Monday, March 31, 2014

If It Was Under Your Nose, Would You See It?

Two sides of the same coin department – Have you ever presented an opportunity to someone, whether work, business or social, then have that person walk away from it or not value what was presented to them?  How many times have you been offered something, then in hindsight were able to recognize the missed opportunity?  This thinking led me to wonder about the ways we perceive the things as they are presented.

My thoughts on this began to develop related to an event this past week.  As a member of Toastmasters, we sign up for speeches or roles for every meeting.  The roles range from evaluator to running the meeting that counts towards a leadership certification.  When we want to give a speech, we need to sign up in an open time slot.  At the mid-March meeting, we were told that the speaker slots for the next two events were full.  I was happy to have previously signed up in a slot for the first session in April.  A few days ago, I was curious about who was speaking at this past Friday’s meeting and saw only 2 speakers.  I sent an email out to see if I could fill the third speaker’s slot.  When the answer came back a “yes,” I was excited!  At the meeting, it was pointed out that I took the initiative to check the website and created the opportunity to speak.  While I was uncomfortable being signaled out, the point was that I went to the website, saw the opening, and did not wait for someone to come to me.

Too often, we hear from people that missed an opening say, “If I had known…” or “How did they get that…” or “They must have had no one else…”  Thomas A. Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  In a world of instant gratification and a sense of entitlement, how often do we look for a quick success, or instant riches?  While we can read stories that tell wonderful tales of unexpected, instant gains, the reality is that most successful people (in any type of endeavor), have had to work hard to get what they strive for.  Sometimes, the years of effort come together in a single moment, validating the quote by Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  In other words, the people that have “stepped in it” have spent a good time preparing for that moment.

In my case, I would like to become a professional speaker.  Like any other skill that we hone, we have to be willing and able to practice so that we can improve.  If I really want to develop better speaking skills, I certainly have to be willing and able to speak at any time the chance presents itself.  In last week’s case, I had a speech in the ready mode and was looking for the opportunity to present it.  It was, I guess, luck that made me intentionally go to the website and double check if there were enough speakers :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Whip Cream Everywhere

I opened my eyes to see my daughter, Rebecca, running towards me while laughing maniacally, like some mad women out of an animated cartoon.  As I realized what was happening, I felt my nose being smooshed accompanied by the feeling that my face was now covered by some kind of foreign matter.  As I sputtered at my situation, I felt more foreign matter smashing into my face.  I tried to gain my composure and wipe the stuff out of my eyes, hair and nose.  What happened to me?  How did I get here?  When I woke up this morning, this is not where I had pictured myself!

I woke up like I do most Sunday mornings, not too late, and not too early.  Weekends have become the time that we catch up on our errands and have some family time together.  Debbie and I are the co-chairpersons of the youth groups at our Jewish Center.  On this particular day, there was a carnival for all of our members who bring their children and grandchildren to celebrate the holiday of Purim.  Our role was to run the booth with the teens from the older youth group.  In the past, my job was to talk to the adults and see if I can convince them to help us for a short time and then to announce their names over the PA system to bring people to our booth.  Oh, yeah, we run the “Pie in the Face” booth…

All week long, we all strive to work hard, provide for our families, address issues (business and personal) and are engaged in community activities.  There have been times in my life, where I have returned home late from work (after 9:00) and have found it difficult to leave my work behind in the office.  There are many times where we bring to our homes the issues that can and should be resolved only in the office.  While at home, the goal should be to focus on being at home and spending the time with the people we love and live with.  It is important to have down time, so that we can enjoy other aspects of our lives.  Or to use an old phrase, it is important to “stop and smell the roses”.   Working the carnival was an opportunity to “live in the moment” and enjoy myself.

As my senses returned and remembered where I was, I began to have fun with my situation and heckle anyone that passed in front of the booth, including Rebecca.  The next kid missed my face, but my wife got the assist, as she pushed the extra cream from the board onto my face.  It is a humbling experience to stand behind a board and having children (and some adults) throw a pie in your face.  But, it was a lot of fun!  I definitely smelled like whipped cream for the rest of that day. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

WTF?!? Bec Behind the Wheel?!?

Where has the time gone?  I remember when our little baby was born!  OK, that was 17 years ago, but it still seems like yesterday.  Where has that time gone?  As I am writing this with a scatter brained attitude, I cannot believe that Bec is going to get behind the wheel of a car…AHHHHH!  Yes, I know that as time passes, this day would come.  She has been looking forward to this for the last couple of months.  She opted not to take the test on her birthday, as there was the NJ HSPA tests (High School Proficiency Test), a state mandated standardized test, which schools teach towards.  That, however, is a topic for another day.  Bec felt that she wanted to focus on those tests and the SATs which followed last Saturday.  But, she had it all planned out – She turned 17, was going to pass her driver’s test, then go to her first R-rated movie.  An honorable goal she set for last Tuesday.

It is interesting to see that my daughter had set some objectives for herself.  The cool thing is watching our children develop the ability to define plausible goals for themselves.  She had a 3-step objective for herself.  The first, turning 17, would come with time and took almost no effort from her.  The second goal was passing her driver’s test.  This is definitely a rite of passage, which not all 17 year olds want to strive for (our older daughter has friends that live in NYC, where public transportation is used so driving is not as needed).  This goal took many hours of practice and hard effort…”K” turns and parallel parking are not easy at that point.  The third objective, driving herself to a movie was clearly dependent on the first two goals being met.  As we go through our lives, the importance of setting goals never leaves us, these are the things that dreams can be made of, aspirations to achieving a higher purpose or simply the things that make us get up in the morning to greet each day with a positive attitude.  As Earl Nightingale said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they're going.”  Our goals may change with each stage in our lives, but they should always be there to motivate our actions.

The big day finally came and there was both excitement and nervousness.  Bec went to school and was picked up at 12:00 to take her driver’s test.  As a parent, the feelings are mixed, trepidation that our child has reached a milestone and that we only want the best for her.  Debbie and I waited patiently, going about our business like any other day, but waited with bated breath for the text from Rebecca on how she did.  Around 2:00, the text came in – SHE PASSED HER TEST!  We were excited and happy for her.  I met her at motor vehicle to wait for her to get her actual license.  When we got home, she took a drive around the block by herself in Hank (Gab’s car), then drove off into the sunset…OK, that is a bit melodramatic, but it felt that way as she drove off to pick up her friend and go to their first R-rated movie with their IDs in their hand so that they could be proofed. 

P.S. – When they got there, her friend knew the kid behind the counter and they got into the movie without being proofed…

Monday, March 10, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

During band practice the other night, we were working on Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”.  “Come in on the ooo-la-la’s after the second verse” advised the band member singing the song.  “OK,” everyone answered.  In the middle of the second verse, the ooo-la-la’s made an appearance.  “Wait; stop the song, that comes in after the second verse.” “That was the second verse where we came in,” was the response.  “No, come in after the second verse.” “Oh, you mean after the second verse…How about you give us a head nod?” You’d think they all had it figured out.  Ooo-la-la’s came in late and no head nod.  Sitting behind the keyboards, with no microphone, all I could do was laugh at these guys clearly not listening to each other!

While it was comical watching this interaction continue on, this is no different from what goes on around us on a daily basis.  I even remember times where my parents were having a conversation and at certain points in the conversation, the one that was not talking would throw in an appropriately timed, “yes?” or “is that so” or “what do you mean”.  For the casual observer, it looked like the two of them were paying close attention to each other.  However, afterwards, my brothers and I would comment as if they were really listening to each other.  There have been meetings at work, at the onset of a project, where I ask if everyone there understands what I expected of them and do they know what they are supposed to do.  “Yes”, “of course”, “no problem” is the response.  As soon as everyone leaves the meeting, they have forgotten what they agreed to, or better yet, never really listened to what they committed.  In one-on-one conversations, you know when the other person stops listening when their eyes start to glaze over.  OK, and to be fair, my mind has been known to wander onto other topics when listening to someone else either drone on or discuss something that does not interest me.

I realize that it is probably better to let someone know that you have stopped paying attention…whether they are taking too long to make the point, or you have lost interest in what they are talking about, or they are unclear in what they are saying.  Have we become so polite, that we would rather give the fa├žade that we are listening?  Back to band practice; once everyone took a deep breathe, they were all able to communicate on when everyone one was supposed to come in on the song.  Naturally, we had a clean run through on the song… 

Do you have any related stories to share?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Team Work

“Get ready to take aim.”  “We’ve got that country on the run.” “Bring their flag back!”  Great sounding battle cries that we enjoyed on Saturday night playing Military Bridge.  Yes, that’s right, Military Bridge!  No, we did not get dressed up in camouflage clothes, crawl through the mud or relieve ourselves behind enemy lines.  We were seated in a room with 62 other people playing a very civil card game, which consisted of 16 teams of 4.  Even in a simple card game, the importance of working with your team mates to maximize your potential struck me.  While I find that in the business world, most people think in terms of their own contributions, it is the contribution of a team effort that really elevates the outcome and the experience.

We begin teaching our children the importance of team work from the moment they engage in any sport, whether it is soccer, baseball / softball or basketball.  Each player brings to the team their specific strengths.  I know, from a parent’s point of view, we always want our child to play a certain position, but the truth is no player is good at every position.  When we go to work, we really work in groups or part of a larger organization, and whether we know it or not, the people that run the organization make sure to push us into the areas where our strengths are best utilized.  If I am managing a project, the people on the project team have to be able to complement each other’s abilities.  How about one of the greatest teams you can be a part of?  A marriage!  Two people have to work together to build a family, run a household and still have the time to enjoy each other.  As my wife so aptly puts it, “Because we are a team”.

Sometimes, I have worked with people that do not understand the value of a team…yes, everyone knows the saying, “There is no I in team”.  But, many people do not understand the value behind working together as a team.  Let’s take the military bridge event as an example.  One person has the idea to have the event (Debbie in this case).  A small group, or team, came together to make the event happen - Someone that understood the game and could teach it; someone to collect the names of the people coming; someone to help spread the word (market the event); and, people to setup the night.  I remember taking a project management seminar that included a movie called the “4 Hour House”, where the goal was to construct a house in 4 hours.  There were a group of people – architects, engineers, builders, etc., that took the time to plan out the event, each with their own teams to do the job.  The importance of the team work and following the plan worked so well, the house was built in a little over 2 hours.

Team work is a part of most aspects of our lives.  Unlike the game Solitaire, we do not live in seclusion if we strive to have a meaningful life, part of which is engaging with other people.  One of the greatest coaches, John Wooden, sums up the value of a team: “Each of us must make the effort to contribute to the best of our ability according to our individual talents. And then we put all the individual talents together for the highest good of the group. … Understanding that the good of the group comes first is fundamental to being a highly productive member of a team.”