Memories

Photo of bunnies in garden
Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How long does it take for you to forget what drove you crazy?

We have all had relationships that ended, sometimes badly, and yet we find ourselves strangely drawn back to that same relationship that caused us so much pain. Why is that?

Memory is a fickle thing.

A friend of mine used to say that she judged the seriousness of any given situation by how long it would take before she could find the humor in it. Thus was born our favorite saying when things are not going according to our plans, “How long until this is funny?”

Recently, I performed at a local outdoor festival. Being local, many people I know came out to see the show. Several were coworkers at one of the places I used to work when I had a day job.

Enough time has gone by since leaving that particular employer that most of my memories are good ones. I especially miss the people I used to work with on a daily basis. For me, it is always the people that I miss the most.

When my wife catches me speaking with fondness about this particular former employer, she is quick to point out that at the time I left, I was overflowing with frustration, constantly complaining about the environment, and generally difficult to live with as a result. She’s right, of course. (She usually is.)

It was great to catch up with my former coworkers at this recent event. In talking with them, it was fun to remember the people I used to work with and the parts of the job that made it a decent place to work. However, I was also reminded of the things that used to drive me crazy about the environment. Apparently, it hasn’t changed much.

In case any of you reading this know which organization I am talking about, it is important to understand that I bear no ill will to the organization itself. They do great work in the community and I am a happy customer of the organization. But, just because you like to shop at Walmart, it doesn’t mean you would be happy working there. Meanwhile, some people love working there. It fits their style. Some people simply tolerate it. So it is with this former employer of mine. As I’ve said throughout this blog, it is all about fit.

How do you remember your former employers? Which ones drove you crazy at the time, but now you look back on with fondness, perhaps even wishing you could go back?

What if we could do that in the moment?

What if we could approach our current job as if we were looking back upon it in the future? Which parts would we choose to remember?

What if we could overlook the parts that annoy us now, the aspects that we will wipe from our memory over time, and focus on the good parts, the parts that in the future we will look back on with fondness?

How would that change the way we approach our work each day?

Enjoy the good parts. Tolerate the not so good parts. And, as always,  “Thank you for shopping at Walmart.”

 

Island of Misfit Toys

Image from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer
Image from Rankin Bass Productions. http://rankinbass.com

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when, as a kid, I was teased mercilessly about belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys.

I always knew it was coming. It would start the day after the annual TV broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer“. From that day on, until winter break, someone would ask me if I wanted to be a dentist. At least once a day. Every day.

Why? The other kids decided that I looked exactly like Hermie the Elf on that classic Christmas special.

I don’t know why. I don’t see the resemblance. Do you?

Photo of David as a kid.
David as a kid. Copyright restricted. Unknown photographer.

It bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be a misfit. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted. So I did my best to conform to the expectations of others.

In the show, Hermie also wanted to be accepted. The difference is, Hermie was not willing to compromise. He refused to become someone he was not, to be just like all the other elves. He insisted on being himself.

As a result, he was ostracized by his fellow elves.

Until…

Until he did something that was of direct benefit to them. Then, and only then, he was finally accepted by the rest of the elves for being his wonderful, fully individual, self.

Have you ever felt like you belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys?

It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? We prefer to fit in. We want to feel like we belong. We actively seek out groups that allow us to be one of the gang. If we can’t choose the group, we intentionally mold ourselves to fit in with whatever group we are a part of.

Guess what. People don’t win a prize for being “the most like everyone else”. (Although, we do award prizes for “most conformance to arbitrary expectations”. That is a different matter altogether.)

Take a look at those you most admire. Why do you admire them? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because they are the best at fitting in. No. We admire those who stand out. What we most admire about them are the qualities that make them different.

Lately, I have come to embrace my inner Hermie. It’s taken me a long time. Now I honor him for knowing who he was and what he wanted to be.

As I look back over my life, I realize I have unknowingly made many choices that put me onto the Island of Misfit Toys. When I got to choose the group, it was often a group of other misfits. Those are my people. From my group of friends at the high school lunch table, to the fraternity I joined in college, to the people I most enjoy hanging out with now, I have always been happiest when surrounded by fellow misfits.

Being different can be painful. It can be lonely.

Embrace it.

Come join me on the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s where the fun is.

 

Back to the Beginning

Photo of stage
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Where did you get your start?

I recently had the opportunity to go back to where it all started for me as an entertainer. I did a show on the first stage I performed on as a kid. Several people in the audience had even been there for that first appearance approximately 45 years ago. While this show was a solo performance, that first time I was one of many acts performing as part of a youth talent show.

If you’ve ever experienced a youth talent show, you know that the range of talent being shared on that stage was quite broad. That didn’t seem to matter. I remember that every act was met with enthusiastic applause. Every one of us was made to feel like a star. We were applauded – loudly – for getting up there and giving it a shot.

What I do now would not be possible had it not been for the encouragement I received then.

Being back on that stage in that environment was deeply moving for me. It brought back deep-seated memories. It drove home for me the love and support I have been blessed to receive in so many areas of my life. It reminded me that I would not be where I am now had it not been for the encouragement of a countless number of people along the way.

Who has helped you on your journey? Who has been there with a kind word at the very moment when you needed it most? Who has been there for you to lend a hand, to help you up when you stumbled? Who has been there to cheer you on along your journey?

Where would you be now had they not been there to cheer you on?

Like that early talent show, I’m betting that many times you have been applauded even when your act kind of sucked. But, because of that applause, you kept going. It gave you the encouragement to continue. Perhaps you’ve kept going to the point where it (whatever it is that you do) no longer sucks. You might even be pretty darn good at it.

What if you had not received the applause before your act deserved it?

What a shame it would be if you had stopped. How sad it would be for those who now benefit from what you do well.

Take a moment to remember those who have cheered you on and encouraged you, even at a point in your development when it didn’t seem justified.

Now it’s your turn.

Who needs to hear your applause? Who would benefit from your words of encouragement and support?

Cheer them on. Applaud loudly.

 

Judgement

How strong is your competitive spirit? Do you enjoy the thrill of victory? Do you agonize over defeat?

Competition can be good. It pushes us to go farther than we would on our own. It encourages us to improve.

But, it can also cause us to shut down, to give up, to stop trying. We see the competition, realize there is no way we could ever win, and think, “Why bother?”

I have several issues with competition in the traditional sense. The first problem with competition is that it involves rules. These rules are often arbitrary and typically based on what has already been done. They leave little room for true innovation.

The second problem is that competition is relative – relative to others and relative to that set of rules.

Combining these problems, my main issue with competitions is that they do not necessarily measure what is important.

Have you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters?  Great fun, isn’t it?

Who won? I’m betting you have no idea. And I’m betting you don’t care. Because the final score was not the point.

You won’t see the Harlem Globetrotters in the NBA playoffs. But, that doesn’t stop them from filling arenas.

Is winning your only measure of success? Being in it to win it is good. It forces us to take it more seriously, to work harder.

However, especially with a competition where the winner is selected by a panel of judges, winning is often subjective. Those judges may not be the ultimate target (consumer) of whatever it is that you are doing.

Who is on your panel of judges? Who are you allowing to determine whether what you are doing is good enough to win the prize?

As a performing artist, the only measure that matters to me is the connection with this audience, right here, right now. Did this audience have fun? Were they entertained? Did they laugh? Are they leaving the event in a better state of mind than when they arrived? Do they have a renewed sense of hope?

That is how I measure the success of what I do.

What is your measure of success? Look to the right judges.

 

Eyes Front

Photo of road leading to sunset.
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Keep your eyes on the road. Never look back. Eyes on the prize. We’re in it for the long haul.

There are so many cliched sayings on the topic of staying focused on our goals.

Why is it so hard to stay the course when pursuing a long term goal or dream?

I blame Amazon.

Thanks to Amazon, we expect 2-day delivery of nearly anything. In some cases, we can get 2-hour delivery. Or, if you’re willing to pay for it, some items will even be delivered in 1 hour. Quite a far cry from the way I grew up.

Have you ever purchased something on layaway? Does anyone still do that?

The last time I bought something on a layaway plan was 34 years ago – an engagement ring. (I could say, “and I’m still paying for it.” But, the reality is, it remains the best purchase I have ever made.)

How about saving box tops? Do you remember that? This was a common thing when I was a kid. By sending in the tops from boxes of cereal, along with a small amount to cover shipping and handling, you could get all kinds of great prizes.

I got my start as a magician with a trick I got in a box of cereal. Wheat Chex, to be exact. From there, I saved box tops to send away for a full-fledged magic kit. It required 6 box tops. Do you know how long it takes to save up 6 box tops? In our house, it was not a thing to buy 6 boxes of cereal at a time. And it certainly was not OK to open a new box until the current one was all gone. And, no, it was not OK to eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After collecting all of the required box tops, you had to mail them via standard US postal delivery, then wait 6-8 weeks for delivery of your long coveted prize. There was no such thing as overnight delivery. I remember checking the mail every day for the entire time in anticipation of the fantastic prize.

Would anyone do that today?

With instant downloads on the Internet, on-demand streaming of movies, and overnight delivery (or less) of nearly anything, we have been trained to think everything should happen quickly.

With that mindset, we get frustrated by how long things take. We think we should be able to achieve anything by next week at the latest.

I started my career as a software engineer. I used to work on projects that were measured in months, sometimes many, many months. Now when I launch into a new project on my website, I get frustrated when I don’t have it done before lunchtime.

In my current career as entertainer and speaker, I often get frustrated because things are not where I’d like them to be. Why is this taking so long?

Then I pause to look back and realize how far I have come. I watch video from events I did a few years ago and compare that with video from one I did last week. Wow! Maybe I am making progress. Maybe things are on track.

Are you feeling frustrated? Do you feel like you’re never going to get there? (Wherever “there” is for you.)

Try this. Take your eyes off the road. Do look back. See how far you have already come. Acknowledge your progress.

Now you can go back to eyes front. Eyes on the prize. Sure, it’s a long haul. Might as well settle in and enjoy the ride.

And once in a while, check that rear view mirror.

 

Raising the Bar

Photo of a glass of beer
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you been told to raise the bar?

Sure you have. Usually it is a boss asking us to do more (with less).

Or, it is a coach pushing us to work harder, to do more reps at the gym, to run another lap at the track, etc.

Or, it is the person in the mirror saying, “You can do better.”

This is all fine. We do need to push. We should always be striving to get better at our craft.

But, we can take this too far.

Sometimes, what we really need to do is STOP raising the bar and instead, SIT AT the bar; take a break. Raise a glass to toast our accomplishments.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

As important as it is to push, it is even more important to recognize our accomplishments. Take a moment to look around you. See how far you have come. See the good.

Invite your friends to join you in the toast.

 

Cover band

Photo of Kiss cover band
Photo copyright ©2016 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you write your own music, or are you in a cover band?

When you show up for work, are you doing your job in a way that someone else could easily step in and take your place? Or are you doing it in a way that is clearly your own?

How about your life? Are you forging your own path? Or are you only imitating what you see in others?

So many of us spend our days trying to reproduce what others have done, living our lives note for note like what we see in others. We follow the rules. We read how-to guides. We may be technically excellent at our craft. But, in the end, what we produce looks like it could have been done by 50 or 100 or 1,000 other people.

This starts young. “Why can’t you be more like Tom?”

It continues into adulthood, especially in the working world. “We could use a lot more Toms.”

And we do this to ourselves. We see someone we deem to be successful and think, “Hey, if I can just do that, I, too, will be successful.”

We invest in programs guaranteed to produce the same kind of results others have produced. “Follow these simple steps and you, too, can earn a 7-figure income while working from home in your pajamas! This is a limited time offer! Act now!”

It has long fascinated me how many cover bands are out there. I’ve seen some good ones. The good ones can make a decent income. They might even develop their own fan base. But, it has always struck me as limiting. The best you can do is a perfect imitation of someone else. Where’s the fun in that?

Here’s the reality. We are never going to make it big in the art world with paint-by-number reproductions. We are never going to top the Billboard Charts as a cover band. We will never reach our full potential in our careers by doing only what others have done. We are never going to live a truly fulfilling life by only replicating what we see others doing.

Be an original. Study from the masters, then paint your own masterpiece.

 

If You Won the Lottery

Photo of Powerball Lottery ticketIf you won the lottery, would you still work?

That question has been on my mind since the summer of 1984.

I was a starry-eyed recent graduate, happy to have my first real job as a bona fide Electrical Engineer and eager to prove myself. So, I was thrilled when, less than a year after I started, my boss asked me to attend a trade show where we would have a booth to show off our products.

The trade show was in Atlantic City at the big convention center right on the boardwalk. This was back when Atlantic City was still in its Heyday. It was exciting.

It was a major trade show for the scientific measurements industry. I had never seen anything like it. It was full of big-name manufacturers showing off their large sophisticated machinery with equally large and sophisticated names.

The exhibits were impressive. On display was a vast array of complex scientific research instruments, measurement systems, and elaborate demonstrations of these products.

Our booth was not quite so impressive. We had a fish tank and ping-pong balls. (I wish I had a photo. It was truly a sight to behold.)

But, it did demonstrate the basic functionality of our product. Its simplicity created an opening for a conversation. At least, that’s what we told ourselves.

Have you ever worked in a trade show booth? Those of you who have, know it is grueling work. At the end of our first day, we were exhausted.

But, we were in Atlantic City!

So, we left the convention center and headed out for dinner … to … the Playboy Club. That is a story for another time.

As we were walking along the boardwalk we passed a sign advertising the lottery and its current jackpot of $1 million. Remember, this was 1984.

That was when Lou, the founder and president of the company, asked me the question. “Hey, David. If you won the lottery would you still work?”

Alert! Alert! Danger Will Robinson!

I may have been young and naïve, and believe me, I was. But, I knew a trick question when I heard one. So, I took great care with my answer.

After a reasonable pause to demonstrate I had appropriately considered the question, I confidently said, “Yes.” Lou seemed satisfied and we moved on, never discussing it again.

But, the question lingered in my head. In fact, that question became a guiding principle throughout my career. Because I knew that, “Yes”, was an incomplete answer.

The full answer, the one that I so carefully avoided saying out loud, was, “Yes, but not for you.”

As excited as I was to be there, I knew it was not a forever job. I knew this was just a starting point in my career.

Throughout my career, I have asked myself variations of that question on a regular basis.

“If you won the lottery, would you still do this?” And, “Would you still do it here?”

One of the hot topics of conversation in the business world today is “employee engagement”. It’s an especially big buzzword in the HR circles.

Employee engagement, retention and satisfaction. They all tend to get lumped together. And I do think it is an important topic.

What is the first thing companies typically do when they want to measure these? Right. The employee satisfaction survey.

Have you ever taken one of these? I’ve done several. Some of them were quite lengthy. And that’s part of the problem.

If you truly want to measure employee satisfaction, you only need to ask one question.

“If you won the lottery, would you still work here? Why? Or Why not?”

If you believe employee satisfaction is important, the goal is simple. Create an environment where the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES”.

How do you do that? Obviously, there is no one answer for all situations. Since you are reading this blog, then you know that my primary answer is, “Make Work Fun!” How you do that is the real challenge – and worth the effort.

Let’s look at the personal side of this, though.

If you were taking this one-question survey and your answer were, “NO”, my question for you would be, “Then why are you still here?”

I’m sure you’ve worked with people who do nothing but complain. Day in, day out, the only thing that seems to make them happy is to tell you how unhappy they are, and how much they hate their job.

The only response to this is, “Then why are you still here?” And, “What are you going to do about it?”

We do have a choice. The choice is not whether or not to win the lottery. Although, if you want to win, you do need to buy a ticket.

Our choice is, what are we going to do about it? Why wait?

If you don’t love what you are doing, if you are not excited to get up in the morning, what’s holding you back from making a change?

Define your own jackpot. Print your own lottery ticket.

Live your life with a resounding, “YES”.

 

No More Watermelon

Photo of Beatles 8 Track cartridge
Photo credit: Amazon

I hate watermelon.

There, I’ve said it. Can we still be friends?

I also can’t stand to listen to the Beatles.

Uh, oh, now we’ve crossed into dangerous territory.

It’s not that I think watermelon is bad. And I certainly have great respect for the music produced by the Beatles.

But, I’ve had enough of both to last a lifetime.

Every summer as a kid, I went to Boy Scout Camp. One night during each camp session we had a family night. Parents and family would come for campfire where we would enjoy stories, skits and songs.

Our troop had a tradition whereby parents would bring watermelon for us to enjoy after the families had gone on their way. We would be up late into the night having watermelon eating races. The goal was to finish every watermelon before going to bed. With nearly a watermelon per kid, you can imagine we got pretty creative with the various ways of eating it all.

To this day, the very smell of watermelon makes me want to turn and run the other way. Please, no more!

The Beatles suffered a similar fate for me. Growing up, we took many trips in the car together as a family. We all liked having music playing, but as a family, it was often difficult to find something on which we could all agree. The Beatles became the one thing we could all accept.

Side note: Unlike the Beatle’s White Album, Cheech and Chong’s White Album (actually called the Wedding Album…) was the only record I recall that was completely banned from further play in the house. Which, of course, made us want to listen to it even more. Back to the Beatles…

Later, the Beatles gave way to Paul McCartney and Wings. Same thing for me. I’ve had enough.

Our 8-track copies of these albums were well worn by the time I headed off to college.

When you’ve listened to these songs as much as I did as a kid, hearing them as an adult yields two possible outcomes. Either you would be struck by fond nostalgia, or, as in my case, quickly reach for the buttons to change the station (or playlist).

My reactions to both watermelon and the Beatles at this point are visceral.

What are your triggers? What things, events or situations bring about these types of strong negative reactions for you?

Are there things in your work environment that cause you grief, but that many others find to be pleasant? Maybe they were great at one time, but now it’s become too much of a good thing.

What about your staff?

What have you been doing the same way for so long that you (or your staff) simply can’t tolerate doing it one more time?

I’m not suggesting that you ban watermelon from your company cafeteria, or that you never allow the Beatles to be played within the office confines.

But, I do think it is good to look for places where changing things up might provide a much needed fresh perspective. Don’t wait until the smell of watermelon causes you to wretch – or your star employee leaves because they can’t stand the thought of having to submit a weekly status report in that same blasted format one more time.

Also, make the change real. The Beatles “unplugged” is still the Beatles. And that is so yesterday.

Go ahead, make a change. Make it bold.

Don’t Wait Until You’re Dead

Image of tombstone
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved

What will be on your tombstone?

The one in the image above jumped out at me for its utter simplicity. (In case you can’t see the photo, the inscription says, “C.L. Died 22 Aug 1783”.) Perhaps C.L. didn’t leave behind enough funds to carve additional letters into the stone. Or, perhaps that’s all that needed to be said. I prefer to believe it was the latter.

What message will you leave behind when you are gone?

A friend of mine reacted to last week’s post about Admiration vs Jealousy, sharing with me that he found out that he was admired and respected by someone only after that person died. The revelation meant the world to my friend as he held this person in equally high regard. That got me thinking.

Who do you admire? Who do you respect? Have you told them?

As it turns out, I admire this particular friend of mine. So, when he shared his comments with me, I took that opportunity to let him know it. He was touched.

How does it make you feel to know that someone admires and/or respects you? If feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Why, then, do we not share our feelings of admiration more readily?

Don’t make those you appreciate wait until you’re dead to find out. Pick up the phone. Send them a card. Shoot them a quick text message. You don’t need to make a big deal about it. Simply be earnest. You can be specific, such as, “I respect you for the way that you…” Or, “I admire you for the way that you…” Perhaps you might tell them that you look up to them, that you find them to be inspiring. The important thing is to let them know.

Let me start. I appreciate YOU for reading this blog. I appreciate the comments, the encouragement and the challenges to my words. I hope that you find some value here along the way. [Note: Comments on the blog itself are disabled because it’s too much effort to ward off the auto-bots and other nefarious attempts to use my blog as a platform from which to attack others. But, email comments are always welcome as are comments left on the various social media platforms where this gets published.]

As for my tombstone, I hope that I will have said the things that needed to be said while I was alive, making any words on the stone superfluous.