Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Travel, Writing

‘Tis the Season

As I was running recently, I was thinking about how much I love this time of year. The crispness of the air, the smoky smell wafting from chimneys, the scent of evergreens inside offices and homes, the cookies, the parties, the decorations, the singing, the impression that everyone seems to be kinder – all of these are reasons I enjoy the holiday season. One thing that I really enjoy about this time of year are the Christmas cards.

Most of my friends have never been big letter writers. In the past, I was usually the one who would send regular letters. I always hoped for a response but never expected one. One time, I followed up with a phone call because I hadn’t received a letter from a friend who always responded and that was how I found out that he had died. His mom had been saving all of my letters for months – unopened – because she wasn’t sure how to break the news to me.

These past few years as life has become busier, my letters have devolved into postcards that I send when I’m traveling. It’s easy to jot a few lines on a postcard and pop it in the mail, right? Not always! Some trips, I’ve spent hours looking for postcards and post offices. When I went to Bali, I didn’t find postcards until my last day on the island so most friends didn’t even know I was in Bali until they saw pictures on Facebook. But I enjoy looking for postcards and finding just the right ones for certain friends.

I always hope for a return letter or postcard but I don’t expect one. But every Christmas, I look forward to amassing a stack of Christmas cards. Even if the card only has a signature and no personal note, it brings that friend to mind and I like that. The joy that I get when I receive real mail (as opposed to junk mail, bills, or bank statements!) has not diminished over the years.

Those Christmas newsletters that people rant about? I love them! In a couple of pages I can get updated on the happenings of my friends’ and their families’ lives. And I can do it on my own time, curled up in front of a roaring fire with a cup of cocoa at hand.

This year, I’ve gotten a couple of e-cards. And let me tell you, they don’t warm the cockles of my heart the same way a card in the mail does. They seem impersonal and thoughtless to me, more for the sender’s convenience than for the recipient’s pleasure.

But isn’t that what this season is all about? Thinking about others and doing kind things for them? So if you’re thinking of me this season, send me a real Christmas card via snail mail. I will appreciate it more than you know.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

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Posted in Opinions and Thoughts

Power Lies in Possibility

The end of the year is often a time of reflection. A time to think about things you’ve accomplished during the year, milestones you’ve reached, crossroads you’ve come to, and directions you’ve chosen. A time to think about the goals you didn’t achieve, the choices you didn’t make, and the milestones you missed by a little or a lot.

While it’s a good time to reflect, it’s important to think about moving forward, about looking ahead. It’s a good time to think about lessons learned from the past but also a good time to begin planning for the future.

So after you reflect on the year that is just ending, spend some time setting goals for next year, making plans for the months ahead, and thinking about the tomorrows to come.

After all, the power is in the possibilities.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Running

Inspiration Is . . .

There is glory in winning a race, in being the first across the finish line.

There is glory in placing in your age group.

There is glory in racing and logging a PR.

But the inspiration is the last run/walker moving determinedly in front of the sweep vehicle, desperately trying to go fast enough not to be picked up and driven to the finish.

The inspiration is in watching those runners who put one foot in front of another, knowing that there are no prizes at the finish line for them but who know that the prize is self-satisfaction of finishing what one started.

The inspiration is in those runners who will still be out on the course, hours after the winners have streaked across the finish line, but who are determined to finish no matter how long it takes.

Happy running!

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Travel, Work

The Joys of Business Travel

Do you travel for work? If you’re in sales or business development, no one in your office will blink an eye or make a comment when you travel. If you’re not in sales or business development, when you travel for business, your co-workers likely think that you’re going off to have fun.

Announce at work that you’re going to a conference and the first question anyone will ask – including your boss – is, “Where is it?” Depending on the location, you’ll get one of two responses. Either a disinterested, “Oh. Well, at least you’ll be out of the office.” Or an excited and slightly jealous, “That should be so much fun!” Your boss, of course, will have one of two responses, as well, also depending on the location. Either a disinterested, “Oh. You’ll learn a lot.” Or a suspicious and slightly jealous, “I’m expecting an executive summary of what you’ve learned. Which ed sessions were you planning on attending?”

As someone who travels for business at least every other month if not more often, I’m usually the recipient of the latter responses regardless of the location simply because I travel more often for both business and pleasure. Speaking from experience, as someone whose job does not require travel, traveling for business is not a cakewalk.

First there’s all the preparation involved with business travel – estimating travel costs in order to pull together the travel request, requesting approval to travel, and making the travel arrangements (registering for the conference/workshop/meeting, making hotel reservations, making airline reservations, and making ground transportation arrangements). Then, there’s all the extra work that needs to be done to tie up as many loose ends as possible before the trip. Newbie travelers often skip this step because they figure that they’ll have access to email and voicemail and can always call the office. More seasoned travelers know that skipping this step means that their trip will be peppered with constant interruptions, crises, and emergencies.

Then there’s the actual travel itself. Since 9/11, traveling has become more onerous because of the increase security. The airlines haven’t helped much because of their new ways if generating revenue – on-board food sales, baggage fees, etc. So now, it’s no longer enough to just throw some clothes into a suitcase and head to the airport because airlines charge for checked bags now. And if you choose not to check a bag, then you need to consider your liquids and gels because security limits what you can bring in your carry-on bag. Most airlines have reduced the number of flights so now just about every flight is completely full, which makes for cramped and uncomfortable flights.

What most people don’t realize is that going to a conference or workshop or meeting or site visit is really work. If you are doing it right, it is work. If you are taking advantage of the opportunity, it is work. And often it’s not 8 to 5 work.

It starts at breakfast and usually goes through dinner and on through the hospitality suite. Can you imagine being “on” from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. or later for 3, 4, or 5 days without a real break? I’m often more exhausted when I come back from a conference because I’m involved from Friday through Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the conference.

Coming back to the office after a trip is almost harder than leaving. When you get back to the office, everyone who was left behind wants to know about your trip. They want to know what fun activities you participated in, what foods did you eat, what goodies you snagged at the exhibit hall. They don’t want to hear about all the stuff you learned or the people you met or the products/services you think might be good for the company. Then you have to fill out and submit your expense report. If you don’t travel often, this can be a project in and of itself.

And finally, the catch up. Even if you brought your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you really wouldn’t have had the time to stay on top of everything that was happening at the office or at time while you were away. So you often come back to the office with hundreds of emails in your inbox, dozens of voicemails on your phone, and a lot of mail in your mailbox.

The point of this story is that traveling for business is not all fun and games. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent, things like video-conferencing, webinars, online courses, and the like are slowly taking the place of business travel. However, technology cannot take the place of connecting with someone in real life. The relationships that you build when you go to a conference or workshop are worth the difficulties that come with business travel. So if you have the opportunity to attend a conference or workshop or meeting, make the most of it!

The thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts

A Plea for Some Male Sartorial Sense

Once upon a time, women wore their pants on their waists and men wore their pants on their hips. In recent years, however, the craze for low-rise pants struck both women and men. Women’s fashion now includes pants and skirts that sit on one’s hips as well as styles that sit on one’s waist.

Since men’s pants already sit on the hips, there really was no place for the low-rise craze to go. Or so one might think.

Not to be outdone by the women’s sinking waistband, males began wearing their pants lower on the hips. And even lower. And now, you’ll see boys (I deliberately use “boys” here because I don’t think that any man in his right mind would dress like this) who wear their pants below their butt cheeks so that their boxer shorts are visible.

The “style” has gone from super-baggy pants to slim-fit pants but the results remain the same – ridiculous. It is made even more ridiculous when the visible boxer shorts don’t match the shirt. And even more ridiculous that that is if the boy is wearing a belt with that pair of pants. What’s the purpose of that belt? To keep the pants cinched underneath those boxer-covered butt cheeks?

What makes these boys think that anyone wants to see their underwear? And if they really think that someone wants to see their underwear, then why bother wearing pants that just cover their legs? Why not just go out in their boxer shorts and tube socks? I suppose one positive of this “style” is that these boys need to make sure they have clean underwear. I hope so, at any rate!

I can’t even go into how this silly “style” affects one’s stride and gait. This “style” certainly makes it easier for police to win foot chases. Although I’ve noticed that this silly “style” is gaining traction in work pants as well as dress pants.

It really can’t be comfortable for the boys who wear their pants this way. I can’t imagine that constantly adjusting and tugging on the pants to make sure that they don’t just fall off completely would be a comfortable way to spend the day.

So here’s my plea – please, please, please, boys, pull your pants back up to your hips. At least. I don’t want to see your underwear. No one but your mother and your significant other wants to see your underwear or your butt cheeks (boxer-covered or not). There’s an appropriate place and time for that and in public is not that place and time.

I’d like to take my plea one step further and ask for long-sleeve button-down shirts with ties (very sexy, in my opinion) but I know that’s too much to expect. So for now, please just pull your pants up, boys!

The thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Work

Volunteer or “Voluntold”

Volunteering is an interesting concept. It’s doing a task or a job for a company or an organization willingly and without getting paid.

Volunteering – both time and money – seems to be a uniquely American concept. When disaster strikes around the world, Americans are first in line to go to the disaster site to provide whatever help is needed and generally first to start donation drives for money and items to send. That’s not to say that other nations don’t volunteer but it seems that Americans are front and center in any discussion on volunteerism.

In recent years, volunteering has become more woven into the fabric of our lives as Americans. Is it because we are becoming a more altruistic society? Is it because we feel an obligation as one of the more developed nations in the world? Is it because we want to polish what may be a tarnished image in the world?

The simple answer is that in the last decade or so, high schools and colleges began to require that students perform a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. And now there are companies that are strongly encouraging their employees to perform community service. In some companies, the encouragement is simply a message from senior management. In other companies, the encouragement comes in the form of an evaluation category on performance evaluations.

This raises the question – if it’s required, is it still volunteering?

The company I work for is one of those that has an evaluation category on our annual performance evaluation forms. It doesn’t ask about general volunteerism, it asks about volunteering for the university specifically. When I fill out this evaluation for my employees, my answer is rather passive aggressive because I don’t believe that it’s an appropriate category for an employee evaluation. It’s self-serving and frankly, irrelevant. It calls into question the employee’s loyalty to the company. That would be fine if we rewarded employees for their loyalty. But we don’t. There have been no raises for four years – no cost-of-living adjustments and certainly no merit raises. I feel uncomfortable evaluating an employee’s loyalty when I know that the company isn’t rewarding that loyalty.

If it’s required, is it still volunteering?

This weekend was commencement. When I first started working at the university, there was never a problem getting enough volunteers to staff the event. This could be because our commencement ceremonies were simpler in those early years. But I think it’s also because people felt more valued in those early years, they felt like they had more of an impact in the daily workings of the university, and they wanted to see the results of their work – commencement.

About four years ago they began to have problems getting volunteers to staff the event. They made do that year but the next year, they resorted to strongly encouraging management employees to volunteer for the event. The following year, all management employees were contacted by their managers to volunteer for the event. This year, the pressure intensified with HR providing lists of management employees to the event organizers who in turn provided senior management with lists of management employees who had volunteered and who had not yet signed up to volunteer for the event.

If you’re coerced, is it still volunteering?

In the current employment environment, that kind of pressure can be likened to coercion. People are afraid to lose their jobs and so they will do what they need to do in order to keep their jobs. Knowing that they will be evaluated on their spirit of volunteerism, they sign up to volunteer for commencement. It was so bad this year that we coined the term “voluntold” in that we were told to volunteer.

Volunteering is doing work willingly and without the expectation or anticipation of getting paid. I do quite a bit of volunteer work in my hours away from work. I enjoy volunteering. But I want to choose who I give my time to away from work. The organizations that I volunteer with appreciate my time and my skills and I know that I’m helping them further their mission.

When we require high school students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from high school, when we require college students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from college, when we evaluate employees on the basis of volunteering either for the company or outside of the company, it takes away the spirit of volunteering.

The thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Running

To Cheer or Not to Cheer – There Is No Question

When running on an out-and-back race course, unless you’re the Road Runner running from Wile E. Coyote or a Kenyan, you will meet the leader and the lead pack. Do you cheer for them? Or do you worry about conserving your energy, your breath, and your strength so do not cheer?

When I first started racing, I didn’t cheer. Part of me thought that they wouldn’t even hear me cheering either because they were in the zone or because they were going so fast that they wouldn’t be able to hear. The other part of me worried about conserving my energy, my breath, and my strength. I had such a hard time breathing that I honestly felt that yelling, “Way to go!” would make it impossible for me to finish.

Over time, I realized that cheering for the lead pack had no negative impact on my ability to finish the race or to set a PR. And I noticed that runners in the lead pack would smile when they heard someone cheer. That made me realize that these runners were just like me, that they appreciated encouragement especially as they were getting close to the finish of their race.

I started with baby steps, first just clapping for the lead pack and making eye contact and smiling. Eventually I was able to shout, “Way to go!” and “Woohoo!” and “Good job!” as the lead pack passed by me. And I always get extra noisy when the first woman makes her appearance along with the rest of the women in the women’s lead pack.

The Wahine Half Marathon last week was an out-and-back course and the slower runners did get an opportunity to see the lead pack. And despite being hot, discouraged, and tired (see my race report for the explanation), I cheered for the leaders. I clapped and yelled, hooted and hollered until the lead pack passed while I continued slogging away. The interesting thing is that I was the only one out of the other back-of-the-middle-of-the-packers who was cheering. I’m not exaggerating, either. It took some time before some other people started even clapping with me for the lead pack.

I do understand why other people weren’t cheering. It was hot. It was miserable. We were in a section of the course where there were no water stations. I’m sure we were all jealous of these women who were headed to the finish line where shade and refreshment were available. And I know that there were a lot of runners running their first half-marathon so they may have been unsure what the protocol was.

Here’s my advice – it’s always okay to cheer. Cheer for the lead pack when you see them. Clap if you can’t shout. Make eye contact and smile if you can’t clap. It will give the leaders a boost. But more importantly, it will make you feel good, too, because you will know that you’ve given someone else the encouragement they need to push to the finish. You’ll find that rather than detracting from your race, cheering for the leaders will put a spring in your step and give you a surge of adrenalin.

And when you’ve finished your race, go back to the finish line and cheer for some of the people finishing after you. That will really make you feel good.

Happy Running!