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November 2005
Success Harmony Newsletter


At a recent comedy show, I wondered why the MC introduced me the way he did. Most MC's say something about how funny the next performer is, but he referred to my looks and cultural background instead. Perfect introduction for a speech, but it felt like an "oh-oh" as part of a "make 'em laugh" show. So I asked him about the introduction later on.

His response surprised me. He said, "I don't like to introduce people as funny. If you weren't funny, you wouldn't be here. I like to look for something unique in a person and that's how I introduce." So there it was. Then he gave me some thoughts about the show, some things that worked and some things he thought might improve it. He was willing to give the latter only with a strong "I'm honest and most people don't like honesty" disclaimer, and yet his feedback was nothing but insightful and helpful. Why would we have issues with another person's honesty in their feedback?

I like feedback now but that wasn't always the case. As the textbook-case immigrant from a communist country, we learned early on that if you want to get something done, you don't rely on anybody but yourself. You need your car fixed? Would you prefer to wait in a line-up of other goofballs waiting for three months for a garage appointment, or would you rather learn a bit about cars to do it yourself? Would you be OK with the government scrambling your radio and TV signal from the free West, or might you devise a few tricks to descramble the signal? Would you be at the mercy of the latest Communist-devised fashion, or learn to sew a little yourself and avoid the suffering? It went on and on. In the freedom of the new country, new choices of ultra-specialized people were available to be hired at every turn, but that meant being like a kid with 25 cents in a candy store where even the smallest bite-size marshmallow costs a buck. Poor people learn quickly that there aren't too many people specializing in helping them out. If you want to climb up, you'd better build the ladder yourself if you don't have the cash to buy it or the friends to borrow it.
More I-can-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much attitude. The more that was around, the harder it was to invite or even allow others to help. Even feedback wasn't too welcome, as it meant that I was failing at doing it all myself.

Over time, I have learned that while the lone Marlboro man in the prairie may look macho and cool, it isn't as much fun to do it all alone as it is to work with others, especially with those much better skilled than I am. I have heard it said that "first grade people hire first grade people, and second grade people hire third grade people". When we don't have enough strength of our own, we tend to see people who are more talented than us as a threat. If someone has a better idea than we do, it must be because we are not smart enough. We don't like that, so we try to prevent this "oh, I ain't good enough" feeling by hanging out with people who are less than our standards. Oh, if Joe didn't finish his high school degree, maybe I don't have to feel badly that I didn't go to college. After all, I'm further along than Joe. If my friends' lives are not going far, maybe my fourteenth year as a Walmart janitor doesn't seem so bad. At least I've GOT a job. And so it goes.

There is a huge shift that happens when we gain momentum in greater self-esteem. I can't quite tell if it's plain laziness that kicks in at some point when we realize it's just too darned hard to get everything done on our own. When our first brilliant friend or colleague suggests a superb idea, we take it, and save some time or money, now the thought process is different. Instead of feeling badly that I am not as smart, I applaud the idea and I acknowledge the friend. I gain an idea, the friend gains some extra pride. Everyone gains in the moment and probably even more so in the long term. My acknowledgement may get him to think of more ideas (funny how we tend to get more inspired when people want us to do well, and less inspired when people poo-poo on the latest flash of brilliance we got in the shower that morning). Hmm. Chances are that some of the new ideas might even come my way again. Maybe his ideas might spur some new ideas in me. And, and, and… All of a sudden, having access to brilliant people opens up new doors and possibilities that we simply could not imagine on our own.

Even feedback is now different. What may have felt at one point as a nasty criticism now becomes something to see as assistance. We can't possibly see ourselves as objectively as someone watching our performance. When the person watching cares about us and wants us to do well, their feedback may shave years off trial and error. Whether such people are paid (advisors, colleagues, etc.) or unpaid (friends, mentors, mothers and mothers-in-law), their perspective and assistance helps us play a much bigger game than what we can hope for on our own.

When you have the opportunity again (I reckon it may be sooner than you might think) when someone's assistance may come up, try "thank you, I would appreciate that greatly" rather than "buzz off, I am just fine moving this 200-ton boulder off my foot just fine". And when you have the opportunity to hang out with someone much smarter, more fit, or better looking than you, take the chance. You might be surprised to what further heights you may soar!

Sunshine and smiles,


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