Recently I was reminded of that old interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I think more appropriately in today’s fast paced world a lot of people might be more inclined to be able to answer “Where do you see yourself in two years?” Or maybe even just one. These days I am such a person.
When I was younger, I always was thinking about the long range plan. When I was 15 I had already determined that high school seemed like a waste of time and I wanted to graduate from college before I was 21. I over achieved and I graduated a month before my 20th birthday. By the time I was 26 I had already made up my mind that by the time I was 40 I would have saved and invested enough money to be able to retire if I wanted to. I didn’t quite manage that, a diversion into some expensive automobiles and a second home (oops!) delayed that to 45. Strangely I still don’t like the word retired. I prefer saying that I am on sabbatical until something interesting catches my eye and then I’ll work at that for a while. I’ve already gone back to consulting work once in the last 2 years and I suspect I will do it again at some point. I like it because it keeps me sharp and it enables me to learn new things. All through my career I had my eye on the next skill to learn or the next position (or even two) to work my way into to broaden my abilities. Sometimes I climbed the ladder, other times I made lateral or even “lifestyle” changes. Almost all changes were planned, but of course they never turned out exactly the way I envisioned them. Par for the course in life I suspect.
From a personal perspective I’m pretty confused about planning right now. The person I was planning to spend my time with is gone. I don’t know if I will stay single forever or if I will find someone new at some point in my life. I think that I would like to, I enjoyed being married and except for some of the usual bumps in the road my marriage was pretty happy for a very long time. Who knows what cards of fate will be dealt for me going forward. You can’t plan to meet someone. Sometimes I think these things are very random.
When Jim died I told myself that I wouldn’t make any rash decisions for an entire year. Now, six months have almost gone by and I still am doing my best to continue to bide my time. Deep in my heart I know that I have to sell the beach house and move someplace more sustainable. That has led me to prepare it for sale. I don’t know when it will happen, probably as the market recovers even more. But, when the time is right, I will be ready. I just have absolutely no idea where I will be going.
All of these renovation projects were done with that end goal in mind. Need pretty curb appeal? Landscaping is done. Old unreliable refrigerator? Replaced with fancy built in one that uses a fraction of the electricity. Nasty carpet on the staircase? Replaced with hardwoods. Ugly laundry room with bi-fold doors that stick and leave a bad impression? Completely revamped with a pocket door and a new laundry sink. Now, truthfully, I’ve been eyeing these items for years. I knew that making these changes would also make me happy for as long as I decide to stay here. Now that the house is pretty much where I want it to be, I have to start doing the heavy lifting to figure out where *I* want to be. That is much harder.
Somedays I think that I should just let the winds of fate do with me what they will. I’ve been buffeted by them in the past and I learned that I can’t fight them, I just have to ride them and see where they take me. There are some things that I can do though. Things that I can strive to do or strive to be that don’t really depend on my circumstances.
- I will always look for the good in people and realize we’re all trying to do our best.
- I will spend as much time as possible with the people that I care about and make sure not to lose contact with those important people in my life.
- I will love myself. I’ll eat healthy, continue to exercise, reduce my stress and so on.
- I will find the humor in the unexpected things in life rather than the frustration.
- I will continue to learn new things and keep my mind open to new or different ideas and opinions.
- I will find ways to add a sense of adventure and fun to my life as often as possible.
It’s not the best 5 year plan out there, but it is all mine.
I always find it extraordinary when I meet someone who is overwhelmed by passion for their favorite interest or sport. I’ve always been sort of scatter brained in this regard. I’m interested in a lot of things, but I never really go whole hog on any one thing.
A while ago I was looking for a place to donate some old mountain bikes so that they didn’t end up in the landfill. I decided to contact Cape Fear SORBA (Southern Off Road Biking Association) that is based in the Wilmington area. I was contacted by their communications director and we struck up an e-mail and text message conversation about mountain biking and he also put me in contact with a cool charity that does bike repair clinics for kids in poor neighborhoods.
Not only that, Don managed to convince me to get back on my mountain bike. Since I was not familiar with any of the trails in this area he said that he would give me a tour of Brunswick Nature Park. I’ve never had anyone offer to give me a personal tour of new trails (to me) and I thought that was really nice of him. He said that was one of the things that he enjoys doing most in his role in communications.
On Labor Day Don and I rode the entire trail system at Brunswick Nature Park, chatting the entire way. I did ok – considering I haven’t been on a bike in 2 years and haven’t been on single track in much much longer. I made all of the climbs and I didn’t hit any trees or take any falls. Whew! After our morning together on the trail I totally get why he is known as The Trail Mayor. That is exactly what he is! He is so passionate about mountain biking and sharing his knowledge of the local trail system that he took time out on a holiday that he could have spent with his family and went out biking with me. I continue to be amazed by the people that I meet on my journey through life. AWESOME!
My mother grew up in a small town in Hungary that at one time was in Yugoslavia and now I believe it is part of Serbia. They were part of a small German community known as the Donauschwaben. They didn’t have much, but they had each other. My grandparents, my mom, and my uncle lived with my mother’s grandmother and they tended their fields. My grandfather was a cooper – a wine barrel maker. He also was a horseman, and he loved the animals tremendously. As a young girl I was completely horse crazy and I think that I inherited that from him. He always used to scheme to get my parents to move back to Germany by promising that he would buy me a horse if they did. I loved my opa. Out of all of my grandparents he was by far and away my favorite.
During World War II the German Army came to town and as a German citizen my grandfather was conscripted into the German Army. I always got the feeling that this was not by choice. Soon thereafter he was sent to the Russian front. The Russian front was a terrible place for a wine barrel maker to be and eventually he was captured and ended up in a Russian war prison. This sounds terrible, but by and large he was one of the lucky ones.
While my grandfather was fighting in the war, the Hungarians decided that they would oust all of the Germans from the country and send them back to Germany. Entire communities of the Donauschwaben were forced to pack up what they could carry on their person or in horse drawn wagons. Their homes and land were given away to Hungarians. My mother’s family, led by my grandmother were German refuges in a Europe that did not like the Germans one bit. What happened to them is another story, and the telling will wait for another time. Eventually they found their way to a small German town in the Rhein river wine growing region.
My grandfather through his pluck and ability to speak fluent Hungarian (which was close enough to Russian to be understood) became a translator between the prisoners and the Russian guards. This provided him a measure of security compared to the other prisoners. His skills were valued. When the war was over, he was released and he needed to figure out what happened to his family. He knew that he had to get to Germany eventually so he started walking.
My mother had an old great aunt who was a nun in a convent. Since she was cloistered and not required to migrate or fight she became the hub of all family related communication. As people in the family settled in Germany, they would send word to her via post and she would forward on the information to other family members who were looking for them. I can’t imagine how long it took for this to happen after the war, because Germany was completely destroyed. It is a miracle that people found each other again.
Over the months my grandfather learned from the nun the whereabouts of his wife and his children. My grandfather WALKED home to the family he loved so much from Russia.
You would think that all of this suffering would have made my opa a bitter and miserable old man. Not true. He lived his life with gusto. He loved his family, his wine, his horses and most of all his life. I wish that I would have had more time to spend with him. He truly was an inspiration to me and his story has become a legend in my family.
We’ve been in our house for 3 weeks now. You’d think that would be enough to get the house in order, but unfortunately I am sitting in a living room full of hardwood flooring boxes, miscellaneous boxes that haven’t been unpacked yet, a queen sized mattress and only two chairs. Huh. The weather has been beautiful, but I haven’t made it out onto the beach to enjoy it either. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. Well, at least I have cable TV, internet, and a sangria in my hand. Beggars can’t be choosers.
It gets worse. I’m still living out of the same duffle bag worth of clothing that I brought to our temporary living quarters. My dresser has not made it out of storage yet (not accessible) so there is no point in bringing the boxes of clothing to the house either.
Sadly, that’s not the half of it. I sold our old stove the weekend Irene hit North Carolina and my new stove is who the hell knows where. Cooking has become quite an adventure. If it can’t be made in an electric skillet, toaster oven, or microwave we ain’t eating it. It’s almost like camping, but there aren’t as many bugs. Well, except for the fruit flies that came with a bunch of bananas that I haven’t been able to get rid of. I digress. At least there is air conditioning.
Ok, so it isn’t all THAT bad. It’s a labor of love turning a house into a real home. The cheapo “rental” washer and dryer have been sold and replaced with my efficient front loader pair (that was a bitch to get up the stairs!). My new Bosch dishwasher arrived and is installed (thanks Honey!) and humming along oh so quietly. The under cabinet microwave was removed, the tile work has been completed and the new stainless steel hood has been plumbed and installed (thanks AGAIN Honey!). Most of my kitchen implements have been found and have been put into their respective places. Heck, the bar is even setup. Kitchen and bathroom floors have been cleaned and bleached. The garage is in pretty good shape. The master bedroom, bath, and office have been painted and mostly setup. We are even sleeping on our preferred mattress(YAY!) although there were a few trying nights in bunk beds(@#$#%!!!).
Now we’re focusing on the guest bedrooms. First step – hardwood flooring and fresh paint (ok, that’s two steps). The Oyster Festival is coming up in mid-October and we need to be ready for a party weekend by then. We have a bunch of friends ready to come visit. 5 week countdown. If the last 3 weeks are any indication, it’s going to be tight. So far only 1/2 of one bedroom floor has hardwood floors installed. We bought prefinished floors (Mullican – so far GORGEOUS!) and we (I use that word loosely – I have been hiding in the office so far) are installing them ourselves. It looks like it will take about 6 days per guest room and we have 4 of them. That’s 24 out of 35 days. One day to rip up the skanky old carpeting and moulding. One day to paint the ceiling and put down the felt paper. Two days (hopefully) to install the hardwoods. One day to install the moulding and paint it and last but not least, one day to paint the walls and move in the furniture. Luckily there are two of us and we can overlap on the rooms. My job, as always, is paint.
On a morbidly bright note… since my dad has been in assisted living I’ve been the protector of mom’s ashes. I’m pleased to say that she (as well as my first cat Moo) have made it out of storage. Is that sick or what?
Well, the weather has taken a turn for the better around here. It’s been warm, it’s been sunny, and the trees are dropping pollen like nobody’s business. I’ve enjoyed playing hooky in the yard for the better part of the last two weeks. After a long, unseasonably cold and dark winter there is nothing like being able to do some Spring cleaning in my garden. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but when it comes to Spring-time I’m all about getting things ship-shape in my house, my personal life, and at work. Things to put on the todo list:
- Blow out the cobwebs – In the garden this means cranking up the gas backpack blower and removing the remaining leaves out from the shrubs (hence the smell of two-stroke). In my personal life it means kicking up my exercise program a notch and getting outside for long walks and runs when the weather is good. At work it typically means clearing out my desk of old projects and responsibilities that are hanging around.
- Get my hands dirty – In the garden I’ll be pulling the netting off the pond and clearing out the dead plants and other winter debris. In my personal life I’ll be looking at all the little things I’ve been procrastinating about over the winter. At work it means that it is time to pick up a new skill or hone an existing one.
- Use my imagination – In the garden it’s time for planting the early vegetables and for rearranging the landscape. In my personal life it’s time to plan my next vacation. At work, it’s time to brainstorm new project ideas.
What does Spring make you want to do?
I’m still thinking about that last book I reviewed. One of the other questions is something like – are you willing to pay the cost of your dream? Most people don’t even think about the cost of their dreams. Even small dreams have a cost. Big dreams have a huge cost. You need to know what it is, and if you’re willing to pay it.
One of my dreams is to own my own business. I vacillate between a high tech business and one that is not. There are benefits and detriments to both. I’ll touch on the non-high tech options a bit. There are a lot of costs. Here are but a few.
- Loss of salary – ok – I’m already there, starting a business now doesn’t mean I will lose anything. However I might delay how long it takes to get back to a good salary.
- Loss of identity – I’ve lived and breathed high tech my entire career. It is part of who I am. That would be gone. This one really hurts. I have a strong resume and I would be turning my back on it.
- Loss of stability – I’ve always had a “job” working for someone else. This is all up to me!
- Loss of expertise – Time to learn something new – and not be an expert anymore.
- Closing a door – Once you leave high tech, it is almost impossible to get back into it because the technology changes so quickly. Is it worth it?
What’s the cost of your dream? Do you think it is worth it? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Unlike a lot of folks, I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I typically address issues as I go throughout the year – it’s easier that way – at least it is for me. I’d rather quietly make small changes in my life on an ongoing basis than try to do a big bang, make a lot of noise and fail. Besides, I already eat pretty well, I work out 5-6 times a week, and I floss my teeth regularly. After about 10 years of effort to make many small changes in these areas I’ve got most of the typical resolutions covered.
However, that strategy isn’t a lot of fun to blog about this time of year. BORING. There is one new thing that I have been working on lately – I started it the week after Christmas and I found that it is helping me get more focused on the things that I want to do with my life going forward. I’ve decided to make a list of my 100 dreams. You might call it a bucket list, but I’d rather be more positive than that. As I cross items off the list I plan to add new items to it. These are things big and small that I want to accomplish in my life. The big ones were easy. I want to be financially secure, I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, I want to climb Machu Picchu, and I want to run a successful company. These are things that will take time and a bit of planning. Just putting them on the list gives me permission to start the investigative phase. How? When? Where? What skills and resources (time, people, money, equipment) do I need to collect first?
I’ve come up with 31 out of 100 so far, and I am turning over rocks for some of the smaller ones. Some of the smaller ones are subgoals of the large ones. Some are just things that I want to be able to do. I’d like to be able to deadlift 200lbs. I’m probably not that far off on that one, just been lazy. I need to learn how to roll my kayak at some point. I would like to have a successful vegetable garden – so far I’ve had dismal failures. This time my plan includes getting my soil tested by the agricultural division at NC State.
From a blogging perspective I have a lot of ideas. The biggest thing that I plan to do is to get more involved with other bloggers. I’ve signed up on blogher (women bloggers), I’ve guest blogged for The Mad Peacock Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough. Very exciting – my first guest blog!
I’m also putting out a request for guest bloggers on my site. Do you have something that you want to say about leadership?
Continuing on my book review binge – today I’ll talk about “The Inspiring Leader” by Zenger & Folkman. This is a followup book to their Extraordinary Leader tome that I recently read. I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed by this book. On the whole, it wasn’t bad, but it was very predictable. There was really nothing in it that made me go “AH HA! That’s the key!” I found it to all be common sense and many of the studies and literature that they referenced were things that I have already read. I do think that this book has value, especially for someone who hasn’t been in the management trenches for a long time or for someone who really isn’t big on reading management theory or self-help books in this area. It’s a good concise read that gathers a lot of loose ends together.
I do think that one thing really bears repeating. Extensive studies show that positive communication is critical to high performing teams. As in marriages, the ratio of positive comments (approval, praise, support, compliments etc) to negative ones was one of the highest predictors of success or failure for a team effort. The best performing teams received positive-negative feedback in a 5-1 ratio. The worst performing teams received 1 positive for every 3 negative comments. As a leader you have a lot of control over that. You set the stage. You are the role model that the team follows.
Have you ever worked for a leader who was critical of everything that you did? I have. That sure didn’t make me want to work harder because it really didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong, bad, not good enough. Maybe I am a little sensitive, but it made me want to curl up into a ball and go into protective/defensive mode. On the other hand, when I had a leader who recognized the difficult things that I did, or pointed out specific – very concrete – behaviors and accomplishments that they appreciated I would double my effort to help them be successful.
Another thing that I thought was valuable and too infrequently used is leader visibility. If you want to drive certain behaviors in your company you need to walk the talk and you need people to see that you do that. There should be no double standards for you versus them. Hold all hands meetings and be transparent to your employees. Allow them to interact with you and answer the tough questions honestly, don’t dance around issues. Practice management by walking around. Talk to your employees, show and interest in what they are doing, ask how they are. If your organization is divided across multiple locations – visit – FREQUENTLY. Out of sight = out of mind. A visit from a leader can have a strong positive motivational impact. Of course this depends highly on the leader’s behavior while in the remote office. Even though you are the leader, you are still a guest in that office. Show up on time based on the local conventions – do not force the entire office to bend to your whims and time frames when you are there. Be a true role model.
My book commentary continues this week. You may be wondering what is going on with this… Well, after years of not living close to a public library I discovered one right next to my veterinarian. It’s not that convenient, but its not that far either. I picked up 5 books that I thought I could finish before their due date. It seems that I bit off a little more than I can chew, but never being one to give up – and refusing to succumb to “online renewal” I am plowing through. I am finally reading some classic business books (and some new ones too) that I just haven’t had the time for. This installment features “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
This book gets my dander up for a lot of different reasons. Some are logical and some are a little irrational. My first issue with the book is that the world has changed so much since it was published. (2001) I like the concepts and all, but when I am reading about Fannie Mae, Nucor, and Wells Fargo as great companies there’s this little voice in the back of my mind saying “these guys all *screwed* up – does this research make ANY sense anymore???” Funny thing is that in the Epilogue the author addresses questions about his research. This was one of the questions – what about the companies that aren’t so great anymore? He acknowledges that it never is easy for companies to stay great and sometimes leaders let their egos get involved to cause this. I wish he would have put this in an introduction instead. That would have made reading this book a lot more pleasurable for me.
This book is also going to make me revisit my “Are you a hedgehog or a fox” post at some time. Clearly I need to do more research in this area because when it comes to leading a great company, being a hedgehog (albeit in a slightly different context than my previous post) is a GOOD thing. Companies who are singlemindedly driven toward a goal they are passionate about and that they can be the best at in the world are successful. None of that namby pamby running from idea to idea trying to jump start success happens in great companies. This hit home for me and it made me really angry. I’ve worked for those companies (more than one!) that tried to buy success in this way. What they ended up doing was frittering away millions of dollars of money that could have been used to build what they were really strong at and had people that were passionate about(and actually could be very successful selling). Instead, their leadership went on a huge ego trip and there was a flavor of the week idea that had to be implemented “now”! Talk about crazy.
The final thing that I appreciated is the concept of a Level 5 leader. We surely could use more of them running our companies in this country. Humble, modest, “we” focused, not “I” focused, has a goal of being the best, driven to succeed. This leader is not your charismatic leader. They don’t have to be. Their job isn’t to motivate their staff, but to make sure that they have the right people in the company who are willing to confront the circumstances – “the brutal facts” – and work to be successful despite of them.
“Now, you might be wondering, “How do you motivate people with brutal facts? Doesn’t motivation flow chiefly from a compelling vision?” The answer, surprisingly, is, “No.” Not because vision is unimportant, but because expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time. One of the dominant themes that runs throughout this book is that if you successfully implement its findings, you will not need to spend time and energy “motivating” people. If you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated. The real question then becomes: How do you manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people? And one of the single most de-motivating actions you can take is to hold out false hopes, soon to be swept away by events.” Amen brother.