Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Delayed Reaction

I watched a movie a few weeks ago called “Flash of Genius”. The movie was based on the true story of Robert Kearns, the man who invented the “delay” feature that is now part of the windshield wiper systems of every car manufactured today.

The movie depicted how Kearns was able to solve a problem that had, to that date, stumped the engineers of all the major car companies. In fine fashion, Ford Motor Company then stole his idea and he was forced to spend years in legal battles with Ford to gain credit for his patent, which he was eventually able to do. Chalk one up for the small guy.

What was most interesting to me, however, was the time at which this happened. Kearn’s original patent was filed in 1964. Remember, he was able to figure out the solution to a problem that was baffling the best car engineers of the day: how to delay the timing on windshield wipers.

Why is that so interesting?

Well, think about it. The time is 1964.

The Brooklyn Bridge had been constructed a half century before. We had already split the atom, invented atomic weapons, and had a fleet of nuclear powered submarines prowling the oceans. We had invented radio and television, broken the sound barrier with manned flight, and put an object into orbit around the planet.

We had done all of those incredible things – and many, many more – and yet we couldn’t figure out how to make a windshield wiper delay for a second or two until 1964.

That just absolutely boggles my mind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Cancer of Negativity

Note: Every month our local newspaper, the Casey County News, graciously affords me valuable space to contribute an article on behalf of our local Chamber of Commerce. The below article ran in last week's paper. I almost didn't send it in because I thought it might be too personal and not "newsy" enough, but I have received more comments about it from our local residents than any other article I've written in the past 2 years. On the assumption that maybe I did something right, I thought I would share it here.

Five years ago I almost got fired.

It was a shocking experience, because nothing like it had ever happened to me before, and I never saw it coming.

For years I had been a sales manager with VERITAS Software, and a good one at that. But the head of our department – my boss – was entirely self-serving. Under his “leadership”, a similar attitude was bred among most of my fellow managers, and while they were busy furthering their careers, indulging in 3-hour lunches, and pretty much doing as they pleased, their employees lived in a neglected, hostile work environment.

I tried to keep myself apart from my peers as much as possible. I was committed to those who worked for me, rather than for myself. My own employees frequently told me how glad they were that they had me as a boss, while many others told me that they wished they did.

And then one day we got a new department head, and everything changed.

I loved my new boss. He was down to earth, grounded, and dedicated to doing the right things for the right reasons. 3-hour lunches were suddenly a thing of the past.

I felt a great deal of excitement, not only at the prospects of what the future might hold, but also in the knowledge that my self-serving peers were finally going to get what they deserved.

So imagine my surprise when less than 2 months later I found out that it was my head on the chopping block. I went home that day with an ultimatum from my new boss: “decide if you want to work here, but know that even if you say yes, one more mistake and you’re gone”.

I spent that night in a confused daze, trying desperately to understand what was going on, until finally, I had no other choice but to look at myself. I didn’t like what I saw.

Ever since my new boss arrived, I had been waiting for my fellow managers to get what they had coming to them. What I hadn’t noticed, however, was that none of them were acting selfishly anymore; now that they had a true leader, they were working together as a team for a common good.

But I wasn’t.

Because of my own vengeful desire, I was working for their failure, and as a result, every word I said was motivated by that desire, and it was all negative. Without even realizing it, I had somehow allowed myself to become the very thing that I had always fought against.

Instead of being a pillar of strength for my new boss to lean on, I had become his biggest problem. I was a cancer that was eating away at his organization from within, and like any cancer, I had to be removed in order for the body to live.

Understanding this brought me incredible amount of relief, as well as an equal amount of shame. This was not who I was. Luckily, I still had a chance to prove it. So I did. I forgave the past, I let go of my hate, and I started clean. From that point on, everything was different. Everything was better.

So what does this have to do with commerce?

All of the organizations here in Casey County – whether individual businesses or the community as a whole – have a lot of issues to deal with. The good news is that there are a lot of good people working really hard to make things better. But there are also a fair number of people who have allowed themselves to become predominantly negative in the comments that they share.

The irony is that those people who voice negative comments truly do want things to get better, and yet their own negative words actually work to prevent things from changing.

All of us would like to see a brighter future for Casey County; for our businesses, our organizations, our churches, and our community as a whole. But to accept a brighter future, we have to walk away from the past. We have to let it go.

There is no other way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I received a rather nasty comment last week to a post that I wrote a long time ago. The comment bothered me because it was apparent that the person knew me personally – either now or at some point in the past – and obviously held me in low enough regard to make a hurtful comment while staying under the cover of anonymity.

It wasn’t the comment that upset me so much; it was more in finding out that someone that knows me personally doesn’t like me. Don’t get me wrong on that; it has nothing to do with ego or a need to be “loved by everyone”. I’m not quite that shallow. It’s just that I’m honestly puzzled about who I might have offended. I just don’t know. And that bothers me.

But while I may not be able to do anything about the commenter, I would like to address their comment, or at least the subject of it – addiction – because it might help those of you who have never experienced addiction if you understand what’s going on with people who have.

I’ll get straight to the point: I am a drug addict.

While my drug of choice – nicotine – is legal and may seem mild compared to others, I don’t try to sugarcoat what I am. I’m not a “smoker”, I don’t suffer from a “bad habit”; I am an addict. It’s that simple.

I started smoking when I was 13, which puts me at 30 years and counting. And I’m not a casual smoker either; I smoke like I mean it. Two packs a day. Every day.

I can’t stop.

I don’t say this because I want your sympathy or pity; I am very aware of the fact that I could stop if I really wanted to. But that’s the thing; I don’t really want to, and I just want you to understand why.

Because that’s the question, right? Why wouldn’t I want to stop? Why would any halfway intelligent person smoke when they know how bad it is for them?

Believe me, I know every single reason there is to stop smoking, and I would wager that, by experience, I can name a few more reasons that you aren’t even aware of.

So why don’t I just stop then? Simple answer: Fear.

When most people think about addiction – and I mean those who are not addicts themselves – they think about the physical withdrawals to the drug, whether it’s nicotine, alcohol, meth, or whatever. Regarding cigarettes, you see the patches and the gums and all of the other things that are supposed to ease withdrawal. And they do work, by the way. So what’s the big deal with quitting then?

That’s what I want to explain, because I’ve had the opportunity to give that question a great deal of thought while “standing on the front lines”, so to speak.

The problem is that there are two parts to addiction. The first is the physical addiction.

When you start putting a drug into your body, it throws your body’s balance out of whack, and being the smart machine that it is, the body automatically makes adjustments to compensate for it.

When you continue to put that drug into your body, your body continues to adjust to it, and after awhile, this new condition – drug & compensation – becomes the new “normal”. Your body starts to expect that this drug is going to continue, and if it stops, it throws everything out of whack again.

Your body realizes that something is “wrong” and tells you to fix it. With a craving.

A craving is a lot like hunger. Non-addicts understand hunger. Your body wants food and you get hungry. If you get something to eat, the hunger goes away. For a little while. At some point you get hungry again, you eat again, the hunger goes away again. Same thing with a drug.

And, like hunger, if you don’t eat something, the hunger doesn’t go away; it starts to get stronger. Where at first it might have been mildly annoying, after awhile it starts becoming imperative. You really need something to eat. Same thing with a drug.

At some point, if you continue to resist your hunger by not eating, your body starts having a physical reaction – fatigue, stomach cramps, shaking, faintness, shortness of temper, loss of concentration, etc. Your body is, in effect, going through withdrawals. It wants food, and you’re not giving it any. Same thing with a drug.

And here’s the thing: All you have to do to make that physical discomfort go away is to eat something. That’s it. Same thing with a drug.

The difference between hunger and drug addiction is that if you don’t address your hunger, your body eventually will start to self destruct. With addiction, the body will only go so far, and then it will start to rebound. Your body has to have food; it doesn’t have to have the drug.

For an addict, if you can make it through that incredibly uncomfortable period of days (or weeks), your body will eventually fix itself. It will balance itself out back to the old “normal”, just like it was before the drug use started.

It’s this physical reaction that all of the patches, gums, and other drugs are aimed at relieving. They help the addict get through that withdrawal period by easing the physical symptoms until such time that the body is no longer craving the drug.

Sounds simple. Sure, it’s an uncomfortable period of time, even with the patches & gums, but it’s not forever; you know it will eventually end. You just have to hang in there until it does.

But the physical addiction is only half of the story, and I would suggest – at least for me – the lesser half. I can handle pain. I’ve been uncomfortable before. For me, the real battle is overcoming the mental addiction.

How do I explain what I mean by mental addiction?

Think of it this way: imagine yourself going through everything that you do in a normal day. Eating breakfast, driving your car, working or going to school, getting groceries, spending some time with friends and family – whatever it is that you normally do during your day.

Imagine yourself doing all of those things just like you normally do, with one exception: You are completely naked. No clothes at all. Everyone else is dressed; you’re not.

Don’t take this lightly; try to really imagine that you are doing it, or that you will have to do it. How would it make you feel? Would it be uncomfortable for you? Could you honestly do it at all?

It’s important to understand that going through your day naked would have no physical effect on you whatsoever. It wouldn’t hurt. There would be absolutely no pain at all.

But could you do it? Of course, you could do it, but would you? Even if it was in your best interests to do so? It's all about "willpower", right?

That’s kind of what the mental addiction to a drug feels like. It's not exactly the same, but that's as close as I can describe it. Like clothing, you don't really need it, but it has become so much a part of your life that you cannot imagine living your life without it.

And it’s incredibly powerful too, far more powerful than the physical addiction (at least for me). It’s so powerful, in fact, that just by seriously thinking about quitting, my body will start exhibiting physical withdrawal symptoms, even if I’m smoking while I’m thinking about it. That’s some serious mojo.

Now ask yourself, if you had your choice of either going through your day feeling as physically bad as you’ve ever felt, or going through your day naked, which would you choose? My guess is that you’d probably take the physical discomfort over nakedness. I would too.

But what if you had to do both? Not only would you have to feel physically terrible, but you’d also be completely naked at the same time. And not just for one day either; you have to do this for weeks. And you know from talking to other recovering addicts that the desire never really ever goes away entirely. You’ll always be in some state of undress for the rest of your life.

Would you go through that if you didn’t have to? What if you could just . . . postpone it for awhile? Would you do that instead? Be honest. Just for a little while? Because you can, you know.

It’s easy.

And suddenly 30 years have gone by.

Please know that I’m not making excuses for myself. I know what I need to do. I have that conversation with myself every day. I know I’m pushing my luck, and I know that my luck will only go so far. Maybe it’s already passed the point of no return. I don’t know.

But I didn’t write this for sympathy. I wrote it because maybe it will help those of you who aren't addicts to have some understanding of what’s really going on with someone who is. And maybe it might also help someone else to never make the mistake I did.

Not all knowledge is worth gaining. On the topic of addiction at least, I often wonder what it must feel like to be blissfully ignorant.