The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: January 2002
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Give someone a modest gift once a month (which could be as simple as your time or your attention). Unexpected gifts are much more appreciated than those that are "mandatory" during the Holidays, birthdays, and other "events."
- Give up one vice. It might be something huge, such as smoking or poor diet, but the little things provide a great feeling of accomplishment (e.g., leaving stuff where it gets lost, snubbing a neighbor, failing to get the car serviced).
- Do one minor thing that makes your life much easier, to the extent that you wonder why you never did it before. Fix the cable TV set-up so you can really record using the timer; oil something that drives you crazy by squeaking all the time (this must be inanimate); organize your files so that you can find things quickly. I finally got our DVD player to work.
- Read a classic book. Choose Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Henry James, or Sinclair Lewis. Life is too short not to have read "A Tale of Two Cities," "Hamlet," "An American Tragedy," or "Main Street."
- Volunteer time. It may be a grand gesture, as a board member, or a modest offer, such as serving in a soup kitchen. It doesn't matter. Give something back.
- Plan a "vacation" wherein you stay home for several days, and visit a museum, local attractions you never get to, take a hike, or go for a drive.
- Develop a plan to pay down indebtedness. Paying off debt is the same as saving money in your accounts, and even more effective if you're paying exorbitant interest rates.
- Develop an affinity for a different kind of music. Try classical, jazz, reggae, doo-wop, new age, or whatever. There is great talent in many fields, most of which can offer comfort and solace.
- Be cognizant of the importance of each day, and make each one count, not only to you but to those around you. The tragedies of the past year should emphasize to all of us that we should live and love in the moment.
- Pet a dog.
Someone asked me the other day how I defined "trust." I told him that people who trusted each other shared vulnerabilities, felt confident to critique and question each other, and relied on each other without qualification.
"Well, those are attributes and traits," he agreed, "but what really constitutes trust?"
Good question. And I determined, upon due reflection, that trust is really the underlying conviction in any relationship that the other person has your own best interests in mind. That's why we can accept adverse critique and even anger from those we trust: We know, deep down, that they are just trying to help us.
Trust is an interesting quality because, in my experience, while it's tough to gain, it's even tougher to recapture if it's been gained and lost. Many a relationship has gasped its last breath on the words, "I just don't trust you any more." At best, the absence of trust creates indifference, but at worst that vacuum is also often filled by cynicism, the antithesis of trust. And misplaced trust is often cataclysmic, whether in the tragedy of Jonestown or the abandonment of a friend.
We become cynical about our government, or our news sources, or our schools, or our family when we no longer believe that their actions—on a continuing basis—are truly intended to support our own best interests. And it's ironic that "tough love" and harsh penalty may often be more of a sign of respect and support— and, hence, trust—than sycophancy, blind adherence, unqualified support, and persiflage.
Early in a relationship a young person will often try to gain advantage with a partner by demanding, "Don't you trust me?" In reality, the question actually being asked is, "Why won't you give in to me?" That same dynamic occurs in more subtle forms throughout our lives. Unquestioned fealty isn't a sign of trust. It's a sign of avoiding conflict even if the other's interests are sacrificed by your own silence and obedience.
Many wedding vows archaically speak of "love, honor, and obedience." I wonder, though, if in any relationship we shouldn't be most concerned about trust and the difficult forms of feedback, communication, resistance, and pain that it may often demand. I dimly remember reading somewhere that acts of kindness aren't determined by what one, out of affection, does for someone else, but rather what one, out of greater affection, refrains from doing.
"Whom Do You Trust?" was the television quiz show that launched the career of Johnny Carson, later of "Tonight Show" fame. It should also be the question which we use to determine how seriously we accept others' feedback, how comfortable we are reciprocating kindness, and how proactively we extend help and comfort.
I don't see how we can go through life, grow, and be productive, without relationships of mutual trust which we recognize as such. And if that trust doesn't exist within our own families and inner circles, we are all the poorer for it.
Whom DO you trust?
Please indulge me. I want to tell you a story.
I am in the middle of a grueling four-day assignment with a client at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. As a mid-point reward, I go to dinner at the hotel's Brown Derby Restaurant, a replica of the legendary Hollywood celebrity haunt destroyed after a storied career by an earthquake in 1994. I actually dined in that original establishment about 30 years ago, and am now surrounded by some of the same artifacts, reestablished in this new location, including the stereotypical celebrity photos and caricatures. Among others, I am being stared at by Bette Davis, James Cagney, Douglas Fairbanks, Myrna Loy, and Donna Reed.
Vegas is empty the week before Christmas but the restaurant is doing well, including a large wedding party fresh from the hotel's chapel a few yards away. No one blinks an eye as the bride, in full nuptial regalia, tears into her steak. I just love this country.
After dinner, I mosey over to the lounge to have a cigar and brandy to steel myself for another tough day. I'm beginning to feel pretty good about life and quite content, when my discussion with the bartender about the future of gambling is interrupted by a swaggering piano glissando. I don't bother to turn around until I hear the unmistakable intonations of a Las Vegas lounge singer at full throttle beginning the obligatory salute to Frank Sinatra.
I have to interject here that one of my great unfulfilled (and unfulfillable) ambitions is to sing. As many times as I've walked out on a stage to address hundreds or even thousands of people at a time as a speaker, I've always longed to be able to grab a mike and interpret the great music and lyrics of Gershwin, Lerner, Loew, Rodgers, Hart, Porter, Mercer, Berlin, Hammerstein, et. al. I have all the moves and motivation, but I cannot sing, carry a song, remotely identify pitch, or hit any known note that can be enjoyed by a human auditory system. Other than that, I'm totally qualified.
The lounge singer wore a double-breasted suit with French cuffs, held a lit cigarette, and kept the lighter on the piano right next to a bottle and oft-used glass of Jack Daniels. At the other end of the piano was his accompanist, with whom he traded witticisms old enough to qualify for Medicare.
But the most amazing thing of all, as I sat there mesmerized, was that the guy could not sing. He was flat, had no vibrato at all, and ran away from vowels as though they were out to mug him. Despite those somewhat formidable flaws, he ran through Summer Wind, Making Whoopee, Don't Worry 'Bout Me, and Strangers in the Night with panache and every hackneyed move in the lounge singer handbook. And he held the attention of all 15 or so of us in the lounge, who gave him lusty applause after each song.
During his break, I mentioned to the bartender that I might be crazy or drunk, but that it appeared that the guy couldn't sing. "No," said the bartender, "and everyone knows it, including the restaurant management, the hotel management, his agent, and the accompanist. But he's absolutely contagious, and everybody loves him."
Then I realized what was going on—the guy was totally passionate about what he was doing. He took his work seriously, even the bad jokes and the incessant patter. He loved his work, threw himself into it without reservation or encumbrance, and we were quite willing to forgive him the slight drawback of a limited vocal range.
As I left, I placed a five-dollar bill in the tip jar on the piano, which I noted with interest was not the traditional brandy snifter but rather an emptied flower vase, commandeered with the knowledge that the snifter would not be large enough to hold his tips. And I realized on the way back to my room that the next two days would be easy, because enthusiasm is as important as competence, and zest for one's calling can overcome most drawbacks.
I've really got to go now, because I just thought of a better arrangement to use when I sing Night and Day, which both my dogs were beginning to tire of. I am also hard at work mastering the rare air piano…
I will begin writing a book on Life Balance in the next two months to be published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer in late 2002 or early 2003. I'd like to include some advice or experiences exclusively from the readers of Balancing Act. This is NOT a compilation book (e.g., "Chicken Soup for the Soul") but is the seventh book in my series called "The Ultimate Consultant." The "mini-interviews" will appear to emphasize points within the chapters, which will all be 100 percent written by me.
I'm happy to try to include readers of the newsletter. Though I can't guarantee inclusion, I can guarantee that any submissions I do include will receive clear attribution in the book where the entry is placed, and a complimentary signed edition.
If you're interested, please read the following before disregarding:
- Send me your advice for life balance or an experience that you had which dramatizes the need for life balance.
- The submission should be about 250 words (e.g., 240-260).
- They should be sent only by email, and preferably as a Word attachment and not embedded in the email, to: [email protected]
- I will acknowledge every submission, and will send the book to everyone whose submission is used upon publication.
- You must include with the submission this sentence: "I hereby provide Alan Weiss with permission to use this item, to edit it for style and grammar, and to publish it in his book on life balance without restriction or compensation due me." Sorry, but the lawyers demand it. I thought it might be fun if the only outside contributions to the book were from the newsletter readers.
The deadline for submissions is March 1, but the sooner I get them the better chance that I can incorporate them. Thanks for considering this!