Helping Is My Highest Priority

Have you ever had an experience that just defied any attempt to reduce it to a few words? Well the incident that goes with the play button comes pretty close. It’s one of those frustrating encounters we have all had in one version or another. There is nothing for it but for you to have a listen and see if there isn’t something there that you have personally suffered through. I’ve been there to and didn’t like it much either.

Return to Cleveland

This story starts when I was seventeen and if the truth be told, even more full of myself than most seventeen-year-olds. There I was a senior in high school and on an airplane flying from Columbus to Cleveland. It was a very big deal; but before I get too far ahead of myself, a little perspective is necessary.

At my high school, I had some status: class president, a good student, a drummer in the marching band and teacher’s pet, at least for a couple of the teachers. Life was good, at least as good as it gets when you are seventeen.

Let me sharpen the perspective. My senior class had a grand total of 63 students and my hometown had 900 residents, assuming everyone was home. We did have one traffic light and a courthouse, if you were thinking there was nothing special about the place.

It happened that one of those couple of teachers I mentioned was responsible for the plays that were presented by students once or twice each school year. My teacher’s pet status partially depended on having a role whenever it was play time. I still don’t quite understand how being in those plays seemed to automatically mean that I would also participate in speech contests, but it did.

Well, one of those contests involved writing and memorizing a speech on democracy. The writing part was tough but successful, with a lot of extra help from the history teacher. – No, pet status with the history teacher was not in the cards. – . At any rate, the speech got written and the memorizing part was no harder than learning a part in one of the plays. I was ready for the contest.

I was to compete in one of the seven districts in the state. I think there were three or four rounds leading to the final round. You do recall that I was full of myself, don’t you? I think I had just assumed that I would probably win, so I was neither surprised nor impressed When I was given the democracy medal at a school assembly.

That should suffice for perspective. My mother and I were flying to Cleveland for the state contest. Two points are enough to let you get the full picture. First, the contest was in a downtown hotel where I had to wait for a half hour or so until the contest started. I was sitting with the other contestants who seemed to me to all be sophisticated city kids. Does fish out of water clarify the picture? I think it was my first experience with being totally intimidated.

Second – and here’s the kicker – I left a full paragraph out of the middle of my speech. And to make the kick even straighter to the gut, one of the judges told my mother after the contest that I would have easily won, but omitting the paragraph was an automatic disqualification. No trip to Dallas to the national contest for me.

I never made it to Dallas, but I did get another crack at Cleveland. Granted, it took twenty years, but my day came. I was invited to give a presentation to 200 or so sophisticated city folks at the very same hotel where I blew my chance to make the trip to Dallas. I have given talks from Las Vegas to Boston; but none were quite as sweet as my return to that downtown hotel in Cleveland.

I’m probably supposed to draw some profound conclusion or share a witty insight from my teenage stumble but nothing profound or witty comes to mind. Perhaps you might expect to learn how much I learned and grew from my humbling Cleveland experience. Sorry to disappoint. The best I can do is to assure you that now and then the stars do align, as they did for me the day I returned to Cleveland. – Count on it.

Now you know so there you go.

Something Was Not Right

I was already running late when I downed a quick cup of coffee, snagged my keys on the way out and automatically pushed the button to open the garage door. As I hesitated to make sure the door from the kitchen locked, I more sensed than noticed that something was not right. The garage door rumbled up about halfway and the outside light was replacing the darkness. That’s the instant I was very sure that something was not right but making sense of the picture was beyond me.

The lawn mower was in the corner where I keep it. The gas can was there too. The trash ben was along the inside wall and the back of the garage was cluttered with the usual collection of disorganized stuff. I even had the passing thought that I really should get around to straightening up the clutter. But still, something was not right.

I knew what was not right, but nothing computed. For that instant, I didn’t want to know what was not right, I didn’t want it to compute. I just wanted the picture to change, wanted the video to move along a few frames to where nothing is not right, to where my car is just sitting in the middle of my garage where it’s supposed to be. I could get in, start the car and calmly back out of the garage and head off to my meeting.

I was back in the kitchen and thinking I should call someone – maybe the police – when the text tone beeped on my cell. “I was running quite late and your garage door was down. Thought you might have already called it a night so left your car in the drive. Will bring your key over after work. You said it was a spare so you should be good to go. If that’s a problem, text me and I will get it to you now. Thanks for letting me use your ride. You are a lifesaver.”

I just shook my head and wondered if I might be losing it. I could have pondered that possibility for a while but was now running even later. A quick check to be sure I closed the garage door and I was off … again. I don’t really want to share what I was mumbling to myself as I checked to make sure the front door locked and got into my car that was sitting patiently in my driveway.

“Yes officer, I now realize that I didn’t come to a full stop at that stop sign.”

“Yes, I do understand how dangerous not coming to a full stop can be.”

“No, I do not have a good excuse for running the stop sign.”

“Thank you. I will definitely slow down and be more careful.”

“Do I have to appear, or can I just pay the ticket by mail?”

Now you know so there you go.

Down the Rabbit Hole

How clever is it to start a story with “Once upon a time?” I doubt if that opening would ever be confused with cleverness. Even so, it may be as good as anything else if I have no interest in being clever. Some people can pull off being clever but I’m not among those (Dare I say?) clever types. I’m more aligned with those who just say what they have to say and let it go at that.

A few years back, I had the notion that I could teach myself to play the organ. I’m not talking about the kind of organ that fills a church or great hall with powerful music. I am just referring to a little organ that is smaller than most pianos. It wasn’t a toy but definitely less than the real deal.

I know. “A few years back” is pretty close to once upon a time but I’ve already admitted that something more clever is not in the cards for me. My only goal is to get you into the picture where I’m trying to play the organ. Are you there with me? I’ll just assume you are so we can move on.

Every day for nearly six months, I spent an hour or so teaching myself to play, and gradually I learned. I could play a few songs, press the right keys, and some days I believed that I was even making music. I admit that even I didn’t think it was great, but it was some better than nothing. Not a lot better, but some better.

I don’t recall the day specifically, but one day somewhere in month six, I realized that, no matter how long I worked at it, I was never going to be more than an organ player, and not a very good organ player at that.

To compound the insight, I realized that I didn’t particularly enjoy organ music all that much. Here is the point. I could play the organ but was never going to be an organist; I liked some types of music but was never going to be a musician. If the truth be known, I didn’t enjoy trying to learn to play the organ all that much either. It was just something I was forcing myself to do.

That insight got me to wondering how often I start down that particular rabbit hole. How often do I get invested in doing something only to discover that I am not very good at it and am unlikely to ever get very good at it? I’ve definitely been there a few times over the years and don’t figure that I am any better off for the time and energy spent going down those rabbit holes. Here’s the problem. I often have no good way of knowing whether something that peaks my interest is a rabbit hole or a real opportunity without investing in it enough to test out its potential.

It might be easy to conclude from all of this that it’s all just one big crap shoot. The best I can do is to just keep trying this and that, hoping that I stumble into more opportunities than rabbit holes. Fortunately, I came up with what is for me, a much better strategy. It starts with knowing what I’m already good at. Note that I didn’t say knowing what I’m already great at. I just inventoried the few things I was good at. For each of those things, I personally know someone who is better at it than I am. This means that I can’t hang my success on being great and certainly not the best at any of the things I am good at. So what’s the better strategy?
Continue reading “Down the Rabbit Hole”

Want To Be a Podcaster

Once upon a time there was a wannabe podcaster. It doesn’t matter whether you insert he or she or perhaps even me. Wannabe was as far as it had gotten so far.

Every day our wanna be podcaster connected the microphone to the mixer and plugged that into the computer, with the recording software ready to capture wise words and clever banter. But the wise words and clever banter never emerged. Our wannabe podcaster was stuck, waiting on an inspiration that stubbornly refused to inspire.

One day, an inspiration of sorts was unexpectedly just there, astonishing our wannabe podcaster. The mute switch on the microphone accidentally or perhaps magically shifted from mute to record. The microphone started serving its intended purpose; the mixer joined into the signal chain; the computer started computing; and the recording software started recording. This all happened when our wannabe podcaster was just getting into what had become a daily rant about how hard it was to podcast and how much easier it would be to just quit trying.

Because of that fortunate bit of serendipity, our wannabe podcaster had an actual recording. No, it did not raise to the level of wise words or clever banter, but it was way more than nothing, way more than all that daily effort had produced so far. Just maybe it was a start down that podcasting road.

Because of that, wannabe figured it was time to move on past the wannabe status and jump into being an actual podcaster. It wasn’t a grand opening or anything close to the splash our wannabe podcaster had fantasized. Even so, it wasn’t nothing. Our hopeful podcaster posted the accidental recording on Facebook where it got 71 likes within three hours of being posted. Okay, a Facebook post is not a podcast, but our happy Facebook poster now knew that at least 71 people actually liked his recording. Could for real podcasting be all that far away?

Sure, there were more actual recordings, more posts on Facebook and more likes, until finally our newbie podcaster figured out what was needed to move those Facebook posts over to a real podcast channel, with a growing group of subscribers and enthusiastic fans. You may run across the podcast one day when you are just searching for something interesting enough to keep your attention for a while. Don’t be surprised that there aren’t many wise words or much clever banter. That’s just not what our more experienced podcaster is aiming for. You will always get straight talk and useful tips from a podcaster who always keeps it real.

Now you know so there you go.

We Grow Strong or We Grow Weak

Consider this from Katharine Butler Hathaway, “If you let fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

The implication here is that fear of consequence is pretty normal; so having some, or maybe even a lot, isn’t that much of a big deal. The big deal is having a life that is safe, expedient, and thin. What the problem with this actually is remains hidden; so you are simply expected to intuit it, it seems. The rub is that you have little faith in your abilities and less faith in your basic grasp or understanding of situations or circumstances. Since you don’t believe that you can trust your judgment or instinct, you don’t take a chance on yourself. You likewise don’t have much faith in your ability to anticipate or predict the behavior of other people. Your belief is that you cannot predict if a specific action of yours will lead to good or bad outcomes. Usually, you think the likely outcome of following your judgment will be bad. You don’t trust yourself and feel that any errors or mistakes you might make will likely be just another example of your screwing up. Given that reality, a life that is safe, expedient, and thin sounds like a reasonable alternative. There is a potential glitch in going with the safe alternative, though. Brooke Foss Westcott described it this way, “Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.” Fortunately, Eleanor Roosevelt suggested another alternative that you may want to consider. “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experiences behind him.”

Sure, conquering fear sounds good in theory; but it’s certainly easier said than done. As you weigh your choices, Glenn Turner’s point deserves your attention, “Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Ruth Gordon also joined the fear fighters, “Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by use;” and as you might have expected, the famous Anon. added a tidbit as well, “The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.”

Since the Fear vs. Safe debate can’t be resolved here, another thought or two will be enough for now. Haddon W. Robinson said, “What worries you, masters you;” and Roger Babson said, “If things go wrong, don’t go with them.” There you go. Do what you need to do, when you need to do it; and while you’re at it, adopt the Charlie Brown philosophy for fear management, “I’ve developed a new philosophy … I only dread one day at a time.”

Now you know so there you go.

Potential

William Arthur Ward argued that “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

This isn’t altogether true but is definitely a popular, self-affirming message for most people, most of the time. One can easily imagine being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and perhaps even leaping one of those tall buildings in a single bound; but no matter how much you dream, you still aren’t turning into Superman. It’s also true that you may find that you have achieved things you never imagined and have become someone you didn’t think it was possible for you to become, in your wildest dreams. Unfortunately, that can work in both positive and negative directions. The reality is that imagining and dreaming can lead to achievement and becoming, but only within limits. Exploring those limits is instructive.

Imagination and dreaming can assist in avoiding bad outcomes and finding oneself in undesirable circumstances. Think about what you don’t want to happen, where you don’t want to end up. Once you have a clear picture, figure out what you need to do to get that outcome or to end up in those circumstances. Now, make sure you don’t do whatever your imagination and dreaming tell you would be required. Just don’t do it; don’t knowingly screw up. It’s surprising how often people know they shouldn’t do something but do it anyway.

Are you committed to avoiding screwing up, to the extent you can, whenever possible? If so, the next step is to avoid Superman thinking. Is what you want to achieve or who you want to become possible, given your skills, talents, and circumstances? You can improve your skills; but if you frequently miss the ball when you swing, you likely aren’t going to make it as a professional golfer. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t ever be asked to sing a solo at the opera. If you spent a few years in the big house for robbing a bank, a seat on the Supreme Court isn’t in your future. When you do your imagining and dreaming thing, be sure your actually being in the picture one day is at least possible, no matter how unlikely.

You have now pretty well defined the limits of imagination and dreaming. Achieving and becoming are in your sites, although they may yet be hard to see. What to do? Well, you’re in luck. JP Morgan’s strategy is here for you. “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.”

Now you know so there you go.

Choices

Horace said, “He has the deed half done who has made a beginning.” Indira Gandhi also thought that getting on with getting on is the way to go, “Have a bias toward action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy joined the get your get up and go up and going chorus when he said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” And perchance you think that people will simply assume that you have good intentions without your actually needing to go for it, the famous Anon pointed out, “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.”

There you have it, the argument for not sitting around twiddling your thumbs; but, as with most ideas, there is an alternative point of view. One might suppose that it’s now time to dig in, go for the gusto, strike while the iron is hot, expatiate, explicate, and generally expound on that alternative point of view; but one would be wrong. Remember Johann von Goethe’s warning, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

If that isn’t sufficient to slow the pace, also remember Walter Kerr’s observation, “Half the world is composed of idiots, the other half of people clever enough to take indecent advantage of them.” It would be well to first determine whether one is clever, an idiot, or merely a clever idiot before jumping to an ill considered conclusion. If all of that still doesn’t put the brakes on for you, persuade you to look before you leap, and convince you not to jump off the cliff until you learn how to fly, listen to Laurence J. Peter, “Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” And speaking of misfortune, even Horace advised you to put no trust in tomorrow.

OK, you’ve got them, the alternative points of view. Do you act or not act, take a chance or play it safe? Sure, you need to seize the day but it’s worth pointing out that you can usually wait till after lunch.

Now you know so there you go.