Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ spending

This morning I made the following paraphrased comment on a blogpost which was offering sound advice to budding business owners and young adults (a link is below to “Push through your fear to achieve financial freedom”). It is a variation of a theme I have written a few times about.

As an almost 62 year old fart, part of the theme of this post – “The fear of being ostracized causes us to keep up with the Joneses” caught my eye.

A key word of advice to all people who feel they must spend to buy more things in some level of competition with the infamous Joneses. Ask yourself do you really need this? Will it make you happier if you buy it? I have an attic-full of things we forgot we have, that are obviously not that important anymore.

There is an instructive documentary movie called “I Am” by an action movie director. He wrote and produced it after he realized that buying the biggest of houses, did not make him happy. His realization occurred the moment he entered the house with his new set of keys and closed the door.

The movie reporter speaks with religious, spiritual, psychological and medical folks about what makes us happy. The key conclusion that is revealed is straightforward – money does not make you happy; however, the absence of money does make you unhappy. Once you have enough to put a roof over your heads and feed your family, there is diminishing marginal return to more money. And, more things.

I hope this thought might help. It helped me. So, don’t keep up with the Joneses. And, if you don’t like the above argument about watching your spending, there is book that might interest you called “The Millionaire Next Door.” It is about the person who spent wisely and saved and is now wealthier than you imagined as you were swayed by his ten year-old cars and his beat up lawnmower.

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

The biggest selling self-help book

On NPR, yesterday, the son of Stephen Covey (who has passed away) was being interviewed for Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This self-help book made it to number 1 on the non-fiction best sellers’ list in 1989 and stayed there for a long while, selling over 25 million copies. It was also the first audio book to hit 1 million in sales.

So, what is all the fuss about? Covey sought to help us find our “true north” principles. He defined “effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”

His seven habits are grouped under three headings – Independence, Interdependence and Continual Improvement.

Independence

1. Be proactive – take responsibility for your actions.
2. Begin with the end in mind – envision what you want and plan.
3. First things first – here he uses a two dimension matrix organized in four quadrants along level of urgency and importance (do the urgent/ important, plan the important but less urgent, delegate the urgent/ unimportant and eliminate the non-urgent/ unimportant).

Interdependence

4. Think win/ win – look for mutually beneficial solutions; Nobel Laureate economist John Nash said we make more money if we look to collectively win.
5. Seek to understand/ then to be understood – use empathetic listening; this jives with a favorite saying – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
6. Synergize with others as a team – there is a great book called “Play to your strengths,” which will help people work with others using their strengths to balance yours for a better outcome.

Continual Improvement

7. Sharpen the sword – seek to improve and grow.

The attached link will give a nice synopsis of each of the above as well as offer better context.

I was struck by the interview with Covey’s son. He used a couple of examples his father used. When the son did not get into a college class he needed, he told his father. His father asked what do you plan to do about it? When he asked for help, the father said contact the professor. He found out there was a waiting list. His father then suggested to go see the professor. The son did and got into the class. He took responsibility and was proactive.

The second example is his father was very much about owning up to mistakes. The son said the father would apologize often. Think about that. He used an example of a family trip when everyone was late and the father lost his temper. The son remembers the father apologizing for losing his cool, when he had every right to be irritated.

If you have not read the book, it is worth the read. If you want a brief glimpse, click on the link below.

http://www.quickmba.com/mgmt/7hab/

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

Alcoholism – Feherty, Watson and me

I am an alcoholic, yet I am approaching the twelfth anniversary of my last drink. I bring this up today as I learned in an interview yesterday that David Feherty, a retired golfer, golf announcer and truly comical person, is also an alcoholic, along with some other demons he has to manage.

Several things about Feherty’s interview with Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel are worth noting. First, he credits his second wife for her tough love – after a final straw, she said you have 30 days to get clean or I am gone.

He also credits Tom Watson, one of golf’s greatest players, whose own career was almost derailed by alcoholism. As Feherty was interviewing Watson, the latter asked Feherty if he was alright. Feherty said he was not, but asked how could he tell? Watson said “I saw it in your eyes.” He then answered Feherty’s question of what did he see? Watson said bluntly, “I saw myself.”

Watson invited Feherty to his home and helped him through managing his demons. Feherty was sober for ten years, but fell off the wagon when his son took his own life after fighting a losing battle with the same demons his father faced. It should be noted Feherty’s alcoholism masked that he was clinically depressed and bipolar. His son inherited the problems. After renewing the fight, Feherty has returned to being sober.

Alcoholism or any addiction are tough enemies. You never fully defeat them. You put a lid on them, but they still simmer on the back of the stove. Over time, the heat is turned down, but it never is fully extinguished. In my case, I still want to have a drink, but it is a fainter flame today.

The key lesson I learned from a colleague, whose husband fought alcoholism, is to say this mantra – I am not going to drink today. This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know how many days they have been sober. The other piece of advice is to find a substitute for the alcohol. It may be green tea, fruit, fruit juice, near-beer, tonic or soda water or a piece of candy. Now, for me, it is hot tea and all kinds of fruit, dried or fresh.

Life is hard. It is not uncommon for some people to use some form of anesthetic to sand the edges off difficulty. If you think you may have a problem, you do. Be honest with yourself, first, but be honest with your spouse or partner and your doctor. Most addicts lie to all of the above.

People ask me what was my trigger to change? Another colleague’s wife, who was as vivacious and funny as David Feherty, died from complications due to alcoholism. She was only 59, one year less than I am today. I was a train wreck waiting to happen. So, I got off the train. It was and still is hard. But, remember the mantra, I am not going to drink today. Then, don’t and say it again tomorrow.

A fix up story from my past

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my 2019 wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

We are ALL fixer uppers

As we stew over those extra holiday pounds and think of possible New Year’s resolutions, let me state the obvious. From one imperfect person to another, we are ALL fixer uppers. So, we could benefit from a few touch ups. All of us.

To remind us of how imperfect we are, here are few truisms to think about.

– Everyone thinks they are better than average, but in actuality that is not possible.

– The customer is not always right, but they are the customer. Yet, being the customer does not give you license to be a jerk.

– It takes at least two people to have a communication problem. It may not be 50/50, but both sides are almost always at fault to some extent.

– Opinions are like rectums. Everyone has one. (I cleaned this one up). It does not make them or you right.

– Saying it is my fault is not a crime. It is actually welcome to fess up. Others, with some degree of fault, might even admit theirs.

– Saying thank you is important, as we need to recognize people do not have to help you.

– One of the greatest gifts is the gift of time. Be generous with yours and try not to waste another person’s time.

– Finally, please remember the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance from others in dealing with them. Sometimes it is better to just reduce or eliminate exposure to such toxic people.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable holiday season. Let’s set some reasonable and sustainable resolutions for 2019. We could ALL use some fixing up.