Zen and the Art of Flea Markets and Garage Sales

Depending on where you live, a flea market might also be called a swapmeet or a car boot sale, but the concept is the same. A bunch of peopleget together in one place and sell their stuff. If you don't feel likegoing some place to sell your stuff, you can do it from your yard orgarage. Or go to someone else's. :)

McCormick Woods, theneighborhood where I live, has an annual neighborhood garage sale. Itused to be supported by the Homeowners Association, but some stuffhappened that caused the Homeowners Association to not want to beinvolved and no longer wants anything to do with it. However, thehomeowners themselves still organize the yearly "purging of the houses"every first Saturday in June. There are plenty of individual garagesales throughout the year, but this is the one weekend where everyonewho can, does it.

As a buyer at a flea market or garage sale,you're never quite sure what you're going to get. However, everyonelikes to find a bargain. My favorite bargain I found growing up was the$1 Intellivision, which lasted several years.

Asa seller, there's two basic goals: getting rid of stuff and makingmoney. These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but if youtry and make too much money (i.e. charge too much for your stuff), youwon't get rid of as much stuff. A good garage sale or flea marketexperience is really a confluence of the right people showing up at theplace where you're selling stuff at the right price.

There's alarge chunk of the selling process you can't control, namely peopleshowing up. Oh sure you can put up signs and advertise in the paper,which increases your odds of people showing up, but you can't make them show up. However, you can control what you charge for things, which increases the likelihood of someone actually buying stuff when they doshow up. Maximumizing the profit for any given item while making itcheap enough that someone will choose to buy it is an artform.

Mywife has a hard time accepting the fact that people aren't going togive you what she thinks something is worth. Our stuff is in generallygood condition compared to the junk I've seen over the years--and trustme, I grew up going to garage sales and flea markets nearly everyweekend with my mon--but the fact is people that shop at flea marketand garage sales are always looking for a deal. The fact that an itemis in good condition is certainly a selling point, but it doesn't meanyou can charge a premium for it.

As a buyer, it's like atreasure hunt except you're not exactly sure what you're looking for.The emergence of Antiques Roadshow in the US has probably done a lot tofoster the idea that you might find a treasure at your local fleamarket or garage sale. As a seller, I enjoy giving people stuff theyneed at a good price, and it just seems like it's the right thing todo. I can remember many items I acquired as a kid at a garage sale orflea market eventually making their way back out to a garage sale orflea market to be sold to someone else. It's recycling at its finest.

I miss going to garage sales and flea markets. It's a pity my wife doesn't share my feelings about it,

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Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Competition is something everyone has been exposed to at one time oranother because just about everyone has played some kind of sport.Sports is all about competition, and it has some benefits. It motivatesyou to succeed, you get an emotional rush when you "win," you improveyour skills.

Business is also about competition--with othercompanies. Unfortunately, competition seems to occur within a business.People "compete" for having the best idea for something, "compete" fora promotion, "compete" for the attention of the boss. We also completeoutside of business, for example with your spouse over any littlething, or with your children over everything. :)

All of thiscomes from a mentality that the things are scarse. Namely, that themore someone else has, the less you can have. While for a few thingsthis is true, the fact of the matter is most things we seek are notscarce, but rather abundant. Everyone can get attention and praise,everyone can contribute and profit from a situation. It takesapproaching things with a Win-Win mindset.

A Win-Win mindsetseeks mutual benefit and is designed to be cooperative. Also, to have acooperative mindset, you must listen to what the other people want andbe honest about what you want. This last part takes courage.

Someother mindsets that permeate our life include Win-Lose, where winningat the expense of the other is the goal, Lose-Win, where you give upwhat you want to the other person despite your feelings to thecontrary, Lose-Lose, where you actively try and bring other peopledown, and Win, which basically means you are focused on winning anddon't particularly care if the other person wins or loses too, andfinally Win-Win or No Deal where you either come to a mutuallybeneficial agreement or "agree to disagree" amecibly.

So how doto you have a Win-Win mindset? You have the the courage to express yourthoughts and feelings, and the willingness and ability to seek tounderstand the thoughts and feelings of others.

When you have a Win-Win mindset, you can begin to build Win-Win agreeements with others. Win-Win agreements have five elements:

Desired Results: What end you have in mind.
Guidelines: The rules that govern pursuing the desired results.
Resources: What tools you have to use to meet the guidelines.
Accountability: What will be used to measure that the desired results are obtained.
Consequences: What will happen if the desired results are (not) achieved?

Togive an example of this, I recently took my kids to a large playground.The big problem I have with this playground is that my son, almost 6,wants to go all over the place and I feel he is still too small to beout of my sight. I, of course, have to watch my daughter, who is only2. I decided to give into my son and take him to this playground,however I made an agreement with him about what I expected. I had himrepeat the agreement back to me to confirm his understanding. It lookedsomething like this:

Desired Results: We need to be able to seeeach other at all times. If you want to move out of my sight, to adifferent part of the playground, you must ask me first.
Guidelines: Can I see you? Can you see me?
Resources: Eyes and ears.
Accountability: Did he dissapear or not?
Consequences: If the Desired Results aren't obtained, son would be forbidden from going to this playground for several weeks.

AsI am thinking about this, a large part of thinking Win-Win is embdeddedin the next habit, which is "Seek first to understand, then to beunderstood." To be truly Win-Win, you must understand the otherparticiants.

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Some interesting observations I had in May

One thing I've been doing since I took the 7 Habits class is, after thekids have gone to bed and I have fed the cats and generally cleaned upthe house is that I take my day planner, sit down on the couch, and, inaddition to planning the next day (or week), I write down whatever ison my mind. It might be little observations. It might be a "shittyfirst draft" of something I need to write up. Call it a brain flush,but I just want to get the thoughts down in case they are useful later.

Once a month, it's a good idea to go through the notes from the previous month and see what ideas bear revisiting.

"The happiest part of my week is going out with my son to teeball." Not necessarily because it's time with my son, but I have so much fun with all of the kids out there.

"I like noodling with music. Few people. if any, know about that."My wife told me a while ago that she couldn't figure out how I was ableto walk up to a piano and "work out" the notes to a song. That got methinking back into my past. I did take piano lessons when I was abouteight, and so I have some rudimentary skills in playing the piano. Ican remember always having a fondness for the piano, even if I neverfollowed through with the lessons. I got to explore my musical ideaswith Garage Band recently, which I found quite interesting. I used itas the basis for one of the podcasts I submitted to T.W.A.T. recently.

"I want a MacBook for my birthday." I don't think this needs any explanation. :)

"I want to improve my marriage." I know I've had this thought before.

"IfI knew I couldn't fail, what would I do? 1. Get down to 195 pounds. 2.Getting paid to blog for my employer. 3. Make an insanely great podcast. All of these are going to require planning.

"My body wants more sleep."Lately, I haven't been staying up as long as usual, choosing to go tobed at an earlier hour. This evening, I am at my more usual 2am or so.:)

"I've been spending less time online." I've actually been enjoying notsitting on the computer, which is what I do during that "planning" timeand why I am keeping a paper day planner instead of using Outlook, et.al.

"Im finding the space between stimulus and response." At least more often, though I know I have a ways to go in this area.

"I need a quick meditation technique."When I was doing some research on the net about meditation, I ranacross a technique that would require only a couple of minutes ofmeditation, but it would give your mind a quick refresh. I need to findthat again any try it.

"Compass, not clock." The direction you are going is generally more important than how long it takes you to get there.

"Leo Laporte said on a podcast recently that you should do what you love and the rest will take care of itself." How true.

Thatcovers about 10 days worth--I didn't actually start doing the braindumps until a couple of weeks after I started with the day planner.We'll see what I come up with next month.

Having Values in Alignment

Today I was thinking about my mission as I defined it within the pastmonth. In a sense it articulates what I have been doing for a while nowand articulates what I value most. One thing I haven't done is comparethose values to the ones my employer has. What I find interesting isthat while I couldn't name all four of these values in the past, today,without any prompting, and without looking it up, I was able to nameall four.

My employer has four "core" values: CustomerSatisfaction, Respect, Achievement, and Renewal. Customer Satisfactionseems kind of obvious. Respect, as in treating other people withrespect, communicating openly and honestly, embracing differences, andvaluing the environment and community. Achievement speaks towardsmeeting goals, taking responsibility and being accountable for success,and recognizing and celebrating achievements. Renewal is the act ofcontinual learning, or what Stephen Covey might call "Sharpening theSaw."

What I wrote down for my "mission" as you might recall is:Share, Improve, Serve, Inspire. Achievement and Renewal in the abovevalues match up nicely with Inspire and Improve respectively. Serveseems kind of ambiguous now that I think about it, but it does fallinto the Customer Satisfaction as does sharing. Respect doesn't reallymatch any of these, but it is something that is important to me--why Ileft it out of my mission, I'm not sure.

The more I think aboutit, the more the words Respect, Achievement, and Renewal really seem todescribe what I am about. Customer Satisfaction is something that isjob specific, it's not really specific to life in general, but Sharingis.

At the end of the day, I work for a company that valuesmany of the same things that I do. I consider myself very lucky as noteveryone can say that.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

The idea behind putting first things first is to prioritize "important" things first instead of "urgent" things. What's important? What's urgent? What's the difference? Things that are important are activities that represent your values, mission, and high-priority goals. Things that are urgent require immediate attention.

Given that description, it sounds counter-intuitive. We should be focusing on urgent things, right? Not necessarily. It depends on what kind of" urgent" we are talking about. Tasks fall into one of four quadrants on a "Time Matrix." Urgency is on the X axis and Importance on the Y axis.

Quadrant 1 (QI), in the upper left, is the urgent and important things. This is called the quadrant of necessity, and includes things like crises, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects, meeting preparations, medical emergencies, etc.

Quadrant 2 (QII), in the upper right, is the items that are noturgent, but are important. This is called the quadrant of effectiveness, and includes tasks like planning and preparing, prevention, understanding or reaffirming your values, planning, building relationships, renewing yourself, and empowerment.

Quadrant 3 (QIII), in the lower left, is the items that are urgent but not important. This is called the quadrant of deception, mostly because things in this quadrant look a lot like QI issues, but really aren't. These are things like interruptions, unnecessary reports, email, meetings, phone calls, and other peoples minor issues.

Quadrant 4 (QIV), in the lower right, is the items that are not urgent or important, otherwise known as the quadrant of waste and excess. Busywork, trivia, irrelevant phone calls/email, various time wasting activities, excessive TV, web surfing, or relaxation.

If you really need a visual of this, look on orgcoach.net.

Have you ever been to the Bermuda Triangle? Most of you would say no, but I bet you have. Many people spend lots of time on QI and QIII tasks, then often escape in QIV tasks, which sometimes brings you back to a QI task. If you draw this out, you have a line between QI and QIII, a line between QIII and QIV, and a line from QIV to QI. That, my friends, is what we call the Bermuda Triangle, and it sucks your will to live. :)

In any case, the trick is to spend more time on QII activities. By planning, you can reduce or eliminate QI and QIII items. For example, eating right and exercising, definitely QII activities, can reduce or eliminate health problems later in life, which are definitely QI.

Let's talk about planning for a minute. The key to putting first things first is to actually plan. There are two types of planning: weekly planning and daily planning. The weekly planning is done at the start of a week and consists of three activities: Reviewing mission and roles, choosing "big rocks," and scheduling the week.

Reviewing mission and roles is fairly straightforward. Review your "mission statement" and the roles that come from that. Roles are key relationships and things for which you are responsible. For example, my roles include father, husband, employee, blogger. Chances are once these roles are enumerated and the mission statement is in place, you won't have to redefine these things, but you will need to review them each week.

For each role, ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week? These are your "big rocks." The big rocks can come from your conscience, your mission, your goals, and key projects you may be working on. The rocks can come in the form of tasks, appointments, and areas of focus. For example, this week, one of my "big rocks" is writing this particular blog entry. Others include exercise, learning about meditation (and actually doing it a couple of times, and determining ways to make my wife's life easier.

Once you have identified the big rocks, schedule them. Schedule them first before you schedule other things that might be happening in the week. Regularly scheduled meetings at work can be viewed as "big rocks," though I wouldn't necessarily identify them as such. They are demands on the time that must be accounted for like everything else. Sometimes, one of your big rocks will displace one of those regularly scheduled meetings. That happens. :)

After the week is scheduled, then follow up on your planning daily to ensure that you are continuing to meet your weekly goals. You will also account for any changes in schedule that might need to be made. Looking at the number of hours you have left in the day, you will come up with a realistic task list for the day and prioritize it.

Finally, you should have a planning system of some sort. I decided to use the planning system I got as a result of taking the 7 Habits class. It's a paper day planner. Seems kind of weird that a techie is using paper instead of something electronic, but I actually like having it on paper. Paper doesn't crash or get lost in an upgrade. ;) Whatever system you use, it needs to be integrated, i.e. have tasks, appointments, notes, and contacts, it needs to be mobile, i.e. with you all the time, and it needs to be personalized, i.e. customized for your own needs.

One thing that is a key part of putting first things first is learning how to say "no," mostly to QIII things. This is an area that I need to work on.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind

You wouldn't drive a car without knowing where you're going, right? Before you get in the car to go somewhere, you have an idea of where you're going. You might have the place pictured in your mind. You might imagine the route you are going to take to avoid traffic or construction. You might might have a list of the things you are going to do when you get there. The end of the trip is firmly in mind before you get behind the wheel.

What if you didn't know where you were going, or even have an idea of where you are going? You'd drive around for a while, you might find some interesting things along the way. You might end up getting some place pretty cool. But you might also end up going the wrong way, down the wrong street, into the wrong part of town. Before you know it, you're lost and out of gas, and you have no way out. You don't even know how you got there.

Life is exactly like driving a car. If you have a clear picture of what you want out of life, then your life has clear destination--a clear goal to work towards. Having the picture in your mind is key to getting you where you want to go. Having the picture also often makes it very clear how to get there--the path you will need to take. Even if the path is not clear, at least the guidelines for getting there will be.Each action you take can be evaluated within the framework of getting to that destination. Will it work? Not always. Sometimes you have to try a number of different things. Sometimes you have to change your tactics. Sometimes you have to change what you are working towards. That's okay to do. It's better to have a bad plan today than to have a good plan tomorrow.

Now I'm going to throw around one of those really cheesy business concepts here: a mission statement. A mission statement is, quite simply, something that defines your purpose. In business, a mission statement defines what the business is in business for. Within a business, a mission statement can be used within a division or business unit to give the group a purpose.

In the context of knowing where you are going in life, a mission statement articulates your vision for where you want your life to be. It is "the end," as it were. By having that vision clearly defined, you can begin to evaluate everything in your life with respect to that mission.

For the moment, at least I have determined that my mission statement is four simple words: Share, Improve, Serve, Inspire. It's not perfect and doesn't capture everything I want to become, but it captures the core of what I am and what I want to be.

You might want to have a look at FranklinCovey's Mission Builder to help you craft your own mission statement.

Future Gamer

Yes, even my two year old plays video games, or attempts to at least. :)

Habit 1: Be Proactive

One of the things that resulted from my taking The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course is that I have committed to share these principles with someone else as I work through them on my own. I seem to work better with written words than oral words, and I figure a few people out there could benefit from this stuff, so why not blog about it?

The first habit Stephen Covey talks about is being proactive. What does that mean, exactly? It means to realize that who and what you are isn't a result of circumstances, but rather a result of choices we as people make. Now that might seem self-evident, but it's difficult concept for a lot of people to live. I can't claim to do it all the time--I don't think anyone can--but it is certainly the ideal.

Let me give an example from my own life. Those who have known me for a long time know or at least have heard me talk about the fact my parents were not shining examples of humanity. They had their good qualities and bad, but on the balance they would not be considered ideal parents--and they were divorced to boot. For many years, I chose to obsess over that in a very negative way. It affected my social and emotional skills greatly. To some extent, it still does.

When years later I finally realized that my upbringing had no bearing on how I chose to live my life, my life improved dramatically. My whole outlook on the world changed. I was free to choose, and it felt wonderful!

When I was five or so, I had a very defining moment in my life. I'm not exactly sure what precipitated this thought in my adolescent brain, but it is a thought that has defined a huge part of who I am to this day. That thought? I would not put my kids through the same divorce crap I was going through then. The result? I'm married to someone who is just as committed to not divorcing as I am. Whether my kids will turn out better than I remains to be seen, of course. ;)

Had I realized back when I was five that I could make a choice, not just in that circumstance, but in anything that happened to me, man, would my life have turned out differently! That being said, I can't do anything about the past and can only resolve going forward to always choose my response to stimulus. I can be a transition person and stop the negative patterns from being given to my children.

Nazi Death Camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Frankl observed that the main difference between the people that survived Auscwitz and the people that didn't were the people who realized that despite all the oppression, the one thing that the Nazi's couldn't take away from them was their freedom to choose their response to what was happening.

Human beings are endowed with four things that other creatures don't have: self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will. These things help create the space between stimulus and response, give us guidance about how to respond, the ability to visualize the result, and ultimately, the ability to act as we choose.

One other thing about being proactive is knowing what you have influence over and what you do not, and focusing on only that which you have direct control over. So what do you have control over? Your actions, your responses. These are within your Circle ofInfluence. Your Circle of Concern, which is a superset of your Circle of Influence, includes stuff you do not have any control over, such as external events and other people's reactions and responses to you. It is a waste of time to focus on things which you cannot control. By focusing on your Circle of Influence, you and your Circle of Influence will grow substantially.

Still a Ways to Go

My daughter is definitely still has some time "on the mend" to go. While she woke up a lot better than she has been, and ate quite a bit, she's still not 100%. She slept quite a while on me in the late morning. Things are still hurting, but at least the food appears to be staying in. Hopefully that means she is on the road to recovery.

Gracie's Brush With the ER

My wife brought my daughter back from the hospital this evening after a bag of IV fluids was given to her along with some medicine to calm her stomach. While she's got a ways to go--her energy levels aren't anywhere near where they normally are, she ate and kept it down! She was also singing, which is something she hasn't been doing for a couple of days now. The road to recovery has begun. We'll have to see what tomorrow brings, of course, but at least things ended on a good note.

Meanwhile, my wife is physically and emotionally spent after several days of dealing with this. She passed out rather quickly this evening after getting Gracie to bed. I'm probably not too far behind her as I'm starting to have trouble maintaining focus--a clear sign that I need to get to bed.

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