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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: October 2007

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: The Greater Good
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    • Two teams both practice assiduously and have similar talent. Yet one wins by a large margin. The usual reason? They were more opportunistic, better able to adjust to events beyond their game plan. You can't choreograph life. Be willing to change direction if it speeds you to your destination.
    • It is difficult to break old paradigms. We call them "airports" because that's where ships docked. (Pilots still say that the "field" is in sight!) We call bike seats "saddles" (and refuse to make them more comfortable, apparently). Is "computer" really a modern term? Subliminally, we're often too rooted in the past.
    • If you're having trouble writing, think of what you'd like the reader to read, not what you would like to write. You might want to say, "I love to walk, and exercise is good for you, so walking is better than a trip to the gym, and can be done anytime." The reader wants to read, "You can exercise within your normal daily activity and never visit a gym."
    • Want to get someone's attention? Ironically, go low-tech. Send a hard copy letter by certified mail or Fedex. It won't be subsumed within hundreds of emails and will stand out by its rarity.
    • I can't think of anything more important to back up than those hundred or thousands of electronic photos which used to be in hard copy and albums. It's tough to lose your memories.
    • The cost of education and the ensuing indebtedness often actually determine the careers people choose, which is a shame. Invest in probable educational costs as early as possible, so your children and loved ones don't have to make career decisions based on the bank's lending policies.
    • Maintain perspective. Even if gasoline goes to $4.00 a gallon, it will be half as much as in many European countries. That might not ease your budget, but neither are the fates conspiring against you.
    • I may be missing the point, but business is competitive; there are halls of fame for all kinds of accomplishments; most people believe that merit should determine reward in business. So why do some schools insist on not naming a valedictorian, or belonging to national honor societies, or demanding that everyone receive equal playing time despite ability and contribution? Is that preparation for life, or somewhat hypocritical?
    • If you dread a large credit card bill coming due, write out checks for your major charges when they occur, and save the checks. That way, you've accrued the money and aren't hit with a single, huge bill.
    • If you want to test an idea, a meal choice, a book concept, or anything else, test them with the people who will use it, eat it, or read it. Your intended audience is the best sample.

  2. The Human Condition: The Greater Good

    There was a minor news piece on television yesterday about Mexican schoolchildren who were releasing tens of thousands of endangered baby sea turtles into the sea. The nests had been protected against predators and this was an attempt to re-energize the population.

    The tape ran for 20 seconds late in the show on what must have been a slow news day. I was fascinated, though, by the hundreds of kids, parents, scientists, and wildlife officials who had obviously spent countless hours on this plan, with no guarantee of success or even knowledge of success. Yet these legions of tiny turtles, marching inexorably to the sea as disciplined as any army, were an inspiring sight.

    We are all quick to find flaws, particularly in others, but it seems to me that the reason we are able to live together at all is a deep-seated belief in the greater good. The revolutionaries who wrote the American Constitution called it "the common weal." "Weal" has its cognate in "commonwealth" which is a term meaning to share the wealth and good fortune of the community. Several states, such as Massachusetts, are legally "commonwealths" to this day.

    We would not be able to use the roadways if most people didn't obey most traffic laws most of the time. The potential police presence is insufficient for compliance, as you can tell by the average speed on most major highways being at least 15 miles per hour over the posted limits, and often higher. However, people don't run red lights, don't charge through stop signs, do allow pedestrians to cross, and do permit others to pull into traffic and change lanes. You could make a case that such communal behaviors are merely for one's self-protection, but it's clearly more than that.

    It's the effort we make to live together.

    Almost every day you can read about someone performing an "heroic" act, and not just those public employees paid to do so. It's one thing for firefighters to rescue a dog on the ice, but quite another for volunteers to spend days searching for a lost child. There are millions of people holding the elevator door while you scramble to board, who offer to change seats so that partners can sit together on airplanes, who volunteer at fund-raisers, who offer to bring you a drink when they're making the trip, and who tell you that you have lettuce in your teeth BEFORE the meeting begins.

    Sounds like things we take for granted, and perhaps we should, but on occasion we ought to reflect that it is a hundred million of these little things getting all of us through a healthy, productive, optimistic day. We are outraged at the exceptions to cooperative behavior because they ARE exceptions. When rudeness and apathy become the norm, then we are in trouble as a society.

    Some of those turtles will make it, perhaps more than usual. Like all of us, they just need a little help from friends now and again. How are you going to make your contribution to the common weal today?

  3. Musings

    Seasons change. Well, not if you live in San Diego or similar places, where the meteorologist on the evening news is as necessary as the warning sticker that says "light on bicycle must be turned on at night or it will not work" (I'm not kidding about that). The weather in San Diego can be pretty well described as, "Remember today? Well, that will be tomorrow. Back to you, Ashley."

    The changes of the seasons force changes in our lives. We dig out different clothes. We take precautions around the house. Our routines change by degrees according to the degrees. Available daylight changes. The environment is lush or stark. School starts or stops. Vacations occur or do not. Our hobbies and interests migrate outdoors or hibernate indoors.

    I think these are important periods of growth for us. We change, we adjust, we adapt, and those are energizing qualities in life. It is a roaring myth that people resist change. We change all the time, from altering our route due to accident or construction, to modifying our behavior due to social requirements and family. We are creatures of change and opportunism. (When a city-wide power failure closed the local Dunkin' Donuts franchise, it took only 20 minutes before a canteen truck normally on duty in front of an office building pulled to the curb to take care of the disappointed customers.)

    We build comfortable nests for ourselves if there is no change, but nests are meant only for fledglings. We all need to be forced into the world, and to create constructive change in our lives.

    How much of your week is pre-defined, regimented, and unchanging? Do you find yourself in a position at times where you can't remember what you did the prior afternoon because you wandered aimlessly through it?

    On the few occasions when I had to ride a bus into New York from the Jersey suburbs, I became alarmed at the "regulars" at that bus stop. They recognized which bus was approaching and what its characteristics were (lousy springs, dirty windows, screeching brakes); they knew not only the driver, but whether he had gotten a haircut; they took their "regular" seats; there was a protocol about coffee and donuts, and even how you disembarked at the Port Authority Terminal in New York.

    They were the Stepford Commuters, and I kept checking my free will for hours after leaving them.

    We should create change when we can, especially when it provides opportunity for us. In the meantime, we should relish the changes that occur around us and revel in them. Building a great fire is different from going to the beach; having friends over for dinner is different from boating; shoveling snow is different from raking leaves which is different from watering the garden. All have their benefits and beauty.

    Seasons change, inexorably. So should we, voluntarily.


    A couple of years ago I needed a new sporty watch, since I was wearing my flawless, totally reliable Bulgari chronometer all the time, which didn't make sense for more casual use. But I couldn't find one that I liked. Then it was announced that Breitling, which makes the clocks in my Bentleys, was introducing a Bentley GT sports watch!

    That seemed like the perfect solution, except I couldn't find the watch anywhere. One day, while staying in the Peninsula Hotel in New York, I was wandering around waiting for my wife and stumbled into Wempe Jewelers, located in the hotel's building. And there was the watch!

    My wife loved it as well, and I bought it on the spot since, wonder of wonders, I also had a $100 gift certificate courtesy of the hotel since we were such frequent guests. I wore it for a few days in New York and we returned to Rhode Island.

    After a couple of days of business meetings, wearing my dress watch, I switched to the Breitling and noted that it had stopped working. I was furious, given the marque and the price. As soon as Wempe opened the next morning, I was on the phone to the manager. After telling him just what I thought about reliability, trust, and service, as I took a breath he quietly asked me, "Have you wound it, sir?"

    Well, no, I hadn't. I hadn't owned a watch you actually had to wind in decades. "The clock in the Bentley doesn't require winding," I said, limply. "No," he agreed, "and if you connect your watch to the Bentley's battery, the watch won't need winding either."