Mule time, 2

Previous: Mule time

You got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow

Sometimes you just have to get up and work. There's no art to it. No shortcut. Just grinding down diamonds.

It's not a permanent mode. It ends. You can get back to your business. Or you can make a break for the fenceline, one hand on the top rail and vault over without breaking stride, and never look back. Or look back. What the hell. We're all made out of salt anyway.

in your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind

Failures to build successful coalitions

It is easy to see the building of a network of support, either through the appointment and promotion process or through personal favors, as activities that are somehow illegitimate or inappropriate. Such a view would be incomplete at best. The development and exercise of power in organizations is about getting things accomplished. The very nature of organizations—interdependent, complex systems with many actors and many points of view—means that taking action is often problematic. Failures in implementation are almost invariably failures to build successful coalitions. Although networks of allies can obviously be misused, they are nevertheless essential in order to get things done. And, allies must be put in place through whatever practical means are at hand.

—Jeffrey Pfeffer. "Resources, Allies, and the New Golden Rule". Managing with Power (1992).

Race issues, 4

Previous: Race issues, 3

On the other hand, counter to the other three posts, maybe some things should go a little faster. For example, this below:

I think I dug the first hole for this retaining wall project in November, then something something, and then the yard was mostly done but for a pile of dirt in the corner, waiting to see where it would go. It was the remnants of some top soil that I had delivered earlier in the summer because everything else in this backyard is clay, and is horrible. The question was: where did I need to move the dirt? Did it need to fill in some spots behind the wall for planting? Some did. Did it need to move and fill in some holes or low spots on the slopes? Not really. Was it ready to be pushed over and flattened out?

The answer to that last question was: yes. The final purpose of the dirt was always to make the yard flat. But I waited. And waited. And waited. And found other things to do (that tomato jungle in the background didn't build itself). And waited. And deferred with a thousand what-ifs.

It wasn't a sensible delay. It wasn't helpful. The dirt sat there, except when it washed away. Some of the weeds had taken on an aggressive and downright surly aspect. And where I thought I might move some of the dirt, just slightly out of view to the left—actually, I moved dirt (clay) from there to the dirt pile.

The microwaiting was the strangest aspect of delaying. Once I finally committed to flattening out the dirt today, there were still the moments that I'd just... stare at the pile. Or walk back and forth between the pile and some other small project. Or just generally not finish the thing.

Waiting was just waiting. Waiting was a refusal to finish. When you know what the final approach looks like from here to there, and you've got the time and energy—do it. Ship it. It's flat now (flattish, needs some detail work) and ready to go.

Race issues, 3

Previous: Race issues, 2

There are moments when running or exercising or practicing something where I think to myself: I wish this would end soon. Something hurts. Something is boring. Something is uncomfortable. Please make it stop. Please make time go faster so it's over. Watch the clock until it ends. Count the number of repetitions down until zero.

And so on. It's natural. That's the brain trying to protect the body and itself. But that's where the good stuff is—in those same moments that I wish would go faster—so why rush?

I try—though let's be honest, not that often—to remind myself: this is where the good stuff is. Legs are tired while running? Perfect. That's the point of training. That's resistance and destruction in the service of some goal, some purpose. Maybe the point is that end state, really, but you have to remain calm in those intermediate states, maybe even learn to enjoy them. At the very least, there's no need to race through those uncomfortable states, but rather seek them out and get to know them well.

Race issues, 2

Previous: Race issues

My wife thinks I take too long to wash the dishes. I don't know about that. (Privately, at least—publicly, of course, she's right.)

I'm not really in a hurry to get done and do whatever is next, which is typically nothing of substance anyway. What's the rush? If I had something else to do, I'm perfectly capable of leaving the dishes alone and giving them the freedom to wash themselves.

Washing dishes takes as long as it takes. I do good work. More importantly, it's when I listen to podcasts—or not, sometimes it's better to listen to nothing and think nothing, or think about the day and dissect decisions made at work and really commit to coming to no conclusions about it and doing nothing. The time in my head can be productive, or useless, or neither, or both. It doesn't matter. The time goes plate by glass by fork.

If I start to rush, it becomes work. It becomes effort. If I go slow, or at whatever speed comes naturally without thinking about it, I can sneak up on it and start washing before I can think about it, before I can classify it as work or not work.

I don't want to optimize everything—or anything, sometimes. Sometimes I want to turn off the race and float in a pool of bubbles. And if a plate happens to get cleaned, well, OK.

Race issues

This is something that happens to me nearly every time I drive my car, and I don't get it: I just want to win.

What the hell?

Oh, that Audi passed me, but he's going to run into some slow traffic there and I'm going to catch up and what a goof we're going to end up at the same red light together anyway etc etc etc.

It's so weird to have any competitive feelings about driving to the grocery store—especially when it's coupled with a desire to stay within 5 or 10 mph of the speed limit. But I feel it—from my core to my clenched fists. What causes that pressure to feel like there's a race? Why do I need to pass any cars? Why do I want to keep my eyes on the Audi to see how our positions relate to each other, as if there's a green flag and a checkered flag somewhere on Manchester Avenue?

Every time I feel it. And every time I feel the reaction—the self-awareness that the first feeling is idiotic. How does it affect me? What difference does it make where the Audi is? What does it mean to win when there is no race? Where is that Audi? What's the use of getting to the grocery store 15 seconds earlier—if that even happens, because traffic is a discrete problem and I might get to the red light 15 seconds earlier and then get to the grocery store at the same time anyway? Where the hell is that Audi?

The purpose of driving down the street is to get somewhere. Everyone out there is just trying to get somewhere. What would happen if the collective mindset changed from "I'm going to win" to "I'm going to help everyone get where they're going"? I still feel that first urge in my head—the default urge, the primal urge—but the second one, that's better.

Smile through the aid stations

In a long enough running race, there are aid stations—places to pick up water and food and, in the long long races, a place to pick up drop bags with your own supplies. Endurance running aid stations are operated by volunteers—people who are just sitting at tables out in the woods for free handing out gummy bears all day and all night.

It's an insane arrangement by insane people for insane people. You might see one every five or six miles, and you're really looking forward to seeing those crazy people. The water and the pretzels and the candy are nice, sure, but you can pack those things in your bag and run with them if you want. Those are replaceable.

The people are a gift, and I would try to entertain them during my minute or two through the station—make it worth their time. There's not much I could give them because I left my wallet in the car, so why not give them a chuckle by asking for a ride to the next aid station, or some other lame joke that could be concocted out of the four brain cells that were still firing at mile 80.

There was always something extra received in return, and it wasn't from the volunteers who were already giving you what you wanted. There was a big mood lift in my own head from expressing a good mood outwardly—a mood that wasn't there 15 minutes ago while slogging towards the station. It didn't matter if the jokes didn't land and every time I answered "how are you doing?" with "great" was a crazy lie—every outward bound bit of positivity had its own positive effect where it started. I would get a few minutes of psychological glow that followed me down the trail, which is a killer advantage in races that test the endurance of your mind as much as, or even more than, the endurance of your body.

I don't think about it often, but it came to mind over the weekend while slogging 80-pound bags of mortar from the garage around to the basement door. After a few bags, I'd get near that door and the ugly face contortions would kick in, as if that's what was needed to go the last few feet.

And it hit me: smile through the aid stations. Avoid the exertion face, and just laugh at it all. Why not? Some of it will come back to where it started.

I think it's good advice, even if it's not advice I would take all the time. I'm not looking for positivity. Some humor, sure. But positivity and happiness, no. A little, however—that's fine by me.