Extra Durable

I look back every day and figure out what lesson I learned from that day. Then I share that lesson with you. Here is today’s.

*****

Practicing martial arts showed me the value of bruises (mostly to my ego) and what they can teach us, but there is another element to our lives that shows we are stronger than we think.

I bet the major problems you are dealing with in life right now are the toughest problems you have ever faced. I say that confidently because it is a matter of logic. The toughest problems you faced five years ago you have already learned how to conquer. If they show up again, you know what to do. You have been there before and won (and hopefully learned something from it).

The big problems you are facing now are new and tougher than anything you faced before because you already learned the skills to beat small problems.

This tells me something about the bio-mechanical machinery we call our bodies and brains. It is durable, really durable. No matter what life has thrown at you so far, you have either beat it or figured out how to live with it and move forward. Chances are, no matter what problems are coming your way, you will also come out on top.

If I were a problem, would I want to go up against a professional fighter with a zero-loss record? Would I, as a major problem, be eager to pit myself against someone with so much grit and courage that nothing–nothing so far–has been able to stop them or keep them down? I wouldn’t. If I was a sensible problem, I would run like hell from you. (Of course, most problems are not sensible but that is okay, you still stand undefeated even when problems have played dirty.)

Whether you realize it or not, you understand what it means to be tough and extra durable.

You are a survivor until the end… so don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff. Just keep moving forward–nothing can stop you.

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Bruises Are Great!

Each day I share a lesson. The lesson has to be something I recently learned–not a fact, or repeating something I read or heard–but something I internalized as my own. And then I share it with you, for fun. Here’s today’s lesson.

*****

Until I went for my black belt many years ago, I was afraid to get into fights–either physical or mental. I was a timid person without the confidence I wanted or needed to do anything that mattered.

I will never forget when I first gained that confidence, though. I mean, really gained it and held onto it. It was in my first fight against a Muay Thai student. We were training. I was a red belt at this time so I had already sparred many times with other students but this guy, Paul, was a really good Muay Thai fighter and I only had a good grasp of Tae Kwon Do at the time.

Every time Paul landed a kick (which was often–he was a better fighter than me, out-ranking me by several belts), it hurt. A lot. He kept nailing my thighs and I could never protect them in time, or when I did, his steel-post legs just hurt my biceps, forearms, and thighs. I landed a few good hits and I did hold my own but there was no question he won the sparring match. After the fight, he spent a great deal of time generously helping me improve both my defense and my offense, and eventually became a friend.

The thing is, for a few weeks after that fight, my legs and arms looked like a map of the constellations, with purple and yellow galaxy-shaped bruises lining both sides of my body.

Of course, I healed, but I knew my body had never taken that kind of punishment before and it hit me later (almost as hard as Paul) that I was tougher than I thought. I got beat up, I bruised, and then I healed. All my life until then, I avoided bruises and pain because… well, because I did not want to get hurt.

After that fight, I realized I could take a hit (even several) and keep going. Even better, the bruises illustrated the personal areas of mine that are really tough (those are the areas that took a beating but a bruise was the worst those kicks could deliver). The bruises also showed the areas I needed to do a better job protecting.

Bruises are great because they do enough damage to teach you where to improve and how to fight back. I am speaking now beyond physical bruises. Emotional bruises work the same way. They show you that you are more resilient than you know and teach you that when a problem arises, you might end up bruised… but it’s okay. You can take it. Even from a steel-legged Muay Thai fighter.

 

A Paradox of Time

Every day I strive to learn a lesson in life. Then I share it with you. Here is today’s lesson…

*****

I am no astrophysicist (so if I say anything patently stupid here–and you are an astrophysicist–feel free to call me out), but my brothers and I love to chat about space, time, and the fate of the universe. In one of those conversations, Milo and I discussed the wackiness of Time, when I tripped across a paradox I had not considered before.

This might be a little nerdy and confusing but I will try to keep it straightforward since you might like to talk about this, too.

We know time travel exists because we are doing it now. We are always moving forward in time, from present to future. The real problem is traveling backwards through time.

It is fun to think of different ways to make visiting the past work, but there is a logical and fundamental flaw that will, I think, always prevent us from going back in time.

When you travel through time you also travel through space (when I cross a room, for example, I am traveling through space to reach the other side of the room and it is also later in time when I get there).

Therefore, theoretically, you should be able to cross time-space backwards and end up in the past, just as you can walk backwards across a room (but time still moves forward). The catch is, to go back in Time, you must travel faster than the speed of light.

Everything emanates light, including people. Thanks to this property of the universe, we are able to see into the past. When I look at you, for example, I actually see you as you were a fraction of a second ago. It took light a (very) small amount of time to travel from your face to my eyes so I could see you. This means that light, to travel through time, must also travel through space. Because of this, when we point our telescopes to the Andromeda galaxy, we actually see Andromeda as it was about 2 million years ago–the time it took the light from Andromeda to reach Earth.

If you were walking down a busy street today in the Andromeda galaxy, someone on Earth would not know for another 2 million years because that is how long it will take the light from that moment to travel across space and reach us humans.

Think about this. The light from every moment is always traveling across space, in all directions. However, every moment that light is followed by the light of the next moment, and the next moment, and the next, etc. It happens so fast and so close to simultaneously that it seems like everything is happening all at once.

If I could somehow travel through time to the moment you began reading this article, I would have 3 major problems, though:

1. I would have to travel faster than light so I could get ahead of the light in my present moment. I can never escape the present because I can not travel faster than light.

2. If I could travel faster than light, then I have an even tougher problem. I could not see where I was going. There is no light if I am ahead of it!

3. Even if I conquered the first two obstacles, when I arrive in the past, that light will have already moved on. There would literally be no past to see.

 

The inherent problem with time travel to the past or future is if you master the mechanics needed to do it, you still would not be able to find anything because the light is either not there yet (future) or has already left (the past).

It is fun to play with the ideas, but I guess the important thing is, regardless of what life you want to live–past, present, or future–use your Time wisely, because when you run out of it… there is nothing more to see.

Can I See You In My Office?

Every day I share a life lesson I have learned. Here’s today’s…

*****

Leaders often forget their words have more weight than they realize. One of my pet peeves is delivering a vague request (this is one of Nicole’s pet peeves, too, it turns out). I am talking about the email from your boss that says, “Can we talk? I’ll send a meeting request.” Or the dreaded, “Can I see you in my office?” which seems to happen only on Friday afternoons, the scariest time of all.

If you are in a leadership position, be sensitive about the power you have. When people know they can not say “no” to you, then it is up to you to put them at ease. If the team member you are talking to is not in trouble, do not be vague about it. “Hi. Can we talk–about the Prometheus project schedule so far? I’ll send a meeting request later.” Or, “Can I see you in my office? Nothing bad; I just a have an idea I want to run by you.

Vague commands presented as requests are disrespectful to the person you are speaking with and it makes you look like a wimp. “Can I see you in my office?” sounds like you are afraid to approach a situation in public. Instead try, “Can I see you in my office, please? I want to talk about the Prometheus project.

If you must be vague, give a reason. “Can I see you in my office, please? Sorry to be vague but it is a sensitive matter.

Most of all, do not leave your team-mate hanging. “I need to talk to you this week.” Or, “I’ll call you today.” When? When do you need to see him or what time will you call her?

Some leaders enjoy the power of vagueness. They like to watch people squirm. That is not leading, though. It is bullying and many good leaders do not realize they are doing it.

Hopefully, acknowledging the problem will help you take the first step in rectifying it, or at least serve as a friendly reminder not to leave your people hanging.

Name That

Each day I share a life lesson learned within the last 24-48 hours. It can’t be a fact I read or something picked up in the news. It has to be a lesson I truly learned and intend to apply to my life. Every day I share that lesson with you…

*****

Here is a game you can play by yourself or with others (especially with kids who have seen The Little Mermaid). What if everything had different names?

In other words, what would a car be called if it had been invented today? Would we say, “Let’s take a drive in my quadro-roller?” What if the words “microwave oven” never existed? Would we heat food in our electro-stove box? Would we wear a pair of sun-reducers and drink from a mouth-pouch?

I know, it is a silly game but it can be surprisingly challenging.

The game itself is not important. The important part is to find reasons to use your imagination for solving puzzles. If you create the puzzles, all the better, because you have to use your imagination for that, as well.

By working your imagination muscles with fun games, you are also priming your mind to be ready when creative problem solving becomes crucial. The imaginative “solutioneer” will be prepared when there is a work or family emergency which seems impossible to solve… until she solves it, of course, using nothing more than a quirky idea and a dingle-hopper.

Don’t Hire Me!

The secret to hiring well is, well, not hiring.

*****

I would not say I am a “recruitment whisperer” but I have a good track record of hiring great teams. In a group training session, a new hire asked, “How did you know everyone in this room would work so well together? We all have such different personalities, yet we all seem to gel. What’s your secret?”

I said, “The truth is, as I interviewed each of you, I was never looking for a reason to bring you on board. I was trying to find any reason not to hire you.”

He looked stunned. I continued, “I think many hiring managers miss that point. I talked to each of you several times but every one of my questions was designed to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Everyone in this room is truly the best of the best I interviewed. You are here because I could not think of a single reason for you not to be here. So, pat yourselves on the back and thanks for making my job easy!”

Leaders (in whatever field) are leaders, I think, because they often move forward by going the opposite direction of everyone else.

 

Making Versus Taking

Why cook for people who don’t care if you cook?

*****

With only rare exception, I do not celebrate holidays of any kind–no birthdays or weddings, not Christmas, or Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day–nothing. If that sounds crazy to you, read this.

Sometimes, though, I do make an exception. I usually regret it but sometimes it is convenient (for example, to spend time with many family members at once) or I have a particular obligation (for example, a new boss publicly invites me to his or her house-warming party, having never read my blog or broached the subject with me otherwise), or sometimes I just make an exception for my own reasons.

Regardless of how I end up at some parties, many parties are bring-a-plate-to-pass-around events and, of course, being vegan, I am sensitive about what I bring. Generally, I won’t bring anything too weird for non-vegans.

I go a step further, though, by deciding to never “make” a plate for events, holidays, or parties. I always buy and take something to the festivity instead, especially things like work food days.

For me, after factoring the cost of goods, effort, and time to make food for 4-20 people (often mostly strangers) who “graze and glaze” over every dish, tossing a token compliment here and there, it is not worth the total cost paid from my life.

I would rather hand $40 to a deli, restaurant, or supermarket for the convenience of taking something I know tastes fine than spend $15 on ingredients plus 2-4 hours of time making. 2 hours alone is worth $40 to have to myself or spend doing something I would rather be doing–even if it is just watching a movie (which would cost another $40).

Some people love to cook and love to have their food reviewed. This obviously does not apply to everyone. I know I am being a bit curmudgeonly here and I am fine with it.

For me, it is better to take something tasty to a party than make something that hopefully turns out well, and then worry about getting my Tupperware back.

If you invite me to your festivities, I will probably say “No thanks”. But if I do go, I would rather take my cake and eat some of it, too.

 

No Pain; No Complain

Some people do better than hide their pain; they dismiss it.

*****

One of my team mates has been in a lot of physical pain but you would never know it (I didn’t ask if I could use her name so she will have to remain anonymous). I would never have known she was in nearly constant pain, either, until I accidentally asked a question she could not avoid explaining (oops!).

She is one of the most chipper members on our team and a consistent top performer. I had to acknowledge her strength in not letting the pain affect her attitude or results, considering I become grumpy if I just have a headache.

She said, “There is no sense complaining about it or letting it get in my way. Complaining does not get me paid more and it doesn’t help me do a better job or feel better about myself or the people who have to hear me gripe and moan about what’s going on in my little world.”

Nicely said. No pain, no gain? How about no pain and no complain?

What Is Your Super Power?

Know why others should pick you (to lead, to help, to be on their team, etc.).

*****

“Why do people really hire you?”, a friend asked, wondering what quality sets me apart from everyone else when I am looking for work (or when work is looking for me).

I thought about it, then said, “You know, I think people hire me for one reason but end up finding my real value is in areas they did not expect. They hire me because my resume looks pretty and I have experience managing people. I think what they find after I have been on board a while is that my real super-power, as it were, is to help people think differently. It is not a quality you look for on a resume or in an interview but when it shows up, I think it is powerful and has served me well throughout most of my career.”

“Yes,” he said, “I can totally see that. Now I have to figure out what my super-power is!”

I didn’t say anything, but I smiled and thought, See? I just used my super power.

I love both questions, though, and I invite you to spend a few minutes thinking about them now…

Why do people really hire you?

What is really your secret super-power?

Why Do You Take Notes?

Instead of taking notes, try focused listening.

*****

“I’m a note taker,” a new hire informed me. “Do you take a lot of notes?”

I said, “No. I almost never take notes.”

“How do you remember so much?” she asked. “You seem like you retain almost everything.”

(My friends and family would probably fall off their chairs laughing at that last statement, but I think it is fair to say I retain most things that are truly important.)

The problem with taking notes, as I see it, is that you concentrate on the notes instead of on what is being said now. It is like always living in the past. Note takers tend to catch half the conversation because they are busy writing down and trying to remember what was said last.

When I gave up taking notes, I found I was actually able to retain more information and do better on tests. It sounds crazy, but what I found works instead is paying deliberate, focused attention to what is being said.

That means I am not thinking about chores I need to do when I get home, or what question I can ask to sound like I am listening, or what I think the person will say next, etc. I just focus on the person speaking and shut out everything else.

I am prone to distraction, personally, so sometimes I have to take it a step further and cover part of my vision by lifting my hand and making a sort of “curved salute” around my eyes. That way, nothing captures my attention in my peripheral vision.

Taking notes is still best for some people but if you have never tried deliberately listening with focused intent instead, give it a go.

It works wonders, and besides, you just pile away notes, thinking you will go back and read them some day but never really do, right?