Category Archives: Balance

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

 

 

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

Time For a Reboot?

I learned a truism about computers back in the late-80’s:

More than 50% of the time, a computer problem can be overcome by merely rebooting the machine

Sometimes this means pressing a specific keystroke combination.  Other times it means simply unplugging the machine from the wall, and then plugging it in again.

Fast-forward nearly forty years, and the old “reboot method” is still effective at least 50% of the time.

Reboots aren’t only applicable to technology problems.

Unplugging from a problem or challenge, even for a short period of time, can shed light on a new set of perspectives.  And, guess what…about 50% of the time, one of those new perspectives will hold the key to overcoming your “unsolvable” problem.

Rebooting doesn’t only mean disconnecting.  It can also mean purposely switching up your approach, assigning new team members, changing up the words you use to describe the problem, or putting the issue into a “timeout,” so you can work on something else for a while.

Rebooting may mean taking that vacation you’ve been promising yourself and your family.  You tell yourself there’s no time for a vacation.  No time to disconnect.

Wrongo!

Denying yourself the opportunity to temporarily disconnect is denying yourself access to your most creative idea flow.  The flow that comes from freeing your mind, even briefly, from your day-to-day tasks.

There’s a ton of power in the reboot, the restart, and the disconnect.

The answers to your most unsolvable problems lie on the other side of that reboot you’ve been avoiding (at least 50% of the time, of course).

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

The Reasons We Quit…

Are usually not the real reasons.

Sure, we’ll have our story about how someone or something created the untenable situation that pushed us to quit.

We can talk about how continuing would have been a waste of our time and energy.

We can even describe how the emotional toll was so great that we needed to make the change before some type of permanent damage occurred.

All these reasons contain elements of truth.  But, not the whole truth.

The whole truth lies in the balance of authority and responsibility.

Authority and responsibility live on opposite sides of life’s biggest equation.  When we perceive that the authority we have matches up with the responsibility we’re carrying, we feel balanced.  Satisfied.

But, get them out of whack, and our dissatisfaction begins to climb.  Left unattended, the dissatisfaction we feel (subconsciously at first) will begin to overtake our patience.  The cascade toward departure begins.

A world where we have ultimate authority and no responsibility would be nice.  The “power” to do whatever we want without any ownership of the outcomes.  Of course, this is a fantasy world.

Having authority over anything means having responsibility.

The key is the balance.

So, back to the quit or don’t quit decision:

If we stay the course, we’ll be forced to take ownership.  We’ll need to assume authority and expend a ton of emotional energy.  We can’t blame the “other.”  When we decide not to quit, we’re deciding that it’s okay to be responsible for making the situation a success (however that gets defined in our heads).

Quitting is the easy way out of this “authority-responsibility” conundrum.  It requires a lot less energy and eliminates our risk of failure.  It doesn’t matter that the act of quitting may be an admission of failure in the first place.  That’s just a sunk cost.  The key is how much emotional energy we’ll have to expend in the future.

Why does any of this matter?  We aren’t planning to quit any time soon.  It’s not in our nature.

True, but what about everyone around you?  What about the people who report to you?  What about your teammates?  What about your friends?

It turns out they’re working through this same authority-responsibility equation in their own lives.

And guess who has both the authority and responsibility to help them with balancing their equation.

You.

 

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Quick, what time is it?

How do you define these words?

Urgent

Immediately

Now

Soon

Quick

Timely

Each organization (each person), has their own definition for these words.

How your organization defines these words says a lot about its culture.

Does urgent mean before lunch today, sometime later today, or just this week?

How about immediately?  Before noon?  Today?  This minute?  Now?

How is now defined?  At this moment?  Sometime today?  Is the customer on the phone now, waiting for our answer?

How soon is this due?  Soon?  Is that this week, next week?  Next quarter?  Or is soon the word your manager uses for a non-specific point in the future when something good is supposed to happen…but rarely does?

Quick, tell me how your department defines quick.  Is quick the same as now?  Is it the word someone uses to interrupt your train of thought so you can answer their question…usually preceded by the word “really” as in, “really quick, can you tell me the cost code for that department?”

We’d all like a timely response to our inquiry.  Is that now, next week, next month, or next quarter?  Isn’t timely the thing we say when we’re trying to be official with someone…sort of channeling our “inner lawyer,” to give ourselves a bit more time?

Consider how the definitions change, depending on the time of year.  Are we approaching the end of the month, the quarter, or the year?  Are we on track to hit our goals (whatever they are)?

Is the boss stopping by today?  This week?  If so, does that create a new definition for soon, or urgent?

These words define the rhythm, even the “musical” timing of an organization.  Find yourself out of step with that rhythm and you’ll be making noise instead of music.

You might move faster than your organization.  This is great at first but generally leads to frustration as you wait for the organization to catch up with you.  Imagine if soon means within 30 days to you, but the same word means sometime next year to your organization.

On the other hand, the organization may move at a faster pace than you prefer.  Everything is urgent and immediate.  You feel like you’re behind all the time, barely able to catch your breath.

In these situations, you have a challenge (and an opportunity):

  • convince the organization to move at your pace, or
  • modify your pace to match the organization, or
  • find an organization that already moves at your preferred pace.

Easy, right?

As impossible as this challenge sounds, time alignment is critical to your long-term job satisfaction.

The question is:  Are you making noise or music?

The answer lies in aligning your definition of time.

 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

 

I’m not afraid of heights…

…but I am afraid of ladders.

When I heard someone at the gym saying this to his workout buddy, he was referring to the reason he doesn’t put up Christmas lights.  He hates climbing on ladders.

For the record, I’m not too keen on climbing ladders either.

My immediate thought was how easy it is to dream of and visualize reaching the heights of our chosen field.  The hard part is the ladder.

Choosing the right ladder, or series of ladders.

Our ladder needs to be sturdy enough to take our weight and the weight of everyone else making the same climb.

It’s easy to pick the nearest ladder or the one where we can see the top.  But that’s not always the right one.

And, once we choose, how long should we climb before jumping to another ladder?

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground.  Your definition of success.  The “why” for your climb.

Are these easy questions to answer?  Definitely, not.

Here’s the tricky part:  your answers to these fundamental questions of why will morph over time.  Something you thought was important in high school isn’t important when you’re 25, or 30.  Similarly, something that’s important when you’re 30 isn’t so important when you’re 50, or 65.

Our answers also adapt to our surroundings, to the people we see the most.  It’s human nature.  We adapt to survive.  We compromise to fit with those around us.  Our perceptions are shaped by what’s closest.

The good news is that with the internet, blog sites, news sites, books, videos, and podcasts, the definition of “closest” has changed.  While it’s true that we still work closely with the ten people that are near us, we have access to a universe of ideas and perspectives far beyond our “local” reach.  All we have to do is choose to look.

What about heights and climbing ladders?  They matter.  But not as much as why you’re climbing in the first place.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  –Stephen Covey

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The Ultimate Quest

Listen to just about anyone discussing their life’s goals, their “bucket list,” and you might hear things like:

“I want enough money so I never have to work on someone else’s schedule again.”

“I wanna see the Pyramids of Egypt, the Antarctic, and sample all the fine barbecue establishments in Kansas City before I die.”

“I want to hold my grandkids’ kids.”

“I hope to help at least 100 homeless people find a permanent home.”

“I want to explore Machu Picchu.”

“If I play my cards right, I can find a nice little scuba class in Bali that needs an instructor.  That would be my dream job.”

“I want to see a game at every professional baseball stadium in the US.”

“Skydiving sounds like a kick in the pants.”

“I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“I want to go on pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.”

“I want to see the Northern Lights.”

Each of us is on a journey.  We share our journey with a select few.

Even as we share our journey, our goals are rarely the same as anyone else’s.  That’s what makes us unique, like everyone else.

But, there’s one thing that links all our journeys; a common theme in every bucket list.  The ultimate quest.

The quest for time.

We want quality time, special time, alone time, together time, family time, me time, kid time, game time.  We want to spend our time as we choose.  Time to explore.  Time to give.  Time to waste when we want.  How we spend our time defines who we are.

We don’t just want more time.  We want time on our terms.

Defining the “deal terms” for using our most precious resource is where the real challenge begins.

Are you the one setting your terms?

 

My favorite things in life don’t cost any money.  It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.  –Steve Jobs

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Kyle Szegedi

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?

Beware of the Edge

sitting-at-the-edge-of-a-cliff

I recently heard about a sign at the top of Mount Vesuvius.  It reads, “Beware of the edge.”

That’s the only safety precaution in the area.  No guardrails.  Just a sign.

I can hear it now:

“Your honor, I submit that my client had no idea he could plummet to his death by stepping over the edge of that volcano.  If only there’d been a guardrail to prevent his untimely death.”

Or,

“Your honor, we acknowledge that there was a sign that said, “Beware of the edge,” but my client must have thought he was safe as long as he stayed inside the guardrails.  Since there were no guardrails on the mountain, he was clearly misled into a false sense of safety and security…just before his fall.”

How many of us really need a sign, or a guardrail, to tell us to stay away from the edge?  Can’t we see the danger on our own, without the sign?

The truth is, probably not.

Why not?

Simple.  The edge is where the action is.  We know it’s dangerous.  We know our mind will play an imaginary leap that only our subconscious sees when we look over the edge.  We secretly like the butterflies we get in our stomach.

The edge brings sharp focus.  It’s where our imagination is most alive!

Sometimes, the edge represents the end of a long journey.  A challenging climb.  Our view over the edge reminds us of the distance we’ve traveled.  The work we’ve put in to get there.

The edge is like the proverbial flame that draws the moth.  The edge reminds us of how fragile our life is.  One step away from real danger.

How do we approach the edge, and take in its energy, while avoiding the danger that lurks just one step beyond?

It’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves.

But, here’s hoping we don’t discover the answer as we tumble over the edge.

Are You Willing?

“I know this now.  Every man gives his life for what he believes.  Every woman gives her life for what she believes.  Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing.  One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone.  But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying—even more terrible than dying young.”  –Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc lived less than twenty years.  Yet she fought for her beliefs and made a huge impact on history.  She died for her beliefs at an age when many are just beginning their life’s journey.

She knew what she believed in.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice for her beliefs.  Ask anyone who serves or served in the military, a first responder who runs into a burning building to save others, or a newly formed priest who has answered God’s call.  These are just a few examples.  Each of them know what it means to sacrifice for their beliefs.

Sometimes our beliefs emerge quietly without our knowledge.  We go through life, making seemingly inconsequential decisions about what we will and won’t do.  We decide who our friends are, and how much we will let them into our lives.  We decide when to listen.  We decide how honest we will be with the world around us.

We establish habits for living our life, and we go on our merry way.

Do you know what you believe in?  Really?  Do you know what you believe to be true?  Do you know what is important in your life?

Have you made the quiet time in your life that’s necessary to consider these questions?

What if it turns out that the things you believe in aren’t manifested in the way you live?  Are you willing to change your habits?  Are you willing to eliminate the things that don’t support your beliefs?  Will you support your beliefs in the way you live, and the way you work with others?  Are you willing to make your beliefs the centerpiece of your actions in everything you do?

Joan of Arc was right.  One life is all we have, and then it’s gone.

Where are you in that one life?  Is it too late to examine your beliefs and change the way you live?

The answer is clear  But, it won’t become obvious until we make quiet time in our lives to reflect.  When we do, we find it’s never too late to examine our beliefs and change our life.

Every day is a new beginning if we choose to make it so.  It doesn’t matter what happened in the past.  It doesn’t matter who wronged you.  It doesn’t matter if you had a terrible childhood.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve missed opportunities in the past.  It certainly doesn’t matter if you failed in the past.

All that matters is learning what you believe in.  Then, deciding what to do with that new knowledge, starting today.

The only question is:  Are you willing to find out?

 

Beliefs and Values

h/t:  Matthew Kelly