Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting from A to Z: A Short Guide to Tuning In, Tuning Out and Turning it On

I’m never late.  I set multiple alarms, prepare diligently and build in time for unforeseen circumstances.  I also never stress in advance; but, it takes fail-proof preparation to ensure this model is successful. The key, I have learned over time, is to know when to tune out, when to tune in, and when to turn it up! Way up.

A very wise companion- ok, my husband- once assured me that in anxiety inducing situations I needn’t worry ahead of doom as should it actually come to pass, I’ll have adequate time to stress about it then. The assurance that I would be afforded the opportunity to worry eventually, allowed me to give up the privilege of worrying about things beforehand.  As the old adage goes “If it ain’t happening now, it ain’t happening”. I was previously sure that if I fretted ahead of time, the exercise might avert the anticipated crisis. I was unwilling to surrender my right to the uneasiness. Assured I’d have this chance should the need arise, I truly now let it go until the impending disaster is upon me.

For example, as I vigorously bobble on this tinker-toy of a regional jet in turbulence-the likes of which I've never before experienced- I'm soothed by the notion that I will indeed get a chance to shriek all the way down should we ultimately plunge to our deaths. Rather, I resist the urge to allow anxiety to take hold, my palms cooperate by not sweating, and I’m able to flash a smile of assurance to the nervous woman beside me.

Back in my skydiving heyday I was on a jump plane once where a jumpmaster was lecturing us experienced jumpers on the importance of wearing helmets. A follow skydiver, who was also a pilot, remarked that actually in the event of a crash the helmet would only melt into our heads as we burned in the fiery fuselage.  We all had a laugh and wouldn’t you know it, not a one of us perished on that day.

I am always prepared, but never too far in advance and this seems to work. Over the years I have accepted that I, in fact, do not blow deadlines, miss airplanes, or sleep through alarms. If my daughter were reading this she would no doubt remind me of the time I forgot her 2nd grade science fair, and the other parents had to come look at her creation out of pity since she seemed to have no other support, but I was younger then. I had not developed the tools I have today, and this is only a blog, not an exact science. Everyone is perfect in a blog.

I travel extensively these days.  In the next 3 weeks I will take 12 airplanes, experience 24 takeoffs and landings, and meet with well over 100 people. I’ve become a master at tuning out things that don’t require my mental presence; thus amassing critical cerebral reserves. I don’t pay attention most times to where I’m connecting through and don’t look ahead much further than the next few hours. The key though is in knowing how to innately tune back in just in the nick of time. Most trips, I tune out the connecting city and often find myself looking at my boarding pass to see where I am. So this is Chicago? Good to know. However, when I take a call, respond to an email or meet a client or colleague for dinner, I don’t miss a minute, a look, a vibe, or a word.

When I travel, I sleep well, drink very little and make sure that my A game comes with me into every meeting. Someone once told me as I was preparing for a negotiation not to worry because my “B game was everyone else’s A game”. That felt good, but the truth is home and work get my A game. Everywhere else? Well, you’re lucky if you see my Z game.

Come to think of it, where did I park my car?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hello, My Name Is Adolfus.

Life lobs brilliant fastballs of enlightenment to remind us of our humanity and to force us to check in and see each other as complete and kindred souls. Recently on a short flight hopping from one Midwest town to another, I was seated in the first row of a tiny regional jet. My original seat was to be 2A, but a man with special needs had erroneously sat in my seat and the flight attendant consequently asked that I take his instead. 1A. While the Embraer jet I was traveling on did not offer first class, I felt special. This would be a proper occasion to finish off a long workweek with a glass of airline wine and a book. 

I no sooner pulled my book from my laptop case than the gentleman sitting in 2A interrupted me.  He did not have the same agenda as I for our short time together. His was built more around getting to know as many people on the aircraft as possible. He asked targeted, information harvesting questions of all of us, like what books we were reading and where we were headed. He then pressed on with a series of drill down questions about why each of us was going to our intended destination and what we planned to do once there.  To my delight and surprise, my fellow passengers not only indulged him, they embraced him. Using careful tones and offering complete thoughts, they diligently answered each of his questions.

I learned that his name was Adolfus, that he was the youngest of the four sons his mother had recently left behind when she died suddenly of heart disease, that he loved to read and that he was saving “14.99 plus tax” for a new book. He was headed to Syracuse for a family reunion on his “granddaddy’s side” and he needed an escort when we arrived in Chicago as he had a past experience getting lost in ORD. He was an enchanting man with an enormous intellectual capacity and an even bigger social capacity. His gentle manner, warm brown eyes, and mild, deliberate tone suggested that he deeply cared about the answers to the questions he was asking and that he had never considered wasting the opportunity to get to know the people around him, however captive we may have been.

I earlier recognized that he had been brought to the airport by a person I now understood was his brother, and I was struck by how many people must have touched his life to have him turn out this way.  He undoubtedly owed his sweet nature to his family, but was likely nurtured along the way by teachers, aides, and counselors. I listened the rest of the flight as he sang happy tunes, and marveled, with an enthusiasm typically assigned to children, at the sights out the window.  He not only understood everything, he understood it was not to be taken for granted.  I could not help but deeply internalize the idea that he had not only lost his mother, but that she must have worried tremendously in her final moments about who would take care of her special son. 

I never did order wine or read my book on that short flight, but I did re evaluate the way I interact with the world and more importantly the way I allow it to interact with me. Adolfus was not on my agenda that day, but he will be forever in my thoughts as a smart man who knew much more than the world would largely give him credit for.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saving Face (Crèam)

This week my twelve year old exposed me to extreme couponing. That’s true. Perhaps she thought that if she could affect lasting change and crack the weekly grocery nut in half we might redirect the funds to the betterment of her wardrobe. And really, where else would the money rightfully go - savings, home repair, education funds? Clearly not. This week’s bill, as of Tuesday, had already topped $300.00.

I used to be better at clipping coupons, but surely the upside to working full time and holding down all Mom duties has to be the absence of the need to clip coupons or at least a solid rationalization for not wanting to do so. I admit that watching these ardent shoppers made me feel like a slacker particularly when I am low on laundry detergent and they have a fifty bottle surplus.

I do respect these committed consumers for taking what is rightfully theirs. Coupons are available for our use and the money they leach out of the system is accounted for and made up by those of us who pay full price. You’re welcome. But there is no shame in working the system in this manner. I will likely never dump an entire display rack of 150 bottles of generic pain reliever into my cart solely because I have amassed 150 coupons for it, but I am impressed with the effort made by those who do. I also sincerely hope that whatever catastrophic pain they are evidently in is remedied by their haul.

By their example I will make more of an effort to clip coupons for those items which my family uses; and, I am grateful for the inspiration. I do have one observation however. I never see fresh fruits and vegetables in their carts alongside the pallets of Ramen noodles and cough drops. When they start making coupons for spinach maybe I will take the whole thing more seriously.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I love quotes. I often search the internet for one that will inspire my next thought and subsequent blog or column. But sometimes a concept is so concrete that I can make the quote up in my head, and there is likely to be a famous quote that matches nearly verbatim. I would imagine that “If you have to tell people who you are, you probably aren’t who you think” is already a searchable quote, but for me it was just a loud and clear thought I had the other morning.

I read new web content by an author who had taken the time to think through who he was and state it neatly. The sentiment was charming and prophetic. A headstone of sorts for a life well intended. “Here lies Joe, he had every intention of being these things, but never did get around to it”. While I appreciated the concepts, it was not in fact who he was; it was a collection of goals for who he very much wants to be. Ironically, the author is someone in whom I see profound hope, but who does not much care for me, and one can hazard to guess that this will not help the cause. Oh well.

I have spent years telling the world exactly who I am, though there has been a paradigm shift in the last few years to just show it. Here is the problem with the latter model. What if who you present to be by your actions, is not the stellar overachiever you wish for the world to know? When my cousin Lisa and I were little, we dissected my brother’s Stretch Armstrong doll in the basement bathroom to see what was inside. Stretch Armstrong, for those of you who are under 40, was a hulk-like action figure with bulging muscles, but he was stretchable. Think drawn and quartered, but with an indestructible flair. This is why no woman in her 40’s can be wholly satisfied by a mate: we are all looking for the bulging hunk with a soft core that we can pull in four directions and have him remain strong and unscathed. We took a razor blade to Stretch and found gelatinous red glop inside. I recall there was a pregnant pause between the two of us, in which I admit being a bit disappointed by Stretch’s pathetic secret. He felt like a fraud to me, and made me appreciate my solid plastic Barbies.

This is, though, how many of us go through life. We are our actions, our deeds, and our hearts. We are infrequently, if ever, our words. I still sometimes tell people who I am, but now recognize that if I feel the need to tell you who I am, it is probably because I am trying to convince myself as well. Here is a litmus test: If what you are stating is overwhelmingly positive and enlightened, it is probably a clue that you are sharing your goals rather than your truth; otherwise you would allow it to show through your actions. Here is my truth: I am a person who flosses a few times a week but tells the dentist I do it regularly, who rarely makes my bed, who often licks the spoon while I’m mixing something and hopes the germs are killed in the baking process (Sabrina, can’t wait to see you for dinner Sunday.) , and who complains about every load of laundry I have to do, but then tears up at the thought that the day will come when I won’t have a million tiny undies in every load. Now that is who I am, who are you?