Heroic Expectations

Don’t we all love a hero?  Don’t we want heroes to hold up as examples?  But the mistake we make with heroes is expecting that they’re better than the rest of us so when they show us that they’re not perfect, we sometimes desert them in disgust.  They let us down.

Superheroes Wanted

Superheroes Wanted

I love a quote from filmmaker Ken Burns:  “We demand perfection from our heroes but a true hero has weaknesses he strives to overcome with his strengths.  Inconsistency is a hallmark of all of us.”

Marcus Buckingham insists that we should concentrate on strengths so much that weakness becomes insignificant.

It’s been true in literature, true in history, and true today:  We’re all imperfect and, being human, incapable of perfection.  But we still strive and should still hold heroes high because of their strengths and the deeds that were evident of those strengths.

You suspect where this is going, don’t you?  Especially on November 22?

JFK was imperfect and certainly no saint, morally.  But he exuded a strength and optimism about America that we still prize over 50 years after he enunciated it in his inaugural address.  If he accomplished nothing else, his determination to create the manned space program and land on the moon would still stand as a landmark in world history.  Besides the obvious achievement of getting there and returning safely, the American space program demanded new technology and innovative thinking.  These in turn created economic, scientific, and technological breakthroughs that transcended the space program and sent the United States as well as the world into a new level of expectation and hope for the future.  We owe much to the US Space Program of the 1960s and John Kennedy’s vision for making it a priority.

We could use some of that determination and optimism now.

So my friends, let’s paraphrase the call to action that resonated from the inaugural podium in January of 1961 and took a big blow in November of 1963.  Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do to make life better for others:   For your family, your employer, your community, your country, your Earth.

 

Curse of the Unread

It begins so innocently, even admirably:  A love of reading, a thirst for knowledge, a desire to share information.

It hooks you young:  First a couple of storybooks read by a relative, then a library card of your own.  Soon you’re not satisfied with just borrowing books; you want to keep them and read them whenever you want.

Grave of the Unread

Grave of the Unread

And the hunger, the driven feeling to acquire reading begins.  Soon, without suspecting it, you’re suffering from the new malady:  Page Plague Paralysis; American Hoarder Story.

It used to be so much easier to spot in someone:  They’d have books and periodicals all over the house.  My own library covered an entire wall.  But—-and here’s the key to information hoarding—-many are unread!

Now, however, with the creation of the computer and personal devices such as tablets and e-readers, the effect is much more insidious.  You pile up file after file of PDFs, e-newsletters, RSS feeds, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, all with greatest intention:  Someday you’ll want to read them.

You poor misguided creature.

I too was once a sufferer and still harbor remnants of my recovery as it progresses.  If my Kindle suddenly acquired the weight of the volumes I’ve downloaded, it would weigh more than the combined contestants of The Biggest Loser.  (Hey, Jeff Bezos!  How about letting us create more than one library of our Kindle books?  I’ve got more Jack Reacher novels in your cloud than emails in my inbox!)

Here are some tips for recovering from Page Plague Syndrome:

1.  Assemble all of the novels you’ve read and all of the non-fiction books you haven’t opened in a year or more.

  • (a)Place them in containers
  • (b)Donate them to the library or other nonprofit organization
  • (c)Take a tax deduction for donated goods

2.  With magazines, recycle everything older than 6 months.  Then try for 3 months

3.  Put all your PDF files into one huge, byte-consuming file on your computer

  • (a)Organize by date entered
  • (b)Everything you haven’t read that’s older than 6 months and which you absolutely  don’t need for research—-be bold, be masochistic—-and hit the (gasp) delete button
  • (c)OK, if you have’t the got the spine for that, transfer them to an auxiliary drive.

4.  Finally, ask yourself:  Do I really need all of the files I’ve saved in Evernote? How many have I “clipped” and forgotten?

Yes, my friends, you can recover from information hoarding.

  • Think of the space on your bookshelves that can now be adorned with pictures of your family!
  • Luxuriate in the free disk space you now have on your computer and/or tablet!
  • Realize that you can now can buy or download all sorts of….

Gahhh!

 

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
—Guillaume Apollinaire:  French writer, poet and critic

Guillaume Apollinaire

The Night Call

Vulnerability

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

The phone rang as I was getting ready to go to sleep.

“I want you to know that I’m more vulnerable than I seem,” she said.  “I can be hurt easily and if you ever want to stop seeing each other, all I ask is that you tell me.  Don’t just stop calling.”  Wow.  That’ll wake you up.

Some people consider vulnerability a state or situation wherein one is able to be hurt and is therefore a weakness to be avoided.  I think a lot of divorced people find themselves there.  But vulnerability is better characterized as a choice we make to intentionally allow ourselves to be open and able to be hurt so that, as Dr. Brown asserts, we can taste life and love more richly.

My wife Laura made this choice while we were dating.  We were both in the aftermath of painful occurrences.  Mine was the death of my first wife the previous year.  Hers was a very unpleasant divorce following which she told herself that she would never again allow herself to be emotionally hurt by a man.

Fortunately for me—and us—she changed her mind and I received that phone call.  I was very touched by her openness, especially considering the pain of her divorce and told her so.  I also said that if it was OK with her, I’d be sticking around for a while.  So far, it’s been over 10 years and we still feel the magic.

Happy Together

Happy Together

Laura made a decision to forego her previous conviction of abandoning vulnerability.  She did not do so lightly.  We had connected emotionally and were allowing ourselves to feel love again with all the joy and potential pain that love involves.  Because tearing down the walls of inhibition and surrendering our shell means that we have chosen to be open and vulnerable to someone else.  Love is vulnerability and love is surrender to someone we have come to trust.  There’s really no other way to get there.

BTW, if you haven’t heard—or heard of—Dr. Brene Brown, you must watch her two TED talks on vulnerability, shame, and courage.  You can find them here andhere.  Best to view them in that order.  She’s also written two books:  The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  You should read them.  You really should.

 

The Body Cries Out

Pain pressed in my chest, radiated down my arms; my breathing was shallow and rapid along with my pulse rate.

I knew I was having a heart attack.  Except that I wasn’t.

Too Much Pressure

Too Much Pressure

                                   Falling Apart

In the summer of 1976 and age 27, I had a series of “heart attacks” that I really never had.

Oh, I had the symptoms, classic symptoms.

But when they hooked up the EKG monitor, all the peaks and valleys were right where they were supposed to be.  On another occasion of chest pain, one of several, the doctor put me on a treadmill stress test.  My heart was strong.

So why was I disappointed?  Naturally, I didn’t want to have heart disease but if I didn’t, that meant that there was something wrong upstairs.  This was 1976 and the concepts of panic or anxiety attacks weren’t talked about much.   The closest we got to that was when some famous person checked into a hospital for what was termed “exhaustion.”

Yeah, let’s see some regular citizen try that:  Walk into a hospital and say “I’m exhausted.  Check me in.”  Hah!  They’d throw you out and charge you for changing the sheets on your gurney.

But I digress.

Six Start Signs

Start Sign

 

In my last post, we looked at activities to cease doing, to just stop because they interfere with being happy, content, peaceful, you insert the proper adverb.

But nature abhors a vacuum so you might also want to consider this list of ideas to start doing.  There are others you could add but it’s a start:

  1.  Start to express yourself,  possibly in writing, probably in private.  My Morning Pages and the writing I did after my first wife died were of immense help.  Letting off steam or emotion by writing or ranting to a web cam or voice memo can be very liberating.  Just make sure it’s not accessible to anyone.  Then erase it or post it once you’ve considered and edited the piece.
  2. Start discerning your calling.  Why are you here?  What are you called to do?  What gifts do you have?
  3. Start caring about something larger than yourself:  Some cause, some group of people, some organization needs help.  Help them.  Do what you can.  It will not only help them, it’s good for you in a number of ways:  You know they’re being helped, you know that you helped, it took your mind off your own problems temporarily, and reminded you that your life may look pretty good in comparison.
  4. Start taking time for yourself.  No wonder we feel overwhelmed sometimes.  We’re so busy doing that we forget just be.  Find a place that’s quiet and where you feel peaceful like a church, a library, or a park.  Go there regularly.  Clear your mind.  Let the light in.  You deserve it.
  5. Start moving!  If you’re not being physically active on a regular basis, begin.  Start slowly and keep at it.
  6. Start apps or classes in meditation or Tai Chi.  The cultures of the Pacific rim brought these practices to our shores and they have helped millions of people.

We frequently lead lives on someone else’s terms, usually involving our careers.  But we need to be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally refreshed.  We need to make sure we’re leading satisfying lives.  That usually requires change.  Change implies both starting and stopping.

Do you have another idea of something to start?

 

Stop Signs

I usually like to phrase ideas in affirmative terms, avoiding the negative.  But right now, I’m thinking of activities to stop because they’re not doing us any good.  They are, indeed, doing us ill because they interfere with achieving peace of mind.

Sign---Stop Sign

We unconsciously allow ourselves to be bombarded with baloney that is distracting, disturbing, and dismaying.

But, you query, what can we do?  What can someone, a person like myself, do to overcome this plethora of poop?

Humbly, I offer these suggestions:

  • Stop watching the news. It’s depressing.  Just skim over the basics of what you need to know on a local level.  Then, turn it off, especially if it involves the federal government.  Congress will just depress you.
  • Stop watching the market unless you’re a day-trader.  The up and down swings will drive you crazy and the market analysts on TV will only frustrate you.
  • Stop managing your own money:  We get too emotional about our money and that clouds our judgement.  Find a financial consultant, make sure they’re accredited and certified and all that meet with them regularly.  In between those meetings, forget about it.
  • Stop being plugged in all the time.  Anyone can do it for short periods of time. Really.  Just walk away from the computer for awhile.  Leave the tablet at home.  “Forget” to take your phone with you.  Yeah, it will feel funny the first few times but trust me, it’s really good for you.

Next time we’ll consider some ideas to start doing.

              What could you stop doing that would make your life better?

Honesty in Leadership! Woo-Hoo!

Just when I thought that we had lost all honesty or accountability in leadership, both qualities show up in the last month:  Two corporate types ‘fessing up and telling it like it is.

Well Done

Well Done

Example #1:  Andrew Mason was CEO of Groupon until he was recently fired.  Two of my favorite bloggers, Bill Geist and Harvey Briggs, have referred to his final communique to employees as the “best farewell letter ever.” Here’s the link to it as provided by Harvey by way of Bill.

Among other things, Mr. Mason says to his former staff:  “You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance.”

And remember, kids, this wasn’t a resignation; he was fired.

Lessons From Bad Bosses

There are some great movies about working for bad bosses. Check out Horrible Bosses, Working Girl, or the great 9 to 5.

Staff on Chess Board

Staff on Chess Board

I’ve been a boss and I’ve been bossed. I liked being the boss better.

It wasn’t an ego thing. My father was President of one of the banks in the small town where I grew up. He naturally commanded respect and, of course, I wanted to be like my Dad. Through him, I saw both the rewards and the disadvantages of being in charge. And there are plenty of both.

I confess to being a better boss than an employee and got to be very “black & white” about people to whom I was subordinate. I could forgive and work hard for bosses who had plenty of drawbacks but who were people who deserve respect. But I had no time for managers who were out of their league being in charge.
Ultimately it came down to whether or not I sensed that they respected us as subordinates and that their enthusiasm was for the organization, of which staff plays a key role. I hated toadies and suck-ups and bosses who liked toadies and suck-ups.

But you learn valuable lessons from every boss. From the good ones, you learn what to do and from the bad ones you remember what do to avoid.

Here are 4 “worst practices” I learned to avoid from observing and working for bad bosses:

  • I’m in charge; I’ve arrived: Once I was competing with someone else for a managerial position. I asked him why he wanted the job and he told me: “I don’t know. The money and the position, I guess.” He lasted in that job for less than 4 years. I replaced him and stayed for 10.
  • Now they have to do what I say: Sure, you may have a title that gives you authority but there is such a thing as malicious obedience. Sure, sometimes you need to be firm but, if you’re a good manager, those times are rare. As Michael Hyatt said in a recent blog post: “If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.”
  • Why would I need advice from staff? I’ve got more experience than they do: Some managers feel that asking staff for ideas would weaken their own position, especially if you actually mean it and adopt the ideas. Wrong! Staff can have great ideas and will be even more motivated if you make the great ones happen.
  • You can’t trust employees: One of the worst bosses for whom I worked had this attitude. As a person he was shallow, narcissistic, and manipulative. In other words, poor managerial material. Sometimes employees will let you down or act dishonestly but I’ve always found those to be the exceptions.

Mutual respect and trust are essential to great manager/staff effectiveness and efficiency.

What have you learned from your bosses?