It’s Your Choice

Cash or credit; paper or plastic; wheat or sourdough; grande or venti; bootcut or straight-leg; warm or cool; volume or length; matte or gloss; MSNBC or CNBC…It’s not even 8AM and these are just a few of the decisions I’ve had to make just to get in gear.  And I’m retired now – what was my morning like when I was working?

If this is indicative of the ‘new minimalism’, I don’t get it.  I consider it a paradigm for insanity.  I don’t want to make any more decisions, it’s hurting my brain and making me cranky.  Perhaps this is why I find shopping malls so punitive – just parking is an exercise in over-stimulation.  And once you walk inside (choosing one of a hundred different alternatives for egress) there are too many stores, too many people, too many colors…If I go to Nordstrom, am I an ‘individualist’, ‘savvy’, ‘tbd’, ‘petite’?  Do I want firm control or moderate control?  Anklets or tube socks?  Yes.

This is my response going forward.  Yes.  Do with it what you will, but it seems far better to me than just responding negatively to everything and winding up with nothing and never leaving my house.  Yes.  I cede all decision-making authority to the salesperson, grocery store cashier and Starbucks’ barista.  It’s all fine with me.  I just want a cup of coffee, the perfect pair of jeans, a blush that brightens my face so I look naturally healthy and a moisturizer that erases wrinkles.  I want a handbag that holds everything and weighs nothing.  I want to know which is better – counting calories or protein loading.  Are we Lin-ing, Tebow-ing or Winning this week?  Yes.  Just tell me the lexicon-of-the-moment so I can feel like I know what is going on.  It’s fine.  I’m overwhelmed with choices and underwhelmed with the results.  So whatever you choose, it’s fine with me.

No wonder people don’t feel like working once they arrive at the office.  I always thought that the deferral of difficult decisions was a result of a collective abhorrence of provocative dialogue.  Wrong – it’s exhaustion.  It’s easier to have a cabal of ‘yes’ people around.  Ok – it’s exhaustion and ennui, but the latter is a topic for another day.  Of course here we are expending all of this energy just to get to wherever we  need to be, and if one pauses for a moment it’s clear that none of the choices made along the way really matter.  In hindsight, all of these decisions are elevated to a level of importance prompted by the urgency of the moment, not the urgency of the matter.  It’s all a bit embarrassing.  When I consider the offenses I may have caused by being thoughtless, I’m both rueful and redeemed.  I now have an excuse.  I had run out of mental energy.

So I guess this means that when we really need to step up to the plate and connect with the ball, it very well may be a swing and a miss.  I don’t want to miss the next pitch.  From now on it’s ‘yes’ to everything that really isn’t going to matter to me tomorrow.  And in response to the more thought-provoking questions?  I’ll get back to you on that.

It’s Enough To Make You Crazy

“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once” — Jennifer Yane

Apparently April is National Anxiety Month – I had no idea.  If someone had told me that I had the option of deferring my anxiety, collecting and storing it in one of the many compartments in my head pending one outrageous release from April 1st – 30th, I can’t imagine how much more organized my thought process would be.  I really think this deserves more publicity, which is why I’m telling you in February instead of waiting to celebrate in April.

My brain operates much like an active ball in a pinball machine.  I know this because my husband has a pinball machine from the 70’s (the kind that make a racket), and he is able to keep a ball in play, hitting multiple targets and causing that damn bell to ring for ridiculously long periods of time.  He plays for hours (ok, it feels/sounds like hours).  And that is the perfect metaphor for the processes in my head (which could explain the genesis of migraines, but probably not).  I tried to follow my thoughts this morning for one minute – one flippin’ minute – and here’s just a portion of the cacophony that plays in my crazy little head…

“I wonder how D is feeling/should email her/Did S get home ok…damn, I’m going to be late for the gym/I don’t want to go to the gym/I have to go to the gym/when do I start looking like I even go to the gym…should stop at Whole Foods and pick up some tilapia/it’s 6AM, who the hell wants to think about dinner…look the sun is rising earlier…Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning (the Beatles)/Good Morning to you, Good Morning to you, You look kinda drowsy, In fact you look lousy, Is this anyway, to start a new day (who taught me that)…Tragic about Whitney Houston/Enough about Whitney Houston…I haven’t called the kids/should I call the kids/does that mean I’m being too intrusive/don’t be stupid, call the kids…I need to get milk too so that it doesn’t snow tomorrow..I never knew there was a place called Chagrin Falls, Ohio..Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, We’re finally on our own, This summer I hear the calling, Four dead in O-h-i-o/Do I have Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ on my iPod?/There’s no way I could exercise to CSN&Y/I look like an idiot on the bike…maybe I should have some more coffee..

You see, this is just a snippet of the free association with musical accompaniment in my head.  I operate at all times on two mental tracks – a song is always playing in my head along with a concurrent blend of disconnected thoughts running on another loop.  Ambidextrous thinking.  My hunch is that I’m not unique in this regard (well, maybe about the music part).  And if that assumption is correct, then it’s no wonder that anxiety gets its own month.  Depending on how much perseverating is going on, it’s entirely reasonable for anxiety to be given its own year.

The funny thing is, I don’t consider myself an anxious person – rather one who has a mind in perpetual overdrive.  This thought alone does make me anxious however, which logically suggests that if I stop thinking I won’t be anxious.  Well, that’s impossible, for I don’t take well to terms like ‘airhead’ or phrases like ‘if you get too close to her you can hear the wind’.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the wind..makes me think of the Joni Mitchell song ‘Twisted’…Bette Midler did a terrific rendition as well..Ah, here I go again.  And my husband wonders why I’m tired.  I think I need a nap…go into the arms of Morpheus…dream a little dream of me/Mama Cass, loved her. Never mind – I’m going to the gym.

A Dirty Little Secret – Sort Of

“There is an enormous number of managers who have retired on the job” – Peter Drucker.  Ah Pete, you’re killin’ me.  I’m not sure if anyone who falls into this category – or anyone supervising people in this category – really wants to be outed.  However, this dirty little secret is becoming more and more apparent.  The good news (if you want to call it that) is that there’s no need to worry – I’m not sure anyone’s going to get called on it.  It requires too much effort.  If you were expecting something more salacious – I’m sorry – but I also wanted to get your attention.

There is an interesting article in The Washington Post today about Daniel Pink, his reincarnation from political speechwriter to successful author and his perspective on the effectiveness of merit pay as an incentive for teachers.  Many jurisdictions are adopting this methodology, despite the data that underscores its ineffectiveness.  The research indicates that extrinsic rewards are successful when the objectives are simple and routinized.  “But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work well”.  Clearly those are expectations that the best educators embrace, and we as parents seek them out  as the teachers-of-choice for our kids.  I am not suggesting that we pay teachers less; I don’t think they’re paid enough.  Presuming equitable compensation though, is this an effective motivator?  Apparently not.

For the sake of this post, can we extrapolate these findings into the world of professional services, C-suites, management, for-profit organizations? As the need for creativity, energy, sound problem-solving and dynamism in management increases, it seems counter-intuitive to me that our tendency is to focus on process-oriented results,  limited provocative dialogue and increased structural layering that renders many positions narrower and more circumspect.  If you are involved in a different organization and structure, no need to read further.  You are in a marvelously unique situation that is not replicated with enough frequency.  Enjoy it and keep thriving.

Let’s get a little risky in our dialogues about what factors will distinguish the adequate-from-the-great companies in the years to come.  It’s just insufficient to nod to those who talk about their commitment to their people and reflect it by offering limited collective opportunities,  provide superficial exercises that are packaged as training and proudly aver that they’re ‘upcycling’ the strong performers when in fact their challenges and objectives have remained the same year over year (or worse, have been marginalized to the point where their talents gradually fade into the background).  What if the tenor of the conversation changed and our responsibility was to engage in and develop substantive strategies with our folks?  What if we didn’t take the easy out and refused to create any more versions of ‘Groundhog Day’ because of its expediency in the face of our other responsibilities?  What’s stopping us?   Have we lost our motivation and/or forgotten one of the most critical components of great leadership?  When was the last time you turned around to see if anyone was following you? I imagine it would be a serious bummer to realize that there may be no ‘there there’.

If you’re out in front then this is your primary objective.  If the goal is to increase employee satisfaction,  realize a greater ROI, build an environment where people are jazzed and engaged, then let’s at least begin the hard work.  Turn around.

I’m Blonder Than I Look

I was going to write about ethics today – and it was going to be good.  Notes in place, paragraphs in some semblance of order, and then I had one of my many blonde moments.  I couldn’t stop thinking about these random ‘duh’ moments of mine and remain amazed that I am here in spite of myself.  Full disclosure – I’m not a natural blonde, so I use the adjective loosely and more than a little disingenuously.

Anyway, I’ve conducted a completely unscientific study with a myriad of uncontrolled variables to skew the results and I am sure nonetheless that it’s results are correct – my IQ score drops precipitously at completely arbitrary times.  Clearly this suggests that I think at my own risk.  This gives me some pause, for who the hell knows what is going to come into this head of mine – and worse, what may come out of my mouth if the trap door between my brain and mouth is temporarily disengaged?

This morning I was listening to NPR while driving to the gym, thinking that it was far too cold for anyone to commit to this schedule of torture, when I heard the following from Cokie Roberts “…Mitt Romney has to get over the hump…”.  I swear to you, my first thought was ‘How does Mitt Romney even know The Hump?  And, is it really good for him to be associated with the Kardashians?’  Pitiful.  I am really pitiful.

I should be embarrassed to tell you this, but it happens all the time.  Years ago, upon receiving a job offer, I asked whether the salary was ‘negotiable up or down’.  Of the course the prospective employer assured me that they could go lower.  Sigh…My husband tells that story regularly just to ensure that humility is always within reach and my cheeks can be rosy without blush on.

When I was looking for a pair of shoes to go with a dress I bought, I told the salesperson that ‘I don’t want them to be too matchy-matchy, just be the same color’.  You don’t want to know the look I got – though the woman was very patient with me and spoke in a calm, soothing voice.

I talk to the GPS lady.  No, I argue with the GPS lady and still get lost.

Don’t even ask me how long I thought a reference to ‘six pack abs’ was a reference to how much beer a person consumed.  Parenthetically, I have never had six pack abs, so I think this is forgivable.

I recently taught myself how to knit by watching youtube videos over and over again.  I can’t get farther than knitting shawls and blankets because I can’t get what they mean by the ‘wrong side’ of the piece.  Which is the wrong side if I haven’t made a mistake?

Perhaps this is why I have such a great relationship with my dogs.  Admittedly, I anthropomorphize their behaviors, and believe that I have a rare connection with their thoughts.  I get it when Archie relentlessly chases snowflakes and is totally flummoxed when he fails to catch any;  I understand when Teddy looks at me with gratitude when I call him inside, because he’s completely spaced on where he is (despite the fact that he’s in the front yard).

The good news is that none of this has gotten any worse over the years.  I was this ditzy in my teens.  The occasional flashes of intelligence are merely that – brief occurrences in what is usuallya carnival in my head.  The bad news of course is clear – it really is unfortunate that Romney has a thing for The Hump.