Dec 27, 2009
Care of the Soul (Thomas Moore) and Careers
In the soul, power doesn't work the same way as it does in the ego and will. When we want to accomplish something egotistical, we gather our strength, develop a strategy, and applying every effort... The power of the soul, in contrast... is natural, not manipulated, and stems from an unknown source. Our role with this kind of power is to be an attentive observer noticing how the soul wants to thrust itself into our life. It is also our task to find artful means of articulating and structuring that power, taking full responsibility for it, but trusting too that the soul has intentions and necessities that we may understand only partially.
Neither ego-centered will on the one hand nor pure passivity on the other serve the soul. Soul work requires both much reflection and also hard work.
Writers are taught to "write what you know about." The same advice applies to the quest for the power of the soul: be good at what you're good at. Many of us spend time and energy trying to be something that we are not. But this is a move against soul... for each individual the soul is highly idiosyncratic. Power begins in knowing this special soul, which may be entirely different from our fantasies about who we are or who we want to be.
A friend once introduced me to an audience I was about to lecture. "I'm going to tell you," he said to the group, "what Tom isn't. He isn't an artist, he isn't a scholar, he isn't a philosopher, he isn't..." I felt somewhat mortified hearing all these things I wasn't. At the time I was teaching at a university and was supposed to give the illusion at least that I was a scholar. Yet I knew I wasn't. My friend's unusual introduction was wise and absolutely correct. Maybe we could all use an emptying out of identity now and then. Considering who we are not, we may find the surprising revelation of who we are.
I knew a young man who wanted to be a writer. Something in him urged him to travel and to live the Bohemian life, but he looked around and saw all his peers going to school. So he decided to overrule his desire for travel and take some college courses. Not surprisingly, he flunked out, and then went on a long trip. It is easy to overlook the obvious, persistent indications of soul, in this case the fantasies and longings for travel, and instead try to manufacture power with demanding and expensive efforts.
In Transitions (which I've quoted elsewhere and will likely quote again), William Bridges introduces his Rule number one of transitions: "you find yourself coming back in new ways to old activities, when in transition." I first started reading Care of the Soul in 2001 while I was on vacation with relatives in Indonesia. Today I'm reading it again while on vacation with the same extended family, currently convened in Texas. Coincidentally (?) the copy of the book I'm reading was purchased in Indonesia, while the one I read there was purchased at home.
The passage I've quoted speaks of travel and writing, both of which may be apt, of course. But the greater reason for sharing it comes from the prior passage which means much to me right now as I think about redesigning my profession. For years I assumed that I was a business person who happened to know a lot about people. But this fall, some very important business partners have me thinking that I've had it backwards. I'm a people person who happens to know a lot about business. The difference is very big and now I get to see what it means. Wish me luck.
Dec 20, 2009
Above, a pic from last year's southern Texas visit with my Indonesian/Vietnamese cousins and their American-raised kids. They live in a Texas-sized house but this is how they hang when they're at home: all together plus their dog (and in this pic, my dad).
Mom, dad and I will spend Christmas there this year. Around the living room we will have people born in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia and the United States. I hope we'll eat lots of Mexican food and that I won't be a holiday recluse who avoids the living room because there are too many people :-)
Related post: On Asian/-American Family
Jul 17, 2009
Twenty Years Ago?!
Twenty years ago today I started my first post-college job. Holy crud. "Twenty years" seems like both too big and too small a number for what I remember of then and for what I remember of what happened in between.
Random things about first job:
- I was hired as an environmental engineer with the Alliance Technologies Corporation, which would later fold into its parent company, TRC Environmental (now TRC Solutions). We mostly supported the US EPA in their efforts to write air quality regulations.
- My starting salary was $28,000 (which was enough to let me buy a $65k townhome five minutes from the office).
- My senior bosses -- Rich and Art -- were really cool. They're still cool people. Just no longer my bosses.
- I wore a tie on my first day, and Rich said "we'll see how long that lasts."
- My interview process got off to an odd start. I met the company through one of my dad's colleagues - Buddy - who used to work for Alliance. Buddy connected me with Tom -- one of the senior staff -- for an information interview during winter break of my senior year. Tom and I had a nice chat (after I failed to fix the postage scale that fell off of Marjorie's reception desk while I was waiting), and he wanted me to have another visit with his colleague Alan who wasn't in that day. But when Gail the admin called to schedule me for a chat with Alan, she told me to plan for at least three hours. Huhn? Turns out that by then, it was a job interview.
- After the interview (in which young intern Andrew interrupted my meeting with big boss Art so that Art could throw some car keys at him), I was pretty interested. But I didn't get an offer for the longest time until I typed up a note (on a typewriter, yes) to ask if one might be coming. (Intern Andrew said that the staff had all liked me but had assumed I'd take a higher paying job in industry, so they didn't bother with an offer.)
- Picking a start date was odd, too. I figured "the working world doesn't give a lot of vacation, so I think I'll not start until like November." But they wanted me to start as soon as I graduated. We picked July 17 as a compromise, which gave me enough time for a month-long trip to Indonesia.
- By the time I started work, Buddy had rejoined Alliance and was my new boss.
- At least a half-dozen of my colleagues smoked at the office, which I didn't think was unusual. By end of summer, I turned into the "it's 4 o'clock -- go fetch some beer" boy. But that's a story for later.
Meanwhile, I'll take a moment to be thankful for all the people who got me to that first job, and all of those who helped me enjoy it for the next five years.
Photo of the Europa Center yoinked from a site that seems so cheesy, I won't even credit it. Our offices occupied most of the ground floor.
Jul 08, 2009
R: It's true. Nice guys finish last.
Me: So... I'm going to finish last?
R: [without pause] You're not that nice.
Jul 02, 2009
Gross Vehicle Weight, Part II -- Diet and Such
Thank you to folks who read my Gross Vehicle Weight post at the Archer Pelican and on Facebook. Some folks have asked "how did you do it?" Here's the summary answer:
- The first twenty pounds (from 172 to ~152) came off over ~2 years of modest portion control. Reminding myself to put less on my plate, and to not eat when I'm not really hungry. ~152 seemed like the new equilibrium for a while. Then I started visiting a Chinese medicine/acupuncture provider in Carrboro, to look at my ADHD and GAD issues. She recommended that I drop everything that I knew was tough on my body: refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol and dairy. And she added wheat to the mix. I didn't have stop everything 100% -- just stop as much as I could. So I did. And that knocked off another five pounds in two months. Another few pounds have fallen off while I've been doing a "yeast cleanse" of some sort.
I feel good these days. Really good. Not crazy good. But very steady and rarely gross. My body used to go into hyper-vigilance mode (elevated pulse, high blood pressure, etc.) for no good reason, or it would stay in that mode for longer than appropriate. Not so much these days. I'm very very grateful. As Dave and Barry commented, "good" dieting focuses on the benefits that are coming, rather than the food that's missing. Fortunately for me, I love most healthy foods just as much as I love the less-healthy stuff, so there's little pain from substituting a spinach and mushroom soft taco for a slice of pizza; or some fresh fruit and nuts for a Cinnabon. Guylian "no sugar" chocolate is a great treat -- but I've found that I can keep a bar of that stuff around for more than a week. I don't crave the fix.
I should mention that I used to consume a hell of a lot of candy and Diet Coke. I worried they'd be the hardest things to kick, and they were -- for about two weeks. Then suddenly, I didn't want the sugar any more. And I didn't seem to need the caffeine. While I still miss the idea of pizza and beer, I also remember how gross I felt the last time I had a pizza and beer dinner, and I don't miss that -at all-. So it's a clearly positive trade. My appetite seems to get satisfied on the new, modest portions and foods that I now give myself. This really isn't bad. Did I mention I feel good these days? Really good. Except when my 34" waistline pants fall off my butt. Then I feel kind of embarrassed :-)
Coming soon: diet, supplements and the ADHD/GAD.
Jun 29, 2009
Gross Vehicle Weight
144 lbs! A happy new low that I haven't seen since ~1992. Two years ago I maxed out at 172 and realized that with my family's history of heart disease and diabetes, I needed a big change.
My new goal is to drop another ten pounds of fat while adding another fifteen to twenty of muscle. That would be spiff.
Note: an earlier, unstockinged photo showed my flat, unmanicured feet. Gross to some folks. Thus the reshoot.
Jun 04, 2009
On learning news of my friends' new fortunes, I learn something of my own in the moment. When they triumph, is my first instinct to cheer, or am I jealous? When they fail, do I first share their pain, or do I feel smug satisfaction in knowing I've got it better? The answers are a strong measure of my spiritual health.
Jun 02, 2009
Today I am wondering: what, if anything, ought I give back in return? And how much ought I give because it's owed or because I'm grateful? How much should I give because it's karmic fuel or because it just feels good?
And I am wondering: would it be OK to spend years only taking the kindness in, returning nothing more than a thank you?
Photo: Universal Trade Tower from Universal Group, India.
Mar 27, 2009
An Opinion on Opinions
This week I caught myself thinking ill of someone, then caught myself extending my ill opinion to the larger group that I know him through.
A few things came to mind:
1. More than half of the things I was blaming him for weren't necessarily real. I was unhappy that I hadn't gotten what I wanted, but very little of that could have been blamed on their character or action. Things just didn't happen the way I hoped.
2. How often do I form opinions based on insufficient or incorrect data? "FSU's basketball team is probably unethical". (I assume their coach is unethical because much of their athletic department has been proven such.) "I'll bet Jim and Laine are getting divorced because Jim's an arrogant jerk. (I assume this because I saw Jim act cocky once, and because he didn't do something I wanted him to.)
3. And how often do I form negative opinions about things that I don't even need an opinion on, even if they're true? "Sue has no style." "I don't like Morrisville." "That restaurant is horrible. Ninth Street would be better off without it."
So now I'm making an conscious effort to quit evaluating things unnecessarily or incorrectly. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.
Update with related quote: "The challenge is to be a light, not a judge; to be a model, not a critic." Stephen Covey in Principle-Centered Leadership, which I happened to pick up one day after writing the above blog.
Feb 28, 2009
If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words...
Then what would paint a thousand blogposts?
This is a milestone season at the Archer Pelican: 1,000 posts as of today; 3,000 comments as of last week; five years as of two months ago; and 300,000 page views as of next week.
To mark the moment: a mosaic of one of my weekend lunches at the China Palace in Durham. The tiles are from the pool of ~550 that I've posted at the Archer Pelican over the last five years and two months, with the image created by Andrea Mosaic.
It was such a treat to explore the high-resolution file after Andrea Mosaic did its stuff. Friends, meals, travels... pictures of things pulled off the 'net to illustrate some story... and maybe even pictures of you! As I zoomed and panned through the detail, I enjoyed each picture twice -- first to recall the picture-taking, and second to recall the blog-writing. I could not help but sigh. For as much as the Archer Pelican has been my own little magazine of and for myself... well, let's just say it was nice to reminisce.
At this sentimental marker, I want to say "thank you" for dropping by. I thank you for being my friends on-line and in-person, and I thank you for being you. Come back soon, okay?
Also FYI: I used a free utility to pull every photo posted at the Archer Pelican. I'd recommend it, except for (a) I can't remember which program I used and (b) it dropped them into waaaay too many folders (though that was probably because TypePad uses so many folders.). I'll bet you can find better.
I will not link to any videos of Bread playing "If". This post is sentimental enough :-)
Feb 22, 2009
Two Good Reasons I Should Manage my ADHD Better
Depending on which doctor you talk with, I have moderate ADHD and moderate GAD. And yes -- they interfere with my ability to get work done. When I have a lot of work to do, I can pretty much count on needing to work nights as well as days to finish what "normal" people can do during a regular nine to five.
Now please don't think I'm whining about my situation*. I know that overall I got dealt a much better hand in life than most. That said -- in the last five days I have had to turn down last-minute tickets to:
(1) UNC vs. State at the Dean Dome (nice seats that included a reception with the Chancellor at halftime),
(2) Duke vs. Wake at Cameron.
So anyway -- I'm going to make sure I use tonight well and get some good work done. It will make me feel better about starting the week strong, and less badly about missing these great games with fun and generous friends.
*especially a certain person I met in November who began our conversation by speaking critically about how my wimpy American society puts "oh, I have this clinical dysfunction" labels on everything. You know who you are! :-)
Jan 17, 2009
Missed Connections Nostalgia
Remember the Indy's old Missed Connections ads? If you're from the Triangle, I'll bet you do.
Seven years ago when I was having a perfectly lousy winter into spring, I fantasized about people writing Missed Connections ads with me in mind:
Date: May 14, 2002
Subject: semi-fiction inspired by the Indy
Hello Indyweek --
There are two things I read every week in the Indy – Red Meat and Missed Connections. In every issue, they speak directly to my sense of optimistic, out-of-synch despondency over my own condition and the way I connect with other people: just enough to create an eye-rolling sense of despair.
If I could draw, I’d do my own strip and probably that would make me really happy. So of course I don’t draw. Not even as well as Max Cannon’s kid who did this week’s strip.
But I do fantasize, and this January I got to thinking about all the strangers whose paths I cross while wandering through Durham and Chapel Hill. Do they ever notice me, as I sometimes wonder about them?
Just reviewing the last few days, I could think of a dozen moments when I might have been noticed by people at the bank or at the grocer's, at a party or on the town. If they saw me, what were they thinking?
Below, my hypotheticals. For your amusement. Or for the amusement of your production staff.
If, for some reason, you feel like printing it...feel free. Just sign it "Lucas Merriman." Not my real name. But definitely my real fantasies.
The Indy editor wrote back and said she'd love to run them as a guest piece if I would supply my own name, but for whatever reason I declined. These days I'd say "sure, run 'em with my byline!" Then again, these days I wouldn't write anything so glum. I'm damned happy about that. Best as I recall, 2001-2002 really stunk.
ALRIGHT! Seven years ago I was very pleased with myself for formatting my Word document to look like the original Indy print ads. Today I'm even more pleased to have converted that document into a readable, non-fuzzy .jpg. It only took an hour to figure out, but that's what peaceful Friday nights are made for.
Dec 04, 2008
"Where Do You Stay?" ("19 Miles a Second, So it's Reckoned")
Hanging out at the UMD homeless shelter, I once learned that the question, "where do you live?" is often phrased by African-Americans as "where do you stay?"
I assumed that the differing word choice was primarily a function of economics: people with less-stable incomes are more likely to stay at some address for a while rather than to live some address for a long time. But I'm now starting to think that the expression finds its origin in something more temporally and geographically distant. A quick online search indicates that this phrasing is also typical in parts of Africa and India.
Regardless, I'm growing more fond of the expression. Not only for my particularly peripatetic lifestyle, but for the wandering life we all seem to have whether or not we realize it.
Monty Python describe(s)* this nicely:
*can of worms, here: do you choose a singular or plural verb after Monty Python? My understanding from listening to BBC radio is that the British often use a plural verb after a singular noun that describes a group of people. "Manchester United are down three games". But then again, they also say "Parliament is". Hmmm.
Aug 06, 2008
Take Care With Old Friends
Take care with old friends, for they are not quickly replaced.
-- This thought occurred to me ~1989, when my "old" friendships were mostly five or six years old. Still and more true now, I reckon.
Jul 12, 2008
1 – Write the title to your own memoir using exactly six words.
2 – Post it on your blog.
3 – Link to the person who tagged you.
4 – Tag five other bloggers.
I'll bite on 1 through 3, anyway:
"Heredity. Environment. Chance. That's What Happened."
Please follow up if you'd like.
Not long ago, I wrote up a rough business plan for a company that would write memoirs** for other people. The idea was that there are lots of 30- and 40-something people scattered around the world and wishing that they knew more about their parents' wisdom and stories, and that they could pass that down to their own kids who didn't get to spend much time with the grandparents. The business ("Memoir Maker" is what I tagged it) would take the kids money, interview the parents and ghost write the memoir and/or put together multimedia recordings for deployment on web or CD.
This isn't a unique idea -- there's a whole small trade association of "Personal Historians" out there. And of course there are more sophisticated people (with PhDs) who do corporate histories. But it seemed like a decent idea. I canned it because I wanted to travel and because it seemed awfully labor intensive and non-leveragable. I hope other people will do it as well (or better) than I aimed to. If the Association of Personal Historians' website is any indicator, their standard for entry is very low.
*See also here for Doc at the War, Literature and the Arts blog.
**Now that you mention it: I once had dinner with a 60-something fellow who was moderately irritated that both of his kids had published their memoirs before he had. One son was an (eventual) photojournalist who wrote a memoir about living with Tourette's syndrome and other things. The other son was an accomplished actor who wrote his memoir about surviving cancer. The father, an outgoing and achieving fellow, was understandably uncomfortable at being behind the curve. To the best of my knowledge, the father hasn't yet written his memoir, but the younger son has written his second.
Image from the website of Jerry Waxler who will sell you his book so you can write your book.
May 31, 2008
Aren't Hands Weird?
Aren't hands weird? There's an old Doonesbury cartoon in which the grown-up characters are remembering their younger days: in Zonker's stoner memory, he's staring at his digits and wondering out loud, "Have you ever really looked at your hands?!"
I mention that in part to distract from the reality that I couldn't get a pretty picture of my left hand this evening. (I'm no George Costanza, hand model.) But the real point is this: today I can wear my college ring for the first time in more than ten years. I'm weighing in now at 151, 19 pounds less than my max from a year ago, and the lightest I've been since maybe 1995. In the next twelve months I'd like to drop another 10 lbs. of fat and I'd like to add about 15 lbs. of muscle. Nothing dramatic: just steady improvement of health habits. Fingers are crossed. (Gosh that looks funny. Aren't hands weird?)
Dec 26, 2007
Easily and Clearly Influenced
This afternoon on VH1 Classic -- "We Are the Eighties". And within ten seconds of "Caribbean Queen" by Billy Ocean, I suddenly realized that way too much of my photo composition aesthetic was directly traceable to MTV in the 1980s. And you know what? A lot of 1980s videography really really SUCKED.*
Of course it shouldn't surprise me that my compositional sense was greatly influenced by 1980s music videos. I had been watching the stuff nonstop for 12 months when I picked up my first SLR. What bummed me out, though, was realizing that in many ways I still lean on those origins when I take a photo now, 20+ years later. Sure, I've seen and learned some new things during my fits and starts of subsequent photo work. But I think that the "learned more" all built off a chain that started ~1983 and never got cut. I think I'd be better off if I'd also learned from a few unrelated chains with different origins. Maybe I'll start doing drugs or something.
But maybe not. It's apparent that my insides are still so easily influenced by what I see and read. Two nights ago I watched an NCIS episode with a bludgeoning murder, and then I re-read some of The Day of the Jackal -- Forsyth's great thriller about a plot to kill Charles DeGaulle. So what should I dream about that night? Getting my head smashed in. And (later, after I'd been killed), participating in a plot to kill George W. Bush. Drugs would probably not help me see anything new. It would just be the same stuff, but in different colors.
*Need proof? Cringe to Billy Ocean's Caribbean Queen right here at YouTube.
Nov 10, 2007
A Birthday Gift Request from Me to You
Hey, I'm 40! Plans for today:
- a clearness committee meeting with some friends from the Durham Friends Meeting
- lunch with family both immediate and "extended"
- some wedding celebration time with Mr. Dependable and his wife the Reporting Crone
- then maybe something else, if anything occurs to me.
Over the last few weeks, some folks have asked what I wanted for my birthday but nothing ever came to mind until just now. If you're reading this, you get first dibs on making my day if you'd like. But first, some background:
A few weeks ago I was talking with K and asked her this, "if you could wave a magic wand and change the world by adding a few more good things or taking away some bad things, what would you do?" I had picked "adding more good" but K said immediately, "I'd take away some bad." Her reasoning: there's so much pain that comes from a few very bad things; taking away a few -- whether genocide or misguided foreign policy, drug addiction or abuse -- would make such a difference.
I guess I'm not surprised I picked "adding more good." It's easier to plant a thousand flowers than it is to stop one rape, and I've never been good at confrontation. I hope to get better at speaking truth to power, and if it starts happening, I'll let you know.
But meanwhile, here's my birthday gift request. If you would for me, sometime this week, either:
1. Go out your way (through greater effort or greater imagination) to do more good than you planned to
2. Go out of your way to do less harm, or to prevent someone else from doing harm that could be stopped.
If you feel like it, let me know what you did (or even just let me know that you did something). I'll be thankful for the gift you're giving to me, to yourself, and to everybody else.
Peace and good to you.
cool birthday invitation by INKIdesign
Nov 02, 2007
Things I Used to Do a Lot But Hardly Ever Anymore
Things I used to do a lot but hardly ever anymore, if at all:
- Go dancing
- Invite people over for dinner
- Make sarcastic comments during meetings
- Look for organizational behavior and management consulting gigs
- Flirt with waitresses
- Shop at thrift stores
- Browse used book stores
- Go fencing and referee at tournaments
- Wish I were taller
- Hug people I've just met
- Pursue mysterious, quiet women
- Say "yes" whenever anyone asks for something
- Drink better wines
- Show up late at weddings
- Brag about how much I can eat at one sitting
- Eat everybody's leftovers
- Read fiction
- Write in a journal
- Work long hours
- Throw parties
- Pull my hair into a ponytail
- Wear my t-shirts inside out
- Look forward to dressing up
- Go to nice restaurants for dinner several nights a week
- Argue for the sake of argument
- Travel to Brown and Providence
- Expect to be a person of great influence
- Look forward to sweating in summer
- Wear light cotton gloves in fall and part of winter
- Buy things "just in case I'll need them later"
- Incorporate fresh fruit into almost any dish
- Hope everyone will like me.
How about you?
Sep 27, 2007
Portrait of the Consultant as a Young Man (with undiagnosed ADD)
In the mid-80s when I was in high school (a decade before my attention deficit disorder diagnosis), there were already clear signs that I would be a frustrated adult -- full of talent, and fully challenged at putting those talents to use. Check out these three quarterly reports from October 1984:
Calculus: Phil is an enthusiastic member of this class. He participates freely in class discussion and has many good ideas. It is enjoyable to have him in class but also a frustration. For although he seems to understand new concepts when presented, he doesn't appear to spend time studying so that these ideas and skills become part of his general knowledge. Until he can discipline himself to do the hard work involved in the education process, he will not be recognized as the talented special person he wants to be. There will be times in Phil's life when this will have a lasting impact on what he can achieve. [Emphasis added]
British Literature: Phil's work is always imaginative and usually insightful. His quiz scores suggest that he might prepare his assignments a little more carefully. Attention to detail is sometimes tedious but always necessary in both analytical and creative writing and thinking.
Philosophy: Phil's quite good performance in both class discussions and written assignments was marred only by his failure to hand in the mid-term exam on time.
So what's changed since then? Many things, thank goodness. Early in my engineering career, my bosses smacked me a few times for sloppy work and poor detail management, so I got serious about improving. Along the way, I actually came to enjoy doing careful work (at least sometimes) for two different reasons.
First, I came to realize how useful and important and rare it was to be a professional who did careful, thorough work. By doing better work, I made myself much more valuable. And by being more valuable, I got to do more interesting work.
Second, I got a lot of satisfaction from learning to do something well that I used to do poorly. Up until then, most of my "wins" came from doing things that came easily. Succeeding at something through hard work and persistence was a new and in some ways deeper pleasure.
These days, colleagues and clients often say they're impressed by how I do things with more care and thoroughness than most professionals they work with. They appreciate how I sweat the details. This is praise I appreciate -- when I hear it, I know I'm making a difference. Sure, many consultants are much more competent and pains-taking than I, but they live in a different world with different kinds of megadollar clients. In my world, I'm happy that I can work with clients and colleagues whose talents and efforts are complementary to my own. No heroes. Just people who like putting their strengths together.
Of course this isn't to say that I've conquered all the problems that my teachers spotted in 12th grade. In particularly, I'm still persistently late: I miss deadlines, I'm late for appointments, and for some damned reason I'm still surprised half of the times when it happens. I'm working on that, though. Working on it.
By the way, if I haven't mentioned it to you: check out my new site, the ADDexecutive: Business Strategy and Management for Executives with Attention Deficit Disorder. It's still in live beta, but worth a look for smart grownups with the ADD bug.
Report card illustration from the Discovery Channel's Educator Resources.