Reflections on Mother’s Day: Personal Goals

This time around, I’ll yield the podium to Mary Ericson who had offered up her thoughts on her personal goals.

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There are three rules that my boss shared and wish for us to follow:

  1. Expectation drives behavior
  2. Don’t feed the stray cat
  3. Alert the tower at 10,000 feet

Today, I’d like to talk about the three rules my mom taught me:

  1. Don’t step on others to get what you want.
  2. Do your best and God will do the rest.
  3. Don’t make a Plan B.

My biological father passed away when I was five years old.  So, for ten years my mother raised three girls as a single parent.  At times, it was difficult financially, especially when tuition fees were required for us to be able take our quarterly examinations.  Despite it all, she worked hard and managed to put us through an exclusive international school in the Philippines.  Now that I have my own children, I don’t know how my mom got by without putting us through public education.  Throughout the difficult times, my mom would remind us constantly, “Don’t step on anyone just to get what you want”.  She always believed in the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated.  There is always the possibility that you will run into someone again, whether it be in a future career or even the afterlife;  Thus the importance of Rule #1.

I have always been a fan of Math – unsurprising since I work at an engineering company.  But it didn’t come easy. I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to learn things on my own or try to challenge myself by taking the most difficult professors at LTU.  But back in grade school, whenever I would ask my mom about a math problem, she would always say, “I was absent the day that one was taught.” Thing was: it was like she was sick at every Math class. Of course, she would reassure me by saying, “Just do your best and God will do the rest.”  Whether you are of faith or not, one basic principle remains. As Frank Stronach, the founder of Magna, tells us: “The harder you work, the more luck you have.”  Thus, the importance of Rule #2.

The final rule is certainly not the least – and is actually my favourite: “Don’t have Option B”.

As a Program Manager, it is always a good idea to have another option in my back pocket especially when dealing with customers. But I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for this rule.

Ever since I started disassembling my toys and our old TV remotes, my mom had her head set on one idea: “You will be an engineer!” She even started introducing me to her friends as “my future engineer”. She made no reservations or concessions in providing for my educational needs all throughout my college years – simply, anything I needed to become an engineer, I got. It was the same for both my sisters. For mom, focusing on an “end goal” would always ensure that you would get there.   Thus, the importance of Rule #3.

While I have learned more rules (like my boss’ career rules) and will continue to learn from my life experiences, I believe these three rules have defined who I have become and will continue to guide my life ahead.

So what about you? What are your “three rules to live by”?

Let me know what you think,

Marygracesoleil J. Ericson

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Honoring your priorities

As a personal policy, my work calendar has always been available to each person within the organization, mainly because I want anybody to be able to find me, or to be able to assess whether or not they are comfortable asking me to change my schedule. I do not understand why some of my co-workers would desire to maintain their entire schedule in  hidden state as most applications ( I currently use Microsoft Outlook as my default calendar/e-mail application ) have the option to make specific events private.

Now that we’ve set the foundation for today’s discussion, let’s get on with things shall we?… I’ve mentioned in previous discussions that I’ve spent portions of my career engaged at and with Fortune 100 corporations. One company’s policy was that individual calendars were visible throughout the organization. Prior to the start of a weekly change meeting, I would take the opportunity to clean up a few calendar items on my laptop as attendees filtered into the room.  The Director sitting to my right glanced at my calendar and chuckled loud enough for both of us to hear. He commented on the fact that I had accounted for travel time to and from a an event later that afternoon. Now, this could have been an offsite meeting, a lunch with a friend, or an afternoon round of golf, but in this instance the event happened to be my child’s soccer game.

I had remarked that this was a priority for me and that I needed to ensure that I could be at the event and allow for travel time to the field and back to the office. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as a response… this could have gone badly if this individual wanted give me grief about being out of the office during the day, but in this case he simply smiled, nodded his head, and returned to his business. To my personal amusement, I would discover years later that this fellow followed a similar practice.

The short of this is that if we are committed to honoring our priorities, then we need to fiercely protect against the little things that will work hard to get in the way. If those priorities are a family event, a work meeting, or a deadline, then we have to work to ensure that time is allocated to each. For my example, I was ensuring that I would have time to attend the soccer match including the time that would be required to travel to and from the field.

Admittedly, I have not always been as successful as I wanted or should have been, but in an attempt to honor my priorities, I had established a few guidelines to help keep me on target.

  1. My daily schedule needs to be available to others either online, or by posting a physical copy outside my office.
  2. Meeting conflicts should be addressed immediately – if others need me to be present for their discussion, then I need to be intentional in responding to their invitation – they can modify the time of the meeting, provide for remote access, or ensure that I get feedback on the outcome of the discussion and what is needed from me.
  3. When I travel as part of my job, then I should account for “drive” time or when appropriate “walk” time within the company campus.

Previously, I have addressed the importance of effective meetings, and what we are discussing today absolutely aligns with that topic. In addition to being prepared, setting agendas and starting meetings on time, consistently following my guidelines provides me a means of honoring professional commitments and how they align to my personal priorities. As years have passed, the value that I place on my time has increased exponentially and I have found that I need to be intentional in protecting that time.

An intentional attitude in embracing these values is one component that in transforming organizational culture. Of course, this is only the first step (and the easiest). I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of a stretch in linking a work calendar to transforming an organization, but as Richard Dreyfus had professed in the movie What about Bob?… It’s all about baby steps.

Remaining intentional.

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Hello, this is your Gall bladder calling

My father was and continues to be a significant influence in my personal and professional life. He was the most impressive individual that I’ve known, and continues to be the yardstick by which I measure my success in being a good friend, spouse and parent. I’ve referred to some of the conversations that he and I have had as “nuggets”, and had elaborated on one of those early conversations in a previous post.

My father was well aware of my passion for my work, had seen the hours that I had been keeping, and seized the opportunity to speak with me. Nearing the end of our conversation, he asked, “On your deathbed, what would your single biggest regret be? Could it be that you didn’t achieve a certain salary or job title? Could it be that you didn’t work hard enough for your employers? Or could it be that you did not spend enough time with your family?”

The importance of the advice that he had shared with me oh so long ago was lost until life intervened (as it often does), and helped reinforce dad’s wisdom.

Many years ago, my son was 10 months old, and my wife was pregnant with our second and third children – twin girls. At the time, I was working at an assembly plant that produced the flagship vehicles for my employer. We were in the midst of launching a new vehicle; A vehicle that was the toast of the North American auto show. The press was in love with the vehicle, dealerships were counting the days until their units arrived, and thousands of customers had placed deposits on vehicles that they had never seen.

Prowler

The process of bringing a new vehicle to market is akin to herding cats (an overused analogy, I know). The culmination of two years of vehicle development is the coordination of 100 different suppliers to complete their activities and deliver their contribution to the vehicle at the exact same moment. The task of starting production of the Prowler, was compounded by the fact that we were installing a new assembly line from scratch. As you can imagine, the entire team experienced were exhausting days for the entire team.

After a successful production launch, work continued at the manufacturing plant to stabilize the daily build. I had noticed that I had not been feeling “right” for 3 or 4  consecutive weeks… I was experiencing pain in my abdomen that I attributed to an ulcer because of the stress at work. My personal diagnosis was rejected by the doctor early one morning in the emergency room – my gall bladder was hemorrhaging and required immediate surgery. The result was an eight inch scar where the doctors had opened me up and removed the unruly organ.

Recovery was estimated at four weeks and was accompanied by instructions to lift no more than 15 pounds during the first two weeks. For the first week, I was able to do little more than sit in the recliner and hold my infant son. Immediately, it became clear that the boy was not comfortable when I was holding him… My body and they way that I held him did not feel the same as his mother. He was not happy, and did not relate to me at all… My own child did not know who I was and freely (and loudly) voiced his objections. My father’s question repeated over and over in my head.

This was one of the few times that in my life that I can remember that moment of realization to change. And thanks to a nugget, it would be the catalyst that would re-define my future relationships. Eighteen years later, I can confirm that the boy did become accustomed to (and still enjoys) being held by his father.

Thanks dad.

Go and be intentional.

Posted in Family, Friendship, Parenting | 1 Comment

A guy walks into the Doctors office…

For a very long time – admittedly all of my adult life, I’ve entertained a lifestyle that was consistent with my personal mind set – do nothing half way – all in – full throttle. My diet consisted of eating and drinking whatever I wanted… in quantities that I wanted… and whenever I wanted. And physical exertion was limited to less strenuous activities such as golf. I did not subscribe to Harvey Penick’s thoughts on “knowing the course”, so when I golfed it was nearly always with the use of a cart. Slogging 18 with a bag over my shoulder was definitely out of the question.

In 2002, my weight had risen to over 270 pounds, and I came to the conclusion that the doctor may be right. Something had to change… So I half-heartedly attempted to rein in some of my behavior, and managed during the next decade to get my weight down to the 250 pound range. A move in the right direction, but as my blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose readings would attest, it was not enough.

In the Spring of 2013, the conversation with my doctor during my annual physical went something like this…

Me: How’s it going Doc?
Doctor: Well… You’re ugly, grossly over-weight, and if you don’t make serious changes in your diet and exercise I’m going to have to cut off your feet because of diabetes, but not before you go blind. Oh yeah, you’re setting yourself up for a stroke.
Me: hmmmm
Doctor: And all of this is going to happen much sooner than you think… You are killing yourself… The clock is ticking.

I left the doctors office, went immediately to a local pub, and consumed my fill of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Chili Dogs and Chili Cheese Fries. Call me a slow learner.

Fast forward six months to Thanksgiving 2013. I’ve talked with people who are able to identify the exact moment that they had the “Aha!” moment which caused them to make a significant personal decision. I, however, have no personal recollection of what finally “clicked” in my head and got me motivated to change my behavior. At some point, I began paying attention to what I was eating and showed a bit more restraint. By Christmas, I had trimmed another 10 pounds. As I began the new year, I was spending a great deal more effort paying attention to what I was eating, and by February what I was eating and its impact on my weight was a high priority.

In March 2014, I added daily exercise to my regimen, and the lifestyle transformation was in full swing. I should be clear about my approach to this “change”… I am not one to weigh my food or count down to the single calorie. Whatever I was going to adopt had to be something that I could sustain indefinitely – this was not a diet, but a lifestyle change that would be my path into the future. Quite honestly, there are things that I am not willing to go without, such as an evening treat of two fingers of Glenfidditch or the occasional slice of pizza. Adhering to this new lifestyle simply meant that I could still enjoy the occasional treat, and that when I did, I would need to make accomodations elsewhere if I was going to be successful.

There are three essential items that I have used each and every day to keep me moving towards my goals:

  1. My iPhone which collects and summarizes two critical applications that I use to track what my intake is and my level of activity.
  2. Lose It – An application for the IPhone or Android phones, LoseIt tracks what I eat. As I eat and snack during the day, I take five seconds to input what I’ve consumed, and the app does the rest. LoseIt aligns everthing to  the goals that I’ve set and gives me a clear status report at any point during the day. LoseIt also has a nice website interface that provides additional information and weekly reports chocked full of data.
  3. The Fitbit Flex is a bit of electronic bling that I wear on my wrist. I set targets for levels of activity, and the Flex and it’s iPhone App keep me informed of how I’m doing each day in reaching my activity goals for total steps, minutes of significant activity, miles walked, and sleep. Fitbit also offers a pretty nifty web interface as well.

healthgear

So how is this working out? I continue to pay close attention to my diet and I’m exercising on average five days a week. In May 2014 I returned to the doctor for my annual physical weighing in at 210 pounds – 40 pounds from a year earlier. My bloodwork showed significant improvements in all of the areas that had concerned my doctor a year earlier. “You’re still ugly“, the doctor told me, “But you’re heading in the right direction”.

Go and be intentional…

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