Bruce Katlin Creates And The Running Artist

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Obama vs "Uh" Obama 0 - "Uh" 192

Nothing kills a speech, puts me to sleep or causes me to lose confidence in the speaker more than an exorbitant amount of filler words. You know what I'm talking about, I think, okay, what I meant is, uh, right, hum...

During President-Elect Barack Obama's press conference last Monday when he announced his foreign policy team he said "uh" or a version thereof 192 times within a fifteen minute time span. At
approximately twenty-eight minutes into the press conference when he opened the floor to reporter's questions, the President-Elect paused more times (and not quietly) then a tractor trailer waiting to get through the tolls of the NJ Turnpike at rush hour. I dare you to listen to the speech and count all the "uh's, um's and umm's as I did and not be put to sleep. Just who is this alien speaker who has inhabited the once elegant Barack Obama?

B.O. what happened?! I
sat glued to my television set last summer when you gave your incredibly direct and poignant speech in Philadelphia on race. You spoke with ease, charm and intelligence at the Democratic Convention in Denver. And I cried along side my wife when the election was 'called' and you were declared the winner. Even during the debates you kept your use of listless and irritating language to an absolute minimum and we all thanked your for it - even the Republicans.

As someone who coaches and instructs others on presentations skills and speeches I always have an eye and ear out for what makes a successful speech and what does not. When I ask clients what areas they would like to improve upon they answer that both controlling their nerves and reducing or eliminating their filler words or their top priorities. I have exercises for both and use a high tech behavioral tool called a rubber band that the client wears on his/her wrist. Each time they use a filler word they snap the rubber band that smarts. After a dozen or so snaps of the band they hesitate before using "uh" or "hum" or "like" or "you know".

Filler words, of which I am guilty of using from time-to-time are gap fillers. They give the speaker time to think. However, silence is much more powerful and effective than saying "hummm" when one is lost for words or deciding just how much information they would like to divulge or how much truth they want to share, as I believe was the case with our President-Elect. I've queried
audiences after they've sat through presentations, speeches and keynote addresses and asked what they liked or disliked about the presenter/speaker and what they thought needed improvement. On the plus side: 'the presenter was engaging, new her material, and kept things moving. On the improvement needed side: 'talks to slow and says "hum" and "uh" a lot.'

Besides Mr. Obama's filler words, the tone of his speech was different than any he used while campaigning. This is where knowing your audiences is so important. The subject matter was very important and serious last Monday and the President-Elect did seem convey that through is body language and tone. (The Secretary of State and the Nation's security are extremely important topics.) I also heard something in Mr. Obama's tone besides serious and important. Through his tone of voice it sounded something like, 'I'm the boss and the buck stops here.' (He did say at one point "the buck stops here.") It sounded akin to who is currently in the White House. 

Now, please don't end me angry emails in defense of Mr. Obama. I'm thrilled that he and his family will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I even applied for a position with his administration and maybe he'll consider me as his presentation coach. And I do look forward to the President-Elect implementing is plan of change and getting us out of the terrible messes that we are in both domestically and internationally. I also hope that he'll pick up the rubber band and put an end to the use of those speech killing filler words. 

You can view a comprehensive list of filler words compiled at Wordie. See if your favorite makes the list.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Without TV +1 = Terrorism and Gratitude

It's day one without television and I was going to write about all the withdrawl symptoms I'm experiencing and how I found an unending source of entertainment dealers and pushers who offer free t.v. and movies over the Internet providing countless hours of electronic feeds to the hungry monkey on my back. But instead, I once again was reminded today of just how good I have it, as do many others in the developed USA and that the luxury of t.v. is just that, a luxury and a not all an important one to boot.

I broke down this morning and wept while reading The New York Times reporter, Nicholas D. Kristof's article Terrorism That's Personal over the acid attacks on women in Pakistan and others areas of Asia. Want to put things in perspective? Read the article. Want to know how insane and fearful we really are? Read about the senseless trampling of and subsequent death of the temporary Wal-Mart worker on Long Island on Friday. And of course, the large scale systematic Mumbai murders this past week will have you scratching your head in amazement.

"Fearful" You say? Yes, it's all fear based. Why would anyone take to the horrific act of intentionally disfiguring his wife by pouring acid on her face after the couple divorced? Why would a group of male, motorcycling marauders dowse teenage girls with the same acid on their way to school just because they wanted to get an education? Fear. I imagine the thinking goes something like this: 'if women get educated then they'll be empowered and if they get empowered than us men will be less than the women and that can't happen because then the women will be in charge and before you know it they'll want us to stay at home and cook and clean and do whatever else they tell us to do.'

Fear drives all anger and acts of hate. From the
insidious rumor mongering about a co-worker to the extreme and abhorrent operations in Mumbai. The anger that many of my business clients relay to me about being passed-over at promotion or bonus time comes from fear and it goes like this: 'That bastard got the promotion and I didn't. (Subtext: 'I'm less-than, no good, not smart enough, or appreciated enough. Soon, they'll fire me and I'll be without a job and then I'll lose my home and end up living on the street and then I'll die of tuberculosis or meet some other unthinkable fate.')

Fear is disguised in many forms and I myself am not immune to it. Let's all just stop and take a breath when frustration starts to boil over to anger. Frustration is inevitable but anger is avoidable. Just be aware. "Why am I angry? Is it because I am afraid that if "they" get more than their fair share I'll be left with less?" Take pause good people, at home, at work, at the mall and especially at the Post Office. Ask yourself, "Is it that important to be right?" Yours and my anger will not fix nor correct any problems, it will only exacerbate them. It not only poisonous to your nervous system, it also takes years off of your life and of the those around you.

This evening instead of watching endless t.v. shows all about nothing, I will be huddled on the sofa, with a roof over my head, reading a book with the knowing that I truly have it so good and prayers and hopes for a calmer less angry world. If you're experiencing unspent anger consider channeling it to the Progressive Women’s Association who helps the "acid" victims and advocates for women's rights violations. Another progressive organization that "addresses the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments" is one that my wife and I are actively involved, Women For Women International.

One thing is for sure, I'm glad that I am a Happiest.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We Quit TV

We threw out our TV set today. More specifically, I threw out our TV today. No more TV. We quit and so far it feels really good.

After watching endless hours of mindless TV yesterday I got up, unplugged the set and gave it to a neighbor. It's best to just rip off the adhesive bandage quickly so it doesn't smart as much. Most of what we watch can be viewed on the Internet and the other shows we'll have to do with out. I admit that I'll miss watching Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer every Friday and Saturday night in the reruns of As Time Goes By. And I'll miss having another "instrument of avoidance" as I call them, a tool to which one uses to avoid doing something productive. The Internet, drinking coffee and sleeping are other
instruments of avoidance and are readily accessible. Of course, I was looking forward to watching Penn State play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day but I'll have to settle for Internet video highlights.

There are a lot of books on my shelves that will finally get read and I will complete more writing of my own. Still, I know that there are challenges ahead. As Homer Simpson keenly put it when he and his brood were sitting on the family sofa in front of a blank screen, "Quick! Turn something on, I'm starting to think!"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Power Pie

The most incredible, protein and carbohydrate meal I've ever had! And it was completely meat free! For a veggie-veganish runner, this recipe from the The Angelica Home Kitchen: Recipes and Rabble Rousings from an Organic Vegan Restaurant is the real deal and hours after eating it my stomach is still full.

If you want to try your hand at making this delicious dish you can find the recipe at Google Books or you can purchase the book via the link above. Happy eating.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The 20 Mile Lesson

I ran 20 miles today. I've run 20 miles before and today's was just as challenging as all the others. People ask me what I think about when I'm running 3 - 4 hours continuously. The answer is a lot of different things but the one consistent thought is how I can apply the lessons of running to my own mental and spiritual growth and the growth and development of others. So here's what I learned (again) today:
          • My mind will always quit before my body
          • I am exactly where my feet are and no where else
          • My mind will always quit before my body (worth repeating)
          • Planning is important, implementing those plans is more important
          • It usually hurts somewhere in my body when I push myself to become stronger
          • Improvement comes slowly and gradually
          • I need to treat myself as my own best customer
          • Contentment is in the small details
          • My body can get my mind (ego) up that steep hill
          • I can't finish unless I start
          • When I move a muscle, I change a thought
          • I'm very blessed to be able to run and see where I'm running
          • I love running up hills more than running down hills
          • I can eat whatever I want when I run 70 miles per week
          • Keep saying, "I know I can, I know I can
          • Running is applicable to mental work (writing, work projects, data entry, finances) not just physical exercise
          • I have nothing to complain about when I think of the miles Tim Borland has run: 63 marathons in 63 consecutive days
There you have it. I'm sure there are a lot more lessons to learn and when I learn them I'll let you know. Until then, I'll keep running until the January 11th Disney Marathon in Orlando, Florida where myself and others are running to raise awareness and funds for the A-T Children's Foundation. I bet if I asked these kids who are afflicted with this killer disease, if they would trade their A-T bodies with the pain inflicted by running a marathon they would gladly make the exchange in a heart beat.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Vehicle

The last General Motors car rolled down a vacant highway today powered by the last drop of fossil fuel. This is what GM would have you believe would happen if the Feds refused to bailout the antiquated auto maker out of financial ruin. Using yours and my tax dollars General Motors would get to keep on doing what it has been doing without change for close to 100 years - whatever it wants.

The only way I would approve the use of my money to bailout GM would be the following:

          1. Re-tool the entire operation within 5 years to accommodate the building of non-fossil fuel vehicles
          2. Retain and retrain its workforce
          3. The guarantee that you and I own a piece of GM

Bailing out GM will not solve their problems nor the larger problem of Global warming being caused in large part to the use of petroleum based products. Don't forget when GM was forced to, it stopped making cars during WWII and built tanks and aircraft instead. Funny, they knew how to re-tool 65 years ago when it meant making money from the War effort. Bailing out GM is a short-term band-aide that will only provide short-term protection.

I for one am so opposed to bailing out large corporation when there are thousands upon thousands of us who would like nothing more than to be bailed-out of our own financial crisises. When will it end? If I rename my business and call it Katlin's Bank then and only then would the Fed step forward and say, 'here, take as much money as you need, we'll make more. Oh, and by the way, we'll let you monitor yourself to make sure that you don't take advantage of our generosity and spend $53b anyway you like. Wink, wink.'

What ever happened to the meaning of "risk"? When you take a risk you better be sure that you're prepared to lose everything. I say, GM change or get out of the car making business.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reel Matters

Your vote will determine the quality of our country's movie entertainment.

Don't allow mediocre short films to poison yours and those you love movie taste buds. Vote for something that reely matters.
Rick Mowat's short film Marty Learns to Drive is a finalist for the PBS REEL13 FILM FESTIVAL.

Marty Learns to Drive is a touching and funny short film adroitly directly about one grown man's struggle to get his first-ever driver's license. Seems simple? Not so for Marty. A seemingly easy and obtainable task for most becomes a life-time challenge for the film's underdog. (Yes, this is a true story.)

So, please, vote for this heart warming and very funny short film so that it will be selected to be shown this Saturday night (Nov. 15th) on PBS's Channel 13. You can watch this short film, laugh, shake your head in amazement and then vote. It's that simple. Your entertainment taste buds will thank you.
Even if you don't live in New York or the USA your vote still counts!

Thank you in advance for advancing things that reely matter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Credit Crunch Help

As if we need to be reminded from both Presidential candidates, that we're living in very tough times...

Have you lost your job? Lost your direction? Lost your motivation? Help is here: Credit Crunch Coaching

Together,you and I will develop strategies and realistic plans to help you reach your personal and financial goals. I can help you set a budget where you won't feel like you're giving up too much and at the same time put money in the bank. If it is a new job/career that you are looking for we will work collaboratively to design an employment search plan that will provide you your desired results.

In the mean time here, are 11 tips that may be of help to you as you navigate through the financial crisis:
  1. Put it all in perspective - Yes, times are tough but compared to what? If you ate one meal today consider this: more than 840 million people in the world are malnourished — 799 million of them live in the developing world. If you have a roof over your head count your blessing because up to 100 million people are homeless worldwide, of which 20 million to 40 million are adrift in major urban centers.
  2. Stop worrying and be concerned instead - Worry will not fix anything. There's a big difference between worry and concern. Worry keeps you up at night, concern helps you make plans.
  3. Stop thinking so much - Thinking not planning is of not much use yo you when you are under stress. Put a gap in the unrelenting thoughts by meditating or exercising.
  4. Start counting your money - Keep a record of every transaction you make and at the end of the month look at areas where you can count your spending.
  5. Create a spending plan not a budget - Design a plan of how you want/need to spend your money and pay yourself first.
  6. You are resilient - Human beings are very resilient, tenacious and powerful. Don't under estimate your capabilities to not only survive but to prosper.
  7. Remember to laugh - Laughter is the best medicine and it really works plus it's free and anyone can do it.
  8. Talk with others - It helps to remember that you are not alone. The majority of us are in the same boat. Talk to others and share your thoughts and frustrations.
  9. Get creative - During every recession and even during the last Depression people made a lot of money. Host an "idea party". Create a consortium of like-minded people - two or even five heads are better than one.
  10. Keep it simple - This old phrase is so true. Simplify everything. Study after study has shown that money does not make people happy. It buys a bit more physical freedom yes but not happiness. Take a lesson form those giggling children you see playing - they don't need a lot of toys to create their own little world of happiness; they just keep it simple.
  11. Ask others for help - If not me ask someone to help you. It's a sign of strength to seek guidance and ask for help. The goal is interdependence.
Read what others have to say about their successful coaching experiences with me. All they had to do was take the initial step, say "yes" and ask for help.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Killer Disease & The Disney Marathon

Meet Jarrett and Quinn Margus, sons of Brad and Vicki. Jarrett and Quinn both have the killer disease Ataxia-telangiectasia or "A-T". Sound scary? It is.

A cure as yet to be discovered and currently there is no way to slow the diesase's progression. A-T is persistent and focused on in its attack of children. Only a fortunate few will avoid developing cancer. A-T patients usually die from respiratory failure or cancer by their teens or early twenties.

I hadn't heard of A-T until last month when my wife's ex-boss at Rockefeller University told her that a friend, Brad Margus and wife Vicki, founders of the A-T Children's Project had organized a fund raising effort in conjunction with the Walt Disney A-T Cure Tour. She new that I was a runner and quickly asked if I'd be interested in running the 2009 Disney Marathon to help raise funds and awareness. After reading about A-T how could I possibly say no?

My goal is to raise $4000 one month prior to the 6 a.m. January 11, 2009 start time of the Marathon. With a lot of help and generosity $3240 has been donated to date so, I'm very close to the $4000 goal. If you are able, please help the
A-T Children's Project research efforts in fighting this devastating children's disease by contributing on my personal A-T home page.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Nobody Listens to Me

Poor Vincent, nobody ever listened to him. Well, maybe his brother Theo but then he too, grew tired of Vincent's whining.

Since most people, (I include myself) are only thinking about what they are going to say next instead of actually listening to the person they are in conversation with, does anyone actually listen to anyone - besides themselves?

My wife frequently says, "You never listen to me." Never is far fetched but I admit that sometimes I don't listen to her but other times I don't 'hear' her. The difference between listening and hearing is like the difference between looking at a Van Gogh painting and
seeing a Van Gogh painting. All my clients tell me that the biggest challenge they have is getting people to listen to and understand where they're "coming from". And that they don't feel fully appreciated because others don't listened when they speak. Again, so if everyone is speaking, who's listening?

know immediately when someone is not listening to me because the first thing they say after they have pranced upon the small breath I took between words is, "but". "But" translated into non-listener parlance means, 'I didn't hear a word you said and I really don't care what you said because I disagree with what you said and my idea is far superior and better than yours so why are you bothering to speak to me at all?!" Sound familiar?

Even if you disagree with someone (most people tell me that when they don't "like" someone, they disagree with them before one word is spoken) you want to really hear what they are saying so that you truly understand what you disagree with. "Wow, that's really mature and professional," you say, so why aren't we listening to one another?

As Winston Churchill said, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." There is a lot of value in WC's short sentence and most of it is made up of verbs. Listening is an action as is speaking and silence is more powerful that endless chatter and bravado. Yet, we love to talk. I do too and it is when I listen that I am truly engaged with another. Someone said that the greatest gift you can give to another human-being is the gift of your ear. Simply listen to them. You don't have to comment or try to fix anything, just listen. Try it now. What do you hear?

I meet a lot of people because I am endlessly curious and I ask a lot of questions and because I want to learn about people I can't wait to ask the next question. But, (I have to use that here) I need to listen to their responses first or, and this has happened, they can't keep up with all the questions (in business jargon this is known as "driving your point home".)

Last night my wife and I had dinner with family and friends. We hadn't seen each other in quite some time, so there was a lot to catch up on which created quite a ruckus. My mother who recently starting using a hearing aid continuously asked with much frustration, "what did you say?" Because most everyone at the table wanted to be heard, much was lost by everyone (not my wife of course, because she truly is an excellent listener) trying to talk over each other and tell the next joke or story. We had a lot of laughs but my poor mother didn't hear much of what was being said. I drove home thinking that I need to speak slower, more clearly and check for understanding when I speak with her in the future. I think that this will be a good practice to keep going no matter who I'm speaking with.

If we would all listen to each other the world, your world (home/work) would be significantly quieter, peaceful and more productive. Now, what were you saying?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Amputted Legs and Carbon Feet

I volunteered at this year's Hope and Possibility event with the Achilles Track Club. The Achilles' mission to "enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics, to promote personal achievement, enhanced self esteem, and the lowering of barriers between people."

On June 22nd over 3,500 people, 'abled' and 'disabled' ran 5 miles in New York City's Central Park. Of the 3,500 runners there was a large contingency of disabled military veterans. Some where racing on their hand crank chairs while others competed on their foot or two feet, depending upon their amputations. Of all the veterans I saw and or spoke with the first thing I noticed was their youth. Most where veterans of the current Iraq and Afghanistan operations. None appeared older than twenty-five.

'Bobby' rolled up to me at the sound stage at the end of the race in a traditional wheelchair which, must have been quite cumbersome to have pushed over five hilly miles. This was Bobby's first race and he was excited to see how his time compared to the running competitors."Do you know the first place winner's time for the runners?" He asked me. "No, I don't but I'll find out for you." I found out that the runner who came in first was a full minute ahead of Bobby's finishing wheelchair time as told him as much. His face fell in disappointment. "Really? Wow, I guess I have a lot of work to do on getting faster." I told Bobby that I though that he did a great job for this being his first time racing in the chair.

We chatted for a few more minutes where Bobby told me that he had his leg blown off in Iraq and that he just survived his sixteenth and final operation. I wondered which was worse, the loss of his leg or the 16 operations? Here was this kid who had lost his leg, went through who knows how much unbearable pain and he's smiling telling me his story. I thanked him for his service. He asked if I was in the military. "My only connection to the military," I responded that my father was in D-Day and that I watched the t.v. series Combat when I was a kid. Bobby was pretty impressed with the fact that my father was a part of what Tom Brokow named the "The Greatest Generation."

"I gotta' find my girlfriend now. Thanks for your help." I watched Bobby push himself up a small hill and wondered if he felt that his sacrifice and loss was worth it in the end. I didn't get to ask him but I did ask another maimed Army vet.

Tom was gathered by Tavern On The Green drinking pop and shooting the breeze with several of his friends and fellow disabled vets. He had a carbon leg in place of his left leg. I think that the science and technology is fascinating and I asked him how he liked the carbon fiber. "Well, I can't run on it yet. I used my chair today but I'm getting used to it."

"I'm sorry." I said referring to his leg.
"Don't be, I do it again in a heart beat. I helped my buddy."
"How is your buddy?"
Well, he's been in the hospital for a year and a half but he'll get out eventually."

Tom told me that he had trained to be on a special unit and that he would not be "allowed" to return to the work that he loves so much due to his amputation. "I'll probably get a desk job.

"I'm sorry."
"Hey, I told ya' don't be. I love my country and I'm doing something to protect it."

After we parted I made my way home feeling very sad and...well, just sad. I saw so many 'kids' without arms and legs. Some of them lost all four limbs and it was heart breaking. No matter what your politics are it's just plain heartbreaking.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Humidity, Humility & The Half-Marathon

Don't be fooled. That is not a smile on my face. It a grimace of the painful sort.

A week ago, Sunday July 27th was the 2008 New York City Half- Marathon. 10,500 plus runners hoofed their way through 13.2 miles starting with one loop around Central Park then all the way down to Battery Park. This was my last and final
race for the nine NYRR Member required races to qualify for guaranteed entry to the ING New York City Marathon 2009. And for myself and others this was by far one of the toughest races.

I ran the first two of the five borough NYRR Half-Marathon Grand Prix this winter in wind chill temperatures of 20 degrees with freezing rain pelting my face but that was paradise compared to last Sunday. At start time the temperature was in the 70's with the humidity at 98%. Light rain fell on scantily clad runners who ducked for cover under scaffolding erected in front of the Guggenhiem Museum. "Suckers." I was prepared with my two dollar plastic poncho and ran a pre-race warm-up around the reservoir. I was prepared for this race but not enough to reach the goal that I set for myself: to run faster than the last half-marathon I ran.

For the first 3 to 4 miles I felt great. In control and relaxed. Then the humidity starting to take its toll. I saw it on the faces of the other runners as we headed up hill, north to Harlem
Meer. I knew then and there that this was not going to be a fast race, even for the elite runners. Humidity feels like bricks strapped to legs and lungs. I started talking to myself: "Slow down, wait until you get onto Seventh Avenue then pick up the speed through Times Square. Oh no, the lactic acid is going to build up and then I'll have to stop and be picked up by and ambulance but my bags are at the finish line and...and then what if...? What if I drop dead?"

I used every affirmation and slogan that has worked for me in the past to get me through the self-imposed mental trough I put myself in. "I'm running, I'm running." "Just run to the next light post." "I am, I am, I am." "Just Be in one step at a time." I thought of the freedom of Erica who I wrote about in an earlier blog, her broad, electric smile bouncing atop sinewy free-flowing legs but it was too late, I was stuck in the thick morass of a negative meditation. By the time I exited the park with Seventh Avenue laid out before me with runners replacing thousands of cars and taxicabs, I was spent.

"Don't you dare walk now past all these cheering people. You can't walk, you won't walk. I can't believe I'm walking. How the hell did you ever run a marathon? You were a year younger. Shut up. The television cameras are broadcasting. Start running! Ah, there are the wet sponges they promised. Give me four of those kind volunteer. Oh, that feels sooooo good. OK, I'm back. I'm running, I'm running...I'm running slowly, slowly, slower, slow...I'm walking again. What the...?"

Making the left turn off 42nd Street onto the West Side Highway was a boost to my spirit. My Garmin GPS watch read that there was 3 miles to the finish line. It lied. Somewhere in Times Square it lost its satellite connection. A posted mile marker read Mile 9 You're Almost There! "Ha! I hate you Garmin, I hate you!" And just then, four rhythmic bodies moving to the hot and sexy groove of Caribbean winds were dancing in front of me. I remembered the three female and one male dancers from last year's race. Every inch of their
gyrating bodies sent out energy and smiles and it was almost spiritual. Yes, it was spiritual. "Thank you dancers. You have no idea how much you just helped me."

The mind is very powerful. Mine gave up long before my body. I started thinking about the marathon I was about to qualify for and "why in the world would anyone be stupid enough to run 26 miles?'. But I made a goal and a commitment to myself to finish this race and by God I was going to finish!

A half mile from the finish I gave it all I had and crossed under the banner at 2:05:04 way short of my original goal of 1:40. C'set la vie. At least I beat that old bag behind me. Of course, 74 year old Alfred Finger of Bronx, NY finished 1:49:56. Humbled once again.

I'm taking some time off from running for a little while. Today, I enjoyed my first Sunday morning in a long time not having to stretch and run 15 miles or more. I read the New York Times over frappe and bagels with Terry lapping in a very rare cool summer morning. Walt Whitman wrote in the Leaves of Grass {The Sleepers} And I am curious to know where my feet stand...and what is this flooding me, childhood or manhood...and the hunger that crosses the bridge between. I relate this stanza to my ongoing struggle with staying fit and accepting my own limitations. Acceptance + desire to improve = humility. Sure, I can stay fit by running just 5 miles instead of 15 but where's the glory in that? Let's try the math again.
Acceptance + desire to improve = humility = balance.

The fourth in the five borough Half-Marathon series is scheduled for my home borough of Queens, September 14th. If and only if I decide to register for this race I promise to stay long distance running fit, recognize my limitations and my potential and most importantly, to have fun.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mineral Water & Gentrification

Want to know the latest indicator for a neighborhood's changing demographics? Look no further than the beverage aisle of your local supermarket.

At our local New York City food store they recently made room, a lot of room for specialty bottled water. On display is water with minerals, water with vitamins and minerals, water with added sugar, water with a kick of caffeine and water with real fruit flavors. (I became dizzy trying to take it all in.)

When I need to rehydrate, I turn on the tap and drink what has been rated year after year in taste tests, the best city water in the world: New York City water. And it's free too. I have to congratulate the bottled water industry on creating an impressive and successful branding and marketing campaign. Consumers actually have bought into the industry's advertising that bottled water is better, safer and more nutritious to drink than free-flowing tap water.

The International Bottled Water Association writes, "bottled water...must adhere to its own specific FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), which require bottling in sanitary conditions using food grade equipment and sanitary, safety-sealed food
grade containers." This is really important information to have when deciding if you want to fork over at least $2.50 for a less than 8 ounce bottle of water. According to Jared Blumenfeld and Susan Leal of the San Francisco Chronicle we buy bottled water "because we think bottled water is cleaner and somehow better, but that's not true. The federal standards for tap water are higher than those for bottled water" and "it costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water."

If your wallet is fuller than most during our current financial crises than maybe knowing that "supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling
Institute" will have you refilling your personal water bottle via your home tap.

So what does the recent upsurge of merchandising and selling ridiculous variations of bottled water at our local food store have to do with neighborhood demographics? I have used the supermarket as a gauge to how our little area of Queens has change over the eight plus years that my wife and I have lived here: Since 2000 our local Key Food store has changed the types of products it sells to accommodate the change in population and real estate prices. Astoria was once considered the Greece of the USA. Many Greeks immigrated here after WWII, raised families and started businesses. The Irish and Italians followed suit helping to expand and enlarge the Melting Pot. Many of these 'original' immigrant families have aged and moved on and younger, upwardly mobile (myself included) moved to Astoria to escape Manhattan rents.

When I first started shopping at Key Food there were a lot of ethnic products on the shelves. From Spetzofai in the deli counter to frozen Calamari. Each year the products changed along with the prices. Key Food now has an entire isle devoted to organic products and of course, a lot of different types of bottled water. Along with the alluring colored labels pasted on the bottles comes a 'hipper' and discerning albeit less than thrifty customer.

Today, while navigating through the "diary" aisle at Key Food I noticed the overwhelming selection of fruit juices: orange, orange-pineapple,
orange-pineapple and strawberry, grapefruit, grapefruit with and without pulp, cranberry, cranberry-pineapple, apple, apple-orange, pomegranate, tomato (nothing seems to partner well with tomatoes) mango, mango-banana, and another stand alone juice, carrot. My God, what happened to eating an orange?

This is America and we appreciate free-market and ingenuity and as a recent t.v. ad selling pain relievers said, "
we couldn't say it if it wasn't true - because it's on t.v. it has to be true" so if the bottled water industry puts their products on the shelf and adds essential vitamins and minerals to H2O than we must have it.

I will continue to monitor the supermarket aisles for signs of increased rents and the changing citizenry. If the selection and price of bottled water continues to be a trustworthy indicator then I will be relocating in the near future.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Apple a Day

Benjamin Franklin coined, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Franklin had no idea when he wrote his now famous phrase that consumers would one day have to differentiate between apple the fruit and Apple the computer giant. I like apples. Particularly Gala apples. I eat a lot of apples to satiate my sugar cravings instead of processed sweets.

When I want to satiate my need for excellent customer service I go to the
nearby Apple Store in Manhattan. It's truly a fantastic experience and I say this as one who designs and delivers customer service training programs.

Today I visited the Fifth Avenue store as the "x" keypad on my MacBook Pro became loose while I was cleaning the keyboard. Because Apple has their act together, I was able to make an appointment online for the day and time that was convenient for me. Upon entering the store I made my way to the Genius Bar where I was promptly greeted and my appointment was
confirmed. The Genius behind the bar was friendly, knowledgeable, (one would expect that from a genius) and expedited my loose pad problem quickly. My "x" key, as you can see is in fine working order thanks to the great staff at the Apple Store.

Because it's such a pleasant and wonderful environment I went searching for an external drive for my wife's computer. Jason, one of the many smiling and helpful Apple associates asked if I needed direction and within five minutes I purchased the appropriate device without having to wait in line for a cashier. (All sales associates at Apple carry their own wireless checkout machine and zipo-presto I was out the door and into the sunshine.) Now that's turning a 'problem' into a sale: I spent $150 when I had no intention of doing so.

As I rode my eco-friendly bicycle home, I felt a smile grow on my face and attributed it to the great experience I just had at Apple.) How many times have you had a smile put on your face by a retail store?) I wish that I had regular experiences such I this from other companies that I do business with but sadly, that's not the case.

So what does Apple do right? Here's my thoughts:
  • Constant innovation
  • Excellent products and service
  • Exceed customer expectations
  • Friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff both in-store and online
  • They always put the product in your hand - they let you touch it, play with it
  • Their customers are appreciated and recognized
  • Their stores are well organized and merchandised
  • A purchase is not a chore but a pleasurable experience
Those are just a few of the ways that Apple gets it right and for these reasons and others I will savor my Apple everyday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Would You Do With $165 billion?

Let your imagination run wild. You've borrowed 165 billion dollars and have no intentions of paying it back. What would you do with all that money?

Today, the US Senate voted (70-26) and approved additional Iraq/Afghanistan war money that the Pentagon says it desperately needs.
(See related New York Times article). How much more money shall we, the tax payers contribute to an endless campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan? If the Senate bill is passed in the House a total of $800 billion just for combat costs will have been spent on these campaigns thus far. With the release of Tuesday's congressional committee report estimating that the total economic impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are to reach $1.6 trillion by 2009, when will this reckless spending end?

With the Nation's schools in dire financial straights, living cost skyrocketing and the creation of millions of Iraqi refugees, thousands dead or maimed when will the spending end? In my home state of New York taxpayers will pay an estimated $47.2 billion for the total Iraq war spending that has been approved to date. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided in New York City alone:

16,485,965 Children with Health Care for One Year
8,700,175 People with Health Care for One Year
268,181 Affordable Housing Units

So again I ask, when will the spending end?

I don't know about you but I certainly don't feel any safer spending all this money and neither do the woman in Iraq. Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International published her findings in a Women for Women International
press release.
Zainab Salbi who is Iraqi reported, "The situation for women in Iraq varies from province to province but, overall, the same problems exist:

89% believe that someone in their family will be killed in the next year.
88% of women thought that the separation of people along ethnic or religious lines was a bad thing.
70% of women say their family cannot afford to pay for the necessities of daily life.
76% of respondents said that girls in their family are not allowed to attend school.

One woman who was interviewed commented, “They gave us freedom and they took from us security…but if I have to choose, I will choose safety and security.”"

So again I ask, when will the reckless spending end? I don't feel that it's been a very wise investment especially since the people who are spending it will be long gone in their final resting places when the next generation is struggling to pay back the mountainous debt. So, forget today's approved $165 billion and think about what we could do with the $1.6 trillion. A fraction of that money could provide food and shelter to the 2.5 million refugees of Darfur who live under plastic sheets; purchase new books for city classrooms; and provide the USA homeless with their own housing.

Do I support the men and women of our military? Of course I do. (My father was a medic in the D-Day operation and I have a slew of black and white photos of his European tour. Since learning of his heroic service when I was a wee lad I felt a connection and reverence for anyone in uniform who risked their lives for their country and to help save the lives of others.) However, I do not support the current Iraq, Afghanistan campaigns in the way our tax dollars are being spent. If a business spent monies in the reckless ways that the Congress, Pentagon and the US Military has that business would be out of business faster than you could say '165 billion'.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Spirituality of Coffee Grinds

Pesky coffee grinds have it in for me. They tempt my serenity on a daily basis. Each morning they gather, conspire and drive me crazy as they scatter and stain our white kitchen counter-top. The espresso machine that sits atop the counter-top is in cahoots with the grinds. Hundreds of loose grinds escape from their metal portafilter basket and prance and dance their defiance. Some, hide under the espresso machine where attempts to remove them can last for days.

These tiny, brown specks of coffee bean byproducts are the bane of my morning caffeine ritual. And yet, they have so much to teach me. After making my double espresso I sit at the kitchen table and try to ignore the grinds that taunt and laugh at me. They know that I can't relax until the counter-top is completely spotless. (Friends have suggested that I capitulate to bagged, decaf green tea.)

If you are like me, organization and cleanliness come before anything else. Of course, there's a price to pay with any exaggerated personality trait. Last week my wife noticed my looks of annoyance every time I glanced at the counter-top and asked, "What would happen if you just let them sit there until we finished our coffee?" She might as well have asked me if I'd mind bathing in someone else's grime filled tub.

"You know, there's something those grinds can teach you." My wife continued.
"Yeah, what's that Mrs. Freud?"
"To allow things to just be as they are. To be completely in the moment not 50% with me and 50% focused on the coffee grinds."
"But they'll stain the counter-top," I replied.
"So what?"

She's right of course. Is it really that important? Of course not. The grinds represent a bigger issue: control. Nothing stays organized and clean forever and I can't control everything and everyone. The grinds, the dust, the queue at the supermarket or post office, it doesn't matter what it is, can teach us to allow things to be just as they are and not to interrupt the flow of life. Do I want my tombstone to read, 'Here lies Bruce Katlin, owner of the cleanest kitchen counter-top in the Western world'? Maybe, as long as it also reads, 'Dedicated husband and friend, helpful to all.'

Nevertheless, I purchased an immersion blender the other day which is completely self-contained. I can now make professional style frappes without one pesky grind of coffee leaping from the blender's plastic container.

Laurence J. Peter said, "A quick rinse of the blade and all is well. Cleaning anything involves making something else dirty, but anything can get dirty without something else getting clean." Okay, I guess...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

You Call This Teamwork?

What kind of teamwork is this? Crazy? Nuts? Unheard of.

When 21 year old Sara Tucholsky, a senior at Western Oregon smacked a three-run homerun,
(her first collegiate homer) against rivals Central Washington, she could not have imagined the chain of events that it would have caused.

Watching the ball sail through the air, she missed touching first base and when she turned back to tap the the bag her right knee gave out and she collapsed in pain. According to the rules of play, no one on her Western Oregon team could touch or help the stranded
Tucholsky, as this would have caused her to be unable to advance around the bases. The umpires said that if Tucholsky could not go around the bases, two runs would score but she would be only credited with a single.

Then Mallory Holtman, the first baseman for Central Washington, asked the unspeakable, something so unthinkable that it must have come from her very core:
“Excuse me, would it be okay if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

The umpires conferred and said it would be within the rules of play. Holtman and the Central Washington shortstop, Liz Wallace, lifted Tucholsky and carried her to second base, lowering her enough so that she could touch each base until she touched home plate where she was greeted with a standing ovation. This unbelievable gesture of sportswomanship left athletes and fans alike in tears and admiration.

Not only did
Central Washington help the other team score three runs, they helped Western Oregon win the second game, 4-2, and sweep the doubleheader. Can you imagine something like this happening at your office amongst two separate teams or functions? One team helping the other when they were struggling creating a stronger 'whole'?

Once, many years ago I was playing on our company softball team and I smacked a line drive ball back to the pitcher, hitting her in the throat. I stood there frozen wanting to help her and eventually did but my teammates were screaming at me to run to first base. How could I possibly have done that when the poor young woman couldn't even breathe?

I think there is a lot to be said about 'we're all in this together.' Of course, competition is necessary in a free-market economy but not at the expense of someone's health and or wellbeing. When was the last time your competition called you and said 'let's meet for lunch to discuss how our industry is helping to create a better world for everyone'? You'd probably fall off your chair. I can however, imagine the
Western Oregon and Central Washington woman softball players meeting to discuss fair play, sportsmanship and helping women sports grow to where they are accepted, respected and paid just as male athletes.

Three cheers to the
Central Washington woman softball team!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What Brown Does for Me

Meet Tony. He's our UPS man and he's the best, bar none.

Tony should be the poster boy for excellent service. UPS has no idea what a glittering diamond they found when they hired Tony some years ago. It's because of Tony that my wife and I would never even consider using another shipping service. Besides being the nicest guy in Queens, Tony actually cares about his customers. We have several elderly shut-ins within our apartment building and Tony never hesitates to bring deliveries directly to their apartment doors after waiting what must seem endless hours for them to answer his rap at their doors.

FedEx? DHL?
Forgettaboutit. In our vestibule hangs 4 Fedex delivery notices. Why? Because Fedex once left a package without a signature on a windowsill in our lobby without telling anyone. The package contained valuables and cash and was stolen.The recipient blamed our super for stealing the package which, was not true. So, with good reason our super refuses to accept packages from Fedex. If Fedex drivers actually cared about their customers the way Tony does people in our building would be getting their deliveries on time. And DHL? All I can say is, how the hell DHL is still in business is a mystery to me.

Don't tell UPS but Tony has my cell phone number and I his. If I have a last minute package to ship I can ring him up and he's usually at my front door by the time I hang up the phone. He's like the character Radar on the T.V. show M*A*S*H. When I input a delivery pick-up on the UPS web site, once again Tony rings our bell seconds after I click, "confirm pickup". How the heck does he do it?

Last year Tony stopped coming around. His replacement was a nice enough guy but he wasn't our Tony. We asked what happened to Tony and was told that he was out sick with a bad back or something. Weeks then months went by and finally one spring day Tony rang our bell with a delivery. "Come on up Tony!" I said excitedly through the intercom. When I opened the door I didn't recognize the man before me. Tony was changed. His face was different. He gained a lot of weight but what hadn't changed was Tony's spirit: vibrant and energized. "Tony, where you been man?" I asked. "I was real sick Bruce, real sick. I went through endless rounds of
Chemotherapy and doctor's visits. But everything is going to be all right. I'm back, I'm driving, I'm free!"

It's been about a year since Tony's recovery and he's healthy and in great spirits. We see him more often too, as my wife has scheduled daily pick-ups for her hat business. When we don't have a pick-up for Tony I usually see him all over the neighborhood when I'm on my training runs. "Hey Tony! How's it going?" I yell to him. Tony honks his horn, steps out of his brown truck with a tower of packages and says, "Hey Bruce! How's it going? Am I gonna' see you and Terry later? Have a good one."

Doing business doesn't mean that we do not have to care or be interested in those that we transact with. I care about Tony and I like to think that tony cares about my wife and myself. In fact, I know that he does. Nobody can be that sincere and not mean it. I like to think of Tony as a spiritual guide in a brown uniform. He demonstrates that it's not what you do for a living but how you do it. Driving for UPS is a good job so I hear. It must be, their drivers all seem so happy. And the longer you're with the company the more money you get paid. But I have an inclination that Tony would be Tony and would deliver excellent service with that 100 watt smile of his, even if he never received a pay raise. You see, Tony has a natural propensity for kindness and that kindness comes from deep within. And no matter the weather, the weight of his packages or the his physical condition, Tony will always be kind.

Thank you Tony. Whatever UPS is paying you it's not enough.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The King's Pants Are Down

Former New York State Governor, Elliot Spitzer was caught with his pants down. He along with his entire family are paying the price for Mr. Spitzer's impulses and possible addiction.

People who love to condemn hypocrites are having a field day over Mr. Spitzer money laundering and the hiring of a 23 year old prostitute for which he spent around $80,000. This, from a man who sounded like the opening voice-over to the 50's Superman t.v. show: "For truth, justice and the American way." Mr. Spitzer relentlessly hounded and prosecuted 'wrong-doers' including some on Wall Street. In fact, I heard a collective, Hurray! emanate from Wall Street and then rumble up Broadway the day the news broke of Mr. Spitzer's terrible mistakes. And now, he's just one of 'us'.

Should he be prosecuted? Yes. Should he have resigned from office? Yes. Should his three young daughters and his wife have to pay for the sin of the father? Absolutely not. But they will and this is the saddest part of the tragedy. Especially for his children. What will they use to measure and test their own morales and ethics? Will Mrs. Spitzer be able to guide them and at the same time keep her sanity while the flashbulbs blind her on a daily basis?

On an NPR radio show today the host suggested that Mr. Spitzer go to synagogue this Saturday to get right. I still find it amazing that the United States is the most "church" going nation in the world and yet, many of us seem to leave our morales and ethics behind when it comes to operating our personal and business lives outside of the church,
synagogue or mosque. Has religion failed to act as a morale guide for its parishioners? What happened to Mr. Spitzer's morales and ethics when he became lonely one late night in Washington, DC? Why does the teacher's teachings fly out the window when it comes to doing the 'right' thing?

I know for certain that I have no right to judge Mr. Spitzer's actions. I look at them and weigh them against my own beliefs about right and wrong. And no matter how lonely I may become, I believe that I would not take the same actions as the former
Governor had taken. He must have had such an overpowering well of desire that ran over the rim that caused him to choose the actions he did.

Choices, decisions, consequences. It's the same for everyone. We're faced with a choice then we make a decision and out of every decision comes a
consequence. Payment for Mr. Spitzer's must now seem utterly ridiculous to him compared to the life that he left behind has Governor. If ends up doing time in jail I'm sure he will have wished that he made a different decision.

I hope that the
Spitzers' get the help and guidance that they will need as they attempt to move forward if, that's what they decide to do. Until then, I also hope that my sense of right and wrong stays intact and that my elected officials will keep their pants on, even when their desires start bubbling over.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fall Down - Get Up

The greatest fall of Heather Dorniden's racing career happened during last weekend's 600 meter Big Ten Championships. The accidental trip that caused Heather to fall most likely created her greatest triumph.

After being tripped, Heather quickly picked herself up off the indoor track surface and sprinted back to the pack and unbelievably won the race. Heather's performance gave me a huge amount of inspiration and confirmed the old adage: "never give up."

You can
watch (30 seconds from start of the video clip) Heather Dorniden's dramatic win and see for herself what determination, skill, strength and fortitude can do.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Warning: Do Not Overload

I read "Warning: Do Not Overload" every time I get into our apartment building's elevator. I must have read it hundreds of times over the nine years that I've lived in the building. Yesterday, for some reason the statement took on a different meaning. It reminded that we usually take on more than we can handle. Warning: Do Not Overload the Mind and Body is a good mantra for today's over anxious and over achieving world of ours.

When we overload mentally and physically we pay a price, usually in the form of illness. A cold develops and then lingers. Heartburn, headaches, sleeplessness and other symptoms of overload come unwanted. When the mind is upset, so too becomes the body and vice-versa. Make sure to stress-less by saying "no" whenever you can. Delegate responsibilities and tasks to others. Ask for help. The goal should be interdependence not independence.

Don't tempt the elevator's weight capacity. It might just crash from being overloaded.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pain and Perseverance

Date: 10 February 2008
Event: NYRR Bronx Half-Marathon, 13.1 miles/21.08 kilometers
Weather: 18F/-7.8C; Winds: 25-28mph; Skies: Overcast

By far this was the smartest race I have run to date. Just two weeks prior I ran the NYRR Manhattan Half-Marathon with the goal being a two hour or less finish time. I was warned that this was a lofty goal as my previous half marathon time was 2:29:49. I was determined and trained hard. I started out too fast - I always do. There were a lot of runners that day and Central Parks' roads were halved to accommodate runners, cyclists and walkers. I hate being crowded when I run especially by some big oaf who thinks he's an elite athlete. Every time an over competitive runner got too close I would sprint ahead depleting necessary energy that would be needed around miles eight or nine.

At mile nine the lactic acid started shooting pain in my thighs. I was still on schedule to reach my two hour goal but there was a major hill coming up at mile eleven. By mile ten my quads were killing me. Because it was very cold and wet I didn't hydrate or eat enough. Another painful lesson: eat and drink on a schedule.

At the base of the hill I told myself that it was now or never and to,"attack this hill." I always like to find one runner who runs slightly faster than myself and use him or her as my pacer for the last couple of miles. My intention is to overtake the 'pacer' right at the finish line. By the time I crested the hill I thought that my lungs were going to pop out of my chest, as I was pushing my maximum heart rate at 180 beats per minute.

I know that my mind will always give up long before my body and I did a lot of praying to Hermes, "Please give me strength!" When the twelve mile marker came into view, the thought of running on legs of lead for another 1.1 miles seemed impossible but I wanted to reach that goal. I knew that I would pay for running this fast, (8:52 pace per mile is fast for me) at the end of the race especially, with another half-marathon coming up in two weeks.

Turning the corner towards the finish line I felt like I was going to collapse until I saw my wife cheering me on. I crossed the finish line in 1:56:22. Wow! That's 33 minutes faster than my last Half. In the sport of running, an improvement of a few seconds is fantastic so, I was really impressed with the ability that the human body can get stronger and faster in a short period of time.

I did beat my 'pace' runner and was very happy with the results of all my hard work and training
. Yes, I paid for not pacing myself from the start. I could hardly walk down stairs for two days after the race. I vowed to use the Bronx race as a training run, pace myself from the start and use a schedule for hydrating and eating. It worked. I experienced no leg pain and only a slight amount of stomach discomfort. Four miles into the race I became competitive with myself and turned up the speed. I finished in 2:03:22. Not bad given that the head winds were so strong on the hilliest part of the course hampering everyone's finishing times.

There are five NYRR Half-Marathons that take place in each New York City Borough over the course of 2008. I plan on running all five just for the experience. Besides, they give away great shirts. The NYC Half-Marathon is 27 July and I'll let you know what my new goal will be after I do some more training.

Lessons learned: Set the goal, train hard, don't listen to negative thoughts, ask for help, and most importantly, increase and improve in small increments.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tommy Takes A Risk

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”
—William James (1842-1910), psychologist, philosopher, author

Tommy Walks The Walk and Talks the Talk

Thirty-six year old Tommy was facing an important decision. In 2006 he was working for a large invest bank in their IT department. As an experienced and highly skilled engineering manager, Tommy was responsible for twenty-three people who reported directly to him. The responsibility was huge and the pace at the bank was frenetic. The internal customers that Tommy and his team serviced were extremely demanding. The pay was good and so were the benefits but Tommy wasn’t happy. A native of the Deep South, Tommy was homesick living and working in Chicago. On his daily two-hour commutes, he imagined a better work-life balance and started thinking about making a change.

Over the last decade most companies stopped offering long-term job stability. With the economy bouncing around like a rubber ball, Tommy knew that he needed a financial cushion if he were to relocate and find a new job. He spoke with his employer about a role in Charlotte, NC but with hiring freezes and other issues it didn’t work out. Like so many people who want to change their lives, Tommy felt between a rock and a hard place. After one of his long train rides home from the office he told his wife, "I am sick of the cold Chicago weather and if I had enough money I would just quit and move!"

“What about the account you set up when we first moved north?” His wife asked. Tommy was so good at planning that he forgot that he set up a “relocation” bank account six years prior when he arrived chilly Chicago. When he arrived at his office the next day he checked the balance of the account to find to his surprise, that it was quite significant. Combined with his 2006 bonus he walked into his boss’s office that morning and quit on the spot. He was back home by noon.

Tommy didn’t have a job waiting for him but he had a feeling that Charlotte, NC was the place to be on the map. He made his decision to relocate and find a job when he got there based on hope, fortitude and survival skills. Eight days after quitting his job, he and his wife’s belongings were shipped south. Leaving eight inches of snow behind them, they spent some time living in their RV, meeting very old friends and fishing until the wee hours of the night. One month later Tommy landed a position with a new employer.

Tommy and his wife went from living in a cramped Chicago neighborhood to four acres of seclusion just thirty minutes from Tommy’s new job. Besides having more space, he and his wife can't see or even hear his neighbors. He went from doing engineering work with twenty-three direct reports straight into managing a first line support desk with just three reports. He explains that it is a significant step backwards professionally but the quality of life is exponentially better and his salary took a pretty significant jump. “I am much happier now. It was a pretty risky move on my part but seems to have paid off well in the end.”

It turns out that this wasn’t the first time Tommy had done something like this. Many years ago when he moved to Chicago on a wing and a prayer he placed an ad in the "Work Wanted" section of the Chicago Tribune as a Webmaster. “My thought at the time was that even corporate recruiters need a handyman or yard work done and if I could put my number in front of them over coffee on Sunday morning they might call. It was a desperate move but I ended up getting more calls from that than I did from two weeks of shopping my resume around. The recruiter that ended up brokering my hire at the time, kept that ad on his desk for as long as I knew him as a reminder to himself to never give up and to always think outside of the box.”

Tommy’s risk paid off. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He wanted something better and was willing to put in the effort. But what’s most important is that he refused to accept that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have a feeling that even if he didn’t have the once forgotten “relocation” money set aside, he would have found another way to make it work. He also admits to having put the skills that he learned in the training classes and coaching sessions that I facilitated into practice.

Sometimes important decisions seem like crevices larger than they really are. Take a deep breath and start planning a route across. Take a leap of faith, a risk. Nothing is as imposing as it seems. Once in your new ‘life’ you’ll take a backwards glance and see that it really wasn’t so difficult. Today, take one step, any step, which will lead you closer to where you want to be.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Men Hate Valentine’s Day

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I plead guilty as charged: I too hate Valentine’s Day.

However, I have done my time and have been rehabilitated. So much so, that I am now considered by my wife and her friends as well, to be the most romantic, caring, sweetest and giving man on the planet. Gooey but true.

Like many men, I have spent most of my married life dreading Valentine’s Day with all its pressures and demands – real or imagined. It’s not that we completely lack sensitivity or that our feelings are strictly limited to our Neanderthal origins. But whether are behaviour on this holiest of holy love days is directly linked to our Homo habilis brothers or not, we men feel the need to be capable providers and know that what we provide will satisfy our partners. However, the general consensus amongst the male population is that there is a maldistribution when it comes to the planning and implementation of romance on Sweetheart’s Day. The National Retail Federation, (NRF) reported that in 2007 the average male spent $156.22 on Valentine's Day, nearly double the $85.08 that the average female spent. What happened to equality? Apparently, parity is forsaken when it comes to Cupid.

When my wife of twenty-one years and I have a domestic squabble she’s the one that says, “We’re in this together. It’s about us. Please say “we” not “you.”” This phrase of hers is rarely uttered on Valentine’s Day. Of course, it is expected that we will, as a couple celebrate our love but how we celebrate and demonstrate that love is another story. We men feel seriously tested every February 14th and many believe it to be a no win situation.

In an independent and unscientific survey I conducted of male friends and colleagues, everyone of them said that they begrudge having to take the lead on Valentine’s Day and that they feel they will be graded their efforts. That being said, I know of no living male who ever told his wife or girlfriend, ‘sorry baby but these red, silk boxers that you bought me that I will wear for approximately 3.2 seconds before we make love, just doesn’t make me feel appreciated enough on this, our special day.’ That’s quite a sacrifice don’t you think?

Since my rehabilitation over ten years ago when I went out on a Valentine’s Day strike, pronouncing to my wife that Valentine’s Day was “stupid” and that she and every other woman in the western world had been brainwashed and duped by the retail industry and that I was starting a revolution of unprecedented proportion that would no longer “feed the insatiable restaurant, greeting card, and flower industries” I have become more sensitive and understanding to why this day is so important. It wasn’t easy and it looks like history played a role.

The history of Valentine’s Day as told by some is that a priest, later to become Saint Valentine had a disagreement with Claudius II. It seems that Claudius wasn’t all that warm and fuzzy and was laden with extra testosterone that he put into being commander and conquer. He decided that unmarried men made stronger and more efficient soldiers than those with wives so he outlawed marriage. The soppy Saint Valentine rebelled against Claudius by performing secret marriages for young lovers desperate to be joined in holy wedlock. When Claudius got wind of Valentine’s clandestine actions he had his head chopped off. Wow! Just think about it, the origins of this sweet and romantic holiday lay in a priest’s beheading.

That was around 270 A.D. and I don’t entirely hold Claudius and the headless Saint Valentine accountable for creating what we men sometimes refer to as the ‘greed of Valentine’s Day.’ Legend has it, that sometime around 1418 King Henry V paid a writer named John Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois. It was the olden time’s version of CVS and Hallmark. Today’s romancers consider him a loser. All he had to do was write a few lines of his honest feelings on some musty parchment and Catherine would have rendered him her mind, body and soul indefinitely. Everyone followed suit and trudged narrow, cobbled stoned streets in order to purchase poems and sonnets setting the stage for what desperate and procrastinating men now do every year.

So, after so much disdain and rebellion why did I capitulate to what is deemed by some as a lovey-dovey dope? For one, I grew up and two, I realized that not all holidays are about me. (Darn that little boy in hiding in my subconscious.) Yes, I show and tell my wife everyday how much I love and appreciate her but there is no such thing as ‘banking’ one’s efforts. What counts is each day and if my wife is my number one customer, so to speak, then why wouldn’t I want to treat her as such? Do retailers really care if we have a lovely snugly holiday? Do they inflate prices ten fold on roses, Italian dinners and greeting cards every February 14th? Of course they do but so what? So what if I go out of my way just a little bit to make my wife happy? Isn’t that what giving is all about? Gentleman readers don’t hate me but last year I made hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured umbrellas that I stuck in between the floorboards of our apartment that led a path to the living room where I projected one of my wife’s favourite movies, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Her tears of appreciation and gratitude made the effort so worth doing and I have to admit, I had a really good time creating the evening.

According to my wife’s friends, I am in the minority and they want to know how they can get their husbands and or boyfriends to be more romantic. Every year they excitedly ask my wife, “What did he do for you this time?” (A couple of years ago my wife’s best friend Lona received a tape dispenser. Her poor husband is still paying for that.) Recently I asked my wife what she considered romantic when it came to my efforts on Valentine’s Day. She replied, “When you surprise me.” And I sincerely asked, “You mean when I actually listen to you?” We both had a hearty laugh over that!

My wife suggested that I start offering Valentine’s Day coaching for men. The old Draco me would have laughed at this but I thought it a good idea. So ladies and gentlemen, since I have been branded a good romantic, my experience and rehabilitated self are at your disposal, all in the hopes of the only thing you are guilty of this February 14th is of being in a state of perpetual bliss and happiness.