You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Nowhining BannerMany times I have heard this saying and I have always wondered why people quote it. If I don’t know what I don’t know, then how do I know that I know anything? When will I know if I have learned anything? Will I be able to recognize that I didn’t know something when in reality I did? I think the power is in the ability to know what you don’t know, so that you can overcome those obstacles and become a better person for knowing so. That sure seems like an awful lot of knowing and not knowing. Let’s see if I can clear this up.

All my life I have learned and have been learning. I have my own saying that goes like this, “A day not learning is a day not living.” Every day I learn something new, I purposely look for the opportunities. Somedays I learn a little tidbit, other days I learn what seems like volumes. Admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know seems like a cop out to me, the real challenge and opportunity for growth is when I realize that I don’t know something and then search to fill that void.

Just this past Saturday, I attended a symposium on the power of women, I learned a great deal and even though I am not a woman I walked away with knowledge that I didn’t have before the seminar. And believe it or not I was not the only man in attendance. Women have a very unique way of expressing themselves and men can take a little bit of that information and put it to good use. I know that men truly don’t have the answer to everything. (Don’t quote me I will deny it.) I attended because I knew that there would be opportunities for me to grow, but I didn’t know just what those opportunities would be, but I knew, yes I knew that I didn’t know that.

In today’s world of having all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, maybe we have a false sense that we don’t need to know as much since we can just “Bing” it or “Google” it. I believe that we cannot grow if we continue to practice “just-in-time” knowledge gain. We need to study, we need to ponder and reflect, we need to have a true and deeper core to the knowledge we obtain. If we just rely on technology and don’t look for those opportunities to educate ourselves, we may find that we will never know anything other than what we currently know, nor will we be able to justify what we do know. If we ever get asked will our answer be “Bing it”?

I challenge you to be taught every day and to put that knowledge to good use and try to know just what it is that you don’t already know and learn it so that you will know it. Know what I mean?


NOOOO, look what time it is!

Nowhining BannerSo many times we are dragged down by the burdens we carry, I am not talking about bushel baskets of corn, bundles of shingles, or lengths of lumber; I am talking about the emotional burdens of our day to day living. Often we awaken in the morning to an alarm clock that shows us that we hit the “snooze” one too many times. Next, in a mad rush to make up time, we stub our toe on some misplaced object on the way to the bathroom, then we pull a button off of our shirt, now we can’t find our car keys and then we fight a mob of hundreds of others who started their days in just as hurried a manner as us. We haven’t even walked into the door of the office yet and already we are in the midst of a “bad day”, and it probably will not get much better as it goes on.

Often we hear that we can predict our day by our attitudes and that there really is such a thing as self-fulfilling prophesy. If you doubt me, think about the first thing you will say to the first person you meet at the office…”Let me tell you about my terrible, horrible, no good, rotten, very bad day”, now we are trying to bring down that spirits of our co-worker. See what a domino effect this can have, because we started our day in a negative program.

What if, instead of starting off our day in that manner we re-think our decisions that we’ve made in the first scenario. We wake up to the alarm clock and it shows us that we hit the snooze one too many times and we are late getting going. Take a minute and ask yourself “Who is going to die because I over slept?” That might be a bit extreme but play along with me. You are probably going to be late for work, I don’t think any state in the union carries a death penalty for being late for work, so slow down, realize that we are human and we make mistakes from time to time. If you are habitually late for work, maybe you need to try another means of insuring that you get up in time, more on that later on. A quick call, text, or email to the office is probably all that is needed to mitigate the problem. Maybe we will need to make a more formal apology to the boss if we missed an important meeting, but we can take the heat for our own actions. Now with that taken care of, you can go about your morning routine as normal, maybe skip the second cup of coffee or your morning exercises this one time, and roll into the office in your normal healthy good mood, say a pleasant “good morning” to your co-worker, and save the drama for a more appropriate time.

Did you intentionally oversleep? I doubt that very much, why would we subject ourselves to that unneeded stress in the first place. Did we gain any time by hurrying and stubbing our toe?  Definitely not, and the cursing doesn’t fit in well with the morning birds’ singing. Did the button come off our shirt because the shirt knew we were already late…that one could be debated. Did our morning commute give us time to relax and prepare ourselves for a good day? No, we were hurried and others were hurried and some words and one fingered waves may have been exchanged. Did our co-worker need to be lambasted with the barrage of fury that we built up on the way to work, absolutely not. Did the mornings’ escapades improve or degrade our day at work?

Things happen and we need to understand that. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Set two alarms, put one in the bathroom so you have to get up to turn it off, go to bed earlier and get a good night’s sleep. There are many solutions to the problem, over reacting should be the last choice on our list, not the first.

Be kind to yourself, go easy on yourself, forgive yourself, and be nicer to yourself; you and others will appreciate the effort.

Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What Can Be Done Today

Nowhining BannerAs a person who tends to procrastinate, I believe the title of this chapter should read… “Why worry about doing something today, when there is all next week.” I honestly believe that it is inaccurate to classify one’s self as a procrastinator, we can procrastinate, but we can’t label ourselves a procrastinator. I think that labeling one’s self as a procrastinator gives that person an excuse to take away personal responsibility, “I can’t get things done because I am a procrastinator.” Now if a person who is visually impaired said “I run into things because I am blind.”  That is a different story all together, he doesn’t choose to be visually impaired, and doesn’t have the ability to decide when and where he is visually impaired, but running into things is the result of being without sight. But the person who believes that he is a procrastinator can’t use the same logic. “I can’t get things done because I am a procrastinator.” Does that mean he has no choice? Not getting things done is the result of being a procrastinator? Does this person not dry off when he is done taking a bath, does all of her teeth fall out because she can’t get her teeth brushed, does the persons’ family starve to death because they can’t finish cooking the family meal, all procrastinators are unemployed because they can’t get up in the morning? No, even procrastinators have the ability to get certain things done when they have a deep enough sense of priority to do so.

How do we deal with procrastination? Let me start counting the number books that I have on my shelves that have to do with procrastination…I will do it later, but rest assured that there a more than five. I have been troubled with a tendency to not be able to get things done, I have even called myself a procrastinator, but I have realized that the label is incorrect. I can get things done when I want to. I can keep a meticulously perfect yard, a weed free garden, a clean vehicle when I make the choice to do so. I even quit smoking, glad I didn’t put that off. All the self-help books in the world will not break you of a lack of motivation, even a lack of self-regulation. “I promise, I will stop procrastinating just as soon as I finish this book on procrastination.”

Let me mention a few things that might help lessen the tendency to procrastinate. Firstly, the right mindset every day can be a great tool. Let me take a moment to mention a great place to get your mind set right, The Seven Mindsets here is a great place to find out more information and get some suggestions to help you turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts, it is definitely worth a look. Next, a good means of planning. I recommend using David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” as a great tool. I am sure that there are many other wonderful methods that you can find to help you lessen your tendency to procrastinate, find one, or a combination of methods that fit your needs. Just remember this, these are tools, not miracles. You have to work the systems to get them to work for you.

Let me go back to when I said that any job worth doing is worth doing well. If you are faced with a job that needs to be done, whether you will enjoy it or not, the job still deserves your best effort. Try to remember that we “get” to go to work each day, and we “get” to receive a paycheck every payday. We have to see the value in a day’s wages, we have to do our best or we have to let someone else do it. Don’t worry, if you don’t perform up to your ability and even surpass it from time to time, the job will always be there, it’s just very likely that someone else will be doing it.

Tomorrow will come with its own chores that need tending to and if we add todays chores to tomorrows, we only make a bigger pile of stuff that needs to be taken care of. Why not do what needs to be done today and maybe we can even find a little time to whittle off a piece of tomorrows work and make for a real feeling of progress. What is the easy solution to procrastination? There isn’t one, just keep trying and as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” I have been telling you all along that nothing is easy it takes work but remember, “I can get things done today if I want to, and if I want to, I can get things done…today!”

Any Job Worth Doing Is Worth Doing Well

Even at my age and with my mother being gone several years now, I can still hear her telling me “If you are not going to do it right, don’t do it at all.” I am not sure if this worked out the way she intended it to but, I think because of it I developed a way to get out of doing things around home, “Ma I won’t do it right, you better do it yourself.” I would then wallow in my charm very smugly until dad came home and my abilities miraculously would improve. I know that my mother heard these words from her father because he would tell me the same thing. My grandpa was a hardworking man, and he knew the value of a day’s wages. He was not one to take short cuts. His life was spent as a carpenter and the “Measure twice, cut once” motto was etched into his soul. Once when I was helping him dig footings for the lake cabin, I was complaining about why we had to have everything so perfectly dug, so flat and straight, when all we were going to do is bury it again anyway. His response to me was “If we have to hide our mistakes, maybe we aren’t the men for the job.” By golly, that hit a nerve. I really liked helping grandpa and I loved working at the lake, and I knew when the cabin was finished we would spend a lot of time out there enjoying what Mother Nature offered us. I wanted to do a good job, I wanted to be proud and say that I helped, and I also wanted my grandpa to be able to honestly say that I did a good job, that I met his expectations.

We all choose our occupations, no one forces us to work at a particular place or for a particular person. Sometimes we may feel that we are trapped in a particular place or enslaved by a particular employer, but that too is our choice. We should always strive to do our best at what ever job we have to do. It is said in the bible, Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” New International Version. Are we worthy of the wages we received for the work we did? Did we do a job well enough that we meet the standards of a professional, are we the right person for that job?

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There Is Never Time To Do It Right, But Always Time To Do It Over

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One advantage that no one has over another is time. Everybody’s minute contains sixty seconds, and everyone’s hour contains sixty minutes, no more, no less. When we don’t make plans to use our time wisely, we throw it away, never to be recaptured. When it comes to time there are no “do over’s”, but we sometimes are required to do a “do again”, and that is not good time management.

I have taught many sessions of project management over the years, and time is considered to be one of the triple constraints, along with scope, and budget these items are what binds us to a contract. If we adjust one of these constraints, the other two also need adjusting, like the legs of a tripod. Well, how do we adjust time? Can we stretch or shrink it to fit our needs? Can it be saved to be used later when we need an extra helping? No, the time leg of the tripod is not adjustable. Time is time, every second that ticks is one less second that we will have to live, and every breath we breathe is one less breath that we get to breathe. Time must be used wisely.

We can rush a project in hopes that we finish early, expending less time, but time is still expended, once it is gone, it is gone. If we have to go back and redo a project because of careless mistakes or cutting corners we will expend more time, not to mention expend more resources to repair or replace what should have been done right the first time. “If you cut a board too short twice, it is still too short” that is what my grandpa used to tell me.

What then, can we do to ensure an acceptable finished project? We need to take some time and plan. “Wait a minute, you said not to waste time, now you are saying to take more time?” I am saying that time used wisely in the beginning to make plans is hardly time wasted. A minute spent planning a project in the beginning is better than an hour spent planning how to repair a fault at the end of the job. Alan Lakein is often quoted as telling us “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Who in their right mind would purposely plan to fail? I will never be convinced that people purposely set themselves up to fail, our intentions are to succeed, our morals demand it. So why then do we not spend the appropriate time planning to better our chances at success? I would bet that even Edison, who tried a thousand times to make the incandescent bulb light up, planned what materials he would experiment with, and what changes he would make to better his chances at success. Edison did not intend to fail, if he had, he would have failed much sooner. He intended to succeed and succeed he did.

When I was an emergency manager, the phrase that was thrown about the Emergency Operations Center was, “A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.” Stuff happens, and we can’t avoid that. Murphey’s Law tells us that if something is to go wrong it will. Well, let me tell you that it is not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when something will go wrong. “I wish I had the ability to see exactly where something might go wrong, that way I would be able to be prepared for it. Wait, maybe I can have a contingency for what might happen and then be prepared and have the available resources to deal with the situation. Wait, that sounds like planning… I don’t have time for that, or do I?”

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step

Nowhining BannerA wise Chinese philosopher Laozi in his works, Tao Te Ching wrote the line “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Was that really wise or was it more an over simplification of the effort and preparation that goes into any large project; a pep talk telling you that “Hey, this is going to be easy, just start walking.” Well, if I am going to take a trip, I guess I would want some idea of where I want to go. Once years ago, I said to my wife “Let’s be spontaneous and take an unplanned trip.” She said “That sounds adventurous, OK let’s go… Where are we going?” and I in my manliest voice said “Woman, we go that way!” I kind of felt like Lewis telling Clark “we don’t need Sacajawea, I will get us there.” Now my wife, skeptical, feeling like a homesteader heading west, was ready for the unknown challenges of the great vast of the state of Minnesota. Little did she know, and I wasn’t about to divulge my scheme, I had a predetermined destination in mind. Yes, I had the route planned out, where we were going to stay each night and the things we would do along the way. Each time we arrived at the place I had planned for us to stop at I would say something like, “Hey, did you see that sign? I think we should check it out…we really have nowhere else to be.” well not at least until we needed to be at the next location I had planned. Did this journey start with a single step? In her mind it may have and I played it up the best that I could that it was totally off the cuff. We had a great time and talked fondly of the time we took a trip “That way”.

It took a lot of work and planning to make that little excursion seem to be unplanned, easy, and starting with just a single step. I had looked at options for places to go for weeks ahead of time, I checked out visitor guides, road maps, hotels, and tourist destinations. I made phone calls to be sure that we had reservations. Even my wife did more than just jump in the car and go, she had to pack, and she had to line up a baby sitter. Before we left town we stopped for gas, all of this was not just taking a single step, all this was done before we could take the single step.

Sometimes, we over simplify things to fool ourselves into believing that it will be easy. Really, would you get excited if for weeks before going on vacation, you had to spend countless hours planning, packing, preparing, and doing all sorts of unpleasant duties before you even got into the car to go on vacation? Oh…we do.

I guess that when it comes to things that generally have a pleasant expected outcome we will, as my grandmother used to say, “Walk through a few bushes to get to a picnic.” What about the times when we are unsure of the outcome or know that the journey will be less than pleasant, will it be simple, will it be easy? I can guarantee you that most times we can be successful with the right mindset and the willingness and stick-to-it-ness to see it through. There also will be times when we doubt our abilities and determination to finish the race and we may not succeed. We need to prepare and plan and layout a strategy to reach our destination, but will it be as easy as taking a single step?

Be Nicer

My dad always said “Be Nicer” instead of just “Be Nice”, I guess that way he really never insinuated that you weren’t nice but rather it was a way to let you know that you were not being as nice as you should be.

In today’s world maybe we all need to listen to my dad’s advice and “Be Nicer”. See, I’m not saying that you are not a nice person, just reminding you that you are not being as nice as you could be at this particular moment in time.

Every day I see people driving through the busy city streets as they are on their way to wherever it is that they are on their way to, and many of them need to “Be Nicer”. They could start by slowing down, not being so aggressive, not honking their horns and definitely using all of their fingers when they wave at me. What harm is there in letting someone merge, or waiting an extra five seconds before blowing your horn to get the person in front of you to move.

When responding to comments on social media, “Be Nicer”. If someone posts something that you disagree with, do you really need to post back a derogatory rebuttal and question the number of generations that the original poster’s family has been walking upright? If you feel that opposed to what they are saying, ask yourself “Are we really friends? Maybe I should just block their posts or un-friend them”. You really have no chance of changing someones mind on social media, they are entitled to their opinion.

When you are out in public and using your phone, “Be Nicer” don’t include the entire restaurant in your conversation of your needless rant about how much jewelry costs at the discount store. “Be Nicer” and lower your voice when in public, or better yet wait until you are alone and take or make your calls at that time.

Teach your children to “Be Nicer”. children should show respect, if not to others or strangers at least to you their parent. Moms and Dads,respect your children,don’t yell at your children or call them names, where do you think they will learn how to treat their children?

“Be Nicer” to everyone. Does it take a lot of effort to be polite, to smile, to lend a hand, to respect your fellow human being? Ernest Tubb, the country music singer used to say “Be better to your neighbors and you’ll have better neighbors, by cracky.”

Before you make a decision to do something not normally as nice as you usually are, ask yourself “What are my intentions here? Does that person deserve to be treated the way I am about to treat them?” When faced with a decision like that just “Be Nicer.”

It’s Easy, I’ve Done It A Thousand Times

I quit smoking in 1999, I had done it a thousand times, in fact I quit every time I put one out and it was not easy. It probably was one of the most, if not the most difficult things I have ever done. I had been a smoker for about 15 years at that time and I was smoking about three packs a day. I don’t believe that in today’s society with all the no smoking laws that a person with a job could possibly smoke that much. My first and last breath of each day usually contained a puff of smoke. In fact, just about every breath I took during the day had smoke in it. I had tried many times earlier to quit, I had a few times when I went for a couple of days, a few weeks, a month or two, and once I even kept clean for over a year, but I always seemed to go back to it. I tried patches, I tried gum, I tried acupuncture, and hypnosis, I tried prescription medication, and nothing made it easy, nothing made the craving for a cigarette go away.

The summer of 1999, my wife at the time was pregnant with my twin boys and she wanted me to quit for the boy’s sake and hers and not to mention mine for that matter. I knew that I couldn’t quit just because she wanted me to, but that I needed a deep inner driving force to do it for myself. I had been wanting to quit for a long time and was afraid of the damage I was causing my body, I even worried that I would drop dead from a heart attack at the ripe old age of 35, I had a friend that had triple bypass at 35, and also the fact that I did not want to set a bad example for my sons.

I decided that on July 22nd, 1999 that I would become a non-smoker, this just happened to be the wife’s birthday too, making a really shallow but cool present. I made an announcement to the world that I was going to quit and by god I meant it. I told everyone that starting that day I would be one of the most unpleasant, rude, mean, cantankerous, and hateful persons they probably ever met, but not to worry about it because it would only be temporary until I kicked the habit…sixteen years later I still am that person, but that is beside the point. I did not try to find an easy way, a painless way, or a soothing way this time, it never worked in the past. No, this time I decided to quit cold turkey. I had the support of my family and friends, well most of them that were non-smokers. Smokers, myself included are always afraid of people that quit and I know why…they are jealous because they wish that they could do it too.

The first morning was hell, I had a gnawing pack of beavers in my stomach, I had the jitters, I was sweating, and it was only the first morning. I knew that even though I had all the determination in the world, I would fail. Somehow I persisted, the next few days were awful, I wished I could just be hit by a truck and be in a coma for a year or so until the withdrawals quit, but that would have been cheating. I used many ways to try to distract myself, I used something I learned in a quit smoking class years earlier called “Now Awareness” where I would concentrate on things around me, notice things that were not so noticeable, and that would take my mind off of my craving for about seven and a half seconds and then I would start the process again. I had a rubber band on my wrist that I would snap and try to distract my cravings that way, I chewed toothpicks to give my mouth something to do, I chewed so many of them that I still have the orange stripe around my belly where the city forester marked me to be cut down due to Dutch Elm Disease. One thing that really did help was I kept a straw in my pocket that was the same length as a cigarette and stuffed cotton in one end to try to reproduce the effect of taking a deep drag. I found this calming, I could suck on that relieve some tension and at the same time deeply breathe in clean air into my heavily polluted lungs. I even did some really odd and disgusting things, I had a penny in my pocket and I told myself that if I sucked on that penny long enough and if it would dissolve, then I could have a cigarette. It never dissolved, but it looks more like a washer now than a penny.

After about a week, I knew that the nicotine was out of my system but that didn’t make the cravings go away, that took way longer. If someone tells you that the cravings go away after the first week, discontinue that friendship and find a friend that won’t lie to you. Honestly, it was probably more like a month for me before I was able to rationally deal with the cravings. By this time I was feeling good about myself having that under control, but now my belly was becoming a control issue, transference of addictions is what I think they call that, but we will save that for another time. At this point I had been through the wringer, the last month of my life royally stunk and not of smoke either, although I did enjoy sitting next to people who were smoking and tried to share as much as I could without violating their personal boundaries. I was crabby, agitated, and fat, but I wasn’t smoking, I was starting to think I was a quitter. Next my mind then switched from thinking about quitting to thinking about not starting again. I knew that if I started again, even if I just took one puff of a cigarette, I would be right back where I was if not worse, and that it would take all the more to quit the next time, if there would be an next time, I couldn’t do it again. I remained determined and still am to never light up another cigarette as long as I live, to never put myself through the hell of quitting again, and sixteen years later I haven’t.

I wish that I had a magic power to take away the desire to smoke from anyone who wanted to be done with it. I wish that reading my words alone would be enough motivation for anyone to quit smoking. I am sorry to say I don’t have that ability but if you want some encouragement, here is what I have for you…”If I can do it…you can do it too.” I quit a thousand and one times, the last time worked. I only wish it would have been easy.