The Power of an Apology

November 9, 2009

I had an interesting experience recently while swimming.

As I was preparing to get into the pool, another swimmer was getting into the same lane at the opposite end. As is the normal etiquette, I waved to her indicating which side of the lane I’d take, and she waved back. As I started to slide in, I realized I’d forgotten to shower so I went back into the locker room, took a quick shower and hopped into the pool

The other swimmer was about mid-way up the lane, semi-stroking, floating along on her back as I pushed off. As I passed her, she let out a screech and started screaming at me. “What are you doing? You scared the hell out of me! Why are you in my lane?!?”

I wish I’d had a picture of my face. I came out of the water like a jack-in-the box, jaws wide open, eyes bigger than my goggles. What shot through my head and hit the tip of my tongue was “You stupid &!*#! What do you think I’m doing? I waved, you waved back. I’m swimming my laps! What’s with you? What are you doing in a swim lane if you don’t understand proper etiquette?”

What actually came out of my mouth was “I’m sorry. When I waved and you waved back I thought you knew I was sharing the lane with you. I didn’t intend to scare you. It was my fault. Do you mind if I share the lane with you?”

I don’t remember the response other than anger and dismissiveness as she bee-lined for the lifeguard to report me. I found out later that she was a first time swimmer and thought I was just waving earlier to be nice. When I ducked back in for my shower, she had thought I’d left and she started swimming.

When she finished her tête-à-tête with the lifeguard, she got back into the pool in another, now-open lane and we both went about our work-out. When I finished, I went over to her again and repeated my apology, almost verbatim. I genuinely was sorry that I’d startled her. She scolded me slightly and accepted my apology. I said, “Thank you. Take care.”

To be honest, I was slightly irritated that I was taking the rap for doing what was a normal custom. But, what the hell? In my mind, I startled her and I didn’t want her to feel she was under any kind of threat. Was there any cost to me to be kind rather than acting defensive?

The next time I swam, she was a couple of lanes over and waved at me as I popped up between laps. Later, in the whirlpool, she laughed at a story I told a buddy and we chatted like we were old friends. Again, to be honest, I found myself wanting to defend my actions and let her know that I’d been right in following decorum. After all, who was she to question me? Hell, I’ve been swimming for years. I know the rules!!! Like, who are you, lap-queen?

At the same time I was thinking, “You know, this is childish. Who gives a crap? Let it go and just be friendly.”

One of the greatest realizations I’ve come to through the years is that most of the baggage people carry through life is of their own choosing. And most of that weight is caused by lack of forgiveness over relatively small matters. Most problems come down to simple misunderstandings between people, over who’s following the proper “rules.” But through listening and not being defensive, even the most complicated problems really aren’t as complicated as they’re made out to be, once people just take the time to understand one another.

Anyway, I think I have a new pool buddy. Her name is Sandra.

Charles Gupton

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Are You Playing to Win?

November 2, 2009

What I appreciate about athletics – tennis in particular – is that sheer persistence, just keeping the ball in play, can often win the point and eventually the match. But there are times as well when one just needs to put the ball away. ‘Cause if you don’t, your opponent is going to. Trouble is knowing when to play it safe and when to go for a riskier, winning shot.

I decided some time back that I was going to play every shot that I could, as aggressively as I could. Even when I couldn’t get a clear winner out of a shot, I was going to try to set up a play so that the next shot could be. But my problem is that I lose a lot of points on very close shots. The upside is that when I win the point, I feel even better knowing that I wasn’t playing safe. Whether I win or lose the match, I go home with the knowledge that I played my heart out.

What’s required most days in my work, though, is persistence. Keeping at the tasks of the day – keeping the ball in play, as it were – is what keeps my day in motion rather than slamming one or two big projects or goals and feeling like I’ve scored a winner. What troubles me about a persistence mindset, however, is that it can draw me into a play-it-safe attitude, and I know after many years in business that playing it safe is one of the biggest risks one can take.

Playing it safe virtually eliminates exploration, which shuts down creativity. You can’t create without trying new things, which is what exploration is all about. And in this economy, when so many people are playing it safe on every front, what better way to set yourself apart in business, and in all of life for that matter, than being creative, attempting the unexpected? In other words, going for a winner, which is what taking risks is all about.

So how about you? Can you afford the risk of not taking risks? Are you playing to win or to just keep from losing?

Charles Gupton

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Are You a Crazymaker?

October 12, 2009

Every family has them. So it also seems with every office, church, PTA, community group or anywhere there are a handful of people gathered in real or virtual proximity.

They are crazymakers.

I got the term from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and they’re people who seem to have too much time on their hands to mind their own affairs, so they focus their attention on minding other people’s business to the point that it seems they stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. In Cameron’s words, they are “charismatic but out of control, long on problems but short on solutions…the kind of people who can take over your whole life. Crazymakers like drama…everyone around them functions as supporting cast.”

I hate to admit it, but when I first read the term I thought, “Ouch, I resemble that.”  Creative people, I believe, are especially prone to become crazymakers when they become focused on something besides the work they need to be creating.

A number of years ago, I was cranking out a lot of very profitable but less than inspiring images in my work. Even though I was shooting a good number of photographs, very few of them inspired or even involved my heart. That seemed to leave me plenty of time and energy to “make crazy” in the relationships around me. Few people were safe.

Fortunately, I saw the problem in time enough not to dismantle all my relationships. What that period did do for me was cause me to see that: 1) my creative energy and direction was more important than merely focusing on the financial goals and 2) even more importantly, to recognize other crazymakers for what they are so that I can avoid being drawn down into their pit of uncreative despair.

This doesn’t mean that crazymakers aren’t creative – it’s just that most of their creativity goes into their drama rather than productive work.

All of this came up because a couple of crazymakers in different compartments of my life recently raised their heads and tried to make crazy. In the past, I would have reacted and been drawn into their game. But, being a recovering crazymaker myself, I called their bluff and turned back to the work before me.

So I ask, are you doing the work you need to do to keep you from making crazy in the lives around you? Or, are there crazymakers around you whose emotional baggage you need to jettison to make the way easier to be more productive in your work?


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Will Falling in Love Make You Creative?

October 7, 2009

In the past week I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ASMP sponsored presentations by photographers Paula Lerner and Gail Mooney. Although I saw them on different nights, in different cities, I was not surprised to learn that they occasionally do presentations together. Both of them come out of a still photography background and have moved in the direction of coupling their knowledge of stills with video and audio skills to create incredibly moving multimedia pieces.

What continued to move me after both nights was more than the beauty of the work they’ve created. What added inspiration to my heart was their continuous passion to pursue their individual vision. Each of them showed personal projects that were obvious labors of love. But just as exciting were the commercial projects that revealed their love of communicating a story. The key in both

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

instances was not just their technical skills but their passion as storytellers. The love they have for their work is palpable.

Their photographs were still playing in my mind this morning as I was reading a story at about one’s creativity being enhanced by falling in love. As I scrolled down the page, my perspective on the creative process got dialed in a little tighter. In essence, the research the article is based on looks at the global processing that our minds do when we engage in thinking about love from a long-term perspective. This is in contrast to the local processing that we do when our minds focus on short-term sexual desire. The hypothesis is that a long-term passion/perspective produces a more sustained, creative outlook, whereas a short-term, more “casual-sex” perspective produces a more analytical, less creative approach.

A couple of paragraphs into the article, I pictured an analogy to different perspectives towards business that I often witness. One is the short-term focus on getting the next project/client that (hopefully) will pay the over-due bills sitting on the desk.  It is analogous to the “one-night stand” approach to relationships that may bring an immediate relief to the need to pay one’s bills but seldom leads to long-term satisfaction with the body of work that’s being created.

The other perspective, of course, is a longer-term relationship with one’s creative vision motivated by a passion to see that vision realized. That work is hard, but we make it even more difficult when we attempt to go it alone. I’ve come to believe that building a relationship, even with our own vision, requires a commitment to building relationships with other people. Finding other creative collaborators to work with allows one to focus on the big-picture, long-term view of a project without getting bogged down in the details that can rob one’s vital, creative energy. Plus it allows for other perspectives and objectivity in the work we’re doing.

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Paula made a comment during her talk indicating that her business model had transformed from one of shooting many assignments for myriad clients to a model of fewer clients wanting a deeper, more intimate body of work to use to tell their story. That change is allowing for a richer, more rewarding relationship with her clients and her vision.

As I meet with business people in dozens of different fields, it’s readily apparent to me whether they are taking a long-term approach to their business and relationships or a short-term, “I need this deal now!” view. As desperate as these economic times seem to be, I believe it’s the global, big-picture view that will produce a greater contentment and a better body of work to offer our clients.

What’s your take on this?


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Rustout vs. Burnout

September 22, 2009

Consider this thought from Richard Leider and Stephen Buchholz from their book:

“A subtle killer stalks America.  This insidious force is more prevalent than heart disease, cancer or alcoholism, yet little is done to prevent it or effect a cure.  We call it “rustout.”  Rustout is the slow death that follows when we stop making choices that keep life alive.  It’s the feeling of numbness that comes from taking the safe way, never accepting new challenges, continually surrendering to the day-to-day routine.  Rustout means we are no longer growing, but at best, are simply maintaining.  It implies that we have traded the sensation of life for the security of a paycheck.  Rustout is the opposite of burnout.  Burnout is overdoing.  Rustout is underbeing.”

I see so many people, everyday, suffering from the symptoms of “rustout” They’ve been paralyzed by fear that tells them they have no choices. The path they’re on is the only one available to them. Trying new things is too dangerous to consider.

This, of course, is a self-perpetuating lie. What’s more dangerous is not taking risk. Not making choices that keep us engaged and alive. Rustout is a disease of the heart. It’s a heart killer. And we know that when our heart dies, we die.

What are you doing to break the rust? Better yet, what are you doing to keep the rust from getting hold?

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Significant Opportunity

May 18, 2009

Do you think you’re powerless to make a significant change?

I encourage you to find a friend, your spouse, a parent, or someone else who’s significant in your life. Take their hand. Look them in the eye.

Tell them that you love them. Tell them some way that they have had an impact on your life or made a difference in how you think about matters. Let them know their care for you is important and that you care for them.

Don’t think that’s significant? Think about what it would mean for someone to do it for you.

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Not Without Hope – Nancy Stolfo-Corti

April 16, 2009

I met Nancy over a dinner shared by a group of disparate but like-minded folks. Everyone was an entrepreneur and an idea-driven individual. Although an introvert by nature, Nancy does not let her need for quiet reflection and thinking keep her from serving and caring for numerous people around her. She has a passion for nourishing people, not just through food but also by listening and showing compassion. We’ve met for coffee and lunch on a couple of occasions and each time my spirit is filled with joy and delight.

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Nancy Stolfo-Corti in her kitchen

Nancy Stolfo-Corti in her kitchen

If we waited for the perfect time to have children, to get married or to buy a house, there would be very few homes and/or children created. In times of crisis, you must take what you have and move forward- there is never going to be a better time to do anything- so why should difficult times be any different? Take inventory of what is right in your world and use that to carry you through. In the words of Winston Churchill, “If you are going through Hell, just keep going.”  I have.

Living most of my adult life in Tuscany, I learned a valuable lesson- the less people had the more they were willing to give. Of all the locals that I met while living there, the most noble of beings were the country folk that gave generously of their larders and their knowledge. They brought me fresh cheeses, eggs and tomatoes for my small children. They showed me how to find edible wild greens in the fields, and mushrooms, asparagus and berries in the woods. They taught me about dried beans and grains and how to make my own bread with just flour, water and a small piece of old dough as a starter. They taught me that the richness I had was in my parents who taught me to be imaginative and generous. The generosity of these people was not in what they gave as much as what they taught me and how they made me feel.

I have never been hungry and have always been able to make a feast even when I was unemployed and down on my luck. One year, when I was particularly homesick and wanted a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, my husband made me feel guilty about the expense – pumpkins in Italy, in the fall, can run over $100 apiece – because it was something he didn’t think we needed. I got my jack-o-lantern but also used the flesh to create pies, ravioli, lasagna, velvety soups, breads and jams. Better yet, I was able to share my feasts with friends, family and perfect strangers who were struggling even more than we were.

With kindness and creativity, we can make the dreariest of times magical.

When people dwell on the negative aspects of life they seem to multiply. I know people who complain that their life is ‘crap’. My suggestion is to take their bag of  ‘manure’ and find a garden to fertilize. There’s always something you can do, no matter how small – give your time to help a neighbor, write letters to or for an elderly person, bring someone flowers, or commit any act of kindness. You have the ability to make your world right. And, when you have righted your world, the rest of the world will follow. You can always have hope. ~ Nancy Stolfo-Corti