Opportunity missed – a revisit

Happy New Year. This is a repeat of an old post from five years ago. Its message is still apt.

One of my favorite quotes about opportunity is “Opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” To me, this speaks volumes. Too many look for easy answers, when success comes from doing some heavy lifting.

Along these lines, in his book “Outliers,” two of Malcolm Gladwell’s four traits of successful people involve opportunity. I should mention the other two are being smart or talented enough and putting in 10,000 hours or more of practice. But, the two pertinent to this discussion are recognizing opportunity and seizing opportunity.

A quick example illustrates this point. By the time he was age 21, Bill Gates was one of the top programmers in the world. Why? He had the opportunity to work on the mainframe computer after 1 am at the University of Washington. As Gladwell points out, it was recognizing this opportunity and getting up or staying up to program while others slept or had fun. He was learning.

Gladwell points out that even the smartest of people sometimes overlook opportunity. In a genius grant project, money was given to watch these geniuses flourish, but many of them were not successful. The reason is they missed opportunity. The ones who were successful either saw opportunity or had someone who brokered opportunity for them.

Some very smart people fail to see that they are in competition for people’s time, interest and money. By waiting until something is perfected or their schedule frees, that opportunity may be gone.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this brief discussion. First, don’t be frightened of hard work. A man will never be shot while washing the dishes.

Second, keep your head up, network, ask questions and just be involved in your surroundings. Connect dots by looking for or asking about things you see in someone’s office or something you saw online.

Third, be prepared for these moments. Do your research on companies and people that you are meeting with. This will help in making those connections.

Fourth, seize opportunities. If you are driving and see an interesting shop – stop the car and pull in. This is a metaphor for business, volunteer or investment opportunities. Since the average person has had eleven jobs by the time they’re forty, take a chance on something that interests you. But, honor that interest and invest your time in it. These life experiences will build your wisdom.

Opportunities abound. Look for them. Seize them. Work them.

A little bit of this and that for 2022

Happy New Year everyone. May your resolutions last longer than your hangover. I have celebrated New Year’s in a number of ways, but this old soul is less inclined to stay up until midnight these days. Living on the east coast of the US, we have resorted to celebrating the New Year’s on Greewich time, so we are done early.

I learned yesterday the legendary actress Betty White left us just shy of her 100th birthday. She has always been a character and has played many different types of roles over the years. She played nice girl roles for the longest time, so when she played the back-stabbing Sue Ann Niven in the 1970s on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” it was a shock. Yet, she went onto many other roles in the 1980s and 1990s on the “Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland.”. And, she was a terrific humanitarian and friend to animals. May she RIP.

Going in to 2022 and its insane campaign season which started about eleven months ago, we must try to regain some level of civil discourse in our society. Since changing politicians and opinion entertainers seems nigh impossible. we will have to make this a ground up change and force them to notice.

Here a few rules of the road that might help:

-if someone speaks or writes with name calling, labelling and cursing as their modus operandi, do what I often do and stop reading and do not respond. If this is the how the person wishes to argue, then his or her argument is poor.

-cease watching opinion entertainers who are dressed-up spin-doctors at best and disinformation peddlers at worst. Some do their homework more than others, but you are being told an opinion, often times not a well-supported one.

-if you are getting your news from someone on social media who you like because you agree with them, please do not consider that news and refer to the first two items above.

-if you are getting your news from a politician, check other sources; some have more veritas than others, but too many are just spouting BS without doing much homework. I used to think elected officials knew more than we do (and some did), but I stopped thinking that long ago. They also expect us to have short memories.

-you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Ask more questions of people and listen to their answers. Listen to understand, not to respond. Only then can you follow-up with comments, but make sure you give like you want to get. Calling a person an idiot is not a good sales pitch.

-be civil to each other. Sometimes the best thing to say, is not to say it. Look for common ground, by doing that listening thing noted above. You may disagree on five points, but agree on two. That is a start.

One final thought to drum in your head. An old friend used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Engage. Converse. Catch-up. And, thank the other person for their time and interest. Time and interest are the best gifts someone can give you.

Be safe in 2022. Be well and be wise.

Saying goodbye to old friends, so to speak

Yesterday, I went through my remaining old business suits and sports coats and slacks. I had donated some of them earlier, but I don’t wear them anymore unless I am going to a wedding or funeral. Sadly, the latter gets more opportunities at my age. And, since I lost so much weight, I only altered a small few, so most of these clothes no longer fit.

So, I was going through them to organize the rest for donation and maybe pick two more for alteration. These “friends” served me well over time. I was a little melancholy to see them packed to go. I realize fully they are just clothes, but they were my uniform to do my work. I loved wearing a couple that stood out – a dark green pin stripe and a khaki color suit. Each could be paired with a blue, cream or white shirt. For some reason, they gave me more confidence.

When it is all said and done, I will be left with two suits (navy blue and gray pin stripes) and three sports coats and slacks combinations. So, I will be ready when needed for the next wedding, funeral or special occasion. I did keep an old tuxedo which is sealed up, but I would need to alter that when the next occasion arises. I needed it for fund raisers for charity and select events, so it is mostly unworn. I may have worn that thing ten times tops, but it does pay for itself after a few as you forego a rental. Plus, it makes me feel like saying “Bond, James Bond.”

The melancholy paring process sure did free up some more closet space, which my wife is relishing. So, the 67/33 split in space usage is about to become 75/25. If I pare some more, my remaining clothes might end up in the guest bedroom closet. Married men know this space allocation process all to well.

The process did result in two funny stories at the alteration shop. The two young women who measure the needed alterations are very short twins, under five feet tall and I am around 6’5″ in height. To measure some alterations in the shoulders, both had to strain on tip toes to make it work. The other story is a haberdasher was there with a customer and offered to sell me new suits. I laughed and said thanks for the offer, but they would sit on a hanger, as I don’t wear them anymore unless someone dies or gets married.

Let’s hope it is for more marriages, christenings, etc. in the future.

Just a few truisms (and a word about Joe)

As my wife and I traveled to a funeral for an extended family member, I had time to reflect. on a recent post about the “Second time you die,” meaning when the last person who remembers you passes away, you die for a second time. The point of the post is how do you wish to be remembered?

My cousin Joe passed away after a life well lived. He was a devout man who loved his wife and family. He also gave back to his community, his church and his profession. One of three wonderful eulogies noted he was a “servant leader” meaning a leader is measured by how many people he helps, not vice versa. That is a wonderful way to be remembered.

Remembering Joe reminded me of some truisms we should not forget. Here are a few to digest and offer feedback on:

If you get up with an attitude of let’s make it a great day, you have a better chance of fulfilling that prognostication. The opposite attitude is also true.

If you have the impression kindness is a weakness, then you could not be more wrong. Reread the comment above about servant leadership. A great leader deflects credit to others and asks how can I help?

If you go looking for trouble, don’t be surprised if you find it or it finds you. Some people place themselves in harm’s way and are surprised when harm befalls someone, even them.

If you surround yourself with people who care less you about you and more what they can use you for, get new friends or acquaintances.

If you feel you are the odd person out, then you often are. There is an old saying that when three adolescents find themselves alone, one often becomes the foil. Don’t be anyone’s fool.

If you treat people the way you want to be treated, do not be surprised if you are treated well in return. A very old book called this rule “golden.” You can actually disarm people or lessen tension with kindness.

If you remember this saying, people will pay more attention to what you have to say. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

If you give to others, it usually pays you a psychic income in return. Feeling better about yourself, especially when you give anonymously is an amazing gift to you and the recipient..

If you put someone down to elevate yourself, it will usually come back to haunt you. One thing is for certain, the person who is being put down will always remember it. Some may be slow to act, but they won’t forget.

If you work for an employer who treats people poorly when they exit, get your resume together and look for another job, as that could be you someday. Treating people with dignity matters.

If you take away only two things – remember that golden thing and the two ears and one mouth proportion and you will do fine. These are just a few thoughts to contemplate. Let me know what you think. Tell; me a few others that spring to mind.

Joe, you are remembered well by many. If there was any doubt, I have rarely if ever witnessed a minister choking back the tears during a eulogy.

Lessons from Dad (a repeat of an old post)

The following post was written nine years ago. I was searching for another post, when I stumbled onto this one. It is worth the reposting, at least to me. Stay with it as there is a major life lesson at the end courtesy of my father around the issue of what do you do when you really screw up.

Six years ago this month, my father passed away. I have been thinking about him a lot this month, as my middle child graduated from high school and my youngest had her 15th birthday. In fact, I wore his anniversary ring my mother had given him during the graduation so he could be there. Like all of us, Dad was not perfect, but he was one of the finest people I have ever met.

He was raised by his Aunt and Uncle, since his parents had a messy divorce. He tried living with each, but that was not a productive co-habitation for any of them. He learned the grocery business at a very young age working in his Uncle’s small store in a small town. Like many people of his time, he started smoking when he was 12. A near life-long habit that was a contributing factor to his death, even though he had quit for over ten years beforehand. His smoking is a reason I don’t.

He graduated from a small college in north Georgia that had a work-study program, the only way he could have afforded college. There he met my mother and literally fell into her lap while diving for a loose ball during a basketball game to which she arrived late. To say he fell for her would be an understatement. It is not ironic that many couples they befriended there were still married when he died (he was married to Mom for 54 years when he died).  My father went to work as a management trainee for a large grocery chain, but moved over into the then called data processing business, the computer science of its time. Back in the 1950’s, everything was new in the computer business.

Dad was a great athlete – track, baseball and basketball – and gave back by coaching his boys (and girl). My best friend and I used to call him the 45-year-old pitching machine, as he would always go throw batting practice to my brother, sister and me. His selflessness was one of his great attributes.He was always giving to others whether it was getting up early to check on a smoked ham or turkey (or both) he was cooking for his co-workers or family or helping someone.

He taught me many things which I try to emulate. Let me mention a few before closing with an anecdotal lesson that I shared again with my children last night.

  • Everyone is welcome in our home. To this day, our children’s friends are always welcome to stay for dinner. My wife and I live in chaos on occasion, but hearing your children and their friends laugh is the greatest sound on earth.
  • Do your best at whatever you try. To do less harms both you and your employer. It is a hard concept for children to grasp that they are cheating themselves when they don’t do their best.
  • Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Dad grew up from very humble beginnings and a broken home. He never put on airs and was as genuine a person as you could find. He was a natural leader, but you would never know that from talking with him. Think of the movie “Dave.”
  • Have dinner together with your family. My wife and I strive to do this as much as possible. The kids grow tired of the small dinner bell, customary blessing and “how was your day” or “anything unusual, funny or interesting happen today” questions. Trust me, you have to vary the questions. They may complain, but would not trade a moment of it if you asked them.
  • It is more than OK to hug or kiss your wife in front of the children. One of the greatest gifts a father can give is loving his children’s mother. That is harder these days with so many scattered families, but it is worth the effort when you live together.
  • Marriage is hard and you have to work at it. Three musts. Be friends with your wife as it gets you through ups and downs. Confer together on children issues that arise, so you are on the same page (raising children is joyous, but not easy especially in this day and age) And, have a sense of humor. Life is too short and it is easier to laugh with people rather than have them laugh at you.

While, there are many other lessons learned, let me close with a final lesson that I was reminded of by my son’s graduation speaker. A successful woman told the graduates you will fail at something. Get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going. Life will go on. My father was not perfect as I said. I carry a curse with me that he had. I am an alcoholic. I have not had a drink in almost five years. I tell people I drank more in my first 48 years than many people do in a lifetime. I use the verb “am” as I want to have a drink everyday, even now. They key is to say to yourself – “I am not going to drink today.”

Dad was an alcoholic, as well. He had risen to the position of Senior Vice President in his firm. He was very successful. Yet, one day he was not where he was supposed to be and something happened at work. Since his goodwill at work was so large, he was not fired, but demoted instead. He had to go to work the next day as a peer of the people who used to report to him. He could not just go somewhere else; he had to go face the music every day. Going back to the graduation speaker’s counsel. He failed. He knew he had to feed his family, so he got up, dusted himself back off and went back to work. He told people “I screwed up,” but he made up for it by going back to work every day.

Dad was a smart man, well-respected and great employee. By the time he retired,  he had worked his way back up and was on the Board of Directors of the same company. This is what being an adult (or in this case) a man is. I tell my guys being a man is not being macho, wielding a sword like they do in the games or being proficient at weaponry. Being a man is being accountable and responsible each day. It is owning up to your mistakes and saying I will do better. I should say it is “doing better” as anyone can say they will do better.

Dad had many lessons for me (and others). This last one which shows how someone handles failure is the deepest as we are all “fixer uppers” and will fail. The key is what you do next.  My father showed how. I love you Dad.

Well, you’re no day at the beach either

Sometimes, you need a humorous, but truthful line to get a friend, acquaintance, colleague or relative off a rant about someone. I was out walking and I heard three women approaching me and one was on a proverbial roll. I kept walking after smiles and hellos, as this was one conversation I did not want to hear or a be a part of. It got me thinking of something that can be said to stop the rant.

A line I used to use more often is to simply say, “Well, you’re no day at the beach either.” To me, this is a funny way of getting the person to realize he or she is also not perfect. If he or she is even more reflective, the thought that someone could be talking about him or her in the same manner, might bubble up.

In my previous post, I mentioned a colleague who listened to a new senior executive talk about every person who left the restaurant table at dinner. My colleague said he was scared to go to the restroom as he would be the next subject of discussion. Having met said senior executive, like me, she is no day at the beach, either.

These two walkers with the ranting walker were a captive audience. It would be hard to exit, unless they said something like “I need to run some.” At parties, the exiting of rant-filled conversations is an art. Once the rant starts, the listener (or I should say non-talker), is looking for that exit ramp, be it a person, drink or restroom break. The unlucky person who walks up to join the conversation, will usually be a convenient hand-off as you gracefully exit. The deft person might even pair the two together with a suggested theme.

Dr. Wayne Dyer speaks of “defending the absent” when someone is on a rant about another person. This may not be the course of action for everyone, but it certainly is a noble pursuit. Defend the person who is not there. I think the more common tactic is the exit ramp example, where you simply vote with your feet and leave the conversation.

But, if you are so inclined and need a one liner, the title above will serve you well. It makes the person think. Having been a manager of people in my career at some point, when subordinates rate their own performance, almost always, they rate themselves better than “meets expectations” or better than what the supervisors rate them. Yet, statistically if “meets expectations” is normative, then everyone cannot be better than meets expectations.

It is one explanation of why people rant. The ranter forgets he or she is not perfect and has made mistakes. So, a funny reminder will bring the person back to earth. While I try to be diplomatic, my poor wife hears my rants or comments more than anyone. So, when a relative or friend wants to discuss politics, she will look for the exit ramp if we go too long.

None of us are a day at the beach, me included. Even those PYTs that need not worry as much about how they look in a swim suit are not perfect. Real beauty is more than skin deep. We are all fixer uppers, so we should remember that before and when we rant.

A Habitat for Humanity – a reprise on the Carter legacy

Jimmy Carter just celebrated his 97th birthday on Friday. The following is an encore presentation of a tribute to Carter’s legacy, especially with Habitat for Humanity.

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”

Things you should not do, but do anyway

I was thinking yesterday about a good friend who tried to make a comeback as a baseball pitcher from a shoulder injury. I volunteered to catch for him sans a catcher mask – at dusk. As the baseballs were whistling toward me at 85 miles per hour in the dimming skies, I was thinking how unwise this is. One tipped pitch off the catcher’s mitt would not end well with my face as the only backstop. Yet, there I was.

As I was trimming some tall bushes, the last one was too tall to get the upper portions even with my various ladders and long electric hedge clippers. As I was putting away everything, I decided to give it one more go. Mistake. The one thing in my favor was I planned what I would do if I felt the ladder being uncooperative. So, as the ladder went one way, I tossed the clippers the other way and fell feet first toward the grass. I survived with a jolt and later soreness, but the lack of wisdom was duly noted.

I have always been a climbing fool dating back to when I was young. Two of my children are the same way. In fact, our daughter was on the climbing team in college. Fences did not present as many obstacles to me, but there is one lesson to be learned. As I was climbing a seven foot high fence, I felt I could navigate the prickly fence wires that were pointing up above the bar for some security, instead of being rounded off as with more neighborly fences. When I got to the top, the bar of the fence came out of its hosel and broke free. One of my arms now has a ten inch scar due to the prickly wires from this high school incident over forty five years ago.

At my age, one thing is for certain. I have made my share of mistakes. And, I will try to avoid future ones, but I am sure I will slip up from time to time. Many of our mistakes are not physical in result, even though they started out with a less than stellar idea. The more common mistakes are saying things you should not or acting rashly when the better idea would have been to sleep on it or not to act.

A key lesson for all of us is just because you think it, does not mean you have to say it. Some of the best retorts are the ones that you swallow and do not speak. And, you would be wise in so doing. Not everything needs to be an argument. In fact, your opinion may not be wanted, only your listening. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

As for the rash acting, the more important the decision, the better it is to wait, organize your thought process and garner input. One thing my wife and I do is delay a big decision until a few days or weeks pass. Should we move, should we try for baby, should one of us take that job, should we buy a new car, etc.? Try to avoid buying on emotion as that is what the sales person is wooing you to do.

With that said, some impulsive decisions just need to be governed by catch-all limits. Do not drive while intoxicated or let a friend drive such. Full stop. Do not have sex sans some means of birth control unless you are looking to have a child. Do not have sex if your partner says no, even if he, she or they seemed to be saying yes to that point. Do not take opioid pain killers unless you are in a real bad way pain wise and they have been prescribed – even then you may want to down two Tylenol or look to more herbal solutions so to speak.

And, do not get up on ladders when you are tired. If you ignore this suggestion, you may just well need those two Tylenol or one of those herbal solutions.

Five easy memory tricks – once again for emphasis

The following brief post has been repeated for emphasis, as we all could use a little help recalling names of actors, friends, places and events. Fortunately, my wife knows my shorthand and can ascertain whom or what I am speaking about with a few phrases like “do you remember that place we used to go to near the mall…” or “isn’t she that actress in the show we liked about the Australian doctor….”

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

Mayberry was a simpler place, but it does not tell the whole story

For those who recognize the town of Mayberry, it is an idyllic place that only exists in television reruns. “The Andy Griffith Show” was based in this fictional town along with an ensemble cast around its star who played the town sheriff. It is loosely based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, which is about one hour north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just inside the border with Virginia.

For those familiar with the show, there really is a Pilot Mountain, which is referenced in the show as Mount Pilot. It s a great hiking venue and one can easily picnic off its highest parking lot. Mount Airy has embraced Griffith’s fame and built a replica area of Mayberry to woo tourists who come in droves. They are longing for a simpler time and place, but the show glosses over so much.

This past Sunday, CBS Morning News did a piece on Mount Airy and Mayberry with Ted Koppel, one of its most acclaimed reporters. The report showed the use of a fleet of black and white police cars for the whole town. It showed a place you could get a pork chop sandwich, which was a show favorite of Andy and Barney’s, the humorous Deputy played by Don Knotts..

It was a good piece, but offered some interesting takeaways.

First, when one of the many tourists turned the question back on Koppel about what he thought of this idyllic place and time, Koppel noted that everyone was not able to enjoy this type of environment. African-Americans were not allowed to benefit as much from this type of town when it aired back in the early 1960s. And, returning Vietnam veterans were treated poorly. The tourist agreed with Koppel’s assessment, although he had not initially thought of it in that context.

Second, as for the African-American lack of opportunity, it was in evidence on the show, with only one speaking part for a black actor the entire series. And, of the many crowd scenes, only a handful at a time were African-American. When Koppel interviewed a black family who lived in Mount Airy, one said when she moved back in 1973, she still was not allowed to eat inside certain restaurants and had to get take out.

Third, when Koppel was riding a trolley around the contrived-for-tourists Mayberry, he took a poll of the political leanings. Of the twenty folks on the trolley, only two felt the 2020 election was fair and the rest thought the former president had won. Some even voiced the January 6 insurrection was staged by actors trying to hurt the former president and that the real violent insurrections were occurring in cities all over the country by the far left. One said she “loved Donald Trump.” They noted the news was biased against the former president and should not be heeded. One said he got his news from other sources, but did not want to mention them.

Now, I have always enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show” and have even been to Mount Airy a few times before they built the Mayberry tourist attraction. But, another role that Griffith played reminds me of the trolley rider views. Griffith won acclaim for playing Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd.” The movie showed what can happen when a populist cult figure recognizes his own power to persuade, not unlike that of the former president. That is the character I want people to think about when they read the lies purveyed as truth.*

I do love small towns. My wife and I love to visit them and wander around. They are quaint and full of stories. But, they are imperfect just like any other place. They have biases, they have secrets, and they have painted over flaws. We should not forget that.

*Note: In the attached post called “Mama Guitar” by our blogging friend Resa, she has a link to the movie trailer about “A Face in the Crowd.”