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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: November 2004

Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Labelers
  3. Musings

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Buy large amounts of mundane supplies (batteries, contact lens solution, etc.) at the huge discounters, and you'll save both time and money.
    • Ask yourself if you really need to read email from a PDA while moving around.
    • Anyone offering investment advice for a fee had better have millions in the bank to attest to their success. But then, why would they continue to work and charge you for their advice?
    • If the restaurant food is good, make your compliments known to the staff, get the manager's card, and never fail to get a reservation there again.
    • Even modest weight loss can significantly decrease health risks, including diabetes and heart problems. That can be as little as ten pounds.
    • Heavier weights, slowly lifted, with fewer repetitions are considered the best exercise by many experts.
    • Our UPS guy always has dog biscuits in his pocket, ready for any dog encounter. What biscuits are you carrying apropos your typical encounters?
    • Send a contribution to a charity at the holidays in the name of your clients, and let your clients know you did so. This avoids any ethical conflicts with providing gifts for your clients.
    • Men, learn what most women already know: A pedicure and foot massage are hugely relaxing.
    • If you have a time-intensive hobby or commitment, such as golf or a civic association, what will you do with the 4-6 hours a week you now invest once the winter is here or you voluntarily decide to forego it for a month?

  2. The Human Condition: Labelers

    I received an inquiry the other day from someone interested in my Mentor Program. I returned the call within an hour, as is my habit, and asked how I could be of help. He asked if he could have a brief description of how I worked with people, so I provided about 60 seconds of background quickly and asked if I had answered his question and if there were more he needed to know.

    Incongruously, he said, "Wow, you are some high visualizer, aren't you?"

    "I don't know what that means," I replied truthfully.

    "My expertise is in interpersonal communications. You speak very rapidly, expect others to keep up or have questions, and you're quite efficient because you visualize exactly what you're saying," he explained. "Haven't others told you that?"

    "No," I said, "and let me guess: You establish labels for everyone you meet based on just a few early cues, right? I don't believe in labeling, you don't know me at all, and you're never going to market successfully in professional services if you're intent on dropping people into categories rather than trying to truly understand them."

    That was that. I don't know which he disapproved of more, a "high visualizer" or my feedback, and I certainly wasn't going to mentor someone with that mindset and stunning lack of tact.

    I've given considerable thought to those who insist on the simplistic categorization of others on skimpy evidence and invalid techniques, be it "high D," "INTJ," "expressive driver," or "cubic regressive aggrandizer." I'm convinced it has something to do with limited tolerance for ambiguity and complexity.

    There are so many variables influencing human behavior-heredity, nurturing, socialization, trauma, environment, others' behavior, familiarity, etc.-that trying to predict it makes the craps tables look like a safe bet (and I was once the CEO of a behavioral consulting firm specializing in psychometric testing). That's not to say that people don't have proclivities and predispositions, but it is to say that very few people behave the same at home and at work, for example, and many are mercurial even within fairly static environments. (A terrific new book, "The Cult of Personality," exposes most personality tests, including favorites such as Myers-Briggs, as largely invalid.)

    The need to label frees one of the need to understand. Categorization pre-empts empathy. If I'm a "high visualizer" in your book, then you can "look up" how I'm going to act, react, and decide. You don't have to try hard to influence me if you believe I'm not amenable to influence, and you don't have to take me seriously if you believe I'll follow blindly. Moreover, you don't have to work to try to determine the legitimacy of my ideas, suggestions, and beliefs. You don't have to suffer through the ambiguity of new relationships, or the complexity of sophisticated ones.

    Of course, you miss a lot in life, just as you do if you believe that all national parks are the same, all steak restaurants are alike, and all books are identical.

    The irony is not lost on many of you who have discerned that I've labeled "labelers." That's okay, because they always throw the first stone, or hurl the first epithet.

  3. Musings

    We all arrive at some point during the typical week in the cul-de-sac known as "Why me?" This may be because the road has taken us through bumps and setbacks; or we've become lost; or because the trip is taking too long.

    For me, it can be something as simple as bumping my elbow on the corner of the desk or finding that my white dog has emerged from the creek half-black. I felt this way when my daughter drove my truck into my Mercedes in my own driveway, and when my train simply stopped in the middle of Connecticut and it took two hours to rescue us, as though we were mired in the rain forests of Tanganyika instead of 50 yards from Interstate 95 in the wealthiest state in the country.

    "Why me?" is quite useful, however. Uttering the phrase (aloud is best, even if under your breath) is an immediate stress reliever and provides a consistent response to fundamental unhappy circumstances. In addition, it invokes the reciprocal: "Why not me?" to which there is equally no satisfactory answer. "Why me?" and "Why not me?" cancel out perfectly. In Vegas, this is known as a "push." No one wins. So, what do you do?

    You play another hand.

    "Why me?" gets it out of your system and allows you to begin to take some action, to rectify, to ameliorate, to redeem, and to persevere. You call the insurance adjustor, read a good book, arrange for an alternate flight, clean up the dog, and do what's necessary to return to normal life.

    But "Why me?" should only be a transitory state, lasting perhaps four seconds. For too many people, "Why me?" has become a mantra, a life philosophy, a self-fulfilling prophecy. We've all met these people. They sigh heavily, with the weight of Atlas hoisting the globe, when they encounter even minor setbacks: rewrite an article, drive back to the store for a forgotten item, pay the monthly bills. They see life as a long, slow crawl through enemy territory. They believe they are cursed.

    In brief, they believe what's happening to the rest of us shouldn't be happening to them. The difference is that the rest of us recover from the setbacks, pain, and inconvenience, while those with permanent "Why me?" sink deeper into self-imposed gloom and apathy. Each setback reconfirms and validates their belief that they are bearing the weight of the misfortune, and that each bump, bruise, and breakdown is a singularly dire visit from the fates.

    There are days when we all want to scream "WHY ME?!" from the rooftops, and justifiably so. But then we climb back down to the street to clean up the mess and get on with our lives. That's simple, because the most important "Why me" is sotto voce and intrinsic: the rejoicing in our loved ones, our interests, our work, our experiences, our legacy.

    "Why me?" I'm not sure, but I'm real happy about it. "Why not me?" The former, when cynical, creates doubt and feeling of helplessness. The latter, when optimistic, creates confidence and success. Which are you habitually asking yourself?