Harry Callahan, aka Dirty Harry, aka Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force
What are your limitations? Where do you draw the line?
Many years ago, when I was a low level executive with AOL, I had a conversation with my new boss where I laid out my limitations. I was based in Columbus, OH, with teams in both Columbus and Reston, VA. There had been increasing pressure for me to move to Reston. In my first meeting with a newly hired boss, I told him, “There’s something you need to know. I am not interested in moving. I will travel to the point of pain, but I’m not going to move.”
He reminded me of that conversation years later when I discussed taking a sabbatical (technically a leave of absence…). He asked, “What happened to traveling to the point of pain?” My response, “I’ve crossed the pain threshold.”
Side note: This second conversation is a great example of what made this particular boss one of the best I have had. He remembered things in great detail and did his best to accommodate his people’s needs, while still meeting the needs of the organization. The fact that he recalled my exact words from years before spoke volumes. Can your boss do that? Can you?
Business travel is one of those things I no longer enjoy. At least not if it involves airports. I’ll gladly drive 8 hours one way to avoid the hassles of air travel. This past January I drove to Olewein, IA, for a gig. That trip was 10 hours of drive time each way. Even in the middle of January, driving it was preferable to air travel.
That is my limitation. What’s yours?
It wasn’t always like this. I used to enjoy business travel. I enjoyed flying to San Jose’ every couple months to meet with the staff there who reported to me. I enjoyed the almost weekly trips to Virginia. It was exciting. I traveled so often I was on a first name basis with the woman in the Avis rental car booth at Dulles airport. (Hi, Marlena! How are you?)
Now? I get anxious just opening the airline ticketing web site. Ugh.
How about you? Is there something that you used to enjoy, but now dread? Has your line moved? Do you have different limitations than you once did?
Be aware of your limitations.
Feeling stressed? Maybe you’re bumping up against one of your limits. Maybe it’s a limit you didn’t know was there. Step back. Look around. Give it some thought.
If you’ve discovered a limitation, whether it is new or longstanding, what can you do to deal with it? Is there an alternative?
Sometimes all we need is a break. In my case, when I returned after my sabbatical, the pain of air travel had receded. It took years for it to return to its current level of abhorrence. And it is only when traveling for business. Vacation? Sure! Let’s go! Business? No thanks. I’d rather drive.
Take the time to look at your stress levels. Dig in. Look for the cause. It’s probably not what you think. You might think your boss is being a jerk. More likely they are asking you to cross one of your limit lines.
Know your limitations. Find a way to break through them, or a way around. Step one is the same: identification.
12 years ago, I walked away from my day job for the first time.
In the summer of 2007, I walked away from a corporate job. It was a good job. Corner office. Ridiculous salary. Great people.
Why? I couldn’t take it anymore.
Every day I went to work thinking, “This is it. This is the day they figure out I’m not worthy. This is the day they tell me they’re on to me. A big faker. Your services are no longer required. Pack your boxes. You’re done here.”
That feeling had been building for a long time. It was a slowly festering anxiety that continued to build day after day after day.
I now know it to have a name: Imposter Syndrome.
And like many who suffer from it, it was untrue.
It wasn’t until I started conversations with my boss about leaving that I recognized the falsehood. To paraphrase the conversation with my boss…
Me: It’s time for me to go.
Boss: Only if you let us take you out to dinner and celebrate all that you have done here.
It didn’t matter that I got great reviews every year during the annual performance evaluations. It didn’t matter that I was continuously given more responsibility and a steady stream of promotions. It didn’t matter that I always got my bonus. Always. Every day I walked in expecting to get the proverbial pink slip.
Can you relate?
Do you feel like you are faking it, hoping someday you’ll make it? Do you feel like you’ve built a fragile house of cards that is going to collapse at any moment?
It’s a horrible way to go through life.
Even stars are prone to this inner turmoil. In her iconic Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field said, “You like me. Right now, you like me!”
This is often misquoted as, “You like me! You really like me!”
Ah, if only she had actually said that.
The misquoted version implies closure, a sense of finally achieving a sense of belonging, reaching a point of no return, knowing that you have finally made it and it can’t be taken away.
Instead, the actual quote captures the ongoing struggle.
“Right now, you like me.”
These words capture the still lingering angst that it is a temporary victory.
Right now you like me, but tomorrow I’m going to do something to screw it all up and we’ll go back to you not really liking me after all.
I wish I had great words of wisdom that would quell those inner doubts. I wish I could close out this post with a pithy phrase that would make it all go away.
All I can offer is that you are not alone. Hang in there. Keep going.
Chances are good that your fears are unfounded. Odds are that you really are worthy. People do like you. They really like you. Just as you are. You don’t need a trophy on the shelf to make that a reality.
How do you respond when things are not going your way?
Do you sit down and pout? Do you pick up your toys and go home? Do you actively throw a fit?
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, #RESIST.
Combined with the other stickers on that car, it was clear what they were resisting. Since this blog is not about politics, I won’t include the rest.
This blog is about making work fun.
I’ve seen this same approach at work. We don’t get the promotion we were seeking. We are part of an interview team to select our new manager, but our preferred candidate is not the one who gets the job. New policies go into place that we don’t like. There is a rearrangement of office space and we are not happy with the changes.
(Side note: I used to say that if the biggest complaint my staff had on a given day was their office, I was doing pretty well as a boss.)
Some people deal with disappointments by resisting. They do everything they can to try to subvert the decision. They go around every day as if they had the hashtag #RESIST tattooed on their forehead.
So, what should we do instead? Allow me to suggest an alternate hashtag.
Don’t like your new boss? Ask yourself, how long did the old one last? I don’t know about you, but in my career, I have outlasted a lot of bosses.
Don’t like a new policy? Why not? Is it just because it’s different? Or is it really going to be an issue for you?
Do you have a better idea? Perhaps you can suggest an alternative. Politely. Through proper channels. Start by understanding the reason for the change.
Work environments, like much in life, are often like a pendulum swinging. In order to fix something that isn’t working, it is sometimes necessary to swing the pendulum to the other side for a while. Eventually, it will come back again.
Ever tried a crash diet? Yeah. Like that.
I have yet to find a workplace that is a democracy. Good leaders do want to hear from the staff and create a good work environment. But most things are not decided by a vote. Input, yes. Vote, no. Get over it.
You do have a choice. Sure, you can sit down and pout. You can silently refuse to do your job, or decide you’re going to do it half-assed as a means of protest. I guarantee you, the only one who will feel the pain from that is YOU. If you choose this path, get your resume ready. You’ll need it.
Of course, getting your resume together is another option. If you really can’t stand the current situation, you do have the option to seek something else somewhere else.
(Side note: You should ALWAYS have your resume ready. Not just for the unexpected bad turn of events, but also for the unexpected once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might present itself.)
Persistence isn’t about “sit down, shut up and put up”. It is about looking out for yourself in a positive way. Sometimes that does involve putting up with a situation you do not like. More often it means finding a way to adapt, either by making a change to yourself, your attitude, or the situation.
Persistence is about staying power.
In sports, it is doing the extra reps even when you are exhausted. As a software engineer, it was writing those extra lines of code before breaking for lunch. As a manager, it was communicating changes to my staff with a positive outlook even when I, personally, did not agree.
And some days, it is about simply making it through another day.
If you are feeling the urge to #RESIST, turn that energy around and apply it in a positive direction.
The full quote is, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
Walt Disney’s motivation for this quote was about business. Deliver a quality product and people will come back again and again.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying something along a similar vein.
“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote has been simplified over the years to become the adage, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”
Both of these quotes speak to the value of doing good work. If we do good work, we will be rewarded – monetarily.
That’s fine. But is that the only thing that motivates you?
I have a different perspective.
To me, the highest reward we receive for being good at our craft is getting to hang around others who are good at theirs.
We earn a seat at the table.
It’s a whole lot more fun to hang around with people who are good at doing what they do.
Do you remember playing games on the elementary school playground? Do you recall how teams were determined?
Two team captains were appointed; usually by general consensus. Then those two captains would take turns selecting individuals to be on their teams.
When were you selected? First? Somewhere in the middle? Last?
It was never fun to be selected last. Believe me, I know.
Do you play a sport? If you are an avid golfer, do you enjoy playing with a horrible duffer?
Maybe tennis is your thing. Maybe you’re pretty good at it. Is it any fun at all to play with someone who isn’t?
While sports are an easy metaphor to help us understand the concept, this same thing plays out at work.
When we are truly excellent at our craft, we want to hang around with others who are excellent at theirs. Our crafts do not need to be the same. But our levels within our area do.
It is frustrating to be held back by people around us who are fumbling about.
Yes, we can expect to be better compensated when we “do it well”. But, even more important, it is more fun – because we earn the right to be with others who also do it well.
How do you spend your time when traveling for business?
Do you frantically check, recheck, and respond to email? Are you constantly on the phone, coordinating the latest project, or averting the latest crisis?
I’ve seen all kinds of crazy behaviors at airports. People who are clearly caught up in their own self-importance, who can’t let go.
I’ve been all kinds of crazy at airports and continuing onto the flight.
Long before the days of iPhones, I had a PDA. A PalmPilot, with its nifty stylus and hand writing recognition. I even had a portable keyboard for my PalmPilot.
This keyboard allowed me to write documents while on cross-country airplane trips without needing to use the heavy laptops of the day.
I remember when iPods came along. The ability to carry your entire music library in your pocket! What a joy!
Somewhere along the way, I realized that the quality of work that resulted from my vain attempts to be productive even during travel time was so low that it was essentially pointless.
I switched to carrying a thin Moleskine notebook and a pen for those flashes of brilliance that came along during travel. Those flashes happened often enough to justify the price of official Moleskine notebooks, yet infrequently enough that a single notebook would last a couple months.
The big ah-ha that came along with this shift was that I am much happier. I arrive at my destination with far less stress. While I can’t say that I enjoy travel by air, letting go of this compulsion to “make the most of the time” has allowed me to at least tolerate the travel.
Ironically, letting go of a need to “work” while traveling has actually turned out to be a more effective use of the time.
Using the travel time to do nothing, while not quite recharging the batteries, has had the effect of allowing the batteries to not drain during that time.
Try it sometime. Maybe even on your next trip.
Give yourself a travel day (and one to get back). Do nothing other than transporting yourself from point A to point B.
See if you don’t arrive in better spirits, able to accomplish more overall than when you were frantically “working” the whole time.
Do you panic? Do you completely freak out? Do you shut down?
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I do my best work under the pressure of a looming deadline, and yet I hate that pressure.
Do you know people who are always prepared well ahead of time for everything? Me too. I hate those people.
OK, so “hate” is too strong a word. I simply don’t understand them. I’ve never been that kind of person. I procrastinate. Constantly. If I were told I must procrastinate, I’d find an excuse to put it off until tomorrow, or next week.
Then, as that new date approached, I would be the best procrastinator you ever met.
Or, at least that’s what I would tell myself.
I sing in the choir at our church. This is a relatively new experience for me. I was in a choir only once before. I didn’t enjoy the experience and it didn’t last long. This time it is completely different. I love being in this choir. So much so that when we have a week off from rehearsal, I miss it.
Our director is amazing. She is a highly skilled musician and an excellent teacher. But, what I most appreciate is her steadfast, calm, persistence as we struggle to step up to sing music well beyond our comfort level.
This year as we were preparing our anthems for Easter, it was clear we were being pushed in our musical ability. Our director is not a procrastinator like me. However, I definitely felt that we should have started learning these pieces much sooner than we did.
As the deadline of Easter Sunday drew near, it seemed like we would be better off starting over with something easy. But, she persisted. Calmly. Steadily.
Each week at rehearsal, our director comes in with her notes on specific spots that are particularly problematic in whatever we are currently preparing. Usually, this is a few well-spaced passages in the music. In this case, it was pretty much the whole thing.
And yet still, she persisted.
And we went along.
Slowly, steadily, it got better.
Easter came. We pulled it off. An Easter miracle.
It wasn’t perfect. But, it was certainly acceptable. Maybe even good. Perhaps a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
What deadline do you have looming? Are you in panic mode? Are you feeling like you should just throw out your lofty goal and start over with something easy?
Hang in there.
Be like our choir director: steady, calm, persistent.
In today’s rambling blog post, we’ll cover the following topics:
Leasing vs buying
Ongoing employee education
Stick with me. They’re all related.
Lease vs Buy
Do you lease your cars, or buy them outright? I’ve never been a fan of leasing. I tend to keep my cars a long time; 10 years is about average. I buy them new, take good care of them (mechanically, anyway), and drive them until they no longer serve my needs.
I don’t completely drive them into the ground, but they are clearly a used car by the time I replace them. I love not having a car payment. Leasing simply doesn’t make sense to me from a financial perspective.
How about your home? Do you prefer to rent or buy?
I much prefer to own my home.
Maybe you own a condo? Maybe when I no longer enjoy mowing the lawn this will be attractive to me.
For now, I prefer as much physical separation between my house and the neighbor’s as possible. I also like to change things in my house to suit my tastes, without needing to negotiate with a landlord for permission. And I like the idea that what I put into the house I will likely get back.
As an owner, I feel I have more to gain from ongoing maintenance and improvements. When I rented apartments, anything I spent on improvements felt like throwing my money away.
Even if you don’t follow professional golf, you’ve probably heard the name Phil Mickelson.
I live in Dublin, OH, a Columbus suburb. Dublin is the home of the annual Memorial Tournament, a regular stop on the PGA tour. As you can imagine, this annual event is the topic of much of the local news media during the weeks leading up to the event, through a final recap once it has ended.
One of my favorite “interest” pieces from years ago was about Phil Mickelson and his propensity to drive his rental cars through the car wash, usually every day. In the article, Phil said it makes him feel better to drive a clean car.
I’ve rented many cars in my travels. I have never once driven one through the car wash. I’m not even that fastidious with my own vehicles.
Rumors abound that Apple is moving to a model of streaming-only for music that it sells. According to these rumors, there will come a day when they will no longer allow you to download music, only stream it.
The idea, like Spotify, is that you don’t own the music. Rather, you pay for access to it. I’d call this leasing. If you stop paying, you lose access.
You’ve probably guessed that I am not a fan of this concept. While I enjoy listening to the music I’ve purchased on my phone, iPod, and other portable devices, I find comfort in knowing that the original CD is still available to me in a box buried in the basement.
There’s something about having the tangible media. Like many audiophiles of my generation, playing a record was a ritual involving meticulous care of the record, cleaning on every use, and careful storage.
Unlike many of my more persnickety music lovers, I eagerly embraced the transition from vinyl to CD. However, I am strongly resisting any effort to remove the ability to “own” a copy of the music I love.
I am warming to the idea of that copy being only in the digital domain, with no physical media to back it up. But, I do require a copy that I can manage. I am not OK with a leasing model that only provides access to the music, and that only works with an active Internet connection. Maybe someday.
Ongoing employee education
And now the fun part – relating all of that to work and ongoing employee education.
Do you lease or buy your employees?
(As an employee, how do you see yourself?)
As with a car, neither leased nor purchased vehicles are forever. Sure, some people drive their vehicles to the point where they have no useful life when they’re done with them. But, at some point, most vehicles need to be replaced.
Likewise, employees. Whether your employees leave to move on to other places, or retire, at some point that employee will no longer be there.
Most people I know tend to maintain their vehicles better if they purchase rather than lease them. Same goes for our homes. If we own it, we tend to take better care of the property.
If you lease your vehicle, do you still perform routine maintenance? I certainly hope so. Maybe you don’t worry so much about minor dings and scratches. But, surely you keep up with oil changes and new tires.
Most employers I have experience with do a far better job of training and providing ongoing education for their employees when they view them as “purchased” rather than “leased”.
In more typical business lingo:
Purchased = Full-time permanent. Long term.
Leased = Contractor. Consultant. Temporary. Short term.
Some employers I’ve encountered treat all their workers as if they are temporary, only guaranteed until the next paycheck. They rarely provide ongoing education that would move people ahead. They often resist doing even routine maintenance that would keep their employees’ skills at par.
Oddly enough, these same employers tend to be the ones who are baffled by high employee turnover. And they are the ones who struggle the most to find what they consider to be qualified employees.
Even if you view your employees as “rented”, do you drive them through the car wash on a regular basis?
My philosophy has always been to provide as much ongoing education as possible. I enjoy working with people who are up on their skills, engaged, pushing themselves and those around them. It’s more fun, like Phil driving a car that has been freshly washed.
Many of my corporate job peers have gotten upset when they made an investment in training, only to have that person leave for another opportunity. Certain employers I’ve worked for have suggested having employees repay the cost of education if they leave within some period of time after the training.
The reality is, changing jobs is a complicated equation.
It is the manager’s job to create an environment that is supportive yet challenging, that makes people want to stay. Ongoing education is simply one part of a supportive environment. It makes people better at their job. It makes them more fun to work with.
How do you treat your employees?
How does your employer treat you?
Rather than ask, “What if we invest money in employee training and they leave?”
In my previous post, I shared my view on the latest scandal around college admissions – bulldozer (or lawnmower, or snowplow…) parents.
This time I’m going to take on the issue of bulldozer bosses.
Have you ever experienced a bulldozer boss? Have you ever been one?
It is critical in the development of a child to allow them to experience failure – and to know the joy of pulling yourself out of it. Failure happens. Mistakes happen. We must develop our resilience and learn to recover.
This ability to learn from our mistakes, to deal with failure, doesn’t end when we leave school. Rather, when we stop allowing any possibility of failure, we stop learning.
In my experience, our greatest learning happens in the aftermath of things that go horribly wrong. I am not saying that we have to actually fail in order to learn. I am a huge fan of learning from the mistakes of others.
But, I am suggesting that allowing for at least the possibility of failure, by operating in a space where we accept that failure is a possibility, we do learn more.
Some bosses behave in a way that disallows any option of failure. They berate staff who make the most minor of mistakes, they fire people for making even single mistakes, etc.
My philosophy has always been that it is OK to make a mistake. Repeating them is not.
Some bosses act like bulldozer parents who attempt to clear all possible roadblocks. They cannot tolerate any possibility of failure.
Some of these bosses, in their attempts to avoid failures, become micromanagers. They not only tell their staff what to do, but exactly how to do it. And by “how to do it” I mean “the way I would do it.”
Like loading the dishwasher, there are many ways to accomplish the same objective. It really doesn’t matter whether the silverware gets loaded handle up or handle down. (I know, heresy, right?) We all develop our preferences for which is the right way, but in the end, they get clean either way.
The next level beyond micromanaging are the bosses who step in and do the work their staff should be doing. They don’t trust that their staff is capable of doing the task, so they do it themselves.
This is the worst of all. It sends a clear signal to the staff that they are seen as incompetent. It gives them no path to grow. It encourages them to do less, when all the time we are being surrounded by a message that we should be doing more.
If we want our staff to grow in confidence and capability, we must allow room for them to make mistakes. And in doing that, we also allow room for them to do things far better than we could have done ourselves.
Step out of the bulldozer. Point the way. Set the direction. Then stand back and watch the magic happen.
Are you a helicopter parent? A snowplow parent? A bulldozer parent?
These terms have been in the news a lot lately as the latest scandal rocks the college entrance world. People are appalled by reports of parents who have bought their kids’ way into college.
Gasp! You mean people with money are using it to seek an unfair advantage? Say it isn’t so!
OK, sarcasm aside, these latest reports do strike people as being even more abusive of wealth than what we have come to generally expect and therefore accept.
All of the reports I have read talk about the unfairness of it all, focusing on the kids who worked hard to get into college, but didn’t have the financial resources to clear the path to their entry.
The victims being pointed out in the majority of these stories are the rest of us. Those of us who are playing by the rules.
To me, the real victims here are the kids (young adults) whose parents are doing this to them.
That’s right, to them, not for them.
Imagine being one of the kids who had no knowledge of the strings being pulled and paths being cleared by their parents. Imagine finding out after the fact.
If it were you, how would you react? Would you be happy to know your parents were willing to go to such great lengths to support you in your future?
Or, would you see it as yet another way your parents are telling you that you are not good enough. Do you see it for what it is – that your parents don’t believe in your ability to do things on your own.
How does that set you up for a bright future?
As for the Varuca Salts in these stories, those kids who demanded that their parents wield their influence and money to get them what they want, they get what they deserve. An unearned and vapid life. An existence devoid of any real accomplishment. Good luck with that.
In the meantime, let the rest of us continue to truly prepare our kids for their own futures – by letting them succeed, or stumble and recover, by their own hands.
I love watching people who are skilled at their craft.
The scene from “The Princess Bride” quoted above is a perfect example. Two highly skilled swordsmen in an epic duel. Both such masters of their blades that they make it look easy.
I recently had a front row seat at a concert by Ellis Marsalis and his trio. Ellis Marsalis is a jazz pianist and the patriarch of the well known Marsalis clan. Perhaps you’ve heard of his more popular sons Branford and Winton, or the younger Delfeayo and Jason.
The concert was an evening of awesome music and performance. Ellis is well known in the jazz world for his smooth style at the piano. At 84 years old, he can barely walk. But, when his hands start moving over the keys, you forget that he needed assistance to get to his position on the piano bench.
He makes it look easy.
If someone had said, “You are wonderful,” he would have been justified in responding, “Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.”
What is it that you do that elicits that statement?
I’ll bet that there are things you have done for so long that you find them to be easy to do and that you have forgotten how long you worked to become proficient. With most things we do on a regular basis, once we become good at them, we forget that it was ever hard. Take walking for example. Or riding a bike.
There’s a fun saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The concept of that saying is that when we have mastered a particular tool or technique, we tend to apply that tool or technique as our first choice for anything we encounter.
What’s the go-to tool in your toolbox?
There’s nothing wrong with this “everything looks like a nail” approach. When we have great skills in a particular thing, it makes sense to apply those skills.
The problem arises when we become so enamored by someone else’s mastery of their particular tool of choice that we forget that isn’t the only way to accomplish the task.
Each of the Marsalis brothers plays a different instrument. Imagine if they all thought they had to create music the same way as their dad.
And yet, that’s exactly how we often think. We see someone who is good at artistic painting, or sewing, or creating masterful Excel spreadsheets. We can’t do those specific things, so we feel “less than.”
Often, this gets exacerbated by the Excel expert who thinks the only way to do, well, pretty much anything, is by using Excel. So, everything they show you involves a spreadsheet. If you’re not good with that tool, the job becomes harder and wrought with frustration.
Go back to the original objective. What are you trying to accomplish? How is that “expert” using their tool of choice to accomplish it? What are your skills? How could you apply what you are good at to accomplish your goal?
There are many ways to attach two pieces of lumber together. A hammer and nails is only one of them.
In music, the variety of instruments makes the music better. We all need more cowbell. But, even that has its limits.
Use your tools. Make it look easy.
You are wonderful. You’ve worked hard to become so.