The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: October 2002
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for balance
In a hectic world, some sane preventive and contingent actions can mitigate stress and help retain control of your fate.
- Whenever you travel, have a backup plan to get to your next destination, especially if you’re going home.
- Pack extra batteries.
- Keep a hard copy of critical phone numbers in your briefcase.
- If you wear glasses or contacts, keep an extra pair in your car.
- Keep a complete second set of keys—car, house, post office box, safety deposit, storage shed, etc.—labeled and in one safe place.
- Don’t have solely high tech phones in the house. The won’t work in a power outage. Keep at least one phone without bells and whistles which obtains its power from the phone line itself. (Cell phones will eventually run down during a long outage.)
- Never argue with low level people who don’t really have the power to remediate your situation. Calmly ask for the president’s office, and then explain your problem rationally and indicate exactly what you want done to fix or improve things. My batting average at that level is at least 98%.
- When you deal with your family, loved ones, close friends, and other valued people, don’t begin a new conversation with the "baggage" from the last one. Otherwise, one incident or perceived sleight will adversely influence days or weeks or communications. (Goodman Ace, the legendary game show producer, had a classic observation: "If you can’t recall it, forget it." In many cases, we can’t even recall why we’re angry or upset.)
- In most localities, you can sign up with the local phone company for a feature which will keep dialing a busy line for you, and then alert you when the party is finally reached.
- Compliment the next service person you encounter on anything at all—telephone voice, promptness, grooming, smile, patience, knowledge— and see what kind of service follows.
No matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs, there is an inescapable reality: We are apparently inhabiting a huge rock hurtling at 35,000 miles-per-hour around an exploding star. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot to deal with if you focus on it for too long! I mean, it’s intimidating enough flying in a steel tube at 500 miles-per- hour with some stranger you’ve never met at the controls, particularly when the principles of aerodynamics don’t overcome your basic instincts that 100 tons of metal and fuel don’t belong 30,000 feet above the ground.
It’s always struck me that we’re not here to stick our toes in the water, but rather to make waves. And the most successful and balanced people I’ve observed tend to "live large."
Living large means taking prudent risks, not fearing failure, and constantly raising the bar. This doesn’t have to be flashy or eccentric. I think Gandhi and Mother Teresa lived large. So has Bill Gates, and the guy who invented the Seguay. But most celebrities actually don’t live large, they merely live loud, trying to draw attention to themselves to constantly reinforce and assure their own fragile egos. I remember living loud. I couldn’t hear the feedback above my own din.
I think living large is about improving the lot of our colleagues and our common humanity. Jimmy Carter is living larger as an ex- President than he did while being President. Most of my outstanding teachers, from grade school through graduates studies (and, ironically, there were far more in the lower grades than in the advanced courses), lived large in their ability to mold minds and form character. Virtually all of us can point to mentors and influencers who lived large through their impact on our lives.
This isn’t a function of income. It has nothing to do with copyrights or patents. There is a small but not vital connection to recognition. I’d like to think that a lot of nurses—underpaid and often underappreciated—are living large every day, providing care, treatment, and empathy. We’ve learned, painfully, just how much firefighters and police officers live large, merely through their inherent willingness to put their lives on the line for us every day, never knowing if and when that moment may actually arrive. I suspect that Little League coaches, Girl Scout leaders, and museum docents can all live large on modest stipends and little thanks.
What are you doing to positively influence and impact family, friends, colleagues, associates, and even strangers? We really have no more right to consume happiness without creating it than we do to consume wealth without creating it. What contribution are you making, even on an intimate and singular basis, to the world around you as it proceeds breathlessly on its ineluctable course?
When I left my coffee shop the other day, one of my friends walked out to my car and said, "I see that you’re on the town planning commission now, and that you’re on the board of the local theater. That’s great stuff. Man, you’re living large!"
Yeah, well, it’s not so difficult. After all, what’s the alternative?
The finest method I know to alleviate stress—whether while traveling, anticipating a tough event, dealing with setbacks, or whatever—is to laugh. I tend to listen to Don Imus on the radio in the morning on the way to an initial client meeting or when facing a tough drive. After a rough day, I’m not ashamed to admit I love television sitcoms, with Seinfeld and Frasier being two favorites.
But there’s also the humor we can find in the everyday, mundane aspects of our lives that, for me at least, can positively influence my entire day (and provide terrific memories) if we are able to recognize, collect, and rejoice in them.
In that vein, I’d like to use Musings this month to share some of my favorites (and I’ll be happy to share some of yours in the future as space permits if you’d like to submit one). So, have a laugh and a good day on me:
- After a recent telephone workshop I conducted, one of the participants sent me an email requesting a copy of the PowerPoint slides I used during the session.
- At my usual morning coffee shop, a new girl meticulously labeled my hot coffee and my wife’s iced coffee so that I wouldn’t get them confused on the way home.
- After a bone-jarring landing at Newark Airport, the captain announced on the way to the terminal that co-pilot John Anderson had just managed a superb landing on Newark’s notoriously hilly and treacherous runway.
- Whenever I call the phone company to report my phone is not working at all, the customer service representative—without fail— will ask me, "Are you calling from that phone now?"
- If I arrive at a hotel at midnight with luggage in both hands, the desk clerk will always inquire, "Are you checking in?" (No, I’m walking my luggage.)
- I showed up at the health club of the O’Hare Hilton dressed in sneakers, shorts, and a T-shirt, and asked for a towel. The desk attendant asked, "Are you going to workout?" (I told her, no, I was collecting towels.)
- A hotel desk clerk in rural Ohio assured me that there was no Route (root) 10 in the area. "But my client is on Route 10!" I said. Sorry, no such thing she assured me. So I showed her the map that the client had sent. "Oh, you mean Route (rout) 10," she said, "why didn’t you say so?"
- A junior editor at one of my publishers was in charge of ensuring permission was obtained to use others’ materials. I’m meticulous about this, but she told me that she was holding up publication unless I provided a written authorization from one of my quoted authors—Oscar Wilde.
- On an elevator, on my way to make a speech, a stranger told me he was on his way to hear Alan Weiss speak. I said, "Well, you can hear me right now." He said, "Nice try, but I’m a personal friend of Alan Weiss, and you’re not Alan Weiss."
- Standing in the rain outside of Victoria Station in London and unable to get a cab, I was apoplectic. A business man ventured by and asked what was wrong. I ranted at him about my poor directions, lack of cab, lousy weather, and confusing signage. He immediately apologized for everything, including the weather, told me I was quite correct, tipped his hat, and walked away.
- At a resort in St. Thomas, I was anxious to get checked in and to the beach, and asked the porter as diplomatically as I could if we could move at greater speed. He said, "We have two speeds here, slow and stop. Which do you prefer?"
- I recommend to everyone in my Mentor Program reading The Wall Street Journal every day. One of them sheepishly admitted that he had to stop because it was taking four hours a day, and reading all the cattle futures and oil options were hard on his eyes and didn’t seem worth it. (I have since amended my advice to "look through it" every day.)
- The first time I ever parasailed, I noted that a huge fish would track my path—it must have been 10 feet long. I finally deduced that a shark was watching me when, to my horror, the guys in the boat deliberately slowed to lower me to surface level, which was part of their routine. When they saw me screaming "Pull up, pull up!!" they changed course and yanked me back into the boat. I told them breathlessly about the shark and they just looked at their shoes. Finally, they explained that I had been watching not a shark, but my own shadow, and then they fell down laughing on the deck.
When you write newsletters, conduct workshops, sell products, and so on you must deal with the public. The rewarding thing for me has been that 99.99% of everyone I’ve encountered has been a pleasure, and many have contributed mightily to my learning.
Rarely, however, I do encounter the oddball, ranging from the annoying ("I can improve your speech pattern with my special methods") to the truly disturbed. One former subscriber to this newsletter critiqued my style and demanded I make changes in the way I write. I pointed out the obvious—the newsletter is free, it’s based on my style, and he can simply unsubscribe. He then became so abusive about my refusal to heed his advice that even after I put a filter on his email, he sent bizarre letters to my business address (without a return address, since most "bullies" are really cowards). I finally had to sic my lawyers on him and he’s run off into the night. (The writing can always stand improvement, but you have to be who you are.)
That, too, however, is a learning experience, and I’m smarter as a result of it. For an introvert, dealing with the public has been a pretty good deal for me. And it’s been aided by the fact that when I was younger I thought I knew everything and, as I’ve grown older, I realize I know very little, thereby removing a terrible burden...