Note No. 35

December 24, 2009

It began last week when I had nothing to read at the breakfast table.

I had left all my novels and New Yorkers upstairs (and you KNOW how difficult it is to go upstairs when you are downstairs), and I was dying for something to feast my eyes on that was neither a computer screen, nor the 16th Century bodice ripper that a friend is convinced I need to read.

That’s when I picked up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Personal Workbook, an accompaniment to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which had been gathering dust upstairs in my room under the Sudoku page-a-day calendar that is still set on August 20. That’s not to say I NEVER look in that corner. Just not every equinox.

Anyhow, for as long as I can remember, this self-help series by Stephen R. Covey has been my dad’s Holy Grail to life. I still recall as a girl in tights seeing the cassette collection in its plastic carrying case as it jounced around the back seat of his work-issued sedan. It was always a foreign being, always present and never understood. As I got older and into my teens, he would occasionally reference a Habit here or there, trying to tie my particular dilemma of the hour into one of Covey’s well-honed philosophies. And for the life of me, I cannot remember a single example right now.

Then, in the last year (sometime between my I-just-got-to-the-island-and-Omigod-this-is-the-hardest-thing-I-have-ever-done phase and my I-finally-like-the-island-and-think-I-want-to-buy-a-house-and-open-a-million-businesses-here phase), he gave me my very own copy.

I tried to read it. I gave it an honest go (okay, semi-honest) and it was not bonding to my brain cells. Not even a little bit. Not even like when a Post-it Note has lost its sticky but still manages to hang on for a second or two before fluttering to the floor.

Maybe it was the title. Something about being called an effective person rubs me the wrong way. It’s cold. It’s methodical. It says nothing of waking up in the morning and deciding to move to Greece and then selling most of your possessions before finding out a week prior to departure day that Greece is not going to happen, because of circumstances out of your control, so that you divert to Spain, stay for a month, then four months, then two years, and finally find yourself in Mexico running a hotel.

It says nothing of that. Or so I thought.

Then I picked it up.

And then I had to eat my words.

Continuous learning. Service to others. Radiating positive energy. Affirmation of others’ potential. Striking balance. Self-renewal. AND, get this: spontaneity and serendipity.

And here I was expecting him to be promoting things like: Identifying and taking advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses to make him or her crash and burn in a spectacular show of pyrotechnics; precise manipulation of your cohorts in order to get exactly what you want; waking up at 4:30 in the morning to plan your evil day.

Meanwhile, he was quoting Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: “Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

And Rumer Godden: “Everyone is a house with four rooms: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”

And Pearl S. Buck: “To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”

Like I said, I ate my words. And I started paying attention.

The next chapter was an overview of The 7 Habits and it had this scary chart that contrasted Effective People and Ineffective People.

Habit 1: Effective People are proactive beings that recognize that they are responsible for choices; Ineffective People are reactive beings that feel victimized by circumstances, their past and other people.

Habit 2: Effective People begin with an end in mind, creating a mental vision and a purpose in order to carry out any project; Ineffective People “lack personal vision” and they live life based on societal values, instead of their own mission statement based on personal meaning.

Habit 3: Effective People “organize and execute around their most important priorities,” no matter the circumstances; Ineffective People are unable to stay focused on tasks, because they are just thinking about the circumstances, their past and/or other people.

Habit 4: Effective People think Win-Win, operating on principles such as showing kindness and consideration to others, keeping promises and honoring commitments, and not speaking negatively about others when they are not around; Ineffective People think Win-Lose or Lose-Win, operating with “ineffective communication skills,” thereby creating “a defensive mentality and adversarial feelings.”
Oh. No.

Habit 5: Effective People seek first to understand and then be understood, meaning they want to understand others before they reply; Ineffective People seek first to be understood before they understand, meaning they talk first about their points of view, which they base completely on their own experience and motives, meaning they never attempt to understand others before diagnosing others’ problems.

Habit 6: Effective People seek the third alternative to Your Way and My Way, thereby “respecting, valuing and even celebrating one another’s differences”; Ineffective People try to create more people who are like themselves, looking upon people’s differences as a menace.
Don’t go there.

Habit 7: Effective People are constantly looking to rejuvenate themselves physically, mentally, socially and emotionally, and spiritually; Ineffective People lack this ability and “eventually lose the cutting edge they may have once had.”

Dear dear me. That last one resonated hardest and all I could think was: “Oh GOD, I don’t EVER want to be an Ineffective Person.” Because Lily Allen’s song, “22,” really came to mind.

So that’s why I’ve committed to keep reading. All of it. To the end. Finally.

Thank you, Vati.

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