Snowy boots: A reminder that enjoyment enhances skill

Sunburst in Snowy Mountain ForestA walk in the woods this weekend with my sons, ages 8 and 3, was initiated with the expectation that the snow on the trails would have melted enough for us to walk on the ground or, as this time of year in northern New England typically requires, in the mud. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any mud (nor the associated puddles that are so much fun to stomp in) and, instead, discovered the trails were still covered by a good foot of heavy, compacted snow.

I contemplated turning around, and heading back after a short walk, but the boys were having a blast and convinced me to just keep going.  Falling into the snow up to their knees, at times, didn’t sway them in the least.  You see, for them, the importance was in spending time outside walking with each other.  We worked hard walking on the snow-covered trails, much harder than was needed had we decided to walk on an asphalt trail in a park, but we carried on just to enjoy the day and be near each other.

The situation made me think of some comments left in response to my post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telework at Yahoo, a person going by the unfortunate name of “FuggleyBrew” over on reddit.com posted the following:

You don’t need to be passionate for a companies every action in order to be one of its top performers.

They’re a company, they pay you to provide a service for them, you can be dedicated to performing your job well and earning that money but not be devoted to the company.

Yes, and….

While you can do work for money and do a fine job, imagine how much greater of a job you could do for a belief in addition to a paycheck.  As my boys demonstrated, even children will work hard for something they believe is worthwhile.  If you can combine that kind of belief with a skill so well developed people are willing to pay you for it, I can only imagine the degree of success that could be attained.

As business leaders and managers, it is important to bear this in mind, and to set an environment for people that engages their passions, and doesn’t just offers them a paycheck.

Stranded by the tide, and the return of the water

Stranded by the tide

…stranded by the tide…by federstern

Those of you who follow this blog regularly…yes, both of you….are well aware that I haven’t done much with the blog for a while.  In fact, I haven’t done anything in over two months.  Let’s just say, life’s been busy.

  • My older son, not yet 8 years old, has had an intestinal problem that, while temporary, is difficult and a lot to deal with.  He’s also had problems with kids and teachers at school socially, and self-esteem and confidence and just plain belief in himself have all taken massive hits.  We’re working through all of that and it sure isn’t easy.
  • My P.o.S. car died, necessitating finding a newer, cheap slightly less P.o.S. to run around in for a while, straining the family budgets.
  • I was enrolled in a Project Management Professional class, which concluded in November and I had the exam date set for December 9th
  • The usual Holiday time running around that will make anyone crazy.

So, there’s been a lot going on and, truth be told, I had lost a whole lot of enthusiasm with the blog.  It wasn’t scratching the itch anymore personally, and I was at something of a crossroads professionally – which was brought to a head by the PMP prep course.  You see, for all my affinity for Lean and Operational Excellence as the foundations for improving the workplace, and life, my experience with them has primarily been intellectual.  My professional day job resists Lean thinking significantly, and gives me little opportunity to practice.  The vast majority of my professional background is in project management and, as I contemplate career moves, I simply don’t have enough resume fodder to get where I want to go by using Lean as my primary driver.  This realization, more than anything else, led to my absence from the blogosphere for a while.

Truth be told, I had no idea where I was going with this thing, and although I didn’t want to give up, it seemed I had no ability to move from where I was.  I felt like a ship, stranded at low tide.

During this time, however, there were a number of positives occurring that began to set the stage for better things.  First and foremost, I was contacted by an acquaintance with an entrepreneurial opportunity.  While it is challenging to find the time to work on that endeavor, it’s remarkably interesting and, if the idea comes to fruition, it is potentially quite lucrative.  Being a part of concept development in the early phases of a start up endeavor is incredibly satisfying.  As a part of that opportunity, I created my own LLC.  I’m not exactly certain where that is going, (it will be some sort of speaking or writing of articles kind of thing), however, contemplating what I can do with it is also a great project.  Here’s my logo and banner:

 

I’m not a wizard with the graphics just yet, so cut me some slack as I work those things out.  Nonetheless, I think it’s going somewhere.  I have a URL reserved for it and will be building out that site in the weeks/months ahead.

 

By the way, I did pass the PMP exam and I am now a certified Project Management Professional (I’ll have to update my profile).  That designation appears to be opening doors already as I’ve had a couple good conversations with people in companies I am curious about already.  What I do, and when I do it, are still up in the air – but the future is looking brighter.  Additionally, just this past weekend, I was presented with a speaking opportunity out of the blue, which should give me a much-needed opportunity to help launch the LLC.

What all this reminds me of is that we very often don’t know where we’re going, or even how we got where we are, and when we hit these low times it tends to feel as if we’re going to be stuck there forever.  What is most important to remember when things get this way, however, is that sometimes the best thing we can possible do for ourselves is to simply endure.  Stay in the game, last as long as it takes, don’t back down and don’t get ahead.  Just simply stand there against the things that attempt to pull you apart and prove out that you can last longer than the troubles that surround you.  When you give up, you start down the long spiral ofnever feeling fulfilled.  When you endure, you keep yourself prepared for better things.

Because, eventually, the water will return.

Toy Dogs and the trouble with short-term thinking

Last night was one of those unfortunate, frustrating nights in our house.  At 3:10AM, the dog decided he needed to go out into the yard, which caused him to prance loudly around our bedroom until we woke up to let him out.  Although he woke up both my wife & I, I was awake enough to get out of bed first (which rarely happens), so I let the dogs into the yard, brought them in, and went back to bed.

About 15 minutes later, before either of us could fully doze back to sleep, the 3-year-old started to cry in his bed.  It was just a bad dream, and he went back to sleep quickly, but when I came into his room I moved his toy dog over on his bed to make room for myself.  The button on the dog’s paw that causes it to sing and talk was now easily triggered every time my son rolled over onto it, which we discovered about 5 minutes after I went back to bed.

My wife, aggravated with the singing, got out of bed and went down the hall into my son’s room, and simply moved the dog over, expecting it to finish its song and then go silent.  Too tired to take a look inside the dog and switch off the battery back, she stumbled back to bed hoping the problem would go away.  Of course, by now, the 3-year-old was awake, and playing with the dog – hitting the buttons over and over to listen to the dog sing and talk.  Then, it became my turn to go and try to calm him down, which was impossible, and by 5:15 he was ready to run and jump, so we got up and went downstairs to watch some cartoons while I tried not to bang my head against a wall until I fell into unconsciousness.

Most of us have been in situations like this, or at least similar to it.  Tired, frustrated, stressed out – we seek a quick solution to an immediate problem, ignoring the potential long-term consequences.  For me, I simply moved the dog over rather than putting it someplace where it couldn’t be triggered accidentally.  My wife compounded the problem by just moving the dog and not taking a moment to find the off button.  As a result of taking care of an immediate problem, we ended up with a much longer-term one:  the toy dog kept on singing and the 3-year-old kept on playing, leaving us both tired, frustrated and grumpy as hell for the rest of the day – which will culminate with trying to get the kids to bed (and this time with the dog switched off, which he won’t understand, which means he won’t sleep well….).

Taking a few extra minutes to solve a problem for good seems like an onerous burden when you’re in the middle of the firefight.  That exact same behavior, however, is what leads to the next firefight in the first place.  Although we instantaneously reward ourselves (even with just a few more minutes sleep) for taking care of an immediate problem, we need to remember that solving the bigger problem usually means thinking about the longer term, and that alone will usually guide us to much more long-lasting solutions that allow us to avoid the next problem altogether.

When habits go bad – walking the extra mile

Let_Your_Mind_Do_The_Walking_by_jzcj5

Let your mind do the walking by jzcj5

So, it has been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve post to the blog.  Some times, inspiration is simply hard to find.

Other times, your mother-in-law takes your wife and 2 sons off on a trip and you get a whole week to yourself.  Such has been the case around here.  As it typically goes when the family takes off on an adventure without me, the fist half of the week is grand and glorious.  Napping, eating at crazy hours, sleeping at even crazier hours and, of course, the chance to knock some long overdue projects off the list.  The second half of the week, however, gets to be downright boring and lonely.

In the midst of the boring and lonely part, I needed to pick up my car from the mechanic’s this weekend (having it serviced was one of those projects that is much more convenient when only one car is needed for the week).  The shop is a bit of a walk – about 40 minutes, but not too bad once you get going.  While I could have easily called a neighbor or a friend for help, I simply felt like getting the exercise, so I hoofed it through the neighborhood and cut through a field to get to the shop, picked up the car, and drove home.

That, of course, is not much of a story.  But it did lead to an interesting observation.

What did strike me about 2/3 of the way there, however, is the thought –  “Why in the hell didn’t I just ride my bike??”

Duh.

Seriously, I should have.  The car I was going to pick up is an SUV.  There’s plenty of room for the bike once I get there.  It would have saved about half the time, at least, and still afforded plenty of good exercise.  Especially since I made the trek early in the morning when there was little traffic to worry about, too.  Of course, I could rationalize and say the exercise was great, or the slow pace was cathartic, or whatever else we all tell ourselves when we haven’t though through all our options only to realize later that there was a better way to go about our business.

And that’s the point when it comes to trying to understand how and why we all do, what we do.  Habit tells me that to get places without my car means I have to walk.  If I rode my bike more often, the thought to get on the bike and ride down to the mechanic’s shop would have been as natural as the thought that tells me I have to put on shoes before I go out the door most mornings.  Also, I could say, if I’d developed a better habit of stopping and thinking…to weigh alternatives….before doing….then I would have realized I didn’t need to hike all the way down to the shop.  I might still have wanted to, but I would not have needed to.

So, in a way, my habits let me down.  It makes you wonder how many other things we prevent ourselves form consciously choosing because we are unconsciously eliminating possibilities.  When habits rule, the likelihood of seeing other options simply diminishes.

It might even get you left all along on the roadside.

Thoughts on pushing 40

Birthday Cake

Cake by tbrooks_omgz

Last week, I celebrated my 39th birthday.  There was not a lot of fanfare, in part because as we get older, birthdays aren’t big events anymore (and certainly not those that aren’t evenly divided by 5) and partly because my three year-old’s birthday is just 2 days later.

Nonethless, it provides an opportunity for stepping outside of myself and looking at the situation.  Forty is one of those milestone birthdays.  Your life, for all intents and purposes, is roughly half over (and probably a little more than half).  That sobering thought causes a sense of both pride and depression at the same time.  Proud for what I have accomplished, sad for what I have not – and never will.  But that is normal.

Life, you come to realize, is about ups and downs and acceptance.  Accepting your lot, your limitations, your skills and your blessings.  No matter how many blessings, of course, we end up focusing on the limitations.  — “If only I’d been born rich, or smarter, or taken that class, or not taken that class, or gone on a trip or asked whats-her-name to dance in the 7th grade.”  Of course, after picking our lives apart and beating ourselves up for a while, we re-focus on those things that are really important – our blessings.

Our children might be struggling at school, or with making friends, or with making friends at school – but they are healthy and happy and none of their problems are all that unusual.  If your children do have serious problems, you might feel sad but then realize that you are learning something about bringing patience, joy & strength to a situation no matter how difficult it becomes.  Our careers might be far from what we’d imagined, but even that is usually the outcome of other decisions that had some unintended consequences – so we really can’t blame ourselves for that, either, so we remember to focus on the fact that we’re at least still gainfully employed.

So, with this milestone event looming before me, I am discovering that I have learned two things.  The first is that there’s a remarkable resliency to life.  No matter how disappointing things become, hopes for something better always re-emerge.  Sometimes, that hope might do more harm than good (we never seem to know how to quit when we’re ahead) but it’s always there.  It’s an unavoidable fact – everything that goes down eventually comes back up, and back down again, and back up once more.

Getting older, however, is a bit of a bittersweet phenomenon, nonetheless.  We realize how much we’ve accomplished and how much wisdom we’ve gained, and we look forward to our opportunities to both apply thins wisdom and share it, and to gain even more as we go about our lives until the end of our days.  But that’s where the bitter part comes in – that we will have an end to our days, and it’s getting ever closer.  But – remembering to think about the good things – we realize it’s been a good life and, afterall, we’re just playing our part in the best way that we can.

Which reminds me that the second thing I’ve learned is an even greater certainty than the first:   That the best thing about pushing forty is that at least I’m not pulling it.