Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who are you?

Have you ever thought about who you are? I mean really, really thought deeply about who you are? Well I have. One thing I realize is that my character is a collection of beliefs, assumptions, norms, actions, ways, means, habits, foibles, follies, fantasies, frustrations, morals, ethics, behaviors and any number of other hangups, hopes, dreams, and desires. I am a husband, father, son, brother, historian, philosopher, thinker, believer, friend, helper, judge, entertainer, worker, creator, questioner and myriads of other hats that I wear (real or imagined).

However, I also realize that these things are me not because of only me but because of others as well. Who I am (and who you are) is a product of how others have shaped, molded, driven, guided and pushed me. It is also how I reacted or accepted or rejected the influence of others. But a huge part of who I am exists because of people in my life, those I encounter, and even those to whom I read or watch or listen. It is why this on again, off again online journal (and the several others I keep offline) is devoted to and about the wisdom, knowledge, information and data of others. We not learn from others, but we are what others have made us.

A thought that has nagged at me lately is how stuck in the past we all can become and how we can all live our lives based on outdated and outmoded assumptions. This sounds odd from someone who LOVES all things history. What I mean is that I continue to encounter people who not only enjoy the past, but they live in it. They will not see the past for what it should be: lessons for the present and future. I encounter this a lot in my work and among business people. Those who continue to believe that we must continue to see the world and operate as if it were 1776.

So have you ever questioned yourself? Why you think and act and believe the way that you do? Is it because of you or because you have learned from someone else? Do accept everything everyone tells you because they tell it to you? Or do you think about, mull it over, ponder it? Does it fit both with who you are and who you want to be?

I find myself caught in a trap at times. I want to BE something, but I only play at it. I strive not just to play at a role, but to BE that role. It is hard and I make mistakes (as we all do). As a result I think we all need to try to follow a simple process more faithfully:


It bothers me that there is still so much desire for wealth, power and control in the world. So much fear, anger, hatred and injustice. Yes, I am only one person. But if I make an effort to change the world, and so does everyone else individually, then the total becomes greater than the sum of the parts. If we want a better world for us and future generations, then we must make it better and not just hope or assume that the "thinking that got us into this mess is the same thinking that will get us out of it"--Albert Einstein.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Having it All vs. Quality of Life


Having recently returned from a business trip to Montreal in the province of Quebec, Canada I began to experience and realize again some things that I had known since I lived in Europe during Middle School and High School.

I began to recognize again that there is a vast difference between focusing on Having it All and focusing on Quality of Life. I was not gone long. Just about four days total. But it does not take a long time to recognize that sometimes other people have it right.

Upon arrival back in the US it had hit me like a brick. People in this country seem to be mostly about "Having it All" while those in other places seem more about "Quality of Life". Let me take you on a bit of my journey of discovery. Be patient, I will make a point eventually. Anyway I need a bit of catharsis.

The journey began with an extremely early morning flight. I was very tired as I traveled out of the country for the first time in about ten years. (I had gone to Montreal for a conference in 2004). Flights were on time and the rides were smooth, but I could not seem to get rested. I was anxious and excited. I love seeing other places and traveling. (This is part of why I love what I do). It was generally a cold and dreary morning though.

I arrived at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, having watched as we flew in over the island in the St Laurence Seaway. There was snow on the rooftops. Not helping my mood. I made y way to customs and that is where my experience that this trip would be different really began. I gave my passport and customs form to the gal. She then proceeded to give me the third degree about needing a work permit for my training. I panicked slightly. Did I need a work permit? Could I not enter Canada? Would I end up like Tom Hanks in that movie where he has to live in an airport, stuck between countries? I was tired and that did not help. I had given the young lady the honest answer--I was there to do training. I was not there to steal jobs or cause a conflict between the US and Canada over economics. My client is an American company that just happens to have an office in Montreal that needs ITIL training.

I convinced her I did not need a work permit (even though she did not seem thoroughly convinced). I went and exchanged some money (and got less than I anticipated due to fees and the weak US dollar). I was now in French speaking Canada. I got a taxi and went to my hotel downtown. On the way out of the airport I saw a sign for "Avenue Cardinal". Now that was encouraging. My mood brightened slightly.

Now the Hotel St Paul is a nice hotel--if you like a hotel that was designed by Ikea and played the eighties post-modern jazz fusion group Engima incessantly. This kind of hotel is not my thing. It is trendy, and chic and hip and fashionable--and made for Europeans and twenty-somethings-of which I am neither. I checked in, got my room key and head behind the curtains where the elevators were located. Up to floor seven. The doors opened and stepped into a dimly lit hallway with stark walls and no markings that I could see (I later saw on the wall near the floor). I looked around. The doors to the rooms each had a dim red light over the entrance for ambiance and mood (my mood was tired and irritated so this was not helping). An employee helped me find my room. I entered and put the key in the box to activate the lights (again a fancy European thing). My room looked as if it had fallen out of a Paris art gallery. Everything was white and black and chrome and glass. I felt very out of sorts. I was once again tired, hungry and just feeling very discombobulated.

One of my goals in arriving early was to explore the Old City of Montreal. The Cardinal family originates form the city (we were actually some of the earliest settlers) Our name derives from the French version "Cardinault". So I pulled out my map and headed out. I first went to find my client's location since I would have to walk there each day (no rental car). It was cold and windy and a few snow flakes were falling. I found the client's locale and headed towards the history museum.

As I walked my mood headed downwards. The city was basically a ghost town. Few people or vehicles moved. The side streets are old and the buildings close together. I was feeling a bit claustrophobic, which does not effect me most of the time. Not much was open. I was not sure about going into any of the open bistros or shops, because my French is very limited. I was worn down and hungry. It was all feeling so foreign to me.

I had lived in Europe for about 4 years with my Dad, stepmother and sisters when I was a teen. I was a savvy American traveler. But that was over 25 years ago. Right now I was just very out of sorts. I went through the museum (which was quite nice, but did not have enough early history, which is what I sought). I then returned to the hotel. I went into the restaurant and the people seemed to not see me. I finally inquired about dinner and was told it would not be served until 6pm. It was only 3pm. Too tired and cold to go back outside, so I went and took a nap. I came back down at 6pm and was the only one there for dinner. Not unusual since Europeans and trendy people eat dinner late. But I was hungry. I ate a fancy meal of veal medallions. This put me even more out of sorts. I needed comfort food right now, not foo-foo food. But my world was closing in so I went back to my room.

I called Denise. Later she told me she could tell I was out of sorts. I was lonely and tired and not satisfied and even a bit scared and panicky. These are definitely NOT usual for me.

Let's skip ahead. I progressed through the week and became more and more comfortable. I began to use my limited french. I found some recommended eateries and walk through the very old city with more ease and comfort. I was beginning to fit in and settle down. Memories of living in London all those years ago came back. I was once again in my element.

I began to notice the relaxed nature of the people and the town. The politeness of the Canadians and the unhurried existence they lived. I would tell my learners to take ten minutes for a break and they would come back after 15 or 20. This was Montreal-time. No hurry, no worries, just "Quality of Life".

Through my conversations with people in class, watching Quebec-ized version of Cash Cab ("Taxi en Payant") and Deal or No Deal ("Le Bankeur"), looking at signs and newspapers and menus, I began to sense a very different attitude and pace of life. Somehow even though they had transformed American shows to French and had American things and commercialism, it did not seem to fit. It was the wrong speed for a place that is older than anywhere in the US (the French settled New France-Canada- before the British created the Colonies). Those things were fake. They were "stuff", not "quality".

I watched the American election results with dismay (yes, I really am an unapologetic Democrat). But what I really began to notice was the ferocity and killer nature of American politics and life in general. This really hit me on my way back home. I got to the airport and then had my hands swabbed by security, my bag swabbed, my bag completely searched and a small pair of scissors seized. I had carried these in the US for three years and made it to Canada with them. But they could not come back. I again got the third degree through customs (which is SO different than it was 25+ years ago). America has walled itself off from some very valuable insights to be gained from other people and places.

When I arrived in Detroit my first impression was the frenetic and frantic pace of everything and everyone. I went Wendy's for some food. The clerks were shouting and moving like ants during a rain storm. Scurry, move, quick, don't stop, go go go, and on and on. My head spun. I was glad to be going back home. But I also now longed for the slower pace and ease that I had adjusted to in Montreal. Sitting eating my burger and salad it came to me.

America is all about "Having it All" and "Having it Now". Having lived for a better portion of my life with a women who has taught me the value of focusing on comfort and quality, I was quite disappointed in my native land and brethren in citizenship. What do we gain by focusing on things and time? Nothing but stress and anxiety and worry. I had brought those things with me to Montreal, but had jettisoned them.

Even though I knew I could never be truly comfortable in the trendy, chic, fancy hotel I was in, somehow Montreal felt more like the kind of home my soul wants and needs. A place of endless time, long history and a view into the far future. Not a place of "gimme, gimme, gimme" or "mine, mine, mine".

So what is your focus? "Having it ALL, NOW" or "Quality of Life"? I think every American needs to spend time outside the US to appreciate what we lose by being in such a race to have "freedoms". Do these freedoms really bring a better quality of life, or just more stuff? We can be free without having to lose our selves in the process.

I think we can learn huge lessons from our polite, civilized neighbors to the north or overseas. Take a moment in our own lives to examine the pace at which we proceed. Stop to smell the proverbial roses. It will be a lonely, scary and challenging journey at first (as I saw in Montreal). But in the end it will do you a world of good.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I watched this great video about motivation this morning. I have included the link to the blog post where it is located.

I have been preaching these ideas for years. It is good to see that it is backed up by hard scientific fact and so I do not have to rely only on intuition and gut-feeling (not that those are inherently bad things).

I have been following Daniel Pink (the video is his work) on Twitter, but did not really investigate his work until now. Look like I will need to get hold of some of his writings. I am always looking for interesting, enlightening, out-of-the box thinkers.

Basically the gist of his video (you really should take the ten minutes to watch. It has a great visual element) is that what we have traditionally thought motivates people is not true. Money and rewards only motivate people when it comes to basic, straightforward mechanical tasks (where thinking is not desired or involved in creating an outcome). So if you are just producing widgets in a mind-numbing, never ending, do-not-question cycle, then rewards (mostly monetary) will help. However, if any thinking is involved, then rewards do NOT motivate. In fact MIT has shown that the higher level of cognitive function or thinking involved in a task, that rewards result in poorer performance and may actually be detrimental to the results.

So what truly motivates people when we need to perform cognitive or thinking tasks? Dan Pink points out three things:
  • Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed
  • Mastery: The desire to get better at something
  • Purpose: The desire to have a meaningful impact
In class I pose a set of similar thought provoking questions to learners:
  • Why do you exist? (Tied to cognitive motivations)
  • What do you do? (Tied to mechanical motivations)
Most people explain their job (what they do) rather than focusing on why they exist. Dan Pink points out that when a company disconnects or unmoors the purpose motive from a profit motive then bad things begin to happen. So we need to focus people back on why they (or their organizations) exist. What is their purpose?

I completely agree with this. People have said I am anti-capitalist. That is not true. I am anti-greed. If people focused on their purpose and fulfilled the needs of other people, then profit will result. Since money has been shown scientifically NOT to be a motivator, than why are people still so driven by it?

I postulate that people are afraid to take a hard look at themselves and truly understand their needs. People do not like what they see when they look inside their own minds and souls. They are afraid they will see imperfection and abnormality. But what is perfection? What is normal? When we stop looking outside ourselves for validation of what is right, perfect and normal then we can accept that we are all normal, perfect and right in our own individual ways, just as our Creator intended.

Perhaps one day the world will put aside money as a scorecard and start seeing people as the scorecard--their happiness, needs, desires, wishes, friendship, relationships and love as the true measures of a life worth living.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

People are not broken; Do not try to fix them

It was 4 am. I was wide awake this morning. My wife had just come to bed. She has a much different sleeping routine than I, due to years working late nights. Soon she was sound asleep. But I was wide awake. Why? Because of some events and conversations I have recently had that were just eating away at my psyche and core being. These conversations had led me to keep mulling over in my mind a piece of wisdom that I have promoted during training and among friends for several years now:

"People are not broken; do not try to fix them"

This idea comes from the works of Marcus Buckingham. He wrote a number of insightful books including my favorite called First Break All The Rules. The works talk about how we have traditionally focused on people's skills (learned capabilities) rather than their inherent talents (innate capabilities). Because we focus on skills we miss the boat as it were. When someone fails to accomplish something we want them to accomplish we assume they are broken and try to fix them (which Buckingham reinforces through research is just not true). What both Buckingham and others (including W. Edwards Deming--the father of quality management) show is that it is the system that is broken not the person. If a person fails at a task it is because the task has not been identified correctly or a person's talents do not align to the task or most often the process for doing the task is poorly designed. So it is not people who are broken, rather the system of managing, leading and governing people that is broken. We need to fix the system, not the people.

I have been feeling this pressure put on me lately, especially at work. A lot of it comes down to trust. Do you trust those around you? Those you work with? Those you work for? Those who work for you? I had a boss in a previous life who kept telling me "Trust but verify". If you need to verify do you really, truly trust? Or do you play at trusting and do not believe that people are capable of extraordinary things? I try to trust those I encounter until they show me they cannot be trusted. Does this come with risk? Yes, but life is one BIG risk. If you live in fear and paranoia all the time you are not living a full and complete life. You are hampering yourself from growth, learning, experience and self-actualization (as Abraham Maslow called it in his famous Hierarchy of Needs).

The great people of history have things in common. One of them is that they recognized that avoiding risk would get them nowhere. Another element is trust. They trusted people, events and higher powers to see them through to their desired ends. Third they lived out the belief that "people are not broken; we do not need to fix them. The situation or condition is broken; We need to fix that instead."

I hope my own situation will resolve itself to a good end. I trust that it will.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Philosophy of Help

It has been about a year since I posted to this online journal. It was not really intended to be a perfectly ongoing thing. Only a way to capture thoughts and share them with others when appropriate. Life has been busy (which is both good and bad) so some things do not get done, even when we want to do them.

I have been capturing thoughts in my written journal as we attend church and at others times. I have even encountered Other People's Wisdom many times. But getting to write about it has not always been my priority or other's priorities for me or I have just not had the energy or a number of other excuses. But it has weighed on my mind. So now that I am writing this perhaps I will write more.

I have encountered a number of times over the last year that my true communal and somewhat socialist leanings (some may have even thought anti-greed) have come to light. I have always known I have these leanings, but others have begun to recognize them in me. I am not by any means ashamed or guilty or worried about wanting to achieve the best for every one through equality.

So given that I had on my heart to express how I see the world. I will call it the philosophy of help. It pretty much sums up how I see things in life and what motivates and drives me.

So here it is:

  • Those who can, need to help those who cannot
  • Those who may, need to help those who may not
  • Those who might, need to help those who might not
  • Those who shall, need to help those who shall not
  • Those who should, need to help those who should not
  • Those who will, need to help those who will not
  • Those who have, need to help those who have not
  • Those who are equal, need to help those who equal not
  • Those who know, need to help those who know not
  • Those that believe, need to help those who believe not

Well that is it. My way of life. If you have others please feel free to add to the list. I am sure I already try to practice it, no matter how porrly or insufficiently.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Carpe Diem

It has been a long and crazy summer. Renovations ongoing at our house, almost non stop travel and training, including a 25th anniversary vacation trip for Denise and I to Boston, a garden that has underpeformed due to weather, and even more.

I have not written anything for a while. Not that I have not wanted to but my procrastination and schedule has kept me from just sitting down and doing this. I generally do my best writing when something is bothering me or heavy on my mind. My whirlwind summer has not allowed for anything to stay long enough in my grey matter to give me impetus to blog. I have kept up on Twitter and Facebook, since these are short snippit writings.

Now I have some time at home and some sad events have given me motivation to write. I recently found out that an former school classmate passed away from cancer. This was the latest in a recent series of deaths of people I either knew or were close to people I knew. These include the horribly tragic death of fellow teacher Joe McCauley at the hands of his son. Such a tragedy. A friend's mother, my boss's neighbor who was killed by a car in Florida while crossing the street, and several others I found out about.

Those who know me would tell you I am not an emotional person. In fact my daughter tagged me in Facebook picture as "serious". How true! I am not emotional as others are. My emotions tend towards deep thinking and heavy contemplation. I did weep heavily at the loss of my own mother, but it took nearly two years to bubble to the surface. I have not cried or torn my hair or any other displays of emotion over the recent losses. But I have thought deeply about them.

When I go through my own form of grieving it brings to mind a number of deep philosophical questions and challenges. Right now my own mind and heart is wrestling with "What does the future hold for me?" This is where the title of this entry comes from.

CARPE DIEM-Latin for "Seize the day". It comes from a poem by the Latin poet Horace. He tried to express the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Epicurus--"Eat, Drink and be Merry for Tomorrow we Die".

Our lives are finite. Death is the great equalizer. We only have so long on this earth. We better make the best of it. Carpe Diem-Seize the Day. Drain every ounce of life out of today because you do not know when it will be over. You know, Dead Poet's Society and all that!

Ironic that we recently attended a church where the series was "One Month To Live". What would you do if you only had one month to live? Think about it. Would you Carpe Diem? Would you live life to the fullest?

I cannot say I have been great at it, but I have certainly turned my efforts around to live life to the fullest. I try my best to focus on my family and my God and my friends. I try not to focus on my stuff or my tangibles, rather on my intangibles. I hope that all of us do this more and more as we get older.

Did not mean for this to be a downer. These things have been on my mind and the events of the summer have made them more prevalent. So make time for those you love and even for those you hate. Your life will be more complete as a result.