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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: November 2002

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Eggshells
  3. Musings
  4. Readers' weird days

  1. Techniques for balance

    This month I'm going to deal with sybaritic pleasures. We all deserve them. And the requirement isn't really money, it's volition (and lack of guilt). The frequency is up to you, but once a year is far too little and once a month isn't too often at all.

    • Choose an outstanding restaurant to visit, no matter how far you may have to travel, and order a specialty of the place.
    • Treat yourself to a massage. I prefer the sensual to being near- beaten to death.
    • Indulge in some professional grooming, both for pleasure and learning. Women: Have an expert apply your makeup. Men: Have a skilled barber give you a shave.
    • Throw out clothes that are worn, no longer fit you, or are out of style. Don't save them as "backups," or out of loyalty. Replace those that fill important roles in your wardrobe.
    • Step out of your comfort zone and do something outrageous. I recently flew a WW II carrier-based fighter, including loops and rolls. When I saw they had come to town, I called on an impulse and was able to get an immediate place. (No, I don't have a pilot's license.)
    • Blow off a day. Forget about your schedule, the stuff around the house that needs repair, and all those "obligations" to everyone else. Take a few hours for a walk, a book by the fire, playing with the pets, impulse shopping, an art exhibit, or your hobbies. Give yourself permission to "play hooky."
    • Plan a trip. Most vacations aren't taken because they're talked about but never acted on. Send for the brochures, look into plane fares, talk to the travel agent, and plan the vacation time. Whether it's a long weekend getaway or a European tour, start to implement.
    • Eliminate a "necessary evil." If the dishwasher is erratic, but a new one. If the stereo creates static, replace it. Use frequent flyer points, shop at a discounter, or simply bite the bullet. Get a major annoyance out of your life.
    • Learn something new. Peter Drucker, the great management writer and thought leader, has had a goal of learning something completely new, in depth, every decade (he's currently in his 90s and just released yet another book). On a lesser scale, learn something about how to order a wine, how to look at art, or how to differentiate between classical music periods.
    • Create personal time. You can't help others unless you help yourself. (That's why the airline tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first.) Submitting to demands from others at the exclusion of your own needs isn't noble, it's martyrdom. The humorist George Ade once commented, "Don't pity the martyrs, they love the work." Learn to love yourself, as well.

  2. The Human Condition: Eggshells

    Have you ever been in a meeting or conversation where it mysteriously becomes excruciatingly important to spare someone else's feelings? We probably commit greater acts of pain and unkindness in protecting people from objective truths than we do by actually confronting them with bad news.

    Walking on eggshells to protect others' sensitivities is rough on the ankles and tends to make you appear to be quite awkward. I remember one college professor, confronted with total silence by a student who could not respond to the query about Keats' poetic scansion, who finally said, "Can anyone add anything to Mr. James' reply?" There was a trainer at one of my clients who, faced with one of four teams which simply blew the assignment, actually remarked, "You folks did a great job finding the breakout room and returning on time. That's not easy in this place." It must have been easier than being honest, at any rate.

    When people are gawked at for their choice of clothes, or sing a tune that makes distant dogs howl, or create discomfort by calling someone by the wrong name, we all squirm longer than we should because we generally refrain from putting an early stop to the torture. I watched a nationally known speaker continually refer to a guest of honor by the wrong name in front of over a thousand people, while no one in proximity to the stage had the courage to gently say, "Psst, that's not his name!"

    I think what's actually occurring here is that we don't have enough respect for the other person. That is, we tend to assume that he or she will be damaged by our correction, or resentful of our interruption, or furious at our temerity. I doubt it. I never assume that the other party is damaged. (One of the problems with "motivational" speakers is that many of them begin with the premise that the rest of us need "fixing" and suffer from what they have suffered from.) My assumption is that the other person, like me, would want to know that their foot is in their mouth up the femur.

    I began a conference session once with a distinct feeling of unease existing in my audience. After a few minutes, a man raised his hand to politely inform me that yesterday's speaker had covered the exact same information! "Thanks for preventing me from wasting your time," I said, and then asked what they now needed in view of what they had already learned. The following, extemporaneous session was a blast for all of us.

    We ought to overcome our own discomfort and give other people more of the benefit of the doubt. I'm not talking about gratuitous or subjective unsolicited feedback, which I deplore ("Would you like to know how you could have done that even better?" "No."). I'm referring to the person citing the wrong information, with lettuce in the teeth, and who just contradicted the prior speaker.

    Let's give each other a break and get off the eggshells, so we don't allow others to have egg on their face.

  3. Musings

    I took the train to New York in mid-October, met my son (the actor) at Penn Station, and took a limo to Giants Stadium in Rutherford, NJ where my son had magically procured tickets to watch the Giants hopefully defeat the hapless Falcons, whose starting quarterback was injured.

    Spending a potentially rainy day at a football game is not normally attractive, since I can flip between two games in the family room with my feet up and a fire roaring, and where the floors aren't sticky and the rest rooms are highly personal. But it was a bonding experience that couldn't be denied, though I was somewhat unsettled by my wife's eager good-bye that morning. In fact, she seemed downright gleeful as she tried to seriously say, "I'm sorry he could only get two tickets." She and the dogs then rushed back inside, obviously eager to enjoy some secret activities they had planned.

    Attending a professional football game in an urban center is akin to skiing at a really top-flight resort. You begin to ask yourself as you're finally ascending to the top of the hill (after buying tickets, getting into the gear, checking the maps for proper trails, putting on sun screen, getting on the lift line, and rechecking all your equipment): Was this trip really worth it? I remember once tobogganing with my kids and enjoying a hellaciously wild 45-second descent, followed by a half hour slog back up the hill in waste-deep snow. My wife took one look at me (once again she regretted the lack of an extra "ticket"�the limited space on the toboggan) and assumed I was having a heart attack. The kids wanted to know why tobogganing consisted of only a single run. I wanted to know why anyone would ever do it twice.

    By the time I'm at the top of the hill ready to ski, I'm already exhausted. Someday I'll spend the night on the mountain top, so that I'm fresh just one time for that first run down the slopes. (That is, if they built a Ritz-Carlton up there.)

    So, too, with football. The limo worked through a labyrinthine path designed by the New Jersey highway department in conjunction, no doubt, with Wrong Way Corrigan. Once deposited in the lot, we walked a half-mile past six-course meals being prepared by tailgaters on grills more expensive than my first house. Finally at the proper gate, we queued for the security check, which consisted of some brawny guards frisking every single person, one by one, in front of a facility which accommodates over 50,000. (I noted that women received a most cursory and chaste pat from the male staff.) Finally, we ascended into the heavens on escalators and then steps, steep enough to qualify for a climbing wall in most gyms, to our seats, exactly one row from the very top of Giants Stadium. I don't know how high we were, but I could see the pilots talking in the planes landing at Newark Airport.

    There were further lines for the restrooms, food concessions, and souvenir stands. Yet the capacity crowd (the Giants are sold out� every seat a season ticket�forever, some people actually on a waiting list that exceeds 20 years) took all of this in the best of spirits. In essence, it's not whether the Giants win or lose, nor is it even how they play the game. It's all about getting there, having a beer, criticizing the coaches, thanking the fates that it hasn't rained, and then reversing all of the procedures in order to get out and home again.

    The loudest cheer of the entire afternoon was for the Star Spangled Banner, sung by a female sailor in the manner Francis Scott Key intended. We ate bad hot dogs and good peanuts, and drank beer up in the heavens. The Falcons' back-up quarterback played like an all-star, the Giants lost as they deserved to, and we returned to Penn Station four hours after we met.

    But who cares? The Giants play again next week, my son and I bonded, and I didn't have to schlep the toboggan back up the hill. That's why God created limo drivers.

  4. Readers' weird days

    Last month in Musings I invited readers to submit funny interactions with the public. Here is a representative sample for your amusement.

    My favorite which actually happened was on a business trip to Ireland a couple of years ago. Bad weather closed the airport and so I had to stay overnight. As I had a meeting the next day I asked the very helpful desk clerk at my hotel to personally make sure I got my 6:30 am wake-up call to get to the airport on time. The next morning the phone rang and the clerk's voice said "Good morning sir, it is only 6 am but I've just spoken to the airport and the planes are still delayed so I wondered if you'd like your wake up call a bit later?"

    - Noel Guilford
    Guilford Consulting

    While working on a cruise line just after college I received the following two questions while I was giving tours of the ship.

    1. Do these stairs go up or down? My reply of course was "yes" (in defense of the questioner, the stairs on the Forward section did go all the way through on the upper decks and the stairs in the Aft section went all the way through on the lower decks).

    2. Does this ship generate its own electricity? My answer was "no we have a really long extension cord that goes to the mainland." (I just couldn't help it).

    - Christy Schmidt

    I was at the Franklin Covey store purchasing my 2003 calendar inserts, when I overheard a sales person tell an evidently confused customer, "Oh, don't worry, if you don't know how to use your Franklin Planner, we have a day-long class to teach you how to use it." Further, when I opened my package at home, I noticed that there is a "quick start guide" booklet included in the planner. It's 21 pages long.

    I was driving to Lansing, Michigan the night before a speaking engagement there. As I approached the city, I noticed several billboards advertising local restaurants, hotels, etc. One was particularly interesting because I could vaguely make out the wording of some type of spa. I was instantly intrigued and thought I could get a last-minute appointment for a massage before I went to bed that night. However, my hopes were dashed when I read the fine print at the bottom of the billboard: "Truckers Welcome."

    Lastly, I noticed a sign at a newly opened watering hole in my community. The sign read: "Thanks for a great six months, here's to six more!" I guess they are not that optimistic about their survival.

    - Amy Showalter

    I was in Mexico City two weeks ago to deliver a three-day seminar on The Best Customer Service. My Spanish is pretty good, but to do a three-day program, we decided it was best to use interpreters. The night before the start of the program, I was dining in a restaurant. To my astonishment, I saw a gentleman who looked exactly like my brother--not partly like my brother--exactly. So, in my best Spanish, I told him, "You look exactly like my brother!" He looked at me totally surprised. So I repeated that his face was the exact duplicate of my brother's. Then he asked me in Spanish, "How old is your brother?" I replied, "Fifty-three." He was in absolute amazement. I couldn't figure out the big deal, since we often see people when we travel that look like someone else we know. What was his problem?

    That night as I was contemplating the conversation, I realized why he was surprised. The Spanish word for brother is "hermano." However, the word I used in our conversation was "hijo," which means "my son."

    That story was the intro to my program the next day, and I had to wait a full minute to let the laughter die down.

    - Paul Pease

    My dad's house was sold and there was a small issue with the financing. The buyer's mortgage broker left me her home number which I tried about 10 times last evening. Every time the line was busy.

    She calls this morning and says, "I can't understand why you couldn't reach me. I was home all night on the phone."

    - John Martinka

    I recently completed an employee opinion survey for a large client. I thought you might enjoy some of the more humorous responses from the employees:

    "My supervisor always bends over to help customers and employees." (I'm not even going there...)

    "Our tellers fell out of the loop." (Gee, do you think that hurt the teller?)

    "Stay on top of the teller until the job is learned." (Hmmm, wonder what job that is...)

    In the context of teamwork, one employee wrote, "An onion and an orange don't make a fruit cake." Another one wrote, "To improve teamwork, every employee should have to read, 'Whale Done,' by Ken Blanchard."

    Feel free to share these if you wish in a future newsletter. Obviously, I don't want to share the client's name, but I think these quotes support your recommendation that we laugh. We take ourselves too seriously sometimes, and I needed these quotes to help me belt out a good laugh!

    - Gayla R. Sherry, SPHR
    President, Gayla R. Sherry Associates, Inc.

    Here's mine: I stopped into a Dunkin' Donuts' on my way to a meeting and ordered 3 dozen donuts (there was nobody in the place but me and the guy behind the counter). Despite that he asked, "For here or to go?" I said, "Just put them on a tray, I'll eat them here."

    Keep up the great writing, it's much appreciated!

    - Michael J. Katz
    Founder and Chief Penguin
    Blue Penguin Development, Inc.