You Don’t Know Me (And Neither Do I)

Today’s Lesson: It’s tough to see I to I.

*****

“…And that is why I am who I am.” Our friend finished sharing some very moving and important details about his childhood. It was the kind of story people write books about, that later become screenplays, and eventually turn into inspiring and uplifting academy award-winning movies.

I do not know many people who do not have amazing life stories that could become movies. In fact, just think about how often you hear the phrase, “My life could be a great movie…”. Everyone’s life could be a great movie, and I believe all those movies would be great. We all have struggles, challenges, trials and tribulation to overcome (often as children) because there is no manual for life. We each have to figure it out the hard way.

When we hear a close friend’s intimately protected back story, we are often surprised. Sometimes that friend is no longer who we thought they were, in the light of new details. It is like we don’t even know them.

Here is the real kicker, though. We don’t know ourselves, either.

When I look back at my life, I remember (and this is being very generous) maybe one-fourth of my own history–you know, the history that I lived.

I do not remember most of yesterday. I remember waking up, going to work, coming home, and going out to dinner but I do not remember every word of every conversation or every visual input that affected my attitude, or each billboard that subtly coerced me into trusting a brand name, or even every detail of my friend’s story. I remember the highlights but, as they say, the devil can be in the details. It is the minutiae and messy morass between the big plot turns that build character, that make me who I am.

In essence, I am missing most of who I am. Sometimes an old friend will share a story about me that I do not remember. I can not scroll back through my entire history. Truly, I only know the highlights–bits and pieces of stories I have heard and told over and over.

In other words, we are, at best, only the Cliffs Notes version of ourselves.

We should not fret, therefore, when we think we know someone because we remember a few major dots in their life but have forgotten most of the lines that connected them.

In the end, isn’t it better to be surprised once in a while… even when we surprise ourselves?

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Resting Mean Face

Today’s Lesson: If you are content, don’t forget to tell your face.

*****

I have been diligently trying to eliminate the serious look that is my face’s default mode. When I am neither happy nor satisfied, the “normal” look on my face is tight-lipped and eyebrows furrowed. When I pay attention, my tongue is often pressed so hard against my upper palate you would think I was trying to silently crush rocks in my mouth while trying to levitate a cannonball with my mind.

Some people seem to have a permanent scowl etched onto their faces with deep, permanent stress lines and squinted eyes. I am lucky that I just look serious (at least, I think I do–I am not sure if anyone would tell me I have a permanent “jerk” look on my face).

I like to believe I am a serious thinker and most of my pop-culture heroes are serious, logical, and generally emotionless in their expressions as well. Think Mr. Spock, John Galt, Fox Mulder, Professor Xavier, and Rick from The Walking Dead. I know what you’re thinking–with that group of personalities, ladies night dream come true, right? Hey girl… who needs Ryan Gosling when you know the Vulcan Death Grip?

Anyway, when I notice I have my “resting mean face” on, I consciously relax my eyes, cheeks, and tongue, and turn my lips up into a slight smile (not a full grin because that would look incredibly creepy if somebody walked by–“Hey Gir–” “…Gaaah! Why are you smiling at me like that?”)p

I also remind myself to relax my shoulders.

I don’t know when or where I first picked up my serious face but I know I am not always serious and I do not wish to have a scowl permanently etched on my face as I grow older. I am hoping to be the savvy, wise, friendly old man–more like Ben Kenobi than Archie Bunker–but we’ll see. I think I would accept an Alan Arkin middle ground.

If you have an unintentional severe resting face like me, remember two things. One, tell your face to relax. Two, you are going to die no matter how you look. Might as well go with a coy smile instead of looking like you were trying to poop at the worst possible time.

 

Making Time

Today’s Lesson: You have to make time to make time.

*****

I feel so busy these days that I barely have an hour to myself. Nicole and I both work long hours. Each day when we get home, it is a mad scramble to clean up, make dinner, prepare for the next day, get ready for bed, and if we are lucky and do not miss a beat… we might be able to share 30-40 minutes of downtime together.

We do not own a TV. We do not have many social commitments (or even many friends). We don’t play sports or go to the gym for an hour. We don’t have kids or family nearby to take up our time. We just work, come home, and get ready for the next day.

There are, of course, other things we would also like to do and sometimes we can cram one or two of them into the weekend, between chores (like spending time outside, reading, writing more, catching a movie, playing with Rainee, exercising, learning new stuff, etc.).

I know we are not alone in this battle but I am often confounded by how bad I am at making time for everything. Sometimes I watch other successful people (famous but sometimes just my peers) accomplish more than I seem to, while also balancing children, second jobs, big social circles, and more. I do not know what specific compromises they make (sleep, sex, cooking, or eating healthy, maybe?) but I marvel at their leisure time.

I see two main struggles for myself.

The first is, I am, I think, incredibly efficient but also a perfectionist. It is important to me that everything that is done… is done well. For example, my laundry is not haphazardly folded. I know how I like things placed in the closet. I do not have a “junk” drawer in the house. I run my schedule like a military operation each day. I can tell you almost exactly where my feet will be placed at any given time of the day.

My second struggle with making more time is something I only recently realized. My schedule is packed until I force something new into it. For example, I used to work roughly the same hours with the same drive time I have now, but I was also taking martial arts classes three or four times a week while doing it.

I have no idea how I would fit six to ten hours of classes in my schedule now and I had no idea how I would do it then. I just did it, and I showered twice a day on top of it.

I have been experimenting with waking up later yet forcing more actions into my morning routine and still arriving to work on time. So far, so good. I have surprised myself.

The lesson in this is, whatever time you have is what you fill your day with (meaning your habits expand to fill the allotted time you give them). Further, you make time for what you make time for (meaning, if you absolutely have to fit something in–say, if you had the chance to attend a lecture from your favorite famous business leader three times per week–then your schedule will “magically” open to work around it).

I imagine Steve Miller Band fanatics and people with children (sometimes called “parents”) must know this already. For me, it is a lesson I am just figuring out.

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future…”

Silence Is Golden

Today’s Lesson: Just because it is trapped in your mind does not mean it must escape your mouth.

*****

I had a great zinger to end the argument. I knew what I would say to point out the other person’s flaws and send a fierce jab back, making them regret even talking to me.

Almost in the same moment, though, I realized I actually like speaking with this person and I like it when people want to speak to me. Why would I want to make someone regret that–particularly someone who matters to me?

I knew how to cause maximum damage here but I realized it was not a contest to see who could hurt each other most.

But… man, it was a really good line! They walked right into it. Like, the kind after which you would expect to hear your juvenile friends exclaim, “Ooh, burrrrn!”. What if I missed the opportunity to land this killer blow? What if the other person walked away feeling superior or just confident they had a valid point?

I thought about it (quickly). If I kept my barb to myself, it would change nothing as far as the facts were concerned. I would not sway any opinions with my whip-crack remark. All I would do is make the other person feel defensive and hurt and that would breed further hurtful words between us, maybe even some we would regret.

I dropped the line. My sub-conscious kept prompting me to spit it out–to fight back but my conscience won this one. It had to keep winning it for the next half-hour or so. I kept wanting to spit acid at my friendly adversary and I kept having to remind myself it would not help. A better path was to speak kindly, deflecting instead of defending, asking instead of attacking, and acknowledging their feelings while working through the issue with compassion.

The argument never blew up. We brought it in for a soft landing together, and I realized later it took greater strength and virtue for me to keep my angry words inside than it would have to prove myself right… at any cost.

Sometimes, saying the right thing… means saying nothing at all.

Finding An Expert

Today’s Lesson: Experts are easy to spot if you know how to look.

*****

We have been shopping for Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP’s) lately. It is a lot like shopping for new cars. If you are not already an expert, you can be taken for a lot of money and you will feel lost in the jargon.

SUPs can be a fairly expensive venture, too, costing about five grand for a pair of decent boards, car mount, protective covers, paddles, fins, leashes, etc. Just choosing the right type for your needs is a big challenge. We have been taking our time, asking questions, reading reviews, learning the jargon, and even taking lessons.

What I have learned so far is there is a wide gap in knowledge between people who like to Stand-Up Paddleboard and people who know how to Stand-Up Paddleboard well. Everyone we have spoken to so far seemed knowledgeable and helpful, but then we came across an expert, and I realized I have seen this in other areas. If you have walked into a cell phone store, for example, it is easy to distinguish the people who are good at sales from the people who love technology and want you to be as excited about it as they are. Their passion comes through instantly and they want to show you why everything is so cool.

Good salespeople know the facts, prices, and talking points… until you stray away from what is printed on the label or box. They can not dive deep or offer advice–only choices. Passionate experts consider your questions, offer relevant options, and have an opinion and advice no matter what direction you head in the conversation. Most importantly, experts can not help but teach you along the way.

We talked to one salesperson who knew her stuff. She asked a few questions and guided us to a few boards she felt would work for us. Her sales process was spot on. She was really good. Salesperson number two was also quite good, able to assess our needs, offer a few choices, and asked for the money without pouring on the pressure. Very good. Then we came across Mike from Urban Kai.

Mike LOVES Stand-Up Paddleboarding. Within 30 minutes, we knew where this leisure sport began (Hawaii), how Polynesians typically use their paddles, why inflatables are not for us (which I was leaning heavily towards), how to use our hips to minimize effort while paddling, what indigenous fish we can spot in the area, and more.

This guy is clearly an expert. Mike’s passion is clear from the second you meet him. His excitement is contagious. He took us on the water and was so excited to teach, he grabbed a stranger passing by (twice) and showed them how to hold their paddle correctly.

In 30 minutes with Mike, we learned more than we had in nearly a month of research and shopping. Not surprisingly, we will be purchasing our new Paddleboards and accessories form Urban Kai.

This is not an ad for Urban Kai or Mike, by the way. I do not think he would even recognize us if we ran into him again. There is definitely a teachable moment here, though, if you are in sales, management, or leadership.

There is always room for people who are good, but finding people who are passionate about learning and becoming experts… those are the people who will take your business far. Customers will flock to those people like mice to a Pied Piper.

Seek out experts (or burgeoning experts) out. Pay what they are worth to you (they are worth as much as you can afford–if they are not worried about money or benefits then they are free to pursue passion). Teach them because knowledge is as important to them as money, reward them in clever ways (knowledge and time are great rewards), recognize their efforts, encourage them to share their knowledge, and watch them soar!

If you are not passionate about what your company does (or what you do), then probably don’t send this article to your boss. She might start looking for someone who is!

Why Happiness Never Lasts

Today’s Lesson: Know what you are measuring against.

*****

Yesterday, I posted about the Physics of Relationships and explained how relationships seek balance. Therefore, Happiness will not last (and neither will Unhappiness).

Happiness moves on a sliding scale, though. What we were happy about and grateful for yesterday we take for granted today. When we are deciding if we are happy, we rarely look at what we are measuring against. I think most of the time, we are measuring our happiness against the most recent moment of unhappiness and that can trick us into setting an ever-higher, never achievable bar for satisfaction.

There can be no happiness without unhappiness (remember, the universe seeks balance) but often we see happiness in the moment. For example, if we see our partner left the cap off the toothpaste, we might feel angry (“Why can’t he just remember to put the stupid cap on the stupid toothpaste when he is done with it?!?”).

Perhaps we feel angry about the toothpaste cap because we are measuring it against the happiness we felt with that person in the recent past. What if, as our measure, we pitted the toothpaste cap against one of our most unhappy moments–the time you lost a loved one, for example, or when your wallet was stolen, causing all sorts of problems, or when you broke your leg, or when you experienced trauma as a child?

Is the toothpaste cap really a big deal, then? Would it even have nudged your current level of happiness if your most unhappy memory was on your mind? Probably, you would not give it a thought. You might just place the cap on the tube and continue brushing your teeth.

Happiness is arbitrary, which means you can choose your happiness (or you can let random, meandering, immature thoughts or other people choose for you).

The next time you feel unhappy, pause and ask what you are measuring your unhappiness against. Find the balance and you will, more often than not, find your Happy.

 

The Physics of Relationships

Today’s Lesson: The laws of the universe apply everywhere. That is why they are the laws of the Universe.

*****

Most of us learn the basic laws of Physics and Thermodynamics in grade school (and then promptly forget them) but we never think to apply them outside Science class.

When we talk about the fundamental underpinnings of everything we unequivocally know about the universe, we forget those laws include us (because we are part of the universe).

I often take those laws and apply them to seemingly odd areas of life–for example, to help navigate relationships (maybe I’ll write a book about this one day).

Let’s take the Law of Conservation of Energy (the first law of Thermodynamics). In sum, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed from one form to another. For example, if you push your phone across a table, potential energy (in your hand) is transferred to kinetic energy, causing the phone to slide across the table. This is also (in overly simplified terms) the foundation for how the second and third laws of Thermodynamics work, which are also the First and Second Laws of Entropy.

“Entropy” is a fancy way of saying “Chaos”. As Entropy (Chaos) decreases, things become more ordered. As entropy increases, things become more random and chaotic. The laws of Entropy essentially tell us that the universe always seeks balance… and that is what brings us to relationships.

Relationships, when left alone, tend toward balance, meaning some smooth parts and some rough parts. We seek Order naturally because it is pleasing. We like to feel happy and satisfied and we find those feelings when everything seems to fall in place with our intentions and our world is running smoothly. The catch is, while we build Order in our lives, the universe seeks to balance the ledger. Disorder is created by default, somewhere.

If you find peace with this simple fact, life becomes easier to navigate. Think of it this way:

–When you and your partner are perfectly aligned and everything seems super-happy and could not be going better, enjoy the moment but understand it can not be a permanent state. “Happily Ever After” is the point where a movie ends (but a relationship is only beginning) because showing the rest of the relationship would depress most of us. No one wants to see Snow White and The Prince 10 years later, after she has gained 30 pounds and is depressed about aging and he has to work or hunt 11-hours a day to keep his family satiated and feels like he hasn’t slept in weeks. We do not want to see them bicker about the free-loading dwarves and why the dishes are never done. (Actually, we would kind of love to see that, right?)

–When one of you is aligned and one is not aligned, this is equilibrium. Balance. I am not saying that means everything is good for you and bad for the other person. I am only saying you can not both be perfectly happy all the time. That is okay. That is how life is supposed to work. You are not fighting and you are not in bliss. Balance.

–When you are both out of alignment, then you are creating friction and that is bad. That means fighting, despair, depression, etc. This would be considered a high state of Entropy, or disorder. The universe will force an adjustment. If the friction continues, it will lead to a break down and possibly a break-up. That, again, is the law of Entropy at work (according to my crackpot opinion). The universe will balance the check book and it is not especially concerned with whose feelings are hurt in the process. It is just doing its job by restoring order equal to the chaos.

 

Basically:

  • If you are happy, don’t worry. It is going to get worse soon.
  • If you are sad, don’t worry! It is going to be better soon!
  • If you are right down the middle, don’t worry… It will be steady for a while but then it’s going to get crazy–get ready for the ride! (This is because minor variations in a highly ordered state ultimately create entropy that builds the way ripples from a breeze can grow into tidal waves on the ocean).

 

What Is An Employee Worth To You?

Today’s Lesson: Salary is about more than the lowest common denominator.

*****

Tension was high while we hashed out a salary for a new position. The executives discussed the responsibilities of the position, what other positions in the company were making, whether the work was harder than the work of those being paid potentially less, whether there was enough work to sustain the position, whether this was contract work, whether we should buffer for possible raises, what other people in the same industry (working for other companies) were making, etc…

It was a long meeting and we were balancing somebody’s living wage against what the company could afford. We did not take it lightly. The numbers being thrown out were initially quite low (in my opinion). Some of the team felt the best strategy for pay is to offer the lowest amount the person would be willing to accept (I briefly wondered if they assumed that was how their pay was decided and if they were okay with that).

Then, two things happened.

First, the owner asked me if we had enough work to keep the new people in this new role busy. I said, “Yes, but initially some weeks will be slower than others. They may have considerable downtime once in a while.”

He said, “Well… wait a second. I don’t want to pay someone for not working! If they are not going to be busy all the time, should we just make them part-time hourly employees? I mean, I don’t want them not doing work and still being paid. Do you think that’s okay?”

I said, “Honestly? I don’t care if they work 2 hours or 200 hours a week if they are delivering the results. Who cares if they work every day, if they are getting their work done and doing it well? Power to them if they are efficient and effective at the same time.”

He thought about that a second and said, “I don’t have anything to say to that. You’re right. Let’s move on.”

The second great moment in the meeting, I think, was prompted by that exchange. The owner’s mindset had shifted.

Each executive threw their final salary number on the table. The owner and I were about $20,000 over everyone else. Back and forth conversation continued until the owner paused the meeting and changed everything with a simple observation.

“Maybe we are asking the wrong question,” he said. “We have been asking, ‘What can we get away with paying them?’ But maybe we should be asking, ‘What is this position worth if they succeed?'”

If he was holding a mic, he could have dropped it right there, and walked off the stage. The conversation was over a few minutes later. We came to a number we were all happy with, felt confident was affordable for the company and showed the potential new hires they are valued and the position is important to us.

When we made the offer the next day, they accepted without hesitation and immediately started planning ideas for their first projects.

 

I have not always chased the salary I know I could enjoy with a big company (doing easier work) but I rarely regret the trade-off. I have the pleasure of working for smaller companies with big hearts that fight to do the right thing and somehow find success every day. They do not believe in low-balling or acting without integrity. They just do what they think is right and work to make everyone’s lives better. Moments like that make me happy to work for people who care about getting it right instead of people who care about getting away with it.

Ears, Hands, or Brains?

Today’s Lesson: What type of conversation are you having? Listening, Fixing, or Advising?

*****

I see problems and solutions everywhere I look. When you spend years as a trainer, leader, or coach, you train yourself to quickly identify holes in the game and think through possible solutions.

Most of the time this is a strength but it can also backfire. Sometimes people share problems with me, because they want someone to listen. They are not seeking my advice or any solution. They just want to vent. Sometimes I just want to vent with no expectation of resolving something. I understand where they are coming from.

Still, when most conversations in your life are centered around providing answers or advice, it becomes incredibly difficult to know when someone only wants to be heard (and to listen while withholding advice).

I thought this was one of my personal challenges until today. I was in a meeting where two other peers and I were offering several solutions to an issue a coworker just shared. One of my peers said to the frustrated coworker, “I bet you are upset because you just wanted to be heard but you offered a problem to us three and we can’t help but try to solve it! It’s the hero complex. We want to come to the rescue. My wife has the same issue with me.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Exactly. Maybe I need to tell you before we start a conversation if I want you to listen with your ears, hands, or brains.”

I love that. It would be so helpful if, when starting a conversation, the person speaking simply prompted, “Ears”–indicating all I want you to do is listen. Or, “Hands”–I’m not looking for conversation, I just want you to fix this. Or “Brains”–will you think through this with me and offer your advice or thoughts about it?

Ears, Hands, or Brains. What kind of conversation are we having?

“There Are No Problems, Only Solutions…”

Today’s Lesson: You get what you take.

*****

John Lennon may have just been sitting there doing time, “Watching the Wheels go ’round and ’round…” but he nailed it with the title of this post.

Have you noticed that problems are like gifts? We give them to each other. Sometimes we receive good ones and we are excited to try them on but a lot of the time they are more like another bottle of cologne you already have four of, or the wrong size paisley-patterned sweater from otherwise well-meaning people.

What we forget is that gifts must be accepted. If we do not accept them, they go away (and sometimes stop being offered altogether). In other words, we think problems happen to us but actually we pick our problems.

That is why on Monday someone can cut you off in traffic and you feel enraged, blare your horn, and curse them (until they look directly at you–then, you pretend you are focused on the traffic light ahead). Yet, on Tuesday, someone can cut you off and you simply swerve out-of-the-way and move on, listening to your favorite song. No problem.

On Monday, someone offered you the gift of a problem and you generously accepted it. On Tuesday, someone offered you the same problem, but you graciously declined it.

People offer you problems all the time. We love to give our problems away. Sometimes we are even offered the same problem over and over (my cat kindly offers me the problem of barfing up hairballs at 4 in the morning every few nights).

All of our problems are the same way. We only have the problems we accept.

When you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, lost, stressed, or depressed (or all of those at the same time), consider what problems you are generously accepting and what ones you should graciously decline.

Maybe it is time to politely inform Grandma paisley is not your style and you actually wear a different size than when you were twelve (or that you have stopped celebrating holidays altogether).  She may not like your attitude but… well, that’s her problem.