Put Down the Duckie

Are you as big a fan of classic Sesame Street as I am? So much wisdom. One of my favorites is from a holiday special that was done many years ago. The segment is called, “Put Down the Duckie”.

Click the photo to play the video

In this sketch, Ernie learns the importance of focusing on the task at hand – in this case, learning to play the saxophone.

This song jumped to mind recently while talking with a friend about my own lack of focus on any given task. As I have been analyzing my increasing sense of never getting anything done, I realized just how many distractions have crept into my life.

When I was a software engineer, banging out code, I would sit myself down at the computer, heads down, for hours at a time. If there were too many distractions around me, either from noise in the hallway or the noise in my own head, I would put on headphones with specific types of music to allow me to regain that intense focus on the job at hand.

It is a sign of my age that I remember when checking email required a deliberate action. I remember the first time I encountered a computer workstation that had email running constantly. Even then I realized the folly of having a window pop up to announce you had new mail. My first thought was, “I don’t care. I’ll get to that later. Stop interrupting me. How do you turn that off?”

Now, we all have cell phones, tablets, and myriad devices that bleep, bonk, and vibrate their way into our days with their constant interruptions.

Enough! Do yourself a favor. Turn off every alert on your mobile device that is not absolutely mission critical. Close that Facebook browser window. Turn off the tweets. Do it now.

It’s amazing how much productivity and serenity can be gained by blocking out chunks of time to devote to specific tasks. While you’re at it, block out a specific time to check your email and other means of communication. When the time is up, get on to the next task.

Put down the duckie / cell phone.


Idols & Mentors

Idols and Mentors. Is there a difference?

Last week I attended the annual Venthaven Ventriloquist ConVENTion in Hebron, KY, which is just outside Cincinnati, OH. This is the big convention for ventriloquists from around the world. It is an event I look forward to each summer. This year we had 575 registered attendees from USA, Canada, Germany, Romania, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and more.

The big thrill for me this year was to meet Willie Tyler and Lester. (I actually met him once before, in 1982. More on that later.)

David With Willie Tyler

Even more of a thrill was to be in the audience during his masterful performance on the closing night show.

Willie Tyler and Lester

Willie Tyler is one of the ventriloquists who strongly influenced my development as a ventriloquist. He is one of my idols. With his numerous appearances on TV, he is one of the few ventriloquists I was able to follow as a kid.

Even more than an idol, I consider him a mentor.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from Willie Tyler:

  • Be classy. I have never heard Willie (or Lester) swear or even discuss racy topics in the act, and yet it is full of humor and great entertainment.
  • Know what you need and state is clearly. The first time I met Willie, I ran the sound during his performance at my college. I remember his extremely clear instructions on the type of microphones he needed and how they should be positioned on the stage.
  • Be excellent at your craft. Willie is a master ventriloquist. When they are on stage, there is no doubt that Lester is alive.

Who are your idols? What have you learn from them? Do you also consider them to be mentors? Why, or why not?


Focus Forward

Do you focus on the outcome that you desire? Or do you focus on avoiding the outcome that you wish to avoid?


I was riding my bike along the path in the park yesterday. This is a mixed use trail, shared by those who are walking, running and biking. As I was riding along, there was a gentleman walking toward me. The path is plenty wide enough for both of us. And yet, my mind became focused on NOT running into this person. With this focus, I noticed that I felt I was being drawn toward his side of the path. The result was that I ended up over-compensating and running off the path on the right. No big deal. No crash. But, it got me thinking.

When I encountered the next person, I specifically focused my attention on the line I wished to ride. As much as I was able, I pushed thoughts of this person aside, thinking solely on my intended path. The result? A perfect glide-by.

At our local swimming pool, I noticed that they do things differently than the pool I went to as a kid. At my childhood pool, the words after the whistle were, “Don’t run!”  At the pool here, the words are, “Slowly walk back.” Which of these do you think is better at achieving the desired result?

I remember being one of those smart-Alec kids who, upon hearing, “Don’t run”, would substitute some other form of movement such as skipping, or hopping on one foot, etc. Hey, it wasn’t running!

The point is, if we want a specific behavior, from others or ourselves, we need to be specific about what that desired behavior is. We need to fill our heads with thoughts of the desired outcome.

What is your intended path? What is your desired goal? Focus forward.


Ready, Fire, Aim!

Have you ever heard the expression, “Ready, Fire, Aim!”?


Usually when this expression is used, it is said in a way that implies going about things in the wrong order. Perhaps suggesting a failure to plan. “A failure to plan is planning to fail.” Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

I have always been more of a Ready, Fire, Aim! kind of guy.  Sure, I plan. I rehearse. I prepare.  But, there comes a time when you have to pull the trigger and find out whether you’re even close to the intended target.

Think about it. When you are sighting in a rifle, the only way to know if you are on target is to pull the trigger and see where the bullet hits.

Then you can adjust the sight, take aim, and fire again.

The next time you find yourself endlessly spinning on something, trying to be perfect, refusing to accept anything other than a bullseye on the first shot, remember that you can’t know for sure whether the guide you are using, the assumptions you have made, are accurate – until you take a shot.

Be willing to make some mistakes. Be willing to miss the bullseye a few times as you adjust your sights and fine tune your approach. Just be sure your rifle is pointed down range.


Where Do You Draw the Line?

How do we discern the difference between support and coddling? Where do you draw the line?

Julia on Bicycle

My family calls me, “Mr. Safety.”  I often joke that my oldest daughter’s first word was, “Hot!”, spoken while pointing at the stove.

As parents, we try to shield our kids from things that could hurt them. The media fuels this, wagging their collective fingers at parents and declaring “Bad Parent!”  because, heaven forbid, their kid fell off their bike and hurt themselves. What? No knee and elbow pads? No helmet? What were they doing riding their bike on the street?

I am from the last generation that learned to ride a bicycle without a helmet. Some days, this makes me sad.

Now that my oldest daughter is a college graduate, challenged by the big scary world in which she is trying to make her way, I find myself wondering how her life would be different had I not worked so hard to protect her from every little bump and bruise along the way. How would her view of the world be changed had I allowed her to learn about “hot” by burning her finger?  Did I protect her too much?  Have I been overly willing to intervene at the slightest sign of trouble?

It’s a difficult line to draw. When are we providing too much support? When are we interfering with their growth? Love has no boundaries. But, sometimes that love means being willing to let the kid figure it out on their own. We can’t hold on to their bicycle forever. At some point you have to let go and let them ride on the street. You even have to let them decide for themselves whether or not to wear a helmet.

The same applies to the workplace. A good boss will defend their team and shield them from harm – to a point. There comes a time when the boss must allow the team to stand on their own. They need to be allowed to make mistakes (within reason). But, more importantly, when they make a mistake, they need to own it and deal with the consequences.

Where do you draw the line?