Some Pictures From My Phone This Week

Wanting to make a blog post, not sure what to write about. Here are some pictures I took over the last week.


Oh, man! Got these yesterday. They are great! Ashley says we’d had them before, but I’m pretty sure I’d remember.

I’m a big fan of Lay’s dill pickle chips as well as most jalapeño chips. These sort of combine what’s good about those flavors.

The first taste was amazing. I savored the next several chips and just kept eating. Noticed after eating about a third of the bag they weren’t tasting as great. There wasn’t anything different about the chips deeper in the bag, I’d just had so many I suppose my tastebuds had acclimated so I wasn’t experiencing that fresh, new flavor. I was also by that point crunching my way through the bag somewhat mindlessly. There is certainly a lesson or two there.

Food again. We had some andouille sausage I didn’t totally use when I made jambalaya last week. Added it to some blackeye peas with diced tomatoes and chilies, and threw in some leftover spinach leaves.

Made me happy for a few reasons. First, I cooked this up in the morning so Ashley would have a dinner option she could just hear up when she got home (I was working that night and wouldn’t be home for dinner). Second, I love using up leftovers and clearing stuff out if the fridge and pantry. Third, it smelled and tasted great!

We got new chairs at work. Might seem like a good thing, but it made a lot of folks mad. Goes to show you what a difference perspective makes. I like the upholstery pattern, though. Also, there is supposedly soy in the cushions because the manufacturer is committed to reducing the use of petroleum based materials.


Whoo-hoo! Maybe the most exciting thing this week — I got a new car stereo! Thank you, Ashley!

I’ve needed one for a couple of years now. Still had the original, 15 year old factory-installed unit, and it had been giving me trouble for a long time. It had got to the point where it wouldn’t play CDs or even eject them.

This new one does have a CD player, but also finally gives me modern options to connect my phone or other devices to play digital files. That’s how I was playing Al B. Sure’s “Off On Your Own (Girl)” as you’ll notice in the picture. Yay, Bluetooth!

This new stereo makes me happy and excited to be in the car. I can’t adequately express the amount of joy it gives me. It’s funny how long I dealt with the messed up CD player I had, especially when it was fairly easy to replace. Another lesson to apply to life.

Oh, and I did install the stereo myself. Not only did that save a bit of cash, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride.


You’ll almost always find a new picture of this guy on my phone. I love my buddy. This was after a walk. It’s so hot these days, he actually appreciates coming in and resting on the cool tile. So grateful for our good air conditioning!

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

What I Don’t Know About My Shining Moment

This is a totally true story.

I was driving to band practice one day, thinking about our stage setup. We’d discussed wanting to add to our visuals onstage, and a backdrop had been mentioned specifically.

We were practicing at Mitch’s house, which was pretty remote in Union County, outside of Monroe. I was taking a slightly different route for a reason I can’t remember. Probably bad traffic on Highway 74. At any rate, I was on a road I hadn’t been on before, out in the country.

I was running through different ideas for a backdrop and stage set, everything from a banner with the band logo on it to assorted hardware and mechanical assemblages. We considered ourselves an “art rock” group, and kind of liked being weird. We also considered ourselves poor, and our resources were extremely limited.

Used to being crafty out of necessity, I suddenly had the idea that we could use a Twister mat — you know, from the game — as a banner hung behind the band. I hadn’t actually seen one in a few years, but my recollection was that it would be big enough and the simple design — big circles of different colors evenly spaced — would hit several aesthetic buttons, as well as some nostalgic ones. In my mind, it kind of fit with part of our band image, which was one of 70s sci-fi fans making android cowboy music in a basement.

Guess you had to be there.

Holster-nessie-sticker-blac
Our Nessie-fied logo

So I’m thinking about this idea, figuring I could pick up a Twister game at Target or, even better, a thrift store or yard sale, driving on this country road all alone, when I notice something in the road a half mile or so ahead. Closer I get, it looks like maybe some roadkill. Kind of big though.

I get closer… closer… pull in the opposite lane to avoid it (there wasn’t any other traffic out there), and just as I drive get next to the lump I realize what it is.

Right. A loose, kinda balled up Twister mat.

In the middle of the road. The remote, unoccupied, no houses anywhere nearby country road.

I drove about a mile farther. Came to a stop sign where the road I had been on ended. I thought about it for a second, then turned around, went back to the Twister mat, and stopped. Still no other cars.

Swear to God, it felt like I was in a Stephen King movie.

Got out, looked all around the area, then walked over to the mat.Afraid maybe there was something wrapped up in it, a puppy or kitten or human head someone no longer wanted, I cautiously picked it up.

There wasn’t anything else in it or around it. Just the playmat. I shook it out, let it flap in the breeze for a sec, looked around again for anyone it might belong to. Folded up the vinyl, put it in my trunk, and continued on my way to band practice.

I’ve experienced some weird shit before, but this is still one of the weirdest.

I don’t know if I had a premonition about the Twister mat or if I somehow willed it into existence. Might have thought I’d imagined or hallucinated the whole thing if I didn’t actually have a slightly dirty Twister mat in the trunk of my car. Had God for some reason chosen THAT silent wish for a Milton Bradley game accessory as my prayer to answer? I’ve heard He does move in mysterious ways. Never reckoned it was that kind of mysterious.

We never did utilize the mat on stage. I think the other guys weren’t into the idea so much. Although we didn’t create anything to set up behind us, I did get to smash and throw a couple dozen marshmallow Peeps at the audience a little while later. Maybe I’ll tell you about that one sometime too.

IMG_2376
It exists. Still. Picture taken today, May 27, 2016, of my (dirty) car trunk.

 

What I Don’t Know About Earworms and Subliminal Influence

If you don’t think you can be influenced by things in your environment you don’t pay attention to, let me ask you: have you ever had an earworm — a song stuck replaying in your mind? Sure you have. And have you wondered why that song? Have you ever had one that wouldn’t stop repeating that you don’t even like?

I found myself the victim of that this morning. Caught myself mentally humming a song I hear overhead at work, one I don’t like at all. I’m not even sure what the song is or who performs it. All I know about it is it’s outside my taste range. Bad enough I have to hear it at the workplace; why in the world is my own brain torturing me with the melody today?

Even though I didn’t think the mystery song had made an impression on me, and even though I very much don’t want it to stay with me, evidently I’ve heard it enough that it did.

So what other background noise are we absorbing throughout each day that can sneak up on us later?

Evaluating conversations and input when we’re actively listening takes effort and skill. What about when we aren’t so aware of what we’re hearing?

140207_2723903_Weekend_Update_Segment___Kevin_Nealon_as_Mr__anvver_2

Psychologists have been aware of subliminal effects on behavior since the 19th century. There is a wealth of proof that incidental exposure to images, phrases, and sounds have an influence on mood, thinking, and our actions. Concerned? Don’t get too worried yet.

As in most things, awareness is your greatest asset. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the greater you ability to react in a positive, healthy manner. And even though we’re ironically addressing stuff that’s by nature difficult to be aware of, knowing there’s the possibility of picking up signals you might not want in your psyche gives you great advantages. You can be prepared.

There are (at least) two things that should encourage you:

First, although some unrecognized messages can find their way to you, nothing has greater control on you than YOU and your mental strength. As in other aspects of dealing with life, you choose how you behave, react, and perform. Outside stimuli shouldn’t be ignored, but your attitude toward them is your own to develop.

Second, with the knowledge that subtle triggers can affect you, you can arrange for positive subconscious cues to help you remain strong, healthy, and happy. Put the psychology to work for yourself. Reinforce good thoughts, beneficial emotions, inspiring ideas, happy memories, and encouraging targets that motivate the best in you.

For example, where I work I have to use several passwords to access systems and applications numerous times each day. While adhering to good security practices, I make make my passwords some sort of positive message to myself — variations on “PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) all day,” for instance. So every time I nearly mindlessly type in the password, I get a tiny reminder to keep the chin up. Believe it or not, even doing it as long as I have, the little phrases hidden in my passcodes still often spur a good pause and smile. And the smile itself serves as a reinforcement to happiness.

Other folks have recommended setting reminders on your phone or other device to alert you periodically. Set messages to yourself like “you’re awesome” or “remember to be grateful” that you’ll see a few times a day. If you can’t count on anyone else, you can at least be your own cheerful coach.

Obviously, the more you can structure your environment to prevent unpleasant signals and exude beneficial ones, the better. When in situations where that’s limited or not possible, there are still steps you can take to prime your subconscious the way you want.

Remember, you may not always have control of your environment, but you do always have control of yourself.

Two more suggestions:

1. Watch and carefully choose your own language. Keep it positive. Not only will that broadcast good vibes for other people in your area, but it effects you as well. The concentration and attention to selecting verbiage increases your awareness of all the communication occurring at the time, not just what you’re saying. Also, your voice is the one you hear loudest, and if you speak consciously, you effectively “hear” the words twice — once as you prepare to say them and then again as their spoken out loud.

2. Allow yourself moments of reflection throughout the day. Doesn’t have to be full out meditation, although that’s certainly optimal. A simple few seconds to objectively recognize where you are and what you’re doing is all it takes. Awareness is an asset, remember? Take a pause, ask yourself whether your behavior has been what you want it to be? Are you being true to your best self?

You might realize in these moments how things or people you’ve come in contact with during the day have influenced you. Might give you cause to be grateful, which is great! Might reveal an opportunity to correct the path on which your day has turned. That’s also great. And you might find that nothing has interfered with you achieving all the things you want. In that case the self check-in gives you a great opportunity to high-five yourself!

Lastly, remember there are lots of good messages we pick up without realizing it, too. Don’t shut yourself off from all outside stimuli. Be open to new messages. You never know where your next favorite song will come from.

 

on-hold-and-overhead-music-for-business-2-638

On the Other Hand, Maybe Don’t be Like Taco Bell

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a lesson I learned from Taco Bell. Following their lead, I encouraged readers to give lots of extra sauce, more than they might think people need, whenever serving other people. The extra sauce was a metaphor for added value. Most people will happily deliver on expectations; distinguish yourself and heighten your own satisfaction by OVERdelivering.

On the other hand, there’s something else I’ve learned from my (too frequent) visits to Taco Bell:

Don’t call something SUPREME just because you put some sour cream on it.

Okay, sure, they also add tomatoes. Still, this seems surprisingly in contrast with the generous sauce packets policy.

Yes, Taco Supreme IS different from the regular taco. Yes, it IS more delicious. And yes, the price difference really isn’t that much. But ‘supreme’?

Supreme should be SUPREME! None better! The Ultimate! Does adding just a couple of ingredients really qualify? In this case, The Bell is demonstrating the problem with overpromising.

When you present your work to others, it’s best to be honest. With yourself as well as your audience. Misrepresentation will inevitably only lead to disappointment.

Being honest with yourself might be more challenging than accurately laying things out for other people. Pride, hubris, and plain excitement can make us overestimate our accomplishments. If you put tons of effort into a project you rightly want to make sure it’s recognized as having value. It’s important, however, to be careful not to overvalue what you’ve done.

Carefully consider your offerings before you describe, publicize, promote, or market them. Analyze yourself and your work as objectively as possible. If you have trouble with that, get help and opinions from people you trust.

Telling the world, in essence, a result was the best you could do — “it’s supreme!” — can lower expectations of your future work. It can make you appear dishonest, arrogant, or unrealistic.

Honesty does mean taking credit when you DO create something extraordinary. By no means play down or minimize your work when it is far and above the average. If it IS supreme, let the world know! If you’ve been careful to not cry wolf (or taco), they’ll believe you.

 

What I Don’t Know About Lasers and Prisms

Focus and prioritization appear to be hot topics in popular media right now. Isn’t it interesting how we still need reminders about subjects long accepted as principles of success?

The knowledge that multitasking is contrary to effectiveness is no secret, yet many people continue to operate as if they are somehow the exception to the rule. Kind of like how we all know overly processed fatty foods aren’t the healthiest choice, but we rationalize our fast food purchases as being an exception to our supposedly wiser normal eating behaviors. All three times we do it during the week.

As Brendon Burchard says, “common sense is not common practice.”

Attempted multitasking and being busy for the sake of being active as opposed to working exclusively toward a defined goal might cast illusions of productivity, but, as illusions, they aren’t real. Like oasis mirages in the desert, they won’t end up helping you survive, no matter how good they might look.

Thinking of illusions and seeing things, consider this: lasers and prisms both manipulate energy (light), but the way in which they do so is dramatically different. So are the results. Practically opposite.

This is such an obvious metaphor I’m certain thousands of coaches and instructors have utilized it. It’s a good one, though, and worthwhile. And since it seems we could use reminders,  lets’s go over it again.

A laser amplifies light by focusing it tightly. It creates a highly focused, direct, powerful beam with awesome capabilities. A prism, on the other hand, refracts light. It bends and spreads the light’s wavelengths, creating a spectrum of color. It’s pretty to look at; it can make an interesting display that captures attention because of all the different colors. Each color, though, has only part of the energy the beam of light entering the prism has.

ingress-vs-egress

We all have the ability and the choice to likewise use our personal energy. When we want to accomplish something, we can either concentrate our effort — focus — to be powerful like a laser beam, or we can spread our internal resources broadly… and create the opposite effect.

We didn’t get to play with lasers when I was in grade school (what a shame), but we did have magnifying glasses. Same idea on a simpler scale. We’ve all used a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight and burn something, right? That doesn’t happen when the same sunlight goes through a prism. You won’t be setting any fires with your energy spread out.

When you have a goal, you’re likely to accomplish it quicker, with greater impact, by tightening your focus. Move toward that one goal directly. The shortest distance between two points is, after all, a straight line.

We’re all faced with having multiple goals, though, aren’t we?

Probably not. Not as many important ones — the “needle movers,” as Christine Comaford-Lynch calls them — anyway.

You might have many interests, you might have several good ideas you’d like to pursue, but trying to address them all at the same time can lead to frustration. Which of those ideas are going to make the greatest impact? On you, your mission, or the world? Whatever the scope of your endeavors, analyzing your options to direct your energy toward one at a time is likely to increase your effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

A multitude of great thought leaders have addressed the necessity to prioritize and narrow focus. Recently, Greg McKeown coined the term Essentialism for the discipline of “making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.” Identify and eliminate the trivial for the sake of doing what’s vital.

Consider your work. What keeps you busy, and what actually matters? Are they the same? Even close?

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule. It’s generally acknowledged that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Read the other way around, 80% of what most of us are doing is ineffective, inessential, or, at best, not immediately bearing fruit.

Do you really want to spend the greatest percentage of your living and working hours NOT moving toward goals?

What’s the fix? Self-awareness. Analysis. Clear goal setting and defined actionable steps. Review the tasks ahead of you, the things on your to-do list. Are they important and necessary? Will they propel you in a positive direction? If they meet that criteria, prioritize them by recognizing which are MOST likely to have the GREATEST impact on helping you achieve your goals. Then get to work, and dedicate your best energy toward completing them without distraction.

It’s not always an easy exercise, but it always — ALWAYS — pays off.

By the way, do you know what the term in physics is for the process in which lasers create laser beams? Coherence. So by contrast a prismatic display not only lacks focus, it’s… incoherent.

Really helps to make the point, right?

Real-Genius1-300x143

What I Don’t Know About Being Like the Bell

Ashley and I made a late night stop at the Taco Bell drive-through, as one does after going to see Duran Duran and Chic in concert. Or any concert.

Always looking to turn every experience into a learning one, the quick trip to Taco Bell got me thinking:

In your interactions with people, especially when you are in service to them, be like Taco Bell. Give them more sauce than you think they’ll need.

I don’t know if it’s true for every area, but around here, if you say you want sauce Taco Bell gives you a whole bunch of it. We always have more than we need, and that’s with me sometimes using two or even three on an individual taco. We keep what we don’t use right away and pretty much always have some packets in the fridge. It’s not often, but I have used some on other food at home.

When someone comes to you for something, I suggest you give them more than they ask for. More attention. More time. More effort. Surprise them with your willingness to casually provide more help than they might expect. Don’t limit your output to the bare basics of what you believe will satisfy them. Give a little extra.

I see this applying especially to business, but definitely not only.

This is something highly successful people do. Extremely successful businesses as well.

A customer interaction in which the consumer needs a product or service and is provided exactly what they ask for is perfectly satisfactory. But is it memorable? Does it inspire the customer to tell others, to keep the business top of mind, or to even return?

Consistent good service can lead to customer loyalty, certainly. Might exceeding expectations do better at creating fans?

It’s been said before (and was even repeated just yesterday at my workplace) that successful businesses don’t sell products or services, they sell experiences. I submit that an abundant sauce experience is better than a one-packet experience.

Considering Taco Bell’s policy of generous condiment delivery, I can’t help comparing it to the experience at other fast food drive-throughs. Most don’t even ask, as they do at Taco Bell, whether you would like condiments. There’s no offer, so the responsibility lands on the customer to ask, beg, or demand some. Then when they are given, it’s in the most minimal amounts.

Having operated a cafe that was awarded “Most Profitable” in the company (twice!), I certainly understand gross margin, and I get why places might keep tight controls on their goods. I also understand customer experience, though. Small measures of goodwill — and, conversely, the smallest bits of stinginess — can swell to create huge, often unexpected impact. “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” can work in positive fashion as well as negative.

The extra you give could be anything. A token, a bonus item; extra effort to go above and beyond; reassurance and affirmation. Being especially generous with your gratitude can be the greatest thing you can give.

Sure, not everyone keeps the extra, leftover sauce packets. Some people will discard the excess. But that’s for them to decide. If you freely give what you have to offer in abundance to everyone, what does it hurt you? You will be rewarded anyway. Trust me.

 

What I Don’t Know About Once in a Lifetime 

Friends of mine were making fun of music appreciation classes the other day. I’ve never taken one, but I did go through a period where I fell in love with classical music. Studying and exploring classical on my own really helped me learn how to listen. To music, especially, but also in general.

Another friend shared a really cool video of Kermit the Frog performing Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” She remembered I’m a Talking Heads fan, and she must also know I’m a good bit silly. I didn’t expect her to know how much I like the Muppets. The video clip is fantastic. Kermit (‘s muppeteer) does a terrific David Byrne impersonation. See for yourself:

I love how the video production nicely imitates the official video while paying tribute to the performance — and the suit — from Stop Making Sense.

Some folks see this and go, “ha,ha, that guy dances funny! Look at those weird, twitchy movements!” Some hear it and like the cool bass line; some go to the lyrical hooks. “Ha, ha! ‘This is not my beautiful wife!‘”

Me, I’ve always been interested in the lyrics and meanings of songs. Part of my character is always looking for deeper meaning in nearly everything. Music is particularly magical to me. The blend of meaning in the mix of rhythm, melody, harmony, AND words presents many layers to be interpreted.

And, yeah, I’m drawn to the weirdness.

Having been involved in collaboratively creating songs in a band, I am ever more in awe of the art in which each band member adds their viewpoint to the developing composition. All art being participatory, there’s the additional element of how the listener hears, feels, and interprets the song. It’s been said that communication depends not only on what is said but also, and more importantly, on what is heard. The listener’s point of view informs their understanding of what the musicians put out, and that informs their appreciation of it.

Considering that, when I hear “Once in a Lifetime” these days, I realize I maybe should have listened better long ago.

Go With the Flow

Not long before I first heard the song, when it came out in 1980, I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way. It was one of Dad’s interesting books I found the book lying around the house. Being the impressionable kid I was, I adopted a lot of the philosophy in the book as great advice. Be like water, it says; when flowing water meets a rock, it goes around it. Eventually, as water gently washes against the rock, it wears it away. In short, go with the flow and you’ll avoid stress.

The Watercourse Way continues to be one of the most influential books I’ve read. And I did let it dramatically influence how I lived my life for decades. More on that in future posts.

As a  teen, the Taoist philosophy I’d picked up led me to incorrectly hear what Talking Heads were saying in “Once in a Lifetime.” The imagery, all the “water flowing” references; I thought they were also saying, “go with the flow.”

Most folks probably don’t actively choose to use pop music as a guide for living.

I’ve never really been exactly like most folks.

Older and Wiser?

The story of my 20s and 30s is mainly one of going with the flow. Not that my life was completely rudderless, but I did get involved in stuff and head in unexpected directions I — looking back — might have been better off avoiding. Now that I’m near (at? past?) midlife, I believe “Once in a Lifetime” may be a cautionary tale about exactly that.

Listening to it with the experience and earned perspective I have now, the “you may find yourself…” lines and “how did I get here?” hold a lot more relevance than they did when I was young. They’re a little less funny and a bit more whoa.

I hear the song now as being from the perspective of someone at the end of life, looking back. Similar, I guess, to that god awful Sinatra song, but with a much funkier groove and postmodern poetry.

Don’t pay attention, let life carry you around without you navigating your way, and before you know it, everything’s over. And you weren’t ready for it.

Not exactly the message you’d expect from a young(ish) group for a young(er?) audience. I, and perhaps others, didn’t get the importance of the lyrics because it was unexpected. Sort of the same reason we don’t really hear advice from older, wiser people when they tell us we need insurance, or to save for retirement. It just doesn’t align with our beliefs of how life is based on our experiences at that age.

But — WOW — isn’t THAT exactly illustrating the point ? “Same as it ever was.”

ONE Lifetime

Here’s something: even if you live a supremely directed life setting and going after goals, time still goes by. Everything you do, whether by choice or circumstance, occurs, in each moment, surrounded by the unique characteristics of that moment, once in a lifetime. You may drive the same route to work every day, but the weather, the other cars on the road, what you hear on the radio, all that stuff and more changes, so each drive is different. Singular. Unique.

The lesson I hear in “Once in a Lifetime” is a kind of old one, directed at the population who follow a plan, or at least a pattern of behavior, letting the days go by one 40 hour workweek after another. They might get the beautiful house and the beautiful wife, but don’t even know how they did. It isn’t purposefully choosing to go with the flow that makes one actually skip living; it’s staying busy with busy-ness, unconsciously going through the motions of work, societal expectations, and even leisure that keeps one so occupied that you don’t realize life is passing by.

I could totally be mishearing the song again. I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I believe it is extremely important to know we each have only the one life to live, and it’s a damn shame to waste it away punching timeclocks and watching sitcoms.

Mindful living, being present and fully aware in each moment, I truly believe, is the key. You can’t live every minute like it’s your last — you’ll never get laundry done if you act like you aren’t going to wear those clothes again — but you can choose to live each one like it’s the first and only one that will be exactly like it. What you decide to do with it can make the difference between looking back someday knowing how you got where you did rather than wondering how.

 

 

A Punk Rock Lesson for Extraordinary Customer Service

I’m working on a series of articles on things business people can learn from punk rock. This wasn’t the one I planned on publishing first, but something happened last night which illustrates the point too well to pass up.

As I was preparing to leave work, I saw a missed call and voicemail on my phone. Didn’t recognize the number, but checked the voicemail quickly in case it was something important. It kind of was. It was the fraud prevention department from my credit union with some questions about some check card charges.

I was in a hurry to get home because the Flash was crossing over on Supergirl. Oh, yeah, and to see my beautiful fiancee, who wasn’t feeling well. So I put off calling the credit union back until later.

I stopped by a favorite restaurant of ours to pick up dinner. I knew it would be quicker than cooking something up at home, plus Ashley was excited about getting a yummy dinner from there. I put in the order, tried to pay with my check card, and — yeppers — it was declined. I apologized to the cashier, mentioned I’d had a notice from my credit union about some fraudulent activity on my account, and told him I needed to make a quick call.

He was nice about it, said he’d suspend the order, and I stepped away to call my money’s keepers. Turned out my check card number had been used in a restaurant in Russia that afternoon while I was at work, for a very large purchase.

The credit union representative was helpful, explained the steps they’d take to make things right for me. I wasn’t worried about it. I know I’m in good hands with my credit union. But I didn’t have cash on me, at least not enough to pay for dinner. I apologized to the cashier, filled him in briefly about the unfortunate status of my bank account, and let him know I wouldn’t be able to pay for the order. He was understanding, and hoped the rest of my night would be good.

Just as I was starting up the car, considering the dinner options at home, a girl from the restaurant zipped out, excitedly telling me to wait. “We want to give you the food, ” she said with a smile.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” I said.

“But it’s already made. It would just go to waste anyway.” She encouraged me further to go back in and get the meal I’d ordered.

As I went in, the manager and cashier were bagging up everything. I told them again they didn’t have to do that, but they insisted. I promised I’d be back as soon as I could to pay for the food, and thanked them a few times for doing such a nice thing.

So here’s the lesson, from experiences like that AND from punk rock:

Don’t let rules get in the way of having a good time.

Historically, that’s what punk is all about, right? Screw the rules, we’ll do it our way! Rebellion is a rock & roll thing, but punk took it up a few notches, rebelling against rock & roll even.

You can’t write a song that matters with only three chords; you can’t have a band with two bass players and no guitar;  you have to learn how to play your instruments really well before anyone will take you seriously; you can’t name your band Dead Kennedys… punk rockers proved all that — and more — wrong.

Dead Kennedys

Rebellion With Purpose

Not that you can be a total ass. Not totally. Not and still get positive results.

It’s important to know that sometimes breaking the rules can be exactly what prevents a good time. Don’t follow basic standards, and you might not get booked to play. Show up late, or flake out on a gig, and you won’t get booked again. And, of course, it’s hard to play for an audience if you’re in jail for breaking a serious, criminal rule.

When it comes to being true to your ideals, though, striking a different path can be the best decision. Especially when it comes to setting yourself apart from boring, conformist competition.

Doing something totally different can create excitement. It can create a movement, even.

minor threat

When straight edge took a stand against the accepted rules of excess for rock and punk, promoting individuality and healthy choices instead of drugs, it spawned a lifestyle that spread across the world.

Thinking of business, Starbucks also spread across the world by going against accepted notions of how much people would pay for coffee, and breaking the traditional rules that hand-crafted beverages couldn’t be quick service, too.

Punks went DIY out of necessity. While the music industry perpetuated a belief that it took thousands of dollars to record, press, and distribute music, punk rockers broke the rules, created their own record labels, and got their stuff out quickly and cheaply. Their music and messages were just as worthy — more so, many would say — as what the public was getting from the corporations. They needed to be heard, so they broke the rules, bypassed the traditional way of doing things, and made it happen.

Breaking rules just to be seen as a badass might get you attention, but if that’s the only reason for acting outside the norm, you’re just a novelty act.

Have a good reason to bend the rules on occasion, though, and you can make legend.

Rules Versus Results

Let’s face it, rules are important. They help ensure consistency and fairness. Dogmatically sticking to a rule just because it’s a rule can hold back progress, though. These days, it can even cause you harm. If you can’t exercise some flexibility, especially when dealing with people, you limit possibilities for positive outcomes.

When small businesses are compared to larger corporations, attentive and personalized customer service is almost always considered a strength of the smaller operations. Why? Because the decision makers are more directly involved with their customers. They’re also closer to their profits and goals.

The best reason to step outside the rules is to maximize results. Why are you in business, anyway? To get results, right? Whether the results you’re working toward are sales, revenue, market share, or productivity, allowing options outside the given rules can help you better realize them.

When an opportunity arises for a deviation in normal procedures, a good question to consider is whether sticking to the rule, in that instance, will move you toward your results, or away from them?

It’s not always easy to know, of course. Using the example of my experience at the restaurant last night, I can’t say what the decision process actually was for the manager to do what he did. Certainly, giving away food seems contrary to the goal of making money. I do know the results, though: strengthened customer loyalty, ensured repeat business, and a reputation as a business which goes beyond expectations.

Of course I also went back and paid for the food once I got cash, so the product and revenue loss was corrected. They’ve also got me sharing the story repeatedly, and using them as an example of outstanding business practices, so free word of mouth marketing — the most powerful kind, experts say — too.

Punk rock is about many things. Sometimes it’s about being a spectacle, standing out from the crowd. Being bold enough to act in ways no one expects, whether you’re a punk or a business, can make you spectacular.

 

 

Good Times at a Few Special Local Spots

Ashley and I had the weekend off together and spent some time enjoying some excellent local businesses. Offering some brief reviews in hopes you’ll also support your locally owned shops and restaurants.

Actually, a real highlight of the week came at the beginning of it. The anxiously awaited Kung Foo Noodle opened last Monday in the Birkdale Shopping Center in Huntersville. This is Tommy Tong’s new restaurant, and it is even more fantastic than his previous spot, Noodletasia. Noodletasia was our favorite Asian fusion restaurant, but I believe Tommy’s outdone his prior accomplishment now, giving us a new favorite. We didn’t go opening night, but did have dinner there the next evening. Every single thing about the experience was great.

The food was delicious, excellently prepared and presented. We shared a Lemongrass Hopper, then Ashley had the Budae Jjigae (fiesty, fiery, rich and complex broth, served with kimchi, kielbasa, bacon and shrimp) and I had the Curry Kick noodle soup (packed with chicken, herbs and string beans in a coconut curry broth).  Every bite was outstanding.

The service was also terrific, and the atmosphere and decor were exciting and comfortable.

Next to the food, though, Tommy is the star attraction, making every guest feel appreciated. He really knows what he’s doing, and I expect he will have incredible success with any and all of his projects.

Thursday we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in what has become out tradition, meeting up with friends at Sir Edmund Halley’s at the Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte. It was a good time, of course. Sir Ed’s is a treasure and has some of the best bar staff in the area. You know they’re extraordinary when they can keep up with everything on a crazy busy day like St. Pat’s and still let you know they’re glad you came. They’re well known for pouring a perfect Guinness, and the food has won several awards. They have a wonderful corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, which Ashley had for lunch. Believe it or not, I forewent tradition and tried the blackened salmon wrap for dinner. Very tasty.

A new craft brewery, Cabarrus Brewing Company, opened in Concord Friday. Personally, I believe this area has enough (maybe too many) craft breweries already, and I’ve dramatically cut back on drinking, almost to the point of quitting completely. However, since we hadn’t visited a brewer in a while other than a short trip to Bayne Brewing a couple weeks back, and we had time off, checking out the new place, in a town we don’t often visit together, sounded like a fun change of pace. Well…

We expected the grand opening to draw a big crowd, but didn’t count on the entire county population being there trying to cram in the warehouse sized place. It was totally packed, extremely noisy, and, we figured, not worth trying to wait and squeeze in. The trip wasn’t a waste, though. We had also been interested in visiting High Branch Brewing for a while, and it conveniently shares a parking lot with Cabarrus Brewing.

A friend and coworker, Sandy, has been talking up High Branch since they opened last November. Ashley had their Late Addition stout at Lil’ Robert’s Place a week ago and raved about how good it was. I have to say, she was right!

High Branch is a smaller operation than Cabarrus Brewing, but for me smaller has always been my preference. They were packed Friday night too, benefiting from the overflow and excitement of their neighbor’s opening night, but we could at least get in and move around. Service was good and quick. I ordered the Southern Sour Blonde and Ashley got the stout. The sour was all right (I gave it 3.5 bottle caps on Untappd), tasting somewhat like a cross between a sour and a lager. Guess I didn’t read enough into the ‘blonde’ part of the name before ordering. Still very tasty, and exceptionally fresh.

Ashley let me try the stout, though, and it blew me away! Totally delicious, I believe it is my new favorite, edging out Bayne’s, which is also fabulous. We only had the one beer each there, the crowd and noise being what it was, but I sure look forward to getting back and having the Late Addition again.

We went to the Thai House in the University area for dinner after that. Great experience, as always. Curry for both of us, Ashley with the Panang and me with the trusty green curry. They were prepared a little spicier than expected, but so very yummy!

After working out Saturday (I’m so proud of us!) we picked up salads from Pinky’s. I think Pinky’s is well-known, but I’ll mention it to people sometimes and they’ve never heard of the restaurant. We go to the one in Huntersville most often, since it’s closer to home, but both locations are good, and the menu is the same.

I think Pinky’s is thought of as a burger and hot dog joint, and known for things like their fried pickles, Pimp’n Fries (covered with pimento cheese), and the outstanding Ding Dong Chicken sandwich (Thai inspired marinated chicken breast topped with crunchy peanut butter, sriracha, and honey-cilantro slaw), but they have THE BEST salads I’ve ever had. I’ve been trying to improve my diet, going for more salads than meat, and Pinky’s makes it easy to crave your greens and veggies.

My three favorites are the Tahini Salad (traditional falafel cakes on a bed of mixed greens, topped with red onion, cucumber, feta cheese, tomato, pepperoncini & toasted sesame seeds – served with a zesty tahini dressing), which is what I had Saturday; the Kinda Fried Turkey Salad (herb coated poached turkey on bed of mixed greens, topped with shredded provolone, red onion, tomato and arugula), which Ashley introduced me to, a very filling, tasty delight which she ordered; and the Spinach Salad (fresh spinach, roasted red pepper, feta cheese, artichokes, red onion & sunflower seeds). Pinky’s is generous with the ingredients and the salads are big and filling. If you haven’t tried them, I recommend you do!

We had a terrific experience at a place we hadn’t been before later that evening. I’d spotted Waterbean Coffee a month or two ago, and while we were on our way to Lowe’s for some things for the house casually pointed it out to Ashley. We decided to drop in once we got what we needed at Lowe’s, and I’m glad we did.

I loved the atmosphere at Waterbean. Spacious, quiet, and well-decorated, it was very inviting and calm. There weren’t many people there at the time; maybe it is busier and louder during the days. I can’t imagine it being too bustling, though.

After taking in the food and drink offerings, Ashley and I chose a couple coffee drinks. She got a cappuccino with toasted coconut and caramel flavorings and I had a regular drip coffee. My coffee was above par, but Ashley’s drink was really something special. After this experience and our time at High Branch, I think I should just let Ashley order for me for now on.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time sipping our drinks. It was one of the more relaxing times we’ve shared outside of home. I very much liked that our drinks were served in ceramic cups with saucers — Ashley’s even garnished with a chocolate covered espresso bean — rather than paper cups with our names misspelled on them, and brought to our table rather than someone yelling our name out. I love my rowdy hangouts, but for a nice, peaceful time with my honey, the environment at Waterbean felt a little special, even if it was just a coffee place in a shopping center. I expect we’ll be giving them more business.