Category Archives: Patience

The Puzzles We Build

 

jigsaw-puzzle_pieces

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

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?

There’s a crack in the gutter where a flower grows…

Pandora is awesome.  I was listening to my Happy Radio channel the other day when this song called Hey, Hey, Hey came on.  It had a catchy tune, and some of the words seemed nice when I chose to listen closely.  It was my first time hearing it, but I knew it had been around a while.

Somewhere in the middle of the song I hear:

There’s a crack in the gutter where a flower grows

Reminding me that everything is possible
Yeah, reminding me that nothing is impossible
You gotta live for the one that you love you know
You gotta love for the life that you live you know

Singing hey, hey, hey
No matter how life is today
There’s just one thing that I got to say
I won’t let another moment slip away

That got my attention.

How many times have you seen a plant (sometimes a weed, but that’s really in the eye of the beholder) growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, or the gutter?  How about the tree that figures out how to grow from within a cracked boulder?

They’re not supposed to be there.  It should be impossible for them to grow.  Yet, there they are.  Thriving in the most inhospitable of environments.

Each of us have the same ability to overcome adversity.  To be the flower growing in the crack in the gutter.  To grow and thrive in our little corner of the world, making a small but important difference to those around us.

Life is a journey, and it can be a struggle.  But, it’s also a triumph, and an opportunity to make our mark in places nobody (including ourselves) would ever expect.

 

Here’s the whole song…and, yeah, it’s been around since 2010.  Only took me five years to notice it (not good for my hipster cred):  Hey, Hey, Hey

 

Discuss or Defend?

Discussing involves active listening.  Curiosity.  Openness.  It requires genuine interest in ideas, even if they contradict your own.

Defending involves taking and holding a position.  Looking for openings to argue against another idea.  Preparing your response, while you should be listening.

Discussing takes time.  Discussing requires courtesy, respect, and patience.  Defending, not so much.

Most discussions we see on TV, or hear on the radio, aren’t discussions at all.  They’re exercises in defending.  Questions and answers are metered out in an attempt to defend one position or another.

It’s often the same in a business setting.

The search for alignment, a conclusion, a decision, or an all-out victory often trumps everything else, including a meaningful exchange of ideas.

How often do you defend, instead of discuss?  Be honest.  We’re just discussing here…no need to get all defensive.

What if you went through an entire day without defending?  Think you could do it?

 

Years of Experience

knowledge-vs-experience

“I’ve been with this company for 35 years.”

“I’ve been in this industry since it started.”

“I remember when we used typewriters to fill out those forms.”

“I’ve forgotten more about this, than that new guy will ever know.”

“I’m not sure how things are supposed to work.  I just started a couple of years ago.”

“I hope they give me a raise soon.  I’m the only person who knows how to process all the claim types.”

“There’s no way someone will ever figure out how to replace me.  I wouldn’t even remember all the steps if I had to tell someone.  It’s automatic for me.”

Experience counts.  There’s no replacement for the lessons learned by doing, succeeding, failing, recovering, making it up as you go, reinventing, punting, switching directions, and trying again.

There’s no shortcut to learning how a business or industry ebbs and flows throughout a year, or through the ups and downs of the economic cycle.  A business that’s a no-brainer during the up-cycle can, and will, turn into a nightmare in a down-cycle.  A person who can lead a business through an entire up and down cycle can’t help but learn all the ins and outs of that business (and its industry).

But, what’s the true value of all that experience?  Nope, that’s not it…

The real value comes when you teach and mentor others.  It’s relatively easy to master something for yourself.  The real challenge, and deepest learning, is in teaching others.  Not just the raw facts and steps to something, but connecting and passing on the passion that you have and watching your “student” define their own passion about the topic.

Consider your years of experience doing something.  Maybe you’ve been in a particular job for twenty years.  Can you honestly say that you’ve had twenty real years of experience, or twenty one-year experiences?

What’s the difference?

The difference is whether you’ve merely stacked the same one-year experiences on top of one another, or built and connected a compounding level of expertise in your twenty years.  It means looking back at the (hopefully) countless people you’ve helped along the way to become the best versions of themselves.  It means that you’ve found ways to multiply yourself and your impact by working with, and teaching, others.

The school of hard knocks never issues a diploma, but it does yield a lifetime of experience.  That experience only counts if you take the time to pass it on to someone else.

 

 

Image Credit

The Truth about Grudges

It doesn’t take long in life for injustice to come your way.

Your mommy takes your toy away before you’re finished with it.  Injustice!  How do you deal with it?  Maybe you cry, or throw a hissy fit.  Chances are, since your attention span at 18 months is pretty short, you’ll forget about the injustice and get another toy.

Life isn’t fair, and neither are some people.  Things go wrong.  Plans get up-ended.  Promises aren’t always kept.  A friend or family member may offend us.  Someone we love may destroy themselves with addiction.  We might be the victim of a heinous crime.

Live long enough, and the injustices (both real and imaginary) will pile up.  What to do?  Crying may be appropriate.  And there’s nothing like the emotional release of a good hissy fit every now and then.  But, after that, then what?

The easy thing to do is turn each injustice into a grudge.  That way, you can stack the latest grudge on top of the others you’re carrying.  If your grudges become disorganized, you can spend some quality time dwelling on them and get them reorganized.  If they get too heavy, enlisting the help of others to carry some of your grudges is always helpful.

The burden of a grudge is carried by the victim.  The perpetrator, whether real or not, carries no such burden.  The perpetrator may carry regret, but they feel none of the weight of your grudge.

In our quest to never forget the lessons of an injustice, we wrap these lessons inside the grudge.  It’s a package deal.

For this reason, letting go, forgiving, can seem impossible.  Forgiveness runs counter to our natural instincts.  But forgiveness is about much more than survival.  It’s about finding a way to thrive with a clear focus on the things in life that really matter.

Letting go of a grudge doesn’t mean ignoring the lesson.  It means freeing yourself from the weight that only you are carrying.

 

 

 

I don’t have time to think!

I heard this phrase the other day.  To be fair, the manager saying it was joking.  However, about fifteen minutes into our discussion, her phone buzzed and she (almost compulsively) checked it.  She looked up and apologized that she needed to respond.  It would only take a minute.

After finishing her response, she was back and totally focused on our discussion.  Where were we, anyway?  I wasn’t exactly sure, but I did write the following in my meeting notes:

I don’t have time to think, I’m too busy responding.

Have you fallen into this trap?  Are you so busy responding that you don’t have time to think?  Thinking takes time, energy, and discipline.  Responding requires only two of these resources.  Guess which one’s missing when all we do is respond.  Discipline.

Discipline is a choice.  Discipline helps us consciously think about the world as it comes at us.  Discipline provides the space to consider alternatives, and imagine new possibilities.  Discipline helps determine if a response is needed at all.

Happily Ever After

In fairy tales (and many books and movies), we spend most of the story learning how our happy couple meets and falls in love.  We learn about the challenges they must overcome in their quest to be together.  Suspense builds to a fever pitch as the forces of evil do everything in their power to keep this couple from fulfilling their destiny…togetherness forever.  If the story has a happy ending (and most do), they live happily ever after.  The End.

Real life is all about the happily ever after part.  It’s about what happens after the couple rides off into the sunset in their horse-drawn chariot, or charcoal grey Honda Civic.  Happily ever after requires curiosity and a spirit of adventure.  It’s nurtured by a willingness to work and grow together.  It requires the triumphs of success and the lessons of failure.  It requires faith, hope, and most of all, happiness.

Happiness doesn’t come from anywhere but within.  Couples (hopefully) learn quickly that their happiness (both individually, and as a couple) is driven by their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

Our pathways alone bring neither happiness, nor sadness.  We bring these ourselves, wherever we go.

As my wife and I celebrate 25 years of Happily Ever After today, I am eternally grateful for the happiness she brings to our journey every day.

No One is “Just a…”

“I don’t know the answer, I’m just a temp.”

“I can’t authorize that refund, I’m just a cashier.”

“Clearly, nobody here cares what I think.  I’m just a worker bee.”

“I could probably help those wounded veterans, but I’m just a private citizen.  I’m sure there’s a government agency for that.”

“There’s no way I could ever do that job.  I’m just a high school graduate.”

Listen closely, and you’ll hear the “I’m just a…” phrase applied in many circumstances.  You may even use it yourself.  I’ve inflicted it on myself a time or two (or three).

Ownership is risky.  It requires personal responsibility, a willingness to step up, make hard choices, and be held accountable for your actions.  “I’m just a…” is a ticket to minimizing the expectations we place on ourselves.

The Dark Side

“Just a…” has an even darker side.  It can be used to limit the expectations we place on those around us:

  • “John’s a decent manager, but he’s really just a guy keeping the trains coming in on time.  I doubt he could step into anything new.”
  • “She’s just a summer intern, so I don’t expect her to light the world on fire for us.”
  • “He’s just a beginner, so we need to cut him some slack.”
  • “She’s just a kid.”
  • “He’s just a drug addict, so he will never amount to much.”

When expectations are minimized, minimized outcomes usually follow.

Applying the “just a…” phrase to anyone, including ourselves, ignores potential.  It ignores our ability to grow, change, improve, and amaze.

What Are You Saying?

When talking to your friends, family, employees, or anyone else, do you use encouraging words, or discouraging words?

The words and tone you choose matter.  They reflect, and impact, your attitude.  Your words are the window into your perspective on the world.

Choose discouraging words, and you actively create a discouraging environment for those around you.

Choose encouraging words, use encouraging questions, and guess what…you create an encouraging environment.

The power to create an encouraging environment, an encouraging attitude, is in your hands everyday.

Here’s an exercise for you.  Seek out three people to encourage today.  Encourage them with your words, your questions, and your actions.  Show them that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.  Be appreciative of their unique efforts and skills.  Actively consider how to help them be more successful in achieving their goals.  Repeat this exercise everyday.

Does this exercise make you uncomfortable?  If so, maybe you should be the first person you seek out to encourage.