Aggressive Confusion

It’s easy to be confused.

To be unclear about new information.

To ask for more explanations.

To need more practice.

But what happens when someone leads with their confusion, defending themselves behind a shield of doubt and uncertainty?

What if they wield their confusion like a weapon, merely to strengthen their grip on the status quo?

Is their objective to understand an idea or to avoid any responsibility for it?

Exploration (of anything) is a journey into the unknown and unexpected.  It can be overwhelming, even confusing.  It should be.  Finding our way through the confusion is how we grow.

We make the choices:

  • Will we decide to push through our confusion?
  • Will we put in the effort to find new clarity?
  • Will we choose to grow?

Or, do we prefer to hide in our comfortable bubble of confusion?

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

 

The Dance of Light and Dark

I originally wrote this poem eight or nine years ago.  It was an exercise in using contrasting words, contrasting rhythms, active and passive voices, sensory symbolism, and a few other style toys that I thought would be fun to try (for a hobbyist writing nerd).

As often happens when I write, the theme I had in mind when I started was quickly overtaken by other ideas.  The words and symbolism began pointing the way.  A new theme slowly emerged.

Then, just as I was gaining momentum, some shiny objects interrupted, and I set this poem aside.  A whole bunch of amazing life events started happening and years (eight or nine to be exact) came and went.

This poem sat on the hard drive of what would become my “old” computer.  When I moved over to the new computer, somehow all the data didn’t get transferred properly to the new computer (or to any of the cloud storage locations I use today).

I forgot about the poem until a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for a fictional story I’d written.  After some searching, I realized the only place it could be was on that old computer that we hadn’t turned on in years (and that we kept for some reason).  Imagine my surprise when I was able to boot it up and look around on the hard drive for some of my old (nearly lost) work.

I found that fictional story I was looking for (maybe I’ll publish it in some form in the future), along with a bunch of other work I had forgotten…including this poem.  Again, shiny objects intervened, and I didn’t get around to re-reading this poem until today.  The toys I’d been playing with so many years ago were just lying about where this big kid had left them.

I picked up my writing toys and continued playing with the words, the styles, and the symbols.  The theme that was there so many years ago was showing itself but in a new way that I hadn’t quite seen in the past.  Again, the words and symbols pointed the way (just like Mr. Cox told us in eleventh grade English class).

I hope you enjoy it.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

The Dance of Light and Dark

Lengthening shadows descend across the forest floor.

The perpetual dance as day gives way to night.

Glorious palettes of color and light,

Surrendering to shadows in the growing darkness.

 

The air grows cold with the smell of decay.

Death wins a battle in its forever war on life.

 

Your heartbeat echoes behind your ears.

A quiet rhythm of life.

You hear the mournful wail of a distant companion, howling for a moon not yet risen.

 

Stars shine like pinholes through a curtain.

The moon rises in the distance, casting new light in the dark.

 

While creatures of the night toil in the shadows,

Hunting and evading, hiding and pouncing, dying and surviving.

They don’t know what their future holds.

Pain or comfort.

Life or death.

 

Trees moan quietly as they sway against the wind’s unending assault.

Each is alone in the crowd to persevere as they must.

These trees know without knowing that morning will come.

A distant dream in the long cold night that’s just beginning.

 

Morning brings new light.

An eternity of hope.

Wistful breezes carry the freshness of this glorious day.

The sun lends its brilliant glow to all that it touches.

 

A new day, with promises to make.

Promises to fulfill.

Promises of life, of love, of laughter, and joy.

 

This dance of light and dark,

Of hope and despair,

Of life and death.

An eternity before,

An eternity after.

This dance is our journey.

This dance is each of us.

 

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

 

 

DAWA, Coronavirus, and Normal

 

Denial.

Anger.

Withdrawal.

Acceptance.

I first learned about these stages of grief when Grandma Anne died (over 30 years ago).  My cousin, who was a newly minted police officer at the time, described how he received training on this model in the police academy.

I remember thinking how simple it all sounded, and I was relieved to know I had a model to follow.  What I didn’t know at the time is that this simple model is anything but simple.

Models provide a basis for understanding a concept or an idea…and that’s helpful.  Models make the complex seem simple.  But models rarely capture the layers of detail or the often-gut-wrenching processes they describe.

Today, the DAWA model is a bit outdated.  Additional “stages” have been added over the years to the original model.  Stages like shock, bargaining, depression, and testing are layered into discussions of the grieving process nowadays.

How does all of this relate to the Coronavirus?

Thanks to Coronavirus, we are suddenly sharing a grief experience with every person on the planet, at the same time.  Every single one of us has lost something extremely important because of Coronavirus.

The normal that we knew, the normal that we understood, the normal that we took for granted…died over the last 30-60 days.  If you could ask all 6 billion-plus people on Earth when, exactly, normal died, their answers would vary by a few days or few weeks.  But nobody would deny that their normal is gone.

When we grieve or face a major crisis in our lives, we come together with others, we gather closer to the people we love, we comfort each other with hugs and shared laughter.  We cry together.  We cook together.  We share meals.  We share stories about what we’ve lost.  We might go to an inspirational concert and hold hands while we sway and sing along with tears streaming down our faces.

We love to be with people, even if we describe ourselves as introverts or “not a people person.”

Unfortunately, that part of normal has also died (at least for a while).

While it doesn’t look like it (because our beloved normal is gone), we are all grieving.  Every one of us.

Make no mistake about it.  Something we loved, something we treasure, and something we counted on has died.  We are grieving our loss, even as events unfold in front of us that may make things worse before they get better.

We probably don’t think we have time right now to grieve.  But, we’re each somewhere on the DAWA continuum of denial, anger, withdrawal, or acceptance.  In fact, we’re bouncing around on that continuum today.

We’ve lost our normal, and we’re being forced to live in a new normal.  This new normal will probably give way to yet another new normal a few months from now.  None of us know what any of this will look like.  That mystery is an unfortunate part of our new normal (as crazy as it may sound).

It’s normal to be in denial.  It’s normal to be angry.  It’s normal to withdraw or try to escape.  It’s also normal, and necessary, to find acceptance.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up.  It means that the energy we’ve been using to fight the new normal can be channeled toward making the best of what’s in front of us.

Sure, we all miss our beloved normal from the past.  We’d prefer to have our old normal back in our lives.  But we must find a way to accept, to allow ourselves to rest, and let go of our longing.

The good news is that we’ve each had normal die before.  We’ve had to adjust to new normals throughout our life and we’re generally pretty good at it:

  • Moving from one school to another and making new friends
  • Graduating high school or college
  • Starting our first “real” job
  • Leaving our first job
  • Starting our second job
  • Meeting the person of our dreams that we plan to spend the rest of our life with
  • Divorcing that person
  • Experiencing the death of a loved one
  • Becoming a parent (or a grandparent)
  • Starting your own business
  • Selling that business
  • Losing a house and everything we own in a fire
  • The knee injury that forced you to stop playing your favorite game
  • Having your house destroyed in a tornado

These are all examples of events in our lives that require us to let go of the old normal and embrace the new normal.  Sometimes the new normal is because of something amazingly good, and other times it’s caused by something amazingly bad.

I’m not sure I’ve reached the acceptance stage in my own grieving process.  I tell myself that I’m there, but I know it’s not always true.  As I work through the process and prepare myself for what lies ahead, I like to keep this list of ideas in mind:

  • Take things one day at a time
  • Prayer is your instant connection to someone who loves you completely
  • Celebrate your victories, no matter how small
  • Give yourself a break
  • Be grateful and enjoy what you have
  • Forgive yourself for not knowing exactly what to do (none of us know, which is true a lot more than we’d like to admit)
  • Only allow yourself to worry about the future for a few minutes each day and move on. I’d say to stop worrying completely since worrying is a non-productive use of energy, but I know it’s not possible to eliminate it completely.
  • Check-in once each day for the news on Coronavirus, and what the latest government directions are (social distancing, masks or no masks, etc.). By now, you know the symptoms, what you’re supposed to be doing to prevent the spread, and what you’re supposed to do if you or someone close to you become symptomatic.  The rest is probably not super useful, and you can catch-up on all of it during your once-a-day check in.
  • Be kind to others. Your kindness will go a long way and may lead to more kindness in your “downstream.”  Even a smile to a stranger letting them know we’re all in this together is helpful.  By the way, your eyes show your smile, even if your mask doesn’t.
  • Realize that you are grieving, and so is everyone else. We will each have good days and bad days in our grief journey.
  • Take time to gather with your friends and family members by phone, video conference, or even a nice email note.  These are your people.  Embrace them remotely.

We are living through future history.  The events happening around us and to us today will be discussed, debated, and written about for decades to come.  Our lives are forever changed, and the changes are continuing to unfold.

We can use our energy to reach back to the past with all that we have, searching for the normal that’s gone.

Or, we can channel our energy to reach toward the future, creating the best possible new normal for ourselves and our loved ones.

While I grieve for the past, I choose to reach for the future.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Serve others first…

Tim Ferriss asks a question of most of his podcast guests:

“If you had a billboard that millions of people would see every day, what would you put on that billboard?”

Tim’s guests have given answers ranging from the comedic to the serious.  Some have talked about a cause that is their passion, or an inspirational passage they’d like people to see.

Each time I hear the question, I come up with the same three words:

Serve others first.

Serving others first means:

  • taking others’ needs and desires into account before our own
  • looking out for their best interest first
  • our decisions are more thoroughly considered because we’ll be taking time to think about how our decisions impact others
  • trying to make someone else’s job easier and more rewarding
  • showing someone gratitude for the work they’re doing
  • minding our manners (as my mom used to say when I was a kid)
  • listening to, and respecting others (even if we disagree with them)
  • looking for ways to improve a situation rather than making things worse
  • being the first to forgive.

It’s easy to focus on our own interests and challenges first.  It’s easy to think everything happening in the world is directed toward us, personally.  This “me first” mindset is hard-wired into our DNA…our DNA is selfish about 99.99% of the time.

The tougher path?

It’s the one that leads to serving others first.  It goes against our wiring, which takes significant effort.

None of us will be perfect on this path.  We’ll stumble, and we may even wander a bit.  But, we can be a blessing for others along our journey, and that’s what we should be seeking.

The good news is that following this path gets easier with practice.

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

 

What you delegate matters…

Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or a one-person shop, your ability to delegate will be the difference between success and failure.  Delegation may be to an employee or a trusted vendor.

Delegation allows you to multiply yourself.  It also provides an opportunity for your direct reports to grow within your company.

Right about now, you should be nodding and saying, “Obviously, Bob, tell me something I don’t know!”

So, you understand the importance of delegating.  Awesome!

Consider these questions about what you’re delegating, based on the way some managers and company owners I’ve worked with over the past 35 years view the topic:

  • When you delegate, are you focusing on your schedule, or on your direct reports’ growth?
  • Do you view delegation as the art of offloading tasks you don’t want to do, or tasks that are better suited to the expertise of one or more of your direct reports?
  • Do your direct reports own a specific role or job that’s critical to your organization, or are they merely one of your assistants, waiting for a list of today’s tasks to come from you?
  • If you draw a flowchart of how your organization functions, how many of the process lines route through your head where some type of decision or approval takes place before the process can move to its next step?
  • How many employees do you have waiting to talk to you? Do you feel empowered by how long the line out your door is each day?
  • When faced with a crisis, or a short-term deadline, do you pull back all that you’ve delegated so you can do everything yourself to make sure it’s right?
  • When you delegate the responsibility for a task to an employee, do you trust them enough to also delegate the authority they need to own that task? If not, why not?

I worked with a manager many years ago who told me how great it was that he had a line of people waiting to see him every time he came back to his office.  He said it was the first time he had felt important in his life.  Wrong answer, Mr. Important Guy!

I worked with another who told me that, “These people (referring to pretty much everyone in his department) don’t work well under pressure.  Whenever we have a tight deadline on a deliverable, I usually stay late and get it done myself.  That way I know it’s right.”  Wrong answer, Mr. Martyr!

There isn’t a human being on this planet who can carry an entire organization themselves…even though many try.  Sometimes, they even fool themselves (and others) into thinking they do it successfully.

The power of any organization comes from its ability to properly delegate, multiply its talent, and foster employee growth.  By the way, sometimes the cost of that growth is allowing your employees to make mistakes, or to successfully complete a task in a different way than you would have.

Get delegation right, and everyone wins.  Get it wrong, and your employees will stop learning.  Their motivation will wane and your organization will ultimately fail.

It’s only a matter of time.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

What a Wonderful World

Sadness can find us with little or no effort…sometimes on a daily basis.

I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.

Sadness, defined as anything that’s the opposite of joy:

Emotional pain

Feelings of disadvantage

Loss

Despair

Grief

Anger

Helplessness

Disappointment

Sorrow

Frustration

Guilt

I see skies of blue,
And clouds of white.
The bright blessed day,
The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world

Oddly, we sometimes seek out sadness for our own purposes.  Maybe we need an excuse for not being the person we know we can be.  Maybe we find comfort in burdening others with our pain.

The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying,
“I love you”.

When sadness in its many forms pays a visit, we have two fundamental questions to ask ourselves:

  • What will we allow inside?
  • How long will we allow it to stay?

It’s easy to say that we get to decide.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy to kick sadness out once it arrives for a visit.

I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.

What to do?  Here’s a list that I have to remind myself of from time to time:

  • Tune your mind to find joy in the simple things
  • Seek out and cherish love in your life
  • Offer forgiveness to yourself and others
  • Share your time and attention with others
  • Seek opportunities to serve others first
  • Observe life with a sense of awe and gratitude.

Joy won’t find us the way sadness can.  Joy only shows itself when we take action to greet it warmly with open arms and outstretched hands.

And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Oh Yeah.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The Value of Goodwill

How much is your goodwill worth?

The accounting definition of goodwill describes it as the established reputation of a business, quantifiable by taking the fair market value of the tangible assets of a company, subtracting that amount from the full purchase price, blah, blah, blah.

The accounting definition is important, but the goodwill I’m interested in is your personal goodwill, which is measured with the answers to these questions (in no particular order):

  • Do you have a personal reputation as a good person?
  • Are you a person who can be trusted?
  • Are you reliable?
  • Do you work with others based on honesty and integrity first, above all else?
  • When people describe you to others, do they do so fondly or derisively?
  • Are you a person who people want to be around?
  • Do you repel people, or gather people?
  • Do you have a track record of acting fairly in all situations?
  • Do you serve others first?
  • When the proverbial chips are down and everything is going wrong, can others rely on you to rise above the chaos, identify root causes, and get to work solving the problems?
  • Are you known as the person who runs from trouble?
  • Are you the one who looks to blame rather than solve?

The answers to these questions will matter more to your long-term success than any college degree or career accomplishment you may achieve.

Your actions and attitudes will show people your answers more vividly than anything you say.

It’s easy to say words like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, or empathy.  The real test is how you act and what you choose to do, whether or not other people are watching.

Show me a team of people who don’t value their own personal goodwill or that of their teammates, and I’ll show you a team that fails 99 times out of 100.

The most important choices you’ll make in life are the ones that either add value to, or take value away from your personal goodwill.

Choose wisely.  Your happiness and success depend on it.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Premature Judging

Should a new home construction project be judged when only its blueprint exists?  How about when the site has been prepared?  What about when the materials like wood, rebar, and electrical conduit are delivered?

Should we wait to judge the home build until the framing is complete?  Should we wait until the walls and roof are added?  Or, wait until all the windows are installed?  What about the paint and other finishing touches on the house?  Should you wait for those to be completed?

Can you judge the success of the home build before it’s finished?

When making chocolate chip cookies, do you judge the success of the cookies while mixing the ingredients?  How about when the chocolate chips are poured into the batter?

What if the recipe called for real butter, but you only have that non-diary butter substitute that’s supposed to be healthier than butter?  Are your cookies doomed at that point?  Should you call-off the project and declare it a failure?

Assuming you’ve made it past the butter/non-dairy butter issue, is it right to judge the cookies after they’re spooned out onto the cookie sheet, but not yet baked?

Just before placing those filled cookie sheets into the preheated oven, is that the time to re-evaluate the entire cookie-making process to determine if it’s failing?  Should you call a meeting to discuss whether the cooking temperature listed in the recipe is the correct one for your cookies?

Houses and cookies are obvious examples of “projects” that have a lot of moving parts.  They build from a set of raw ingredients, mixed with time and effort, into a completed item.

What about less obvious events in our lives?  When’s the right time to judge these for success or failure (using whatever measures you’ve chosen)?

  • new job
  • new business
  • new business strategy
  • new information system
  • new software development project
  • new friends
  • new marriage
  • new workout regimen
  • new hobby
  • new home

The easiest approach is to prematurely judge, declare failure and decide who to blame.  Failure is comforting.  The status quo is easy.

The new thing is never easy.  Creating something new is almost always uncomfortable.

When we judge too early, failure soon follows.

By the way, the cookies were amazing, but not until they came out of the oven.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Blame and Our Ego

“If you get your ego in your way, you will only look to other people and circumstances to blame.” –Jocko Willink

Here’s a thought experiment…

Looking back over the past few weeks (or months, or years), how many times did you blame:

  • someone
  • some thing
  • traffic
  • an injury
  • a disability
  • the weather
  • the economy
  • the government
  • your boss
  • your employee
  • social media
  • a company
  • a bad memory
  • anything but yourself?

No matter the subject, there are plenty of candidates for our blame…as long as we can aim it outward.

Our ego prefers blaming “the other” rather than accepting responsibility.  Life’s easier that way.

Blame doesn’t just apply to things that happened in the past.  Blame is most powerful (and crippling) when it prevents something from happening in the future:

  • I won’t be able to make it out there tomorrow. The traffic is just too crazy at that time.
  • I hate this job, but I don’t have time to learn a new trade.
  • I’d love to help you move, but with my bad back, I wouldn’t be very helpful.
  • There’s no way I’d ever start my own business in this economy. Besides, who needs all the government regulations and hassle?
  • It’s way too cold out there to go for a walk today.
  • I’d love to travel more, but there’s no way my boss would ever give me the time off.

How many times have you used blame to avoid doing something new, or something that could fail?

Blame is useful when it establishes a foundation for improvement.  When it represents a first step toward identifying root causes that can be solved.

Beyond that, blame has very little value, except stroking our ego (and keeping us nice and warm in our cacoon of status quo).

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash