The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: January 2004
Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:
- Choose at least two significant vacations with family and/or friends, and make the reservations now. Work the rest of your calendar around them.
- Don't allow yourself to be a victim. Take control of your fate. There are no conspiracies to make us too heavy, too thin, too overworked, too alienated from others, or too miserable, despite what the media tell us. By definition, victims are helpless.
- Commit to a good cause of your choosing, and support it to whatever extent your finances and/or time permit.
- Decide to overcome one fear and do so, whether by deliberate exposure, coaching, or professional help.
- Self-esteem and positive attitude are the result of the successful acquisition and application of new skills and competencies (not the other way around). Plan to learn to do a few more things much better than you do them now.
- Throw out the stuff that has no immediate value, no identifiable future value, and no nostalgic value. That is, it's just taking up space. (Try not to apply this to family members.)
- Visit a bookstore, walk through the aisles, and select a half-dozen books you wouldn't ordinarily have read (and perhaps have never even heard of) in a variety of different areas.
- Make a list of ten movies you've missed, find them on DVD or cable, and catch up.
- Read through the owner's manual of your car, computer, and other complex stuff and find the things you forgot about which will make your life a lot easier (e.g., how to program the radio or automatically update your software).
- Consider how much positively different 2003 was from 2002. If it was significantly better, keep up your intent and philosophy for 2004. If it wasn't, then make some changes now so that 2004 is your best, happiest, most productive year yet.
I wrote in one or two of my business books that organizations seem to eschew the pole vault for the limbo. Instead of constantly trying to raise the bar, they seek to lower it at every opportunity. James McWhorter makes this point about language and the arts in a brilliant new book called, "Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care."
Recently, I stayed in a very nice Westin where both concierges insisted on pronouncing their own titles as "con-see-air," as if that were a lofty enunciation which the French had intended. They didn't: The work is pronounced "con—see—erge" with a soft "g" as any French primer will attest. Flight attendants are intent on qualifying for the redundant/repetitive hall of fame with "final destination" broadcast during every aircraft descent. Many English teachers I've met can't even name all the parts of speech, and many high school students—and I'm talking about the best and the brightest—can't tell you what continent Bolivia is on or the years of the American Civil War. (In fact, many can't tell you who was on which side in World Wars I and II.)
At every restaurant I visit, including the most expensive, I watch people handle their silverware as if it's intended for rudimentary farming and mining.
We've dumbed down the language and the requirements to be considered educated to an alarming extent. We've stressed the lowest common denominator rather than excellence because, it seems, we don't want those who aren't excellent to feel bad about themselves. I recall a time when those not in front of the pack strove to get there, and no matter how far they advanced, they were constantly improving their position. Today, we seem more intent on collapsing the pack to an amorphous blob and comforting everyone with the belief that all standards are acceptable.
They're not. Excellent language provides better communication and more respect from those who do hold to high standards. A more profound understanding of the rest of the world enables one to deal with international people on a more comprehending and equal basis. Coming to grips with one's shortcomings (a condition applicable to all of us) enables us to try to improve them or compensate for them, rather than further entrench them in our ignorance of what constitutes improvement.
Using the wrong bread dish is hardly a cardinal sin, demanding that we shun the offender. But telling your son that it's okay to use his fingers to eat the steak (yes, I observed this at a fine restaurant) is a travesty, as is taking a position on international affairs when one knows nothing of the other country, its people, its history, and its culture. At the very time when we have more communications devices available to us on a more sophisticated basis than ever before in history, we seem to be deteriorating as communicators. Is it too much of a good thing, or an over-reliance on technology at the expense of human performance?
One of the ironic problems with success today is that you honestly wonder whether you're as good as your achievements seem to dictate, or whether most of the competition is simply so mediocre. I think it's useful to continue to examine that dynamic.
Morris West, writing in "The Navigator," observed: "The problem with the high place is that you don't know if it's the voice of God you're hearing or only the echo of your own mad shouting."
I first saw "Fiddler on the Roof" when I was dating the woman who would later become my first (and only) wife. When Tevye's wife and he sing about being married for 25 years, questioning whether they are still in love, we treated the line and scene with a detached bemusement. Recently, when we saw still another revival, we realized that we're now married TEN YEARS LONGER THAN TEVYE AND HIS WIFE IN THAT SCENE!
Last year I read John Updike's novella which was an epilogue to his "Rabbit Run" tetralogy (with "Rabbit is Rich," "Rabbit Redux," and "Rabbit At Rest") and realized I needed to read the entire opus over to regain continuity. Having first read "Rabbit Run" as an assignment for creative writing as an undergraduate at Rutgers, and now reading the series again when the protagonist dies at about my current age, was like reading two different sets of books, two different perspectives, two different stories. It was as if directed by Kurosawa, seeing the same events through widely differing lenses.
There is a scientific effect which states that you can't really accurately measure anything, because the mere act of trying to measure it changes it, however slightly, from its original state. We see the object we want to measure as an object being measured, not as the original unblemished object, if you get my drift.
I believe the same holds true through the prism of our continuing maturity.
My viewing of Tevye or Rabbit Angstrom is peremptorily changed by my own ageing and consequent changing perspectives. The mere act of growth—even on a daily basis—changes our translations and perceptions. We never measure anything "as is," but rather through the infinitely shifting focus of our additional experiences and encounters. At one point I saw buildings, but now I'm more prone to see architecture; I once heard music, but now perceive meaning; education is no longer a requirement for advancement, but a requisite for growth.
If you speak Spanish long enough, I've found, however poorly or slowly, you do begin to think in the language.
If you appreciate and engender your growth, then your world view and philosophy continue to evolve, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Woe unto them who never grow, who stymie their own progress, and who consequently never change their perspective throughout their lives. These are the kids who could never leave the schoolyard; the adults who hold onto childhood prejudices; the people who don't try anything new because of the tautological reasoning that they've never tried it before.
Among those who are most deprived—most impeded in maturing—are those who are perpetually busy. They rush through life without the opportunity to learn or to consider their own growth, continually getting better at what they are already sufficiently good at. This is the "success trap," a gradual glide into the entropy of abandoned dreams.
And this is why life balance is so important, because it affords us the opportunity, with some regularity, to appreciate our ageing, our advancing viewpoint, and out resultant altered translations for what has been around us all along. This may be a "balancing act," but it's one we can become adept at.
The playwright Tom Stoppard observed that "Age is such a high price to pay for maturity." Indeed. And all the more reason not to forsake or discard the very value that the steep price provides us.