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Couples Therapy

Fighting Kangaroos

Old Gov and New Gov finally went to see a therapist. It was that, or part ways after so many years.

The two of them started out happy, but New Gov had recently received her "15 Years of Service" pin.

Though she had only a dozen or so years left until retirement, New Gov's midlife crisis was getting worse and worse.

Old Gov would not have gone to therapy at all. But he could not ignore the numbers. And this year's Best Places To Work rankings were the pits.

At first he had tried to blame their problems on money - specifically, the lack of it. The pay freeze. Shutdown. Sequestration. Furlough. Continuing resolution. 

Call it what you want, it all spells "less food on the table."

But there was also the morale factor to consider. After so many years, Old Gov didn't care what people said anymore. But New Gov wanted to be listened to, and appreciated. She had so many years ahead of her.

Frankly, Old Gov was scared that New Gov would jump ship to the private sector.

So there they were, at the therapist's office, on a bright sunny day at noon.

"Come in," the doctor said. "It's cold out there."

Old Gov took a seat. "Tell me about it. That bright sun sure can fool you."

The doctor pulled up a chair. "So what brings you here today?"

New Gov had been looking at the diplomas on the wall. Now she sat down abruptly. The words came bursting out of her mouth like bullets from a machine gun.

"He will never, ever change," she said. "I have to do the same work, the same way, on broken equipment, day in and day out."

Old Gov did not expect to be attacked right off the bat like this.

"And you never stop changing," he said. "This is the government, not Silicon Valley. You've got to settle down."

She grimaced. "Why is it that I can do my grocery shopping on my iPhone and have it delivered, but I can't update a customer record without going through three separate screens on an old-fashioned desktop?"

"Ha! That one is just funny!"

"What do you mean? Are you making fun of me?" Her face flushed. "This was clearly a mistake."

The doctor held up a hand. "Hold on, hold on."

Old Gov turned to face her, conciliatory. "I know we have to catch up. But you have to have some patience."

When she spoke next, New Gov was calm but resolute. "I've had nothing but patience. But you are afraid to try anything."

The doctor looked at both of them. "What can I do to help you here?"

New Gov folded her arms. "I don't know. I want to retire from the Agency, but frankly I have had enough. More work, worse equipment, less security, and I'm constantly getting dumped on by people and their stereotypes about Feds."

"I think Old Gov hears you," said the doctor. "That's why we're here. Why don't we begin?"

Old Gov and New Gov looked at each other. 

"I do like my work," she said. "I like that feeling of really helping people, and not just chasing the quick buck. I also like my friends."

"You do have a lot of good ideas," he offered. "And your suggestions may actually save us some money. Maybe I've been too afraid to change. Me and my big fat ego, only getting in the way."

The doctor looked at the clock. Time had almost run out, but the patients' work was nearly done.

"All you had to do was show up here," he said. "I didn't really do anything today, other than give you some office space."

New Gov stood up first, cautiously smiling. "Thank you, doctor."

"Yes, thank you," echoed Old Gov.

They walked back to the office together.

* All opinions my own.

I'm With Stupid


The following conversation never occurred, but it could have.

There we were at the conference table. Yet another meeting. Close to sundown, as the days are growing short.

"I have to tell you something," I said.


"I don't think I'm as smart as I need to be. And it bothers me."

"What? What do you mean?"

"I mean, I can't keep up. Harvard, MIT, interns who know five languages and produce videos on their iPhones. Coders for America."

She looked at me as if to say, I can't believe you're saying this. And then she started laughing.

But I felt like Norma Rae. I had to speak out.

"What the hell is all this new technology, anyway? Every minute a new thing to learn."

A surge of blood flew up my face. My fists clenched instinctively. I would stand up against the constant invasion of new, new, new!

"Snapchatter, Github, APIs. What the hell is an API?"

Up, up, up and away.

"First they said Drupal 6, then it was Drupal 7, and now it's Drupal 8 - beta."

"Totally, totally," she said reassuringly, eyeing the door. A full scale rant.

"And to make matters worse, my teenager codes mobile apps in her sleep."

She stood up, ending the meeting. "Don't worry about it, my dear."

"Why? Why shouldn't I worry about it, tell me?"

She looked through the shutters and into the waning light.

"We're all in the same boat. You'll feel better tomorrow."

* All opinions my own.

Beautiful Ugly


My mother is absolutely beautiful. But if you asked her, she would tell you she is ugly.

I love my mother more because she is who she is. People who lie, whose faces are a mask of plastic surgery, are repulsive no matter how beautiful they are.

Falsehood makes us run. On television, Mad Men is a mad hit, but "the sexism, in particular, is almost suffocating, and not in the least fun to watch," Gregory Rodriguez writes in the L.A. Times.

It's the hidden side of the characters -- the dark and painful and yes, ugly -- that is most compelling.

Miley Cyrus is a tasteless train wreck, showy and exhibitionistic. Is that why people listen to her music? Or is it that we hear in her voice our own broken hearts? "Wrecking Ball" makes me tear up every time. It got a record 19.3 million views within 24 hours of its appearance on the Vevo video music channel.

A lifetime of drug-fueled partying is ugly, too, when you look at it up close. Charlie Sheen has never pretended to be anything other than this immature frat boy. And in "Two And A Half Men," he made a hit out of looking at the audience and making fun of himself.

Jerry Seinfeld made it big with the same formula in Seinfeld. He was the guy who couldn't commit to a girl, the comedian-baby who ran around the city and semi-succeeded at making a family out of Elaine, Kramer and George. He hasn't had a hit since, because the real Seinfeld grew up and got married and had a few kids.

The list goes on and on. Popular motivational speakers Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant have all talked publicly about their personal struggles with having been abused. Their personal ugliness turns into something beautiful when they give it as a gift to others, to help them through the kind of unbearable personal pain that few can ever think of sharing.

Along the same lines, we see popular art made out of popping a great big hole in fake images of perfection. Take the art of Dina Goldstein, which shows "What Disney Princesses' Happily-Ever-Afters Really Looked Like." Or the mashed-up photographs-with-captions by Anne Taintor, which show what those 1950s "domestic goddesses" were really thinking.

When modern image-makers stumble and fall, it's usually for one of three reasons.

* They lack sufficient self-awareness and/or cultural awareness to calibrate to their surroundings.
* They miss the mark consistently, and either over- or under-share.
* They present themselves one way, then change course and act like they are somebody else.

The best "personal brands" celebrate who they really are: Adele and Melissa McCarthy and Cory Booker. They don't pretend to be something they're not. They don't even answer all your questions. They have the kind of confidence you can't buy in a salon.

People want to be around other relatable human beings. The things you're worried about are 99% irrelevant to them.

The number one rule, if you want to follow one, is this: Don't be a phony, arrogant jerk.

* All opinions my own.

Innovation Is Supposed To Feel Bad, Not Good

Skiing Day 2

When you work for an innovative person, it is actually like living underneath skis.

There they are, flying high, doing all sorts of exciting stunts. And you are looking up from underneath.

You know they're going to land, right? And when that happens, boy will it make a big mess.

If you are snow, you can only look forward to losing your clean, white, smooth surface. That calm you worked so hard to achieve...ruined.

Some days the innovator walks on the snow instead of skis. And it's actually worse.

But the practicalities of navigating a slope cannot be avoided. You can't fly all the time.

So they're slogging around, and your beautiful snow is even more dredged up. Destroyed.

But what if you, yourself are the innovator? Is it any better then?

Not really.

Because all the while you are soaring here is what you have to think about:

* This feels

* Is there going to be enough snow to catch me when I land? Did someone take care of that?

* If this one works out, what is going to be my next big trick?

For all of these reasons, being an innovator feels bad, not good.

The truth is, we have to innovate all the time. If we fail, our competitors will come up and take our places. We may not feel that happening right away, but it does nevertheless.

So people should know that innovation is not only necessary, but painful.

Pain is easier when you know what to expect.

For example, those new-fangled workplaces -- they won't necessarily feel good.

Those open-air cube farms we built - people hate those!

But they may perform better at home, telecommuting part or all of the time and losing the permanent desk altogether.

Things are always changing. Some people get that. So they wake up, they learn, they adapt.

Change is life.

Other people stamp their feet and struggle.

I am not of the belief that we should spend all of our time apologizing for the pain of innovation. Or any of it, really. It's a fact.

I do think we should work harder at telling people what they should expect along the way from Point A, to Point B, to infinity and beyond.

They need to know that the future is uncertain - that expectations are higher than ever - that resources are short and the full gamut of their skills will be called on in ways they could never have anticipated.

Innovation feels bad, because the future is not secure.

But then again, isn't that the fun of it as well?

* All opinions my own.

Quantum Physics & Guardian Angels

Stuffed Animal Sleepover 2012 (32)
Photo by Allen County Public Library via Flickr

This week the U.K. Daily Mail published an article about Professor Robert Lanza's theory that death is an illusion created in our own minds. Lanza's theory, "biocentrism," uses quantum physics to make his case.

I'm no quantum physicist, but I have always believed there's a "before" and an "after."

It takes different things to convince people of what I see as an obvious fact.

In Many Lives, Many Masters, psychiatrist and initial skeptic Brian Weiss talks about his experience with a patient whose regression into past lives provided the scientific evidence he needed to believe.

The patient was cured and Weiss was motivated to write down what he saw in a book, observing, "If faith is not enough, perhaps science will help." 

I have personally observed on many occasions that new friends seem like people I already know very well. There is no way that I could know this, and they tell me the same thing.

A woman told me about the loss of her son. The pain was so palpable. It tore her face in two.

I said to her, "I know this is going to sound strange. But I can feel an energy around you. It is almost like he is with you." 

It was difficult to say that for a lot of reasons, but I didn't expect her reply. 

"It's not just him," she said. "I have my grandfather, my father, and half my family around me."

And then her sadness broke, and her face broke into a soft grin.

The next time you are sitting in your cubicle, and the stress is overwhelming you, consider this.

Reality may not be exactly what it seems.

You may not be as alone as you think.

And somehow, somewhere, someone is watching out for you.

* All opinions my own.