Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Affirmations!

I've never been much on making New Year's Resolutions, but I have created quite a few affirmations over the last two years. Here's two of my two most powerful affirmations:

I am in charge of my habits. I set goals, create affirmations, and use them.

I spend time visualizing (image making) my good habits.

I've discovered that I can change my habits. Once I decide what I want to be, I create a positive, present tense, personal, declarative affirmation. With that affirmation, I create a movie. Then I pre-live that movie.

(It's like a positive worry. We often picture the worse, then pre-live it by worrying about it. I simply reverse the process.)

My New Year's Resolution is simple, and it's contained in a companion affirmation:

I consistently review my affirmations and goals.

What if changing your habits was really this easy? Would you try it? Maybe even as a New Year's Resolution?

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A problem of apparent irrationality

I’m on Christmas Vacation, and for the most part I’m having a good time. I’m happy. However, just four hours before school ended on Friday, I got an e-mail containing a request.

Unfortunately for me, it was not a request I could simply ignore: it was more of an attempt at a “friendly” dictate. But it doesn’t matter what adjective you put in front of the word dictate, it’s still an unsolicited directive that can’t be ignored. In my case, I've given this the directive “The Grinch that Stole Christmas Award.”

Why? Because as a rational and reasonable man, my mind has a difficult time following unreasonable orders/dictates/policies. This new policy was going to cost me three to six hours, four times a year, for as long as I worked in this District. (And it duplicates a process that was already in place!) Ouch. The thought of acquiescing to this request haunted me. Not constantly, but enough to get the Grinch award.

Perhaps you’ve had such bouts with unreasonableness that interferes with a good night’s sleep? But what’s a person to do?

Me? I visited an old friend and mentor: Gerald Weinberg. Now, in reality, I’ve never met "Jerry." In fact, until yesterday, I called him "Gerald." But I do own three of his books, which I’ve read multiple times. He’s a “friend” I sometimes visit when I wrestling with a difficult problem. He’s always there for me, and he makes good sense. He helps me. ;-)

I had already pulled the two of the books off my bookshelf to share with my visiting son-in-law, who is working on his Ph.D. I started re-reading The Secrets of Consulting only to find that I’d highlighted just the preface and forward. Rats. No skimming opportunity here, so I started at the beginning.

As I read the preface, I was rewarded with a re-framing of my Grinch problem. I read the following account of Jerry’s approach to dealing with a major challenge of the consulting business:

“Most of the time, though, I enjoyed the direct interaction with my clients, if I could stand the irrationality. If I wanted to stay in the business, it seemed to me I had two choices:

1. Remain rational, and go crazy.
2. Become irrational, and be called crazy.
For many years, I oscillated between these poles of misery, until I hit upon a third approach:
3. Become rational about irrationality.

This book relates some of my discoveries about the rationality of seemingly irrational behavior that surrounds requests for influence. These are the secrets of consulting.”

Since I was currently going somewhat crazy, I recognized that my problem was really a problem of apparent irrationality. Once I could name the problem, I was partially relieved, because the correct naming of the problem is often the first step in finding a suitable solution: Become rational about irrationality.

A songwriter once said, “I may not have the answer, but I believe I have a plan…” I don’t even have a plan yet, but at least I know what the problem is. (For help in developing a plan I've skipped to chapter 8: Gaining Control of Change.)

PS: As an added bonus to reading and contemplating Jerry’s book, I used Jerry’s book as an intro to my previous post on this blog. The next day, lo and behold, I had a comment from Gerald M. Weinberg. You may have seen it. Who is this guy?

He’s the author of more that 40 books, including one listed on my favorite books list (An Introduction to General Systems Thinking). At first, I thought it was a prank. But it wasn’t. I followed the link and it led to one of my favorite author’s websites. I was delighted, nay thrilled. The very thought still puts a big grin on my face. Yowza!

PPS: Pictures today from the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium in Palm Springs.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Let kindness rule!

One of my favorite non-fiction authors is Gerald Weinberg. He has written several books aimed at those who provide consulting services. (Unofficially, almost all of us serve as consultants to someone.)

Weinberg informs his reader that most problems are “people” problems. He has lots of great modern-day proverbs to help consultants unravel these people problems, but the New Testament informs us how to avoid many people problems. One such bit of advice that I’ve been following during this holiday season is this: Love suffers long, and is kind.

All relationships involve a certain amount of patient endurance with the foibles of another; however, some relationships require larger amounts. Those cultures strongly influenced by Christianity acknowledge love and patience as virtues. We acknowledge that love should suffer long: and we try. But…

But we often overlook or fail on the other component of the advice offered in this New Testament proverb: Love suffers long, and is kind.

What? I’m called to suffer long AND be kind! Ahhhh… there’s the rub: Kindness. While I am being loving and patient (suffering long), I am to do it with kindness. Kindness means no meanness, no sarcasm, no nagging, no belittling, no digs, etc.

Hmmm… Anybody think that there would be fewer people problems among our friends, family, and community if we practiced this simple axiom: Love suffers long, and is kind?

Let kindness rule!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Gift of Love: An Anniversary Sonnet

A week ago Friday was a very special day: my tenth wedding anniversary! Leslie and I met via AOL – a modern miracle. She was recently widowed New Yorker and looking for support from other Christian widows and widowers. I, unfortunately, had some experience and was able to provide some perspective and long distance encouragement. The rest, as they say, is history.

A bit of that history is captured and shared, encrypted in the following sonnet (my first) written for Leslie, but shared here. True love is possible and blossoms in unlikely places. Miracles still happen.

The Gift of Love
-for Leslie on our 10th wedding anniversary-

I had a happy life: three kids, one wife.
Sad day – a lump appeared; the sky grew dark.
And when the storm was done – three kids, no wife.
I journeyed on alone – my outlook stark.

You had a happy life: with child and mate.
Dark day – the babe was gone; a mortal loss.
Before three months had passed – a bitter fate.
First love was gone – a second cross.

Far off we sad did live: two wants, one aim –
To start a life made new; a second chance.
We met, a modern gift – never the same.
You moved at my request – and made me dance.

New life we found afresh: ordained above.
Two lives became as one: the gift of love.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Disneyland: The Happiest Place on Earth?

I grew up in the "shadow" of Disneyland. It was a very pleasant shadow, maybe more of a shine or glow, but none-the-less a dominant feature of my youth.

Becoming a resident of Anaheim in '58, Disneyland was only three years old at the time. A friend of mine, who also grew up in Anaheim, gets kidded by his teenage children who say, "Dad, you're older than Disneyland!" Hmmm... I am too. But I digress...

As a youngster during the summer evenings, my family and I would often venture outside at 9 pm each evening to watch the Disneyland firework show illuminate the night sky. We were that close. My mom worked there a bit, and later so did I. Many of my friends and neighbors worked there at various times.

Also during the summer, my family usually played host to one of my mom's 11 siblings and their families. I was a willing, unofficial tour-guide at the Magic Kingdom to many a cousin.

I lived in a sub-division of 1950's homes that included a decorative tile on the front porch that said, "Enchanted Homes." I dreamed of running away to live on Tom Sawyer's Island. After all, Disneyland bills itself as the Happiest Place on Earth.

During my college years I traveled in more than 45 of the United States. This saga was in part my attempt to garner a world-view that didn't take on an artificial afterglow from Disneyland. What was life outside of the OC really like? I wanted to know. Now I do.

I learned that it's not so much the place as it is the person. I learned, "Where ever you go, there you are!" Iowa, California, Montana, Taiwan, or England: it's not so much about destination as it is about attitude.

So what was the catalyst for today's "rant"? My daughter and her family are in town visiting from their home in Illinois, and my sister (a lover of Disneyland) has financed a day at the Park for the four of them. My daughter and her husband have two children: 5 and 3 years old -- prime ages for the wonder of Disneyland.

But I wonder, if Disneyland were the "Happiest Place on Earth" what does that leave for the rest of us? Disappointment? Nah... it leaves reality. It leaves a world full of true wonders and true delights where we are not entertained, but participating, exploring, contributing, and bumbling along. Life isn't perfect. (This is earth, Heaven is later.)

I received a Christmas card from my mom which hinted at the real Christmas: "Family, holidays -- full, rich complicated, beautiful." Real life is more complicated than Disneyland, yet still full, rich, and beautiful.

Disney is a nice escape, but you can't live there.

I've grown up, but ironically I still live where I can see and hear the Disneyland fireworks. They go off at 9:35 now-a-days.

As an American, middle-class, college-educated, white male, some might say my life is a bit Disney-esque. But life is what you make it. I grew up in the glow of Disneyland because my parents "immigrated" (from Iowa and New York). They eventually moved back to Iowa, but I remain. Why? Because it's not where you live, but how you live that really matters. (Besides, there are worse places to live. I like it here.)

(More pictures from Palm Springs Farmers' Market last week.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday on Thursday! Merry Christmas!

Despite the fact that the historical origins of Christmas are biblically suspect, much of the world pauses at least superficially to consider and acknowledge the birth of Jesus Christ. I think a daily, personal, and practical daily encounter is preferable; however, while our attention is focused on the birth of Jesus, consider this prophecy concerning him,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This child was given to us, the greatest gift: a Heavenly Father's gift of His best.

He is the ultimate political remedy: the government will be on his shoulders: all other shoulders are inadequate. Sorry.

He alone is able to provide the personal, deep, meaningful Counsel we each need. He is a Wonderful Counselor.

He alone is able to "Get 'er done!" He is the Mighty God.

He alone is able to be the perfect father (protector, provider, friend), who never dies, that each of us longs for. He is the Everlasting Father.

And ultimately he alone can bring about personal, social, international, world-wide, and perpetual peace. He is the Prince of Peace.

Pascal the French mystic asked, "What is the One thing, which being known, all else can be known?"

The New Testament offers an answer, "Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

Merry Christmas!

(Pictures were taken last week at a Palm Springs Farmers' Market)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Navigating the Holidays...

I’m back in town!

Hey, did you miss me? (I missed you!)

Last Friday, the wife and I headed out of town for some vacation in nearby Palm Springs. As good as that sounds, it was even better: we had company! My oldest daughter, her husband and two children met us there.

Our two bedroom timeshare was a wonderful break: new place, new fun, and warmer weather. The high 60's with sunshine were especially welcomed by those visiting from chilly Illinois. I took some pictures, so you’ll be seeing some lovely cacti and palms in up-coming posts. (Today's are from Andreas Canyon.)

The timeshare had a wireless hook-up, but we all decided to by-pass the expense and “enjoy” being unplugged. We missed being able to do on-line research on topics and destinations over the five days. And... I missed blogging! ;-)

We had tons of fun: hikes, cards, swing-sets, and making memories with the grand-kids.

The Holidays are funny times. They have so much potential: for good and bad. Drama happens. Sometimes work drama creeps in, sometimes family drama erupts, but other times things just go “golden.”

Realistically we all probably get a helping of each. I’ve got to admit that as I navigate the Holidays, I have been helped by the lessons I’ve learned by blogging. I’ve got my bearings because I’ve been thinking about what’s important.

Being clear about who I am and what I’m about helps me wade through the mixture of good times and bad times that punctuate this season of family, friends, and various events. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort.

Happy Holidays!

(I’m looking forward to catching up on the posts of my fellow bloggers!)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Look, nobody died!

A long time ago I heard a quote, "Nothing ventured gained." That was the first insight I remember regarding risk taking.

Another quote that came later was "Behold the turtle, he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

These thoughts helped me become a risk taker, but I find as a teacher and nurturer that others are not so easily persuaded. So I've found two supplemental insights that often turn reluctant risk-takers into habitual risk-takers.

The first supplemental quote is "Look. Nobody died!"

The second is similar, "Look, the Universe as we know it didn't end!"

The reluctant and timid often overestimate the impact of their mistakes. They almost think that someone will die if they goof up. And by their logic, if carried to its natural conclusion,life on Earth as we know it might cease!

But we aren't really that important.

So, take the reasonable risk. Probably no one will notice or care. (Regardless of the outcome.) No one will die. The Universe will continue. Give yourself permission to stick your neck out!

(I shared some of these thoughts with my wife, and her contrary response was, "Well, no one has died YET!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

If you measure me in strange ways...

As a teacher, part of my job is assessing students. When I was a data processing manager part of my job was giving annual performance reviews. I am still on both ends of the measurement activity: I measure others, and I get measured.

I have three main opinions about assessments. The first is taken from a fellow educator Robert F. Mager. He wrote a famous book called Defining Instructional Objectives. In the preface of his 1984 book he says, “If you’re not interested in measuring the effectiveness of your instruction, you’ve just finished reading this book.”

This quote instructs me in the importance of measuring things. If you measure things, you end with data that can be analyzed. You are freed from simply relying upon you gut feelings, which are sometimes arbitrary. Measurements give you a way of measuring improvement.

But measurements are often misused, so I have two adages to protect me from misusing measurements. The first is this, “If you measure me in strange ways, don’t be surprised if I act strangely.” Some things are hard to measure, like what makes a good computer programmer? Someone thought that good programmers wrote a lot of programs, so they tied pay raises to lines of code written. Guess what happened? Yup, programmers started acting strangely, and their programs got really, really long. See if you can find strange behavior born of strange measurements in your world.

My second saying to protect myself from misusing measurements is this, “What you measure often improves, so be careful what you measure.” Here’s an example: many people want to lose weight, so they keep track of their weight. They may even reduce their daily food intake enough to lose weight. Unfortunately much of their weight loss is water and muscle. A better measurement would be losing fat. If the weight loss is fat, then you save your muscles. Saving your muscles keeps you from undermining your bodies ability to burn calories and keep you strong.

So those are my three rules-of-thumb for dealing with measurements. Used well, measurements help you find your personal best, help you move up in the pack, and help you know if you’re improving or not.

Now have fun looking for ways you’re being measured, ways you’re measuring others, and how both may need improving.

One final thought.
As I was driving to work yesterday thinking about the topic of measurements, I thought about how God measures me, or what He wants from me. What came to mind was an Old Testament verse, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Justice, mercy, and a daily walk with God: those are measurements worth aspiring to.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sometimes... Good enough is!

Back in my earlier days I used to be a bit of a perfectionist. Way back in grade school I remember staying after school rewriting a letter to the California state capital requesting information for my state report. The unusual part of this story is that it took me over 30 attempts. The letter was in ink and cursive. I wanted it just right. My teacher was impressed, but looking back, I wished I'd have known a great secret:

Sometimes, good enough is good enough!

Many years later as a computer programmer I had a boss who helped me learn this. I liked to create nice looking computer reports, but sometimes we needed to to what we called a "quick and dirty." With various time constraints I learned that not every project had to be my best work. There wasn't enough time.

My boss explained that sometimes we could only give our client a Volkswagen. We couldn't afford to give them a Cadillac.

Put in more common terms, When you're hungry, fast-food will do. You don't need gourmet, you just need some food.

I shorten the lesson learned to this: Sometimes... good enough is!

This little lesson helps me maintain my sanity since I can be prone to over-achieve, over-do, or over-obsess. Relax. I've learned to take a deep breath and decide up front: Do I need the Cadillac version, Volkswagen, something in-between, or just a skateboard?