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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: January 2007

Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:

  1. The Human Condition: Swim or Sink
  2. Musings
  3. Guest Column by Nancy Michaels

  1. The Human Condition: Swim or Sink

    I generally learn as much or more from fiction as from non-fiction. People like Theodore Dreiser, Henry James, Jane Austin, Thomas Hardy, et. al. help me to understand ethics, relationships, history, and so much more.

    I've read the entire Patrick O'Brian series, right down to his unfinished notes for another book, about Jack Aubrey and the British Navy when great sailing ships bounded into harm's way. One of the amazing historical facts is that virtually no British common seaman knew how to swim. In an age when a sinking boat meant almost certain death, these sailors couldn't swim a mile to a beach or even a hundred yards to floating wreckage or a stray boat.

    Although the admiralty never thought it necessary to teach the skill, surely the sailors could readily have learned it during the long assignments when ships were often becalmed for days on end.

    They didn't.

    I meet a lot of people like those sailors. On the lighter side, there's the 20-year airline ticket clerk, still using one finger to type and taking five times as long, never having bothered to learn to type despite it being a key element in the job.

    On the darker side, there is the teacher who never did understand the need for testing understanding, and never got around to mastering it, thereby undermining learning.

    One day I became furious at myself for never remembering when it was "stationery" and when it was "stationary," so I taught myself a mnemonic to remember it. ("Letter" has an "er" in it.) I'm a superb parallel parker, and I sit astounded in traffic held up by a birdbrain who is trying to enter a parking space head-first because parallel parking is not something they've ever bothered to learn. There are people who can't do multiplication in their heads and who can't file alphabetically without repeating the entire alphabet until they arrive at the letter they're seeking.

    If you insist on being the bartender at the party but have to keep apologizing because you can't make a margarita, I have a suggestion: Either stop being the bartender or learn to mix a margarita, which I'm pretty sure is somewhat easier than splitting an atom. While it may seem astonishing to you that sailors, whose lives were spent on the ocean, never learned to swim, then contemplate the fact that I constantly meet department store clerks who have no idea where anything is.

    A waitress (Oops! -- Server? Waitperson? Watron? Serving wench?) in the southern reaches of England once replied to my question, "What kind of cheese is on the cheeseburger?" with the single word, "Melted." When I asked what KIND of melted cheese, she said, shocked, "Why, I'm sure I don't know!" Well, that's two of us, isn't it?

    I have no idea why people make little attempt to master the simple things in the environment which can vastly improve their lives and, perhaps, even save them. I mean, you'd think people would rather swim, than sink, wouldn't you?

  2. Musings

    I was driving into town the other morning for some coffee, and the manager of the car wash and the two guys who work with him were just opening up, chatting about who knows what, but also inspecting the equipment. They already had their coffee, and waved as I drove by with the dogs. You can watch them do the same thing every day that the weather permits.

    We arrived at the coffee shop, and the regulars were in their regular positions, the normal arrivals and departures were taking place, and the owner was chatting away as he hustled java. Once the dogs had their biscuits, I drove home, waving to one of the patrolling officers who always works the morning shift and the Fedex driver who always works a very long shift.

    The dogs, having watched carefully where we went for coffee (if I drive instead to Dunkin' Donuts, they know that they have to crowd the window so that the person packing the order remembers to include dog treats), and having devoured the biscuits, were now on their return regimen, which consists of perusing the streets for dogs so that they can bark at them. They do this every day that we go for coffee, never missing a beat or a bark, despite the fact that they know the dogs they're barking at from the last time they barked at them.

    It's nice to begin a day with some familiar regimens unfolding. There is a normalcy and a comfort to it. In fact, the novelty of vacations is that you step outside of your usual peregrinations, yet vacationers often strive to immediately recreate them.

    ("Is there a local Starbucks?" "I'll be down to the pool as soon as I watch the golf match." "I know it's Tokyo, but they must have an Italian restaurant here.")

    A morning regimen gives you momentum to gain some speed and tackle the day ahead with vigor and power. An unfamiliar morning can create havoc with your internal metronome and peace of mind. Days upon days of the same actions and tasks can form the rut that sidetracks a productive life. But a consistency in beginning the day can provide that precise, gyroscopic balance necessary to face myriad challenges later.

    Star athletes insist on repetitive preparation: certain warm-ups, a routine before shooting a free-throw, exact duplication of steps before bowling. And don't get me started on golfers, who perform a near-religious, constant rite prior to each shot. There must be something to that, right?

    Why not start an entire day the same way? Morning ablutions, a certain breakfast, a workout, walk the dogs, hunt down some coffee, open the mail, read the newspaper.

    Whatever it is that constitutes your own consistent preparation will probably enhance your performance later.

    Is that far-fetched? Perhaps. But veteran pilots go through the same checklist every time in the familiar confines of the cockpit, even though they know it by heart. A doctor always begins with a brief history and update, no matter how obvious a medical condition may be.

    The day for me starts like a ski jump. You get yourself set, mentally and physically, and go tearing down the ramp. If you develop sufficient speed and balance, you simply soar over most of the trouble below. Eventually, you'll have to tackle the landing but, meanwhile, the flight is exhilarating.

  3. Guest Column by Nancy Michaels

    I don't usually publish long pieces from others, but Nancy Michaels is a friend of mine who nearly died over the past year, and she's written this piece with permission to use it in Balancing Act. I've saved it to begin the new year, for obvious reasons.

    Top 10 Ways to Prepare for the Unexpected By Nancy Michaels

    I've often mentioned in past speeches I've delivered on Perfecting Your Pitch, or How to Grow Your Business, the print that hangs in my office that is the Chinese symbol for �crisis.� Comprised of two characters: one represents danger, the other represents opportunity. So often in life, it's a challenge to see the opportunity in the midst of a catastrophe.

    In May 2005, I was stricken by a virus that attacked my organs. Within one week of entering the hospital, I had received a new liver from a 21-year-old donor in Tennessee who tragically died in an automobile accident on May 21, 2005 � one evening before my transplant surgery.

    Because I was blessed with a healthy life, I was caught completely off-guard by the events that would redefine my life and my priorities.

    I'd like to share with each of you, my Top 10 List � only this time, it's not about sales and marketing issues � it's about the practical matters we all need to address in our lives as responsible adults.

    Please feel free to share this with a friend. If one person can benefit from this advice, I'll be grateful, once again.

    1. Be medically insured.

      Thankfully, we had just changed our health insurance provider mere months before liver failure dealt its near fatal blow. After three months at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital's Intensive Care Unit, five weeks' stay at Spaulding Rehab, and eight subsequent return visits to BI for 2-11 nights at a stretch, my medical bills I'm sure are in the millions � I have had to pay a minute fraction of these bills.

    2. Retain a health care proxy.

      Who do you want making medical decisions for you if you are unable? Fortunately, I was conscious when I arrived at the hospital and was able to sign my parents on as my health care proxy. Otherwise, my estranged husband would have had been the one in charge of making medical decisions on my behalf. Whether you agree or disagree with the findings of the Terry Schrivo case, one thing is for sure � you want to be certain the right person is making life and death decisions on your behalf. If you don't currently have a health care proxy, or question who yours is, ask someone to take on this important role.

    3. Write a living will.

      If you're unable to utilize the services of an attorney, head on over to Office Depot and purchase a standard will. Write down your desires, make copies of it and give it to one or two loved ones and keep the original in a safe deposit box.

    4. Purchase long-term health care and disability insurance.

      This is something I didn't have, but wish I did. I was unable to care for myself after being discharged from BI in October of last year. In April of this year, I went out on my own again and have made slow and steady improvement ever since. Having that f inancial cushion of insurance coverage would have eased the stress in my life significantly.

    5. Surround yourself with a great team of people.

      Fortunately, I have the most incredible family � two parents, three brothers and their wives � that anyone could wish for. I count several others who surrounded me with their warmth, compassion, love and companionship during my darkest hours as true friends. Those who didn't reach out, I now know were probably never my friends. I've been saddened by their response to me in my most dire time of need, however, am very grateful to know who my true friends are and always have been.

    6. Surround yourself with a great professional team of people.

      How lucky was I to be living in one of the world's health care epicenters � Boston.

      My surgeons, physicians and nurses saved my life on more than one occasion. I had a great attorney who helped me get what I needed from my hospital bed in terms of financial support from my husband. I have an amazing financial planner (and friend) who promises me when I regain my financial earning power, will help me plan for the long-haul. My CPA is on call for court appointments, tax filing situations and overall financial advice.

    7. Make your good health a priority.

      In the habit of making sure everyone else in your life is healthy? Arranging doctor's appointments, making healthy meals and snacks? Maybe it's time for you to add your name to ever-mounting �to-do� list. If you are ill for any length of time that is unusual, request your primary care physician run lab work.

      Had this been done when I continued to visit my doctor prior to being diagnosed with liver failure, we might have caught this in time.

    8. Please sign up at the Registry of Motor Vehicles to be an organ donor.

      We all hope and pray to live long and healthy lives. In the event that you leave this earth too soon, share your organs so that so many others may live. I've always been an organ donor, never thinking I'd be in serious need of receiving one, but proud that I was willing to donate my organs to help others, when in the end, I was the fortunate recipient of such a profound gift.

    9. Live a compassionate and thoughtful life.

      Had I not lived, I don't think I would have had numerous regrets in my life. I've tried to always be fair and kind to others. I love my children, family and friends and have attempted to share myself with them as often as I could. I also loved the work I did and the opportunity I had to earn a living doing what I loved. I did not resent the work I did, but I would have spent more time with my children and more time alone.

    10. Live life today.

      Just as I began to feel better, I wrote down 10 things I wanted to do in the next year. Slowly, but surely, I'm making my way through the list. The Fox television piece was one of my goals, in order to get the word out about how to prepare for the unexpected. I'm booking my hotel in Park City, Utah, this week so I can attend the Sundance Film Festival in January � something I've always wanted to do, but never made it onto my calendar. I'm traveling with two girlfriends during the week of Thanksgiving. One friend was by my side almost daily at the hospital. The other, flew in for a day to see me when she first learned I was in a coma, and flew back to California the next day. I'm also planning a trip to Disney with my kids next year � a place we've never gone despite my endless trips to Del Ray Beach, FL, for my wonderfully loyal client, Office Depot. (Office Depot is truly an amazing company that honored our agreement for me to produce their Web Caf� series � bedside. Thanks so much to Monica Luechtefeld at Office Depot, and my amazing Assistant, Brittany Albright, for keeping the balls up in the air during my absence).

      Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you. I hope you'll never be in need of such thoughtful planning, however, the peace of mind you'll achieve by making your physical, mental and financial well-being a priority will be rewarding enough.

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