Posts Tagged ‘Work Ethic’

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

Saturday, January 28, 2017 is my 60th birthday. For months I’ve just shaken my head in disbelief at the thought of it. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem possible. Maybe it should just be another date on the calendar, but it isn’t. Like I jokingly said to my bride of 37 years recently (who turned 60 last summer), “This is more serious because it’s happening to me!

Part of me still thinks of myself as the young son of a wonderful Mom & Dad living on the farm during junior high and high school, catching the school bus daily and being bullied on the way because of being the skinniest kid around. Part of me is the 16-year-old grocery stock boy putting cans on shelves and buffering the store aisles for $1.60 an hour. Part of me is still having fun in college with those who would become lifelong friends. Part of me is the shy introvert who still prefers a good book and a quiet room over any loud gathering. Part of me is still fumbling around trying to figure out how to talk with others – especially girls. Part of me is recalling my first full-time work or moving to a new city or experiencing new ventures of faith that would shape a lifetime. Part of me is trying to figure out how to handle kids’ diapers (only now they’re grandkids’ diapers).

But nobody can see those parts of me regardless of how real they are in my mind. My soul hasn’t aged quite as obviously to others as has my appearance. I’m not exactly sure what others see when they look at me or what they think when they think of me (if they do at all) – especially younger people.

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

Do they just see someone who is old? Someone with thinning, gray hair and age spots in way too many visible places? Do they see someone who tends to slouch a little more than in years past? Do they see someone who isn’t as relevant, useful, trendy or fun as others who are younger and more energetic? Does that car of teenagers driving by see some old fart they want to scare by yelling at me out the window while I’m walking my dog? (Yes, that’s happened several times in recent years.) Do employers see a senior to push out of the work force in favor of someone younger who has more creativity, ideas, and energy (and a much lower salary)?

Those who haven’t approached 60 birthdays yet may not know or suspect how this day can mess with one’s mind. Older friends with 20-30+ more years than me under their belt are probably chuckling at me at this point saying, “Jeff, you’re just a kid to someone my age.” I know they’re right. I’ll always be my parent’s youngest child to them regardless of my age.

Most birthdays don’t get to me, but this one has. Why? I think it’s because the social/cultural perceptions and expectations just don’t match who I am and what I feel inside. My head and my body know I’m 60, but my heart and spirit haven’t gotten there yet. So how should I respond to the day? I see three options:

  1. See myself as growing old and start living the life others expect of seniors in our culture;
  2. Carry on as though nothing is changing;
  3. Take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.
A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

The first option above just isn’t me. Part of me imagines what it would be like to retire from full-time employment, volunteer more for my church, run a little Airbnb business on the side to help pay the bills, and downshift from the faster pace I’ve traveled for decades to something more common to one in his 60s. I’ll consider that a guilty pleasure to think and dream about, but not something likely to happen anytime soon. I have no plans to dramatically change course, riding off into the sunset of some presumed, easy, self-absorbed retirement. There is work to be done, and as far as I know, I’m still the best person to be doing some of it. So I can cross the first option off the list. It isn’t me and it isn’t financially an option, anyway.

The second option of carrying on as though nothing is in flux sounds like a possibility, but isn’t very realistic. My body (energy, sleep needs and more) is, indeed, changing and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. I’d wear myself out ignoring that reality.

It seems like option three makes the most sense to me: take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.

So here is what I think is ahead insofar as it is up to me:

  1. There is more to learn, so I’ll keep learning something new every day. I thrive on learning – always have, always will. When the court ruling came out earlier this week on whether or not a federal judge would allow another company to purchase the one I work for, I relished the opportunity to read all 158 pages of the decision before going to bed that night, learning all kinds of matters related to relevant law, the opposing sides’ arguments, and the judge’s reasoning. It was fascinating and the highlight of the month for me personally and professionally in terms of learning. Teaching others forces me to keep learning as well, so I’ll keep saying “yes” to teaching opportunities because I know it will force me to learn more. True lifelong learners know it’s a vital part of a meaningful life and should have no end.
  2. There is a better me to grow into, so I’ll keep working at being a better person. Growing in my Christian faith and practice is also an unending pursuit to become more like the One I worship. I’m attending a marriage seminar this weekend at our church because there is always room for learning how to be a better husband even after these nearly 38 years of marriage to my bride, Linda. I haven’t yet mastered the art of being the best father, grandfather, son, employee, teacher, friend, citizen or neighbor I can be, so there’s work to be done to keep moving in the right direction on all of those fronts.
  3. The older you get, the more important it is to pay attention to your health, so I’ll continue to be mindful about my health. I’ve been blessed to work at Humana for over 13 years where employee health is a major focus. I wouldn’t do what I do to #startwithhealthy if not for my employer’s vigilance at emphasizing health and well-being with all employees. That doesn’t mean I deny myself any type of food I enjoy, but it means I make more healthy choices daily than not. I keep my weight in check and stay reasonably active averaging 4-5 miles a day of walking. I could do more, but I won’t obsess about it. As far as my doctor and I are concerned, I’m in good health and I want to keep it that way.
  4. As long as I can make positive contributions, I’ll keep giving my best to my employer. I love what I do and the wonderful people I get to do it with every day at my job, so unless some unexpected ideal opportunity comes knocking on my door and makes me an offer I can’t refuse (not likely), I’m happy to stay where I am and do my best to make a positive difference for my company. I’m in my 14th year here and I like the thought of making it to my 20th anniversary.
Christmas 2016 family pajama party

Christmas 2016 family pajama party

As long as God gives me life, breath, passion, skills and opportunity along with the health and mind to make a difference in the world, then who am I to plan otherwise? Sure, I’d rather be working out of my home these days most of the time instead of going in to the office. I’d rather have more sleep and more free time. I need to get better at saying “no” to some requests that consume huge amounts of what should be free time. But I value serving others more than serving myself, so saying “no” is a constant struggle.

There is actually a spiritual and biblical component to why I keep the schedule I do. I just don’t see anywhere in the Bible where old folks are told to stop being productive and fade away, doing nothing but living for themselves the rest of their days. It just isn’t scriptural. The ways in which we are able to serve necessarily change over time, but the fact that we serve does not change. My health and abilities may dictate what I can and can’t do, but I can still serve God and man in some way as long as there is one more breath in me.

So this week I turn 60. It sure has me being more reflective than a typical week or a normal birthday. It isn’t just another date on the calendar. It’s a chance to reenlist in life – in making a difference and serving the best I can wherever ability meets opportunity.

Time to get back to work…


Added Feb. 3, 2017: I just ran across this quote from Margaret Mead which seems appropriate – “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”


some recent fun time with my granddaughter Abby

My work colleagues and family are very accustomed to me giving too much time to work during my supposed vacations.  If, for example, I take a week “off” from work, I usually end up working 2-3 of those days anyway.  It’s usually by choice that I do so because I love what I do.  Therefore, I gravitate to it in my time off because it’s enjoyable.  But with normal work weeks being 50-55 hours and normal vacation weeks only being half vacation, I thought it was way overdue that I force myself to take some time off, not succumbing to the temptation to check voice mail or email or the internal social network I manage.

With this as my last day of vacation, I am glad to report that I did, indeed, avoid opening my work email for the past eight days.  I have not once checked voice mail or my internal social network messages.  I disabled the software that notifies me of voice mail messages.  I muted the sound on my work laptop so the work-related Twitter notifications would not be heard.  (I still use my work laptop at home because it’s faster and larger than my netbook PC at home, so that’s why the disabling had to be done.)

I did end up working a total of about one hour over the past eight days, but that was to go purchase some items I need when I return tomorrow and to check up once on ongoing technical issues related to the internal social network.  I needed to know what I would be facing when I returned Monday and whether the issue had been resolved in order to know what I might need to do quickly my first day back.

Given my past history, I count working only one hour over the past eight days as a roaring success!  So much so, in fact, that I think I’ll schedule another one in September and perhaps monthly until I’ve used up a lot of my accumulated days off.

What did I do instead of work this week?  I stayed home, mostly.  I read a lot in support of some of my personal goals for the year where I had been lagging seriously behind.  My wife and I took our granddaughter to the zoo one day.  I went to the state fair with my parents.  I took my dog for far more walks than usual and threw the Frisbee with her more times than I can count.  I got a few other errands done that had been hanging over my head for a while.  I wrote more blog posts than in a normal week.  I made sure I got in many more steps on my pedometer than usual, averaging close to 30,000/day for the week.  I took more naps.  I slept when I wanted and got up when I wanted.

“Staycations” at home may well be my favorite vacations of all.  I set the agenda and the time frame and go about my days as I see fit.

I did not disconnect electronically during the week, however, nor did I intend to.  I checked Facebook as I usually do for personal content.  I checked Twitter and posted to it, although I only checked it rarely since most incoming posts are work related.  Whereas I might normally spend two hours an evening on Twitter catching up for the day, this week I scanned it during commercials of a single 30- or 60-minute TV show and let most of it slide on by unread.  I still checked on my blog’s activity, promoted my recent blog posts across multiple social networks, and kept up with personal email.  Technology and vacations can go together just fine as long as the use is personal and not work related.

“So what?” you may ask.  Why make a fuss over doing something that most of the world has no problem doing when they go on vacation?  For me, it’s a pretty big deal because it represents a milestone in my ten-year history at my current company.  I honestly don’t think I’ve disconnected from work that completely for a solid week in the past ten years – not during traveling vacations with my wife, not even during an eight-day trip to China last year.  So this shows me that it is possible and that the world won’t end if I do so.  I have no idea how many emails, social network messages and voice mail messages will be waiting for me tomorrow, but I’ll deal with it and gradually dig out from under them over the next week or two.

Even for those who love their work, it is refreshing and helpful to walk away from it from time to time.  There is value is refusing to let yourself get sucked in to emails or issues that easily and quickly consume more time than you intended to give.  There is a sense in which I can go back with fresh eyes and enthusiasm and dive back in, ready to tackle what lies ahead.

Now that I’ve done it once, I’m looking forward to doing it again.  Soon.

Whatever It TakesI want to take a moment to give some kudos to my bride of almost 34 years, Linda.  She is 3+ weeks following a knee-replacement surgery and less than two weeks away from her second one on May 9.  It has been a challenging journey for her from the effects of the pain meds after surgery to dealing with the rehab exercises and the difficulty doing everyday things that she would normally not think twice about.  But she is doing what it takes to improve daily and shows the determination to do what is best in the long run even when she may not feel like doing it.  I am extremely proud of her and the determination she shows daily.

All of us avoid pain, of course.  To go through daily exercise routines to the point of pain because you know it’s good for you takes a special person with an inner strength that not everyone has.  She has me help her with some of the exercises by pushing her leg to bend more than she can on her own for a second or two – something that feels incredibly weird for me when I know the outcome is her yelling at the point of pain.  She thinks I enjoy it in some evil way, but I don’t.  Still, I’ll gladly do whatever she wants and needs if it helps.

We’ve all heard the phrase “no pain…no gain” as a motivator to get us to stretch ourselves in exercise and attempts at fitness.  Many of us would much rather live by the motto of “no pain…no pain” instead.

There are moments when Linda is a bit apprehensive or weepy about going through all of this again in two weeks with the other knee.  I told her a couple of nights ago in one such moment not to think about two weeks from now, but about 6-8 weeks from now.  What she is enduring for a couple of months is setting her up to be in a much better place for years to come regarding mobility compared to what she was experiencing prior to the surgeries.  She knows that and will successfully keep the long view in mind.

Each of us has challenges we face, goals to achieve, things that cost us some pain and discomfort – physical or otherwise – on the way to victory.  If we only concern ourselves with what is expedient and pleasurable in the moment, we’ll never cross those long-term finish lines.

On a related note, I have a number of friends and work colleagues who ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon today in Louisville (a half marathon of 13.1 miles), some for the first time.  They didn’t cross that finish line only because of what they did today, but because of what they’ve done for weeks, months and years leading up to today.  They willingly endured some self-inflicted pain prior to today so that today they could feel the jubilation of individual victory.  I applaud them all.  I’ve done that half-marathon a few times myself and I know how satisfying it is to complete it.

To coworkers who go the extra mile to get things done and to do them well, to friends and family who choose to live life with determination and fortitude, and especially to Linda who is as tough as anyone I know, thank you for your attitude, your sacrificial efforts and example, and for inspiring me daily to do what it takes.

Vacation Day 1In yesterday’s post, I bemoaned how difficult it is for me to avoid working on days I’m supposed to be on vacation.  I thought I’d reflect on this first day of vacation and tell you how I did…

I didn’t avoid work completely, putting in about two hours total over various sessions from a few minutes to maybe 30 minutes in length.  That isn’t too bad, but it’s still more than I hoped to do.  Part of the issue was the need to redo an expense report that I didn’t complete correctly last week due to new procedures in place I hadn’t used before.  When the report was rejected today, I figured I needed to do it over and resubmit since I was at the time limit for submitting it.  I also spent a few minutes here and there deleting emails or dealing with very quick ones I could knock off.  A few other random matters took a little time, but not too much.

The pressure came when every instinct in me wanted to grab my work laptop and dive in to something that would suck me into some black hole of more time that I should spend working today.  I successfully avoided that temptation, I’m glad to say.  In fact, I started the day with a task list of a number of things to do, none of which were work-related, and I returned to that throughout the day to guide how I spent my time.  The second item on the list was spending five hours reading, so that fortunately took a major chunk of the day.  I’m still working on the list and may not complete it, but I put a serious dent in it.  I’ll add the undone items to tomorrow’s already long list.

Tomorrow won’t be much different since it is the one day this week I actually must go to work for a meeting, but I have a host of other things that must also get accomplished, so I’ll try to keep the work hours to 2-3 for the day.  That isn’t ideal, but there’s no way around it tomorrow.

Overall, I did better today than I normally have in the past, but I still have a way to go to be able to walk away from work on my days off as I should.

Make A LifeExcept for one meeting which I must attend in two days, I have scheduled time off from work for the week.  Part of the reason is that I’m officiating at an out-of-town wedding next weekend and I want plenty of time to edit and rehearse what I’ll be saying at the ceremony before I travel to the destination Friday.  The other reason is that I’m almost at the maximum vacation days that my company allows us to build up before we stop accruing more.  I can’t let that happen.

My problem is that I haven’t successfully walked completely away from a week of work in a very long time.  My pattern is that if, for example, I plan five days off, I end up putting in the equivalent of 2-3 full work days during the five.  Or if I schedule two days off, I end up working two half-days during that time.

I know that I need to be able to walk away from work, but it’s really hard for me.  I’m not bragging about some exemplary work ethic.  I’m honestly asking for advice on how to get better at waking away for longer periods of time.

Here are some of the factoids that relate to this issue for me:

  • I really love what I do, so it’s actually fun and fulfilling for me to spend time doing it.
  • Since I’m the only one at work who does what I do on a daily basis, it is hard for me to step away knowing that not all that I normally do will be done in my absence, even though my colleagues who back me up will take care of the bigger, more pressing matters.
  • I don’t like coming back to hundreds of emails that accumulate during a long absence, so I opt for less stress upon my return by handling some of those emails on days I’m supposed to be off.
  • My work to-do list is always long, so it seems less stressful to take the time to knock things off the list during days I’m supposed to be on vacation rather than allow the to-do list to get longer and longer while away.

What do you think?  Do you share my dilemma or does it sound totally foreign and weird to you?  What advice do you have for me?

For the next seven days I have the chance to work less on a vacation than I have in years.  How do I resist the temptation to work instead?