Category Archives: Appreciation

The Bobbin Effect

The thing about sewing isn’t the patterns.  It isn’t the precise cutting, the pins that hold the fabric pieces together, or even the stitches.

It’s all about the bobbin.

That little spool of thread that sits underneath the needle and somehow makes the stitches possible.  I say “somehow,” since I’ve never spent the time required to either load a bobbin or to make one work.

I know from watching others that sewing requires a ton of time loading the bobbin, untangling the bobbin, and generally managing the health and welfare of that hidden spool of thread.  A healthy bobbin is the key to any successful sewing project.

Watch a good painter and you may notice that they spend far more time preparing and sanding the surfaces to be painted, masking off the unpainted areas, mixing the paint, and then cleaning up the area after painting…than they spend painting.

The same is true for a musician.  Watch a musician perform.  It’s easy to forget how much time was spent learning to play their instrument, selecting or creating material, rehearsing, and then setting up for the show.  As an audience member, we get to see the final product and that’s all that matters.

How about your favorite mechanic?

That person who can diagnose and fix anything that’s wrong with your car…usually the same day you bring it to their shop.  How much time has he (or she) spent working under the hood of countless cars, learning and honing their craft, studying the specifications of all the new vehicles that arrive each year, and finding the best way to finesse those hard-to-reach bolts?  Your mechanic has spent years, maybe decades, preparing to fix your car today.  That’s all great, but your main question is, “Can I pick up my car by 5pm?”

It’s easy to forget or ignore all the preparation, expertise, and hard work that goes into creating just about any product, any service, and any organization that we value.  We allow most of it to be hidden from our consideration.

At the same time, we’re disappointed when others forget or don’t appreciate all the hard work and preparation we’ve put into being the best “fill-in-the-blank” that we want to be.

We wonder why our contributions, our dedication, and our work aren’t appreciated, and yet we’re probably unwittingly doing the same thing to other people.

Each of us is a bobbin for someone.  A hidden key to happiness and success for someone else, whether we realize it or not.  Maybe not today, but someday.

We’ve prepared, we’ve practiced, we’ve toiled in silence.  We’ve cared for ourselves, knowing without fully understanding that we make things possible, and maybe even tolerable for others.  Our efforts, our dedication, our emotional commitment may seem invisible, but they matter.  They are important.

It’s time to give that little bobbin some attention.

Photo by LAIS on Unsplash

 

A Gentle Reminder

I recently witnessed a mom with her newborn.  It was feeding time.  Mom was ready with the bottle and within a minute her baby was content and eating.

Slowly but surely, the bottle was drained, and the effort seemed to exhaust the new baby.  She lay on her mom’s lap with a little dribble of milk around her mouth.

The neat freak in me said, “Hey, it’s time to wipe that kid’s mouth,” and my next move would have been to reach for a wipe.

This mom had the same idea but wasn’t in a hurry.  She remained still and put the empty bottle away.  She moved with a grace and fluidity that didn’t disturb her nearly-sleeping baby.

She then grabbed the edge of a soft towel and delicately wiped the milk.  She purposely took her time and continued to move with smoothness and grace.

The gentleness was amazing.  Her focus was complete.  The moment was silent.  This mother’s love and caring approach were there for anyone to see.  She took the time to be gentle and her reward was a moment of grace for her baby and herself.

When was the last time you purposely chose gentle as your first response?  To anything?

It’s easy for our lives to become a series of tasks, goals, deadlines, rules, disruptions and shiny objects that are anything but gentle.

Only our conscious choice to be gentle will make it happen.  Our desire to experience moments of grace and peace will bring them to us.

We control the gentleness we give to those around us…and to ourselves.

I, for one, am glad I got to see my daughter being so gentle with her new daughter.

It was a gentle reminder that I will not soon forget.

The Sally Method Trap

Q: “What’s our approach for this year’s audit?”

A: “Sally Method.”

And that’s how an auditor can shortcut their work.  It’s a tried and true method for getting a quick start, ensuring consistency with the prior year’s audit, and making sure that’s nothing obvious gets missed.

 

Q: “What’s our big goal for the new year?”

A: “Let’s see if we can beat last year’s growth by a few percentage points.” (Sally Method)

Nobody can argue against growth, especially if it beats what we did last year.

 

“We can’t change the rules of the game.  It’s tradition to play it this way.” (Sally Method)

Tradition usually wins.

 

Sally…Same As Last Year (the second L is silent).

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s safe.

Life outside the box that Sally creates is scary.  It’s filled with uncertainty.  It can lead to failure.  It can lead to embarrassment (something we fear more than failure).

But, it’s also the best place to find new ideas, opportunities for new exploration, and new growth.

What if we start with Sally (the easy starting point), and then opt for more?  Not only something more but something different?  Something radical, and maybe even a little nonsensical?

When we give ourselves permission to explore and fail, we unleash a power that Sally can’t imagine or contain.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

All We Need to Know

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to request that for those of you where Phoenix is your final destination, you remain seated to allow those passengers with connections to other flights to make their exit as quickly as possible.  We apologize for our flight delay and hope you can help us with this situation.”

What happened next was truly amazing, and a little inspiring.

But first, a little backstory.

We were on a full flight from Orange County to Phoenix.  For me, the same flight I take home every-other-week.  After we’d all boarded by group, and dealt with the overhead bin space getting filled to capacity, everyone was seated and buckled-in.  The Captain came on, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain.  We’re waiting for a maintenance check and some paperwork to be completed.  I should have another update in 15 minutes.”  And so, it began…

The Captain came on every 15 minutes to let us know that there was some progress, but that we weren’t ready to leave the gate.  Luckily, this process only lasted an hour (I’ve seen this type of delay last a lot longer), and then we were ready to depart.

As I Iooked up from my movie (hey, I suddenly had more than the usual 54 minutes for this flight, so I was pretty settled-in to a nice movie even before we took off), I could see people around me checking their phones, assessing the delay time, and trying to figure out if they could still make their connection in Phoenix.

Other than ordering my standard Cran-Apple beverage, I didn’t pay much attention to anything but my movie until we were on final approach.  Noise-cancelling earbuds sure are nice.

That’s when the request came: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to request that for those of you where Phoenix is your final destination, you remain seated to allow those passengers with connections to other flights to make their exit as quickly as possible.  We apologize for our flight delay and hope you can help us out.  Please ask your neighbor if they’re connecting and if they are, let’s try to do everything we can to help them get off the plane and make it to their connection.”

As we taxied, I asked my neighbor if he was connecting.  “Yep, I’m heading to Des Moines.”  I overheard a few others were headed to Minneapolis.  One couple was heading for Albuquerque.

A plane full of passengers who’d basically ignored each other for the entire flight were talking and strategizing about how to help the “connectors” get off the plane.  The conversations were happening all around me.

The true test came when we came to a complete stop at the gate.  Would this new-found camaraderie lead to a change in the normal “airplane exit” behavior?  Indeed, it did.

Row by row, the “connectors” were identified and shuffled to the aisle.  We didn’t know anything about these passengers, other than their status as a “connector.”  It turns out that some of them had stowed their bags in overhead bins that were many rows behind their seat (remember the full flight, full bin issue).  This meant that their luggage had to be retrieved and shuttled forward through a very crowded plane.  No problem.  The requests were carried back, the bags identified, and then quickly shuttled forward by passing the bag from one passenger to another.  An amazing feat of cooperation.

The “connectors” were exiting, bags in hand.  Cries of “Save travels,” or “Good luck,” were heard all over the plane.  As quickly as the exit process had started, the last of the “connectors,” who happened to be seated in the last row, made his way off the plane.

The exit aisle was empty, and we all sat, looking around to make sure we hadn’t missed anyone.  The plane was still about two-thirds full.

The flight attendant came on, “That was amazing!  Thank you all for helping your fellow passengers make their connections.”  Satisfied smiles and little nods between passengers acknowledged what we’d just accomplished.

I don’t know if everyone made their connections, but I do know that they had a fighting chance because a group of people they didn’t know banded together and got them off that plane.

Scan the news and you’ll find examples of this happening every day.  Complete strangers coming to the aid of other strangers, sometimes risking their lives in the process.

There are countless groups of strangers who come together to serve another, less fortunate, group of strangers.  They may not make the news, but they make a difference.

For those brief moments, strangers become neighbors.  They become honorary members of our family.  Our focus is on solving the problem, rendering aid, lending a hand, or merely providing comfort.

We love them as we love ourselves.

It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the people we’re helping.  They need our help and that’s all we need to know.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

 

 

The Power of Repetition

We’re each born without skills.

We don’t know how to play the piano, hit a tennis ball, type a letter, program a computer, balance a checkbook, climb a mountain, drive a car, wake surf, back up a semi-trailer, finish concrete, ride a bike, race a motorcycle, fix an engine, pilot an airplane, or just about anything else.

Fortunately, humans are learning machines.  Watch a toddler for even a few minutes and you’ll see an aggressive and insatiable quest to imitate, experiment, test limits, check for patterns, see what works, see what parents allow, and see what happens when they push certain buttons (real and metaphorical).  Amazingly, they’re doing these things before they can walk or talk.

Toddlers also have an almost unending desire to “do it again.”  If throwing the ball once is fun, it’s even more fun to go pick it up and throw it again, and again, and again.

I took a typing class in my freshman year of high school.  There were about fifty students in the class.  Half of the typewriters were electric (the new IBM Selectrics) and the other half was manual typewriters.  Yes, I’m that old.

I started my year on a manual typewriter (we swapped to the Selectrics mid-year).  This meant that at the end of each line, after hearing the ding, I had to reach up and manually return the carriage…and place my fingers back on the correct keys to continue typing.  It also meant that my keystrokes had to be smooth, consistent and well-timed.  Otherwise, the keys would jam on top of each other.

We started with the Home row.  I must have typed ASDFJKL; a thousand times!  Then, we added the G and the H to the home row drill.  ASDFGHJKL;  Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Did I mention that all the keys on the typewriters were blank?  We were learning how to be “touch” typists.  Looking at the keys was not an option.  We had diagrams and workbooks that showed us what each key was, but nothing on the typewriter.

After mastering the Home row, we moved up to the QWERTY row.  The row that gives the standard keyboard its name.  QWERTYUIOP  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.

Next, the drills included the Home row and the QWERTY row at the same time.  We were typing letters in random order from both rows.  QPJHFDRT Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Finally, we moved to the dreaded bottom row.  ZXCVBNM,.  I hated the Z.  The Z is in an awkward spot.  It requires pinky strength and dexterity in the left hand.  A tall order for a right-hander.  A right-hander who had broken his left pinky a few years earlier (another long story).

Now our drills included all three rows, and all in random order.

Oh yeah, every drill was being timed.  We started and stopped each drill as a class and typed the drills until we heard the ringing of the clock.

The drills got harder, included more randomness, and both upper-, and lower-case letters.  Again.  Again.  Again.

I don’t remember how many weeks we spent on all these drills, but one day our teacher told us we’d be typing actual sentences.  One more thing:  our typing speed would be measured in words-per-minute.

Any mistakes would subtract one word from our score, so accuracy mattered.

How could this be?  We’d never typed sentences before.  We weren’t ready to be tested…on real sentences.  We were just getting good at the drills.  We had practiced proper hand position, proper finger curl, proper posture.  But, this was uncharted territory.

“Ready?  Begin.”

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

Why do I remember these two sentences?  They’re classic typing drill sentences.  They each use almost all the letters in the alphabet and require the typist to jump between all the rows.  I typed these two sentences continuously during the day of our first typing test.

I realized I was actually typing!  Not just a drill, but two real sentences.  I was typing them quickly…even on a manual typewriter.

After that first day of testing, we typed many more sentences.  We learned about the structure of various business letter formats.  We typed information into practice forms.  We keyed numbers into columns.  We centered text.  All before spreadsheets or word processors made these simple tasks.

Our teacher provided the drills, the structure, and the discipline.  We drilled, practiced, and drilled again.  And, again.

We were touch typists, using the skills we learned through repetition.  I was having my own “Wax on…wax off,” moment before Karate Kid was a movie.

Fast forward 35 years.  I’m still learning new skills.  Practicing.  Making mistakes.  Sometimes pushing too hard.  Sometimes jamming my keys in the process.  Always looking to improve.

Only with repetition can I learn, improve, and become.

Again.  And, again.

 

Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

 

 

Every Job Has a Suck Ratio (along with everything else)

Nearly every pursuit in life has some portion that sucks.  This is especially true for jobs.

It may be a short “phase” at the beginning caused by your lack of knowledge or experience. “I have no idea what I’m doing, so every day is torture!  I can’t wait until I get the hang of this new job.”

It may be a valuable sacrifice required to fully embrace the benefits of a new opportunity. “The position is exactly what I’m looking for.  The only problem is the 90-minute commute…each way.”

Maybe there’s 1% you don’t like that comes along with 99% you love.  “This company is amazing!  I wish the people I work with would realize it.”

What if the suck is more than 1%?

What if it’s 30% of the experience?  80% of the experience?

The ratio of suck versus awesome determines happiness.  As the suck goes up, happiness goes down.

Humans are more sensitive to the suck than the awesome.  We thrive on the negative.  Bad news travels fastest.  We assume and discount good news, so we don’t put much effort into spreading it…even to ourselves.

Measuring the suck is arbitrary and subjective.  Something that sucked only 1% last week may suck 95% today when that 90-minute commute causes you to miss your daughter’s award ceremony.

Are you considering a job change?  Just thinking about it means you’ve decided that the suck ratio is getting too high in your current job.  So, a new opportunity or a new direction seems like a good idea.

The new opportunities have their own suck, whether you choose to see it or not.  Sure, they have things you appreciate, but it’s easy to overvalue the good stuff and minimize the parts that suck.

It’s human nature to see only the “good” stuff that’s happening over there…and see only the things that suck, happening here.

The grass usually isn’t greener over there (wherever “there” is).  It’s usually just another shade of green that looks greener today.  The suck ratio is in play over there just as much as it is where you’re standing.

Does this mean we should never change jobs or career paths?  Hardly.  But, it’s important to keep some things in mind:

  • Every job has a suck ratio.

 

  • It’ll take a lot longer than you think to get good at your new job. Even longer before you become great at it.  Until then, it’s suck ratio will be higher than you like.

 

  • It’s hard to see the suck from the outside. Suck only shows itself once you’re on the inside when it’s too late.

 

  • Don’t measure the suck every day. Suck measures are only accurate over the long-term.

It’s easy to find something that sucks today if we look hard enough.  It’s just as easy to find something that’s awesome.

The effort we put into the search for suck or awesome dictates the one we find the most.  That’s true for jobs, too.

 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Fishing and Catching–Bruce Kerner Style

Bruce Kerner loved to fish.  He didn’t get to fish often.  He was a sign painter for various studios and was away working on movies a lot.  He and his family vacationed with us many times when I was a kid.  Back then, vacation time meant Big Bend Resort on the Colorado River and day trips to Lake Havasu.

We’d get a cove on the lake and set up our day camp with a shade, lawn chairs, and coolers.  Bruce always had a bunch of fishing gear that we’d bring ashore.

While the rest of us focused on swimming and water skiing, he focused on fishing.  The pursuit.  The exploration.  Deciding which baits to try.  Changing rigs.  Trying new lures.  Moving down the beach to a new location.  Floating out in a rubber raft to cast near the “proper” pile of rocks.

He always had a look of contentment on his face as he stared at that place where the fishing line meets the water.  Constant vigilance, looking for any sign of a bite.  Maintaining soft hands to feel the slightest movement.

It didn’t matter that the fish usually showed little interest in his bait.  For Bruce, fishing was more important than catching.  When he did catch a fish, he was rarely prepared to keep it.  Somehow, his stringer was always left back at the camp.  He knew that as long as we had daylight, he could cast his bait out there another time.

Come to think of it, we fished at night as well.  Down on the dock along the river, after dinner.  A bunch of us would look across at the lights on the Arizona side and cast out.  Our quarry on the river was catfish, and that meant stink-baits and lots of waiting.

Funny thing is we didn’t catch many catfish either.  When we did, we’d get a flashlight out, or flick a Bic lighter, to see what we’d caught.  The stringer?  Usually up at the trailer.  We weren’t prepared to keep anything we caught.

Sitting there in the dark, fishing pole in hand, staring up at the stars, a kid can learn a lot talking with a fisherman like Bruce.  The meaning of patience.  The dignity of discipline.  How the journey is more important than the destination.  How quiet time is a good time.  The way opportunity meets preparation when that fish hits your bait.  How stories about nothing can mean everything when they’re gone.

Bruce was taken away too early from this world by a heart attack, many years ago.  I find him in my thoughts a lot around July 4th.  That was one of the times each year that our families vacationed at the river.

When I think of Bruce, I remember the fishing and the laughter.  I don’t remember the fish we caught.

They weren’t that important.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Andrey Trusov

Baby Steps…

-Don’t look like much at the beginning

-Are difficult to measure

-Take lots of patience

-Require focus

-Won’t bring acclaim (at first)

-Are seldom seen or appreciated

-Are quietly rebellious (which makes them fun)

-Deliver results.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building the world’s longest suspension bridge, assembling a 500-piece puzzle, or rolling out a new digital marketing campaign for your business.

The key to success in any of these endeavors is baby steps.  A relentless pursuit of the smallest possible step in the right direction will yield surprisingly impactful results.

A big challenge with pursuing the smallest steps is the overwhelming desire to provide evidence of progress.  First to someone else, and then to yourself.

Baby steps aren’t impressive when measured individually.  Most people can’t see them.

The power lies in being the one who sees them.  More importantly, when you motivate others to take baby steps with you, their impact will be profound…often before anyone realizes what’s happening.  Multiplication drives organizations, especially when it comes to baby steps.

Just for giggles, look back every now and then.  You might be surprised to see how far those baby steps have taken you.

 

Photo:  Unsplash.com, Emma Frances Logan Barker

The Right People

List some of the “usual” milestones in life:

  • Birth (obviously)
  • First day of school
  • First kiss
  • Prom
  • Driver’s license
  • First job
  • Graduating from high school
  • Leaving for college (if you leave home)
  • Graduating from college
  • Getting your first “real job”
  • Getting married
  • Buying your first house
  • Having kids
  • Getting promoted
  • Starting your own business
  • Getting your first boat (or other big toy)
  • Selling that big toy
  • Seeing your kids graduate from high school, college, etc.
  • Retirement

The list is unending and varies for each individual.

There’s another list that matters even more.  Your list of power moments.  Moments that happen, usually out of nowhere, that change the direction of your life.  These moments make your milestones possible.

Here are just a few of mine (there are many more):

  • Meeting a lifelong friend while microwaving a frozen burrito at work.
  • Playing bingo for the first time in my life and meeting the woman I would marry a few years later.
  • Accidentally taking an introduction to computers class that convinced me to change my major and never look back.
  • Running a warm-up lap and finding myself on the pole vault squad at the end of that lap.
  • Out of curiosity, attending the first HOA Board meeting after buying our house and getting elected to serve with someone I would never have met otherwise…and having him as a friend for nearly 28 years (and counting).
  • Getting a phone call from that lifelong frozen burrito friend, asking if I know anything about the notary business. My answer was, “No.”  I took the job anyway and began an awesome thirteen-year odyssey at that company.

It turns out that most of the power moments in our lives are chance encounters with the right people at the right time.

What makes them the right people?  What makes it the right time?

I doubt we will ever know, but I bet it has more to do with openness than anything else.  Our openness to this new person, their ideas, their strengths, their weaknesses.  Our openness to letting these people impact our lives more than they will ever know, and without even trying.

I’ve heard it said that we’re less than five degrees of separation from everyone else on the planet.  While that may be true, I believe we’re only one person away from the next bold chapter in our journey through life…if we’re open to the possibilities.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Treza Trisnandhy

Advice to My 25-Year-Old Self

I regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  In fact, it’s the only podcast I listen to.

A question he asks nearly every guest is:

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self (or whatever age is about half your current age)? 

For me, that was late-1992.  I’d been married for four years.  We had a two-year-old daughter, and our newest daughter had just arrived.  We’d purchased our first home in 1990 (at the high-point in the market before a 5-year down cycle).  I was about two years into my first management job, working in the healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things I’d like my 25-year-old self to know (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t change a thing! You’re about to be blessed with 25 years of awesomeness.  You may not realize it while it’s happening, but trust me, it’s going to be amazing!  You will face triumph and tragedy, hardship and happiness.  Take lots of photos and videos so you can remember just how small your kids were and the things they used to say.  You’ll get a kick out of the photos of yourself when you actually had hair and it wasn’t all gray.
  1. Take time to write about the things you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking about, and what’s motivating you. These things will probably change as you get older and you might appreciate seeing where your thinking started compared to where it is in 25 years.
  1. Be sure that you include the words, “Have Fun” in as many of your mission statements and plans as possible. These words are easy to forget while focusing on the day-to-day dramas that you will inevitably let drive your life.
  1. Seek out mentors, and be a mentor to others. Find ways to serve others while never thinking of how you’ll be “paid back.”  You’ll do a pretty good job at this, but it’ll take you many years to get started, and those are years you’ll never get back.
  1. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t know everything. “Knowing everything” and getting the highest score in all your classes may have brought you straight A’s, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.  You never will.  Here’s a corollary:  when you think you’ve thought about every angle of a problem, or come up with every contingency in considering a new strategy or idea, you haven’t.  The only way you’ll ever approach a full understanding of a new strategy or idea is to get lots of other people involved.  Have the patience and humility to do this on a regular basis.
  1. You are surrounded by the love of God. You need to take the time I didn’t take at your age to realize it.  The signs of His love are all around you.  Stop and listen.  Stop and look.  Just stop.  What are you running from?  It’s going to take you another 20-plus years to realize this unless you follow my advice today.
  1. When you look at starting that new home automation business (it’s a long story), remember that the most important question in any business, especially small businesses, is who is your customer and how will they find you? The next most important question is why should this elusive customer come to you for your service or product?  Until you can answer these questions, you’re wasting time (and money) on everything else.
  1. Realize that just about everything takes longer than planned. As you make progress in your career, initiatives that you think should take 3-6 months to complete will actually take years to fully bear fruit.  Practice looking at things on a longer horizon.
  1. Read more fiction, especially science fiction. It’s a great way to declutter your mind.  Of course, books come on paper in your time and we have these new devices that make reading so convenient.  Don’t let that deter you.
  1. I recently heard this, and it’s something you should consider…you can always go back to the museum. What do I mean?  Most people go to places like museums, theme parks, other states, or other countries only once.  At least, that’s their plan.  With that in mind, they try to cram everything into their “one and only” visit.  Their visit becomes a long checklist of things to do and things to see.  Instead, approach your visits with a plan to return again someday.  Focus on the few and leave the rest for your next visit.  Be present and let go of the checklist.

Bonus advice:  You’ll have trouble with that patience and humility thing, but embracing these will be your key to happiness.  There is no checklist.  Life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a destination.  It’s a journey and an infinite opportunity for experience.

Realize that you aren’t the one holding the compass and you’ll find more joy than you ever thought possible.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Justin Tietsworth