produces unhappiness.  Reveal your desperation and you have revealed the fact that you are a tool to be used and discarded rather than an asset to be treasured and kept.

We do live in a knowledge based world - but knowledge alone is not enough to create the product of me or put it in a stable environment and gaining more knowledge in that field is not a guarantee of continued success.  Would that I could see the knowledge that would make such product creation and stability possible.

Monday, April 01, 2013

On Hold

I am struggling to find my sea legs in the storm.

The reality - and Snowflake finally managed to make me admit it to myself - is that I am depressed.  And not an ordinary sense of depressed - no, this is sort of depression that is new to me.  How is it that it is new?  Because it belies the fact that most of the rest of my life is going okay.

Na Clann are doing fine in their school, their activities, and their spiritual life.  My marriage is going well.  I have a secure job with all the required benefits.  We put a contract on a house this weekend. Our cars run.  We have food in the house.  Our utilities work in summer and winter.  In other words, everything is going pretty well and I should have no reason to be depressed.  But I am.

What seems to be the hallmark of this depression?  A very real sense of entrapment.  The sense that nothing really gets better or changes for the better from here.  My work is simply that:  work, a job that I go to every day to realize that I do not have enough time to do every thing that I required to do and the larger sense that even if I did all that, it would not matter a bit.  My activities seem to lead nowhere, things that I do and redo and find that I seem to be neither getting any better nor am as satisfied with them as I used to be.

My spiritual life?  I feel a little lost in my relationship with God.  It feels as if we are blessed with so much yet seemingly I cannot find God acting in my life in a way that I am growing in my relationship with Him, a sort of spiritual holding pattern waiting for something to happen.

A holding pattern.  That describes how I feel about my life at the current time.  My life feels as if it is on hold:  everything is going fine but it seems to be going nowhere, held up by something or someone not allowing it to move on.

The hardest thing - and perhaps this is the basis of my depression - is to get up every morning knowing that today is going to be like the day before it.  By the end of it I will be tired for lack of sleep, stressed from too much work and not enough progress, and feeling that everything I do is simply running in place.

The way gets off of hold is by the person on the other end taking one off hold or hanging up and starting to call again.  But if I don't control the person (God?) on the other end and I do not even really understand where I am calling, how can I hang up?  And if I did hang up, who then would I call?