I Believe in Me

25 Oct

With the cool air outside and kids fast asleep snug in their beds, I watched a little bit of TV last week.  I watched part of the chaos that happened in the Republican Presidential Debate on CNN. 
I also watched something a little more fun – the World Series.

What I found remarkable and interesting is the number of experts surrounding both events.

One expert says this.  Another one says that.  One newspaper reports it this way.  Another reports it that way.  Even the commercials during these two events had ‘expert’ opinions.  One TV commercial for this product had an ‘expert’ say one thing, while a competing product’s ‘expert’ said something else.

It feels like there are more people on TV these days who posses a great deal of confidence in how tomorrow will play out.  “Moving forward, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of ups and downs because we don’t have certainty from Washington”, said one financial expert referring to the US economy.  “Really?  That’s all you can come up with?”, I asked out loud expecting him to respond from the TV.  From lots of numbers such as 99%, 53%, 1%, 9% and of course the 9-9-9 to the predictions about the economy, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed.

Who do you believe?  Who’s really right?  Can I believe anything anymore?  Is there anything solid I can count on? 

There was a time when I used to believe the ‘experts’.  I used to believe they had the right answers because they knew more things than I did.  They had the PhD not me.  I thought they were experts and well what did I know?   But over the last several years, I have come to realize a simple truth:  No one can predict the future.

Experts can be right and they can be wrong.  But I don’t have to trust any of them.  My approach:  Trust in Myself.

I believe that in times of great fundamental shift in our life – from jobs and careers to the way we raise our kids, I have to be smarter at listening to my inner voice.  At the kind of things my gut used to tell me that I ignored but later regretted.  In times of chaos, uncertainty, globalization and increased complexity of life, I must have greater Trust in Myself.  I know me. I know who I am and what is possible in my life.  Deep down inside, I know the truth.  I know what’s right.

I have to remind myself that if I had listened to others, I would not be the person I am today.  Had I listened to others, my fist book would not have been published.  As a first time author only a few years ago, everyone told me you’re dreaming.  I still have the countless rejection letters by publishers and agents.  Had I actually listened to them, I would never have had the life experience of writing and getting a book published.  I ignored expert voices and achieved a life goal.

I realize that I can’t predict the future and do not pretend to know everything but in uncertain times which no one could predict where no one has the perfect solution, I need to Trust in Myself.  I got this.  I know me.  I am confident in myself and my abilities to make choices that will put me on the right path.  I’ve been through tough times before and I know I can handle this by trusting what my parents, grandparents and their parents used in order to survive far worse:  human instinct.

How My Wife Embraced a New Business

14 Oct

Monday, October 10th was the 3 year anniversary of my wife signing the lease to open her new business, Monroe Eye Care LLC.  In the midst of the financial crisis and chaos, on October 10, 2008, with no customers, no experience in running a business and no bank loan, she Embraced the Chaos by signing a three-year lease for a 1000 Sq. Ft. store in a strip mall for her piece of the American dream: a small business.

With a 6 month old baby in the car seat in her hand, she waited for inspectors and electricians to show, hired good contractors, fired crude ones, negotiated with vendors, put up shelves, bought carpet, installed equipment and spent 5 months to finish construction to open the doors of her business.

In the 3 years since signing the lease, she’s also had to hire people and fire people. She’s had to work with the uncertainty of revenues, unpredictability of difficult customers, complexity of a healthcare business and the chaos that surrounds having to be a mom to two young girls and spouse to a guy who can’t cook dinner.  She would wake up at the crack of dawn and try to sleep at midnight exhausted with the clouds of anxiety, stress and fear hovering over her pillow.

But she did it!  She survived for 3 years and has learned a lot. Trained as an Optometrist, not as a business person, my wife Shefali has firsthand experience with opening a new business in a tough economy.  So when I took her out for dinner the other night, my intention was to celebrate the 3-year mark but also to interview her for this blog.

So what did she learn?

“The most important thing I learned is that the beginning is the toughest!”, Shefali said to me as we broke bread at an Italian restaurant nearby our home. “There is so much that was coming at me so fast that I was constantly feeling like I was behind.  I was anxious, worried and stressed at not knowing what surprises could hit me as soon as I walked into the office every morning. It was really hard.  Each day, I encountered problems that I hadn’t seen before.  Around every turn there was an obstacle.  I went to school to learn how to care for patients, not to run a business so I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”  “So how did you survive in all that chaos?”, I asked trying to leave my hubby hat behind.

Holding back three years of tears that only she could feel, she answered, “You just get used to it.  All the daily obstacles, the shocks, the surprises, the problems.  I learned to accept it all and as time flies, things do get better.  Just embrace the chaos, as you say.  Maybe the chaos slows down but mainly what happens is that you feel better over time because you learn to adapt to live in that environment.  I didn’t realize that things do get better – especially when I was knee-deep in the beginning of the storm.”

As I reflected on her thoughts, I realized that my wife has changed a lot in the three years since opening the business.  She seems more confident at handling difficult situations.  Whether the computer system goes down or there’s a bad customer encounter or a problem with her employees.  She’s more relaxed because she’s seen it before.  She has learned to Expect and Accept Uncertainty and Chaos.  She’s more comfortable in her skin and I think has found her purpose in the process.

What I also realize about uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos is that I can’t do anything to stop the craziness of life that may come at me.  The only thing I can do is to prepare myself for it NOW by putting myself out there more by getting out of the house.  By saying YES and Doing New Things.  So that I get used to being knocked around a few times.

I also believe that My 8 Rules to embrace the chaos is a road map not a solution per se.  It is a path.  It is a way of life that I can teach myself to learn and follow.  From listening to Shefali share her lessons learned, I realize that being able to manage uncertainty and disorder is not something you learn in school, it is something you learn by doing it.  By embracing it – not running away from it.

At the end of our dinner, I may have learned valuable lessons about living in uncertainty and chaos from my wonderful, entrepreneur wife – but I still haven’t learned to cook dinner.  Maybe I need to stay in the house and embrace the kitchen once in a while.

My outlook is MY choice

7 Oct

I found this interesting interactive New York Times poll, on the outlook people have about jobs, the economy, next generation’s future, and people’s spending plans for next year.  I know I’m torturing myself by reading these things but I came upon it and found something remarkable and wanted to share.

The interactive poll is a cool way to visualize how people are feeling these days.  You click on the question and then the images move from one side of the board to the other based on their feeling of either “Bad” or “Good”.  You can also slice it by looking at only “Unemployed” or “Women”, etc.

So I sliced it by “Unemployed” and “Next generations’ job prospects”.  The results: as I expected most are feeling “Bad” but to my surprise, there were a handful who responded “Good”.  But I what I found remarkable is this one guy all alone on the right side of this graphic who felt, “Excited”!

He has a few friends who also feel good so he’s not alone but the word he used to describe his outlook was not uncertain, angry, worried or disgusted.  He is an unemployed man in the northeast and he used the word, “Excited”!  He appears excited about the outlook of jobs, the economy, etc., “Because there are so many new ideas floating around for new ways to make a living.” See graphic below.

Like most of the people I know these days, sometimes I feel a little worried, stressed and uncertain about the future.  I feel as though you can’t count on anything anymore.  OK, ok…I feel like the world has gone insane – into chaos!!!

But what’s this guy have that I don’t?  How can he and others feel “Good”, when they are unemployed right now?

When I first looked at this poll, I focused on the bad.  You can’t help it.  It smacks you in the face.  The number of times you see the following words, you can’t help but feel the same:  uncertain, worried, stressed, concerned, discouraged.  But then I realized something about myself – I get carried away with the insanity and at times follow the herd mentality.  I tend to generally accept majority opinion unless I feel really passionate about countering that sentiment.

I realized that for me to embrace the chaos that is all around me – at work, at home – I have to change my outlook.  For now, I have a job – this guy doesn’t.  He is unemployed and he’s “Excited”!  And the only difference between his attitude and mine seems to be that he is choosing his attitude and I am allowing others to choose mine.

I believe that for me to keep my sanity in these uncertain times and feel less worried or anxious, I have to remind myself that I have a choiceI need to choose my own outlook because it is mine.  My attitude will not come to me by a gift from above but from within myself.  Even if I am alone standing on the right side of this board of life.  I have to choose to embrace the chaos.   Because I know that there are people out there who in uncertain times can achieve extraordinary things.

The passing of Steve Jobs was a reminder that there are people out there who choose to think differently.  He was that guy all the way on the “Good” side of the board who defined himself by being a visionary when everyone else was a follower.  Like most, I was inspired by Steve Jobs because he chose to be positive and took action to bring his ideas to reality.  He put purpose to work, said YES – why not?  His speeches, his products and his actions inspired me to realize that you can simplify complex things so that it makes us feel good.

Life is good.  In the midst of uncertainty and chaos, I need to remind myself each and every day that it is a gift that you only get once.  The world is full of possibilities that I just need to discover by following my 8 Rules.  There is only one Steve Jobs.  He will be missed by the world.  But I also realize that the unknown guy on the “Good” side of this graphic who is “Excited” about the future could be me.

New Rules for My 1st Grader

1 Oct

My 6-year-old daughter came into my basement office today and started goofing around while I was really focused on finishing something important.

I just needed a few more minutes so to keep her occupied, I asked her to keep herself busy by writing whatever she wanted on the board behind my desk. After a few minutes she remarked, “Huh, there’s a lot of NOs papa”, as she pointed to the list she almost completed.

I turned around and noticed that she had written the rules she learned from a poster hung up in her 1st grade class at school. It’s a list of the rules kids are supposed to follow: No running, no pushing, no talking, no hitting, etc. A little spelling mistake aside, they’re pretty good…basic stuff.

But it got me thinking about rules we teach ourselves and eventually to our children. Not about behavior in school but about life.

What I was taught growing up was that if you do THIS, then you’ll get THAT. Pretty logical and reasonable. But in so many circumstances today, I feel like that’s not true anymore. You work hard but you can still be laid off. You get a big customer but you can lose that customer because of something totally out of your control. Two entrepreneurs can start the exact same business and do pretty much the same things but one might succeed while the other one fails. Life is so complex and unpredictable these days that you just cannot count on the same results you expected in the past.

So, as I thought about this, I realized that I needed to teach my daughter some new rules. Instead of NO, I need to be using YES to prepare her for the real world where she will need to know how to embrace the chaos. To help her move from what she CANNOT do….to what she CAN do. So as an experiment, I came up with my set of new ‘rules’ for my 6-year-old daughter to go side by side with her NO set of rules:

1. YES, Do ask really tough questions in class. Because questions lead us to understand complex things.

2. YES, ask for more than 10 minutes of homework. Because learning should never stop.

3. YES, I will learn to be speak another language. Because communicating with a global workforce will come in handy.

4. YES, I will learn to fail and be ok with not succeeding all the time. Because great success comes by learning from failure.

5. YES, I will raise my hand for new assignments. Because you can’t survive in a new world without getting out of the house.

6. YES, I will try something I’m afraid to try. Because the real world can be uncomfortable and we need to get used to it.

7. YES, I CAN do anything but I have to work hard at it – really hard. Because life doesn’t hand you “A”s as easily as 1st grade teachers do.

8. YES, I will stop whining (ok, ok…this is my wish list for her). Because life is good and we have to be grateful for what we DO have not what we DON’T have.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to instill these principles in my daughter as she progresses through life. But what I am sure about is that for me to do right by her, I need to try. And to begin, move her default from NO to YES.

Tough Talk Tuesday

27 Sep

Once in a while you’ve got to kick yourself to get motivated in these times full of uncertainty, unpredictability, complexity and chaos. So this is my personal tough talk to myself as I left the house this Tuesday morning as I made my hour plus commute to the city.

Hey Bob,

Today’s the day to get off your laurels and do something different. Stop putting things off just because you are unsure where things will go. Who really knows what this uncertainty will bring us? No experts are right all the time. They don’t know you. You know yourself and you will be just fine. Trust in yourself. But don’t wait around.  Take action.

Yes, there is more uncertainty. Accept it and get over it.  Life is unpredictable.  When was it predictable?  Business is more complex and faster than ever. So what? Doesn’t competition make business better?

This is your time. The best time to be alive.  History has demonstrated that at the edge of chaos is when the best things happen.  Because that is where everything is fluid, not settled and malleable.  This is the best time to take action. Nothing is written in stone.  A kid with internet access sitting somewhere in the world will be creating the next billion dollar business. He doesn’t know any better. No one owes him anything. He’s not whining.  He is embracing the chaos.

Why can’t that be you? What excuse is stopping you?

Yes, I know you feel like you’re living in a world of chaos with uncertainty and worry everywhere.  And people tell you that in these times you should keep your head down and stay put. They’re probably wrong. Staying put may or may not work out. How do you know they are right?

Don’t the best things happen by luck, chance and in times of confusion and chaos?  But luck and chance only favor those who get out of the house and say YES to new things.  You’ll miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Haven’t the best things in your life happened to you when you were open to new things? When you expected nothing and were happy just to be alive? When you were ecstatic just to have clear purpose?  No….not you.  Now, you’ve become picky and need to have it just perfect.  Stop whining and be grateful that you have what you have. Be grateful you live in a country that is the greatest on earth. Where anything is still possible.

Don’t worry too much. Ignore the politicians. They will never agree on anything. Does anything they do really impact your life? Really? Ignore them.

Listen to yourself. You know that in a world of chaos, you have to embrace the chaos. Doing so will make you more adaptable so that you can learn to live with it, not find a cure for it. It’s just life, it’s tough. It is what it is.  Who said life was easy? Ups and downs will always be there.  Hustle in the downs and be grateful for the ups.

Have faith.  You may not be able to control the outside world but you can control how you look at it and the actions you take.  You have a choice.  To either let the uncertainty get to you or to embrace it.  You’ve seen this movie before.  You have had tough times growing up.  You used to know how to deal with the uncertainty in life.  You need to rediscover it and bring that back.  You’ve been through tougher times than the ones we’re living in today.  You can do it.  Bring it on.

One last thing – do one NEW thing today. Just one thing.  You never know…it might just put you in a place of luck.

Have a good day!

Bob

Right Here, Right Now

23 Sep

I went to bed about 11pm the other night and couldn’t sleep.  11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30!…I kept looking at the clock and given that my alarm clock was set for the usual 5:45am, I was getting more anxious as time went on.  “Come on Bob – get to sleep.  Come on you can do it”, I said to myself as I desperately tried to calm my mind.  I needed to fall asleep fast but something was keeping me up.  The more I thought about it, the more I was in a hurry to fall asleep because the mind plays this thread game – one thread of thought to another to another.  Needless to say, getting up in the morning was miserable.

What kept me awake were two words my wife said to me before I went to sleep and they were:  “What If?”

She was talking hypothetically about her business and what chaos might potentially occur if she were to lose her office manager in her growing, busy but new Optometry practice.  Like many small business owners, my wife was thinking out loud about what would happen if she lost her ONLY employee. “What if that happened?”, she asked.

That was it.  The train left the station of calm, racing on the tracks of uncertainty.

Scenarios of uncertainty and chaos ensued in my head as I tossed and turned in bed—She would be a mess.  Holy cow!  WE would be a mess.  I would have to take precious time off from work to help her for a while but how long will that last?  And should I be taking any time off given uncertainty in my place of work?  Who would pick up the kids from school – the bus stop and the day care?  How would we handle it if I had to travel for my job?  Three hours after that simple question, I was still awake feeling like I had no control, anxious, uncertain and worried.  Total chaos in my mind!

Apparently, that feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability didn’t bother her as she was snoring away.  Something about the night that makes my mind go nuts.

As I dredged through work the next day, I called to ask, “How did you fall asleep so fast?”  Her response: “Maybe ignorance is bliss.  But most of the time I have faith in the bigger scheme of things.  I don’t know but I realize that I can’t control those things but it’ll all work out somehow.  I don’t know, maybe it’s faith.  Maybe it’s a self protecting mechanism that ignorant people like me have.”

Is ignorance bliss?

It could be.  But I don’t think she’s ignorant either.  Either way, ignorance never worked for me.  To overcome uncertainty and unpredictability I need reason.  Logic.  I need to get to the root of things.  Only through finding a logical, reasonable path out of uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos can I shut off that “What If?” going off in my mind.  Needless to say, my wife sleeps better than I do most of the time.

So here’s what I realized about myself as I learn to embrace the chaos when uncertainty pops up in the middle of the night.

The uncertainty of a potential future event that may or may not happen weighs heavier in my mind at night than it does for my wife.  Not all the time but a lot of the time.  And I think it is because I have not fully realized that I need to ACCEPT uncertainty.  It WILL OR WILL NOT HAPPEN.  It MAY OR MY NOT HAPPEN.  Accept it.  Who really knows?  It’ll all be just fine.  It all works out in the end no matter what happens.  Let the future go.

How I accomplish this is by bringing my mind back to BEING PRESENT.  To being in the moment.  I don’t know the future.  No one does.  The only truth I know is standing before me right now which is the only thing I control.

I think since my wife started her business in 2008, both she and I are getting better sleep than we used to.  Not because we’re so happy, confident or relaxed.  We have more uncertainty with the responsibility of a new business.  It’s just that you are so busy – so focused on the things you need to get done right now that your mind doesn’t have time to dwell on the “What If?”  You’re so preoccupied with just getting through the day-to-day tasks – being in the present moment – that you’re a little more free from the handcuffs of uncertainty and unpredictability of tomorrow.

So, my new sleep aid?  Get back to work…and hard work.  I’m going to throw myself deeper into a project at work or thoughts of things I need to get done today.  Remind myself to focus on the things I can control today, right here and right now.  I think that’s the answer.  For my wife, it has helped her sleep better at night, be less stressed, more content.  I am realizing that she’s might have it all figured out when she said, “Chaos that could happen tomorrow is not my problem.  I need to worry about getting through the next 30 minutes.”

Matching Pajamas Are Not Important

19 Sep

Over the last 12 months, Harry and Hanna have gone through plenty of turbulence, uncertainty and chaos.  My wife and I hadn’t seen them in a while since Harry moved away for his job so sitting down to pizza on a recent Friday night was a treat for us.

Uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos in their life started a little over a year ago when Harry got laid off due to a major downsizing.  Around the same time, Hanna gave birth to their second child.  Being out of work is stressful enough but the stress of a new baby in the house with no income really amplified the chaos!

When Harry did find a job, about 6 months later it was a God send – a good company, a nice boss – the ideal job BUT in an unideal location.  The job was in another state!

“Let’s figure it out and try to make it work”, Harry said as he decided to embrace the chaos and accept working in another state four hours away during the week and commute home to New Jersey on the weekends.  “You do what you have to do for your family.  It is what it is.  And I do it because I have to“, Harry said to me as we ate a slice of pizza.

Curious about the impact on their life and state of mind, I prodded to discover how they’re managing it all, especially now that Hanna started her own new job in the city.  Hanna began chiming in, “It’s really, really hard but you get through it.  In the beginning, I wanted someone to realize the sacrifices I was making because the majority of the burden was on me.  I still remember this one day – here I was, still in my business suit after a long commute home from the city, I held a flimsy umbrella in the pouring rain as I attempted to put the garbage out on the curb while my babysitter stood dry inside holding my two kids watching me and I thought to myself, at least I have an  eyewitness for the sacrifices I’m making.”

Finding her emotional honesty, Hanna continued, “You know what, you come home after a long day of dealing with chaos at work, let the babysitter go home and you realize you’ve got chaos at home to deal with and you’re on your own!  After feeding them, bathing them and putting them to sleep, you have a good cry.  You have that good cry each night and wake up the next day and accept the new realityYou just accept it and move forward.”

“We also realized that we can’t have it all.  You focus on the 20% that’s really important and ignore the 80% that’s not”, Harry said as he picked up the baby and put her on his lap.   Chuckling a bit Hanna added, “Like having matching pajamas in the kids’ drawer or if the babysitter managed the kids the way we would have or if my new boss thinks I’m doing a good job.  Or the high expectations I put on my own career”.

After finishing our pizza I realized two things about my friends.  First, both of them put too much pressure on themselves.  Whenever they do something for a friend, they want to do it 100% right.  No skimping.  No excuses.  They have high expectations of themselves from their careers to the temperature of the food.  It has to be just right…perfect.

Second,  I realized that through this experience of chaos and uncertainty they have learned to Adjust their expectations.  They’re not as picky anymore.  So what if the pizza is not hot enough?  So what if the babysitter didn’t put the pajamas in the right drawer?  So what if we’re living apart for 5 days of the week?

Adjusting their expectations has allowed them to realize that they don’t have to be so demanding, especially of themselves.  That they cannot control everything about their environment.  But that they CAN control the way they look at things.  Now, I think they’re less stressed and more patient.  They recognize what’s more important.  Like the QUALITY of the time they have with each other on the weekends not the quantity of time they don’t have during the week.  They don’t seem to be so preoccupied with little things anymore because as Hanna said, “We couldn’t sustain that kind of demanding life – it was too draining to try to have everything be so perfect.”

I believe that by adjusting – or maybe by lowering our high expectations, we can learn to live with uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos.  Disappointments are bound to happen if we expect things to meet our high standard all the time.

Finally, I also realized that Harry and Hanna are champs!  Like many of us, they’re getting through this new world filled with uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos by making a choice not to force the outside to succumb to their high expectations but instead to adjust their own expectations so that they can live a positive life of contentment within the inevitable chaos peppered on top of their pizza.

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