The Icemaker Died

The other day, right before the Fourth of July weekend, the ice maker in our refrigerator died. The weather was hot, and the gin and tonics were ill-suited to warmth. 

Days later I called a repair service, noting lightheartedly that not having an icemaker was hardly a big deal. The service rep lowered her voice, saying that I would be surprised at how many people regard having a broken icemaker as a catastrophe. “If not having an icemaker is the worst thing to happen to me this year,” I quipped, “then it will be a good year.” The service rep laughed in agreement. 

Too often, we get distracted, annoyed even when things, little things, don’t go our way. It’s easy to become frustrated, and in doing so, we forget just how fortunate we are. A flight delay. A missed dinner. A dying appliance. These annoy us, but in the grand scheme of life, they are trivial. In years to come, such inconveniences are not likely to be remembered.

Gain perspective

We must put life into perspective. Easy to say. Our irritation blinds us to reality.

We have endured a year and a half of disappointment and delusion—as well as exclusion and isolation. And we’re still here. The pandemic persists, but we are coming back slowly to a different form of life. Not the same, but different. In some ways, it is richer because of what we have experienced.

We have been tested, and we have survived. Not everyone did. More than 600,000 Americans died. Millions lost their jobs. Three million women exited the workforce. Those are tragedies. They are benchmarks of actual loss. Annoyances come and go. Losses live as scars in our memories.

A novel lesson

The novelist J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.” For him, this statement was true. Tolkien was a young officer in what his generation of Britons called The Great War. He fought at the Battle of the Somme. After the war, Tolkien returned taught medieval literature at Oxford. He also raised a family and told his sons stories that would become great novels of fantasy in time. Fires and dragons do die out, leaving in their wake the possibility of renewal. 

So, take a deep breath.

Exhale slowly.

Remind yourself of your blessings

Take another deep breath.

Exhale slowly. 

Smile in gratitude.

First posted on Forbes.com 7/23/2021

Two Faces of Courage

In his book, Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy, then a senator, wrote about three pressures that kept his fellow senators from acting with courage. that kept his fellow senators from acting with courage. 

While Kennedy wrote about what he called “political courage,” his insights apply beyond the legislative chambers. Anyone in leadership is prone to such pressures. 

The three pressures

“The first pressure to be mentioned,” wrote Kennedy, “is a form of pressure rarely recognized by the general public, Americans want to be liked – and Senators are no exception.” The same applies to many people in positions of authority. It is so much easier to get along with people if they like you. At the same time, if the price of being liked is to forgo hard decisions, the costs can be ruinous. The role of a leader is to make hard choices. Often those choices are not between right and wrong, but rather between two rights (whom to hire or whom to promote) or two “bad” (what people to let go).

Kennedy got to the root of political expediency with his next statement about pressure. “It is thinking of the next campaign – the desire to be re-elected – that provides the second pressure on the conscientious Senator.” Politicians run for office and want to stay there. Same for executives. Their campaigns for higher office are not in public, but they are long and arduous. They involve doing what it takes to move up the proverbial ladder. They may endure hardships in the form of long hours, time away from family, and even competition from rivals. Better to keep your head down and go with the flow than decide that while good, your boss is, in reality, bad for the team.

“The third and most significant source of pressures which discourage political courage in the conscientious Senator or Congressman,” Kennedy wrote, “is the pressure of his constituency, the interest groups, the organized letter writers, the economic blocs and even the average voter.” Outside pressure is nothing new to senior executives; no business operates in a vacuum, and it should be responsive to the needs of its stakeholders. At the same time, when what’s good for business is bad for the community, or what’s good for the community is bad for business, the executives must make the tough calls.

Courage is the ability to remain resolute in the face of crisis, show bravery and persevere in adversity. Doing so with grace under pressure is the mark of leadership, an example that encourages others to follow.

Adapted from Forbes.com 5/14/2021

Aim Low and Be Happier

Keep your expectations low.

That’s the “advice” a friend of mine and fellow golfer once received from a golf pro he had hired for lessons. That line has been the source of much teasing amongst us fellow golfers. “How cruel” and “How low,” we say as we laugh, knowing in our hearts that the advice applies to us hackers as much as it does to our friends.

On the surface, the comment is cutting. I mean, you pay for a guy to help you improve your game, and after watching you take a few swings, he insults you. Oooh, that hurts. Your pocketbook and your ego!

Viewed from a different perspective, the advice is precious. I recall reading that comedian Don Rickles, the king of insult comedy, learned to enjoy golf when he realized he was lousy at it and likely would always be lousy. And so, he began to enjoy the game for what it was. A game played with friends.

As a “high handicap golfer” (the correct term these days is “recreational golfer”), I take solace in Mr. Rickles. Whenever I struggle on the course, most of the time, I remind myself that golf is fun. It’s a game I do enjoy, despite my high scores. It is a game that keeps you humble. So whenever I hear the pros talk about being good one day and not the next, I shake my head. My golf prowess waxes and wanes from shot to shot.

Golf teaches humility. As my friend Stew says, “what the golf gods giveth, the golf gods taketh.” (Pretty sure that passage is in the King James Bible somewhere.) We usually invoke this “scripture” when one of us scores a double bogey after a previous birdie. Humility is essential to golf, and I dare say, life itself.

A more positive view

So, ‘keep your expectations low” is less a warning than a gift of enlightenment. When you keep your expectations low, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish. The sentiment is not about trying harder; it focuses on what you can do rather than what you cannot do.

This advice is not permission to slack off; instead, it’s a suggestion to throttle down your ambition. Ambition is necessary to achievement; without the will and the drive to succeed, you are adrift. Conversely, when personal industry is coupled with purpose, great things can occur.

Or not.

Relentless pursuit of what is not attainable is fruitless. Perfection in golf is impossible; only a relative handful, no more than a few hundred worldwide, have the opportunity to compete for serious money and recognition. The rest of us are pikers. That may doom us to obscurity golf-wise, but not in our own lives.

Being realistic about what you can is a demonstration of self-awareness. My colleague, Tasha Eurich, Ph.D. author of Insight, proves that self-awareness is often elusive in her research. Only a fraction of us—under 20%—are genuinely self-aware. So when we hear “keep your expectations low,” and accept it. We are acknowledging our limitations.

Live within your aims

Such a perception is no excuse for not pursuing our goals with full vigor and total commitment. Instead, it is merely an acknowledgment that we can only achieve so much, and we accept it. Acceptance, in psychological terms, is the first step toward realizing limitations. And in a world where we are bombarded by messages that urge us to aim high, higher and highest, this self-acknowledgment is a refreshing antidote.

So yes, keep your expectations low and your pursuit of satisfaction high.

First posted on Forbes.com 7/02/2021