Friday free form – recognizing those mistakes

Happy Friday all. I thought I would throw a few random musings down in free form on this Friday. In no particular order:

  • I watched a great movie whose title was uttered by a prescient boy with a debilitating immune disorder. He said you are “more beautiful having been broken.” He was sharing this with a new female friend who he sensed was sad. Its poignancy and pertinence to the plot was profound. Think about this line as it applies to all the screw-ups, errors or misstatements in your own lives. We learn more from failure than success.
  • This self-awareness is important for self-improvement. If we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, then we never learn from them. One of the best teachings by the former president is what we should not do – not recognize that we messed up and blame others for our transgressions. This is what a toddler would do. “I didn’t do it” is uttered with his hand in the cookie jar. It is not what a more mature person should do.
  • I don’t think I have enough toes and fingers to count all of my mess-ups. Thank goodness for erasers, backspace and delete keys. In fact, it would be great to have a life oriented “undo” button. Handling a break up poorly – undo. Saying something hurtful to a loved one – undo. Passing along a rumor that may be untrue – undo.
  • I wonder if ol’ Putin wishes he could press the undo button. For such a control freak, who used disinformation to build the impression that Russia is stronger than its adversaries, to make the horrible mistake of invading and failing to execute in Ukraine is telling. Russia’s economy is not large enough to support the military spending of its aspirations and the Ukraine president called the bully’s bluff and said “I am not going anywhere.” Russia has made some inroads but has also been fended off and is now viewed as a pariah.
  • Speaking of undo buttons, ol’ Boris got a vote of confidence, but the celebration is muted because of the closeness of the vote. He was fortunate to recognize he would benefit by calling Putin on the carpet for his invasion. Everyone needs a foil. Had he not been able to do so, Johnson may have been on his way out. He may still get there, but he should learn some lessons from this about lying, cover-ups and poor decisions. The question is will he?

That is all for now. Key lessons. Our mistakes make us better, not worse, unless we choose to ignore them. In that case, they can be an anchor.

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

You are no day at the beach either

One of the funniest “corrective” lines is in the title to this post. I cannot recall where I borrowed it from, but it is the kind of retort that will make folks laugh at themselves and not take things too seriously.

When someone is in the middle of a rant about the shortcomings of another person who is usually not present, efforts to give the non-present person the benefit of the doubt sometimes fail to dissuade the critic from his or her rant. At that point, you can walk away or use some means to change the subject. Humor works well in this situation. Using the person’s first name, you could say with a smile “you are no day at the beach either.” It tells the ranter that he or she is not perfect, so the ranter may want to let up on the criticism.

I often think of this retort when I read or listen to the rants of imperfect people (which we all are) that are hypercritical of someone who used the wrong words or did something we do not like. None of us are perfect, me very much included. Full stop. Even Mother Teresa shared her doubts in her diary about not being pious or good enough. And, she was one of our finer residents on the planet.

We all mess up. We all have messed up. And, we all will mess up again. Hopefully, we learned something and will minimize those mess-ups, but we still have it in us to make mistakes. The question that needs the attention of others is this modus operandi or is it an exception. The doctor who does something right 19 times out of 20, should get a bigger break than the one who messes up more than half the time.

A final thought to ponder is the following. When someone rants about someone not present, the only window is that of the ranter. The ranting will tend to make those present feel more sorry for the person being criticized, even if they decide to join in because of the forceful personality of the ranter. I would also suggest those present do their best to not join in.

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.”

Sometimes, you just have to be more direct

When dealing with people who have a high sense of self worth, ranging from arrogance to narcissism, a common attribute is the “all about me” chip they carry around with them. This chip also precludes them from thinking they ever did anything wrong.

I have observed and dealt with a few narcissists in my career, but also many who carry this chip around. In my dealings with others I have tried to be at my diplomatic best. This especially comes in handy when you have to tell a client his or her idea lacks merit. But, what happens when you are dealing with someone who rarely, if ever, thinks he or she did something wrong?

One of our blogging friends Cynthia writes an excellent blog on PTSD and other issues related to dealing with narcissistic people. She offers first hand experience and supportive advice. I commented on a recent post the best way to deal with narcissists is to avoid or limit exposure to them. What makes this approach so valuable is narcissists fail to realize they are the lone constant in all of their negative interactions.

When you do dialogue with a narcissist or arrogant person, an extra dose of tolerance and diplomacy is required. To me, it is a truism the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. But, when people show little acknowledgment or remorse of their shortcomings there are times when you just have to be more direct and dial down the dipllomacy.

When I raised concern with NC legislators about the unconstitutional and “Jim Crow” like nature of a drafted Voter ID bill before it was passed, the author of the legislation wrote me back and ripped me a new one and he did so again after I diplomatically rebutted. I showed them to an attorney friend and his response was it looks like your roles are reversed when reading the tenor of the emails. My final response to this legislator was simple – I am a 54 year-old white man who was raised in the south; you and I both know what this legislation is all about. It should be noted the law was later ruled unconstitutional.

I was dealing with one of the most overbearing leaders of a business unit in a company I worked with. His direct reports followed their leader and tended to be overbearing as well. So, when I interviewed him to get his thoughts on compensation for his staff, I knew I was in for an interesting interview. He held firmly to a practice called stretching out raises – i.e., when budgets are tight, lengthen the time between raises to eighteen or twenty-four months. He was quite vociferous that he could give them same value in raises that he would have given at twelve months. After several minutes of this diatribe, I said “you can If they are still here.” His business had a lot of turnover.

The above are two examples of push back. The common theme is I had done my homework and felt comfortable in offering a response. I knew the Voter ID law was unconstitutional, as the NC Attorney General had written a piece saying those very same words and why. I knew the business leader was experiencing high turnover as I had seen the data..

Yet, it is not that easy to push back, especially on an overbearing person who has trouble acknowledging his or her mistakes. I have used the example before of working with the youngest curmudgeon I have ever met. It was all about him and he would tell you so. When my wife and I invited my work friends to a party, he was fuming out loud to others for me to hear – “I don’t want to go to your stupid party.” My response was direct, “Then, don’t come.”

I will continue to try to wear my Harry Potter “diplomacy cloak” more often than not. Yet, there are times when the cloak needs to be set aside. Note, one needs not be rude to be direct. You do want the message heard or read. Yet, it helps to be armed with facts or a position of strength. As for my curmudgeon friend, I thought the party would be good for him, so when he rudely said he did not want to come, it was no bother and we had a good time without him.

Arrogant and narcissistic people tend to complain. Nothing or no one is ever good enough. Even those on their good side, should not get used to it, as they will at some point misstep in the eyes of the narcissist. That will not change. So, if pushback does not suit your style, the avoidance approach works well. A colleague asked why I did not eat lunch with a known narcissist in our office. My response was simple – “I don’t want to listen to him running people down.” Or, as my friend told me once he got to fifty, he realized he did not want to suffer fools anymore, so he avoided them whenever possible.

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Workouts need not be long to add value

Having spent more than fifty years working out in some fashion, I have learned that workouts need not be elongated affairs to add value to your body and mind. The key is to do something that is sustainable, something you can do with regularity. And, the amount of time needed can vary based on age, body style, health, etc.

I would also encourage you to start slow and build up to the routine that makes the most sense, listening to your body. Don’t do things that will cause harm – backs, knees and hips are very dear, eg. I am very careful with my back as I am tall.

For several years now, I have gravitated to a routine that makes sense for me. I workout for fifteen minutes AFTER I shower in the morning, so it is not too intense. The shower loosens the muscles and my back. I vary the daily routine between three workouts based on Yoga, Pilates, isometrics, calisthenics and light weigh-lifting using two 20 pound dumb bells as a maximum, but the weight can vary and be effective for you.

But, a key to each of these workouts is breathing. Since these exercises are not heavy duty, I breath in and out through my nose. If you feel the need for more oxygen, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. I used to do more of the latter, but have learned I snore less at night when breathing more naturally during exercise. On repetition exercises, breath in on the lesser portion of the exercise and out on when you exert.

The first set of exercises are standing stretches, a series of about a dozen exercises, but for those who cannot stand well, several can be done while seated. I will highlight two of the more productive exercises.

  • The Yoga warrior pose is one of the best exercises, which is a stretch and hold routine to twelve nice breaths. varying my arms three times for a total of 36 counted breaths. One leg is out front with foot pointed, the other leg being behind with foot slightly perpendicular to your body as you bend into the front leg. I start with my arms over each leg with palms down, then arms over my head and ending with arms out palms up. Then, I switch sides and do 36 more. It is one you can start with a count of three and build.
  • The other is a calisthenics exercise. Standing up put both arms over your head straight up from your shoulder. Then bring one leg up bending at the knee as you lower your arms. Then raise your arms again as you lower your leg. Then do the same with the other leg. You breath out when you raise your leg and in when you lower it. I do 24 of these.

The second set of exercises for the following day is a floor routine of about a dozen exercises, as well. These focus more on the legs and core areas. Let me focus on two exercises.

  • On your back, bend your legs so that your knees are are up and feet on the floor. Now, gradually swing both legs toward the right, not touching the ground with your knees and then swing them to the other side. Breath out when your knees approach the ground and breath in when you move them up. I do a count of 24 of these. Try to be smooth with your movements.
  • Again on your back, do stomach crunches which is an easier way to do sit-ups and not hurt your back. While bending your legs at the knee with your feet on the ground, put your hands behind your neck and lift your chin up and part of your upper torso off the ground. The key is to make your stomach muscles feel the exertion. Then, return your torso to the ground. Breath out when you exert and in when you let you head back down. I do 24 of these, but like the above start with a few and build up.

The third set for the next day is light-weight lifting exercises.

These are simple exercises, again about a dozen of them. I warm up with an 8 pound medicine ball, then move to one dumb bell then two, each weighing 20 pounds. But, use weight that is comfortable to you. The key is the technique and repetition more than the weight. Just picking two:

  • Take a small medicine ball and while standing hold it in front of your waist in both hands. Rotate the ball to each side with a small twist breathing out as you do. Swing it to the other side, breathing in, then breathing out. This works on your love handles. I do fifty of these, 25 on each side. If you don’t have a medicine ball, you can use a small dumb bell or just interlock your wrists and twist.
  • Using one of your dumb bells, kneel down with your left knee and place you left hand on the floor. Using your right hand, lift the dumb bell up like you are slowly pulling a lawn mower cord. Breath out when you pull up the weight, breathing down when you lower it – don’t drop the weight, lower it. Build up to fifteen of these. Then switch legs and arms and do fifteen more. Start slow and with a light weight. This is the best way to work your back lateral muscles without harming your back.

Remember to start slow with fewer reps and lesser weight. The key is to use smooth movements and get your breathing right. Also, please check with your doctor or a trainer if you need to get counsel. Even five minutes will help each day, but whatever you do keep it sustainable. I have had many routines in the past that would wane after a few months. I have been doing a variation of these for more than five years.

More on that kindness thing

Following up on my previous post about “fierce kindness,” I think many of us could look to our mothers, fathers, teachers, mentors, etc. as exemplars. A blogging friend lost her mother this month and she said her mother’s final words to her were be kind to others. That is profound and telling advice.

Even with the ravages of Alzheimer’s, my mother and mother-in-law remained kind. Yes, Alzheimer’s can cause a brief temper snap, but it is more due to confusion or as a defense mechanism. Both mothers were heavily involved in outreach for the churches to which they belonged. They helped others through tough times.

At the memory unit of the long tern care facility, the teacher in my mother always showed through. She would help the facilitator by first paying attention, but also in participating and helping others do so. To her, it would be rude to ignore the facilitator who went to great lengths to be there.

One of my late memories of my mother-in-law is we took her to my daughter’s school function in a large hall. I remember her telling one of the mothers, who must have come from work, as she was well dressed, how lovely she looked. This woman just beamed. That was not an unusual occurrence.

Although my father had a drinking problem, he was the kindest of men. He went out of his way to bring food to work for pot luck lunches, usually smoking a turkey or ham. Before his drinking got the best of him, he was heavily involved in our sports programs, coaching, practicing, leading and attending. He had a hearty laugh and was helpful to people in need or friends with homework or other problems.

Let me close with a nickname I got on occasion when I followed my parents’ example and fought for people – Don Quixote. I knew I would fail to save someone from being let go in our matrix managed organization, but on certain occasions, I had to try and fight that windmill. I did help save one (who is still there twelve years later), helped lengthen another’s time, but far more often it was for naught. Yet, invariably I would do my best to help these folks get placed elsewhere. When my boss said I was ruffling some feathers (and actually had a comment placed in my HR file), I noted I would do the same for him. I was kind, but firm. And, foolish on more than one occasion.

Kindness is not a weakness. Helping people is a good idea, even if you are not successful. Just trying means something to people. One thing companies fail to realize is how you treat someone when he or she is forced to exit is important. Fellow employees see it. Clients see it. So, even when tough decisions are made or push back is needed, be kind. Treat people like you want to be treated.

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.