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Entries in happiness (92)

Sunday
Dec142014

Does Travel Change You?

A stretch of private beach at sunset. Florblanca, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. December 9 2014.

I have bad news: You’re not Aeneas or Odysseus.

In fact, muse on the entire genre of the epic novel or poem. Do any of the tales you can recall parallel any travel experiences you’ve had?

Right.

Journeys can change us, but journeys can take place anywhere, even at home, and require internal work more than external experiences. A journey can happen while on the couch, chewing through a book. (Perhaps even while reading The Aeneid or The Odyssey).

The vast majority of travelers take vacations. We want easy ways to escape the daily norm for a long weekend, a week, or maybe even a couple weeks.

Unlike Aeneas and Odysseus, we don’t quest. We don’t go places to change the world or even ourselves.

Instead, we go to theme parks, which curate our fun. We stay at resorts, which cater to our every desire, or we stay in hotels and hostels, which may serve only basic needs but which most certainly do not provide deep experiences of lives lived in different places. We go on guided tours, which show us historic sites and take us on adventurous treks that don’t mirror the daily life of the locals and remove all the guesswork and risk of traveling in unknown areas. We participate in sports that can only happen in certain places at certain times, like surfing, golfing, or skiing.

We have fun, take breaks, recharge.

And I see nothing wrong with that.

After all, we can’t expect travel without any goals beyond rejuvenation to change us. We can’t truly live like the locals if we only stay away from home for a week or two. We don’t accomplish something monumental within ourselves or within a new environment when we ride in taxis and tour buses and eat at restaurants.

And as for life-changing incidents that do happen while on vacation—whether negative or positive—many could have happened at home. Chance alone caused them to happen while on travel.

I have incredible moments from trips caught in the aspic of memory. I caved with a friend to see a Mayan ritual-sacrifice site in Belize. In a bakery in Madrid, I found a fantastic chocolate-dipped pastry that I munched in tiny bites as I meandered the winter streets alone. I tried every tiramisu I encountered in Florence to find the best version. I met one of my closest friends on the way to spending a summer in Russia; she and I later traveled Route 66 in a rented moving truck and even later visited Glacier National Park.

Yet I haven’t grown into someone different through traveling. (Living abroad was another matter.) Travel hasn’t significantly altered my worldview or the fundamentals of how I live my life in the ways that formal and informal education and everyday experiences accumulated over time have changed me. (Discovering a love for strained yogurt drizzled with honey while on vacation in the Greek Isles doesn’t count.)

Journeys—intellectual more than physical—have changed me. Travel has not.

Do you believe travel changes you?

P.S.—This is the second post in a monthly series for which a set group of bloggers post on the same topic on the same day. For other takes on whether travel changes you, check the following writers:

Sunday
Nov162014

Are Pets Worth It?

Ramona in her bed in the living room, waiting for me to stop working for the night. April 26, 2014.

This morning before dawn, I pulled my lighted alarm clock to my chest, rested my hand on Ramona’s sleeping body, and counted her respirations.

Over the course of sixty seconds, fully at rest, Ramona took seventeen breaths.

After we got up and ate breakfast, I wrote her respiratory rate in the log I keep magnetized to the bulletin board in my home-office cubbyhole. I looked at the list and felt a huge relief: At seventeen breaths per minute, Ramona’s breathing rate has stabilized since it improved significantly in September, shortly after she started taking medications and her respirations improved from rapid and gasping.

In late August, Ramona collapsed.

The emergency room didn’t have good news. “See a cardiologist as soon as possible,” the doctor said. The cardiologist diagnosed congestive heart failure. “We can put her on medications to control the symptoms. I don’t know how long they will work, if they work at all.”

Tears had come suddenly and uncontrollably since Ramona’s first collapse. I’d sobbed the entire way to the cardiologist’s office. I sobbed before Ramona’s diagnosis. I sobbed when they took her into the back to do tests. I sobbed when they told me the news, only relieved that they didn’t advise me to let her go that day.

I couldn’t have done it, if they had so advised. She would have had to continue to suffer. How long? I don’t know.

Hold on. The tears have come again.

Fortunately, Ramona has responded relatively well to treatment. We’ve made it a few months and the medications still work, according to my morning monitoring. (We’ll see what the vet has to say next weekend.) Her energy has improved. Her spunk has come back. She still knows how to make me laugh—and she does.

For now? And for how long? I can’t bear to think on it. I had hoped the medications would buy me enough time to come to terms with the reality of her—of our—impermanence. Instead, I’ve only reached the point at which I can talk and write about her condition without crying.

Sometimes.

Instead, I don’t believe that we—any of us—can ever come to terms with losing each other. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it—at least, not so that it doesn’t make us rage with sorrow when it comes.

Since the diagnosis—and perhaps even during the limbo period between Ramona’s collapse and the cardiologist’s news—I’ve talked to a few close friends, some of whom have gotten sudden calls at odd hours when I couldn’t talk between the tears yet needed to hear a loving voice. In these conversations, I’ve said that I don’t believe people—especially single people who live aloneshould have pets.

I have no one in my daily existence to fill the void of Ramona’s eventual loss. She’s the only creature who waits for me to come home at the end of the day, the only one to greet me, the first one I talk to in the morning and the last one I talk to at night. I’ve structured my days around our joint schedule; in her needs I have a purpose and a framework. I kiss her good morning and rub her back as we awaken. We eat our meals together. We start and end our days with a companionable stroll around the neighborhood. I talk to her, dance with her in the kitchen, and feel she knows me better than almost anyone—humans included.

The bond between a single adult with few other equally intense emotional attachments and a companion animal grows so strong over a dozen or so years that the loss feels unbearable.

I can’t go through losing her. And so I can’t see how to justify this pain—nor can I see my way to voluntarily go through it again. A large part of me feels that having a pet isn’t worth the anguish of its departure.

And yet—

For what do we live if not to love? And how can anyone love without loss? We can all lose the ones we love—and unless we go first, we will.

If I wall my heart against the suffering and contraction of loss, I buttress it against the joys and expansion of love. One cannot exist without the other. We may think love and hate pose polar opposites, but I disagree. We do better to oppose love and loss. Love and hate at least share passion and fire.

Ramona introduced me to my current and former neighbors, some of whom I count among my dearest friends. She surprises me. She amuses (and frustrates) me. She gives me love and affection—and has done so through some of my most difficult moments. She’s taught me how to interact with others in a way I can’t describe in this post, though I’ve sat here and tried. And now she’s showing me anew the challenges and rewards of helping a creature leave this world.

Yet I won’t rush out to get another pet anytime soon. Not before she leaves me and not after. Not for a long time after.

I won’t feel ready. If I’ll ever feel ready.

Do you believe pets are worth it?

P.S.—I suggested the topic for this post—whether pets are worth it—to a few sharp blogging friends. I felt a need to write it, yet I hadn’t felt ready to write it. I didn’t know how to write it. I couldn’t face putting the news into the world, for fear of making it real. Clearly, I still haven’t gotten ready. Yet other perspectives on the subject as I struggle through a new world order with Ramona help. If you want to read some brilliant takes on the same question I’ve tried to answer above, all posted on the same day, read the following blogs:

P.P.S.—The bloggers listed above and I have decided to choose a topic each month to post on at the same time, with the intention of getting multiple perspectives on the same subject. Stay tuned for next month’s post from this same group, on a topic suggested by Joan Johnson.

Monday
Oct272014

Why I Missed the Real Value of Business Coaches

The term “coach” evokes someone with experience in a specific sport or activity. A coach has done or studied intensively—and over an extended period of time—a specific field and shares this particular expertise with others.

I have a boxing coach. I have had a running coach. I can understand why people hire coaches for childbirth. Also for weight loss and nutrition.

But a “business coach?”

Business has too many nuances and implications. A person doesn’t claim to have history expertise—she professes specific knowledge in an era or geographic region (and probably both). You can’t have a “sports coach.” That just doesn’t make any sense.

Although all areas of business have overlap, the general field has too much breadth and depth for any one person to coach in all its facets. Wooing from business coaches with backgrounds in supply-chain management for manufacturing or franchise management—two real-life examples—puzzled me.

I figured that, someday, when it made sense or the need grew acute, I’d hire a business coach with highly specialized expertise in a field or area in which I could use improvement. (I have plenty of those.) Once I got up to speed, we’d wrap. Down the line, perhaps I’d need a different type of business coach for strengthening another facet.

Maybe I still will.

And when I do, I’ll call her “coach.” Yet recent experience has taught me that the term misrepresents the real value of many professionals classed in the category.

We need to find a new term. Adviser? Confidant? Guide?

I’ll go with adviser. Because I’ve hired one, and now I see what I’ve missed. (And it isn’t coaching.)

Sounding Board

Executives don’t have natural in-office sounding boards.

When you hire a business coach, you hire someone under strict confidentiality who stands outside your organization. She has no taste for your company's particular flavor of politics. Having “inside information” doesn’t give her currency with her coworkers.

Further, she doesn’t need to see you resolute at all times. You can have wobbly moments—you won’t shake your team's mission-critical confidence in the company or its leadership or direction by debating a decision with her or expressing to her your frustration and uncertainty.

Perspective

A business adviser has worked with a number of other executives. Many good ones have done so for years.

She may not have exact knowledge of your specific type of business, products, or areas of improvement—as would someone I’d agree to call a “coach”—but she has walked through a number of challenges with a number of people similar to you. She can suggest resources she’s seen others use. She can suggest avenues of thought that she’s seen work elsewhere.

She can comfort you that others have gone through the same challenges and survived (yes, sometimes we CEOs wonder)—and even thrived. And she can congratulate you when you achieve a “win” that your employees would simply take for granted, because she’s watched you and potentially others struggle over the same mountain.

Me, Me, Me

Friends who work with psychologists say that one of the pleasures of therapy is having a set time period in which you guiltlessly talk about yourself with someone who focuses on nothing but you.

A business adviser provides the same outlet.

I have fantastic accountability partners, though our sessions rarely focus solely on me. Instead, we support each other in achieving our goals. I gain from helping them as much as I get from their support. I value them highly and that won’t change.

Yet I’ll confess: Talking through something without any expectation of reciprocity feels really, really nice. In fact, simply knowing I have an adviser if needed gives a sense of relief.

Have you hired a business coach? What did you experience?

Saturday
Oct252014

Emotional Patterns

Good morning, Sunshine! (Yes, the picture slants. I rather like it that way.) October 23, 2014. Magnolia Grove, Houston, Texas.

The Leslie you get depends on the time of day you greet her.

Well, not entirely. Most people won’t notice the subtle shifts in my mood over a twenty-four hour timespan.

But I do.

Early in the day, I feel positive, happy, can-do, and ready for anything. Bring it on, world. Whatever you have to throw, I can field it.

I pop out of bed bouncing fresh (provided I got a full night’s sleep, which I find essential) and often have more knocked off my to-do list by 9 a.m. than I’ll manage to cross out before bedtime.

Catch me in the evening, after I've been buffeted by the day, and you’ll mistake me for Eeyore. (I hope that’s an exaggeration—only my closest associates can tell you for sure—but you get the idea.)

Exhaustion has set in. One after another, the day’s events have piled onto my shoulders, weighing me down. I feel completely overwhelmed. I don’t know how to keep going. Everything seems bleak, necessitating immense effort, and tiresome. The week seems eternal. I don’t know how I’ll get through tomorrow.

It seems that way because it is that way—at least in that moment, at that time of the day. I do not have additional energy to expend on any life facet. Not work, not household, not social, not family.

I’m done.

At least numerous studies prove I have company.

Since the 1990s, researchers have found in more than a hundred experiments that willpower and self-control deplete over the course of the day. You can easily resist a chocolate croissant or a new pair of shoes in the morning. By afternoon or evening, you’ve spent the entire day resisting temptations. Cognitively resolving conflicts between what you want and what you feel you should have exhausts the brain. When offered an after-dinner slice of cake, you’ll lift your fork a lot more easily.

In fact, research shows that the brain grows weary of all decision making as the day progresses. Decision fatigue most often plagues people whose days fill with choices and verdicts. One study found that judges return more positive and lenient decisions early in the day. Quarterbacks make questionable late-game decisions. Chief financial officers make riskier decisions in the afternoon. Celebrities make dubious decisions at night, giving the public the pleasure of dishing out ridicule. And so on.

Rest recharges our brains.

Feeling frustrated? Weary? Negative? Grumpy? Tempted?

Don’t beat yourself up. Check the time. Think back on your day.

You’ve likely depleted your willpower, self-control, and decision-making reserves. You need a refill. Give yourself a break and go to bed. Even if it seems “too early.” (In that case, take a book.) You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

I always do.

How does your mood change over the course of the day?

Thursday
Oct232014

What We Expect from the Workplace

In an article I included for my last Friday Links post, Danial Adkison wrote about his high-school employment at a Pizza Hut in Colorado.

Since I read it, I’ve chewed on it.

Adkison’s manager, Jeff, created a second-family environment for his staff, replete with water fights in the parking lot, dinner and movies, rafting and camping, and softball. When Adkison applied to universities, Jeff paid for flights, hotel, car, and food when he took Adkison to visit Boston College.

Oh, and lest I forget: Jeff even paid for Adkison’s application fee (and its express-mail delivery).

Back when I worked as an employee, not an employer, I never sought a familiar relationship with my coworkers. Collegiality? Friendship? Sure. A coterie with which to spend a consuming around of time beyond work duties? No.

And I never looked to my bosses as parental or avuncular figures.

Yet I always had a strong family, even after my parents divorced. Further, I fall on the introverted end of the spectrum. I never gravitate to large-group activities. I prefer small-group and one-on-one interaction.

So when I first read Adkison’s article, I felt really out of touch.

Does everyone seek this sort of office environment? Does my mind state rest so far outside the norm that I’ve never realized it?

Would my team want this sort of workplace? We have plenty of group activities, but nothing like what Adkison describes, with all-day outside-working-hours hang-outs that include kickball.

And then I wondered: Perhaps Adkison’s environment felt so perfect because it came at a time when he needed cohesiveness due to a difficult home situation. The teenage years unmoor us all—and a challenging family environment only exacerbates them.

As with other life facets, could we seek different qualities from a workplace as our lives and mindsets evolve?

Perhaps defining your office culture requires looking at your employee mix and intuiting what it wants at this point in the average teammate’s life? Yet what if you have a lot of diversity in your staff—as you should?

I can’t imagine that with a strong group of friends and a set of engaging extracurricular activities—or with a wife and children at home—Adkison would have sought the same level of emotional fulfillment and camaraderie from his Pizza Hut team. Instead, perhaps he’d have sought to gain knowledge and enrichment and chances for leadership experience. In his off-work time, he’d have other priorities.

After all, even Adkison points out that Jeff, the manager, may have sought this type of team due to a recent divorce and the desire to create a family that he no longer had.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Perhaps these thoughts simply console me for not providing the level of personal involvement and extraoffice activities and engagement that Adkison describes as so fulfilling. Maybe I simply make excuses for not wanting to create a family feeling for my staff.

I care about them—don’t mistake me. And I love spending time with them. I count myself immeasurably lucky to get to work with every single one of them every single day.

Yet I assume that, like me, they have relationships and interests outside the office that they’d like to pursue after they’ve gotten the work done—especially over playing kickball with their coworkers on a Sunday evening.

Yet often I completely miss what people want from me—and that comes to employees especially. If they don’t articulate it, I completely miff it.

What do you think?

What do you seek from your workplace? What do you feel most people seek?