Archive for the ‘work’ Category


Becoming a spoiled flier

October 12, 2011

I’m sitting at the gate in Atlanta in my lovely upgraded business class seat, and the bursar is telling us that our plane, used on trans-oceanic flights, is not equipped with wifi. She’s provided me with a wonderful moment of clarity: I have become such a spoiled flier that I just assumed I would get a couple of hours of work done with the still nearly-miraculous assistance of Internet access at 35K feet. Now I have to figure out which tasks I can still accomplish on my way to San Francisco, and which will have to wait. Just ashort while ago I never had to do this kind of digital triage. I’ve got plenty of alternatives, the things I used to do all the while flying: Kindle, Economist, The Sun magazine, and the diversions of the on-board entertainment system. But it’s hard to let go of the feeling I could be doing more this morning.


I Told Myself the Wrong Story

June 16, 2011

One of the lessons I’ve learned in both reading about and practicing meditation is that it allows me to create a space between my thoughts and how I respond to them. At a recent PQ+A workshop I taught in Seattle, I had an experience that crystallized this concept for me.

In this workshop, I noticed a woman sitting in a corner of the room who did not look like she wanted to be there. With each exercise or discussion, her expression grew darker, her scowl more furrowed, her discomfort more obvious. While I kept my own demeanor positive, inside I was angry. Why was she giving up on our workshop so early in the day? Why was she resisting the lessons in the exercises? I generalized: what’s wrong with these people who do decide they aren’t going to like a workshop no matter how good it is?

That’s when it occurred to me that I was creating an elaborate story around this woman’s expressions. So I stopped myself and put some space between the thoughts I was generating and the story I had been telling myself. Maybe there was another story–the exercises were reminding her of issues she had with a demanding manager, or she was not feeling well. Creating the space immediately calmed me, and I got my focus back onto the workshop at hand.

At lunch my problem student approached me. My first reaction: here comes a critique of my workshop, how the problem isn’t her, it’s either me or the content. Before I could create some space, she told me that she had to leave because she was having a migraine. She apologized, saying she had enjoyed the morning and felt bad that she had to leave. Suddenly I had some space–my original story was indeed wrong! I could now respond not with anger but with compassion. I asked her if she had migraines often, and she replied that while she usually did not have them often, this was her second one in a few days. “Are you feeling some stress in your life?” I asked. Her expression softened completely, and tears welled in her eyes as she nodded. I told her I was sorry to hear that, and that the best thing she could do was go home and take care of herself for the rest of the day.

Reflecting on the story I had started telling myself, I felt chastised. I had assumed it was all about me–she didn’t like my teaching–when it was about her and the pain she was feeling. I am glad that I had made enough space to let in the truth, and to respond to it with a bit of kindness. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.



May 22, 2011

I’ve never taught Precision Questioning+Answering four consecutive days. When I certify trainers to teach our workshop, we spend three days together. During the first day they take the workshop like any other participant, then we spend two days reviewing the deck and practicing. Not only are certifications only three days; they are held in the same place. This week I will teach for four days, in four cities, to four different clients.

Today is Sunday, and I am on my way to Seattle. Right now I am in a Delta Sky Club in the Atlanta airport. My tour got off to a shaky start, as my original flight to Cincinnati was delayed. Rather than spend seven hours there, and get to Seattle after 9:00 pm (midnight for my body), I’m now flying to Seattle via Salt Lake City, and I’ll arrive around 6:00 pm. So far, I feel like I am handling the disruption pretty well.

The main travel stress will come tomorrow. I’ve got a 5:50 pm flight to San Francisco, and Seattle traffic is notorious. I will need to hustle out of the workshop at Adobe and hope there are no major delays on the road. After that, I will drive to the other three workshops.

I know how tired one day of teaching makes me, so my strategies for this week are to eat as well as I can; meditate and do a bit of yoga each morning; and to go to sleep as soon as possible. Usually after I teach I head to a Starbucks and review my teaching notes from the day; grab an early dinner; and head to my hotel. I may forego the Starbucks and go to bed earlier than normal.

I need to get to my gate.


Grasping and Digging

April 10, 2011

The sun is beginning to poke through the gloom here in Minneapolis. My flight to Seattle leaves in an hour. There are currently two unassigned seats in first class. I am second on the upgrade list. For about the next 30 minutes I have an opportunity to address grasping.

A tweet-length version of Buddhism as I have come to understand it from ten years of very intermittent, more not-sitting than sitting, meditation is that there is suffering in life andcthatvour grasping for things is the primary source of that suffering. We can end our cycles of grasping by adopting practices, primarily meditation, which expose how we are grasping. If I do not get upgraded, my life will not be much worse. I have a window seat near the front of the plane. I will get on early, ensuring that my bag will make it with me. I have purchased food, so I won’t go hungry. Yet an upgrade means even earlier boarding, a comfy seat, and free food, starting with the beverage of my choice while we are still on the ground. But there is nothing I can do to determine whether I get upgraded. The only thing I can control is how I respond to getting the upgrade, or not. The source of grasping is easy to see. I am using this post to bring attention to my grasping.

Once on board I will read email. I took Friday off to travel with Vicki to DC to watch our kids perform with their high school band. We also got to celebrate Vicki’s birthday yesterday. Not once was I tempted to read email. But the email did not stop arriving in my inbox. I will address this pile of mail on the way to Seattle, so that I can spend the rest of the day preparing for tomorrow’s workshop at the Gates Foundation.

Boarding begins in five minutes. The crowd near the gate is swarming. I am trying to stay in the moment.


Beatitude Adjustment

January 30, 2011

This week’s gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes. A quick word on my Beatitude Pet Peeve: American Christians who use verse 11 (“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (NRSV)). At the time Matthew was written, many people choosing to become Christians were taking huge political risks; and today, Christians in places like India and Iraq have been killed for their faith. But I think this verse gets overplayed here in the US, where the government comfortably supports us. Having your Wal-Mart greeter say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not my idea of persecution, though it doesn’t stop some from annually claiming there’s a “war on Christmas.” Our faith should rest on stronger ground than a trumped up sense of external attack. We are safe here.

So on to the more realistic challenges I face, and I see others facing, as we do our work while trying to maintain our spiritual bearings. Based on the people I encounter as I teach PQ+A in many different places, I see verse 5 as the toughest beatitude to embrace. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” I think it’s hard for most of us to be meek at work. In our workshop we teach that there are times in our work when the most effective way to answer a question is with a great deal of conciseness. I regularly encounter resistance to this idea, and it runs along the lines of “My boss needs to know how hard I’ve been working on this,” “There’s so much more context behind a simple answer,” and “I need to justify my thinking.” There is, of course, validity to some of this, but I think that what underlies some of this response is a concern that just to answer the question takes a humility that may not be welcome. To be meek at work, in other words, might jeopardize our jobs. If we don’t defend our work, show how hard we’re working and how much we care about our work, while our peers have no such concerns, we run the risk of looking aloof, uncaring, disengaged. We don’t trust that the quality of our work alone will suffice. Aspiring to meekness feels like a recipe for disaster, but there’s Jesus, Sermonizing on that Mount, assuring us that God will bless us for it.

I know from my previous post that there are people reading this blog who are thinking about these things too. So I ask you: how do you try to be meek at work? Or is it not possible?


Breaking New Ground

January 27, 2011

I want to try something here that makes me a bit nervous. I’ve put a new subtitle on this blog: “Thoughts on work, faith, and travel.” I’m nervous because I want to write about faith and work. And that makes me nervous for two reasons. One is that I’ve had a bumpy faith life. For ten years I’ve spent some time meditating and studying Buddhism, and that has partially been because of struggles I’ve had with Christianity. I could write a few blog posts just about that process, but not now. The other reason I’m nervous is that, by saying I want to write about faith, I may be mistaken for an evangelical/fundamentalist/conservative Christian. I like to think of myself as a progressive Christian.

I could keep wavering about this, but I think it’s better just to start. I’ve bought a copy of Disciplines, published annually by The Upper Room, a Methodist publisher. It consists of short daily readings based on each week’s lectionary texts. I want to see what happens when I try to look at my work through the lens of what I read.

I’m off to a lousy start. Last night I read Psalm 15, which includes these verses (NRSV): “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? … [Those who] do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends” (v 1, 3). I was reminded of this right after I wrote a snippy email to a business acquaintance who suggested my company was not selling a product as effectively as we might. This person often communicates in this way, so I should not have been surprised, and I should not have taken the bait. My response was not openly confrontational; it was worse. While sounding fairly polite I made it clear that I did not agree with his critique. It’s this passive/aggressive, smiling-while-I-say-how-wrong-you-are tone that is “doing evil to a friend.” Based on past experience, I expect this person will apologize in his next email. But really, if I’d reread the psalm before hitting the send button, I think I would have been less sharp. Fortunately the day is young and I’ll have more opportunities to practice.


Train Drain

January 9, 2011

One of the many things I like about my work as a trainer is that I always know I’ve given my all because I’m so tired at the end of a teaching day. My trainer friend Danny Ryan calls that feeling the “train drain.” I can be feeling great with an hour to go in the workshop, and start to think about the work I might get done once I’m back at the hotel … and an hour later I’m struggling to put the key in the ignition. The one thing that pushes me through this kind of fatigue is that I usually spoil myself with something at Starbucks after I teach. But even some caffeine and a quick check of email isn’t enough to give me a second wind; from Starbucks it’s usually a quick dinner and then back to the hotel. I’ll call home and talk with Vicki and the kids before succumbing to ESPN or MSNBC as my head hits the pillow.

The train drain was extra strong this week. I’ve been in Wiesbaden, outside Frankfurt, leading four trainers through the three-day process to get certified to teach our Precision Questioning+Answering workshop. One of our international affiliate partners is headquartered in Wiesbaden. I arrived Wednesday morning after taking a red-eye from Detroit, and got into my room early. I knew better than to sleep away the afternoon; the travel websites tell you to get outside to get your body onto the local circadian rhythms. But the weather was cold and rainy, so I slept for a couple of hours and then worked near the large windows in my room, curtains drawn open to maximize the light.

It didn’t work. That first night I fell asleep around 9:30 and woke up at 2:30 and slept only another half hour the rest of the night. The second night the training group ate together and, in typical European style, dinner went from 7:00 to 10:00. It was 11:00 by the time I went to bed, and I figured I was now on local time. Instead, I was up at 2:30 again, and I had no headache, so I couldn’t blame it on the wine or Venezuelan rum I’d had at dinner (it was a Latin American restaurant). It was 4:30 before I fell back to sleep. As any parent of a newborn will tell you, two half-nights of sleep never equals a whole night’s rest. The train drain was very strong after that second day of training, which ended at our partner’s offices with champagne (it was one woman’s last day of work) and a meeting. I managed to stay up, though, because I wanted to talk with my Vervago colleagues on our daily check-in (held at 9:00 pm Wiesbaden time) and because I want to finish Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia before I get there Monday. Friday night was my best night’s sleep yet, but teaching three straight days—and this day included making decisions about who should be certified—meant the train drain was like a mighty locomotive running through my head. No Starbucks this time—I’ve been pounding cappuccinos and lattes all week, and needed a break from coffee—but got my boost from one of my training colleagues, who said I was the best certification trainer he’d ever worked with. Since he’s been going to certifications for two decades and running them himself for more than one, his praise stunned me as it lifted me back to my room for calls home and more Travels. That’s what makes the train drain both emptying and satisfying at the same time.

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