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Here is where I had a lunch time meeting today:

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It’s another private spot in downtown Columbia, another place to get away. Today’s lunch meeting consisted of an alumni board meeting for my high school alma mater. It was a conference call and it was my first as part of the board. As a result, I wanted to:

  • find a place of privacy.
  • find a place of serenity and quiet.
  • get some sun.
  • steer clear of the office.

The fountain in this location is more prominent and the flowing water is soothing. This particular spot, while in downtown, is located on side streets where there isn’t a lot of traffic. As a result, I was able to focus on the conference call and make good use of the time.

Even when you find private spots, consider what is good and and bad about each one. I could have gone to the spot yesterday, but the amount of background noise would have been in competition with the voices on the phone, even with a headset. This particular spot is slightly less private (more people know about it) but always much quieter, even with people present. That’s why today’s spot was the best place for me to attend my meeting.

I’m in downtown Columbia, SC. Right behind where I’m sitting is busy Taylor Street and I can hear the cars on the road and construction at a neighboring property.

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While I can hear the noise, there’s no one around me. I have this tucked away garden all to myself. It’s like this every time I’ve been here at lunch. This hidey-hole, and places like it, is where I can get alone and recharge.

To get to this particular spot takes some walking. It’s easy to reach in a lunch hour, still giving me about 30 minutes of privacy. Therefore, coming out here serves two purposes: I get a bit of exercise and I get some alone time. For an introvert, the lunch hour doesn’t get much better than this.

Wherever I am, I try to find spots like these. Often times they are hiding in plain sight. Parks and public gardens like the one I’m in now are usually the first places I investigate. Do you have a quiet, private place to which you can flee? Even if you’re an extrovert, it’s still good to have a couple of such places when you just need to get away.

Social media is different from in-person interaction. One big difference is the lack of physical presence. Because of that difference, some folks are rude and mean on social media when they wouldn’t be in real life. Also, social media is notorious for arguments which serve no purpose: folks already knew each others’ positions and no one is interested in considering a change of their own beliefs. As a result, social media can be both damaging and a huge time waster. This is why some people avoid social media, though it can be an effective tool.

This has led me to drafting my own social media interaction rules. I operate by those most of the time now, but by putting them down I have a standard to compare myself against. This is a work in progress. I am sure I will adjust some of these rules over time. Do note, I’m not saying others I have to interact with have to follow my rules. This is my personal code of conduct.

 

  1. I will treat everyone with kindness and courtesy.
    • It doesn’t matter how I’m treated.
    • I will not insult or demean another.
    • I will not retaliate to any personal attacks.
  2. I will have a positive attitude or I will end my participation.
    • When I begin feeling negative is when I am most at risk for breaking these rules.
    • My negativity does not help anyone else.
    • If possible, I will state why I am disengaging, shouldering the accountability.
    • I can state a problem or a disagreement without being in a negative frame of mind.
  3. I will look for opportunities to encourage and build up others.
  4. I will stay out of controversial arguments where none of the following can be accomplished. In all cases I will clearly state my purpose.
    • I intend to learn more about the positions being argued.
    • I can clear up misinformation or misunderstanding.
    • I can add new, relevant information to the discussion.
    • I can share the Gospel with someone who appears willing to listen.
  5. I will attempt to avoid controversial posts where none of the sub-points in (4) can be accomplished.
    • I consider security, especially IT security, posts an exception to this rule.
    • If I am posting to foster thought and ideas, I will clearly state my purpose.
  6. I will remember than anything I post is not private.
  7. I will remember that anything I post can be referred to in the future.

 

As with any standard, there will be times when I fall short. Over the long run, though, I expect those failings will reduce in number.

 

Did you know that Ben Franklin once tried to be a poet? I learned this reading The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. Ben wrote a couple of poems, printed them, and sold them on the street. The first poem, The Light-house Tragedy, was a success. Despite that, here’s Mr. Franklin’s opinion of his work with the benefit of hindsight:

“They were wretched stuff, in the Grub-street-ballad style;”

This despite that bout of monetary success:

“The first sold wonderfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise.”

Based on the success of that first poem, Mr. Franklin thought about being a poet. Thankfully, he had someone to provide perspective, because he certainly didn’t have it.

“This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars.”

Again with hindsight, Mr. Franklin realized his success was due to timing. Mr. Franklin went on to say that because he did not follow this path, he was able to pursue prose writing. That led to his prosperity and fame. Imagine how different things would have been if he had chosen to be a poet. Consider where Ben Franklin might have ended up if he hadn’t been cautious of his “beginner’s luck” and listened to his father.

If you have early success with something, try to understand why. Is it because of timing? Is it because of something else outside of your control? Or is because you have the right makeup (skills, experience, etc.) to repeat the success? If it’s not the latter, you should be cautious.  There’s a lot of advice out there about “following your passion.” Often, initial success causes us to be passionate. Benjamin Franklin certainly was. If we don’t have the capability of repeating the success, our passion could drive us to unnecessary failure and misery. Therefore, the advice to “follow your passion” could be bad guidance for us.

The other problem with initial success is that it can cloud our judgment. This happened to Mr. Franklin. Therefore, we need advocates who are interested in what is best for us and who are willing to and able to share the truth with us. Ben had his father. Ben listened to his father. You and I need our advocates, too. We must be willing to listen to them, even if what they are saying conflicts with what we’re feeling. If the arguments they present are sound, we should heed them.

These two problems are the reason we should be cautious with early success. We must try to understand why we’re successful. Hopefully we will have advocates by our side who can help us discern the causes for our success. If it’s something we can repeat, then by all means we should consider pursuing the path. However, if we determine that success is due to something outside of our control, it is probably best if we celebrate the success and move on.

In school, I was told that if I had time, I should check my work. This was emphasized in mathematics and in the sciences. In writing, there usually wasn’t time. Writing the first (only) draft took up most of the time alloted. As a result, I never got into the habit of editing my work.

“The essence of writing is rewriting.” – William Zinnser, On Writing Well

I know from experience that editing is critical to good writing. I’ve been on both sides of this: as a writer and as a technical editor. However, when it comes to my writing, especially when not for formal publication, I typically don’t edit my work.

I’m changing with this blog post. I’m going to edit every post. I know in the long run this serves two purposes:

  • My immediate writing will be better as I catch grammatical mistakes and improve clarity.
  • My long term writing will be better because I’ll be in the practice of improving my writing.

The first benefit is obvious. However, if you’ve never had an editor, that second benefit is harder to believe. I can only speak from my own experience. I’ve seen my writing improve due to editors pouring over my work. As they have pointed out the mistakes and weaknesses, I’ve had to correct my writing; I’ve learned from that exercise. I think back to my first attempt at writing for publication and I realize how poor a writer I was. Everything I turned in needed heavy edits. My writing today needs fewer edits but it still needs editing, though.

If you want to improve your writing, edit your own work. If you can, find a competent editor and have that person edit your work, too. Take those edits and improve your writing. Then edit and improve your work again. Keep at it until you have to release it. Over time you’ll notice the improvement. Hopefully it’ll spur you on to keep at it as writing is most like any other art or craft: we can always be better at it.

I think, “Thieves’ Cant.”

In first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, anybody playing a thief character has an additional “language” called thieves’ cant. It was supposed to represent the code words, hand movements, etc., that allowed thieves to communicate with each other while in the company of others. Can’t and cant are pronounced the same way.

What does this have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked.

One of the things attending The Citadel taught me is that a lot of times when we say, “I can’t,” we’re imposing an arbitrary limitation on ourselves that’s not rooted in any sort of fact. The Citadel and many military “schools” (US Army Ranger School, etc.) push students beyond their pre-conceived limits, revealing to them that they can go beyond those limits. After a few times pushing past the limits you thought you had, you start to realize that we’re terrible at forecasting our true limitations.

In other words, when we say, “I can’t,” we likely can, we just don’t believe in ourselves and therefore we won’t test that limit. Because of this, I typically try and play a simple mind game. When I hear “can’t,” I change it to, “thieves’ cant,” and I challenge that limit. I get rid of “can’t” so I can mentally push forward.

Have you attempted to push past your limits before? If you haven’t, try a similar mind game. Change “can’t” to something else. Challenge those limits. Start with something relatively safe. Maybe it’s your reading habits or your handwriting or your ability to read through and follow a simple recipe. Or maybe it’s the number of push-ups you can do. Pick something and attack it.

What if you fail? Assess whether you’ve gained anything and if you can one day reach and pass that limit. For instance, if I tried to cook a recipe, maybe it didn’t come out so well. Maybe it was a disaster. However, if I learned how to measure liquids better or gained a better appreciation for keeping on top of food under the broiler, it’s not a total disaster because I’ve improved myself.

Also, remember that a lot of times are limits are expandable. Maybe I can’t do 500 push-ups today. But what if I stayed with it? Maybe I’m at 50 today. Others have gotten to 500 and beyond. My limit today will likely not be my limit in six months if I actively work at doing push-ups.

What arbitrary limits are holding you back and what are you going to do about them?

I wrote yesterday about two businesses, one which was attracting a lot of customers, the other which wasn’t, and how the second business had put unnecessary barriers in front of its customers.

However, the tale of the two businesses, BusinessA (the one doing great) and BusinessB (the one struggling), isn’t just about barriers. There are two other things that I’ve noted that separate the two. The first of these is attitude.

When you walk into BusinessA, everyone is warm and friendly. Everyone is enthusiastic. Since both businesses work with children, having that type of atmosphere is important. BusinessA embraces it. The instructors are positive, encouraging, and seek to motivate the students who come through the door. The office staff are integral to making you feel at home. There is also a sense of investment among everyone there, to include the parents and the students themselves. Everyone in BusinessA makes a point of talking with the parents. If a student is not acting as a parent would expect, even outside of the activities, the student heres about it from the owner on down. However, the students quickly see that the folks in BusinessA are invested in their long-term success. You walk into BusinessA and you want to be a part of whatever it is they are doing.

With BusinessB, you have a colder, more formal professionalism. While the instructors are positive, comments come less often. It seems like there’s a semi-rigorous “assessment” of any new student who joins. It feels very much like you’re taking a test. The office staff is probably as good at with BusinessA, but unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like a team effort. It takes staying with BusinessB to learn how competent the instructors are with respect to the core skills they are teaching.

The differing attitudes of the two businesses definitely has an impact on their ability to attract and retain customers. What’s your attitude like? When your customer comes around needing your help, are you open and welcoming or are you colder? Worse, are you scowling and resentful?

The second thing that is different between the two businesses is the appearance of the facilities and the personnel. Both businesses teach a set of skills that require a lot of movement. Both have sufficient space to get the job done, but there are several big differences between the businesses:

  • BusinessA has high ceilings, giving a greater sense of openness.
  • BusinessA has much better lighting; brightness boosts the spirits and helps one feel safe.
  • BusinessB has a clutter around the edges of their spaces, making those spaces feel more closed in than the spaces in BusinessA.
  • BusinessA is meticulous about cleanliness, neatness, and organization. BusinessB is a clean facility, but BusinessA takes it to where you feel like you can eat off the floors.

It’s easy to dismiss appearance and say, “Appearance shouldn’t matter. Substance should.” If the world and people were perfect, perhaps we could function with this conclusion. But the reality is that we can’t.

How is your appearance? Appearance isn’t just about how you dress, for instance. It’s about any interaction between you and your customer. For instance, if you run a website, is it built such that it’s pleasing to your customer’s eyes? When you write emails, how do they come across? Think about all the ways you interface with your customer and consider how you appear.

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