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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2002

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: When you want to kick yourself
  3. Musings
  4. Census statistics of interest

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Affiliation needs are fine, but there's also a need to be alone on occasion. What is your week like? Do you have any "personal space," time to think and dream?

    • Frontal battles against entrenched positions are usually lost. When someone says "no," don't try to reverse it into a "yes." Try to find a middle ground and effective compromise, even if it's 60/40 one way or the other. That's better than 100/0 against you.

    • Preventive measures and caution are fine, but I've found that if I followed every piece of advice about my dog's health, I'd have to keep him incapacitated in a cage all day. Are you placing yourself in that cage? Life's for living. (There's a reason dogs ride with their head out the window. They're usually in the back seat and would prefer to see what's ahead, not behind.)

    • If you must do something you dislike, do it in highly pleasurable circumstances. I read all the stuff I don't like but have to keep abreast of at the pool (with a strong drink).

    • Note the absurdities you find in life and you'll have an article or book before you know it. Example: A CEO I once worked for complained to the airline flight attendant that she hadn't given him a headset for the movie. The feature on that flight was Mel Brooks's "Silent Movie." (Who could make this up?)

    • There is a "momentum effect" that too few of us leverage. Publish one book, and the following ones are easy to place. Serve on one charitable board, and others will seek you out. It's a downhill race and you keep gathering speed unless you lose control.

    • The difference between discipline and obsession is that the former allows you an intelligent and prudent break or deviation (as from a diet or regimen) and the latter affords you no such leeway or mercy. Be disciplined, but not obsessed.

    • If you live in a small community, wave at the cops. They like it and you'll probably get a break if you inadvertently go over the speed limit a tad.

    • Put a radio and/or television in the bathroom and catch up with current events or your favorite talk show (or your favorite music) while you're getting yourself together. Some of these will play in the shower.

    • Make yourself a CD or tape of only your favorite cuts from a variety of albums and play it when you really need a lift or just want to rejoice in the day.

  2. The Human Condition: When you want to kick yourself

    The worst anger I know of occurs when we realize that we have no one to blame for our predicament but ourselves. It's agonizing to have no scapegoats, straw men, or easy targets. I call this "unfulfilled anger," because it's tough to slam ourselves in our own head, and the more we realize we're the culprit the inexpressibly angrier we get!

    I have a huge suitcase which I can use for a week's trip or my wife and I can both use for a long weekend. We loaded it up not long ago and headed for New York on Amtrak's Acela Express to see our son in a play and pass muster (again) on our daughter's boy friend.

    At the Penn Station platform in New York, the club car steward took the bag I had identified for him and handed it to a red cap, who led us to our limo and handed it to the limo driver. The driver took us to our hotel, where he handed the bag to the doorman, who escorted us in and handed it to the bellman. The assistant manager escorted us to our room, where the bellman dutifully delivered the luggage. I prided myself on not having had to lift a finger.

    Then my wife said words which always make my hair hurt: "We have a problem." She couldn't open the luggage. I wasn't too worried until I tried, and realized the cause�it wasn't our luggage.

    I called hotel security, Amtrak security, and was about to call social security. I was desperate in my attempts to defray and delay the creeping, oozing, maddening realization that was seeping into my cerebral cortex.

    I had identified the wrong bag on the train. Hotel security checked closed circuit video tapes which clearly demonstrated the bag that came out of the limo was the same one delivered to my room. Amtrak security alerted me to the fact that a passenger had arrived on our train at Union Station in Washington with his luggage "stolen," and was apoplectic. I was running out of targets.

    "How could this happen!?" I screamed, as the hotel staff and my wife studied their fingernails and the ceiling plaster with quiet intensity. Then I pulled out the last, desperate, doomed weapon of a defeated man.

    "Didn't you realize what was happening?" I shouted at my wife. The hotel staff quickly left and I quickly retreated, knowing my number was up. I arranged the proper details with Amtrak and we had our bag back late that evening, and an irate college professor had his back the next morning, fortunately never learning my name.

    How do you exorcise such self-anger? I've learned that you tuck your ego away and prove you're still somewhat coherent by fixing the problem as expeditiously as possible. Excoriating yourself (or, worse, others, the fates, or UFOs) does not seem to help very much. Show that you're still sharp as a tack by restoring the order you've shattered. It's a wonderful revitalizer.

    Oh, and screaming for a while in a closed bathroom also helps.

  3. Musings

    Why is it that so many people always assume they must be right and you must be wrong?

    Periodically I receive complaints that my web site won't accept an order or that an attachment I've sent is unreadable. Yet that complaint is from one person out of thousands using the site or receiving the email. I once dropped everything in the name of customer service and sought the reasons for the other person's poor experience. But not any more. Now I need to see a pattern to know that I'm the one at fault.

    A woman approached me after I delivered a keynote speech for the speaker's school of the Tri-State Chapter of the National Speakers Association in New York City. After a long line of plaudits and appreciation from others, she told me that she could improve my poor speech habits, and would I like to learn how. I told her that I wouldn't and that we had nothing to talk about.

    The chill in the air was immensely refreshing.

    I think we fritter away too much of our time and energy on people who feel no compunction at all about asking others to take on their responsibilities or indulging them in their ego needs. It's not that I can't improve or that my web site can't be better, but to what extent and at what cost and�most importantly�for whose benefit?

    A meeting planner cautioned me after a speech that two people out of 200 had felt I was overly sarcastic. Everyone else thought I was great. "I thought you'd want to know that so that you could modify your behavior next time," she helpfully suggested.

    "I normally infuriate 20% of the audience," I explained, "and usually at least 5% show up intent on disliking you anyway. The fact that I annoyed only 1% of the crowd is a signal event!"

    But I'm thinking, here's a woman who probably reacts and tries to change in response to every scrap of minor feedback. How can we go through life that way?

    I've always felt that confidence is the deeply-held belief that you can help others and continue to learn yourself in so doing. Arrogance is the belief that you can help others but have nothing left to learn yourself. And smugness is a position of arrogance but without the skills.

    These are thin lines, but nonetheless lines of demarcation. If the other person is late, maybe I wrote the meeting time incorrectly. If I can't find something, maybe my wife didn't maliciously hide it. If my car won't start, maybe it's not the lousy craftsmanship, but I'm using the wrong key (yes, this happened this afternoon, and I was about to send an irate FedEx to England).

    Let's cut each other some slack, as we used to say back in the 60s. I'll start with me and not assume it's you, if you'll do the same.

  4. Census statistics of interest
    • The number of families headed by single mothers increased by 25% over the past decade.
    • 31% of all births from June 1999 to June 2000 were out of wedlock.
    • Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men.
    • Women are now a third of the entire legal profession.
    • Women outnumber men in earning bachelor's, graduate, and law degrees.
    • One third of women in two-income households earn more than their husbands, and among women with graduate degrees the figure is 43%.