Lately I’ve found myself wondering if it’s too late for me to have a mid-life crisis. Maybe, if 70 is the new 50, the time is just about nigh. I’ve never had one and I’m thinking I may have missed out.
Lately I’ve found myself wondering if it’s too late for me to have a mid-life crisis. Maybe, if 70 is the new 50, the time is just about nigh. I’ve never had one and I’m thinking I may have missed out.
Today was an inordinately sad day for me. It wasn’t for all day, not even most of the day, but the feeling was different than many other sadnesses I’ve felt. I learned today that a man who I’ve been friends with since before I have actual memories passed away. A friend with whom I grew up and spent most of my childhood. My best friend for the better part of my first twenty years on this planet. The guy I enlisted in the U.S. Navy with in 1966 on the buddy system. He apparently had a heart attack and he also, apparently, was living alone as his body was not found for (I’ve been told) “some time.”
We were no longer really friends in the sense that we did things together or even talked; I hadn’t seen him in probably twenty years, but I had remained close to his younger brother, Bob, whose wedding I had performed and whose son was named after me and is my Godson. I heard about it first from his youngest brother, Chuck, in a Facebook message. Chuck lives in Kansas and I haven’t actually seen him in more than twenty years, but we’ve been FB friends for a while and I do believe I’m thought of as extended family. Jim wasn’t a Facebook kind of a guy. Unfortunately, a lot of people my age have never become comfortable with computers, let alone social media of any kind.
Still, Jim was so much a part of my life growing up, there’s no way I could forget his role in it. I used to go with him every Sunday to Saint Genevieve’s in Panorama City. Most of the time he would just grab a pamphlet in the vestibule to prove to his parents he had actually been in the building, then we would go off and play somewhere. There were also times when I had no choice but to attend Mass and I learned all the proper moves to make; holy water, genuflection, grace at meals when I had dinner at his house. I could even recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers if called upon to do so. I almost still can, just like I can almost still read Hebrew after four years of Hebrew school that culminated in my Bar Mitzvah. In all the years we lived with our parents, he always tried to find his way to our house for Friday dinner. He didn’t much care for fish and my father was a butcher at the Grand Central Market.
Back in the mid to late fifties, there was a yearly Carnival that took place in Panorama City, near the intersection where Parthenia peels off to the west from Van Nuys Boulevard. They always had a shooting gallery where real .22 caliber rounds were used and Jim and I would root through the sawdust on the ground in front of the counter where the rifles lay to find unspent bullets people had dropped. We always managed to find a couple or more. After all, we were kids and that was our job.
We would take those bullets to the tennis courts at what was then called Hazeltine Park and “aim” them at the houses on the other side of Costello Avenue, to the northwest. Then we would smack them with a hammer. Great fun was had by all until another friend and I were doing the same thing in his backyard and a piece of shrapnel barely missed taking out his eye, leaving a nice gash in his eyebrow. That was kind of the end of that.
We did lots of crazy-ass things, which I can only assume lots of kids do. We once put our hands on top of the entrance to a red ant colony just to see what would happen. That was a shocker, as I recall. We used to put lady finger firecrackers in oranges — remember, this was in the middle of the San Fernando Valley in the fifties; there were orange trees everywhere — and throw them like grenades. My first lesson, though I hardly realized it at the time, in physics came from the realization that wrapping the firecrackers in duct tape increased the explosive power of those little things. We were just trying to keep them from being so diluted by the orange juice they wouldn’t explode.
Years later, when we were around 14 or 15, my family had moved a few miles away and Jim used to come and visit for a day or two at a time. Two doors to the west they were still constructing the new location of the temple where I had become Bar Mitzvah and one of the walls was unfinished, with horizontal rebar sticking out of the ends. We bent the rebar and made it into a ladder so we could climb up on the roof of the building and run around on it. We played a game for a while where one guy would get a BB pistol and the other guy would get a head start. The idea was to aim for clothing but I’m certain Jim caught one in the ear once. Another damper to our childhood fun.
I could go on. The more I write, the more I remember things we did, and the more stories I could retell, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d rather take one last moment and relate why I feel so melancholy and how important this loss is to me. It’s true we hadn’t talked in something like twenty years. As we grew our lives went in very different directions. The last time I saw him was in his home in Glendale, AZ. He was married, working as a contractor, I believe, and they had at least a dozen cats in their house. I was able to spend a few hours with him during an evening I was in Phoenix on business. We talked a bit about old times. We were in our late forties and not yet disposed to reminisce too much. I would hear about him occasionally from Bob or his wife, Bonnie, but it wasn’t much and life kept moving along.
His death, though, leaves a special hole in my past, the kind of hole most of us end up having more of than we’d like. My grief is only marginally for him, more so for his family, but in large part for myself. It’s the same kind of hole others who played a larger-than-life role in my past have left as well, even if they were nowhere near as close to me as Jim had been. One that comes to mind is Richard M. Nixon. I despised that man and spent many years fighting to end the war in Vietnam when he was President. He played, although indirectly, a huge role in the years I came of age that I nearly wept when I learned of his death. Not because of him — I wouldn’t dream of weeping over his death — but I grieved for the passing, the irrevocable disappearance of my young adulthood and all that was attached to it. Before he died, I had something to hang on to; an artifact of that part of my life. With his passing, it was gone.
The hole I feel with Jim’s death is far more devastating and just a little difficult to deal with. Much like Nixon, as long as he was alive, we had our past and our years of friendship. There was always the possibility we’d see each other again and have some laughs, maybe a beer or two. Now that possibility is forever gone. I have often written about death. It fascinates me. In the meantime, however, life goes on and I will too. I’m surely not the only person to experience these feelings. I just wanted to get them out and say a few words about, and in honor of, someone who was very special to me.
So, via con dios, Jimmy. You will forever live in my heart. We had too many good times and meant far too much to each other for me to just let your passing pass. I will someday join you, as will we all. For now, I’ll content myself with remembering our friendship and take the most from it until it’s my time.
I don’t obsess about death or life after death but I have thought about it a lot over the years. Haven’t you? After all, one of the main consequences our religions offer us for a life well lived is eternal life in heaven once we die. Some offer the eternal antithesis as well and I know that motivates quite a few. An afterlife. Have you ever thought about what that would be like? I’ll bet you have. What really happens after we die? Everyone seems to think about it. With far fewer years ahead of me than are in my rear-view mirror, I have to admit I think of it even more, especially when I try to imagine the consequences of my death if it occurs before my children are adults and well on their way to a truly independent life. It matters because I’ll be 72 when my oldest is 18 . . . and I’ve already outlived my father by nearly six years. Not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s a reasonable alternative and it concerns me at times.
Now to the other side of the void. I’ve often wondered what the allure of life after death is for most people. I have a hard time believing anyone truly understands what eternity or, more accurately, death is . . . or means. Imagining what it’s like to be dead has got to be one of the most difficult intellectual pursuits known. Consider the following. When you wake up after even a very deep sleep, there’s some sense of time having passed, isn’t there? We may not remember precisely what our dreams are – or even that we dreamt at all – but there is some sense that time has passed and all is well. This is not the case if you’re unconscious. When you come out of anesthesia after surgery it’s entirely different. Almost everyone comes out of anesthesia, even after many hours under, with no sense of time having passed. It’s not uncommon for a person to ask when their surgery is going to begin, the sense of the passage of time having been entirely suspended. And they weren’t even dead!
Now try and imagine what it would be like to not wake up, ever. Can you do it? I would argue it can be approached, but I think it takes some time and, most likely, can never be done completely. It’s like imagining being pond scum, only vastly more difficult. The latest evidence and theory seem to point to the universe being around 14 billion (that’s 14,000,000,000) years old. Do you have a sense of loss for not being around most of that time? Yet, I maintain it’s difficult to imagine that same nothingness now that you’ve experienced consciousness. Somehow, we just can’t imagine the absence of everything.
Now, this isn’t a scholarly article. It’s based entirely on my experience, the things I’ve read and observed, and some obvious guessing. I have not been able to interview anyone who’s been dead for, say, 100 years to learn about their experience. Now that would be something! There is ample evidence the only experience they have is that of returning to dust, and only dust. I am, philosophically, a Materialist. I believe the physical world is a necessary prerequisite to the world of ideas, that is thought and consciousness cannot exist without a brain (and it’s attendant system, a body) to “think” it.
I know there are those who believe after (or as) we come into existence we are imbued with an eternal soul, so what happened before we were born (many would say conceived) is of no consequence afterward. I’m not one of them. I think once you’re dead you will not be looking down on your friends and relatives. Maybe there’s a short period of time, while everything is shutting down, you will imagine looking upon your now lifeless body, but I doubt it. I am quite convinced there is no afterlife and we won’t miss our family, friends, or anything else . . . because there won’t be any we to do so.
Much to my consternation, I just can’t imagine how that will feel. 😀
There’s a reason I named this blog Systems Savvy though, to be truthful, I haven’t really done what I intended when I decided on the title. Blogging for me has been somewhat aimless as I’ve attempted to find my voice and considered what I wanted to accomplish. For the last year and a half, starting with my decision to accept the early retirement package offered by my former employer, I’ve considered how to use it to both promote my new business and educate the people I wanted to reach.
The result has been a number of fairly well-directed posts on various issues involving small business and social media marketing. However, I am only beginning to become accomplished at marketing, in general, and frequently feel I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said – and said better – by others.
Lately, especially during a period of time I have been working with an associate on a fairly ambitious proposal (which, last week, was declined), I haven’t had much to say at all. I have, however, been giving a lot of thought to the direction I would like this blog to go in, and I think I’ve come to a decision on what I want to do. Let me explain.
My original intent was to look at various world views, philosophies if you will, that attempt to provide a systemic approach to understanding nature, society, economy, etc. The thinkers I have come to respect and, I think, understand include people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Drucker (among others) from the business world, and Karl Marx (an eyebrow raiser, I know, but more about that in later posts) and Friedrich Engels, especially with respect to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism. This effort began on January 7, 2008 where, in my first post, I explained what I hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, the distractions and obligations I referenced back then kept me from accomplishing what I then thought would be useful . . . and possible.
Now, after being somewhat forced to accept what for me was a way too early retirement package, and having embarked on my journey back into the world of small business, I’m finding I need to rethink the direction this blog should take. I want to bring it somewhat back to my original intent – with one small wrinkle. I need to write more about the lessons I’ve learned; not merely with respect to the things I experienced and accomplished in my over two decades at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, but also with respect to those things I learned in the preceding two decades in small business, as well as the many experiences I’ve had outside of the business world. One more thing. I’m not dead yet and I am far from inactive in my community.
To do this, it seems I will have to buck one of the “rules” of blogging, i.e. “it’s not about me“. This concept has made it exceedingly difficult to share some of the things I wish to write about for two main reasons. One I wrote about earlier, and that’s this feeling I’ve had all my life that everyone knows what I know. After all, it’s obvious! Right? The second is I’ve been repeatedly asked to write about many of my life experiences, which are not quite “mainstream” and from which I have gleaned some lessons that have been important . . . at least for me, but I’ve been constrained by that admonition against making it about oneself, as well as my inborn desire to please, not offend, others.
I’m constantly working on the first of these issues and here’s what I’ve come to think about the second. I am NOT in the middle of my career. After all, I’m now collecting Social Security and a pension from my previous employer. Less than a year from now I will be eligible for Medicare and, increasingly, I will need it to deal with the medical problems that come from aging. Most bloggers I know (not all) are between 20 and 30 years younger than I am. They have decades to go in their worklife. I may have a decade or two left, but the prospect is far less certain and, truth to tell, I really want to slow down a bit.
I think a change is in order. I think I need to write about all the things I care about. I have also previously written about the dilemma I faced when I realized the disparate “friends” I had on Facebook and how it momentarily took me aback and caused me to reconsider what I was willing to share – with everybody! As then, I have come to the conclusion I can, and should, write about the things that interest me, no matter how they might seem disconnected . . . because they aren’t! They’re taken from my life, my experiences, and the conclusions I’ve drawn or the questions I still have regarding them. If some are offended by this, oops! Too bad.
I am interested in systems theory; systems thinking. Part of my understanding about it is we are all part of various systems. As living organisms we are ourselves systems. For over 60 years I’ve felt, as most of us do, forced at times to separate my life into its constituent parts: Personal; professional; political; religious; philosophical; etc. Yet they are all – for me – intimately related and inextricably intertwined. They are what has made up my life.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit melancholy as I realize my time is surely winding down. I hope to have at least a couple more decades left in me, but there are physical changes making it clear that it won’t be the same. I am showing signs of essential tremors, which my mother had and which sometimes make it hard for me to eat with a fork or grab a small bottle out of the medicine cabinet. Just this past Monday I had a suspicious mole removed from the scar on my back that is the result of surgery to remove a melanoma a couple of years ago. My hair is mostly gray. I have chicken skin, moderate hypertension, and type II diabetes! There are other signs. Perhaps I’ll write about them too.
So here’s the deal. Although I will continue to build my business, which includes a large dose of pro bono and civic-minded activities as well as remunerative ones, I intend to increasingly share my thoughts about the rest of my life as well. I know I have written some posts that were personal, political, and even relating to religion (thought certainly not promoting it), but I have lately been going in the direction of making this a business blog. I will no longer do that. I’m not sure this is the right thing to do. Were I younger, perhaps it would definitely not be the right thing to do. However, I’m not really worried about looking for a job or offending my parents. They both shed their mortal coils years ago.
Frankly, I don’t know if anything I have to say is all that important, but I have the opportunity to write about it and, if nothing else, it will be available for my children, who are now only 7 and 10 years old. I want to leave something so they will be able to better understand who I was and, especially, just how much I love them and want the very best for them. That’s important to me!
Photo Credit: Directions by mistermoss – via Flickr
Russ was such a good storyteller, this book has got to be a great read.`
a triarchy press publication
by Russell L. Ackoff
Foreword by Peter Senge
Publication Date: 21 October 2010
No of pages: 120
Book type: Paperback
Print ISBN: 978-0-9565379-7-3
List Price: £16 (approx. $20)
“Russ was an incisive, lifelong critic of the modern organizational form. He saw its limitations and argued for radical redesign. He was an advocate for major re-visioning and processes of change that started with helping people see what they truly valued and where they truly wanted to get – and then working backwards to see what it would take to get there.”
Peter Senge, from his Foreword to Memories
When he died late in 2009, Russ Ackoff left two unpublished manuscripts. Memories is the first of these – a collection of stories drawn from his life experience, selected by Russ because they stood out in his memory as instances where he learned something. As he says in his Preface, “Life is a series of relationships formed and dissolved”. For Russ, the important principles and qualities around which his work was centred – clear-sightedness, looking at the bigger picture, working backwards towards solutions, radicalism – crossed over into most, if not all, other aspects of his extraordinary life. The stories in Memories focus on the human side of life and, in so doing, they demonstrate how many of the skills and attributes that are fundamental to professional success are found in personal experience.
In this book, Russ draws from his experiences of serving in the US army during World War II; of bringing up a young family; of encountering different cultures whilst working abroad. From analyzing birth rates in India, to a fireside chat with the Queen of Iran, to introducing theme parks to the US, the stories collected in Memories lay bare the workings of a number of well-known businesses and other organizations – and the people who run them. They describe common attitudes, behaviours and assumptions, which, if left unchallenged, can destabilize or even destroy an organization.
The book shows how thinking systemically leads to real organizational improvements in a variety of academic and workplace settings and – just as important – how failure to do so can be both personally embarrassing and damaging to the organization. Each story is used to illustrate a belief, principle or conclusion central to Russ’s theories of Systems Thinking and Design Thinking. And each of them is told with his customary generosity, wit and wisdom.
Memories is available in paperback or in a hardcover Collector’s Edition.
If you’ve ever been in sales, I’m willing to bet you know it’s never a good thing to pretend you know something you don’t. Unless you’re making an opportunistic, one-off sale and you don’t really care about any relationship with your customer, it’s far better to admit ignorance and pledge to get an answer ASAP. Frankly, I think it’s always the best tactic regardless of your relationship; it’s just plain ethical and, a bit ironically, smart.
Most people know when they’re being fed a load of crap and pretending to know something of which you are ignorant can open up so many cans of worms it’s hard to define all the consequences. One of the major ones, however, is never being believed no matter what you say. Not a good thing, whether in sales or elsewhere.
Anyway, this came up again for me today because of a tweet by @wallybock, who pointed me to an article in the New York Times’ Corner Office section. The post is entitled “What’s Wrong With Saying ‘I Don’t Know‘?” It’s a good interview of Rachel Ashwell, founder of Shabby Chic and, besides her admonition to not be afraid of admitting ignorance, there’s a wealth of good business (and life) advice in her words.
Two posts got me thinking today. I’m not usually one to see the year as abruptly changing when December rolls over into January; I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions and stuff like that and I am more prone to celebrate the Winter Solstice than to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. Yet, it is the end of a calendar year, and there is some sort of change that always seems to take place when the year rolls, so I thought I’d take a crack at looking back just a bit at the previous 12 months. Having said that, I’d also like to look a little forward as well, but that will come just a bit later.
The two posts I’m referring to are by Andy McAfee and Susan Scrupski, two people I have come to know better this year due to my work as an internal evangelist on Enterprise 2.0. Andy’s writings on E2.0 and Susan’s tireless work on establishing and greasing the skids of the 2.0 Adoption Council have made my job much easier. I have learned a great deal from them and expect next year to bring even more knowledge, enthusiasm, and innovative ideas and practices I will no doubt benefit from. The post I refer to by Andy is very upbeat and strikes an optimistic note. The one by Susan is more hopeful than optimistic, but is definitely upbeat. Nevertheless, they’re both wonderful posts that look forward to bigger and better things. You can read them here (Andy’s) and here (Susan’s).
This last year has been a year of transition for me. Our fairly new President (I’m talking about where I work, not the country) recognized the value of E2.0, as well as numerous other efforts I was engaged in, and began leading the company in a new direction at the beginning of the year. He even christened our direction PoWeR 2.0 (PWR is an acronym for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Since our main business is Rocket Engines and Energy Systems, PoWeR is a decent way to characterize who we are internally). In addition to E2.0, PoWeR 2.0 includes the continuing integration of Program Management, Knowledge Management, and Enterprise Thinking, the latter of which is our approach to the Systems Thinking propounded by people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell L. Ackoff, Peter Senge, and Edward de Bono, to name a few. To my way of thinking it will ultimately (I can dream) result in a relatively holistic, portfolio approach to the management of the entire enterprise, ridding us of silos of knowledge and performance in order to more efficiently and effectively meet the challenges of a fast-moving and demanding economy.
This very positive direction came at a time when our parent company announced our merit increases would be postponed by six months and that we would be given five days of unpaid “furlough” during the year. To their credit, when the six months expired we were given increases and the furlough days were designed mostly to intersect with holidays so we would get four day weekends. The financial hit was also spread through the remainder of the year once the decision had been made. This made it a bit more palatable and easier to assimilate financially. For that I am grateful. I’m not blind to the difficulties of the economy and we’re in a sector that can be hit pretty hard. Frankly, I’m pretty happy to still be employed and have a challenging and exciting job to do.
This year I also managed to complete my Masters Degree in Knowledge Management at CSUN. For me this was a major accomplishment. Not only was I working 46 – 50 hours most weeks, but I also have two young children and I’m no spring chicken, having arrived in this world back in 1947. It was sometimes grueling work, especially the last trimester when all I wanted was to get on with my life and put more attention into what I was doing at work. Nevertheless, I now have another degree to add to my accomplishments. Maybe some day I’ll get a Baccalaureate as well.
I’m almost embarrassed to say I became a Cancer patient and survivor all within the space of less than a month. I say embarrassed because I didn’t suffer at all. I must admit to being a bit concerned when I discovered I had a malignant melanoma on my back, especially after doing a little research and coming across descriptions that referred to it as the deadliest form of Cancer. Nevertheless, it was caught early, surgery was successful (and proved it hadn’t metastasized), and the Doctor’s say the chance of recurrence is around 3% – less than the chance I’ll have a heart attack or stroke in the next decade or so.
So, for me this has been a pretty upbeat year – all things considered. My kids are healthy; my wife, though still unemployed, is doing a great job of organizing the children’s education and extra-curricular activities, and (for the most part) I’ve been pretty healthy. Now for next year.
I’m really looking forward to next year. I believe I will be involved in some very exciting and innovative activities at work and, through the 2.0 Adoption Council, will be learning more and more about how to help my company reap the benefits I believe the development of what Andy calls emergent social software platforms (here for more info) will provide for any company willing to work at their adoption and profitable use. I have made plans to attend the next Enterprise 2.0 Conference, though I have already been working on methods of using social software (like Twitter) to allow others to virtually attend many conferences and possibly provide for far greater participation while saving money on travel expenses.
If I don’t post before the New Year I wish everyone a wonderful, joyous holiday season shared with friends and family in relative peace and comfort, as well as a happy and healthy new year. BTW – Susan, 2010 is the end of the decade. It won’t be over until 2011, but who’s counting?