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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2001

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Self-effacement
  3. Musings
  4. A reader writes

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Go see a foreign film, the kind with the subtitles. Discuss it with your partner afterwards.

    • Take 30-minutes, look out the window, and think about what you're watching, whether a city block, a sandlot, or a seascape. What's going on out there?

    • If you learn even a very little about architecture, you'll never walk down a street again without being enriched.

    • I find that I neglect to put CDs into my cars unless I take them whenever the spirit moves me and load them, irrespective of whether or not I'm using the car in the near future. Maybe this is "preparing for balance."

    • Try varying your exercise routine every so often, whether aerobic or weights, and you'll not only stay more interested (a big issue for my gnat-like attention span to physical activity) but, according to the cognoscenti, you'll also improve the effectiveness of the workout.

    • If people don't buy drills because they need drills, but rather because they need holes, then people don't establish relationships with you to enrich you, but because there's something about you that enriches them.

    • Don't allow your job to get in the way of your career. Don't confuse what you do with who you are.

    • "I don't have enough time" merely means that you've chosen to spend the time (which of course you do have) on something else, something of ostensibly higher priority to you. Despite what you say or might even believe, you control virtually all of your time.

    • There are foods you haven't tasted, not because of an allergy or bad experience, but simply because of a perception or emotion. Try them before you die. Everyone should have at least one taste of uni, an oyster, lobster, banana cream pie, fried calamari, and caviar. (I threw in the cream pie to give you a break from the seafood.)

    • The very next time you've written that blistering email with a vindictive smirk on your face, pause for just five minutes, and then read it before hitting "send." I will guarantee you that brief investment will prevent ruptured friendships, damaged business relationships, and high degrees of angst. I ought to do it more often.

  2. The Human Condition: Self-effacement

    Humor is rooted in pain. If you want to use humor deliberately and most effectively, make it your own pain. Hence, the utility of self-effacing humor.

    Someone paid me a great compliment the other day, which was probably an overstatement of vast proportion, but she said, "When you cite success, you use someone else as the example, but when you cite failure, you use yourself. That's tremendously endearing."

    Now, "endearing" is not a term applied to me very often (okay, hardly ever). But her observation was astute, since I deliberately employ that technique.

    Much younger, I was a "put down" artist of rare achievement. I could slam, debase, deride, scorn, undermine, and deflate almost anyone or anything on a moment's notice. I was often funny, but seldom likeable. I usually made people laugh, but couldn't make them stay.

    Whether in a business or social setting, a self-effacing demeanor is an advantage if your objective is to influence others, develop relationships, and build friendships. Yet self-effacing doesn't mean self-demeaning or self-defeating. The irony, perhaps, is that it takes confidence, self-possession, and great perspective to be self-effacing.

    The reason, I believe, is that confidence allows you to be self-effacing without damaging your self-image or identity. Chicken impresario Frank Perdue made a fortune telling people, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Well, it probably also takes a well-balanced individual to engage in self-ridicule.

    The people I've warmed to fastest are those who tell me how they hit a golf shot that damaged two homes, scared three animals, and took four shots to recover from a moving garbage truck. The ones I not-so-subtly walk away from are those who regale me with the backspin they placed on their six iron to achieve an "impossible" birdie on a tough hole. (I am using golf because I find it truly one of most boring of activities a non-player must ever listen to, but that's a topic for another day.)

    Is the opposite of "one-upsmanship" something like "one-downsmanship"? I don't know. But I do know that I love the person who tells me how the cop gave her a ticket for claiming that the speeding limit was higher than it was, much more than the one who tells me how he used his connections to escape the summons.

    That doesn't mean that we shouldn't rejoice in our great experiences or feel good about out achievements. It does mean that we need to remember that the route to victory is lined with failure, and that we learn as much from the one as the other.

    If you want to make people laugh, share your foibles and your pain. If you're at all like me, you're a pretty funny person!

  3. Musings

    How many people do you know who have piloted�yes, piloted�both a B-24 Liberator (a World War II bomber, and the only one in the world of that type still flying) AND the Goodyear Blimp (a modern-era advertising vehicle, and one of three flying)?

    Ah yes, it is I. And I'll bet there aren't another five people in the world with that combination to their credit (and no one who doesn't even have a pilot's license!).

    My son, my wife, and I recently flew in the blimp thanks to our having been successful bidders in an auction (you can't fly in the thing unless you have some very tight connection at Goodyear). To our shock, once aloft, the pilot let go of the controls and said, "Let's take turns."

    And so, off the coast of Pompano Beach in Florida, we glided at 1,500 feet, watching sharks in the crystal-clear waters below and doing the equivalent of "wheelies" while slung under a kibillion cubic feet of helium. If that ain't livin' I don't know what is.

    It took some work and determination to even get a ride in the B-24 and the Blimp, and the opportunity to actually fly the things wasn't apparent until I was on board. Funny thing about serendipity, the more you exploit opportunity, the more opportunities seem to abound.

    But that's not surprising. The more we're locked into the daily routine, the more we've probably exploited whatever opportunities once existed. But life is not meant to be a rut. It should be more like a farrago: ripe with the opportunities that exist in roads untraveled and paths untrammeled. The more new things we attempt, the more new things present themselves.

    I once read about a guy who, at age 20 or so, created a list of 40 "accomplishments." These were things like climb Everest, scuba dive, write a novel, play par golf, and so on. The article described how, at age 35, he was halfway through his list. That's just a tad too anal for me. (Well, truthfully, it's a ton too anal for me.) If creating a list is necessary to try new roads and experience new thrills, it seems like just a different type of rut. (Oh my goodness, I'm 38 and behind plan�book a safari to Kenya immediately!)

    The harder I work, the luckier I get. The more flexible I am, the more opportunity that abounds. The more willing I am to take risks and be disappointed, the more I'm rewarded and fulfilled.

    I would have thought that piloting a lumbering, four-engine, 55-year-old heavy bomber would have required a pilot's license and significant flight time. What it actually required was an additional $100. I "knew" that it was impossible to even fly as a passenger in the Goodyear Blimp, until we saw the auction item, and of course there's no way a layman can actually pilot the thing, at least not until you're up there and are told that you can.

    My son first saw the Goodyear Blimp when we lived in San Francisco 23 years ago. My wife and I promised him a ride (me to shut him up, her because she had confidence we could someday). We delivered on our promise, and my son, at 26, was overjoyed.

    But not half as much as I.

  4. A reader writes

    The following was sent to me in response to the self-anger piece in the last issue, and is printed here with permission and, for obvious reasons, without attribution. I admire the writer's candor and willingness to share, and we can all learn from her experience.

    Several months ago, my and my husband's second attempt to become pregnant using in vitro fertilization failed. The situation led to a lot of stress for both of us. We were also (individually, privately) growing more ambivalent about having children, he because he is in his late 50s, and me because I was tired of all the intensity and hoopla (I'm 38). This was a huge change for me. I have been a nurturer all my life and had always planned on having at least one child (if not 3 or 4). One evening, feeling tired and vulnerable, I told him that I was reconsidering the whole thing. He saw an opportunity in my honesty to be honest as well. He let me know he'd really rather not proceed.

    Within 12 hours, I was angrier at him than I had ever been at anybody. I accused him of all sorts of bad things: deceiving me into marrying him by agreeing to have a family and then backing out (I had told him I wouldn't marry him if he didn't); being a pathetic, scared old man; being a pitiful provider. When we were in the same room I found I had nothing to say to him. Whole evenings would pass that way.

    Three days later I was driving along a beautiful canyon road out to Malibu for a meeting, and my mind wandered to "the baby situation" as we had come to call it. My anger at him had started to ebb a bit and I was able to acknowledge for the first time in a while that I was having mixed feelings, too. And it was then I realized why I had gotten so mad at him. The knowledge just popped into my head, and the second it did I knew it was true. It was because I was unable to get angry at myself! He had become the external manifestation of my ambivalence, and it was psychologically easier to blame him than it was to take responsibility for the upsetting and potentially life-altering feelings I was having. It was an unbelievably powerful realization and has made all the difference in my relationship with my husband, as well as my ability to relate to the world in general.

    We still haven't finalized our decision about whether to pursue having children, although I am leaning toward letting it go. We'll see. In any case, I thought you'd appreciate my story as it relates to your thoughts on transference.

    Thanks for a great newsletter.

    It's my pleasure � AW.