Tag Archives: time

Mother’s Day Reflections

10 May

IMG_0473I am republishing this post, originally entitled “Home Alone,” from December 2008. It seems fitting to reflect back on this today, Mother’s Day…Read on:

For the first time in years, I recently had the experience of spending six days at home, without my family. I’ve been on long business trips before, but it’s different being at home alone. The best perk: I had our sole bathroom all to myself. And that was only the beginning.

The quiet was amazing. Quiet enough to quickly finish crossword puzzles. Quiet enough to startle both dogs when I burst out laughing while watching Old School. Quiet enough to start a new knitting project, if I had been so inclined. Or not. So quiet that it was downright boring at times. The dogs looked at me, I looked at them. We collectively heaved a big sigh.

I did enjoy the time. I’m thankful that I had the chance to hang out with important people in my life. My Mom, who took me to dinner and a movie, and bought me a terrifically chic and extremely practical machine-washable black dress. Go, Mom! My friend Jason, with whom I commiserated about being perhaps overly trusting of people and perpetually unaware of people’s maneuverings at work. But not having regrets about looking for the best in people. (I’ve found that huevos rancheros at Starliner Diner bring out a good amount of candid discussion.) And my friend Diane, who’s there for me no matter what. Especially when we are having a delicious dinner at the North Star Cafe. Or eating Trader Joe’s real French dark chocolate truffles.

Six days sans family helped me to renew some friendships and eat out more than I have during the past year. And it helped me to remember why I am so happy to be distracted by my family. Like any parent, I can admit to having had daydreams about what life would be like without them. I would be free to do (fill in the blank). I would have more money to buy (fill in the blank). I would more effectively fulfill my creative potential and become known worldwide as a superstar in (fill in the blank). But through their absence, I was reminded of their incalculable worth. Practically speaking, they put a schedule and discipline into my life that I don’t have without them. My own internal controls are not as clearly defined without them. I actually accomplished LESS while they were gone.

And they open my heart in ways that it would not normally exist. I can all too happily get lost in work. As my husband said before he left, “Oh great, now you can work 14 hours a day. How happy you will be!” Ouch. But true. My natural inclination is to exist in my brain for long stretches of time. It’s an escapist’s indulgence.

But my husband and kids have a key to my heart, that keeps me in the present moment with them. Even if I lose my patience with them, they win me over every time. I love the smell of my son’s spiky hair when I hug him, the kindness of my daughter who is fair even when under pressure from her little brother’s heckling, and my husband’s thoughtfulness to buy me lunch as a surprise during the work day–when as he knows I often forget to eat lunch.

So, home alone is nice for a few days. But it pales in comparison to the beautiful chaos of my normal family life. I am much happier to be in my small home when it’s filled with the three people who mean the most to me, even if home not alone means not having the bathroom to myself.

Working with Difficult People: Part 1

3 Feb

It’s a well-known fact: Life is a struggle. According to Buddhists, this is the only thing we can be sure of.

And like it or not, most of the struggles we face, provided our basic needs for food and shelter are being met, come as a direct result of our own actions, interaction with other human beings or a combination of the two.

Work is a place of productive conflict, where we toil in the field, whether we’re actual farmers or pod-dwellers. Anyone expecting to avoid conflict at work should just go back to bed, because a workplace without conflict is bereft of new ideas and forward motion. It’s as simple as that. But there are ways to get through the conflict and produce great deliverables in the end, while preserving everyone’s integrity in the process. Not everyone cares to live by this approach, much to our dismay. These are the curmudgeons, the “difficult people” whom we will no doubt encounter in our professional careers. We will work beside, and God help us, for them. We will have them working for us. They are out there…lurking. Making our lives more challenging. And helping us to learn more about what’s difficult in ourselves.

I’ve been asked by the Columbus Young Professionals to give a talk on dealing with difficult people in March. To help get me in the right frame of mind to share some (hopefully helpful) insights, I am going to blog on a few possible topics.

Today’s focus: Friday Afternoon Surprise

The Surprise is not to be confused with any variation of “Afternoon Delight.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This is a situation created either by someone else in your workplace (but never you) OR by a client. Your goal is to promote a peaceful and collaborative workspace, free of conflict and strife. But others are bent against your lofty aims. We’ve all felt the Friday Afternoon Surprise. It’s that brick-dropping, pit-of-the-stomach gut wrench that is caused by either difficult people, difficult situations or both.

Warning signs are as follows:

  • Any e-mail with the subject, “Heads Up!” High priority e-mails are also suspect.
  • Any phone call made after 5:30 pm on a Friday.

Nine times out of ten, it’s a tempest in a teapot. Someone’s stirring up trouble, and they suck you into it. Or someone gets anxious about a situation that’s no big deal. No matter the cause, the end result is one or more of these frustrating circumstances:

  • Hand-wringing and nonsensical phone conversations and e-mail messages (which are bound to contradict one another) well into Friday night’s happy hour or family movie night.
  • Extra work beyond what you’d already planned for the weekend. You’ve dared to stake out a quiet Saturday morning to write that proposal that requires intense concentration, but the Friday Afternoon Surprise will have none of it. You will spend all day Saturday and Sunday mopping up that Surprise. Alas, the proposal will have to wait until next weekend.
  • Your entire weekend becomes an extended prelude to Monday morning.

How to evade the dread Surprise?

  1. Make a habit of taking off time on Friday afternoons. Working on-site with a client or from home are both viable options, because the Surprise’s heat-seeking missile capabilities prey on those who are physically present in the office on Friday after lunch. Being virtually present gives you cover.
  2. If you don’t have the luxury of #1–and let’s face it, few do–there are evasive maneuvers to avoid the Surprise. By employing judo techniques, you can step aside and let the Surprise follow its natural momentum, past you and into someone else. Overlook that e-mail message. Pretend like you never received that desperate voice mail message. But there are karmic consequences to be paid for these maneuvers, and you must be prepared to accept them when they come back to you.
  3. Set limits. While there are legitimate surprises that happen on Friday afternoons, most crises do not require an overhaul of your entire weekend. Seek help from your colleagues—don’t feel like you have to deal with the Surprise by yourself. You may also successfully talk the Messenger of the Surprise off the ledge. If you can put the Surprise into perspective for them, it may take on less importance in the scheme of things. By not avoiding the conversation and instead talking through a difficult situation with a clear head while laying all the facts on the table, you could do the Messenger a favor and help them think differently.

The Friday Afternoon Surprise is a good example of a difficult situation turning good people into difficult people. Then again, there are people who do seek out crisis and try to spread the crisis around, just to bring attention to themselves or prove a point. My husband, who works in mental health, calls these folks “histrionic.” It’s important to identify this type of behavior and nip it in the bud. Clarify what you can and cannot solve, and get on with your weekend.

Dedicated to Diamond.

Next topic in this series: That Guy Who Will Never Like You, No Matter How Wonderful You Are

The Human Touch

3 Jan

There’s a curious sense of immediate gratification that comes from social media like blogging, Twitter LinkedIn and Facebook. A sense of having truly done something. Something that many people will see, which gives that something even more validation. It’s addictive. But can that sense of accomplishment be trusted?

Upon having posted something, people who’ve been vetted by me, have vetted me, or both, respond to that something. I wait for their reaction, intentionally or not, and get a sense of recognition and approval for having been noticed. But how genuine is this social media-driven relationship? Just because you comment on my blog, or you have friended me in Facebook, is there true quality in our engagement as human beings?

It’s intriguing how technology is changing interpersonal etiquette. Ten years ago, it was rude to talk on the phone at the grocery. Now, it’s generally accepted to simultaneously be having dinner with friends and monitoring various conversations on Twitter and Facebook via iPhone. At what point do we cross the line between the value of face-to-face interaction and the value of technology driven “friendships?” As human beings, do we have the bandwidth to manage hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers” — and should it be a priority to do so? There have been studies on the fallacies of multi-tasking. I think we’re in similar territory here.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the benefits of technology and social media–immediacy of information from trusted sources, interconnection capability with industry experts and peers and flattening of the world in a way that provides access for many minds to cooperatively build solutions. And more.

But I wonder, how do our most cherished human relationships suffer as a result of social media over-usage? As humans, we thrive on intimacy of relationship, with family, friends and associates. Much of this involves hugs or high-fives to celebrate, or a shoulder to cry on when it’s time to give support. These are tactile experiences. Much as we try to replicate them via interactive technology–witness the Wii or video conferencing–it’s not the same if it’s not “in person.”

My prediction for 2009: The challenge for social media evangelizers and technology gurus will be in finding a balance, a way to engage in social media that enhances and doesn’t replace true human engagement.  We still need the human touch, probably more than ever. And better ways to manage our “virtual” lives, so that our in-the-moment personal time makes a difference, in a way that we can sense–not simulate.

Legos and Crossword Puzzles

28 Nov

There is an immense sense of comfort and satisfaction that comes from doing something well. Such is the case for me, with crossword puzzles, and for my 7-year-old son, with Lego sets. In both situations, there is a system to be followed in reaching the final outcome. The beauty of both is in following the system, improving upon it each time, and reaching the solution.

As my son is soon to find, and I have been finding for years now, this is a feeling that few things in life bring to us. I can think of a handful for me, and the crossword puzzle is one. Writing is on the list. Knitting is another. There is a fourth–ahem–not to be discussed in this forum, and if you are of age and do not know of it, I am sorry.

Some people describe this feeling as being “in the zone” or “flow.” As a writer, I am there when my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingertips are making a linear connection between my brain and the laptop screen. Words are coming from I don’t know where, and they keep pumping out in a way that makes good sense. When I am knitting, particularly on circular needles, I enter into this meditative state that is just as much about the means as the end.

With the crossword, it’s similar. I have a repeatable process that I use when doing crosswords. Start with the first few across, skip to the first few down, then go from end to start crisscrossing the downs and acrosses. This is my personal “flair,” my way of doing crosswords that’s like nobody else’s. If I were eating a cob of corn, it would be starting with the first few kernels of the first row, going to the other side of the cob, and meeting up somewhere in between.

For my son, the pinnacle of flowdom is completing Lego sets of the $10 or less variety, particularly those with a knight or adventure theme. His system involves opening up the packages, depositing all small parts into separate plastic containers in front of him at the kitchen table or on the floor of his room, and alternately reading the directions and winging the assembly process on his own. Interruption during assembly is not recommended. Any disruption results in a growl, or “get out,” or being chased away. He is very protective of his process, and I understand that. I do the same things when interrupted during my crossword. My husband has learned this.

The practical matter here is in finding more opportunities to be productive while being “in the zone.” Athletes do this (but what can they do when they no longer compete?). Maybe my son will apply his mechanical skills as an engineer or scientist some day.  The fine art in finding more time to practice our “art” is to have a good excuse for doing it–which can involve making money from the process and its outcome, but can also involve other positive byproducts. Finding a way to capitalize on that thrill of the chase, the sense of anticipation that comes from building up to something better than we’ve done before–this is the ultimate. It’s the difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and happiness.

…to know better

13 Oct

Since I turned 40 last year, presumably I am old enough to know better about certain things. I have come to a point in my life where people typically look backward and forward, thinking, “Holy crap, is this it?” and, “Please God, let me use my time wisely from here on out.” In that spirit, I am starting this blog. From my position in midlife, I am certainly experienced enough to share some of my thoughts, in a way that can hopefully make a difference for my own process and perhaps others’.

Looking backward, I have a sense of clarity about the mistakes that I’ve made along the way, which is a success of sorts. Here’s a classic: On my first day in 10th grade, I rode a new bus to school. At the end of the day, I did not remember the number of the bus and got on the wrong one. I rode the bus all the way to the last stop on the route and got off, as if I lived at that bus-stop. Well, I did not live there, or anywhere close to there, but I got off anyway. And I walked all the way home, on an 80-degree day in late August, wearing a brand-new Express wool sweater that had to be trotted out on the first day of school. I still have that sweater. And I remember how hot I was walking those five miles home. I was too embarrassed to say anything to the bus driver, who would have dropped me at my house without complaint, since my house was on the way back to the high school.

When I was younger, I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of people. To an extent, I have not changed. But that flaw has been tempered a bit, thank goodness. I would not walk those five miles again today. Part of the change involves a more keen awareness of time on this planet, and not wanting to waste time in trying to look like I didn’t make a mistake about something.

Seeing my children grow up, time is flying by so quickly that I can hear it whizzing past. Sometimes I look back on my day and think of how much time I spent on the computer, not doing anything tangibly interactive or creative. As I pivot from my backward view of the past 40 years to a forward view of the next 40, I am making a more concerted effort to spend time with the people I love, doing the things that I love, in settings that make me happy.

Proust began writing A la Recherche du Temps Perdu when he was 38. The timing was no mistake, a significant turning point for many people. The seven volumes of this work discuss themes of memory, flashback and creation of “art” that makes a difference. I am making an effort to read it through in French, as a fitting sendoff for my next 40 years–during which I hope to use my time more wisely, even if it means not saving face.