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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: April 2001

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Competition
  3. Musings
  4. Give me some balance (wherein reader reactions are encouraged)

1. Techniques for balance

Some questions indicating balance tilted the wrong way:

  • Do you find that business dealings are usually up to date, but you�re chronically behind on personal obligations, "thank you" notes, home repairs, and vacations?

  • Do you pride yourself on the fact that you�re available any time for your clients, even at the expense of family time, but not vice versa?

  • Do you frequently find yourself unable to participate in a conversation because the topic is one about which you know nothing?

  • When your partner or children raise a continuing issue or are awaiting a decision, do you have to ask them to remind you about the details?

  • Are there many popular and critically-acclaimed movies that you�ve never even heard of?

  • Do you attend less than a dozen live performances (plays, philharmonic, ballet, opera, recitals, etc.) a year?

  • Are you inactive in local civic events, social clubs, professional associations, and/or politics?

  • Have you no active hobbies or pastimes at the moment?

  • Have you not traveled strictly for pleasure for at least five consecutive days over the past year?

  • Do you virtually never go out in the evening with friends?

At a workshop I presented on life balance to a group of entrepreneurs at Boston College, one participant told me he had all the balance he needed by throwing himself into his work 24 hours a day, and always being on call for his clients. I asked him if his wife and children were similarly fulfilled by such slavish devotion to his work. "I provide handsomely for them," he pointed out. "Only in one dimension," I amended.

2. The Human Condition: Competition

I�ve never believed in not keeping score. The oafishness about letting kids play games without keeping score is just silly, because the kids are keeping track anyway. Is self-esteem so fragile that everyone must think he or she can never "lose" at anything, particularly an otherwise meaningless game? Maybe we should tell the Internal Revenue Service (and its overseas counterparts) that, look, all egos are delicate, so maybe we should just stop keeping track of how much the taxes are?

Having said that, there are scores and there are scores. Some human genetic programming has created a zest for competing in sports and physical activities, whether the ancient Spartans preparing for war or the local soccer team preparing for a cross-town rival. Most athletic competition is not of the Super Bowl or World Cup or Olympian variety�it is local, good-natured, and fulfilling.

So why does competition also manifest itself when someone sees (or suspects) there�s a better table in the restaurant and demands to be reseated? How about that wonderful person who can�t alternate turns at a four-way stop intersection, and instead runs behind the car in front, so as not to have to wait? And those truly despicable (and almost always American) tourists who arise at 5 am to throw old shoes or used towels on the best beach chairs, then go back to sleep, have breakfast, sightsee, and turn up around lunch to claim their squatter�s rights?

I think that there is competition with formalized rules, such as in board games (Imagine not keeping score in Trivial Pursuit� or Scrabble�--now there�s a fun evening!), sports, marching band contests, and tractor pulls. Then there is competition that is purely internalized, like sneaking into the line prior to the two-hour wait sign at Disneyland, and "one-upping" someone in telling stories among friends. The former, external rules-variety of competition is healthy and invigorating, even when we lose. The idea is, after all, to do your best against the objective and equally-applied set of rules. The latter, internal-rules variety of competition is unhealthy and degrading, even when we win. The idea there is to prove something to ourselves to sate some inevitable self-esteem problem we�re having at the moment (or longer term).

It�s basically healthy to be competitive because life is, like it or not, a condition which often rewards the faster, smarter, stronger, and harder worker. To me, the key is to do no harm to others apart from what the external rules impose: You know when you lose the game, because the clock runs out or the winning points are made. When you impose harm through your peculiar and highly subjective internal rules (I took his seat, I stole her credit, I upstaged that group) you�re basically just being nasty, bordering on evil.

I�ve been as guilty as the next person of trying to get there "firstest with the mostest," to misquote Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. But I�ve always tried to make it a fair fight. The trouble with winning a fixed fight is that you begin to think you�ve actually won and that you�re really that good. That, of course, will end, as soon as you�re in a fair fight, or in the objective external competition that arises every day. It�s a competitive world out there.

3. Musings

I�m sitting in Aruba staring my 55th birthday in the face. It has occurred to me that, since passports are issued for a decade at a time now, I�m not going to need all that many more of them. Hell, the one I still carry has a photo of me with a moustache, and I haven�t had that for years. (When I asked an immigration agent why I was never questioned since I no longer look like my photo, he took a closer look and then told me "It�s close enough for government work.")

I�m married happily to my first wife for 33 years. We�re a hot couple. Our terrific kids didn�t join us here, despite our bribes of air fare. (Note for those of you with adult children: A two-bedroom condo and free air tickets does more for family values than anything Martha Stewart ever could conjure up.) My son is on a round of auditions for his nascent acting career in New York, and my Emmy- nominated-MTV-producer-daughter, as she is now referred to, is in the midst of a Los Angeles, Paris, Nice, St. Tropez trip to interview Johnny Depp. (Apparently he must be stalked and hunted down.)

Don�t fear, this won�t be a maudlin paean to ageing. Actually, I�m sitting here indecently content with myself. I�m in good shape physically and mentally, and generally can eat out without embarrassing myself. Some people actually consider me good company (at least until they get to know me better).

Actually, I�m in a better place at 55 than I would�ve expected many years ago, and that�s pretty amazing. You know this stuff about how one�s reach should exceed one�s grasp, and that it�s the journey and not the destination? Yeah, well, that might be true when you�re under 40, or a writer for Successories, but right now I�m really into my grasp and my reach being pretty congruent, and destinations are just fine with me. A friend of mine, whom I�ve known for 30 years and who is a couple of years older than I, has just returned from climbing�no kidding�Mt. Kilimanjaro. I�m proud of her for doing that, and I�m proud of myself for telling you that I don�t need to do that.

Aruba has fine beaches, outstanding resorts, excellent restaurants, and U.S. cable television. (Perhaps I�ve died and gone to heaven? No, highly unlikely�) It also has casinos, which have these addictive video poker machines. You can actually put in $100 bills as well as quarters; the things will accept old jewelry or the deed on your house. In any case, deuces are wild, and you can have a good time before, ultimately, you lose.

What I noticed is that when you�re dealt a good hand, it�s initially elating, but then kind of boring as the machine inevitably counts out your credits for having won. You can�t louse it up if you have any kind of mental capacity at all. If you have three sevens, a five and a king, you jettison the last two knowing that you at least have three of a kind, but you might improve it from there.

It�s when you have a poor hand that the emotions reverse: First, you�re disappointed, but then you scramble to make something of it. I love eking out a straight or a flush when I had absolutely nothing to begin with and had to use my judgment to make the best of it.

You see, it�s not playing a good hand that makes life so interesting. It�s making the best of the poor hands and capitalizing on what you�re dealt, no matter how bad it may initially seem. That�s what makes age 55 such a happy destination. At this point, I�ve been dealt very few hands that I couldn�t do something with, make something of, stay in the game with. And in life, unlike the casino machine, sometimes you simply need the courage to sustain a good bluff. Sometimes all it takes is the king of hearts.

4. Give me some balance

Responses of interest will be published in the next issue. Anything that knocks my socks off will win a free book.

  • You notice that seats in the fifth row center have not been occupied through the first act of the play. Your partner suggests that you grab the seats during intermission, since the two of you are seated up near the roof. Do you make the move?

  • You�ve left your car motor running on a very cold day while you dash inside your favorite coffee shop for the usual. A customer you don�t know says, "Are you so rich that you can waste gas and pollute the air like that?" Do you respond? (No, this did not happen to me.)

  • You see two guys walk into the United Airlines Red Carpet Club and go immediately to the lounge and take seats without showing membership cards. You hear one say to the other, "See, if you walk into these places like you own them, you don�t have to belong." Do you do anything?

  • In the pouring rain at night, you accidentally back into a parked car that is 20 years old and has more dents and scrapes than you can count, although you clearly see the new dent you�ve left. Do you do anything, or just drive away?

Bonus question:

You park your car in front of a hotel near the beach and immediately go bankrupt. Where are you?