One Year Ago…


One year ago my wife was on a long anticipated trip to Paris with a good friend while I was at home being “Mr. Mom” and temporarily between jobs.

I say temporarily because the company I had been with for the past three years was converting me to a consultant – just one more in a series of broken promises and management shuffles since I had joined them - 7 different managers in 3 years surely has to be some sort of record – no?  

This situation had resulted in what has to be one of the most bizarre conversation I had ever had.  It went something like this.

HR: “Since you are part of the RIF you’re no longer eligible for a bonus this year because you’re no longer considered an employee.  But we want you to stay until March next year at which point we will convert you to a consultant in a different part of the bank.

Me:  “But since bonuses are paid in February I’d still be eligible for that right?”

HR: “No, because your on the RIF list and therefore not considered an employee.   However you will be receiving a severance package.

Me: “OK.”

HR: “But once you join the new company as a consultant you will have to give back the severance package because you would then be considered an employee.

Me:  “OK, so then I get the bonus back in that case right?”

HR: “No. Because you’re not considered an employee…

It was now April and I was out of the office for 2 weeks so that they could hire me back again – HR policy doesn’t allow people to leave and then immediately come back as a consultant (sic).

Needless to say I had stewed over this situation for several months. Part of me was saying that “The money is good so suck it up so that the bills get paid.Another part of me, which was growing louder by the day, was saying “Get out of there!  They are sucking your soul dry!

The phone rang and I heard the dulcet tones of my wife who had clearly been indulging in the local vino.  I don’t think she even said hello.  As soon as I answered the phone she said “We’ve been talking about [your company] and decided that you shouldn’t go back there.  They don’t deserve you.”

I can’t tell you what those word meant to me.  It was as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and the clouds had parted.  Suddenly the decision was just so clear – she was right.  Going back there could never be the right choice.

The next day I called the office and told them that I wasn’t coming back – oh, and I was keeping the severance package thank you very much.

I felt terrible for the people who I was leaving behind as, despite the company being screwed up, they had some amazing individuals.  But I had to do what was right for me.

One year later I can say that was absolutely the right decision.  I spent some time indulging my passion for building websites, getting closer to my kids and learning what being a stay at home Mom is like.  I took a motorcycle trip that had been on the bucket list for some time and then landed a job with a company where my contributions are recognized and rewarded.

It’s been an amazingly fun, exciting, fulfilling and empowering year and…as is so often the case…it all started with my best friend…my soul mate…my wife.

 

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5 gifts for your boss you may have never considered before


Barry Houldsworth:

“Your boss, like it or not, is one of the most influential people in your network, so start thinking differently about the contributions you can make. Help them and you’ll be helping yourself.” Good advice!

Originally posted on John Stepper:

I love my bossA lot of the rhetoric about management, including my own, can come across as pitting us against them. But I’m actually a manager, too. And my boss has a boss. So who’s us and who’s them?

Okay, maybe your boss is a jerk. But it’s more likely they’re just a normal person in a role that’s conducive to jerk-y behavior. They probably have the same fears and anxieties you do. And they certainly share your same intrinsic needs for autonomy, purpose, and relatedness.

Working out loud can help them, too. So, for a change, here are 5 ways to frame working out loud as a contribution your boss will appreciate.

Make their team better

At work, we see how individuals who work out loud improve their entire team. One manager saw how  “working out loud makes it far easier for the team to see what everyone is working on…

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The Dog Walking Diaries


Dog-walking-in-the-rain

A few weeks back my Daughter asked me to come with her as she took the family Shih Tzu for his regular walk.  I reminded myself that these opportunities won’t last forever, put down what I was working on and we set off in the rain.

She likes to chat and was quickly updating me on her latest craft projects, exploits of friends, books she’s reading and stories that she’s writing.  For my part I can’t help but look for lessons everywhere so, as she spoke, I asked questions such as how she thought she should deal with someone who was being mean or why things worked in a particular way.  Listening to her tales from school I then provided some stories from my school years and she was able to draw parallels with her own experiences.

Before I knew it we were deep into a discussion about a book I had just finished reading.  The book (Change of Heart) has a dilemma in it – should a dying eleven year old girl receive a heart transplant from the man who murdered her Father and Sister and, if she doesn’t want it, should her Mother force her to take it.   Despite being only ten we had a very mature chat about this, explored things from different angles and, in the blink of an eye, we were back at the house.

Since that first walk I’ve taken the opportunity to head out with my kids when I can and each time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the one-on-one time together.  The talks don’t follow any particular theme.  Yesterday my Son and I started by talking about why salt melts ice, which lead to discussion about what he is learning in school about valance electrons.  Back at home we were taking the lead off of the dog when he said to me “Who knew that talking about chemistry could be so much fun!

I’m really enjoying these moments.  The lack of screens, phones and other distractions leaves us with little to do but actually talk to each other which, in today’s modern world, is a rare and precious thing.

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Why do fish swim upright?


Darwin_Fish

While running a design session this week I was suddenly struck by a strange thought.

Since fish live in a completely 3-dimensional environment and typically spend their time in a state of weightlessness (neutral buoyancy)…why do they swim upright (e.g. with their bellies facing towards Earth)?  

I posed this question to the team (a bit of a diversion from designing software I’ll admit) and, despite all being intelligent people with top-notch educations, none of them could come up with a plausible answer.

And then, while making some toast yesterday, another thought occurred to me.  Since I understand why land animals stay upright, perhaps the current thinking about life starting in water is incorrect and things actually started on land.  And would that mean that those creationist people actually have something right after all?

These were odd thoughts for several reasons:

  1. Well…they are just strange thoughts anyway.
  2. I normally get my strange thoughts in the shower.   (Hey!  You!  Get your mind out of the gutter)

Inquiring minds want to know…

Answers in comments below please.  A hearty handshake and a gold star to the first person with a plausible answer.

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Happy Birthday Mum


On July 29th this year my Mother passed away.  

It was strange to finally lose her physically since she had suffered from advanced dementia for several years. Since we live so far away this effectively killed the little communication that we did have by phone.  Fortunately my brother and sister-in-law were close by and went above and beyond to make sure that she was cared for and had every comfort possibmumle and we (both Mum and I) are eternally grateful for that.

I said that I would speak at the funeral.  I felt it was important but didn’t realize just what a monumental task it was going to be.  I’m no stranger to public speaking but struggled to get through it.  Delivering that eulogy was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Today would have been her 86th birthday so, instead of the usual call to my brother’s to chat with her while she had someone there, I thought I would say just a few words instead.  Most of this is pulled from the eulogy but might not have been spoken with enough clarity so, for those there the first time, my apologies and thanks for bearing with me.

Like so many families Mum was the cornerstone of our lives.  I was going to say I see it in the small things, but when I think about it those things are really not that small. They speak to the core of who I am and what I believe in, and I’m a better man today because of that. 

Mum grew up as part of a generation for whom the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On was more than just a cool saying posted on Facebook, it was a way of life.

How she managed to raise two boisterous boys almost single-handed with so few resources is amazing to me. Even more so now that I have a family of my own.

Things that would have many people shouting about the injustices of life just caused her to look people in the eye and say “Well…you’ve gotta have a laugh”.

While Mum didn’t have much in the way of formal education she was a true student at the University of Life and could make a pound stretch so far that it was almost magic.

She was also stubborn and proud…but in a good way. 

I remember a conversation I had with her when I was about 15 years old.  I had realized that the amount of extra money Mum gained by working was only fractionally higher than the amount she could have claimed on the dole and I asked her why she bothered when so many of her peers just stayed home.  Her answer was both simple and profound.  All she said was “I just wouldn’t feel right taking money without earning it.”

This came back to me when I left school at 16.   Given a choice of working in the city on a Government funded job or staying at home for the same money I took the job.

Simple core beliefs such as these have enable both John and I to do well for ourselves and I think Mum can rest easy knowing that on the subject of raising contributing children hers was a job well done.

Mum’s core beliefs showed up in many other ways big and small.

She didn’t show her emotions openly, even though she felt them quite strongly.  Love was always there but without the need to constantly prove it.  We knew the score but this did sometimes cause a little confusion.

The first time my wife met Mum is a good case in point.  Living in America I hadn’t been home for over a year and she had never met Joanne.  So imagine Joanne’s surprise when Mum opened the door and, instead of hugs and outpourings of affection she simply said “Oh hello dear, come in” and disappeared inside to put the kettle on, leaving the door, and Joanne’s mouth, wide open.  I had to explain to Joanne that this was all perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about.

Mum could also be superstitious.  One of my favorite examples is her conviction that crossing two knives meant that there was going to be a huge argument.  The situation would often go something like this.

  • Someone would put down knives in a way that made the blades cross.
  • Mum would see that and immediately say “Arrghh!  Don’t cross the knives!” 
  • She would then walk around in a foul mood for the rest of the day which would eventually lead to a big row with someone
  • After the row she would explain to the offender of the knife rule “You see…that’s because you crossed the knives”.  And who could say she was wrong?

While Mum could be generous to a fault but this was not the case with all things.  For example fudge.  Mum liked fudge.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want to share it.  It’s just that it never lasted long enough to share.  This led to the interesting situation in later years when she would forget that she had eaten it. The only evidence that there had ever been a fudge delivery would be the empty boxes and wrappers of which she claimed no knowledge.

Mum was a true survivor and the world is a little poorer today.  But someone once said “To live in hearts we leave behind us is not to die”.  I can tell you that Mum is here with us today.

Happy Birthday Mum!

Rest in peace…you certainly earned it.

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Self Assessment #Fail


On Monday I sat down to pull together the dreaded self assessment.  As a manager this is doubly hard because there’s a fine line between giving all the credit to other people (“you did nothing“) or taking credit for things that you managed but didn’t actually do yourself (“credit pirate“).

buzzWhile performing a brain dump of the accomplishments this year I typed the words “right sized” and, before I knew it, my ADD kicked in causing me to search for corporate BS generators.  I was chuckling at some very humorous lines created using nothing more than random buzzwords when my manager stopped by my office.

” What’s that on your screen?”  he asked as he leaned over for a closer look and I turned around to see my draft self appraisal on one monitor and a page with a huge banner headline of “Corporate Bulls@@t Generator” on the other…

It’s a good thing he has a sense of humor!

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Taming the hamsters in my head


Barry Houldsworth:

I really need to start doing this…

Originally posted on John Stepper:

Spinning, spinning, spinning

Spinning, spinning, spinning

“Are you okay, darling?”

My wife heard me cursing to myself in the shower and she was concerned. It was a normal day and a normal shower. But I was so busy thinking about things that made me angry that I was muttering out loud.

Instead of trying to rationalize my insanity (“Nothing, dear! Just having an imaginary conflict in my head.”), I decided to try and change.

Here’s what I learned.

The meanest hamster

My inner critic

My inner critic

My first insight into what was going on came from a book on cognitive behavior therapy called “Self-Esteem”. In the very beginning, the authors introduce the concept of the pathological inner critic, the voice in your head that tells you what you could and should be doing.

One of the first exercises in the book is to simply monitor your critic and write down what he…

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