Business Lessons; Life Lessons

I’ve always been a big reader. Besides fiction and sustainability-related books, one of the other categories of books I read most is business books. (A low-footprint lifestyle helps me protect my time so I never have to say I don’t have time for reading! So if you want more time for reading, that’s just one more incentive for you to minimize your footprint, and I hope this blog and my book will help you.)

One of my favorite business reads over the past few months was The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. This book by Victor W. Hwang explores the “secret ingredients” that turn a place into a hotbed of innovation and investment. I also greatly enjoyed The Lohman Way: Entrepreneur Lowell Lohman’s Story and Strategies for Building Multimillion-Dollar Family Businesses, by E.L. Wilks.

But yesterday I picked up a business book that ended up being possibly my all-time favorite so far: The Five Temptations of a CEO, by Patrick Lencioni. (The photo above shows the book in the Little Free Library I set up in front of my house.)

I devoured the book in a couple of hours. The author identifies five “temptations” that CEOs fall into, that end up harming their companies. These five temptations are 1) choosing status over results; 2) choosing popularity over accountability; 3) choosing harmony over conflict; 4) choosing certainty over clarity; 5) choosing invulnerability over trust.

Mr. Lencioni wrote his book for CEOs of companies. But, as a self-employed person, I’ve always considered myself to be a CEO too, albeit CEO of a company with just one employee. Today, looking through the lens of “The Five Temptations,” I’ve gained a deeper understanding of a catastrophic business failure I experienced a few years back, and how to avoid repeating those mistakes.

Here’s what happened. A few years back, I got involved in a venture with other self-employed people. We were working together, but keeping our finances separate. Things were going fine, til one year I absolutely tanked financially. Ended up not only with zero money to my name, but actually in the red. Truth be told, I’d been struggling for quite some time, but I had just kept throwing money at my problems rather than look into the root causes.

From a “Five Temptations” standpoint, here are the mistakes I made:

1) Choosing status over results: After achieving a certain measure of success, I became preoccupied with where I stood in relation to my teammates. I got into comparing myself with them and envying them the recognition they were getting, and seeking such recognition for myself rather than staying focused on our actual work, which was to help people make desired changes in their lives.

2) Choosing popularity over accountability: In working with clients, I was out to be “liked,” be the “good guy,” rather than be the “tough guy” who pushes people to fully attain their desired results. A no-win game.

3) Choosing harmony over conflict: By not being willing to ask hard questions, I squandered time and energy engaging with people who weren’t good candidates for our products and services (and in the process, probably overlooked people who were seeking what we were offering).

4) Choosing certainty over clarity: Rather than make decisions based on the information available to me and move forward, I became a procrastinator, always waiting for that last bit of essential information so I could be 100% certain of success before making a move. Never happened!

5) Choosing invulnerability over trust: When I started getting into trouble, rather than confide in my teammates I kept things to myself and struggled alone, focused on “keeping up appearances.” If I’d been willing to be vulnerable, I’d have gotten some solid advice and moral support (which did in fact happen later, once I was willing to confide in them).

What’s nice about the “temptations” framework is that it offers a simple (though not necessarily easy) path to self-correction. Although I’d never heard of the Five Temptations until yesterday, much of what I did to recover from my business collapse was in keeping with what I read in Mr. Lencioni’s book.

I am very fortunate to have what I consider a calling in life, and quitting it is not an option. Therefore I always need to be willing to look at myself and make corrections when things aren’t going well.

My favorite business books are applicable not just to business, but to life in general. In an upcoming post I’ll talk about a time in my life when I fell into the “Five Temptations” to the detriment of some of my most valued personal relationships. And how I got out of that!

Unexpected Flower

This morning. Hauling water out to the plants that need it most (at this point, endless days of no rain, it is a triage game). Feeling annoyed to no end as the water I’ve painstakingly carried runs off my sloped yard and onto the sidewalk. (I dig little trenches uphill of each plant but they fill in quickly so I have to stay on top of it.)

And just as I’m feeling sort of defeated, my eye catches on a spot of purple. A morning glory! A beautiful purple morning glory I did not plant! A pretty treat for my morning. And a reminder that even when my current efforts don’t seem to be accomplishing much, a sudden flower can pop up seemingly out of nowhere. Probably from someone else’s past effort. I take it as a reminder to have faith, to keep contributing my efforts to the general pool, and just enjoy that process and not get too stuck on outcomes.

Coincidentally, via Facebook’s “memory” feature, this morning on my Facebook feed I encountered “Bicycle Morning Glory,” a painting I did about five years ago and had forgotten about. I don’t remember who bought the original painting but presumably it is “blooming” in someone’s home or office. And I was pleasantly surprised to see this old forgotten creation “bloom” in my e-universe this morning.

Five Subscribers

As I was checking a new post, I happened to notice that this blog has five subscribers. Five is a nice number, in the same family as three or seven for me. Numbers I’ve always felt an affinity for.

I’m amazed that there are bloggers and YouTubers and others out there with five hundred or five thousand or five million viewers. It just blows my mind. How does anyone even get there?

But right now, I don’t care about the answer to that question. Five subscribers is huge to me. It’s a group of people; an audience. I feel an obligation to provide quality and substance. Five. A number of readers I can feel. Five pairs of eyes. Five minds. Connected through this blog and (presumably) an interest in the topic.

As a kid, starting when I was maybe 12 years old, I loved to sit in my room at night and listen to the radio. (King Biscuit Flour Hour; Dr. Demento — for those seeking historic context.) Sometimes I’d be reading at the same time; more often drawing or writing.

On summer nights especially, the whole night felt alive. I felt this connection between the DJ, the other listeners, whoever they were and however many — thousands? millions? — and myself. Though I didn’t think of it consciously, looking back I realize I always felt somehow that we formed a living pulsing net, stretched across the USA (though it was FM radio and that’d be impossible).

My room, by the way, was pure 1976 tween/teen girl. Posters of gymnasts: Olga Korbut! Nadia Comaneci! Artwork and magazine clippings tacked to the cork bulletin board on my closet door. Blacklight fuzzy velvet poster of a puma crouched on a tree limb. And of course an Elton John poster. My favorite album was Captain Fantastic. In case you were curious!

On summer nights especially for some reason, the ceiling of my room seemed like an artificial barrier, visual only. My mind was fully merged with the sky and stars and wind and the music on the radio. Radio is magic like that; I still feel that way.

And now here we are in the age of blogging, videoing, TED-talking. People who were once just folks like you and me, suddenly attract audiences of thousands or millions in a flash. A thousand likes; a million views; “It went viral”!

And yet, for me, having five subscribers to this blog is huge. Huge! Maybe someday it’ll be 10. 20. Maybe even a hundred or a thousand or more, who knows. But right now I don’t care about that; I am simply humbled and thrilled and amazed to have FIVE readers who actually care enough to subscribe. Anonymous, known in number only, we are nonetheless all connected. By our similarities, sure, but also by our differences. Like the radio listeners on some summer night 40 years ago, when the world was younger and the possibilities seemed to widen out forever.

Though I get discouraged by things sometimes, and I’m sure you do too, in my heart I still feel that the possibilities widen out forever. And that the world can be as young as we make it. I’m here for you guys. My five subscribers. Literally, I’m here for you! Thank you and God/dess bless you on our journey.

Dealing With a Whiny-Complainy Attitude

This post is about how to deal with someone who’s got a chronic whiny, complainy attitude. But not just anyone: YOU. That’s right, if YOU have a whiny complainy attitude and want to know how to deal with it, you have come to the right place: a post by someone who herself has a fairly high default level of “whiny-complainy.”

Now, in talking about my faults, I am NOT trying to engage in some sort of obnoxious humble-bragging (GAWD I hate that!) or some sort of equally obnoxious exhibitionistic public self-flagellation trip. Rather, I’m just being honest. And I’m trying to burst the bubble about so-called “experts.” Yes I am an expert in living a low-footprint life, and if you’re interested in learning how to do that, I can help you. But part of dealing with life and getting what we want, is working with our own less-than-ideal qualities. Everyone is a mix of qualities that are pleasant and desirable, and those that are less so.

So here are some tips I’ve learned for working with the whiny-complainy in me:

– Trick yourself. When I could not talk myself into attending a community event that I knew would help me get out of my funk, see people I hadn’t connected with in a while, AND participate in honoring a great milestone for our community, I focused on a personal wish that was unrelated to the event itself: the fact that I needed exercise and would enjoy the early-evening walk over the bridge. (The river is so pretty at night. I enjoyed that walk and ended up really enjoying the social interaction at the event also.)

– Harness your better qualities. Yes, I’m whiny/complainy and also lazy. But, on the positive side, I am relentlessly curious, so I’m always willing to do research. In this case, the research subject is me. I am a relentless reader of self-help material, and it helps greatly. Which brings me to …

– Do personal growth. Just about every character attribute you desire is something that can be deliberately cultivated even if you were not born with it, even if you seem to possess it at zero level right now. Though still whiny, complainy, selfish, and lazy, I am much less of any of these things than I used to be. And I am always making progress.

– Focus on your mission (humanitarian, planetary). Keep your eyes on the mission, the greater goal, the process of working towards that. Working toward a higher goal that inspires you and lights you up is extremely effective in quieting down the whiny complainy voice!

– Recognize that at least some of “how you are” is the result of how someone labeled you in childhood. If you were labeled selfish or lazy, chances are it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying use that as an excuse to not improve, or behave badly, but I am saying you can stop beating yourself up about being “bad”, if that is what you are doing. Recognize your less desirable attributes in a matter-of-fact way; think of them as “faulty wiring” or “bad training”, and set about the business of rewiring yourself according to your preferences.

– Give yourself a little pat on the back. If you are even able to recognize that you have a whiny attitude (or any other negative character attribute), you’re a step ahead of most of humanity, who are only able to see their faults reflected in others. (And if you are one of those who are always noticing whiny attitudes in others, but not yourself, it might be time to look in the mirror.)

– Look into the underlying feeling – don’t just dismiss yourself as “whiny”. One day I decided to take a minute to feel beyond that “whiny” layer. And I noticed that what I was feeling deep down was utter hopelessness and despair. Once I allowed myself a few moments to be with THAT feeling, the “whiny” was gone and I was able to move forward with my tasks and really savor the day.

– Be open to accepting consolation from the cosmic universe, from nature, from other people. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Do not be one of those un-consolable people. Consolation is all around you. Grab the life-ring! The other day I was in full-tilt whiny-complainy mode, but I was ready to do what it took to get out of it. Suddenly I looked out the window and saw a cute little black snake in the garden. The big black snake had had babies! It melted my heart and made my morning. The universe offers an abundance of such “Get Out of Whine Mode Free” cards. Use them!

Being an activist of any kind isn’t easy. There’s burnout, disappointment, anger. But you don’t need to wallow in suffering. You can deliberately free yourself of “whiny-complainy” or any other mode you don’t prefer.

Live Like You Are Dying

Stellar advice. “Live Like You Are Dying.” Life-saving advice.

Last November my Mom died after a year-long battle with cancer and/or the interactions of multiple medications. Yesterday a close friend of mine died after a week in hospice, following a year-long battle with cancer and its treatment. My friend Linda was a zesty, glamorous lady, who managed to have perfect hair even after she lost hers to chemo. My mother was similarly zesty and glamorous.

Over the past few years I have lost a big chunk of my “get up and go.” People around me generally think of me as an upbeat person who is constantly working for positive change in the world, and that is true. However, for the past few years, I’ve been operating on just one or two cylinders. Also, paradoxically, though I am an “upbeat” person, I’ve always been prone to negativity (not sure how that works but it is so), though only the people closest to me know how truly negative I can be.

When a band was playing music she liked, Linda boldly danced by herself (sometimes even if there were lots of men around who would have loved to dance with her). Her nails were always done. She never went out looking like a shlub, and her last words in hospice were phone messages to her friends to “bring me some decent clothes.” I’m sure that if there were any attractive men in the hospice facility, she found them and made an impression on them.

She was full of love, and always wanted her house to be filled with people. All too often it was not, particularly toward the end. She could be very abrasive and demanding, but life had dealt her harshness. And underneath it all she was full of love. And she was unbelievably bright and creative.

I missed out by not spending as much time with her as I could have. Still, we had a real connection, and I was able to give her some of what she needed. And she exerted a strong beneficial influence on me.

Over the past few weeks I have felt myself getting back on track, recovering my old get up and go. I am actually not that much of a self-starter, and am dependent on a steady influx of beneficial influences. I read constantly; I talk to 20 or 50 people in the course of a day; I’m constantly on social media picking up good news. And I will be doing that til I die, which could be right after I finish typing this sentence but hopefully won’t be for a long time yet, because I have plans to help steer civilization toward a steady state of peace, enlightenment, and creative play.

Hey, as a person, I may be negative, and sometimes petty, and sometimes withhold from people the very thing that they need, and sometimes hog too much of the conversation, and sometimes blah blah blah mindlessly, and am self-centered and UNBELIEVABLY, MIND-BOGGLINGLY LAZY and lots of other undesirable stuff. But I’m the only ME I’ve got to work with, and despite my many faults I believe I still have much to contribute to making a better world. I’m the only ME I’ve got, brown thumb and lack of mechanical aptitude and middle-aged doldrums and all — I’ll take me, and work with me. It beats the alternative. And, like anyone else, I can improve.

The video linked at the end of this article (and that I took the title of this post from) made a profound impression on me. It’s just over 30 minutes long, and worth every minute to sit through (which is not speaking lightly, coming from one who prefers reading transcripts to watching videos because she can read faster than a video can speak). “Live Like You Are Dying.” It’s about tiny houses, and addressed at people who dream of living in a tiny house. But really, it’s about life. And about ANY dream. If you have a dream, don’t make excuses. Don’t be one of the 99 percent who sit around talking about their dreams but never achieve them. Be one of the 1 percent who DO. John Kernohan, co-founder of the United Tiny House Association, says it better than I ever could. Watch his talk!

John Kerhohan video: Live Like You Are Dying

And, also in the realm of beneficial influences, here is one of my recent finds: this incredibly rich article by Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson, on how to wire your brain for resilience.