Sunday, December 25

"I have a big life"

A colleague of mine said this a couple of weeks ago as she was expressing a bit of frustration about the demands of her job.  I've thought about this for a while for several reasons, but mostly for these three.

First, I thought it was a bold statement.  "I have a big life."  That says something.  But it was particularly poignant after a visit with my folks whose lives seemed small to me.  Small because they go out so little, because they see so few people.  So then I started thinking about the size of my own life and realized how difficult it is to measure one's life.

Second, I recognized the tension of trying to maintain any semblance of a work-life balance.  Now I'm among the worst when it comes to finding balance for my life and my work.  I'm one of those who lets my work seep into every crevice of my life and, therefore, become my life.  It takes great acts of discipline to step away and do more than wish I could do more.

I am not the most disciplined person.

Finally, going back to the observations of my reason, realizing that one's life is hard to measure.  Parts of my life might seem quite small, but I'm not sure how one measures anyone else's life never mind one's own.  As I was thinking this morning of how blessed I am, I realized how many friends and acquaintances I have; I realized, again, how much I've been able to see and do; I realized, again, how many people genuinely care about me.  Quite honestly, the latter often puzzles me but I'm grateful for their caring, for their love.

Sure, there are plenty of things I still want to see and do, but I've seen and done more than many others at my stage of life.  Just as I want to lose weight and get in shape, I want to manage my work-life balance better--and yes, it occurs to me that if I managed that balance better I'd have more time to get in shape and, therefore, assist in losing weight.  The situation is not lost on me.

By others' standards, I might not have a very big life.  But by my own measure and reflection, by my own hopes for the future, I'd say I have a more than satisfactory life, regardless of its size.

As you celebrate the holidays of 2011 and begin to think about your resolutions for 2012, reflect not on the size of your life, but its quality.

Monday, November 21

Cultural waves: men's temptation, women's dress

Middle school principal sends suggestive texts to a 22yo intern.  She says "Stop."  He says "You're being a tease" and sends more texts and a picture of his penis.  She says "Stop or I'll call the police."  He doesn't stop right away.  Texts her over a period of several months.  Two years ago.  Just recently the story hit the news.  Middle school principal has resigned.  Fallout continues.

Israel, where gender equality has existed, even in the military, for years.  There seems to be a growing influence of the ultra-orthodox who are challenging the women behave and dress.  One of the most telling statements in the article is this:
Those traditional values typically include restrictions on television and the Internet, modest dress codes and segregation of the sexes, which haredi leaders say is needed to protect women from sexual exploitation and men from temptation.
Some time ago a group of Christian executives gathered to discuss a particular proposal.  They were reluctant to consider it because the woman who brought it forward was wearing a top that showed a bit more decolletage than the men were comfortable with, though the women present seemed to think it was reasonably modest.

In the 21st century, though we know sexism remains a problem, most American women may tend to associate such thinking with Muslim conservatism because of the burqa, a form of covering up we tend not to understand.

This isn't a new story, and the custom of modest dress (with its own wide range of definitions) is not limited to the ultra-orthodox Jews nor the more conservative Muslims.

For several reasons, I'm going to set aside my simmering outrage that women have to dress more modestly so men won't be tempted, which is to suggest, in my mind, that those big, strong, brave men aren't able to manage or control their temptations.  Samson and Delilah?  Cleopatra and Mark Anthony?  Goodness knows women have been using their "feminine wiles" since women realized they had such wiles to use.  And let's not complicate things by suggesting the serpent in the Garden of Eden was male and the first temptation was that by a man of a woman.  Let's not suggest that one of the reasons women have used their looks and decolletage is because of the way some men hold power and because of the way some men demand a certain kind of obeisance because of the way those men understand power.

While I find the "boys will be boys" argument insufferable, sexist, and absurd, I also understand that our world is complicated.  When I was still teaching, I was often alarmed by the lack of fabric that constituted some of female students' clothing.  I confess that on first sighting that some of those skimpy outfits were distracting to me because I wondered what that young woman was trying to convey about herself.  While I appreciate wanting to reduce the cloth-to-skin ratio when it's hot and humid, there are limits.  Should be limits?  That's why businesses and some schools have dress codes.

There really isn't an easy answer.  I understand women wanting to look sexy; and I appreciate that men appreciate women looking sexy.  Knowing what's appropriate for which circumstances shouldn't be that hard and yet we seem to struggle with that.  Still.  Again.

I'd love to oversimplify and suggest that men should be responsible for managing their own temptation, but I know it's not that simple.  I know that, whether innocently or unscrupulously, women dress provocatively to be provocative.  What they don't always anticipate is how far that provocation might go.  Sure, girls just wanna have fun, but it's really stupid to test the limits.  The problem seems to be knowing the limits and realizing that not all of us have the same limits.

The middle school principal is a good example.  The 22yo intern didn't dress provocatively.  She just happened to be young and, apparently, incredibly erotically attractive to this middle school principal.  He chose to yield to his temptations and, even more stupidly, chose to think "No" meant "Tell me more, baby."  Even so, expecting women to conform to a particular dress code for a minority (I hope) of men just doesn't seem to be the best solution.

I also hope that we can all tamp down the simmering outrage we may feel because of our own perspectives and try to have reasonable conversations, respecting divergent opinions and perspective and trying not to demand that everyone else conform to our way of thinking.  Sigh.  Yes, can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, November 15

Time to grow up

Generation O.  The "ground troops" of the Obama campaign.  In a Forbes article, Maura Pennington explains why she believes it is past time for Generation O to grow up.  Pennington writes
Hemingway and Fitzgerald chronicled the lost generation of the 1920s.  If someone were to write a great novel about our lost generation, the unthinking public would pass it up, but we would devour it.  We talk incessantly about ourselves, post links that mirror our feelings, troll the same blogs, rehash the same ideas, trying to bond ourselves in the experience of being adults at a time when being an adult is unappealing.
We’ve been accustomed to unsustainable standards of living, yet aren’t adapting to the reality that life just isn’t going to be the same as it was for our parents.  We aren’t adapting because we don’t understand why it can’t be like it was for them.  We’re stubborn in our sense of what can be ours, what should be ours, just by virtue of our having gone to those schools and being the people we are.
In our eyes, we’ve done everything right.  We played sports and acted in plays even though we are not currently pro athletes or actors.  Shouldn’t it count for something that we were captains of JV tennis?  That’s what is most difficult to face out here in this adult world.  It doesn’t matter what we did.  It matters what we do, the creative choices we make to adjust, the people we have real live conversations with.  Because no one is going to get a job, live in a nice place, have money to date and take vacations simply because he was president of the campus doing-good society, no matter what he’s been told.  The sooner we stop demanding the world to mold to the rosy, impractical view we had as undergraduates, the better for us all.
"Entitlement" may seem to be the watchword of Generation O, but they are not alone in culpability.  Their parents and many of the rest of us encouraged them to believe that if they went to college, were involved in a host of extracurricular activities, did all the "right" things, the world stand aside and
applaud as they made their entrances into it and would be grateful for their presence.

I do, however, applaud Pennington's very adult observation that "we stop demanding the world to mold" itself to whatever view we hold.  But there's more to this that is true for all of us, not just Generation O.

No matter our age or our political affiliation (and I'm not talking just politicians, lobbyists, and self-serving corporate executives):
  • We need to adapt to the realities of life and see the world as it is right now and how it might be in the future if we do not adapt.  
  • We need to accept the fact that just because we believe something should be true, doesn't mean it is or ever will be.  
  • We need to be less stubborn which is not to say less principled.  
  • We need to have real conversations that mean something.  
  • We need to make creative choices with a larger perspective than just ourselves.
So, yes, Maura, it may be time for Generation O to grow up, but so should the rest of us.

Monday, November 14

You cannot "owe" a favor

Amy Goldman Koss recently posted a blog rant about being asked to do "favors" for people, many of which seem under- or unappreciated.  Amy's rant is a reasonable one.  Regardless of one's profession, vocation, avocation, or practice, there are those who will ask for a favor.  Something small.  Something for which they seem, at the moment, immensely grateful.  Amy's observation about why people agree to unpaid gigs rings true: hopefulness that this altruistic gesture will lead to something more, other, and yes, less altruistic.

Recently I was working with an organization to help recruit presenters for a conference.  There is an expectation that presenters will do their thing for free because their travel expenses are paid, they don't have to pay registration for the conference, and they get a bit of free publicity.  Those are legitimate reasons to expect some people to do a presentation for free.  Unless, of course, they are being asked to do something for which they generally get paid.

If a writer, like Amy Goldman Koss, has been asked to write something and present it for a special occasion, she should be paid an honorarium at the very least.  I suspect it wouldn't have to be much, but something so she and those like her feel less like a vulgar shill.  At the end of her blog she repeats what mothers have been saying to daughters for generations upon generations: "If you give it away for free, it must be worthless."

While I agree with Amy to some extent, experience tells me differently.  Yes, there will be situations when you might do something gratis and those who have asked have forgotten or not bothered to be grateful.  But there are those who notice and appreciate what you have done.  There are those who are inspired by that gesture of kindness, of goodness.  You will probably never know who those people are, but that is why you continue to do the "unpaid gigs," though you get increasingly wise and proffer a gentle "No, thank you" to those you think are simply taking advantage of you.

Teachers look for free stuff all of the time to support their students and their students' learning.  Classroom teachers readily and willingly spend their own money for their students, but prefer free if they can get quality at the same time.  That's one of the reasons that teachers support various networks that enable them to share ideas and resources. . . for free.

I hope Amy continues to do those free events.  I hope she is appreciated for those events, introduced, welcomed.  I hope she is able to promote herself and her work without feeling quite so icky about it; self-promotion can be hard.

I hope others remember to be appreciative of those who go out of their way to provide something for free, but are generous enough of spirit not to take advantage.

I hope we learn that we cannot owe or be owed a favor; that we learn or remember that a "favor" is a "gracious kindness" and those of us who ask for and are given such behave accordingly.

Thursday, November 10

Daft thinking about performance bonuses

In The Chicago Tribune on November 8:
When the University of Illinois law school announced a new early entrance program in 2008, the stated reason was to recruit top U. of I. undergraduates and give them "the first shot at the limited number of seats" at their school.
But behind the scenes, now-disgraced College of Law admissions dean Paul Pless revealed another motive was at play.  By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students' high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.
In The Chicago Tribune on November 10:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday the criteria by which high-performing Chicago Public School principals will receive up to $20,000 in bonuses for boosting student achievement this school year.
Charter school principals will be eligible, too, and the mayor announced that network chiefs--who oversee groupings of elementary school and high schools--also can receive bonuses for driving significant gains at their schools.
Seriously?  Has no one been paying attention to scandals in schools?  Changing test scores?  Fudging who really has to take the test to make sure lower performing students don't bring down test scores?  Did no one read the recent articles and NAEP reports about math and reading scores

Friday, November 4

A pointless blog on TV talk shows


I taped The Late, LateShow with Craig Ferguson the other night because Neil Gaiman was one of his guests.  I’d never seen Ferguson’s show before because I’m not up late, late and because I’d never seen him before I didn’t know he’s a pretty funny guy.  A bit edgy; okay, a bit raunchy. . . he is, after all, on late, late.  As I watched his opening monologue, I thought I might tape him more regularly because he is a bit edgier but mostly because of the Scottish accent.

As he and Neil started chatting, my brain did one of those “what the heck” slides it so often does as I process some of the oddly disconnecting perceptions I have.  I started thinking about the folks who are or will soon have TV talk shows.  And the distinction of “TV talk show host” is important.  Rosie O’Donnell is already trying to shrug off Oprah’s shadow as she steps into her time slot and her studio.  Katie Couric is rumored to be starting a daytime talk show.  Queen Latifah, who was trying to launch a different kind of recording career using her given name, Dana Owens, is to start her daytime TV talk show in 2013.

Now the radio talk show host has a show during which he or she talks about whatever is on his or her mind.  People tune in to Mike & Mike to listen to two men talk about sports.  They argue, ridicule each other’s ideas, analyze events, speculate, and more.  All about sports.  Other radio talk show hosts have an occasional guest, but it’s mostly about the host talking.

So the format of the TV talk show has to be different because everyone is on television.  I know, duh.  But because we can see them as well as hear them, the interaction between the host and the audience is different.  The host has a live audience plus a camera.  The host and their guests have an audience they can see and hear.  As far as the radio talk show host knows, he or she is talking to the microphone.  Period.  They may know they have an audience, especially if they have listeners call in, but there are few other people in the room to react to what they say and they have to be sufficiently comfortable just talking for an hour or so.

Stay with me.  The folks who do TV talk shows tend to be comedians or former newsies.  They are, in a word, “performers.”  What do they do for a living when they aren’t doing a TV talk show?  Performing.  Talking.  In the case of the newsies, talking, analyzing, and talking some more.  So what don’t they do?  Listen.  Sure, Katie Couric has done some great interviews as has Barbara Walters (The View), but they like to analyze what the interviewee is saying to try to ask more incisive questions because then they really want to analyze more deeply and. . . commentate.  Yep, that’s a fancy word for talk.

Back to Craig Ferguson.  I wanted to hear Neil Gaiman talk about his writing, his interests, his fascinating marriage to the even more fascinatingly quirky, weird, possibly disturbing Amanda Palmer.  But Craig kept talking over him.  Interrupting Neil with one-liners.  My brain already started its sliding thing during the Zooey Deschanel “interview,” but I realized why I stopped taping or watching any of these talk shows. . .except for the monologue though I occasionally watch Graham Norton on BBC and not just for the accent.  Anyway.  I stopped watching these shows because of what I’ve been doing this whole post.  Digressing, looping back over my own thoughts.  But I’m writing.  I’m not sitting down with someone with the knowledge that some people are tuning in as much for my guests as for me.

I suppose talk shows are all about the brand of the host.  People probably watch The Ellen DeGeneres show because of Ellen; they like her, they like her style.  For them, the guests are gravy.  Bonus features.  Because then they get to see their talk show idol interact with other people who may or may not be famous or they’ll get to see or experience their talk show idol do something incredibly amazing and generous.  We all know Oprah was famous for those absurd give-aways and Ellen seems to be doing similar kinds of give-aways, except they’re about the audience rather than the host.

Talk. Show. Host.  “Talk” modifies “show” to tell you what kind of show it is.  “Talk” and “show” modify “host” so you know what kind of host it is.  Each of these individuals is the host of a talk show.  That happens to be on TV.  So if you’re like me and you’re expecting the host to be a thoughtful listener, a good interviewer who actually allows his or her guests to speak rather than try to deliver one-liners or crack jokes over them, then you will be disappointed.  Or you might be entertained because maybe the whole point of the talk show guest is to promote the album or movie or book or whatever and to try to keep up with comic yammerings of the host whose main job is to make sure the promotional event is reasonably entertaining because we’ve all seen those guests who can’t seem to talk about anything if they don’t have a script so the comedic antics of the host actually saves them.  And that, my friends, is entertainment.

Thursday, October 20

I don't trust "the cloud." Maybe.

There.  I've said it.  I don't trust "the cloud."  I use the cloud.  A lot of my stuff is in that ethereal digital space.  But there seems to be something a little wonky about not really knowing where it is and trusting that those servers, wherever they may be, are safe from hackers, from "acts of God," from whatever else.

I'm one of those people who has lost important work and not been able to recover it so my redundancy plans have redundancy.  It's not that I have to be able to see the physical medium on which my data is stored, it's just the weirdness of knowing it's somewhere but having no idea where the "where" is or who is safeguarding it.  I understand how it works, but that doesn't make it any less unsettling as I think about the proliferation of cloud computing as a solution.

There were some articles a few years ago addressing this issue of cloud computing and trust.  Gray Williams wrote businesses should trust the cloud.  Writing in June 2010, Williams said "The majority of IT decision makers remain underwhelmed with the cloud's current security, control and service assurance levels. And achieving regional regulatory compliance within the cloud today is difficult, if not impossible."  He also said that "[u]ntil public cloud providers can offer the things necessary for achieving regulatory compliance--monitoring, log management, strong authentication, authorization, encryption, penetration testing, dedicated firewall policies and intrusion prevention--we can expect the private cloud trend to continue."  I didn't even know there was a difference between public and private clouds until I read that, but it makes sense given concerns about all the things Mr. Williams mentioned.

"Hey, you!  Get off of my cloud!"  Come on, it's a reasonable digression and it sort of fits.  How can I be sure people are busting in on my cloud?

Anyway, I'm not alone in my radical unhip thinking about the cloud and its wonders.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the same arguments could be made about the Internet and a whole host of other resources, tools, and more.  If I really wanted to get esoteric, I could say something about it being similar to doubts people have about God and heaven, but I don't want to clutter this with spiritual implications that do not exist.

As I poked around the invisible Internet, searching through all sorts of digital resources stored in various clouds or other such non-visible cyberlocations, I came across the MIT Tangible Media Group which is "explores the Tangible Bits vision to seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving physical form to digital information."  Cool!  Hold up.  What?  "At the border between the atoms and bits, we are facing the challenge of reconciling our dual citizenship in the physical and digital worlds. Our group is addressing this challenge by designing human interfaces that employ physical objects, surfaces, and spaces as tangible embodiments of digital information and processes."

This is a remarkable transitional time in which to live and to contemplate that duality between the physical and the digital.  I will finish writing this blog post that will be published in a digital space.  There is a physical representation of my words and my thoughts, but it is only a representation.

Christopher Borrelli wrote an article titled "The trouble with the cloud."  Interesting.  Insightful.  In it he speaks of the MIT Tangible Media Group, but also quotes Susan Sontag.  Borrelli writes
To borrow from Susan Sontag's 1977 book On Photography, and its prescient essay on collecting, we live in a world "on its way to becoming one vast quarry."  And yet what is the value of a quarry with no bottom, inexhaustible and plundered without much effort and available for mining every day, at all hours?
It's a good question.  One about which many will feel strongly and in likely different directions.  It's a question that will take some time to answer.

Tuesday, October 18

Happy Birthday, you've been RIFd

Techically I was RIFd yesterday, the day before my birthday.  But the timing still sucked and there is no way to describe sufficiently the emotional cacophony that accompanies those words "and your position has been eliminated."  Really?  My position?  I literally did not hear the words the first time.  My brain simply refused to process them.  I heard waves crashing through my eardrums and someone sounding as though he was talking under water.

"Sorry?  What?"  Yes, I made him repeat them.  I think I did.  I'm not really sure.  I was too flabbergasted.  Angry.  Shocked.  Blindsided.

The HR guy tried to explain the severance package.  I know he has to do that, but it's not fair to make someone try to process that information as the brain is going into shock.  Seriously.  I told him I could not possibly process the information and he calmly said I could call him later.

They let me go back to my office to get my things rather than have someone go to my office for me.  I am somewhat grateful they afforded me that dignity and respect rather than the equivalent of what might feel like a perp walk to the front door.

I got in my car and waited as I knew there would be others from my team.  Those dreaded "different direction" words were the clear indicator that others would be let go.  I waited and met one of my former team in the parking lot.  She was in tears.  I could not comfort her.  I could only be angry with and for her.

I waited a bit longer.  No one else came out and then I really didn't want to be in that parking lot any more.  So I left.

A former colleague, who did not yet know he was a former colleague, called to report on a meeting.  We chatted.  I gave him the news.  He was shocked with me.  We talked for a long while.  As we talked, I realized I wasn't really angry any more.  I was okay with it.  Not because I won the lottery or have a ridiculous number of options from which to choose, but, well, anger gets me nowhere.

To be honest, I was most ticked by the timing.  I was feeling bad for my team because I figured they might do something for me for my birthday and how awkward that would be to have a card and a decorated office and treats and no birthday girl.  I wanted my office birthday party, dammit!

So here's the really weird thing.  Today has been one of the best birthdays ever.  Except for the missing office birthday party, it's been a very good day.

I miss my team.  I'm sorry for the rent this creates for them, but they are a resilient bunch and they will go on.  I regret that all of the good work we were doing is now wasted; that seems tragic.  I regret that others lost their jobs and wish I could have done something differently to prevent it though it's unlikely I could have done anything differently.

What's so odd is that last week I'd been thinking I should take home some of the stuff in my office, though I had no idea where that came from.  And Monday morning I was thinking it was the last day of that year of my life and I was really looking forward to a new sort of beginning with my birthday and the start of a new year.  Here it is.  Unfolding even now.

Happy Birthday to me.  Yes a very happy birthday to me.

Monday, September 26

Of Grocery Store Self-Serve Checkout and Post Offices


You may rightly ask yourself what grocery store self-serve checkout has to do with post offices.  Go ahead.  Ask yourself.  We’ll wait while you answer yourself.  And then we can compare notes.

So this is what my Self came up with as I made this weird zigzaggy series of turns to make some sort of connection: demographics.  Okay, so I could possibly throw in the Dodd-Frank banking law, but let’s not complicate this any further. . . and with politics.

In an article about grocery store self-serve checkout and how some chains are opting to remove self-serve checkout lanes, a lot of the rationale seemed to relate to the demographics of the shoppers.  That is store managers and executives being aware of and sensitive to their customers’ needs and inclination.  Sorry.  I should have warned you that was coming.  You must be flabbergasted an organization might put its customers first.  I hope you didn’t spill your coffee.  Let’s carry on.

So the store managers and executives might be opting to remove the self-serve checkout lanes, but some may choose to keep the lanes because their demographics indicate there are fewer problems, less likelihood of accidental or intentional theft, etc.  By the same token, they also realize there are changes coming in the form of changing barcodes so those readers might need to be changed anyway.  The bottom line, though, is that many of the chains have the same position as the folks at Stop & Shop Supermarket Co whose spokesperson, Suzi Robinson, said, “Our philosophy is giving customers options. People shop in different ways and we want to accommodate their preferences.”  I know.  Freaky, isn’t it?  A corporation thinking about and being mindful of its customers.  Makes me feel like I’m in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

And what has this, you might ask impatiently ask, to do with post offices?  If you’ve read almost anything related to the news in the past few weeks, you know the post office is in debt and will be almost completely defunct by some time next year.  Sure, we can blame outdated laws and restrictions, UPS and FedEx, ecommerce, and more.  Yep, all of that has contributed to what may be the imminent demise of the United States Postal Service as we know it.

In response to articles that the USPS was in trouble, I read article by people who lamented the possible passing of the rural post office because it is a place to which the elderly go as part of their daily ritual or the post office is a sort of central hub for the community.

Before I dive into this, let me say that one of my mostest favorite books is Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season because of the way it celebrates, almost promotes, the one-room schoolhouse.  Yea, that’s appropo of pretty much nothing, but I want to make it clear that though I live in suburbia, I’m not picking on rural communities.  However, let me also say that small rural communities that are hanging on to that small rural community by the nails of every one of its residents plus those of all of their pets and livestock need to step back and reassess.  It is a terrible thing when a community or town is no longer, and seems cold-hearted to say that sometimes it simply makes more sense to let it go and move.  And I know it’s not that simple for all of the people or they might have already moved.  But to keep a post office open simply because it is a place to go for the elderly doesn’t make much sense to me, certainly not as a long-term strategy.

Is there an alternative?  There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the post office and I can’t even imagine trying to develop criteria to determine which rural stations stay open and which close.  So can we step away from the issue of the post office and look at the issue of the community?  That’s right: the demographics.

Are the “young people” leaving because there is nothing to hold them?  Is there nothing to hold them because there is no one willing and able to invest in that community?  Is there something in which someone might invest and, if so, what are the community’s options to create a plan and campaign to get those investors?  What are the other dozen or so hard questions the community has to ask itself about its viability?  What does the community need to become strong and vital again?  And is it worth the investment to make that happen?

I read an article not too long ago in which the author said that if the factory had closed and all the related business had closed or moved away, it was probably pointless to wait for that particular business to reopen in that factory.  The people had a choice to move or to find ways to get someone to invest in that factory and that community.

Almost a digression.  We complain that jobs are going overseas and yet too many communities seem to have a sense of entitlement based on what once was or what they hoped would be as though they haven’t quite gotten the message that the economy is in the toilet.  I’d be willing to bet that some organizations would be willing to bring back jobs to certain communities but the expectations on both sides would have to be reasonable.  I’d also be willing to bet that some universities in some proximity to those communities might be willing to open temporary-to-permanent campuses to help people get trained or retrained to prepare for those jobs.  Yes, I know this is not a simple solution and it all comes back to money, but what if those corporations agreed they’d pay a fair wage (and I know “fair” is not a value-neutral term) and also offered to pay tuition for the community university center provided the employees agreed they would work off that tuition at 20% per year or pay the balance when they left the company.  There are lots of places with that sort of policy in place.  And what if the corporation hired someone as part of its management staff who could work with the executives and managers to help make sure the employees took courses that actually made sense AND acted as a liaison with the community university to help make sure those courses were actually offered.  And maybe even some of the executives and managers could be the faculty and who knows what kind of talent and abilities might be hidden in the community to offer some or several vocational or other kinds of courses that might be of value to that community? 

And then that community might have a more vibrant reason for being and then supplemental businesses would return and then there might still be a need for a post office.

Of course, it won't work for a lot of reasons, not just because too many investors and too many corporate bigwigs are only interested in getting theirs and getting out of town rather than seeing what they can do to make a difference and leave a truly lasting legacy, or too many citizens whine about too many things without actually making an effort to solve the problem.

Oh well.  I have more thoughts on the whole post office thing, but I think this is enough for now.

Monday, September 12

Why I Hate "Best Practices"


The phrase, people.  It’s the phrase I can’t abide, not the idea or intent of so-called best practices.

Why?  It’s irrational.  It’s grammar geeky.  But let’s go to the dictionary anyway.

Best:
adj. Superlative of good.
adv. Superlative of well

Superlative:
See?  A “best” practice has to be unsurpassable.  Not gonna happen.

“Best practice” suggests there is no or little room for improvement.

But “the best-possible-practice-until-we-improve-on-it” is awkward and not very catchy.  And “the-practice-we’re-using-right-now-because-it-works-best-for-us-in-our-situation-for-now” is worse.

What prompted this, again, is a blog post I read as I was trying to catch up on some of my reading.  The title of the blog post?  “Whena Best Practice is a Worst Practice.”  I was kind of digging that, but right away the author, Mitch Ditkoff, suggests he might actually like (ergo “approve of”?) best practices. 

I sighed and kept reading.  And there was kind of a payday for that persistence.

Ditkoff writes:
People start becoming satisfied with emulating other people's lives.  Instead of thinking up their own best practices, they imitate.  Ouch!  
The spirit of innovation gets replaced by the religion of innovation.  
Gone is reflection.  Gone is the process of discovery.  Gone is the ownership that comes with birthing new insights.  In it's place?  SimulationImitation.  And, all too often, the blind following of pre-packaged solutions.  
I'm not saying there isn't value in paying attention to other people's best practices.  There is.  
But when imitation replaces creation, something invariably gets lost--and innovation eventually goes down the drain.
Here’s what I’d like to add to Mr. Ditkoff’s comments.  Reflection and discovery are key not only to innovation, but to making sure that the practices in place—the processes and procedures, the models and templates, the RASCI or SIPOC or whatever mechanism(s) you use—make sense!

If you want a real (IMO) best practice: be sure you regularly review your “best” practices to make sure they are the most valuable, most reasonable, most viable, most pragmatic, most whatever practices you can have in place given all of the factors of your work place or your situation.  And when you reflect on those practices, when you seek to discover if they are in fact still the “best practices we can have in place right now,” be sure you look up and around and think about the others who intersect with you and your work, who need or want to collaborate with you and your colleagues, who depend on your work and practices, etc.  Please, please be sure your review, reflection, and discovery are meaningful.  And then don’t be afraid to improve on those “best practices until we found that we forgot to think about this situation” practices.

Friday, September 9

Remembering September 11


I see reminders everywhere of September 11, 2001 and we approach the 10-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers and oft-forgotten planes that crashed into the Pentagon and, thanks to the quick-thinking of four brave men, into a field in Pennsylvania.

When we are encouraged, maybe chided, into remembering September 11, what is the purpose?  When we are asked, maybe challenged, not to forget September 11, what is the purpose? 

Is it so we will remain our emotions of that day?

Is it so we will reflect on what we have learned and how far we have come and evolved as a nation?

Is it so we will contemplate how the emotions and eventual political grandstanding of that day led to an apparently ill-advised and protracted war in Iraq?

Is it so we will think about the additional lives lost because of that war?

Is it so we will reflect on the enmity that rose against Middle Easterners in general and Muslims in particular?

Is it so we will examine how the events of that day tumbled into the political fracas that exists today?  So we can trace a thread from the political and military missteps, from the full-throated hawks and desk-driving Monday-morning quarterbacking generals who directed us, pushed us into the mire that became the Iraqi war?  So we can see if there is a direct connection between the adolescent behavior of our politicians in Congress today and that moment in time?  So we can ponder the likelihood that the Tea Party might never have been if it weren’t for that day?

Is it so we can remember the feeling of the vulnerability and the shock that such a thing could happen to Americans and on American soil?

Is it so we can remember the hate and the mindless lust for revenge?

Is it so we can remember the brave men and women who rushed into to try to save others? 

Is it so we can remember the horror of pictures of people falling and often apparently choosing to leap to their deaths?

Is it so we can remain the pain of loved ones lost and honor their memories?

Is it so we can remember the fallen emergency response teams?  Is it so we can remember and honor the firefighters and police and EMTs and countless others who simply did their jobs in spite of the obvious enormity of the tragedy, in spite of the obvious enormity of the risk to their own lives and persons?

Is it?

Thursday, August 25

Watching and waiting; waiting and watching

Earlier this week the world and I learned that Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early dementia, Alzheimer's type.  Since the story broke, there has been a lot of chatter from Lady Vols fans, Coach Summitt admirers, and no doubt some degrees of misplaced glee from the Summitt-haters.  I've read some interesting articles about her since this news broke, including some that seem to be like tributes.  Pat Summitt has had an astonishing career and has made a remarkable impact not only on women's basketball, but on women's sports.

I have my own weird fascination not only because I'm a bigtime Lady Vols fan, but because my stepfather has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's.  My siblings and I worry about him, but we also worry about my mom, about her state of mind and her condition of mind.  Suddenly, information about dementia, early or otherwise, has become a part of my everyday life.  Suddenly, not only do I need to know more about dementia--all of its types, but I need to understand the symptoms, how to behave around and react to (or not react to), how not to overreact or read subtexts that don't exist.

Suddenly I have to be that much more careful not to make an assumption about a behavior, not to take anything out of context but be sure I have some clarity and understanding of what preceded and what followed, and not to assume something is symptomatic.  I have to take more time to assess and think.  It is not about me, but this will be quite the test of my patience.

 Since the news about Pat Summitt broke, cyberspace has been chattering about dementia, celebrities with dementia, how to recognize the symptoms, what to do when one is around a dementia patient, etc.  If it weren't Hurricane Irene pushing her way into the headlines, there might be a lot more stories circulating, which might be encouraging or quite possibly overwhelming.

While my stepdad hails from Tennessee, he's not Pat Summitt.  He doesn't have a team of physicians, a crew of assistants, or 37 years of experience and teams of players to provide support, encouragement, help.  And his behavior won't be scrutinized and analyzed by millions of wannabe sports analysts and the hundreds (thousands?) who earn their livings writing about sports.  He won't have to worry about the sports communities second-guessing or trying to interpret every move, every word, every everything.

It won't make his journey any less daunting.  It won't make the journey the rest of us take with him any less challenging.  It won't make our journeys have any less impact on us.  It only makes our story considerably less public.

If not now, then when?  Check out the Alzheimer's Association.  If you've not already been affected by this devastating disease personally in some way, it's quite possible someone you know has.  Think about doing something to help promote research and dissemination of information.

Watching and waiting for something to change; waiting and watching for signs of change.  Not particularly productive.

Go to the Alzheimer's Association site to learn what you can and need to learn; to find out what you might be able to do to help make a difference.

Monday, August 1

Pure Michigan

Beulah, MI.  It might not be anywhere on your list of places to go, but you might want to rethink that.  It’s a lovely little town on Crystal Lake near Lake Michigan, about 35 minutes from Traverse City and a short drive or bike ride from Frankfort.  There’s a lovely beach and you can easily access the Betsie Valley Bike Trail.

So much of that area is most definitely Pure Michigan and can make one better appreciate those otherwise annoying commercials with the cloying voiceover.

This was a delightful weeklong getaway.  It was not my intention to be disconnected virtually, but the place I booked had a fairly weak wireless connection which made it difficult, and occasionally impossible, to be connected.  Well, I was on vacation, so I suppose that’s not a bad thing.

Easy, slow mornings with afternoons of bike riding or shopping or hiking or even some combination depending on the length of the bike ride.  One morning started very early because I got to go on a hot air balloon ride!  I can’t begin to tell you how many years I’ve been trying to do this.

I had a 3:30A ride check, calling in to Grand Traverse Balloons to see if we were a go.  Bundling up and heading out long before the sun started peeking over the horizon.  My friend gamely came with me to help photodocument the event.  She trailed the van as we drove to the launch site and then was able to trail the chase vehicle.  I got to help fill the balloon, until they started with the flames.  Probably best for all concerned.  Once the balloon was filled, the crew held the basket while the 10 of us climbed in and then they let go and we were. . . aloft.  It was so soft with no actual sense of movement as the ground gently fell away from us. 

We floated for about an hour.  The best conversation was between the pilot and the chase crew as they decided where we would be able to land.  Before we left, the pilot gave us rules which included not yelling at the people below, refraining from mooing at the cows and barking at the dogs, and staying in the basket until we were told to get out because some folks were friendlier than others when a big ol’ balloon landed on their property.  And then he said something like, “Fortunately, most of ‘em aren’t very good shots.”  Nice.

It was a truly spectacular morning.  For more hot air balloons shots, go here.

The Pure Michigan commercials try to remind you how beautiful Michigan is; how wonderful it is for shopping, relaxing, and playing.

Go on up to Traverse City and park near the tourist information office or anywhere along the bay area.  There are plenty of parking lots, especially near the shopping areas.  Check out the wineries.  My friend and I spent some time at Left Foot Charley’s and had a blast.  We visited Fustini’s and did a tasting of flavored oils and vinegars so we had to go back to pick up all of the kinds we wanted to buy as gifts.

One afternoon we biked along the Traverse Bay coastline to Sutton Bay.  It was a lovely ride though we ditched the bike path because we had road bikes rather than mountain or hybrid bikes. 

We found several roadside stands where we could pick up more than our fill of cherries and blueberries.  There really is no such thing as too many blueberries.  Ever.

It’s less about looking up while tooling around Michigan, whether on foot or by car or by bicycle.  It’s more about feeling the muscles in your shoulders and neck start to unknot as you inhale deep breaths of sweet pine-scented air.  It’s remembering what it feels like to sit.  Just sit.  And watch the waves.  It’s enjoying the breeze and the feeling of being disconnected and yet connected to the earth, to your friends, to your self in a very different.  Pure Michigan.  Pure enjoyment.

Wednesday, July 13

Always into the wind

My friend Katie and I go on vacation each summer, schlepping bikes, hiking boots, and other vacation-like paraphernalia to whatever locale we've chosen.  This time we chose northern Michigan and ended up in Beulah, MI which is situated on Crystal Lake not far from Lake Michigan, you know: the "big water."

Katie and I did a nice 20-mile ride on Monday.  A pleasant enough out-and-back from Beulah, MI to Frankport, MI on the Betsie Valley Trail.  Nice and flat, which was great for me.  Katie is an assistant women's basketball coach and serious biking enthusiast.  I'm a weekend warrior for most sports.  She glides along with apparently little effort and me huffing and puffing my way along.  My inelegant approach to biking comes from trying to catch up on all of one's exercise during a week's vacation, by the way, a practice I do not recommend.  And every vacation, when I know I've made some good progress towards getting close to beginning to get in shape, I promise myself I'll exercise more regularly.  I don't keep my promises to myself very well.

Anyway, part of the bike ride planning is to check the wide.  We try to ride against the wind on the way out with the hope being with the wind on the way back.  We laughed that when we turned around to head back on Monday, the wind seemed to shift.  Either that or we were riding really, really fast.  And so we joked that we always ride into the wind.

On Tuesday we expanded our ride.  Katie mapped a route around the lake.  It was a lovely ride; we got to gawk at lakefront homes, some large and impressive, even bordering on ostentatious; others looking like summer lake cottages that have been in the family or on the lake for years and years.  We did encounter a few hills on the 26-mile ride.  Keep in mind that point I made about absence of exercise, so any hill looked a bit daunting to me.  And yet I managed to power up a fairly steep hill as we detoured to check out a lighthouse; lungs and legs burning.

M-22 is one of the local highways with luxuriously wide and well-kept shoulders that serve as bike lanes.  Note to IL and Chicagoland promoters of bike lanes: it's not enough to have the bike lanes; they need to be maintained, too.  Just an observation.  On M-22 were two hills, coming somewhat close together.  But the best part of going up a hill?  Flying down it!

So I powered up that first hill on M-22, which was like nothing to my good friend who is also kind enough to trail along with me at my pitiful pace, legs and lungs complaining the whole way.  As I gave silent thanks to clips (pull UP) and swore slightly more loudly at myself for my own lack of fitness, I reminded myself of the reward on the other side.  And then I FLEW down the hill: elbows tucked in, head and shoulders tucked over the handlebars.  Pedaling hard to get up speed for the next hill.  I glanced down and thought I saw 29 mph on my little bike computer.  At the end of the ride, my top speed was 31.5 mph, so yea, baby, I bombed down those hills.

On the more leisurely return, I felt tired.  Good tired.  And though a few of the last several miles were on gravel (not fun on a road bike) and even though we once again seemed to be riding into the wind, it was a good ride.

Today we'll be doing some hiking or wandering up around Sleeping Bear Dunes and/or in Leelanau County.  I'm hoping we'll do another ride on Thursday and/or Friday, weather permitting.  I've got a hot air balloon ride scheduled for Thursday morning, so we'll see as that means a 3:30A wake-up call to check and a rendezvous at 5A for the ride to the take-off location.

Why "always into the wind"?  I just think it's amusing that no matter how we try to plan a bike ride, we seem to end up riding into the wind.  Not necessarily a strong head wind, but it's there.  There's something about that of which I need to be mindful: being willing to power through even if there are hills and even if my direction always seems to be into the wind.  I need to keep reminding myself that the more I do and try, the better I get at it: the more fit I get.  And then there's always that reward at the end of a climb: flying down the hill.  So very worth it.

So may the wind always be in your face and may the downhills be amazing!

Sunday, June 19

The Loss of Handwriting: A Loss of Civility? A Loss of Learning?

In August 2006, Louise Spear-Swerling wrote an article titled "The Importance of Teaching Handwriting."  Perhaps it is important to note the article was published in an online journal on learning disabilities.  Dr. Spear-Swerling, a special education professor at Southern Connecticut State University, asserts the importance of teaching handwriting.

Let's set aside the fact that many of us process information through writing it down because that processing can take place as easily through typing as it can through writing by hand.  In fact, typing may be faster for some and we tend to think faster than we can write--or type.  And, having to slow down our thinking does have merit.

However, a fundamental of reading is writing.  Children learn to practice all of the elements of a letter as they write it: the sound of it as well as the look of it.  If they learn the sound and the look of a letter through writing, then perhaps their spelling skills might be better.

Once upon a time, cursive was taught in elementary school.  Many of us who are boomers remember the white cursive letters on a green background around the room.  We may not remember it was called the Palmer Method (and I find it both refreshing and amusing that the Palmer Method has its own web site), but we do probably remember that funky looking capital "Q"...that some of us never could master.  I speak for myself anyway.  Until I started thinking about this and doing a small bit of research, I wasn't so sure it's important for children to learn how to write cursive, though there is something of elegance in a nice cursive hand.  Still, as a former writing teacher, I would have settled for legible printing.

What did my students lose as a result of not being able to write legibly?  If they did any work by hand and I couldn't read it, then I wouldn't grade it.  I told them I wouldn't guess.  Then I read an article by a college professor who had some of her students tell her they couldn't read her notes because she wrote in cursive, though she believed she had clear handwriting.  That made her wonder how many of her students hadn't been able to read the marginal notes, comments, and encouragements to which she dedicated so much time.

Does teaching writing to children in elementary school help with their gross motor skills?  Does it help with hand-eye coordination?  Is teaching cursive writing important?  The answer to each of those questions is "yes."  Educational psychologists and brain scientists have done research which indicates handwriting does make a difference in students' learning.  In fact, there are several advantages to good handwriting that seem to be ignored or underestimated by too many educators.

We know there has long been a movement towards not teaching something if it's not on the standardized tests and we can only imagine the short- and long-term impacts, the translation that if it's not in the Common Core, if it's not on the test, that somehow it's not important.

Teaching handwriting does takes time and too many seem to think it detracts from the time needed to teach "more important" things.  In fact, a memo from the Indiana Department of Education states as much: "Since these curriculum map resources do not include cursive writing for 2011-12, schools may decide to continue to teach cursive as a local standard, or they may decide to stop teaching cursive next year to focus the curriculum on more important areas."

In January a blog post addressed students learning cursive writing from a parent's point of view.  The blogger, Honey Berk, notes that cursive handwriting is not part of the Common Core.  There seems to be a bit of a backlash among parents who seem to think that learning cursive is still important.  Is that because we had to learn it or because cursive represents the need to take some time, because it represents a kind of civility?  But there's also that fact that there seems to be some cognitive development connection between writing in cursive and learning.

So maybe kids won't have a lot of opportunity to write in cursive once they're out of school.  It seems sadly evident we are losing the ability to write, or the interest in writing, thank you notes or other such apparently archaic symbols of civility.  Which suggests we are losing bits of civility as well.

Aside from manners or a simple thoughtful gesture that indicates one has been willing to take some time to do and say something personal for someone, it seems that not teaching our children cursive may be shortchanging them in other ways from which they may not be able to recover, even if they have the fastest texting thumbs in the neighborhood.

Friday, June 10

Doing well by doing good: why honesty shouldn't surprise us

I shouldn't be surprised.  Maybe I'm not so much surprised as somewhat disappointed.  Maybe I'm not really disappointed, but relieved.

There was an article online today about a Chicago area man who returned a bag full of money.  This is a much better story that Weiner-gate or any other stories of inappropriate behavior coupled with a social media faux pas.  Though, as an aside, the fact that Representative Anthony Weiner noted he meant to send a direct message in Twitter was a wonderful lesson for folks who are trying to understand what happens when something is posted through Twitter, whether good or humiliating.

Anyway, today's story and peoples' reaction was gratifying and yet disappointing.  Robert Adams seems to be a hard-working guy and, according to the story, credits his parents who taught him right from wrong.  Onesimo Santillan, owner of the Senor Taco restaurant Mr. Adams frequents, said this money-returning citizen is a nice guy, so the behavior was no surprise.  And the Rolling Meadows police thought Mr. Adams deserved some sort of reward.

So I went from disappointment to being relieved in a fairly short period of time.  Disappointed because we seem to be surprised when people are honest which suggests that honest and decent behavior is somewhat rare.  But I know it isn't.  Some of us are fortunate enough to work with honest and decent people every day.  Yes, we work with our share of putzes and we are ourselves in that category every now and then, maybe more often that we like...from other peoples' perspectives.  We just don't write headlines about honest and decent behavior.

Or not enough headlines.  Too often we seem to prefer the salacious, the comeuppance, the embarrassment.  Too often, or so the media must think, we prefer to see the powerful laid low.  The fancy word for that is "schadenfreude."  Makes us feel better about ourselves.  There's some deeply disturbing about that, too.

Today, then, I'm going to focus on Robert Adams and his do-gooding self.  I hope this experience doesn't ruin him and that he doesn't start to believe he deserves a reward because he did the right thing.  On the other hand, I hope he gets some sort of a reward, even if it's only a free chorizo burrito or two.

I hope we are constantly reminded of Robert Adams and others like him, like the thousands of people who contribute when others experience devastating loss.  I hope that eventually the stories of people doing good outweigh the power-trippy stories of men (and women) behaving badly, whether sending naked pictures of themselves or groping maids.


I hope we are encouraged by the likes of Robert Adams.  I hope we are relieved that we live and work with mostly good and decent people who aren't routinely celebrated because they are "just" good and decent people who live good and decent lives.

I'm reminded of the "doing the right thing" and "pay it forward" commercials by Liberty Mutual.  I hope we celebrate the good people in our lives, even if only in small ways because so often they make differences in our lives in small ways.  But those small ways add up.

So I hope we notice the good things, the right things.  And I hope we thank them.

Sunday, May 29

Memorial Day 2011

I was privileged to be in some schools this past week, working with educators passionate about their work with kids.  At the end of one lesson, one of the educators said something like, "Don't forget it's Memorial Day weekend.  Be sure to thank any soliders you see."

It was both the sentiment and the tone that struck me.  It was almost casual, like "Have a nice weekend and don't forget to study for your tests."  But there was nothing else around the statement.  There had been nothing about Memorial Day in the lesson.  Nothing.  The statement didn't seem to be an afterthought so I could assume they had been talking about Memorial Day earlier in the week, though there is no way of knowing for sure.

Still, the tone and the sentiment echoed in my head.  And it clanged loudly when I got back to O'Hare on Friday.  I saw a family in matching "Welcome Home!" T-shirts anxiously peering through the entry doors to baggage claim.  I saw a woman hug a younger woman in uniform; a mother welcoming home a daughter?  Perhaps.  The hug was mammoth: affirming, grateful, happy, loving, proud.

I saw a tall soldier standing alone near baggage claim, checking his phone.  Why does it take such courage to walk up to a stranger to say "thank you," and yet it took me a few seconds.  Would I be intruding?  Would he think I was a little nuts?  But it wasn't really all that hard even though it made me absurdly emotional.

I simply walked up to him, stuck out my hand, looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Thank you" as I shook his hand.  He said "You're welcome" as a slight smile flickered across his lips.  I don't know if that made his day, but it sure made a difference to mine as I thought about why I really am thankful for whatever he does, whether it's at the front line or at some desk.  He serves our country in a way I cannot.

I don't agree with all of the conflicts in which my country is currently engaged, but that sure doesn't mean that I'm not grateful for the men and women who put their lives on the line so I can sit comfortably at home and complain about the some of the ridiculous decisions our politicians make.  It may seem corny, but those soldiers continue to be one of the reasons we are "the land of the free" even if we don't always seem to be "the home of the brave."

So, it's Memorial Day weekend.  If you get the chance, be sure to thank any solider you see.

Tuesday, May 24

Help me feel...anything at all

Help me feel....anything at all.

That phrase scratched into the bathroom stall door echoed agonizingly in my head.  I wondered about the young woman who wrote it.  Was she still at that high school?  Had she graduated?  Moved beyond the pain so clearly articulated in those spare six words?  Was she still in this small Midwestern town or had she sought relief beyond its borders?  In what ways had she sought that relief?  Those options as potentially terrifying as the cry for help.  More importantly, did any adult seek her out and try to offer any kind of meaningful assistance?  The key word there is "meaningful."

I was talking with a friend after we had visited a school doing some amazing project-based learning.  I said I wasn't sure I would have been successful in that kind of learning environment in high school.  I was introverted (not shy), preferring to keep to myself for many reasons.  For a time my anthem was Simon & Garfunkel's "I am a rock". The best line: "And a rock feels no pain/And an island never cries."

I played team sports, but was never chummy with my teammates.  I preferred to work alone, to depend on only myself.  I could control quality, direction, everything.  And it was safer to do it myself.

So when I read those words on the stall door, I felt my heart contract with a searing recollection of pain.  I was blessed.  Even as I guarded myself, people reached out to me, encouraged me in ways I was able to realize and acknowledge much later.

When Alan November speaks, one of the things he talks about is the importance of empathy as a global skillEmpathy.  He has a point.  It is easy to closet our emotions, to protect ourselves but insulating ourselves against the feelings of others.  But then it becomes far too easy to insulate ourselves against the perspectives and experiences of others so that we are soon cocooned by our only our perspectives, experiences, and feelings.  Aside from the selfishness, there is always danger in being immersed in only one perspective and only in one's owns emotions, experiences, and thoughts.

High school can be hard enough.  If we are to teach our children well, we do need them to learn to be empathetic.  Not just globally, but locally.  Perhaps even more so locally.  Perhaps we adults need to do a better job of modeling empathy.

Perhaps, then, at the very least, this young woman would feel less invisible.  And that in itself could be a very big deal.  And not just to her.

Monday, May 16

Fitting in & comfort zones

I learned something about myself this weekend as I was thinking about what it means to "fit in."  Actually, I was thinking about organizational cultures and the expectations of those cultures.  How new people learn most of the written rules but no one thinks about sharing the unwritten rules because they're familiar with them and they just don't think to forewarn.  I suppose in some situations such lack of sharing can be malicious, but I'm confident that has not been the case in my workplace. 

I know that in my prior job, it was easy to forget certain things that new folks hadn't yet lived with.  Until they slammed into some glass wall or tripped over an unseen wire.  Some of those unintended consequences are more painful, difficult, humiliating, frustrating (you get the idea) than others.  Some are simply inadvertent oversights.

Folks who are fairly new in a place (and I'm not sure when "new" is no longer "new") often learn about cultural expectations for behavior the hard way.  Those are the unwritten rules.  In my current work situation, I seem to have muddled my way into several of those unwritten rules and I have, as you can imagine, experienced a bit of frustration about not knowing that rule, about not understanding that rule.  That frustration has occasionally contributed to a sense of just not fitting in, of not knowing how to fit in.  And I've not cared for that 9th grade flashback of watching the circle of kids slowly close just as I was approaching.  Insidiously subtle, painfully clear.

Now I'm not saying I've experienced an insidious or painful shut-out because I haven't.  But the feeling of not fitting in forced me to think about my own expectations and to question what behavioral expectations I'd projected on my workplace and my colleagues.  And I realized that some of the frustration I've experienced, which has peripheral or marginal association to corporate cultural, served to amplify my sense of not fitting in and quite probably, possibly (I hope) in misinterpreted ways.

So then I found myself wondering how to find my way back to my comfort zone.  But then I started wondering how far beyond my comfort zone I might go before I felt uncomfortable and if this sense of not fitting in was that marker.  Or do I feel like I don't fit in, do I feel uncomfortable for other reasons (probably) and how many of those are of my own making because I tried to project or impose a particular cultural organizational behavior or expectations that had little or no chance of being met.

What I've learned, I think, is that I probably feel like an outsider yet precisely because I'd interpreted a particular corporate culture and kept insisting in my head that what I imagined was the intended corporate culture, that the reason I've been banging into glass walls is because I keep erecting them and then, like a squirrel burying nuts for the winter, forgetting where I'd put those walls or, even worse, not even realizing I'd built them.  Then I'd get ticked off at a bunch of other people who had nothing to do with the glass walls.

I have no actual answers to anything, just musings.  So I'll continue to think about what it means to fit in, what it means to try to be a change agent and how that can work but doesn't always work the same way in different places, how far one can get beyond one's comfort zone before being really uncomfortable, what it means to misinterpret a corporate culture, and what happens when unreasonable and inaccurate expectations are made on a corporate culture that isn't even aware of the expectations.

Oh, just for the record: "fitting in" does not mean "conformity," but it does mean being able to work within the corporate culture without succumbing to that which ails it.