A Glorious Stroll Through the Upper East Side, NYC

Sun shining, blue skies and a cool, clean breeze. Making my way early Thursday morning up 62nd Street from York to Park Ave. York is about as east as you can be as a pedestrian and still be in Manhattan. 62nd at that point is just north of the Queensborough bridge.

It was a great morning to walk from my hotel to my meeting. Only a few people on the streets at 8 am. which is early for NY. Very different than Chicago where people are on the streets by 7.

I am rarely in this little section of NY. One block and I discover Dangerfield’s.  Rodney was one of my favorite comics and comic actors. Great facial expressions and knew how to deliver a punch line.

On to rows and rows of row houses. Not as scenic as the multicolored ones in Charleston, SC. but nice.  A treasure. (More than just an aesthetic treasure, I am sure they cost a small fortune.)

Just as I thought how nice it was to see something other than high rise apartment buildings in NY, I next came across Trump Plaza. This building puts the U in ugly. I know that  There are other and greater Trump buildings but if I were the Donald, I would do whatever I could to get my name off this monstrosity.  Fortunately, more townhouses and other attractive buildings as I continued.

Then you get to Park Ave. What a beautiful, wide boulevard. Filled with attractive buildings both north and south as far as the eye could see. Some of the best of NYC.

I arrived early for my meeting and realized I was within spitting distance of Central Park. I made my way to the south end of the park. The horse drawn carriages were already lined up in the early morning. If only I had enough time to walk through the Park.  Next trip.

Taking a different route on my way back, I came across a crowd of people with signs in their hands. At first I thought this was some form of protest. However, clowns and jugglers are not a normal sight at a protest march. Turns out that I was outside the CBS building and this was the usual crowd outside the Early Show studios. A definite smile.

Three more blocks back to where I needed to be. Ready to take on the business world for one more day. Some Bill Evans solo piano music in the background and the morning would have been perfect. Pretty darn close anyway.

I’m Back

I am trying hard to post at least every third day with the ultimate goal of writing something everyday. It is like exercise in that I really miss it when I don not write and my energy level falls even further.

I have had a bad cold for a week which last weekend kept me in bed and during the week allowed me to do little but get through the workday. I still have it but at least I am conscious more or less.

Strangers on a Plane

The setting. Tuesday. I had already been in airports or on the first of two planes for 7 1/2 hours after being on the road for 3 days. This flight was running 90 minutes late because US Air could not get a crew to fly a plane that was sitting on the ground waiting to bring me home. I had 3 more hours to go.

Just as I found my aisle seat, a pleasant, averaging looking man in his sixties informed me he had the window. He took out some papers to work on. I took out my iPod. All I wanted to do was vegetate and be on my way home.  Not sure who started talking. Topic was something polite. Small talk, gag me. Next thing I knew the plane was landing at O’Hare and I had one of my top 10 , if not top 5, plane conversations of all time.

He works for the Lutheran Church, the national organization. Works on development/growth. From what I gathered this means both the personal development and growth of the senior pastors of Lutheran  churches through education and training  as well as growth and development of the church through fund raising. He had 51 people working for him scattered across the U.S. Qualified for this role by once having been a pastor but also running his own business.

We talked about what we do and how we do it. At first he asked questions about my work such as how I built consensus among business leaders, what were the traits of the CEOs I work with and what did I like about my work.

I learned about his passion for helping the senior pastors improve by giving them the skills to be more effective at achieving their mission. He felt strongly that while pastors were usually excellently trained in theology they were missing the basic skills to run an organization. Some of his thoughts:

  • churches too often accept mediocracy rather than strive for excellence
  • many church suffered from a wealth of opportunities to do good things. Leadership lacked priorities, focus and and the willingness to give up some things in order to be great at few things
  • the best churches have senior pastors that involve their lay leaders and strive for excellence
  • there are material differences between Lutheran churches in different regions across the country
  • there is evidence that the heart follows the money rather than money follows the heart (At first this went over my head. What he meant was that while for some, degree charitable giving follows what the person is passionate about, you will become passionate about the cause to which you give your money.)

 With the possible exception of this last point, I found many direct parallels between the world of Church and the world of Business. We went on to discuss family, charitable giving, the value to one’s self of helping others, our parents that had suffered from dementia, raising children to become good people–he has 6 , I but 1. He asked me if I considered myself a man of faith. I am pretty sure that no one had asked me this before on a plane.  There were times the conversation lagged and I thought it was over. A part of me hoped it was over but then one of us would ask a new question and on we went.

As the plane began its decent, he shared two last things. First, he had taken out papers with the intention of pretending to work in order to avoid conversation. He then shared that the last time he did that on a plane he was in a row with 5 black people all obviously family. Being tired he avoided conversation most of the flight.  Finally, in order to not seem prejudiced, he asked what he believed to be an innocuous question of the father next to him. “Are you leaving home or going home.”  The man’s reply was that he had no home. He was a refugee and this was his first day in America after seven years of living in a camp in Africa. My companion then relayed that the conversation just got better and better.

Much the way I felt about mine. I never would have had this gift if my day had gone well to begin with.

An American in Paris

I am in the midst of watching one of my favorite movie musicals on TCM.  Gene Kelly defines cool. In so many ways he portrays an average guy. Just one who can dance like a god. An American in Paris is one of my fav old movie musicals. Take Gene, a young Leslie Caron, the one of kind dry wit, cynicism of Oscar Levant the music of George Gershwin, and the direction of Vincent Minelli, and you cannot help but make a good MGM musical. That’s probably why it won a Best Picture Oscar.

Ranks up there with The Bandwagon and Singin’ in the Rain.

I wish I could dance like Gene Kelly.  Most people when they see me dance think of Gene Simmons– of KISS.

I Like People

Spending time with people I like is one of my favorite things to do.  One never knows when — or where –you will find good company.

I am in Smalltown Tennessee. There is one big business in town which is why I am here. Oh there is one more commercial enterprise, the regional NASCAR track. In fact there is a big race next weekend and the hotels, RV camps and campgrounds are already at capacity.

One can begin to conjure up all types of stereotypes of the locals.  Well I had dinner with two, one who grew up in the area, and none of the potential stereotypes applied.  The conversation was FUN! More evidence that people have many facets to their personality no matter what their background.

BTW the scenery around here is gorgeous. I would like to come back at a time when I can see more, maybe go hiking. Who knows, one day I may come back to watch the NASCAR race. Add another facet to my personality.


A Father and a Son Night

Friday night my son and I connected…or in his words bonded.  At least for the night. As the father of a sixteen year old I strive for moments not breakthroughs.

At school grades in a couple of classes had fallen on top of last semester’s finals not going as well as expected. Nothing earth shattering but of concern to a concerned parent. Unfortunately and unsuccessfully my style of dealing with these issues has become command and control rather than inquisitive and supportive.

Last night we were having our usual “loud banter” going nowhere. He was defensive in his approach to the issues and totally offensive in his approach to me. I sent him to his room knowing he HATES when I try to do that. That is a little kid punishment he claims. My brilliant retort was that while he is no longer a little kid, he was acting like one. Sitcom level parenting at best, I admit.

Sometimes our best moments come after a blow up. He came out of his room and we both talked and listened. With respect for each other. I did at one point state how some things will change but at least I added why and asked for his thoughts and reactions. His body language became very tense so I waited and let him know that he could have time to sort things out rather than respond now.

I assumed he was just angry at me. Well you know what they say about assuming. He then opened up about some feelings and self-insight that surprised and delighted me. He was thinking about himself in ways that I had not imagined. It was a really, really, really good father-son moment.

We agreed on the choice of take out for dinner–he drove. We agreed on how much time would be spent on homework that night. I agreed to let him participate in his fantasy baseball draft. We discussed how time would be allocated this weekend and throughout the remainder of the semester.

One of the more interesting parts of this night was when we discussed how to, and how not to communicate with each other. He takes some of my hand gestures and looks as disrespectful. I can respect that. I suggested that he should avoid statements such as “There is no way I can do homework right when I come home from school. NOBODY does.”  Instead, letting his mom or me know that it would be helpful to have a little down time before jumping into homework might actually get him what he wants. We discussed the importance of defining what a little time meant in actual minutes.

This was not a life altering night. It was a beginning of a better relationship.  Someone learned a lot last night. Yes I do mean me.

Fighting Boredom…and Losing

tired-yawn.jpgWork. I have been doing similar work for 26 years.  For the first 10, maybe even 15 years it was fun and exciting.  At first everything was new.  I learned the technical aspects of the work and how to interact with my managers ( I do consulting so I have many managers). Over time, I developed skills in working with clients, speaking in front of large groups, training new people, and for awhile managing a group of people. At my best, I am a trusted adviser to leaders of big businesses and dazzle audiences.  

Each new learning opportunity provided new challenges and kept me interested in the job/career. The learning curve slowed to a crawl years ago. The vast majority of my time is spent  doing things I have done hundreds if not thousands of times before. If I like the clients and their company is interesting the work feels good, though not necessarily interesting. Too often, the clients provide income but bore me from day one.  I have also lost my tolerance for low skilled underlings. I work in a large firm and have too little input into who we hire.  A great sense of accomplishment and joy comes with taking raw but talented people and helping them grow into accomplished professionals. Conversely, nothing is worse than dealing with lowly competent underlings.  (BTW, I like the word underlings for the sound and feel but it certainly is a derogatory way to describe actual people.)

I find that I am not the only one feeling this way.  A good friend since high school shared similar feelings.  A former colleague that recently left the profession (after a mere 20 years) told me that the only thrill he had had left was going to a client meeting less than fully prepared.

So, what to do, what to do? It is hard though not impossible for me to leave what I am doing when I make a reasonably comfortable income. I am not willing to take on  a new career for substantially less money. There may be some opportunities to change things up a bit by going to a new, smaller company. I am staying open to new possibilities. Since work is such a large part of the time I spend, it needs to be more entertaining.

In the meantime to keep life as opposed to work interesting, I blog.  And as the Chi-town weather improves I will ride!