I’m Sorry. Were You Talking to Me?
I recently had a disturbing conversation with an old friend. His 24 year old daughter quit her job in Los Angeles and moved back home to Massachusetts. Nothing unusual there. It happens all the time. She liked LA but missed her friends. So home she came hoping to save a little money, make a dent in the student loans, find a new job, get her own apartment and get on with her life. Not so easy…. for my friend, his wife or their daughter. To quote Philip Rosenthal, writer, director and creator of the Everybody Loves Raymond television show, “it’s not that we don’t love you honey, it’s just that….well it’s just that we were planning to put a hot tub in your bedroom.”
What’s That Thing Attached to Your Body?
“What frustrates you the most about her being back home with you?” I asked him. His answer surprised me. “It’s not the clumps of hair in the drain, the permanently unmade bed (which she doesn’t vacate till 11am), the permanently plugged in hair dryer, the lights that get turned on and never get turned off, the greasy frying pan left for someone else to scrub or the look of disdain on her face when we ask her to do something.” “What, then?” “It’s the cell phone. The damn cellphone,” he said. “What do you mean?” I replied. “Well,” he said, “it seems to be attached to her body. I’ve never seen her without it. She’s always texting. Always. Everywhere, anywhere, all the time. It’s as though she can’t focus on anything for more than ten seconds before she’s back to texting. Texting from her bed before going to sleep, texting from her bed when she wakes up (which she doesn’t do till 11am – oops did I already mention that?), texting while she’s talking to us, texting while we’re talking to her, texting at dinner in a restaurant, texting at dinner at home, texting from the bathroom getting ready to go out, texting while using the hair dryer (which never gets unplugged – oops, did I already mention that?). We assumed it was her best friend she was “talking” to but that theory was blown to bits when her friend was over the house recently. There they were, the two of them sitting on the couch not more than 3 feet from each other both of them gazing intently at their cellphones …. texting! Not talking to each other, texting.” I thought for a long moment before asking the question I knew would not have a simple answer. “What is it about her texting that bothers you so much?”
Is it an Old Guy Complaining, the New Normal or Just Plain Rude?
“Well for one thing, she’s not a teenager anymore. She’s a 24 year old woman and there’s something…. I don’t know, disappointing about her not being able to engage in the moment. When we’re having a conversation at dinner, for example, it’s insulting to see her texting while we’re talking. She might as well tell us we’re boring. I don’t know, am I just out of touch with reality? Is this the new communication model where nobody pays attention to anybody and “conversation” is just a series of fleeting snippets, grab what you can grab and keep moving. The whole texting thing is like somebody is chasing you and you can’t slow down for too long or you’ll get run over. Are we going to eventually evolve into creatures with no mouths and large thumbs?” Instead of answering my question, he raised a few new ones. Is he an old guy complaining, is this texting thing the new normal or is it, as I suspect, just plain rude?
And Now Back to You
I didn’t know what to say to him. What would you tell him? Has this addictive texting behavior shown up in your life? Do we have to get used to it or is there still hope that conversation – real conversation where we look each other in the eye when we speak; where we are truly interested in what the other person has to say – won’t die.
Somewhere around day 2 of a recently ended 7 day vacation on the Caribbean island paradise of St. Maarten (St. Martin if you’re on the French side), the question started. It was a whisper at first. But around day 4 the volume and frequency had increased. The question goes something like this: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just quit our jobs and live here forever?” Of course, every time I’m on vacation I ask the question. And the answer is always the same: “No it wouldn’t.”
That’s Why They Call it a Vacation
You see for me, at least, the reason a Caribbean vacation is so intoxicating is that it’s a much needed break from the mundane, from the endless hours of work and phone calls and emails and texts and responsibilities. It’s that recharging your battery thing. You get what I’m talking about. It’s special. But would it be if you lived there? I don’t think so. Although it’s hard to imagine, perfect weather, white sand beaches, crystal clear water and 50 varieties of rum would become….well dare I say, mundane. I’m reminded of a story I heard some years back about a fellow from New England who accepted a permanent position in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. He was surprised that the position took so long to fill and that there was so much turnover. After all, he figured, wouldn’t everyone want to live and work in Paradise? Three months into the job he came down with an intense form of “island fever”, a toxic combination of boredom and claustrophobia, and had to leave the island. So much for Paradise.
The French Side of the Story
When there last we observed a fair number of French citizens, mostly young, who seemed to be immune to “island fever” and had taken up permanent residence in St. Maarten. I admit to a certain amount of envy. Somehow these folks had developed an immunity to boredom. More likely though they just don’t find tropical weather, gourmet food, steel drum music, cloudless skies, friendly people and endless stretches of beach boring. Ah, the French.
And Now Back to You
Have you ever wondered while on vacation in a beautiful spot what it would be like to live there? Could you do it? Would you like to try? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one.
I am learning to accept the truth regardless of its source. It’s hard. After all, the truth, as we’ve heard too many times, hurts. But how could it? Why should it? Here’s what I think. It’s not the truth that hurts at all but rather the manner in which it’s first revealed – its source. Maybe you’re in the midst of a heated argument with a friend/spouse/co-worker when he/she angrily spews out some vitriol that you know contains some element of truth about yourself. Or maybe an unhappy client is taking you to task for poor customer service. Or perhaps a competitor has exposed, very publicly, some of your weaknesses. In each of these scenarios, and in countless others, truth lurks, daring us to find it.
Take a Deep Breath
This is how it usually goes for me. First I get angry. I rant and rave (in my head of course), plot revenge, blame someone (not myself of course), make excuses, remain angry, calm down (only a little) then, with a pretty much ruined attitude, continue with my day. Later, much later, when the world is quieter, I sit down, take a deep breath and ask myself this question: “Was there truth in what was said to you or about you today?” Here’s the hard part. The answer is almost always yes. Now I need to painfully pull the nuggets of truth, one by one, from the mass of hurt. Ouch! Worth the effort? You bet! Truth hurts. But it’s a good hurt.
What is Truth Anyway?
A while back I blogged about success and asked how you define it. Okay amateur philosophers, ready? What is truth? From whatistruth.org, here are some of my favorites:
The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.
Not being known doesn’t stop the truth from being true.
You never find yourself until you face the truth.
A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.
Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction; for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.
G. K. Chesterton
Here is another take on the truth … the famous “You Can’t Handle the Truth” speech from A Few Good Men delivered as only Jack Nicholson could. Enjoy.
Now Back to You
How do you handle difficult truths about yourself? Are you able to accept them? Is your process anything like mine? If you’ve got a better way I’d love to hear about it. Talk to me.
Photo credit: lizmcdaniel
Stuff I Haven’t Worn in Well Over a Year. It’s Gone Now.
I‘ve always believed that less is more. It’s a worldview that informs a lot of what I do. In music, fewer notes almost always works better for me than lots of notes. In writing, concise is better than verbose. In web design, white space is better than gratuitous design elements. But here’s the thing – and I’ll use music as the analogy. To say what you want to say in fewer rather than more notes, each note must mean more. Each note has to have emotion, has to be expressive, has to breathe, has to let the listener fill in the blanks and use their imagination. B.B. King is a master at this. Every note he plays tells a story. I can’t explain it. It just is. And those whom he has influenced – Eric Clapton comes to mind – have that same quality. Don’t get me wrong. Clapton can rip off a blizzard of notes when he wants to. The point is he doesn’t have to.
Same Goes for Stuff
So when I came across this wonderful blog post by Julien Smith about stuff, I had an epiphany. I have too much stuff. Somewhere along the line I heard that if you have clothes in your closet that you don’t wear for an entire year, you don’t need them. So, like a man possessed, I threw open my closet door, identified the stuff I hadn’t worn in years, threw it in a big pile on my office floor, gathered it up and brought it to the nearest Goodwill box. Ahh! What a relief. And as an added bonus, Julien’s post contained a link to a fascinating video by Graham Hill, the founder of Life Edited, a site dedicated to the proposition that we can all live a very happy, fulfilling life while leaving a very small footprint. Hill puts his money where his mouth is. Literally. He lives in a tiny apartment in Manhattan that can somehow seat ten people around a dining room table, sleep two guests comfortably in their own beds and a whole lot more. You’ll have to watch the video to see how he does it.
More About Stuff
All this attention on stuff got me thinking about the classic George Carlin bit about….well it’s about stuff. How much we have, how much we want, how we protect it, how we build our lives around it, how it runs our lives. This clip is 26 years old but like all great comedy, still very relevant. Take a break from sorting through your stuff and watch this. You will laugh. A lot. I promise.
And Now Back to You
Have you ever thought about how much stuff you have? Do you ever wonder if you need it all? What do you do with it? Do you still have unopened boxes you’ve carried around through several moves? Do you tend to get rid of stuff every now and then? I’d love to hear from you on this one. Talk to me?
Artist rendering of The Beatles as old men c. 1965
I was 15 years old when I saw this rendering of the Beatles as old men for the first time.* For me the concept of aging was unfathomable. In my world, everyone was young and everyone would always be young. But most of all, The Beatles, our idols and mentors, prophets of our time, would never age, could never age. They were immortal. That’s why the rendering was so shocking. I remember laughing nervously sitting there with my friends and band mates gazing at the picture. We simply couldn’t comprehend what we were looking at. Old was something reserved for our parents and grandparents. Not us and certainly NOT the Beatles.
A Heavy Dose of Reality
Sadly, old age was not meant for John Lennon. He was tragically murdered on December 8, 1980 at age 40. And depending on how you define “old”, it can be argued that George Harrison, who died of cancer on November 29, 2001 at age 58, never got to grow old either. But Paul and Ringo, mortals after all, are growing old along with the rest of us. What a comfort to this old Beatles fan. Indeed it was the occasion of Paul’s 70th birthday last June 18 that started me thinking about writing this post. (Ringo turned 72 two weeks ago, July 7).
What Does Old Look Like?
Paul McCartney turns 70. If you’re a Beatles fan, you must buy the special edition Time Magazine book by James Kaplan.
A few years back, while searching the magazines in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, I recoiled slightly when I saw Paul McCartney’s face gracing the cover of AARP Magazine. Shock number two. Certainly not as violent a shock as the 1965 version but a shock nonetheless. It’s official now, I thought. McCartney’s old and I’m old. But he didn’t “look” old. At age 70, he’s certainly not the puffy faced, double chinned cherub imagined by the artist back in 1965. Even more impressive – he doesn’t act 70 either, or maybe he’s actually redefining how a 70 year old is supposed to act. I like to think that. In the last few years he has played more concerts and toured more extensively than at any other time in his career, including the Beatle years. I’ve been to one of his recent concerts. Admittedly I was skeptical. I thought I was going to hear a tired rehash of old songs played by a guy who should have quit years ago. Instead, I was blown away by Sir Paul’s energy, enthusiasm and sheer joy. As he told “TIME” in 2005, when asked if he would still indulge audiences with oldies like “Hey Jude”: “They’ll get that too, but you have to move forward as well as go back. As they say, the show must go on!” You gotta love this guy.
And it’s not just Paul who seems to be defying the aging process (or is it redefining the aging process?) Take a look at the 72 year old Ringo on the left. Now take another look at the rendering at the top of the page. See what I mean?
A friend once poignantly characterized aging as a cruelty. Indeed in many ways it is. But watching Paul McCartney age shows us that it doesn’t have to be that way. Since 1964, when I first saw his boyish smile and his big round eyes light up my black and white television set, he has been a sort of role model. Well, Paul my old friend, if this is how you plan to get old, I’m still happy to follow your lead.
And Now Back to You
I’d love to hear from other Beatle fans out there. What do you think about Paul turning 70? About Ringo turning 72? Does it make you feel old? Does it make you feel something else? Talk to me.
*Disclaimer: I am more than happy to credit the artist whose rendering appears at the top of this page. However, I can’t find any information on who may have drawn it. If anybody knows the answer, please let me know and I will give the proper credit.
I have a habit of taking on more work than I should. There, I’ve said it. I don’t think I’m a masochist. I just have a hard time saying no. This is not all bad. It certainly forces me to be more organized and efficient. But as deadlines loom, I begin envying those people who thrive on four hours sleep a night. You know who you are. Really, I wish I was one of you. I’m not. And it’s not an age thing. I couldn’t do it when I was 20 years old either (although I did it anyway). To be clear, I am not a workaholic. At least I don’t think I am. It’s just that I will, for stretches of time, fill my plate with enormous portions of work. I generally don’t realize what I’ve committed to until I see the telltale signs:
- I want to throw something at the phone every time it rings (how dare they interrupt me)
- I forget to eat (what is that annoying growling in my stomach?)
- I’m completely unaware of the time (you’re kidding, it can’t be 5 o’clock)
- I forget to take out the trash (I’ll do it next week)
- I forget I have dogs (what is that smell?)
- I realize I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days (what is that smell?)
It’s About Feeling Worthy
Hello! Anybody in there?
So why do I do it? Well there’s the money. But that’s not it. It’s more about this: each time a client hires me I hear the Sally Fields quote playing in my head. “You like me. You really like me.” I don’t know about you but I like to be liked. It’s very validating. It’s just that it may not be such a good idea for too many clients to like me at the same time. But in the adrenaline rush that always accompanies signing on a new client, I forget that the number of hours in a day does not expand in proportion to how much work you have to get done. Something on my personal to do list ends up not getting done. Someone in my life ends up feeling neglected. During one of my work marathons it’s not uncommon for me to emerge from my office to find that Darla (Yorkshire Terrier number two) has left me a token of her displeasure at being ignored. Ooops!
It Still Has to be About Quality
I take enormous pride in how I do what I do. Integrity demands that. So while there are countless opportunities to cut corners, to take the easy way out in ways that no one will ever know, I won’t go there. That’s why all my clients speak well of me. (Okay, maybe not all but certainly most). And that’s why, no matter how much is on my plate, I will never sacrifice quality. That’s also the reason I occasionally end up looking like the photo at the top of the page. Scary isn’t it?
Why Am I Telling You All of This?
I am committed to blogging as least once a week no matter what. Even if I’m in one of my “how the heck am I going to get all this done” periods. It’s important to me. It’s also important that whatever I put out there in the world is an honest expression of me. I don’t have a public and a private voice. I have one voice. My voice. So rather than scuffling to find a topic this week, I thought why not just simply share what I’m actually feeling. I’m guessing there are some of you out there who every now and then experience the same thing. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up.
And Now Back to You
Do you commit to more than you can do? If so, how do you handle it? If you’re one of those “I only need four hours of sleep” types, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got a routine or a technique for getting through these periods of high work volume, can you share it? Talk to me.