Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Starting a new project, finishing an old one

Today is a blogging day, even though I wrote yesterday as well. I'm excited because I'm starting a new writing project, and the initial design work is flowing particularly nicely right now.

The new novel will draw on my travel experience in Africa, our family's interest in orphaned children and adoption, and a little illegal trade and corporate cover-up to add some spice. There are a number of accessible, on-line writer support sites, that I can post the draft to while I'm working on it (once I get the design done -- at least a month from now). I think I'll use one of those and post a link here in my blog for any interested critics.

The old project finishing up is the house expansion. Last summer, we purchased the lot just to the south of our house, and decided to put a three car garage and two additional bedrooms over there. The construction is now complete, and we are finally moving stuff over to the new structure. Among other items, Kenneth is going to move his room to the new building, so that we can put the twins in his old room. That gets them out of Emily's room, so she isn't sharing when she is home from school. It will also allow me to empty the storage unit we are currently renting, as nearly all of the furniture stored there will be needed in one of the bedrooms now. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- just lots of toting and carrying at this stage.

I'm seeing endings and beginnings everywhere I look!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What in the heck are you 'doing'?

Nobody is actually asking this question directly, but it seems to be on the mind of some of my friends. To be polite, they tend to ask around the question, rather than to ask it directly.

So what am I doing?

Well, a little blogging. I started off with a real fervor on this, but as life has slowed down, there is a lot less going on to stimulate subject matter, so a little blogging has become 'a very little' blogging.

I'm definitely spending more time with the kids -- much of it driving them hither and yon. How Paula was getting this done on her own is beyond me. The total amount of driving is astonishing. I do play with the twins some, but they seem to have decided that I just don't cut it as a Barbie partner. They do like the karaoke machine, though.

Writing. I got through an entire editing pass on my novel in three weeks, which is record time for me by about two months. The novel is now packed off to a professional editor with the request that he 'tell me what I'm doing well, and not doing well'. I have sort of started a new novel, but am in the earliest stages right now.

A few odds and ends projects around the house. Put the boat back in the lake. Cleaned out the office. Moved a bunch of boxes from one storage location to another. Of course, the garage clean up.

Sudoku. I'm not sure what it is, exactly about these puzzles, but I got to admit I love 'em. I've gotten pretty good at them too. Maybe there is a world Sudoku title in my future....

Had lots of drinks, lunches, breakfasts and dinners with friends.

Amazing how that could fill up six weeks, but there you have it! Am I making any progress deciding what to do? If so, it must be happening in my subconscious! But I am much less stressed than I was six weeks ago, and quite a bit more reflective.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ending means saying "no", no matter how crazy it sounds...

I've had quite a few calls from recruiters over the past five weeks -- these are primarily people that I've talked to over the years. I wouldn't call them friends, more like valuable associates that I've tried to cultivate. Whenever one calls, I always return the call, and always recommend someone for the position they are searching for. That keeps the conversations going.

I've had a peculiar reaction to calls I've received recently, however. This is the time that conventional wisdom would tell me that I should be saying 'yes' to some of these opportunities, and going out exploring and interviewing. Several of the recruiters seem to think I'm crazy, not 'managing' my career according to generally accepted practices. After all, why wouldn't I want to jump back into a group president, COO or even CEO role? Isn't that what you do when you fall off a horse -- get back on?

This all came to a head over the last couple of days, when the seemingly 'perfect' position came up -- CEO of a local manufacturing company. I wouldn't have to relocate. I'd be the top dog. It was nearly perfect (okay, it might be a little small, but definitely not a 'fixer-upper'). It was what I always thought I wanted to do. Not to say that it was mine for the taking -- I'm sure in the current economic environment, there will be a number of high quality candidates competing for the job.

After about five minutes of thinking that serendipity was occurring, I talked to Paula and she helped me come to my senses. I just said no.

That 'No' brought home to me the significance and finality of the Ending -- If I won't go back for this opportunity, then I'm not going back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Every new beginning starts with an ending....

There have to be endings. Endings are like the spring-cleaning of life. I've got a mini-ending going on right now with my garage cleaning.

The garage had become a cluttered mess. It was still a good garage, and worked okay to put my cars in, but I was unhappy with its dirtiness, which seems to get progressively worse year after year. I knew I had two choices -- I could pick up the trash, and sweep the spaces where the cars actually sit, or I could deconstruct the entire garage, keep some things that I liked or were useful, throw out a bunch of things that are not useful, or will likely never be used again, clean everything thoroughly, and then reassemble what would essentially be a new garage. It would still have the same walls, ceiling and floor. And I'll keep the metal shelves and the battery charger. But the 1980's tennis rackets went into the trash, as did the ET poster and the wheelbarrow with a broken handle (which I was sure could be fixed some day). Of course, deciding what to get rid of is the toughest part of the whole job (except maybe carrying all those boxes of books -- amazing how heavy books can be!).

As an analogy, this works pretty well. Picking up trash or sweeping the floor is a lot like what I did when I made my last job move. It was like I drove home one day, and tracked a lot of mud into the garage, and I knew it needed to be taken care of, but I just wanted to opt for a superficial clean-up. So I shoveled out the mud, let it dry, swept out the residuals, and found myself back in the same old garage I had always been in. In this case, I traded one job for another of similar properties.

Now I'm engaged in the real spring cleaning. I've tossed a few items out already that were obvious (no more working for bosses again, at least not at public companies), and forget the rock star idea -- it just isn't going to work at age 47 (just like that wheelbarrow handle isn't going to get fixed). Now I'm down to some harder choices and I'm not sure what to throw out and what to keep.

One thing for sure is that this will be a much different looking garage when I'm done with it!

Friday, April 16, 2010


I've decided that I'm probably a lot better at doling out advice to others than I am at identifying my own shortcomings and blindspots. Additionally, doing so is much more enjoyable than submitting oneself to self-examination or criticism. With that disclaimer in mind, tonight I want to talk about personal honor and corporate honor, and specifically what we owe to employers.

This post was inspired by a dinner I had with a friend, R., who is struggling with the core dishonesty that revolves around demanding commitments from individuals by representatives of corporations, who have no intention or means to follow through with rewards for a job well done.

Let's start this with the posing of a hypothetical --
If a corporate representative (undoubtedly somewhere higher in the organization) asks an employee to make a commitment (for example -- take on a particularly tough assignment, move his family across the country, or step back from his current responsibilities in the promise of further development and the promise of bigger and better opportunities in the future), what does the individual owe to the company, and what does the company owe to the individual?

The individual owes the company NOTHING, particularly if the commitment was obtained under false pretenses, which it frequently is. Even if the manager in the company that extracted the commitment was honest in his intent, the corporation itself, may not back the manager, effectively creating a situation where the commitment was falsely obtained. The company actually has an obligation to the individual who went the extra mile on its behalf (or at least put best efforts toward doing so), but since companies are not people, there is no one to grab and hold accountable to a debt of conscience in such instances.

There must be a course somewhere (I think I missed this one somewhere along the lines of my education), where CEO's, presidents, and other senior managers learn how to pinch employees and extract commitments from them that are patently unfair and one sided. A typical example would be -- "I need you to commit to turning this mess around. I'm picking you because I know you are the best person to take on this challenge. But I need to know now, are you committed to making this a success." Because of the way that many of us have been brought up, with the notion that our word is our bond, we believe that a promise extracted under these circumstances is binding on us.

Too often, when the individual succeeds at the difficult task, often through much personal sacrifice and family sacrifice, the company (and those who run it) rationalize away the just rewards deserved for the extra effort. "That was in his job description", "He needed to do that to earn a chance to move up", and the ever popular "his salary is governed by market economics" most of the time, these are the words that are spoken to justify a muted reward. Better be prepared to be satisfied by a pat on the back.

If the individual fails -- regardless of the circumstances, he is certainly headed for the exits, with the only thing holding the company back being some small amount of additional sweat that they believe that they can extract in the individual's short remaining time. Or worse, senior management doesn't tell the individual where they truly stand, and so they continue to impress, perform and deliver results, despite the fact that in reality they are already 'dead men walking', already judged by those that make such judgments.

In this environment, how is one to operate? First off, make sure that all commitments are well understood on both sides -- what will you give and what will you get. And if you find yourself in a position where the commitment of the company was weak enough that they can weasel out of actually providing any reward for work well performed, then ask yourself honestly -- what binds me to honor a promise to an organization that proves themselves over and over to be fundamentally without honor. Then act accordingly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Mundane Concerns

I've been a bit slower posting in the last few days, well, mainly because from a transition standpoint nothing much is happening.

We've been blessed with some of the best weather in months the last few days, and I've had the luxury of being able to take full advantage of it. A little fishing, a bit of running, some time spent outside with the twins, grilling dinner, walks on a 'just the right temperature' evening.

While my list of social activities has dwindled a bit in the last week, and I haven't done much of anything to further explore long term options (like non-profits, consulting, teaching, etc.), I have been diligently working on the fourth draft of my novel. I'm now almost 50% finished with this editing pass, and finding the work to be effortless and enjoyable. In the past, I've always enjoyed the initial creative portion of writing much more, and been tepid on the editing. Perhaps the luxury of time, and the ability to pick up and put down the work at will, (which really fits better when sharing your workspace with two 5-year olds) are both factors that have made the editing work more pleasurable. It might also be me finding energy and inspiration from some of the feedback I've received lately on my writing. Whatever the reason, it is currently absorbing my interest, along with all the wonderful diversions that spring has to offer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Loss of Motive Power

Constant frenetic activity is an opiate for the soul (my apologies to Karl Marks). Moving and not thinking, ticking off things completed and not reflecting, achieving and not questioning -- they all have a calming feeling, giving a sense of purpose to what otherwise might look like a random walk down the path to ??? When in the midst of that activity, it can be comforting, almost a siren's song.

Activity that is directed toward a goal and generates movement (real or apparent) toward that goal creates energy. Energy is harnessed into motive power, which then feeds back into the cycle. The result is a virtuous circle that is self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. I think of it as a spinning bicycle wheel, a flywheel where continuous input of energy can result in a very powerful source of stored power. When you are in the virtuous circle, it seems like it is the whole world -- you become increasingly focused on, even obsessed by, increasingly finer levels of minutiae.

The problem comes when something happens outside of the circle -- and there is a whole real world outside of the microcosm of the virtual world of the virtuous circle (now if I could just figure out how to get virtuoso in this as well, I would feel like I didn't need to start words with a 'v' for at least a week!). And something always happens -- job loss, death, something that causes a disruption from the outside. It could be something as simple as waking up one day, and realizing that you've stretched yourself way outside of the person that you naturally are, and are just dang unhappy.

Whatever the cause, the disruption is just like stuffing a 2x2 between the spokes of your spinning bicycle wheel. When that happens the circle isn't just disrupted, it's destroyed, and the energy that the cycle generated dissipates leaving nothing intact. And the faster it was going before, the greater the destruction when the flywheel is disrupted.

So what do you do when that calming spinning virtuous circle falls to pieces? The first instinct is to try to pick up the pieces and put it back together again. That usually takes some time, however, and as you are looking for a few missing spokes or pounding on that out-of-round rim with a hammer, you begin to notice things. Mostly you notice that the whole world isn't a spinning bicycle wheel. There is huge variety and choice out there. If it takes long enough to rebuild your wheel, you might decide that you've reached a point where you don't want the bicycle wheel any more at all!

Without that familiar virtuous circle, that spinning flywheel to offer comfort, however, your motive power is gone also. In fact, everything you ever learned and knew about generating energy and storing it was tied up in the flywheel concept, and now it's gone. And that is where the real conundrum is -- how to reclaim motivation and the energy to move forward without the old familiar tools? How do you motivate yourself when you now know that spinning bicycle wheels are no longer in your future? Other people seem to be doing it, but the secret is somehow hidden from you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Actors Playing Roles or Reality?

One question that has occurred to me recently is -- Is 'Corporate Life' reality, or is it a stage play performed for a limited audience of interested spectators? And does it become so real to the actors, that they truly believe it is real life?

I realize that this isn't very clear, but I'm not sure I can make the concept completely clear. So let me illustrate what I mean: When you are IN 'Corporate Life', every aspect of it seems sooo important. Do I really need to go to dinner that night -- of course, it's expected! What an incompetent 'that person' is, because they didn't know the answer to 'that question'. How we dress ourselves each day, according to the norms of the organization. Even the language we speak (Dilbert certainly has a field day with this one) can be seen as a joke - incentivizing associates through EVA for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Looking at it from the outside, it sometimes appears to be an elaborate farce. We all are hammered into roles -- the mentor, the technician, the young ladder climber, the celebrity CEO, etc. There are real people underneath the surface, below the role, but we steadfastly insist on characterizing the people by the parts they appear to play rather then what they really are beneath the veneer.

What is worse, the better we, as the actors themselves, understand the roles that are available, the more we try to hammer and squeeze ourselves into them. Of course, there are parts that no one willingly takes -- the incompetent, the shirker. These parts are foisted upon unwilling actors by the other players, and usually only for a brief time before they are written out of the production.

And there are an infinite variety of these productions going on at different companies across the US (and probably the world). While there are strong similarities, each one seems to have its own nuances and twists of plot.

But I digress. The entire point of this post is to illustrate the difficulty I'm having in thinking of 'Corporate Life' as real. Reality seems so much - Bigger (for lack of a better term) than the narrow interests of 'Corporate Life'. When you buy into it to the degree that I did, you lose track of real life because 'Corporate Life' hijacks so much of your energy.

So maybe getting something 'accomplished' today is over-rated. Achievement, especially career achievement, perhaps isn't all that critical. Maybe catching a 3 pound Bass, or tickling a 5 year old, or spirituality should be elevated to a greater standing in a rebalanced world.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Yin and Yang

Two days ago I was frustrated by the lack of direction that laid before me. Maybe I expected the answers to fall into my hands with no effort. I accept that this is not my course.

Two days can make a world of difference. After some wise words from my wonderful wife, and some soul searching, I realize that I need to give things time to gel. Much more time.

I spend the morning today looking over a business investment idea that didn't strike a chord with me -- I continue in the neutral zone. Saying 'no' felt right and felt good.

Yesterday I received some new and more encouraging words on my writing. I feel renewed in my efforts in that direction. While this passion may never become an avocation, I don't doubt it is deeply embedded in me.

During both days I spent time in the counsel of friends that gave my heart ease, and I feel more relaxation, and more contentment.

Tonight I watched the sun set on a glorious evening and remembered how great it is to be alive. Life is good.

I am refreshed.