Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Essential Role of Doubt

When we projected forward into our fabulous adult lives as children, we saw ourselves situated in comfortable lives, surrounded by family and friends, with our activities driven by our own wants and not someone else’s have-tos.  In the intervening time from the dream to this future reality, we would have gotten things all sorted and figured out – we expect to magically know the right thing at the right time always.


doubtThe idea that doubt will filter out of our lives as we grow into adulthood and be replaced with certainty in all things is never really discussed, but widely held.  Being truly grown up means somehow to have it all figured out.  But why?  Why do we see doubt and uncertainty as childish and unworthy?  Why do we think that absolute certainty is a desirable trait?


Perhaps we confuse certainty with confidence, a characteristic which does seem to be a hinge for a good life.  But confidence isn’t knowing that ‘I know all that there is to know about a thing’ (certainty), rather that ‘I know that I have the wherewithal to figure out how to get what I need to go where I want to go – including collaborating with others who hold knowledge or skills which I will need’.


What does certainty do for us?  Think of the Europeans in the 1400s who were dead certain that the world was flat, or the later folk who thought that diseases could be removed from the body through bloodletting – we shake our heads at these notions.  So who is to say that ideas upon which we are certain now won’t sooner or later be proven askew with more study?


There are concrete things upon which we should be certain – I know that it would be a bad idea to walk out in front of a moving vehicle, and I must keep myself hydrated, and gravity will affect which way water flows when spilled.  But ideas and the flow of cause and effect?  At a recent talk an example was given of an engineer and a physicist discussing cause and effect around the deep marks in carpeting that are created by a table leg.  The engineer stated that the table leg was the cause of the marking and the physicist stated that the marking was the effect that gravity had upon the table leg.  Both were equally certain of their theories, based upon their learning and experience.


Did doubt prick one or the other after that discussion?  I hope so, it might lead to a greater understanding of gravity, cause and effect – or some other break through idea.  Doubt goes hand in hand with curiosity and logic and yearning.  Uncomfortable as doubt might be where certainty seems to offer comfort.


Doubt causes us to verify, to confirm – we look broader, dig deeper and push further into a thing to assure validity.  The next time that you feel doubt, welcome it – ask doubt what prompted it to appear?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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LinkedIn: Worth More than 17 Minutes Per Week

linkedin_logo_11I recently read that the average time spent on LinkedIn is 17 minutes per week and saw on someone’s Facebook status that a friend of a friend hasn’t been on LinkedIn for ages.  If this is you, you are missing out on some great stuff.


Things to do on LinkedIn, for starters:

  • Read all the free and great content from the LinkedIn Influencers – on all types of topics.
  • Discover information about your industry, like info about competitors
  • See the skills of your peers by searching others with your title
  • Keep up with useful contacts, and build a relationship with others
  • Participate in groups – learn tips on how others handle similar issues that you have in your department/business/work life


I know that you are busy and your free moments are at a premium.  Do you have a set time allotted for social media?  How much of it is spent whiling away hours reading memes on Facebook or Pinterest and how much of that time relates to your work life?  LinkedIn has value which could help you get that promotion, new job, new business, what have you that you mention periodically to your friends is a priority.   This site really got it right when it comes to one stop for the professional, or as we termed it recently – those with a business comportment mindset.


Want to polish your personal brand?  See all the useful information on LinkedIn.  Want to figure out what the heck a personal brand is – LinkedIn.


Once I was a LinkedIn quasi-user, glancing at the email enticements telling me about updates from contacts and the like, deleting the nuisance emails about group activities that I was missing.  So I understand the hesitation, but then I started to poke around on the site and check out the features.  Now I plan to allocate time to curate information and cultivate relationships on LinkedIn regularly.


What benefits have you found on this site?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Manifest Destiny, Personalized and Modernized

John Gast's painting American Progress 1872, public domain

John Gast’s painting American Progress 1872, public domain

Maybe it’s because we just passed another 4th of July holiday, and it is the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg and I’ve been dipping back in history in general but I woke up in the middle of the night recently thinking about manifest destiny.  My next thought was to try to bring up the context for the reference, followed by the thought that I should take this back up again in the morning.

This phrase seems to have been coined in the 1800s, with broad use and unclear definition.  Basically the phrase was used in whatever manner suited expansion of the American ideal of that time and place.  I remember hearing it in both history and literature classes back in my school days.

America has had reach from the east to the west coasts for some time, one of the intents of manifest destiny, and we have promoted democratic ideals globally which is another intent.  We seem to have grown a bit weary and jaded at this stage of American progress and leave idealism for small pockets of energetic folk.

But I put personalized and modernized in the title after this 19th century ideal.

Something which is manifest is evident or obvious and while we don’t much talk in terms of destiny anymore, we know that it means something that will happen.  Perhaps we could apply this to the current debate about the place of higher education, for each individual.  Based on a person’s overall goals in life, is it their manifest destiny to attend college?  (And thereby, most likely, incur debt?)

There are no overreaching answers to questions like these, rather personal reflection on the balance of the question against the expectation of the individual – i.e. if it is my manifest destiny to (fill in the blank) then college seems (select one: worth the cost and effort, not worth the cost and effort).

Answer me this, what do you think of manifest destiny?

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Tracking Your Progress

Every year at performance review time do you sit and stare blankly at the cube wall while you try to remember what you have done in the preceding months that is noteworthy?  How about your resume or LinkedIn profile, when was the last time that you updated either one with your latest achievements?


“The past actually happened.  History is what someone took the time to write down.”

~A. Whitney Brown


I know, I know, it’s just that one more detail that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back if you found a means to document these things at the time, or shortly after the time.  Ok, but you are only hurting yourself by not making the time.  If it isn’t up to you to remember and document, then who?


Trust me, it is easier shortly afterward than months or even years afterward.  Details only get murkier with time, but even just a quick couple of sentences into a notebook or on a sticky note sketching out the scenario will be well worth it at review time or when it is time to really polish up your work history.


The idea of something going into our permanent record was threatening back in school because it was associated with some misstep or peccadillo.  Wipe that association from your mind and get a mantra that your permanent record is the progression of all of your work achievements; therefore worthy of regular maintenance.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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What’s in Your Closet? Casual Friday, the Office Dress Code

Want to have a frothy conversation at the office, but keep it away from the hot buttons of politics and religion – start talking about the dress code.  This works better if your office has a mix of ages and business backgrounds.  An office full of 20 something designers or 40 something CPAs probably won’t lead to a lively talk.


What does business casual really mean?  Wear hose, don’t wear hose.  Capris, shorts, jeans in the office?  To tuck or not to tuck – and if men must tuck, why don’t the women have to?  T-shirts with logos, oh my.  And flip-flops, duck if you bring these up.


I grew up in the age when one still dressed up for church, celebrations of any kind, really any notable occasion.  (And I loved the authoritative click that my first dress shoes with a little bit of a heel made on tile!)  Putting some effort into getting dressed meant that something special was about to happen.  Both of my parents had sections in their closets for professional clothing – and I understood that to be taken seriously at work I should dress for the role that I wanted.


Now I am not stylish at all and I gravitate toward simple, comfortable clothing; and I like color as people who tend to too much black will tell you.  I don’t read style magazines, but I have studied how certain people seem to be nicely put together – it seems to come down to coordinating items and accessories; which I hope to master one day.


dressLeft to my own devices, I will dress neatly for work in my own uniform of sorts – a colorful top and a pair of Docker-like pants.  A blouse or unconstructed jacket will take it up a notch for client meetings.  I’ll wear jeans on casual Friday to show unity, but I’m not fond of jeans and office chairs – I prefer to wear my jeans when I can put my feet up.


Recently there was a discussion on one of my LinkedIn groups (Linked N Chicago-LiNC) that carried on for almost a full month having been started with the question Dress code at the office: Has it become TOO relaxed?.  Here is a quote that I think sums up the discussion succinctly:


“How you dress is a marketing decision. You should make that decision yourself and not be bound by a rule.”

~David M Patt CAE

See the full LinkedIn discussion here.


We each must figure out how to balance personal expression with the needs/wants of the groups to which we belong.  If you decide to get your office mates going on this topic, let me know the outcome.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Vacating the Office – Physically and Mentally on Holiday

Odd that we forget that vacate and vacation have the same root meaning.  Vacate, or vacant are sparse, harsh while vacation is ease and happiness.  And according to lots of articles and studies, something that few of us can find to do these days.  Either because of finances or because of work load, or various other reasons.


But vacation, or holiday as our European friends say, is so necessary to clear our heads and energize us, plus to refresh our view of the common articles of our everyday lives – the house, job and people that we have chosen to populate our lives.  A little time away seeing other sights, doing uncommon activities, smelling, tasting and experiencing new things makes our mundane feel comfortable and right again instead of restrictive and frustrating.


Summer is the traditional time for vacation – the weather is sunny and warm (a little too warm in some areas this year, ouch), the kids have time off from school – all of which leads to an antsy need to get away.  But if events are conspiring to disallow this need, then what?  The word staycation was coined in the last couple of years to express the opportunity to explore your own cityscape as a tourist in short bursts that might only require a day or two away from the office.  Or only the weekend.

vacation ahh

If we can afford a getaway, make sure that the mind comes along.  Physically going to a new place, but mentally staying in the groove of office needs is a hazard in this day of smartphones and WiFi.  If not, once you return you could find that you are physically in the office, but mentally elsewhere – vacantly staring into space.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Creative Release of Steam

I used to work with someone who offered a great saying to those in the midst of a frustrated mood, “Use your words”.  Ah, easier said than done when anger builds up steam, though.  Someone cuts us off in traffic, or cuts us off at the knees in a meeting and we are reduced to curse words and the word ‘idiot’.


photo credit: Wikipedia, public domain


Why do we let ourselves become rattlebrains in these moments when in our mind’s eye we increase in wit and use words like rapiers to slash our opposite to bits verbally?  Because we let fall to the wayside all of the arcane creative verbiage that gave nincompoops and rabbitbrains their due. 


Today we have a whole host of words to dust off and drumble (to sound like a drum, to mumble) under our breath when we encounter domnoddies, clodpolls, timbernonces and their ilk.  Our mothers taught us, rightly, that it isn’t polite to call names – but our blood pressure demands some release when we stumble upon a ninnyhammer or a dumbbunny or two.


Our more highly developed selves understand that when we use derogatory words we are comporting ourselves at the same intellectual level as a lackwit, but as we define someone else’s actions as being worthy of the name jobbernowl, we start to see less red.  (Notice here that I’ve called out as the actions of the other person which enflame, and not the person as a whole, reason is kicking back in as the initial steam dissipates.)   Plus these words are fun to say, try it.  They roll off the tongue in a much richer way than the expletives that survived to modern times. 


The next time that you feel the frustration mounting, don’t allow yourself to be reduced to an addlepated lackwit, use your words creatively now that you have upbigged your vocabulary.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Oh, those Desk Toys

What sits on the edge of your desk, past the papers, files and pens involved in your daily tasks?  I hope something that makes you smile, we need a bit of whimsy in our flurry of emails, meetings, tasks and goals.

desk toys

When my boys were small my mom was a director level employee of a large hospital, an important job for sure.  And mom was highly capable of presenting a professional demeanor.  But she was confident enough to be able to show hints of her lighter side too.  While on a visit to our house she was introduced to the cartoon of The Tick (not the live action movie which came later) and was charmed by his chin which was as large as both his ego and his bumbling wrongheadedness.  I can still hear her hoots of laughter at his antics and oblivion as Arthur, his sidekick, unravels the messes The Tick makes.


Shortly after her visit where the boys were pleased to share their cartoon with grandma, one or another fast food restaurant came out with Tick toys in their kids’ meals.  The boys were on a mission to collect each one, for grandma.  These toys were presented to grandma on our next visit to her house and sat proudly at the front of her desk for years, until her retirement when they moved to her desk at home.


Of course, living in another state at the time, I never saw her have clients in her office but I know that she certainly did.  Some, those with shaky confidence no doubt, may have poked a little fun at the purportedly childish display which I have no doubt that mom swept aside in her graceful way and replaced with an understanding of the place which whimsy should hold for all of us, despite age or position.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Get Their Attention

attentionStop me if I’ve told this one, but I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told it here, at least with this intent.  This is my go-to story about the importance of appropriate email subject lines (and good diplomacy).  Fairly early on in my corporate learning curve I had an email exchange with the principal (read owner, responsible party) of a distribution company regarding a customer account that was my responsibility.  The subject line was a one word job, the main name of the customer in question.


We went back and forth as I clarified and then resolved his question.  At the end he came back and wrote that I should do a better job of naming my emails.  Huh?  Just to be sure, I scrolled to the beginning of the email and sure enough he had originated the string.  Still, he was right – the subject was entirely too generic and didn’t offer any reference points to the specific topic at hand.  I briefly answered back that I agreed that the subject line of this particular email was not very clear and left it at that.


So began my mission to improve my own email subject line protocols.  Which included renaming an email that had a vague heading at my first reply.  (Be careful in renaming an email when there were multiple recipients because that can lead to further misunderstanding.)  When I moved into supervisory and then management roles, I made this a frequent topic within my team.  A big part of our job was clarity in communication – the first step is appropriately naming a thing.


Email volume is high for most people, so your naming protocol should be short and to the point.  Sometimes a little lyrical helps to get noticed, but utilitarian is best.  Get a feel for what is best for you by reviewing the subjects of the emails that land in your inbox – which ones draw your eye and why?  Are the subject lines that are used suitable for the actual email content?  Also consider your recipient – what speaks to them?


I hope I got your attention.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Displaying the Colors

Patriotism waxes and wanes, understandably to a certain degree; after all we only have 24 hours in each day and a terribly large amount of stuff to fit into each of these days.  But it comes top of the mind at least once a year in July.  Does your office do anything to recognize the fourth, to exemplify patriotism?  How do you personally display your colors?

"Betsy Ross" flag, the original official flag

“Betsy Ross” flag, the original official flag


Plenty of us wear the colors – red, white and blue in some combination during this week, perhaps a flag lapel pin in the mix.  Some people wear clothing that shows the flag, even items that turn part of the person into a living representation of the flag.  We have other items that reflect the stars and bars, the colors of the flag.  I have a collection of small flags attached to pencil sized sticks that have been given out in past years and which adorned my pencil cup.


Being the daughter of a lifelong Boy Scout, I learned very early on that there is a respect due to this symbol of our country, first adopted in 1923 during a patriotic patch between the big wars: The Flag Code.  Of course at that point, it wasn’t known that this was just a breather between one world war and the next.  And it was long before anyone would have thought to body paint a flag across their chest or other body part.


Immediately post-9/11 was definitely a time when everyone wanted to show allegiance, reverence and connection to the flag.  My work place installed a flag pole outside the main entrance and decided to hold a flag ceremony.  Flags were still flying at half-mast at this point, but unfortunately the group responsible for the flag ceremony was not aware of proper protocol.  (For your information, a flag which will be flown at half-staff should first be hoisted to the top of the pole and then brought down to the half-staff position.  See point 7.m. in the link.)  Currently we see flags less frequently than in those first months and years after 9/11/2001.


I own one of my dad’s flags (the one in today’s picture) but I don’t fly it.  This particular flag is not only the symbol of the country where I have always lived, it is also the symbol of my country’s history and a connection to my dad and his love of country.  The flag is not something to put on or out just because it is the thing to do.


“Anything printed with the flag should convey a message, even if the message is ironic or negative.”

~ Karen Chen, Chicago Tribune reporter, paraphrasing Hugh Brady (flag expert)


We should be proud of our flag, the people that it represents, and display our colors respectfully.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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