Asking others to read your writing for the first time is a job interview. I guess that’s why publishers put author bios in books and look for respected people in the field to add blurbs to back covers. They tell the prospective readers why they should spend their valuable time reading the book.
I have created a web site for the world to consider. In my mission statement, I promise to share “examples, tools, discoveries, and ideas for well-rounded problem-solvers who seek high performance and balance in their lives.” For you to continue reading, you need to know that I have a background as a problem-solver. You need to know that I have experience in high performance and in achieving balance. I need to show I have traveled on these paths. I need a passion for future exploration. I need the willingness to share. I need to be valued and relatable.
That’s a tall order. Let me structure this discussion into sections and think this through. Essay questions. I hope the teachers grade fairly.
How have you been a problem-solver in your life?
Problem-solving has always been one of my strengths. At four years old, I took apart the family toaster to see how it worked. Although I’m sure I didn’t put it back together, I have always had technical curiosity. I have wanted to see how things worked. When I came upon broken things, I tried to fix them.
This desire to repair the broken led me to an electronics hobby that started as a pre-teen. For an electronic device I wasn’t able to get working, I would unsolder the components and classify them with a stack of electronic component catalogs I kept by my side. As I got into my late 30s, I let this hobby fade for a while. In recent years, I rediscovered the electronics hobby and learned that it still has a vibrant community in ham radio. I got my technician, general, and amateur extra radio licenses.
After finishing a two-year degree in Liberal Arts in 1985, I joined the Air Force as an Inertial and Doppler Radar Technician. By the time I finished ten months of technical training, the Air Force had merged avionics classifications. I ended up as a Communications and Navigation Systems Specialist (AFSC 455x2) working on C-130s and C-9s in Germany. We had a fairly unique opportunity at the 435 Field Maintenance Squadron. We could troubleshoot and repair at the line level, the module level, and the component level. There’s no better job satisfaction than to pull a black box off of a plane, hook it to test bench, identify the module that was bad, find the bad resistor or capacitor on the module, replace it, re-certify the black box, return it to the plane, and sign off the defect—all during the same work shift. Those opportunities were rare, but I went home on those days feeling like I mastered the machines.
I left the military to join the airlines working avionics for eleven years—first Midway Airlines, then Delta. Delta hired me with my FCC General Radiotelephone license as an avionics tech, but gave me two years to get my FAA Airframe and Powerplant licenses. I self-studied, kept a log of mechanical work I did over the years, and, combined with documented time from Midway, got my tickets. Throughout my nine years there, I troubleshot some challenging electrical and mechanical problems. I was good at it. In the three years before I career-changed, I taught avionics courses to technicians and created a tool center, complete with a bar code tracking system I wrote myself.
Throughout all these years, I had been chipping away at night classes. I got an A.S. in Avionic Systems Technology while I was in the Air Force. While at Delta, I earned a B.S. in Management Studies and then an M.S. in Computer Information Systems. I had programmed computers since I was 14 and had gotten Java developer certification while working on my M.S. One night, while working the midnight shift, I was feeling tired from the odd hours and unsatisfied with my job. I floated a resume on Monster.com from the tool room computer during an idle moment around four in the morning. By the time I got home at 10 a.m., I had three calls from recruiters on my answering machine.
Silverstream Software hired me as a QA engineer, where I found and reported bugs in enterprise software, devised testing procedures, and refined testing systems. The job was great. It had all the troubleshooting and problem-solving of mechanics and avionics, but it was warm, clean, and paid better. As the years progressed, leadership roles came my way. I took them because I was comfortable leading groups. I had been a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force, ran two large projects at Delta (training and then tooling), and had many hundreds of classroom hours in business courses. Within three years, I had become an engineering manager with new sets of problems to solve–team problems, people problems, and project problems.
Around the time I became a manager, I began desiring more schooling. It seemed the next logical step was a PhD, although I didn’t really know what that meant. I looked into what various brick and mortar schools and remote learning schools offered. I needed to align my doctoral program with my prior academic and professional experience, so I was looking for a blend of business and computer science. The study had to align with my work and the school needed regional accreditation to meet the company’s tuition reimbursement requirements. I had a demanding full-time job with a 90 minute each-way commute and three teenaged kids at home, so I didn’t have the luxury of being tied to a campus that added a second commute to my day. I ended up choosing Northcentral University’s PhD in Business Administration with a Specialization in Applied Computer Science program. The accredited school had favorable reviews, had online programs, and had been around for a while. I knew I’d end up with a doctorate that didn’t carry the affiliation prestige of a school with a local campus, but at least it was possible I could succeed. I didn’t need the credential, anyway; I just wanted to continue my learning.
I underestimated the amount of work that degree project would take. I took ten calendar years, including some leaves-of-absence. In the end, I succeeded. On this journey, I solved hundreds of problems with discipline, management, research, statistics, and writing. It was the most difficult and long challenge of my life. Although the achievement provided little tangible value to me, I think it was worth the effort. Working to that goal changed me at the most fundamental level. It rewired me.
Tell us about your journey to find balance.
Part two of my essay exam asks me about my journey, my journey to “find balance.” This has indeed been an endeavor that has spanned my adult life. It probably was there in my youth, as well, but that earlier life was both the beauty of the purer me and a time when my unfettered spirit wandered a bit too much. As a young adult—maybe starting at 18 during my post-high-school “break year”—I began to recognize what wandering left behind.
By nature, I love to swim the event stream, excited by the electricity jolts of interruption and the newness of the sideways journey. It’s exciting to jump from thought to thought to thought. It was somewhere around my break year that I realized that this ability I had of being able to surf such streams of thought was also my Achilles heel. I realized that I needed discipline and I needed goals.
So, I began to make lists—a practice which has been used throughout my life since then. Making lists is something outside my nature. I have to force myself to do them. They are also something that has led me to a solid list of accomplishments in my life. A daily habit list led me to sit down to write these words this morning. A failure to stick to my habit list earlier this week permitted me not write for three days. Imperfection and the strife towards perfection are themes in my life and themes of the nature of man.
Finding a balance between the elements of my nature that I love—but don’t lend to accomplishing goals—and forced behaviors that I do not enjoy—but lead me achieving the things I want—has been something that I have worked at my whole adult life. I am willing to share my observations and experiences. I can lead conversations on “balance” in this community.
What are you doing to perform more highly in the future?
The idea of high-performance is ambiguous. With this site, I intend to explore the ideas in its many incarnations. At the moment, I envision “high-performance” in my life to mean maximizing my available energy each day and maximizing the focus of that energy to leave a positive legacy long after I leave this earth.
Each reader probably has some alternative view of what high-performance means. Perhaps that view is focused on competition, being “the best” in a given area. Perhaps it’s about having the greatest impact on the most people within their lifetime. For each person, it is a soul search. One common theme is the idea of maximizing or optimizing the effectiveness of the efforts that you make, having the greatest impact on something through a sustained focus of energy. This is an area that I have focused on for a long time.
My whole adult life I have explored productivity methods and tools. I have looked for ways to increase my energy and to wring out what I can from the days of lower productivity. I fall into ruts. I have had many failures along with my successes. I continue to look for ways to improve.
As the present becomes future, I will continue to explore new tools, techniques, and knowledge. I will share with you my explorations and experiences. I will manage and guide a community within this platform, so we can share and expand our understanding.
How are “finding balance” and “being well-rounded” similar? How are they different?
Being “well-rounded” is a sub-category of “finding balance.” The idea of finding balance is one where we consciously identify all the dimensions of our lives and make sure that we are intentional in giving each a chosen proportion of our energy. There are many ways to categorize the areas of your life, but one example of a breakdown could be professional, life skills, social relationships, spirituality, emotions, intellect, and health (See “Seven Dimensions of Wellness”.) These categories can be found in many places, from the 102 Great Ideas found in Mortimer Adler’s Syntopicon to those found baked into productivity applications and encapsulated in self-help regimens. We can choose the set that is right for us individually, given our own context and values.
The idea of being well-rounded at its simplest means be capable of many things. There are people who have done great things by obsessively focusing on one thing. Obsession, when it means higher motivation for being great at something, is healthy. For a few who are or will be the greatest at something, well-roundedness may work against them. For most of us, having a palette of talents will help us to better achieve our goals and to find more enjoyment in life. “Renaissance People” is the term that comes to mind. “Whole-brained” is another. This site focuses on those who look to have many dimensions, although does not exclude those who seek high performance at a single talent. In fact, we will welcome them. We can learn from each other.
Finding balance is different from being well-rounded in that it focuses on managing available energy and productivity, while well-roundedness requires molding the a group’s or individual’s portfolio of skills and talents, shaping his or her identity. The relationship between the two is lopsided. Being well-rounded is one way to improve balance. Finding balance doesn’t necessarily improve well-roundedness. Now that sounds like a claim that needs exploration. On another day.