Sunday, March 27, 2005

Arrogance or Charisma ?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine over coffee this week about the outward persona of some Hollywood celebrities. I mentioned that I wasn't too fond of Brad Pitt, and I thought him arrogant. My friend disagreed; he said he had charisma.

That made me think. What is the difference between arrogance and charisma ?

Arrogance is most certainly the more ubiquitous of the two qualitites. I have seen this in many people throughout my life. Their outward demeanor is ruled by an overbearing sense of self-importance. They think that everyone should like them, respect them, submit to them. They brag shamelessly about past conquests, whether real or embellished, and expect that this will garner respect and admiration. Perhaps it does in the short term, but over time, more intelligent members of the audience catch onto the tall tales and persistent air of unfounded superiority, and adjust their perception of the braggart accordingly.

Charisma is an entirely different quality, and is much more rare. A person with this gift is one that can inspire others, motivate them, guide them to follow. This person can elicit devotion from those they touch with any combination of charm, wit, enthusiasm and intelligence.

Of course, the arrogant person can also have all these positive qualities as well. But alongside these qualities, they have a hidden agenda of self-aggrandizement, control and haughty superiority, concerned only with the cultivation of their own narcissism. In contrast, the charismatic person influences others through their own inner strength and passion, with only the honest desire to deliver their message as motivation.

Perhaps, as my fellow coffee drinker pointed out, the interpretation of some people's outward facade is in the eye of the beholder. This can very well be true. Those that are insecure in themselves, or jealous of the success of others, can use negative words to attempt to bring the person in question down, or to exalt themselves in the eyes of others. Perhaps, the person in question's inner motivations are not readily apparent, and interpretation is left to the imagination of the audience - leaving the observers to apply their own opinions, experiences and internal biases to the speaker.

In my everyday life, I witness arrogance in almost every setting - from the latte sipping, cell-phone yapping SUV driver swerving through lanes and cutting off other drivers, to the Nextel chatters sharing both sides of their conversations with an unwitting train car full of riders, to the workplace braggarts who dominate every meeting and conference call, and have nothing positive to say about anyone but themselves. Just about anyone can be arrogant, but it takes a special person to be charismatic.

How to discern between the two ? One of my favorite tools is the old saying "Actions speak louder than words." I can listen to a person brag about their past accomplishments and conquests with interest and with approval. But that alone doesn't impress me much. What truly impresses me is how that person utilizes their skills, personality and abilities to address the task at hand. What impresses me is someone who not only says they are going to do something, they follow through with it - while treating others with respect and consideration, and while using negotiation and compromise (instead of intimidation and force) to achieve a mutually satisfactory solution. What matters most to me is not what that person says, but what that person does, and who that person truly is.

One can tell quite a bit about someone by how they treat the restaurant server, the cleaning lady/man, the checker at the grocery store, and someone else's pet. Do they treat all human beings (and their beloved furry companions) with the utmost of respect, gentleness and kindness ? Or do they treat those considered 'lesser' than them with contempt and scornful disdain ?

A fine example of true, unpretentious charisma is the CEO of my company. He goes to great lengths to let all of us, a company of over 40,000 employees worldwide, come to know him as a human being. Every month, he invites all employees with their birthdays in that month, to attend live question-and-answer sessions with him in person (or via videoconference to remote locations). He speaks openly and candidly of his priorities, his game plans and his visions, as well as the more personal side of his life. He refuses to be 'Mr. CEO', and instead, insists on being called by his first name by all his employees. A truly remarkable individual.

It's no wonder our company is one of the most successful high-tech enterprises in the world. His candid honesty, insistence on open communication, and development of an open culture has infiltrated all levels of the organization, so that each individual, at any level, feels that they can have a voice if they so choose. This type of empowerment has inspired greatness in many who work for him.

That is true charisma.

Of course, it seems ridiculous - almost blasphemous - to compare this great CEO with a Hollywood actor, but now I must ask - which category does Brad Pitt fall under ? I haven't decided that yet. I think I will need to watch him again, now that I have written all this out, before I make a diagnosis either way. What do you all think ? Is he arrogant or charismatic - or just a high-rolling pretty boy that doesn't need to open his mouth to be successful ? Weigh in at the "Comments" link directly below. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"Sono molto distratta" - Scatterbrained

As I rolled out of bed this morning at the customary (but disgusting) hour of 4:50am, I thought to myself that I should check if I had printed out my workout sheet for today. I always bring a workout sheet to the gym because there is no way I could possibly keep track of each day's tasks, weights and reps.

Of course, I forgot to look for the sheet, and buzzed off to catch the train with no time to spare.

When I arrived at the gym, I realized I didn't have the sheet. No problem, I said, I can try and remember. Improvise if I have to. My trainer is around, so he can help refresh my memory if needed. Problem solved, I thought.

Until I realized I'd also forgotten my gym clothes.

Great work there, genius ! And of course, today is a day that I chose to wear nice black jeans and not running pants like I sometimes do. Running pants can pass as gym clothes. Try to stretch and lift weights in these jeans, and I'll probably rip something. Either the jeans or a muscle, one of the two.

My dad used to say I'd forget my head if it wasn't screwed on my shoulders. Today, I proved this theory true.

Yes, my head is still where it should be. I just checked to be sure. Time to shake this noggin out and pour myself a nice, big cup of coffee. :)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Express Yourself

As teenagers and young adults, we choose the music, clothes, friends and activities that reflect our personalities. Sometimes, we make choices through peer pressure and desire to "fit in", but invariably, these preoccupations do not last as long as those that are made from our own innate desires. As adults, we choose our vehicles, our living spaces, the paint on our walls and the decorations on our workspaces (to name a few) to give the outside world a little glimpse into our lives. One of the most prevalent expressions of individuality in my age group, of course, is the vehicle.

It is not enough for me to simply have a generic car that takes me from point A to point B. Since I sometimes spend over 3 hours a day behind the wheel, my car, named Roo [Scroll to the bottom to see pics], is an extension of me. I have a personalized license plate, a San Francisco Giants sticker on my back window, and my Star of Life (EMS symbol) stickers on my rear 1/4 windows. Complete with the intricate stereo system, perky looks and peppy engine, Roo is a partial representation of who I am.

In my travels, I often come across unique and humorous methods that other people use to display their own personalities through their vehicles. Both of these very funny adornments were spotted by me last week during my commuting ritual. It is my pleasure to share them with you.

The first, a bumper sticker on the back of a car:

Everyone has a right to be stupid.
You're abusing the privilege !

The second, and my favorite, a license plate frame:



Ha !!! Love it !!!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wear Green or Get Pinched

Although I am not Irish, I often join in to the festive spirit by wearing green on St. Patrick's day. Unfortunately, on this day, it completely slipped my mind.

Earlier this morning, I was at the building that houses the gym, waiting for the shuttle and chatting it up with the lobby ambassador. All of a sudden, a loud, diabolical scream permeated through the stairwell door. The lobby ambassador and I, both EMTs, immediately jumped up and bolted to the stairwell door to investigate the source of the agonizing screech.

The door opened, and an employee, known by both of us, emerged, giggling like a schoolgirl.

His friend had not worn green today, and as punishment, this upstanding employee had pinched him.

Wow. Must have been one heck of a pinch !

Of course, once the pincher realized that I, too, was not wearing green, he made a break for me. Luckily I was able to duck into the waiting shuttle before becoming his next victim.

Happy St. Patrick's day everyone, and drink some green beer tonight if you wish ! :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Yesterday, while going out for lunch with a friend, I had the opportunity to demonstrate my satellite radio system that has been a fixture in my life for over two years. By paying a low monthly fee (much less than my previous CD budget), one can choose between over 100 digital-quality streams of music, talk, sports and news - uncensored and uninterrupted by commercials. It's a music-loving commuter's dream.

As I do with all my guests, I handed my friend, a soft-spoken, polite, church-going type, the Sirius program guide and offered to change the music to whatever stream he desired. He indicated a love of hip-hop, gospel and jazz. While he was figuring out the channel numbers for the latter two, I gladly hit my preset button to Hip Hop Nation.

The track that was playing ?

Fat Joe's "F**k 50". (Audio: RealOne)

A piece where one cannot discern the true lyrics from all the swearing.


Needless to say, the channel was changed very quickly to something more appropriate for the company. :)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Fear Factor

Last week in my firefighting class, our teacher, a fire captain and instructor for well over two decades, gave us a lecture about a problem that some students have once they complete their prerequisite classes and enter the Fire Academy. An integral part of the physical testing of the Academy is the ability to be able to maneuver, sometimes while carrying or dragging a victim, within tightly enclosed spaces. There are some students that experience stifling claustrophobia when placed in this position.

During the break, I overheard one of my fellow classmates speaking to our instructor about this issue. He said that it is possible he may have trouble, especially if he was in a situation where he could not move around. Hearing him speak of his fear reminded me of a time two years ago where I was made to face a fear of my own.

Castle Rock State Park. Spanning over the Santa Cruz mountains, it is an expansive stretch of pristine forest, cliffs, mountains and trails. The ERT Leads gathered there one crisp, foggy morning, to engage in a day-long training and teambuilding exercise.

We were asked to hike to various locations, solve first-aid related problems, transport patients on backboards across rugged terrain, and organize ourselves in response to a hypothetical mass-casualty incident.

We were also given the opportunity to rappel down a 150-foot high vertical cliff. It was atop this cliff that I came face-to-face with my paralyzing fear of heights.

I am not sure where this aversion originated. So far as I know, I have never experienced a traumatic event related to high places. In contrast, my petrifying fear of lightning is well-founded. Twice in my life so far, I have come within ten feet of being struck. The first (and most frightening) experience occurred in the supposed safety of my own home. Understandably, I am reduced to a whimpering, cowering mass during thunderstorms. But I cannot remember any equivalent experiences in my life that involved heights. I only know that I had been deathly afraid for as long as I could remember.

Standing at the top of that cliff, hooked securely into the harness, I was overcome by anxiety. My body was shaking, tears were welling in my eyes, and my breath was little more than short gasps of air. The only words I could muster were "I can't do this."

The guide, who was also my belayer, simply replied "You don't have to."

At that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Does my fear control me ? Or do I control my fear ?

Do I choose to allow my anxiety to prevent me from descending down this cliff ? Or do I choose to put those feelings aside and face my apprehension head-on ?

It was then that I made the conscious decision that I was going to control my fear. I had to trust my belayer. I had to trust my equipment. I had to trust myself to follow the instructions, to keep my focus, and to hold my concentration. And most importantly, I had to promise myself I would * not * look * down *.

I stood at the edge of that cliff, took a deep breath, grasped my hitch and rope, and stepped off.

I shimmied down that vertical rock face in seeming-record time; even more efficiently than the junior guide on our tour. I was on auto-pilot. I kept repeating the same messages over and over. Control your fear. Don't look down. You can do this. Let the rope out. Step down. Bend your knees. Breathe. For Pete's sakes, don't look down.

Finally I reached the bottom, and turned my eyes up at the towering wonder of nature I had just dismounted. Instantaneously, I could feel my pulse quicken, and my heart begin to pound in my chest. Holy crap, what the heck have I done ? I could have fallen to a colossal death from this massive formation !

My momentary panic quickly dissolved when I realized that, not five minutes ago, I was at the top, head down in defeat, convinced I did not have the courage to make it to the bottom. And yet, here I was.

Not only had I completed the task, I had also conquered my fear.

This significant event came to the forefront of my mind this past week after hearing the conversation between my classmate and our teacher. I approached my fellow student and told him my story. Prepare yourself, I said, for the possibility that you may end up in a very confined space with little room to move. You have the power to control your fear. Resolve to talk yourself through it before you start to panic. Have faith that you can make it. Believe in your power, trust in it, and your strength and determination will pull you through.

Eventually, my classmate will have to face this, just as I did two years ago. It is my hope that when his day comes, he will remember this advice and make the choice to conquer his fear once and for all.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Drive to Succeed

The big sign on the entrance to my company's gym says "PULL-UP CONTEST ! Register now ! Starts March 14th !" That simple sign, hand-written in blue marker on the flip-face whiteboard, has unleashed a sleeping dragon in many of the regulars at this gym. Including myself.

Previous to finding out about this contest, I had been thinking very casually that I would like to be able to execute several pull-ups unassisted. Since doing this involves a high proportion of upper body strength to body weight, and women are naturally at a disadvantage in that respect, I have always been intrigued by the idea of being able to accomplish this. I had successfully completed three unassisted pull-ups in the past, but did not give it much more thought until I saw that sign.

That sign was the spark that lit the fire.

The very same day that sign was erected, I marched straight into Sportmart, bought an adjustible pull-up bar, and had it mounted on my bathroom door frame. Previously, improving my ability to perform this exercise was merely a passing thought. Now, the dynamics have changed. Now, it's a contest. Now, it's time for me to throw as much energy and drive as I possibly can into improving my ability.

No doubt that my goal is to win the contest. I know I won't. There is a HUGE employee base here, and I have seen the pipes on some of the women that come into the gym. I know the very best I can do is give them a run for their money. But that won't stop me from striving to be the very best I can be. This is a challenge. My only response to a challenge like this is to step up and go for it.

The aura of "contest" was in the air this morning at the gym. I asked a fellow regular if he intended on entering. He said no way, he could only do ten in a row. My response was, come on ! Ten is great ! They have weight classes, so you'll only be against people your size ! Within minutes, three guys and myself were taking turns on the pull-up bar, cheering each other on, encouraging each other to do JUST ONE MORE, applauding each other for toughing it out.

Amazing what the concept of a competition brings out in us.

At the wall-sit contest last month, the gym staff had set up time trials so that two people were side-by-side at the same time. Two men, who had previously put up numbers of approximately 1 1/2 minutes, literally DOUBLED their times to more than 3 minutes when placed together. I'm certain both were thinking "He's not giving up, so heck if I'm going to !" The end result was an achievement far greater than either could imagine they were capable of.

Pride. Motivation. Tenacity. Desire to do better, reach higher, achieve more. All these things are innate in those of us who crave success just that much more than we fear failure.

The true competition is not necessarily between all the entrants, but within ourselves. Sometimes, it takes a challenge from outside of us to break down the barriers of fear and complacency and set us on the path to higher goals. Sometimes, it takes a leap of faith and unbased self-confidence to attempt what seems to be impossible at the time. Sometimes, it takes a push from someone else to motivate us to step into the unknown.

I remember once talking to a friend about blowfish, a Japanese delicacy that can be fatal to humans if not prepared correctly. Apparently there are a few deaths per year in Japan due to this. My first reaction was to boldly declare that I would never touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole. No way was I going to put my life in the hands of a pissed-off, overworked sushi chef with a big-arsed knife in his hand.

But then, came the magic words:

"I dare you".

Well now. That changes everything. Do I swallow my pride, wimp out, and meekly walk away in defeat ? Or do I step forward, stand fast and accept the dare ?

I am not one to shy away or back off in the face of a challenge, whether good-natured (like this) or serious. I embrace a challenge. I confront it. I savor it with every ounce of delicious defiance.

Yes, I'd eat the blowfish - but only if he who challenged me has the guts do the same.

So what drives us to succeed ? What is it within us that pushes us towards new frontiers, higher goals, greater achievements ? For some, it is the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. Others, it is the desire to set goals, to meet and exceed expectations, and to embrace the challenges that are presented to them. Others, it is to learn a new skill, meet new people, and expand their circle of influence. And for many, including myself, it is a combination of all of the above.

I know what my motivation is for this contest. It is that hand-lettered sign, posted prominently at the entrance to the gym. It is that horizontal bar, steadfastly attached to my bathroom door frame, that must be surmounted every time I pass it. It is that paper that I track my progress on with near-unintelligible chicken scratch pencil marks. It is the knowledge that I, even if placed last in the competition, have set myself a little closer to my goal.

That is my motivation. What is yours ?

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Four Stages of Stress

A small but vital part of my EMT class curriculum dealt with the five stages of grieving when one has lost someone close to them. My experiences in the last two weeks have inspired me to come up with a similar stage-based philosophy for dealing with stress. This proposal, sent to this forum for unscientific review, contains four distinct stages: Rebellion, Exhaustion, Relaxation and Rejuvenation.

Of course, your individual experience may vary. :)

Stage One: Rebellion

This was me Tuesday morning. No two words about it, I was royally pissed off. Twelve solid days of unrelenting stress and pressure from multiple sources. An entire long weekend spent in front of the corporate VPN-enabled computer at home, feverishly testing to meet a critical deadline, while the sun shone brightly outside, and the normal segment of the human population frolicked amongst the blooming flowers and cool breeze. Day after day of constant phone calls and people dropping by my desk to make more demands on my time - constantly interrupting deadline-critical work, never-ending meetings, and even my sacred, all-too-infrequent trips to the restroom.

No more, I said to myself. I am fighting back today !

My theme songs for Tuesday's commute were XZibit's "Motha****" (Audio: RealOne/Windows Media/Lyrics) [Warning: Bad language], and Ferry Corsten's "Punk" (Video: RealOne) [Warning: Suggestive].

I have always said that exercise and loud music (and ice cream of course) can cure almost all woes. This day, I proved this theory true. I arrived at my work campus, blasted out all remaining nervous energy in an invigorating visit to the gym, then headed to the office to fight the demons once more.

Stage Two: Exhaustion

By Thursday, the constant flow of adrenaline and caffeine, coupled with a steady effusion of mental energy from heavy concentration on difficult problems had taken its toll. I was thoroughly drained; mentally, physically, emotionally. It was all I could do to finish up my last remaining tasks before heading home.

By the time I hit the road in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, I was completely wiped out. I barely made it home without falling asleep behind the wheel - in the middle of the day ! That, I declare, is the epitome of exhaustion.

Stage Three: Relaxation

I made a resolution that Friday, my vacation day, would be my PICK-MY-NOSE-AND-DO-ABSOLUTELY-NOTHING day. I deserved it. I had given an entire two weeks (including evenings and weekends) to the pressing demands of my work. I didn't question why; the tasks needed to be done, we were short people, and therefore, I stepped up and did what was required. But this day was for me, and me only.

I stayed in my PJs until noon, happily browsing the web with Peaches cuddled in my lap. I got my hair done. I went to the gym. I did two loads of laundry but no more housework than that. The rest of the day was for me to do my thing. It felt good, really good, to finally take a deep breath, let my tense muscles relax, and clear my mind of all worries.

Stage Four: Rejuvenation

Saturday's drive to my Karate class featured two of my very favorite feel-good theme songs, Ferry Corsten's "Rock Your Body, Rock" (Video: RealOne) and ATB's "Ecstasy" (Audio: RealOne/Windows Media/Lyrics).

For the slightly-over-one hour drive, I sat back in my seat, turned up the volume, and let the beautiful sounds fill my very existence. I could feel my energy recharging, my internal battery refilling, my emotions blossoming once again. I arrived at my class focused, energized, and ready for the day ahead.

This experience has also made me realize something I never could have expected. It has shown me that there is something inherently therapeutic about cleaning the house.

Most of you are probably wondering how in the world I can find scrubbing toilets and folding laundry invigorating and refreshing. It may not necessarily be the act of cleaning itself, but the satisfaction of having some semblance of normalcy in my house and in my life. Having a clean house gave me a sense of pride, of accomplishment, of finally being "caught up" with all the things that needed to be done.

What could possibly be the perfect ending to a perfect recovery weekend ? A divine slice of "Better than You-Know-What Cake", graciously given by a friend.

And for those who are wondering, this type of occasion is exactly what Flex Points are for. :)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More conference call fun..

Having the privilege to work for a industry-leading technology company, I am surrounded by brilliant inventions and forward-thinking implementations on a daily basis. One such innovation is what I have dubbed the "surround sound conference room". The local attendees gather in the appointed room, joined by remote employees dialed in via telephone. The local users' voices are picked up by strategically-placed ceiling microphones and transmitted across the conference bridge. The remote users' verbal input is broadcast to the conference room via speakers, also located in the ceiling. NetMeeting transmits the PowerPoint slide show, in real time, from the presenter to the remote users' desktops.

One such gathering, a big-shot director was at the front of the room lecturing on the future direction of an exciting, cutting-edge product at the brink of its unleashing to the public market. Everyone was listening intently, hanging on his every word, when the following remote user's contribution was broadcast from the ceiling above:

(shuffle) (shuffle) (shuffle) **BURRRRRRRRRPPP !!!!**

The presenting director, without missing a beat, inquired:

"Is there a question on the phone ?"

It seems that the gaseous dialed-in employee had not yet discovered the technological innovation known as the mute button.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A neutron walks into a bar..

[Preface: A 'neutron' is a subatomic particle that is uncharged (neutral). By contrast, an electron carries a negative charge, and a proton carries a positive charge.]

So I was sitting in the world's most BORING meeting yesterday with a few of my peers. We all were gladly occupying ourselves with our real work via our trusty laptops while the voice on the Polycom speakerphone unit droned on and on.

One of my fellow ERT members popped up in my Instant Messenger, asking a training-related question. Grateful for the diversion, I answered it. He then told me this joke:

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a beer. He then says to the bartender, "Bartender ! How much for the beer ?"

The bartender replies,

"For you, no charge !"

Try as I might, I could not contain the fit of giggles that possessed me.

My fellow meeting attendees could only look in bewilderment as I composed myself and continued with my work.

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