August 20, 2009
Although she had been struggling with allergies and pancreatitis weakening her body with constant digestive upset, no one anticipated that additional congestion and lack of sleep from a bad cold would render her lifeless when she finally fell asleep reading a book while my father tended to ranch chores.
My parents’ lives were so entwined it is hard to imagine one without the other. I am grateful that they were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary this past June. Befitting their life journey, they prepared a photomontage capturing their life essence together: joy of young love, stunning scenery across enduring love, and amazing accomplishment as partners in life. As I watched the collection again and again this past week, it reinforced for me just how beautiful, accomplished, brilliant, and quietly adventurous my mother was.
My earliest memories of her were of her books and music. She loved to read and her breadth of knowledge was extensive as a result. She read to us when we were little, cultivating more avid readers. By her own admission, “…I did stretch the rules a bit – reading you the Chinese history that I was currently reading rather than a child’s book…” In addition, she practiced the piano and organ regularly. When I had fallen in love with the music from Man from La Mancha (Impossible Dream), she granted me private mini-concerts when she arrived home from work – she played the selected pieces on the piano for me. Whenever I hear that music, I still hear in my own head the way she played it on the piano.
She taught me the basics of life: be proficient (not extraordinary) domestically and master how to be selective in which tasks you actually commit to doing – work on high leverage projects. I learned to sew, cook, and be selective. It took me a while to realize how unique she really was. I remember when a new girl in the middle school needed a choir dress made, but her mother did not sew. She asked me if my mother could help, so I volunteered her. My mother explained that she didn’t really have the time, but if I would do most of the work, she would do the trickiest steps. Together we made the dress quickly and efficiently. When the other girl’s mother came by with a bouquet of flowers to give to my mother for the help, she was surprised that my mother was at work. The other girl’s mother was so surprised that it was at that moment that I realized how different (and special) my own mother truly was.
My later memories were of her many professional accomplishments and what lessons that she taught me from her own experience. She was mathematically gifted, having received two degrees in Mathematics. She worked professionally as a computer programmer in the early years of programming (I remember her carrying home huge stacks of computer cards and sorting them on the kitchen table in the evenings!). Later, she received her MBA and worked professionally in Operations and Project Management. Although it seemed dicey to me at the time, I benefited from our shared University time. My last year of engineering school was her first MBA year. During that time, she wrote essays on the challenges of being a professional woman in a male-dominated workforce and shared them with me (I still have them). She quietly provided unsolicited advice, suggestions, and observations. One of the most important lessons that she taught me is that “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” As such, she taught me to cultivate positivity, kindness, respectfulness, and to always have a good strategy – think before you act.
In some ways, it was hard having a Mom who was so accomplished and successful, but it definitely made it easier to believe that I could do it too. Even though we share many traits, we differed drastically in one domain: she was a musician and I am an athlete. This difference strengthened us because I admired her musical ability as much as she took pride in my athleticism. I never felt that I had to be accomplished in music and she accepted that athleticism was not her strength. Mom skied, canoed, fished, hiked, and tolerated the family adventures knowing that the stunning scenery of mountains, streams, lakes, and valleys visited were worth the effort, but many were often a challenge for her. I was always glad to be able to help her – take a little extra weight in my pack to lighten her load. It helped me to build the confidence that I too could someday be as accomplished as her, but with my own strengths. This experience helped me to truly value diversity and observe and channel the strengths of others.
In later years, I continued to admire her ability to be organized, to be thorough, and to take on new ventures (run a farm/ranch) without prior experience.
Finally, as I rifled through her files and her Quicken entries this past week on my Dad’s behalf, I realized just how lucky my Dad was to have had someone so amazing with which to share his life. It didn’t take a ton of effort to figure out the finances (which she took care of for their 50 years together) and get Dad moving forward without her. Her systems were clear, effective, and well documented. I only hope to leave a long view legacy like hers…
Your memory is a blessing to me. I love and miss you Mom, rest in peace.
May 26, 2009
I participate in a Ning Social Networking (NSN) site, called Triiibes. The site is composed of Seth Godin blog and book followers. I find it rewarding to converse with others inspired by Seth, because interesting dialogues develop and they push my thinking. Some of the dialogues revolve around requests for advice or opinion on a specific idea. Sometimes the threads can become tangential, but for the most part they stay topical.
One of the things that I really like about NSN and blogging is that both are asynchronous. I can participate when I have time and contribute much or little. No one is ever late or overstays. Everyone comes and goes at their pace.
Because I am only somewhat active at Triiibes, I have not collected many “friends.” My “friends” are those folks whom I have shared dialogue, experience, or camaraderie – folks with whom I have developed an online relationship.
Last week, a member of Triiibes posted about a specific business idea that led to many responses. Most applauded her idea and encouraged her to proceed. One participant requested clarification on why someone should do business with her. When I read her response, I was dissatisfied because half of her responses were either slightly negative or negative. If she reframed her responses (and thinking) to be much more positive, she would benefit from the Law of Attraction, which follows the long view advice of Create Positivity (Headwinds and Wobble).
I knew as I prepared a well-intentioned response post that, even if I was thoughtful and kind, I was unlikely to receive an acknowledgement because I was offering unsolicited constructive advice to someone with whom I did not have an established relationship. As such, my response post was an experiment. Does one have to first establish a relationship before one can lead (offer advice) in the NSN medium as is required in the face-to-face (F2F) medium?
Predictably, my post went unacknowledged. The author responded to many other posts around my own, but mine was unmistakably invisible (although other participants commented on my suggestions). This reaffirms the long view principle that my horse taught me (Remembering Wyo): Build a relationship before you ask to lead (including the giving of constructive advice).
Although I hope that I personally would welcome all constructive advice (because it is part of long view thinking), I realize my own humanity (and vanity) and am not sure if the situation were reversed that I would have thanked the unsolicited advisor myself. I will continue to strive to achieve what Scott suggests – be open-minded enough that people do not have to “be careful what they say.”
In the meantime, I am glad that I got the “expected outcome” (no acknowledgement) because the unexpected result would have challenged my assumptions and caused me to do additional testing and/or wonder why NSN was different!
March 10, 2009
The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports. However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term. The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success. To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.
An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial. When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken. We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.
Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation. This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction. Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.
Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”