Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Fitting Into Nature's Scheme of Things

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Red CloudsYou know what they say: ‘Everybody always talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.’ Baloney! We do lots of things about it! Watching Californians in the summertime is a study in a glorious variety of summer strategies to cope with the weather.

When exposed to the particular vagaries in this state (i.e. a million microclimates), you learn fast where your escape hatches are. Temperatures and humidity levels vary widely from town to town. Add summer heat and water shortages and you have a simmering cauldron of discomfort if you’re not careful.

Temporary breakdowns are so common that they’re not even considered creative around here. The number of people going home from work because they just can’t cope reaches epidemic proportions this time of year. While sunshine is a positive characteristic, it can be a bit too much of a good thing, especially when accompanied by triple-digit temperatures.

Some people recommend technological coping strategies, but these tend to be impractical. Air conditioning, as we all know, was designed to test your adaptability by plunging you from tropic heat to sub-arctic temperatures instantaneously. Besides, apart from putting you into shock and making it necessary to wear a winter coat over your summer suits, who can afford the electricity? Who can afford the gasoline, if you happen to spend hours in the local traffic jam?

Scientific studies have shown that the low pressure areas preceding a storm result in increased depression in the general population. Scientists are not clear whether this is a result of being trapped in a temperature inversion along with all that air pollution, or a result of being trapped in your office with 20 or 30 other hot and steamy people who’d rather be at the beach. Lethargy and apathy combine with staring out windows for a scene right out of a zombie horror movie.

And it doesn’t take a scientist to see the increased anxiety in those living in areas prone to fires. Crankiness and terminal irritability can accompany any of these patterns. Calling in sick by pleading a summer cold is the best coping strategy for not spreading the epidemic of poor mental health, unless, of course, you really have a summer cold. In that case I’d advise going in to the office. After all, you can be miserable there as well as anywhere else.

The list of creative pathologies, however, is both long and fascinating. For example, the sudden compulsion to take one’s clothes off and lie motionless until one is the color of a fresh-cooked lobster. Or the less anachronistic alternative of wearing paper goggles while being sprayed from all sides with sunless tanner, so you can turn terra-cotta instead of orange. Then there is the obsession to find out exactly what causes heat prostration by jogging on the side of the road until the sweat leaves a tangible trail behind you.

More creative (and lazier) souls may develop the hobby of driving down well-jogged paths while rating participants on a scale of one to ten. The muscular hunk in skin-tight shorts? 10 of course! The stout gentleman puffing along with a red face? You guessed it! Or grab a board with wheels or wax and get hit in the face with water or wind (or both) to lower your body temperature.

Some creative responses boggle the mind. Many of us put on woolen suits or corsets and petticoats to recreate the Civil War. Then we battle for hours in the hot sun while inhaling clouds of black powder smoke. Why we do this in the heat of summer is a good question. Although having to dry a rain-soaked canvas tent does put a damper of recreating in cooler seasons. Ren Faire addicts are in a similar dilemma, with heat stroke coming in only barely ahead of damp and muddy.

Affordability is the only obstacle to backyard swimming pools, month-long vacations in other climates, and similar escapist strategies. But those are so average. Let’s all hear it for the creative and somewhat crazy ways to survive the summer!

Have You Been Less Than Perfect Today?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Rock GardenHave You Been Less Than Perfect Today?

A lot of readers found a chord touched by the book excerpt on Self-Fulfilling Prophecies (SFP). But I wrote that book from the perspective of a manager working with other people. Being a business manual, it was focused on the Other rather than the Self. It’s important to look at what we expect of ourselves, and how we fulfill that prophecy. In this article, we’ll explore the effect of high expectations; next time, we’ll explore the effect of ones that are too low.

But what about the expectations we have of ourselves, the SFP’s that affect every day of our own lives? Let’s talk today about tending your own garden. (With apologies to Voltaire.) I don’t mean literally, of course, but figuratively. Nor am I referring to those people who should be told to ‘Mind your own onions,’ as the French would say. (Of course, they say it en francais, naturalement.) No, I’m talking about setting limits to what you can expect from yourself.

Sometimes people forget the value of their own gardens. Instead of focusing on the joys and achievements of just getting through an ordinary day, they feel guilty because they haven’t been awarded the Nobel Prize or made the front cover of Time Magazine. They measure their self-worth by a mythical ideal of fame and fortune. (No, 10 seconds on YouTube doesn’t count!) The unreality of this boggles the mind. (I can say it this harshly because I often fall into this trap, and I’m the pot calling the kettle black.)

You can’t judge yourself by how many people are cheering for you. Hitler got millions to cheer for him, which doesn’t say much for the value of public opinion.

You can’t judge yourself by how much you’ve accumulated. Do I even have to mention Howard Hughes or Ferdinand Marcos?

You can’t judge yourself by age comparisons either. As the musical satirist Tom Lehrer once exclaimed in mock dismay, ‘When Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for ten years!’

Do you have to be perfect to matter in this world? If so, then no one matters, because famous people are not more perfect than the rest of us! (As recent news stories confirm!)

Making a positive impact on your small corner of the world may do more for world peace and happiness than a thousand famous efforts. Why make yourself a martyr to unrealistic expectations? If you compare your achievements to impossibly high standards, you are setting yourself up for low self-esteem and chronic disappointment.

I have found that reading honest accounts of famous people’s lives to be a good corrective for this kind of self-abuse. Measure for yourself decades of struggle against a few moments in the limelight. Can you really say that isolating a specific chemical is more valuable than raising a couple of happy, healthy children? What about heroes who neglected their families while they pursued a single goal? And then there are heroes who pursued lofty goals because they had lost someone special.

It can be an easy way out to ignore mundane responsibilities while pursuing lofty goals. If you do both, then you’re a rare person. As a veteran of the sixties, I have to admit that I feel I’ve accomplished more in raising three sons and helping my clients understand themselves than I ever did at marching and protesting. In the long run, my actions in my sphere of influence, my garden, have had more impact on the world than all my protesting over other people’s actions

Protest what’s wrong with public actions if you don’t approve of them. But don’t neglect your own impact while you do. Be fair to yourself. Give yourself credit for tending your own garden. You don’t need blue ribbons to prove it’s a beautiful place to be.

Zen and The Art of Money Management

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Books on approaching sports, motorcycle repair, and job hunting with a Zen attitude were very popular for a while. I think it’s time I provided some guidelines for approaching money the same way!

You see, Zen is really an attitude towards life. It encourages people to be natural and spontaneous, yet controlled. It is a creed of doing yet not doing, of relaxing to create energy rather than trying too hard and wasting energy.

A lot of people seem to waste a lot of energy being tense about money. Yes, I know that jobs and resources are scarce. But nowhere in nature does any animal have access to unlimited resources without effort. Why should we expect things to be any different for humans? And is that sufficient reason to be so tense that you cease to enjoy the resources you do have?

I also know that the unexpected expense or catastrophe can come along at any time and wipe out savings. (Do I ever known that! Remind me to tell you about my catastrophes sometime!) But that only means it’s even more essential to develop a healthy attitude towards money that will carry you through the hard times as well as the high times!

Let’s face it. There’s been plenty of research that shows that while having a little more money may help you be happier if you have been struggling below the poverty level, if you’re already middle-class or higher, more money does not automatically result in more happiness.

How do you allow yourself to feel rich when your bank account says you’re not?
By relaxing and accepting your limitations with a certain Zen tolerance, and then letting yourself enjoy what you do have. Build in things that are fun. Don’t let your thoughts about money dominate you just because it’s scarce. If that seems too esoteric and mystical for you, try these tips:

1) Plan ahead and take stock of your assets. Many people find this the most difficult step. List all income, and don’t forget possible income and hidden assets, like things you can sell or services you can barter. Don’t be afraid to know where you stand financially. You might be better off than you think.

2) Set your priorities. Make note of all necessary outlays. And I do mean necessary! Check to see what’s really essential to your survival. Rent or mortgage may be fixed, but many other things are flexible. Look for creative ways to reduce expenses. There are many articles and websites that offer tips on how to cut food, utility, and other bills.

3) Keep a positive attitude. Make it a game to live well on less money, and be cheerful about it. This is a chance to show how much you can learn, and a chance to prove how adaptable you can really be. Make it a challenge to economize, not a choice. It’s really an adventure to see how much you can create from what you have already.

You may not have a choice about how much money you can make, but you do have a choice about the attitude you’re going to have towards money. Planning ahead, setting priorities, and keeping a positive attitude are things you can do. When it comes to money, a little Zen goes a long way. Don’t work so hard you forget to enjoy the adventure!

Dealing With Daily Chaos

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I hear a lot from people who feel overwhelmed by the chaos they have to deal with each day. And I do understand. All of us can relate to feeling like there are too many things on our plate.

People tend to daydream about a better life. But with a busy schedule, they keep their dreams simple. They dream of winning the lottery, or encountering as rush hour without traffic. They want a better job, or a bigger house. When those things don’t materialize, they might feel tense and harried. But when they get home angry and frustrated, the mess there may have them screaming (at their family, or just screaming!)

One of the difficulties in not falling prey to this disastrous cycle is that it’s so easy to lose sight of our objectives. Like hamsters on a treadmill, we can forget where we’re running to. We feel out of control in our own lives.

Struggling to keep your head above water, and anxiously glancing around for the next tidal wave, you can feel powerless to swim towards a goal. Any goal!

There is a big difference between living and making a living. And sometimes we forget that the second thing has no purpose if we’re not doing the first!

Stop and take stock for a moment. What are the reasons for the thing you do? Remember the joy of your wedding day? Remember why you took that job: the pay was needed or the opportunity good? Think of the first time you saw your child, the swelling joy and pride.

Stay in touch with those memories for a while. Get in touch with those feelings again.

Now write a list of the goals in your most precious memories. List all the objectives: providing for yourself and your family, enjoying your family’s company, keeping your body healthy, keeping your mind active. Be specific. Is buying a house on your list? Or planning a vacation with the family? Often we think of a material thing that we think is our goal, when really it is something more special than the thing itself.

List even the very small things. Do you wish for more time with your hobbies? Do plants or pets give you a good feeling?

Go have a cup of coffee (or whatever your beverage is) and leave the list for a while. Relax and think of other things.

After a short break, come back to the list and evaluate the items. Put a checkmark next to the six most important items on your list. Keep the list. Think about what you can do to have these goals. Understand that some of the things you are doing now are bringing you closer to your heart’s desire.

Live with the assumption that you are in control of your own life. Every activity you are involved in represents a decision or choice on your part. Compare your daily actions with your list of desired goals. Consider the possibility of not wasting time on the things you are doing that don’t bring you any closer to your goals.

If you don’t enjoy an activity and it doesn’t bring you any closer to what you do want out of life, ask yourself why you are doing it? Make the choices that give your life meaning. Don’t waste it. Keep sight of things you value most and let them be a guiding star that keeps you from feeling lost in the chaos around you.

Working With People You Don't Like

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

We’ve just been through several months of singing about good will towards other people. We’re supposed to be filled with love towards our fellow human. Maybe it’s easy to smile at strangers, but I’m not sure it’s any easier for those who have to work with people they dislike.

It would be nice if every job we ever had was filled with friendly co-workers we liked and respected.

Unfortunately the law of probabilities (Murphy’s Law?) suggests that at least some of the people we work with will rub us the wrong way. How we handle this situation will have a big impact on whether our job is a torture or a challenge.

Some people turn their dislike into a full time feud that eventually destroys morale throughout the workplace. Others smile through gritted teeth, then take every opportunity to criticize behind the other person’s back. Some complain only to their boss; some only to their spouse each night after work. And some turn their anger against themselves, wallowing in feelings of loneliness and isolation.

None of these methods accomplish anything constructive. In fact their results can be ulcers, headaches, chronic aches and pain, and strained relationships. However, with a little effort and forethought, you can turn the whole situation into a growth experience. Since you will probably encounter people you dislike throughout your career, now is a good time to learn to cope with them effectively.

First of all, you have to figure out why you dislike them so intensely. Be sure you are not prejudging them on the basis of outward appearance. You probably already know enough to avoid letting any unconscious ethnic or gender bias affect your opinion of them. But are you sure their gestures, clothes, hairdo, body jewelry, or other style issues aren’t creating your perception of them? Not everybody is alike, and if you focus on what they do differently than you do, you may feel as though you’ll never understand them.

You should be smart enough to know that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you know who someone is based on their outward appearance, you will interpret all their behaviors to fit your preconceptions. Don’t deprive yourself of the chance to find out who they really are.

If it is a particular behavior that irritates you, why not just tell them? Say something simple, like ‘I get angry when I’m interrupted before I finish a sentence.’ Be positive, rather than critical. Let them know you’d like to resolve the problem with their help. Don’t be defensive, and don’t back them into a corner either.

If the truth is that you hate most of their behaviors, remind yourself that they are a co-worker, not a friend. They don’t have to be your kind of person, just the kind of person the company hired for the job. Respect them for what they do. Deal with them on a rational level, not an emotional one. You’d be amazed at how calmly you can deal with an unpleasant co-worker once you accept them as a fact of life like a crowded office or too few coffee breaks. No one ever said the job would be perfect!

And finally, if your main complaint is that the other person seems to dislike you, stop reacting. Take the initiative! Ask them why you get the impression they dislike you. Mention specific behaviors you have been aware of. Make it clear that you are not attacking, but simply seeking information. Maybe you’ll find you agree with the criticism. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll both feel less hostile. It’s worth trying, isn’t it?

If nothing works, face the fact that not everyone has to like you, and vice-versa. Don’t go out of your way to antagonize a co-worker, but don’t fake excessive courtesy either. Mutual dislike doesn’t make either of you a worthless person. You both deserve respect.

Not liking someone doesn’t have to mean you actively try to hurt them. Sometimes it isn’t even practical to keep them from hurting you, especially if they are high up in the office hierarchy. To paraphrase a line from ‘Fiddler On The Roof,’ maybe the best wish of all is ‘May God bless and keep my enemiesfar away from me!’