Do you have the right tools to do the job ahead of you?
One of the many hobbies I have enjoyed is woodworking. I love to make things. This hobby started like many of my hobbies: I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff I really liked, and was stupid enough to think I could make it myself.
So, I started making stuff. My goal was to build furniture as well as I could for as little money as possible. It was a fun challenge.
I started with a few simple tools and straightforward projects. It’s amazing what you can do with a hand saw, a couple of chisels, and a lot of time.
As my confidence and enthusiasm grew, I started adding to my collection of tools, tackling ever more complex projects. The first major purchase was a table saw.
I was living in an apartment at the time, with limited space and budget. So, I got a small, portable table saw designed more for a construction job site than a fine furniture making shop. But, with care and some creative shop-made accessories (called “jigs”), I was able to do what I needed. It was a big step forward.
Several years later, finally in a house, and with a bit more disposable income, I made the leap to a more substantial table saw. Wow! The difference was amazing.
It’s not that I could suddenly do things I couldn’t do before. But, that everything was easier. What used to take 30 minutes to set up a convoluted series of supports and guides to make a cut now took 30 seconds.
The more I used this new toy (ahem, tool…), the more I kicked myself for not making this investment sooner. And the more I laughed thinking about the gyrations I used to go through to make what was now a simple pass through the saw.
Have you had this experience?
Perhaps you like to bake. Once you move from a hand-held wooden spoon to a KitchenAid stand mixer, everything becomes so much easier.
What are the tools you use every day? Where are you going through complicated gyrations to make it work?
What if you decided to make the investment in a better tool? What would it save you in time and frustration? What additional joy would it bring you every time you use it?
Go for it. Invest in good tools. You’ll be glad you did.
What are the little things that bug you every day?
3 1/2 years ago, my wife and I moved into our empty nest home. We love it. Smaller house, bigger yard, lower taxes. And no more split level.
We loved our previous house. It was our home. We raised our 3 daughters there. Lots of great memories. So, why move? Minor annoyances.
The biggest annoyance? Stairs. After nearly 20 years, we were both getting tired of the need to go up or down stairs to move around anywhere in the house. Granted, being a split level, the stairs were short, each section being only half of a full flight. But, by the end of the day, those short flights really add up.
As we contemplated the move, we created a list of things that a new place had to have. And, just as important, what it must not have. Top of the list was that it had to be a one-story house. No more stairs.
Sometimes eliminating a minor annoyance requires great effort. Moving from one house to another is certainly not a trivial thing.
Sometimes eliminating a minor annoyance requires very little effort. So little, that once you’ve made the change, you wonder why it took you so long to get around to it.
When we moved into our new house, we did the usual haphazard unloading of boxes, thinking we’d adjust things over time.
You know what that means, right? Everything stayed exactly where we first put it. Including the kitchen. Glasses? They go over there. Plates and bowls? That shelf back there. Cutting boards? Down here, under the sink, lefthand side.
For most of these things, our initial placement has served us well. It’s a small kitchen and it’s just the two of us now.
Being a small kitchen, there are the typical issues of doors opening where you wish they wouldn’t. If someone is getting into the refrigerator, it blocks the path for anyone wanting to move through. When you are un/loading the dishwasher, there are two cabinet doors that you can’t access. One of those doors is under the sink, lefthand side.
And that is where the minor annoyance showed itself. In order to put the clean cutting boards away, you had to first take them all out of the dishwasher, close up the dishwasher, then open the cabinet door.
It’s a really minor thing. But, doing it every day, it became annoying.
Did I mention that loading and unloading the dishwasher is my job? I’m an engineer. These kinds of minor logistical things really bug me.
For 3 years, every time I did this I would mentally redesign the entire kitchen, thinking of how much better it would be if the dishwasher were “over there.”
Then it hit me. Why do we have the cutting boards on the lefthand side of the cabinet? If we put them under the righthand side, I could put them away with the dishwasher door open.
There was no good reason for them to be on the left. That’s just where they ended up during our initial unloading of boxes 3 years ago.
Voila. Simple change. Problem solved.
Why did it take so long to figure that out? I was trying to solve the wrong problem.
I thought the problem was that the dishwasher was in the wrong place. Moving it was going to be hard. The real problem was that the cutting boards were in the wrong place.
All it took was to look at the problem in a different way.
What are the little annoyances that get to you? What is it going to take to get you to do something about it?
Not all of life’s problems require moving to a new house, doing a complete kitchen remodel, or changing jobs. Sometimes, a minor change is all that is needed. Sometimes that can be as small as changing our attitude or perspective.
Are you trying to solve the right problem?
Reframe the question. Be open to a completely different solution.
Have you ever said to yourself, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just … (fill in the blank)” ?
I perform at a wide range of events. In the past year alone I performed at a private party with 20 people, corporate events with hundreds, and a 2000 seat theater with huge projection screens (see photo above).
As you would expect, the budget for each of these events was significantly different. A friend of mine, a fellow entertainer, recently asked me, “What do you do differently?”
The answer? Nothing.
That’s not a complete answer. Sure, there are differences. They’re different audiences with different tastes. I custom tailor every show to the specific event. And, different levels of events require different amounts of behind the scenes efforts leading up to them, which is where most of the differentiation happens.
But, my overall commitment to the event? My delivery in the moment? The same.
It wasn’t always this way. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that.
I used to segment the events based on the fee. The most visible aspect to this segmentation was in what I would wear for the performance. I went from casual pants and shirt, to dress pants with dress shirt, to jacket. In my mind a script played out, “Well, for that much, you don’t get the suit,” as if the client would notice or care. Worse, I delivered a different level of performance.
My friend was incredulous. “Seriously? You do the same show?”
I totally get where he was coming from. We have this sense of fairness. How can it be OK to deliver the same product for a client who pays $X as the one who pays $10X ? How is that fair?
That is a valid and interesting question. But, it is not what I am primarily writing about.
Without going too far down this rabbit hole, consider the pilots flying a commercial airline. Economy tickets and first-class business tickets are priced vastly differently. Both will get you from point A to point B. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to fly first-class, you know the experience can be quite different. But, from the pilots’ perspective, all passengers are the same once the cockpit doors are closed. They do they’re job the same way, regardless of how much each individual passenger paid for their ticket.
The real point I am heading toward here is not the pay, or issue of fairness to the client, but rather our own attitude as we approach the task that is ahead of us.
What I have discovered is that it is better for ME to deliver my best possible performance each and every time, regardless of the previously agreed to paycheck. I am the worker in the field from the parable. Sometimes I am the one who went out first thing in the morning to work the whole day. Sometimes I am the one who was standing around idle until 5 in the afternoon.
When I show up at the end of the day and collect my pay with gratitude, having done what was agreed to up front, I am happier.
Naturally, by extension, it is better for the audience when I deliver the best performance I am capable of delivering. Ultimately, that is what it is all about.
When I mentally delivered a different product, begrudgingly holding back at events I knew were not paying as much, it affected ME. I became resentful. I’m sure that resentment showed through in the performance.
When I released that, separating the money from the event, and put all of my energy into delivering the best possible performance for that audience, feeling blessed to have the opportunity to share the gift of laughter with those people at that moment, it filled me with joy and gratitude to be able to do what I do for a living. I know for a fact that that joy shows through in the performance. It is the most frequent comment I hear after a show. “You look like you are having so much fun!” And I am. Every time.
The other interesting thing that I have discovered is that it is actually MORE work for me to deliver a lesser performance.
Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever noticed how much effort it takes to complain about a task and NOT do it, where simply doing the thing would have been so much easier?
How do you go about your daily work? Are there tasks that you begrudge having to do? Are there aspects of your job, or you life, where you feel resentment? Perhaps you feel that the task is below you, or you think, “I’m not being paid enough to do that.”
Catch yourself when you feel that resentment welling up inside. Change your thinking. Not for the benefit of whoever is asking you to do the task, but for yourself.
Act from a point of gratitude.
Is this a task at work that you dislike? Try being grateful for the big picture. You have a job. You’re being paid. It beats sitting in the unemployment line.
Is this a household chore you dread? Again, look at the bigger picture. You have a house.
There is a saying in the entertainment world, “There are no small gigs, only small performers.”
Treat every gig like a big one. Treat every audience like they deserve the best performance of your life.
It is mid-December as I write this. A season of giving. A time when many are making last-minute mad-dash scrambles to the shopping Mecca of their choice (including online retailers), trying to find just the right gift to show their loved ones how much they love them.
Is that what it takes?
Allow me to suggest an alternative.
When is the last time you sat down with your spouse, your child, your parent, or even a close friend, and gave them your full, undivided attention? No checking your watch. No glancing at your mobile device. Total, focused, connection with the person sitting across from you.
How long can you go? 5 minutes? 10? An hour?
For many of us, we can barely last as long as we can hold our breath under water. 30-45 seconds. 60 seconds tops.
There is much chatter in the media and among our friends about the frenetic pace of our world today. Everything is moving so fast!
What is your threshold of attention?
As we celebrate the end of another year of busy-ness, I challenge you to make time for those you love. Be wholly and completely present. Enjoy the time together. Put aside worries for what is happening next. Tomorrow will come, whether we stress about it or not.
What knocks you off of your game? What is something you got into a routine of doing, it was a good routine, then something happened that caused you to stop and you found it difficult to get back to that routine, even though you knew it was good for you?
Perhaps it was going to the gym.
Perhaps it was practicing an instrument.
Maybe it was calling a particular friend on a regular basis.
For me, it was writing this blog.
Posting to this blog on a regular basis is quite helpful to me. Much like physical exercise provides energy, the exercise of writing regularly sparks new ideas that become new bits in my speaking and entertaining business. Sure, I hope that people who read it find something of value in it. Knowing that people read this blog provides an extra incentive to keep at it. But, ultimately, it is what I get from the routine of putting words on the screen that keeps me going.
Doing this blog on a weekly basis was good for my mind. Committing to post regularly created momentum. Once going, it was easier to keep going. That momentum carried me through many times of, “I don’t feel like it…”
So, what happened? What caused the break in the routine? What broke the momentum? My wife had a heart attack.
Not to worry, she’s fine now. In fact, she’s probably in better health now than she has been in years. Cardiac rehab and a return to regular exercise will have that effect. But, make no mistake, it was a huge break in the routine of our lives. It was extremely scary. We had to shuffle a few priorities. One of the things I set aside was this blog.
Just as the momentum of doing something right carries us through the times when we struggle, if we allow that momentum to fade, it can take a significant effort to get going again. Procrastination becomes a regular companion.
Eventually, if what we stopped doing was a good thing, the universe has a way of nagging at us until we figure out we need to get back to it.
With that, I am renewing my commitment to post on this blog regularly. Weekly. New posts will appear on Wednesdays mornings.
Sometimes we need help in sticking with our commitments. Sometimes that boss who drops by asking whether you’ve done your weekly status report yet is just what we need to make the time to do it. It can be annoying. But, once the task is completed, we feel better about having done it.
With that, I give you, my loyal readers, permission to be the nagging boss who asks me where the latest post is if I miss a week. Hold me accountable to deliver on my commitment to doing this weekly.
And as always, I’ll leave you with a challenge.
Where have you lost momentum? What is something that you used to do regularly, but have stopped doing? You can feel the universe nagging at you to get back to it.
Identify that thing, that activity, that practice, and get back to it. If you’re struggling, find someone who can give you the extra kick in the pants to make you do it.
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.”
I don’t mean the regular everyday disappointments, like finding that somebody took the last cup of coffee, or mounted the toilet paper the wrong direction. No. Something that was a really – big – deal.
Mine happened last week. I won’t bore you with the details. Like many of our greatest disappointments, what is a big deal to us often seems trivial to someone else.
Don’t you just hate it when, while you are wallowing in the injustice of it all, someone else hears your tale of woe and points out the insignificance of it in the big picture of life? Yeah. So, I won’t delve into the specifics of this particular issue.
However, I will share that it was a big deal. To me. At the time. Perhaps later we can share with each other the specifics of what last sent us into a pit of personal despair and laugh about how out of proportion our respective reactions were. For now, let us enjoy the pain of that moment in the same way we enjoy picking at a scab and watching with fascination the renewed oozing of blood from the wound.
How long did it take for you to get over your disappointment? How many hours, days, weeks did you spend literally or figuratively lying on the floor thrashing about, pounding the carpet with your fists? How many people had to hear your tale of woe as you dumped your raw feelings of anger and disbelief upon anyone who provided the slightest opening to do so?
Ah, good times.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, is credited with defining the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Known as the Kübler-Ross Model, these 5 stages define the progression of emotional states typical of someone who is terminally ill, and also those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.
What is disappointment? Is it not a sense of great loss? The loss of an idea. The loss of a goal. The loss of a desired outcome. The heartbreak of not getting what we wanted. Deep disappointment hits us in ways similar to grief.
In my biggest times of disappointment, I have definitely experienced Anger and Depression. Denial usually presents itself as disbelief. Bargaining typically plays out as a desire to refute, debate, and argue the decision. Eventually, though, I reach a state of Acceptance. I’m not happy about it, but I accept it. (Well, except for that toilet paper thing. It really needs to come over the top.)
I hope that you are able to reach that point of acceptance in your disappointments.
What differentiates disappointment from grief is what comes after we have reached the state of acceptance.
Do we give up on the goal? Or, do we dig in with renewed determination, learning from the experience?
Sometimes what we fail to achieve is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is no second chance. Most times that is not the case. Sure, if you are an Olympic athlete, you might have to wait another 4 years for your next shot at the gold medal. And maybe you can’t be the first to achieve whatever it was you were targeting. But, so what? You can still go for it.
Maybe that specific job for which you thought you were the perfect match won’t be posted again at that one company until the person who got it instead of you leaves. There are other jobs and other companies.
In my case, the goal I did not achieve can be applied for once per year. The next window of opportunity for submission is not until next January. My intention? To start now in planning and preparation to make my application undeniable.
There are those (I’ve been guilty of it myself) who would suggest that even if you don’t attain the desired goal, even if you don’t win the race, or get the trophy, you are a better person for having gone through the process.
I am not a “winning is everything” kind of person. But, when I was a kid playing little league baseball, our coach only took us out for ice cream when we won. And only those who hit a home run got a banana split. It was a great reward for practicing and playing hard. If we didn’t win, we moped and dragged our baseball mitts on our way home. Then we showed up with fresh determination at the next practice.
Allow yourself the time to grieve. Go through however many of the 5 steps you need. Once you’ve reached the “A” for acceptance in the Kübler-Ross Model, add another “A”. Action.
Reset your focus. Determine your next step. Chart a new course. Try again.
Do not allow the disappointment of a single misstep to be the end of the climb.
What brings you joy? What holds you back from experiencing it?
Most of us have participated in some form of an exercise designed to help us let go of a deeply held fear or concern. One method that many people have experienced is to write the fear or concern onto a piece of paper and then throw that paper into a fire, allowing the flames to symbolically consume whatever it was that was written on the paper.
Several weeks ago, during lent, I attended an appropriately somber church service on Maundy Thursday. After the service, I made my way through a series of stations for further reflection. At one of these stations, people were encouraged to write a concern onto a Post-It note and stick it to the cross, leaving it there as a way of releasing it and letting go of that concern.
As I sat there, pondering what to write, I glanced up and saw a note someone else had left. It said, “There is no joy.”
Those words struck me deeply.
I think a lot about joy. Joy is my purpose. Joy is at the heart of this blog. Joy drives nearly everything that I do.
At its core, the whole “Work Should Be Fun” concept is about joy.
I can understand not feeling happy. I can understand feeling sadness. I can understand many things. But, I can’t contemplate a life without joy.
Joy runs deep. Even in sadness, anger, or frustration, there can be joy.
To me, sadness is not the opposite of joy. Sad is the opposite of happy. Both are surface level sensations of the moment. They come and go.
Joy is eternal. It is deeply rooted. I find joy and hope to be more closely linked than joy and happiness.
The absence of hope is despair. So, for someone to say, “There is no joy,” says to me that they feel utter despair. They lack hope.
Without hope, we might as well sit down and give up. Hope keeps us going, even when things look bleak.
Joy and hope are inextricably connected.
Do you see the joy around you? It is everywhere. It is especially visible in this season of springtime. Take a moment to look around and see it. Then find a way to share it with others.
Take a moment to connect with another person. Walk down the hall, into the next cubicle, or talk with the person at the cash register. Share a few words. Smile. See the beauty that is all around. For just a moment, ignore the trash in the roadside ditch, look beyond the dirty dishes piling up in the sink, look away from the pile of unread emails in your inbox.