Saturday, December 24, 2011

Resolutions for 2012

Well, we’re rounding the corner and rapidly approaching the time for people to start making resolutions about weight they are going to lose this year, money we are going to save, books we will read, odd jobs we will do that we have been putting off, and so on.
I have a cousin who resolved several years ago to get in shape, so he went on the Hacker’s Diet, lost quite a bit of weight, and posts regularly on his Facebook page now about marathons that he has run in.  … I share his story to say that  real substantive lifestyle change IS possible, but for many, the “I’m going to lay off everything with corn syrup in it and get in shape” resolution, however genuinely intended, seems to fizzle out when the first big winter storm hits.
I’d like to suggest some additional resolutions for consideration that don’t necessarily require a complete change in activity and eating patterns, but can be equally meaningful.

Forgive Someone:  A lot of us are carrying around grudges for real or perceived things that others have done to us, or injustices we have experienced and the anger we won’t let go of is hurting us as much as the original event that caused it.  As a recruiter, I see this every day in people’s posts on Facebook, Twitter, and hear it in their daily conversations.
The objects of our anger vary considerably:  The spouse who isn’t attentive enough or who nitpicks at our faults.  The president and/or Congress. (Popular targets these days.)  The company that called you about an opening and then never got back to you.  Your boss.  The company that laid you off.  Your parents.  Your in-laws.  Siblings.  The Chinese.  The neighbor whose dog poops in your yard. Mac owners. People who like their jobs.  Liberals. Conservatives.  The Syfi channel for … well for everything since 2009. HP, for killing WebOS.  That girl you asked out in the 11th grade.  The creator of the term metrosexual.  Bankers. Lawyers. Recruiters … You get the idea.
Here’s the thing about being mad at those people or institutions.  Often, they don’t even know or care that you are mad.  Your anger is eating you up and not doing a thing to them.  (Personal relationships excluded, in which case, you are likely hurting yourself, the other person, your relationship with that person, and probably others that you aren’t even considering.)
I wouldn’t want to hurt the specific people involved, but I could point out instances in which individuals are so consumed by their hurt and anger about how unjust the world is in general, how badly they have been treated, or how evil someone or some group is that it has cost them friendships, relationships with family members, and in some rare extreme cases, any hope of ever getting a decent job.
Forgiveness does not mean that you are minimizing the pain that you felt, or  condoning the particular action that hurt you.  It simply means that you are no longer going to hold it against them.  That in the case of personal relationships, that you value the relationship with that person more than you value staying angry.  In the case of people or groups unrelated to you, it means you have figured out that it is stupid to let the pain you have experienced continue to dominate your life, and you are going to put it behind you and move on.
If you’re serious about it, it can be liberating.

Ask Someone’s Forgiveness:  This may well be one of the hardest things in the world to do for some of us.  We would rather have double root canals than to admit that we were wrong.
In this time of economic stress, political polarization, and global unrest, most of us have been guilty of doing or saying something that hurt someone else.  … Or of not doing or saying something we should have.  ... Maybe it isn’t something recent.  Maybe it is something from years past, and you know the other person involved is still carrying around hurt or anger that they can’t shake.
Even if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong, asking forgiveness can be the right thing to do.  Without making excuses, tell the person you are sorry that you hurt them.  Husbands and fathers, we especially need to work hard to incorporate “I’m sorry” into our vocabulary in a meaningful way.  (It’s no fair to say “I’m sorry” and then turn right back around and do it again.) Wives, sometimes society lets you get away with dishing out some pretty unkind behavior because husbands don’t break into tears when their feelings are hurt, but your words and actions can be just as impactful … and of course as the person who’s often the primary caregiver, just as impactful on your children.
Certainly the dynamics are different at work, but the value of stepping up and accepting responsibility for your actions is just as great.  Managers, how hard would it be to go to your subordinate and say, “I’m sorry I didn’t stand up for you when the VP was reaming you out, and I’m going to go talk to him about it?”  Probably pretty hard, but think of what it would mean to the employee.  Employees, what would it mean to your manager if you went to him/her and said, “I know my attitude has been terrible for the past several months.  I’m sorry, and I’m going to try to turn it around.”
This stuff definitely isn’t easy.  On the other hand, when you go to someone and ask forgiveness, you are telling that person you value him or her enough that you’re willing to go through the discomfort of apologizing.
Being forgiven can be as powerful as letting go of the anger your holding on to.  Keep in mind though that this is an instance in which you are asking forgiveness for yourself, but also for the other person, and it may be a rough experience for you both.  You may not feel all warm and fuzzy on the tail end of it.  If it is a situation that you expect to be pretty volatile, or you just feel like you might be heading into emotional water that’s a bit deeper than you’re used to, it’s not a bad idea to speak with someone beforehand like a counselor or a pastor who might help you get through that process.

Get to know someone outside your circle:   As I’m typing this, I’m looking back at the online discussion that followed my most recent article. Many of the comments were made by good, hard-working IT people who feel more comfortable dealing with computers than with people.  Heck, that probably describes most people who went into IT, and lots of folks who didn’t, to some degree.
Whether that describes you, or you know someone like that, I’d like to encourage you to make an effort.  Look around and see who’s new, or doesn’t seem to have anyone to go to lunch with, and when a bunch of you are headed out the door, invite that person to come along.  … And don’t give up if the person declines the first time.
I also have been looking over an email the past few days from someone I knew as a client who took his or her life a couple of years ago.  Without projecting too much of my regret over not staying connected enough … not knowing the extent of that person’s despair, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that someone you know could potentially be contemplating suicide.  I am saying that being isolated isn’t good for anyone, even people who are more comfortable getting to know a system than a person.  … Also, it’s better for ANY organization when people feel connected to one another … when they feel like they fit in and not like they work for a company where nobody really knows them or cares about their well-being.
Companies can provide exceptional pay and benefits, and have great leaders, but an employee who feels isolated and disconnected from the rest of the team eventually is probably going to move on to greener pastures.
If you’re the new kid on the block, don’t wait to be invited.  Make an effort.  Be persistent, even if it’s not your nature to be outgoing. I could write a whole article on how this will benefit your career in the long run if you follow this advice.

Help Someone Else:  Kudos to anyone who actually read my blog a year ago, and remembered anything from it.  This is a repeat.  (And if you really did make that connection, you might consider making a cameo appearance on the Big Bang Theory.)
So, just to reiterate, we live in a culture that is becoming more and more focused on personal gratification, individual rights, and so on.  Also, unlike a generation or two ago when people tended to be a lot more neighborly, it is unusual for people to know their neighbors very well, if at all.
So, we live in this weird reality in which we are aware of lots of things going on in our cities, states, country, and around the world, but we ultimately boil things down to how things impact us as individuals or our families.  We might Tweet about compassion for the poor, or whatever the issue might be, but it is rare for people, conservative, liberal, or in between to get all that involved.  We are too tired, too busy, too broke, or whatever.
Help someone else in a way that involves more than just writing a check.  Get to know someone well enough that you no longer feel like you’re a good person for helping out.  Instead, you are helping because you care about that person.  Do that, and you will not only help that person, but you will help yourself.  If you have done this, and have checked it off your list already, help someone in a setting that makes you feel uncomfortable.  (Not unsafe, just out of your element.)

Do something you wouldn't normally do: What is it you have always wanted to do, but lacked the nerve.  Maybe it’s standing up for yourself after years of letting your boss walk all over you.  (If that’s it, do it in a firm, respectful way that does not involve anyone dialing 911.)  Maybe it is studying online and working your way toward a new career.  Maybe it’s going up in a hot air balloon.
Or maybe it is something you actually dread doing.  (Skipping past forgiving the person you have been angry at for years, since we have hit on that already.)  Afraid of speaking in public?  Take a community education course, and give a talk on configuring servers to your class.  Afraid of flying?  What about a hot air balloon ride?
Into a rut at work?  Start volunteering for thing.  Learn some new skills.  Regardless of whether it results in better opportunities, challenging yourself will do you good.
It doesn’t need to be anything major.  Take your wife out for Thai food, or something else you’ve never tried.  Or go buy a wok, and treat the family to sir fry one night instead of whatever you normally have.
With the exception of going out and taking a class to learn something, all of these are hard, but don’t require radical physical lifestyle changes.  They are things you could tackle this weekend, if you put your mind to it.  … The payoff o any or all of them could be equally as positive as any other goal you might set for yourself.  (Well, maybe  not going out for Thai food.)

Now it’s your turn.  What have you done along these lines in past years, and what was the result?

I know 2011 has been a tough year for many of you.  I hope that 2012 will be a big improvement.  See you around online…