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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: November 1999

Welcome to the third edition of Balancing Act. Thanks to all of you who have joined since the first edition, and to all of you "charter members" here from the outset. Subscription and cancellation information is explained at the conclusion of the newsletter. Thanks for subscribing. - Alan Weiss

Feedback from our last issue:

"Alan, this newsletter is terrific. Reading it this morning was quite uplifting. What a great way to be recharged on a dreary fall day." - - Lois Kelly, CEO MeaningMaker

Balancing Act® is in five sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The human condition
  3. Musings
  4. Quandaries answered and asked
  5. Balancing Act Workshop

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Be very polite to the people in service jobs who often verge on the invisible: airline counter clerks, receptionists, wait staff, etc. I find that "pre-emptive politeness" accomplishes two objectives: It provides better service even if they're having a bad day, and it eliminates the stress involved in having to deal with someone treating you rudely because they're having a bad day.
    • If you have a hard time saying "no," provide options. "No, I can't meet with you today because I have to leave at noon, but I can meet with you tomorrow or the next day, talk on the phone this afternoon, or respond by e-mail before this evening. Which is best for you?" This defuses a confrontation over "no" and turns it into an examination of which "yes" is best.
    • Don't look on a long airplane trip as an ordeal, look at it as an opportunity. I write articles, read the "tough" books, watch a movie I missed, make some calls, listen to music I might not otherwise (even Country and Western, to my shock), and think about my goals. Those of you who talk to other passengers have even more options at your command. I usually finish a flight with a great sense of accomplishment.
    • Arguments with a loved one are not threats to the relationship, nor are they tests of fidelity or commitment. They are merely temporary disagreements, which grow worse only if we attach too much import to them. Holding a grudge against a loved one over a trivial matter is like refusing to use your legs because you bumped your knee.
    • Don't ask your kids IF they liked or disliked a movie, a dinner, a vacation or any other experience. Ask them WHY they liked or disliked it. This helps you understand their reasoning, biases, and premises, and occasionally teaches you something that you missed the first time around. (Doesn't hurt with an adult, either!)
    • You're going to write me nasty letters about this, but if you want to buy a special gift for a loved one, buy yourself something as well. It gets you in the mood, provides a bit of a reward, and makes it more of a joint venture.
    • Recently, we took a three-day mini-vacation in Boston (one hour from our home) and walked the Freedom Trail. I know people in New York who have never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Don't miss what's in the backyard. (We went to Paul Revere's home, and I discovered he was different from what I had imagined or been taught 40 years ago.)
    • If you want people to listen to you in a group setting, no matter how informal, simply practice this technique: Speak loudly and firmly, use a recent example, and look people in the eye. For example, "I thought that Sixth Sense was a good movie with a surprise ending," is better posed as, "Sixth Sense reminded me of Hitchcock at his best, and the ending created a silence in our theater that lasted while people walked out."
    • Create a time of the week-we like Sunday afternoons-when you get in the car and drive for at least an hour to have dinner, or just to take in the scenery and explore a new place. It's a great tradition to share, even if you have few other interests in common.
    • Don't get caught in the war of the bromides. "Don't sweat the small stuff" is offset by "For want of a nail..." and "Haste makes waste" creates a conflict with "Time waits for no one." For every aphorism, there is an equal an opposite aphorism, which is Alan's Fourth Law of Thermodynamics. Live your life according to what's right, not what someone has memorialized (and trivialized).

    "'Tis," by Frank McCourt is the sequel to "Angela's Ashes," a continuing biography from Limerick's slums to teaching for 30 years in the New York public school system. Read both books to discover just how much a strong spirit can overcome staggering odds against survival, let alone success. Your own troubles will fade into proper perspective.

  2. The Human Condition: Anger

    Anger is almost always the result of unhappiness with ourselves which we redirect against others so as to protect our egos from damage. Missing a flight because of our own poor preparation is, understandably, an anxiety-laden event. If our self-esteem is poor, we're not about to blame ourselves for the undue delay, the extra expense, and the lost opportunity, so we lash out at whomever represents the airline.

    We're going to blame the ticket counter clerk if we're assertive enough to confront someone personally, or we'll blame the airline, government, or fates if we're more "big picture" in our scapegoating.

    I've always thought that one of the primary causes of uncontrolled anger is our inability to accept our own imperfection. If we're willing to accept that mistakes, miscalculations, misjudgment, and misinformation are a natural part of existence, then we shouldn't be surprised when one of those four horseman bears down on us and knocks us off our feet. But if we take it as a potentially personal affront to our competence and intelligence, we're going to try to scamper out of the way and throw someone else in front of the thundering hooves.

    My own attempts to diagnose my anger--which I've always rationalized as "healthy outrage," thereby giving a tinge of moral justification to the desire to hit someone over the head with a board--have led me to three conditions:

    • I have clearly screwed up by listing an incorrect date, forgetting a key piece of information, or trying to cut things too close. (I assumed a Saturday would be a slow day at the airport and didn't allow much time, and when I arrived it turned out that it was the start of spring break and the place looked like an invasion staging area.)
    • Someone else has screwed up. (The travel agent failed to make the change I had told her about, and I've shown up for a plane that the airline rightfully does not expect me to take.)
    • No one has screwed up, but things just haven't worked out in my favor. (I missed my connection because a storm front blew in and closed the airport.) In all of these three possible conditions, I try to quickly arrive at the only logical and helpful position: I can't undo it, so how do I make the best of it?

    I realized I had made progress while awaiting the last flight out of Montreal for Boston late in the evening. A Delta flight attendant inadvertently triggered the emergency chute instead of simply opening the door, and the next available door replacement was in a Delta hanger in Atlanta. As a harried and besieged agent tried to calm an incensed crowd of over 250 people who were now unexpectedly going to spend another night in Canada, I stepped forward from the periphery, asked for quiet, and suggested that we let the agent speak, since he might have some important help. As I did so, I walked from the rear of the crowd to the counter.

    The clerk announced that he had hotel and meal vouchers, and if people would get in an orderly line, he would distribute them immediately. Since I was by now next to the clerk as his protector, I took mine first and got to the taxi, hotel, and restaurant before the other 249 irate passengers. I didn't get angry, I made the best of it.

    Anger is terribly debilitating, whether externally or internally directed. Get over it and determine what will immediately improve your condition.

  3. Musings

    I happened to be looking for a book in my bedroom one afternoon last week when I glanced out the window to see a huge bird flying lazy circles over our pond. It looked like an eagle, and finally alit in the top of a tree, peering down menacingly at the water below. It was all beak and talons, and while I wasn't worried about my wolf-like dog Trotsky, I thought that our Terrier could be in trouble if she didn't watch out.

    I found my binoculars, which are used perhaps three times a year in situations like this but always available in a nearby drawer, and took a closer look. The bird wasn't about to move, and there was nothing at all that could constitute a threat, so I took it in at length and determined there was something distinctly un-eagle-like about it, although I didn't know what or why. So, off to the North American Guide to Birds which I keep in a precise spot on a given shelf in my den. After looking through the "birds of prey" section and comparing the drawings, I found that the visitor was in fact an Osprey. And I did so not a minute too soon because, as if found out, it took off, made a few perfunctory circles, and left, presumably in search of better fishing. If I hadn't looked up at the right time, I wouldn't have seen the Osprey, just as I would've missed the only black crowned night heron which visited, or the only pigeon hawk I've seen in 15 years at this property, or the rare kingfisher diving head fist into the pond for a fish nearly its own size. We need to look around in greater awareness. And we need to know how to capitalize on what we find-where the binoculars are, how to use the bird book, when to take the time. There are no mundane lives or boring jobs, but there are unheeding and non-responsive people. I've met short-order cooks and bus drivers who are more upbeat, more explorative, more aware, than some executives, attorneys, and teachers. What is the point of life if we can't look around and find some new opportunity, some beautiful vista, some unexpected event? Focus is a nice concept, but it's a lousy trait if it comes at the exclusion of the panoply of life. I've learned more from watching a spider weave a web than I have from some of my college professors, and I've enjoyed unique sunsets more than some Broadway plays. Some might say that I saw the Osprey by accident, and they'd be right. But I did look up, I did recognize a unique experience, and I was willing and able to do something about it. Others might say that I'm also missing a lot of things that are happening while I'm engaged elsewhere or simply unseeing, and they'd be right. But I'm going to keep on looking every chance I get.

  4. Quandaries answered and asked

    Last month's quandary involved locking yourself out of a car on an interstate highway during the daytime, with all your belongings inside and hundreds of cars whizzing by. The person this happened to, Nick Miller, eventually got a locksmith to open the car by flagging down people whom he presumed would be helpful: tow-truck operators, people with cell phone antennas, and so on. I would have immediately broken a window, and driven on, getting the window replaced later for a few hundred dollars. My time is too precious to wait the three hours plus that it took Nick to logically work out of his quandary. There's too much to accomplish, too much frustration, and too much uncertainly in waiting for help just to preserve a window. And for those of you who asked if I'd break the window in my own, quite special car, the answer is the same. It's only a window.

    Quandary for next time: You've promised a very good friend that you'll have dinner together with both spouses (significant others), but failed to clear it with your own partner. A few days later you find that your partner has promised the same evening to another good friend, without checking with you. Both friends have indicated that it's a special occasion and you were specially chosen to be with them (theater tickets, a child's recital, a celebration, whatever). What do you do?

    Hint: I would not break a window.

  5. Balancing Act Workshop

    Balancing Act: Blending Life, Work, and Relationships (upon which this newsletter is based) was held for the first time in Providence on October 16. I want to thank the 55 of you who attended for your wonderful support. We had a nice blend of couples and individuals, and I learned a great deal, which I had anticipated. Here are a couple of the comments, used with permission:

    Saturday was a great day. It was generous to share yourself in the way that you did. You made me think about the essence of achieving financial success and the effects of gender on the process. It was helpful to me personally and for my professional development.
    -- Lisa Bing

    The Balancing Act Seminar gave me a perspective on what it takes to make my whole life work, quite unlike any other seminar I've attended. It helped me see new possibilities to make my business, my relationships and my life more balanced, more committed and more passionate. I recommend it without reservation.
    -- Robert Middleton, President

    Action Plan Marketing
    This seminar provides a wonderful opportunity to reassess and regroup. Alan is, of course, wonderful, as usual: humorous, on point, and instructive. But the real treasure is Maria Weiss, She is a delight, speaking from the heart, insightful, thoughtful, and wise. She alone is worth the price of admission.
    -- Regina McNamara, President, Kelsco Consulting Group