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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: December 1999

Welcome to the fourth edition of Balancing Act. Thanks to all of you who have joined since the first edition, and to all of you "charter members" here from the outset. Subscription and cancellation information is explained at the conclusion of the newsletter. Thanks for subscribing, and thanks to those of you who drop me a line with reactions and suggestions.

This edition is deliberately a bit early so that I can say, HAPPY THANSGIVING! We all owe a lot, especially to ourselves!

- Alan Weiss

Balancing Act® is in five sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The human condition
  3. Musings
  4. Quandaries answered and asked
  5. Balancing Act Workshop

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Faithful reader Bob Perloff, Ph.D., suggested that I read "Acres of Diamonds," which is a transcription of a speech presented frequently by Russell H. Conwell at the beginning of the 20th Century. I now suggest the 60-page book to you (I obtained mine in hardcover from for about $8). Despite some dated references and what may seem like the glaringly obvious opening stories, Conwell makes some remarkably timeless points about life balance and society (e.g., making money through honest work is a key to helping others, success is about understanding the other person's needs, and women have never received due credit for some of the great inventions in our history). Spend an hour with a glass of brandy reading a Civil War veteran's view of contemporary life.

    • Don't waste your time telling spammers to remove you from their e-mail lists, or junk faxers to remove you, or overbearing catalog companies to stop mailing ponderous tomes. They won't do it, or they'll stop only temporarily, or they'll be happy that they have your accurate address and increase their onslaught. Simply throw the stuff out or delete it and get on with your life.

    • If you want to communicate with your loved ones, never generalize a specific. In other words, don't tell your child that they have no respect if they abruptly interrupt you. Simply point out that they shouldn't interrupt without saying "excuse me" (unless the house is on fire). Once you say to a spouse, "There you go again with the same old..." (fill in the blank), you might as well go to a movie by yourself, because rational conversation is over.

    • One of the greatest lines I ever heard was spoken by actor Dudley Moore playing the title role of "Arthur" when he drunkenly says to his long suffering valet (Sir John Gielgood, no less), "Don't you wish you were me? I know I do." Hey, shouldn't we all?

    • The bromide is that we should read slowly for business and professional purposes and speed read for recreation. I don't think so. Most professional stuff I can race through, but I love to savor a well-written book I'm reading for pleasure. We've got that one all reversed.

    • Around the Holidays, I've sometimes gone to the town welfare people to ask which families really need help desperately. I then leave an anonymous gift in their mailbox with what I estimate is enough money to take them through a month or so. It assures me that the help goes directly and completely to those who need it the most. I call (from a public phone, now that caller I.D. is so prevalent) to make sure that they know it's there.

    • It may be imprudent to treat every day as if it may be the last, but it's not difficult to treat each Holiday family gathering as if it's the last. Special occasions should be joyous and forgiving. I've seen too many despondent people who say, "If I had only known it would be our last Holiday/anniversary/birthday together."

    • Tell someone flat out when they're confusing you, are wrong, or obnoxious. I received a call recently from a woman who wanted my free help to set up a self- aggrandizing position which she was totally unsuited for. I told her so. She got angry. Better her than me.

    • Since the newsletter is free, you suffer my biases. Before you die, visit the following: Hong Kong, Rome, London, and Paris. See a great play on Broadway from tenth row, center. Share a corner table in a fabulous restaurant. Write a short story. Take a cruise and get the best stateroom you can afford. Give your kids a completely unexpected gift. Learn to dance well (I'm still working on that one). Make the winning bid in an auction. Get into the ocean and let a wave wallop you. Sing with exultation, if only in your own shower.

    • If you can arise at 6:30 in the morning and feel rested, I guarantee that you will increase your productivity by at least 50%. You'll get to all those things you thought you would never have time for. A reader constructively mentioned to me that the newsletter is a tad long, and it can be cumbersome to download while traveling. I'm sensitive to problems with length and slow modems. However, I know that many of you print this out to read at your leisure, and there are simply things I want to say. I'd be happy to hear additional points of view via e-mail.

  2. The Human Condition: zest

    There are those amongst us who would rather light candles than curse the darkness. I've always like to be counted in their ranks.

    As opposed to the energy suckers, the zest merchants infuse us with a sense of well being and joy. They are infectious and ingratiating. They are not necessarily pranksters, jokesters, or even humorous, although they may be all that. Primarily, they love life, are objects of interest themselves, and create an energy field around them. The equation, therefore, is to surround ourselves with far more energy merchants than sappers.

    Why are some people such ready purveyors of happiness and purpose, and how do they get that way? I'm not sure of the causes, but I have observed a thing or two about the traits they generally possess:

    • Positive self-image: These are people who feel good about themselves, so there is no "loss" for them in helping others feel good about themselves.

    • Fantasia: Energy merchants tend to be dreamers, with bold visions and unorthodox views. They see life from viewpoints and dimensions that others don't. They serve the same purpose as those glasses that enable us to see 3-D movies.

    • Rebound ability: Defeats are acknowledged and dealt with (or forgotten) and life moves on for them. They can't be derailed or deterred for very long.

    • Empathy: They don't sympathize (feel what others feel) so much as empathize (understand what others feel), which enables them to commiserate but also provide fresh air and new options without descending into bathos.

    • Appreciation: Energy providers appreciate each new day, every new experience, and all new relationships. They realize that life is a privilege, and act accordingly.

    Want more zest in your life? Even better, want to be a zest merchant?

    The key to being an upbeat and positive individual I believe lies in perspective. We need to remind ourselves that rarely, if never, are we engaged in a battle to save civilization as we know it. In fact, we're usually upset, discouraged, and thrown off balance by the trivial, the mundane, and the miniscule. Yet dealing with perspective takes a lot more than simply the banal admonition "Don't sweat the small stuff."

    We have to be thankful for each new day and each new opportunity. Just as my dogs are revitalized by the fact that the yard awaits them each morning, seemingly unchanged to me but offering a new world of opportunities to them, we should be re-energized by the options and possibilities of each new day. Failure is seldom fatal and success is never final. It's courage that counts.

    If you're in a job, a situation, a relationship, or a dynamic that is painful, stressful, and debilitating, do something about it. Confrontation isn't nearly as painful as a wasted life, lost time, and lack of zest.

    Light candles. When you curse the darkness, you'll only hear the echo of your own sorrowful shouting.

  3. Musings

    I love the Holiday Season, including all the crass commercialism that the purists bemoan. It's a rare time of almost pervasive mirth, no matter what your religion or belief system.

    Think about it: People shopping, music playing, kids romping, and a general hustle and sense of purpose. So we eat too much and spend too much, and argue too much with relatives we insulate ourselves from all the rest of the year. Is that really such a crime? Is it really so bad to let go and change the humdrum for about six weeks or so?

    Give yourself a break. Just enjoy. A rich dessert loses something when you remind yourself with every bite that you shouldn't be swallowing and you'll have to pay for this indulgence later. Will it really hurt to allow cousin Henry to sound off about some stupid thing and just sip your wine, silently thankful that you're not him? Does it matter that the MasterCard bill will be a bit higher next month? I've never heard anyone boast on their death bed that they owe nothing on their credit cards.

    What are you doing this Holiday Season to indulge yourself? Are you resolved to eat with gusto, share with generosity, laugh at the inevitable problems? Will you rekindle an old friendship, forgive an ancient grievance, reawaken a lost passion? It's sad how we can so easily indulge ourselves materialistically, but become monk-like and Spartan in terms of indulging ourselves emotionally and psychically.

    From me to you-have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday. Give yourself permission to enjoy the times more than ever before. You'll find that those around you will be magically happier themselves. We have no right to consume happiness without also creating it.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    Quandary from last time: You've promised a very good friend that you'll have dinner together with both spouses (significant others), but failed to clear it with your own partner. A few days later you find that your partner has promised the same evening to another good friend, without checking with you. Both friends have indicated that it's a special occasion and you were specially chosen to be with them (theater tickets, a child's recital, a celebration, whatever). What do you do? I'd have my wife and I approach each couple, explain what happened, and request their help in resolving the situation. It's nothing to be embarrassed about-an honest mistake-and lying or subterfuge will make it far worse than it is. Enlist the help of your friends and make everyone a part of the solution.

    For next month: Someone else has taken credit for the work that you put in to make a charity fund-raiser effective. The board has thanked them and their name went into the newspaper article. Friends urge you to speak up. What's your plan?

  5. Balancing Act Workshop

    I've been requested to facilitate Balancing Act sessions in Raleigh, NC on January 22, and in Denver, CO on February 18, 2000 (note the changed date for Denver). Registration is $200 per individual and $350 per couple (spouse or significant other, honor system) until December 15 and January 10, respectively. Thereafter, the fees are $250 and $450. You can register by e-mail ([email protected]) or by fax (401/884-5068) or by phone (800/766-7935...401/884-2778). Registration includes one of my books for each person, refreshments, and handouts. I hope you'll consider attending and inviting some friends. Selfishly, this is a wonderful growth and learning experience for me. But it seems to also work well for the participants: "I'd never met Alan before. I came away impressed by his passion, knowledge, humanity, candor, and willingness to share himself. The presentation was intelligent and wholehearted and provided depth and new perspectives to consider. (His wife) Maria's contribution was invaluable during the conversation on relationships. It was a day well spent."

    - Deborah London Baker, President
    London Baker Group