A new type of motivational poster

Being a Partner in a big firm

Years ago I was working for one of the biggest consulting companies in the world. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from them, but one of the most important things I learned was that I was never going to advance in the organization. I didn’t have the dedication that was required to become a partner.

My boss at the time was striving to become a partner. He was driven, he was smart and he worked more than anyone I had met up until that point. He was at the office by 7am and routinely didn’t leave until 8pm.  He made all the right professional moves, he played the game very well. The problem for me was that he had a young family at home, two or three kids and a wife, and he was facing an hour commute each way. He was sacrificing his family for his career, and that his valid choice. I knew however that it wasn’t going to be my choice.

He made partner and instead of ‘taking his foot of the gas’ so to speak, they expected he keep up this pace and add more to it. It’s great that you are running a multi-million dollar, extremely high profile project for the company, but have you brought in any new work? Who are you connecting with that is going to lead to more business for us this year? His stress level went even higher than it was previously and he lasted in the partner role for just over a year before he quit.

I met with him several years later and he was not happy with his life choices. He chose work over his family and his family suffered as a consequence. He missed the first few precious years of his children’s’ lives.

It’s a choice we all have to make and live with the consequences.  Moving up in any organization requires putting in a lot of time, showing your skills and abilities, and a multitude of other factors. But it is not a gift, it is a product of a lot of time and energy that you put into the organization.  This time has to come from somewhere and it mainly comes at the expense of personal or family life.  Make the Little League game or stay for that important meeting? Be home for dinner or after everyone is in bed?

I have been challenged with this as well, but not to the same extent. Career progression is important to me but not as important as my family life. I like being able to have dinner with my wife and son. I really enjoy taking him to the bus, coaching his basketball team and his baseball team and I like to spend time with my wife. It’s a shame this has to come at the expense of upward mobility at work but it is my choice. I’m trading money and career for a lifetime of love and memories.

 

 

Vegan before 6

I’m trying to lose some weight. According to the BMI studies I’m classified as “Obese” but I don’t feel obese. I know I’m overweight and want to be thinner. **Update: I just checked and I’m not officially “Overweight” and not obese anymore. Barely.

I weigh 215 pounds and I’m 6 feet tall.  If I follow the BMI chart exactly I need to lose 35 pounds to get me to 180 pounds, or I need to grow 6 inches taller.

Weighing less should help with the aches and pains in my back and my knees. It should help extend my life and make me happier. Although I find it hard to believe I can be happier eating salad than a nice poutine. My target for the end of 2017 is to have a “1” at the start of my weight instead of the “2” that has been there for 20 years or more.

I have several problems that I have to face in order to lose this weight. First and foremost is the years of treating food as a salve.  I know that in the past when I have been upset I have turned to food. Bad day at work? Have a chocolate bar. Someone cut you off in traffic? Burger and fries with gravy and a milkshake. No matter what the issue it would be better with food.  I need to change this behaviour, and it will take a while.

The next problem is that I grew up in a household that was filled with fresh baked food. My grandmother and mother both celebrate and console using food. My grandmother would bake a cake or three dozen cookies for no reason at all, my mother would make roast beef dinners because she could. Now my wife has taken up that mantle, and she’s a great cook. I will come home to fresh banana bread, breaded chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and green beans. She likes to show how much she cares by making me things that I like to eat.

The next problem is the quantity of food in the house. I have a young son who always has friends over and they are always hungry. Several bags of chips gone in a sitting. Nutella, chocolate milk, halloween candy and because he has a great mom, freshly made chocolate chip cookies are all available in an instant.  It’s difficult to be surrounded by all of the great comfort foods that I grew up on and love.

I tried going full vegan and did lose some weight. I have been listening Penn Jillette talk about his diet, how he lost a hundred pounds, and it seemed like something I could try. It works fantastic, until I come home.  In order to keep domestic sanity I am now a “vegan before 6”.

When I get up and all throughout the day I eat a strict vegan diet, sometimes even going further and not having any processed grains either. Then when I get home I will eat whatever amazing meal my wife has lovingly prepared for me, but eat the meat portion in moderation, taking less than what she takes herself instead of my usual massive quantity.

I’ll update this later to let you know how that works out and if I’m able to get my weight down.

Just be happy

Hard to accomplish

Mindfulness

(This has been published in the Globe and Mail: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/its-time-to-put-your-device-down-and-practisemindfulness/article36690118/)

When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses? It’s cliche and trite,but the message holds more meaning than just bombarding your olfactory senses with a wonderful smell.

Going for a walk anywhere these days is a practice in dodging distracted people. Headsets in and eyes lowered, people are walking about without paying any attention to what is going on around them. It is amusing to watch two techno-zombies bump into each other, upset with being interrupted from their screen. Just the other day I saw two heads-down people try to avoid each other, fail by bumping into each other, and, then, still with their eyes glued to their devices, both try to go the same direction and collide again.

The distraction doesn’t just impact in a harmless way either. Three of the last four years have set records for the number of pedestrian fatalities, and it is possible that it is a combination of distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians that have led to this increase.

My grandmother used to call the television the ‘idiot box’ but I think we may have a new contender for that moniker. People are so focused on the tiny screen in front of them that they are not taking the time to look around, pay attention to their surroundings or enjoy the moment they are in.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment, where you are and what you are doing. It is a chance to look at the people, the scenery, the world around you. When you are with friends, be with them. Not paying attention to the world around you has consequences not only for you but for others as well.

A friend related a story about his most recent subway adventure; a mom with her face immersed in her device rushed off the train and left her toddler behind. Whatever was on the phone was more important than her child! Fortunately, my friend recognized the situation and got off at the next stop with the little guy and brought him to the subway agent. The agent told him that this is not the first time she had seen this happen!

How often have you been at a dinner where the people you are eating with are on their screens instead of conversing and connecting with the others at the table? Is it more important to brag about the fun time you are having as opposed to actually having a fun time? Do we really need a play-by-play of time you are spending with others while we are not there?

The purpose of all the devices in our lives are to allow us to respond from any where at any time, yet we use them to respond ALL the time. Far from making things easier, they have taken away the easy aspects and replaced them with stress. “I need to respond to this right now”, “What did that person post today?”, “Just let me read this one thing” are all demands on your time at this instant. This need for instant gratification and connection has even manifested into a new psychological phenomenon: “Phantom vibration syndrome”, the feeling that your device is vibrating in your pocket even when it isn’t there.

The best part of the mindfulness practice is the peace of mind you get from it. Once you learn to leave the device alone, or to only check it at certain times, you will naturally be more present and relaxed. Over the past several months I have stopped checking my phone all the time and have started to be more in the moment, I have put the electronics away and spent time with people. My stress level has decreased and my happiness has increased.

Multitasking really isn’t. It’s doing several things poorly instead of one thing really well. People mistakenly believe that they can multitask effectively, but study after study has shown that the human brain is simply not able to. I’ve been in far too many meetings where one, or several, people are typing away on their computer or fiddling on their device and they grind the meeting to a halt when asked a question: “Sorry, can you repeat that?”, “I didn’t quite get what you are saying”, or “Wait, what?” Instead of the honest thing they should say “Sorry I wasn’t paying any attention to what you were talking about because I was distracted with something I think is more important than all of you, so please indulge me and repeat everything you have been saying again while I waste even more time.”.

When I first started my mindful practice I thought it was going to be some jive hippy stuff, or some pseudo religious ceremony, but it really wasn’t either of those things. Taking some time each day to be in the moment was actually more freeing than I had expected. We hall have busy lives juggling work, family, friends, health, commuting, goals, sports, hobbies and a myriad of other tasks, so how can you find time to be mindful? It turns out that you can be mindful while you are doing other things, or you can focus 5 to 10 minutes just as you wake up or go to sleep. Being mindful, truly in the moment, helps you be the best you can be and allows you to be part of the world around you.

So you don’t have to stop and smell the roses, but you can at least notice that they are there.

The Asshole Survival Guide & The No Asshole Rule – Robert Sutton

Just finished listening to The No Asshole Rule and reading The Asshole Survival Guide and they were both very enjoyable, mainly for the stories that have been sent in by people. I also went to a lecture at the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Business where Professor Sutton presented his talk on “The Asshole Survival Guide” and had a book signing.

Overall it was a good read, lots of research into the area and points to look out for.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness for several months and it has made a good difference in my life.

Here is a good introductory video:

Meditation 101: A Beginner’s Guide from Gobblynne on Vimeo.

Active Listening

One of the agile games I play with my teams is meant to help encourage active listening. As the quote above states, most people are not listening to understand but to reply.

The game that I utilize to help people change to active listening is called “Fortunately/Unfortunately”. In this game, which I believe started in Improv, the team builds a story. The first person starts with a “fortunately”, such as “Fortunately my wife is pregnant”. The next person needs to be actively listening and then responds off of that statement with an “unfortunately”, like “unfortunately, it’s not with your baby.”. The story keeps building with alternating “fortunately/unfortunately” until it gets back to the originator, or goes around a few times.

This technique helps the team to have some fun and gets them into the habit of active listening.

I had a team that exhibited all the wrong ways of doing this exercise. After I started with “Fortunately my wife is pregnant” the next person stated “Unfortunately the Raptors are out of the playoffs”, and the following person said “Fortunately you like kids”. Both people were not listening to what the previous person said and had their own agenda or thought out reply already in mind.

A couple other positive outcomes come from this game. The first is embracing the silence. If you are truly engaged in active listening there will be a definite pause after the previous person finishes speaking. Silence is fine.

Another outcome is the unspoken agreement to let each team member complete the task on their own. Very rarely does a turn come to a member and have another member speak up and interrupt with their own idea. Each team member is able to come up with their own solution in their own time.

Try this game at your next team gathering. It will really help highlight why we need to be actively listening in our meetings, and in life in general.

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