What Motivates Us

Put the stick in the corner and feed that carrot to your donkey! We don’t need to be managed to be efficient, just give us a little breathing room and we thrive.

When I first published the news about our Sabbatical, we’ve received a lot of feedback. Some of it as comments in this blog, even more on Facebook and other social media. Most of them very personal, but some people also commented on the professional reasons that drove us into the decision. Specifically, the motivation in the work place.

Daniel H. PinkI was surprised to read that my ideas expressed in that post have resemblance to theories build by Daniel H. Pink in his Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Intrigued, in such comparison I decided to explore that subject.

According to Daniel H. Pink, everything we know about motivation is wrong. In the traditional model, adopted by the corporate world, people are driven by fear of loss and hope of gain, or the anecdotal stick and carrot. However, according to latest studies, this is not only inaccurate, it’s flat out wrong. In a nutshell, bonus plans and performance evaluations are counter productive in any kind of work environments. Especially for professionals, they reduce our ability to produce creative solutions to problems. It’s not the carrot and the stick anymore. Apparently, after we meet our basic needs, what motivates us today is our ability to grow and develop our potential.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize or are not ready to admit those new scientific studies and continue to feed us carrots and beat us with a stick. There are a few exceptions though, pioneers who experiment with different approaches:

  • Employees creativity thrives in Google’s legendary work environment. One day a week, engineers at the internet giant are free to work on projects of their choosing.
  • Few years ago, Best Buy introduced a concept called ROWE – Results Only Work Environment, in which employees are free to work when- and where- ever they want, as long as they reach agreed objectives.

It’s true that I’ve read about the above examples already before, which may explain why my ideas appeared similar to those expressed by Daniel H. Pink in his latest book. I read about ROWE couple of years ago and wondered at that time if a similar concept would work at my company. In theory, assuming mature organization and strong management, we have an almost perfect environment to implement ROWE. Except for the manufacturing area, results only work environment could be adapted in all other parts of the business. After all, we are a projects based engineering company and we pay professionals to be creative and not to push papers around, don’t we…? Those that (used) to work with me know the answer to that question… I think it also applies to many other businesses in the modern world. We have twenty first century technology and nineteenth century mentality, when it comes to what motivates people in the work place…

Pink, in his book doesn’t only talk about motivation in the work place, even though this seems to be his area of focus. He also gives pointers on how to adapt this new studies in your day-to-day life and in appendices you’ll find tips on applying it to fitness, children, etc…

If you’re interested, you can get your own copy of the Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us at Amazon for under USD $10.

Road Trip Planning

How to cope with stress at work, and about the importance of having detailed plans. In other words, hope for the best, but have a plan… or at least a very preliminary rough idea draft of a plan.

Couple of weeks to departure. The stress level is high. Extremely high. The nights are short and sleepless, the days are tiring. The offload, you can either start drinking or… planning your Sabbatical trip. I’ve done the former, and it doesn’t seem to work long term. The side effects are interesting, but nights are even shorter and days more stressful. Vicious cycle.

Today is Monday. For me the last Monday at work. No, it’s not the last week just yet, but next Monday happens to be July 4th the Independence – or beer and BBQ – Day. In fifteen days, the trip begins. Part One will be easy, hopefully relaxing. We need to recharge batteries, before we start recharging batteries for real. There are no real plans for Europe at this point. There are a few to-do’s in Poland. Our kids need to get their Polish birth certificates and passports. I need to pick-up my state ID. There will be lots of catching up with friends and Family, but most importantly there will be time to properly plan the trip out.

Right now, the plan is to arrive in Toronto on August 29th and after a day or two at our neighbors head down to Allegheny State Park for the Labor Day weekend. This will be the official inauguration of our road trip and a also a farewell party. From there, our friends will go back home, and we’ll go south. Or west… I haven’t decided yet.
At first we wanted to head straight west to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Zion, Bryce, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc… However, since we’re going to hit the road only at the end of summer, I’m afraid that the weather may be too cold for camping in the west. I’ve read somewhere that Yellowstone is great in early October. – no more vacation crowds, peace and quietness. At the same time it might be too cold for camping. I’m not even sure if the campgrounds are still open past Labor Day weekend. I need to investigate. If it wasn’t too cold, we would head down the parks on the west coast and back east to Grand Canyon, where it’s supposedly better to visit between November and April. The temperatures in the inner gorge are down to pleasant sixties or seventies (that’s fifteen to twenty Celsius). Might be a good idea.
The alternative is to directly head down south and spend time on the East Coast, before entering Mexico early November. There are parks we’ve never been to before. We’d like to see the Blue Ridge Mountains and take a few hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

After crossing the border, we plan to move quickly to leave the danger zone as soon as possible. In fact, we need to educate ourselves a bit and define the path a little better. I know stopping at Morelia is a must because of the Monarch butterfly monastery, but other then that we haven’t decided what else will be on our agenda. Yucatan is on the list on special request from my ladies. This is where the boys will be seriously outnumbered. My wife’s sister and her friend plan to join us for some fun time at the beach.

Next few stops will be in Belize and Guatemala. My wife plans on staying in Honduras a little longer to attend a month long yoga class. Then Nicaragua and a longer stop at some jungle location in Costa Rica. Once we get to Panama Canal, we’ll decide what to do next.

[gmap height=”900″ latitude=”25.921631″ longitude=”-94.691406″ zoom=”5″ marker=”false” maptype=”G_PHYSICAL_MAP”]

Right now, the plan is to head back north, following a slightly different path. After entering USA in late spring or early summer, we plan to hang out in the west for a while before returning to Rochester when the school year begins.
That’s a very rough version of a preliminary draft of a road trip plan. It’s going to change as we do our homework and investigate the destinations we want to visit, adapt our budget, get bored or just get a sunburn.
Our house attracts a lot of attention. People complement it, but we haven’t found the right tenants yet. Some were asking about buying it from us. I don’t know about that. The market is still down, so it will be very difficult to get our money back, and after all, we don’t know what’s going to happen during our Sabbatical trip. Are we going to get back to Livonia…? Are we going to get back to New York state…? Or to the USA at all…

The voyage is supposed to be as much a road trip as it’s going to be a self discovery journey. For all of us. We may end up in the same place we started, or some place different entirely.

Damn, the stress level is high…

Risky business

How experienced travelers apply common sense to everyday situations to make sure they don’t miss a chance to get soaking wet on their way to work.

The weather in the last few days has been hot and moist. We had several fast moving storms – mostly at nights – with an amazing display of lights and loud roars of thunders. The days are calm, but grey, damp and muggy. An occasional ray of sunshine is cherished, but usually doesn’t last long. The sky is almost constantly covered with dark, pregnant looking clouds, ready to spill out their guts any moment. Riding a motorcycle is now risky business.

Couple of days ago, I checked the weather forecast in the morning. The sky was overcast, but it wasn’t supposed to rain for at least another hour. It only takes thirty minutes for me to get to work, so I decided I’ll take the chance. There was a thunderstorm the night before, so the roads were wet. The vehicle in front of me was picking up all that moist, throwing it high in the air behind him. My face and goggles covered in no time with a thin mist. It wasn’t too bad though.

On the way out of East Avon, I started feeling pins and needles of raindrops in my face. When you’re in a car, it’s the kind of light rain that makes you use the windshield wipers only occassionaly. More of an annoyance than a distraction. That’s what wiper timers were invented for. On a motorcycle, you know that if it doesn’t stop soon, your clothes will be damp when you get to your destination. And usually such light rain doesn’t last very long. It stops quickly, or… turns into a heavy downpour.

I decided to work on my attitude and try to attract some positive energy, hoping the light rain will be over quickly. In physics, and as it seems in real life too, positives only attract negatives. The rain didn’t stop, instead it started to come down faster and in such volume, that in about fifteen seconds I was soaking wet. I pulled over to reconsider my situation. I was half way to work, all my clothes were wet, and my backpack was supposedly only “semi-waterproof”. What does it mean anyway?

I turned around and headed back home. Fortunately, there’s been no emergencies at work that day, only a friend commented that this must be one of the most original excuses to ditch work. Hey, if it’s so good, it’s worth buying a bike, isn’t it?!? I’ve got one Suzuki Intruder available…

Forecast for the next day was similar – undecided. Better safe then wet, I thought and called a friend of mine to arrange a car pool next morning. It didn’t rain that day… Did I learn my lesson? Well, today I rode my motorcycle to work again. It didn’t rain all the way, so only my socks were wet from all the moist on the roads. At lunch time I rode to a barber shop to get a last haircut before the trip. I got there dry, but while on the barber chair, I’ve noticed that it’s raining outside. I think I’ll be wet again…

I’m so glad it’s Friday!

A fresh perspective

How living abroad changes your friends and Family and why it’s easier to tell stories when no one listens (Schrödinger’s cat).

During one of our recent garage sales, I spoke with a neighbour, who seemed thrilled about our upcoming trip. He suggested, we should contact some travel publications and offer them cooperation. I was rather skeptical, as quite frankly, I don’t see how this endeavor can be very exciting for anyone, but us. It’s not original, as thousands of families do it every day. Our destinations are not very exotic –  after all, we’ll be spending much of our Sabbatical in Mexico, Belize, Cost Rica – those are popular vacation spots for many Americans.

Except, we’re not Americans. Well, technically we are – we became citizens in 2010 and will be traveling using US passports. However, we were not born and raised in this country. Therefore our point of view is often different from most of our friends. The difference was more obvious nine years ago, when we just arrived here and everything was new and unfamiliar. Over the years we got accustomed, understood,  or simply started to ignore things that first seemed weird and bizarre. I think we’ve adapted pretty well. If we want to make this blog sound interesting, we’ll need to go back in time and “unlearn” all that and provide a new perspective on the American way of life. A Polish perspective maybe…?

Except, we’re not much Polish anymore. After living abroad for almost third of our lifes, our perspective isn’t the same as our friends and Family who stayed in Poland. Quite frankly, last time we visited our hometown, it didn’t feel the same at all. Same people, same buildings, and yet everything felt different, less familiar, almost… foreign? We perceive the city and people as being different, and in fact they’ve changed. But so did we.

So can we really offer a fresh perspective…? A view interesting enough to keep visitors coming back for more…? I don’t know. Time will tell.

My real goal is to keep this blog updated regulary to allow our friends and Family to stay in touch and to log our memories for those long winter days of our retirement. Written word, even in this electronic age, has much longer life expectancy then tales repeated verbally. Even if it does not have the same appeal. I remember, as a young boy I loved to listen to my Parents stories of their vacation adventure. There were only a few of them, so I’ve heard each repeated countless times at various parties. My Parents have a true talent for storytelling. The same talent, my wife inherited from her Parents. The same talent my kids will hopefully inherit from their Mom. I’m the odd one. I’m a geek. Unfortunately not gifted enough to invent another Facebook, socially challenged nonetheless…

I hope you’ll like our stories. We’ll keep’em coming. Agnieszka promised to chip in with some brilliant jokes and culinary advice to liven it up a bit. You won’t see updates on a daily basis, we don’t want to set your expectations too high. We hope to be less psychoanalytical and more funny in the future. We just can’t wait to start blogging about the real adventures…!

Focus is key!

Why loosing focus is bad, loosing Focus is not. How your mind’s clarity depends on bugs in your teeth and what to do on a curve.

It’s easy to maintain focus. Especially on a motorcycle, going sixty miles an hour on an empty country road. June is seasonably hot in upstate New York this year. However, at eight o’clock in the morning, it’s still a bit chilly. The traffic is scarce and it’s easy to switch off. There are parts of brain trained to monitor situation on the road and operate the vehicle unconciously. The only sound is the engine roar and the wind twirling in your ears. Easy to disconnect, and yet still be in the present. Unlike in the car, you’re not only watching the scenery passing by your window. You are a part of it, you feel it with all your senses. The chill of the morning, the vibrations of the frame, the road inches below your feet, the blow (and bugs) in your face. And the smells – asphalt, spilled oils, fresh spread manure in the fields. You feel and register the world around you. You’re present and with no coffee mug, no radio or other distractions, your mind is also so much clearer. If you haven’t noticed already, I like riding my motorcycle. It’s almost a zen like experience. Most of the time…

The truth is, I have no choice. Over the weekend we’ve managed to sell quite a few of our possessions. My car, Ford Focus (no pun intended!) being one of them. I don’t care for the weather this summer, but in the next three weeks… Rain, rain, go away! Come again… after July 8th…!

Riding a motorcycle is easy. It doesn’t require skills or knowledge. It doesn’t require university degree or years of experience. That’s why riding motorcycle is fun. Real life is more complicated. The decisions you make are more complex, their consequences less immediate, but could be just as horrible. If you lose control of your bike at sixy miles an hour, the consequences will be immediate and painful. When you lose control of your life, you may not even realize it. You will probably enjoy the free fall for a while. But the end will eventually be just as bad.

Switching jobs, relocating, starting anew is all part of life. It may feel overwhelming at first, but in the end is like switching lanes on the road. A Sabbatical is a bit different. We take a turn on this country road and hope that we don’t lose control. I don’t know where the new road is going to take us to. And quite frankly, we don’t care. We want to enjoy new smells and be part of a different scenery.

Right now it feels like entering the curve still going sixty miles an hour. We hope as hell, we don’t hit the pavement…

As some of my French friends would say: “Focus is key”.

Positive Energy

How positive thinking can help you score a coffee, that a “free lunch” actually do exist in nature and that allergies can be cured by placing stones on your forehead by German witch doctors.

My son, Alex suffers from all kinds of allergies. We discovered early on that he does not tolerate eggs, which make him swell, he gets rush all over his body, turns red, starts chocking and crying. Really terrible thing to watch, especially when it happens to a small child. Later we’ve discovered that walnuts and pollen, cause similar reaction, just not as severe. Last year, during Nadia’s soccer play, he tried pistachios. That experiment turned into horror involving epinephrine injection and ambulance ride. Well, maybe it wasn’t as bed as it sounds, but it cased us to skip a bit or two. After the EpiPen injection, Alex supposedly quite enjoyed the ride and made a tons of  friends at the emergency room.

We’ve tried different things to diagnose those allergies and try to cure them. Unfortunately, traditional western medicine didn’t have much to offer beyond Benadryl and Claritin for instant relief. We do believe that natural and unprocessed food is much better for you than mickey dees and that with just a bit of exercise, you can keep your mind and body sound. Open to alternative solutions, we’ve started to look for a local witch doctor. Turns out, it’s not that difficult to find them these days, you just Google them! We’ve chosen the closest one.

Agnieszka was expecting to meet an old Indian woman performing her witch craft (involving dried snakes and bull frogs) in a tepee. To her relief and maybe just a bit of disappointment, the alternative medicine practitioner was actually operating a regular office and instead from a Tuscarora tribe, she was from… East Germany.  The procedures applied were a bit strange, but not invasive and what’s most important, they actually worked! After a few visits Alex is free from pollen and eggs allergies!

This a bit long introduction is however to arrive at a point when our East German witch, asked her opinion about our crazy road trip says to my wife: “Always think positive. Positive energy attracts positive energy!”. You know what? I think it’s true… Call it karma, positive energy or dreams coming true, but once you decide that you want something to happen, it always will. So be careful, what you wish for…

Since I’ve published the post about our Sabbatical being official, I’ve received so much positive comments and encouraging feedback, that I must simply re-think my usually skeptical attitude. Only today I’ve been invited by an almost total stranger to Ireland, offered three free lunches, got couple of web design work offers and received a few more “OMG!” comments on Facebook. Best off all: I got a free coffee at local Barnes & Nobles! Well, that one isn’t really related to this blog, just me being a “regular” customer, who simply forgot his wallet…


Exit Interview

What’s the difference between exit strategy and an exit interview and how to find a bargain in our neck of the woods.

I don’t have much time to update this blog. We have less then 4 weeks left to departure and the house isn’t rented, we have all our vehicles, two TVs, some electronics, some furniture and tons of smaller stuff filling our garage. The minivan isn’t ready for the trip yet, we have no insurance, the utilities haven’t been cancelled, mail hasn’t been redirected.   The Sabbatical fund is growing slower than planned, mainly due to lower then expected annual bonus and some previously unaccounted for expenses. To make things worse, last night Agnieszka scratched our stainless steel appliances while trying to make them look stunning, which adds one more item to our already miles long to-do list. I’m starting to freak out…

During the exit interview this morning, the reality starts to sink in for good. In few weeks there will be no safe harbor anymore. The paychecks will be no more, no medical insurance, no health benefits. The HR manager starts to ask about things that are wrong with the business, with the organization, and all I can think of is how crazy we are to pull this stunt off! Of course there’s nothing wrong with the business, granted it’s has it’s problems, but they all fade away in comparison to our current headaches. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, and I’m looking forward for this last four weeks to be over. How much time did I spent preparing this exit strategy…? What exit strategy…? We’ve decided to throw everything we’ve been working for out the window and watch it crash on the pavement.

When we get to my Parents house, I’ll sleep for a week and blame it on jet lag. For now, we can’t get good night sleep at all. What is it she’s asking…? Can’t concentrate, it’s quite boring. What do I think needs to be changed…? Hmm, well… Let me think… Oh, who am I trying to fool, I don’t really care what’s going to change after I’m gone. I’ve seen an announcement this morning. There’s going to be new organization and new management team… And I’m leaving? Am I not going to witness the new and improved Alstom…? Nope, I’ve seen it already countless times. There will be new, more efficient ways-of-working (wow!)… I’m more interested in ways of removing scratches from stainless steel appliances. The momentum is gone. I think it wasn’t there in the first place. Do I have any questions? Yes, do you want to buy a couch…?

The interview is over, and if it was on my to-do list I would scratch it off. Yesterday, it was the dentists checkup, today it’s the interview. Hope that tomorrow, we’ll find renters for our house. That would be a truly good day!

By the way, anyone interested in any of our possessions? Maybe you know people who are looking for a four bedroom house in good neighborhood, a car, a motorcycle, beds, a couch, blu-ray player, video camera, speakers, amplifier, game console, large TV and stand, office desk, kitchen stuff, or any other items…? I’m sure we still have it…

The Sabbatical is official!

It took a fair bit of courage to announce our Sabbatical to my employers. But their reaction was more surprising then I have imagined.

Couple weeks ago, I’ve decided to share the Sabbatical plans with my employer.

That’s a significant milestone, and I have to admit I was dreading the moment, not sure what to expect. I had mixed feelings, knowing that if I am to ask for a leave of absence approval, I have to give my notice early enough to allow for a smooth transition. Waiting till the last moment would most likely cause more grief and hard feelings, making the Sabbatical scenario much less probable. On the other hand, keeping everyone in the dark felt so much safer and convenient. If anything was about to go wrong or we had a sudden change of hart, I wouldn’t have to back out with tail between my legs. I wrote the notice and suddenly everything changed.

To my surprise, both of my bosses turned out to be very supportive and their responses to my e-mail were prompt and felt really genuine. As a result, the head of human resources prepared a letter, in which the company commits to offer me a similar position upon our return from this mini-retirement. In reality, because of our soon to be re-acquired mobility, professional experience (self confidence?) and functional flexibility, I feel that finding an equivalent job will not be extremely difficult, but having this kind of “guarantee” helps ease the anxiety.

Even though I disclosed our plans only to few friends, family and handful of co-workers, the news spread out like wildfire. Some people were thrilled with the idea and admired our courage. Others shook their heads in disbelief, mostly behind my back. However, I’m not sure if any of them truly understood what we were about to do. Apparently, for most people the idea of voluntary unemployment is beyond comprehension, which leads to only one logical conclusion – we must be nuts. And I’m not about to argue that statement, for I’m convinced it’s true. But, if only a little, there is some reason to this madness.

So what is it exactly that we’re doing?

Most people see it as really long vacations, which to a certain extent is accurate. However, there is so much more to it. It starts with the sudden realization that unless the Buddhists are right, we’re not about to have another appearance here. Even if they are right, chances are our next reincarnation will be a bullfrog, horsefly or a skunk if we’re lucky. Obviously, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m going through a mid life crisis. Most normal people grind their teeth and keep pushing through. Nuts, on the other hand, come up with real crazy ideas, talk their normal spouses into them and then try to implement. Such is my story.

When I was younger and (just a bit) more naïve, I’ve been told that we get to choose what we want to do in life. I still believe that today. For quite some time – about 14 years or so – I’ve been convinced that my passion is crunching numbers and producing business presentations. Only recently, I’ve realized it’s nothing more then a lousy excuse for living a fat ass life! Unfortunately, I still don’t know what it is exactly that I’d like to be doing in life. Since I couldn’t figure it out in those 14 years, I concluded that I’m either not smart enough or my brain languishes in current environment. I’m too proud to admit the former, so I decided to change the later.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of changing employers, but decided against it. What are the chances of landing a dream job without knowing what it actually is? Instead, I want to take time to contemplate my passion. I know, it still sounds like a cheesy excuse for ditching work. Oh, well…

Think what you want, but I’ve managed to convince my wife to this crazy idea and in about five weeks, we’re about to start our extended vacation, eh… I mean pursuit of freedom, passion and happiness. Since we can’t really afford to do it at home, we will rent our house out and live for a year on the road, traveling around USA, Mexico and Central America.

We will sleep longer, walk slower and just enjoy the day…