Category Archives: problem solving

Meeting With Pastor Dave and WordPress

I accept the fact that I’m an introvert, but that acceptance wasn’t always the case.  Before I understood this aspect of my personality, I used to be self-critical of my behavior.  I would see people around me on the move. They would socialize with one group, and then another.  They had 5 or 6 “best friends.” They would form “close” connections based on their personal monetary or career needs.

I would think to myself, “Why is it so hard for me to socialize in these ways?  If I could be more like them I could…” I felt that there was something wrong with me.  

I can’t recall the actual moment when I realized that I was an introvert, but I do remember that it was a great relief to understand why I behaved the way that I did.  It was affirming to view this aspect of me as a positive trait; part of who I am.

With that said, there are times when introverts have to play the part of an extrovert, and I am able to put on a coat of sociability when necessary.  However, since this isn’t my natural demeanor, it can be exhausting. Usually, I manage these energy expenditures carefully. An extroverted activity followed by some private time.

As I have written many times, I do like people, and I do enjoy interacting with them.  However, I need my personal space to recharge. I am not energized by large groups; I am depleted.  It is a rare day that I would deliberately schedule multiple social interactions. One of those rare days was yesterday.

At 1 PM I had a scheduled meeting with my pastor.  I belong to a large non-denominational church, and I was meeting with its co-founder, Dave.  I had set up a meeting with him weeks earlier. The meeting was based on my “leave no stone unturned” philosophy of life.  Other than that, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to happen at the meeting. I knew that in some abstract way I was trying to move forward on the “next aspect of my life” thing.  Pastor Dave is a smart guy who takes charge of his world, but beyond that, I knew little about him.

The morning of the meeting met me with dread.  “Why would he want to meet with me? He is too busy.  I am using up his valuable time.” And so the tapes played.  I understand the historical reasons for these thoughts, and I do not let them stop me.  However, they are still distressing.

I returned home from my morning walk and briefly discussed my concerns with my wife, Julie.  She was busy getting ready for the day, and I tried to respect her time limitations. I drove over to my friend Tom’s house and also voiced some of my fears to him.  It is a good thing for me to share my irrational fears with people that I’m close. This is a relatively new behavior and a healthy one.

Soon it was time for me to go to the church and my anxiety returned full force.  I reminded myself. “He is only going to spend 30 minutes with you. It is not that much of an imposition.”

One PM arrived, and I found myself seated in a medium sized room at a large round folding table.  In walked Pastor Dave. I started to talk, not knowing what would come out of my mouth in the next second.  I assumed that Dave did this sort of thing multiple times a day, but he told me that he was more involved with the vision of the church and that he enjoyed the chance to do something different.

Our conversation continued well past 30 minutes.  At the hour point, his assistant stuck her head into the room to remind him “about that call that he needed to make.”  I’m sure that this was the standard protocol when she sensed that a parishioner was taking up too much of the pastor’s time.  I immediately started to grab my coat, but Dave put his hand up indicating that he wanted to continue to talk. He recommended a couple of books that might be helpful to me, and also suggested a life assessment that he found personally useful.  Ninety minutes into the meeting we ended with a prayer. I didn’t feel like I wasted his time, it was a nice feeling.

Shortly after I arrived home, I drove my daughter, Grace, to a meeting.  In my mind, I imagined returning back home. I would take a long shower and put on some loungewear. I would immerse myself in a project and I would consider having a glass of wine.  Then, the reality hit me. I had signed up for a MeetUp group on WordPress, and it was running from 6 PM to 9 PM that evening.

Part of me wanted to bail out of the meeting, but I also wanted to go.  Fears crept back in as I imagined that I would sit in a room of WordPress experts. Would I be wasting their time?  Would I look foolish or stupid? I had only been learning the software for about a month and felt very much a newbie. Dear reader, I will not allow my fears to determine who I am.  I put on my coat, plugged in the coordinates into my phones GPS, and drove to the meeting.

I found myself in a classroom with about 40 other people.  Time to put on my extrovert cloak. With a smile on my face, I introduced myself to the three people seated around me.  Soon we were engaged in a nice conversation. The formal part of the meeting consisted of a speaker talking about a major revision that was about to take place on the WordPress platform.  To my surprise, I understood what he was talking about and could see the implications of the upcoming changes. There were groups members who knew more than I did, but it seemed that I knew more than some others.  The meeting ended, and I said my goodbyes to my new acquaintances. I was happy that I went.

In total exhaustion, I returned home.  Julie was reading a book in our bedroom, but wanted an update on my day, especially on my meeting with the pastor.  I briefed her as best as I could. It was then time for my long-awaited shower. Extra hot, extra sudsy. I let the water run on my back as it relaxed my tense neck and shoulders.  The day was over.

Dear reader, we are who we are.  I believe that we all have strengths and weaknesses.  I accept the fact that I am an introvert, and I have used this knowledge as an advantage, rather than considering it a disadvantage.  I am a great independent learner, I am never bored, I come up with wonderful ideas when I am by myself.

However, there are times when I need to reach beyond my introverted self if I wish to move forward.  Sometimes the uncomfortable option is the right option. Some actions can be hard, but worthwhile. I feel that for me it is important to respect my personality, but still challenge it with reasonable risk-taking.

If we are unhappy, it is easy to blame our unhappiness on circumstances or other people.  However, it is our responsibility to make any change. We can’t expect others to usurp that responsibility.   I encourage you to gently step outside your comfort zone today and gain a little more control over your life.  Who knows where it will lead you.

My Mega Church

 

How WordPress Taught Me About Myself

Dear reader, I believe that everything we do in some ways connects to other aspects of who we are. We show our true selves in our everyday actions.  Things that seem unrelated are often related if you look closely enough.

In this post, I explore how the process of building web pages has also taught me about how I relate to people. This is less of a stretch than you may think.  Let’s start…

My adventure in creating websites started around 15 years ago and was directed more by need than want.  In those days I was a partner/owner of a medium sized psychiatric practice. With my two partners, I had built the practice into a thriving enterprise.

Most of our business was generated from former clients and referring professionals.  However, we knew that we needed a website, as it was becoming a common instrument that new clients used to find their next care provider.

I come from a blue-collar background, which inherently makes me a do-it-yourselfer and cost-conscious. I was already heavily invested in creating marketing and advertising materials for the practice and had been doing everything from brochure design (remember paper?) to head shots of the staff.

It was only logical that I build the website.  To hire someone to design even a simple one would have cost thousands of dollars, as well as countless hours of committee work to write copy, and approve design concepts. I felt that I had the potential to do the necessary tasks: photography, copy creation, design, deployment.  However, there was a problem, I had never designed a webpage, I had never taken a computer course, and I had never written a single line of HTML. In hindsight building a complex website was an insane thought. People spend years learning this stuff. What was I thinking?

Naturally, it was a massive project that was complicated by the fact that I had to learn everything on the fly. Initially, I tried to go the easy route by using the hosting company’s template-based web designer.  I wrote two entire versions of the clinic website with that program, but it just couldn’t handle a site as complex as the one the I envisioned. I recall spending an entire Saturday trying to upload a few more pages to the site, only to have it repeatedly crash.  Finally, I realized that I would have to go beyond the limitations of this easy software and use something more sophisticated. That moment was sickening to me, as it meant that not only would I have to learn an entirely new software package, but I would have to recreate every single page of the website again.

This process was occuring in my almost non-existent “spare time.”  I created extra working time by removing needed sleeping time. I know my partners had no idea of the hours that I put in. They assumed that I was able to build a site during my lunch break. For months most of my evenings and weekends were spent staring at a computer screen. Sure, my lack of knowledge made easy things more difficult, but there was also the reality that I was wearing all of the creative hats. It was overwhelming.

The more sophisticated software that I settled on was from a British company called Serif. It was graphically based and similar to the page layout programs that I had used for paper publications.  The familiarity offered me a small degree of confidence. However, building an interactive multimedia website is very different from placing photos and print on a physical page.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and created seven redesigns of the clinic site over ten years.  It wasn’t too long before friends started to ask me if I could help their small businesses and build a website for them. This is how I became a web designer/content creator.

In 2015 my friend, Tom, asked me if I would write some copy for his small business website.  He had paid someone to do the total creation of the site, and he wasn’t pleased with it. “I don’t think that the website represents me very well.”  He told me. “Sure,” I said. I was eager to repay a favor that he had recently done for me.

Tom is a smart and creative guy who has a sense of style.  Initially, I thought that he was overly critical of his site.  I assumed that a professional would know all of the tricks to creating a visually appealing and engaging experience. It was then that I looked at the web pages. His site was an example of “you don’t always get when you pay for.”  Cluttered, poorly written, lousy clipart, encyclopedia length boring content that was likely copied from elsewhere. It was not good.

“Tom, why don’t you let me build a new site for you?”  The words came out of my mouth without thought. “I can’t let you do that, I don’t want to take advantage of you,” Tom replied.  Suddenly, I found myself convincing him that it was OK, and a good idea.

Like most projects, it was much more complicated and time-consuming than I initially thought. Despite being a lot of work, it was fun and I felt good helping my friend. I was proud of the way the new website turned out. Simple, clean, beautiful!

Fast forward to 2018.  Tom had been doing some marketing research and decided that his site would be more searchable if it was created using the WordPress PHP format instead of the simple HTML of the site that I wrote.  He even found someone willing to port my created content to a shiny new WordPress site. So, what did I do? I took a look at the prototype site and saw a different vision. Once again I was asking my friend if he would mind if I would make some “adjustments.” Some of this may be grandiosity, some reality. I know Tom very well, and I have some understanding of his business. Two pieces of knowledge that his WordPress colleague didn’t possess.

Dear reader, you are reading this post on my WordPress blog site that I created several years ago.  It was a straightforward creation that involved a few mouse clicks. I set it up with no knowledge of WordPress in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Tom’s site is a very complicated bonafide website that is loaded with all sorts of content. I was telling him that I could improve his site and I didn’t even know how to modify a single page in WordPress.  Why do I do such crazy things?

As you know by now when I don’t understand my behavior I ponder and try to figure it out.  This is what I came up with:

I love learning new things, and I love intellectual challenges.  Despite being slow going, there is a genuine thrill when I figure out even a small aspect of a new puzzle. Knowledge is my cocaine.

I have pride issues.  I put a lot of energy and effort creating content for his original website.  I want my work in a setting that adds to it and doesn’t detract from it.

I show that I care about someone by doing things for them.  Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

I want to justify Tom’s friendship with me.  I want to give him a good “return” on his investment in our connection.  This realization was a surprise. In reality, I know that Tom connects with me as much for my imperfections as my strengths.  I don’t need to prove my value to him, and I honestly feel that he would like me just as much if all we did was to hang out with each other. In fact, Tom is also a helper who is more comfortable taking care of, rather than being taken care of.

This need to be valuable to my friend stems back to a time in my life when I felt that I had little value. The, “I am not worth anything,” part of my life. This likely is also a reason why I did all of the extra work for my former clinic. It was a way to prove that I was worthy of my fellow doctor’s time and attention.

I am a protector. I have a strong maternal side to my personality. When I feel close to someone, I am constantly trying to make sure that they are safe and that their needs are met. I can guarantee that my friend does not need my protection. He is physically stronger than I am and has survived most of his life without my sage interventions. Luckily, Tom seems to understand my motives and tolerates my actions. He is happiest when his business is thriving. I want to make sure that his website does as much as it can do to help his business thrive. For whatever reason, I think I hold the key to making his website the best that it can be.

Conversely, my protective trait drives an immediate family member crazy. They view it as me trying to control them.  In reality, I’m just trying to make sure that they have everything that they need. However, I do understand their annoyance, and I have tried to modify my behavior.

These are some of the reasons that I came up with, but that is enough writing for today. Hopefully, this post will get you thinking about how the unrelated parts of your life that are actually related to each other.  Connect the dots and learn just a little bit more about yourself! Have a great day.

WordPress as an insight oriented therapist?

 

Getting Rid Of The Landline

This week I made a change of monumental personal proportions. With that said, it was long overdue and probably would seem insignificant to anyone under 40. What did I do? I got rid of my landline phone.

When I was growing up a hardwired phone was considered essential, and it was an expensive essential at that. My home had a single, black rotary phone. Borning in its simple functionality. In those days phones were controlled by the powerful AT&T, which was essentially a monopoly.

Calling outside a limited “zone” meant an upcharge. Calling long distance was extremely expensive. Add-ons to your phone had to be purchased from AT&T at exorbitant prices. No mere mortal could afford an answering machine.

By the 1970s AT&T was forced to loosen its grip. Third party companies were allowed (by law) to connect with AT&T phone lines, and suddenly there was a tsunami of designer phones, answering machines, and other telephonic gadgets at reasonable costs. Ma Bell still had a stranglehold on infrastructure and charged accordingly. Long distance calls were still only made on very special occasions in my household; every second measured with no calls to exceed 10 minutes.

This all changed with the advent of the cellphone. My first one was a Panasonic box phone. I purchased it for almost $2000 in 1987; I was charged ten cents for every minute of airtime. The Panasonic was the size of a cigar box and had a separate handset that pulled out from the case. It had a giant gel type battery to power its circuitry, and the combination weighed so much that I had to use a shoulder strap to carry it. Even so, it was a miraculous invention, so amazing that people would stop me on the street and ask me what it was. “Can you make phone calls from that?” They would ask in awe and amazement.

Fast forward a decade, and what was novel became commonplace. Almost everyone had a cellphone. Fast forward another ten years and the world was introduced to the first iPhone. The iPhone not only changed an industry, but it also changed our culture. It was the first “smartphone” designed for people, not businesses. It was cool. It was a status symbol. Everyone wanted one.

Smartphones are now commonplace. Common with the affluent suburbanites where I live. Common with the poor folks that I treat in Rockford. Common in third world countries where it is more usual to have a cell phone than hot running water. Now that most people have their own “personal communication device,” the once-essential landline has become a dinosaur technology.

When I was active in my private practice, I kept the landline as an emergency backup. Our hardwired phone had multiple extensions in my home. I didn’t have to have my cell phone velcroed to my hip at all times as my answering service was instructed to ring the house phone at night. The landline also served as a central hub. The place where we would get reminders of doctor’s visits. The place where banks would call if they suspected fraudulent activity on our credit cards. The place where we would get our robo calls from our kid’s school when there was a snow day.

Every month I paid for the phone and the extra, but necessary services. Extra cost for voicemail, and the increasingly important caller ID.

Over the years our phone calls changed. The majority of the real calls came to us by our cell phones, but that didn’t stop our landline from being used. There was an endless number of calls from sellers, politicians, charities, and random spoofed numbers that implied that they were coming from down the block, rather than across the world. These nuisance calls become ever more prevalent, and ever more aggressive. If I didn’t pick up a call, the caller would call again and again. Calls during dinner time, calls late at night, calls early in the morning. Some telemarketers became so aggressive that I elected to spend over a hundred dollars to buy a “call blocker,” a device designed to intercept unwanted calls and hang up on them.

The landline had gone from necessary, to a backup, to an annoyance. It was time to go.

I retired at the end of 2017, and I planned to do a technology purging by the end of January 2018. Not only was I going to get rid of the landline, but also my cable TV, and my unreliable internet service.

January came and went, as did February. I wondered what was holding me back from making a simple cancellation call. As with most personal roadblocks, I started to explore what was going on.

Part of the problem centered on the fact that I had had a regular phone for so long that on a subconscious level it did seem like a necessity, even though I knew that this was no longer the case. Part of the problem centered on the fact that eliminating the landline would be an indicator that my private practice was over. Part of the problem was my fear that I would make a mistake. Since our phone, internet, and cable were all from the same provider, a mistake would leave us disconnected and technologically dead in the water. This last point resonated true. It was the main reason that I was not pulling the plug. Now that I knew what was stopping me, it was time to come up with a solution.

The solution was simple. Instead of starting one provider and ending another in a precision one-two punch, I would allow for an overlap. I would only cancel my old services once my new internet connection was in place and working to my satisfaction.

I know that this sounds obvious, but I had been thinking rigidly, and I assumed that my lack of action was because of laziness. I had to understand the “why,” before I could come up with the “how.”
You may ask why I’m writing about a utility cancellation. Like most things that I write about, there is a broader reason. How often do we get stuck continuing to do things that are not in our best interest? How often do we get stuck not making a change, when doing so would make our lives better? Could there be reasons for our actions that go beyond laziness? Have we thought about alternative way to think about a solution? Have we considered asking someone trusted if they had any thoughts on a solution? My phone issue illustrates that a little time and flexibility can sometimes turn the impossible into the possible. The same process applies to a bad relationship, a terrible job, or damaging behavior.

So often it is the little things in life that make the biggest difference. Small annoyances are like dealing with a cloud of gnats. Singularly, they have little impact. Cumulatively, they can bring us down.

 

 

Evaporating Time

Evaporating Time.

Time is thought to be constant.  Something that in a Newtonian world does not vary. On my kitchen wall is an Atomic clock, so named because it has a radio receiver that listens to WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.  That transmission consists of a signal which is synchronized precisely to the atomic clock that resides there. An instrument so precise that it measures time by the electromagnetic radiation emitted as electrons move from one energy level to another. Science and technology rely on this precision. If time were not constant, our lives would be in chaos. Global travel would be impossible; cell phones would brick, Scientific research would be meaningless, nuclear reactors would melt down. However, it seems that time is not constant for me.

I worked seven days a week as a medical student. When I rotated through senior medicine, I was fortunate that my teaching resident liked me.  During the twelve week rotation, she thoughtfully gave me a Saturday off. I was overcome with appreciation. This would mean that I would have Friday night off, and could sleep in Saturday morning if I wished.  I would also have all of Saturday to do whatever I wanted to do. It was like receiving a Christmas present in August.

Early in my professional career I worked multiple jobs, which included a busy private practice. I was on call seven days a week for my patients, and I never knew when my pager would go off.  It was hard to go into noisy places because it would be difficult to take a call on my cigar box sized cell phone. I couldn’t have a single beer. I slept very lightly. On occasion, I would get someone to cover for me.  This would give me an entire weekend to do with as I pleased. I could travel beyond my pagers range. I could leave my 7-pound phone behind. More Christmas presents for sure. However, it didn’t seem three times bigger then the single day I got as a medical student.

My career continued, and it became easier to have slices of open time.  I learned how to manage my patients, and they rarely called on weekends.  They knew that I was good about returning their calls during the week, and so they didn’t panic.  I was respectful of their needs, and so they were respectful of mine. My phones shrank in size and weight.  I no longer carried a pager. More freedom, more time. But the ratio of time to extracurricular activity did not grow proportionally.

I now work three days a week, giving me a four day weekend 52 weeks out of the year.  This four day weekend my family went to Minnesota, leaving me behind. Completely free of any obligation, my opportunities were endless.  How would I fill all of those days? I quickly came up with a todo list in my head. There would be some practical projects and household tasks.  I would do some socializing. I would take myself out to eat. I would go to a couple of movies. I might even travel to the country for a day trip.  There were many things to do, but I had four days all to myself. At the start of the weekend, my  time seemed endless.

The days came and went. I did do a few practical projects, but not all of them. I did socialize some, but not to the extent that I would have liked. I did take myself out to eat, but it was at McDonald’s. I did watch a single movie, but it was over two days and on Netflix. I did travel into the country, but only to keep my friend Tom company on a business call.  There were other things on my list, but I just never got around to do them.

It was as if time shrank.  I would wake up and do a few things; then it was time to go to bed. The cycle would repeat, and then the weekend was over. Dear reader, I had a perfectly lovely weekend, but it seemed like the activities that usually would fill one day had expanded into four. It was almost as if time had shortened, or perhaps my activities expanded.  I see this trend in other areas of my life. I am doing the things that I said that I would do. But the quantity and frequency of those activities have dramatically shrunk. It is so easy to fill my time with a conversation, or a walk, or some meditation. I am not complaining, as I think this is a natural progression as one goes from a more structured to a less structured life. However, I find it interesting.

I could come up with a rigid schedule.  I could have my phone beep commands to keep me on target. I could use an accountability partner. With that said, there is something to learn from a reduction of traditionally productive activity. A growth that comes in gentle breezes of learning that are interspersed with fewer planned experiences.

Does time shrink? Does it evaporate? It doesn’t appear to be constant in my real world.  I accept that fact, but I am unsure of its significance. Sometimes not knowing is OK.

Is time really constant?

My life is like my spice cabinet

What is on your bucket list?  Going skydiving? Attending baseball games at all of the major stadiums? Buying a BMW M6?  I have a bucket list too, and I am in the process of tackling one of my items. My list has some fun goals on it, but it also has some things that I need to do for other reasons.  So what am I tackling? Cleaning out my spice cabinet, of course!

Dear reader, as I type this, I imagine you yawning as you click off this post, but I am who I am.  In our house, the spice cabinet occupies an entire three shelf kitchen cabinet. For years it has been so full that finding the most common item can require digging through its entire contents.

The cabinet serves as a repository of general baking items, such as baking powder and vanilla.  It has specialty items, like my wife’s ever-growing collection of cookie sprinkles. It has cooking items, like bouillon.  And of course, it has lots and lots of spices.

The last sentence may make you think that we are exotic gourmet cooks.  This is not the case. Like many, we buy an unusual spice to try out a recipe and then keep it.  Our cabinet has Chinese, Indian, and Cajun spices with names that I can’t even pronounce. We also have the usual spices: oregano, bay leaves, paprika, basil, thyme, cinnamon, that we use often.

 The cabinet is jammed packed, and I have wanted to clean it out for years, but the thought of doing the job was overwhelming.  Instead, I would waste time digging through unneeded items to find those common spices that I did need. I would rebuy spices that we had because I couldn’t locate them in the cabinet. The cabinet was so full that a little jostling would send these bottles to their death. It was common to have a bottle fall and shatter on the kitchen countertop when I went spice hunting, creating an unnecessary and sometimes dangerous mess.  

Yesterday I decided that enough was enough and I started the process of cleaning, eliminating and restocking.  Various jars and bottles completely covered my kitchen countertops. I sorted through them. Long expired spices went into the garbage, as did those spices that we used once and are likely never to be used again. I asked my wife if she wanted to participate in the cleanup.  She said no, and I couldn’t blame her. Her refusal has exonerated me from any future blame if I accidentally tossed out an item that she would have kept.

Today I’ll line the cabinet with shelf paper, and restock it with the saved items.  Cleaning a spice cabinet is like many life tasks. At some point, I’ll have to do it all over again.

Dear reader, if you have been following my blog, you likely realize that I find life lessons in just about everything. As humans, our responses are limited and routine. We tend to practice the same behaviors in many of our actions, whether it is in our lack of attention to a spice cabinet, or lack of attention to our lives, goals, and relationships.

These are the lessons that I learned from my spice cabinet cleaning:

  • Just like bottles of unused spices, it is easy to let unimportant things clutter up my life.
  • Keeping “brain clutter” around increases my chance of not paying attention to things that I do need to pay attention to.  The result is that unnecessary problems can come crashing down on me.
  • It is OK to give up those things that are not important to me, even if they would be considered important to someone else.
  • Sometimes I have to do the real work of cleaning this stuff out of my life, even if I don’t want to.
  • Doing this necessary work doesn’t have to be pleasant.  Necessary does not mean pleasant. Necessary means necessary.
  • When indicated, I need to include the feelings and needs of those around me when making such decisions. However, my needs also count.
  • This is not a one and done process, and I will need to repeat it once my life-clutter builds again.
  • If I do regular check-ins with myself, I will be able to deal with my life-clutter sooner. The task will become more routine, it will be easier to accomplish, and I will become more efficient at accomplishing it.
  • Just like spices, having a little variability and uncertainty adds interest to my life.  However, just like spices, too much ruins it.

Wishing you a clean spice cabinet, and just enough spice to make your life interesting!

a cabinet full of unused spices!

 

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom.

My original plan had me walking Tuesday morning at 5 AM.  My friend Tom was going to pick me up at 7:30 AM and take me to do a photoshoot of a recent remodel job that he completed. Monday night I received a text message from Tom, “Can you help me with my computer?  I’ll take you to breakfast.” “Sure,” I replied. An adventure with Tom trumps walking.

At 4:50 AM Tom pulled up in front of my house.  I put my coat on and headed out the door. Once inside the cabin of the car I was greeted by a friendly hello and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee.  We headed into the city meeting rush hour traffic. I was grateful that Tom was driving; traffic makes me crazy.

At our favorite breakfast joint, The Palace, Tom chided me to order “Something decent  this time.” I have been making an effort to be conservative in my ordering, and this unannounced change had clearly been picked up by him.  I went with a veggie omelet. Tom pulled out his MacBook Pro and I fiddled with it and solved his technical problem. I have never had a computer class, but I seem to have an ability to understand computers.  Sometimes the answers to a computer problem will literally flash in front of me. I guess this talent would be classified under the category that my wife refers to as my autistic brain.

Off to the suburbs and the photoshoot.  Tom had several appointments Tuesday morning and so I shot solo.

The remodel consisted of a kitchen and two bathrooms.  He had put a lot of thought and energy into the project and was rightly proud of the outcome. He wanted me to digitally capture when he was seeing for his portfolio.  

Dear reader, there are few architectural shoots that are more difficult than a bathroom.  Consumers see glossy photos in advertisements, but they don’t realize that these images can be bathroom “sets,” and not the real thing.  When a pro shoots a real bathroom the room is sometimes partially deconstructed to allow for proper shooting angles.

Bathrooms are small, and to give photos the illusion of a larger space it is necessary to use a wide angle lens along with a camera capable of using such a lens to its greatest advantage. Wide angle lenses add a tremendous amount of distortion to an image. Objects towards the corners of the lens spread out and tilt in very unnatural ways.

Lighting is difficult when shooting a bathroom, a flash has to be carefully directed to avoid washing out closeby surfaces. Even using existing lighting presents its own problems of unwanted reflection and exposure blowouts.

Reflective surfaces, like mirrors and glass shower doors, are everywhere.  It isn’t considered professional to see a photographer in the mirror of a finished photograph! Doors open into spaces, blocking the room view.  The list of issues goes on and on.

When we view a bathroom in person we are able to take in the whole experience. Our brain makes a composite image out of many scanned images. Unwanted objects are filtered out, holes are filled in.   The camera can only see the room one section at a time which highlights, not hides, flaws.

Door removal and room modification were (obviously) not an option, the best I could do was to try to emphasize creativity, rather than absolute accuracy.

I mounted a borrowed 16-35 mm L series lens on a Canon 5D and positioned myself in the room looking for the best angles… I started shooting. High shots, low shots, inside shots, outside shots, this angle, that angle… click, click click.  A quick scan of the camera’s LCD screen to make sure I was in focus. Another scan to make sure that I wasn’t being reflected in the glass shower door. Click, click, click. It took me hours to shoot the two remodeled baths and the kitchen.

When I arrived back home I loaded the images into my computer.  A tweak in the overall contrast, a little more exposure here, better white balance there, and so it went.  I have some perspective correction tools that reduced some of the most egregious optical distortions, but I’m am hardly a Photoshop expert.  I don’t have the ability to create a geometrically accurate image, or the ability to perfectly clone out imperfections. Even so, I spent the rest of the day tweaking photos.

In the end, I felt OK with the results.  They were a little better than the last bathroom photoshoot that I did.  Hopefully, the next bathroom shoot will be a little better than this one. Although challenging, my project was also exciting.  I pushed myself to think differently, I became more proficient, not only with the photography but also the post-production work. I forced myself to use my own standard as a reference point.  That standard was not perfection.

Dear reader, I believe that last Tuesday’s photo shoot was actually a metaphor for how I approach life and its problems. If I have a problem I tend to believe that there is a solution to it.  I think about the potential issues and plan accordingly. I explore my solution specific strengths and weaknesses. I focus on potential pitfalls and possible workarounds for them. I face the problem and try to learn from both my successes and failures.  I correct my course as needed. I establish what is an acceptable outcome. Perfection does not exist, acceptable is the way to go.

I am not claiming that this method is the only reasonable one, but it generally has worked for me.  When I talk to some of my patients I can see how their problem solving is ineffective and at times causes them unnecessary stress and grief. Some people adopt the impulsive “ask forgiveness” model.  Some plan so obsessively that they never get around to tackling the task at hand. Some use the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” option. Some feel that any outcome other than 100% is a failure, so they do nothing. Some utilize the, “It is not my fault, it’s your fault,” philosophy. None of these are congruent with happy life.

We are creatures of habit, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt and change.  If you are unhappy with the way that your life is going explore what you can do to change it.  Be reasonable and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t blame others, become your own force of change. Sometimes the slogan, “Life is what you make it,” can be true.

Bathroom detail shot.
A beautiful bathroom.
Interesting angles.
A wonderful roll-in shower.
Bathroom detail shot.

 

 

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.