After The Sabbatical

So, it is now officially the end of the summer, a time for the season to change and prepare for the cold, dark winter to come. This posting is, in part, an attempt to bring you, dear readers, up to date in the changing circumstances of my life.
Beginning in May, I read a number of books that gave me insight of my ability to make fundamental changes in my life. In particular, The One Thing was pivotal in propelling my life into a different direction. It poses the question: “What is the one thing you can do that, if accomplished, would make everything else easier or unnecessary?”

After some (rather easy) meditation the next step was to WEIGH LESS. I began a systematic program of reducing and tracking my caloric intake (with the assistance of the Ipad application MyFitnessPal). I discussed my intentions with several friends and family members and have lost over 60 pounds (almost 30 kg) in the last four months. I was not successful in reaching my initial goal of weighing under 300 pounds (135 kg) by my birthday in September, but am on track to accomplish this sometime in November, and intend to be below 200 pounds (90 kg) by New Year’s Eve, 2016.

According to the materials I’ve read, it takes about 65 days on average to create a habit, so I am somewhat less intentional about directing my focus on WEIGHING LESS, as it has become mostly habitual. A victory with many side benefits (a substantial reduction in my on-going pain level being a primary driver for the initial decision in the first place).

About six weeks into the process, a chance visit with my sister (and concurrent conversation) suggested an intention to obtain a fitness tracker of some sort after my weight dropped enough to make exercise (read: walking) reasonable. She indicated she had upgraded her primary device and that I could take her old one if I wanted it. I did, and I did.

Thus without fanfare (or even notice at the time) phase two of my realignment with reality began. After consideration, I began another habit calendar driven by a second ONE thing: MOVE MORE. This task did not have as clear cut goals or objectives, and has been somewhat less spectacular in it’s results. The FitBit Ultra automatically measures what I do and both records it within the product tracking software, and links to my food diary, so it is an observable and track-able measure of my progress in moving. I have increased my goals twice since starting in June, and on average meet my daily goals about 4-5 days each week. Other friends also track their activity (including a half-marathoner… nearly an inconceivable task to “aim” at) so I have additional levels of accountability and encouragement (while I have successfully placed last each week in the status report between friends, I am slowly and gently getting closer to the pace set by my betters).
Additionally, I have begun an eight week set of classes in my apartment on improving balance (nominally to help prevent falls; I reside in an age-restricted housing location and am officially the youngest resident here, with only another 25 years to go to reach the mean age of my neighbours…) and am studying Tai Chi on DVD. My objective goal is to begin playing golf again next year and eventually to shoot my age for a round (if history is any indicator, I will have to play and live at least another 60 years to have a reasonable chance).

And so with the passing of time and focusing on various areas of my life, I determined the third (and current) ONE thing to set as the primary compass marker for my life: ACT INTENTIONALLY, which brings us to this posting.

Many (perhaps most) of the previous writing has been stream-of-consciousness dumps, without focus or direction. Regardless of how entertaining they may (or may not!) have been, there was little or no intention behind them. (Technically the “three a week” plan would slightly count as an intent, but it is not what I am looking for.) I have taken eating from an impulsive, mindless activity to an intentional plan for achieving the vision I have created for my life. I have challenged my sedentary lifestyle and with focus am moving towards regaining my life as, perhaps not an athlete in the normal sense of the word, but a participant rather than an observer of life beyond the four walls of my cage. This focus is now being aimed at my writing.

To assist this process, I have just updated my workstation by adding two additional computers (an NAS –Network Accessible Storage– unit to consolidate my files from multiple sources and and an Ubuntu Linux system to expand my knowledge and skill set, and to work as a render station for my animation projects) and sifting through my paperwork (to clear space and streamline my file cabinets). As suggested in some of my books on organization this should make me more productive as the reduction in clutter (more focus!) will lower the distractions around me.

This should provide you with a more thoughtful and consistent product in the future. At the vary least, you should notice more content than what has been produced over the last third of the year…

post 75 of n


How To Get Ahead In Business

I have “discovered” there is three ways to get ahead in business (speaking now as an employee rather than an entrepreneur or independent contractor) that pretty much describes what you must accomplish to advance up the “ladder of success.” You advance by using PUSH, PULL, or SUCK.

Push is the idea of being promoted by your peers. Working well together in teams, sharing credit for success and accepting blame for your failings, your teammates insist that superiors move you upwards in the organization for the benefit of all. Often found while working in the presence of Leaders (rather than Managers, see Why Nobody Plays “Follow The Manager”) it is the most satisfying and least common method of rising in your career. Your advancement is based on what you do.

Pull occurs when you have a benefactor somewhere in middle or upper management and they have a vested interest in your career. (Note: “vested” may not mean “personal” interest. It is possible the shadow broker has chosen the pawn in play to enhance his own fiefdom rather than to benefit the victim’s career.) Not restricted to familial relationships (but a family “friend” is often a good source for this advancement method) a secret, closed meeting somewhere generates a ripple in space-time that propels the target’s career forward in a non-linear fashion, often to the dismay of more talented (and worthy) peers, who are left to try and understand why they were slighted for the promotion. Truth is many (if not most) people using advancement by Pull are at or near the event horizon of the Peter Principle (often it is the last Pull that truly demonstrates the effect has already occurred). Your advancement depends on who you are.

Sadly, the last method is the most insidious of all. Suck requires the person to prostitute their ideas, ethics, and actions to any and all members of the higher echelons of the company. They will polish apples, salute any and all flags run up flagpoles, follow any and all orders and declare their eternal “yesness” for any idea. They will “kiss” [REDACTED] as often as is necessary to be seen. Their motto is “it’s not what you know but who you blow” that get’s them advanced.Your career path depends on how willing you are to….

It would be funny (in a pathetic way) if it weren’t so demoralizing to see these leaches advanced over the people doing the actual work without getting the credit due. Even worse is to eventually be a subordinate of a person that successfully activates Suck as their preferred method of advancement. They often reciprocate within their circle of influence, providing potential proteges with the opportunity to skip vast amounts of effort, watching as their career launches into the loftier regions of the company. You can end up making (and fetching) a lot of coffee over the years.

Of course, you could also spit….


post 51 of n

Why Nobody Plays “Follow The Manager”

In a meeting this week we were discussing the idea of “servant leadership” and what it would look like. It got me thinking and I shared with the group my experience of the difference between management and leadership.

Managers work primarily with “things.” They hold the world view that problems are things that need to be fixed. Usually, this will result in the assignment of a person to take care of a problem with the idea “who can get this done in the best (fastest, cheapest, most efficient) way?” Making the problem go away is the focus and driver in decisions. A manager is threatened by the success of his subordinates, knowing if they get “too good” at their job they might be advanced to management, possibly sending you out to pasture.

Leaders work primarily with “people.” The paradigm in view is problems are opportunities to let others grow and improve. A leader will be directed by the thought “who can benefit the most (learn new skills, enhance existing talent, stretch self confidence) from working on this project?” Short term efficiency can be sacrificed for long(er) term growth and capabilities from the team members involved, resulting in a greater net value over time. A leader is encouraged and delighted in the success of his people. By building strong replacements it allows him to move into other areas to grow and advance the company even further.

This does not mean managers never work with people or that leaders don’t fix things. It is more where the driver for the actions come from. A core philosophy that views the company as the product or the producer, the cake versus the baker. Both are needed and valuable, just which is ordered first differs for each style.

In my career, I have mostly worked for managers. These were average, normal, even good jobs where I felt good after putting my 40 hours in, to enjoy my weekend and go back on Monday. I think most bosses in America fall into the manager slot.

A couple of times I had the incredible experience to be slotted under a true leader. These people were the ones where you would walk barefoot through burning glass shards to put in your 60 hour week, then despair of having to leave at all. There was no feeling of being a cog in a wheel in a machine. Rather you felt as if you were the most important element of the whole organization.

There was a recent news article about the CEO that cut his salary and raised the minimum wage in his company to $70,000 a year. Whether this is a good or bad decision is not the point in this blog. It is optically clear to me this man was a leader rather than a manager. He demonstrated focus on the people rather than the company (alone). This is the most extreme example I can remember, but it sure sounds like the kind of person I’d like to have worked with, long before this decision. I think a closer review would reveal other people-driver choices (as opposed to company-drivers).

It’s easy to follow a leader, they are out front encouraging you to get up there. Following a manager is not so easy, they’re likely at their desk pointing the way for you to go. If you are a high(er) link in the food chain of your organization, then you can determine what kind of supervisor you will be, one who leads from the rear, or from the front.

When you work for yourself, your choices are more limited, as it depends not only what kind of person you are as a director but what kind of person you are directing. In my consulting firm (BNI/SAR) I am required to manage, not to lead.

I have (am) the worst employee known to mankind…


post 50 of n

Patching Potholes On The Highway To Hell

I am fond of using phrases and proverbs incorrectly, usually with some kind of kink. For example, I am often heard referring to someone “running around like a head with their chicken cut off.” Proverbial phrases often carry a some kind of pithy saying that has a general or universal application or meaning. This post’s title comes (indirectly) from the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I suspect that, with all the traffic on that road, there are a lot of potholes to fill.

One saying that bothers me is “it’s not the gift but the thought that counts.” The thought may have been intended, but the lack of thought is what’s visible. Buying a peanut butter ice cream cake for the birthday of my son (who has life threatening allergies to both peanuts and dairy) would not be a “nice thought” but about as stupid an action as it is possible to conceive. Administering epinepherine while driving him to the hospital might actually be a thoughtful intent after carrying out such a blunder.

The phrase that I find myself using more and more often these days (and it might be original, since I don’t remember ever hearing it in the distant past) is “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Most commonly it in in some interpersonal relationship context where a story is being told about an action taken by a third party (not currently present) having ongoing consequences that were unexpected or undesired. Often it involves one (or more) of the three drivers of rock and roll: sex, drugs, and rebellion against authority (or one of the country and western parallel vices: adultery, alcohol, or agitation directed against law enforcement).

I could say a lot more about this but…


post 49 of n

[settings] Fog_Of_Life_Enabled=True

I am something of a game collector. (People that know me say this is something of an understatement, as I own several hundred board games.) While my collection has suffered greatly over the last decade (a foreclosure and divorce along the way), there still remains a wide variety of genres, styles, and mechanics of play. I collect mostly board games and tend to stay away from what a typical American would immediately think of (monopoly, life, sorry, other family games), leaning rather toward games with complex rules and interactions, requiring longer time to explain and teach others to play (which is a primary reason most are shelved and collecting dust). Pretty much if I find a game at a grunge shop that I neither have nor have heard of, it tends to leap into my cart for further research.

This morning I was awakened from a dream where I was playing a board game. I don’t remember too much about it, but the significant elements involved taking my turn. I was moving a piece and sort of understood what I needed to do, but the rest of the map/board was devoid of pieces. When I said I needed to know where the pieces to collect were, another person added a couple of tokens on the board. I also mentioned that I needed to know where the other people’s pieces were, to plan how to avoid their influence. Another person got the rules and read all player’s pieces were to be removed from the board after each turn. I complained that I had a short-term memory problem and that it wasn’t fair to play that way, then I woke up in a poor mood.

The concept of masking the information of other players (or areas you are not currently located in) is referred to as the “fog of war” and is common in video (and computer) games. The idea is you can only know what you have experienced and many games will have map information fade away over time if you move away, hiding changes occurring while you are absent. Significantly, any enemies entering the area after you make life “interesting” when you return. Especially true if you presume the world to be the same as when you left it. Generally speaking, I do less well in this setup than games where I can see the whole world all of the time. My memory condition mentioned above (perhaps I wasn’t dropped on my head enough times to make things stick?) means enabling fog increases a game’s difficulty for me (probably more than for others), and I usually don’t get additional credit or experience for playing at this “level of difficulty.

Truth is, though, there is a “fog of life” that works essentially the same way in the “real” world. I went to visit my mom last week and drove through a neighborhood I lived in a couple of decades ago. While most of the places aligned with the images in my memories, there were other areas where changes occurred under the mask of fog. Some buildings changed colours (owners paint or stain since my last transit). Others had additions built on or were torn down totally, a couple being replaced by vacant lots, others by parks or businesses. Most notably was the business district, where the buildings were essentially the same, but the products or services were wildly different. Furniture replaced by food, carpet by insurance. The old hardware store does tanning and nails. Business was still business, but not MY business.

The old stomping grounds are old still, and there’s ground there, but the idea of stomping there would never occur to me. The trees (the ones still there, anyway) don’t lend themselves to climbing, nor do the bushes work for hiding anymore. One extreme example was a place we used to sled in the winter. There was a steep, seldom used street that would attract kids to slide down most of the winter. After a period of time covered in the Fog of Life I came back to discover the road was just gone! It’s now a tree covered hillside and the Texaco gas station at the base transformed to an ice cream parlor (closed in the winter).

I understand (intellectually, anyway) that time changes things and “you can never go home” really means that today is different than yesterday, but it’s not fair. I don’t have a lot of memories of times past, but to find there is increasingly little to verify what was real and what was an (semi-overactive) imaginary dream scape is hardly reassuring. What is to prevent coming back from church or the store only to find an amusement park covering the lot where my apartment was just a (perceived) few hours earlier? Or to find my keys won’t open my car (at least it’s where I parked “my” car)? As far as I can tell, I am correctly oriented in 3-space, but if a tesseract opens and I move sideways through space-time into a parallel universe that is hauntingly similar to (but not the same) as I remember, how could I tell? Others argue this is the way things always were. Who’s perception is “correct?”

Maybe this is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s….


post 43 of n

You Must Be At Least This -> Tall To Read This Posting.

I am the youngest person living at my apartment complex. We are an age-restricted location where you must be at least 55 years old to live here. I moved in on my birthday, so by definition I am the youngest person (for me to reach the average age I need to live here about another 30 years, give or take a couple). It is a nice, quiet place to live. There are weekly and monthly events that the occupants can take part in, from a coffee klatch on Tuesday mornings to (age appropriate) exercise workouts on Friday before noon. It’s pretty much like living in any other apartment except there are fewer noisy parties and ambulances visit considerably more often.

One activity that occurs with considerable regularity is the discussion of names in the obituary columns of the local paper. Since many (perhaps most) of the residents have lived in the community 30 to 70 years (or more), they recognize many of the names listed in the paper. I am an import, so I am clueless about the locals and the ongoing change in the demographics of the area, but I am not clueless about the passing of time. My awareness comes from the national news broadcasts each weeknight.

Just about each week there is a brief reference to the death of someone reasonably famous on the nightly news, along with a brief description of the person’s life or reason for fame. The most recent was the passing of Robert Schuller, the tel-evangelist. I am not disturbed or affected by his death apart from the recognition of the name and some of his history. For much of my life, the obits named on the programs were just noise. Some might recognize them, but no one in my circle of influence (well, maybe mom and dad, but you get what I mean). With my advancing years, I find the names of the dead to be more recognizable than before.

A long time ago, I was presented with the “habit” most people do when faced with the death of someone, comparing the dearly departed’s age with my own (thus seeing how many years I might have “left”). Recently (last decade or so) the result of this formula is depressing if not outright terrifying. Some of the numbers have negative signs before them, suggesting the victim (obviously) died several decades before their time. That the difference in our ages is progressively getting smaller each passing day is a sobering reminder my plan to see the American Tri-centennial is less likely than when I watched the Bi-centennial from the deck of my ship (one of the national broadcast locations was the flight deck of the USS Constellation, CVA-64, where I served as a TV repairman).

Occasionally (increasingly frequently, sadly enough) I am made aware of the passing of someone I had the opportunity to know personally. The names on the school reunion lists shrinks over time, and while I do not attend, I am still aware of the shrinkage. I have fewer friends and relatives today than a dozen years ago and will be astonished to find the same number a dozen years hence. It is just a fact of life, even with the amazing advances in medicine and technology this millennium. They may be moving the finish line further from the start, but it is apparent it is not advancing quickly or far enough.

I remember when my son was too small (read: young) to go on some of the rides at the fair. Eventually he grew tall enough, and the whole world was opened to him. Now it is his daughter that has the sign restrictions to deal with. And so on.

When I meet with the folk for our Tuesday coffee, I am keenly aware of the passing of time. All are widowed (only a single couple still resides here, and I think they are the oldest residents here) and many are the last family members still above ground, having outlived both spouses and siblings. It gets really hard around the major holidays, to recognize that we neighbors are the only people in the world left to care. A few have older children (most older than I am) that might visit or call, but the greater share of the branches in the forest of lives living here have few leaves left on them. And it’s late autumn, with winter fast approaching.

I had the opportunity to share a nearly 10 hour car trip with a couple from my church this week, traveling to and from Chicago to pickup the wife from a hospital there (she suffers from debilitating migraine headaches and spent over a week in-patient trying to bring relief to her condition). As a result, I spent the next day in bed from the pain of riding in a foreign car (not my own, so not sized to fit well) and being confined for so long a time. It was totally worth it to see the interaction of the couple upon reuniting, and when she came home to her daughter. I would do it again. And again. And again, as needed, to keep connections linked.

Which reminds me… I need to take a trip to see my family and link local connections, too. Guess I’ll buy a ticket and get in line.

I could use a hug anyway.


post 41 of n

The Answer Is NOT Three

There was a commercial in my past that continues to haunt my life. It was of a boy asking an owl how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Tootsie-Pop sucker. The owl says “lets find out” and starts licking. “One…two…three…CRACK…Three!” He bites the sucker after the third lick and proclaims the answer as three since he is unable to resist the temptation to rush to the treat in the center.

I have a confession to make: I am a victim of my choices. A willing, sometimes eager participant, but a victim never the less. You see, I am possessing of a compulsive personality trait that nudges me toward actions that (in the long run) are less than optimal. As a result, I am an overly large person (allows me to make the “valid” point that “I carry a lot or weight in this [any] organization”) that knows the ultimate result of poor lifestyle choices (and even cares about the choices) but still makes them anyway..

I am not as strong a person as I like to tell myself I am. I live alone and have “complete” control of my surroundings, so I should be able to do what I want and enjoy the freedom of my choices. Instead, I am compelled to follow the Pavlovian programming of nearly six decades of historic influences. I want to go in one direction and find myself several miles off course, drifting further away as the tides of history drag me out to sea.

I was not abused as a child, nor was I raised in a (abnormally) dysfunctional home (I believe we are ALL from dysfunctional homes, some are just more dysfunctional than others). My younger sisters and I lived with both of our natural parents (no abandonment or divorce related issues) in a small(ish) town about 50 miles from here (in [REDACTED]). We were raised in neither affluence nor poverty, being raised in a rather middle class environment. We had everything we needed, much that we wanted, and were, in general, pretty normal and happy.

And yet, I have fuzzy memories of denial and hoarding (probably skewed by a childish point of view – of course I WAS a child at the time, but…).  I didn’t get to eat cookies and ice cream  when I wanted. I had to share, and sometimes (often? always?) had to let my siblings go first (because I was “older” and by extension “more mature”). I had to go to bed before I wanted to and couldn’t watch what I wanted to on TV (sometimes I could sneak downstairs late at night to watch TV when spending the night at grandma’s house, as long as I kept the volume way down). I had to do chores and clean my room at the most inopportune times (like when my mom told me to), and wash the dishes far more often than my sisters. It just wasn’t fair.

Now I am an adult and am empowered to make my own choices without needing to get input from others (the kid has grown up, married, and moved away, and the wife left, divorced me and remarried years ago). Or so the theory states. Yet when I am confronted with a choice of actions the ghosts of the past haunt me and shove me in directions I don’t necessarily want to go. I often finish the bag of cookies now rather than leave some for tomorrow (lest the invisible sibling hordes steal them away in the night). I will eat beyond satiety to make sure I get “my share” and won’t have to go without by others consuming what could have been mine. I buy things I don’t need (but think I want) to drown out the echos of “no’s” from my childhood . I stay up late to play video games and sleep in late because I can (now). My sink is full of dirty dishes (clean ones are in the dishwasher when I need them), clean clothes in the hamper from the last laundry run (dirty ones in a heap pile stack in the corner) and the bed is made twice a year (whether it needs it or not) for the annual inspections. In short, I do what I want and am miserable as a result.

What I really “want” is to be able to enjoy eating my cake without the hassle of making, baking, and breaking down the process afterward. I want to be fully indulged in my selfish desires without the downsides of effort or repercussion. I am insane (along with a large percentage of society). I read and apply (briefly) suggestions and rules from books, web pages, and media presentations about how to organize, simplify, and enhance my life, to acquire great habits and positive lifestyle changes and break self-destructive behaviors that damage my self esteem and physique. I have a juicer, rice steamer, and vacuum food saver to improve my choices in eating and storing healthy foods. (I do NOT have a Nordic-Trac in my basement. Never went down that rabbit hole, although I DID have both a treadmill and a personal gym at one time.) I have yoga and tai-chi videos, shelves of self-improvement books, follow several (many?) blogs and sites about health and fitness.

I am neither fit nor healthy. I don’t juice, steam, or suck air from the packages I put in the freezer. I am about as flexible as iron and as gracefully balanced as a still top. in short, I am only a good intention. I am a really, REALLY bad implementer of change. I have asked for answers and wisdom from others and have heard the CRACK of my desire to make hard changes shatter to get to the yummy center of self-indulgence. I lack the patience and perseverance to stick to actions long enough to implement real change, preferring instead to continue along the path of pain and weakness, whining all the way.

Yet, this project (the blog) has been different (so far…). I have been able to continue to keep up the 3-a-week schedule (barely) for over a month. This is nearly a record for me to keep up an activity without a fat/sugar/calorie-laden treat dangling on a string before me as an encouragement to continue. I may not be losing weight (except the reduced fat in my typing fingers) or becoming an Olympic athlete from this activity, but the success provides a glint of a shimmer of a shadow of a possibility that I can accomplish other dreams as well. So it is (at least in theory) worth it. I may actually be able to overcome temptation long enough to become a better, more positive person. It is worth the attempt. But maybe the announcer in the commercial got it right at the end after all…

“The world may never know.”


post 40 of n

I’ve Created A (Sandstone) Monster

Apparently I am still a little kid at the core. I have succumb to peer pressure and done something that I vowed I would never do. It was a direct result of oppressive, unrelenting torment by several of my closest “friends” that compelled me to change my position and leap into a potentially damaging and addictive activity (against my considered, and better judgement).

I have become a player of MineCraft™.

Oh, the horror of it all. To think, just today rather than spending time working on my writing projects (including this blog) or taking time to attend to the basic housekeeping activities that are needed, I spent the afternoon building components to outfit my laboratory. Instead of reading recipes for cooking the pork loin I purchased for dinner tomorrow, I poured over recipes to create sheers from iron ingots and beds from wooden slats and wool (which was what the sheers were needed for in the first place). I haven’t removed the debris from around my apartment but cleared the vegetation from around my hovel (and quickly ran inside as the skeletons approached).

Now, in my defense, I was persuaded to take up this activity as a socializing event with others from my circle of influence. Last evening there were five of us working at the same time and chatting to one another while playing. We were separated by over a dozen miles between each of us, so we would not have been able to meet for socializing were we required to travel to a common location. Being in a mine was a socially stimulating activity that brought utility to each of us.

But the darker side of addiction surfaced today. After awaking from my nap (triggered in part by the onset of Daylight Saving Time this morning), my intent was to check my e-mail inbox and blog stats and then post a segment. Bad idea, since the first e-mail message I read described how the owner of the MC server had just installed a Mumble server to allow easier chatting while we were playing, and requested someone to try it out. And I did…losing about 4 hours of productive daylight. While I setup my client to talk, I linked into the world to check if anyone else was there (nope, but that didn’t stop me from working a while). One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I looked like I could do a body double for Castaway (except  that I would need to lose about 170 pounds and grow many more muscles to match Mr. Hank’s physique).

Step 1. Admit I have a problem… no, I can quit anytime.. Tell you what, I will look and see if there is anyone on and get back to you…


post 29 of n

Birthday Candle Induced COPD

Birthday celebrations carry different levels of significance depending on your age. When you are celebrating your first one, you couldn’t care less. You have no idea why today is any different than yesterday. Mom and Dad are making a big fuss, as are almost everyone else in the room (an older sibling might be “fitching a pit” because they are not getting enough attention, but this, too, will pass). B-day 2 is slightly more important, probably because of the lead up excitement tends to carry over. You will have developed some understanding of the patterns of life and might notice today is different somehow. And there’s cake. Then you go to bed and life continues pretty much as before.

The bar gets set higher each year for the next half dozen or so, then seems to level out. Oh, it’s a great day, your B-day, but now it’s not necessarily the high point of your year (late December takes center stage) or the single focus point it might have been before. Other holidays are recognized and anticipated (the spring and fall candy festivals rank highly with people under the age of majority).

Over time, as the calendars pile up on the closet floor, other mileposts loom in the distance. You become “old enough to…” do various things. Drive a car, get a job, get a “friend” (rather than a buddy). Eventually you can drink, vote, and get drafted (not so much now, but a VERY frightening area of growing up during the ’60’s and ’70’s).

But eventually, you hit a plateau, where adding another notch on the belt of life is pretty much just another day (however, one with cake and ice cream). You don’t generally get any substantial benefits from what you had the day before (some restaurants will discount your meal based on your age, but a 1% additional reduction won’t cover the taxes for the meal). And there become certain milestone numbers that actual have additional stress attached (more emotional than rational, but for adult males the first doctor’s appointment after the big 5-0 has “thrills” that can be unnerving to contemplate). Decade numbers (30, 40, 50, …) are all mental triggers you are indeed getting old(er). For some, that is unsettling at best.  Some simply choose to deny or ignore the numbers as they get larger.

I was at a friend’s forty-first (it is less stressful to see it written this way than to just put “41” out there) birthday party. There was around twenty people around and we sat and enjoyed stories and talk (and the mandatory cake and ice cream). Overall it went well, but there was a comment made that really brought us back to reality. Someone mentioned that we didn’t do the same things we had a couple of years ago (might have been referencing a bowling event following the C&IC segment). As the night wore on people excused themselves to depart for home, and eventually the celebrant also departed for home and bed. The end of the event sort of fizzled out and ended with more of a whimper than a bang.

In fairness, there are children tangentially involved that were not “present” during earlier celebrations (I still have one of the “It’s a Boy” cigars as proof) so dad can be exonerated for seeking an opportunity to catch a few additional moments of shut eye. And gravity has increased (continues to grow larger with each passing year) while the length of each day grows shorter over time (while there is about the same amount of light in each day as when I was a kid, they don’t put anywhere as much dark in the nights anymore… just look at the bags under my eyes). So a (more) sedate party should not come as a surprise anymore.

I’m just not looking forward to the pit stops during the upcoming wheelchair races in the (hopefully distant) future.


post 28 of n

ATM Fees and Overdraft Charges In The Bank Of Life

I observed an interaction between a couple using the line “if you do this for me, I’ll make it worth your while tonight…” and delivered (and received) with a smile. The idea of the Emotional Bank account (a nice summary explanation is at was explained by Steven Covey (I took the “7 habits” workshop provided by my employer late in the ’90s). ) We start all relationships with a neutral (think empty or zero balance) account with others and our interactions make deposits and withdrawals in our “account.” The higher our balance, the better our relationship is and the more room we have to make “errors” without permanently damaging our line of credit.

Reflecting on this image from long ago, I think the idea remains valid, but is incomplete. I don’t remember being told (or reading while going through other of his writings on my own) about the regular “service fees” and additional charges that might occur, most importantly the “foreign ATM use” charge.

It is (depressingly) common today for banks to charge a “nominal” monthly service fee, whether you actually use your account or not. Time was, banks were local institutions where your actions with the staff might allow you to talk to the same teller for decades. My dad was able to go in to the bank and get a car loan without filling out any paperwork (he had been a customer over 30 years and knew the loan officer well). A home mortgage was slightly more complicated, but not the federal interrogation required to get a loan today.

Over time, the local bank was purchased by a state, regional, then national bank, changing names and personnel each time. Worse than the lack of personal contact with people you knew, the larger companies had less competition so they were able to increase rates without fear of competition. Pay more to people that cared less. So free checking and savings accounts became $9.99 per month and a $5.00 fee if you “made more than” / “didn’t make at least” n transactions in a period (having both a checking and savings account with the same institution could trigger both penalties as each account was considered separately). Now to avoid charges you need  to maintain a really large balance or incur the wrath of the financial gods.

In the bank of life, a similar event occurs for relationships. If you go a long(ish) time without interacting with a person, your effective balance is lower than you might have assumed (based on what you remembered it was at your last meeting). Your best practice would be to always start any relationship transaction with a deposit (in case you missed a fee or so). Nice dress/hat/hair/shoes/car/spouse/tattoo/[insert appropriate item here].

I think by far the more hazardous fee (especially if you are involved in a long-term relationship…or want to be in one) comes from the “foreign ATM” charges. This principle is where you use a machine from another bank than the one your card is from. When you make a deposit in a foreign account in the presence of your usual bank, WOW! You can be hit with massive service charges when you get home (or to the car, followed by either a cold and silent ride home or a heated “discussion” along the way). Even if innocent, the transaction causes fees that need additional deposits and payments that will accrue interest until covered.

The best way to keep from declaring bankruptcy is to be intentional about making deposits in every transaction you face. Be nice, say thanks, open doors and let traffic in. Life is too short to find overdraft notices in your mailbox daily.

Oh, and a final suggestion is to cut up the credit cards from the Bank of Life…the interest charge rate is too high for the usefulness of withdrawing funds you haven’t got, and hope to make up by the end of the month. Even on the fifth, the end of the month is too close…


post 18 of n