Tag Archives: change

overload

The Best Advice So Far - overload - Frankenstein-like coconut with lightning striking ear bolts

I’ve mentored teens and young adults for more than 25 years now, and part of that role is inextricably linked to education in some form or other. Whether it’s finally helping kids make sense of the quadratic equation, or teaching them new strategies for dealing with conflict, I love the look that comes over kids’ faces when they finally get whatever it is that’s been stumping them up to that point.

(I equally love the feeling of learning a new thing myself and knowing “that look” has crept over my own face, though I’ve never actually seen it … which is good, because that would be weird.)

As you might imagine, over the course of a couple of decades, I’ve worked with an awful lot of kids and covered an awful lot of topics. One especially fun exchange is whenever I get to explain to a kid for the first time how money works. (And mind you, this is often during high school or even early college years.)

I take out a dollar bill and ask, “How much is this worth?” And they generally say, “A dollar.” And I reply, “Nope. It’s worth basically nothing.”

Mouths quirk in a mix of confusion and curiosity. It’s clear that I’ve got their attention.

I then take out my checkbook and show them a blank check. “How much is this worth?” They generally try to guess the “right” answer at this point. “Nothing?” they’ll ask more than state.

“Yes, that’s right. Nothing. But what if I write it out for one hundred dollars? Then how much is it worth?”

“A hundred dollars?” they suggest, still unsure.

“Nope. It’s still worth nothing. It’s just paper with printing on it, and now some of my handwriting. It’s worth nothing.”

Here’s where I really get them.

“Hold the dollar up to the check. What do you notice?” I ask, handing them the money and the checkbook.

First, they’ll look for words or numbers that match. Not finding any, the realization I was after soon dawns on nearly everyone …


reverse

The Best Advice So Far - reverse - one yellow rubber ducky swimming the opposite direction in a line of black rubber ducks

We’ve all seen those bumper stickers:

HOW’S MY DRIVING?
555-123-4567

Ever called the number to report that the driver is, in fact, currently driving respectfully and obeying all traffic laws?

After all, the sticker doesn’t say, “Call if I’m driving unsafely or otherwise annoying you.” Yet isn’t that how we tend to read it?

(Yes, I really do think about these things.)

“I want to speak to a manager.”

“Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“I’m going to email your teacher.”

In my experience, these statements are rarely followed by …

“… to let them know what a great job you (or they) are doing.”

It seems to me that perhaps many of us have become naturals when it comes to complaining, while becoming more and more uncomfortable with giving praise where praise is due.

In my last post, where I wrote about crying during a late workout, I mentioned incidentally that there was only one other person in the gym at the time: the overnight employee on duty.

Well, his name is Joe. Let me tell you a bit about him.

If you’ve ever worked the night shift, then you know …


no words

The Best Advice So Far: no words - wide-eyed man with tape over mouth

It was Wednesday, somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. I was in the middle of a shoulder workout. Joe, the sole employee on duty, was parts unknown; so I essentially had the entire gym to myself. I had just finished up a set of lateral raises and was placing the dumbbells back on the rack.

That’s when I started crying.

*****

I received quite a bit of feedback with regard to last week’s atypical post. Responses ran the gamut, with people enthusiastically supporting or decrying in about equal proportions a wide range of things — some of which I never actually said or meant.

What I found even more curious, given the nature of the topic and its accompanying challenge, was that for all the disparate thoughts shared, not a single person asked a clarifying question toward being sure they understood my intent.

And that, of course, only further underlines what the post was actually about — our seemingly inescapable inclination as human beings to perceive through the lens of our own existing belief systems what others are saying, taking as a given that our interpretations are accurate.

As it turned out, that post was one of my longest to date. And yet, for all the words, clarity still had a tendency to remain elusive.

I’ve always felt that language grants us magical powers. Yet like any tool, I’ve found it to be a double-edged sword — capable of being used for both enormous good and dire ill.

Words allow us the ability to mitigate or to manipulate.

To clarify or to confuse.

To liberate or to label.

To draw people in — or to draw lines that keep them out.

I recall having seen a movie where an inmate at a high-security prison killed someone with a plastic spoon. It occurred to me that, much like words, the spoon was not the problem. The intent of the user was.

Still, this great capacity to help or to harm only accounts for willful uses of language and words.

Some years back, I read a memorably strange news article. A woman had waded out some distance from shore at a beach and was dunking herself under, perhaps seeing how long she could hold her breath. Suddenly, a pelican dove, apparently mistaking the bobbing hair on the surface of the water for an injured fish or squid. But instead of finding an easy dinner …


beauty … or the beast

The Best Advice So Far - Beauty ... or the Beast - Belle and Beast dancing

At the ripe old age of 87, my Nana (now nearly 93), did something she’d never done before in her adult life.

She danced.

*****

Recently, I saw the new live-action film version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (OK, fine, maybe I’ve seen it twice already). And I’m finding my brain churning on several practical considerations posed by what many may have viewed as pure fantasy. So rather than wrestle my thoughts and forcing a post about something else, I figured I’d go with the flow and share one of those personal ponderings prompted by the movie (did you enjoy that alliteration?) …


the good old days

The Best Advice So Far: the good old days - old-fashioned soda jerk offering chocolate ice cream cone

Ah, the good old days.

The simpler ways of bygone eras have become an indelible part of our collective consciousness, stirring a sense of wistfulness at their passing, whether we actually lived through them or not.

Neighbors leaned from open windows or across picket fences to chat, and thought nothing of asking to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. Newcomers were welcomed with a jingle of the doorbell and a proffered platter of freshly made cookies or a Bundt cake. And it was assumed that all were invited to the backyard barbecue.

During trips to the local grocer or druggist, owners and customers greeted each other by name, never in too much of a hurry to ask about the children or that recent vacation. And partings were peppered with give-my-best-tos.

Young people helped the elderly across busy intersections, offered to carry their bag a few blocks, and climbed trees to rescue their kittens.

Sinewy men slung a tattooed arm around their buddy’s neck as they crowded together around diner booths — some sitting, some standing with one foot propped on the edge of a seat — swapping outrageous and animated stories with other guys from town.

People took leisurely strolls down shady streets, played chess in the park, had picnics on Saturdays and impromptu dance parties on the beach. No one dreamed of whizzing by a kid’s lemonade stand without stopping.

Friends threw dress-up dinner parties, and guests offered small gifts upon arrival, as well as following up with a thank-you card by mail a few days later. Just as likely might be a game night during which participants played Twister, eventually collapsing into a heap upon one another and laughing until their cheeks hurt.

Wholesome stories and images abound, combining to weave a sort of glorious fairy tale — one continuous happily-ever-after.

Of course, we tend to overlook …


making the cut (negativity)

The Best Advice So Far - Making the Cut (Negativity) - studio mic with audiobook cover

I finished recording the tracks for The Best Advice So Far this week, and I’ve begun the editing process. There’s a ton I want to share with you about the process itself — and about the number of times I’d have quit already, if it weren’t for advice from my own book and blog kicking my butt. However, I’ll save that for an upcoming post.

Today, I’ll be keeping it short (at least in the volume of written words).

You would not believe how different your own voice sounds day to day — even hour to hour. Tonight, I sent the first 10 edited tracks to my iPod and listened to them as I drove. I swear, it sounded like four different people talking, and that’s after doing a lot of work each recording session, trying to maintain the same sound. Some of the chapters, I think I can adapt with some EQ settings. But one — “Chapter 2: Negativity” — is just too different. Must’ve been one I recorded too early, because I’ve got “morning voice.” Alas, however sexy, it’ll have to be entirely redone.

This makes me a bit sad, because I felt the conviction in the original reading as I listened to it this evening. I guess the written page isn’t the only place writers have to be willing to “murder their darlings.”

Still, I thought I’d at least let the original find a temporary voice here on my blog. It’s perfect timing, with my having been up to my elbows in recording and editing this week. And it fits right into recent discussions here about giving in to complaining, along with the perceived gains that drive our negativity.

I’m hopeful that you’ll take the time to listen, and …

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do not feed

The Best Advice So Far - do not feed - sketched baby dragon comic eating a cookie

Last spring, I found myself looking into a little side gig as a content editor for a startup out of New York. It seemed a good deal at first: ten flex hours at the rate I requested. It was a rocky start even getting in the door, with impersonal communication actually becoming curt and then rude. And they were desperate, pleading with me to jump in within a half-hour of the first phone call, late on a Friday afternoon, asking me to edit three articles over Memorial Day weekend.

But I wound up figuring I could handle it once I was in the door and through the initial messiness. Mind my own business. Do what I said I’d do. Collect my paycheck.

Not so.

It changed. It grew. Heck, it mutated.

A week in, I was asked last-minute if I could “just bail them out on a few things” due to a writer who’d had a baby and left several articles half-done.

I went ahead and bailed them out.

Now, before I took the position, I made sure of what I was and was not expected to do. And my pay rate followed word-count brackets that were based on those clear expectations. I was to edit as I saw fit. I was not required to explain my edits. I was not required to read source articles or fact check (both expressly stated as responsibilities of the writers).

But I noticed in that first set of “emergency” articles that some of the claims and statistics just didn’t seem plausible. So I checked the sources and, sure enough — the data being reported was off. I mean way off. Not even close to what the article was saying. I thought, If a client ever saw this level of egregious errors, they’d drop this company in a heartbeat!

I alerted the boss.

She asked me to fix it “just this once.”

The articles I was editing, on the whole, were extremely poor. Honest to Pete, they read like a sixth-grader had written them (and not a particularly astute one at that). It quickly became standard fare for me to have to slash 80% of the copy — which, of course, was taking much, much longer than agreed upon. As much as ten times longer, in fact.

In the next few days and weeks, I pointed out to the owner that most of the articles I was given to edit were now not only poorly written, fluffy, off-topic or illogical — but the misinterpretation (or misrepresentation) of supporting research was rampant. I reminded her that we’d agreed this was the writers’ job, not mine.

The owner became snippy and condescending. I reflected back to her how she was coming across, despite the fact that I was now “bailing her out” constantly. She returned with, “Well, if you want me to be honest …

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