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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: April 2004

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance while on vacation
  2. The Human Condition: Conniving
  3. Musings
  4. The Language Doctor is IN

  1. Techniques for balance while on vacation

    • Never schedule tight connections. Allow more than an hour between planes, for example, and ignore what the airline calls a "legal" connection. It can take 40 minutes merely to navigate between gates in places like Atlanta and London.
    • Take a digital camera with a connection for your laptop so that you can upload photos, and both replace storage capacity in the camera and send pictures to family and friends.
    • Join as many travel and air clubs as you can. In the event of delays or cancellations they are a huge help in restoring sanity.
    • Don't try to do everything, schedule every activity, or fill your days (and nights) because when you do that you've simply created a working environment with sun screen included.
    • Ship large bags ahead by a courier service to avoid delays, and take with you a carry-on which holds a couple of days of survival gear.
    • Use the Internet to determine temperature, local culture and environment, electrical current, visa requirements, and so on.
    • Don't be afraid or doctrinaire about calling your voice mail or checking for email. Isolate one hour or two 30-minute periods each day and you'll alleviate the fear that something critical may be missed. Just remember that you don't have to respond to anything and don't exceed the allotted time.
    • Eschew most of the group activities and do things yourself and with your spouse, significant other, kids, parents, and/or companion. Although many rejoice in making new acquaintances, I've found that most group tours and activities are far less rewarding than private ones.
    • Hire a good guide or secure expert advice. There is as much or more reward off the beaten path and tourist sites as on them.
    • While you're hiking, swimming, touring, climbing, observing, playing or generally contemplating, lose yourself in the moment. The repetitive aspects of our lives will return soon enough, but these exceptional adventures are times to savor.

  2. The Human Condition: Conniving

    I received a call from someone in one of the top 25 companies in the world, asking if I would be interested in speaking at an upcoming sales conference. I told him I'd be happy to, so he asked me to send him my materials. He said that several colleagues had been promoting a motivational speaker for the job, but that he knew from word-of-mouth and my background that I had the substance that the sales team needed. Given the logistics, it made no sense for me to travel to the company to meet the ultimate decision maker.

    Eventually, the buyer resolved the two recommendations by choosing three people at random from the intended population and asking them to watch videos of the motivational speaker and me, and then cast a vote. I won, 3-0.

    The day after my contact told me a contract was on the way and to solidify the date and plans, I received a message from a speaker's bureau which hadn't placed me in at least six years. "Monica" told me that she had a confirmed date to book with me, which means in this bureau's case, a 30% commission taken from my fee. And, guess what, it was the same client, same date.

    Monica had represented the motivational speaker who lost the business, and had the chutzpah to come to me (whom she could have nominated, since I'm in their catalog) and try to collect her commission by posing as the one who obtained the business for me. When I told her that my internal contact and sponsor had already booked me and explained the situation, Monica became surreal.

    She said that her bureau was willing to work with me in any case, would book the business since they had a "relationship" with the client, and expected me to pay her the 30% commission! When I told her how outrageous that was, how unethical, how conniving, she told me that she didn't like my tone!! And when I asked her repeatedly if she thought she deserved $3,000 for doing nothing for me and, in fact, representing someone else who was competing, she kept repeating, as if a mantra, "We just want to work with you."

    Well, who can make this stuff up? I called the client to make sure Monica didn't cause any problems, and the client was outraged. Case closed and a great story results.

    Not quite. The lesson, I think, is that we are sometimes in the midst of connivers. These are people who smile and want to be our friend while they take our wallet and gain at our expense. It's the person who claims to have an urgent matter so that they can go to the head of the queue; the outfit that wants you to host a radio show, or appear as an expert on television with a "name" guest, but you have to pay them to do it; the voice on the phone soliciting money for orphans, police, or the disabled, which those groups will never see (or will receive only a small percentage).

    Every time we concede time, money, or space to a conniver we merely enable their shifty ways. Infomercials can connive on a broad scale (no, you can't get rich with a $500 manual on real estate, and multi-level marketing is a fraud, an old-time Ponzi scheme).

    If you want to stop the connivers, don't give in, and don't feel that you're the one acting poorly or be guilt-ridden. Monica is going to think twice before trying to pull that trick again, because now she knows that I know, the client knows, and so do you.

  3. Musings

    I'm forty feet under water at the Great Barrier Reef off Hayman Island in northeastern Australia. Visibility is less than six feet and my mask continually slowly fills with water, forcing me to clear it by blowing air out my nose while pressing the top of the lenses, my least favorite of all the maneuvers taught me. My private instructor, Justin, has superfluously warned me not to let him out of my sight. I had already, unilaterally decided on that course of action.

    Suddenly, the haze breaks and we are faced with walls of towering coral, some actually hovering above us, an incandescence of color and multiplicity of shapes. A moras roa, a prehistoric looking fish about six feet long, glides into a cave beneath us. Parrot fish the colors of a parade dance amid the coral, finding nutrient.

    Too soon, Justin signals that we're down to our minimum air supply and it's time to surface.

    This is my ninth trip to Australia and my wife's second, though my first to the reef, which we see it in all its splendor from a four-place, bubble-top chopper we're assured is brand new. I'm in the co-pilot's seat and I immediately notice that its maximum speed is barely over half of my car's.

    This is God's country. Half of the population lives in two cities, Sydney and Melbourne (think of Los Angeles and San Francisco but with reversed polarity), and the people are unfailingly blunt and direct (think of New Yorkers with a better speech pattern) yet courteous and helpful. It possesses the most unique animals (e.g., the wombat and echidna) and sports (Australian rules, like a near-extinct language, spoken and played only in Melbourne, and one of the toughest athletic events I've ever seen). Sydney's harbor rivals New York and Hong Kong for the best I've ever seen. The city is urban, livable, and friendly.

    Walking through a sanctuary northeast of Melbourne, our guide and we are trying to find animals in the bush when a wallaby wanders into our path and, before being noticed, enters into a desperate tug-of-war with a toddler in a stroller clutching a bag of chips. The wallaby allows us to pet and photograph him, enmeshed in a titanic struggle with the three-year-old. He is finally bought off with a single chip and contentedly munches as we admire him.

    The Tasmanian Devil is actually quite a handsome creature, black with red ears and constantly in motion. In a darkened cavern we watch platypuses swim by only inches away, the most remarkable creature I've yet seen anywhere (including the 8-foot red constrictor my son used to own, which would entertain at the holidays by coiling himself around my brother-in-law until his head turned purple).

    We traveled over 20,000 miles on fourteen planes. I delivered seven speeches, most of them for the wonderful Professional Speakers Association of Australia. It was two weeks of wonder and awe and fine food and adventure. We visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, far more impressive than Notre Dame for us, and perhaps second only to St. Peter's itself.

    Life is simply too short not to travel. These memories not only become indelible, mental Technicolor reminders of the world, but also place our daily lives in perspective. None of us truly lives on an island, thanks to air travel and electronics. Why would we want to?

    Coming home is like coming up for air. It's a safe, familiar, and beloved place. It's the environment in which I'm most comfortable and best able to function. But I will dive again. I'll keep learning and growing. And, perhaps, that will help me to be the instructor who others don't let out of their sight.

  4. The Language Doctor is IN

    • There can't be a "myriad of" anything, because myriad means "many." Hence, "They have myriad opportunities to travel abroad."
    • "Anachronism" is almost always used incorrectly. It actually means an element in a story which is impossible since the story precedes its creation. If a novel set in the 19th Century included a diesel train, the author has created an anachronism. These are often found in Shakespeare's writings. But using an old item in a contemporary story is not an anachronism. Nothing in real life can be anachronistic, because by definition, it already exists!
    • Did you know that "the lion's share" once meant everything, and not just the preponderance?
    • A stop for a train along a route is properly called a "station," but the final stop from which the train cannot go farther, is the "terminal."