Towards the end of my mother's life, she fell ill, and my brothers and I rotated care-giving duties. For some weeks, she made daily trips to a local hospital for outpatient treatment. During one of my rotations, I chauffeured her to the hospital. I lost count of how many times.
This particular hospital offered valet parking service for outpatients, and we came to know the parking valets as people. One man was an extremely energetic, voluble, happy guy who I figure was aged somewhere in his seventies. When we pulled into the driveway to give him the car, he'd greet us. Then began the repartee. Somehow, we learned quite a bit about him. Four kids, a stint in the Army, and some aches and pains, but he wasn't complaining: "The usual things, ya know."
One morning, he said something I'll never forget. He asked how we were today, and I said my usual, "Pretty good, how about you?"
Smiling broadly, he answered, "Oh, pretty good myself, thanks, but ya know, at my age, every day that I wake up and I'm still alive…that's a wonderful day!"
Many of us have jobs that compel us to focus on defects in products or processes, or tasks frustratingly incomplete, or insubordinate subordinates, or any of myriads of other unexpected difficulties or disasters. We're fixated on what's wrong or troubling, rather than what's going well, or even better than well.
And from our employers' perspectives, that is as it should be. Our responsibility is to make desirable things happen. When they don't, we figure out why, and we make adjustments.
But this pattern, so useful in our work, has a risk for us personally. Our uninterrupted focus on what's wrong at work can interfere with our ability to appreciate what's right — at work or in Life.
Ironically, appreciating what's right can help us fix what isn't. The experience of appreciating gives us ideas, hope, and renewed energy. It brings us together, and working Appreciating what's right and
working well, when we're
in the midst of tangled
confusion with no clear
way through, takes skilltogether we find new insight. But appreciating what's right, when we're in the midst of tangled confusion with no clear way through, takes skill.
Fortunately, skill comes with practice. Start with something — anything — that seems troubling, or you feel confused about, but not totally hopeless. Try finding three things about it that are right, wonderful, and working fine. It might take time. When you find one, contemplate it for a while. Give yourself time to appreciate it. Then look for another. I like to write them down as I go. You'll be surprised how fast the list grows.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Figuring Out What to Do First
- Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly
unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where
to focus our attention first?
- The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
- The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility
in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus
on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
a productive technique for reaching agreement.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration
- Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic.
We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend
- Unnecessary Boring Work: I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about
work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.