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.
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?
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.
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.
I have never subscribed to the philosophy that not winning is the same as losing.
Vince Lombardi said:
“There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place. … There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers.”
Don’t get me wrong. Winning is great. But, it is not everything.
My philosophy? There is a lot of money to be made in 2nd and 3rd place.
Look at the payouts for a pro golf tournament. Sure, first place takes a much larger purse. But, there are loads of players earning a darn good living despite never having won a major.
For example, Steve Stricker. Steve has never won a Major. However, according to Golf Monthly, as of December 2017, his career earnings were over $43 million. Still want to call him a loser?
To me, the greatest disservice we can do to our kids is to teach them that not getting the first place trophy makes them a loser. Yes, strive to be the best you can be. No, do not give trophies for showing up. But, learn to value yourself for more than a comparative ranking against others. The only ranking that matters is what you do vs what you are capable of doing.
Because of this predominant philosophy of you either win or you’re a loser, too many people stop trying. At some point you realize you’ll never get the first place trophy, so why even bother?
For some people, they never even start down a path. Others stop doing something that brings them joy because they don’t want to be viewed as a loser.
If someone told you their name was Jerry, would you insist on calling them Gary?
Probably not. And yet, that is exactly the scenario with the pronunciation of “GIF”. It is properly pronounced, “JIF”.
Before you click away, understand that this post is about a much deeper issue than the silly debate over a hard vs. soft G. Stick with me a moment. It will make sense in a few paragraphs.
But, first, back to GIF…
Knowing that GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format”, it is logical to presume that it is pronounced with a hard G sound. However, if you ask the inventor, Steve Wilhite, he will tell you in no uncertain terms that it is to be pronounced with the soft G.
That should be the end of the story. And yet, even knowing this, people still insist that it is pronounced with the hard G.
What is something about which you formed an opinion, based on your own first experience, only to find out later that you were wrong? Was it difficult for you to accept it?
A couple decades ago, long before the movies, my family read the Harry Potter books for the first time. My wife read them out loud to our kids. If you are familiar with these stories, then you know that one of the main characters is Hermione Granger. We had never heard that name before. We read it as, “Her Me Oh Nee”. We thought that was how it was pronounced. With every reading of the name out loud, we became more convinced that was the correct way to say it. When we saw the first movie in theaters, we were shocked to find that it was pronounced, “Her My Oh Nee”.
To us, this odd pronunciation was simply wrong. How could they do that? Don’t they know the right way to say it?
Can you relate? Have you had that experience?
What both of these examples have in common is PRECONCEPTION. We form an opinion that seems logical; one that can even be defended as being a reasonable conclusion to have drawn based on the evidence available at the time.
noun 1. a conception or opinion formed beforehand. 2. bias.
Which of you believes that the Earth is the center of the galaxy, that all of the other planets and stars rotate around the earth? Which of you believes that the earth is flat?
We laugh at these notions now, even scoff at those who would have believed such a preposterous thing. But, had it not been for the evidence presented by scientists who came before us, we could be among those who had it wrong.
First impressions, first beliefs, preconceptions, are extremely difficult to overcome. We might have to admit that we were wrong. Gasp!
What if, instead, we viewed it as being unaware? Does that soften the blow? We did not have all of the facts available at the time we formed our opinion. We were not wrong. We simply didn’t know any better.
The real problem comes when we hold to these preconceived beliefs even after being presented with information to the contrary.
We can have fun debating how “GIF” should be pronounced. But, we cannot debate how its creator intends for it to be pronounced. From a New York Times blog posting:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
What preconceived ideas do you cling to, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?
Actively question beliefs you hold to be true. Be willing to adapt when new evidence is presented.
Be kind to yourself. Chances are you weren’t wrong. You just didn’t know any better. However, once you’ve become educated, accept the truth and move forward.
Are you a hardware engineer or a software engineer?
In my first job out of college, I did both. As a freshly minted Electrical Engineering graduate, I was thrilled to begin my first full-time job as an engineer at a small company where I got to do both hardware and software design.
You would think, that after 4 years of college (Ok, 4 1/2… plus a couple summers…), with heavy emphasis on the hardware side of things, that I would be better equipped to perform the duties of a hardware engineer than software. Especially since I had only a single semester course that covered the type of software I was doing at this job.
You would be wrong. Believe me, I was surprised as well.
It had nothing to do with the coursework in college.
What I discovered rather quickly was that hardware engineering requires a fully thought out, completely developed, and perfectly designed product before it goes to production. Once you send out the design for printing of the circuit boards, you are committed. Any mistakes you find after that point are quite costly to fix.
On the other hand, software engineering allows for a much more iterative approach. You write it, compile it, load it, and test it. Even if you go to production and later find a bug in the code, rolling out a fix is far less involved and costly than a hardware mistake.
I make a lot of mistakes.
Or, perhaps more accurately, I prefer the iterative approach to development of ideas. I like to start, develop a small bit at a time, test it, fix it as needed, then move on to the next bit. Sometimes in the process of doing this, I discover that a path I intended to follow is not going to work out. Sometimes changing course is a simple matter of changing from that point. Other times it means backtracking and going from there.
This happens frequently when writing this blog. I typically start with the title, thinking I am going to write about a particular thought. But, as the words come onto the screen, I discover it is heading a different direction. Rather than fight it, I simply go back and change the title to reflect the new endpoint.
I also follow the iterative approach when writing material in the act, and content for keynote presentations. I start with a particular idea in mind, create bits and pieces, put it together, test it, see how it works, and adjust from there.
I take a software engineering approach.
Other people I know prefer to have everything mapped out ahead of time. They plot and plan, design to a specific goal or purpose, with a concrete end product in mind. They do not vary from that objective. They thrive on making it all perfect before launch.
They are hardware engineers in their approach.
Note: This is not to say that all software engineering happens as an iterative process and that hardware cannot use this methodology. It is simply a convenient way to describe it.
Which one are you? Do you prefer to have everything well organized, lined up, and not deviate from the expectations? Or, do you like to dive in, get started, and adjust as you go along?
Both styles can work. But, it does help to understand your preferences. If you are in a job where the boss or organization as a whole is heavily biased toward the hardware engineering approach, and you are more of the software engineer, you are going to have challenges. Likewise in the reverse.
Knowing your approach and that of others around you is a good first step in being able to work better together.
Having a mix can be a good thing. In the computer world, hardware without software to make it do something is useless. Software without hardware to run it on is also useless.
Know your style and that of those around you. Work together to make something really cool.
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.