Learning to Tie the Knot

 

“Excuse me,” said the voice from behind me. “Do you know how to tie a bow tie?”

Standing between stacks of men’s dress shirts, I turn to see young man holding out a long strip of black fabric. His English is clear but with a hint of somewhere interesting. He, at least to me, looks like a young version of actor Antonio Banderas.

“Tonight is a special night and I don’t want to be wearing a clip-on bow tie…”

There is an unusual blend of excitement and awkwardness in his voice as he shows me the long, untied length of fabric.

“Well,” I said, “I hate to say I really don’t know, but maybe we could find someone to help.”

“That would be great,” he said, almost apologizing, “believe me, if it wasn’t really important I wouldn’t be hanging around this department and walking up to complete strangers and asking them if they knew how to tie one of these.”

We both began joking about jumping we could jump on the Internet to watch a video on how to tie proper a bow – in many ways a lost art.

“Yes, I wish I’d thought about doing that earlier.”

Suddenly another young man came around the corner.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know how to bowtie?”

Stopping – and probably instinctively recognizing the importance of the moment (men rarely ask for help unless it is a last resort) – he walked over.

Somewhere is a list of critical skills all men should know – how to start a fire, bait a hook and maybe syphon gasoline – but each of us felt intimidated by a modest length of black fabric.

“I think I might remember,” he said. “I once actually spent an hour and a half in front of a mirror with a YouTube video trying to figure it out.”

“Okay,” he continued, “you take this end and…”

Looking over the young man’s shoulder, I watched as he formed to create a bow with one end and then carefully threaded the longer end through the opening.

“When you get it here,” he said, “you just fiddle around with it until you get the bow to where you want it.”

Honestly, I think all of us were surprised at what a great bow he’d tied under the gun.

Walking over to a mirror, the first man looked at the silk tie around his neck.

“Wow, this looks great…but what do I do when I get it home?”

Apparently, the red plaid shirt he was wearing would not be going to dinner that night.

For another few minutes the two stood in front of the mirror as the second man tried to teach the first on how to tie the bow when he got home – and darned if he didn’t do it on the first try.

Walking back towards me, his formal black bowtie still around the neck of his red plaid shirt, he offered his hand.

“Tie looks great,” I said. “I hope everything goes well for you tonight.”

Smiling, he turned and began walking out from the men’s dress shirts.

“If she says ‘yes’, then it will be a beautiful night.”

As he hurriedly walked between rows of shirts and towards the exit I couldn’t help but wish the bow tie would not be the only knot he learned to tie on this particular evening.

– 30 –

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Enlisting Santa Could Pay Benefits

Dear Santa:

First of all, let me say I’ve everything I could ever need in life – don’t worry about me. God provided me with a loving family, good health, wonderful friends and a roof over my head each night. The older I get, the more I realize anything beyond these items are essentially window dressing. If I could, however, I’ve a few items I’d like to discuss for others.

First, I’m living in the richest nation in the history of mankind and we’ve still people lacking the basic needs for daily life. I know you and your elves tend to specialize in children’s items, but is it possible to dedicate a crew to focus on helping create a few products for those who are sleeping on the cold streets at night? A few well-placed sleeping bags would make a tremendous difference to the millions of homeless who are currently living without a warm place to sleep at night. Colors and patterns are not important – feel free to use any remnant fabrics. If you could toss in a few blankets and socks, they would be greatly appreciated as well.

Secondly, I’m troubled by the conflicts I see in many parts of the world today. I’ve traveled enough to recognize there is a universal theme to humanity: after food, water and a roof over our heads, we all want the best for our children. We as adults can, at times, forget children are gifts from God (no matter where you live or foundation of your beliefs) and we should put their needs first. It pains me to see children running through streets with bullets flying over their heads or kicking a soccer ball around craters in the street. I understand you’ve barrels of magic dust – think you use them to remind a few well-placed individuals to adjust their perspective on life? I would imagine if a few key people would think through the true implications of what pain their actions could lead to, it just might give them pause. Anything you can do here would be greatly appreciated.

Third, you and your team are great at spreading joy across the planet each Christmas. How about we figure out how to use your amazing distribution network to touch as many people in need as possible throughout the year? You’ve really got this thing down and we could really use your expertise. Maybe we could do a work exchange with a few key members of your logistics department? Imagine a system were a small child in Africa wakes up to a warm, nutritious meal or maybe medical supplies are transported from one nation to another without regard to political relations? Imagine what a meaningful difference we could make with your help!

Please understand I’m a big fan and can’t thank you for all you do. You and your crew are simply amazing. What I’m saying is the world just might need to call on you for a bit of assistance now and then. We’re all working a bit more these days (this ‘new economy’…) and your help would be greatly appreciated.

And by the way, I’ve switched your glass to 2% milk like you requested. Travel safely!

 

– 30 –

Letting Go Not Easy for Parents

 

Sometimes life changes beneath your feet without you ever realizing it.

Recently my wife and I were driving out of our neighborhood when her cell phone began to ring.

“Hey,” my wife said with a smile in her voice. I could tell instantly is one of our kids.

“Where are you?”

Our son, now a senior in college, returns to our home as often as snowflakes fall in the South. Apparently something about living in a big college town seems to keep his interest year round, relegating those of us left behind in his memories and occasional thoughts. As it was, we were expecting him to arrive within hours.

Listening to the conversation, both my wife and I found our hearts jump as his voice spoke.

“What?” she said, “You’re in your room? How did we pass you on the road and not see you?”

But with our son’s reply I could hear my wife’s heart drop.

“Oh, you mean you’re still in Athens? Sorry we though you were back in town.”

Right then, after years of apparent self-denial, my wife and I finally realized somewhere along the way our home was just another destination for our son. His home is where his life resides. In an odd irony, we realized it is time for us, as parents, to grow up.

In all honestly, he most likely made the mental leap years ago. We, as parents, continued to live in our self-imposed delusion. Walking by the first bedroom on the left of our house, although empty of anything our son could ever need, is still referred to as his room.

The signs were always there for us to see – beyond the forwarding of his mail. We, as parents, were a little slow to accept the reality of our home getting smaller. Although we knew this to be healthy, we still always felt as if our house would be ‘home’.

But the signs, like I said, were there. Although his visits were brief, we could still see him getting antsy after even the shortest of time – as if a caged animal wanting to get back to the outside world and run. Our son is always pleasant, but there is no denying he’d rather be elsewhere unlocking his personal universe.

“So when do you think you’ll be here?” my wife said.

“Oh,” she said. “Be careful and we’ll see you tonight.”

As we pulled out of the neighborhood I think I finally understood the tether on the other end was permanently let loose by him long ago leaving us to arrive at the conclusion at our own pace.

Parenting is an interesting ride. While it only seems like yesterday I first set eyes on our son, a literal lifetime is sandwiched between then and now. As parents, we couldn’t be more proud of both he and his sister. But with next year comes her turn as college is waiting for her in the fall. And with it, my wife and I will again find ourselves holding onto a tether hoping someone is still on the other end.

 

– 30 –

 

 

Moving to the Other Side Unsettling

I recently turned middle age – that is if I am planning to join the centurion club.

Yes, I realize this particular milestone is a difficult one for many to accept. But inside I felt my maturity (mentally speaking, that is) would help arrive at a comfortable acceptance of this new stage in life with barely a ‘bump’ to my self-perception. My ego, I figure, is comfortable enough to survive this statistical milestone.

Then my loving family stepped in.

“Honey,” I said holding up the newspaper, “why are all these little holes cut out of the pages?”

“Oh,” she said, “I cut out the calendar notices for the local AARP meetings and put them up on the refrigerator. This way you’ll know where to go to meet other people your age.”

I looking across the kitchen I could see a handful of clippings hanging from various magnets – each taunting me about my new status in life. In the background my ears could hear the evil laughter of master playing with their helpless victim.

Sometimes I believe love can me measured by the amount of sarcasm dished out at opportune times. If this is indeed the case, our marriage is a lock because my wife is an expert with a tool kit like no one else.

But seemingly the next day, as calmly as I went along my business, the outside world began to join the chorus of ‘well wishers’.

We all get spam emails – uninvited offers showing up in our email box for everything from mortgage rates to a person halfway around the world who wants to transfer me ten million dollars if only I’ll send them my banking numbers. For the most part, I’ve always taken comfort in knowing these were blindly sent out to no one in particular.

That is what I believed…until the past 30-days.

Apparently to the great spam sending organization in the digital sky, I am not a target for new and more exciting offers.

Suddenly, or so it seems, I am getting offers for companies who’d like to help me get financial assistance for a motorized scooter – and we’re not talking about a golf cart. And then came the offers for finding singles over 50 or how to find a Russian bride. Granted, I know sketchy pharmaceutical offers for Viagra are just a part of the internet culture, but to find them sandwiched between emails for a dating service and hip and knee replacement services leads me to believe there just might be someone actually pouring over a data bank of some sort.

But the worst came, again, from my loving, dear wife.

Walking into the house the other day, my wife greeted me with a suspiciously warm hug and kiss.

“Honey, something came in the mail today for you,” she said in a syrupy voice. “I think you’re going to be excited.”

Tossing my jacket over a chair, I turned to find her holding up a small white card for me to read.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It’s your temporary AARP card,” she said – again with an evil yet expert twist of voice inflection.

“Looks like you are going start getting all kinds of discounts…”

And then and there suddenly my ego cried “uncle”. There before my eyes were the letters of my name spelled out across a piece of plastic announcing my arrival at a milestone I could no longer deny. I was now officially crossing over to the other side and leaving my youth behind me.

This is going to be interesting – I’ll keep you posted about what I find out there.

 

– 30 –

 

 

Being SMART Key to Success

The other night a friend, speaking to a small group of small business owners and entrepreneurs, tossed out a question to the audience.

“Does anyone here know the difference between a dream and a goal?”

People, understandably, began looking around and at each other.

Suddenly a voice from the back of the room quietly replied.

“A dream is in your head. A goal is written down.”

My friend smiled broadly, his eyes lighting up.

“Yes,” he said, “did everyone hear that?”

Everyone’s eyes turned back to the front of the room.

My friend, repeating the answer volunteered from the rear of the room, shared with everyone how a dream in your head is really nothing until you take the action of writing it down and converting it into a goal.

Sitting near him I began to think through his words.

Everyone ‘dreams’ – be it to lose 10 pounds, write a book or start a new business. But rarely does anything develops with any kind of lasting power until someone gets it from between the ears and onto a piece of paper.

But as hard as this step is, my friend explained that is just the first step on the road to success.

He then shared with everyone a simple acronym to help everyone: SMART.

“In order for your goals to be effective, they’ve first got to be ‘specific’,” he said.

Giving yourself a general target is not enough, he emphasized. Your goals must be tangible — for example someone saying they’d like to start exercising – a broad-based and general statement. Saying you’ll start walking for exercise, however, is a specific action.

This is key, particularly if you wish to successfully employ the second step: ‘measureable’. Committing to start walking is much different from committing to walk 2 miles each day.

“But,” he warned, “your goals must also be ‘attainable’.”

Continuing the walking example, committing to walk 10-miles in the morning and evening – although admirable – is probably not likely to work for most people. Running kids to school, working late at the office, or even just spending needed time with your family are very real challenges most of us would face if we made such a commitment. And when life did interrupt our aggressive goal, we’d become disappointed in ourselves and eventually discouraged. Progress would then stop and goal would crumble under the weight of the overzealous commitment.

Working his way through the acronym, he presented the next step.

“Your goals must be ‘relevant’,” he said.

Most of us are busy – and more so for those starting and operating a small business. Our ability to focus on what contributes to the forward success towards our goals means separating them from those that needlessly occupy our time. Sometimes that can mean leaving something undone – but if it is not helping your achieve your goals, then we really need to consider it a distraction and leave it behind.

“And finally,” he said, “your goals must be ‘timely’.”

Giving yourself deadlines is one of the best ways to keep you focused on making progress towards achieving goals. Committing to walking around the block –without any timeline of when you’ll begin or do it – allows you to ‘kick the can down the road’ without any recourse. Holding yourself accountable is one of the best ways to make sure your goals move from ideas to reality.

Most of us know people who are wildly successful – and many times we might joking say they are ‘a little different’ than the rest of us. Well, the truth is – statistically speaking – they are. Maybe they aren’t all that different most of us… maybe they are just SMART(er).

– 30 –