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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2000

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

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

Welcome to summer (at least here in the northeastern U.S.)!

  1. Techniques for balance

    • If you need some good sources for financial planning to put your mind at ease about your future, try these:

      Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards

      Financial Planning Association

      National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

    • There are quite a few offers available (e.g., American Express Platinum Card) wherein you can purchase one first class or business class ticket and receive an accompanying ticket for free. That's right, for free. These are wonderful opportunities to take your spouse or partner on a fabulous trip.

    • I'm increasingly convinced that most people are most stressed by time demands. Learning how to intelligently invest your time is one of the best "balancing acts" you can perform. Hint: Most of us are doing things each day because we think we should, not because we actually need to.

    • While it may be true that "no one can intimidate us, we allow ourselves to be intimidated," this is not a blanket guilt trip. If someone talks in the audience during a theatrical performance, we're certainly not "allowing ourselves to be interrupted." We have to tell them to stop if our night isn't going to be ruined, or else we enable the boorish behavior (such as cell phones ringing during speeches). The balance is in where to draw the line: If someone who is seated later is served before us in a restaurant, that's a minor inconvenience. If someone constantly interrupts our family time, that's something else entirely.

    • Here's a fact about "secrets": It's as bad to hear them as it is to tell them, because you're often caught in a moral vice once you've heard compromising information. When someone offers a "secret," especially at work, tell them that you can't guarantee confidentiality because it may be information you'd have to reveal in order to prevent pain or harm to someone else. You'll usually be told anyway, and you'll at least have recourse to divulge the information if you deem it necessary to do so.

    • When someone suggests something that they're sure you'll enjoy, and you're positive would fling you into a homicidal rage, don't agree out of courtesy. Instead, say something like, "Why is it you found the bagpipe concert so engrossing?" Get them talking to avoid having to refuse their generosity or submitting yourself to excruciating pain.

    • When you call someone, introduce yourself first and then make your request, e.g.: "Hello, this is Alan Weiss calling for Ms. Jones," or "Hello, this is Alan Weiss. May I speak with Tom Clark, please?" It's more professional, more assertive, and often gets by the gatekeeper nicely. Coincidentally, it helps with restaurant reservations because the person on the other end often assumes that you're a regular or someone who should be recognized, and therefore manages to find a good table.

    • If you're interested in an MBA in about 300 pages, read "The Capitalist Philosophers" by Andrea Gabor. It's a comprehensive but highly readable study and analysis of most of the outstanding management thinkers, including Frederick Winslow Taylor, Mary Parker Follet, Elton Mayo, Peter Drucker, and many others.

    • Get a speaker phone for your home phone, and every time you're placed on "hold" by a catalog firm, repair operation, government agency or any other annoying source, place them on the speaker and go about your business by opening mail, reading a book, playing with the dog, or watching television. This removes all the frustration and keeps you focused on your goals, not the wasted time.

    • If you'd like to travel with your pet, here's a source for pet acceptable lodgings:

  2. The Human Condition: True Motivation

    "Motivation" has fallen on hard times, but with good cause. There is a "motivational industry" which provides good feelings, but not good techniques; volume, but not validity; and commiseration without common sense.

    The truth is this: Most "motivational" techniques focus on ways to rationalize failure, not to produce success. It may be cute to tell someone that "They can hit you but they can't hurt you," but the truth is that they certainly can hurt you when they hit you. The key is to avoid being hit.

    Empty affirmations and bromides provide nothing in the daily trenches of interactions, negotiations, choices, and unforeseen challenges. The last thing we need to be taught is how to rationalize failure. We need, instead, to understand why we've failed and learn techniques to succeed in the future.

    I could even make a case that there are no "causes of failure," but really only "causes of success." Failure is the default position. It doesn't require a cause. If we don't prepare, don't learn, don't use effort, don't attempt to excel, we will fail. Only by learning and employing strategies for success do we avoid the default setting, which at best is mediocrity.

    No one can motivate us. Motivation is intrinsic. It comes from within. We can only motivate ourselves. But motivation is actually the acquisition and application of techniques, knowledge, and experiences which lead us to success. That success (not matter how each of us defines it) provides the impetus to continue to apply those techniques, knowledge, and experiences, and to acquire still more. Hence, motivation is a "continuous cycle," self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. Sometimes an external impetus (perhaps such as you're now reading) helps in initiating or accelerating the process, but it can't substitute for the process, and it certainly can't help if that external focus dwells on explaining away, or more positively redefining, the default position: failure.

    As a keynote speaker, I'm often asked if I'm a "motivational speaker." I respond that I'm a motivated speaker, and that we had all better be. Because enthusiasm, energy, and urgency in each of us create similar traits in others. An enthusiastic speaker will tend to have an enthusiastic audience. An energized manager will tend to have energized employees. And an interesting and vibrant parent will tend to have interesting and vibrant children.

    The 18th Century captains who commanded the great ships-of-the-line would incessantly worry about losing headway, losing the wind, so that they could no longer maneuver, making them vulnerable to the enemy in a day where there was no power other than the sails. We all need to maintain our headway, the wind in our own sails, through constant internal motivation.

    Gather the techniques that will lead you to success. Acquire the knowledge that is essential to mastery. Obtain the experiences which will guide you toward greater growth. But don't listen to the charlatans who tell you that "defeat is just a frame of mind" or "you're a success whether you know it or not."

    Becalmed hot air is never as effective as a strong, refreshing breeze.

  3. Musings

    A heron visits us frequently, landing along the periphery of the pond and calmly standing there like a statue, sometimes unmoving, if unmolested, for an entire day. Occasionally, the bird takes a cautious step, as if avoiding underwater mines, and slowly makes its way to another carefully chosen spot, where it waits some more. If I'm patient (or lucky) enough, I'll eventually see it dart its bill beneath the surface in a blur of predatory zeal, and watch it devour an unwary fish.

    An egret also visits fairly regularly. The egret is all business. It stalks the pond like a watchdog on speed, looking every which way, lest a fish elude its reach. The egret always manages to catch several perch or bass or sunnies, and then takes off for other appointments. Another day at the office.

    When they happen to both be present, the heron and egret ignore each other, of the same species but birds of quite a different feather. The heron seems to regard the egret with disdain for its aggressive manner and disturbance of the peace. The egret seems to see an overly cautious time waster in the heron, with a very inefficient manner. There's no way to tell which bird is older or younger, or whether each is a male or female.

    Different strokes for different folks. Both birds are clearly successful, because they both catch fish, return frequently enough to tell me that they know what they're doing and escape predators, and both appear to be quite healthy.

    The egret flies as would a commuter, in a constant hurry to get somewhere, taking shortcuts between the 60-foot trees so as to shorten its journey. It lands without much fanfare and gets to work. The faster it finds fish, the sooner it departs. The heron looks like what I imagine a pterodactyl would in flight. Its great wings beat so slowly I'm amazed that it can stay airborne. It swoops over the tallest trees, never trusting a tight squeeze. Several passes are required to align the descent with the precisely correct landing spot, and once aground, it makes a show of folding its wings as if engineered by Mercedes-Benz. The heron will take forever to look for a fish and, once having eaten one or more, will still stand around motionless for most of the rest of the day. What's the rush?

    We're all different birds, aren't we? We can succeed in a myriad of ways, fly a variety of flight patterns, exercise patience or demand instant gratification. I've never observed either the heron or the egret to demand that the other change, and they manage to co-exist, while hunting for the same meal, quite well.

    Last month I found an obviously young eagle on the ground outside of our gate devouring something freshly killed. I had the top down on the convertible, so I edged closer to take a better look. The eagle turned from its meal and stared me right in the eye with that oddly menacing, crooked cock of its head unique to birds of prey. As we stared at each other for a few seconds, I realized that the eagle was going to choose valor, and I had better opt for discretion.

    I put the car in gear and crawled away, and the eagle returned to its lunch. I thought that we had both acted quite well, and was confident we'd both have very good days. I know I did.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    From last month: You have absolute and unequivocal evidence that your immediate boss, who hired you, is cheating on the weekly expense report by about $100. What, if anything, do you do? (I use this in my ethics workshops all the time, and it's based on an actual occurrence.)

    As in my workshops, I received varied answers with a preponderance on the side of "mind your own business," or "do you like the boss?" A strong minority said "approach the boss and demand that it stop or you'll go to higher levels." My feeling is that this person is stealing from the company and every employee, customer, and stockholder. It doesn't matter if it's $100 or $10,000. If you don't stop it, you're complicit. And if you're afraid of the company's reaction to your position, is that really the place you want to work?

    For next time: 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?