Take five

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book that came well recommended. I hated it. Even so, it was fairly short and an easy read, so I gutted it out to the end. I dutifully entered my rating on goodreads.com (1 star out of 5) and moved on.

Now I find myself thinking about that book.

Without giving too much away, most of the book takes place over the course of just a few hours. A difficult situation turns into an argument which then escalates well past the point that either party intended, mostly (IMHO) because neither can figure out how to stop. The long-term consequences are, well, long-term.

I didn’t find it tragic, just stupid.

Then I got into a real-life argument of my own.

A simple infraction escalated. There were heated words and the digging of heels into position. It built momentum and kept going.

It went on so long that the disagreement moved into peripheral areas, ostensibly for no other reason than to keep it going. I tired of the discussion, but I didn’t know how to end it. So we forged ahead, our words pricking and poking in ways that would force the healing process from simple first aid to rehabilitation.

Just like the book, it was stupid and senseless.

I wonder how many of the turns we take in life are the result of not having an exit strategy, how many times we plunder on because we don’t know what else to do, how often we end up somewhere we never intended yet could have prevented. Those usually aren’t happy places.

The simplest strategy in cases like these is to take a break. Pipe up with, Let’s take a few minutes to collect our thoughts and then revisit this. That’s it. No one faces defeat, no one has to concede. Just take five. Better yet, take ten. The issue at hand won’t have gone away by the time you reconvene, but the heat will have dissipated. Chances are, you’ll only need a few minutes after that to find some common ground.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather choose where I land than end up there by accident. When my journey doesn’t go as planned, I need to find an exit strategy–even if that strategy is as simple as taking five.

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, the book I mentioned is On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. After thinking more about it, I might be willing to give it 2 stars out of 5.


Out of balance

WorkLifeOldVenn WorkLifeNewVenn

Newsflash: The work/life balance is a myth.

Yep, I don’t believe that you can successfully maintain a long-term equilibrium astride these two forces. Something’s gotta give.

Before you protest too loudly, hear me out.

There are 8760 hours in a year, leap year excluded. Let’s assume I get 6 hours of sleep per night (I wish!), which tallies up to 2190 hours. 8760 – 2190 = 6570 waking hours. Now of those waking hours, let’s say I spend 50 hours per week at work, thinking about work, getting to work, or doing work at on my smart phone when I should be engaged elsewhere. That comes up to 2600 hours per year, or pretty darned close to 40% of my waking hours dedicated to work activities. (In reality, I see it as closer to or even well over 50%, but we’re being theoretical here.)

I apologize for the math exercise, but it helps me make my point. Too much of our consciousness is devoted to work to be able to rope it off from the rest of our lives. These are not mutually exclusive propositions; work and life not only intersect, but one is embedded in the other. How then, can we talk about balance? We should be talking about fit.

Ooh, that’s scary.

Why do we try to wall off our work life from the rest of our world? Why do we hide our “personal” selves from our colleagues? Wouldn’t the whole shebang go better if we acted, ahem, human with each other? Sure, we can’t spend the entire workday talking about our kids’ adventures or our last vacation or our sick dog; we’ve got work to do! But have noticed that I get a whole lot more done when I can identify with the people around me.

One of my favorite bloggers hit the nail on the head again yesterday when she wrote about being human in the workplace. Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to CLICK HERE and read the whole thing:

We can’t forget there’s also a human side to work. Work isn’t just numbers. Work isn’t just reports. Work isn’t just about the bottom line.

Work is also about human relationships. Work is about BUILDING those human relationships.

Because without those relationships, work is not possible.

It’s okay to show that human side of yourself while you’re at work. It’s okay to have a personality. It’s okay to be nice to people.

We’re not robots.

And honestly, I’ve found that when you share that human side of yourself with others, people are more receptive towards you. People like you more because you’re honest. You’re silly. You’re NOT perfect. You’re just like everyone else. You’re human.

We can’t keep trying to balance work and life. We have to realize that not only do they have to fit together, but we’re also happier when can be ourselves regardless of the venue. It’s not work vs. life. It’s work+life.

Road map

road mapFor days I’ve been struggling with a piece I’m writing. I just can’t make it work. I’m actually a bit flabbergasted by this because the subject matter is one I know better than almost anyone. Should be a piece of cake.

Today as I struggled with it, I found myself pondering whether to include this detail or that, in which direction I should take it, and WHY IS IT SO HARD?!

Light bulb.

It suddenly occurred to me that trying to decide which direction to go 300 words into the article was a huge red flag. No wonder I was having trouble: I hadn’t done my homework. I may have a vast repertoire of facts and anecdotes at my disposal, but where is my outline? Where is the pre-work that lays out my plan step by step? It’s like trying to put together one jigsaw puzzle using pieces from ten puzzles. I need to identify the correct pieces first and then try to put them together.

Now I’m up against a deadline, and I’m tempted to plow ahead anyway. After all, I’m almost halfway there; why stop now?

Thankfully, I know that from experience that is exactly the wrong approach. It will take me twice as long to write the article in this manner as it will to stop, organize my thoughts, make an outline, and begin again. I need a road map. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going,

…any road will take you there,

…you might end up somewhere else,

…you might not get there, or

…you can’t tell when you’ve arrived.

Linen and lace

MomSome women and their moms are peas in a pod. People describe them as cut from the same cloth, more of the same, me and mini-me. Not so in my case. My mom and I see the world differently, want different things from our life experiences, and have different comfort zones. If we’re cloth, I’m linen and she’s lace.

I long to explore other worlds; she works hard to make her own world beautiful.

I fight to prove my self-sufficiency; she has made a life taking care of others.

I paint a room in broad strokes; she focuses on the trim.

And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am without her influence.

She built a world that left me comfortable enough to explore others because I didn’t have to worry about my own.

She taught me what she knew: life skills such as cooking, running a household, caring for children, checking the details (although I’ve never, ever given a plant a milk bath since I’ve been on my own). Her care actually fostered my self-sufficiency.

And the rooms we’ve painted, both real and metaphorical, always look better when we work together.

We may be cut from different cloth, but we make a fine outfit.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

The devil in the details

Several years ago, the ceiling in my mom’s kitchen collapsed. The kitchen suddenly became a soggy mess, awash not only in pieces of ceiling material and insulation, but also in the water that had built collected on top of it and eventually caused it to give way. Clearly she had a leak.

The trouble was, it didn’t make any sense. The summer days had been hot and dry. All the bathroom plumbing on the second floor had recently been inspected and shored up. Besides that, there wasn’t a bathroom over the kitchen anyway. Like Alice in her adventures in wonderland, the situation kept getting curiouser and curiouser.

Eventually, the repairman figured it out. My mom’s air conditioner had a problem. Wait, what? The ceiling collapsed from the weight of some misplaced water, not a blast of cold air. As it turns out, air conditioners typically have a small condensate pump attached, whose function it is to pump away the water that has accumulated from normal operation. (You’ve probably seen window air conditioners dripping onto the ground on a hot day. Click HERE if you don’t quite get it.) Hers failed, and because it was tucked away in the attic, no one knew. Without a pump to send it away, the grungy water accumulated on the floor until the ceiling weakened and gave way.

Interestingly, that pump is a pretty insignificant piece of equipment, both in stature and price. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a tiny piece of her whole central air system. Who cares about a hundred-dollar pump when you’ve paid eight grand (more or less) to retrofit your house with a cooling system? If it fails, it should be easy to replace; there’s no need to worry about such a small detail.

Unless, of course, ignoring a teensy, tiny detail turns your house upside down.

My mom couldn’t use her kitchen for months–having your coffee maker in your living room gets old fast–and it cost thousands of dollars to repair the damage and replace her ruined kitchen. All for a hundred-dollar pump.

Ignoring the details can be costly. Very, very costly.

Aside from paying thousands of dollars for a home repair, the possibilities are endless. A misplaced decimal, for example, could make thousands of dollars of difference. A hurried email response could be sent to the wrong person, with disastrous consequences. A missing bolt could lead to a plane crash. I could make these up all day.

I think I finally figured out the saying, The devil is in the details. He’s there when you’re not. You’ve given him room to operate.

P.S. A colleague’s post encouraging regular maintenance of critical and not-so-critical systems inspired me today. He had no idea that his musings would set me off. If you’re interested, check it out at FranklinInTheField.com

Word jerky


Word jerky: a phrase I made up to denote thoughts to chew on. I’m even toying with the idea of giving it its own blog space.

In the meantime, here’s a chewy morsel for your consideration.

Responsibility is power transformed by humility.

Reaction? Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Sound off, please.

Love is blind

blindfoldRule #1: Don’t fall in love with your work.

Okay, I don’t know what that’s the first rule of, but it should definitely be a rule somewhere. I learned that lesson (again) today.

A colleague and I were working on an ad, and we needed just the right image to reinforce the copy. We both started searching independently, forwarding links back and forth to photos that we thought might work. Then I found it. The perfect image. Even though I loved it, I tried to play it cool.

My colleague was less than enthused, but he did his due diligence and placed it in the ad to get a feel for it. He gave me thoughtful comments. The background was too busy; it would hamper readability. There wasn’t enough of a color pop to get attention. It didn’t lend itself to the overall design.

I didn’t argue with him, but I just knew it would work. It evoked exactly the kinds of feelings I wanted from the ad. Even so, I kept my comments to myself and kept looking, hoping he would see the light.

Eventually, we found another shot that worked well with the ad. It was completely different, but it worked. And it even addressed all of my colleague’s issues: it was simple, lent itself to readability, and offered just the right color pop. We had found a winner.

I still think my original image looked great, but I can’t argue that this one does, too–and probably more so. Yet if I had dug in my heels, I would have missed this opportunity. I would have been content the way things were rather than struggling to make them better. It’s easy to forget that often one’s best work arises from conflict, from being forced to think and rethink, from eschewing the easy and finding new solutions. When we fall in love with our own stuff, we run the risk of becoming blind to something better.

Of course, it’s no big surprise that I’ve been here before. Many moons ago, I wrote about the same challenge in Panning for gold, and later in Get over yourself. Why, oh why, does it take so many tries for me to learn the same lesson?

When you fall in love with your work, take off the blinders and fix it.