Thursday, December 29, 2005

One of my favorite old movies...

In the 1970 movie, The Out-of-Towners, Jack Lemmon plays a character named George Kellerman. George, with his wife, makes a trip to New York, where he is about to take a new job.

Their trip turns out to be a nightmare - where what can go wrong - will go wrong. Their plane gets diverted to Boston. George's carefully planned trip turns into a nightmare which features, among other problems, a hellish train ride to New York, a mugging, a police chase and a broken tooth.

So you say you've got problems? There are times in all of our lives when we all feel overwhelmed by our difficulties. How do you handle them? It has everything to do with perspective...

Take a step back and look at what you can learn from your problems - What opportunities are there for self-discovery and maturing? Can you prevent this problem in the future?

Get an objective viewpoint from someone you trust - Find someone you have confidence in and confide what you’re dealing with. Ask them for their perspective. Sometimes in the thick of difficulties our perspective gets skewed and it can be overwhelming.

Come to terms with the fact that life is not difficulty free. Some people spend all of their time dreaming of a life without troubles. They think that if they pay their taxes and act responsibly then sailing should be smooth. But life very seldom plays out to the script that you and I would write for it.

Henry Kaiser (1882 - 1967) once said that, "Problems are only opportunities in work clothes."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A horse trader's horse trader

My dad was the quintessential horse trader. I couldn't tell you the number of different horses we had on the farm. All I knew was that I should not grow too fond of any particular horse because it would probably be sold or traded tomorrow.

He was an expert at spotting potentially undervalued animals. We would be driving down the road and he would spot a skinny old nag in a pasture and the next thing you know we were pulling up in their driveway. If the horse wasn't lame or diseased dad would make them an offer and we would be loading the horse later that afternoon.

A few months on good hay, feed and a worming and the skinny old nag would be transformed into a good-looking horse. Dad would spend some time working and handling the horse to determine its skills and then would sell the animal for 3 or 4 times what he paid for it.

He had a real eye for the potential in animals. He knew what he could accomplish with good care and attention if he was patient.

For my dad it was a learned skill. It was the result of taking the same basic risk over and over again and, after a while, because of his experience - what seemed like a risky venture to some - was a complete no-brainer to him.

Did every choice work out? Nope. There were probably two or three horses in a 20-year period that did not develop the way he'd hoped. However, the satisfaction that he got from "turning one around" and giving it a productive life kept him going. And the money didn't hurt.

In December of 2000, in what would be our last drive together around northern Florida, dad and I pulled up to a pasture and he pointed to an old sorrel mare standing alone in the shade of a palmetto. Dad had been looking at this horse for a few weeks. He said that he thought he could turn her around and just might buy her in the spring.

Discount what appearances tell you. Always look with an eye for future potential. Provide care and attention with a liberal dose of patience.

It's a good way to "turn around" any number of things...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Finding Fulfillment

In Anton Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya" - Uncle Vanya and his niece, Sonya spend their lives caring for the country estate of a professor they think is a great man.

However, during a visit to his estate it becomes apparent that the professor is really a failure and a nobody. Uncle Vanya and his niece become painfully aware that their lives have been wasted when the professor announces that he is selling the estate.

All of us want our lives to count for something. We all want a sense of accomplishment at the end of our labor. But if we are intent on finding our sense of accomplishment and fulfillment entirely in our work then - like Uncle Vanya - we are in for a huge disappointment.

Because that project we have been working so hard on - is going to be cancelled. The funding we hoped to get - will go to someone else. The boss we thought would be great to work for - will become an ogre before our very eyes. The impressive "new hire" the department just got - will turn out to be only impressive on their resume.

Work is only part of the fulfillment equation - only a piece of the overall puzzle.

Additional fulfillment can be found in volunteering, participating in a civic organization, assisting a non-profit, tutoring a student for the proficiency exams, and all sorts of other activities. Most require a only couple of hours per month - and the benefits far outweigh the time commitment.

These opportunities have a way of increasing the intrinsic value of our lives and providing a sense of fulfillment that we all need.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Strategic Abandonment

Growing up on the farm was not all hard work. It was a lot of hard work - but not all work.

My closest buddies were the five Bennett brothers who lived on the farm behind ours. We would meet on Saturdays after our chores and play 3 on 3 football, King of the hay loft, Army and anything else we could think of until well after dark.

To get to their house I had to cut through a couple of our pastures, through some woods, cross Buckeye Run (a stream), then hike through their pasture. Most of the time that could be accomplished in about 20 minutes. If you walked to their house by the road it would take you the better part of an hour.

One Saturday I took off for the Bennett's without knowing that earlier in the week Mr. Bennett had rented a bull and had placed said bull in their pasture with the usual ten or twelve cows.

The Bennett house was in sight when I climbed over the fence into their pasture and started walking toward the farm yard. I saw the guys outside finishing their chores and they started waving at me - I waved back and kept walking. I saw the usual group of harmless cows to the right of me and did not pay much attention until I noticed that one significantly larger "cow" was looking my way.

The bull lowered his head and kicked dust up with his nose - and I suddenly realized why the Bennett boys were still waving at me! I turned and burned back over the fence before the bull got any angrier.

In the corporate world... that's called Strategic Abandonment.

Sometimes you have to recognize that no matter how hard you try, no matter the effort you put into it... the bull is going to get you if you keep going forward.

The key: Act decisively : 1) recognize the situation, 2) get back to a safe position and 3) figure another way to your goal.

Hiking along the fence and out to the road took some additional time and effort - but it was clearly my best course for success.