Thursday, May 24, 2018

Helen Wheels

The original plan after I earned my Master's degree was that I would do something for myself that I had been meaning to do for a long time.  A big personal gift.  Something like a vintage VW Beetle.  Maybe a light blue 1967 model.  Anyway, that thought occurred a few years ago, before I was put into a job search mode, before my disposable income changed, before I had to pay more out of pocket for the degree.  I'm not complaining mind you...I bought the ticket and took the ride.

Anyway and undeterred, I still thought it was appropriate to get myself a small gift for graduation.  If not a vintage VW Bug, what then?  The answer?  A new bike.

I've had a bike for most of my life.  As a kid, I would ride for miles on end, which in Scranton (with all of its hills) is something of a feat.  I've always found riding a bike to be something of a perfect activity for an introvert:  Unless I am riding with my wife (or, as was the case last summer, my mother-in-law) it tends to be an almost contemplative experience.

(May 2018, the new wheels)

I'll note that I've had the same Trek bike for something like 20 years.  It has, in fact, served me very well.

(October 2017)

However, the bike was a bit too small for me and its complete and utter lack of any form of shock absorption made for some rough rides on my older frame.  The new bike went out for an inaugural ride this evening on the side streets of West Pittston, PA (a very bike-friendly town).  Many more rides will come. 

For the record, the new bike was purchased at Sickler's Bike Shop in Kingston, PA.  It's nice to be able to support a local business.  If you live in NEPA and are looking for a bike check them out.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Un-stretched Rubber Band

In the back of my head, well, I knew this day was coming.  For the record, I even tried to prepare for it, but we all know how that old saying about "... best-laid plans..." goes.  "This day" and "it" refers to how I feel after having finished school related stuff(1).  The best way I can describe it is via a rubber band:

You stretch it and stretch it and stretch it.  Miraculously, it doesn't break.  But you do eventually let go of it, and what's left, after it snaps back, is a mere shadow of the formerly stretched self, formless and misshapen.  

That's where I'm at right here and now.

As a side note, I almost constantly...without exaggeration...have a song playing in my head.  As I was thinking about this topic during the quiet hours of this morning, the following song lyric came to mind:

"And if anything, 
then there's your sign of the times

I was alive and waited, waited
I was alive and waited for this,
Right here, right now"(2)

Sign of the times indeed.

Call it a funk.  Call it a rut.  This has happened to me before.  And will likely happen again.

There isn't much of a solution here.  No "chemical willy"(3) would be of help; besides, I'm simply adamant about the fact that, when all is said and done, I never want anything (including pharmacology) to come between me and my ability to truly experience life...the good, the bad, and the over-stretched rubber-band.  That could be either a truly enlightened concept on my part or incredibly stupid.  Both are likely to be correct.

Now I could find some other big thing to do.  And maybe that will happen.  But at the moment, "right here and now" I just don't have the mental juice for that sort of thing.  In as much as I feel as if I should be doing something big, part of me also knows that I need to rest, both mentally and physically.  The latter, by the way, has always been something of a challenge; as evidence, I can point to my having woken up at 5am this morning.  On a Saturday.

So what's left?  Maybe make a list of things I want to get done over the next few months.  Working outside is always sort of enjoyable for me.  As someone who has worked in the business world for three decades, complete with its tendency towards tremendous effort being put into things where there is no tangible outcome, something like cutting the grass has a significant benefit:  Before the work, the grass is high, after the work the grass is low.  

If only it were that easy in our professional lives.






(1) See THIS posting, among others.
(2) Jesus Jones, "Right Here Right Now"
(3) A phrase used by the late Hunter S. Thompson somewhere in The Great Shark Hunt.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Book I Would Write...

...if I were to ever write a book that is, would be about the importance of kindness, particularly in our professional lives.  It's my somewhat learned opinion that there's a deficit of kindness in this country, especially in the business world.  We simply need more kindness.

In many ways, the classic American business ethos is the antithesis of kindness, rife with blind ambition, where one climbs the ladder of success, never minding the heads that might be stepped on along the way.  It's a land where people do what they are told, where "I don't pay you to think".  It's a work ethic where "driving for success" is admired, regardless of the dark route that drive had to take.  This is the ugly American at his or her worst.

The problem with that whole line of thought is that it casually forgets that almost all effort at work is actually discretionary in nature.  We all choose how we show up to work each and every morning (figuratively or literally).  Even when we are "doing as we are told", our disdain for systems and managers (as opposed to leaders) that disregard who we are as human beings inevitably leads, at best, passive resistance.  At worst?  Things like active sabotage come to mind.  I don't care who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have:  None of us work best under threat or coercion.  Sure, ambition may carry us along for some period of time, but just like gravity, we inevitably get pulled down to reality.  Put another way, ambition is a bit like really good chocolate cake in that our perception of having it is always better than the actual taste.  And when we finally do get that cake?  Well, how many pieces does it take before we're so sick of cake that we can't eat another bite?

For the record, I'm not dismissing ambition. Like any tool, it can be used or abused.  Kind of like using a $200+ power drill...
...to hammer in nails.

The cure, if you want to call it that, for what ails our society is kindness.  Just be kind.

  • Be kind when it's easy.
  • Be especially kind when it's hard.
  • Be kind to those who are kind to you.
  • Be especially kind to those who are not kind to you.  They likely don't know any better or they might be struggling in ways that none of us can understand.
  • Be as kind to the person who empties your trash as you are to the executive you want to impress.
  • Be kind in ways only you need to know about.
  • Be kind because ultimately you have to live with yourself...and do you really want to live with someone isn't kind?

Kindness doesn't mean that we fail to make difficult business decisions.  Someone can be, for example, laid off from their job in a manner that is kind.  Someone can be put on a performance improvement plan that is inherently kind (because we actually want them to get better).  We can provide all manner of constructive feedback in a spirit that speaks of kindness.  We can seek promotions/professional growth in a way that demonstrates the value we see in others...not as steps to walk on along our way...but as allies who have taught us and added to our capabilities.

By the way, kindness in a business context has a kind of secret weapon quality to it:  It's free.  Being kind costs absolutely nothing.  No special kindness training to schedule and attend.  No consultants needed.  No programs to implement.  No infographics or logos required.  No polices to socialize and then post on the intranet.  Just commit to being kind. 

Lastly, like all truly important things in our lives (be they be personal or professional), kindness is a journey.  I am not always as kind as I should be, particularly to those who I seem to think not kind to me or to others.  I particularly struggle with individuals that I believe have a generous ego.  I can, should and will do better, not because I'm looking for some otherworldly reward, but because ultimately kindness is the reward.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Motherhood

I woke up this morning at 5:18am(1) with the following thought in my head:

Motherhood is the most difficult, most important job in the world for which there are no educational requirements, no licensing, no registration.

I'll also note that, as evidenced by this blog(2), few people have more influence on us...on our lives...than our own Mother.  Be that good, bad or indifferent.  Our Mothers physically carry us before we are born, and we then mentally carry our Mothers with us for the rest of our lives.  Motherhood is, at least by my estimation, the highest calling.


(Around 1970; the blogger is on the far left, with my Mother and two of my brothers)  

My hope is that every Mother out there feels appreciated today in some special kind of way. 




(1) I've been unfortunately getting up far too early on the weekends.  Not sure why.  It's along the lines of my eyes peer open and my brain immediately goes full throttle.
(2)  I've likely written about my own Mother hundreds of times on this blog.


Friday, May 4, 2018

For Mom

There were only a few things in life that ever actually impressed my late mother.  Stripping out people for a moment (Martha Stewart, for example, could do no wrong...even with the felony conviction), she was impressed by folks who were well educated.  While my Mom never really said so to either of us, I know she was proud of her two sons who earned college degrees.

(My Mom & the Blogger, first graduation in May 1986)

Before she passed away, I had told my Mom that I had been toying around with the idea of going back to school.  Her response was usually something along the gruff lines of "well, what's stopping you?".  In my life up to about eight or so years ago, well, a lot of things were stopping me.  These were things like time, energy, money, etc.  All valid reasons.  About a year after her passing I made the leap.  No more excuses.  It was time to either go back to school or shelve the idea entirely.  I made the former decision, and in September of 2014, I attended my first class in the Villanova University M.S.-HRD degree program*.   For the official record, my anxiety level for that first class was a 12 (on a scale of 1 to 10).

Fast forward through 30 graduate credits, countless tests, a large novel's worth of papers, stacks of research and I completed my actual coursework in May 2017.  Graduation had to wait though until I completed the final program requirement, namely passing an industry examination.  Something I managed to put off for a year. 

The above procrastination ended today with my passing of just such an exam.  More on that later, once I get my official results.  I'll note that I put in between 30 and 40 hours, give or take, in actual exam preparation.  I'll also note that the test was one of the most difficult I've ever had to take, and that list includes three securities examinations and one for a Pennsylvania insurance license.  Put another way, if you think "HR stuff" is easy, well, I'll lend you my study materials.


How do I feel about all of this?  At this stage, I'd say numb.  The whole going back to school thing was an enormous undertaking for me, both in terms of cost (even with tuition assistance from my prior employer) and sheer effort.  While I enjoy writing (obviously...), I didn't enjoy the pressures of research work, final exams, etc.  The on-going theme in my head was one of "I'm too damn old for this".  Quite frankly, I'm just glad this is over.  And it is all over, as my academic career has just concluded.  It's time for me to move on.

Moving on is a big part of what's going to happen next.  In life, we all meet points in time when we know things are going to change.  For me, this is one of those times.  A kind of nexus if you will where things converge and then move off into new a direction.  That new direction for me is going to involve more rest, more outdoors, more, well, "fun".

I couldn't have done this, by the way, without a cast of supporting folks who either put up with me, coached me, or, unknowing to them, motivated me in some way or another.  Chief among the members of my posse is my wife, Ms. Rivers, who has spent more time that she should have cleaning up after dinner so that I could get to school work.  She also deserves a medal for all of the incredibly dry papers she has had to read and edit for me over the past few years.  I also need to thank my many co-workers, across two wonderful organizations, who have encouraged me along the way.  They know who they are, but in case they forget, I'll be reaching out.

Finally, while she isn't here to see this, I know my Mom would be proud of me on this day.  As I was thinking about the exam over the past few days, and the fact that it was the last thing I needed to graduate, I knew that she was there with me in spirit. 

I did it Mom!


* * * * * *

(*) You can learn more about Villanova's graduate HRD program HERE.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Laissez-faire Le Strand

When I've got a lot going on...well make that much more than normal going on...I sometimes experience this odd phenomenon in which I can't get a certain song out of my head.  This isn't an "earworm"; rather, it's more like my brain is trying to grasp at something to anchor itself onto, lest it is swept away in a sea of thoughts are firing like machine gun bullets in my head.

And so we now have The Strand.

I have to thank (and/or blame) my older brother Rich for the introduction to Roxy Music.  He always had far better taste in music that I did, at least when we were growing up.  I can remember him referencing "do the Strandsky" back when neither of us could drive.  And that was a very long time ago.  Anyway, I actually do enjoy Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry's work, although I just wish I could do a better job of pausing it in my head at the moment.

In other music news, I learned yesterday that ABBA has recorded two new songs.  In fact, two of my former HR co-workers actually made sure I heard the news.  I guess those impromptu renditions of "Dancing Queen" all those years ago made an impression.  It makes our summer trip to Sweden (and other Nordic places) all the better.

Lastly, I had a birthday this past week and was treated to many wishes and congratulations.  It's a blessing to have folks remember such a thing. 


Here's to the start of another trip around the sun. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

From the Anger-Avoiding Control Freak Lessons Learned Department


Something of a follow-up to THIS posting from February.

I've been thinking about anger lately.  Not as in "I am angry, therefore I am thinking about it", but rather how I feel and express anger.

Am I afraid of anger?  Part of the answer is, I think, yes.  Growing up, as I may have noted before, my Mother basically had two emotions:  Angry and not angry.  There would be some occasional happiness thrown in, but by and large, her predominant emotion that her children witnessed was that of being mildly pissed off.  To that point, my Mother never needed to do much in the way of disciplining her four sons, mostly because she was so very skillful at intimidation through anger.  We behaved mostly because we were afraid not to.  And we didn't know any better.  Anger was a kind of mental blunt-force weapon.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I tend to react strongly to anger.  While those reactions run a certain gamut, one isn't usually present:  Anger.  I don't get angry because someone else is angry.  In fact, and as I noted in February, I rarely now get truly angry.

In some respects it's a blessing:  I am truly at my best in times of crisis.  I am good at listening when others are upset.  I can be the voice of reason when chaos seems to be swirling all about me.

Like many good things though, there is also a dark side:  My being calm is, in some respects, simply a reflex reaction, an ability to withdraw when strong emotions are present.  I am calm in part because I learned to avoid strong emotions like anger.  For me, well, anger isn't a healthy emotion.  In fact, I have a tendency to view those who are chronically angry as being, in some respects, weak.  Out of control.

Control.

There's the pivotal word in all of this stuff.  Anger for me represents a loss of control.  And I can't lose control.

Ever.
Anger = Loss of control.

Loss of Control = I can no longer rely on myself.

I Can't Rely on Me = There is no one else to rely upon.

Growing up, we were something of an island onto ourselves.  Knowing rationally that we can rely on someone is different than actually feeling that you can rely on someone.  For me, well, the feeling was just never really there, and that part has repeated itself throughout my life.  It influenced me far too much in my young adult years, and I'm fairly convinced that this obsessive need for control ended up driving more than just mental knots in my head...it's likely also responsible for some of the physical ailments that face this "sooner to be an older" guy.

So what's the purpose here?  What's the "endgame"?

The latter, well, I guess within life we all know what the "endgame" really is, so no sense even mentioning it.  No, here it's the space between here and the "endgame" that's important.  All of this means that I need to/am working on a few things...

...authentically expressing my feelings
...not using guilt as a plug-n-play cop-out for failing to deal with my own feelings
...remembering that I do have truly good people in my life who I truly can rely on
...acknowledging that ultimately control is nothing but a sloppy (at best) excuse for insecurity

Heady stuff, I know.  With that, the psychoanalysis postings are (mostly) concluded.  For now.

The next posting will be about cats.  Maybe.



Friday, April 20, 2018

5 Essential Life Truths (that sound depressing but aren't)

The Psychology Today feed on Facebook is terrific.  Recently they posted this article that I enjoyed so much that I just had to share it with my wife.


It's worth the time to read the article.  By way of summary, the 5 Essential Life Truths are:

1.  Stress Happens
2.  There's No Such Thing As A Happy Ending
3.  The Cover-Up Is Worse Than The Crime
4.  There's No Magic Bullet
5.  There's No Elevator...You Have To Take The Stairs

In some ways, the article reminds me of one of my favorite books, Dr. Gordon Livingston's Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.

I think a lot of what the article (and the book by Dr. Livingston) says can be rolled up into one simple thought:  So many spend so much time looking for shortcuts in life that simply don't exist.

Yes, and to be blunt, there are no shortcuts.

What may seem like a shortcut today...one that may even work at the moment...will almost always cost more in the long term.  Life is a bank where it always ends up costing you more if you delay putting the effort into making payments now.  Today's shortcut is tomorrow's balloon interest payment.

Part of why this is an issue is the fact that we live in a society obsessed with immediate self-gratification.  We get upset if we have to wait more than five minutes for fast food.  We see the seemingly carefree lifestyles of those in the media and delude ourselves into believing that they somehow "have it made".  Never mind how much substance and other forms of abuse are rampant among public figures.  We think we're entitled to instant happiness all the time, and we become depressed at the thought that we're being denied.  I firmly believe that it's all a mirage, designed to distract us from the simple, essential truths of life.

In life, I'm more convinced than ever that it's doing the simple, basic things well that matter the most.  Things like:

Show up on time.

Be polite.

Be first to compliment and last to criticize.

Work hard.

Put the effort into being prepared, no matter what the task.

Always do a little more than you are asked.

Be kind...to everyone...even those who aren't necessarily kind to you.

Be truly present in the moment.

(I fail at many of these by the way, but I do have a secret weapon:  Persistence.)

None of the above costs money.  None of the above makes for a very good television show plot.  None of this will generate many social media "likes".  But in the end, when we all, no matter our wealth or social status, have to look back at the realities of how we've spent...or squandered...our lives, all of this will matter.





Friday, April 13, 2018

Forever Young

I've never gone this long...in nearly 10 years of writing this blog...without posting something.  Even now I'm somewhat iffy on this posting, but guilt is starting to creep in, so I best get a typing.

As a side note, I actually wrote a posting last week, but I just don't feel like publishing it.  Doesn't feel right for some reason.

Anyway, a lot is happening.

In news of the sad, one of our cats, Tiger, passed away this past Monday.  Tiger was very special for three reasons:

  1. He was the fluffiest cat I've ever seen, bar none.  He had fluff in abundance.  A surplus of fluff.  And for the record, I've seen some fluffy cats in my lifetime.
  2. He was one of the friendliest cats I've ever encountered.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there was only one person on this Earth that Tiger didn't like.  Most humans can't say the same thing.  Tiger lived for getting petted.  Absolutely lived for it.
  3. He was genuinely beloved by my youngest stepson, with whom he spent countless hours.

Tiger passed away by my stepson's side, a point of which is both heartening...leaving this Earth next to someone you love...and saddening (for my stepson).  He will be missed by all, with the possible exception of our two remaining cats, who, in the truest spirit of cats everywhere, seem more or less indifferent to it all.

Tiger, doing his "I want to touch your face" thing.

I do miss the fluff-monster, but I take some comfort in knowing that he was likely very sick before he passed, and is now free from all such flesh-laden liabilities.  

My youngest stepson has taken a liking recently to Bob Dylan, which, given all of the horrible music out there these days, is nothing short of wonderful.  Like most teenagers though, he has to face a world that's rapidly changing around him.  Some of those changes are incredibly sad, such as losing a pet who was your constant companion.  While none of us can avoid loss, we make the choice to not let it turn us into cynical old people well before our time.  Maybe part of us can stay Forever Young.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Radio Personalities/Imus Retirement

In his Tuesday (April 3rd) blog entry, WNEP's Andy Palumbo writes about the retirement of Don Imus (see HERE).  He also shares his listing of top 5 radio personalities.

quack quack

It's a topic I can't resist, although I'll preface what I'm about to write by noting that my opinions are completely those of a listener.  Put another way, I don't know much about the media business, and at age 53(1), that's not likely to change.  So if you want a professional's opinion, find another blog.  On to the amateur hour.

moby worm, coming to get ya

My list isn't in any order, other than the first one listed.  I'll also note that I've only listed broadcasters that I've actually listened to over the years.

Howard Stern
I've written about Howard Stern before on this blog over the years.  I first heard his show during the summer of 1986 while I was living in York, PA.  I've been a fan ever since.  I don't find everything he does funny; in fact, I find some of his bits to be cringe worthy.  However, when all is said and done, Stern will go down in history as someone who basically re-invented radio and who could be wildly entertaining.  His sound effects guy, Fred Norris, deserves special recognition for his ability to drop just the right sounds at just the right time. 

Rush Limbaugh
I hate what comes out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth, but I admire how it comes out.  If that makes sense.  He's entertaining and engaging.  What I find fascinating about Limbaugh is the fact that, deep-down, I don't think he believes half of what he says, in spite of the fact that his legions of "ditto-heads" take it as gospel.  I also admire the fact that he's not above making fun of his "character".



Art Bell
I've read where Bell was notoriously difficult to work with, but man, he could keep an audience mesmerized.  I know 98% of the stuff coming out of his mouth was outlandish, unmitigated nonsense, but man, it sounded good (and convincing).  He was kind of like an odd uncle that would tell you incredible stories.  "From the Kingdom of Nye..."

quack quack

Garrison Keillor
The only person on this list I've ever actually seen in person(2).  I was an occasional listener of A Prairie Home Companion.  The music for me was so-so, but I always enjoyed Keillor's ability to tell a story.  There was always something very comforting about hearing him on the radio.

Michael Feldman
I doubt many have heard of Michael Feldman(3).  His show, Whad'Ya Know?, was a companion for me as I made many trips back and forth to college in the mid-1980's.  Think of him as being Wisconsin's answer to Garrison Keillor, and his show as being basically "A Dairy Home Companion".  Back then it was fun and entertaining for a young man (me) who really had no clue what he was doing and was lonely as he cruised down I81 in a 1974 Chrysler.

(my actual college car)

how's your donkey kong?(4)

Papa Joe Chevalier
The only sports commentator that I ever found even remotely funny or engaging.  I loved his show when it was on locally.  He had the best theme song ever.  He also managed to talk about sports in a way such that you really didn't need to be a sports fanatic to "get it".  May he rest in peace.


So, what about Imus?

Don Imus was cranky and mean, be it to his listeners, to his staff, and some of his guests.  While many top-tier radio personalities have healthy egos, Imus has one that seems outsized by comparison.  Towards the end of his career, he was also unlistenable, mumbling his way through rants.  While I've listened to Imus over the years, I never found him to be entertaining.  He needed to retire years ago.




(1) Soon to be 54, for the record.
(2) Twice, for the record.
(3) More about him HERE.
(4) The stupid phrases were all things a listener would hear on the Imus in the Morning Show.