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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: February 2001

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: self-identity
  3. Musings
  4. The listening list

  1. Techniques for balance

    People often focus on how to say "no" as a means of balancing life and not taking on too much. But there's also benefit in learning how to say "yes."

    • Whenever possible, simply say "Of course!" or "Sure!" in response to a request and ask that the other person get back to you with the details. You've greatly alleviated someone else's stress level with a quick acceptance, and they will probably be so grateful that they'll let you write your own ticket.

    • Try to refrain from attaching a lot of qualifications and "yes, buts." If you can't conform to reasonable expectations, don't do it. I watched a speaker once who agreed to present something pro bono, but then demanded apple juice of a certain brand, no interaction with participants, and a limo to and from the event. No one was appreciative of his "gift."

    • Don't look for an immediate quid pro quo. It's tacky, and makes your motives suspect. Wait until the other party offers or, if you must, approach them for your own interests long after your favor.

    • Schedule what you've agreed upon. Don't treat it as meaningless or unimportant because you're doing someone a favor. Live up to your commitments.

    • Turn the "yes" for them into a "yes" for you. Don't treat it as a burden, but view it as an opportunity. When I'm asked to speak for free, I try out some new material. When a non-profit wants help with strategy, I ask for a full tour of the operation, for my own learning. (The ballet, on whose board my wife sits, has yet to let me help with the ballerinas, but my offer stands.)

    • Tell people that you're low maintenance, and you simply need some overall guidelines. This will both endear you to them, and also free you from endless meetings, instructions, and protocols.

    • Focus on the result, not the task. Otherwise, you wind up consuming yourself by going around the block to get next door. One fund-raising group wanted to give me a number of calls per day, average size of request, acquisition of additional leads, and so on. I asked, "How much money do you want me to raise and by what date?" When they told me, I responded that I'd see them on that date with my quota filled, which I managed with five phone calls in one day.

    • Never say "yes" because you feel guilty. (See the "Balancing Act" archives, replete with guilty stuff!) That's not really a "yes," but rather an "okay, you can collect," or "it is time to punish me for my sins." Say "yes" because you honestly want to help, not because you're joining the martyrs' union.

    • Wait to say "yes" until you're sure. If you can't give an unqualified "Sure!" because dates may conflict, or you need more information, or the needs are confusing, tell the other person you have to think it over and check a few things BUT give them a date and time for your decision so it doesn't appear as though you're ducking out.

    • Say "no." You can't say "yes" to everything, so make some priorities, determine what your quality time will permit, and say "yes" judiciously. By allowing yourself your own time, you can more graciously give time to others.

  2. The Human Condition: self-identity

    I joined American Mensa in the late 70s to prove to myself that I could pass the entrance requirements (ostensibly the top 2% of IQ in the general population, but really only the ability to do well on certain standardized tests�the organization even accepts Graduate Record Exams as proof of "ability"). For a while, I embarrassingly admit, I even had a Mensa license plate. (Like OJ wearing the Bruno Magli shoes, I'm sure there's a picture someone would produce if I tried to deny it.)

    What I found in Mensa�and have to this date, having decided to remain and be a gadfly on the egos of the self-proclaimed "intelligent"�is a group of quite average people (viz.: cross-section of the population) engaged in word games, awful puns, and every kind of sexual innuendo. The group is also overwhelmingly engaged in debates about crop circles, UFOs, extrasensory clam shells, and every other fringe event you can possibly name.

    Many are also convinced that their very "intelligence" has cost them better jobs and greater success. This, of course, is the ultimate excuse. I rarely find people who are unsuccessful BECAUSE of their high intelligence and aptitude.

    But people do construct self-identities around these pernicious self-fulfilling prophesies. I'm able to debate and argue well because I was told from my earliest memory that I was superbly good with language. I never learned to ice skate, though, because I was also told early on that I wasn't very good at it and lacked "natural ability." I deal with people every day who are locked into an identity construct that has nothing to do with empirical facts, and everything to do with who they believe they are.

    The psychologist Albert Bandura has long been writing about individuals' attempts to maintain self-efficacy, and the often harmful lengths we will go to in order to achieve it. Our self-image becomes our insular reality, and maintaining it is often contradictory to our own best interests.

    Some well-meaning person gave me one of these dreadful "Successories" plaques which states, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." The Successories people got that one correct. Every day I encounter people who believe they can take a risk and succeed (or at least tolerate failure) and others who are determined to prove that they can't write an article, can't make a public speech, and can't establish a loving relationship with their children. All of them are blazingly correct.

    I'm not in favor of the "you are what you think you are" school of motivational psychobabble. We can't all do everything, as my well-intentioned, organized, yet fruitless attempts to learn to play the piano will demonstrate. But we all are capable of doing more than we thought, or doing what we already do even better, which is why I can create the electrical connections for my train set, ski, and appreciate both Billy Joel and classical music. It's equally mindless to believe, at one extreme, that we can do whatever we want and, on the other, to believe that we can only do what we already have done.

    What's your self-identity? To what extent is it constraining you? I try to reinvent myself every couple of years. I'm constantly surprised at why I stayed in the "old" identity for quite so long.

  3. Musings

    Lutece is the legendary restaurant in New York which once represented the epitome of haute cuisine in the center of the universe. It has since been through different owners and tough times, and has been surpassed in the increasingly competitive high-end restaurant scene.

    I found myself there last week with a friend with whom I've had lunch once a month or so for nearly 20 years. He and I can both afford the best of restaurants and can tolerate each other's arrogant and overbearing personalities. It's a match made in heaven.

    Lutece is now owned by a friend of his who had run another restaurant, Cello, which we both loved. So he wanted me to see what the new Lutece would be like. During lunch, there were only six tables occupied. The owner came over to be introduced, and he, in turn, brought out the 24-year old chef, fresh from Paris, to be introduced.

    After the pleasantries, they left and we went back to a truly excellent meal. However, the owner never offered a card, nor did he come over to say "goodbye" when we left. For him, he was acting politely but the meeting held no interest.

    What was he thinking? He was introduced to someone who can return, bring others, and even publicize his restaurant, and he doesn't even proffer a business card or offer to provide special attention if and when I return. And this, mind you, in a room with only half a dozen tables busy.

    Why is it that so many of us are purblind to opportunity? Most opportunity doesn't cost us anything except some cleverness, awareness, or even consciousness. I think we become too wrapped up in ourselves. The owner was more concerned with his plans, his few current diners, his grooming, and his repute than he was with the prospect of improved business staring him in the face.

    I lot of people ask others, "Why on earth did you do that?" in reaction to some mistake or setback. I find myself asking others, "Why on earth DIDN'T you do that?" in response to opportunities consistently missed, ignored, or trodden upon.

    You never know to whom you're talking, and appearances are generally deceptive. (I travel looking like I'm unemployed, and I never wear a tie if I absolutely don't have to.) This isn't just about business, either. It's about finding a babysitter, getting help with a fund raiser, improving your enjoyment of hobbies, spending quality time with the family, or choosing an unusual vacation spot.

    We can't afford to view our days as simply containing a preset number of repetitive interactions with familiar faces and known situations. We should constantly ask, selfishly but not maliciously, "What might be in this for me?" because it's rarely one-sided (that restaurateur would have created a larger customer base for himself but also provided me with preferred tables or a house account�we both do well).

    Use some insight and innovation to drive opportunity out of its hiding places, no matter how routine or common the situation or environment. If you don't, you just might wind up with empty tables.

  4. Listening list: classical

    If you're a serious classical music buff, you might want to skip this, because you might become outraged by my shallowness. But if you'd like to enjoy some classical music and don't mind some recommendations�

    • Johann Pachelbel, "Canon in D Major": This is often derided by the "experts," but I think it's an enchanting piece of music.
    • Antonio Vivaldi, "The Four Seasons": I love Baroque music and Vivaldi is the best of the Baroque. Get the recording of this performed by the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields Orchestra.
    • Richard Strauss, "Also Sprach Zarathustra": A sense of the galactic all right, especially when it's pumped up in your car on an empty road.
    • Johann Sebastian Bach, "Brandenburg Concertos": Simple but elegant themes interwoven with great effect. I like the version by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
    • Georg-Friedrich Handel, "Water Music": Enchanting and relaxing, fabulous in the background to keep you in good spirits.

NOTE: Due to the amount of requests I receive every month, I've launched a resource center for people who are seeking work as subcontractors for consulting, speaking, training, and related businesses. I provide the names at no fee to those seeking subcontractors, based on geography, specialties, fee ranges, etc. There is a modest fee for administrative expenses to be listed. If you are interested in an application or would like to obtain the list, simply indicate that in the subject field and send an email to: [email protected].