10 Reasons to Engage a Coach

coachMy daughter recently said to me, ” I feel like I have bad karma. I seem to be living under a dark cloud.” She is in college, living away from home, and has had to deal with a couple of rough spots. Nothing major, but, then again, that’s my opinion, not hers. To her, life is a bit tough right now, and she is having some difficulty dealing with recent events. There is no doubt that life can be a real bear at times. Some days, everything is really rosy, the sun is shining, things are just falling into place. It’s all flowers, strawberries, chocolate and puppies. Then on other days, thunder and lightning surround you, weeds creep into your mental garden, you are greeted by a flat tire, someone rear ends you on the expressway, you spill hot coffee on your freshly dry-cleaned outfit, or drop your keys down a sewer grate (this actually happened to my other daughter several years ago. Talk about a significantly major PITA!). It just seems like nothing is going your way, and perhaps, it will not go you way ever again. At least that’s the way it feels, anyway.

We face these and even more serious issues every day in life. Some small, some large, some huge. We usually get through these times. We manage. We get by. But sometimes, you find the going tougher than you have ever experienced. You feel like you are wading up-stream, in a river of molasses. You fight against the current, swim against the tide, making little to no progress. In these times, the swirling waters threaten to pull you under. You fight to breathe, you gasp for air, you struggle to survive. It is at these times that you should consider seeking out and engaging a Coach, a mentor, a sage. Someone who can listen to and observe the difficulties you are facing, putting them into their proper perspective, and assisting you in emerging successfully out of the morass you have gotten yourself into. A trusted person that you can trust to methodically and patiently help. I can think of many good reasons to engage a coach. I will share ten of them with you now.

  1. Good Coaches have experience. They have either personally gone through what you are going through, or have seen it before, time and time again. This helps immensely to cut through the haziness of a particular issue, since they typically have been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt.
  2. Coaches will look at your predicament objectively and unemotionally. This allows them to strip away the bad feelings and drama that you cannot do for yourself. They look at the facts and root cause(s) of your issues. The cut to the objective chase.
  3. Coaches listen really well. They make sure they understand your point of view (after all, you are the one with the problem!). They do not impose their paradigm on you. They look at things from your perspective. The walk in your shoes.
  4. Coaches steer you towards thinking about great outcomes. They help you to develop a custom vision of how things should really be. This is hard for us to do by ourselves when we are wallowing in a swamp full of alligators.
  5. Coaches are action oriented. After they help you develop the vision of how things are, they assist in putting together an action plan for getting there. YOUR action plan, not theirs.
  6. Coaches hold you accountable for your vision, and your action plan. They ensure you maintain ownership and accountability over your issues, your vision, your plan. Without this accountability, you won’t stick to it. you won’t get it done.
  7. Coaches tell it like it is. They don’t tell you what you WANT to hear, they say what you NEED to hear. Unfiltered. Unadulterated.
  8. Coaches are ethical, confidential, and private. You can be open with them, where you may not be able to with a friend, even a good friend, or a family member. This is one of the most important attributes of a coach. You can trust a person whose profession it is to help, and to maintain confidentiality.
  9. Coaches are outcome and results oriented, and they help you get there as quickly as you are willing to and can move.
  10. Coaches are balanced, and help you balance. Your life may not be a bowl of cherries, but it’s not all gloom and doom either. They help you see, recognize, and exploit strengths, while you are working on the weaknesses.

In short, having a competent, experienced person beside you, to guide you through the complexities of life, can be a real blessing. Many executives, celebrities, and professional athletes employ coaches, to give them that edge they need to be successful. We can all use the help. If its good enough for them, why not for us?

Let me know what you think.

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Posted in Change, Coaching, Getting it Right, Inspiration, Mentoring, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Things I Never Saw My Dad Do

Old Salty

My Dad passed away last year. Together, we had the unenviable task of burying my Mother the year before. Dad never got over her passing. He really thought that he and Mom would live forever or at the least, one day, just pass away in their sleep together.

I had the unique opportunity of working with Dad in my teenage years up to the age of 20. He was plant superintendent for a shoe manufacturing company in Miami Lakes Florida. I worked for him on the production floor as a teenager and during the first two years of college. I was able to observe first-hand his leadership and management style. Daily, I observed how he directed operations on the manufacturing floor. I was privy to the way he coached the supervisors and production employees on his team, and how he mentored and offered real-world, value-filled advice to anyone that needed it.

Even after I moved on and left that job after graduating from college, Dad and I would sit around the dining room table, trading stories, while I continued to gather golden nuggets from him about his style.

There are many things I learned from him that I utilize to this day.  But these 5 are things I never saw him do.

Raise His Voice

Dad spoke softly, firmly, but never raised his voice. In fact I’m sure he purposely lowered his voice, and in doing so, caused you to listen more intently to what he was saying. Quite a technique!

Disrespect People

Dad respected everyone, even those who didn’t deserve it. I find it hard to do this. I’m more of the philosophy that you deserve my civility, but my respect you must earn. Not Dad. He respected everyone.

Take Credit for Things Others Do

Dad never took credit for others’ accomplishments. In fact, even when he was the one doing the heavy lifting on a project or a particular effort, when it came time for the credit, he graciously stepped aside. He used to tell me, “there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get credit for things. Take every opportunity you can to give it to someone else”.

Demand Respect

Dad never demanded any one to respect him. It came automatically. The way he talked, and his actions, caused others to just naturally respect him.

Force People To Do His Bidding

If there was grungy work to do, like disciplining an errant worker, or terminating someone who had gone astray, Dad took care of it. He was accountable and responsible. He never asked his people to do the dirty work.

I suppose I should have paid more attention to my father while I was growing up. I am sure I missed opportunities to learn from what I now recognize as a master leader and expert. But I did learn a few things. Many of them I still use today. And these 5 are leadership gems in my opinion.

I hope you enjoyed reading about “Old Salty’s” gems as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you.

Let me know what you think. I’m truly interested.

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Posted in Coaching, Getting it Right, Inspiration, Legacy, Mentoring, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

9 Leadership Lessons from The Intern

intern

I’m fascinated how leadership lessons are everywhere. In fact, sometimes we find them where we least expect them. I wonder if authors, script writers, directors, or actors are purposeful in their intent to teach a leadership lesson. Or, is the lesson unintentional, and is it just serendipitous that the lesson exists? Kind of like a prize in the Cracker Jack box. I suppose in the end, it doesn’t matter. The lessons are there. We just have to pay attention and pick up on them.

For me, movies are often a great source of leadership and life lessons in general. My wife and I are huge movie buffs. We don’t go to the theater much, but we have a modest home theater at home, and we love to watch movies there. Some weeks, we will see 4 or 5 movies. We are not fanatics, but we do love our movies.

One evening, some days ago, we decided to watch The Intern, with De Niro and Hathaway. We are De Niro fans and we will watch just about any movie he is in. I don’t think this one will win any awards, but it was an enjoyable movie all the same, and I was fascinated by the number of leadership lessons the movie had to offer. Let me set up the plot, and then I’ll share the lessons with you. Just in case, I will avoid being a spoiler.

Ann Hathaway plays the role of a young CEO who has recently created a start-up on-line clothing company. De Niro joins the company as a 70-year-old intern, and ends up being assigned to assist the very reluctant young CEO. OK, that’s all you get. No spoiling here!

So, with that brief introduction, I share with you the 9 leadership lessons from The Intern.

Lesson 1 – Walk the Talk
Set an example, because your followers are watching you. In one scene, Hathaway shows up at the warehouse and shows her employees how the merchandise should be boxed and packaged for shipment, to create a superior customer experience. She doesn’t write a memo, or make a phone call, or send a text. She shows up in person and shows them what she wants. In another scene, De Niro comes in early to clean up a perpetually messy area where the employees have been piling up all kinds of items no longer needed. No one asked him to do this. He sees the mess and takes ownership. He leads by example.

Lesson 2 – Be Accessible
Hathaway has no office. She sits at a shared community desk out on the floor with other employees. Even though busy, she is always visible, and will talk to anyone who stops her. De Niro is also always accessible, not just to the young CEO, but to any and everyone at the company. He even makes himself accessible to the CEO’s husband, to share his thoughts and experiences on relationships.

Lesson 3 – Avoid the Trappings of Power
Here is a lesson that Hathaway seemingly violates. She uses a driver to get around the city, running from meeting to meeting. But she sits in the back seat, on the phone conducting business, as well as reviewing paperwork, designs, and other documents (the car is not a limo, by the way).  She also flies first class to San Francisco to interview a potential CEO candidate. But, she rides a bike to get around the converted factory that is her company and in general, lives a simple, but hectic life.

Lesson 4 – Don’t Underestimate People
Everyone has something to offer. Everyone. Hathaway at first underestimates De Niro and undervalues what he might be able to contribute. And she also underestimates her assistant (who has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania). But she quickly corrects this with De Niro’s help. By contrast, De Niro underestimates no one. He is astute at observing, taking it all in, and really getting to know people.

Lesson 5 – Mostly, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Listen
De Niro is a listener. He focus on what people are saying, and what they are meaning to say, even when the words don’t always match their meaning. This is a gift. Empathic listening. He demonstrates mastery at this.

Lesson 6 – Take Input. Don’t Settle for Outcomes You Feel Strongly Against
Throughout the movie, Hathaway’s second in command asks her to interview and hire a CEO, at the request of her investors. She reluctantly agrees, but finds shortcomings in all of the candidates, except for one, whom she decides to hire. De Niro tells her to stay with her convictions and follow her instinct. She withdraws her offer and sticks to her guns. She listened, she considered, made a decision and stuck to her guns. After all, she is the one running the company.

Lesson 7 – Be Accountable, Be Humble, and Maintain Your Integrity
Throughout the films, Hathaway demonstrates a high degree of accountability and integrity related to decisions and the way she conducts business. De Niro walks this talk as well. He demonstrates extreme humility even though he is a seasoned and experienced executive, and is obviously significantly over qualified to be an intern. Even when he is transferred away from Hathaway to another department, at her request, and is sent to get coffee at Starbucks by his new boss, he remains humble and helpful. He does an outstanding job at getting coffee!

Lesson 8 – Walk In Other’s Shoes Frequently
Hathaway is adept at stepping into the customer’s shoes. She does this frequently, throughout the movie, touching the customer, interacting with them at the point of service. There is a scene in the film where she is sitting in the customer service area, taking a call, and handling a customer complaint. In another scene, she receives a package of her company’s clothing that she orders on-line, as if she was a customer, so she can experience what the customer experiences. She is not happy with the way the items are packaged and shows up at the warehouse to fix this (see Lesson 1).

Lesson 9 – Treat Everyone With Respect and Don’t Hesitate to Help
This is De Niro, over and over. He treats all of the employees with the utmost respect, takes it upon himself to help a coworker when he is left without a place to live, and offers a helping hand to Hathaway’s assistant. He helps everyone, from Hathaway down.

What a treasure trove of life and leadership lessons there is in this world. They are everywhere, even in sappy films!. All we have is to do, is a tiny little set of things. Open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and learn from them.

I hope you enjoyed this post on Leadership lessons. I am keenly interested in LISTENING to you. Leave your feedback and comments.

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Posted in Coaching, Customer Service, Getting it Right, Leadership, Mentoring, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Way – A Fable About Right and Wrong

Chapter 1 – Part 1

Paul sat on the folding metal chair as the noise swelled around him and washed over him in waves. It was almost too much to bear. Dozens of different conversations, a hundred voices, all wanting to be heard, talking in riddles, speaking in tongues. The language of the street, of the scam, ofPRISON Bunks the mundane, of the lawless, of the convict, as he would quickly come to know.

His clothes were provisional, given to him just 15 minutes ago during Intake, too tight, and reeking of sweat and a number of other unidentified odors. The pants would not fit over his hips, no matter how hard he pulled on them, exposing the crack of his ass, and who knew what else. The white t-shirt, was stained, and straining over his gut. The shoes were slip-on sneakers, with paper thin soles, and he could feel the bare concrete floor all the way to his knees.

The cacophony of the conversations continued. By his rough estimate, in his drunken stupor, about 40 or so conversations, men feeling the urgent need to make known a very important opinion about the most trivial thing. Some of the men lay quietly in their bunks, some reading, some just staring blankly at the bunk above them, or at the ceiling. This was J Camp, Unit A, one of 4 in the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Miami Satellite Prison Camp.

There were 400 or so total inmates at the camp, 100 to a dormitory, each with 4 rows of double bunk beds. The camp was adjacent to a Medium security Federal Correctional Institution housing another 800 or so prisoners. He was now known as Federal inmate number 03479-049.

The reason for all the noisy conversations, on this Friday about 3:45 PM, was the end of the work day and week at the camp, with the men letting off a little steam, getting ready for the 4 PM stand up count, a without-fail, daily ritual. Soon after the count, it would be dinner time. Dinner at 4:30 PM? Unconscionable. Just one of many things that Paul would learn was starkly different about life inside versus his former normal life outside. But then again, who was to say what normal was.

Posted in Change, Inspiration, Personal Development, Right, Wrong | Leave a comment

Follow These 5 Not-So-Obvious Steps to Change

changing modI have always wondered why it is so hard for me to change. When I say change, I am talking about changing stuff about me. For example, exchanging bad habits for good ones (or better ones), changing aspects of myself that needed changing (like intolerance, impatience, pride, arrogance), or changing an intellectual or skill area (like learning a new skill or closing an intellectual gap). How does one change? I spent some time analyzing times during my career where I needed to make a change, and how I was able to do it. More importantly, I looked back at things I should have changed, yet the change either did not happen at all, or brought me excruciating pain as I attempted it.

What I discovered, when I examined and analyzed all the times I was able to successfully make a needed change in me, was a process that I had subconsciously been using. This was the way I was most successful in bringing about a desired change. I named the process using an easy to remember acronym, A.W.A.R.E. What does the acronym mean and how did I use the process to make the changes? Allow me to share this with you.

The acronym A.W.A.R.E. stands for the 5 key steps in my change process:

Acknowledgement, Willingness, Ability, Resistance, Enablement.

Let’s explore each of these steps in detail.

  1. Acknowledgment– In this first step, you see that something needs to change and acknowledge it. You recognize it and own it as yours. This is THE key step. If you do not see that something needs to change, if you do not acknowledge the need for change, the odds are against you being successful in bringing about that change. Makes obvious sense, right? Maybe!
    There are two main dynamics at play here. The first is that you may not be open to change at all, whether or not you see the potential of change. If you don’t see it, then you don’t move on to the next step. If you see it, but don’t agree it applies to you, or don’t care to accept the potential, then, game over. Next!
    The second dynamic is that you may be open to make a change, but you don’t see the issue clearly, or may not see it at all. There is a blind spot, or a Scotoma, as it is more formally known, preventing you from seeing the need for change. You may need some help with that blind spot. If you have mustard on your top lip, unless you look in a mirror you don’t see it. So you can “look for a mirror”, or you can ask someone you trust to tell you if you have anything on your top lip. You get the picture. So, the Acknowledgement of the need for change, seeing the issue, and accepting it, is necessary to move on to Step 2.
  2. Willingness– In this step, you see the need for change, and decide that you are willing to change that which you recognize as needing change. This is different from the “unwillingness” described above. The first dynamic above, describes a total denial and desire to change. You probably know some people like that. In this Willingness step, you are open, but you make an objective decision about the Value Proposition for the change. If the value proposition exists, then you become willing to change. If the price is too high, or, if you have other things that you want to do (or to change) that carry a higher priority for you, then you will not be willing to change. Perhaps you can try again later? So the Willingness to change, drives movement to the next step in the process.
  3. Ability– This is the step where you recognize that what needs to change is based on an old way of looking at something (a Paradigm) or of doing something (a Habit) and you acquire the ability to do it differently, or not do it at all. In other words, you acquire the ability to change. This could take an hour, a day, weeks, even most of your life. Some habits are downright difficult to change, no?
    It might even require engaging someone to help you through the change, or some extensive research on how to do it differently or avoid doing it at all. It may require formal training, counseling, perhaps even going off on a retreat with expert people to assist in infusing you with the ability, the skill, the good habit. Ability is not always native. It often requires the learning of a skill, and practice of that skill. More on that in Step 5. I could write a whole blog, even a book on acquiring Skills (many good authors have, and here are three – see Dan PinkMalcolm GladwellRobert Greene) so I want to make sure that I don’t over-simplify the sometimes daunting task of acquiring Ability.
  4. Resistance. The process of change is often met with our own built-in resistance. Sometimes this is conscious resistance (the change HURTSand is tough!), but often the resistance is unconscious. This is the more dangerous of the two, for one does not even realize it is there. You must be on guard working through the change process, and determine how to break through that resistance. Again, a helping hand may be required, to assist in identifying the resistance, and to develop strategies for dealing with it. If the going gets inordinately difficult, stop, re-examine the need for change, think through the Value Proposition again, and carefully look at anything you are doing, consciously, or sub-consciously, that could be undermining the change.
    Even after the change, when the new habit is in place, you might see yourself backsliding, so it is important to develop strategies for and a Resistance against falling back into the old way, the old habit. Coming back to the Value Proposition you used to decide on making the change in the first place can help in developing this “good” Resistance. Keep reminding yourself about the original need that drove the change and the goodness it will bring into your life.
  5. Enablement– Making any change permanent requires practicing it, repeating it until the skill is mastered, the old habit erased, and the new behavior becomes part of you. The key is to be able to own the new skill, to make it an integral part of yourself, so that you don’t even have to think about it. It becomes second nature, like a “muscle memory” in sports. You do it because you are used to doing it. You “Nike” it (Just Do It!). This is how the change becomes an ingrained part of you. It becomes you. Malcolm Gladwell  in his bestselling book, Outliers, describes an effect he calls the 10,000 hour rule. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”  Many disagree with Gladwell, but the point is that practice is important. And here, the practice makes the change you are seeking a “permanent” fixture in your life. I heard a story once, about a conversation Pinchas Zukerman, the world-renowned violin virtuoso had with a lady, a “patron” of the arts, backstage after one of his concerts. I’m not on a first name basis with Mr. Zukerman, and have not been able to verify the story’s authenticity, but I heard it like this. “Mr. Zukerman, I would give my life to play like you!” the patron gushed. To which Zukerman replied, “Madam, I have”. True Mastery comes from practice and repetition. New habits, bringing about real change, have to be Enabled to be lasting.

There you have it. Five not so obvious steps for change. After years of analyzing successful changes I was able to make, and times when I just couldn’t change, this is as close as I can come to a Secret Sauce. This is how I change. I have found it to be a good process for me.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment.

 

Posted in Change, Empowerment, Getting it Right, Inspiration, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Superior Customer Service Qualities – How I Continued to Feed My Caffeine Habit

customer-service-representativeEver have a great customer service experience? They are few and far between, no? In fact, Great Customer Service has become a bit of an oxymoron these days. Well, today I had a great customer service experience. Needless to say, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I always am these days when a company performs even the basics and doesn’t jack me around, leaving me in a worse position than I was before I called them. I have had way too many bad experiences that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and a vow to never do business with a particular company again. Not only to meet, but to EXCEED my expectations? Well, THAT is special. Priceless as they say. So let me first set the stage.

Coffee – The Beverage of Champions and Authors

I love coffee. My wife loves coffee. We use and love the convenience of our Keurig 2.0 brewing system. We have owned several Keurig systems and have even bought some for friends as presents. The only negative thing I can say about Keurig, revolves around the debacle of the Vue system they came out with that takes a different kind of pod. That was a mistake. I bought one to replace my old Keurig, and have regretted it ever since. It’s sitting on my pantry shelf now. Then, I bought a Keurig 2.0 about 4 months ago, which uses the much easier to find K cups, and I’ve been happy ever since. It makes a great cup of coffee, and there is a large variety of coffee from different brands, and different flavors to choose from.

Now for those of you that are going to get on me for how much more economical it is to buy and make coffee a different way, I get that. But this is the way I choose because: a) it’s convenient, and b) it pleases me! Besides, I look for specials and use discount coupons. I was able to make some coffee pod purchases over the holidays at Bed, Bath and Beyond, that came out to an average per cup price of 20 cents. But I digress. Back to the plot line.

My Cup Runneth Over

While making a cup of coffee the other day, I noticed several disturbing events during the brew cycle. I attempted to address these using the brewer manual and the troubleshooting guide to no avail, so I called Keurig on their toll-free line. After what ended up being a 10 minute call, the Keurig representative determined that my brewing system needed replacement. They are sending a new Brew System to replace mine, at no charge. It should be here in 3 days.

The whole experience was very gratifying. And it left me thinking about the specific good things that happened during this call that simply amazed me and left me with a burning desire to write this post.

5 Superior Customer Service Qualities

So here are the 5 superior customer service qualities exhibited by the company and the service representative, which exceeded my expectations.

  1. Virtually no hold time waiting for a live person to field the call.
    Too many times, the recording says, “your call is important to us. Don’t hang up, and we will handle your call in the order it was received”. Well, I don’t think my call is that important to you, or you wouldn’t have to tell me. You would just “answer” the call in a timely manner!
  2. The representative was efficient.
    She asked crisp questions, and got to the heart of the matter in mere minutes – often times, it takes forever to go through a troubleshooting exercise with an on-line rep, even after you tell them that you have already gone through the steps they are asking you to perform. Not here. After I explained to her all I had done previous to my call, she cut to the chase.
  3. The rep spoke in a manner that was easy to comprehend.
    She repeated back the information I gave her in response to questions, to ensure she had understood correctly. She ensured that the spelling of names and places was correct. No frustrations with responses like, “I can’t locate your account” when the issue is, they misspelled my last name, or did not hear the serial number correctly.
  4. The rep was knowledgeable and proficient.
    Obviously, she had been well-trained in the product line, and in talking to real live customers. She had skills. She knew the product inside out, what to say, how to say it, and what to do.
  5. She was extremely professional.
    During the entire process, she always referred to me by my last name, and explained in great detail how the return process would work. She described what would happen, when it would happen, and what I needed to do once the replacement unit arrived.

I complemented her on the way the call was handled, and remarked that Keurig must invest in thorough training of their service reps. She thanked me for the compliment, and acknowledged the amount of training and time the company invested in their people. It clearly showed. The whole experience blew me away.

So there you have it. Those are the 5 key things that result in a superior customer service experience. Kudos to you Keurig! There is hope for the world after all!

What is YOUR company’s customer service experience like? What have you experienced calling companies for service and support?

Posted in Coaching, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Getting it Right, Leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Neglect, The Diagnosis, and The Rebirth

cancer1

I sat in disbelief, the answer to the question still ringing in my ears.

“Not great, man.”

I had asked the colorectal surgeon for a prognosis. In May of 2015, I had been diagnosed with colon cancer which had metastasized to the liver. Stage IV. The tumor had been diagnosed during what I thought would be a routine colonoscopy. I had read the report of the CT scan, myself, just minutes before I was scheduled to undergo colon surgery. Metastasis. Not something you ever want to read or hear about yourself. The surgeon was blunt, which I dreaded then, but later came to appreciate.

After the surgery, the surgeon had referred me to a Clinical Oncologist. After my initial visit, I asked her how long I had. Her response had been, “if you respond well to the Chemo therapy, 18 to 24 months”. I was stunned, to say the least. Bad news travels in packs. I asked her how she felt about seeking a second opinion. After all, we lived in Houston, where MD Anderson, a World-renown, premier cancer center was located. She encouraged it, and thought it made sense.

But, let’s rewind the story a bit.

The Neglect

I hate everything about modern medicine. I hate doctors and specialists of any kind, blood work, any and all medical procedures and tests. I abhor being prodded, poked, stabbed, scoped, x-ray’ed, weighed, measured, probed, and scanned. I dislike waiting in the waiting room, waiting in the examination room, in the procedure room, waiting, waiting, and more waiting. I detest pills, shots, ointments, salves, bandages, even band aids. I can’t stand even taking an aspirin or other over the counter meds. Get the picture?

As a result, I didn’t even have a PCP (Primary Care Physician). I couldn’t remember the last physical exam I got. Prostate exam? Are you kidding? Colonoscopy when I turned 50? Seriously? Checking my blood pressure, and Blood Sugar? Surely you jest. I did not take care of myself at all. Ate what I wanted (all the wrong things), when I wanted, ignored any  symptoms, drank like a fish, did not exercise, and, being the world-class procrastinator that I am, put off everything until “tomorrow”.

So it was no surprise that I felt as bad as I did, just before my 63rd birthday. Tired, weak, irritable, frequent colds, up 4 or 5 times a night to urinate, dry mouth, thirsty most of the day, and, there was no denying, blood in my stool. I was also at least 40 pounds overweight, and had a number of other ailments that I will not mention here.
My wife had reached her boiling point. With great reluctance, I agreed to make a doctor’s appointment.

The Diagnosis

The doctor’s office is near our home, a 10 minute drive. It’s a stand-alone modern building, with a large, pleasant looking waiting room. I had filled out all the required forms on line before arriving (yes, the medical field is slowly arriving into the 20th century), so it was pretty quick after I got there, that I was called in to see the PA (Physician’s Assistant). You rarely get to see the actual doctor these days, but, I have to say, the PA seemed to be very well qualified, extremely professional, and had great interpersonal skills. Good thing, because she would be the one who would be prodding, poking, stabbing, squeezing, probing, listening, and, performing the dreaded prostate exam.

The long and the short of the results:

  • High Blood Sugar – 297 reading, Diabetes Type II
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Enlarged Prostate
  • Overweight by about 40 pounds
  • Blood in the stool
  • And a few other more personal ailments that I will not elaborate on

I was prescribed medication for the first 3 issues, put on a restrictive diet, and given referrals to 2 specialists, a Urologist, and a Gastroenterologist, for a colonoscopy and endoscopy.

After a consultation with the Gastro, I was scheduled for a colonoscopy and endoscopy. This was to be a bookend exercise, getting it from both ends. Let me first say that it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected. The worst part is the preparation the day before. A clear liquid diet and copious amounts of a fluid that thoroughly cleans you out. Oh, and did I mention the self-administered enema? Yep, an enema.

The day of the procedures, I was prepped at the center where these bad boys are performed. After paying a $500 co-pay (ouch!), I was given Propofol, (the one and the same King of Pop stuff), administered by an anesthesiologist, but, in a proper and professional way. Out like a light in no time, and I came to quickly, clear as a bell, with both procedures complete. Well, sort of. The good news was, the endoscopy was clean, but the colonoscopy could not be completed due to a large doughnut-shaped tumor in my sigmoid colon. The doctor declined to provide any prognosis, advised me to consult with a surgeon, and that the tumor had to go (really?). So, the PA that had referred me to him, referred me to a Surgical Oncologist.

I was then scheduled for a battery of tests, including a CT scan. The scan revealed the Metastasis to the liver. 4 lesions. Stage IV Colon Cancer. Even though the cancer had spread to the liver, it was still considered colon, not liver cancer. Nonetheless, this felt like a death sentence, but realizing that I had to take this one step at a time, I went through with the colon surgery.

After a $1,000 co-pay (double ouch), the surgeon, cowboy boots and all, (after all, this is Texas, and what self-respecting surgeon would operate without wearing cowboy boots?) performed the Sigmoid Colectomy using a Laparoscope, an instrument that requires very small incisions. He removed 8 inches of sigmoid colon, and stapled the two loose ends back together. I was good as new colon-wise, and my recovery was quick.

Have I mentioned what a rip-off the American health care system is? I won’t get started ranting about Insurance companies. There is something most definitely wrong here. But I digress. It’s beyond the scope of this blog post, so I won’t get into it.

Referral to a Clinical Oncologist, an extremely competent lady with a great bedside manner, resulted in the prescription of 12 Chemo and Biological agent infusions, one every 2 weeks. Standard protocol for colon cancer. She would monitor how well the Chemo was acting on the lesions, and would then decide further action based on these results. This is where I requested a second opinion, not because I didn’t trust or agree with the Oncologist. I just wanted every opportunity to live longer than 2 years. Besides, a voice inside me (God) was telling me to go see the doctors at MD Anderson.

Enter MD Anderson. What a world-class place this is. You have to see it to believe it. You have to meet the doctors, nurses, PAs, blood techs, specialists, orderlies, receptionists, cafeteria workers, valets, and janitors at MD Anderson to see it for yourself. Everyone exudes competence and confidence. They have a mission: to eliminate cancer. Yes. Eliminate. Blow up. Eradicate. Kill. Their Logo is CANCER. Strike it out. No more cancer. And they all firmly believe in this mission. Everyone is engaged in your care and well-being. If someone spots you walking the hallway with a confused look on your face, they stop you. “Can I help you? Do you know where to go? Can I show you how to get there?” And a close look at the patients, the calm serene look on their faces, gives you all the hope you would ever need. You could not be in better hands than here. Period.

To cut to the chase, after meeting with several oncologists and being subjected to a battery of tests, including blood work, several CT scans, and a MRI, they confirmed the diagnosis. But their conclusion as to the way forward was markedly different. Real hope.

The Rebirth

As I mentioned earlier, The colorectal surgery was performed in June of 2015. After this surgery, and the consultation with MD Anderson, I underwent 5 of 12 planned chemotherapy and biological agent infusions. A little bit about the infusions. The treatment is tolerable, but literally, you are poisoning your body, and those poisons are supposed to attack the cancer cells. Unfortunately, they also attack normal cells, and cause side effects that you have to deal with. For this particular protocol, the side effects include nausea, cold sensitivity and pain in hands and feet (neuropathy), the inability to drink anything cold (neurotoxicity), diarrhea, and a few other assorted symptoms. Other than that, chemo is great!

The plan from MD Anderson was to look at how well the chemo had worked against the lesions. Shrinkage would be great. Staying the same not so great. Growth terrible. And before each infusion, my blood would be tested, and the Tumor Marker monitored. The marker is what is referred to as Carcinoembryonic Antigen, or CEA. A normal range is 0-3. My initial CEA reading was in the high 80s.

After the 5 Chemo infusions I had another CT scan and more blood work. The verdict: CEA in the teens. The scan revealed that the lesions had indeed shrunk. A HUGE blessing. So the surgical oncologist, a brilliant young man referred to as “The Boss” scheduled me for liver surgery. He would go in, remove 65% of my liver (he told me I didn’t really need that 65%. Huh?) and those nasty lesions along with the liver. He would have the removed liver biopsied, to verify the shrinkage and effectiveness of the chemo. Again, shrinkage would be good.

So I awoke from the surgery feeling better than a body has a right to, considering a 5 hour operation, a 10″ incision from sternum to belly button, a considerably smaller liver and no gall bladder. Seems that where the right lobe of the liver goes, the gall bladder must follow.

I was supposed to be in the hospital 7 days. The Boss cut me loose after 4 days. He walked in on me the day after surgery, and I was sitting up in bed, banging away at my laptop. “Hey!” he exclaimed, “Look at this! I’m taking a picture of you and sending it to all my patients. Nice recovery!”

And the biopsy? Shrinkage. Significant shrinkage. Blessings abounded. More than I deserved, but gladly and gratefully accepted.

As I write this today, 2 and 1/2 months after the surgery, and still undergoing the remaining 6 Chemo infusions, I am feeling fantastic. My last CEA reading was 2.7. Yes, 2.7 where the range is 0-3. Down from a high in the 80s. The doctors are really pleased. No cancer. And, oh by the way, I am 40 pounds lighter. They plan on monitoring after the Chemo treatments are done. Periodic CT scans, colonoscopies, blood work, and then we just keep on keeping on.

So, if there is no recurrence, and I am hopeful and have faith that there will not be, we killed cancer. CANCER.

I am reborn. God gave me my life back.

Take it from me, you can overcome nearly anything that life throws at you. Of course there are a few simple rules. You need to do YOUR part, keep your Faith, believe in God (if I can’t convince you of this, at least believe in a higher power), look for those that have the skills, expertise and experience to help you, and maintain an excellent attitude. Life can and will be good again.

And, oh yes, NO MORE NEGLECT

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4 Reasons Why Broken and Restored is Better Than New

 

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Western society discards used and broken items like so much flotsam and jetsam. Once something loses its shiny and new appearance, we don’t want it anymore. Trash piles and landfills are replete with mounds of unwanted, broken and discarded things. First desired and valued, once we have “put a few miles” on these treasures, once they have become broken and flawed, we are quick to disregard, to snub, to throw away.
We do this with people as well. We kick once close friends to the curb if they fall from grace. We brand as forever useless and shameful, those that no longer meet our definition of the beautiful, desirable and ideal. We are quick to judge, slow to forgive and relentless in our persecution of those unfortunate human beings that make mistakes, fall off the wagon, and no longer measure up to our self defined and imposed standards.

Japanese society and culture is quite different. The Japanese continue to treasure and value once broken things, repaired and restored to a new level of beauty. The essence of this philosophy is called Wabi Sabi.

Wikipedia defines Wabi Sabi as the comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

Wabi Sabi is well captured in the concepts of Kintsukuroi, the art of repaired pottery, also known as Kintsugi, golden joinery, or joined with gold. Basically, when an item of pottery or ceramic is broken, it is not looked down on and discarded. It is repaired, with gold and lacquer or epoxy. The repaired item now takes on a new life, and is even more treasured and valued than it was originally.

Let’s relate these concepts to people. People rise to great heights, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. In both their professional and personal lives, people excel, they prosper and achieve great success. But at times, people “fall of their shelf” like a piece of beautiful pottery, and break. They can be dropped like we would drop a treasured ceramic serving bowl, no longer able to serve the original purpose, becoming pieces of brokenness and shame. They are shunned, snubbed, discarded.

What if we were to apply Wabi Sabi, utilizing techniques like Kintsugi, like Kintsukuroi, to repair and restore these broken lives? Why wouldn’t their value be restored? Why couldn’t we once again begin to cherish and treasure them, as we once did in their original state? Why wouldn’t their lives be able to start anew?

I submit to you that all of the above can and should apply to people who have been repaired and restored. As a former truly broken and shattered person, due to a period in my life I am not proud of, I can attest to both the shunning and shame, as well as to the restoration and value that takes place after a period of applied Kintsurukoi.

We do know it is true that some people will never repair and restore. They will remain broken and flawed, mostly due to a self-imposed sense of shame and lack of self-esteem. They will forever be relegated to the landfills of life, never to be valued again. But many can and will regain their beauty and value. And again I submit to you that they are worthy of our admiration and re-acceptance. Here are 4 reasons why:


  1. When people break and shatter, the ordeal and the process of restoration teaches valuable lessons. We can greatly benefit from these lessons. Re-engaging with restored people will in turn add significant value to our lives as we learn from their lessons
  2. Repaired and restored people are great role models. We can point to the breaks as pitfalls to avoid in our own lives
  3. We enrich our own lives and fulfill one of the prime reasons we exist, by extending a helping hand, and by putting those restored people back on their valued place on the “shelf”
  4. Putting people back to good useful work, much like putting that serving dish back into service, is an effective and efficient use of valuable resource, something which our planet sorely needs.
      We can learn much from Japanese culture. Wabi Sabi, embodied in the concepts of Kintsugi and Kintsukuroi, are lessons our society should adopt and embrace. There are a lot of formerly broken people, now repaired and restored that should be welcomed back into our lives. They should be put back on their “shelves” to be admired and revered. They deserve it, and we deserve benefitting from the valuable lessons and renewed beauty they have to share with us.

Let me know what you think about all this. I’m keenly interested!

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3 Ways to Avoid a Frenetic Frenzy

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I define a Frenetic Frenzy as that state of mind you get yourself into, when things are not going exactly the way you want. You are distraught, you despair, your mind goes around and around, and, before you now it, you have driven yourself into a Frenetic Frenzy.

It is important to address this state of mind quickly. I find I am considerably ineffective if I try to sort through an issue, make decisions, or resolve problems when I have been overtaken by a Frenetic Frenzy. Its important to change your frame of mind, and get your Frenzy under control.

Here are the 3 things I do when I have gotten myself into a Frenetic Frenzy.

  1. Take a very large step back – Immediately, when I find myself in a Frenetic Frenzy, I get away from the situation, shift my focus, and switch to doing something completely different. Sometimes, this involves putting on the television, writing, listening to music, or tackling a household chore. The more different the alternative activity, the better it is for fighting off the Frenetic Frenzy. Taking your mind completely off the issue that caused the Frenzy is one of the keys. The other is to do something that will provide a positive outcome, and have you feeling a sense of accomplishment and effectiveness.
  2. After you take that step back, and some time has elapsed, giving your mind the opportunity to clear, sit down and re-examine the issue objectively. Ask yourself the following questions:
    1. What is the true impact of the issue?
    2. How important is it to address the issue right away?
    3. What are the potential solutions?
      1. List the pros and cons of each
    4. Rank the solutions in the order that they best address the issue
    5. Choose the highest value solution
  3. Check in with a trusted adviser or mentor, a voice of value. Explain the issue, stay factual, state no opinions and give no solutions. Ask for a reaction, then sit back and listen. After this discussion, you may want to review potential solutions, listing pros and cons, and then rank them as above.

Our lifestyles, circumstances, and the world we live in, quite often drive us into a Frenetic Frenzy. The above tactics are 3 things I have found to be helpful in dealing effectively with life’s Frenzies.

I trust they will be helpful to you as well.

Happy New Year, and get control of those Frenetic Frenzies!

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The Parable of the Sweet Potatoes

September 26th, 2015 was a very long and emotional day. My Dad now rests with Mom. Together once again Dad, just like you wanted.

I told a story at the cemetery on that Saturday, that I call “The Parable of the Sweet Potatoes”.
Old Salty
When I was 12 years old, in 1964, my parents bought a house in Hialeah, Florida. $11,000. Yes. You read that correctly. A 3 bedroom 1 bath, newly constructed starter home. $325 down, $68 per month. Unbelievable, huh? I grew up in that house. Dad still lived there 50 years later.

The front yard was “sodded” with little clumps of St. Augustine. The back yard was just white sand. Soon after we moved in, the back yard was a mass of crabgrass and weeds. Green, but very, very weedy.

One day, Dad calls me out to the back yard and hands me a long pole with a metal blade-looking thing on the end. I asked, “what’s this?” and he said “a hoe”. “What is this for?”, I asked. My blistered hands soon found this to be to an extremely dumb question to ask. Live and learn!

Dad proceeded to explain what my goals would be. I was to remove a rather large section of the weeds growing in the back yard. This was called, “preparing”. Once I “prepared” the ground, we would spread rich black dirt. Then, we would plant sweet potatoes. Then, we would fertilize, and water, and weed periodically (like daily!). The “we”, obviously, was my brother and I. “Follow these steps, and wait to see what happens”, Dad said.

  • Prepare
  • Sow (plant)
  • Fertilize
  • Water
  • Weed
  • Reap

This, my Dad explained, was how the whole process worked. You could not reap until you sowed, and then in-between, completed all the remaining steps. After the sun, rain (or good old Hialeah well water!) and God, we would see the “magic”.

My father was essentially, a formally uneducated man, having only gotten through the 6th grade. But he was extremely intelligent, with a huge amount of common sense and worldly wherewithal. Despite his lack of a formal education, he became the production floor supervisor, for a very large shoe manufacturer. He was operationally sound, and a born leader. He could spot issues in a flash, and was quick and decisive with solutions. And people naturally followed him.

I did not know this at that time, as I looked down at my blistered and aching hands, but he had just taught me one of the most valuable life lessons one could ever learn. The law of the farm. He may not have realized the informal education he was imparting to me, but nonetheless he must have instinctively known that I needed to learn that you prepare, plant, fertilize, water, weed, and let God do the rest. Only then could you reap what you had sown.

In the end, we ate sweet potatoes for months! And boy were they big, and did they taste good, no matter how Mom chose to prepare them. We enjoyed them, blistered hands and all.

This is the Parable of the Sweet Potatoes. Old Salty was one smart and loving man.

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