In assessing a new area of responsibility, I usually discover that in order to make a more meaningful and sustainable impact, I will need to take the time to lay a new foundation, rebuild, or clean house before I can move forward. Unfortunately, there’s often someone expecting results right away and I don’t have the luxury of taking my time to approach the challenges methodically. When pressure starts to mount, it’s tempting to blame the circumstances, or the working environment, for the lack of progress.
When You Can’t Wait for the Bleeding to Stop
That’s when the band-aids come in handy. Although they’re meant to be temporary, they often provide quick relief to painful situations. If you need to quickly stop the bleeding, a corporate band-aid may be just what the doctor ordered. When you have to play your own doctor and a band-aid solution is not readily available, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you can get creative and find something laying around to act as a tourniquet.
Accountability: “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results—to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.”
— from “The Oz Principle”
That’s one thing that separates the good from the great—those who can find a way to hold themselves accountable and get results regardless of the situation. They get creative. They don’t succumb to the victim mentality. (Victims tend to die a slow death. I learned that the hard way.) When they find themselves hurting and living ‘below the line,’ they take the necessary steps to start healing and operating ‘above the line.’ Band-aids often help along the way. Don’t be too proud to use them.
So, whether you’re helping to improve cross-functional collaboration across the entire organization, reworking SOPs to streamline new product development, or whatever…take ownership and make time to focus on long-term solutions, but also be flexible and creative to deliver more immediate results in the meantime.
No excuses. You’re not a victim of your circumstances.
From my perspective, the real challenge is finding the balance between developing sustainable solutions and knowing when to use temporary band-aids as a tool to buy you some more time. Band-aid solutions should never be the default, but they have their time and place.
Decided to read this again since the new organization I recently joined has had its challenges and is actively working through them. Interesting how I internalized more of the content this second time around since it’s more timely and relevant at this stage in my career. Unlike Patrick Lencioni’s other books which are more fable format, this was more of a traditional business book with practical tips and a roadmap to follow.
Fire-fighting. In some organizations, it seems to happen on a daily basis inevitably resulting in casualties along the way. You may even be one of them.
While there’s glory in being the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, we might be better off avoiding burnout in the first place.
Heeding the Signs
From an organizational perspective, what appears to be important can easily be sucking dry your most valuable resources. You might notice that days are filled with expensive back-to-back meetings. Perhaps, too much time is being spent on shiny objects and the next big thing. Projects start to drag and go well beyond budget. Every hour an executive is overreacting to some metric that missed its year-over-year comp. Left unchecked, your most valuable resource, your employees, will begin to disengage and fly on autopilot.
At an individual level, most days you’re stuck in back-to-back meetings filled with people that don’t even need to be there…including you. Because some industry expert said that X is going to be the next big thing, you’re suddenly asked to drop what you’re working on and get a new project started. Because the project doesn’t really align with the organization’s mission or values, there’s ongoing and endless debate about how to complete the project on time and within budget. You’re questioning why the project is even a priority and no one seems to have a good answer. Later you get blamed for the failure of the project even though you advised against it. After running around frantically trying to keep everyone happy, you feel exhausted and begin to disengage.
Making the shift from simply getting things done to focusing on doing the right things
What are the right things? Of course, that depends on the organization and the individual. Those who work in “fast-paced environments” are especially prone to resource-sucking tangents and running around in circles. Regardless, it’s important to occasionally pause and evaluate your current activities to assess whether your initiatives are moving you in the desired direction. Failure to do so can be quite costly. Some estimate this corporate waste could be costing the U.S. upwards of $3 trillion each year. (There are likely more impressive stats I could cite, but you get the point.) Exaggerated or not, that’s a lot of wasted Time, Talent, Energy.
If you’re feeling like you’re on fire—and not in a good way—it’s time to stop, drop and roll.
Stop, Drop and Roll
Stop: Unplug. Slow down. Go quiet. Get some sleep. Then with a clear head, take stock of your current resources and make sure you’re investing them in the right things. Are they serving your purpose? How much are they moving the needle in the right direction? Despite sunk costs, is any reallocation needed? Do you need to add a missing ingredient to the mix? Better yet, should you drop something unnecessary? These decisions can be tough, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks.
Drop: Keep what’s working and drop what’s not. That whole sunk cost mentality makes this easier said than done. Then, there’s the addictive juggling act. As an experienced “multi-tasker”, you like to juggle. You even think you’re pretty good at it. When balls start to drop, you might as well drop them intentionally. Focus on less but the most important.
And on the team side of things, trying to preserve relationships you’ve invested in can make letting go a challenge, even when the relationship is unhealthy. After you’ve done everything you can to make a relationship work, if someone is headed elsewhere, you’ll need to drop them off or let them off the bus. Switching roles, perhaps you need to get off the bus you’re riding.
The art of adding by subtraction is risky. Being smart about the process mitigates the risk. We are more nimble without the unnecessary baggage, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Roll: Once you put out any existing fires, prevention is the key moving forward. Make sure you have momentum in the right direction before you get on a roll.
Oftentimes, we set our own fires. With the daily noise, hustle, and bustle, our attention is distracted and we lose our way. Next thing you know, we’re backpedaling or just spinning our wheels. Sometimes we need to just roll with it, but most of the time, we should be paying attention, avoiding the unnecessary fires, and course-correcting.
In this fast-paced environment, we find ourselves in, it’s easy to catch on fire and burn out.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Fires can be dramatic. Preventing them doesn’t have to be. Allocate some time today to remind yourself where and who you really want to be. Assess how you’re getting there and make any necessary adjustments.
Everyday alignment is not a big deal but it can make a big difference. Keep calm and roll on.
“ For me, experiences are always more important than material goods. A story is more important than a gift.”
— James Altucher
He goes into this in more detail in his book Choose Yourself. As frugal as he can be when it comes to buying things, James Altucher spares no expense when it comes to spending money on experiences.
When I first read that, I thought about how so many people I know, including myself, seem to be in the endless pursuit of the material more. Maybe because we can. I like to blame cultural pressure and the unnecessary need I feel to keep up with the Joneses. Of course some material things are essential for safety and survival, but as for the luxuries, it’s only because we want them.
Spending Time vs. Spending Money
We often spend money to buy things. To have them and to own them. And if we’ve earned it, why not? Having new things — better things — feels good. So we want more…and more.
Shopping is an experience that can be addicting. I’m in no place to judge. I just bought a new suit online this morning. I didn’t need it. I already have seven in the closet. It was 73% off so I justified the purchase knowing I could wear it to work. I guess what I was really buying was the pleasure that will come along with it. I’m indirectly buying that experience. It’s a means to an end.
If in the end I just want to feel good and be happy, perhaps I should be more mindful about how I spend my time.
I grew up hearing “time is money.” I agree it needs to be spent well. If it truly is finite and we never know when our time will run out, then I wonder why we waste so much of our time trying to be happy in the future. Couldn’t we just be happy right now, without spending a penny or accumulating any extra baggage?
Even when I’m having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong, I can transform the experience knowing that those bad days happen for good reason. You don’t appreciate the good times as much unless you know the challenges that come with the “bad” days. Oftentimes, we need those bad days to teach us an important lesson. And if seen from that perspective, we can be grateful for the good sandwiched between the bad. Perception becomes reality.
What we choose to do with our time is important. More important, I think, is how we perceive the experience of that time. The same story can be interpreted in numerous ways. The same circumstances provide a different experience to different people.
Too much philosophy and not enough practicality? That’s fair. Instead of manipulating our perception, let’s consider how we can alter our approach to improve the experience.
Elevating the Experience
I love to read and to watch movies. It gives me the chance to experience life through others. Experiences that might normally be out of reach or a life better left to fantasy and imagination.
It wasn’t until recently that I wondered why. I’ve already acknowledged that I enjoy living vicariously in the shadows. Although I’ve occasionally ventured out into the limelight, my introverted nature feels more comfortable in the audience. Comfortable but limiting. Being the spectator only takes me so far. It’s so much more fun to be on stage. The experience is elevated.
Take, for example, the difference between the experience of a reader and that of a writer. I enjoy both. For me, writing is more sublime. I become an active participant. In addition to input there’s output. I can connect different dots and create something new. This takes the enjoyment of reading and brings it to a higher level.
Passive Participation > Active Participation > Creation
The transformation can take many forms and different paths, depending on what you experiment with and where you find your passion.
Reading the book > Writing the book
Sitting in the audience > Being the main character
Spectating in the stands > Playing the field > Coaching
Those who step up and perform, have an opportunity to inspire the audience. Those who create, have the power to elevate the experience for others as well as for themselves.
Love eating French cuisine? Julia Child decided to become a chef and bring the art of French cooking to the United States. Julia went on to author several cookbooks and become a legend as a TV cooking personality.
Fascinated with movies? Harrison Ford (I’ll always think of him as Han Solo) overcame his shyness and got into acting. He is now the highest-grossing actor in U.S. box office history.
And if you feel like an old dog, remember that both Julia Child and Harrison Ford blossomed later in life.
It’s never too late to elevate your experience.
Surround yourself with the Have-dones. When you’re time is up, let your memories be filled with what you’ve done more than what you possessed. Spend more time in your world, not somebody else’s. Don’t just go along for the ride, find your own path. Choose to dance instead of being a wallflower.
“ Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.”
― Mary Schmich, Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life
Every experience you have is all that you really need. You still have to own it though. You’re accountable for making good of it. Elevate it, learn from it, share it, or simply enjoy it. Don’t take for granted the fleeting precious moments you already have. Be present. Everything else will unfold as it should.
So let me reiterate and close Groupon style:
“If you’re going to own something…own the experience.”
Mylove for DJing started 30 years ago in high school. Back then in Chicago, before Hip-Hop took over, House Music was the thing with my teenage friends. It wasn’t mainstream so I felt like I was part of something special. Like I was in on some secret that only the underground knew. Chicago DJs would mix the music using Technics turntables and 12″ vinyl, blending the tracks seamlessly so as not to interrupt the packed dance floor. Since my friends and I were too young to get into bars or dance clubs, we would go to dance parties hosted at local VFWs or in somebody’s basement.
That was the scene back then. And the DJ was always the life of the party.
To see a melting pot of people, all grooving to the same beat, was inspiring. I could feel their joy. I could hear their heart beat in sync with the music.
I was just coming out of my super-shy, nerdy phase of adolescence. When I saw the girls swoon over the DJ, something told me that I needed to be that guy. My friend Charlie Manlapaz, a.k.a. DJ Charlie, kindly took me under his wing and showed me the way. After teaching me the basics of beat-matching, he showed me how to scratch and even a few record ‘juggling’ tricks. That’s how my DJ life started.
By the time I was in college, I had enough experience to DJ live at parties. Up until then, I was just practicing hours and hours in the privacy of home. After rotating as a guest DJ at several university dances, I noticed that most of the DJs played the same type of music…the same songs just in a different order. To set myself apart, I chose to play more “new wave.” This is what got me invited to mix at more parties. It wasn’t because I had better skills. That definitely was not the case. I just played good music that people didn’t hear from the other DJs.
DJ Insight #1: Find the gap that everyone overlooks and find a way to bridge it. When introducing something new, it helps to sandwich it between the familiar. Make sure it blends nicely and make the transitions as seamless as possible.
There was a bar at U of I called Skylight Club. They had a DJ every night and there was usually a long line outside to get in. During the weekends, the line would snake around the corner. When the head DJ, a senior about to graduate, auditioned people to replace him, I stepped up. Using DJ Insight #1, I got the job.
After college, I spent six years working in Japan. When I wasn’t working, I spent my free time with Japanese friends as well as other gaijin. Most of them were still in their twenties and loved to party. I began offering my DJ services for special events and even organized a few myself. Mixing music abroad drove home something I guess I already knew…
DJ Insight #2: Music is magic. It’s a universal language that speaks to people from all cultures. It can connect and inspire.
I returned to the States in 1997 and decided to start a mobile DJ business on the side, focusing mostly on weddings along with a few school and corporate parties. This was the first stretch where I had to constantly deal with requests from the crowd. I hated it. As much as I like to please the crowd, especially the client, to get bombarded with individual ad hoc requests — while you’re in the middle of spinning a live set — is very distracting.
While it paid well, the DJ-for-hire life taught me that DJing is much more fun when the only one you’re trying to make happy is yourself.
DJ Insight #3: Selling your services often feels like selling out. Unless you’re in a financial position to be selective and say no, it often takes all the fun out of why you went into business in the first place.
A few years of providing mobile entertainment almost every weekend was enough. When my wife told me we were expecting our first child, I put my equipment in storage and started working my way up the corporate ladder. It paid off, except that in exchange for six figures, I sacrificed my family life and personal interests. Somehow that doesn’t make much sense in the long run.
So now, in this chapter of my life, I’ve slowed things down, gave some things up, but got some great things in return. Family time feels special again. I’ve dusted off the DJ equipment and am exploring other interests (like cooking and writing!) I’m mixing things up again, instead of playing the same tune day in and day out. The magic is coming back.
DJ Insight #4: It’s good to mix things up. You discover new things as you explore and experiment. There’s value in dabbling and incorporating something fresh. And if you do it long enough, you find it gets easier to create the perfect blend for you.
I’ve been a DJ on and off for 30 years. Vinyl is now back. I use the original Technics turntable from back in college. And the songs I used to spin many years ago can still rock a party. So many great experiences along the way and a few very valuable insights. Today, I spin music only when I want to, not because I have to. I still take requests, but I don’t get many since the people I choose to spend my time with are those who like me for who I am, the way I do things, and the music I choose to play.
Let the music play.
-Donn (a.k.a. DJ ReCreator)
Recorded practice set when I volunteered to DJ for my son’s end-of-year middle school party.
I’ve worked in digital marketing for over 15 years. First, it was for small online businesses I launched from home. Then I got into corporate marketing for several retailers. Now, it’s primarily freelance for one person … me as a writer.
During my corporate marketing years, I learned about the different effects between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ marketing approaches. In simple terms, writer Tanya Robertson describes the difference in this way: “From a business perspective, pull marketing attempts to create brand loyalty and keep customers coming back, whereas push marketing is more concerned with short-term sales.”
Most of my time at corporate was spent pushing. Trying to be at the right place, at the right time with the right offer. The Internet made that so much easier and Google was our best friend. Not only did their products — AdWords, Product Ads, and once upon a time, Google Affiliate Network — give us the best return on our investment, our Google friends always came to visit us and treat us like royalty. I had every reason to keep pushing.
Interesting. Google is great at pull marketing.
For me, the biggest challenge with the push approach is that you become insatiable. You always want more. Always looking for something to increase year-over-year marketing revenue while maintaining efficient advertising spend. It’s exhausting.
Obviously, pushing for growth is important. We all want to keep growing. It feels great to make big strides. And in business, it helps keep the doors open and the lights on.
That said, in retrospect, I wish I spent more time on pull marketing. Effective pulling still requires a lot of effort. What I like about it is that it’s focused on the long game. It focuses on developing relationships more than one-and done transactions.
What about personally?
Whether you’re looking for that next promotion or interviewing for a new job, you have to market yourself at some point. There are countless ways to push market yourself. Perhaps you have an online portfolio or blog that you share. Maybe you’re active on LinkedIn with a well-crafted profile. Some use their social channels to push messages to their followers and friends. I’ve been spending a lot of time on many of those things. Not so much to get a new job, but to develop as a writer.
It can be frustrating.
Like when I was deep in e-commerce, I still spend a lot of time with the analytics and other reports. Constantly refreshing data dashboards to see if the needle is moving in the right direction. Though now — instead of traffic, conversions, and revenue — I’m looking at views, likes/recommends, shares and follows. I get encouraged when there’s a spike in activity. When the trend is down week-over-week or month-over-month, I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
That’s not the only reason I’m frustrated though.
I’m also frustrated because I feel I’ve lost focus on what’s really important. Rather than just practicing for the sake of continuous improvement, I’m putting too much weight on the immediate metrics at the expense of the higher-level goal. I find myself choosing topics, or adjusting my writing, to see if I can generate more green hearts. It’s beginning to feel like I’m slowly losing myself in the process. As much as I preach the value of being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, I still succumb to doing not-really-me things for the attention. For the immediate gratification of external validation. To improve my marketability.
I keep pushing. And I’m tired. There’s got to be a better way.
Word of Mouth (WOM) About You = Your Reputation
This morning, as all of these thoughts were dominating my free association time, I remembered that the best form of marketing is a kind of pull marketing — word of mouth, sometimes referred to as viva voce. In marketing, the acronym is WOM, or in the digital realms, eWoM (Electronic Word of Mouth).
From a marketing perspective, the beauty of WOM is that you can pretty much consider it free, and other people are doing the work for you. People spread the word because they want to, not because you’re paying them. Most likely because they had such a great experience, they can’t help but share it with a friend. If the experience was really share-worthy, they’ll be telling the story to many friends. And because the story is not directly coming from you, it doesn’t come across as bragging. Marketing doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m shifting my marketing approach to pull, working in a way that encourages others to share. I’ll still push occasionally, just not to the point of obsession.
If enough people start talking, maybe I’ll start developing a reputation. Hopefully it’s a good one.
Developing a Good Reputation
I’ve had my share of bad reputations growing up. In college, apparently I was considered a “player” with the ladies. During my career as a department manager, I was known for being “fluffy” with my management style.
Word gets around and eventually it gets back to you. Regarding your reputation, this is your feedback loop for something that’s difficult to measure. I use this feedback to focus on what I need to improve.
I find that the best way to improve and develop a good reputation is to choose to do the right things all the time especially when you think nobody is looking. This approach assures me that I’m coming from the right place … a place of personal integrity. Not just to impress or please others, but to be good and to do good because that’s the person I want to be.
I love reading articles from writers that do that.
I’m impressed with the likes of Coco Shackleton. During the course of June, she set a goal of writing 30 articles in 30 days. As I followed her, I noticed she didn’t submit anything to publications, even though I’m sure many would have gladly accepted her articles. She wrote from the heart and it was refreshing. I could sense that she was writing more for herself. She wasn’t stroking her own ego. She doesn’t even use her real name. (Coco Shackleton is her pseudonym.) I’m drawn to Coco because of how she represents herself. She exudes authenticity.
I’m not sure what happened to Coco. She hasn’t posted anything in a while. I miss her.
But you see that? I’m talking about her. And I do so gladly. Because reading her words during those 30 days was a great experience for me.
If I can write more like Coco and stop worrying so much about the stats, I think the frustration will subside.
This post still feels a bit forced. Heck, I’m thinking about what publication to submit this to, so I can extend my reach. I won’t, but it’s tempting. Well, then again, maybe I’ll include it in one of my own publications. (Not really push marketing since I have zero followers.) I also promise not to share on Facebook or tweet this time.
I guess I’m still recovering and getting to know myself again.
What’s different is that I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard this time. I don’t care so much about what you may think about my writing ability. Yes, I hope this might connect with another person going through something similar, but I’m letting the words spill out as they may. This is how I write without a whole lot of editing. Incomplete sentences and all. At least I’m feeling more like myself.
Whatever kind of reputation I might develop as a writer, I’m fine with it as long as it develops long-term relationships and I don’t sell out while I’m at it.
“…interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t…Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick, and which won’t.”
— Angela Duckworth, GRIT
As you read in Austin Frank’s account of his journey from Congressional staffer to committed writer on Medium, the road to finding your passions and living a happy life can be hard to predict. Every story, every journey is unique. One step leads to another and when you occasionally look back, the road that got you to where you are today is winding. Lots of surprising twists and turns. And during the process, there’s inner transformation. That’s what makes each story interesting.
In my own life, I hit a point in my career where I was in between chapters and at a crossroads. I took some time to look in the rear view mirror and reflect. In trying to decide which road to take next, I was filled with self-doubt. Afraid I’d make the wrong choice. So I assessed life-to-date hoping to find a pattern. Something that might point me in the right direction.
I realized that I have always been a dabbler.
Dabbling in a variety of interests makes me feel alive. My gritty passions include weight lifting, dancing, DJing, positive psychology, fashion, management, Japan, all things Internet, and writing. Each passion has its own story. Follow the links for the ones I’ve already written about. The rest I will save for another time. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve been transformed because of them. They make me who I am today.
You probably already know the story of Tim Ferriss. Now there’s somebody who takes dabbling to another level. On top of being a best-selling author, serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Tim can speak five languages fluently. He holds a Guinness World Record for most tango spins in a minute. As of this writing, his latest obsession is AcroYoga and you can read all about it on his blog about Experiments in Lifestyle Design.
So many great stories out there. Some are yet to be told.
I’m encouraging you to write about yours and don’t be afraid to share. As Austin and many others have already shared, fear holds us back, but when we bravely venture forward despite our fears, we often find that we’re in good company. In response to one of my quirky posts, Dr. Rob Brown even said, “ I think you and I live in parallel realities. :-)”
One of the benefits I like most about dabbling is that it gives some pretty interesting experiments to write about. And writing about colorful life experiences encourages us all to live life fully.
Creating new publications for Medium wasn’t planned. One thing just led to another. I didn’t plan to write this post this morning. It just happened. All part of dabbling. Where will it lead? We’ll see.
When I first started publishing on Medium, Samuel LeBaron Abbott III took the time to kindly remark on one of my articles. Samuel also suggested I reach out to publications for future inclusion. Well, I took his advice to heart and then went a step further.
I registered ProDabbler.com in early 2016 but wasn’t sure at the time what to do with it. After falling into writing publicly and rediscovering Medium, we now have a wonderful home. This publication was originally just an outlet for me, but the experience is much better shared, so I’m having a party and you’re invited. Send your stories to email@example.com so we can enjoy them together. Going from private to public, you never know who you’ll inspire.
Thank you for the invitation! Maybe tell me what kind of publication the Dabbler is, what kind of content the Dabbler is looking for? I would contribute if I can!
Since the Dabbler publication is new and still taking shape, I’m starting with an open invitation for any stories about life experiences and lessons learned while exploring your personal interests.
Maybe you’re exploring writing on the side to see where it might go. Share what that personal journey is like and any insights along the way. Others dabbling in writing will hopefully be able to apply those lessons to their own experience and be inspired.
If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build a business outside of your current day job, how are you overcoming the challenges?
Or do you just love to learn new languages (or travel, cook, paint or compose music) and in the process, you stumble upon a way to do it full-time. How did that story unfold? Share any colorful episodes.
Just a few writing prompts to start. If the publication organically moves in a different direction, we can flex.
I know there are many great publications — that are already more established — where these topics may overlap, so over time we’ll hone in on the writers and the stories that differentiate and best represent the community.
Like you, I think there’s a dabbler in everyone. And as you mentioned, it’s liberating to know that dabbling is a good thing. Helps us uncover our true passions. It can also be very encouraging to read how others are benefitting from their own dabbling, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves amateur or professional.
Over the years I’ve struggled in 3 important areas of life. Even with the best intentions, I’ve had a history of embarrassing — even traumatic — experiences. During the worst of times, the anxiety and stress would wreak havoc on my emotional and physical health. Then it would become a vicious cycle spiraling downward. Took a while, but I finally came up with an effective way to avoid the unnecessary headaches.
Create and maintain buffers.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll define “buffer” as:
1. a thing that prevents incompatible or antagonistic people or things from coming into contact with or harming each other.
“family and friends can provide a buffer against stress”
synonyms: cushion, bulwark, shield, barrier, guard, safeguard
“a buffer against market fluctuations”
I began rethinking buffers after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, where he describes the disciplined pursuit of less but better. Critical to this pursuit is the ability to create buffers that afford us emotional breathing room. Within that space we are also better able to think strategically.
Consistently maintaining buffers in my relationships with people, time and money has had a compound effect on my overall quality of life.
Relationships with people — family, friends, coworkers, followers, etc. — are give and take. As Covey would say, you have an emotional bank account with each person in your life. Investments of your time and attention to that person make deposits into the emotional bank account. Occasionally you may need to make a withdrawal because of neglect, or simply because you need a favor.
Making deposits can be as easy as showing that you care, and truly listening when others don’t. Recognizing someone’s effort even if the results were disappointing. Remembering personal details. (I like addressing people by name even though we only met once before.) It doesn’t take much. Just a little effort where others don’t usually bother. Random acts of kindness. Establish trust with empathy and integrity. Make deposits regularly.
Make time and the effort to maintain a healthy balance in the emotional bank accounts of the key people in your life. When forgiveness is needed, you won’t be overdrawn. In other times of need, they’ll be there to help without being asked. It’s not about the number of connections you have. It’s about the quality of those relationships that count.
There was a time in my life when I was late for everything: family parties, doctor appointments, work…you name it. By incorporating buffers into my time blocks, punctuality is now easier by design. Instead of scheduling everything back to back, I also block out enough time between meetings, appointments and other responsibilities to accommodate the unexpected.
For example, as much as I try to get done in the morning, knowing when to stop and consistently leaving early for work dramatically reduces any commuting stress. If there happens to be an accident or unusual congestion, I’m still on time. When conditions are normal, I’ve got ample time to mentally switch gears before jumping into a productive workday. Planning for adequate lead time sets the right tone to start the day which has a positive ripple effect on the rest.
Find a scheduling strategy that works best for you. I recommend time blocking — per Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing — based around your priorities.
“ Designing your life starts with designing your days.”
— Srinivas Rao
Proactively use your calendar to schedule not only your priority activities but your transitions and down time as well.
When I first started my career many many years ago, I would live paycheck to paycheck. And because of credit, I would often spend more than I had. When large unplanned expenses would pop up, I’d be at a complete loss. By the time I was married and expecting our first child, I knew things had to change. While I personally didn’t mind eating ramen to make it to the next paycheck, my wife and child deserved much better.
Fortunately, my wife is much more fiscally responsible than I am. While I was primarily focused on the percentage growth of our year-over-year income, she continued to save, invest and diversify. As CFO of our household, she has managed our money well and established a healthy buffer for rainy days.
The past year or so, it’s been raining. After my Career Break, I deliberately chose a different career path which brought our annual household income from six figures down to just above the Federal Poverty Level. If it weren’t for our financial buffer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that decision. (And yes, more than a year later, it still feels like the right choice. We may make less, but life is better.)
This is what has worked for us:
Leveraging the compound effect wherever we invest time and money
Creating multiple streams of income including forms of passive income
Having many egg baskets but choosing our baskets wisely
Living well below our means
Thinking long term
My Dad once told me, “It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep.” I agree. The more I think about it, it’s really a combination of both. You can’t keep what you don’t already have, so I work hard to continue building that financial cushion. My wife always makes sure we keep enough for everything our family might need in the long term. This usually means making disciplined trade-offs and delay of immediate gratification.
You would think all of this is common sense but from what I can see, not enough people act on it. This actually helps those who do. The space is less crowded. It’s easier to stand out and get ahead. Unlike the masses in the mainstream who get caught up in the current, people who create and maintain buffers only flow with the main stream when the current is taking them where they want to go. Otherwise, they slip away on their own to yin when others yang and to ebb while others overflow. It’s in this space where they strategically choose the vital few over the trivial many.
The Compound Effect
By getting started and taking even small yet persistent steps, you can build momentum. Habit fuels a virtuous cycle spiraling up. In the long game, you experience the compound effect of focusing on less but better.
Buffers are like life insurance. You don’t think you need them. Until you do. Life rarely goes as planned. Give yourself some cushion just in case.
Today I continue to face daily challenges with my relationships to people, time and money. Fortunately, safeguards are in place. If ever I veer off course, I catch myself sooner and course correct earlier. And because of the buffer, I avoid accidentally colliding with anything.
Respect the people around you by giving them both time and space when needed. Healthy relationships maintain a healthy balance (as in emotional bank accounts).
Value your time and the time of others by scheduling and committing to the important things with enough flexibility to accommodate downtime and the spontaneous.
And continue to insulate your finances for those rainy days. When it pours, you’ll be ready.
Creating buffers in these essential areas of life make room for peace of mind and abundance.
As an introvert, I usually prefer to keep to myself and avoid the limelight. I’ve noticed, though, that I like to stand at the edge of the shadows. I look and I listen, passively participating as others with more gusto express themselves uninhibited. If living a full life is about enjoying experiences, I sometimes fill my void by living vicariously through others.
I’m most inspired by people who have the courage to put themselves out there even though, like me, they’re inclined to hold back. They’re often the ones that surprise me with something new. Something different. Something I don’t get from those who normally live in the public eye.
That is why I am here. And why I am sharing my writing publicly.
Unlike others on Medium, I’m not a published author. I don’t consider myself a good writer, but others have taught me that it’s not a prerequisite to making a meaningful contribution. What’s more important is staying true to yourself and telling your story. Not to be recognized. Not for the green hearts. (I can’t deny they’re encouraging.) But to share something that might make a difference to someone else.
So this piece goes out to everyone standing at the edge. Nothing wrong with staying there. It’s a comfortable place to be. A fulfilling life can be lived in so many ways, with or without the limelight.
For me, sometimes that’s not enough. So I intentionally get uncomfortable and do things I love for public consumption. I record my DJ mixes and post digital versions on MixCrate. I create a YouTube video for my kids of me dancing in the living room. I write about my career insights on LinkedIn. And I share my miscellaneous perspectives on Medium.
As hard as it is, I try not to be too concerned with the number of views, likes, or recommends. When I focus on how the public share might help just one other person, I’m satisfied. I simply find exhilaration in the act of creative self-expression. It bridges the gap between the shadows and the light. Between my comfortable introversion and my wannabe extroverted side.
Where I work, there are two expressions that frequently come up in the corporate lingo:
Leave it better than you found it
Those words resonate with me because I like to apply them to my personal life as well.
If you’re up for it, why not join me for the occasional moment of gusto? No talent necessary. Just be yourself and have some fun. There’s security in living vicariously, but I don’t think you’ll regret occasionally stepping out and doing a little dance. Your dance. You just might inspire someone, in a way that only you can. In doing so — to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson — you’re succeeding at making this world a better place because you have lived.
Our yard, especially our front lawn, was never really healthy. I could blame the builders and the company contracted to initially sod our lawn, but as the owners, we haven’t done a very good job of fertilizing and maintaining it.
To provide some relevant background, I am not one to spend hours on the lawn every weekend. Even though it may need mowing, I sometimes skip a week. I tackle the weeds only when they become a major eyesore.
That should help explain why I burned the lawn when I tried to fertilize it about a month ago. I quickly reviewed some YouTube videos and skimmed over the instructions on the fertilizer bag. A few days later, I had burn marks on the sidewalk from the granules that spilled over, and patches of my lawn were brown from too much fertilizer.
It was embarrasing to say the least.
One evening, as I was taking out the recycling for pick-up, one of our not-so-friendly neighbors happened by, totally ignoring me, and scowled as she looked at our front lawn in disgust. Without saying a word, I could hear her judgment loud and clear.
This bothered me so much, I kept dwelling on the mistake I made.
Now, several weeks later, I’m over it. Things always seem more intense in the moment. In retrospect, I learned a few things.
Life After Death
The brown patches were areas of the lawn where the grass was unhealthy. They were thin and weedy to begin with and the excess fertilizer actually finished them off. Based on some online advice, I spent an afternoon dethatching the brown areas and removing the layer of dead turf. I also gave the lawn some extra water.
As the weeks passed, the stolons from the healthy St. Augustine grass began growing to fill in the unhealthy areas. While I’ve read it will take time for a complete recovery, the grass is growing better than before.
I needed to remove the bad grass to make room for the good grass. Where there was death, now there is new life. And the grass is greener where I watered it.
My Theory of Relativity
At the time fertilizer burn took over my landscape, everyone else’s lawn seemed so much greener. That’s when I felt the worst about the mistake I made and how I looked in comparison.
What’s interesting is that, since then, the hot summer sun and lack of rain has made other lawns in the neighborhood full of brown patches. In comparison, my lawn doesn’t look so bad anymore. It really hasn’t changed that much yet. It’s just that, relative to others, what I thought was the blight of the community, is now just another lawn needing to weather another hot dry summer.
It’s all relative.
Because I was fixated on the results of my mistake, it seemed so much worse, and it felt like it would take forever for it to get better. Once the surroundings changed as well as my frame of reference, the time to heal seemed to speed up. And I no longer felt so bad about the mistake. It taught me a lesson and reminded me about the importance of perspective and how relativity can significantly alter the way we see things.
“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” — Albert Einstein
Change of Seasons
My summer experience reminded me about keeping things in perspective. Not to be too hard on myself. Fertilizer burn is not the end of the world. Even though we’re told not to sweat the small stuff, it’s funny how we react in the heat of the moment. I made a mistake and I learned from it. I’m grateful and carry on.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein
Some change happens naturally, like the change in seasons. Individual changes are up to us. We need to try new things and mistakes are inevitable along the way. No need to dwell. Learn your lessons and move on.
The kids start school again tomorrow. It’s the end of summer break and fall is around the corner.
As this season ends and the new one begins, I’m feeling good about the changes to come and the lessons to learn — especially from the little things that happen every day. It can take time for some changes to make a real difference. Some of the best changes happen over several seasons. And we sometimes need to make room in order for better things to come our way.