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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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