Friday, April 25, 2014

Week Seventeen – Tempting Fate!

No matter how hard you try, there is never a good moment for things to happen and they will happen against all odds!

 Many years ago, when I was still young (notice how I am saying here I am still young!) I bit into a hard piece of bread and one of my tooth chipped. This happens to many of us and you just simply go to the dentist, he looks at it and fixes it. It was December in this particular occasion and I managed to get an appointment just before Christmas! How lucky I hear you say… indeed. However, what was to come became the worst nightmare of my life!

Dentists like to fiddle with our teeth, and often they want to fix other things you don’t need fixing (they sound like mechanics who always want to fix what is not wrong with your car) My dentist worked on my chipped tooth and, yes, he tampered with the others while I sat in the chair hoping the pain would go away! On the 22nd December I left the surgery feeling better having had a filling and some other stuff done to my mouth. By the way, the dentist was going on a three-week vacation to Australia the next day. 23rd of December I was feeling good, 24th of December I was still feeling good and yes, you already guessed, 25th of December I woke up with possibly the worst toothache I have ever experienced in my life! 25th of December when no one, and I mean no one works! Against all odds, I was faced with the most excruciating pain ever know to mankind and no one to help me! It took 2 days before I could see an emergency dentist who then proceeded to charge me the largest amount of money, which was more painful that the toothache I had!

This sort of thing always happens when it shouldn’t! And this week was no exception!

Good Friday, I woke up to a broken boiler! Good Friday! A 4-day long weekend ahead of us! Why does it always happen when no one works? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Has it ever happen to you? I am sure everyone, at some point or another, have face this situation, it is just they way life it, and you can’t avoid it.

What is interesting is why does it always happen when you least want it? And do we “tempt fate” as they say? My boiler broke down when my family was away in Spain and on the Thursday night as we Skyped before their arrival on Saturday morning my son said to me “Dad, please make sure the heating is on when we get in, it will be nice to have a warm house when we arrive” Every time we come back form vacation the house is so cold, but this time, as I was there, I could make sure it was warm before they arrived; but alas, it was not meant to be! Was this coincidence that he made a comment or was he “tempting fate”? Was our boiler barking down in such a long weekend just luck or it was meant to be? Why this specific day? I was at home for four days before the weekend, why didn’t it break then when I could get it fixed? Is this a strange phenomenon or really just bad luck? I do remember thinking back when I had my tooth saga “should I wait to get my tooth fixed after Christmas?” somehow I knew there will be days ahead when things may be more difficult if you have complications. Was I “tempting fate” or “jinksing it” as they call it?

This go me thinking and I looked at other events similar to this to see if what I was observing was just coincidence or there was something bigger that drove this.

One of the most memorable experiences that jumped in my mind was a few years ago when I started travelling and I had booked a coach to get to the airport, which was very tight in terms to time. My flight was very early and it was a choice between arriving an hour before my flight (which is just about enough if you only have hand luggage) or leave 5 hours before and wait at the airport in the hard cold plastic chairs. So I went for the one-hour option. As I waited at the station I kept on thinking, “it’ll be alright, I have plenty to time” and as the coach arrive I saw it was a brand new vehicle, making me think “oh good, it’s a new coach, at least it won’t break down!” What I am about to tell you is nothing but the truth. We set off to the airport and after about an hour, just halfway there, the coach began to jerk. Within a minute the driver pulled and the engine stopped. And I promise you as I stand here before you, the brand new 54 seater coach had broken down! I could not believe it! Was this really happening? I didn’t make my flight and I often think did I “jinks” it or was it just pure coincidence?

I’m a great believer that everything happens for a reason. Nothing is by chance and that things are meant to happen. Ever since that day I have never booked a ticket where I only have an hour to get to my flight, as a frequent traveller is not a risk I can afford to take and so perhaps that day was meant to happen to show me that I cannot take the risk as there is always a chance that the coach will break down.

Think of times when this has happened to you, was it coincidence or was fate telling you something? Is fate what determines what happens in our lives and thus when you tempt it, it back-fires? If my son hadn’t said “make sure the house is nice a warm” the boiler wouldn’t have broken down? If I hadn’t said “at least the coach won’t break down” I would have not missed my flight? I guess this is one of the many mysteries of life that we human being we will never know, but for sure, I know that every time I don’t want something to happen, I try not to tempt fate and think of something else!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Week Sixteen – too tech or not too tech!

That is the question! Have we become too dependent on technology that when it’s gone we are crippled?

As an advocate of technology and an absolute fan of innovative products like Apple, I am probably the last person to question whether we have become too dependant on our gadgets to survive, but this week I faced several challenges that made me question if too much technology is making our lives a misery rather than a joy.

As a kid I grew up in an era in which we were just starting to get the taste of what it’s like to have amazing gadgets that are supposed to make our lives easier. I still remember getting all exited about getting my first “calculator” watch (remember one of those?) And this is how basic but amazing it was in those days, when as a young man you would get exited to be given a calculator! Of course this was on a watch, which made it all the more attractive but nonetheless a calculator!. And when you compare it to what is happening today, it is really no different, with the exception that things have got much sexier when it comes to these devices. Samsung produced last year a watch they named “gear” which was launched with their rather large phone/tablet and it is meant to be an extension of your stuff in the device. Apple is rumored to be coming up with something similar, the “I-watch”, which again will serve the purpose of accessing something you already have in your I-phone. So when you compare the soon to come out “I-watch” (which no doubt I will acquire!) with my calculator watch, not much has changed on how we love to surround ourselves with these “useless” gadgets.

But the question here remains “too tech or not too tech” and we have to understand if we really need all this stuff to get by in life. I am personally in two minds about this, especially after this week.

Why am I in two minds? I do believe that some of the technologies that exist have made our lives immensely better, as I learned recently when I was in hospital with my little relapse in health. Although doctors will never be able to fully diagnose what may be wrong with someone (at least not at present) with all these new machines, the equipment they have today to analyze and look for things is amazing. During my two days with chronicle chest pains I was put through several tests and equipment that really left me amazed at what we have come up to look for things. From the traditional ultrasound to the newest CT scan tunnel where they are able to see every vain in your body by injecting you with a liquid and putting your though what seemed Homer Simpson’s giant white doughnut! After all the tests they were able to tell me everything I didn’t have but to this day they still cannot tell me what I had. This is where I think we are still a long way to go with technology.

On the other hand this week really showed me that in some aspects the reliance on technology has become a hindrance and the old traditional methods work best. Let me share with you a couple of examples:

During my vacation I hired a car to get around in Spain. I am sure many of you, like me, have become almost dependent on the satellite navigation system to get you form A to B and without it, we get lost. They are pretty reliable as far as gadgets are concerned and most of the time “TomTom” knows best (even though we still believe we are superior to our machines and we question the route our imaginary SatNav friend has suggested) but they get us there. However, some times they don’t work! And when they don’t, all of the sudden we are not sure what to do, we become paralyzed and panic thinking “how am I going to get there!” This was the case as I was on my way back to the airport and my trusty navigation system failed. Now, as a techno savvy person, I do relay on other gadgets in case one fails and I took out my phone where I also have a SatNav application and the day was saved! Or so I thought… I soon discovered that I needed Internet to get it working! Do you know how expensive it is to data roaming? So my choices were, pay up or get lost! As I was working through all of this in my head, I also thought “how did we do it in the “olden” days?” and the answer was simple, we read the signs on the road and follow them and I am sure no one got as lost as I was because I am not accustomed anymore to use my instinct, reading skills and think how to get to my destination!

I also needed to print some reports this week for work which are done though a third party website. These reports are a personality questionnaire that people fill in on line and we use them as part of their development. In “the olden days” we had a form they filled in and then score, giving them the same results you get today on the computer generated report. The website was down, I could not print the reports and I panicked as I didn’t know what I could do without them. I was crippled because I did not have these reports and I through “if only I was doing it on paper…”

And like these, there are plenty of other examples where, when technology is not there, we freeze not knowing what to do. Think about it… electricity gets cut off, our systems are down and we cannot use the computer, we sit there, not knowing what to do, we relay too much on our laptops to get our work done! Or your e-mail is down, we can’t reach someone, Facebook doesn’t work, you can’t text someone, the X-box is broken and so on, all everyday gadgets that almost dominate our lives and we are useless without them.

Are machines taking over the world? Is the prophecy of the film “The Terminator” coming true? Or we will continue to be in control of our lives managing technology? I think the answer to this we will never know, or at least not in our lifetime and perhaps our children or grand children will become so dependable on technology that the question will no longer be asked. Perhaps then they will never know what life is without gadgets.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Week Fifteen – life/work balance

Actually the expression is work/life balance as we often hear this at work, and we do spend 80% of our lives working!

Holiday Selfi with my Family!
This week I am writing my blog from the beautiful town of Aguilar de Campoo, in Spain, where I am spending a week’s vacation with my family. And even though I am on holidays I still need to write my blog, because in my quest to write a weekly blog, I guess I don’t get vacation time for this! And it is appropriate that this blog is dedicated to understanding what many of us have come to know as the “work/life balance” struggle or as I called it the “life/work balance” because what we need to balance first is our lives and not work!

I also call this time away from work my “workation” as I don’t really leave work and focus only on my vacation. Many people often criticise me for this. They say “you should switch off, and enjoy your time away” but this unfortunately does not work for everyone. My work requires me to be available as much as I can. This means that I have to be in touch with work to keep an eye of what is happening in my area. I do not have a job that finishes the moment I walk out of the office (I don’t really have an office job) and it follows me everywhere I go. That is my day-to-day work and it is a fact that comes with the job. I love my work, as you already know, and I am happy to be available for my teams and for people to reach me when they need me. My work is also part of an industry that doesn’t close. In hospitality we’re open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week 365 days per year and there are no “closed for business” days; so naturally anyone in this industry has to be available most of the time. There are some jobs that do not require you to be available all the time, but there are some that do and mine is one of them. So when I go away on holidays, I do have to keep in touch with work in order to stay on top of things before I get back to work “officially”. There is an official day when I declare to be away on holidays and a day when I am back; every other day in between is my “workation”

But the key issue to understand here is not that I am a workaholic, on the contrary, the reason I stay in touch with work while away is that I want to have that “life/work balance” all the time. Let me explain:

I once heard someone say that you can measure the success of your vacation by the number of e-mails you have when you get back; meaning that the more e-mails you have when you get back the better your holiday was. You did not access your e-mail as much or at all during your time away. However, in my case, if I did not access my e-mails while away when I get back, I am going to have so much work that I will probably end up stressed out and with a massive back-log of work that will take me a long time to clear, creating more stress, working longer hours and ending up having to spend more time at work than at home thereafter. In other words, my life/work balance will be out of whack. That is why I prefer to dedicate one or two “dead” hours during my break to read through e-mails, answer urgent enquires, deal with issues, complete easy tasks and by the time I “officially” get back, it is as if I had never left! Giving me the chance to continue with my well structures life/work balance. During my vacation I always find a couple of hours I can dedicate to work, when the family are still asleep, when they have other activities that do not require me to be present; there is always what I call a “dead” moment I can just open my laptop and work. Once this is done, the rest of the time is theirs, and mine to enjoy and unwind. I can then focus on giving them quality time, time we usually don’t have during our very busy lives. So I feel I am creating a balance, a life/work balance that allows me to enjoy my family during the break, keep in contact with the office and avoid having an excessive amount of work when I am back.

People often say to me “how can you have time to do everything you do?” In my life I travel, I work, I spend time with my family, I work around the house and I write, and all that without being stressed. And the answer is that I create a balance that gives me the best of all worlds. Remember that quantity is not the same as quality, and sometimes people think they are have quality time when all they are doing is spending time with people, while doing other things. If you create a balance, like I try to do, you have to fully focus on every activity you have chosen to do in your time. Work is work, and you give it your 110% every minute you have to spend doing it, family is family and the time you spend with them has to be quality time not quantity time, doing the thing you all enjoy; it is not about the frequency, but the quality of each of those moments. Then you have what I call “me time” which needs to exist. You need to have time for yourself where you give time to your hobbies or passions. And lets not forget our social time; it is essential to stay in touch with people and nowadays this can be done through social networks like Facebook. All of these areas are equally important, and each of them supports the others to create that life balance; neither work, family, social or me time are more important than the other, on the contrary, each deserves its time and attention in your life. Some times you have to interrupt one to pay attention to the other, but if they are perfectly in balance and harmony, that interruption would never be seen as a disruption, but a moment to pause what you are doing to bring that balance in your life.

Don’t be discourage if you have to answer a call during your vacation, some time you will have to walk out of a meeting to go and deal with a family emergency, or stop writing that blog to go and have a drink with your friends… which is what I am going to do now to ensure I have that “life/work balance” and review this first draft tomorrow before I publish it! Enjoy your life/work balance and live up to the max!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Week Fourteen – the fear factor!

“What is the worst thing that can happen?” this is the question we should ask ourselves when we are facing our fears.


One of the most effective techniques of a sales person is to have the ability to approach a customer and sell them anything. This is what highly skilled sale people do, they approach the customer and they won’t let go until he or she walks out of the shop with something. If you have worked in a customer service environment you will know how difficult it is to deal with people, especially difficult customers. And often, inexperienced employees find it hard to approach someone and say, “would you like another drink sir?” In the hotel industry we train employees to up sell, this is how restaurants and hotels can make money and driven their profits. Every customer is an opportunity to up sell. And believe it or not, every times you have been up sold something you didn’t know it, you put it down to excellent customer service, attentive staff that really cared and looked after you! I am not saying they didn’t care but think about it, somewhere along the line you were up sold something.

Let me give you an example; you walk into a shop looking for a new outfit for your party and the assistant is very attentive. She pays you endless complements and everything you try she is advising you and guiding you, its almost as if you have your personal shopper with you. After trying several outfits, you chose the top and trousers and the shop assistant tells you “but guess what? That bag you see there would go amazing with the outfit!” You hang it on your shoulder and you look a million dollars! The cost may be slightly more than you wanted to spend, but the shop assistant says, “it looks amazing!” You walk out of the shop and tell your friends about the excellent customer service you’ve just had in that shop, not the fact that you were just up sold a handbag you didn’t need!

That shop assistant was not frightened to try and up sell what she could. And like her, other sales people who push insurance policies, mobile phones, an expensive bottle of wine or double-glazing, they are all trained to understand that the worst thing that can happen is that the customer says no. That’s it, nothing else, they are not going to get upset and accuse you of abuse or mistreatment, they are not going to report you to the manager or to the policy, in fact they may even complement you for your great attentive service after they say no. And a good sales technique is to turn the sale into good service and not just cash on the till.

This week I had the opportunity to take this idea out of a customer service environment and apply it to every day life, which prompted me to dedicate this week’s blog to such a simple premise that can help us achieve things that otherwise we may not do because of fear, fear of failure, embarrassment or ability in things we do. Believe me I have met people who have not done something and miss out through fear of failure, when the worst thing that could have happened was not all that bad.

As you know by now, my son wants to be a basketball player and we found a club in our area that he can practice with. This week was his second week playing and he was looking forward to going again. Whilst in the car I notice he was worried, nervous and he looked anxious, so I asked him what was wrong. At first he didn’t say much but eventually he opened up and confessed he was nervous. I asked him of what? What worried him as he had been there the previous week and knew what the practice was all about? He mentioned was worried about not being good enough to play with the other kids and that he may get it wrong or he may not be able to fit in. I think we all know what he was talking about; we’ve all been there, it is a hard as a kid trying to fit in, and at this point I wasn’t sure how to answer.

I began to throw at him a few words of encouragement, as you would, and he was not having any of it. I then looked at him and said “look go in, do your best and see how it goes, I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Silence. He looked at me and said, “they may laugh at me?” Ah! Fair point, I though, I needed to turn this around so I said “and if the laugh at you, what’s the worst thing that can happen?” he thought about this for a moment and then said, “I don’t know” Bingo! I knew at this point where to go with this, so I said to him “the worst thing that can happen is you don’t come back next week, right? Not ideal but not the end of the world, we will find another basketball club” he agreed and talked about the fact that if he didn’t fit in with this team we could find another, practice with someone else, but the worst thing that could happen was actually not as bad as he thought; he fear was gone. He went in, I guess with this in mind, and did a great practice session, enjoying being part of the team.

You can apply this to all aspects of life. Of course, not always “the worst thing that can happen” may be that simple, but in general it can help you overcome your fears. Often people will not ask someone out on a date because of fear of being rejected, but hey, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no (try not to embarrassed yourself by asking in front of a crowed!) and you move on (albeit with a broken heart!) but if you don’t ask, you never know if that person may also be attracted to you and you could miss out on your soul mate! Ask your boss for a pay rise, worst thing that can happen? They say no. Jump out of an airplane, worst thing that can happen? You die! (Only kidding) As I said, you can apply this to most things in life, of course like any other theory, if you stretch it too far it breaks, so yes, if you bungee jump the worst thing that can happen is that the rope brakes and you can die, so here you also have to apply the principles of probabilities which takes the conversation to a different dimension!

I called this blog “the fear factor” because believe it or not, I have audition for the X-Factor! And I only did it because I always wanted to do it and I thought, “I’m going to enter my name, what is the worst thing that can happen? That they say no” and at least I can now say I’ve done it and will not be on my list of things I regret not doing! My point is that often we don’t do something for fear, which will result in us regretting it for the rest of our lives, but by understanding what is the worst thing that can happen, we can accomplish so much more fulfilling our lives with rich and unique experiences and you never know, you may be the next winner of the X-Factor!