Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Memories of Gerald Ford

Twenty years ago (literally in a previous life) I found myself working for former President Gerald Ford. I was a graduate student in Political Science at the University of Michigan, his alma mater. I helped run a conference at the Ford Library and edit a book of the proceedings. He had come and talked to my students.

One day he and I were sitting on the steps of the graduate school waiting for his car. He started reminiscing about attending U of M in the 1930's.

It is odd to me that, upon hearing of his passing, the one memory that stands out to me is this very casual conversation. I was finishing the Ph.D. program in Political Science and you might think that all I wanted to talk about was politics.

But today I'm happy that my lasting memory of Gerald Ford was personal (for him and for me) and not some innane discussion about some poltical topic that no one has cared about for twenty years.

Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cutting Back and Slowing Down

I'm a big advocate of balance. In work and play and everything else.

Part of balance means saying no. Or even NO!

Business owners tend to be doers and joiners. When someone drops a request on our laps, we tend to say yes. Whether its a client, a service organization, a church, or even our own business. When the world puts an abandoned puppy on our porch, we take it in.

But we all know that we have a tendency to do too much. We find ourselves on committees and members of clubs, starting new ventures, and joining others. At some point, we simply can't live up to all of our commitments.

The end of one year and the begining of a new year are a great time to review everything. This includes our commitments. And the degree to which we're over-extended.

When you're over-extended, several things are wrong:
- You're not living up to your commitments.
- Others are relying on you and you think you might be letting them down.
- Your business may be suffering due to inattention -- or attention to the wrong things.
- You feel stress because you "can't do it all."

In the big picture, you're spending time doing the wrong things. You're energy is bound up trying to figure out what you should be doing -- instead of doing something (anything) fruitful!

So why don't we stop? Why don't we drop some of these activies? The two primary reasons are guilt and habit.

Horace Mann said "Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it."

There's very little we can do about our habits except to commit ourselve to change. Once committed, we must unravel our existing cable one thread at a time and begin weaving another to take its place.

Guilt is another matter.

Perhaps the best way to deal with guilt is to get some perspective.

Ask yourself: are you really obligated to (this cause/this committee/this organization/etc) simply because you have participated in the past? Probably not. So why do you participate?
- I find it personally fulfilling.
- I need a change from the other activities in my life.
- I enjoy the people/the project/etc.
- It makes me feel good/important.
- It helps me in my business.
- People express gratitude for what I do. I'm not taken for granted.
- Does it make me happy?
- Does it contribute to my physical or mental health?
- It is profitable?

- Other people expect me to be there.
- If I don't do it, who will?
- I made a commitment at some point.
- I started this and now a lot of people are expecting it.
- If I quit, I'll feel like a loser

Notice I added an extra line there?

Above the line are legitimate reasons to continue. Below the line are poor excuses to continue. Most of them involve you believing that the stuff won't get done without you. Sorry to tell you this, but you're wrong.

Some time ago I took on the job of program chairman for an organization because the president was over-worked and needed help. Two years later I found that I had taken on too many "outside" activities and needed to cut back. I felt that this one thing needed to be done by me because no one else would step forward.

Then I realized that was stupid. After all, the group existed for many years before I joined and has many members. Any group that relies solely on my participation for it's existence has a pretty weak foundation.

As 2006 comes to a close, I have removed myself from four major projects, organizations, or positions that took more from me than I got in return.

Part of me wants to feel guilty about that.

But I know that achieving balance means taking stock from time to time and deciding where to spend my energies. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is arrogant and selfish to think that communities, organizations, and projects can't survive without you.

When you re-evaluate and re-organize your commitments, you'll end up with more energy to dedicate to the remaining activities. You're time and talents will be more keenly focused and your contribution will be more meaningful.

So do yourself a favor: Re-evaluate your commitments. Put it all in perspective.

And have a happier, healthier, more balanced New Year!