the calendar’s relentless progression: autumn leaves

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The latter part of September perpetually hosts the first day of fall—a time of moderating weather, heavier work schedules and looking ahead.

During one’s teens, 20s and even 30s, this annual period typically seems full of hours and days, its farewell comfortably in the distance. Yet into the 40s and 50s, those selfsame hours appear ever briefer, ever more precious. As much as the numbers themselves do not change, our perception of them moves ever faster. While not able to slow the calendar’s relentless progression, making the most of each 24-filled gift basket goes a long way in mitigating it. This applies to finding fulfillment in work and career projects, to spending dedicated time with family and friends, to enjoying vacations and travel, to lifelong learning.

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avoiding the instinct: gesticular cancer

That one gesture, that universal conveyance of anger and defiance, that singular finger. Yet beyond what can causally be attributed to this or that surface09a4fd_39633f424aee474b8d708d4d9a20eabb offense or vernacular veneer, why is it so pervasive? What lies under the skin that ignores patience and forgiveness?

Looking outward: Someone aggressively weaves in and out of congested traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway with the no-holds-barred determination of getting to that McDonald’s or bank drive-thru window 90 seconds earlier. Rather than react with that all-too-common shot of disgust, rather than increase hormones and heartbeats, why not just let it pass? As difficult as it can sometimes be, love thy neighbor as thyself isn’t just some Biblical catchphrase to be tossed like so much salad dressing. Why buy into the kind of pharmaceutical-grade drama that can suck the life out of an otherwise peaceful moment? Why not consider stepping back and feeling empathy for that person, grateful that your own stomach is full, that you’ve got use of both legs, that your breathing is regular, that you’re not lying in a hospital bed?

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learning another language: cursed words

It’s a very safe bet that everyone reading this has either directly had the following experience or knows someone who has—spouse, child, friend,oui-non relative or colleague:

You’ve taken three or four years of high-school French or Spanish, then another three or four more years in college (where the offerings are significantly broader, extending from Mandarin to Russian to Hindi and all points between)… and six months later you remember a few dozen words and cannot speak or read the language, as far from fluency as Paris is from Beijing. You’re intelligent and motivated, and did all of the requested homework, yet the results speak for themselves. I simply have no gift for languages, you think, and move on to other areas of study and projects that yield tangible results.

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sitting in traffic: road kill

The concept of sitting amongst interminable traffic is so widespread and familiar as to make regular clichés seem like fresh air in Beijing. How we respond can make the Wait Lossdifference between being impatient and forlorn for the entire day or at peace with productivity in light of what cannot be changed.

Do we curse or listen to an audiobook? Do we throw up a thin body part in a form of gesticular cancer or do we put on a foreign language-learning CD? Do we feel stress to the point of needing a heart stent or do we call ahead and let them know that we’ll be late?

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the absence of discipline: canceled checks

Why is it that ‘discipline’ so often seems like little more than 2½ four-letter words? Or the rebuke of stern punishment? Or behavior as tightlychecks controlled as a bank teller’s drawer? Why is it that typing this singular word into a Google search yields an overwhelming number of articles about disciplining children? Why is it that self-discipline more often than not evokes giving up statin-inducing cheesecake and excessive beer and lazy workdays?

Because that’s where human instinct would have us go. Yet the absence of discipline yields little more than galling gluttony. The hard-to-digest fact—counterintuitive as it may initially seem—is that the joy of discipline is far more sustaining than pleasures as easy to obtain as pints of ice cream or Scotch. Take any kind of work (another four-letter word, but that’s for another time…) that you love and are highly motivated to achieve, then measure how it feels after four or five solid hours of intense work. Exhausted? Sure. Exhilarated? Equally sure.

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on the surface: stock exchanges

It’s surely understandable that the small daily interactions most of us carry on each day—be they with bank tellers to retail clerks and everyone in between—don’t plumb the stock exchangedepths of how we truly feel. Who has the time or inclination? Who would go into a Starbucks and, in response to “How are you doing,” confess to feeling poignantly low in the wake of a friend’s or family member’s death? Or, for that matter, on the other side of the compass: “I just came from a six-mile run and feel incredibly grateful to be able to put one foot in front of the other.”

I’ve recently been more deliberate with these kinds of interactions, by responding with a very brief but profound comment about life, politics, health, family, education et al. It’s been gratifying to recognize how quickly we can form strong connections with those whom we don’t really know, with the resulting warmth carrying throughout the day.

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putting disagreements in perspective: miniature gulf

lost in technology: manual transmission

Births, weddings and funerals tend to be when the home phone rings most often, when the mailbox swells with congratulatory or sympathy cards. Yet when was the last time you received a phone call or handwritten card in the wake of a new joletterb or promotion, a positive doctor’s report, the start of summer? These and dozens of other of life’s joys to be celebrated and shared may be acknowledged with a quick text or email, but the personal touch beyond the screen and processor appears to have become as rare as rush-hour patience on I-95.

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putting your best foot forward: track & field

You’ve got résumés out to 100 companies, intent on putting your best foot forward. How to make sense of it all? Categorize them by type, location, priority or preference. Follow up with each contaTrackField2ct as if the only one. The personal touch can never be overestimated. Don’t send an email, but write (in longhand) and mail a card thanking for the opportunity. Use the post office’s breast-cancer stamps—not to impress anyone, but simply to do the right thing. And even though this is through and through a business relationship, don’t forego the personal touches, the fellowship of similar interests, the acknowledgement of mutual goals. Keep track of even small details, an effort that will distinguish you as a prime prospect.

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key perspectives: fresh produce

One’s mental and physical outlook has incalculable benefits upon productivity and key perspectives.

So that knowledge and $5 will get you a cup of Starbucks, right? But add some09a4fd_573f509a3d0446d88181c0a162e793bd.jpg
vanilla and cinnamon in the form of what you really believe in and watch the price come down while your cup runneth over. This isn’t some pithy statement borne of over-caffeinated wishful thinking, but a universal truism that remains surprisingly lacking across industries and businesses both large and small.

Yet the indicators abound. I was recently in Whole Foods and observed a young bagger in his 20s carry out his repetitive task with such enthusiasm and efficiency that I literally wanted to hire him on the spot. I gave Matt my card and asked him to check in with me in a few months. At a Starbucks just outside of Philadelphia where I sometimes have informal business meetings, I’ve been struck with barista Vanessa’s clear dedication and charm with customers, whom she more often than not greets with their first names. Or at TD Bank branches on the Main Line, where I’m also regularly greeted by first name at the drive-up windows before I even put my transaction in the tube, and whose tellers are invariably quick and efficient.

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