About Me

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It's important to be silly, to be serious, to be strong, to be frail...for what is life if we only shared a mask?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The ROI for Life

I was at a workshop this week and enjoyed all the learning that came my way. It was facilitated by two instructors who partnered well despite their diametrically different teaching styles . Phil was a slim second generation American Chinese and Bill was a retired booming alpha male with a Donald Trump personality sans the hairpiece. Could almost hear the "You are fired" echo in the classroom.

I walked in expecting a sedate, boring class where I could possibly open up my laptop and keep working through class. I ended up pleasantly surprised and learning about corporate finance, despite my knee jerk reaction to fiscal prudence.

It is not easy to talk to middle management. They are a bit jaded and tend to feel that they do know it all. Besides they have so much to do, so many miles to go before they sleep. Bill bounces in and gets everyone going, asking us to stand up introduce ourselves and throw three facts, one of which is a lie. That was that little spark that told me that I needed to put my laptop away, sit back and allow myself the luxury of learning.

While Phil calmly provided the foundational input for what we need to know about finance, Bill would jump up, pace the room like a tiger, introduce a simulation where four companies are competing in the marketplace. Each company was given a management team to make key decisions on product mix, production capacity, marketing and development costs. Decisions that would impact our revenue, profit, cash flow and the share price.

To cut to the chase, the teams had fun, competed, collaborated and probably learnt some along the way. On the last day, Bill announced the winning team (which was ours, btw) and said that everyone won. Corny yes, true yes. Everyone did win. At least all those, who for a few days put away our jaded selves and opened our mind to learning once again.

Growing up the popular complaint was always "Mom, can I not go to school today?" or "I can't wait to get rid of my books and not have to sit for another exam." Years pass and we all do grow up, at least in lieu of birthdays. I will not talk about emotional intelligence as that would be another topic for another day.

So the train has stopped at the first station and yes, you no longer have to study for exams. Suddenly you are an adult, eager to join the workforce become financially independent and blah blah blah. You now realize that hey, work means still living by the alarm clock. Projects to finish, politics to grapple with and that hateful word...accountability.

Moving on to the next station, you probably found someone special, settled down and have a couple of kids. Mortgage, rent, taxes, school meetings and you link up with friends from your past on facebook and you are back to reminiscing about the the student life and the good old days.

You reminisce so furiously because you do miss learning. The stimulation of the mind. The joy you get when you have that eureka moment. Even the most cynical of us, cannot but be thrilled when the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the maze in our mind.

On the last day, Bill was very eloquent and instead of telling us to remember ROA, ROI, ROE, he reads out this passage below. I had heard it before. Heard different versions for the last fifteen years, in fact. But hearing it again at a finance workshop of all places, made me stop and pause once again. I went up to him and thanked him and Phil for a great workshop and said "I loved your course" and joked that "I didn't open my laptop". He said "I didn't ask anyone to shut theirs. It is not my place to ask you to choose to learn. That has to be your desire."

I walked away learning about finance and thinking again about the ROI for Life.

"The Station"
by Robert Hastings

Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision.
We are traveling by train, out the windows,
we drink in the passing scenes of children
waving at a crossing,
cattle grazing on a distant hillside,
row upon row of corn and wheat,
flatlands and valleys,
mountains and rolling hillsides
and city skylines.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination.
On a certain day, we will pull into the station.
Bands will be playing and flags waving.
Once we get there, our dreams will come true
and the pieces of our lives
will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
Restlessly we pace the aisles,
damning the minutes - waiting,
waiting, waiting for the station.

"When we reach the station, that will be it!"
We cry. "When I'm 18." "When I buy a new 450sl Mercedes Benz!"
"When I put the last kid through college."
"When I have paid off the mortgage!"
"When I get a promotion." "When I reach retirement,
I shall live happily ever after!"

Sooner or later, we realize there is no station,
no one place to arrive.
The true joy of life is the trip.
The station is only a dream.
It constantly outdistances us.
"Relish the moment" is a good motto.
It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad.
It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow.
Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.
Regret is reality, after the facts.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.
Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream,
go barefoot more often,
swim more rivers, watch more sunsets,laugh more, cry less.
Life must be lived as we go along.

The STATION will come soon enough.

Picture credit: http://capeverde-islands.com/station.html

Friday, February 26, 2010

On Transition, Choices and The Four Year Plan

When January finally bid adieu and Feb came skipping along, I thought let's hope this month is not attention deficit and hyperactive. Feb is coming to an end and while it is the month to muse on the path with heart, it has also been the month of transition.

A month of reviewing, clearing and creating space. With two daughters heading into middle and high school in August, I watched them start to gather information about what they plan to do next. It is not easy this place of transition.

My FB status update for Feb 10 went something like this. "This is transition week. We have schools giving me input on what we need to know so our kids will have a smooth move into their new schools in August. And they have it so well mapped out. How come adults never get any transition training to deal with work life and that fine balance?"

In retrospect, the information is out there. There are enough career fairs, open houses, information interviews. Planning is everything. I completely agree, but the toughest part is to sift the information and pick up what is relevant for you.

I still remember my transition period during school. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I knew what I couldn't do. I couldn't get the least bit motivated to study commerce. I had signed up for it. Spent a week in that class when I knew by the end of Day 1 that this was not me. Picked up my bags and scooted over to liberal arts to study literature and sociology where I kid you not, my heart sang.

Funny thing happens when the heart sings. You actually spend more time doing your work and less time feeling tired. This was what I wanted my girls to understand about transition week and making choices that push them gently forward. One step closer to defining what would make their heart sing.

I also liked the fact that my daughter going into high school actually gets to look at a four year plan. While she focuses on her immediate future, she also gets to plan the next three years. Hopefully it will give her the chance to experiment, eliminate, extricate and emerge a little closer to understanding how to find that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Experiment - Think buffet. Sometimes it's overwhelming to see the array of food heaped in front of you. But you get to taste variety instead of a la carte. Then go back and and eat more of what you like.

Eliminate - If you can't figure what you want to do, work backwards and try to figure out what you don't like. Then remember to write that down. Many people get stuck in repetitive cycles and wonder why nothing has changed.

Extricate - If you have made a choice and that doesn't sit well with you, then have the courage to acknowledge that you have made a mistake and course correct.

So while she is heads down, figuring out her four year plan, I am revisting mine. And in the words of Jon Bon Jovi, we will both "Map out our future, but do it in pencil."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Follow the Path with Heart - Musings for February

I have been pondering over this month's theme. Just to set the record straight, I don't have themes but lightbulbs typically pop when you are busy cooking, working, dreaming. Lightbulbs don't ask for permission. They barge right in and if you are not home, they fuse ever so gently.

So I digress as the theme is not lightbulbs, it is all about HEART. You might argue that heart should not be a theme for one month, it is forever. And you would be absolutely right.

Why now, why this month. Apart from the obvious that Cupid has a dedicated day which retail stores are exploiting, it was prompted by some incredible musings by some gifted writers.

I believe that each one of us knows about this path with heart. Some of us have followed it and some of us have stood on the sidelines wringing our hands choosing the dictates of the head instead. There are no right or wrong answers as to each a journey as unique as a fingerprint.

But and this is a big BUT...

When you look in the mirror with eyes listless, unwilling, dragging your feet.
When you are tired by the thought of Monday.
When you can't remember as you seem to forget too often.
When you feel anxiety creeping, clutching at you with clammy fingers reminding you of possible failure.
When you look back to find a whole bunch of coulda, shoulda, woulda and only ifs

All these whens and there are more warning whens.

Then if you don't stop to have that talk about the path with heart with the man in the mirror. Then you have betrayed yourself.

Now the path with heart is not about chucking your paycheck, getting on that bike and riding the wind. It could be that for some. It could also be about finding that nugget in our treasure chest that brightens those eyes, that lifts the chin, that squares the shoulder. Once you find it, once you have the courage to pursue it, once you understand that no outside voice can quell it, you are set free.

"Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense." The Alchemist