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Tag Archives: Challenge

Challenge: The Double-Edged Sword

Challenging Golf Hole

One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

I just saw one of those beautiful, inspirational posters; the kind that are supposed to put positive thoughts into your head so you can overcome all obstacles and be successful. This one was an overhead of a particularly spectacular and difficult golf hole and the caption was “Challenge: The harder the course, the more rewarding the triumph.”

While I agree that’s true, there’s also another side to that statement. Sometimes the challenge is too great and, if there are unreasonable expectations it can be devastating not to be up to it. For instance, having high expectations of your child in areas where her level of expertise does not warrant it is probably not the greatest way to bring out her best performance.

Actually, I have a specific example from my life that happened close to 40 years ago. It still bothers me to recall the level of frustration and disappointment I experienced when I was asked to do something I really wasn’t prepared for and, given the urgency of the matter, just didn’t have enough time to come up to speed on . . . especially without any guidance at all. Clearly, it didn’t destroy me, but I was a bit scarred by the experience.

A bit of background. I have never been to College or University; I have no Baccalaureate degree. However, eight years after graduation from High School I was able to gain admission to a California State Bar certified law school. I did this entirely on the strength of my LSAT scores and my submission of a letter I still think only served to prove I was capable of a high degree of sophisticated bullshit.

Nevertheless, I was admitted and, before you ask, yes – I graduated and received a Juris Doctorate in the Summer of 1976. This incident I’m going to relate took place – if memory serves – late in my second year or early in my third. All I really recall clearly is the sting of defeat I encountered. All else is fuzzy and nondescript.

My activity in the anti-Vietnam War movement had brought me into close contact with some of the leadership of the left; people like Tom Hayden, Dorothy Healy, Frank Wilkinson, and Jane Fonda. I had earned a place of trust due to my involvement not only in organizing and conducting demonstrations and various other types of gatherings centered around the struggle for peace and justice, but also because I had played a rather large role in providing security for many who lived with physical threats during that time. I did a lot of event security and I did some armed bodyguard work.

When I was looking for work to help me get through law school, I believe it was Dorothy who introduced me to Ben Margolis and John McTernan of the firm Margolis, McTernan, Scope, Sacks, and Epstein. They offered me an opportunity I just didn’t feel I could possibly pass up. They were representing one party in a lawsuit involving the screenplay for the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I can’t even remember who we were representing*, but I do recall the job I was given. They asked me to prepare a Motion for Summary Judgement.

I readily took up the challenge and dutifully got to work. The only problem, as I recall, was they expected I could do this without any guidance or assistance. I was on my own and . . . I wasn’t up to the task. I was not terribly fond of the law of Civil Procedure and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t a very good student. I had screwed around a lot while in school, getting by on my  native intelligence and aforementioned ability to sling it. I struggled mightily but just couldn’t figure out how to make the Motion acceptable to the partners. Unfortunately, I don’t recall too many of the details but I’m quite certain it wasn’t too long before I was relieved of the assignment.

I was crestfallen. I had let people I respected down. It was devastating; so much so that I still recall the pain. Fortunately, I was not a child and my self-esteem was reasonably intact and strong enough to guide me through the ensuing trauma. I haven’t lost too much sleep over it, though I have never quite gotten over the feeling of abject failure in the face of my shortcoming.

The point I’m getting at here by sharing one of the more embarrassing moments of my life, is that sometimes challenges are truly a bridge too far. There is such a thing as overreaching. I like those motivational posters. However, to use a golf example to go along with the metaphor, if I finally reach an insanely difficult par three green after hitting three shots in the water and taking three strokes to get out of a deep, steep green-side bunker (which means I’m putting for an 11, and that’s assuming I one-putt) I don’t believe the word “triumph” would fall easily from my lips when describing how I felt as the ball finally hit the bottom of the cup.

Challenges need to be reasonably achievable within the context of their nature and who the person facing them is. Climbing Mt. Everest is not the kind of challenge you would normally present to, say, a 10-year-old and learning Javascript, HTML5, CSS, and C++ is not a challenge one would present to an octogenarian. The former would be challenging, though not exceedingly so, for a 30-year-old, experienced climber and the latter would be appropriate for a twenty-something budding developer. It’s all contextual.


* I did a little research and I think we were representing Ken Kesey, the author of the book One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He was quite unhappy with the screenplay. We may, however, have been representing the writer. I can’t be sure and most of the players are now dead. Actually, it’s just not worth the time it would take to be certain and it ain’t that important to my post, but I hope it was Ken. I like thinking that, even though I let him down. He never knew 🙂

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Heavenly Bacon . . . or Sky Bacon?

Sizzle, baby, sizzle

Death strips or Yummy Lozenges?

This blog is hosted by WordPress.com. I love it. It’s easy to maintain an organized, continuous presence on the web (assuming I post fairly frequently) and I have found it to be a continuously improving Content Management System as well, i.e. more than just a blog for me. This year the folks at WordPress launched a sort of challenge to those who use their services. It was to blog every day, if possible, or at least every week. I chose to accept the latter challenge, though I have declined to use the subjects they suggest every day.

However, today they suggested writing something about bacon and I just couldn’t resist. Having been raised in the world of smoked and luncheon meats (bologna, ham, hot dogs, head cheese!, liverwurst, and bacon – to name a few) I have a long-standing love/hate relationship with them. I am intimately familiar with almost all of them (head cheese was never a favorite of mine, but I’ve sold and delivered a fair amount), and I am pretty familiar with the health consequences of eating them, though there are lots of conflicting viewpoints; some with merit.

That said, I spent the summer between my first and second years of Law School (1974) working at a butcher shop in Gardena, California. We had a large, automated bacon-slicing machine and kept several hundred slabs of bacon around, which we sliced fresh each day. On Saturday, I would keep my eye on the case the sliced stuff was in and, when I noticed we had revealed a particularly lean part of the tray we laid out, I would snag a pound to take home for next day’s breakfast. My girlfriend at the time was from Vermont and we always had blueberry pancakes made on a Vermont Soapstone, drizzled with the best Vermont Fancy Maple Syrup. The bacon was thick-cut and the rind (skin) was left on, making each piece crunchy. These were incredible breakfasts, the memory of which has stuck with me all these years.

Now what does the title I’ve used have to do with anything remotely involved with bacon? There is a dessert found in many Mexican as well as Central and South American cuisines. It’s called Flan and, if you have not experienced it, think custard and Crème caramel for somewhat of an analogy. There are similarities. Like many dishes, there are numerous variants and the skill of the person baking it can change a delightful experience into a ho hum downing of a reasonably tasty sponge. Texture is quite important with this dish, IMO.

The type of Flan that stands out in my mind, however, is the Cuban version. It’s called Tocino del Cielo and it is – I guess – at least twice as rich as the kind I favor the most. For my tastes, it’s a little bit too rich. Nevertheless, it is clearly savored by quite a few people. Now to the title. I have always translated the name of this Cuban Flan in two different but related ways. The first is Sky Bacon or, literally, Bacon of the sky. My favorite translation, though, is Heavenly Bacon. Given that bacon is probably the richest meat you can purchase and cook without any preparation, I think attaching the word to an incredibly rich dessert makes some sense and, even though I find it a bit overbearing, adding heavenly kind of makes sense as well.

Do you know me (or someone who knows me)?

Six Degrees Probably Won't Cook This Dude

Do you like bacon, or do you think it will kill you to eat it? If the latter, do you eat it anyway?


From the Frying Pan, Into the . . . ?

Last week, during the remaining few hours of a two-day Novations class in Project Management, I received a couple of somewhat disconcerting emails. The first one, from the President of the company, was a notification a “Voluntary Separation Program” was being offered to all employees (well, almost all) who would be 60 years of age or older on May 15, 2010. This was announced as the latest step in many that have been taken to prepare the business for the challenges presented by the ending of the Space Shuttle Main Engine program and by the changes announced recently by NASA. I can’t say it was a surprise. The second email was from HR. It contained the (again, not startling, but nevertheless uncomfortable) news that I was (being close the 63 years old) eligible for the program.

Now, I had not – until that point – seriously considered leaving the company. I have been there for a total of over 23 years (cycle time; I worked my first year as a temp and left for two years to join a somewhat ill-fated yet necessary attempt to rejoin a family business) and had every intention of remaining at least another 15. Furthermore, as the lead for a team charged with changing the way we did business, with special responsibility for the use of social media, I was excited about the challenges we faced and the opportunities that presented. Suddenly, I felt very old and somewhat useless. It was not a comfortable feeling at all.

I have since spent a great deal of time thinking about what this means to me and, as a result of this thinking, I have decided to take the offer. In fact, I signed the papers yesterday declaring my intent to do so. While it isn’t the most lucrative of offers they could have made, it will give me about six months in which to plant the seeds of my next career, a career I intend on pursuing with a vengeance. I am also old enough to retire, which will increase the time I have before I need to start dipping into our savings. One last course available to me is filing for social security, something I would rather wait until I am 66 to do so I can receive the full amount.

So . . . what am I going to do with this breathing space. Well, my friend Luis Suarez has hinted at some of it in his post of today, “When This All Gets Cool, It’s All about The People and Your Passion“, and it’s even in my profile on Facebook, where I said “I am most interested in using today’s Internet based social computing technology to further the interests of my company and, not incidentally, humanity as well. I see no reason the two interests can’t converge. Do you?” It looks like I won’t be doing it to help my company, but I’m confident I can find other companies interested in what I do. Possibly, the most exciting thing about this change in career, though, is it will allow me the time to work with schools, community-service organizations, and other types of enterprise that can benefit from my passion about social computing and the promise they hold for doing the right things.

This is the journey I am now embarking on and I’m literally bursting with enthusiasm for it. I believe it will be a large part of the experience I will chronicle in this blog. I will continue my long association with my friends and colleagues in the Enterprise Thinking Network, many of whom will continue (unless there are further, massive layoffs) with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. In fact, I am scheduled to co-present a workshop with Johnnie Pourdehnad, long-time associate of Russell Ackoff’s, and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as the Associate Director of ACASA (Ackoff Collaboratory for the Advancement of Systems Approaches). This will be in April, before I have officially left the company (scheduled separation date is no earlier than May 14), at this year’s In2:InThinking Forum – an event you should consider attending if you are interested in new ways to view the world and the work we all do. I recommend it highly.

At any rate, thanks to a fairly extensive network I have built over the years in order to increase my value to my current organization (Hmm. Guess that didn’t work all that well, but it has had the side benefit of being useful to me professionally), I have already begun seeking out new adventures and new ways in which I can be of service. Maybe I’ll even be able to make a decent living at it! I you have any ideas of what some of those things can be, please don’t be shy. Let me know. I promise I’ll get back to you.


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