Monthly Archives: April 2013

Take it for Your Share & Go On

Thank God or the School Board or whoever is responsible for those dynamic teachers that I hope we all have in our past.  If we are lucky, we have a full string of them stretching back to our early days in elementary school and carrying on through college.  Today’s post comes to us via my 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Mr. Bruno.


He was just the right height to look most of us in the eye and every bit of the Italian stereo-type when it came to effusive use of his whole body to make a point.  My brother and I still talk about him since we each had the pleasure of being taught by this man in our turn.


The title of today’s post is the summation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s The Yearling that Mr. Bruno offered up to our hormone infested brains, which he turned into his mantra.  I don’t believe that you will actually find this as a quote within the covers of this book, but let me know if I’m wrong on that point.  It is certainly a major theme in this work.  And a great thought to lodge into a pre-teen’s head as the fight for social standing heats up.


photo credit - Wikipedia, original cover art

photo credit – Wikipedia, original cover art

If you take it for your share and go on, there is no need for escalation, recriminations, and the like.  Learn what you can, discard the rest as unnecessary and forge ahead.  This suits particularly well in situations where you have little or no control to alter or improve the outcome.


Mr. Bruno lives large in my memory because he gave us each a ticket to find real meaning in whatever corner we chose.  We analyzed song lyrics, we were required to come up with compelling arguments why authors such as Shirley Jackson made the story choices that they did (The Lottery – I highly recommend reading it if you never have.)


I’m sure that many of the seeds that he planted in decades of teaching didn’t find fertile ground to thrive.  I imagine that he took that for his share and went on – being his own unique version of a junior high teacher.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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The Supposed To’s

Every life, every stage of a life seems to require a least one person to remind us each of the things we are supposed to do and say and be.  Often this person fulfills this task by telling us we did, said or are the wrong thing.  The office version of this person has every word and requirement of the employee handbook down cold and can quote from it at a moment’s notice.  (Whether asked or not.)  And somehow this person often seems to show up just as you are taking a little breather.


When dealing with workmen and sales people in my personal life, I straighten my spine when the phrase starts, ‘lady, you outta…’ the next part is going to cost money, time and who knows what else.  (And is it really necessary for my purposes or more to line their pockets, I always wonder?)  This is just another version on that endless rolodex of supposed to’s.


When we are being honest with ourselves, we each know that we sometimes need a push to do things.  (I talked myself out of going to a gathering this morning that I planned to attend because it was storming.  I needed someone to take the opposing side to remind me of the benefits of going.)  So these people for whom the import of required tasks weighs more heavily do the rest of us a real favor by reminding us of these nagging details.  Comedies like to put these folks in as an irritant to the protagonist – see Toby the HR guy on NBC’s The Office, who often thwarted Michael’s grand plans.


I imagine that our own ability to coerce ourselves to deal with the supposed to’s is embedded in our childhood.  I can remember all sorts of ridiculous machinations to try to get out of doing things, and I also remember that pretty much none of them worked because my parents were determined to make sure that we learned to be responsible and follow through on agreements.  And I have clear memories of certain incidents with my own children when I almost split in two in front of them.  My adult self thought that their posturing was a larger drain than actually doing the task required and my child self completely understood that they felt justified.


We might not like that self-imposed office supposed to police person, but we do need someone to help us do the things that we ought sometimes.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Irritants, Aggravations & Pestilence in the Office

Getting along with our fellow humans can be quite the challenge.  Sometimes it is amazing that we accomplish anything at all as a group when there can be so many competing priorities, preferences and opinions.  It is hard enough to agree on the proper temperature for the thermostat, let alone the best means to keep an organization running.


Years ago I read an article quoting a woman whose marriage had achieved a long-term milestone.  She mentioned advice she had received early on for a long and happy marriage- make a list of 10 irritants the other person does that you will forgive.  She added that she always meant to get around to making that list, but life intervened as it will with so many things to do that she never actually wrote the list.  So when her husband did anything that was particularly irritating, she told herself that must be on the list.


I loved that piece because of the real life part where she never actually got around to making a list of 10 things.  Had I been the interviewer, I would have asked her if her husband was similarly forbearing in some manner, otherwise the marriage was a bit one sided in beneficence.


We are similarly challenge to find a balance between our own wishes and needs and those of all of our co-workers and the key is compromise.  A word that seems to have fallen out of favor in our political arena, but a word which is very much needed whenever people gather.  If we are not willing to compromise on basics, then we will subject ourselves to an ongoing spiral of escalation – as I diligently attempted to get my children to understand while they grew.


If the majority in the office agree that 68 degrees is optimal, but you are cold then perhaps you should adjust your wardrobe.  If there is a general need for something within the office, find a pleasant way to get the point across to senior management that this would benefit the organization.  If the majority don’t understand how decisions are made within the organization, get together and create a suggestion to develop a more democratic decision process for points that affect productivity and employee engagement.


In other words, address your level and ability to control the situation, including your right to participate in the process.  First address this with yourself, before you take it to the group to determine the cause of your grievance.  Is it something that you should just accept as the long married woman did, or is it truly something that should be addressed?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Taking a Sampler Pack Approach

We expect life to have this predicable progression from childhood through adulthood – we will each gain knowledge which will help us to create even and regular improvement for our house, our family, our job.  Some people do realize this smooth path in their lives, but most of us experience a very different start, stop, redirect sort of journey.  And others have difficulty getting started with anything because they fear the weight of choosing something for such a long term commitment.


What if we just viewed our life choices like part of a sampler pack?  I’ll try a little of this and a little of that, and a touch of that one over there – like picking a dozen doughnuts.  I started to think about this on my way home from meeting a friend for coffee (tea in my case).  I’ve done the stay-at-home-mom thing, and the corporate thing – add in a bit of volunteering, a couple of part time jobs in different industries and sundry other things and that’s my life.  A sampler pack.  What will I pick next?  Hmm.


I didn’t always have a choice in some of the samples, but having already been exposed to a variety of things, each new chance to sample something else is less of a surprise and almost welcome.  These headlines that tell us people will most likely change jobs every couple of years could be overstating, but even if they are not it will provide for an interesting variety.


Perhaps this sampler pack approach to work life will make for more focus on continuity within our personal lives and turn us back to creating stronger communities.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Giving Our History Its Due

Tomorrow, April 14th would have been my father’s 76th birthday. Of my parents, I tend to reference my mom more in my blog posts, but I did write about my dad in How Things Work, Or the Tools that We Need back in February.  And he comes up here and there, especially when I am writing about fixing things.

c1996 @Lake Katherine

My dad was a flawed man (really, aren’t we all?) with a good heart.  He believed in following the rules and became disillusioned when that method did not lead him to the success he anticipated.  I take from him this do-it-right attitude, but temper it with my mom’s belief in tailoring the rules to suit logic & reality so I can offset the disillusion with the just-get-it-done mentality often found in businesses.


My father had a very strong work ethic – do the necessary work and then the rest will be more deeply enjoyed.  The only problem is that it seems like it is harder and harder to tell when the work is really done as the to-do lists grow and grow.  We grumbled terribly, and often, when coming home from any trip because we were required to unload the car and unpack everything and put it in its proper place.   And yet, now all three of us still do the same and see the value in it.


These relentless obligations took a toll on the relationship that my father had with each of his children in several ways sadly.  He was deeply rooted in the now defunct (thankfully) father role of sole bread winner and therefore missed out on the warm, fuzzy side of parenting.  We only got to see glimpses of his joy – water fights which nearly ruined the newly planted grass in our back yard, snow ball fights in a different back yard, dad as Monopoly tycoon.  In my late teen years, we spent several months playing Tripoli as a family and I smile at the memory.


I learned a great lesson in perseverance and dispute resolution from my dad when I was trying to register for classes one year.  We were in the process of moving and I was trying to register at the community college as an interim step but was informed that I didn’t qualify as a resident.  I went to my dad’s office and he got on the phone.  He worked through several people, carefully making his case, until he got someone who could understand that I should qualify.  I went back and registered successfully.


My dad passed on his deep respect for history, Abraham Lincoln was an icon who interestingly died on the very same date of my dad’s birth.  Coincidence or connection?  We each have so very much to offer, small things and larger, and sometimes it is good to examine these individually so as not to lose any good parts.  Happy birthday, minus one, to my dad and anyone else who is celebrating on April 14th.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Mentors are Everywhere

One of the things that we often hear from successful business folk is the fact that he or she had a wonderful mentor to help them to navigate to the top.  Lovely for them, I haven’t ever come across a single person who could play this role for me, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had any mentoring. We think of this word in terms of someone directly influencing another, but the term has a broader meaning which pertains to anyone you see as wise or trusted who can indirectly counsel or teach.


Larry McMurtry, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Tyler, Sara Paretsky and many more have been writing mentors for me.  Eleanor Roosevelt, Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton are mentors from a strong female perspective. These are just the names that are coming to me as I sit and write, there are so very many.  The part of a person’s story that resonates for me can lead to this person being an unaware mentor.


These people that I see as mentors give details of his or her story, either work or personal, that provide context which helps me to make a decision or gain some perspective within my own experience.  This is very different than telling someone what to do, which is how some people see this role.


I prefer the word mentor to hero.  An act can be heroic, or someone can be heroic in a series of events but a life is a long time, and a person takes many actions over it with varying motivations, for someone to be considered a hero.  A hero will most likely turn out to be someone with feet of clay – with some weakness or other exposed for all.


I also think of all of the things that I learned from my parents.  My mom proving to us the importance of an upbeat attitude, and my dad showing the value of a strong work ethic as highlights.


If we keep our eyes and ears open, we can find mentors almost anywhere, anyone who has had a valuable experience who is willing to share.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Seeking Permission

I’ve been very successful following the old adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Of course, there are limits to the power in this idea and it is wise to understand what those limits might be within your organization before taking any action.  But many people seem to decide to take a meek stance rather than test where these boundaries might lie.


I’m not going to say that I’ve never had a limb cut out from beneath me when I’ve followed this adage, because I have.  But I learned and moved on; the consequences were never as dire as many seem to think that they might be.  I even gained respect in certain quarters of the hallowed halls of upper management because I stuck to my convictions and was willing to take up a standard for an unpopular view if I saw merit.


The key, at least in my view is whether I can construct a compelling argument for my position.  Is there supportable logic?  Will my position stand the test of time, if necessary?

My turn in the sun

So let’s look at this photo for a minute – it shows my son’s dog and my cat.  Cleary the dog is much larger and stronger than the cat.  The cat is sitting in front of the door that the dog uses to go out to the yard.  Physically, the dog should just be able to intimidate the cat and get to the door.  Characteristically though, the dog wants to please and the cat wants to do things her way.  The dog is asking for permission and at least at this moment the cat is not willing to allow it, therefore the cat holds the power.  The cat’s conviction that she has a right to sit in the sun overcomes the dog’s wish to go outside.


Start with something small and familiar and take an action that you know you can support.  It’s a good growth step.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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Buzzspeak, Hmmm

Show of hands who likes buzz words?  Anybody?  Count me in the group that is willing to make fun of them – it’s in my wheelhouse like a two legged stool that’s in the wrong seat on the bus.  But… (Stick with me, please)


Buzz words do have a place just like trite phrases became trite because they can hold a grain of truth and were subsequently overused.  First a joke that I read in Reader’s Digest:

A group of lions is called a pride, a group of crows is called a murder and we call a group of buzz words a PowerPoint presentation!


Ok, I thought it was hilarious – maybe because it brought to mind a certain person who would have difficulty speaking if not for Buzzspeak.


So for instance, marketing yourself is a hot topic and yadda, yadda personal branding – ears close down and brain starts to think about what to do for lunch.  No, really – in today’s social media saturated world of 15 minutes of fame and 140 characters allowed in the Twitterverse, this one makes some sense.  If I don’t know what I’m about, then how can anyone else?


And if we are rearranging the bus like musical chairs, then I want to have a say in which seat is the right one for me, by making sure my personal brand fits the company’s image like a glove.  Just so we’re crystal on this, a wheelhouse is the pilothouse of a boat or ship where the navigator is located.  (The navigator gets to tell everyone where to go, great gig if you can swing it.)


At the end of the day you want to be the first one to break through the clutter and bring your personal brand to the table to be empowered and get more face time with the powers that be so that you can reach your milestones moving forward.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Acceptance or Campaign for Improvement

I’m not much for horoscope or astrology but it is true that I am a Libra and I have spent my life thinking about and seeking balance – so I don’t discount the nugget of truth in these ideas.  Balance is such a simple concept and so difficult to achieve, especially across all the aspects of a life.  We each have to decide for our own selves where we should best put our energy and effort – what we should accept, what we should challenge.  We can see the waste in the story of Don Quixote – all his energy spent tipping at windmills.  But there is also something sadly noble about his adherence to his beliefs.


On the other side is this concept that one can see popping up in many places – ‘It is what it is’.  Acceptance is important as a philosophical choice, especially in circumstances where we hold no sway.  But what if we choose to accept in a situation where we could have taken some control and affected a better outcome?


“I am only one.  But still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

~Edward Everett Hale


I participated in a seminar that laid out the control spectrum like this:

S – system

O – others

S – self

We have control over only one of these, ourselves.  But we could have some influence over others, based on many factors.  Depending on the size and complexity of the system, acceptance is probably the best course.  At least in the short run.


A decision to develop a campaign for improvement about a system is best done by starting with a compelling argument to influence others, turning the campaign into a group effort.  And so on, just as a small trickle of water can influence the shape of a mountain.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Snoozefest – Spelling & Grammar

I woke up in my favorite way this morning – in slow stages – therefore able to listen to the random thoughts as they meandered.  The idea that I should at some point touch on grammar and spelling was followed by this blog title.  Low and behold, when I started going through my blog reader I came across this post from a blog that I follow: Reflections: Is Grammar Worth Teaching?


So, grammar is a topic for the moment, at least in my sphere.  And perhaps should be a topic for the broader community since it is important to us all in the context of effective communication.  Spelling is part of this as well.


I am the voracious reader that Mindful Stew is talking about in his post – I have an innate understanding of spelling and grammar because of my joy of reading.  I have also benefited from my middle class background, being surrounded by proper examples on a daily basis.  But I am no grammarian, per se – I’m only interested in proper grammar and spelling as tools to help me convey my message and understand the message that others are putting forth.  Poor spelling and word usage detract from the intended message, as does strict adherence to all the intricate grammatical rules.  (Yes, Microsoft Word, I do want this to be a sentence fragment, it is underscoring my intent by adhering to my flow and tone.)

sentence diagram

If we look at a communication as a product, then the intent of the message is the most important aspect, but the product must be delivered intact to be useful for the user.  So spelling and grammar are an important part of the packaging for the product and ensure that the product is delivered as intended.


When my older son was little we had many conversations that essentially amounted to his questioning why he should call things by the name commonly used – he wanted to make up his own name.  I would ask him if he thought it was important for other people to understand what he meant and sometimes it was not a priority for him.  As he grew he came to understand the value of mutual understanding for the sake of good communication, but he never let go of his interest in understanding things in his own way.


If you want people to understand that something has already happened, you need to consistently use the past tense form of your verbs or your reader will lose track of what you are writing and get snarled in when.  The same is true for present and future tenses.  This also holds true for all the words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have very different meanings – they’re, their, there.


Write your piece first for the flow, creating your fully formed idea.  But then if you want clear comprehension on the part of your reader, make sure that you polish up your use of your tools like spelling and grammar.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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