What does it really take to build a Rome?

Rome wasn’t built in a day. How often have you been given that little bit of wisdom? You probably think you know what it means. It seems self-evident. Several years ago, Karen and I went to Rome and while we were there, we advised ourselves to “just do like the Romans do.” One day over dinner, Karen said to me “Well, just what do or did the Romans do?” I honestly could not say. I only know they do not drive like we do. In addition, while I thought I knew what it meant when we say “Rome was not built in a day”, I also could not tell you how long it took to build Rome. In fact, if it were like any other city, they were probably still building it when it “fell.” Many works are never finished; they are simply “works in process.” Thus, Rome was probably not ever really built since it was never finished. Cities and countries are always works in progress.

The same holds true for people. We are not built in a day or even a lifetime. We are never finished as people until we die and even then we will not be finished. I think of the growth I want in my life and I realize that after having worked on patience for at least the last three years, it will certainly not be obtained in a day or probably even in my lifetime. Many of my friends also doubt it will be obtained in my lifetime. More likely, if I keep trying hard and working at it, I may find myself getting more and more patient, but never reaching the apex I would like to achieve. The best I may be able to do is to be more patient than I was yesterday and the day before that. My creating a patient persona is a work in progress. I will definitely not become patient in a day and maybe not even in a lifetime.

The real goal is not to finish but to make progress with your life. When we work a little each day on something, we eventually create our own individual Rome. Do you get bored easily or give up easily on things? Are you working on long-term goals and sometimes getting frustrated over your rate of change? What could you use as a more realistic measure of change to gage your progress? Who could help you to stay on track? Can you find a mentor or coach or friend who will provide you with encouragement? It is difficult to build Rome by yourself.

Do you have time?

“Do you have time?” How often are you asked that question? Have you ever really thought about what it means? Of course, you say “I know what it means.” However, do you really? When people ask you if you have time, are you being asked for space, for a priority, for help, for support, for money or something else? What is it that they want your time for? In some respects, it is a silly question, since of course you have time. The real question is do you have time for them. Even more to the point, is the issue of whether your priorities and expectations match up with their priorities and expectations? Do you have time to walk their dog? Do you have time to help them with their report? Do you have time to watch their children?

We are asked this question many times a week. What goes into your decision to “make” time for others? Do you make time for people you really like or for people who you think have influence over you? Whether or not we have time will often depend on how important something is to us or how important we view our relationship with the person asking for our time. We are all very busy people, but we will take the time to help those we really care about or if the issue is something we are very interested in. The answer “no, I don’t have the time” more likely means that it is not important or interesting to me. The time I am willing to give to others can have a very ego-centric aspect to it. I give time not because I have it but because I want to. Of course, at work, if my boss asks me, I will probably have time since I want to keep my job.

Who do you really make time for? Are you selfish or generous with your time? Do you only have time for those with power over you or for those whom you love? Are you giving your time to the right people? Are you generous or selfish with your time?

Can we change the past or future?

Time has often been the theme or plot of many stories. Days repeating themselves, people living life over again, people being born in the future etc. Time travel has been a very popular theme. Several movies have been made involving the concept of traveling back or forward in time. Often the plot involves the futility of trying to change the future or the negative effects from trying to change the past. This creates what could be called the “time paradox.” If you could go back and change things, then why would you need to go back in the first place? Another dilemma time travel poses is how anyone could be alive at two places at the same time. Inevitably, the person going back discovers the futility of trying to change time. In Déjà vu, Denzel Washington was able to surmount the time paradox and successfully changed the future. Of course, it is not explained how he managed to exist at two places at the same time, but the movie is very entertaining.

Some movies have dealt with the theme of “stuck in time” as in the movie “Ground Hog Day.” In this movie, the main character Phil (played by Bill Murray) is a weatherman assigned to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, where every year a big to-do is made about whether or not the ground hog comes out and sees its shadow. The outcome of this ritual is said to determine how much longer winter will go on. Bill is a disillusioned self-centered individual with a very cynical outlook on life. By some stroke of fate, he finds that he keeps waking up and reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. We surmise that he must keep repeating the day until he is able to get it right. He must develop a likable and lovable personality. The proof that he has changed lies in his ability to win the heart of a local woman played by Andie MacDowell. The character Phil is not only given a second and third but even gets a fourth and fifth chance to live his life over again and to get it right. How often have you wished you could change the past or keep repeating it until you got it right?

Now you might think that Phil was lucky and you will never get such luck but you would be wrong. Each day you get up, you have another chance to get it right. Each day is an opportunity for a new beginning and a new start. You have to make a choice. Will you keep doing the same things or will you change your life? What is one thing you would like to go back into the past to change? What if you could change it? How would your life be different today? The choice is yours to make.

How do you manage the problems of today and the problems of tomorrow?

“The problems of today versus the problems of tomorrow” is a choice we face each day. Whether to deal with the reality of life staring at us this morning or to deal with those issues that will be more important in the future? That is the real question. It is very difficult to put off fire fighting or problem fixing (short term) in order to do problem resolution or problem prevention (long-term). Dr. W. E. Deming, one of the great business leaders and thinkers of the Twentieth Century often used this phrase about the “problems of today versus the problems of tomorrow.” He counseled business leaders to run their organizations by balancing the problems that confront them on a daily business with the long term strategic issues that the organization needed to address for survival. One of his favorite comments was “putting out a fire in the hotel, does not improve the hotel.” When you think about it, as necessary as it might be, putting out fires rarely improves ones long-term position in the world.

This bit of Deming wisdom is something I try to use to manage and improve my own life. Merely focusing on today’s problems does not prepare me for the future or any real growth. It is easy to live day by day and not plan, not save and not grow for the future. How many people do you know that will not be able to afford to retire? How many people do not put money aside for their children’s education? How many people have finished their college education and never gone back to school for any further growth and development? How many people have a diet or exercise plan that they really follow?

If you are only living for today, what will your life be like tomorrow? There is a story about the man saving drowning people who had fallen in the river. He stopped pulling people out and someone said: “You can’t quit now there are still people coming down.” He replied: I am not quitting, I am just going up river to find out what is causing so many people to fall in.” There comes a time when you must stop putting band-aids on life or when you must get to the root of the problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You will always have to deal with short term crisis. But if your life has no room for the future, you will just keep on having these crises. This goes for money, relationships, marriage or children. The best relationships all take time to build for the future. The issue is not how to do one or the other, the issue is how to manage all of them. It is how to manage the problems of today and the problems of tomorrow.

What do you need to plan for your future? What problems in your life need to be solved immediately? How can you balance your problems of today with your problems of the future? What future problems are you ignoring or not planning for? Why? Who could help you with these problems?

What is a gift of time?

A gift of time! In today’s time deprived world, this might just be the greatest gift of all. With everyone so busy, time becomes the most precious commodity. Bestowing such a gift on others could show how much you care for or love them. You might be poor in terms of money, wealth, material goods but you are as rich as Bill Gates in terms of time. The richest people in the world have no more time than the poorest. In fact, they may have less since they are so busy earning and accumulating money. Think of the many times that you have been blessed by others who share their time with you. Zoos, museums, libraries, food shelters, hospitals and many other organizations all run more effectively due to the time shared by volunteers.

I am particularly fond of an organization called Score: Service Core of Retired Executives. My good friend and ex-boss Lou Schultz donates a large portion of his time each week as do many other retired executives to helping new business owners become successful. Many organizations would not be able to operate without volunteers. Pro-bono is a word that we associate with lawyers giving free service, but anyone of us from carpenters to consultants could give pro-bono time each week.

Each of us has it in our power to give a gift of time both to others and to ourselves. Children, relatives, loved ones and friends might all find your gift of time more meaningful and valuable than anything else you could give them. Can you imagine a Christmas where no presents or money was exchanged? The only gifts that would be exchanged would be gifts of time. It would probably create havoc in the economy. No one would go into debt during Christmas and the mass hysteria associated with the Christmas shopping ritual would be destroyed. Why go into debt when you can make others happier by giving something even more precious than money and something you can get for free? A gift of time is a gift of humanity. It is a gift of yourself.

When was the last time you gave anyone a “gift” of time. How often do you share yourself with others? Can you think of someone whom you could give a gift of time? How does it feel to create this gift and to give it away? What if you gave a gift of time to someone each week? What if you gave yourself a gift of time each week?

What do we gain by multi-tasking and hurrying up?

“The more I’m in a hurry, the more I tend to worry.” I heard these lyrics in a song the other day. The more I’m in a hurry, the more I tend to worry. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. When you try to go fast, you frequently end up putting things in the wrong place or forgetting to do something. For the past few years, multi-tasking was being pushed as a sort of panacea to our productivity and economic problems. If we could all learn to do things faster and to do several things at one time, we would be more efficient and productive. Recent research shows this to be false. The more we do, the dumber we do things. We do not concentrate and do an effective job when we try to do several things at one time. We don’t watch TV and write well. We don’t play cards and monitor our children well and we do not drive and talk on cell phones well. We all know these things from experience.

I have realized that when my pace speeds up and when I get going really fast, I am more worried that I will forget something or do something wrong. Generally, I am right. Going too fast, results in mistakes and doing things over. How many times in the morning when I am getting ready for work, do I end up walking back up my stairs because I forgot my phone or something else? The moral here should be that if we slow down, we will have less worry in our lives. At least, there might be some opportunities for less worry. Slowing down will not reduce all the worries in your life, but if speed kills, then you will have dying sooner as one less worry. Think of the deaths on the highways that could be prevented by less hurrying and taking life a little bit slower. Not only would you get there in one piece but the drive would be a great deal less stressful.

Would it help you to worry less, if you could take more time to do things? What is one thing you can do more slowly today? Try it and see if at the end of the week you do not feel less stressed.

Can time be slowed down or used to sooth our soul?

Zen and time: Part 2. What does it mean to experience time? Have you ever just stared at the second hand on a clock? When you do, it almost seems like the hand stops moving. As impossible as it might seem, the more you stare at the clock, the more time seems to slow down. When we are having fun or staying busy, time seems to “fly.” Hours can pass as minutes when you are engrossed or really enjoying what you are doing. As we get older, we seem to see months go by with the same rapidity that we once noticed days and weeks going by. We often hear the comment that life is faster today than it was years ago. Does that mean that time is moving faster today or is it simply our perceptions of time?

All major religions seem to value the benefit of meditation (prayer is also used for somewhat the same purpose) as a primary path to spirituality and salvation. Have you ever prayed or meditated for an hour or more? During meditation, time slows down. Life seems to pass more slowly and we are able to become more centered and less schizophrenic. Life has a way of creating chaos and disintegration with our spirits. Daily meditation or prayer is a good way to get in touch with the experience of time. There are many different disciplines and methods for both meditation and prayer. For a good overview of the many different spiritual approaches towards meditation, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation.

At first it may seem very difficult to meditate or to find the time to meditate. If you decide to start, try doing your meditation for only five minutes each day. Do you have the time to meditate for five minutes? All of the great religious leaders and wise men have noted the value of meditation for centering ones life and being more in touch with their spiritual essence. After the first week of regular meditation or prayer ask yourself the following questions: What is my experience of time now? Has the regular meditation or prayer made a difference in my life? What if I expanded the time to ten minutes or more? What difference might this make in my life?

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