Fate, Fortune, and Friendship

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It happened that my friend Don and I discovered that we were in New York City at the same time. I was staying near the World Trade Center, and he was in Harlem, but that distance paled in comparison to the 1,200 miles or so that usually separates us. We arranged to meet in Midtown. When I spotted him as I crossed 8th Avenue toward the restaurant we’d agreed on, I felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude for the gift of time together.

Don and I met over twenty years ago in graduate school, when we were assigned an office together. We discovered mutual loves not only of literature, language, and drama, but also of less highbrow interests like superheroes and Star Trek. Our similar outlook and senses of humor meant we were sympatico in other ways as well.

It sometimes feels like it was fate, rather than mere good fortune, that we found each other as friends. Last night, it felt like it was fate, rather than mere good fortune, that placed us at the same time in a city where neither of us live, with time enough to get together. Whether it was fate or good fortune, I am profoundly grateful for it.

Go Zen

My plan last night was to check into my hotel, then go directly to Red Bamboo for dinner. I’d eaten there in 2013 on the recommendation of the manager of Meze 119 in Saint Petersburg and loved it. Alas, it was not to be. I got there easily enough, but all tables were taken and there was a one-hour wait.

I put my name on the list and gave them my phone number. Rather than sit and wait, I decided to walk around and see what I could find. When I left, I mentally flipped a coin. It came up tails, so I turned left. Only a few doors down, I spotted Go Zen, a vegan place with a pan-Asian menu. A few tables available, and I could eat right away. I was ravenous, and everything on the menu looked so good. Honestly at that point, I was ready to start gnawing on my own arm.

That would not be appropriate, because I happen to be made of meat.

It was very hard to choose an entree. Even ruling out the dishes that featured mushrooms didn’t help. (Mushrooms and I are not on speaking terms.) There was still so much to choose from. Finally, I opted for the Soy Cashew Salute and a cup of Cream of Broccoli soup.

It was delicious. I’m so glad I chose to explore instead of waiting. I highly recommend this place and will return the next time I’m in the city.

Feeding Sam in the Big Apple

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I’m heading to Manhattan next week on business and I am super excited about it. It’s been four years since I last spent time in New York, not counting the quick visit to the Cloisters last year. I’ve never been to Manhattan in winter, so when my client engagement wraps up, I’m planning to visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and maybe strap on a pair of skates.

I’ve also got to eat! I know a few places from past visits (dinner one night at Red Bamboo is a strong possibility) but I’d love to hear recommendations for great vegetarian cuisine around the World Trade Center or Lower Manhattan areas. What do you say? Help me get my feed on!

Photograph by Omer Meral.

Focus

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Every morning at work, I start with seemingly limitless reserves of energy. But by the time I wade through emails, prepare a list of things I need to do, and get ready for my first meeting of the day, I often find myself drained and uninspired. The rest of the day is harder to get through, and I often feel unsatisfied with what I’ve accomplished when it’s time to leave.

This morning, I decided to take a different approach. I didn’t check my email. I didn’t reconcile my calendars. I didn’t look at Twitter, or my schedule for the day. I picked something I needed to focus on and got to work.

What a difference it made! I finished a proposal for a speaking engagement that I fretted over all last week. I read–and understood–a systems architecture document I’ve been meaning to get to. And I reviewed a slide deck I’ll need to use for an upcoming training session. I got more done in two hours than I usually get done in twice that amount of time. After my first meeting, I capitalized on the momentum I’d built and accomplished even more.

Before I left the office, I did all the tedious chores I normally would have done first thing in the morning, and wrote a note for myself to find in the morning. When I get there tomorrow, I’ll have my day laid out for me and a head start on another good day.

 

Photograph by Musuvathi J Ubendran.

Small Assignments

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I set a goal of writing three blog posts this week, and I finished one, but the second one completely got away from me. I wanted to write one more thing about my experience in the Pentecostal church, but then I had to explain something else in order for the one thing to make sense. The something else also needed to be introduced, and that introduction had half a dozen components, and so on. And I kept thinking, “This topic is just so big; I don’t know how I’m going to boil it down into a single post.”

I stepped away from it for a little while this morning hoping that doing some chores would generate insight—it happens that way, sometimes—but alas, when I returned to the page, the topic was still so big, and it grew even longer as I worked. I took another break, and picked up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. There, I found my answer:

“The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments.”

If the topic is too big, don’t boil it down. Break off a piece. And if that’s still too big, break off another, until you get something small enough to write. I don’t have to tell my whole life story in one page.

Image by Stasi Albert.

How may I be of service?

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I have always had an impulse to help people. As a child, I would always volunteer to help, whether it was around the house, or at school helping the teacher, or at school helping my classmates when they struggled with their studies. It didn’t even matter whether or not I liked the person who needed help.

I’d sometimes volunteer even at the expense of getting my own chores or tasks done. I remember helping a boy in my neighborhood finish up yard chores so he wouldn’t get in trouble with his father. Later, I was grounded for not mowing my own yard. Because of course he didn’t come over and help me with my chores.

I learned never to do anything for him again, but I still overextended myself time and again with others. I was the guy who would volunteer to help run your thing, get your stuff, or collaborate on your project. Often, I volunteered to do things that, on second thought, I really didn’t want to do at all. One example was my service on the board of the local chapter of the American Society for Quality.

Early in my Quality Assurance career, my boss encouraged me to get involved in a professional organization that would help my career, and I attended an ASQ meeting to check it out. During the meeting, they mentioned that they needed someone to serve as Historian for the chapter. After the meeting, I volunteered.

I was not even a member yet.

I joined the next day, and served as Historian for the chapter for about a year. After a few months, it became clear that I’d made a mistake. The organization, both local and national, was heavily geared toward quality in manufacturing. Software was an afterthought. I didn’t gain much in the way of professional development, and as a board member, I felt obligated to attend every meeting whether I wanted to or not.

Fortunately, I had the sense to decline the offer to step into the Secretary position when it became available. I resigned from the board, and stopped going to meetings that I wasn’t getting any value out of.

My impulse to help was one of the reasons I was so strongly drawn to the Scrum Master role when my company adopted Scrum. Being a “servant leader” is all about helping and empowering others.

Being a Scrum Master ultimately made me realize the folly of being too generous with my support. I recognized that the “leader” portion of servant-leader meant helping people to learn to solve their own problems.

 

Image by Fran Priestly.

 

Slower

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I have posted something every day for 35 days. When I started the first two week challenge, I didn’t think I’d succeed. That I’ve kept it up for five weeks is an amazing run for me, and I’ve proud of myself. Now I know that I can maintain a daily posting schedule if I want to.

That said, I’m going to back off daily posts for this week. I’ve got a hectic schedule ahead of me, and I don’t want to add unnecessary stress to my life. I’ll be happy with three posts, not counting this one, between now and next Sunday night.