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(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

We’ve all had that rotten service encounter with the disinterested or rude employee. Oh, I’m sure some of them are just tired of dealing with disinterested or rude customers/clients/patients. But that’s not always the whole story. Often, when service encounters go wrong, management policies have something to do with them. Does the company make it easy for the service representative to do his or her job? And does the company reward employees for providing good service or are they rewarded (or punished) based on markers that show little value for good service?

Even before I was an obnoxious MBA who studied such things, I really believed that companies that treated employees well achieved better business success under most conditions. What’s good for people tends to be good for organizations. As a high school and college student worker, I lucked out, working for people who also seemed to believe what I believed. Then I got out into the real world.

There I encountered people who seemed to work from the belief that employees don’t really want to work and that they should just do their jobs well because they are paid to do them. Talk about beating down a person’s desire to do a good job. The thing is just as there are some employees who always want to get away with the least amount of work, there are also employees who will work their hardest to do a good job no matter how badly you treat them.

But what about the rest of the people? Well, I believe those are the people companies have the power to engage or disengage. When I worked for those who managed by the “people are no damn good” school of philosophy, I watched many intelligent, hard-working, creative people become employees who just didn’t care—or worse, who became blatantly counterproductive. For lack of decent treatment from management, they became detriments to profit.

Maybe because of my various working situations, I still believe what I believed before I entered the real world and before I studied such things in class. Treating people well lifts up most—not just people but organizational structures. I may have been working for myself—a quasi-living-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world situation—but I have been part of committees, boards, and groups, plus experienced how schools, churches, medical institutions, and businesses interact with me and mine. You can have your “dog eat dog” philosophies and I’ll take my “do unto others” philosophy—which I’ll argue to my dying day is not only good for society, but also for the bottom line.

I seek out nonfiction sources and authors that help me—and help the world, whether that’s reading about scientific, psychological, personal, societal, or management concerns. You can often find me listening to these types of books while I exercise or perform chores.

The current book in (on?) my phone is Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People by Edward M. Hallowell, MD. I know I really don’t have any “people” from whom to get the most, but if I did, I’d want to use brain science for doing so—especially since the science seems to support my core beliefs after all. Hallowell and I go way back—when our family was just starting on our understanding of the ADD journey, I read and listened to what he (and co-author John Ratey) had to say about the science of ADD and various strategies for working with and excelling with the condition.

Turns out he’s spent many years talking to many people—with ADD and without—who feel burned out from doing their jobs. Much of what he was applying to help people get re-engaged in their work helped him to see what employers could gain by providing environments where employees naturally shone. He believes, as I do, that most people will come through in organizations where people are able to do their jobs well and where they are rewarded for being the thinking, creative people they are.

Hallowell starts his book with a story about a shoe-shiner working at Logan International Airport in Boston. This guy, who is essentially doing nothing more than cleaning the muck from people’s shoes, makes a point to see the light in each person who wears those shoes. He works hard at shining more than shoes by connecting to each of those shoe-wearers as individuals. As he says, “For me, it’s all about the shine I put on the person.”

Imagine how this world would shine if those whose shoes were being cleaned saw the light in everyone who shined their shoes. Retiring the “people are no damn good” school of management is more than the right thing to do—it’s also a practical way to grow businesses, organizations, and institutions, as well as our society.

Ooh, shiny.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

The people walking through the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2, NIV

When something subtle but huge has been missed in diagnosis and treatment, it’s easy for darkness to overwhelm any light, let alone a great light. With little change and improvement, life as previously known can seem dead and the new normal bleak at best and hopeless at worst.

Yesterday I heard these words in church and thought, “God has heard our prayers. The light is coming back.” I know it’s too early to say that light is returning for good in our family, but for now it seems as if the yoke of darkness has been shattered.

We’re years beyond thinking we’d just rather the darkness go away for good. By now we can accept that proper management will be light enough—because that’s likely the best healing we will get and because it’s so far from past darkness that we know it can be enough to illuminate a life well-lived.

For another day to consider the tears and rage of those years that can’t be regained—too much of that will allow the darkness to obscure the light we do have. For now we will walk toward the light—and rejoice at the dawn of a new era.

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I moved to Colorado, many cars sported bumper stickers containing words such as “Native” and “Transplant” within mountains that mimicked those on the Colorado license plates. Often it was easier to encounter people, such as me, who had moved to Colorado than those who were born here. However, I ended up marrying a true Colorado native—how much truer can you get than someone with two grandparents whose families homesteaded around Arapahoe, Colorado? If you know anything about southeastern Colorado, you’ll know that anyone who proved up on a claim in that harsh, arid land was committed to staying, plus you realize there are no mountains anywhere near there—mountains on the license plate or not.

Despite my father-in-law’s early upbringing near Cheyenne Wells and later Yuma, Colorado, he chose to raise his own family in the metro Denver area where the mountains are closer. My husband Sherman and his brothers were taught to ski at a young age. Although Sherman broke his leg on his first outing, he kept going back for more—skiing that is, not broken legs. He skis with that confidence that comes from learning to ski at the same age he was learning to read, just as our kids do.

I, the transplant, do not. I’m not much of a risk-taker so I’m guessing I’m especially the kind of person who would have benefitted from learning to ski when I was much closer to the ground. Instead I waited until I’d reached my full-grown height, even if I wasn’t quite old enough for my driver’s permit when I began to ski.

I remember that first ski trip to the mountains of Colorado. My days were spent learning how to move slowly down a snowy mountain on two boards without hitting the ground too often, but at night when I tried to close my eyes to sleep, I could see myself flying down those same slopes, as well as bigger ones. My heart rate would soar as if I really were skiing instead of lying in my bunk bed until the utter physical exhaustion of the day’s work would shut down my visions—until the next day. I was still a little afraid, but was hooked anyway.

I learned to ski right before my first track season, the year when I discovered running and realized there really was an athlete within me. During high school, each year that I returned to the slopes, I returned a stronger and more confident athlete, willing to learn a little more.

Still, I remained a skiing immigrant. I didn’t ski to challenge the mountain, but to be on the mountain. To look out and down upon a world far below me, to smell the evergreen-scented air, to discover what my body could do—in my own non-risk-taking way. To feel as if I were flying, if only for a few moments here and there.

Almost three years have passed since I last skied with the innocence that I could rely enough on my body while skiing to relax into that flying sensation. I had worked hard to lose weight and regain strength and endurance and was in the process of recovering from years spent helping my mother to her final rest. That mid-April ski trip on a day that rivaled the best snow of any season reminded me just how good it felt to fly.

Then a couple weeks later my body crashed. Oh, my wings were clipped all right by that bulging disk. Thank goodness I had been through a lot of focused exercise and treatment before we skied again the next season, but fear of losing what abilities I’d regained kept me from soaring.

Last year at this time my pain was gone, but my endurance was still quite reduced. My running was just in its infancy days, as was the strength that running always gives my lungs and legs on the ski slopes. Fear was still my companion on many runs although I didn’t experience any major problems that suggested my body wasn’t up to skiing.

Fear definitely was behind why I went back to the physical therapist for a tune-up last spring after only one day of pain—I might have been willing to go back to therapy but I definitely wasn’t willing to go back to reducing my activity level. My PT set me up with some “lifetime” therapy exercises which have now been tweaked again due to some ongoing sleep difficulties. Pretty much every day I do the exercises because I fear not being able to do what I want more than I fear doing the exercises.

Monday, when the chairlift dropped me at the top of the slope, I stopped only to get my bearings and then took off. Never mind that the short slope we’d planned to visit for the first run of the season got closed off before we could get there. I skied on by and never looked back. My work over the last year seems to have chased away my most recent reasons for fear. Not until I got tired much later in the day did I feel any level of fear—at that point I just chose to slow down and rest more often and the fear went away.

I’d been climbing up this mountain for so long that I’d almost forgotten how good it felt to soar—but when the fear flies away, that’s when this transplant feels as if I am flying down the slopes, just as I first did almost forty years ago when I closed my eyes at night. Once you know that feeling, you never forget it even during all those years when the only wings spread are those spread in your heart. When you think about it, skiing really is the epitome of “falling with style” while believing you are flying.

I believe, once again.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor—and I don’t even play one on TV. When you don’t visit doctors too often, it’s easy not to put much thought into what makes a good medical experience. Once upon a time I was fairly neutral about the whole seeing a doctor thing. Would prefer not to have shots or get prodded, but never responded with too much anxiety—no, I saved that for the dentist’s office where my shoddy tooth-brushing habits would catch up with me back when I was growing up. But other than my having to pay the piper, I couldn’t have been treated better by my dentist and his assistant—I mean, who now would give a young adult a free wisdom tooth extraction for college graduation?

What Doc knew instinctively was how to treat patients as if they mattered—even though he was my father’s friend, all patients really did seem to matter to Doc. Our family loved his care so much that even after we moved to a larger town with more dentists, we drove 40 minutes each way to stay with Doc and his excellent care. When carsickness caused me to throw up—on him—Doc looked little more than irritated and then knew to schedule me for the second family appointment of the day thereafter.

Even though all doctors I encountered were not Doc, I didn’t really think about them that much, but my mother did. She’s the one who later switched me from a doctor with a cold manner and minimal listening and analytical skills—the same doctor who years later would fill in for her doctor during the woman’s maternity leave and procrastinate reading Mom’s treadmill test until he decided results required an emergency flight to a cardiac center. It appears Mom was right about his lack of thoroughness.

Not until I was almost a mother did I understand the awesome responsibility of choosing a doctor for and coordinating care for loved ones. In the last weeks before our twins’ birth, I struggled to decide which pediatric practice would work best for our children. I finally made a choice based on both practical reasoning and a gut feeling. Turns out the kids were in good hands, not only for medical care and developmental tracking, but also for how they were treated from their earliest days. At my son’s 18-month appointment, he picked up a block and beaned the doctor in the head. The doctor just smiled and said, “Hey, that was overhand—that’s quite advanced for his age.”

By now, after overseeing both ordinary and more serious medical care for my kids all the way to adulthood, as well as taking over helping my mother through her final years and sitting in on some care for my in-laws, I am what could be called an “old pro” at it—if in fact I could get paid for all my experiences.

I notice when a doctor is doing more than looking at numbers from a report or relying on obvious symptoms. I can see when a doctor is listening to the story, looking for the subtle. And then, of course, it’s just so obvious when the doctor really enjoys interacting with the patient in the room. I have a doctor who delivered our babies and later performed my hysterectomy—a few years ago I realized that her focused attention in my now routine appointments is almost shocking when I compare her with other doctors I’ve visited. She is so much better at the relationship part of the doctor/patient experience than most.

I learned enough in my MBA classes to realize that most doctors aren’t just practicing medicine, but they are also managing a business. It’s a tough line to walk between keeping a practice running in a timely manner and giving each patient the individual care needed. The way providers get paid makes it imperative for them to be more efficient in delivering care—which can sometimes make a medical encounter seem rushed, especially since much of the payment comes not from the patient but from the insurance company.

That means that doctors are more often “rewarded” financially for the quantity of patients served than for the quality of the encounter with each customer. Any business encounters this classic dilemma when trying to find the right balance between quality and productivity, but service providers—especially those not paid by the true customer—have a bigger dilemma.

Nonetheless, another thing I learned in MBA classes was that simply listening to customers and providing empathy is a pretty inexpensive way to provide quality. Good doctors know this already—my guess is that wanting to do so is one reason Doc and others like him chose to study medicine in the first place.

Here in our own home we are still in search of a solution for the medical condition(s) that led to our daughter’s very disappointing ER visit. However, the doctor she met last week looked at her the whole time he examined her and paid attention to the signs of pain. Will he be able to discover what’s troubling her body? Who knows, but at least she felt heard—which is surprisingly rare for someone who has had enough encounters with medical practitioners in her short life that she could work as a quality control auditor for patient care.

Doctors who treat us as individuals with conditions and/or symptoms versus as a diagnosis code probably stand a better chance of getting the diagnosis right. Good patient care is good medicine for what ails us—even for those times when all that ails us is the fact we have to give up time and money for routine care—but especially for those times when we are in pain and afraid.

Thank you to the doctors out there for whom care is both noun and verb—and for whom the word patient is also an adjective that describes the type of care they provide to us when we visit them as patients.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Many years have passed—over thirty-five in fact—since I was the only female of any age running in a small town race that led onto gravel roads hushed by the cornfields growing along the sides. Several years earlier our family had moved from this community where pre-Title IX women did compete in track and volleyball—if nothing else, few were surprised that farmers’ young daughters had the strength to participate in sports during school years. Still, neither school girls nor older farm women joined me in that particular hot, dusty 10K held in the early years of Title IX participation.

Most of the race volunteers were male, but I do remember the encouragement I received from Marie as I made one of the turns. She might have been a young mother in the community by then, but to me she was a fierce volleyball player and one of the top hurdlers at a very competitive state track meet some years back.

Other than Marie, I only remember one other volunteer—the one who wanted me to jump in what can only be called a “sag wagon” because I was a good ten-fifteen minutes behind the last (male) finisher. It took my heat-addled brain a little more than a minute to realize I was dealing with sexism—I wasn’t excessively slow, I just wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the men in the race. That last mile was killer, but I got to the finish line on my own.

I personally lacked for older female role models, despite seeing many young girls and women out running distances. I was proud that my mom had enjoyed intramural sports during college and had competed in track in high school—using the skills she swore she gained by hurdling barbed wire fences with a (stolen) watermelon under arm. But she, like all the other mothers I knew, was now sedentary and overweight.

Not so when I arrived in Denver over six years later. A couple of “mature” women interning at my work place—think forty years old—introduced me to the Columbine Classic race, a women’s event in those days. It took me a few more years to get up the nerve to check out the Colorado Columbines, but once I did I was hooked. As a twenty-something, at first I was often one of the youngest women in the group. These women were old enough to be my mother, babysitters, and/or big sisters, yet they were often quite a bit stronger—and faster—than I was. They showed me that running was not just for the young.

I’ll never forget Alice Bagley, a woman in her 70s when I joined. My favorite “Alice”quote from just a few years before she died is this: Why do people always give me gifts of writing papers? All my old friends are dead. Why don’t they instead give me something practical, like running tights? Here’s a woman whose friends were old enough that many were dying and she wanted running tights? Now that’s living.

I’ve been gone from the Columbines off and on over the years due to health concerns, family obligations, and my own aging injuries, but I would rather be a woman who needs running clothes in my later years than one who has stopped moving. And that’s why I’ve been doing my physical therapy exercises religiously and modifying other habits to get back to running and to the Columbines.

Today, after a two and a half year absence, I made it back. Seeing faces again that I’ve seen from time to time for over a quarter of a century tells me I’m back on the right track. Here’s to women who knew we didn’t need to run alone anymore—whether while young or old. Long may my mentors run. Long may those of us run who have grown into “mentor” age—and long may those fresh-faced twenty-somethings run.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Say what you will, but I already like 2014 much better than 2013 because last year I rang in the year with the flu. Pretty much anything I’ve accomplished this year so far beats such feats as watching all of season 2 of Downton Abbey in just one day or discovering that the shampoo I was using in my flu-induced feverish state was actually conditioner. Sometimes it’s just good to celebrate the new year by being able to do ordinary, everyday activities without disruption.

It seems that aging is teaching me that one of the best goals for any year is to feel gratitude for whatever I do get to keep doing. Oh, who doesn’t want to do more of what you do better or faster and with a healthier body? Of course, I want to improve, but if the best I get is that I get to keep moving, then I will keep moving as much as I can and still practice gratefulness.

Another thing aging has taught me is that there are times when pushing through an obstacle is more a sign of the weakness of my own hubris than a strength. At sixteen I thought I was tough when I didn’t stop running even to remove the pebble from my shoe—until I realized that not removing that pebble had caused Achilles tendonitis. My injury slowed down my conditioning more than stopping for a few seconds in the middle of a training run would have done.

True strength comes in sensing what my body, mind, soul, heart, etc. needs most and then having the courage to tell my ego to step aside enough to allow me to modify my actions enough to protect myself in the long run. What I have learned the hard way is that being strong in the wrong moment can keep me weak for a much longer period of time—I have to be strong enough to slow down when it makes sense to do so. If there’s ice on the path, I reduce my speed. If my heart rate monitor tells me to take it easy, I try to listen. If I get the flu, then heavy exertion will just have to wait. And if the only way to keep moving is to alternate workout days with rest periods and focused therapy exercises, then so be it.

Learning to be strong enough to accept my weaknesses has been a hard journey—a journey that I am sure will continue until the end of my days—but part of that journey has also been coming to understand that the doing is so much more important to me than appearing strong or fast to someone else. I can choose to mourn what I can no longer do or I can celebrate what I still get to do.

That’s why on a cold, snowy January day—along with my husband who has had his own “strength” training of the aging kind—I started out this new year on the right foot by running a race. From the back of the pack, the two of us just ran our own paces, grateful for another chance to celebrate the ordinary in that manner.

The race coordinators later posted the results with a mea culpa that cold and wind might have affected the accuracy of the data. I’ll say—the weather elements had shaved a full three minutes from my finishing time! (I laughed, but my ego smiled to think this so-called strength had been preserved online.)

Then a few days later my ChiRunning phone app—through some GPS snafu—added distance I didn’t do to a run, which consequently then shaved two minutes off my pace for each mile. Right.

It’s as if the recorded data is conspiring to convince me I’m stronger than I really am—which I’m starting to believe. By running a slower pace these days, I stay stronger and—with any luck—able to do this for the long run.

But, if I start to sense my body is strong enough to speed up again, then you can bet my ego is going to take that feeling (and me) and . . . run with it.

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