The Seinfeld Blog

seinfeld

I’m starting to panic; I think my blog is turning into a Seinfeld-like blog. The Seinfeld show was famously known for being a show about nothing. And that’s what I fear is happening, or could happen, to this blog.

I know it’s only been two weeks, so it’s not much of a sample size, but I continue to struggle with things to write about.  As a result, I often end up writing about things that pop into my head, and as was pointed about by a fellow #writeandrun31 member, that is usually not the most effective way to write. Sometimes I am happy with what I have written, sometimes I am not. But one of the reasons I love this writeandrun challenge is that it forces me to write something every day, and from what I have read, that is perhaps the single best way to improve your writing.

While preparing this post I came across a recent interview with Jerry Seinfeld where he addresses the belief that his show was about nothing. He notes that Seinfeld was not pitched as a show about nothing. “The real pitch, when Larry (David) and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material,” he said. “The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.”

In the Seinfeld show, most of the episodes started and ended with Jerry doing a stand-up routine, which often related to what took place in the show. So essentially Jerry was a keen observer of the both the mundane and the wacky events that made up people’s lives, and then took those observations and used them as fodder for his stand-up routine.

When viewed from this perspective, it gave me some potential insight into my blogging process. Perhaps I should view my blog as being about how I get material for my blog. This would allow me to write about a variety of topics, yet would still provide with an overall theme to the blog.

And so following the Seinfeld model, that is what I am going to try and do – be a better witness to the daily events that surround me, from the routine to the ridiculous and from the outrageous to the heartwarming. And hopefully by reflecting on those events, the ideas for my blog will flow much better and I’ll be able to make something out of nothing.

And who knows, perhaps nine years from now, if I’m lucky, I’ll still be writing a blog about nothing, just like this post.

Turning Points…

turning_points

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. What were some of the key events or decisions in my life that got me to where I am at today, that made me the person I am? It’s a bit different than thinking about, and thanking, all of the people who have helped me along the way, which I wrote about in a previous post.

Just like my gratitude post, I think the easiest way for me to do this will be to go through these events and decisions, the turning points of my life, in chronological order.

1. Choosing to be a swimmer. I joined my first swim team at the age of 9, and swam competitively for the next 13 years. Swimming gave me confidence, instilled in me the importance of hard work and commitment, kindled in me a passion for fitness that I still have 48 years later,  and enabled me to develop some life-long friendships. In college, swimming was something that defined me, it was  a big part of who I was. I haven’t raced in a swim meet for over 35 years, but I still enjoy going to swim meets. The smell of the chlorine, the excitement of the race, the camaraderie among the swimmers, they all bring back such good memories.

2. Getting married – easily the most important and best decision I have ever made. I think this a fairly obvious life-changing event. It represents a serious, adult-level commitment, perhaps the first one I had ever made. While swimming required a commitment, that was mainly to myself, and such a commitment was made at a fairly young age. With marriage, I was also committing to another person. Prior to being married, most decisions were made thinking of how it would affect me; I could no longer think that way once I was married. Like Lou Gehrig, I consider myself the luckiest man alive, thanks to my wife.

3. Having our first child – again, one of the greatest days in my life, and another obvious life-changing event.  We were a family now, and had serious responsibility for the life of someone else. I realized even more that my decisions affected not only me, or my wife, but my child as well. The decision to have children continues to bring joy into my life.

4. Quitting my job and going back to school. I am not sure what my parents must have thought. I was married, my wife had quit her job to stay at home with our first child , and I decided to quit my job after just  one year so that I could go back to school. By all appearances it was a good job. I was in a management rotational program with a large insurance company, about as safe and secure a job as you could have. However, it had no appeal to me. I could not envision myself spending the next 40 years coming into work and doing the same thing every day. I’ve come to realize that such a job would have likely provided a good deal of variety and challenge, but I guess that’s how a 24 year-old thinks. And I was not doing this just for me; I did a good deal of research before making such a decision, and it seemed as if the odds of having a successful and rewarding carer and family life were quite high if I went into academia. And it has certainly turned out to be true. (see number 7 below).

5. Buying our first house. This was an event that signaled that we were ready to settle down, to become a part of a community. We got lucky; our neighborhood has proved to be a great place to raise a family and to make friends. We’ve been in the same house for 28 years, and have never regretted the decision.

6. Having a child with special needs – our youngest child, Patrick, was born with a condition known as Williams Syndrome. This event has likely had the most  profound effect on how I think about a lot of issues. I think, or at least I hope, I became 1000% more compassionate. I think long and often about the luck of birth. Some babies are born into extreme wealth, others into extreme poverty; some babies are born into a loving family, others into a dysfunctional one; some babies are born with perfect genes, others are born with physical or mental challenges. And while we have probably all read stories about people who have successfully overcome being born into difficult circumstances, I think such stories are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve heard that being malnourished as a very young child actually thwarts appropriate brain development; how is that fair, how is that overcome? While I am all for personal responsibility, I have come to realize that we are also responsible for others. I’ve done a 180 on my political beliefs because of this event (becoming socialistic in many of my views), and I’ve done a 180 on what sort of accomplishments most impress me, things that most people would likely take for granted. For all that he has accomplished, and will accomplish in the future, Patrick continues to be one of the most inspirational people I know.

7.  Getting tenure. This event provided a great sense of stability and security to my family. It also provided a sense of accomplishment for having achieved a goal I had set for myself. I started teaching at my college in 1986, and 29 years later, I am still there (or should I say, they are still stuck with me!)

8. Becoming vegan. Eight years ago one of my sons recommended that I read “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins. To say it was life-changing is an understatement. When I started reading the book I ate a standard American diet; the day after I finished it I became a vegan, not just because of the book, but also because of the positive role model my son was as a vegan. Eight years later I look back on it as one of the best decisions of my life.  Being a vegan has changed me.  I think I became more mature (not really sure why), more contemplative,  more introverted (although I was never the life of the party), perhaps more judgmental, and began to strongly prefer more intimate social events such as dinner with another couple or game night with the family as compared to large social events like company parties and neighborhood block parties. (It was also around this time that I gave up alcohol, I am sure that had something to do with my new social habits.) I also changed my views on many issues, including the obvious ones like caring for the environment and the rights of animals, but also on issues related to compassion and the importance of finding my purpose in life. While I will be the first to admit that not all of the changes have necessarily been for the better, they have certainly played a role in who I am today.

9. Starting my own business. A few years ago I thought I would try to combine two of my passions in life, business and fitness, and open up a personal training studio. Unlike all of the other events/decisions listed here, this one did not have a happy ending. I ran the business for 4 years, had great managers and trainers, great customers, and met many other dedicated small business owners. However, I learned that running a business is a lot harder than teaching about business. While the personal training studio was not a profitable venture, it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, and I think it has made me a better teacher.

10. Participating in the #writeandrun31 challenge. While it is certainly too early to say what the long-term impact of being a part of this group will be, writing every day is something I have always thought about doing, and it was this challenge that made it a reality. It is a great feeling to be part of such a like-minded, supportive community. It has given me a chance to express my creative side, and to share my thoughts and emotions with my family, my friends, my neighbors, and the members of the #writeandrun31 community, and I know that such a chance has the potential to be life-changing.

 

What Am I Missing?

ellsworth1

I’ll admit it, I don’t get most works of art.

Part of the reason goes way back to grade school and my dislike for when it was time for art. I was a numbers guy and viewed art class as just taking time away from doing something more important, and more enjoyable, like long division. So my goal in every art class was simple, get it over with as quickly as possible. And as I recall, it was a rare art lesson when I was not the first one finished.

Now as you can imagine, there was not much art going on at my desk. I realized I had no skill, and just chalked it up by thinking that’s just not how my mind works. Fast forward 40 plus years, and nothing has changed. I’m still a numbers guy (I teach Accounting), and I’m still terrible at art.

Whenever we would get together with our friends to play Pictionary, nobody wanted to be on my team, but at least my drawings were good for a few laughs. The same thing is true with another great game, Telestrations – no one wants to be the person after me, forced to try and figure out what my child-like drawing represents.

I think part of the reason for my lackluster attitude towards art is a lack of appreciation for “art”. I have made a couple of attempts to become more sophisticated and knowledgeable. A few years ago my wife and I joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On our first visit, as we walked through variety of displays, I became increasingly agitated. We had even rented headphones so the various pieces of art could be explained, but to me this just made the experience worse. The narrator was seeing things in the works of art that I couldn’t see in my wildest imagination.

What I would find particularly upsetting was coming across works of art like this (not necessarily this particular work of art, but it gets the point across):

ellsworth2a

How is that considered art? A 10 year-old could draw that, or even worse, I could draw that. But there it was, hanging on the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the fancy name of “Diagonal with Curve III”. I guess it took the artist a couple of tries to get it right.

Or how about the drawing at the top of this post? That drawing was made by the same artist who made “Diagonal with Curve III”, Ellsworth Kelly. The name of that drawing is “Awnings, Avenue Matignon”, and the name as usual, seems to have nothing to do with the drawing. (I’m not even sure if that little smudge of blue in the bottom right corner is supposed to be there, or if it it really is just a smudge.) When I look at Awnings, it looks like something I created in Excel a couple of weeks ago.

And it’s not just Ellsworth; here’s a work of “art” by Barnett Newman:

newman_art1

This is known as “Vir Heroicus Sublimis”, which translates roughly to “Man, Heroic and Sublime”. Once again, the title helps to explain the drawing perfectly. I think I’ve seen my kids draw something like that when they were 10 years old.

So what am I missing? I understand people love going to Museums, so why can’t I find such a trip enjoyable? I’m not completely void of emotions that might stop me from appreciating art; I cry quite often when something moves me (see my earlier post, I’m in Tears Again“).

I could go on and on with examples like the three shown here. Needless to say, I did not visit the Museum again, despite having paid for a year’s membership. I think my wife was embarrassed of my constant refrain “How is that considered art?”

But I do keep trying to understand art and to have an appreciation for artists. I’ve watched Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech several times where he encourages the graduates to “Make Good Art”. I read Seth Godin‘s books, where he encourages the reader to find the artist within.

And that’s also why I am so committed to this 31 day challenge. I am viewing this blog as my art, and it’s perhaps helping me to understand the mind of the artist a little bit better. Ellsworth and Newman weren’t doing those drawings to please me, but to please themselves, to express their emotions.

And that’s how I feel about this blog. While it would be nice if others liked it; that’s not why I am doing it.

It’s a chance to express myself, to dare I say, make good art.

Driving, B.G.

trip_tik

A few years ago, while we were getting ready to drive to New York City for the day, one of my sons asked me how we used to know how to get places before Google Maps.

The question caught me by surprise, since I had never really given it much thought, and so I really couldn’t give him a good answer. I know for longer trips we would go the local AAA office and get a custom trip-tik created for us.  The trip-tik had a series of mini-maps, one map per page, with the required route highlighted on each map. You would then flip the page over to go to the next segment of the trip.

But what did I do about shorter trips, for example, going from my house to a restaurant or friend’s house for the first time? I certainly wouldn’t go to AAA to get directions for a trip like that.

In the back of my mind, it seemed like I just knew; but somewhere along the way, I had to have learned that route. I am sure many times I relied on my dad to tell me how to get places, since he seemed to know multiple ways to get everywhere within 50 miles of our house.  I am sure other times I would call someone at the place I was going to and ask for directions. But how did the person on the other end of the phone know?

Anyway, what amazes me is that I really have little to no recollection of how I figured out how to get from point A to point B,  before Google (B.G.).

Today, I use Google Maps all the time, even when I already know how to get to where I’m headed. With its real-time traffic info, it may recommend an alternative route compared to the one I would have used if I had not consulted Google Maps.

We’ve used it to successfully navigate New York City, from using its public transit option for the subway system, to its point-to-point walking directions. I’ve used it to check the travel time between two cities I’ll probably never go to, just because I can. It is an incredible app.

But as I thought of my dependence on the app, I wondered if there is any downside to such reliance. For example, would a 16-year old know what to do with a map or a trip-tik? Do they need to know?

And it’s not just Google Maps. I’ve often struggled with the issue of calculators. Do students really need to know the times table up to 12, since calculators are so readily available, whether as a standalone device, or on a cell phone? And who above the age of six doesn’t have a cell phone 🙂

And what about the ability to go to a library and do some serious research. Can’t we find everything we need on the Internet, using Google?

Or the ability to know how to spell a word correctly, since we can use a spell-checker (although I’m amazed at how infrequently it seems to be used).

Or the ability to have a conversation with a classmate. I often notice students come out of a class, and with 15 seconds all of them are on their cell phone. What could they have missed in the past 75 minutes that’s so important?

While I love all that technology has given us, I also wonder what we’ve lost along the way. I’m not sure if Google Maps can help us find that.

 

 

Books vs. Banks

radnor_library

One of  our family’s go-to places when we’re looking for something to do is to head out to the local Barnes & Noble. We are fortunate to have three B&Ns within 15 minutes of us, and are frequent visitors to each one. In fact, that is where my wife and son are right now, leaving me to write this post.

We used to have a B&N store just five minutes from our house, but that was closed a few years ago. And just a few months before that was closed, a Borders bookstore that was just two minutes away from us was closed. Now there are no Borders bookstores left, and I am worried the same fate could happen to B&N.

And what a loss that would be. I view bookstores as not only a great place to check out the latest bestsellers and browse through a wide variety of magazines, but a place to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, a place to hear authors speak about their latest work, or a place for a children’s weekly story time – in other words, a great community gathering place.

It’s the same way I feel about libraries, to me the heart and soul of a community. We are blessed with a great local library, Radnor Memorial Library. Where else can you borrow a book, a movie, or a CD for free; surf the web, get tax forms, or expert research help, also all for free? However, community libraries are always subject to the vagaries of public funding, and I have seen local libraries cut their hours of operation, cut their staff, and cut their services. My fear is that what’s been happening to bookstores could happen to libraries.

When I walk through a library, it seems as if every square foot of space is accounted for. While the vast majority of floor space is committed to books, magazines and newspapers, there’s also several computer workstations available, meeting rooms, the reference desk, the circulation desk, displays, etc. In other words, little to no wasted space.

The same goes for B&N. Again, most of its floor space is for books and other reading material, but they also sell other goods, such as games, educational toys, Nooks, and there’s often a space for a cafe. Again, very little wasted space.

None of the above seems to be the case with the banking industry. It seems as if I see a new bank opening around us every few months, and I just don’t get it. (The same can be said for drug stores, but that’s a whole different story.)

I think the five members of our family might go to a bank a combined five times per year, and I know that it’s never busy when I go. One of our visits is usually an annual trip to have our coins counted, and on those visits we are usually the only customers.

Plus, every bank just seems to have so much wasted space. Why is there all that dead space when you first walk in that requires a 30 foot walk to the teller? A bookstore or a library would find a good use for that space.

It also seems as if banks have a pretty significant interior design budget, based on the granite counters that the tellers sit behind, and the walnut desks and leather chairs for its more senior personnel. In the meantime, libraries have to chase people that owe them 60 cents in overdue fines, and deal with 30 year-old furniture.

You may want to blame the bookstore and library problems on Amazon, or on technologies such as e-readers. But there have been great advances in technology in the banking industry as well. Online banking, ATM machines, automatic bill payments, direct deposits, and now mobile deposits using your smartphone. The list goes on and on. As I see it, there’s hardly any reason left to go to a bank, and for the few times that I may need to go, all I need is one bank employee, a desk, and two chairs.

My hope is that this situation reverses itself, sooner rather than later. We need more bookstores and better funded libraries, and fewer banks. Perhaps we can modify the expression, “Books, not bombs” to “Books, not banks”.

A good place to start may be to move those coin counting machines to the local library, which should help with its overdue fines. I’m sure they’ll find a spot for it.

 

Why I Didn’t Upgrade to the iPhone 6

iphone6

I love everything about Apple. I’m sitting here writing this blog on my iMac that I bought in 2007, and it still looks and acts like a state-of-the-art desktop.

My family loves Apple. Right now my wife is checking email on her Macbook Air. Our three sons all have Apple laptops, and all five of us have an iPhone.  There’s also a couple of iPads floating around somewhere. I still remember the Christmas many, many years ago when I drove down to Delaware (tax free shopping!) to pick up three iPods for our kids. It’s come full circle; a couple of years ago our kids bought my wife and I an Apple TV for Christmas, and we love. The combination of Apple TV, AirPlay, and an iPhone is incredible. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve brought up an episode of Between Two Ferns on our iPhone, but then used AirPlay to watch it on our TV – which our kids also bought for us. (My wife and I still had one of those big fat TVs at the time – I kept holding out for the mythical Apple TV set). I may have to settle for the Apple Watch…

My students are also well aware of my fascination/obsession with Apple. I even had a student write a comment a couple of years ago on my end of semester evaluations, “I understand Apple is a very successful company, but it would have been nice to occasionally here about other successful companies.”

To which I respond – don’t you want to learn from the best?

For example, at the close of business today: Apple has the highest market of $657 billion; second place is ExxonMobil at a distant $390 billion. Nobody is in Apple’s league,

Apple stores have the highest sales per square foot, a common benchmark in the retail industry. Apple’s sales per square foot are 50% higher than Tiffany’s which came in third on the list.

And one more fun fact I share with my students – it was harder to get a job at a new Apple store than to get accepted into Harvard. 10,000 people applied for a job at Apple’s Upper West Side store in 2009, but only 200 got a job, an acceptance rate of 2%. Harvard has an acceptance rate of 7%.

One other cool thing I was able to do this past semester (at least I thought it was cool) was to give an entire lecture just using my iPhone. When Microsoft announced that it was making its Office suite available for iPhones and iPads, I immediately downloaded it onto my iPhone. I was then able to send myself a set of PowerPoint slides, open them up on my iPhone, and then using Apple AirPlay in my classroom and display the presentation on the big screens in front of the class. I had complete freedom to walk around the room, advance my slides, click on links out to the web, etc. The students were certainly more impressed with that feat of technology than any actual content in the slides…

So anyway, the point of all this is to show you that I am an Apple “fanboy”. I also think the iPhone is the greatest single piece of technology ever developed. I am confident that I could get by with just an iPhone, and no other piece of technology, for an entire year.

So this past year when Apple announced the release of the iPhone 6, you would think that I would have been one of the first in line to get one. Everything was falling into place – all of our family phones were up for renewal, and it was the holiday season. So we went to the Apple store, intent on upgrading from the 5 to the 6. After my wife and two of my sons upgraded their phones, the salesman went to get me an iPhone 6, and at the last moment, I said no.

Why? A last minute attack of sentimentality.

And if you think I’m a big Apple fan, I am even bigger Steve Jobs fan. I’ve watched Triumph of the Nerds (a great history of the early days of personal computing) where Steve is prominently featured, I’ve watched his graduation speech dozens of times, and I’ve read Walter Isaacson’s bio of Jobs. He was a brilliant, but flawed individual. He changed entire industries (music, computer, smartphones) through his ideas and perseverance. And it’s not just me that had this great respect for what Steve accomplished; he was selected in 2009 by Fortune magazine as the CEO of the decade.

Steve Jobs was the person I most wanted to meet, but now that will never happen. But from what I’ve read, the iPhone 5 was the last iPhone Steve was involved with. And so while I stood there amid the bustle of an Apple store during the holiday, I realized that my iPhone 5 was my connection to Steve, and I just couldn’t part with it. So now every time I use my phone, I think of Steve, and am grateful for his desire to make a difference in the world.

And that’s something the iPhone 6 just can’t do.

By the way if you haven’t Norah Jones singing at the Apple tribute to Steve, it’s well worth it.

My Blogging Queue

alligators

Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to a fellow #writeandrun31 member, this time, EJ Runyon. In a brief exchange of comments with EJ, I noted how impressed I was with her ability to write 50,000 words in one month. And not just once, but many times.

I told her that I struggle to get 500 words per day, and that my writing process for this 31 day challenge has been to just sit in front of the computer and stare at a blank screen, and hope that something to write about magically comes to me. I’ve survived in this manner for the first seven days, but I also realize that some days the writing is not very good or very profound. I know this approach is not a viable long-term solution if I want to write something meaningful every day, and EJ suggested that I think of some topics and take notes about them before I sit down to write my blog.

So I’ve been trying to do this for the past couple of days, and I thought I would share some of the topics I’ve been thinking about, and a brief blurb about each one. Hopefully you will see each of these turn into a well-written, thought-provoking blog post, but for now, I’ll just be happy getting 500 words out of each of them.

My Greatest Fears

1. All reptiles – snakes, lizards, alligators, crocodiles (I really don’t care what the difference is, either one would scare me to death), etc. The fear has gotten to the point that I’ve ruled out what seems to be in many respects a possibly wonderful place to retire – Hilton Head – because there seems to be way too many alligators, or is it crocodiles?
2. Singing solo in public.
3. Doing a a 5-minute stand-up routine.
4. Calling on a student in class by the wrong name.

I’m sure there’s many more that I can come up with, but I think writing about my fears will be helpful.

My Vision Board

I created a vision board a few years ago, almost because I had to. So not only does it need to be updated, but I need to invest more of myself in the process. I already ask my students to create their own vision board, and after all what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

My Faith Journey

From devout Catholic to atheist to agnostic to? I believe there is something bigger than us, but what that is I don’t know, but I’m always searching. This would be a tough one to write about, but doing so may help bring me some clarity.

My Suggested Headlines for The Onion

The Onion has the funniest writing on the web, and the headlines alone are often enough to get me laughing out loud. I frequently think of my own headlines that I think are Onion-worthy, so I am going to try and come up with enough to make a blog post out of them.

My Bucket List

While the movie didn’t do much for me, I’ve come across some great bucket lists in my readings, and I thought it would be quite motivating to create my own.

What I’ve Learned from Being a Vegan for Eight Years

I read John Robbins’ Food Revolution, and I went from a typical American diet to vegan the day I finished the book. That was eight years ago, and I’m more committed than ever to the vegan lifestyle. It may be helpful to share why  and what I’ve learned over the past several years.

Why I Didn’t Upgrade to the iPhone 6

I love everything about Apple. Ask any of my students; by the end of the semester I know they are tired of all the times I use Apple as an example of a company that does so many things the right way. Steve Jobs was probably the person I most wanted to meet someday (scratch that off my bucket list). Over the past 10 years our family has probably bought over 30 Apple products. So why didn’t I upgrade to what appears to be the best smartphone out there? I plan to share my reasons in a future post.

How Did We Get Directions before Google Maps?

A few years ago one of my sons asked me how we figured out how to get from Point A to Point B, before Google Maps came along. For a generation that grew up always using such apps, it must be a baffling thought. And I must admit it did cause me to pause and think about how I used to get directions. It would be fun to write about how dependent we have all become on technology, including myself.  By the way, I consider Google Maps the greatest app that has ever been developed.

Why Do We Pass Up Opportunities That Are Good for Us?

When presented with the opportunity to save money or to make money or to live a healthier life, why do so many people, myself included, ignore such opportunities. The one that always gets me is the opportunity to join Planet Fitness. $10 a month, $30 annual renewal fee. Total cost, $150 per year. My company’s health insurance plan will reimburse up to $150 per year in gym membership fees to anyone who joins a gym and makes at least 120 visits per year. So that makes my Planet Fitness membership FREE! Plus, it’s a great incentive to get at least 120 workouts in per year. However, most people I tell about this, don’t do anything about it. And this is just one of many examples. I think it may be worth exploring why that is.

So there you have it, nine possible blog posts in the queue. Plus, I got to write about the queue itself, this post was like a bonus! My only concern is that once again I see no consistent theme among the possible blog posts. Not sure if there needs to be, but I think it would be easier to come up with ideas if the blog was focused on one BIG IDEA. Maybe there’s another blog post there…

Thank you again EJ!

 

 

I Wonder What It Would Be Like to Be…

ironman

Once again, I need to give credit to one of Christine Frazier‘s prompts – this time her suggestion of writing about a recurring daydream you may have, for the idea behind this post.

While I don’t really have any recurring daydreams, I do often wonder what it would be like to be someone else, what it would be like to spend a typical day in someone else’s shoes.

So here are some people I think it would be fascinating to be for just a short while:

Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers – every time I watch this video, which is way too often, I think ‘Man, that has to be the greatest feeling in the world,  singing in front of 5,000 screaming fans.’ I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier…

Bruce Springsteen – I assume every 50-something year old man has fantasized about being the Boss. Whether it is seeing him perform live or watching an online video, the passion and joy for what he does comes through loud and clear. And he’s been doing it this way for over 40 years! By the way, I consider “Thunder Road” to be the greatest song of all time…

President of the U.S. – really, how cool would it be that you get the opportunity to possibly change the course of the world, or to pardon a turkey…

Bill Gates – one of my tech heroes, and much like Jimmy Carter and his work with Habitat for Humanity, I think Bill’s “second career” as a philanthropist will be the one he is most remembered for. But I just can’t imagine (but it doesn’t stop me from trying), what it would be like to wake up and realize you are the wealthiest person in the world (as measured in good old dollars at least). I’d love to just spend a day with him and see what his life is like.

Ellen DeGeneres – I’ll admit it, I love watching the Ellen Show. And I often think how great it must be to make people so happy by surprising guests with checks for $10,000 or giving everyone in the audience a big screen TV. Many of these occasions bring tears to my eyes. Plus, she’s vegan! If I had a giveaway, it would be an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii for every member of the audience, along with their immediate family. I also realize being Ellen for a day would require some significant transformations…

Cain Velasquez – the current UFC heavyweight champ. Imagine walking down the street, just about any street, and having the confidence to handle yourself in virtually any physical altercation. I get scared walking into Planet Fitness…

Steven Spielberg – many times when I watch a movie or a play I often wonder what it must take to bring all of that together; the actors, the script, the scenery, the locations, the special effects, the editing, etc. It’s mind boggling, and few people, if any, do it as well as Mr. Spielberg. I still remember watching a movie a long, long time ago on TV called “The Duel“, and thinking at the time what a great movie it was. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that it was one of Spielberg’s earliest directorships. Highly recommended…

While we’re at the movies, how awesome would it be to be Robert Downey, Jr. Imagine getting to be Iron Man for a day, and then later watching yourself on a  70 foot IMAX screen. Or how about the opportunity to play the male lead opposite Anna Kendrick in a movie – as her dad of course. (I think my wife reads this blog…)

I also often wonder what it would be like to be a gifted elementary school teacher at a low income school, and sparking a love of math or reading or art in a young child.

And if I were to imagine what it would be like to be someone from the past, I would add Steve Jobs giving his graduation speech at Stanford, Jimmy Cagney dancing down the White House steps in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Leonardo da Vinci having one amazing idea after another to the list.

When I try to look for what all these people have in common, what do I find fascinating about them, I guess it’s that they are all people who are among the best at what they do. They found something they love, and worked hard to excel at that. And that’s something everyone cannot only imagine, but make a reality.

And for any of you who may have wondered, or perhaps even fantasized, what it’s like to be a college professor, well here’s a day in my life: watching students fall asleep right in front of (2 minutes into the start of class), receiving emails from students asking if they missed anything important, getting an obituary from a student showing that his grandmother had died (photocopied from a Korean language newspaper), having students ask for extra credit (for just asking for extra credit), and observing students “secretly” checking their phone several times during class. Sound appealing? Then by all means, the job is all you’ve ever fantasized about.

P.S. I really do love my job; I’m blessed to be at a wonderful University surrounded by great colleagues and great students. There aren’t many things better in life than watching a struggling student succeed after putting in some hard work, or having a former student come back to class as a guest speaker and marvel at the transformation that has taken place. It’s the great circle of life.

Great Customer Service vs. Personal Responsibility

miss_class2

This post is based on one of Christine Frazier‘s writing prompts, in which she suggests writing about the most common question you get in some aspect of your life.

As a college teacher, one of the most common questions I get occurs when a student misses a class and he or she will send me an email asking “Could you tell me what I missed?”, or its more annoying variant “Did I miss anything important?”

It has become even more frustrating in the past few years to get such an email. I have all of my classes video-recorded so that after class students can bring up any class on their computer and watch it at their convenience.  All the students are aware of this option, yet they still send emails asking what they missed.

I’ve often been tempted to either not reply to the email or to respond with some sarcastic comment, but I bite my tongue and send a reply that lets the student know what was covered in class and reminds them about the availability of the video recordings.

One of the the reasons for responding this way is because of all the books and blogs I read that stress the importance of providing great customer service. If I view my students as customers, then it seems reasonable to assume that it is my responsibility to provide them with great customer service. That’s why I have all my classes video-recorded, that’s why I get their tests back to them the next class, that’s why I answer such emails in a polite way.

But at what point does providing great customer service interfere with the idea of personal responsibility? At what point does wanting to do everything for your child interfere with the child learning to be independent?

I struggle with such questions. When I read the words of Seth Godin, I get pumped up about providing extraordinary customer service. But then I’ll watch a Larry Winget video and it’s all about taking personal responsibility, which I am also a big believer in.

So what do I say to a student who stops by my office and tells me he missed the previous class and wants to review a problem we had gone in over in detail during that class?

The Seth Godin side of me wants to do everything I can to help the student, the Larry Winget side of me wants to tell the student to go figure it out yourself.

I see potential merit in the idea that telling the student to figure out the solution on his own is perhaps the best form of customer service I could provide in the long run. However, to me it still begs the question at what point does telling someone to take personal responsibility replace the need to provide great customer service.

What’s the best way to teach someone to swim; do you just tell someone to jump in the water and figure it out on his own, or do you offer some basic lessons beforehand?

Or what do you do if you are a waiter and you serve a customer his meal and then a minute later he tells you he did not realize  that his cheeseburger came with pickles on it. Do you simply apologize and tell the customer that you will get him a new burger with no pickles right away, or do you tell the customer that the menu clearly states what is on every burger, and he is going to have to live with that decision?

I think many of us would answer that of course you would provide someone with swimming lessons as part of helping that person learn how to swim and that you would replace a customer’s burger if there was a problem with it, even though it was not the restaurant’s fault.

But is there some magical line that gets crossed at some point and we say that customer service ends here, you’re on your own now?

Any insights would be appreciated – or is this something I have to figure out by myself?

X plus 7

55mph

Don’t panic, this is not a post about algebra!

Instead, what it represents is the formula I use for determining my driving speed. In the formula, X represents the posted speed limit. So if I am on a highway where the posted speed limit is 55 mph, then the maximum speed I will go, and what I set my cruise control at, is 62 mph. If the speed limit is 35 mph, I keep my speed at or below 42 mph.

This approach has several benefits, such as: I never really worry about getting a speeding ticket (I’ve heard that cops don’t start giving tickets until a driver is at least 10 mph above the speed limit); it’s one less thing to think about when driving, since I know exactly what speed I will be driving at on any particular highway; and since I use cruise control whenever I can, I think my gas mileage is better than if I were constantly speeding up and slowing down.

There are a couple of downsides to this approach. First, if I go to pass someone on a four-lane highway, and while I am in the midst of doing so a car comes up behind me, I am not going to speed up just to get out of their way. This often leads to the person behind me getting quite annoyed (as I can tell from the looks and gestures I get when that person eventually passes me).

Second, it has created, and I am willing to admit this, an almost holier-than-thou approach to my driving. While I am driving, I often think if you were to ask people at the end of any given day if they broke the law that day, virtually no one would admit to having done so. But in reality, judging by how many people pass me while I am driving (and how few people I pass), then most people are breaking the law. And from my perspective, driving above the speed limit is a much more serious crime than possession of an ounce of marijuana. Driving at such high rates of speed puts many innocent people at risk, having an ounce of pot *may* be harmful to the individual who smokes it. (I certainly am against the combination of smoking and driving, in any amount, at any speed).

I’ve often wondered how people can justify going so much faster than the speed limit. It can’t be that everyone has an emergency; why is everyone always in such a hurry?

Some of you may say I am being hypocritical, since I am driving above the speed limit as well. I’m OK with that. I think my approach is consistent with the belief that the occasional beer or helping of fries isn’t too bad for you, but having several beers per day or french fries on a regular basis is not good for your health. So I think there is a big difference between going 62 mph versus 75-80 mph in a 55 mph zone.

I’ve had someone tell me that when he goes well above the speed limit, it’s not really a crime. I then asked him if he slows down to the speed limit if he sees a cop on the side of the road, and he replied that of course he does. To me, that’s a clear sign that he knows he was doing something wrong. On the other hand, I never feel the need to slow down when I see a cop, and I think that makes for a much more relaxed and enjoyable driving experience.

You may argue that there are certain situations when you need to drive excessively fast, and of course there are. But running late is not a legitimate excuse – get up earlier or plan your day better!

I would be in full support if there were highway sensors that could automatically ticket anyone who goes more than (X + 7). I think such a system would eventually create a strong incentive for most people to drive at a more appropriate, and legal speed.

I am also looking forward to the advent of self-driving cars, for many reasons, but certainly one of them is the hope that such cars will have their speeds automatically controlled to maximize throughput and safety, all within the confines of the posted speed limit.

Who know, maybe I can start a movement with the hashtag #X+7.

Safe driving everyone. I can now get off my soapbox.