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Failure Is Always an Option

Failure Is Always an Option

It’s inevitable we will fail at some point. Your will falters, your power goes out, your life’s emergencies take precedence. This is all okay.

What’s important isn’t succeeding always and forever. It’s persistence. Tenacity is more powerful than success.

It’s even helpful to get knocked down, here and there. There’s value in how much we have failed, since we learn the most from it. Getting up again to keep going is what matters. Soon, we’ll have left the disasters and the disappointments far behind. Learning allows growth, and growth leads us to greater potential. Fail faster, and with grace and joy.

The Beauty of the New

The Beauty of the New

We’re well on the way to full Christmas music saturation. At my job, the Xmas soundtrack channel is de rigeur until the fateful day itself. That level of constant jingling all the way can be oppressive. But despite the hammering of tunes popular during Boomer childhoods, there is zero shortage of new to newish Holiday Season music to revel in. Some of my favorites are

  • Tracy Thorn – Tinsel & Lights
  • Said the Whale – West Coast Christmas EP Collection
  • The 8BitPeoples – The 8 Bits of Christmas
  • Low – Christmas

They’re weird, melancholy, and even at their oldest (1999,) refreshing. I tend toward humbugitude, but I can’t deny there’s a sizable part of me that indulges in this most sentimental of holidays. My mom was especially good at a gentle transition into Xmas madness, and I have a cadre of core albums from my childhood we used to listen to every year as we wrapped up dinner and my brother and I headed off to bed. We drifted to sleep to strains of Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvania Singers. But those have a special time and place. We have lots more to saturate the season with, and it comes with some measure of surprise, of sparkle. Tradition is meant to be comfortable. But the new comes with promise and possibility, as well as the change that life offers with the renewal of the year.

Lazy Days

Lazy Days

We often don’t feel like doing things. I’m talking specifically about the work, here, you know, The Work. Whatever it is you think you should be creating is, maybe bafflingly, sometimes or often hard to start doing.

We’ve long established that waiting to feel inspired doesn’t get work done. The only thing that matters is (tautology alert) doing the work. Ideally, you decide on the thing you’re doing and engage the habit. “This is what I do every day,” you tell yourself, and for the next ten or thirty or three hundred minutes you do it.

And it’s usually fine once we’ve begun. Habitual creation is magical in its ability to strip away feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, and plain old fear. You just start making, and soon it takes over and you’re lost in it.

Editing, culling, rewriting, finishing, detailing, tweaking can all be done after the stuff is created, but nothing matters until things are brought into the world. Lazy days when you don’t want to do shit are fine. They’re still days when, because you’ve spent effort building your habit, The Work happens.

A Meaningful Break

A Meaningful Break

The idea behind breaks is, in part, that effective work is bolstered by leaving the task aside for brief periods so as to refresh and invigorate the person working. But (and you knew there had to be a but, didn’t you?) much of the time, we use our rest periods to do other tasks. Mostly checking social media.

I’m going to suggest we try doing less during our breaks. It’s easy to let the pile of Things to Do bully us into trying to take action on uncrossed-out items. It’s harder, counterintuitively, to just rest. I have a notion that if we could do this for one or more days, it would be even more effective.

It may be that, like meditation, a short period where focus is on just resting can enhance our reinvigoration. Further, it might then unchain the burden of being made to be something else. A break gains meaning in this way, not because of the number of things we can accomplish outside our work, but because it isn’t trying to become something else. It’s no longer just the absence of work. It, like us, when we live in the moment, is its true self.

Happy Thinksfeeling

Happy Thinksfeeling

Gratitude is free. But expressing thanks enriches our lives in many real, if intangible ways. We sometimes feel humility, and subjects of our appreciation feel appreciated, as we take time to remember what requires our thankfulness. Those effects of thanks are to be expected. The root of the word incorporates both thought and emotion, “to think” and “to feel” all in one.

I’m thankful for good friends and family, a world full of curiosities and knowledge, the ability to wonder. To live is to hope. To give thanks is to reflect on life and revere things which give it meaning.

Purging Toxins

Purging Toxins

The media information landscape can feel intensely enervating at times. A never-ending feed cuts both ways, and cat images have a hard time competing against manufactured (or actual) real-world continual crisis.

The old methods are sometimes best.

  1. Turn off. Unplug. Walk out. A day without internet is Tim Wu’s temporary panacea. There’s more to say about it, but this habit works well to regain a little perspective and recharge, even if just a little. Without the endless scroll of emergencies, having just a brief walk and look around at the outside world is a beautiful wash of calm.
  2. Breathe. Like a micro-meditation, you simply stop what you’re doing, take a slow, deep, controlled breath and release it in the same rhythm. Then do it again. And a third time. It helps like dementor chocolate: “You really will feel better.” ~ Prof. Lupin
The Balance Trick

The Balance Trick

More from the Jim Henson bio: a lot is made of Jim’s endless work schedule. He was a workaholic, there’s no doubt, but he loved creating and executing projects for The Muppets so much he didn’t care how much effort it took.

You have to sacrifice to make art, that’s true. How much you put into creation and how much time you spend on other aspects of life is the ongoing equation. Is it sacrifice if the thing you enjoy most is the work? Is it failure if you are sustained and inspired by your relationships with other people? The balance can be weighed even in any number of ways, it’s just a matter of what we choose to favor and value.

“[Jim] was very close to us all,” said Juhl. “He just conducted his life in a different way than most people did. He just couldn’t understand about this whole thing called work, and why people didn’t like it, and why people thought there was something wrong with working.” 1

Perspective is paramount. What we choose to emphasize is the important thing, but it doesn’t make you less or more of an artist to shift it this way or that a little bit.

A Simplified Customer Service Methodology

A Simplified Customer Service Methodology

or, How I Came to Write a Pseudo-Proto White Paper

As my job in retail is my primary financial support, I’ve been thinking about the issue of customer service for a few years as I observe people in their activities while in my store. It’s easy to devolve into an adversarial mindset. After several years with many of the same cow-orkers (I’ve been a longtime admirer of Cory Doctorow’s favored re-spelling) and even several of the same managers, camaraderie and affection are a natural outgrowth. Customers can be difficult. That’s not to say that most, or even many, are “problem” patrons, but, if only due to a familiar setting, employees can tend to view their workplace as, well, theirs. Up to a third of our lives (sometimes more) is spent there. Customers can become invaders, encroachers, intruders. Overcoming the adversarial tendency and anticipating the difficult customer is a prime goal of customer service. This is all hyperbole to better outline the issue.

I’m not interested in pursuing a career in customer relations, so I wanted to be succinct. How could I quickly translate my simple, surface observations into an easily-digestible package? In these situations, where my ambition is bigger than any underlying motivation, acronyms have proved eminently useful.

The following is not a true white paper, it’s far too succinct and sourceless. It has only my personal observations to back it up. But, hey, just for the record, here it is.

A Method for Simple On-Site Problem Solving 

by Marcus Harwell

The basic level of customer service is the patron’s impression of their visit. Customers, as a group, regularly and continually have questions and problems which need to be solved. Successful resolution of those queries (and a positive experience) can often be achieved in a brief interaction. In order to maximize customer satisfaction and experience, an employee using the following method may improve results when it is followed as a first and ongoing procedure. Even when the problem is unsolvable, a customer may still leave the store with a positive experience due to the crew’s direct responses. In a very simplified way, this fundamental level can be addressed with a simple, sequential system, namely the three Es:

  • Engagement
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm


1. Engagement 

Awareness and Involvement 

This is the first level of interaction with any patron. Being directly involved with the customer asking a question is key to quickly solving problems. Actively listening to a customer’s problem involves both listening and showing understanding. Engaging allows customers to identify with crew and reduces anxiety. So:

  • Be aware of the customers around you
  • Be ready to actively listen to customers when they ask a question
  • Personal body language should reflect these attitudes


2. Empathy 

Identification With the Customer 

One of the quickest ways to create a negative customer experience is to appear unconcerned. Taking on the question or problem as one’s own is a way of connecting with the customer. The Walt Disney Company, for example, conceptualizes their customers as guests for this reason: it allows them to more easily identify with them. Additionally, empathy can create urgency and resolve in the crew. The customer should never feel belittled or burdensome for their question. Their problem is important in the moment. So:

  • Accept the problem as your own
  • Strive to solve the question because of its importance, rather than to get the customer out of the way


3. Enthusiasm
Positive Response and Assertion
Eagerness to resolve an issue can promote and sustain favorable customer relations. Regardless of outcome, affirming that a problem is solvable, or that one can answer a question, can keep customers on the crew’s side. The reason enthusiasm functions best as the final step is that if the customer is engaged and connected, even a response in the negative can result in an overall gratifying experience. This effect can carry forward to expectations of similar experiences in the future. So:

  • Affirmatively respond that a question is answerable
  • Assure customers you will do what you can to answer their question or solve their problem
  • “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out for you” is a valid, positive response, regardless of a disappointing answer

The importance of this sequence lies in the end result. Even in cases of negative or “No” answers, if the first two principles are followed, the customer is still engaged and empathized with, and therefore more likely to leave their encounter with a positive experience and a feeling that the establishment values their business.
This formula should by no means be seen as the be-all, end-all of customer service. Difficult or hostile patrons require trained management intervention. It’s merely a simplified starting point to quickly get employees involved, and from which to expand to more subtle and complicated issues.