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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2004

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Affiliation
  3. Musings
  4. The Language Doctor is IN

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Many medical authorities are endorsing an afternoon nap to restore vigor (many airline pilots are encouraged to take them, but not simultaneously). If you work at home, and you're exhausted in the evening, give it a try.
    • Any cell phone speed dial with more than a few entries is usually worthless, since you can't remember them, and having a list for your speed dial is called having an address book, which defeats the purpose.
    • If you're wearing uncomfortable shoes you're wasting money, because you're ruining your day. Even women's high styles can be found in comfortable alternatives. Most people don't treat themselves to decent footwear (nor to maintaining it).
    • Find that part of your computer preferences that arranges to automatically fill in online forms with your name, address, email, etc., and stop wasting all that time.
    • TIVO, VCRs, and similar devices exist for one primary reason: to time-shift programming for your convenience. Don't be a slave to TV even if you love it. Watch the programs around your schedule.
    • Purchase a DVD of programs you watched long ago which you'd appreciate in a different perspective today. I've just finished viewing all 13 hours of the original "Victory at Sea" which I first saw when I was six years old on a tiny black and white screen.
    • The old "Cheers" song about "where everybody knows your name" has a great deal of validity. Infrastructure and support can be found in a regular environment where there are familiar faces, be it a health club, social club, community activity, commuting train, bowling alley, coffee shop, restaurant, or, well, a bar. I've always liked it when the bartender asks, "The usual?"
    • A second opinion doesn't do it. How do you know the second one isn't wrong? The more serious the matter�health, financial, ethical, etc.� the more I'd like to hear from a lot of respected sources.
    • Before you implement these automatic address book updates via email, think about the person on the other end. If everyone I knew used these, I'd face thousands a day. When I do get them I simply ignore them. (I also don't believe it's fair to make others jump through hoops to satisfy your spam filter. I've had it with going to sites to spell a word to prove I'm human.)
    • Whether it's Friends, or Frasier, or Sex and the City, we mourn the loss of these programs because we're losing long-time, intimate, fictional relationships which have replaced real ones. The greater the loss we feel, the greater the chance there are few real relationships in our lives. (I wonder whether the same phenomenon accounts for those who read the same novel many times, or watch a movie repeatedly. Are they trying to renew lost friendships?)

  2. The Human Condition: Affiliation

    Every weekday morning there are about 150 email messages on my computer, representing the new arrivals since I last checked at perhaps 7 pm the evening prior. Approximately 125 of the messages are junk, duly pounced upon by my spam filters and consigned to a brief purgatory, where they are quickly screened to ensure none is valuable, and then deleted. (If you send a legitimate email message with the subject line "Grow!" or "Enlarge!" you don't stand much of a chance of being read.)

    The 25 remaining, which during the day will grow to 100 or more legitimate messages, are from all over the world, from Korea to Germany, Australia to South Africa, Hawaii to Maine. They are from mentorees, product purchasers, consulting clients, prospects, people interested in consulting, and a wide diversity of others. (Subscriptions to this and other newsletters are handled automatically and separately.)

    I look forward with particular relish to the morning batch. I find it a wonderful way to begin the day by interacting with friends, colleagues, and strangers all over the country and the globe. Although I work alone � and have for nearly 20 years � I'm now able to partake in "office gossip," exchanges of ideas, debate, and humor.

    This is the real boon of the Internet. None of us need be alone. I've found that affiliation is one of the strongest human needs, and often one that is absolutely fundamental to life balance. Sentience, supposedly, separates us from other life forms (though I'm not so sure about that) and the commensurate need to interact is intrinsic, even for introverts such as I.

    Affiliation needs are like a rheostat: You don't turn them on and off, but they do have greater intensity for some of us, a variety of settings, if you will. A fellow at my health club will stop to talk every time he sees you, despite the vein pulsing in your temple as you engage in a life-and-death struggle with a diabolical machine. His subject matter doesn't matter. He simply wants to talk.

    A few men I know gather at the same table in the same coffee shop each morning for an hour or more. I always stop to exchange greetings, but have never ever sat down with them. Their rheostats are turned higher � more affinity voltage is required � while mine is significantly lower and I'm simply pleased that the owner greets me by name each morning and starts to prepare my "usual" as soon as he sees my car pull up outside.

    We need affiliation because humans are not basically designed to be solitary creatures. Our ancestors learned that hunting in groups made for better success, and our forebears found that once technology conquered subsistence farming there was room for different people to take differing, yet synergistic, roles. Our economy today is based on the ethical concept that I will provide a given product or service at a given time of a given quality, and you will provide payment of a given type at a given juncture. Unlike social insects, controlled by chemicals and mindless regimen, we choose our affiliations.

    I believe there may be a direct correlation between affiliation and balance. The higher the productive, self-chosen, frequent affiliation fulfillment (no matter how intense or low-voltage on the rheostat) the more the balance and contentment in life. The less affiliation is fulfilled, the more the tendency toward imbalance and unhappiness.

    The lone wolf may be a romantic notion, but it's a desolate reality.

  3. Musings

    I'm on the Board of the local regional theater, so my wife and I attend every production. A new, upscale restaurant opened immediately across the street, replacing one that had closed, so our pre-theater dinner plans appeared to receive a nice jolt of adrenaline.

    Or so we thought.

    When we arrived at Albatross (my name for it here), our reservations had been lost. An unsmiling host was desperately trying to find various lost items on his lap top, but assured us we could be accommodated. We were escorted to the barn-like upstairs dining room, at which point I informed the hostess that we would immediately repair downstairs, where I claimed my favorite corner banquette, still in place from Albatross's predecessor.

    We waited ten minutes for a wait person, still longer for drinks and bread. Our appetizers arrived exactly one hour after we had been seated. By this time I was well into a comedy act which was drawing rave reviews from tables to either side. I observed three meals returned, a half-dozen diners complaining about lack of a meal to return, and four people who returned their cocktails as undrinkable�something I've not seen in my history of dining out seven nights a week for over ten years.

    Our main course arrived 35 minutes after the appetizers, and we were able to make the curtain across the street with five minutes to spare, before which I tried to tell the manager that I wasn't going to pay, but he had anticipated me and ran over to explain that all charges were waived. (We left the harried server a nice tip.)

    There were a lot of free dinners at Albatross that night. Our food, though not as hot as it should have been, was inventive, well presented, and quite good. Because of the manager's classy act, I'll go back. In fact, responding well to problems is a fundamental ingredient in customer service (no one goes home to proclaim that the airplane was clean or room service arrived on time�people are more impressed when problems are fixed or atoned for).

    Yet there's a larger lesson here for our life balance that is too often subsumed by coping, stress, difficulties, and obstacles: We have to be prepared for success.

    We dined at Albatross on a Saturday night that also happened to be Valentine's Day. One would expect a full restaurant with two or three turnovers, starting with pre-theater, and that's exactly what Albatross drew. Yet the kitchen, systems, wait staff, and procedures were not ready for the victory. Instead of a triumph, they had an onslaught. Instead of profit, they had loss. Instead of�.well, you get the idea.

    My observation is that so many of us spend time trying to anticipate, avoid, and/or atone for failure that we actually fail to plan for success. Consequently, we don't exploit, capitalize on, or extend our victories. There is nothing unethical about relishing achievement, nothing criminal about taking a victory lap, nothing illegal about rejoicing in the moment.

    Think about it. Do you plan to take care of waylaid luggage and jet lag on your vacation, but fail to find great local opportunities when you're there? Do you admonish your kids about peer pressure, sexual activity and drugs, but fail to show up with a camera at their dance recitals and ball games? Do you diligently find the money to invest in retirement or debt reduction, but never use any for an unexpected gift or trip?

    It's important to drive defensively and avoid accidents, but not if you don't do anything productive at your destination. Prepare yourself for success, or you'll never truly experience triumph in its entirety.

    Look upon the varied aspects of life as harbingers of success ahead, and not as the mythic, doomsday albatross.

  4. The Language Doctor is IN

    Reader Koby Fleck suggested this feature, knowing that I love language and I'm a writer.

    This issue: Mythological words

    • Heighth: Sorry, it's length, width, and height.
    • Snuck: Nope, the past tense is "sneaked."
    • Forte: One of my great favorites. Pronounced "fort" it is French for "strong."
    • Pronounced "fortay" it is Italian for loud. It is misused by 90% of the people I meet. When someone says, "Her fortay is marketing," it actually means that she's screaming her message.

    Note: The above is true no matter what a new-age, hippy, abridged dictionary might say!