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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: August 2005

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: A Beat Behind
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Would your life or business really collapse if you blocked out one day a week with no appointments and scheduled purely personal time and trips?
    • How many friends do you have outside your profession? The fewer you have, the less you really know.
    • If you want to change someone's mind, don't focus on your arguments. Focus on their perspective and the likely arguments that would influence them, not you.
    • It makes little sense to become agitated at things you can't control (traffic jams) but it makes eminent sense to take control of as many potentially stressful situations as you can (plan the best route, have alternative routes, take something to read).
    • TIAABB: I was standing on someone's gorgeous 65-foot yacht. I turned toward the water and saw a 120-foot ocean-going yacht. "There is always a bigger boat." So what? Enjoy what you have, don't be miserable about what you don't have.
    • If you're in a restaurant where they won't make substitutions or cook things to your requirements, here's how to get a terrific meal: Walk out and find another restaurant.
    • Modify your expectations to your environment and your stress levels will decline appreciatively. Expecting someone to jump and carry your bags at a Ritz-Carlton is reasonable; returning your food because it's not perfect on an airplane is ludicrous. (A woman complained in first class on Amtrak's Acela because her dinner choice was no longer available. The conductor could not mollify her and she was in an aloof tantrum. Three of us offered to put her off the train at New Haven. That train didn't stop at New Haven. She shut up.)
    • A sign in one German hotel says, "Be aware that if you choose not to eat breakfast, there will be no reduction in your room charges." In another hotel down the street there is a sign which says, "We are pleased to offer a complimentary breakfast." Get my drift?
    • A respected university study revealed recently that over 80% of the time women did not ask for more money when promoted in situations where men did. The result was that men were paid an average of 12% more for identical jobs, just by dint of asking for it. My only point: You seldom receive what you don't ask for.
    • Writing is great therapy. There is nothing wrong with writing for yourself.

  2. The Human Condition: A Beat Behind

    Have you ever dealt with people who seem to be a perpetual beat behind the conductor? They exist in a slightly altered time dimension, wherein they are dealing with what happened a minute ago, rather than what is currently transpiring.

    Consequently, they seldom make the appropriate connection or find the relevant point. You might say, "The difficulty in the current tax situation is that it is regressive, and it's more difficult for someone on a small income to spend 20% than it is for someone with a far larger income." And they will say, "I noticed that they are going to demand electronic filing of taxes in the future, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that."

    You say, "A guy comes into a bar with a piece of asphalt under his arm and says to the bartender, 'Make it one for me and one for the road.' " And the other person says, "How could he carry a piece of asphalt under his arm?"

    I feel sometimes as if the tape isn't set to the right speed, or that the record should be at 45 RPM and not 33.

    I said once to a gate agent who was standing befuddled in the aisle, and who had one seat left and one passenger left to sit in it but who had a different seat number on the boarding pass, "Does it make sense to hold up the plane to get your paperwork right?" The agent said, "What do you mean? That's not her assigned seat." Oh.

    Walking into a vast conference, I found the room where I was to speak with great difficulty, but I had 15 minutes to spare and the room was already filled. As I walked in a conference organizer stopped me and asked to see my pass. I told him that I was the speaker and pointed to my picture outside the room. He said that all speakers had to go to the "ready room" to get their passes. I told him that would mean I'd be late to start my own session, since the ready room was at least 10 minutes away. He said it was mandatory.

    So I said, "Which ready room?" He reiterated the room number. I said, "Oh, I misunderstood, I was there already and they told me to come down here immediately. They lost my pass, but would deliver it here after the session."

    "Then that's fine," he said, vindicated, and left me, presumably to ensure that people who were inhaling were also exhaling.

    I believe sometimes the missed beats are cumulative, and that a dinner companion is actually responding to something that occurred at lunch. I'm assuming there are people out there just now reacting to last month's news or laughing at a two-week-old joke's punch line, only now penetrating the cerebral cortex.

    Margaret Wheatley has written that consciousness is based on how much information we can process at any one time, making dogs more conscious than snails, for example. I think I've been around some people who are nearly unconscious, so oblivious are they to the environment and conversation, despite the fact they are commuting, dining, and grooming themselves.

    Which is why I always ask my doctor his opinion on something non-medical. I want to make sure he's in the moment. I don't want that beat he may be missing to be a heartbeat.

  3. Musings

    I was in Los Angeles Airport and decided it was time to get my shoes shined. One of the positive things about refurbished airports in which you have to spend more and more time is that you can find life's vanishing services, such as shoe shines and book stores, next to wireless gadgets and Bally's luggage shops.

    Invariably, shoe shine stands are idiosyncratic. There's one in O'Hare in Chicago in which nine guys keep up a constant cacophony, challenging their customers to provide larger tips than their compatriots receive. There was one in Pittsburgh where female flight attendants received prim lace blankets to place over their legs.

    So, wandering down the concourse in LAX, I happened upon Marvin's Complimentary Shoe Shine. I thought that was perfect. Gary was on duty, with a Marvin's Complimentary Shoe Shine shirt, featuring his name sewn above the pocket. Gary greeted me and got to work. No machines here, everything done by hand. (It's disconcerting to have someone buffing away on your feet with a piece of power equipment that ought to be reserved for a '76 Buick.)

    A somewhat bewildered customer sat down next to me to wait his turn, but I could see he was searching for a price list. Finally, he said to Gary, "What's the charge?"

    "No charge," said Gary pointing to the two-foot high letters, "this is Marvin's Complimentary Shoe Shine. Of course, tipping is at your discretion."

    I thought that "discretion" was an unusual word from Gary, but realized that this was a clearly prepared rejoinder, uttered perhaps 50 times a day. Gary did an outstanding job on my Bruno Maglis, and I gave him $10, both to thank him and to set the bar for the still uncomfortable next patron watching the transaction.

    Marvin, if he exists, is a marketing genius in terms of purveying aesthetic footwear improvement. The average expenditure at his stands (I found out he has three in the airport) has to be significantly more than at those charging $3 for shoes and $5 for boots, for example. Marvin has abandoned commodity pricing in favor of an appealing brand and a belief in the fundamental kindness of human nature.

    You can't do this, I suppose, for all businesses, for the same reasons that stores don't allow people to pay for their purchases and make change unsupervised. But it works for a shoe shine, because it's a minor indulgence which makes you feel better about yourself, and the difference between $3 and $8 or $10 just isn't that much. You can watch the shoe shine person working hard and you can see the results � instant gratification.

    I wonder how many people undervalue what they do because they consider only the effort and time they put in, or compare themselves to the competition, rather than evaluating the improvement and improved circumstances they create for others? Perhaps if we provided people with the option to determine value for themselves, instead of assigning arbitrary units and criteria, their contribution would be greater than we'd imagine. It seems to me there are signal benefits to being better organized, or provided with solace, or being counseled, or gaining knowledge � yet the value is demeaned by the very assignment of arbitrary investment.

    In other words, is a teacher's union an oxymoron?

    I don't mean to suggest there is epistemology in a shoe shine. But I do know that I'd return to Marvin's Complimentary Shoe Shine every time I'm in that airport. I just like his attitude.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department


    I was staying at the Pierre Hotel in New York, one of the very top-end (and elitist) hotels in the city. My then-single daughter and I went out for caviar and vodka at Pravda downtown and we both got somewhat smashed. We took a cab back to the hotel and my daughter thought it was a better idea to stay with me for the night rather than return to her roommates in their shared apartment. We both needed a good sleep. The two of us sashayed past the front desk to the elevator.

    We ate together the next morning in the otherwise power-breakfast, busy restaurant. When I checked out later in the day, there was a $25 charge on my bill for a tee-shirt from the gift shop. I told the manager handling my account that it was an incorrect charge.

    To my shock, he seemed rather unsympathetic and disapproving, and asked if I were sure.

    "Of course I'm sure," I snapped, "I would know whether I purchased a tee-shirt in your gift shop. I'm not a tourist, you know!"

    "It couldn't have been without your knowing?" he said mysteriously.

    "What on earth are you referring to?!" I snarled, really upset with the discourtesy.

    "Perhaps the woman......." he suggested.

    Ever since, my daughter has been "the woman" who either elevated or ruined my reputation at the Pierre.