Don’t touch that dial

My almost-adolescent daughter is devoted to a particular local radio station. It doesn’t matter if a song she likes is playing on another station, she doesn’t want to change the channel from her station. When we get in the car, she asks for it specifically. The radio in her room is tuned to it, and she knows all the on-air personalities.

The funny thing is that her favorite station was also my favorite station decades ago. I don’t mean the same kind of station, I mean the very same station–the same frequency, the same call letters, everything. I don’t know about you, but I think that is nothing short of amazing. How has this station remained relevant to local youth through all these years when so many others have come and gone?

I think it has everything to do with commitment and staying true to a mission. Somewhere along the line, the station’s decision-makers determined they would target a specific segment of the market, a particular demographic. They play a fairly mainstream variety of current music which seems to appeal to teens and newly-minted adults. As their listeners age and their tastes change, the station doesn’t change its programming to try to keep them. Rather, it stays true to its commitment to mainstream cultural relevance, cultivating an ever-evolving crop of listeners as individuals pass through the target demographic.

What I’m trying to say is that while change is important to survival, it has to be in the right place. Don’t change your mission; change to accommodate your mission. You just might have to dance to different music.

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Pre-requisites

When I was preparing to go to grad school, I found that I needed one class (studiously avoided during my undergrad years) as a pre-requisite before I could enter the program. I enrolled in an evening course at a local satellite campus and jumped in with enthusiasm.

As a working adult who had been through this before, my attitude toward learning was certainly different from that of many of my classmates. I didn’t know what I would face in grad school, but since that course was a pre-req, I wanted to be sure I knew the material backward and forward. I needed to start the grad school program with a solid foundation.

Most of my classmates, however, were simply present to check off a universal requirement for their undergrad studies. In many cases, the course itself didn’t have much to do with their chosen fields of study. Consequently, their level of engagement was limited to passing (at worst) or maintaining a good GPA (at best). Even knowing this, I visibly cringed the first time I heard a voice call from the back of the room, “Do we need to know this for the test?” Her presumption, of course, was that if the material wasn’t going to be on the test, she didn’t need to know it. Her participation wasn’t about actually learning; it was about passing the test.

I’ve carried that experience with me for the 16 years since I took that class. To this day, I wonder how many people walked away from that class with any practical knowledge–and there certainly was some to be had. I watch my kids sometimes take the same approach to their schoolwork. I occasionally watch colleagues and acquaintances complete tasks with little regard to the reasons for them. I wonder what people are taking away from their experiences, what they are doing with the knowledge they accumulate. Are are tucking it away for future reference? Or do they walk away upon completion? Do they “learn it for the test” and then forget it? Or do they assimilate their life experiences for future application?

I think everything eventually comes back around. Treasure your experiences, even the pre-reqs. You just never know when you’ll need them.

That’s not a good idea…

On my way to work today, I saw a woman riding down the road on her bicycle. Her two young children rode beside her on their own two-wheelers, and an even smaller child sat strapped into a seat behind her. One of the solo kids was still finding her cycling equilibrium and could barely hold her front wheel straight. They rode three abreast, filling one lane of a *gulp* five-lane road.

I’m still not sure what to make of this. As an occasional cyclist myself, I know that bicycles have the same road rights as automobiles in the State of Indiana. Other than a two-abreast statutory limit, this woman and her children were following the rules. If this was their only method of transportation to get from point A to point B, can I really fault them?

On the other hand, this early morning velo-endeavor just didn’t look safe: a family on bicycles, three wide, rolling and wobbling down a busy 5-lane road in a heavy traffic period. Add to it that even though this occurred within the city limits of a small town, the road itself is a state highway regularly used by 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, and impatient morning commuters. I shudder to think of the possibilities.

So maybe I do know what to make of this. As I turn this over in my mind, I am left with this rejoinder: just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. The next time you wonder whether to do something, don’t just consider the ability or right to accomplish it. Consider also whether you ought to do it. That might make all the difference.

Life lessons from my dad

Because it’s Father’s Day, today’s post honors my dad and some of the lessons he taught me. I think they’re worth sharing.

  1. Never ask someone to do something for you that you aren’t willing to do yourself. (Remember, capable and willing are not the same.) If you’re asking because you’re trying to pass it off or somehow avoid something unpleasant, nix the idea now. You’ll destroy your credibility and start earning a reputation for taking advantage of people.
  2. If you invite someone to a restaurant, make sure you can afford everything on the menu. I remember looking at the menu in Club O when I was a kid and asking my dad if it was okay to order something particular. (I have no idea anymore what it was.) That’s when he gave me the speech. Essentially, he said that if a person couldn’t afford it, he should go to another restaurant. He shouldn’t invite someone and then restrict her choices. Good stuff–I can think of so many ways to apply that.
  3. Never write an anonymous letter. If it’s not worth putting your name on it, it’s not worth sending. Stand behind your opinions; anything less is cowardly. Enough said.
  4. Don’t lie. Admit your infractions and don’t try to cover them up with falsehoods. When the truth comes out–and it will come out–the lie will just add insult to injury to the person at the receiving end. That’s when the real trouble will start.
  5. Don’t let someone win. Play fair and make her earn it. The eventual victory will be that much sweeter, and everyone will learn a lot in the process. That’s how people grow.
  6. Be there for the people who are important to you. People may not remember what you said, but they will remember that you were there when it counted.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Family photos

One day before a meeting, I noticed a photo on a colleague’s wall. There were three beautiful young women in the photo, and I asked about them. They were my colleague’s daughters, and he told me their names and ages with a thoughtful smile on his face. I felt as if I had peeked into something special.

Having never considered this colleague outside the office, this took me by surprise. Suddenly, I realized that Mr. All-Business had a family and a life outside the company. (Duh.) He celebrated birthdays, checked out his daughters’ boyfriends, wondered what was for dinner, mowed the lawn, questioned decisions. He was 100% human, just like me.

That one photograph functioned as a window into another life. It reminded me that people are people, and that they are not solely defined by their titles or professions. They have good days and bad days. They have victories, celebrations, heartaches, and disappointments. They agonize, anticipate, worry, and wonder. They have hobbies. They laugh and cry. They pet their dogs and play catch with their kids.

Please don’t misunderstand. I had the highest regard for this colleague before my epiphany about his humanity; I had simply defined him by his position, and that occasionally left me intimidated. Now, I think about that photograph and I find myself on more common ground. It’s funny how the little things work.

The exception to the rule

I vividly remember the first day of my second-year Russian class in college. I had gone to the wrong building, so the time cushion I had built into my morning had all but evaporated. By the time I got my bearings, found the right building, and slid into my back-row seat, I was three minutes late and the professor was already talking. My head was still a bit foggy from running around campus, but it cleared quickly when I heard these words (heavily accented): “Last year you learned all the rules. This year we’ll learn the exceptions.”

At that point, everyone chuckled a bit and we dove into the cursory first day introductions. As time went by, however, I realized the professor wasn’t kidding. We really did spend the whole year–both semesters!–learning exceptions to the grammar rules we had committed to memory in the first year.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to have a professor who spent time with these things. Ultimately, it is knowing the exceptions that gives a person insight into a language. It is knowing the “real” way to do things, not just the “book” way. It is knowing the slang and the shortcuts. It is almost as good as nailing the accent. Knowing the exceptions helps build your credibility; it helps people know you’re serious about the language.

Sadly, Russian is one of those use-it-or-lose it languages, and I haven’t used it since college. The knowledge I gained from that class, though, has carried me through many other situations. Thanks, Professor Levitsky, for teaching me the importance of exceptions.

Details, details

When I called my doctor recently to get a prescription for a minor ailment, the whole process went smoothly. I left a message with the nurse telling her what I needed; she confirmed with the doctor and called me back. Someone at the doctor’s office called my pharmacy with the prescription, and I was good to go. Perfect. That is, until I actually picked up the prescription.

To my knowledge, I am only allergic to one thing in the whole world. I’m not a very high maintenance patient; there’s just the one allergy. Easy enough to manage, right?

Well, you’ve probably guessed that the prescription I tried to pick up contained the one drug to which I am singularly allergic. What had almost been a seamless, well-orchestrated process became a complicated mess. The pharmacist had to call the doctor, but the doctor only operates through voice mail so the pharmacist left a message. Now he’s waiting for the doctor to call back with a new prescription–hopefully today–and I am facing a second trip to the pharmacy and postponed relief of my ailment–all because someone didn’t pay attention to the details. All the nurse or doctor had to do was check my chart to see my allergy history, and we could have taken care of this the first time.

The details matter. Whether they impact convenience or reputation or physical well-being, it’s better for everyone to get them right the first time. I’m glad I’m not seriously ill.