All I Ever Wanted

I’ve wanted a lot of things in my life. It started early. There was the archery set, the BB gun, bicycle, car, expensive clothes and a fraternity ring, to name a few. Listing all the things I felt I needed over the years would require a dedicated scribe. Turns out I have acquired almost everything I ever wanted. This was by and large a stroke of good fortune and, to some extent, hard work.

Most people who get everything they want feel a level of satisfaction. I know I do. But thinking about this achievement now, I wonder about my focus. Maybe my ambition should have been to get all I ever needed. Although there is some overlap, what I wanted wasn’t always what I needed.

In reality, I could live very well with about 20 percent of the things I possess. This became clear in 2004. With a dream of moving to California permanently, we purchased a duplex in Sausalito. I’ve always enjoyed projects — as long as I can offer opinions and have others do all the work — so the plan was to expand and convert the duplex into a single family home.

Prior to the completion of design work and the start of construction, my wife and I spent a month in the duplex. As it was unfurnished, we needed some furniture and a few necessities to make it livable. We found some discarded chairs and a table left at the curb in a nearby neighborhood a curbside and hauled them to the duplex. We bought a “kitchen in a box” from Home Depot. Costing around $30, it contained some utensils, plates and, I think, a pot. The purchase of a mattress completed our furnishings at a cost of less than $100. Our clothes for the month were limited to what we brought in our suitcases.

My wife and I remember our month in Sausalito fondly. We lived a minimalist life. We had all the “things” we needed; not necessarily all we wanted. We entertained friends and family on a few occasions. We enjoyed the natural beauty of San Francisco Bay. Spending time with family and friends and enjoying nature was what we needed, what nourished us, not a houseful of possessions.

I realize that most of my wants have focused on materialism. What I need is love, friendship, forgiveness, gratitude, continued good health, and the ability to pursue a significant life’s purpose. Focusing on materialism can lead to an empty life. Legacies and happiness are not built on acquisitions, but on love and service.

I don’t know the author, but I love this sentiment: Happiness is the new rich. Inner peace is the new success. Health is the new wealth. Kindness is the new cool.

Distinguishing between wants and needs was an important principle I emphasized when teaching leadership and ethics to graduate business students. The course was based on three simple tenets.

1. See what needs to be done.

2. Understand the underlying forces impacting the situation.

3. Take action to make a positive difference.

I warned the students that a common pitfall comes in the first step. Many people read it as, see what I want to do. The rationale is usually, “As a leader my wants are the needs!” Often they are quite different. The want to protect a company from bad publicity causes cover-ups of faulty products. The want to increase the stock price causes questionable accounting practices and the manipulation of earnings. The list goes on and on.

The second step can also presents dilemmas. The most significant underlying force is the leader. Leaders need self-insight to recognize biases, blind spots and to understand and acknowledge that they are products of their unique but limited life history. This produces gaps in critical knowledge. Leaders want to appear strong and in charge, but they need to be humble, open minded and willing to listen to diverse points of view.

The struggle between needs and wants is ongoing. In daily life, what I need is to maintain my integrity, what I want is to deny mistakes and appear perfect. I need to demonstrate courage when I want to escape, serve when I want to be served, love when I want to hate, listen when I want to talk, forgive when I want revenge, show compassion when I want to judge, let go when I want to hold on, and depend on others, when I want to stay in control.

If I pursue what I need, all the things that matter will materialize. Some call it karma. I call it the path to true happiness. As stated by an unknown author,

“Life doesn’t always introduce you to the people you want to meet. Sometimes, life puts you in touch with the people you need to meet to help you, to hurt you, to love you, and to gradually strengthen you into the person you were meant to become.”

I pray to be blessed with what I need, not just what I want.

Home Sweet Home

In my youth I would often see a needlepoint rendering of Home Sweet Home hanging on a kitchen or living room wall. In the last several decades I don’t recall ever being in a home displaying the same sentiment. I’m not sure why. Maybe we are such a mobile society that homes now seem fleeting and temporary. Or maybe we take having a home for granted and feel it is nothing special.

I have lived in many homes in several states and Canada. In reflecting on all these homes, I am partial to my childhood home in Nebraska and the home where our three children grew up. When our youngest child, Julie, left for the University of Texas, my wife and I decided to downsize to a townhome. Having heard from friends that children are often upset when the childhood home is sold, we asked our three if they minded. They didn’t.

Since becoming empty nesters we have lived in five homes and will likely move again when the stairs in our current home become too difficult to navigate. And so it has been, always a place to call home. It never crossed my mind there might be a day when we didn’t have a home.

Though I am aware of the homeless, I avert my gaze or avoid them completely when I see them on the sidewalk or roadway. I usually don’t sympathize too much with their predicament, wondering if they might be mentally ill or violent criminals. The fairy tales I imagine are usually negative.

I had never spoken to a homeless man until a recent trip to San Francisco. The events leading up to this encounter started at the Japanese Tea  Garden in Golden Gate Park. It is a beautiful garden, populated with numerous water and rock structures laid out in a way that encourages a slow, meditative walk.

After the garden we walked up to Ninth Avenue, looking for a lunch spot. We ended up at Crepevine, a place where we had eaten on a past visit. As with most restaurants, the serving sizes were more than my wife and I could eat, so we left with to-go boxes.

We walked to the muni stop to board a train to our son’s home. As we waited for the next train, we noticed a homeless man talking to himself and pacing about. I was a bit unnerved. He was very dirty and disheveled, possibly in his 50s, with a two-week beard and no front teeth. He could have qualified to be an extra in a horror film.

Soon after we arrived a man dropped a plastic container into a nearby trash can. It contained a small portion of food – maybe two bites. Seeing this, the homeless man rushed to the trash can, retrieved the food and began eating it. It was a little upsetting but not surprising, since food was probably a treasured find.

My wife and I felt guilty standing there with extra food, having already eaten a big meal. My wife suggested we give the food to the homeless man. I agreed and asked the man if he was still hungry. “YES,” he said excitedly. His toothless grin was warm and sincere. I gave him the bag and he whispered, “I knew you were a good couple.” His humanity was evident.

As we boarded the train, he was eating the French fries, exclaiming over and over, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.” Burdened with countless difficulties, he was still able to express gratitude. Our small kindness had a significant impact on his day.

Meeting this homeless man affected me greatly. My stereotypical image of the homeless was changed that day. I had dismissed the homeless, believing they were not deserving of my attention. I thought their plight was likely of their own making. Of course, that’s wrong. The man I met was fully human, with hopes, fears, feelings and a product of his history.

I thought about his possible life history. Did he fall into an addiction, was he a former felon who couldn’t find a job, was he abused? So many possibilities. Once he was a beautiful child who hopefully had a loving mother. What went wrong? How did he become homeless and desperate? I’ll never know, but he has my love and compassion. I pray his situation improves.

When I think about the homeless and others who bear tremendous hardships, I realize offering even a small measure of kindness can improve their situation. Practicing kindness and love really can change the world.

Though I first heard it in my youth, I still often reflect on the cautionary tale attributed to Saadi, the medieval Persian poet. “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet.”

I am so blessed to be able to declare, “home sweet home.”

 

Million Dollar Listing

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a strong interest in residential real estate and design. To pursue this curiosity, I considered getting a degree in architecture at Arizona State University but chose engineering instead. Since then, it has crossed my mind that I might have enjoyed a life as a broker or developer. I cultivated the interest by designing our second home and renovating several others, much to the annoyance of my wife.

I’m over the project stage and remain content by visiting open residences on Sundays. My desire to view homes started in my early teens. To pacify my curiosity, mother would take me to see homes for sale.

I saw a special home around 1955, at age 14. I remember being particularly excited because we were going to Millionaire Acres, near Scottsdale, Arizona. The homes were priced at $25,000, which is equivalent to about $225,000 in 2018 dollars. Given that the home I lived in was purchased for $4,900 in 1950, this price was beyond anything I could imagine.

I was impressed with the home and dreamed about the possibility of having a $1,000,000 net worth. Then I could afford a similar home. In those days having a million dollar net worth was an impressive aspiration. Given that $1,000,000 in 1955 is equivalent to over $9,000,000 today, I have fallen short. But I’m okay, we have a home we love.

In addition to my own house hunting compulsion, I enjoy watching others search for homes on HGTV. The show features families who are renovating and looking for homes all over the world. The show often highlights the different ideas the husband and wife have about their ideal house. It adds a little tension and suspense to the program, and I enjoy the process couples use to reach a compromise.

But HGTV is for wanna-be real estate voyeurs. The real deal is Million Dollar Listing on the Bravo channel. The show follows three kingpins of New York real estate, Fredrik, Ryan and Steve. They compete for listings and sales above $10,000,000. Listings from 25 to 50 million are the whales they hope to land, and they are often successful.

Staging and marketing these showplaces runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. A sales office for a high-rise building can cost three million or more. The negotiations to secure the listings and sales pitches are fierce, with sellers and buyers presenting a take no prisoner’s persona. Commissions run into the hundreds of thousands. It’s a battle about the money, egos and winning.

The agents are very successful and live for the sale. Fredrik and Ryan look as if they just stepped out of GQ; custom suits, expensive shoes and ties and immaculate grooming. Steve looks like a 21st century hippy, but that’s his brand. They all have drivers that navigate the city for them.

They deal with people who are very demanding and often offensive. But anything for a six or seven figure commission. The agents are passionate about their work, but I’m not certain they are happy. Although they seem happier than some of their clients and developers.

The clients are a mixture of eccentric personalities with large egos, who seem to flaunt their wealth through their residences. On a recent episode the seller was putting his townhouse in Tribeca on the market for 25 million. He was probably in his fifties and had a twenty-something trophy girlfriend on his arm. The townhouse ultimately was rented by a Hollywood entertainer for $600,000/year, with the agreement that the agent could continue to show to potential buyers. The renter wanted a place to stay during occasional visits to New York.

Although many of the show’s players appear shallow and artificial, I find the program fascinating. The agents are masters of negotiating and massaging huge egos.
Dampening my enthusiasm a bit, is the ostentatious display of wealth in a city where so many suffer from poverty, crime, stress and anxiety. Maybe the extreme wealth makes me jealous, I’m not sure. But the issue of income inequality does enter my consciousness.

I’m a fiscal conservative and strong defender of free markets and capitalism, but maybe a modified version of capitalism would serve society better. I don’t have an answer, but perhaps there are others who can lead the change.

Anyway, it’s fun to see the rich display their egos and spend their money.

 

Fairy Tales

I grew up hearing fanciful stories like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. As advertised, they had fairy tale endings, which fulfilled my hope that everything in life would end well. I thought how wonderful it would be to have a fairy tale life. My daydreams were about the perfect life, job, wife and home. I believed that fairy tale endings were not only possible, but likely.

Other fairy tales were not so benign. Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel had darker tones with evil forces at work. Although good prevailed, the dangers of evil were likely present everywhere. My takeaway? One must overcome evil to enjoy fairy tale endings.

Throughout my life I have created my own fairy tales — not tales about princesses or witches. My imaginings stemmed from deciphering the thoughts of other people, why they behaved the way they did and what their motives were. These speculations were especially vivid if I had been offended or felt cheated out of “deserved” recognition. Why wasn’t I chosen? Why didn’t anyone notice my accomplishments? Why was I being ignored? You get the picture.

In reflecting back on the tales my mind conceived, I assumed the worst possible motives. These people were selfish, had no empathy, were unkind, unethical, etc. The stories in my head were negative, dark and unforgiving. They made me angry, even though I understood my irritation was likely misinterpreted/misdirected, I didn’t know the real reasons for what transpired. I only knew part of the story. It was my interpretation, usually without collaboration.

If a speeding driver cut me off on the highway, I would create a tale. This person was reckless and cared little about the safety of others. Where were the police when you needed them? I hoped they would have an accident! I became angry. My version of events was all about me, my ego and how I suffered. I never gave much thought to the other person’s situation.

Growing older has allowed me to reconsider; why assume the worst about people? Why am I so negative? Maybe there are reasons I don’t understand that justify the actions. Take the case of the speeding driver. There are many potential reasons. He’s late for a flight that was taking him to the funeral of his only daughter, who died trying to rescue his wife from a fire that burned down the cabin he built with his father. I could continue to develop the imaginary tale, which would provide a host of possible reasons for forgiving the driver.

But I realized that if I wanted to live a life grounded in love, forgiveness and gratitude, I must change the narrative of my fairy tales. I would have to adjust my focus from negative motives and embrace the possibility that people act reasonably and every perceived slight isn’t always personal. This approach would generate less anger, embarrassment or offense. The plotlines would be based on kindness, understanding, empathy and forgiveness.

When people recount some slight they have experienced, I often speculate on how their conclusions about the situation may be incorrect. Like the case of the speeding driver, I always look for another viewpoint. While some might find this view to be borderline Pollyanna, I have found it productive, and less stressful.

Beyond fairy tales, based on why something had happened, there were also the “what now” tales. These cropped up anytime I lost the promotion, didn’t get the dream job, was laid off, and any one of a number of disappointments that we all encounter in life. Often I was devastated. What would I do now? My life was ruined. How would I ever recover?

In hindsight I realized the stories in my head were unfounded. The world didn’t come to an end; in fact, life got better. Working in human resources for many years, I was involved with many employee layoffs. The shock to those impacted was significant. Turns out that over 90% rebounded with better jobs at higher pay. It even happened to me.

Hurricane Harvey created another type of devastating stress. Many felt their lives were over, but some experienced a silver lining. A couple in their eighties were in the option period for the sale of their house. Harvey struck, the house was flooded and the buyer backed out. Shattering!

However, it turns out the couple had flood insurance. Sold the house “as is,” collected the insurance and moved to a senior living community, which they had already planned to do. The bottom line, they received more money than if the sale had gone through pre-Harvey, and the unpleasant task of downsizing their possessions was quickly and dramatically reduced by the flood.

These days, I try to suppress my fairy tales, since they are virtually never true. If I do imagine a tale, I try to envision a positive story. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good principle to live by. Focus on the other person. Otherwise, my fairy tales will be just as fanciful as the ones I heard as a child, without the fairy tale ending.

Living a fairy tale life? Let your ego go and focus on love, forgiveness and gratitude.

I’m Not Dead, Yet!

I was recently lured onto a Facebook post that promised, using your Facebook profile picture, to generate how you will look in 20 years. Since I am currently 77, you can imagine the resulting computer rendering. It was scary; I looked like I was already dead! But I consoled myself, thinking, it’s only a simulation. Surely I won’t look that bad!

My computer generated face appeared nearly dead, reminding me of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The tale is set in a village suffering the ravages of the Black Plague. Most of its inhabitants are wretched and dying.

The dead collector makes the rounds collecting the dead.
Dead Collector: Bring out your dead!
[A large man appears with a (seemingly) dead man over his shoulder]
Large Man: Here’s one.
Dead Collector: Nine pence.
“Dead” Man: I’m not dead.
Dead Collector: What?
Large Man: Nothing. [hands the collector his money] There’s your nine pence.
“Dead” Man: I’m not dead!
Dead Collector: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead.
Large Man: Yes he is.
“Dead” Man: I’m not.
Dead Collector: He isn’t.
Large Man: Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.
“Dead” Man: I’m getting better.
Large Man: No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.
Dead Collector: Well, I can’t take him like that. It’s against regulations.
“Dead” Man: I don’t want to go on the cart.
Large Man:’ Oh, don’t be such a baby.
Dead Collector: I can’t take him.
“Dead” Man: I feel fine.
Large Man with Dead Body: Oh, do me a favor.
Dead Collector: I can’t.
Large Man: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won’t be long.
Dead Collector: I promised I’d be at the Robinsons’. They’ve lost nine today.
Large Man: Well, when’s your next round?
Dead Collector: Thursday.
“Dead” Man: I think I’ll go for a walk.
Large Man: You’re not fooling anyone, you know. Isn’t there anything you could do?
“Dead” Man: I feel happy. I feel happy.
[The collector paces for an idea, then whacks the body with his club, solving the problem]
Large Man: Ah, thank you very much.
Dead Collector: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Large Man: Right.

On a recent cruise I came face-to-face with people who were not dead yet, but close. The evidence appeared as I observed other passengers on the cruise ship. The majority were in their 60s and 70s. Many were in worse shape that I am now but, nevertheless, presented a possible preview of my life to come.

I now relate to the mantra crew members used to describe the three types of cruise ships passengers: “newlyweds, overfed and nearly dead.” I didn’t meet any newlyweds, if you didn’t count the crew, who almost to a person had matched up with a fellow crew member. This wasn’t surprising, given the crew are at sea for five to six months at a time.

Although short on newlyweds there was an abundance of the overfed and nearly dead. My comments on these people is not intended to be mean or belittling, it’s rather a reflection on what I might be facing in my later years.

I joined the overfed crowd during the twelve-day cruise. Ate and drank as if I had just been released from a concentration camp. Gained six pounds! There were many others who had been eating too much for years.

My wife and I were enjoying breakfast one morning while sitting outside on the aft deck of the ship. A woman slowly emerged onto the deck travelling with the aid of a walker. She probably weighed 350 pounds. Her husband followed her with a heaping breakfast plate. Once the first plate was finished, her husband returned to the restaurant for more: a second plate with a towering pile of bacon. She fed each piece of bacon into her mouth in a way that reminded me of tree trimers pushing cut branches into the wood grinder. She definitely qualified for the overfed club.

And there were several passengers that the crew would have labeled nearly dead. The one who appeared closest to expiring was in a wheelchair and probably in his 90s. His daughter and her husband had brought him and his wife on the cruise. We saw him being pushed around the ship, usually asleep. We sat next to his family’s table during dinner one evening. He was asleep and, when wakened to eat, exclaimed to his wife, “I seem to meet you in the strangest places.” He survived until we docked in Miami.

One evening we were enjoying happy hour in a long gallery with couches and chairs lining each side of the gallery. As the passageway led directly to the main dining room, there was a parade of people heading through it for dinner. As I watched people pass by, I begin to feel as if I were in a scene from the zombie apocalypse. Canes, walkers, wheelchairs and couples hanging onto each other to avoid falling. My New Year’s resolutions became crystal clear: lose weight and keep going to the gym.

I hope to escape the worst ravages of old age, but if not I don’t want to be a cruise ship poster boy for the overfed and nearly dead. It was a little depressing to see these people and observe how their bodies had deteriorated.

I do give several passengers high marks for getting on with life and not giving up. It’s certainly better than sitting on the couch watching Jeopardy.

Cherish every day and work hard to protect your health. As the cruise clearly demonstrated, life is fragile and fleeting.

 

The Last Runner

I enjoy watching the Houston Marathon. 2018 was my third time to view over 10,000 runners pass by my house. It’s one of those people watching opportunities I don’t like to miss.

The current marathon route allows me to see the runners passing mile four from the comfort of my home. This amenity was especially welcome this year with the outside temperature around 30 degrees.

I watched until the last official runner passed by. You know it’s the final runner by the armada of trucks and police cars that follow and reopen the street to traffic. I was curious who the final competitors would be and wondered how they felt about being last. I wanted to speak to the final runner but chose not to interrupt her.

There were two runners vying for last place. A man, who appeared in his early 60s, with a white mustache, and carrying some extra weight, was leading by about 15 feet. He was wearing a blue jacket, baseball cap, long black pants and white running shoes. He was walking at a deliberate pace, focused straight ahead and didn’t appear tired.

He was closely followed by a woman likely in her early 60s or mid-50s. She wore a black headband, an all-black outfit and white running shoes. She was taking a drink from a bottle of water. She walked with an air of determination. Strange, because I doubted if either runner would complete the course within the mandatory time limit. But they had taken up the challenge of the marathon or half marathon, and I admired them for that.

Last is an “honor” most people want to avoid. In thinking about the last marathon runners, I concluded they were, in one sense, first, defeating all the people who had chosen not to run that day. Those who didn’t have the discipline to train and the motivation to persevere. The last runner was actually a winner in this broader perspective. They also had more time to enjoy the course and wave to the cheering crowds.

I have been last on many occasions in my life. Most were inconsequential; none life shattering. I was usually last when kids were being chosen to be part of a sports team. My lack of athletic skill was well known.

At my college fraternity house I was always the last person to finish eating. I probably enjoyed my food more and, since I was the house dishwasher, finishing last was timely.
When looking for something, it’s always the last place I look. So I try to get to last as quickly as possible.

There were times when I worked to be last and advised others to do the same. Last is the ideal position to occupy when interviewing for a job. Interviewers are still making comparisons with early candidates, refining their ideas about the ideal person. They have little urgency to complete the search. Those interviewing last enjoy the advantage of leaving the final impression and of being closer to the hiring decision. It may also be why the best ice skaters are given the benefit of skating last when competing.

In 1988 I was the last person interviewed for the position of human resources vice president with American Capital Management & Research, Inc. I was a late addition to the interview process. The company was ready to make an offer and had narrowed the list to two people working on Wall Street. I lived in Houston, avoiding a relocation, and had great chemistry with the hiring executive, Don McMullen. I got the job.

Had I interviewed first, my feedback would have been, “You are the first one we’ve talked to and we need to interview others.” By the end of the process, I would have been a distant memory.

There are sometimes benefits to being last. Being the last person standing in a boxing match or spelling bee. The football team that scores last usually wins. Being the last person to see a friend before they pass away. The list goes on.

Personally, finishing last means I took on a challenge. Last place reveals lessons to be learned and personal strengths and weakness revealed. Etiquette and kindness usually dictate that I go last.

So I’m comfortable with the notion of last. Always striving to be first, regardless of the consequences, would damage my character and integrity. I don’t want my life to always be a competition. I just want to “be,” feeling grateful for the gift of life, all the beauty of the earth and the people I have had the good fortune to meet.

We all pray for the last war, the last pocket of poverty and the last tinges of racism. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so passionately expressed in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Free at last, free at last, Great God a-mighty, we are free at last.”

 

Midnight at the Oasis

If I were to rank my life’s priorities, getting a massage would fall beyond the bottom of the list. It seems peculiar to pay money for a stranger to grope my body for an hour. However, I have experienced a few encounters with a masseuse or masseur, and still vividly recall the first one.

I had injured a muscle in my leg, right before a planned vacation. It was painful, but as a member of the University Club, I had access to a massage therapist. A professional and efficient masseuse kneaded the muscle and my leg felt better. Since then I have had less than five encounters with a masseuse — all legitimate ones, in case you’re wondering.

I thought my massage days were over until friends from Hawaii were visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday. When the couple lived in Houston, they had a ritual of getting a foot massage almost every Saturday night. Having missed the massages, they wanted to revisit their experience and invited us to accompany them. Since this was the only opportunity my wife and I would have to visit with them, we agreed to go.

I drove and Joel navigated us to our Chinatown destination. Chinatown reminds me of a Chinese Las Vegas, with brightly flashing neon lights and unlimited people watching opportunities. It’s a beautiful place in its unique way. We parked near the “spa” and climbed the steps to the second floor. A worn and weathered hand-written sign indicated the elevator was out of service – probably for some time.

We came to the front and I noticed the sign above the door announced we were at Oasis. Ah, a night at the Oasis. We entered onto the linoleum floor, and I was immediately told to speak in a whisper. Serenity was paramount. The price was $25 for a one-hour foot massage. But they offered a bargain for frequent clients; buy a special card and you could receive five visits for the price of four. Wow, the same deal as Mister Car Wash. I guess in a remote sense, the services are similar, just my body instead of my car.

I was led into a small room, where I took off my shoes and socks and reclined onto the lounge that was provided. The room was very dimly lit, which was probably intended to prevent the screams that would arise if people saw it in a bright light. To ensure the mystery of the room, I was asked to remove my glasses. To be fair the dim lighting was likely intended to deliver the intended serenity. There was also soft music playing. The sounds of waves, wind and chirping birds added to the ambiance.

The woman assigned to work on my feet and other body parts, brought in a pot of hot water. She lifted my feet and immersed them in the water. While my feet were being softened up, she worked on my head and neck. This was reasonably relaxing, but as I was to experience later, she believed that more hand pressure is better than less.

Next came my feet. I thought, “Will she really work on my feet for an entire hour, and why would anyone do this for a portion of the $20 or $25 dollar fee?” I never thought of a satisfactory answer.

I noticed a clock mounted on the darkened wall. It was probably there to provide an accurate measure of when the hour was up. Rather than drift off into deep relaxation, I found myself focusing on the clock. It was interesting, with a starburst pattern of rods emanating from the clock face. Small circular coin-like decorations were placed in various spots on the radiating design. The clock appeared very old and produced a beautiful ticking sound, which I enjoyed.

Why wasn’t I in a state of deep relaxation? Because she was handling my feet like someone trying to get hardened cement out of a toothpaste tube. The pressure was extremely firm and a little painful. I should have asked her to be softer.

Once my feet had had enough, she continued working on my back and legs. This was better. I could tell my muscles were tight, so the firm hand pressure was likely beneficial. After an hour of body work, I did feel relaxed.

I told her she was very good and gave her a $10 tip. No one should have to work for so little. Her English was very limited, but I asked her how many customers she had per day. She replied, “About seven.” When I inquired how long she had worked there, she responded, “A half year.”

This was probably my last massage, unless our visitors invite us again. Although it wasn’t a wonderful experience, I would recommend, that at least once, everyone spend midnight at the Oasis. It’s a cultural and body awakening

 

The Land of Milk and Honey

“And I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:8

I’m not a student of the Bible, but I do know, “the land of milk and honey” is mentioned in Exodus. It refers to Israel, the Promised Land, but now the phrase has become a figure of speech referring to any desirable place.

Because milk comes from animals and honey from plants, together they represent completeness and harmony. I think we are all searching for harmony, in our family relationships, places of work and politics. But harmony is elusive. Why do we fall short and how can we achieve greater harmony?

In business it’s all about the money, in families it’s about independence and control, and in politics it’s about winning and influence. Somewhat different goals but all create competition, tension and the potential for people to be jerks.

I have never heard anyone refer to their workplace as the land of milk and honey. Maybe because it’s an odd description or, more likely, because workplaces rarely exhibit harmony.

When I think of harmony, I envision a peaceful, beautiful and kind environment. But of course life, and especially work, is stressful. There are deadlines, unreasonable bosses, difficult colleagues, harassment and competition for promotions and high performance ratings. Hardly a recipe for corporate kindness.

But the absence of kindness is debilitating.

The August 18, 2017, Wall Street Journal article, “The Costs of Workplace Rudeness” by Jennifer Wallace, revealed the impact of rudeness in the workplace.

“Persistent low levels of rudeness—such as being ignored or put down, particularly by someone in a position of power—can threaten an employee’s sense of belonging, according to research published this year in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. This isolation, in turn, can bring on stomach problems, sleeplessness and headaches.

Lead researcher Christopher Rosen of the University of Arkansas says, ‘Experiencing incivility wears people down, affects cognition and depletes the resources they have for controlling their own behavior.’”

In the May 2007 McKinsey Quarterly, an article by Robert Sutton, “Building the Civilized Workplace,” provides more evidence that a lack of kindness is toxic.

“Bennett Tepper studied abusive supervision in a representative study of 712 employees in a Midwestern city. He asked them if their bosses had engaged in abusive behavior, including ridicule, put-downs, and the silent treatment—demeaning acts that drive people out of organizations and sap the effectiveness of those who remain.

A six-month follow-up found that employees with abusive supervisors quit their jobs at accelerated rates. Those still trapped felt less committed to their employers and experienced less satisfaction from work and life, as well as heightened anxiety, depression, and burnout. Dozens of other studies have uncovered similar findings; the victims report reduced levels of job satisfaction, productivity, concentration, and mental and physical health.”

In another telltale sign, Gallup surveys measuring the level of employee engagement in American businesses finds only 33% are fully engaged; I’m sure in part due to difficult personalities within an organization in the place of work.

There are many examples of bad behavior in the workplace. Uber Technologies Chief Executive Travis Kalanick and Harvey Weinstein are poster boys. They recently lost their jobs because of sexual harassment and other acts of impropriety that simply boggle the mind. In this kind of culture, the bottom line suffers.

At this point you might be thinking, “Sounds great, but wouldn’t we become an organization of wimps, with everyone trying to be excessively kind? Who will make the tough and unpopular decisions?” This is a fallacy; you can be kind when terminating someone, shutting down a division or making any difficult decision.

Conflict and disagreement are healthy. But the energy and tension must be directed at the issues and never conducted as personal attacks. Respecting all people with kindness is a cardinal principle. For guidance consider this advice from sociologist Karl Weick, “Argue as if you are right and listen as if you’re wrong.”

Similar solutions apply to family dynamics. Kindness is the secret to harmony. Parents screaming and belittling their children create disharmony, damaged children and broken marriages.

In my opinion, President Donald Trump is a caricature of bad behavior He would be more effective if his primary approach with Congress and others were kindness. His current attacks are not working; they are creating enemies and stalling progress.

The Dalai Lama reminds us: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Kindness is a choice we all make. It costs nothing and requires no sacrifice. Kindness will change the world and improve everyone’s chances to realize their aspirations and goals, whether it’s business, family peace or political influence.

In our humanity we are all connected, so being kind is in everyone’s best interest. Virtually every relationship will be improved with kindness. If you want to reach the Promised Land of milk and honey, you must promise to be kind! It’s as simple as that.

If you make that promise, your life and everyone’s you touch will be enriched and more peaceful.

Good Enough Never Is

There is an apocryphal story about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his opinion of good enough. Dr. Kissinger requested a white paper analyzing a current international concern. A recent PhD graduate was given the assignment. After two weeks he submitted his work to Kissinger. Kissinger returned the paper with the cryptic note, “Not good enough.” The staffer worked on the paper some more and submitted it again, only to have it returned with the same note, “Not good enough.”

The third time, the staff person brought the latest version to Dr. Kissinger’s office. He said, “Dr. Kissinger, I have done significant additional research and spent hours attempting to give you the best possible paper, and frankly I don’t know anything else I can do.” Dr. Kissinger replied, “Thank you. Now I’ll read it.”

I have done work in the past that was just good enough, but certainly not my best effort. It was laziness and the idea that if what I did was acceptable why make the extra effort? I ultimately determined that it is the expectations of others and my passion for the work that governs how much effort I will exert. When you have someone to please, like Dr. Kissinger, you attempt to do your absolute best.

I noticed the same phenomenon when I taught. At the beginning of the course the submitted assignments were generally below the standard I was hoping to receive. I’m sure the students were trying to determine my standard for “good enough.” Grades were my feedback and the quality improved.

Unfortunately the idea of “good enough” is also present in corporate boardrooms. It’s all about profit and so cost cutting and efficiency are the mantras. This can result in poor quality or faulty design, but the products are determined to be “good enough.” The Takata airbags and GM ignition switches were products that caused deaths and were known to be faulty for years, but no recalls or modifications to the products were made until the weight of lawsuits and public opinion demanded change.

Underwriting subprime mortgages was an industry wide practice. Because Wall Street was willing to purchase the mortgages, they must be “good enough.” As a major factor in the 2008 financial meltdown, the mortgages obviously weren’t good enough.

Companies often think because others are engaging in the same practices, they can claim, “We’re no worse than anyone else!” Isn’t that a wonderful corporate tagline?

The corporate motivation for raising standards is competition. Overnight, competition can render your product obsolete or unappealing to consumers. The iPhone came to dominate the market for smartphones, causing Nokia, the former smartphone leader, to fade away. Competition is relentless. You must embrace change and disruption in your marketplace. Maintaining the status quo means you are coasting, and if you’re coasting, it’s likely downhill.

World class athletes always have coaches, because they are never good enough. Coaches in professional sports are constantly under pressure to win more games. Kevin Sumlin, football coach for Texas A&M, was recently asked if he expected to coach in 2018. His answer, “Why wouldn’t I?” I guess because his most recent team record of 8-5 just wasn’t good enough. Sumlin was fired shortly after his remark.

My conclusion is that “good enough never is” is a cautionary tale in the world of business, politics and sports. It applies when performing a job or striving to become a better person. The motivation to improve is critical, because everything can always be better. It’s the nature of progress and rising expectations.

I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t live a life of “good enough.” If I did, I would wallow in mediocrity and an unfulfilled existence.

However, there are limitations to the idea of “good enough never is.” It’s risky when applied to relationships. Most of us are looking for the perfect relationship, friendship, boss and marriage. We become cynical and keep looking for flawlessness. The result, multiple marriages, falling outs with friends, leaving jobs, because we dislike the boss, and boycotting businesses because we experience poor service. No one is ever good enough.

We only see the limitations in others and not ourselves. I try to keep the perspective that we are all uniquely perfect and have gifts deserving of love, even if we aren’t “in love” with everyone. Loving others makes it easier for others to love us in return.

Alan Watts, a contemporary philosopher says this about the human condition.
“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that and there is nothing wrong with you at all.”

Once I see myself and others as extraordinary, it is easy to love and forgive people just the way they are, and to express gratitude for their presence in my life.

Love, forgiveness and gratitude are always “good enough.”

Here Today – Gone Tomorrow

I’m at the age where my friends are dying, which means I’m attending more funerals. In the last six months, three men I knew well have passed away. They were successful men and had accumulated both money and possessions. After the funerals I wonder what happens to all the “stuff” they have remaining in their homes, garage, storage units or second homes. Disposal is the ultimate last stop and estate sales are a popular method.

Occasionally, mostly out of curiosity, my wife and I attend estate sales. I browse through the displayed items and speculate on the acquisition story that must accompany every piece of furniture, painting, china plate, crystal glass and the other items up for sale. At one time these were cherished possessions, but now they’re just stuff; a few dollars away from being considered trash.

We recently visited a sale held in a home in a residential subdivision. Everything was for sale, from a wedding dress to the kitchen can opener. I noticed a man hovering around a pair of chairs. He appeared to be one of the scavengers interested in buying.

I inquired if he was attracted to the chairs. He said, “I am, having lost all my furniture in Harvey, but I’m waiting for the next price reduction.” We discovered that in estate sales the prices keep dropping as the sale gets closer to the end. I asked if he frequented estate sales. He replied, “Very often. I find things that I can sell to a friend, who later resells them for a profit.” Interestingly, he continued, “I’ve been to many sales. When the husband dies, the wife typically moves out and sells virtually everything. If the wife dies, the husband almost always remains in the house and sells very little, if anything.”

Funerals and the following estate sales usually result in the quick disposition of possessions. In contrast, there is the slow trickle of vanishing possessions that occurs when people downsize, enter an assisted living home and eventually a nursing home. My mother was an example of this painfully slow process.

Mother was in her early eighties when it became necessary to move her to an assisted living facility run by the Marriott Corporation in Phoenix. We sold her house and disposed of her furniture, and she took her car, jewelry and wardrobe. We eventually sold the car and moved her to a nursing home in Houston. We discovered that while in Phoenix, the staff had stolen all her jewelry, gold coins and any clothing with a designer label.

In the nursing home there was little left to steal, except her wedding ring and, yes, that was stolen too. So the tortuous dribble of disappearing possessions left mom with two dresses when she died at 88.

There is another process for the disposition of things. If you place old furniture or discarded items at the curb for garbage pickup, the vultures and scavengers will remove the items before the garbage men arrive. It’s a little like devouring a rotting animal. This is the ultimate trickledown effect. Discarded possessions finding their way to those who find trash worth acquiring.

People seem to have an unquenchable desire for more. I’ll never forget an incident at work that happened decades ago. Gary, a long-term executive, was collecting his personal belongings, preparing to leave the building, after being terminated. I was shocked to learn that employees gathered at his door asking for his desk chair and other pieces of office furniture as he packed up. It was chilling to hear that the vultures were circling before the body was cold.

As I am guilty of having acquired a lot of stuff, my wife and I are now thinking of downsizing and disposing of things. We don’t want our children to struggle with the process. After a lifetime of acquisition, it becomes clear that all we have accumulated eventually becomes trash. Everything is transient and life is fleeting.

The purpose of life is not to acquire as much stuff as possible. It all turns to dust and decay. My most valuable legacy will be the love I have shown, the kindness displayed, and my willingness to forgive and show gratitude for the people in my life.

I should have left the acquisition phase of my life much sooner. Because all the stuff is here today and gone tomorrow.