Thursday, 27 December 2012

When it's better to go STRAIGHT THROUGH

Sometimes, it pays to sit down and drink half your takeout coffee with the barista who made it for you.  If you find a good one, he's like a bartender, only better because, since you're sober, you're much more difficult to impress.

So, I'm in my favourite coffee shop today buying a coffee, and I got chatting with my friend Kevin about pain.  In my usual self important way, I was telling him all about some particular struggles going on in my life, and how hard I was working to minimize the effects of it on my life.  He said something to me that stood me up in my tracks like a right jab straight to the nose.  I didn't write it down or anything, but it was something to the effect of, "maybe there are some struggles in life that you're not meant to bypass."  Maybe the purpose of the pain is just for you to BE. IN. PAIN. for a while.

I shut up for a minute, processing.  I stammered a couple conciliatory sentences out and changed the subject.  Cause that's not my language.

It's woven into North American culture.  The American dream.  The world is ours to manipulate.  If you don't like your results, keep working.  You can change them.  There's ALWAYS a knob you can turn somewhere, a switch you can throw, that can relieve the discomfort.  See, stress isn't good for productivity.  And how am I supposed to attain the life I always dreamed of if I'm stressed out and can't pursue my goals?!  Start from scratch.  Keep scratching.  There's always a variable you can try and change.

One of the recurring themes in my life is harmony.  I love harmony.  If anyone thinks I'm easy to be around, it's because I am willing to stand on my head to make people feel comfortable around me.  Even literally, if it comes down to it.  It makes me good at my job.

But there's a flip side to this coin.  Not only do I love harmony; I hate discord.  I may be willing to stand on my head to create harmony, but you should SEE the dances and acrobatics I'm willing to do to avoid confrontation!  Remember this?
Like that.

As soon as Kevin said it, a movie scene came into my head.  It's amazing how many things I can relate to Fight Club.  I do it, along with listening to Radiohead and NIN because it makes me feel like I'm not a 30 year old suburbanite (even though that's probably the best indicator of my domesticated self's repressed angst...)
The actual scene has been blocked for copyright reasons.  But this gives you the script, so that works.  The God stuff is a goat trail for my purposes, but the dialogue kind of nailed what I was thinking today:
Kevin from CoolBeans bus is my Tyler Durden.  Or maybe my power animal... I'm not sure which.

When pain, discomfort, and disequilibrium come along, I do what the burn victim's doing.  I have a mental break.  I disengage - go to my happy place.  Find any way around it.  Desperately, instantly, try to make it stop.  But maybe, sometimes, the lesson is only to be learned when you sit down and give in to the fact that the burn burns.

I'm no anarchist.  I'm not trying to hit bottom.  So let's give a more socially acceptable example.

When my wife was in labour, she had 2 amazing nurses whom we still greet when we see.  One is a midwife in town now (@prairiemidwives).  I'll never forget what Jenn said (or maybe I falsely attributed it to her - there was a lot of stress and not much sleep going on when I met her...).  She said that you can't escape from the pain of labour.  There's no way around it.  You have to OWN your pain, and go straight THROUGH it to get to the other side.  That's YOUR pain.  You earned it.  And you can carry it, like a decorated soldier, forever, when you're finished.

There is unexplained pain in life.  And some of us get more of it than others.  And sometimes, the most honest, self actualized thing we can do is just throw our hands up and say it sucks.  And slog right through it.

But I bet I'm not alone.  I'm probably not the only one out there who would rather find a new friend than have a confrontation with an existing one, am I?  Please say no.

If I hadn't stopped in to buy a coffee today, maybe I wouldn't have had to acknowledge this about myself.  That probably would've been easier.  Now I'm being forced to look at a number of different situations in my life and re-evaluate whether my current approach is proactive or avoidant.  Maybe I need to man up and take the pain.  Have the confrontation.  Because lord knows I've been using a lot of energy building all these escape routes and workarounds.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A million tiny choices

I was feeling all melancholy last night, so I sat in front of my laptop for 45 minutes trying to blog.  But nothing really came out.  Which is probably good.  Alone and moody isn't the same thing as inspiration, and after a few months of posts, I'd have to change my title to Danny Downer and the Blog That Will Make You Depressed.

So instead I learned something about biomimicry, something about algorithms (TED: guilty pleasure), and then had a good chat with my wife.  This morning, after a good sleep and a play with a happy 4 1/2 year old boy, I've got a coffee and a fire in the woodstove, and I think I'm in a better headspace to blog.

Maybe you're like me, and you get a little plagued, a little haunted by the subplot of the year-end holidays, where you're supposed to take stock of your year, and submit (to yourself) a mental annual report.  I spend more time than usual staring off into space like I'm out of batteries, lost in thought about what last year looked like and what I want this year to look like, and how those two should be different from each other.

I was listening to a CD on new years goal setting, and a couple interesting anecdotes were mentioned (yes, I listen to self-improvement CDs.  Another guilty pleasure, but they've totally changed my perspective, and I'd recommend them to anyone).

Imagine that a guy comes up to you and says they have a hockey bag with a million dollars in it hidden somewhere in your town, and it's yours if you could find it.  Sounds interesting, but how many of you would start looking?  You could throw away years! For all you know, it's on your neighbours back porch, but it's so arbitrary.  Where do you start?  How do you keep track of the ground you've covered?  It's too much.

Now, imagine if the guy told you he had a map.  Kind of changes the story, doesn't it?

An airplane that flies from Toronto to Vancouver is off course 99% of the time.  But it knows its destination, and its navigation software is constantly recalibrating and adjusting its path so it's always headed the shortest distance from its current location. It's important to have a destination in mind - a clear idea of what success looks like in your books, otherwise you'll go in circles.

As I write this, my wife Caryn is 10 weeks pregnant.  Not one of those has been an easy week.  It was one of those pregnancies where the nausea tells you you're pregnant before the test does.  And it hasn't subsided.  At some points, we didn't know how we'd make it through the DAY - don't even TALK about the 8 months to follow.

But time is relentless. And one of the blessings (and curses) of time moving on is that you never have to experience the same moment twice, and it never lasts any longer than right.... now.

And suddenly, we look back, 1/4 of the way through the pregnancy, and realize that, though it seemed impossible at nearly every moment, now we have left a trail behind us.  By no means did we 'kick the first 10 weeks' butt".  Quite the contrary, in fact.  But here we are on the other side of it.  And now, instead of feeling impossible, those 10 weeks stand as testimony to the resiliency and durability of Caryn.  Instead of being a loss and a failure, or a fear, now they're a badge.  Like exercise, the muscles we tore, the pain we felt during those 10 weeks are now the strength that we carry into the NEXT... one week.  Time passes.  And if you don't DIE, it just moves on.  And if you make the best, healthiest decisions you can muster at any point, you end up with a body of work that you can look back on without shame - even if it wasn't pretty.

So, how does that relate to goal setting?  Well, I think a mistake that people make is that they see their goal as a destination and not a trip.  Since I'm in the industry, let's use a home construction metaphor.  Imagine that your end goal is like a newly built home.  You don't just push a big red button that says "ENGAGE GOAL ATTAINMENT" and bam - instant home.  No no.  There are a zillion steps to building your goal.  Some are big steps, like the momentous ground-breaking moment, or when the structure is complete and you can envision the finished project.  But mostly, it's a million hammer swings, screw turns, and broom pushes. 

As long as you envision your goal as a lofty end target, you'll never hit it.  There won't be a moment where you just quit your job and move into the corner office of that new dream career.  It's way less sexy, but the way you get there is by making a phone call, reading a book, taking a course, befriending a person who can open doors for you, or a zillion other tiny things.

Instead of setting goals or resolutions that you might hit or might miss for the new year, try seeing your goals as directions to head.  And then ask a different question: "What actions can I be doing on a daily/weekly basis that will move me in the direction of my goal?" Suddenly, your goal goes from the abstract "lose 20 pounds" to "get 90 minutes of exercise a week".  Maybe (probably) you'll lose the weight, but more importantly, you will have built healthy actions into your life that put you on a trajectory of health, energy, and a higher capacity.

And after a month, or 6 months, you can stop and check your progress for a moment.  Enjoy the view.  The view from the top of the mountain is end destination, but guess what?  You're missing the largest part of the enjoyment of the mountain hike if you don't enjoy the occasional vantage point along the way, and the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment you feel when you catch your breath and see how far you've come, even if you're only at a midpoint lookout.

In 2007, Caryn told me she was going to do a triathlon, and said I should try one too.  I laughed at her and said, "Care, you have to be able to SWIM to do a triathlon."  So, she did one, and it looked like fun.  So she taught me to swim.  And I set some goals of my own.

This past summer, I swam 1.5 kilometres, cycled 38km, and ran 10km. 

Even at the beginning of 2012, that felt impossible to me.  It was a lofty goal, bordering on a dream.  But I kept going for swims, runs, and bike rides.  And it stayed impossible.

Until one day, it wasn't.

So, what are the actions you can start doing RIGHT NOW to start getting closer to the person you want to be?  The more tiny choices and actions you make, the more momentum you gain.  The more strength and confidence you take into your future actions and choices.  And suddenly, you'll realize that there is no 'GOAL ATTAINMENT' button.  You'll just kind of show up there one day, and realize that, nail by nail, screw by screw, you built it.

Good luck.  I know you'll get there.  If you start.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas is a time when relationships take the front stage.  This is a rich, joyful time for many people, a chance to remember what great people they have in their lives, and feel gratitude. 
Others dread relationship time year round.  There are many who are kept up at night fearing the obligatory get togethers; being forced to play nice with people they secretly don't like, or have been hurt by for years.  Christmas can be messy.  Because, relationships can be messy.  And we have a way of trying to solve our relational hurts with geographical space or dead air space, instead of solving them by steeling our guts and addressing the hurts. Those hurts are best dealt with by cleaning out the infection and applying stitches, rather than trying to graft over the abscess.  Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not poisoning you from the inside out every day.

For me, Christmas is also a break from a stressful time at work.  Sometimes holidays make me feel like Indiana Jones.  You're approaching the exit as the walls start crumbling around you, and you just barely make it out as it all turns into rubble at your feet. Or this.

You get out, but just barely.  And then the first few days of holidays, you're wound so TIGHT that it's all you can do to decompress.

And therein lies the challenge.  The temptation is to cut the corner.  Bypass the processing - the follow-through on why you left work frustrated, or why you're moody every time the family reunion is brought up.  And skip straight to the drinking and World Junior Hockey broadcasts, or whatever your thing is for dis-engaging (Twitter is my cable tv...).

But in the words of Brene Brown, who I know I've mentioned a few times,


When you numb stress, you numb joy.  When you numb broken relationships, you also numb your feeling of belonging.  When I disengage from my family, I may not have to deal with the fact that I'm out of sorts with them, but I'm also slowly building tension within the family unit, because they don't have my attention. 

Here's the sucky part.  Engaging?  It's hard.  I mean, not always.  Engaging with a great family over Christmas dinner and having a great conversations over drinks and presents? That's wonderful, and you wouldn't get it if you were sitting in the corner checking who 'mentioned' you just now.  BUT, engaging also means being honest about what's distracting you.  Being straight about why your feelings are hurt, so that you can make appropriate boundaries and salvage some christmas cheer when that difficult parent or in-law comes over.  It means that you don't get to ignore the bad stuff. 

The reward for taking on your baggage?  You get to enjoy the full joy of the good parts.  When you're not conflicted, emotionally hung up, or distracted, you are there - RIGHT THERE to watch the kids toboggan. To laugh with your friends.  You're aware of and prepared for the hurtful behaviour of that family member, so you are quick with forgiveness should it come.

So you could go through the holidays with your escape mechanisms intact.  And you'll keep people at a distance and return to work just as stressed as you left.  And for some, the hurt is so bad, and the emotions of the season at such a fever pitch, that it may not be such a bad idea.  OR, you could decide to start processing all that baggage. And at the end of it all, when you've put in the hard work, you will exit the holidays feeling energized and refreshed. 

Most of the time we know what the right thing is to do.  It usually still takes a 2x4 to the head to get us to do it.  A lot of the best ways to improve our lives are extremely simple.  But they are anything but easy.

Good luck this Christmas.  Wish me luck too.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

You're more amazing than you think!

Know what I like?  Writing.

I liked it in high school.  As in, I was that kid that was laughing to himself during the english final, because he was having so much fun coming up with an essay topic.

Then I went to college, and had a prof who was so ruthless that she completely took the joy out of it for me.  For a decade. Grammar.  Syntax.  Verb tense.  When you're smart, you're not allowed to play fast and loose with language.  You have to write like a smart person.  I agree with this to an extent.  You lose people if you distract them with bad grammar.  But you also lose them if you lose the forest for the trees.

So I started blogging.  My english prof will never read it.  But if she does, she might bristle when I start a sentence with "but".  But (hah - twice in a row) she'd probably get over it.  Her job was to teach me how to write papers, not blogs.  But (3) blogs are all about finding your personal voice.  I get to make the rules.  Cause really, I don't know if anyone's going to read this.  I just write it the way I think it.  And if you find it interesting... weird.

So, thanks, blog, for helping me find my voice back and enjoy writing. 

And that's kind of the point.  If you're trying to develop yourself, personally or professionally, it might be a good idea to figure out what you enjoy.  And then work on it. 

So many of us detach our work from our strength.  Your job is to swing a hammer.  To punch keys on a calculator or keyboard.  To sell widgets.  Our job is so rigidly defined that there's no room for us to develop with in it.

I had a cool conversation with a friend this past week.  One of the things I came away with was the fact that it is never a bad thing to strengthen your strengths.  If I have a way of communicating that people respond to, it's probably a really good idea for me to develop that.

Does it make sense that you are becoming the best version of yourself when you practice the things you're naturally built for?

I have a long back and short legs.  I'm like a human daschund. If I wanted to become a sprinter, I'd have a natural disadvantage, regardless of how much training I did. Usain Bolt's legs are twice the length of mine (I made that up, but it feels true). But maybe I'd have made a heck of a greco-roman wrestler, or cyclist. Or circus clown.

Spend a little time figuring out what you're like.  What your skills are.  Interact with new people, and figure out what sets you apart from other people you encounter.  What do YOU do that people really respond to?  The more you do those things, the more you tease out your unique skills and attributes to the surface.  And when you have a strong sense of yourself, and what skills you can offer to the world, the more your purpose will become clear.

Purpose is like a GPS connection.  A plane is off course 99% of the time it's in the air.  But it knows its destination so well that it can make a million tiny corrections, and get there almost as though it had been going in a straight line the whole time.

In the same way, if you know your strengths, your purpose, your best explanation for being right where you ended up, your daily tasks and your job will all reorganize under a new context. Each decision you make becomes a tiny calculation slightly closer to your purpose.

But if you never strengthen your strengths, how would you know which direction to grow toward? To make decisions toward?

Perhaps storytelling and idea communication isn't the most important skill in my current job.  But as a person, if it's something I'm skilled at, why wouldn't I want to hone that?  Having those strengths means that I will find opportunities to use them.  Opportunities that will leave me feeling fulfilled and purposeful.  If I hadn't practiced, perhaps people wouldn't know to refer me, or make me aware of the opportunity.

Few things are more rewarding than doing something you love, that you know you're good at, that benefits others.

And the rest of us are going to find you a LOT more interesting when we meet you, and you are SO good at, and SO passionate about what it is that you're doing.

What skills are laying dormant in YOU?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Why would a loving God...

Drop this blog post in the ocean of opinions that is circling the ideasphere today.  Like everyone else out there, I watched the news today and was deeply troubled by the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.  I saw the pictures of the kids running terrified from their school, and I still can't think of it without choking up. 

The life we live feels so stable. 

It's vapour. 

We build all these routines and structures on the assumption that tomorrow will pretty much behave the same way that today did.  There is NEVER a guarantee of that.

That doesn't stop us from living our lives that way.  Our brains are wired for patterns.  And there's beauty and joy in the patterns that make up our lives.

There are some things that I avoid thinking about, and children dying in violence is one of those.  Even in this blog post, I won't talk about that, except to say this: I prepare myself for a lot of contingencies, but not that.  I will not spend any energy thinking about that.  Because I don't believe there's a way to recover.  Life would change in so many ways that I just couldn't imagine.  And I don't want to think about it.  Take my job, my health, my money - I will be okay.  Do. Not. Take. My. Child. From. Me.  That's the one thing that the current form of myself could not withstand.  All of our love should go out to these people who have to try and create a different life out of the burnt, damaged pieces that are left.  But I can't imagine.  I won't put myself in their shoes.

There is no denying that there is unspeakable evil in this world.  No. Not evil.  Pain.  Because how much pain exists in the mind of a person who could commit an act like that?  There is no end to the suffering and sorrow.  And an act like today's pushes our minds to the very edge of the kind of depravity that humans are capable of.

Then you hear someone say, "It's all part of God's Plan."  Every time someone said that today, 12 people walked away from their faith.

I'm not an apologist.  The closest I come is, "Sorry Christians have done so much stupid stuff in the world." However, my faith has proven to be stronger than my cynicism.  And that's pretty strong.  And I can't speak for any church.  I'm no theologian.  And I can't speak for God, because I don't know him well enough to do that.  But the God that my faith sticks to is not a God who had this anywhere in his plan. 

Don't take this as an argument for the existence of God.  Because I've never tried to make a logical argument for the existence of God.  It's like the toilet seat argument - no one's ever gonna win that argument, but we're all gonna lose while we fight about it.

The God that I can believe in? Here's how I imagine he sees a day like today.
1. When you have a child, your heart doubles in size.  If you have a second, you don't divide the love over two kids - your heart doubles again.  This is how I imagine God views the world.  His love busted open and he created people.  Who he loves.
2. He created a world we can live in that follows it's own rules.  So that we know that the coffee cup is going to remain where we put it down.   And one of those rules is that we are able to make our own choices. And bear the consequences of them.
3. Just like a parent, God watches us make the decisions we make with love. And sometimes our decisions compound into a collossal hot mess.  And sometimes into catastrophe.
4. Just as I weep as I write this, God weeps when bad decisions collide. He saw the car.  He saw the kid run out onto the road.  But he promised us a predictable, cause/effect world. And it kills him to watch.  Just like it kills me when I see Silas struggle with something I know I could fix for him.  Or when I watch him stumble and fall, but I'm too far away to catch him.  But way worse. Way, way worse.

 Like parents love their children.  That's how the God I believe in watches situations like todays.

But then there's the next part.

So, the Bible says that God IS love.  It says, 'everyone that loves, has been born from God, and knows God.  And whoever doesn't love, doesn't know God.  Because God IS love.'

So, when I see love in the world, I see God. Directly.  It's his signature.  His scent. Whether you recognize it as such or not.  When we love others, we are embodying God.

Which leads me to Mr. Rogers.

Look for the helpers.

Earlier on today, I tweeted, "Nothing heals sorrow but blessing. And time."

The other thing about the God I've managed to keep faith in - he finds a way to restore.  I'm not saying he makes hurt go away.  Oh, no.  We're damaged for good.  But what he can do is the final insult.  The depravity and chaos doesn't win.  Because the God that I believe in, when he is set loose on a terrible situation, finds a way to fill it with cancerous goodness. People's lives are destroyed, and yet they find ways to use their pain to inspire others to love more; to give more. 

Before the evil act is finished, there are already people showing up with love in hand - protecting children, helping, caring.  Standing beside dumbstruck people with their hands on shoulders.  The situation still sucks.  But before it has a chance to be perfectly evil, God's there, fucking up the evil.  Busting it up with good.  And it's little help at first.  But over time, the evil shrinks and is forgotten and the love grows.

We carry our scars with us as we grow.  But our unique scars and pains - the damage we accumulate as we fumble through life - these are the very things that make us more beautiful, should we choose to learn from them, to fight to keep our hearts soft. Like this lady:

I hope and pray that a day like today might raise my eyes off my daily grind.  And maybe a few other people's too. 

You know what?  My heart can't bear the pain of those 28 people's families. My heart can't even bear the pain of all the people in Red Deer that I interact with in a day.  It's a painful world.  But, as Mr. Rogers might remind us, there are so many helpers.  And I hope that maybe I reflect the God I have faith in to a few people on a given day by being a loving person.  I don't need to fly to Connecticut to find people who need kindness.  Who need love.

So, instead of turning to blame and playing politics, let's try a new game.  Let's try and love our neighbours.  Evil is not conquered by fighting it.  It's not conquered by legislation.  Know how evil is conquered?  By displacing it with love.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Feeder Bar Psychology

Know why I stopped smoking cigars?  Because I couldn't.  I was always jealous of friends of mine who could keep half a pack in the closet, and pull one out when there was a campfire, but otherwise not think about them.  That ain't me.

I've always fancied the idea of having a liquor cabinet.  My problem is, I've never been able to keep booze around my house long enough to have a special spot for it.

At Christmas time, my co-worker, Kim, makes this ridiculous sweet, salty, caramel, cheesie bits n' bites kind of snack.  We just call it Christmas Crack.  I can't leave it alone.  Even though I'm mildly allergic to the damn stuff.  I will eat it till it's completely gone.

At thanksgiving, do you eat till you're sick? Do you like decadent desserts like cheesecake?

If I open a bottle of wine, it's really hard to have just a glass. I like the buzz. 

Also, did you know there was a research study done, where mice had electrodes attached to their erogenous zones, and any time they would hit their feeder bar, they'd get stimulated?  They put 2 feeder bars in the cage - one gave food, and one gave pleasure.  Know what happened?  They camped out in front of the stimulation bar and pushed it continually.  Till they DIED.  Maybe that's a little off topic, but weird, huh?

What's with human beings and their magnetic attraction to those decadent things? Why can't we stop at one chocolate? Why can't we push back from the table before seconds?  It's pandora's box!  You scratch an itch and it just comes back worse in an hour.  We can turn a good thing into a bad thing, because we don't know when to walk away.  We just keep hitting the wrong feeder bar.

How do you learn when to walk away?  Why doesn't it get easier?  I've had turkey sweats so many times! I've hurt feelings with jokes or conversations SO many times.  Because I don't know when to shut up and back away.  You'd think that I'd learn eventually just by conditioning.  After so many negative experiences, why do I not RUN away from these situations? 

It's not that we don't know when we're in too deep.  You KNOW you shouldn't order the cheesecake.  You usually know which joke is too far.  We know.  But we still go.

Maybe we're tempting fate.  Maybe it's an evolutionary thing? If a little bit is good, then we should get as much of it as we can, because it may be scarce tomorrow, right?

Or maybe it's an escape. Maybe we gorge on decadent things because, some times, it's as close as we might be able to get to a good thing.  Or maybe we've forgotten what a good thing really is.  Or maybe, it's because we lapse.

We know what 'good' actually feels like.  The problem is, good is slow. Good is how you feel when you eat healthy.  Unfortunately, it takes weeks to feel better from changing your eating habits.  Good is having healthy relationships.  But taking advantage of someone is faster.  Good is how you feel when you've finally made enough positive decisions in a row that you start gaining momentum.  When those good decisions start to accumulate into a character, a lifestyle.  That's what good actually feels like. 

But. That's. So. Slow.

And sometimes, as humans, stuff happens and we need a fix.  It's hard not to poke the bear.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Married in Red Deer... For Now...

Know what's crazy about this town?  It has a structural flaw in it's social fabric.

I'm on one of several working groups that is attempting to find a way to end homelessness in Red Deer.  You only need to scratch the surface of the issue to realize that broken families contribute hugely to this issue.  Husbands work away in the oilfield. Wives stay at home with kids, or work low-paying retail jobs.  Then the stress of working away ends the marriage, and many women are left with kids to raise and no training to get gainful employment.  It's stressful, kids don't get the parenting they need, live under the poverty line, and they are left to their own devices while mom works stupid hours - often making the wrong friends and developing habits that send them down a road that ends in any number of social issues.  This isn't every single parent family - not even close.  Some of the best people I know were raised by single parents.  But these families certainly have much to overcome. 

All that is just to say that, if you want to solve some key social issues in this town, WE HAVE TO DO SOME WORK ON RELATIONSHIPS. Call it 'upstream prevention'.

I already touched on a few things above, but I'm going to make a couple observations:

-Guys who work too much:  If you want to have a family, have a family.  But make them the priority.  You don't get to just walk away from them for weeks on end, sending paychecks.  Your kids don't need money.  They need your example.  They need to know you love them.  They need a dad.  How does a 4-year-old spell love? Like this: T-I-M-E.

-Marriage is hard.  Yup.  It is.  In one way, you just stay married once you get married, till you file divorce papers.  But then, I know a lot of married people who don't even have a relationship to speak of. It actually takes a lot of work.  Just like fitness, or the car/truck you love, or your favourite sport.  It usually looks like this: one gets complacent (guys are really good at this), and the other adapts by becoming domineering.  One of them kind of becomes an extra kid - under the thumb of the boss.  When you get married, you are telling someone that you want to GROW WITH them.  That means you have to be together a lot.  Otherwise you grow APART.  You're always growing.  You're always going a direction.  It's up to you to ensure that you're STAYING close.  Very easily the relationship balance can tip from partnership to something more toxic.  And as soon as partners aren't equal, resentment and distance start to grow.

-Men are notoriously non-self aware.  As a result, we have a tendency to just act like jerks for no reason.  We (and forgive me - I'm pushing the boundary here) don't get monthly practice saying, "Wait, am I actually upset, or is something happening outside of my mind (like hormones) that might be affecting me?"  Guys never do that.  So we just act like jerks.  And if you ask us what's wrong with us, we won't be able to answer you, unless you find a way to ask us in 6 different ways and sneak it out of us.  Guys - this is no excuse.  You have to be nice to the girl.  You learned this in second grade.

-Unfaithfulness is not an act.  It is a direction.  Whether it's a flirtatious relationship with a friend, a subscription to a daily girly picture on your cellphone, or fantasy thoughts (just thoughts and nothing more) about someone other than your other half, it's moving you in the wrong direction.  Away, not toward.  Take that action and extrapolate it - if you continue down the same path, where do you find yourself?  Happily together, or apart for good?  So yes, a flirty comment doesn't mean that much.  But IT DOES if it means that you're engaging with other members of your spouses gender in even the most minorly sexual way.  Because it drives the smallest edge of the wedge between you and your spouse.  It makes sexual interaction with another an option.  It shouldn't be.

-WHAT IS WITH THE CULTURE OF CHAUVENISM AND MYSOGYNY?  Let's go all the way to the end of that continuum.  I left a party the other day, and some friends (who I love, and still respect), were planning where next to take the party.  One of the options was the strip club.  And it wasn't just guys.  It was women too.  And no one said, "No way! Forget it!  Do something else!"  I don't know where the party ended up.  I just went home.  But I was kind of surprised, cause I thought self-respecting people didn't go near those places.  A lot of stuff gets tolerated that is absolutely toxic to relationships.  On the surface, maybe your girlfriend/wife says they don't have a problem with it.  Boys will be boys, right?  But on a deeper level, it's telling them something about how you see women.  About what you wish they could be.  And they feel like they're in competition.  Your wife shouldn't be in competition with anyone. Or anything.

-Consider the other first.  I had to learn, when Silas was born, that saying yes to an evening activity meant that I was automatically volunteering Caryn to stay home for the night by herself.  Another way you can put your partner first is to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If you know they love you, then when they say something that could be taken hurtfully or neutrally, just suspend your hurt feelings for a minute and choose to assume that they didn't mean to intentionally spite you.  Even if they did say it hurtfully, chances are there's something going on in their head that's more important than a single comment anyway.  Take a little time to find out why they're upset and feel like shooting barbs at you.

-Have a good filter.  Not just the one that fits between your brain and your mouth, but also one that sits between your ears and your brain (and heart).  Let me describe a couple of them:
-The "After 11:00" filter: "I'm tired and don't have patience.  They are tired and aren't thinking about how to diplomatically word something. Those words will hurt less in the morning, but chances are my partner will rephrase them after a nights sleep anyway."
-The under stress/pain filter: "They are in pain and hating life.  Everything is bothering them.  The tide of their patience is out, so things they can usually tolerate are now intolerable.  A) Give them extra space. B) Take this as an opportunity to find out what sort of things kind of bother them, that you might be able to fix. C) Take what they say and multiply it by about 0.8"

When I graduated from high school, I spent a summer living with a wonderful couple named Lando and Kathy Klassen.  Kathy told me (years before I would need the advice) that the best thing you can do in a relationship is not to stop listening when you've heard; but rather to stop listening when you've understood.  We spend so much time preparing our answer while our partner is talking that we aren't actually listening to what they say.

- Fight fair.  You are not allowed to bring up old fights.  Are you fighting to hurt each other? Or are you fighting to solve a problem?  One thing sticks out more than any other from when Caryn and I went to marriage counselling when we were engaged - a visual.  When you're fighting unfairly against your spouse, it's like you're taking an axe and chopping into the bottom of the boat you are both standing in.  If you win the fight, do you win, or do you lose?  How do you fight fair?  I already mentioned keeping to the topic you started on.  Other ones are - approach the topic delicately, at an appropriate time. Do your best to be open and not defensive.  When you react defensively, you make yourself unapproachable.  How can you make your partner happy if they can't come to you with an issue?  Instead of being accusational, say, "When you do _____, I feel ______".  Help them to see your side.

-Remember when I said guys are un-self-aware?  Well, if we don't even know what's going on in our own minds, PLEASE don't make us try to read yours.  I make lists.  I just had a job review.  When I was finished, I sent an e-mail to the 2 guys giving me feedback, listing the suggestions they had made.  I wanted to make sure I understood their expectations, and they were clear with me about what they were.  I can't meet an expectation that I don't know exists.

Anyway.  I had to get that off my chest.  The state of relationships in this town is actually causing a lot of damage.  At the extreme end, it's causing social issues with addiction and crime, but at every end of the spectrum, it's causing damage to people's hearts, creating huge amounts of pain, and hurting a LOT of people that we love.  We need to get better at this.  Men need to be FAMILY MEN.  And women need to learn what it takes as well.  You can't just withdraw and stop loving.  You need to stand up for yourself and tell your man what you NEED to make this thing work.

You and your partner may be a long way apart.  But as I said, faithfulness is a direction.  If you start heading toward each other - one small decision at a time, you can repair what's been broken.

Red Deer needs to look at this part of it's culture.  It's tolerance of divorce and the causes thereof is terrible.  It's causing so much pain.  So much.

Anyway, these are the thoughts I rehearse when I think about my relationship.  I've only been married for 7 years and change, so I'm not the guru of this, by any means.  But we've got to start the dialogue somewhere, right?

As usual, give me some feedback?  Do you agree that broken families are an 'upstream' issue to homelessness, crime, and addiction?  Am I being fair?  Let's hear it!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Conquest or Consensus?

I drive a certain type of person nuts.

But that's okay, cause they drive me even more nuts.

How long has it been since you flirted with someone?  Know what's interesting about that kind of interchange?  If you think about it, it's adversarial.  It's me vs. you.  A power play - you're trying to jostle for position - who's the wittiest, who can make the other blush, who can take it closest to the line without crossing, or who can cross the line the furthest and get away with it.  I mean, it's all friendly, of course, but it's an eye contact, person to person style of conversation.

Ever worked with or been friends with a person who had to be right?  Every conversation is an argument to be won.  They are not to be outdone.  They will not concede their opinion for the sake of moving forward in the conversation?  You feel like you walk away from any chat you have with them as the loser, even though you weren't trying to play a game.  This is another conversation style that is by definition adversarial.  You're staring someone in the face, and SOMETHING's gotta give. 

Who's gonna look away?  Who's gonna do it?  Loser.

There's probably a time for those kind of conversations.  But I daresay it's a lot more rare than it needs to be.  I mean, if you need to prove to your dog that you have the authority to tell him he can't pee on the area rug, sure.  But dude.  I'm a smart, confident, capable adult, who has a valid opinion.  Do. Not. Try. To. Defeat. Me.

I had an experience today, where I was in one of those eye-to-eye conversations, and we kept on bouncing off each-other.  Then something really cool happened.  Somehow a change happened - slight redirection of the topic, and suddenly we weren't nose to nose, we were shoulder to shoulder, on the same side of the argument, in agreement.  And the tension dissipated like someone opened a window and let a breeze blow it all away. 

This is a tactic we use at work from time to time.  When we have to disappoint a client, we find whatever way we can to approach it from their side.  To promise them that we will work with them against those circumstances that led to their expectations not being met. 

Anyone out there who likes getting beaten down?  Maybe it's my inability to see it from the other side (it's the opposite of my personality type), but it seems like a no-brainer that you will get farther in life by joining people on their mission and rowing a couple strokes with them than you will by conquering them. 

You may or may not be able to recognize your own conversation style.  We're pretty good at justifying our approach, without even really thinking about what our approach is.  But I bet you can pick out other people's style.  And what you could do is start to proactively approach conversations from beside someone instead of in their face.  When you see the great results, I bet you'll start to displace your old habits pretty quickly.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I don't think you're allowed to self-evaluate your integrity.  I think the proof's in the pudding on that one.  But I will say that's it's always been a theme word for my life.  If you plant a flower in your yard, it's going to wither when it gets too hot or too cold.  If you put a rock out there, it won't.  It's gonna look the same whether it's a gentle spring day or a hailstorm.  The rock has integrity.  It stays the same regardless of the circumstances.

Steel is another thing that is said to have integrity.  The less impurity, the less foreign matter in the mix, the stronger the steel - the more integrity.  It's the same on the inside as it is on the outside.

Rocks.  Steel.  Geez.  I sound like a pickup truck commercial.  Also sounds boring.

So here's the challenge.  What does a human who has integrity look like?  My guess - they'll bring three things in line with each other: their thoughts, their words, and their behaviour. 

How do I get there?  Humans have this funny habit of having a perceived personality and then a blind side.  So when I speak, and when I think about myself, I speak and think as though I am the person I picture myself as in my brain.  However, my actions will belie the fact that I don't always measure up to the man I imagine I am.

The stronger your ideals, the larger the gap between your perceived self and your real self.  That's a toughie.  What's better?  Having strong values, or having integrity?  Is it possible that integrity actually means toning down your beliefs to something you can actually live up to?  Don't get me wrong - don't go all the way to the other side and say, "If I don't keep any convictions, I don't need to feel guilt for any of my actions."  That's cheating too.

You're creating a lot of stress for yourself when you're writing cheques with your conscience that your actions can't cash.  I think integrity means having a realistic impression of yourself - what you can and can't do.  And then not setting yourself up for failure.

So, what if I find a flaw in the steel?  A crack from an inconsistency in the formula?  Well, it's awfully hard to fix, isn't it?  Kind of like a cavity, you'd need to drill out any weak spots, so that you are grafting in to the solid, pure, good stuff.  Then you need to painstakingly layer in pure, molten filling that's made as solid as the existing stuff, or better, so that the weak spot is gone.  If that's my personality that we're talking about, that means coming clean about the weakness, making the appropriate reparations, and then painstakingly correcting my behaviour by changing my habits.

Sounds hard.  When I just write it out like that, I can see why it's mostly an aspiration.  But when you find a person who is this way - MAN is it ever amazing.  They say what they mean, they keep their promises, you know what to expect from them.  They aren't dramatic.  They are reliable.

Have you ever run into a football player, or a really strong person?  Even though they're made of the same cellular structure as you, chances are you bounced off them like you had just charged headlong into a tree.  Now picture someone who is like that mentally.  That's a person with integrity.  The real deal.

So, anyway, that's what I think integrity is.  I'd tell you how to get there, but I don't stinking know.  Just keep going, I guess.

Monday, 26 November 2012

I've Broken Up with Music

I'm a really clever guy.

When I'm writing about stuff 'in my ballpark'.  And since this is my blog, I have the luxury of sticking to that category.  So you all stay totally impressed. 

Right?  RIGHT?

But not today, because a weird thing happened to me the other day.

As you may have guessed by my last post, I'm experiencing stress these days.  And usually, when I drive in my truck, I listen to interviews with thought leaders who talk about the things they... lead... thought... in.  But when I'm stressed out, learning goes out the window.  So I switched it to the radio.

And then a song came on.  And I did something really uncomfortable.

I... felt...

When the song was done, I turned off the radio, and as I left the car, I felt a little cheap, like someone had just busted into my head and rearranged the furniture without my permission.  I actually found myself resenting the song for making me identify with it.

Which is weird for me, because I used to play guitar and sing in church, like all the time, and music was a huge part of my life in college and high school.  And now, I find myself feeling like it's for the weak.

Here's the best I can describe it:  I spend a lot of time working on my mental space.  Thinking positively, believing that bad luck is a golden learning opportunity, and that I can create (most of) the circumstances that will lead to my continued improvement and success as a human being.

And then that song came on the radio.  And it managed to get backstage and whisper a couple haunting words to the superstar right before the big performance.

I can't figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Here's why: I am a hard worker.  And the way to get to the next step is not to sit back and let a song make you feel bad.  It's to put your head down, and work your ass off till you hit the next smooth patch and you can let off the pedals a bit.

Don't get me wrong.  This isn't a denial thing.  It's a persistence and inner strength thing.  I'm fully willing to acknowledge that hard stuff is hard.  But feeling bad is a waste of energy, right?  It is what it is, so deal with it.  Right?

Yet ever since this happened on Sunday, I've been kind of haunted by it.  Help me, friends.

What is music's role in this stuff?  I don't want to just sit around and mope.  What's to be gained from listening to a song that describes your negative state?  Can music be restorative?  That's a lot to ask!  People pay a lot more for cognitive behavioural therapy than they do for an iTunes download for a reason.

I was totally caught off guard by my reaction to that song.  I felt like it busted me feeling a way I wasn't 'supposed' to be feeling.  I want to hear your take on it.  Is music for the strong, or the weak?  Is it an escape, or is it edifying?  Of course there's good and bad.  But is there a role for it in all this?  Or is it a way that we let ourselves off the hook by giving our emotions some instant gratification?

Please comment below.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Restore Default Settings

If you think you're good at handling stress, try to solve a sudoku puzzle while someone taps their index finger on your forehead.

I heard an interview with Steve Shapiro - a speaker on innovation.  (Here's a TED talk that he did that really encapsulates the way I try to approach a lot of things in life.  TED talks are my way of feeling smart while not taking time to read books.  Kind of like that fancy feeling you get when you walk a little extra slowly past a Ferrari).  In the interview, he goes a little further into the principle that experts are at a disadvantage when it comes to creativity, because their neural passageways are so deeply developed in a particular way of thinking.  Any time they're faced with the stress of a challenge, they default to their old way of solving problems.

But then, I guess you don't have to be an expert for that, do you?  Isn't that what we all do?  I'm usually a pretty chill guy.  At the best of times, that means most stress is water off a duck's back for me.  But when the shit really hits the fan, I tend to stray further down the spectrum and become downright avoidant.  Some people have tendencies to speak before thinking, that they can keep in check until something stressful happens.  Then they revert back to that old habit.

If you rounded a corner and came face to face with an angry tiger, your brain would short-circuit the 'logic and reason' side of your brain.  It goes straight to the fight-or-flight, instinctual side.  Your behaviour is much less voluntary when you have adrenalin running through the old meatloaf.

When I was in my last year of high school, a friend of mine (best friend of a number of my best friends) committed suicide.  Being my avoidant self, I watched from a bit of a distance as all of my friends dealt with it in different ways.  Sometimes it was vice - drinking, smoking, sexuality.  Sometimes it was spirituality.  Sometimes it was relational - some avoided others, some veered more to the needy, paranoid side.  All my friends were (and are) wonderful people, who I wish I was in more contact with.  But it was a fascinating learning experience to watch people develop coping mechanisms at that young age.  And some of us are still leaning on those same coping mechanisms today. 

If you've ever lost someone close to you, you know what grieving feels like.  It feels like stress.  You feel like you literally spilled your guts all over the pavement, and yet people are expecting you to carry on, working, interacting, being friendly.  And you just feel like you have "BASKET CASE" stamped on your forehead.  So when your guts are out, a little germ can become a deep seated infection.  Because eventually you are able to gather them back together and tuck them back, roughly where they belong.  So the decisions we make when we're under big stress or pain can be very crucial.  The strongest memories are linked with emotion, so those coping mechanisms develop fast and strong.

So, when you're under stress, just keep an eye out.  The first thing you'll find is that your desire for creativity diminishes.  If you're a musician, a planner, a performer, a salesperson, watch your passion dwindle.  Then, watch to see what you start to 'default' toward.  I bet you already know.  If not, I bet your best friend or spouse does - this is often the 'blind side' of our own personality, that we "on purposedentally" overlook.  Do you distrust people?  Is it suddenly extremely important that the boots are on the right side of the closet and the shoes on the left?

And the crazy thing about coping mechanisms?  They don't have to be vices!  Or better put, ANYTHING can be a vice when it's used as a coping mechanism.  Exercise is great - until you're doing it obsessively, to the detriment of your relationships.  Healthy eating is great, until it becomes a diet, and then an eating disorder.  Blogging is great.  Unless it means you're ignoring your 4 year old. Wait.  Shoot. 

Just kidding.  He's already asleep.

Do you know what your "Default Settings" are?  Hey - God Bless You if you've had a charmed enough life that you haven't had to find out, but I bet most of us have an inkling.  A healthy idea might be to make yourself aware of what they are.  You're going to be doing them whether you realize it or not.

Stress happens.  It can't be avoided.  But part of being prepared for it is recognizing your default settings, and not letting them go unchecked.  Allowing those bad habits in when you're stressed is like planting a seed deep, deep in your mind.  It can grow in there for a long time without you noticing, once you cover it up.  But you may start to see it crop up in all sorts of odd places with time.  Don't let those patterns get too ingrained.  Brains are like a wagon trail - the more times you go down the same path, the harder it is to get the wheels out of the grooves if you decide you don't like it anymore.

Is it just me or do I speak in pictures?

So what's your story?  How do you spot a rut in your actions?  What defaults do you reset to under stress? What tips do you have to recognize them?  To re-train yourself?  Comment away!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A better way to do business.

I'm going to apologize ahead of time if this sounds sales-y.  All I can do is speak from experience, and my experience comes from where I work.

Ever get those moments of transcendence?  Where you stand back and realize that something very ordinary and day-to-day that you take for granted is actually really amazing?  I often get those when I say bedtime prayers with my son, and I realize that we are SO blessed to happen to be born into one of the most comfortable, prosperous places on the face of the earth.  We didn't choose to be born here.  We found ourselves here, and as a result, we have the opportunity to live one of the most comfortable existences in the HISTORY of HUMANKIND.  Unbelievable.

On a slightly less cosmic scale, I'd like to share something really unique that I'm a part of.  I just call it my job, but I happen to be part of a completely new way to do business.  A better way, I daresay.

Anybody remember that documentary, The Corporation?  Where they talk about how North American law gives Corporations the same rights as humans, but none of the responsibilities?  And as a result, corporations act like sociopaths, but cannot be penalized or imprisoned?  Who is a business accountable to?  Shareholders.  And shareholders tend to be pretty brash.  Like, if you have a bad quarter, they dump your stock and buy Apple.  Or just Apple products, depending on what your stock was worth.  This results in corporations sacrificing tomorrow to turn a profit today.  It's like drinking coffee instead of getting enough sleep.  It works for a bit, but in the end, it's damaging.

It makes me think of carpet and paint.  Because everything makes me think of carpet and paint.  But also because of these 2 stories:

Imagine a company that makes a LOT of paint.  Like 100,000 gallons a year.  They start by making a pretty high quality product.  And they charge as much for it as people are willing to pay.  But out of that budget, they have to pay for a big sales staff, a TON of marketing, a complicated distribution system, and a corporate jet.  And because they're already charging as much as they can, what do they do to make a little more money?  Cut costs.  And how tempting is it to squeeze the quality of your product?  I mean, half a cent per gallon isn't much.  When you multiply it by 100,000 gallons it adds up, but the paint quality doesn't suffer that much, does it?  Well, no.  Not the first time.  But that's a dangerous game.

What if a company decided to turn that whole thing on its head?  Instead of going big, they went small, and their philosophy was to put the BEST ingredients in the paint, regardless of cost.  Then they killed the sales force and the distribution chains, and the 100,000 gallons of inventory.  Well, not literally KILLED the sales force.  Just never hired them.  Then, they let companies buy into a management group, and they get to market and sell the paint themselves.  Now, instead of 80% of the money going into the business and 20% going into the actual paint, those numbers flip, and almost all the money the company makes goes into putting the best ingredients into the paint.  Big paint companies could never TOUCH that - too much overhead.  People are only willing to pay so much for a can of paint, and they have to mark it up to pay for their bulky organization.  Suddenly, the fact that it's a small paint company becomes this company's biggest strength. And they're in paint heaven, because they get to use all the geeky cutting edge paint technology everyone else says is too expensive!  Read more about this company here.

Okay.  Now imagine this story:  Imagine if the shareholders in a corporation weren't traders and gamblers.  Imagine if they had more skin in the game than just a few bucks in stock.  Imagine, say, that the corporation was a flooring retail organization.  And imagine that the shareholders were all owners of family-owned flooring stores throughout the world.  Now, if the president of that organization had a suggestion that would cost the business money in the short term, but in 5-10 years would put it in a much better position, do you think the shareholders would be a little more receptive to the loss?  That they wouldn't dump and run?  No way!  They'll get behind it and see it through.  Because they've got a lot more invested in that result.  They're not worried about the opportunity cost they're sacrificing by keeping their money there, because they've built the business with their own hands - it's directly related to their ability to succeed in business.  They're ALL IN.

Here's a model that makes the whole system a lot less parasitic.  Decisions are made with longer term vision, and the end result will benefit the customer, the supply chain, and the industry.  I think a lot of people would agree that the system is broken.  A lot of people don't realize that there are already successful alternative models out there.

Zoomed in, you might not be able to tell that we do things any different than the next guys, but this is a whole new way of doing business.  And every once in a while, I zoom out to 5000 feet, and realize how lucky I am to be involved in something so unique.

So that's one of many reasons I still look forward to work almost every morning, after over 7 years on the job.  There's a lot to get behind here.  You should check it out.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Aaaaand, ACTION!

I had a great conversation with an old friend tonight.  We talked about making the time to identify priorities in your life.  That's a great idea.  If you haven't already, you should do that.  Like, now. 

Once you know what you're good at, what you feel called to do, and what gets you fired up, and you've listed them by priority, you will be ahead of a solid 50% of the population.  So congratulations.  If you're reading this to gain some value, throw that in the fanny pack and mosey on.  Because I might just talk about myself for the rest of the post. And I'm going to justify it by venturing a guess that I'm not the only one who sucks at what I'm gonna talk about.

I've been talking with my wife a lot for the last 6 months or so about a project I've been thinking of taking on.  The other day I was telling her my brilliant idea, and she asked me if I had spoken to anyone who could actually make it happen (ie. a financier, or someone such as).  Kinda stopped me in my tracks.  See, in my head, there's, like, a LOT of groundwork to be done before you make that step.  But in reality, THAT step is the difference between whether you're DOING a project, or whether it's just a pipe dream.  And to be honest, almost all of my projects die before they ever exit my mental preparation stage. My mental cutting room floor is like a barbershop of horrors for genius ideas.

Meanwhile, at home, we had a great weekend.  No major plans - but after a busy week, Silas and I got to spend 2 solid days together.  So what did we do?  Well, I don't really know.  Okay I kind of know.  I took Silas to places while I half-assedly (yup I just worded that) interacted with him while giving the rest of my attention to facebook, twitter, and screens in general.  Screen-sucking, apparently, is the upcoming term for this.  I was that dad who was there, but wasn't really there.  And I did it to Caryn too.  Fortunately, she's perceptive (and sensitive, and bold) enough to call me out on it.

Anyone remember the post I did a while ago, where I used the quote, "It doesn't matter if you save the whole world, if the people that matter the most to you think the least of you."  I think that's actually a medley of quotes from John Maxwell and Rabbi Schmuley... 
Here's my point:

You can live a failure of a life regardless of how great your philosophies are, if you forget to PLUG YOUR BRAIN IN TO THE REST OF YOUR BODY!!!

Go ahead and have big ideas.  They don't make you wise, or even smart.  Because if you don't act on them, they are dead.  I can tell people that Caryn and Silas are the most important things in my life till I'm blue in the face.  Would I jump in front of a car for them?  Philosophically, yes.  But here's where I'm going to challenge you (and me): if I can't even fold down my stinking laptop screen when they address me, how exactly do I think I'm going to magically have what it takes if, by some random chance, I actually do have to make a snap decision to sacrifice myself for my family?  Also, what does it matter if I do, at that point?  If I've ignored my family my whole life, the most that will result out of me jumping in front of a bus for them is that they MIGHT forgive me.

So here's my challenge:  I've been challenging myself, when I have a clever idea, to DO something about it immediately. Something that exists outside my own brain: send an e-mail, call someone, make an appointment, submit a proposal - ANYTHING.  Speak that idea into reality.  Once that idea is out there, you can't kill it on the cutting room floor.  If you really thought it was so smart, here's your chance to find out.  It doesn't take much to get the ball rolling.

And when it comes to my family - there's the idea of being a good dad, and then there's the action of being a good dad.  Guess what?  If I spend 24 hours with Silas, and ignore him for 20 of them, our relationship isn't strengthening.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Perhaps I need to exchange my romantic idea of what 'sacrificing for my family' is for a practical idea.  Like turning of my damn phone and looking at them when they talk to me!  Chances are that's going to happen a lot more than me having to jump in front of a bus for them.

I used to think that wisdom meant that I would have lots of amazing thoughts floating around inside my head, and that, as I share those thoughts, people might start to line up and seek out my sagely advice.  I'm starting to realize that true wisdom is evidenced by a skillfully lived life.  Wise people have great ideas, just like we all do.  But what makes them wise is that they implement them.  And their lives reap the benefits.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

OF COURSE someone like me would say this!

Does this bug anyone else?  Have you ever had that feeling like someone thinks they 'get' you?  Maybe they do, and maybe they don't; but the point is that, if you're like me, you don't WANT them to!

You don't have to read far into my blog to learn that I have a love/hate relationship with personality tests.  I have a real aversion to the idea that a) a 10 minute quiz will reveal deep inner secrets I otherwise would never have known about myself, and b) I, along with all other humans, can be lumped into one of four easy categories.  Kierkegaard said, "Once you label me, you negate me." (don't be impressed - I learned it from watching Wayne's World - about 1:50 in)
  I am complex and mysterious, dammit!  You can't pigeonhole me!

On the flip side of that coin, there is the argument that's most succinctly put by those clever ancient Greeks: "KNOW THYSELF".  The value of these quizzes and evaluations is that, in the best case scenario, they can shine a light on some of the motivations or reasons for our often confusing reactions to stimuli.  Your brother gets a new promotion and you get jealous instead of happy.  You stand up for yourself and feel guilty instead of empowered.  Good heavens, humans and their silly reactions and motivations.  If the tests help, let's mandate them for all of us!  A little self actualization would do us good!

So, in summary, I guess: I want to know myself, but I don't want you to know me.  Or at least, I want to be the FIRST one to figure myself out.

Anyway, I'll get off my hobby horse.  Here's the point: there is a danger here that we can forgive (ignore) people for anything if it's just their pesky personality getting in the way. 

Remember when I was talking about getting yelled at (I'm this self referential only because I don't read enough)?  Well, imagine that you exited getting chewed out thinking, "Well, I know that person has a commanding, task oriented personality and only considers the cost to relationships after the damage has been done", then proceeded to write off the whole experience because "that's just the way they are, and they're just having an emotional reaction to the whole thing."  That'd be great!  Because that would mean you don't have to change any behaviour!  The deficiency all lies in that other person's personality.

This is something that happens to emotional people all the time.  Imagine being this person:  You don't like confrontation - it's your worst nightmare.  Harmony is what you always work toward.  However, some issue has gone on long enough, and it's time to confront the aggressor.  You are so nervous and out of your comfort zone that you start to cry.  Then, the person you are confronting starts to COMFORT you and tell you not to worry about it.  THEY ARE PLACATING YOU!  Just because you were crying did not mean that you had legitimate concerns that had to be dealt with!  Personalities be damned!

If you're in customer service, I bet you do this too:
When I have a difficult phone call with a customer at work, it is much easier for my ego if I jump to the conclusion that the difficult person is also a crazy person.  If they are irrational, then I don't have to deal with the fact that I may have actually failed to deliver what I promised to.

But what if it's my wife, who may be overtired, but is ALSO really upset that I sat on my butt all night while she cleaned dishes, changed laundry, and fed, bathed, and tucked in the boy?  It's easy for me to write off the anger because she's overtired.  AND, conveniently, if I let myself off the hook for those jobs, she will probably ALWAYS be overtired by the time she has a moment to confront me about it!

There is no english language.  I say this because we all use the same words, but few of us ever understand each other.  KNOW THYSELF, so that you know what language you speak.  And learn about the personality types of those who are close to you, so you can learn what language they speak, too.  That way, you can take the words they say, and translate them into your own language.  Everyone speaks in code.  You risk misinterpreting people if you fail to comprehend that.  Not every message comes across exactly as it's intended.
Don't make the mistake of writing people off just because "that's just them, being them."  Believe it or not, everyone has a reality just like yours, and they believe as much as you do that what they say is important, even if that's hard for you to incorporate into your perception.

Friday, 10 August 2012

How did this get to be about fish?

Ever had to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you will just never have some certain quality that you wish you possessed?

My life seems to have themes.  Either that or I don't have a lot of original thoughts and my blog posts get more redundant with each new one I heap on.  It's probably a combination of both those things, but that's okay, because one day I'll write a book that assimilates all these posts, and all the repeated thoughts will give it cohesion.  Or maybe they will make the book circular and excruciating.  Stop judging my book.  I haven't even written it yet.

One of the themes is this: your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness (remember that blog post?).  The same DNA that makes me great at building relationships makes me lousy at being assertive, for fear of hurting someone's feelings.  The inclination to explore ideas also expresses itself as a dis-inclination to turn those ideas into actions.  I bet this is the same for you.  Are you task oriented?  I bet you can't figure out how to avoid upsetting those people who get in the way of completing those tasks.  Are you extremely analytical?  I bet you hate how unimaginative you are.

I've had a couple interesting interactions lately that have hit me in the feelers.  Both of them, in very different ways, suggested to me that 'execution' is something I am not good at.
I have a list of 99 amazing ways to get from the little bowl to the big one.  Ask me about them.  I'd love to tell you.  But, my two co-conversants reminded me, with varying levels of gentleness, guess which bowl I am still in?

These conversations have left me feeling like a round peg in a square hole.  It is precisely the lack of skill in execution that makes me believe it is the golden key to all the success in life.  I bet all my executioner friends feel the same way about getting along with people (at least, I hope).  In keeping with the fish theme, I feel like this:
Ever heard the saying, "Those who can't do, teach"?  It always made me laugh, because teachers are easy to hate (okay, that word's too strong.  Let's go with resent.), with their cushy union jobs and their 2 months of paid vacation.  But today I saw another side of this joke.

I bet the inverse is true too: Those who can't teach, do.  By that I mean, a lot of the most results oriented people out there are so busy getting tasks done that they are lousy teachers, and they tend to piss people off, because getting the stuff done is more important to them than the people involved.  So, who's left to teach people how to do things?  The non-executors. 

I wonder how many books on Takin Care Of Business have been written by people who are great theorists, but don't actually accomplish much.  I mean, what results-oriented person has time to stop gettin shit done long enough to write about it? Wouldn't that feel like a colossal waste of time for them?

Anyway, those are my ponderings.  Fish, get off your bicycles.  Ignore the Lance Armstrongs and their judgy-judginess.  They aren't fish, and I bet you'd KILL them in a breath holding competition.  Go swim.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dan Ouwehand's 3 tips to Self-Actualized Criticism-Taking

If there are any readers left after my recent hiatus, hello.

I've already posted on "Failure to Communicate".  But guess what?  I'm like that kid in The Sixth Sense, who sees dead people.  Only instead of dead people, I see failures to communicate.  Which is only a little less unsettling.

Have you ever had someone tear you a new one?  I mean - really lay into you?  I bet you have.  It's part of shuffling around on this planet.  What do you usually do when that happens?  Allow me to describe some stock responses:

1.  The newbie response: This doesn't happen to you very often.  Perhaps you were new at a job, or crossed a person you didn't know was difficult, and you got blindsided by the arse-chewing of a lifetime.  And it levels you.  You choke back tears all day.  At your earliest opportunity, you go home, change into your pyjamas, bust into the emergency chocolate supply, and watch comfort movies till next Thursday.  You decide to change careers, relationships, hairstyles, area codes, etc.
- The problems with this response are pretty obvious: most people who will yell at you aren't worth spending much time on.  They don't know you, and their reaction says more about their inability to deal with change than it does with your level of competence.

(Don't click on this video if you don't like offensive language.  It's Dane Cook.  That's what he does.)

2.  The "I'm Perfect" response: You don't know how often this happens to you.  Because you hardly notice it happening.  Your typical response is, "What was wrong with that guy?  Obviously he doesn't realize how flawlessly I execute my life." It's forgotten before the bubbles of his yell-spit on your shirt pop.  This response is also called the 'avoidant' response.
- The problem here: I'm gonna tell you something you might be avoiding paying a therapist a lot of money for: Sometimes, it IS your fault. Yes, it's true.  And guess what else?  Everyone knows it but you.

3.  The Canadian response:  It goes like this: "Sorry! I'm sorry!  I'm SO sorry!  I'm sorry I wronged you!  I'm sorry I have this problem!  Sorry for my personality! Sorry for YOUR personality! Sorry I have interactions with you that are sometimes inconvenient! Sorry for taxes! Sorry my career prep teacher in high school said I'd be good at this type of job!"
- The problem here:  I bet you are uncomfortable with conflict, because you are saying WHATEVER IT WILL TAKE to get your butt out of this uneasy situation.  But guess what?  Saying sorry can mean that you are taking responsibility for things that are not yours to own up to.  Particularly, the fact that the person shouting at you is currently being an asshole. And probably some other things as well.

4. The 'nuclear bomb' response: This one goes like this: "You have a problem with something I did?  Well, I have a problem with YOU!" "OH YEAH? WELL YOU'RE A FAT PRICK AND I'M STILL MAD AT YOU FOR THAT THING YOU DID TWO YEARS AGO!"
- Take it easy, Allcaps.  I'm going to paint you a word-picture, cause I'm a nice guy.  You and this person (assuming they are someone you must maintain a relationship with, like a co-worker or relative) are in a boat.  Your response is equivalent to taking an axe, and beginning to take large hacks out of the bottom of the boat. So, if you succeed in sinking the boat, did you win, or lose?

So, here are Dan Ouwehand's 3 Rules for handling conflict like a self actualized person. And believe me, I'm very qualified to give these to you.  Not only am I extremely self-actualized, I ALSO get yelled at a lot.

1. Consider the source
Many screaming matches can start and end right here.  If this person doesn't know you, I'm going to give you permission right now to do something: let it go.  They are crazy.  Their screaming has nothing to do with you (but I bet they have some really messed up childhood stories, if you're patient enough to wean them out). However (and here's where people often miss the boat), if this person has known you for a while, there is also a possibility that there is some substance to their beef, even if the delivery mechanism happens to be blunt, like a baseball bat to the noggin.  Don't forget that this person has been watching you for a while.  They can see a side of you that you can't always see.  It's the subconscious version of the back of my head, which I shave by myself, and often poorly, I'd imagine.

2. Apply the filter 
Anecdote time (it's like story time, but much more professional).  I work in a department that manages about 15 crews of flooring installers.  Of those crews, I have a few that are very 'generous' (read obnoxious) with their feedback.  "It's too hot" "They didn't move the furniture" "They left a barking dog in the basement" "The painter stopped by from 11:00-11:15" "That job didn't pay enough (strangely, I never hear about the other ones)."  I also have a few crews who are very positive, and reserve their opinions for those times when it's warranted.  I bet you can guess which ones make me close my youtube browser when they speak up (if my boss reads this, I'm just kidding - it's a figure of speech all us crazy gen-Y'ers are using).

I have a few people at work who I truly respect.  They work hard, they have integrity, and they produce huge results within the company.  However, they also live with their frustrations until they've had it up to their ears.  Therefore, by the time you're hearing about the problem, there's a lot of emotion to work through before you get to the heart of the issue. I guess you could call it "rich" emotion (that means angry).  When I get feedback from these guys (they're guys, in my case), I apply the filter, receive the message, and (try to) refuse to take offense at the medium.  I know that their frustration does not affect their relationship with me any differently than if a more diplomatic person was upset with me.

3. Find the growth opportunity

If you're married, perhaps from time to time your spouse will 'emote' to you about things that are frustrating them.  Then they'll apologize and say that there were extenuating circumstances that made them say what they said (lack of sleep, bad day at work, whatever).  I bet you have a filter for cranky family members, right?  But don't forget that when their patience is diminished you've also got an opportunity to find out what things bug them a little bit - just enough that they only come out when they're cranky.  After all, feedback is the breakfast of champions.

So, now we've established a few things: 1) The person who is upset is qualified to speak into our lives, for one reason or another.  2) We have taken their words, and multiplied them by the "speaker factor", those things we know about the speaker that may cause them to overstate the point or be unintentionally offensive.  Now we have a distilled message that might really be worth something.  What they're saying comes after a sustained period of observation, and they know you well enough to have a higher expectation of you.  Now you can take what's left of the message, and translate it into your own self-talk.

Guess what?  You just took a hurtful situation, and used it to make yourself a better person!  You are now officially more self-actualized than 85% of the population (I made that figure up, but look around - it FEELS true).

Now, there's an important note to make here.  I'm not condoning the behaviour of screamers.  I don't feel that's an appropriate way to convey your disapproval.  However, we live in a world where people's interpersonal skills are at various levels of development.  It's just going to happen sometimes.  So we may as well try and make some good come out of it, right?  Take the criticism, and make it constructive.

And also a challenge: don't let your own dissatisfaction escalate to a fever pitch before you share it.  Many (though admittedly not all) people out there are anxious to hear how they're doing, and would love to try to get better.

And here's a great place to start.  What type are you?  Have you had a great confrontation story?  I'd love to hear it.  Post it below for the lovely people.  I love your feedback (though preferably with minimal animosity).


Monday, 9 July 2012

I finished the Ride to Conquer Cancer!

Hi folks!

Thought you might want to read my story about the Ride to Conquer Cancer!  Here's the thank you letter I'll be sending off to my sponsors.

Dear Supporters and Friends,

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your support in my recent fundraising effort, the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer!  With your help, I was able to raise $6,769 toward cancer research, treatment, support and care.

Our efforts contributed to a province wide total of $8 million dollars raised for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. The Alberta Cancer Foundation is directly responsible for supporting the work of the Cross Cancer Institute, Edmonton, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary, Jack Ady Cancer Centre, Lethbridge, Central Alberta Cancer Centre, Red Deer, and Grande Prairie Cancer Centre along with 11 community cancer centres.

The ride occurred on a cloudy, rainy day.  While the rain was uncomfortable, particularly when it came heavily, it was preferable to the hot sun, which creates many hazards relating to dehydration and sunstroke.  Needless to say, your donations were well earned – it poured for 12 straight hours on the evening between day 1 and day 2.  I slept in a puddle while my tent dripped on my face and all over my dry clothes.  It was certainly ‘memorable.’

The event planners did an excellent job connecting the ride and the important cause it supports, from flags to identify cancer survivors to recorded video messages that play for participants on a large screen as they cross the finish line.  Inspiration was certainly not in short supply.

As you likely know, I undertook this effort in memory of my mother, who passed away from cancer 7 years ago, and in honour of my uncle and his family, who are now fighting a similar battle.  Many of you have supported me because you have been through this experience yourselves.  I empathize with your difficult journey, and thank you for your generosity.  I hope and trust that, as we pull together toward this goal, we will see the effects of this terrible disease reduced, and maybe one day, eliminated.  I hold on to hope that my son will not have to endure the heartache that cancer has caused to me and my generation.

Once again, thank you for your support.  You were on my thoughts as I rode, and I felt your encouragement uphold me, especially after the 60th drop of rain on my head in my sleeping bag, or as my calf (or hamstring, or hip) tightened up on the 175th kilometre.


Dan Ouwehand