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ironiya • this career-oriented blog—published on biweekly Wednesdays—looks at the positive and sometimes ironic sides of a kaleidoscopic range of workplace and life issues, from education and employment to discipline and discord •

the result of inaction: heavy brainfall

The consequences of a lack of exercise are swift and severe, especially as the calendar continues its relentless passage. With an abundance of physical activity, though, the benefits are equally extreme and measurable. Low cholesterol. Strong heart. Vibrant bones and muscles. Little excess body fat. Increased creativity and stamina.

 

But society works against all that in the name of "ease of use." The country as a whole no longer directly reaps the fields or catches animals and fish, instead sitting in offices day in and day out and ordering in. While passing through any thoroughfare in any town in any county in any state, one need not even get out of the car to load up on carbs and saturated fat, a circumstance ushered in by the glorious drive-thru window. Read More 

tireless preparation: personal kneads

Twenty-three thousand overachieving students apply to gain admittance to Harvard's freshman class of less than 2100. Three hundred highly qualified people apply for one job at IBM. The success rate for ambitious musicians to play at either Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden is far smaller. The list will always continue…

 

So many exceptionally qualified people find themselves in places not quite what their talents would otherwise suggest. Those less ambitious can simply chalk up such statistics to our highly competitive world and leave it at that, while others will plug away year after year in what will turn out to be a vain attempt to reach the loftier levels of human attainment. Read More 

humility and gratitude: aluminum foil

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What is it about the prevalent tendency toward one-upmanship? Why is it that pride is not always limited to the more interior pursuits of quiet knowledge, of meaningful achievement, of security borne of discipline and hard work? Must everything be on display?

Credit-card companies, for example, began peddling Gold cards in the 1980s as a way to distinguish the truly elite from the merely creditworthy. The 1990s brought Platinum cards. The 2000s even saw Titanium cards. Will the 2010s offer a Palladium card? Can a Rhodium card be far behind? And will an Iridium card grant to access to Mars, having bought everything else our earthly life could imagine? Read More 

the freedom of patience: losing wait

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Perspective is among the defining aspect of our days and nights, offering myriad ways to endure what cannot be changed. Why is it, then, that some people consistently face the clock with equanimity and acceptance, while others fight reality with the relentlessness of a watch’s hyperactive second hand?

Two people find themselves in stultifying rush-hour traffic, each needing to attend a key meeting, yet it looks like they’ll be late. (Sure, the easy answer is to simply leave earlier, yet so many no-fault things can interfere with that obvious goal.) One of them constantly cuts in and out of traffic, airbrushing cars right and left, and perpetually instigating the seeds of road rage, with all of that activity gaining a whopping quarter-mile “advantage” after half an hour. The other calls ahead to notify colleagues that he’ll be 30 minutes late, and asks whether the meeting can be delayed or promises to do whatever it takes to catch up with what is missed. He then uses the extra time to make hands-free calls that he’d otherwise have to get done while at the office, or listens to an engrossing audio book or language-learning CD. His blood pressure remains within safe levels and his day is that much richer, generally absent of stress-induced barking. Read More 

being held up: mug shots

The 8:30 a.m. conference at your downtown office will emphatically not wait for being held up in rush-hour traffic, for getting the kids ready for school in time for the bus, for finishing your preparation for the pending presentation, for putting gas in the car, for stopping at the ATM, for… for… for. If only you could have something to hold you up amidst the stress and lack of sleep that seem to purposely invade each week. Add waiting in line at Starbucks for that shot of espresso that briefly jolts the brain and body.

Why do we put ourselves in such a position? Must we stay up so late answering that enveloping stream of emails, watching and/or reading the end-of-day news, overextending to spouse and children? Well sure, this is contemporary life, when wanting it all comes with an inflationary price that only the weak decline to pay. Let the morning mugs of Colombian coffee be drained, let them be damned, but let them work! Read More 

taking small steps: light switch

Your job isn’t going quite the way you’d like. Perhaps it’s a recalcitrant employee, or if you’re on the other side of the door, an obstinate boss. Making even slight changes will go a long way toward showing your flexibility and understanding. Most people naturally and rightly respond to sincere effort. Stay an extra 10 or 15 minutes at the office a few days a week, or come in a bit earlier. Take all of five seconds to offer a good word or acknowledgement of a task well done. Read More 

the persistence of ego: flash lite

Each of us is born with distinct gifts, to be developed and expanded through discipline or desire, or to be left to fade through apathy or anxiety. They encompass the kaleidoscopic range of human experiences, from construction worker to concert pianist, from doorman to doctor, from gardener to golfer, from proctor to president. Yet why must society make delineations, create class categories, foster exclusivity?

A concert pianist must go through decades of disciplined practice on top of requiring the inborn gifts, yet is a construction worker—who labors through years of apprenticeship and stultifying weather conditions while helping to create homes and offices—any less valuable? Read More 

the corporate ladder: climb and punishment

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For so many teenagers, it’s simply not an option. Their grades must be exemplary. Their SAT and ACT scores must be in one of those coveted eat-sleep-and-drink percentiles. Their college applications must be loaded with everything from athletics to community involvement. Their college grades must stand out, even when surrounded by standout students. Their graduate school years must reflect pinpoint focus. All of this more often than not leads to punishing 80-hour weeks at that longed-for corporate job, where creativity, freedom and empathy are shunted aside in favor of six-figure prestige and tireless climbing. Read More 

the absence of discipline: canceled checks

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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 tightly 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. Read More 

confronting consequences: the glass sealing

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Perhaps the report doesn’t need those few extra pages, or the annual checkup can
wait a few more months, or you’re sure the car can go a few thousand more miles
before its oil change, or the complicated home project is almost good enough, or… or… or.

It’s not unusual to become tired in what can be a difficult economy or with the kaleidoscopic range of daily obligations, to feel that just making it through the most urgent priorities is enough, to leave uncompromising thoroughness for another, more doable day. Read More