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.
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.
What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Where do you spend your time?
Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time working on our weaknesses, while downplaying, if not outright ignoring, where we are truly gifted. In many cases, we don’t recognize how special our particular strengths are.
This pattern of focusing on our weaknesses routinely plays out at work in the annual performance evaluations.
After your evaluation, where does your mind go? What do you spend all of your time stewing over when you walk out? Right. The stuff you were told you need to work on. Your weaknesses.
Here’s a thought. What if we focus more of our energy on what we are doing well? What if we simply do more of that and less of what we don’t do well?
When I was a manager in an office job, this was much easier for me to do. If there was something I didn’t enjoy doing, or was not particularly good at doing, but recognized the importance of it being done, I could delegate that task to someone on my staff.
By delegating, I do not mean dumping. Proper delegation involves assigning tasks to people who are best suited to do that task. Maybe they’re already good at it. Maybe they are looking for opportunities to become good at it. Either way, delegation done right is a gift you are giving, not a burden you are imposing.
Effective delegation tends to be one of the hardest lessons for new managers to learn.
As a homeowner, there is no end to the litany of ongoing maintenance. Many repairs are things I am able to handle and even enjoy. But, there are others I won’t touch. Electrical work? I’m all over it. Gas lines? No way. Plumbing? I’d rather not, but I’ll do it in a pinch.
As a manager, I became adept at delegating tasks for which I had no inclination, sometimes to a fault. I had one particular boss who did not appreciate my lack of interest in keeping statistics in my head. But, I had a person on my staff who loved that.
When it comes to home maintenance, I tend to work around things I can’t handle myself for as long as I can get away with it. In other words, until my wife gets angry.
Why is it so hard for us to accept that there are things we are simply not good at doing, or that we have no interest in becoming good at doing, and move on? Why do we constantly beat ourselves up over the areas where we struggle, while totally disregarding those areas where we excel?
We accept the idea of focusing on our strengths as a natural thing when it comes to sports teams. Let’s talk football.
Imagine listening in on the performance evaluation for the guy who plays center. His primary job is to hike the ball to the quarterback. During his review, he is criticized for not being able to kick a field goal. Sounds ludicrous, right? And yet, that is exactly how we treat ourselves.
We expect ourselves to be able to do everything. Sadly, I’ve experienced performance evaluations in the workplace that were equally ludicrous.
Sure, most of us work in jobs that have broader expectations than “hike the ball”, or “kick field goals”. And, truth be told, most of those guys actually can and do play multiple positions. But, for the most part, typical job descriptions have a fairly narrow focus.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my business. I love having my own business. This was my desire since high school. OK, this particular business was not what I had in mind when I studied electrical engineering in college. But, the type of business doesn’t really matter.
There are aspects of my business that I love and some that I don’t. There are tasks I am good at, and and those I am not. In most cases, the “good at” and “enjoy” categories align. There are also the ones I enjoy, while not being particularly good at. But, hey, it’s my business. I can do them if I feel like it, even if I do them poorly.
Then there are those tasks I am capable of doing, but I detest doing them so much that they simply don’t get done, or get done so poorly they might as well not have been done at all. Unfortunately, some of these are tasks that do need to be done if I want the business to grow.
The challenge for me is determining which tasks I absolutely must do myself and which can (and should) be done by someone else. Some of these are obvious. Others are not. And some I have simply been too stubborn to let go of.
When you own your own business, the strong tendency is to assume that you have to do it all yourself. Michael Gerber writes about this extensively in the book, “The E-Myth”. He makes a strong case for working on your business, not in it.
What that boils down to is creating an actual job description for yourself. Assigning tasks to yourself, based on your job description – and even more importantly, NOT doing tasks that are not in your description.
There will always be tasks we must do ourselves that we don’t enjoy doing, or that we are not particularly skilled at doing. At work, at home, in life. But, if we can learn to pause, consider if that is a task that we absolutely must do ourselves, and NOT do it if the answer is “no”, we will be better off.
By handing off tasks we do not enjoy to those who DO enjoy doing them, we are giving them a gift. We are happier because we’re not doing something we hate. They are happier because they get to do more of what they love. It’s a win-win.
What is your view of work? Do you believe it is something you must struggle through in order to get paid? Or, do you think there should be at least some level of enjoyment along the way?
If you’ve noticed the domain that hosts this blog, you know my view.
When I came up with the concept of “Work Should Be Fun”, I knew I was onto something. I knew I was headed in the right direction. How? Because I received a lot of pushback.
People told me, “Oh, that’s too strong. Sure, work CAN be fun. But, should? I don’t know. That seems kind of crazy.”
At the time this started, I was still in an office job. I made no secret of my philosophy. Not everyone agreed with me. It even became somewhat of a running joke among my peers.
When we were experiencing a particularly difficult day, they’d look at me and ask, “Is this the fun part?”
I was reminded of this the other day as I was working on a project in my basement. It wasn’t going especially well. I was frustrated. There might have been a few expletives expressed. My wife said, “But, you’re having fun, right?”
In other words, “Is this the fun part?”
How we deal with work challenges is a choice. How we deal with everyday disappointments is a choice.
We will have disappointments. Work will present challenges. Life will not go according to our plans. We can’t avoid it. But, we do have a choice in how we react.
In that moment of frustration, I had a choice. Would I throw my tools across the basement in disgust and anger? Or would I step back and allow myself to laugh at the situation? And find the willingness to try again?
Surely you’ve heard, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Which do you enjoy more, the journey or the destination?
I think the answer can be both. Sometimes one drives the other.
Consider being on a journey toward a destination you are not eager to reach. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way. If we have enough fun along the journey, we might even forget we didn’t want to get to the destination.
Sometimes the destination is so enticing we’ll do anything to reach it.
Have you ever had one of those rare trips where both the journey and the destination were enjoyable? Count yourself as one of the lucky ones.
When I was a software engineer, I loved the act of coding. The journey itself was fun.
What I do now is more destination driven. This is the “eyes on the prize” model. The end result is so desirable that we will tolerate whatever it takes to achieve it.
The amount of time and effort required to get to the fleeting moment an entertainer gets to spend on stage would probably surprise you. Some of that “journey” work is fun. Some not so much. But, it is worth it. Absolutely worth it.
There will always be aspects of our work that we find less fun than others. We might even find some tasks to be downright distasteful.
I know musicians (and speakers and magicians and ventriloquists…) who hate to practice, but love to perform. I also know musicians who love to practice, but don’t enjoy performing in public. Reality check. No one is going to pay you to practice. You must perform. Likewise, no one is going to pay you to perform if you don’t practice.
I know people in the office who love meetings, and people who despise meetings.
As for me? I hate doing the sales part of my business. But, if I don’t sell, I don’t get to perform, or speak, or coach. Without sales, there is no business.
I know people who love to sell. Someday maybe I will find a way to enjoy that part. Or, more likely, hire one of those who loves to sell, but can’t imagine being on a stage. We’ll both be able to enjoy the journey. In the meantime, I slog through it with eyes on the prize.
How about you?
Do you enjoy the tasks involved in your work? Are you enjoying the journey?
Or are you more motivated by the destination? Do you slog your way through tasks you dislike because you know the result is worth it?
Pick one, or both.
If it’s neither, if you are not enjoying the journey or the destination, if it’s been a long time since you’ve been able to say, “This. This right here. This is the fun part.” you might be due for a change. You might need a new job. You might need a new attitude. You might need both.
What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?
Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?
Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.
In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.
In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.
Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?
I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?
I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.
And then it happened.
While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.
In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.
You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?
That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.
You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.
I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.
And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.
So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.
I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?
Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.
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?
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.
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.