I Felt Amputated – And Home on a Sidewalk

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This is a note I wrote on 30 July 2014.

 

This morning I took a train into town to lodge my tax return. Being in semi-retirement with virtually no income for the past 18 months there was not a lot to report – just a few dollars interest and about $1,000 from some casual work. Not enough to last a winter.

The way to the Tax Office lead past an untidy long-haired bearded and shabbily dressed jobless vagrant on the sidewalk, appreciating his luck of a wrapped sandwich – gifted by a person a few steps ahead of me. A cup of coffee was still steaming next to him – another obvious gift. He did not look up, trying to avoid the stares of passersby – a thimble of pride left in him?

A twinge of empathy seeped itself into me. Winter. No fixed abode. A set of fraying and dirty clothes. Cement sidewalk for a chair – and bed.

As I sat waiting for the Tax Office to open, increasing larger pockets of people murmured by – well-heeled, chatting – some holding expensive brand name drinks and donuts. A thin layer of envy spread over me. Something was amiss.

I started to feel amputated.

The Tax Office doors opened and accorded an escape from myself. The soulless authoritarian Tax Officer and I disengaged as quickly as I could. And I then stepped into a food-court to sit down and gather my thoughts. Around me people sat at small round tables, doing what people do around small round tables.

Yes, I missed the dignity of work and what comes with it.

The way back to the train station became a lonely upstream weave against a flood of workers. The smell of freshly cooked chips wafted out of a shop.

I boarded an empty train home. Opened the plastic lunchbox with fried rice that my wife prepared for the journey. A few shelled peanuts rounded off my lunch – eating them one at a time. A minimalistic frame of mind was engaging me faster than I liked. Even the single paper serviette seemed to have more value than its one time use…

The only difference between me and the jobless “bum” seemed to be that I had a few more earthly things but in reality both of us were amputated.

There is no dignity in being poor, jobless, of pensionable age with nothing to do.

 

Postscript

And then it struck me: Amputated as I might have felt, I was going back to a house I can call a home. With running water and a toilet. A warm bed and clean clothes tomorrow. And hot soup on the stove.

I know where I sleep at night.

And I know where the Ministers of Health and Employment and Social Services sleep at night.

 

Quo Vadis?

But where do our homeless go at night?

 

Conclusion

Don’t underestimate the dignity and value of a job.

 

30 July 2014

 

oooOOOooo

PERSPECTIVES: NUMBERS COUNT. PASSION TRIUMPHS

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“Act your Passion – not your age”.

“PERSPECTIVES” are excerpts from my forthcoming book of the same name, available from Partridge Publications Q3 2015

They say you cannot manage what you cannot measure.

I am a numbers man. I love maths. And I am passionate about things. Music. Books. Movies. Plants. Animals. Nature. And sometimes about people. Sometimes they clash. Numbers and Passion, that is.

The top management of the previous two IT companies I worked for were taken over by numbers people – one with a doctorate in numbers. And they started chasing numbers. Turn-over. Sales figures. The share price. Not replacing staff who resign but sharing the workload amongst those who remained. All done to make the numbers look better. Whilst these soul-crunching execs made the shareholders happy, they lost some very passionate people in the process.

A business is made up of people, not numbers. I saw a whole accounts department – who sat on the other side of a partition, and people I worked with daily and respected for their diligence, late hours, personal sacrifice – closed down and their jobs outsourced to somewhere where wages were lower – to save money. One person was a widow who lost her on-duty policeman husband the previous Christmas Day in an accident. She had two school-going kids. And had been working there for 10 years. Our executive flew to London once a month – Business Class – “to report numbers”. And the ticket cost the same as the combined monthly salaries of the four people who were laid off.

Shareholders are just one group in a symbiotic community of four, or more. There are clients. Worker bees. And management. All four make a business go round. And when there are actually real products, such as food, involved, then we must include farmers, truck drivers, and others in the “pip-to-plate” supply line equation.

Will there ever be a Wall Street for Passion?

No!

Because you cannot trade Passion.

Let us use another example: The Olympics.

Passion is what keeps the athletes training. Through hurt. Winters. Rain. Disappointments. They may treasure two things: medals on the podium OR just participating. For every gold medalist there are perhaps 20 non-medalists. But they participate in the same lofty event. Kudos to them all!

If you are world number one is it because you love running, throwing the discus or javelin, jumping high or long – or just being number one and occupying the highest place on the podium?

You will be on a personal high after every good run, throw, jump – but perhaps only once on the podium. Perhaps. And perhaps be rich afterwards. Perhaps. But think about it, what is more satisfying in the long run (or throw or jump)? The admiration and inspiration of kids? Hearing your anthem play on the podium? Or your bank account? Whichever one you choose will define you. Maybe you love them all – but can’t eat neither.

Be yourself. Because that is the person you have to live with for the rest of your life. Every morning wake up with.

Who are you? A number? Or a Passionate Human?

And as for numbers. They mean a lot. Explain a lot. But they cannot measure or explain Passion.

KEY POINTS

  • Sometimes numbers and passion clash.
  • Executives’ numbers-chase often end up losing passionate people in the process.
  • A business is made up of people – not numbers.
  • There will never be a Wall Street for Passion.
  • Everyone who participates is a winner. You don’t have to stand on a podium to be one.
  • You are defined by the choices you make – and how you act them out.

ACTION STEPS

  • Act your Passion. Not your age.
  • Be yourself. Because that is the person you have to live with for the rest of your life.

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PERSPECTIVES: THE FOOLS OF OUR TOOLS

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“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” ~ Albert Einstein

 

“Have we become the fools of our tools?”

 

Recently a sociologist picked the gas lighter as the Number One technological invention of all time – portable instant fire in your pocket at a flick. Yes. The ability to make fire was one of the most important technological advances ever. A heated cave. Cooked food. A flame to scare off dangerous animals. The ability to melt iron into tools for hunting and weapons for protection, plows for cultivation, the settling of nomadic communities.

I am well aware of the important role technology plays and the miracles and lifestyle benefits it has bestowed upon humankind over millennia. But pivotal events over recent years have me asking the question I pose above.

Two factors are important:

  • Technology itself has no conscience, compassion, or morals. Inventors, applicants and their motivation define it. The inventors of the atom bomb were horrified by its destructive power but politicians proclaimed it a life-saver that ended a long war. Opinion depends on where you stand, and where you stand depends on the chair you sit in.
  • Our relationship with technology. Some of society and civilization’s most critical elements now rest on technology. Vast electricity, water, even defense networks are controlled via technology that can be incapacitated in a matter of mere seconds.

 

Physical

Technology affords people much “freedom of expression and makes life richer” whilst industry suffers billions of dollars in lost productivity due to the abuse of slick social applications during office hours.

  • Where does this arc ultimately lead to? How much more “freedom and richness” do we need – especially during working hours?

Counterpoint: Miraculous medical developments have afforded countless people extended lifespans. As for personal mobile devices, many people also use them for work purposes.

 

Social

The printing press supported the cultural, financial and spiritual Renaissance between the 14th and 17th centuries.

Future generations will similarly measure us by what technology they inherit – whether it remained our servant, became our master, perhaps even executioner. Our legacy should be more than technological remnants.

Social media has given “Power (back) to the People, right on”. It’s effective use in political campaigns and digital protest movements have changed governments and the political map. Effective yes, but with what social outcomes?

  • Will we leave the world better than we found it or has technology become “one small step for mankind, one giant leap for financial, political and personal power grab”?

Counterpoint: We define the world we live in. Technology-based applications put billions of people productively in touch with each other daily, simultaneously enabling those with a sinister side to abuse it. Like boxers in a ring, we should protect ourselves at all times.

 

Mental

Chernobyl. Fukushima. Stark reminders that for all of humankind’s ingenuity and technological inventiveness we are mostly powerless in the face of disasters and still dependent on nature’s mercy.

  • Is our faith misplaced in our ability to develop and control technological advances for the positive use of humankind?

Counterpoint: Technological advances augment the human spirit. It allowed humankind to scale Everest, explore space, visit the deepest oceans and enrich our lives with countless expressions of what is achievable.

 

Emotional

Cyber-bullying tears the heart out of children. Faceless character assassins hide cowardly behind digital addresses. People end relationships in less than 140 twitter characters.

Counterpoint: Social software applications let friends and family stay in touch, swap photos, and strengthen emotional bonds. Portable devices bring joy and relaxation to people at all times.

 

Intellectual

Society depends on “black box” technologies of which operational people know less and less. New technological creations often do not advance our intellectual powers and has led to a generation of whom many cannot spell or do mental arithmetic, whilst handing these selfsame people the power to thoughtlessly use it for abusive purposes – only to demand the ability to erase their follies afterwards.

  • What happened to discipline, ownership and responsibility?

Counterpoint: The internet was originally developed as an information-sharing tool between scientists and has developed into arguably one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Not surprisingly – it also developed a darker face.

 

Spiritual

From pulpit to porn – and everything in between – can be found on the internet, itself sadly becoming the addictive centerpiece in many lives, turning them into “part of the road” as it steamrolls over them.

The Ages of the Mega-church and Mega-death have arrived on the back of technology. The world has become a place where human life can be enriched or taken by the press of a button.

  • We now hold in our hands the power to abolish both poverty and life with little effort. Which shall we choose?

Counterpoint: The adoption of technology for spiritual re-awakening and practicing stands in contrast to its application for corporate lifestyles. We have all heard great speeches and music or seen films which have moved us spiritually during life-pivotal moments.

My world is much better compared to when I was born. People live longer. Travel has broadened my mind. Technology afforded me a platform on which to build most of my life. I listen to great music and talk with friends anywhere on the planet. I am physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually richer with it than without it.

 

And I am still happy with an “older model” of my mobile phone.

 

  • Have we become the fools of our tools?

 

Key Principles

  • Technology affords people much “freedom of expression and makes life richer” – but where does this ultimately lead to?
  • Our legacy should include more than technological remnants. What world will we leave behind?
  • We are still mostly powerless in the face of natural disasters and dependent on nature’s mercy.
  • Software applications strengthen family and friendship bonds by staying in contact easily.
  • Our intellectual powers are often not advanced by new technological “black box” creations.
  • We now hold in our hands the power to abolish both poverty and life with little effort.

 

Action Steps

  • Define your relationship with technology as best you can.
  • Protect yourself at all times.
  • Let technological advances augment your spirit.
  • Put technology to good social use.
  • Maintain discipline and accept ownership and responsibility of how you use technology.
  • Enjoy technology.

PERSPECTIVES: AGE – MOSTLY A NUMBER?

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“You are not old until regrets take the place of dreams” – Adapted from John Barrymore

 

We all get old – or die on the way getting there.

Age incorporates not only the chronology of your years, but also your wellbeing, including your mindset. Facelifts and body tucks may help external wrinkles, but as long as they are not written on your heart and mind, you are not old.

What is important is your “Ikigai” – the Japanese word that translates freely into meaning “the reason for which I wake up in the morning; my reason for being”.

Respect Time – which is of the essence and eventually becomes the variable centerpiece but constant reminder of life.

 

Physical

Linguistically we age people from birth: “How old is the baby?” I know “How young is the baby?” sounds strange – until we get used to it.

The physical evidence of age is more visible in some than in others and for multiple reasons. Stay young by way of physical workouts – but also mental engagement and intellectual stimulation. People still run marathons and write books into his late eighties. Vintage 65+ers cover all spectrums of society, from artists to inventors, queens to philosophers, nurses to writers and more.

I have lived in countries where the recording of births ranges from being problematic to almost impossible – due to ignorance, fear and corruption. Makes me think, the simple question to ask oneself is “If I were born in such a country, how ‘old’ would I be if I did not know my birth date and real age?

 

Social

Socially sensitive cultures envy, admire, even revere their aged. However, in most Western countries insensitive speeches by self-serving politicians often make Seniors feel they are a burden on the very same society which they helped build.

Ageism – through enforced retirement by certain age – falls in the same category as racism and sexism, and is equally offensive. Forcing a fit cadre of the workforce to retire is inexcusable and often dehumanizing. It drives many to despair – even though they may still have productive years left in which to contribute to their own and society’s welfare. It strains social security systems, severs them from social circles and friends and often sends them into oblivion – regardless of their knowledge and talents.

As counterpoint though – you should take responsibility to start building your “exit strategy” from the very first month of employment in terms of financial independence, weatherproof relationships with your partner and friends, long term personal health and wellbeing, creatively building your identity and a self-realization based on your vision and mission, your purpose and passions – not forgetting to develop hobbies and relaxation – and ultimately your legacy. Old age has no predetermined upper boundary – you could live to be a 100 or more. So, get moving!

 

Mental

Some reach mental maturity earlier than others – allowing them to think, act and speak within the bounds of respect and dignity. Others are slower to mature and may even stagnate at a point in life.

Counter this by becoming a life-long learner. We are a constant work-in-progress. Nothing happens automatically – except ageing. Everything else needs our participation. We cannot manage time. But we can manage what we do during the March of Time.

Take life seriously but not yourself. Live it and forget your age. The number of years do not make you old. People grow old because they forget their ideals and purpose – thus losing their enthusiasm for Life.

 

Emotional

To age is a privilege – not a sin, or anti-social. Character is what counts. Guard against your Inner Child growing old – even in the face of an uncertain world – and belong to yourself.

 

Intellectual

As we age, life shines with greater clarity. Knowing and understanding things become easier. Life’s puzzles are resolved with less effort. Reaching judgmental decisions seem to become easier.

Having said this, it is important that we also listen to the Young-at-Years amongst us. The “world is getting smarter earlier” and with it we see the younger generation putting remarkable stakes in the ground at increasingly younger ages – especially in the technical domain.

 

Spiritual

Ageing is as much a spiritual journey as a physical one – with challenges taking on different hues. Existing disabilities are added to – and must often be negotiated on a mental and physical front – sometimes with a looming fear of losing control over one’s life.

The aged turn more introspective – often resulting in contentment and peace or sorrow and despair – with the final outcome being one of wisdom.

Balance longevity with a meaningfulness in and of life – with peace and hope. Anchored spirituality becomes one of the cornerstones on which to build yourikigai.

  • So, is age mostly a number?

Well, your body and mind sometimes let you know the number. But punctuate Life with Spirit, Wit, Humor and Maturity.

 

Key Principles

  • How ‘old’ would you be if you didn’t know your birthdate and real age?
  • Ageism is another –ism, and is as offensive as racism and sexism.
  • Some reach mental maturity earlier, whilst others are slower, even stagnate.
  • To age is a privilege – not a sin. Character is what counts.
  • As we age, knowing and understanding things become easier.
  • Ageing is as much a spiritual journey as a physical one – with challenges taking on different hues.

 

Action Steps

  • Stay young by way of physical workouts – but also mental engagement and intellectual stimulation.
  • Take responsibility to start building your “exit strategy” from your very first month of employment.
  • Become a life-long learner. We are a work-in-progress. Live your life and forget your age.
  • Guard against your Inner Child growing old – and belong to yourself.
  • Remain young at heart and spirit. And listen and learn from both the mature and the young.
  • Balance longevity with meaningfulness. Let Spirit, Wit, Humor and Maturity punctuate your Life.

 

PERSPECTIVES: WORK-LIFE BALANCE – ENJOY WELLNESS

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The part can never be well unless the whole is well – Plato

Many ailments are self-inflicted. And you alone have the responsibility for your health – not your employer, not your doctor, not your government.

Life is short. Be a player, not a spectator. As you live, so shall you eventually retire – from work and from Life.

5/6 of Health spells 5/6 of Wealth. Guard your all-round health to ensure that you function as an integrated being who lives life fully – physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

 

Physical

One in five people retire due to ill health. Some of the Top 10 killers of the past 150 years have been promoted to the Top 3 Killers, meaning that the world has entrenched rather than made progress in containing lifestyle changes.

Follow a nutritionally healthy and balanced diet. Limit your salt and sugar intake – they are silent killers. Stay active and fit. Inactivity leads to obesity, depression, heart disease, stroke and more. The average adult is sedentary for up to 10+ hours per day. Exercise – even 30 minutes of power-walking or exercise 3 to 4 times a week will fight chronic disease and offset a large part of the damage done by a sedentary lifestyle.

Do regular checkups for blood pressure, cholesterol, especially as age advances and women from the age of 40 onwards for breast cancer. Get to know as much as possible about any illness you may have. But Do Not Despair.

 

Social

Maintain friends across the spectrum of several age groups, generations, cultures and nationalities. Mentor, volunteer and serve others. It will broaden your circle of friends and support whilst keeping you busy and providing you with a feeling that your life has meaning.

Do not smoke. Not only is it unhealthy – it is also anti-social to affect others with your addiction.

 

Mental

Mental health is a state of psychological wellbeing where you realize your potential, and display emotional and social maturity in negotiating and coping with the stresses of life, whilst living productively and interacting with others.

Stay mentally engaged. Make time for your peace of mind. Take time to appreciate your partner. Read good books, watch good films and TV programs. Manage stress by asking “will what stresses me now, still be important 5, 10 years from now?”

 

Emotional

Take quality time out for yourself. Make a list of the positive things for which you are grateful to enjoy in your life. Have fun. Laugh. Listen to good music. Express yourself creatively. Forgive others and yourself where necessary.

 

Intellectual

Remain intellectually engaged. Become a life-long learner. Maintain brain fitness by way of reading, writing, studying a new language or musical instrument, games – all of which are said to fight the onset of dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease. Experiment with something new. Start a lunchtime discussion group.

 

Spiritual

Spiritual health means different things to different people, but at the core of spirituality is the sense of meaningfulness of who you are and why you are here – the purposefulness of your life and how it fits into the rest of the universe. Make peace with yourself. Meditate. Pray. Imagine. Develop faith.

 

Key Principles

  • Many ailments are self-inflicted and one in five people retire due to ill health.
  • Mentoring and volunteering will broaden your circle of friends and support.
  • Mental wellbeing displays emotional and social maturity and will let you realize your potential.
  • Positive things rain into every life.
  • Maintaining brain fitness is said to fight the onset of dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease.
  • At the core of spirituality is the sense of the purposefulness of your life.

 

Action Steps

  • Follow a nutritionally healthy and balanced diet. Stay active and fit. Do regular checkups. Rest well.
  • Maintain friends across the spectrum of several age groups, generations, cultures and nationalities.
  • Make time for your peace of mind. Stay mentally engaged. Continue learning and stay creative.
  • Take quality time out for yourself. Make a list of the positive things for which you are grateful.
  • Remain intellectually engaged and become a life-long learner.
  • Make peace with yourself and others as necessary. Meditate. Pray. Imagine.

Where Does The Greying Of The Workforce Lead?

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Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age ~Victor Hugo.

The ageist bias against seniors is rife, but how long can the workforce ignore them as part of a productive economy?

  • Shifting demographics and workforce movements point to resource shortages which may give seniors more bargaining power in time to come.

Following are welcome facts for those seeking to be “still in demand after 65”, albeit worrisome for countries / organizations, but:

  • 31% of employers worldwide have a challenge filling positions due to a shortage of experienced talent in their markets.
  • USA: One in 7.5 is 65 or older. Credible data is unavailable for the exit and entry numbers of the workforce, but using other countries as a reference, it should be almost 1 for 1.
  • Canada: One in 7 is a senior citizen. For every worker that exits, just over 1 enters.
  • Europe: One in 5.9 is a senior citizen. By 2030 it will be 1 in 4. More people are exiting than entering the workforce.
  • Japan: One in 4.4 is a senior citizen. More people are exiting than entering the workforce.
  • By 2020 in China, Russia, Canada and South Korea more people will reach retirement age than entering the workforce.

Shifting Demographics

  • The under-65 skilled workforce in the USA / rest of the Western world is shrinking.
  • Recruitment may thus soon be from both an aging and dwindling workforce.
  • Labor demographics are shifting and will present local/global employers with resourcing challenges – which will eventually favor both seniors and countries with a younger workforce.
  • The global workforce will be augmented from retirees and women in countries where woman traditionally do not enter the workforce.

Effects of Workforce Movements

  • The available global resource pool has become more mobile. This often leads to xenophobic backlashes in countries where an influx of foreigners is seen as taking jobs away from locals.
  • Loyalty in terms of remaining with a company for many years is largely a concept of the past – for both parties.
  • In some countries the replacement is almost 1 for 1, except that those who exit has more than 40 year of experience.
  • This will create unparalleled competition/polarization between young and old, skilled and semi-/non-skilled, knowledge/non-knowledge workers, possibly amongst different industries and countries.
  • Countries/companies must develop new policies and strategies to maintain/re-engage skilled workers who are leaving the workforce due to reaching retirement age, and put in place knowledge/skills transfer policies and programs.

Enter Generation U

Generation Unretired is the newest – if not youngest – segment of the workforce. They:

  • Represent 8 out of 10 baby boomers who will work past retirement age or return to work after retirement.
  • Have significant depths of knowledge, experience and interpersonal skills, developed over 40+ years.
  • Have a strong work ethic – comparable to, if not better than other “generations”.
  • Can overcome the technology learning curve in certain industries through training.
  • “Sees the big picture and have strategic thinking experience” or a zest for detail (retired accountants).

In summary Gen U is the critical mass that has reshaped all facets of life as they moved through it and will continue to do so.