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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2000

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: TINSTAAFL
  3. Musings
  4. Quandaries answered and asked

I'm pleased to announce that Kyle Krull, JD became the 2,000th subscriber, June 20, 2000, in our tenth month of publication. He received one of my hard cover books to mark the event, as does every 500th subscriber. I hope to give away a lot more.

  1. Techniques for balance:
    • Make a list of those movies you never got around to seeing because your partner didn't want to or they weren't appropriate for the kids or your local theater wouldn't show them, and rent them one by one to watch at your leisure with some hot popcorn and a bottle of champagne.
    • Find a dealer who has the car you've always wanted to drive and arrange for a test drive. (It's best to act confident and not smirk or giggle while you do this.)
    • When's the last time you went to a museum? Do you realize that they've changed the names and positions of a lot of the dinosaurs because of findings over the last few years? Are they more modern than you are?
    • I can't think of a school that would reject a request by a professional to volunteer some time with one of the classes. Are you teaching anybody anything lately?
    • Determine that issue which is completely in your control and is driving you the craziest, and allot two hours to eliminate it this coming weekend, be it an overrun garage, a broken appliance, a letter unanswered, or an article that needs to be written. The two-hour investment will gain you weeks of freedom from stress.
    • Scan for a subject in which you've always wanted to improve, and order the book. Don't order the most profound work, just something to gently begin the process.
    • When is the last time you told a chef, a flight attendant, a repair person, a postal employee, or phone order taker that they had done a really fine job for you?
    • I met a guy once who collected photos of old streetcars. He had thousands. People contacted him from around the world, because he was such an acclaimed expert on them. I met another guy a year ago who specialized in bridges that opened to let boats through. Eccentric? Maybe. But they sure seemed like vigorous people to me. What's your passion? Where is your fuel source?
    • If you haven't read John Irving's "The Hotel New Hampshire," you really ought to before you die. It is one of the four or five funniest yet most poignant works I've ever read by one of our great writers. There's a rather wonderful dog in it called Sorrow.
    • Remember that there is no such phenomenon as "I just don't have the time." If you're missing significant variety, joy, learning, sharing-or LOVE-in your life, then make time for it. The time is yours, and so is the intent.

  2. The Human Condition: TINSTAAFL

    I think it was science fiction author Robert Heinlein who created a character fond of pointing out there "there is no such thing as a free lunch," or TINSTAAFL. (Was it Michael Valentine in "Stranger in A Strange Land"? I'm sure an erudite reader will inform me.) Apparently, not many people have read the book.

    Lately, I've been finding more and more people who expect a free ride. They seem to believe that the world owes them something, especially in these times of economic boom. In other words, there seems so much available to go around, why should work, merit, or competence have any role at all? Why not just give everyone whatever they desire?

    When I initially launched my own consulting practice, I didn't want to do much work, so I'd neaten my desk, keep the phone within easy reach, and catch up on my reading. My wife would gently ask whether it wouldn't be a good idea to let a few people know that I was somewhat available for hire, but I thought that was peasant work, the mental equivalent of toiling in the fields. No work came in, and I took vocal umbrage at the fates and the unfairness of the marketplace. Much later on, after two years as a CEO and being fired, I had no such qualms about getting my hands and mind dirty out there fertilizing the crops. I marketed like a crazed weasel and made six figures the very first year: TINSTAAFL.

    My graduate students are astounded when I tell them that they can't learn if they don't show up, and that a quarter of their grade is based on class interaction and participation. Then they're surprised again when I expect them to actively engage in debate. (By the end of the semester they've caught on and I've created the raucous atmosphere I'm seeking.) If you don't put in the work-and this is the kind of work that I know they can't borrow, duplicate, or buy on the Internet because they have to produce right there in front of me-then you can't get the grade: TINSTAAFL.

    There are professional speakers I've observed who "mail it in," and simply deliver a memorized speech for the umpteenth time no matter what type of group or setting. They wonder why they don't get more bookings and can't command higher fees. There are consultants who seek to obtain silly "certifications" and strange initials after their names rather than do the hard work and try to learn the various methodologies of the craft. (Sorry, you don't have to be "certified" to be a coach or a facilitator. Who, after all, certifies the certifiers?) I've recently encountered real estate agents who lackadaisically show us houses, never follow up, and wonder why they can't do better in such a tight market: TINSTAAFL.

    The harder I work, the luckier I get. The more I apply myself, the more I'm afforded options, luxuries, opportunities, and even lunches on someone else. But someone always has to pay for those lunches, even when I don't. They're never free. TINSTAAFL.

  3. Musings

    I'm sitting here on a train heading back to Rhode Island from New York thinking about how fortunate I am and how good life is. My wife is sitting next to me, we had dinner with our kids in a fabulous restaurant, we stayed in an outstanding hotel, I had a great client meeting, and I received $20,000 in bookings on the phone during the two-day trip.

    I know what you're thinking: Alan, knock off the bragging and think of us readers. But that's what I'm doing. We all reflect too often on disaster, misfortune, and failure, and we don't wallow sufficiently in success, achievement, and plain old good luck.

    Many people become introspective and self-examining only when they have experienced calamity or setback. Consequently, their self-efficacy is involved with remediation, post-mortems, and very critical (in the most negative sense) self-evaluation. This constantly negative reference creates a subliminal depression ("I've got to get better," "I can't afford to do that again," "This was my fault"). The underlying angst then influences their behaviors in the present, and we see the sad phenomenon of people who can never totally enjoy themselves, who feel guilty over their own successes, who endure brutal relationships, and who are neurotically self-demeaning.

    However, if we also take the time to reflect, ponder, and dissect our happiness and successes, we create a much more positive sub-consciousness, one which leads to far more confident, balanced, and constructive present behavior. In this state we place setback in perspective, realize that we deserve our good fortune, and appreciate that it's easier to help others when we've also helped ourselves. (It's difficult to donate time and money when you have little of either to spare.)

    What's gone well for you recently and why? Do you understand and appreciate the causes of your own success to the extent that you can continually replicate them? Do you take personal pleasure-which is never at someone else's expense-for a game well played, a friendship well tended, a cause well served, a moment well spent?

    The last two days have been quite wonderful. Most of my days are. It wasn't always so. But as I've been able to view life through the accountability of my own decisions and actions-and not through the weaknesses of others' criticisms, unsolicited malicious feedback, and private agendas-I've become a much better husband, father, friend, and professional.

    And I'm reflecting on the fact that I'm pretty happy about that.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    From last month: You are bored out of your gourd by the spouse of a person whom your spouse or partner truly likes. Your partner clearly takes pleasure in the friend's company, and likes to have dinner with them at least twice a month. Do you grin and bear it, or do something else?

    Answer: Life is short, and I think you explain to your partner that he or she is welcome to continue to see the friend, but you have to opt out for sanity's sake. Readers were split between this solution and grinning and bearing it for the sake of the partner. Even love has its limits.

    For next time: A friend down the street tells you that many of the neighbors are upset that your house has a basketball hoop in the driveway. He says there is an informal agreement to keep all the homes and lawns well-manicured, with no toys or hobbies left in view for prolonged periods. You like the neighbor and you've found the neighborhood to be very friendly and pleasant. What's your response?