Category Archives: Personal Growth

Hassle Anticipation

We’ve all heard the advice not to buy trouble.  But we should also be prepared for certain eventualities.  Some days, certain activities are just like… doing your taxes or going to the dentist.  A hassle, an aggravation, frustrating – and so on.  But sometimes we expect something to go wrong and so we start to work ourselves up, just ready.  Going to get your license renewed, for instance.  Encountering certain people at work, perhaps.  Waiting in line just about anywhere for anything.  (I’m not an early adopter so I really don’t get the folks that stand in line, sometimes for days for the latest release of any technical item – don’t ever tell me you hate to wait in line.)

Construction is always a hassle.

Construction is always a hassle.

 

Back to hassle anticipation – could we possibly experience the hassle just because we became so certain that we would have one that we somehow brought it on?  I’ve certainly watched it happen to others – someone ahead of you in line is giving off that vibe by fidgeting, sighing, or other cues gets up to the counter and their voice has that edge right off the bat.  I imagine that I have probably done it too, though no example comes to mind as I type.

 

We are bound by rules almost everywhere we go – the employee handbook at work, bank rules, insurance rules, school rules – piling up in front of us and blocking us from just getting the simplest thing on our to-do list done.  (Well such-and-such isn’t going to happen today because I forgot to bring that stupid form with me.)  It is such a hassle, why are there so many rules?

 

We know on one level that we need the rules to create structure and protection for certain rights, but do we need so many?  (The answer to that is probably not, a lot of rules are around just for the sake of rules or to benefit the institution over the individual…)

 

Back to anticipating the hassle, logically we are just in knowing that these established steps and rules can make things go slowly so why do we not allot enough time to accommodate this awareness?  I’ll just be a minute at the bank at noon on a Friday – sure.  Why is the doctor running late at 4pm, I have to get my daughter to dance class you know?

 

We are mad at the system, the institution for making our quick task or errand drag on and put us farther behind for the next one.  On top of it, we knew this would be a hassle, so we waited to the last possible minute to do this thing so it isn’t like we can come back later – how dare they?

 

How dare they indeed.  Do you have any stories about hassle anticipation?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Cultivating Your Professional Garden

Periodically you have read reference here in this blog to sowing seeds, cultivating ideas, fallow and fertile ground for thought so how fitting that we talk about a full-fledged garden of your professional being.  (A nod to contact Bob Podgorski for this phrase.)

 

Gardens, vegetable or flower, must be tended regularly or their character will change entirely.  Some plants will run rampant and strangle out others, some are too delicate to survive in a wild environment and will die, weeds will take advantage and push out more valuable plants by depriving them of nutrients.  So to must you tend to your professional life in an intentional manner.

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I like to take walks around my neighborhood and check out how the plantings in various yards change with the seasons and the years.  There are so many different styles and predilections starting with absolutely no plant adornment, through no time to spend on the previous owner’s efforts, all the way to showy designer planned installations.   And of course in these days there are the houses that fell victim to the crash and are awaiting loving care.  Some of these had beautiful yards and I watch with interest to see if new owners will coax the garden back to glory or will rip it all out and start fresh.

 

My point is that it is easier to find a means to maintain than to bring something back or to give up on it and start fresh.  I know that you don’t have enough hours in a day for all your tasks – work, family, etc.  How could you possibly squeeze in a to-do or two to plot out the state of your professional garden?  You don’t know the first thing about what is growing there these days.  Well, finding yourself suddenly in job search is not the time to start taking inventory except that this seems to be the standard prompt.

 

What is in your professional garden?  First there is you – do your skills stack up against others in your position and industry?  How aware are you of the trends within your industry?  Then there are your contacts – who are they, where are they, and when was the last time that you were in touch?  It is a whole lot easier to get a recommendation from someone right after a successful mutual project than months or years later.  What have you done for them lately?

 

I know that it just sounds exhausting, and it is work to maintain any garden.  But judicious effort on a regular basis is warranted and prudent.  And a whole lot less work than bringing a tangle back to order or replanting an empty lot.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Work Life Balance

Mothers have this awesome, profound impact on their offspring.  We are all quick to think about the effect our own mother had on us, but it is a little harder to ponder the impact we may be having on our own children.  Being all things to all people doesn’t seem to be an affliction that men suffer from, although I do know more and more who are involved in their children’s lives to a deeper level than past generations would have ever believed.  Being all things to all people is an affliction that keeps many a woman up at night.

 

When my younger son hit the right age for Pop Warner football, he really wanted to join.  I believe in giving my kids the opportunity to try out a variety of activities, but I was already aware that this particular activity considered itself more of a vocation than a passing interest and had a large time and effort expectation of parents and players.  I was also working about 14 miles from home, full time at this stage.  I had to say no, please pick a different sport.

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I thought of this again recently because I just read an article that more and more students are opting for sports through exclusive clubs at a fairly early age.  These clubs do offer the children a great opportunity to excel, but at what overall cost?  First there is usually a sizable financial commitment, then there is the time involved, etc.

 

Work-life balance is a phrase that hasn’t come up much in the past couple of years while businesses find ways to cut costs that often mean more strain on their staff.  Oddly, in times of stress work-life balance is a more worthy discussion because the actual balance is sorely lacking.  Add in the family needs aspect and it really gets intense.

 

Back to my example, my son still feels slighted because his older brother played a season of Pee Wee football in our old town and he couldn’t play until high school.  I feel sad that he has not found a way to reconcile this disappointment, but otherwise my feelings are a throw-back to prior generations.  I have a short list of activities that I didn’t get to do as a child because participation would have required too much general family sacrifice.  Parents wanted their children to be happy and to have broader and better experiences than the parents themselves, but not to the point of disrupting family life.  Now we seem to think that we should move heaven and earth to give our child these experiences.

 

But sometimes life will put blocks in the way of your hopes and dreams, so perhaps it is better to learn about compromise when the stakes are about a sport and not a livelihood.

 

We have to work so hard and so regularly for balance because it is elusive and takes concentration.  Children can learn that part of balance is making choices.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Order from Chaos, or Getting it to Make some Sense

You are just back from vacation.  It was lovely and fun and restful and all of the things that vacation is supposed to be.  But now your thoughts turn to going back to the office and what you will most likely find.  Some level of chaos.  This post would apply equally well to being a late-comer to an existing project, or being brand new to the office.  Unfamiliarity, of any kind, looks just like chaos.

what you felt like on vacation - you want to retain that...

what you felt like on vacation – you want to retain that…

 

I used to work with someone who had very rigid ideas about how something, anything really, should be done.  It boiled down to her way or wrong.  That is pretty common, but additionally she was the type to complain bitterly about what you had done ‘wrong’ to anyone and everyone – but you.  She was also a person who was frequently absent from the office for a variety of reasons.  The unspoken rule got to be to do the bare minimum on her work in an attempt to avoid the bitter recriminations.  We only did that much because we couldn’t leave her customers just hanging.  And this only applied when she was out of the office; if you got a stray call that belonged to her and she was in the office then you apologized and forwarded the caller.  I hated to do it, but I had to talk to her most every day and rarely to any of her customers.  Office survival.

 

Anyway, I wrote about preparations for vacation here – Vacation, Ahhh.  Even still, and despite having very competent co-workers as back up people, coming back in is an adjustment and has some element of chaos.  Just start slowly.  Look for the familiar so things start to make sense again.  Are there emails that you can group together and knock off all at once?  Can you trade a little vacation trinket for intel on the happenings around the office in the past week?

 

The same holds true for the newbie to a project or an office; keep your ears and eyes open and some little thing will start to look familiar.  Little victories of understanding start to expand your comfort zone.  Particularly look for the person or persons who seem open to interaction and also are pretty knowledgeable about the process.

 

Getting back into a groove, or getting into a new groove is tiring because your brain is so busy making associations of new to known.  Celebrate the little gains, build on them, and it will feel a lot less like chaos fairly quickly.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Some Random Thoughts on Networking… Please Add Yours

I went to a networking event recently, held quarterly by a LinkedIn contact.  It was my first time in attendance because I am putting pressure on myself to network more, and farther outside of my comfort zone.  I will benefit, but it does take energy.

understanding

My thoughts:

  • It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you don’t live in a box so you need to figure out how to keep your contacts fresh.
  • Most people have as many and possibly the same reservations that you have about going.
  • Follow up matters – but is also dependent upon your intent for starting the contact in the first place.
    • How many people do you know that just go through motions because they have been told that they must?
    • One person I know went to coffee with a new contact and was frustrated when the new contact didn’t seem to understand the point of the coffee meeting follow up.  (Hint: it isn’t a coffee klatch.)
  • You need to spend a couple of moments before the event getting your thoughts together about your own expectations for the event.
    • If it is your first event, your objective can be as simple as getting through the event.  Be yourself – your most vivacious self that you can muster.
  • Some people will be there just to collect cards – these are probably the folks who had the most yearbook signatures in high school and a lot of trophies.  Don’t spend too much time with them.
  • This is social, so have some fun.  But remember appropriate behavior for the occasion.

 

Ultimately, networking should help each of us to find people to expand our community.  What do you have to say?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Productivity, Progress & Purpose

Besides all starting with the letter p and thereby providing me with a lovely alliterative title, these words all have work in common.  We should all keep these words in mind as we toil away because they will help us to stay away from busy work – the kind that looks good from a distance, but really has little substance.

 

These words do have much in common, but are not entirely synonyms of each other.  A task can be purposeful, but not always directly productive.  Productivity and purpose may not always lead to progress.

 

I believe that I have previously mentioned my sticky note on my desk that reminds me to act with purpose.  Which doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally do something just because – sometimes down time is just the right thing to be more productive.  Too, purposeful acts can be small and give a person a nice energy boost needed to tackle larger activities which will improve progress.

 

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

Progress is only possible when there is an identified larger goal.  Something to work towards like a degree or a promotion.  Then acting with purpose, in a productive manner will move a person or a company closer to the goal progressively.  Progress isn’t always as linear as we would like it to be so then it is beneficial to have productive and purposeful activities to help us to feel effective.

 

Progress in certain situations, like job search, is particularly sticky.  In job search so much activity can seem to be fragmented and give the job seeker a feeling quite the opposite of progress, purpose or productivity.   Learning new things, even disparate things is progress in this situation.  Just not necessarily linear progress rather being one facet of the purpose to gain new employment.

 

Similarly, there are days at work when progress might not be achievable, but purposeful acts can still be completed.  Phone calls returned, plans started for later and so on.

 

What phrases help you to prevent busy work?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Be an Emulsifying Agent

I was just baking cookies, can you tell?  In cooking, or chemistry (which is the same basic idea, but you do not want to eat what you produce) an emulsifier is an ingredient that helps other ingredients become a cohesive new entity.  Like cookies from eggs, flour, sugar and other ingredients – like chocolate (the best one).  Without the emulsifying ingredient you wind up with a bowlful of wasted stuff that refuses to combine properties and become something new.

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I wrote a bit differently about this early on, The Right Ingredients.  Also prompted by baking cookies.  Inspiration can come from any direction at any time and be applied in unusual ways.  But I digress.

 

This same principle can be applied to teams, groups, or pairings in the office.  Sometimes a team doesn’t seem to coalesce because no one is acting like the emulsifying agent, each person is too determined to retain their own distinct properties.  Yes, yes we all must make sure that we are known – personally branded in today’s parlance – but what if being known as stand-alone also means getting a rep for standing in the way of team success?

 

It is quite possible to be known as a highly capable individual and also as a collaborator, or team player (bzz-bzz goes the buzz word bee).  These are not mutually exclusive traits.  Your skills and experience combined with the skills and experience of others on the team could lead to awesomeness.  But you can’t act like oil to their water.

 

Reach out, share, exchange ideas.  Offer a little something of your skill or experience and let the mixing begin.  I’m going to go have a cookie or two.

 

How about sharing a little something here?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Promises, Promises – The Follow Up Trap

More than once I have called someone back to complete a request and had the person on the other end of the line express astonishment that I called back.  Gratifying for me, but disturbing too.  If the opportunity to gain kudos is just this easy, why aren’t more people doing this simple thing, follow up?  Oh my, in the interest of complete disclosure I must also admit that I have been the person who hasn’t followed through on something too.  Though I constantly work on myself to keep this to a bare minimum.

 

The excuses (er, reasons) we don’t follow up:

  • Forgetfulness, plain and simple – completely gone from the memory banks, or just a wisp of a thought that ‘I told X that I would do something, I think…’
  • Fear – So-and-so didn’t really mean that I could call to make an appointment to (learn / discuss / ask…) about Y
  • Didn’t really ever mean to – be honest, the offer to do something, be somewhere or whatever was made in the moment with no intention of completion

And so very many more that you would stop reading if I tried to list them, and really there isn’t any point.  But if I’ve gotten you to consider some of your own reasons why you get trapped, then I’m glad.

public domain crab trap

public domain crab trap

 

The maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions came about and has lasting power for good reason.  (Except for the last point above.)  We become so disappointed with others when they let us down, but can we look in the mirror and hold our own gaze steadily on this topic?  Probably not, for we know (thanks to another maxim) that to err is human.

 

But we can also decide to do better each time we have a ‘next time’.  We can understand our triggers for forgetfulness – if you ever ask me about something that requires follow up in a space where I cannot or do not write it down, then beware that this is one of my follow up downfalls.  I have learned to ask you to help me to remember with an email or some other prompt.  (Particularly if you have a smartphone because I do not – archaic, I know.)

 

We can disable the fear with the thought – another maxim, our ancestors know us so well – that nothing ventured is nothing gained therefore we shouldn’t decide for the other person whether they meant it or not and go ahead and make the request.  Politely follow up once or twice, and then forward this post on follow up to them…

 

Sometimes all it takes to be successful is just this little thing called follow up.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Separating Out Thought Strands for Clarity

It would be such a relief to come to a resolution or to gain some understanding in one or perhaps several nagging corners of our lives, wouldn’t it?  Clarity on the issue and ‘what would happen if I do x versus y’.  But this relief will only come with the unsnarling of the various complications that are revealed when we track the particular strand of thought.

 

Imagine if we could actually isolate a thought strand and follow it through it’s whole length, teasing it straight and clear of the spots where it intersects with other strands so that we could really examine it without having to consider anything else.  ‘But if’, ‘what about’, and all other contingencies could be swept aside, to be slowly added back in later; after your head is clear on the main issue.

 

thinkingHow many times have you thought that you had a solution to something, went to tell someone and been stopped cold by, ‘did you consider…’?  I came at this issue in a different way earlier this year; We Want Linear, We get Billy from the Family Circus.  We crave simplicity, but we are complex and we have created a complex world.  There is nothing for it, but to roll up our sleeves, find a relatively quiet spot and carefully think through one problem at a time.  One step at a time.

 

Messy, inconvenient, tedious – I know.  It would be so much easier if someone would just come up with a formula for each of our more common difficulties (like a vlookup for getting along with coworkers) where we just plug in our particulars in the right part of the formula and voila – instant solution.  But wait, remember that we like to be treated as individuals and not just a number?  Snap, now we have to decide – formula or individuality?

 

Individuality usually wins out because the thing about those formulas is that they have snarls of their own.  Daggone it.  Maybe someone is working on a real pensieve, the thing Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter books…

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Consternated, Bewildered and Confounded

We must be getting smarter than previous generations.  How else to explain it, the severe lack of use for these words – consternated, bewildered and confounded?  We live in a hard to navigate and complex world that folks from a couple of generations ago would describe as downright consternating, if not wholly bewildering.  And yet, we have almost entirely ceased to describe ourselves and our surroundings in these terms.

 

It couldn’t be that we have reduced our vocabularies to short, easily texted words, no not that.  It must be that we have grown in our ability to understand complexity, that we are no longer ever perplexed, at sea, baffled, befuddled, or bemused.

public domain old movie still

public domain old movie still

 

Except, I must say that I have my moments when I am baffled, when something is unclear.  When I would be caught with the cocked-head dog pose if someone took my picture.  Maybe I am alone in my consternation, left behind while everyone else figured out the keys that protect against bewilderment.  I text – yes I learned when my children were in their teens or I wouldn’t have heard from them.  And I confess that texting long words is tiring.  My fingers find it perplexing, even.  They cannot keep up.

 

Rules about the appropriateness of texting while at work can be bemusing.  Or is your employee handbook silent on the topic?  It must be ok by default then, confound it.

 

Are you ever befuddled?  What causes it?  I hope you never find yourself at sea without a paddle, unless you have a motor that is.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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