Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Challenge Of Office Work

Why do so many working people in our society find so little satisfaction in their daily work?  Sometimes when I look at the faces of people leaving my building at the end of the day or strangers driving home during the evening commute, they look absolutely exhausted and dazed.  Other times when I am riding up and down the elevators in my office building I listen to people complaining about their jobs.  Many people in our society work in the same type of corporate, information driven environment that I work in.  Almost everyone I know does "something with a computer".  Some days it is easy to feel like the focus of your job is to read and write emails.  We live in an information driven, electronic age.  Most of us spend a great deal of time gathering and sharing data.  I think that is part of the problem.  Perhaps satisfaction goes down as sensory overload goes up.  The work we do is mostly intangible.  Unlike past generations, most of us cannot drive down the road, look at a bridge or building, and say, "I helped build that!”  When you work with information, you have no lasting monuments to what you have accomplished.   Instead of bridges, buildings, or works of art, we create spreadsheets and databases.  It’s impossible to take a picture of these things and hang them on the wall.  Our accomplishments and successes are fleeting.  The flow of data and information never stops.  Today's success of managing data is a moment in time.  That success and moment are short lived.  I really don't know the answer to the problem of finding satisfaction in doing this type of modern work.  I try to remind myself that the information and numbers represent real people but that doesn't always work.  The most satisfaction I find in the workplace comes from the people around me.   I try to build relationships.  If I can have a positive influence on another person, it is satisfying.  Relationships involve something that is much more tangible than data and numbers.  Looking at numbers and other data reminds me of a famous Zen saying.  "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon".    The data and numbers are not what we serve.  They are a finger pointing at the moon.  In most cases the "moon" is people and they are what it's all about.   

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Take A Deep Breath

Breathing in, I calm my body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment.
The only moment.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
After many years I have finally realized the importance of breathing.  For most of us breathing is something we take for granted.  Deep breathing is part of my daily meditation and prayer.  When I am stressed or anxious I have learned to focus on my breathing and it will calm and center me.  I am generally a calm person.  Because of this I think there are people who believe I never have an emotional response to anything and that I have no sense of urgency or assertiveness.  This is not true.  The truth is that I am a deeply emotional person with a whirling dervish of feelings going on all the time.  Sometimes my feelings and emotions are very strong and not necessarily good.  They can get the best of me at times.  When I feel this happening I try to breathe in order to calm my body and my mind.  As I breathe out I try to smile, if only in my mind’s eye.  By focusing on my breath I can be in the present moment and most of the time I can deal with whatever is happening in that moment.  If you feel upset or anxious today, try to breathe deeply by inhaling through your nose and exhaling from your mouth.  You can also include a mantra or a prayer with your breathing.  You could use the quote above or maybe you are more comfortable praying something like “Lord, help me”!  With or without words, calm your mind and body by breathing deeply and dwelling in the present moment.  The moment is your reality.    

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Simply Enjoying A Day

When my friend Dennis was still alive I used to take off one Friday approximately every month to drive out to the country and spend the day with him.  Since his death I haven’t taken many days off just to enjoy the day.   This past Friday was different.  In order to take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather, and to visit our son, my wife and I took a day off from work this past Friday.  It was everything you hope a day away from the office would be.  We slept in a little bit, had some breakfast, and then headed down I-65 south.  The day was a little overcast on the way to Elizabethtown but eventually turned into a picture perfect day.  Traditionally priests live in houses called rectories but in today’s world housing for priests can vary from priest to priest.  Nick lives alone in a patio home a few miles from his main parish and close to St. James School.  After a brief stop there Nick decided he wanted to show us a small and beautiful church that is part of his responsibilities.  It was quiet and peaceful place with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  After a tour we left there and drove a few miles to the Whistle Stop Café in Glendale.  The food was awesome.  It’s what I call good old country cooking.  I went a little crazy and totally enjoyed a meal of country ham, mashed potatoes with white gravy, broccoli casserole, and biscuits.  Did I mention the dessert of ice cream, bananas, hot fudge, and whipped cream?  It took all three of us to finish one serving.  Needless to say I did not eat for the rest of the day.  As expected the traffic on I-65 north backed up on the way home so I got off on the Bardstown exit for the longer, more scenic, but as least I was moving, drive home.  All in all it was a wonderful day.  It lifted my spirit.  I need to do this more often.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

Standing In It And Still Smiling

Once I attended a Zen mindfulness day with some friends.  It was an early spring day and we were on a farm.  The day consisted of meditation, writing, and Zen walks.  When it was time to walk, the Zen Master would ring a bell and we would follow him in single file through the fields.  From time to time, he would ring the bell and we would stop walking.  During one of these pauses, I became aware of what a beautiful day it was.  The sky was deep blue, the sun was shining bright, and there was a chill in the air.  I was totally in the moment.  In the midst of this moment, I looked down and realized I was standing in a pile of cow poop.  The bell rang again and we started walking back to the farm house where we meditated and wrote in our journals.  The Zen Master asked if we had any thoughts about our walk.  I described my experience of being in the moment and then realizing I was standing in cow dung.  He asked me what realization I had in that moment.  My response was that “life could be wonderful and beautiful even when you are standing in a pile of cow poop”!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn Road Trip

Autumn and early winter are my favorite times of the year.  I love the cooler weather, the fall colors, Halloween, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, and the spirit in the air during the Christmas season.  I have a personal goal to enjoy every day of my life but tomorrow I am going to kick it up a notch and take the day off.  My wife and I are driving to Elizabethtown to visit our youngest son.  He is a Catholic priest and is currently the associate pastor of three parishes.  Part of the experience will be to have lunch at the Whistle Stop Café in Glendale, Kentucky.  It’s a small place right next to some railroad tracks but the food is to die for.  I am looking forward to the drive there and back because we are at the peak of the autumn season and the leaf colors are beautiful.  I can only hope the construction on I-65 isn’t as bad as it was the last time I headed south.  It is a good thing to occasionally take a day off from work to enjoy the simple things of life.  My wife and I are fortunate.  We have two sons and both of them turned out well.  They seem to enjoy being with us and we enjoy being with them.  I am sure we occasionally make them crazy because that’s part of our job description as parents.  On the flip side they occasionally make us crazy because they are still our children even if they are grown men.  Bright and early on Saturday morning I expect to see my granddaughter.  She will spend the weekend with my wife and I and we’ll go see the new “Book Of Life” movie.  Every year when they announce the Academy Award nominations the only category where I’ve seen all the movies is the children’s animated films.  My granddaughter is the icing on the cake of a blessed life.     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Being Criticized

All of us are sometimes criticized.  It is often referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still usually feels like good old criticism.  I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well.  It's not because I think I am perfect.  It's more because I really strive to do things well and to always do the right thing.  When someone tells me I am not meeting an expectation, it hurts.  I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept constructive feedback.  I do believe, however, there are painless and positive ways to give constructive feedback.  First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end.  Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way.  Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with negative terminology.  The reality of a situation can be presented in a non-threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future.  I don't believe any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly.  In today's complex and highly technical work environments the use of computers often makes the possibility of errors more likely than not.  Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or a process rather than people.  When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program?  People seem like the only option for criticism so they are usually given the blame.  None of us are perfect, we do sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness.  Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism.  If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight.  If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non- threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder.  Encourage them.  Don't break their spirit.