The Blog

What do you emphasize?
February 23, 2016

When I was in elementary school we did an exercise in English class. We took turns seeing how many different ways we could combine -- using different inflections -- the words “oh” and “Daddy.”

“Oh, Daddy.” That makes it sound like “Daddy” was teasing. “Oh! Daddy!” He just walked in the room when you weren’t expecting him. “Oh? Daddy?” Someone had left you a message, and a moment later you found out it was Pops. You get the idea.

I was astounded by how many different combinations we came up with.

I thought about this a few months ago when Darrell told me he’d been contemplating The Plan, our term for my diet. He was ready. I wondered if he was prepared to give up things like birthday cake. But as quickly as the thought surfaced, it faded. I guessed he’d enjoy parties even more without the endless question of whether to go back for seconds or thirds, who was noticing, whatever.

One of the unexpected delights of removing junk food as a treat is that the real treat -- the party, the fun of being with someone you’re crazy about -- isn’t competing with fake treats. Sugar’s addictive. It only leaves you wanting more.

But the clear feeling, the healthy feeling that’s almost a high, is also addictive. I wouldn’t trade a day of it for all the birthday cake in the world. I’d rather have sparkling water instead of champagne, sparkling conversation instead of a sugar fix.

So, yeah. I hear this expression: “Let them eat cake.” And I think, “Let them eat cake.”

Why put things off?
February 22, 2016

“Remind me this is where we want to fill up,” Darrell said as he spotted a gas price he liked near our hotel. “How about now?” I teased him.

Worth lingering on if only because it told me something about myself had changed. I used to have a plan for the day, and as things came up they went on a list -- which added a step. Now, whenever possible, I skip the list and just take care of whatever it is.

I don’t put things off. This is who I am now, the person who doesn’t postpone mundane or difficult things. It’s the same reason I buckle up before we back out of a parking space. There’s no guarantee some maniac won’t come whipping around, after all. It happens all the time. And since I buckle up anyway…

This only works to a point, of course. If you’re going to make tracks on the big projects, the real work, you’ll need to block out uninterrupted time for that -- or drive yourself crazy working it into the margins that never seem to materialize.

Otherwise? Sometimes it’s fun to go where the interruptions take you, and trust you can wrangle your day back just fine.

AEvery night I back up my computer files. Every night I also think, “Do I really need to do that? What would it hurt to skip one night?”

Here’s what. Knowing it would make it easier to skip the next night, and the night after that.

It’s so much easier to just do it. I’d only use the few minutes I’d save to bash myself for being a slacker.

People who have their act together back up their files. They don’t pretend to know when their computers will crash. And yes, I know about automatic backups and clouds and all that. I love my system for reasons too boring to elaborate on. It works for me.

I hope you cultivate habits that make you feel safe(r). Sometimes they’re life and death, after all. Stay tuned. And buckled!

Want to sound better in conversation or look better in front of people? Have someone record you. Then listen or watch. It’s painful but effective. Which reminds me of a friend whose wife recorded some family tradition -- the annual trimming of their Christmas tree, if memory serves. When he watched the video my friend was stunned and ashamed by the dismissive tone he’d used with his wife. He’d had no idea.

As newlyweds Darrell would remind me not to close the cap on the toothpaste so tightly he needed a pair of pliers to open it. The reminders didn’t stick. So one night, just before we went to bed, he used a pair of pliers to close it! He didn’t tell me until the next morning, when I couldn’t get the cap off.

He’d gotten through. Actions do speak louder than words!

Are you just looking?
February 16, 2016

You walk into a store. The clerk asks if you’d like help. You say, “No, thanks. I’m just looking.”

Have you ever thought about how it would feel to be that employee, who rarely gets answered in the affirmative?

I have. That’s why I’ve started answering with this: “Do you mind if I let you know in a few minutes?” That feels kinder. Every time I remember to use it I get a big, bright smile in return. I haven’t shooed anyone away. I’ve just bought some time.

I’m not sure why retail managers apparently think customers should be accosted the moment they enter a place. But I loved the days when you’d answer with even “I’m just looking” and be afforded some peace. That’s increasingly rare.

When Katie was in high school someone from a clothing store in town asked if she wanted to model for some fashion shows. Did she! When the same gal asked if Kate wanted to work there in exchange for not only the minimum wage but a substantial discount on clothes she jumped on that, too.

She didn’t last long, though. The employees were instructed to “find out three things” about all their customers. It wasn’t enough to ask how they were or if they wanted help finding something. No, management insisted they carry on a complete conversation -- at least three questions, with the three answers to prove they’d been asked.

Are you kidding me?

I’d made the acquaintance of a retail consultant by then. I’d interviewed him for the show, and I asked him about this policy. He was horrified. He suggested Katie quit. She already had!

This wasn’t a question of work ethic. This was a question of ethics, of having the decency to read your audience. Some people love to chat. Other people love to shop with minimal interference. If you don’t trust your employees to tell the difference, they’ll likely go elsewhere -- and take many of your customers with them.

Why retire?
February 15, 2016

If I was a nurse or worked in a coal mine or helped people file insurance claims I think I’d look forward to retirement. Nothing against those professions. To the contrary! But that work is exhausting, and I’d look forward to the rest.

Family business advisors Don and Pamela Jonovic reminded me on the show recently not everyone shares my feeling about retirement. Which is that it’s an arbitrary and unnecessary transition.

As you find work you love, why would you want to stop? You might let go of one job in favor of something you love even more, granted. But it’s a constant evolution, inching ever closer to the person you have fun being.

The older you get the more it dawns on you for real you’re not going to live forever, so you get choosier about how you spend your time. You realize the person you answer to is your ninety-five year-old self. How much fun would she have looking back on this chapter? Great? Let’s get started!

“What are you going to do with yourself?” It’s a question we afford the young and the old. In between? Not so much.

The happiest people I know keep sacred their quiet time regardless of their age. They ask themselves that question, pay attention to the answer, and adjust their sails accordingly.

What fabrics do you like?
February 11, 2016

newAugustAI’m ascending an escalator in a Conoco building somewhere in Texas. Sunlight’s streaming in and I wonder if I’ve seen a more magnificent lobby in all the world. I’m an about-to-be civil engineering graduate, and a couple of guys who already work for Conoco are recruiting me.

I’ll never forget the suit I wore to this interview. Charcoal gray, expertly tailored to my size four frame. I’d splurged. It was perfect.

But I’d ruined it with the silk blouse that was supposed to soften the look. I hadn’t known what was wrong at the time. I thought I was ill-suited to the job I was applying for -- working “in the field,” whatever that meant -- which I was. I was also distracted by a vague and yucky feeling that went way beyond anything the recruiters shared with me.

It was only while shopping recently -- more than thirty years after that job interview -- when I realized why I didn’t feel comfortable. It was the silk. It just isn’t my thing. Of course that was followed by the wonder it took me so long to admit. Probably because I thought everyone loved silk, and there was something wrong with me if I didn’t.

You know what I do love? Getting older! Like I am in this photograph. I love being able to say without reservation: “This is who I am.” And at least as importantly: “This is who I am not.”

Do tiny things enchant?
February 10, 2016

I’m easy to shop for. Just think of what anyone else wants, and get me a miniature of it. Architect Sarah Susanka can relate. She loves the tiny, too.

“It’s like a jewel box,” she explains. “Something tiny and beautiful that contains the whole.”

Which reminds me of the advice so often given to writers. The more specific you get -- the more precisely you cut that oh-so-thin slice of life -- the better your chance of striking a chord.

The universal in the particular, as they say.

I love dissecting a moment and mining it for its treasures. The more seemingly mundane and silly, the better the odds you’ll relate.

Here’s hoping…