Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 220, December 2017)

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Balancing act is in four sections this month:

1. Techniques for Balance

2. Musings

3. The Human Condition: Generations


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Maria and I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday Season, and Happy New Year, with health, peace, and prosperity for you and yours!


• The more someone asks to “think about” something, the less likely you’ll receive the answer you’re hoping for.

• Get overdraft protection. Never allow a check to bounce in these days of credit reporting.

• In business and first class you’ll usually receive a small bag with amenities. Turns out it’s perfect for storing your electronic chargers, wires, and so on in your baggage.

• Quoting Dan Gilbert: If something sounds like fun and there’s no downside, do it.

• I think we’re responsible for helping our kids be successful and instilling the right values, but not for making them rich.

• Playing Frisbee with a dog is not doing the dog a favor, it’s doing yourself a favor.

• A driver allowed me to make a left to get into Dunkin’ Donuts (with the dogs) ahead of him in line. At the window I paid for that driver’s order, as well. I didn’t do it for him, I did it because it made me feel good.

• I have never been without at least one book (hard copy or electronic) being read at any time since I was graduated from Rutgers in 1968. My record is 11 books waiting to be read. Sometimes I read three concurrently.

• When it gets to the point where a woman or a man is afraid to tell the other that they look good in the morning, the world is in a sorry place.

• I don’t care what you read or are told about leading people and reaching goals, because accountability is the key to positive change.


We were traveling in California  a couple of years ago, and I’m always interested in looking at cars. (I’m told I buy cars the way my wife buys shoes, but that’s another issue.) We found ourselves in Marin County at a Fisker dealer, one of the original, modern electric cars. I had seen one at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills not long before.

The dealer told us that these cars couldn’t be leased, only purchased outright. Maria and I got in one with the sales guy and I soon found that the car couldn’t get out of its own way. When he told me to push the “super” button, there was hardly an appreciable improvement. I later found out that the reason you couldn’t lease one was that the banks were sure the company would go under and had no interest in the risk of a lease.

They were right.

How could a dealer mislead a customer to that extent?

I’d guess because he wasn’t thinking of referral business or repeat business, only the immediate business of unloading a lemon on anyone walking in the door. This is why I pay attention to reviews, experiences of people I trust, and repeated tests of my own for anything requiring a major investment. We use inspectors (I would hope) for houses we’re considering buying. I expect people to be honest with me about shortcomings in their products and services. My Rolls dealer told me the company refuses to make heated steering wheels, and my Corvette dealer told me on tight turns the car will “chatter.”

When we put my kids into a private school, I asked the middle school head, “What’s the weakest element in your school? What would you improve tomorrow if you had the chance?”

“I’ve never been asked that question by any parent,” he said immediately, clearly surprised.

“That’s okay, tell me the first thing that comes to mind.” He did, quite honestly, and I was reassured. (He said, “We’d like a more diverse student body.”)

In business, I explain to people that my bookstore is a benefit for people who want to pursue my work in written, audio, or video form, but that we’re not Amazon. Don’t expect instant downloads or overnight books.

I don’t mind a bad meal, but I do mind a bad restaurant. The former can be an exception in any decent place, but the latter is a management mentality. I don’t mind not having a heated steering wheel, but I do mind a car so slow to accelerate that it’s dangerous on a highway.

Be honest with me. That used to be a keystone of relationships. But now it seems it’s almost too much to ask.


A generation, these days, is deemed to be about 70 years. Think about the fact that the great cathedral in Rouen took 400 years to build, or that tapestries hanging in halls of the French aristocracy took 200 years to weave, when generations were perhaps 40 years.

When you choose to have children, you can’t help but think generationally. Who will they become? Are our traits passed down? Will they remain close or drift away? What will our family look like?

Personally, I never felt it to be my duty to make my children rich. I felt it was my responsibility to try to help them be successful in their chosen fields, and to impart the values that my wife and I felt were important for growth, societal responsibility, and personal accountability. I think these attributes are important from generation to generation, but money is not. One can always earn money, but will never be able to reclaim a lost day. In many cases, giving money to your kids can ruin them, and the adage is that a first generation founds a business, the second runs it, and the third ruins it.

My kids shocked me recently—they’re in their 40s—when they advised me how fortunate they are that my wife and I paid their college tuitions. I felt this was our responsibility. My parents were poor and couldn’t pay mine, but I won scholarships, worked part time, and took college loans that required $120 a month to pay off over a couple of years. But many of my kids’ friends emerged from college saddled with backbreaking debt.

I felt it proper to pay for our kids’ schooling (I calculated it cost $450,000 for both of them from Kindergarten through undergraduate, all in private schools.) I paid that all out of cash flow over the 17 years required. I subsidized their rent and expenses for a while, but then they were off on their own. I paid for my daughter’s wedding but not my son’s, which was the etiquette of the day. And, of course, in those rare emergencies I was there and always will be.

But I’m convinced that my being poor led to my great strengths and ability to build a prosperous career. I couldn’t make my kids poor, but I could try to avoid making them complacent.

I understand that not all of you have children, but you all do have families of some sort, near or distant, small or extended. We have an obligation to help each other, but that obligation isn’t always about finances. It’s about love, support, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness, and a place to return to when things are rough elsewhere.

My will isn’t my legacy to my family. My presence is.


Early in my career I was trying to impress a friend and referral source at dinner with our wives. The captain came over and I tried something I thought was highly sophisticated: "You choose the wine, please. Something that you think would go well with our food."

"And what would be the price range?" he inquired. Unprepared for that, I blurted out a number.

"I'm sorry, sir," he sniffed, "but we have nothing in that range."

After that, I began to learn about wine.


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Balancing Act® is a monthly electronic newsletter discussing the blending of life, work, and relationships, based on the popular Balancing Act workshops and writing of Alan Weiss, Ph.D. Contact us for further information at: [email protected].
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© Alan Weiss 2017

Balancing Act® is our registered trademark. You are encouraged to share the contents with others with appropriate attribution. Please use the ® whenever the phrase "Balancing Act" is used in connection with this newsletter or our workshops.


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The first thing I asked executives I was coaching was, "Are you having fun?" Your career should add to your life, not detract from it. If it's doing the latter, change it.

Alan Weiss