Making It Look Easy

Inigo Montoya: You are wonderful.

Man in Black: Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.

The Princess Bride

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.

Simple Luxuries

Photo of a piano with a microphone on it.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What brings you pleasure?

What are your favorite little luxuries?

Where do you draw the line when it comes to saving money?

For my wife and I, coffee is a big one. We make our own coffee, but we are particular about the brands that we like. It’s not always Starbucks, although that is our go-to favorite. We’ve experimented with cheaper brands. Every time, though, we come to the same conclusion: it’s worth it to us to spend a little bit more for the brands we like. So we watch for sales and stock up when we can.

Being just the two of us in our house now, we also tend to spend more for smaller packaging rather than buying the mega-packs that would be cheaper on a per unit basis. We view it as paying the stores to store the excess for us. We’ll come back and pick it up as we need it, thank you.

There is something satisfying about being able to spring for life’s little luxuries. These are different for everybody.

For some people, it’s Charmin ultra soft toilet paper. Maybe it’s Jeni’s Ice Cream. Or, perhaps it’s that specific type of ballpoint pen, medium tip, black ink, that only comes in 5-packs and can only be found at that one store.

I am fond of good quality legal pads. White paper. College ruled. Somehow writing on them just feels better. It makes the ideas that get scribbled there seem more important.

I could go on and on about my personal choices for which things I find worth spending a bit more vs. where I am willing to go with the cheaper brand. You might get a laugh out of the list. You would likely disagree with many of the choices.

What matters more, though, are the choices that you make. Only you can determine those items that are important to you.

If you are a compulsive saver, uber frugal, who finds pleasure in how much you save by buying in bulk, go for it. If you are fine with plain old stick pens, have at it. I am not suggesting you do otherwise.

However, I do think it is important to identify those areas where treating yourself, even if only occasionally, is valuable. It sends a signal to your brain that you value your self, that you see yourself as being worth it. And you are.

So, go ahead. Throw caution to the wind. Buy yourself the extra-bright colored super-sticky 3M brand Post-It Notes.

You have earned it.

You are worthy.

Snow Day

Photo of snowy scene.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What do you do when you get a snow day?

As I write this, we are in the throes of a polar vortex bringing record breaking cold temperatures across the midwest. Schools are closed. Community programs are cancelled. Even the Post Office isn’t delivering mail. Now that’s cold.

When I worked in an office, weather like this would often be an excuse for people to call in and request to work from home. Of course, sometimes that was more like “work” from home, meaning they would check their email randomly between chapters of the book they were reading, or getting up to put on a fresh pot of coffee.

When our kids were in school, a snow day meant an excuse to stay in bed.

How do you spend a snow day?

It doesn’t have to actually involve snow. This is more of a metaphorical term; a snow day is simply a day when all of your normal activities are cancelled. You don’t need to leave the house.

What do you do?

Do you celebrate? Or do you become filled with anxiety?

Do you view it as an unexpected holiday? Or do you freak out thinking of all of the things that you can’t get done?

As for me, I can go to either extreme, sometimes pegging the needle on both ends in a single day.

And I work from home.

I know people who take weather related delays, cancellations, and postponements as a personal affront. Some of these people are road warrior types who travel on a regular basis in their business.

You’d think that after more than a decade of life on the road you would have come to some sort of peace with it. And yet, some of my most hearty road warrior friends are the first to complain loudly over flights being cancelled, forced changes to their plans, etc.

This time around I witnessed numerous complaints from my fellow entertainers, especially those who do a lot of school programs.

I, too, was scheduled to do a program at a school on the coldest day of this latest weather front. We all knew it was coming. It was no surprise. The principal contacted me on Monday to discuss rescheduling the program scheduled for Wednesday. No big deal. Let’s shoot for Friday. If that doesn’t work, we’ll find another time. If we can’t? Again, no big deal. We’ll loop back for next year.

But, I will admit, that even with this calm approach to rescheduling of this one performance, I find myself wandering around the house, struggling to settle into doing something productive. I’d hate to waste this time that has suddenly appeared on my calendar.

My to-do list is enormous. Some of those items require working in the garage. Guess what? It’s too darn cold to be out there. Not just for comfort. The things I need to do out there require the temperature to be above a certain level, which simply isn’t possible to attain in that uninsulated space. They’ll have to wait.

So, while I can point out the inanity of complaining about how the weather affects business travel plans, I also find myself feeling frustrated by the impacts of the uncontrollable on my daily life.

For now, though, I’ll end this time of writing and go put on a fresh pot of coffee. After all, I get to “work” from home.

How about you? How will you spend your day when you are given the gift of cancellation of your previous plans?

Pause and Rewind

County Fair ride.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Our family has never been huge TV watchers. But, we have had our share of favorite shows over the years.

Remember when you had to tune in at a specific time if you wanted to watch a particular show? (Yes, kids, that really used to be a thing.)

One of my favorite inventions is the VCR, and later the DVR. It made a big change in our family dynamic when we had the option of watching our favorite TV shows at a time that was convenient for us, rather than whatever time the broadcast network decided to air them.

Now, even the need for a DVR has largely gone by the wayside. Missed your show? That’s OK. You can probably find it on Hulu, YouTube, or even the broadcast network’s own on-demand streaming service.

We get spoiled by this power to watch things whenever we choose, and to pause, rewind, or rewatch bits as we desire

The other day, as I was driving down the road, I was listening to the local radio station as I often do. I was mostly concentrating on the road, only half listening, when I caught the end of something they were saying that struck me as interesting.

My first response? Reach over for the pause and rewind buttons.

Oops. You can’t do that on radio.

Then I started wondering, how many times do I drift off while being with people I love? How many times have I not been fully present, because in some part of my brain, I have been trained to think I can just hit pause, back up, and play it again?

Life has no pause or rewind buttons. We get one chance to experience what is happening around us.

Leave binge watching to episodes of your favorite series on Netflix. When you’re with those you love, be present, in the moment, tuned in. Experience the moment as it happens.

Simple Fixes

Stylized black and white photo of a house. Nothing fancy
Photo copyright ©2016 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

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.

For example…

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.

The Most Important Number

Photo of audience laughing

How many shows do you do in a year?

As an entertainer, I am often asked that question.

My off-the-cuff answer? I have no idea. And I don’t care.

Let me explain. I don’t like numbers.

You might find that a bit odd, because I am an electrical engineer by training. The classic stereotype of an engineer is an introvert who loves numbers and hates people.

I hate numbers and love people.

For much of my career I worked in data center operations: specifically, network operations. If you think engineers love numbers, operations folks take that to a whole other level. They live by numbers. Especially people in network operations.

I was surrounded by people who loved numbers.

Our job was almost entirely about numbers. Yet, still, I didn’t care. I cared about the people.

Numbers are boring. People are fun.

When I went to meetings where I knew I’d be drilled about the numbers, I would take other people with me who could answer those questions.

Some of my higher-ups were OK with that. Others, not so much.

At least in that context, the numbers were relevant to our jobs.

Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You’ve filled your cart and you are ready to check out. Do you care how many people the cashier serves during their shift?

It might be an interesting side note. But, what do you really care about at that moment?

  • How quickly you are going to get through the line.
  • Are you going to make it out of the store and home before your ice cream starts to melt?
  • Will they put your bread on top of the bag, or bury it beneath heavy cans again like the last time?

The number of how many other people have gone through that particular checkout line is irrelevant to your personal experience when it is your turn.

When you go to a doctor, do you care how many patients he or she sees in a day? Again, you might consider that question while you are waiting. But, what do you care about?

Right. You.

Having the doctor’s total, dedicated, focused attention on you.

The only number that matters is the number ONE.

How many shows do you do in a year? It doesn’t matter.

The only show that matters is THIS ONE, right here, right now.

I also don’t care how many people are in the audience.

I care about the ONE person I can see who is having a good time. The ONE person who really needed to laugh.

That ONE person is why I am there.

Numbers can be important. I am glad there are people who care about numbers, love numbers, and deal with numbers.

For me, the most important number is the number ONE.

Be The Present

Christmas ornament. Hand carved pencil.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved. Ornament hand carved by Steve Wolfe

What is the best gift you have ever received?

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?

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”

Dr. Seuss – “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”

Allow me to suggest an alternative.

The greatest gift we can give to others is our undivided attention.

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.

Be like Winnie the Pooh.

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today.” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day.” said Pooh.

A.A. Milne – “Winnie the Pooh”

Momentum

Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

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.

Rebuild your momentum.

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.”

 

There Is No Joy

Photo of field of spring flowers
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

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.

Experience joy.