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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: February 2007

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Wishing your life away
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    • Never be content with a first opinion if you have even a scintilla of doubt. Doctors are wrong. Lawyers are wrong. Accountants are wrong.

      Mechanics are wrong. Plumbers are wrong. Heck, even I'm occasionally wrong. There is no offense given by seeking additional advice. (If offense is taken, it's not your problem.)

    • The difference between healthy outrage and mere petulance is whether you're still angry the next day. If so, you probably have good reason. Guess what that means about the timing of your response?

    • Why wouldn't anyone keep an umbrella in every car they own?

    • You can find on Google (and, I suppose, other web sources) virtually every CEO, president, and muckety-muck you may need. Take your complaint to the top, and don't let anyone sidetrack you into the abyss of "customer (non)service."

    • If there is anything funnier in an airport than someone carrying a cell phone, pager, PDA, chargers, belt holsters, adapters, and assorted other peripherals on the assumption that technology is making their life easier, I'm not sure what it would be.

    • Speaking of which, at larger airports there are invariably security access points that are little known and under-used, and the walk to and fro is still less time than the wait at the major entrances. Ask the ticket clerks if such places exist.

      We found one in New York that was so underutilized that the four TSA staffers were sitting down, half-asleep.

    • Whenever you have need for a staple that you've used for many years and will continue to use, buy at least two. When the final one is put in use, restock.

      That way, you never run out of anything from rubber bands and paper clips to sugar and toothpaste.

    • Put an indoor/outdoor thermometer in your bathroom or near your closet, and you'll never go outside dressed inappropriately for the weather.

    • You CAN over-organize. The point is to know where things are and obtain them quickly as needed, not to have square corners and perfect alignment but no clue as to what's amidst all that military neatness.

    • If you're debating someone and you mention an incontrovertible fact (e.g., dogs can't speak for themselves), and the other person says, "I don't care about that," it may be time to move on, because you're not going to "win" this one.

  2. The Human Condition: Wishing your life away

    I think a great many people are wishing their lives away. "I wish I were ten pounds lighter," "I wish she'd stop tagging along," "I wish he'd stop picking on me."

    You get the picture.

    We tend to "wish" instead of taking action, as though we're powerless to master our own fate. Well, I have news for you: "Somewhere over the rainbow"�.there's a huge pile of bluebird guano.

    The opposite of "wishing" is "make it so," the wonderful command that Starship Enterprise Captain Picard used to give, to implement an action. "Our shields are failing, the Klingons are demanding surrender, and our only chance is to divert all power from the holographic recreation system to our last photon torpedo!!!" someone would shout in panic.

    "Make it so," said Picard, totally unruffled. (He never said, "Oh, I wish I had three more starships, then I'd show those aliens something!")

    Most wishes are fatuous, perhaps the most famous of those being, "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener...." (At least they got the subjunctive sentiment correct.) So why do people wish so much?

    I think there are several operative factors. One is simply not knowing what else to do. You don't have the skills to stand up to the loud mouth, or you don't know how to counter a brilliant chess move. ("I wish I had studied these openings before playing.") Another is that you are afraid. The other person might retaliate or you might prove to be wrong. ("I wish I didn't rely on her for my support, then I'd tell her.") A third is that you may simply be lazy. You don't want to exert certain effort, for example, to learn the game better. ("I wish I had a better serve/tee shot/hook/fastball/backstroke.") Finally, you may be unorganized or unfocused, and you can't bring the right response to bear at the right time. ("I wish I knew then what I've found out since.")

    Wishing is to achievement as television is to aerobic fitness. ("I'm really going to feel the burn this morning, I've decided to watch the Mork and Mindy Marathon on Nickelodian.")

    Now, I, personally, would never discount the value of dreaming, hoping for the best, having great plans, your goals exceeding your grasp, yadayadayada. But you have to prepare and execute to realize those objectives, which should stir you to the proper levels of motivation and momentum.

    "When you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are," because it probably means you're psychotic. Wishing's most pragmatic affect is probably all those coins dropped in fountains (and any random standing body of water) swept up and given to charity.

    So stop wishing quite so hard, and start taking some action. Life is about mastering your own fate, walking your own quarterdeck. That way you can guide the ship to the port of your choice, strong wind or slight, heavy seas or calm. You set the direction.

    Make it so.

  3. Musings

    About three times a year, I receive "feedback" from a reader which is in the form of snide comments tacked to my various items here. Of the two dozen of these I've received over the years, I've never been able to decipher the convoluted, sarcastic point the writers were obsessively laboring to make. This is a free newsletter in which I express my opinions. I'm not about to change my style because someone has taken an offense that I can't figure out in a newsletter they've voluntarily subscribed to.

    Recently, a man told me that he wasn't going to renew membership in the Society for Advancement of Consulting� because "it has no value for me." I told him I understood, it's a personal decision and thank goodness very few feel that way, but that he'd have to remove the logo and the "board approval" designation which were prominently displayed on his web home page. He began to argue that he was entitled to take credit for membership and accolades that he "used to belong to and achieve."

    I asked him why, if the society were valueless to him, it was of such value to display the connection. I still don't have an answer.

    I don't blame people for not liking something they've read, or deciding not to perpetuate a membership, or concluding that they don't want to continue to collaborate with certain people. These are rational, healthy, self-serving decisions. But why do so with an offensive swipe and aggressive commentary? (One woman once took two pages to tell me why she was unsubscribing to Balancing Act. I suggested that anything which caused her so much thought and provocation was probably good for her. She then wrote another page to tell me why that idea was ridiculous, and I realized I had better let her walk away shouting or I'd never be done with it.)

    Most of my mail, and I receive about 50 emails a week regarding my columns and books and newsletter, is overwhelming constructive. Those who disagree ask for clarification, or whether I've considered another view. Some correct facts or demonstrate the difference between fact and opinion. (Peter Drucker was famous for confusing these, and I'm just trying to modestly follow in his footsteps.) And, I report immodestly, most tell me about how something they've read has helped them. (The recent column I included from Nancy Michaels describing her health ordeal is a case in point.)

    The conventional wisdom tells us that a complaint is a sign of interest, and that apathy is the real danger. Auto dealers or insurance agents would rather have a customer who bothers to tell them what's wrong instead of one who simply refuses to return their calls and disappears.

    I'm no longer so sure that's universally true. I don't need to know about one's private reasons for taking issue with something that can't change (you don't pay your dues, you don't use the logo). I know that I'm not going to make one-off changes at any time, that is, listen to one dissenter when thousands of others aren't in agreement. (That's why unsolicited feedback is so dangerous for those who are insecure.)

    At times, I guess, I'd take issue with Dylan Thomas, and suggest, paraphrasing, that it's okay for some people to go gentle into that good night.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

    A colleague visited my home once when my 100-pound dog Trotsky lived with us. Trotsky looked like an alpha-wolf, but I assured my guest that he was a lovable dog. My colleague, instead of extending a hand to be sniffed, bent over and looked into Trotsky's eyes from about six inches away and said, "You're a great looking dog."

    Trotsky immediately bit his lower lip before either of us could move. By the time he returned to an upright position, he asked if there was a mark. He could hardly finish the question, because part of his lip had turned into a small, purple plum. For the two hours of our meeting, he would painfully say, "Offgod, plexo, ruminstad" and things like that, and I would politely nod, keeping him away from mirrors until he left.