Category Archives: Living life well

We are what we read. So maybe I should read better stuff?

I’m a big fan of learning. In fact, I’m so enthusiastic that I’m prone to postpone business-building activity in favor of learning more about how to build my business.

I’ve got stacks of library books piled up on my worktable, electronic stacks of ebooks in my computer and lengthy CDs of marketing teleseminars that I listen to in the car.

I’m addicted to anything on the topics of marketing, internet marketing, public relations and business building. Give me “Six Secrets to Building Your List” and I can drive the width of Nebraska all night steady without yawning.

But lately I’ve been thinking I should upgrade what I’m feeding my brain. That while I continue to gain new facts, my current info diet is more akin to mushrooms that have been breaded and deep fried than to raw broccoli.

Specifically, I think my reading menu should be broader and more substantive, especially in the areas of history, the arts and even literary fiction. The world around me keeps nudging me to change my habits.

Most recently, obituaries for Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died at the age of 92, point out that he was an expert on the Senate of ancient Rome and was well versed in histories of the Roman republic and English political history. While involved in the Ku Klux Kan when young, he grew to support civil rights legislation a few decades later. Maybe his reading fostered the personal growth that contributed to his political leadership?

Around the same time I was reading The Noticer by Andy Andrews. This is a brief, inspirational novel in which a single individual teaches inspired life lessons to the people around him in such an intuitive manner that you’re wondering if he is a regular person or an angel.

On the book cover, golfer Nancy Lopez calls it “the best book I have ever read in my life.” She’s overstating its importance a tad, but it is a quick, uplifting read (and Lopez doesn’t claim to be the best-read intellectual around).

Anyway, The Noticer recommends reading biographies of historical leaders to deduce important lessons. He starts with books about Winston Churchill, Will Rogers and George Washington Carver, followed by titles on Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln and Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning).

Here in the Chicago area, speaker and writer Conor Cunneen, is also a role model for more nutritional reading. As a trainer when I attended Speaker U of the National Speakers Association-Illinois in 2008-2009, he spoke about the importance of reading to gather substantive ideas concepts and fresh anecdotes to enhance his professional speaking engagements.

Today, a glance at his Amazon reading list on his LinkedIn profile reveals some heavy reading in the disciplines of history and business, including Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that Led America into the Vietnam War and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster.

This change in reading habits challenges me. In practice, it’s doubling the heights of my hard-copy and electronic media piles. But it’s an exciting challenge.

How about you? What are you reading lately? Are your tastes changing?

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Average American watches almost 3 hours of TV per day. Do you?

On June 23 the Wall Street Journal reported on Labor Department research showing that the average American age 15 or older spent an average of 2 hours and 49 minutes per day watching television in 2009, up from 2 hours and 37 minutes in 2007.

We are indeed a nation of couch potatoes, spending huge amounts of time in front of the TV. Interesting. I thought that TV was dying and everyone was on the computer instead, perhaps watching YouTube.

Every age group in the study averages 2 hours or more of TV on weekdays. Even the employed watch 1.92 hours, while the unemployed log 3.73 hours of viewing.

More facts

However, “playing games and computer use for leisure” averages less than an hour a day for every age group, with those ages 15 to 19 spending .84 hours in this activity, at least twice the time for any other age group.

We sleep an average of 8 hours and 40 minutes. That seems extreme to me . . . except that they are including the very old and the very ill.

We devote only 12 minutes a day to telephone calls, mail and email. Sounds low to me, though I assume that Facebook, etc. is lumped into “leisure and sports” (2 hours and 26 minutes daily).

And work and work-related activities claim 3 hours and 32 minutes a day, down from 3 hours and 49 minutes two years earlier.

What do these figures mean?

To the Journal the significance is that with higher unemployment figures, more people have more spare time. And they are wasting more time on TV and excessive sleep rather than volunteering, religious activities, exercise or education.

These figures also mean that the overall data, as issued by the Labor Department, are so inclusive that they fail to mean much. Ages 15 to 100 or even older encompasses such diverse populations that the results leave something to be desired.

Data technicalities (keep reading if you’re into this sort of thing)

The original story in the Journal also reveals that one of the most sophisticated publications in broad circulation limits its analysis to overall figures. A little scrolling through the Labor Department’s actual press release provides a breakdown of data by age, employment status, children in the household and other variables, but it doesn’t look like WSJ read the whole thing. And cross tabs, combining variables such as data for the unemployed under age 65, would provide even greater insight.

Now back to this TV thing

Drilling down a bit through the Labor press release reveals that with increasing age comes more television. On weekdays, the average person age 75 or older watches TV for over 4 and one-half hours. In addition, those who are not employed spend lots more time in front of the set. (Note that the problem of unemployed people watching more television may be overstated because some of the unemployed are actually older people who consider themselves to be retired.)

Want to read more?

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What I learned from a psychic

Think it’s kind of weird, this thing of going to a psychic?

And paying $100 at a crack?

I’m a rather cynical, skeptical person, and I answer “yes” to both questions.

Still, I have visited psychics twice, both times in the early ‘90s when my life was in the crapper.

Both came with substantial credentials, though admittedly, the kind of credentials only applicable to psychics. The first was at the recommendation of a friend who was a lay-level psychic and involved in the local psychic community. The second often guested on the dominant FM-drive-time radio in our market.

Seeing as how I’m cynical and skeptical, I’d guess you’d think that I seldom go to psychics because I think the whole thing is stupid. Most of their advice is simply what people want to hear and if they’re right, it’s pure luck.

Au contraire.

My bigger problem with psychics is that they may be right. And since they may be right, should I manage my life to maximize the efficiency of their predictions? How can I help not adjusting my life to fulfill their prognostications? So I find myself second-guessing life decisions based on input from people I’m not sure I believe.

These questions trouble me so much that I’ve only resorted to psychics in times of utter despair. Fortunately, it’s been quite awhile now.

I don’t remember most of what the two told me. However, when I asked if I would get a job—I was a floundering freelancer at the time—one said I would. So I asked how I would find it. She said the Wall Street Journal.

Ah, this was the kind of info I was in search of. Something definite that would point me down a clear-cut path.

The funny thing is that the psychic was both wrong and right.

I got two good jobs (and some temporary jobs and not-so-good jobs) since that time and none were through the WSJ. While I made an extra effort to read WSJ classifieds, both in print and in online listings associated with its website, none of the ads led to a job.

Or did the psychic mean that I would read an article in the paper that would cause me to contact a company and perhaps create my own job there? If only I had asked.

Years later I met husband Wayne, who for decades had been working at the Naperville, IL, Dow Jones plant where they printed the Wall Street Journal.

So the reading was technically wrong, but since it was partly right, I rounded up to give credit.

Now for the most important lesson, which I learned while waiting in the hotel hallway for my appointment with the second psychic.

Here’s the story.

Right ahead of me in line were three women: a girl hoping to marry her boyfriend, accompanied by her mother and her potential mother-in-law. The three women were so close (and apparently so similar in ethnicity) that you couldn’t determine who was the mother and who was the future MIL on your own. One big happy family.

However, the girl wanted psychic advice because her boyfriend was not interested in raising her young son (perhaps 4 years old) and couldn’t see himself loving the boy as if he were his own. What should she do? she planned to ask. Is this marriage in her future?

I bit my tongue but the answer was obvious. “Break up with the guy right now!

“While his honesty is admirable, here’s a relationship with no future. After all, the kid is still in preschool. That’s a lot of years ahead until he leaves home.

“It sounds like the guy doesn’t want to marry you so come on, girl, move on,” I wanted to say.

And even if she could win him over, the decision would be bad for her son.

I commiserated with her but gave no opinion. Not that she asked for one anyway.

The girl didn’t need $100 of “professional” advice because her preferred course of action, while difficult in the short term, was obvious. Walk!

Was the answer to my problem just as obvious?

As the trio entered the psychic’s room, I wondered if my appointment was unnecessary, too. However, I had already paid so I kept it.

In retrospect, I already knew my answer.

Keep living, keep applying for jobs. Keep on keeping on. The world keeps turning and issues resolve if you put forth the effort.

Want to read more?

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Learn all about how to Start Freelancing And Consulting: How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro

You are not behind!

As I’ve written before, I’m a huge fan of Flylady. Marla Cilley at flylady.net emails daily reminders to keep housekeeping chores and life management on track.

I’m not totally “flywashed,” which is the label taken by those who follow her system fully, but I’ve adopted certain outlooks that help me through life.

Do it now! Even chores that are done imperfectly bless our household. In practice, I take this to mean that it is better to quickly wipe up a spill in the refrigerator than to wait until we have time to pull out every shelf and “do it right.”

And “you can do anything for 15 minutes.” So start something you have been putting off with a mere 15 minutes of work.

One of my favorites graces the bottom of every email she sends out: You are not behind! Don’t try to catch up; just jump in where you are.

In part, this advice is sensible because the Flylady system is cyclical. Every chore comes back around to be completed again. Some chores are daily, like starting a load of laundry (if needed) or reviewing your calendar for the day. Others are weekly, such as vacuuming the central part of the living room or assembling a list for the grocery. And some tasks, such as tossing mismatched leftover containers or cleaning out a drawer, are even less frequent.

However, even for (career) work, this advice is a sigh of relief. Instead of carrying the past with us, accumulating an ever greater list of work we need to accomplish, release yesterday’s unfinished chores. Don’t try to add them to today.

Today, it’s enough to jump in where we are and put forth one day’s effort.

Also from my blog:

Another take on getting work done

How I’m spicing up my writing and managing my inbox

Well, we’ve made it past Groundhog Day. Here in the cold Midwest we’re looking at each patch of yellowish grass that emerges from the melting snow as a harbinger of spring. The nursery catalogs clogging our mailboxes feed our longing for warmer weather, and I’m getting an itch for spring cleaning.

Mind you, I’m rather lazy about scratching it, but I’m kind of itching, nonetheless.

However, there’s one area where I’ve taken some action: weeding my email inbox. The impetus isn’t so much seasonal as work related. I’m preparing to launch my first ebook and I’m writing a sales page. So to improve focus, I’m unsubscribing from ezines I never read, placing most of my Yahoo groups on “no email” status and halting the email updates from my LinkedIn groups.

Spam was never the problem. It’s immediately clear which emails sell Vi*gr* or offer introductions to Russian ladies. I can instantly delete these by tapping away on the “delete” key.

Awhile back I read a memorable story somewhere on the Internet. (That narrows it down, doesn’t it?) Anyway, a restaurant that offered a special burger with 19 herbs and spices decided to increase profits by removing a single herb (or spice). No customer complaints so they deleted another flavoring, and then another. With each elimination, the product tasted the same . . . until it suddenly tasted decisively bland.

I’m having a burger experience. There’s no single ezine or online group I miss, but the overall impact of cutting back is significant.

I used to drown in new ideas. They were springing up everywhere. I’d get out of bed each morning and scribble down notes before breakfast. New ideas would strike throughout the day. And when I sat down to write a blog entry or an article for my ezine, I’d decide between my latest brainstorm and my backlog of notes.

But for the last week or so the ideas have stopped coming. And just this morning I connected the paucity of inspiration with my reading deprivation.

So I had another great idea: I’d read more of the emails I’ve been receiving and click through on more of the links.

Then, hurrah! I had the blog idea you are reading right now.

We need ideas if we are going to write. So I’m rethinking which of the 19 seasonings I’ll add back into my reading mix.

How do you manage your email? Are you cutting back on your reading? Your results? Comments, please.

Live your life as the person you want to be

Great interview in the February 2010 Harper’s Bazaar with Gabourey Sidibe, star of the movie Precious.

Regularly characterized as an overweight black girl, Sidibe shows herself in the magazine article to be amazingly confident and secure in her identity. She regrets that her attitude came too late in life, at “something like 21.” (Alas, poor girl.)

My favorite part of the story is her explanation of how she gained confidence.

“One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl. I wear colors that I really like, I wear makeup that makes me feel pretty, and it really helps. It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see. Your body is your temple. It’s your home, and” she chuckles, “you must decorate it.”

My story isn’t nearly as bigger than life and glamorous, but Sidibe and I share a fundamental outlook. First you choose your attitude, then you live it. At moments when you doubt yourself, live the attitude you have chosen anyway.

In the early 1990s I was deciding whether or not to leave a bad marriage. Some days I was confident that I deserved better; I was raring to move on. Other days I questioned everything—if I could succeed, if I merited better, would I destroy my life rather than improve it?

Which of the two myself’s should I honor?

Eventually I decided to live always the first life, regardless of how I feel on any given day. Some days my decision and my feelings match up. These are very good days.

Other days the two are at odds. Then I make decisions as though I am confident and sell-possessed even if I don’t feel it at the time.

It works.

The perfect touchstone for any life decision is this: What would I do if I felt really great about myself?

As I develop my business, that’s the best criterion for any decision. It has never steered me wrong.

As an aside, I love Sidibe’s attitude about clothes. Black is a great color for clothing if chosen for its sophistication and drama. And it’s a lousy color if chosen to conceal weight or to hide in the crowd.

Lessons I’ve learned from Dad (Happy Birthday on his 90th!)

This month my dad, Simon Cohen, celebrated his 90th birthday with family and friends from across the country in attendance (and of course my mom Jennie, a blessed 80+ years old).

Simon Cohen

I come from a family of talkers so of course, everyone had the opportunity to stand and speak. Here are my remarks.

All our lives we’ve heard about the famed Kennedy family and what they stand for. We all know that the Kennedys stand for public service. “From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” the clan says.

Over the decades I’ve pondered from time to time what our family, the Cohens, stand for, and for years I didn’t get much beyond the basics: Eat your vegetables and turn off the lights when no one will be in the room.

Now I’ve had quite a few years to think about this and I’ve come up with four life lessons that more singularly represent the Cohens.

First, God loves common sense. The Cohens, who came to the U.S. from Poland in the earliest years of the twentieth century, were originally Orthodox Jews, the most observant branch of Judaism. However, they valued practicality more than rigorous observance as they adapted to life in America.

My father (born in America) managed small grocery stores for much of his career, the first store having been started by his parents. Even on the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, he would stop at the store to be sure the refrigeration wasn’t on the fritz before going to synagogue.

Our family believes that God wants you to take care of what needs to be attended to rather than rushing off to synagogue to pray for miracles. The Cohens’ God wants people to improve their lives proactively rather than to leave all the heavy lifting to the divine.

Second, incompetent authority is irritating. It’s difficult for a member of my family to remain silent and smile obediently when management is making stupid decisions. We can hold our tongues—some of us better than others—but over time we tend to gravitate to entrepreneurship. We do not always experience resounding success, but we prefer to live with our own mistakes rather than the mistakes and misjudgments of others.

Third, life—and especially entrepreneurship—is all about responsibility. The Donald Trump style is about ego and power. It is about shouting “you’re fired” and the other person simply packs up and slinks out of town. For The Donald, it’s good to be the boss.

But in our family, being the boss is not about being omnipotent. You have to be careful in terminating staff. In a small grocery store, you are stuck doing all the food prep and clean up yourself if you cavalierly dump people.

Self-employment is about working your business every since day, no matter how sick you feel. Being responsible is the single most salient aspect of entrepreneurship. Dad recognized this even as a youngster when he started making grocery deliveries after school. (Back before there were driver’s licenses, his parents assigned him this chore at the age of 13 when he came home from his Bar Mitzvah and drove off in the family car now that he was a man.)

Fourth, humor, fun and friends are what count in life. Except for Mom, Dad’s best friend was his older brother Art. (My dad’s older brother married my mom’s older sister. Or to restate it, two brothers married two sisters. My parents’ relationship began because the brothers shared a car. So the older sister fixed up Mom with Dad so both guys could go out on Saturday night.)

Anyway, the brothers were hilarious together. Watching them together was like seeing a night club comedy act except that the two were equals; neither served as the straight man or the stooge. And I learned something very important from their banter while working alongside of them in the store: A pint’s a pound the world around.

Dad still develops his own best material. Recently he was in the hospital with heart problems when he asked the doctor if he could tell her how he wants to die. She was clearly uncomfortable and suggested he tell his son (my brother Michael, who was present) instead.

“No, I want to tell you,” he insisted. “I want to be shot by a jealous husband.”

And so I say with a heart full of love, “Happy Birthday, Dad, and many, many more.”