Category Archives: problem solving

I Need To Reflect And Listen

It Is Difficult For Me To Inconvenience Others

It’s 2 PM on Tuesday, and I get a text reminder from my daughter, Grace. “Don’t forget that you are picking me up after school. You need to be on time.” I respond, “I know, I’ll be there at 3:30.” I then receive a screenshot of an earlier text message with the time 3:10 circled. This level of insistent confirmation is not typical for Grace, and it signifies how important it is for me to pick her up exactly at 3:10. I respond, “I’ll be there.”

Once home she only has minutes to change into more formal attire; I drive her to a swanky benefit where she will be one of the speakers.

I return home to put on a suit coat and tie and return to the benefit about an hour later. There is my little girl, once the toddler who was afraid to go down a flight of stairs. There is my high school student standing in a receiving line smiling and talking to shakers and movers. The mayor, the superintendent of schools, the head of the park district, the list goes on. Soon she is speaking to the entire group, recounting stories and statistics on the benefits of positive role models for teens, and the intrinsic importance of connection with others. My pride in her is overflowing as she answers questions from the audience with the authority and humor of a seasoned pro.

My role is very minor, as a guest of the event. I don’t enjoy attending formal functions. As an introvert, even this limited part tends to exhaust me.

However, dear reader, you would never know that I was an introvert at the event. I am social and engaging. I go up to people I don’t know, introduced myself, and start conversations. Such behaviors are not natural for me, but long before I became a psychiatrist, I was an observer of human behavior. I know what to do, and how to do it. After many benefits, professional meetings, cocktail parties, and other such events, I can pull it off, but it is an energy draining effort.

The event brings to the forefront one of the main issues that I continue to deal with as I try to transition from my doctor position, where people came to me, to a position where I have to go to people.

My issue isn’t making superficial contact with someone; it is my inability to ask them for something. Time to talk to me, a moment to allow me to take their picture. This is difficult for me to do.

As a problem solver, I know that there are some patch fixes. Having a wingman with me makes it easier to engage someone on a deeper level. Using an intermediary person as a go-between could be useful. However, I have a way to go.


Wednesday night, Valentine’s Day, I am sitting across the table from my wife, Julie. We are at Pepe’s, an inexpensive Mexican restaurant that we like. I tell her that I’m disappointed with myself for not making the progress that I had hoped to make. “I just don’t know what to do or how to do it.” I discuss with her my difficulty with inconveniencing others. How I don’t want to bother people with my demands. She suggests that I talk to our pastor, as he is the consummate connector. It is a great idea, but it would require me asking him for help. I chuckle to myself. I put the idea on the “likely possible” list. I tell her that I still feel that I need to do something that will have a greater impact in this world. As I start to process what I’m saying we both explore my life. When I try to do grand things they are marginally successful. It is clear that I have made the biggest impact when I am interacting one to one with someone. This is the case not only in my professional life but also in my personal life. I reflect.


Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my friend’s Tom’s office working on a project. After about an hour he asks me if I want to go to Harner’s restaurant for breakfast. At the restaurant, I talk to Tom about my dilemma. “Tom, I want to change the world, but I seem to be a one on one type of guy.” Tom listens. I start to reminisce how in the early days of our friendship I tried to help him with his home remodeling website. Tom and I are great at bouncing ideas off one another, and I remember how much I enjoyed learning about the construction business as we redesigned his web pages. Another one to one interaction with someone. An interaction where both parties continue to benefit. I reflect.


Tomorrow I’ll meet with my siblings for breakfast. I have already been in contact with several of them about the get-together. We are looking forward to seeing each other and sharing our lives.

Later in the day my wife and kids have agreed to go with me on a photo road trip. We will travel to Woodstock, Illinois, about 1 hour away. They have promised to be patient with me and to not complain about my constant stops to shoot pictures. I’m am excited about the adventure and the company. I reflect.


My birthday is in a few day; it will be one of those big milestone ones. Dear reader, I am in a period of transition. I continue to wait for my “big inspiration,” but I am starting to see a different path. Perhaps my next direction will be on a smaller scale. I am trying to be still, quiet and to listen. I hope this will cause me to gain greater clarity. I’m trying to look at my past and learn from both my successes and my failures.

Life is interesting. Every day I face a new reality sculpted by the experience from the days before. Perhaps it will be my children who will be the ones with the big ideas. One foot in front of the other. I reflect.

Grace giving her talk.
I need to be quiet and listen.

Why We Should Create Paths, Not Barriers.

It would have taken minutes to clear the sidewalk.
Why We Should Create Paths, Not Barriers.

On my walk today I came upon the above scene. Someone had plowed their driveway, and the excess snow had formed two high barriers obstructing the sidewalk.  The snow had turned into solid ice, and it was directly blocking my path.

Was the snow left by the home’s owner, or was it left by a plowing service?  It doesn’t matter, the result was the same. The individual’s needs were being met but at the expense of the greater good.  The driveway was clean and open.  The family had access to their garage.  Their car could be protected from the elements.  It didn’t seem to matter that they were creating a potentially dangerous situation for anyone using the sidewalk.

I had two choices; I could trudge through the snow of the parkway, or risk stepping over the mounds of ice.  I choose the later, slipping along the way. The event made me think.  In the US we are proud to be individuals.  We strive to be independent.  We celebrate free thinking.  We honor those who we think are successful and powerful. In many ways, our country became great because of our entrepreneurial spirit. We read case studies of prominent business moguls.  We recount rags to riches stories.  We admire billionaires.

People become successful in a variety of ways.  Unfortunately, sometimes it is at the unnecessary expense of others. In this subgroup, there are those who enjoy being in a position where they can make someone else’s life difficult.  There are others who simply don’t care; as long as their objective is met the impact on those around them is inconsequential.

This self-centered focus occurs beyond corporate America. We see it in politicians who place their needs, or the needs of a small but influential group, before the overall good. We also see it in self-centered relationships where the individual’s objective is to always win and never to yield or compromise.

In most cases, it is better to think about the total impact of any decision, and to balance that decision based that thought.  In the short term, the individual’s gain may be smaller by such a stance, but the overall gain will be greater.  As humans, we must be aware of how our actions impact others. When that is not the case it creates unnecessary problems that not only hurt others, but often can come back and negatively affect us.  

Removing the excess snow from the sidewalk would have taken a minute or two.  A slight inconvenience that pales in comparison to the inconvenience of leaving the snow on the sidewalk. In my life, I want to create paths, not leave barriers, for those around me. I know that in the end we will both benefit.

 

The Snowpocalypse, Decision Making, Risk Taking.

The Snowpocalypse, Decision Making , Risk Taking.

The weather channel was reporting a potential disaster as Thursday approached.  A snow storm was coming.  They called it “The Snowpocalypse.”

“Heavy snowfall could make travel difficult to impossible, Winter Storm Warning issued.”

The snowfall would occur during the night and the AM rush hour on Friday morning. You may recall that I retired from my private practice in January of this year.  However, I still work three days a week with the underserved in a town about 90 miles away from my home. Two of those days I provide services via a video link, but on Fridays, I drive to Rockford Illinois and provide services face to face.


I decided to walk this morning, despite un-shoveled sidewalks.  Initially, it didn’t seem too bad, but after a few blocks I started to feel the strain.  It was like I was hiking in a swimming pool.I arrived at my Starbucks and chatted with the barista and the one other patron who was brave enough to come out on this snowy day. As I type this my calves ache.  Soon I will need to return back home and ready myself for the day. I am already exhausted.

I love snow on trees.
The river looked beautiful.

I had to make a decision yesterday. I felt that it would likely be unsafe to drive to Rockford. I could take the day off, but that would inconvenience many. I could use my Cisco Telepresence video system to provide services by video, but one site that I go to in person does not have this capability.  

By 1 PM Thursday I was in contact with the nurse manager of that site, and soon I was contacting IT in between my patients.  Crap, the stress of complex multi-tasking.  It has never been a strong suit of mine. The original technical solution that I came up with was inadequate for my needs. By the end of the workday it was decided to try a different video platform to reach that campus. That conference system is now in place, but not tested. I guess I’ll find if it works soon enough.


Yesterday’s workday ended and I drove to our local teen center to pick up two of my kids.  They volunteer there, mentoring younger teens. They were jubilant as they entered my car as school had been canceled for Friday. We collectively decided to not cook dinner and went to Portillo’s instead.  An Italian beef for me, extra juicy with sweet peppers.  

“Should we get some emergency food supplies?” I asked.  “Yes!” they both responded.  The plan was to turn the storm into an adventure.  A trip to the grocer followed and we grabbed our personal essentials: peanut butter for me, applesauce for Will, and Gracie made sure we had enough Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  We prepared for anything.

Supplies for the snowpocalypse.

Did I make the right decision by staying home?  My decision will inconvenience some people, but I will be able to provide services without putting my life at risk.  Yet, I wonder if I reacted too strongly to the weather warnings.  It is likely that I could have driven to Rockford, but I’ll never know that now.  I played it safe and made a decision that provided an assured outcome, rather than a riskier but possibly better outcome.  I am not a risk taker.

My decision making about the snowstorm typifies my general stance in life.  I have tended to choose less risky choices, which I then modify to maximize their potential.  It has worked pretty well for me, but I sometimes wonder if I would have accomplished more in my life if I was more of a risk taker.  Now that I am retiring I want to take some risks, but I’m having trouble knowing how to break my lifelong pattern. I  have made a few inroads, but they have been limited.

I wish I had spent more time in my life honing some of my other skills.  I would like to be a better photographer, a better writer, more creative, more innovative.  I still have a burning desire to do more, accomplish more, think beyond the norm, make change, correct social prejudice, leave the world just a tiny bit better.  But when the metaphorical snow storm strikes I fall back on my old safe patterns. I know fear blocks me breaking through in some of the areas that I need to change the most.

What will my next step be?  I talk to my wife about some aspects of it.  I talk to my kids about some aspects of it.  I talk to my friend Tom about some aspects of it.  The general my goal is the same, but the specifics are different in each conversation.  I want to grow personally.  I want to rid myself of past baggage.  I want to be productive and creative.  I want to be a force of some sort. I do not want a life focused on self-indulgence.

One foot in front of the other.  Ever moving forward.  However, sometimes feeling like I’m trudging through deep snow in the process.

Y2K, Yacktraxs, And Thinking Ahead

Y2K, Yacktraxs, And Thinking Ahead

I woke up a bit later this morning. My alarm went off at the right time, but I kept on hitting the snooze bar. Yesterday was the Super Bowl, and I stayed up to watch it. Dear reader, I’m not much of spectator sports viewer. I usually get bored with the Super Bowl and drift away to other interest. However, yesterday’s game was exciting, and I got caught up in the excitement. The game ended, and I was still wide awake. Alas.

My morning time was routine. I cleaned up, dressed, and headed downstairs. Coffee and a light breakfast. Then a good morning, treat, and an ear scratch for the cat. Next a quick scan of my email and an even quicker scan of Facebook. Lastly, a “good morning” text message to my friend, Tom. I consider Tom part of my family, and so such a habit seems appropriate.

I checked my Apple Watch, and it registered a -4 degrees F. Crap, not only cold but yesterday’s light snow had probably turned the sidewalks to an ice rink, walking could be treacherous. But, dear reader, there are no emergencies for those who are prepared.

If you have been following me on this blog, you know that I love to problem solve, and I’m a bit OCD. Overall, these qualities have benefited my family and me. They like to tease me about my backups and backup plans, but they are the first to benefit from them when things go awry. However, there have been times when I have gone (how shall I say this) a bit overboard. The most notable example was Y2K.

If you don’t recall it Y2K it was the day when the world was supposed to end. Older microprocessors were theorized to malfunction as the calendar moved from 1999 to 2000. Many of these older chips were in mission-critical applications, like nuclear power plant control systems.

Initially, I didn’t think much about Y2K, but I work in Chicagoland’s techno-corridor, and I treat a lot of smart people from places like the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Motorola, Lucent, and Tellabs. In 1998 some of them started to warn me about the potential catastrophe ahead. One even gave me information about a safe site on a farm established by him and some of his cohorts.

I started to think, worry and plan. I bought non-perishable food, flashlights, and a 55-gallon drum for water. After all, I had a wife and kids to worry about. I even went so far as to study and obtain an Amateur radio license so I could help if there were a national emergency. To be honest, I did a bit more than that. I taught myself Morse code and studied the theory and practice of Amateur radio. In less than a year, I obtained a Technician grade license, then a General license, and finally the top Amateur Extra license. Complete overkill, but I didn’t want to leave a stone unturned.

Y2K came and went without much ado. My family still makes fun of the 55-gallon drum sitting in our basement. This time I was happy that I was wrong.

Fast forward today. I am determined to walk in the mornings. I know it is easy for me to make excuses to stay in bed. I know that one key to success is to maintain a plan, in this case, to walk in the morning whenever feasibly possible. I know that there will be obstacles that will prevent me from carrying out this plan. I understand that the majority of those obstacles are surmountable. In the case of walking outdoors, the obstacles will mostly be weather-related.

Dear reader, I have a good umbrella, waterproof shoes, boots, hats, scarfs, a rain jacket, a down coat. I thought that I was ready for anything until a few weeks ago when it misted right at the freezing point and turned my several mile walk back from Starbucks into a frozen nightmare. That morning there were over 100 motor vehicle accidents due to the ice. I was afraid that I would be following their same path but as a pedestrian. Every step was challenging. I had not anticipated ice as a potential obstacle. This was a new problem to solve.

The solution came in the form Yaktraxs, spikelike gadgets that are snow tires for your shoes. They stretch onto the soles of your shoes to provide extra traction and safety.

This morning they were stretched to my size 12s. I walked to Starbucks with reasonable confidence and returned the same way. One more problem solved; one more obstacle removed.

Dear reader, it is unlikely that you care about my shoe accessories. But that is not why I am writing this post. As a doctor, I am fortunate to be allowed into my patient’s lives. I have some patients who are impulsive and reactive. They often don’t plan their actions, and instead, hope for the best. They do what feels good at the moment, without looking past the immediate gratification that they hope to obtain. When things go awry they stress and scramble. They often have to rely on others to bail them out. This impulsive pattern usually repeats itself in many areas of their lives causing significant issues that range from problems in their finances to problems in their relationships. They are not thinking about Y2K or potential icy sidewalks.

It doesn’t take much to spend a moment to pause and think. The majority of problems can be avoided with just a little common sense. For most life situations it isn’t necessary to get an Amateur Extra radio license, but it is a wouldn’t hurt to have a working flashlight and a few cans of beans on a top shelf. In other words, even a little planning can make the difference between a good and poor outcome. Life can sometimes be difficult, and as humans, we need to do the things that we can to make it easier for ourselves. If you often find yourself regretting a quick decision or impulse, think of me and my Yaktraxs, but I would sincerely appreciate it if you forget about the 55-gallon water drum in my basement. I already have my kids to remind me of that!

Yaktraxs on my size 12s.